SRI Stories

SRI Stories: Signaling (career) pathways


When students first met post-doctoral stream leader Gennie “Gen” Parkman in the Science Research Initiative (SRI), they likely did not know the backstory to that auspicious moment.

Gennie "Gen" Parkman. Banner Photo above: Parkman with student in the lab. ©Brett Wilhelm. Strada Education Network.

Auspicious not only because by design the celebrated SRI places first-year students in real science research, but because they were in the lab with someone who knows what it means to persist against tough odds before finding yourself in your career “happy place.”

Now an assistant professor at Weber State University with her own lab, Gen journeyed from her home state of Missouri where she was in a pre-admit program with Saint Louis University School of Medicine to the University of Utah and not entirely sure if a physician’s life was in her future or if there was something else rising above the jagged skyline of the Wasatch Mountains.

That was when, due to severe injuries, she had to face down the human body in medical terms: her own body.

What started as a dicey, harrowing experience with Gen’s health turned out to be a portal for her to that something else. “I knew I loved the human body, but I was also interested in understanding the deeper cellular and molecular processes,” she says. At the U she started as a technician for Jeffrey Weiss’ lab in the Musculoskeletal Research Laboratories as well as for Mahesh Chandrasekharan at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). In 2015 she was technician in Sheri Holmen’s lab where she “absolutely fell in love with cancer biology,” and soon embarked on a PhD program at the U’s HCI in oncological sciences.

Last spring (2023) she transitioned from a post-doctoral researcher in the Holmen lab to a post-doc in the SRI where she led her own research stream titled “Functional Validation of Potential Cancer Targets” filled with those lucky students who didn’t know yet that they were witnesses of (and participants in) an extraordinary encounter.

“For many, many years,” Gen recalls about her arduous journey back into health, “I didn’t know if I ever would be able to complete school and make an impact with my career. It was during that time that I knew I wanted to teach in some capacity and mentor students through the ups and downs of life to reach their dreams.”

Part of that mentoring in the SRI stream she conducted was research that is vividly relevant. “Utah,” she reminds us, “has the nation’s highest melanoma rate, and it is the third most common diagnosed cancer in our state (preceded only by prostate and breast cancer). It is so important to study this disease to improve the health of our community!” That she was able to include first-year undergraduate students at the bench in her lab proved not only transformative for her students but astounding to Gen. (More on that later.)

Utilizing in vitro models, Gen’s research is focused on understanding more about the genetic alterations associated with a heterogeneous disease like melanoma. Those alterations involve the BRAF gene which provides instructions for making a protein that helps transmit chemical signals from outside the cell to the cell's nucleus. (This protein is part of a signaling pathway known as the RAS/MAPK pathway, which controls several important cell functions.) In BRAF mutant melanoma, alterations can be downgraded or upgraded and effect proliferation, invasion, and migration of cancer cells.

In her new lab at Weber State this research to evaluate tumor initiation and progression in mouse models continues.

Fresh out of SRI, Gen Parkman now recalls fondly her time in the College of Science and has this to say to an eager set of budding scientists: “If you continue to push and work hard, there are opportunities everywhere to be sought, and I am beyond grateful for the opportunities that I have been granted, such as by mentors and in the Science Research Initiative with such a supportive and encouraging team, to make it to this point in my career.”

“My students continue to blow me away with their passion and perseverance.”

By David Pace

SRI Stories is a series by the College of Science, intended to share transformative experiences from students, alums, postdocs and faculty of the Science Research Initiative. To read more stories, visit the SRI Stories page.

Do the Right Thing: Kevin Perry on the GSL

Do the Right Thing

Dr. Kevin Perry, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah, is one of the scientists working to save the Great Salt Lake from drying up.

The lake needs all the help it can get—informing citizens and policymakers on the science of the lake is critical to keep it going for years to come. Lately, Perry says more of his time is spent communicating about his research than actually doing it.

In 2021, Perry presented the findings of a two-year research project to determine the contents of the dust coming off of the dried Great Salt Lake surface. He found that not only was the dust a source of pollution, but it also released toxic chemicals like arsenic and other heavy metals into the air. The potentially harmful air pollutant would only worsen if the lake wasn’t restored—and he’s been trying to get Utahns to listen ever since.

While Perry was out buying groceries, a cashier struck up a conversation with him about the Great Salt Lake. The cashier said he had created a website to warn community members about dust pollutants coming off the Great Salt Lake and started to explain the risk of the exposed lakebed to Perry.

“I laughed and I said, ‘You don’t know who I am, but you know the toxic dust that you’re talking about? That’s my scientific research,’” Perry says. “That kind of blew me away…when [I saw] somebody who has no scientific background was inspired enough to spend their time and effort trying to save the Great Salt Lake.”

Read the full article in Scientist Stories by Science Friday's Emma Lee Gometz.

Pace Yourself: Episode 6

Listen Here: 

Relevant Research and Articles:

  • Scarcity Brain by Michael Easter – Book


David Pace 0:01

Hi, my name’s David Pace. 


Alex Barilec 0:03

And I’m Alex Barilec, and this is Pace Yourself, a University of Utah College of Science podcast on Wellness. 


David Pace 0:09

So we’ve been talking about the eight dimensions of wellness. We’re going to continue today with financial wellness. So put on your helmet. I’m sure it’s a little daunting for some of us. I’ll include myself in that, but I will start with a definition. And this comes from the National Institute of Health. Financial Wellness is managing your resources to live within your means, making informed financial decisions and investments, setting realistic goals and preparing for short-term and long-term needs or emergencies. They also add to this something kind of interesting, which I think might be a good place to start being aware that everyone’s financial values, needs and circumstances are unique. So we don’t all want to be a Jeff Bezos someday. 


Alex Barilec 1:01

No, we don’t. And I don’t think that we should strive for that. And we’re certainly not here to, you know, clarify for people what is important to them or what that could look like. 


David Pace 1:13

Or how to do it even. 


Alex Barilec 1:14

Exactly. And I think that’s a disclaimer we want to throw out that right up front that we are not financial advisors, but like we’ve been doing with these eight dimensions of wellness, our aim is to help you maybe think about them differently in your life, maybe to begin to approach them or re-approach them. And when I approach the area of financial wellness, I think about it through this question that I learned from this gentleman named Ramit Sethi,  who has this book called I Will Teach You to Be Rich, very clickbaity title, and he gets people’s attention with that and good for him. But he has a really good question. And the question is, what does a rich life look like and mean to you? 


David Pace 1:56

Hmm. That is something that probably I would have had a different answer for 20 years ago than what it is now. 


Alex Barilec 2:05

And I think that’s real, right? That’s a different- 


David Pace 2:08

It’s a moving target, really. 


Alex Barilec 2:08



David Pace 2:10

I think that. Hmm. Well, what did you think was a rich life when or what do you think is a rich life? Or should we should we go back into the deep, dark past or should we talk now about where we are? 


Alex Barilec 2:25

Yeah, I think we can talk about maybe some questions that people can ask their self. Right. So we’ve got this like we’ve laid out this theme of exploring, okay, what does it look like to me? But really what’s under there is what is important to me, what is not important. And then where have we been spending our money and how does that help us to understand what is really important to us? We kind of make decisions and we act with how we spend money. So for me personally, a big part of that looks like freedom and how I get to choose and spend my time and I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to think about that. But spending time with my wife or outside in nature or learning, you know, we talked about intellectual wellness. That’s a something that looks like freedom for me, having the ability to travel and have interesting experiences to meet interesting people. Like that’s really important to me. And then also having this opportunity to cultivate continued learning opportunities for myself, for my wife, and, you know, one day for our family. And it’s taken me some time to really distill those things down. And I also understand, what’s not super important to me, though. So like, I am not a car guy, I don’t desire to drive a Porsche. I love them I think they’re beautiful to look at, but I don’t desire to have that in my life. And that’s just like a personal decision for me. I would rather spend my money traveling or, you know, learning. And so that might change at some point in my life, as you said, which I’m open to. But I’m curious when you think about, you know, some of these questions of what a rich life means to you, I think I have two questions for you. One, what does it look like today? But then also maybe share a little bit about how it’s changed for you over your life? I think there’s some ways we can illuminate for people how these things might move and shift as we grow. 


David Pace 4:23

Yeah, I think the first time I noticed that there was a difference in lifestyle and I think we’re talking about lifestyle here to some degree is when as a young man I moved to Boston and New England in general. I lived in Maine for a while, which is where I met my wife. But what I noticed, and I hope I’m not stereotyping but living, having grown up in the West, and maybe it’s because there’s so much sunshine, there’s so much outdoor recreation and wide open spaces. You’re not crowded at all. You can see vistas just by standing on top of your house, you know, is that there were very different priorities back east. It wasn’t about, in my view, conspicuous consumption. Not that people didn’t have really lovely homes and lovely cars and blah, blah, blah in Boston, but it wasn’t as extravagant, it just didn’t look extravagant to me. And what I found out later was that there was a tradition of, well, it’s Yankee, it’s Yankee tradition, which is very, you know, conservative in terms of what you use your money for. And education was a huge part of that. Saving money so your kids could get into a good college, having two modest homes rather than one gigantic home up on the bench with a boat and seven snowmobiles. Of course, you know, in Boston, you do have to take those seven snowmobiles out of town quite a ways to New Hampshire. So it was a little more difficult. But anyway, so all I’m trying to say is that I saw an alternative to what I was seeing out here. And it was good for me because it gave me an appreciation for the fact that everybody is unique in terms of how they see the world and what they think a rich life is. So yeah, that was the first kind of in my face view of what people consider to be financial wellness. 


Alex Barilec 6:42

And, you know, I’ve had that similar experience moving out west and maybe there’s just something about novelty and living in a different environment that kind of brings you in tune with this area. But you started by saying, Hey, guys, buckle up, put your helmets on. This could be a rocky conversation. And really our aim is for this to be informative, but also open in sharing our stories. Because the truth is, is a lot of us didn’t learn how to understand our finances growing up. You know, in school, even in the broader, you know, culture we live in, Money is kind of a weird thing to talk about. It’s just, well, you can’t put that on the table to talk about. 


David Pace 7:26

Yeah, you’re not supposed to talk about that. Politics, sex and yeah, money. 


Alex Barilec 7:29

And I grew very much grew up in a house where that was, you know, kind of the rule, those three things. But I don’t subscribe to that anymore because I think things that we just kind of push to the side like they still need a life of their own. And we talked about how intellectual wildness can maybe be put on the shelf. Financial wellness is buried in the cupboard underneath. 


David Pace 7:50

Underneath the sink with all the cleansers and poisons and everything. 


Alex Barilec 7:54

Yeah. And maybe we could share a little bit about our journey to understanding, like financial wellness and financial literacy and how those two things are different through the lens of maybe how we cracked into it. So what was your introduction to realizing that this was an area of wellness in your life that needed to be tended to. 


David Pace 8:17

Necessity is the mother of invention. When I got married the first time, well, let’s just start by saying that the biggest thing that couples fight about is money, followed by sex and then followed by money again. So it’s a big, big issue. And we’re going to talk a little bit later about the culture that we live in of materialism and consumerism. So my approach to financial 


literacy, which I think leads to financial wellness, hopefully, is to ignore it. And so I never kept a checkbook. I mean, I did because I needed checks back in the eighties, right? We don’t do checks anymore, but I never balance my checkbook and getting married to somebody who was a little bit more diligent and financially literate was painful because I just wanted her to be my mommy and tell me how much money I could spend that day. And, you know, that’s the way a lot of us grew up. And I didn’t have a model for financial literacy growing up. So I had to learn. And yeah, when when I wanted certain things like a house and when I wanted a retirement and I wanted to pay off my student loans, then I had to really buckle down and I had to put that helmet on, which yeah, I didn’t mean to scare everybody away, but that’s what it felt like for me, was that this is something that I don’t want to do. This is like eating spinach and I’m going to have to eat some spinach and then eat some broccoli afterwards. And I don’t want to do it. I want to go out and play, Mom. 


Alex Barilec 10:10

Yeah. I appreciate you sharing that because I think that’s a really relatable story and I certainly can relate to that as well. But I think what our hope is and we start with that idea of what is a rich life because that’s a hopefully I would like a bit of a question that helps you think to yourself, like, Hey, you, you can take responsibility for this area. You can get really clear on what it is that you want your life to look like and you’re fully responsible for that and starting to understand and take, you know, accountability and answer those questions. I think it gives people agency and it puts them in the driver’s seat in their life where a lot of people don’t really know where to start with this area. And so, you know, just as you said, we want someone else to take care of it for us. But if we’re honest, we kind of live, you know, we’re being human beings and living in a world where consumption is rampant and our emotions drive our decisions. If we leave our decisions to the default, there are plenty of avenues and companies out there that will gladly take our financial resources, even if they don’t add up to things that we value and that can put people in a challenging spot. 


David Pace 11:32

Yeah, tight spot, as they say. One of the podcasts that I just listen to was right here at the University of Utah Radio was with Doug Fabrizio and it was just last week and he was talking to this Michael Easter, who’s published this book called Scarcity Brain. And I found it interesting because it kind of let me off the hook while at the same time kicking me in the butt saying, you know, you can do this. And where Easter comes in is that we live not only live in this materialistic world, animated by capitalism, for better and for worse, but it’s baked into our evolution because we for 50,000 years had to hunt and gather and never knew where our basic necessities were going to come from and when they were going to come. So we have this kind of mental engine kind of constantly believing that we live in a scarce world and that everything is it requires that we constantly be looking kind of like the birds that we see out there. They eat all day. That’s their job. So but we don’t live in that world anymore, clearly. And so Easter is talking about how to get out of that scarcity loop, he calls it. And the biggest scarcity loop that we can find that’s very embodied is in a casino. 


Alex Barilec 13:07

You don’t say, yeah. 


