The Driven Life: Jose Castillo on your secret recipe for success

This is the latest in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed podcasts (also transcribed for those who prefer to read) involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up next: Jose Castillo, host and emcee of NASCAR Trackside Live and the video boards at Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks.

We talked about finding things that you’re good at, and you seem to feel like that’s a secret to success. You have this crazy stat about people in their jobs not being happy, necessarily…

Yeah, and it all starts with the problem: Why are people unhappy? Why are they going through a life they don’t feel like is successful? And most of the time, the stats show that 70+ percent of people are unhappy in their jobs.

That’s amazing.

It is, and they get up every day, they go to work, they slog through it — and I know people (reading) right now, you’re going, “Man, that’s me.” And then you look at a successful person, right? That could be a race car driver, it could be a celebrity, it could be a business person, and you go, “Why is that person a success? What is it about them that they’ve figured out this magical formula?” And a lot of times, people turn to a book or something like, “If I just do this, I’ll become successful.”

I think it’s pretty simple: It boils down to people that are successful found out what makes them unique, what makes them different — and then they’ve been that person, and they’ve leaned into it, they’ve worked hard and they’ve very clearly defined success for themselves.

When you see that, a person that finds out what they were made to do and then they lean into it, you can see change — whether it’s change in the world or change in the people around them. I believe people can find that. They can find their own success.

So let’s say somebody reads that and they’re like, “That’s all good, but where would I even possibly start either looking for something else or finding what I’m good at? I don’t know what I’m good at.” How would someone even begin that process?

I love the Mark Twain quote where he says, “The two most important days in a person’s life are when they’re born and when they find out why.” And that, I think, is a critical moment for successful people when they figure out what’s their own unique piece they’ve been given. What are their gifts? What are their talents?

And part of that is an exploration project. You’ve got to find out what makes you different, and everybody’s different. That’s the other thing — I think a lot of people look at a successful person, they’re like, “Well, in order to be that, I have to be exactly like them.” And it’s not true at all. Most successful people are unique in their own right, they’ve figured out something that makes them different and they’ve leaned into that.

So the first thing you need to do is figure out what your own secret recipe is, and I like to do that by looking at history. A lot of times, we’re a blend of that nature vs. nurture, where some of it is genes from our parents, some of it is our surroundings that we’ve grown up in. But it’s a blend of that, and we need to explore that.

So the first thing you can do is find out your history. Where are you from? Your parents, your grandparents, your family, your lineage or ethnicity, your heritage, all of those things play into what makes you unique. And I think a lot of times, people shy away from that. They’re nervous about where they came from or maybe they didn’t grow up with money or maybe they didn’t grow up with the best family life or whatever that may be, and they’re shy or nervous about digging back into the past or the history.

Once you find out who you are, the second thing is you have to embrace it. You have to be like, “You know what This is who I am. This is where I’ve come from and this is what I’m going to be.” And I think it takes time and effort to do that, and that’s why I love history and why I love old photos and going back and talking to family members. I think any time you do a deep dive into your history, you start to find more about what makes you you.

I’ll tell a quick story. So I’ve been doing emcee hosting in NASCAR going on my 14th season. I had never been in NASCAR before that, and if you go back and listen to the podcast we did last year, you can hear some of that story. But I found out just a few years ago that my grandfather, who I never met and passed away in Mexico City, had announced a big baseball game. He had owned an arts studio and they had found out and it was like, “Oh, Joe Castillo’s big personality, we should get him to announce this game.” So I found out after being in NASCAR for years announcing and emcee hosting, that my grandfather had done that years ago — and that made that connection even stronger to me of why I am the way I am, because of the things that have happened in my past and my legacy and the people who have been a part of my life.

So your grandfather, it seems like was a big personality — your father (Joe Castillo) was on America’s Got Talent, is that correct?

Yeah, that’s right.

And he was very successful.

Yeah, he was.

And so obviously the performance aspect of being up on stage also runs in the family. So it sounds like you look back on that toolkit and you’re like, “Maybe this is something I’m inclined to be good at.”

Definitely. And I love telling the story about my dad just because a lot of people aren’t patient. If you’re not a follower of Gary Vaynerchuk, you need to be. He’s a friend of mine, we met years ago, and one of the most important things he says is to be patient. Nowadays, everybody wants everything now, and sometimes it takes time to develop and it takes dedication and hard work to get to where you want to go.

So my dad, world famous, was a finalist on America’s Got Talent, came in fifth place overall. Sand story artist Joe Castillo, you can search his name and find out about the sand artist. He didn’t become a star worldwide on America’s Got Talent until he was over 60 years old. Spent his whole life very successful in his own right — had an advertising agency and did commercial art — but his moment of success and becoming this worldwide celebrity wasn’t until later in life. He had kind of gone out and retired a little bit and all of a sudden, boom, this thing happens and his whole life had led him to that.

