Get Out of Your Own Way (2020) explores the limiting thoughts that can stop us from growing, feeling fulfilled, and being fully present for our loved ones. By debunking his own self-created lies with candor and humor, the author provides insight into how you can overcome similar long-held positions.
Sex and Relationships, Personal Development, Social Sciences, Men’s Gender Studies, Fatherhood, Parenting Girls
Introduction: Learn how to challenge the assumptions that are holding you back.
Self-help. It’s for people having a midlife crisis. Or those looking to “find themselves” after losing touch with their “true self” 20 years ago. It’s definitely not for someone like the author – a person with a loving partner, a few healthy kids, and a respectable career, right?
Even after achieving life’s big goals, Dave Hollis felt unhappy and unfulfilled. He’d come home from a long day at the office and zone out with one too many drinks, too exhausted to really engage with his kids or give his wife the support she needed and deserved. He told himself that this was normal, that he should get over it and get on with life. After all, everyone on the outside thought his life was perfect. And yet he just couldn’t shake how flat he felt, and he had no idea why.
The truth is, when we’re stuck in this kind of a rut, we’re usually paying too much attention to the unhelpful voices in our heads – you know, the ones that tell us we’re only lovable because of our flashy jobs or because everyone thinks we have our lives under control. But the only way we can silence those voices is by challenging how valid each of them is. And to do that, we need to commit to a journey of personal growth.
In these summaries, you’ll discover
- what Eminem can teach you about vulnerability;
- how a well-meaning eavesdropper changed more than one life; and
- why we need to learn another language to have a successful relationship.
Equating our personal value with our profession undermines our self-worth.
Imagine you’re at a cocktail party, surrounded by dazzling people with interesting jobs. You’re chatting to someone you’ve just met, and they ask you the inevitable question: What do you do for a living?
You tell them you’re head of sales for The Walt Disney Company’s movie studio. That’s right. The Disney. You’re the one putting movies like Frozen, Inside Out, and all things Marvel in cinemas around the world. And you’re good at it. Very good, according to your salary.
Naturally, your new acquaintance is impressed. Their face lights up. You have an internal sigh. If only your job lit you up in the same way.
The key message here is: Equating our personal value with our profession undermines our self-worth.
Once upon a time, author Dave Hollis was that disgruntled sales executive at Disney. With an endless supply of blockbuster movies and a fabulous team working with him every day, he was exceeding sales targets and making more money than ever before. But Dave was deeply unhappy. Since he could practically do his job with his eyes closed, he felt under-challenged and unfulfilled.
Despite feeling this way, Dave was hesitant to make any bold changes. People were in awe of his job title; because of this, he’d allowed his work to become his identity. He’d always prided himself on his successful and evolving career. Leaving it behind felt like letting go of the very thing that made people see him as valuable. But Dave longed to free himself from what other people thought about him. He had to make a change.
And so he took a leap.
He resigned from Disney and took up the role of CEO at his wife’s business, The Hollis Company. It was a challenge shifting from a mass media company to a small start-up, and Dave had to relearn everything he thought he knew about business. But this was just the stimulation he needed. And it taught him something important about himself: His value as a person didn’t come from the size of his paycheck or his employer’s prestige. It came from being a loving, respectful individual who cared about the world around him. And he could be that person, even without a fancy title on his business card.
Being honest about your weaknesses can give you a competitive edge.
A workplace can feel a bit like a savanna. If you’re the zebra with an injured leg, you’ll end up as a lion’s dinner. Similarly, if you’re negotiating a business deal, you don’t want the other party to know your weaknesses. If they do, they’re likely to exploit them.
When Dave worked for Disney, he cast himself firmly in the role of a lion. He used a combative approach, concealing any insecurities so they couldn’t be used against him. And while this resulted in plenty of great deals, it came at a price. Dave’s negotiating style made him seem unreasonable and callous, and this distanced him from others.
The key message here is: Being honest about your weaknesses can give you a competitive edge.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t an interpersonal skills course that helped Dave change his negotiating style. It was the final scene of the movie 8 Mile, where two rappers – one played by Eminem – compete in an underground rap battle, each trying to insult the other in improvised verses. As Dave listened to Eminem’s character, B-Rabbit, rapping about his girlfriend cheating on him and being the victim of a malicious assault, he was moved. B-Rabbit wasn’t trying to hide his weaknesses. He was owning them. And by owning them, he prevented his opponent from exploiting them, leaving the other rapper powerless.
This was a turning point for Dave. Instead of being guarded, he became honest and vulnerable. Dave began presenting his weaknesses to whichever party he was negotiating with, framing those weaknesses as strengths. For example, he might point out that his inexperience enabled him to offer a new perspective.
Dave was so happy with the outcomes of this new approach that he wondered if he could use it outside of the workplace. And so he started to see every interaction that he had with other people as a type of negotiation – from how he motivated his kids to how he communicated with his wife.
He suspected that, just like in business, he’d been pushing people away by hiding his insecurities. And he was right. As soon as he stopped pretending to be Mr. Invincible, his relationships improved. With his armor off, he was in a better position to receive love and support and to empathize with others, too.
If we want to grow, we have to normalize failure.
Back when he was in elementary school, Dave’s son Jackson wanted to run for class president. Dave encouraged Jackson to go for it. He knew from personal experience that, win or lose, it was an important learning opportunity for his son. After all, he’d run twice himself and lost both times.
Just like his dad, Jackson lost his campaign. But Dave used the opportunity to teach his son that failing didn’t make him a failure. His family still loved and valued him, and he didn’t have to worry about the opinions of his classmates – at least he’d had the courage to do something that most of them hadn’t. He’d worked hard and put together a great campaign. Sure, the result was disappointing, but it proved that failure doesn’t kill you.
The key message here is: If we want to grow, we have to normalize failure.
It was around this time that Dave was feeling really low about his role at Disney and considering his next move. For too long he’d been running on autopilot and succeeding with very little effort. He also knew that if he tried something different, he’d be inviting failure back into his life.
Dave was operating with what psychologist Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. He thought that his talents were predetermined and that his skill set was limited. That’s why he was in the habit of avoiding things he assumed he wouldn’t do well.
But Dweck’s book Mindset taught Dave that some people have a growth mindset. They believe that they can continually improve and develop their skills and talents, broadening their horizons as they pursue new experiences.
The book also taught Dave that we get to choose our mindset. And so, to get out of his rut, Dave had to believe that he could grow as an individual. Just like Jackson, he had to believe that he’d survive the inevitable failures along the way.
Despite the wonderful opportunity that failure offers us, it’s still a major taboo in today’s society. But by embracing things we’re not naturally good at, we can defy social conditioning, become more comfortable with not being perfect, and discover hidden talents we never knew we had.
When we stop avoiding pain, it becomes a mechanism for growth.
In 2013, Dave and his wife, Rachel, decided to adopt a child. They already had three biological sons. But without a daughter, their family felt incomplete.
Three years later, they got the call they’d been waiting for. A social worker told Rachel about twin girls, only four days old and in need of a loving home. The couple took a deep breath and said yes. Their family would finally be whole.
The girls had been with the Hollies for five weeks when another phone call changed everything. While the biological mother had abandoned them, their father wanted custody. And so the couple had to give up the little girls.
The key message here is: When we stop avoiding pain, it becomes a mechanism for growth.
Despite his heartbreak, Dave knew that they had to keep pursuing their dream. Yes, the thought of going through the same pain with another child was terrifying. But Dave knew they’d regret it if they tried to protect themselves from being hurt again. The only way they could find the daughter they always wanted was to bravely keep going.
A few months later, after a positive meeting with their adoption attorney, Dave and Rachel were having lunch. As they ate their meals, Rachel asked Dave if he’d gotten in touch with the twins’ father. To help her gain closure, she wanted to bring the girls some gifts. Dave braced himself. He knew that what he was about to say would cause Rachel a lot of pain. The twins’ father had politely told Dave that he didn’t want the Hollies to have any contact with his daughters ever again.
At this news, Rachel broke down. She told Dave that she couldn’t go on. The pain was just too much. And that’s when something incredible happened. The man sitting at the table next to theirs overheard the conversation and told them he was adopted. His parents had gone through many failed attempts before adopting him and his brother. If they’d given up, he wouldn’t be who he was.
This chance meeting reminded a couple of what they stood to gain if they pushed through the pain. And that’s just what they did until, two months later, they found the little girl they’d eventually adopt. They named her Noah, after the stranger at the restaurant. Courage, faith, and love had helped them survive the flood of pain. And in doing so, they knew they could survive anything.
We shouldn’t assume we know what our partner needs.
Have you ever spent the day cooking the perfect meal for your partner, only for them to be happy but not ecstatic about your efforts? Or maybe you found them the perfect gift, at which they replied, “Thanks, it’s nice.” Just like that, a gesture that expressed your deep love is dismissed as nothing special.
The reason this often happens is that different people interpret gestures differently. To make matters more complicated, we’re not static beings. As we grow, our needs change. So, that quality time that made us feel connected last year might not be what we need today.
The key message here is: We shouldn’t assume we know what our partner needs.
The more familiar we are with our partner’s unique wiring, the more successful our relationship will be. Luckily, there are many simple tools you can use to get to know what makes your partner tick.
Dave and Rachel used the Enneagram to learn more about themselves and each other. This diagnostic test classifies your primary and secondary personality types, identifying how you behave when things are good and when you’re under pressure. Most powerfully, the Enneagram also sheds light on how different personality types pair with others, explaining why Dave’s “peacemaker” nature paired so well with Rachel’s “achiever” personality.
Dave and Rachel also found the book The 5 Love Languages extremely enlightening. According to its author, Dr. Gary Chapman, most couples don’t share a love language. For example, Dave’s love language is acts of service. He would often run errands for Rachel, thinking that this was the best way to show his love. But Rachel’s love language is words of affirmation, and she would have preferred him to tell her how great she is – which explains why all of Dave’s gestures of service kept falling flat.
Once we understand how our partner gives and receives love, we can learn to speak their love language, and they can learn to speak ours. That way, we’re better placed to negotiate the tough times, celebrate the good ones, and tell them how much they mean to us in a way that matters to them.
To be the best partner, you need to be able to play different roles at different times.
Anyone running a business knows that to survive you have to change with the times. Unless your business can adapt to shifts in customer preferences, new technology, or cultural changes, it will die. But even though change can be an opportunity for business owners to be flexible and innovative, change in our personal relationships typically paralyzes us with fear.
Why is that? Well, we often think they need to change means we’ve been doing something wrong – possibly for years. Instead of entertaining the idea that we ourselves have changed, or that our circumstances have, we decide that we’ve failed. But change is a normal part of any relationship. And to be better partners, we need to get comfortable with that.
The key message here is: To be the best partner, you need to be able to play different roles at different times.
If you think back to the events of the past year, you’ll probably recognize that you needed different things from your partner at different times. For instance, you needed compassion when your father died, but you needed domestic help the week of that huge client pitch. The strongest relationships are those where each partner can identify what the other needs, and give it to them without assuming that they know best.
When Rachel was in the early stages of negotiating to host a cable TV program, Dave learned a valuable lesson in not making assumptions. He assumed that Rachel needed him to save her from any crushing disappointment, so he pointed out that the odds of her landing the deal were about 3 percent. This made Rachel feel like Dave didn’t have faith in her abilities.
Six months later, Rachel told Dave he’d bought her a gift. Playing along, Dave asked what he’d bought. It was a bracelet, with a charm that reads “3%.” Rachel had successfully signed with the television network. The bracelet was a reminder that she needed to have faith in herself, even when her husband didn’t.
