Tune into today’s show to unleash the inner gladiator for you and your team with none other than former NFL football player and renowned American Gladiator star, Dan “Nitro” Clark! Dan is now an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who helps people play and master their “inner game.” He openly shares the many shifts he experienced after having a heart attack in 2013, including redefining success from accolades and material belongings to connection and inner peace. If you’re looking to make a comeback of any kind or shift smoothly into a new phase of life, Dan’s advice is spot on!
Episode 25: Shifting Your Definition of Success with Dan “Nitro” Clark
Shani Magosky: Hey, Leadershifters. Welcome to another episode of The Leadershift Show. Are you looking to access your inner gladiator or to enroll your team and finding their inner gladiators? If you are, then you are going to want to hang tight for our discussion with today’s guest, Dan “Nitro” Clark.
Dan Clark: Hey, Shani. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited for the work you’re doing and I can’t wait to get into It.
Shani: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Leadershifters just wanted to give you an ever so abbreviated bio of all the cool things that Dan has done over the years. It would take the whole podcast to really review everything ]crosstalk].
Dan: Oh, you’re too kind. You’re too kind. This is how you’re going to get the good stuff out of me, right? By buttering me up. It’s part of your technique.
Shani: Buttering will get me everywhere, right? Well, you guys know I’m a huge football fan. I use football analogies all the time when I’m talking about leadership. Dan played football at San Jose State University and then he played for the LA Rams, and then I believe in Europe. Then he shifted into acting and many of you probably know him from many seasons of American Gladiator where he was Nitro, hence the nickname.
Dan: The shift went from being in front of the camera, Shani, that was the first. First I went from professional athlete, that was my identity. Then I got really super, I would say lucky, but I don’t believe in luck. I believe in hard work creates opportunities and putting yourself in the right situations, but I got a TV show that was also athletic. I had to shift in front of being a on-camera person. Then from on-camera, a sports show, I shifted into more theatrical and television roles. Then I shifted into this 20-year shift into writing.
I felt like there I wanted to redefine myself and like Hamilton, which I just saw this weekend in New York, I knew the way to do that was by creating my own personal books and writing, so I shifted into writing, then into speaking and then into owning another business, which was an entrepreneurial effort. There’s been a lot of different shifts.
Shani: Absolutely. That’s what I think is so admirable about you is that the interesting shifts that you’ve made, and a lot of my listeners and clients, God wish they could even do a fraction of the things they could do and part of my mission is to encourage people, you can do anything you fucking want to do if you just have a vision for it and start putting a plan into concrete action. Let’s get to it. Let’s start with–
Dan: No, I think what you said is exactly right there. People’s potential is unlimited. What is the number one thing that gets in people’s way? It’s fear.
Dan: Well, it’s upstairs, yes. I always say it’s always an inside game. Everything is an inside game. To master this life you have to master what’s going on in here. When you master the inside game, the results start to show on the outside. For me, what I do now, is I also help coach people. I think the number one thing, like I said that gets in the way is the doubt, the fear, the anxiety and that negative voice inside your head. One of the first shifts I’d like your listeners to take is– I lost my train of thought. [laughs]
Shani: Shifting, the listeners you want to take about the inner game.
Dan: Yes, the inner game. I want them to take control of the inner game. That’s the first shift that I want them to take into mind.
Shani: Well, I’m guessing that you had to learn that earlier in your career because football-well, yes, people have to be talented, you have to be fast, you have to catch. you have to block, whatever- a lot of why various football teams are successful is the inner game of each player and the inner game of the geschult of this team. Can you talk about your experience with that?
Dan: The transition. Yes, I say this. I say that sports taught me about life. It taught me teamwork, it taught me hard work, it taught me a work ethic, it taught me how to rise to the next level by putting in more work. It taught me about a lot of things, but I had a heart attack five years ago, so I say sports taught me about life, but almost dying taught me how to live. That was the latest shift for me from life to learning how to live a life that I wanted to live. A little esoteric there.
Shani: Well, no. Let’s go there. People look at you and say, “You’re athletic, you’re fit. How could you have a heart attack?” What gives?
