Welcome to “What makes you, you?”, a three part conversation with David Korins. After focusing much of the last year exploring the topic of mental health, I was intrigued when David listed therapy as the first step to designing your life during his TED X Broadway talk last month. Particularly in this section, part 2, we dive into emotional balance, non-negotiables and spirituality.
New to this conversation? Catch up on Part 1 first!
… PART 2
Jane: I’m a huge advocate of therapy. I always think it’s interesting because in New York we talk about it pretty openly. Everywhere else… therapy and these discussions of depression are so under the rug. Did you feel like growing up, apart from running, did you have a space to go through those thoughts? How did you do that when you were younger? When you get older, you have money, you can organize your life in a way.. the structure supports you. It’s harder when you’re younger and you’re sort of scrambling a little bit. Did you ever have a life coach or a therapist when you were younger?
David: No. I mean, actually I probably grew up with the stigma that we all do which is like, therapy is bad, something is wrong with you. Even though, my parents I think to my knowledge, didn’t go to therapy but I think my parents weren’t like, ‘therapy is for broken people’. That wasn’t how I was raised either but I probably thought, oh it’s a shrink… Negative connotations. I didn’t really have a life coach but I had a lot of coaches. I think probably the way that I dealt with finding myself emotionally, to be really honest, is I didn’t. I put it away and compartmentalized. I’ve always been really task oriented. I’m really good at ‘here’s the thing I’m trying to achieve, break it into 6 different steps, break the 6 different steps into 6 different steps and now let me do those 36 things, go’. I could just do that. I think any emotional strife that I had, I was able to put aside in order to hit those 36 markers. I think probably because I wasn’t dealing with any of the emotional stuff, I was able to do a whole lot of sets of 36 because most people… some people can get paralyzed by the thing and not even be able to see steps. I think as I got older and tried to create more space for myself and you know, reading and talking and having conversations with people about “what’s another way to live a life?” You know, you don’t really know… your parents and your community are the whole shooting match. And even though you start to depend on other kids and your peers and teachers and mentors, they’re still part of this little tight community. I was raised outside of Boston in a pretty provincial, not that open-minded community and so it took me getting out of there and going to school at Amherst where there was a melting pot of ideas. There was actually racial diversity and religious diversity and sexual orientation diversity and there’s just a lot going on. And it’s like OH, right, more ways to live. Obviously there was vegan food. What does that even.. who would choose to be vegan? Ya know? Whatever that was. Then you start to take the meat and leave the bones and think about who do I want to be and how do I want to shape my life and how does it feel? So probably I compartmentalized until I realized there were other ways to address stress and emotional ups and downs. The newer realization I’ve had is people who are depressed or people who have mood swings or people who are uneven in any way, it’s also not their fault. They’re not broken.. Glass houses, right? Who do we know who’s a perfect chemical makeup?
Jane: Right. I’m pretty prone to depression, actually. Last year, I went through a period.. it was not great. I think that for the first 3 years of doing Fit for Broadway, I was really good at compartmentalizing and it was the first time that my emotional state bled into my work. And it was hard to navigate. It’s so interesting. Im thinking as you’re saying this, of course, that contributes to why you’re so successful because you could sort of put it over here. Whereas if it was bleeding in… But how did you address reintegrating the emotional area of your life and even putting it into your work because I think sometimes that can be such a blessing without it getting in the way of just being task oriented.
David: Well, that’s an interesting question. Listen, I don’t do this alone. You’re sitting in my office, there’s 10 people out there working. The really interesting thing about building a business was 1 + 1 = 3, right. or 5. I really early on figured out how much I needed to make financially and then any single penny I had to hire help, I did. What was interesting was I always knew I could count on myself or I always thought I could count on myself. Or I always knew that I was a pretty good investment, for me. Who else are you going to invest in if not yourself. But when you start to delegate and partner with people.. who they are and what their mental stability is and what their ups and downs are… you know it’s beautiful to have an intellectual and artistic yin and yang but what about your personal yin and yang…and [if] it’s not good. It’s interesting, a lot of people want to ask me what my best.. favorite show is or what my favorite project. And by far, it’s building the company because first of all, none of this stuff would happen without the company but also, we’re ten people out there and we’re super dysfunctional… we’re really a motley crew and part of my job is finding a way to make sure as many cylinders are firing as well and as efficiently as they can be. And I mean emotional cylinders because everyone out there is a human being and not a cyborg so they have stuff going on. It’s a personal challenge. It’s one that’s incredibly satisfying when it works. I had to be sympathetic and empathetic to not just my experience but their experience and how it then somehow coagulates into one big tapestry that is our company. And so you deal with a lot of that stuff. You do that in interpersonal relationships.. everyone’s a freak depending on the backdrop. Depression is just.. one flavor of something that’s paralyzing at times.
Jane: Do you feel like you’ve ever had a time when your mind or your body was working against you?
David: Honestly, having been partnered with people in life, professionally or personally, who go through emotional ups and downs, I weirdly have been mostly blessed by being pretty even. Emotionally pretty even. The thing that I wrestle with is.. is that real or not? Getting back to the compartmentalization. I start to go like, Am I even? but actually, one day I’m going to wake up and go postal and have like 7,000 people’s finger nails in my medicine cabinet. Oh I was even for 45 years of my life then I went… (laughs) So that’s one thing I’ve begun to allow more than my toe go into the water and think.. How am I really doing? I understand for this business and for personal life and everything, I sort of have to compartmentalize. But how am I really doing? So I’ve allowed myself to do that.
