Episode 26

Eric Standop

Episode 26

Eric Standop on the Art and Science of Face Reading

Interview by Andrew Zuckerman

Many people turn to spiritual professionals such as astrologists and tarot card readers to help answer life’s most essential and cosmic questions. Eric Standop—international speaker, advisor, author, and facial diagnostics expert—guides people to look inward through a different method: by examining their faces. Through analyzing facial characteristics and behaviors, Standop informs his clients of their talents, emotions, personality types, and overall health. 

No stranger to self-doubt and career burnout, Standop spent years seeking fulfillment through a rollercoaster career of long hours and travel in the entertainment industry. Early on, after starting out as a radio and television speaker, and then moving to a role in cinema management, Standop began to suffer from fatigue and skin irritations. He decided to take a six-month break before reentering the corporate arena, this time as a P.R. director in computer gaming. Later, he transitioned to high-pressure positions in events and marketing. The stress would again take its toll. One morning, he awoke to find that he had lost all feeling in his arms and legs. Determined to turn his health around, Standop decided to backpack through South Africa. There he encountered a face reader for the first time, and became fascinated with the practice. Standop would go on to learn from masters on three different continents. 

While we all communicate through facial behavior and recognition on some level, becoming an expert face reader takes significant time and dedication, as with developing any other skill. After several years of gathering information, both about himself and about his practice, Standop set out to teach others. Now, he coaches a wide variety of clients, from business executives to law enforcement officials to even—every once in a while, and only when pressed—babies. Standop’s first book, Read The Face: Face Reading for Success in Your Career, Relationships, and Health (St. Martin’s), came out this fall. 

On this episode of Time Sensitive, Standop and Andrew Zuckerman go deep into the origins of face reading, the function of smell in medical diagnostics, the ups and downs of his circuitous career, and how he ultimately found inner happiness.


Zuckerman and Standop discuss the intricacies and history of face reading, referencing a range of techniques and approaches.

Standop recalls his youth in Germany, as well as some life-changing career moments—two of which led to near burnout.

Standop shares his earliest experiences with face reading and how it became his focus after studying with several masters around the world.

Standop talks about working with everyone from CEOs to law enforcement officials, and elaborates on what face reading can tell them about themselves and the work they do.

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ANDREW ZUCKERMAN: Today in the studio we have Eric Standop, a face reader and facial diagnostics expert as well as a best-selling author and speaker. His unique abilities on a wide range of human conditions have made him the go-to advisor for C-suite executives, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, educators, and even law enforcement officials, as well as individuals who seek to better understand themselves.

Welcome, Eric. Thanks so much for coming in today.

ERIC STANDOP: Thank you for having me.

AZ: I want to start by asking, what is face reading and how can we glean insights from looking at the face?

ES: For a lot of people, face reading seems to be fortune telling or something like palm reading. Although, if we’re a little bit more clear about it, face reading is something we all do. We look into faces, and we do that for a purpose. The purpose is to get more information than words can tell us. Therefore, face reading is a very human activity. We could say [that] face reading is the first language of the world, because, 300,000 years ago, when the homo sapiens started to conquer the planet, there was no language. Languages more or less started to cultivate in around thirty, forty thousand years ago. So we have a long time period of almost 250,000 years without language. The only way to communicate was to look into someone’s face and get any answer out of a facial behavior. This is what we still do. We grew up with it because babies, that’s what they do in the first years. They read faces and get information.

AZ: Is there an actual part of the brain that is specific to reading facial expression?

ES: Exactly. The oldest part of the human brain, the hypothalamus, has a part that is responsible for face recognition, and it’s more than face recognition. It’s also what kind of face, what kind of emotion, what kind of personality? This is the ability based in the hypothalamus, and we can train that. It’s like a muscle.

AZ: Are some of us able to do it better than others? Are we born with a certain predisposed…

ES: It’s something we all can do. So it’s a talent, a skill we all have. It’s like tennis playing or any other sports activity. The more you do it, the better you are [at it]. People who deal with people all day long, they’re good in acknowledging people and assess[ing] people and situations easier than someone who’s sitting in front of a computer all day long.

AZ: Right. And there’s different kinds of face readers.

ES: I would say so. Let’s say, first of all, there’s the human face reader. We could also call it people skills or street smartness, but then we have other people who are specialized in a different kind of technique of face reading. And the technique is more or less inspired by the culture. There is a Chinese technique, but even they have different types of [it], it’s like when we talk about yoga, we cannot talk about yoga in general. There’s different types of [it]. It’s the same with face reading. The Chinese culture has possibly the—I wouldn’t say the oldest—but the longest tradition because they had no breaks in between. Then we have face reading techniques in Europe. They are very much based from the Greek culture, of course. Aristotle, Hippocrates. Then we have face reading techniques in Africa, the natives there, and we have one or two in South America. There are face reading techniques of modern times you can already study, micro–expression reading for example. You can study that in the U.S. already. It’s part of psychology.

AZ: Yeah. There’s also some of us who have face blindness.

ES: Oh, yeah. That is a big problem.

AZ: What is this?

ES: Well, face blindness. Yeah. I’m not really good in that, but from what I read myself, there is a percentage of people—I don’t know how high; it’s higher than we expected—they cannot remember faces. They have big problems to recognize who is this person, although they met the person before. Imagine that in your own family. They then rely on voice or on smell. We have five, maybe more senses. So we can do it in a different way as well. But just to not recognize faces is a big issue, is a big problem.

AZ: And then on the other hand there are super recognizers.

ES: Exactly.

AZ: And what is this?

ES: Super recognizers. It’s a…. How can I explain that in a short word?

AZ: Doesn’t have to be short.

ES: [Laughs] Yeah. Well, interesting. Let’s do it with a little swing. I know a face reader in China who is blind, so he’s reading people with all the senses except eyes. And because “read” is, for us, related to eyes, we know blind people read with fingers. So why not a face reader reading with fingers? What he does, with the smell but also by listening to how someone walks and talks. So those, I call them super face readers because they don’t rely on just one thing, the eye, they integrate anything they can get. And this is for me, very impressive. I’m a lot driven by my eyes, although more and more I try to get more information—interesting enough, most with the smell.

AZ: With smell?

ES: Yeah.

AZ: What can you glean from smell?

ES: First of all, we know how people smell when they are not healthy. We may not know exactly what’s going on, but wow, something’s wrong here. When we have a flu for example, and we smell ourselves, then we have a different kind of smell that we don’t like. Or the wife loves her husband, although he might smell a lot of testosterone, then she loves him even more because, biology-wise, she’s more connected to him. While others don’t like this guy now because he [is giving off] too much in testosterone. 

So we have different smells under different circumstances. Integrative medicine is already using that to detect health, because dogs have the original ability to smell like humans did, thousands of years ago. We lost a lot of that, and dogs now do that job. From what I heard, dogs already are in charge of smell[ing] cancer for example, different types of cancer or different types of diseases.

AZ: And on the opposite side—and one of the things that I’m super interested to talk to you about—is this whole explosion of facial recognition and analysis and technology. It’s advancing at this extraordinary rate. It’s used for personal security, but it’s also used for surveillance. And, as someone who’s traveled the world for the last fifteen years—a lot of time in China, a lot of time in America—I’m sure you’re very aware of how much things have changed in the last few years. So I’d love to hear from you where things are at, on a basic level, and then your concerns for the future use of this and where it might fail. Is the algorithm a super recognizer or is there a certain facial blindness to it?

