How to Propel a Creative Life with Matthew DicksAug 28, 2022
This week I caught up with Matthew Dicks, we spoke about his new book and how to truly be present in your life as a leader.
Matthew Dicks is the author of Someday Is Today and nine other books. A bestselling novelist, nationally recognised storyteller, and award-winning elementary schoolteacher, he teaches storytelling and communications at universities, corporate workplaces, and community organisations.
Dicks has won multiple Moth GrandSLAM story competitions and, together with his wife, created the organisation “Speak Up” to help others share their stories. They also cohost the Speak Up Storytelling podcast. He lives in Connecticut with his family.
My top take aways from this interview were:
- Incrementalism - this is the act of taking small incremental steps over time, that eventually accumulate into something great.
- 4 minutes is an enormous amount of time. What can you use these little bursts of time to get done in your day?
- Have a life goal. Have a goal that you never actually achieve, but the road to getting there is where you find success and joy in life.
- Don't let perfection be the enemy of progress.
- Where can you have a micro-celebration this week? Celebrate the small wins in life.
- People aren't really paying as much attention to you as you think they are. Welcome failure in and then move forward.
Matthew Dicks, James Laughlin
James Laughlin 00:00
Welcome to lead on purpose. I'm James Laughlin, former seven-time world champion, musician, and night executive coach to global leaders and high performers. In every episode, I bring you an inspiring leader or expert to help you lead your life and business on purpose. Thanks for taking the time to connect today on investing in yourself. Enjoy the show.
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James Laughlin 01:06
Would you like to know some actionable ways to propel your life forward? Well, today's special guest is none other than Best Selling Author Matthew Dicks, who just recently published Someday Is Today. That shows you 22 Simple, actionable ways to propel your creative life forward, sit back and enjoy the show.
James Laughlin 01:44
Matthew, a huge welcome to The Lead on Purpose Podcast.
Matthew Dicks 01:49
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
James Laughlin 01:51
Oh, it's a pleasure. I mean, what you've got to talk about today is going to be so inspirational to everyone that's listening right now. And I wanted to chat a little bit about Someday Is Today and for the person listening. Today is the day. And I just want to talk about what that means to you Sunday is today and about being intentional and purposeful in your life. So, for those listening, Matthew has just published an incredible book called Someday Is Today. But the whole idea behind it is something that as leaders, parents, and community organizers, we need to embrace this message. So, Matthew, please tell us a little bit more about Someday Is Today and what it means.
Matthew Dicks 02:31
Sure. Well, you know, as a person who stands on stages a lot delivering speeches and telling stories and doing all the things that I do. The question that I get asked the most during those sessions is always how do you do all the things that you do? You know, I'm an elementary school teacher, I'm an author, I'm a speaker, I run a couple of companies. And so, I'm always asked, you know, how do you manage to pull all that off? And my thought has always been if you give me 18 hours, I will talk to you about how to structure your life and adjust your philosophy and create a mindset that will allow you to be as productive and creative as I am. But no one wants me for 18 hours, like maybe my cat, but that is it. And so, what I often did was tossed off two or three ideas, strategies that they could take home, but I always felt like that's meaningless. Like it's, it's just a drop in the bucket. And so, I wrote Someday Is Today as the answer to that question if you want to lead a creative, productive life if you have goals that you have yet to achieve or dreams that you once had, but have sort of left behind. This is the book that will help all of those things happen for you know, the word "someday" is my least favorite word in the English language because I think it's a trap. I think it is the opportunity for people to procrastinate, and the opportunity for people to fail to do the things they need to be doing. They think that someday they will do it. And I think the reality of life is we just end up running out of some days. And most people pass on with enormous amounts of regret for the things they haven't done. So, I'm always encouraging people to think of someday as right now today.
James Laughlin 04:05
And to me, that's such a mindset shift. So, for someone who's going someday, I will leave this job and start that company. Someday, I will have that tough conversation with the person that I once used to love. How do we go from someday from a mindset point of view to today? What's the shift?
Matthew Dicks 04:24
Well, I think one of the things we have to remember is that all great things happen with tiny steps. And quite often those tiny steps are terrible. We make a lot of terrible things before we end up producing anything good. And so, so often what people do is they think about doing something and they actually credit themselves they say, well, I've been thinking about it, I've been strategizing it in my brain, none of that means anything. If you're not actually taking active steps forward towards that goal, that horizon is somewhere in the distance. It's all useless. And so, when it comes to something like having that difficult conversation, for example, you have to ask yourself I'm going to have a difficult conversation which might last, let's say half an hour, and the next 20 years of my life will be better for it. Or I can avoid that 30-minute difficult conversation and continue to suffer for the next 20 years, it really is the idea of return on investment. And small steps will yield enormous results over time. So someday is today the idea that you're going to do something today to take one step forward in the direction that you wish to go in, rather than thinking about it. And, and believing that thinking about something is worth anything, because I just don't think it's worth much.
James Laughlin 05:39
Hmm. Before we hit record, you mentioned one word, and I just love it. And that was incrementalism and these incremental steps. So, for the person who wants to step forward and start on this journey of the achievement towards a goal, but they're thinking of the 33rd step or the 200th step. What has to happen for them to just come into the present and think of step number one?
Matthew Dicks 06:05
I think one of the struggles people have been the way they think about a task, or even the way they think about time, one of the people who read my book early on one of my friends, who told me about the biggest shift in her mindset was the recognition that so often, we think that something needs 30 minutes or an hour to be completed. She told me, she used to think of all projects or all tasks as either 30 minutes, an hour, or two hours. And I always say, four minutes is an enormous amount of time. If you know what to do with four minutes, two minutes, you know, 11 minutes, our lives are filled with these, these little bits of time in between things that we are doing. And if we start to look at those incrementally and say, well, I've got nine, four-minute periods, do my day that I'm not using well, can I start using them well? Either creatively or productively. Or maybe you're just going to do a task that needs to be done so that later on you can do that creative, productive thing. And then in terms of like thinking about, you know, a job to do, whether that job is I want to build a business or that job is like earlier today, the dishwasher needs to be emptied, right? I emptied 1/3 of the dishwasher before I had to bring my son to camp. Most of the time people are thinking I'm either going to empty it, or I'm not going to empty it. If there's not enough time to empty the whole thing. Why would I empty a third of it? Well, because when I got home, that meant I only had two-thirds left to empty. And I managed to get to something I wanted to get done a little faster. People discount that time enormously. And all it takes is a little bit of math, to start to realize that these minutes that we did there a way that we allow to be wasted, you know, probably staring at our phones, instead of doing something like emptying a third of the dishwasher. They're killing us that time when you multiply it out. If you're using it, well, suddenly, you'll discover you have all the time you need, you've just been wasting so much of it. So, incrementalism is the idea that small bits of time and small tasks, over time, will accumulate into something great. So, pick the first small thing that needs to be done. And do that, And now you're on the path.
