Chad E. Foster is a motivational keynote speaker, sales/finance leader, and inspirational change agent who works at Red Hat/IBM. He was the first blind executive to graduate from Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development and has been featured with NBC, CBS, Forbes, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, USA Today, and Chief Executive Mag.
“People are often surprised at what I was able to achieve in spite of being blind but to the contrary, I feel I am successful because I am blind, not in spite of it,” says Chad.
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast, I’m John Shegerian. And I’m so honored and excited to have with us today, Chad Foster. He’s the author of Blind Ambition, this book that I’m holding up that I’ve read, How to Go from Victim to Visionary. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Chad.
Chad Foster: John, it’s my pleasure to be here. I appreciate the opportunity to have a conversation with you.
John: You know, I’ve read your great book, I loved it, we’re going to get into your book in a section, in a minute. But before we do that, in your own words, give a little bit of your background to our listeners and our viewers out there who haven’t read your book yet and don’t know Chad Foster.
Chad: Yes. Well, I have a little bit of an unusual personal story. I was born and unbeknownst to us, I had a genetic eye condition. So, I had a problem seeing in dark areas. So, at three years old, my parents took me to Duke University Medical Center. It was there that they were presented with the news that, at some point, their toddler was going blind in all likelihood, and so it’s really hard to imagine what that drive home must have been like for them knowing that their youngest son in the backseat, at some point, would go blind.
Now, the doctors told my parents that they should put me in a special school for the blind. But instead, they signed me up for soccer. I lived a very active childhood, I could still see fine during the day. I played sports, I played soccer, football, and basketball. I even wrestled in high school and drove a car. I drove a car, rode motorcycles and jet skis. I was really active, always had to be doing something.
And then when I was in college, I was studying to go into the medical field because I wanted to help other people. But when I was in college, I lost all of my eyesight, I went completely blind at what’s essentially 21 years old, it started at around 19, and it continued for several years, it was a slow process.
But I lost all of my eyesight when I was in college and I wasn’t even sure how I could help myself after going blind, let alone other people. So, I had to figure out what I was going to do next. You know, we asked kids all the time, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” None of them, I mean, none of them say they want to be a blind person so I had to figure out what I wanted to be, what I could be when I grew up, how I can deal with this situation?
Life throws curve balls at all of us. And at the time, you know, I was devastated if I’m being honest at the time because that wasn’t what I had thought I was going to be. But now I’m sitting here today talking to you because I am happier today and I’m more successful now than when I could see.
That’s a lot of what we’re going to talk about during this conversation and what is in Blind Ambition is how did I go from being a victim of my blindness to bouncing back better than before? And a lot of that has to do with mindset and we’ll dig into that I’m sure.
John: Yes. You know, Chad, it’s fascinating. I have another good friend. I know you’re aware of this friend, I don’t think you’ve met him yet, named Jake Olson. And Jake, he was born not with your condition. He was born with eye cancer. Lost his first eye, I believe, at two, and his second eye at 12. So, his world went dark at 12 as opposed to you when it went when you were twenty-one.
And I know from reading your book, you gave fascinating, almost, you brought us into the room as a percipient witness when you started getting your training when the world went black on you with all the different people who had even, as you said, some greater challenges than you had in terms of learning to work with your eye dog and things of that such, a seeing-eye dog.
In your experiences, is there such a thing? And I feel even somewhat odd asking this question but reading your book I just felt like I had to ask this, is there’s a level of difficulty from all the interesting and wonderful people you’ve had a chance to meet in your journey if you’re born blind and then have to learn it as your first language, learn how to get around in the world, as a way to inform yourself, as opposed to you who really had a very full-tilt life, your parents allowed you to go full tilt, you were a very full-tilt young man, and you gave so many interesting stories about your childhood and your teenage years, and even college. Is their level of difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of adjustment at twenty-one and beyond, as opposed to birth and growing up that way and not even ever having eyesight? Has that ever been part of anybody’s equation or anybody’s questioning about that, the level of difficulty?
Chad: You know, It’s an interesting question and one that I’ve thought about a lot. I think it’s hard to simplify it into that, the calculus for the equation that you’re talking about cuts across a couple of dimensions. And so, there’s the dimension of how much skill do I have to deal with going blind? And you can think of that as tactical skills. Can I use a cane? Okay, I didn’t learn how to do that because I could see. Can I read Braille? I didn’t learn how to do that because I could see. Can I navigate the world without being able to see? Well, I wasn’t used to doing that, I didn’t have those skills.