ES: The face-recognition technology, for me that is a love/hate thing. On the one hand, it helped me a lot. I’m doing it, as you said, fifteen years. And in the first, let’s say, eight to ten years, a lot of people [thought] I was a freak, like [an] esoteric guy, a fortune teller, or whatever. Although I come from business, I come from computer gaming and the entertainment business.

AZ: Marketing. Yeah.

ES: Marketing and all that stuff. I love Excel sheets and all that. So I’m not really in that kind of psychic area. But five years ago, with the help of some TV series like Lie to Me or The Mentalist, then with face recognition, even on your iPhone, people are aware now that the face might be a little bit more helpful, in terms of information. It’s not about, Oh, you look good, you look bad, you’re tired, you’re sick. [There’s] a lot more that you can read. Face recognition made people aware of that. So because machines do that now, people believe that I can do that too, which is a very strange development. We have to have a confirmation from machines that people can do that as well. This is very bizarre.

Then by traveling to China, there’s another thing that I don’t like what’s going on. You are always face recognized. Once they have a picture of yours in China, you’re in the process. So from now on, they know where you are, what you do, what you think. And the future is that by just one click, they will find out not only where you live but also what is your rating. So you get rates, you get quotes, like four-star, five-star and so on. You don’t pay your rent, no star. You pay your rent, not always, one star. You always pay your rent, five stars. And it goes on with love, relationships. Ex-lovers of yours could quote you and then you go on the internet and then you fill in your name and then you get a quote for your relationship skills.

I mean, one could say, “Oh, I have nothing to hide, I’m a nice person” and so on. “So why should I have a problem with it?” On the other hand, it’s really like you are almost like… You’re quoted. I think that’s the biggest problem.

AZ: Incredibly vulnerable.

ES: And you’re vulnerable a little bit, but you’re quoted, and quoted doesn’t mean that’s you. It’s what others think of you, by your face or with the help of your face, because they relate the quote to your face. But that is not really the deep knowledge of face reading. The deep knowledge of face reading is [to] try to recognize your potential, the personality you’re born with, because babies already have the personality, and what can you do with that in certain situations—in trouble but also in, let’s say, in building up things like going to university or whatever. Yeah. So the face reading goes deeper. I think it deals more with who you really are, not what people think about you.

AZ: So do you think the A.I.s and the algorithms came to it at all even close to what a human who’s trained at your level can do with face recognition?

ES: Not at the moment. I don’t know if I should fear it, but I think at one point it will be possible, at one point, because everything is changing. I had a philosophy talk with a guy in Silicon Valley, and the interesting thing is [that] at one point, he or I, I don’t even know, I think we said both together [that] it could be that one day A.I. has to remind us what humanity is, because A.I. will develop more and more, further and further, while it looks like our human skills get smaller and smaller. They almost disappear. And at one point it could be, like, the robot, the A.I., is the one with the human skills and we are not. We have those movies where the robot is the killer and out of control and so on. Well, first of all, humans are out of control. So this is the only philosophical way to think about it as well, to be [fair].

AZ: Right. Yeah. But I do believe that we’re still incredibly far off from A.I…. I mean, my spell-check still doesn’t work, by the way.

ES: Well, I hope. Otherwise, I’ll kill my job here. [Laughs]

AZ: Yeah, exactly. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Alongside this conversation about technology and A.I., there’s this deep obsession with people finding happiness, I think now more than ever, and vitality is being challenged in people’s lives. Have you found that insights from face reading can allow for people to find that sort of happiness and how does that work?

ES: It was a long path, I have to say. Yeah. Studying with three masters, on different continents, I really found answers with my last one, the Chinese one, but not by [his] physically telling me what’s happiness and all that, just by the combination of all that. And I found out that people who live their talents, talents they are born with, who use their talents in any kind of way, that those people easier achieve happiness in life. When you achieve something by will without the help of your talents, people [at] maximum are satisfied. Most of the time they’re frustrated, depressed, aggressive, and so on. They want to achieve further, more. They look for something. But just to use your talents is a basic skill to become happy.

We can see that when kids play, they are happy with little things; adults, not. Maybe a little story about that, because it tells a lot. When we’re born as kids, as babies, we have natural skills [and] talents. The personality has not been developed [at] that moment a lot. Let’s say we don’t develop the character. We’re still in our born personality. Now, to use the talents from the personality we are born with allows us to live our life purpose. Chinese say, the Chinese face readers say, a talent is a key to live your life purpose. And when we use all the keys, we live our life purpose to the fullest. And that’s happiness.

A few weeks ago, in Germany, a guy came to my place, he wanted to have a health reading. So I did a health reading. He was a mechanic in a factory of a big car place—[I] don’t need to name the brand. I looked at him and I thought, Wow, this guy is really happy. I wouldn’t, working in a factory all day long, since thirty years, doing just a little bit with the hands and then being exhausted coming home. But he looks really happy. He’s just asking for help. So in my head was like, I should read his talents. Then I read his talents and I could see he has a talent of the hands, which is a very practical personality.

Okay, I get it. So factory might be okay, but he also has talents that I could not relate to his job. He had, for example, the talent of health, and that means he is a good helper when it comes to health [of] others. So I asked myself, What is this archetype? Because that describes with one word what he’s here for. And his archetype was guardian angel of life. Working in a factory, guardian angel of life, happy? So it made no sense to me. So out of the blue I asked him, “Oh by the way, what do you do as a hobby?” And he said, “I have no time for a hobby.” I said, “Oh, okay. Let me ask you in a different way. What do you do after work?” “Oh, after work? Oh, I can tell. I’m a volunteer for the fire department. I do that for more than twenty years. Every day. Weekends. I love it.” He lived his life purpose as a guardian angel there and he blossomed.

So we can live our life purpose and our happiness and our talents somewhere else. We only have this Western thing about, Oh, [to be] successful in the business, I have to do something meaningful at work. Yeah, it’s cool if you can do that, but if not, there are hobbies, and there’s family life, and someone just happy to be a mom as well.

AZ: Absolutely. It’s interesting. Before we go into your own personal history—which, after just finishing your book, is fascinating—I’d like to go into a little bit of the roots of actual face reading. So can you give me a little bit about the deep roots, going back to ancient Greece, in a simple way? I know it’s very complicated…

ES: The basic history of face reading is that all around three thousand, four thousand years ago, there have been schools in China, but also increas[ing] maybe somewhere else as well, where old masters [taught] single individuals in their, well, [in] those days, method to recognize people, to give advice. So the basic work of a face reader was an advisor role and Aristotle was the advisor of King Alexander. He used the face as an advising tool. So to reflect, to mirror what’s going on on the other side and help people to find accurate decisions for their life. That was three or four thousand years ago.

Let’s focus on the Western culture. The Greeks gave it to the Romans. The Romans brought it up into the Middle Ages. And in the Middle Ages, we had our first break, because it was not accepted by the Catholic church. It belonged to the witches. How can you know who I am? Tell me out of the blue? So we had our first break. We had a comeback in 1400, 1500, with doctors like Paracelsus, who said everything that’s happening inside is visibly outside. Then we had, around 1800, with Charles Darwin, maybe the last one who reminded us on this. And then we had a very dramatic break because science found out, Hey, we can read people in a different way as well. Let’s do a blood reading, let’s do X-rays, let’s read signatures. Let’s use any psychological tool for that.

