Donald Miller: Be Your Own Hero | E153

Donald Miller: Be Your Own Hero | E153

What prevents people from taking that first step to becoming their own hero?

This week on YAP we are chatting with Donald Miller. Donald is an author, public speaker, and business owner, widely considered one of the most entertaining and informative speakers in the world. He is the CEO of StoryBrand, a marketing company that helps more than 3,000 business leaders clarify their brand message so their companies grow every year. Donald’s thoughts on stories have deeply influenced leaders and teams for Pantene, Ford/Lincoln, Zaxby’s, Chick-fil-A, Steelcase, Intel, Prime Lending, and thousands more.

He is also the CEO of Business Made Simple, the host of the Business Made Simple podcast, and the author of personal essays and books about faith, God, and self-discovery, including the bestsellers Building a StoryBrand and Marketing Made Simple, and his most recent, Hero on a Mission. He lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Elizabeth on their estate: Goose Hill. 

In this episode, Donald will share all of his philosophies from his new book Hero On a Mission. We will talk about Donald’s 4 characteristics: Victim, Hero, Villain, and Guide, and how we can choose which role we want to play. We will also dive into how writing a eulogy can help us get closer to our goals not by focusing on our death, but our life!

If you want to learn more about personal transformation and how to go from a victim to a hero, this is an episode for you!

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Check out our website to meet the team, view show notes and transcripts:


() – Donald shares about his mid 20s and his previous victim mentality

() – The genesis of Donald’s book Hero On A Mission

() – Breaking down the 4 characteristics found in the book

() – The Victim

() – The Villain

() – The Hero

() – The Guide

() – The inspirational story of a Victim transforming to a Hero

() – Donald explains the difference between an external locus of control and an internal locus of control

() – What prevents someone from taking that step to become a hero?

() – Why writing a eulogy help you get closer to your goals

() – The elements of a well written eulogy

() – How to take action on what you’ve written in your eulogy

() – The story of Victor Frankl and Logotherapy

() – Donald gives his definition of personal agency

() – What is the one actionable thing that our listeners can do today to be more profiting tomorrow?

() – Why is the question “Who am I becoming?” an important question to ask yourself?

() – What is Donald’s secret to profiting in life?

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#153 Donald Miller

Hala Taha: Hey, Donald, welcome back to young and profiting podcast.

Donald Miller: It's good to see you.

Hala Taha: I'm so happy that you're here. You're one of my favorite people in this space. So for those of you who don't know, Donald Donald is an amazing entrepreneur. He's also the CEO of a company called StoryBrand, which has helped thousands of companies, household names like Pantene.

and Chick- fil- A create their brand narrative. And Donald is a master at that. Donald is actually here today because he's launching a new book, uh, it already launched. It's called Hero on a Mission. And so that's out now. And today we're going to talk to him about his book and his transformation personally. Uh, so Donald you're super successful now.

You're very well put together. You're a great business. You come highly recommended, but it turns out when I was reading your book that you weren't always like this. And in your mid twenties, you had a victim mindsets and you couldn't make any money and you didn't have great relationships. And you were basically like a failure at life.

So talk to us about what you were like in your mid twenties and how you were a victim, and then we'll go from there.
Donald Miller: Well, I will say, um, I, when I look back at the kid in their mid twenties, I'm 50 now. Um, I still really liked that kid. He was fun. He, uh,

you know, he liked a variety believed in himself. Writer. Uh, he, you know, he, he had great friends. He went on some great adventures, but yeah, I think underlying. All of that was this sort of idea of, of I'm doomed.

Uh, it's never going to happen for me. I'm never going to get my break. Um, you know, the world is against me and, uh, and you know, my life showed, it, showed that it. Probably 150 pounds heavier than I am

now. Yeah, I know. I was 3 87 at my highest I'm two, 10 or 2 0 8 the other day. I was kind of proud I'm down two pounds.
Uh, you know, you know, so, um, so, um, I was fat then I'm just chubby now. So, so things are getting way better. Right. Hala and, uh, and you know, but, uh, but I, I kind of had this default mode of seeing myself as a victim and I didn't realize that. Um, I was choosing that identity and I discovered it in the very strange way in order to write, in order to be a writer, I'd studied story because you know, you study story to try to get people to turn the page and you use these techniques.

And, and I noticed there are four characters in almost every story, the victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide. And as I looked at my life like a story, I realized, oh my word, if your life has a story, you're the victim. Somebody else's to hero. And you're this bit part that lays around feeling sorry for itself.

And somebody else gets the girl and gets the money and gets the job and gets the, gets the accolades. And you just suck energy into yourself and it's, and quite frankly, it's not very attractive. And, and when I realized that I stopped doing it, I didn't have to fight it. I just stopped doing it because I realized, wait a second, you're you're thinking of yourself as the victim, because you want to make excuses for not trying you will make excuses for not succeeding.

You want a rescuer, you want somebody to come and do the work for you? Cause you, you don't know how to do it. Um, With none of it is working. And so when I began, you know, it's a percentage game when I began, you know, if I would see myself 80% of the time as a victim, I began to see myself 32% of the time as a victim and 60% of the time as a hero, everything began to change.

I mean, And, um, you know, lost weight, got a book, published, started a little company, uh, started to learn more, uh, and, and sort of acquire knowledge about how to get better. And you know, it didn't change overnight, but now 25 years later, Uh, you know, my life is not perfect. There's, there's hard things that happen to us all.

Um, but I enjoy my life and I, and more than I enjoy my life, what I'm really saying is I enjoy the story that I'm living inside of. And, uh, and it's transforming me and continuing to make me stronger. And so I, you know, I wonder now that I've written this book and there's been so much feedback about it, I'm realizing, oh, my word, this isn't just me.

