For this Path Hacker interview, I had the pleasure of holding a Skype call with Danny Dover, one of my personal inspirations and a downright awesome guy.
Danny did more cool shit in 2011 than most people do in a lifetime. To name just a few, he became a published author, ran a marathon, traveled to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Panama, Belize, Mexico, Canada and France, summited Mt. Rainer, starred in a commercial, and learned to fly a plane, all while doubling his annual income and cutting expenses in half.
Danny does stuff like this all the time. He decided to create a life list (aka bucket list) and to pursue his list aggressively. His deadline for completing everything on his list is not before he “kicks the bucket” or in some far-off, “someday” like most of us. Danny’s deadline is a mere 5 years away. Setting a short deadline keeps him on task to be continually doing all the things he wants to do in life.
But it’s not just a hurried pursuit of checking things off a list. Danny’s list is not the goal, but a means to an end. The real goal is to live a life of happiness and inspire others to do the same. It’s working wonders. Danny is the happiest he’s ever been, and I can personally attest to the fact that he’s a big inspiration others.
His Professional Bio Reads: “Danny Dover is a passionate SEO, influential writer and obsessed life list completer. He is also the author of the best selling book Search Engine Optimization Secrets. He was previously the Lead SEO at SEOmoz.org, one of the world’s leading SEO companies, where his articles were read more than a million times. His expertise has been cited in Time Magazine, PC World, Smashing Magazine and Seattle Post-Intelligencer and has been translated into Japanese, Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, German and Hungarian. He has spoken at numerous conferences (spanning three continents) and his work has been accessed online in more than 175 different countries. Danny spends his time checking items off his 150+ item long bucket list (half of which are now complete) and working on his startup, Making it Click. Making it Click is an online marketing training course that features actionable how-to videos from the world’s best online marketers.
On to the interview:
[MV] You were really successful early in your career. A lot of people would be content to be at a point in life where they’ve got a really good job, speaking opportunities, and offers to be an author and professor. However, you reevaluated your priorities at that point in your life. How did that come about?
[DD] It started out slowly. As I was traveling around a lot speaking at conferences, I realized I really, really loved that. I loved the people I was meeting, and the experiences I was having. Then I started to realize I actually liked those things more that my job and the SEO work that I was doing. And as I was meeting cool people who were doing interesting things, the conversations I was having tended to be more and more about happiness and exploring the idea of ‘what is happiness and how do you sustain that’?
And the people that I was having these conversations with were successful by any way you want to define that. Either they had a lot of money, had families that they loved, had accomplished great things, or all of the above. And these ideas kept coming up that it wasn’t things that made them happy, it was family and friends, travel, and experiences that made them happy.
And it slowly occurred to me that I could have more of these experiences now. It really doesn’t cost that much to travel if you do it smart and cheap. And I realized that it wasn’t possessions that made me happy it was awesome experiences and awesome people.
From that, I started to reevaluate my life list. I had a list at the time, but it had things on it like ‘get an Oscar, and Emmy, and a Grammy in the same year’, so it wasn’t very realistic [laughs].
So I went through and audited that, and I got it down to something that was very challenging, but still potentially doable, at least in theory. I kept adding to the list and adding to it, (based on conversations with friends and coworkers) and then I had a really long list. I reevaluated it at that point and I got it down to 100 items.
I first started working on the list was when I was speaking at a conference in Sydney. It was the first time I had been out of North America, and I though it was a great opportunity to start checking some things off the list. Once I started working on the list I realized I really loved it and that this was what I wanted to do.
From there, I set an arbitrary deadline (May 25, 2017) and started working on it.
How committed are you to the deadline?
After I set the deadline I woke up one day and decided ‘I want to go shoot guns and get a tattoo’. So I called my friend and we went to shoot guns.
Then I went to get the tattoo. I got the deadline for my life list tattooed on my butt.
And so the lame joke I always make is ‘I can’t change my deadline, it’s too much of a pain in the butt’ [laughs].
It’s actually been really helpful because some things on my list take a lot of time, for example, getting a patent, but having the deadline forces me to make it happen, and that has made all the difference for me.