Dan: Well, I’ve learned this, I learned that we can’t always choose the path that we walk, but we can choose how to walk it. What I mean is a lot of times there’s no reason, there’s no explanations. Bad things happen to good people. We just have to accept that and then we can accept and choose how we want to respond. Lying in the hospital, I remember the day after the heart attack, after I had surgery, and I was depressed.
I was at one of the lowest points in my life and I had completely lost identity to who I was. I was an athlete, I was a fitness expert, almost all my business and stuff revolved around that. Lying there, I was just depressed and I was asking myself, “Why me? Why me? Why me? Why did this happen to me?” That led me down the path to nowhere. It wasn’t until I changed the question that I asked myself. Instead of saying, “Why me?” I started to ask myself, “What can I be given the circumstances?”
When I asked myself a better question, I started to get better answers. All these ideas started to come forward. I could be someone who showed people how to make a comeback.
Shani: Love that.
Dan: I could be someone who showed people how good life could be after a heart attack or I could be someone who showed people how to turn a tragedy perhaps into a gift of inspiration for others. A lot of a shift goes to asking yourself better questions. That was the major shift after the heart attack that puts me to where I am now. Most of my life I chased gratification. What I could eat, what I could taste, what I could buy, this momentary gratification. Well, the thing about gratification, if you’re on a steady diet, if it’s never very fulfilling because the moment that you achieve something-at least this is how I was, I was on that wheel of success.
The moment I achieve something-well, I’ve got a house. Great. A big house. Great. “Oh, now I need a vacation house.” I was rarely ever satisfied. I was looking for the next bite before I’d finished the last bite.
Shani: Absolutely. That’s a common disease among high achievers. We’re never happy with what we have. Always looking, “Well, when I just have this one, I just have that.” That’s exactly backwards. It’s like, “No, I got to be happy first, and then I’ll attract what I want,” versus “I’ll be happy when.”
Dan: Like we talked about in the beginning. It’s an inside game. I was out there busy–
Shani: You were– Oh, go ahead.
Dan: I was out there busy chasing that gratification that I rarely practiced gratitude, rarely practiced being thankful. I rarely practiced appreciation. What the near-death experience has taught me is that gratitude and appreciation, at least for me, are the gateway to happiness. When I practice gratitude, when I practice appreciation, when I practice the simple practice of setting up and designing my daily routine, where I have things, little maps, little posts, little gold posts that I put out for me every day, that if I do this, this, and this, that will mean I’m happy.
When I set up and design my life that way, I can tell you, Shani, happiness beats a path to my door every single day. I realized for me, it’s not me, it’s always me failing the tools and the tools never failing me.
Shani: Love that. It’s a good way to put it. I just want to pause for a second because the last few minutes of conversation is really worth pausing on and addressing folks who are listening or watching. Where in your life whether it’s professionally or personally, are you asking yourself the wrong question? Maybe the question has a bit of a victimy or martyrdom kind of feel to it. If you just shifted the question you’re asking something that’s more empowering and more future-focused, what’s possible for you by just asking that different question?
Situations where you need to make a comeback or you’re thinking like things aren’t going your way, perfect opportunities to shift that inner game.
Dan: Shani, again instead of, “Why me, why me, what could I be given the circumstances? What could I do given the circumstances?” When you make that shift, oh man, Shani do the answers come forward. You’ve put your aim and your focus in a new direction and a lot of it, like you said, is a shift of asking yourself better questions. It never fails me, whenever I’m stuck, I ask myself a better question.
Another tool that I use a lot with the people I coach is instead of “I have to.” and it’s a little shift, and I know you know this ism “I get to.” People, one of the things they talk about is time, how busy everybody is. How much they don’t have time, “I’m so busy, I can’t do this. Oh, man I have to take my kid to school in the morning.” I said, “I have to?” I said, “You mean you get to spend 15 or 20 minutes with this creature that you love more than anything else on the planet?”
They’re like, “Oh, I’ve never thought of it that way,” and that’s a shift, or if someone is working on a project, “Oh I’ve got to start to spend time on my book.” I say, “Wait a second, you got to? You have to? You get to. You have the opportunity to put your life, some thoughts, some feelings and your expertise on a piece of paper to share out in the world.” That perspective, that shift changes everything.
