THE IMPERFECT SHOW NOTES
To help make this podcast more accessible to those who are hearing impaired or those who like to read rather than listen to podcasts, here are our show notes.
These show notes come via the Otter.ai service. The transcription is imperfect. But hopefully, it’s close enough – even with the errors – to give those who aren’t able or inclined to learn from audio interviews a way to participate.
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 00:00
You know, those defining moments that you have, I was at a dinner at a professor’s house. And it was all MIT, Harvard and Boston University economics professors around the table. And they were talking that night about what was going to be the impact of the impending gasoline tax in Peru, on the economy. And I sat there and I watched, and I watched the internal computers just start calculating. So I just said, Excuse me, excuse me, what’s going to be the impact on the poorest of the poor on the marginal populations? And a him it was one of those moments. There used to be an advertisement when EF Hutton speaks, everybody listens. And everybody stopped. They looked at me, and then they continue talking.
Achim Nowak 00:58
Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach and host of the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your FOURTH ACT? I have conversations with exceptional humans, who have created bold and unexpected FOURTH ACTS. Listen, and to be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you are listening on. Let’s get started. I am so delighted to welcome Ellie cost to the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. Ellie is a renaissance woman. She holds a PhD in economics and has served as an educator and management consultant for more than three decades. She is also an author and artist and activist and a coach. In every aspect of her life, Ellie pushes the limits to draw of life’s essence and fullness. And to surface the extraordinary Lea divides her time between homes in San Francisco and Ken cop. And today as we record this conversation, Ellie is on a two month sojourn in Ecuador, where she also has a home. And I want to talk all about that a welcome, Ellie.
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 02:16
Thank you. Thank you for having me. This is really a pleasure and an honor. I appreciate pleasure.
Achim Nowak 02:23
I would just thinking, Gosh, that was a very cosmopolitan introduction. I just gave you a right. I think when that talks about magic and beauty and places, and you’re blessed to live in some stunning places, but before we go there, when you’re a young girl or teenager growing up and somebody asked you la What do you want to do when you grow up? What was on your mind?
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 02:45
There were two answers to that. I want to be a baseball player. And I want to be a nuclear physicist. Those were the two things I wanted. I mean, body and mind. The nuclear physics went out the window with chemistry in high school. The baseball never went out the window. But as you know, at the time, I was growing up. Girls didn’t play baseball, they were not allowed to play and literally my brother got to play I didn’t get to play. Yeah. Even as early as fifth grade. I remember the list. A sixth grade list is sixth grade, we had a picnic. And the boys wouldn’t let the girls play. And they hit a ball into the outfield. So I ran and got it and I wouldn’t give it back to them until they let me play game when it gets better. It gets better because you give me sports weaves in and out of my whole life. And then when I was in college and graduate school, I would go back to Lexington where I grew up on the weekends and we would play baseball, softball, and I remember one time and I was the pitcher was slow pitch high art. My friend Doug Fox gets up there and goes la give me something I can hit. I said okay, Dougie for you. I’ll give you something you can hit. So he hits a homerun. And then I’m thinking, I’m remembering this. I’m remembering this. Then I was injured playing lacrosse. And it was probably about five or six weeks later, I came up and I had to be the first he had to be the first batter up. I had to bring two balls out to the mound because he never swung at the first pitch. So the only people that knew what was going to go on was me, myself and the catcher and I went up with a grapefruit painted white and a softball. So the first pitch was a softball. Dougie almost swung at it. But he didn’t and then I threw the softball. I think before it crossed the plane. I was on the ground laughing hysterically. He hits it, and if you’ve ever seen the softball explode, they absolutely disintegrate. So he’s looking out in the outfield. The boy So on in my infield, one of them, my shortstop thinks the balls coming to him. And I’m just lying there hysterical, I got even. And that’s, you know, it’s kind of in my baseball. playing baseball
Achim Nowak 05:14
is the moral of the story that you eleve had been an instigator for a long time you
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 05:21
know it, the title of my business cards is it should disturber with a purpose.
