Hangin’ with Hugh Vail
When a ruggedly handsome man who tames wild mustangs sits down with you for an hour, you know you’re in for a treat. I’ve been privileged to know Hugh Vail for several years now, but the memories and conversations we’ve shared have lasted a lifetime. He has been a good friend to me and has helped me through my own challenges in life.
Hugh is a man of virtue in every sense of the word. He lives it, breathes it, and shares it with all around him. Studying the principles of virtue, Hugh created the Clapham Foundation in order to help people live more excellently and bring others to their true potential. As a part of this foundation, Hugh also created Mustang Medicine. He has helped many experience deep emotional, mental, and spiritual healing by lying with mustangs as they submit to Hugh. It has been an incredible process to watch.
Hugh talked about the need to feel whole in every stage of life you are at, and the trick to doing so is to be comfortable in the stillness. We definitely waxed philosophical in this podcast. Hope you enjoy!
About Hugh Vail
Hugh Vail believes so vividly in the importance of virtue to help humankind elevate and find a purpose that he created Mustang Medicine and is a founding partner of the Clapham Foundation. He takes on many roles as an instructor, executive, and entrepreneur to follow his vision.
A History of Helping
After experiencing personal losses and suffering, Hugh started a journey in understanding and dealing with loss, grief, sorrow, pain, and depression. He learned about the tendency to turn losses into poor self-esteem and adopt avoidance behaviors. Self-medicating behaviors like drugs, sex, and unhealthy dieting practices are common among those who experience extreme loss.
Instead of trying to cope with unhealthy means, Hugh wanted to understand shame, guilt, and loss in a way that would enable him and others to deal with loss and turn pain into something meaningful.
After learning about an organization in 2015 that rescues children from sex trafficking, he started volunteering his time. This experience taught him that there are many people suffering, and pain can often be passed down through families. This specific charity was shining a light on one kind of suffering, but there were many other kinds throughout the world.
Two years later, in 2017, he decided to take that insight and start to build something of his own to help. He felt he needed a visual representation of how to achieve wholeness after a loss. He eventually found that visual representation in the form of training mustangs.
He saw new mustangs as broken and in pain in the same way that he was after experiencing loss but saw them become whole as they were trained. He started to share his vision with others and within eight months had helped 400 people with his experiences.
Mustang Medicine combines positive psychology, ancient Greek Philosophy, and Evidence-based Horsemanship to deliver a safe and cathartic experience to help people deal with their grief and suffering. Workshops allow participants to apply their own strengths to develop a character that will help them achieve greatness.
Mustangs experience the same emotions of fear, safety, trust, and love that we feel as we experience tragedies and relationships in our lives. Learning how to help guide those emotions in a horse helps individuals find their own path through suffering to virtue.
Wild mustangs are adopted by the facility and then start to overcome their fears through training. Mustang facilitators help them with their initial training so they will be ready to use in workshops. The semi-wild mustangs continue in their training with participants in the workshops, which are monitored and guided by certified mustang facilitators.
The basis of the entire program centers around helping participants learn to connect to their own emotions in a deep and meaningful way in order to build strong character. Uncovering the emotions of the mustangs and working through them towards peace and love will guide them on their own emotional journey.
Instead of having specific things to think or do, participants are encouraged to learn how to think for themselves. Doing this will help them connect to themselves in a way that will uncover truths about themselves and lead them to discover what their next steps should be on their journey. Each person has the power within themselves to know what they need to heal, and going through the workshop helps them discover it for themselves.
The Clapham Foundation
Hugh’s early experiences with organizations combating child sex trafficking led him to co-found The Clapham Foundation with Derek McLaughlin in 2017. The Clapham Foundation helps to fight against child sexual abuse, exploitation, and pornography.
Using content created by experts and influencers, The Clapham Foundation strives to empower people to build good moral character in small and simple ways. Creating small experiences to help people see the truth about these problems will lead them to adopt helpful principles and values that will keep children all over the world safe.
While it may seem counterproductive to work in such small, individual ways, when individual people can change their mindsets, it will have a huge impact on homes, communities, and societies as a whole. When children are protected, it can change the world for the better.
Hugh lives in Utah with his wife and five children. He uses his family support and vision in his personal and professional life to develop programs and strategies to help others. He previously owned a successful food storage company. He has also worked managing social media accounts for Operation Underground Railroad and on the digital marketing plans for a documentary called “The Abolitionists.”
Huge Vail Podcast Transcription
Charan: All right, welcome guys to the Lemonade Stand podcast. This is your host, Charan Prabhakar, and I am with my good, dear buddy, Mr. Hugh Vail, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for a few years, but it feels much longer than that. Not in a bad way, though.
Hugh: Well, we met 10 years ago.
Charan: Was it 10 years ago?
Hugh: And then years went in between.
Charan: That’s true. That is true.
Hugh: And then we reconnected.
Charan: We met on the phone, right?
Charan: We met on the phone and then we really, really met and it was as if no time passed, especially because that voice was so great. But no, here’s the thing, guys. Hugh and I met at a time in my life when I was actually going through some pretty tough challenges, if you remember. I had a rough breakup and all these things were a bit of a challenge. We spent a considerable amount of time together, and I remember you were such a saving grace in those times. In fact, on this podcast and previous podcasts, I have referenced you as my buddy that saved me when I was in the dark depths.
Charan: But no, I’ve been so grateful for your friendship, Hugh. I’m going to give a little bit of background so the audience can know who you are. Hugh has been doing all kinds of amazingly beautiful things, and I can honestly spend an hour over the background of what Hugh has done. He’s gone over to Haiti and he’s helped rescue children from child sex trafficking, and he has also been working with horses on Mustang Medicine, which we’re going to definitely go into. He’s also, I would say, the father of virtue in our modern day.
