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-This is Daniel McKenna, executive producer here at Thrive15. And today we are talking with Michael Levine, one of business mentors, about the advantage of disadvantage. If you don't know who Michael Levine is, well, well-- Michael Levine founded the company Levine Communications Office in 1983, which has thus far represented 58 Academy Award winners, 34 Grammy winners, and 42 New York Times Best Sellers.
While growing his company, he has represented Dave Chappelle, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, Nike and Sean "Diddy" Combs, just to name a few. Michael Levine is going to teach you about how you can have the advantage when you are at a disadvantage and how overcoming low points in life can take you to the top. Like the great philosopher Drake once said, "Started from the bottom, and now we're here." Let's go.
-Michael Levine, I appreciate you, my friend.
-I'm very, very moved by your opportunity to talk to your valuable audience.
-I will tell you this. Meeting you, it's one part, it's exciting. Because just I've read so much of your stuff. Get a chance to see you firsthand. You're a guy who's been a publicist for Charleston Heston to Michael Jackson and Prince. It's amazing. The guy who turned his name into a symbol, you're working with that guy. That was fun.
But at the same time, I love in your books I could see little hints of depth. And it's fun to see it firsthand. And so today we're going to talk about the advantage of having the disadvantage, or the advantage of disadvantage. Can you really tee it off and tell us what you're talking about here?
-Sure. So much of life, if you reflect on it-- and most people don't. We get so busy. We get so distracted with modern life. So if you do pause and you do reflect and you do think, you see that life is just absolutely pregnant with paradox.
And so one of the paradoxical thoughts around success are that in the end, there can be-- often is-- an advantage to disadvantage. And there is a disadvantage to advantage. So if I meet a young person today and I say, son, if I had met you as a sophomore in high school, would your life appear to me to be lower middle class, middle class, or upper middle class?
And so the person says, oh, Michael, middle class, or upper middle class. And then if that person, man or woman, who has just said upper middle class, is physically attractive--
-I can't relate to that. I don't know what you're--
-Physically attractive. Then I think to myself, my goodness gracious, here we are. We're meeting this nice 22-year-old man or woman. And they were born into a privileged home. Well, that would appear to be an advantage, wouldn't it?
-Yeah, I wasn't born in a broke home. Now, they come from a privileged home. Well, advantage one.
-Now, and they're physically attractive, right? Man or woman. Well, that would appear-- advantage two, right?
-Now, who the hell wants to be born in a broke home, ugly? That's not a good deal, right? However, think about this. Is our friend-- 22, 23 born into a privileged home, physically attractive-- are they driven in the same way? Are they hungry? Well, maybe not. See. Isn't that interesting?
So the paradox is that the things that would appear to be disadvantages ultimately turn out to be advantages. Who the hell-- you're a parent of five children.
-Five, yeah, five humans.
-Who the hell would ever in their right mind wish dyslexia on a kid, like me? The answer is no one.
-A-ha. Pay attention. Now, nobody wishes dyslexia on a kid. But a radical, disproportionate number of CEOs are dyslexic.
-Now, why is that?
-Why, when I think about my own life of my own success, do I believe that dyslexia, which was a bloody tough curse, right, in those young years, why did that turnout, in some strange paradoxical way, to be an advantage? Well first of all, human beings develop compensatory-- I use to represent, I use to represent Ray Charles.
CLAY CLARK: Oh, really?
MICHAEL LEVINE: Ray Charles.
CLAY CLARK: OK, yeah.
-And let me tell you something about Ray Charles. First thing you probably know, Ray Charles couldn't see.
CLAY CLARK: Yeah.
-But let me help you on something you may not know-- he could hear.
CLAY CLARK: Yeah.
-OK? You see humans develop compensatory skills. When you can't see your hearing increases, right? Now when you dyslexic, you learn to listen carefully. You learn to observe. Now you've said three or four times today, man you're a good observer. Maybe I am.
-I want to ask you this, because as it relates to this-- and now we're going to have our program observer add the statistics to the screen here, so it's kind of supporting-- but "The Millionaire Next Door," it's a book that studies millionaires, they found-- well we'll actually put the stats on the screen-- but they showed over 80% of the world's millionaires-- or of America's millionaires, are first generation.
MICHAEL LEVINE: Right.
-And when you look at them, they're people that came from that seemingly disadvantaged.
-Now let me take a little something about that, you ready? And this is going to make Americans sick to their stomach if they've got any brains.
CLAY CLARK: Here we go.
-First-generation millionaires get their first job, on average, age 10.
-The first-generation millionaires in America, on average, started to work at age--
-Which means they built a habit of hard--
-Would you be opposed to--
MICHAEL LEVINE: Pay attention. Pay attention.
-Question for you. I--
-And by the way, pay attention, parents. Every one of you who think you're being good to your kids, by not making them mow the lawn at 14, you've got your head so far up your [BLEEP], you don't even, you don't even know what, I don't even know why we're sitting here talking to you. That's how dumb you are. Get them to work.
-Let's assume that there's somebody whose head was so far up their anal cavity, they were somehow, through the miracle, they were able to pull it out, and they're just coming up, or they're just kind of listening for a second, I want to ask, one of things that I've discovered is that there's legislation that comes across-- one of which we had a speaking event my wife and I went to in the great state of Nebraska--
MICHAEL LEVINE: The great state of Nebraska, where I've never been.
-Well their putting in some legislation, right now, where they're trying to make it where kids can't work--
MICHAEL LEVINE: Great.
- --before the age of, I think it's 15 or 16.
MICHAEL LEVINE: Yeah.