The comeback now is because of face recognition That’s the Western idea. In the Western culture we have three, four breaks in between the three thousand years. In China, we never had that break except under Mao in the first fifteen, twenty years of Mao. You were not allowed to use the old ancient Chinese techniques like feng shui and tai chi and also face reading. Is that short enough? [Laughs]

AZ: Well, no, that’s fantastic. But I would like you to go into a little bit more of the Chinese history, which is the one you landed on in your own history.

ES: Yeah. So the Chinese technique or face reading based on the I Ching, the oldest book, is really an ancient tool. The oldest books about Chinese face reading are not really deep. The reason is the masters don’t want to give their knowledge, on a very deep level, to others. So books that we find nowadays about Chinese face reading just reflect a basic knowledge. And because it was given from grandma to daughter or grandfather to the son or whatever, it is also a little bit individual, let’s say [it] this way. Some gave their personal knowledge about the world to that. Sometimes you get some strange advice because they say, “Yeah, with a nose like that, you must be like this.” While the first thing you learn in face reading is eyes and mouth overrule everything, no matter what kind of nose you have. A nose is not dictating your life. This is absolutely nonsense.

But let’s say like in a building, let’s say your face is a house. The nose might tell you red rooftop. Then you don’t know how many levels, you don’t know what kind of a house and so on. So the Chinese described personality mostly in that [way] three thousand, two thousand years ago. Later on, it was more related to traditional Chinese medicine, TCM, and tongue reading became very strong. That was around one thousand, two thousand years ago, and the tongue reading is still existing in traditional Chinese medicine. And even our doctors’ school medicine used—even I know that, when I was a kid, the doctor checked my tongue. Nowadays they don’t do anymore. I hated it by the way, as a kid, with this wooden stick on the tongue, that was horrible. It felt strange.

So the tongue reading, the eye reading, the skin reading and the sense of colors, glam shade and so on, that became very strong one thousand, two thousand, years ago. And that wisdom has been really delivered. So you find that really written in books because that has not been pure face reading masters; those have been doctors. And this you can, by the way, study in universities in China. That is public wisdom and therefore, it survived in a different way, in a better way. It’s more accepted.

I think that’s the biggest problem about reading faces, about personality, and maybe something like life purpose or path of life and that people think it’s a mystery, it’s esoteric because people didn’t talk too much about it. Even my Chinese master was not too happy about myself traveling the world and tell[ing] everyone about face reading. And he wanted to know, “Whom do you tell that?” And I said, “Well, everyone who wants to know.” And the first thing was, “Women?” And I said, “Of course, women. Why not?” “You have to have male student.” I don’t know why. “It’s tradition.” So the answer is tradition. I usually don’t agree on that. I agree on changes.

AZ: But even though he’s a master, he’s still an individual who is born out of a certain condition and has a certain set of biases.

ES: Exactly.

AZ: So we’re all human in that way. 

Well, congratulations on your latest book, which came out yesterday, actually called Read the Facewhich I’m holding right now—Face Reading for Success in Your Career, Relationships and Health, and it has beautiful illustrations in it. I’ve had it for a couple of days, and I really enjoyed reading about your history, how you learned from masters across the world. It’s really an amalgam of all of these extraordinary experiences that you had, learning about this. But before you became a face reader, in the earliest history, you were a little boy in Germany. Tell me a little bit about your childhood.

ES: Yeah. Born in Germany in the mid-sixties. It’s hard [for me] to say, but I find it always a little bit boring there. 

AZ: Where you were from or the country in general?

ES: In general, the country, but also the century itself. Some people like the sixties and the seventies. For me, it was more or less a boring time, but the eighties have been even worse. I tried to make my way through that. More or less was not too happy with school. Just being pragmatic, just to survive and get my degrees. I remember one teacher saying, “Eric, unbelievable how lazy you can be and still be in that school.” 

AZ: Were your parents into you doing well in school?

ES: My parents were very supportive because I was the first one in high school, the first one in university—the whole family history is not about that. It’s pharma history, it’s Second World War history. They lost everything, all that stuff that people had to work for. They’re living under poor circumstances and so on. I was the first one who got supported in it. Coming from a very lower middle class family, it costs a little bit also. And so it took a while to find my way through. So yeah, I had to serve in the army. That was [in] those days a must. Because I had this kind of freedom-loving, maybe I chose that for parachute because it was like, I feel free.

AZ: You were a parachuter?

ES: Yeah. But I didn’t feel free in the end because everybody tells you when to get up and clean shoes and whatever.

AZ: You didn’t like it?

ES: No.

AZ: No.

ES: The jump was nice, but that was a five-minute thing and then you have to walk, right after hours, with other guys and everybody the same direction. This is not really who I am. I’m extremely freedom-loving. So I really didn’t like. 

Being a kid of my parents, they loved me, and I had a really good childhood in that regard. I got a lot of love, and I never got criticized. It’s always more or less the question, “Eric, [did] you do that?” Yeah. Okay. Then it’s okay. But I pretty often sat on the table looking at my parents and my brother and thought, who are they? What are they talking about? It’s okay, it’s nice, but not always [a] self interest of mine. I’m really honest with that. And I think a lot of people could say that, but they don’t. because it’s their parents. But it was like this. I even spoke with my mom about it and it’s something that came up in myself. Everything that life offered was not of interest for me.

At one point, I chose subconsciously, I think, to make my life as colorful as possible. So I went into entertainment, media. I studied teaching, but one of the courses I could study as well was media pedagogics, which is how the media works and all of that. So I became a journalist right after—a writer.

AZ: An observer.

ES: Exactly, observer, but of sports. But after two years, three years, I found out, Oh, it’s the same sports event.

AZ: In Germany.

ES: Yeah. It’s boring. And then I went to radio, became a radio speaker. When I was in my mid-twenties, I already found out, hmm, doing this job when I’m 50 or 60, telling people, hey, this is the latest music, and they will laugh about me because they need the younger ones as well. This can’t be, so [I] went to TV. TV meant behind-the-scenes. I worked on trailer[s], teaser[s], stuff like that. And that was boring as well because I’m not a puppeteer, and I saw a lot of people in front of the camera where I thought, Who’s listening to them? They don’t have a message. Interestingly enough, in school but also in the army, I was a messenger because I was the speaker, the speaker for the battalion or the speaker for the class. Then later on, even when I worked on TV but also radio, I was more or less a speaker for someone.

I went on and on, because anything that I’ve learned and did never satisfied me. It was colorful. I wanted to learn, yes, great. But I wanted to go on, so every one, two, three years, I changed the job. I became a marketing director of a theme park. From there I went to cinema theaters, and I managed Southern and Eastern Germany in the cinema theaters quite a lot.

AZ: What were you driven by at this time? Survival, financial success? I mean, in our twenties, we don’t know what we we’re….

ES: Of course, financial-wise, I got better and better, but that was not the drive. The drive was to explore new things I have no clue of. I found it quite funny: whenever I started something somewhere else, everybody told me, “Oh, you come from a different business. You have no idea. Here it’s different.” It was always different. But what I brought in helped that kind of system to be better, or survive. I was very often the guy from the fire department. There was a problem; let’s try it with this guy. It worked out. But when the problem was solved, I got bored. And very often the company was also looking for someone else. Leaving the cinema theater business was more driven by my health. I had my first burnout.