So how do we avoid making the same mistake as Dave and give our partners what they need? The answer is simple. Just ask them what you can do to best support them. Then be humble enough to listen to their answer. If you can embrace their request, and set aside your assumptions about their needs, you’ll transform your good relationship into a great one.
Don’t assume you can truly understand other people’s points of view.
Dave grew up in a cookie-cutter community – one where everyone looked the same, worshipped the same way, and had the same kind of home life. It wasn’t until he was in his early twenties that he started meeting people who were different from him, including a colleague who became his first gay friend.
Years later, when Dave and Rachel were pursuing international adoption, they wanted to make sure their future daughter could connect with her cultural heritage. To support this, they joined a multicultural church community. This opened Dave’s eyes.
Until that point, he thought he had a relatively clear understanding of what it must be like to live in America as a person of color. After all, he’d watched a documentary about the civil rights movement and read a book about Martin Luther King, Jr. But Dave couldn’t have been more wrong.
The key message here is: Don’t assume you can truly understand other people’s points of view.
In 2014, Dave’s church community discussed their fears about the police shooting African Americans, like 12-year-old Tamir Rice. A dad from the congregation asked Dave if he’d spoken to his sons about how to stay safe if the police ever pulled them over. Dave was shocked. He suddenly understood how differently the world treated his kids, purely because of their skin color. It had never occurred to him that some parents had to teach their children how to interact safely with the police.
As Dave took part in a workshop on racial reconciliation and listened to the stories his fellow worshippers brought back after a civil rights tour of the South, he realized that he didn’t have the slightest idea about the true impact of racial prejudice. And, as a privileged white male, he never really would. The best he could do was to listen to the experiences of others and practice empathy in an attempt to better understand their lives.
This awakening made Dave look at his workplace with new eyes. He saw that he didn’t know what it was like to be a Disney employee from a marginalized or minority community. And so, in the years that followed, he led initiatives to address the unconscious bias against women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community. By acknowledging that he knew nothing about their experiences, he was better able to become their advocate.
To truly grow, we must challenge the thoughts that limit us.
Dave loves to run. He’s completed an adventure marathon in the Irish Hills and 14 half marathons. These achievements are remarkable, especially given that Dave didn’t start running until he was 36.
As a child, he’d been told that tall people like him couldn’t – and shouldn’t – run. And so he didn’t. Luckily, his competitive streak kicked in when a colleague challenged him to a 5 km race. That drive was strong enough to overcome the limiting beliefs he’d carried around since he was a kid.
The key message here is: To truly grow, we must challenge the thoughts that limit us.
Limiting beliefs are negative thoughts we perceive as truth. They draw neat boundaries around us, and we diligently stay inside them. But it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s because where we draw our boundaries is actually up to us.
When Dave’s colleague suggested the race, he decided to dismiss the lifelong belief that tall people couldn’t run. With his colleague’s support, he began training and regularly entering races. No, he wasn’t great right away. But each race he completed was proof that tall people certainly can run.
Our limiting beliefs cheat us out of fully experiencing life. We believe that one failed relationship means we’ll never find love, or that one bad interview means we’ll never get that dream job. We stop reaching out because we think every experience will have the same outcome.
So what is the root cause of our limiting beliefs? Dave believes it’s fear – of rejection, of failure, or of exposing ourselves as less than perfect. Since no one likes to be ridiculed or judged, we hold on to our limiting beliefs and keep ourselves inside a comfort zone that protects us from pain.
Recognizing your limiting beliefs is the first step on a much longer growth journey. To overcome the thoughts that hold you back, you need to let go of your long-held positions and entertain the possibility that things can be different. Only then will you be ready to challenge that voice in your head that says you can’t do this, or you’re not good enough for that.
Taking small steps toward your goal will silence that voice. It’ll also open you up to discovering something wonderful, like a love of running. But even more important, you’ll learn something about yourself – that you’re determined, committed, and striving to live your best life.
The key message in these summaries:
Many of us fall into a funk at some point in life. Even when things look great from the outside – when we’ve got a stable job and a loving relationship – we can still be struggling on the inside. Often this struggle occurs when we’re no longer growing as individuals. Life has lost its challenge, so we no longer feel fulfilled. If we want to be the best version of ourselves and be fully present for our loved ones, we need to accept that personal growth is the key. And to truly grow, we’ve got to get out of our own way.
Create your own operating principles.
To help you stay on track while you’re trying to live your best life, spend some time reflecting on the principles you want to live by – both in your personal life and at work. These might be goals like acting with integrity, embracing experiences outside your comfort zone, or committing to being truthful. Write down your principles, and keep your list handy. This will act as your compass if you ever lose your way.
About the author
Dave Hollis is the CEO of the Hollis Company, a company that exists to help people build better lives. Dave was previously president of distribution for the Walt Disney Studios until he left to apply his experiences to the expansion of the Hollis Company. Dave is a member of the Motion Picture Academy and has been an advisor or board member of technology incubator Fandango Labs, philanthropy start-up Givsum, film charity Will Rogers Pioneers Foundation, Pepperdine’s Institute for Entertainment, Media, and Culture, and foster care champion National Angels. Dave lives with his family in Austin, Texas.
Dave Hollis, New York Times bestselling author of Get Out of Your Own Way, host of the Rise Together podcast, health & fitness enthusiast and online coach works to inspire others to take control of their lives and create a future of fulfillment and purpose. Dave’s history includes CEO of a media start-up, former president of sales & distribution for the film studio at The Walt Disney Company, a talent manager across film, tv & music and work in the publicity, research, and technology fields across the entertainment sector. In those roles, Dave has seen both the negative consequences of limiting beliefs and the positive power of imagination, dreams, and believing in oneself.
Dave has sat on the board of the membership committee for the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences of which he is a member, and on the boards of Fandango Labs, Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers, National Angels and his alma mater Pepperdine’s Institute for Entertainment Media and Culture. Dave’s philanthropy exists via the Dave Hollis Giving Fund where acting as an ally to the needs of children in foster care, teen homelessness and food insecurity have been a recent focus for grants. A father of four and former foster parent to four more, Dave and his family live in Austin, Texas, where he drives a 1969 Ford Bronco named Incredible Hulk and has a mini schnauzer named Jeffrey.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Is Self-Help for Broken People?
CHAPTER 1. The Lie: My Work Is Who I Am
CHAPTER 2. The Lie: The Things That Have Worked Are the Things That Will Work
CHAPTER 3. The Lie: I Have to Have It All Together
CHAPTER 4. The Lie: A Drink Will Make This Better
CHAPTER 5. The Lie: I Did Something Wrong, So I Am Something Wrong
CHAPTER 6. The Lie: Everyone Is Thinking About What I’m Doing
CHAPTER 7. The Lie: Being Right All the Time Doesn’t Make Me an Ass
CHAPTER 8. The Lie: Failure Means You’re Weak
CHAPTER 9. The Lie: It’s My Job to Protect Them from Problems
CHAPTER 10. The Lie: I Can Phone It In and Be Just Fine
CHAPTER 11. The Lie: If She Doesn’t Love Me, I’m Not Lovable
CHAPTER 12. The Lie: Real Men Don’t Show Emotion
CHAPTER 13. The Lie: I Know What She Needs
CHAPTER 14. The Lie: My Role in This Relationship Is Constant
CHAPTER 15. The Lie: If They Don’t Need Me, They Won’t Want Me
CHAPTER 16. The Lie: I Know What You’ve Been Through
CHAPTER 17. The Lie: Things That Are Possible for Other People Aren’t Possible for Me
CHAPTER 18. The Lie: I Need to Parent Like My Parents
CHAPTER 19. The Lie: I Can Achieve Balance If I Work Hard Enough
Conclusion: Stay Out of Your Own Way with Intention and Discipline
About the Author
The idea that you could be more but got in your own way should wake you up in the middle of the night. Dave Hollis used to think that “personal growth” was just for broken people, then he woke up.
When a looming career funk, a growing drinking problem, and a challenging trek through therapy battered Dave Hollis, a Disney executive, and father of four, he began to realize he was letting untruths about himself dictate his life. As he sank to the bottom of his valley, he had to make a choice. Would he push himself out of his comfort zone to become the best man he was capable of being, or would he play it safe and settle for mediocrity?
In Get Out of Your Own Way, Dave tackles topics he once found it difficult to be honest about, things like his struggles with alcohol and his insecurities about being a dad.
Offering encouragement, challenges, and a hundred moments to laugh, Dave will help you:
- Discover the way for those of us who are, like he was, skeptical of self-help but want something more than the status quo
- Drop negative ideas about who we are supposed to be and finally start living as who we really are
- See our own journeys more clearly as he unpacks the lies he once believed—such as “I Have to Have It All Together” and “Failure Means You’re Weak”
- Learn the tools that helped him change his life, and may change your life too
Get Out of Your Own Way is a call to arms for anyone who’s interested in a more fulfilled life, who, along the way, may have lost their “why” and now wonders how to unlock their potential or be better for their loved ones.
Get Out of Your Own Way is a call to arms for anyone who’s interested in a more fulfilled life, who, along the way, may have lost their “why” and now wonders how to unlock their potential or show up better for the ones they love. In doing the hard work of embracing growth and examining what lies he believed and why he believed them, author Dave Hollis became a better man for himself and for the relationships that meant the most to him in life. You can too. With charm, humor, and a liberal dose of self-deprecation, Hollis will inspire you to challenge the lies encountered in your own journey toward a life with no regrets.
- Reengineer your brain to appreciate the benefit and necessity of failure if you want a rich, full life.
- Experience the freedom of uncoupling what you do professionally from who you are.
- Discover that allowing yourself to receive help might be the strongest thing you can ever do.
- Connect on a deeper level with others by bucking conventional dude speak.
Video and Podcast
‘Dave’s first book is vulnerable, authentic, and earnest, written from the perspective of a friend on the journey with you. What started as a collection of stories to illustrate the masculine point of view turned into something that will help both men and women struggling to reach for more.’ — ―Rachel Hollis, #1 New York Times bestselling author
‘In this life-transforming book, Dave Hollis inspires us to take a good hard look at the lies we tell ourselves and flip them into reasons for real growth. It’s a witty, vulnerable, and truly thought-provoking work from a skeptic who became brave enough to change. A must-read in personal development.’ – Brendon Burchard, #1 New York Times bestselling author and CEO of Growth.com
‘I love Dave for a million reasons, but one is because I relate to him. I get the impulse to side-eye the whole personal development movement from a comfy perch on my couch like a real Sideline Critic. So his straightforward, funny advice on how to get out of that self-defeating rut hits me right between the eyes. This book is for anyone who wants to figure out how to start showing up for their life.’ – Jen Hatmaker, New York Times bestselling author of For the Love and Of Mess and Moxie and host of the For the Love podcast
‘In Get Out of Your Own Way, my friend Dave has identified an important truth: believing certain lies about ourselves keeps us skeptical that we can ever change the trajectory of our lives. Thank goodness in this great book! Dave also shares with us the tools that helped him change his own life so you can change yours too.’ – John C. Maxwell, New York Times bestselling author and leadership expert
‘To improve you have to confront yourself and your ways of thinking. Dave Hollis’s book is an important guide for any man–and woman–who wants a better life.’ – Ryan Holiday, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Stillness Is the Key
‘Dave Hollis packages his own vulnerability in an impactful but fun way to empower readers. This is a wise, introspective, and purposeful guide to anyone looking to break free of fear, ego, and blame.’ – Mike Bayer, author of the New York Times bestseller Best Self: Be You Only Better and life coach on the Dr. Phil show
‘Get Out of Your Own Way is a testament to one’s ability to take control of your own life by freeing yourself from the lies that hold us back. Dave’s approach to max out his life will inspire readers to do the same!’ – Ed Mylett, entrepreneur, bestselling author, speaker, and top podcast host
‘In his compelling first book, my friend Dave Hollis shares his path to change with candor, humor, and humility in a way that will inspire you to take charge, change your habits, and lay a foundation for living the life you always dreamed of.’ – Lewis Howes, New York Times bestselling author and host of The School of Greatness
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview
IS SELF-HELP FOR BROKEN PEOPLE?
