Today's Guest: Shawn Langwell
Today, I interview Shawn Langwell who grew up in California in a loving family with two brothers. His father was a fireman, and Shawn looked up to him as his hero. However, when Shawn was 12, his father left the family to start a new family. This crushed Shawn, of course. He missed his father’s presence and affection, and he didn’t know how to cope.
Unfortunately, he went from class valedictorian in school to a depressed and lost child struggling with drugs and alcohol. Looking back now, Shawn tells us that during those years since the departure of his dad, he was trying to be everything that his father wasn’t. He felt the duty to keep an eye on the house, take care of his siblings, and help support his mother by shouldering the household responsibilities with her. Helping to do all of these things gave him a sense of purpose in a difficult situation.
Shawn was still experiencing a lot of anger during his teenage years, and he did his best to mask that with drugs and alcohol. He’d always been the brainiac in school, but now that he was getting older, he was interested in girls but too shy to approach them. He found, as many do, that alcohol became his “liquid courage”.
At age 22, he decided to stop using. When he came back into a clear state of mind, he had to tangle with lots of questions about who he was and who he wanted to be in the world. He chose to keep learning. He became a waiter, then a salesman, then a husband and father. Shawn says that each of those experiences moved him closer and closer to a place of confidence where he was able to realize that he had a voice, and he could share his heart with people and help serve the world.
One of the things he so powerfully shares with us is that we all have a voice, but it’s important not to let all the other voices in our heads overshadow that voice. We can overcome that inner critic and have powerful connections with the world. Love is the common thread that binds us all together.
Shawn Langwell is the Immediate Past President of The California Writers Club (CWC), Redwood Writers, past president of Toastmasters of Petaluma, an international speaker, and top producing media salesperson. He is the author of the memoir Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness, and his recent release, Ten Seconds of Boldness: The Essential Guide to Solving Problems and Building Self-Confidence. His personal mission is to add value to people and businesses everywhere. More specifically: To encourage inspire, and help people become brave and confident enough to believe they can accomplish their dreams and goals.
Watch the episode:
Connect with Shawn Langwell
Also listen on…
Learn How to Speak Without Fear!
Transcript of Interview
Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode # 78 Shawn Langwell
“Solving Problems and Building Self-Confidence”
(00:36) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing. I’m a psychologist, and I get curious about how people get to be who they are and what life experiences led to their magnificence. That’s what I feel like I am going to get to do today because my guest I’m having here today is magnificent. He comes with a lot of life experience and challenges, lots of struggle, but what’s so magnificent is when you do make it through all those, you have a story to tell and you have so much to offer the world. This is Shawn Langwell. Hello, Shawn.
(01:19) Shawn Langwell
Doreen, thank you for having me today. I’m super excited about this.
(01:24) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, I am too. I want to read the bio that you sent me so that people get a sense right away of what you are about soft. Shawn Langwell is the immediate past president of the California writers’ club, Redwood Writers, past president of Toastmasters of Petaluma, international speaker, and top producing media salesperson. He is the author of the memoir, Beyond Recovery: A Journey Of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness, and the recently released, Ten Seconds of Boldness: The Essential Guide to Solving Problems and Building Self-Confidence. His personal mission is to add value to people and businesses everywhere, more specifically, to encourage, inspire, and help people become brave and confident enough to believe they can accomplish their dreams and goals. You get to find Shawn at www.shawnlangwell.com. That will be in the show notes. for sure, you’ll find this a wonderful human being that I get to spend a little bit of time with today. Hi, Shawn.
(02:46) Shawn Langwell
(02:49) Dr. Doreen Downing
I always like to start with a little bit of grounding so people get a sense of the journey. It started somewhere way back when, obviously, early life is when we first come to know who we are because the world surrounds us with some kind of welcoming or some kind of dysfunction that we have to participate in. If you could journey back first and let us know some of those early life experiences…
(03:24) Shawn Langwell
It’s hard to escape this one and I’m not going to go back to Mr. Peabody’s way back machine but suffice to say that I’m a child of the 60s. I was born and raised in Daly City and moved over to Marin County when I was five years old and grew up there until I graduated high school. The pivotal defining moment in my life was when my dad—was a fireman or a firefighter, and I looked to him as a hero. I loved him, he loved me and I got to hang out with him—one day, out of the blue and unexpectedly, he took off and left me, my mom, and two younger brothers without saying goodbye. I was 12 years old at the time. I was valedictorian of eighth grade, I was a good student and I sought that praise and accolades, but I was also very much of an introvert, very shy, withdrawn, got my validation out of doing good in school, whether it was from parents, teachers, friends. I was considered a brainiac, and we’ll have further conversation about what happened, but the quick and dirty thing about it was that I was impressionable. I was a young teenager, soon-to-be a teenager, and I just sought escape through drugs and alcohol. I basically ran with that from the time I was 12 until I was 22 when I got sober, and that was October 10th of 1986, coming up on 36 years of continuous sobriety. That’s it in a nutshell. There’s a lot of life experience in that narrative arc, but we’ll get into it a little bit later and show how it shaped who I am today.
