Danielle Sunberg, Author-TEDx Speaker-Episode #292

Apr 23, 2024 | 0 comments

“Sometimes we get that push-pull feeling inside of us, or we can feel contracted if something doesn’t feel right, or we can feel spacious if something does. Those are just different ways of being in touch with that love letter, and it is always guiding us towards what it is our heart most deeply desires….”
~Danielle Sunberg

Danielle Sunberg, a multi-award winning author and TEDx speaker, coaches high performers and advises social-impact organizations on authentic leadership. Specializing in conscious self-development, she guides individuals and groups to cultivate personal mastery as the key to experiencing our full potential. A former commercial litigator at a Washington D.C. law firm, Danielle’s journey took a pivotal turn after successfully defending a client against a $6 billion judgment. Extreme burnout, stress, and overwhelm led to a diagnosis of depression, causing Danielle to leave her firm and travel six continents exploring how to create authentic well-being. Her exploration led to authoring her book, Atlas of Being, and founding a wellness CPG company that was publicly acquired in 2023, and her current work guiding high performers.


Danielle Sunberg

Danielle Sunberg on TEDx


Atlas of Being: From Briefcase to Backpack, One Former Lawyer’s Exploration of the Human Way


Read the Podcast Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat:

Danielle Sunberg: That is that faith. You know, that is our internal GPS that is connected to, you know, whatever you want to call it, your self trust, your intuition, your heart, your gut. If something is right or wrong. Sometimes we get that push pull feeling inside of, us, or we can feel contracted if something doesn’t feel right, or we can feel spacious if something does. Those are just different ways of being in touch with that love letter, and it is always guiding us towards what it is our heart most deeply desires, which might be what we think we want, and it might not.

Announcer: This is StoryBeat with Steve Cuden, a podcast for the creative mind. StoryBeat explores how masters of creativity develop and produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden: Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat We’re coming to you from the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today, the multi award winning author and TEDx speaker Danielle Sunberg, coaches high performers and advises social impact organizations on authentic leadership. Specializing in conscious self development, she guides individuals and groups to cultivate personal mastery as the key to experiencing our full potential. A former commercial litigator at a Washington, DC law firm, Danielle’s journey took a pivotal turn after successfully defending a client against a $6 billion judgment. Extreme burnout, stress and being overwhelmed led to a diagnosis of depression, causing Danielle to leave her firm and travel six continents exploring how to create authentic well being. Her exploration led to authoring her book, Atlas of Being, founding a wellness consumer packaged goods company that was publicly acquired in 2023 and her current work guiding high performers. I’ve read Atlas of being and can tell you it’s filled to the brim with powerful encouragement toward becoming the best you through various excellent practical paths to self discovery. I highly recommend it to you. So for all those reasons and many more, it’s a truly great privilege for me to welcome to StoryBeat today the superb writer, speaker, and transformational coach, Danielle Sunberg. Danielle, welcome to the show.

Danielle Sunberg: Wow, Steve, thanks for the praise. It’s just, a privilege to be here.

Steve Cuden: Well, the privilege is mine. Trust me on that. So let’s go back in time just a little bit. You started your whole career as a lawyer, and I’m just curious, is that what you grew up wanting to be? You wanted to be in the law or something else?

Danielle Sunberg: Doesn’t every child grow up thinking, can’t I just be a lawyer one day?

Steve Cuden: Either that or an insurance broker.

Danielle Sunberg: That’s it? Yeah. So when I was a baby, I actually did wear a bib that said future lawyer, because my parents are attorneys, so it’s sort of in my blood. It was unavoidable. But no, I did not actually want to be a lawyer. I avoided it at all costs. And life, fate, what have you. Just kept pushing me that direction?

Steve Cuden: Did it feel like it was an obligation that you had to fulfill

Danielle Sunberg: More about expectations of having a career that was prestigious and proving my worth in the world? And my parents, basically, through their modeling, said being a lawyer is one of those ways you can do that. And so, it just kept coming up for me.

Steve Cuden: And certainly it’s a kind of career where most people think they can make money and have a good life and all those things. So it wasn’t a dream of yours, something else? Was there anything that you were thinking about as a kid you really wanted to be?

Danielle Sunberg: So, two things. The first thing is actually a writer, which now I ended up being an author. I love to do creative writing projects at school. It was so fun. I always went above and beyond. If it was like, in third grade, write five pages on a story about the civil war, I would end up writing a 35 page, six chapter thriller with Harriet Tubman. And I couldn’t help myself. And then the other thing I wanted to be was a ballerina. I just love to dance. When you talk about getting into flow state, dancing is a place where my mind just takes a break.

Steve Cuden: Well, dancing, any kind of physical activity, is really good for countering using your brain all the time. And though I guess you would agree that the physical activity of being a dancer, an athlete, whatever, also is a brain stimulant.

Danielle Sunberg: Oh, interesting. I like that.

Steve Cuden: I think it is. I think that you hear a lot of people talking about your endorphins are raised that the fact that you’re breathing heavier, you’re bringing more oxygen into your body and your brain, et cetera, et cetera. So I think of it as a brain stimulant. I like to walk, so that’s what I do when I’m thinking. I walk, and that stimulates my thinking.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I think about it in the sense of, what we do that’s physical when we put down our work or the thing that is our vocation, say, and then we go do something else. It gives our mind space back where we can have that fresh thinking come through. And that’s why we get some of our best ideas in the shower, because we just put it all down and we’re doing something else.

Steve Cuden: Indeed. So I’m wondering, did your training as a lawyer help you to think and, write? Did it train you to think and write 100%?

Danielle Sunberg: Absolutely. Did it train me to think and write a, memoir in self development about traveling around the world? I mean, yes and no, right? Like, I had to learn to write a whole different way. But it still absolutely helps because you learn what structure is. You learn the pieces of what makes something convincing. Right? Like, the whole point of what you write as an attorney is to prove to someone else, your audience, that what you’re saying is real and right, and they should believe you. And when you’re an author, you want to be credible. You want the audience to trust you and go on a journey with you. So there is, to that extent, that kind of training.

