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How My Success Story Is a Tale of Two Cities

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... OK, so I’m not exactly Charles Dickens, but I will tell you a story -- my story. I’m known for different things -- as a Hall of Fame speaker, a TV / radio show host, a former chief marketing officer, an entrepreneur and a bacon lover. My career has taken me around the globe more times than I can count, but I never forget where I came from.


As entrepreneurs, we’re always looking for the next thing to create or for that next big world to conquer. It’s a calling that we must answer, because it’s at the core of who we are as people. Sometimes, answering that call means finding greener pastures and leaving all that we know behind. However, we must never forget where we came from. No matter how far you roam or how successful you think you are, forgetting your roots can -- and will -- diminish your success.

Related: The Importance of Staying True to Your Roots as an Entrepreneur

This is a tale of two cities that have helped shape how I do business.

Where I came from

I am originally from South Dakota -- a place many people can’t locate on a map. Sioux Falls is a bleep on the radar for many, but it was -- and still is -- home to me. That’s where I got my start in business and learned some of the lessons I still apply today. In my book, Think Big, Act Bigger, I refer to fishing in a bigger pond. And it’s perfectly OK to be a big fish in a small pond, but once you’ve conquered that pond, what’s your next move? Where do you need to go to accomplish bigger goals? What’s my next challenge?

As entrepreneurs, these are questions that we must continually ask ourselves. That’s how we grow, and part of that growth is adapting to your surroundings. I’ve said many times before -- adapt, change or die! Those words still ring true in my daily business life. I learned that lesson way back in South Dakota, and I hope that up-and-coming entrepreneurs can learn that same lesson, regardless where they come from. Adapting, or changing, doesn’t mean you have to let go of everything you know or change who you are in order to succeed.

People always ask me, “What’s the secret to success?” and my response is always the same, “Be authentic!” It sounds simple enough, but it goes back to being true to yourself and what you firmly believe in your core. I’m also a big proponent of acting the same way at home and at the office. If your home persona is radically different from your work persona, then who the heck are ya?

At home, I go into a bit of zen mode. I’m very laid back, whether I’m in our Sioux Falls office or working at my ranch. I reflect on all that I have going on and gain a sense of perspective that can sometimes get lost in all the travel I do or even when I’m in New York surrounded by millions of "my closest friends."

So, if you’re reading this and think you have to be cutthroat in order to succeed in a bigger pond, think again. I found this quote in the Tao Te Ching that I think captures it quite nicely: “To conquer others is to have power, to conquer yourself is to know the way.” 

Related: Honesty and Acceptance Starts With Self

If I can make there, I’ll make it… anywhere.

New York, New York -- a city so nice, they named it twice. New York City is big, brash and bold -- pretty much everything you’ve seen on TV and movies, but there’s a quality to this city that only some get to experience and even fewer understand. This city is full of people who go to work every day and make things happen. Whether in an office setting uptown or a start-up loft in SoHo, this is where it’s happening.

This is my bigger pond. I may have developed my big persona in Sioux Falls, but I’ve perfected it in New York City. Here, your attitude needs to match the spirit of the city, so when I do TV or my podcast on CBS’s, I have to be bold and brash. I’m adapting to my surroundings without truly losing who I am or forgetting my roots.

Coming to New York City from a small town can be a culture shock for anyone -- even me -- but once you get immersed in the daily city life, the shock subsides and you become part of its groove. As an entrepreneur in the big city, I go back to my belief of being authentic. Believe me, no one smells BS better than New Yorkers. They can spot it a mile away, and they will let you know. Doesn’t get more authentic than that, and I love it!

Whether small town America or the big metropolis, business is not a one-size-fits-all type of model. There’s no one model that everyone needs to follow, but one thing that rings true is that there’s always more to accomplish. That’s the path I decided to follow a long time ago. I made myself big in Sioux Falls, and then I said, "Why not state-wide?" So I did. Then I realized there are 49 other states that I could dip my toes in, and New York City happened.

Don’t think you can catapult yourself into the biggest, toughest market there is, but there is a way to get there, if you are passionate about your work and always move forward. There will be obstacles, there will be pitfalls and the number of times you’ll fall and fail will also be plenty. But that will mean nothing. What will matter are the lessons learned, how you get up after being knocked down and how you move forward.

The takeaway here is this: Whether you’re doing business in Sioux Falls or New York City or whatever city / town you are in, the foundation for your success will be honesty and authenticity. Adapt to your surroundings and gain some perspective. Personally, never forget your roots or where you came from. It’ll serve you as a steady anchor in the rough seas you’ll be navigating.

What’s your story?

Related: Internal Analysis Will Bring Out the Best in You -- and Your Business

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