A month or so ago, we discussed the idea that entrepreneurs may have to be a little crazy to succeed. That perhaps the ability to execute on innovative ideas might come from a mental illness or psychological baggage that is turned into a positive.
And yes, emerging research suggests that many entrepreneurs leverage what would otherwise be a psychological liability into an advantage. Today, we’ll hear about a very specific example of that.
Peter Shankman and I have run in the same industry circles for many years, but we didn’t really get to know each other well until recently. That’s when I found out that not only does Peter have ADHD, he’s learned how to succeed with it, and even because of it.
This is a fascinating topic, and if you’ve been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD yourself, you’re not going to want to miss this. But even if you have some other perceived liability that could be seen as holding you back, tune in to understand why it may well be an asset.
The Show Notes
How to Turn a Personal Liability into an Entrepreneurial Asset
Peter Shankman: My name is Peter Shankman. I write bestselling books while on airplanes. I'm a licensed skydiver. I run a podcast. I started a service that changes how journalism and sources work together. Because of that and a whole bunch of more sh*t, I am — without question — 100 percent unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they're just not inclined to take one, and that's putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our free Profit Pillars course or choose to sign up for the newsletter only, at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That's Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: A month or so ago we discussed the idea that entrepreneurs may have to be a little crazy to succeed — that innovative entrepreneurs have some mental illness or psychological baggage that is somehow turned into a positive. Yes, emerging research suggests that many entrepreneurs do, in fact, leverage what would otherwise be a psychological liability into an advantage. Today we're going to hear about a very specific example of that. I'm Brian Clark, founder and CEO of Rainmaker Digital and this is Unemployable on the Rainmaker FM podcast network.
Peter Shankman and I have run in the same industry circles for many years, but we didn't really get to know each other until recently. That's when I found out that not only does Peter have ADHD, he's learned how to succeed with it — and even because of it. This is a fascinating topic. If you've been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD yourself you're not going to want to miss this. But even if you have some other perceived liability that can be seen as something that's holding you back, you may come to understand why it may well be an asset. Mr. Shankman, it's been weeks since I spoke to you.
Peter Shankman: Literally, it feels like a month.
Brian Clark: It's almost a whole month. How are things? You're a mad man at the gym and the half marathons and you've lost like 140 pounds or something.
Peter Shankman: A hundred and forty-eight thousand, actually. It was funny. I was cleaning out the DVR a couple of nights ago and I saw a photo of myself. I took a picture of the TV when I was on last June. It's like I ate myself, essentially. I spit myself out in a year. I dropped about 50 pounds and it feels really damn good, I won't lie.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. I did that a couple of years ago and then I regressed. You've got to watch out.
Peter Shankman: It always happens.
Brian Clark: It's so easy unless you ingrain it. It's got to be a true life change, not just a diet or a workout.
Peter Shankman: I think the unfairness of the universe is that it takes 6 months to lose 50 pounds, but literally I could eat that in pizza and it would be back tomorrow. It seems very unfair.
Brian Clark: It's not fair and I'm under protest currently. No, actually, you did inspire me. All the changes you've made, I'm like, “I've got to get back on track, man.” It benefits you in more ways than just feeling good and looking good. You make smarter decisions.
Peter Shankman: I love hearing that, thanks.
Who is Peter Shankman?
Brian Clark: Yeah. Let's tell people a little bit about Peter Shankman. Many people may know you as the guy who founded Help a Reporter Out and then sold it for a nice sum. Why don't we go back before that? What did you do before then and then how did you come to form HARO in the first place?
Peter Shankman: Yeah, long story super short, I started my career at America Online. I was a high school of performing arts drama geek. I went to the Fame school and graduated with Jennifer Anniston and the Wayans brothers. I was supposed to go on and have greatness in theater and film and … no. After realizing that wasn't going to work — it's like every kid who plays basketball thinks he's going to be the next Michael Jordan — I went to college. Went to Boston University and discovered fashion and portrait photography. Went to grad school for that out in Santa Barbra. Lost my financial aid with 18 credits to go and moved back to New York.