AZ: Yeah, what were the first signs of this burnout?

ES: It started with the skin. I was really shocked to have red dots everywhere. What does that mean? Never had that before. Then I have problems with the intestine. Then I have problems with breathing. I had numerous signs.

AZ: Were you in generally good shape at the time or had you…?

ES: Before that I was pretty, pretty good in shape. Before that I could do anything. Even celebrating whole nights, sleeping two hours, eating worst stuff. I digested in any kind of way; metabolism was great. The times when I was in the cinema theater was when I was in my thirties, early thirties, and whatever I did, I did it with a high speed. So career, high speed. Doing the job, high speed. Workout, high speed. I was almost like a crazy coyote, running like nuts from A to B.

AZ: Not stopping.

ES: Not stopping.

AZ: Not thinking.

ES: Yeah. So those days at TV, they gave me the nickname Jack Russel, which is a dog and if you look at the dog, the dog is small. It’s cute, but always barking, jumping around. Someone said, “Oh, Eric, you’re like a Jack Russell.”

AZ: Did you have any sense at this time that maybe you’re not happy? Maybe something’s not fitting?

ES: Interesting enough, my reflection was on the world outside. I could see they are not happy. What are they doing? It’s stupid. I never had doubted I would have a problem. So the problem is that no one is able to offer me the world that I belong to. This was my way of thinking about it.

AZ: Yeah. Many of us see the world that way.

ES: Yeah. I mean, maybe it’s a typical way of young men to think about the whole thing.  First burnout, so I quit the job.

AZ: Because of skin irritations and—

ES: Because of my limits. I was really not able to perform the way I did before. Traveling between probably fifteen cities with more than twenty cinema theaters—multiplex, most of them—every day. And cinema business means nighttime, weekends, and in the morning you also deal with anything [that comes up]. That was just too much for me. I didn’t realize that I’m a very sensitive person as well, that I’m more related to the finer things. But I acted like a warrior, like an emperor, taking care of a lot of people, hundreds, and I thought, I have to be successful by leading and being strong. But that was an illusion for me. Maybe not for others, for me. So I had a break, half a year.

AZ: So you quit your job, packed it up, and you took a half a year off, and what did you do?.

ES: Yeah. And then I recovered quickly. So for me, [the]  world was okay again.

AZ: You just hung out for six months at home?

ES: Almost, yeah. I hung out, I had some nice talks, drank coffee, had a philosophy, made new plans. I also wanted to be knowledgeable and clever, so I said, Okay, Eric, where did you get that from? I think it’s stress, but it was more than stress. I should have asked what causes the stress? And what caused the stress is [that] I didn’t live my true personality. But this, I had never doubted. My path is okay, but I had too much stress. So go on with the path, but with less stress.

I found a job as a, first of all, P.R. director in a company doing computer games. I started there. And to be honest, first it was exciting, for exactly five weeks, and then I got bored. Writing a press release once a week with two people [beside] you? Boring. The CEO saw that, and he supported me in my growth. 

Then, over the months, I got [into] marketing and events and the websites and new business development and traveling again, foreign countries, and the whole thing got big again in between months and yeah, I loved it. I got in that regard, a little bit well-known. But at one point, after three years again, boom, second burnout. And I was not able to perform the way I did before.

AZ: And at some point you saw The Devil’s Advocate, the Keanu Reeves movie

ES: [Laughs] That was with my first burnout, do you know that story? Yeah, it’s written in the book.

AZ: Yes. What happened?

ES: Well, that was pretty crazy. That was before my first burnout. Being responsible for so many cinema theaters, you don’t even watch movies. You watch trailer shows, road shows, so you have eight-minute ideas of movies and then you try to implement them in your cinema theaters. So very often, let’s say I had an appointment, 9 o’clock in the morning or 10 o’clock, and the appointment didn’t happen because someone is sick or whatever. I didn’t even know what to do. And I was restless. So what am I going to do now? Pretty often I told any one of the guys in the cinema theater, you know what, [I’ll] sit in, let’s say, number nine with one thousand seats—just show me any movie. And I didn’t even ask for… I was [in] this big, huge theater—

AZ: Alone.

ES: Alone. One thousand seats, 10 o’clock in the morning, and this guy is putting The Devil’s Advocate on screen. I watched that movie and—goosebumps again—I almost freaked out, wild mood. I was sitting like this, although I could watch zombie movies and sharks and no problem. But this movie, I looked like that. It really caught me deep inside because I saw Keanu Reeves going a path that I go: career, but with good intention. But there’s something wrong. I’m an instrument of the evil and well, shortly forgot that right after. Although the movie was really scary, I forgot it. But from that moment on, for almost every second at night, I had horrific dreams. Every night I was haunted by that movie. Then, more and more, I saw my face in that situation and that really freaked me out. My body reacted on that as well. I slept out—

AZ: So interesting that the product you were selling became almost like the pharmacon, the poison that healed you.

ES: Good analogy. Yeah.

AZ: And it’s very interesting. So your second burnout.

ES: Second burnout, maximum overdose of being attracted by [the] entertainment industry, working fourteen hours, traveling all the time, investing a lot of energy. This company was listed on the stock market, so it was therefore even more important to perform. At one point, I woke up one morning in my bed, I think it’s not written in the book. I woke up one morning in my bed, and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move my arms and my legs. The first thing I did in my head is like, it must be a dream. I told myself, it’s a dream. Then I wanted to confirm it’s a dream. So I bumped my head against the wall, and it was not a dream. Then I said, [it] couldn’t be—I cannot move my arms and legs.

After a short while I was able to twist and turn, and I fell out of bed. That was the moment when I could use a little bit my arms, and I more or less rolled into the shower, and it took me more than an hour to get out of the shower. While I was in the shower, I thought, I can’t go on like this, I can’t go on like this. There’s something wrong with me. I was scared to death: what kind of disease is that. My body—now I know—told me, Eric, break out. This is not you. I didn’t know that [at] that moment. Okay. But that was the moment when I decided, okay, there was so much struggle at work. We have a new CEO. He loves to do things that I don’t like to, there’s a lot [of] competition going on. It’s not as good as it was once before. I have to get out [of] here. Then I tried to find a way out, and I left.

AZ: And at that point, you’re finally saying to yourself, maybe it’s time for a huge switch.

ES: Not even then, not even then. So again, I said, Eric, you do a break again, but after you’re just happy with whatever you have been offered and if it’s just P.R. manager, and you’re just a small guy somewhere for, I don’t know, a dairy company or something like that, you just do that, and you find your happiness somewhere in hobbies or something else. This was the plan.

AZ: And you packed a backpack and…

ES: And traveled.

AZ: …and started to travel. And what happened?

ES: Well, in South Africa, this was one of the stops. Those people who know South Africa, there is Bloubergstrand, where you see the Table Mount[ain]. It’s a little bit outside Cape Town. I tried to kitesurf, and I’m not a patient person, still not. Like, some people are alcoholics, I’m a dry, patient person, so I’ll try, always, to find my balance. It didn’t work out because of not being focused enough. But the two friends who have been there with me told me, “Eric, you know what, we kitesurf and you go to this bar and you will have entertainment there because there an old man reading faces.” And I said, “Why should I do that?” “Well, it’s interesting. You get a reflection on your personality.” And I said, “That’s bullshit. I don’t need a face reader for that.” They said, “Come on, let’s do it.” And we bet. The bet was, if he’s right, I pay their weekend. If not, they pay mine.

