No matter what field you choose to pursue – singing, acting, painting, sports, or any other endeavor – there are certain internal personality elements that must work together like a finely tuned orchestra in order to reach your fullest potential. The overlapping traits, disciplines and methodologies shared by those who have reached the pinnacle of success are ingredients that we can all learn from in pursuit of our own dreams.
A fighter and a film maker – two very different careers, two very similar mindsets.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is considered to be an art form by many; a sport where you play chess with your opponents body parts. If you want to win in the ring, you need to have your body, arms and legs all working together in symphonic harmony. As an undefeated fighter and professional wrestler, Daniel Puder has mastered that art.
Likewise, when making movies, the cast and crew need to come together as one like the notes in a melodic masterpiece. Academy Award winning director Quentin Tarantino knows that first hand. With more than $3 billion at the box office with smash hits such as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and The Hateful Eight, Tarantino acts much like a band conductor to ensure the actors, cameramen, costume designers, hair and make-up technicians, editors, musicians, effects people and so many others play their part to perfection so the outcome is a classic work of art.
Against the Odds
Puder and Tarantino have more in common than one may think. They both started out behind the eight ball with futures that looked bleak at best, however even though the odds were against them, each used determination, grit and passion while in quest of their dreams.
From childhood on, Tarantino was driven by an almost singular focus for movie making. Despite dropping out of high school at age fifteen, he studied acting while working at Video Archives, a now-defunct video rental store in Manhattan Beach, CA. It was there he received a good deal of informal film education.
With no real support, Tarantino explained, “I really had to mentor myself by trial and error. And it made me tougher in a very tough business. If all you really want to do is one thing, then you have to follow that dream wherever it leads you. That’s definitely what I did.”
The teenage years were tough for Puder as well. He was overweight, had difficulty reading in school and was placed in a Special Education class, all of which led to him being humiliated and bullied by classmates.
It was a huge obstacle to overcome, but Puder’s turning point came when he was sixteen years old. He stood up for himself and his first fight in school resulted in him being sent to juvenile hall. It wasn’t long after that that Puder joined the highly acclaimed American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), a school in San Jose, California, that teaches mixed martial arts. His experiences there birthed his passion for the sport which kept him moving forward despite the challenges he faced.
“We all need to put our heads down, grind it out to be successful”,” he said. “We all need to have a big heart in sports or in life to show yourself and others what you are made of externally and internally. We have the ability to overcome anything.”
Their determination catapulted them to reach great achievements in their respective fields even though many would have written them off as failures or not having a chance given their childhood circumstances.
Opening Their Own Doors
Early on as teenage boys, both Puder and Tarantino became accountable for their own success, creating an entrée into the worlds in which they desired to become part. Each one became so focused on their goals that neither was dismayed by his lack of resources or connections. They accepted their situations and let their focus, drive and commitment chart their courses toward success.
“Even though I grew up around Los Angeles, I didn’t know anybody who was part of that world I dreamed of getting into—nobody. I didn’t even know anybody who knew anybody! That’s how out of it I was”,” said Tarantino. “It’s true that [Hollywood] can be a very ‘clubby’ place, and I was definitely not part of that club—not by a long shot. I didn’t even have any sense of where that club was or if anyone would ever let me in. But my passion for the movies—watching them, thinking about them, and actually making them myself—overcame my sense that I couldn’t possibly do it.”
He continued, “You have to break down your own doors—because a lot of times in life, there’s no one else to do that for you.”
Puder explained it this way: “You have to understand what your true purpose is. Without commitment and dedication to your purpose, you will not get very far.”
Understanding his purpose from the moment of his first professional fight, Puder kept taking the next step and opening the next door. Keeping it all in perspective, he added, “there are two choices in life – the first is to look at life like you have to do something; the second is I get to do something.”