David Pace 13:09

So without going into too much of that and dissing our sister city across the desert here, you know, I mean, we saw this when the pandemic hit and we all rushed to the grocery store and picked up toilet paper. And anything that was a can with something in it. We didn’t even look. We just were just mortified and so buying stuff has become what Americans do and I think other developed countries have found themselves doing. And so he talks about the four reasons why we buy. When we need something to accomplish something like a tool, for status, to belong, That’s an interesting one. And finally, boredom and the biggest example of how we buy through boredom is online buying, impulse buying, and it gets us into so much trouble. It used to be credit cards and it’s still credit cards, but now it’s online buying. We get something in our head that we want. We don’t have to wait. We just go to Amazon and buy it in the next 10 minutes and we don’t even have to enter our credit card anymore. 


Alex Barilec 14:29

Or what you’re looking for because Amazon knows what you’re looking for. 


David Pace 14:32

And it will tell you what you need. 


Alex Barilec 14:33

And as much as we love that and they’re right, a lot of the times I think when we think about financial wellness, I think what you’ve really presented here, David, is like an onramp to literacy. So this area, is just like you can learn about particle physics or, you know, cellular biology, financial literacy is also an area to learn about. And what you started to create is like, okay, at the base of financial literacy, we need to understand who we are as human beings and how we make decisions, particularly how we buy, and then what the environment that we live in is. And unfortunately and fortunately, as you said, we live in an environment where there’s a kind of an asymmetrical relationship with these companies know a lot about us. They know about human buying behavior. And so what we need to do is we need to understand all these things. Then if we stack the question on top of that of saying, okay, what does a rich life mean to me now we’re starting to give people, hopefully some areas for them to explore how literacy and financial wellness relate. And financial wellness really is your ability to take action and responsibility in this area, to create a plan to create balance and have a strategy going forward. And so you talked about reasons why we buy, but if we think about four key areas of- and we do want to keep these high level- but if we keep think of four key areas of our finances, we think about saving. We think about investing, we think about budgeting, we think about paying taxes. Do you want to talk a little bit more about maybe some questions or some tools that you’ve found helpful in those couple of areas? 


David Pace 16:18

Well, I think everybody agrees with all all of those. And I wanted to mention briefly about budgeting. There’s the 50, 30, 20 rule, which is kind of a common way of thinking about how we distribute our money in our budgeting. And the way they look at this is that half of your income should go towards things that you need and then 30% towards wants and then 20% towards saving. So you pay yourself through savings when you get your paycheck. And then it’s it’s perfectly common to have at least 50% of your salary or your income going towards the things that you actually need. And then there’s the other thing that you were talking about, that before we started the podcast about wants. Now all of these are open to interpretation and this is where marital things come in, like, does your spouse agree with you what a need is as opposed to a want? 


Alex Barilec 17:26



David Pace 17:27

And what do you do with the savings, quite frankly. So these are all conversations that you have to have. And I want to just make a make a quick disclosure here or say that there are a lot that you and I are speaking from a somewhat privileged position here, because we have a job that is relatively adequate for our needs and our wants. A lot of people don’t. There’s a huge disparity in income across even our blessed country here. So I just want to recognize that there are a lot of people that are 100% of what they earn or bring in or can get goes towards towards needs. But it’s not a bad budgeting plan. This 50, 30, 20 rule. And we try to do that, my wife and I, and we also make sure that we are never leveraged beyond a certain percentage point. And that’s hard to tell people right now because their housing, their mortgage is going to be off the charts. So we’re fortunate. You know, we sold a co-op apartment in Brooklyn to move out here for an outrageous I mean, it was just like we bought our house in cash in Salt Lake. And so we had a windfall and we were grateful for that. So our leveraging is very low. What we’re willing to have leverage, and that’s car loans, credit card debt, mortgage, any other loans that you may have. So if you can keep in mind, oh, I’ve got $30 in my checking account that I need, I have to spend because, of course, paycheck is coming in tomorrow. Don’t think of it that way. Think of it as how much leverage, how much are we leveraged right now? Because that’s the real wealth indicator, not just cash. 


Alex Barilec 19:31

Totally. So you talked a lot about budgeting and that 50, 30, 20 rule. Actually, I mentioned Ramit Sethi earlier. He cites the same rule. And if you’re looking for some budgeting tools, if you just type in budgeting from Ramit Sethi, he has a bunch of different online Excel spreadsheets that he’s created and what these tools allow you to do is to put down real objective terms like, where is the money going? Right? And it can help have some of those conversations, whether with yourself or with your spouse, to get a little bit more clear. I’m like, okay, what do I really mean by a need? What do I really mean by a want? And what are we saving towards? And something that you had cited earlier that I think, you know, from my perspective is we’re at different quarters of our life. Right? So for me right now, that budgeting area is is certainly important. And if I had to share, the most simple thing that I’ve learned in that area is really understanding my fixed expenses has been really freeing. Like, okay, what are the things every single month that I know I’m paying for, getting a really solid grasp on that number has been super important, but saving and investing are really important. I’m at an earlier stage in my life. We’re looking to have kids in the future. We’re looking to, you know, build or buy a home. And so when I think about, what does a rich life mean to me? And I think about freedom and I think about cultivating these continued learning opportunities for my wife and my family, we’ve decided that the best decision for us right now is really to continue renting. Yeah, I had shared with you earlier this summer that I wanted you to hold me accountable. And so we’ve decided that continuing to rent is the best decision for us at this time because it allows us to save, it allows us to invest. But if I’m honest, it also allows us that freedom. Like I don’t particularly love household projects. I’m not the best with my hands and knowing that, you know, I don’t have to take care of those overhead costs fits into my values. And I share that because I think sometimes, because we don’t have great understandings or cultural stories about how to understand this, we can approach this as black and white. Well, buying a house is always good, right? And renting is always bad. And it’s just not that simple. This area is not only nuanced and detailed, but it also is very specific. And so that’s a place we find ourselves today. I know that’s not true for everyone. Wouldn’t pretend that it is, but I think that, we have tried to illuminate different ways in which our stories blend into this. What are some other tools and best practices that you think to be financially well in your life? 


David Pace 22:24

Well, I think to acknowledge what quarter you’re in, in life is really critical because it’s different. You and I are in different ends of that spectrum. I’m in my fourth quarter, I like to say. And so your financial advisor is going to tell you that depending on what quarter of life you’re in. And that should determine, for example, how you invest and how you look at your retirement accounts. And for me, it’s more conservative because I’m getting closer to retirement. When I was younger, my financial advisor suggested a more aggressive stance towards investing, and then I went to moderate. And now, like I say, it’s gone to more of a conservative thing because we can’t afford to lose, you know, our investments right now as we approach retirement. So this 50, 30, 20 rule is what we use and also the leveraging thing. I wanted to mention that, but I think that it always comes back to the other elements and dimensions of wellness. What does it tell us? How you spend your money tells you who you are and tells other people who you are, and it’s a self-defining act. And so if I think about that, then it pushes me into my comfort zone, which is a much loftier philosophical view, rather than I need to save this money today and I need to make this investment over here. That’s the kind of stuff that I need to put a helmet on for. That’s the broccoli that I have to eat. But when I think of it as a value proposition, then I’m able to honor that because that’s what I found. That I find valuable is character and accountability and being the kind of person that I want my grandchild to be someday by modeling that. So yeah, it all comes back to values for me when it comes to money, and that’s a constant conversation that I’m having with myself now. I am participating in my financial life, thank goodness. But it’s also a conversation that I’m having with the broader world, including of course, my significant other. So I don’t really have a lot of really great tips per se. One of the best things I ever did was I got a financial advisor, one who was not, you know, clickbait type guy, and they tend to be a lot of guys, but somebody who was very sensible and even then I have a healthy skepticism when I listen to him talk because I understand that this is a moving target and that I’ve got to be constantly on my game, if you will, to be rich. 


Alex Barilec 25:26

And to define what that means for you. Right. And you talked about character and you talked about engaging with us. And I think we choose to ignore and to not engage with this in our own peril of who we can be as people. Right. This is really baked into who we see ourselves as and the ideals that we have for our life. And so hopefully we’ve been able to to paint a picture of ways for people to open this door and to explore it a bit more. I think something that I do as a reminder to this, just as I’ve shared with many other dimensions, is I carve out some time to sit down and to engage with this regularly. So this isn’t something that we can set and forget. It changes as you’ve used the word in quarters of our life, but it also changes day to day and month to month. So I take some time every month to sit down and say, okay, like where are we at this month? And I do it at the end of every quarter. I do it at the end of every year. I don’t save these things for tax season because I find that just like if we ignore any other area of wellness in our life for too long, like the physical comes to mind, if we ignore it for a long period of time, to re-engage with this can be really overwhelming. So I find as engaging with this in small little ways, just like I might run short distances a few times a week. I engage with this in small ways, maybe for like 15, 20 minutes just to see, hey, where, what’s coming in, what’s going out every month? What’s that looking like every quarter? And I found this as a way to keep my stress down. Like we do know to a certain degree that, you know, it seems like $75,000 adjusting for inflation at certain points. That number seems to be what research has cited as helping us to meet our needs and then be able to think about these other areas of wellness. And so having that as a target is a good place to to start. But then, and only then can we begin to explore these deeper questions. 


David Pace 27:22

Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of keeping stress at bay, that’s your emotional component, emotional wellness component. So, yeah, very interrelated. And I’m sorry now that I said something about the helmet because I don’t want to sound like a downer, really. My wife and I as we have leaned into this, as we have taken time to do this every month, every week, it’s freed up money, like we’re going on a vacation for Thanksgiving and Christmas now that we- 


Alex Barilec 27:56

Where are you going?


David Pace 27:57

Yeah. Glad you asked. We’re going down to Vegas. Speaking of that scarcity loop, I’m not a gambler, but we are seeing a show. And so that there’s the theater thing coming back. We’re going to see a Cirque du Soleil show. And then for Christmas, we’re going to Bryce Canyon and doing some snowshoeing. So we haven’t had vacations for a long time because of money and because of the pandemic. But now because of these saving strategies that we have, we’re able to do that. So this is a joyous thing, right? To save money, to have money, it’s a blessing. We can give money away in charitable causes that we couldn’t before. So that’s the payday, if you will, of financial wellness is that you can express your values through giving money, spending money and ways for your loved ones and others and yourself. 


Alex Barilec 28:53

Yeah, it sounds like, you know, those two places are part of living a rich life for you guys. And so, you know, this is not been maybe an easy conversation in some ways for us to share, you know, our stories and our experience with this. But I appreciate you kind of just shedding some light on these areas and for getting in the ring and having this conversation and hopefully our ability to have this conversation not being financial advisors, not being professionals in this field, just being, you know, individuals that are committed to understanding these areas for ourselves. Hopefully there’s been something here that can help people at any stage of the game engage or re-engage with understanding how their financial wellness really is tied in with all other areas of wellness and start from there. 


David Pace 29:42

Yeah, absolutely. I’m pumped. I’m going to go out and save some money. 


Alex Barilec 29:46

And I can’t wait to hear and see some pictures from you guys down in Bryce Canyon Snowshoeing. What a beautiful place. 


David Pace 29:51

Yeah, it’s gorgeous. Thank you very much for your insight and your tips. And we’ll see you next time. 


Alex Barilec 29:58

Look forward to talking soon. David. 


David Pace 29:59



Pace Yourself: Episode 5

Listen Here: 

Relevant Research and Articles:


David Pace 0:00

Hi. My name’s David Pace


Alex Barilec 0:05

And I’m Alex Barilec. And this is Pace Yourself, a University of Utah College of Science podcast on Wellness. 


David Pace 0:13

Yes, and today… Well, actually, just as background, we’re talking about the eight dimensions of wellness that the National Institute of Health has put out. And today we are going to talk about intellectual wellness. So I’m going to give you a definition. The definition of intellectual wellness is growing intellectually, maintaining curiosity about all there is to learn, valuing lifelong learning and responding positively to intellectual challenges. So I think we all have an intellect. We all have a mind, at least that I’m aware of. I think you do, Alex. In fact, you probably do more than I do. But let’s just go from there. What do you think the benefits are of your own intellectual wellness and intellectual wellness in general? 


Alex Barilec 1:07

Well, as a learner, both as an intellect, but also we think of like our strengths finder, a learner is actually my number one strength. This is super interesting to me. This area of wellness is something that really lights me up and some of the benefits that I’ve found in my life, but the NIH also talks about when we think about cultivating intellectual wellness is it improves the clarity of our thought and our focus. It helps to improve our mood, helps to expand our mindset, and it also helps to decrease stress. It also helps us to create new neural pathways to support brain growth and intellectual wellness is really all about growing our personal knowledge, skills, and overall well-being. So as we’ve seen through our conversations, none of these areas of well-being stands on their own. They really are interwoven in our intellect and stands in a lot of ways, kind of interwoven into many of these. And, you know, we’re just talking offline about framing this conversation for people to think about doorways in their life that they might be aware of or they might be missing and helping them see what are some doorways to help expand and to cultivate intellectual wellness. So I thought I’d start by asking you, what’s a doorway in your life that’s opened up your idea of intellectual wellness? 


David Pace 2:24

Well, having come out of the humanities, and now that I’m writing about science, that has been a doorway that continues and is ongoing right now for my own intellectual expansion, mostly because this is an area that I have never really delved into. I mean, we all talk about science, we all rely on science, but the actual language around it was something that I never really explored. So I’m doing that right now. And what we were talking about, what I was talking about earlier, was that when I was right out of college, I loved the theater so much so that I wanted to write about it. And so I did. And what I found in those ten years of being a theater critic, both here in Salt Lake City and then later in New York as a freelancer, was that it was my doorway into not only learning about theater and getting conversant with, you know, what was going on on Broadway and the regional theater scene and small theater scene was that plays, if you think about it, talk about everything. Right? And so that was my doorway into researching about before I would see a play, I would find out what the topic was, and I’d research about it so that I could be kind of an informed theatergoer. And so that was my door. For ten years I basically saw the world through a theatrical lens, and it was fascinating because it took me around the world several times. And so I learned a lot about everything from politics to religion to, you know, everything from the inner mind that we all have. And, you know, a lot of plays are about that, about the interior, psychological makeup of characters and so forth. So I got into the social sciences, I got into the art world, I got into the sports world. At a certain point, gender issues, big deal, you know, and everything.


