Maria Baltazzi, TV Producer-Teacher-Author-Episode #297

May 28, 2024 | 0 comments

“With your drafts, be ruthless. What do you need? What can you toss away? And then read everything out loud. Because the way you read it versus the way it sounds… it’s a different experience and you catch things that you wouldn’t catch when you read it to yourself. And just proofread, proofread, proofread. No matter how many times you proofread, there’s still going to be something you miss.”
~Maria Baltazzi

Maria Baltazzi is a Happiness Explorer. And an extraordinarily fascinating one at that. Her experiences as an Emmy-winning producer of hit TV shows, a well-being teacher, world traveler, and luxury travel designer specializing in transformative adventures, have given her a unique lens into conscious living.

Maria was one of the original supervising producers of the mega TV hit, Survivor. She’s a member of both the Producers and Directors Guilds of America, a Fellow National Member of The Explorers Club, and an Advisor for the Transformational Travel Council.

Maria holds an MFA in film from Art Center College of Design and a PhD in Conscious-Centered Living from the University of Sedona. Additional studies include training in Mindfulness Meditation, Primordial Sound Meditation, Happiness Studies, Positive Neuroplasticity, Spiritual Psychology, Positive Psychology, the Science of Happiness, and an Inner MBA from Mindful NYU.

Maria recently published the book, Take a Shot at Happiness, in which she shares her insights on being happy learned during her time in the entertainment industry, observing people and events, traveling, and studying wellbeing. It’s a practical guide for walking a creative path to happiness through taking photographs with your phone camera, journaling about things that matter, and being part of a supportive community. I’ve read Take a Shot at Happiness, and can tell you it’s filled with inspirational and motivational advice on how to make your life better, more fulfilling, and happier. I highly recommend it to you.

In her own happiness journey, Maria finds joy in giving back. She’s walked over 7500 miles to raise funds for charity, including running marathons on all seven continents. Maria’s adventurous life has also involved climbing the 15,000-foot trail to Machu Picchu, leading African safaris, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro twice, and trekking to Everest Base Camp. Maria is a genuine inspiration for those seeking to live their best lives.




Read the Podcast Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat:

Maria Baltazzi: With your drafts, be ruthless. I mean really think about the words. What do you need? What can you toss away and then read everything out loud? Because the way you read it versus the way it sounds, once you are saying it out loud, it’s a different experience and you catch things that you wouldn’t catch when you read it to yourself. And just proofread, proofread, proofread. No matter how many times you proofread, there’s still going to be something you miss.

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, Maria Baltazzi, is a happiness explorer. Her experiences as an Emmy winning producer of hit tv shows a well being teacher, world traveler and luxury travel designer specializing in transformative adventures has given her a unique lens into conscious living. Maria was one of the original supervising producers of the mega tv hit Survivor. She’s a member of both the Producers and Directors Guilds of America, a fellow national member of the Explorers Club, and an advisor for the Transformational Travel Council. Maria holds an MFA in film from Art Center College of Design and a PhD in conscious centered living from the University of Sedona. Additional studies include training in mindfulness meditation, primordial sound meditation, happiness studies, positive neuroplasticity, spiritual psychology, positive psychology, the science of happiness and an inner MBA from Mindfulnyu. Maria recently published the book take a shot at Happiness, in which she shares her insights on being happy learned during her time in the entertainment industry, observing people and events, traveling and studying well being. Its a practical guide for walking a ah creative path to happiness through taking photographs with your phone camera, journaling about things that matter, and being part of a supportive community. Ive read take a shot at happiness and can tell you its filled with inspirational and motivational advice on how to make your life better, more fulfilling and happier. I highly recommend it to you. In her own happiness journey, Maria finds joy in giving back. Shes walked over 7500 miles to raise funds for charity, including running marathons on all seven continents. Maria’s adventurous life has also involved climbing the 15,000 foot trail to Machu Picchu, leading african safaris, summoning Mount Kilimanjaro twice and trekking to Everest base camp, Maria is a genuine inspiration for those seeking to live their best lives. So for all those reasons and many more, it’s a truly great privilege for me to welcome to StoryBeat today the Superb, inspiring producer, writer, speaker and transformational coach, Maria Baltazi. Maria, welcome to the show.

Maria Baltazzi: Oh, thank you. And thank you for quite an introduction. Thank you so much for all that.

Steve Cuden: You’ve had a brilliant life. So it’s, always good to air that out a little bit, let people know what you’ve done. So let’s go back in time just a little bit. Obviously, before you became a student of happiness, you were a producer on this big time tv show called Survivor. I’m wondering, at what age did you think to yourself you’d like to work in tv or in the entertainment business? How old were you when you thought, let’s do that?

Maria Baltazzi: I, was in college. It was during my college years. I have always loved story. I mean, ever since I can remember, I have read my earliest books was reading Shakespeare and Voltaire. and I always loved literature. And then when I went to college, I just, it’s just something I naturally gravitated to. And I think it’s because, of the storytelling.

Steve Cuden: Well, tv, of course, is thought as totally opposite of Shakespeare most of the time. And survivor definitely would not be thought of as in the same canon as Shakespeare. Did you watch tv as a kid too, or were you mostly a reader?

