Scott Jurek is widely regarded as one of the greatest runners of all time.  He has won most of ultrarunning’s elite events including the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135, and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which he won a record seven straight times. His most recent accomplishment is his 2015 Appalachian Trail speed record, averaging nearly 50 miles a day over 46 days.  He is a New York Times-bestselling author and his latest book is called North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He averaged nearly 50 miles a day for 46 days to set a new Appalachian Trail speed record.
  • Watching his mother suffer with multiple sclerosis at a young age gave him the fortitude later in life to fight through the pain and suffering during long runs.
  • Humans were built for extreme endurance. If you want it badly enough and are willing to endure the suffering, you can run an ultramarathon.
  • Being adaptable and being able to adjust his mental state on race day was a key ingredient of his willing so many ultra races.
  • He had lost the passion and drive to really push himself and test his boundaries. Running the Appalachian Trail gave him the spark he needed to rekindle that fire in his belly.
  • Learn how he fought through excruciating injuries in both legs to keep moving on his way to setting the record.
  • “Excellence is being the best that you can possibly be. There is no end point. It’s something we’re always striving for.”

 

Show Notes

Scott Jurek’s book: North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail https://www.amazon.com/North-Finding-While-Running-Appalachian/dp/0316433799/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1528762039&sr=8-1&keywords=scott+jurek

Scott Jurek’s website: http://www.scottjurek.com/

 

Scott Kelly is a retired NASA astronaut and a veteran of four space flights.  He is best known for spending nearly a year on the International Space Station and the second most time in space of any American.  He recently wrote a book now available about his space travels called Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He struggled academically for many years until he read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff which would finally give him the focus he needed to turn himself around and become a model student.
  • Despite the odds of success of becoming an astronaut being stacked against him, his attitude was if you don’t even try, then you know for certain that the odds are zero.
  • Learn how spending a year in space tests your psychological endurance as much as your physical endurance.
  • When you’re doing a very challenging task, try to focus only on the things you can control and then ignore the rest.
  • His mother’s passing a rigorous physical exam to become a police officer served as a role model for Scott overcoming his own challenges.
  • Excellence is the ability to focus 100% of your ability and attention on one thing.

Anders is a professor of psychology at Florida State University where he specializes in the science of peak performance.  His groundbreaking research has been featured in many publications including Scientific American, Time, Fortune, Wall Street Journal and New York Times.  His most recent book is called Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • The Malcolm Gladwell “10,000 hour rule” (i.e. it takes 10,000 hours to become world class at something) stems from Anders’ research. But it’s not necessarily 10,000 hours and it’s not any kind of practice.
  • Learn what is meant by “deliberate practice”.
  • The success of the Navy’s Topgun (fighter pilot training program) largely stemmed from the methodology behind deliberate practice.
  • The brain can be rewired to extend its capabilities at any age.
  • There is no such thing as natural talent.
  • Learn how building mental representations can dramatically improve performance.
  • For many fields, the workday is far too long. It is very hard to maintain intense focus and concentration for more than 3 or 4 hours a day.

Seth Goldman is the Co-founder of Honest Tea, a company he started in 1998 and has grown to over $200 million in revenue.  Today, Honest Tea is the nation’s top selling ready-to-drink organic bottled tea. The Honest Tea brands are available in over 130,000 outlets across the United States.  The company was acquired by Coca Cola in 2011.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how he reinvented the entire bottled tea industry.
  • Being a relentless optimist helped get him through the tough times.
  • The company wasn’t just about a better tasting drink but about an expression of his personal values (health, the environment, working conditions in developing countries).
  • To successfully launch a startup, start with a very strong vision of the brand and then everything else will fall into place.
  • The best way to learn is simply by doing. Market research will only get you so far and doing too much of it could become a hindrance.
  • Excellence is having a vision and being able to execute on that vision without compromise.

Morris Robinson is a world-renowned bass opera singer.  He has regularly performed at the Metropolitan Opera as well as opera houses all over the world.  He is also a highly regarded concert singer and has performed with many of the well-known symphony orchestras across the United States.  He is a graduate of the Citadel and currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and son.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • A 3 time All American football standout in college, at 6’3” and 290 pounds, he was deemed too small to make it in the NFL.
  • Learn why he quit the corporate world cold turkey to pursue a singing career.
  • If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
  • Learn how football helped prepare him for a career in the opera.
  • Talent is important but it’s not everything. You have to be willing to make sacrifices, work hard and apply yourself to achieve something great.
  • “If you have a dream, you have a right to go after it.”
  • “If you give your best at whatever you do, the product will be excellence.”

