SHE-POWER Men: Inside the Beautiful Mind of Charlie Gilkey

by Kelly on August 8, 2008 · 28 comments

in Life. People. News


Today, I’m excited to introduce my second SHE-POWER Man, Charlie Gilkey from Productive Flourishing. I’ll try not to gush, but I’m a big fan of Charlie’s. Not only is he one of the most sincere and insightful bloggers I have ‘met’ since starting SHE-POWER, but his blog really is one of a kind. Intelligent. Motivating. Thought provoking.

Though Productive Flourishing is listed on Alltop as a Lifehack blog, and has been featured on, Lifehacker, and other top-tier productivity blogs, it is so much more than another productivity site.

Charlie is an accomplished teacher of Philosophy, who writes from the perspective of someone who actually has problems he’s trying to solve. Productive Flourishing combines his questions about the human condition and how we can live more successful and meaningful lives, with some very practical planning tools to help everyday people become more productive.

Of course, having such a fascinating interviewee put the pressure on me to ask some challenging questions that would be worthy of Charlie’s brilliant mind. Let me know how you think I did.

Charlie Gilkey talks soul mates, vagabonding, feminism and ethical dilemmas

My mother always told me…

Go out and create opportunities for yourself and don’t wait for them to show up on your doorstep. People who learn to help themselves rarely have trouble finding help when they need it.

My most defining moment was…

When Angela and I backpacked through Europe while we were in College. Being on the road with my then-girlfriend (now wife) in countries where we didn’t speak the language truly taught us who we were and what we loved, and when we returned to the States, the world around us (including our hometown) was so different. Vagabonding is an experience that everyone should have at least once in his or her life.

The qualities I admire most in people are…

People who can excel personally while not forgetting about other people. I see a lot of people, offline and online, that use people as pawns in their rise – and once they get to the top, they don’t turn around and help those who have helped them.

In a collective activity, individual successes are strongly dependent on the efforts and support of the group, but too often we (especially Westerners) are so individualistic, we forget about others once we’ve gotten what we want. I really admire people who actively work to spread their good fortune. I’m not saying that I’m particularly good at this, either, but I try.

Pioneering female broadcaster, Pauline Frederick once said: “When a man gets up to speak, people listen, then look. When a woman gets up, people look; then if they like what they see, they listen”. Agree or disagree?

Unfortunately, I agree. Gender roles are so completely socialized that the basis for which we judge men and women is radically different. It’s especially hard for powerful women and sensitive men. The sexes are expected to act differently, and there’s a lot of social pressure on those people who have “traits of the opposite sex” to conform and get in line. The sad part is that a lot of us recognize the problem, yet we repeat the same patterns with our children.

As long as our social institutions associate women with beauty, elegance, and domesticity and men with strength, intelligence, and breadwinning – especially in the fairy tales and heroes we present to our children – we will continue this division that generally disadvantages women.

There are more than two sexes, and gender is on a continuum – until we realize that, we will continue to judge females by feminine standards and males by masculine standards, and a large portion of humanity will continue to be unhappy as they try to wear shoes that don’t fit.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

More self-discipline. I can plan and evaluate ’til the cows come home but I have the hardest time following through with a plan or making changes after an evaluation. This problem manifests itself on my blog where I don’t complete series or write posts that I’ve said I will, and this is a large reason why I’m so behind on my dissertation. The good news is that I’ve made some real progress this year – a lot of it by using principles I’ve written about on Productive Flourishing.


Is there anything in your life that you truly regret? What did you learn from that experience?

We were sitting on the pier in Nafplio, Greece. It was a perfect evening, the sun was receding, and dolphins were dancing across the sparkling blue sea in the distance. The light on the lighthouse was just beginning to warm up, and we were reflecting on how amazing our trip had been thus far and how excited we were about the next few weeks. We sat, hand in hand, and both knew it was the right time for me to ask my girlfriend (my current wife) to marry me. I opened my mouth and began to say the words -and then thought about the fact that I didn’t have a ring, was still relatively poor, and couldn’t give her the life I thought she wanted – and looked away. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you blow a once-in-a-lifetime moment to ask the love of your life to marry you.

What I learned from that occasion is that there are times in your life where you just need to go with the moment and let your heart guide you.

What do you believe is the secret to a successful marriage?

