Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant, executive coach, and keynote speaker with deep experience in virtual presentations. Over the course of her career, she has worked with clients including Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Fidelity, Yale, the IMF, and the World Bank, and twice been named one of the Top 50 Business Thinkers in the World by Thinkers50. Dorie has also been named the #1 Communication Coach in the World by The Marshall Goldsmith Leading Global Coaches Awards, as well as one of the Top 10 Communication Professionals in the World by Global Gurus.
Dorie is shaping new generations of business leaders by teaching at several higher education institutions, including Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, IE Business School in Spain, and the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business. Some of her accolades include two New England Press Association awards; serving as a presidential campaign spokesperson; and a producer of a multiple Grammy-winning jazz album. Dorie also invests in Broadway productions and is a lyricist in BMI’s Tony-Award winning Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Advanced Workshop. She’s also a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s MG100 program, as well as an angel investor and startup advisor.
Dorie writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review, FastCompany, and Business Insider, and is also the author of several books, including the WSJ bestseller The Long Game and Reinventing You, as well as Entrepreneurial You and Stand Out, which both won acclaim in Inc. Magazine and Forbes. Dorie is known internationally as an expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.
Bryan Wish: Dorie, welcome to The One Away Show.
Dorie Clark: Hey, Bryan. So glad to be here.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. It’s such a pleasure to finally meet you, so thrilled to jump right in. Dorie, what is your one away moment that you want to share with us today?
Dorie Clark: All right. Well, my one away moment, I was thinking back over my life, and I realized that one instance that really turned out to be sort of surprisingly meaningful was, I was in college, and it was winter, it was probably December, and the sun was setting so early. It was 4:45 in the afternoon, and it was already dark. And I had finished class. I did not want to go outside, because I knew it would be very cold. It was Massachusetts. It was just cold and dark. And so I was essentially [inaudible 00:01:01] by the classroom, and there was message board, and the message board had this notice tacked up, and I hadn’t seen it at all anywhere else in campus. I actually think this was probably the only message board on campus that had it, because I was near the religion department. But I saw that there was going to be a recruiter from Harvard Divinity School that was coming to my campus and was going to be doing an informational meeting about divinity school.
And this had not been on my radar at all. It just absolutely had not occurred to me, but the minute that I heard that a recruiter from divinity school was going to be there, I thought it sounded like just the most fantastic idea. Now, I should also mention that I’m not really religious at all, but I was just so captivated by the idea and thought it was so interesting. I was a philosophy major, and I was interested in questions about our lives and how we make meaning in our lives.
So I decided that I would go to this recruiting session, and I did, and I ended up ultimately getting in and going to Harvard Divinity School and getting a master’s degree in theological studies. And that was something that really was kind of a random discovery or a random occurrence that set me on a particular course. It had me move to Boston, where I lived for 17 years. And it I think in many ways teed me up in some instances for the work that I do now, which does not in any overt way tie in with religion, but I think a lot of the work that I do now in terms of executive coaching and consulting really is about how we make and construct our own sense of meaning in our lives, and I think that that same impulse was part of what drew me to divinity school.
Bryan Wish: So interesting. I was watching the This is Water talk by David Foster Wallace yesterday, and how we construct meaning from things and awareness. Anyways, so you hit on a point of reading. So my question for you is, on that note, you were at a, as you say, younger age pondering probably life’s bigger questions. Maybe people ponder in their 40s or 50s, but you were, no, I’m going to kind of think about this right now. What do you think kind of drew you to thinking about let’s say meaning and purpose and the things at a younger age that maybe most people are just checking boxes and getting through life, but you on the other hand were probably thinking of a much bigger picture? I’m just curious what stemmed those interests so early in your life.
Dorie Clark: That’s an interesting question. I don’t really know the answer, to tell you the truth, but I was an only child who grew up with older parents, and so I would say my reference set when I was a kid was people in their 40s and 50s, and so I was never that into kids. When I saw how people would interact with their siblings as a kid or as a young adult, I was just stunned at the level of malice and I just thought, I would never treat anyone like that. I was just not operating in that realm. I was with a bunch of AARP members, and I think that my context was pretty different.
