Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Swing Away

Last Friday I arrived in the Dominican Republic to deliver a set of seminars on the 7 Mindsets. Imagine my surprise when, walking through the airport, I saw news reporters and camera crews rushing towards me.  Just as I was thinking, “Now this is the way to be welcomed to a country,” the reporters ran past me shouting, “Tony Peña!  Congratulations and welcome home!”  I turned, and walking behind me was the general manager for the Dominican baseball team that had just won the World Baseball Classic.  I couldn’t help but laugh, and my experience inspired this week’s story…

While growing up, David’s parents often trusted him to look after his three younger siblings, which helped him develop maturity and a sense of leadership at a young age.  He was a calming influence in the household, easygoing and taking jokes well.  He also had a great sense of humor, and made friends everywhere he went.

David was tall, strong, and filled out early, embracing the role of a slugger from a young age and sticking with it into high school.  His relaxed nature served him well, and his love for being at the ballpark was obvious every day, whether he was hitting or not.  With his talent so obvious, David drew the attention of major league baseball scouts.  Ten days after his 17th birthday, he was drafted.  David traveled from his home in the Dominican Republic to the US.  He didn’t speak much English, and called every teammate he met “Papi.”

His first taste of professional baseball saw David struggling at bat.  He did well in the field, surprisingly agile for his size, and got more comfortable over the next two years.  Playing for a number of minor-league teams, David’s game improved and he was promoted to the major league.  But just as his skills and intensity were coming into focus, David fractured a bone in his wrist.

The next several years were up and down for David.  He was demoted back to a minor league team after a poor showing at spring training, but his hitting destroyed the pitchers he encountered there, and he was brought back up at the end of the season.  Determined to stay, he worked on his defense, undertook extra batting practice, and got himself into great shape.  He set several career highs and bolstered his team’s growing strength.  However, at the end of a very positive run for his team, another wrist injury sidelined him.

A few months later, just when he was finally getting the snap of his swing back, tragedy struck David’s family when his mother was killed in a car accident on New Year’s Day.  His response was to throw himself into baseball as he never had, but although his team’s record was better with him than without him, they weren’t confident about his consistency.  After his knee began to bother him, he went half a season without a home run and was traded.  

Despite being the new kid on the block, David’s presence was immediately felt in the locker room.  His new team, a self-styled “Band of Misfits,” was a collection of fiery and erratic personalities, but David managed to fit right in and befriend them all.  On the field, he rose to the challenge in those desperate, all-or-nothing moments, and thrived as his playing time increased and the team came together as a unit around him.  David continued calling all of his teammates Papi until one of them turned the tables, calling him “Big Papi.”  The nickname stuck.

In the fourth game of the 2004 American League Championship, the New York Yankees led three games to zero over David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s Boston Red Sox, and were on the verge of eliminating the Sox from advancing to the World Series.  However, in the ninth inning, Ortiz’s game-ending home run kept his team alive, and he led them to an historic defeat of the Yankees.  The Boston Red Sox went on to win the World Series for the first time in eighty-six years. 

David Ortiz may have grown up in an impoverished community, but his will to overcome challenges and keep “swinging away” in life has led to one of the most remarkable careers in baseball.  At age 37, he is an eight-time All-Star who holds the Red Sox single season home run record.  Not bad considering that Babe Ruth once played for the very same team.  It’s no wonder that the team gave him a plaque proclaiming Ortiz, "the greatest clutch-hitter in the history of the Boston Red Sox.”

There’s an old saying in baseball that you can’t steal second while keeping your foot on first.  Set your dreams high and swing for the fences!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stay True to You

I’m in New Orleans this week to deliver a presentation on how a change in mindset can radically improve a person’s happiness and success.  I’ll be sharing the stage with the mayor because we both believe in helping empower people to new heights.  This week’s story is about a young man who was born and raised in New Orleans, and a glimpse into his personal journey.

Emmitt was a middle child with three siblings.  He had a challenging upbringing, due partly to living in poverty, but mainly because of the relentless, abusive anger of his father.  The creative Emmitt learned at a young age to go places in his mind in order to avoid facing the mistreatment and hardships of his young life.

Not long after a particularly troubling incident, Emmitt was watching a talk show on which a speaker discussed how some difficulties in life could be worked through by writing them down.  Supposedly, it was a process that could be helpful and therapeutic, and he decided to try.

Emmitt’s first writing took the form of letters to himself. He found that he not only liked writing, but was good at it.  The letters helped him come to terms with his childhood and find strength in himself and in forgiveness.  He also gained the foundation for a skill that he never knew he had, but which would inspire him to make writing a central part of his life.