Steve Cuden: Well, as an author, you’re actually presenting a kind of an argument to the reader. You’re trying to make your point true.

Danielle Sunberg: Absolutely right.

Steve Cuden: So I’ve had the fortune, both good and bad, to know far too many lawyers in my life, and I’ve not met too many of them who are as what I would call thoughtfully self conscious. I’ve never met a lawyer who I thought, wow, you’re really deep and thoughtful in a humane way. Why do you think that? Is? Is there something about law and lawyering, or is it just humanity in general that doesn’t think about people as people?

Danielle Sunberg: I think that is where humanity is heading, to be honest, is to a place where we are getting to, really live in our humanity. Look, I can’t speak for anybody else, just my experience, but the whole idea of being a corporate drone is the idea that we shell who we are when we go to the office. And so when you are training to do that for your entire life, at some point, you really do silo who you are into this little box. And sometimes when we leave the office, because we’re there more than we’re not, we forget to open that box back up, and we can lose connection to our humanity, to ourselves, and learning how to connect to the people in our lives, even the people that we care about.

Steve Cuden: Well, there’s no question that when you go into a corporate setting, in almost any corporate setting, you suddenly become a cog in some kind of a bigger wheel or some mechanism. And you do tend to lose yourself in there unless you’re very self contained and very self disciplined about that. And part of it is, I think, most people aren’t, at least the ones I know. My range of knowledge of people is limited to the people I know, which is, in the grand scheme of things, rather small. But let’s talk about writing. Do you enjoy it still? Is it still fun for you to do like it was when you were a kid?

Danielle Sunberg: It’s my favorite practice. Yes, I learned that.

Steve Cuden: Huh?

Danielle Sunberg: When I was doing my work and in self development, that writing really has this special quality to it in our metacognition, and that, it takes what is living in our limbic system, our general experience of life, that we’re just moving through it. And, yeah, we have these emotions come up, anger, frustration, enjoyment, peace, love. And we don’t really pay attention to it. We’re just going through our day, the coffee spills on our shirt, and we have a little boost of frustration, and then we just push through it, and we go, keep going. When we write, when we sit down to actually reflect on our day, we move what is in our limbic system into our prefrontal cortex. We have to actually process our experience. And so even if what you’re writing doesn’t make sense at the time, you are actually processing your life and your awareness of who you are and how you’re experiencing the world to a deeper level. And it’s one of the best practices that I come back to the page day after day in order to really deepen my own connection to my life.

Steve Cuden: You used a really big word a moment ago. You used metacognition. Explain for the listeners who don’t know what that is, what that is.

Danielle Sunberg: Sure. Yeah. So I’ll do my best with that one. It’s the idea that we have thinking behind our thinking, so you can have your thought. I don’t want to get up on stage and do that. Public speaking engagement. I think that all the time when I do them, there’s, like, a fear thought. I don’t want to do that. And then there’s the meta thought behind it. I don’t want to do that because I’m afraid that everyone’s going to laugh at me. Right. So when we journal or write, or even if you’re just talking to a friend over lunch who’s really present and listening to you, just talking, verbalizing is also metacognition, because you’re turning your experience into words. So just doing that allows us to be aware sometimes of those thoughts behind the thoughts that aren’t right available on the surface to, us that can be so valuable to know, because at least then you understand your fear or you understand your hesitation.

Steve Cuden: Well, what other books triggered the notion for you that you would write a book about atlas of being, it couldn’t have been that you just out of the blue thought, I’m going to be an author. It had to be other influences to this, am I right?

Danielle Sunberg: Yes and no. So, of course, yes. I read books far and wide about all sorts of subjects, and they inspire me. And I say, ooh, that’s a really cool thing that author wrote. I could never have thought to do that. I’m so glad they did that because there’s an audience waiting for exactly that subject matter or story, and it’s me. So, thank you. The books in self development that I’ve read sometimes are those books, but they’re also novels. Well, epay love isn’t really a novel. It is true, but it’s written more in a narrative format. And that one is sort of a structure that I, in some sense, has based my book on. And then, the no to your answer is that this book started as simply me journaling and self reflecting on my life after I left my law firm and wanting to keep friends and family involved in my life as I was traveling across six continents and just having these experiences that, ah, my friends and family who were living in Washington DC or wherever they were, wouldn’t be having. They’re not going to New Zealand, and they’re not going to the jungles of Vietnam. And so to give them a piece of that, I would just sit and write. And, at some point during that process, I realized, oh, this is a book. And it just grew from that.

Steve Cuden: You knew from the journaling that there was a lot of substance in there at some point.

Danielle Sunberg: At some point, yeah, it was sort of one of those, aha, clarity moments. I saw the book, but it wasn’t.

Steve Cuden: Like you set out to write a book knowing that you’re going to journal something and that will turn into a book. It evolved into that.

Danielle Sunberg: It evolved, exactly.

Steve Cuden: Do you think of yourself as a storyteller?

Danielle Sunberg: You know, I really don’t. I didn’t. Let’s say maybe I do now.

Steve Cuden: Do you think of yourself as a journalist?

Danielle Sunberg: Well, when you say journalist, what do you mean by that?

Steve Cuden: Well, there’s all kinds of inferences about the word journalism. You actually journaled on your trip, and that turned into a book. So in a way, that makes you a journalist. Like Anna’s nin was a journalist, though she wasn’t a reporter. So I’m differentiating between a reporter and a journalist. Someone that is keeping track or keeping a record of reality got it.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah. See, this is where being a lawyer comes in. We have to really parse our definitions here. To make sure we’re talking about the same thing.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah. So then, sure, I’m a journalist. I was keeping track of life. And when you say being a journalist, my initial reaction is, I’m not sure. Because I was so focused on what was going on in the world behind my eyes as opposed to in front of them. And so it just took me a beat to say, yeah, this reality is still worth journaling about. I’m still a journalist about it.