Shani: For sure. It’s amazing how many people don’t go there first and we’re so lucky in this country. I don’t know about you. I’ve traveled around the world and you don’t even have to travel all around the world to just turn on the news and see some of the travesties that are happening in other places and we are so fortunate. You’re right, almost all of us we get to, we don’t have to. It’s like living a great life shouldn’t feel like an obligation.
Dan: Yes, when you start to go from I get to instead of I have to, it changes obligations into opportunities. It’s a little shift of perspective. I find for me and the people I deal with, the high performers, it’s all about those little shifts in perspective that make the difference. So many of your listeners are wanting to go out and hit that home run every single day. Go out and get a base hit. Go out and hit a single. The way our brains work, our brains work by having positive reinforcements, little wins, there’s so much science behind this.
That’s what creates motivation.
Go out and get that little win today. Celebrate that win and it will give you the motivation and courage. I say motivation is a bunch of garbage. It’s having tools that inspire you. Having tools that you can count on, that propel you to take action when you don’t want to when you don’t feel like it.
Shani: Speaking of winning, can we talk about American gladiator?
Dan: Oh yes.
Shani: I know people would kill me if I didn’t ask you what was that experience, just what’s the craziest thing that happened during your tenure with the show?
Dan: Every day was crazy. I came from a football background so the publicity and the traveling and having a light shined on me pretty bright wasn’t such a new experience but I was always part of a team. In college, I was pretty damn good in the pros. I never really got the light shined on me like American gladiators did. I remember the first day I knew it was going to be something was after we shot the first season they were doing a promo.
I drove out of my little apartment in Studio City, California because at that time I was living in an apartment. It was like 1,200, 900 square feet, whatever it was and I pulled out around the corner and I look up and there’s this huge billboard with my picture on it, “American Gladiators, coming to you live.” I was like, “Holy crap, that’s me.”
Then it was just a whirlwind of activity and stuff that was super crazy. I would tell you from meeting three presidents in one night at a function to sitting in a restaurant with a girlfriend and having Steve Martin come over to my table and like, “Excuse me Sir, aren’t you that gentleman from the American Gladiators?” I’m like, “Oh my God, Steve Martin, I’m a huge fan of yours. Yes, there’s another friend of mine I want you to introduce me to.”
He takes me over to the table where he’s sitting with his wife and Dustin Hoffman. There were things like that that were just so eye-opening and so amazing. Going on tour and selling out Madison Square Garden and running out onto the floor at the most famous arena in the world and having 17,000 people saying, “Nitro, nitro, nitro.”
Shani: I can’t even imagine, that’s fantastic.
Dan: It was an amazing, amazing experience. I think the challenge for me has always been how do you find happiness and fulfilment and inner peace and still feel successful when it’s not in front of 16 or 17,000 people? I know a lot of your listeners have probably had bigger monetary or financial successes in their life and they’re in a little bit of a setback. A lot of my work going forward is finding that happiness and fulfilment in the internal things. Do you know what I mean?
Shani: I do.
Dan: The hard thing, Shani, was when I had all that success when I was on the cover of TV guide, when I was doing Good morning America, there was still a part of me that was empty and sad and alone. All that success that I had could not fill it and my life’s work, the next 25 years were dedicated to trying to find meaning and purpose and fulfillment in my life.
Shani: Yes, and I’m guessing that, two big things, connection and giving back.
Dan: Yes, so connection, giving back, gratitude practice, and again calming the beast. That’s what I do now, I help people to calm the beast so they can unleash the beast. I had to calm that beast of doubt, fear, anxiety, of not being worthy, not being good enough because those things would paralyze me. When I first started doing Facebook Lives, I started a Facebook Live show and I was like, “Oh my God, what are people going to think?”
Shani: I can’t do another take if I fuck up.
Dan: Well no, I don’t worry so much about being live. I worry more about– My fear is a lot of what would people think? Here is a guy who used to be in front of sold-out Madison Square Garden and now you’re venturing into something new and there’s that negative voice in your head, that fear, that doubt, that worry about what they will think. Wow, I’ve got seven people listening. Whatever, I’ve got 700 people listening.
