“We don’t know how your great-great-grandfather got all of that land, but I can tell you, he didn’t get it from sleeping in.” – Daron K Roberts
Mark’s new book about the seven commitments of leadership has just come out. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now from Amazon and from staringdownthewolf.com. Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment.
Daron K. Roberts (daronkroberts) was a graduate of Harvard Law School turned Football coach. He is a motivational speaker, transition coach and the author of “Call an Audible: Let My Pivot from Harvard Law to NFL Coach Inspire Your Transition.” He hosted the podcast “A Tribe Called Yes” and today he talks with Commander Divine about how to make your own pivot to change your life.
- Daron planned his next life transition from Harvard Law grad to Football Coach.
- It’s vital that you minimize your social media time and involvement.
- You must determine if you’ll actually be happy at an event before you decide to say yes.
- Transition tools you need to succeed
Hear this inspirational story of how one man was able to make an exceptional pivot from one life to another.
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Hey folks. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. This is Mark Divine, your host. Thanks so much for joining me today.
And I’m not going to waste your time. We’re going to have a really interesting conversation with Daron K Roberts. Before I introduce his background a little bit more, let me remind you that in this interesting time that we’re living in, it’s a great opportunity to really up our game as leaders, as parents, as human beings. And it just so happens that the book that I released – literally a week before we all got locked down – is basically positioned to help leaders step up and deal with their emotional issues, their emotional shadow, their biases and the fear based condition reaction that holds them back from really tapping the full potential of their team.
So it’s a leadership book, but it’s a team building book and a personal development book all wrapped into one. And I’ve gotten some phenomenal feedback on it, and I think it’s a great book for this time. I said, it was kind of custom built for the next generation of leadership development where we have to go deep and look at our own bullshit and deal with it, in order to bring out the best in our team.
Otherwise we’re the limiting factor. So let’s not be that. And you might have some extra time on your hands, so check it out. Staringdownthewolf.com where you’ll see more information about that. That’s our little page, and also some free video training.
Or also, it’s available, at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, wherever books are sold. So thanks a lot. Appreciate your support there.
Okay, so my guest today is Daron K Roberts. He’s a former NFL coach. Author of a book called “Call an Audible: Let my pivot from Harvard Law to NFL coach…” Super-stoked to learn more about that.
And he’d the founding director for the Center for sports leadership innovation at the University of Texas. He hosts a popular podcast called “A Tribe Called Yes.”
And Daron you coached at Kansas City, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns… welcome to the show. Tell us a little bit about your early life and what got you going in this direction.
Daron: Well, thanks, Mark I appreciate it. So I’m a fifth generation East Texan. Born and raised in a small town called Mount Pleasant. And my dad, Baptist minister and one of the earliest experiences I remember was he took me to a small church called Walnut Grove Baptist Church. It was a little country church out in Carthage, Texas.
We go there. We go to the cemetery behind the church, and there’s a headstone there for my great-great=-grandfather. Bill Roberts. Born 1840, died 1912. And we have a record of him owning 160 acres in 1870.
And this is the first time that he sort of emerges from historical record in this deed. And my dada says, “You know, we don’t know how your great-great-grandfather got all of that land, but I can tell you he didn’t get it from sleeping in.”
So that set the tone for me, Mark. That was the beginning.
I had plans of being governor of Texas so went to UT, was set on going to Harvard Law School, applied, got wait-listed four years in a row. Finally got in and thought I was on track. Before working a football camp…
Mark: Yeah. Well, let’s just hold up right there. Let me go back. So you had siblings?
Daron. So one older sister – there were nine years that separate the two of us – so just the two of us. And it’s interesting, because my mom and my dad each have 10 brothers and sisters, so I grew up with 20 uncles and aunts.
Mark: (laughing) Holidays must have been…
Daron: (laughing) Just a free-for-all. Fighting… rolling around on doors… and I think that the childhoods of my parents probably convinced them that they wanted to downsize considerably. So there were just 2 of us growing up.
Mark: And so you became like a quintessential achiever – I don’t want to say overachiever, because that has a negative connotation. Like your dad set the tone for you. He obviously as a parent really impressed upon you the importance of hard work. And all the things that parents want to do.
And you really took that on. You didn’t rebel at all. What were the challenging parts of your upbringing? You could just kind of like skip past all that and went straight to Harvard. I doubt it was that simple.
Daron: It wasn’t, it wasn’t. So my dad was a minister, but also he was a soil scientist with the USDA. So he would test the soil in parts of East Texas for acidity, and so I kind of watched that work ethic growing up.
