An Inside Look at Dan Clark...Living An Extraordinary Life
By Michael Young
Husband, Father, Speaker, Entertainer, Songwriter, Recording Artist, New York Times Best Selling Author, Football Player, Fighter Pilot and Actor...
Steve Jobs once toasted, “Here’s to the misfits, the rebels, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently, who push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
If you have ever met Dan Clark or listened to one of the more than 6,000 keynote speeches he has delivered in all 50 states, in over 71 countries, on six continents, or watched one of his thought-provoking videos, you might agree that Clark could be one of those “rebels who are changing the world” that Jobs describes above. Clark, a longtime Utahn, might even be considered by some to be one of the “most interesting men in the world.”
Clark has a resume and a list of talents and life experiences that cannot be matched by many in this world. But it is Clark’s remarkable life and his broad spectrum of accomplishments and trials that qualifies him to teach not just what he knows, but who he is, what he lives.
He is founder and CEO of an international communications and leadership development firm; a high-performance business coach; New York Times best-selling author of 35 books; Gold Record songwriter; university professor; alumnus of the University of Utah (psychology, 1979); host of "Power Players” podcast; and an award-winning athlete who fought his way back from a paralyzing injury that cut short his football career. In 2005, Clark was inducted into the National Speakers Hall of Fame, and both Achievers Global and eSpeakers have named Clark one of the top 10 motivational speakers in the world.
Clark is also a primary contributing author to the “Chicken Soup For The Soul” series, where his famous story “Puppies For Sale” was made into a film at Paramount Studios starring Jack Lemmon. He has appeared on more than 500 television and radio programs including Oprah, Glenn Beck, and NPR, has been featured in Success, Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, Utah Business, Mayo Clinic, Thought Masters and Millionaire magazines and has been on NBC, ESPN, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and more
His determination pushed him to excel in various fields from a young age, which includes sports, academics, and music. As a youth, Clark said, he realized he was different from the other extraordinarily talented people in his family and often felt he was “falling short of other’s expectations.” “But for some reason, and without knowing it, I was able to embrace Sigmund Freud’s ‘Law of Sublimation.’ While most allow pain and anger and discouragement to break them down and hold them back, Freud teaches to use it as a motivator. When someone says, ‘You can’t,’ I would say ‘Oh, yeah, watch me!’ and I would immediately start putting in the necessary work and required perseverance to prove them wrong,” he said.
At the age of eight, Clark battled a cancerous abscess in his throat near his vocal cords. “It is my first recollection of having to face real fear and come to grips with the longterm, lingering ramifications of emotional pain,” he said.
"My purpose-driven mission is to change the world one moment, one speech, one book, one song, one person at a time.”
As a young boy Clark was regularly bullied, teased, and beat up at school, and was “forced to learn to fight,” he said. “The silver lining to that part of my story is that I became the state Golden Gloves boxing champion in high school.” To strengthen his vocal cords following throat cancer, Clark began singing and writing hundreds of songs, which eventually led to him recording three solo albums and receiving a Gold Record in country music.
“One of the most devastating experiences in my childhood was when the teachers and school administrators in elementary and junior high school didn’t know what to do with this curious, high-energy, bored with their curriculum kid, and put me in the special education class because they labeled me as ‘different.’ What did they know?” said Clark. He was motivated to again say “Oh yeah, watch me!” and immediately got straight As to prove to school administrators they were wrong about him and that most of the things we need to learn to be successful and especially significant are not taught in school.
In 1982, Clark was named an Outstanding Young Man in America, was soon sponsored into the National Speakers Association by world-renowned motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, who for the next 30 years personally mentored Dan in the art and science of storytelling and motivational teaching. Today, Clark’s client list reads like a who’s who of successful organizations, including most of the Fortune 500 companies, the United Nations World Congress, the Festival of Thinkers in Abu Dhabi, and to groups as diverse as Apple, NASA, Super Bowl champions, Disney, Walmart, McDonald’s, Harley- Davidson, NIKE, Delta Airlines, State Farm, Cisco, Marriott Hotels, Million Dollar Round Table, AT&T and multiple times “downrange" to U.S. combat troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
His inspiring life includes soaring to the edge of space in a U2 spy plane, where for five hours he witnessed the breathtaking curvature of the earth and pondered eternity and his place in it; flying Air Force bombers, tankers, transporters, and fighter jets, including the Thunderbirds, where he did all the air show maneuvers, catching 9.4 Gs, at twice the speed of sound. Clark has raced automobiles at Nurburgring, camels in Egypt, dog sleds in the arctic, and sailboats in Australia. He served on the U.S. Olympic Committee and carried the Olympic Torch in the 2002 Winter Games. In 2012, he was named Utah Father of the Year!
