Should you start your day with a 6:00 am dance party?
Life is meant to be experienced fully, and in a world of screens and bottom lines it has become increasingly difficult to pause and connect. As children, we danced and played with wild abandon, without judgment, and we lived in the moment. Is it possible to recapture some of that sense of community, of self-expression, and of authenticity?
Radha Agrawal is a serial social entrepreneur who loves bringing people together. She's the co-founder of Thinx, and co-founder and CEO of Daybreaker, an early morning dance movement in 20 cities around the world with a community of over 350,000 people who love to connect through music, yoga, and dance. Her upcoming book is called, Belong; it's being published by Workman and comes out in the spring of 2018. It will explain everything she's learned about community building with methods and exercises that she's designed so that anyone can create a community for their life and business.
I recently interviewed Radha for the LEADx Podcast where we discussed the goals behind Daybreaker and how she’s bringing these tools and resources to campuses across the country. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: You're also a DJ, right? How did that factor into Daybreakers?
Radha Agrawal: Music is the essence of life. It's the essence of community and connection. And DJing, for me, has been a really wonderful life hack in some ways like being able to orchestrate the experience of our community members and giving them an experience that they hopefully won't forget. My twin sister and I DJ together. We have a project called ‘Me2Me2’ on SoundCloud. You can find us and it’s called ‘Me2Me2’ because we're twins and everything is “Me too, me too,” when you're a twin.
Also, we launched a project as a response to how male-dominated the DJ world is. Honestly, every DJ we were hiring for Daybreaker was male. There's probably one out of every 20 events that we would throw, we would hire a female DJ and for us, again, we were like, “What is happening here?” As much we love our DJs, our residents, they're all wonderful and amazing, we thought, “Hey let's learn ourselves and bring a bit more of a feminine approach to the music space,” and we started doing it several years ago and it's been such a blast. We just opened for Diplo at Burning Man last week.
That was quite a life highlight, I would say, that and getting engaged.
Kevin Kruse: You’ve had quite a year, then?
Agrawal: It has been, life serves you so many wonderful curve balls and I never would have thought that I'd get engaged at Burning Man, that I'd be DJing there on the very art car that inspired Daybreaker in the first place. I shared this on my Instagram, about how Burning Man actually got me to stop judging myself and when you're on the dance floor anywhere that you go, you're always judging yourself: How do I dance? Can I dance? How is everyone else dancing around me? Is this cool? Do I look cool? Are my hands okay? What am I doing with my legs? So often when we're dancing, we need to drink because there's a level of self-consciousness around self-expression and the idea, again, of Daybreaker, was let's remove the alcohol, let's get back into our bodies and let's really connect to ourselves and self-express authentically.
And Burning Man was, in many ways, the catalyst for me. So the very art car that I DJed and opened for Diplo was the first place I ever went to where it was late at night, all my friends were asleep, I rode my bicycle out to Deep-Playa at Burning Man, which is the big festival grounds and went and found this hidden art car in the middle of nowhere and just put my bike down and danced sober alone and for the first time in my life got into my body, didn't think about how I looked, and connected to myself in the most profound ways. We forget the healing powers of dance and the healing powers of movement and self-expression and we are living in these straight jackets.
We live in this world of “I have to look perfect, I have to be perfect,” and that's the whole idea of what we're trying to unravel at Daybreaker is let's get back to dancing. We all used to dance as kids and all of a sudden, we stopped seeing that we could dance. All of a sudden, we stopped dancing and look at us now, we're more unhappy, more isolated, more anxious than ever before. I feel a deep sense of urgency around bringing back play and bringing back dance and self-expression.
Kruse: You're extending this mission to some other projects like Daybreaker Campus, how are you now getting into these other areas?
Agrawal: So many of our community members have shared stories of their friends and their families dealing with such crazy anxiety and depression on college campuses. Here's a crazy stat for you: 42% of college students are experiencing either depression or anxiety and that number has skyrocketed since I was in college. The question is why? What's happening? Of course, social media, all the pressures of your cell phone and trying to be the best version of yourself at all times, and it's really daunting, it's really scary and you put on a different face on social media. I can't tell you how many of our members I look at their social feeds and they're completely different than who they are in real life and I find that to be just so interesting and upsetting.
