The Only Thing You Really Need to Know w/ Alex Murphy, Co-Founder of OnTrack Coaches

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

Well folks, here we are. The final episode of That's Aloud. I offer my deep gratitude to all my listeners and guests: it's been an honor and a privilege to help these stories get out into the world. But as the due date for Release Your Masterpiece--the book, the course, and the mastermind--looms closer, I find my energy naturally shifting, and I hope you'll shift along with me. If you've found benefit in this podcast and/or the That's Aloud blog, I welcome you to join me at my new online home:

Meanwhile, I couldn't have asked for a more perfect final guest. Alex Murphy, co-founder of OnTrack Coaches and my partner in crime for Studio Be, is here to remind us all that, regardless of what the school system tried to teach us growing up, nobody can control us except us. Enjoy!

Highlight Reel:

0:45 - Not all value is monetary

4:30 - Overcoming perfection paralysis

8:30 - The 2 things educators and parents need to understand

16:20 - A new way to teach and learn

17:30 - Asking the big questions

31:00 - Imagine a school system that put students in charge of their own learning & growth

40:55 - Be a scientist, not a judge

Adrienne MacIain 0:03

Hey everyone, welcome to the That's Aloud podcast. This is the last episode of season four. I can't believe it! 2020 hindsight, it has been such an amazing journey. Today, we are so lucky to have Alex Murphy. Please introduce yourself, sir.

Alex Murphy 0:22

Hello, everybody. I'm Alex Murphy. I am I'm in Austin, Texas. And I am a co founder and chief academic officer of OnTrack Coaches, which is an academic coaching company for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college kids.

Adrienne MacIain 0:37

And we got to work together this summer on an amazing thing called Studio Be, do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Alex Murphy 0:43

Oh my god, Studio Be was a lot of fun. I should just come up front and say we lost a lot of money. But boy was it worth it. We, we took a bath. But you know, we learned so much good stuff, a lot of it from you. I mean, I feel like I learned a lot from you in the process of like, you know, when you're really building something together and working on it from from basically just a concept into reality. And then you have to figure out how to get it so that kids can can take it and then actually learn and it changes the way they operate. That takes a lot. And so, you know, Studio Be was started just as this idea that like, you know, we're an academic company, the summers coming up, kids like YouTube. So let's teach them how to make cool YouTube videos. And they like podcasts, let's teach them how to make podcasts. And so we started from there. And as we started to build it, what we realized is that there's a much bigger opportunity, we don't have to just stop at that. And so we sort of used this studio to help kids, you know, learn how to become really interesting storytellers. And we took it a little bit deeper and decided to kind of make it a an opportunity for them to explore their purpose in life, you know, maybe maybe they didn't leave with a sense that, you know, they had their lifelong purpose mapped out for them, but they definitely in the process of creating these YouTube videos with us, you know, we met with them for six weeks, they made these videos and then they they started to learn what they actually like, what actually energizes them what actually engages them? I think some of them started off thinking it was one thing they realized later, that was something totally different. We were just talking off-mic about a mom who emailed us and when her son joined Studio Be, he thought he wanted to make a dev log. Am I saying that right?

Adrienne MacIain 2:19


Alex Murphy 2:20

I can't believe I had the gall to try to found a YouTube studio. I don't even know if I'm using the terms correctly. But yeah, so basically, he wanted to do that, he thought, and it turns out that he just loves making a game. So he spent the entire time making a board game, he never made a video. It just never got there. But in the process, he learned that that's what he loves. And he loved the creative process. Turns out he loves this process of trying to create a situation where people can have fun and compete. And so yeah, we built that together, we rolled it out. And I think, you know, we learned a lot. The value was not monetary. For us, it was what we learned and what you know, students were able to accomplish and come away from that, with.

Adrienne MacIain 3:01

Yeah, I mean, a couple things. For me, I don't think anyone has like *a purpose*, like a singular purpose that is the same throughout their lives. I think we have many gifts. And our purpose is to give them to different people at different times in different ways. And so what I loved so much about Studio Be and about the whole process, first of all, was taking what I've been doing with my coaching clients, and having to teach it to kids, really helps you realize, like, what the essence of what you're trying to teach really is.

Alex Murphy 3:38

You said it great, the other day, we were talking and you were like, "If you think you know something really well, if you can't explain it to like a fourth grader, you don't know it as well as you think you do."

Adrienne MacIain 3:48

You don't know.

Alex Murphy 3:49

Like, if you haven't gotten down to the essence in a way that's articulable to a young kid, you don't really know it. Oh, yeah, we really had to boil down what we were doing and figure out what's at the heart of this.