Hugh: Okay, that might be a little too much, but you know what? We’re going to go into that, for sure.
Charan: No, but it really is cool. Hugh has been instrumental and he’s created this … I guess you could say, the CEO of the Clapham Foundation, which is all about promoting virtue and making virtue popular and making that a thing. So, I want to really dive into that and talk about that. The Lemonade Stand podcast is all about creators and entrepreneurs that are doing amazing things, big things, and hopefully making the world a better place, and honestly, Hugh, you definitely are.
Hugh Vail Talks About Mustang Medicine
Charan: So, let’s dive into it, if you don’t mind, and talk a little bit about your lemonade stand story of how you even got into Mustang Medicine and then the Clapham Foundation and we’ll go from there.
Hugh: Well, Mustang Medicine is a project of a 501(c)(3), The Clapham Foundation. So what that means is that The Clapham Foundation is all about how to popularize virtue. Virtue is character excellence in all things. I think that’s an important definition to understand. The problem is that there’s ton of virtue signaling, which is super annoying and the other thing it can be very heady. You get into ancient languages and what did that mean, and then ancient stories. So, the real question is how do we inspire people to be of the highest excellence in their own character at all times in every circumstance?
Hugh: We ended up creating a program called Mustang Medicine where we use wild horses. We go get them from the Bureau of Land Management, which is the government agency that gathers and rounds up all these excess wild horses, and then they just wait for long-haired serial entrepreneurs to come around and adopt them.
Charan: I could never grow my hair long enough, so I’m like all right, Hugh, you better take over.
Hugh: I found out about the challenges that wild horses were having. There’s tens of thousands that are in long-term holding facilities, and they have to be adopted. The challenges are actually quite similar to the human adoption challenges that are out there. There’s a fantastic organization called All Kids Belong, if you want to look into the real human adoption challenges that are out there, and I think they do a great job at solving that.
Hugh: I always loved horses. I was always taking natural horsemanship clinics and those kinds of things, but it was also a hobby. It was a weekend thing for me. Like you mentioned earlier, I had a chance to get involved with an organization that was leading the charge in rescuing children from sex trafficking. One time, actually coming home from Haiti — we went to a lot of different countries — and coming home from Haiti, I was thinking, “Gosh, how do you really solve this problem?”
Hugh: That was one of the things I was actually tasked with is trying to figure out what could be a real solution. Rescuing is an absolute necessity. It’s a response. It’s a reaction rather than a proaction. I guess I was just really going back to that night coming home from Haiti, I was thinking about all these children that are still out there that haven’t been rescued. I was thinking about the children that maybe someday will need to rescued and who those children might be, and they don’t even know and their parents don’t know.
Hugh Vail Talks About the Power of Virtue
Hugh: So, those are some really heavy, can be very depressing things. I think they need to be thought about. I call it a download. I think we all get them. This doesn’t make me unique in any special way. I heard this feeling inside of me that said, “Virtue is the answer.” I was like, “Well, yes, sexual purity.”
Charan: Sure, yeah. That’s what I would think virtue is.
Hugh: And then it turns out that that is such a small aspect, such a small facet of virtue. I think when you look into virtue, you would really get drawn back to one of the great Roman Emperors, Marcus Aurelius. Total Bad-A kind of a guy. He’s a man’s man. The word “virtue” really means strength in manliness to do the right thing for the right reason regardless of the consequences. See, all of a sudden now it starts going way behind sexual purity.
Charan: Well, it’s interesting how when you start understanding the origin of a word, and start understanding the context and the meaning of it, everything changes because initially you think, “Oh, virtue is sexual purity,” but the way you’re describing it, far more vast than that.
Hugh: Yeah, the ancient Greek word is “arete.” We might say it in English as “arete.” A-R-E-T-E. It’s a fantastic word, and there isn’t really a one-word translation into English. When we give the word “arete” a one-word translation into English, we say “virtue,” but when you get into the depth of what “arete” means, you’re talking about a whole facet, a whole way of being, a lifestyle of being excellent in all circumstances in a virtuous way. You could probably have some cartel members who are excellent in what they do, but that’s not very virtuous.
Hugh: So, to be “arete” is to be excellent in all circumstances in all things for all the right reasons. I think the thing that I love the most about this version, this definition, is that I don’t think it’s an ideal. That’s what I think we’re bringing to the table, and what we’re demonstrating at Mustang Medicine with the wild mustangs is we’re showing that character excellence in all things is available for all people in all times and it’s not an ideal.
Charan: Well, let me ask you this. Obviously, it’s great for people to live excellently in all things and all places, but why do you feel like that’s a need? What’s the drive for a human being to go live that way?
Hugh: I think Socrates answered that question really, really well. Socrates said that he was teaching all of the men, all of the women, and all of the children that virtue was the answer to everything they were seeking for and searching for. Aristotle talked about other very similar things, but what Socrates said was that he was trying to articulate the formula for how to be in life that would bring about the results that I think we all want. Success, financially, economically, socially, physically, spiritually. And his theory, which I totally believe in was to be “arete.”
Hugh: So, you would actually make more money, your company would be more profitable through virtue than any other way.
Charan: Yeah, it’s interesting because it’s like this definition, this pursuit of living virtuously, living with “arete” … I don’t know if that’s the right way to say it … is the answer to the things that we were always searching for but didn’t even know we were searching for.
Hugh: Exactly, exactly.
Charan: I think that’s the problem, right? Human beings are always searching. They’re trying to fill their cup. There is something missing all the time, so whether it’s they don’t think about it, or whether they’re trying to chase after it with money, whether they’re trying to chase after it with vacations or crazy experiences, or whatever it is, there’s that missing thing.
Charan: So, you’re suggesting that this way of living “arete” answers all those things?
