YAPClassic: Marshall Goldsmith, What I’ve Learned From 40 Years of Coaching the World’s Most Successful Business Executives

YAPClassic: Marshall Goldsmith, What I’ve Learned From 40 Years of Coaching the World’s Most Successful Business Executives

YAPClassic: Marshall Goldsmith, What I’ve Learned From 40 Years of Coaching the World’s Most Successful Business Executives

During COVID, Marshall Goldsmith spent several hours every weekend listening to successful people speak about their lives. From these sessions, he learned that even the highest achievers need help finding fulfillment. So, he wrote The Earned Life to address this need, drawing inspiration from Buddhism and his experience as an executive coach. In this episode, Marshall shares practical advice and exercises to help overachievers find personal fulfillment and live without regret.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the leading expert on leadership and coaching for behavioral change. He is also the author of several bestsellers, including Triggers and The Earned Life.


In this episode, Hala and Marshall will discuss:

– Marshall’s childhood and early years

– Marshall’s interpretation of Buddhism

– How he uses his Buddhist philosophies in coaching

– The benefits and drawbacks of delayed gratification

– Impermanence and the ‘every breath’ paradigm

– Letting go of past successes

– The definition of an earned life

– How regret and fulfillment are polar opposites

– Avoiding the big regrets

– Why people don’t live their own lives

– The three demands of living an earned life

– And other topics…


Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is recognized as the leading expert on leadership and coaching for behavioral change. He has been named one of the top ten business thinkers in the world and the top-rated executive coach at the Thinkers50 ceremony in London since 2011. Marshall is the author of several Wall Street Journal and New York Times #1 bestsellers, including Triggers and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, which is also the winner of the Harold Longman Award as Best Business Book of the Year. His newest book, The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment, was released in May 2022.


Connect with Marshall:

Marshall’s Website: https://marshallgoldsmith.com/

Marshall’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/coachgoldsmith


Resources Mentioned:

Marshall’s Book, The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment: https://www.amazon.com/Earned-Life-Regret-Choose-Fulfillment/dp/0593237277

YAP Episode 42, Become a Better Leader with Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: https://youngandprofiting.com/42-become-a-better-leader-with-dr-marshall-goldsmith/

Marshall’s New Yorker Profile, “The Better Boss”: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/04/22/the-better-boss


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Use code ‘podcast’ for 30% off at yapmedia.io/course


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Hala Taha: 


What's up, young improfiters? Today we're chatting with world renowned business coach, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. Now, if you're a regular Yap listener, you know who Marshall is because he came on the show several times. He was on episode number 42 and then again on episode number 171, which is what we're going to be playing today for Yap Classic.

Marshall is quite literally my oldest friend. He's 75 years old. He is my former LinkedIn client. We ran his LinkedIn for many years. He's a huge influencer on LinkedIn. And the funniest thing about Marshall and our friendship is that he is trying to get Me and my business partner, Kate married. He is obsessed with setting us up.

He's always calling us, texting us. Hey, I've got so and so here's this picture. Let me know if he's cute. I'm trying to [00:01:00] get you guys married. He has no idea. Why we're not married, and he's really trying hard to play matchmaker, but back to business. Marshall has over four decades of experience, and he is the number one leadership coach and highest paid executive coach in the world.

He's also a multiple time New York Times bestseller. He wrote The Earned Life, which was his latest New York Times bestseller, which we actually helped him hit that list. And in this episode, we discuss Marshall's key to living what he calls the earned life, where your achievements are based on a higher aspiration, you're unbound by regret, and you've detached yourself from the isolated achievements of careerism.

If you're an overachiever who values accomplishment, or if you find yourself troubled by regret and are seeking a higher purpose, then this episode is for you. We'll learn about the every breath paradigm, we'll discover why regret and fulfillment are polar opposites, and lastly, we'll get into Marshall's actionable advice on how to let go of the past and [00:02:00] truly live in the present.

Now here's my episode with the living leadership legend and matchmaker, Marshall Goldsmith. 

Hala Taha: You were born in Valley Station, Kentucky. You grew up in a low income and low educated area, and your mom was actually a huge influence on your educational upbringing.

Can you tell us about your early years, Marshall? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, again, brought up in Valley Station, we had an outhouse the first four years I was in school. So I wasn't brought up in yuppie land. And my mother went to college two years, which is very unusual for a neighborhood and was a first grade school teacher, but then got married and my father had this idiot idea women shouldn't work.

So we got to be poor. But the good news is. All of my mother's first grade school teacher energy was devoted to one student, that would be me. I knew how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide before I went to school. So I go to the first grade and the teacher goes, One plus one is two. I go, yeah. I look around, no one knows it but me.

So I [00:03:00] go, oh my, I told my mother I must be the smartest person that ever lived. 

Hala Taha: That's so funny. And I know that another pivotal point in your life was when you went hitchhiking. I think you were about 19 years old or in your early 20s. You spent three months on the road and there you found Buddhism. Tell us about that and why you chose Buddhism as your philosophy of life.

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, that was 1969, lovingly referred to as the summer of love. I did spend three entire months living on the road. I told my parents I was going to college for the weekend and was gone three months. And it was just an amazing experience in those era of that time. And I learned a lot about life because when you travel, you have time to reflect.

 I'd wake up, I wouldn't know where I was. Your life is really random. You don't know who's going to pick you up. I mean, I could write a whole book about my adventures as a hitchhiker. And so, yeah, I had all kinds of wonderful adventures, but I think it gave me a good appreciation of life, and Buddhism, and also in the impermanence of life, how [00:04:00] everything is constantly changing.

And one funny story about that, I was just doing a program, oh, two or three weeks ago, and a woman in the class, was from Rifle, Colorado. So I said, I've been to Rifle, Colorado before. I spent the night there. She said, where'd you stay? I said, the laundromat. She thought I was kidding. I described the laundromat.

She said, Oh my God, he did stay in the laundromat. I spent the night there. And then a couple of nice people brought me a sandwich, too. They were so nice. When I was a kid, staying in a laundromat of Rifle, Colorado. 