(05:20) Dr. Doreen Downing
The narrative arc, I like that, and for those who aren’t watching you, there’s an arc right behind you on your screen, and it’s a rainbow, so I think that’s something that we’re bringing into our conversation today. The sense of beauty and magic and power that we live in and what we live with. I wanted to just get back to what you said about those early moments in school being the place where you found your power, basically. I would say that was true for me too. I loved the grades. I loved the structure. Home was not the place where I got the positive attention. I went all the way to a PhD to keep on getting those goodies from teachers. When you said that abandonment moment— My abandonment moment was when I was five years old when my father left, but you already had so much more of a relationship. Then the way that you talked about your connection, your love, your admiration of him, and then boom, gone.
(06:43) Shawn Langwell
Yes, and there’s a story I share frequently, and alternatively not a bigger story, but just for a visual, even though most of this is probably going to be audio, my parents both loved me. I don’t want to overshadow that. Yes, my dad made a decision to leave us for another woman and have another kid, but those formative years, he’d do things with me that were just like super tender, loving things. As a fireman, he has a heart of gold, he had a heart of gold. One of the things I loved about him was after a bath, he always used to take a towel and just dry my hair vigorously. It may sound super small, but a lot of kids and parents don’t necessarily share affection in today’s day and age and that’s often indicative of a lot of problems. For me, that was one of those things that I just loved every single night. Some kids hate taking a bath, but I loved it because I got that rough and heavy duty towel drying my hair every single day. It just meant that my dad loved me.
(07:53) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, I know exactly what you mean. My memories of my father standing in my sister and my bedroom doorway and singing “Oh, Danny Boy,” or other Irish songs, that memory, that positive memory that having been loved early on, I think is— This podcast is about voice finding our voice, and did we have a voice, was our voice being received, and where we loved? I think that if you’re not loved, your voice doesn’t feel like it’s very safe out there in the world.
(08:32) Shawn Langwell
That’s the core element of the book. Ten seconds of boldness: the essential guide to solving problems and building self-confidence. At the core, from my research and my own personal experience at the core of our humanity, our identity, our self-esteem. It’s so simple, but it’s so easy to overlook, and that’s why I started with that. That one word “love”. It’s the core thread line through everybody’s life. Along the way, unfortunately, that thread became threadbare and frayed. Other things happen in our lives that undermine the strength of whatever that bond is. It’s not doom and gloom. There are ways to recover. There are ways to bounce out of a downward spiral and not blame everybody else for our situation. I’m kind of going off on a little tangent. We’ll get back to that in a sec. But love is the answer. There’s been many movies written and lots of songs written about the word love and there’s a reason for it.
(09:49) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, again, coming back to voice, it feels like if your loved—and I like that whole image of a thread that you’re talking about, a thread through our lives, and those who don’t have any kind of connection, not having had love, feels like they don’t know how to speak out in a way because they aren’t being loved, so why should they speak up?
(10:17) Shawn Langwell
And you know what, Doreen, I was encouraged to speak out. My mom, after my dad left, was outspoken and encouraged us to do and be whoever it was that we want and to not be shy about our voice. But being an introvert, I was confident in the classroom because I knew this stuff, almost to a fault. I was that smartass little kid that sat in the front and raised his hand every time the teacher asked what’s the answer. I was that kid that you wanted to throw paper at if you were sitting in the front row. But not everybody has that. My wife is an example of where they were—it wasn’t that they weren’t to be seen and not heard, but just a different family structure where you don’t want to bring the center of attention to you, and you don’t want to be outspoken. It’s not necessarily because you’re not loved. It’s because there’s a different dynamic that’s I don’t know how to totally describe it. There’s just different cultural influences on how people feel about themselves and how they communicate and interact with others in the world. That ties into the core of what your show is, finding your voice and changing your life.