So I was a fairly deep kid, I guess in some ways, mostly because I think that we make assumptions about what childhood is, but if we think back 100 years, if you were eight years old, you had a job. It’s very much this sort of Victorian invention of, oh, childhood, this precious time of innocence. I mean, just before that, it was, no, you’re an employee when you’re eight. So people have the capacity to mature early if we create a context for that. And it’s not to say it’s better or worse, but in my case, yeah, I didn’t really have a reference set of people who were running around watching Teletubbies, so I didn’t.
Bryan Wish: Oh, what a unique way to kind of grow up, without the siblings, maybe without the childhood joys or the shows. And just on that note, you said your parents were a little older, were they more self-exploratory or self-introspective to a point of bringing these conversations up at the dinner table or provide a plethora of books at home, or was this really a self-adventure that you went on just because there wasn’t much else around you?
Dorie Clark: My mom has never really been super into this. I think that my dad was, but we didn’t have a very close connection. I think that he was a little bit more into it from maybe a narcissistic perspective. So I didn’t really want to talk about these things with him, because I thought it would just devolve into a monologue about him and his life and things like that. So it was a little bit more of a private quest, perhaps.
Bryan Wish: Private quest. I love that. I relate. So as a kid maybe… Not to go too deep. I promise we’ll get back to the main point. Maybe you feel a bit more of an outsider, like your ideas maybe at home weren’t fully understood, the people around you, I’m sure that was a hard way to maybe grow up, but clearly probably fulfilling as you’ve gotten later in life? I mean, I’m just curious.
Dorie Clark: Yeah. I think I had to struggle with being kind of lonely, which is why I love cats so much. I really, really liked cats, and I had a lot of cats as a kid. To this day, I feel like cats are my homies. They always have your back. They’re very good that way. But I think being an only child, sometimes people assume that that’s synonymous with being lonely, and I don’t think that that’s true. I don’t think I was lonely because I didn’t have other siblings. So I think there’s a lot of shame sometimes for parents where they have one kid, and people often are very keen to justify their own decisions or, why do you only have one kid, they’ll be so lonely, and I think that’s extremely inaccurate, but of course I think the bigger issue is that I didn’t necessarily feel like I fully fit into my cultural context in my community or in my family. I think it was irrespective of being an only child, but that was a little bit of a factor.
Bryan Wish: No, totally. Well, one, I appreciate you sharing maybe more of the intimate details on childhood. You probably weren’t expecting going that far back on this. And I totally get what you mean about being an only child. I have a 12 year old half sister, she has the most self-confidence of someone I’ve ever met, and I’m like… She’s not lonely at all. So I think your point is very accurate. Okay. So let’s jump forward to this one away moment. So you saw this opportunity to go to Harvard Divinity School, jumped in. I would love to hear about the experience, and maybe as you kind of reflect on it… Not that you could do it justice in a few sentences, but what was so formative to you about the experience? What were some of the things that you really maybe focused on or pondered on during this period of life? Let’s start there.
Dorie Clark: Well, when I was in divinity school, the way that they broke it down… I think I’d probably take slightly different things if I were doing it now. World religion was a piece of the curriculum at Harvard Divinity School at the time, but it wasn’t a kind of primary part of the curriculum. And I think if I had a do-over, I would definitely take more world religion courses. That would’ve been pretty awesome. But what I went deep in at the time was a sort of line of inquiry that they called Christianity and culture. And I would essentially describe it as the history and sociology of religion, particularly American Christianity.
And that was really interesting for me, because part of what I wanted to understand was, I was wanting to have a historical context about our contemporary political culture, and religion at the time was playing… I mean, I think it always is kind of a substratum of public life, but at the time, it was really ascendant. The Christian coalition was flexing its muscle a lot in political discourse. And so just wanting to understand where people’s points of view came from and what was shaping it so that I could be more effective in terms of participating in advocacy and in the public sphere, I thought was something that was very compelling to me at the time.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Wow. I mean, it seems like a very, from what you said, pretty deep education on American or Western culture maybe religion, and the integration of how it played out in policy, or how it played out in business. I mean, with just [inaudible 00:11:43] here, what did you notice about what the impact of religion was on American culture just from your observations then?
Dorie Clark: Well, it’s interesting. One of the biggest changes was that, again, if we’re talking about the relatively modern period up until the ’50s, the ’60s, for the kind of conservative wing of American religion, there was a view that essentially being involved in the public sphere was a little bit impure, and that if you wanted to keep your religious purity, that you really need to stay out of it. And so the bias was for religious people to not be active in the political realm. It was viewed as kind of antithetical. But that began to change beginning in the ’60s, and then especially the ’70s, especially the ’80s where you get these strands around Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the moral majority, and you start to see a real rejection of the previous point of view that actually the view is, well, we need to kind of create God’s realm here on earth.
