Everything you think you know about success is wrong.
Success is elusive for most people. It’s elusive for the rich, it’s elusive for the poor. It’s elusive to the attractive and to the ugly. It’s elusive to the fit and to the fat. It’s elusive to the old and the young, to the married and the single. As much as all of us want success, it seems to avoid more of us than those of us who’ve found it and this fact was not lost on Dan Waldschmidt and it’s why he chose to write EDGY Conversations.
EDGY is as advertised, edgy. It’s not a soft, rah, rah, make everyone feel good book. It smacks you in the face and challenges you around every corner. The premise, in simple terms, you aren’t doing enough to be successful; you’re quitting, you’re not working hard enough, you don’t give enough, you make too many excuses, you’re not disciplined and more. I know harsh uh? But, I give Dan credit, he’s right (after 4 years of studying 1000’s of people and how they achieved success) and I think that’s why so few people truly achieve the success they desire.
Dan doesn’t pull any punches and he’s put himself out there right from the beginning with his vivid account of his desire to put it all to an end. A powerful scene, the book opens with Dan holding a gun to his mouth. . .
I can still remember the oily taste of cool metal on my tongue.
Keenan: The book opens with pretty powerful story about you on the brink of committing suicide. What made you start with that story? Where did you get the courage to reveal such a personal story? It showed some real balls.
Dan: I didn’t have the courage to start my book that way. The original version left out that story. My team pushed back vigorously against me not being honest with the readers. They got in my face about it until I decided to share intimate details that I had not even told my family.
My 12 year old nephew came up to me after reading my book and asked me why I wanted to kill myself. That’s a tough question to have to explain to a relative. I explained to him that sometimes life gets really painful and you just want it to get better. Sometimes you’ll do really crazy things to feel a little bit better. I think we can all understand those emotions. That’s what makes us all human.
It’s so important to realize how fear and pain drive us to do what we do. We often think we’re in complete control of our behavior. As you take a deeper look at your own motivations you start to realize how out of control your life really is at times.
Keenan: What specifically made you stop? What was it that made you put the gun down? Where do you think that thought, emotion, feeling came from? When at the brink, can others leverage your experience to make the change and stop the pain or do they have to get there on their own?
Dan: I realized that I had never been a lucky person. Everything I had ever achieved was the result of painfully hard work. For some reason I realized, as drunk as I was, that I wouldn’t be one of those people who got lucky and the gun misfired. If I went down this path, it would be final. For some reason the finality of that realization shook me. As heartbroken as I was at the time, I thought I still might have a fighters chance to fix things. So I gambled on myself. And put down the gun.
Keenan: It’s a great book, it attacks becoming successful from a different angle, but why write the book in the first place? This was clearly a big effort. What possessed you to take on such a project?
Dan: I felt like most of the books on motivation or inspiration were wildly out-of-date or out-of-sync with reality and the business world that I live in. I was fueled by a very simple question: “How do ordinary people rise above the limits of mediocrity to achieve outrageous success?”
By the way, I didn’t want to write a book, I wanted to create a movement. This book is just one way to get people to question what they think they know about success. I have to admit that I’m probably more than a little bit crazy when it comes to biting off projects like this. Then again, I’m writing this for myself. I’m one of those ordinary dudes who needs a spotlight on the path ahead.
Keenan: Success is a hot topic, there are literally 1000’s of success books, “gurus,” seminars and more, all telling people how to be successful. With so many resources, why do you think people are still flailing? Why are there so many “unhappy” unsuccessful people out there?
Dan: Success is as vague a term as the word “food”. It means much different things to each one of us. The reason why people are unhappy but still “successful” is because they’re not really successful at all. They fit into a category of wealth or leisure that someone else defines as being successful. They’re unhappy because they are working to change their circumstances — which is the same reason why we are all not as successful as we think we should be — despite all of the books and seminars about the subject. Its a lack of will, not skill that is holding us back.
Keenan: It seems to me that self-awareness is critical to becoming successful. There was a great book written not too long ago called Mistakes Were Made, But Not by Me, describing something alled cognitive dissonance. It argued too many of us aren’t in tune with ourselves and don’t admit to our mistakes or weaknesses out of fear of accepting we’re not who we think we are. We’re afraid we might not be as infallible or as good as we perceive. How do you suggest we become more self-aware and accepting of our short comings in order to not only make the changes, but the right changes?