Being able to dance with each other through life’s challenges. Change – sometimes small, sometimes radical – is inevitable, and your partner needs to know that you’re there throughout the changes. Sometimes we’ll have to lead, and other times we’ll have to follow – but as long as you keep dancing together, you’ll make it through. Anchoring your partner while giving him or her room to grow as a person is the best way to honor both your partner’s individuality and your commitment to be there for the long haul.

If you were having a dinner party and could invite three famous people – dead or alive – who would they be and why?

Leonardo da Vinci, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jane Addams. Maybe I see these people as archetypes for the human spirit. Leonardo to me is the icon of human ingenuity and creativity. King and Addams share a social dimension that too few of us take seriously – they were brilliant intellectuals that used their gifts to help others. These three combined would provide such different, but critical, perspectives into the human condition. And though it may not be rollercoaster ride ‘fun’, I think the conversation would be utterly fascinating and probably life-changing.

(Jane Addams is one of the forgotten heroes of feminism and activism who doesn’t get nearly enough coverage – all women, but especially American women, should know more about her.)

What advice would you give your 18 year old self?

Being good at something doesn’t mean you should do it, and you work for money until you learn how to make money work for you.

“The end justifies the means”. Agree or disagree?

This is a tricky one. Imagine that you’re placed in a position such that you have two options: kill one innocent person and save nineteen, or don’t kill that one person and someone else kills all 20. I hope that in such a situation I’d have the fortitude to kill the one person – saving the 19 justifies the mean. I may regret it and be torn about it for the rest of my life, but I think it’d be the right thing to do.

On the other hand, take what the Nazi’s did to the “undesirables” in the concentration camps. They used innocent people as guinea pigs for medical procedures and products – with the people suffering horrendously throughout these experiments – but it turns out that many of their findings proved beneficial for humanity at large. As inconsistent as it may seem with my above statement, I don’t think their actions were right.

There’s what ethicists call a proportionality constraint on these types of discussions that can’t be fleshed out to a very high degree. Intuitively, there’s a limit to the harm we can do others before we have outweighed the positive effects. But it’s really difficult and it does depend on the specifics of the harm we’re causing and the good we’re trying to get. I don’t think a simple answer can apply in all cases. I feel the tension in both directions: the individual must sometimes yield to the collective, but there are some things that you just can’t do to people without their consent.

All of that is just an academic way of saying, “Depends.” :)

Photo of Nafplio by kyriazis

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Check out my interview on lost chances, feminism, and ethical dillemmas | Productive Flourishing
08.09.08 at 1:21 am

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gunfighter 08.08.08 at 9:33 pm

Good interview…. I’ll have to visit Charlie’s site.

Gunfighter’s last blog post..Sometimes I Dream

2 Tim Brownson 08.08.08 at 9:42 pm

Hmmm, was that a blown proposal or a great story in the making? I guess it depends on how you look at it. The net result was the same and it’s obviously taught you a valuable lesson, so I’d be tempted to go for the latter.

3 Evelyn Lim 08.08.08 at 11:58 pm

Thanks for sharing your story on not seizing the chance to propose at the most beautiful setting. It struck home!

You’re also very honest in your answers. Great interview! I enjoyed reading it!


Evelyn Lim’s last blog post..Walk On Water With 7 Magic Stones

4 Charlie Gilkey 08.09.08 at 1:10 am

@Kelly: I really appreciate your kind introduction and you giving me the opportunity to do this interview. It’s my first solo online interview, and I’ll always remember it. Now I actually have to write something worthwhile over at PF…

@Gunfighter: A fellow vet! Come visit me – I’ve got your blog tagged, too. Good stuff.

@Tim: It was a great lesson, but I’d have wished it wasn’t on such a momentous occasion. How often do those one of a kind scenarios happen in our lives?

@Evelyn: Lessons wrapped in a story can be powerful in the way that they wish home. I just wish this one was fiction – but then it probably wouldn’t be as rich.

Charlie Gilkey’s last blog post..A Parable on Natural Beauty

5 Lance 08.09.08 at 1:33 am

Thanks for the introduction and insight into another great blogger out there Kelly!

Charlie – it’s a pleasure to “meet” you. Just reading this interview, I feel a real authenticity to you. And that is refreshing in this world we live in. As well, like Evelyn stated, you have very honest answers, and that as well, is refreshing. We all make mistakes, being able to share them publicly is another issue. But in so doing, I think you open up the rest of us who read this to be more open about ourselves. And that’s a good thing.