James Laughlin 08:13
It's amazing. And I guess that equally applies to someone running a company of any size. If they've got a growth goal or a KPI they're heading towards. It's like not thinking about the end game. It's like What's this today step and this week step and this month step?
Matthew Dicks 08:28
Yeah, that growth goal probably has 47 steps involved in getting there. And it's nice to have like a point on the horizon that you're always aiming for and hopefully never catching. You know, the best thing is to have a goal that you sort of chase for the rest of your life and always get closer, but then maybe push it out further, you know, so you're always challenging yourself. But you have to understand that like there are a bunch of steps in between and every step matters. Even if you just get one done today, if it's 47 and tomorrow, it's 46. That's a great thing. That is progress. And that's what I'm looking for from people is just forward momentum, you know? And the avoidance of perfection. You know, there's always this is a common phrase that says don't let them don't let perfection be the enemy of good. And I hate that phrase because that assumes that the things, we're going to do are good when quite often the things we do are terrible. Like we produce really rotten things sometimes. So, I always say, don't let perfection be the enemy of progress, because progress means I'm going to take a step forward, it might be an awful step forward, I might trip and fall in that step four, but at least I'm stepping. I'm not sitting and thinking I'm doing something and that's the goal, I think.
James Laughlin 09:36
Progress over perfection. I love that. Yeah. That's so good. And you said something a minute ago, and I really think of that as the high performer's horizon. So, a high performer will set a goal. It's a pretty lofty goal to move towards it. And when they get there or just before they get there, they're almost at the top of the mountain they can now see there's another mountain there's another peak, and that horizon for the high performer the horizon is always out in front. So, what would you say to the person who goes, that's almost overwhelming or exhausting for me? What must they do when they get to that first goal, that first big horizon? Is there a thing that they should do in terms of maybe celebrating or reward that helps them to keep that motivation? Go to the next horizon?
Matthew Dicks 10:23
Yeah, I do believe in celebration. Yeah, absolutely. I think we should celebrate every significant step that we make along the way. As an author, I often meet fellow authors who say, well, I'm going to celebrate when the book is finally in the bookstore, or when it hits the bestseller list. I celebrate the end of the chapter. You know, I get up from my desk, I grab a diet Coke, I go for a bike ride, I wrestle with my son, I play a round of golf, I finished a chapter! That's better than most of the people in the world today, who talk about writing books and never write anything. You know, my friend, Jeni Bonaldo, just finished her first novel, we don't know if it's ever going to get published, but I think it's pretty great. But I said you have to have a party. And the party should have a banner that reads, I wrote a book, and you didn't. And we should have cake and balloons and like, whatever you think is fantastic for a party because she wrote a book, and everyone wants to write a book, and almost no one actually does it. So, we have to feel really great and credit ourselves for every step along the way. Because I do believe you're right that if you reach the summit of any mountain whatsoever, I can't imagine how debilitating that must feel. Because there's no other place to go. I love the idea of you reaching the summit, and then you realize, oh, there's something higher to climb. I believe in setting high goals and failing constantly. If I ever set goals for my year, and I achieved 100% of those goals, that would be a bad goal-setting year, that would be a failure in my mind because I didn't challenge myself enough. I believe that a certain amount of failure is indicative of progress and becoming a better person.
James Laughlin 12:01
And for the person who is resistant to failure, they look at failure and they go, Oh, that's not good. That's not going to help me and my psychology to be successful. What's your take on failure? How should they perceive it to help them move forward?
Matthew Dicks 12:15
Well, one of the things you can do is just sort of enlightening yourself in terms of the failure of many other people who are enormously successful. You know, one of my favorite ones is Richard Branson. You know, Virgin Galactic sending people to space. One of his first businesses was the parakeet business, he was going to sell parakeets. And the reason it failed was the parakeets bred so quickly, he had more inventory, more parakeets than he knew what to do with. And so, he actually went out of business and failed. And so, Richard Branson, who now sends people into space, couldn't manage a business of selling birds, right. And so when you start to educate yourself in terms of how everyone's career is beset with failure, setbacks, and misery, before they finally achieved the thing they wanted to achieve, or at least got on the path towards the thing they want to achieve, you can feel a little bit better about the fact that you're just one of us, that failure is to be embraced and to be learned from. And oftentimes what I tell people is no one's paying attention anyway. You know, I talked about in my book, The spotlight effect, which is this social science fact that we believe people are paying more attention to us than they actually are, you know, they do these experiments, where they, they send a kid into a college classroom with 50 students wearing the most ridiculous outfit you could ever imagine. And at the end of the class, they asked the class, how many of you noticed the kid in the ridiculous outfit, almost no one did, but if you ask the kid wearing it, he thinks everyone was staring at him the whole time. It's just because we are the protagonists of our own lives, we are the main character in our stories. So, we assume we are the main character and everyone else's story too. At the same time, when it's just not true. Like everyone is worried about themselves and the things around them. So, if you start to really believe, and it is true that the spotlight effect is a real thing, and people are not paying attention to you as much as you think, not nearly so then failure is easier because when you fail, nobody's looking anywhere. Nobody cares. And even if they do notice, it's not like they're staying up at night thinking about your failure. They have moved on to you know, what pair of shoes they're going to buy, or what problem they're going to solve, or how to get their kid to soccer. They are not worried about the mistakes that you're making. You are the one worried about it. And if you learn from it instead, that's just a better road to be on.
James Laughlin 14:33
Such a paradigm shift. It's interesting. There's a great book, you may have read it by Bronnie Ware, and it's the Five Regrets of the Dying. And she was a nurse.
Matthew Dicks 14:44
Yes, really. There's a lot of research from those folks from those hospice workers. I talked about it actually in my book, the idea of what we regret at the end of our lives.