Hala Taha: That's so funny. And I guess I'm just curious of how Buddhism is something that you discovered on that trip or how did you first get inspired to learn more about it?

Marshall Goldsmith: I like to read, so I read a book called Siddhartha, which got me started thinking about Buddhism. Now, there are many schools of Buddhism, so I'm a philosophical, not a religious Buddhist. So let me just share my school, just a short version of it. And by the way, Buddhists that only do what I teach, if it works for you.

So there's so many different schools of Buddhism that are almost the [00:05:00] opposite of each other. It doesn't mean they're wrong, they just have different interpretations. My interpretation is pretty simple. Buddha was brought up very rich, his father was a king. And he was protected from life. And he was able to sneak out of his little bubble three times.

The first time, you know what he learned? People get old. Second time he learned, you get sick. The third time he learned, you die. He said, old, sick, and die, that's not so good. And he, he, he really believed this, I'll be happy after I get more things, not going to work. So then he went out in the woods, starved himself, and he tried to really find peace by having less.

You know what he found out? It didn't work either. And then one night he finally realized something. I can never be happy with more. I can never be happy with less. There's only one thing I can ever find peace with. What I have. There's only one place I can ever find peace. Here. There's only one time I can ever find peace.

Now. Be happy now. So, my school of Buddhism, what is nirvana? Nirvana is talking to some old bald guy on a podcast. This is it. This is heaven. This is hell. Here we are. 

Hala Taha: [00:06:00] That's so interesting, I can't wait to kind of dig deeper on some of those philosophies with you in a bit. But before we do that, as I've been getting to know you better, I always notice that you say a lot of the same sayings over and over.

You sign off all your emails and even your text messages to me with, life is good, right? And doing some more digging, I found that you have two other favorite sayings. Be happy and let it go. So what are these sayings, life is good, be happy now and let it go, mean to you? And how does Buddhism philosophies underlie all these sayings?

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, to me, the great western disease is, I'll be happy when? When I get the money status, BMW, the condominium, I will be happy when? One of the most powerful parts of the book is I talk about the fallacy of confusing achievement and happiness. Achievement in well being, achievement in peace. Everyone I work with is a ridiculously high achiever.

I mean, ridiculously high achiever. And one of the guys in my group was Safi Bakal. And Safi said, you know, I've learned something. He's a [00:07:00] scientist. Now, Safi has a PhD from physics, in physics from Stanford. He's worth tens of millions of dollars. He started companies. He wrote a book called Loon Shots. He's consulted the presidents, you know, blah, blah, blah.

Safi said, I finally realized something. I used to think that happiness was dependent upon achievement. They said, no, happiness and achievement are independent variables. You can achieve all kinds of stuff and be happy. You achieve nothing and be happy. You can achieve all kinds of stuff and be miserable.

And you achieve nothing and be miserable. He said, happiness and achievement are independent variables. Well, the great Western disease is, I'll be happy when. You might've seen the great art form of the West before. I don't know if you've seen it. It sounds like this. There's a person. The person is sad, aww, they spend money, they buy a product and they become happy.

This is called a commercial. So, I don't know if you've ever seen one of those, but we are bombarded with this message thousands of times, over and over. And the message is, happiness is out there, somewhere else. Well, you know, be happy now, that's, that's now. Life [00:08:00] is good is be grateful for everything you have and, you know, let it go is quit carrying around all that garbage that we all tend to carry around, you know, learn to forgive yourself, forgive other people and let go of the past and be willing to start over.

Hala Taha: And how do you use those sort of philosophies like life is good? Be happy now, let it go in your coaching with your coaching clients. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, actually, my coaching has changed in a way. The last time you interviewed me, my whole focus was helping successful leaders achieve positive long term change in their behavior.

I still do that and help people become more effective leaders. Only now I also try to help them have better lives. Why? Half the people I coach are billionaires. I mean, one guy I'm coaching is worth 4 billion. What am I supposed to do, get you up to 4. 1 billion? What does it matter anyway? Most of the people I coach, they've achieved so much.

They don't need me to help them achieve more. And one of the things I help them do is make peace with life, be happy, and just try to have a good life. And so I've, I've kind of changed. I didn't use [00:09:00] to do that, but now I do because a lot of people I coach are family people, they're running family businesses, they've got a lot of money.

They've got a lot of status and success. So I say, look, I'm not going to make you successful. You're already ridiculously successful. I'm not gonna make you rich. You're already ridiculously rich. I just want you to have a little better life. 

Hala Taha: I love that. So speaking of a better life, you wrote this book called The Earned Life, Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillment.

And you've written and edited over 30 books and you wrote this book during COVID. And based on my research, I know that you believe that any good book solves a universal challenge.

So I'd love to understand what inspired you to put out one more book, and what universal challenge are you trying to solve with The Earned Life? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, this one is basically choosing fulfillment and losing regret. That's the challenge I'm thinking about. And this is a much more, uh, it's much more a book about life than just changing leadership behavior.

Hala Taha: Yeah. And I personally loved this book. I read like a book a week, Marshall, and I was just like, there's so much [00:10:00] meat and potatoes in this book. Some books are very fluffy, yours was not. This was really meaningful and had a lot of unique insight that I haven't heard before. So I highly recommend everybody go check out The Iron Life.

I loved it. But you wrote it during COVID, right? And I'm wondering, like, did something trigger you personally to write this book? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Yes, during COVID, a lot of this book is what I learned during COVID. Now, during COVID, I had no idea what the world would end up being like. My friend Mark Thompson and I, we spent, oh, I think four or five hundred hours, every weekend we spent six hours with these phenomenally successful people.

And every weekend they would talk about their lives, what went well, what could have done better, their challenges. I mean, week after week, hour after hour, we did this and, you know, I learned so much about life and I can't mention the names of the people. They're incredible people. Pau Gasol, the famous basketball star was in our group and, and, you know, Curtis Martin, the NFL Hall of Fame.

