The Driven Life: Mike Arning on team-building, public speaking and staying organized

Mike Arning (right) has moderated some major NASCAR press conferences, including the one where Tony Stewart announced he was retiring and that Clint Bowyer would replace him. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via Getty Images)

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: Mike Arning, founder and senior vice president of True Speed Communication.

If someone out there is wanting to get started in the PR world and they’re not already down the road in their career, what’s a good first step for people who are in college now?

Probably the biggest thing is — and I don’t care how much media changes — the written word is still incredibly valuable. That might be counter to what some people think, as the print industry continues to consolidate and things like that. But even with digital media, how you frame a social media post, regardless of the platform, how you word it can really be the difference between something that gets a lot of engagement and something that doesn’t.

Even as media continues to become more socially driven and more digital, traditional media still exists. It hasn’t gone away, nor do I think it will ever go away. So something like a concisely written press release that also is a bit creative that helps cut through the clutter — because how many press releases do you get in your inbox on Sunday? It’s a ton. You can’t read them all. But if someone can deliver you quality news that’s accurate, that is concise, that’s not going to waste your time and is actual news — not just a bunch of fluff — you’re far more likely to click on that than anything else.

So the written word is massively valuable. I feel like I can teach anybody a lot of different things, but if they can’t write, that’s a tough one. So if they can work on that, they already have a big step in the right direction. But then they have some tangible stuff to show, whether it’s a newsletter, a press release, social media post, and then I can see what they’ve actually done, and to me, seeing is believing.

So when you started doing this, I think you were just a one-man show at the start, right? And now how many people work for True Speed?

So including me and my wife, we have 11 people now. So it was me, myself and I for a long time. We took a bit of a leap of faith. Kellye, my wife, was the breadwinner of the family. She was the station manager of Radio Disney down in Atlanta, had Disney benefits and everything, but we were like two ships passing in the night. I’m traveling to all these races, and she’s pulling off events for Radio Disney — because you aren’t so much selling AM radio as you are creating events around Radio Disney. So she’d have events 5 to 7 o’clock at night during the week and here I am getting on a plane leaving Thursday and coming home Monday because we lived in Atlanta at the time.

After beating my head against the wall to try to grow the business from handling Home Depot and Joe Gibbs Racing and Tony Stewart, we finally started scoring some wins. We started representing GlaxoSmithKline and Interstate Batteries with Joe Gibbs Racing and SunTrust and IMSA with Wayne Taylor Racing, and I needed to hire people.

It just became a lot, and Kellye’s really smart — she’s my best friend — and we went all-in on True Speed Communication. It was nerve-wracking, and sometimes it still is, because it’s truly all on us to make it work. But it has worked. I think the fact she’s smart and knows things that quite honestly I don’t and is better at things that I’m just not as good at, but then there are things that I know well, and that’s what allowed us to really grow this thing.

And then I still keep my hands dirty. I try to give all my folks, especially on the NASCAR side, eight weekends off. It doesn’t always end that way, depending on what events we have on a race weekend or things like that. But like this weekend, I’m subbing for one of my reps — so I am a PR rep, I’m representing the No. 14 IT Savvy team with Clint Bowyer.

So I know what goes on during a race week and I know what my reps are dealing with. I know the demands on the drivers’ time, I know the expectations of the media, I know what NASCAR expects with the new post-qualifying and the new post-race procedures in regard to media. And I feel like if I didn’t have my hands in it, I don’t know how understanding I’d be of it. So I think that helps keep me pretty nimble in terms of what’s happening.

As a boss, for people out there in management roles, how important do you think it is for whatever the job they’re overseeing that they occasionally dip into it and do that?

I think it’s really important. There isn’t anything I’m asking of my folks that I haven’t done in the past or are doing right now. This morning, before I left the hotel, I built the post-race template we use to send to all the internal partners at Stewart-Haas Racing, who are one of our clients. So it’s ready to go so as soon as we have results. There’s someone who’s not at the track who can just plug in the stats and everything, turn around and hit send, so that whether (the recipient is) a CEO or the motorsports marketing manager, they know what went on with Stewart-Haas Racing right after the race. I had someone build that, I proofed it and edited it, and that went out this morning.

