Why did you write a book challenging the conventional meaning
As I travel around the country speaking to corporate audiences,
it has become clear to me that Marlon Brando was correct when he
said that we produce more miserable people than anyplace on earth.
For me, being miserable has never been an acceptable option. I believe
that life should be an adventure, so I have always taken risks.
If something in my life wasn't working, I changed it. Many of my
friends and associates used to look at me as though I was some kind
of freak because I wouldn't put up with all the crap they were putting
up with. Now these same friends and associates are begging me to
tell them my secret. They have become disillusioned with the lives
they created for themselves. It's a sad irony. So I decided to share
my approach to living -- in the hope that it will help people find
the joy they have been missing.
We live in an affluent society. Why are so many people miserable?
We have been brainwashed to accept the society's definition of success,
which is to be rich and famous, instead of exploring a personal
route to satisfaction through work and lifestyle. Your parents,
teachers, and the media convinced you to work hard so you could
acquire all the symbols of success -- big homes, fast cars, exotic
vacations, and so on. Then you wake up one day in middle age and
experience one of two reactions: "I have all this stuff, but I don't
feel successful" or "I don't feel successful because I don't have
all this stuff." Either way, the success trap has left you feeling
empty and betrayed. When people are not living the life they want
to live, the result is depression, drug abuse, alcoholism, violence,
Are different generations affected differently by the success trap?
Yes. The college graduate says, "I don't want to make the same mistakes
my parents made." Unfortunately, the success trap corrals young
people into acceptable lifestyles before they have a chance to realize
what hit them. By the time they are in their late twenties and early
thirties, they are beginning to sense that all their hard work is
not paying off the way they expected. Most of them, however, will
ignore the warnings and keep plowing ahead in the direction of what
they perceive as success. By the time they hit forty, they have
so much invested in their complex lifestyles that they don't feel
they can bust out. In a way, retirees have it the worst. After devoting
their lives to work, they are then told they must stop and go play
golf. But here's the secret for all of these people: The time to
take charge of your life is now!
You're a negotiation expert. How did you negotiate with the success
I was a highly-paid sales manager for a major computer manufacturer.
One day, I witnessed an older employee receive a gold watch for
thirty years service to the company, and I practically jumped out
of the window. I locked the door to my office and asked myself a
defining question: "What if your doctor told you that you have only
six months to live? How would you want to spend that time?" That's
when I realized that I was fed up with the rat race. I quit my button-down,
corporate job, became a movie and television actor, and then a motivational
speaker. I've never looked back. It's been a wild ride. Wouldn't
have it any other way.
You claim to have redefined "success." What is your definition?
You are a success if -- right here and now -- you are doing the
things that are meaningful to you. This has nothing to do with money
or fame or power. It has to do with how you occupy your time from
when you get up in the morning until you go to sleep at night. Time
is the most important commodity. Make no mistake about it, life
is short. If you don't use your time to do the things that have
personal meaning for you, you're throwing your life away. I had
an uncle who never made a lot of money, but he was more successful
than anyone I've ever known because he understood his priorities
-- he loved to go fishing and he lived his life in a way that allowed
him to go fishing whenever he wanted. In that way, he lived the
life that made sense to him.
But what if I don't know what I want to do with my life, how
do I find out?
Unfortunately, most decisions about what to do in life are made
by your oversized brain, which doesn't know doodly-squat about what
you really need. If you want to figure out the right path to take
in your life, stop listening to your brain and start paying attention
to your gut feelings, your intuition. Intuition is knowledge acquired
without the use of reasoning. It is your body talking to you. If
you can get your rational mind out of the way, your body will let
you know if you are on the right track.
How has 9/11 affected people's perception of success?
Many soldiers in World War II described their time in combat as
the best time of their lives. That's because they were totally in
the moment. They weren't worrying about their career or paying the
bills or what was going to happen next week. For many people, 9/11
has done the same thing. These people are realizing that life is
short and that they had better get with the program before it's
too late. The awareness of their mortality has forced people to
face up to their real needs. If you're in the moment, you're thinking
about what is going to give you a sense of fulfillment now, not
ten years from now. 9/11 has given many people courage they didn't
realize they possess.
You say that we live with a lot of abuse. How does abuse prevent
me from being a success?
We live in an abuse-based society. That means you are encouraged
to think of yourself as not good enough. When the message you get
all your life is that you are flawed, that you really don't deserve
to be a success -- you are never going to be content. The antidote
to this abuse is to be affectionate with yourself, and to surround
yourself with people who are nurturing and supportive. In other
words, take the pressure off of yourself to be a success, and you'll
How do people give away their power to be successful?
They stop taking responsibility for their lives, and let other people
make decisions for them. Unfortunately, that is the direction our
society seems to be heading in. When you abdicate the right to decide
for yourself what success means for you, you have colluded with
the forces that would turn you into a zombie. I call this a "victim
mentality." I see it everywhere. We are told what party we should
vote for, what team to root for, what car to buy, what kind of spouse
to marry. It's George Orwell's 1984. In 1984, no one
Why is failure often better than success?
There is nothing worse in our culture than being a failure. This
is abuse-based thinking at its worst. In reality, failure is the
catalyst for success. You must fail before you can succeed. Failure
makes you hungry. When you fail, you have learned something that
will help you get closer to success. Success, on the other hand,
often leads to stagnation because we become smug and complacent.
Life is a series of multiple failures punctuated by success, not
the other way around.
Why is getting fired the best thing that can happen to a person?
If you are being fired, it means you're in the wrong job. Were it
not for being fired, you might stagnate in that situation forever.
Getting fired forces you to act. They just did you a big favor by
firing you. They have made it possible for you to find a better
place to spend your time. Usually the next job you get turns out
to be a better fit for you, and it often pays better. Could you
ask for more?
What are the four steps to personal fulfillment?
First, identify your real needs, as opposed to the ones you were
brainwashed to accept. Second, visualize the lifestyle that will
meet those needs. Third, create a plan to make the necessary changes
in your life. And fourth, make the leap -- take the first step.
That's the hardest part. People will spend hours on end complaining
about their lot in life, but very few ever do anything about it.
It really doesn't matter what the first step is. What matters is
that you get off your bum and stop playing the victim.
What is an "existential orgasm?"
This is the payoff. It's the feeling of joy you get when you are
doing what your body wants you to do, what you were meant to do.
It signifies that you are in the moment. When I experience an existential
orgasm, it usually sneaks up on me. I get this sudden feeling that
life is beautiful. I want to jump up and down. This feeling is your
body's way of informing you that you are following your bliss. It's
the completion of the circle that began when you created your own
definition of success and stuck with it.
Can you sum up your philosophy?
Society depends upon conformity. But too much conformity is unhealthy.
If we can learn to be more flexible and thereby encourage people
to explore their own definitions of success, we will have a much
healthier place to live.