Clark was a Pentagon-appointed member of the Air Force Chief of Staff National Civic Leaders Board, where he served for five years with three different chiefs. For his extraordinary service to our country, he received the Distinguished Service Medal and the American Spirit Award — the two highest national civilian awards given by the United States Air Force.
“My purpose-driven mission is to change the world one moment, one speech, one book, one song, one person at a time,” he said. Clark has become an expert on the topics of resiliency, leadership, growth mindset, competitive selling, the law of attraction, safety, and creating team and company cultures of what he calls “Significant Partner Leaders.” Clark uses his experiences and expertise “to teach people how to break through limiting beliefs, tap into unrealized potential and make winning personal so they think bigger,” he said.
Clark was born in Mesa, Arizona, in1955, but moved to Utah in his youth and attended East HighSchool in Salt Lake City. The 6-foot-5 athlete was recruited by multiple universities and chose to attend the University of Utah, where he played football and baseball. He had a life-changing moment during a football tackling drill when he and a teammate crashed into each other head-on. The accident left his right side numb, with an arm hanging loosely at his side. “I was paralyzed physically and emotionally for 14 months.” After going to 15 different doctors who all told him he would not get better, Clark finally found one doctor who believed he would, which once again triggered the“Oh yeah, watch me” attitude he had always embraced.
In time and with a relentless effort his recovery began, but it was only when Clark came to terms with his loss of identity as an athlete and realized “there is a giant difference between being depressed and being disappointed, discouraged and sad” that his real recovery began, he said. “Pain is a signal to grow, not to suffer. Once we learn the lesson the pain is teaching us the pain goes away. In life, there are no mistakes, only lessons. You never lose if you always learn.”
"You become the average of the five people you associate with."
Dan Clark and Zig Ziglar American Author, Salesman and Motivational Speaker
Following his career-ending football injury, a remarkable opportunity presented itself when a high school football coach in a small town in Utah needed someone to give his team a pep talk before an upcoming game.Clark said while driving to the school, he was feeling sorry for himself because those boys were playing the game he would never be able to play again and he asked himself how he was supposed to motivate them when he felt so little motivation himself.
However, when he entered the stadium to deliver his speech, he was greeted by coach Jan Smith driving a hybrid wheelchair/golf cart. He was battling multiple-sclerosis. According to Clark, he stopped feeling sorry for himself and his speech to the boys went over very well. So well, in fact, that the coach invited him to speak before seven of their eight games and they won the state championship. The school principal then invited him to speak to the student body, and then recommended Clark’s program to five other school administrators.
"...elevate our expectations and behavior to emerge stronger and wiser than ever before.”
The next year he spoke at 13 schools, but when he shared the idea of turning his motivational assembly into a statewide and national school program, he often heard, “You can’t.” He dug deep and said, “Oh yeah, watch me,” according to Clark. He pursued his dream and was eventually invited to speak before the state legislature at the Capitol building, where they voted unanimously to fund his program and his desire to speak to every high school, junior high, and middle school in the state.
It was during his time recovering from paralysis that Clark repeatedly listened to an inspirational tape by Zig Ziglar. Clark’s success in speaking at schools eventually caught the eye of Ziglar, who was so impressed with Clark that he sponsored him into the National Speakers Association and introduced him to President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan. Clark was invited to join Nancy as the primary speaker of her “Just Say No” positive choices program, and he spoke at thousands of schools and to millions of teenagers. He went on to write award-winning short stories and books and began speaking at universities and corporate venues.
