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How to Reach Your Potential: An Interview with Drew Dudley

· Interview

"How to Reach Your Potential" is a series of 100 interviews with leaders who inspire Alex Rascanu and whose insights can help you reach your potential.

[Also check out our interviews with Trina Boos, Hamza Khan, James Tjan, and Vlad Rascanu.]​

Drew Dudley speaking

Drew Dudley is the founder of Day One Leadership, which helps organizations around the world increase their leadership capacity. Prior to founding Day One, he served as Director of one of Canada’s largest leadership development programs at the University of Toronto. Drew has spoken to over 250,000 people on 5 continents, been featured on The Huffington Post, Radio America, Forbes.com, and TED.com. His TED talk has been voted “one of the 15 most inspirational TED talks of all time” and has been named by Time, Inc., and Business Insider Magazines as one of their “ten speeches that will make you a better leader”. Connect with Drew on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and visit his website DrewDudley.com.

Drew Dudley speaking engagement

Alex: What is your life’s purpose?

Drew: My life’s purpose is to share ideas that change people.

Alex: What are the three things you’re most passionate about?

Drew: The opportunity to have one hour of an audience’s time

The writing of Aaron Sorkin

Long drives that avoid all major highways

Alex: How do you stay healthy? What’s your main health-related goal?

Drew: I imagine that today is the first day of my life, and starting today, on Day One, I get to build myself into the person I want to be physically, socially, intellectually, and emotionally. I identify the key things I’d have to do on that first day to start becoming that person, and then I ensure I do those key things every day. They are non-negotiable – I have to make time for them.

In order to do that I adopt a philosophy that is tremendously at odds with the glorified “hustle culture” of today: I believe that if I work more than 40 hours per week I have failed myself. In order to make time for the things that make me healthy in the most important aspects of my life, work cannot take up more than 40 hours. That requires the perspective that in working more than that I’m disrespecting myself, and the discipline to stick to that.

Alex: How do you build wealth? What’s your main financial goal?

Drew: I don’t have a primary financial goal. Money and titles make terrible life goals because you’re not in charge of either one of them. How hard you work, and how well you work, will always play a role in how much money you make. But as long as you work for someone else (and most of us will spend most of our lives working for someone else), how much money you make is someone else’s decision. If you get promoted or more opportunities, it’s because someone else is in a position to deliver that to you. If we tie our life goals to someone else’s whims, it’s tremendously disempowering.

True personal leadership and success comes from recognizing that wealth, respect, and influence should not be goals in-and-of themselves. Rather, they are the natural by-products that come to people who find a way to add tremendous value in every single interpersonal interaction of which they are a part. I have no goal – financial or otherwise- except to do just that. That means the primary goal in my life is in no way dependent on anyone but me.

Wealth is not a goal, it’s a by-product. Since I adopted that philosophy my wealth, prestige, and happiness have increased exponentially.

Alex: How do you balance work and family life?

Drew: The woman I loved recently passed away suddenly, so currently I am single without children, so I don’t have a traditional “family life” to balance with work. The key balance I aim to strike right now is between activities that provide me with energy vs. those that take it from me. What’s interesting is that certain activities can be in either category at different times. Sometimes speaking, writing and travelling is tremendously energizing for me – I feel profoundly alive and healthy when I’m doing it. Other times it starts to wear me down and make me feel drained. The very same thing is true about spending time with friends, or working out, or spending time alone. The key is to be attuned to which category any given activity is in at any given time, and how it may be changing. Then you adjust the ratio of the various activities. “Balance” isn’t about how much time you spend working vs. not-working, it’s about how much time you spend in energy-gaining vs. energy-draining activities.

Alex: Sorry to hear about her passing... How do you enjoy spending time with family and friends?

Drew: I’m often on the road, so there are three key ways I aim to connect with my friends in a meaningful way: baseball games, walking/hiking, and road trips. Each one allows for a dedicated amount of time together where we’re doing something that entertains, strengthens, or educates us. When you share experiences like that with people, it connects you together more strongly.

Drew Dudley and friends

Alex: What has been the most fulfilling role you’ve ever had, or the most fulfilling project you’ve been involved with so far?

Drew: The most important role any of us will play is as CEO of our own lives. A CEO is responsible for the day-to-day activities of an organization, and their primary responsibility is to ensure the organization’s health and growth. Most major organizations have a Board of Directors whose job it is to provide guidance and support to the CEO (our families, friends and mentors), but it’s our job as CEO of our own lives to make the decisions that keep ourselves happy and healthy.

Being CEO of my own life has been a profoundly difficult and rewarding experience for me. I’ve experienced some profound failures: I didn’t acknowledge my mental illness and seek help, I refused to accept that I was powerless over alcohol, and I consistently made decisions that led me to put on weight and remain tremendously unhealthy. It was during these failures that the Board of Directors I had chosen helped me recognize my mistakes and empower me to adjust course. Ultimately I was the one who determined and implemented the changes I was going to make, but it was my support system who made that possible.

Being CEO of my own life has been a powerful experience, and it is one that no one can avoid. I’ve come to realize that one of the most important steps you can take is to carefully select the Board of Directors with whom you surround yourself.

Alex: What’s one career planning lesson that has made a significant difference in your life?

Drew: I believe the key to achieving anything in life—health, business success, athletic accomplishments—is a particular philosophy: This Is Day One.

It emerged from my experience dealing with alcohol addiction: in recovery, you learn that if you don’t want to have a drink for the rest of your life, you have to choose not to have a drink today. That’s the single, foundational decision that has to be made on Day One. Then you have to treat each and every day of your recovery like it’s the first day. If you screw up, that’s okay, everyone screws up on Day One. If you’ve been sober for 20 years? Doesn’t matter – you have to treat today as if it’s Day One so you never get complacent.

I’ve had a lot of Day One’s in my life: Day One without alcohol, Day One running my own company, Day One publicly acknowledging I battle with mental illness, Day One of losing over 100 pounds. The key to success in each of them is to identify the key foundational decisions that have to occur on the first day of the journey, and making sure you live them each day. What you’ll be capable of on the 100th version of Day One will be significantly more impressive than on your 1st version, but each day must be treated like it’s the first. It allows you to forgive yourself and start over after a screwup and keeps you from becoming complacent and forgetting the foundational behaviours that got you there when you achieve some success.

“This Is Day One” reminds me not to worry about five-year goals, but instead focus on creating five-year momentum. There’s a lot of uncertainty in life and business, but unfortunately all too often, when we don’t know what the future holds, we tread water. We’re afraid to move forward for fear that it’s going to be in the wrong direction. However, it’s better to be decisive than certain in life. My work focuses on helping people figure out what they want to stand for as people each day, and making sure they engage in the foundational behaviours that help them live up to that, each day. In doing so, you are always moving forward, even if you aren’t certain where you’re going to end up.

Drew Dudley by the water

Alex: What would you like your legacy to be?

Drew: When my name is spoken out loud in a room in which I’m not standing, I’d like the people who hear it to smile.

Alex: Thank you for taking part in this interview! Your candor and insights are much appreciated!

Did you find one or more of Drew's insights helpful? Are there any ideas or resources that came to mind as you read the interview? Know someone we should interview?
We encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below. Alternatively, feel free to send us an email using our contact us form.

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