 

To some, Morris Robinson can be an intimidating presence.  He’s a big and powerful looking guy. Remember Popeye’s powerful nemesis Bluto?  Sort of like him.  There is also no pretense about Morris.  When he showed up for our interview, he was wearing workout shorts, a t-shirt and sandals.  If I told you that he’s an ex 3 time all American collegiate football player, that probably wouldn’t be much a surprise.  But if I then told you he’s now one of the great bass opera singers of our generation, you’d probably do a double take.  And Morris would have it no other way.

Morris has always relished the dichotomy of his existence – a 6’3”, 290 pound aggressive offensive lineman on the one hand and a talented performance artist on the other.  Those two seemingly contrasting personas have been a part of his identity throughout his life.  Even today with his football playing days well behind him, he certainly doesn’t “look” or “act” the part of a world-renowned opera singer (not that I personally know any of them).  An image of a polished, clean-shaven and formally dressed sophisticate driving a Mercedes may come to mind but certainly not a casually dressed, scruffy-looking former athlete driving around town in a Hummer.  That’s one of the things I love about Morris Robinson – he is who he is and he makes no apologies.

So what do you do when you finally come to the realization that your lifelong dream of playing football in the NFL isn’t in the cards?  Like most of us, you do what you feel you have to do to make your way in the world.  That is, you settle.  For Morris, that meant getting a job in corporate sales for a technology company.  That is what he did for seven tedious years until he woke up one day and felt empty inside.  Despite his success at it, the passion just wasn’t there.  He knew deep inside that it wasn’t in God’s plan for him to spend the rest of his days toiling away in corporate America.

His wife Denise also noticed that the spark was missing which is why, unbeknownst to Morris, she had secretly set up an interview for him at the prestigious Choral Arts Society of Washington.  The Director fell in love with his beautiful voice upon the very first note.  And that’s all it took for Morris to embark upon a new journey to rediscover this remarkable gift he had always had but which had laid dormant for many years.  It wasn’t so obvious at first how he could leverage his vocal talent into a career but that was beside the point.  Corporate sales had become a grind and he needed some excitement in his life.  With singing, he got just that.

With a voice as naturally sweet and powerful as his, it didn’t take long for Morris to get discovered.  But the road from salesman to opera star wasn’t an easy one. Talent notwithstanding, becoming an opera singer meant going back to school, both literally and figuratively.  He had to relearn how to sing operatically.  He had to learn how to act.  He had to learn multiple foreign languages (most operas are in Italian and German).  And he had to learn how to take critique. And lots of it.  While he had the advantage of a beautiful voice, singing opera is not something you just do.  It would be years of hard work and sacrifice and swallowing his pride to learn this difficult craft and make it as a professional opera singer.

So why did he do it?  Why did he decide to take this risk and essentially start over when he was already well ensconced in his corporate career?  Because according to Morris, “If you have a dream, you have the right to go after it.”  And he believed in himself.  His attitude from day one was that if someone else could do it, then he could do it too.  In his heart of hearts, he knew that if he wanted something badly enough and was willing to truly devote himself to it, he could accomplish anything.  No goal would be beyond his reach, even if that goal were as bold and audacious as becoming a world-renowned bass opera singer.

Kevin Gillespie is a chef, author and media celebrity.  He owns two of Georgia’s hottest restaurants: Gunshow and Revival.  Gunshow has been on GQ’s list of “12 Most Outstanding Restaurants”.  In 2015 he was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best Chef in the Southeast award.  He was also a semi-finalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award.  He is the author of two cookbooks: Fire in my Belly and Pure Pork Awesomeness.  He was a finalist on the sixth season of Bravo’s Top Chef cooking show and was voted the Fan Favorite for the season.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He got accepted to MIT but turned it down to pursue his passion.
  • How his appearance on Top Chef turned his restaurant and his career around.
  • Life opens doors for us all the time but we frequently walk right past them.
  • How fame has been a mixed blessing.
  • Learn how he reinvented the entire dining experience with Gunshow.
  • Hear about his plan B if money weren’t an issue and he could do anything in the world.
  • If you make great food and put smiles on customer’s faces, that’s success.

 

Some kids watch cartoons on TV.  Others watch sports.  But on most days you could find the young Kevin Gillespie glued to the TV watching any number of cooking shows.  There was something mesmerizing watching the chefs work their magic in the kitchen.  His passion for cooking only grew more intense through the years to the point where he recognized that this was more than just a passion – it was a calling.  A calling so strong that he was able to turn down one of the most prestigious universities in the world – M.I.T.  Had he listened to his parents or his friends or his teachers, he’d probably be a nuclear engineer today.  But fortunately he had the good sense to turn inward and listen to his heart.  And that’s how he knew that the only engineering he’d be doing in the future was in the kitchen.