Well, balancing that, I did have the ability to visualize the world around me. I did have the ability to develop conceptual skills of visually what the world looks like, I was able to learn how to do math visually. And that’s a challenge for a lot of people who are born blind, it’s harder to do math because if you think about math, it’s a very visual thing. So, I was given those gifts, I was given the gifts of being able to develop social skills in an environment that was kind of normal where you could see body language, you can read body language, and gestures, and things like that.
And so, all those things, it’s like there are trade-offs. In counter to that, in contrast to that, there are things that I gained by being able to see at a younger age, and things that I gave up. But then there’s sort of this earth-shattering realization that dealing with change, the change that you have to deal with, all of a sudden, the rug gets pulled out from under you, and what are you going to do when things change, when you have this earth-shattering change in your life?
Right now, everybody’s dealing with change, there’s a lot of change going on with COVID, there’s a lot of change going on with technology disruption. Change is everywhere. And I experienced one of the more notable changes one can experience, losing your eyesight in college. That was a big change for me and thankfully, I was able to navigate that and thrive in that, but that is not for everybody, right? That’s a pretty significant change to take on.
So, I would say it depends upon what spectrum you’re talking about. Are you talking about my ability to do X or Y or Z as opposed to which one is better? Yes, I sure wish that I had better cane skills. I sure wish that I could read Braille. I sure wish that I was better with other tasks that you need to be able to do when you can’t see.
However, would I be willing to trade the 20 years of eyesight that I got for that, and all the experiences that came along with it, I’m not sure I would, right? I’m not sure I would because those make me who I am today and those experiences that I had being able to see give me the makeup to deal with what I can deal with today. So, I’m not sure either one is better or worse, harder or easier because there are so many trade-offs between the two.
John: Right. What I love about your book, and again, for our listeners, I’m holding it up here, Chad, Blind Ambition: How to Go from Victim to Visionary. For people who want to buy, you can go to Amazon, Audible, Barnes and Noble bookshop, Apple Books, Google Play, and other fine book retailers out there.
You’re so unvarnished in the book and I’m going to read you a passage that just, I have to be honest when I got to it, it broke me down because you really take us, when someone reads a book like your book and is so inspired by it, you also make us all think about could I even- While I was going through and doing the math in my head, Chad, is I don’t know if I could do what Chad did? What you wrote here is in a chapter called “The Final Sunset.”
“I did know that the prospect of blindness felt completely overwhelming. On one hand, I feared I didn’t have what it takes to overcome all the obstacles to living a good life without eyesight. On the other hand, I was ashamed to feel afraid. It felt unseemly and downright unmanly to allow my new circumstances to get me down. But I was embarrassed to be blind. With all its implications of weakness and dependency. I was ashamed that it had happened to me, even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”
I read this and I’m like, first of all, bravo to you to share something so unvarnished. But secondarily, I thought, I don’t know if I can do what Chad did. So, what I want you to share is, what was your DNA? I know your parents are amazing people. I get that from the book. They’ve been nothing but unreal and unbelievable parents. They should write a book on parenting, frankly. How did you get through that at twenty-one when everything went black?
I was in a class this morning, in a SoulCycle class, actually, and one of the young people there who actually works for SoulCycle turned twenty-one. And I was thinking of twenty-one and thinking about you because everything went black at twenty-one. At twenty-one, the whole world is in front of you, how did you switch that mindset, as you said, from a victim, and again, nobody’s fault, it’s not like this happen for anybody’s fault, it was just the dealing of the cards and fate to someone who could overcome it? How did you dig in and where did you find that ability to be resilient and overcome?
Chad: Well, I think part of it came from, if I’m being honest, for a while, I felt sorry for myself for a number of months. I felt like a loser, right? Because I just kept making excuses. So after a while, I just decided that excuses are for losers, like I could sit around and feel terrible for myself for the rest of my life and that wasn’t going to solve anything. Just because life took my eyesight, it wasn’t going to cut me any slack.