But then, the other thing is, as I get older and I get busier, and I do get energy from accomplishments and finishing tasks and those 36… my mind gets lazier. It’s harder to get to the gym, ya know? It’s like the more you do, the more you do. If you stop whether that’s through injury or you got busy… it’s the problem with that workout thing that I put up. I went 6 out of 7 times and then I went 2. You can imagine, between my clients and my workload and my life, it’s a busy life and I’ve never been good at always building in time for working out. I never missed practice when I was on a team.. but that was more like a job to me. When it was just for me to remain fit, it’s tough. And I never needed to remain fit mentally through exercise. I know people in my life that if they don’t get to the gym, they’re going to be sad. Or uneven. And that hasn’t been me so it’s actually really hard. I know when I go to the gym I feel better but I don’t need it to be calm in a meeting… I know a lot of people for whom going to the gym, if they don’t build that into their day, it could ruin them for 2-3 days where they crash, they’re less efficient. Some people medicate with food, some people medicate proper with drugs, and some people medicate with exercise. And one of those things is learning who you are. I endorse… if you’re one of those people who dips into that place and a 30 minute run gets you back up, you should do that. I don’t think that I’m that person although I do think that it does plus up who I am.
Jane: Do you have anything that is a non-negotiable in your day?
David: That’s a really great question. I lived for about 15 years thinking I didn’t even need sleep. Seriously, everyone asks you, are you a morning person or a night person? Equally. I’m fine at 3am, I’m fine at 6am. People who are in my life, close to me during those 15 years, were like you know you’re constantly sleep deprived, right? But I’m able to have a cup of coffee and just do it. Now I think I need a little more sleep. I’ve realized probably those people were right and now.. I should probably get 5 or 6 hours of sleep. So maybe, sleep. I think there’s a couple of levers that get pulled. If I’m not working out and I’m not eating great and I’m not sleeping and I’m not hydrated, I’ll crash. I could probably take a couple of those away and probably be ok for maybe longer than most people.
Jane: Do you feel like creating really gives you the energy you need throughout the day?
David: Maybe? Someone just at dinner the other night asked me, “Well are you living your dream job?” I said to them, maybe in 5 years I will be. I’m not quite there yet but I love what I do and there’s definitely a level of reflexive energy that I get from my job. I think often times in certain mundane, pull-your-hair-out, I’m-going-to-stab-myself-in-the-chest, horrible moments for most people, I actually draw energy from them… It’s just the process of doing and collaborating with people is energizing for me. But I’m not an extrovert necessarily. It’s not like I need people because I’m happy to be alone. Really and truly, happy to be alone. But something about the process of doing feeds me.
Jane: As you started talking, I was going to ask, “Do you feel fulfilled?” which is what that person asked you… Do you have a spiritual practice at all or any belief system you subscribe to?
David: You mean am I religious?
Jane: Whatever that means to you…
David: It’s funny. I’m a Jew. I’m not a great Jew. I’m Jew-ish. We’re raising our kids Jewish. But I also have read the bible a lot, I’ve thumbed through the Quran, I’ve gone to church a bunch. I loved going to church and I always… the scenario is like, ‘you’re in a boat and the boats rocky and you fall off the boat and you try and save yourself and this whole thing. What would you do??’ And then answer is ‘doesn’t matter, Jesus was always in the boat.’ And I’m always thrown off… wait a minute, you had me right up until you were ok because Jesus was always in the boat. I think it’s amazing how similar all the religions are and then there’s a couple little things that create all the wars in the world, right? But to me, my spiritual practice is kind of if you could pull back the lens and look at all the religions, I kind of live by that. You’ve seen the Native American, 10 Commandments.. or, ‘leave the world in a better place than when you started’ and all those things and be respectful. I pretty much subscribe to that and I also subscribe to basically, I think, because through my work, I know that everything has a life force. I know that if we emptied out this room right now, we would feel different. And I know if we closed our eyes in this empty room and added one chair, we would feel it. I know that. And I play with it in my work all the time. I know that chair which is an inanimate object and I know that it’s not talking to us, it is speaking to us through vibration or something because I could easily freak you out right now if I just changed the composition of this room. So, I believe whatever you want to call that, feng shui, spirituality, buddhism, rastafarianism, energy fields, crystal rocks, whatever the thing is, it is a thing. And so I guide myself through the principle of don’t be an asshole, right? really, really. And know that everything does have a spirit to it, whatever that means.
Do I think that I’m going to heaven or hell, or some other place? Not particularly. I’m not that concerned with that. I kind of feel like human beings are televisions and we unplug them and that’s the whole deal. Because.. momma cave bear had to explain to baby cave bear what happened to daddy cave bear when daddy dave bear closed his eyes forever. And they were like, HEAVEN! That’s my general sense. But I feel like part of the deal was when daddy cave bear started to decay and the feeling of losing him physically through space, chemically changed people. I just read an article the other day about a twin astronaut who went to space and spent something like two years based at the International Space Station. He just came home and he has been molecularly changed and he no longer matches his identical twin. Which is interesting to think about… so, I think that space and oxygen and light and energy over time effects you. And I kinda live by that principle.
Photos & Interview by Jane Jourdan.
(Part 3 COMING SOON!)