There's a lot of people who don't realize. Wait a second. I've been identifying as the wrong character in the story and it's not working. And if I just identify as this character, things start to change. And of course the four characters that exist in story, the victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide exist in story because they exist in us.

They, they, all four of them exist in you and I, and I personally play all four every day, but to the degree that I give the victim stage time, my life goes nowhere to the degree that I give the villain stage. People don't like me and they want to throw me in jail and they want it. They want justice against me and, and to the jury, I give the hero stage time.

I transform into a better version of myself. And so the idea is just try to give the hero more time in your life and your life will shape up accordingly without you having to do much of it.

Hala Taha: oh my gosh, this is so powerful. And I can't wait to really dive deep on each one of those different characters and just go into all of the. But before we do that, I want to know the Genesis of this book. Why did you decide that you wanted to write this book at this point in your life? Because you've been writing for years.

How come, why did you decide to put this out now? What was the big change or aha moment where you were like, I really need to write this book about transforming from victim to hero.

Donald Miller: Well, I, I didn't, I decided I wanted to write this book 10 years ago and I couldn't,

Hala Taha: Hmm.

Donald Miller: I mean, I tried and tried and tried and I just couldn't, I couldn't get it, uh, to where it was simple and easy to follow and easy to understand I could live it, but I couldn't explain it to anybody else. What it was, it was a combination of a little bit of Joseph Campbell.

A little bit of Victor Frankel's work, uh, and then sort of a memoir story of how I was applying these things. So, you know, I tried, uh, I tried in, in various forms and you know, it just, it just, wasn't very, wasn't readable it. Wasn't enjoyable to read and sat down, you know, finished a book and sat down and said, I think I can do this and started.

And I think Hala you know this, when you actually sit down and you write those first few paragraphs, you get the first few pages out. You, you pretty much know. This one's going to go all the way. This one's going to go all the way to the end zone. And I have felt that, and over the year, you know, we'd get up early from about 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM and work on this and try to explain it few fits and false starts a lot of stuff in the trashcan, but ultimately

you know, was able to finish the book. And, Um, I, I think most of it, I was able to finish because I just kept telling myself, look, keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple. Don't get into the weeds. And it became a book and, and I'm really, really grateful. It also, something also happened while I was writing the book that I think pushed me through and my wife got pregnant and, uh, about, I finished the book and we had our daughter Emmeline and then I started rewriting. And so the whole time I'm writing it and I'm thinking I'm going to be a dad, what, what do I want to leave for my kids? Like, what if, what if I die? And she, she never meets me and that's sort of became a motivation to get it all down. And then after she was born, of course, I fell completely in love with this little child and started thinking about my legacy and that made it made the book just feels so much more important.
So I think, um, you know what I'm hearing and I wasn't expecting this and didn't know what was happening. My friends were saying, wow, this, this got really personal. And, uh, and I didn't know that was happening, but I think that was the other motivation that, um, in the end, you know, yes, I can leave behind a college education for her.

Maybe I can leave behind some sort of a house or some financial help. But the really, what I want to leave behind is, is, you know, Hey Emeline, look, there's four characters living inside you, and you need to pay really close attention to which ones bubbling to the surface because that's going to dictate everything else that comes comes forward in life, including the quality of your relationships, the depth of the love that you have your ability to keep a job, your ability to sustain friendships, all of it stems from the person that you identify with inside yourself.

Hala Taha: Um, so I have to say, I love looking at your Instagram. It's so cute. All the pictures you posted of your, on your daughter and wife.

Donald Miller: Yeah. If you want to know more about, about business, there's other accounts, but if you want to see my dogs and my wife and my daughter, then that's the Instagram account,

Hala Taha: So, what you said was just really powerful. We all have four personalities that live inside of us, and it's our choice to decide which one we want to give the most energy to. So it's the victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide. Could you really take us deep on these, break it down. What are each of the characteristics of each of each of these personalities?

Donald Miller: Well, you know, again, there, there are four and I, and my, my thesis in the book is the reason that these, these screenwriters and these storytellers keep choosing these four characters to write about is not because there are victims in the world and there are villains in the world and there are heroes in the world and there are guides in the world.

It's literally because they are all inside of us all. And we, in, in stories, they're not in stories, they're separated into different characters, but that's not the way it works in life, they're in us. And so when we hear that, that voice that says, look, I'm doomed. Uh, I'm not going to be able to make it out.

Woe is me. Um, my life always this terrible stuff like this always happens. Uh, that's the victim and the victim. Pardon me? The victim and his story play. Um, a bit part the victim and the story exists to make the hero look good because the hero rescues them and the villain looked bad because the villain tortures them.

That's the only purpose of the, of the victim. They do not transform. They do not get a reward at the end of the story. They do not, nothing happens to them except that they play off the hero and the villain. And if we do identify too strongly with the victim inside of us, That is exactly what happens to you. I mean, the story of your life literally plays out that way.

You don't transform. You don't get what you want. You don't become a better version of yourself. You don't get rewarded, you don't get respected uh, people basically feel sorry for you. And that gives you some resources, you know, some change that's thrown at you, but that's it. And some people get hooked on that change and there's things they think that's the only way that they can survive. um,

you all, it also helps us make it serves us in some way. Victim mentality is a coping mechanism. Uh, and sometimes let me just say. It's actually an effective coping mechanism, you know? Um, and it's helpful for a couple days. It's not purely evil. It's not purely bad. You know, I finished the book. Um, Emmeline was born.

It was in a really good space. And before the book came out, about two weeks before the book came out, I had to make an extremely difficult family decision. And the family decision was to let go of my chocolate lab. Lucy, the average lifespan of a chocolate lab is 10 to 12 years. She's 14 and a half. And she had a big tumor, lot of arthritis.