And so there was a lot more overt advocacy, and it became common for religion and the public sphere to coexist quite tightly. So seeing that transition was fascinating. And also just to understand that within a generation, within a decade or two, sometimes a very established point of view of how things are done can be dramatically overturned and an entirely different ideology can take over and take its place. That was really interesting to witness and to understand.
Bryan Wish: It’s very, very, very interesting. I’m sure… I mean, feel like it connects to your latest book and just some of work as well, and kind of shifting ideologies of way things have been done. We’ll get there. So let’s talk about… I mean, I’d be curious about why you wish you studied more world and global religion, but we can maybe have that conversation another time. So let’s dive into, so you go through this program at Harvard Divinity School, you soak it in, you really learn about these ideologies, how they’re shifting, just a lot of different things in culture, you said it shaped for yourself a future that maybe you weren’t expecting, what were your next steps? And by the way, if I’m skipping over anything in divinity school that you want to share, by all means feel free to drop anything in, but how did that experience shape you to say, okay, think about what you’re going to go do next in your career and your life?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. So I had a post-divinity school plan which I thought was a very solid one, which was that I was going to get my master’s degree, and then I would go on and get a doctorate and I would become an academic. And specifically what I decided to do was, I was going to tweak the formula a little bit. I was not going to get a doctorate in religion. What I was going to do was get a doctorate in English literature and study basically literature overlaid with religion, religious themes in literature. I thought, ah, this’ll be perfect, I can kind of blend it together. It turned out this was not a good plan, and I ended up getting turned down by all of the doctoral programs that I applied to, which was kind of my first time professionally that I really hit a brick wall.
And it was like, oh, okay, this thing that I was going to do, this is not going to happen, and I realized that I had to pivot pretty quickly. I did not have a plan B. I did not in any way think I would get turned down by every program I applied to. So I really didn’t know what to do. What I ended up doing was kind of coming up with a little bit of a makeshift plan where I did a couple of internships. And so that, what would’ve been fall semester, I interned at the state house in Massachusetts where I was living for a state rep, and then in the spring, I interned at Boston Magazine, which is kind of one of the lifestyle magazines that they have in different cities. And from that, I was able to have enough connections and enough experience to start getting some paid work.
So I ultimately the following summer became the campaign manager for the state rep who I had interned for, and then starting in the fall, I got a job as an actual reporter at a newspaper. But the path from divinity school, I thought it would be a smooth transition into academia, but it turned out I had to begin pivoting, and that was certainly a lesson that I took with me. And part of it ultimately inspired my first book that I wrote a decade plus later, Reinventing You, but a reinvention was definitely needed.
Bryan Wish: Totally. Now, one, it takes a lot of courage to, let’s just say you’re beating down one path, all the doors shut, and you say, I got to switch gears. It’s a great skill for your entire life, but navigate so early. I mean, were you always more of a type A, type I got to have this perfect plan, and then life kind of set you on your rocker? I mean, was that kind of ingrained in you early?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. I mean, I definitely was a bit of an overachiever. I mean, when I think back in college, I had this book. The Princeton Review came out with a book at the time, which it was called The Top 100 Internships in America. And how exactly they determined these were the top 100 internships, God only knows, but somehow they had this listing, and I was like, well, that’s that I’m going to do, only the best. And so during college, I actually ended up doing two internships out of my college summers. I did two internships, one of which was listed in the top 100, and one of which was listed in the top 10 of the premier internships in the country. So I was definitely always aiming high, one way or the other.
Bryan Wish: Well, I feel like our stories are similar for another time, but I totally get that when you see that, and you beat down everything to get there. So on the academic side, it sounds like the ball didn’t bounce your way in any regard, you were rejected everywhere, and then you shifted to getting these internships, and these fundamental experience gave you a platform to go get paid work on. What was your process? Let’s just say for a 25-year-old person listening to this who realizes they need to take a different path in their own life, for you, what did you do during that transition period when you didn’t know what to do that allowed you to maybe build that essential experience that helped you give a platform for what was after?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. Well, I’ll be honest, I didn’t take very long in the, what am I going to do, period, because I was really alarmed, and also, I needed to start doing something. So I pretty much just very… I just felt like I could not afford to wallow, so I very quickly pivoted to, okay, who do I know, and what kind of experiences can I set up that will put me in good stead so that I can convert this to a paid job relatively soon? I was very hyper focused on being able, if I was not to have a career within the confines of academia, I knew I needed to get paid work pretty soon. I knew I probably did not have quite enough professional experience to really be a great candidate, so I thought, all right, what professional experience can I get that will quickly make me a great candidate, and then I worked backwards from there.
