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3 Steps to Taking Control of Your Life

A few weeks ago I gave a speech during Catalyst Week. My agency Silverback Social was co-curating the week’s events.

I wrote a post on Linkedin entitled “What’s the ROI of Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project & Catalyst Week?” sharing my thoughts about the amazing team at Catalyst Creativ, and the whole energy surrounding Catalyst Week. I was impressed with everything about the whole week.

Chris Dessi Catalyst Week

Chris Dessi Speaking during Catalyst Week

Today I’d like to share that speech with you here. If you don’t have time to view the video below (13:28 minutes), here is a loose outline of what I covered. This three step process has helped me in my life, I hope it helps you too.

Step 1. Admit to yourself that you’re a loser.

You will never be a winner and a chooser, until you admit to yourself that you’re a loser. I was unceremoniously fired in 2009 from my job at Buddy Media. When it happened I was so stunned I couldn’t speak.

Literally.

No words.

Nothing.

In slow motion I gathered my things and left. The Director of HR escorted me past a gauntlet of gawking colleagues and into the elevator. I felt naked. The elevator doors closed and it dawned on me. Stunned, I turned to her and blurted out,

“My wife is pregnant, what will I do?”

I was “pushed” off the cliff but I refused to let myself fall. Reaching as far as I could, I set a new goal: I’d never let anyone else have control over my income or my future. I felt like a loser. I bet you’ve lost at some point in your life. I want you to think about the times you’ve lost. I want you to take yourself there, and I want you to get angry.

Step 2. Get Angry

Harness your anger. Throughout my entire career I’ve been told that I should never get angry. I’ve been advised that it’s a negative emotion that shouldn’t enter the workplace. However, when I look back at my biggest wins, my most impressive accomplishments have all started with the same common denominator. We all have fear. Some is innate, activating our fight or flight instincts. Some fear, however, is learned. That fear is insidious. It seeps into our unconscious paralyzing us to the point where we choose “safety” over pursuit of our passions. I believe that “learned fear” is the disease of our time. Battle it by taking baby steps. My first step was silent contemplation, and meditation. Another was obsessive note taking. The last step was challenging myself to dream as big as I possibly could, imagining that money was no object, and stepping toward that challenge. I had nothing to lose. Neither do you. Don’t ask for permission to take your life to new heights.

Step 3: If You’re on a Mission, Don’t Ask for Permission

You have the power. It’s up to you and whatever you can conceive. The Technology is free. I wanted to work in social media so I purchased the URLFacebookshouldhireme.com I wanted to launch the Westchester Digital Summit so I bought the URL, Westchesterdigitalsummit.com – I surrounded myself with the right people and made it happen. I was supposed to run the NYC ING Marathon, but Hurricane Sandy had other ideas. I was hoping to run through the streets of New York with other New York City Marathoners, and cheering fans. Instead I was running in circles on a track by myself. I had raised money for ALS research because my Father is living with the disease, and I felt obligated to fulfill my end of the deal with the friends and family who had written checks. I decided to run the marathon anyway. By the time I completed the marathon my family, along with random bystanders were on their feet cheering me on. There may have been 25 people there, but to me it felt like a stadium full of supporters.

I challenge you.

  1. Gather up your defeats, and wear them with honor. They have forged your character.
  2. Let yourself get angry about some things, or some circumstance, and focus that energy on creation.
  3. Stop asking for permission, and run anyway.

Get busy becoming yourself.

Creating Your Own Business Playbook: How Networking Equates to Opportunity

People often ask me what my favorite part of my job is.  My answer is always quick and consistent:  it’s that I am lucky enough to meet so many brilliant, driven individuals who are continually disrupting and positively changing the world. Many of these encounters come through meetings that I take with Chris Dessi. Chris and I are similar in that smart people fascinate us. We ask a lot of questions, we get excited, and sometimes we get scared that people are functioning on such a level. Mostly, though, we get inspired.  

One of these individuals is David S. Kidder. Before I met David, Chris described him as “the smartest guy in the room in nearly all rooms.” I think Chris is brilliant, and Chris thinks David is brilliant; Chain Rule –  I knew David was brilliant.

David is the author of the Start Up Playbook. Naturally, my next move, after Chris had lunch with him, was to read it. I couldn’t put it down. It’s described as “Secrets of the Fastest-Growing Startups.” It’s a compilation of stories from over 40 CEO’s. It tells about their success but articulates the full story and not just the end result. There were bumps in the road, moments of fear and panic and valuable lessons that came out of them. The way it’s broken up allows the reader to pick it up, read an excerpt, attain valuable insight, put it down, and rinse and repeat. It’s one of the few books that I go back and re-read portions regularly. When I first started at Silverback Social, this book was literally my bible. As we experienced growing pains, I realized we were going through the same things so many others had already gone through. It became common for Chris and I to tell each other “we are doing all the right things, stay the course”.  That course was outlined in the Start Up Playbook.