James Laughlin 14:52
And the top regrets is generally for most that they lived a large portion of their life best upon what they thought others thought of them and their decisions, and so always thinking about what am I wearing? What are people going to think so just exactly what you said? And to me that steals a lot of our joy, it steals a lot of our potential. So, what would you advise to the person who at the minute is carrying out their day-to-day in life-based upon what others expect of them?
Matthew Dicks 15:22
One of the things you can do is sort of make that leap, sort of conduct your own personal experiment. You know, one of my favorite experiments was, they had people who thought they had great hair days go out into the world. And then they asked all of the people that came in contact with their friends and coworkers. Did you notice anyone who had an especially good hair day today, and nobody noticed anybody's good hair day, even though that person walked around with supreme confidence, thinking my hair is so extraordinary today, everyone's going to think I'm beautiful. No one cared in any way whatsoever. So if you just would dare to go out one day, with your hair a mess, or with your clothing wrinkled, or your outfit, not as you know, sort of coordinated as it typically would be, or you leave your jewelry at home, or you do something that is very unorthodox in terms of the way you typically live your life, and then judge the reaction, you know, see what happens. You know, I think I tell a story in the book about a time I went to a very formal wedding, wearing a t-shirt and a jacket, and a pair of slacks. And it was the only person at the wedding who was dressed like that. And the only people who notice, were the few guys who came over to me and asked me, how did you get away with wearing that to this wedding? And I said, well, first of all, my wife is not my keeper. She doesn't tell me how to dress because we have a great relationship. But also, nobody cares. And if you're not sure of that, just ask yourself this. Think about the last holiday, you celebrated Christmas, your birthday, whatever it was, what was anyone wearing at that holiday celebration? What were you wearing? At that holiday celebration, you probably put a lot of thought into what you were going to wear. And yet no one can tell you what you were wearing at the time, you probably can't tell me what you were wearing four days ago. So, if you just make that experimental leap into the world, by not looking quite yourself, and seeing what the reaction is, you'll quickly realize nobody cares. Absolutely. Nobody cares.
James Laughlin 17:19
It's incredible. And what are some of those other powerful points in the book that can help people to propel, you know, the creative life forward?
Matthew Dicks 17:29
Well, the thing that I think has always been most helpful to me is something I call a 100-year-old plan. When I was 22 years old, I was managing a McDonald's restaurant in Brockton, Massachusetts, a real rough town. And I was robbed one night, sort of after hours, three masked men with guns came in. And, you know, they did a number on me. And ultimately, I ended up on the floor with a gun pressed into the side of my head. And they were counting back from three and told me at one, they were going to kill me because I couldn't open a section of the safe that they thought I could. And I was absolutely certain at that moment that I was going to die. And the astounding thing for me at that moment was that I wasn't frightened, sad, or even angry. The only feeling I was consumed with was regret, regret for all the things I had yet to even begin to start doing in my life, and how many dreams I had not even begun the pursuit of. And so obviously I lived there was no bullet in the gun, they pulled the trigger. And it took me a long time to get past that. But in a very odd way, it was sort of a gift for me too, because it gave me a sense of what it can feel like at the end of a life that is not well lived. And so because of that, I sort of reframed my thinking in life and what I do now and what I help others do is rather than making decisions for myself, in this singular moment, you know, if you asked me, What do I want to do right now, I would click off our call, grab a cheeseburger and go play golf, that is basically my choice all the time, right? But that's not going to lead to a fulfilling life. So, what I do is instead I look to the 100-year-old version of myself, the one I will someday become, I asked that 100-year-old version of me, how should I spend this next hour this next day? What decision Should I make right now? Because that person has more wisdom than I will ever have? And so, when I look ahead, and I say, how should I spend the next couple hours that I seem to have free? That person never says binge Netflix, that never that version of me never says doom scroll on Twitter, right? Find out what every single terrible person is thinking in the universe today by scrolling through social media. You know that person who's 100 years old says to me things like writing the book that you're trying to finish go play with your son on the couch, he wants to wrestle with you, go sit with your wife on the patio she's reading, and she would love to spend time with you, pet your cat because cats only live about 12 years. And it's that cat that you love, so much that is going to be gone before you know it. And you're going to be happy that you spent an hour petting a cat, who you love so much. So, I don't trust myself as a reliable sort of narrator of my life, I look ahead to the future. When I asked the 100-year-old version of myself, those are the choices I'm able to make. So, I advise people to do that. Like, imagine that today, I got an email from a woman who read it some days today. And I always say try to put the vision of that 100-year-old version of yourself in your mind's eye. And she told me the vision she has is rose from the movie Titanic. And she actually printed out pictures of roses and put those pictures all over her house. And that's the thing she's going to look to when she's trying to make one of those difficult decisions. So, she can look ahead and see what she's going to be like in the future. So that's, that has really helped me make great choices in my life.
James Laughlin 21:02
That's so powerful. And even I guess, when I think of that and get a photo of my grandfather, and I could put it up and go, okay, when I'm 75 or 80, like what am I going to be looking back at advising myself what I should and shouldn't have done?
Matthew Dicks 21:16
Yeah, in the book, I tell people to, to either create a crystal clear mental image, which is what I have, because I've been doing it so long, where if you don't have that, a physical image that you can place around your house, or in places that you frequently occupy, I love the idea of a grandparent because I mean, that is sort of that genetic connection to the future, which is really wonderful. But it is so surprising how easy decisions become when you think of it in terms of what would I have wanted to do at the end of my life with this hour of my day. And suddenly it becomes so clear what you should be doing.
James Laughlin 21:50
Incredible. Yeah, I mean, that's a game changer for the person that's listening right now. I can imagine they're thinking about that what they're doing with their lives today, tomorrow, this week, and this year. And when you extrapolate it time out, and you look at it with a 100-year vision, well, your priorities change all of a sudden,
Matthew Dicks 22:09
Yeah, it's the avoidance of regret, which is true, it's just a thing that I really hope people hear from me. You know, it's one of those things where I have learned through a really unfortunate circumstance, how awful it can feel, to be just so consumed with regret. And so, I would never wish that encounter on anyone. But what I'm hoping is that people can learn from the wisdom that I have, unfortunately, garnered through a difficult situation, and maybe put it to use for them because it has changed my life completely and entirely.
James Laughlin 22:42
Are you comfortable sharing that experience with us?
Matthew Dicks 22:46
The story of that robbery?
James Laughlin 22:48
Yes. So, what happened after that, from that point onwards, you know, once the rubbers left, what happened? In your mindset? What happened in your prospective life?