Bryan Wish: Absolutely. Such a smart approach. Now, just given your work in your career, it seems like you’ve been quite intentional, let’s just say, in your pursuits working backwards, having those goals and doing that, but in let’s just say that young period of your life where you were still fairly a young professional, still navigating open waters without tons of experience, going back to your divinity school experience, how much were you thinking about maybe more meaning and alignment to who you were as a person when you were pursuing those opportunities, or was it, I just need to get my foot in the door somewhere, I need to find the next step, and then I can think about that later? Did you see it as part of a continuum of togetherness per se?
Dorie Clark: I think that a lot of the jobs that I was interested in, particularly at that point in my life working in politics or working in journalism, I saw as an outgrowth of advocacy. I mean, journalism is objective, but it is a form of advocacy in a sense that you’re choosing what topics you’re writing about, you’re choosing what exactly you are shining a light on. And so I think that part of what had inspired also my interest in divinity school was understanding the contemporary political landscape and making sense of that. And so I think that this was of a piece that I felt like I wanted to make a positive impact on society, and that some of the jobs that I would hopefully be doing after my goal in academia blew up, I was hoping that I could continue benefiting society through whatever I chose to do.
Bryan Wish: Nice. Yeah. No, it makes a lot of sense. I mean, I like what you said about advocacy work and how those jobs in a sense were extensions of that, and you always had that maybe higher goal in mind maybe as a thread through all your work, advocating and helping people change, and maybe get on the right steps in their life. And so it’s neat to carry that thread line through, which I think you have done quite well. So I mean, just curious, you did these internships, and I’m just curious, how were you thinking about getting paid work from there? And then also I’m just curious from… Not to ask two questions at once, but you wanted to be an author, or maybe you didn’t want to, but you decided to write on some of these experiences, I’m just curious why you chose to be an author and want to help people through this?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. So in terms of how to transition from the internships to paid work, I didn’t really have a super clear vision. I think I had this idea of, well, you meet people, and then they like you. That was probably about as sophisticated as that was, but in all honesty, it’s not wrong either. I mean, a lot of job openings are not even advertised, and you do need to meet people, and you do need to impress them with your work ethic or your ability to do stuff. And in fact, the theory bore out the jobs that I did get. It was the unadvertised job of being the campaign manager for the state rep that I interned for. I was the first, and I think the only person that they approached, because they thought I was a likely candidate, and so I said yes, and went into that.
And then that ended after the summer, and I started looking around. And by then, I had been freelancing with my writing for… I had interned at Boston Magazine, so I was freelancing and doing some small pieces for them. And by small, I mean literally they’re a paragraph. They paid me 100 bucks or something, but I was doing a little bit with them. I was doing a little bit of freelancing for the paper that I ultimately started writing for, the Boston Phoenix. And so I had met with a woman who was the editor there, and she liked me, so she knew… I mean, again, you’re in touch with people, they kind of know that you’re looking for something, and so she asked if I would come on, because they had an opening there.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Well, I find that transition so fascinating, and I want to ask you a question that might be touchy, so feel free to avoid it. But similar to you, I did three unpaid internships. They were unadvertised-
Dorie Clark: Yeah. What were your internships in, Bryan?
Bryan Wish: They started off in sports marketing, but they gave me a lot of foundational skills to career pivot and ditch sports. But anyways, I want to make this about you. But I saw free work as, build a foundation of relationships early, to get on my own internal GPS of where I wanted my life to go for better or worse. And so a lot of people, given the climate let’s just say we’re in today, you shouldn’t work for free.