Emmitt began working on a play based on his experiences.  In it, he pulled no punches, using fictional names but conveying the hard-hitting truth about what he’d been through.  It was rewarding for him to create, even though the subject matter was far from uplifting, and he was eager to see the play performed.  Having saved up nearly $12,000 working at an entry-level office job and living with his family, he moved to Atlanta with plans to produce the play.

In Atlanta, Emmitt rented a theater to stage his production.  Unfortunately, his name was unknown, so there was no audience for his work.  Only thirty people showed up to see the play, and it lasted just one weekend.  Emmitt lost every cent.

However, he was tenacious, and felt this was what he was supposed to be doing.  He reworked the play while taking a variety of odd jobs that included used car sales and restaurant positions.  Saving up his money, he kept trying to produce the play; each year he would put on another production, and each one failed to bring in an audience.  This went on for six years, with each attempt leaving him broke.  At one point, Emmitt, a grown man of six-foot-five, even lived out of his car, sleeping in his tiny Geo Metro.

His determination was faltering.  His mother told him constantly that it was time to give up and go back to New Orleans where she’d feed him while he looked for a job with benefits.  Nearly ready to quit, he decided to make one last attempt, and booked the show at Atlanta’s House of Blues.  But this time, he went about things differently.  He visited churches all throughout the city and persuaded prominent members of the choirs to take roles in the production.  And for the first time, Emmitt decided to star in his own show. 

On opening night, he was worried.  Once again, he had spent everything he had, and it was the coldest night of the year.  In the dressing room, he was reflecting on whether this would be his last show, when he looked outside into the freezing evening.  There was a line of people around the corner waiting to get in.  It was sold out.

Emmitt finally saw some success with his first show, I Know I’ve Been Changed, which toured throughout the South and up the East Coast.  He wrote, directed and produced a number of subsequent plays about urban life that substantially raised his profile as a creator and voice that resonated with African-American audiences.  Soon, Emmitt set his sights on Hollywood.

One thing he learned through his years in the theater was the power of putting out your own message and staying true to it.  Hollywood tested that belief when one major studio executive told him that African-Americans who go to church don’t go to the movies. Emmitt walked away from that negotiation, and eventually found a deal that required him to put up half the budget, but allowed him complete creative control.  That first movie, Diary of A Mad Black Woman, featured Emmitt “Tyler” Perry in his iconic role as the tough-spirited grandmotherly character Madea, and the film grossed over $50 million. In 2011, Forbes named Tyler Perry the highest paid man in entertainment.

It takes courage and conviction to follow your dreams. Learn to be your authentic self and you’ll never have to act a day in your life.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Knock, knock. Who's there?

Many years ago, when my wife was pregnant, we went on a long drive to visit some relatives.  Being pregnant, she had to go to the bathroom constantly, so she jumped out of the car as soon as we arrived and hustled to the front door.  She didn’t even knock, just rushed inside and announced that there was a pregnant woman in need of a bathroom.  They pointed her down the hall and off she went.  I’m not sure who was more surprised:  my wife, when she returned to a living room full of strangers; or my relatives’ next door neighbors who’d just let a pregnant stranger use their restroom.

I still laugh at that memory to this day, and wonder what those people were thinking when my wife came bursting into their home.  This week’s story is about another woman who experienced success on the other side of a closed door.

Angie’s first job was selling popcorn at the zoo, and it represented a significant part of her early work experience.  In other words, she didn’t have much.  The highlights of her young employment life included being selected as employee of the month at a steakhouse in Indiana and a short internship at a venture capital firm during college.  Angie’s strengths were her determination and ability to get any job done.

After college, Angie received a call from her former boss at the venture capital firm.  He was having a hard time finding a reputable contractor to do work on a house he’d bought.  Home repairs and improvement can be very expensive, and one of the most difficult parts of the process is deciding who to hire for a job when you don’t know anything about their work.  His idea was for a business that would collect and organize reliable information about contractors and service professionals… and he thought Angie should start it.

Angie wasn’t so sure.  She wasn’t a homeowner, and had never hired a contractor nor undertaken repairs of any kind in her life.  She liked a challenge, but wasn’t sure about turning her back on the safe path (an almost-certain job with an accounting firm) to risk starting a business.  But her family supported the idea of betting on herself, and the advice of her grandfather was particularly insightful:  “What’s the difference between looking for a job when you’re twenty-two or waiting until you’re twenty three?  Nothing!  So what do you have to lose?”

Angie decided to give the idea a year.  Alone in Columbus, Ohio, she launched Columbus Neighbors, going door to door to sign up members who would use the service and provide reviews of contractors.  As a result, she faced the kind of frustration and rejection commonly experienced when making in-person sales pitches.  She pushed through seven-day workweeks and slammed doors.  She was often demoralized, cried regularly, and considered giving up more than once.  But she was passionate about succeeding, and the demands of the door-to-door process helped toughen her up. 

