Dan Waldschmidt

by Dan Waldschmidt

May 2, 2012

The Jerk Sitting In The Front Row.

It is all too easy to let other people distract you from being amazing. Let me tell you how I really learned that lesson all over again a few days ago.

As a popular speaker, I have the unique and wonderful opportunity to speak all over the world to big companies, business organizations, and non-profits.  Like much of what you read here on my blog, the discussion is an unconventional one.  I talk about pain and fear and how uncommon strategy is often the key to outrageous feats of high-performance.

There are always a tremendous number of people who are inspired by the passionate discussion. Many of these people come up to me after the keynote, shake my hand, and tell me how moving the keynote was for them.  No matter how many different places I speak, I am always genuinely excited that I can make a difference.  Heck, that people pay me to help them.

On the other hand, there are always a few people in the audience who are skeptics.  They leave snarky comments about how the material was too philosophical and did not provide them “seven steps to overnight business success”.  They will commonly say things like “I did not come here for a motivational discussion, I just want the facts”.

Those few people always bother me.

They bother me a lot.  I wish I could tell you that I didn’t care about those handful of people.  But I do.  As irrational as it sounds, I am bothered.

Personally, I want to be the best.  I really have a desire to make a difference.  For every five minutes that I stand on stage, I spend one to two hours rehearsing a keynote.  It is a lot of work and emotional investment.

That’s not all.  I have hired a few of the best public speaking coaches in the world to help me get better at what I do.  I don’t just practice and plan, I pay thousands of dollars per hour for these coaches to refine my style and help me better connect with the audience.

But it only takes one jerk in the front row to throw me off my game.

Last week I spoke in front of about 80 senior executives in Washington DC about my insights around creating edgy conversations.  Like what you read, here I attempt to disrupt traditional philosophies of success with a new set of unconventional strategies that senior executive need to employ on a daily basis.

A new set of attitudes and world views.

Attending the event was a very special woman.  “Kim” found my blog on the web and wrote to me about how some of the articles I had written gave her the strength to rise beyond the tragedy in her life.

“Kim” is an officer in the United States Armed Forces.  While serving in Iraq, thousands of miles from her family, she was woken from sleep with a shocking phone call.  Her son had shot himself.  In a haze, she rushed home from halfway around the world  to be with her family.  He died in her arms hours after she arrived.

Shortly after this horrific tragedy,  “Kim” read my article about how people hurt.  Still reeling from such a tragedy, she reached out to me in gratitude for an encouraging article.  Over a few e-mails, we struck up a friendship.  And when she found out that I was speaking close-by, she bought a ticket and came to the event.

Humbled, I was excited to meet “Kim” and even more excited to think that I might have been able to make a difference for someone going through such a hard time.

But things quickly unraveled.

A few minutes into my keynote, I became distracted by a jerk in the front row.  And not just anybody either.  It was a sales guru and published author sitting with a few friends of his — right up in the front row.  Every time I mentioned something unconventional like love or “being a giver“, he would smirk and roll his eyes.  And it didn’t stop there.  Several times throughout my keynote, he would take his notepad and pen, scribble a note on it, fold it a time or two, and pass it to his friends sitting beside him.  Of course, his friends would read the note,  look at me, smirk, scribble a note back, and pass back the piece of paper.

Completely distracting and disrespectful behavior.  Here I was talking about emotional pain and how miserable I felt despite making millions of dollars and these guys (who should know better) thought it was all a joke.

Throughout the keynote, I could see the emotional impact of my keynote.  Many in attendance dabbed at the corner of their eyes when I talked about pain and frustration and fear.  They were shaking their heads up and down in agreement.  They were leaning forward in their seats, looking eye to eye with me.

But the only thing I could think about was the jerk in the front row.

It was maddening.

It threw me off my game.  I forgot all about the people who were really important.  In the heat of the moment all that was going through my head was anger at that guy in the front row who was making fun of me.

When my keynote was done almost two hours after I started speaking, I stepped down from the stage and headed to the back of the room looking for a cold drink of orange juice.  Exhausted.  Frustrated.

I turned as I felt a hand on my arm.  “I am Kim,” she said. “Thank you for making a difference.”  I gave her a long hug.  Before she left, “Kim” handed me a tiny Moleskin notebook with a picture of a sunset on the cover.  “Kim” told me that was her son’s favorite picture.  Underneath the picture was the following phrase “He has chosen us as people to be the source of joy and output of love.”  She wanted me to have it.  To remember what making a difference really means.

I gave “Kim” another hug and she left to go back to her business.  I stood there thinking.  I had just been taught a valuable lesson.

There is always a jerk in the front row.

That’s true for all of us.  No matter how hard you work, no matter how many trainers or coaches or therapist you pay for, it is easy to be distracted and discouraged by the cruelty of others.

Sadly, I had completely forgotten about what really mattered.  I had forgotten about “Kim”.  I had forgotten about everyone else in the audience. All that I could see was that jerk sitting in the front row.

Instead of helping the people who wanted to be helped, I selfishly thought only of how disrespectful I was being treated.

It is a valuable lesson to remember.  Help those who want to be helped.  Resist the urge to win over the cynics.  Be willing to be vulnerable.  Care deeply.

Don’t let the jerks in the front row distract you from helping everyone else in the room.

Making a difference is just too important to be sidetracked by one or two people.

About the author

Dan Waldschmidt

Dan Waldschmidt doesn’t just talk about leveling up. He’s obsessed with it. He's set records as an ultra-runner and been the personal strategist for the leading business leaders of our time. He wrote a book, called EDGY Conversations that accidentally became a worldwide bestseller and continues to share his insights from the stage as a keynote speaker and on the blogs and podcasts you will find here. Most days, you'll find Dan heads-down, working on breakthrough strategies for his clients at EDGY Inc, a highly-focused, invite-only, business strategy execution company based out of Silicon Valley.