And my privilege might have an aspect to do with this, not everyone can do that, but from your perspective… I saw this, privileged or not, it was an investment in myself for the future, and I’d find a way to make it pay forward. And so for you, how do you feel about just the younger people who don’t have a lot of career experience doing free work, and do you think that’s the right approach? And I get it might be different for everyone, but how would you answer it? And I know you might be biased with your own experience, but just given the times we’re in today, what do you think is right?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a great question. So certainly there is a big push toward paying all interns, and while on one hand I think that it’s a laudable goal, if someone’s doing work, pay them, if you’re advising employers, I would certainly say, yes, that’s a great thing to do, but if you’re on the other end of the equation, if you were the person who is the intern and is deciding whether or not to accept something, I would say take the unpaid gig every day of the week. Because here’s the thing, if you are an intern, largely you’re not qualified to do very much, and it’s not like you’re going to be doing incredibly high level work. Whatever it is is probably relatively low level. And if they are paying you, they feel entitled to give you crappy work, because they’re paying you, you’re an employee, whereas if you are an intern that is working for free, if you have a good boss… Not everybody does, but God willing.
If you have a good boss, they feel guilty that you are working for free, and they will make a conscious effort to balance out the stupid work, the collating things with actually making an effort to do something special for you, to bring you to the meeting, to give you the access, to give you the introduction, to give you the opportunity. And that’s what you’re banking on, is that they will be sympathetic enough that they will want to go the extra mile to help you with something. And that is how the favor economy gets done. Now, is this unfair to people who don’t have the financial bandwidth of parents who are willing to front the money or pay the rent or whatever?
Absolutely it is. And I think that sucks. I think that’s an unfortunate element of society. There’s a lot of things we can’t control. I didn’t grow up with as much privilege as people who grew up in New York City and went to Dalton or Brearley, I don’t have those connections, but I also know that I have way more privilege than someone who grew up without a stable family. I mean, I always knew however horrendous the prospect felt, I knew that if, God forbid, everything blew up, I could always go home and sleep in my parents’ house in rural North Carolina.
That was not in any way desirable, but it’s also different than sleeping under a bridge, so I get that. But to the extent that it’s feasible, I would say, is it unfortunate that you have to work harder than other people and maybe take the stupid job at McDonald’s in order to earn enough money so that you can also have the unpaid internship somewhere else? Yeah, I actually think that’s worth it. And even if it is unfair, I think that that is a sacrifice that, if one needs to make it, one should make it, because it is the right kind of investment that can dramatically change your socioeconomic circumstances over the long-term.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Wow. I love how you answered it. And I thought a lot about the quote, we’re all dealt a deck of cards, and it’s on us to really use that to the best of our advantage. And maybe you weren’t born living under a bridge, and maybe you weren’t born [inaudible 00:30:40] New York family, but you took on the opportunities that were right for you, and now you’re using that to make an impact on others, and I think it’s the best way to do it. It’s not a money-hungry driven profession, although success follows a lot of hard work, so I love how you answered that.
And while we’re on this topic of interns, just because I think this is right up your alley, and maybe this is your next book, about interns, what would you say to the 20 year old, 19 year old intern, paid or unpaid, how to create access within the organization, how to get in front of the meetings that makes sense? What does it take to succeed and do the things as an intern that helps you stand out when other people aren’t?
Dorie Clark: Well, I think there’s a few things. I mean, obviously COVID has put a little bit of a crimp in some of this in terms of in-person things, although ironically now it certainly equalized things geographically. You can do virtual internships so much more easily than you ever could, but when it comes to real-world in-person things, this seems like the most dumb, basic advice, but it’s actually super relevant. What I noticed is, the interns who dressed the best often got the best opportunities. And when I say the best, I don’t mean they wore Armani, I just meant that they dressed professionally. Because at a very minimum level, even if they like you, even if your boss likes you, they structurally cannot take you to a meeting if you’re dressed in a hoodie and ripped jeans. That’s not going to fly. They will never take you to the meeting.
And so you have to be dressed professionally enough so that you will not stand out and you can be there and whatever, help carry the boxes or whatever they need you to do. So I think sometimes we think that it’s about going above and beyond with some special thing, but actually sometimes it’s literally just a question of meeting minimum viable standards that most people fail to meet. So that’s one piece of it. I think the other thing is certainly there are ways that if… I mean, also an internship, it’s not that long. It’s two months, three months. And so it’s actually amazing if you think of it as… I think a lot of interns are like, this is my summer, I want to have fun with my summer, and that’s true, but also if you think, wow, if I really over-index here for two or three months, which is not a huge amount of time, I can actually dramatically make an impact in terms of getting noticed and getting opportunities that will open doors later.