Maria Baltazzi: I did, I did. I did both. I think storytellers who are good storytellers draw from everything, that’s for sure. They draw from a wide range of what they read, the films and television that they watch, the experiences that they have in life, their travels, the events they attend. So I’m curious. That’s what it is, is I’m curious.

Steve Cuden: Were you always curious, even as a little girl?

Maria Baltazzi: Yeah, I’ve always been curious.

Steve Cuden: Were you also very competitive?

Maria Baltazzi: No, and I don’t consider myself to be particularly competitive now.

Steve Cuden: So how do you wind up on a competitive tv show?

Maria Baltazzi: Well, it’s different as a producer versus a, ah, contestant.

Steve Cuden: True.

Maria Baltazzi: Those are two different things. I don’t have to compete for the life changing money, you know, I just have to tell the story about it. So it’s different. I mean, I always want to do, well, whatever I do. I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly competitive.

Steve Cuden: Well, that’s good to know. Although in the entertainment business, most people are somewhat competitive, it’s not an easy business to be in, as you well.

Maria Baltazzi: Know, this is true. And like I said, I think it’s more that I feel I want to do a good job as opposed to being one upping somebody or trying to best them. that’s just not really in my nature.

Steve Cuden: That’s a really good thought. In terms of focusing your career in show business. I think that let’s just do the best we can, not worrying about what others are doing unless you have to interact with them well.

Maria Baltazzi: And that’s true. And I would say one of the hallmarks of how I have moved through my career is that I’ve made choices not based on status or money, but what I thought I would enjoy doing are these people that I want to work with. Very early in my career, I worked for a particular producer. They were just not nice. Yeah. And I made a decision then that no matter what the project was, if I don’t like you, if I don’t like your way of doing business, I am not going to use whatever talent I have to help you make money.

Steve Cuden: That’s a very sound, way to think. Although, as you well know, there are people that are desperate to be in the business, and they will take a job and work with an abusive producer or some other person they’re working with just to stay in the job. And that does happen, unfortunately, I think.

Maria Baltazzi: Too much, and it happens a lot, and that’s why we have things like me, too happening. And for sure, you know, a whole host of other, you, know, dysfunctions that go along for sure, in the entertainment industry.

Steve Cuden: So before you got to college, you didn’t have any dreams about being a producer or in the business, did you?

Maria Baltazzi: Well, I didn’t know what that was.

Steve Cuden: You learned that in school, right?

Maria Baltazzi: I knew that I wanted to tell stories. I knew that I liked imagery. I knew that I liked sound and imagery going together. And I gravitated towards the, entertainment industry, but I didn’t know what a director was or what a producer was. You know, what was the difference between being. Having those jobs in television versus film? It was learning as I went along.

Steve Cuden: Well, that’s a great way to learn, by the way, you didn’t learn to be a tv producer of competition shows in school. You learned it in the real world, right?

Maria Baltazzi: Correct. Correct.

Steve Cuden: And so let’s talk about Survivor for a little bit, and then we’ll talk a lot about take a shot at happiness, because I’m fascinated by that. How did you get that job in the first place? How did Mark Burnett hire you?

Maria Baltazzi: Well, I had already been doing a lot of shows that were adventure. Most m of the shows that I have done over the course of my career have been shot on location in a foreign destination. They have involved adventure somehow. That has been the bulk of my work. So by the time I was being considered for Survivor, I had already been working internationally, and they had hired three producers, what we call episode producers. Each week there’s a different episode and a different producer, and they had three males and they wanted a fourth producer, and they thought that it would be a good idea to have a female because we would get a different energy, a, different kind of answer. A female doing a show is different than male doing a show. Your approach is different. And they wanted a female voice in the mix. One of the other producers knew about me and suggested that they talk to me. And what was interesting is that the first season was shot in Borneo, and I had just come back from shooting a, wildlife show in Borneo. So I was the only person who had actually been to Borneo in shot there. And so I actually knew what we were getting ourselves in for in terms of the environment. I knew about the leeches. I knew about the humidity. I knew about the snakes.

Steve Cuden: And so that gave you a leg up on everybody that was trying to get the same job, I assume.

Maria Baltazzi: You know what? I don’t know who I was against, so I can’t answer that question.

Steve Cuden: But there’s probably less likely that they had just come from Borneo, though.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, you know what? That’s true. However, it didn’t give me a leg up now that we’re talking about it. Mark actually, Mark Burnett actually didn’t want to hire me at the time because he didn’t know me. it was the other producers who were rallying for me m because they knew my background, and so they went to bat for me. And Mark came around and said, okay, well, we’ll try her out. But initially, he wanted to hire another producer that he was already familiar with.

Steve Cuden: Well, you just said something that I think is super important just for in general in all business, but particularly in show business, and that is the people that you knew that you were friendly with, that liked you, helped you. And it’s pretty hard to have a career in show business without people who, you know, helping you along the way, giving you insight, feedback, connections, etcetera.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, I think that that’s true in any business, and it certainly is true in the entertainment industry. And especially when you sign on to do a, show, those are really long, hard hours over generally weeks and months, and you want to be with people that you trust, you can have fun with, you’re comfortable with. So yes, you tend to hire the people that you have worked with before because you know what you’re getting.

Steve Cuden: Sure, sure. There’s a trust factor there.