My mom was a third grade teacher for fifteen years. And then I remember her going to night school to get her master’s. And so she would drive 45 minutes Monday through Thursday – would take me to the University of Texas at Tyler – small school in East Texas. She did that for two years – got her master’s, and then she became an elementary school principal. And did that for 17 years.
So in my family it was religion and education. And there was very little room for deviation between those two guideposts. So my dad was nice, but strict it was “yes sir, no sir.” You had chores, you did them.
And I really credit them for one thing – I had a lot of friends who kind of saw sports as their ticket or the way that they were gonna make it big. And I never had any illusions, Mark, growing up that that was going to be it for me. Like my parents said “listen, it’s gonna be all academics for you. We don’t care that you only need a seventy to play sports. You’re gonna have to make straight A’s for you to be eligible in this home.”
And that was just the place that I grew up in. And I resented it then, but at the tender age of 41, I can really look back and appreciate having that kind of support.
Mark: So you played football in high school, and then obviously in college? Or how did you get interested in football?
Daron: Yeah, so football for me was a way to hang out with the guys who looked like me at school. So I was in this gifted and talented program, and they separated us once we got in high school – you had this GT track, they called it. And I remember being one of two black males in the class.
But honestly, my experience on Sunday at church was anything but that. And so sports for me I was above average, decent speed. I studied the game – played high school football four years… you know, “Friday Night Lights” which sort of made the Texas high school football mythology what it is – I mean that was the way it was in my town. There were 12,291 people – the place shut down on Friday nights.
And I labored on junior varsity and made it to varsity my junior yea. And found a way into the starting line up my last year. And let me tell you, Mark, that was because of studying and knowing how to diagnose plays. It wasn’t due to my 40-yard dash time, I can tell you that.
But had some great coaches… had some coaches who really cared about us, really want us to glean more from the game than X’s and O’s, and it was probably one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. I never had any illusions I would play afterwards, but it definitely set the stage for the rest of my life.
Mark: Yeah, and how did you get interested in politics?
Daron: Yeah, my parents took me… so, it’s a five hour drive from a hometown of Mount Pleasant to Austin where I live now. We came here for a vacation, and I remember taking a tour of the State Capitol building. And I can remember looking up into the rotunda, seeing all of the portraits of the governors sort of working their way up to the top.
And thinking, “Man, I want to be one of those one of those folks.” Right? It’s interesting, like sometimes the imagery is so strong that it just grips you. And I wanted to help people, but I also just remember like standing in that place. In that building, at that time and thinking “I want to be a part of this.”
Mark: Mm-hmm. I’m curious, right now in retrospect, whether you’re happy you did not get into politics?
Daron: (laughing) Well, my wife is happy, that’s for sure. I can tell you that much.
Mark: (laughing) Talk about a shit-show.
Daron: That’s putting it mildly. I tell you what, you’re being kind.
Daron: I am. Yeah, I tell you what, I think that – and we’ll talk about this – while I was in law school, I worked a football camp to reconnect with a buddy of mine who was an actual coach. So he was a coach in high school and it was the summer before my last year of law school. And he’s like “hey man, you’ve got a couple of weeks off in the summer. Let’s go to the University of South Carolina, and I’ve got to work this Steve Spurrier football camp, but you can just ride with me. We can catch up.”
So I get there. We’re sitting in a room, Mark and coach Spurrier walks out and he’s like “All right guys. One of our volunteer coaches didn’t show up. Can anybody fill in for him?”
Mark: (laughing) And your hand shot up? Or did you think about it?
Daron: (laughing) It wasn’t quite so quickly. It took me a little while to convince myself. I’m looking around and I’m thinking myself… “I mean, damn, I was a first-team, all-district strong safety. I’ve played high school football. I can do this.”
So I raise my hand. Meanwhile my buddy’s like “Man, you better not get us kicked out of this damn camp.”
I’m like, “Don’t worry about it. We’re good, we’re good. Don’t worry about it.”
He’s like “What’s your name, coach?”
I say “Coach Roberts?”
He’s like, “All right. Coach Roberts, where do you coach?”
“Oh, damn it. The plot thickens.” I said, “Well, um, Mount Pleasant High School.”
He’s “Oh, that’s great. Mount Pleasant High School. All right, man. You got group six.”
“Yes, sir.” Had no clue what in the hell he was talking about. And turns out group six consisted of sixty sixth graders, okay? None of whom had any athletic talent whatsoever. I mean, it was one of those deals where like the parents tell the kids like “Oh, you’re gonna have the summer football camp experience.”
And I always tell people – being on the other side of coaching – to all your listeners, if you ever have to pay for a college camp, there is a 95.7% chance that your kid is not getting recruited. (laughing) If you got a receipt, there’s a good chance the kids not on the recruiting list.