In that first year, Angie learned what she was made of.  She continued knocking on doors and asking strangers for advice about who they'd hired to do work on their homes.  Eventually, she’d ask whether they’d pay for a trustworthy service that would make their lives as homeowners easier.  The worst result was an unfriendly rejection, but the best was quality information and a new member. Angie was asking people to trust her information when making major spending decisions, and it showed that she took their trust seriously when she put her own name on the company. 

In 1996, Columbus Neighbors became Angie’s List.  Angie Hicks personally signed up fifteen hundred members in that first year without the benefit of the Internet.  Today, Angie’s List is the trusted source of reviews on contractors, doctors, dentists and service professionals in more than 550 categories.  Over 1.5 million households nationwide check Angie's List before they hire, and her pursuit for reliable information has resulted in a resource that includes 40,000 new reviews a month.  It’s no wonder that her estimated net worth is $50 million.

Angie says, “Even more important than the "Great Idea," is the ability to not give up when you hit roadblocks.  You're going to have people hang up on you or turn their backs when you ask for help.  Don’t give up.  Success doesn’t happen overnight.  Perseverance will be your best friend.”

The real sound of opportunity knocking often comes when your own knuckles hit the door.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Greatest Show on Earth

Having the courage to take chances is a huge part of pursuing your dreams.  It isn’t always easy to go against traditional thinking or the advice of loved ones, but sometimes taking a risk is exactly what leads to the life you want.

The first risk Guy took in following his passion was leaving home at age fourteen to become a street performer.  Growing up in Quebec, Guy had always been interested in performing, whether singing in the choir or studying Canadian folk dance.  But this was a much more serious commitment.  He was fascinated by the cultures of the world, and a pursuit that let him engage with different people on the streets every day was just what he wanted.

After a few years earning tips as an accordion player, Guy decided to try his talents abroad.  He was eighteen, and traveled to London with the money he’d saved.  He knew no one and had no place to stay, and spent his first night sleeping on a bench in Hyde Park.  Even so, he was invigorated at getting to see the world.  Throughout the next year, he continued across Europe, meeting other street performers and learning new skills.  During his journeys, he was taught fire-breathing, stilt-walking, juggling, and magic from veteran artists.  He grew increasingly versatile and confident, and never minded living hand-to-mouth.  It was an adventure, and he was grateful for the experience.

When he returned to Canada, he had every intention of pursuing a “normal” life.  He got a job and had plans to go back to school.  However, on his third day of work at a hydroelectric dam, the company’s employees went on strike.  This provided him with unexpected pay and free time, and Guy seized the opportunity.  Living out of a youth hostel, he joined up with a local stilt-walking troupe, and helped organize a series of local performances and festivals.  Soon, the troupe moved from their small town to the city of Montreal to pursue bigger opportunities.

The first such opportunity came when Guy learned of a plan to celebrate the 450-year anniversary of Quebec’s settlement by the French.  With hair down to his waist and looking like a hippie, Guy was nevertheless able to talk the conservative Canadian Government into a monetary grant, which his group used to organize a massive production for the event.  It was a huge success, bringing the spontaneous energy of street performance into a more organized theatrical setting.  It also made a profit, and helped Guy’s gang of street performers secure contracts for numerous other shows.  He was only twenty-four years old, but he was living his dreams... despite others telling him it was time to grow up and get a real job.

Guy’s optimism and belief in his vision served him well.  He had no reservations about booking performances even if he wasn’t sure how he would pay for them.  His willingness to take risks based on the troupe’s talent and the quality of their shows continued to pay off.  With that in mind, they decided to take their biggest risk yet.  Guy and his group spent their entire savings to take their show to Los Angeles.  He was certain that what they did could succeed in America.  The gamble was, if it didn’t happen, they wouldn’t even have gas money to return home.

The bet was another good one.  The show received rave reviews on their opening night in Los Angeles.  This foothold laid the groundwork for other successes, such as running multiple shows simultaneously, and staking out permanent show locations in major cities.  I first attended one of these while visiting Las Vegas, after a good friend suggested we go to the circus.  I remember asking, “They have a circus in Vegas?”

I soon discovered that Guy Laliberté had created something amazing:  an artistic and modern take on the circus, and one with no animals.  Cirque du Soliel began as one man’s dream, and through the years attracted legions of dedicated fans, including celebrities like Michael Jackson and former Beatle George Harrison.  Today the two most popular Cirque shows are Beatles Love and a tribute to Michael Jackson known as Immortal.

Cirque du Soliel has performed in more than 270 cities on every continent except Antarctica.  More than ninety million people have experienced their shows, which earn more than $800 million US dollars annually.  Last year, Guy Laliberté himself was ranked the eleventh wealthiest Canadian in the world.

It takes courage and risk to pursue your dreams, but if you embrace both, you’ll find that living your dreams can be the greatest show on earth!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams