Everything you think you know about success is wrong (a book review)

Success is how you define it and mediocrity is one of my biggest fears. We all have different definitions of what success means to us in all aspects of our lives. I have some big ideas about the contribution I need to make before I leave this planet and the thought of not living up to those ideals terrifies me.

The challenge is that “pretty good” is a reasonably easy target while “extraordinary” requires a completely different level of choices and commitment. And those actions have to exist in a life where there’s a job, family, friends, pets, house chores, hobbies, etc., etc. No surprise that comfortable distractions are a lot more attractive than committed actions.

As one who enjoys anything that will help me be at my best, I have a love/hate approach to personal development books. Much of it is syrupy feel-good nonsense, but some is very legit and useful. The problem is, even the good stuff is usually just repackaged ideas that have been around for the last 50-100+ years.

Some very large names in the field have done quite well rehashing ideas from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Norman Vincent Peal’s The Power of Positive Thinking, or Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret. Tony Robbins summarized the wisdom of the ages best with his Ultimate Success Formula which goes something like: 1) Know what you want; 2) Know why you want it; 3) Take massive action; 4) Notice what’s working or not; and 5) Change your approach until you get your results. Simple, straightforward, and intuitive, but perhaps not sufficient. No one who’s made it to adulthood should be surprised by any of those steps, yet most of us are still stuck in ordinary.

The title for this review comes from the back cover of Dan Waldschmidt’s (@danwaldo) book EDGY Conversations: Get Beyond the Nonsense in Your Life and Do What Really Matters. He takes a different approach and asserts that goals, hard work, and tenacity are not enough because we are our own worst roadblock. Our beliefs and behaviors, excuses and justifications keep us in comfortable mediocrity. Truly rising above, standing out, and making a difference requires a completely different level of commitment, thought, belief, and action.

“Because success isn’t about knowing more, It’s about being more… The reality is that you already know what to do… The real question is, what will you do about it? Who will you choose to become.” – Dan Waldschmidt

Contrary to what the infomercial experts and hope pushers tell us, Dan wholeheartedly acknowledges that the whole being extraordinary thing is really freakin’ hard. Knowing what to do is easy; actually doing it is miserably difficult. The movies make it look simple, right? A three minute montage with some upbeat music in the background and suddenly the underdog is a martial arts winning, freestyle rapping, marathon running, dance champion with a Harvard degree and a thriving side business bootstrapped into a global powerhouse. But in real life it comes down to who we are choosing to be and the decisions we are making every day.

The author reminds us that outrageous success comes as much from what we say “no” to as it does what we say “yes” to. And in our instant gratification you-deserve-to-have-it-all marketing saturated world, saying “no” is weird. And painful. And miserable. And necessary.

This book is the author’s approach to breaking past ordinary. His formula is based on the acronym EDGY: Extreme behavior, Disciplined activity, Giving mindset, and Y(h)uman strategy. The last letter’s a stretch, but the writing is spot on. Actually, I could have shortened this review to: If you like his blog, buy the book.

If you’re unfamiliar with his blog, check it out here. Dan’s not into business or life as usual and has a contrarian approach written in direct one and two sentence paragraphs with brilliant turn of phrase and a deep belief that the reader has it in them to be amazing. If you don’t like his blog, you really won’t like his book. If you like the blog, you’ll find he brings powerful examples and a very human vulnerability beyond his normal writing to the book.

So here’s the ugly secret truth: life is so much easier when you have excuses or others to blame for not creating the results you want. Sure, you don’t accomplish what you want, but you get to be comfortable in your mediocrity. This book is aimed at stripping those illusions away and challenging you to set that comfort aside to pursue your intentions with the ferocious, relentless tenacity of a Spartan warrior. It’s not wondering what to do, it’s not creating a 10 point success checklist, it’s being the person you need to be.

All day, every day.

best practices for playing the victim

As one year ends and another begins it’s a time of reflection and renewal for many people. They assess what they accomplished in their lives the previous year and begin planning the results they want to create in the New Year. Sure, there are those who will prattle on about the advantages of goal setting and action plans and blah, blah, blah. So what? That requires discipline and effort and focus and inconvenience and change and who has time for that? What if you could just short cut the process by playing the victim?