John's Tweet I had the pleasure of meeting David at the Westchester Digital Summit where he gave the opening keynote (*worth noting, he was my mom’s favorite presenter. Sorry, Gary V., you won WDS1). The day was a blur for me, and I neglected to ask David one of the questions that I really wanted to – “How did you get such in depth access to so many brilliant/successful CEO’s?” Luckily Chris and I are on the same wavelength, and he had already asked it. David’s response was simple: he “met them over the years through networking, leaned on them as advisors and resources, and offered value to them when he could.” Simple, made a ton of sense, and I didn’t think too much of it.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago, Chris and I were in Downtown Vegas for Catalyst Week, in conjunction with the Downtown Project. For those not familiar, Chris does an excellent job describing it here.  For someone who likes to meet smart innovative people, this is equivalent to an 8-year-old at Disney World.  After four days of inspiration and a ton of valuable knowledge, our minds were racing on the flight back to New York. That’s when Chris mentioned to me what David had said, and the puzzle finally came together for me.

A lot of times, we get caught up in the day to day. We flow from meeting to meeting, project to project, and don’t have a minute to pull back. Last night, I was with a friend who recently started for CommonBond. When he was making the move from big corporate finance to a start-up, he asked for my opinion. I told him to do it immediately. I told him to follow David’s advice: network, ask for advice, bring value to the table, and build relationships. One day, we will both be on our second, third, fourth, or fifth project, and we will have relationships with some of the smartest entrepreneurs/CEO’s in the world. With that will come tons of opportunities, good, bad, ugly and life changing.

Whether you work for a start-up, corporation, you’re a singer or athlete, David’s message rings true. Make the time to create these relationships.

I am fortunate. The list of smart and successful people I meet could go on for days. Here are a few that will one day make my start-up playbook whom I have met in the last month. They are doing and will continue to do amazing things for a long time to come:

Michael LaiMinerva Project

Amanda Slavin and the entire Catalyst Creative Team (Danielle, Katie, Mike, etc.)

Shilpi KumarProgression Labs, Qualifyor, Venture for America

John FazzolariRevivn

Robyn Allen – Energy Entrepreneur

Idia Ogala* – NBA and hopefully back to Silverback Social one day

John GuydonThe Lassy Project

*I didn’t meet Idia in the last month but he’s impressed me too much not to mention.

Follow me on Twitter @johnzanzarella 

 

 

 

What’s the ROI of Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project & Catalyst Week?

Chris Dessi

Chris Dessi

I don’t normally cry in public. But there I was, under the hot lights on a stage in Las Vegas speaking at Catalyst Week and I was crying. I felt a twinge of embarrassment, but I knew that I was in a safe place, and sharing like this was encouraged. I ended my talk, felt the warm applause wash over me, and I knew I had done the right thing. I’d just shared a very personal journey that led me to where I am today.

A few weeks prior to speaking at Catalyst Week I was perplexed. My company was co-curating the week, and I still wasn’t even 100% sure what we were getting ourselves, and our colleagues into.

All I knew is that I trusted the vision of Tony Hsieh. I had enjoyed reading his bookDelivering Happiness, and I was very impressed with the team at CatalystCreativ. I trusted them. When I inquired about Catalyst Week to my colleagues who had been there, I kept hearing the same thing:

“You have to experience it.”

Ugh. All I wanted was some sort of idea about what I had committing to. But I understood that this one time, for this to work I had to let go of preconceived notions. I committed to letting go, and letting it all happen. I’m thrilled I did.

Let me explain:

Back in November of 2012, while promoting our inaugural Westchester Digital Summit, one of my star employees, Josh Fenster stumbled across Catalyst Week. We then connected with Amanda Slavin the CEO of CatalystCreativ. She found out about our summit, and we discussed that we were interested in possibly producing a Las Vegas Digital Summit. So she asked if we would be interested in co-curating a weeklong event in Downtown Las Vegas. She explained that CatalystCreativ is

… a community design firm that builds community for cities, brands and movements through educational and inspirational events”

We discussed the Downtown Project and she explained that it’s

…a group of passionate people committed to helping to transform Downtown Las Vegas into the most community-focused large city in the world.”