Steve Cuden: And that really becomes very important. And sometimes that’s mistaken as favoritism when in fact it’s just people just know what you can do, who you are, and they can trust you.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, film directors do that too.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Maria Baltazzi: They have their dp, they have their editor, they have their team that they take from film to film. Now, similar in television, when you’re doing shows, you hire the people that have performed well for you.

Steve Cuden: It’s why sometimes people are accused of ageism when in fact they’re just bringing in their friends. That’s what happens. It’s a funny part of that business, but it’s true. So I’m curious for you. You’ve worked on lots of different competition shows, game shows, whatever you want to call them. What makes a good reality tv show good? What are those elements?

Maria Baltazzi: Well, actually, I’ve only worked on one. No, two competition shows. I’ve only done two. The rest have been docuseries or another form of unscripted. But I’ve only done two competition shows, at least that are coming to mind right now. Well, what makes it good are characters, interesting people to watch. They have something to say, they have charisma. You start with casting, and then it’s also, what is the premise? Is it a good idea? Is it something that, that is compelling that viewers will want to watch? And then it’s. It’s how you put your stories together, you know, is there conflict? Just like you would create a film, you, you want conflict, you know, you want those ebbs and flows, those ups and downs, and you want to think about how you’re shooting it. It was always important to me how something visually looked. You know, it wasn’t just, you know, pointing a camera and capturing whatever. I cared where that camera was placed.

Steve Cuden: It’s production. You’re not just totally faking it in the woods, you’re actually thinking about how you’re making it work, right?

Maria Baltazzi: Yeah. You’re thinking about your framing. You’re thinking about, do we want a low angle here? Do we want a moving camera? Do we want a camera that’s just static? Do we want to be in super, super, super tight? Do we want to see the environment and be wider? You know, do we want to shoot shallow depth of field? You know, you consider all of those.

Steve Cuden: Things as a producer of a show like survivor, were you essentially directing the way that the production was working?

Maria Baltazzi: Yes. Yes.

Steve Cuden: So you were beyond just a producer. You were also kind of a director as well?

Maria Baltazzi: You were a director. I mean, we were called producers because it wasn’t a guild show. so the same work that I was, doing on survivor was the same work that I did that got me into the director. I was already a director before I was hired on Survivor, but it was a non union show. And I believe, if I remember correctly, it was a non. They got away with not having it be a union show because we were shooting internationally, but we were directing cameras. I mean, you were telling your camera team what stories to follow. You were framing your interview shots with your cameraman. You know, you were suggesting where to place camera if you. You work very closely. Well, I did very closely with very talented cameramen.

Steve Cuden: You were in the field. You weren’t back in some village somewhere on a remote. You were actually in the field with all this happening?

Maria Baltazzi: Oh, yes. I only did these shows so I could travel. Years ago. There’s another show called Amazing Race, which is hosted by Phil Kogan. And Phil Kogan is a friend of mine, and a number of years ago, he said, maria, I have this really great show, that I want to do. It’s going to shoot all over the world. And will you come in and work as a supervising producer? And you can just handle everything from the office, and it’ll be really great. I’m like, Phil, what is it that you don’t know about me? I only do these shows so I can be. You think I want to sit at a desk while everybody else is going out and seeing the world? No, that’s not happening.

Steve Cuden: Well, two totally different things. You’ve got a, survivor. You’re in one location, more or less for the entire show, the run of the show. But the amazing race, you’re all over the world, right?

Maria Baltazzi: Right. Well, he didn’t call me up about the amazing Race. I mean, this happened years before he was doing the show. It was a completely different show.

Steve Cuden: But you still had to travel.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, he got to travel. I didn’t take the job because it would have been an office job, and that. That would have been just too hard on me. That’s the other decision that I made early on in my career, is that it had to be something that I would enjoy doing.

Steve Cuden: So I am curious. I am sort of a little bit opposite of you. I’ve traveled a bit, but I’m not, an inveterate traveler. And I am curious, what are the big challenges when you’re in production on a show where you are not at home, where you are on the road, whatever that means, what are those challenges for you?

Maria Baltazzi: Numerous.

Steve Cuden: Give us a few.

Maria Baltazzi: And it really depends on where you are in the world. A lot of what I’ve people done have been in pretty remote locations. I did a series for history, the History Channel, and it was taking four modern day explorers as they, ah, retraced the journey that Henry Morton Stanley did to find Doctor Livingston back in 1870. Doctor Livingston, I presume, and it was shot in Tanzania. We, started in Zanzibar, boarded one of those dhows that they have had even back then, to cross the water to come onto the mainland of Tanzania. And then we crossed Tanzania to Lake Tanganyika. So it was a 900 miles journey. And the further west we traveled, the less infrastructure there was. I was having to, if I was, say, in the middle of the country, I was having to send to the coast to get apples. You just didn’t have the same kind of resources if you had a, medical emergency, it wasn’t necessarily that easy to medevac somebody out, so. And the dangers were real. I mean, we were walking through the bush, there were lions, there were snakes, you know, there was things that could bite and sting you. My one explorer, halfway through at a town called Tabora, got Malaria, which is exactly where Stanley got malaria. So, I mean, the dangers are real and the challenges are real.

Steve Cuden: How do you prepare? Do you spend a lot of time thinking about those potentials before you go, or are you just getting in there and dealing with it?