What you can learn from Puder and Tarantino, and what I encourage my clients to do as a certified life and success coach, is to view every situation as an opportunity that can get you a step closer to your goal. We must shift our mindset from disliking what needs to be done to embracing our goal and seeing the necessary steps to achieving it as minor inconveniences.
Belief in Yourself
Along your journey to success, you need to have an overwhelming belief in yourself if you are going to be the best you can be. There are times in life when you will benefit from the knowledge of others; however, developing the discipline to learn and grow yourself is something that will keep you way ahead of the pack on your pathway to success.
When asked about his greatest mentor along the way, Tarantino laughs: “I’m sorry—and proud—to say that I ended up having to be my own mentor! Truthfully, I didn’t have one—as much as I wanted one. And, trust me, there were many times I dreamed of having a mentor. Harvey Keitel gave me my first and biggest break when he agreed to be in Reservoir Dogs. He made that whole experience possible, thus making a very big difference in my life. But honestly, by that point, I was already not taking no for an answer.”
“I was already bound and determined to make movies. I believed in myself—and eventually other people started to believe in me too. But I had to believe in myself first. You hear people talk about how a mentor made all the difference for them—and that’s great. But I think kids need to learn that sometimes you have to be your own mentor. And you have to break down doors for yourself.”
Puder was blessed enough to have several mentors in his life and passionately encourages people to find at least one mentor.
“I took the negative situation in my life and made it a positive one with great support from family and coaches”,” he said.” Everyone needs a mentor. You don’t know what you don’t know. I never want to be the smartest guy in the room. I always want to learn from others. I recommend surrounding yourself in life or sports with the right team – they teach you and have your back.”
Having said that, Puder also feels that it is a person’s perception or lack of self-belief that holds them back from achieving greatness in life. “I see many people get beat because they stop believing in themselves”,” he said.
“We all need to change our perception on what failure is. Edison failed many times when creating the light bulb, but he didn’t see any of his setbacks as failures; he saw as ways that didn’t work but moved him closer to his discovery.”
“Life is a test. It’s a game. Everything that is thrown at you leads you to a bigger, better game. Believe you can be the star of your own game. Adopt a mindset of believing in yourself so others have no choice but to believe in you as well.”
Tarantino and Puder both certainly believe in themselves, but both also support charities that help develop others belief in themselves. Tarantino is a supporter of the Friars Foundation which fosters the arts for future generations by providing performing arts scholarships for liberal arts institutions that offer performing arts.
Puder formed his own charity in 2010, My Life My Power, an anti-bullying and youth development program. Their mission is “To add value within communities by inspiring our future generations.”
The My Life My Power Program is positively impacting the lives of youth around the world, by changing their mindset to build up their self-esteem and give them purpose and fulfillment. The program takes a positive and proactive approach to challenges that students face. They go after the root cause of a youth’s challenges rather than focusing on the symptoms of those causes. In turn, they are able to create a lasting and long-term change in their lives.
“It’s amazing – it’s a lot easier to raise money to open up a jail than it is to provide life lessons and guidance to the youth so they won’t go to jail”,” Puder said. “Something is wrong with the system.”
Continuing to enrich and empower people, Puder was recently selected to do deliver his message for the prestigious TED Talks. The theme was “Success vs. Significance.” As part of Daniel’s TED Talk initiative to help youth and adults achieve significance, My Life My Brand was developed. It is a branch of his Non-Profit which provides youth with a means of gaining hands-on experience in the fields of design and marketing while being supported by professionals in these industries.
Do It Daily
Don’t wait for someone else to open doors for you. If you want to get somewhere, you are going to have to take charge and forge your own path.
Believe in yourself, have faith in your abilities, and stay the course. There will be times when the odds are against you, but you must stay focused and continue to visualize yourself achieving your dreams.
Stay strong, be a warrior and keep moving forward.
Jerry Gladstone is the author of the International Best Selling Book The Common Thread of Overcoming Adversity and Living Your Dreams. Jerry is a success and life coach as well as a corporate speaker. TheCommonThreadGroup.com