[00:00:04.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[00:00:11] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than 3 million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we discuss how to find your purpose in life, especially when you're lost or confused about what to do next. We hear some incredible stories and unforgettable lessons from people who were fighting through life-threatening illnesses and look at how to really push yourself beyond what you thought was possible to achieve what truly matters to you. All of these and much more with our guest, Jon Vroman.
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In our previous episode, we asked how champions are made. Are they born or are they built? Is nature versus nurture even a useful model for understanding human performance? We looked at the incredible power of focus and how it translates into championship performance. We studied how Navy SEALs use the technique of drownproofing and how you can use the same thing to conquer your own fears and perform like a champion. We discussed all of that and much more with our previous guest, Dr. Rowan Hooper. If you want to learn the truth about world-class performance, listen to our previous episode.
Now for our interview with Jon.
[00:02:55] MB: Today, we have another great guest on the show, Jon Vroman. Jon is the cofounder of The Front Row Foundation, a charity that creates unforgettable moments for individuals who are braving life-threatening illnesses. Jon teaches others to live life in the front row through teaching and inspiring others with the art of moment making. He’s also an award-winning speaker, podcast host and multi-bestselling author.
Jon, welcome back to The Science of Success.
[00:03:20] JV: Hey, guys. Great to be here.
[00:03:21] JV: Well, we’re super excited to have you back on the show, and for listeners who may not be familiar with you or your work or might not have heard your previous interview on Science of Success, I’d love to start out with a core theme that really inspires and flows through all of your work, which is this idea of learning about living life from those who are fighting for their lives.
[00:03:43] JV: Yeah. That been a decade-long study for me and a privilege to be a witness to so many people who are in the fight, and after we started Front Row Foundation back in 2005 and here we are 13 years later. When we wrote the book, The Front Row Factor, we realized there's so much wisdom here from people who are facing death, and this isn’t terminal situations, but when somebody has an illness, a disease, something in their world that's threatening their existence, a lot of things become super clear. A lot of things that we used to make a big deal about seem to no longer be such a burden, and that what’s truly important tends to emerge, and that's what we want to define.
We just had so many opportunities to be in conversation with people that were experiencing that level of focus, and I can actually – I’m a storyteller. That's what I do, is I’ll give you an example of what I mean, because I’m not just speaking in theory, right? We took a woman on an event one time, her name was Nikki, and she was battling breast cancer at the time. We took her and her husband to go see the Dallas Cowboys, and it was in the midst of their Front Row experience. We’re in a limousine. We’re heading to dinner right before the game, and I don't how we got here, but she made a comment that when she walks into public places sometimes people look at her with kind of like a look of disgust, because she has her head shaved or she might be in treatments and she's not looking per se at her best and she says people give her this look.
When she said it, I felt myself getting angry at the people. I felt myself wanting to stand up for her, kind of fight somebody on this and call them out. Right as I'm getting angry she's like, “And that makes me happy,” that they're looking her that way. I was like, “Okay. You caught me. What do you mean it makes you happy? Tell me.”
She said, “Jon, it makes me happy because if they look at me with disgust, it means they have no context to my situation. Certainly they've never battled cancer and they don't know anybody who has, because if they did they would never look at me that way. So I'm happy they don't know this pain.”
When she said that I realized how much room I had to grow as a human, how much I could evolve in the way that I viewed people in my situation and are in entanglement with others, and that type of story showed up time and time again from kids to people that were at the end of their life fighting for their life, but those are the lessons that I've been learning and trying to live myself, trying to be a better human myself and then trying to teach other people what we're hearing and witnessing.
[00:06:16] MB: And I think one of the most important lessons that comes to me out of all the things you’ve taught and written about is this idea that the finite time in our lives in many ways can seem sort of scary and morbid, but if you really think about it, it can create an appreciation for the now and for the moments in our lives.
[00:06:36] JV: 100%? Yeah, it was a little bit of like the moment you realize that – The moment you come to grips with the fact that this is going to end. People don't like that idea at first, like I’ll stand in a room and giving a speech and I’m like, “The one thing we all have in common is that 100 years from now everybody here is dead.” Barring any miracle medical evolution, we’re all gone. This is going to end for everybody. That's a scary thought. I don’t like to think about my sons, my two boys. I have a nine-year-old and a four-year old. I don’t like to think about the end of their life. But when I recognize that there is a finite amount of time, every day counts more because you appreciate it, because it has an end.
So as an example, I remember coming to my buddy, John Cain, one of my best friends in the world, and it was a summer, few summers ago, beginning of the summer, and I said, “Hey buddy, we have 16 weeks this summer, 16 Saturdays with our boys. Let's not waste a single one,” and he was like, “Oh my God. I never thought about that, that in a summertime we get 16 Saturdays.”
Then I had a buddy of mine, Jim Sheils, who wrote a book called The Family Board Meeting, and he talks about 18 summers. When you have a child that is born, you have 18 summers with them before they are an adult and often to the world. Now, I know that my wife fights me on this and she's like, “Our kids are never leaving the house. It’s not just 18. You get many more,” and I get that. It’s just – But when we recognize that there are seasons of life, and there's statistics about how you will spend like 90% of the time with your children before they reach the age of like 12 or something like that, right? It's staggering to think that these are realities that many people do face in their life.
I remember being on an airplane and pulling out a journal and putting a little dot on the left-hand side and a little dot on the right hand side. Left side was my birth, right side was my death, and I thought, “Oh, let’s just say I live to 100, right? Let's take 80 of those years were amazing years. I put a dot right where I was at the time, which is about 37-years-old.” I was like, “Oh my God! That's it. I'm looking at my whole life on a timeline and I'm almost halfway through the great years that I have.” That didn't create a paralyzing feel. That created energy. That created vibrancy, appreciation, an urgency to make sure that I made the most of my moments. It changed the way that I approach my days, and that's what I hope to inspire with other people so that we don't have to face a life-threatening illness to get that wisdom and that lesson.