So it’s little things like that, but it helps grease the wheels, it helps for a quick turnaround. But most importantly for me, I know in my head what the stats are for our driver. For instance, if Kevin Harvick wins today, that will be his 10th win here at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, and he’ll join only six other drivers who have 10 or more wins at a specific track. If I don’t put that together, I don’t know that stat. So if Harvick does win and I’m in victory lane and FOX is there or MRN radio is there, I can help my rep Joe Crowley, who is on the 4, as he’s handling a bunch of other things. Knowledge is power, and I’ve got these kind of stats in the back of my mind that I can help out with in addition to all the logistical support as well.

You mentioned that you have 11 people now, and so you’ve had to build that team.

When I first started, I really looked at hiring (people with) experience. And I still do, but one of the nice things about having the growth that we’ve had, we’ve finally had the infrastructure and the support to start looking at some younger talent so that we can bring them on and not just throw them at the fire, sink or swim. We have the bandwidth to nurture some of those folks as well.

The learning curve is still steep — it doesn’t mean there’s this long runway. Because quite frankly, drivers, sponsors, media, NASCAR, you can’t make mistakes. Nobody really has any patience for you. You can stub your toe a little bit, but honestly, that’s (why people starting out should) work at your local tracks and then move up to a Truck or Xfinity program. Cut your teeth there, make some mistakes where the spotlight is not as bright so that you are ready for big things here in the Cup Series. Because the spotlight is bright. This is akin to Major League Baseball or the NFL; it’s just not a stick and a ball, it happens to be a race car and an engine and four tires. So it’s the same, and the expectations are high.

Your group spends a lot of time together on the road. How do you make sure that you have the right chemistry on your team? You have to manage conflicts if any come up, so you have to make sure that people are getting along. How do you make sure that you’re hiring people who have the right fit?

I think it’s always a moving target. You try to find people who right off the bat are passionate about the sport and what they do. If they don’t want to be here (that’s a problem). You need to be a fan of the sport, but not a fanboy. There is a difference, because I think I left the hotel at 6:30 this morning and we’re going to have a full race day, we’re going to fly back and we’re going to get (home at) maybe 6 a.m. That’s just what it is, and if that’s going to make you unhappy, then this is not the place for you.

And if you’re just sort of “eh” about racing and it’s just not as big of a deal, each day starts early and there is no end time. The end time is when you’re done. So you have to buy into that, and if someone’s not bought into that, then it’s probably not going to work.

So you’re looking for folks who have the same mindset. At the same time, I also make a bit of an investment in it. I give all my folks their own room on the road, so they have a place to work, a place to just chill out, a place where if they want to call home, they don’t have to worry about going out into the hallway or telling their roommate, “Hey…”

It’s just a little bit easier. It’s more expensive, my margins aren’t as strong, but I think long term it helps me keep the people that I have. Because trying to find a work-life balance in this sport is next to impossible, but if we can at least try, I like to think that the effort we collectively make to try and make those things a little bit better — having their own room on the road, having a sub on a race weekend, when the sub is there theoretically, they don’t have to do anything. It’s handled, because we’ve got an experienced person who is empowered to make decisions. Not just any decisions, but they have the background to make the correct decision as well. So if someone wants to go to a wedding or go to their kid’s birthday or just have a weekend and see what their neighbors do on a Saturday, they can.

I’m kind of jumping around here, but I feel like you do a lot of different things well. One of them is public speaking. You’ve hosted some very high-profile press conferences in the past, whether it’s Danica Patrick coming over to Stewart-Haas or when Tony Stewart had his first press conference after the Kevin Ward incident. If somebody might be nervous about giving a presentation in their own office, what are some tips that you could pass along?