Adrienne MacIain 4:00

Absolutely. Yeah. So the other thing is, I really feel like, what they walked away with, what they said to me that they walked away with was this confidence now that they can just decide, hey, I want to learn about this thing. And then just go learn about that thing and go teach about that thing and learn as you go. And I think everyone needs to know that. That if you're curious about something, if you're interested in something, just start learning about it and teaching other people about it, and you'll learn as you go.

Alex Murphy 4:34

It's so true. It's a, man, I wish I had had that lesson when I was a kid. Like, I'll give you a little glimpse into my youth. I was the ultimate perfectionist child, okay, second of four. My parents were 19 and 20 when they got married, and they proceeded to have four kids in the next like six years and so my mom was 26 with four kids, right? So it was a self-sufficient childhood, you could call it. I had to learn how to operate and kind of create a structure for that. And I think what that turned into later on was like this feeling that I had to have it perfect every time. And it has to be--and this, we see this all the time with kids in Studio Be, we see it with OnTrack Coaches and students that we work with there: they think that it has to be perfect in their brain before they start putting it on paper or on film or wherever. And what ends up happening is that's a paralyzing feeling. And it's very hard to get started if you have the burden of perfection hanging over you. And so like I remember as a 10th grader, distinctly, my favorite teacher ever, Mr. Friend, he was this cool British guy. He wore suspenders ever all the time. Like he kept hinting that he had this secret government job before he taught us which I'm sure was not true but, man, we loved it. And he, I used to spend like three hours on his homework projects, answering like three questions, like three paragraphs, I spent three hours on it, cuz I was like, this has to be perfect. So for kids to realize that they can perfect it while they make it, that it could start bad, it could start actually *bad* and get you know, get better and better. You know, we had that student Gustavo, who was talking about like, it's so cringey. And I was like, man, you know, cringe is just one stage in the creative process. He was like "Cringe is a stage??" And I was like, "Yeah, yeah, absolutely!" Anybody who's ever gone back and looked through their middle school yearbook can tell you it's just a stage. Yes, it gets better. That blew the roof off for him like, and and, you know, man I wish somebody had come and told me that, you know, when I was burdening myself with that perfection. You know, it's really cool that I'm in a position now where we we can set kids up to learn that in middle school.

Adrienne MacIain 6:35

Yeah, that growth mindset, just recognizing, yeah, of course, it's gonna start out bad. You don't know what you're doing! That's what learning's for.

Alex Murphy 6:45

Yeah, Ira Glass has this great speech that--I've heard it, and I can't remember where it was, he was talking to some film students, I think. And he was like, "If you are looking at what you're producing, and you don't like it, that just means you have taste."

Adrienne MacIain 7:00


Alex Murphy 7:00

It will get to the level of your tastes. It's a good thing, in other words. And I just, that sticks with me. I mean, it sticks with me all the time. Like, if you look at what you're doing, I feel that way about the business that we're building. Like, I look at it all the time and go like, yeesh, not good enough. And like, that's okay. Like, that's all right. That's a stage.

Adrienne MacIain 7:16

So this leads me I think, beautifully into the first question that I usually ask, which is, what story is the world not getting?

Alex Murphy 7:26

Mhhnnn. Man, I've thought about it, you told me ahead of time I was gonna get this question. I, I've thought a lot about it. I think the story that the world's not getting is why... it's the story of kids in schools, and we can see it and especially in the pandemic, a lot of families, you know, parents had school happening in their house for the first time, so they could see it. And like but there is a deeper story of the interior lives of kids, and how school affects that, that I feel like we don't, we don't quite get, we don't quite get it. And I have the great pleasure of having worked with kids my entire career. And I feel like only just now am I starting to get a little glimpse into that. It's a powerful story. And if we could figure it out and really understand it, like we could make some serious transformation to the way we teach kids.

Adrienne MacIain 8:18

If you were in charge of the educational system, what would it be like?