Steve Cuden: Interesting. I’ve been a screenwriter for most of my career. And truthfully, from, my perspective, when I’m writing a screenplay, I’m actually seeing and visioning in my mind’s eye. What it is. I’m trying to transfer and translate out onto a screen or paper or whatever it would be. And so you’re doing a similar thing, only you’re taking in what’s right in front of you. And what your day is like. And you’re reflecting and all that. And as a fiction writer, you’re conjuring up some kind of a reality in your mind’s eye. And transferring that out.

Danielle Sunberg: For me, it’s translating a feeling. So everything that I wrote about that became a story. Was something that either started as a big feeling. Because it came from an experience of feeling stuck or doubtful or unsure or stressed. Something that triggered me, that needed me to go to the paper. Or it came from a really big experience of clarity, of inspiration. And aha. That I had to flesh out and go to the paper. So, for me, it’s really cool to hear you say that it comes from your mind’s eye and your inner vision. And for me, it came from an inner sentience, an experience of emotion.

Steve Cuden: I think they’re similar. They’re not dissimilar. They’re more similar than they’re not. Did you structure the book as you were writing it? Once you figured out you were going to write the book, did you structure it in some way? Did you outline it? Or how did you arrive at the way that the book is laid out?

Danielle Sunberg: The book structure went through so many iterations, I cannot even tell you. I could not count for you how many iterations. Because there’s the structure of, what would make sense to an audience. In terms of peeling back layers. And getting somewhere. And having a journey, an arc. And then there’s the actual chronology of, my experience. And how things worked for me and where I landed. And would it make sense for an audience to hear a story about, say, Thailand and then jump to the jungles of Colombia and then maybe back to, like, does that make sense? And so there was a lot of working through what that structure would look. You know, eventually, the two did meet, and I ended up structuring it like any good lawyer would, with four sections. That was really about peeling away truth, truth, truth, and then building that up into. What does that truth look like when you practice it in your life?

Steve Cuden: Is my memory faulty, that it’s laid out in a chronological order of your travels?

Danielle Sunberg: It is like, 90%.

Steve Cuden: 90%, yeah. And that kind of makes it a little easier to absorb what you went through by having us, read. This is the path that you trod.

Danielle Sunberg: Yes. But also, as you know, life isn’t linear, right?

Steve Cuden: Oh, no.

Danielle Sunberg: And so who we are and our progression is not necessarily as smooth as it appears to the audience when they’re watching it on the screen or they’re reading it in the book, and somehow we have to make it all work. And so that was a really fun process of hitting my head against the wall for a while.

Steve Cuden: That, by the way, is what all writers go through. You’re banging your head against the wall for a long time. So you go, oh, I see how it works. And then you’re good to go. Sure. you use a term in the book, self development. How does conscious self development differ from self development?

Danielle Sunberg: Really good question. I would just say it’s the intentionality. So we go through self development whether or not we mean to, because you’re not the same person when you’re 80, that you were when you were 20, that you were when you were ten. Right. We’re always evolving, and life is dynamic, even though sometimes we forget that. And so there are pieces of our journey that we tend to allow ourselves to look at. Sometimes they’re very surface, and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter. There’s no right or wrong. But the more that we’re willing to look at our lives and look at who we are, the more self aware and conscious we become. And for me, it’s really fun. So the more I can peel away the layers of something and dig through the story to find that resonance of truth, of what the real aha, is inside all of that that I can then use to grow from. I mean, to me, that’s the lottery, and that never stops. That’s your whole life.

Steve Cuden: And that’s what leads to personal mastery, is what you call it?

Danielle Sunberg: Yes, absolutely.

Steve Cuden: And how much work is typically involved in a person that isn’t taking a six continent journey and digging deep, as you were able to do. How much work is typically involved in reaching self mastery? Is it unique for every individual, or is there a path to that, too?

Danielle Sunberg: That’s a really good point, because you do not have to burn your career to the ground and travel six continents to know who you are. And so, when I do talks, I talk about this because it’s really important for people to not feel alienated and for everyone to know that this journey is accessible. And not just accessible, but it’s actually really safe. Knowing who you are is one of the safest things you can do.

Steve Cuden: Why?

Danielle Sunberg: What we think of that is really. So the unknown to the human being is very scary, right?

Steve Cuden: It is.

Danielle Sunberg: It’s reflexively built into us to avoid it. We don’t know what danger lies in the unknown. And so who we are tends to be a pretty unknown place to most of us, because to your point that you made earlier, lots of us are walking around on this earth not very connected to ourselves. And it can feel a lot safer to stay at that, surface space than to peel the curtain and dive in and see what’s there and go swimming in a black box. But that is required, and it is available anywhere. All you have to do is give yourself the time and space to slow down and really be still and let yourself show up in your own experience and notice what’s there.

Steve Cuden: So this is a really excellent point that you’re making. And, my question to you is, we’re living, most of us, especially in America, but around the world as well. Many people are living in an extraordinarily uniquely fast paced lifestyle. Has never been before in the history of humanity, with computers and apps and way too much distraction and all sorts of things going on in our life. So how can one get past that to slow down as you’re talking about, so you can absorb who you are?

Danielle Sunberg: Just, go buy a baseball bat and smash your TV. Yeah. Look, the thing is stillness, and being with ourselves is very simple. And we have been taught the power of it throughout time and history by really great leaders and thinkers from the 15th century mystic and poet Kabir, who talks about the power of silence and stillness, to today’s largest hedge fund founder, Ray Dahlia, who talks about mindfulness and the power of seeing the bigger picture and making better decisions. So it’s not like this is a secret. The trick is, how do you make a habit out of it? And, there’s no thing that I can prescribe to you. It’s more like just infusing it into your life as it is already. So when’s the last time that you stood at the checkout line at the grocery store and you just waited without pulling out your phone?