[00:09:04] MB: How do people wake up? How do they have a reaction of vibrancy and the urgency to live and appreciate and truly experience life instead of being in a place of fear or paranoia?
[00:09:16] JV: I think a lot of it goes back to – Well, three things that we teach in the book, right? These are the three areas of focus of living a front row life as we call it, and one is that it's your mindset. So what you think, and this is not new, right? But it’s good to be reminded of this. I often tell people that personal growth isn’t always about learning something new. It's about remembering what's true. It’s practicing the habits and the rituals and the ideas and the rhythms that actually work, and one of them is the questions that we ask. The questions that we ask shape our future. If we ask powerful questions, we get powerful answers. One of our dominant questions of the charity is how can I consciously create experience and celebrate the meaningful moments of life?
If somebody goes through their day and their dominant question is how can I consciously create experience and celebrate the meaningful moments of life? They're acting differently than if somebody goes through life saying, “What's wrong here? What am I missing? What's not happening in my life that's happening in everybody else's life? Why are they so much further ahead than I am? Why are they on vacation and I'm here slaving away?” We ask the wrong questions and we get the wrong answers.
I didn't make that up. That seems to be every wise person that's traveled the road ahead of me said that about the power of questions. So I think managing our minds, that’s really important. Part of how we manage your mindset is by the environment that we put ourselves in and the relationships that we’re in. If our environment lights us up, we’re bound to behave differently.
Shawn Achor and The Happiness Advantage. He was a Harvard professor and he did a lot of research on happiness, and one of the things he wrote about his book with this 22nd rule where he wanted to learn guitar and he thought, “Well, I never play it, but it's always in my closet. What if I put the guitar in the middle of the room?” The percentage of times that he played the guitar went way through the roof.
What if we shape our environment intentionally in all areas? What if we put things in our way? What would become the chief marketing officers in our own lives? Why do we wait over the world to market to us? Why don’t we market to ourselves? We don't put enough time and attention into where we show up in life. Literally, our environment, we work very hard in the charity that shape people's environment by sending them to these incredible events.
One of the reasons I love going to retreats is because it changes my environment, and there's amazing research on this, right? I literally have studied people, older folks, who they created an environment where they turned back the clock. There’s a famous study I wrote about in the book where they literally put people in an environment where all the magazines, all the pictures in the wall, everything was from 20 years earlier. These are men in their 70s. What they did is they took all the vital signs before the experiment, all the vital signs afterwards and they recognized that, literally, by putting somebody in an environment where they were not only acting like they were younger but they were in an environment that suggested they were younger, that these men, by saliva tests and measuring their height and flexibility and all these other different measurements, they literally changed physically and mentally. They were sharper. Their eyesight improved. Some of their hands got longer because their arthritis diminished. It was incredibly profound about the power of our environment.
Then the other way is by the relationships. I mean, listen, we have such a strong desire to connect with people that when we have somebody that we’re accountable to, when we have somebody that we’re connected to, it changes our world. I mean, the incredible book Connected, written by Christakis and Fowler. That basically proved with science that we’re affected by our relationships. The biggest determining factor of somebody's health and happiness in life is the relationships they have.
So if we want to wake up every day and make the most of our moments, if we want to live life to the fullest, if we want to make the most of our time, we have to focus on those three areas. What's going on inside our head? How are we dictating that conversation? What is our environment look like? Every piece of it that we can manage – Some of your listeners might be like, “Oh, I can't manage my environment right now. I live in this area. I can't move away from this area.” “Okay. Well, manage what you can, and then it’s relationships.” Choosing who we want to be in the front row with, right? Who's in our front row? Whose front row are we in? Who are we connected and close to?” That’s it.
[00:13:11] MB: Tell me more about the power of relationships and creating close connections with people that can help foster accountability and create really meaningful impact in your lives.
[00:13:22] JV: Here’s one of the things that we teach, which is you write out a list of your topic relationships and you rank them in order of importance, one through eight. That’s very hard for some people to wrap their heads around, but you can do it, right? You rank them one through eight. Then what you do is you write down what their biggest dream or goal is. Amazingly, for the eight most important people in your life, a lot of us, me included at many times in my life, I can't tell you what they are. A lot of people are married. They can’t even tell you what their spouse’s number one dream or goal is.
It just goes to show that here's the thing, we spent a lot of time focusing on our own dreams and our own goals and how we can grow, and I get that. Me to, I want it just like everybody else, but the front row philosophy is showing up for others. We have no shortage of attention of the philosophy of get in the game. Play the game. Don't be on the sidelines. We almost like condemn people that are on the sidelines, like, “Oh, you’re on the sideline. Well, I’m in the game. I’m awesome.”
People have challenged overtime. I talk about living life in the front row and they’re like, “Well, I don't want to be in the front row. I want to be the one on stage,” and I’m like, “I get it, man. I'm a professional speaker. I understand the value of being on stage, but let me tell you that that can't be it in life. We can't go through life always wanting to be the one on stage or be the one playing the game. What about supporting others? What about cheering somebody on? What about putting them on stage, making them the rock star?” Both have to play a role, but what we want to do is we want people to say – Zig Ziglar said it best. He was like, “If you want everything you want in like, you got help enough people get what they want in life.” That's the key, right? I probably just butchered how we said it. He probably said it way better than that, but that's basically what he said.
So I think that part of how we nurture these relationships, part of how we build relationships is we show up to serve. We show up to give. Put somebody in the front row, shine the light on them, make them the rock star, and that's living life in the front row. It's a life of service. That's what it is. When you do that, the best fans get the best show. When you do that, you will get the best performance from the people around you. They’ll want to play for you. They’ll want to serve you. They want to play for you because you showed up for them. That's how I think the game works.
[00:15:28] MB: There’re so many avenues that I want to explore coming out of that. To zoom out and come back a little bit, for listeners who may not have been familiar with this term living life in the front row, tell me a little bit more. You started to get into that, but tell me more about what does that mean to live life in the front row.