Was hanging out in my parents basement and I was hanging out in the Melrose Place chat room, of all things, and someone in the chat room said their company was trying to build a newsroom, so I should send my resume since I had this journalism degree from BU. Didn't expect anything to come of it. Two weeks later I was being moved down to Virginia and I was one of the founding editors of AOL News, which was just an amazing experience.
I launched AOL News and spent three years working under Steve Case, Ted Leonsis, John Barth — all these brilliant people. Just learned so much from them. Really learned it was about the customer and that the expectations we have of any customer experience are kind of crap. I took that knowledge and moved back to New York, but realized I couldn't work. AOL spoiled me in the respect that they don't care how you get the job done, they just want you to get it done. I come back to New York and I take a job at a magazine, and I'm like, “What do you mean they have to be in by 9:00 a.m.? A time sheet, what, are you kidding me?” That lasted like two weeks. I realized I just did not have the ability to work for anyone else.
My initial thought was, “I'll start a PR firm,” which I did. I went into it — I remember I incorporated on October 28, 1998 — and my lawyer said to me, “If this doesn't work, what are you going to do?” I said, “If this doesn't work I'll just go get a job,” and it's going to be 18 years this October and I have never had a job. But more importantly, it's never felt like work.
Brian Clark: That a boy.
Peter Shankman: That's the best part, it has never felt like work. It's funny, because I used to date a woman who'd call me, “Where are you?” “I'm at the W Hotel. At the bar, waiting for a meeting.” She's like, “Oh, tough life. It's 3:00 p.m., why don't you do some work?” I'm like, “I am working so much harder than you right now.” It's just the difference is I enjoy it and never see it as work.
Long story short, I eventually wound up starting — got the idea for Help a Reporter Out and built it. Sold it in 2010 — we had 250,000 members using it every day. Sold it and walked away. Decided to take a year off — that lasted a week. I got bored. Now I'm an angel investor. I've written four books, two bestsellers. I run a podcast, which we'll talk about, called Faster Than Normal. A website, a blog, and a podcast called Faster Than Normal where we discuss how ADD and ADHD, of which I have both, is actually a gift and actually responsible for a lot of my success.
I'm a corporate keynote speaker. And finally, certainly last but not least, I run a phenomenal mastermind. I run a mastermind of about 140 entrepreneurs from all over the world called Shankminds. We are a tight-knit group of 140 people who help each other out and really just have shoulders for each other. When you're working on your own it can be really lonely. It's a great group of people and I love that I do that. I'm really lucky. I'm really lucky that I am unemployable.
Brian Clark: Very cool. Now it's interesting, because we could talk about a lot of things here. We could talk about PR, which I've wanted to run stuff by you in the past and we've talked about that a little bit. We could talk about customer experience — your book, Zombie Loyalist. But I really want to talk about Faster Than Normal, because we've had a past episode where we talked about “flaws” or “liabilities” or even mental illness for some people that have actually fueled an entrepreneur by essentially turning a perceived problem into an asset. When we talked about your new podcast and how you had done this in your own life with ADHD, I was like, “Oh my gosh, what a perfect example.” So that's what I want to talk about. If we have time we may be able to sneak in some tips on other items.
What Was It Like to Be Diagnosed With ADHD and How Did you Use It to Your Advantage?
Brian Clark: First of all, talk about being diagnosed with ADHD. What impact that was on you? And then how you eventually used it to your advantage.
Peter Shankman: Before getting diagnosed — which happened years after college, I think I got diagnosed around age 28. When I got diagnosed it actually came with my name change. When I got diagnosed I was first able to understand that my name was Peter Shankman, not Peter Sit Down Your Disrupting the Class Again.
I really assumed my last name was Sit Down Your Disrupting the Class, because I had the social graces of a turnip growing up, I did not have the ability to sit still. I did not have the ability to listen. I was always talking, and I manifested that … I was a Jewish kid in New York so I didn't know how to fight, I didn't know how to be tough, but I knew how to make people laugh. I knew from a very early age that I could make people laugh. If I could just get three words in I could crack people up.
Thinking back on it, I never liked to try to meet girls at a club because the music was always too loud, I couldn't make them laugh. I didn't have the looks, but if they could just listen to me I knew I could make them laugh. For me, getting diagnosed was sort of this wake-up call. It was like, “Holy crap, there's a name for what I have. It exists, and I'm not the only one who has it. And, more importantly, there are people out there who are doing things without medication to survive and to thrive.”
