Dr. Pelè’s life journey is not the norm, certainly not for most people anyway. Before writing and producing for a major label artist, the Ph.D., and running his own online business, his story began in a war-torn African refugee camp when he was just a kid with a dream. In this episode, Dr. Pelè sits down with Steve Farber to share this journey and his pursuit of happiness that’s profitable. Are you uncertain about your career or wherever you are right now? Don’t miss this episode and get inspired to start making money doing what makes you happy.
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
CREATE with Dr. Pelè
My guest as it turns out is a soul brother, for reasons that will become apparent very soon. Dr. Pelè is a bestselling author. He’s an educator. He’s been in the HR and the marketing industry. He’s a Renaissance man. He’s also a fine musician. Dr. Pelè was born in a war-torn African village. He came to the United States and pursued the American dream, as what we typically refer to it as historically. Coming from humble beginnings to a very accomplished career here in the US. He lives in Austin, Texas. Why do we call him Dr. Pelè? Not that he’s going to put a stethoscope up here or anything but because he holds a PhD in Organization and Management. He’s an accomplished speaker. He’s been all over the place doing some amazing things and also creating phenomenal music. Dr. Pelè, it is great to have you on the show.
Thank you, Steve. It is a pleasure to be here. I appreciate it.One of the biggest things we have to identify is the map between our greatness and the need in the market. Click To Tweet
I want to explore your journey, which means hearing a little bit of your story. In your bio, you dropped a little hint that where your life’s journey started is not, shall we say, the norm. Certainly not for most people reading this. Tell us the high-level version of the Dr. Pelè journey starting back in Africa.
A lot of people find themselves where they are now. The funny thing is that if we look back to what started it all for us, we find interesting clues. For me, what started my journey was being in a war zone. One of the children that you may have seen on those National Geographic’s picture which is black and white, with the flies buzzing around the faces and the big stomachs. I was one of those kids. We were afraid of dying of hunger and bombs falling all around us. In that environment of having nothing and being afraid of everything, my mother did the most amazing thing. This is what started my life’s journey. What she did was in the absence of food and the presence of fear, she would sing songs. She would take my name, Pelè, and put them into the songs, make up these songs. She share them with myself and all the children in the refugee camp and so on. It was so much fun that we found happiness through those songs and the happiness did the strangest thing. It drove away the fear and hunger. That was my first example that a feeling like happiness could actually subsume physical, tangible things like hunger.
How old were you?
We’re talking 2, 3 years old. This was the Biafran Civil War of Nigeria in the late ‘60s. Out of that, I learned probably my most important lesson, which has driven me to everything else I do now and that is you have to discover the thing that makes you happy first before you pursue success. Material success is out there for sure. You can look at other people and all these things but if you’re not connected through the thing that makes you happy, you will always struggle. For me, happiness is music. It’s storytelling. It’s all the things my mother did. I find happiness in those things. Therefore, I have become the guy who even though I have a PhD in Organization and Management, I still got my guitar. I’m sticking to the thing that makes me happy and I find that works.
You have this vivid recollection of not only the strife but the happiness that your mother cultivated for you in the midst of all that through music and story. What I’m curious about is, was that always clear for you? Did there came a time in your adult life where you reflected on it? Where you looked back and then discovered where your happiness came from or was it always that clear and stayed with you through your entire life?
Most people live entire lifetime where they are constantly questioning, “Am I happy? Am I truly doing what I love? Am I connecting the dots between my passion and my paycheck?” The answer is not always. Yes, I’ve lived that same lifetime questioning myself. I always saw that the trail and evidence I was leaving behind was always I’m happy when I do music. I’m happy when I teach people things. I’m a born storyteller. I’m not happy when I’m doing other things though. You start to connect the dots and say to yourself, “If I want to design the perfect life, I need to look back at the life that I’ve already lived and look for the clues of what has made me happy.”
I’ve written six books and one of my favorite books of all those is one called The Story of You. It defines a strategy in which you need to go back to the story you’ve lived to discover. Rediscover the things that have been who you are, then take those things and use them to intentionally design your future. That’s why you can’t see me in a video without my guitar and my book in that specific spot because I’m living the life I’ve designed. It’s all about music, storytelling, teaching people, and helping people.
