With the release of the 50th episode of the Driving Force Podcast I thought it would be interesting to compile and share some of my biggest learnings from doing the podcast so far. My guests have included Navy SEALs, ultra-runners, startup CEOs, and a whole host of other high performing individuals across sports, business, and wellness. Below are the top 5 similarities that I’ve found amongst many/all of my podcast guests along with examples and research:
- Gone through suffering and/or experienced trauma
“No growth without the struggle”, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, “Nothing good comes easy” etc. etc. etc… I’m guessing you’ve heard one or maybe all of these phrases at some point in your life. Although these are easy to say in passing, there’s good reason why they’ve become some of the most prominent catch phrases when it comes to self-improvement. If you look at the highest performing individuals in any field, many of them (likely the majority) have gone through some form of intense suffering/hardship/trauma. Everything from sexual abuse, poverty, countless athletic injuries, loss of a parent and the list goes on and on. Some people will get crushed by these experiences while others will come out stronger on the other end. Here are a few examples of podcast guests that have accelerated out of their traumatic/challenging experiences:
- Michael Rosa (my dad) – Sexually abused by priests as a kid, money stolen from him as a paper boy, locked in a white padded room in a psych ward for one summer --> CEO of a successful wire & cable distribution company that he eventually sold to a strategic acquirer, 2nd place in the Karate World Championships, Ironman, 5x Boston Marathon finisher, currently prepping for the World Yoga Championships.
- Luis Ubinas – Grew up in the projects of the South Bronx in the 1970s, arguably the most dangerous neighborhood in the United States at the time --> Harvard graduate, former Senior Partner at McKinsey and former President of the Ford Foundation.
- Bruckner Chase – Rescued from drowning twice as a kid --> Accomplished ultra-endurance athlete (including a 25-mile swim across Monterey Bay), former corporate executive, Founder and President of the Bruckner Chase Ocean Positive non-profit.
“In 1962, the psychologist Victor Goertzel and his wife, Mildred, published a book called “Cradles of Eminence: A Provocative Study of the Childhoods of Over 400 Famous Twentieth-Century Men and Women.” They selected individuals who had had at least two biographies written about them and who had made a positive contribution to society. Their subjects ranged from Louis Armstrong, Frida Kahlo and Marie Curie to Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller.
The Goertzels found that less than 15% of their famous men and women had been raised in supportive, untroubled homes, with another 10% in a mixed setting. Of the 400, a full 75%—some 300 individuals—had grown up in a family burdened by a severe problem: poverty, abuse, absent parents, alcoholism, serious illness or some other misfortune.” (1)
“One study led by sport psychology professor Lew Hardy in the United Kingdom compared 16 Olympic champions against 16 non-medaling Olympians. All of the medalists were exposed to trauma as children – including parental death or divorce, physical and verbal abuse or an unstable home environment – compared to only four of the non-medalists.” (2)
Of course, no reasonable person would ever wish for things like abuse, parental death, or poverty for children. However, if you wish for your child to have the resilience of a high performer, it seems paramount to provide them a challenging and supportive environment in which to grow. Which brings me to number 2.
- Having the right network or support system around you
Truth is, anyone who’s ever accomplished anything of particular significance didn’t do it alone. The elite performers of the world typically either grew up in the right environment that supported their passion (think pro surfer who grew up in Hawaii) or they went out and created that environment for themselves (pretty much any successful entrepreneur).
As many of you reading this probably well know, the environment in which you grow up in plays a large part in how easy it is to get a job in a certain industry. Take finance for example. A white male who grows up in Weston, MA (a notably wealthy town with lots of Boston finance executives living there for those don’t know) whose dad is a well-known town doctor vs. the black male who grows up in a rough part of Dorchester, MA whose parents both work multiple jobs just to put food on the table. The white kid would really have to screw things up to not get that finance job whereas the black kid would have a much harder path.
Podcast guest examples:
- Max Adler – Barely made the Varsity Lacrosse Team at DII Bentley University his freshman year. By senior year, he was an All American. Now, he’s one of the top faceoff specialists in Major League Lacrosse. --> During the off season while at Bentley, Max sought out the top players in the area and practiced with those D1 athletes consistently in order to get better.
- Jeff Byers – In the podcast, Jeff mentions that along with his talent and work ethic, he had great coaches and was in the right places at the right times. --> Jeff was the top high school football recruit in the country and went on to play at USC under coach Pete Carroll. He then went on to play about 4 seasons in the NFL.