And, but she was cognizant, you know, and, uh, and the doctor was saying, look, you know, anything past today, And you're, you're just making her suffer so that you don't have to feel guilty and, you know, and thought about that. Okay, we gotta do this. You know, I let her go. We, we, we let her, you know, it was a beautiful time of family time together.

And, um, let her go put her in the car, Hala the next day, I'm in a fetal position in my bed, weeping. And this is, you know, she's my best friend. And my wife calls her my first wife, you know, so, and, uh, I'm I'm saying to myself, I'm releasing a book in two weeks. Uh, defending the idea that life has meaning, and it's all a lie.

It's just a complete lie. There is no meaning because we can't keep our dogs. And, uh, you know, and, and, uh, a couple days later, of course, I'm saying, well, you know, it is how beautiful is it that she was with me that long. And she got to meet my daughter and. She got to move into this house a year and a half ago.

That's called goose hill. It's literally named after her Lucy goose. And, um, and she taught me about friendships. She taught me about devotion. She taught me about, she got me to Betsy. She taught me to be responsible in relationships. You know, it took a couple of days for me to, to convert into transform from a victim mentality, which is okay.

It's okay. But we can't stay there. Um, we, we become victims temporarily in life. So that we can turn around and metabolize the pain and turn it into strength and optimism and hope and skill, by the way, and empathy, beautiful things come from pain. And, um, you know, th that's the benefit of, of having understood.

What I wrote about in the book is you can sort of be self-aware and gently and with great grace. Guide yourself toward a more optimistic, uh, identity. So that's the victim and the danger of being a victim, the villain, uh, is very similar. The victim experiences pain. So does the villain, the villain though rises up in strength rather than stays the victim, but they rise up in strength not to help others, but to seek vengeance on a world, that's hurt them. So the and the hero also experiences pain, the hero experiences, pain, and rises up and says, I'm going to become strong. So that nobody else has to experience the pain. I did. I'm going to defend them and defend the world against these injustices, where the villain says, I'm going to get people I'm going to get back at people.

And the general role about a villain in the story is that they make others small. And so when there's this, there's that spirit in us. I've got it in me. I don't know about. But the, the spirit to gossip, the spirit to demean others, to the spirit, to think that others are lesser than you is a villainous stick characteristic.

And if we let that take too much ownership of our life, if we over identify with that, what happens to a villain in this. Well, they are killed. They are killed, or they are thrown in jail. They're taken care of. And you know, I have friends now who are, who are mistreating their employees who are doing, you know, they're just stressed and overworked is the truth, but the way they're responding to that, their, their teams are mounting, uh, against them. And I said, look, it's very predictable. This all, all of this is extremely predictable. Um, what you need to do is say I've been very stressed. I've been extremely rude. And I've diminished you. And I want to apologize. And if you'll give me a chance to start over, let's keep working. And that immediately transforms you out of the villain and back into the hero.

The idea is if we can get ourselves to just function more as a hero than anything else, the story is going to go well, now, what does a hero do? A hero rises up against what, what they are challenged with and transforms into a better version of themselves so that they can overcome the challenge. Heroes are not people who are capable of over overcoming challenge.

They're not, there are people who are capable of changing into the person who, who can overcome the challenge. So to, to stay in a heroic mindset, doesn't mean I'm awesome. I'm great. It means I can become the kind of person who can deal with this. And, you know, from starting a company, If you, if you did not have the skillsets to start a company and run a successful company, when you started, you had to beat yourself, uh, beat your head against the wall many times until you became the person.

And it's by accepting these challenges that we transform. And then once we do transform and we've become very competent, what we find is that winning only for ourselves is really empty. It, it leaves us kind of feeling lonely. And so we want to turn around and help others and indeed Hala, your entire company, that's what you do.

And so that characteristic is called the guide and the guide is Gandalf and Mary Poppins. And, uh, the guide is a. Uh, uh, on and on and on. And these stories, Mr. Miyagi in the karate kid, you know, these, these, these characters that show up to help the hero in the day. And so as we get older and more experienced, certainly as we become parents, the guide characteristics come alive in us.

And I argue in the book that that is actually the most fulfilling role to play. Um, you can't play the guide until you've been the hero for some time, but slowly the guide begins to manifest itself. And that's indeed where we find a deep sense of meaning in our lives.

Hala Taha: Wow. So like a couple of things are really standing out, uh, based on what you just said the first is that the way that we acknowledge pain and interact with pain, determines whether we're the villain or the hero.

Donald Miller: Yeah. How we, how we react to it and how we respond to it. Determines our.

Hala Taha: Yeah, which is just super interesting. And then the other thing that really stood out is the fact that in order to be a guide, you need to be a hero first. And once you're kind of confident and successful, the next step is to then give back to others and be a guide and help others, you know, become heroes transform.

Donald Miller: That's gonna, that's gonna make us more fulfilled now to be sure you can be a guide at two years old. I mean, you know, if you have a younger sibling and you help them figure out how to use a sippy cup, you are acting as the guide. So we all act like guides from the, from the beginning. But as we get older, we become much more effective.

As a guide. I went in interviewed Pete Carroll, who is the coach of the Seattle Seahawks many years ago. And, um, and I asked him, you know, w when did you first realize that, uh, that you wanted to be a coach? And he said, you know, I had the luxury of winning as an athlete really early in life. And I call it a luxury.

He said, because it helped me discover that it actually wasn't very fulfilling, but when I turned around and helped other people, when I got it, it was very meaningful to me. It was an enjoyable, pleasurable life experience. And so that led me into a career of coaching. Well, what he said there was, I enjoy playing the hero.