[00:15:44] JV: Yeah, I’m glad you asked to clarify that. Sometimes I get all fired up and I forget about context. So the charity is Front Row Foundation. We put people in the front row, their favorite event, and then we teach them how to live life in the front row as we say. What that means is living life in the front row is about getting close. It's a metaphor for getting close to the people, places and things that make you come alive that you can show up for. That's what it's about.
Tony Robbins has always that proximity is power. That's the philosophy. What do get close to? So a front row life is where you intentionally and consciously create experience and celebrate the meaningful moments of life. So when I talk about living life in the front row, that's what I'm talking about. I'm talking about somebody who values also three things that we talk about.
Now, I talked about the three areas of focus, of relationships, of mindset, of environment, but the three things that our community values the most is hope, celebration and presence. I like to think of life as like this pendulum that swings from the past to the future. When our pendulum is swinging into the future, we’re thinking about what's next. What's the next call we’ve got to be on? What's the next thing we’re going to do? As we record this, what's going to happen around the holidays? What do we want to create? Where are we going? What's next? That's our future.
When we really have hope for the future, we are able to bring the power of possibility into the present moment so we can do something about it. It's not wishful thinking. This is not weakness. Hope is very powerful, because it creates change, because when we look into the future and we’re excited about something, we know what makes us come alive. We know we want to create. How we want to serve. It can change how we behave in the moment.
People who live life in the front row understand the power of celebration, looking in the past. They understand they can look back and say, “What worked? How can I do that again? What's worth celebrating?” Some people go through life and they achieve so much success, but they never take time to celebrate it and they miss out on that really amazing feeling of looking back on the day and saying, "What am I grateful for? What we’re the highlight moments? What were the wins today?” That’s a huge part of how we feel in the present moment, and there's so much science behind that, right? Talk about Shawn Achor, who we’re talking about earlier. His science behind gratitude and looking back and celebrating wins is huge, massive victories there. In the space of science saying, “How does this affect somebody's chemistry of their body, the chemicals that releases?”
Then it's being in the present moment, like this pendulum, we’re kind of swinging through the present moment. Very hard to be in the moment. Very hard. We can practice it. I mean, even meditation is the practice of coming back to the present moment. You get distracted, you come back to it. They go, “That’s actually meditating. Not standing in the present moment, but the art of coming back to it.”
So being in the present moment is just the ability to not always pull out your phone and take a video or a picture per se, but to just feel it, to be there, to be witness to it, to be in that experience. I think that living life in the front row is understanding the power of those three things, and we have countless examples of that in the charity. You talk about hope, people fighting to stand up for the national anthem at their front row event. Working hard weeks and months prior in their physical therapy so they can stand up for the national anthem. That’s the power of hope, changing how we behave.
People on their on their deathbed literally days away from losing their life, looking back at photo albums with a smile on their face, celebrating their front row moments. Taking the pain away from their present moment because their focus goes elsewhere on the celebration of life and what they've done and experienced. Then this idea of being able to like do something with your moments as its unfolding, as it's happening. How good of a listener are you when someone's talking? It’s a great example. That’s a front row life. That’s a front row skill, listening.
A lot of time in society we put all the value in what you're saying, and it's ironic because I’m doing a lot of talking right now, but normally in my life when I'm not on a podcast interview, I’m focused on listening. I'm actually focused on not saying much, but hearing more, and I think that's a front row life. We have a world where we want to talk and put all these value in the things that you say, the brilliant things you say. How you lead. What about just how you listen to people at times? I think these are ways that we can live a front row life.
[00:20:08] MB: We went pretty deep in our previous interview into celebration and then how to really create celebration in your life. I want to explore a little bit more this idea of hope, and especially I really like the notion that you share, this idea that hope is not weakness.
[00:20:24] JV: That kind of sounds a little light. If you’re like, “Hey, I want to come in and talk to your sales team about hope.” They’re like, “Oh! I much be more interesting in like closing sales,” right? Yeah, it feels a little light.
[00:20:37] JV: So tell me more about why hope isn’t weakness.
[00:20:40] JV: Well, I think that hope changes the way we behave. One of my favorite movies, and I don’t’ remember if we talked about this in the previous interview, but Shawshank Redemption, right? Nobody knows what that's about. It's basically about a man who escapes from prison. An innocent man was put in prison and he finally escapes. The movie to me was about persistence. The movie to me was about being steadfast in your belief that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, pun intended.
In this movie he gets out. He just suffers and suffers and suffers and your heart is breaking with this character of the movie, and at the end, when he gets out – By the way, I don't know whether or not you’ve seen the movie, but I’m talking to all the people out there who may not have seen the movie. It's like – And as a reminder to those who have, when he gets out, he gets to this one tree and he digs up kind of a treasure that his cellmate had told him about and he starts reading a letter, and one of the things is hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things and good things never die.
I'll never forget hearing that line in the movie. I'll never forget understanding how hope creates in our world this determination and perseverance and gives us this energy to act, and I think that's the difference, right? It's a way of understanding the power of dreams that people have in their life. One of my friends, Matthew Kelly, who’s a wonderful author, wrote a book, wrote many books, but one of them is called The Dream Manager, and The Dream Manager is all about understanding that as a manager of people, we sometimes underestimate the power of knowing what their dreams are and how their current role and their current job can actually help them to live out their dreams.
So on his team – And he's a consultant and works with big companies all over the world. On his team and what he teaches other people to do is to literally have dream sessions with their teams, where people come to a staff meeting with a list of a hundred dreams and they literally go around the table and you just start with your number one dream and you read it off to the group and you talk about that dream and then you keep going around the table.
