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Everyone wants to be their best self, but how do you be your best self? Jon Gordon, author of Training Camp: What the Best Do Better Than Everyone Else, talked with Hanna and Cari about the principles he developed to help others achieve their best selves. Those same principles have been put to the test by numerous fortune 500 companies, professional and college teams, school districts, hospitals, and nonprofits.
John, why don’t you tell us a little more about your educational and professional background?
I have a master’s in teaching from Emory University. I went to Cornell University for my undergrad. I played lacrosse there. I like to say majored in lacrosse, but I was also a government and economics major. For the last 14 years, I’ve been writing and speaking about leadership and building strong teams. We work with a lot of fortune 500 companies, college teams, sports teams, and also a lot of nonprofits as well. A lot of school districts utilize my books and our programs to develop positive schools, positive teachers and students who believe they can change the world. We let them know they can. We equip them to do it, and we are really passionate about that work. I work a lot in training, consulting, and teaching. I consider myself a student first and a teacher second. I’m always here to learn, grow, and improve; then I teach those principles on leadership and team building.
How did you come up with the title of your book, Training Camp?
I was speaking to the Atlanta Falcons, I was speaking to the team during training camp, and on my way back to the airport it just came to me – Training Camp. I initially had the idea for the book about a teacher and a student, and then it became a coach and a player. I wanted to share the lessons of what the best do better than everyone else. What makes the great ones great? What makes someone great in their field of work? I recognized that all these different professions had the same characteristics, and the same characteristics applied to the best in that field.
In your book, Martin Jones is a football player attempting to be drafted by an NFL team when disaster strikes and an early injury sidelines him. He learns what it takes to be the best. How can a student also use the principles in the book to be the best at their college education?
We’re all going to face adversity and challenges. When he gets injured, he learns that this is a time to slow down. Yes, his body’s injured, but now he could take this time to become mentally tough, to become more positive, to overcome the negativity. I wrote about principles that can help you be mentally tough, and we can practice those ideas in ways to overcome adversity, challenges, and change. If you’re a student, and we’re not even talking about sports, you’re going to go through a lot of struggles in college. If adversity hits, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this? how can I grow from this? how can I get better because of this? and what do I want now?”
You have to live in the present moment, and finding the opportunity to be your best amidst the challenges is what life is all about. Is it the challenge I’m going to focus on, or is it the opportunity to learn and grow? When I fail, do I focus on the failure? Does it define me, or do I say it’s meant to refine me? Every failure, I believe, is meant to refine us, to help us become who we’re meant to be, and to grow stronger. My failures made me stronger, and I learned so much along the way. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t have those failures.
Out of the 11 traits of being the best that you mentioned in your book, which one do you think is the most important?
I would say – leave a legacy. That’s a really good one, because knowing how you want to be remembered helps you decide how to live today. What is the legacy you want to create? What is the future you want to build as you move forward? This is why life matters. This is why I’m living this life. This is why I’m on this journey. When you really focus on the legacy, it makes each day more meaningful because none of us are going to live forever. So what matters most? Where do we want to invest our time and energy? Who do we want to impact? Everything else pretty much leads to that. If you seize the moment, you’re going to leave a greater legacy. If you focus, you’re going to accomplish more, and that allows you to leave a legacy. We’re always striving to get better. One thing I find is that the best are always looking to improve, learn, and grow. They’re never complacent. They’re never happy where they are. They always see where they can improve.
You’ve mentioned Will Smith in the past, what did Will Smith say about the secret of success?
He said, “If you and I get on a treadmill next to each other, you are getting off first or I died.” He said, “You may be smarter than me. You may be more talented than me, but you will not outwork me. I will not be outworked.” I think we think the best are born that way; they have some magical ability. Yes, there is talent that we all have. I believe in God given talent, but what I have found is that the best really do work harder. They work to master their craft. To be successful, you got to work at it.
In your book, you talk a lot about negative people. How do you avoid negative people, because they are everywhere: in person, on social media, on TV, on the radio, on podcasts, and why should you avoid them?
You can’t totally avoid them. As you said, they’re everywhere. The key is to know you’re more powerful than them. As Gandhi said, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” You don’t allow anyone’s negativity to walk through your mind. You don’t allow them to affect your mood. You realize that your positive energy is greater than all the negativity, that your certainty, your belief, and your faith is greater than all the doubt. It’s important to understand that you are more powerful than the negativity that exists. Yes, avoid when you can. That negative neighbor – just avoid them when you can.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about working hard to be the best. What else do the best do better than everyone else?