That was the biggest shock for me. I said I was 28 and I'm 43 now, so probably the next 10 years I spent a lot of time figuring out why I do the things I do. What I did which was negative. What I could do that's positive. How I could turn those negatives into positives. And how I could live my life in such a way where those things I couldn't do I simply could not do.
How Do You Channel Your Energy in an Entrepreneurial Fashion?
Brian Clark: Give us of an example of after the diagnosis and the realization — besides making people laugh, which you do quite well — how do you focus? Focus is the wrong word, no pun intended. How do you channel your energy in an entrepreneurial fashion? Because you obviously have.
Peter Shankman: I have a series of what I call ‘Life Rules.' These life rules are drastically important. If I don't use these life rules every single day … I'll be honest. I've said this before publicly. I believe at any given point I am three bad decisions in a row away from being a junkie in the streets. I don't say that to be all dramatic. I say that because you have to know yourself and you have to know what things are good for you and what things are bad for you. When you have ADD or ADHD your brain is already working super fast so sometimes the impulse control that normal people have comes because their brains are slower and they can think about something. I call it the pizza theory.
I work at a Regis office space in midtown Manhattan and I'm never here. I'm always on a plane. There's a woman who works next door to me and she had a meeting with her team and they had pizza. The next morning I was in the office and she came in early and she said, “Hey, Peter, we had a meeting last night, we had pizza. We didn't eat all of it so there's leftover pizza in the fridge.” I looked at her and said, “What the hell is leftover pizza? What are you, a witch?” Leftover pizza, it does not exist. That's like leftover wine. That's not a thing.
That's exactly what I mean. Most people have a couple of slices, you put the rest in the fridge. You put a pizza in front of me, I'm going to eat the pizza. It's the same thing if I sit down at a blackjack table. It's the same thing if you put a bottle of tequila in front of me. What I've learned is to accept the things I can't change. And one of the things I can't change is I have two speeds: off and all the way the hell on. I avoid being in situations where my all the way the hell on-ness could hurt me. The best line is from the movie War Games. “The only winning move is not to play.”
When I go around the world speaking, my speaking contract's incredibly simple. It says, “I'll speak, you pay me — and fly me there and pay for my flight and pay for my hotel. Pay me and I'll speak.” Except in Las Vegas. In Las Vegas I have rider on my contract and it says “See rider.” And the rider says, “Addendum 1, speaker does not have to be on the ground in Las Vegas from wheels down to wheels up for more than 8 hours.” What that usually means is I have to do a 12:30 keynote.
So I'll take a 6 a.m flight from New York, I'll land in Vegas at 10, I'll speak at 12:30, I'll be back on a 4:00 p.m. flight. Because if I have to speak at a 9:00 a.m. keynote that means I have to get in the night before. Putting me in Las Vegas unsupervised for 12 hours — nothing good will come of that. It's incredibly easy to make poor decisions. So decision 1 would be spending the night in Vegas. Decision 2 and 3 is what leads to bad things. So if you avoid decision 1, decision 2 and 3 won't happen.
Brian Clark: As part of your recent health kick you've quit drinking and smoking. I kind of correlated that with “I need to lose weight and be healthy,” but it sounds like you're just eliminating even more of the things that could be construed as bad decisions or cause bad decisions.
Peter Shankman: Disclosure, I quit smoking several years ago but I occasionally bummed a cigarette. I quit smoking back in 2002 back when everybody decided to quit smoking, but I would bum one from time to time. I look at it like I haven't had a cigarette in almost 400 days, 400 days of not so much as even a drag. That to me is the real number. The drinking, yeah … The only stupid thing I would ever do if I'd been drinking is– the amount of domain names I bought is unbelievable. I probably own a thousand domain names and I'd wake up the next morning and look and, “What the hell does this even mean? Social Velcro? What was I thinking?” It's ridiculous. If anyone wants to buy some domain names I have a ton. Conferencewithoutchicken.com, come on.