Two or three months is not a huge amount of time to invest in the scheme of things. And so I interned at a advertising agency when I was in college, and this was in fact the place that was the top 10 places to intern, and I came in… I could have done more of this. I really didn’t, but a few mornings in a row I was working on some project, and I came in early. I came in at 7:30 in the morning. Well, who’s there at 7:30 in the morning?
The CEO is there at 7:30 in the morning. I mean, why is he the CEO? Duh, it’s probably because he actually does things like this. But he saw me there, and therefore he learned my name, because other interns were not doing that. Now, I probably should have been hanging out with him every morning at 7:30, I didn’t, I was too lazy, and it was too hard to get up, but I did it enough that he remembered who I was. And so it’s just a few little things that can be quite powerful in terms of catching people’s eye.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Wow. Chills. Really good stuff. And definitely the little things. I mean, how you can be eliminated by not dressing to par, but also how you can truly be noticed by getting in earlier, staying late. So appreciate your wise words on internships. I think good advice for all the CEOs or young professionals listening. So for you, Dorie, you’ve talked about divinity school and setting you on this path, and you’ve had a wide range of experiences from where you’ve taught, who you’ve coached, the books you’ve written, and instead of kind of taking us down the step-by-step playbook here, for you, what are some of the most maybe fulfilling career experiences that you’ve had, or you look at, maybe you’re currently doing them, or you look back on and just said, wow, that felt so aligned, that had the most impact, how would you answer that?
Dorie Clark: Well, I think there’s a couple different ways that one could answer it. I will say when it comes to thinking about “legacy” or something where I just feel really proud of, writing my books has been very impactful. Because a lot of the work that we do in our current “knowledge worker” situation, it kind of vanishes pretty quickly. Obviously you’re talking with people, you advise them, you make an impact in some way, but at the end of the day, okay, you sent some emails, you did some presentations. It’s not something you can really hold up for a long time. It kind of vanishes with the next day or the next week’s worth of work. But the books are things that actually do have a little more heft and a little more longevity and can reach more people over time.
So that’s something that feels very powerful. I would say a professional experience that I look back on very fondly that did not last hugely long, it was about six months of my life, but was something that was very helpful and very impactful for me was, after… So my first journalism job that I had working at the newspaper, I ended up getting laid off about a year later, and I was unemployed and trying to land a full-time job, and couldn’t. And so as I was doing this, I did freelance writing, and that was actually incredibly entrepreneurial. I didn’t think of it at the time as training in entrepreneurship, but that was exactly what it is. It was very powerful, because ultimately it taught me a couple things. The first is a very acute customer orientation, because in this case, your customer is the editor, but if you can get the editor interested in your pitch, they will buy it, you will get money, you will be able to pay your rent.
If you cannot manage to get the customer interested, you’re not going to eat. And so it became very high stakes for you to learn how to give the customer what they wanted. So learning how to craft an effective pitch became… There was constant up or down feedback, what are they responding to, what did they like, what did they green light, what did they not. So that was really helpful. And it also… All of my professional journalism experience, I think, was quite valuable in that it took the preciousness out of writing for me.
I think where a lot of professionals struggle these days, not people who are full-time writers, but often professionals who want to do some writing to market their services or get their ideas out there, they often get a little hung up because they feel like, oh, they have to have the perfect writing, the perfect idea, the perfect thing, and it just seems so elusive, but ultimately if you are a paid professional journalist, it’s your job, and so writer’s block is not a thing. You do not have the luxury of writer’s block, you just need to fricking deliver. And I think taking that viewpoint actually is really helpful, because you don’t get tied in knots thinking, oh, how do I make it just right. It’s not about being just right, it’s about getting it right enough, and then it’s done.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Well, I love what you said about, maybe let’s just say the emotional intelligence around building a rapport with the editor, or learning how to break through a door and connecting. If you don’t do that, you don’t eat. But then also maybe just as important, just learning how to write and communicate as a life skill, to diffuse ideas and develop thoughts and create, I think is such an essential tool to have, and probably one of the most important life skills. So it’s neat that you really took that upon yourself to really not just do, but I think you took the life lessons and learnings from it and said, okay, how does this apply to the big picture of where I’m going?