-Can you just comment on-- just on a broad sense, not just on that specific piece of legislation, but just legislation like that-- what are your thoughts on that kind of thing?
-Well, first of all, sadly I'm not surprised.
MICHAEL LEVINE: OK.
-I find it utterly consistent with the direction, the terrible, terrible, terrible, direction, we're going in in America. I'm not surprised.
-I'm going to ask you a hard-hitting question. You just punch me in the face, if you want. Here we go. You did some work with, my understanding, is President Clinton, maybe, a little bit?
-I've offered some non-paid counsel to three US Presidents.
-OK, now I notice I saw endorsements from President Bush, as well as President Clinton.
MICHAEL LEVINE: Yeah.
-Let's say that-- I'm not getting into Republican/Democrat, because you strike me as sort of Libertarian in your world views-- but when you're around a president who is endorsing legislation that you don't agree with, as a PR guy, how do you do it? I mean do you go, ahh, I don't want to take that one.
-Listen, the greater problem, I think, from my point of view--
CLAY CLARK: Yep.
- --my current thinking is not to be angry so much at the politicians, but to be much more angry at us.
CLAY CLARK: OK.
-Americans are not voting for Democrats or Republicans. They're voting for Santa Claus. Americans want free [BLEEP] That's what they want.
CLAY CLARK: We should put that on a campaign shirt.
-They just want free [BLEEP]. And they're sitting around, and they do the job interview every four years, and they say, which one of these guys is going to give me more free [BLEEP]. OK? They want free [BLEEP]. Now, is that the fault of the Republicans or the Democrats? No, it's the fault of us, right?
-So let me ask you this. So we're talking about this advantage of disadvantage. Now, one of the things I've discovered, and I've studied-- I can't say I've nearly studied as much as you have. But I am a voracious reader. I read Harvard case studies and biographies.
That's what I do. Some people are on the Facebook and the Candy Crush. And I'm reading the books.
But here we go. So adversity is a prerequisite to lasting success. That's a principle I seem to see.
-Yeah, I think adversity almost always brings forward a series of skills and lessons learned the hard way and tests and trials that build a musculature and a way of being in the world.
-Let me give an example to the Thrivers of a specific one. Yours truly, I'm sort of a search engine wizard. Companies all over the world hire me to do it for them. And I'm honestly one of the better people on the planet at doing search engine. But it was because I didn't have any money and the yellow pages went away.
-That's how that works.
-And so I pulled all-nighters and read every book and have interviewed web nerds and I finally synthesized--
-Necessity is good that way.
-And I noticed, like for sales I didn't have a marketing budget, so I'd pick up the phone book and cold-call businesses starting with A. My first event I ever booked was an apartment, because it was an A, my friend. And so I've learned cold-calling through I just had to learn it. What are some skills that you've learned from just-- outside of just pigheaded discipline, what are some skills you've learned as a necessity sort of as a result of adversity. I mean, what are some things that you've personally learned in your career?
-Well, one I guess learned pretty early on is that no one's going to come and save you. And that is, from my point of view, the lesson of Hurricane Katrina. If you're sitting on a rooftop and think that somebody is coming to save you, no one's coming.
-That's a huge point, though. If you're watching this and you're an entrepreneur, we've got to take that in, right? Everyone has to--
-Yeah. And you've got to stop looking for government or daddy or mommy. First of all, if you're a parent and you haven't taught your child over the age of six that life is difficult, I think you've cursed your kid. Now, you teach him life is difficult, well, then they got to experience life is difficult. You know, this helicopter parenting crap, this is bad deal.
-What does helicopter parenting mean in your mind.
-Helicopter parenting is this stuff where you never, ever let him experience-- you want to try to save him from every bump and bruise, right? You treat them like they're fragile cargo. And you make them the center of the universe.
You, know obviously in America today there are many kids that are under-parented. And that's a tragedy. But there are a good number of them that are over-parented.
If you had ever said to my father 40 years ago, hey, Mr. Levine, tomorrow's Friday. Would you like to leave work about 3:30 and your son's going to be playing Little League, you know, a little practice here. You leave 3:30, go watch him practice. My father would say, what the hell's wrong with you? I'm not leaving work. I'll see him on the weekend if I see him.
But today, I'm told if you don't go to every Little League practice, you're a child abuser. Now, this is over-parenting. Now, is this a good, bad, or neutral thing?
-This is why I have a problem with youth hockey.
-There you go.
-I don't want to go to the practices.
-Well, yes. But the deal is it sounds so great, right? I'm going to miss work. I'm going to see my son play. Doesn't that sound good?
But the problem is, it creates a feeling among the kid that he's the center of the universe, right, that daddy is there, and mommy, and I'm the center of the deal. No. The kid's gotta learn how to be independent, learn how to deal with-- just suck it up little bit. Now, I think something's good--
-We've got to be radically, radically moderate. But we're not. We're either under-parenting, never going to anything, or going to everything. Now what the hell's-- this is nuts. We've got to say, son, you figure it out.
-Colin Powell-- all of our programmers are going to add the quote to the screen. But Colin Powell, and I'm paraphrasing, he says that great leadership requires pissing people off. And my discovery is, like with hockey, you know, I love my son. I want to go to hockey. I want to go to the games. But there's no way in hell I'm going to go to hockey on a Wednesday at whatever time for team photos--
-Hell no. And nor should you.
-There you go.
-You have another job. It's called getting him food, see? That's how it works.
-I knew this would happen. I never thought I would see an angel in the shape of you. I didn't expect to see it. How old are you? Are you 55?
-I never thought I'd get a parent in contemporary America to agree with me.
-That's great. Boom.
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