I drank a handle of vodka.
In a day and a half.
While I was supposed to be watching my kids.
Hello. I know what you’re thinking. What’s a “handle” of vodka? That’s not your first thought? Well, I’ll tell you anyway. It’s that pitcher they sell at Costco—59.2 fluid ounces or roughly forty shots. I drank all the vodka. All. Of. It. Dad of the year.
After working in entertainment for the last two decades in stints that saw me as a tour manager for Beyoncé when she was still a Destiny’s Child, launching TV shows for Fox, managing celebrity talent at an agency, and, most recently, working a seventeen-year gig at Disney as the head of sales for the film studio, I hit bottom. Despite being married to my best friend and having four healthy kids, the nice house, and the fast car, I found myself feeling stuck. Struggling.
Reaching the low point all started when we decided to go on our most ambitious vacation ever. (Yes, I’m going to be that guy who complains about a vacation.) We rented a house for longer than we ever had before—twelve days in Hawaii—grabbed our four kids ages nine, eight, four, and four months (we are idiots), and took off for paradise.
On the flight I was handed the near-final Word-doc version of my wife’s new book Girl, Wash Your Face, getting my first glimpse into just how transparent and vulnerable Rachel had decided to be—and, in a vanity-alarm-bells kind of way, just how many of my deepest insecurities would be exposed and how much of this everything’s-great-trust-me veneer I’d worked so hard to maintain would be challenged by her work.
Also on that first day of our trip, Rachel got sick—and by that I mean demons-have-inhabited-her-body, should-we-go-to-the-ER, let’s-set-up-the-quarantine-from-E.T. kind of sick. So I did what any good dad and husband would do. I left her to rest, called for a sitter to come take care of the baby, grabbed this book of hers, and made a drink to enjoy by the pool while the boys played. My plan seemed so good.
In a way that I now see as divine, this was a combo platter for the ages: a personal funk running into its second year, me being in my early days of therapy (more on that in a second), the decision to read a book that would trigger many of the insecurities that lived and breathed in the funk and the therapy, all while having a few drinks—my issue-avoidance specialty at this point.
It was a perfect storm.
I got to chapter 5, the one that paints a less-than-ideal picture of our early years and casts me in a light I’m not proud of, and I poured less soda with the vodka when I made the next drink. By the time I got to the chapter about how much we struggled in our sex life, I stopped pouring soda at all.
We were at the beginning of a twelve-day vacation, and though Rachel got better on day three, I never recovered. I withdrew even more than I had already withdrawn. I got up in the morning, put on headphones, and went on a long run. When I came back from that run, I kept those headphones on, and, against the picturesque backdrop of Hawaiian perfection, turned on a baseball video game I’d brought and shut myself inside with another drink while my family enjoyed the beachfront view. I showed up like an ass for the entirety of that vacation, spiraling to the lowest point of the valley I’d been heading down for quite some time.
Rachel loves to explore a new place, and one morning, when she suggested she was excited to explore the island and hit the farmer’s market, I told her I was going to “just chill at the house.” That look on her face haunts my dreams. I want to make a joke about it here, but, honestly, I’m sad for that dude not showing up for something so simple. It’s embarrassing. It sucked. I knew it in the midst of it, knew it on the flight home, and really knew it when we got back to our house and had the talk.
There will be a handful of moments you look back on that fundamentally changed your life—when you met your partner, your decision to take a job that ended up propelling you forward, things like that. This talk, this decision we made—that my wife made—to wade into and have a hard, hard conversation about the trajectory of our lives, that was one of those moments for me.
The day after Hawaii, we sat on our bed and Rachel worked against every ounce of muscle memory in her being. We’re both recovering codependents and confrontation on this scale isn’t something either of us had mastered, but the stakes were too high to worry about that. This was going down. She laid it out in such simple terms, but those terms rocked me to my core.
“I’m going to reach for a better version of myself every day. I’m going to do it whether you decide to do it or not. Personal growth is one of the most important values in my life, so I’m going to pursue it every single day. Are you going to choose to grow every day, or are you going to tread water? If you aren’t growing and I am, in three months, will we have as much to talk about on date night? In six months, will we still make out as often? In a year, will we still be going on dates? In three years, will we still be married?”
Dagger. To. The. Heart.
Someone should have yelled “clear” before she hit me with the paddles to the chest, it was that fast. Through a pool of I’m-embarrassed-I’m-sobbing-this-much tears, I realized it was up to me to make a choice. Did I want to grow, or did I want to die? Did I want to rise to the level of who I knew I could be? Who God made me to be? Did I want to have an exceptional marriage, be a present father?
Of course I did. I always had. I’d lost my way, but now I knew it more clearly than ever. I knew it because, for the first time, I’d been forced to visualize the possible future that would result from my inaction. The future that sat in front of me if I didn’t take this seriously, if I didn’t take massive action to change what I was doing—or not doing. And here’s the thing: even though our most likely scenario was a world where I didn’t make changes and simply lived in a marriage where we drifted apart, I still forced myself to imagine the absolute worst case, in vivid detail, because I needed the leverage of the most brutal things I could think of to get my ass off the mat. Not having my best friend by my side. Switching weekends with who had the kids once we separated. Continuing to withdraw without my right hand there to hold up a mirror. I saw the overweight, unshaven, barely sober, lonely version of myself that could be if I didn’t snap out of whatever it was that was holding me down.
It made me sad. It made me angry.
I felt shame and disappointment.
It was just the thing I needed.
As the kids say, I was shook.
Pain can be incredible leverage. The possibility of underutilizing your potential can be incredible leverage. So can brutal, obvious truth. The idea that you could be more but got in your own way should wake you up in the middle of the night. The idea that you could have been more and might look back at the end of your life with regret should be the single greatest motivator you can tap into.
It seems cavalier to say that I didn’t ever think about me and Rachel getting divorced—I honestly hadn’t—and I’m going to bet that most people don’t give a ton of thought to it before they find themselves past a point of no return and wake up to see they’ve become irreconcilable. The notion of “irreconcilable differences” as a rationale for divorce was something I’d heard about but never given much thought to. It frankly seemed like a convenient term for people who didn’t want to work hard enough on staying together. How naive of me. When I’m honest, it’s clear now that we were in the earliest stages of a path that leads down that irreconcilable road, where a couple doesn’t know each other anymore, doesn’t share the same set of values for their life or their relationship. By grace, we were wading into confrontation while reconciliation was still something we could accomplish together.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d been a good husband and father, but I’d careened into a slump that threatened everything I’d built, everything we’d built. And, to put a finer point on it, I’d been “good,” but my family deserved “great.” I’d been “good,” and they deserved “exceptional.” That vision of my future where I’m not as close to my wife and kids—that created urgency.
It forced hard conversations with my wife.
It required some difficult looks in the mirror.
Desperate-times-desperate-measures kind of stuff.
And it opened me up to “personal development” as a thing I might need to get out of that rut.
I could puke just thinking about it.
Before I tell you what happened next, let’s rewind a few months before Hawaii when Rachel took her entire team to a four-day personal-development conference—a full-on immersion with all the music and fanfare. She’d been spending more and more time reading books about personal growth and was excited for what the opportunity to grow her team might look like at an event like this. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get the books she’d been reading or the impulse to attend a conference, so I eye-rolled behind her back and left her to live her best life (while I continued the descent into my worst). I was suspicious of this kind of event and these kinds of teachers. I honestly thought they were charlatans, peddling feel-good mysticism to weak souls.
If I’m totally truthful, I worried she’d come back talking about this cool cult we had to join. Fortunately for me, it was way worse.
My wife came back on fire. She wanted to jump around and do all these inside-baseball things that only people who’d been kidnapped for four days knew about, and this thing I didn’t understand turned into this thing I didn’t like. I didn’t like that she was on fire. It’s a terrible thing to think, but I didn’t. Not because I didn’t want her to be her very best self, but because it exaggerated the distance between her now new-and-better self and where I was. That contrast felt worse than it ever had.
She started waking up at 5:00 a.m. to get a jump start on the day, write her books, get her exercise in, and do all the things before the kids were awake. 5:00 a.m. Every morning.
What was in that Kool-Aid? I figured it would wear off, but it didn’t. In a move I give her credit for now, even though it really frustrated me (which I expressed with my exaggerated grunts when I’d roll over as she got up), she never stopped. She made a decision to keep doing what she knew was going to make her a better person tomorrow, and she did it even though it was bugging the crap out of me. That choice—the decision to unapologetically reach for a better version of herself—had an effect on me over time. What started as anger (obviously, in hindsight, fueled by my insecurity that she might outgrow me if she continued to evolve) slowly gave way to curiosity.
What the heck has gotten into her?
How is she still so motivated?
How can she keep doing so much better when I seem to be doing so much worse?
I had no clear answers. I was struggling to know where to begin. I’d been able to figure things out on my own for so long that it was hard to admit I might actually need help to get out of this muck I felt stuck in. At this point, I started to ask questions. I was finally willing to address this space between who I was and who I wanted to be—this space between Rachel growing and me dying. It was a catalyst for me to take a first step toward therapy.
“The best way out, is always through.”1 Poet Robert Frost is one of few influences from college that I’ll still quote today. As it turned out, I had to get into it and work through it if I was going to be able to get out of it. Dang it, Robert Frost.
So, now, a few months removed from her team revival and about a month before vodka-ville in Hawaii, I started my time on a couch. For me, getting unstuck took a lot of hard conversations and even more work. I learned how exhausting it is pretending like everything’s great when it isn’t. I learned that, as much as it is possible to change your life for the better, before any of that can happen, you have to dig into what is keeping you from a more exceptional life in the first place. You have to do the hard work of identifying and acknowledging the stories you tell yourself that control your life and keep you running in place.
Starting therapy is hard. You’re picking at scabs or looking at scars, maybe for the first time in a long time. Many of them are from long ago but maybe haven’t totally been dealt with or healed.
It’s a bit raw.
You’re making yourself vulnerable.
I’m doing a terrible job selling therapy.
But honestly, it’s work before it’s extraordinary. I was in the work phase.
I had an unfavorable outlook on this whole idea of therapy. I mean, if I went to the gym, I’d tell everyone I knew about it, probably complain about how sore I was to remind everyone that I went. I’d even post videos of me swinging the battle ropes on Instagram to make sure my being at the gym was known to all. But therapy? I couldn’t imagine bragging about therapy. I felt sorry for people who needed therapy. There’s shame wrapped up in needing it. At least there was for me.
Who needs therapy? Before I went, I was positive I knew the answer. Crazy people. Weak people. Broken people. People who don’t have supportive people in their lives. Women (ladies reading this, I was a caveman then). Not men.
So much of what was holding me back at the time came from how I (and I think most of us) grew up believing men were “supposed to be.” How I showed up as a husband, father, employee, human—so much was connected in some way to societal expectations, either how manhood was modeled for me or how being a man was taught to me by the world around me. This collection of experiences laid a foundation for how to be, telling me the type of “manliness” society calls for and defining masculinity according to the models from my youth.
This was an ideal I chased but never quite achieved. I’m the son of a contractor, and I can’t nail two boards together to save my life. I don’t know how to hunt or fish. I cry even thinking about the end of Rudy. Does that make me the right or the wrong kind of man?
Ironically, the one thing I thought I knew about being a man was that real men had their lives together. Real men didn’t need help. Real men certainly didn’t need to spend an hour a week with a counselor.
