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The Interchange: Dani Espinoza-Gonzales

Today, our guest is Dani Espinoza-Gonzalez. He is previously a VP of operations. And he describes himself as a passionate individual who enjoys spending time with family and friends, playing rugby, and continuously learning. His goals are to invest in and support the development of the self teams and committees and committees to create a more equitable world for all. His top achievement is meeting and building a strong relationship with his lifelong partner. In this interview, Dani and I talk about rugby, meditation and how they relate to learning and emotional intelligence.


Link to Podcast



Transcript:

(edited for clarity and content)



Matt

Welcome, everybody to The Interchange with your host, Matthew Heinecke. Today, our guest is Danny Espinosa Gonzalez. He was previously a VP of operations. And he describes himself as a passionate individual who enjoys spending time with family and friends playing rugby and continuously learning.


His goals are to invest in and support the development of the self teams and committees and committees to create a more equitable world for all.


His top achievement: meeting and building a strong relationship with his lifelong partner.


So welcome, Danny, we are happy to have you on the show.


Dani

Hi, there. Happy to be here.


Matt

So Danny, just to start out, I usually ask kind of an icebreaker question. Maybe just tell us something about yourself, maybe something different or quirky that people might not normally know about you.


Dani

Okay. Well, actually, about an hour ago, I took my first ever ice bath. I've just turned 30 this past year. And like he said, I played rugby as well. But because of the pandemic, I've taken a break from rugby, I recently was vaccinated, waited the two weeks, and I'm in a place where I feel comfortable to get back into the sport. I had my first practice yesterday and I was extremely tired. My legs are very sore. So I decided I was like, Okay, why not? Like if there's any time to do this, it would be now so I filled my bathtub with some very cold water. And it was it was an experience. It wasn't one that was like my my top 10 experiences but I will say my legs do feel very fresh right now. So I'm happy I did it.


Matt

Cool. Cool. Yeah, I mean, I've tried a cold shower in the morning. And I try that every once in a while and it does wake you up and make you feel energized. I did play rugby actually myself. Today when I was younger, I think I played winger.


Dani

Oh yeah.


Matt

Yeah, so that was fun. I remember. Yeah. I grew up playing a lot of football and then playing rugby. Man, that sport is the toughest sport. I mean, your body is just destroyed after a rugby match. It's insane.


Dani

I mean, it's really fun though, because I used to play football and then in college, I've transitioned to rugby. And right now I play for a basically inner league team in Seattle that welcomes all kinds of people and one of our oldest players is like oh, 50 years old and that is inspiring to me. I was like, okay, if that person can come out here and play rugby and hit people and take hits, I think that's gonna make me get there. Yeah, I mean, I'm just trying to get to 50 and still be able to play rugby. So, very inspired by that person.


Matt

That's amazing. I mean, I'm, I'm 48. So I guess I still got a couple years left.


Dani

Keep playing if you'd like.


Matt

So that's cool. I think, you know, in terms of learning and development, and teamwork, and communications, you know, can you draw any parallels from your experience playing rugby and being on a rugby team with, you know, very diverse, sounds like ages and cultures? And how, how does that relate to your experience? Working in, in, in the industry and as a leader?


Dani

Yeah, for sure. I think one of the biggest things that I learned from from both playing rugby and applying it to my working experience, is that when I started playing rugby, you know, of course, I'm in my, I'm in like my late teens, early 20s. Rugby is a very aggressive sport. So I used it as a way to channel My aggressive energy and put it into something productive, like sports and fitness, right.


But one of the things that I noticed while I was playing rugby at that age, was my communication style also was very aggressive. It wasn't necessarily as supportive as it could be. It wasn't coaching others, it was really more self centered and being upset when somebody would do something wrong, for example. And over the years, especially in my work experience, I was able to learn how my communication not only impacts the way I work and contribute to teams, but also just how effective we all are in communicating with each other. Especially as a leader, as a leader in any team or company, you're kind of viewed as the role model, everybody kind of takes your lead. And if you're combative, if you're aggressive, if you're not being patient with people, don't expect them to be able to work with you as well as they could be.