Maria Baltazzi: Yeah, you do. And you scout, you send out people in advance, weeks, months in advance. In that particular case, we sent somebody to do the trail that we were going to be filming and go through all of the towns because we also had to get permission. You had to get location, permission because you were doing a historical journey, because, it was a particular region, then it was the town. So by the time you got through a town, you have gone through five layers of permissions. So you have to start weeks and weeks in advance, you know, to get all of that stuff. So it’s a lot of preparation before you go and shoot on location so.

Steve Cuden: You know where you really shouldn’t go, where it’s really dangerous and, you know.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, hopefully you do.

Steve Cuden: Right. But you try to suss out a route that is hopefully not going to kill you.

Maria Baltazzi: Right, right.

Steve Cuden: That would be my goal anyway.

Maria Baltazzi: Right, right. And that’s just one example. But early on, there was this cameraman that I worked with who used to love taking the newbies under his wings and kind of showing them the ropes. And one of the things that he said that I still think about today is he said, there’s always going to be a gremlin on your shoot. Every shoot has a gremlin. You just have to figure out what that Gremlin is.

Steve Cuden: I’ve worked on hundreds of stage shows, live theater, and there’s always a Gremlin on every show. But you overcome those gremlins and somehow they make things more interesting, I think.

Maria Baltazzi: And sometimes they make them better because.

Steve Cuden: It’S forcing you to be creative in some way, isn’t it?

Steve Cuden: I’ve always found that sometimes the things you don’t plan are the most creative inducing.

Maria Baltazzi: Right.

Steve Cuden: That’s always a fun thing. When that happens, how often would you be surprised by things that happened and how would you deal with them?

Maria Baltazzi: Oh, I don’t know that you can put an average a number to that.

Steve Cuden: Well, what kind of surprises did you meet? Give us an example of something that was like, really threw you for a loop. And how did you work out of it?

Maria Baltazzi: Oh, boy. Well, going back to that one show, since my head is in there, we had this storm that took out the roads, so I couldn’t deliver food and batteries to my camera teams.

Steve Cuden: Oh, wow.

Maria Baltazzi: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: And they’re out where there’s no electricity.

Maria Baltazzi: Not in the middle of the bush. No, there was no electricity. None. And we just had to figure out another route. We had to go way around where instead of making a direct path, because that road was just pure mud and no vehicle was going to get through it. We had to make this big circle to eventually get to them. So that’s an unexpected.

Steve Cuden: And you have to just kind of forge your way through it. Have you ever been completely stopped or shut down because of something like that?

Maria Baltazzi: I can honestly say I’ve never been shut down.

Steve Cuden: That is really impressive because you’ve done some very challenging shoots. Are reality shows or even reality or doing documentaries, are they scripted in advance in some way? Do you know what you’re going to try to do or are they truly real?

Maria Baltazzi: Well, it depends on the show you’re working on. Yeah, there. There are some shows that are soft scripted that you generally have some idea of what you want to have happen, and then there are the ones where you have the context where we’re playing this game and you let cameras roll and life happens and you are. Are you are capturing that.

Steve Cuden: So then you’re truly scripting it in post.

Maria Baltazzi: Right.

Steve Cuden: You’re making the show through editing.

Maria Baltazzi: Right. Right. For survivor, you’re watching what’s happening. You’re. You’re watching what the contestants are doing, and you’re choosing what stories you’re going to follow. And based on the action that you are watching, then you choose the, questions that you are going to ask the contestants. And so you start to shape your stories in the field, but then, you know, they really get solidified. Once you’re in post, you see everything that you have because some of the things that you follow, because of the nature of you’re just following it, you’re not scripting it. Some things just don’t pan out.

Steve Cuden: But some of what is in survivor is actually planned. That is to say, there’s competition moments in those shows.

Maria Baltazzi: Yeah, you put, you have to plan those. You can’t just have those sets. you know, you have to plan for those challenges that they do. They’re quite elaborate, so they have to be planned. And I did survivor for seven seasons. I was one of the original four producers on. On that series. And, and it. And it was having that front row seat of watching. Watching what the contestants would do. That was the catalyst, in part, for me eventually writing my book, because I had a front row seat of watching human behavior at its best and its worst. I always did the last episode. So I was with the contestants all the way through. There were so many times when I would hear contestants say, well, this isn’t really me. This is me playing a game. And, of course it’s them. Those were those words. Those were their actions. And what it did is that it started getting me to think about our potential, our capabilities. And I started to think, you know, we don’t really know what we are capable of doing until we are in that situation. So until you are in the situation on a remote island vying for life changing money, away from your creature comforts, your family and friends support system, you don’t really know how you are going to do that. And so when I started to think about happiness and well being, you don’t know how you are going to fare unless you are tested like the survivor contestants were, or you go out and explore it. And that’s really what my book is. It’s an exploration of, what makes you happy or what’s going to make you happier.

Steve Cuden: So what you’re talking about in storytelling, when we teach screenwriting and storytelling in general, when you take a character and put them into the crucible of some major obstacle or challenge, we learn who that character really is. That’s what you’re talking about, right?

Maria Baltazzi: Right.