And so, I did the mental exercise of looking into the future, 50 years into the future. Here I am 21 years old, blindness is guaranteed. The only thing I can control really is my attitude towards the situation. I could sit around and feel sorry for myself, maybe justifiably so for the rest of my life. If I lived to be, say, 75 years old, that’s over 50 years of feeling sorry for myself. And that was just too much sorry for me, I just couldn’t do that, man. That was more overwhelming to me to feel bad for another 50 years.
I knew intellectually that I had to make a change. Then when I went to Leader Dogs for the Blind to get my first guide dog, that’s when I really had the emotional awakening within. You mentioned this a little bit earlier, but just to underscore that, I was there and some of the people I was with, they had mental impairments and they’re blind, of course, to get a guide dog. Some of them were on dialysis, they had to go to dialysis every week because the diabetes that took their eyesight was destroying their kidneys.
There were these two girls there who were deaf and blind, deaf and blind, and they were getting a dog to be independent. Now, for these girls, we had to talk with an interpreter who would sign into their hands and that was the only way that they could communicate. Despite all of these challenges, these incredibly brave human beings were getting a guide dog so they could travel independently.
Now listen, it’s one thing when you meet someone on the street and you hear how rough they have it. But when you live with another person for a month and you see those challenges firsthand, it really sears the true meaning of perspective into your memory, there’s no way you can walk away from that with the same mindset, and for me, it was my tipping point.
Because I started to realize, you know what, I’ve had 23 years of eyesight at the time, twenty-something, twenty-one, twenty-three. I had all of my hearing, I had all my kidney function, I had all my cognitive faculties. So, I decided at that point, that moment, that was my real inflection point where I knew a lot of people think happiness is some sort of feeling. Well, it’s not, it’s not a feeling, and it’s not an emotion. It’s a decision that you either choose to make or you don’t.
Every single day when you get up, each of us can find reasons to be unhappy. But really, it’s about looking at your perspective and what can you be intentional about and how can you have happiness come from within you and not be based on your circumstances? And that’s what it taught me that it’s all about your perspective, which Leader Dogs taught me that your perspective, really in life, is anchored to your gratitude.
With my kids today, my kids don’t have what I have, I’m sure they’re carriers because that’s a fact, right? They have to be carriers of my eye disease, but they’re not symptomatic. But still every night we do a gratitude session. Every single night where we all share things that we’re thankful for because I’ve found that it’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, it’s gratitude that brings us happiness.
John: That’s so well said. It was so nice. I read the chapter where you talked about being in the Dog Leader Academy and those two young girls, and even the people on dialysis, and like you said, you started focusing on what you did have instead of what you didn’t have. That’s such a great way to go through life.
When you got through the academy and got your dog and got going, what were the next steps? How did you start envisioning your life as the go forward from there? Because we’re going to get into it, but you’re massive as entrepreneurs go, as executives go, as the financial world goes, you’re a massively successful human being just from a career standpoint. But what was post losing your eyesight and getting your dog and learning some of the basic skills, what then became your path forward from there? How did you start putting one foot in front of the other to get you to where you are today?
Chad: Well, I think that the key thing that happened, John, is when I came back with my guide dog, all of a sudden, I went from– you know, before people thought maybe I was drunk or whatever on campus because I would bump into things. Now, all of a sudden, I was the guy who had this really amazing German Shepherd guide dog. And the interesting thing here is, before, I was trying to hide the fact that I couldn’t see. You read the passage out of the book, I was embarrassed about it. I was ashamed of it. I was trying to hide the fact that my vision wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.
Well, then I came back with a 100-pound German Shepherd guide dog, and let me tell you, you can’t hide that, right? That is pretty obvious. You’re walking around with a big German Shepherd, there’s nowhere to put that German Shepherd. So, what it forced is it forced me to be unapologetically authentic, I was me, and I got comfortable with me. And that was a real gift for me because no longer was I pretending to be someone I was not. No longer was I pretending that my eyesight was better than it really was.
I could own my situation and be unapologetic for it. And that was one of the key points for me early on, is just learning to be unashamed like it because again, I was very ashamed before, and now, all of a sudden, I’m wearing it on my sleeve, or it’s guiding me around by my hand, right? This big German Shepherd guide dog. I started getting comfortable with it.
At first, I started to love myself despite this imperfection, but eventually because of it, and that really helped me start the transition. And then I started really thinking about what can I do with my situation? How can I make my situation look as good as possible? That’s a key point for anybody facing adversity or change or whatever, it’s stepping back and imagining or re-imagining success in your new circumstances.