Mark: Put it into the fantasy column, right?
Daron: Yeah, so… all of my kids had receipts, so it was a hell of an experience for those three days.
Mark: I bet. And so you’re a junior at Harvard Law School now… or this is between your junior and senior year…
Daron: Yes, between my second and third year, yeah.
Mark: Right. They don’t really do junior and senior in law school… and then this experience obviously had a profound effect on you. So you go back to school, and you’re cranking out becoming a lawyer. And tell us about your transformation or what you wrote about… “Calling an Audible”
Daron: I kind of always periodically sort of take an inventory of how I’m feeling, and I just noticed that the three days of that camp… it was the first time that I did not have to set my alarm clock to get up . I was just excited every morning. At night I’m on YouTube, I’m watching Deion Sanders’ DB drill film and taking notes. I went to the local Walmart, I get a bucket cap and I get a whistle. I think I’m looking somewhat official.
But just being around those guys… you had kids in this camp from the right side of the tracks, the wrong side of the tracks. You had kids, their parents didn’t shop at the same grocery stores or go to the same kinds of churches, but it just reminded me of how once the whistle blows, nobody gives a damn about socioeconomic status, and what race you are. You just got 11 guys trying to execute a play.
And that experience really for me, Mark, I think shifted my view of public service. Like I saw coaching as a new form of public service, and decided that I had to get in there, man.
Mark: I love that. When you’re talking about that kind of blindness toward any type of cultural distinction or identification. I’ve experienced that in the SEAL Teams. We had people from all walks of life… rich, poor – white, black – every color you can imagine. Super nice guys and some guys who were kind of a pain in the ass.
And yet when it came to the mission, and the team we were all in, all the time. And everyone was equal. It was all about you. And it’s such a rare thing.
Daron: With the exception of the military and sports, I can’t really think of many other settings in this world where when the light switch flips, I mean, all you care about is getting it done, right?
And there’s no room for like discussion, debate it’s like “Listen, it’s time to go.”
Mark: “Get over your shit. Let’s go.” And that’s this COVID-19 crisis… metaphorically or even in a very real sense is sort of like that. It’s a giant wake-up call for us to come together and solve some pretty intractable issues, problems…
Daron: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: We can’t go back to like the old stories about race and inequality, because we’re all equal when it comes to the virus. Were all equal when it comes to the economic disruption. I mean, small business is basically the engine, and we’ve just been shut down, for the most part. Not everyone, but a lot of them.
And everyone else is scrambling to pivot, and so we’re all in this together. So it’s sort of like that, isn’t it? Like the mission is real now. So let’s come together and figure this shit out.
Daron: Yeah I was talking about having a conversation with my oldest son. He’s 9. And he was talking to me about – we were watching the press conference around, like… the declaration of war against COVID-19. And he’s like “is this like war?”
And I said “it is, and it isn’t.” I said “in war you’ve got planes, you’ve got soldiers, ships… I mean you kind of…
Me. You could see the enemy.
Daron: You can see the enemy, right? This thing is invisible and I said, “even though it’s disproportionately affecting African Americans and the poor, which isn’t surprising, because they’re the most vulnerable in these situations.” I said when the Prime Minister of Great Britain gets COVID-19, this thing does not care. It is not checking W2’s and W9s and keeping a list.
I think it’s almost the universe’s way of forcing us… even though we’re in this and I tell people I said listen “I hope that we can really adhere to physical distancing. And not social distancing.” Because I think in many ways this is forcing us to almost build closer social connections. Because we’re all legitimately in this thing together.
Ms. I agree. It’s a huge opportunity. Do you see it that way? For us to grow individually and also to grow by becoming more connected and more compassionate to our fellow humans. All across the globe. And my sincerest desire is that we don’t slide backwards when this recedes into the distance like we usually…
We use it as an opportunity to leap forward in our consciousness, in our connectedness…
Daron: I’m with you. I wholeheartedly agree. If we as individuals or as a society go back to business as usual once this thing dissipates, then shame on us.
Mark: Epic fail, I agree.
Daron: Yeah, I mean, I always tell people no one had this on their fridge in December of 2019. Like, no one thought 2020 would look this way.
Mark: (laughing) It wasn’t on anyone’s vision board. Let’s put it that way.
Daron: (laughing) No. No one’s vision board had a pandemic on it. And so again, tell them to go somewhere else, right who no one had this up on the vision board for sure.
Mark: Let’s get back to your story a little bit, so I can see how this would be a rare, inspiring moment… but how do you go from coaching sixth graders to thinking that’s gonna translate to an NFL career, when you were heading off to be a lawyer.