Matthew Dicks 22:59
Sure, well, it was a tough time. For me anyway, I had just sort of get off the streets. I was homeless for a period of my life. And I was actually awaiting trial for a crime I didn't commit when I was robbed. And, you know, immediately after the robbery, you know, strange things happen. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has a weird way of sort of sneaking up on you, I guess, quite literally, I couldn't go from one room to another without being utterly terrified about what was behind the corner. In rooms, I was typically an always-in. And so, for days or weeks, just transferring from one room to another was incredibly difficult. And then I started to struggle with ideas like, what am I going to do sort of, in the future when I have to go to a place I've never been in before, because suddenly any place that was different, was terrifying for me. You know, eventually what happens is, that your mind will cope in challenging ways. And one of the ways that I coped was first I had nightmares every night. So, I would sort of hold it together all day long, and then have nightmares every night. And it wasn't until I met my wife, you know, 15 years later, you know? And she said, hey, why do you wake up screaming every night? And literally, I said to her, you know, some people play tennis, some people collect stamps. My thing is, I have nightmares at night. And I honestly had sort of convinced myself that it was just my thing. And she said, that's not a thing, like collecting stamps, that is a problem. And so, she was the first person to sort of getting me into therapy. But it wasn't till I got to therapy that I understood things like when I enter a building, I identify every exit in the building, I monitor every person in the building, and I positioned myself so I can always see the entrance and I can always tell you where the exit is. And when I'm even driving through a city my wife is always astounded at my ability to get from A to B without looking at a map. I think she married me because of my ability to sort of like just get across the city without using a map. What it is, is my mind is constantly monitoring where I am, where I have been, and what is in front of me. And so, in a lot of ways that was debilitating in a way I didn't understand, you know, it was mentally taxing to constantly be vigilant in a way that wasn't very healthy for me. You know, when the pandemic it actually, my therapist told me that, for the first time, probably in my life, everyone had sort of caught up to me to a certain degree, because I always assumed that there was someone around the corner ready to kill me at all times. And the pandemic came along, and people started talking about how there was a virus around the corner waiting to kill them. And quite honestly, I would say to my wife, I'd say, I know, I've been thinking this for 15 years, like it wasn't a virus, but I knew something was coming to get me. And suddenly, everyone else felt the same way. So how people felt about the pandemic, at least especially in 2020, at the onset, that is how I lived my entire life for a very, very long time. But it doesn't mean I didn't cope. And it doesn't mean I wasn't able to move forward, it just means, I didn't live the healthiest life mentally for a long time.
James Laughlin 26:07
Now, thank you for sharing that. That takes a lot of courage. But I know that a lot of listeners will be able to really empathize, as many people would be experiencing PTSD and anxiety across the last 10 years with everything that's happened around the world, particularly the last few years. So, it's really powerful. And I love that you talk about therapy, it's something that again, not a lot of people, particularly us men talk about, but therapy is one of the greatest creations and it helps us to, as you say, cope and move forward, and compartmentalize.
Matthew Dicks 26:38
Yeah, it gave me all the strategies I needed, I got very lucky to I always like to remind people, my therapist reminds me, when people sort of end up in my situation, and they can't see a way out of it. That is why people turn to drugs and alcohol, for example. You know, oftentimes addiction is seen as sort of a, a human failure, you know, a failure of moral conscience when really it is, I needed to find a way to cope with something, and I didn't have the money or tools for therapy, or I didn't have the support systems, or whatever it was, that sort of kept me afloat. So often they don't have those things. And you can't live with pain like that without finding a way to make yourself feel better. And, and that's where things like addiction come in. And I always remind people that I'm a white, straight American man, with no physical disabilities or mental illness, which means I was genetically and geographically one of the luckiest human beings to ever exist in all of human history, you know, had I been a woman, had I been an immigrant, had I been a black person or a member of the LGBTQ community, all of the struggles that I faced would have been enormously larger and more difficult to overcome. You know, even the fact that I was arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit, the fact that I was a white man in the American justice system helped me enormously. So, I like to remind people that, you know, as often as I am told that my sort of my rescue from, you know, poverty and homelessness to where I am today is inspiring, I want to remind them that it's, there's a lot of luck that goes into a life like mine, and part of it is just the way I was born. And that is important to remember too.
James Laughlin 28:22
Honestly, it's amazing that you bring that to the conversation, and you know, white male privilege, of course, I can put my hand up and say, I look back at my life and the opportunities that I've been given. Had I been born in a different way in a different place with a different ethnic background, I may not have been given the same opportunity. So, I think it is something that we should acknowledge, something we should talk more about. And the next step of that is like, hey, what can we do with our privilege to help others and create equity and inclusion?
Matthew Dicks 28:55
Yeah, well, one of the things I tell everyone as a storyteller, I think that one of the greatest sort of skills that a storyteller a great storyteller has is the ability to listen, you know, one of the ways you can learn to tell a good story is to invite other people to tell stories, it is probably never happened in my life when I've walked into a room and not assumed that everyone wanted to hear what I had to say. And you know, that is essentially my privilege walking into every room. But what I do recognize is that I am one of the few people who feel that way at all times. And many people are marginalized for an enormous number of reasons. So, one of the things I do always is when I'm in a space when I walk into a room when I'm in a meeting, I deliberately and intentionally be the last I'm the last person to speak. I wait until the very last moment I let everyone else have an opportunity to have their say before I say anything at all. It's also a really strategically smart thing to do because if I gather more information about the people in a room when I finally do speak, I am more likely to say something that is meaningful connective related able, you know, I am more likely to say something that people want to hear if I know where everyone else is, and I know a little bit about everybody. So, from a strategy standpoint and a communication standpoint, it is the smartest thing to do. Most people who look like me do not do this, most people who look like me try to speak as quickly as possible. And I just think there are probably people in the room who are marginalized for any number of reasons, who don't have the opportunity to speak as often as they should. And they're not heard as much as we need to hear them. And so, I asked people to tell stories all the time, I keep my mouth shut as often as I can. And I just tried to say as little as possible until everyone else has sort of had their fill. I think that can help a lot.