News flash: That’s total crap. It just is. It’s a lie based on expectations that have been reinforced generation to generation and hardwired into our brains. Failure makes us weak, or It’s on us men to fix everything, or Vulnerability is for soft people. All are ideas we need to challenge (and I will in this book). I needed an interruption to my regularly scheduled programming, a departure from what this society dictates as right and wrong. I needed a tune-up.
If the warning light on your car comes on, you take it to a mechanic to get the car checked out. Well, the warning lights in my life had been flashing, and I’d been breaking the warning lights rather than finding a mechanic. I broke them by regressing into a lesser version of myself and muting the things (do I dare call them feelings?) bubbling up that I didn’t like—with headphones, long runs, full drinks, video games, and every other form of withdrawal.
I’d become so good at pushing away my feelings that I didn’t have a handle on what was actually wrong. This conversation on a couch, facilitated by a stranger whose only job was objectivity and lending an ear, rebuilt the warning-light systems I’d broken and gave me a fighting chance at addressing what was keeping me from the sense of fulfillment I was in search of.
Here’s the truth: You can stick to your guns and keep believing that “real men don’t . . . ,” or you can be fulfilled. You can feel uncomfortable about asking for help, or you can grow. You can feel strange about letting your guard down and becoming vulnerable (gasp), or you can connect with the people you love on a level that actually matters.
So I got over myself and saw a therapist. And it was good. Yes, it was freaking weird and uncomfortable at first. I felt dread when I knew I was heading in, and I stumbled at first at being honest and open. I had to get into a rhythm, out of my head, and past the worry of what other people might think if they knew. And then, a couple of sessions in, when I wasn’t paying attention, therapy was suddenly no longer a negative thing. I even started looking forward to it. It was a space where I could sit with someone who didn’t judge me, didn’t correct me, didn’t try to explain things, and frankly didn’t even really try to help fix anything (at least at the beginning). She listened, asked the right questions, and sat back as I threw up all the crap I’d been struggling with.
What did we get into on that couch? The big questions that came up as I was crossing a crazy bridge, the bridge that is going from your thirties to your forties. This is an interesting season for a man. At least it was for this man. Twenty to forty had more or less gone as my twenty-year-old self had imagined, but at some point, I started asking questions. Those big, existential questions you only usually ask at milestone birthdays—though this time they didn’t last for just the birthday week.
What am I on this planet for?
What does it all mean?
Is this really as good as it gets?
What was the meaning of the last episode of Lost?
Okay, there is no answer to the last question, but the others were coming up on a loop. That loop was running at a time when I’d stopped growing. I didn’t identify that at the time, but, looking back, the absence of growth lining up with my milestone fortieth birthday was a catalyst for a spectacular meltdown.
I never thought the midlife crisis was a legitimate thing. For me it was a thing. A gnarly, batten-down-the-hatches kind of thing that wasn’t fun as it unfolded but that produced some extraordinary fruit. I mean, yes, it prompted me to ridiculously invest a couple of years and way too much money into a 1969 Bronco that we now affectionally call the Incredible Hulk, but, on a deeper level, the experience of going into that valley is something I’m grateful for because of how it changed the way I think about growth. Now that I’m climbing out, I realize I’m climbing something that doesn’t have a peak. I appreciate that I’m on a never-ending growth journey.
Therapy softened the soil. It took a thing that was taboo, turned it on its head, and became a negative-turned-positive. It opened me up to considering that there could be something for me in this personal-development space.
As it turned out, Rachel bought us tickets for a personal-growth conference before we went to Hawaii. I had just started going to therapy, was wading into my muck, and, against my better judgment, I said yes to a thing that I knew had worked well for her but that I was still unbelievably skeptical could work for me. I did it to make her happy. It still felt cheesy and cultish and, in some strange way, an affront to the idea that church and the faith I grew up in were enough to make me whole—like seeking out a teacher who wasn’t a pastor somehow marginalized my beliefs. Plus, I believed the stigma that self-help was for broken people.
When I think about it now, it doesn’t make a ton of sense. This stigma that existed in my mind, or in society generally, didn’t apply to all men in all spaces. The greatest athletes in the world? They know they can always improve, and they show up in the off-season to shoot free throws when no one else is in the arena and hit the weight room like it’s their part-time job . . . and nobody thinks they’re broken. It’s the same for the ambitious young account exec who gets an MBA or the tradesman who picks up new skills on the jobsite. Being better and reaching for that better version of themselves is not something to be ashamed of. It gets them to a place where they score more points, earn more money, stay employed longer, have status and respect.
So why don’t the same rules apply when it comes to reaching for more internally? Working out a muscle in your arm doesn’t imply you had bad arms before they were strong, but for some reason digging into why we do the things we do, how we’re motivated, our habits, what we focus on—that work seems to call into question something at our core that defines us as either strong or weak, fit for more or destined for less, born with it or not. But can I let you all in on a little secret? All of us could benefit from reaching for more internally, from improving our mental health. All. Of. Us. Even you.
What I’d come to find out is that, no, self-help is not for broken people. I was struggling with brokenness but not broken. In fact, none of us is truly broken. We can suffer through seasons of hardship—we all have areas that are or have been fractured—but we are not broken in and of ourselves. If we know this bigger picture, we can admit the places where we are damaged and apply a salve to those wounds. And, once we get out of our distressed places, self-help is also for whole and healed people who want a fuller, richer life. It took admitting where I was damaged and applying that salve to see how it could help. That evidence revealed a huge gift: once I was out of my rut, I saw that the continued application of those tools can also take a healthy version of me further than I’ve ever been before, as a husband, as a father, as a man.
Now here’s the thing: if you’re already super into personal development—you’re up early working on mindset, writing in a gratitude journal, listening to every growth podcast, searching for meaning with Viktor Frankl and all the rest—then none of this may be new. If that’s you, I’ve got some even better books from more accomplished authors in the self-help space I’d like to refer you to in the back of this book. But if you’ve ever been skeptical of these tools or thought of those teachers as modern-day snake-oil salesmen who get rich by convincing insecure people to fork over their cash, I get you. I used to be you.
In part, I’m writing this for the person who isn’t buying what they’re selling, and I’m writing it because I was there just a moment ago. But for the last few years I’ve benefited from investing in and reaching for a better version of myself using the tools I once made fun of. I’ve changed my entire life—left my job, moved my family from Los Angeles to Austin, found my purpose, lived more fully into and up to the potential given to me by my Creator—and it wouldn’t have happened if not for me saying yes to that one thing I swore I’d never say yes to.
I went to that personal-development conference.
About a week before the conference, I was out back with our boys attending to one of our nightly rituals called “ask any question,” where our kids ask mostly disgusting questions that I promise to answer honestly. Nothing was off the table, but that night my middle son, Sawyer, who was seven at the time, asked an innocuous “What are you most afraid of?” He was fishing for tarantulas or scorpions, and out of my mouth fell, “Not living up to my potential.” I teared up a little bit writing that sentence, and I don’t even care if you judge me. I’d been living below my potential for such a long time, living into my very worst fear.
So, as Rachel and I took off for the conference, I had that conversation with the new loop running in my head. I had a mission. I was going to go to this stupid conference, and I was going to go all in. I was going to do it, jump up and down, drink the Kool-Aid, and figure out how in the world I could live up to this high bar of living into the potential I’d been given.
Yes, in the end, there were parts that were cheesy and, yes, I jumped up and down a lot and, yes, it was uncomfortable and, yes, it absolutely changed my life. There were plenty of things that weren’t for me, but I have to give credit where credit is due—that conference fundamentally changed how I think about self-help. It offered tools that allowed me to better understand why I do and feel the things that I do, it shone a light on the lies I was believing that were holding me back, and it gave clarity on the roadmap I could follow if I wanted to take control of my life.
I came back on fire. The same kind of fire Rachel had come back with the first time around. I started getting up at 5:00 a.m. so I could get a jump start on my day, develop an exercise routine, and focus on some of my personal goals before the day began. I started thinking differently about what I wanted in my life, how I was going to get there, and whose permission I needed to chase after it. I started asking questions about where else I might find fuel like the fuel I’d just received and, in doing so, started a journey that would introduce me to other people focused on growth—authors and podcasts and couches that would change my thinking about what I could or couldn’t be, how much was possible, and what societal constructs I needed to live inside, or, as it turned out for me, to live outside, to find fulfillment.
But the biggest thing I’m learning during my immersion in self-help is the tie between growth and fulfillment. You can find things short-term to make you happy, but if you want to truly be fulfilled you need to be growing. And in order to grow, you need to put in the time, do the work, and learn to kick the lies putting limits on who and what you can be.
In this book we’ll deconstruct the lies that kept me stuck in the hopes it helps you avoid my mistakes. It’s the same approach my wife, Rachel, used in her book Girl, Wash Your Face, though here it comes through the lens of a person not wired like her, with my motivationally challenged fixed-mindset leading to hyper pragmatism and an always-skeptical wiring. In the same way her book connected with readers who related with her stories, I hope my stories about fighting these lies might help you. In fact, we just debunked the first one here: the lie that self-help is for broken people.
Get Out of Your Own Way is a call to arms for anyone who’s interested in a more fulfilled life, who, along the way, may have lost their “why” and now wonders how to unlock their potential or show up better for the ones they love. In doing the hard work of embracing growth and examining what lies I believed and why I believed them, I’ve become a better man for me, and for the relationships that mean the most to me in life. You can too. Make the choice to reach for more. The table is set. Now let’s get to the lies we all need to stop believing to get there.
MY WORK IS WHO I AM
Ironically, the low point in my professional career was when I had the highest paying job and the most significant title I’d ever had. I was the head of sales at the Walt Disney Company’s movie studio. In the simplest of terms, as president of distribution, I sold movies to theaters. I’d been doing this for seven years of a seventeen-year Disney career, and we were on a run. I don’t mean we had some hit movies; I mean we had all the hit movies. We set every record. How could we not? I came into the job on the heels of the company’s acquisition of Pixar, and not long after settling in we acquired Marvel Studios . . . and then LucasFilm.
In what will likely be regarded a hundred years from now as the beginning of the golden age for any movie studio ever, the collection of Disney’s live-action films (like Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book) and animated films (like Frozen and Zootopia), combined with the superhuman consistency from Pixar (Toy Story 3, Inside Out), the unprecedented Marvel run (roughly $10 billion in box-office earnings during my time), and the phenomenon of LucasFilm (all things Star Wars) came together to make box-office history. While I was distribution chief, we had the biggest year in the history of the business. And followed that with the second biggest year ever. We released nine of the ten most successful opening weekends ever. We had the biggest overseas numbers. We established our brands as the most prolific in entertainment and in doing so built something unlike anything the movie industry had seen up to that point.
I had the best team in the business, by a stretch. I was surrounded by the most incredible leadership team I’d ever worked with and was reporting to people whom I not only respected but who created an environment that people genuinely loved working in. Being involved with these epic brands also meant getting to collaborate with some of the greatest storytellers ever to work in this business. The talented actors who brought these roles to life? They were part of the mix too—going from people you dreamed of meeting one day to people you were picking up a past conversation with the next time you were at a premiere together.
All of it came with the romantic notions of Hollywood and the red carpets and the after parties. And yet it was the low point of your professional career? you may be asking.
Are you playing the world’s smallest violin yet?
Do you need your head examined?
Well, yes, probably. But I can see clearly now that this lie that my work is who I am was keeping me from becoming who I was meant to be. How in the world is that possible?