(11:33) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, in a sense, I get that with the kind of attention and love and encouragement you got early on. There was an inner confidence that you had, and then moving into drugs and alcohol, it seemed like there was kind of getting lost or something. How would you—
(11:53) Shawn Langwell
The easiest way to describe this is I was trying to be everything that my father wasn’t and I don’t know where that came from, but being the oldest of three boys, I took it upon myself to be the surrogate father figure for my brothers and almost, not an incestuous way, but the surrogate husband for my mom. She had to go to work, so I had to do all this stuff. I took it upon myself to do all this stuff around the house. So that responsibility in being able, maybe that’s part of the care and the nurturing, but it was another way of feeling validated by doing and helping the family and feeling like I had some purpose in this family. The gap when my dad left was great. Internally, in my mind, I was spun out of control, and I felt seriously pissed off for a number of years. I chose to use drugs and alcohol to mask those feelings. The other big component of that was, as I’m entering my teen years, I started becoming interested in girls and I was so shy and fearful of even talking to them that alcohol in particular, liquid courage in the form of a 12-ounce bottle or a red sippy cup was my out to get me out of my head to have that liquid courage, confidence, bravado, whatever it was, to feel socially adept enough to have a conversation with a woman.
(13:34) Dr. Doreen Downing
That’s pretty important there for listeners to get the sense that voice was possible because you had alcohol. Isn’t that kind of ironic? That your voice could be out there and you could approach girls because you had alcohol and that that loosens you up.
(13:57) Shawn Langwell
It does until you go over the top and then you become a blubbering idiot. Basically, what happened to me, so I stopped, and that became another defining moment of how am I going to be sociable? Am I going to be liked? How am I going to have conversations? That was my crutch? It was a solution. Without it, now I took back this little thing of who am I and how do I go out in the world with some semblance of confidence. I became a waiter. I became a salesperson. I became a father. I became a husband. Every single one of those opportunities are life experiences that moved me further down the field to get a little bit more confidence and to find my voice and to realize that I had something worthwhile, not only to say, but that could also be helpful to other people.
(14:54) Dr. Doreen Downing
I certainly know. I’ve read the book and I feel that you’re life experiences is your voice coming out and saying there’s something else that’s possible. But before I move into that, I just wanted to go back because I had this thought about addiction and alcoholism in the way that you talked about those teenage years mostly, that that’s a voice also, that was coming from anger. Even though you weren’t speaking it, you were expressing it. People who have addictions would be saying they do have a voice. This is their voice. They’re expressing it by their action.
(15:47) Shawn Langwell
I think we all express our voice with our action or inaction. I say that because there’s a lot of people that are so consumed with their own lack of self-esteem or self-worth, that they don’t take that courageous ten seconds of boldness, first step forward, and they stay in this safety. A lot of this stuff that we’re talking about is not necessarily new. You can go all the way back to all the psychologists from the turn of the century and even earlier, but it’s what we do with the information that we have, and how we internalize, process it, have this self-assessment, to move forward with some degree of courageous and or blind faith that we’re not going to die if we do something that’s out of our comfort zone. The comfort zone has been identified for a long time. The fact that we know a comfort zone exists doesn’t necessarily make it easier to get out of it. It means that we need to be aware of it and also do things that are scary, not just the feelings and the thoughts, but the actions that go with it to take the steps forward, to live on the edge.
(17:08) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, definitely on the edge, if not a little bit over at least. There was something that you said, or at least I either read about it, or you told me about it, but you talked about voices in your head. You said that you felt like you had a voice, but there were too many voices in your head.
(17:30) Shawn Langwell
I pulled this out, because I’m like, “Did I write that?” For the listening or viewing audience, Doreen’s got some great questions to ask so that we can have a meaningful conversation on air. I don’t remember what the specific question was, but it had to do with voices. I’m going to read it verbatim, just a couple of sentences here. It says, “It’s not that I don’t have a voice. My problem is that I have too many. Most of them are in my own head. There are critics that love to lie to me, and I believe them. They say things like, ‘You’re not good enough. How can you help other people achieve their goals when you are struggling to achieve your own?’ What if people don’t get me. We all have these inner critics that try to undermine our success. They are like anchors keeping us stuck in fear, fear of failure, rejection, abandonment. Often they pick fights when I am progressing, creating seeds of self-doubt, or a general feeling of imposter syndrome. Fortunately, I am aware of their existence in power, and I’ve developed tools and learn skills on how to conquer them.”
(18:49) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, that point of view is something that in all the 60 episodes that I’ve done here so far on Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast, I’ve not really heard that point of view that, yes, we have voices, but what are those voices, where are they actually, are they in our head, are they ours, where did they originate, and are we listening to them, how do we actually recognize them and find out what our truth is and how to move forward and make choices.