Was there a moment where you discovered for yourself that you were not living the life that you wanted to design and that’s what inspired you to go back and figure out what that would be? Did you have a moment, we could call it a revelation of, “I got to change this up and I’ve got to figure out what makes me happy?” Is it always obvious?
I have them almost every week, but I can tell you that I did have one that’s very memorable. I remember I was a vice president at an organization. I was sitting in front of my computer and across comes an email that says, “You’re fired.” The email said it’s over. Here I am, I’m making over six-figures. I have a family to support. My life has been defined by this title called Vice President of Human Resources. It was over. The money would be gone tomorrow and the title. Everything was done and that shocked me into a realization that I cannot continue to be the titles other people give me. I cannot continue to be these things there that are not even the things I enjoy.
I asked myself, “What do you enjoy?” For me that was easy. I’ve always done music, written songs, being the storyteller guy. I used to do things like Toastmasters. I was a Toastmasters regional champion in Minnesota in 2006. It’s like the clues are there so why don’t you go teach people things, go use your speaking, and go use your music. Stop trying to fit into these boxes other people are giving you which they can fire you from so easily. This was several years ago. That’s what put me on the path to where I am now, which is I’m a creative entrepreneur who uses things like music, teaching, and storytelling as a way to help other people build their brands online. No one claimed the URL video brand marketing. I couldn’t believe it so I picked up video brand marketing as the main thing that I help people with. Profitable happiness is the concept that drives me. Find what makes you happy and use it to do something that’s profitable. For me, that’s going to be video brand marketing online.
That’s one of the things that make you happy. That moment where you got the ‘you’re fired’ email, and you have a family to support, you’re accustomed at that point to being on a salary. The decision that you made was, “I don’t want anybody else to define my title.” That decision then to go into business for yourself, when you have a family to support versus going out and finding another title with another salary is a massive thing. I’m speaking from my own direct experience. I went through a very similar thing that I left my own business. I hated it but I wanted to go into something else. That feeling of uncertainty with mouths to feed is no small thing.
In the time that we’re having this conversation, during this pandemic when many people are uncertain about their jobs and their careers, what advice would you give somebody who’s not an entrepreneur by nature but forced into a scenario where their paycheck that they’ve relied on has disappeared and they don’t know where to go next? Where does this pursuit of happiness fit in, in a way that makes it profitable? I love your phrase, profitable happiness. What advice would you give somebody who’s in that’s strange in-between with a lot of uncertainty?You have to discover the thing that makes you happy first before you pursue success. Click To Tweet
I approach it with a lot of humility because not everyone has the same bricks. Some of us have to take a long-term view. We have to say, “This is what makes me happy. I’m going to design a life that will come to fruition in about six months. In the meantime, I’m going to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” Some people have that, other people have a situation in which they can go to a family member or rely on their spouse and have them take the financial part of these struggles for a while until they get up and running. It was a little bit of both of those kinds of strategies, somewhere in the middle.
I had some savings. My wife supported me and was on the same page with me and together we’d made the decision to move forward. A lot of people talk about the American dream and go for what you believe, and all this stuff. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes it’s not the right idea to just jump into what your passion is. Jumping in cold is not a great advice all the time, but if you can space it out and you can gradually build into it, you will be rewarded when you finally made the connection between your passion and your paycheck.
It’s something that I’m passionate about myself just from my own experience and also through the pursuit of music. In a previous episode, I tell my story of bringing music back into my professional life. The punchline is that we all need to do that for ourselves. We need to find those things that make us happy and do them. The challenge is if there’s something that I want to do because it makes me happy like maybe it’s music, art, writing poetry or playing soccer or whatever it is. I love it. It makes me happy. I can’t imagine a better scenario than making money by doing that. What if I flat out don’t have the talent for it? I might love playing guitar and it makes me happy, but I suck at it. There’s no way anybody’s ever going to pay me for that. How do I reconcile that?
You are asking questions that take me directly into things I love to teach because one of the biggest things we have to identify is the map between our greatness and the need that’s in the market. It’s all about demand and supply. To map what you believe in and what you’re great at, you cannot go at the exclusion of what the market is looking for and needs. One of the problems that I have with being a musician is that most of us musicians have no clue about entrepreneurship because we’ve been taught to believe that music is all about, “Sing about your internal feelings.” It’s all about you. It’s like, “Come and tell us what you feel.” No, there’s another type of music that is about serving others and helping other people. What you have to discover is what do other people need?
