Q+A: Drew Dudley on success and leadership

Drew Dudley, an acclaimed TED talk speaker, returned to Carleton to speak at Fall Orientation. Dudley spoke to first-year students on Sept. 5 about what he wished he knew when heading into university.

The Charlatan sat down with him after the lecture to discuss success and leadership.

The Charlatan (TC): You talked a lot about individual perceptions of success. How can we make sure our goals are actually our own?

Drew Dudley (DD): I think the problem with goals is that they can become really restrictive. One of the things that I started to realize in my life is that you’re far better off giving up on five-year goals and instead embracing [a] five-year memento. What that means is that sometimes when you focus on goals as if they’re a big future thing that you have to get to, you can lose sight of whether or not they’re yours . . . Start with the core values of what you want to stand for. If someone followed you around for 30 days out of your life and they saw every interaction you were a part of, at the end if you asked them, ‘what are the values this person tries to put out in the world?’ . . . What do you hope they say? And then make your only real goals in life to make sure you do one thing every day that lives up to those . . . If you want to make sure that they are yours, make your only goal in life to live each day as the type of person that you’d be proud of.

TC: You spoke about the dreaded “list.” What is your advice to avoid having a list?

DD: The list is a manifestation of the fact that we evaluate our lives on big blocks of time. How did we do over this month? How did we do over this year? How did we do over the last five years? You don’t avoid the list. You make sure that it’s the right one and you never write it down in stone . . . The only dreaded list that exists is the one that’s not yours. You simply make sure that the one you are living by is two things: yours and flexible.

TC: What have students taught you during your time as an inspirational speaker?

DD: They’ve taught me that we grow up believing that leaders look a certain way and that they sound a certain way, and without even being aware of it, we train ourselves to only look for leadership from people that look and sound that way. And they almost always look older than us. They almost always sound charismatic and confident . . . We only look upwards in age, we only look upwards in money, we only look upwards in charisma. What students have taught me is that leadership comes from everywhere. They’ve taught me that if I truly want to be a lifelong learner, I can’t just keep looking for older, richer and more famous. I had a seven-year-old change the way I looked at the world once. My TED talk only exists because one of my students absolutely insisted that I apply. So, what students have taught me, is that everybody should have a mentor younger than them. And every younger person should try to be a mentor to somebody older than them.

TC: You mentioned that job titles and money don’t always lead to success. How can students realize this when they are struggling to afford expenses such as tuition?

DD: I am not unaware of the realities of the world. I think what students and everyone else need to accept is that money and jobs are terrible life goals because you’re not in charge of either of them. As long as you work for someone else . . . how much money you make is someone else’s decision. Every promotion you get is someone else’s decision. And when you tie your life goals to somebody else’s whims, it’s really disempowering . . . Jobs and money are not goals in and of itself. They are the natural by-products that come to people that add tremendous value. The key is that your education can’t be about getting a job. Your education has to be about becoming the type of person who is great at jobs. That means every single day, you can’t ask, ‘how do I look on paper?’ You have to ask, ‘what have I done that makes me more capable of adding value in interpersonal interactions?’ When you say, ‘I have to get a job so I can pay my loan,’ you’re driving your life with the question, ‘what do I have to do?’ I think that students need to ask, ‘who do I need to be?’

Photo by Aaron Hemens