Dr. Wallace J. Nichols
Dr. J's Bio: Dr. Wallace "J." Nichols, called “Keeper of the Sea" by GQ Magazine and “a visionary" by Outside Magazine is an innovative, silo-busting, entrepreneurial scientist, movement maker, renown marine biologist, voracious Earth and idea explorer, wild water advocate, bestselling author, sought after lecturer, and fun-loving Dad. He also likes turtles (a lot). His experiences as a field research scientist, government consultant, founder and director of numerous businesses and nonprofit organizations, teacher, mentor, parent, and advisor all support his quest to build a stronger and more diverse blue movement. Formerly a Senior Scientist at Ocean Conservancy, Nichols holds a B.A. degree from DePauw University in Biology and Spanish, an M.E.M. degree in Natural Resource Economics and Policy from Duke University, and a Ph.D.degree in Wildlife Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona. He has authored more than 200 scientific papers, technical reports, book chapters, and popular publications; lectured in more than 30 countries; and appeared in hundreds of print, film, radio, and television media outlets including NPR, BBC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Time, Newsweek, GQ, Outside Magazine, Elle, Vogue, Fast Company, Surfer Magazine, Scientific American, and New Scientist, among others.
At every turn he encourages people to disconnect from the grid and reconnect with themselves, those they love, and the special places they care about. J. is currently a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and co-founder of Ocean Revolution, an international network of young ocean advocates, SEEtheWILD, a conservation travel network, Grupo Tortuguero, an international sea turtle conservation network, and the Blue Mind Fund, a global campaign to reconnect people to water. J. lives with his partner Dana, two daughters, and some cats, dogs, and chickens on California's SLOWCOAST, a rural stretch of coastal mountains where organic strawberries rule, mountain lions roam, and their motto is "In Slow We Trust". The Nichols chose to settle down in this area after trekking the entire 1,800 kilometer coast from Oregon to Mexico. Source: About J.
The Full Conversation: Click play and listen here »
◊ Do not miss minutes 28 to 32 where Dr. J and I discuss why the Blue Mind movement is so important to be♡7's mission, as well as for changing the story of conservation, which has been "dangerously incomplete". ◊
The Highlight Reel: Feeling flighty? If you want to listen to music and skim over what I thought were the highlights of the conversation, simply click play, enjoy this tune handpicked just for you by J., and read on »
be-7: At this point you, have all of the information and knowledge as to why, as humans, we love to be by the water, and look back at those pictures [of moments from childhood by the water] and remember those memories, but before you had all of that knowledge compiled and all of those facts, what connected you? What do you think incited the curiosity to begin this lifelong Blue Mind research?
Dr. J: I think the basic idea was that I felt like the best version of myself when I was near, in, on, or under water. I recognized that, even in those photographs. It [the water] connected me to myself, it connected me to the people I love, it connected me to our planet… and I felt like the best version of me. I always wanted to get back to that, when I wasn't by the water/in the water, I always wanted to get there. I realized that my pursuit of a career as a marine biologist was at least partially driven by that feeling, wanting to return to that feeling. […] That's what I was up to since early in my education, [I] was learning about the ocean, learning about the waterways, and acquiring skills to be a useful contributor to their protection or restoration, but at the base of it, I think, is that deep emotional connection and the feeling that I got when I was in that place.
be-7: About that distinction between doing for the planet and following the heart, being the scientist/the researcher, and then being that person who just feels at home/like the best version of himself by the ocean－ is there ever a battle between those two parts of yourself? Or, does it always seem to flow harmoniously?
Dr. J: It mostly flows－ that feeling of your passion or the thing that really drives you deep down and then actually doing it, showing up in the world as someone who does that for a living or with their time. […] there are definitely moments when the passion and the work that needs to be done doesn't always align with the paycheck side of the equation. And, those are the ups and downs, especially if you are on any kind of cutting edge or if you have an entrepreneurial spirit. I think everybody can relate to this, there's the "startup mode" that isn't always at the start, […] where the compensation is not there in a financial sense. It may be there in an emotional sense, in a spiritual or satisfaction sense. If your life is complicated, as mine is taking care of a family, those are the moments that test you. […] I think everybody who is following a dream of any kind, has faced that once, or many times.
be-7: I like that you brought that up because, often times, I feel the general understanding of an entrepreneur/someone who lives their purpose is, "Oh, you are so lucky, you work for yourself", or "You created something!". [Or], there's that leap-of-faith story where you just go for it, and you just go for your dreams and all of the ups and downs […] don't get a whole lot of attention. So, for someone who is deciding to take that leap themselves, once they start to hit the road blocks, they may feel like they've taken the wrong path because they did not hear a whole lot about that when they read about these entrepreneurs or these avant garde ideas coming on the scene.
Dr. J: We hear mostly about the success stories […] we don't hear about the works in progress or the ones that didn't go anywhere. […] There's this perception that if you align your passion with where you put your energy, it will lead down this beautiful path of happiness. Rarely is it that simple, and I think that's good to talk about. It doesn't mean it's not worth doing, it just means you maybe need a bar tending gig along the way, or your version of that.
be-7: Are there moments in your life when you seem to be in an in-between time? Do you ever feel restless or unsettled to not have a clear path or direction? Or is it always clear for you?