Alex Murphy 8:26

Dang, I should have taken some drinks before coming on here. That's a big question. Man, if I were in charge, what would it be like? Here's the first thing, I think we would have to all be on the same page, anybody working in that system would have to be on the same page on two really important things. The first one is, you cannot control somebody else's behavior. Not just because you don't want to, we literally can't do it. I am the only person that ultimately gets to decide what I do. You're the only person that ultimately gets to decide what you do. And every student in our system is the only person in the universe that actually gets to decide what they do. That's the number one thing we have a hard time wrapping our heads around. And as a result, like a lot of the students we work with, they are burdened with this incredible pressure. It's pressure from everywhere. And this isn't about blaming, like I really, I'm not interested in figuring out who's to blame. I think we just have to understand the reality and be really honest about it. Like, kids feel this insane pressure from all different parts of their lives of adults trying to control their behavior. You know, in schools, I've worked in the public school system for a long time. I've worked in charter schools, I've taught everywhere from seventh to 12th grade, I've taught some college I've worked with fourth graders and fifth graders and sixth graders, it doesn't change. I've worked in poor neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods, it doesn't change. Adults spend a lot of energy trying to control kids' behaviors so that we can get the right scores on the tests, or we can get the funding from the state, or I can feel you know, as the adult, like I have some power or something, and it doesn't work. It creates a lot of problems. And then you know, folks come to us Like, can you help my kid because that you know that students react against that. So that's the first thing is we have to be on the same page about that. And the second thing is sort of the other side of the coin, which is like the only thing you can give to or receive from another person is information. That's it. I can tell you, you know that something is important, I can ask you a question. And you can ask me a question. I can give you the information, even feelings like my emotions or information. You know, if you cussed me out, I'm like, you know, like you were doing the other day. I'm just joking. For the listener, that's a joke, Doctor Adrienne's never cussed me out. But you know, if you were cussing me out, right, that doesn't actually dictate anything about how I respond. It just gives me more information, information of what you're doing, information about my own feelings and how, you know, what does that do for me physiologically, and emotionally and mentally? That's all information. And then I have the power to choose what to do with that information. If I were, to your original question, if I were running the school system, we would set everything up to help kids at a young age realize just how much power they have over the choices, and realize that what they get from the outside world is just information, and they're ultimately the only one who gets to decide what to do with that information. If we could do that we would have I'm sure, we would have kids who were way more excited to learn. We would have kids who were had more success in finding their sense of purpose and like figuring out what can I contribute? You know, I think it was, oh, boy is at Longfellow who writes the play Omeo life. I think it's Longfellow and you know, why are we here that that life exists and identity that the powerful play goes on, and you can contribute a verse. A lot of kids don't understand that they can contribute a verse, they have been told what verse they're supposed to contribute. And they feel like they have to do it, because otherwise their parents will disown them, or they'll fail out of school. And I'm not making this up. Kids say this to me, I asked them all the time, what would happen if you didn't turn it in? I mean, ask the kid the other day in coaching, what would happen the other day, if you didn't turn in an assignment? Would if you just blew it off? And he, in about three moves, he went from "My parents would be mad," to "I'd be homeless and have a miserable life." He got there so fast. And, and that tells me like, yeah, we're, you know, something's off here. Like, and kids don't realize that they have the power. So I think that would be, you know, the curriculum we set up around that, we would engage kids' curiosity, we would help them ask the questions they want the answers to, we would then help them find the answers, and then apply it in their real lives. And there's, there are some attempts to do this. You know, around the school system. There's project-based learning, or problem-based learning. It's here and there. But I think it doesn't work because we have fundamentally an external control system set up. So it's like, even all the way up to the federal government, like all the way up to the top and the bottom, it's just like, we've got to control each other's behavior so that... because if we don't, the worst thing in the world will happen. You know, there's a lot of fear and anxiety in there. So that's a very long answer, not nearly as long as the answer I could give. But that's a very long answer to your question. And I've conveniently avoided all specifics, so nobody can come at me about that. You see how I did that? I dodged giving any details and laid out big philosophical frameworks.

Adrienne MacIain 13:13

Well, it sounds like there's two things that I'm hearing here, we really have to respect the autonomy of kids. I mean, humans in general, I think, but especially kids, we really have to respect that they are autonomous, and that they are the authority over their own lives. And I think we need to instill that confidence in them too. In addition to just respecting that they have that authority, let them know that they have that authority, and really empower them to use that authority to create a life that they love, and that they are really excited about living.

Alex Murphy 13:50

Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, I think I think that's so true. Like, have you ever seen Mr. Rogers' testimony in the Senate, in the 60s? Oh, my God for the listener, he, so you know, public television is, you know, Congress is considering cutting its funding, right? And so it's a budget hearing in the Senate. The chairman, I can't remember his name, but he's like a famous hard ass. He, you know, he wants to slash the budget, right? He's ready to do it. And Fred Rogers comes in and single-handedly convinces this guy to not slash the public television budget. And he does it by reading the lyrics of one of the songs that they teach to young kids. And it's so moving, I encourage you to go--I can't recite it from memory--I encourage you to go listen to it. But you know, the lyrics of this song that they teach kids are like, I can stop if I want to, I can stop if I wish. I can stop, stop, stop anytime. And what a great feeling to feel like this, and know that the feeling is really mine. To know that there's something deep inside that helps me become what I can. I mean, that's powerful. This really tough senator is like, you know, he's got goosebumps at the end of that, like, who wouldn't? It's, it's amazing, and I think like, it's not just, you know, it's like, it's easy to look at that and be got the call and go like, well, that wouldn't work that soft-minded do-goodedness or whatever. But it's really the... Listen, we've given the other way a thorough try, I would say, for the last, you know, 20 years in education, you know, and even earlier than that, and we've given it a quite thorough try. It's not working. So maybe we try something else?