James Laughlin 30:43
That's a leadership lesson right there. It's a golden leadership lesson. And it really reminds me of Matthew of the African tribal hierarchy. So, the chief would have a meeting, and all of the elders and superiors around that were running different elements of the village of the community would report to the chief and share their challenges and their opportunities and things they're not happy about. And that Chief would listen. And it could be 8, 9, 10 hours of all these people giving him feedback, wouldn't say a word. But then at the very end, once every person in that community had spoken and shared their ideas and challenges, then the chief would speak and people would listen because they acknowledged that he had listened. And he had honored what they had to say and valued them. So, he had actually more influence with them, simply because he did truly deeply listen.
Matthew Dicks 31:43
Yeah, there's going to be a lot more wisdom that will come from you. When you gather information in a way, you know, the example you just offered, you know, as a storyteller, and as a person who understands the value of connecting with other people in a real meaningful way. And as a person who has an enormous number of stories to tell, I always am wondering, basically, which story to deploy, like, what is the best way to worm my way into someone's heart and mind, and it's a guessing game unless you know something about them. And so, the more I can listen, and the more I can ask questions of them to figure out who they are, why they are, you know, what brought them here, the more likely I am to find something that makes them believe in me want to listen to me, you know, follow me those kinds of things.
James Laughlin 32:31
That's brilliant. Well, you're a master storyteller. So, for the person that's listening now, that runs a team, or maybe someone who's just a salesperson. What are those questions, one, two, or three questions that you might ask of someone to really get a deeper understanding of who they are and what their interests are?
Matthew Dicks 32:49
One of my favorite questions is, tell me how you ended up in the job you have today? You know, we typically say what do you do for a living, but I am not as interested in what you do. I'm more interested in the path it took you to get to this place, because that is often really interesting, or sometimes tragic. You know, I just heard someone tell me, well, my sister worked here. And she got me a job out of high school. And I said, and 22 years later, you're still at the company? And he said, Yeah, and in the back of my mind, I couldn't help but think, did you have a dream coming out of college a dream beyond I'm going to go work where my sister works? Probably right. So, in that case, I was, you know, I was a little saddened. And but I continued the conversation and continued to probe but I do love to ask people, How did you end up in the job that you have today because the paths in people's careers are often so interesting and can say a lot about how a person sort of lives, their life, whether they're living intentionally, whether they're sort of watered down a mountain, you know, following the path of least resistance, those things can really tell me a lot in terms of the person I'm dealing with and how I want to approach them.
James Laughlin 33:57
That's amazing. And for the leader, who's leading a team, whether they're a manager, or they're a CEO, and they're trying to get a more authentic connection with their team, what are the questions that they should be asking, what level of curiosity should they be showing?
Matthew Dicks 34:15
Well, I think the best thing they can do is tell stories. You know, my best client who I've ever had, he owns a couple of factories. He's local, actually, to me. And he came to me because he didn't feel like he was making any kind of a connection with the guys who were working on his factory floor. And so, he would go down to the factory floor, but sort of like there was a distance that he felt, you know, and he also wanted to just be able to speak in ways that would motivate and would encourage and send messages. And so, what we do, what he and I do is we get together about once a month, and we craft a personal story without any thought of the business whatsoever, just a meaningful personal story from his life. And once we sort of crafted up and we figured got the best way to tell it, then we figure out how it's going to help them in his business, which is really challenging for people to sort of figure out, we recently did a story where the Little League season just came to an end to baseball, and his son struck out to end, the Little League season struck out to lose the championship game. And when he saw his son strike out, he was devastated. Like he was sitting in the stands, he almost cried for his son, and he watched his son, drag the bat, you know, back to the dugout. And 10 minutes later, he noticed his son was laughing with his friends and running up to the parking lot to get ice cream. Like he had put all of it behind my client, it still weighed on him, you know, it was an enormous weight on his shoulders, but his son had already let it go. And so, he told this beautiful story about how he suffered while his son managed to somehow move past it. And he said, how am I going to use this in my business? And I said, well, first of all, you just tell it to everybody, because everyone understands what it's like to have kids or what it's like to do poorly in a sport, what it's like to lead a team down all that's a perfect story in terms of it will connect with everyone on some level. But I said in terms of business, I said, you have a sales department, do they sometimes fail to make the big sale? And he said yes, far too often. And I said, what happens when that happens? And he said, you know, they get down on themselves, you know, and I said, well, that's the story, you can tell now, because it's okay for your sales department to get down on themselves when they fail to land, the big sale, but only for a little bit, right? As your son understood, I struck out and I'm going to be sad for about 10 minutes, and then I'm going to move on with my life and I'm going to live my best life. It's the way that you can send a message to your people without saying it explicitly to your people, right. It's what I call speaking with adjacency, which is, I'm going to tell you a story about something. But you're not actually going to know what it's about, you're just going to be entertained, I'm going to tell you an entertaining story that's going to serve as a metaphor for me. But you're never going to see the metaphor until the very end when I bring the two together. When I say what my son did at the plate is what happened to you today, you failed to make the big sale, he failed to hit the ball. The difference between the two of you is that 10 minutes later, my son was off with his life, and he was happy and pursuing his next goal. And you're still sitting at your desk doing nothing. You've got to let it go and do the same thing my son did. And it clicks when you're able to tell a story like that, and they don't see it coming. And then you just sort of landed that punch at the very end. That is the best way to get people to not only hear you but remember exactly what you said. They call those moments in his company. Now Joey moments because his son's name is Joey. So, he says you're allowed to have a Joey moment. But we know Joey moments don't last long, right. So, we're going to have a Joey moment, which is we're going to sulk and we're going to be sad and we're going to beat our beat ourselves up even if we need to. But then we're going to move on because Joey moments don't last very long. So that's the kind of thing that we can do as leaders in terms of motivating people as speak about ourselves, let people get to know us, and then use that information in positive ways.
James Laughlin 38:06
Incredible, I love it. Thank you for sharing that. And this whole idea of a monthly personal story crafting a personal story is great. And the person that's listening right now they can do that they can think back to the last month of an event, a personal event, or maybe they were doing something in a hobby or with the family. So, if they think back to this event, and something emotional happened, good, bad, and different. How do they then go about structuring a story? Because for some people, that's actually quite intimidating the thought of having to get a story together and then tell that to someone for you that's very natural now at this point in your life and career. But others may find that almost impossible to get started. Would there be some structure you could advise for someone to put together a monthly story?