So patience is required. I think for a lot of people, they want it right now. But sometimes you just have to go, “You know what, I’m just going to work hard, stay the course, and if this thing happens, it’s going to happen.”

Once you’ve gone back and maybe researched a little bit about yourself, where would somebody go from there?

So once you find out what your secret recipe is, what I love to do is write it down. Write it down, put it on a piece of paper, and then judge it — take it to your friends, your family and be like, “Hey, here’s what I found out, I am these three or five things. This is who I am: I’m dependable, I’m reliable, I’m humorous, I love to be around people” — whatever it is, write it out, test it with people, and then put it in front of yourself so that you’re reminded every day when you do something, here’s how I should act.

And if you’re not acting in those ways, then you’re probably not in the right fit with your job or your life because if you really test and go, “OK, I’m this type of person, but man when I do this thing over here, I don’t feel like myself, I don’t feel like I’m getting any gratification from this or any joy” — that’s when a lot of people say you need to work in your passion, you need to find something you have joy in. And I think that’s true to a point, but I also think you can have joy in any of those moments if you’re following those principles that you’ve laid out for yourself.

So come up with your secret recipe, write it down, share it with people and then make sure that you’re playing it out in everyday life and in work that you do and your home life and your community. And when you start to recognize that and then see it played out, then you’ll kind of be able to know, “Oh, I’m in the right place, I’m doing the right thing, I’m doing what I should be doing.” Or, “I’m not, and I need to change.”

It sounds like for a career,  if things come easy or natural, that’s probably the right fit — but if you’re fighting it or it’s forced or something, you’re maybe not doing the right thing. Is that what I’m interpreting here?

Exactly. And you see people, you can spot them a mile away, that are trying to be something that they’re not. And you see somebody who’s either pretend or fake or they’re trying to put on airs and be someone they’re not and you can spot them a mile away. And then you look at people who are passionate in what they do and they love what they do, and it’s genuine and honest and you can tell. You can just look at somebody and go, “Man, they are doing what they were made to do.” And that’s what I love to see, is people who have found that and who are able to pursue it.

I would add a note in there that defining success is really important. Success is different for everyone. It could be money, it could be providing for their family, it could be success from a legacy standpoint of leaving something behind. So you need to make sure that you’re careful with how you define success. For most people, it might be, “I want to see somebody’s life changed” or “I want to make a million dollars.” Whatever it is. But if you don’t define that for yourself, then anything that comes along can kind of change your vision and move you around, so you have to be really focused on that.

Let’s say you have this written out and you’ve talked to your friends and they go, “Yeah, you are a kind-hearted person who would be good at this,” or something, right? How do you even get the courage to start saying, “OK, I’m going to start doing something about it.” Because it’s one thing to say, “I’d love to do this, maybe I could do this,” but people who’ve been doing something for a long time, it’s hard to get the courage to make a change.

The number one killer of dreams is fear. People are afraid of what if, what will happen. And we all experience that fear in our life at some points. I think one of the most important things is to think about experience. So you look back on your life and you’re like, “OK, I was really afraid of this moment.” And then when it happened, did it really turn out as bad as you thought it did? Most of the time, no.

Our brains are amazing at coming up with these stories that are never going to come to light. You sit there in your head and you’re like, “OK, I’m going to go ask my boss for a raise.” And you’re like, “No, he’s going to say no, and he’s going to yell and scream.” And then you go do it, and he doesn’t. You’re like, “Oh, I made that out in my mind to be bigger than what it was.” So first is recognizing that your brain can trick you, and you need to not be afraid in those moments and step into it and see, “OK, what will happen on the positive side? What good things could happen out of this?” to step over those fears.

But the other thing to do is surround yourself with the right people. I tell people all the time that you will become the average of your five closest friends. And when you say that to some people, their eyes kind of light up a little bit and they’re like, “Oh no. Who am I hanging out with?” Because you really will become the average of those five people that you hang around with.  So if they’re successful in what they’ve done, a greater likelihood is that you’re going to be successful. If they’re not successful, guess what? The greater likelihood is that you’re not going to be successful. So surrounding yourself with the right peer group and making sure that they’re cheering you on and they’re helping you get to the next level, is probably one of the most important things that you can do.

That’s such a great point because when you’re around cynical people or negative people, and you tend to want to join in and be like, “Yeah, that’s right, that sucks,” or something. And when you’re around happy people or positive people, who like you said are cheering you on and encouraging you, you’re like, “Yeah, maybe I can do this!” You know what I mean?