For me, it wasn't so much that the drinking was causing me trouble. The problem was after the drinking. I'd drink a lot. It's the pizza theory, right? I won't have one drink, I'll have the bottle and I won't do anything stupid. I'll go home and I'll fall asleep but then I'll wake up the next morning and I'll feel like crap. My schedule, my routine, of getting up at 4:00 a.m. and going to the gym first thing, that doesn't happen.
Well, if the gym doesn't happen, then you know what? I'll stay in bed until 8:30. If I stay in bed 'til 8:30, well, I've ruined the morning, I might as well just order in. Well, if I'm going to order in, I might as well just order two bacon egg and cheese sandwiches and a grilled cheese and tomato with bacon. Okay, well if I'm going to do that, now I'm just oily and greasy so I'm probably not going to be going to the office, I'll just work from home. If I work from home I might as well — Next thing I know it's 5:00 p.m. and I'm like, “This whole day is ruined. I'm really pissed off. Let's have a drink.”
For someone with ADD, having one drink is a three-day process and I just simply decided to eliminate that opportunity. Eliminate the first decision. So for me that's not drinking. It also applies to other things. It doesn't necessarily have to be … That are bad for you. If you go into my closet, I have very few things in my closet.
Obviously, one of the main reasons for that is because I'm married so I don't have a lot of closet space to begin with, they're mostly taken over by my wife and my daughter. The little closet space that I do have has t-shirts, button-down shirts, a couple of blazers, and jeans, and that's it. Because if I had sweaters or hoodies or whatever, I'd have to … “Oh, I remember when I got that hoodie. I was with Laura and I was still dating her and about that time … My God, Laura. I wonder how she … You know what? Let me look her up on Face — I wonder how she's … Wow, she has a new website.” All the sudden it's 2:00 p.m. and I haven't left the house.
You have to understand these triggers and how to avoid them. I sleep in my running clothes. I sleep in my workout clothes. I wake up, I fall into my sneakers, I brush my teeth, and I'm out the door. I'm out the door with my bag, which is pre-packed and has my clothes for the day. I'm out the door within three minutes of waking up.
Brian Clark: So you create your own structure, basically.
Peter Shankman: Exactly. And as an entrepreneur, that's not easy to do. If you work for a company that says you have to be in at 9:00 a.m., you get in at 9:00 a.m. I don't have that so I have to force myself. I do things to force myself to do it. I searched far and wide for a trainer who would be willing to meet me at 5:30 in the morning — and only 5:30 in the morning. I found Tracy Hendricks who teaches classes in the afternoons and the evenings and can't meet any other time but 5:30, 5:45 in the morning. She bitches at me every day that I've gotten her up too early, but I know if I have a trainer waiting for me I'm going to get up and go to the gym.
My running partner is my best friend in the whole world, David Rower. David, he's a public school teacher, yet we both train for Ironman triathlons. And the only time we can both run together — because of his job, he has to be at school at 7:00 a.m. — we run at 3:30 in the morning. Twice a week, we get up at 3:00 a.m. and we're outside and running by 3:30 in the morning. We meet each other in front of my building and we run. The awesomeness of that is, “Oh my God, we have the entire city to ourselves. It's the most beautiful thing in the world.” But the flip side is I found someone as crazy as me and it's a beautiful thing.
How Did You Cultivate Such an Intense Ability to Focus?
Brian Clark: Yeah. Let me ask you this, because the stereotypes — and there are a lot of them around ADD, ADHD — are people who don't get things done, people who procrastinate, flit around. It sounds like you have the capacity for that. But when I observed you at the conference we were at in the Philippines, you immediately did things. You had intense focus on whatever it is that you were doing. How did you cultivate that? You made me feel bad. As far as know I don't have ADHD, but I do sound a lot like you I some other ways.
Peter Shankman: I think for me one of the … I didn't realize it at the time. I wasn't becoming an entrepreneur because it was cool, I was becoming an entrepreneur because I didn't have any other choice. What I loved about being in the Philippines with you and with everyone else was that I would get motivated by what I heard in the morning then I would go out and implement that immediately.
Impulse control is hugely difficult for people with ADHD, but there's a lot of benefit in that, especially when you're working in the online space in the respect that I heard stuff there in the morning that I went out and implemented in the afternoon. By nightfall it was off and making money on PayPal. There are ways to do that. And if you understand that it's not always going to be easy and a lot of times it's going to be a true pain in the ass to actually get done, there is benefit to that.