Adrienne MacIain 15:21

Well, I mean, I guess the cynic in me feels like, well, it worked really well for what they were trying to do, which was to encourage people to be little automaton workers, who were ready to obediently accept whatever kind of instructions they're given in life and in work. It was also really effective in getting kids out of the house during the day so that people could work all day long. What we need to really look at is what do we actually want our education system to do and provide for humans? And that, I think, is what really fundamentally needs to change, recognizing that we need to train people to think for themselves and to learn how to learn, and to decide what they want their life to be, and then build that life with the resources and the methodologies and the tools that they've been given to learn how to learn.

Alex Murphy 16:23

Yeah, yeah. And we've seen that at play like, so, you know, OnTrack Coaches is our attempt to build something different. And like, it's been a really, really cool experience. And we start with this premise, you know, this, you are the, you're the captain of your fate, like you are the driver. You know, our coaches are not said all the time, like, I'm not your teacher, I'm not your boss, not your parent, I'm not here to tell you what to do. You're sitting in the driver's seat. You tell me where you want to get, and I'll give you the directions, right? But you you're steering the wheel and you're hitting the gas, you hit the brakes, if you want to take a pit stop at Denny's, like let's do it, you know what I mean? It's your call. And what we've seen is that kids, at first, we set out to just help kids build executive function skills, learn how to manage their time, get their homework done, we wanted parents to stop having to be homework managers, and just go back to being parents. And we've achieved that mission. And this, for the students that we've worked with, really, really, really encouraging and gratifying some of the stuff that we've seen. But the other thing we realized is like, there's so much more opportunity to help kids really shape the mindsets and the attitudes, to have a sense of efficacy, and a growth mindset and a sense of value in what they learn. And so we're starting to like see kids transform on that. And the way we do it is like we ask them big questions. We let them choose too, so we have a list of 32 big questions. And these are big questions for kids, and for adults. Like I don't think there's a single question in the list that I don't ask myself all the time, right? And it's amazing, like the first one that kids always seem to pick is "How do I stop procrastinating?" It's like the, it's like the number one jam, it's the Top of the Billboard charts baby. And we help them answer it. And we don't do it by telling them what to stop doing and start doing. We do it by asking a lot more questions, and helping them build self-awareness. And through self-awareness, they build self-control. And if I could boil everything that we do down to two skills, it all comes down to two skills, if my education system that you asked me about have like a state standards, you know, if we had the Common Core State Standards, it would be a blessed document for teachers, there would be two lines: student will be able to build self-awareness, student will be able to develop self-control. That would be it. You know, we help kids know, when you're procrastinating, what's going on with you? What's happening internally, what are your thoughts and feelings and physiology associated with that, and once you start to become aware of it, and you can name it, and recognize it and accept it and greet it as a buddy. Hey, procrastination, you're here to help me manage unpleasant emotions, but I'm not gonna let you drive this time. Then you can start to build self-control. That's what we help kids do. And like, it's been some powerful stuff. So there's my little plug for OnTrack Coaches, I love it. It's my little baby. And it's been really cool to see what happens with kids when they start accepting that approach.

Adrienne MacIain 19:03

That's so huge. And again, it's, this applies to everyone, not just kids. Self-control. That's the whole freakin deal. Right? It is the only thing that you actually control in this entire world. Is you. Your own behavior, your own mindset, your own attitude, your own actions, like that's it. We have this illusion that we can control others or other events. No, just no.

Alex Murphy 19:36

Yeah. And can I tell you that we we start with that as kids and we start with in school, and then it affects every area of our lives forever, like most of us go through life well into adulthood and all the way up with this idea that either we can control other people's behavior or other people somehow can control us. And it you know, when you start to break it down, it's not true. I mean, there have been people with literal guns to their head, who have made different choices than the choices that the the assailant wanted them to make. Like, if that's not a stark example of what I'm talking about, I don't know what is. You know? And, man, if I could talk to every parent in America, that would be my messages like: you can't control your kids, you can't do it. I see, I see the effects of that all the time in our work. It's not good. Rarely is that like a nice, you know, well adjusted kid who can go out and conquer their homework, like, a lot of times when we dig down, that's, that tends to be a factor.