And that's one of the that's one of the things that I really had to learn. And it took a while like you mentioned earlier, it's not just like a one day training. It's something that you build on each time, but also take the time to reflect back and be like, wow, I made this mistake, I'm going to apologize for that mistake, I'm going to call myself out, which also models what I think is good leadership, and try to do better next time try to correct those those errors or those mistakes, so that your team can work more effectively together.


Matt

Oh, that's very insightful, especially for a youngster like yourself. Do you? What do you think? How did you gain that insight? What do you think got you there?


[Thoughts: After reading this, I realized that calling Dani a youngster was inconsiderate. It can be implied that I am saying young people can’t have insight. I honestly meant it as a compliment in the way that I did not have that much insight at that age and thought that it was great that he did.]


Dani

I think by working with diverse people and diverse ways of communication, the nice thing about my undergraduate experience was that I had a lot of role models myself, a lot of mentors that I looked up to, and I aspired to become someday. And one of the things that they taught me was patience and conversation.


I had one professor that would host very difficult conversations. And there would be some things in the conversation that some students would bring up, that triggered me and got me very upset. But I would look at the professor. And she was amazingly calm, very collected, and paid attention to everything that the person was saying, wasn't necessarily reacting, but was active, actively listening. And that, to me, just modeled the type of leadership and the type of communication style that I would like to have is one that focuses first on listening to what other people are saying. And it took a lot of practice.


And it's not to say that your emotions won't come up or that you're not able to communicate your emotions or where you're at. It's just by modeling the behavior of Okay, I'm listening to you right now. I'm reflecting what you're saying. And to make sure that there's understanding between us and now I expect you to show me the same amount of respect when I'm communicating as well. And that was very challenging to learn. But it's so important for leaders, especially leaders to be active listeners, in conversations with their employees, executives, customers, whomever.


Matt

No, that's really great advice. And I think, you know, you're right about having mentors. You know, I think when I was younger, I wanted to do everything myself, and I never really reached out to anybody. And in my later years, I realized that was kind of a big mistake. And, and now I, I, we have mentors that we work with. And they're so valuable because they have so many years of experience. And it would take me, you know, 1000 years to collect all the experience from all the different mentors that we speak with.


So it's very, very valuable to have those mentors, and also, what you're talking about, you know, being aware of your emotions and practicing, listening, you know, it's so easy, we all want to say what we want to say, we have a divorce and to listen to others. So I guess another question would be, you know, in terms of that, in terms of improving your, your emotional intelligence and improving your listening skills, what, what things have worked for you and what hasn't worked?


Dani

Great. One of the things that, I would say, hasn't worked for me, is, I think when people say, “oh, you're going to experience this someday”, or, “oh, you should do this”. I had that rebellious phase where I was just like, whatever, like, what do you know, sort of thing. And being able to take the advice of others, even even from mentors, it was very difficult, very challenging for me to do, because I always had that combative style, just like, Well, what do you know, you don't know what I'm going through, you haven't been in my shoes, which is very self centered.


One of the things that I will say definitely got me out of that was after I finished undergrad, I, it's gonna sound a little weird. But I attended this, like a 10 day meditation retreat, I hit the road, I was gonna travel, I was gonna be on, be in my car, and just go from place to place. And that was very exciting. And one of the things that my, my really good friends and undergrad recommended for me was this meditation retreat.


And basically, I also had kind of like a poet, a spoken word artist that I looked up to who also recommended the same thing. And I was like, Well, if these two people are recommending this, I should do it. So what that retreat did was basically it they took all your devices, they took your phone, they took your journals, pencils, pens, self, everything, right? You were supposed to just be you, right. And during these 10 days, you practice this form of meditation, and you're meditating for like nine to 12 hours a day.


But the tricky the trickiest thing was that you weren't allowed to communicate, whether verbally or non verbally to anybody else that was at the retreat. You could, if you open the door for somebody, like you're not supposed to do that, you're basically supposed to pretend like you're by yourself, you're not supposed to talk out loud to anybody, you can't say thank you to anyone. But what that does is that it centers, it puts the focus on you, it centers everything on your thoughts, like how you think, and you pay attention to every little thing, because you have nothing to distract you.