Daron: Yeah, honestly I was a bit delusional, right? I knew there was this experience that really moved me, and I don’t know why I thought I was going to get a shot, but my thought process at the time was look I’m gonna graduate from law school number one, but I’m gonna write a letter to every team in the NFL, to most colleges and just ask if I can volunteer. And let’s just see – with the exception of some time, the cost of envelopes, paper and a stamp – I’m not gonna lose much. I’m just gonna see what comes up.
And 31 of the 32 teams rejected me. So it’s like, Mark, I throw an envelope in the mailbox and I go back the next day and the rejection was there. Chargers, no. Patriots, no. Dolphins, no.
And then finally got my “yes” from Herman Edwards of the Chiefs.
Mark: Hmm and did you ask him why he said yes? Once you got to know him?
Daron: So he told me, he said, “Listen, I don’t really read my mail.” And his assistant just happened to put my letter on his desk. And it was at the top of the pile for some reason. And I think it had a sticky something like, “you got to read this.”
And he said, “I’m reading this and I’m thinking to myself, ‘this guy is either insane or extremely driven. And both qualities will help you in the NFL, so let me give him a call.’
And I mean I’m still… one of my mentors, extremely indebted to him, because 32 teams – those positions are rare. Each team brings in two interns per year. One of my first jobs after I got on full-time was opening mail. We would get 40 letters on average a day from people across the world wanting to get in. So I was really fortunate he gave me a break.
Mark: Wow. That’s fascinating. So this was an internship, where you learned how to coach. Because I mean so far your coaching experience was limited to this two-week camp, right?
Daron: Yeah. So he basically said, “Listen, here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re a training camp intern.” And he’s like, “look, here are the terms. No pay, no benefits, 18-hour days.”
I’m like, alright sign me up. I’m in.”
And he said, “Listen, here’s the thing. Here’s your job description.” So he hands a blank sheet of paper to me.
And I’m like “what the hell is going on here?” I said “okay.”
Mark: Read between the lines.
Daron: He goes “whenever anyone needs anything, you’re the guy. I don’t care what time of the day it is. What time of the night. Where you are.”
“If someone needs something on this team, you’re the guy.” And that’s how I got started. So picking up lunch, picking up breakfast, wiping down whiteboards… every morning I would walk around to the 13 assistant coaches’ offices and kind of knock and say “hey, just wanted to know if you need anything?”
And for the first couple of weeks, they’d cuss me out and slam the door and tell me to get the hell out of there. And slowly but surely, I started getting assignments. I’d hold the dummies for the offensive linemen during practice. So I was a literal punching bag for part of that time. And it was great, I mean, I can’t even… I think what Herm understood was the only way that I was gonna learn the game was just to absorb as much information. To be quiet, sit in the back of the room, take notes…
He’s like “listen, at no point during this experience will I see you without a notebook and a pen.” And so man, I still got those… I’ve got reams of paper, where I just sat in the back of the room listening to coaches talk about technique, strategy, philosophy… and just soaked it up.
Mark: And so what did that look like after this one… this first internship? Did you get invited back? Or did you go somewhere else?
Daron: Yeah, so we get to the end of the season with 4 and 12, which as you know, it’s not good record. Black Monday rolls around the NFL – which is when everybody gets fired and the head coach fires 4 assistant coaches.
So my office was this converted closet – we had torn the door off the hinges. And secretary comes by. She says, “Hey, coach Edwards would like to see you.”
I’m like “Shit.”
Mark: Yeah. Uh-oh.
Daron: I mean I’m watching these assistant coaches walk into his office. Mark, they come out with two things – they’ve got a security guard and a dolly. And they’ve got 45 minutes to clear their belongings out of their office and leave Arrowhead. So after watching this procession go down – in my mind I’m thinking to myself “can you even get fired from an internship? Like, is that even a thing?”
I mean, I had not started a piece of paperwork in six months. So I walk in and he says “listen man appreciate all of your contributions…”
I’m like “damn it. He’s starting with a compliment. It’s over…”
Daron: He says “listen, here’s your first NFL coaching contract.” There were 16 pages to it. Mark, I flipped to the back page. I saw a line for my name. I signed it. Put a date on it.
He’s like, “hold on. Didn’t you take contract law?”
I was like yeah. I said, “coach, listen – I understand when I have leverage, and in this situation I have zero. None. So I’m not gonna argue any terms of this contract. I just want to get to work.”
So I coached there for two years. My defensive coordinator took me to Detroit. Coached with the Lions for two… I went to West Virginia for two. Coached on offense and defense those two years. And then my last stint was with the Cleveland Browns in 2013.