It was really nice, but when I started helping other people win and help other heroes win, I felt a deep calling in my life. And it's true. That the objectives that we determined for our lives, if they are mutually beneficial, that is if they benefit others and they benefit ourselves, they, they align much more closely with the deep experience of meaning.

Hala Taha: Yeah. So I want to talk about, uh, the hero a little bit more because it turns out that every inspirational story basically has the same plot. And a lot of people think of heroes as these like big, strong people that always, you know, do great. But really you say that it's a victim who's transforming and that's really all a hero is.

So talk to us more about that. What is the typical inspirational story that we all know?

Donald Miller: yeah. So when I say, when I say play the hero, most people go, I'm not a hero. You know, I'm not strong. I'm not the well, pause your favorite movie and ask yourself if the hero likes being in this particular situation. I don't care where you pause it. Pause it, pause the movie and ask yourself as the hero enjoying this.

And the answer is no, they're not there. They're clinging to the side of a building. Uh, their girlfriend just left them. They, uh, are having to give a speech and they're not ready. It doesn't matter. They're the whole movie. They are, they are in a place. They don't want to be having to do a thing. They don't want to have to do.

Engaging a challenge that they don't feel like they're there, they measure up to, and that's the whole movie and they're, ill-equipped, they're afraid they don't want to do it. They in desperate need of. a hero. And so if that feels like you then will congratulations, you're in the right place.

And that story is transforming you. So what we see is in the last nine minutes or So, of the film, if we're talking about film in the last nine minutes, the hero has in fact transformed and is a much better version of themselves. We tend to think of heroes and define them by the last nine minutes instead of the previous 90. So the idea is, uh, if you want to be a hero on a mission, Set an objective in your life that is difficult. Uh, that's going to require some commitment and some transformation on your part and step into it and try to make it happen. And that is what will transform you. So heroes and victims are very similar, except heroes are not looking for a rescue or they're getting up and trying to get now they may, they may look for help.

They may look for a guide, but they're not looking for somebody to take the responsibility away from them. That's what it, that's what a victim is doing.

Hala Taha: So, uh, something else that I thought was really interesting. You had an author's note in your book where you talked about the fact that you shouldn't leave your fate up to destiny, and you talk about a concept in your book, the external locus of control and the internal locus of control. Can you talk to us about the difference between the two and why that matters in terms of how we plan out and go about our lives?

Donald Miller: Yeah. Well, you know, the author's note is very, very short. It says, I don't think we should trust fate a to write the story of our lives. Fate is a terrible writer and it's actually, it's actually very true. I don't think fate is either working for you or against you. I think it's entirely. It's like the weather it's neutral and it's completely based on chance.

Sometimes fate works for us and we think, oh, you know, the stars are aligned. I personally don't believe that. And I, and as somebody who believes in God, I don't believe God is either, you know, trying to make things happen for you or against you either. I think sometimes you might step in and do that. I don't know.

I can't prove that, but I think what he's doing is saying here are the basic principles to make something really happen with you. And you get up and do it that way. You will have a sense of fulfillment about what you've done in life. And I, by the way, I'm going to cheer you on. And to me, that's the interaction I have with God and it's, and I know we're all over the place, theologically, as people listen to this thing, but, uh, at the same time, I think the point is, if you are trusting an external source to guide the story of your life and make it work out, I personally do not think it's going to work out very well. I, I think what the external source wants you to do is be empowered and stand up and take responsibility for your life. And I think, I think a narrative structure in the universe itself probably rewards that. Um, and, and it's so much more fulfilling, right? It's just, it's so much more fulfilling to do so.

So psychologists have this term. Called internal locus of control versus external locus of control. And if you believe that my life is terrible because my parents and because the year I was born and because, uh, you know, the way I look and because, uh, then what you're saying is my life, the quality of my life is determined by outside sources. Things out of my control. Psychologists have a have a term for that. It's called an external locus of control that my locus of control is actually external. Now, those who identify with an external locus of control have higher rates of depression, worse relationships, less earning power, higher rates of anxiety and frustration in life. Now, if you say. Well, no. Um, my life is miserable right now because of the decisions that I've made. And I willingly did some stuff I shouldn't do, and I mismanaged some money and I wasted my time. And even though you're, it sounds like you're saying, you know, my life is terrible. That person who says, well, it's terrible, but it's also pretty much, my fault has much less rates of depression, better relationships, higher earning power, less anxiety.

They do better in life. Because they actually believe they are in control of their lives?

and they can learn from their mistakes and they can move on. So the good thing about external internal locus of control is you're not one or the other person. Uh, you actually fluid. In other words, if you have an extra look of control, it can change to an internal locus of control.

So heroes in stories have high internal locus of controls, victims and stories have high external locus of control. So once again, Whether we have an external or internal locus control, whether we think of ourselves as a victim or a hero determines the quality of the story that we will end up

Hala Taha: oh my gosh. I love that. So let's say that somebody listening is, you know, there's a lot of people in their mid twenties. That are listening in right now that might feel like, man, I, I feel like I was like Donald when he was in his mid twenties. And I feel like I approach life with an external locus of control and I'm a victim and I approach life as a victim.

What prevents them from transforming? Like what are the big things that prevent people from taking that step to become the hero of their own lives?

Donald Miller: Well, before I even say that, I want to say that, um, judging yourself, shaming, yourself, uh, being upset because you just realized you've had a victim mentality. Uh, Is is entirely and completely unhelpful. Uh, when we, when we say to ourselves, you're such a little victim and you've wasted the last 10 years, and you know, if you weren't such a victim, people would like you freeze that voice for a second.

Listen to it. Who is that talking? You know, who that is talking it villian.

