Nonprofits are dedicated to their causes, but they still need to raise funds in order to operate. The challenge is, how do they communicate with their donors in a way that the donors love? Steve Thomas, author of Donoricity, is a veteran fundraising consultant. He believes in building mutually beneficial relationships by emphasizing the donor’s needs over the nonprofits.

In this episode, Steve shares strategies that foster more goodwill with donors and inspires them to become regular benefactors. By the end of this episode, you’ll have his best tactics for creating long lasting partnerships with donors that will help your organization build a brighter future.

Get Steve’s new book Donoricity on Amazon.

Find out more at


Donoricity Thinks About Donors Differently

Steve Thomas: It’s magic when you don’t have to convince somebody to do something. You just have to help guide them or help them understand how they could be a part of something. Then it’s not you selling something. It’s about you connecting with them as a person.

It’s one thing to be across the desk from somebody. But it’s another thing to think about, what does an email look like where I’m considering that person? What does a direct mail letter look like when I’m considering that person?

It is a fundamental mind shift.

The book’s called Donoricity because I have a tendency to make up words. One of the ad agencies that we run is called Oneicity. It looks like one-eye-city, but it’s pronounced Oneicity, like electricity or simplicity.

This agency was formed with this idea that the same strategies, this magical idea that the donor has something they want to do in the world and we can connect with it. And it could be done not just across a desk but through email, through direct mail, through a variety of media.

My very first client was gracious and wrote the foreword to Donoricity. In the very early days, I did an assessment for him. His name is Jeff Gillman, an incredible guy leading an amazing organization, changing lives. Jeff has been my client for nearly a decade.

In that time, he and I have collaborated and become great friends. But more importantly, he’s done a great job of taking what I believe in these kind of things and accelerated them even further. One of the questions that always gets asked is, “Is any of this real, how does this actually work?”

In the book, we talk about the fact that you have to treat donors as very busy people and as people doing more than a million things. They’re doing a lot of things, and the very best donors are occupied with lots of different activities and things they want to be involved with. You have to get their attention.

We talk about ways to get donors’ attention, we talk about ways to help a donor understand how they fit and what to do. Then, maybe most importantly, we talk about the fact that a donor wants to be asked to do more than just give a gift.

Here’s the thing.

I don’t know about you, but there are occasions when I don’t have money to give to organizations that I love. A big podcaster like you, you’ve probably never run out of money at your house, but occasionally at Hoots and Thomas, we kind of run a little short.

When someone we love says, “You know, we could use the help,” and we think to ourselves, “Gosh, this is not our time.” If you just make it about the dollars in that moment, then I feel really bad because I didn’t give you a gift.

But if you give me the option to do more than just give the gift, then I begin to think. I have a good feeling that, even though I didn’t have money to give, when the bank account fills back up…

When the dollars come around, you have the warm feeling, not the bad feeling of having said no.

Donors are really looking for you to involve them—not just with their income, but they’re looking for you to connect with them in other significant ways.

Charlie Hoehn: What are some examples that have worked really well?

Steve Thomas: Our clients, in the two agencies that we have, serve Christian ministries. The predominant donors are Christian, faith-based people.

One of the things that is very common and very real is not only to ask people to be involved at the financial level. But to say, “We would appreciate that if you would be prayerful about this situation.”

It can feel like you’re using that as a technique and what I want to say in the book and what I will say here is: feel free to think that, but that’s not the case.

I actually am a person who believes in prayer and believes in that power in my life. I know that when I ask someone to pray, they have done something good, because I actually believe something happens when you do that.

But they have also felt involved.

I have connected them in that way. Not as a strategy to connect them. But in the same way they give a gift, it draws them in.

I also would say to them “Now, share on Facebook” because I like pairing the idea of hifalutin-spirituality and the low end of Facebook.

One of the keys in both of those is to say to them, “You’re doing something that makes a difference in that moment.”

Engaging Donors in Creative Ways

Charlie Hoehn: Do you recommend giving your readers an out by asking them to share on Facebook if they can’t afford to purchase your product?

Steve Thomas: It would be ideal, if someone will actually jump in there and introduce them physically to the 10 friends in their book group or whatever.

One of my goals is to get someone involved.

Here’s the other piece of the book that I didn’t lead with because I was trying to avoid it, but I’m just going to say:

One things I love telling people is to not say thank you to their donors.

I’ve actually seen people…their tongues roll back and their eyes roll back in their heads and they swallow their tongues and flop on the floor when I say that.

Here’s the thing. Say you and I are best friends, and you ask me to do that, rating and reviewing. I rate and review and I do my part, and I never hear from you again. Or, you say, “Thanks Steve, good job.”

What if you came back to me and said, “Holy cow, Thomas. Do you realize that you were one of a couple of people who have the following it takes that when you rated and reviewed it, we charted? The book sales went off the charts because you wrote, I counted them, a total of 17 words.” Then you say to me, “Wow, would you do one more thing for me?”

I’m going to lean in and go, “I gave you 17 words and it changed your life. You bet I will,” right?

You’ve allowed me to validate my effort, my gift, my participation. Yes, it’s still good to say those two words, “Thank you.” But that’s not it. Thank you means nearly nothing.

You tell me my dollars, my interest, my effort meant something.

You give me a metric or you give me something concrete.

I had a guy call me this week and he said, “I’ve got a one-minute question for you.” Those are always interesting. I’m on the phone walking back through Seattle and he says, “We have this event…” I had been at the event, and it had gone very well, but he said, “We had one guy. He’s a first time donor and he wrote us a mid-five-digit gift.”

You’re not in that world, but I’ll just say, you don’t usually get first gifts in the mid-five-digits. That’s kind of a big deal. He’s like, “I’ve got a letter written, I’ve got the thank you note all done, what else do I do?”

I said, “Okay. Has he ever been to your place?” He said, “No.” I said, “So you’re going to do a tour?” He said, “Yeah, absolutely.”

I said, “On the tour, here’s your goal: not to talk about what you’re doing, but to talk about what this donor is doing.” You get the chance to not just say the two words, “Thank you.”

You can say, “See that family over there? They are going to get a chance to not only have food but they’re going to have a chance to get off the street because of your gift.”

“These people over here are going to get job training because of you. We can help pay for the tutor who will be helping them with resume writing because of you.”

These are the faces of the lives you’re changing.

That takes it away from a transaction.

Donors don’t give for thank-yous. Donors give because they’re ready to change the world in some way that’s significant.

If you can tap into that by validating and giving them feedback, here’s what difference you made in the world, then they aren’t dreading your next conversation. “Oh, they’re going to come back and ask me for money.”

No, they’re going to have a conversation to give me an opportunity to change the world in the way I want to change it.

That becomes a conversation I want to have, either in email or in person or whatever the various tools you might use to have that conversation.

This thing works in person, it works in email, it works in a direct mail piece, it works in video.

How Steve Thomas Learned to Fundraise

Charlie Hoehn: Where did you learn this, was it through trial and error or did you have mentors or how did it happen?

Steve Thomas: Total failures.

Jeff Gillman, my client that I mentioned, we were having conversation about major donors. So these are people of significant impact in an organization who were writing, significant checks. He and I are actually literally sitting on a bench waiting to go eat in a restaurant. We were talking about how does one create relationship with these major donors in a way that gives them value. That helps them feel like they’re important, but doesn’t make you feel like you’re selling them.

There’s a variety of techniques, and they’re all good, but they don’t really work for me.

You’re like, “Take them to a ball game or play golf with them, or you know, take them out to dinner.”

I have no problem with sales, but it’s sort of a sales kind of thing. What he pointed out, I’ll never forget this. He said, “If they say, ‘this is not my time to give,’ what do I say?”

If it’s all about the money and if it is all about what you, as the organization, are trying to do, you’re going to fail. But, if you look to that other person, like my friend in Tennessee, and I finally got to understand what was important to him. I begin to look for what was important to him and how they aligned with what I was doing.

As the same thing, what we have created is this idea of saying, there are ways to connect with donors that are about what they want to do. You don’t have to sell them on that, you don’t have to persuade them. If you’re only asking for money and only asking for one thing, they’re eventually going to say no or not have money.

And then all you can do is go, “Well I’ll be back when you have money.”

Look at your wrist watch and go, “Would that be like a couple of weeks from now? What would that be like?” That’s a miserable thing for everybody.

But if you can say to somebody, “Totally understand, but would you help in this way?” For the author experience, “Loved your Facebook share, but now, would you actually write me a review?”

“Or if you don’t have time to write a review, share me on Facebook.”

I might come back to you and tell you what a difference your Facebook share made and how much more – give me 20 words on iTunes and here’s the link to make it easy.

Donors are very busy, you better give them a recipe.

You better tell them, “Here’s what I’m looking for, here’s the link to click, here’s how you’re going to do it so that I don’t have to think about it…”

Chris Brogan talks about recipes on these kind of matters, and I agree with him 100%. I can follow a recipe, everybody’s followed a recipe. Give them some steps. Here’s what you can do.

“This is not your time to give me a gift of cash. Here’s how you can help me. Would you introduce me to a couple of your friends? Would you have a coffee? I’ll take a share on Facebook.”

What Readers Gain from Donoricity

Charlie Hoehn: Is there any particular strategy or technique in the book that you’re particularly proud of?

Steve Thomas: I worked so hard in the book, I am proud of all of it. It’s like saying which of your kids is the best looking.

One of the things that most non-profits struggle with is finding new donors. One of the things that I teach in the book is this idea that most people are not going to be your donor.

I call it “The Ugly Baby Strategy.”

You’ve been in an elevator or an escalator person where you bump into a mom or a new dad and they’re got a baby wrapped up in a blanket. And they are so proud of that baby, and you go, “Well, let me see!” They pull back the blanket and it looks like a little wrinkled smooched up Winston Churchill face. And the one thing you can think is, “That it is not a pretty baby.”

But they are so proud of that baby because to them, it’s a pretty baby.

Most non-profits have to understand that the vast majority of the world will think about their non-profit as an ugly baby and will not find it beautiful.

We think about how you get past that with a couple of techniques. Making sure that you are getting in front of enough people and presenting your messaging so that your message can resonate with whoever might find your baby pretty.

Craft your stories so that a donor understands why—in spite of what you might think your baby’s pretty—they ought to pay attention to it.

Charlie Hoehn: What is something that your readers can try out from the book?

Steve Thomas: My recommendation is you get a donor on the phone. Somehow a real live, someone who is given you two dollars or $200,000. Someone who’s made a gift of some money, big or little, in the last couple of months. Once they get over the awkwardness of you getting them on the phone, ask them why they gave their gift. Ask why three times, because you probably won’t get the deepest, most candid answer first.

Understand that donors have motivations that are usually not in the mind of the organization.

As you begin to think about your donors as people, much like businesses, once they begin to think about their customers as people, things change.

It is a joyful, amazing experience for most non-profits. To actually have a conversation with somebody who gave them a gift and to appreciate them, but then to say, “Why? Why did you give that gift?”

Usually they will give a bad answer. Then say, “Is that the only reason? I’ve noticed that you have been giving a number of years. Well why have you stayed with us for so long?”

Pursue that path to get you to the deepest why. What I have found in encountering lots and lots of donors and lots and lots of clients with lots and lots of donors is, at the core they have a desire to change the world.

They want to do something to help a person’s life be better. They want to make an elephant’s life be better. But it all comes down to this metric of changing the world.

Once you understand that, every bit of your communication is not going to be about what you want to do but it’s tapping into what that donor wants to do. If I make things about what I want to do versus what you want to do, then I’m going to head into the direction you want to go.

It becomes effortless.

Charlie Hoehn: Where can our listeners stay connected with you and follow you and your company?

Steve Thomas: We built a website just for the book called Donoricity. Funny how when you make up words you can get the URL too.So it’s and you can, as I say in the book, here is where you can find all the things that I didn’t intend to leave out but did. There’s some resources and ways to communicate and stay in touch.

Get Steve’s new book Donoricity on Amazon.

Find out more at

Listen to more authors who think differently about reaching their market:

Are you tired of taking detours on your road to financial prosperity? Paul James (@hellopauljames), author of Reverse Engineer Your Future, knows that waiting around for a lucky break is a waste of time. He believes you have the ability to set your own path if you can think differently.

Listen in to Paul to learn:

  • Why selling yourself is just as important as selling the products and services you offer
  • How to turn a rejected sale into an opportunity
  • What it takes to build lasting, value-based relationships that lead to sales success

Get Paul’s new book Reverse Engineer Your Future on Amazon.

Find out more at

Paul James: When I was going to school full time to become a nurse and working part time, I was driving to school in the middle of winter from my county, West Bend, all the way to Milwaukee county. It’s about a 40-minute drive.

I’m on the freeway, and they don’t plow the streets really well out here when it snows. They don’t put a lot of salt on the road. They were actually putting sand down right then.

All of a sudden I hit a patch of black ice and went spinning doing circles. I just remember the steering wheel going right and then going left, and I couldn’t grab control of it.

That kind of felt like my life at that time.

Things were spiraling in different directions. Eventually I went flying into the ditch and was kind of in shock. Thankful that I was alive, obviously, and in shock and not knowing what to do.

I can remember calling my mom up and asking her, “Should I call the police or do I try to drive out of here?” I called the police, she recommended I do that, and it took a while. No one ever came, and I eventually tried to just drive out of the ditch. The problem was that I was facing oncoming cars when I was trying to come out of the ditch.

I somehow managed to get the car out of the ditch. I’m back on the freeway and driving, and it hit me right there and then.

It felt like I was destined for more.

That I knew that life could be great and there were so many things that I could be doing that I had a passion for, and I just needed to figure it out. What I was doing then wasn’t what I was going to be doing five or ten years from that moment.

That’s what led me into the book and led me into the ideas inside of the book. People feel like they’re destined for more or they’re not happy where life is.

Sometimes it’s just not clear how we get there.

A Breakthrough in the Chaos

Charlie Hoehn: You mentioned that you felt like your whole life was spiraling out of control. What kind of things were going on?

Paul James: I was working at a heating and cooling company before this, and work got slow, which is what led me into nursing school in the first place. I needed a new career path. I chose that path because I was very interested in science and I liked helping people.

But I soon came to find out I didn’t like helping people that way.

But I liked helping people and thought it would be a good choice for me. I would be able to get a good paying job from it and come out of school and really hit the ground running.

Well, when I started school, the nursing shortage was big and people were hiring like crazy for it. When I was about to graduate, I had a couple of semesters left, and the job shortage wasn’t there anymore. It was hard to find a job, and if you could find one, it wasn’t paying nearly what it was when I had started the schooling process.

That whole situation was very devastating.

I had to move in to my brother’s garage because financially I was not doing well. I was kicking off a new marriage that way as well. Me and my wife were both in the garage, and that’s kind of how we started our marriage.

I kind of felt like a failure all the way around. I was trying and trying, but I felt like I wasn’t catching a break.

Charlie Hoehn: Where were you sleeping in the garage by the way?

Paul James: It was basically this big empty room, it was like a 12×10 room and there was no bathroom, no kitchen or anything like that. It wasn’t a typical garage where it had cars in it and stuff. He had remodeled it into what we call the clubhouse, a big empty room that had a pool table in the center of it.

My brother moved the pool table into his living room so that we could live there which was awesome of him. I’m very grateful for that.

But at the same time, it was not a practical place to live. We had two pets and were starting off a marriage in the cold Wisconsin winter. We were running through the snow to use the bathroom in his house, which was not fun at all.

Charlie Hoehn: When was your breakthrough moment and how long did it take to get there?

Paul James: My breakthrough moment was pulling the car out of the ditch and driving.

I need to figure something out. I need to figure out what I want to do with my life.

How could I leverage the struggles going on around me and pull out the positive things that came from them or that I learned from, then figure out what I want to be doing.

From that point, I went back home that night and got on the computer and started researching.

I had remembered some things that popped up from the past. Advertisement sites, different courses, things that I knew of.

I stumbled upon search engine optimization, which is the process of getting your website ranked on the first page of Google to get more traffic. So I started learning more and more about that. It led me to figuring out what I wanted to do, which was basically that: search engine optimization.

Finding Purpose in Passion

Charlie: Why did you want to do that?

Paul: I always had a passion for computers growing up. I can remember playing around on them, whether video games or trying to mess around learning how to code. One of my friends growing up, his parents were big into eBay. I remember seeing them listing stuff around the house, and he was learning how to program.

I always had that background and that influence around me. It piqued my curiosity. I just wasn’t sure, prior to this point, how I could actually use it to make a living.

Charlie Hoehn: How did that lead to the book?

Paul James: As I started getting going with things, I realized a pattern in my life with search engine optimization.

Prior to that, I was doing music and was in a band. That’s what led me to come across an ad that led to search engine optimization, because I was looking for ways to promote my band.

I’d realized I had this common trait that followed me through whether it was music, whether it was business. I was looking for a person or a moment that was going to shoot me into success. It was going to make me a ton of money, give me everything that I wanted.

As a musician, I’m thinking, “I should be out there hammering reps at record labels and explaining to them why they need to sign me.” I was trying to place my trust in that.

While I was in business, I was trying to find someone who was much more successful than me to convince them to give me a chance. After a while, I figured out that that mindset is just not a good one.

You can be your big break. You can be the person that is going to help you get there.

But you have to really realize that and use the struggles in your life.

Charlie Hoehn: What is the one thing you want readers to take away from your book?

Paul James: It’s never too late to change your mind. A lot of times, people don’t adapt.

I can remember a time when musicians relied on CD sales. Then we had, I think it was Napster that was like the first major file sharing site where people were downloading music. Musicians were no longer getting paid for the CDs that they sold, and everyone was kind of in a panic.

But some people were smart about it. They realized, hey, maybe we should just give music out for free and gain such a rapid fan base from the extra reach that we’re going to have 10-times the amount of people showing up at our concerts. Those people are going to be buying T-shirts and bracelets and merchandise.

Be ready to change course and adapt because things change. Those who adapt are going to be successful.

You don’t have to place your trust in someone else to do it. It’s all within you if you can just look at what’s going on and figure out an alternative.

Get Specific About Your Life

Charlie Hoehn: What would you say to somebody who is looking to reinvent themselves? What would you tell them to do this week?

Paul James: You really need to think about what it is you ultimately want. What it is you want to do with your life?

I figured out exactly what I wanted. Down to what kind of house I wanted to live in, what kind of car I wanted to drive. I went as far as to actually test drive cars and look at houses, even though I couldn’t afford them.

I wanted to be certain that this is what I want.

So I figured out how much it was going to take to be able to afford these things. Then I figured, is the lifestyle that I want to live? Does it match what it’s going to take to get that.

If you’re in a service based business and you’re selling websites, for example, if you want to make eight grand a month, you have to sell eight websites for a thousand dollars to hit that goal. Does that still suit the lifestyle? You have to figure out how bad you really want it.

Sometimes people have trouble figuring out what it is exactly they want.

An easy way to figure out what it is to figure out what you don’t want. Because it’s a lot easier to come up with that list first.

If we can figure out, I don’t want to be doing this, I want to be able to vacation in Florida for a month out of a year and this is going to inhibit me from doing that. Well then, you can get a lot closer to figuring out what it is you want by eliminating that stuff right out of the bat.

Charlie Hoehn: How would you suggest looking through that layer and discovering what you really want so you can reverse engineer your future?

Paul James: That was something that I really struggled with. I talked a lot about it in the book too. My wife and I found that we were often doing stuff to please other people, which at the end of the day, leaves no one happy. You’re not doing what you love and you’re going to have some sort of resentment towards that person.

When I dropped out of nursing school, I think there was a lot of disappointment in the family. Everyone was really proud of me for going and doing that, and then when I dropped out, everyone was questioning whether or not I was making the right decision.

But I had to trust my gut and go with what I felt was the right thing to do.

Ultimately, it proved to be the right choice and everyone came around at the end. I think everyone was really happy about that I made that decision in the end, including myself.

One really good way to figure out what you want to do is to go pick up new hobbies. You don’t have to do it forever. For example, I’m big into rock climbing.

When I got into rock climbing, I thought I would hate it. I only went because my nephew said, “Hey do you want to go rock climbing?” I thought it was a good opportunity to hang out with him, but I really enjoyed it.

If you don’t try new stuff and put yourself out there, you’re not going to actually figure it out. You are not going to find out what it is you like or don’t like. Go out there and try new things. Pick out the good parts of the things that you like.

Go with your gut instinct and pursue it, even if everyone is not on board right away. They will come around later.

Break it down into something more approachable something smaller that you can try. Then assess it after: “Did I actually like this? Did I want this? How did it make me feel?” You can become more self-aware and know what it is that you really want when it comes to bigger things as well. Everybody knows the phrase: do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.

Snowball Your Success

Charlie Hoehn: How did you find the courage to stuck up for what you wanted when you had all your family and friends pushing back on you?

Paul James: I was just so in tuned with it. I was finding myself after school every day reading everything I could about search engine optimization.

The first day, I remember what I did was I had ranked a blog on anatomy and physiology. It was a topic I was taking in nursing school at the time. I think in Google I didn’t hit that rate but in Bing I hit the first page.

While I was getting some traffic to it, I put some affiliate offers on the blog which at the time was a flash card offer. It allowed students who were taking that class to pull out these flashcards while they were in line at the grocery store or watching TV during commercials. It was a lot of memorization.

So every time someone came to my site and bought one of these flashcards made by a doctor, I got paid $20. I distinctly remember seeing my first $20 sale come in and thinking, “This is it.”

I know that this is possible. There’s opportunity here that is real and tangible now.

I’d sit in class refreshing to see if I got more sales. That was the moment when I said, “I am done with nursing school.” I went to a professor who was in charge of enrollments and said, “I am done with this. I am dropping out.”

And I still remember her saying, “If you do this, you can never enroll here again in the nursing program. This is it.”

It was a scary thing at the time, but I just knew.

It is a good tribute to small wins that add up when once you start to make that first initial success. And it just keeps snowballing. You just want to keep going and going and going.

Set small goals that you are able to meet. Once you hit that first goal, it is going to be addicting. You’re going to want to hit the next one and the next one and the next one.

It is not going to matter what anyone else thinks or says, because you’re going to see the end goal. You’re going to see the bigger picture.