Practice and repetition. I’m able to do that stuff now, and I was not good at it back in the day. I just wasn’t. It’s hard. So here are the things that I’ve found, and it goes back to college to where you just stand and deliver and you take opportunities and you do it.

I was editor of the (college) newspaper. And I think people have a variety of opinions about fraternities, but where I went, I felt like it was practice for the real world. I could run for office and then you had responsibility — you had to engage with the chapter, you had to speak in front of the dean or things like that, all those things helped.

And then as I started working my way up, I first started with Kenny Wallace and FILMAR Racing, a Busch team that went to Cup, and they were a single-car Cup team. So I just had more and more opportunities, and the more you did it, the better you got at.

Now, there are couple of other things that I’ll do. I’ll build a detailed run of show to where, if you write it out, you know what it is, so there’s nothing that can surprise you, you’ve kind of already built your schedule.

And then the second thing that I’ll do is wherever we are, I will go in — ideally when no one’s around — and just see, “Alright, what’s the podium like? Is the microphone voice-activated? Do I have to touch a button? Is there a podium? Do I need to hold the microphone?”

All those little things matter to where if you show up and you haven’t done that prep work and you think there’s a podium, you can put your hands on it, and sort of steady yourself, especially if there is a stressful time — but all of a sudden there’s no podium, you’re just holding a microphone and you’re nervous and it can throw you off your game.

And I know that because I’ve had events where I’m like, “I did a good job on that,” and other events where I literally walk out and hang my head and I’m like, “That was just not my best effort.” But the more you do it, the better you get at it. The more prep work you put into it, in terms of building out a schedule, it just gets you mentally right to do it.

Mike Arning (right) moderates the Stewart-Haas Racing press conference on the 2014 NASCAR Media Tour. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Building out a schedule, managing a team of people, the logistics — you have the F1 stuff that you do for Haas F1 Team as well, so you have people literally all over the world working for you. So how do you stay organized? How do you stay on top of it and not let stuff slide?

In this sport, you can’t just think two or three steps ahead, you’ve got to think 10 or 12. As much as we travel — I’ve got a great wife, I’ve got two awesome kids — when I’m home, I want to be home. So if I’m on an airplane, my head is buried in the laptop. If I’m here in the media center, if I’m not actually facilitating something or executing something, I’m working on what needs to happen with our NASCAR clients in Fontana or what needs to happen with Haas F1 Team in Australia and even Bahrain. I’m just trying to get ahead so when I do get home, I can be somewhat 9 to 5.

It doesn’t always work that way because things always pop up, but if you know you’ve got these deadlines and you can at least get ahead of them, you’re far more ready to deal with the things that will inevitably pop up.

I have an iPhone, I still have an iCalendar, I still do all that digital stuff. But I’m a little old school and I still have a monthly planner where I am writing stuff down. I feel like just writing it down, it’s embedded in my head. Like I know that I’ve already built out Tony Stewart’s schedule for Fontana, but I also know I need to pay attention to practice and qualifying for the race in the Australian Grand Prix, and I know immediately after that we need to turn around and there’s a Bahrain GP advance that needs to get done. But I also know Martinsville is coming up, and I also know there’s the 12 Hours of Sebring with Wayne Taylor Racing. So what do we need to do to get all that stuff together?

Thankfully I have been doing it a long time so I kind of know what needs to happen. But I’m also aware of these series, where they’re racing and the stuff that needs to be done to prepare ourselves and to deliver what we said we were going to do for our clients.

You guys have Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch — and you’re trying to make them look good PR-wise. You have to have some difficult days and challenges with that. So is there anything you could pass along to people as far as what happens on a difficult day — how do you get through it, how do you not lose your cool and how do you just keep moving on without getting your feelings hurt?