Lance’s last blog post..Simple Fun

6 mark 08.09.08 at 3:38 am

Hey Kelly – what a thoughtful interview, nicely job to both of you! And as an added bonus I have found a new blog to read too. *slowly raises hand* My name is Mark and I am addicted to reading blogs. :)

mark’s last blog post..Where are you? Why I am on BLOGCATION!

7 mark 08.09.08 at 3:39 am

ps. that should read “nice” not “nicely”….coffee please!

8 Vered 08.09.08 at 3:52 am

Kelly, what a fascinating interview! And Charlie, wow, you are WISE. I really enjoyed reading this.

The two topics that especially caught my attention:

People who use others then toss them aside – totally agree. You know the saying “be nice to people on your way up because you will meet them again on your way down”? People should always keep that in mind. Just like you, Charlie, it’s one of my goals.

As for gender roles – also very true. It IS a spectrum, and forcing people into tight gender definitions and roles is simply unfair. While looks are helpful for men too, it is very true that women are first judged by their looks. I am raising two daughters and I am trying to teach them to rely on what they can do rather than on how they look. It kills me when strangers comment on how pretty they are. Just yesterday I took them to the park. They were doing AMAZING stuff on the bars – they are so strong and athletic – this woman came up to me and said “your daughters are so pretty!”.

Vered’s last blog post..Happy, Then Not

9 Charlie Gilkey 08.09.08 at 5:06 am

@Lance: I really appreciate your comments. Kelly’s nice enough to not mention that I was really worried that I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say, so it means a lot that I’ve said something that you connected with.

@Mark: Come on over! And bring your lifestyle design ideas with you…

@Vered: As always, I really enjoy interacting with you. So positive, so cool, so smart…

Raising girls is particularly difficult – whereas the roles for men have remained fairly static, there’s a lot in flux with femininity right now. I particularly admire women like yourself that manage to wear multiple hats – the careerist, the SAHM, the loving wife – because, though they’re not exclusive, it’s really hard.

Strangely, I’ve run afoul with women when I’ve commented on their daughter’s physical prowess. I probably would have commented on how strong and agile your daughters were…

Charlie Gilkey’s last blog post..Check out my interview on lost chances, feminism, and ethical dillemmas

10 Tom Volkar / Delightful Work 08.09.08 at 6:40 am

Charlie I love your relationship advice. Have you written much about marriage?

Kelly you are an interviewer extraordinaire.

Tom Volkar / Delightful Work’s last blog post..Big Life Lessons and Hitting Bottom

11 SpaceAsgeSage 08.09.08 at 6:47 am

Excellent questions and awesome answers.

“gender is on a continuum” — How much more sane would our world be if we didn’t polarize our thoughts on gender!

SpaceAsgeSage’s last blog post..Leadership skills — seasoned or dinosaur-like?

12 SpaceAgeSage 08.09.08 at 6:49 am

Oops, that would be “SpaceAgeSage,” not “SpaceAsgeSage.”

SpaceAgeSage’s last blog post..Leadership skills — seasoned or dinosaur-like?

13 Marelisa 08.09.08 at 7:49 am

Charlie: I lived in Italy for a year alone between college and law school, so I completely agree that everyone should have a vagabond experience. Also, as you say, you do need to remember who helped you on your way to the top, acknowledge their help, and ask what you can do to help them rise as well.

Kelly: You’re a great interviewer. You ask tough and interesting questions.

Marelisa’s last blog post..Happiness Extravaganza: Tips, Tidbits, and Tools

14 San Diego Momma 08.09.08 at 8:00 am

Wonderful interview with a wise and humble interviewee.

Loved the questions and the responses.

To be honest, I’m not familiar with Charlie, but I am now and that’s what counts.

San Diego Momma’s last blog post..Going Geico: It’s Not Over Yet

15 Andre Kibbe 08.09.08 at 8:49 am

It’s great reading the thoughts you offer up on Productive Flourishing, but it’s even more of a treat to read your responses to some penetrating questions. I’m glad that you’re wrong about “blowing” that once-in-a-moment lifetime, though. With or without the appropriate jewelery, asking the love of your life to marry you is truly going for the brass ring.