You care more, you do more, you give more, you become more. Ultimately, it’s about our mindset every day. What are we thinking each day that allows us to have the success that we want? Your thoughts determine your reality. How you see the world determines the world that you see. What you believe right now will determine what you become. Research from Duke University shows that optimists work harder, get paid more, and are more likely to succeed in business and in sports. What they found was these optimists, because they believed in a brighter and better future, took the actions necessary to create it. It became a self fulfilling prophecy. Your belief is essential. I would also say that the best do ordinary things better than everyone else. They show up and do the little things. It’s not about the big things. It’s about the little things every day, those little habits, every day, that allow you to create success. It’s those little things that make all the difference.
We talked about being mentally strong, but some people really struggle with that. How do you become the best if you have low self-esteem and self-worth?
It’s not about being the best. It’s about being your best, and self esteem and self worth comes from a feeling of worthiness, and too many people feel unworthy. It’s about knowing you are worthy, that you’re here for a reason, that there is a plan for your life. I believe you need to stop listening to the lies that say, “You’re not enough.” People think that their negative thoughts come from them. Who would ever choose to have a negative thought? Would you ever choose a negative thought? Would you ever choose doubt in yourself? Would you ever choose fear? Would you ever choose to believe you that you’re not going to be successful? Of course not. You would never choose those thoughts.
Where are those thoughts coming from? Well, they come from consciousness. They come from a spiritual place. Negative thoughts are always coming in. Once you understand that negative thoughts are not coming from you, you can see there’s a battle of your mind going on: there’s good thoughts and bad thoughts; there’s good versus evil. You can look around the world and you can see it. Every major epic story is about good versus evil in this world. I would argue that at the conscious level, the narrative of the universe is a battle between good and evil, and evil wants to say, “You’re not enough.” Evil wants to hold you back and wants to fill you with fear and doubt and sabotage you and keep you from your destiny. Fear comes in, and you have to overcome it with faith, trust, belief, hope, and optimism. As you do, you win the battle of your mind.
What is the difference between being the best you can be versus being better than someone else, and which is more important?
It’s about being the best you can be, because being better than someone else doesn’t last. I may be better than you tomorrow, but then someone’s going to be better than me eventually. Even the best, even the champion, even Roger Federer is overtaken, right? Even the Warriors don’t last as a championship team. Michael Jordan is probably still considered the best, although if LeBron wins a couple of other championships, maybe he’ll be considered the best. Who knows, that’s debatable, right? To measure yourself against other people, I believe is futile; I believe it’s subjective, but I believe that being the best you can be is about reaching your potential. It’s about being all that you were meant to be, and I think that’s true success. That should be the goal.
How important is it to leave a legacy? And can you explain exactly what leaving a legacy means?
It’s everything, it’s not just important. It’s everything, because we live life, and then we die. What do we do in between? My parents have both passed away. My mom died when she was 59, 14 years ago. My dad died a few years ago. When you lose your parents, you really think about legacy. The people who raised me, who loved me there, they’re now gone. So what’s the purpose of my life, knowing that I’m going to be gone? I’m about to turn 50, which is hard for me to believe. I feel like I’m 35, but at 50 I’m like, “Okay, if I have another 20-30 good years left, how do I want to invest that time? What do I want to do?”
What’s the purpose of life? To me, it’s about making the world better, making people better, impacting the lives of others. So for me, legacy is not some building named after you; it’s not even a book with your name on it. It’s did you impact the lives of others along the way? It’s stories told and lives touched. That’s how we leave a legacy – stories that are told about you, lives that are impacted and touched by your presence.
John, how would someone know when they’ve reached the level of being the best and wouldn’t you say that’s relative?
Totally. I don’t know if we ever really know. I think the goal is to always strive to be your best and just to get better. The minute you think you’ve arrived at the door of greatness, it gets slammed in your face. Never think you’ve arrived. Never think you’re the best. Just keep on getting better. I think you recognize when you become a master of your craft, and that’s important to know you’ve mastered that, but there’s always room for improvement and growth. I got a chance to speak to the Seattle Seahawks the other day, I Zoomed with them. I knew what I wanted to say. I knew how I could impact them. I felt so confident in my message to them. I was like, “You know what? My whole life prepared me for this moment to have an impact on that team that I’ve admired from afar for so long.”
It was a special moment, because I saw how my craft and all of the work I’ve done, all that I’ve learned, and all that I’ve taught over the years, brought me to this moment to help this group at the highest level. I was like, “You know what? I just helped the highest people at the highest level get even better because I’m getting better.” To me, that’s what it’s all about. Now, can I get even better? You bet. I’m looking for ways how I can still learn and grow at what I do. I don’t think you ever arrive. You’re never the best, because you could always get better.
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