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me a success story you’ve heard about somebody using this advice.

Paul James: Lamont used it. He was working at a bank before working together with me and applying this stuff. I actually talked him into doing SEO.

He had an interest for search engine optimization. He actually went and built a search engine optimization business, and within nine months he actually quit his job.

Just implementing the same strategies that I’ve been talking about in the book. He actually runs that business with his son now, who is using the money to pay for college. That’s a really inspiring story and something that I was really proud of.

Connect with Paul James and Reverse Engineer Your Future

Charlie Hoehn: What does the rest of this year look like for you?

Paul James: I’m actually growing my YouTube channel, which has been a lot of fun. I put out videos usually three or four times a week. They’re aimed towards people who are entrepreneurs or who want to be entrepreneurs. I have quite a wide audience from people who are younger and even people who are older as well and I just helped people with challenges that they face and kind of trying to figure out what it is they want to do.

Charlie Hoehn: What is a parting piece of advice you have for aspiring authors?

Paul James: You should definitely not overthink it. I have heard the quote before, “Take action, even if it is imperfect action.”

A lot of times people dwell on it and think about how the reader is going to receive it. I mean, that’s good, but you don’t want to dwell on it to the point that you never put it out.

Trust your gut instinct and just go out there and do it. Put it together. People need to hear what it is you have to say. There’s going to be people who ultimately love it and who are going to have their lives changed by it. Maybe there will be some people who don’t like what you put out, and that’s okay too.

For the most part, most people are going to love what you have to say and you’re going to find people who resonate with it. Don’t overthink it to the point where you never put it out. Don’t worry so much about what people think that you never do it.

Get Paul’s new book Reverse Engineer Your Future on Amazon.

Find out more at

Check out these other Author Hour episodes:

Are you constantly dealing with stressful business situations? Dr. Steve Taubman, author of Buddha in the Trenches, will give you the tools you need to live a more balanced life, free from neurosis and empowered to accomplish your goals.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to overcome walls of internal resistance
  • How training your mind is like housebreaking a puppy
  • How a foot cramp changed everything


Get Steve’s new book Buddha in the Trenches on Amazon.

Find out more at


Dr. Steve Taubman: I had a professional chiropractic practice for 14 years, and at one point, I realized it was time to move on. I was tired of doing what I was doing. It was a very wonderful profession, but for some reason, it wasn’t for me. I ended up selling my practice in a very deliberate, significant change in my life.

I became a stage hypnotist.

I was the official hypnotist for MTV Spring Break.

I always pause and give you a chance to get the visual. I’m out on the beach, I’ve got 2,500 college students, and I’m doing all the things that I would typically do in a hypnosis show.

Two are milking a cow and conducting an orchestra. One guy thinks he’s pregnant, another guy thinks he’s the father. In the midst of all this, I decided to try something new. I took one of my subjects and I said, “When you wake up, three things are going to happen.”

“Number one, you don’t believe you’re hypnotized even though you are. Number two, this is the worst show you’ve ever seen and you are pissed at me. And number three, there’s an invisible wall three feet in front of you.”

Now, bear in mind I’ve never done this before, this is a brand new experiment in the middle of a very good show.

I wake everybody up and I say, how’s everyone doing? Everybody says, “We’re great!” and this one guy screams, “You suck!”

Thankfully it was him, right?

The guy says, “This show is terrible.” I say, “Well then leave.” And then the guy gets up and starts taking a few steps forward, then hits the invisible wall. He smacks up against it, and he starts pushing and pushing, and he can’t get any further.

He finally sits back down, crosses his arms, and starts to tap. I say, “What’s the problem?” He says, “Nothing.”

“Are you hypnotized?”


“Are you having fun?”


“Well then, why don’t you leave?”

He thinks for a minute and finally says, “I’m not going to give you the satisfaction.”

In that moment, I realized something profound. I’ve been studying meditation and have been working on a lot of personal development material for a long time. In that moment, a lot of things came together for me.

We’re All Hypnotized

Steve Taubman: That’s all of us. We all have a place we want to go. A hope, a dream, a desire, a destiny. Something that produces a sense of joy and possibility in our lives. We start moving towards it and then hit our invisible walls.

Our invisible walls are the subconscious, unspoken, unsought of beliefs, attitudes, mental habits, frames that we’ve created for ourselves. Programs that exist inside of us that keep us from moving forward.

Instead of getting where we want to go, we hit this point of resistance. It’s all an inner game. It all has to do with how we’re thinking, how we view ourselves, how our emotions are triggered.

But we don’t usually recognize that we’re responsible for that sudden stop in our momentum. We start pointing our finger outside of ourselves, blaming others.

We start coming up with excuses, like this guy did, for why we’re not getting to the results we want.

In a very real way, we’re all hypnotized.

We’ve all been programmed over the course of our lives to live inside of a box. A box made up of our beliefs, of our attitudes, our preconceived notions, our judgments. All of that conspires to keep us the same, to keep us doing things the same way, feeling the same way, reinforcing the same beliefs.

The only hope, the only possibility that we have for arriving where we want to arrive with our souls intact, is to address those walls. Learn what it means to observe and dismantle those invisible walls. It’s an inner game.

It’s self-hypnosis, meditation, gaining a certain level of awareness so that we’re no longer being held back by things that we don’t understand. We’re all affected by that little guy sitting on our shoulder whispering to us.

Change Your Perceptions

Charlie Hoehn: What are some of those invisible walls that those people commonly deal with that are causing their stress?

Steve Taubman: Buddha in the Trenches is about developing unshakable performance under pressure, being able to live under stressful situations and thrive under those conditions.

The very first wall, the very first presumption or notion that most people live with, is that their emotional state is derived by their circumstance.

“Of course I’m stressed out, have you seen the work I’ve got to do, have you seen the volume of my work, have you seen my boss? Have you seen my coworkers? Of course, I’ve got to feel this way!”

The first wall that needs to be dismantled is the notion that you’re powerless to change your attitude, to change your mood, to change how resourceful you can be.

That’s number one. Well beyond the woo-woo, new age kind of pie in the sky attitude, there is such a thing as unconditional happiness. You can walk into difficult situations and maintain mastery and happiness and joy and humor if you arrange your mind in a certain way.

Charlie Hoehn: What are some of the other ones that you mentioned in the book?

Steve Taubman: First and foremost, it’s making that commitment. It is possible that there is no circumstance under which you’re absolutely required to be miserable.

Step two is the idea that we believe that freedom is the right to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it.

We tend to live our lives in a state of entitlement and freedom that often works against functioning at very high levels.

Let me give you an example.

You say to yourself, “I’m going to start losing weight.” Let’s go to The Four-Hour Body, (by Tim Ferriss) right? Being more disciplined about what I was eating and keeping track of it and keeping a food diary and becoming mindful about my eating habits. Becoming disciplined, living by a code. Creating a set of actions that are invaluable.

It’s very easy for all of us to say, “I’m going to stop eating chocolate,” and then when we feel like eating chocolate. We say, “I’m going to eat it today because I’ve got freedom.”

Freedom’s a funny thing.

Yeah, you’re free to do whatever you want, but the question is, are you free to not do it?

That’s a huge wall. We’re constantly experiencing an emotion, a longing, a craving. We give in to it because as far as we’re concerned, that’s our birthright. We can do whatever we want to do.

The way that I dismantle that wall is to say that discipline is freedom.

If you know in advance that you’ve got Saturday to just cut loose, then it makes it easier to do the right thing Monday through Friday.

In other words, you’re better off eating the wrong thing mindfully than eating the right thing mindlessly.

Let’s take a really heavy example of alcoholism. It’s more than just chocolate or the desire to overeat. It’s a really bad addiction.

Most of us think that an alcoholic is an alcoholic because they drink and that drinking is the addiction. Drinking is really only one piece of the addiction, right? The addiction is a cycle.

You want to drink, so you drink. And then you feel bad about the fact that you drank, and feeling bad pulls you down. Then you think, “Well, if I want to get rid of my negative feelings, I better drink.”

You’re coming from a place of being disempowered all the time. You’re never in control. Even in the part of the cycle when you’re not drinking, you’re still not in control because you’re not in control of the emotion. That emotion becomes the next trigger to drink again.

I’m going to get a lot of pushback from all the Alcoholics Anonymous people, but the reality in my experience is that you break the cycle by first breaking the attachment to guilt.

Stop Worrying

Charlie Hoehn: What about people that say, “It’s my worrying that keeps me on the straight and narrow. It prevents these bad things from happening”?

Steve Taubman: The short answer is that’s complete bullshit. It’s something we’ve sold ourselves.

We’ve sold ourselves the idea that the only way to monitor my own behavior is to be hyper-vigilant, anxiety-ridden, stressed out, and have low self-esteem.

That’s complete nonsense.

As a hypnotist, I am constantly helping people get rid of fears and phobias. The biggest complaint you hear from people is, “If I’m not afraid of snakes then I’m going to get bitten by a snake.”

Of course, it’s not true. I’m not afraid of spiders, but I’m not going to have to go out to get a tarantula in bed with me.

We have the resources, the ability to avoid acting inappropriately without having to bring negative mental energy to the table.

We don’t have to be hyper vigilant; we don’t have to be worrying. Worrying does you no good at all.

That’s one of the invisible walls. We don’t even stop to think whether that is logical.

Behind the ability to question your paradigms, these thought processes that are pulling you down to a state of negative emotion and making you less resourceful, behind all of that is the idea that you first have to become more awake.

Charlie Hoehn: How do we do that?

Steve Taubman: Step one is to choose happiness. Make a commitment that you can change your thinking and aspire to a happier perspective.

Step two, live by a code. Create discipline, operate within a framework of morality and consciousness.

Then the third step is to sharpen your focus. Focus is a close cousin to presence.

Waking Up Your Life

Charlie Hoehn: How can you tell if somebody’s sleepwalking through life or if you yourself are sleepwalking?

Steve Taubman: Whether I know that you’re sleepwalking through life is important as whether or not I know I’m sleepwalking through life.

If you’re in a state of emotional turmoil and it’s lasting or it’s repetitive, you’re hypnotized.

When you begin to understand that you have this incredible power that you’ve never really used, then you stop suffering. You just stop. Now, that’s not to say that you don’t feel pain. I think it was Murakami who said that “Pain is mandatory, suffering is optional.”

In every day of every one of our lives, things will irritate us, aggravate us, piss us off, maybe make us feel insecure. Those things are going to happen because we’re all human beings and we’re hardwired to react.

But, the insightful person, the wise person, the enlightened person, the person who is doing this kind of work. What they’ll do is they’ll notice the moment that they fall off that sort of centered point.

The moment that the emotion begins to arise within them and what they do in that moment is very different from what the rest of us do in that moment. The reason that they’re able to do something different in that moment is because they have emotional strength that they’ve developed over a period of time.

Charlie Hoehn: What do they do differently in that moment?

Steve Taubman: Any one of us have been in that situation where we say, “I shouldn’t say anything,” and then you say it. You know it was the wrong thing to do, but you just can’t stop yourself.

This is very true in high-pressure situations and work situations where your higher is self-battling with your lower self.

Most of the time, we end up coming to what our emotions tell us rather than what really good critical thinking skills tell us to do.

It’s a question of necessary strength, and necessary strength comes from this third step. Those who meditate are strengthening their ability to take their attention away from the story that they’re telling themselves.

By meditating, what they’re doing is they’re constantly pulling their attention away from whatever’s distracting them.

If I said to you, “I want you to focus your attention on your breath, or I want you to focus your attention on the physical sensations in your body,” there would be about three-second gap between when you start and when your first thought arises.

When your first thought arises, you’ve got a moment of choice. Are you going to go down that path? Are you going to continue to think the thought? Or are you going to think about the fact that you’re thinking the thought and beat yourself up for thinking…which is what most people do when they start meditating.

There’s so much humor in this, really.

There’s a third option and the one that we train ourselves for. When I work with high-level executives or with police who have to learn how to bring their attention back, what I’m teaching them is that as your attention wanders and you notice the thought, be aware that a thought happened, but then bring your attention back to the point of focus.

That repetition, we like to call bringing the puppy back to the paper.

To paper train a puppy, it’s going to wander off, and you’ve got to pick it up and bring it back a thousand times before the dog finally gets the idea.

It’s like that with your mind. Strengthening your focus muscles allows you necessary strength. When you’re on the battlefields of life, you have trained yourself to bring your attention back to the physical reality of the moment, rather than to the stories you like to tell yourself that help you get more and more upset.

If you’re finding yourself getting upset, especially if you’re getting upset about the same things over and over again, you’re hypnotized. You’re not awake, you’re not acting in a conscious way.

Charlie Hoehn: Is the goal not only to become more awake but just to be none-agitated by yourself?

Steve Taubman: That’s exactly the reality. You’re less agitated by yourself, your focus is more clearly available to you, so what does that mean?

It means that you’re more efficient, it means you’re a better listener.

It means that you have greater access to your own creativity; you’re more resourceful about problem-solving.

You’re more effortless in your movements. And now with all the research that’s out there about mindfulness meditation, we know it also means that you’re smarter.

You’re thickening parts of your cerebral cortex. You’re increasing the relationship between the nerve endings that go from your lateral to your medial cortex.

So when you experience something that feels bad, rather than that nerve connection going from the “I feel bad” to the lateral prefrontal cortex which makes it feel very personal to you, it links up more to the medial cortex which makes it feel more just like something to solve.

It’s a problem to solve, no big deal. You’re more resourceful, you’re more effective and you’re less flappable, less shakable.

Overcoming Anxiety

Charlie Hoehn: How long did it take you to reach this point and what was your personal journey of getting to this state?

Steve Taubman: I was an anxiety-ridden, depressed, low self-esteem mess. I mean, I grew up in a very dysfunctional family. I was bullied as a kid. I had everything you could have that makes life miserable about when you were a kid… glasses, braces, bad skin, bad hair…

One thing that I was always good at was school. I excelled in school and became a physician and ran a very successful chiropractic sports medicine practice. From the outside, my life looked really good. I was very successful, I made a lot of money.

A lot of people could relate to that.

On the outside, I looked good. On the inside, I was tortured.

I felt horrible. I would feel that way unless I was perfect. If I had a patient who was getting better really quickly and thought I was amazing.

It’s funny, there’s no physician on the planet who is 100%. If I could successfully help 85% of my patients, that’s pretty good. It still means there’s going to be 15% of people that I haven’t helped. That would keep me up at night. That would make me miserable. It would make me feel bad about myself. I’d feel secret suffering.

That would burn me out. I was forced to start looking at what am I doing to myself? What am I doing inside of my own head? I went through all the typical western psychotherapy and a lot of talk therapy, and none of it really made that much of a difference for me.

Then I discovered this whole area of mindfulness meditation. I started realizing that the answer for me didn’t lie in talking more and telling my story more. It was in being able to get quiet on the inside and be able to sit and witness my own misery, to witness my own discomfort.

In doing that, I started to reframe it.

Not that it all went away all of a sudden. I still get anxious and I still get depressed, but my relationship to it is different. I no longer feel like I am an anxious person or I’m a depressed person. Now it’s just an energy that’s kind of washing over me and past me. Like stormy clouds.

When it’s stormy outside, we have a hard time knowing that if you would get up over those clouds, it would be bright and sunny. We just don’t see it.

First realize it’s possible to be happy.

Second, place value on the idea of discipline. And third, strengthen focus to have the mental toughness, the mental strength, the critical intelligence, our critical thinking.

Most of us add to our own misery. We keep throwing logs on the fire by thinking those same thoughts and convincing ourselves that whatever we’re thinking is true when, mostly, what we’re thinking is programs.

The fourth part of this formula, as I outline this in Buddha in the Trenches, if you develop the strength of character and the strength of focus that these tools give you, then you can start leaning into the pressure of life rather than running from the pressure of life.

That there comes a time when something that would have led you to feel miserable and made you go into fight or flight mode…You now can sit with the feeling, allow it to wash over you, allow it to pass by. You start embracing those negative moments instead of running from them.

It’s counterintuitive, because who wants pain? Who wants to feel bad? It’s this idea of leaning into the pressure, leaning into the stress, leaning to the reality of the moment that actually moves us through it more quickly.

Putting Meditation to the Test

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me a story about the first time you remember really leaning into the negative?

Steve Taubman: Sometimes this is an esoteric point, and it’s easier if I could give you an example of it. I did a 10-day silent meditation retreat. That’s hard work.

I’m not suggesting that everybody go out and do a 10-day silent meditation retreat. It’s life-changing and remarkable but it’s hard work, right? What it means is you’re going to sit for 10 days and you’re going to meditate and you’re not going to talk to anybody. You’re not going to watch TV or read a book or make eye contact with anybody. You’re just in your own experience.

So I’m sitting in this meditation hall. And in the middle of meditating, I get a foot cramp.

Now, you know what it feels like when you get a foot cramp. It’s excruciating and it usually induces a certain level of panic because you could start feeling it coming. You could feel it kind of making its way toward you and you want to try to stop it and to stretch it out.

If you’re just walking down the street and your foot starts to cramp, you might start jumping up and down or screaming, or you might try to stretch it and notice that that doesn’t really work. It usually requires a certain fanfare.

But when you’re sitting in a silent meditation hall and you get a foot cramp, a lot of those options aren’t open to you anymore. You can’t jump up and start screaming.

You’re supposed to be quiet and motionless. More than that, you’re supposed to be observing the reality that meditation is meant to reveal to you. That everything is impermanent, that things pass of their own accord.

Now, here I am, sitting here with this cramp in my foot. Part of me thinks, “Ouch! What am I going to do?” It hurts. And oh my gosh, what’s going to happen if I let it keep going?

And another part of me says, “Okay well if this meditation stuff is true, then it should be true now in this moment. So let’s see what happens.”

So I said, “Okay, I am not going to resist this cramp. Let’s see what happens. I am going to just lean into it, to embrace it. I’m going to just observe it without adding any fuel to the fire.” Obviously that’s not something that comes naturally to any of us.

I started feeling the cramp getting worse, and I felt the panic growing. But I was in a very meditative state, so I can watch myself panic and I can watch myself going into a deeper cramp.

What I learned from that experience was fascinating. I can now tell you with great authority what happens when you get a cramp. It gets worse, and a little worse, and a little worse, and maybe even a lot worse.

And then it stays at the height of its excruciating-ness for about 30 seconds. Then it releases and starts getting better and better and better. And then it goes away and it’s gone.

That’s something that if you don’t lean into the pain, you would never know.

You would never let yourself get close enough to that experience.

Charlie Hoehn: Are you saying that if you lean in rather than running from or avoiding, the pain goes away like a storm?

Steve Taubman: Yeah. I was able to apply that lesson in situations that were more emotionally based rather than physically based and came to realize the same thing.

When you take away the story, when you take away the food that you give that emotion, and you simply lean into it…You simply allow it to be, you kind of embrace it, you have the cathartic experience, and sometimes in a more dispassionate way.

I’ve had that experience where I just deliberately sit with the feeling and take my attention away from the thing that caused the feeling. I put all of my attention on the physical sensation of the feeling. Eventually, you are almost melting it in the warmth of your own observation.

In the book, I tell the story about going to Disney World and seeing this light show at night. They have a big fountain, and it throws out this big spray of water and they project movie images onto the spray of water. They project The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Mickey Mouse. It is very scary stuff if you are a little kid.

These big looming images of monsters and dancing brooms and the loud music all projected on this giant wall of water.

But if you were to walk up to that wall of water, you could walk right through it.

It’s insubstantial. Yet we don’t get close enough to realize how insubstantial it is. We are afraid of our own emotions.

So leaning in is one of the ninja skills that top executives, top athletes, top performers learn to use. Navy Seals say, “Embrace the suck.”

Planning Ahead for Emotional Struggles

Charlie Hoehn: I learned a very similar if not the exact same lesson through improv –constantly having to say yes to whatever is happening and suddenly, life is not nearly as stressful or tense or heavy.

Steve Taubman: I think that improv is probably the most spirituality advancing, non-spiritual practice you can do.

“Welcome to one more of your invisible walls.”

All those things that you say to yourself that stop you from getting close to the discomfort because you don’t know how to lean into the discomfort because you never gained the necessary strength to walk through it…Now you are constantly cowering in the face of something that you don’t need to cower from.

When you step into something like improv, one of the great exercises of improv is yes.


The last part of the formula in my book is “assemble your lifeboats.” It starts with the presumption that everything in life is about necessary strength. You’re either strong enough or you are not strong enough to withstand the situation you are in.

Now, physically we know that. Physically we are all in agreement. We say you know there are some people who are physically strong because they were trained or maybe they were lucky. They grew up that way or they’re genetically predisposed to it. There are some people who are physically strong and other people who are a 90-pound weakling.

The reality is, from an emotional standpoint, most of us are 90-pound weaklings. We are not emotionally intelligent. We are not good at critical thinking, we are not capable of withstanding our own emotions.

We are not likely to do the right thing if our emotions get the better of us.

Everything that I have taught up to this point in the book is about gaining necessary strength. However, we have to realize that every one of us live in a continuum. Every one of us are somewhere on a continuum from being very weak to being very strong.

If we are doing our work, we’re gradually gaining strength. But in all likelihood, we are encountering situations that we haven’t yet gained the strength to master.

If I were to ask you to swim the English Channel and you were untrained, chances are, you would drown. If I said swim the English Channel or we are going to put the rest of your family to death, you would give it a good try. But you would be wise to have a lifeboat standing by.

In the same way in our lives, what do we have in place to prevent us from drowning in our own emotions?

What do we have in place to prevent us from letting tense situations get the better of us until we are finally strong enough?

What the wise do is they prepare in advance. Smart people, successful people, world-class performers. One thing that they have that most people don’t is that they operate on objective reality. They don’t delude themselves into believing they are better than they are or stronger than they are. So if you are wise, you know that they are probably going to hit some of these walls.

You prepare your lifeboats in advance. Your lifeboats are other people and other systems. One lifeboat might be the kind of friend that knows how to help you move through your emotional turmoil, and that’s not most of your friends unless you are very lucky.

Charlie Hoehn: Do you recommend we stick with certain friends or that we have or how do you go about it?