Alex Barilec 4:35

And how did you get into theater? How did you find that doorway in your life at an early age or whatever age it was, just curious because that seems to have opened up all of these other ones for you. 


David Pace 4:47

Yeah, it was definitely my on-ramp into intellectual curiosity and creativity. I think that I came from a family of talkers, and so that’s what theater is drama, comedy. It’s about conversation. So and maybe that’s why I’m doing this podcast. For all I know, it’s baked in, and my older sisters were in the theater, but when I got into college, I was a history major originally. And then I found that literature was more interesting to me because it talked about history and everything else. So when you’re in literature and an English major, you tend to gravitate towards a genre. Not always, but I did. And drama was definitely… I wanted to read theater scripts and look at it from a literary perspective. So yeah, I wrote a couple of plays when I was in college. It didn’t go anywhere, but I was really that. That was my thing I pinned my body to. And I just kind of leaned into it and one thing led to another. And when I got out of college and I had a job and a part-time opportunity opened up to be a freelance theater critic for a rag here in Salt Lake. I took it, and the rest is history. Now, what happened later was something else. I mean, I left that behind at a certain point and went somewhere else. But for, like I say, ten years, that’s what motivated me to move to New York, which was a huge decision. 


Alex Barilec 6:26

That’s really cool. That’s a big part of the culture there. And so it sounds like for you, like your family influence played a big role in that, right? You say that your sisters were a part of this, but something about this pursuit really, gripped you and you almost, you know, you got on the ride, he got on board and you took it and you explored it. And, you know, for me, when I think about exploring how these different areas of intellectual interest piggyback off one another, for me, it becomes very intuitive. And it seems like you have that experience as well. You cited everything from religion to politics to the inner workings of the mind to theater. But all of this started from entering through one door, through the theater. And I think we share this because, you know. 


David Pace 7:13

You had a door too dude!


Alex Barilec 7:14

I did have a door too and sometimes when we look back, these doors, they were there all along, we almost didn’t even realize them. I mean, for me, it was like the world map. It was geography. If we want to talk about a subject, I can remember spending a lot of time at my grandparent’s house and my grandpa always had a big world map on the wall. I have something very similar in my room today, and I was enamored with looking at the map and my earliest memories of that were around my family. So my grandpa used to have thumbtacks on the map for every place that my aunt who worked for the State Department and had worked in the Peace Corps everywhere she lived, my grandmother had marked and she spent time in wild places in Amman, Jordan, and in Beijing. And then Slovakia and in Moscow. And then my uncle had also traveled extensively. He’d lived in Turkey and he’d lived out in Utah for most of my life. And so I had these stories of people in my family that had been out exploring the world. And I was young and wanted to explore the world, too. But very quickly that led me to think more about how these people live and culture and then individual emotions and the individual people and stories and how we relate and we share. And history is a big part of that. I’m a you know, you like geography. You very quickly learn about history, about how the makeup of the world has changed over and over again. And just in the way that you took theater into all of these areas. You know, then for me, I started to come into religion, into politics and the intersection and the combination of all of them and throughout all of it. Like when I think of early days, my sister still makes fun of me for this. But when I was very young, I used to do research projects on my own outside of school. 


David Pace 9:04

Oh, that’s really nerdy. 


Alex Barilec 9:06

Yeah, totally nerdy. I used to like, do I remember doing one on, like, France and skiing and the Alps. And I was doing all this research about Germany. But I think I share that story because this really improved my mood and my clarity of thought and my understanding of the world around me. And it always decreased my stress. You know, I very much sometimes to my detriment, like I love to learn new things and read new things. So I get a lot of, you know, positive benefits in my life from a state of well-being by pursuing this. 


David Pace 9:47

And I’ll bet if we did a dissection of your brain right now, those neural pathways would be very robust. 


Alex Barilec 9:52

You as well. Yeah. Thank you. 


David Pace 9:55

I’ll take that as a compliment. 


Alex Barilec 9:56

But there’s there’s something that happens as we learn more about these different subjects and we’ve cited far and wide, something that I found really interesting and you have had this experience as well, is that the more that you know, the more that you realize that you don’t know. 


David Pace 10:11

That’s pretty true of just going to college. I think that was the first real lightning bolt I got, was sitting in class and, you know, when I was a teenager, I knew everything, of course, because teenagers do. I’m remembering the bumper sticker hire a teenager now because he or she knows everything. 


Alex Barilec 10:38

That’s still true today.


David Pace 10:39

It’s still true today. And I don’t mean to diss the younger crowd, but we do go through a period where it’s like knowledge is power and we pick up on that right away. And I think that when children do get obsessed, we would call it with something. That’s what they’re doing. They’re creating those neural pathways and they are exploring the world through a lens that they’ve been able to grab on to and find power in. So yeah, but to get back to the more we know, the more we know, ‘we don’t know’ is a powerful motivator and engine for intellectual wellness and also part of learning as you know is recognizing and being humble about the fact that you are just a small cog in a very big wheel and that there’s a lot to learn. And so you can’t you can’t just pretend. And it really is a pretense to know everything about even one subject. And I think we see that all the time here with scientists. I think they know that the best scientists are the ones that know that you get to the top of that hill and there’s five other peaks that I’ve got to climb, and I didn’t even know they were there. And that’s that can be exhilarating in a way, if you allow it to be. 


Alex Barilec 12:01

It can, it can also be overwhelming, right? Because we’ve talked about a lot of different subjects that we have interest in. But I wouldn’t sit here and say I’m an expert in politics or religion or hardly any of these, but I am interested in the intersection of a lot of them. And so when we think of being on the other side of this, you know, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, then you can kind of find yourself in this like a desert. And it’s like, what? What do I do with that? And there’s a couple tools that I have really used that have helped me to congeal some of this knowledge on the way to wisdom. And I have a long way to go to get there. And two of these tools that come to mind are thinking in mental models. So when we think about bringing information together from a lot of different areas to make sense of the world, mental models are ways in which we can bring these different bits of information from disciplines, simplify it and then make it applicable in our life. And I like to think if I’m building a beautiful building or cultivating wisdom in my life, I like to think of these mental models as being the scaffolding to help me continue to go up another rung and the scaffolding being something that needs to be secure, that needs to fit together. We need to take time to build the scaffolding, because without building scaffolding on the building, we’re not going to be able to reach these higher rungs. So these mental models have really helped me. And one of them that comes to mind that relates to what you’re saying is this idea of the scout mindset, so I learned about the scout mindset from Julia Galef, who works for the Center for Applied Rationality and Julia Galef’s idea, is that your goal in pursuing intellectual pursuits is to be kind of like a scout. So if you imagine what a scout does is they just go out and they want to see what’s going on out in the future. I always think of it like, you know, a war metaphor of going out into the battlefield and seeing what the enemy is doing. And they want to clearly and objectively see what’s going on, What do we know and also what don’t we know? And I think the reason I bring this up is because the scout mindset is really the anecdote to a lot of the ways in which we see information being disseminated or people conversating, where it seems like the default has been to attack other people and to just defend your position where the scout mindset really opens us up to be like, How might I be wrong? How are things really playing out here? How are they clearly and objectively happening? And I share this as a tool because this has been really helpful for me to kind of sort through the intellectual landscape of the 21st century. 


David Pace 14:49

Yeah. So one of the scouts that is famous out here in Utah, in the Southwest is John Powell. And in fact, Lake Powell is named after him. But he did two famous trips down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in a scouting mentality, if you will. And what’s interesting about that, other than the fact that he also only had one arm, which is kind of interesting.


Alex Barilec 15:17

That’s amazing, he was a Civil War vet, right?


David Pace 15:19

Yeah. And he went through that not in a rubber boat. He went down. It was a wooden crate basically. But anyway I bring him up because I think that openness gave us some of the best pictures of the indigenous people that were here at the time, including the Southern Paiute, and he was able to speculate and philosophize about what it meant to live in the Southwest. And as we talk about water conservation now, guess who had some really great ideas about how that was supposed to happen. And it wasn’t big cities in the Southwest. It was small agrarian communities that John Powell said, this is the only way we’re going to be able to live out here is in a smaller micro community, not unlike the indigenous who also traveled a lot. But even the farmers that he was thinking about coming out here and the settlers and the homesteaders, he had very strong opinions about how, you know, which he took back to Washington about how we were to settle this area. Of course, we ignored all of that. And we have huge cities out here that are gobbling all kinds of water. So my point is, I think that it was probably that scouting mentality rather than the conquerer mentality, which was also a part of the frontier and a part of settling the West, really kind of helped him get to a place of wisdom, which is, I think, the final goal here of all of this intellectual wellness is getting old like me and hopefully being wise. 


Alex Barilec 17:05

Yeah. And as you’re saying that about John Powell’s beautiful story and one I’ve been very inspired by too, particularly growing up back east and exploring the desert is just the most unique and beautiful, but also like harsh and desolate climate you can imagine. And something that it seems as though you’ve been inspired by it. He practices what I would call intellectual humility and recognizing that there are gaps in our knowledge and that we have to try and strike this balance between understanding different aspects of all of these subjects and bringing these ideas together. But also the way I like to think about it is having strong opinions but holding them really lightly and recognizing that we might be totally off or you might be missing really important information. My wife and I often have conversations and debates about these things, and she tells me she’s like, You always seem like you’re coming from the perspective of being right. And I think if we’re all honest with ourselves to some degree, we all think that. And what I share with her is when I do present these ideas to you, I’m doing my best with the information that I know, but I hold them really lightly. And what I would love for you to do is, challenge me, keep me open to new ideas, share information with me that you might have that I don’t know, so that I can continue to expand my understanding of the world and my scaffolding. I think that, we really can do that for each other in conversation, whether it’s, you know, with our loved ones, but also with coworkers and with people in a whole lot of different avenues. 


David Pace 18:37

Yeah. So Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher and rhetorician, talked about the dialectic. 


Alex Barilec 18:44



David Pace 18:45

So dialectic is basically a conversational model of acquiring knowledge, if you will. And it starts with a thesis, a claim, and then there’s the antithesis or the antithesis that is posited in opposition to that. And then the dialectic begins going back and forth like a pendulum where you, you have another thesis or another antithesis or antithesis, which is where we get those words. Of course, in the end there’s synthesis because you come down like a pendulum, hopefully in an ideal situation, which is of course the Greek world, and you do come to a synthesis of an understanding. And I think that’s a huge part of communication theory, is that it’s not, you know, communication, in my view, is about understanding. It’s not about proselyting, it’s not about convincing, it’s not about propaganda. And we can forget about that very quickly. And mostly in our marital bliss. 


Alex Barilec 19:50

Yeah, certainly. 


David Pace 19:53

And the difference that I wanted to make is that there’s a difference between being doctrinaire and being principled. And I think you mentioned this in your notes is that being principled, you have principles, but you hold on to them lightly because you can always be wrong and there’s always going to be an antithesis to what you’re saying. And you need to be open to that if you really want to arrive at this synthesis position. 


Alex Barilec 20:19

Yeah, and I love how, you know, we talked earlier about how these different areas of wellness are interwoven. And he started to bring in the social and the emotional there. Right. So I think of intellectual pursuits as being things that we’re learning, that we’re growing in, that we’re studying on our own, but we don’t live in a silo. We have to take this information and we have to bring it out into the world. I mean, that’s something that you and I are trying to do here, right? Is like take the information that we have and bring it out into the world. And that’s where the emotional piece comes in of, you know, self-regulating and recognizing how other people might be receiving us. And the social piece of creating trust and rapport and connection maybe before we dive into deep topics. But there’s something that kind of underpins all of this. And if people are looking for avenues to maybe open more doors in their life or to knock, to open, and then to explore, I think one of the things you’re talking about is listening, listening to our intuition and to where these ideas follow us, but also listening to other people because we can learn so much if we’re really listening to understand people rather than listening to respond. And that kind of ties all these aspects of the scout mindset and intellectual humility, like in listening to something so simple to say, but it’s really, really hard to do. 


David Pace 21:38

Mmhmm. Yeah, I think most often I have found myself just waiting for the person to stop talking because I’m already formulating a response in my mind. I’m writing a script if you want to be theatrical about it. And that’s just deadly, you know, because you’re not really being empathic in your listening. And that’s I know that the Dalai Lama often talks about empathic learning and empathic conversation. And if you’re not, you’re practicing empathy when you’re listening in the end. So you have something you’re about deep work. You want to talk about that? 


Alex Barilec 22:13

Yeah, I think that’s a great place because you know, what was just coming up for me in my head is I think that a lot of people, if they listen to their interests and they think back to when they were young, like we were sharing stories about how our intellectual pursuits kind of grew and blossomed. I think a lot of people can find those. But if we’re honest, like work and the speed of life can kind of cloud this area, I think, and kind of like push it to the side and be like, This isn’t so important. And this idea of deep work versus shallow work from Cal Newport really helps you to think differently about how to strengthen your intellectual wellness at later stages of our life. So the ideas are this: shallow work, are smaller tasks throughout the workday. These are things that they have like a purpose to them, but they don’t require a certain level of intellectual knowledge or complexity that we all have to do them. Like sending text or emails is a form of shallow work, but deep work is the way in which we strengthen our intellectual muscles. And it’s a state of distraction-free concentration where our brain can work at its potential, it can make connections, it can think deeply, it can help us to learn and to rewire and really like recall and understand complex topics so that we can have a better understanding of the world. And the idea is to carve out time in our life like we’ve talked about with many of these areas of wellness, right? Carving out time to exercise, carving out time to socialize. I think when we think of intellectual wellness, carving out time for deep distraction-free work is something that is like maybe, as I said before, like a really low barrier to entry, but really effective way to improve this area. 