Adrienne MacIain 20:31

Yeah, I mean, I'd love to hear some stories from from your experience. I want to share one right now, you'll know who I'm talking about, but I'm going to call him Ivan so we don't have any embarrassment out here. So I was working with a kid this session, Ivan, who at first was, it was like pulling teeth to get him to even just show up to a one on one or a huddle. He just obviously had been kind of strong-armed into this situation, did not want to be there, did not see any benefit in this for himself. And so on your advice, I actually just sort of straight up said to him, "Hey, it kind of seems like you're not really into this. Can we talk about that?" And he he said, "You know, I just don't know what I want to do." And so then we had this conversation, this very open, authentic conversation about like, well, you know, let's get rid of all the shoulds. Let's get rid of what everybody else thinks might be a good idea for you, or you might be interested in and just get down to: well, if it was up to you, what would you do all day long? Right? If your parents had nothing to say about it, what would you just spend your day doing? Well, it turned out there were these stories on the Internet that he absolutely loved. And he would just spend all day reading those stories. And so we ended up coming up with an idea around those stories. And he got so into the project. Like he was one of my top students from then on, showing up early and asking me a ton of questions. He had like a list of questions every day ready to go.

Alex Murphy 22:12

I love it.

Adrienne MacIain 22:12

Just complete 180 transformation. And again, it's just that recognition of like self-awareness, A. And B, giving him the power to be like, hey, if this isn't working for you, don't do that. But let's find something that does work for you. And then ask him the question of like, what would that be?

Alex Murphy 22:33

It's shocking. The light bulb that goes off in kids heads when you put that in front of them. It's shocking. They're like, Wait a minute. I can... I can do whatever I want! Like, yeah, dude, you can do whatever you want. Yeah, I mean, I love that story. Like Ivan ended up making a bomb ass video. It's awesome. It's really incredible. And he wouldn't--I mean, kudos to you, like, he wouldn't have done that. I think, well, I'm curious. What do you think? What was the... what was the magic? What was the secret sauce to that? Like, how did that happen? If you can bottle that, we could sell it for a billion dollars. So like, what happened?

Adrienne MacIain 23:05

I think, first of all, it was just the acknowledgement of just that there's a problem with someone telling you, "Hey, this is what you should do." Or you should be interested in. Just recognizing that, like, anybody trying to strong-arm you into anything is like, "No, I I get to decide, I am in charge here." And just the, like you said, respect for his autonomy by saying, "It doesn't seem like this is working for you. Is that true?" And allowing him to take a moment to take stock and go, "Hmm, is this something I'm interested in? Could this be something I'm interested in?" And then actually asking the question of like, "What would really get you excited about this?" And having him really ask himself that question, honestly. Again, any person of any age, when you actually ask that question of like, what are you actually interested in? What would you actually spend your time doing? If you didn't feel like you had to make a living doing this thing? Right? How would you live? What would you spend your time creating? That's what I do. That's like, what I spend my days doing, is giving people permission to find those things and actually spend time and energy on them. But I think we've spent, like you said, so much of our lives, being taught that no, your time is not your own. No, you don't get to decide these things for yourself. That we we have lost the art of self-awareness and self-control. Deciding: What do I want? Where's my desire? And how do I get myself from here to there? Which is such a tragedy.

Alex Murphy 24:54

Yes, it does a lot of harm.

Adrienne MacIain 24:57

Yeah, yeah. That's what we, that's our biggest thing as humans, right? That we get to write our own story.