(19:28) Shawn Langwell
Yes, and the clarity on this— If you show up for the conference that we have, this is going to air long after the conference, but Doreen is going to be our featured keynote speaker at the Redwood Writers Conference in October 8. One of the other presenters there is Steven Campbell, who is going to be specifically talking about how to overcome writer’s block. The reason I’m bringing it up is he was kind enough to actually provide a page and a half or so in paragraph form a serious contribution from a neuroscientist’s perspective for my book. In summary, one of the things that Steven has discovered through his own research in corporate work with a lot of Fortune 500 companies is the mind does not know the difference between fact or fiction. To your point, Doreen, the mind will believe what we choose to believe. That isn’t just a Pollyanna statement. It’s the absolute truth to the degree and extent that we believe the lies in our own head, wherever they come from. They come from a lot of different sources, but it’s all a combination of upbringing, of socialization, of what we watch, read, listen to, and more importantly, the self-talk that we have. There’s been a lot of talk about mindfulness, self-talk, and what we say to ourselves when we’re talking to ourselves, this whole concept of voice.
(21:04) Shawn Langwell
A real brief story. We have time. Early in recovery, I was super angry, and I don’t know exactly what it was, but I was just feeling lost and I could not figure this stuff out. I wanted the obsession to be gone. I laid in a bed and heard these voices in my head that just said, “you know what? You’re not worth it.” I’m editing myself. It wasn’t quite so kind. They were yelling expletives at me. This is all my own mind, but it was also a reflection of how I felt inside. I got to the point where I literally got so angry, I blurted out loud, and screamed, “get the blank out of my head. I don’t want to do this anymore.” I’m sharing that because if anybody’s ever gotten to that place, sometimes we need to do that where it was like, I don’t want to hear this anymore. Call me a crazy person because I was at the time. But from that moment forward, I addressed it, and I had the courage to face it. My entire world changed, and I went down a different path to look more towards the solution of what I wasn’t doing. Ultimately, what I found out through five years of therapy is that I had certain things that I was continuing to do that needed to change. If I was to seriously change.
(22:29) Dr. Doreen Downing
What you just described about, “get out of my head” is something in psychology we call thought stopping. It’s like you say stop to yourself, just like you might say stop to a child who’s about to run out into the road. You just go “stop”. That kind of energy creates a break in the pattern, interrupts the pattern. That’s what it sounds like. That moment feels so powerful. I know there are lots of moments that lead up to the powerful change moment. But still, it’s good to feel the shift that happened for you.
(23:16) Shawn Langwell
Yes. There’s another simple metaphor. My stepson’s downstairs doing laundry right now. It just reminded me of that. If you’ve ever done a load of laundry, and you happen to throw a bunch of towels or something like a bath rug in there, and you go do something else, and you hear that “bump, bump, bump”. That’s out of balance. That washer won’t spin properly. It’ll probably end up denting the side of your laundry room if you’re not too careful or whatever. Like you just mentioned Doreen, the way to resolve that is to stop, open up the lid, rebalance the load, close the lid, hit the button again, and walk away. Don’t sit there and watch it. Listen for a second but assume that what you just did is going to be okay and good enough, so you can go do something else.
(24:06) Dr. Doreen Downing
I love the way you’re saying it too. It’s almost like “Hey, folks. Here’s the key. Here’s the secret. Let me tell you.” That to me feels like what you and your message and your voice in the book is coming out right there about how to— I know it’s more about that ten seconds of boldness, but the actual what we do around our thoughts and how we balance and then move on.
(24:39) Shawn Langwell
Oh, a thought without action is just a thought and the thought is not going to kill you. It’s not going to do anything but to the degree that we act or don’t act or react to the thoughts that we have about ourselves in our internal or external locus of control, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. I don’t have time to explain what all that is. But if we don’t do something different, it’s Newton’s second law of physics. Every action has an equal opposite reaction. I’m totally botching this, but basically, what I’m trying to say is, a body in motion will continue to stay in motion until acted on by an outside force and that outside force is lifting the lid, rebalancing the load, and closing the lid. It’s funny because we all do this. We all beat ourselves up. We all say, “Oh, I wish I could have, should have, would have done that differently. Oh, man, I made a mistake.” Guess what? We’re not perfect. I talk a whole lot about that in this book because we all do it. I still do it. The irony of this whole process is almost every little bit of advice that I put in this book from personal experience or from the other contributors to the process, I have to live every single day and it’s not a set it and forget it, one and done type of thing, I have to constantly practice what I’m preaching in this book and to not do it— My own internal dialogue says, “Well, how can I seriously encourage somebody else to do this if I’m not following my own advice?” To me, that’s not what I’m all about. There’s a certain element of integrity, and I need to be doing these things. Am I perfect at it? Absolutely not. None of us are.