And then we had a Telly Leung, Broadway [00:11:00] star. And we had, you know, Head of the Olympic Committee, head of the Rockefeller Foundation, president of the World Bank, you know, on and on. Just a phenomenal, very diverse group of people from all around the world. We have people from India, from Indonesia, from Paris, all different places.

And they all talked about their lives and they just loved it. And, you know, why? Well, one, there's an old saying, it's lonely at the top. Used to be lonely at the top. It is lonely er at the top today. It's lonely. They have no one to talk to. They're so, you know, about social media, they can get killed in an instant in social media.

They have to be very careful. And they just like the idea of they're accountable, talking about their lives yet nobody's being judged. Nobody's putting you down. Nobody's evaluating you. One person said, you know, it's nice one hour a week. I just get to act like a human. This is basically what I learned from all of that.

99 percent of humans, you know what they're trying to be? Um, Transcribed They're trying to be them. They're trying to be like those people I was with. I mean, these people, if you look at their bios, they look [00:12:00] like gods, but you know what you learn, they got kids with drug problems, parents with Alzheimer's.

They get sick. They're just humans like everybody else. 

Hala Taha: So let's talk about this topic of regrets and choosing to live the earned life. How would you define an earned life? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, an earned life occurs when you really have alignment between three things. One is your aspiration, your higher sense of purpose. The second is you're achieving something meaningful, and the third is your day to day actions.

When the actions are aligned with those things, that's how we define the earned life. And it's interesting because most humans in the history of the world were lost in the action phase. They just show up, they go from day to day, they're not bad people, but they just do whatever's in front of them and they kind of just live.

Some people are really lost in aspiration, a higher purpose, they don't achieve much, but they kind of live in their heads. The people that I work with, pretty much, if they're not careful, are lost in achievement. They achieve [00:13:00] so much that they're almost achievement junkies. And sometimes, if we're not careful, we get so lost in achievement, we forget to ask the question, Why am I working 90 hours a week?

Or number two, we forget to enjoy the process of life itself, the day to day actions of life. So with these people, really getting them to focus on don't become an achievaholic. Oh, and the other thing I think is very important in this is never make your identity or your values a human being based on achievement or the results of achievement for two reasons.

One, you don't control the results. The results are impacted by many things you don't control. And number two, Even if you achieve the results, how long does that bring any kind of peace or happiness? 

Hala Taha: Yeah. 

Marshall Goldsmith: A week? Not much. Then you have, what do you have to do? More, more, more. One of my favorite parts of the book is the story about the marshmallow research.

Hala Taha: Hmm. 

Marshall Goldsmith: I love that story. So in the marshmallow research, you take this kids and you give them a marshmallow. So, say the kid, [00:14:00] well kid, if you eat the marshmallow you get one, if you wait, oh, two, then the kid that waits eats two. Now, allegedly, they have this research to show the kid that eats one marshmallow becomes a drug addict, the ones that eat two go to Harvard and get, you know, PhDs or something.

It seems a little overblown, but the point of the research is very clear. Delayed gratification is good, delayed gratification, almost every self help book, delayed gratification is good, here's how you can work out more, here's how you can go on a better diet, delayed gratification is good. Well, here's the problem with the research.

They didn't take the kid that ate two marshmallows and said, you know, kid, wait a bit, three. Oh, don't eat those, wait a little bit more, four, five, ten, a thousand. Where do you end up? An old man sitting in a room waiting to die, surrounded with uneaten marshmallows. 

Hala Taha: It's so true. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Sometimes you have to eat the marshmallows.

Hala Taha: I feel like this is why the book resonated with me so much because I feel like I'm like one of those overachievers who can't stop achieving. It's [00:15:00] sometimes it's okay to slow down and think about like what is my ultimate goal here and just be happy with what you have, right, and not always be thinking about what's next, what's next.

Marshall Goldsmith: Okay, breathing. Are you ready for some free coaching for you? It's a coaching moment. Are you ready? 

Hala Taha: Yes. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Raise your right hand. 

Hala Taha: Okay. 

Marshall Goldsmith: I used to be one of those compulsive overachievers. 

Hala Taha: I used to be one of those compulsive overachievers. 

Marshall Goldsmith: I do not have an incurable genetic defect. 

Hala Taha: I do not have an incurable genetic defect.

Marshall Goldsmith: I can change if I want to. 

Hala Taha: I can change if I want to. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Now see, what you said before, you said, I am this. As long as you say, I am, guess what? You're programming yourself, that's who you're going to be. Nothing wrong with that if you don't want to change. If you don't want to change, don't talk that way. Here's the problem.

If you say, I am anything, then you try to do something else. Even if you succeed, you'll feel like a phony. Why? If this is me, and I'm doing this, this must [00:16:00] not be me. And the real me is a compulsive overachiever. Anything other than that is not the real me. That would be a phony. So. So. Be careful, don't program yourself if you want to change.

Hala Taha: That's really good advice. 


Hala Taha: Let's talk about regret. In the book, you say that regret is a feeling that you wouldn't wish on any human being. Why do you believe that regret is one of the most empty and desolate feelings that a human can have? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, the point about regret is going back to letting go. It can be something we carry around for years or even decades.

And a big part of the book is just learning to let go of that. And one thing I love is the idea of every time I take a breath, it's a new me. Ah, new me, new me, new me, everything that was done before is done by an infinite set of people. Those names, those people called the previous me's and learning [00:17:00] to say they did what they did and learning to forgive the previous versions of you for being humans.

And then the future versions of you, well, they're going to be who they are. So a couple of exercise I love. What is writing a letter to the past versions of yourself? Just thanking them for. Thanking him or her for something good they did and has write a letter to the future version herself saying here's the investment I'm making in you and here's what I expect back.

So the concept is a really useful concept, you know, think of yourself breathe Ah, think of all those previous versions of you. 

Hala Taha: Yeah, 

Marshall Goldsmith: they worked hard They gave the you that's talking to me a lot of stuff nice people Did they make some mistakes? How about those previous years? Ah, a few mistakes. Let it go.