Steve Cuden: And so it was a great segue. I was getting ready to talk about, take a shot at happiness. Tell us about the book. Tell us what it’s really about, what it was, your purpose in writing it.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, my purpose in writing it was, was to encourage other people to do what I did, which is become a happiness explorer, to make that exploration of what is going to make them a happier person in life. When I wrote the book, I was at a, place in my life where I didn’t feel anything was working. I didn’t feel my professional life was as I wanted, and I certainly didn’t feel like my personal life was as I wanted. And as I sat in my Los Angeles office feeling pretty down and pretty sad and pretty upset over. Over my life, I just said, this is not going to define me. I’m not going to stay here. And I made a very conscious choice that I wanted to be happy. And we go to school to learn to be teachers and doctors and lawyers and filmmakers. We’re not really taught how to manage our well being, how to be happy, how to live well. And so that’s when my journey into learning that began. It, started with a book, and then that led to a course and then certifications and eventually, a PhD. And what I did is, in my despair, I sat down and thought about, okay, what were the things that did work for me in my past, and what did I feel would work for me in my future? And I came up with a list of eight values, which are the, virtues and qualities. And by way of that, habits of happy people. I researched to see if there was science to back up what I had experienced and was intuitively feeling. And that became my dissertation and eventually the chapters, in my book. So that list of eight, that my chapter that comprised the chapters of my book, that list of eight has stayed the same. I ordered them differently a few years into my own journey. But that eight that I came up with when I was at my lowest point still holds true today.

Steve Cuden: That’s very interesting. You were totally influenced by your own internal issues, and let me make sure I’ve got the eight right. Faith, love, gratitude, forgiveness, peace, health, detachment, and abundance. Is that correct?

Maria Baltazzi: Yep, that’s it.

Steve Cuden: And so tell us a little bit about what you went through to get to resolving these things for yourself.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, it was a lot of coursework, you know, a lot of alone time, a lot of writing. There were many things that I journaled about that also ended up in my book.

Steve Cuden: Were you a journaler all the time? Did you journal all the way through your shows?

Maria Baltazzi: on and off. I actually was, cured of journaling on a daily basis for a couple of reasons. I felt that after a while, journaling as a daily thing became a bit of a chore, so it wasn’t as much fun, which is why in my book, I have journaling prompts. But they’re very specific. They’re specific to the concept that you’re writing about, along with, the camera, the phone camera. Photography prompts that work together. In many ways, taking photographs became its own kind of journal of visual journaling, if you will. Because what I was finding is that if I could just sit and focus on one thing that was bringing me a good feeling, joy, something positive. When I could just sit and focus on a rose that was beautifully lit by the morning sun and so had dew drops on it, it became its own meditation for me. I just thought about that and everything else fell away.

Steve Cuden: Were you always a, photographer? Obviously, you were directing photographers, but was that something you also did?

Maria Baltazzi: You know, that’s something that has always been an interest to me in many respects. I like taking a still more than working with the crew. And it’s because when you have a camera in your hand, whether it’s a phone camera or, you know, a bigger camera, when you have a still camera in your hand, and that is your only point of focus, you don’t have people talking in your ear, you don’t have somebody talking in front of you. You don’t have a whole bunch of people standing behind you with questions. You just have you, your camera, and that little frame of something you want to take a picture of. And there’s something that is very peaceful to me. So taking pictures was therapeutic, was meditative, and that’s why it became, such a critical part of my book. You know, take a shot at happiness. You know, the whole title is take a shot at happiness. How to write, direct, and produce the life you want. It’s a call to action, and it’s also what you do throughout the entire book. So when you read a chapter about the chapter about, gratitude, there’s eight bullet points within each chapter, and there’s eight chapters. And the use of eight was actually very intentional. If you put eight on its side, it’s infinity, and we’re always ebbing and flowing and growing. So there was a whole thought about the number eight. But when you read something, and then I ask readers to take a, photograph that relates to what you have just read and then journal about that image, what you are doing is you are taking an intellectual idea and integrating it into your heart. So you are personalizing what you are reading. You are integrating it in a way that works for you, thats relatable.

Steve Cuden: Its interesting. Im a photographer, too, and I find that photography is a second form of memory. A, photograph sits there for as long as you have that photograph, and you can always look back and you can kind of sometimes remember exactly what you were thinking and feeling at that moment and what the tone of the room was or the place you are or whatever it is, but it’s not the same as your actual memory. Memory is kind of a different thing. But they’re both forms of memory, aren’t they?

Maria Baltazzi: Well, they are. And the other thing about using camera phone photography as a way to integrate, the material that you’re reading is we think in pictures, and most of us have negative thoughts throughout the day. So we have 60 to 70,000 thoughts per day. Some of the research says that. So of that 60 to 70,000 thoughts a day, 85% of them are negative, and 95% of them are the same thought that you had the day before. So you are bringing up constantly negative imagery. And so when you are prompted to then go out into the world and find things that are positive, that are constructive, that are useful, that are meaningful, when you do this consistently enough, it becomes a habit. And as it’s becoming a habit, you are rewiring your brain in that you are creating a positive neural pathway towards the good and away from the bad. The negative, your well being just, starts to reshape. But the key is that it’s something that is consistent. You just don’t do it once, but you do it day after day after day.