Hugh: Absolutely, absolutely. Again, this is Aristotle, this is Plato, this is the Greek stoics, this is the Roman Emperors, this is the founding fathers of America. In George Washington’s first inaugural address — it’s actually worth reading; it’s a fantastic piece of our American history — what he says is that there is “an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness.” When Jefferson is writing about the pursuit of happiness, they don’t specifically write the outline of how do you obtain the happiness, because you’re pursuing it. When do we ever obtain it?
Hugh Vail Talks About Mindfulness
Hugh: I think that’s a big challenge that we see is that so many of us are pursing … that’s exactly what you just said … but so few of us are actually experiencing that level of satisfaction, that level of fulfillment. I think the thing that’s missing for most of us that are pursuing happiness is mindfulness. I think the Buddhists got that. They nailed that. If you want to figure out mindfulness, just go study with some Buddhists.
Charan: They nail it down, right? In our society, why do you think we’re not mindful?
Hugh: I think we’re distracted. I think the antithesis to mindfulness is distraction. I think there’s just so many things to be distracted with. There’s so many things that are vying for your attention. One of my favorite authors is a guy named Richard Rohr, R-O-H-R. If you guys haven’t read any of his stuff, you should totally read his stuff. He’s a 75-year-old Franciscan priest.
Charan: Love it.
Hugh: Which sounds like the guy I would never read, and he’s just the guy that I read everything that he puts out there. He’s fantastic. But he articulated something that I think helps on this subject, which is, I think, what we’re all trying to do is something. We’re focusing on doing, but what precedes doing is being. So I think the thing that we have to get right in our businesses and in our personal lives is that the first step to doing is stillness. That’s a paradox, which quantum physics tells us that truth is hidden in the paradoxes.
Hugh: The paradox says, “Well, this doesn’t sound like it’s true, but it actually ends up being true.” So, it’s doing is an action word and stillness doesn’t sound like you’re doing a lot.
Charan: Yeah, you’re the opposite of doing.
Hugh: Yeah, but what happens in stillness which is where mindfulness comes in, which is why the Buddhists love to do their meditations. Also, over in India and the Yogis, who are meditating and they’re doing yoga. That’s to instill mindfulness and to be present. When you get to stillness, what you get is clarity on what needs doing. Then, once you have the clarity, you go do that. I think what we do in our culture is we don’t get the clarity, and the reason we don’t get the clarity is because we don’t prioritize the stillness. And so, the first step to doing is stillness.
Charan: It’s interesting because I think in our society, we almost celebrate the rat race. We celebrate the competition, right?
Charan: We’re like, “Okay, we’ve got to get this done, and we got to get that done, and we’ve got to achieve this, we got to achieve that.”
Hugh: Grinding and hustling is the virtue of our modern-day society. And it’s not a virtue.
Charan: Yeah, it’s just hard work, you have to do all these things to achieve so much and you can make a name for yourself. But so many people I’ve talked with and chatted with, they would go and race and get all these things done, and at the end of the day, they never obtain that happiness they were looking for.
Hugh: Yeah, that’s right.
Charan: That’s the problem. It’s like somehow-
Hugh: Well, what it makes me think of is these wild horses that we go and adopt. If you just imagine a 1000-pound wild animal, and you’ve been out to our facility so you’ve seen these wild horses.
Charan: They’re amazing.
Hugh: They’re just absolutely 100% wild. You have a wild animal. A mustang is not a breed in the horse world. Any breed of horse can be a mustang. What a mustang is, is it was born in the wild and grew up in the wild. There’s a tremendous amount of survivalism in this animal, so when you bring it into captivity and you put it into a new life with humans, we’re the ultimate predator and they’re thinking, I’m dead; this is the moment that I’m going to die.
Hugh: And if you’re a situation where you feel like you’re going to die, you’re going to do whatever you have to do to survive.
Charan: Yeah, flight or fight, for sure.
Hugh: That’s where this 1000-pound animal comes in at that stage of being, and what we’re doing is we’re gentling the mustang into a stillness that requires an inner transformation. What the horse can’t be is still under the pressure of having a predator standing in the pen with it. What we end up teaching it is how to go within itself to find that stillness.
Hugh: See, when you find the stillness and you go within, what you end up with are the virtues. You end up with the courage, the bravery, the wisdom if you do it long enough, and all of a sudden you see this clear transformation that takes place in the life of the mustang where it was totally wild and no one can get near it, and then you’ve got your kids climbing all over it after the inner transformation. That first process always begins with stillness and being able to take the time that it takes.
Hugh: I don’t think that those are things that we’re very good at doing, because the message of grinding and hustling and the praise that we get for doing that is a complete counterfeit. It’s the reverse opposite of stillness. So there, I think, is where a big part of our challenge is. And we have real legitimate pressures as entrepreneurs.
Charan: Of course.
Hugh: These things have to get done. But here’s what I’ve learned in all my mistakes, tons of successes … Way more failures, as is typical. That’s part of the formula … is that when I learned how to just be with what is first, I became so much more efficient. It was a super hard lesson, because grinding and hustling is a mental distraction, so I feel like I’m doing something even though it may be extremely inefficient.
Hugh: So, I get to justify at the end of the night I’ve done all that I can do. But I think what we have to understand is that being is what precedes doing.
Charan: It’s interesting. I have a buddy of mine who is so heavily into politics. We have the same buddy. We won’t say his name, but we know who it is. Good friend of ours. And it’s interesting because I’ve had conversations with him, and he does more than anyone I know to push forward the cause that he believes in. I’ve said, “Sometimes I feel like you push forward probably more than you should even do.”
Charan: I said, “Sometimes it’s good to just surrender to the flow of life.” What’s interesting about that idea of surrendering, and in fact, sometimes that word surrendering freaks people out so I say “relaxing.” How about relax into the flow of life? You start realizing when-
Hugh: That’s where your flow state actually comes from.