What's amazing is that people can actually start to help make other people's dreams come to life, and then now that sales team, that team of nurses, that group of accountants, all of a sudden they find more meaning and purpose in their moments, because they have hope for the future and that they can actually find out how what we're doing today, our team. Why are we together? Why are we working together? It's not just to do these numbers as an accountant, but it's to actually be in relationship with one another. It's actually to understand what each other's hopes and dreams are and to help each other move forward. That this becomes a vessel, that this will work that we do becomes a conduit to our possible future, right? That to me is the magic of hope. Hope is united. Hope is collaborative. Hope brings things to life, but I think that's something that we all need.
I mean, truly, when a company talks about a 10-year vision, or in Japan and overseas, they talk about the hundred year vision that companies are creating. Really, what they're talking about is what they're hopeful for. What do they hope happens within their company? The reason in some ways is hope is because nobody controls the future. I mean, look at most – Most plans become – They become archives immediately, because they literally – We don't know what the future holds for that plan. That's why so many great leaders that I know are like planning beyond like 90 days. Yeah, you could cast a vision. Yeah, you could be helpful for things that you could create, but – I mean, we just don't know what's going to happen. We don't know what's going to happen.
So when life is throwing us curveballs, when we’re getting punched in the face, when we’re in the storm, hope brings us through, because it creates – It's always a possibility. Who doesn't need that? Who doesn't need to overcome adversity? Every business owner, every parent, everybody, there’s not a person on the planet. So on some level this has to be a role in someone's life. This has to be a place. We don't live in the future. I don't live in hope. I just live into it.
[00:25:03] MB: The whole discussion around dreams and goals and the exercise you shared earlier I think is really powerful, which is this idea of writing down the dreams and goals of the people who are closest to you even thinking about people in my own life. It's amazing how it's so easy to overlook that and yet there's such a rich ground for engagement and meaning and relationship building if we just wrote that list down and began with that.
[00:25:29] JV: Yeah. It's so fascinating even for me to think about how I'll teach this and then occasionally I'll go, “Oh! I should probably do what I teach,” and I go, “Oh! I actually need to go back to the basics in my own life.”
One of my favorite questions always is what dreams are making you come alive right now? What are you chasing? What are you hopeful for? Did everything worked out? If this year we’re wildly successful, what would change in your life? Those are the things I want to talk about. That’s much better than what do you do at a party? Asking that question what do you do? It's like, “Hey, what are you excited about right now?” It’s so cool. Let people take it wherever they want.
[00:26:09] MB: I’m definitely going to upgrade my cocktail conversation to use that question.
[00:26:14] JV: Right. Right. Oh! It’s so funny, speaking of that. I remember years ago I was at a networking event of some type or a personal growth conference and I never do this, but I did it in the moment where I said to the woman, I go, “What do you do?” and her response was, “Ugh! I hate that question.” I was like, “Me too! I’m so sorry I asked it.” But she gave me the most direct, brutally, honest response to that question. I thought it was super funny.
[00:26:39] MB: And I think it also underscores – You touched on this earlier, but I think it's worth coming back to and exploring, the importance of showing up to serve others and to put others often times or many times ahead of yourself and how that can really create meaning in our lives and help foster and develop incredibly powerful relationships.
[00:27:00] JV: Yeah. Yeah, it’s true.
[00:27:03] MB: So something else that you’ve talk about the past and you actually talked about it in our previous interview, but we didn't get to go deep on it and I wanted to come back and explore in this conversation is the idea of creating fuel for your life, fuel to really help you move forward and be energized and excited about engaging with the world. I’d love to hear a little bit more about how you think about creating kind of that evergreen fuel or energy for yourself.
[00:27:27] JV: I think fuel is purpose. It's the why behind things. When we started Front Row Foundation, one of the questions that led to the decision to start it was, “What are your fears and what are your loves?” We thought those are two opposite ends of a spectrum that are very important to explore to understand why you want to do something.
So, in our case, one of the things that I love was experiences. I wanted to get to the end of my life and feel like I had made the most of my time, that I didn't just kind of watched the world go by, that I really stepped into it and was a part of it and I was interested in not just being somebody that was letting happen – Letting moments happen to me as much as I was creating those moments with intention. My greatest celebrations at that time were times where I really did something epic and I would tell that story for years. I would have a party at my house and I would really work hard to make sure all my friends had a really good time and I would end up telling that story down the road. We would celebrate that. I thought, “There's something there to life that these experiences over things was very important,” and that's what I would be proud of, is not a life of material possessions that I collected, but experiences that we created.
Then the fear was actually just the opposite of that, which is getting to the end and thinking that I didn't do that. My greatest fear was wasting my life. So if I knew that my greatest fear and my greatest love were very complementary of one another, how could I help people who had a life-threatening illness to have perhaps arguably one of the best days of their life ever and then to let that be a metaphor for how they live every day of their life. It was actually those questions that led us to the start of Front Row Foundation.
In the very beginning we were running an ultramarathon to raise money. Now, is was not a runner. I don't know if we talked about this before, but I'd never run more than 3 miles in my whole life, literally. Never ran track. I was never – I never did it for fun. I never did it for any reason. I never ran more than –Most I ever ran was 3 miles one time with my dad when I think I was like 13 or 14-years-old. I’d never forget, he was so blown away that I actually made it 3 miles. But since then, never ran.
In fact, I had been in sports and had some knee stuff and I used to tell myself, “I’m not a runner. I have knee problems.” My buddy comes to me and says, “Let's run a 52-mile ultramarathon.” I remember laughing. I mean, like, “Dude, you're insane. I've never run 10 miles, 5 miles. You want my first marathon to be 52 miles?” and then he’s like, “Yeah.” I said, “I can’t I got bad knees.” He goes, “If you can't, you must,” and that moment when your friends say something to you and you’re like, “I don't have a good come back for this, but you're right,” like in many ways like I am glad that he challenged me. I loved that idea that if you tell yourself you can't do something, maybe that's the thing you need to go do more than anything to overcome that fear and to push beyond that boundary, that limiting belief of your life. So I reluctantly signed up. Then we started training. Long story short, we ended up doing it. We ended up running 52 miles 16 weeks later, 16 weeks, that's what I trained for, 16 weeks, and it's a much longer story and I wrote about it in the Front Row Factor book, but I will tell you that what hit me during that run, the most valuable lesson I got from the whole thing was that I was in excruciating pain at mile 26. I didn't think I could move my foot another step. I have this really bad pain in my right knee now, which I know is an IT band that was tight. It feels like somebody was stabbing me in my knee every step I took. I was literally on the ground at 26 miles. I was grabbing my leg. I was in tears. I was crying. I’m 30-years- old, I’m on the ground, I’m crying grabbing my leg. I'm in so much pain.
