Interview: Dorie Clark
Dorie Clark is a leading consultant and keynote speaker who teaches executive education at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. She's the author of Entrepreneurial You (Amazon), Reinventing You (Amazon, Bookshop) and Stand Out (Amazon, Bookshop), which was named the #1 Leadership Book of the Year by Inc. magazine.
If you love a self-assessment as much as I do, Dorie offers the Long Game Self-Assessment to help people apply the principles of strategic thinking to their own life and career.
I couldn't wait to talk to her about happiness, habits, and creativity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Dorie: Growing up, I scarfed down way too much Coca-Cola, and I never liked the taste of water. But once I realized that water could be *carbonated just like soda,* I was sold. Today, I drink inordinate amounts of sparkling water, so I’m very well hydrated (which helps with sleep, mood, and more). Most of what’s positive in my life comes from finding ways to trick myself into doing the right things.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
When I was a kid, I was always focused on “the next thing.” I was desperate to be 16 so I could drive and 18 so I could vote; I couldn’t wait to go to college or to get a job. I don’t think that was wrong, per se—it was a desire to be part of society, rather than be limited to the ‘playacting’ options that kids commonly have. But it was only a piece of the picture. As an adult—now that I’m able to do those things—I’m in a lot less of a rush, and have learned to force myself to pause and enjoy the slower moments that I know are special, like spending time with friends or watching a storm roll in.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?
In my research for my new book The Long Game, I found a pair of separate studies that—taken together—revealed something bonkers about the way we live our lives now. In one study of 10,000 leaders, 97% said that strategic thinking was the most important thing they could be doing for the future of their organizations. And in a separate study, 96% said they didn’t have time for strategic thinking!
I realized that, for so many of us, that’s true in our own lives as well. I wrote The Long Game as a way of helping people think about how to create more white space in our schedule, so we can identify and focus on what really matters. If strategic thinking is that important—and rare—we shouldn’t just be doing it inside corporations. We should be applying it to our own lives and careers, as well.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
I’m a big believer in “some is better than none.” I always struggled to take vitamins because swallowing a fistful of those huge pills is just dispiriting. It’s slightly embarrassing, and I know these aren’t as ‘turbocharged’ as the horse pills, but the way I’ve been able to build a sustainable vitamin habit is to eat gummies every day. They’re delicious.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Like you, Gretchen, I’m an Upholder. I do my best not to be insufferable. 😉
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?
Travel was very hard for me, because pre-Covid, I gave about 30-50 keynote talks per year. I have really severe motion sickness, so cabs to (and from) the airport were a nightmare. I could either drug myself with Dramamine, which made me hopelessly sleepy, or take my chances. (I think I hold a world record for the number of times someone has actually thrown up in a moving vehicle.) I was helped *a lot* when I discovered a recent invention—Boarding Ring glasses—which worked wonderfully for me. But they fog up when you wear a mask, so they’ve been a lot less useful during the pandemic (of course, I haven’t been traveling very much, either). So motion sickness was much better, on the whole, during Covid! And I actually managed to exercise a lot because there was nothing else to do. (I tracked my time and wrote an article about what I learned, in case it’s of interest.) But it was simultaneously very depressing because all my friends left New York, so #tradeoffs.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
Five years ago, a casual acquaintance brought me to a Broadway show, Fun Home. Going to Broadway wasn’t typical for me—it was only the second show I’d seen in a year and a half. But I woke up the next morning with the absolute conviction that I needed to learn how to write a musical. (I had no experience with this, aside from writing angsty teenage folk songs, and wasn’t even really a musical fan.) But it was such a strong feeling that I decided I needed to follow it, and in the five years since, I’ve been accepted into and completed one of the world’s top musical theater training programs, and have written a complete musical that I’m working to move forward (it’s a sexy lesbian spy thriller, obviously). Who knows if I’ll reach it, but the goal I’m working toward is getting a show on Broadway in the 2026 season. (In The Long Game, I write about my experience getting started in musical theater as a complete novice, and how I overcame my initial rejection from the training program and eventually wheedled my way in.)
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
My favorite quote is from Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” I’m the world’s biggest fan of being proactive.
Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?
When I was 13, my friend’s mom had a copy of Tony Robbins’ Unlimited Power (Amazon, Bookshop) laying around at their house. I picked it up and was looking at it, and she got so excited—apparently she’d tried to interest her own daughter in it, to no avail. She said, “If you read this book now, when you’re 13, and you really take it in, you’re going to be unstoppable!” She sent it home with me and made me promise to read it. It’s not that the ideas in it are necessarily revelatory (at least, to an adult). But as a young teenager, I’d never been exposed to the concept that we can control our thinking and that we actually have a huge amount of agency over our beliefs, our reactions, and our goals. And that was enormously empowering. You really couldn’t pay me enough money to walk on hot coals, but I give Tony Robbins a huge amount of credit for helping me, and many others, realize so much more of what we’re capable of.
In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?
I coach a lot of professionals who want to grow their platform and increase their impact, and one of the reasons I was inspired to write The Long Game is that I think having accurate expectations is so important. Running a marathon is hard but do-able. What’s truly awful is thinking you’re signing up for a half-marathon, being near the end, and having someone suddenly tell you, “Oh, you’re not done—you’re only halfway there.”
Too many smart and talented people give up on their goals too soon, because they haven’t scoped out what it will take to achieve them and they get discouraged. What I’ve seen—both in my own experience, and through working with 600+ members of my Recognized Expert online community—is that it takes at least 2-3 years of consistent effort to show almost any progress in getting your ideas heard publicly, and about five years of effort to show clear and demonstrable results. That might sound like a long time—but the time is going to pass, anyway. If you have the right expectations upfront, it feels less like a slog, and more like a manageable journey toward something that really matters. That’s the essence of the long game.
One Last Thing
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