Steve Cuden: Oh, that’s a long time. Yes.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah, me too. And this is what I do for a living. And it’s like, I could do this, I would do this, but I don’t do this. So it’s something in us that has to really want to do it to make it happen.

Steve Cuden: It’s all about intentionality.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: And sometimes for people, that’s very difficult to do, to become intentional about that sort of thing, because everything’s swirling around them. And I know for me personally, I have a lot going on in my head at any given time. And sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees and I have to literally stop. And that’s partly what you’re talking about doing.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about doing. I think that I don’t remember exactly what chapter this is in the book, but I talk about that experience of, letting my mind settle down for maybe what was the first time in a long time, because I think I was landing in Thailand and sitting at a coffee shop doing nothing very exciting, but I didn’t understand anyone around. Couldn’t, you know, peek in on the conversations, I couldn’t read any of the signs. I had no phone pinging me that I was needed on the conference call, and it was just me in the moment. And in that space, I showed up for really the first time in a long, long time.

Steve Cuden: Could you feel that as a relieving moment? Did it feel like relief?

Danielle Sunberg: That is one of the biggest aha. Moments of my entire life. Yeah. And it’s still hooked into me. I mean, it still lives there. It’s why I still do this.

Steve Cuden: Well, if it’s that big, it had a huge impact on you. And it clearly had a big impact on you. You’ve started a whole separate set of way, of being, and you’ve created a book about being and all that. So that’s a big impact for one person. What for you is.

Danielle Sunberg: Know, that’s a tough question. Happiness.

Steve Cuden: That’s why you’re here. I’m asking you the tough question.

Danielle Sunberg: Arthur Brooks, actually, and Oprah Winfrey just came out with a really good book about the science and art of happiness, which is really great, and I recommend that a lot. and basically no one agrees on what the definition of happiness is. There’s a lot of ways to define it. And for me, happiness is, I would say, the last chapter of my book, which let me rewind and say in the beginning, when I was an attorney, I was getting all of that validation from, the people that I would meet. They would see me. They would see my nice Anne Taylor suit. They knew that I belonged in the nice, shiny office, and I got the validation that I was looking for, and I really needed that. When I looked in their eyes, sure, someone was really respected that they were looking at. And when I would go home and look in the mirror and my reflection and my eyes were empty, and there was just no one home. There was just nobody there. And by the end of the book, when I got up and looked in the mirror, there was someone home. I would look in the mirror, and I would see myself. And it’s not so much of, I think, what we’re looking for in what does it look like to have your dream life? It’s this picture of all the awards and the fancy cars and the fame and da da da da da, and we learn over and over and over again how that isn’t what really is going to fulfill us. And so at this time that I’m looking at myself in the mirror at the end of the book, I’m, like, wearing milk stained shirts. I had a new baby, and I’m, like, sitting in a rocking chair, and I’m working on my book, and I’m working on my company. And some people might say that’s what their dream life looks like. Being exhausted and sleep deprived with a baby crying in your arms half the day. Sure, I’m not going to take that away from you. But the difference for me, I was just really engaged in my own life, and I felt control, from the inside out, which I never felt before.

Steve Cuden: Is that, to you, a form of success in life?

Danielle Sunberg: Well, yeah.

Steve Cuden: Because some people think success. Well, I know when I started out in my career, success was I was going to be executive producer of a show, I was going to direct movies. None of those things happened for me. And so my definition of success changed over time as to what makes a successful person. And that’s where my focus came, is how am I successful as a human? Not am I successful in a career. They’re two different things. Sometimes they’re the same, but they are two different things. What would you say is the most challenging aspect of the exploration you went on? What was the hardest part of it?

Danielle Sunberg: That’s a great question. The hardest part was rattling around in my own head. So one of the biggest things that I came out of this book knowing, and I think we all learned this during the pandemic, was how important it is to have community.

Danielle Sunberg: And to have just people around us that we can call even for five minutes. But those people who really care and really do want to hear how you’re doing. And I had my husband around with me the entire time. He traveled with me across six continents, so he was always there, but he wasn’t there inside my inner experience that I was trying to sort out. And at that point I didn’t really have my Sat song or my truth community of seekers who you could talk to about these things or really parse them out or share experiences and feel supported in it. And I was really going through it with my community being books, other people’s books and podcasts. And so that was probably the hardest part, was they were speaking to me and I could get from it what resonated and a ton obviously did. But there was no then exchange back.

Steve Cuden: Right. What would you say were your favorite? Unexpected twists and turns and was like, wow, is this possible that this happened?

Danielle Sunberg: Oh, the story that comes up for me is when I lived in this really small rural village in Colombia for a while called Santa Elena. And it’s on the hills overlooking Medellin, so it’s really, really high, 9000ft altitude. I’m a city girl. I’m born in New York City and then lived in cities across the east coast my whole life. Spent majority of my professional career in DC. And the sounds of, the DJ at the club across the street and the ambulances and the trash trucks and other people. That is the chorus of my life. And I loved it at the time. And so then fast forward to being in Columbia. Silence, nature. Literal crickets. Right? And it was what I wanted, but it was also a lot of space and a lot of nature, meaning bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs for the city girl. So one day, well, when we landed, I cried. When we got to the house, I cried. I was like, I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know what I committed to. I thought I wanted all of this nature in silence, but I’m not sure I can handle it. And then really what’s surprising about it is how much humans can adapt and how a few weeks in, I was obsessed with that place. I still have pictures of it on my wall. Ah. My wall has changed drastically since having children. Now it’s all pictures of my children. But I keep that picture of Columbia on my wall because of how important it is. I remember one morning waking up and going to the bathroom. This is in the book. And I turn on the light, and I sit down on the toilet to pee, and I rub my eyes, and I look up, and they’re all blurry. And not 2ft in front of me, I see dangling from a string, this giant black spider, and it is in mid battle with an even bigger black scorpion.