Dan: The self awareness that you reference is what we call the “Y” factor. Or being a little bit more human. We live in such busy lives that we rarely stop to think through cause and effect. It’s easier to deflect criticism most days than to stop and take it to heart. Its natural to blame someone else rather than to take ownership of the flaws that we can perfect.
Again, this is a perspective issue. Failure is never easy to accept. It’s never fun to have to learn from your mistakes. It’s only when you look back on a particularly hard time in your life that you realize your personal growth. Those memories can help you when you’re in a tight spot.
Instead of blaming someone else or refusing to improve, you can exponentially improve by being aware of the pain and fear in your life that causes you to make dumb decisions. If your militant about holding yourself accountable you’ll see yourself rapidly improving while everyone around you is still being passive aggressive and pointing the finger.
It’s easy to see how you can quickly become a superstar with a better attitude, right?
Keenan: Which part of E.D.G.Y do you believe is the most difficult for people? Change is hard and your suggesting people have to change in 4 different areas of their life. That’s a lot. Where do you see people struggle the most to change?
Dan: Most people struggle with putting in enough effort. Look — hard work is hard work. Especially after you’ve been working as hard as you can for as long as you can remember. You start looking for something that’s easier. You start buying into some of the nonsense you get told about get-rich-quick schemes or other shortcuts.
We all can do the right thing 1 or 2 times. It’s much more difficult to keep doing it even when it looks like the wrong thing.
Keenan: It seems to me the definition of “success” is critical before someone can achieve it. How do you suggest people define success in a way that will motivate them to actually be E.D.G.Y and achieve success?
Dan: That’s important to realize. Success is what you call success. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a lot of money and there’s nothing wrong with just wanting to be a great dad or a good church member. You’ll be horribly frustrated if you tried to live your life based off of everyone else’s standards.
Sit down and figure out what you want for yourself. Don’t make excuses — just start working your way towards achieving that goal. Tune everything else out. Ignore the doubters, the haters, an intellectual critics. Just focus on what you want and work tirelessly to achieve it.
Keenan: You tell a LOT of great stories in the book. In one of the more moving stories you talk about the gratitude you felt after running through a poor part of Philadelphia where many of the homes had “cardboard taped in the windows where glass should have been.” You thought to yourself ; “doesn’t one deserve glass windows?” And when you arrived back at your hotel you were changed. Have you since gone back to that neighborhood and done anything to help folks get windows with glass?
Dan: No, I haven’t. I’ve always wondered who lived there and their story, but I’ve never gone back.
Keenan: The last chapter on a human strategy is great. EQ is something that we all “know” is critical, but does our demand for “proof” and data in today’s world undermine that?
Dan: Helen Keller is attributed with the observation that “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”. That runs counter to most business strategies. We want to clearly see the plan and plot progress on a spreadsheet before we do anything. If we can’t do that then we would rather not do anything at all. That usually means we don’t create beautiful things.
Keenan: You say it takes courage to look past pain and overcome fear. Where can people find the courage, inside themselves, needed to overcome the pain and fear that works so hard to keep them down?
Dan: Tiny steps lead to big finish line. Courage is something that you lose just after you stop looking for it. Instead of trying to conquer huge problem with huge effort, it’s better to just take a little step in the right direction. Usually the hardest challenge you will ever have is taking the first step. Once you’re already headed in the right direction it’s easier to take a second and a third and a fourth.
From studying the brain, we know that activity counterbalances the primal part of the brain that creates fear. Simply taking the first step is usually good enough to give you the courage to keep going.
If you had to sell this book on a street corner, what message would you belt out as people walked by to get their attention and get them to stop and buy the E.D.G.Y book?
“Everything you’ve ever wanted for yourself is just a conversation away. It might just be a conversation that’s a little tougher than you anticipated.” I know it was for me.
Dan Waldschmidt is an international business strategist, speaker, author, and extreme athlete. His consulting firm solves complex marketing and business strategy problems for savvy companies all over the world. Dow Jones calls his Edgy Conversations blog one of the top sales sites on the internet. He’s been profiled in Business Week, INC Magazine, BBC, Fox News, The Today Show, and Business Insider, has been the featured guest on dozens of radio programs, and has published hundreds of articles on progressive business strategy. He is author of Edgy Conversations: How Ordinary People Achieve Outrageous Success.