Then I have this thought, I have this thought about this little girl named Sophie who we did an event for. Sophie was four-years-old battling a brain tumor, in and out of surgeries, treatments. We took her to go see Kelly Clarkson. She had an amazing time. Met Kelly Clarkson, pictures hanging like 3 feet from where I stand right now. At her funeral, her mom and dad put her VIP Kelly Clarkson badge around her neck as they buried her. I thought about the fight that this little girl was in. I thought about the pain she endured all the time and I thought about the pain that her parents endured through that journey and still beyond her passing.
Then I thought about this knee pain that I had and all of a sudden it just became in perspective, and I thought about all the people that we had written a letter to and told him that we were going to do this run and they had donated money and they believed in us, and all of a sudden with all that new purpose, the pain started to subside. The pain started to go away. I started to get connected to my purpose of why I was there. So purpose relieves pain, and pain often becomes our purpose.
So I said, “When you're why has heart, your how gets legs, and your, why you do something, why build that business, why teach at that school, why donate to the charity, why host this podcast, why write that book, why do this speech, why take your kids to school, why enroll them in that special school, why move your house to a new neighborhood, why do anything that takes a lot of effort, why do that? When you're clear about that, when your why has real heart, your how gets legs. How you get that done you'll always find a way. You don't have to know how. You have to know why to begin, and then you'll figure out how if you have a big enough reason why.
I'm not the first person to ever say it. I’m the first person to say it that way, when your why has heart, your how gets legs, but this is a concept that I’d heard people talk about and it finally made sense to me. It finally made sense. I've heard people say, “When your why is strong enough, your how reveals itself,” and it just hit me on this run that that's why I needed to move. That if I had a big enough heart, if I could stay connected, if I could hold this image of Sophie, four-years-old, in my mind. If I could hold the image of my donors, if I could hold the image of future recipients of our charity in my mind, that I would then be able to move.
So, reluctantly, I moved another 26 miles, but I did it because I had real purpose and I think that's where we find the fuel, and that’s where we find unending, real fuel. I'm not saying that you can eat garbage food and not sleep, and somehow that there's always fuel there. Now, you got to do the other things too. Yeah, eat your fruits and veggies, drink a lot of water, get some sleep, reduce stress, the bad stress, not the good stress. Those are important pieces, but the heart piece is so critically important to the fuel, that if you are missing that, then you’ve got to go back and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What's the real purpose of this? What’s the real purpose of my work?”
Sometimes what you will find is that you just lost your purpose. You don’t even need to change jobs. You just needed to reconnect to what it was, and then other people are like, “Now that I'm digging in, I’m recognizing this actually isn’t what I'm supposed to be doing. I need to be doing something differently,” and they finally find their flow and things click. I feel like I'm still doing that. I mean, even with my new Front Row Dads thing, like professional speaker for 10 years, and all of a sudden to wake up overnight and go, “Wait a minute. That was my calling,” and now my calling is this dad's thing. It’s very different. I’ll still probably do speaking about it, but yeah, I meant to run this front row dad's group. That's a big realization.
What’s funny is sometimes your friends will affirm it. My friends have been telling me, they’re like, “Dude, you’ve done a lot of good things that you’ve aligned with your values, but nothing has been better than Front Row Dads. This is what you were born to do more than anything in the world. This is what you're born to do.” That feels really good. Even just have somebody reflect that back to you to affirm that, and it’s not that I'm doing it for them, but boy, do I hear that, and then I know it's true and I'm like, “You're right. You're totally right. I know that,” and I'm glad you can see it too.
[00:36:00] MB: I want to come back to Front Row Dads in just a second, but before we do, how do we find that purpose without or that heart for someone who doesn't have it, who feels lost or confused. How do they go about beginning that journey?
[00:36:15] JV: A lot of it is silence. I’m such a big fan of silence. People often think it's more about reading something or listening to something. I wrote a book, I read all the time, I host a podcast, I listen to them all the time, but I'm also, as an example, I’ve got a 10-day silent retreat coming up in January in two months. 10 days, no talking, no journaling, no reading, 10 days of pure silence. I think that that's one of the things that we’re missing, is this opportunity to just not hear anything except for what's happening in our heart and in our soul.
Often times, that we’re so busy with things that we don't hear the messages. If your face is buried in Instagram and Facebook, or even on podcasts or in books, if you're buried in that, constantly trying to add something to your life, learn a new quote, or strategy, or actionable idea, if they’re buried in that, you're missing one of the biggest elements, which is silence.
I remember like a year ago I was going through a difficult time in my marriage and one of my buddies was like, “It’s so good to have people that will just call you out and like just be honest with you. I got a lot of people in my life. Thank you. By the way, for all the high-fives and the you rocks and all that, I love it. Thank you, but boy do I crave people, they’re like, “Let me tell you something nobody wants to tell you.” That’s actually to me the most valuable comment.
I had a buddy, it was like, “Dude, one of the problems is you don't know what you want. You got to stop listening to other people. You got to stop asking other people for advice. You got to stop thinking about what's right for your partner. What’s missing is you don't know who you are anymore. You don't know what you want. You don't know what direction you're going, and you need to connect with what you want, who you are, where you want your life to go,” because that's attractive also to other people, certainty. It's the balance of confidence and humility. It’s the best blend. Somebody that's both confident and humble.