David Pace 24:04

I think we’re all creative too, and I think that’s where creativity comes into play. If you don’t give your space, your time spent in your life space for this kind of deep work, then you’re not going to find the creative juices to be creative. And I’m not just talking about being an artist. I’m talking about being an entrepreneur, somebody in business, sports, whatever creativity is, and science. But, you know, we could talk for a long time about the creative element to science. You know, Einstein talks about the theory of relativity for Dancing in the Air. I mean, that’s not exactly empirical experiments, but yeah, any more tools that you want to talk about briefly before we move on? 


Alex Barilec 24:51

Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, if there’s people out there that are just like, okay, I kind of feel stuck on this or this area of stagnant, like deep work is just like the scout mindset and intellectual humility. And these mental models are ways of thinking about how to create this in your life. Some people might just be like, ask me what can I do? I need to reignite that spark of creativity and that spark of really passionate interest in areas. I mean, travel is a great way to do that. You don’t have to travel internationally either, right? Like for me, I’ve traveled almost exclusively domestically in the past seven years, and the Western United States has so many opportunities in areas of novelty to learn about. Like I’ve loved learning about the people that used to live here. And I know very little, but it’s been really interesting. So travel is one that comes to mind to reignite that flame. What else would you throw in there? 


David Pace 25:42

Pick up a hobby. So I’m trying to finish a braided rug that my spouse’s grandmother had started back in Maine and never finished, and she did these braided rugs all the time. And so I set sit there and do braided rugs and I’m going to finish it if it kills me. But it’s been very meditative, but it’s also given me a historical view of what it was like to live in the 19th century, which is when her grandmother was born, in 1900. And I would say another one is to read. So I’m a big reader and not just read texts, but read long-form narratives. Yeah, and I know you’re reading one of those right now. Tell us about it. 


Alex Barilec 26:30

That I am. I’m reading some Dostoyevsky and reading some Russian literature that is just beautiful and striking. And I think the thing for me that I’ve learned from reading that is it’s really different than a lot of the things that I read. So the one thing I would tack on to what you said for people is like, if you’re used to reading nonfiction, or you’re used to fiction, try reading the opposite. Try expanding. Because for me, I’ve actually learned a lot about these nonfiction concepts in fiction. It’s brought it to life for me in a totally new way. So those are some last little, you know, tidbits, I think, of places that people can reignite their spark of intellectual wellness because I think that in closing, it really is this lifelong journey. And as you’ve shared, it changes and it grows. So if we can continue to reignite that spark and follow that passion, I’m not as interested in geography as I once was, but for me today, it’s really responding to people and really understanding the human experience on a deeper level. And so if people are looking for resources here at the U, what are some places that come to mind? 


David Pace 27:40

Yeah, continuing education here has great classes for adults. If you’re over 50, the Osher Learning Institute is great as well. 25 bucks and you’re in for each class and they’re non matriculated. You know you’re not looking for a degree, you’re just looking to expand your intellectual wellness and in closing, I would just like to say I really like your metaphor of scaffolding and don’t forget that sometimes you’re on a scaffold to reach something higher up, if you will, to ascend. And don’t forget the scaffolding is going to come down someday. So don’t don’t pin your doctrinaire views on the scaffolding. Always be reaching for that top of that building that’s being built. 


Alex Barilec 28:30

I love that. And I think the you know, the last thought from my area is, don’t forget and ignore this as an area of wellness. I think when we think of wellness, this one can very much be like, well, I have to learn for, you know, my professional pursuits, but we can maybe like separate those personal and those professional intellectual areas and remembering that this is as important. And as we’ve talked about today is very much interwoven into the other areas, because I think this one can be sat on the shelf at times when it very much is an integral part of holistic wellness. 


David Pace 29:04

Absolutely. I like the way you ended that. Let’s go to lunch. 


Alex Barilec 29:08

Sounds good. 


David Pace 29:08

All right. Nice to see you. 


Alex Barilec 29:10

Take care, David. Bye bye. 


1st detection of heavy element from star merger

first detection of heavy element from star merger


“We only know of a handful of kilonovas with any certainty, and this is only the second one for which we have such detailed spectral information” said Tanmoy Laskar, assistant professor at the University of Utah, of the first detection of we have of heavy element from a star merger.

Tanmoy Laskar. Banner photo (above): This image from Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument highlights GRB 230307A’s kilonova and its former home galaxy among their local environment of other galaxies and foreground stars. The neutron stars were kicked out of their home galaxy and traveled the distance of about 120,000 light-years, approximately the diameter of the Milky Way galaxy, before finally merging several hundred million years later. CREDIT: NASA, ESA, CSA, STSCI, ANDREW LEVAN (IMAPP, WARW)

Tanmoy Laskar and colleagues has used multiple space and ground-based telescopes, including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, to observe an exceptionally bright gamma-ray burst, GRB 230307A, and identify the neutron star merger that generated an explosion that created the burst. Webb also helped scientists detect the chemical element tellurium in the explosion’s aftermath.

“Just over 150 years since Dmitri Mendeleev wrote down the periodic table of elements, we are now finally in the position to start filling in those last blanks of understanding where everything was made, thanks to Webb,” said Andrew Levan of Radboud University in the Netherlands and the University of Warwick in the UK, lead author of the study.

While neutron star mergers have long been theorized as being the ideal “pressure cookers” to create some of the rarer elements substantially heavier than iron, astronomers have previously encountered a few obstacles in obtaining solid evidence.

Kilonovas are extremely rare, making it difficult to observe these events. Short gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), traditionally thought to be those that last less than two seconds, can be byproducts of these infrequent merger episodes. In contrast, long gamma-ray bursts may last several minutes and are usually associated with the explosive death of a massive star.

The case of GRB 230307A is particularly remarkable. First detected by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope in March, it is the second brightest GRB observed in over 50 years of observations, about 1,000 times brighter than a typical gamma-ray burst that Fermi observes. It also lasted for 200 seconds, placing it firmly in the category of long duration gamma-ray bursts, despite its different origin.

“This burst is way into the long category. It’s not near the border. But it seems to be coming from a merging neutron star,” added Eric Burns, a co-author of the paper and member of the Fermi team at Louisiana State University.

Read the full article by Lisa Potter in @TheU.  Adapted from NASA Webb Space Telescope.

Pace Yourself: Pilot Episode

Listen Here: 



David Pace 0:05

Well, good morning. I’m David Pace, and I’m the science writer here at the College of Science. 


Alex Barilec 0:10

And I’m Alex Barilec, and I’m a career coach here in the College of Science. And we’re here to introduce a new idea of information on what it means to approach wellness holistically here in the College of Science. 


David Pace 0:25

Yep. And we’ve been doing these wellness tips for the last several months and kind of did an overview at the retreat recently. And we’d like to talk about that and we’d like to kick it off by talking about what we mean by wellness. 


Alex Barilec 0:41

And so what we’re using when we talk about wellness is we’re using a resource from the NIH that’s called the eight dimensions of wellness. And what this resource does is it really helps to take all of the components of wellness and see how they fit together holistically. And they support your wellbeing in a bunch of different areas. So what David and I are going to do today to jump off this podcast mini series is we’re going to briefly introduce each of the eight dimensions to you and then over the coming weeks we’re going to dive a little bit deeper into each of them. So you’ve got a little bit more information about how to make this actionable in your life. 


David Pace 1:20

So it’ll be basically a resource for you. Hopefully these will podcasts will live on our website. So I start, you talk to you and you can access them anytime you want. So let’s kick it off. Why don’t you start or should or do you want me to start? 


Alex Barilec 1:37

I’ll jump right in. Okay, So dimension number one, we’ve got spiritual wellness, and this is all about our ability to establish peace and harmony in our lives. What a way to start. 


David Pace 1:49

What a way to start. It’s a good one to start with the next one that we’re going to briefly mentioned is emotional wellness, which is basically the ability to understand ourselves. And I think the term emotional might mean a number of things to you. And we’ll we’ll talk about that when we talk about emotional wellness. But yeah, it’s it’s how do we understand ourselves. 


Alex Barilec 2:14

Yeah. And that ties great into number three, which is intellectual wellness. And this is all about the ability to seek out new ideas, experiences and skills for lifelong learning. 


David Pace 2:25

Very important and begin here at the University of Utah. I think since we are a school, right? 


Alex Barilec 2:32



David Pace 2:33

So the fourth one that we’re going to talk about or mentioned briefly here is physical wellness. And that’s basically the ability to take care of our bodies. 


Alex Barilec 2:45

Kind of like the fundamental pillar of memories, I think, and one that people will recognize right away, which is why I like that it came a little later. Yeah. Because it’s for people. 


David Pace 2:55

Because usually when we think of wellness, at least when I think of wellness, I think, well, how am I feeling and how am I doing and how strong am I in my healthy? 


Alex Barilec 3:04

Yeah. And one of the things that affects that, as many people know, is our environmental wellness. So that’s the fifth pillar. And this is all about the ability to care for the environment and our community and ourselves. And I think people often think of the natural world and we think of environment, which is 100% a part of this, but we can talk about the environment inside our offices, inside of our homes, the environment, in our relationships. So we can  add a lot more depth to that one, I think, and expand people’s idea of what that dimension means. 


David Pace 3:35

Including the environment in your fish tank. 


So the sixth one, right, Social wellness, that’s the ability to have healthy relationships with others. As you can see, so far, all of these are profoundly interrelated. But I think it’s helpful to kind of parse them out into these eight dimensions. 


Alex Barilec 3:57

Yeah. And so the final dimension of the seventh dimension, one that’s getting ahead of myself is financial wellness, and that’s the ability to live within our means, to explore all of the questions around money, around our stories around that, how to manage that and how to engage with that, both internally as well as externally. 


David Pace 4:17

And that’s a good point. All of these components, all of these dimensions have an external and internal component that kind of are hopefully in a good, healthy tension with each other. And finally, then the eighth one is occupational wellness or vocational wellness. It’s the ability to find joy in our jobs and to have balance in our lives. And this is really about balance, isn’t it? The whole thing. 


Alex Barilec 4:44

The whole thing. And so our hope over the next eight weeks and parts of this is to really help you dive a little bit more deeply into each of these dimensions of wellness so you can focus on creating balance in your life. You might really quickly identify a couple of these that are like, I haven’t really been paying attention to those areas. That might be a great place to start or for other people they might say, I’m really good in this area, but I’ve never even heard of this one. So our hope is that we can expand people’s idea and help them live a little bit more in balance and deepen their quality of life. 


David Pace 5:18

So for your homework, I would suggest and tell me if you think this is a stupid idea, but maybe something jumped out at you. Think about it. Pick one of them, because that’s usually a good place to start because wellness it’s a big tamale that you get to take bite sized pieces of while think while remembering that it’s all connected intimately. 


Alex Barilec 5:44

Yeah, there’s a great resource out there called The Wheel of Life. You can find it within the dimensions of wellness as well. There’s all sorts of free resources online that are assessments. You could probably do this in 5 minutes and you can just get a really good temperature gauge of where you’re at in each of these areas by answering a few questions. And that could use as a really good jumping off point to say, what are the areas I’m doing really well and what are the areas that I might want to focus on and that can help you really engage with this series a bit more in-depth. 


David Pace 6:13

And also visit the university web page on wellness. They’ve got pretty good resources. They’re pretty good set of resources there. So how do we want to end this? Do you want to have a cheer? Let’s get well. 


Alex Barilec 6:28

Let’s get well. We’ll cheers to that and we’ll see you in the next episode now. 


David Pace 6:33

Thanks, Alex. 


Alex Barilec 6:34

Thanks, David. 


David Pace 6:34

Take care. 


Nadkarni Named NatGeo Explorer at Large

Nadkarni named NatGeo Explorer at Large


The National Geographic Society has appointed famed University of Utah forest canopy researcher Nalini Nadkarni as a National Geographic Explorer at Large.

A Professor Emerita at the School of Biological Sciences, Nadkarni, an ecologist who pioneered the study of Costa Rican rainforest canopies and an avid science communicator, will serve as an ambassador for the National Geographic Society. As an Explorer at Large, Nadkarni will receive support for her research and in bringing accessibility to science and nature across communities.

Explorers at Large hold the highest distinction within the organization. They are preeminent leaders in their field who also serve as mentors to other National Geographic Explorers. The title is bestowed upon a few select global changemakers, including Explorers like storyteller Shahidul Alam, oceanographers Bob Ballard and Sylvia Earle, artist Maya Lin and ecologist Rodrigo Medellín.

“At the National Geographic Society, we often say science and exploration are our foundation, and storytelling and education are our superpowers. Nalini’s career embodies this sentiment,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, chief executive officer, National Geographic Society. “Nalini is passionate about sharing her work with people of all backgrounds to foster a greater understanding of and care for the natural world. This is key to our mission and among the many reasons we’re thrilled to name her a National Geographic Explorer at Large.”

Read the full press release dated Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023 at National Geographic.

Pace Yourself: Episode 4

Listen Here: 

Relevant Research and Articles:


David Pace 0:01

Hi, my name is David Pace. 


Alex Barilec 0:05

And I’m Alex Barilec, and this is Pace Yourself, the University of Utah College of Science podcast on wellness. 


David Pace 0:13

So here we are, today we’re going to talk about social wellness. And so I’m going to start out, as we usually do, with the definition and the definition of social wellness that I’ve come up with or that I’ve pulled together means to develop a sense of connection, belonging and a well-developed support system. So I think we should start out with something that I think that’s going on on the macro scale, which is that we’re coming out of a pandemic, which I was pretty trying for a lot of us, and I don’t even think we knew how trying it was. And so let’s talk a little bit about loneliness and the disconnection that’s happened since we all went into lockdown. And now we’re actually trying to navigate that because we don’t even know what the future holds. But there has been a disconnection going on and a sense of loneliness, I think, on the macro level. 