I went inside and I saw what I expected. An old man, rotten clothes, no teeth in his mouth, beer everywhere. And I said, Of course, this guy knows who I am. I’m quite interested in that. I bought him two beers, smashed it on the table and said, “Guru master, read my face.” Like this. Very, very disrespectful. And he said, “Oh, I can see you are very aggressive. You are not tolerant. You are not patient; you are very competitive.” And I was like, Oh wow, that’s…. Wow. But I don’t need a face reader for that. I mean, you can say that to any competitive personality [type of] young man. He started to sum up my health issues and that really surprised me because that was a big list of diseases and he [caught] them all, and I just waited for him to make a mistake.

The last thing he said, “Oh, and you have connective-tissue issues.” I looked down on me and said, “‘Connective-tissue issues?’ I’m so skinny. What do you mean by that?” And he said, “Well, guys like you have usually problems with the hernias.” And boom, that hit me as well because I had surgery [for] that. So even then my idea was, Okay, I want to learn that. I [could] go back in my old business and then [I’ll] know everything about the CEO and the employees and the customers. That might be a really cool idea.

AZ: You wanted a strategic advantage in war.

ES: Absolutely. Absolutely. I wanted to be calculative, manipulative, strategic with that.

AZ: You’re in marketing.

ES: True. I never thought about that. That’s a good excuse. [Laughs] It showed a really mean side of my character. Because it was not like, Oh, if the CEO has a, let’s say stomach ulcer, I will help him with that. No, no. It was like, let’s see what we can do with that. And going back to Europe fifteen years ago, you couldn’t find anything on the internet about it. What you found if you found something was Chinese stuff, like fortune telling. And that was really disappointing. But my health was terrible still.

So I went to a nutrition school to learn about, what can I eat, what can I drink? And that was boring for me as well. Jack Russell, confronted with broccoli and amounts of calories. It was like, pooh! But in a break, the teacher, a female told me, “Eric, you should stop coffee-drinking.” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, it’s the caffeine.” And she’s like, “No, no. You have intestine problems, you have inflammation of the intestine.” And I said, “Ooh, wow. How do you know that?” “Well, it’s written in your face.” And I said, “Okay, where did you learn that?” With her help I got a phone number. This is how the journey started.

AZ: What came next?

ES: What came next was a phone call of mine at a German Danish master living in the north, close to the Danish border. There was a convention, and the convention was about alternative healing methods and stuff. Now, imagine this marketing guy from the entertainment business, in a suit, driving with a car, six hundred miles north, arriving at, more or less, a town hall that is usually meant for showing animals, rabbits and stuff. And now there is a convention about healing methods. I stopped with the car and—

AZ: These are the early 2000s. This is 2000? 

ES: It was fifteen years ago. Yeah. Almost 2004.

AZ: Yeah, so 2003 or 2004.

ES: So I stopped there and then you see all those people with white and violet shirts outside and long, gray hair and some did yoga in a parking lot. When I got out of the car I saw some do tarot reading on a bench or somewhere. Now, damn, where I am? What kind of place is that? That’s spooky. They’re crazy. So I locked the car, by the way, and read German newspaper, a very stupid German one. Like, just pictures and the headlines. And read sports because that is something I can rely on: results. After the whole thing opened, I opened the thing and I had an appointment with this master. He looked serious to me because he had a polo shirt and jeans and I guess he’s 60. Later on, I found out he’s in his eighties, so that impressed me very much because I was mid-thirty and I looked like 50. So for me, that was impressive.

I had a talk with him and after the talk it was more like, “Okay, can you read my face now?” And he said, “No. It’s done now.” And I said, “Wait a moment. I drove a long way.” And he said, “Yeah, yeah. But you had your reading in South Africa. You just told me.” And I said, “Yeah, but I wanted to know more.” And he said, “No, no, no, it’s done.” And I was really upset about it. Driving home, [I] had a phone call with my best buddy, and said, “This is a sect or whatever. I don’t know. I will never see them again.” But I received an email a few days later saying, “Hey, was nice to meet all of you,” so it was not personal, “and I would love to see you again at this bed-and-breakfast place in Saxonia, which is Dresden. Close to Dresden. I didn’t want to go there because—freaks, but my best buddy told me, “Come on, I give you my car. Drive there. If it’s not good, go to Dresden. Have a good time.”

I went there and there was seven people waiting outside. I was number eight. And this guy came out the door from the bed-and-breakfast and said, “Oh, happy you’re all here.” So it turned out, from the whole convention he [chose] eight people, and he offered to teach them, and he said, “It’s my last class. You’re invited.” Maybe the last thing I want to talk about that is, then I said, “Oh, last class. How much will that cost?” Anything costs. And he said, “Oh, Eric, [it] costs nothing.” And I said, “I don’t believe that.” And he said, “Okay. It will cost you a belief system. How is that?” Oh, you can have mine. It didn’t help me. And, yeah, that was a big change from that moment on.

AZ: And then you spent a year and a half with him.

ES: One and a half. Yeah.

AZ: Yeah. And what happened during that year?

ES: A lot. Change of belief, change of point of view. Because it was not about face reading, it was also about getting to know people in a different kind of way. One story that is not written in the book is, one day we were sitting together in an Italian restaurant in [northern] Italy, and he and me, we were the only ones. The group arrives the next day. So I was early. And he said to me, “Eric, one of your biggest issues is, you cannot talk to people.” And I said, “You’re kidding, I’m [in] marketing. I was the speaker in school, in the army, everywhere. I can talk to people.” And he said, “No, no, you don’t get me. You can talk to people if you have a goal, like making a contract, getting to know this girl or whatever. But you cannot talk to people because you’re just interested in people.”

And I said, “That’s bullshit. I don’t believe that.” And he said, “See that couple over there?” And I say, “Yeah.” “Go and talk.” I said, “They eat spaghetti. What do you want me to do? ‘Hey, how’s the spaghetti?’ It’s not my restaurant. I mean, I cannot just get up and ask for what they’re doing?” And he said, “I’ll do that.” So he went there and he was sitting with them for more than two hours. I was on my own. Then he got back and he said, “I have a little bit of a lesson for you. From now on, whenever we go for dinner with the group, you’re not allowed to sit [at] the table. You in the restaurant, look for someone to talk to and sit there.” That was the worst lesson ever. There’s horrible stories from that. I could write a book only about that, meeting people in a restaurant who have no idea that you now want to sit next to them and talk to them.

AZ: So it wasn’t a good lesson that you got.

ES: It was a strong lesson because you get to know people that you would never talk to. And now I have a lot of clients I would never meet if I [wasn’t] a face reader.

AZ: And then you finished that year and a half, you went back and you started a company. You were still in that zone of, I’m going to apply this learning to some commercial endeavor.

ES: I was totally in marketing and called the company Restart Life.

AZ: Right.

ES: Personal training with the help of facial diagnosis.

AZ: And how did that work out for you?