Charan: Where your flow state actually is, right? When you relax into the flow state, so you can’t force it, you can’t, “Ugh, I got to get to the flow state.” When you relax into it, when you surrender into it, when you go deep within yourself, you realize, “Oh my gosh, I was so much greater than what my mind perceived myself to be.”
Charan: Because the ego mind is like, “All right, we’ve got to race. We got to go do this thing. We got to do that thing.” You are in this running race, and at the end of the day you don’t realize, “Oh my gosh, the insides and answers were always within me.”
Charan: “Just, I never took the time to be still.”
Hugh: That’s right. Yeah, I think we live in a culture that tells us that our happiness is outside of us. I think that’s why we pursue so many things trying to find happiness, and all along … I had a mentor from my youth and he told me this story about diamonds in your own backyard. And, it’s about a guy, he’s trying to provide for his family and he ends up leaving. The short story is, is he searches all over the world and he comes home defeated, and then he ends up finding this mine of diamonds in his own backyard, and there it was all along.
Hugh: So, I think we live in a culture that really exacerbates this idea that our inner peace, our happiness, our salvation, whether it’s coming from a mentor or its coming from an ecclesiastical source, they’re always telling us that salvation, however that’s defined, is something outside of us. I don’t believe that. Rumi, if people are reading Rumi, he said that his happiness came when he finally put down the books and when he stopped listening to other people and went within.
Hugh: Because what happens is that people are to be the confirmation for what we’re learning in our stillness. I think it’s important to have confirmation that builds confidence. Buddha had very similar things. Even Jesus said the kingdom of God is inside of you. So it’s not somewhere outside of you. I think that’s why we grind and hustle so much is we’re trying to find that thing that is already here.
Charan: We’re looking for the reward outside of us, but what’s interesting for me anyway is as I’ve gone more inward, as I’ve gone more still, it’s just being aware of who I am is the reward.
Charan: Living is the reward. So then in that sense, before I even head out the door, I’m complete.
Charan: And I feel whole. When I go out the door, I’m not going out the door with the intention of I need to find something outside of me to fulfill me. I’m fulfilled already, so now I’m free to just go outside and share and shine.
Hugh: This is the exact same thing that the stoics were saying. It’s the same thing that all the great philosophers have been saying. Carl Jung is a big proponent of that exact message. Jesus was a big proponent of that exact message, and so if you look at their influence and their followers, it’s so interesting how I think that message can so easily be missed and skipped over. The ancient Greeks, they had a word for complete or wholeness as you were saying and the word is “teleios.” What it stems from, going back to words, it stems from the word “telos,” and “telos” is your aim.
Hugh: It’s like what am I aiming at in life? If I’m aiming at happiness, because I think that’s a default for all of us, or I’m aiming at success and I think we ought to be successful … I don’t believe in a society of sitting around apathetically and just watching the grass grow. I don’t think that’s why we’re here, and I don’t think that’s very fulfilling in any way, shape or form. I think there are moments that you can take that, enjoy and appreciate that.
Hugh: So the question is what am I aiming at? And if I’m aiming at happiness, or I’m aiming at success, however that’s defined, then what that first thing has to come from, just to validate or confirm your words, is the sense and the knowing that you are complete lacking no parts. That you are whole as you are. And I go back to Jesus because I think he’s the easiest and often the most common in our society and culture at large. He said, “Be perfect.” He said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
Hugh: What he’s not saying is be flawless, because if you’re always chasing your flaws, you’ll never arrive. It’s always out on the horizon and you can always be better, but you get into the original New Testament written in ancient Greek and it says “be ye therefore complete,” realizing you are lacking no parts. So the thing he didn’t say is become flawless. He didn’t say become perfect. He said just own your wholeness, just realize that you are perfect the way that you are.
Hugh: The way that I describe this a lot to people, and this helped me a ton in my business. I wish I had a better formulaic step-by-step process to explain how it has impacted and helped us to be so much more profitable. It’s just been fantastic, but I’m still lacking the articulation of that. However, the way to describe it is to think of us in states of perfection, or states of wholeness, rather than steps to wholeness or steps to perfection. I think that’s what our culture and our society often is focused on is “here are the nine things that you need to do to be a better human being.”
Hugh: And it’s like, what if you already are that? If you think about making an apple pie, and then you think of everything that goes into making an apple pie, the apple pie was created by apples and the apples were created by a tree, and the tree was created from a seed. So if you looked at an apple seed and you said, “Well, this apple seed is an amazing apple pie.” It’s like, “Well, I don’t know if that’s true.” But if you looked at that apple seed and you said, “This apple seed is complete and whole as it is,” and you allowed it to be in the state or the stage that it is of perfection, and you don’t think about what it can be, or what it will be. You just take it for what it actually is and you see the beauty and you have the appreciation and the beauty of the state that it’s in.
Hugh: Well then that becomes a little sapling and that sapling is not a perfect tree, but it is a perfect sapling, and the tree is a perfect tree, it’s not a great apple pie. Do you see what I’m saying?
Hugh: So, you’ve got these states or states of perfection rather than steps to perfection.
Charan: Oh, man. I love that, Hugh. I love that you just described it like that because then you can go easy on yourself. You know what I mean?
Charan: So many times it’s so easy to beat ourselves up being like, “Dang it, I didn’t get this done or I didn’t get that done.”
Hugh: Or, the project didn’t get finished on time.
Charan: The project didn’t get finished on time.
Hugh: We lost money on the deal. You look at all the stuff that’s going on in your business, and all of those things are going to happen, but if you step back … If you have that perspective, what happens is you step back and then you look at where you’re actually at and you’re like, “You know what? I’m judging myself as an apple and I want to be an apple pie. I’m judging myself as an apple but I’m actually the seed.” We’re in a startup company. So it’s like, stop being so dang hard on yourself.