I had to step back and figure out how I can make blind look good. I know that sounds odd or paradoxical, but if you can never imagine how you can make your situation look good, then your odds of moving towards acceptance are not very good, and your odds of thriving are pretty much non-existent.
I started to think about what can I do in the current situation to make it look good? A lot of that consisted of “All right, I want to have a successful career in business.” I want to be able to pave a road for other people who are facing similar difficulties and challenges and be a role model for them so that they can have something to look towards, and to show hiring managers and company executives that you know what, it’s not always how things look on the surface, I can have somebody on my team who looks different than me, who maybe walks and talks differently than me, who can really add a tremendous amount of value, and so really, changing perceptions and mindsets.
That was really my inspiration to put me on my professional journey and obviously, that has evolved which you’ve read about in the book and we’ll get to. But that was really that motivation for me because once I started envisioning what my success look like, what was my vision of greatness? That gave me the motivation that I need to do the hard work to get there, but you’ve got to have that bold vision of greatness for yourself to inspire you to take that next action.
John: Besides breaking me down, like I said, with some of the passages, the very unvarnished passages that you wrote about in your book that I read.
Chad: Those are not easy, by the way. Those are easy.
John: No, I can imagine. But you also put some very very funny stories. You were talking about when you went back to campus with your dog, and you went and started going back with your guy friends to bars, and it was one story in the book how you got two girls to give you their phone numbers that night on the opposite sides of one napkin, which was just the best of the best stories. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.”
Chad: Yes, my friends were so mad at me for that.
John: From such a bad situation and you made it amazing. You were already making lemonade out of a lemon right from the get-go. So, it was just– that was [inaudible].
Chad: I’m all about anytime life gives you lemons, you use them to make Margaritas, that’s what I’m talking about.
John: Oh, my God, that was so great.
Chad: The dog, people would, especially, women had a fondness for the dog. I talk about now when I’m giving a keynote presentation or a workshop, one of the keys is figuring out how to take advantage of your disadvantages.
Any disadvantage comes with certain advantages in the right context. If you go into a singles bar and you’re 23 years old, and you’ve got a hundred-pound German Shepherd that has an IQ of 150 or whatever it is, a really smart dog, it gives you a certain advantage, right? In fact, it gave this such a great advantage that my buddies wanted to change my dog’s name from Miles to Magnet because he was obviously quite the icebreaker.
John: That’s awesome. Okay, and for our listeners and viewers who’ve joined us, we’ve got Chad Foster, you can find Chad on social media at Chad E. Foster. Chad E., his middle initial is E, Foster, he wrote Blind Ambition: How to Go from Victim to Visionary. You can find Blind Ambition on Amazon, Audible, Barnes and Noble bookshop, Apple Books, Google Play, and other fine retailers.
I want to hit on one of the great milestones in your life, you were the first blind graduate of the Harvard Business School Leadership Program. What made you want to go to Harvard and become really, as you said, taking a lemon and making it a positive in the right context that make you become the first blind graduate from Harvard’s Leadership School?
Chad: Well, I’d always wanted to go to Harvard since I was a young kid. But my parents, we were from modest means, they could not have afforded to send me to Harvard. I was doing good to get to college, in general, at the University of Tennessee, so we couldn’t have afforded that.
But over the course of my career, I started to demonstrate more and more success. The employer I was at at the time, I was Senior Director over our Pricing Strategy and Solutions Group working on multibillion-dollar deals for large technology deals for the US federal government.
We would go in and sell these large, whether it’s data center deals or managed services or systems integration, it’s all technology-related, and it’s services in hardware and software, very large deals, and I have had been very successful. I’d brought in over $45 billion in contracts for the company and my boss comes to me, he comes to me after, I think it was the University of Tennessee who gave me the Accomplished Alumni Award back in 2014. He said, “Chad, you’ve done so much for us. You’ve got a great story, what can we do to help you?” And for some crazy reason, I said, “You know what? “I said, “Send me to Harvard.” And for some crazy reason, they said, “Okay”. So…
Chad: They decided that they would support me. Got the sign-off from the CEO. I ended up going to Harvard and, you know, it’s a program there where you do part on-site work and part off-site work which is good for me because of my job. I was working full-time, had a family, had to juggle lots of different responsibilities. But it was obviously a very worthwhile experience just to be able to go there. Because, again, I’d always wanted to go there but never really had the means or the opportunity. And now, here I was.