Mark: Mm-hmm. That’s amazing. So what were some of the biggest “a-ha”s or insights you had during that really formative period of your actually being a coach on an NFL team across these three franchises? That you’ve carried forward and now you’re teaching people. Or kind of have been foundational to your work now?
Daron: Yeah, I think the first thing I noticed was the insane work ethic of the elite. Tony Gonzalez with the Chiefs, Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions… so here are two guys who out of the womb they’ve got the genetic code to be tall and big. And if there were any two players in the league at their positions who could have just sort of shown up on a Sunday, and still been really damn good – like, those guys could have done it.
But Tony Gonzalez did 500 push-ups and sit-ups in the hallway between meetings every day. He caught 200 balls on the JUGS machine before practice for every ball that he dropped at practice, he did 50 catches on the JUGS machine after practice.
Calvin Johnson (aka Megatron) this guy would get the script for all the plays we would run in practice that day, come in the morning, and walk through the routes for each and every single play by himself. One of his rules was no one could be on the practice field when he was doing this. He would just walk through, and visually go through those routes.
So I noticed that often times what we see in terms of performance… we see the end product, right? We see someone reaching the IPO stage, or winning some award… but the truly elite performers have this fidelity to the process that is… from a psychological standpoint it is damn near insane.
And that’s also with coaches. So I think that was one takeaway.
I think the second piece is that you learn so much more when you shut the hell up. I was coming from probably the most challenging, educational school on the planet. I mean the first year of Harvard Law School is like a damn… hazing meets all the evils in the world. And they’re just trying to see who wants to stick around. Who’s crazy enough to come back for a second run?
But I realized that in the football world, that experience didn’t carry any damn weight. There was no cachet… neither the players, nor the coaches cared about that experience. All they wanted to know was every single day like “how can Darren help us to get better?”
And the only way I got better, was by being quiet, absorbing information, being strategic with my questions when I had an opportunity to ask them… I think that often times we’re kind of in a society where everyone’s trying to one-up someone else, and get the last word in. That really showed me the value of biding your time, listening, taking notes, reading back through your notes… like really going as deep as possible into your craft.
Mark: I love that. If I could just kind of pause there, because I had a similar experience… I was a CPA – certified public accountant – had an MBA from NYU – not quite as prestigious as Harvard
Daron: (laughing) Oh, come on, man.
Mark: And then I joined the SEALs when I was 26. I turned 26 in SEAL training.
And when I finished training, I went to SEAL team 3. And I got into a platoon where I was the third officer. Normally, there’s two officers, but we just happened to have a few extra officers. And when I got there, they said, “Okay, you’re going into alpha platoon. You’re just gonna be an FNG, just like all the enlisted guys. Even though I was a twenty six-year-old, MBA, CPA ensign. Newly minted ensign in the Navy. I was an FNG. And that’s “fuckin’ new guy.”
It was the best experience of my life, because I just got to be a shooter. I just got to sit and listen. Just like you as an intern, or a new coach. I just kept my mouth shut, eyes wide open, journal by my side and just kept learning.
And it was a great lesson. That’s where I learned the whole idea of show up every day, empty your cup because you don’t know nothing. I knew a little about being a CPA, but nothing about being a SEAL. And rank doesn’t matter, degrees don’t matter…
In fact, there was another guy – you’d appreciate this too – someone who kind of followed your path but into the SEALs. He was a Harvard Law graduate who basically ditched law and came into the SEALs as an enlisted warrior. And he was honor man of his class.
Mark: Yeah. Isn’t that cool?
Daron: Wow. Wow.
Mark: Similar kind of transformation. He was probably in his last year and he’s like “screw that. It’s post-9/11. I’m gonna go fight for my country and became an elite warrior, as a Harvard Law grad.
Daron: Damn, damn.
Mark: Anyway, so that’s the point – shut up and listen. I love that. That’s so powerful. Empty the cup.
And at what point is that like a universal principle? Or is there a point where you finally get to be an expert and share your wisdom and knowledge?
Daron: Yeah, it took me two years. So I did that for two years, and then my defensive coordinator – a guy named Gunther Cunningham – he went from the Chiefs to the Lions. And calls me up in the middle of the night. He’s like “Hey listen, you’re on the 8:00 a.m. flight to Detroit tomorrow. You’re gonna be my assistant defensive backs coach. So you’re gonna help coach the corners and the safeties.”
He’s like “everything you’ve learned from watching us and being with me for the last two years, now it’s time for you to teach.”
And that’s when it flipped for me. And I can tell you that I probably would not have been in a position to do well that first true coaching opportunity, with the Lions had I not embraced the mindset of empty the cup every single day when I was with the Chiefs.