Steve Taubman: Well, it is a multi-tiered process, I think. I think the more conscious you get, the more conscious people you attract. So if you are doing some meditative and mindfulness work, chances are you are not hanging out on a day to day basis with people who see life like they are victims.

You’re probably already around people who have a certain level of consciousness.

So then from there, it just becomes a matter of training your friends.

I talk about this in the book and even given some scripts for this purpose but basically the idea is, “Hey listen, Charlie, sometimes I get in over my head, sometimes I realize that I get self-righteous and angry and insecure, and when that happens, I’m going to be looking for people who can just be a space for me. Just be there while I am being that way and not buy into it. Not tell me I am right, not tell me I am wrong either, just give me a chance to maybe vent.”

The people who are really good at this can almost smile while you are feeling miserable.

If they have that kind of compassion and love and humor, and you can train people to put that in the forefront. Be compassionate, be funny, don’t be afraid to joke with me about it.

My very favorite example is in a movie called Steel Magnolias. Sally Fields plays the mother of Julia Roberts. And Julia Roberts has a disease that ends up killing her.

At one point of the movie, towards the end of the movie when Julia Roberts has died and we’re at the cemetery, Sally Fields is just as upset as a mother could possibly be. She’s screaming and crying and wailing and venting. And with her are Olivia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine. Now Shirley MacLaine plays this very curmudgeony woman.

Everybody loves her because they know her but she’s a grouch. In the middle of the scene, Sally Fields is like, “I can’t believe this. How could this possibly happen? I am so mad I just want to hit someone. I just want to hit somebody so they could feel as much pain as I feel.”

And Olivia Dukakis grabs a hold of Shirley MacLaine and says, “Here, hit Ouiser!” and Sally Field stops in her tracks in the middle of this wailing, crying, just sloppy painful moment and starts laughing hysterically.

It’s that magical transformation that is possible when the person who is hearing you out isn’t buying into the grief.

They know you are sad, they feel your saddest with you. But they’re bigger than that, and they know you are bigger than that, and they are able to help you step out of it.

There’s that and then there’s of course the systems too. I mean sometimes there is nobody around. So you may also design systems for yourself.

When I feel this way, what do I do?

When I feel this way, I listen to an inspiring song. When I feel this way, I find a funny joke on the internet. When I feel this way, I say this mantra to myself. Whatever it is, plan it in advance.

Assemble your lifeboats so that you are not coming up short in those moments when you just don’t have the strength to withstand the emotional onslaught.

Be ready.

How Buddha in the Trenches Principles Affect Businesses

Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell me some of the things that you have seen?

Steve Taubman: This is a soft skill. You know every time you are doing work in the soft skills arena, you’re not measuring the things the same way. I can’t say with certainty that, “We came into this company and they increased their sales by 37%” because I came in at the same time that 10 other things happened.

But we do know from hearing what CEOs say and hearing what entrepreneurs say…You’ll see people who just seem to have shed layers of heaviness and they have a greater sense of humor. Some of the stuff that we now see in companies as a result is less conflict.

People are more cooperative with one another.

Some of the long-standing fights stopped, and people start saying, “Let’s bury the hatchet. Let’s start again.” Those are the things that really give me the greatest joy.

I am working with a guy by the name of Steve Sebolt right now. Steve is the founder of an organization called Mental Toughness University. It’s based on critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness. He’s been doing it a lot longer than I have. That really speaks to a lot of what we have been talking about today.

He’s got one of the folks from Johnson & Johnson, from Coca-Cola, Glaxo-Smith, Toyota, and many tens of millions of dollars increase in sales while going through these programs. You’re removing things like the addiction to the approval of others or just out and out discouragement.

You can’t overestimate the power of the right mindset. You just can’t.



Steve Taubman’s Recommendations for Authors

Charlie Hoehn: What are some of the things that you would recommend to authors who listen to this, who are just starting out in their speaking career, how can they have a good foundational next 12 months of their speaking career?

Steve Taubman: The first thing is to get right with yourself. Make sure that you are coming from a centered place and you are not getting yourself emotionally exhausted in the process.

Read the Buddha in the Trenches, that’s step one.

Step two is nail your branding. What is it about you that is different? What is it about your message that’s different? Be clear on that.

Step three is, as you make your way out into the world of marketing yourself, realize there are a lot of other people trying to do it at the same time. How do you rise above the clutter?

Don’t be sending out canned emails to a bunch of people. Personalize your marketing process and find ways in the door.

Leverage what you have already got.Go to the people that you have already success speaking to and see who they know and who they can introduce you to. Start developing a network of referral partners who are willing to share the value of what you do.

And then find mentors. There’s no question that you’ve got to accelerate your growth, and I have done this and I will continue to do it. I will spend a lot of money working with somebody that I think knows something that I don’t know. That I am not going to find out any other way. They have proprietary information.

The knowledge I’ll gain from that is going to make me so much better at what I do and give me knowledge I never would have had before.

If you are going to spend money, spend your money on growing yourself. Think of it as an investment.

What Buddha in the Trenches Readers Can Apply Today

Charlie Hoehn: What is something they could do today to have some of these principles instilled into their routine?

Dr. Steve Taubman: You’re not necessarily going to be successful at it, but it’s really an experiment. The next time that something occurs, and if you’re like most of us it’s going to happen within the next 24 hours that something is going to be irritating or aggravating to you, I am going to suggest that you welcome that experience.

You could say, “Wow this is exactly what I was looking for. I was looking for a moment where I can sit here and notice with mindfulness what my brain does with this.”

Do I get pulled down the rabbit hole of thought? Do I start to justify?

Do I feel like a victim or can I bring my attention to the physical sensations in my body and allow myself to feel what anger feels like in my body?

Be thankful that the feeling arose so that you could have that experience. See what happens. Because you’re not meditating regularly, you don’t have the necessary strength. Chances are you are going to probably get pulled in. You’ll probably going to end up getting angry and screwing up the whole thing. But that’s okay.

In the back of my book, I’ve got an appendix filled with sentence stems. I learned about sentence stems from Nathaniel Brandon, The Art of Consciousness, many years ago. You start a sentence and then start writing stream of thought.

One example might be, “I feel most present when I…” and then you start writing for two minutes straight and you don’t stop and you don’t edit yourself. All of a sudden, you discover things that you don’t even realize that you were thinking bubbled up from your subconscious. Powerful tool.

Connect with Steve Taubman

Charlie Hoehn: What is the best way for our listeners to get in touch with you or just to follow you along your journey?

Dr. Steve Taubman: Well I’ll give you the two easiest things to do right now. One of them is certainly my website. It is my name,

And if you join one of the pages, you’ll find that there is a place to put your email address in and your name and then you’ll be on my mailing list. So when I write a blog post or whatnot, you’ll just become a part of my world. So that’s one great way to do it.

By the way, I think you get the first 40 pages of my first book on hypnosis when you join my mailing list. So that is a little thing that we will be able to jump on right away.

Right now we are also suggesting that people join a Facebook group that’s specific to this new book called Unshakable Nation. If you just look through groups on Facebook, Unshakable Nation, you will be made aware when the launch is going to take place.

You might even get a little free snippet of the book. There are a few benefits to that, not the least of which is just the fact that you are part of a community of people who care about the same thing you do.


Get Steve’s new book Buddha in the Trenches on Amazon.

Find out more at

Listen to more authors talk about focus:

Today’s episode is with Kate Athmer and Rob Johnson, the authors of Millennial Reboot. After Millennials graduate from college, they expect to do really well in the workplace. They grew up with the internet, they have digital communication skills, they can solve problems… but the reality is that they struggle to drive change in the corporate world.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Common mistakes millennials are making in the workplace
  • How an ice cream truck led to Rob’s job in the NFL
  • How to avoid a lifetime of soul-sucking jobs

Get Kate and Rob’s new book Millennial Reboot on Amazon.

Find out more at

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me the story about when you first realized that millennials not knowing what to do in the workplace was a problem?

Rob Johnson: I think we knew from day one of starting each of our careers. In college, my first semester, freshman year, 18 years old. I had a professor who was working with the newly expanded Houston Texans football team in the NFL. They were playing their hall of fame game in Canton, Ohio, and he was involved in the radio broadcasting. On and on he would go about all the different types of moving parts and other things that went in to the business in the NFL.

I became enchanted with it, and that’s an issue. Because there’s not a lot of jobs, particularly in professional football. There are only 32 teams and only a few hundred nationwide where you can work in professional sports. But somehow I became infatuated with this and wanted to see if I could make a career of working in professional sports and entertainment.

That’s really where the struggles began.

I thought because I’m from Philadelphia and a Philadelphia Eagles fan that I could just write an email or a letter to the Eagles and say, “Hey, give me an internship.” That’s all I need to do. I’m going to college, I’m doing the right things. This is what people told me to do to be successful. Why wouldn’t I be able to do this?

On Ice Cream and the NFL

I was rejected freshman year, sophomore year, finally, my junior year. Ot took enough struggle to figure out how to get to somebody to even answer me. I’m not lying. It was something like my aunt’s-uncle’s-former-roommate-from-college just happened to work in the box office for the Philadelphia Eagles and would at least read my resume.

After years of literally asking everybody, “Hi, I’m Rob, do you know anybody who works for the Philadelphia Eagles?” I finally found somebody.

It literally took three years to do it. I got an interview, got a chance for an internship, and that was something I absolutely did not want to do for my career after that. I got into an office space for the first time as a 20, 21 year old. Coming straight from college athletics, I knew how to be a leader but I wasn’t really learning how to be a follower.

It was an internship.

You’re starting at the ground level and learning about office politics, how to grow into an employee. These were things that I didn’t really have a grasp on.

Charlie Hoehn: When did you first realize there was a big knowledge gap?

Rob Johnson: It might have been the first day that I got there. I was a rower, so being a leader of a sports team and into taking instructions without having input.

It was the very first day that I knew what I was learning in college wasn’t going to translate. I had to make a drastic change, and the job itself ended up being something that I knew I didn’t want to do. But I did want to be in professional sports.

As I was graduating, I launched more towards creative business and marketing. A lot of the jobs I was looking for required or asked for an MBA. That’s what led me to go to business school. Using my rowing background, I was lucky enough to get a grad assistant job at Jackson University. I was able to coach rowing and get my MBA.

But then I was stuck again trying to find out how to get in to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL team that was there. Just like in undergrad, I couldn’t get a response or even interviews. I was failing at them and just continued to go at it.

One day in the cafeteria, there was a flier up that said, “Try out to be the Jaguars’ ice cream truck driver.”

This is it. This is my way in.

I came prepared with a literal twenty-page document of how I was going to have this Jaguars’ ice cream truck, take over northeast Florida, and then the world.

It was going to be the best thing ever. I walked into this room—there were four, five people in there—and went through my plan. I practiced it, I was passionate about it. About maybe seven and a half minutes in, they stopped me and said, “Listen, this isn’t what we’re looking for.”

I said, well, “I want to be Jaguars’ ice cream truck driver. I can nail this.”

“No, come back next week. We have a bigger role in mind for you.”

That led to a paid internship that turned into my first job in professional sports. Along the way, I learned all the different ways to fail. For anybody listening, failing is not necessarily a terrible thing as long as you’re learning from it.

I was able to learn and able to grow my career because I failed so many times in order to do it. It’s a great way to grow up.

Charlie: How did you fill out 20 pages on how to sell ice cream?

Rob Johnson: There are different kinds of ice cream, and then the truck definitely needed at least racing stripes. And then all the different conventions, schools…I had a map of the ins and outs of Jacksonville. Duval County is one of the largest counties in the continental United States. There are a lot of places to go with this thing. When I had the interview scheduled, I was ready to take this thing worldwide.

The most fun part of it was that I ended up having to drive that ice cream truck a couple of years into my job because the ice cream truck driver that they hired ended up calling out.

I did end up getting to drive the ice cream truck once and it broke down on me.

What Millennials Aren’t Learning

Charlie Hoehn: Kate, your turn to top that. What’s your story?

Kate Athmer: My experience was a lot less filled with friction than Rob’s was. Partly because I was less specific in my goals following college graduation.

Just like Rob, I was also a rower, a division one athlete in college, and I felt like that prepared me pretty well for balancing a lot of different responsibilities. When I was in school, our business school was a bit oversold, so I had trouble getting the classes that I need to finish my degree in time.

I actually transferred to the support management program. Rob and I had similar degrees. By transferring to the support management program, I was like, “Okay, sports, this is cool, I’m interested in this field, but not definitely committed to it.”

I was also interested in becoming a rowing coach. But I graduated in 2009, and there were no jobs then. Really none.

University of Tennessee had a graduate assistant position open as a rowing coach. I took that because a free MBA and the opportunity to coach rowing is not really something that you turn down. Especially in the 2009 market.

That taught me that I didn’t want to work in sports or be a rowing coach.

Primarily because I was tired of being poor all the time. How else can I put this marketing education to use? I was interested in a career in marketing, and that’s where I have—spoiler alert—landed now as well.

It was a combination of my flexibility and willingness to test things out in the real world and get my hands dirty and explore. Maybe not the perfect job, but finding roles within organizations helped me bucket, “Yes, no, I want to do this, I don’t want to do that.” I also learned to function within a corporate environment regardless of whether it was my dream job or not.

That taught me where to look next and how to hone in my focus.

No crazy stories like Rob. It was a pretty traditional path. In switching degrees as a last resort to get my classes done, I accidentally switched myself into a program at my university that really did a lot to prepare me for future jobs and for the real world.

We had two semesters of classes about resumes and job interviews. We had a whole class about how to network, classes where you would shadow people in their place of employment. You could be responsible for finding someone in the field that you were interested in and bringing them in to speak to the class.

We were really able to get hands on and get experience in the working world while we were still in college.

That that was not the norm. Most people didn’t have courses like that.

They weren’t graded on public speaking. They weren’t graded on their resume or mandated to contact 20 new people a semester in the industry they were interested in. Every school should be teaching this. I realize how much of a leg up that gave me when it comes to knowing what to do next.

That was a big thing that inspired me. I started helping my friends with those skills that I assumed were basic. That was organically turning into how they would tell me how much I helped them, and then they would refer me to their other friends who needed that kind of assistance.

Charlie Hoehn: Were you getting them results? Were you helping them land jobs faster?

Kate Athmer: Yeah. There were a couple of them that I helped land. I have one friend who I helped her get hired at my company initially. She was also a former rower, and I met her by reaching out whenever we had entry level positions. I would reach out to rowing coaches because they had athletes that are smart and know how to work hard.

“Give me the ones that are interested in this industry so I can hire them.”

I helped her get hired there and then coached her. She didn’t want to do that job forever, and I don’t blame her. It wasn’t a particularly fun job. So then I helped coach her how to find a job in an industry that she was interested in, which she did probably about a year after I hired her.

Then I had another friend who actually just recently just got another job. I’ve been working with her for about two years on how to navigate the whole process of looking for a new job. She had the same job for years and years, and there was no room for her to advance.

But she also didn’t know how to go about looking for a new job, where to find it, what any of the protocol was.

Then also, any of my interns that I’ve helped. I’ve always been straightforward: we’re not going to be able to hire you, so in exchange for all this grunt work, I will help you make sure your resume is formatted properly and highlights the meaningful work that you did while you were here.

Reaching Out with Millennial Reboot

Charlie Hoehn: Why did you write Millennial Reboot?

Rob Johnson: There was a lot that built up into kind of the moment where we decided to do this. Both being professionals and both with executive backgrounds, and we want to learn and we’re always trying to grow. We started getting our own frustration of going to see either speaking events or reading materials that millennials (fill in the blank). You can put in whatever you want there.

That infuriating tone. That started to eat at both of us.

We’ve gone to conferences that were supposed to be speaking to millennials, and there’s typically somebody in their 40s or 50s or 60s bringing these talks to these groups. We didn’t think that was enough.

As much as we read and much as we’d done at that point, we thought there might need to be something to fight these stereotypes. To do exactly what Kate said, helping people grow that might not have had the opportunity. How we can share our successes and bring people along with us?

Kate Athmer: A lot of it comes down to purely scale. We can’t help everyone, but if we write a book, theoretically, everyone would have access to it.

We think of this book as a baseline. This is the starting point.

So if somebody comes to us and is complaining about their job or looking for advice on how they can drop working at this company that they hate. Or they want to make it better because they love the company but they hate their boss.

If people come to us, we can say, “Okay, start with the advice in this book, it really covers a lot of ground and fills in a lot of gaps that are missing.” Then come to us and we can address the questions that remain.

Rob Johnson: Yes, for millennials, we could have put this on a Google Drive and called it a day. But we thought it would make it a little more official. One of the scariest parts of writing a book is it’s probably the first time I’ve ever put something out there that wasn’t deletable.

This is in ink. This is permanent.

We tried to make sure that we got the best information possible, to give a baseline to anybody that wants a future discussion, or that we can build on when we’re speaking to people. It seems to be working so far.

Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell me who this book is definitely for and who it is definitely not for?

Kate Athmer: So, it is definitely for millennials as well as the generation coming afterwards will probably benefit from a lot of it too. Anybody that grew up as a digital native, by that I mean, they almost can’t or actually can’t remember life where they couldn’t simply Google the answer to something or communicate with someone in real time.

Communication Gaps in the Workplace

Charlie: There are some millennials that end up becoming immersed in a creative culture or a startup culture where there’s less of the professionalism and structure that you would find in a corporate setting. Is that assumption right?

Rob Johnson: You’re reading this because you’re probably frustrated in that traditional corporate structure. Millennials like to be creative…man buns and whatever you may have for today…but, remove millennials and man buns, and it was Generation X or the generation before that that was going to ruin the world.

Every single generation has had some type of struggle.

Kate Athmer: It’s very sensationalized now.

The only people that wouldn’t benefit from this book, would be the ones that are completely unmotivated. You have bad apples in every generation. The ones that aren’t interested in improving, the ones that are totally complacent, going to a nine to five job, doing what they’re told and going home.

There’s no reason for them to read it if they’re not trying to improve themselves in one way or the other.

But specifically, it’s not just for people in a corporate environment. A lot of it is focused around that, but there is plenty of advice in there that would apply to a more creative role.

One of the things that we really touch on in there, a lot actually, is dress code. A lot of people would say, “I work in a creative role. The office dress code is board shorts and flip flops.” And we would argue that if you just dressed 10% better than all those people in board shorts and flip flops and maybe wore jeans and a nice polo, the CEO of the company will take you more seriously. You’re going to get promoted faster.

Rob Johnson: As we interviewed executives, it didn’t matter what their ages were. We went into this with a clear insight of how can we help our fellow generation succeed, if they want to succeed.

What we found was not a generational gap.

We found a communications gap. It doesn’t matter if you’re managing a millennial or you’re a millennial that has a boss that you can’t communicate with. Take 10 minutes a week and just touch base, in person, not over phone, not over text. What we’ve seen and found and researched to date is that this will significantly increase your satisfaction as an employee and your management capability. It will grow the parts of your business that might be falling apart. Just that 10 minutes a week, touching base, will really help.

Charlie Hoehn: Any additional tips to that, Kate?

Kate Athmer: Millennials specifically, we’re expecting that real time feedback or at least frequent feedback.

We don’t want to wait for an annual review to know that we’ve messed something up, because then it’s too late to fix it.

I agree with Rob that the number one take away is the communication between not even just a boss and the person they report to but anybody on your team that you work with. Frequent communication can allow you to solve conflicts quicker and to become more creative and move ideas along faster.

I actually work completely remotely from my company, so I don’t get a face to face meeting with anybody I work with more than once a quarter.

But we check in every single week on Monday at 1:30 PM. It’s just a half an hour where we all go around and see what each other’s feeling. We’ll have individual check-ins as well, if needed. I have another additional check-in with my boss, and then the person that reports to me.

This allows us to all be on the same page and to resolve any differences and talk them through fast enough that it’s not holding the business back.

Where Millennials Can Improve

Rob Johnson: Let’s talk about the why, too. We can be generalized here. For the most part, if you are 35 or under you have social media that gives you instant feedback on almost anything you do. A lot of your life, you’ve grown up that way. When you post something, you get some feedback on your Instagram for your story. Your grades in college you typically get back almost immediately.

And then you will be thrown in a world where there are annual follow ups and check ins.

That is a adjustment, particularly for a generation that can see everything instantly. That is a lot of why we suggest from the manual and the manager to keep those check-ins.

Doing feedback for every single day and every single project is not practical and will harm the business. However, there is a middle ground where the manager and the employee can work it out. .

Charlie Hoehn: What are the most common mistakes you guys see millennials making in the workplace?

Kate Athmer: Not having patience when they want to bring change. We will come in guns blazing saying, “I know that there is better way to do this process.” Or “We need to have this technology in place.” Or “I can’t believe that this hasn’t been changed.”

We assume that we are the first people that ever thought of these ideas, that we know what’s best, especially when it comes to technology.

We’re not careful enough to ask more questions or to learn more about the big picture of the business. To get an understanding of where we might be able to productively drive change without just making people mad.

Rob Johnson: I will give an example of this. I was running a marketing team for a major sports organization, with a lot of younger employees that were much more into Snapchat. The question always came up: “Why aren’t we more active on Snapchat?” When I go talk to colleges, the first thing that’s out of their mouths is why aren’t you guys more present on Snapchat?

It came from the lack of understanding of how does this drive the business. We are in the business of in sports and entertainment, selling tickets, and making sure that the product on the ice, the field, whatever it may be, looks the best. Snapchat did not at the time have any type of way to make revenue.

It was a new social media that hadn’t been proven but was extremely popular with the younger group without understanding that it does not fit any type of business case.

It dawned on me: It is important for almost any manager know what the business goals are.

You could say, “Okay, great. I love your idea. Tell me how it fits into our business goals and we’ll do it.”

Channelling Millennial Ambition

Charlie Hoehn: What do you suggest to millennials who may have that ambition to go make a company so much better and to rewrite the rules?

Rob Johnson: The first thing is to slow your roll. There’s a time and a place.

Call it an elevator pitch or whatever you like, but make sure that if it’s appropriate for you to speak, that you’ve researched enough. Being a millennial and a digital native, you know how to find all the answers. It’s a great way to start a conversation with a co-worker or a possible mentor or somebody else in the company.