Let it go. If any group of women did that many nice things, what should you say to those nice women? Thank you. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Just say thank you. Forgive yourself. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. I think I'd like to really dig deep on this because I think this is really, really important what you're saying. So Buddha once said, With [00:18:00] every breath is a new me.

And he meant that literally. And a core pillar of Buddhism is something called impermanence. And that's the notion that the emotions, thoughts, and material possessions we hold do not last. They're fleeting. Right? So can you help us understand the concept of impermanence and this every breath paradigm? I really want you to go deep on this Marshall.

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, this is very hard for Western people to understand because it's so different. The Western paradox is, I will get there and it's going to be okay. That there is this place I'm going to go, and therefore everything is going to be different after I do X, and that will be permanent. Now there's a book that exemplifies this.

You've probably read several of these. They have the same ending. It's called, And They Lived Happily Ever After. Now that type of book is a fairy tale. That's not life. Life is not a place you get to and then stop. Life is a place that keeps changing all the time. The you I'm talking to now is not going to be the you [00:19:00] that was there before we started talking.

We're always changing, and we're all impermanent. Life itself doesn't last. So as you go through life, looking at it as a series of infinite change and always starting over. Every time I take a breath, it's a new me. Well, what that means is, Let's take a concept like happiness. That doesn't come from the past or the future, it comes from now.

Taking a breath and saying it's, I'm a new me, and really looking at our life and creating meaning, creating happiness, and always starting over. Bob Dylan had a good quote, he who is not busy being born is busy dying. Well, it's kind of the essence of the book is we're constantly being reborn. We're constantly being reborn.

We're different people. And the idea is looking at that as an opportunity to start over. We get lots of restarts here, uh, restart, restart. We get a lot of chances to start over and it's, it's to me a very healthy way to look at life. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. It's a, it's a very unique approach of [00:20:00] looking at life because oftentimes, even when it comes to our relationships.

or our own self development, we think like, Oh, my significant other did this. And so I'm going to hold this resentment against them for a long time. When in reality, what your significant other did 10 years ago has nothing to do with who they are today. And same thing with yourself. If you bombed a test 10 years ago, doesn't mean that you're going to do it again.

And so you get to start over with other people and even with yourself. 

Marshall Goldsmith: I love it. There's a story in the book about that, which I love, and it's, it's a story of a friend of mine, and basically, his wife starts in on it. They had a really great weekend. Then his wife starts in on, well, you could have been a better father.

And the guy said, basically, you're right. That was 10 years ago. And you're right. I did a lot wrong 10 years ago. I'm not the same person. I was 10 years ago and you're criticizing a 10 year ago person. He's not here right now. And it's very good because she instantly said, you're right. You're not the [00:21:00] same person.

I said, what am I gaining by bashing somebody who's not here? 

Hala Taha: Yeah. I feel like it's a super mature way to think of things when it comes to your relationships and when it comes to yourself. So I think this is one of the most important and kind of impactful things that I read in your book was this concept of the every breath paradigm.

So a lot of us can't seem to let go of past rejections, past failures, but then some people also have the problem of not being able to let go of their past successes and they obsess over that. Can you talk to us about that? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Oh, I certainly can. I've done nine programs at my house with retiring CEOs. This is a huge issue.

It is so hard to let go of that past success and realize that's no longer you. One of my good coaching clients was Mike Duke. Mike was the CEO of Walmart. He had a great story. He said, When I was the CEO of Walmart, I told this joke. And obviously Walmart, very sensitive, it was a clean joke, did not offend anyone.

People loved the joke, always laughing. I love my little joke. Then he said, I retired. And I was in this group of people and I told the [00:22:00] joke and he said, no one left. Then he said, well, I thought they must be grumpy. Another group tells a joke. No one left. He said, finally, my wife came to me and said, Mike, you idiot.

You actually thought that joke was funny? 

Hala Taha: Oh, my gosh. 

Marshall Goldsmith: When he was a CEO at Walmart, that joke was real funny. Ho, ho, ho. How about when he's not the CEO? Not funny anymore. It is hard to let go. One of the people that endorsed my book is Pal Gasol. Pal's 41 years old, and he's just retiring as a basketball star.

It's hard. The former CEO, it's tough. The Olympic champ, Michael Phelps, a sad story, after winning that final medal, thought about killing himself. Why? If your measure of value is I have to achieve more than last year, you're never going to get there, and you do get older, and you may not do what you did last year, and it's hard.

Telly, the Broadway star, he's, he's 40 now. He's not going to play Aladdin anymore. That rolls over. It's a constant reinvention of life, but not comparing yourself to what you used to be, and not living, [00:23:00] not being the ex athlete who's sitting there getting drunk, talking about Super Bowl. You know, that was 40 years ago.

That's not you. That was some other person did that 40 years ago. You know, move on. Live your own life now. By the way, in the book, we have a great case study, Curtis Martin. I don't know if you've met Curtis yet. I love Curtis. 

Hala Taha: Not yet. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Curtis, National Football League Hall of Fame, just a wonderful person, brought up in a terrible environment.

So a lot of murder and death when he was growing up as a kid and so happy. And he's one of these people he's helping others. He's happy. He's very successful. He's making money. And one of the reasons he didn't get stuck in the past, as opposed to a lot of, unfortunately, NFL stars. bankrupt, divorced, sad.

Why? They're living in that other era. They're living in the past. A lot of them, Curtis taught me this, you know, they lose their money. A lot of them, they give it away. They literally give their money away because they're trying to buy love. Doesn't work. There's a good song about that. Money. You [00:24:00] got a lot of friends hanging around your door.

When it's gone and spending ends, they don't come around no more. Well, you know, that doesn't work. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. So it's very difficult to do this. You know, it's, it's easy to kind of talk of it, talk about it at a high level, but when it comes to putting it into practice, how can we make this more like muscle memory and make this more like, in any situation we can just realize, okay, like it's time to be fresh.

I'm a new person. I'm not my past. How can we make this muscle memory? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, there's two suggestions I'm going to give you. One involving Some questions and one involving one question. The first thing I do is called the daily question process. So every day I write down a series of questions that represent what's most important in my life.