Every little toxic messaging that comes up in your head, you get the opportunity to unpack and be like, well, where did this stem from? Where did this unhealthy habit come from? How did I learn this? And why do I continue allowing it to take over the way I communicate with other people, or my mindset. And that opportunity just really allowed me to unpack a lot of those unhealthy behaviors, those toxic traits that I developed over the years, and really focus on improving myself and saying, I don't want to be this person any more. But now I know where the root of those issues came from, which was very, extremely empowering. Wow. But also extremely difficult to do for 10 days.


Matt

Yeah, that's, that's really interesting. That sounds pretty cool. Actually, I think it does sound different, 10 days without talking to anybody. And do they give you any kind of instruction or guidance? Yeah.


Dani

So yeah, each night, there would be a video presentation from the facilitator, who would be guiding you through your meditation, and basically, you build up skills in your meditation each day, right? And I would say that by the end of it, when I was meditating, I would be able to create this like wave of energy throughout my body, which sounds really weird, but it was also extremely cool. And just to be able to say that I used to, I used to do that I used to be so in touch with my mind and just kind of were in control over the sensations in my body that I would be able to create this wave of energy. sounds really weird, but it was an awesome experience.


Matt

No, no, I don't think it's weird. I mean, I've, you know, I've tried meditating my whole life. I can get there, I haven't really gotten to like the higher levels of meditation. But what, it's interesting, what got me into it at a young age was, I had trouble sleeping. And my mom kind of just told me, you know, just pretend to stare at the ceiling, and wipe out all of your thoughts and just think of a blank piece of paper. And she had learned to meditate because when she was born, she had cancer. And through all the radiation, chemo was very painful. And so she had to learn how to meditate in order to, to kind of overcome the pain that she was going through.


And so I used it in a way that I had trouble sleeping helped me to go to sleep. So I still, I still kind of do it. But what you're doing sounds like really kind of high level meditation, but I couldn't, you know, I know meditation is all about just letting your body experience things and feel things. You know, sounds, smells, and touch. And you do yeah, you can feel you, it does feel kind of weird. And it, but it is cool. At the same time. You know, it's, it's really good. So do you still meditate now?


Dani

The nice thing about meditation is that it can take different forms. So right now I tend to do small bursts of meditation, even if it's for just 10 minutes a day, I try to do it at least for 10 minutes when I do tend to practice it. And it doesn't necessarily have to involve anything special. It just could be being mindful of my breath while I'm walking, or Yeah, sitting and sitting still, and just listening to my breath listening to the emotions that are arising. So it's nice that you know, there is some flexibility in meditation and what it looks like in daily practice.


Matt

That's cool. Yeah, I think, you know, people, you say, oh, it sounds weird. I know, meditation is probably still not quite mainstream in society. But I think it should be. I think that Oh, for sure. It's, you know, there's a lot of benefits to it.


Dani

Such a helpful tool. Yeah.


Matt

Yeah. And that's, that's cool that just by having that experience, you went through your whole way of thinking, and you changed the way that you think, by going through that process? And, you know, what ways do you? Do you try to maintain that, now that you've done that process? Like I said, You unpacked everything. And you changed your mindset? How do you keep that mindset from reverting back to the way it was?


Dani

For sure, um, I know that you were requested, like your top three accomplishments, and I accidentally only gave one because I pressed Enter, and I was I thought it would just like, go to the next line. And I would like, write another one. But, you know, that is my biggest accomplishment, meeting my partner, my wife, has been extremely helpful in holding me accountable. And, you know, and supportive in the sense of just like, hey, when things come up, she'll, you know, start a conversation with me about what I said, or how I said it.


And we practice the style of communication that we expect from one another. And we do a great job of just communicating with one another, like, calling ourselves out, when we notice like, ah, like, I know, I have this emotion coming up. And I'm feeling it. And I know that, like, I shouldn't necessarily be feeling it for this situation that we're in. But I just want to communicate with you that it's boiling up.