Kate Athmer: Yeah, I would agree with Rob. Slow your roll. Take the time, especially when you are new to a company, to ask a lot of questions. Collect data.

So instead of saying, “We need to be on social media,” maybe say, “Why aren’t we on social media?”

“I am trying to learn and understand whether it is a decision that we’ve made or whether there’s a gap here that I can help fill.”

And then try to align yourself with the person or people in the organization that have experience initiating change.

I recently spoke with someone who, she’s a Baby Boomer, and she said, “I am the person that comes in guns blazing to the meetings to drive change.” We talked about that a bit, and she said, “But I can get away with it because everybody here has seen what I can do. I’ve been with the company for 15 years. They understand that when I come in and want to change something that I have done my research and I’ve proven that I am someone that they can trust to move a project forward.”

As a millennial, find that person in the organization. Align yourself with them, learn from them. Get them on your team when you are ready to advance an idea. Ask them for feedback. Use them as a mentor.

Rob Johnson: It’s execution that gets rewarded, not the idea. So make sure that as you present it, it’s planned out, you are able to execute it. As you do, your reputation will grow.

How to Avoid an Awful Job

Charlie Hoehn: Ending up at a company where someone hates their job is often described as soul crushing, soul sucking. How do we avoid those jobs in the first place?

Kate Athmer: Do your research online. There are a ton of resources online where you can learn about a company, starting with their website, maybe look at their about us page and see what the makeup of their executive team is.

I would never just use one data point.

Check the Glassdoor reviews. Take them with a grain of salt, but if they are all bad or if they all have little hidden pieces that say the same thing, then that might be some cause for concern.

During the interview process, know what questions to ask that are going to tell you about how the company functions. Ask about what the opportunities are for advancement, ask about how the company approaches new things. Ask what you’ll be equipped with to do your job. The technology that you will need or the budget to actually deliver on what they are asking you to deliver. Ask how the teams within the company work with each other.

The biggest thing though is asking what opportunities there are for you to grow. I also think that you will get a sense of the company based on how they treat you in general during the interview process. Whether they call you or join the call when it’s scheduled, whether they are on time for the interview. Whether they are treating you with respect, whether they give you a free offer.

All of those things can come into play, and you want to compile all of those data points. Get a feeling for the organization as a whole and whether that is somewhere that will be suited to your working style.

Rob Johnson: If you’re in a soul crushing job, it’s on you to get unstuck. You have to take the next right step in order to do that, rather than complaining about it. We do coach people, and they often just complain about their job and don’t take the next step. Or even worse, their next step is blindly sending out a resume to the thousand-and-one different sites.

That is not getting you unstuck.

You need to grow. And a lot of the best jobs or a lot of the jobs that you want that probably aren’t on LinkedIn or on Indeed. They are probably through in a network of people. So how can you find either a meet up around your profession or your likes? How can you start growing your own network in order to find the way to get unstuck? That all falls on the individual. If you really want to do it, you have to take the next step. It is not going to be an easy process. If it was easy, anybody would do it.

Reader Response to Millennial Reboot

Charlie Hoehn: What have been the most remarkable stories of people using the materials in Millennial Reboot to reboot their lives?

Rob Johnson: One of the best things that came up as we were writing this book was to hear the stories of how people are using it. I have a longtime friend who was flying to a job interview across the country, and it was something that he really wanted. He read our book for the most part on the flight there, and as he told the story to me, he used almost every piece of job interview advice that we gave. He got the job within the next few days.

And he was nice enough to credit us with it.

I am sure he had a lot to do in making sure he was prepared, but that was a pleasant story to hear very early on after it was released.

Then also the non-millennial and how it’s helping them learn a little bit more about how to manage their younger employees. That’s been a surprise and something that we are starting to grow as we coach people. This is a problem in rebooting millennials. Not just getting rid of the sensationalized headlines but making sure that we’re put in a better light.

Kate Athmer: Yeah, I gave a presentation to a group of managers of millennials recently to help them understand the way millennials think and the way millennials prefer to work in the workplace, and then also some of the things that have gotten forgotten over the years that you should be teaching your employees.

One of the things that I mentioned was to make sure everyone understands how the company makes money.

Millennials are much more motivated to contribute appropriate and advance ideas to the organization if they understand how the company makes money.

It seems so simple, but so many companies forget to teach their new hires the ways that the company makes money.

So one person actually emailed me the next day after the presentation. He said, “The first thing I did when I got to the office was I pulled in all of my employees and went through how the company makes money. And three of them came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Wow we had no idea. This makes so much more sense, and I have this idea or this idea,’ or ‘Oh I need to reprioritize because my projects are going to make our company money.’”

He did it the next day as soon as he realized it, and he then got feedback from his employees that that made an impact.

Rob Johnson: We’ve talked to a couple of people that feel like they have gotten unstuck with it as well. The key being communication. Just the 10 minute meeting and asking your manager for that. It’s regular feedback, not every day. And it certainly helps in job satisfaction for people that feel like they’re stuck as well.

Charlie Hoehn: I don’t think older generations have that problem as much.

Rob Johnson: When you have an entire population of people that grew up with effectively all of the knowledge of the world and a super computer in their pocket, you’re going to have this most efficient generation ever. They’re able to find most answers to anything they want, and that mystery of getting to point B is lost on everybody that has access to that.

Kate and Rob on Writing

Charlie Hoehn: So what does the rest of this year look like for the two of you?

Kate Athmer: Well we are working on scheduling regular events where we speak to millennials or managers or people who work regularly with millennials. We are doing a couple of webinars, and I’ve just started working with another person in the space on developing a podcast, which will be called Millennial Playbook.

Rob Johnson: A lot of our goals are about making this a little bit more experiential and making the book come to life. So as Kate said, we’ll be working on regular events, but we’ll probably bring on our first employee and have an event manager. We’ll start in the northeast and the west coast for our first few events toward the end of the year.

Charlie Hoehn: Do you have any parting advice for aspiring authors?

Kate Athmer: Have some sort of mechanism that keeps you stuck in a timeline. Pay someone or put your money somewhere. Otherwise it’s very easy to say, “I’ll work on that tomorrow. I really want to go have a cocktail with my friends.”

For me that was the biggest thing. I needed to know I had a deliverable deadline. Just like back in school where you chunk it into pieces. It can’t be like, “The book has to be done by December.”

It has to be like, “This part has to be done by this time. This part has to be done by this time.” Setting milestones that someone else is holding you to I think is really the most helpful part for me.

Rob Johnson: I always wanted to be able to write a book. I put it off for years and years until Kate and I had enough conversation toward this and asked what was I waiting for? I could have done this years ago.

It’s like anything: Today is the best day.

Kate: It’s never going to be perfect timing.

Rob: Right, and then we could have written this forever. Make sure you have a deadline and holding yourself accountable to it. If we didn’t have a deadline we’d still be writing this seven months later after it came out.

Kate: Someone needs to tell you when to stop. It’s done, let it go.

Charlie Hoehn: What is the number one way our listeners can help you guys?

Rob Johnson: Yeah, buying our book would be great. It’s available on Amazon. We have where you can see our blog. Also the book is available there.

If anybody wants to contact us on Twitter is on @rebootbook and then there’s and Feel free to ask us questions. We will get back to you, and we love to hear from you.

Kate Athmer: And the number one way they can help themselves is buying our book, too. It will help them more than it will help us probably, yeah.

Get Kate and Rob’s new book Millennial Reboot on Amazon.

Find out more at

Listen to more authors on communication:

Jeb White is the founder of In his new book Breaking Into College, he gives you the formula for getting into America’s most selective colleges.

The dirty truth is that many students slide past gate-keepers with the help of consultants, tutors, coaches, and essay writers. Jeb teaches the smart way to avoid getting rejected, by ensuring your kid’s application stands apart from everybody else’s.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to approach going into college like an attorney
  • Where college applications go really wrong
  • How the Mountain Exercise helps students and parents alike

Get Jeb’s new book Breaking Into College on Amazon.

Find out more at

How Breaking Into College Changes the Admissions Game

Charlie Hoehn: How can young people get into America’s most selective colleges?

Jeb White: By practice, I’m an attorney. I’ve represented whistle-blowers in cases involving fraud on the government for a number of years. We had one of our cases hit for a large number, which got the attention of one of my colleges that I attended. They came out for a fund-raising visit to talk to me.

During that conversation, they asked me, “What did you enjoy about attending our college?” I mentioned a number of things, and I said, “You know, one of the things that bothered me is that most of the people that I had classes with were from a different economic background than I was.” I came from a working-class background.

They said, “Well, you know, things have changed but a lot of things haven’t. A lot of students who are coming from those backgrounds are not able to make it to the top of the admissions pile. The chances of catching the attention of the admissions officers are becoming increasingly more difficult because the people who can afford admissions consultants are hiring them.”

Everybody is trying to package their application the same way that their public school counselors are telling them to.

They’re getting what everyone else is getting: a rejection letter.

It bothered me that it’s getting harder and harder for working-class families to get into some of these more selective colleges.

For me, it was a gateway to a better life. I thought that somebody should do something. I decided I should do something. Writing a book was one way I could help alleviate this problem.

Charlie Hoehn: How is your approach different then from what high school counselors are telling kids to do?

Jeb White: The common theme throughout my book is that you should approach applying to college as you would as if you were an attorney.

Whenever you bring your case to a jury, you want to make sure that your case is cohesive, coherent, impactful, and persuasive. The best way to do that, I have found, is also applicable to admissions world.

You bring forward how you are strong in a particular area or need that is of interest to the college. You make that the storyline, or the opening statement. Then that’s backed up by corroborating evidence of essays, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities.

The admissions committee buys into your storyline because you back it up with corroborating evidence.

For a lot of school counselors, the old way of doing it is that you try to make yourself appear well-rounded. And a lot of school counselors still applying this old approach.

It simply doesn’t work.

Focused Applications are More Effective

Charlie Hoehn: Does that mean basically that you’re trying to show that you can do it all?

Jeb White: Exactly. Jack of all trades, master of none. If you try to make yourself look like you’re so good in so many different areas, you come across like so many others.

The only way to stand out is by making yourself stand out in your area of particular strength. Play up that area, highlight it, and spotlight it for the admissions officers.

That’s the way we’re hardwired, right? We want to see people stand out in certain areas. Colleges are no longer looking for the well-rounded student.

They’re looking for the well-rounded student body. They need different places, different roles to be played by students, and you just simply aren’t going to be able to do that for all the different areas for a university.

Charlie Hoehn: Who is Breaking into College really for? Is this for the student or is it for the parent or is it for the high school counselor?

Jeb White: The answer is yes. It’s for all three. What I’ve seen play out is the parent finds the book first, which happens 99% of the time. Then they work through the book with their student, and there comes a point where they sit down with their school counselor.

When the school counselor tries to push them back towards the old way of doing things, the book comes out from a purse or from a backpack and the discussion starts from there.

I’ve given this book to hundreds of people, and it’s our goal to give it out to 10,000 people in the next year. School counselors seem to be receiving it the most. They recognize that they can’t keep up with the evolving trends of the college admissions world, and this playbook is welcome.

It’s helping them realize that there’s a new way to do it that really has seen better results for students.

Tailor Your Application to Their Need

Charlie Hoehn: What are you emphasizing?

Jeb White: We’re taking off the desire to hit every checkbox and include everything you’ve ever done in the history of mankind in high school. That simply is the wrong approach.

Once people work through the book, it’s a very tailored application that speaks to that student.

For example, I was working with a student who was very good at languages, so she spent a lot of time starting clubs that helped students learn new languages. She was an ESL tutor working with students who were trying to master English but Spanish was the first language.

She was also involved in the field hockey team. Although it was a big part of her schedule, it was not something that we highlighted in her application.

There are 48,000 high schools in America and 19,000 slots in the Ivy league.

There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of field hockey players applying to the Ivy league. But people who have shown or demonstrated interest and talent in languages are very few. It’s an area that’s in need for a lot of colleges.

They have a linguistics department that they need to beef up. They have programs and clubs that they need to make sure are filled. We highlighted that strength in her essays, in her teacher recommendations. We went to teachers who had taught her languages and talked about the enthusiasm that she had for that area, and we also talked about it in her interviews.

Everything about her package spoke to that strength. Field hockey became one of the things that yes, she included, but it was not spotlighted in her application.

We also don’t start with what the interest of the school is. We start from chapter one: what are the passions, skillsets, and strengths of the student. Then we try to find a college where that matches up.

If you chase significance or the rankings list, you end up with a student who ends up at a college where they’re miserable.

Start with their strengths and passions and then find a college where that is a particular need and marry the two. You are looking for student X, I am that student.

Well over half the time, parents will email me or call me or approach me and say, “I wish I had this book when I was going through the high school process.”

The Mountain Exercise

Jeb White: There is a chapter in the book that’s about trying to figure out where your passion is. It’s called The Mountain Exercise. I have parents go through this exercise too and then go through career changes afterward.

It’s an exercise to help students, but it’s for everybody. At no point in your life are you at the end of the road.

The Mountain Exercise does that. It came out of my own similar awakening. I was in my front yard playing soccer with my six-year-old son. The beautiful thing about soccer, unlike baseball or football, is that you don’t really have to look at the person.

When kicking the ball back, you just generally kick in their direction. So it is really good for multi-tasking. I could take a conference call, kick the ball in his general direction and continue on with my call.

When the conference call ended, he’s like, “Dad, I got to tell you what happened about in school.” At that moment, my phone rings again. “Hold on, I have to take this. It’s on my schedule.”

I put the phone up to my ear and kicked the ball back towards him, and the ball never came back.

His eyes were welling up. So I said, “Hold on guys.” I put the phone down and said, “Finley what’s going on?”

He said, “Dad, how do I get on your schedule?”

That’s a dagger to the heart. To this day, I actually have it on my computer, “How do I get in on your schedule?” It’s a reminder to me.

Here I was at the top of what I perceive as my mountain. I’m in it. Helping out with cases at the US Supreme Court as a lawyer and presenting to Congress on different points of national concern, but I am missing out at home. I am looking at one mountain and looking over saying I should be over on this other mountain.

That was one of my wake-up calls. There are so many people like me who ultimately get to some point and you’re like, “Wait a second, what am I doing here?”

I am working so hard to climb this ladder, and it is leaning up against the wrong wall.

Parents identify with that chapter, and they walk their students though it because they don’t want them to have that experience. There is an opportunity early in life to identify where you have some strength and compassion. Try to steer your college admissions process to put you in a position where you are living a life of not only success but of fulfillment.

Connecting Counselors, Students, and Parents

This book is a playbook for students, but it allows parents to play a more effective role. When you talk to parents at the end of the day, every parent is going to tell you that they just want their child to be happy.

But there is a disconnect at some point in the college admissions process. A lot of students and especially parents fall into this trap of feeling like they have to keep up with a certain level.

The old keeping up with the Joneses story. You have to do certain things. They have to go to certain colleges. And then it just doesn’t quite fit the need of the student.

My hope is that this book will help steer parents in a healthier direction. If they approach it in a way that will help their child and allow them to go on the path that is best for them, it will allow for a healthier relationship between the parent and the student.

For a lot of counselors, it’s just simply a matter of numbers. There are 500 students for every one school counselor.

The ratio simply doesn’t allow the counselor the time, money, or resources to devote to a particular student.

They need help, and the parents need help to help them along the path. That really is the purpose of the book. It’s to give them a way to make an informed decision. To put them on a better path and not allow them to not fall into some of these traps that do a lot of damage to the student and to the parent-child relationship.

Changing the Numbers Game

Charlie Hoehn: Is there anything else in your book that goes against conventional wisdom?

Jeb White: There is a chapter that talks about the SAT and the ACT. It’s one of the smaller chapters, and I do that for a reason. There is a lot of focus on numbers in the college admissions process. “What is your SAT, your ACT, your GPA?” This idea that you can reduce somebody to a number.

I really try to go against that. Numbers get you so far. But if you want to go to the most selective college in America, everyone appears the same at a certain point. The numbers aren’t going to tell the full story.

Yes, there are certain thresholds that you have to clear, but if you’re so focused on your SATs, your ACTs, it can take away from your ability to excel outside of the classroom. You’re really putting yourself behind the eight ball. A large focus of your time and effort should be on doing things that make an impact.

It’s not about making a high score in your SAT.

It is about leaving your school and your community in a better place. At the end of the day, the admissions committee is looking for a student who is not just showing up and making good grades. Anybody can sit in a dorm room and study for hours and hours and make a good grade. They are looking for students who are going to show up and actually contribute something of significance to their school.

You need to show that by doing that at a high school level. The way to do that is not by just taking on a leadership role. It is by taking on a project or doing something that’s going to show that you were there. You are leaving your mark.

This book is about that. It’s not about showing up in the classroom and getting good grades. Those are important, but it is really about making sure that you are showing up outside of the classroom and making an impact on your community.

Breaking Into College Success Stories

Charlie Hoehn: What are some of the projects that you’ve seen that are shoe-ins into these higher tier schools?

Jeb White: There is a student that I worked with a couple of years ago named Colin. He was heading into his senior year of high school, so we’re late in the game. He had an interest in computer science.

The word computer appeared nowhere in his list of activities.

I said, “You know there’s nothing here that says computer, but you want to tell colleges that you have this passion and strength in computers. Is there some need that the school has?”

He thought about it and said, “Well we don’t have a computer science club at our school.”

He lived in a part of a country where basic internet is pretty slow. So, in his senior year he went to the administration of his school and got funding to start a computer science club.

He just founded the club, so there is nothing in there to point to results from that club. But the mere fact of founding a club shows initiative, and it was in his area of interest. So he was able to write his essay about that.

Part of his essay to Johns Hopkins was his interest in computer science and starting a computer science club geared toward entrepreneurs at Johns Hopkins. He went to Johns Hopkins and ultimately founded that club.

He saw that there was a need, and his record of being an initiator would translate.

Sometimes even late in the game, if you are able to show you’re able to take initiative and start something that’s consistent with a need of a particular school, you get yourself a lot further than just being the president of a computer science club that’s always been there.

Persuasion Tactics for College Admissions

Charlie Hoehn: So it helps if you have something that you can show you have a history of doing something successfully and you’d like to do it for them too?

Jeb White: Yeah that’s exactly right. These are persuasion tactics. The same persuasion tactics that we use on the courtroom apply here, and they apply at any stage in your career. You want to show not tell. You want to show through your track record or evidence of success, that you have shown up in your life and made an impact. When you do that, it is just natural.

People start to think about themselves.

How is that going to translate when you work for me, if I allow you into this college?

How is that going to translate if we get into a relationship? By seeing how other people performed in the past, it’s just natural that you are going to say, “Oh I wonder how that would work for me if you work for me?” That’s why I spend a lot of time in the book telling stories. There are a lot of my personal stories in here and stories of my students.

I want people to see themselves in the stories. It is possible to do what others have done. It’s just a matter of making sure you follow the playbook.

Charlie Hoehn: Could you share with me your favorite story from the book?

Jeb White: I tell my personal story because I want people to know that I’ve been there. I was near rock bottom, at least at a personal level.

At 15 years old, standing outside of my high school waiting for the bus, and my dad drove up in a U-Haul truck. My friends go, “Is that your dad?” I got in the truck with him and said, “Alright we have until the morning to move out.”

We had moved 19 times up to that point.

Moving in the dead of the night was a very common practice in my family. We moved for many different reasons. On that particular night, my brother and I made a game of “Let’s get the house boxed up.” Under 12 hours was our record.

We pulled out of the driveway and could see the police car pulling in the driveway as we left. That was just part of my childhood. That there is this uncertainty and instability, and we ended up moving again and again.

I went to three high schools in a period of one month.

Charlie Hoehn: The police car was pulling in your driveway as you all were leaving?

Jeb White: That’s right. That was my childhood. Three high schools in one month of my sophomore year. I said, “If I am going to get somewhere in life, I need to have some level of certainty.”

This life of insecurity is not putting me on a good path. I reached out to different teachers and shared my story and they said, “You need some level of stability.”

So I sent out applications to every boarding school in the country and said, “I have no money. I make good grades and I can play a little bit of football. Is there some spot in your school?”

I was able to get a financial aid package and a scholarship to a boarding school. That set me on a trajectory that ultimately led to where I am today. I am very thankful to that school.

No matter where you are, no matter what level of insecurity and instability you have, there is some way to make that into a good story.

I took what was a bad story for me and said, “Even through this turmoil and these struggles, I have been able to maintain good grades. Imagine what I can do for your school if I am there every single day?”

I was using the same playbook that I’m advocating now. If you take your perceived stumbling blocks and turn them into stepping stones, people really pull for the underdog.

If you paint yourself as the underdog who is able to succeed even through mounting challenges, people identify with that. They will pull for you and ultimately allow you into their school.

Applying Strategies from Breaking Into College

Charlie Hoehn: What is one thing they can do from your book this week to change their life for the better?

Jeb White: We talk a lot about having the right mindset. As you look at your life as it currently stands today, think about where you’d like to be five years from today. Why do you want to go there?

This is the mountain exercise. What is the particular summit? How will they know they will actually reach where they want to go?

Who can help them get up the mountain? Who’s been where they want to be. Ultimately, that can be a mentor. It could provide a roadmap and help them up that particular mountain.

Then, what obstacles do they see in front of them? What’s going to prevent them from getting there? It’s a very objective look at their future. It’s not a matter of getting into the victim mentality of saying, “I can’t do that.”

What if you could do that?

What if you could get to ultimately where you want to go? For my students that I work with, for example, in their freshman and sophomore year they say, “I want to go to a particular school.” I always ask them why? Why do you want to go to that particular school? Is it the prestige that you’re after? Or is it because that school is going to put you up in a position where you’re ultimately going to reach some higher career level?

And then I ask, “Is there anybody in your life who’s been there?” If not, I can supply those names for you.

“What obstacles do you perceive?” I have worked with students who have had a horrible freshman year. Their GPA is near 2.0, and they have desires to go to the Ivy league. They are stumbling out of their gate of their freshman year. I had a 1.7 GPA after my freshman year at Penn. My storyline then became that I worked up to a GPA that allowed me to get into a lot of other law schools across the country.

How? Because I made the opening storyline that I overcame the odds of my freshman year. I got focused.