Ever played the victim? I sure have. I don’t mean being a victim of a crime or suffering for someone else’s actions. I mean wanting my life to be different, taking no actions to make it different, and then stockpiling an exhaustive list of reasons and excuses as to why it’s not different. I don’t want to brag, but I do believe I can use my experience to help you be a better victim.

If you’ve never played the victim, there are a few key strategies and best practices that are important to know as you start out. As with any skill, the masters can get away with things that amateurs can’t and I’ve tried to note some of those exceptions.

1. To justify your lack of progress ALWAYS compare yourself to others and NEVER compare yourself to yourself. Sure, some would say you can only measure success by the progress you’ve made given what you have and where you started, but there’s no place in victimhood for measuring your progress against your efforts. [NOTE: an expert level victim can use their own past failures as justification for not making any progress today, but it’s a tricky thing because even a casual observer might make the rational argument that yesterday is not today. Leave this one for the pros.]

2. It’s also important to compare yourself to people with completely different circumstances, skills, strengths, and gifts and use that as proof that you can’t create the difference you want in your life. BUT it’s very important to only look at those who had advantages over you, NEVER compare yourself to those who had more to overcome. For example, if I was creating excuses for not being wealthier I’d only want to compare myself to those born into money and never ever compare myself to a first generation refugee struggling with new culture and language who became a millionaire by working three jobs, foregoing all luxury, saving every dime, and investing prudently for thirty years. [NOTE: A truly masterful victim can compare themselves to those who have it worse by twisting that hardship into an “unfair advantage.” But, don’t try that the first time you play the victim as you’ll end up looking petty and silly.]

3. When you compare yourself to others who have been more successful at what you’re not accomplishing, be sure to minimize their efforts by writing it all off as being “lucky”. Sure there is always going to be an element of location, timing, help, and unexpectedness to any success story, but being a good victim means focusing only on the advantages that were outside the other person’s control. If I wanted to justify, say, my lack of success as a musician, I’d look at person who was an “overnight success” ten years in the making and complain that it all comes down to who you know. [NOTE: never try to apply logic to your victimhood. You want to create rationalizations, not be rational. There’s a difference.]

4. A key part of being a really great victim is to choose reasons that you have absolutely no control over and then use that as justification for never changing the things over which you do have control. For example, if I wanted to justify why I’m a poor swimmer, I might say, “The best swimmers are much taller and have longer arm spans than me. There’s nothing I can do about being short, so I’ll never be a better swimmer.” You might be thinking that I might never be a gold medalist but I could – maybe – improve my swimming by taking lessons and actually getting into the pool occasionally. And you’d be right, BUT you’ll never be a good victim with that kind of reasoning.

5. Memorize this phrase and use it a lot: “I tried that, but….” This phrase does wonders for giving legitimacy for half-hearted efforts. Forget persistence, never mind actual results, simply dismiss any lack of progress by saying, “I tried.”

6. Seek help from others, but never from anyone who might be able to help you. Actually, seek “help” by only finding people with whom you can commiserate and complain. Ideally, you’ll want to find someone who will not only believe you excuses but will enthusiastically support and build on them.

There’s just a few tips to get you started. Of course, you’ll find and develop your own victimhood style as you go. The really nice thing about playing the victim – if you do it well – is that your lack results and progress will never be your fault. Sure, you won’t create the life or career you actually want but at least you’ll sleep soundly knowing it wasn’t you that got in your own way.

what’s stopping you?

What’s Stopping You?

In the late ‘90s, Fox Racing put out a poster and magazine ad of legendary motocrosser Doug Henry removing his jersey after a ride. The centerpiece is an ugly scar running down and around his side, a visible reminder of a nasty crash where his back broke on impact from an 80-foot fall. While still coming back from that injury, another crash broke both wrists (think about that for a second). Yet, he persevered to win a historical championship. Grit, toughness, and determination don’t even begin to describe what it took. The simple caption to the ad and poster was, “What’s stopping you?”