Achim Nowak 05:26
I love that story during baseball, softball, I’m hearing visitors, but a marveled at the fact that you ended up getting a PhD in economics, which again, through my lens, that would friggin terrify me. So what drew you to that?
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 05:42
So as an undergraduate, I created my own major. And my major was an international comparative studies focused around development. i It’s very, very captivated by development around the world globally. And it’s like, okay, whether it’s social, political, economic, at that time, I was also interested in one of my gifts is I see things in numbers that other people don’t, I have a gift for mathematics. And I’m a nerd at heart. I wanted to get a PhD in mathematical models and political science.
So I just say that three times, yeah, I really can’t. But
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 06:23
even at MIT, they didn’t have that. They only had like one course there. I sent away for my applications in political science, and I send them back in and economics. That’s how I’ll do economics. It was kind of on a whim, in
Achim Nowak 06:39
my mind with a PhD in economics that tends to predispose people towards some kind of academic or think tank career. Is that what you want? Yes,
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 06:49
it was moving into the academic. In my heart, I’m an educator, whether it was teaching swimming as a teenager, I love educating in the literal sense of educate means comes from the edge Caray to draw out from within, and the subject matter at the end of the day doesn’t matter. You can use anything, anything, any example you want. So yes, I started in academia in economics. And then I morphed into organizational leadership and transformation. Because again, it was like one of those moments when you know, those defining moments that you have, I was at a dinner at a professor’s house. And it was all MIT, Harvard and Boston University economics professors around the table. And they were talking night about what was going to be the impact of the impending gasoline tax in Peru, on the economy. And I sat there and I watched, and I watched the internal computers just start calculating. I just said, Excuse me, excuse me, what’s gonna be the impact on the poorest of the poor on the marginal populations. And a him it was one of those moments, there used to be an advertisement when EF Hutton speaks, everybody listens, remember. And everybody stopped. They looked at me. And then they continued talking, it was as if they could not embrace, they could not wrap their head or their heart around what’s going to be the human impact of what they’re talking about. And at about that time, I have the privilege of meeting Warren Bennis, who is working on Transformative Leadership. So I started morphing. And I was very fortunate in my academic careers, I was able to convince the schools whether it was Bentley college, or whether it was UMass Lowell, to let me also teach in management and develop really innovative course.
Achim Nowak 08:58
So here’s my mind is going and I just for our listeners to Ellie and I hung out socially, so know a little bit about you. But I’m learning some things that I didn’t know before. I also know that part of your brand or part of your slogan is that you’d like to dismantle the box. Yes. When I think of university teaching, I think of lots of rules and regulations and things you have to follow and, and lots of committee meetings and lots of approvals. And ongoing. How did you navigate that playground?
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 09:27
I didn’t. at UMass Lowell, my first year there, the President because somebody recommended put me on a committee the to serve on a committee on the impact of the freshman year, and how you could bolster retention through the freshman year, I was the most junior person and everybody else is talking about, uh, what can we get? And I said, No, no, no, no, let’s go to what do we want? And I kept pushing this conversation people that had like 1020 years more tenure. This all costs me tenure, because this was about action. In the end, we recommended 21 things and 20 got funded. The only thing that didn’t get funded was ropes course. But it was a real lesson in I had been researching and writing about and working on the power of vision, and the power of aligning action with vision and values. So no, I didn’t. It cost me you know, my not navigating because I am not a rule follower. In that sense. You’re absolutely right about that. It cost me getting tenure.
Achim Nowak 10:38
But my sense is, the more rules we break. If we’re lucky, we find allies and we have our own tribe, and we’re a tribe of Rule Breakers. If we become marginalized, then we become the outsider. And whatever frustrations people have can be projected and dumped onto us if we’re put into the outside or box, which is another box.