Alex Barilec 1:09

Absolutely. And I love that you framed that way to start, David, because there’s a lot of different areas, Maybe even all of the areas of wellness were tested and tried through the pandemic and we went through this collective traumatic experience that nobody asked for or ever expected they might experience in their life. And I remember at one point seeing a graph about the different areas of wellness and how they, like peaked and spiked throughout time scales of the pandemic. And the one that came later in the pandemic was this social peace. There was just a really long tail of social wellness kind of being fragmented from lockdown and then really struggling to be rebuilt. And this actually prompted the surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, to craft this very long dossier titled The Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in Our Country. And I think that, you know, just kind of like we can’t ignore what’s going on. So we need to talk about like the rise in what he calls diseases of despair, which are anxiety and depression and loneliness and, you know, accidental death from overdose. Like all of these are at a place that have created this mental health crisis that is very widespread. And the report goes so far as to say that the effects of loneliness are like smoking 15 cigarettes a day, which was just totally, holy cow. Really. Yeah. And so this is something that’s kind of like invisible, right? And so hopefully today we can talk about, you know, maybe some of the areas and some of the populations that are really affected. But at the end of the day, we are social creatures and so we all have been affected by this and maybe in ways that as you say, that we’re still just beginning to understand. So hopefully we can give people some ideas of ways to start to rebuild, connection and rebuild community. And so for you, when you think about connection and community as it relates to social wellbeing, where do you usually start? 


David Pace 3:09

Well, it makes me wonder about what connection is and what family means. Really what’s happened for me the last 20 years of my life is that my birth family has become less important to me. That’s not my family in a sense now. And I’ve had to my wife and I together have had to create our own community. And I think that this happened during the pandemic as well on any number of levels. I mean, we suddenly found new communities online, for example, and those communities were critical. They were absolutely vital to keeping us, in a sense connected. So, I guess whenever I’m thinking about social connection, I think first about the terminology that I’m using because we can get locked into notions about, for example, what family is, is that just blood relations? Well, for many populations in this country, refugees, for example, people who have been discriminated against. And I think of, you know, when I was growing up in the coming of age in the eighties, the gay community was forming their own community and that was really interesting to watch because a lot of their families were ambivalent at best at their professed lifestyle. And I think that that is happening a lot in our very fragmented world is that it’s kind of like cable TV. You know, you pick the cable TV channel that reflects you and that you can relate to. And sometimes that’s bad because then, you know, you’re not hearing any information from the other side or from other communities. But yeah, it’s kind of followed that model. I think the cable TV model, which of course is not doing very well right now with streaming, but it’s kind of an interesting way to look at how we connect. We certainly connect through social media. And like I say, that was critical during the pandemic. And I was very grateful for it, as was my wife. 


Alex Barilec 5:25

Totally. I think that, you know, you draw a really good macro point about the change in social dynamics that have taken place over maybe the past 50 years. But that have been, you know, escalated since the pandemic and really since the introduction of the iPhone and social media and information technology on a mass scale over the past 15 years. And something that I think that we used to default to was we used to live in small tribes and groups, and we had our community, our family, and, you know, whether or not we liked them or got along or had common interests or not, we were kind of stuck together more or less. And so now we’re in the opposite end of that spectrum. Like we have ultimate choice. We have, you know, online communities and in person communities. But sometimes that can be really overwhelming because we can choose any which way. How do you possibly choose? And one of the first places that I think about starting when rebuilding connection and community in my life is setting intentional time carved out in my day to just get to know people that I’m interested in better not letting it be like the default like it used to, and really thinking, okay, what are some ways in which I can be intentional about this? And I love how you said that you and your wife really started to have this blossom for you during the pandemic. What were some of the ways that you went about creating a connection or engaging with these communities that were were interesting to you? How did you start doing that? 


David Pace 6:56

Well, we were forced to do it for one thing. So but even even when we were forced to go online, we had to also make, like you say, intentional decisions about, actually we had to do an inventory, quite frankly, of who our friends were and who our family was, and really make appointments to talk to people. And what was interesting is that our friend base, our community actually expanded in a curious way, which would not have happened without the Internet. So we were talking to people in England, you know, friends, high school friends from my wife’s side of the family that we hadn’t talked to at any length because they lived in England until we got online. So we would spend an hour with these folks, you know, living in Suffolk County. So, I mean, I think the point for us was that we also saw friends that we didn’t didn’t know we might have, like, for example, people in our own neighborhood. I mean, I lived in New York for a while, and the value of living in New York City was that you had a lot of contact with people all the time. You couldn’t get away from it. And so I found that, you know, our next door neighbors, we became really close in terms of, you know, what they were doing and how they were coping and how their kids were doing. And because they were there. And we could meet each other outside, six feet apart, of course. And yeah, so that’s that’s how we managed through it. But I actually I want to know how you did it as well, because I think that there was some residual effects to not having those standard contacts even with the grocery store people, you know, or the mailman or the mailwoman that we are still suffering from a little bit. We’re finding that we we now that we are reintegrating, that we have to really be intentional about the friendships that we want to keep up with in person. It’s a different animal. I don’t know, hw did you guys do it? Yeah, because you did it right after you moved here, right? Isn’t that were the…


Alex Barilec 9:20

I had been here for about three years, but my wife had only been here for about a year. 


David Pace 9:28

So she’s faced with the pandemic in a new space, right? 


Alex Barilec 9:31

Yeah. We were fortunate that we had roommates at the time, very good friends of ours who were the godparents of their children. And, you know, there’s a couple of things that you’re saying that, you know, helped us develop deeper relationships with those individuals, but others in our community as well. And that’s the idea of common interests is is one thing. I think the other, though, is this way of showing up in relationship. And I want to talk briefly about both of those. So when I think about interests, I have different groups or different individuals in my life that help me to explore different things I’m interested in. So like I have a group of people that I like to ski with, I have different people that I like to see live music with. I have others that will sit down and have really deep philosophical questions and discussions with me. I have others that I can talk about books I’m reading with or others that I talk about running with. So I will think of this phrase sometimes like, don’t go to the hardware store for milk. Like no one would ever do that. Right? Or maybe there’s a hardware store that has milk out there that’s going to make me eat my words. But the point is, there are certain people in our lives that maybe we go to for social connection in certain areas that are not actually the best match like there are gentlemen, that I love to ski with that I would never and have never really had deep philosophical conversations with. They’re wonderful people to do one thing with, they’re not wonderful to do something else with. So that’s the first area is just thinking about the structure and the interests that we have. And then the other is how we show up in relationship. And I think that this is the challenging part that we’re still learning maybe as like a muscle to restrengthen after the pandemic. Is it it takes risk in putting yourself out there and being vulnerable and daring to go first in relationship to really develop that deep bond that we are all hardwired for. And I think that that’s kind of the foundation, but that’s also kind of the tricky or the scary part about developing deeper relationships and social connections. 


David Pace 11:50

And yet it’s it’s absolutely critical. I mean, Brené Brown, who we’ve quoted before, says that it’s neurobiologically in there. That’s like you say, is how we’re wired that’s why we’re here is to connect. So my question for you is what causes disconnection other than the pandemic? What’s causing it now? 


Alex Barilec 12:13

So when I was going through and just doing some research on the Surgeon General’s epidemic of loneliness and isolation, he talks a lot in there about social media, actually, and how particularly in the age range of 15 to 24 right now, this cohort of beautiful young souls are engaging 70% less in person than at, you know, different times in the past few decades. So that’s a massive reduction. And they have these four graphs. And if anybody’s interested in checking this out, it’s really a robust resource to help you understand what’s going on socially. They have these four charts and they’re showing decreases in interaction with different groups. And one of them stood out to me immediately, the friend, the time with friends over the past like ten years just plummets, falls off the chart. 


David Pace 13:06

You’re talking person to person. 


Alex Barilec 13:08

Yes. Spending young people spending time with their friends like that, time has just plummeted. And that’s a really important age to be engaging with your friends, to be learning, exploring the world more, and so. 


David Pace 13:21

Getting into trouble, toilet papering your neighbor’s house, all of that is just incredibly important part of our social I mean, I just remember remembering growing up in the seventies, that was just hours and hours and hours with people. 


Alex Barilec 13:36

Yeah. And those are just times that, you have an opportunity to, you know, push your boundaries to explore, to learn about each other. I think some of the people I have the most deep relationships with in my life are the people that I’ve gone through the hardest challenges with. And this can look really differently, right? It could be people that I’ve gone on backcountry ski trips with. It can be people that I’ve talked to about challenges in my life. It can be people that I’ve helped through other challenges or we have some really good friends who just moved to Utah and I moved here, you know, seven years ago and I know what it’s like to move all the way across the country, and it’s really not easy. But I can already see that we’re developing a closer bond. And so it’s those opportunities to learn and grow together. And I want to come back to your question, what gets in the way of this? Like really that screen time, that phone time. I think really is one of the biggest hurdles for us to engage with intentionally in this report. They talked about how people that use social media for 2 hours or more a day were 50% more likely to report feeling lonely than people who use social media 30 minutes or less 


David Pace 14:53

We’re really talking about the shallow side of social media because we were earlier talking about how it connected us all in new ways. But there’s a there’s a flip side to it. 


Alex Barilec 15:03

Yeah, and, you know, the pandemic was something that was novel, right? The word novel was probably used a million times. And it was a novel experience for all of us. And that technology, I mean, I’d never used Zoom before the pandemic, and I can vividly remember sitting in my room with my wife and like 20 other friends from college, just checking in on each other, you know, making sure the world wasn’t flipped upside down because it sure felt like it. But as time has gone on and things have, you know, slowly open and grown and changed, I think we need to remember that we are social beings at are nature. And we have always been and lived in close proximity in small tribes. And there haven’t been like real biological changes in human beings in like 50,000 years. 


David Pace 15:49

50,000 yeah.


Alex Barilec 15:50

Need to be in social contact with one another in-person. We have mirror neurons that are literally built for this. And so, yeah, it is a wonderful tool in many ways, but we have to use it as a tool. Like we don’t carry a hammer around all day long, right. Because everything’s not a nail in the same way that social media is useful, it also can be a real barrier to actual genuine, vulnerable social connection, I think. 


David Pace 16:16

Yeah, And when your hammer is the only tool you’ve got, you’re going to just pound everything, right? So you need more than one tool. 


Alex Barilec 16:24

Something like that. So, you know, there’s other aspects here. And some of the the tools that we were talking about were strategies actually from the NIH that they’re sharing with people across a wide swath of communities to think about rebuilding social connection. And one of those, David, was developing healthy boundaries. Tell me a little bit about how that’s shown up for you in ways in which you found that useful in your life. 


David Pace 16:52

Well, yeah, because there’s I mean, there’s a shadow side to everything I guess, and connecting has its own risks. One of those is if you don’t have proper boundaries and you’ve got a toxic individual in your life, you’re going to be troubled by that. I’m reminded of a quote from the poet Maya Angelou. Let’s see if I can get this right. When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them. And so people are going to say and perform whatever they’re going to say and perform. And that’s very different than how they behave. And I don’t know, maybe it is media, but I have the tendency to believe what I want to believe about somebody, you know, And so I’m willing to give them one chance, two chances, five hundred and thirty two chances before I finally figure out that they’re bad for me or that I need to jettison them, but that I have to have a really strong boundary that I’m not willing to move for them. So, yeah, I mean, I think it’s the phrase is heaven is other people, hell is other people too. And so you have to kind of keep that in mind. So yeah, in terms of my own ability to draw boundaries, I’m a classic codependent. I’ll admit it. I actually go to a support group for that very reason because I inappropriately attempt to take care of other people in the room. If I’m on a bus and somebody doesn’t look happy, I feel responsible for that. You know, I mean, that’s being kind of extreme, but that’s the classic codependent. So I have to be really careful about that. And I have to keep in mind that connecting can be toxic as well. And but I think also there’s a very emotional we were talking about emotion in the earlier podcast and what unravels connection I think on the emotional level is this fear of disconnection and shame, quite frankly, that if somebody finds out who you are, really, they’re going to be disgusted by you or find that you’re not worthy of connection. And so there’s some work that we have to do there as well. And that’s definitely an inside job. It’s not just about picking up the phone and making a date with somebody. It’s about feeling like you are worthy of connection. And one of the biggest problems that happens after someone dies in your life, some close person, is that you get very possibly depressed and that can settle in very quickly to some of us who, you know, the imposter syndrome, if you will. So I’d like to actually talk a little bit more about that. How do we keep from unraveling our connections by feeling more emotionally healthy? 


Alex Barilec 20:07

Yeah, well, you know, as a people pleaser myself, I can very much relate. You know, to what you’re sharing. 


David Pace 20:14

And vulnerability is scary, too. And you have to be vulnerable to be connected. Right? 


Alex Barilec 20:19

You do. And so when you think about, you know, imposter syndrome or being vulnerable and leaning in, one of the things that I like to think about is this kind of a mantra. I’m thinking about putting myself out there and developing new relationships with people and cultivating intentionally. A social support network is, Do I feel trusted and supported, and do I see that the person that I am engaging with really wants the best for me? And I think one of the best ways to do that is through people that celebrate your successes, like people that want to see you be successful, those people are just magnetic in our world. And so when we think about being vulnerable, if you think, hey, if this person celebrates me for the good things I’m doing, that’s a really good sign of a healthy individual and someone that you might be able to develop a healthy relationship with. And you talked earlier about boundaries. And I think I want to come back to that for a second because boundaries with unhealthy people are super important, but you can also have boundaries with healthy people as well, because something we are talking about with the emotional wellness piece was you had to be a friend to yourself first and that looks like protecting your time and making sure you’re taking care of yourself so you can extend yourself to others. And one of the tools for people that are maybe like, okay, David, Alex, I know I need to say no, but I don’t know how to do it is there’s two tricks that I use. One, I often won’t say the word no. If someone’s like, Hey, do you want to grab drinks or do you want to come out with some of us after work and be like, you know what, I’d love to, but I’ve got this commitment tonight to my wife or to my friends. I’d love to join you next time. I didn’t use the word no at all, right? I was like, I would love to, but it’s not going to happen today. The other thing that I use is remembering to separate the no from the individual. So saying no to an experience or an opportunity or time is not personal. It’s not saying no to you, David. It’s saying no to this time together with remembering and keeping in mind that there is a yes in the future. So those are two things that I think are tools that I like to bring to my mind as mantras for developing healthy social connections. 