Yeah, it's your villian. So now you're in a, in a worthless conversation between the villain inside you and the victim inside you to roles that will completely ruin your life. So we've got to ignore those voices and we can't give them the microphone.

What we have to do is say, um, you know, have some grace, you have seen yourself as the victim because, and I'll tell you why, uh, even if you had a wonderful, healthy childhood and there's no trauma. You see yourself as the victim because your parents, uh, did so much for you because they are loving and good. And now you are out on your own.

You've been out on your own for a minute and life is in fact very hard and you are learning and it takes awhile to get your sea legs under you. And rather than, uh, you know, face the challenges. Sometimes you've given into a bit of a victim mentality. As a coping mechanism to just to deal with the pain.

And I would say, well, that's completely understandable. And not only is it completely understandable, it's kind of funny. It's kind of charming, right? And that's the sort of attitude that we want to have. And now.

we want to say, however, Mr. Miller, if you want to be a writer, we're going to have to get up in the morning and we're going to have to work from seven to 9:00 AM on the manuscript every day with some discipline. And we're going to have to accept this heroic journey and transform. And, uh, that is the attitude that a hero has. And so, you know, what, what would my advice be? One is don't kick yourself around for being a victim. It's wasted energy. Uh, second is a hero has an objective. So we need to define what it is that you want.

Do you want to be a writer? Do you want to start a company? Do you. want to be an influencer. Do you want to get married? And do you want to start a family? Do you want, you know, what do we want? And we need to write those things down. And I recommend in the book writing them down from a very interesting perspective, and that is the perspective of the end of your life. So I, and I give the assignment in the book to write your eulogy, to actually write your eulogy as though people were reading it after you died and talk about the thing. That you have accomplished. And what that does is it opens a story loop in our brains. Will you get these things done every morning, including today, a about four to five mornings a week.

I read my eulogy. It's how I start my morning. And my eulogy talks about the fact that Donald Miller has lived three significant stories. He, he started a company without business made simple, which became basically a college at a major university for entrepreneurs. So I have a meeting with the president of a major university here in a couple of weeks to pitch all these frameworks to be housed inside their university.

Well, why do I have that meeting? I had that meeting because every morning I get up and I read that story. So every day I'm putting something on the plot. If this president says Don, we're not going to do this. I'm going to get a meeting with another university, but this college is going to exist. So

Hala Taha: Oh, wow. You manifested the actual college things specifically.

Donald Miller: Hundred percent. Yeah.

I wrote it down. Yeah. I wrote it. I didn't manifest it. I decided I pointed there and I went there. Right. And I don't know about manifesting. There's nothing magical about, you know, saying I'm gonna eat an Oreo cookie and then you eat it. You know, that's, that's, that's just what you do, but it did, you know, it gave me that the, the second is that, uh, is my family story.

My wife and I, and our daughter Emeline live on 15 acres in Nashville, Tennessee. We have an event space. We're building a guest house. It's a beautiful sort of mini retreat center. Uh, and the vision several years ago that I wrote in my eulogy was that we would live in a house that serves the world. That, that thinkers come here, writers, come here, entrepreneurs, come here.
You can't pay a it's all free. And, you know, uh, a couple of weeks from now, Evan McMullin is coming. He's running for Senate and Utah is going to speak to a group of influencers here. Uh, uh, former representative from the red campaign is coming to meet with country music singers and the governor's office to talk about criminal justice reform.

All of that was just an idea, you know, but, but what it was was a story that my wife and my six month old daughter could live into. And what I was trying to do is say, okay, we're going to, we're going to start a family. What would be the coolest place you could possibly grow up in to realize that you can change the. And we dreamed up this house and an event space in the backyard and a guest house where writers come right now, a couple of writers are upstairs. One of them wrote a book about the lead-up to the Iraq war. We had a great dinner last night. Talk about it with some people, uh, you know, it's just a place where wonderful conversation happens.

Well, you say Don, that sounds so special and so magical. It was just an idea, right? And then you start doing things toward it. And the other one is, uh, something called build the middle-class that will exist by the end of the year. And basically it's a petition that people can sign, but says, we are asking Republicans and Democrats to come together and pass eight pieces of legislation on tax reform, education reform, immigration reform, and so on.

And so on immigration reform launched yesterday. And you know, the, these are, and then that's it. I don't have any time. I've got 30 years left in my life and then I'm dead and I will never come back to this planet. So I have 30 years. And if somebody comes and says, Don, we'd love for you to do a TV show. I look at my eulogy and I say, there's no TV show on here. I'm sorry, I can't do it. I've got three stories and I'm going to live these three and I don't have time to switch gears right now. And, um, so that's the thing that if you're in your twenties, it's not, it's not too late. In fact, you're in a perfect time to say, well, look, you know, what three stories do I want to live?

And the great thing about being in your twenties is you can actually live one of them. File it away and start another one. You've got so much time left, but, but a hero is always inside of a story. And one of the most dangerous things you can do is live your life and not know what story you're inside of, because if you don't know what story you're inside of, one of two things is happening.

One is somebody else is dictating the elements of your story. Probably a corporation. Right or a government or a spouse or somebody else you're a pawn and their story, but you don't have a story or you just don't have a story. And so you're a character walking around on a movie set, and nobody's given you a script and nobody's given you a part to play.

And you literally feel just as uncomfortable in your own skin as you would as that character with no part in the story. And yet he's walking around on set.

Hala Taha: Yeah.

Donald Miller: and that's a restless feeling that a lot of people identify with.

Hala Taha: Totally. I mean, I think this is such an interesting concept. I had Matt Higgins on the show. He was on shark tank. He's a big TV personality, big VC investor. And he also swears by writing a eulogy and then he reads it every day as well. I had Robert Greene on the show, huge successful author, uh, author. He talks about the law of death denial.