I think the interesting thing from that is after I got approval from the company then its “Alright. I need to get into Harvard.” You sort of hold your breath like, “Wait a minute. I really took a chance here. What if I don’t get in. I’ve put myself out there. And what if I don’t make the cut? What if I don’t get in? Then I’m going to look like a fool.” So, there was a bit of that going on. But I really believe that if you don’t dare to be great then you’re always going to be mediocre. You’ve got to take some chances. So, I put myself out there. I ended up getting in. And had a really life-changing experience while I was there, learning. We learned about the business and we learned about leadership. But it was really the class that I was there learning with Bill George about authentic leadership and how to discover your true north that ultimately changed the trajectory of my life and put me on the path that I’m on now.
For those of your listeners not familiar with Bill George, he’s a former CEO of Medtronic. He’s the bestselling author of Discover Your True North. He is a senior fellow at Harvard, such a tremendous leader, great human being. It was one of those moments, you’re sitting in his class, that it helped me discover my true north. So, it was a really great experience.
John: And you were working and you still are working at Red Hat. Am I correct on where you’ve closed most of these big, huge deals?
Chad: No, those were actually before Red Hat. Those were when I was doing government IT. So, it was a combination of SRA and CSRA. And now it’s GDIT which is, I think, the largest systems integration IT services provider to the US federal government.
John: And you’re with Red Hat now though, right?
Chad: I am with Red Hat, yes. Shortly after Harvard, I joined Red Hat as a senior director of worldwide deal management. And then after that, I took on a role as VP of Corporate and Products and Technology, Marketing and Offshore Finance Head, a 200-person team. As we navigated the IBM acquisition, we were bought by IBM for $34 billion in the largest software acquisition ever about a year and a half ago.
John: Got it. So…
Chad: This has been maybe 2 years ago now.
John: Time goes fast during this COVID period, right?
Chad: Yes, it does.
John: You know, it’s a little bit roll a little bit time warp. You know, why did you exactly write the book? What was the “Aha!” moment post-Harvard to say, “I need to get it down in writing. I need to get my message out there.”?
Chad: Well, it was actually at Harvard where the moment happened. It was there where… Again, I’ve been studying with Bill George and we’re trying to figure out our true north. What Bill talks about is how– when can mine your life and find things in your life that connect with you at an emotional level and somehow link that to your talents and your purpose and your profession. Then all of a sudden you can find your true north. It’s really where all these different areas intersect. It’s passion. It’s purpose. It’s profession. It’s talent.
I’ll give you another example from my class. One of my classmates, his mom had cancer when he was younger and they were trying to find her the assistance she needed. And they couldn’t find it. His mom ended up passing from cancer. And so his passion was to create Trusted-doctor. Trusted-doctor is an organization that connects cancer patients to the world’s leading experts with Oncology. And so it’s really figuring out how to take these moments that affected you during your life in a significant way and linking that to what you do on a daily basis.
A lot of our classmates were kind of trying to figure out what those were. And mine just reached up and smacked me in the face. It was so obvious for me that I hadn’t really done much with mine. Because I had always people tell me from time to time, “Hey, Chad. You’re really inspiring.” I never really took that seriously, John. Because I was just trying to get to my next goal in life. So, I never really saw myself as inspiring or do anything of it unusual. And then at HPS, my classmates elected me to be the graduating speaker. And for the first time there, I saw kind of what my short little 12-minute talk could do. So, I gave a short little talk and it affected people in a way that I never anticipated. It affected me in a way I never anticipated.
So, one of my classmates came up to me and he tells me how something I’d said that evening had given him hope. Now, this particular classmate was a father who had lost his daughter the year before to cancer. And something I said gave him hope. I’m not a real naturally soft and fuzzy person, but when you have a parent crying in your arms because something you said helped them deal with the loss of their child, it changes you. It changed me. It completely… It inspired me to move beyond myself. Moments like that demonstrated to me firsthand how helping people like that can make going blind worth it, which is a really bizarre thing to say and think.