It turns out that selling The Avengers and Star Wars to movie theaters isn’t that hard. You don’t need to fully understand the economics of how movie theaters work to appreciate that they need big movies to stay in business. So when you’re the sales guy asking them to take your movie at a certain rate, there’s a little less effort required than, say, my predecessor had to put in to sell Wild Hogs. Now, that’s no dig on John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and Tim Allen on dang motorcycles, and, yes, I’ll watch anything where Ray Liotta is a bad guy, but the effort required to get a good deal for a movie about the midlife crisis version of Sons of Anarchy is wildly different than asking those same theaters to take The Force Awakens.
There was the crux of my unfulfillment. I was getting straight-A grades and didn’t need to study. As the slate continued to grow and the teams hit their stride, turning out hits became more common and the fleeting effort required to make a sale left me feeling something that, for the longest time, I couldn’t put my finger on. I got the biggest bonuses of my life, the most recognition of my career, and was the envy of others who had to work harder to do a similar job at other studios; and yet, because of that contrast, I was miserable.
I’m sure there’s a part of you that wants to punch me in my miserable face. What kind of high-class problems are you whining about, Dave? I get it. But here’s the thing: if you find yourself staying in the job you’ve had because it’s become your identity or you’re worried that pushing yourself into something that challenges you but requires shedding parts of that identity might not be received well by others, we’ve got plenty in common. I let the value others placed on my job or my title influence how I felt about myself, how present I was (or felt like I needed to be) at home, and, more importantly, how I pushed myself to fully use the potential I’d been given to show up for my life.
In my professional life I’ve been an assistant, coordinator, publicist, tour manager, producer, rep, director, varying levels of vice president, president, and now CEO. I have had all those titles over the twenty-five years I’ve been working, and even though they described the level of work I was doing, they didn’t describe who I was. They didn’t give me my value. At the time, I believed that they did, but believing it suggested that without the title, I was inherently less. That if I didn’t have the right title or get promoted fast enough, I wasn’t as good a person, or as able to contribute to society, or as capable of measuring up to the person I hoped to be.
Yes, I was proud of my ability to move from one level to the next, but in allowing my title and my worth in society to become so connected in my mind, I gave away my power to own my self-worth. This truth, this uncoupling of what I did professionally with who I am as a person, has created a long wished-for freedom from the worry of what other people think. And it has given me a forced focus on the reality I struggle to see or believe at times:
I can be a good man regardless of where I work, but where I work and what I do does not in and of itself make me a good man.
I can provide for my family in ways that make sense to me, but as I find ways professionally to provide, becoming more successful doesn’t mean I’m justified in doing less at home as husband and father.
I can earn respect regardless of job title, and sometimes, it turns out, by abandoning that identity. It’s on me, not my employer, to push me into places that help me grow.
I am deserving of love regardless of what my business card says.
I am enough before the commute begins.
But even when we hear or read truths like these, sometimes it is still hard to believe them and replace the lies we’ve held on to for so long. Why is that?
“When you think back to when you were a kid, which one of your parents did you crave love from most, and who did you have to be to get it?”
That was the welcome mat on the first day of that life-changing experience at my first personal-development conference. I’d never given it much thought. I’m sure most of us haven’t. How we behave, both consciously and unconsciously, has roots that go back to our earliest memories as children and the kind of people we needed to be to get the reaction we were hoping for. The reaction most of us hope for is love, attention, affection, security, or some combination of these things, and the action we take to get it when we’re five years old turns out to be the same one we use when we’re ten and twenty and in the midst of a midlife crisis.
From my earliest memories, achievement was one of the things I associated with love. If I could collect the most trophies and lead the most social clubs and get selected for the honor society and make the sports teams and recite the Bible verses and get the good job, I’d get the pat on the back, the “we’re proud of you” hug I craved. Those achievements were my road to love and, like so many others, I chased all the things to try and get it.
In hindsight, it’s not like my parents really cared that much whether I got the best grades or had an extra sash on my graduation gown. But the reality I’d created in my mind, that achievement equaled love, drove so many of the decisions I made in every aspect of my life.
This pursuit of achievement drove me to jump from job to job inside the entertainment industry, each new job a new chance to show my parents and friends and peers that I was worthy of their notice. Love me! Not because of who I am behind this job title but because of this job title. Yep, it motivated me plenty, but, dang, is that an unhealthy way to go through life.
It’s not like I knew it at the time. Heck, before I’d spent some time considering why I do what I do, it never really occurred to me to try to map out the things I had experienced in my life to better understand how those moments shaped me. Until I started digging into personal development and sat in therapy and did some work, I believed the illusion that I was in control of my actions. That’s not to say that getting to a place where you’re in more control isn’t possible, but I came to realize that until you’re able to better understand why you do the things you do, it’s more likely that unconscious habits will kick in when life sneaks up around the corner and kicks you in the shin.
This lie that my work is who I am has shown up time and time again since my very first job. This book isn’t long enough, nor the stories interesting enough, to go through them all, so instead let me give you three times during my journey at Disney when this phenomenon presented itself: once at the beginning, once in the middle, and once at the end.
Early on at Disney I was placed into a job where I felt insecure about being the best fit. Only a couple of years in, I held a role where other candidates were more qualified, and I created a narrative in my head that everyone else in the organization was questioning my readiness and worthiness for the opportunity. I recognize now that I was projecting my own insecurities onto these people I was sure were judging me, but that’s not what it felt like at the time. I worried constantly about being exposed as unqualified, and I had this crazy certainty that others were critical of my every move.
I knew logically that being insecure didn’t serve me. That logic, though, was challenged by the ridiculous worry of a little boy from years earlier whose subconscious thoughts still found a way to voice lies. The name-calling from fourth grade wouldn’t give way to the accomplishments of this grown adult. As much as you think it’s you against the world, in these moments when you try to break away from the insecurities of your past, it truly ends up being you against yourself.
I was fortunate to have good coaches. The mistakes that came from listening to these voices of insecurity allowed those who cared for my development to shine a light into this area. That allowed me to be present in a way that was better for my teams, the bosses I was serving, and ultimately my personal brand. It was during this early bigger-than-I-was-ready-for job transition that a mentor dropped one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.
Because I was worried that I’d be revealed as being in over my head at the time, whenever I found myself in a meeting and there was the slightest pause, I’d insert something that sounded smart (or at least sounded smart in my mind) so I could show the room how truly qualified I was for this role that I’d been given. Whatever that spark of brilliance was in that moment, it didn’t necessarily have anything to do with my new role, or even the subject being discussed in the meeting, but, boy, did I think it was showing everyone how wrong they were to question my ability to do this new job.
After one particularly transparent showcase of my insecurities where I inserted every wise observation I could think of, my boss asked me to come to his office for a quick chat. As we walked down the hall, I wondered if I would get the traditional high five or if this could be one of those times we went all the way with a high ten. Was he going to give me a special certificate for my contributions that went above and beyond in a meeting? Would there be a statue unveiled of me delivering so much wisdom that we’d now memorialize that meeting for all time in bronze?
We walked into his office, the door closed, and he very calmly turned around and said four words that pierced my baby soul:
“Shut the f*ck up.”
It was like the end of the Mortal Kombat video game I played as a kid.
Finish him. Fatality.
It was gutting. This person whose opinion I cared so much about and who I wanted so badly to think I was doing a good job just kneecapped me. He went on, “You are doing a great job. You are the best person for this role, and I wouldn’t have put you there if that weren’t the case. Stop worrying about what anyone thinks and prove what you can do with your results.”
Oh. Okay. That sounds good.
It turns out, every time I opened my mouth in this attempt to prove my worthiness, I was taking a step in the opposite direction.
The advice served me well and was the beginning of a journey that had me taking new opportunities, making new mistakes, and finding, in a mentor, a mirror that could be held up to keep me accountable. Ultimately that would help me find better ways to stay out of my own way. I became more comfortable owning the spaces I didn’t understand, yielded more and more to expertise when it appeared, and made a pivot from achievement being about my personal accomplishments to being about my ability to team-build and problem-solve by committee.
Fast-forward a decade to when I was given the opportunity to run international theatrical distribution. It was a role far bigger than my résumé would have qualified me for, but it was a training ground that, in four or five years, could make me a candidate to take the role of head of global distribution. I grabbed my passport and got to work. But then, after only about nine months, due to a string of circumstances that could only be described as a mix of hard work, good timing, serendipity, and providence, I was thrust into the global head sales job.
The first three years were incredible, in large part because they were the most challenging. I walked into rooms where I was the least experienced person on an almost hourly basis and asked unbelievably dumb questions, did my best to listen, and was the beneficiary of the grace of teams who were willing to put up with my ignorance and teach me well. Some did it despite knowing that they would have been better candidates for my job. Most did it while stifling an eye roll.
Still, I had the job and the responsibility that came with it. In another layer of this lie of believing my work equaled my identity, I hoped my appointment to this role would affirm my inherent value and would, therefore, afford me the same kind of influence my predecessor had been afforded, a faith in my perspective, or at a minimum a willingness to give me the benefit of the doubt. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I got a preview of how hard those first few years would be when we needed to pick an opening weekend on the calendar for one of our upcoming movies. In the film business, talent of a certain caliber had contractual consultation rights for when their movies should come out, so in one of the final training-wheels moments before I assumed my new role, my predecessor, Chuck, had me lead his last meeting where we pitched Johnny Depp’s team the rationale behind the date of his next blockbuster with us.
I studied all night and came ready to wow this assembled crowd with my knowledge of the calendar and the history of the movie business and the reasons this date on this weekend we’d picked would be better than any other date. I walked into the room and sat across from Johnny’s lawyer and agent and manager and publicist and sister—the crew you had to convince. I knew them by reputation or photos on a red carpet but hadn’t met them. Chuck, on the other hand, was embraced by each as they played a game of inside jokes and talks of the next time they’d golf together.
I slayed the meeting. I gave the most eloquent and compelling eight minutes of discourse on the reasons this date was the most perfect in all the land. I did it barely using notes and didn’t need the help of my more experienced and familiar-to-them predecessor. I did all but land the plane with jazz hands, I was so proud of my articulate explanation. When I finished, I looked across the table and saw zero nonverbal cues. They looked like cyborgs. They did not smile or nod or stand up and applaud. They just sat there with blank stares on their faces.
After a dramatically long pause, the elder statesman in the room drew his gaze to my right and, in a deep, calm voice, said, “Chuck, what do you think?” Chuck smiled wryly under his classic mustache and said, “Well, in my business, this is a good date.” And, to a person, the entire room in unison said, “Sounds good.” The trust they’d built in Chuck over a couple decades of these meetings trumped every single part of my smooth delivery.
I was mortified. I was frustrated. What did this say about who I was if the people I was tasked with getting on board didn’t see the authority of my position and therefore the value in me and my recommendations?
It said exactly what you think it did: I hadn’t earned their immediate nods. It was an important hazing I needed to go through. It would take years of relationship building and expertise gathering before I got my version of “sounds good” from a room of people with contractual consultation rights. But this initial meeting humbled me and forced me to remember the fact that my job title did not equal my personal value, nor did it mean other people would automatically accept all my ideas.
In those early years in the role, I had to constantly remind myself that it wasn’t a title or role that defined my ability to deliver value; it was my effort, my creativity in turning my inexperience into a fresh-eyes asset. Outside the office, my identity was not dependent on what work I did—to the people who really mattered, this was the least important consideration. Once I was able to clearly see these truths, I was able to come back with a healthier mindset and a fire in my belly to run faster and work harder, this time for the purpose of stewarding my job well rather than to feel better about myself or my worthiness in the role.
Those first three years as sales head were full of humbling learning experiences where my bosses and teams held my hand through teachable moments. I grew as the strength of the film slate grew, and, in what now feels like the blink of an eye, the drinking-from-a-fire-hydrant start turned into a drinking-from-a-water-fountain experience as I got the hang of things.