Alex Murphy 25:05

Yeah, you know, and I think like, there's, it's hard to approach something like that, like, in this case, like, we had the freedom to approach students that way because this was our program that we developed. This is the company, I'm, you know, I'm a co-founder of, we had the freedom to say, "Make whatever you want," like, that's where you're gonna do, you know, a lot of people don't feel that kind of freedom. Like, you know, we work I've, you know, I've worked with a lot of educators who are getting pressure from all over the place, they get pressure from the school district and their principals and parents, and those people in turn get pressure from their superiors, we get pressure from up the ladder. And, you know, parents do the same thing. They're scared a lot of times, like, they're worried about their kids, you know, we don't know what the future is going to look like, what jobs there are going to be, you know, people are nervous. And so that anxiety makes it really hard to ask the question openly of like, "What's going on here for you? What do you want to do?" Because the idea, I think, in a lot of our heads, like, and I can feel, as a, as a teacher, I felt this all the time: what if their answer is not the answer that I need it to be? So what if... I'll give you an example, I had a student, I was coaching, and he was seventh grader, and we got to this point, it was the same thing, it was like pulling teeth, he was not into it, didn't really want to try what we were working on. So at one point, we just got into a conversation, and I just openly asked, like, "Why are you here? You don't seem like you want to be working with me and academic coaching, so why are you here? And he was like, "Well, my mom's making me." I was like, "Okay, sure. Why?" "Well, because she wants me to not fail." I said, "Okay, do you want to not fail?" And he was like, "I don't really care, because they're gonna move me to eighth grade no matter what, like they even said they're not even gonna count the grades. And like, okay, so that right there, many of us, a previous version of me would have had a heart attack, right there, like, "Oh, no, he figured it out!" It's almost like, "Oh, no, he's seen behind the curtain. He knows that these grades don't matter." Man sidebar, I never realized how meaningless grades were until I started giving them out. Like, if I'm being honest, and I don't think there's a teacher in the world who would disagree with this. Sometimes the grade is about your academic performance, and sometimes it's about what I had for lunch. You know what I mean? It's, it's hard to separate it right? So he figured that out. It would be easy for me to then look at that as a failure. Like, "Oh, no, I failed to reach this kid." But in reality it's like, well, he's self-aware. He's aware of the circumstances. He knows what he wants, and he's made his choice. It's not the choice that I would love for him to make. But like, I still see that as a success, because he figured out in that moment, like, oh, I have the power to choose what I do. And then we then were able to have a conversation about like, once we got that out of the way, we were then able to actually get down to like, "Okay, what do you want? You want to be a computer programmer, you want to be a video game designer? Okay, cool. What do you need to know, in order to do that? How can we set you up?" Right? It freed us up, there was a lot of freedom in that moment of honesty. Like, that just allowed us to then get to the heart of it. And I think, for parents and teachers who feel this pressure all the time, it's hard to like, let it go there. Because you don't have a true question, a real question you don't know the answer to. And that's scary when it feels like your livelihoods depending on it, or your child's happiness is riding on it, like, you know, and far be it for me to lecture parents. I don't have kids. But I've seen this dynamic with students that I've taught and their parents, and it seems to be really prevalent, like, what if they tell me that they don't care about getting good grades, and they want to go to be, you know, a street artist, and that's what they really want to do with their lives? What do I do with that? That's scary. And so we don't ask the question, I think we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to help kids learn, like the power that they have over their choices, because more often than not, like, it'll be okay. It's hard to see it, it will be okay. Because guess what, they're going to realize that being a street artist is really hard. And unless you're one of a very small number of people, that is not your life's calling and you're gonna choose something else. It will, it will be okay. You know, but it's hard to let it get there.

Adrienne MacIain 29:00

Yeah, and I also think a lot of times, kids and adults will say, they don't care about something, if it feels too hard to change it. They'll just decide like, well, I can't change it, so therefore, I don't care, whatever. And once they realize that they actually do have more control over it than they think they do, suddenly, they start to care about it a little bit. But again, if you're not pushing that onto them, if you're just allowing them to decide, like, "Do I care about this?" and just have that self-awareness of like, "Why don't I care about this? Could I care about this? What would make me care about this?" That's when the wheels start to turn and things start to become possible.

Alex Murphy 29:44

Absolutely. Like, and, you know, I think like for kids, you know, the only way that they're really going to ask questions, like really ask questions of adults is when they've tried what they thought was gonna work and it really did not work out. Well, like, again, scary to let that happen, but it's sort of a necessary part of the process like, you know, I all the time will think I've got it handled. You know, for example, with, with Studio Be, you know, we were making original content. And we made some sketch comedy content. I'm blessed to have a stand up comedian for brother. And he's currently the reigning funniest person in Austin, Andrew Murphy. I'll plug him, he's great. And he's awesome. And so he and some of his buddies came, and we made some original sketches. Well, I thought I knew what I was doing with the editing, right? And then I started editing and it was bad. And I didn't know what I was doing. And it was stressful. And that's when I started really reaching out for help from other people from YouTube, like, "Okay, wait a minute, how do I do this?" I didn't get to the point of genuine curiosity about how to succeed until I had tried it on my own and failed. And like, that's the human learning process. Like that's the mind at work right there. You know, if I never get a chance to actually fail, I'm never gonna be curious about how to succeed in the first place.

Adrienne MacIain 30:51

That's exactly right. And again, I think that's what people walked away from Studio Be learning. And that's huge to me.