But now I’ve realized that I’ve been given a gift, a beautiful gift, disguised in some really ugly wrapping paper. And I just had to figure out how do I unwrap this gift and how do I share it with the world. And I think we all have gifts that sometimes we’re not crazy about. They may not be the best thing to look at but they all can bring us certain gifts and advantages if we can just learn how to open hearts and our minds to receive those gifts and share them with the world. That was the moment for me that I realized I’ve got to do more with this. I need to put pen to paper. I need to put more effort behind speaking. I need to do more to share my message. Because it’s not how I receive or think about my message because it’s about how I receive or think about my message, it’s about how other people can receive and benefit from the message. That was the moment for me that sort of changed everything for the rest of where I’m at today.
John: Going into that first speech, was your goal in those twelve minutes to make them laugh or make them cry or just share your story and just see where it lands?
Chad: It was all the above, frankly. I don’t give a talk without jokes. I’m always going to use humor because I think levity makes us human. It makes us relatable. And it makes powerful messages easier to digest. So, anybody who’s been one of my keynotes will know one of my signatures is how much humor I have. I want people laughing because what I’ve got to say, you might not be able to take it any other way. But I can reach you in a way using humor that otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to. So, my message is… It’s a pretty– I mean, I’m all about being accountable. I’m all about owning your situation. I’m all about being resilient. But at the same time, I like to throw in some humor. Because I like the– I think that if you can get in people’s hearts and get them smiling then you can really capture their minds and affect change. And I don’t think– Without humor, I don’t think it’s possible.
There are a lot of speakers out there who talk and, you know, it’s sad. Right? I don’t want that when I talk. I don’t want people to feel sad at all. Sometimes you’ll go and you’ll hear somebody talk and you’ll come out and go, “Oh my God! Thank God I’m not that person.” I don’t want that. I want people to leave my talk and go, “Man! I wish I was more like them.”
John: Exactly! Exactly, Chad!
Chad: That’s what I want.
John: Right. That’s what I came away from your book too, by the way. I want to be more like Chad. I mean, that which is great. It is true. I mean you got to meet so many cool people. And I’m just going to give– throw out a couple of names, Tony Dungy who I just love, Jim Whitehurst. Obviously, like you mentioned earlier, Bill George. And so many other cool people you’ve got to meet along the way. You’re the type of person I know that’s learning all the time. If you were to say two or three key learnings you’ve absorbed from these great leaders, do you have a couple of pearls of wisdom that you glean from these folks as you’ve gone through your journey?
Chad: I think that the number one thing is to move beyond yourself. And I think we can all do more than we think is possible especially when we move beyond ourselves. I think we, myself included… I was so focused on “me” for so long in my career, providing for my family as most people are and should be. But at some point, I sort of asking, “There has to be more. What can I do to pay it forward, to give back, and to make sure that I’m pulling other people along?” And all of those leaders that you just talked about are great examples of that. How do we get back? How do we move beyond ourselves? And I think that until you move beyond yourself, you’re not going to reach your full potential. For me, that’s the scariest thing of all is going to my grave with [inaudible] potential. I think the most terrifying thought of all is knowing that we could’ve been who we dreamed of being if we would’ve just moved beyond ourselves and try to reach out and help other people become the best version of themselves.
That’s something that really resonated with me as figuring out how I can do more to help others and take the things that I’ve got. Because I’ve got some lessons that I’ve learned. You read about them. Yes, there’s a lot of fear that I had in sharing. You talked about sharing the things that I share. It’s very personal. It’s very vulnerable. I’m not a sharing kind of person. But what powered me through the fear, what allowed me to step through the fear is the focus on helping other people and moving beyond just myself.
John: When people read your book, and again, Blind Ambition: How To Go From Victim to Visionary, what’s the one or two or three maximum takeaways, Chad? Besides I-wanna-be-more-like-Chad which I got. I mean, I put the book down and I was like, “This is my kind of guy.” I said to myself, “Besides the podcast, I’m going to meet Chad one day. Somehow, someway I’m going to meet him, in our travels. I’ve got to meet him and shake his hand and give him a hug.” You’re my kind of guy. And I definitely want to be more like you. What do you want people to take away, messages that they could use every day, as you said, get beyond themselves and have a better and more fascinating and interesting life?