Being great at what you do is the goal, isn’t it? In my last two years working at Disney, the records we were setting and the deals we were striking really were things to celebrate. I knew what I was doing, had the team and the films to fudge the rest, and got to a place where I was good at my job. Really good. Best-run-in-history, envy-of-the-industry kind of good. But the affirmation and adoration that was coming from the outside was so mismatched with the sense of dissatisfaction I was feeling on the inside. Why was I so much happier when the job was a struggle and so miserable when the going got good?
In the last two years of having the job of everyone else’s dreams, I put responsibility for my unfulfillment on other people. It was Disney’s fault for not giving me a bigger challenge, my boss’s fault for not listening to my request for more responsibility, HR’s fault for not advocating for me in new spaces with other business leads. It was my colleagues’ fault for attempting to convince me that my feelings would be quieted in time, my industry’s fault for assigning value to the role, my parents’ fault for praising my accomplishments, my family’s fault for needing the compensation that came from it. I couldn’t grow because of other people. I couldn’t leave because of other people. Other people.
I resented that they weren’t doing more to fix my feelings.
Ridiculous. It took forever to realize that it was on me to fix this, to unwind this lie that kept my profession so integrally connected to my identity.
I am responsible for finding fulfillment in my job, for being happy with what I do, for knowing my value regardless of my title, the company I work for, the salary I make, or the way anyone looks at all of it. It took falling into a darker place to get the push I needed to address this more fully. I had to find the motivation to chase growth from within rather than relying on anything external.
It came down to intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. I came to appreciate that you and you alone have to feel the call on your heart to grow and pursue a life that’s better than the one you already have, even as it means shedding the identity you’ve become comfortable with in the office. If you can’t let go of that identity you’ve allowed to become intertwined with your job in order to chase true happiness and fulfillment, if you don’t take responsibility for yourself and the significant steps needed to get there, you’ll likely stay stuck. And it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to cling to a false identity and sacrifice the more your life could be.
Pray for the wisdom to understand your potential, and for the strength, will, and drive to do the work required to bring those gifts to the world in a way that disconnects your job title from your ability to deliver impact. Though it took time and some bumpy roads along the way, this was the answer I’d been looking for. And once I was able to push past the fear and debunk the lies holding me back, it unlocked everything.
In what many saw as a crazy move, I quit. I left a great job full of security, opting out of a guaranteed multimillion-dollar annual salary and a position full of clout and prestige. I walked away to chase dreams with my wife. In a leap of faith, before her big book sold a single copy, we made the decision to move our family from LA to a small town just south of Austin, Texas.
Since making our move, I’ve grown more confident in who I am. And as much as my job is a component of who I am, I’ve found happiness in letting my actions as a supportive husband, involved father, and active ally for causes we believe in do the work in establishing my identity.
The truth that counters the lie that I’m defined by my job?
I am defined by my impact.
Impact is agnostic to job title. Impact can come irrespective of the name of your company. There’s freedom in untangling what you do from who you are. Once you know your “why,” you can find fulfillment in being challenged to chase it, no matter what your business card says.
THINGS THAT HELPED ME
1.I redefined how I measured success in my work. I’d been using a measuring stick that was more about what other people thought than how my potential was being used or how passionate I was about the work. But I shifted my focus to what really matters when it comes to work. Impact matters. Waking up on fire for the work matters. Feeling alive and whole while doing the work matters. Providing for your family can happen either way: in places where you aren’t challenged or fueled and in places where it feels like a calling with maximum opportunity to use your gifts for others. Choosing to focus on the latter has made all the difference.
2.I accepted responsibility for my career growth. For too many years I sat stuck in a rut that I believed was caused by someone or something else. After having been the fortunate beneficiary of growth that I didn’t have to drive myself, I didn’t have the muscle memory to catalyze my own opportunities when things slowed. It wasn’t until I took full responsibility for the work that only I could do to push myself that I started to see my skills tested in new, less comfortable ways that produced the growth I’d been missing.
3.I worried first about my reputation as a human in the workplace. When I felt myself descending because of the grip my career had on me and my identity, I made a conscious choice to advocate for others and be an ally. My voice as a leader of teams, the role I played as a mentor, the opportunities I chased with work-based philanthropy, or my willingness to join a task force—all afforded a connection and value delivery that transformed how I felt about my work (as much as it had a nice side benefit of building my personal brand).
THE THINGS THAT HAVE WORKED ARE THE THINGS THAT WILL WORK
I was a great baseball player growing up. During T-ball and coach pitch, that is. I mean, I could really hit well when they placed the ball on a tee or grooved a nice slow pitch right down the middle. When they introduced live pitching from other small humans, though, my game took a step back. I was using the same approach for the at-bats from the previous season, and—surprise—it wasn’t working.
So, I made adjustments, changed my stance, and moved up in the batter’s box . . . and it worked. I recovered. I was great at playing baseball again. I had it down. These new things I knew would take me on to a long and prestigious professional career.
And then they started throwing curveballs.
While writing this book, I was in the early days of the biggest leap of my professional career. I’d spent two decades working in business environments that were big, or at the very least much bigger than the small-business arena I’m working in now. The situations that would come up in those big-business settings were the ones that had always come up, because those worlds were mostly about traversing trails that had already been traveled at different companies over and over since the beginning of time. Now I’m in this new role at a company that’s less about trail management and more about trailblazing.
I left what I knew for what I needed.
I jumped into something foreign for the opportunity to be challenged, and the experience has been harder than I thought it might be. It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do in pushing me, but it’s coming at the expense of my comfort. It’s coming at the expense of my ability to control all the variables.
Of course it is. It’s supposed to.
I’d been telling myself and anyone who would listen how important it is to push into new, unfamiliar work settings for the sake of growth. Over and over I’d been talking about the virtues of sitting in uncomfortable scenarios in order to be challenged by new and different sets of circumstances. Theoretically it made perfect sense. Once I actually embraced it, it really made sense. In that interim season, though, between theory and practice, I was taking the first steps toward situations where I could fail. I was living every day in an environment I wasn’t familiar with and struggled to believe the things I was preaching. These were hard days where I worried more about being found out as unqualified than I believed benefit and growth would come out of this unknown.
As it turns out, this insecure feeling you get when you venture into new spaces, find yourself in new roles, or move away from what you know for what you need has a name: imposter syndrome. It’s what happens in our brain that makes us doubt the things we’ve done, the qualifications we have—makes us worry we’ll be discovered as a fraud.
Even though I had two decades of evidence to support my qualifications for taking on this new role in my wife’s company, I struggled with the feelings of not having what it took to do the job since it was different from what I’d done previously. Despite all the things listed on my résumé, the organizations I’d led, the businesses I’d built, the way I’d been involved in things that would have suggested an abundance of competence for the job, I still found myself worrying that I’d be exposed as not having the specific set of expertise this unconventional job required.
I was walking into a company where revenues were driven by social media, publishing, digital education products, licensed merchandise and apparel, and live events. I have all this experience, but I’ve never worked specifically in any of these fields.
What’s the lead time for manufacturing? What’s a 3PL? The CRM platform? A “drip campaign”? What’s the market norm for a licensing deal with a big-box retailer? The royalty rate for a book deal with one of the top five publishing houses? What kind of tech do we need to support live coaching? What is live coaching? What is tech? I walked in with so many questions.
I’d just left a job because it wasn’t challenging enough, but my brain somehow twisted that. I found myself associating the successes of my past with serendipitous circumstances and, in doing so, stripped the impact that I, as an individual contributor, had on those successes.
I’d been incredibly successful doing what I knew for so long that I questioned my ability to do well when circumstances required me to learn and do new things.
Success can mess with you just as much as failure.
My deepest fears told me that my successes at Disney were a product of the brand, a result of the team surrounding me. Now that I was in an environment without the benefit of that name on the business card or the strength of those brands as part of my negotiating leverage, would I be shown to be a person who could only thrive when all the variables worked in my favor?
It was paralyzing. For the first six months, while I had a vision for where I wanted our business to go, it was always balanced against this anchor that held me back—a weight of insecurity that had me depending on muscle memory and what had worked for me in the past.
Things came to a head during the holidays. An unspoken frustration that had been brewing between me and my business partner (and best friend and wife) finally boiled over. She had been trying to give me time to figure it out, wanting to keep me happy, but my insecurities—and the subsequent clinging to what I knew from my previous work experience—were keeping our business from running optimally. So we had another in a series of hard conversations about what I really wanted in this role and whether the thing we’d been trying to do for the past half year was really the passion of my heart.
I was defensive. We’d built something that was generating the finances to support growing our team, impacting thousands and thousands of lives, and felt on the cusp of tipping into a mammoth enterprise whose influence would be felt around the world. I was so proud of what we’d built that hearing feedback was hard.
Two things were happening.
First, I was thinking that the things that got me here were the things that would get our company where we wanted it to go. I’d run businesses that lived inside of huge corporate environments for nearly twenty years. My last team had been composed of more than a thousand people from all around the world. My leadership style was one of empowering leaders to lead, where they’d come to me with issues and options for fixing them. I was used to flying at fifty thousand feet above the day-to-day operations. My people had been experts in their fields and often had more experience than I did, so I largely left them to do their thing while I managed the politics or stakeholders around the company or in the filmmaking community. I knew that operating style well. It had worked. But it was not an operating style that worked well for a small team in a start-up environment.
Second, I was secretly sitting in the fear that our newfound success with the Hollis Company was happening in spite of me, not because of me. I was worried that if I were to totally dig into the business, get fully invested in the details, be open to people asking for my perspective or pushing for more granular leadership, my lack of experience might actually work against this new team who, to a person, had more experience related to the job than I did—even if they didn’t have experience doing specific tasks. Good times.
I clung to what I knew. With our small team, it meant most of our leaders were waiting to bring issues to me until they’d fully vetted solutions, and by the time they’d come to me, the problems had gone from easily solvable to holy-cow-what’s-going-on kinds of issues. Even worse, because of the system I’d put into place, I wasn’t aware of the issues holding us back.
We had massive learning bumps in launching our Start Today Journal, getting our documentary on Amazon, introducing live coaching to the community, building the back end for our podcasts, and installing the technology required to handle customer service needs.
All the things.
I can now so clearly see how these potholes and subsequent learnings made us stronger as a team, but at the time, they played against my biggest insecurities about being right for this job.
To make things worse, operating out of my old playbook meant I wasn’t involved enough in the details to proactively navigate around potential bumps. I didn’t know enough about what to watch out for, and I felt insecure in admitting it. As a result, we made less money, disappointed the community more than we should have, and had most of our team running too fast on a treadmill with no end in sight.
When it came to a head, I had the benefit of a business partner who was comfortable enough pushing the issue—even if it made things uncomfortable for a little while—to give us the opportunity to make it right. I had a founder and CCO who was willing, as she had been in the past, to come forward and risk it not being easy in order for it to be better. We’d had a conversation where she’d questioned my passion for being the CEO of the company. It stung. The next day Rachel sent me an e-mail that was a hard read and a totally necessary kick in the rear. She used one of her superpowers: making things crystal clear.
I know you are passionate about building this company. I KNOW that. What I asked was whether or not you’re passionate about being CEO of a small business—it’s very different than the job you had before. I worry, because you seem to be approaching it in the same way. You seem to be doing what you know instead of asking questions, trying to learn, and growing in the areas you aren’t as strong. I admit my business weaknesses and failures all the time, because in that humility I’m able to learn and get help. It doesn’t feel like you can receive negative feedback ever. Even last night, you never owned any fault; you only blamed the team for not telling you what’s going on. Of course they should be more open than they have been, but even in that, the humble question would be, “How am I showing up as a leader in a way that makes my team afraid to come to me for help?”