I was fascinated, and thrilled to be a part of something bigger than Silverback Social. This was our chance to give back, learn, and network on a deeper level than ever. We were in. But truth be told, it was a tough sell to get our network to attend. I mean, how do you explain that you’ll be the guest of a visionary billionaire who is revitalizing a forgotten part of the United States in the most unusual and compelling way?

  • That you’ll be expected to participate, engage, and experience what they affectionately refer to as “collisions” throughout your time in Las Vegas?
  • That you’ll meet people who not only impress you, but also change the way you view the world?
  • That you’ll experience a company (Zappos) that excels at shattering convention – all with a smile while truly delivering happiness to everyone they encounter?
  • That you’ll find yourself locked in such deep and meaningful conversations at such a high frequency that you find yourself texting your loved ones & colleagues “you have to experience Catalyst Week.” oh the irony!!!

You can’t explain it. You can only share what an experience like this has done to you. This isn’t a normal experience.

Nope, not normal at all. Odd in fact.

The oddest experience I’ve ever had in my career.

But let me be clear – odd is a good thing. Odd doesn’t happen enough. Oddballs are rampant in the halls of Zappos, throughout the Downtown project and certainly at CatalystCreativ, and that’s a gloriously good thing. Silverback Social is oddball central! The oddballs are welcomed there, and I dig it big time. Glorious, lovable, intelligent, engaging, and fascinating oddballs like Caleb Edison (pictured below) who gave us our tour of the Downtown Project and spoke of the initiative’s three Cs:

  1. Collision
  2. Colearning
  3. Connectedness

He also pointed out that the Downtown initiative has unintentionally taken the shape of a Llama (Tony Hsieh’s favorite animal, because…well, they’re awesome). Odd.

Caleb Edison

Caleb Edison Downtown Project

 

Odd stories like how Tony gave restaurateur Natalie Young her initial investment to launch her downtown restaurant called Eat. Her story is odd in the most random, and inspiring way. Hearing her story in the video below may inspire others to open restaurants in Downtown Las Vegas. That would be the true ROI of the Downtown Project. A true Ripple OImpact..

Odd encounters like colliding with John Guydon of The Lassy Project in the pool at the Ogden who explained to my CMO John Zanzarella and I that he is changing the way the world will prevent child abductions. We’ve been encouraging everyone we meet to download the APP. It will save children’s lives. Imagine the first child’s life that’s saved because of this technology. That would be the true ROI of the Downtown Project and Catalyst Week. A true Ripple OImpact.

Odd and magical stories like the one told during a Catalyst Week workshop given by Leisa Peterson of Wealthclinic. Leisa shared her moment of clarity about her life that came to her during a random shooting. Powerful, and odd, and glorious. I re-told Leisa’s story to friends over dinner this past weekend. I was encouraging our friend to take the plunge into becoming an entrepreneur. Imagine if she does because of Leisa’s story? That would be the true ROI of the Downtown Project and Catalyst Week. A true Ripple OfImpact.

Odd bursts of mutual admiration for colleagues. Like when Robyn C. Allen organized other Catalyst attendees in an effort to offer a small gift at our closing dinner to the CatalystCreativ team. Which triggered a series of heart-felt thank yous, and applause. Like the speech Katie Vander Ark gave in honor of her boss Amanda Slavin. Public praise and admiration of colleagues? Passing that along to others, bringing a deeper level of humanity to our work? That is the true ROI of the Downtown Project, and Catalyst Week. A true Ripple OImpact.

It’s a rare thing to experience something that you know will change the trajectory of your business. Even more rare still is to experience something that will change your life. The unique five-day experience they call Catalyst Week, changed me personally to my core, and has effectively changed the trajectory of my business.

ROI = Ripple of Impact.

The week has influenced the way I view my business, the way I interact with my wife, and the life I lead at home and in the office. I’m typing this now and I’m welling up with the joy of knowing I’ve made friends I’ll have for life, and that my network will be better with these people in it.

True change is elusive. Bureaucracy slows it. Indifference is the fuel of stagnation. While the Downtown Project may not be perfect, and may not be for everyone, there is m-u-c-hmore positive than negative happening in a place that was previously left for dead. American cities need more Catalyst Weeks. Our world needs more renegades like Tony and more people who dive headlong into the fray like Amanda Slavin and her team at CatalystCreativ.

I encourage you to learn more about the CatalystCreativ Team (Amanda, Danielle, Robert, Mike, Katie, Cindy, Reyna, and Nicole). Keep up with CatalystCreativ on Twitter, Instagram (@catalystcreativ) or on Facebook.

Have you been to a Catalyst Week or Creativ Week yet? The Ripple OImpact will be felt for years to come, and I’ll do everything in my power to help along the way.