I think you always just put forth your best effort. If you get yelled at or if the day just becomes a disaster…if you at least put your best effort forward to where you did everything you knew how to do and tried to do, you were as prepared as possible, even if it all just fell apart you can walk out of the track or lay your head on the pillow and say, “You know what, I honestly put forth my best effort. I did the best that I could.” You take all those learnings and if you’re in the same position on down the road, you’re like, “Alright, if this happens again, I am not going to do that, but I am going to do this.” That’s probably the best thing you can do.

I haven’t batted 1.000, I haven’t even batted .500. There are many things, even when people say, “Hey, that was really good,” if I could have done that over again, I would have done it this way. I am constantly trying to figure out a way to do better, be more efficient, figure it out.

People in this sport get most testy when someone isn’t putting forth the effort because quite honestly, crew chiefs are putting forth the effort, the drivers are, the mechanics, the truck drivers, the media, everybody else is. So if someone’s half-assing it, that’s the thing that will just draw someone’s ire.

And so just don’t half-ass it. I mean, it sounds simple, but we were the first ones to walk into the media center this morning and turn on the lights in the PR room, and we’re prepared for today. I have the time now to talk because we are prepared. We’re good. So put forth your best effort.

Mike Arning was Tony Stewart’s public relations representative for most of the driver’s career.

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.

The Driven Life: Holly Cain on staying positive and surviving adversity

This is the latest in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed interviews involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up next: Holly Cain, the longtime motorsports journalist who now writes for the NASCAR Wire Service.

You’ve been through some tremendous person struggles with breast cancer, where it looked really bad, and you have been able to overcome that and do that with a positive attitude at the same time. Hopefully what you’re saying will apply to people in their own personal struggles, even if it’s not a life or death situation like cancer. With your story, could you just give us some background on what were some of the struggles that you’ve gone through with this whole experience?

Here’s a story people might find kind of interesting, and it really speaks to almost making a choice — making a conscious choice to try and find an upside and a positive to something. When I first went to the doctor to find out what the situation was, I’d found some lumps and thought I needed to go. I got all the testing done and the doctor called back and said, “Can you come in tomorrow? We’d like you to come in and we’ll discuss this” — which is never a positive thing. Usually you think if you’re going to get a phone call, they’ll be like, “You’re all clear.” But they needed me to come in.

I had to tell my doctor at the time, “Could we wait two days?” because I was going to Washington D.C. with Jimmie Johnson to meet the President of the United States and write a story about it. And I remember the doctor laughing and she said, “That’s the best excuse I’ve ever heard not to come in and get your cancer results.”

My point in all of this was, even at a time when I was most scared, I had something else that I could kind of focus on and go to that was wonderful and remains a highlight of my life — to have that opportunity, to be inside the White House, and to do something like that. Looking back at that, (something to focus on was) a lot of what helped me through my darkest days of cancer. I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer; I am HER2-positive, which is kind of like an extra little thing that you get. Most women are not. Nine out of 10 people are not, but I was one out of 10, and it makes the treatment a little bit different and it’s a little bit worse on the cancer. It means it’s a different situation.

But I learned, and going to the White House is an example of this, you really have to focus on something that’s positive or a good to come out of it. Because if you let your mind wander and you let yourself get completely immersed…

I was scared to death, no doubt — I had two young kids at the time who were in middle school, and it was bad cancer. But I knew immediately that I had a choice, I had a conscious choice that I had to make. And on my roughest days, I really had to work hard at it, but you do have that choice and you have to force yourself to think of good things.

That just seems really tough to do. I can’t even put myself in your shoes of somebody saying there’s a decent chance you could die. How can you focus on something positive? What advice would you give to people to even find something positive?

Well that’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of crying, and that there wasn’t going to bed scared at night. That absolutely existed. I’ve never been more scared in my life.

But where I talk about making that choice is you can either go with that and become very sad and very depressed — and that doesn’t help you heal physically either, and my doctors pointed that out. And it sounds great just to say, “Think of a happy thing,” but I would literally lay there as sick as possible (and do that).