Steve Cuden: So you brought the word up a moment ago, well being, which you write in the book as one word. W e L l B e I n g. As one word. You also have the word that you use, whole being. Tell us what whole being and well being are.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, I think the better descriptive is whole being, but most people understand better well being. You know, I prefer whole being because I think when it comes to our well being, it’s three dimensional. It’s mind, body and spirit. That’s why I use the word whole being, because you’re looking at everything. You’re not just looking at what’s going on in your head. You’re not just looking at your physical body, but you’re looking at everything and how everything works together or doesn’t work together. And where do you need to make those shifts?

Steve Cuden: And you are basically saying that if you can work toward whole being, you’re likely to become happy as a result.

Maria Baltazzi: Or at least happier.

Steve Cuden: Happier, sure.

Maria Baltazzi: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: And there are plenty of people that aren’t happy in their lives, and it’s a great place to start to try to come out of that, assuming you want to be happy. Not everybody wants to be happy.

Maria Baltazzi: I think that’s interesting. I think most people do choose that, to be happy. Well, I think there are people who. There’s some reward that they have by complaining, by being miserable. You know, there’s an attention that they get. So they do like that misery, if you will. But I think most people do want, if you ask them, you know, what do you want? They’ll say to be happy and to be happier.

Steve Cuden: I have one or two friends in life who live in the unhappiness and they are comfortable in it. And I think they don’t even realize they’re unhappy, that they’re living in it.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, that’s a different story. Not recognizing it and living in it, that’s different than saying, I like being unhappy.

Steve Cuden: So the first step is then to recognize that you’re unhappy.

Maria Baltazzi: Right. It’s the awareness.

Steve Cuden: Awareness. You have a beautiful quote. You have many quotes in here, and I’ve got a few, but you’ve got a really wonderful quote in here. Happiness is resilience wrapped in hopeful packaging. Explain.

Maria Baltazzi: Well, I think one of the reasons you want to explore what makes you happier or want to understand the values of happy people, or the core values that I’ve identified. This is what my belief says. The reason you want to understand the values or habits of happy people is, so as you become happier, it gives you the emotional tools, the better wherewithal, to navigate challenging times. So it’s more than just saying, oh, I want to feel good. And thinking that just because you make the choice to be happier and you do things that make you, that elevate your level of happiness, it doesn’t mean that you are always going to feel that. But what you are doing is by cultivating these emotional tools, you know, you are better able to have the awareness to see when you are coming into an upset, have the emotional tools to better navigate that emotional upset, and then come out, on the other side, being more emotionally intact. When I spiral out, I know I’m spiraling out. But I also know that I’m going to get to the other side of whatever is upsetting me, and I’m going to be okay.

Steve Cuden: And you now have the tools for it, right, exactly.

Maria Baltazzi: And that’s why you study that. And that’s why I say it’s resilience. You know, you learn these emotional tools so you can better handle life’s challenges.

Steve Cuden: Mm You also have, numerous times in the book, some sort of thought about what you call centering. Thoughts and affirmations. Explain what those do and how useful they are.

Maria Baltazzi: So the centering, after you read each bullet point, I use a, camera terminology through the book. It’s just, I thought it was a fun way to frame the book, if you will. Pun intended.

Steve Cuden: It all works.

Maria Baltazzi: So, the bullet points, I call them snapshots. So, after you read, a snapshot, I will give a centering thought, which will be just a couple of words. You know, one, you know, be present, you know, just, you know, a couple of words that. That will just center you. And then I give an affirmation, a positive affirmation that you can then think about. So these relates to what you just read. And it’s a way of helping to. It’s like putting a period, a big period or closure to what you just read and giving you a way to just take a moment to pause and reflect and use words to help you get centered and to affirm the positivity that you are just reading about.

Steve Cuden: It’s connected to whether or not you can use those tools. I think that if you, first of all, don’t recognize that you’re unhappy and you don’t have those tools, well, I guess you’re not going to get there anyway. But if you recognize it and don’t have the tools, there are ways. If you are a resilient person, right.

Maria Baltazzi: We all come into this world with a happiness set point. So you can think about happiness as being on a continuum, and we are different. Some people, like a couple of your friends that you have who live in an unhappy state and aren’t even aware of it, their happiness set point is probably pretty low, where you have somebody else who is always very perky and seeing the upside of things and laughs easily, they probably have high happiness set point. And this set point is what we come into the world. That is, if you’re. If you’re thinking of a, pie chart that 50% of your happiness is determined by your DNA, explain by what’s your parents.

Steve Cuden: It’s nature, not nurture or is it both?

Maria Baltazzi: It’s nature. It’s what you come in from your parents. It’s your biology. Then 10% is your life circumstance, and then 40% is your choice and intentional activities that you do to level up your well being, to level up your whole being, your happiness. So, in my mind, if you have 40% within your control, which is huge, you can affect that 10%, which is your life circumstance. And not to get deeply into epigenetics. However, for your genes to fire off, just because you are predisposed to something doesn’t mean that’s going to be so. You have to be in the right environment for those genes to fire off. You can also affect that 50% DNA that you have. So there is a lot that you have that is within your control, even if you’re looking at just half of it. Your 40% intentional activities that you can do to level up your happiness, or that 10% of your life circumstance, I mean, that’s. That’s half, at least, that you can affect. So you have so much within your control in terms of how you are in life, which is why it’s so important to be aware of, what are those virtues going back to? We’re not taught about how we can manage our well being.

Steve Cuden: No, we’re not taught that.