Our campus program was a way to connect college students back to their authentic selves and stop trying to be a version of themselves that they're not and get back to authentic connection and really to give them a space to say, “Hey, there's a different path on campus than drunk frat parties.” There's a different place to connect and dance and self express without judgment than getting wasted doing keg stands. For me, when I was in college, there was no other way, I only drank and found myself blacked out half the weekends in my college life and waking up next to strange people and doing all kinds of ridiculous things and feeling unsafe. There were so many moments in my college career that come back to me as we built out this program.
We were already in four campuses now, we just launched a Duke and BU and USC and UPenn and we're launching many other schools in the weeks to come and it's just been incredible the responses that we've gotten from college students who have been so grateful for another way to connect with one another. We are still at the very beginning of this journey and we're now launching another program called Live it Up. And Live it Up is our 12-month membership program for college students. Think about how much you spend on college campus to go to college–it's $50,000 a year.
We said, let's create something that is affordable that any kid across any socioeconomic background can afford. So we thought, okay, let's make it less than $200 and for 12 months, we have curated 12 unbelievable experts around subject areas that college students struggle with. For example, we have a 21-day challenge on unlocking your creativity and passion. We have Mark Fisher who is doing productivity, fitness and nutrition. We have Sallie Krawcheck who is doing a 21-day challenge on financial abundance. All the different issue areas that college students struggle with: love, sex and relationships, self-love, community building, wellness and nutrition, gratitude, and time management. We have now created a 12-month program for them to be able to connect with other students, and to develop the life skills through these challenges throughout the year.
Kruse: My eldest is in college at Hofstra, so I’d love to let her know about this resource.
Agrawal: That's amazing. We just launched our website, goliveitup.com, and we're super excited about the community. Imagine your daughter not just having her Hofstra friends but all of a sudden she has friends across the country and across the world with whom she's going through these 12-month, 21-day challenges with, and we're creating a whole club and membership programs for these college students so they can connect with one another. Again, so often we're super myopic who we spend our time with on college campuses and it's just a wonderful way to have friends across the world right away.
Kruse: Do you lead millennials differently than you would have maybe led other generations?
Agrawal: We have a very special group here at Daybreaker. Most of our team were first members of the Daybreaker community before they actually came to our HQ to become part of the team. They've already experienced the authentic connection, they've already experienced the self-expression and those meaningful moments, they've come here not just to clock in and clock out but every single person is here to be part of the mission of what we're trying to spread and create. I feel very fortunate in that our millennials are the most hardworking, just the best, most committed team members I could have ever asked for.
I'll share with you two things; one is that I've led two types of teams, one through a space of real fear and that didn't work. You can lead with fear and bark orders and be a scary leader, or you can be one that cries with your team and that shares when you’re PMSing and that you're expressing yourself in meaningful ways and the more we treat millennials and humans in general as peers, and partners, and friends, and also teachers. Then managers will get a lot more out of them. Autonomy is something that millennials value and for me, in some ways, I can be too much of laissez-faire leader where I'm like, “Hey, you're awesome at this, get after it, you got this.” And I don't want to be bothered after that.
But I realize that part of my role as a late 30-something is that I need to be more of a teacher and more patient as well when these types of questions come up. It's really straddling the line between being a leader that allows your team to really spread their wings and find their own voice and then one that guides them and gives them a direction that they can fold into their own toolbox.
I'm writing a chapter in my book, Belong, right now, about a New York Times article that talks about how all old people are the same. There's a new generalization of how elderly people like to live lives that are slow moving. And they like to have meaningful conversations, they like to go on slow walks. Such generalized ideas, and I read the comment sections and every single person above a certain age is going to be different than the other person. One person might be overweight, one person may be fit as a fiddle, you can't generalize and so there is a lot generalization. The one thing I did notice is millennials value their freedom and value their autonomy and the more we give that to them as managers and help guide them the more we'll get out of it.
Kruse: Given a challenge, what's something we could go out and do today? You want us to just go dance by ourselves?
Agrawal: Absolutely. Step one is to get in front of the mirror, put on a song and dance your heart out. Look at yourself, love yourself. Get into your body and just let go. Let go of judgments, let go of any doubt and perfectionism. I talk about this again in my book, I call it the “mean girls of your mind.” Judgment, perfectionism, and comparison. If we just recognize that they exist in our minds every day and we can move our awareness to soul sisters, gratitude, curiosity, and inspiration. If we can move our awareness there then we can begin this journey of community and exploration in such a more meaningful and optimistic way. Awareness is a really big component that I share as a challenge to all the listeners out there. Be aware of your mean girl moments and really try to move your awareness towards sitting with the soul sisters.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.