Steve Cuden: Oh, wow.

Danielle Sunberg: And I was just like, okay, well, good luck to the spider. And I went back to Matt because I’d rather have a spider as a companion than a scorpion. And so the next day, I woke up, and I was like, oh, wow, that just happened. And I didn’t even really care. And that’s fine. And it’s just amazing how we can adapt.

Steve Cuden: Well, there’s no question that we come from nature. We didn’t grow up as a species in cities. And so going back to nature has, I think, a palliative effect on one’s psyche and soul and all the rest of it. And I know when I do lose that for a while, it’s great when I can get back out into nature somehow, and it makes a huge difference. What do you do now? Are you in a city now?

Danielle Sunberg: Now I’m in Austin. So there is plenty of nature.

Danielle Sunberg: Absolutely. And I take advantage of it when I can, when it’s not too, you know, for this northeastern girl, it’s hot. Too much.

Steve Cuden: Of course.

Danielle Sunberg: I do walks. I take trails. But you know what really it is for me is being with my kids outside, because that combination, I think, is really potent. My kids are two and four, so seeing the world through their eyes. There’s the proust quote. That’s about how the best thing for us is exploring new horizons, not outside, but through other people’s eyes. Well, that’s not really it, but that’s generally the sentiment. And so being outside and exploring through my kids eyes is, so, to use your word, palliative. It’s refreshing. It’s rejuvenating. It’s wonder, it’s beginner’s mind. It’s choshin. It’s everything that I need to come back to my life feeling ready for it.

Steve Cuden: Do you ever miss the hurley burly of New York City?

Danielle Sunberg: No.

Steve Cuden: And I don’t blame you.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah, no, I don’t. I mean, it’s nice to visit. I’m fine with it. I don’t at this point see myself ever moving back, but lawyers learn, never say never. You don’t speak in absolutes, which I hear the irony of.

Steve Cuden: Right, of course. So we’ll see you do occasionally, I assume. Get back there and visit. Yes, yes. And that reminds you of why you’re not there anymore, I’m sure.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah. I prefer places that don’t smell like trash. That’s just my preference.

Steve Cuden: You’re so demanding. So you break, as you said before, you break the book into four sections, mind, energy, expansion, and transformation. Would you care to explain how you got to those four?

Danielle Sunberg: I would care. Thank you.

Steve Cuden: You’re welcome.

Danielle Sunberg: So, mind is where I started, and I think it’s where so many of us start. It’s been the through line, through this conversation is we are trapped in our minds, so many of us, and we forget that we aren’t what we think. And so the first section is really about peeling that away and discovering what it really means to have a mind that’s a servant and not a master. And then the second section is energy, which is my experience of, what else it means to be human, other than just having thoughts. So I did a deep dive into this. I became a Reiki master. I went really into what does it mean to be made of energy? That includes intuition, which is something that, let’s say, the first act of my career as an attorney. Intuition just doesn’t exist. That’s not something that you use. It’s only something that you would use if you don’t have logic, and it means that it’s not as good as. Right. So kind of rebalancing and recalibrating my relationship to energy and intuition is that second section. And realizing just how powerful and deep and broad it means to be human and have a human experience. expansion is, well, if you’re not just your thoughts, you have thoughts. They’re great, and they’re really powerful, and it’s really good to know how they work. And you’re also so much more than that. You’re this emotional body, your intuitive body. You are a physical body, you’re a spiritual body, you’re an astral body. You have all these things that you can explore. Well, hey, I’ve just expanded who I thought I was a lot more than I realized for the first three decades of my life, and then transformation. The fourth section is, okay, well, if I am way bigger and deeper than I ever realized, then there’s just an inevitability that the way that you live your life transforms, it has to.

Steve Cuden: So I’m going to use a word that can be controversial, though I don’t think it is in this case. There’s a degree of faith that one must have in what you’re talking about doing. You’re removing what you called logic or rationale, and you have faith in this. Now, it’s not a religious thing I’m talking about. It’s the notion that the word faith means you’re believing something that you may not have evidence of. So that’s what spirituality is to many people. That’s what then religion becomes. But I’m not asking a religious question. I’m asking a question about mind energy expansion and transformation. How much faith does it require to get there, to find your way to those four things?

Danielle Sunberg: to me, when you say faith, I hear self trust, because it is, for me, an experience that I can’t prove to you that I had, and I can’t prove to anybody else that it’s real. But I have to own it. If I don’t own it, then I’m disregarding something that was really true and real for me, which is really a betrayal of self.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Danielle Sunberg: And so to really own your experience, I think, is something that humans as a species are working towards doing, more of. We’ve taken wisdom and reduced it to knowledge, and then reduced that to information and then reduced that to decentralized bits of data. And then we’re pulling from all the data and researching and then coming up with these conclusions, and we’re now realizing, oh, that conclusion lived in the wisdom. It was there the whole time. But now that I proven it, now I’m allowed to believe it. And so it’s really just recalibrating what comes first. Can you believe something before you’ve proven it to the outside world?

Steve Cuden: That’s faith. That’s faith, indeed. And we experience faith all day long. If we’re going up in a 30 story building in an elevator, we have faith that the engineers did something right to build the building, to take the elevator up, that it’s not going to drop and kill us. We have some internal faith. We don’t even think about it most of the time, but that is faith. There’s a great quote in the book, one of many. and I’m going to ask you some questions about others in a moment, but I think this is terrific. There is a love letter tucked inside each of us, and it will never offer false guidance. What does that mean?