Mark: Mm-hmm. What were some of the failures that you had in this process? And then how did you overcome them? And what was kind of your mantra or your process for dealing with the challenges and the failures that are inevitable?
Daron: Yeah, I can think of some of my first assignments. And I remember, our season opener in ‘08 with the Chiefs was against the Patriots. We were gonna go to Fox borough.
And my job was to create the scouting report for the Patriots offense. So I had to watch four of their games from the previous season – kind of chart tendencies and diagram each play. And so I diagram, must have been around about 240 plays. And it’s a Monday game week. The Monday before that upcoming Sunday.
And the defensive coordinator – we’re sitting in a room with the full defensive staff – so linebackers, secondary coach, like all of it the coaches on defense and he went play-by-play. The coordinator did. And basically pointed out every inconsistency, mistake, oversight that I made in the scouting report.
And I mean, this meeting lasted for four hours. And he would sprinkle some expletives here and there.
And that taught me a lot about humility. I coach executives now – I teach at the University of Texas, have a center for sports leadership and innovation. And I work with a lot of athletes who are either retired NFL players transitioning, or they’re about to retire. And especially during this time they always ask me “what’s the mindset I need to have right now?”
And I say “two traits come to mind. And they are humility and agility.” Right?
So you’ve got to be humble enough to say “I don’t know what the fuck’s going on. This is something that none of us have seen.”
And then two, to say if there was ever a time in the history of mankind where I could try something and no one would give a damn, that’ll be now.
Mark. (laughing) Right. That’s awesome.
Mark: So I know from a sports standpoint like agility is a learned skill. How do you think one can learn agility right now? And they need to get it fast, right? Because the old way isn’t gonna work.
Daron: Yeah, yeah. So I think it’s a three-part process. Right now I think quickly whether you are solopreneur, Fortune 500 Company – whatever it may be – you’ve got to assess the situation. So again take inventory of your assets – and I’m not talking about hard assets – I’m talking about human capital. Okay?
So what can the people on your team do better than people in other positions? How are you positioned in the Marketplace? Then I think you have to adapt. And so, in this way, I think of some of the companies that I’ve seen who’ve made extraordinary pivots.
Just in Austin, there’s a produce wholesaler. So they sell produce to restaurants. And they quickly found out that “damn, when restaurants close, the whole selling business goes down,” right?
Instead of putting up a sign and going to try to get a loan, and closing up shop, they have now pivoted to B2C, where they are delivering boxes of produce to consumers. So my wife… she gets the shipment every week. Because we can’t get it at the grocery store, because of shortages. And I was talking with one of the guys – the delivery guy – he said “we’re getting close to our revenue targets with this new model.”
Mark: Wow. That’s a quick pivot, holy cow.
Daron: And I said, “Well, how’d you do it?”
He goes, “you know what? We freakin’ put up an Instagram picture that said ‘hey! DM us if you want produce.” (laughing) He goes, “look, there were no systems in place. We weren’t running our business on Shopify, right?”
“But we said to ourselves, ‘let’s see if there’s demand, and if there is we’ll figure the rest of it out later.’” and that’s what I love. I mean, I think there is a place at this point right now to have some strategic recklessness.
Mark: Yeah. “Ready, fire, aim,” will actually work.
Daron: (laughing) Right, right. Because you need to see what the Market thinks, and if you get a bite, go for it. You’ll figure it out.
So I would say assess, adapt and then the last thing – I think you and I are on the same page – is advance. Just make some forward progress. Don’t overthink it.
And if it doesn’t work, make another pivot and hit the repeat button.
Mark: Yeah, right. Fear can be a huge distractor for people. How do you stay focused and ward off negativity?
Daron: Yeah, so a few things – one – even before this chaos – I practice gratitude in the morning and at night. So my usual routine is I’m getting up at 4:45, I’ll take a cold shower, I speak three points of gratitude to myself in the mirror. I go into my closet – I say, I meditate – I tried to meditate, read a lot of books, was burning incense and all that shit – I say, “you know what? I’m just going to go in my closet and try to get still for 10 minutes. That’s it.”
“I’m gonna try to breathe through the nose, out through the mouth. Quiet my brain.” I do that for 10 minutes, and then I get a run in. And so I think gratitude is the first thing.
I think the second point that is critical – especially now – is you’ve got to control your content, right?
Mark: You’re mental content? The content you allow in, I see.
Daron: Yeah, yeah. So you’ve got to control your intake. And there’s a real thing called “Instagram Envy.” So researchers are finding… they’re taking people, they’re measuring their happiness levels before putting them through this experiment.