Dr. J: I think the overall direction, has been fairly clear for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I've gone back and looked at things that I have written a long time ago or, in one case, there was this video from college that I kind of forgot about, and I went back and looked at it and I can see in my younger self that my rudder was deep in the water in the water/on this path. That actually makes me feel more confident now, seeing that. This has been something that was pretty clear, for a long time. […] I never got on the hamster wheel, I've been on my life's mission path since the start, and I knew it. I remember thinking and writing that I wanted my life to feel like I was on vacation, I did not want to have a job that made me want to take a vacation, I wanted it to be the other way around. I wanted to live in places that fed me, to work with people that I admired, and to have a life that was full of purpose. And I did that.
Sometimes you aren't given the resources, sometimes your ideas are new and others may not understand what you're talking about. There are definitely those moments where you have to either listen to yourself or listen to those around you who think you're delusional and check in, "Are they right?" There's the possibility that your idea is terrible and that you are completely delusional. […] I've been told at least six times that I was committing career suicide […] including this work on Blue Mind […] and all six times it turned out not to be true. I've learned to trust, you know, that feeling that you get when something actually is a good idea, that gut feeling that gets supported by your research and analysis. But, it's important to check in and make sure you aren't, in fact, completely delusional. That's the test, right there, is that if you are doing something new that hasn't been done, maybe there's a reason? Maybe it is not a good idea, maybe it's not real… and maybe it is? There's just one way to find out […] but we don't really hear from those who ended up in the ditch very often. We don't talk about failure, at least as a society, as openly and as deeply as we ought to. I think that's a piece of how we learn. […] all good scientists know that failed experiments are sometimes the most valuable, truly.
be-7: One of the risks you took that we've mentioned a couple of times that I want to explain for any reader who isn't familiar with the term "Blue Mind"－ it is the science that shows us how being in, under, near water actually has been proven to make us happier, to make us more connected to the planet, to make us more focused, better at what we do, healthier. And, something that you've done with this Blue Mind concept, is you hold a summit every year that brings all different types of people together […] I was curious, do you ever bring in individuals who may not have a conscious personal connection to the sea when they first arrive at the summit?
Dr. J: Absolutely, [...] most if not all of the neuroscientists who have participated […dozens and dozens of scientists], when I call them to participate on a panel or to speak, they almost all say, "I think you've got the wrong person, I'm not sure why you are inviting me to come and speak about water, or the ocean… I'm a neuroscientist, I don't do ocean work." And, by the end of the conversation, they sound like they are jumping up and down ready to come and participate. They had not realized how important their work was to our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to water. For example, Doctor Howard Fields who is at UCSF, he's as famous as neuroscientists get… he's a well-known neuroscientist, very accomplished and he studies the dopamine systems in our bodies, the pain and pleasure feedback loops. I asked him to come to Blue Mind and be on a panel with Jeff Clark, who is a pioneering big-wave surfer who discovered that the wave called Mavericks is surf-able, and surfed it alone for a while. He's an incredible waterman and surfer. When I invited Howard, he wasn't clear on how his work had anything to do with surfing, or with the ocean and once I explained it and once they [he and Clark] got together on the panel, they just went for it and it was truly an amazing and new conversation; the role of dopamine in the life and brain of the big wave surfer. […] and so they were both fascinated with each other, and everyone in the room benefited from that conversation.
[…] This year, we will be exploring some new topics [at Blue Mind 6]: the neuroscience of play and the role of water in that, the neuroscience of happiness and the role water plays in that, the science of romance and the role of water […] the feeling of peace, and the feeling of freedom. […] an interesting group of people who normally probably wouldn't meet, at least not knowingly, and a set of questions that haven't ever been asked before, that's kind of what we strive for, and the summits are always quite small […] and the result of that is that I think we reach more people in a deeper way than if we had a big auditorium full of people who may come in and out and maybe be there half of the time or be going out and checking their cellphones. We ask people to come and be engaged the whole time.
be-7: And just the seemingly obvious fact that we all inhabit this planet that's over 70% water, and that we're affected by the seasons and the tides and the moon cycles, and we're talking here today on the Winter Solstice… are these forces conscious in your day to day life? Do you feel a connection to the ebb and flow of the larger planet? Or is it more on that small scale?
Dr. J: I think it varies. Some people are, I think, living lives that are largely detached/mostly indoor, and sort of encapsulated. Whether it's their office, or their home, or their car, their day-to-day interaction with anything like a wild waterway is minimal. But, even in those cases, most people have a memory of a time when they were at the water, in the water, and felt that feeling (the best version of themselves). When I talk to people and tap into that, it's sometimes extremely emotional and I am always surprised (and at this point should not be), beautifully surprised by how emotional people can get when they pull that memory up and then realize that it's been too long, that they've been away from that feeling. That's actually a great moment right there.
be-7: For a universal bit of guidance or advice that you would give to someone who is just beginning their experimentation into what Blue Mind means for them, or their connection to the planet and these giant forces that we are all a part of－ do you have any piece of advice, any guidance? Maybe something that you've even told your daughters from a fatherly perspective?
Dr. J: I think the main thing is the simplest idea, which is to just remember, remember to get in the water whenever you can, or go to it whenever you can. If you're having a bad day, find the water. If you are stuck, wrestling with a big question or even a little question, go find the water. If you need to work some things out in a relationship, go do it by the water. I need to remind myself of that as well, I live one block from the ocean.
Wondering what Dr. Wallace J. Nichols ate for breakfast on December 22nd, 2015? Listen to the full audio above. ◊ Do not miss minutes 28 to 32 where Dr. J and I discuss why the Blue Mind movement is so important to be♡7's mission, as well as for changing the story of conservation, which has been "dangerously incomplete". ◊