David Pace 22:38

Now to piggyback on that as we close out here, I think that with really aggressive people sometimes no is a complete answer. You should not feel obligated to explain yourself. And sometimes I’ve had to do that. And that’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s much better to be able to do, you know, keep it civil, if you will, because it feels uncivil to say no. Having said that, yes is also a complete sentence. So let’s all say yes as often as we can and know when needed. 


Alex Barilec 23:14

Yes, it is. And so, you know, like we’ve done with many of these other episodes, I think we like to, you know, have a wide ranging application of tools and ideas. But I always like to boil it down to if you take nothing else from this, if you’re still having a challenge of strengthening your ability to create strong social connections, I think there I would say a few things. One is just continue to take small steps every day. Like, you know, maybe it’s just asking somebody in passing a little bit more than, how’s your day going? Or the reverse is true. And I love to do this for people when they ask, How are you doing? I love to actually tell them and maybe like in a shortened frame, but I don’t just say good. I actually tell them like, you know what, I’m feeling a little this today. I’m feeling great or I’m feeling a little afraid. So taking small steps in conversation. But if you’re thinking of, developing the social skills, and these are skills. So for people that might be more introverted, which I actually happen to be one of them, I might be social, but I’m actually quite introverted. These are skills to develop and those skills look like being curious, actually listening deeply, not just listening to respond. A magic trick is asking open ended questions. So like who, what, where? Those questions will elicit a lot of information and people love to talk about themselves. And the final thing is really, I think people that are ready to take the next step is risk sharing a little bit more about yourself.


David Pace 24:46

And like Brené Brown says, and we like to quote her on occasion; vulnerability, which is what’s keeping us from connecting the fear of vulnerability is not a weakness, but it is our greatest measure of courage in the end. So do you have anything else to say to sign off here? 


Alex Barilec 25:05

You know, in the end, we really do need each other. When I find myself, you know, confused or maybe not feeling great about the world around me, I sometimes just come back to what we were talking about in emotional wellness is just like remembering to be kind because everyone is fighting a battle that we don’t know what it looks like on their internal world or, you know, in so many different ways. But at the end of the day too, like, what are we doing here on this planet to get all existential, right? Like, we’re all here together and we really need one another to figure it out and to steward a better future that our hearts know is possible and reconnecting with one another with those those things in mind, I think, is just the basic levels of human love and kindness. 


David Pace 25:54

Yeah, I think you’re right. It’s not only neuro-biological, but it’s let’s say it, it’s also a spiritual practice that we do every day. So nicely done. I hope you like me today because I like you. 


Alex Barilec 26:08

Always a pleasure, David. 


David Pace 26:09

All right. We’ll talk to you next time. 


Alex Barilec 26:11

Take care. 

Pace Yourself: Episode 3

Listen Here: 

Relevant Research and Articles:


David Pace 0:01

Hi. My name’s David Pace,


Alex Barilec 0:03

And I’m Alex Barilec, and this is Pace Yourself, the University of Utah College of Science Podcast on Wellness. 


David Pace 0:10

And today, well, hello. First off, nice to see you. So very quickly today, we’re going to talk about emotional wellness and I looked up a good definition of that that I really liked and I thought I’d share that with everybody, our listeners. And that is it’s an awareness, understanding and acceptance of our feelings and our ability to manage effectively through challenges and change. That comes from the National Center for Emotional Wellness. So, Alex, how are you feeling today? 


Alex Barilec 0:45

You know, I’m going to be honest with you, David. I’m feeling a little nervous. This is a topic that is really interesting to me, but it’s really depthful. And as I was thinking about and preparing for this, I was getting a little bit worried that I didn’t want to miss something and I wanted to make sure that all of our listeners really got a value from it. And the reason I’m sharing this to start is because what maybe I hope to model and share through this conversation is that we can confront the things in our lives that scare us and we can push through them. And so I want people to know up front that like, hey, this makes me a little bit nervous, but I’m going to do this anyways. 


David Pace 1:20

You don’t look nervous. 


Alex Barilec 1:22

How are you feeling? 


David Pace 1:24

I’m actually feeling pretty good today. I mean, it’s, you know, just having to think about this has kind of put my mind into, you know, the notion of doing kind of a scan of my mental and emotional self. So, yeah, I think that it’s probably been good for me just to realize that we’re going to be talking about this, which we are right now. And it made me question a lot of the things that I do and don’t do that really inform my emotional landscape. And we’re going to be talking about those different components. I think you’ve got some ideas if you want to start out. 


Alex Barilec 2:05

Yeah, let’s do that. So when we start talking about emotions and feelings, sometimes we start to get into this world where people are like, Well, what exactly are those things? How do we define them and distinguish the difference between them? So I like to think of emotions as conscious mental reactions that are to our subjective experience, whereas feelings come from our body. So feelings are a part of emotions, but they’re kind of that like physical perception that’s always taking place in our body, but it’s not an emotion unto itself. It’s like a subpart of emotions, and we can group those two together when we talk about emotional wellness. And I think that the area that’s really growing today in a lot of areas is this idea of emotional intelligence. 


David Pace 2:51

As opposed to just, you know, intellectual or mental or those tests that we use to take. 


Alex Barilec 2:57

Those IQ tests. Right. For which for decades were kind of the standard of competence in a lot of different areas, and they’re still super useful. But emotional intelligence in the past few decades has risen to be on par. Some people would even say it’s more important in a lot of areas. But what is emotional intelligence comprise? So there’s five areas of emotional intelligence that we’re going to go through right now. And then we’re going to kind of talk about some tools and some ideas about how we practice them in our life and ways in which you can develop those. So the five areas of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, empathy, motivation, self-regulation and social skills. 


David Pace 3:42

All right. We got a plan. We’re going to talk about all five of those. One, two, three, four, five. Yeah, there are five. 


Alex Barilec 3:50

And there’s this area that you and I were talking about offline that relates to emotional intelligence that I kind of termed faux self-care, if you will. And I’ve seen the word toxic positivity thrown around and that really stood out to you. What stood out to you about that term? 


David Pace 4:08

Toxic positivity? I like that term because I think that I’m guilty of that often and maybe we all are. And I guess the way I think about toxic positivity is when we are determined to perform our life rather than actually live it. And so for me, I mean, we all suffer from that, if you want to call it that, you say, Hi, how you doing? And what are you going to say? Well, do you have 15 minutes, you know, and then and then you explore that. No, we just turn around, say, hey, doing great, you know, that sort of thing. So that’s fairly common. That’s social interaction. Right. But I think that when you’re lying to yourself about how you really feel and you’re performing positivity for any number of reasons, maybe you’re scared that people will judge you if you acknowledge in yourself even that you’re feeling kind of bad or ambivalent, then that can be an issue. And I think that it can also culturally and collectively be an issue When we do that, when we perform our lives for each other in such a way that, you know, it’s out of a movie or something really bad movie most of the time. Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. 


Alex Barilec 5:28

Yeah, those are. 


David Pace 5:30

Is that what you think about toxic positivity? 


Alex Barilec 5:33

Yeah, I think that I would totally agree with that definition. And I think for me, when I think about kind of like suppressing or pushing those things down, like I think that they have to go somewhere and, you know, I’ve spent periods of my life, particularly through undergrad and through my early twenties, I found myself just leaning into that because that was what you know, what I was taught and this is something that like culturally is really, really common. And as I was studying, you know, business management, really early on I learned that it was not super interesting to me. I was way more interested in psychology and wellbeing. But I, you know, I put my happy face on and I and I kept marching along until it didn’t work for me anymore. And these ideas and these interests that I had been kind of ignoring started to show up in ways of me feeling really dissatisfied or in despair or really unhappy with where I was at in my life. And I think that the highest highs in our life, we also have to have the courage to explore those lowest of lows. I think this toxic positivity idea thinks that we shouldn’t explore those. But the truth is, many people look back on really challenging experiences in their life and they think, Wow, I learned so much from that. I grew so much like this period that I’m talking about, you know, meandering through my early career and not enjoying my early field of study in business management. I learned so much about myself from the really, really dark, challenging periods of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 


David Pace 7:15

Right? It’s kind of the notion that I’m grateful for the experience that I’d rather not have had. You know, I think we all look back on that, and I think that’s a healthy thing, actually, because reflecting back on and maybe that’s one of the tools that we can use is self-reflection. You talked about the feelings that you had, which are rooted in your body and that maybe well, not maybe, but is definitely a component of what we are calling emotion or our emotional landscape. So when you said that if you stuff the things that it ends up coming up somewhere else, I am, I can personally testify to that happening. And sometimes we don’t even know it’s happening. Like, why are we kicking the dog when we go home or snapping at our spouse? So, yeah, I mean, I think that this whole notion of I like to say that, for example, I grew up in a household and to be nice was the ultimate value. There was no excuse not to be nice. And it was only until much later that I realized that there’s a big difference between, you know, language matters, right? Big difference between being nice and being kind. I experienced nice people as being some of the most cruel people in my life. And so I really had to make a distinction. And that’s where the self-reflection, I think, comes in. 


Alex Barilec 8:52

Yeah, I think self-reflection is when we think about tools to develop our emotional intelligence. That reflection can look like a lot of different ways. It can look like, you know, taking some time to just walk and be with our thoughts. But if we look at those, five pillars, it can also look like self-awareness and paying attention to what’s coming up in my body right now. So you talked about I can attest to those feelings getting stuck in certain places. And for me, they always get stuck in my throat. My throat gets really tight and I get a little bit, like, just unsure about my voice. And there’s a whole host of things. 


David Pace 9:29

That’s not happening right now, I don’t think.


Alex Barilec 9:31

Actually, I feel great, but the tool that I have used that has been very helpful to just pay attention to when that’s coming up is different types of mindfulness meditation. And, you know, one of the first ways to think about doing that is just paying attention to the sensations in our body and just being with them as a way to help you become in tune with what is taking place for you at this moment. And I think the underlying tool and value of mindfulness meditation when it comes to emotional intelligence is what it’s all about, is becoming friends with yourself. It’s really at the root is taking this kind curious approach to who you are in the same way that you would take that approach with people that you love and care about. And for me, that’s just been so helpful. Like when my throat I’m grateful that it’s not like that right now. But when it does get tight, I don’t get judgmental towards myself or I don’t, you know, start telling my stories like, Oh, you’re not good enough. That’s why you’re climbing up. It’s like, this is interesting. What’s going on? Yeah. What do you think when you think about tools to help you develop emotional intelligence? 


David Pace 10:39

Well, to piggyback on what you were just saying, I think Brené Brown is one of our touch points in in this conversation. We both are quite fond of her work. And I think that she makes the important point that if you don’t have empathy for yourself, then you can’t be empathetic to others. Really, it starts with being able to exactly what you say, kind of have a sense of where you are in the moment emotionally and in your body, which is all connected, lest we forget. And that you have to have some kind of a compassion for yourself and empathy for yourself first, in order for you to see yourself in other people and vice versa for other people to see themselves in you. So yeah, I think empathy starts with yourself and I think motivation and self regulation, those other and social skills that you are talking about as being part of emotional intelligence, it’s kind of a hand in the glove thing. So yeah, I’d like you to talk about motivation. I’m going to put you on the spot. What does that mean? 


Alex Barilec 11:49

Yeah. So when I think of motivation, the idea that comes to mind is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And I’ll tell you how this comes across, so something that is really interesting about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that people are very familiar with is it’s structured in a pyramid, as if getting to the top of the pyramid is like the goal in life. If you get there, you’ve won. The interesting part about that is and I learned this from a gentleman named Scott Perry Kaufman. Maslow never put his work in the pyramid. 


David Pace 12:25

No kidding. 


Alex Barilec 12:25

It was always sort of like diffuse and managers in corporations in like the seventies. 


David Pace 12:32

Those managers in corporations. 


Alex Barilec 12:34

They wanted to make it look pretty in a spreadsheet or, you know, in a meeting. And so they just put it into this pyramid. 


David Pace 12:40



Alex Barilec 12:40

And, you know, we started to get this idea that like motivation in, like moving toward something was to aim at the top of the pyramid and what I love that Scott does is he reframes that and he says, you know, life is actually like an adventure. We’re always growing, we’re always changing, and we’re always moving in a new direction. We’re not static like a pyramid. So he reframes that into a sailboat. I love that. 


David Pace 13:04

That is great. So we’re talking about self-actualization, right? Wasn’t that the ultimate goal? 


Alex Barilec 13:11

That is the ultimate goal, I think in the pyramid. But I think what I like that Scott has done is in reframing it into a sailboat, it’s less about getting to the top of the pyramid and it’s more about being able to weather the storms that come your way, right? So when we think of a boat, the hull of the boat is safety, it’s connection and it’s self-esteem. Okay? We need those three areas to be able to weather, you know, even the smallest lake. 


David Pace 13:40

It’s ballast. 


Alex Barilec 13:42

Like if we want to go out on the Pine View Reservoir, we need that. But if we want to go out in the Pacific Ocean, we’re going to need something bigger. We’re going to need a sail. And in his model, that sail comprises exploration, love and purpose, which are like those higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Okay, so to bring this back to motivation, I think that when I find myself feeling not motivated or I find myself, you know, emotionally challenged, I do a pulse check of these six aspects. And how is my boat doing? Like, do I have holes in my hull? Am I not connected to myself, to my community, to, you know, nature, to my wife? And so I use that as a barometer, if you will. And I just think it’s more active and powerful than the static pyramid. 


David Pace 14:30

So growth then is a direction not a destination. Is that your point or Maslow’s point? 


Alex Barilec 14:37

I think that sums it up perfectly. 


David Pace 14:40

Well that’s because I read it off your notes. 