Jacko Willink, I’m big fan of. Had a chance to introduce him at an event a month ago. I was talking to him backstage and I was like, “This guy is the perfect blend of confidence and humility in my opinion.” No perfection in the world, of course, but he’s awesome at that. You’d think like he's actually not a bulldozer of a person, and I know people that have been on his SEAL team, and he's not a bulldozer of a person, but he has to know when to say, “This is what we’re doing,” but he also has to know when somebody comes to him and says, “That could be the wrong move,” and then he has to be both confident enough to know when he has to say yes and humble enough to say, “You know what? You're right. I didn't see that. You're right. Let's change.” I think that for a lot of us that's the case.
[00:39:16] MB: Such a great piece of advice, and I get so many emails from listeners who are lost who can't find their purpose who feel like they don't know what they want to do with lives. They don't know which goals they should be pursuing. I think that's a really powerful piece of advice for them.
[00:39:31] JV: Yeah, and I think all the people that have traveled the road before me who have both written and spoken about and shared this into my life, into my heart directly in many different ways, but particularly my buddy Tim who directly said this to me. That was really great wisdom, because it wasn't another book that I needed and it wasn’t another podcast. It was silence. I needed to hear what I already knew to be true, and I just forgot that.
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[00:41:23] MB: I want to come back in and spend a little bit of time talking about Front Row Dads and your new initiative. To start out, and I know this isn’t directly related to fatherhood, but in many ways it is. I’d love to hear the story of your son and when he was rockclimbing, and then we’ll have some lessons for everybody and then we can talk a little bit about Front Row Dads as well.
[00:41:42] JV: Yeah. So my son is four at the time of this story and we’re living in New Jersey. I’d take him out to this kind of pop-up park, this festival that was happening in our neighborhood, and they had set up a big rock wall, probably 30 or 40 feet tall. We were walking by it and he’s like, “I want to climb that wall.” He’s four. I just want to set the stage again, and I think to myself, “There's no way. This is big kid activity.” He won't fit in the harness. There's no way he's going to do this. He can't reach the different holds on the wall, but he’s super persistent as a four-year-old should be. He's just asking me repeatedly to do it.
So I kind of caved and just go, “All right. Fine. Go.” It’s kind of like I wanted to be like, “Yeah, you’re going to try it and you’re going to know I’m right.” I didn’t quite say that out loud, but that's what was going on in my heart. It was just like, “There's no way.”
Well, he gets harnessed up barely, barely fits him, and he gets his hands on the wall and the kid just shoots up like 30 feet on the wall, almost to the top, like probably 5 or 10 feet from the top, and I’m blown away. I’m sitting there –I'm beside myself. I can't believe he did it. So clearly I’m standing corrected, right? When he gets to this part of the wall where the wall inverts out, it looks to me like the expert part of the wall. The part of the wall that – The last 5 feet, most challenging. He stops right there, he turns around, he looks at me and he yells down, he was, “Papa!” He goes, “I can't,” and he's looking up and he’s looking down at me and he’s intimidated and he tries and he can't do it and I'm thinking to myself, “Of course, you can’t. You’re four, dude. I’m amazed at what you did, but I’m not shocked you can't make it past the expert part.”
So because my brain said, “Well, of course that's not for him.” I say, “Hey buddy, it's okay. You tried,” and I just thought that was like encouraging and supportive. I thought that I really nailed that as a dad. Until the guy who was the – The guy who is working at the rock wall, he looked at me, and before my son could let go, he looked at me, he said, “Hey, man,” he goes, “I think your boy can do this. He turns around and he looks up at my son and he says, “Hey little man, try again.” My son heard this confident vote to give it another shot from the guy who worked there, and my son grabs a hold of the wall and with all of his might and with every ounce of strength in this little four-year-old body he makes it to the very, very top of the wall, and he smashes his button and the lights go off and he's coming down from the wall and everybody's clapping and cheering, this little four-year-old who just made it to the very top of this wall, and he walks over to me and I give him a high five and I’m like, “Buddy, you did it. I’m blown away. I’m so proud of you.” This guy who’s standing next to me, we get to talking where he’s like, “Your boy is – I can't believe he did that. He’s only four?” I was like, “Yeah! It's amazing,” and he's like, “Yeah, that's yeah really amazing.”
Then as my son's getting the harness taken off the guy, he’s like, “Oh! You live around here?” and I’m like, “Yeah.” He goes, “What do you do?” and I was like, “I’m a motivational speaker,” and I realize as I say that how what just happened that this wall was not what a motivational speaker would do. Why was it that I was literally – I was like, “There’s no way you can do this,” like, “You tried buddy. Come on down.” Why is it that the guy who worked there was the only one who is like, “You got this. Try again.”
I realized in that moment that we often treat other people like we remember them in the past, not as who they’ve become, and that I'm actually as a father more susceptible that than even a stranger, because I think of my son as he was when he was 3-1/2, or three, or I fail to see, because I see him every day that he has grown and he has changed. I’m constantly treating him like I remember what his capabilities were, and that I realized as a dad that I need to be hyper-vigilant to not let that happen, to not let my own perceptions of my son's abilities stand in the way of his progress in life. Then I started thinking about how I do that on my team. How sometimes like somebody work for Front Row Foundation and I’ll think there have these capabilities and I treat them as such. But if they went and worked somewhere else, somebody might give them a job promotion or of another title and all of a sudden they rise to the occasion.
I mean, there's a lot of science behind that, about studies of teachers who are given classrooms and they say, “Your classroom is gifted,” and the kids perform at such. “Hey, your classroom is challenged. Be careful with them,” and then they drop in their scores.” In our lives, whether it's being a dad or a husband or a wife or whoever you are leading a team, part of your community, you have to see what's possible in situations. That's being hopeful for what's next. You have to see possibility and then you have to believe in that before it even comes true, and I think that's cool.