ES: Terrible. It’s like trying to sell a fridge in the North Pole when you start a company like that in Germany fourteen years ago. So people looked at me like, totally nuts. I was a visionary, a pioneer, but it was way too early. I didn’t even start it in a major city, in a mid-sized city. I didn’t even start it on Main Street, I started somewhere in a backyard. So it went terrible, and I had to break up.

AZ: So you had to close it.

ES: Closed it in a year.

AZ: Again, another fall.

ES: Brutal fall. Because I was running out of money, I was down [to] zero, and I worked in a coffee shop of my best friend, as a barista. And that was quite funny as well. I loved coffee, but on the other hand I could talk to people still. So I did the espresso and [would] say, “Hey, you have a King face. You know what that means?” So I did face reading with coffee and it helped the coffee shop a little bit and maybe it helped me to still stay with the skills. Yeah. But it was also frustrating.

AZ: You essentially at this point gotten stripped down to almost nothing just before the big breakthrough.

ES: Yeah.

AZ: So you closed it, you went back, you sold coffee, and then you went on another trip and you found yourself in Columbia. Then what happened there?

ES: So the trip in South America was all about finding myself, and I ended up in Colombia with another face reader, which was never the plan. So being in Cartagena and see[ing] that someone is talking—to U.S. tourists, by the way—about what kind of love is expressed in their face and if they are good kissers or so, I was just interested in, how does that work? I’ve never heard about that. How can you read if someone is a good kisser, and what does a good kisser mean? Stuff like that. Relationship reading, what is that? I listened to him and got intrigued and, yeah. Then he became not a master, a teacher.

AZ: And how much time did you spend with him?

ES: Not a lot. A few months.

AZ: Yeah.

ES: But that was an initial feeling that I then had that, Oh, if I really want to go deep in that, I need to go where people accept that kind of method. Otherwise, I am the entertainer on a beach or I’m the non-accepted teacher in Germany. So I flew to China.

AZ: Had you ever been to China before?

ES: Sorry, I?

AZ: Had you ever been to China before?

ES: Let me think about it. No.

AZ: So you can land in China—

ES: I’ve been in Asia before, but not in China.

AZ: You land in China. How does a broke tourist at the time find a Chinese master?

ES: A pretty cool idea of mine was, [I’ll] just go there and let people know I’m a face reader and then people will definitely want to have a session with me. My confidence is sometimes a little bit strange, I have to say, almost stupid. [Laughs] Of course, nobody understood me. Because English is not preferred; German definitely not. I almost gave up, but in Hong Kong, people speak English, not all of them but a lot.

AZ: So you had started in Hong Kong?

ES: Yeah. In Hong Kong then, I met an English couple in Chiang Mai, in Thailand, before and I’ve met them in Hong Kong again because then they lived there. So I became, more or less, their guest. I went out to 9th Street Market, Temple Street in Hong Kong and there are face readers. But it’s like, would you go to a dentist [at] a night market? The performance of them was very poor, so I was really shocked almost because I thought, I’m a lot better than them and to have a booth there and they read, wow. Is that really what I’m getting here? Out of the blue, I was invited by the spa director of a hotel chain because she had some issues, in terms of health. I read her and gave her some tips.

AZ: In China.

ES: In Hong Kong. But the spa director was an Australian. It worked out for her and she was intrigued and she said, “Can you please come over again and read my stuff?” I read the stuff and it worked out really good. The stuff said, “Oh wow, that’s me.” So she said, “You know what, let’s try and test that.” We offered that as a visiting practitioner. And let’s see how the people react [to] that. And I was fully booked from the first day on to weeks to months.

It went on then to South China Morning Post, which is a very big newspaper, wrote about it. Wall Street Journal wrote about it. Some smaller TV stations brought something up, a magazine. So I got feedback from the media world. I was a white face reader, the gweilo, the “white ghost,” doing face reading. That’s what we do usually. I did it in a very modern language. So the youngsters came and fully booked and Mandarin Oriental—oops, now I said the name—transferred me to other places as well.

Out of the blue, I got a phone call, and the first sentence is, “What are you doing in our city?” And I’m, “Hello, I’m Eric the face reader.” “No, you’re not.” I said, “Of course, I know who I am.” “No, you’re not. White men cannot read face.” And I said, “Why not? We have faces as well.” And this guy became a master.

AZ: So he was kind of…

ES: He was upset.

AZ: …offended by you.

ES: Offended.

AZ: So you meet him. Tell me how that worked out.

ES: That was very strange. He lived in Kowloon, this is on the other side of Hong Kong Harbour, and very traditional. I went upstairs, [to the] sixth floor and got in his kitchen, sitting in front of him, and we had a very, very, let’s say, rough conversation. It wasn’t not nice. There was a lot of tension in that conversation. Then he said out of the blue again, “White man cannot read face.” And I said, “One moment.” I saw a beer in front of him, a can of beer. A Chinese label. And I said, “So this is Chinese beer, right? He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Chinese cannot do beer. That has to be in Germany. And the car downstairs, that was a Japanese one. Is that yours?” “No.” I said, “There’s a Chinese car here, right? That doesn’t make sense to me. Then all the Chinese here doing yoga, that’s not a good idea, should belong to India.“ He started laughing. He had an idea that maybe I’m a little bit more clever than he thought. And then he started asking me what I know.

I didn’t get that. So he found out that I know things that he didn’t know, because I learned from a different technique and that made him curious. And out of the blue, he said, “From now on, you are my student.” And I said, “Well, maybe I don’t want to be your student.” And then he said, “You want. Done.” I didn’t know what that means, for me to be a student of a Chinese master because it means you lose, more or less, your independence. You’re not allowed to ask questions. You’re not allowed to comment. Out of the blue, the schedule might change. You learn patience.

AZ: You are no longer working at the high-end hotel.

ES: On top, except the moments when he had breaks for a few months.

AZ: So where were you living? What was your day-to-day like?

ES: It depended on the situation. I rented places where I could stay.

AZ: Were you concerned with how to make money, how to eat, how to get through life?

ES: It was really interesting because when I was running out of money, I was then freed again for a few months where I could [make] money, but with face reading, [it] was cool because I learned something and now I can do my living with it. But it was always really living close to the edge. It was like making money, done. [Groans] It was really deep-breath-taking things.

AZ: But it wasn’t adding to your stress. You were feeling great.

ES: Interesting enough, it was not stress because I was so much caught by learning new things that I’ve never heard of, and that took me away. I remember one day sitting in a park in Sheung Wan and thinking, Eric, where will that take you to? I mean, you’re in your mid-forties now, and you learned something great yesterday, but let’s see if you can live from that. And then the other side of my brain said, wait a moment, when you’re 60, 70, 80, you can still read faces and you can make your daily living with that. You read two people, you have food and the night to stay. And that calmed me, I don’t know. In earlier years it would not, I would have thought about retirement and—

AZ: Yeah. Well, you had all of these perceived skills in the early part of your career. I mean, more and more this is happening, where people take major life shifts midlife and these big leaps. Which is something that I’m really inspired by with you, that you’ve been knocked down, you get back up, you’ve been knocked down, you get back up. And it’s all in this process of actually learning who you are and what your purpose is. What have you learned from taking these big leaps at these points in your life?