You tell me I need to tell you what I want you to do—you’ve been saying that ever since we made the decision to join forces—but my frustration comes because I shouldn’t have to tell you the problems we have at work. Don’t you get that? Your team shouldn’t have to tell you the problems. You should be so in the business that you KNOW our weaknesses and can work on the strategy to make us stronger. That’s my frustration. You’re not in the business; you’re floating above it. A CEO can and should work from 50,000 feet—but not with a business, team, industry this new. Not when you’ve never done the work before. Maybe that’s not what you believe but that’s what I believe, and my frustration comes because I don’t feel like I can tell the CEO of the company I founded things I’m concerned about.
You need to grow as a leader and do the work to learn how managing a small start-up environment is different than what you’ve done before. It’s not an indictment on your character or how awesome you are; it’s just an area for improvement. Make a standing appointment to talk with the other CEOs + business heads you know. Listen to books on leadership: Leaders Eat Last, Good to Great, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership are some good ones. Find leadership or start-up podcasts, and absorb them daily. Hope is not a strategy, and right now you have no strategy to grow in this area. You love to tell the story about your old boss telling you to shut up in that meeting because it helped you grow. I know you don’t like getting feedback from me, but I’m your business partner and this is my “shut up in the meeting” e-mail. You are massively talented—and it’s not going to be enough to get you where you want to be or this company where we want it to go. We grow like warriors as fast as our business does, or we’ll never turn it into what we know it can be.
I love you.
I know. It’s magic. It felt like shit in the moment, but dang it, it did the job. These moments are the ones when my wife does the most important and hardest work in our relationship. Long ago we decided that having super honest conversations about our issues was more important than keeping each other feeling great about all things, but that doesn’t take the sting out of hearing hard truths like this. Good news . . . I trust my wife and her instinct and the experience she’s had with this community so much that, when she hits me with a two-by-four like she’s Hacksaw Jim Duggan, I listen. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.
So, out of a hard conversation came a change in approach. Just after receiving this e-mail I met with each of our team leaders and changed our operating model. We agreed as a team that I needed to ask more questions and roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty rather than expect that everything would already be taken care of.
For me, it’s been a process of unlearning two decades of a kind of leadership that made sense in one setting but didn’t in this new one. It required that I put the worry of insecurity-fueled imposter syndrome to the side and do the damn work. This doesn’t mean the experience from my past isn’t valuable. Of course it is. It simply means that the experiences from my past have to be put to use in a different kind of way. The things that got me here will not be the things that get me, our marriage, our kids, or our company where we need to go.
THINGS THAT HELPED ME
1.I had to roll up my sleeves and do the work. Rachel knows how to do the job of every single employee at the Hollis Company. She knows it, because in building it for the past fifteen years, she’s had to do every single job at one time or another. I do not yet know how to do every single job, but I’ve committed to learning. What are the “jobs” in your relationships, your household, and your place of work that you don’t yet know how to do but need to? In a world that moves as quickly as the one we’re living in, leaning on how you were raised or what you learned in school may very well make you obsolete if you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work.
2.I asked every single possible question. There can be stigma against asking questions. If you ask a question about something you don’t know, does it reveal you to be a person who doesn’t know everything? You bet. So you have to choose, like I did, whether you want to be revealed as a person who doesn’t know everything in the attempt to know more, or if you want to be ignorant and full of pride. You may convince yourself that your pride is worth not knowing as much, but you won’t go as far or have nearly the impact as the person who’s informed. Rachel models this for me every single day.
3.I let my inexperience act as an opportunity instead of a liability. In any new environment, the willingness of an experienced operator to listen, learn, and then ask questions about pieces of the process can be a massive strength. Rather than seeing my lack of experience as a barrier, I turned it around and asked whether my objectivity from having not been in the day-to-day of the operation could bring up angles that hadn’t yet occurred to the folks who had been in it for longer, and who had become too close to it. It’s like seeing the forest rather than the trees. In most cases, the blend of new eyes and old hands have produced extraordinary results.
I HAVE TO HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER
Be it at 20th Century Fox, the talent agency BNC, Merv Griffin Enterprises, or Disney, I have negotiated business deals for the better part of twenty-five years. These deals involved the biggest names and brands in entertainment, generated billions of dollars in profit, and the incremental benefit from these transactions improved the economics on “our side” by ten-digit swings. Big deals. Lots of negotiations.
When I first started, I was clumsy. I approached things with brute force and adversarial confrontation, which set a tone that didn’t always make things go as well as they should. I believed I needed to show unwavering strength at all times to get the outcome I was looking for. I believed I had to put on a facade of “having it all together” so I wouldn’t somehow compromise my negotiating position. Every single time, I’d go in combatively and the other side would come back at me with the list of reasons why my strong position wasn’t reasonable, tenable, or appropriate. It created a gulf we had to cross to reach a deal and usually strained the relationship, requiring way more work, so much more emotion, and often resulted in poorer deals.
Then I watched 8 Mile. Yes, the movie about Eminem as B-Rabbit, a white rapper in Detroit trying to make his way out on the back of winning rap battles. That 8 Mile. The end of the movie features an underground tournament championship pitting Eminem against Anthony Mackie (yes, Falcon was a rapper first). Eminem led with everything negative that could be said about him in this battle: he was white, he lived in a trailer with his mom, he’d gotten jumped before, and his girlfriend was unfaithful (it’s unbelievably more graphic, but you get the picture). He didn’t put up a front. But, in admitting everything that his rap battler could possibly use against him, by embracing confidently that he absolutely did not have it all together, he took all the power away from his opponent. So much so, spoiler alert, that Mackie didn’t even try to come back with a rap after this devastating performance.
It turns out inspiration really can come from anywhere. Who in the world would have guessed that Eminem would have a serious impact on my negotiating style at work? I started every negotiation differently from that point on. I thought about what they would come at me with, which of my position’s weak points they’d attack, and I brought them up before they did, addressing them honestly and cutting off the possibility that they could exploit those weaknesses or surprise me with them.
Someone’s going to take a swipe at me for being the new guy? I am new to this business, but that fresh perspective may allow me to see things others aren’t looking for.
Complaints that this is the way business has always been done? Uber is the biggest brand in transportation and doesn’t own cars. Airbnb is the biggest name in hospitality and doesn’t own property. Doing things differently is the way to innovate and grow.
They’re telling me nobody has to pay rates this high? I understand that these are the prices you’ve traditionally paid, but this personality/product/brand isn’t traditional either. You don’t take percentages to the bank; you take absolute dollars. We’ll have you covered there.
When I first acknowledged what could be seen as weaknesses, addressing them before pivoting to what we needed from the deal, the other side was left with fewer moves. Part of this was because of the surprise of hearing so transparently from us, but part of it was because we’d inoculated ourselves from the most powerful barbs they’d have thrown at us if we hadn’t already deconstructed them ourselves.
It worked well.
It worked so well that I began to ask better questions about where else negotiations were happening in my life. And then I was struck with an epiphany: Every interaction we have is a negotiation of sorts. Every conversation with our partner, the way we hope to motivate our children, the attempts to connect in friendships, all of them are a kind of negotiation. Was there a chance that if I employed some of the same tactics that had worked in my professional life it might bear fruit in my personal life as well? Were there things I was missing out on personally because of this posture I’d been keeping up of having to have everything together?
Of course there were.
Once I started owning the areas where I wasn’t feeling confident with Rachel, where I was struggling with my closest friends, and even being more honest with my kids about how a grown-up processes feelings, it created an empathy and connection of shared experience. No one has it all together, and the people who are willing to admit that freely, who are willing to admit that first, will disarm and connect with the people they care most about in life. There are so many things we all universally struggle with, and when someone acknowledges this, we can’t help but be drawn to them.
It can be lonely, isolating, and hard to find people to come alongside you if you don’t own your struggles. If you’re basing relationships on a front of everything being okay, are you really building an authentic relationship? As someone who for too long believed that representing strength was the way, I can tell you with certainty that it was only when I began connecting with people as my authentic, everything-not-all-together self that I was able to form relationships that were deeper, more meaningful, and available to support me in the seasons I needed them most.
When I was most stuck, my willingness to raise my hand and acknowledge I needed help was the reason I was able to get help—and it was only in getting help that I was able to get out of my mess.
The notion of disruption is one of the single greatest ingredients in innovation today. In a world where wearing masks of perfection and inauthentically assuring the masses that all is good, the person who’s willing to own their imperfections and deviate from the cultural norm will embody disruption in a way that creates for them an unfair advantage in their life, their work, and their relationships. Be that kind of disrupter.
THINGS THAT HELPED ME
1.I used vulnerability as a strength. Whether you’re in a business or personal relationship, being open about the things you’re struggling with makes you relatable, allowing you to connect more authentically. Whatever taboo you associate with admitting the things that aren’t great about your life, once you flip that narrative in your head, you’ll open yourself up to the possibility of community and results on a whole different level. Added bonus: if you’re in need of help, when you exhibit a little more honesty and vulnerability, you’ll actually have a shot at receiving what you need.
2.I preemptively acknowledged my weaknesses. In your personal relationships, when you get ahead of your weaknesses and are able to be honest in owning your experience, not only do you create a bridge of empathy with the ones you’re trying to connect with, you can also manage the narrative around why those weaknesses exist and how they could be overcome. Your insights will humanize you and may even be a tool that someone else in your life can use to overcome a similar challenge. Talking openly about the things I’ve struggled with has proven to be a bonding agent in my relationships.
3.I learned to give an honest representation of myself from the start. Too much of our time is spent trying to parse through what’s real and what’s not, what matters and what doesn’t. If we start our conversations from a place that’s more honest, authentic, and real, the chances that we’ll get to a deal, a meaningful relationship, the help we need when we need it, or achieve a desired goal are remarkably higher. Waste time with games, or get there quicker with a more honest representation of who you are and where you’re at.
A DRINK WILL MAKE THIS BETTER
Speaking of having it all together, this may be the chapter where you ask for a refund. If you were hoping you were reading a book from someone who has it all figured out and is running without bumps along the way, my friend, this is where I spoil the ending. A “Bruce Willis is dead the whole time” kind of spoiler.
I’ve been in a constant battle with my vices over the last three years. I’m talking about the behaviors you know you shouldn’t do but find yourself doing anyway. I’m talking about having the vision of yourself where you are your very best . . . and acting in the total and complete opposite way. I have experience in this.
Vices were there to soften the sharp edges in a season when I wasn’t growing.
When I tripped my way through the midlife bridge.
When I left the corporate identity that made sense to everyone else.
As I got oriented in this new, unconventional job.
Even as I embarked on the ambition of writing this very book.
In this recent stretch, I turned leaning on my vices into a survival habit. A habit I didn’t really give much thought to, and one that definitely didn’t serve me or the growth I was hoping might come.
It turns out writing a book has been something of a trigger for me. Every one of these chapters, in a strange way, has required an introspection and honesty that usually only shows up in therapy. On the comfortable couch of someone named Debra (I’ve changed the spelling of her name from its traditional Deborah to protect her identity), it’s super easy to talk about all the things you feel shame over. Or easier at least. It’s a totally different thing to own what you feel when you know that other humans will read it, and that difference has made it hard for me to control some of the bad habits I’ve turned to over time to mute the stuff I don’t like to think about.
My vices exist to quiet the things I don’t want to deal with.
Unfortunately, though, in my experience, coping that shows up as a negative character trait often leads us to believe we are, in fact, negative ourselves. A vice that shows our defects can make us believe we are defective. That creates a nasty circle and makes it feel even harder to keep on the path toward growth.
Listen: I know growth happens outside our comfort zones and is the only way to fulfillment—I know these things to be absolute truths—and yet I’m in the midst of my full submersion in this pursuit and can tell you, it’s hard. It’s hard to sit in places that you don’t know; it’s hard to try things you haven’t tried before. It’s hard to grow.
