What I Learned from TED Speaker John Tarnoff

This week I connected with reinvention career coach and TED speaker John Tarnoff to discuss gaining some traction for my books and speaking. I appreciated the wisdom and insight he shared. Here’s what I took away from our discussion:

John Tarnoff, Reinvention Career Coach

John Tarnoff, Reinvention Career Coach

Be More Vulnerable

In so many ways, we as human beings, and me especially, learn coping mechanisms like masking, avoidance, compliance, stuffing down, being overly diplomatic, obfuscating, etc. Even though Vicki Tillapaugh, one of the most gifted people this world has ever seen, patiently taught me over the course of 5 years to be authentic, it's something with which I still struggle due to years of programming, so John's reminder was refreshing. 

In his TED talk, John says he's been fired from 39% of his jobs. He brought that up in our discussion encouraging me to tell my personal story (see below). I do that in my first book in which I interviewed millionaires and talk about the journey that led me to that point, yet I don't do it in enough other areas. For so long, I've been ashamed of parts of my story and fail to embrace it fully despite promoting that others do just that! How inauthentic is that?!

So I need to...

Connect Through My Personal Story

John made it clear that I need to answer the question for others of why I’m the one telling the stories of those I interview. 

Why am I the one telling these people’s stories? Because I have an intense curiosity about how and why people do things. People fascinate me. Strong, vibrant, successful people. Vulnerable people. People who overcome odds. People who reach the highest levels of achievement. People who have been through the fire. People who have looked their demons in the face and moved past them. And I want to inspire others to do the same.

I’m also the guy telling these stories because I know there is SO much more in me that is untapped and I’m looking for my path. Maybe you’re like me and you know there is much more, you just can’t figure out how to let it out. Or maybe you’ve figured it out and I’m the guy who hasn't.

Sometimes it feels like that, like I'm the only one frustrated with the lack of progress, the only one without a few toys - bike, boat, golf - the only one without a real vacation this year, the only one approaching my just-barely-raised limit on the credit card and still don't have enough money for groceries this week. 

I'm excited for maintenance payments (alimony) to be done in a few months to free up some cash and stop going backward financially, but wonder why I can't be more successful RIGHT NOW. Why I don't even feel I have enough money to put up a real blackout curtain in my bedroom instead of the blanket I hang so I can sleep in after driving for Lyft Friday and Saturday nights. Why there's not enough money to take care of the needs. How's that for authenticity? It hurts being that real, but I take hope from John's counsel to...

Keep Hitting It

John mentioned that I'm on the right track in some ways. He said, “Keep hitting them and they'll see you’re serious, that you’re not going away.”

As a sales trainer, I know the value of appropriate persistence. When it comes to marketing myself, however, and after trying to get my message out since 2011 with limited success, it’s tempting to say, ‘It doesn’t appear anyone is really interested. Maybe I have the wrong message. Maybe I’m not doing it the right way. Maybe it’s not the right time. Maybe I’m not meant for it.’

Then Sergio Garcia wins the Masters after previously expressing similar thoughts. And Judy Contreras, who connected John and me, reminds that Colonel Sanders had multiple failures before his recipe found success. And John mentions that I just need to keep at it. Ahhhh. Refreshing.

Something else he encouraged me to do is to...

Share What I Learn

Of course I share what I learn from interviewing others (although I’m incredibly keen not to formulate too many conclusions because I want you, the reader, to form your own – far more valuable than mine).

Yet John reminded me that what people want is to hear what was funny, ironic, interesting, or unexpected from the interviews. He also mentioned to be vulnerable in the retelling of it. Connect it to my experience.

So what have I learned and what's my connection? Every successful person I've interviewed has had financial, physical, emotional, or some other setbacks. Doug Krug was delivering pizza when his first book was published. Bill Begal was sleeping on friends' couches just a few years before finding his stride. Ashley Caldwell blew out her knees in consecutive seasons. Lane Nemeth had to fire a CEO who stole $400,000 from her, lost a business partner to death, and battled debilitating depression. Jessica Smith wasn't sure if she would ever make an Olympic team and could see the dream slipping away. 

In other words, that blanket that serves as a blackout curtain and the 1995 Kia Sephia I drove for many years in Colorado winters without a heater and the CONSTANT financial struggle I've had are only symbols of my obstacles and of the character being formed. They aren't my final destination. And I need to stop comparing my journey to others since it's MY journey.

What did I learn from interviewing millionaires?  More importantly, what can you learn?

What did I learn from interviewing millionaires?

More importantly, what can you learn?

Define Your Target Market

The foregoing notwithstanding, perhaps the most valuable part of talking with John is that I think I finally defined my target market. At least for now. Took me long enough (published my first book in 2011).

I had been getting messages from that still, small voice over the last month so I was pretty sure of my direction, yet hadn't quite pinned it down. Now I have clarity and focus around it. It’s specific. It feels good. 

Serendipitously, I had an experience last week that also helped solidify these thoughts. I met with a home school group to talk about what I’ve learned from interviewing successful people.

Having trained for many years and having worked extensively with youth, I have a pretty good read. It was clear some of what I was saying was boring them, so I continually threw it back to them. Their answers to my questions and the questions they asked me were insightful. I left the interaction thinking perhaps they gained just a little bit from our time together.  

Then I got a wonderful email from the school chairman telling me about the valuable discussions they had afterward based on what we talked about. They talked about hard work and success and how success is more of a journey. Seems our time was well spent, an indication that this is indeed my target market.

Interestingly, this meeting was set up long before I had been getting those messages about my direction from that voice, which was to focus on high school and college students.

Discussions like this one and the one with John are healing for the soul. So often in life and in business we think we have to have it figured out and we look to those who do for guidance and inspiration.

What if it weren't so much about having it figured out as much as it is about figuring it out? What if it were more about being more vulnerable, embracing our own stories, and sharing our journeys together? What if it were more about learning from each other about how to weather the storms, talking more openly about the ugly things as well as the beautiful? 

Will you join me in being more authentic, more vulnerable, and sharing your story with others? I'm not talking about inappropriately sharing, hogging the conversation, or dwelling on the negative. Just be real. Be you. Stand where you are and bless the world with your unique experience. I hope you will because others will be better for it.