For a lot of students in high school, it is a coming of age point where you’re really discovering how to study. You are finding yourself. Making that into a story of success is one way to do it.

Identify what you perceive as obstacles and make it into a success story.

It’s all a matter of seeing where you want to go. Identify why you want to go there. Identify people who can get you there. Try to make your obstacles into stepping stones to better things.

Charlie Hoehn: How can our listeners connect with and follow you? 

Jeb White: If they go to, that’s where I am. They actually can get a free copy of the book there. Just cover the shipping. I’ll ship your book anywhere. I speak to high schools across the country, and I give books to all the students who are in attendance.

It’s just a matter of getting the message out to the world. That’s what we’re trying to do here.

Get Jeb’s new book Breaking Into College on Amazon.

Find out more at

Listen to more authors talk about building your best life:

Do you feel bored and unfulfilled, counting down the hours until you go home? Jesse Cole, author of Find Your Yellow Tux, is here to save you.

Jesse (@YellowTuxGuy) is the owner of two multimillion dollar summer league baseball teams, The Gastonia Grizzlies and the Savanna Bananas. His motto is, “If it’s normal, do the exact opposite.” For instance, don’t start with the baseball game, start with a circus, then let it explode into a baseball game.

In this episode, Jesse shares his stories of how he created an amazing life by doing the unexpected. By the end of this episode, you’ll know how to reignite your life and excel in your business.

Get Jesse’s new book Find Your Yellow Tux on Amazon.

Learn more at

Reinventing Baseball with Jesse Cole

Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell me what those early days were like where you were trying to drum up attention?

Jesse Cole: I remember the phone call I made to the owner of the team. I said, “Ken, we’re no longer going to be a baseball team.” He goes, “What are you talking about?”

“We’re going to be a circus. It’s going to be all about entertainment.”

“The reality is, no one’s been caring about a baseball team.” He goes, “What do you have in mind?”

I said, “Our players are going to do choreographed dances every game, we’re going to have a grandma beauty pageant, I’m going to get in the dunk tank every game, and it’s going to be a circus.” He laughed and said, “I guess we’ve got nothing to lose.”

I think it was Will Ferrell who recently said in a commencement speech, “You got to keep throwing darts at the dart board, and you’ll eventually hit the bullseye.”

For us, we literally kept trying crazy things. We had a flatulence fund night where we gave away whoopee cushions and had a bean burrito eating contest on the field. We had a salute to underwear night where we actually threw grizzlies underwear in the crowd and people that wore their underwear on the outside got a free ticket.

It was the most un-family friendly night we could ever have, and believe me, both those promotions failed miserably.

But we learned. And more than anything, we created attention.

I mean, back then, we offered George Bush an internship after he was no longer the president. We just started thinking crazy and when everyone started noticing, you know what? These guys are fun, let’s give them a chance. When they come to the game, they would see ridiculous promotions and people getting pied. Now they see our senior citizen dance team called the Banana Nanas doing Uptown Funk in the middle of the game, and they’re like, “You know what? We’re going to escape and have fun.”

There have been a lot of trials, a lot of failures. But when you come to our games, it’s absolutely ridiculous. The reality is, people need to stand out and do things differently. We all need a little bit more fun in our lives.

When Everything Changed

Charlie Hoehn: What was your favorite moment, your favorite experiment that you tried?

Jesse Cole: My breakthrough moment happened in 2011. We’ve given away colon cleansings, we’ve given away port-a-johns…we’ve done it all. We were having fun, the crowds were going crazy. We did a “Dig to China Night” where we literally buried a one-way flight to China in the infield dirt. But no return flight, no accommodations, just a one-way flight to China.

We just did ridiculous things. I know the crowds were loving it, but I was like, there’s got to be something more. So in 2011, I saw the Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” video.

I was in the middle of a conference, and I sprinted out of the conference. Literally left the conference and started watching it over and over again.

I’ll never forget the moment that happened in a game in that 2011 season. We found out that someone who was 21 years old and a celebrity in our community had gone off to Afghanistan and unfortunately was killed. An intern came up to me and said, “Jesse, I’m very close to the family. We’ve got to do something.”

We looked two weeks ahead to our “Salute the Troops Night.” There were 3,700 people in the stadium, and in the first inning, we stopped the game. We invited the entire family, the mother, the father, the grandmother, the sister, the girlfriend down to the field. Everyone stood, and two Marines brought a framed jersey with his name to them. And for two minutes, we read this tribute to Nick.

You could hear a pin drop in the stadium. 3,700 people silent. When the mother walked off the field, she gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever received, and I walked to my office and just lost it. It was that moment that I realized, really, why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s to bring people together and create a family and treat them like a family.

That’s how we developed our business name, Fans First Entertainment. Everything we do is for the fans, to bring them together.

I know I went a different direction than all the colon cleansing and the port-a-johns, but really, that was the moment that stood out.

Now, moments like that happen every single year where families come to us and hug us and say, “You won’t believe what you’ve done for our family, and that means everything for us.”

Learning from Find Your Yellow Tux

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me about Find Your Yellow Tux.

Jesse Cole: The book title is Find your Yellow Tux and it’s How to be Successful by Standing Out. I have six tuxedos, yellow tuxedos. I proposed in a yellow tuxedo, and thank goodness, she said, “Yes.”

That’s who I am, but what I believe it means is that everyone has something that makes them stand out. It’s about finding your best version of yourself. That’s not only just for yourself but also for your business.

Over the last 10 years in this crazy business, we’ve seen the things that have worked. I believe it’s so applicable to everyone.

Be different, find your own self, and stand out.

That’s what this book is. One of the big premises is, “Whatever’s normal, do the exact opposite.” Normal gets normal results. One of my mentors, Bill Veeck, says, “I try not to break the rules but merely test their elasticity.”

I love him, but I’ll tell you, we break the rules when it comes to a lot of things.

I think that’s the key in life, if you really want to have purpose and fulfillment. That’s what we’re having fun with. I know this book is going to be very entertaining and tell a lot of ridiculous stories, but it’s bigger than that.

Charlie Hoehn: How do we really apply this stuff?

Jesse Cole: I think this is what I call the “mirror moment.” The great example is from Jerry McGuire. Basically, they were all about more clients, more money. He wanted to be less clients, more money because it applied better to him.

I tell everyone, “What frustrates you about your business? What frustrates you about your industry as a whole?”

For us, baseball was too long, too slow, too boring, and people weren’t interested anymore. We changed the game on what baseball should be like.

How did Uber start? Airbnb, all the best companies start that way.

If you look at yourself, what’s frustrating you in a given day? What’s frustrating you about your business? Are you just going through the motions? Are there certain things that are really bothering you, that you don’t feel passion for it, you don’t feel purpose?

That’s the starting point. I call it a mirror moment. Once you get there, the question is, what’s the next step? The next step, I believe more than anything, is to become a sponge.

The Importance of Self-Awareness 

Charlie Hoehn: How do you know when you’re looking at the right frustrations?

Jesse Cole: Charlie, your book Play It Away is perfect, and I think the reality is, you had your mirror moment. You realize what happened when you were getting sick, when you had serious anxiety because of what was going on. That probably wasn’t the right thing you should be in at that point.

Now, not everyone’s going to go through the challenges that you went through, but you realized that moment, when there’s something wrong. You’re having to work so hard, you had to take certain things to keep you going.

I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of people that go home and they’re not that excited about their job. I think most people’s worst day is Monday. That’s a terrible thing. The suicide rate on Mondays is higher than any time. That’s crazy to me.

I know this is very deep, but it’s a reality.

Maybe they need to change what they’re doing in their job. Maybe they’re in the wrong field. It’s not creating excitement and passion. Are they watching the clock during the day or are they losing track of time? You know, those are things that I think people should think about.

Think about your job in a given day.

What moments during the day do you love the most? What moments are you having the most fun laughing?

Those are the things that I started to think about when I realized this for myself. When I’m creating and working with our videographer and coming up with new things to put out, I have the time of my life doing that.

Realize the things that you don’t enjoy and that you’re not good at.

Are you putting out fires every day? A lot of times during the day, you’re doing things that you just aren’t good at.

For me, I’m terrible at operations. I can’t put anything up around this ballpark. It takes me hours. So don’t do that. You need to hire people or work with people that can do that.

What was the best part of your day? If it’s lunch or if it’s going home and having a couple of beers, you may need to look at something else.

How Urgent is Your Happiness?

Charlie Hoehn: What happens if they’re thinking, “This is just a stage in my life?”

Jesse Cole: You know, it depends on how urgent you feel your happiness is. Most people are content with their jobs. They’re content, they’re happy, they’re going with it. But I think people should come to work on fire. I think they should just absolutely love what they do.

That’s a challenge for people.I don’t know if it’s a sense of urgency, but start just being aware.

Look at yourself and ask if this is what I’m the best at? This is getting obviously serious, but it should be fun. For instance, I love talking about this stuff. It’s exciting.

The other day, we adopted a pig and literally had a pig at our ballpark because the team came out with the name Making Bacon. We did a PSA to Sarah McLachlan’s video about saving the dogs to save the pigs and saying stop making bacon.

That was the most fun I had all day, and you know what? The video went out and people loved it. That’s what it’s about for us. Now, I’m not saying, if you’re an accountant in a law firm, you can start bringing in a pig to the office. But you can do things that are kind of ridiculous and have fun.

When you go home, do you have stories about your day?

Start creating those moments, create those stories. It makes life worth it.

What I love about you is that you are living what you stand for. You’re out rock climbing, building or whatever it is. Your whole concept about playing and having fun and how that’s added so much to your life, you’re living it. It gives you a lot of joy and it’s you and it’s authentic.

You weren’t faking it. I think that’s the key. It’s “What do you love doing?”

A great example in the book The Happiness Equation is called the Saturday Morning Test. I referenced this in the book. If you have nothing to do on a Saturday morning, what do you want to do?

That’s such a great way of looking at what you should be doing with your life or at least what you should try as a side hustle.

Learn to Have Fun

Charlie Hoehn: I’m betting you were a very creative person growing up, doing the funny quirky mischievous practical jokes and that type of thing, right?

Jesse Cole: 100%. We made videos, we had fun, we did ridiculous things in school that our teachers from high school still talk about. But I thought I was going play baseball. I put all my energy into baseball. I was fortunate to get a college scholarship, but then my arm got torn to pieces and I was done.

The reality is, you think you are the best at something and plan all of it, but you know what? Things change.

I’m probably the only baseball owner in the country that says, “You know what? Baseball has a serious challenge: it’s long, slow, and boring.”

I don’t love baseball like I used to. I love entertaining fans. So it does pivot, and I think the key is just being able to be self-aware.

Charlie Hoehn: What can others learn from what you guys have done in transforming something that was previously boring?

Jesse Cole: You know I say this all the time, but it’s “What business are you in…but what business are you really in?” A lot of businesses can’t answer that question. They are saying that they’re an accountant, they’re just about accounting. To a degree, every business is in the time business, and they need to understand that.

Are you making people’s time better, are you taking away time, are you giving them time?

Once you understand how you help people’s time, then you can start to look at what business you’re really in.

We realized that we have to give 100% to entertainment because people want to be entertained. They want to escape; they don’t want to watch baseball. With a regular business, think about it in the same sense of what frustrates you about your business.

Law firms and accountants are so over the top professional and formal…You know that’s how businesses look at it. It’s about them, it’s not about the perfect experience for your customer. Start to think about that from the beginning, from the first time they see your website, from the first moment they answer their phone.

We literally go all the way to the beginning. When people show up to our stadium, they are going to see people dressed up as penguin costumes.

Why? Because they are our parking penguins.

They are dressed up as penguins and they’re parking people. Doesn’t make any sense. But if I am coming to a game and I see someone dressed as a penguin parking, I think that’s funny.

And then when they keep walking, we have a 30 piece pep band. In baseball. You don’t have a pep band in baseball. We have a 30 piece pep band playing Uptown Funk or the theme from Rocky as you’re walking in.

Then, people are dressed in banana costumes, and as they walk through the gate, The Banana Nanas, our senior citizen dance team are doing a Justin Timberlake dance.

That’s all before you even get into the stadium.

If you think about the perfect experience for your customer, you can change the way people think about your business. I think that’s a great starting point.

Doors Open When You Go All In

Charlie Hoehn: Tell me some of the other transformative things that have happened that wouldn’t have if you just maintained the status quo?

Jesse Cole: When we came here, the former team had cut the phone lines and the internet lines. We had a picnic table on a storage shed that we were working at. For six months, we worked so hard trying to market the team and said, “You know what? We are going to do all of these crazy things.” But no one cared.

It was going from professional baseball to college summer baseball, and no one cared. It got so bad that I’ll never forget the phone call I got in January. They said, “Jesse we’re completely out of money.”

My wife and I were driving back from my friend’s wedding. She turned to me and said, “Jesse, we have to sell our house. That’s the only option we have.” So we sold our house that we had in Charlotte with our other team and we literally emptied out our savings account.

We found this terrible duplex down here in Savannah, and we went all in.

When we had the opportunity to name the team, we went with Bananas. Most teams are going animals. We went with Savanah Bananas and decided to go all out in the marketing. Our mascot’s named Split, we’re going to have the Banana Nanas. We’re going to have a promotion where we throw bananas from the top deck called “Banana in the Pants.”

We thought about all of these crazy things that you could do, and all of a sudden, they started noticing. That’s the perfect experience for your customer.

We realized people were frustrated going to sporting events and getting nickeled and dimed. So we made one ticket price: $15, and that includes all you can eat, all your food, all night, plus the ticket.

We sold out the first six or seven games in advance, and on opening night it starts pouring. And it pours. By 7:00 to 7:30, we were not going to start, then maybe going to start late…and 4,000 people kept coming. And they didn’t stop.

They just kept coming, and they waited until we started the game at 9:00. At 11:00, a young woman came up to me in the 8th or 9th inning, and she said, “Could you please get me a signed baseball?” I said, “We’ll do what we can. You know we believe in that.”

She said, “My fiancé had been coming to this ball park every single opening night since he was a kid and he just passed away. It would mean the world to me. I’m here with his family just to get a signed baseball.” I said, “Of course, of course.”

Then she said, “And my fiancé’s name was Drew Moody, and you have a player on your roster named Drew Moody.”

Drew wasn’t with us yet, but his younger brother, Logan Moody, was with us.

So I ran into the dugout in the middle at the end of the game and I said, “Logan can you get this signed?” and I told him the story. He got it signed, then went up there sat in the middle of the bleachers with her for an entire inning. As he sat with her, he gave her the signed baseball.

I watched as they hugged each other. When he walked by, I said, “Logan, that was really special.” He goes, “Fans first right?”

He understood what it was about.

An 18 year old kid after our first game understood the impression and the differences that we make. You know when you create those moments you know you are making a real difference.

Simplifying is the Key

Charlie Hoehn: Why don’t more people pick up on this stuff?

Jesse Cole: It’s almost so obvious, but it takes a lot of work. I have a whole chapter about this in my book. It is so hard to simplify. Steve Jobs said it best, “If you could simplify things, it could move mountains.” That’s what the greatest companies have done.

So when we simplified it to Fans First, everyone in our staff understands it’s about fans first. And what does that mean to them? It means we take care of people. We don’t have this long mission statement, this complex thing about what we’re supposed to do.

It’s not about profit, it’s not about any of that. It’s simplifying.

If you simplify your mission and what you stand for, it’s very easy to put that into your whole system and your whole business.

It’s a challenge. You’ve got to sit down and say, “Hey why are we doing this? What’s the point? How can we make this easy?”

If we have a part time staff join us within a day, how will they know exactly what we’re about and how to do it? It takes some time, but for us, that’s been the key. It’s simplifying it.

Charlie Hoehn: What is the one thing that listeners can do today or this week that can change their life?

Jesse Cole: Ooh, I love that question, Charlie. I love that question. If you want to change your life, you have to have a mirror moment first.

You have to literally look at yourself and say, “Hey, what’s frustrating me? What’s bothering me? What am I missing? Why do I feel stuck? Why are there moments that I feel stale?” Write it down.

From there, what moments fire you up? What do you get most excited about? When you’re pumped to go into work, what are you doing that day? Or if you are not pumped going to work ever, that’s a moment that could change your life because you realize you are doing the wrong thing.

So it’s what frustrates you, and what fires you up? It sounds so simple, but I keep doing it every single day.

Sometimes I am doing things I don’t want to be doing or I shouldn’t be doing, and I try to pivot to find more ways to do things I absolutely love. It fires me up so that I look at the clock and realize, “Whoa I’ve been doing this for three hours.”

And I think the reality is that we get comfortable. I say it to my own staff all the time: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Every single day, are you challenging yourself, are you trying new stuff? If you are constantly comfortable with what you’re doing, you are not growing. If you’re going to be comfortable sustaining and maintaining what you’re doing, you’re not going to be doing things that fire you up.

Putting it Into Practice

Charlie Hoehn: When was the last time you were uncomfortable?

Jesse Cole: Every day. I’ve launched Find Your Yellow Tux and I’m doing a podcast and I am putting myself out there. I am recording one minute boosts every day. Literally every day, I am putting myself out there in something I am not used to doing. I used to be on the field in front of 4,000 fans and putting on crazy promotions and shows and pieing fans in the crowd. I am used to that, but I am not used to recording myself.

It is challenging me. It’s challenged me to reach out to people that are better than me.

How many times in a day do you reach out to someone that’s better than you and try to learn from them?

I read hundreds of books, but when I’m reaching out to these people that have achieved great success, I’m uncomfortable. You’re having to sell yourself and you’re having to convince them to work with you. Those are things I do every day.

Charlie Hoehn: How can our listeners connect with you, follow you and come to one of your games?

Jesse Cole: I’m on there as well, YellowTuxJesse on Twitter, and Facebook is The Yellow Tux Guy.

But you know we’d love to have you in Savanah. We’re fortunate. We have sold out 32 straight games and it’s been a circus at the ballpark. But reach out to me. We’ll see what we could do, we’d love to have you.

Charlie Hoehn: What should Author Hour listeners say if they end up going to a Savanah Bananas game?

Jesse Cole: Yes, hit me up on Twitter or on my website. If you are going to hit me up to come to a game, we’re going to put you on the field and you are going to do something absolutely outrageous. So just be ready for that.


Get Jesse’s new book Find Your Yellow Tux on Amazon.

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Today’s guest is the FBI’s international hostage and kidnapping negotiator: Chris Voss. He is the author of Never Split the Difference (1,000+ five star reviews on Amazon!), and he knows that even the smallest situations can feel high stakes if you aren’t prepared — whether that’s buying a home, negotiating your salary, or arguing with your partner.

Tucker Max joined us to discuss the most effective strategies Chris employed while working for the FBI. By the end of the episode, you’ll have bulletproof methods for being more likable and persuasive in every area of your life.

Get Chris’ new book Never Split the Difference on Amazon.

Find out more at his site The Black Swan Group.

Chris Voss’s High Profile Background in Negotiations

Author Hour: What is it like at Quantico?

Chris Voss: After you train as an FBI hostage negotiator, you go through the school at Quantico, which is an extraordinary school. It’s completely unexpected experience. You go back thinking, “This is another week isolated at the academy.” And, “I’ve got to figure out what to do with the weekend.”

You don’t know before you get there that there’s going to be anywhere from three to five cops from around the country who are experienced hostage negotiators who have been through extraordinary, jaw dropping, frightening situations.

You’re with these extraordinary people that have been through stuff that you can’t imagine. You know, you just think it’s the guy sitting next to you, and four days later you find out that he was in a siege that was horrific.

Then you start hearing about these guys that travel all over the world working kidnappings, then towards the end of the training, at the end of the two weeks, you get a presentation on their team, and you’re like, “Jeez, I want to be with those guys. I want to jump on a plane, I want to have a ready bag. I want to be able to rock inside of four hours and get on a plane and go anywhere in the world.”

When you get the invitation, you think they’re going to give you the secret sauce, the secret handshake, the magic words.

But then they explain the commodities exchange. This is a market. The commodity happens to be human beings, but the guys on the other side are in business in the commodity exchange. I remember being blown away by that thought. In many ways, it was the beginning of me knowing that these were just business skills.

It’s just a high performance, highly evolved, ridiculous application of emotional intelligence into a crazy business that happened to be in the commodity exchange of human beings.

Author Hour: What were some of the things that you practiced?

Chris Voss: If you look at bargaining as offer/counter-offer, then that becomes a sequential game with rules and the expectations and sometimes a meeting in the middle. If it’s a game, there’s a way to evolve and come in with a better strategy.

So they taught us the game strategy.

They taught us the basic rules of it, and it was pretty straightforward. They left it very open to us to see what we could do. My former bosses basically just dragged their feet, stalled for time. Not an incredibly sophisticated approach, so I thought, “You know, I’d be able to get smarter than this.”

So I went back to my crisis hotline days. I knew that a tactical application of empathy is almost like an anesthesia. You can use it however you want. You can use it to lessen pain. If you turn it way up, you can use it to render the other side unconscious.

I laid it into the bargaining process and was constantly experimenting with it. I trained all the time and was always finding ways to apply it. While I still had time, I used to volunteer on a suicide hotline, then the terrorism work there I was doing in New York, so I was always looking for ways to experiment and drop it in.

Writing the FBI’s Playbook

Author Hour: How much did you author or develop in the FBI negotiation playbook?

Chris Voss: Right after I got to the crisis negotiation unit, which is where everything was rewritten, that was part of what our mandate from 2000 to 2003. We literally wrote everything.

Everything that’s there now, I was either an author or the author.

One of the things that was really gratifying to see was, at the time, we didn’t have what we referred to as an active listening block. It amazed me that we didn’t have a separate block of instruction. We also didn’t have a kidnapping instruction.

Author Hour: What is an active listening block?

Chris Voss: There is a list of eight skills of hostage negotiation like motion labeling, open-ended questions, minimal encouragers, there were eight of them. We had the list, but we didn’t have the actual instruction written that clearly defined each one, explained how they worked, explained why they worked and gave very clear, specific examples.

I just wrote it, and then when I was down there for training just a couple of years ago, I wondered whether that block would survive. There were some people that I worked with that were jealous of what I had done. I thought maybe as soon as I was gone, they would throw that in the trash. But the block is still there, word for word.