Chad: I think the number one message that I want people to take away is you have to learn how to tell yourself the right stories. You will become the stories that you tell yourself. Now, when I went blind, I could’ve chosen to tell myself a story of “poor me” and “I have bad luck”, “this is terrible”. And that could technically be true. Or I could choose to tell myself that one of the few people who went blind because I am positioned to be able to deal with it. I’m strong enough to be able to deal with that and use it to help other people.
Now, both of those stories could be true. One of those stories paints me as a victim. The 2nd story re-frames my disability, my blindness into my strength. This happened to me because I’m one of the few people with the mental toughness to deal with it. All of a sudden I’ve done this Jedi mind trick where I’ve convinced myself that I went blind because I’m mentally strong and have to deal with it and help out people with it. I’ve transformed my struggle into my strength. So, the stories we tell ourselves can either keep us trapped or they can help us bounce back. So, you have to be really careful about the stories that you choose to tell yourself. It is a choice. You have to be intentional about what stories you’re going to tell yourself because at the end of our lives, we will all become the stories that we tell ourselves. So, that’s the number one thing.
John: I love that. That is just awesome. How many public speaking events, typically, with things are back to normal, notwithstanding COVID, how much public speaking do you do in sharing your story?
Chad: Well, depends on scheduling and things. But I’d say anywhere from fifty to eighty a year. Fifty to eighty events.
John: Wow! And how does your message evolve? Obviously, the audience sometimes changes. Obviously, different types of audiences. But what do you– When you listen to– Just, for instance, I’m fascinated by comedians. And they talk about how they start, when they’re starting to put together a new hour material, they’ll work it out in small clubs until they go to Madison Square Garden, until they go to big arenas and big venues. For you, how do you constantly evolve your message? “A” to keep it fresh. “B” to keep it relevant and timely. And “C” to get the message out that you want to get out. What’s your public speaking preparation look like versus writing the book. Because once it’s in the book, it’s published in the book. But how do you evolve your public speaking process?
Chad: It’s a good question. I think the core theme stays the same but when I’m a podcast, for example, I’m doing an interview, I’m writing an article, I start to learn what stories may connect with people more deeply and may illustrate a certain point more so than others. So, you’re always looking for those things that, you know, It’s like you’ve got your greatest hits. You’ve got your greatest hits and you go watch a comedy show or maybe it’s a band. Pick your favorite band and they’ve got their greatest hits that they always like to do. They’re going to do a lot of those anyway and I still do a lot of the greatest hits. But I will bring in new content that I come up with based upon whether it’s a conversation that I’m you right now. Usually, it’s, “Let me see how people react to certain things over a series of smaller events.” And for me, it’s not comedy clubs but it’s podcasts, it’s conversations, it’s smaller environments where I can test that. And if I see that it fits, and it works and, it’s repeatable and it seems to really resonate to people regardless. Then it’s something I look into bringing into the talk.
That being said, I’ve got a 60-minute signature talk. I’ve got a couple of other programs that I do depending on what message these people want to have. So, I have a lot of content right now. And I don’t use it all every time. It depends on what the goals of the event are, what the themes are, what the audience’s challenges are, what are things that they really want me to focus on. I often talk about it like baking a cake, right? I’ve got lots of ingredients in my pantry but what would you like the cake to look like? What kind of ingredients… Do you want chocolate cake? Do you want a strawberry cake? What sort of toppings do you want? I can foot stomp any number of points based upon the stories that I’ve got in my pantry. It’s just– what are the key takeaways that you want to leave the audience with? Which oftentimes depends on the context for what they’re going through, what challenges they’re facing.
John: You’re a husband. You’re a father. How old are your children, Chad?
Chad: Twelve and five.
John: Twelve and five. And you’re a husband. Also, you’re ultra-massively successful in business. But I also read in your bio that you’re an avid downhill skier. I can understand how you’re a great husband and a great father. How do you navigate being a downhill skier? I’m fascinated by that.
Chad: Aggressively. Very aggressively. So, it actually gives me a bit of an advantage. I think a lot of people get intimidated by what their eyes are telling them because it is so scary, I guess, when you look downhill. But that just doesn’t faze me. I don’t really see what the big deal’s all about. So, that helps me in a lot of ways. Because, I think, so many people are just staring wide-eyed at the treacherous terrain where– I’m not focused on that. I’m just focused on taking that next turn. And I think that happens to people a lot in their daily lives. You want this grand vision of greatness in your life, you want to ski down the big mountain in your life, whether it’s your career, your relationship, your school, whatever. You want a grand vision of greatness. But when it’s time to make the next turn, when you’re on the mountain and you’ve got to take that next action, sometimes looking at that big vision of greatness can scare you from taking the next action. It can prevent you from taking that next turn.