Congratulations. I just came around to that. So let’s move along from motivation to self-regulation. What do you mean by self-regulation? I mean, I think you’ve answered some of those questions already because of the boat metaphor, but it’s all about self regulation in the sense and I think that’s the danger of this faux, what are we calling it, faux self-care, you know, faux toxic positivity is that you can overregulate, too. And I think what I’m hearing you saying is that, hey, you need to go with the flow a little bit, understanding that this is about managing an ocean, a sea, or maybe just a pond on some days, but you never the less have to manage it. And it’s not about solving anything. It’s not about reaching to the top of that pyramid. Is that what you’re saying? 


Alex Barilec 15:38

Yeah, you said that perfectly. It’s like there’s this really wide spectrum of experiences that we have as humans. Like sometimes they’re really great and positive and they’re, you know, excitable and we’re elated, but sometimes we get angry. Like the thing that makes me so angry is when I stub my toe, I don’t know why, but I get so mad at myself. 


David Pace 15:58

Yeah, What’s that all about? 


Alex Barilec 15:59

It’s like the simplest little thing, like that darn toe. What’s that doing there? What’s that door doing there? And I use that as an example because it’s just like the silliest little thing. But, you know, if we can let ourself be angry about those little things, it’s a part of the emotional experience. And I think that expanding our idea and our capacity to deal with those in small areas allows us to deal with those in big areas, it might be okay to be upset with the way that somebody is talking to you. And I think where self-regulation comes in as being able to be aware of that, but then also letting it pass through and not living in that anger for a period of time because there’s a whole host of, you know, physical, mental, emotional, physiological effects that will come downstream of that. 


David Pace 16:43

I think we have to teach our children that, too. I think that’s what we do when they do step their toe and they kick the dog because they stubbed their toe. I mean, we have to work that through with them and to say, oh, you know, that’s bad behavior. You don’t ever yell or you don’t ever feel this way. That’s not a good message to send even our children or grandchildren, which I’m very cognizant of because I am a grandfather. But we do, we socialize our children. But I wonder if we also overreach in self-regulation and we indoctrinate them in ways that are really damaging in the long run. You know, parents are terrified that their children are going to embarrass them. It’s like, really? Is that your motivation for saying what you’re saying to your child who just dumped her toe? You know, of course she’s going to feel that way, honor it, you know, and then move on and have them, you know, show them how to work through that. I have a question for you because I’m seeing it in the notes. There is a story lurking in you about midlife crisis. And I want to know how midlife crisis plays into this landscape of emotions that we’re all trying to accept, navigate, manage and move through. 


Alex Barilec 18:07

Yeah, it’s such a big term, isn’t it? and even when I wrote it, I think it’s kind of bold. But, you know, the truth is, that’s what brought me to Utah. You know, I had shared a little earlier about how I had studied business management in undergrad, and I’d known deep down that I really was interested in other things, but I just pushed that aside. And I had also had some other ideas of what I wanted to explore professionally And the first few jobs I took. I also, you know, ignored those and found myself in a graduate program that I was kind of just going through the motions of and then I broke up with my girlfriend of like three and a half years. And I was like in my mid-twenties and I had been ignoring my emotional needs or I hadn’t been tending to my sailboat that we’re talking about. Like my hull was. 


David Pace 18:59

You weren’t trimming it very well. 


Alex Barilec 19:01

No, I was just full steam ahead at the front of the ship. But what I wasn’t doing was paying attention to, my safety or the relationships around me. Were they trusting, was I connected to them? And I was just taking on water everywhere. 


David Pace 19:14

I love these nautical themes.


Alex Barilec 19:17

And I decided to abandon ship and I moved out to Utah and I really came here because I needed to take some time and space to build a new ship. And so really, that’s where that story comes from and I think the tool that led me to that was really this budding practice of mindfulness. So the tool that I used was Insight Timer. So if anybody is interested in checking out that. 


David Pace 19:42

You were talking about this, I think yesterday when we were listening to that sleep wellness. 


Alex Barilec 19:46

Yeah, it’s just a great free app that has really robust meditation tools and a whole wide variety of them. And for me at that time, it was my rock, everything around me in my life felt like it was really shaky. And so I started to lean in and to learn a little bit about that practice during that time. And that led me down into a lot of these other tools that we’re talking about. If people want to check out something a little bit more robust, like CBT is cognitive behavioral therapy is something that you can practice with the professional, but it’s also something that you can practice on your own. Some of the insight timer might even have some CBT oriented that it is a- 


David Pace 20:28

Tell us more about CBT, what does it stand for again?


Alex Barilec 20:29

Cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s really a practice to help you step back from your thoughts, from your feelings and your behaviors and just kind of witness them like that. Stubbing your toe thing we’re talking about, rather than being driven by them or being controlled by them. We just take a step back and we start to think and just reflect on what is happening right now for me and. 


David Pace 20:51



Alex Barilec 20:52

And reframing, Yeah. So reframing is like thinking about looking at the world through different lenses. So, you know, you’re wearing a pair of glasses right now and we’re inside. But if you had a pair of sunglasses on, which I’m sure you own, this room would look really differently, right? 


David Pace 21:05

How do I look in these glasses, by the way? 


Alex Barilec 21:07

You look great. 


David Pace 21:08

Be careful, because you might hurt my feelings. I’m sorry, guys. 


Alex Barilec 21:12

You look great. You look better than you would with sunglasses on. You might look too much like a rock star at 10:00 in the morning. 


David Pace 21:19

I don’t think so. 


Alex Barilec 21:19

But we can also borrow other people’s glasses as well, right. And one of the ways you do that is how might this person be feeling in this situation or what might the other person be feeling about the way that I have been showing up? So I just think this idea of reframing as a tool of being mindful is something that is really helpful for us to step back from our emotional reactions and getting hijacked by them. 


David Pace 21:45

Yeah, now I like that and I think that in terms of thinking about different tools, what about therapy? I mean, I know that I have a lot of male friends especially who think that that’s somehow frou frou or woo woo or whatever the phrase is. They’re not going to do that. So maybe therapy isn’t for everyone. I mean, I’ve had therapists that just tanked for me, you know, I think you have to shop around. What’s been your experience with coaching folks into or out of therapy, as the case may be? 


Alex Barilec 22:22

Yeah. So in my work as a life and leadership coach, I’ve worked with a lot of people that have worked with both a coach and a therapist. I’ve worked with both a coach and a therapist. And I think, you know, for for men, it can be really challenging to consider entering into that relationship. And I think you make a really good point. It is a relationship. So finding someone that you trust and that you really like and enjoy their company is super important. But we’re talking about a broad spectrum of wellness, right? We’re using the NIH format of eight areas of wellness, right? And in all of them we can identify professional practitioners that can help us in that area. They’re talk about physical wellness, right? Like trainers at the gym help you with your physical wellness. I think for men, when we talk about financial wellness, it’s really common for guys to talk about the conversations are having with their financial advisor. What one of my goals in my life is to normalize men talking about like, Hey, I also work with somebody on my emotional health and wellness too, and that’s my coach, that’s my therapist. And so maybe this is an opportunity to study, you know, share a little bit about my story and also normalize for people that, hey, you’re doing this in all other areas of your life. This is a foundational pillar that you can’t ignore or you do ignore at your own peril. So it’s something that is growing in awareness, I think, really strong. 


David Pace 23:41

Yeah. It’s not just it’s not just men that struggle with therapy. Therapy. I don’t mean to say that, but my experience with many women is that they’ve had abusive therapists that are can be, you know, And so I think the point that I wanted to make was that you have to shop around on that, just like you do a financial planner or something. 


Alex Barilec 24:06

Totally. Something like when you think about shopping around, you don’t have to go super far. There’s a lot of resources here at the U through the Resiliency Center, through the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. There’s a crisis line here at the U. And the Osher Center for Integrative Health and Peak Fitness and their website have a lot of resources that are available to students, to faculty and staff, like right here in our community. So you don’t have to go far to find these resources. And, you know, hopefully our conversation today serves as a jumping off point for someone out there. Any last thoughts that you have here on emotional wellness?

David Pace 24:43

You know, no, but I’ll probably think about some last thoughts after this is all over because you got the wood burning in me. So anyway, I really appreciate the fact that you have got the kind of expertise from actually actual formal training on this. So basically what you’ve said has inspired me to think that there are really people out there that could help me or help my friends that find themselves in crisis, which always has that emotional component. So, yeah, any last thoughts that you have? I mean, I have a couple of great quotes that we could end with. 


Alex Barilec 25:21

Yeah. Before you share one of those, I think, you know, in all of our episodes, we’re trying to distill this down to make sure that someone and anyone has just something to take with them. If you know, some of these concepts are too heady and the lowest, most effective thing I think we’ve talked about is just approaching yourself with this spirit of friendship and kindness. That’s kind of boils down to all of this emotional oneness. If you can just try that out every day, if you can just find, one moment in your life, in your day to, be kind to yourself, and you can do that for 365 days, your life might just change. 


David Pace 25:57

Yeah, No, I think that’s a really good slogan or tool. I guess it’s not too nautical though. Do you want to sign off with a nautical? So basically what we want to leave our listeners with is and what are we trying to leave them with an oar or a bucket to bail themselves out or. 


Alex Barilec 26:16

Maybe we’re trying to leave them with the awareness that they’re always in motion. Yeah, that they’re always moving, they’re always growing, they’re always developing. And the quote that comes to mind from the Buddha is that your own enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded. So making sure that we’re tending to our self first to our boat and keeping ourselves afloat is the most important place to begin. 


David Pace 26:43

Yeah. You know, one thing that we haven’t talked about that I would like to end on is a quote from Brené Brown. And it has to do with grief. And we haven’t talked. We didn’t do a deep dive into grief. But, you know, for me, it seems like as I get older, that grief is something that I have to become a friend to because it’s about loss. And as you get older, of course, the ultimate loss is we all know what that’s going to be when we die. But her quote, which I like because it talks about the culture that we live in and this kind of toxic positivity is a part of that culture. She says that we live in a culture where people need us to move through our grief for the sake of their own comfort. But their grief does not have a timeline. And so each of us has to kind of be faced with that motion continual emotion out on the lake that you were talking about. It takes as long as it’s going to take. And I think that you can’t lock that in to Maslow’s, you know, triangle that those corporate people did. But I think the reminder from Brené Brown is that it’s going to take as long as it takes for all of our emotions and all of our feelings and our emotional life is constantly in flux for that reason. 


Alex Barilec 28:15

And when you can start with that, being kind to yourself, what you’re saying is you can extend that to other people as well, right? 


David Pace 28:22

The empathy. 


Alex Barilec 28:23

Hey, that’s beautiful. 


David Pace 28:25

What did you think? Did we do okay? It’s nice to see you


Alex Barilec 28:26

Okay, so to wrap up today, I think so, too. Thanks so much. Nice to see you, too. 


David Pace 28:30

Well, we’ll see you next time. 



Pace Yourself: Episode 2

Listen Here: 

Relevant Research and Articles:


David Pace 0:01

Hi, my name is David Pace. 


Alex Barilec 0:02

And I’m Alex Barilec and this is Pace Yourself, a University of Utah College of Science podcast about wellness. 


David Pace 0:09

And today we’re going to talk about vocational wellness. So there are eight dimensions of wellness, and vocational wellness is one of them. And the definition that I’ve got from the National Institute of Health is that it’s defined as gaining personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s own work. And since we’re at the College of Science, that includes academic work. So if you’re a student, that means the work that you’re doing in the classroom and lab and as well as a job after graduation. So what do you think, Alex? How are you doing today? How are you well?


Alex Barilec 0:45

I’m feeling great. I think that something that, you know, I really love about my job is that, you know, working in higher education is meaningful work. We’re helping other people day in and day out, specifically working as a career coach. I’m meeting with students one on one for 30 to 45 minutes, and I can see the impact that it’s having and I can, you know, glean a little bit into their life. So that’s one of the elements today. But I think to start really broad something that we’re going to be talking about is personal satisfaction and life enrichment and how the work we do, which is the way we spend most of our day, is aligned with our goals and our values and our lifestyle. And all of this can be really challenging for people to dive into and to understand for themselves. So what we thought we would do is go through six questions that you can ask yourself to check in and understand. You know, how am I doing when it comes to vocational wellness? And so the first is, is my work engaging? 


David Pace 1:51

Hmm. To be engaged if I had to just wing it on a definition like that, it’s like, are you interested in it? Does it occupy yourself? Does it move into your body and your mind and your soul and set up camp? And do you are are you simpatico with that? I guess that’s what you would mean by engaging. What do you think it means? 


Alex Barilec 2:14

I think of flow. I think of the – 


David Pace 2:17

Ooh, Good word. 


Alex Barilec 2:18

Term flow from *Insert fancy name here*

David Pace 2:20 


Alex Barilec 2:21

Whose name I like to say because I finally learned how to pronounce it. 


David Pace 2:24

Tell us who he is. 


Alex Barilec 2:25

I believe he was Hungarian, but he is the father of flow. 


David Pace 2:28

You’re Hungarian. 


Alex Barilec 2:29

I’m Croatian


David Pace 2:31

Croatian ah, close, okay. 


Alex Barilec 2:33

So when I think of flow, I think of effortless effort and performing at our best. So when I think of is my work engaging? This is kind of the feeling that I go for, and for me, when I’m talking with students, I find myself in that place. I enjoy conversation and it’s really engaging to me. 


David Pace 2:52

Yeah, I would say that the flow for me is as a science writer here, I experience that in an interview when I’m interviewing somebody, mostly scientists, mostly students that are doing and studying things that I have no background in and and just the conversational approach having been, you know, my training is in communications and literature. So I like to think of everything as being a conversation and that give and take that you have in a really cool flow conversation is really what I aspire to as well. And I think if we have that conversation with our job is what I hear you saying, then that’s cool. That’s the answer to the first question am I engaged? 