Danielle Sunberg: I haven’t read that part in a while. That is that faith. That is our internal GPS for life that is connected to whatever you want to call it your self trust, your intuition, your heart, your gut. That feeling of if something is right or wrong. Sometimes we get that push pull feeling inside of us, or we can feel contracted if something doesn’t feel right. Or we can feel spacious if something does. Those are just different emotional, somatic, different ways of being in touch with that, love letter. And it is always guiding us towards what it is our heart most deeply desires, which might be what we think we want, and it might not, because our mind cannot always access the heart.

Steve Cuden: Oh, that’s for sure. Because the mind is also dealing with what’s coming at it at all times.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah. The mind’s projecting us into the future or into the past, and it’s making it seem like what we have to deal with is way bigger and more complex than it actually is. And our heart is always focused on the right here, right now.

Steve Cuden: Interesting. That’s a very good response. So let’s go through three more quotes, because I think these are fantastic quotes you wrote, quote, a rule to not live by rules is still, quite annoyingly, a rule. Now, I realize that there’s a certain obviousness to that, but you’ve nailed it. Are you able to expand on that thought further, that it’s still a rule to ignore rules?

Danielle Sunberg: It’s so funny. And I think earlier I did another one, that one of the number one rules that we learned in law school is never speak in absolutes. And it’s just like life is full of paradoxes, and you have to be able to hold them to really see truth and allow them to be. And I think the cosmos is one of its greatest features is that it’s also a comic. It’s funny. There’s a lot of humor in the world if we allow it and if we see it. What that really spoke to that quote was my experience, leaving the law and leaving this way of walking through life as if it were a tightrope. And I had to take every step so rigidly and carefully and calculated to make sure I did not fall off. And then leaving that to go be this hippie wearing flip flops, not having to wear my suit anymore and not worry about if I put on makeup and just live life however I felt and not abiding by rules. So the pendulum swung the other direction, like, really far. Okay.

Steve Cuden: But in order to not follow those rules, that had to be a rule.

Danielle Sunberg: Exactly. Okay. Right. That. Aha.

Steve Cuden: Uh-huh.

Danielle Sunberg: Moment really got me, because I was like, oh, shoot. I am still living by rules. And I realized that rules really aren’t this thing that I needed to escape from, but it’s just a structure that gives us, guidance in how we want to live our lives. And they’re not bad, they’re not good, they just are.

Steve Cuden: That is a fact. All right, so you write, quote, magic dances in places where there is no space between us. That’s a wonderful line, but what does that mean? Magic dances in the place where there’s no space between us.

Danielle Sunberg: It took a long time for me to really embody that idea of oneness, that we are all not just connected, but we are part of something. Like we’re all fingers connected to the same hand. And that the space that we’re moving through, the air, isn’t actually empty. It’s full of information. It’s molecules, particles, subatomic quarks. And ultimately, yeah, it’s just pieces of information. And so we are breathing in the world and breathing in information and breathing it out, and it’s influencing us, and we’re influencing it. And ultimately, the idea of being separate is an illusion. And when I would do my own meditations, my journalings, whatever I did, that allowed me to access knowing that is true at a place deeper than my mind. That’s where the magic really came for me in terms of whether it’s just feeling love, feeling peace, or actually even having an insight, an aha ah moment that then I would go take my journal out and start scribbling.

Steve Cuden: Well, I love the notion that even nothingness is something. There’s another paradox. Nothingness is something. In fact, astrophysicists are now learning more and more and more about dark matter, that dark matter is filled with energy, and that energy is actually, in einsteinian and quantum physics, energy and matter are interchangeable. So if it’s apparently energy, but there’s nothing physical that appears to be there, that’s sort of the flip side of the physical thing.

Danielle Sunberg: to have faith.

Steve Cuden: To have faith, exactly right. So, last quote I’m going to bother you with is nothing about the journey of self discovery is reasonable. What does that mean?

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah, reasonable is the idea that we can logic it out or rationalize it or create a plan for it that we can then follow. I think I said this in the beginning of our conversation, that, ah, it’s just not a linear journey. And the only way you can plan is to make space for surprises, because they are coming. And the best we can do is to be in a position to allow them to be there and to use them in our lives as fuel.

Steve Cuden: I’ve taught for a very long time the notion that you should accept everything and deny nothing and then deal with that as it comes. Is that sort of what you’re talking about?

Danielle Sunberg: That is a perfect way to describe it, yeah. What is, is.

Steve Cuden: What is, is for sure. And to try to push that away or ignore it is, I guess, a little bit of folly, because it’s still going to be there no matter what.

Danielle Sunberg: Right. I mean, the journey of, personal mastery and self development is in part a, knowing that there’s somewhere else that we can go internally, how we can level up or progress as a human being in our own life, in our relationships with other people. We want to show up as a better partner, as a better professional, whatever the thing is. And so to get someplace new, you have to know where you’re starting from. If you deny it, stick your head in the sand, don’t look at it, wish it was something different, then it’s going to be a lot more circuitous to get where you actually want to.

Steve Cuden: Go, if you get there at all.

Danielle Sunberg: Sure.

Steve Cuden: If you’ve got your head in the sand and you don’t want to take your head out of the sand, that’s a problem.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: You talk about dreaming in the book, and I’m wondering, how important is it for people to dream about their future or dream of their future?

Danielle Sunberg: So I like the word dream as opposed to the word goal. That was also a part of this unwinding of, my corporate avatar life and letting go that things need to have certain outcomes, and they need to look a certain way, there needs to be a certain process, and dreaming lets that all go and allows me to connect to something bigger, something more emotional, and then allowing that feeling to be my guidance, like that love letter, to be, evaluating. Is that feeling present for me today or not? If not, what do I want to notice about that? What’s in that for me? And if yes, great, what’s in that for me, too? And it seems for me that dreaming, it is a tough one because we like control. We just really like to feel like we’re in control and dreaming. We’ve been taught that dreaming is in the imagination, and the imagination isn’t real, and we don’t have the ability to get somewhere that isn’t real, so stop doing that. But learning how to dream, I think, is one of the most powerful tools that we have on our journey of life to get where we want to go.