Then they’ll show the people their own Instagram timelines. So they’ll show them the post from their own friends. And then they’ll come back in, and they’ll ask them the same questions about happiness, and the overwhelming majority – I think it’s something like 82% – they’re coming out of that experiment more depressed, more anxious, because you start looking at everyone else’s sort of glossy cropped pictures and you think “what the fuck am I doing with my life?
Mark: (laughing) “When I look in the mirror, that’s not what I see, right?”
Daron: (laughing) “That’s not what I see. That’s not how my life is going.” Right now, we’re talking, I’m sitting in my wife’s closet. I took over half of the space. She’s gonna start charging me rent here pretty soon. This is my new studio.
Like, I can’t go to my office the University of Texas. Its like, “hey, I’m gonna set up in your place.” So I try to control – I only look at the news once a day. I am very quick to unfollow or mute people in social media. I only have parts of the day when I’m on social media.
So I think just controlling the intake… like, being very strategic and intentional about saying “this is what I choose to consume on a daily basis.” It can’t be left up to “let me just go and scroll.” I think that’s critically important in a time like this, or even outside of this period, in order to really maintain your mindset.
Mark: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. That’s a big part of my practice – I took the TV out of my house like almost 20 years ago, so that’s “check” – that’s a big one, right there.
Daron: Yeah. How was that? How was that transition?
Mark: It was fine for me, because we watched certain things, but I’ve been a meditator since 20, and I found that the constant speed of the commercials, and the repetition – it literally hurt my head.
Mark: And so I just can’t watch TV. And even nowadays, I can’t watch it. Like, if I go into a restaurant or something is playing, it’s interesting to me – because there is some value to TV, where you can kind of keep a pulse on culture if you use it properly. So sometimes I can be unplugged in that regard.
But the benefits far outweigh whatever downside. So just taking it out.
It taught me to do two things with the rest of the way I get my news. So usually I get my news by one) just by scanning headlines. And I play opposite day with the headlines, right? So I read the headline and I think what’s the exact opposite? And then I think that’s probably closer to the truth.
(laughing) And then I have trusted sources who are like people that I know other people trust. I don’t want to be my own bias filter – who do an analysis on what’s going on.
And I get their stuff every day and I’m like “okay, this is kind of a really interesting perspective.” And then now they even kind of like downgrade that by 10 or 20 percent, because of their bias filters.
So anyways, it’s just a different way to consume. And it’s not getting drawn into the negativity and the constant distraction. I think that’s part of it.
Part of it is negativity. That’s probably the worst part.
The second part is, you’re constantly being distracted away from your own truth, your own reality and what’s really important with these different media sources.
Daron: Yeah, and I love that. Now also, I’m constantly reminded that the flip of that too – with the news cycle – is also other people. There are so many people who have designs for your time. Like, they have requests and asks.
And I would say the third thing for me is, once I embraced the power of saying no – I was one of those guys like “oh, I don’t want to disappoint them. I don’t want them to think less of me.”
And I remember two years ago I was sitting in a parking lot about to head into one of these galas that I hate going to.
Mark: (laughing) I can’t stand those either.
Daron: (laughing) And I literally almost had a breakdown… I just pulled out of the parking lot and went home. And it was just like the thought of the scent of the chicken, and the cheesecake and fake conversations… it’s like “fuck it. I’m going home.”
And I remember, I sat down and I wrote “okay, look. I’m only gonna do at a maximum one dinner per month.” I limited the number of like podcast interviews, or in-person meetings, or calls and Mark, my life changed.
It was easy for me, because now I said “hey.” I had this reason saying “hey, here’s my system. I appreciate the opportunity, but here’s what I’ve committed to. Let me know if I could be of value in the future.”
And I walked away with that new mindset. My life has changed like 10x for the better.
Mark: Totally appreciate that. That’s very hard. Because I’ve basically stated I was gonna do that. And it’s part of what I teach. And I still say yes to shit that I don’t wanna say yes to.
And, I tell you what, this is another way to look at it. This hit me in the face recently, because everything’s been canceled for me right now. And I’m totally relieved. I’m like “yes.” Like, “I don’t have to go back and do that thing at my reunion. And I don’t have to go do that, and I don’t have to do that.”
And I’m like “I didn’t want to do that stuff anyways. But I couldn’t say no,” right? What are your criteria? Like what’s your secret to your success?
Daron: So this is so funny, because my mom calls me and I do like 60 keynotes a year and write trainings. And she’s like “oh my gosh, Daron, I just know that you’re having a hard time dealing with this.”
Mark: (laughing) And you’re like “nope.”
Daron: I walk into my closet, I’m like “actually, mom this is kind of great.”
She’s like, “what?”
I said “you know, it’s been a learning lesson for me, because I was at the point to where I would look at the next weekend say to myself “yes, I don’t have to do this thing…” whatever it was.