Charan: Yeah, exactly. And, it totally gives you a different perspective on the seed round funding, like saying, “Hey, you know what? I’m just a seed right now.”
Hugh: Yeah, that’s right.
Charan: And that’s all we need right now. Oh man, I love that perspective, and I love it because, listeners, if you’re watching or listening to this, I remember when you were first getting Mustang Medicine going. It was around 2018-ish, I think, is when things were actually starting for you, and that’s when we officially met. But I remember things were just going, you were getting a couple of CEOs and a couple different people to come and check it out, and people were having transformational experiences. I remember going and being like, “Oh my gosh, I just laid down on a mustang and had an awesome experience with it.”
Charan: And I remember how it was difficult funding-wise to get things going-
Hugh: Very difficult.
Charan: Things were a challenge at the time, but it seems to me that you’ve been thriving and now you have a different ranch you’re at, you probably have more horses. How did that process of growth go for you?
Hugh: I think the state of thriving that we’re in right, because if I put myself out into the future, I don’t feel like I’m thriving, but if I look at what we are and I go, “You know what? It’s enough. It’s sufficient right now. It totally is sufficient right now.” When I look at the stage or the state of thriving that we’re in right now, I would say that it was so difficult to get here because I was always somewhere else. I was never present.
Charan: Present, yeah.
Hugh: I wouldn’t allow us to just be the seed, and that’s where the difficulties of funding were coming from is when you’re a little seed in your startup phase, people who want to give you money, they’re going to invest in your vision for a tremendous amount of varying reasons. So, those reasons why are so … and you never quite know. You’ve got to do a tremendous amount of homework to figure out who is this potential funding partner that we could bring on and what would motivate them?
Hugh: And so, sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day to figure those things out, so we were getting no’s. The reason that we were getting no’s was very simple. They wanted to fund a tree and I was a seed. Others wanted to fund the apple pie and I was a seed. Then we ended up finding one person who was like, “I believe in this little seed,” and I was like really? We ended up getting $100,000 and had nothing to show for it. Bless his soul, David Hill, thank you for believing in that little seed. I think now we’re definitely, metaphorically, we’re the blossoming tree that’s producing really good fruit.
Hugh: A shout out to Zac Efron, as one does-
Charan: I always shout out to Zac Efron. Go on.
Hugh: Netflix has a TV show that he’s doing with Darren. I can’t remember Darren’s last name. Amazing dude. I just follow everything that Darren has, but Zac and Darren have a TV show called “Down to Earth.” Everyone should watch it. There’s one of these episodes that talks about Honey Crisp apples and how they came about, and it’s just a fantastic episode, but interestingly enough, and I think this applies to our little metaphor … It’s just my excuse to bring up Zac Efron.
Charan: Any excuse to bring up Zac Efron is a good excuse.
Hugh: They were interviewing this apple farmer out on the East Coast, and this guy makes the best Honey Crisp apples, which are extremely popular right now in the grocery stores, and he said it took their orchard that was producing apples 10 years to get the Honey Crisp. Even the fruit begins to change when you start to graft in different things, and I think that’s when we start bringing in different partners. There are so many stages, and all of those have to be seen in their wholeness.
Hugh: I think another great book I would totally recommend is called “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor, A-C-H-O-R, if I remember correctly. He talks about one of the big challenges that we get into as entrepreneurs and business owners is that we’re always moving the bar, and I think what that means is that we’re always progressing from the sapling to the tree. You have to move the chains a little bit to make sure that you’re getting to that apple pie.
Hugh: But what he says is that we often move them without fully embracing and allowing the successes and the wholeness of where we actually are to be what it is.
Charan: Yeah. This reminds me, I remember when I was a kid, I was so short. I was like, “I want to grow up so bad. I want to be taller. I want to be tall enough to ride the roller coaster.” I wanted to be taller and I never took the time to really enjoy my height at that time, or whatever it was. Then there was a point where I was so skinny, even though I had grown up a little bit, and I’m like, “I want to put on more weight. I want to put on more weight.”
Charan: My teachers in high school were like, “Trust me, that’ll come and you may not want that.”
Hugh: Then you’d be like, “I want to get this weight off of me.”
Charan: “I want to get this weight off of me,” right? It’s interesting because sometimes we have this tendency as human beings to want what we don’t have.
Charan: And that cause of wanting what we don’t have stems from not realizing what we already have and what is already within us.
Hugh: Yeah, what we already are. So you don’t see yourself as you truly are. Then you end up missing you. That’s what you end up missing. I talk about this in our workshops all the time is if you can’t be with you, then who can be with you? No one. The reason is because if you can’t be with you, well, then you can’t be more with another person because you’re you. You got to be your own best friend, and that sounds pretty dang hippie stuff, but it’s actually really true and when you get into that mindfulness, what you end up finding is “I am whole where I am at.”
Hugh: I’ve never met anybody who was apathetic because of that understanding.
Charan: It’s interesting because earlier this year, we’ve talked about this before and we’re both very spiritual people, and earlier this year I was doing a lot of prayer and meditation, because when COVID hit and my industry shut down, I was like, “What am I supposed to focus on? What am I supposed to be doing right now with my life?” I had this thought come to me over and over and over again, and I felt like this voice said to me, “Charan, I want you to go have more fun.” I’m like, “What?” That sounds amazing, but wait, are you sure?
Charan: I kept asking, “Why should I have more fun? Why should I have more fun?” And it came back down to “because then you’ll be more authentic; you’ll be more joyous.” It goes back to being whole. It goes back to owning where you are right now and being totally joyous about it, having that reward. Because if not, then you’re always wanting because you don’t realize who you already are, so you’re wanting, and then it’s this uphill battle. You’ll never get it because it was always within you.