And it's very similar that if you avoid the thought of death, you lack urgency, you lack motivation. And this sounds very similar. So why does writing a eulogy work? Like why do you think that that actually helps you get closer to your goal?

Donald Miller: Processing your own death does a few really wonderful things for you. You know, and what I mean by processing mean is realizing that you're not here forever and that you're short. Your story is in fact, very, very short one. As you mentioned, it creates a sense of urgency. I don't have time to sit around. I don't have time to take that frivolous meeting.

I don't have time to, you know, whatever. Uh, I don't have time because, uh, I only have a certain number of days left. You know, I, I got married at 42. We had a baby when I was 49. I'm now 50 she's six months old. I mean, I just told my team yesterday. Um, I'm not doing any more keynotes and I'm not getting on any more airplanes.

And what I'm, what I want to do is I've got 30 years left. I intend to live 35. I intend to live till I'm 85 years old. That means that my daughter Hala will be 35 years old when I die. If I make it to 85, I may not, I may make it to 70. So she's going to be 20, which is too young. Any, if you had a daughter at 25, You know, she would be 55. She would be 60 when you die. So I'm determined in the 30 to 35 years, I've got left to get as many hours with her as my friends who had children when they were 25, which means I can't get on airplanes. Now, if I didn't fully process the fact that I'm going to die, I would never make that decision. I'd always be like, well, I got this weekend with Emmeline.

I can get on this airplane and go do this interview. You know, blah, blah, blah. And I can go do this keynote and we can make some money because I've got forever with my daughter. It's a lie. You don't have forever. And one of the things that my daughter will never ever say about me, she may say a lot of things.

Like he has terrible dad jokes and he's fashion is horrible. But what she won't say, she won't say is he didn't spend time with me. She will not say that. And, and I get to control that because I get to spend time with her. And so, you know, that's the sort of thing you get when you, uh, when you process your own death.

The other thing is, you know, not only a sense of urgency, a sense of focus, right? These are the three stories I've got left. I've got time for nothing. everything else is a no, when that's 90% of the stuff that comes my way is a no, because when time is being taken away from you, you get really, really focused right away.

So that the processing and thinking about our own death is the, I think is just the basis of wisdom. And if you if you say Don, that's morbid. I don't think we should think about our own death. That's sad. I want to be really clear what you're saying. I, you have the right to say that certainly you do. What you're actually saying is I don't want to think about the truth. Just let that sit. I don't want to think about the truth. I want to live in denial and you know, death denial, as you've mentioned earlier, is, is, uh, something that does not in fact serve your life.

Hala Taha: 100%. So let's give my listeners something actionable to do. If, if we ask them to write their eulogy, how much time should they take? How long should it be? What are the elements of a really well-written eulogy.

Donald Miller: Well, you know, in my book, the purpose of the eulogy is actually to give you something that I call narrative traction. And narrative traction is when you get interested in your own story. and you know, when you get interested in his story, you get hooked on a story and you're like, oh man, I just lost a weekend.

I got to sit here and keep clicking next. Right? You want that to be your life? So you want to wake up in the morning and just like on Netflix, when you see that little, you know, that the, the next button slowly lighting up. You want your day to feel like that? You know, I wonder what we can put on the plot today.

You know, I'm excited to put my feet into my own shoes and go get something done because we're building something really cool and something really meaningful. And I'm actually enjoying it. You're looking for narrative traction so the eulogy assignment that I give in the book is not an actual eulogy assignment. It's not, it's not exactly what you want people to read, uh, when you die or want people to say, I mean, certainly it is, but what it is is something you can read every morning to remind you what your story is about. Therefore, in my opinion, it should be short and right. Why should it be short? But it should be short because if you have a seven page eulogy, you will not read it every morning because it takes too long.

So mine is about four paragraphs. It takes me about. 120 seconds to read it.


I actually have

Hala Taha: And you every single morning. It's part of your morning routine.

Donald Miller: I spent $200,000 on a piece of software that keeps track of whether or not I'm reading my eulogy. That's how important this is to me. It's in a piece of software. If you go to my daily yesterday, I've been doing this for years yesterday. We made it available to the public. So you could go, go to my daily

You can write your eulogy, your ten-year five-year one-year vision, your goal worksheets, and a daily planner page at all times. It all comes together as a morning ritual that takes about 15 minutes. And, um, right now it came out yesterday. Right now we have 85 people using it. So it's me and 85 people who are doing this, but that's fine with me.

I did it because, uh, I think it's a lot. It's a life-changer. And, um, and so it also very, very soon within the next few weeks, the developers are adding. Uh, streak button. So it will keep tabs of how many days you've read your eulogy period. And then how many days in a row you've read your eulogy so that you are gamified so that you would want to keep your streak going.
And, uh, and it's a super, super effective tool, but yeah, I've probably read it. Uh, you know, it's gotta be thousands of times now, and also I'll also edit it because the software just lets you change it.


Hala Taha: imagine you read that and you'd be like, you know what? I'm going to tweak this little part because this is evolving and.

Donald Miller: Yeah, because the point is narrative traction. The point is I always want to tweak it a little bit so that I can, keep my stay interested in it. Uh, the, you know, we, we experienced a deep sense of meaning when we're in motion, not when we've arrived.

Hala Taha: Yeah.

Donald Miller: So the whole point is to keep me in motion, keep me in motion, keep me heading towards something that's really beautiful.

Hala Taha: Yeah. So to me it sounds like your eulogy is basically all your huge life goals. It is your mission statement, and then you need to. Right because a goal without a plan is just a wish and a dream. So talk to us about how you go about planning and taking action on all the things you have in eulogy.