Matthew Dicks 38:50
Yeah. So, I mean, the first thing you have to do is understand sort of what a story is. You know, I think oftentimes, people think of stories as something interesting that happened to me over the course of a period of time, I'm not going to tell you what that thing was. That's not a story that is just reporting on your life, right. And oftentimes, that is disastrous. Nobody wants to hear it. A story, at its essence, is about change. It is either a transformation, I used to be one kind of person now I'm another or realization, which is I used to think one thing and now I think another you know, in the case of my client, he changed he was depressed about his son's striking out to end the game. That was where he was. And then he saw his son's reaction, 10 minutes later, and he had a realization, the realization was, if my son can get past this, I should probably get past it too. It looks like my son has more wisdom than I have, right? That is the moment we're looking for these singular moments in life. And the good news is, that the best stories that we tell are often the smallest stories because they're the most relatable. You know you tell a story of a car accident. No one can relate to that story because they haven't been in the same kind of a car accident that you have, you know, we're not looking for big things, we're looking for little things that moved our hearts and minds. Once we find that thing that is always the end of our story. That's the thing we're trying to say, right? I'm trying to say my son had more wisdom than me at the end of his baseball game, right. So that's great because when you find the end of a story, that's fantastic. Because most people don't end stories. Most stories end because people stop paying attention, a phone rings, you know, the dinner ends, and someone interrupts. Stories tend not to have actual endings because people don't plan what they want to say they just start talking. And so, once you have the ending, you ask yourself, What's the opposite of the ending. And that's your beginning because that's how stories work, right? The ending and the beginning of a story should be in conversation with each other, they should really be opposite of each other, and the classic example is like a romantic comedy, right? At the beginning of a romantic comedy, two people are not in love. And in the end, they are in love. That's just how movies, work. All movies, all stories sort of operate in this way. So that if you're watching a movie, within 15 minutes of the beginning of a movie, you should know how the movie is going to end. Not with specificity. But you should realize, oh, this guy struggles with x, at the end of the movie, he will no longer struggle with x, right? That's just how it works. So, for yourself, you should be thinking, I had a moment, I had a moment where I suddenly realized something about myself, my parent, my child, my business, the world. I had a moment where I realized that the beginning of the story is the moment, I didn't realize it. And once you have those two things, there are a million things I could tell you that go in between. But if you just create that frame, where the beginning and the end feel like we've gone somewhere, that's going to be 90% of what you need to do to tell an effective story because most people are not doing any of that today, most people are not actually telling stories. They're just talking about stuff that happened without any meaning whatsoever, which means it's not going to be remembered. And it's often kind of boring,
James Laughlin 41:59
That's incredible. For the parents out there, because we have lots of parents who do listen. So, tell powerful stories to your children, about maybe your childhood and how that's going to help them traverse their challenges. You know, do you have, any advice to those parents who are trying to maybe say a bedtime story that's meaningful, and it comes from their own life that can help their child traverse whether it's bullying or exclusion or anxiety?
Matthew Dicks 42:26
Well, I always say to make sure you talk about your failures, more than your successes, sort of no one wants to hear about your successes, you know, there is a there's sort of a belief in the business world and throughout the world today that you should really be bragging about the things you've done well, nobody actually wants to hear it. And it's never inspiring. It's, it's really kind of sad I always think when I hear someone speaking highly of themselves in that way, you should let other people speak highly of you. The courage that we really can express to our children into the world, as when we're willing to speak about our failures, our shames are embarrassments, you know, the things that we've done wrong. It takes genuine courage to speak about those things. And so, for my children, they know all the stories of all the rotten things I did as a kid, you know, it's also colored them into believing I was some kind of a hooligan as a child, but I kind of was a hooligan as a child. So maybe it's not that inaccurate. But I always talk about those stories. First, even with my students, the 10-year-olds that I teach. The first story I tell on the first day of school every year is the story about how at a pool party at the end of the school year with my whole class, I went off a diving board, and I had not tied the string on my bathing suit. And the bathing suit was too big because it was a handmade down because I was, I was impoverished as a boy. And so, when I hit the water, I left my bathing suit behind it flew right off me. And so, I ended up in a pool, you know, naked, surrounded by my friends all staring at me, which is just about as humiliating, as it can possibly get for a sixth grader. I tell them that every year though because they're 10 years old. And that is an awkward time to be a human being, they're going to be experiencing lots of awkward moments too. And if I express to them my understanding of what embarrassment and shame feel like, particularly at their age, they are more likely to feel free to share it with me too. So for my own children, and for my students, I just freely share about all of those, all of those unfortunate moments in my life so that they can feel a little bit better about telling me and feel better about experiencing those moments themselves, because they're going to be scrolling through social media and looking at perfect pictures of perfect people on Instagram looking perfect, and wondering why they are not perfect to so I make sure I present myself as a tragically imperfect human being so that they can feel it's a little normalized in their life.
James Laughlin 44:51
That's so cool. And I really see that being equally as powerful for the leader of a team or leader of an organization that shares their struggles in getting to their position. And then it creates psychological safety for everyone on their team to go, oh, wow, he or she struggled getting there and they're still struggling, they're still feeling cool. It's okay for me to do the same. It's okay for me to approach them and say I'm feeling overwhelmed, or I screwed up or I'm not sure where I'm going. That's, it's a really powerful lesson about sharing your struggle, rather than sharing your success.
Matthew Dicks 45:30
Yeah, I am. I worked with the CEO of a very large hospital, a local hospital, a very prestigious one. And she was going to deliver a speech to about 4000 of her employees. And the speech she settled on the story settled on was the story of how her hospital botched her husband's knee surgery. And you know, at first, she was a little hesitant about doing it, because she was going to stand in front of her employees and talk about a mistake the hospital made. But to her credit, I didn't have to fight very hard, she thought it would be a great idea. She got up and she said that story. She called me the next day, she said from the moment she parked her car in the garage, all the way to her office, she was stopped by more people than she'd ever been stopped before. And they were telling her one of two things, they were thanking her for the story because it made them feel better about the place they worked. Or they were telling her things about her hospital that she had never heard before but needed to know because suddenly she was a person available because she acknowledged that this hospital is not based upon the perfection that any medical institution is going to be imperfect, so imperfect that my husband's knee surgery is going to be screwed up. And so, it was a transformational moment for her. You know, when I work with them, I work with these climbers who summit Everest. And what they figured out is that telling stories about climbing Everest, doesn't really impact audiences very significantly, because we cannot relate to summiting Everest. But if instead, we can talk about struggles and failures up the mountain, before we get to the top, that's going to be much more meaningful. So, one of my Everest climbers tells us an amazing story about one night on the side of the mountain, in the middle of a blizzard, he ends up in a tent with a woman, and the woman is panicking and unreliable, and sort of endangering his life. And it's the most dangerous moment on the mountain. And it's the centerpiece of his talk. And it's the centerpiece because we all understand what it's like to be on a team with someone we can't depend upon. Someone who makes our lives difficult, or in this case makes our lives, you know, endangered in a significant way. He tells the story of ultimately making it to the top of the mountain. But it's the little moments along the way that people remember and comment to him about afterward. And my best Everest climbers, the best person who tells those stories, is the guy who's tried three times and always failed. He is the most popular of the speakers. Because we all understand what it is like to fail at achieving a goal and to have someone stand in front of you and say, I've been up there, I've been within 100 yards of the summit three times. And I failed all three times that is actually more inspiring than the person who makes it to the top.