(26:34) Dr. Doreen Downing
I like your ability to write about it in the book. It just feels like you unzip and let us in on all the mistakes. That there’s an acceptance of that. Can you talk about the 10-second idea?
(26:52) Shawn Langwell
do you want to know where it came from and—
(26:56) Dr. Doreen Downing
sure, share that.
(26:59) Shawn Langwell
long story long, maybe short, I’ll try and make it as brief as possible. I started this book shortly after I wrote my first one, the memoir, Beyond Recovery. it just a whim, I was originally trying to brand this as something that could be beyond goal-setting and this whole big idea that just didn’t go anywhere. It was not the book that was supposed to be written. over two to three years, I wrote about 100,000 words. right before the pandemic, I was doing really well in my day job as an award-winning media salesperson for the Bay Area News Group. all of a sudden, my sales went through the floor. I’m sitting here writing about encouraging stuff, goal-setting, how to deal with your own inner critics, and I couldn’t write it. How can I realistically feel confident about this information that I’m trying to share with the world, and I can’t even apply it to my own life? I felt seriously dejected. I’m harder on myself, probably than anybody else ever will be, but I felt like an utter failure. I sat with it. then one day, it was feast or famine. I had to actually do something to change this, or it was going to impede my ability to make a living and put food on the table and pay the mortgage. I literally grabbed a three by three post it note, and a Sharpie, and wrote four words on it, “ten seconds of boldness,” and I stuck it on the wall above my phone at work. I stared at it for about two to three weeks before I actually had the courage to do what I had written that my intent was to actually be able to make cold calls for new business because part of the reason I wasn’t hitting my goal was my own inactivity of becoming complacent, because I had coasted and done so well for so long, that I didn’t have a current pipeline full of new potential business opportunities that I was nurturing that could potentially close so that I wouldn’t have a gap and not make my sales goal.
(29:15) Shawn Langwell
The solution to that was my own doing. It was that I needed to call more people and reach out and try to offer value to them for helping them build their business. I figured it out. Three weeks later, I started doing it all through the entire pandemic. For the last two years, I’ve been very fortunate to have my sales increase by over 22% year over year for the last two years, which is phenomenal. A lot of businesses lost 30 to 40 or 50% of their business and somehow that simple phrase became the title of this book. It became a moniker. It became almost a mantra and an affirmation for me, and I still I use it to this day. I am not a perfect human being. I’ve already said that numerous times. Right now, I just got through ending the first month in the last 14 or 16, where I didn’t hit goal for the first time. I’ve got this interview right here, and here I am, back to square one going, “do I share this with the listening audience?” Absolutely, I do. Because you know what? This is not the end all, be all. This is one blip on the screen. As long as I stay true to the values that I know and do what I’m supposed to do, I can come out of it. All of life is a series of ups and downs, and when we’re in the trenches, we need to be able to know that that’s actually a good thing because, like a friend told me a long time ago, the best thing about being down in a big hole is you can only look up from there. The other advice that he gave me was that the best way to get out of a hole is to stop digging.
(30:55) Dr. Doreen Downing
Very powerful messages. We’re coming to the end. I just want to keep on opening up more and more with you, but one thing I’m taking for sure, I’m going to write on a little sticky note, or at least, one of those index cards that you talked about, I’m going to get a Sharpie out, I’m going to say, “Ten seconds to boldness.” I want everybody to do that today to get your sticky note and put it right in front of wherever you’re working. I think that what Shawn has shared with us today, you are able to take with you all of his inspiration, his life experience, and another thing I’m taking—because I feel it from you from your heart—is you bring love. You bring love to the moment.
(31:56) Shawn Langwell
Yes, and Doreen, the only other thing that I really want listeners and viewers to get is, like you just said, love others, love yourself. Have some love for whatever that spiritual basis is. But most importantly, this book, in your life, is all about one other word, and that’s “belief”. My mission—as Doreen read at the beginning, and I say this with all sincerity—is to try and help as many possible people as I can to begin to believe in themselves. That’s the beauty of that simple phrase, ten seconds of boldness, that can mean or you can apply it however you want to. You just validated the title of the book and it means so much to me that you’re willing to do that Doreen and tell your listeners to do that. That simple impetus is the beginning of moving in a different direction. That’s how life changes. That’s how you change your voice. That’s how you change your life. That’s how you become whoever it is that you want to be. It all starts with ten seconds of boldness and a little bit of courage.
(33:13) Dr. Doreen Downing
I think those are wonderful last lines for our conversation today. Let that ring out because all of us listening to you today, Shawn, feel empowered and feel possibility just by listening to you. Thank you so much.
(33:35) Shawn Langwell
Thank you for having me. This has been a pleasure.
Also listen on…
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Podcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.