Living behind guarded gates: an interview with Mick Ukleja


Last year, I believe, I got to meet and interview best-selling author Mick Ukleja. I am kicking myself for not sharing this great moment in this blog.Best-selling author Mick Ukleja photograph by Duffboy

At the time of the interview, he had been 7 times to Guatemala.

More of a pleasure visit instead than just business, right?

Well, it`s never been just pleasure, although he [his liaison] tries to make it fun. [laughs]

According to your research, what are the most common reasons why people experience self-doubt?

That`s a great question, by the way. I think we often times don`t understand that we have more strength and willpower that we do. We look at everybody else,  looking at people and comparing ourselves. And so, I`m looking outside of myself, I`m looking at you and seeing: “Gee, he`s better looking than me, he`s smarter than me”. People never feel good enough: “It`s not enough, I`m not pretty enough, I`m not smart enough, I don`t have enough money”. Everybody, by the way, has self-doubt. The key is to realize that there`s no reason to have that self-doubt, that if we can begin to discover who we are deep down inside and discover that we have strengths and that we have talents, gifts, we can do just about it anything we want.

My problem will come when I compare myself with you. When I start comparing myself with you instead of seeing what I really have to offer I will always begin to self-doubt. Most people do that. If I were to say to you, “[What are you] on a scale of 1 to 10 (I`m not sure what you would say)” what would you say?

I would say I`m probably between a 6 or a 7.

And I would say you`re [grading yourself]  low. I see about an 8 or 9 in you. But, see, we always doubt ourselves. What I began to realize is we`re all in the same boat and we need to, rather than have self-doubt, look and see what I have to offer. I call it “self-leadership” and self-leadership means that I need to discover the strategies, behaviors and habits that will help me exert influence over myself and I can deploy my best self. I have a lot to offer and if I develop my own gifts, my own strengths, my own talents and look for ways to serve other people.

By the way, that’s another thing, one of the key things about self-doubt… the best way I can get over my self-doubt is that I can look to solve one of your problems: how can I help you become better? And it’s amazing how that self-doubt begins to go away. When I start to serve other people, which are my motivations, I want to serve you, by looking for ways to make you better, my self-doubt begins to go away, begins to fade. So, life-long service, life-long I have to maximize my talents but I see those talents as me reaching out and serving someone else. And if people would just begin to do that and start to believe in themselves just a bit, and realize what they’ve been given, they have so much to be thankful for. It’s amazing how that works.

Does society intentionally hold people back from pursuing their passions?

I think society is made up of people and I think I’m not sure society does that. I think there’s some that do that but I think we hold ourselves back. It’s easy for me to blame society, it’s easy to blame my parents for holding me back, it’s easy for me to blame you for holding me back. I can blame him for holding me back and I can blame my ancestry for holding me back. I always tell people this: “you need to be a parent of your future and not just an offspring of your past”, and that’s a big difference right there. I am here today, where am I going to be tomorrow? I need to parent my future, be my own parent. And what do I want out of the future? Not just: “I’m stuck in this situation”. I think we hold ourselves back more than society does. I think I’ve been my biggest enemy, I get in my way more than you get in my way.

How does accountability play a part in building an individual’s character?

It’s huge because nobody does anything by themselves. There’s the two great forces in life: a force for togetherness and a force for separateness, and these need to be kept in balance. If the force for togetherness gets too strong then I get enmeshed in other relationships, I don’t think for myself. It’s the herd instinct or group think or mob psychology. If it’s too separate, then I cut off all learning, no feedback loops, and I’m by myself, I’m independent, where the balance is that we’re interdependent. And… what was the question again? [Laughs] I can’t grow in a vacuum; I have to have people around me because we all have blind spots. There are areas of my life that are open, that I know about, that you know about, that I will let you see. There areas of my life that are secret, because I’m embarrassed to let you know about them, so I kinda hide those. There are areas of my life that you see, that I don’t see, and you two will talk about me but you don’t talk to me about it so I don’t grow. I might have spinach on my teeth or something in my face, and you see it but you don’t tell me, how am I gonna know that? Or you might see me with some particular personality thing that I do that irritates people, I could do one of two things with that information: I can reject you and run away and keep the blind spot and not grow, or I can say: “You know what? You’ve got a good point there” and I grow as a result of that feedback, feedback is the breakfast of champions and breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I must make myself accountable to you and I do it voluntarily because it’s in my best interest. I’m going to grow as a result of that.