James Laughlin 48:09
Yeah, that's so incredible. And again, if you're the parent or the leader of a company, and you're saying, hey, I've failed 30 times, and here's what it felt like. And here's what I learned. It is way more experiential for the listener and the person on the receiving end to buy into what you've done, and also to learn and embody those learnings.
Matthew Dicks 48:29
Yeah, and it makes failure more acceptable, you know, like, my son struck out to end a baseball game one time. And he was so hard on himself. And I said, Listen, somebody's going to make the last out today it was, you know, tomorrow, it's going to be someone else. But what I recognized was he was just struggling with the concept of failure. You know, he was really having a hard time thinking he led his team down. And the more we can speak about how that is a commonplace event that happens in the world, every single baseball game that has ever been played, ends on one out, which means in every game, someone makes the final out. And when we can accept the fact that sometimes in life, we're going to be making the final out. And that is a normal thing. And we can feel bad about it. We can have, you know, a 10-minute moment of feeling bad, but then we need to move on. And so that's what I wanted from my son. I think when we speak about failure, in that way, we can normalize it in a way that it's not okay to fail. Like it's not the desired goal. But it is an expected occurrence in life that we can eventually move on from.
James Laughlin 49:29
Really, really good. I love that concept. And it's interesting that I don't class as a failure. I just class as a day-to-day challenge for a lot of leaders. But one of the greatest things that most leaders chat to me about it seems I'm struggling with time, I'm struggling with productivity. I'm struggling with too many damn emails. So, for that person, what advice do you have for them? How can they get their time back and prioritize and set boundaries?
Matthew Dicks 49:56
Yeah, well, time is really our most precious commodity. And what I do for people all the time is I break down their days. And if you're a leader, if you're in the C suite, it's going to be a lot easier for you than if you're sort of, you know, running a factory floor, because you're going to have a lot more support in this regard. But what you want to do is really take a look a good hard look at how you're spending your days, because what happens is, we leak minutes all the time, we're constantly leaking four minutes, and nine minutes and eight minutes and six minutes all over the place. And when we pile these up, if you do a little bit of math, you discover you have a lot more time than you ever imagined you had. But you're just dithering it away, you know, you should be prepared to sort of when a meeting ends eight minutes early, and you have another meeting coming, you should have something to do in those eight minutes. Now, maybe that is mental health, maybe that is, you know, use the restroom and eat a candy bar. But before I clicked on this meeting with you today, I was sitting at my desk about four minutes early before I clicked on. And so, when I sat down, I immediately opened the book I'm working on. And I open to the page I wrote this morning. And I reread that page and did a little bit of revising in the four minutes because I know I can't create from whole cloth anything meaningful in four minutes. But I know I can revise something within four minutes. And so, I take advantage, my wife calls these the little black holes that she sees me fill all the time with productivity. So, we can look at that we can take a good hard look at the way we're spending our time. And then there are so many things we can stop doing. And no one would care if we stopped doing it. You know, it's, it's really, it's a terrible way that we're, we build habits and routines and structures in our lives thinking they're going to be meaningful. And ultimately, a lot of them end up not being meaningful. And when they go away, nobody sorts of cares. There's a business that I work with. And they eliminated all meetings on Fridays. And they thought what would happen is their Friday less Meeting all those meetings would shift to other days, all those meetings just went away completely. And the business didn't change in any way. So, then they said to themselves, well, what if we get rid of all meetings after 12 pm? What will happen then? And quickly, they started to discover we have a lot of meetings that nobody actually needs to have. But because we've been having the same status meeting for two years, on a Wednesday at two, we felt we needed to continue to have that status meeting when really that status meeting is an email or nothing at all. And so, you can start to eliminate things and just watch what the repercussions are. And if there are no repercussions, move on without that thing being done anymore. There are a lot of things I believe we can take off the plates that we feel are pertinent and relevant and ultimately are garnering nothing for us in terms of productivity and profits and good things for our people. You know, one of my favorite sayings that I tell people about meetings is if you scheduled an hour meeting, and your meeting went an hour, you failed, because somehow you miraculously found exactly 60 minutes' worth of content to fill in that meeting. That's a miraculous thing to do constantly, like the goal of every meeting should be I'm scheduling an hour and if we're not done by minute 40, where we've entered the failure zone, why didn't we accomplish our goal in less time than what we have assigned? So, be thinking like that be thinking that your 60-minute meeting can be 30. You know, can I instead create an asynchronous video, and just send that video to my team that they can watch, you know, while they're breastfeeding their baby later on tonight? Or in between poker hands while they're hanging out with their buddies or at the softball game when they're not batting? And can I do that instead? Won't that make people happier? So, be looking for ways to eliminate things from your life that you don't need?
James Laughlin 53:52
That's incredible. Yeah. And I think for some people, they look, and they go, oh, I can't eliminate anything that it's all it all has to be done. So, do you have any evaluation or way to evaluate what your day is like what you've done, and what you've achieved? And what actually was pointless? Do you have any systems or questions that you can ask yourself or a leader could ask themselves to figure out where these leaky moments are?