Not only is a block still there, but the FBI instructional material is not copyrighted.

When you write for the government, you can’t copyright it. Anybody can steal it.

The four big players internationally, the FBI, the Scotland Yard, etc. We each have our own school and we steal from each other liberally.

I’ve seen my stuff word for word in Scotland Yard negotiation training. Typically, when negotiators retire and leave, they take the intellectual property with them and they open up their own shop and copyright it because it wasn’t previously. I was teaching in the United Arab Emirates and the guy from Scotland Yard put up a block of instruction that was word for word what I had written.

Author Hour: Did you tell him that? And call him out about that?

Chris Voss: It wouldn’t have done any good, and he wasn’t that good at teaching it anyway. I knew he was missing some insights and nuances to it.

The funny thing that happened was when it caught me so off-guard, every now and then, you look up at the sky and you go like, “Alright universe, I’m not going to complain about this. I just know this is what happens.”

So I leaned back in my chair and was looking up at the sky, and the major from defense forces in the United Arab Emirates tapped me on the shoulder and goes, “Are you okay?”

“No, I’m fine. I just thought of something back home that really was blowing me away.”

I couldn’t say, “This guy thought he stole his material from Scotland Yard, but since Scotland Yard stole it from me, he actually stole it from me.”

Just the way it is.

Negotiation Tactics 

Author Hour: What do you think is the #1 one take away to try out this week?

Chris Voss: The simplest thing to learn is the mirror technique: repeating the last one to three words of what someone has just said. Nothing more complicated than that.

It’s not mirroring their effect, it’s not mirroring their body language. Just the last one or three words, nothing could be simpler. Some people find that ridiculously awkward and frightening, and they won’t do it because it scares the hell out of them.

But there are certain skills that are so effective that it’s all anybody does, and there are mirroring addicts out there.

Author Hour: What are mirroring addicts?

Chris Voss: There you go. That was a nice mirror on your part.

We ran across a guy, I called him Johnny Mirrors. He had read the book, and all he was doing was mirroring whatever people say.

We actually had a conversation with them for about twenty minutes before I realized that’s what he was doing. He was having the best time. Every time he would mirror, his wife would look at him and go, “Stop doing that!”

People just said, “Your husband is so nice, he’s so interesting, we love talking to him, he’s the best guy, he’s so pleasant.” And he had this big dopey smile on his face because all he was doing was mirroring people, and he was the most popular guy the entire weekend.

Another one of the guys, a guy named Randy, Randy’s got to be the smartest guy we ever trained. He loves mirroring so much because it’s so easy to see when it’s being done if you’re watching.

He mirrors every single time on the other side’s position. That will always tell him how firm or soft their position is. It’s a great diagnostic tool.

He pulls his people together in advance and says all I’m going to do is mirror, one to three words, the entire time.

He loves showing off and deploying the skill that has been pointed out by everybody but the listeners. It’s blatantly obvious.

I don’t mirror that much, but I do it when I need to buy myself time if I get caught completely off-guard by what somebody said. That’s actually one of the stories in the book: The Chase Manhattan bank robbery.

I confronted the bank robber because we ID’d him and he was hiding from us who he was. We found his vehicle and ran the registration and got somebody there that gave us a voice ID. In trying to back slightly into that, we tried to limit the shock of a “got you.”

I said, “But the van is registered to you, Chris Watts.”

He goes, “Well, we don’t have more than one van.” So I said, “More than one van?”

“Yeah, we only have one van.” “Did you only have one van?”

He says, “Yeah, you chased my driver away.” I said, “We chased your driver away?”

“Yeah, when he saw the police he cut and run.”

Now, what he just did there was that vomiting of information: there was the third bank robber we didn’t even know was involved. He was the getaway driver who got away. I had no idea the guy was there. None of us know he was there. We convicted that guy on the strength of the spontaneous utterances from one of the most manipulative people we ever came across.

He also did a great CEO’s move: When somebody on the other side has got outside influence and they’re actually at the table, they’ll only use plural pronouns. Never say I, me, my. They’ll always say we, they, them, the other guys, my board of directors, I got so many people I’m accountable to…that’s where they avoid getting pinned into a corner at the bargaining table.

This guy, a bank robber, did that completely.

He kept saying, “You know, these other guys here are more dangerous than I am. I’m the reasonable guy here. These guys, I don’t know what they’re going to do. They’re in charge, I mean, they’re telling me what to do. And as a matter of fact, I’ve got to get to the phone right now because they want me to get off the phone.”

He was the guy.

And he used it the entire time. He was the most together, manipulative bank robber that we’ve ever run across. And the mirrors got him. As controlled as he was, the mirrors caused him to vomit information that he had no control over, and we nailed the getaway driver just because of that.

Everyday Negotiations

Author Hour: What are some everyday situations you find yourself using mirroring?

Chris Voss: Well, the main one I use is as a substitution instead of “What do you mean by that?” A lot of times, if somebody said something to you, especially if they’re thoughtful, and most people are, they’ve chosen their words very specifically.

They may be the type that thinks that what they’ve said is so blatantly obvious that when you say to them, “What do you mean by that?” They’ll repeat it word for word only louder, like an American overseas. Because they think the words are so well selected it’s blatantly obvious.

But if if somebody says, “This is a fluid situation,” I might say, “A fluid situation?”

They might say “Yeah, there’s four or five players involved here in the timelines, they’re moving around, and the first player this and the second player that…” And they’ll lay it all out and give me a much better answer than if I said, “What do you mean by a fluid situation?”

I usually upward-inflect on the end. Usually. Not always, but most of the time.

Author Hour: When do you not? Why would you not?

Chris Voss: If I would not, it would be because I’m simply trying to convey a complete understanding of what was just said, and it’s not as encouraging. I probably have a couple of times, but I probably almost always upward-inflect.

When it’s genuine curiosity, then it’s going to come across in your tone of voice.

There’s a difference between, “Why did you do that?” and “Why did you do that?!” Same words, different tone. When you’re genuinely actually really curious, then that’s going to come across in your tone.

Author Hour: Can you elaborate, or what do you mean by that?

Chris Voss: Again, it’s kind of come to your tone of voice more than anything else. You know, technically by definition, “Can you explain that?” comes really close to a close-ended question, almost a statement. The definition of a closed-ended question means it starts with a verb. So that, “Can you,” is a verb.

You are not going to say to your boss, “Can you explain that?” They’re going to throw you out of the office. 

They’re going to say, “I don’t got to explain nothing to you, you work for me.”

There’s certain wording that people who perceive themselves to be above you in the hierarchy or the pecking order, they’re going to be over sensitive to the way that it’s phrased.

Which means there’s a limitation there. What happens if they think they’re above me in the hierarchy and I don’t think that? Or I’m trying to prove to them that they’re not? I may choose some phraseology that asserts.

Now, it’s silly to get over a wrestling match over who is in charge when I just need the information.

How Chris Studied Negotiations

Author Hour: What things did you study?

Chris Voss: Well, on a crisis hotline, there was a basic manual. I dug into that really hard. Wherever I was getting training, if they gave me a book, I read the book. I would dig hard to the instruction and participate fully in what they wanted us to do.

Start with No who is probably the first book that I started to really dig into in this stuff.

It was mostly experiential, but then also trying to learn as much as I could for the people that were teaching it. It wasn’t like it was all trial and error on my part. Even if instruction at the suicide hotline was really good instruction, it wasn’t terribly well organized. There were a lot of nuggets in there that I tried to figure out from the people who were good at it.

I try to learn from the people who were good at it. I think that’s primarily it.

Author Hour:  What is the #1 thing most people in negotiations are getting wrong?

Chris Voss: Getting to “Yeses” is intellectually flawless, but negotiation is not an intellectual process. That’s where that begins to break down. It doesn’t in factor into the wackiness of emotional intelligence.

Hostage negotiators are taught from the very beginning look for the loss, look for the loss, look for the loss. It most likely happened in the last 24 to 48 hours.

Author Hour: What does that mean, look for the loss?

Chris Voss: If somebody is engaged in some form of extreme behavior, there is going to be a recent trigger. There’s no bigger trigger than a loss. Based on Daniel Kahneman’s Prospect Theory, which he won the Nobel Prize for relatively recently¾after all of these negotiation books were written, Kahneman points out that the biggest motivator of human behavior is a loss.

Not just somebody waving a gun around, but every human being on the planet.

So I ended up getting trained on this whole loss idea, and I just thought it was hostage negotiation. Then I came to learn that getting the guy to agree to come out and getting them out were two different things. It is really an implementation issue. Shortly after I left the FBI, I also came across the book called The Point of The Deal: How To Negotiate When Yes Is Not Enough.

That is one of the first lines in there, “A deal that can’t be implemented isn’t worth making.”

I remember reading that in a bookstore at Cambridge, a Harvard bookstore, and I remember laughing out loud. I said, “Okay this is a 1000%. I’m on track here.” So there are certain things that I learned as a hostage negotiator that I thought was unique to hostage negotiation. But I found out that’s unique to everything else.

Pre-prospect theory, those guys have a disadvantage because it just hadn’t been in the body of knowledge yet. If they were academics, then it’s not in the academic literature either.

The other thing also is like Stewart Diamond’s book, Getting More. Stewart Diamond is a dead-on analytical guy. It’s a great book if you want to understand how an analyst thinks through negotiation. I don’t know how aware he is that it’s a playbook for the analyst.

Jim Camp’s book, Start with No, Jim Camp’s Dead On Assertive. That’s the playbook of how assertives think.

Changing Your Verbiage in Business

Author Hour: How can we tactically use that?

Chris Voss: I just wrote some instruction for real estate people. I said, “Understand you’re not putting the loss at them. It’s there. That driver is already there, and it’s already got the gas pedal on the floor. So you might not like it, but they are being driven by in an outside way, by loss and fear. So you’re not doing anything on that.”

That’s really where a tactical application of empathy comes in. Without an emotionally-intelligent compassionate, empathic approach, you are taking them hostage. You run the risk of being very threatening and being a bully and being a bad guy.

So what’s the precursor to your assertion? If you assert bluntly, then it’s going to go bad. You’re going to wear people out.

Author Hour: How do you deliver or say something to gently guide somebody?

Chris Voss: I would start out by saying, “Look, this is going to sound harsh. You are not going to like this,” and I did this in a negotiation. I had some contractors that I had to cut their pay by 75%. I don’t know the last time you went to a 75% pay cut, but that ain’t easy. That ain’t an easy pill to swallow.

I said, “I got a lousy proposition for you. By the time we got finished with this conversation, you’re going to think I’m the worst businessman on the planet.”

“You’re going to think Chris Voss, big talker, all these years been talking about going into business…” I had been talking about going into business with starting my own consulting firm for years. So you know, all these big talks all these years, and Chris wants the big talkers’ very first project after he leaves the FBI. He doesn’t know how to manage a project. He’s a bad businessman and he may even have lied to me.

And then I just let it sit. Then I said, “But I wanted to make this offer to you before I took it to somebody else.”

Now if I started with, “I wanted to make this offer to you before I take it to somebody else,” without that emotional intelligence precursor, a thousand percent of those guys would have been like, “You know what? Take it to somebody else and don’t ever call me again,” bang and they hung up the phone.

Literally every single one of those guys took the deal, and all but one took it in that conversation.

There was no argument, there was no counter offer, there was no complaint. One called me back the next day and said, “You know, my wife says I can stay at home and do nothing, or I could go out and do this with you.”

Author Hour: What have been some of your reader’s results?

Chris Voss: What I get the biggest kick out of lately, is when a woman has read the book and has gone out and gotten a raise.

These days, the stereotype says that women don’t negotiate well and it’s their fault or that they can’t or that somehow they’re constrained. If they negotiate, they get penalized. So I found out about a woman who shared with me on Facebook recently, a big fan of the book.

She said, “I gave your book to my daughter. She read your book and got a 30% raise.”

Author Hour: What are you working on now?

Chris Voss: Well we are trying to keep up with how people are applying what we are doing. Smart, interesting people are taking the ideas and reassembling them in their own way or in their own application and then hitting them out of the park.

A lot of the real cutting edge stuff is on cold calling and cold email. About three months ago a guy, put some of the skills in an email, a cold approach, and it was brilliant. He got the appointment.

He sent me the emails and said, “Hey this is what I did with a potential client. Did I do it right?”

“Not only did you do it right, but that’s a combination I haven’t seen before.”

It started out with a no-oriented question then with the label, and then an open-ended question. And the person responded to two consecutive emails. You could tell from his writing that he thought he was sending rejections, but he sent a rejection and the reason for his rejection revealed another more important issue.

So what my cold-emailer did was focused enough on what the reason for the rejection was and picked out something that was even more important that was unaddressed. He followed this thread, and the guy was in a long term relationship with a previous vendor and just didn’t want to reinvent the relationship with somebody that wasn’t actually going to pay attention to him.

So through the email, the guy showed him how quickly he could pay attention to him and hone in on what was important to him¾through three emails. Three short emails, and now suddenly the guy who sent the emails is honing-in and paying more attention to the potential client than any of his existing vendors are, and he’s refreshed by that.

He’s like, “Yeah I want to talk. You’re actually hearing needs that I’m expressing,” and he couldn’t wait to get the appointment.

Training with Chris Voss

Author Hour: What do you do when someone asks you how you got better?

Chris Voss: Well first is practice, which sounds too trite. But I realized recently that the learning curve is steep.

We’ve always said the learning curve is steep but it’s not high. If you look at the bell curve, that’s exactly right. The learning curve is steep initially, but all you’ve got to do is get halfway and then suddenly you take off like a rocket.

So when people get started on a scale and it’s really difficult at the beginning, they figure it’s always going to be that way. Nobody connects the shape of the learning curve with knowing it’s only going to be steep for a brief period of time. As soon as it levels out, not only is it going to be easier, but my progress is going to take off. But since you are blind with that progression when you are trying to learn something, people start going, “Ah, I was good at it. It didn’t work out.”

They don’t understand how close they are to remarkable breakthroughs.

We like to do an exercise: I am going to attack something that is important to you, and you are supposed to label in the mirror.

In any group, if I’ve got more than 20 people in a room, I know the easiest people to attack are going to be people from the Boston area, and they’re going to be ridiculously emotional about the Patriots and Red Sox. That’s a ground ball.

“So who’s here from Boston? Raise your hand. I want you to label and mirror me: the New England Patriots are a disgrace to the NFL,” and watch their face get red.

I can say, “The New England Patriots are cheaters,” and your label can be, “It sounds like you hate cheaters.”

Or you can immediately diffuse that by saying, “It sounds like you love the rules. It sounds like you love integrity.”

And if you get into an exercise of let me label the flipside positive, that’s really fun and it leaps your skills ahead in big chunks.

Author Hour: What’s the workbook for this?

Chris Voss: Since our focus was on teaching before it was on any of this, when I sit down with a group I will say, “Alright labels are it seems like, it sounds like, it looks like, or you seem, you sound, you look.” And then I’ll say, “Take out a pencil and write it down.”

I will walk around the room and see who’s writing it down and I’ll say, “Because if you do the activity and write it down, that is actually building your neuropathways now.”

I’ll see who didn’t write it down, and that’s who I would pick on for the verbal exercises. In order to build the habit I’ve got to actually make the synapses in their brain fire. If I can get a good label out of that person in front of everybody else then they go like, “Wow he got a label out of Tucker and we know how tough Tucker is. I must be able to do it.”

Why Read Never Split the Difference

Author Hour: What is the future going to look like if people don’t read your book?

Chris Voss: You’re not going to know how much time you’re wasting. Take a look at your present and figure that ain’t going to change much. There is a saying that whatever system you are working in now is perfectly designed to give you exactly what you have.

So, you want a bigger house? The house you’re in now is the house in your future. You want a nicer car? The car you’re driving now, your four-door Chevy that’s 10 years old, that’s what you are going to be driving.

It’s really hard to see what you’re missing out on, or how much you’re leaving on the table. Since the vast majority of people are just not great at communicating, you’re not going to get that much better at this to make a big difference.

I am shocked at how much bad communication is out there and how little you have to do to jump ahead.

Author Hour: If you could give this book to only one organization or one individual, who or what would that be?

Chris Voss: It would probably be a woman’s organization, or an individual would be Sheryl Sandberg. The faster women are continuing to be integrated in the business world, the Rising Tide raises all boats.

The more women that are competitive in the business market, the more competitive the rest of us have to be. It’s going to raise everybody, and they are the ones that will probably be least represented across the board.

The more successful they are, they’re going to by and large bring the biggest infusion and evolution and success in the way the business is done. They’re going to have the most impact over the next ten years because their integration is at an ever-accelerating rate.

Author Hour: Does Sheryl have your book?

Chris Voss: I don’t know if she does or not. She seems to be, for a very good reason, one of the more revered thought leaders in women and business out there. I don’t know if she’s got it or not. I hope she doesn’t, because if she did, I wish she would have reached out to me.

Author Hour: Are you doing an implementation workbook or a video guide?

Chris Voss: We’re in the process of doing a bunch of online training with a very specific company that we hope to have done over the next couple of months. Now, the workbook question has come up before and it’s something that I’ve had in the back of my mind. The mere fact that you just bring this up to me again now lets me know that it needs to be on our list of stuff to do.

Plus on top of that, a workbook is a resource that stays there, whereas if we come in for training we’re only there for a couple of days. It also plays a lot more to culture too.

Connect with Chris Voss

Author Hour: How can our listeners follow you, connect with you, bring you in to their company?

Chris Voss: You know, the easiest way is to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. It comes out once a week and it’s free.

I used to always love this saying: “If it’s free, I’ll take three.”

The Edge comes out once a week, with short digestible articles that are easy to read. It’s not going to take you ten or fifteen minutes to get through it. It’s going to take you three to five minutes.

Plus, on top of that, we put training announcements in there, we put product announcements in there. It’s a gateway to our website, It’s the gateway to everything that we’re doing.

The easiest way to subscribe to it is you can go to the website and hit the tabs and fill out the form, or you can just send a text, fbiempathy all one word, no space. Spellcheck and autocorrect will put a space in there. fbiempathy to 2828. That will sign you up and that will keep you up to speed on everything that we’re doing.

Get Chris’ new book Never Split the Difference on Amazon.

Find out more on his site The Black Swan Group.

Listen to more authors on communication:

How many times a day are you distracted by email, Facebook, Instagram, Slack? Do you ever feel like all of these notifications are making you less productive? That’s why I invited Cal Newport onto the show. In his latest book, Deep Work, Cal argues that focus is the new I.Q. in the knowledge economy, and that individuals who cultivate their ability to concentrate without distraction will thrive.

Deep Work was selected by Amazon as one of the best business and leadership books of 2016. The Economist called it, “The Killer App of the Knowledge Economy.” Yes, it’s potentially life changing. In this episode, you’ll learn why deep work is the number one super power you can have in our economy today. If you want to do better work and not waste your days in a frantic blur of emails and social media, then this episode is for you.

Get Cal’s new book Deep Work on Amazon.

Find out more at

An Introduction to Cal Newport’s Deep Work

Charlie Hoehn: If you had to pick a soundtrack for your book, what’s the first song you would pick?

Cal Newport: Obviously, all authors originally imagine the Last Mohican soundtrack. But for Deep Work, I would imagine something jazz. I think I had jazz on a surprising amount of time when I was doing certain parts of writing. I definitely had some Miles Davis going on. There’s something about that soul instrument. It unlocks things.

Charlie: Do you think certain music’s more conducive to doing deep work?

Cal: What I’ve learned is you have to train or habituate yourself to whatever the music type is. For example, I interviewed a self-published author who was incredibly prolific. I think it was a million words in one year, which is a crazy amount—and it was fiction.

He had trained himself to write to Metallica.

He would blast it in these huge NASCAR style headphones. It blocked out all sensory inputs so that he could really be focused on the writing. If I put Metallica on tomorrow, I’d be unable to produce anything. It would be completely distracting to me. But he habituated to it.

I’ve found this again and again—people habituate the different types of music, and then the actual content of the music doesn’t really matter. It’s the ritual they built up.

This is what I listen to, this gets my energy up, or this blocks the sound, or this inspires me. It’s the ritual you build around it.

I think the ritual probably matters most in the long term.

Charlie Hoehn: What led you to write Deep Work?

Cal Newport: In 2012, I had written this book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and it looked at career satisfaction. It studied people who were happy in their careers, looked to the science, and said, “Okay, what do you have to do if you want to be really passionate about your career?”

One of the big ideas was this: You have a preexisting passion that you should identify and follow. That’s the key to being happy.

I debunked that. Really, what seems to matter for most people who love what they do is that they get really good at things that are valuable. That’s the foundation on which they build really satisfying careers.

There’s a natural follow-up question: Let’s say I buy that you become really good at all those things, but how do you actually produce things that are impactful and valuable? What’s the secret sauce to creating a passionate career?

Deep Work was the answer to that question.

As I looked into it in my own life and then more broadly, this ability to focus intensely on something that’s demanding and pushes your skills was the key. You really can’t get around that step.

One book led to the other.

A Practical Look at Deep Work

Charlie Hoehn: How did you find Deep Work changing your work style?

Cal Newport: It made me more systematic about how I prioritize deep work. By the time I started writing this book, obviously, I was onboard with the idea that deep work was really valuable. This was something that I had been exposed to pretty early on as a theoretical computer scientist.

I did my graduate work at the theory of computation group at MIT, which is this famous place where famous theoreticians sit around and stare at whiteboards.

It’s one of these places where the ability to concentrate is a talked-about, tier-one skill. People are proud of how well they can concentrate. This was always on my radar.

But when I was writing the book, I got much more thoughtful and systematic.

It’s almost like when you know, as most people do, that fitness is important. I should be in good shape. I should eat well. You’ve been around that message, but actually figuring out how you’re going to do that has a lot more impact than just understanding it.

During that year when I was writing the manuscript, my academic work should have reduced. I was writing a book in addition to my normal academic work as a professor.

Actually, my output—as measured by peer-reviewed publications—doubled in that year as compared to any previous year.

That’s solely because as I was writing this book, I got more thoughtful and systematic about getting the most out of deep work, and the effect was big.

Charlie Hoehn: What could the readers reasonably see in their productivity if they’re applying the system of deep work to their own work?