Steve Cuden: So one of the other things you talk about in the book is trying to achieve serenity, which, of course, is a word that gets used in AA and other programs like that. And I’m wondering, can serenity itself ever be stressful? Which is another, you know, control and.

Danielle Sunberg: Surrender, which is not serenity, but close enough for this moment, are really two sides of the same coin in a lot of ways, right? Like, if you’re on a path of surrendering, let’s say, a career that isn’t working out for you, we like to be in control of that surrender. So if I’m not going to be a lawyer anymore, well, what am I going to be? What am I going to do? What would give me this or that? What do I need to feel that I’m doing that’s worth my time? Right? And so control and surrender will always live side by side. And so when you’re talking about serenity and achieving it, it’s interesting to me because when I hear the word serenity, I hear the word surrender, which seems to be the opposite of the word achieve, which denotes some control. If we’re achieving something, there’s, a working towards a certain goal or. Yeah, I went out and I got that thing.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Danielle Sunberg: And serenity is about who we are in our natural state. It’s what’s always available to us. And it’s just this subtractive experience of peeling away all of the noise that’s keeping us disconnected from who we are without the noise of our minds bothering us.

Steve Cuden: Well, I find this fascinating because some of the most successful people I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with a few, they were the most serene people. They weren’t scattered. They were focused. They knew what they were talking about. They were calm. Occasionally I’ve worked with successful people that are maniacs, but that’s another story. That’s Hollywood. But many successful people are already serene, or they’ve established that or attained it, or they were naturally that way. Is it possible to become serene if you’re not sure, why not?

Danielle Sunberg: I mean, look, when you say serene, you could be serene, like the Tao in the middle way of just taking it all as it comes and not really having any preferences or any attachments to outcome and not really caring. But I imagine that if you are working with really successful people, they do have some attachment. They care about what they’re doing. They want it to do well. They want it to have a certain success.

Steve Cuden: They may just be really good actors.

Danielle Sunberg: They could just be really good actors. But I imagine that they are serene in the sense that they are very, very anchored in who they are and their purpose. And it’s a very focusing tool to know exactly what your love letter is saying to you because your boundaries become very obvious. Your yeses become very obvious. Your no’s become very obvious because you are really focused on the truth of what’s living in you.

Steve Cuden: For me, there’s nothing better than being focused like that.

Danielle Sunberg: Exactly. I think that is such a big stressor for so many of us. If we don’t feel clarity and we don’t feel like we know what to do next, we get really stressed out. So if you feel really connected to that deeper mission or goal, dream, truth, desire, then it is very focusing.

Steve Cuden: So onto other quick topics. You’ve given one at least. I don’t know if you’ve given more than one, but at least one great TEDx talk that I watched online. It was really very engaging and I thought, really well done. Do you plan to do more of those?

Danielle Sunberg: Sure. Yes. Why not? Talk about dreaming. Dreaming big. I did, a vision board for the first time in a long, long time. Because I’m the kind of person who is like, well, what’s the point? I could just write it down and make a list. But actually doing the arts and Crafts project of making a vision board was really interesting and fun for a lot of different reasons. But I thought about what I want to do for other talks and what that might look like. And so, yeah, I have some really big dreams out, there. We’ll see you.

Steve Cuden: Enjoy the process. I guess that’s what, my question is, was it fun for you? Do you want to do more of those?

Danielle Sunberg: Yes, absolutely. Doing a talk in general for anyone who hasn’t done. If you’re an author, whatever, you’re a screenwriter and you don’t actually get up on stage and perform. It was one of the best exercises in distilling my message through a story. Because you have 13 minutes and I’m long winded if you can’t tell.

Steve Cuden: No, you’re not really. Not that long winded, but okay, I.

Danielle Sunberg: Could be longer winded. So, yeah, I think it’s a fabulous experience in really facing yourself, your journey, your experience, and getting to the truth of it and then sharing it.

Steve Cuden: So, for the listeners who may not know, and it sounds obvious, but explain what a vision board is.

Danielle Sunberg: Oh, sure. Okay. So what I did for my vision board is I went to CVs and I bought some poster board, and then I bought every single magazine on the shelf because you never know what one page might have. And magazines have gotten very expensive by the way I did not realize, I spend about, like, $150 on magazines. And then without again having a goal, I just looked for images that spoke to me. They just triggered a feeling in me. Ooh, I like that. Ooh, I want that ooh, I want to be that ooh, that makes me feel whatever. And I just pulled them all out of the magazine and some words, too, and then I cut them out, and then I just arranged them on my vision board. And things surprised me even in how they got arranged, that sort of like the sum of, two things are more than their parts type of experience, and put two images together, and I go, oh, right. And it’s just that. And then putting them down there, and then I put the poster board up on my wall in my office, and I look at it every day.

Steve Cuden: And then you’re able to envision what it is you might be trying to achieve or get through or whatever that might be. am I correct? Right. M I have lots of stuff on my walls. I have stuff on my computers. I got stuff everywhere that I got to remind myself about what it is I’m trying to do and what the goals are and all that. I think that what happens is you get distracted and you forget. And so it’s good to have those reminders.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah. Look, I’m experimenting with, it, and so far, I’m really enjoying it.

Steve Cuden: Sure. And it should be enjoyable. And if you’re going to take pictures out, usually if it’s in a magazine, it’s not an ugly picture or out of focus, it’s going to be something good to look at. So I’ve been having the most marvelous conversation for almost an hour now with Danielle Sunberg, and we’re going to wind the show down a little bit. And I’m just wondering, in all of your travels and experiences and all the things you’ve been through, whether as a lawyer, as a transformational speaker, whatever it would be, are you able to share with us a story that’s either weird, quirky, offbeat, strange, or just plain funny? More than you’ve already given to us?