Again, even though I was in the Philippines the one thing you noticed — I remember pointing this out to you — you never saw me after 8:30, quarter to 9, every night. I remember you. You probably didn't see much of anything. We were at the bar together one night and it was 8:45, 9:00 and I said, “All right, I'm going to sleep.” And that's exactly what I did. Then I was up at 5:00 in the morning getting a workout in. Would it have been fun to party with you all night? God yes, and I wish I could've done that. But that would start me on a path that would make the conference that much less valuable. And you decide what's important and you decide what's a priority. I wrote a piece on Medium a few months ago: “Dear people who claim you don't have the time: You totally have the time. It's just a priority issue.”
If, for some reason, you don't have the time to exercise — you find the time to spend three hours a day on Facebook. I don't understand where that time comes from. What's your priority? For me the priority was to get the most out of the conference. I knew I had to take steps to do that. Some people look at that as unfair. How come I have to go to bed at 9:00 and Brian can roll into the conference whenever everyone else does and he looks fine and he's wide awake and he's ready to go. You know what? Good for you. I wish had that. I don't, so I compensate.
Brian Clark: Yeah. It's interesting. This is very interesting, because typically when I speak, I'm more like you. I show up — especially if it's in Vegas, I do not like that town — I show up, I prepare, I do my thing and I go hide in my hotel room. I will go implement whatever I heard that morning. That's my typical MO.
To me, as an introvert, that conference brought me out of my shell and I actually hung out with people. It's funny that you use that contrast. But my typical behavior is much more like yours. In this case, I actually enjoyed the fact that I spent more of a social time there and really got to know people because I usually don't and I realized that I was missing that. I was missing that spiritually and creatively. I got a lot out of it so when I got home I implemented the hell out of everything. But generally, I would do it like you.
Peter Shankman: I think it also depends on the conference. This conference that we were at, literally, it was above and beyond. It was the best. Ducker already has a swelled head so I don't want to make it any more swollen, but that was literally one of the best conferences I've ever attended in my life. So I had every desire to spend as much time as possible with the other presenters, with you, with everyone like that. There are conferences I go to where they bring me in because I speak about something they need to know, like customer service or customer economy, but it's a national roofing conference and I have absolutely nothing to offer them after. I'll stick around if they want me to talk to them, I'll be happy to. But going to the party and talking about roofing — not my thing.
Again, hiding in the hotel room — I don't look at it as hiding. If I get to my hotel room at 6:00 p.m. — in a city that's not Vegas — and I have a speech at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, well 6:00 p.m. to midnight or 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. even, that's three hours that I can sit down in one of the nice comfy chairs in the hotel room and work. My kid isn't there to bother me — not that she's a bother, I love her, but no one's there to interrupt me. The cats aren't meowing for food. I can shut my cell phone off and just write. That's why I love airplanes. That's why I wrote my last book on a plane, because it gets me into the zone and it lets me do what I have to do. And I think once you know what that zone is and how to get there, you're running it.
What Was the Inspiration for the Podcast?
Brian Clark: Okay, let's talk about the podcast. Because it's one thing to create structure and rules for yourself in order to thrive. Now you're sharing with others, teaching others how to do that for themselves, I take it. What was the idea that was really your inspiration for the podcast? Why did you say, “I need to get the word out about this?”
Peter Shankman: I am a believer that if you are doing even remotely well in your life, if you have done things where you're doing well and you're creating value, I believe that you have a responsibility to send that elevator back down. You have to offer other people what you've got. It's just required. For me, I believe that if I'm using my ADHD as a benefit and people are getting value out of it — or I'm getting value out it rather — then I have a responsibility to share that.
About 7 or 8 months ago I did a webinar on how I use my ADHD to my advantage and I figured 50 people would sign up. I had over 2600 people sign up and I had over 8,000 people request the download link. All of the sudden I realized, “Holy crap, there's people who could use my help here.” I launched Faster Than Normal with the premise that I want to help people and I want to offer these tips that I have.