When I was so sick, I lost a ton of weight, I could barely lift my head up, I was literally in between chemo, having to go to the hospital every day of the week to get blood infusions just to give me enough energy that I could exist. I did not eat a morsel of food and I could not have a sip of a drink for nearly six months. All of my food and everything came through an IV. That’s how ill I was.

In telling you this, I would literally lay in bed or sit in the chemo chair or sit there getting a blood infusion and force myself to think of something good that happened that day. All of us have something. It may be waking up and seeing an incredibly blue sky — and I know that sounds corny, but if that’s what you’ve got, then that’s what it is. My kids may have made an A that day. It just really became the smallest of things. And it’s really a choice. You have to force yourself to find the upside because once you go down the slope, you go.

So the downside of that I guess is, if you’re not thinking that way, you’re thinking, “This is it…”

Everyone thinks like that at the beginning, especially when you’re diagnosed with a disease like that, especially at such a late stage. Of course you do. It’s not easy to do. It’s not easy. There’s so many days when I would sit there and be scared to death.

But ultimately it came down to, “Do you want to survive? Do you want to overcome?” And you have to decide to do that, and then you have to figure out how to go about it. But you have to make that conscious decision: “I don’t want to die, I want to overcome.” And like you said, it may not be cancer, it may not be an illness, it could be another challenge in life — but you ultimately at some point have to say, “I’m going to get through this.” And then force yourself.

So even if you’ve lost a partner or whatever it may be, the same concept applies to whatever you’re going through. You may not be sick, but you’re like, “OK, I am going to rally myself. I’m going to collect myself and somehow push through.” And it’s not going to be easy.

No, and it can be the smallest of things. It could be like when I was ill, people would reach out to me from NASCAR and I had people reach out to me who I never in a million years would think cared. And you know what? Just that phone call, that note, would mean so much to me, and I would literally think about it all day long. “Oh my gosh, how cool is this? So and so called.” Or, “Somebody sent me a text message. They care.” That helped me go through it.

And I will tell you, I unfortunately had quite a bit of practice of this. I’ve had several things throughout my life, I’ve had close friends of mine pass away at an early age in high school, I’ve gone through divorce, I’ve lost a parent. I’ve had these things, which we all do, we all have things like that happen. But again, it’s a choice and it’s a conscious choice, or maybe it’s an unconscious choice.

So if we can go off on a little bit of a tangent there, because you’ve touched on something, and I’ve always been curious about this. There’s always that thing, like, “What do I say to someone?” There’s nothing that you can say to this person that’s going through something to make them feel better. Like, “Feel better soon,” if somebody’s going through cancer doesn’t seem right. When you’re going through a hard time, is there something in particular that’s helpful to hear, and something in particular that’s not helpful to hear that you could give some insight on for people when they’re reaching out to somebody? What’s the right thing to say?

I discovered, and I hope this doesn’t sound trite, it really doesn’t matter what the person says — it’s that they’re reaching out to you. I couldn’t even tell you specific messages, really. And obviously, in cancer, the “Get well soon,” I know that it’s awkward for someone to figure out what the heck you say to someone going through cancer. Or when someone has lost someone that they love, it’s hard to tell them it will get better.

It’s not so much the specific message, but it’s the sentiment and the care that you went about doing it. I know from my point and I would think a lot of people it’s the same thing: it’s not the specific message, it’s the point that you cared enough to do that.

Even though you say the sentiment is there, is there anything that’s like really unproductive for someone to hear? You know, like medical advice or something like, “Have you tried this?”

That is a good point. I had a lot of medical advice, but again, I chose to look at it more as, that person may feel awkward, they don’t know what to say. It was the fact that they took the time to reach out to me, it didn’t matter what they said.

You felt like they meant well.

I thought they meant well. And you know, the medical advice, if you’re someone who wanted to think about that, I always kind of felt like my doctors had a little more handle on it, so I deferred. But I thought that was maybe the message that the person sending it felt more comfortable doing. So it wasn’t about me. Oftentimes just, “I’m thinking about you,” will work.