Danielle Sunberg: Yes, absolutely. The story that comes to mind is when I was working on the book, I was editing it, and I went on a family vacation to this wellness spa. And so we get there, and I have my laptop with me, and there is this beautiful room that’s outside the spa where there’s this gorgeous lounge chairs, and there’s a beautiful window with a vista. And I’m like, okay, great. I’m just going to sit myself here with my laptop and spend the day here just editing and working, and it’s going to be just so relaxing. And of course, I take out my laptop, I put my feet up. I’m in this nice, cozy bathrobe, and an, employee comes out and is like, excuse me, ma’am, you’re actually not allowed to have your devices out here. This is a wellness spa. And I’m like, oh, duh. Silly me. I didn’t even think about that. I’m like, well, okay, what do I do now? I actually live 40 minutes away from this place, so I could drive home and go print out my manuscript and drive back, and I was like, oh, I really don’t want to do that. So I go up to the concierge, and I’m like, okay, could you print something for me? And they’re like, of course, ma’am, whatever you’d like. They like to be helpful. And I’m like, great. Do you have an email I could send it to? And they give me the email. I’m like, okay, I’m going to go back to my room, and I’m going to send you something to print. So I go back to my room, I send them the email. Of, of course, there’s like a back and forth because the person whose email I had wasn’t actually there, and blah, blah, blah, blah. And they’re so apologetic. And of course, finally they get the attachment, and it’s 250 page manuscript, and they’re like, oh, you want us to print 250 pages? All right. They can’t say no. But I felt it. I was like, oh, I’m so sorry.

Steve Cuden: You actually forced them to print your book. I did, but then it wasn’t a device anymore. It was just paper.

Danielle Sunberg: It was on paper. Good old paper. My favorite way to edit.

Steve Cuden: and a pen and paper was okay to them?

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah. It wasn’t a device.

Steve Cuden: It wasn’t a device. Well, I guess that makes a lot of sense. So last question for you today. Danielle, you’ve already given us a huge amount of very interesting, wonderful advice along the way of this, journey today. And I’m wondering, do you have a solid, single piece of advice that you like to give to those who are either starting out as writers or as lawyers or as in the businesses you’ve been involved in? They’re starting out, or perhaps they’re in a little bit and trying to get to that next level.

Danielle Sunberg: Yeah, I have a lot of advice.

Steve Cuden: Great.

Danielle Sunberg: I think part of being a lawyer, I have lots of advice. So first, of all, I would say, you don’t get what you don’t ask for. And that was a really big one for me to learn in terms of asking for advanced praise from people who I really respected or to some degree, I held on a pedestal that there, are leaders, really, in this self development industry, and asking them for their time and their energy. To read something I wrote was like, oh, my God. I felt like a little kid being like, please, will you read my story? I really didn’t want to do that. It felt scary, but I had to do it. There was just no way around it because I needed advanced praise, and so I did it. And look, yeah, the fear of rejection is a really big one for me. I’m a perfectionist. I have a ton of impostor syndrome. But if you don’t ask for something, then you’re also not going to get proof of how great you are. And getting that advanced praise, it was fuel for me as this process was going. And you have those days, weeks, sometimes months, where you’re just like, oh, my God, can I really do this? Is this really worth it? Does anyone really care? And so I actually would print out the advanced praise, and I would stick that on my laptop and have that as sort of an anchor back into a place of, yeah, I can do this. The next piece of advice that I have is that every word matters. This is something that I learned as an attorney. Of course, when you’re writing something for a judge to see, and you go over it and over and over, and what is the exact right way to get your message across so that you can be right. But in, learning how to write this book, which is completely different, it’s not really about being right. I’m just sharing my experience. But I cannot tell you how many people said to me. They highlighted a section or a phrase that really spoke to them that maybe wasn’t so important to me, but because I cared for every word, the resonance was still in integrity. And so that allowed me to feel freer to share it with the world, knowing that no matter what anyone else came back with, those were my choice, and I was really proud of them. And I’ll just say the last piece of advice that I have is to know what you want your book to do for you. Do you want it to sell a million copies? Is it a marketing tool? Could be anything. And I had to go through this journey of figuring it out for myself. in my heart, it’s like, yeah, everyone needs to have this book on their bookshelf. It’s critical. It’s not, for me, about making all the money off of that book. That’s not really what the intention is. That’s not how I make my money. It was a soul project that is an art form that came out of me, and it was such a process that I’m so glad I went through, but it’s not about making a million dollars off of it. And so that allowed me to free myself from a rigidity of the process of how it needed to get published as well. And I’m so glad because I met my editor, who is one of the most insightful, attuned people that I have ever met, and I am so grateful for her, and I would have never found her otherwise.

Steve Cuden: I think that’s a whole bunch of really great advice, especially the last piece of advice, which is really true. If you are a writer and you think you’re going to write a book and it’s going to make you a million dollars, you’re probably not thinking clearly about that industry. So you need to do a little more research. Unless you’re Stephen King or know John Grisham or someone like that, you’re not likely to make a million dollars off of a book unless you establish yourself and it becomes very popular. It’s possible, but the percentage is pretty low. I think that’s really great advice for people so they don’t go off thinking to themselves, oh, I’m going to be a millionaire. Well, it’s not likely. But digging in and doing the work and becoming who you are as a being, I think that that is really the great message from the work that you’re doing now, especially from this book. And for those of you who may not have remembered, it’s called the Atlas of being by Danielle Sunberg. Danielle, this has been just a phenomenal hour on StoryBeat, and I really can’t thank you enough for your time, your energy, and especially for your wisdom.

Danielle Sunberg: Thank you, Steve. I really enjoyed myself chatting with you. This was a ton of fun.

Steve Cuden: And so we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat If you like this episode, won’t you please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to? Your support helps us bring more great storybeat episodes to you. StoryBeat is available on all major podcast apps and platforms, including Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Tunein, and many others. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden, and may all your stories be unforgettable.

Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group


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