Hugh: Well, and what you’re articulating is one of the core messages of “Pinocchio.” “Let your conscious be your guide.” That’s a real thing. I think that in a culture that struggles to be mindful, what we end up not listening to often is our conscious, and that’s part of Pinocchio’s journey as he’s going through is he’s learning how to listen to that inner voice within.
Hugh: So then, it’s like how do I make sure that this inner voice is giving me the right message, and that inner voice, you know it’s something trustworthy when it is founded in the virtues or the character excellences rather than the ego or selfishness. And I think one of the main challenges that I had to overcome, and it took me years and years and years to overcome it … I shouldn’t even say overcome because I still feel tempted to fall into this trap, but one of the main challenges that I had to just turn and face and be okay with was that things were working out for me rather than against me. It wasn’t happening to me. It was happening for me.
Hugh: The only way to decipher that message inside is to be able to be still.
Charan: Yeah, and not resist.
Hugh: And not resist it, because the more you resist it, the more it persists in your life. Then you just fight and you grind and things become selfish-
Charan: And you suffer more needlessly.
Hugh: You suffer more. It’s the character excellences. That’s how the psychology industry, particularly the industry of positive psychology … The umbrella of psychology is supported by two camps. The first is your standard traditional psychologists and then the other is your positive psychologists. What’s really interesting is, and this was started by a guy named Martin Seligman, who was the president of the American Psychological Association, I think, through the ’90s, maybe even the early 2000s. While he was a psychologist and was running the APA, he had this idea that was “what if instead of when people come and see us and take their tests on their pathology and let’s identify what their challenges are and what their weak spots are” … they said, “Well, what if we just identified what people’s strengths and what their virtues are? Then, what if we just helped them to further develop those?”
Hugh: Now there are thousands and thousands of psychologists who are certified and studied in positive psychology to look at your strengths and your gifts that you have and help you develop them. That’s an interesting statistic that came out of that is that they found that the most depressing and suicidal profession was that of a psychologist.
Charan: Are you kidding me?
Hugh: And now in positive psychology, it’s completely the opposite. They find themselves the most happy, most fulfilled, but it’s because they’re focusing in on people’s gifts and their strengths. You can’t do that if you’re chasing some flaw, something that you felt wasn’t enough. And I’m not saying that there isn’t malevolence out there.
Hugh: There is tremendously evil things. I have had the unfortunate experience of having a very malevolent person in my life and, man, the pain that comes from that and the difficulties that come from that. But I think that the biggest thing that mindfulness can teach us is that these things are happening for us rather than to us, and then you can allow your business to be where your business is without grinding and hustling away and you won’t be apathetic. You’ll still work really, really hard and really [crosstalk 00:42:28] long hours.
Charan: Well to me, even as we’re talking, the thought that came to my mind is virtue is really the key to make you alive and to make you enjoy who you are right now.
Hugh: Yeah, that’s right.
Charan: I think it’s the key to doing that because then it unlocks pieces of locked … Things that are locked within you, it helps unlock them so you can become more alive and realize, “Wow, I am whole and complete as I am right now.”
Hugh: Yeah, because you think about the things that make you feel unalive or dead. That’s probably the better word. The things that make you feel dead inside, and then you think about those emotions, because that’s really what it is. We’re sentient beings. We’re filled with emotions. It’s the same with the mustangs. As a sentient being, I have these emotions that are causing me to feel a certain way, and then the message that I tell myself is “I’m not enough, I should’ve worked harder, I should’ve done this.” All these things, and so the question then becomes “what can help govern my emotions?” What I learned through gentling wild horses into horses that can be so trusted, so safe, that little kids can hop around and play on was that it was the character excellences, or in other words the virtues, that govern the emotions.
Hugh: So when setbacks happen, when the difficulties come, when the unfair and the unjust moments happen in life, when the malevolence happens, well, when you’re filled with character excellence because you know that you are sufficient in the moment that you exist, then you don’t go so deep into despair and the virtues actually sustain you and support you from falling into despair. The ancient definition for despair is you’re in a pit with no way out. That’s how you feel, that’s what you believe. It’s not true, but that’s what you feel and that’s what you believe, and that’s despair. Virtues will help you get out of that despair.
Charan: Yeah, it’s like the pit of despair from “Princess Bride,” right? That’s exactly what that is right.
Hugh: Yup, yup. That’s right.
Hugh Vail Talks About Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Charan: You talked to me a little bit about experiencing malevolence. Sometimes in people, sometimes in things. Can you think of a specific time in your life where you felt like, “Oh man, this was a lemons experience. I’m going to turn it into lemonade somehow, but this was a lemons experience.”
Hugh: Oh, absolutely. I mean, many. Unfortunately, many. I think if we’re trying to swim in … If you’re trying to do something great, you have to swim out to deep water, and deep water just means big waves. I never wanted to be a person that drowned in shallow waters. You’ve seen “America’s Funniest Home Videos” where people are trying to put their flippers on at the beach and they’re drowning, they’re rolling around and then they finally get their flipper on and they stand up and it’s shin deep.
Charan: I thought that guy was going to lose his life, and it was two feet of water.
Hugh: Yeah, and I find that in my own life there have been times that I was drowning in the most shallow waters. After those experiences, I didn’t want that to be the case. And I think when you swim out to deeper waters to go do really big things and great things, and that can just be finding your own wholeness within. That doesn’t have to be being a Steve Jobs or something like that. We can define that in many different ways. The thing that I really set out to do was to make virtue popular, and when I set that intention in my own personal life, not knowing quite how I was going to demonstrate that or make that a thing, some of the worst things in my life happened to me because of the malevolence of others.