And many of them begin with the phrase, Did you do your best too? For example, did I do my best to be happy? Every day. Did I do my best to find meaning every day? Did I do my best to build positive relationships? Did you do your best to every day? And then there's a little scale, you know, and you, yes, no, or a number.

[00:25:00] And then at the end of the week, you get a little report card. Well, I've been doing this for about 25 years, and I have to have someone call me every day for almost 25 years. Almost every day, someone calls me on the phone to make sure I do this. Why? My name is Marshall Goldsmith. I got ranked number one leadership thinker and coach in the whole world.

Have someone call me on the phone every day to make sure I do this stuff. Why? I'm too cowardly to do this stuff by myself. I'm too indisciplined to do this stuff by myself. I need help. And it's okay. And one thing I'm proud of in this book, I mean, you saw the people endorse the book, just amazing people.

And four of the people endorse the book were ranked the best leader in America for at least one year. And so it's a pretty impressive group. And one thing I'm so proud of is they all stand up and admit they need help. 


30 years ago, none of these people would have said they had a coach. None of them would have said they needed help.

They would have been ashamed to have had a coach. They would have been ashamed to need help. One thing I'm very proud of is, hey, these are big people, you know, let's see, president of the World Bank, CEO of the year in the United States, CEO of [00:26:00] Pfizer, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Harvard Business Review, best CEO in the world, head of St.

Jude's Children's, you know, on and on and on. These are big people. Wonderful people. And I'm so proud that they're, they have the courage to stand up and say, look, Hey, I might be a big deal. Guess what? I'm a human. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. 

Marshall Goldsmith: I need help. I'm not above everything. I need help. We all do. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. And you mentioned there was a second, a second exercise.

Marshall Goldsmith: Yeah. The second exercise is that when you write that letter to the future and an interesting thing about that exercise is. And I'm going to give you a not so happy story. One of the guys at my group said, uh, retiring as CEO, and he said, I worked 80 hours a week for the last 40 years with one goal, so my children would never have to do this.

Then he said, that's the worst thing I could have ever done for myself, for my wife, or for my children. These kids are trust fund babies, spoiled, ungrateful, doesn't have a close [00:27:00] relationship with them. What he did is he gave his children a gift. When you give somebody a gift, there's no strings attached.

Guess what? They do what they want. Well, basically they're bums. That's it. They're rich bums. They're just trust fund bums. What he should have made as an investment, what he should have said is, look, I'm willing to work very hard to help you. Here's what I expect back. I expect you to try to have a meaningful life.

I expect to use this as an opportunity to do something special. I expect you to learn. I expect you to be grateful, not expect you to be a bum who just sits there and smokes pot and watches TV all day. 

Hala Taha: let's talk about that a little bit more. Why is it so much more powerful to earn something rather than be handed it?

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, when we earn something, we feel a sense of worthwhile. I got this because I did something and I feel I deserve it. When somebody's giving us something, what does that mean about you? Nothing. It means someone else earned something. It doesn't mean you earned anything. You [00:28:00] just stood there and your hand happened to be out and you got a break.

Someone else did something of value that was given to you, as opposed to you did something of value that was given to yourself. And again, the reality is, It's pretty hard to be proud of the fact that someone gave you a handout. 

Hala Taha: So this reminds me of something that you said in your book was actually the definition of an earned life. You said, we are living an earned life when the choices, risks, and effort that we make in each moment align with an overarching purpose in our lives. regardless of the eventual outcome. And this really stuck out to me because like we were saying before, I'm a goal oriented person.

And so for me, that seems counterintuitive that, that you don't need to worry about the outcome and you need to let go of the outcome or the earned reward. So I'm just curious in your opinion, why is it that we don't need to worry about the outcome with all of this? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, let me give you an example. The parable of the golfer and the beer can.

Hala Taha: Okay. 

Marshall Goldsmith: The golfer and the beer can. Now, here's a golfer, and [00:29:00] there's a chance to win the club championship. There's a big chance, and he never had a chance before. Last hole. And he's getting in a tip. And people in front of him, uh, force him drinking beer, noisy, very distracting, but he thinks he's hurt. Hits the shot.

Looks perfect. All of a sudden, something happens. It bounces into a terrible position. He's walking toward the ball. What happens? He sees a beer can. The idiots in front of him have left a beer can on the fairway. Now his ball is in the bad straights. He's angry. Those idiots. What does a golfer need to do?

Stop. Breathe. Forget about the drive. Forget about the people. Forget about the beer can. Forget about winning the championship. You come up with a strategy. You walk to that ball, and you hit the shot in front of you. See, in life, all you can ever do is hit the shot in front of you. You hit the shot in front of you, and when you're thinking about the results, you're living in the past, you're dreaming of the future, you're not [00:30:00] focusing on hitting the shot.

Well, the key is hit the shot. And the thing about achievement is the greatest college basketball coach in history was John Wooden. I was at UCLA when he was there, and he said, look, do your best. That's it. Be proud. You do your best and lose, fine. You do your best and win, fine. It doesn't matter. 

Hala Taha: Yeah.

Marshall Goldsmith: That's all you can do. Harry Kramer, CEO of Baxter, was in my 100 coach group. And Harry, somebody said, how do you sleep at night? You've had to fire people, lay people off, you've had to do very hard things to people. He said, I only ask two questions. One, did I do what I thought was right and did I do my best?

But the answer is I did what I thought was right and I did my best. He said, I can sleep. That's all any of us can ever do. You just do what you think is right. You do your best. You make peace. Well, to me, that's it. You don't get lost in the past. And you don't get lost in the future. And you never place your values as a human being based on results.

The most famous poem in history is called the Baha'u'llah Gita. And this is the essence of the Baha'u'llah Gita. You have a person with two choices in the [00:31:00] poem, the Baha'u'llah Gita. One choice is very bad. The other choice is worse. And he's going on and on about how bad his choices are, and the message is pretty simple from Krishna.