Cal Newport: I want to underscore that point that it is something that requires training. It’s not just a couple of hacks you can do tomorrow.

If you take the time to train the capability, then two-times, three-times improvement and measurable high-value output is common.

It’s not a book about being a little less distracted or maybe getting a little more done.

For the people who embrace this skill, it’s almost like a superpower.

The Economist called it “the killer app of the knowledge economy.” It’s something that brings massive increases to what you’re able to produce.

Charlie Hoehn: What does your average day really look like?

Cal Newport: During the week, I start with deep work. Just by default, that’s the first thing I do. What varies day to day is how long that deep work goes before I then switch over to shallow work and everything else.

On a day I teach, the deep work might be three hours in the morning and could be focused pretty intensely on preparing a lecture or presentation. Another day might have eight hours the whole day that I’m thinking deeply. Maybe another has just a couple of hours first thing in the morning and the rest of the day is tackling other things—meetings and emails and things that aren’t deep.

It can vary, but I like it to add up to be 30–60% of my time in a given week.

Charlie: What are you doing when you do deep work?

Cal: There are different types of deep work, and it really helped my practice to recognize that. It’s easy to lock in to one image of what deep work means.

If you lock in to one image, you get upset or discouraged during other times of the year, week, or semester when other types of deep activities take prime seats. I’m not getting in the woods anymore. I’m not on my thinking rock anymore.

I learned not to have one approach.

As a theoretical computer scientist, I do a lot of math proof. For me, that’s often walking on foot, often outside, often in the woods with no books, trying to crack math proofs.

I also have to write up these proofs, write up grant proposals—this type of work that is very hard writing and takes place at a computer screen.

Then of course as an author, there are two types of deep work. Sometimes it’s reading and thinking, processing, trying to understand information. And then other times, it’s staring at the proverbial blank screen, trying to fill words.

All of that is deep work, and all of it is supported in different types of environments with different types of rituals.

Deep Work Gives You an Edge

Charlie Hoehn: What is one major takeaway that listeners could remember going forward?

Cal Newport: The big picture hypothesis is this notion that we think too much and we worry too much about distractions.

Is distraction bad, is distraction good? I like to flip the equation on that. I’m not that interested in distraction. I’m interested in the value of its opposite.

I think the ability to focus deeply is being systematically undervalued right now in our economy.

In terms of the behaviors we promote and reward and lionize, we’re systematically undervaluing the ability to concentrate deeply.

If you were one of the few to systematically cultivate this capability, there are big rewards to be had.

Really, I’m not about scolding people for being distracted. I’m trying to encourage people to recognize how much value there is if they can develop an ability to be focused.

Charlie Hoehn: What does that value look like?

Cal Newport: There seems to be two main reasons why the ability to focus intensely is becoming increasingly valuable.

The first is that it helps you learn hard things quickly. The act of learning complicated information depends on intense concentration.

The more comfortable you are with intense concentration—and the higher levels of intensity that you can get to—translates to the speed and effectiveness with which you can master new things that are complicated, such as a new programming language or business strategy or complicated suite of marketing analytics.

That is an incredibly valuable skill right now, especially in the knowledge economy where things are complicated and can change very rapidly.

The second reason why the ability concentrate seems like it’s increasingly valuable is that it allows you to produce a higher quality and higher quantity output per unit of time spent working.

If you give me three hours of intense, deep concentration, I can produce more stuff of higher value than someone who takes the same three hours but scatters their attention.

There are stories in the book of people who are able to out-produce their peers. It’s because they rely on concentration to get more out of each unit of time spent working. That is very important in this economy.

If you’re not producing at an elite level, you’re increasingly in danger of automation, being outsourced, being eliminated or replaced.

It’s the stars that are going to win in the digital knowledge economy. Deep work is almost necessary if you want to become a star in most fields.

Charlie Hoehn: Do you find that deep workers have an easier time checking out and not feeling guilty about it?

Cal Newport: Deep workers in general are better about that. Some of it is just vocabulary. If you have this vocabulary, there’s deep work and there’s the other type of work, which we can call shallow work.

Just having that vocabulary makes a really big difference, because if you don’t, you mix all those things together, and then your only real measure of productivity in some sense is business. The more I work, the more productive I am, the less I work, the less productive I am. You’re always going to feel guilty when you stop or take a day off or don’t check your email at night.

Deep work, on the other hand, will say, “Shallow work is fine and is necessary for me to keep my job or to keep my business afloat.” It’s not producing the new value, growing my business, going to get me a promotion. It’s sort of a necessary evil.

I want to keep it contained and make sure it doesn’t take over too much of my life.

Now, the deep work on the other hand, that’s what really matters. I want to give that a ton of attention.

Once you can make that division, it’s much easier to say, “I have done a healthy amount of deep work today. I was very efficient about keeping the shallow work under wraps, and now I can take off the rest of the day without worrying about it.”

It separates you from this notion that generic business is somehow a good proxy for your value.

Deep Work Strategies

Charlie Hoehn: What are the first steps that people should take in order to really start doing deep work today?

Cal Newport: It’s helpful to think about the practical steps in two categories. There’s the actual strategies you can deploy in terms of how you actually approach your work day—how you approach your time, how you schedule deep work, how you get the most out of the deep work sessions.

But there’s this whole other category of cognitive fitness—the things you do in your life that set the foundation for you to succeed long term with deep work.

If you want to train to run a marathon or triathlon, there’s the actual training you do—I’m going to run this many miles today and then this many miles tomorrow. But there’s also the general fitness stuff—try to get more sleep, not eat junk food, not smoke. You have to have both.

The same thing holds for deep work. We have these two big categories—cognitive fitness and then the actual training and strategies you deploy in your everyday life.

If you look at the cognitive fitness side, it is really important to break your addiction to novel stimuli. You’ve trained your brain. At the slightest hint of boredom, you’re going to deliver it novel stimuli, usually from your smart phone or perhaps from a web browser on your computer if you’re at work.

It builds up this association, this Pavlovian connection: Boredom means stimuli.

This has become a huge problem in the last 10 years because smart phones allow us to do this Pavlovian training everywhere we are. From the bathroom, the wait in line, wherever. If you have that addiction, when it comes time to sit down and think deeply, you go to your cabin in the woods, you lock the door in your office. This is it, I’m going to think deeply and produce something that’s valuable.

Your brain is not going to tolerate it because it’s been taught to get novel stimuli.

Deep work is boring in the sense that there’s not a lot of novel stimuli.

If your brain has been taught that boredom equals stimuli, you’re not going to be able to do deep work with any success.

Doing different tactics that can help you break that addiction is a key foundation for becoming a deep worker. There are some simple things to do there. Take social media apps off your phone, for example.

It is not stopping you from using social media. It’s not stopping you from all the benefits everyone is always telling me that they need on social media. But it prevents you from using it as a quick pull slot machine when you are bored, standing in line. So take that off your phone and force yourself to actually wait to get back to the computer to use it.

Two: schedule the times when you are going to expose yourself to lightweight distraction online. I put aside two hours tonight where I am going to get the iPad and curl up on the couch and go nuts. But outside of those times, just be comfortable being bored.

Regular exposures to boredom where you don’t get stimuli will help break that addiction, and that’s a key foundation if your brain is going to be ready to train to do deep work.

Rethinking Productivity

Charlie Hoehn: Can you talk about Adam Grant’s strategy for deep work and being productive?

Cal Newport: He’s a business professor at Wharton, and he became full professor at a very young age, which is the top rank that you can get to in the US system. He’s the youngest full professor at Wharton, and he did this in part because he publishes a lot. I studied his CV and talked to him about it, and he publishes a lot more peer reviewed journal papers than his average peer.

I asked him, “So how do you do this? How are you actually producing almost a factor of two more peer review journal papers than your peers?”

The answer is very clearly his embrace of deep work.

He has this bimodal approach to his work. When he’s entirely in shallow work mode, he is incredibly accessible. The door to his office is open, he is answering emails.

When he’s in deep work mode, he’s completely inaccessible. He has an out of office responder in his email as if he is on a trip somewhere where he can’t be reached. When he does this deep work carriage, he’ll do them for multiple days in a row. So it’s not, “I am going to spend the morning doing deep work,” it’s, “I am going to spend the next four days doing deep work.” He also does this at a higher, slightly higher level granularity, too.

He stacks all his classes in the one semester and basically does no deep work that semester. Then, he can do a lot of deep work in the other semester. When it comes time for him to do work on a paper—let’s say, an academic paper, he can get lost in it hour after hour, day after day.

He produces a massive amount of quality and quantity in that period, and I don’t think he spends more total hours than his peers working on these things.

It’s just that he concentrates the hours into these long sessions where he works with deep concentration. Because of that, he is getting a lot more out of the same amount of time.

Charlie Hoehn: Can you explain the Eudaimonia Machine?

Cal Newport: David had this thought experiment. How would you, as an architect, design a building that would optimize your ability to produce value with your brain? The design that he came up was called The Eudaimonia Machine, Eudaimonia being a term out of Aristotle. It’s a Greek term that has to do with a state of human flourishing.

You are doing everything that a human can do. You are pushing your capabilities as a human so that you are flourishing in your existence.

So David thought about what that means in a professional setting, if you’re really pushing your brain to its limits to create new things of value. That’s the state of Eudaimonia. He designed this cool architecture of a series of rooms you have to pass through. One to the next to the next to the next.

Each of them prepares you more and more to get to the very last room, which is the sound proof chamber where you actually do the deep thinking. In the early stages, you are in a room where you are seeing other people’s projects and drinking coffee or beer, and you’re inspired and talking to people. Then you move to a room for some more reflection and preparation, and then finally you move to this final room.

That resonated with a lot of people, not so much that they’re going to build that exact design, but because it emphasized this notion that the spaces that you’re in and the rituals surrounding your work in the field of cognitive work and knowledge work are vitally important.

Yet, we’re not giving that any attention. Instead, we build open offices and connect people to Slack channels and do all of these things that basically keep you away from that type of flourishing.

I think people really resonated with this thought experiment. What if we actually designed our work spaces and work days to produce as much value as possible out of our brains?

Response to Deep Work

Charlie Hoehn: What opportunities or unexpected things have come into your life because you wrote this book?

Cal Newport: It’s opened up a lot of interesting opportunities. I got to spend some time, for example, at the capitol with a US senator. He was showing me the room he had set up off of his office for deep work in the morning. I got to hang out there for a while.

A lot of companies were very interested in discussing it. There are some companies who have pretty big products who are now integrating the term “deep work” into the product design itself, so that’s been interesting.

There are a couple of other well-known large companies where I had a chance to talk with executives. They are talking about rebuilding their products to emphasize deep work as a tier one skill.

People in places that matter are starting to recognize this activity as something that is important and plays a big role in our economy. It plays a big role in human satisfaction. That’s been really exciting.

Charlie Hoehn: Have people reached out to you and said, “Hey I implemented deep work and it’s transformed my life”?

Cal Newport: I was talking recently with a well-known songwriter. She writes songs for a lot of the big pop names that you have heard of, and she was really having a hard time with distraction. I mean I guess it’s a weird world. I don’t really understand the world of pop music and producing. But she was telling me how she was just spending so much time obsessively checking social media and email. It was hard.

I convinced her to have work be completely separate from anything social, anything online. She was very worried about it.

It took two weeks, then she said, “I’m incredibly productive now. I work in a place where I don’t have my phone. That stuff didn’t really matter.”

Also, I was talking with a standup comedian that had this idea that you’ve got to be doing all of these things on Twitter. Otherwise, you are not going to have an audience and no one will know who you are.

He went back and said, “You know, I reflected on this, and I have never gotten a gig off of Twitter. Any important connections have always been that someone saw my show and liked it. I was talking to them backstage, and they saw the quality and wanted to work with me.”

He quit social media and he finished the movie screenplay, a spec script for a TV show, and a proposal for a book all in one month or six week period.

Once you’re in that world, you’re going to have trolls and attacks and controversies. He said it was just emotionally draining. He walked away and was suddenly very productive.

Keep Up With Cal Newport

Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell us about your follow up book?

Cal Newport: There are two ideas that are bouncing and still evolving. One has to do with this philosophy of digital minimalism, which I have been writing and talking about recently. It is basically a philosophy for how to handle all the technology in your life. What is the right way to approach technology so that it makes your life better and doesn’t overwhelm you?

We’re drowning in a sea of little tips and tricks right now. We need some big philosophies as an approach to life.

Not that it has to be the right one, but I think we need to start talking in that way. We have to move past tips. In fitness and eating, we have vegetarianism and paleo and big name philosophies for trying to tackle these things. We need the same thing in our tech lives.

And then other one is called A World Without Email, and it’s more business focused. It’s making an argument that the way we work now, with all of this constant unstructured communication, is not fundamental. In fact, it is going to disappear in the future as we move toward more efficient knowledge work. So the only question is whether you get out in front of that trend or not.

Twenty years from now, we are not going to sit around with an email inbox and an email address associated with our name and instant messenger and chat windows. That is not what work is going to look like. This trend is coming whether or not you are going to get out in front of it.

Charlie Hoehn: What’s the best way for readers to follow you and keep abreast of what you are working on?

Cal Newport: I blog at, so you could dive into those archives or look at my new postings. You can watch me exploring these and related ideas on there. You can also find out more about the books. It’s such a good place to learn about me and see what I am doing.

On the other hand, I’m very hard to reach, but that’s by design. I am not on social media. I don’t have a general purpose email address, but that is the necessary tradeoff to support a life of depth.


Get Cal’s new book Deep Work on Amazon.

Find out more at

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The difference between being a good leader and a great one is having a mentor. Bill Hicks, author of The Leadership Manifesto, has been working in corporate leadership over the last 30 years. Whichever side of mentorship you are interested, being or finding a mentor, Bill has great insight to share, and this interview serves as a strong introduction to his illuminating book.

You’ll learn about:

  • How individuals have a culture and brand just like businesses
  • The unique format of Bill’s book and why he made that choice
  • How to create opportunities to grow as a leader

Get Bill’s new book The Leadership Manifesto on Amazon.

Find out more at

Who Needs The Leadership Manifesto

I’ll go back over 25 years ago, young guy out of college. I’m a consultant, and I get thrown out to a project where I’m going to manage a handful of individuals, all of which were twice my senior in age. And I get thrown on the project.

I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I wasn’t doing good. I didn’t know how to talk to the people I was managing, I didn’t know how to talk to the client, and I honestly had no one to turn to.

My boss just wanted me to make money for him, and the client just wanted me to fail so he could prove that he was right. I essentially bullied my way through it, put my head down, and did the best I could with no guidance.

I just tried to apply common sense, courage, and willpower. It was such an uncomfortable feeling. I got through it and got to do another project. But I didn’t like that feeling of not having guidance and support. If you have guidance and support in life, you can always do better. It’s really the guiding force.

Fast forward 25-plus years later, I’ve been managing for a long time and felt like I had all these experiences that I wanted to share to a community of individuals that were in my situation 25 years ago.

Charlie Hoehn: Were you pretty proactive about seeking out a mentor at your company or did you struggle to find one? What did the process look like?

Bill Hicks: I was challenged by the fact that I didn’t know who to go to. I didn’t think it was okay to ask for help—I just kind of thought you were supposed to know what you’re supposed to do.

When you look back, of course you don’t know, you didn’t have that roadmap. But I didn’t have the strength to ask and I didn’t know who to ask. Eventually over time, I’d make a mistake and then maybe do three things right. Then I’d make another mistake and do a couple of more things right.

I learned through trial and error and eventually looked back and thought, “Hey, I’m doing a pretty good job.”

That gave me the confidence. I got bigger teams and started moving forward and tried to do those right things. Eventually, I moved up to a level of leadership where I had peers that it felt okay to ask him how they were doing things.

It wasn’t really asking upwards, it was more asking sideways.

Charlie Hoehn: Who did you write this book for?

Bill Hicks: It’s really for anybody who is leading or who wants to lead. That was the audience I was trying to serve. There are so many people out there who are in leadership, and we kind of just keep doing the same thing over and over—learning through trial and error and maybe asking around.

We’re not making ourselves better.

So that’s an audience I was trying to serve and provide information for. It’s been great since the book’s been out. I’ve had people come up to me, people that I respect as leaders. They’ll share, “Hey, thanks for reinforcing this,” or, “Hey, I kind of took my eye off that ball, and reading this really helped me go back to the basics of the things I should be doing.”

The second audience I truly I want to help is the Bill Hicks of 25 years ago that doesn’t have a mentor, doesn’t have a leader that they can ask questions of. Really help them through eight steps. How do you become a leader, how do you get better?

Developing Your Personal Culture

Charlie Hoehn: Out of the eight steps listed in the book, what one do you want people to remember first?

Bill Hicks: Think about a company where you respect their brand. You don’t know if they are inexpensive or they do the right things. You just think they treat their people well. Because when you’re in there, the people are happy, they’re there to serve you, they’re chipper when you’re checking out.

I think of Subaru. They have those great commercials where they’re showing that they do the right thing. I don’t know if their car’s a great car. I mean, I know it is because I know people who drive them. But they give the spirit of: they care and they want to do what’s right. If I were in there buying a car or getting a service, I’d think they’re going to care about me. Because that’s the brand they project.

People as individuals have a brand they project.

I want to make sure that I’m projecting the brand that I want to be. If I can’t think of what that brand is, then how do I project that? How do I have that image? I want to project the brand that makes the most sense for who I am.

People ask: What do you mean, a culture? That’s what businesses have.

We have a culture that’s within us just like a business does. Does your culture of who you are match with the brand that you want to project?

You’re never going to be satisfied in the role that you’re portraying at work. Because you’re portraying something. You’re not actually being yourself.

There are so many people who say, “I want to go into leadership,” because they think that’s just the next thing. But if they don’t like the dynamics of what comes with leadership—having the tough conversation, representing your team in the right way, caring about what other individuals are doing—if that’s not your personal culture, that never really can be the brand that you project in the best possible way.

Charlie Hoehn: Are you saying that if you never investigate what your personal culture is, that you’re not accurately portraying it to others and being your best self?

Bill Hicks: Right. If I say I want to be a medical surgeon but I don’t have the discipline to see blood and understand anatomy and have really good biological understanding, I’m never going to be a great surgeon even though it may sound like that’s what I want to do.

My favorite one is, “I want to be a fireman.”

A lot of kids grow up saying, I want to be a policeman, I want to be a fireman. If you have a fear of those dynamics, then you’re never going to be a great fireman, even though it sounds great.

First off, ask the people that are closest to you—your parents, a significant other, your friends. How do they see you?

My wife is going to know me best. If you have that close group of individuals, they can share how they see you and how they know you. And then you have to be receptive to that feedback.

It’s also just giving yourself some time to think about who you are. When are you uncomfortable? In the beginning of my journey, I remember that I didn’t like giving feedback to people. I felt like, “Who am I to tell this person what to do?” For years, that was always something within me that didn’t feel right.

It was one of those things that I had to overcome because I enjoyed all the other aspects around leadership. I loved the coaching aspect, I loved the opportunity of marketing my team to other individuals.

I was not only hurting myself by not giving feedback, I was hurting the individuals I was leading. If you do it in the right way, giving feedback can be an enjoyable experience because you’re making that individual better.

I felt the feedback was telling people what to do, and that wasn’t the right mindset.

The right mindset is that I’m helping these individuals. I knew that was an uncomfortable space, so I had to pour myself into that to understand why and whether there was another way of doing it.

You ask friends, coworkers, family, “What do you think of me?” Then more objectively assess the personal culture that you’re portraying and make the adjustments that you need to, to be more aligned with what you want to portray. That’s the big idea.

You could ask almost anybody that knows you because that’s the persona that you’re representing. The reason I’m recommending to getting to other people that are closest to you, is that hopefully you’ve been honest enough with them that they understand who you are.

There’s a persona we all project, like, “I want my boss to see me in a certain way, I want those certain individuals to see me in a certain way.” But with those that are close to you, hopefully you have the type of relationship where you can get that information.

It’s hard for some people to admit, “I’m not good at this.”

Understand it’s okay not to be great at everything. It’s okay to not even be good at certain things. We’re not going to be good and great at everything. Let’s find that place where you are strong so you can accelerate in those areas.

Developing The Leadership Manifesto

Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell us a little bit about the style of this book?

I wanted to have something that you could finish. Something that you enjoyed reading while you were absorbing the information. And then six months, six years down the road, you still will remember components of the book and can point back or reference it with a smile on your face. You want to go back for that information.

I wrote it as a fable. It’s a story of myself mentoring an individual named Jennifer, and I am walking her through her journey of leadership. The first half of the book is for when she’s not in leadership and I’m helping her get ready to become a leader. Then halfway through the story, she gets promoted and I get to work through the disciplines and the foundations of being a leader.

It’s written in storytelling fashion, trying to help people consume the book in an easy and enjoyable way. Then we’ve really worked hard on reinforcing aspects in there, reminding individuals of what we’ve talked about. Because if you write a great book and readers don‘t remember anything afterward, then you didn’t meet your goal.

I wanted you to finish it and enjoy it and get value out of it and come back later down the road to read it again.

Charlie Hoehn: What are some of the other big steps that you feature in the book?

Bill Hicks: One of the things that people get stuck in when they are leaders and want to become leaders is how can they lead outside of the world they’re in. There’s a whole section devoted to leading outside the organization.

That’s through volunteer work, community work, helping other departments that don’t know they need your help. Giving yourself an opportunity to continually get better in areas where you’re not taking as much risk.

When you’re leading at work, the eyes are on you. You have a certain level of responsibility.

If you don’t have opportunities to get better as a leader, it’s all just in your head.

It’s just reading. I want to encourage individuals to find leadership opportunities.

One of the things you see in a lot of corporate organizations is, “Oh I want to become a leader and I can’t grow.” Or, “I am in leadership but I can’t do more.”

You can take it upon yourself to find other avenues to lead. That’s the encouragement that we go through in the book. To help individuals find those opportunities.

Charlie Hoehn: Can you give a few examples of easy ways to create those opportunities for yourself at a company?

Bill Hicks: A lot of companies have the concept of boards. “We’re going to have a group to work on a new project or a new opportunity.” Or better yet, “We’re planning a big event or having the annual X meeting.” Whatever that meeting is, volunteer to be in those groups. Meet other individuals that you can network with.