A lot of that fear and I think a lot of people, almost everybody I deal with has that fear. What we’re talking about earlier, the first thing people have to do is to take accountability and ownership and move into that fear. To move into that vulnerability, to take action when they’re not sure of the results and to focus on a singular purpose. Before American Gladiators, was all about you’re drunk with adoration.
I always thought that adoration and all the applause was love. It wasn’t until I made the shift to realize that everything is an inside game. That it’s a mind game and to find that love within myself, for myself that I had the biggest shift which allowed me to have the inner peace, the happiness, the connectedness that I think that we all want.
Shani: What you’re saying. I think, resonates so much with so many people especially the folks that I interact with. A lot of people that are my clients or just even in my sphere of influence have had really big careers in whatever field it is, maybe it’s in investment banking, or law or acting or whatever it is. At a certain point they’re done, they want act B or act two, plan B, act two and a lot of people don’t know how to successfully make the shift in the identity from, “I’m an investment banker, or I’m a lawyer,” to what’s next.
It’s like you spend decades with a certain identity. I think it’s so humanizing and I thank you for being vulnerable and sharing this because everyone goes through this whether they want to admit it or not.
Dan: Right. No, I’ve had so many shifts in my life and I have a saying, “Don’t give up on you just because they gave up on you.”
Shani: Yes, all that matters is what you think of you. It doesn’t really matter what other people think at the end of the day, right?
Dan: Yes, I have trusted people that their opinion matters to me but if I could list for you every time I failed, every dream that I had that wasn’t realized, every goal that wasn’t met, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I could not get out of bed in the morning. My shift has come from again understanding the inner game, and understanding that the new success is inner peace because inner peace is what I want more than anything else. I want to wake up and feel like my heart’s open. I want to go to sleep at night knowing that I was active throughout the day as a human being that I strive to be. I guess the first step for me was to re-define success. I’ve heard of German cars in the driveway and this is even after Gladiators.
I’ve had the $5 million home and there was still something empty inside of me. I think a lot of it was, Shani, having the heart attack. In that moment when I was at the hospital from the ambulance and I asked the doctor, I said, “Am I going to die?” The doctor said to me, and I was hoping getting a pat on the back, “No, we got you.” He just says, “I don’t know. We’re going to do the best we can but we need to get you in surgery.” There was like a 15-minute gap between they got me into surgery.
In that time, there was only one thing that was important to me. I didn’t care how many cars I had, I didn’t care how many homes, I didn’t care about the plaques on my wall. All I wanted were the people that I loved close to me and then I wanted them to know how much I loved them. I’m so grateful for that experience because, for me, it gave me the answers to the test of life before the test.
Now all these principles and all these ideas that I felt in those moments about what happiness, what inner peace was, what success was. I’ve gotten a chance to go and study those and apply those to my life and I rebuilt my life based upon those principles. As a way to remember what was important to me, I wrote a book, my second book called F Dying.
Shani: Then there is a subtitle to it too if you wouldn’t mind saying what it is.
Dan: How Cheating Death Kicked My Ass into Learning, Loving, and Living My Best Life.
Shani: Yes, love that.
Dan: That was the key and that book has been so empowering for a lot of people because it wasn’t about success principles, it was how to be happy, how to feel fulfillment, how to have inner peace, how to have connectedness. I’ve had everything, I’ve had such a great life and I’ve had everything. Again, I’ve had everything and a lot of times it felt like nothing. Now I have a good amount but I have something that I own and that’s my inner peace.
Shani: Yes, and you can’t put a price tag on that.
Dan: Yes and just to be clear for your listeners, it’s not I walk around in bliss all the time, it’s I still get angry. When someone cuts me off, I still start to flip them off and I still have tense interactions. I’m just able to resolve them quicker and get back to that place that I want to be. In more situations, I’ve been able to respond instead of react and I’m always learning.
Shani: I just taught a class on that to a big group of leaders in a fortune 50 technology company last week.
Dan: Excellent, so yes you know exactly what I’m saying. When I have that inner peace and then I have the knowledge that inner peace, there’s always a place that’s peaceful inside of me. I’m a big, huge believer in meditation of visualization. I have everything good in my life because of these and the work I put forward. When I know that regardless of what’s going on here there’s a place of deep, inner peace in me and I’m used to connecting with that, man. does that help me in those situations.