So back to like fighting through it when you’re going through things, like you mentioned a divorce and things like that, how do you sort of make gains each day? Because I imagine there’s not going to be one thing that you do that day where it just makes everything go away. So how do you sort of celebrate those gains and recognize that it’s not going to be a battle that can be won overnight?

Well that’s definitely true, and as you mentioned I went through a divorce the same time as the cancer, so I had a lot of real negative energy going on. That’s why I say I would find something and I would force myself to pay more attention to that one thing than I would all of the others. Again, I spent many a day crying, I was very sad, and the worst part of it was not knowing, you know? “Am I going to beat this or aren’t I?” And doctors can’t tell you that. They don’t know necessarily. And someone that you think may think fabulous at fighting it may not be that person. You really have no idea.

It’s the ultimate of the balls being in the air. Again, and they tell you this and it sounds corny, but the attitude, it does make a difference. It’s not easy to get the right attitude and you don’t have it everyday, you’re not going to say that. You don’t have it every day. You really have to fight to have the right attitude, it’s just as important.

You right now are at the other side of things, so you’re living a relatively normal life. Let’s address people who aren’t necessarily going through the battle but who just want to have a better perspective on daily life. Do you have a routine that helps you keep centered? Like what do you do?

I don’t have a routine and it probably sounds corny, but I’m fortunate that I live here in sunny Florida. Seeing a beautiful sunset, seeing a beautiful sunrise, having my kids tell me one positive thing that happened to them during the day, getting a phone call from someone, an email or a text or something like that and really having myself focus more on that than on the bad stuff. I do, I love life, and I didn’t want to give that up. Again, it’s something that’s a conscious or an unconscious decision.

Another thing I’d like to ask you is, even though you can sort of do that with yourself, it’s such a negative world. How do you still stay positive even though there’s a temptation to get sucked into the negativity? It’d be so easy, do you know what I mean?

I look at that almost like a challenge. Yes, you do get sad and the negativity hurts, but I refuse to let it beat me. I feel like if I can beat cancer, I can beat the negativity of someone in my life, I can handle a bad day if someone wants to start something. You know how it is, it’s just everyday steps. Something bad may happen with one of my children, they might get some bad news, so you know what I do? I spend a whole lot of effort trying to find something to bring them up. And when I bring them up, it brings me up. So it’s really not allowing the negative, almost to the point where I just cut it out in my mind, I ignore it.

So it’s just not an option.

Not an option. No. I know it’s not just people who have survived a major illness or something like that, but when I look at it, I have been through so much that I feel like I’m on extra time and I just want to use it in the best way I can, and if I can cheer someone else up, that’s another thing that I think is really important.

I have the most wonderful group of friends, I have a wonderful mom, I have great kids, and I always make sure if I’m down about something else, I reach out to someone and they bring me up. And it may be a different person every time, but I really am surrounded by great people and great friends, and that helps. And sometimes you have to reach out to someone, they may not know you’re going through a difficult situation, but really make use of the great hearts and the great souls who are surrounding you in life.

That’s really interesting that you say that because I feel like there’s a temptation sometimes when somebody’s going through something, we’re like, “I don’t want to bother that person with my problems.” But you’re saying it’s OK to reach out and try to lean on someone and say, “Hey, this is tough for me. I’m going through a struggle right now.”

And you don’t even have to say all the details. Just, “Hey, what’s going on, I thought I’d give you a call. How was your day?” And listen to them talk about it. Get your mind off wherever you’re going through, maybe you end up in the end cheering them up over something and you think, “Wow, I did something good.” And then that feels good. So you’re actually helping yourself to a certain extent by helping somebody else, and that happens quite a lot. And frankly, you may have called somebody because you were feeling down, they never even knew that, you’re helping them out and in the end you’re the one that’s better off. It almost feels selfish.

It’s sort of like little victories and things to celebrate along the way. Not everyday is going to be great, but it doesn’t mean it has to be a horrible day.

Just keep looking up, that’s what I do. Just keep looking up.