Other people need motivation and mindfulness. Perhaps you could tailor some of your music to that. We’re using music as an example. When you make a correct map between your passion and the things that provide a profit and a paycheck, that’s the sweet spot that you want to be in. For example, I do a lot with YouTube and video. The very first thing you’ve got to do on YouTube or with video is to do some research on what people are already looking for. If you show up and say, “This is me, I’m a very entertaining guy and I’m going to talk about this topic,” you might be lucky because if you’re in the gaming industry, everybody wants gaming and you’re going to do well.
There are other industries like that, but if you are in an industry that nobody’s looking for, nobody cares about, and you’re like, “This is me,” it won’t be profitable. To your other point, which is what if you aren’t good at something, that’s probably something that I have to say that’s not an excuse at all. There’s a guy that I saw on American Idol some years ago. I think his name is Andrew Lang. This brother could not sing to save his life, but he became a multimillion-dollar star. Why? It’s because he used it as a comedy. He made fun of himself so there’s always a way out. If you’ve got the talent for something, your strategy needs to be to practice that thing until you get good enough to present yourself. There is no excuse for that.
That’s an interesting perspective on it. My approach to it is I encourage people to do it anyway. If what you love to do doesn’t bring you money, the fact that it still brings you happiness means that it brings you energy and that energy is something that you need to be successful in whatever you’re doing. I think a lot of the time people make a false choice that, “If I don’t make money at it, that means I shouldn’t do it. I need to do something else that will pay my bills, etc.” Why are they mutually exclusive? There’s nothing wrong with having an avocation or having a hobby that fills me up, gives me a creative expression that lights my fire. That’s going to transfer what I do to make money and maybe even will make that more enjoyable.
The angle of doing what you love because it gives you the energy to continue doing other things, that’s great. There’s a business angle though too. If you think about the definition of a brand, everybody has probably heard the term, “You are your brand.” Whether you worked for IBM or Microsoft at the end of the day, it’s Steve Farber and Dr. Pelè. We are brands. If you think about what your brand is, your brand is the authentic expression of everything that you are. If you want people to truly connect with you authentically, fall in love with your brand online, you’ve got to bring your whole self. You can’t leave stuff behind. If you want to do music, use it as part of your brand marketing. What happens is you may not be selling records the traditional way.
You’re not going to be the next Michael Jackson, Prince or Stevie Wonder, that’s fine. You’re going to be the strangest person anybody ever saw because here’s a leadership development guru like Steve Farber playing the guitar. I want to talk to this guy. He makes me happy. Dr. Pelè who’s doing this stuff, but he plays music too. That differentiation factor is a powerful brand marketing move. I would not encourage anyone who can’t find a direct connection from their love, hobby, or talent to money to drop it. I would say, “Bring what you are and help use it to help people fall in love with your brand.”
I want to know that story of where you’re in the corporate world. You love music and you decide to bring those two those together. This is why we discovered that we’re soul brothers because we’ve been on essentially the same journey of the integration of our passion for music with our passion for the professional work that we do. Tell us where that happened for you and what that looks like now.
I was once the vice president of human resources. I was an executive coach and a vice president at Dale Carnegie Training here in Austin, Texas as well. I’ve had quite a few opportunities to do traditional training and traditional executive coaching with the assessments and all that stuff. I didn’t love it that much. It was stressful for me because I was in corporate situations so on and so forth. I woke up one day and I said to myself, “How on earth can I truly integrate music into how I teach people to become better leaders or teach people to become better team members?” How do I do that? I had a light bulb moment. I don’t know if I’ll get lucky and this becomes a great story other people tell. It was very exciting for me.Bring what you are and use it to help people fall in love with your brand. Click To Tweet
Here’s the light bulb moment. If you think about how the airplane was introduced into the world, what happened was the Wright brothers went outside of the traditional engineering world. They looked at birds and they said, “What can we learn from birds about flight?” They studied birds. They did the research and they copied flight from birds. It gave me an example of let’s get out of the bubble we’re in and let’s see where we can find inspiration from other sources. Frederick Smith of FedEx did the same thing. He left the transportation industry and copied the hub and spoke to the protection system from banking. There are examples of this out in the real world, but you can say, “Let’s put a break on this strategy. Let’s go learn from something else.”