Maria Baltazzi: Yeah, but that is why it’s so important to read books like mine, because you discover that you can discover the things that you can do by intention to reshape your well being, your happiness.

Steve Cuden: Do you think that most people aren’t aware of when they are happy or unhappy? Is it just they’re just living, or do you think most people are totally aware of it?

Maria Baltazzi: I think it’s a mix. I think some people are more aware, or they’re more aware at certain times. I think that there was a lot of unconsciousness in terms of, being aware of happiness or state of being pre COVID. And I think there was a real awakening during COVID where, people started to look around and say, you know, I don’t like working inside four white walls. That’s not okay with me. I don’t like the way management is treating me. That’s not okay. I think why? We were seeing things like the great resignation, because people realized when they were staying home and working or not working, they were realizing that they had more choices. And those choices were impacting how they felt about themselves and how they felt about their relationships.

Steve Cuden: I think there’s another factor there, too, is that people had an, epiphany that life is short, that you can die quite quickly and easily in a pandemic like that, and that they wanted to live their lives more on their terms rather than the terms of some boss.

Maria Baltazzi: Right. I agree.

Steve Cuden: I think that’s a big part of it. You also have a lovely quote in the book. Faith is another word for courage. M. What is faith?

Maria Baltazzi: Faith is believing in. We all have some faith. I mean, even if that faith is you’re getting on a plane in Los Angeles and ending up in New York, that you will land safely and not be dropped over some place like Nebraska, that you’ll get from point a to point b.

Steve Cuden: Right?

Maria Baltazzi: Yeah. So we all have some kind of faith.

Steve Cuden: It’s not necessarily religious, correct.

Maria Baltazzi: I think religious faith is deeply, personal. I was baptized in the greek orthodox, christian faith, and I do go to church and I do practice it. However, I do not think I am religious. I think I’m very spiritual, but not religious. And I feel that way. And it may be splitting hairs, but it’s significant to me. I am open to all kinds of faith. It doesn’t have to be, a particular doctrine or a particular way. And, it’s the idea that you believe in something beyond you, whatever you call it, whether you call it the support of the universe or you call it the support of a God, whatever that is for you, that you feel that you are supported beyond yourself, it’s.

Steve Cuden: Something that you just, certainly the word faith means to me. You take something for what it is, and you’re may not know how it works or why it works or any of that, and yet you trust. And so when you go up in a high rise building or like you say in a plane, you trust you’re going to step out of an elevator and not fall. It’s, you know, 30 stories. You’re just walking on a floor that somebody has designed properly. It’s faith.

Maria Baltazzi: Right. And when you have that kind of faith, I think it gives you courage. It gives you courage to take those big swings in life. It gives you courage to take that step into the unknown because you feel that you have something beyond you that’s.

Steve Cuden: Cradling you and that’s part of your whole being. And as a nice way to use it as an adventurer.

Steve Cuden: What is transformative adventure?

Maria Baltazzi: Taking yourself out of your everyday world enables you to see things differently, open your mind, shift your perspective, see how someone else is living and go, oh, I didn’t know that that was a possibility. And that’s the transformation. I also have a travel company called Sojourn Explorers, where I take people mostly to Africa, but they are, it’s on the safari, we’re hiking the last hundred, kilometers of the Camino de Santiago. You know, you are doing some activity. Africa changed me as a human. And that’s. And that’s what I talk about when I refer to transformative travel, that you go to a destination, something happens, and it forever changes you. And you bring that back to your life and you, you live life differently because of that. So when I went to Africa, that happened for me. I, went to that continent being so afraid of whatever would bite, sting, chew, have me for an afternoon snack. But by the time I left, almost, you know, three months later, I was jumping out of vehicles that I wouldn’t ever get out of when I first arrived. And I just felt the age of the earth in such a profound, deep, stirring, sensual way. It transformed me and it made me adventurous. It made me want to see what’s around that next corner.

Steve Cuden: Travel seems to be transformative, even if it’s a short term travel and not in a big way. But what you’re talking about is very deep and profound.

Maria Baltazzi: Yes, I agree with you. You know, travel can be transformative even if it’s a four day stay in a cabin that is not your home, in your own home state.

Steve Cuden: Right. It’s why people love to travel, just to kind of shift what rut they’re in. And it just changes who you are, because you’re getting a different point of view, different, totally different perspective on life, and you’re meeting people you’ve never met before and so on. But what you’re talking about, I think, correct me if I’m wrong, when you say transformative adventure, it’s a bigger thing. It’s a safari, it’s climbing, kilimanjaro. It’s that kind of a thing. Yes.

Maria Baltazzi: Right. Something that’s gonna. That’s gonna really push you. You’re gonna be, if you’re on the Camino walking for 9 hours, you’re tired, your feet hurt, and you’re doing this day after day. So you are summoning something inside of you to get up that next, you’ve.

Steve Cuden: Definitely got to reach down deep in that case.

Steve Cuden: Because you’re pushing your body to its limits. You’re overcoming fear and stress and exhaustion. So all those things just what sort of plays out in survivor is you’re trying to figure out how to survive. I’m also going to assume you don’t push people out in transformative adventures into a place where they’re not going to survive. There’s something about it that’s relatively safe.

Maria Baltazzi: Oh, you have to make sure that people are safe. You can’t be cavalier about someone’s life.