ES: First of all, I learned a lot about myself. Let’s give it a label and say “Comeback Kid.” Whatever happens, I have my comeback. That gives you a lot of confidence. Someone called me a “survivor.” So if I invest really my true determination and my belief in what I can do, there will always be a moment where I survive. That is the first thing. The second thing I learned is, I have no talent to be a leader. I might lead people by taking them by the hand, but not as a king, not as someone who’s in charge, not an emperor.

AZ: Which you thought you were in your twenties and thirties.

ES: Absolutely. And the more people behind me, the better. Or below me, not even behind. Below. That is another thing that I’ve learned. The next thing I’ve learned is that it’s more interesting to deal with people and interact with people than I thought before. Before that people have been a burden, almost like a limit. An obstacle to overcome on my path to the highest peak. That’s what a lot of people think. But, it was not a learning, but I made a great experience, friends that I have now of all different kinds and it’s a true friendship. I experienced a lot [of] people who have a lot [of] success. They do not have a lot [of] true friends or maybe they even have no friends, real friends. And it’s very calculated, always. That has been totally banned out of my life by not even doing something for that.

AZ: Right. If you feel like there’s an ambition in this friendship, you run away from it.

ES: Yeah. And you see that a lot. I see that a lot in my client’s faces.

AZ: Real quick—before I get into another area that I’m interested in, which is your day-to-day life now after all of this extraordinary learning and working with these three teachers, masters—when you’re involved in a face reading, how do you perceive time differently when reading the face? I’m interested both in how you can see time, the road map of someone’s life. And I’m also interested in the moment that you’re reading. What time feels like to you?

ES: Oh, interesting. I’m pretty often more relaxed than my clients. The first thing that my clients ask me is, “So how much time do we have?” And I usually say, “Well, Westerners are used to one-hour sessions, so let’s give it an hour.” But in a perfect [world], I would not do more than two readings a day. One in the first half, one in the second. And if the reading takes three hours, it’s three. And if it’s 20 minutes, it’s 20 minutes. Because why overo when you have after twenty minutes all the answers you need? I’m no longer really forced by that, except I work in a retreat, where you have a strong schedule. This is the first thing. You’re lost in time, definitely, when you [face] read because you are so much on a subconscious level that you do not even take notice of the clock.

Time-wise, reading a face is very interesting because, of course, you can see a development from where someone comes from. That face that you have right now, right in front of you, you have a little bit of an idea of how that face must have looked like ten years ago, twenty years ago. It’s very hard to guess how the face will look like in the future. But we are all almost, it’s almost forbidden to take a look in the future in the sense of be[ing] a fortune teller and tell, “Hey, if you go on like that, you will look like that.” It’s almost—

AZ: Yeah, you’ve always been very clear that you’re not a fortune teller. This is not tarot. This is not even I Ching. This is something very different. This is—

ES: Because there are life-changing moments that I cannot see, because they can be implemented by life, but they can also be forced by will. I then do not know what the client will be like in two, three years. There is one method of face reading—which is called “life-path reading”; some would call it “destiny reading”—that is a little bit like that, but not really. It’s philosophical. It’s because of the nature you have as a personality and the way how you act with your character. It’s very likely that you [will go down] that path and then you have a first advice of your client. Is that really the path you want to go? Is that how you interpret you?

AZ: But you have a little bit of the ability to see into the future. We met a few months ago in a beautiful island off Indonesia. We were having dinner and we were talking about my photographs and I showed you some photographs of people you didn’t know. Even some were famous but you hadn’t seen them, and you were able to tell things about these people like, “That person’s gonna die soon.” And you were right about that. That person passed away shortly after that photograph had been taken. So there are certain signs that you can see shortly into the future, but they’re mainly health-related.

ES: Well let’s say I have more confidence in the health-related ones because they’re more explainable and more obvious. You could do that with the personality and life purpose and destiny things as well, but they are more philosophical.

AZ: So you now work in so many different environments, you’re constantly—

ES: Totally different.

AZ: Different people, places. One of the areas that I want to talk to you about is law enforcement, which you had spent a little bit of time in. So tell me both why it didn’t work out for you, what you didn’t like about it and what the experience was like.

ES: Well, first of all, it’s a problem with law enforcement itself—it’s funded by the state, and they don’t want to invest too much money in the skill of face reading. That’s the first thing. Some do, but it’s very often coaching, training of police officers, for example. So they develop their skills further, which I think is a good idea. But I think they should do it a little bit more than they already do.

AZ: Yeah. You studied with three masters all over the world, and they want the thing in two-hour sessions.

ES: Yes.

AZ: Yeah.

ES: The next thing with law enforcement is that you are not everywhere allowed to sit in the room where the criminal sits and where the interview is literally going on. So you study then maybe a recording, or you sit behind the window that is obviously a window, but not for the criminal. It’s a mirror, but he already knows that. Then you support the psychologist, or you support the police officer, in a way, to find out what’s going on here. Then we have different laws in different countries. You could assist a police officer in Hong Kong, but you could only train an officer in Germany. I don’t even know how it is in the U.S., but I think it is even different here from state to state. On my path, by the way, just aside [from] that, in the U.S. I met a room reader who assists the police in reading the room where someone comes from. So maybe the criminal lives in that place, this apartment, and by reading the apartment they get a better idea of what kind of personality this person has. [That] was very interesting as well.

So working for law enforcement is interesting because it deals with, let’s say, the dark side of personality. And also, you have a quick way to help people because maybe you help someone in finding the right criminal, the right guy who did commit the crime. On the other side, it gets boring. It’s exciting moments, let’s say, if you do that two or three times a year, but if you do it all the time, you get bored because it’s always about one thing, lying or not lying. Then trustful, not trustful. It limits people on five, six things. And you read their character, you don’t read their personality. No police officer wants to know, Is this guy born with a creative skill? Is this guy by birth, a loyal person? What is his potential? What could he do in life? What could he do with his life? They just want to know, What is his character like?

AZ: Right. The space you work in is understanding the delta between personality and character.

ES: Yeah.

AZ: So personality is something we’re born with.

ES: Yeah.

AZ: And you can tell that from the face, even in a baby?

ES: Hardly. And if you ask a Chinese master, of course they can. But I think they’d say that to be a more master style like and maybe make more money. I don’t know.

AZ: But you have read babies before. There’s a great story—

ES: Two or three.

AZ: —about that. Can you share that with us?

ES: I was more or less forced to read a baby’s face in Thailand. The father was a German, the mother was a Russian. She was once a ballet dancer. Father was a lawyer. We were sitting [at] that table all day, every night for dinner, and on the very last day, I think [the] second[-to]last day, the father said, “You know what, Eric, we want you to read our baby.” And I said, “The baby’s not even three, four, five years old. It’s one year old or something. There’s not a lot I can see. I mean, the face shape, there’s no puberty. The baby will have full lips. The baby will have large pupils. So I can read a little bit.” And they said, “Yeah, you know what, Eric, please just do. And if it’s just two minutes, we want to have the experience.”

I said, “Okay, well, if it’s just two minutes and I’m booked for an hour, well then let’s do that.” So I went down, [and] I had already the idea in my head: it’s not about the baby, it’s about the two. They might have a discussion about the baby and they want me as a neutral authority. I read the baby’s face and there’s not a lot that you can see, that’s true. But what you could see are forehead lines, which is very interesting because they disappear when they are, let’s say two, three, four years old. But babies show forehead lines. Some Chinese say, “Oh, it’s a kind of a prophecy of the personality in the future.”