Could you explain the relationship between peak performance and peak purpose?

Good question. You can’t have a peak performance without a peak purpose. Clarity of purpose really helps me understand what I want to do. Clarity of purpose also gives me clarity of conduct, so when I understand what my purpose is, who I am and whos I am, that ties in beautifully with what I want to do. When I finally get a vision of what I want to do, and that purpose and what I’m all about, it’s amazing how that begins to focus my performance. Also, at that stage, I know what I’m not supposed to do because we live in a target-rich environment: there’s so many options, so many things, I get a 100-some emails a day. I have to learn how to say no. You can’t concentrate unless you eliminate. You gotta eliminate a lot of stuff so you can concentrate on what it is you’re about. So, having that purpose will lead to a peak performance. I can dabble in all these little things or I can focus on what I’m supposed to be doing and that’ll lead to my peak performance. The secret of concentration is elimination, so I have to learn to say no to a lot of stuff so I can focus on what I’m supposed to be doing. Once you find out what your purpose is, your peak purpose, it’s amazing how that makes you even smarter. You don’t really get smarter but you think you’re smarter because you’re focused. When I was in school, en la escuela secundaria, I got good grades, but not great. I got to college and I got good grades. Then, when I started discovering what it is I really wanted to do, I started getting really good grades. Now, what happened?  Did I get smarter all of a sudden? Not really. I started to focus. There’s a guy, Marvin Minsky, who was one of the fathers of artificial intelligence, and he says that point of view or purpose increases your IQ by 80 points. I’m not sure if that’s totally correct, but the point being is that it really helps you focusing to be a lot smarter. I was so much smarter once I started focusing on what I wanted to do, cause I could say no to all these things, and I was excited and passionate about this and it sort of started igniting all the synapses’ in my head, they start firing. I got excited!

I bet. You already talked about self-leadership, so if you could expand a little bit about what it means.

Let me just start off by saying that if you can’t lead yourself you can’t lead other people and old forms of leadership were How can I influence you? By the way, leadership is simply influence, everybody is a leader because we influence somebody. Some people influence a lot of people, some people influence just a few people. Self-leadership would be those strategies, behaviors and habits that help me exert influence over myself because I get in the way of me being a good leader. If I can’t lead myself, I can’t lead others, and self-leadership is the key for me being effective as a leader because who I am as a person is what most impacts a system, not the amount of data I know, not the amount of skills I have, not the amount of information I possess. That’s all good stuff, we call those threshold competencies or strengths: they get you in the door, they get you the job but who I am as a person most impacts that system and that’s been proven over and over again, it’s been called everything from emotional intelligence to moral intelligence, all the rest. MBA’s, people that get an MBA, for instance, 30% of their success in work and their career is based on their skills, 70% is based on their ability to lead themselves (emotional intelligence). I impact the system more than I would ever think. You can walk into your office and you can know what kind of day it’s going to be, you can sense the tension in the room. You can go home to your esposa, you know what kind of evening it’s going to be. You can sense it, it’s contagious. So, if I can lead myself when I go into the work place, if I have your best interest in mind, the atmosphere changes immensely and you will follow me off a cliff. Self-leadership is so important. It’s about the people I’m leading.

Psychologists will tell us that the healthiest emotion you can have is gratitude. If you are grateful for the things you have, it’s amazing how that makes you more content and really increases your happiness. I know people with a lot of money… by the way, money can happy but only to an extent; at that point they’ve done all kinds of studies on happiness that discovered that some people physically disabled are happier than some people with lots of money. Why? Because they have more to appreciate. I think a lot of it is just your whole attitude. Most people focus on what they don’t have and not on what they do have. Study after study shows that: no matter how much I get, if I’m not careful I’ll focus on what I don’t have, rather on what I do have. I call it “book-end your day”. In the morning be thankful for the things you have, at the end of the day be thankful for the things that you have. We call it “counting your blessings” I call it a gratitude grip. We have so much that we can be happy about and thankful for. I come from the United States and let me tell you, there are a lot of unhappy people there. I could bring them to certain places around the world where there’s poverty and find people in those impoverished areas that are happier than these people living behind guarded gates.

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