The message is, do what you think is right, do your best, and make peace. And sometimes in life we do have two choices, bad and worse. Okay. Pick the one that's least bad and make the best of it. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. I love that. I think that's super powerful. So I'd love to talk about regret and fulfillment in terms of the fact that it's a spectrum, right?

So I also thought this was pretty enlightening in your book. You know, you say that regret and fulfillment are like opposite sides of the spectrum, polar opposites, right? And everybody kind of lands on one part of the spectrum, no matter how successful they are. So you could be super successful and still have a lot of regret because you may have focused on your career, not your family or something like that.

So I'd love for you to kind of walk us through how regret and fulfillment are total opposites and maybe some examples of people that you've met where they surprised you in terms of the [00:32:00] regret that they felt. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Yeah, very surprised because the people I deal with are all on paper amazingly successful. Yet some of them, like the one I mentioned, if you look at it, CEO, huge company, multi multi multi millionaire, highly educated, smart, well, you'd think, well, fulfillment, the guy's off the charts, not really, not really, in his own mind, not really too happy with life and basically said, I blew it.

I blew it here. And the problem with that regret and fulfillment thing is other people don't fill out the scorecard. You do, and you may fool somebody else, but at the end of the day, you gotta live with yourself and you've got to look at that and say, what do I feel? Am I proud of this? Am I ashamed of this?

Do I have regret? Am I sitting there saying, I wish I would have. And we, the book begins with a story of a guy, you know, the interesting story, a guy filled with regret because he wanted to go out with some woman and he basically chickened out. He got afraid and then he carried it around, this sense of existential regret.

If I would have Things could have [00:33:00] turned out better for me. Maybe, maybe not. He still carried it around. It's very hard to forgive ourselves and forgive others and just let go and say, alright, that was then, this is now. That was then, this is now. And, I mean, I coach people that haven't forgiven mom and dad for being who they were.

Hala Taha: Yeah. 

Marshall Goldsmith: 30, 40 years of carrying around this anger. And the problem with all that is you're not hurting the other person as much as you're hurting yourself. 

Hala Taha: And I feel like the other kind of lesson and all of this, and just an insight that I had from your book or what you're trying to solve is there's no one size fits all when it comes to regret, right?

There's small regrets that don't really matter. And then there's, there's these big existential regrets you call them, like. Not having children or not taking a big job. And this is the purpose of your book is to make sure that you know what you want in life so that you don't make these big regrets that are super hard to let go.

Is that right? 

Marshall Goldsmith: And it's [00:34:00] interesting because we seldom regret the risk we take and fail. We often regret the risk we failed to take. So it's a question of, I talk about risk and opportunity. When do I take the risk? When do I not take the risk? And I point out examples of when risk taking is very important and when it's not.

And I give some example in my own life of a stupid risk, and I was like 27. And we're going out and riding boogie board. I don't know, not that much of an athlete anyway. And then I get macho and I start riding a few waves. Oh, you can do it. Then I go out there like an idiot and try to ride a nine foot wave and flips over and breaks my neck in two places.

I'm like, I'm even here. And I talked about that from like these Is that part of my aspiration in life to be a surfer? No. Am I any good at it? No. Am I ever going to achieve anything? No. Why am I doing that? Well, I got lost in this macho, ridiculous, uh, show off thing. That's an example of just not really thinking.

On the other hand, when you take a [00:35:00] chance on something, maybe you don't succeed, but you tried. Well, then you can look back on life and say, Hey, I gave it a shot. I look, I'm, my home now is here in Nashville. I mean, you know, God bless a lot of these kids, they're all waiting on tables, but hey, they're giving it a shot.

They're going to try to be the music star, and reality is, most of them aren't. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Yet still, I respect them. They're trying. They're giving it a shot, and at the end of the day, they'll probably be okay. Just do something else.

Hala Taha: I want to close this out with some three demands that you talk about when it comes to living an earned life. I thought this was a great way to kind of just summarize some of the key points in your book. And I'll tee you up for each demand and maybe ask some follow up questions. Sure. So the first demand was live your own life, not someone else's version of it.

Can you tell us your two cents on that one? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Yeah. And I mentioned, I can't [00:36:00] mention his name. It's my friend, Mark Tercik, who was a, you know, he was a managing partner of Goldman Sachs. They did the IPO. He makes a ton of money. And he's thinking about being the CEO of the Nature Conservancy and we're walking around the place.

Well, I don't know. What will they think of me? I'm pretty good. What do you care? It's not their life. It's your life. Well, part of this, that first thing is live your own life. I mean, it's pretty hard to live a fulfilling life if you're not living your own life. And you got to say, what does real life mean to me, not somebody else and get over that.

I have to impress so and so because so and so doesn't care anyway, really. And just not trying to waste your life on that and being willing to take or not take a risk to live your own life, which sounds pretty simple, but an amazing number of people don't. And they end up dying thinking, you know, I wish I would have, I wish I'd have gone for this, gone for that, gone for something.

Well, it's. Not somebody else's life is your life. Yeah. So part of it, and it's not as simple as it sounds because we were so focused on him and not in a negative way [00:37:00] as human beings, we've been brought up. You have to impress people. You have to gain approval. That's just part of our history. It's hard not to do that all the time.

Hala Taha: Yeah. I think a lot of people have this problem where they let other things and people stop them from going for their dreams. And so 

in your book, you actually list off a couple of reasons why people don't live their own life. Two of them that really stuck out to me was inertia and obligations. Can you tell us your perspective on inertia and obligations?

Marshall Goldsmith: Well inertia is the greatest predictor of anything we're going to do. Yeah. Yeah. The biggest predictor of what are you going to do five minutes from now is what are you doing now? And so we all tend to be where we've been, go where we've gone, and in my other book I talk about this too. It's hard for successful people to change.

Any human or animal will replicate behavior that's followed by positive reinforcement. Now, the more successful we become, the more positive reinforcement we get, and we fall into a trap. I do this, I am successful, therefore this makes me successful. I'll just keep doing this over and over and over again.