- Snejina Zacharia – Snejina grew up in communist Bulgaria where entrepreneurship really wasn’t even a legitimate consideration --> After working in Bulgaria for several years she then moved to Boston, got her MBA at MIT, and is now the Founder and CEO of Insurify.
“According to research by social psychologist Dr. David McClelland of Harvard, [the people you habitually associate with] determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life.” (3)
“According to their results, if a friend of yours becomes obese, you yourself are 45 percent more likely than chance to gain weight over the next two to four years. More surprisingly, however, Christakis and Fowler found that if a friend of your friend becomes obese, your likelihood of gaining weight increases by about 20 percent — even if you don’t know that friend of a friend. The effect continues one more person out. If a friend of the friend of your friend develops obesity, you are still 10 percent more likely than random chance to gain weight as well.” (4)
- Pursuing a purpose greater than oneself
We all know the story (or perhaps even know someone personally) of the person who has achieved the highest levels of career “success” but is completely miserable and unfulfilled. They struggle in their relationships, health, and have an overall feeling of spiritual emptiness that doesn’t go away no matter how much more money they make. Do you need to become the next Gandhi or quit your job and serve in the Peace Corps? Of course not. However, it seems like the personal sacrifices you need to make in order to pursue something outside of material success are much easier to deal with.
Podcast guest examples:
- Fiona Oakes - A pioneer for vegan athletes, Fiona somehow finds the time to be both an elite marathon runner and a caretaker of over 400 animals at the Sanctuary she founded in 1996 called the Towerhill Stables Animal Sanctuary. Her typical day (which has changed a bit due to the Pandemic) usually starts with her waking up around 3am every morning to take care of the animals and also working in her training (which could often look like a 20+ mile run) before it’s back to taking care of the animals.
- Nicole Ver Kuilen - At age 10, Nicole made the difficult decision to amputate her left leg to save her life from bone cancer. She would then spend the next 16 years fighting an outdated healthcare system to get access to the prosthetic technology she needed to be physically active. Finally, in 2017, Nicole had said enough is enough and decided to quit her job to engage full time in political activism and advocacy. What transpired next is nothing short of inspirational. She took on a 1500-mile triathlon - swimming, biking, and running down the Pacific Coast – to advocate and educate others on the barriers individuals like her face to living full, healthy lives. Today, she is the Founder of Forrest Stump, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to raising the standard of care for all amputees.
- George Hodgin – Doing hard things to serve others has been a consistent theme throughout George’s life. He served as a Navy SEAL officer for a little over 6 years where he was responsible for (among other duties) leading a team of 24 Navy SEALs conducting counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations across five countries in Asia and the Middle East. While helping out a fellow veteran who was fighting wartime wounds (both physical and mental) using drugs like opiates, that veteran decided to try out medical marijuana. George was stunned to find the lack of clinical research done around medical marijuana which inspired him to start Biopharmaceutical Research Company.
“Research has found that ‘purpose driven’ people
- Are four times more likely to be engaged at work and 50% more likely to be a leader and have 64% higher level of career satisfaction
- Earn a higher income and have a higher net worth
- Enjoy a 42% more contentment overall and live up to 7 years longer” (5)
- Outcome dissociation
Like number 1, lots of catch phrases here – “Focus on the process, not the outcome”, “Embrace the grind”, “Enjoy the journey” etc. Why? Because the “process”, “grind”, and “journey” are where you’ll be spending all of your time in pursuit of your goal/outcome! The following podcast guests I believe know and apply this concept well:
- Christine McHugh – 27 career at Starbucks going from barista to leading some of the most important strategic initiatives for Starbucks across over 13,000 stores in the US and Canada. She has always been one to embrace challenge and focused more on “the rungs of the learning” vs. “the rungs of the [corporate] ladder” as she progressed in her career.
- Adam La Reau – Retired Navy SEAL Commander, Co-founder of O2X Human Performance & Founder of One Summit. Well thought out tactics and strategy (process) are of the utmost importance for SEAL teams to complete their missions without incurring losses/damage. Part of O2X’s mission is to help their clients get 1% better every day.