AZ: What do the forehead lines tell you?

ES: The forehead lines are usually a creation of how you think. In a baby, we do not know how much the baby thinks at that moment. So for me, it’s still a little bit a philosophical thing. So even for myself, I’m not really confident with that method, but I read the forehead lines and I just used the forehead lines of the baby from what I’ve learned for adults. And I saw, okay, with those forehead lines, this baby will create out of the personality, this or this character. That was totally opposite to what Dad had in mind for the baby, to become the followup of his company, in terms of a lawyer, or what Mom wanted the baby to be, a ballet dancer or someone playing the piano, because this baby was all about being adventurous.

Wild, going out. She—it was a female—would be more [likely to be a] pilot or a travel agent or whatever. And that’s what I told them. And I said, because they [fought] when I started reading the baby, they [fought] about what they had in mind for the baby. And I said at one moment, “Please stop. I cannot read the baby anymore.” And then they said, “But what do you know, a ballet dancer and now she’s going to be a lawyer.” And I said, “Stop. From what I see—and please, it’s my second or third baby reading—this baby will be all over the place. It’s a traveler, who will be more or less a pilot or whatever, but not what you expect.” And the strong advice that I can give you [is] that you [shouldn’t] harm the kid by pushing your ideas of the world and how you see the world in the head of this personality because you form a character that is not the true identity of this person.

Well, then they were not really happy about it. They started fighting again. I left the place. The next day the father came to me and said, “Listen, Eric, I want to say thank you for that. I slept over it. I promise you one thing, if that girl don’t want to be a lawyer, I’m the last one to push her, because that’s what my father did with me and that’s why I’m unhappy. I cannot promise what my wife’s intentions are, but I will have a close look on that and will interfere if she’s pushing the girl to something that she doesn’t want to do.”

AZ: Amazing. So from babies to CEOs. Now you’ve had some very interesting experiences with C-suite executives, with very powerful people in top banks. Some of the most powerful people in the world. Obviously you don’t mention their names, but, anecdotally, we know that you’ve advised some extraordinary people. Tell me a bit about what it’s like to be brought into a corporation by a leader to read an employee’s face.

ES: Oh, interesting. By the way, not happening that often. The CEOs very often use me as their personal tool to have a reflection on themselves. So a lot of CEOs use me for self-enrichment—for having a kind of ping-pong with their own mind. Sometimes they use me, of course, for team-building, for choosing the right person for the right position and even [to] assist in contract talks with another company. But this is more common in Asia. When CEOs choose me to take a look [at] the employees, first of all, it depends on the culture where I am. If I do that in the Asian world, I’m very welcomed, because the employees always use me for their own things as well. “Here’s my son, can you tell me something about him?” I [say], “Yeah, later on, but can I read you first?”

So that’s very often not a really a problem. For them it’s like, okay, I have an interview. In the Western world it’s totally strange—for me it’s interesting because a lot of people don’t believe in face reading or the ability to get to know something out of the face. But when I then come and start reading them, they feel uncomfortable because they want to hide behind a mask, maybe, and they don’t want to reveal the true identity. Although the face reading then is not about “reveal the true identity.” It’s more about what skills can be used, or, is that person in the right position? It’s more company related.

AZ: There’s one fantastic story about when you were brought in to look a team….

ES: Oh, that was the one in Singapore.

AZ: Yeah.

ES: Yeah. So a CEO hired me. I got a phone call and [he] said, “Hey, I just formed a new department, eight, nine people.” It was a Singapore, Chinese company. “They’re all good, I’m really sure. But for months we have no outcome. It’s just not going on. I think there must be a rotten apple in the basket. So maybe you can find out what’s the blockage.” “Okay.” I flew in and I had readings with all eight [employees] on the first day. I found them great, a lot of the guys. They were all cool and we had a lot of fun, even. On the second day, I watched workflow; maybe there was something going on in the workflow. [It] was great as well. On the third day, I had dinner—it was not lunch—it was dinner with the CEO. The CEO said, “Okay Eric, what’s your observation? I really need your advice on that.”

I said, “Well, first observation, you have really good people skills.” He said, “Thank you, but that doesn’t help me.” And I said, “No, really. You can pick people very well because the team is great.” And he said, “So what’s the issue then, if the team is great? I see no results.” And I said, “The problem is not the team, the problem is the CEO.” He said, “What do you mean the problem’s the CEO? I’m the CEO.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s the problem.” He said, “Come on, I founded this company. I can’t be that bad as a CEO.” I said, “Not really. When I look in your face, I cannot see… As in mine, you have no talent for leading.” Then he said, “But I’m the CEO.”

I said, “Yeah, that’s the problem. You founded this company, you are an entrepreneur, you are a founder, you are a creative personality, you are a visionary, but you are not a leader. You have to understand that. Those are soldiers, they need a leader, a general. So my advice is to hire someone to be the general of those eight. And you will see they will perform greatly. And a side effect is, you have more time for what you’re really good in. You’re not good in leading. Be honest. You don’t want to talk to all of those every day and give them a daily message and lead them through all the little battles they have to do.” He said, “Uh, not really. I’m more interested in my next creation.” And I said, “See, so don’t waste time on that. Hire a general and focus on what you do. You will have more happiness and on top you will make more money.”

AZ: What happened?

ES: He did, and he was super happy. First of all, he got rid of all the burden of all that, and he hired a good guy, it looks like to me, because I didn’t know the guy, but I got an email a few months later.

AZ: Do you think that our environments, in a way, can hold us back from growth keeping us in a thinking pattern?

ES: Oh yeah, very good. For example, we have the five elements in China. You heard about it, maybe. Chinese described the world with five elements. There’s food that can be spicy, so that would be [the] fire element. Or grounding, like potatoes, that would be [the] earth element, and so on. So we have the five elements, which is fire, earth, wood, metal, and water. Environments are also related to the five elements. So if you, physically, but also the way you think and act is related to a kind of element and you come to an environment where the element is of a different kind, you might feel great or you might feel not good. This is why people fly into cities and think, “Oh wow, that’s the place I want to be.” Or they fly into cities and say, “I don’t like it here. I don’t even know why.” Same with relationships and other things.

There are some environments that do well on us, while others not. And it’s not because of the environment; it’s because of us. A fish doesn’t feel well on the shore, and a bird [doesn’t] want to dive. This is what we have to find out. And very often, we are very often attracted by an element that is a thousand percent ourself. But that is, [in] the long run, not a good idea. So let’s say you a fiery person and you go to a fire place—that’s the supernova and that will burn you out. So a place that would be more related to wood would feed you, in short words. And if you’re a fire person and you’re totally burned out, it’s good that you go to an earth place to be grounded again. That’s why some people also switch between places that might be totally [contradictory].

AZ: Like, have a country home and a city home.

ES: Yeah.

AZ: Fascinating. Thank you for joining us today.

ES: Thank you.

AZ: This was an amazing conversation. I hope everyone goes out and gets your book, Read the Face, which is a brilliant, brilliant exploration of both your own history and what the face has to show. Thank you for coming.

ES: Thank you so much for inviting.


This interview was recorded in The Slowdown’s New York City studio on Oct. 2, 2019. The transcript has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity. This episode was produced by our director of strategy and operations, Emily Queen, and sound engineer Pat McCusker.