Mark: (laughing) I know. What if we could put ourselves – here’s what I’m gonna do from now on, and I’m stating this publicly – before I say yes, I’m gonna put myself into a future state and just say “am I excited that I’m getting on the plane to go do this thing?” Right?
Daron: Yes. That’s what I do.
Mark: Oh you do? Good for you. So tell us about it.
Daron: I am 100% honest about this. So this is what I do, and a mentor of mine told me this. He said, “Okay listen. Whether in person or via email or phone call, never say yes on the spot.”
And I said “okay?”
He goes “just give yourself a chance… create some space between stimulus and response. You need that space.” He said, “The next thing I want you to do is, I want you to visualize” – and I’m thinking to myself “ah, this is like the corny – ‘close your eyes and see into the future’”
He goes “no, listen. Visualize yourself getting off the plane, walking into the ballroom, checking into the hotel. Like walk through the experience – whatever it is – and I then want you to take an inventory of your feeling.
And Mark, let me tell you something, man. Game changer.
Mark: I bet.
Daron: Because I think often times, because we make quick responses, like “yeah, I’ll do that,” like the brain gets tricked into “yeah, I could probably do that. It’d be okay.”
But when you really slow the clock down, you’re like “oh shit. No, I don’t want to connect in Minneapolis. No, I don’t want to go to another chicken dinner.” And it’s been… I’m telling you man, it is changed my life. That one practice.
Mark: I love that. And it’s so easy to say yes to something that’s down the road months and months. And you’re like “yeah, whatever. That’s in the future.”
And then as you get closer and closer you’re like “grr. Why am I doing this again?”
So if you’re listening, that’s your new SOP. Never say yes on the spot, just say “let me think about it,” or “let me check with my boss,” who’s gonna be your wife.
Mark: And then visualize it. Dirt-dive it. I love that. Dirt-dive it and feel into it.
And that’s when you apply the saying that if it’s not a hell yes then it’s a no?
Mark: If you don’t feel super-excited – like it’s an honor for me to be there – then no.
Daron: Yeah, I tell you what. I mean, there are a few articles that have really changed my mindset, and that Derek Siver’s “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no.” It’s probably one of the most shared articles for me – whether it’s students, or execs… whatever it may be – and it’s spot-on, because…
And I’ve even gone I’ve even done sort of a personal study. I’ll go 3 months back and I’ll say “hey, the things you committed to – did you want to do them? And then how did it turn out?”
And oftentimes we think that we’re gonna miss the big thing. That’s very rarely the case, right? Like I am happy with where I am, because I have the time to funnel into the craft that I want to become better at. If I keep saying yes – I got five kids, Mark. I’m out of time, man. You know what I mean?
Mark: Yeah, I hear ya.
Well, this has been awesome. I want to be sensitive to our time here, so we’re gonna wrap up.
But your book is “Call an Audible.” And is it available in audible, speaking of that? Since so many people are listening to audible nowadays?
Daron: Yes. So the audiobook’s on audible, e-book and also hardcover Amazon.
Mark: And so you got the Center of Sports Leadership and Innovation. And do you have like a personal website? What’s your podcast? So let us know how to connect with you.
Daron: Yeah. So the best way to connect with me – I love LinkedIn. Of all the social media platforms, 80% of my time is there, and then 20% is kind of on the other ones.
And also so I had a podcast “A Tribe Called Yes.” Actually, tomorrow I’m launching a pop-up podcast, Mark. So this is only a podcast that I’m gonna run throughout this COVID-19 craziness. And it’s called “The Pivot Playbook.”
So I’m bringing in business owners who’ve made pivots… like, one of my first guests is a guy who had an in-person trivia game that was shut down. And then he’s gone virtual now. And has doubled his revenue.
So we’re gonna bring in business owners who’ve had to pivot during COVID, and try to go glean some lessons that the rest of us can use moving forward.
Mark: Terrific. And people can find out about that at your website?
Mark: Well, Daron thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate your humility and your insight. It’s just been a really pleasant conversation.
Daron: Likewise Mark. Thank you for having me on.
All right folks, Daron K Roberts. Check him out at darenkroberts.com. Check out his podcast, and LinkedIn at Daron K Roberts. Let’s go support Daron. A great guy.
And for everyone out there who is struggling, well this is time to breathe and to think about how you can pivot. How you can come out of this stronger.
And for those of you who are thriving, let’s turn our attention to helping others. So that we all get through this stronger.
And let’s not backtrack when it’s over. Let’s commit to opening up our hearts and being more connected and Unbeatable Mind. I appreciate your support, and let’s do this thing.