So I really appreciate that. Now I want to go back to what you said about maybe books having the most longevity, and I want to give some air time to your latest book, The Long Game. And I know we connected a little bit about it prior to the show, and it just resonates pretty deeply. What made you write the book, and tell us for those that don’t know it or know you what the book’s about?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. Thank you, Bryan. So the book is called The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World. And I was inspired to write the book because ultimately I realized, in so many ways, we’re in this society that pushes us toward the short-term. And we see it in lots of ways. Of course there’s Wall Street scandals where executives are being pushed to come up with ridiculous short-term profits, we see it in our own lives or the lives of people around us where they’re constantly stressed out by social media and feeling like they need to keep up with other people and their success, which may or may not be elusory, but we don’t know, so we feel pressured to do it, but I think where it really came home was with my coaching clients that I work with.
Everybody knows, everybody can tell you, they’ve heard a million times there’s no such thing as overnight success. And everybody knows that intellectually, and they believe it, but also the problem is that, besides not overnight, nobody actually tells you what not overnight means. Is not overnight, okay, it doesn’t take a night, it takes a month? Is it, oh, it doesn’t take a night, it takes a year? Is it, oh, maybe it takes 10 years? No one actually gives you guidance about that, and so therefore you often get a lot of really smart, talented professionals that are really stressed out. They are not making the progress they feel like they should, they worry they’re doing it wrong, and the truth is they’re doing exactly what they should be doing, but it’s just that things take a while.
And what I would see so often is that good people often would quit too soon because they didn’t know how to contextualize the journey. And so I wanted to write a book that was helpful in that, hopefully in helping to encourage people and to give them the context they needed so that they could feel comfortable persisting and moving forward in pursuit of a worthy goal or a worthy journey, even when it was taking quite a while.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. I think so many people in this world lack maybe that emotional and functional resilience to keep going. They hit the first hurdle or second hurdle, and they don’t know how to persist, which is a shame, also an opportunity for those that do. For you… [inaudible 00:43:17] My train of thought. For the… I’m so sorry. This has never happened to me.
Dorie Clark: It’s okay, man.
Bryan Wish: I’m so-
Dorie Clark: You were talking about people persisting in long-term things, that a lot of people get discouraged and quit too soon.
Bryan Wish: Yes. Yes. Yes. And I was… Yes. Okay. It came back to me. Okay. You know when the thought goes? I’m like… What do you think the… Okay, here it is. Why do you think there are these structural underpinnings that have led to such a short-term mindset in the first place?
Dorie Clark: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I mean, of course the ultimate structural underpinning is just, we’re human, and as humans, of course we like short-term gratification. That’s sort of the nature of being a human, is oh yeah, if all else being equal, I will take the marshmallow now, thank you. We all would like that. But of course the part we have to realize is that all things are not equal, and there is a value to waiting, but the lizard brain is not aware of that, so we need the conscious brain to override it and be like, no, no, wait, wait, you’ll get two if you wait. And so I think that ultimately you have to align incentives properly. If you think about the financial crisis of 2008, for instance, one of the biggest problems with it was that there were companies that were selling CDOs, the collateralized debt obligations, and what it meant was that the people who were selling mortgages, setting up mortgages for people that couldn’t afford to pay the mortgages, the incentives were not aligned.
Because if I am being rewarded for selling a bunch of mortgages, but I don’t have to bear the consequence of people defaulting, well, then I’m going to sell mortgages all day long. I have no risk. I have no skin in the game whatsoever. I’m going to just keep doing it. Because you were selling these tranches of mortgages to all these other people, they were bearing the consequences. If you bear the consequence of your decisions and, or your mistakes, then you’re a lot more careful about what you do. And so similarly why is there such a problem with Wall Street? Well, it’s because there’s not a lot of long-term investors anymore.
You’ve got a lot fewer people thinking like Warren Buffet. Warren Buffet says, buy a great company once and hold it forever, and there’s a lot more people that are flippers and day traders, and just trying to make money in the short-term, and so the incentives are wrong. But I think for all of us, we have to realize, even if there are pressures, even if the people around us are like, yeah, do this, do this, do this, you are stuck with yourself for your whole life, and so hopefully if you really get clear on the incentives, well, your incentive should be to make decisions that will help future you, and we’re being led astray to the extent where we are doing things that are pulling us off of that path. We need to get clear and get aligned on making sure… Because we will be with ourselves for a very, very long time, we need to get back to long-term thinking, because the things that we can do today that make our life easier and better 20 years from now, those are the things we should be doing.