The restaurant Kevin Gillespie was running at the time – Woodfire Grill – was struggling to fill seats and had only a month’s worth of cash left in the bank when he got that auspicious call from one of the producers of Top Chef.  He wasn’t really seeking the spotlight but he decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a shot.  His well-received appearance on the 6th season of Top Chef would turn his restaurant, his career and his life around.

Kevin was voted the fan favorite on the show from that season which soon translated into his being a fan favorite in Atlanta’s restaurant scene.  Woodfire Grill went from having half empty dining rooms to being booked solid months in advance.  Without a doubt, his celebrity status helped fill seats but the show did something for Kevin which was much more impactful.  Without the use of cookbooks or any lifelines, he had to rely entirely on his gut instincts to create recipes on the fly.  He learned how to cook with passion for the very first time in his career which allowed his true personality to surface in his unique culinary inventions.

Gunshow is a restaurant unlike any other.  Describing it as a Brazilian churrascaria-style steakhouse meets Chinese dim sum isn’t quite doing it justice.   In fact, it’s just about impossible to pin down its menu since there is no menu. The food options change on a daily basis and are entirely up to the whims of the chefs.  Whatever they feel inspired by is what you’ll find on the plate that evening.  This novel concept doesn’t just make the dining experience more fun and spontaneous for the guests but for the chefs as well.

Beyond the ever changing menu, Kevin has also completely flipped the service model on its head.  The chefs themselves break down that “invisible wall” to the kitchen and come pitch their inspirations directly to the guests.  After all, who better to explain the vision behind the dish than the very person who invented it.  So the chefs not only make their dishes, they explain their dishes and then they serve their dishes.  It’s a complicated system but they’ve somehow figured out a way to make it work seamlessly.

Kevin’s the most down to earth “celebrity” you’ll ever meet.  He’s finally gotten used to the lack of anonymity that comes with stardom but it’s taken a while.  He was never after fame but is incredibly grateful for the good fortune that has come as a result of it.  He doesn’t take any of his success for granted, recognizing that you’re only as good as your last meal.  And how does he measure success?  It’s not the dollars and cents or the 5 star Yelp reviews one would expect.  It’s much more simple.  If at the end of the day you feel like you gave it your all and had guests leave with huge smiles on their faces, for Kevin Gillespie, that is the definition of success.

 

 

Marquis Grissom is a former professional baseball player.  He led the National League in stolen bases in 1991 and ‘92, was a member of the National League All Star team in 1993 and ’94 and won four consecutive Golden Gloves.  He joined the Atlanta Braves in 1995 where he helped them win their first and only World Series.  In all, he played 17 years in the majors, hitting 227 homers, stealing 429 bases and finishing with a batting average of .272.   Today he runs the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association, a foundation he started which teaches kids how to perform at their highest levels, both on and off the baseball field.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • How hard work at a very young age would help prepare him for a successful baseball career.
  • Learn which sport he always dreamed of playing as a professional. Hint: It’s not baseball.
  • Hear what his Plan B and Plan C were if baseball didn’t work out.
  • Hard work, discipline, focus and determination were the keys to his success.
  • How he was able to turn around a season-long slump just in time to help the Braves win its first World Series.
  • The lessons learned in baseball are life lessons kids will carry throughout life.
  • The way to not live in the past is to be even happier living in the present.

 

You don’t have to look real hard to see where Marquis Grissom’s work ethic comes from. He didn’t have a cozy lifestyle growing up.  If he wasn’t pumping water to boil for his parents and fourteen siblings, he was chopping wood, laying bricks, mixing mortar or doing a number of other odd jobs. His parents laid the foundation early on that you have to work hard to achieve anything in life.

It’s that strong work ethic ingrained in him at an early age that would underpin much of his success as a professional baseball player.  He was willing to do whatever it took to become the best he could be.  Being competitive wasn’t good enough.  He strove to be the fastest, the strongest and the smartest player on the field at every game.  That meant more batting practice, more fielding practice, more running, more conditioning and pretty much more of anything and everything to gain that extra edge. When the odds of a high school baseball player making it to the major leagues are a miniscule 1 in 5,000, it’s no surprise that it would take this kind of herculean effort to realize his dreams.