One hundred percent. And that’s what I love about a good team, is that you see it being one that works well together, that functions on a high level — and 99 times out of 100, they’re encouraging each other. They’re cheering each other on. They’re being humble and serving each other and helping each other out, and that’s something that is opposite of what most people think about when they think about being a successful person or successful teams. They think, “Well they’re out for themselves. They’re out just for number one.” But that’s not true. You look at the really good teams in life, and the really successful people, and there’s that level of humility and service that’s a part of the group that makes that person successful.

Let’s go back for a moment to the act of writing things down, because you mentioned that was important to write down your goals. Why do you think the writing part in particular, actually having it on a piece of paper and looking at it, why is that so important?

Well they did a couple studies, one of them in the Harvard Business Review, where they took a bunch of students and they said, “We’re going to feed them information and then give them a test to see how well they remember it.” And so first they said, “We’re just going to put them in a room and listen to a talk and see how well they remember that.” Then it was, “We’re going to put them in a room and have them listen to a talk and we’re going to have them write down on their laptops this information.” And the final one was, “We’re going to put them in a room, have them listen to information and then have them write it down with a pencil and paper.” And all the studies across the board showed writing things down with a physical pen to paper was vastly more effective for remembering and retaining information.

So first of all, the studies show that if you write something down with a pen and paper, you will remember it better. Step One is just being able to remember it, because this stuff flashes through our brain and it’s gone. The second thing is, when you do that over and over again, you start to tell your brain, you start to train your brain that these things are important to you. So finding out those things of who you are — some people call it a mission statement or a vision statement or whatever — but it’s really just who you are and how you should treat others. And when you write those things down again and again, those things start to become a pattern in your brain and your brain goes, “Yeah, this is who I am, this is how I need to act.”

It’s one thing I always do and you’ll see me — if anybody’s running around (at the track), come up to me and say, “Jose, I want to see your notebook.” In my back pocket every single day I carry a notebook, one every month, and I write in it at the very beginning what my mission statement is and how I should act every day. I do that every month. I fill up one of these little notebooks and I’ll tell you, it helps. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, writing stuff down.

Jose Castillo shows off one of his monthly notebooks.

That’s so cool. I’ve actually wanted to do something like that for myself but I need to take the step to do it because it’s a reminder to yourself to do it.

It is, and it’s something where if you do something again and again, you’ll start to see patterns and things emerge with it that you’re not catching yourself, because you will. You’ll start to go down a path and you’ll wake up one day and be like, “This is not who I am. This is not who I set out to be. Why did that happen?” So that ritual of just writing things down can be really important for you.

Another thing, to go back to give people a couple more resources, is taking personality tests. We all take them when we get a new job or whatever, but they’ve become really popular. There are multiple personality tests out there that I could encourage you to go take, and that can really help you with finding out what your mission is, your “why”statement.

The hot one right now is Enneagram, and it’s a personality test, you go and it gives you kind of your strengths and how you should be acting when you’re in the right place, and how you’re going to act when you’re not in the right place, etc. Another one is StrengthsFinder 2.0, which is done by Gallup research, it’s another great one.

But taking those tests, they’re like $20 bucks online, you go take it, it gives you a nice, little eight, 10 sheets of paper that basically tells you your personality, who you are. And out of that, it’s very easy for you to kind of write your mission statement and be like, “Here’s who I am, and here’s how I act.”

When you write that down — and again, you want to make sure you test it — ask your friends, your family, your wife, your kids, “Hey, is this me?” “OK, yeah.” “Great, well then that’s how I should act.” And you start writing that down and it helps you stay on track.

What else am I missing as far as this journey that I didn’t ask you about that could help people on this road to changing their life?

The end goal is so important, and it’s that secret recipe that I believe everybody is unique and different. I really think that no one else has ever existed in the history of the world just like you. And if you think that’s the truth — and science backs it up — then why are we going about our life unhappy? If you’re the only one who has ever existed just like you, then you are super rare, and that’s something that needs to be shared with the world.

And so when you find out what your recipe is, the fact that you’re totally unique should inspire you to go, “Man, I need to share this with people,” because there’s nothing else like it! This is it; this is the only one that’s ever existed. So what better reason to share who you are than the fact that it’s super rare? Nobody else is going to see that.

So I think the encouragement that I would say to everybody listening right now is find out what makes you unique, find out who you are, why are you here, and then share that. And when you start to share that, and people give their information back, I think a lot of people are nervous about sharing who they are with somebody. It’s getting beyond that elevator conversation. Once you start to really dig in and you’re comfortable with sharing who you are with somebody else, that’s when it’s going to be really easy for you to define what success looks like, and you’re going to get there much quicker.