Another thing, Shani, is I realize just for a moment that it’s not all about me. That’s the hard part. [laughs]
Shani: That’s actually a good segue to the other thing I wanted to ask you about which is your nonprofit, I think it’s called 10,000 Pounds?
Dan: No that’s not mine. That’s an older one that I don’t follow anymore.
Shani: I read about it, it’s somewhere.
Dan: Yes, the last six years, most of my philanthropy has gone to talk about curing autism where I’ve raised $300,000 for them. That’s where the philanthropy has gone.
Shani: Is that raised through the Gladiator Rock ‘N Run?
Dan: Yes, it’s one of my businesses, yes exactly. I have an obstacle adventure race that I started eight years ago and I wanted to bring something to people that I wanted to do in a physical sense that wasn’t just 5k or a 10k. I did that for 10 years and now I’m shifting into full-time public speaking, writing, seminars because I get such joy and satisfaction and happiness when I can use stuff that I know which seems like second nature to me and I can help people transform their lives.
I cannot tell you how much satisfaction and happiness that brings to me when someone’s grateful and they thank you when you’re coaching and working with them like, “Oh my God, I didn’t know if I was going to make it.” I started working with you and I’ve been the happiest I’ve been. My wife is ecstatic, there’s been such a change, my parents, my friends, everybody sees it and that just says, “Wow, this is why I’m here.”
Shani: If anybody listening or watching is interested in working with you or getting in touch with you, how would they do that?
Dan: They can’t, they just can’t it’s impossible. That’s part of the work for them. You really want to find, if you really want to seek, you really want to find you must seek.
Shani: Okay, fair enough.
Dan: I’m kidding. You can find me. [laughs] I’m on social media though, Dan Nitro Clark on Instagram and on Facebook. Then I’m going to be starting a giveaway. My book’s been out for 18 months. It was a best seller and what I’m going to do now is I’ve decided the book was never F Dying, my second book was never about making money. It was about putting a message out in the world so in the next two to three weeks, I’m going to just give the book away for free to everybody.
It will be on website dannitroclark.net so look for that and look for me on social media, you’ll be able to get a copy of my best. It’s not like a little ebook. It’s like 240 pages, I’m sorry, there is reading to do.
Shani: It sounds like you’ve got lots of interesting stories to share that would easily fill 240 pages.
Dan: Yes, a lot of times people say, “Here is my free book and just pay me $9.95 for shipping.
Shani: Shipping and handling. [laughs]
Dan: Right, that always kills me. I look at a lot of the brand gurus, advice gurus, “Here, get my free book, and it’s $9.95 for shipping.”
Shani: No, I know your book is the real deal as I feel mine is too. [laughs]
Dan: Yes, so I’ll be giving a digital download free of the whole book as a PDF file for people I think starting in two weeks or probably by the time this podcast airs, you can just go find me at F Dying. I will ask for an email so I can be in contact with you so you’ll know.
Shani: Perfect, well thank you so much for joining us on The Leadershift Show today. It was great to have you.
Dan: I had such a good time, I feel like we’re kindred spirits and we really connect and I appreciate your advice and the wisdom that you’re putting out into the world.
Shani: Likewise, absolutely. I feel the same way and leadershifters to close off, let’s just recap some of the amazing things that we talked about today with “Nitro. Ask better questions you’re going to get better answers so that you can respond instead of react. Start to shift your language from “I have to.” to “I get to.” because everything is a choice in life. Start celebrating those little wins. We don’t always have to hit the home run, singles and doubles are just as much reason to celebrate.
Think about if you are on the back end of your career, what is most important to you and how are you finding connection and relationship and how are you giving back so that you get that sense of inner peace so that you don’t have regrets?
Dan: Inner peace is the new success.
Shani: As many of you who’ve followed me for a long time now, one of my other taglines is live and lead with no regrets.
Dan: I love that.
Shani: Sorry, what was the last thing you said?
Dan: I said inner peace is the new success.
Shani: Innerpeace is the new success, amen. Amen and namaste, thanks again, Dan. Leadershifters, see you next time.