This was a hugely inspiring poster for me. Every sport has its share of similar stories of athletes pushing far beyond what we think the body is capable of and gutting out wins against the odds. And so what? The further along life I get, the more I’m inspired by the amazing spirit and determination of ordinary people. People without multi-million dollar contracts to fight for, people who don’t have the one and only career they are qualified for on the line, people whose grit goes unnoticed by ESPN or CNN.

I love public speaking and joke that, as an introvert, it’s my version of bungee jumping. But I get that I’m kind of weird and most people hate, hate, hate even the idea of being in front of a group. People fear speaking more than death so, as Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, most people would rather be the person in the casket at a funeral than the one giving the eulogy. Few want to be the scrutinized center of attention. Fewer still enjoy it and seek it out.

My kids recently tried out for a school play along with 150 other students. They all had to do a short monologue and sing part of a song. One of those trying out was a 7th grade girl who stutters. Her name starts with “S” so she was struggling to introduce herself before she even attempted her monologue. Imagine that. Really put yourself in her shoes. She didn’t have to be there, she chose it. Putting yourself out in front of peers and risking rejection is tough enough when you’re an adult. What she did? Courage. Pure courage.

I know you have some things you want to attempt, some things to be accomplished. Unfulfilled personal and career goals. What’s stopping you?

success secret? (not really)

There are all sorts of books and blogs about the “Secrets of $uccess”. Sadly, they tend to overcomplicate things or make it sound like success is outside the reach of most people, or attainable only through the authors 10 step program. Yet, as I look around, one thing that really sets people apart in their careers (and lives) is an insistence on doing things right. Very few set out to do things wrong, but most seem to strive to do “just kinda ok enough” (that’s a technical term). The number of people striving to do things right is so small that they immediately stand out. Be that person.

To be clear… Right isn’t a moral term. Right doesn’t mean perfect. Right isn’t “my way”. Right is not a generational issue. Right has nothing to do with position in the organization.

Doing things right means:

  • Holding yourself to a higher standard. It’s making decisions and taking actions with the intention of exceed the standards given versus doing just enough to not get fired.
  • Correcting things as soon as you notice they are incorrect or below standard. Mistakes happen, things get overlooked, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out like you expected. That’s a given to living on planet Earth. The bigger question is do you fix it?
  • Making decisions. There is such a difference in outcomes between making a conscious decision based on understanding and weighing the pros and cons of a situation and a “decision” made by not doing anything until it’s too late. It’s one thing to intentionally choose to do something at a bare minimum standard because you decide to focus your time and energy on higher priority items and quite another when do something at a bare minimum standard because you’re lazy or simply don’t care.
  • Accepting (embracing) responsibility for your outcomes. People striving to do things right rarely get caught up in playing the victim, blaming others, or using convenient or glib excuses. This rarely works in the long term and often does nothing more than damage your reputation.
  • Asking questions, seeking feedback, and finding ways to improve.

In short, “right” is simply caring about the outcome. There’s no secret to it. Nothing mystical, esoteric, or complicated. No system or program. Just caring.

Ken Blanchard said it so well: “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.

success is easy…

Photo: Success is easy...I have a quote written on my whiteboard from Hugh MacLeod (@gapingvoid): Success is easy. All you have to do is learn to use your career the same way Hendrix used his guitar.

I don’t know what Hugh meant by that, but I know what it means to me and it is one of my all-time favorite quotes. Here’s my take on it:

Jimi Hendrix used the guitar as an extension of himself. He was unconstrained by the idea of “this is how you play guitar” and completely shattered the boundaries of what others thought was possible or useful or even musical. He was a master with thousands upon thousands of hours of practice and experimentation, continually trying to find new sounds. Hendrix did things different and sought the sounds that pleased him, not what he thought would make him popular. He disliked being categorized as any musical genre and was so far ahead of the curve other masters noticed and promoted him well before being followed by the general public.