“As long as our social institutions associate women with beauty, elegance, and domesticity and men with strength, intelligence, and breadwinning – especially in the fairy tales and heroes we present to our children – we will continue this division that generally disadvantages women.” A very astute observation. The socialization happens through so many channels that it the expected roles seem to spring from nature. It’s in the fairy tales, heroes, toys, magazines, song lyrics, and so on. A responsible parent has to point these values out to children at the first opportunity.

“More self-discipline. I can plan and evaluate ’til the cows come home but I have the hardest time following through with a plan or making changes after an evaluation. This problem manifests itself on my blog where I don’t complete series or write posts that I’ve said I will, and this is a large reason why I’m so behind on my dissertation.” Blogs, especially in the self-development field, are evolutionary works, and your thinking changes over time. It’s not necessarily a lack of self-discipline, but an instance of self-correction. It’s not like a book that’s unseen by the public before it’s completely worked out. A blog is a series of rough drafts. Now that dissertation, on the other hand . . . go back to your room and write!

Andre Kibbe’s last blog post..Somedays, Research and Edgework: Three Strategies for Dealing with Ambiguity

16 Kelly 08.09.08 at 10:55 am


I am so so happy everyone appreciates the honesty, wisdom and integrity in this interview. As you mention over at Productive Flourishing I was mildly worried about this post being a bit too intense for a web format, but I am thrilled my fears were unjustified and I was underestimating my wonderful readers.

I am really proud of this interview because I wanted to talk big issues and deliver emotional, thoughtful reading material with the SHE-POWER interview series and thanks to you I have just managed to step up a notch.

Thank you.

17 Kelly 08.09.08 at 11:01 am


Thanks for showing Charlie the appreciation he deserves. I didn’t go easy on him with the interview questions, but that’s because I knew he was up for the challenge. I think the result is a meaty interview with something for everyone. If you haven’t checked out Charlie’s blog before, be sure to subscribe to Productive Flourishing. It really is a unique spot in the blogasphere and a must read for those of us who like to ponder big ideas and simple truths.

Sorry I’m not replying to everyone individually but I’m sick as a dog and I must get back to bed. I only hope what I’ve written makes sense since I am writing this through a migraine.

Thanks again for your comments.

18 Charlie 08.10.08 at 7:54 am

@Tom: I don’t consider myself too insightful on the marriage front – I’m very much a work in progress husband. Maybe in knowing that lays some virtue? I appreciate your comment, as that is a road I haven’t considered traveling.

@SpaceAgeSage: It’s really only the Western world that has such a division. I should ask Angela to write a post on this since she deals with marriage and family, gender issues, and mental health (she’s a sociologist). There’s plenty of room for discussion here for sure, but she knows a lot more about it than I do.

@Marelisa: A year alone in Italy? What an awesome experience! I love your list of the 50 things you have done – it’s inspiring!

@SanDiego Momma: I love your blog – I’m reading it from a nasty Guard PC that won’t let me view pictures, but I’m still awed. I didn’t know you before, either – but I’m glad I now do. Ain’t blogging grand?

@Andre: Always the wonderful comments, Andre. Sorry I haven’t visited Tools for Thought in a bit! I’ve noticed in my reader that you’ve been at it over there.

The blogging thing gets me – I really like that it’s a series of rough drafts and that I don’t have to know where it’s going, but I don’t like the bottlenecking and broken commitments. I value my readers and respondents, so it’s the same kind of thing as not returning a call you said you would. It doesn’t sit well with me.

@Kelly: This interview has turned out leagues better than I expected, and I wanted to highlight something you said: your readers are awesome! Thanks for being such a gracious host, interviewer, and friend. I swear I’ll stop answering comments now…

Charlie’s last blog post..How to Remind Others Without Remembering to Do It

19 Suzie Cheel 08.10.08 at 6:58 pm

This resonates for me : Being good at something doesn’t mean you should do it, and you work for money
until you learn how to make money work for you.

Thanks Charlie. I wonder how many peoples live’s would be different if they had been told that at 18.

I love Greece, so love the photo not somewhere I visited.