You’ve written on your blog that you stopped drinking, stopped watching TV, and got fit. Was that part of your life list or were those things separate?
Those changes were separate, actually. I had already started pursing my life list and I think it was around the time that I had a bad break-up.
It was under similar circumstances as a previous break-up, so realized that I was making the same mistakes and that I wasn’t growing, and that something needed to change.
It did something to my head. So I went for a really long jog. Well, it was as long as it could be since I wasn’t in shape at the time, and I’m sure it devolved into a walk [laughs]. Then I thought ‘this is ridiculous. I’m not making the right choices and something has to change.’
At that time I was living with my friend Ian, who is a personal trainer, and I asked him how to get fit. He recommended to me what worked for him and he recommended CrossFit and a Paleo diet. So I started taking CrossFit classes three days a week and doing the diet, and between those two things I lost the majority of the weight.
So that was the point where you started to work out, but you had been really out of shape. Then you ran a marathon last year. How did that happen?
I had never been a runner and had never run more than 3 miles, but I recruited my friend Sam to train with me. I called him up and I said ‘Sam, I’m going to train for a marathon, and I want you to do it with me. We’re going to train for the marathon and we’re going to run it in Argentina together.’ And he said ‘okay’.
So I trained as I traveled. I trained in Rio, Belize, Argentina, Chile, and on June 27, 2011, I completed my first marathon.
How long was it from the the initial “long jog” when you were really out of shape until you ran a marathon?
That ‘long jog’ was in December of 2010, and the marathon was June 27, 2011.
6 months to go from out of shape to running a marathon is extremely impressive. How have these accomplishments affected your life and your happiness?
It’s been a complete 180. My freshman year in college was tough for me. Academically I was doing fine, but spiritually and socially it was tough. I was depressed and unhappy. But after gradually getting into this life list mentality it’s the complete opposite.
I’m an extremely positive person and I run into moments where I laugh at myself for laughing at just nothing [laughs]. It’s completely different, night and day, and it’s been sustained for 4 or 5 years. And this is how I feel all the time now.
All this happened because of the actions you took. What advice would you give to people that want to make a life change but aren’t sure how?
I think it starts with surrounding yourself with people that inspire you rather than drain you. That’s what enabled me to get some momentum and get over that initial inertia was surrounding myself with people who challenged and inspired me. That came from coworkers at SEOmoz and my friends Ian and Sam. And frankly I wasn’t even asking the right questions at the time. My goals were set too low. But they were the ones that saw potential and inspired me.
You’ve been an inspiration to me through the posts on your Life Listed blog. Are your plans for that blog to inspire others and build a community or is it just a personal blog?
It started as a tool to keep pressure on me to keep moving forward on the list. If I made my goals public, it made it harder to fail. Then as I started to get positive feedback on the blog, I realized that I get a lot more fulfillment from helping other people than me just talking about myself [laughs].
And so I struggle with that when I’m writing posts about myself and I’m still trying to figure out how to help people in the best way.
Another inspiring thing on your Life Listed blog is the “happiness audit” that pertains to career happiness. How did you come up with that, and how do you use it?
The happiness audit started slowly. I was doing a lot of research on happiness, doing a lot of reading on it, and I started doing a lot of thinking on how to quantify happiness while I was in Argentina. It turns out that someone else that spent years on the topic ended up being a friend of mine so we had a lot of discussions about it over coffee.
But the happiness audit was started in my early stages, actually before I went to Argentina. The review part is essential. I review it with my manager every two weeks. I do the audit myself the day before our meeting and share it with my manager so they always know if we’re on the same page.
It’s important because I can get a paycheck anywhere, but there are other things that are important in my life.
Notes: The happiness audit is a very useful tool and can help you decide if you need to make a change. You can read the one Danny uses here: http://www.lifelisted.com/blog/happiness-audit/.
If you want some more examples of making serious, positive personal change, you’ve got to check out Danny’s blog at http://www.lifelisted.com/.
And if you do SEO or want to learn more, you need to read Danny’s best selling book, SEO Secrets.