Bryan Wish: Absolutely. And I love what you said about incentives, and a quote I heard recently was, long-term thinkers play long-term games or something to that nature. And so I mean, I’m excited for the impact that this book will have on the readers, and hopefully readers that spread them to more short-term thinkers in the process. So we have a few minutes left. I want to end on maybe a couple kind of hot seat questions, so maybe answer in 30 seconds or less, and then we’ll let people know where to find you and your books. So I want to go back to what you said about maybe your interest in policy and advocacy a bit early. If you could change one thing in the political landscape today, what would it be and why?
Dorie Clark: Oh, that’s a great question. I think that one of the things that I am… To the point about long-term thinking. I mean, I really do believe this stuff. I think that it is great that we are finally addressing infrastructure. Now, I understand as with so many things, it’s unfortunate in the current debate about Biden’s infrastructure bill, it’s gotten very politicized, but ultimately I think that one of the best things that we can be doing is… And I also do think it’s a little bit unfair and a little bit slight of hand to some of the things that later got knocked down about trying to put human service things into an infrastructure bill. That’s not the same. That is different.
But if we’re talking about investing in roads, investing in sewers, investing in mass transit, I think it is incredibly irresponsible that we just keep kicking the can down the road, and you end up with disasters and things like bridge collapses, because we could have put in $1 million fix at a certain point of time, but we don’t, and it gets worse and worse and worse, and all of a sudden it’s a $1 billion fix. And I think that if we can be smart and if we can be organized about doing the things now that will prevent bigger problems down the road, I think that’s the way that I want us to be as a society. So the fact that finally we are turning our attention to this, I think is a net positive.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. I love that answer. I mean, really, really well said. Great. Let’s move on to the next one. Best boss/leader that you’ve had, who and why?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. That’s easy. It was a boss from an unpaid internship.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. Same here. Keep going.
Dorie Clark: Yeah. Yeah. It was very impactful for me, somebody I really admired a ton. Her name was Kim Ward, and Kim was my boss when I was a rising in junior in college and I was interning for her. She worked for the National Organization for Women in DC, and I spent the summer working for her, and I just loved her so much. And she was so nice and really did make an effort to take me to the meetings and to give me different opportunities for things. She was very encouraging. And it’s very meaningful when you’re early in your career… I mean, you haven’t seen anything, you haven’t done anything, and so I had plenty of really ridiculous things that I had to do for that job, like at the time, we were literally sending blast faxes, and so I had to program the fax machine. It was so terrible. But I also got to do a lot of really cool things, so she was wonderful.
Bryan Wish: So neat. Yeah. Everyone needs a good master teacher, so to speak, so that’s awesome. Okay. So last question, then we’ll wrap. So let’s just say in an ideal world, everyone in the world is a long-term thinker, what’s the net result?
Dorie Clark: Ooh, I like it, I like it. Everyone in the world is a long-term thinker. I think that probably the net results of everyone being a long-term thinker is that we completely eliminate high-pressure sales, and also we completely eliminate obesity, and we live in a world that I think feels a lot friendlier and with a lot more agency, because people don’t have to be bullied or forced or pressured into doing things, they are proactively going to make choices that are in their best interest. And so if you, in a very rational way, can help explain X, Y, Z is in your best interest, then that’s how we get sales. You build relationships, and you explain that something’s in someone’s best interest, and they say, yes, that sounds great. A lot of the things that we really hate about contemporary society, about shiny, flashy lights, trying to sell you Cheetos, or people who are trying to do the presumptive close, well, Bryan, do you want to sign the contract today or tomorrow at 9:00 AM, that goes away.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. That’s such a good answer. Thank you for your insights. This has been incredible. Dorie, where can people find you, your books, get in touch?
Dorie Clark: Thanks so much, Bryan. Well, if folks want to learn more about my work and especially The Long Game, one free resource I have is the long game strategic thinking self-assessment. It helps you apply the principles of long-term thinking to your own life and career, and folks can get it for free at dorieclark.com/thelonggame.
Bryan Wish: Awesome. Well, Dorie, thank you. I highly recommend Dorie’s work, her books, her website, a lot of great articles on her in the Harvard Business Review. Dorie, thanks again. This was a blast.
Dorie Clark: Thanks, Bryan. Great talking with you.