- Hoby Darling – From starting his career as a personal trainer to becoming the CEO of Skullcandy, Hoby has always been someone to embrace the grind and learn whatever it takes to get the job done. For example, when he was brought in as the CEO of Skullcandy the company was in a worse position than he originally anticipated. Taking an unconventional approach to a company turnaround, Hoby relayed to all the employees of Skullcandy at the time that “you got to be either in or out…cause [this turnaround] is going to be hard. It’s going to be really hard…here’s the mountain we’re going to climb…I don’t exactly how we’re going to climb it…but that’s the mountain and here’s the mission and values we’re going to do it under…and so you’ve got to be either in or out.” All the employees ended up staying, willing to put in the work, and they successfully turned around the company.
Apologies. I couldn’t find any good statistical research related to outcome/result dissociation. Maybe this makes sense though since it’s likely impossible to truly know/measure in the brain if someone is thinking about the process/result over many years. However, I will add a couple science-related points here.
Even when you achieve your goal (the medal, the title, the IPO etc.), the result isn’t as momentous as expected. You’ll likely have a temporary dopamine dump but that high only lasts for the briefest of moments. (6)
“Behavioral research shows that human beings have a tendency to return to their pre-success level of happiness through a process called hedonic adaptation. That dream job, that coveted title, that lavish apartment quickly become the new normal.” (6)
According to Duval & Wicklund, Self-Awareness Theory is based on the idea that you are not your thoughts, but the entity observing your thoughts; you are the thinker, separate and apart from your thoughts (7). Therefore, you have the ability to choose which thoughts are useful and which are not. More importantly, it means you are able to engage in critical self-evaluation – what are your strengths and weaknesses, when have you made mistakes in the past and how can you learn from them etc. Engaging in this self-evaluation is powerful as it allows you to pursue your goals with less blind spots that could prevent you from reaching those goals. The following guests I believe have shown great self-awareness as they’ve navigated their lives:
- Kristen Holmes – Her driving force (as mentioned in the podcast) is building more awareness! Kristen has spent much of her life in high performance environments across sports and business. As both a former high level collegiate coach and athlete, Kristen spent many years building more awareness around the mechanisms she could implement/change to improve her own performance as well as the performance of her athletes. As Vice President of Performance Science at WHOOP, part of her job is around building more awareness around all the factors that contribute to optimizing human performance.
- Alli Schaper – Early health issues and a consulting career that didn’t align well with keeping up healthy habits really forged Alli’s self-awareness. Throughout the podcast, you can really pick up on how she’s gone about her life with a clear sense of who she is and what jobs/ventures would be a good fit. For example, she loves people, community, and helping people become healthier --> she co-founded MESH - a community-building initiative focused on intentional connections and curated dinner experiences in New York and LA, as well as Zigii – a wellness gifting company.
- Cameron Shayne - Cameron describes movement as a way of examining mind and believes practicing Budokon (the system he created) can be an excellent way to facilitate self-transformation and self-discovery by breaking down a person’s false constructs of self. He began studying Martial Arts and Zen meditation at the age of 12, and yoga asana training at 25. All of those disciplines require tremendous amounts of self-control and awareness and so it’s natural that Cameron would have built great self-awareness over time.
“A recent study by Erich C. Dierdorff and Robert S. Rubin, two associate professors of management in the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University and co-directors of BusinessEducationInsider.com, revealed that self-awareness in the workplace significantly increases the probability of success…In regard to decision quality, coordination and conflict management, teams with poor self-awareness had a 32, 27 and 35 percent probability of success, respectively. For teams with high self-awareness, the probability of success in each category was 68, 73 and 65 percent.” (8)
“According to Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, 83 percent of people with high self-awareness are top performers, while only 2 percent of bottom performers display this trait.” (9)
“Korn Ferry searched 6,977 self-assessments from professionals at 486 publicly traded companies to identify the “blind spots” in individuals’ leadership characteristics, revealed by a disparity between answers in two separate parts of the test. The frequency of such blind spots was then gauged against the [Rate of Return] of those companies’ stock. The analysis demonstrated that, on average:
- Poorly performing companies’ employees had 20 percent more blind spots than those working at financially strong companies.
- Poor-performing companies’ employees were 79 percent more likely to have low overall self-awareness than those at firms with robust ROR.” (10)
It’s up to YOU to decide what to do with this information. I’m in no position to tell you what you should/should not focus on in order to achieve your goals. However, with strong self-awareness, a focus on the process and purpose, a strong support system, and a challenging environment, I’m confident that you’ll be well on your way 😉. Thank you for reading and thank you to everyone who has contributed to my podcast so far.
To listen to the podcast, visit https://www.thedrivingforcepodcast.com/.