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 11:06
i You’re absolutely right about that. You know who my allies were, which is highly unusual for academia, were the students, the learners, and the administration, the other academics. I mean, you know, I taught economic development, and I woke up in the middle of the night, before one year, and I said, you know, I can teach everything I know about development. But unless these kids go to a developing country, because they’re first generation, New Englanders who’ve never been out of New England, they’re not going to get it. So for two years running, we went to the Dominican Republic for a week. And they had to raise the money. So every student who wanted to go could go, and I had faculty members, the first year, we had a card partially donated. And it was like, Well, what are you going to do? If you don’t raise the money? And it was like, I wanted to say, Gee, thanks, loads. And I would just say, we will raise the money. I have faith in these kids. I mean, to this day, I am I’m still in communication with a lot of students that I’ve had over the years, because they were my allies. I mean, when you can get somebody to enjoy, enjoy learning statistics. So there’s something I did, right?
Achim Nowak 12:31
Because you’re a visionary. And we’ll talk about other aspects of your life in a moment. But but I’m also thinking, so other academic institutions, universities, places of higher learning where you go, Oh, yeah, this is what it can be. Or are there places in the world where le things? Yeah, they got this right. Or are most of them your mind, in some way constraining learning by being overly rule process room?
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 13:01
I think there are pockets where they’re getting there. I’ve cultivated a relationship with the current dean of arts and sciences at Boston University. I have his ear, when that whole thing came down about the admissions, you know, from the Supreme Court. And my reaction was the antithesis everybody else. I said, Oh, how cool now, no boxes, no boxes, and you can ask compelling questions to get a more diverse population, a more robust population. And I was having lunch with Stan the next day. I laid it out for him. I said, you’re just gonna have to triple the budget now for admissions because it’s going to be more one on one. And really probing and asking, like, what was the most defining moment in your life, things like that, that will get at real, honest diversity? And he said, Oh, my God, I wish I had talked to you before I send an email out to my staff. Like I said, Well, you can send another email out now. But I think there are pockets Hakim, just like there are pockets in public and private education, where they are beginning to do things, in my opinion, right? Of really focusing being learner centered. But at the end of the day, the rules and the regulations, I push back against it even from outside. I can’t answer that question by saying, yes, definitively there is this program or that program, it still comes down to being the focus of who is the educator. And I think we had the conversation. If everybody learned EFC II read The Tao of space of holding space, it’s magnificent document, if what we share with all educators from K through 20, whatever was how to hold space for the learners, I think, to me, that would be the most critical success factor. Because it takes you out of it.
Achim Nowak 15:24
I’m thinking because I want to talk a little more about being in the box, breaking the box, destroying the box, getting out of the box. And I want to ask you, and I’m thinking about myself, but also for our listeners, no matter how curious, we think we are about life in the world. Sometimes without knowing it, we end up in a box for a while, right? It happened, not always chosen by us. It just happens and our box becomes a little too small. And how do you know for yourself, le when it’s time for you to move on from something when you go? I’m done with this? I don’t need to be in this particular when I use the box as a metaphor. How do you know that it’s time to move on?
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 16:07
It’s a really, really good question. And I’m just kind of reflecting on some of the decisions I’ve made over the last decade. So for instance, I spend a lot more time now on Cape Cod, as opposed to in San Francisco. San Francisco is beautiful. I’m not going to argue that in a heartbeat. And as beautiful as the natural scenery is, there is a sense of community lacking now Cape Cod’s not too shabby. Yet, what I have on the cape is real sense of community. What I have experiencing here in Ecuador, is community whether it’s the local Ecuadorians, or some of the expats here, is that sense of community of Oh, you don’t get any food for dinner? Now come on over, Oh, do you need a ride here? We’re going here and you need a ride, things like that. It’s our priceless, having, you know, kind of an arc of ages and diversity. And you know, whatever, really makes life fuller. For me, I think it’s when I start stopping to notice if I’m getting depressed. And I don’t mean clinically depressed, but really, like, I’m not happy. I mean, I can I can find things in any situation that will bring me happiness. But is there this underlying current, I’m not happy. I think if I look back, there have been a lot of times where I’ve acted on that later than I would have liked.
Achim Nowak 17:54
A word from your sponsor, that’s me. I invite you to go to the website associated with this podcast www.my, fourth active.com, you will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth X, please check it out. And now back to the conversation. I want to add a whole there’s so many layers to what you do le because we’ve talked about le the educator and nerd. But I also know you as an artist, as a studio, who creates work, who photographs who exhibits on the Cape, maybe other places only know from the Cape. And that may seem antithetical to the woman who has the PhD in economics. So where does that desire, curiosity come from? One,
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 18:58
we’re living in turbulent times. There’s no question about that. Second thing is I’ve always taken pictures, I was taking pictures in high school, I was taking pictures in college, people used to say, you know, when are you going to do more of that. And so now it became time to do more of it. When I started noticing, it probably started somewhat with COVID. But after COVID and with all the turbulence that we’re going through, is when I would go out and I would watch the sunset every day. All of that will melt away is this notion of being in nature. So for some people, it’s being in the woods, other people it’s walking along the beach for me, it’s the sunsets over the marsh. I started going out to exactly the same place every day and taking pictures. And then I thought, You know what, I’m going to just post these and see if people will take that moment out of their lives. Because I just started noticing the noise, the fear, the outrage that so many people express on an ongoing basis. And it’s like asking that question, how do you shut that up? And I don’t mean shut people up. But how do you stop that noise? I found for me, it has been as simple as being in nature. And so I started posting those pictures. Pretty soon, people are like, Oh my god, I love this. Oh, my God, you need to have a show. You need to do this, you need to do that. So this summer, I had a show of almost two years 100 sunsets. Okay. And I could have had 1000
Achim Nowak 20:49
There’s so much I love about what you just said. But also, I think we live in a society where people are maybe overly strategic. And you’re just describing what I would call emergence and how something is merged. And it grew and people responded to it and became something else. But it came out of a deep enter. Interest need desire that Yeah, yeah,
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 21:15
it was not strategic. It wasn’t like this calculated, oh, I’m gonna do this. Oh, I’m gonna post this. It was more of let me post it. And then I started noticing, wow, people are just eating this up in a in a soulful way. In the soul, when
Achim Nowak 21:32
somebody who doesn’t know you could be listening to the conversation going, well, this woman la cause probably a wealthy socialite, and now she has this. This has a place in San Francisco. She has a place on the cape. Well, we’ll talk about Ecuador in a moment. The LSE I know you live in a beautiful house on the Cape, but it’s a simple house in the woods. It’s homey, but not grand. Yeah, the so maybe just describe because this simplicity to your life. Would you describe that a little bit and give us a snapshot of what your house and everyday life on the cake looks like for you.
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 22:10
Let’s start with color.
Achim Nowak 22:12
Let’s start with color.
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 22:14
Let’s start with color. It’s important for me to have color in my home. And one of the things I’m doing here in Ecuador in our home here is slowly transforming because we it just was finished in April, it was all white. I’m slowly transforming it into colors. For me, it’s always finding ways to bring color into the home, to feel a warmth in the home like the home is going to take care of you. And at the same time, my homes, they’re not formal. So people can just come in, they can plop on the sofa. I may make them take their shoes off, but they can flop on the sofa. It’s like no standing on ceremony. It’s important to houses a home.
Achim Nowak 23:03
Know what all of you know. I mentioned your wonderful husband Oscar. What called you an Oscar to Ecuador. How did Ecuador show up in your life?
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 23:14
This is one of those defining moments for sure. I would love to learn about it. During COVID as other people did, I took to scrolling through Instagram. And the first thing I bought on Instagram with some jewelry was some earrings. The next thing I bought on Instagram was some clothing. And then I bought we bought a house I bought a house on
Achim Nowak 23:37
no no stop. Explain. Please. I am I
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 23:39
am backing up. So I stumbled on this feed on Instagram for a community called Oceanside farms in a little place called porta kayo. In Ecuador. I looked at it and I’m scrolling. It’s a it’s a new community that’s built around a little sustainable farm its focuses on they use the word gastronomy. I’ll just the phrase good food, see the table farm to table and on community. And I thought the community had been built. We were house number three. So it wasn’t built. You were a pioneer. It was like I said to ask her I showed him the pictures. I said Oscar, I want to live there. And his response was Cheryl. When I receive Sherrill I said No really, I want to live there. It took a year for us to get 10 months to get into communication with the developers. And then it took another six months to get down here because of COVID restrictions. We actually broke ground and paid for the house before seeing before being here. And there was a lot of synchronicity that went along with this. It really really really went along with for instance, they talked about how they were raising money for An alternative school import to Kayo for the local people. And when I looked the architect of the school and I don’t mean the physical architect, I mean, the educational architect, it’s a gentleman and I can’t remember his name from Brazil, who’s building the schools around South America, for American framework, I would say they’re Montessori on steroids, grounded in sustainability, and very project oriented. So I did some research into what he was doing. And I turned to Oscar, I said, Gee, Oscar, I said, Gee, this all sounds familiar. I could have written it. Oh, wait, I did write this. Three years ago, I wrote this for XQ super school. This is I almost identical. So I sent it to one of the co founders, and I said, Shawn, I said, here’s the synchronicity on this, and he goes, Oh, my God. And then when we got down here, we stayed in this house where we are right now and Wendy and David, and I’m sitting at brunch, I’m sitting at brunch one day, I’m scrolling through my open tabs. And all of a sudden, from 2018, a theme from 2018. I find this article that Wendy had written about building sustainable communities around farms. I had bookmarked it then. So there were a lot of things that kind of fell into place. But neither of us had any roots in Ecuador. At one level, it was impulse. And another level, I would say, you asked about the you brought up the notion of magic. Yeah, this particular Bay, absolutely has magic in it. And this particular bay that is out here and forth to Kayo is the end point, almost the endpoint for the whales that come from Antarctica up before they to calve and give birth before they go back. So there is something very magical here. And it’s like talking to people, it’s like, with all the chaos in the US it’s like, and if need be, we have our escape plant.
Achim Nowak 27:12
Now, I’m going back to a moment a few minutes, because you’re talking, you’re blessed to have a companion and Oscar Cuban for a long time. And my hunch is not everybody has an Oscar who says, Sure, let’s build a house in Ecuador. Describe, and I’ve met a skirt. And I think you do have just on the outside navigated a marvelous relationship where you get both get to be who you are. That’s my sense. Yes. Would you describe that to our listeners? Like how do you have a relationship where you can say to your partner, I want to go to Ecuador and build this house? And he says, Sure, let’s do it.
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 27:48
I don’t think he thought I was being serious. No, I, first of all, you’re absolutely right. I have a partner who is willing to take the chances. And I think the point at which it convinced him was very early on when we first got together, and I walked in his house, and his house was all white, over a period of a year to two years, I transformed it from a house to a home, I think. And he talks about that. Also, it’s like I think at some fundamental level. It was like that’s where he came to trust my instincts on big decisions. This
Achim Nowak 28:30
is called the my fourth eye podcast. And hopefully listeners can hear that you’ve had multiple acts already. And more acts are presenting themselves. Yes. So what I’m curious about as a visionary, do you envision other things? Do you just let them evolve? Are the things you want to do that you’ve never done? Before you go, this is the time to do it? Or how does Elliot think about the future? You
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 28:53
know, it’s interesting, a theme, because the whole aspect we haven’t talked about was my pioneering lacrosse in Northern California, and learning about the differences between men and women in sports. And being one of the pioneers behind Title Nine, which is a whole other avenue.