As talented and as driven as he was, he also had a good head on his shoulders.  He attended college instead of chasing the quick buck. Education was a value he always embraced, even with the lottery ticket to fame and fortune. And knowing that a prolific career in professional sports is never guaranteed, he always had a backup plan.  Had baseball not worked out, he could have been just as happy as a fireman or construction worker.

So when you’ve had a standout professional sports career with all the fame and money and glory that comes along with it, how do you prevent yourself from looking in the rearview mirror for the rest of your life?  It sounds like a worn platitude to say you just need to find something after retirement that fills you with as much passion.  But that’s exactly what Marquis did in founding the Marquis Grissom Baseball Association.

The mission of the foundation is to teach kids how perform at their highest levels both on and off the baseball field.  The staggering odds of making it as a professional baseball player aren’t lost on Marquis.  He knows the vast majority of these kids won’t ever see a dime from the sport. But if he can prepare these kids to go to college, whether or not baseball is part of the package, he’ll feel like it was worth all the effort.  And with 83% of his students going to college, mission accomplished.

You won’t find too many superstar athletes as modest as Marquis.  With all of his incredible talent and disciplined work ethic, it’s somewhat of a surprise that it’s luck to which he attributes most of his success.  It’s hard to argue that serendipity plays a role in just about any success story but in this case, it’s a very minor supporting role.  That said, for Marquis, it’s all beside the point.  For that was then and this is now.  And all that matters now is to show gratitude by dedicating this next chapter of his life to teaching the next generation the fundamentals of baseball and of life.

 

Sid is the co-founder and owner of Sid Mashburn men’s clothing store.  Both Esquire and GQ have named Sid Mashburn one of the best menswear shops in America.  Today they have five stores in five cities and 135 employees and are continuing to add new stores every year.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • How Sid sees himself in the hospitality business, not the retail business.
  • To find the white space, just follow your heart.
  • How a company culture kit is critical to scaling a business.
  • What are economy of time, economy of mind and economy of money.
  • How trying to be all things to all people can be an effective business strategy.
  • You can have enormous success by just taking things one step at a time.
  • Aiming to be the best at something is more important and rewarding than trying to be the biggest.

 

Walking into a Sid Mashburn store is not like walking into any other men’s clothing store.  It’s a full sensory experience, from the classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes cranked up high to the stuffed wildlife protruding from the walls to the seagrass on the floor to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  Oh, and of course there’s also the ping pong table.  This is all part of a master plan to make the store feel like a warm and inviting place to anyone who walks through the doors.  “The store is meant to feel like a fraternity that everybody gets a bid to”, as Sid conveys the ambiance he’s trying to capture.

This unique in-store aesthetic is just the tip of the iceberg in Sid Mashburn’s retail experience.  It’s all about the high-touch service you’ll find the minute you enter the shop.  You’ll be greeted with a smile and offered a beverage of your choice. They’ll ask if you’d like to have a seat while they hang up your jacket. What you won’t find here are high pressure sales tactics. That’s because the sales people are not on commission.  The goal is simple – to have you feel like you’re walking into someone’s home.

Sid was raised in a small town in Mississippi and it’s not hard to see how the southern hospitality he grew up with has become a core piece of the brand DNA.  It’s not fake.  It’s not for show.  It’s just an authentic expression of who Sid is as a person. He doesn’t see himself as being in the retail or clothing business but rather, the hospitality business.  He craves having that intimate relationship with the customer which is why he likes to benchmark against best-of-breed hospitality brands – think Danny Meyer in the restaurant space and the Ritz in the hotel world.

Marketers are taught that you need to have a well-defined target audience to succeed. Sid never got that memo. He wants everyone to feel welcome in his shop which is why you’ll find a $65 pair of Levis just a few feet away from a $10,000 suit.  Customers range in age from 11 to 87 and between his physical stores and his e-commerce business, he touches pretty much every corner of the country.

We’ve all heard the cliché to follow your passion.  It’s usually easier said than done.  But Sid Mashburn has done just that since day one.  He’s as enamored today about fashion as he was in his youth when clothing defined his childhood as much as music and sports.   And you can see that he truly just enjoys helping people.  He’s as happy to patch and repair an old worn pair of pants if that’s what you need as he is to sell you an elegant handmade suit.  His business goals are much more centered on taking care of people, both employees and customers, than they are on growth and profits.

This isn’t to say Sid isn’t ambitious.  He’s very success-oriented.  It’s just that success in his mind is defined much more by quality than it is by quantity.  The overarching goal is simple – to become the best shop in the world.  And judging by the accolades bestowed upon him by GQ and Esquire, he’ll already well on his way.