My friend Geoff Woods who works with Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, they work on a project called The ONE Thing, and it's a training company and an awesome book. You guys have probably read it. One of the things he talks about is Gary's definition of what a goal is, and a real goal is to know how to be appropriate in the moment. The purpose of a goal is to be appropriate in the moment, and that when we have a vision or a goal, it tells us how we can then act in the moment. I think that often times we have to understand what is our goal as a parent? What is our goal as a community leader or a team leader, an entrepreneur or whoever you are? Then how can we learn to be more appropriate in the moment.
As a father, as somebody who wants to be a leader of others, I need to be more appropriate in recognizing somebody's potential in that moment of what they could become. That's being a moment maker, by the way. When we talk about being a moment maker, that's what it's about.
[00:47:46] MB: And for listeners who want to dig in, we went really deep in our previous interview on how to create and make incredible moments in your life, but I want to spend – I know we’re running out of time, but I want to spend a couple of minutes and hear a little bit more about some of the lessons that you've learned from Front Row Dads.
[00:48:04] JV: Oh man! This has been the best project yet. Two years ago it all started because I didn't think I was an awesome dad and a husband. Like I got honest with myself, I was at a party and somebody's like, “What do you do?” I started to answer with like what I thought they were asking, which is speaker, charity thing. I cut myself off and I answered it how I wanted to answer it. How I wish I’d answered it for years, which is that I'm a father and I’m a husband. But when I'm not doing that, I happen to do these other things on the side.
Most people think of themselves, in my case, with my dads, not my dads, but guys that are my demographic, right? These are guys who think of themselves as businessmen with families versus a family man with a business. So whether you're a man or a dad or whomever, think about how you identify in the world. What's really important? Where is your identity?
So for me, one of the most valuable things about Front Row Dads is that this community holds me to the identity of being a family man with a business, not a businessman with a family. We always say these are men with wisdom who are wise enough to know there's more to learn, and that’s where I want to be. I want to be surrounded by people who are not only – That have wisdom but just that have the humility to come in and say, “What else can I know?” It’s not always about something new. It’s something true.
So what has the community taught me? Countless lessons, but a couple of really game changers. I shared one with you and I'll share it with the audience right now. That is that at this retreat that we just had, 33 guys got together for three days. I brought in one of my friends, Dr. Kelly Flanagan, to be a guest and to speak and answer questions, and this guy is great. He wrote a book called Lovable. He’s fantastic, and Dr. Kelly, or he allows me to call him Kelly, he's talking to the guys and one of the things that comes up is about shamem, this idea of like with our kids, and even as dads, how shame shows up in our life. He gives a great metaphor that I think is valuable for anybody. This is not just for dads, but it certainly applied to us, and here's what he said, he said, “I've thought a lot about this like ego that we have, this false self and the true self.” He goes, “The way I see it is that we’re all born with our true self.” That's why my four-year-old right now can run around naked downstairs and do a dance in the middle of our living room without any fear, because he's born his true self.
Then what happens is when he starts to go to school or he grows up a little bit, he actually experiences some shame, some pain, and starts to develop a little bit of a false self. Where that – Like as an example of that, it's like you don't feel cool enough because you're not wearing the cool clothes or brands or something like that or you don't have cool sneakers and you start to feel that who you are as a person isn't enough in the world and that you need to build a false self to fit in and to be loved and be appreciated and be connected. So we have to get this certain pair of shoes in order to get connected. We all experience it. It’s natural part of growing up and to different degrees and different levels, of course, with different people. But we develop this false self. Then what we do is we spend the rest of our life trying to figure out who our true self is again. We got to go back to the beginning.
Another one of my friends says – Like we call it his school. He runs a school. He calls it butterfly-cocoon- butterfly, or butterfly-caterpillar-butterflies. It’s like this idea of like they're born a butterfly free then they sort of get into this cocoon and they come out butterfly again towards the end when they figure out who they really are.
So what Kelly says, the great metaphor that I think is perfect, he said, “When we’re like, let’s say, 4th, 5th grade, we start to develop a castle, and these castle walls are like the image that we project to the world. We start to build a protective boundary around us so that people really don't know who we are. My example of that is like the castle walls are a little bit like clothes, right? We put on clothes to protect ourselves from the world and to project an image to the world of who we are. How we want to be identified. So we build these castle walls. He goes, “That's to protect yourself from other people hurting you. You're not enough, you don't fit in, you don't wear the cool clothes.”
He was, “But then usually a few years later we actually figure out that we can put cannons on that castle, and these cannons that we put on will allow us to actually go on the offense with people.” So before other people can hurt us, we can fire a canon and hurt them.” That might be with a sarcastic remark, right? That's where we can actually attack if we think we’re in jeopardy. So we learn that we can do that to protect ourselves or make ourselves feel better is to put somebody else down or to hurt somebody else before they can hurt us. That's the essence of the canon.
Then what we do is in our lives we actually find that we have a throne, and the throne as a place of righteousness. The throne is actually a place where you’re great, you're really good at something, and you can actually sit on that throne and you get to kind of lead your kingdom from there. You can be really good at math. You could be the best writer. You could be really good at sports. When you’re out of school, you might find that you’re really good at a particular business and then you get into that and you find your sweet spot and you’re just like, “I found my throne where I can sort of be right in the world. These are my opinions, my decisions,” and this is where our ego likes to live is in this throne.
He says, “But then once we have all these, we also recognize that our castle has a drawbridge, and we have this opportunity to put the drawbridge down and to walkout and to be vulnerable with people to be open and to expose kind of our true selves,” and we made the joke at the Dads Retreat about like running naked through a field, like this true self. But in all seriousness, it's really about being able to just like drop the guard, drop the guard and just be you.