Donald Miller: Yeah. So the book takes you through the ten-year five-year one-year plan, by the way, if you want it on paper. It's free. Just go to You don't even have to buy the book, just download the pages and it's all there. So everything that you need is right there. And so you, there's a 10-year vision of five-year vision and a one-year vision.
And there are in there. It's exactly the same worksheet. Uh, they're just, obviously the one-year vision is a lot closer than, than tenure. And so, you know, they tell me what I've got to get done by the end of the year. There's two books that I need to finish by the end of this year. I know that because I read my one-year vision this morning.

Uh, and then the next five years, there's certain things that need to happen in the next 10 years, you know, in 10 years, I'm 60 years old. And at that point, the build the middle-class platform has 30 million signatures. There are 250,000 representatives flying our flags all over the county. And the middle, uh, of America, the common sense I'm willing to work with the other side to get things done.

Uh, it is, uh, is, has a voice in this country. And so I know I gotta get this done within 10 years. So that means there's a lot of work to do. Right. We've got to build some advocacy around this. So, you know, if I didn't read that stuff every morning, I think within a week, I'd forget the plot because I would, I would stop reading it.

And then my buddy drew would say, hey Don, we're going on this golf weekend with all these people. And then I go on the golf weekend and you know, there'd be some optometrists who says, look, I've got this vision. You know, starting 25,000 optometry centers around the world, we've got $7 billion. When you come on as the CMO, I'll give you $3 million a year to do it.

And now I'm suddenly building optometry centers. You know what I mean? It's like what happened to build the middle-class? Well, you didn't read your fricking five-year vision and you said yes to a great opportunity. And you know, if you're in your twenties, you're listening to yeah. But I don't get those opportunities. You're about eight years from getting those opportunities, right? The older people die off and you take over, and those are the opportunities that are gonna be handed to you. And if you're not grounded before you get them, you're going to take some opportunities that you don't need to take. And that's why you want to be grounded in the story that you are deciding to live internal locus of control.

You direct your story, not opportunities. Oh, that kind of stuff. You direct your story so that you decide which opportunities you take and which opportunities you reject.

Hala Taha: love that. I think all of this material is excellent. We're going to link it in our show notes. So last time you came on the show, I always ask this question at the end of my show, what is your secret to profiting in life? And you mentioned. Viktor Frankl, which after reading your book, I learned he was your favorite philosopher and he really changed your life.

And I think his story really helps tie all of this together. So tell us in more detail about Victor Frankl and his story and how he transformed from victim to hero. And then we can kind of take a look at his framework.

Donald Miller: Well, Victor Frankl was a psychologist in Vienna in the 1920s and thirties. And, uh, he developed a theory alongside, uh, theoretically, at least Alfred Adler. Uh, certainly it was some young in instincts in their Sigmund Freud was alive at the time something was going on in the water in Vienna because those guys, a lot of smart folks came out of there.

And, uh, and he basically said, uh, man, man's dominant desire is a desire for a deep sense of meaning, which feels like purpose in their life. And he developed something called logotherapy, a therapy of meaning in which. Prescribed a certain way of living to people which gave them a deep sense of meaning and help them overcome depression, anxiety, and a bunch of other stuff.
And he applied it inside the, uh, Viennese hospital system, specifically for suicidal high school patients. They had a serious suicide problem around the time grades were released. He, when he applied logotherapy, when he basically taught them to live as heroes on a mission, the suicide rate dropped to zero. And he was writing a book on his theories when world war II broke out and the Nazis began to collect Jews and put them in concentration camps, uh, being a Jewish man, Victor Frankel was taken with his wife who was pregnant.

His wife, Tilly was pregnant with their first child. She was murdered. Uh, his parents were murdered the manuscript in which. Thesis was confiscated and taken from him. And he spent years, I believe in four different concentration camps and survived. And after he survived, instead of being desponded certainly he was in incredible pain, but he rose out of that victim mentality and began delivering lectures around the world on how life in fact does have meaning and is in fact beautiful.

And of course, who's going to argue with him, right? Yeah. I mean, I'm sorry, your sugar cravings don't measure up to what this guy has been through.

Hala Taha: Yeah. If he's not a victim, than no body has the excuse.

Donald Miller: That is right. And so he was incredibly influential on this book and influential on me personally. I'd say he saved my life and maybe save the, certainly the quality of my life.

And, um, but, uh, you know, just a wonderful, wonderful person who has proven that life in fact has been, what's really interesting about. Viktor Frankl is he didn't actually tell us what the meaning of life was. He told us how to feel it. And he doesn't answer the question. What is the meaning of life? Or why does life have meaning?

He just says here's how you experience it. And so what it does is it makes the stuff I talk about in the book. And that's what the book is. It's a prescription for logotherapy and, uh, it makes the, the, the work theologically agnostic, philosophically agnostic. You know, I was, I was meeting with a friend having coffee and acquaintance, I should say back in Portland many, many years ago.

And they were, they was very obvious. They were a annihilist. And they said to me at one point, well, you know, life is meaningless. And, um, that could be the state motto of port of Portland, Oregon, right? I mean, it's just a it's that kind of place. And I said something a bit offensive to them. I wrote about it, the book, but I said, what if life is not meaningless?

What if just your life is meaningless? And of course they didn't think that was very funny, but what I meant by that was what if the stuff that you were doing inside of your story is giving you a bad experience and what if it is not life itself. In other words, you know, what, if you're writing a book and what you're actually saying is this book is not interesting.

And the good news is if we can get ourselves to believe it and understand it is that the book can change. If you know how to live a certain way, the book can get really, really interesting, really fast. And I'm a living Testament to that because I really like my life. It's not always easy. It's not, you know, I cried myself to sleep.