Matthew Dicks 54:15
Well, the leaky moments, you have to just start spotting them? You know, ultimately, what you want to do is figure out how do I fill leaky moments, and then you can catch yourself. So, the easiest way to fill a leaky moment is for people to take out their phones, and start scrolling. If you find yourself with your phone in your hand in a non-intentional way, and it came out of your pocket because you didn't have anything to do. That's a moment when you have to ask yourself What could I have done in my book, what I suggest is to make a list of all things you can do in 10 minutes and have that list in your mind. I have a list like that for myself. And so rather than reaching for the phone, when I'm waiting to do something, you know, I tell my son we're getting ready to leave and he has two shoes in two different rooms at all times. He doesn't Know what rooms they are in. So, it always means I'm standing by the door waiting for him. That's a leak of time. And what I would have done in the past is my phone comes out and I start scrolling through whatever social media app I choose at that moment. That's a terrible waste of my time. So instead, I say to myself, well, Charlie's going to take four minutes to find his shoes. What will I do right now, I actually have things, it makes my wife crazy, but I have things stationed by my door that need to be done? So that if I'm standing by the door with Charlie, there's a little table by our door. And there's always a pile of things that need to be accomplished. So, oh, I got to pay these three bills. And weirdly, these people, I actually have to write checks to, I just put it over by the table. And when I'm waiting for Charlie, I go, Alright, here's what I'm going to write the three checks, and I'll put the stamps on them. I'll get there done, right, that is better than me scrolling through my phone. So, if you start to identify, what are the habits that I have, in leaky moments, where am I wasting my eight minutes, my 11 minutes. And usually, it's the phone, sometimes it's other things, but identifying those moments will be critical for you. And then just if you want to evaluate your day, you know, essentially, at the end of every day, I do a process called homework for life, which is sort of like a look at your day and finds meaningful moments. But what I do is I sort of go through my day in my mind, and I think, Alright, well, here's what I did first. And here's what I did second, we all can chunk our days into things that we did. And then just ask yourself, did I get any value from that thing that I did today? You know, right now I'm wondering, I took a golf lesson this morning. And then after I had lunch with my wife before I came home to have meetings like this, I stopped at the range for 20 minutes and hit golf balls. At the end of the day today, I am going to wonder, could I have spent that 20 minutes better? Because I had just taken a lesson, I sort of wanted to see if the lesson would hold. And if I was still going to hit the ball as well as I was hitting in my lesson. But I couldn't help thinking while I was hitting the ball, I do have writing that needs to get done. And my agent is waiting for something really important from me right now. And my business partners have wished that I would finish something. And also, my daughter is home. And I could have spent the 20 minutes with my daughter, I'm probably at the end of the day going to determine that the 20 minutes I spent on the golf range probably could have been better spent, but it wasn't poorly spent. So, I'm going to like a sort of giving myself a push on that one, you know, I could have done better. I don't think it was terrible. But if you do that for your day, I think you can quickly assign what was valuable and what was not, and then eliminate the things that are not.
James Laughlin 57:31
And in terms of that 20 minutes. So now that you've kind of already evaluated that. What would you do differently tomorrow, if you had that same 20-minute opportunity?
Matthew Dicks 57:40
I'm probably going to go see my daughter, I'm probably only going to go see my daughter, because of the way she popped her head into my office today, which in my mind was an indication I have not seen her very much today. And for me, that sent a message that she's 13. 20 minutes spent with a 13-year-old that's about all the time she wants from me anyway right now. So, if I had come home and said, hey, Clara, come downstairs and let's do X for 20 minutes. I think I'd feel better about myself. And I think she'd be happier right now. And I think that would have been a better choice for me. So that's probably what my choice is tomorrow if I get to refine that choice.
James Laughlin 58:17
That's great. I love that. I love that kind of constant adjustment. That's absolutely amazing. So, what you've shared has been just phenomenal, super inspiring. And certainly, for the listener, please go and grab the copy of Someday is Today. I'll be putting all the links in the show notes, and all of your social media handles in there as well. But before we wrap up, I've got one last question for you. And I want you to fast forward to later in life way later in life, let's say 100 years, right? Yes. And someone young in your life, maybe a grandchild says hey, Granddad or Hey, Matthew, I'd really love to ask you a question. And I want you to answer this from your experience in life, and the question is this. How can I lead my life with purpose? What would your answer be to that?
Matthew Dicks 59:09
It's advice I give to people today. I think that in the end, most people live their lives with enormous concern over everyone but themselves. I think we spend enormous amounts of time thinking about our spouses and partners and children and parents, customers, employees, and business. I think it's very rare for a person to spend quality time zeroing everything else out and thinking about themselves. As a storyteller, I do it all the time because I'm constantly looking for stories to tell about myself. And so, storytellers tend to be deeply curious about themselves and self-centered in a positive way, meaning we allow ourselves to be the center of our attention for a period of time. I have a couch that I sit on, I sit on that couch for 10 minutes, just about every day when no one else is around, and I think about myself, I say, who are you? Where are you? What are you doing right now? Where are you headed? I don't think people ask themselves those questions. And that's what leads to lives where there is less intention and more direction from outside forces. I think most of our lives are lived in a direction that is dictated by other people. And by you know, the forces around us, the universe will say, rather than really living an intentional, purposeful, constantly evaluating where I am life. And so, I say that young person, you have to be thinking about yourself is as appropriate and joyous and wonderful it is to think about other people and care about them. And I'm not saying don't, you deserve some of your attention, too. Because if you don't, you truly will, you'll end up in a place and you will ask yourself, how did I end up here? Like that person, I was speaking to who has worked at a company for 20-something years, because his sister worked at the company. If he sat down and said, where am I? Who am I? What am I doing? Is this what I want to be doing today, tomorrow, and in the next 10 years? I think the answers would be different. I think that we have to think about ourselves. So, I encourage people to be positively self-centered. Put yourself in the center of your life and give yourself some time to evaluate every day where you are. And if you're still happy with where you're going.
James Laughlin 1:01:37
Thank you so much for sharing that, Matthew. It's beautiful. It's amazing. My thanks for taking the time and I really appreciate you sharing your message from your heart. And I know that the listener that's tuning in today will have got so much from that. So, when I wish you nothing but the best with the book and with your future endeavors. And I'm going to take note of some of those storytelling tips that you shared today as well. So, thank you.
Matthew Dicks 1:02:02
Thank you. My pleasure. Best of luck to everyone.
James Laughlin 1:02:04
James Laughlin 1:02:20
Thanks for tuning in today and investing in your own personal leadership. Please hit that subscribe button. And I'd love it if you'd leave me a rating and review. I've got some amazing guests lined up for you in the coming weeks. And leaders. It's that time to get out there and lead your life on purpose.