As opposed to saying, maybe I can do something different. Or maybe this doesn't always [00:38:00] work all the time. So that's kind of inertia. And then obligation is what we talked about, though. The feeling that somehow I'm supposed to do this. In Mark's case, He's a managing partner of Goldman Sachs. It's like, it's not like they're all going to sit there and go through, oh my good, he left us.

I'm going to die. No, they'll do fine without you. Well, Jim Kim, greatest story. Jim Kim was president of Dartmouth College. And Jim Kim's a great guy, was partners in health. Literally saved tens of millions of lives. He's president of Dartmouth College. He's a great guy. Not necessarily the best job for him.

You know, this is It's food in the student cafeteria and raising money all the time. So he gets offered a job as president of the World Bank. Oh, I don't know. I've only been at Dartmouth College two and a half years. Should I take the job? He said, take the job. So then I, I, Obligation. He ended up taking the job.

I called him three months after he had the job and said, Jim, I'm at Dartmouth College. Guess what? It's still here. And now they're all complaining about the new president. Life goes on. 

Hala Taha: It's so funny. [00:39:00] We all make these decisions as if people care that much about us. And at the end of the day, people only care about themselves, you know, nobody cares.

Marshall Goldsmith: Primarily, right? And also if you ask them, most of them would probably say just do whatever you feel like. 

Hala Taha: It's so true. Okay, so let's, oh, another one that's really interesting in terms of why we don't live our own life. Vicarious living, and I think this is super interesting given everybody's addiction to social media.

How does vicarious living really prevent us from living our own life? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, I mean, vicarious living is huge. I don't have to tell you. You know more about this than I do, but the average kid that's flunking out of school is spending, I forget, 55 hours a week on some sort of media, TV, movies. Social media, it's an addiction and we have to be very careful because when you're living vicariously, you're living through someone.

It's not your life. You're not one of the Kardashians. You're not the movie star. That's not you. And you're reading this drama of them. Well, what [00:40:00] happens is vicariously, we start living through them or the football team or whatever. And my son brought up a great example. I use video games as, you know, pretending to be in a battle.

It's really not, it's a pretense. Well, my son said, no, no, you missed the point. People spend thousands of hours, millions of hours watching other people play video games. PewDiePie. How many hours? Billions of people watching this guy play video games, making sarcastic comments. Hour after hour. They're watching this nonsense.

It's a pretense. He's some Swedish guy. I'm not blaming him, by the way. He's making millions of dollars. He's doing okay. 

Hala Taha: He's living. Not everybody else isn't. 

Marshall Goldsmith: He's living his life. But why are you watching this Swedish guy making sarcastic comments, playing video games for hours? You're living someone else's life.

You're not living your own life and you can never find happiness living somebody else's life. The other thing is they don't care about you. Yeah. They don't care about [00:41:00] you. They're living their life. And you're never going to find satisfaction living someone else's life. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. 

Marshall Goldsmith: By the way, physiologically, my friend Martin Lindstrom has studied the brain.

When the football player scores a touchdown, the fan experiences almost the same reaction as a football player in the brain. It's like they scored the touchdown. They're jumping up and down. They're screaming. They didn't score the touchdown. They watched someone else score the touchdown. 

Hala Taha: This is so interesting.

I feel like part of the reason why I've been very successful, especially in the last like five years, is because I literally don't watch TV. I don't even know how to turn on my TV in my apartment. I don't ever want, I don't do that. And even on social media, I'm focused on my content and my clients and what.

And my friends make fun of me, they call it Hala TV. They're like, oh, she's on Hala TV again, because all she cares about is her stuff. Because I'm not worried about what everybody else is doing. Because like you said, I feel like that's wasting your own life when you're trying to live, [00:42:00] when you're paying attention to somebody else's life.

Just live your own life. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Yeah, live your own life because, like, you live your own life, at least it's your life. 

Hala Taha: Yeah. 

Marshall Goldsmith: It's your life. And, you know, I had a fun experience that with a New Yorker magazine, many, and this changed my life. Many years ago, the New Yorker magazine, I think it was 2012, wrote the story of my life.

It was called The Better Boss, wonderful story, written by a woman named Larissa McFarquhar. And in this story, I'm, She is gonna, New Yorker profiles a big deal. They spend hours on this thing, right? They spend an average of 60, 000 per profile just doing the research. A lot. This is a serious thing. She followed me around for two months.

Now half of the New Yorker stories are just rip. I just, you know, rip into people and almost all of them have at least three paragraphs of Andy's a jerk. I talked to my wife and I thought about it and I thought Peter Drucker taught me who's the customer. And I thought, well, first I thought it's the people that send me money, but then I said, no, the customer is my unborn great grandchildren.

And this brilliant woman is going to write a [00:43:00] story about me. And if I don't act like me, they won't know me. They're just going to know some fictitious character. They won't know me. So I told my wife, I'm going to act like me. And I said, we're probably going to lose about 150, 000 bucks or 200, 000 bucks.

So I'm sure I'm going to annoy people, but I'm just going to collect myself. Because it turned out it was the best thing I could have possibly done. Number one, she's got an IQ of a zillion anyway. She went to Harvard. What are the odds I'm going to fool her for two months? Zero. If I did try to fool her, she'd probably just justifiably crucify me for acting like an ass.

So I just thought I'd just be yourself. Well, be yourself. You may lose, but at least it's you that loses. 

Hala Taha: I love this conversation. Let's move on to demand number two. It's commit yourself to earning every day. Make it a habit. Why do we need to do this? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well that goes back to also my daily questions. It needs to be something you restart every day because if we don't, we just get lost.

And it is so easy to get lost on little things. One of the guys in our group was Pau Gasol, the basketball star. One of his areas was he wanted to be better at being [00:44:00] present around his wife. You know, present, not just sitting there, but actually being in the room, in his mind. So, He tells a story, comes home and he says, you know, I said, how'd you do?

He's in our little garage. Oh, not so good, man. My wife is very upset with me. She said I wasn't really present too much and it's checked out. He said, but I was tired. Oh, how tired were you? Oh, so tired. I was working out all day, very tired, training for the Olympics. I said, you know, it's interesting. I paid a thousand bucks for a seat and my son Brian paid a thousand bucks and we went to watch you play the Boston Celtics in the world championship there and you guys won that game.