It's like cold fusion. It's free, you just have to figure out how to do it. Anyone can have it. I want to give these tips to people and if they help someone … I tell you, Brian, I've been getting emails from … I got an email from a mother a couple days ago about a 12-year-old kid that said, “I sat and listened to all 9 of your podcasts so far in one sitting and took 17 pages of notes and cannot wait to give them to my daughter because she's struggling right now and I just want to say thank you.” My God, I sat there and cried. How awesome is that that I can help people? To be able to do that, that's what I'm talking about.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that's incredibly gratifying. I suppose this could also be a book. Is there any ideas for doing something like that?
Peter Shankman: I can neither confirm — Yes, there is very much a plan to do a book.
Brian Clark: It makes sense though. The podcast is great but — I don't know what the numbers are. Do we have statistics on how many people in the United States alone for example —
Peter Shankman: Twenty five percent of all kids are going to be diagnosed and there's some numbers out there that say it's up to as high as 45 percent of adults that don't know they have it.
General Advice for Overcoming Personal Liabilities
Brian Clark: Interesting. Okay, let me ask you this in a general sense. I'm going to put you on the spot. Let's say someone else has a perceived liability, not ADHD, do you have advice for overcoming constraints, liabilities, what have you, in general?
Peter Shankman: The best advice I can give someone … All I can do is tell you what's worked for me and I know that the second I stopped caring about what other people might think about what I'm going to do was the second I was free. Ninety percent of the time, I think the reason we don't do things is because we're afraid of what happens if we fail and we're afraid of what's going to happen if other people see that we have failed. I don't fail. I either win or I learn. That's how I look at it.
I remember on a podcast I once said, “I don't fail” and then my mic cut out. So all they heard was “I don't fail,” and they were like, “My God, what a pompous jerk that guy is.” No, I fail all the time, but don't look at it as failing. I either win — I'm successful at what I'm doing — or I've learned something. And if I've learned something, how is that possibly a failure? The scariest thing to me is not having done something because I was afraid.
It's why I first started skydiving — that and, obviously, ADD. But it's why I take these risks. I encourage people to take calculated risks. The whole world was built on quality calculated risks. Again, what's the worst thing that could happen? What's the worst possible thing that could happen for trying something if it fails? As long as you're not doing something that could potentially kill you, chances are the worst thing that can happen is it doesn't work.
Life goes on, maybe you get made fun of a little bit, and about 15 seconds later Charlie Sheen or someone's going to do something stupid and we'll forget about it. I call it the Lindsay Lohan effect. The first time I got mocked by Gawker I sat in my room and cried my eyes out. Within 8 hours they had 8 more stories up and no one knew who the hell I was anymore. It all goes away.
Brian Clark: I would take it as a badge of honor to be mocked by Gawker.
Peter Shankman: By the fifth time, hell yeah. I have to say, even as much as I respect and believe in the first amendment, I did not shed a tear when Hulk Hogan won a hundred million dollars off him.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I don't think a lot of people did. All right, Peter, tell everyone where they can find you, the podcast, your main site, all that good stuff, and your community as well.
Peter Shankman: Sure. I'm @petershankman on all of the socials and you can find me anywhere there. Faster Than Normal is exactly that, fasterthannormal.com. Sign up and I'll send you a cool, groovy, red bandy bracelet that says, “I'm faster than normal” on it. The podcast is the same place. You can either get it on Faster Than Normal or download it from iTunes by searching Faster Than Normal. My life is on Shankman.com. It's currently being redesigned by another wonderful person we met in the Philippines.
Then the Mastermind, which is the best part, is at Shankminds.com. We'd love to have you if you're an entrepreneur and you're excited about what you're doing and you just want an audience. At the end of the day, I think that entrepreneurism — as much as we love what we do — it's a lonely freaking road and you need a group of people that care about you. I truly believe that. Self care has to become a hugely more important thing in the entrepreneur world. That's at shankminds.com. Just reach out. I'm at Peter@shankman.com. I answer all my email personally because that's what you're supposed to do.
Brian Clark: You're a good man Shankman. I don't care what anyone says about you. Thanks so much for coming on the show, I really appreciate it. Let's make sure we run into each other again soon. All of you out there, you know the drill. Keep going.