Achim Nowak 29:14
We didn’t talk about it because I didn’t know that. So we take a few minutes to talk about that. We
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 29:19
can but it’s like you asked me the question of how these things emerge. So the lacrosse I played lacrosse growing up I was privileged to play in a public high school because I had a teacher who was on the US women’s lacrosse team and I fell in love with the sport. at Bentley college. One of the kids there came to me and said hey, we were gonna start lacrosse at Bentley. Would you be our advisor I said if I can coach I will. Now this was men’s lacrosse. So I proceeded to coach men’s lacrosse at the university level in the early 80s. Fast forward to when I got to California in the early 90s Indy’s closer to the year 2000 I get a Christmas letter from a friend saying, Oh, our son, Addison, who’s a hockey goalie is going to play lacrosse. In high school. I honest to god innocently said, Oh, that was my sport. I actually coached a bunch. Within an hour, I am getting emails saying we need you, we need your help. And I started a program at Woodside High School, I started a program at Sacred Heart prep, in Menlo Menlo Park in California. And the first year, the girls couldn’t get it together to have their own team. And so because of Title Nine, they got to plan the boys team. On the men’s team, it was fascinating to see what I ended up calling it was raging estrogen versus raging testosterone, the estrogen needed to talk the testosterone needed to be physical and touch each other punch. And the estrogen needed to if anything happened around them. It was like, Oh, my God, what did I do? What did I do and the boys anything happened around him. It’s his fault, blaming it on somebody else. So it’s like learning to navigate coaching of two fundamentally different styles was fascinating. And I really, really came to believe that the differences between men and women is much more biological than we give it credit for. It’s hormonal, it has to do with the hormones. Make sense? To me? Yeah. Yeah. It’s like everybody wants to it’s nature versus nurture. And it’s like, yeah, nature has a lot to do with it. And you can support boys and learning how to be senior to the impulses. And you can coach girls to say, excuse me, you do not have the luxury feeling sorry for yourself. Get back in the game and let it go. So it was so revealing for me, but yeah, I and then I worked with kids in the more vulnerable communities. So it’s always coming back to it’s always been this body, mind and spirit without my knowing it.
Achim Nowak 32:24
And I get that. And I feel like the through line of the conversation is you are open to what was emerging. And you paid. Exactly. And you ran with it. Exactly. Yeah. Which is powerful. Let’s just vision a year from now. And you know, the world is messed up. But if we think of Ellie and Oscar life choices, let me just paint this. So I’m curious, is that Lee gonna continue to spend most of our time that cake, but also part of the year in Ecuador? Is she gonna keep going back to San Francisco? Is she going to start photographing in Ecuador, like what she’s doing on the Cape, like what’s percolating for you?
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 33:02
It’s all TBD, to be determined. It’s like I tell people, it’s like, like you said, I’m working hard to allow it to unfold. That brings us full circle back to the relationship with Oscar and I, yeah, is that when we met and we got together? Our mantra was allowing it to unfold. And I think right now, it’s about allowing it to unfold. It’s like here, it’s important to us that we build community with the local people. We didn’t come to Ecuador to hang out with Americans solely. So I can’t tell you Yes, I will go back to the Cape. The Cape has like a giant piece of my heart, San Francisco, we may let go of within the next two years. We’re working in that we just have more to dissolve, you know, in terms of furniture and stuff like that. Sure. Is, you know, as you move. Yeah, it’s a big project. Where this is going to take us I don’t know. I don’t know. I know that there’s more traveling we want to do you know, we have friends all over the planet. We’ll continue building more friendships around there and focusing on what does it mean to be a productive global citizen? I think that’s at the core of all of it. Beautiful,
Achim Nowak 34:20
because you are a creator. You have a website where people can check out your art and your work. Would you kindly let our listeners know where they can take a look at the stuff that you create?
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 34:33
Yeah, my website is Le K e l l e k.com. That has a whole bunch of my art. And then also I need to see what my Facebook is Le k and that has a lot of my art. You are on Instagram as well. And I am Instagram and that’s le K creates on Instagram and creates HeZI on the end. Yes, I think That’s a you know, you can’t always get to it. But it’s le K and anybody can reach me on the website or you can reach me on Facebook. Easy peasy on Facebook, I have other things that I post that are designed to give people pause in the world because I think that’s what we need more than anything right now. I saw appreciate this, I
Achim Nowak 35:22
think well thank you for the gift of this conversation. It helps me appreciate even more who you are and, and how you navigate life. It’s an inspiration. So thank you.
Ellee Koss, Ph.D. 35:33
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Achim Nowak 35:37
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