McKinsey says that 97% of all executives surveyed said that the number one problem for teamwork that causes a failure in projects was a lack of alignment. That’s a McKinsey study. For me, that’s harmony. I asked myself, “If harmony is a big problem, where can we find harmony in nature perfected?” Guess where harmony has been perfected in nature? In music. That led me down the path of doing a whole bunch of research that ended up in this book. This book is called The 7 Songs of a Successful Team. You can see me there with my guitar. I found that there’s an amazing parallel between the elements that make up great harmony in music and the elements that make up great harmony on teams.
I was like, “I got to research this.” I wrote a book about it and it has become the core thing I do with respect to team development. Now I’m excited because I show up with my guitar and I teach people how they can be better at personality, strengths, emotion, vision, trust, habits, and success on their team. In the same way that you need to have things like pitch, rhythm, melody, and harmony in music. It’s an amazing map. That’s how I brought together. I walk around looking for business knowing that my music is 100% part of it. I love every day that I wake up because I get to do what I love and make money doing it.
I don’t know if you remember way back, a classic beautiful little leadership book by Max De Pree called Leadership Jazz?
I’ve heard of it.
You should check that out. It’s been years since I read it. He explores the metaphor of music in an organization and he uses jazz as the genre for the metaphor because jazz is that great combination of incredible synchronizing of rhythm, melody and all that. It breaks away into total improvisation. That ability for a team to be able to gel together and hold that rhythm strong when necessary, then let individuals cut loose and express their own individual creativity is a beautiful and incredibly accurate metaphor.
That old ridiculous cliche that there is no I in a team, which has always nauseated me. For one thing, there’s a lot of letters that aren’t in team. The idea that there is no “I,” is absurd because a great team is made up of very competent, incredible, creative, brilliant eyes individuals. Musical analogy, we let those people cut loose and the team is behind them, then somebody else takes over. It’s a beautiful thing that you’re giving people a direct experience of that through your music.
Herbie Hancock who is still alive once said that when he was in the Miles Davis band, the jazz guru of our time, that one da, while he was playing his piano, he made a big mistake. He played the wrong chord on top of the wrong bass note, and everybody could hear it. He was like, “My job is over.” What happened is that the leader of the band Miles Davis came over to him in real-time while they were still playing and told him, “Keep doing that don’t stop.” He thought, “I better correct myself,” but in fact, Miles Davis told him to keep doing that because this mistake you’ve made has given us a chance to improvise new and possibly more exciting direction and that’s what they did.
The metaphor of music is powerful with respect to teamwork. If leaders can become more flexible and recognize that even within errors and mistakes, there is beauty and potential. That becomes a whole thing. I take it one step further. I love metaphor for music, but I also use music as a method. I use music for the biggest challenge that we all face in learning and development, and that is learning transfer. The problem of learning transfer is so pervasive that up to 87% of all investments in training are lost. We’re talking billions of dollars. Why? It’s because people leave the training event. They go back to work on Monday at 9:00 AM and they forget everything they learned. It so happens that music has an inbuilt power for memorization.
That is why, for example, we have things like music therapy where you can teach people who may have dementia or some memory loss disease to remember, or even help their bodies reconnect with some muscle memory through music. Music has some neuroscience that connects our entire brains in such a way that we can use it for memorization. If you think of the ABCs, we all learned our ABCs by singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. We will never forget that. I use music as a way of transferring the learning from the learning environment, in my team development and my leadership development into reality by writing a song with the people that come to that thing about their vision, their trust, or their personality. Even before we talk about assessing all those things, we’ve designed a concept that becomes a memory for them.
I’ve never heard you say that before in our previous conversations. That’s another bit of a goosebump moment for me and I’ll tell you why. I do have an experience with my friends, the Brothers Corrine, who are incredibly accomplished musicians. They opened for P!nk, Coldplay, and Rod Stewart. They’re amazing songwriters. We do this process that they developed where we write a song with the room from scratch, entirely original songs, then go into the studio and record afterwards. It is a phenomenal experience for everybody present because they’ve all participated in the creation of it. When it’s related to a particular subject or theme, then they’re never going to forget that. I would love for you to share some of your music with us if you’d be willing to twist your arm.Happiness is a thing that we have to actively go and get. We have to do happiness; we can't wait for happiness to happen to us. Click To Tweet
Steve, I was going to say one thing because I’ve come down with a little bit of an allergy here. The song that I’m going to perform for you here is one of my favorite songs. I wrote this a while ago. It’s called I Got Happy. What it means is a lot of people say, “I am happy,” but the problem with saying you are happy is that you’re almost saying happiness is a feeling or a state that you magically have. The truth is happiness is a thing that we have to actively go and get. We have to do happiness. We can’t wait for happiness to happen to us. That’s the inspiration between this idea of I Got Happy. “Hello, world. My heart is open wide. I got this smile so strong I just can’t hide. Goodbye cloudy day, ain’t no rain going to come my way because I got happy. I got happy. Because I believe in me, yeah.”