And I know where it comes from, I know where the root of that emotion comes from. And it has nothing to do with you. Or it has nothing to do with this situation. It's just because it's evoking this emotion. And being able to communicate that with someone who does the same thing for you, or reflects it back to you is amazing. And so being able to surround yourself with people with friends, partners that not only hold you accountable, but create a friendship and relationship where there's no shame, it's there's no judgment in the sense of like, I don't think less of you because you did this or you made a mistake.


I think what makes me feel inspired by you, or encouraged by you is that you take the time to understand the mistake and try to become better. But by learning through that process, and not letting it happen again, sort of thing or you know, being mindful of when it does happen again, and saying I know it happened again. I'm sorry. I'm working on it. surrounding yourself with good community good people definitely helps.


Matt

I agree with all of that, especially. You said that. I think it's pretty amazing that you are able to recognize those emotions and then say something about them before they kind of manifest themselves in a negative way. I mean, that's pretty amazing. And I also agree with, you know, with, with my wife, Rahel. One thing that I think has made our relationship so strong is the fact that we don't judge each other, you know, we just get to be you, I get to be me. And, you know, we love it, and I'm not going to judge you for being you, and you're not going to judge me for being me. And then having that security, that safety that, oh, I can, I can actually be that way, you know, and I, I made that mistake, and I'm still not going to be judged for it. That's really liberating. And, and it just makes you know, it's awesome. Like you said, it's really,


Dani

Exactly, yeah, and it's something that unfortunately, for some people, they go throughout their lives, not having that type of emotional connection with someone. And it doesn't necessarily have to be, you know, a romantic relationship, just platonic having a great friend that, you know, you're able to communicate with and, you know, hold each other accountable and grow together. Unfortunately, some people don't have that. And that's where I think we're good mentorship comes in great teams come in is that, you know, you build that sort of communication, that culture throughout your team, so that even if they don't have those relationships outside of work, there is a sense of trust and a sense of safety within the team that you're building.


Matt

Know, exactly, yeah. And that, you know, speaks to everything that we're trying to do with our business is get people just to know each other, understand each other more, have fun, play a game together. It's not too serious. And, you know, feel safe and nonjudgmental in overtime, you create these kinds of stronger bonds. And hopefully, they also take some of that learning some of those teachings back home with them to their their family, their wives and their children, and whoever else,


Dani

For sure. That's a great hope.


Matt

Well, Dan, it's been really great talking to you have one final question, just from this whole conversation that we've had, what would, what would you like to be kind of the key takeaways from this conversation to let people know,


Dani

Key takeaways? I would say one of the biggest key takeaways is getting into the practice of self reflection. And in whatever shape or form that that looks like, whether it's through conversation with people, whether it's through journaling, whether it's through exercise, whether it's through just sitting still, it take the time to get to know you more, there's plenty of distractions that will take away your focus on you and your development and how you're growing as an individual.


And I think a lot of people need to pay a little bit more attention to where they've learned things, where, where is the root of those emotions, how they tend to grow inside of you. And being able to name it, you know, place your finger on where these emotions come from, is an amazing feeling. Because it makes you feel like you have power over yourself, you're in control. And that's something that I highly recommend for a lot of people. The other takeaway is, you know, finding community, getting surrounded by people that will help you in that process, because doing it alone, is extremely difficult. But having good people around you, to support you, and for you to support them and show love for one another is extremely important to any individual and team's progress. So those would be my two biggest takeaways.


Matt

No great takeaway, you know, there's a book I'm reading, it's called the power of agency. And it talks about, you know, you can choose how you want to react to a situation, and you really have the power within you to behave and act any way that you want. And a lot of times we feel powerless. So I also agree with what you're saying that we need to reach out to our friends, our family, your co-workers, and have that support system. So you're correct.


Dani

Yes, exactly.


Matt

Danny was a pleasure speaking with you, and really enjoyed having you here and we'll have to get back together and do it again.


Dani

Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. I'd love to get together again.


Matt

Alright, so again, that was Danny Espinosa Gonzalez, previous VP of operations. And this is the interchange with Matthew. Hi, Nikki. All right. Thanks, Danny. I appreciate it.



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