Clark soon became one of the most sought-after leadership speakers, team-building experts, and high-performance coaches. Major corporations, small businesses, government agencies, military commands, individuals, and sports teams — including NFL teams — have hired Clark to teach, inspire, and motivate them. Clark got a psychology degree from the University of Utah but said, “My real education came through the school of hard knocks.” He attributes much of his success to the people he has associated with. “We become the average of the five people we associate with. If you hang out with five lazy, negative, whining, blaming, complaining people or five successful service-oriented people, you’ll become the sixth.” Clark teaches, “We don’t attract who we want – we attract who we are – we attract what we believe we deserve.”
Clark has been dedicated to serving our military, and that has taken him on eight different tours to teach and motivate and thank our troops. A Navy SEAL inspired Dan to write and teach corporate audiences. “Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training,” Clark said. He continued, “Especially in this remote economy, we must remember that the reasons we meet have not changed. We still must stay connected and engaged because pressure is not something that is naturally there. It’s created when you question your own ability. When you know what you’ve been trained to do there is never any pressure. That’s why we need to continue to train so hard."
As an internationally recognized expert in team building, Clark is quick to remind us: “Every culture is created between the strongest belief, highest expectation and best behavior the leader/coach/parent lives by – and the weakest belief, lowest expectation, and worst behavior the leader/coach/parent tolerates.” Clark’s unique communication style is playful, thought-provoking, and metaphorically fun as he often opens his speeches by stating, “When my Aunt Lucy was 63 years old, she started walking five miles every day. Now she is 91 and we don’t know where she is!” Clark continued, “We laugh, but the number one limiting belief that holds organizations back is the leader who thinks his/her job is to set the strategic direction when it’s really about answering ‘where are you right now?’ ”
In 2020, during the pandemic, Clark said, “I am dedicated to preserving the live experience, which means I still require a preconference call to learn everything about the organization and the people on the Zoom call, so I can still customize my message of resiliency and teach highest level leadership in a remote economy. The Steps of Resiliency are needed more than ever before. Begin with the reminder that if you call COVID- 19 a crisis, it is a crisis. But if you acknowledge ‘crisis does not make or break the man or woman — it just reveals the true character within,’ this so-called pandemic is actually an opportunity to evaluate if we are the very best versions of ourselves. Eliminate the limiting beliefs that are confusing us and the negative influences that are holding us back and elevate our expectations and behavior to emerge stronger and wiser than ever before.”
“Perspective matters,” Clark said. “How we see something and what we choose to call it either causes a negative reaction or a positive response. In business, we call stress, ‘stress.’ In the world of sports, we call stress, ‘competition.’ In leadership, we call stress, ‘urgency.’
Calling something a ‘problem’ sounds insurmountable. Calling it a ‘challenge’ suggests it is an opportunity for growth and development. Only when we make winning personal can we trigger our ‘second wind’ and dig deep enough to hustle and push ourselves to our ultimate capacity and potential as a human being.”
“I am thankful I have always been a maverick rebel (like Jobs described above) who challenged the status quo, who was the relentless kid who kept asking ‘why, why, yeah but why, and why’ until I drilled down deep enough to get the real purpose and reason something happened or someone did what they did. I’m grateful I was paralyzed playing football because I would not be the man I am and have the perspective I have on time and love and resiliency had I not experienced this heartbreaking setback,” reflects Clark.
What’s next for Clark? He says he’s not retiring – he is “re-firing” and more focused and dedicated than ever before to speak to every major company in Utah in the “Silicon Slopes” region and to associations, chambers of commerce and companies in every state and country in the world. “I am still driven to work with 100 organizations every year – virtually and in live events to help them up-level their culture, break sales records, elevate their leadership training and turn their success into significance.” He is involved in many charitable organizations including Operation Smile, Make A Wish and Operation Underground Railroad.
After 35 years, Clark is still adding to his list of life experiences so his message continues to be fresh and relevant. He hopes others will find inspiration in hardships and even in the doubts of others. So when someone says you can’t do something, maybe you too can reply, “Watch me!” Yup, it is possible the “most interesting man in the world” lives right here in the mountains of Utah.