Alex Murphy 31:00

Yeah, yeah. I mean, you said that, you know, one of the final sessions, kids were like, "Oh, I learned that, if I don't know how to do something, I can figure it out." That's incredible. That's incredible. So many kids don't feel that way. They don't think that's true. Like that they can figure it out. They can, everybody can, you know. You can learn anything. You really can. And so like, if we can get kids to start to believe that and understand that. Like it, I'll retire happy man, if I can help some kids start to figure that out. And it goes into adulthood, you know, and I think like, the stakes here are really high. That's the other thing that you know, it's what drives me to do this work. Like, you know, it's hard. Being an educator is hard. Being a teacher was really hard. Running a company is hard. Working with kids is hard, always. But the thing that drives me is like, the stakes are so high. Like imagine, man, imagine a future in which every kid--I'll just keep it to America, because that's what I know. I'm gonna, I just haven't traveled abroad very much, right, I'll keep it here. Like, imagine if every American young person graduated our system, and they had a feeling like they had really gotten to do some deep learning. And they realize that it gives them more freedom, it gives them more power and influence over their world. It helps them build relationships where belonging can flourish, and helps them have fun, like learning is fun. You should check out Choice Theory by William Glasser, phenomenal book, I recommend it. He talks about all this stuff, like imagine a future in which kids had experienced that and it changed the way they operate. And they were operating out of genuine curiosity, with the belief that everything is going to be okay that they can figure it out that, you know, anxiety is, you know, the fear that we can't figure it out. But I got this, right. Imagine that, like that's a future where the planet doesn't have to burn. Oh, yeah, that's a future where democracy does not have to crumble to authoritarianism, like that's a future where we can disagree without hating each other. That's the future where, you know, suicide and substance abuse don't have to be some of the leading causes of death among young people, like seriously like, not to downplay any of those issues, because they're all really complicated and really serious and really hard. But I genuinely believe that the root of all of it is this feeling that I need somebody else to control the situation, because I can't, or I want to control other people, because otherwise they're going to do the wrong thing. The bad thing, I think that puts us in all kinds of knots and tangles and problems and like, you know, if we want to really, like continue to flourish as a species on this planet, we're gonna need to figure some of this out in a big broad way. So it's not like the stakes are small. It's, it's the big time.

Adrienne MacIain 33:37

I think that's a perfect transition to this exercise that I love to do here. A little visualization.

Alex Murphy 33:43

Oh, boy...

Adrienne MacIain 33:44

Can we... yeah, let's take a drink.

Alex Murphy 33:45

We're about to do some real live creation coaching right now? I'm about to get a free session.

Adrienne MacIain 33:50

Oh heck yeah!

Alex Murphy 33:51

I didn't realize that was part of the deal. Okay.

Adrienne MacIain 33:52

Oh, surprise! All right. So what we're gonna do... let's shake things out here... I want you to close your eyes. Take a nice deep breath. And as you breathe, and I want you to see colored light come into your body and just tell me what color it is.

Alex Murphy 34:11

All right, I am strongly not a visual person. I'm a very auditory person. So this is a stretch for me and I like it. I am seeing purple and red light.

Adrienne MacIain 34:20

Nice. Alright, so now what I want you to do, I'm going to kind of have a magic wand over here, right? And in a moment, I'm going to wave that magic wand and as soon as I do everything that you deeply desire, let's say about the educational system will come to pass. So now everything is exactly as it should be. In this ideal perfect world, I want you to tell me what's the first thing you see. Magic wand waved. What do you see?

Alex Murphy 34:55

Um, you know, I'm picturing the face of one of my students, a former student of mine. Had her when she was in seventh grade. And I'm picturing her and her classmates like laughing and talking in a classroom and having fun.

Adrienne MacIain 35:08

Perfect. And so I want you to kind of see that she's looking over at you. And you kind of share a moment. And she's giving you this look that tells you that she gets it. She really gets it, everything that you've been trying to instill in her. She's got this. And how does that feel?

Alex Murphy 35:33

Oh man, I mean, it's feels good. I don't have a stronger word than that. It feels good. It feels gratifying. You know what it feels like? It's like, oh, like relief.

Adrienne MacIain 35:45

Yeah. So now I want you to go someplace that's kind of your happy place. someplace that just feels really perfect to you. And describe it to me.

Alex Murphy 36:04

Oh, man, that's got to be Stump Pond in Willett, New York. I grew up in upstate New York, my great grandparents owned a cottage on this little, there's a little manmade pond. And we used to spend tons of time there when I was a kid. It's like, there was no cell service for a long time. There was not even a landline. It's sort of disconnected. Tons and tons of happy memories with my family surrounded by loved ones. That's my happy place.

Adrienne MacIain 36:27

What does it sound like there?

Alex Murphy 36:30

Oh, man, it's a so you can hear the wind on the pond water, right? There's little water sound. There's a lot of geese in that area. So you hear a lot of geese. And then you know, in meat for me the sound I hear is like the family laughing in the other room.

Adrienne MacIain 36:47

And what can you smell there?