Steve Cuden: It’s not Teddy Roosevelt out in the.

Maria Baltazzi: No, no, no. Frankly, it’s bad for business, for the country. It’s bad for the Safari lodge or where or wherever you’re going. It’s just. It’s not good if somebody gets hurt and badly hurt because, you know, people were being irresponsible.

Steve Cuden: So I’ve been having absolutely one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve had in some time with Maria Baltazzi about her book take a shot at happiness, as well as her work on Survivor. We’re going to wind the show down a little bit right now, and I’m just wondering, all these experiences you’ve had, are you able to share with us something that, beyond what you’ve already told us, is either weird, quirky, offbeat, strange, or just plain funny?

Maria Baltazzi: I was shooting, and I write about this in my book, I was shooting, with a small crew in Hawaii on the big island, and we had gone out onto a lava field where no tourists were supposed to go. I mean, we were. That’s one of the nice things about doing what I do, is you get access to places that most people don’t get access to, to. So, yes, we were very privileged to be walking on this lava field at the bottom well, near a bottom of a volcano. And there was this electric ribbon that was flowing out of the volcano. And as that electric ribbon was hitting the water, there was this big plume of steam that was just going so high, like skyscraper, tall, high of just the steam that was coming off. And as I was watching this, I was mesmerized by it. And just the realization that we’re watching earth being formed. Lava is coming out of a volcano, coming down its side and into the water and getting hardened and becoming an extension of land. It’s becoming a new piece of the land. And that thought just boggled my mind, that we were actually able to witness something so incredible. And the crew that I was with, they just could not stop talking. They were joking around. They could have been anywhere having the same conversation. There was such a lack of appreciation for that moment. And I was so, like, guys, just five minutes. Don’t say anything. Five minutes. And they could not do it. and I had to walk away because I wanted to be present. I wanted to be present to see something as magnificent and as special as that, that is a memory that is so vivid in my mind. And I am so grateful that I had the wherewithal to just walk away and let those guys do whatever they wanted to do. And I was able to be present and appreciate what was so special about that moment.

Steve Cuden: It’s amazing. we’re living in a time and age where people don’t pay attention to the world around them. They’re stuck in their cell phones, they’re stuck in their computers and so on. So what you’re talking about is appreciating the real world that’s actually happening. Not Disneyland, not fantasyland. It’s the real world. It’s fascinating that people are paying no attention to that whatsoever. So, last question for you today, Maria. You’ve given us enormous, great thoughts to think about all the way through the show. But I’m wondering, do you have a solid piece of advice or a tip that you can lend to those that are either starting out in the business, or maybe they’re in a little bit and trying to get to that next level, or that could apply as well to the happiness business as well as.

Maria Baltazzi: The entertainment industry when it comes to writing. I’ll share something that was shared with me by, a friend of mine who is the co author of the killing series. His name is Martin Dugard and he writes with Bill O’Reilly. And they do the killing Lincoln, killing Patton. I mean, it’s just, a whole killing. Jesus Christ. Killing the mob. I mean, they have a whole series of books. And when I was going on my writing journey, he said, with your drafts, be ruthless. I mean, really think about the words. What do you need? What can you toss away and then read everything out loud. Because the way you read it versus the way it sounds, once you are saying it out loud, it’s a different experience than when you, read it out loud. You catch things that you wouldn’t otherwise catch. So that was so valuable. And just proofread, proofread, proofread, proofread. No matter how many times you proofread, there’s still going to be something you miss. That’s, my advice from Mister Dugard, which I value very much. And then in terms of the entertainment industry and getting in whenever you are getting your first jobs, be the very best at it. If it’s getting coffee, be the best copy getter there is. No matter what it is, take pride in what you’re doing and do it to your level best, because it will get noticed and then you’ll get promoted on, because the thought is, well, if you can make and not have an attitude about, oh, I’m just, you know, the one getting the coffee or, you know, getting snacks for the crew. If you can do that with pride, it gets noticed. And people will want to help you because they see that. That you value whatever you, because no matter what position it is, it’s valuable. That position would not exist if there wasn’t a need. So wherever you are, do the very, very, very best you can.

Steve Cuden: I think that’s spectacular. Three pieces of advice. Because, yes, the business is especially, I think, in, Hollywood, it’s all about connections from one person to the next. And you’re not in a factory, where you’re literally putting a bolt onto a part somewhere. You’re actually doing things that require people to notice whether you’re capable or not. So what you’re talking about is doing the very best you can so people will then think, oh, you can also do x, y, or z as well, and take an interest in you. That’s really phenomenal advice. And I can’t encourage people enough to do the very best jobs they can. No matter what it is, whether you’re cleaning up after somebody or whether you’re at the top of the food chain, it doesn’t matter.

Maria Baltazzi: Yeah, exactly.

Steve Cuden: Maria, I cannot thank you enough for this. This has been a wonderful hour plus on StoryBeat today, and I’m just really impressed by your great wisdom, your amazing energy for going all around the world like that, and certainly for all of the wonderful thoughts that you’ve given us today. So I thank you kindly.

Maria Baltazzi: Thank you so much. This has been such a privilege and such a treat, and I’ve so enjoyed our conversation together.

Steve Cuden: and so we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you liked 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. Story, beat 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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