From Wikipedia: His Rock and Roll Hall of Fame biography states: “Jimi Hendrix was arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music. Hendrix expanded the range and vocabulary of the electric guitar into areas no musician had ever ventured before. His boundless drive, technical ability and creative application of such effects as wah-wah and distortion forever transformed the sound of rock and roll.”

So, just do that with your career. Become a master of what you do for the sheer love of it. Go your own way even if it means you’re not understood or popular at first. Push, push, push the limits and then go push them some more. Have the type of bravery to be different, challenged, and misunderstood. Take your career exploring in the places where there aren’t maps because you’re the first one there. Redefine how things are done in your field.

That’s a tall order few can do. Maybe the place to start for most of us is simply using our careers as an outlet for joy and creative expression. Striving for the top for no reason other than a love for excellence. Then see where that takes us.

Today, I’m leaving you with two videos. One is of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. The other is of the 2CELLOS playing the legendary Hendrix song, Purple Haze. Why? Because everyone knows that guitars and cellos don’t make those sounds. And everyone knows you can’t do that with your career. Better to play it safe and stick to the maps and the 10-point programs for $ucce$$ and try to get ahead by doing things exactly like everyone else.

What thinks you?


linearity is a lie

Us humans so want certainty and security in an uncertain and insecure world that we’ve created this myth – a lie – of the importance of living a linear life. Life in a straight line, always stepping forward, never getting sidetracked, each movement building on the past – it sounds so great.

We created the lie and we’re suckers for believing it. Buy into the lie and we’ve undermined our own success and fulfillment. Believing in the Myth of Straight Lines leaves us asking why our life isn’t that way; it leaves us unhappy and wondering what we’re doing wrong. The reality is simply LIFE IS NOT LINEAR. It rarely moves in straight lines. It leaps forward, sideways, backwards. It zigs, it zags. Sometimes it does nothing at all. Dumb luck, random events, accidents, disease, decisions that made sense at the time, poor choices, and timing conspire to ensure life is not straightedge precise.

Life is sloppymessy. Zig Ziglar once advised us to: Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and capitalize on what comes. It appears that those who play big and make a difference understand this and can work with it. They have the end destination in mind but are flexible about how to get there and even willing to accept a different destination if a better one reveals itself along the way.

Consider the possibility that when we buy into the lie of linearity and are unwilling to deviate from the straight line, we are generally unable to accept setbacks and failure as a part of the process. Unable to risk creativity or innovation or simply trying something different. Perhaps even unable to recognize how strong, how unique, and resourceful we actually are. We might miss how much we’ve actually done, the difference we’ve made, and the success we’ve had.

What thinks you?


double your charisma in 0.5 seconds

Us humans spend a LOT of time, energy, and resources increasing our attractiveness. We worry about it a lot. It’s evident in the enormous percentage of marketing aimed directly at convincing us that we would be more attractive, likeable, and charismatic if only we used a certain product. It’s apparent in the discomfort we inflict on ourselves just to look nice. It’s underscored by entire industries developed just to increase charisma and attractiveness.

No judgement  We all want to look good and be liked, admired, and attractive to others. We want to be charismatic and draw people to us. We want to dazzle on the job interview, impress on the date, ace the sales call, and have people say about us, “I don’t know what it is about them, but I really like them.”

No matter what else you do, I’d like to offer up one easy thing that will make a huge difference. It’s so simple that I’m actually a little hesitant to mention it. Us humans like to seek out the new, the complex, and the flashy. I’m afraid this is timeworn, simple, and basic. Yet, without it, all the other efforts are really a bit of a waste. This one thing takes no time, yet makes you appear relaxed, confident, friendly, and open. Pathetically simple to do, yet so few do it that you automatically stand out.

Smile. That’s it. Not forced or infomercial intense. Just a relaxed, pleasant, and authentic smile.

Your thoughts?

the hidden in plain sight competitive advantage

Business is conducted through humans, by humans, for humans. Humans invent, create, produce, market, sell goods and services to other humans. Business success is determined by how well the humans at the company meet the needs of the humans who are buying compared to the other options available.