Alex Murphy 36:52

Well, geese turds for sure.

Adrienne MacIain 36:53

For sure.

Alex Murphy 36:54

A common sight. And then, I don't know how to put this, but there's a certain smell of like tall grass. You know what I'm talking about? Like tall grass has an aroma and that is prevalent for sure. For sure. And then also like this cottage was wood. Right? It's like it just an all wood thing that you know, my great grandpa built it, you know by hand, with his brothers. And so it's it like the smell of kind of old wood.

Adrienne MacIain 36:54

So something happens while you're there. That is just unexpectedly delightful. You did not see this coming. But it's so great. What is it?

Alex Murphy 37:30

My wife shows up.

Adrienne MacIain 37:32


Alex Murphy 37:33

Ohhhh, I know. I hated to say it because it sounds manufactured, but that's it. She's never been there.

Adrienne MacIain 37:39

So, she shows up and she's got some great news. What is it?

Alex Murphy 37:44

Oh, boy. Oh, geez. I don't know, is there a way you can reframe that for me? Nothing, nothing's... my walls are going up in case you can't tell. Let's try to bring them down.

Adrienne MacIain 37:59

Let's say let's say instead, you get some amazing news. Just something unexpectedly wonderful has occurred. You've got this great news. You didn't see this coming. But there's something great coming ahead. What is it?

Alex Murphy 38:17

Oh, man, I think it would be like, I'm gonna get to do like a TED talk, you know, or something like a, like a public speaking thing where I kind of get to really like make my case. And it's gonna be viewed by a lot of people. And it's an opportunity to, like, use that medium to try to influence how people think and behave, particularly like people in education. I think that would be, that'd be it.

Adrienne MacIain 38:40

Yes. So you're being invited to do a TED Talk. It's going to be international, there's going to be lots of, you know, spotlight on you and on this issue that is so important to you. And you're surrounded by family. And so how are you going to celebrate this great news?

Alex Murphy 39:01

We have this family game called The Game of Things. Are you familiar? So fun. It's like really loose, open ended. But my my mom's you know, the whole extended family, we love to play it together. Basically, it's like, get a category, you know, things you shouldn't do on your first day of work. And then everyone fills in anonymously a joke, you know, it's an opportunity for us to all make jokes and laugh together. And then you got to go on and try to guess who said what, it is always, always fun. You know, it's we played it for long enough now that like, you know, my cousins and folks who were little babies when we started playing this are now grown adolescents themselves and they can chime in and make their cringey horrible jokes. And we all you know, I'm like, I remember that. So we would we would celebrate by eating some food and then we would we would play that game.

Adrienne MacIain 39:46

That sounds fantastic.

Alex Murphy 39:48

Oh, and I would hug everybody too, big hugs.

Adrienne MacIain 39:50

Yes, big hugs, lots of hugs. I love it. Alright, so you can come back to the present now and tell everyone at home where they can find more about OnTrack Coaches and everything else that you're up to.

Alex Murphy 40:04

Yes, absolutely. So yeah, you can check us out at You know, we offer individual coaching for kids, like, you know, middle school through college. So if you're hearing this and you're like, "Man, this sounds like this might be useful," you know, we offer some nice free trial kind of stuff that you can check out. So that's the place to see it. And that's really it right now in my life, that's where all my energy is going. So I don't have a second thing right now.

Adrienne MacIain 40:29


Alex Murphy 40:30

Startup life, you know, relatively new company. And that's, that's where I'm pouring out.

Adrienne MacIain 40:34

All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.

Alex Murphy 40:37

Thanks, Adrienne.

Adrienne MacIain 40:39

What would you like everyone to walk away with your last thought, the big takeaway?

Alex Murphy 40:46

Oh boy. When you're talking to young people, your words matter a lot. I would plead with you to try everyday to move a little bit more towards being a scientist instead of a judge. What I mean by that is, you know, a scientist asks questions and, and learns and makes hypotheses and test them out. And then when they see what happens, they draw some conclusions. A judge evaluates as soon as possible, what's good, what's bad, what's right, what's wrong, what they should be saying what they shouldn't be saying. And if you approach, I'm telling you right now, if you approach kids as a scientist and take a genuine interest in what they had to say, even if it's weird, or you know, a little worrisome, or whatever, like, if you really give them space to speak, like, you will not be sorry. They have some incredible things to say and that it's an incredible thing. So like, I think that's the big takeaway is like, you know, instead of trying to control and evaluate, like, be curious, be open, ask questions and just like, listen to whatever it is that they have to tell you.

Adrienne MacIain 41:50

Fantastic. Thank you so much.

Alex Murphy 41:53

Thanks, Adrienne. This was awesome.

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