When I had to put my dog down, there are painful, painful elements to it. Uh, there are hard things today. We took Emmeline to get her last shots at the doctor and, you know, hold your crying baby while she doesn't understand why, why somebody is poking her with a needle. They're just tough scenes in life.

And of course I'm being very, very light and the people listening have some very, very painful scenes and yet. We can choose to do things with our life that give our life a deep charge of meaning and beauty and go to sleep every night, being grateful for the incredible experience that we're having.

Hala Taha: Yeah. The thing that keeps coming to my mind was this concept of personal agency, as you're talking about the fact that, you know, it's not, that life is going to be perfect. There's going to be ups and downs, but it's how do you, how do you treat those ups and downs? How do you have perspective towards them?

Can you talk to us about personal agency and what that is?

Donald Miller: Yeah, personal agency is, is, is similar to internal locus of control. It's belief that you have the power and the one thing that you, you have the power over. Yeah, nobody can take away from you is your perspective on life, including your perspective on very, very difficult things. And so when painful things happen to us, we can either have a victim perspective, which is what has me I'm doomed.

Please send a rescuer, uh, or we can actually say to ourselves, wait, this is painful. Uh, and also it's somehow benefits me. It's both. And that's the prescription that Viktor Frankl would give to his patients. He would say, when something very painful happens, acknowledge it don't be a delusional optimist, acknowledge it, grieve it, and also realize it comes with benefits. And, you know, um, when the, the, the, the most, in other words, redeem our pain. I met a young man, uh, who his son. He came home from church. His wife had stayed back at the church, came home from church and his three-year-old son. They went to take a nap and three outs and woke up, went into the garage, got into, got back into the car, closed the door and died of heat exhaustion.

Hala Taha: Oh my gosh.

Donald Miller: And he came to me and he said, Don, I, I want to write a book about this. I need to process it. And he ended up writing a book. And now he travels the country and he helps people understand how to grieve the loss of a child. He did something with it. Now, does that bring back his son? No, but what it, what it does is it redeems the pain and uses it for good.
And that has given his life a deep sense of meaning. So any of us can do this. Uh it's and what's the, what's the alternative, you know, the alternative is, you know, buy a truckload of whiskey. Get a divorce and drink yourself to death and what, you know, that's the victim life, and we're not going to do that. We're going to redeem our pain.

Hala Taha: Well, Donald, I feel like the work that you're doing is incredibly important and I'm so happy that you wrote this book and you shared your story and your perspective on how to have a meaningful life. I think it's really important. So as we close out the interview, I have a new couple of questions that I ask my guests on every show in 2022.

Uh, this is a new one.What is the one actionable thing that our listeners can do today to be more profiting tomorrow?

Donald Miller: Okay. I love this. And your listeners are going to hear this several times throughout the year on the daily planner that I give away. Uh, there's a one questions, a bunch of questions, but one of the questions is the answer to your question. And that is just to answer the question. What am I grateful? What am I grateful for?

One thing that victims and villains do not have in common or are, do have in common. Forgive me is they're ungrateful. If you ever find yourself playing the villain or playing the victim, stop and ask yourself, what am I grateful for? And you will immediately exit victim and villain mentality because you will never ever hear a villan.

In a story say, you know, I'm so grateful for my friends. They will never say it. And no victim will sit there and a dungeon and go. I'm so grateful that there's a shaft of light that I can study the sun. Well mean they don't do it because that would transform them into a hero. And so if you want to go from victim to villain to hero real quick, just ask yourself what you are grateful for.
So that's the one thing that I would say lead with.

Hala Taha: I love that. And that reminded me of something that I didn't get to ask you. Why is the question? Who am I becoming a really important question to ask yourself?

Donald Miller: Well, because if you, if, because it does two things, it defines a direction for your life, for your personal life, for your character. And we all need a direction. We all need someplace that we're going. Otherwise we wander around and we walk in circles. Right. And it also reminds you that you are not a fixed static creature.

You are somebody who changed. And so, yes, you may struggle with that right now, but a year from now, you probably won't because you are somebody who changes. And it's very, very dangerous to think of ourselves as a, as bad at math. You're not bad at math. You're somebody who hasn't applied yourself to learn math, but you're not bad at math.

It's not your identity, you know, so we want to, we want to have a growth mindset. As Carol Dweck. would say.

Hala Taha: Hm. Okay. And the last question that I ask on my show is. What is your secret to profiting in life?

Donald Miller: Um, well, uh, my secret has always been, and I didn't know it early, but I do now, my secret has been delusional optimism. I just believe ridiculous things are possible, ridiculous things, you know, and, uh, You know, I say delusional in quotations because it's not, but other people would see it as delusional optimism. And, um, you know, your friends are not going to understand or not believe in you until strangers. See you do. And say, no, that is who he is. And then your friends would go, I guess that is who he is.

Hala Taha: It's so true. The people who are closest around you are the ones who cannot see your growth, because they're just seeing it too closely. And it's all this it's so true. That's why that's why strangers. And those are your main supporters in this journey.

Donald Miller: Yeah. Yeah. If your friends take a minute

Hala Taha: Yeah. Okay. So where can everybody go get this new, incredible book Hero on a Mission.

Donald Miller: uh, Amazon, there's a, there's a website called and if you go there, you hit the buy now button and it shows up at your door. And I would, I would love to, Uh, I would love for folks to read.

Hala Taha: Uh, some we're going to stick all those links in the show notes. So you guys have easy access to all his free resources, his book on Amazon, Donald. It is always a pleasure. You're always welcome back to the show. Whenever you have something new to talk about. Thank you

Donald Miller: Hala, it is always a pleasure. It's always a yes. When you might be on cause it's an honor. Thanks so
Hala Taha: Thank you.

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