Hugh: I mean, I was absolutely betrayed. I was falsely accused. I was abandoned. These are types of things that happen that when you understand the limbic brain and you understand the function of the prefrontal cortex, we get trauma from these things and then that trauma just replays over and over and over, and we’re stuck. Those things created trauma in my life. I actually was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress because of the malevolence of other people. I went to a psychiatrist for two years just to try to see what the crap is my problem, and it turns out really malevolent things can happen to you and your brain can’t make sense of it and you might blow a fuse from that. That’s what we call trauma.
Hugh: I think so many of us have experienced trauma, maybe without even realizing the trauma that we’ve experienced. We don’t validate ourselves and we don’t hear the confirmation of others in the traumas that we’ve experienced. So for sure I’ve had those experiences and I guess I could be vulnerable and authentic enough to go into detail of them. I might start crying-
Charan: It’s up to you, man.
Hugh: But I think the thing that heals the trauma the most is knowing that you are whole as you are in the moment that you are. That sounds real dang frickin’ hippie, but that’s just the way it is.
Charan: It’s the way it is. As you were saying just barely that thing can cause trauma, you don’t even know that it caused trauma, but it can cause trauma, I was thinking about this year for myself even. Since September to now, I’ve lost five people that have died, and then I think I’ve also been in a weird way, through no fault of my own, I suddenly owe a medical facility a lot of money. I’m like, “Great, that’s comforting.” Things just kept going on and on, and I was thinking about this because I found myself tired. These were these moments where I was like, “Man, I’m just really exhausted and really tired. Why am I so tired? Oh yeah, I had all these things happen to me and I didn’t even …”
Charan: You know me, and I’m a pretty positive guy, but even me, I’m just like, “Huh, that was a heavy blow. That was a heavy blow.” And it’s okay, I have to just own that it was a bit of a heavy blow.
Hugh: I think it’s very important to just get the crap kicked out of you in life. No one wants it. No one wants it. It’s why most of us don’t go sign up for jiu-jitsu class because no one wants to get choked out, but once you’ve gone past it, what you start finding is what you’re really made of.
Charan: Sure. And some people are like, “Hey, I’m going to sign up for a jiu-jitsu class to get the crap kicked out of us just so we know what we’re made of.” Others of us sign up for MLMs, and I chose that part and I’m like, “Yup, yup. This isn’t for me.” But no, man, it’s true. It really is true. Sometimes we need those experiences and what you-
Hugh: And if you’re an entrepreneur, you are going to have those moments.
Charan: All the time.
Hugh: It is those moments that they’re happening for you because they will create something, a pivot, a shift, a culture change within the organization. Something will come from it, if you can embrace it and realize this is happening for me, regardless of what it is, rather than to me. It will end up working out for the benefit of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Charan: Oh, man. I love that you just said that. I literally had a conversation with a friend of mine regarding his business and culture changes that might need to happen because there’s just been so much resistance, just so much resistance and I said, “Hey, you know what? It’s okay. It honestly is okay that there’s resistance because that’s just a telling sign like hey, something isn’t completely working right, and we need to dive into and figure things out.” I love that you said that.
Hugh: Well, the most profitable organizations are going to be the most virtuous organizations, and that’s because inefficiencies are not virtuous. So when you’re virtuous, you are efficient. You have to be, by definition. You are effective, and it’s the lack of efficiency, the lack of effectiveness that eats away at your profits here and there, and over here. I mean, how many times do we have to see these studies where it’s the average employee is working three hours actually out of his eight-hour day? Well, gosh, that’s not very efficient, and if you could take those five hours and get more productivity out of that, but if this guy is going through a divorce or this gal has got some major difficulty within her personal family, maybe her child is in the emergency room for an extended long period of time for some reason, her mind is going to be somewhere else and so the virtuous organization is going to take into those nuances.
Hugh: There’s information, there’s knowledge, there’s understanding and then there’s wisdom. I mean, you think about Google, right? What Google does is Google doesn’t actually answer our questions. Google gives me options to choose from people who are going to answer my question, so what Google is serving me is information. I’m going to get to go choose those search results and go find the knowledge that I’m looking for, but information is not knowledge. The knowledge that I go read, I go read 10 different blog articles, or whatever it is, watch 10 different YouTube videos, I’ve got the knowledge. It doesn’t mean that I have the understanding.
Hugh: So now typically what we do is we get the understanding through two different ways. It’s either going to be it’s your experimentation, it’s your trial and error, or it’s mentorship. Mentorship is said to be five times more effective and efficient compared to experimentation because it’s like “where do I start if I’m experimenting?” If you have a mentor, it’s like, “Don’t start there, start there.” That just saved you a year and all the money that goes into that. Mentorship is critical because mentorship, it provides the understanding that may be so difficult to derive from the knowledge.
Hugh: But the thing that is most important is wisdom, and this is why wisdom is one of the cardinal virtues. “Cardinal “just means it’s a hinge. It’s an old Latin word. So what Plato and the ancient philosophers were saying is that these four virtues, that all other virtues and all successes and all profitability in your organizations and love and happiness in your family hinge on these four virtues. Those are the cardinal virtues that this is all hinging on. One of them is wisdom. One of the cardinal virtues is wisdom. Wisdom has to come from your personal experience and your understanding and your knowledge because wisdom says, “I now know what to do, who to do it to, for the right person in the right way at the right time.”
Hugh: That is why wisdom is a virtue, so the most virtuous are the most wise and the most wise are always the most efficient. So virtue is profitability.
Charan: Oh my gosh. You use an interesting mathematical formula to just basically show how virtue equals profitability, which is amazing and my mind is being blow right now. Just for fun, because you mentioned the cardinal virtues and you created a great setup … You’ve only given us one of the four virtues, which is wisdom … just go ahead and say the other three just so the audience feels a sense of peace at knowing, “Okay, Charan, thank you for asking or else we would have never known what the other cardinal virtues were.”