Oversimplified, but reasonable enough. If I need a new mountain bike, the bicycle company that best meets my needs for price vs quality vs value vs features vs warranty vs availability vs etc is the one that I will give money to. If there are enough people with the same needs then that business will do better than their competition. Simple enough, no?

Well, no.

How the humans who are your (internal or external) customers FEEL about your products and services is much, much more important than what they THINK. [This is the single most significant line I have written in this blog ever. Period. Think about it. Internalize it. Apply it to your job.]

Us humans are emotional, illogical, and irrational. We are pleasure seeking pain avoiders. We almost always act in what we believe is our best interest or will at least what will make us happy in the moment. We almost always act in ways that support our self-identity and often put who we think we are ahead of our long-term best interests. Us humans are individualistic and driven by group dynamics. We want to stand out by fitting in and be just as unique as everyone else. Status matters – a lot – and we put considerable effort into creating and maintaining our position in our world. We cling to ritual and tradition more than progress and reason. We fear change yet get bored easily and constantly seek new and different. In short, we are a gloriously gooey, sloppy, contradictory, confusing, paradox.

Business gets done through, by, and for humans. If that’s true, then our skills for understanding the driving psychology of ourselves and others, communicating our needs and concerns while understanding and empathizing with those of  others, and leading and influencing  others (and ourselves) are paramount to long-term success. Those ill named “soft” skills are foundational to business success, individual success, and human success, yet are some of the least appreciated, studied, or taught skills.

If we were consistently rational and logical, understanding ourselves and others would be PRIORITY #1 for every individual, community, organization, and business. It’s not. There is a competitive advantage to be found wherever there is a gap between what’s available and what’s needed.

It’s worth repeating: How the humans who are your (internal or external) customers FEEL about your products and services is much, much more important than what they THINK.

Use that information to your advantage.


make it easy

Doug Shaw over at Stop Doing Dumb Things to Customers ran a post yesterday called “A Little Enthusiasm…” about his frustrations with businesses that didn’t seem to care when he was trying to pay them. It clearly struck a nerve with folks and generated plenty of comments as people joined in and shared similar frustrations.

It’s a shrinking world and the consumer can buy from almost anywhere. I discussed this back in February after purchasing mountain bike parts from a shop in the UK.

We all know the world is getting smaller, so it’s interesting how many businesses haven’t gotten the message yet. My wife and I both purchased cars in the past couple of months and had very different experiences. The dealer I bought from did ok, but was still stuck in the mindset that their cars are somehow special. I live within three hours of two of the biggest metropolitan areas in the US – no car is so unique that I can’t find it sitting on a lot relatively close or have it ordered in. When my wife was looking, they irritated her so much she kept right on looking.

My wife eventually purchased from a small town car dealer about an hour away. Here’s what they did right: they were patient as she test drove at least six cars, they were low pressure, they called back when they said they would, and when she told them that it would be several days before she could return to complete the deal they brought the car to her with all the correct paperwork including a generous trade-in on her old car made sight unseen. She signed some papers, swapped cars, and was on with her life in less than 30 minutes. They made the deal happen by making it as simple as possible for her to buy.

But wait, there’s more… My wife’s car is the same brand as mine. Guess where my car’s getting serviced from now on? So, my dealer screwed up selling to a RETURN customer, lost out on a SECOND sale, and lost out on all FUTURE maintenance/service business (where the profit margins are much higher than in car sales).

Businesses scream and yell for innovation, yet ignore that some of the most innovative products and services simply make it easy to buy and make it easy to pay. Strive for the example set by Intuitive site, one click purchasing. It doesn’t get easier.

HR spin

How easy is it for HR’s customers to complete transactions? How simple and painless is it to submit an application? How easy is it for hiring managers to understand the process and have all necessary paperwork in hand? Do document instructions make sense? Etc. etc. etc.

If your HR department’s customers had to pay money for HR’s products and services, would they? Could they? Would your HR department be the vendor of choice or would your customers get frustrated and go elsewhere?