That is so good. I love it. It’s happy-making songs.
It’s a kind of song that I like to involve the whole team or whatever leadership trading with. We find happiness by doing happiness, not by waiting to feel it. I can’t tell you how many people show up one day and they’re like, “I got the Mercedes. I got the big house, but I’m not happy about what happened.”
It’s fun to do that song with a room full of actuaries and have them sing the happy tune. That makes me happy. I would love to know briefly, given all the work that you’ve done and the integration that you’ve successfully done in your own life between what makes you happy around music, what makes you happy around video, and you pulled it all together. Are there some concrete steps, a little process, something that all of us can do to discover that for ourselves and at least gets a little bit closer to creating that integration? Everybody needs to be there. How can we get people closer to it?
I have a video that I’d love if you could connect to the talks about this. It’s a twelve-minute video online. I do have a process for exactly that. It’s amazing that you’re asking me questions that I’m so connected to. I think we must be brothers from another mother. Here’s my process. A lot of people when designing their life or their business, they start with how they differentiate themselves and how their business, their product, or their service works. It’s the wrong question to start with. Why? It’s because the people at the other end, the customer does not care about how things work until they know who you are. The very first question you got to ask is, “Why do I do what I do?” That speaks to the question of what makes me happy. When you discover why you do what you do, then an amazing thing happens.
The thing that inspires you is now available for you to use in inspiring other people and that’s where true authenticity is. If I was talking to you about widgets and some funny stuff out here and I wasn’t playing my guitar and having a great time with you, the authenticity would be way different. It wouldn’t be real. I would encourage anyone who wants to make that connection to start with, why do you wake up in the morning? What brings you total joy? What makes you come alive? Once you figure out why, then there are seven steps. You ask why, then what, then which, then where, and when to understand your customer and things like that. The last question is what do I do is how do I do it, which is the differentiation question. I have a seven-step process that takes you from, “Why do I do what I do?” to “How do I do what I do?” and not the other way around.
It’s interesting from a leadership perspective which is my passion. I’ll ask the same question. You posed it as customers asked the question about who are you before they engage with you as a customer, but people do the same thing with their leaders. They don’t only want to know what the vision is, what the expectations are of me, etc. They want to know who the leader is. If I’m the leader, then what can I do to more fully communicate and express who I am to the very people that I’m asking to follow me? I’m integrating some of these things even if I’m not making money at it. By bringing those things into my work and the way that I lead, I’m revealing more of myself which gives me a greater connection with the people that I’m leading and it makes me a more effective leader. Here’s what we call it. It’s exactly what you’ve been describing, “Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.” It’s doing what you love and using that to serve people in such a significant way that they love the experience of you serving them. What’s the simplest way for people to connect with you? Is it on the website?
LinkedIn is where you and I met. It’s interesting because I’ve gotten to experience the many facets of Dr. Pelè in a very short period of time. I got to experience your work on LinkedIn, your music, your books, your podcast, and being a guest on your podcast. There are many facets. Thank you for being a guest on the show. Thank you for reading this episode. Until next time, do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.
About Dr. Pelè
Once upon a time, long before I wrote and produced for a major label artist; before I saw my songs climb the Billboard and UK top music charts; before the PHD, and before running my own online business, my story began as a kid with a music dream in a far-away, war-torn African refugee camp.
I remember bombs falling all around us, screams everywhere, people running for shelter. I remember my mother holding me tight while she sang songs and told stories about African soup. Even though we were starving, at least we could dream and sing about soup.
I remember that those songs and stories were the healing and antidote to our fear and hunger. They made me HAPPY. Many years later, I moved to America, and found myself still turning to music and storytelling for healing, happiness, and my antidote for fear. You see, it was from those early days, and from my mother, that I learned my life’s first lesson: a happy mindset can overcome any obstacle.