Hugh: The other one is justice … You’ve got wisdom, justice, temperance, sometimes also as prudence … I think they translate those the same … and the fourth one we’d have to Google. This is why we have Google and this is why Google is so profitable, because they feed us information. I can’t remember what the fourth one is. Justice, temperance, wisdom-
Charan: Mercy? I don’t know.
Hugh Vail Talks About What Brings Him Joy
Charan: Well, we can spend a long time trying to guess. Everyone that’s listening, please Google the fourth one and go ahead and comment in any of the comments that you can see below, if you have a chance to comment. No, listen, this has been amazing man. I really appreciate you taking me down this path and helping me see these different things. I just have a couple more last questions for you. What brings you joy right now, Hugh?
Hugh: What brings me joy right now is the present moment, and what I mean by that is that joy can only exist in the present. Joy doesn’t exist in the past, a joyful memory does.
Hugh: And that’s neurochemistry talking about serotonin. I can remember something and that serotonin can come back because of memory and my brain thinks, “Yeah, that was a great time.” But joy-
Charan: But you know what? Here’s the interesting thing I was going to add to what you just said about that memory, when you had that memory, when you were experiencing that, what were you thinking about? Nothing, because you were present.
Hugh: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. I feel like joy is this very, very unique thing, and I feel like it only exists in the present, and I feel like it only exists when we’re trying to give it to someone or something else. I don’t think it’s something we can actually hold onto. I don’t think it’s something that we obtain. I think it’s something that we receive by giving, and we have to be present to be able to receive it and thus to give it. And it’s a paradox. Living mindfully in the present is what most gives me joy because I think that’s actually truly the only place that we can find it.
Hugh Vail’s Advice to His Younger Self
Charan: Love it. That’s awesome. Last question, if you’re ready for this. What would you tell the younger Hugh Vail? The one that had no clue about virtue, the one that lives so distracted, what would you tell that Hugh Vail?
Hugh: Yeah, that guy did exist for sure. I think the thing that I would go back and tell him is, I would just tell him that he is enough as he is, and I would just have that conversation with him until he really understood it. I just didn’t understand who I was, what I was, why I was and therefore, I was always pursuing and searching and seeking and grinding and hustling outside of myself. And that generated millions of dollars in my businesses, it put me on the top leaderboard at organizations I worked for, but I never felt sufficient. I never felt whole, so I would go back to that Hugh and explain that to him that he’s whole as he is, because I think I would have went on and done the exact same things, but I think I could have lived in the moment to actually value them and appreciate them, and I think I would have no lost as much as I did lose.
Charan: You know, it’s interesting you were saying that, because I had this thought I’d love to share with you regarding experiencing life. Because when you experience life, those that really have an abundant life, a life full of joy and wonder and awe and all those things, you experience the moment right now. You really experience right now. And I think when we are constantly seeking for money or fame or fortune, or whatever it is outside of us to fulfill us, we can never truly experience the now of life because we’re always chasing for something outside of us, something in the future, something that linear time has not brought forward to us to help fulfill us.
Charan: And so, we feel more and more unhappy. I think one tragedy worse than having none of your dreams come true is to have all of your dreams come true and realizing you’re still not happy. That’s a terrible outcome.
Hugh: Yeah, that is the reverse opposite of a paradox. That is the actual definition of irony. Irony is when it happens in the negative, and a paradox is when it happens in the positive. So yeah, it’s exactly as you would say. That would be very ironic and that’s a troubling moment. I’ve been there.
Charan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). But it’s good that you’ve been there to realize, “Okay, this didn’t get me where I wanted, so I better shift, I better pivot.”
Hugh: Yeah, that’s exactly what you do. I think the thing I did so well is I always found mentors. I always sought for mentors. The more things I lost and grinded and hustled for, the more it just seemed I was always taking years off of my life. I had an opportunity to find some mentors in a couple facets of my life, and they helped change. I’d find one for my business and then I’d find one for my social life, and then I’d find one for my physical health and wellbeing. The principles and the virtues that they were all teaching, sometimes they worded it differently but they were defined the same. So then I started seeing these common denominators and what I realized was gosh, if I could figure out what all the facets of my life are and figure out how to circumvent them all into one great whole, well then maybe I would make it. I didn’t know where I was trying to go or what I was trying … That’s just the thought that I had.
Hugh: And mentors was a huge, huge shift for me. If you don’t have a mentor, you have to go get a mentor. You’ve got to go. You just have to.
Charan: It makes a life a lot easier, for sure. Absolutely. Well, Hugh, I thoroughly appreciate you coming out and chatting with me about all these things, and it’s so great because a lot of different people have different experiences, and when they talk about entrepreneurship and things, they have different ideas. A lot of them talk about the journeys that they took to build their business and everything like that. What I love about you is we can wax so philosophical so easily.
Hugh: It is very [crosstalk 01:04:45].
Charan: But it’s beautiful because at the same time as we’re doing that, these insights as you’re talking about wholeness, mindfulness, virtue are the key to have success in your business, but not just success in your business because you’re having a great year financially, but success because you yourself as a person are complete and happy.
Hugh: Absolutely, absolutely.
Charan: Well, thank you so much, Hugh. You’re the best. Any last words before we end the podcast?
Hugh: I think virtue is the answer. I really, really truly believe that and I hope people will go out there, practice their mindfulness, and you’ll learn for yourself that virtue is the answer and virtue is also profitability.
Charan: I love it. Awesome. Well thanks so much, Hugh. I appreciate it.
Hugh: Yup, thank you.
Charan: Thanks so much for listening to the Lemonade Stand podcast, and we hope you enjoyed this episode. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you use to be alerted when we release new episodes. We’d also love to hear your feedback in the reviews, and if you or someone you know has an awesome Lemonade Stand story, please reach out to us on social media and let us know. Thanks so much and have a great day.