So I think a lot of us, If we could just bring ourselves down to focusing on execution. How do I execute this next turn? Yes, I want a bold vision to inspire me to take action but when it’s time to execute, I’ve just got to stay focused on the next turn. So, I think in that regard, whether it’s on the mountain or whatever, it gives me a little bit of an advantage and I think people can, hopefully, take something away from that where you want to dream big you want to have visions of greatness. But when it’s actually time to get out there and make it happen, looking at that can do you a little disservice.
Tactically speaking, which I think was more the spirit of your question, tactically speaking how do I do that? A friend of mine, you know, I learned how to do this with Challenge Aspen in Aspen, Colorado years ago. And now I go skiing every year. So, I started skiing after I went blind. And someone skis behind me whether it’s a ski guide or my buddy or whatever. We both wear helmets, with earpieces. So, we’re mic’d up. We have good helmets. If there’s one thing you need when you’re a blind skier you better have a good helmet. So, I definitely have my share of wrecks. Because I’m not on the bunny slopes. I ski blacks all the time. Did a double block couple of years ago for the first time.
Chad: So, we’re taking on some pretty treacherous terrain. But I think skiing is great because it’s a great metaphor for life. Because it’s where growth takes place. You’ve got to be riding your edge. I don’t know if you ski, John, but when you’re riding that edge and you think you have control but you’re flirting with not having control. That’s where growth happens. Those are the moments when growth takes place, when you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Because if you’re never getting outside of your comfort zone, then you’re never growing. And that’s the beautiful thing about skiing. There’s always an opportunity to get outside of your comfort zone.
John: That’s awesome! You know Chad, what’s fascinating to me is you’ve written this book, you do so many keynotes a year, you’re the 1st blind graduate from Harvard Business School, you’re massively successful in business. What gets you out in the morning now? What’s next? I mean, you’re– When you look at Warren Buffett just turning 92 and Branson, Gates, Arianna Huffington, all these wonderfully fab– Rupert Murdoch, these fabulous, wonderful folks are working into their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s now. It’s not like when we grew up, or I grew up, and people retired at sixty-two and that was it. They would put out the pasture. You have decades and decades in front of you. How do you break down the future in what you want to accomplish? How do you see forward from here?
Chad: For me, it really is all about how I can help the maximum number of people with the lessons that I’ve learned. Not everybody goes blind, John. But everybody’s facing something and that something is significant to everybody. So, for me now, the biggest thing that really gets me out of bed and keeps me up at night is, “Am I connecting with as many people in the way that need to connect as effectively? Can I be as effective of a communicator as I could be? Can I broaden my reach so that I can help the maximum number of people? What am I missing? Who am I missing? What else should I be doing?” Because it really is about… I’m convinced that what we do while we’re here, the time that we’re given, yes, we need to take care of ourselves. But you know what? We can accomplish a lot more when we focus on other people.
So, what really is going to be my focal point moving forward and has been for a while is, “How can I help the maximum number of people, and that gets down to having visibility, having reach but being a more effective communicator whether it’s through books, or online classes, or keynote presentations, just really making sure that I do everything within my sphere of influence to connect and help as many people as possible.
John: On that, I wanted to share with our listeners again to learn more about Chad A., you could go to any of his social media pages, Chad E. Foster. And then also, you can find him at chadefoster.com. Blind Ambition is his book here, How to Go from Victim to Visionary. It’s a great book. I’ve read it. I loved it. I know I laugh out loud, I also cried.
Chad, you are just a unique and wonderful human being. You’re making an impact on so many lives. You made an impact on my life.
Chad: Thank you!
John: I want to just tell you this. You’re always invited back on this show to promote anything you’re up to, anything you’re doing. You’ll be a welcomed guest. I want to continue to share your journey. I wish you continue to succeed. I thank you for all you’re doing. I thank you for your time today. I just want to say God bless you. And thanks for making an impact on me, personally.
Chad: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much, John. I appreciate you saying that.
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