It's probably the biggest game of your life and you're running up and down the court like a Banshee. Now, coach here, Phil Jackson, called timeout with two minutes to go. Did you say, you know, Phil, I'm tired. I'm tired, Phil. No, I said, no, I never in my career told a coach I was tired. Never. So I said, you think your wife is impressed?

Well, it's often harder at home because when we're working like you, when you work, you're on very on your [00:45:00] professional. You know, when we're not on, and we're not in that professional mode, it's actually easier to lose it and realize, you know, those people at home are important. And every day you need to re earn.

Jim Kim, another guy, my friend, the World Bank guy, said, every day I re earn my legacy. That's the way life is. The person that did that stuff yesterday was that person from yesterday. They're not here today. And the thing we don't think about is the fact that we need to really focus on earning all kinds of things, happiness, meaning, purpose.

And if we don't, inertia kicks in. You watch the game, you go to the TV, you know, like you said, you're like a zombie and your life's over. 

Hala Taha: And it's because the things that make us fulfilled, like happiness, like you were saying, those things are fleeting, right? They come and they go super quickly. And so to your point, we need to learn how to earn them over and over again because they can be gone just as fast as we get them.

Marshall Goldsmith: Which again is the great Western disease, I will be happy when. Once this happens, everything is going to be okay. [00:46:00] It's all going to be okay once I get money, status, BMW, car, date, something. Well, no, once you get that, it's nice. Doesn't last very long. 

Hala Taha: Totally agree. Okay. So demand number three, attach your earning moments to something greater than mere personal ambition.

Marshall Goldsmith: Right. And I think that's why you need to answer that question of your attribution in life. Your aspiration in life. Why am I doing this? Why? Because the people I know work their butts off. They're all phenomenally hard working, achievement oriented. They don't need me to teach them about delayed gratification.

They live delayed gratification. They're highly educated. They're successful. They work their butts off. Well, you've got to have an answer to this question. Why am I doing this? And if there's not some higher purpose as to why, then why are you sitting there killing yourself to achieve all this stuff, unless there's some higher reason to do it?

And it doesn't have to be religious reason, just some reason. There [00:47:00] needs to be something. It could be, I want to have great kids that have good lives, or I want to, I don't know, I want to help as many people as I can, or I want to help the people I'm with have a little better life. It needs to be something, though, that's not just a goal line.

Because the problem with the finish line is. After you cross the finish line, you are finished, by definition. And there's, part of the book is a good phrase my wife came up with, after the victory lap. And what happens, you know, old people cheering, Yay! Yay! What happens after the victory lap? If that's it, you're finished.

Hala Taha: This is super inspirational. So there's one more question I want to ask before we start to really wrap this up. And it's sort of related. We'll figure out how it's related. And it's the fact that you wear the same outfit all the time. You wear a green polo shirt and khakis. I meet with you once a week. I see you every week.

And it's true. You wear the same thing every time. No matter. Like if you're on a podcast interview with me to 50, 000 [00:48:00] people, or if, you know, it's me, us and four people, you're wearing the same thing. Talk to us about this freedom in limiting your choices and how that relates to an earned life. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, there's a chapter in the book called the agency of no choice, which talks about the value of not having to make choices and back to the New Yorker story, ironically, this connects in the New Yorker story, the woman said, I always wear a green t shirt and khaki pants.

I actually didn't. But she said I did. So after that people kind of expected it and I thought what the heck this makes my life easier. I don't have to think anymore So literally every day I wear the same clothes green t shirt khaki pants. It makes life easier one more decision I don't have to make decisions are tiring and the more we can eliminate decisions the better.

I mean barack obama He basically said he has a gray suit and a blue suit and a white shirt and a blue shirt and And his wife picks out the ties and that's it And he just kind of stumbles around. Why? He doesn't want to think about that. Well, it's nice. I don't have to think about what I wear. And the more we [00:49:00] can look at choices that are not that critical to us.

It makes our life simpler, makes it easy to pack. And you know, the nice thing is people expect me to wear a green shirt and khaki pants so I can go work in Citicorp with everybody else has a coat and tie and they're all dressed up. I don't have to wear a coat and tie. People don't expect me to. 

Hala Taha: Yeah.

You've just made it iconic. You're just an icon style icon. Awesome. This is such a great conversation. So I always wrap up the interview with two of the same questions to all of my guests and then we do something fun at the end of the year with them. So the first question is, what is one actionable thing my young improfiters can do today to become more profiting tomorrow?

Marshall Goldsmith: Well, I'm going to define profiting in a different way. I'm going to define profiting as profiting as achieving a meaningful and successful life for you, which is not necessarily money. And that is breathe. And imagine you're 95 years old and you're just getting ready to die. Before you take the last breath, you're given a beautiful gift, the ability to go back in time and talk to the person who's listening to me now.

What advice would that [00:50:00] old person facing death have for you that's listening to me right now? Well, whatever that advice is, do that. That is the definition of a profitable life. 

Hala Taha: This might tie into the next question, but we'll see. What is your secret to profiting in life? 

Marshall Goldsmith: Secret of profiting in life is kind of what we talked about, breathe and start over.

And say profiting in life is not accumulating something. Profiting in life is living now. Living now a life that's meaningful for you. Not coasting on what I did last week or what my net worth is. It's living now, making the biggest difference you can make now. And, you know, let's finish by, why do I do this?

Well, basically, as I've grown older, in some ways, my level of aspiration has gone down and down and down. My level of impact has gone up and up and up. Well, I'm quite worried about what I'm not going to change. What's my goal on this podcast is very, very simple. I hope someone listening Has a little better life.

If one person listening to this podcast has a little better life, this one [00:51:00] is good. 

Hala Taha: Thank you so much, Dr. Marshall for coming on this show. This conversation was amazing. 

Marshall Goldsmith: Thank you so much. You're wonderful. 

Hala Taha: 

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