Alex Barilec 3:38

And not only is it cool, there is a body of research that’s showing that if we’re more engaged with work and we feel that we’re performing at our best, it increases our overall well-being and our life satisfaction. So this is a really great, like jumping off point. The second question to ask yourself is, am I doing work that helps others? And what’s important about this question is this brings in the question of meaning, which is also a key predictor of life satisfaction. So when I think and I share this earlier with my work, I think that, you know, when I’m meeting with students one on one, it’s clear to me that they’re at a stage of learning and growth and development in their all potential and to be able to maybe learn from some of my experience and couple that with my training in human growth and change I think is really helpful to see, maybe I can help them avoid some of the mistakes that I made. So how do you think about and measure meaning in your work when you think about doing work that helps other people? 


David Pace 4:41

Well, first of all, to respond to this notion, it’s great working in a university because there are so many young people and it’s exactly that. They’re little pods of potential walking around. It’s really inspiring to be around that because you realize what your own journey has been and meaning, which is what you brought up as being central to a lot of wellness dimensions. It’s definitely connected to spiritual wellness as well. Why am I doing this? You know, those are existential questions that a spiritual practice hopes to answer. So what was your question again? 


Alex Barilec 5:23

Do you find like you’re doing work that is helping others? 


David Pace 5:24

Oh, yeah. So I got a little sidetracked there in the flow of student life here. Yeah, I do. I personally do. But I haven’t always I had a job for 20 years that I didn’t really care about it, but it was a great job and I would do it again. So let me explain. It was and this is why I think it’s important, probably as a career coach here at the University of Utah maybe you can talk a little bit about this. But I fell into a job. I was a flight attendant for 20 years for a major carrier. And I was so embarrassed to be a flight attendant that I didn’t tell anybody that I was I was just like, I’m just doing this for a couple of years before I go back to graduate school because I thought it was like being a dental assistant or something with wings, you know? But in the end, I really learned to love having a job that I did not have to take home with me having a job where I didn’t have to think too hard about it and it allowed me to go to graduate school full time. It allowed me to do the writing, the creative writing that I wanted to do. I had all this layover time that I could do and I didn’t have to worry about relationships because everybody would come and go pretty rapidly. Even the flight crew, you know, I might be with them for three days and then I wouldn’t see them for two years. I bring that up because your meaning doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to your job. And I always called it as a job. I never called it a career. And so, you know, when 9/11 happened and we were living in New York, that it was maybe time to get out of the airline industry. And then other things happened that brought us back to Utah. Then I realized, no, I want to start my career. And that has to have meaning. My job now has a lot of meaning. I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always wanted to express myself and help others express themselves. 


Alex Barilec 7:26

Yeah, I think something that you point out there is that the path is winding. And when we think about these questions, these are really like personal invitations for people to consider. And when I think of asking myself the question of is this work engaging or do I help others or the other questions, the thing that comes to mind for me is, is rank ordering these for ourselves, right? And at certain stages of our life, it might be more important that our work is engaging. Or for you, it sounds like, you know, one of the other dimensions will ask, and this is the third one is, is this work that fits with the rest of my life? And it sounds like for you, working as a flight attendant answered that question really solid for you, right? It was work that allowed you to go to graduate school and do other things that you were passionate about and that you pursued. And I think that that’s really important because two mistakes that sometimes we we fall into is thinking like, well, is this job really high paying job and am I going to make a lot of money or maybe this is a job that won’t be super stressful and I won’t have to take it home with me? And those are two questions people ask themselves. But I think that these other three that we’ve laid out, bring a little bit more depth and nuance to them. So the third one is finding work that fits with the rest of your life. 


David Pace 8:52

Yeah, I want you to answer that question. I’m not sure that I might. You know, your life changes, you know, everything’s moving. So, what fits with your life now may not fit with your life later, but I think more important than that is, again, returning to meaning and does this fit my values? I can do pretty much anything as long as it fits my values. And so I’ve had a variety of jobs since the airline that has always been about working for nonprofits, quite frankly. And I like that because of the mission driven aspect of it. And, you know, I also found out that nonprofits are just businesses as well. So there was a little cynicism that got baked in there after a while, but it nevertheless was a conversation that I was having inside of myself all the time. Like, you know, this fits my life and my values, you know, the decision to live where we did made the University of Utah very convenient for that,  to take that job when it came up, because I cared about, for example, not commuting. I didn’t want to do that. And for a lot of reasons, both environmental and time and convenience wise. So, yes, I would have to say that my job does in fact fit really well into my life right now. And it’s the first time it’s really done that, you know, being a flight attendant is not very easy. That’s not very convenient at all. Yeah, especially for the person you’re married to. Yeah. So things have changed and yeah, I would have to say that I like my job that way. I hope others achieve that. How about you? 


Alex Barilec 10:46

I think to answer that question, I would actually bring up the fourth question, which is are you doing work that you’re good at? And for me, the answer to that question is really important for me right now at the stage that I’m at and as well as the work that I do here at the you as a career coach. So I found through experimentation that coaching was really the path for me. My first job out of undergrad, I worked at my alma mater. I did a year of service and I was coaching hockey there. I was helping lead retreats and then I was helping coach and teach in physical education and it was really the coaching piece. I was coaching high school hockey that really struck me as something that I enjoyed and that I seemed to be pretty good at. And so through the next few roles that I took in my early career in training and development, I really prioritized coaching and finding opportunities to help people grow personally and professionally. And I think what’s important when we think about vocational wellness is that being good at something brings a sense of achievement, right? And that sense of achievement helps promote well-being. So I think of being good at something by matching our skills with the problem. And sometimes I think that we pursue interests over things we’re skilled at. And there are certainly areas I’m really interested personally in the area of well-being. But if you know somebody cuts their finger, I’m useless. I don’t do well with blood. So my interest in well-being had to be steered away from, you know, the medical realm because it wasn’t something that I was skilled at, even though I’m interested. So that question is, you know, doing work that you’re good at. 


David Pace 12:30

I noticed you have a Band-Aid on your left hand. I hope that that doesn’t come off because I’d hate to hear you scream about the blood. 


Alex Barilec 12:37

That would be the end of the podcast. 


David Pace 12:42

Yeah, I think that that’s a really good question. I had a long, long date with the imposter syndrome over whether or not I was a writer. I never felt like I could tell people that I was that because it sounded like I was, you know, trying to blow my own horn too much and that I was trying to be a Hemingway or something. But in fact, I found out that I was a good writer and it was a skill set that I think this goes into career coaching for you what you’re doing. Alex, Which is that I thought that a writer was just a creative writer, you know, or maybe a journalist, but nothing else. And I, either had to be writing as a journalist about something I really cared about. Or I was a theater critic for a while or had to be writing my own stuff that was going to make me, quite frankly, Hemingway. But what I found out here at the College of Science was that, hey, I got this great skill and I can do it. I can write about something that I don’t know anything about because I can research it and I can talk to people and I can humble myself and I can take that skill and drive it home. So here I am writing about science, you know, mining and chemistry and biology. And it’s been absolutely invigorating. It’s just been it’s been like riding a roller coaster. And I’m really happy to be here doing that. 


Alex Barilec 14:16

That’s awesome. I think that, you know, what your story brings up for me is expanding the way we approach vocational wellness. And I think, you know, one way to do it is to think of the job title that we’re going to possess. But something that you’re talking about is there’s all sorts of nuance, little niches of all sorts of worlds, right? Writing being one of them. 


David Pace 14:36

Tons of them yeah.


Alex Barilec 14:36

And the way that I like to think to expand our idea of what’s possible so we can find those creative niches is thinking about, what is a problem space that really keeps me up at night. What’s something that I want to like, really help, you know, do in the world and make a positive impact? And then what skills do I have already and how can I use those skills to help solve that problem? I think when we use those oftentimes the job title becomes a little bit more clear for us, or it just helps us think about ways to create meaningful work, right? If we can answer those questions for ourselves, we can be more engaged, we can do things we’re good at, and we can find these creative paths and solutions. 


David Pace 15:19

Yeah, I would agree with that wholeheartedly that titles are a dangerous thing to pin your body to as well as salaries, quite frankly. 


Alex Barilec 15:30

Yeah. And so I think that brings us to the fifth question, which is doing work that doesn’t have major negatives. I think one time sometimes having one major negative, whether it is a long commute or really low pay or really unsupportive people around us or a toxic work environment or maybe working for an industry that you really don’t believe in, and these are just a few negatives that come to mind. But sometimes having one of those negatives can really outweigh a lot of the other positives. And you know personally for me, having a long commute as can be really challenging, that’s a a negative that I often grapple with, you know, in my current role because I think that I love doing work that I’m good at and that helps others. And that’s what brought me to the U. But sometimes a negative for me can be really, you know, it can be physically, mentally, emotionally challenging on my wellness. And sometimes I wonder whether or not it’s impacting my ability to to do good work. 


David Pace 16:28

Yeah. Figuring that out can be really tough. I’ve been I’ve worked with toxic people and I’ve probably been a toxic person myself to others. But it doesn’t matter how good the job is if you you can’t respect and communicate and work with somebody, your boss or others, it can derail the whole thing. The best job I ever had was one that I had to give up because of that. 


Alex Barilec 16:55

Yeah. What’s interesting about this, this thread is that’s actually the sixth question is do you work with supportive colleagues? Right. And what I love about this is that the Harvard Happiness study they’ve been doing for around 85 years now, you know, when we think of our life’s arc, we think of our career being a big part of it. And we think of, you know, maybe like the monetary or the skill aspect. But the Harvard Happiness study showed that the the best predictor of happiness later in life is the personal connections that we have. And if we’re spending a lot of our time at work and I think this is a good time to shout out 80000 hours, which is actually where a lot of this information comes from. So 80000 hours, the team over there has tons of great career resources. These six elements and questions actually come from their website. So if you found this useful, do go over there and check out their information. But 80000 hours is the number of hours they estimate that we spend in our career. And if you’re going to spend that much time, I think one of the important elements of being well at work is spending it with people that you get along with, and that can mean a lot of different things. 


David Pace 18:00

So the writer and editor in me must ask this question Is it spelled eighty or is it the number 80? 


Alex Barilec 18:07

The number 80, yeah so 80,000.


David Pace 18:13

Okay, 80, 


Alex Barilec 18:14


David Pace 18:15

Beautiful, I’ll have to look at that. 


Alex Barilec 18:17

Yeah, it’s a resource that, you know, I think as a career coach I use a lot and I think it really weaves its way into this and David, I think the last thing that I thought that we could just briefly touch on is this is a area that can take a lot of thinking and personal reflecting on. It’s something that can take some time. You shared a story about how your path vocationally is winding. What are some tools that you’ve found useful that have helped you to explore some of these questions and get some clarity around them? 


David Pace 18:51

Oh, wow, that’s a tough one, because that’s part of that conversational model that I was talking about with yourself and it’s very hard for me to get clarity about a lot of things I use writing to do that. Pros and cons, a list of pros and cons. I like to ask the question, What is the worst thing that could happen if I take this job? 


Alex Barilec 19:16

That’s a great question. 


David Pace 19:17

And or if I marry this woman or okay, that’s not a good example, but what’s the worst thing that could happen if I make this decision that I have to make today? And then if I can live with that, then usually it’s like, look, Dave, you’ve got to lean into life, because my tendency is to pull back. So I have to talk myself into jumping and hoping that the parachute opens. 


Alex Barilec 19:45

Yeah, that’s a really that reflex to do that is something that’s really important. I’ve heard Andrew Huberman call it limbic friction. The emotional friction of it’s essentially like I’m scared to do this even though there’s no predator in the room, right? Developing the strength to do that. Is a really powerful internal mantra.

David Pace 20:10

Yeah, no, I like that. Since we’re using phrases and stuff, I like functional tension, like when I’m on the ski slopes, which I’m not skiing anymore, I’m not going to pretend I do. But when I was on the ski slope, there was that functional tension where you have to be falling down the hill. Come on, let’s just face it. But is it so fearful and so dangerous that it’s going to derail your ability to be your best? But if that tension isn’t there, then you might just stay on the bunny hill for the rest of your life


Alex Barilec 20:41

You’re in the back seat, it’s a dangerous place to be. 


David Pace 20:44



Alex Barilec 20:45

So I wanted to share just a couple of other tools that that I use to stack onto your questions, and maybe I’ll do this at different stages of the game, because we do have a wide ranging audience here. So for students, you know, undergrad/graduate students in the early phases of exploring vocational wellness, the strengths finder was really helpful for me and really helped me understand. 


David Pace 21:08

What is that?


Alex Barilec 21:09

Strength Finder is a tool that’s put on by Gallup and it helps you understand the dimensions that you’re strongest in, which can help you point you towards, you know, as we’re talking about these questions like work that you’re good at and work that’s engaging, if you can understand, your strengths. Like one for me is I’m a relator. 


David Pace 21:27



Alex Barilec 21:27

Which leads me to be very inquisitive and very strong in connections and relationships, which is really important in one on one coaching. Yeah. So that’s a tool that I found really helpful in the middle stages, you know, working and learning a little bit more about your personality, I found useful for people in the mid stages of their career. It kind of like is the next level of the strength. And then at any stage of people, I think that finding an outlet, whether it’s a professional coach or a therapist or someone to think through and talk through these ideas with and to chart out pathways forward and different like, you know, ways of understanding your values and really getting to know yourself. I think that’s been a tremendously useful tool as well. And then the final one would be patience. 


David Pace 22:14

Trust the process. 


Alex Barilec 22:16



David Pace 22:17

Writers have to do that all the time. When you look at that blank sheet of paper, it’s like, yes it’ll come. 


Alex Barilec 22:22

Yeah sometimes that’s what your career is right, it’s like a blank sheet of paper.


David Pace 22:28

Well, you’re a trove of brilliant information on career development. I’m really glad that you’ve shared all of this. 


Alex Barilec 22:35

It seems like I found work that I’m good at it and engaged with. And I really appreciate you sharing personal stories because I think your career path and the way in which your stories illuminate these ideas hopefully can be really helpful for people. 


David Pace 22:48

I hope so, too. It’s been a pleasure. 


Alex Barilec 22:51

Awesome. See you next time. 


David Pace 22:53

All right. We’ll see you next time. 


Alex Barilec 22:55