My favorite, and what I’ve gone through quite a bit, is serving on boards in my local communities.

Maybe you’re a project manager and there’s a board in your local area for project managers. There are so many opportunities, you just kind of have to open your eyes and look. Find those organizations that are looking for help.

There are thousands of organizations that are seeking help. Put yourself out there, volunteer, put the effort in.

Volunteer means different things to different people.

You could volunteer for business, for personal, for friends and family organizations, there’s so many opportunities to put yourself out there. Of course, there’s the benefit of just being a volunteer. But there’s also the opportunity to serve in a leadership role in those organizations that may not exist in your corporate environment.

Developing Leadership Qualities in Yourself

Charlie Hoehn: What does a great leader look like to you? 

Bill Hicks: There’s so much written now about the idea of “servant leadership.” A little bit of what I’m going to say is going to sound like some of that. But at the end of the day, a leader who wants to develop their team to be at its highest performing capability, a desire for them and not for themselves, is a great leader.

That can look like so many different things.

But if you’re trying to help individuals, you’re watering them so they can grow, not so you can be successful. That’s a leader that people aspire to be. You know, someone that knows that you’re in it for them and not themselves.

Who doesn’t want to work for that leader?

Charlie Hoehn: Can you give an example of a leader in the business world that you think embodies the qualities that you’re talking about?

Bill Hicks: This isn’t in the book, but I want to give a real-world example. It’s the gentleman I work for. Today, I work for Ultimate Software, and I have the fortunate opportunity to report directly to the CEO and founder Scott Scherr.

Here at Ultimate, Scott has a mindset that says, you always do what’s right. That’s with your employees and with your customers. When you work with a guiding principle—the tone from the top that says, “Always do what’s right”—that’s empowering. That empowers you to make great decisions on things that you know through your experiences feels right or looks right, that’s a great feeling.

A lot of times in the real world, you have to make decisions based on things that you know aren’t always the right thing to do. I’ve been there many times, and it is an uncomfortable place to be. We’ve all been there many times.

But working for Scott, you have the guiding principle of doing what’s right. He is always there for you. You reach out, and he’s there to help. Whether it is with an employee or a customer, the answer is always, “What can I do to help?”

That inspired me to have that same leadership style with my team. First off, I know it’s okay. I have been given that freedom from Scott to work with my organization to really work on doing what’s right.

Sometimes doing what is right may not always feel like the culturally right thing to do.

You have to make tough decisions sometimes. Maybe it is not giving the customer what they want, but it’s still doing what you know is right.

I get a lot of inspiration from Scott just with that core tenet of doing what’s right. Then within the book, even though it is a fable, every story in there is a real story. There’s the famous “changed the name to protect the individuals,” but they’re all real stories. They are stories of people who are ascending and trying to become leaders.

You run into this dynamic of getting where you thought you wanted to go. And you arrive and don’t know if that’s where you really want to be.

We see that in leadership all the time, of individuals that are saying, “Okay I have arrived, but is this my place?”

We as leaders can help those individuals find those right places. At the end of the day, it’s work. If we can get people to feel like they’re in the right place when they come to work, it feels like success.

Charlie Hoehn: What do you think the impact would be if more people rose to the occasion of leading?

Bill Hicks: When we hear the word mentor, a lot of times we just relate it back to work. I challenge everybody to be a mentor in whatever they are good at. If you are a great fisherman, help other people learn how to fish. If you are a great writer, help other people learn how to write.

Mentoring can be so many different things.

It’s helping someone in their youth become a better adult. It’s all those different aspirations. I think that’s really the challenge I would put out there. If anybody can help others be better, then go for it.

If it’s in work, that’s great. But it’s anything in life. Help others become better.

On the flip side, if you want to improve your personal journey, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find someone who is better than you and ask them to help you out.

What’s the worst they can do? They can say, “No,” and you are learning to accept no as the answer, right? Go find other ways, go find other individuals to help you improve on whatever it is that you feel is best for you.

Charlie Hoehn: What are your thoughts on virtual mentorships?

Bill Hicks: It’s really however you learn. There are so many people who don’t want that face-to-face, or they live in an area where they don’t have access to the right resources. So if a virtual mentor is going to help you, go for it.

Maybe it’s when your work shift is. Maybe you are going to school during the day and you only have the time to do it at night. Whatever that is, don’t let the physical interaction be the stopping point for you to get better at what you need to do.

Reader Takeaways from The Leadership Manifesto

Charlie Hoehn: What have been some of your favorite transformations?

Bill Hicks: One of my favorite stories is someone that I worked with. This individual came up to me and talked about the brand piece, which is towards the end of the book. This person was talking about how she spent so much time worrying about how well her team was doing and how little time she spent asking others how her team was doing. That’s really how we wrapped up the book.

It is this whole idea of asking others how you are doing, kind of how we start the book off. How you as an individual seek guidance on how you are doing. But when you become a leader, if you are not out asking how you’re doing and how your team is doing you are selling your team short.

We all have this grandiose idea that we are doing such a great job. But I am talking about the people in the outside. Not within our team. If they don’t have the same vantage point, then we failed, essentially.

There is also a whole piece in there about, “Don’t eat lunch alone,” so there is this running joke now of people that are saying, “Hey do you have time for lunch? I don’t want to eat lunch alone.” They put a little fun to it, but it’s a great point.

Take all of your opportunities to constantly find that chance to get better.

And if that is meeting with people that can help you grow, if that is helping others so they can grow, find those opportunities. Don’t let them go dormant eating at your desk when you could be out eating at the cafeteria and helping other people.

Charlie Hoehn: What is something readers can do from your book this week to change their life?

Bill Hicks: I think the thing I would encourage everybody to do is find that one thing they want to be better at. It doesn’t have to be work-related. What is that one thing? And identify an individual who can help you achieve that goal.

It takes a little bit of your time. If you ask with sincerity and explanation, it’s hard for the individual to say, “No.” It can happen, but it is hard for them to say, “No.”

Charlie: Can you give an example of what you might say to an individual once you figure out the one thing that you want to get better at?

Bill: I had someone come to me, “Bill, I am not in a leadership role right now. I want to be a better leader. I want to know what that looks like. Could you spend an hour with me going over what you think I need to do to become a leader?”

So the great point of the question is that I know it’s an hour of my time. It is not forever. The person is asking to get better, so of course, I want to help them. Who knows? Maybe after the conversation there will be a relationship or there is a mentorship opportunity there that we could grow upon.

But you may say the very simple question: “Hey Bill, I want to be a leader one day. Can you help me with a roadmap on how to get there?”

Very simple question, asking for help. Put a time box on it so the person doesn’t feel like they don’t know how much they are committing, and it is pretty easy to say yes.

Charlie: How can people connect with you and follow you going forward?

Bill: Hey, I love the interaction. I love the connection. You could find me at if you want to shoot me an email, or you can find me on LinkedIn under Bill Hicks. I welcome the opportunity to interact out there as well.

Get Bill’s new book The Leadership Manifesto on Amazon.

Find out more at

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Office Arcade: Jason Suriano

Loyal: Aaron Painter

Do you still want to make your dream career a reality? Every college grad has big plans for their life, but most of us don’t accomplish those plans. Geoff Blades, author of Do What You Want, knows that working harder is not enough when your career isn’t working out for you.

In today’s episode, he’s going to show you how to cast aside the work you hate, establish a new system of success, and take control of your career once and for all.

Get Do What You Want on Amazon.

Find out more at

Why Geoff Blades Left Wall Street for Writing

Geoff Blades: I was in Menlo Park, California, for Goldman Sachs. I loved it. I thought I’d be there for the rest of my life, and I had no reason to question my career at all.

Then everything changed.

On March 10, 2000, when we’d been at the top of the NASDAQ, the internet bubble burst. The business started to tank, and over the course of the next nineteen months, half the office got let go.

I stepped back and said, “What do I really want? Is this in the career and life that I truly want?” I drew out a pie chart with my life with this tiny sliver labeled “not work,” and I asked myself, “Is this is the life I’ve dreamed off as a kid?” Is this is what I truly want? I had no idea.

That question became the next ten years of my life.

Over that time, I read thousands of books and kept making moves in my life. Then I woke up morning and realized that for ten years I’d been focused on this. These topics overcome my life—the notion of how we create the lives we want, how we build the careers we want, how we become the person we dreamed to be.

It had become so important in my life that nearly everything else had faded.

I resolved at that point to leave Wall Street and go share all these ideas, even though I had no idea how. That was really the transformation point for me.

Charlie Hoehn: How did you begin figuring out what you wanted?

Geoff Blades: I kept reading, and I kept reading. I’m an obsessive personality, so I was working 80 hours a week on Wall Street and spending all my time reading these books. I actually have one of them in front of me—one of the earlier books I read, called Ask and It Is Given, by Esther and Jerry Hicks.

The truth is that I’d never picked up a self-help book to get to Goldman Sachs. It was formulaic, “Put your head down and work hard.” That attitude, that approach had taken me from working class nowhere Australia to the only job that Goldman Sachs offered in Australia.

I thought success was actually quite straightforward.

The hard part came when I’d run that track out. What do I want now?

Reading Until it Became Clear

Geoff Blades: New age self-help led me to go deep into Eastern philosophy. That led to a lot of other esoteric literature over the years, and then I came back and filled in a lot of the other pieces, the old school self-help, the more traditional success literature, autobiographies and whatnot. But I was seeking an answer that I didn’t expect to find in any one book. How could I aggregate all of these clues and try and figure it out for myself?

I just kept reading until I literally woke up with an answer.

From the first day I started reading books, I resolved to make changes in my life, and those changes permeated the way I drove my career, the way that I thought about the world, the sorts of things that I did, the people I associated with. It really created two tracks for me.

The first track was: what do I want? The second track was: how do I get it?

One of the early realizations I made was that no matter what I wanted, it was only going to come to me one way. It wasn’t going to come from me sitting around gazing into the space, imagining an amazing life.

It was going to come through action.

I needed to drive my career from where I was, because all of my opportunities would be created through that. So I focused on the theoretical. I also made it very, very practical. “What specifically can you do today to keep advancing in the right direction?”

Charlie Hoehn: What did you want?

Geoff Blades: What I recall as waking up was just this massive epiphany, and I even feel it in my body going back into it now.

“I’ve got to share this stuff.”

That was it. I’ve got to share it. I’ve got to go out and take all these things that I’ve researched for myself and share it with other people, because this had become the most important and interesting and fun and cool thing in my life.

All the other things didn’t really matter so much to me. It was just this clear instruction, if you will, from the unconscious or from some other part of me that said, “You’ve been searching this long. Now, go share this. This is what you’re here to do.”

Why Do What You Want?

Charlie Hoehn: Why do you think it matters to know what we want? 

Geoff Blades: A lot of my work today is about rewiring, which is the rewiring the biology, the social conditioning that mostly keeps us in a place of discontent. How do you change that? How do you find that contentment every day?

My answer to that is: ultimately, rather than seeing at life like an endpoint, like somewhere that we want to get to, find that thing that you want to do every day. The thing that you love and enjoy doing? Just do it.

Over a decade of all that research, I realized we actually don’t need to know what we want. I’m not even sure that many of us will ever know. In fact, one of my realizations was that question in itself is what traps a lot of us.

In some ways it’s an excuse.

We say, “Well, I don’t know what I want.” Honestly, nearly everybody does. Most of them don’t believe they can have it, so they block that answer or they’re not willing to do what it takes.

It’s More About the Question

Geoff Blades: The question itself becomes the governor, when you don’t need to answer that question. If you read all the literature of self-help and success and whatnot, they start from the idea that you’ve already got a goal, versus that’s what traps a lot of us, that we don’t know what their goal is. The way that I frame it these days is that you don’t need that answer.

Your life is the process of discovering that question.

In many ways, that question—what do I want?—is a call to yourself, to challenge yourself. As you keep asking yourself, “What really matters to me now?” Are you going to follow it? As you follow that and it opens up new ways of thinking, do you keep living and evolving that question or do you choose something and stay stuck for the rest of your life.

Charlie Hoehn: Does this fit with Buddhism?

Geoff Blades: Personally, I don’t bind to any one philosophy. I don’t want the labels. The notion of Buddhism—that life is suffering and therefore train yourself so that you can live a full life—is a very powerful idea.

If you come back to the notions of grasping or drivenness, if you come back to it on a very simple level, it’s an energy. Desire isn’t the problem. Wanting isn’t the problem. The problem is if you take that brain, if you take that conscious mind and convert it into an energy that makes your life worse.

It’s not the desire that’s the problem. It’s the energy, the stress, the anxiety, the fear, the grasping. That’s what screws us all up.

Charlie Hoehn: How did your days change?

Geoff Blades: You’ve reminded of one of the most fascinating phases of my life, which led me into the hardest time in my life. I said, “Alright. So I’m going to go out and share this with the world. What does that even mean?”

I started to write.

Short form, long form, future blog posts. I started to flesh out what I thought would be the first book. One of my buddies was a good web designer. He started building a website for me. We literally just started spinning it up, and we did that for about nine months.

That was the timeframe when I knew I was going to resign from my job. Many people who know Wall Street know that it’s a bonus-driven business. When I made that decision, I said, “After my next bonus, I’m going to leave and go do this.”

The Struggle Behind Doing What You Want

Charlie Hoehn: Why don’t more people working on Wall Street do what they want?

Geoff Blades: A lot of people on Wall Street love the profession. They love the business. I think your question is exactly the right one: what keeps people in places that they don’t want to be in?

If you had to put it into two big buckets, you would say one big bucket is uncertainty. The brain is not set up to deal with uncertainty. We’re certainty-making machines.

A conscious mind needs to be certain.

The second big bucket is fear. Ultimately there are only two energies, two ways of being. You can either live in fear or you can live in love.

Even that word love just seems small, because I’m not talking about an individual love for a person. I’m talking about an energy: what is your overall energy in life? Do you live according to fear—stuck and trapped and worrying about what people think or what might happen in the future? Or do you truly tap into that feeling that you know is you, and then unlock it?

There’s nothing about what I do that’s easy, and that’s why it’s not for many people. What I do is for certain type of person. I like to be able to deliver it to as many people as I can, because I believe we all want to do what we want.

We all want to unleash ourselves in life, but very few people are willing to go on that journey. 

The Joseph Campbell Monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey is a great metaphor for life. The Hero’s Journey by definition is scary and dangerous. Five or six years after I started reading these books, I resigned from Goldman Sachs. It was the top of the credit market. I was very well positioned, and all my bosses said, “Why are you leaving?” The only answer I had was that I don’t know what I want, but I know this isn’t it.

“If this isn’t what I want, then I have to leave to go and explore what I do want.”

I would tell you, by that way, that 18 months later, it didn’t lead me to an answer. I thought, “I’ll leave. I’ll have time. I’ll figure it out.” It didn’t lead me to that.

That decision to leave fundamentally changed who I was. That period fundamentally shifted the way that I thought about the world, but it didn’t solve it for me. It didn’t lead me to an answer. It just enabled me to keep progressing the search.

Stretching Your Limits

Charlie Hoehn: Where would you say you are versus where you started?

Geoff Blades: Writing that first book broke my mind.

I’d been writing all this stuff, we’d been setting up the website, and I was ready to push go. Then I started to print stuff out and read it.

It was unreadable.

That was when I started to get what I called the chest feeling. The chest and stomach feeling someone might label anxiety. It was just sheer terror. I thought, “This writing is awful and I’ve been at it for months and months. I can’t do any better than this.”

But I had already decided I was leaving. I had already decided this was my path. This was the mission I was going to do in the world.

I had to go to rock bottom. I had to break my mind.

That was the anvil from which I forged Geoff Blades.

It needed to be that hard. It needed to force me to become the person who could actually do this job.

I got very lucky, because I had no idea how to write. Once I wrote a book, I didn’t even know what to do with it. It took me more than four years just to get that first book to an editor. Then it took me another year to even be willing to put it out, because I still wasn’t comfortable having a public brand and having a public profile and what not.

When I left Wall Street, friends of mine started coming to me and asking me, “Well, do you think you could help me do this? Or do you think you can help me do that?” So I started taking on clients, which I had never even anticipated. That client business very quickly became a real business.

I’ve set it up in a way where I only work on retainer, and I work according to value. So I was able to set up a great business that enabled me to keep figuring out the books, to keep writing, to keep getting better at that craft.

I went from having no idea what I was doing to having four books out.

This is a manifestation of creating the life you truly want.

Principles from Do What You Want

Charlie Hoehn: What can listeners of this show can do right now?

Geoff Blades: The one thing that’s very specific to all of my work is that it is highly practical and highly systematic.

I read obsessively, and I love to accumulate knowledge. The challenge that I found in nearly every book that I read was it didn’t give me a systematic way to do it. For instance, I’ve read hundreds of books on mindset and the mind and what not, but when my brain really went into that negative spiral after I left Wall Street, I didn’t have any tools or resources to actually change it.

What I needed to do at that point was to get better tools and then to systematically figure out how to use them. That led me over years to build what I call a system for your limitless mind.

How do you condition your mind to do things that are really hard for you?

In my Do What You Want books, there’s a five-step system that I’ve built over many years of reading other books and writing thousands of pages of my ideas. In my view, all of this needs to be simple, because it’s hard to do. You need your processes and your systems to be so simple that you can just focus on doing what you’re doing every day.

Charlie Hoehn: What are the first steps?

Geoff Blades: The goal is simple. Get to the heart of what you want and then build a custom system around it.

The first step is to define it. We know that we have to have a goal. We have to have a target. The problem with that is that many of us just don’t know what we want. If you have to wait till you figure out what you want before you can actually take action, you get stuck in that negative loop. You don’t take action. You don’t make progress.

There are two very simple processes to set a goal.

The first process is just to visualize it. You just imagine what you want. It doesn’t even need to be when. It doesn’t even need to be specific. It’s just this general overarching feeling of, “This is the life I imagine myself living.”

Do What’s in Front of You

Geoff Blades: Then you bring it down to the second step: No matter what life you want to be living in 5, 10, 20 years from now, the only goal that matters is the one specific goal that’s right in front of you.

So if I’m at Goldman Sachs and I’m dreaming of doing what I want every day, all I need to be focused on is the next step at Goldman that enables me to keep expanding my options.

Charlie Hoehn: Could you give a specific example?

Geoff Blades: Let’s go into writing a book. Why was writing a book so hard for me? Because I still had ways of seeing things in the brain that made it very hard. Some people can just jam out a book. If you go to one specific program in the brain and to go back to Eastern philosophy for a moment, it’s outcome dependence.

The challenge is that the brain grasps the outcome of write the book. Then the book becomes this big thing. For me, that was thousands of pages of mess that I developed over 10 years that I needed to then turn into a book.

Every day I woke up saying, “Got to write this book. Got to write this book. Got to write this book.” Versus, “Hey, I’m just going to write for five hours today.”

If you write for five hours today, you’re going to get that book written.

If you sit back and dream about and think about writing the book, you’re unlikely to even take any action. That only drives overwhelm and anxiety and fear and gasping and all that other stuff into the brain.

Charlie Hoehn: What is the one thing that we can do today to move forward?

Geoff Blades: Chunk [goals] down into a week. Chunk it down into a month. You can chunk it down into a minute, right? What’s your minute-to-minute focus?

There were times, when my brain was still stuck in bad patterns, that I literally lived to minute-to-minute.

If I can just stay in the book for the next three minutes, great. That would pull me into the next three minutes. That would pull me into the next three minutes, and so on.

Do What You Want Reader Takeaways

Charlie Hoehn: What is the next step for readers?

Geoff Blades: Step back and say, “This is my goal. What does it truly take to win at this?”

If you go deep into all the stuff out there related to success, you’d get a lot of noise. Drive a straight line through it with the Pareto principle—the 80-20. A small number of things truly drive the success you want.

Get smart and thoughtful about what it truly takes to win.

All my work is incredibly systematic. “Getting it” chunks down [further] into three steps. The first step is to role model it. This is very common in NLP and the world of top performance.

Find someone who’s already really good at it and figure out how they went at it. What did they do? Find examples of people who are already good at stuff, and then get very systematic about what is it that they do that leads them to success.

Why does Amazon win? You see a number of strategic decisions they’ve made over the years that have had a massive impact on their competitive position.

Then, understand the principles. This is where I got stuck reading thousands of books. There are far too many techniques out there. What you really need is what all those tips and techniques aggregate into. They always aggregate into principles.

You only need five principles to master anything.

The key to getting it is to know what those principles are. For instance, I designed principles over many years on Wall Street. One is performance. Now, that’s a big bucket in itself. Part of getting it is to know what truly leads to top performance in your environment.

If you’re a sprinter, top performance is running faster than everyone else. If you’re in a career environment, top performance could be a whole mix of driving a commercial business, building the right relationships inside your firm, building external relationships that fuel your career.

The key to that principle is to understand what measures performance and how to deliver it.

Reader Responses

Charlie Hoehn: What has been your favorite case study of a reader or a client who’s used your steps to transform their life?

Geoff Blades: One of the things that I have in my daily exercises, which is a way that I train my mind, is that I remind myself everyday of why what I do matters to me and why it matters to the people who I do it for.

My clients have had extraordinary results.

Absolutely extraordinary results, and that in itself is very fulfilling. But the ones that I pay attention to when I go back through my notes are the random emails that I get from people.

I got an email where a guy said to me, “I was at the end of my rope. I had no idea what to do. My life was spiraling out of control, and your book helped give me a sense that I can do this, that I can take these ideas and actually keep creating the life I want.”

To be able to do what I do and have that impact on people is very meaningful to me, because that was what drove me to share these ideas, to spread this mission, because I believe that we all need it.

Charlie Hoehn: What is a parting piece of advice you have for aspiring authors?

Geoff Blades: The cheesiest line—Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

In my case, writing the book broke me. If I could do it while not able to write—my writing was awful—you can.

If that book is in you and if it matters to you enough, keep going.

Commit yourself to it and create a process, even if it’s just sitting down and writing two hours every morning. Find that time.

Because if you are serious about it, if you have that will, there’s always a way.

Get Geoff’s newest book Do What You Want on Amazon.

Find out more at

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