I know it’s supposed to be hard, but I’m learning in real time the trade-off between the healthy and unhealthy ways of handling hard things. I’ve taken the unhealthy path more often than I’d like to admit, and here I am telling you that, in chasing all the things that will help me grow, I have to work harder now than ever to stay out of my own way. You’ll have to work harder than ever as well.
The transition in my life over the last few years has been wildly successful, and violently disruptive to my sense of normalcy. I feel vindicated by the results, and consistently insecure about what this new normal is supposed to feel like. Growing into who we’ve been called to be is inspiring . . . and freaking scary.
For me, I’ve tended to turn to alcohol. Yes, over the years I’ve struggled with smoking cigarettes, and online poker, and too many video games, and gambling on sports, and working out like a crazy person, and on and on . . . because I’m an overachiever and usually go big or go home. But if we’re going to be really honest, I tend to turn to alcohol to numb my worry when stuff feels like it’s out of my hands, to unconsciously self-sabotage when I feel insecure, even to manufacture stakes when things in my life got easy.
Drinking was a lonely, shameful part of my life. I drank alone. I drank more than anyone knew. I drank vodka so people couldn’t smell it on my breath. I drank just about every day, just a little more than I should, for far too long. I hit points where Rachel could see it in a quick stumble at the end of a night. I felt the embarrassment of a hangover in the drop-off line at school in the morning.
It anchored my mood to the floor.
It crushed my motivation.
It affected our sex life . . . yes, it messed with the thing you’re thinking.
I’d convinced myself that a drink would make things better, but the only thing it did was kick the can on down the road, taking parts of my life that kept me getting in my way and making them worse for not dealing with them head-on.
My entire life I’ve stayed tethered to a belief that a higher power is pulling the strings here and, in doing so, is complicit in opening doors—including the doors that provoke my anxiety, the doors that trigger my insecurity, the doors that, in seasons of feeling unfulfilled, have had me subconsciously self-sabotaging to create challenges. I know intellectually that life is happening for me, that these things are happening to pull out a greater version of myself, but then somewhere in my unconscious, where my deepest insecurities live, that rational argument frays.
I used to cling to the idea of having a sense of control over what happens next. But I’ve come to appreciate that feeling like I’m in control isn’t actually part of the plan.
A life of growth means a life of exhilarating discomfort. That’s the actual plan, and as a result, the last few years produced a season of “control” challenges. As in, there is no controlling this new constant that is the chaos of our life. As in, in the times when I feel I have less control over life, I tend to believe I also have less control over how I deal with that loss of control.
When things got crazy, I alleviated crazy with a drink. Or four drinks. Don’t judge me. Well, actually, go ahead and judge me. I had to. So did Rachel. I had to judge what good it was doing for me to try and mute my feelings rather than deal with them. I had to judge if this alcohol plan was sustainable long-term (it isn’t) or if it served me at all (it doesn’t). I had to judge if there was more good in digging into what was triggering my reaction than trying to not deal with it.
If you want a meaningful life, you must create situations that make you uncomfortable.
Comfort is a casualty of growth.
If you aren’t willing to put your comfort at risk, you’d better prepare yourself to settle for a mediocre life. I don’t want mediocre. You don’t either. If we’re going to chase more, it’s going to come with the reality that we’ll have to risk more. We’re going to have to risk our usual, safe, normal lives. It’s going to feel uncomfortable—because that’s where the growth comes from.
Muting discomfort doesn’t feed growth; it stifles it. I get that now.
When medicating my anxiety during our transition from California to Texas turned into me drinking a little too much a little more often, Rachel confronted me in a way that only she could:
You want to get anxiety under control? Do the work. You want to drink less? Take it seriously. Get a plan. Stop before you have too much.
I’ve been trying to help you with these problems for two years, and I’m tired. Stop talking about it and start doing something about it. You are in control of your life. Your shame doesn’t serve you when you make a mistake! Do the work, get the help if you need it, and stop making excuses.
I love you, Dave, but I can’t save you. You need to save yourself.
Tough love . . . for the second time in four chapters. I know. A guy can react to this in one of two ways: grab another drink and drown away the challenge from a woman who loves you, or sit in a posture of gratitude for the willingness of a partner to push you to step up for your life. On the first day I read this note, I felt more like the former, but every day since, I’ve been living in the latter. It’s hard to have a mirror held up to your face. Hard to deal with the ridiculous things we do when we let our unconscious minds make bad choices for our lives. It’s not fun to be called on the carpet, but it’s necessary.
Some of you may not be married to a woman as strong, confident, and crazy as Rachel Hollis. Let me channel her for those of you who need to hear this: You need to save yourself.
Whatever your vice, your coping mechanisms, the set of habits that don’t serve you or the ones you love, it’s on you. It will be hard and take work, but it starts with you choosing to do the work and take control.
Of course, some of you may not like the idea of having to hold yourself accountable, may not like what you see when you’re forced to take a serious look in the mirror. I didn’t. But being forced to do it was a gift afforded to me by someone who thought more of me than I did myself during that season. I was challenged to believe in myself as much as she believed in me.
I’d negotiated with myself plenty. There were more than a few I’ve had a hard day—I deserve these drinks thought bubbles to help me rationalize pouring another. But with the gauntlet thrown, I had to ask if I needed the drinks more than my kids needed an intentionally present dad. If the benefits of numbing my anxiety took precedence over being the exceptional husband I vowed to be for my wife. If taking the edge off a long day came at the expense of building a business and responsibly supporting a growing team.
I earned that drink, but they deserved better.
As important as a good dose of accountability and perspective was in coming to fully appreciate the truth about coping mechanisms that numb—you can’t numb the pain without numbing the joy. It is impossible to close off your anxiety without also eliminating the growth that comes from fully experiencing discomfort. In this pursuit for fulfillment, I reached for a muting agent to handle the unsteadiness of the new waters I was in. Only after diving into these hard conversations could I see that so long as I tried to mute the disruption of the waves, I would not experience fulfillment. Those waves, they weren’t an obstacle; those waves were the means to the end I’d been so desperately looking for.
John Maxwell once said, “Most successful people will point to the hard times in their lives as key points in their journey of development. If you are dedicated to growth, then you must become committed to managing your bad experiences well.”1
I don’t want to discount the disease that is addiction in any way. If you are someone who truly can’t control your impulses and are making choices that don’t serve you, your relationship, or your future, own it. Get some help. Quit letting pride be the barrier between you and a version of you that can more aptly handle the crap you’re dealing with. For far too long, I didn’t want to really acknowledge the choices I was making (or the choices I was subconsciously making to not have to actually deal with my stuff). Once I was able to ask better questions while being honest about how I was coping, I could deal with my insecurities and fears in a way that served me.
When I sat and really thought about how I wanted my life to look, both how I am present in relationships and the ambitious plans we had for growing our team, I knew I had to take serious action.
I committed to staying present in the chaos and friction of these big moves and new learning curves. As my friend Brendon Burchard would say, I decided to “honor the struggle.” I had to be honest about the triggers that might lie ahead as we scaled our business. I had to ask, what would it mean to show myself that I don’t need a drink? Or that not having one might afford me the opportunity to actually receive the benefits?
In real time, I haven’t had a drink in more than five months. In doing so, I have been more focused as the complexities of the business have scaled. I have been more productive as the team has grown from four to forty-four in the past year, all while writing this book. I’ve been more engaged with my kids and more intentional with my wife. I’ve dropped weight and have more energy and a sex life that’s better than ever. Bless up. Literally.
Most importantly, I’ve shown myself that I don’t need alcohol to deal with anxiety and stress. I’ve rewired the way I think about the necessity of a drink on a long flight, or as an accomplice on vacation or the requirement for fun. I’ve shown myself I can do a thing that seemed impossible five months ago after twenty-five years of casual drinking gave way to something more than casual.
Now that I know I can do the impossible, I believe I can do anything.
When this book hits shelves, I will not have had a drink in 338 days. I committed to a year of sobriety the day the edits came back on the words you’re reading—trust me, a trigger if there ever was one.
As reinforcements for Dave 2.0, I added a healthy eating plan, put together a gym in our garage, and committed to workouts or running every single day. I talked openly with friends, family, and mentors about my decision to intentionally pursue healthier choices. I reconnected with my therapist to leave a line open as needed. I went all-in on a complete reboot of mental and physical health, and the introduction of a new set of habits have had a remarkable effect.
The mindset change of embracing the necessity of discomfort for growth has been a springboard in this season. It led to climbing 29,029 vertical feet in a weekend. It had me finish my first marathon. It has me on a perpetual, intentional pursuit of hard things. You see, the need to numb drastically reduces when you actually believe growth is supposed to be uncomfortable.
If I had been willing to sit with the heavier consequences of these new things I was being challenged with, it would have forced me to grow into a bigger, more resilient, and stronger version of myself than the one who chooses booze or anything else to mute the tension. Now that I see that the struggle, the resistance, is the way, I know that the idea of muting it with a vice is totally and completely counterproductive. I choose instead to lean in and feel it fully, even though it’s hard.
For you it may not be alcohol, but we all have a coping mechanism that, if we leave it unattended, can spin into something that gets in our way. If you’re stuck behind a lie that has you using food, drugs, sex, sleep, passive aggression, self-harm, bad hygiene, withdrawal, or anything else to keep you from processing the thing you need to feel to grow, choose discomfort over coping. Choose growth over the unhealthy things that are going to keep you in your own way.
It won’t be easy.
It will be worth it.
THINGS THAT HELPED ME
1.I got to the root of why I turned to vices. The idea that a drink could make my stresses better was built on a foundation of believing that the drink was a better option than anything else I might interject to take the drink’s place. Now that I see how the cocktail was an answer to a question of how to calm nerves, I’ve learned to ask myself what better answers might exist. I’ve substituted those—working out, sitting in therapy, talking with a mentor, being honest with my business partner/wife—for the impulse to drink and mute.
2.I kept coming back to the devastating impact of muting life in an attempt to avoid a single thing. The notion of drinking (or, insert your vice here) to help you mute your anxiety or frustration or fear presupposes that you can use it as an accurate local anesthetic rather than a general pain suppressant. The more time I’ve spent understanding the impact of my vices, the more I appreciate that the muting of the bad also comes with the unwanted muting of all the good. Making choices that could minimize the good just to control the bad isn’t going to bring out the best in my life, so I won’t walk down that road.
3.I committed to a team of accountability partners for the areas where I struggle. I’m a good dude, and I can’t do this alone. At a recent lunch with three of my buddies, I had to give it to them straight: that I was leaning on alcohol to calm my anxiety and that, if I was going to get through it, I would need them to support me when we were hanging out, to check in with me on the regular, and to encourage me to drink the crap out of my sparkling water. I also sat with my wife, and we committed to being a team in this. This problem has become our problem that we’ll solve together. Don’t think you have to get through your struggles with vices alone. Rather, stack the odds in your favor to train yourself to make choices that serve you, supported by the people in your life who can help you get where you’re hoping to go.
I DID SOMETHING WRONG, SO I AM SOMETHING WRONG
I was valedictorian at my high school, set to give the commencement address on the greatest day of my life to that point. I had a special white robe in a sea of black that paired well with a blue sash for an honor society, some medals of some kind, and gold braided ropes that hung around my neck for an achievement I can’t remember. I basically looked like one of those military leaders from a dictatorship and walked around with an air of confidence like that of a conquering general.
Four years of hard work, built on top of the eight that preceded it, would all be on display that day. My parents, grandparents, extended family, and friends would all be witness to my awesomeness. It was going to be epic. I mean, it would have been epic.
I didn’t end up getting to walk at graduation.
Or give my com…