Another great planner i see ;More self-discipline. I can plan and evaluate ’til the cows come home
but I have the hardest time following through ………… I am sure there are many of us that relate to this

Suzie Cheel’s last blog post..3 Simple Words That Stop You Moving Forward

20 charlotte (charmed life) 08.10.08 at 9:47 pm

great thought provoking questions and answers. great job both of you!i can honestly say(write) that this post inspires me so much.

charlotte (charmed life)’s last blog post..Alabama Bound But Back in Florida

21 Al at 7P 08.10.08 at 10:38 pm

Great interview, Kelly. They were some pretty impressive questions, and I was even more impressed with the answers!

Charlie – I really liked the thoughtfulness in your responses. Really was intrigued with the luminaries at your dinner party!

Al at 7P’s last blog post..The Hero with a Thousand Jobs

22 Bamboo Forest 08.11.08 at 8:49 am

An interesting and well done interview. I loved Charlie’s recounting of wanting to ask his then g/f to marry him in that picturesque scene. Great story.

23 Akemi - Yes to Me 08.12.08 at 6:04 am

I like the overall honest tone of this interview. I like “My mother always told me…
Go out and create opportunities for yourself and don’t wait for them to show up on your doorstep” So true, and it’s great you are taking her advice.

Akemi – Yes to Me’s last blog post..Paving The Way For Online Entrepreneurs: Darren Rowse

24 Cath Lawson 08.13.08 at 9:29 am

Hi Kelly and Charlie – What a fab interview. I loved reading Charlie’s honest description of his marriage proposal. I bet lots of people have felt the same way.

Charlie – I love your advice on creating a successful marriage too. And your mother’s advice to you was wonderful. It sounds like she was a great role model.

Aside from the people you’ve already mentioned in the interview – who else has had a profound influence on you?

Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Legacies, Links, Bad Ads And Puker Powder

25 Roz Mitchell 08.15.08 at 7:51 am

Kelly amazing interview and charlie your honesty excels you this blog is going from strength to strength ,you yourself Kelly are so honest and I realised that all your interviews grab me and pull me in ,well done and charlie I will have to drop by productive flourishing.Have a great day everyone.

26 Charlie Gilkey 08.18.08 at 8:30 pm

Ack! I’ve been baited! I know I said I would stop answering comments, but I can’t…

(Hi, my name is Charlie, and I am a blog reader and writer….)

@Suzie: When my students start talking to me about their careers and major, I always ask “are you doing it because you want to or because you’re good at it.” They give me that weird look that students give you, but I think I’ve helped a few along the way. Their parents might not thank me, though…

@Charlotte: Thanks – it’s nice to know!

@Al: It was a hard question, when pressed with just three. It really did come down to thinking who would provide the most life-changing experience, and I think it’d be awesome to see what those three would come up with.

@Bamboo Forest: This interview has inspired me to write more of my (true-life) stories. You may want to stay tuned to what’s coming on PF if you liked it.

@Akemi: Unfortunately, she didn’t teach me how to decide between competing opportunities. That’s what I’m working on now.

@Cath: Thanks for the kind words. Growing up, my father and brother were anti-role models. It’s not that they were bad people, but they made choices that had negative effects on their life paths. I learned very early to do the opposite of what they did, since what they were doing wasn’t working for them. It worked pretty well for keeping out of trouble.

On the positive side, I was involved in the Boy Scouts of America (I’m an Eagle Scout). The virtuous people that I came into contact had a strong influence on guiding me toward good pursuits. Perhaps the best thing for me was that I started working at a Scout camp when I was 14 (and worked there every summer afterwards until I was 17, and then again when I was 19), because that got me out of my house and town and let me be me without regards to familial and social pressures. It was definitely critical to my development. Sadly, though, I can’t list one or two people – there were about 10 men and women who each played their parts. One of these days I need to write to them and let them know, since I’ve moved away and am no longer involved in Scouts for moral reasons (it has to do with the BSA’s exclusivist policies towards GLBTQ, atheists, and agnostics).

@Roz: I look forward to seeing you over at PF! Thanks for your kind words.

@Kelly: No promises that I won’t answer any more comments this time. Thanks again!

Charlie Gilkey’s last blog post..Should You Let Your Boss Inside the Box?

27 Ankit Bagaria 03.10.12 at 3:03 am

Thanks Kelly for carrying out the interview and letting me know about another great blogger.
I enjoyed reading the post and really like your blog.
and charlie your honesty is awesome man.

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