Now the cool thing of what Dr. Kelly said that I think is really applicable here to everybody is that I actually told Kelly that I actually had shame around the fact that I built a castle. I said, “Actually, I look back on my life and I feel horrible about the fact that I was so insecure that I had to like wear all these clothes and I said mean things and I did mean things to people to make myself feel better or to fit in. I’d I put somebody else down to get in with another group. I would compromise my values to meet my need for connection, and I felt bad about that.” He said, “Right.” He said, “The thing is we don't need to attack our castle and we don't need to make our castle wrong, because the castle never goes away. In fact, it's good that you have it, because you're probably not going to go to a wedding for a friend and walkout and you meet somebody new, and all of a sudden they’re like, “Hey, what's your name? What do you do?” and you’re like, “Hey, let me tell you everything about my life, my deepest darkest secrets. Let me literally pull back the curtain and hold nothing back.”
He goes, “That’s not necessarily how we should be engaging with people anyways, right? We want to be open. We want to walk out of our castle a little bit, but we also know that sometimes it actually might be good to be in our castle. There are actually times when we might need that to protect ourselves.” He goes, “The difference is whether or not we know that the castle is there. How to use the castle? How to come out of the castle? Then how we shouldn't make the castle a bad thing, but to understand that everybody has a true self that they're born with, they find a false self, which is their ego and then they hopefully find their way back to their true self and their life.”
I think that, to me, one of the things I came into Front Row Dads thinking was that I was going to learn these things that I could say to my kid to be a better dad. Like do this thing, do this thing every Monday at 9 and you'll be a better dad. Make sure to send your kid to this school and you'll be an awesome dad, and I thought they’re going to be this practical, logical, very male-focused things, and we have plenty of those. But what I'm realizing is that just like in the book, The Awakened Family, the real growth that your kids experience is because of the real growth that you as a dad experience, or you as a mom experience, or the real growth of your business is the experience, the growth of the leader. That's why Jim Rohn famously said that, “Your business success will rarely exceed the level of your personal development.”
So as a dad, most of my breakthroughs are coming by the way of how I see myself or how I get myself under control. Like a quit drinking. All of a sudden I'm a better dad. I change things about my own life and all of a sudden I’m just a better dad. All of a sudden I take better care of myself physically, I’ve got more energy for my kids. I have to know that there's this piece of it where the more I learn about myself, the more emotionally resilient I am, the more emotional mastery I have in my life and less like I am to yell at my kids or yell at my wife in front of my kids.
There're all these things that I know a lot of people deal with. People don't want to admit it that they’re getting angry behind the scenes losing their you know what, but it's like they do. The best guys, people you'd never think, lose their minds behind the scenes. I think that this Front Row Dads thing for me is just been another dive into my growth with some lessons of course about how to be a better husband, be a better dad. Those are there for sure, and the practice of doing those, the attention and intention of doing these things.
[00:57:22] MB: Such a fascinating topic and really, really interesting exploration. For listeners who have listened to this interview who want to take some kind of action step, do something concrete to start implementing some of the ideas and themes that we’ve talked about today into their lives, what would be one piece of homework or one action item that you would give them?
[00:57:42] JV: Well, I would write out your list of your topic eight relationships and write out their dreams, and then do something once a month to support their dream. Send them a text message and be like, “How's it going with your goal here or your goal there?” Write them down, hang them up somewhere where you can see them and follow up with people, and do that right now. Depending on when this airs, but do this for the next 12 months. That's an easy thing to do. It's actually easy to do. It's also easy not to do. It’s easy for somebody to be like, “Oh, that's a great idea,” and then right back into their day, which is cool. I know, we’re all busy. Everybody is busy. Got it. You’re full. You’ve got to choose where you want to put your time and energy, but I mean, listen, I would challenge somebody to tell me why that wouldn't be a good use of time. Tell me what's more important than knowing who are the most important relationships in your life and helping support their dreams. Tell me where that's not important. Tell me how that's not relevant.
I think it's actually one of the most fulfilling things to do, and don't do it just because you think you're getting social equity. Don't do it just because you want a place to keep score, because six months from now you're going to launch a book and you're going to demand they write you a review, and you did them a favor so they better do you a favor. That's not the heart behind it. The heart behind it is like do this with no expectation of anything in return. Do this with no expectation of anybody doing anything in return for you. But do this because it's the right thing to do, supporting people with their dreams.
Now you already know that you help enough people with their dreams and people will be excited to help you with yours. You know that's going to happen, but don't let that be the primary motivation here. Of course, that's part of it. Of course we’re all motivated by, “Hey, look. If I put a lot of good out, it's not a bad thing to feel good too.” That's not a bad thing. It's just, yeah, do that. That's your action.
[00:59:33] MB: And for listeners who want to find you and all the things you're working on online, what's the best place for them to do that?
[00:59:38] JV: Main hub for everything is frontrowfactor.com. That's got – All of the stuff is there, but if you want the dad stuff, it's frontrowdads.com. Charity is frontrowfoundation.org. But if you want an easy thing to remember, just Front Row Factor. If you go pump in to the internet Jon Front Row, you'll probably find me.
Yeah, and I’d love to serve. We’ve got the Front Row Factor Podcast where we’re talking to people who are facing life-threatening illnesses and how do we navigate those very difficult spaces. So listen. The percentage of people that either battle a life-threatening illness or know somebody who has through the roof, that would be the podcast for them, and we have our Front Row Dads podcast. So if you are a dad or you know a dad, then that's a place where we’re interviewing epic dads about their journey and what they’re learning.
[01:00:19] MB: Well, Jon, thank you so much for coming on the show for sharing all these incredible insights and all this wisdom. It’s been a pleasure to have you back on The Science of Success.
[01:00:27] JV: Hey, great to be here, guys. A true honor. Thank you so much.
[01:00:30] MB: Thank you so much for listening to the Science of Success. We created this show to help you, our listeners, master evidence-based growth. I love hearing from listeners. If you want to reach out, share your story, or just say hi, shoot me an e-mail. My e-mail is email@example.com. That’s M-A-T-T@successpodcast.com. I’d love to hear from you and I read and respond to every single listener e-mail.
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