Jonathan: Welcome to Kidorable Parenting’s interview with Dave Rendall, professional speaker and author of four books including “Freak Factor For Kids”. I’m Jonathan Domsky, blogger, parenting coach, and cofounder of Kidorable. I heard Dave speak three years ago and ever since, inspired by his wisdom, I’ve been on the lookout to help kids embrace the fact that their perceived weaknesses can also be their biggest strengths. Let’s get started. Dave, tell me a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what you’re passionate about.
Dave: Sure. So I’m a professional speaker, and that’s kind of where the story of what I’m passionate about comes from because I’m a professional speaker now, but I spent my whole life getting in trouble because I couldn’t be quiet. My parents called me motor-mouth in an attempt to shame me into being quiet. And the teachers saw me as obnoxious, and rebellious, and inappropriate, and immature, and because of that, so did I. I didn’t know any better, and if they’re the adults, and they seem to know what they’re talking about, and they would certainly know the world better than I would. So that became my vision of myself. And as an adult, I realized that they were wrong, that they were right in a way that I did have weaknesses but didn’t see that the weaknesses were also strengths, the fact that I couldn’t sit still was because I was active, and it’s good to be active. And I couldn’t be quiet because I had a lot to say that’s good to be able to communicate and be passionate about what you’re saying. And I couldn’t do what I was told because I had a strong sense of drive, and motivation, and ambition, and a desire to control my own life as opposed to having other people control my life, and those are positive qualities as well.
So what I realized as an adult is that my weaknesses were also strengths, and that instead of fixing them I should be wanting them, embracing them, amplifying them. And once I started doing that and seeing it succeed, I started wondering whether that same reality was true for other people. If other people had weaknesses that were also strengths. And I started looking for stories and examples of people who had a similar experience, and I started sort of finding it seemingly everywhere. And so I wrote a book and designed an assessments and started speaking about it, and that’s probably what I’m, to answer your third question, the most passionate about is helping people see that their weaknesses are strengths, helping parents see that their kids’ weaknesses are strengths, helping managers see that their employees’ weaknesses are strengths, helping couples see that their partner’s weaknesses are strengths and really transforming those relationships in each one of those situations.
Jonathan: It’s such a burden for a child to feel that they’re a problem and to feel like they’re defined by other people’s judgment. When was it, how was it, as you were an adult that you came to these conclusions?
Dave: It was just sort of by accident which is one of the reasons that I speak about this because I’d like it to be intentional for others and be able to lead people to it. But it’s just, you know, by accident I would… My job required me to get up in front of people to some extent and do little talks for volunteer events and for Chamber of Commerce events. I was helping people with disabilities to get jobs and that required being sort of a sales person and being involved with the business community. And I found that when I was in front of people, they seemed to like it, and I seemed to like it, and they seemed to enjoy themselves, and I was enjoying myself. I’d spent a long time trying to stay out of those situations and sit still, and be quiet, and do what I was told as opposed to getting up and talking.
And so it was just kind of a revelation for me. I remember I was just sitting there in my car one day and just wondered, you know, I wonder if your weakness can also be a strength. I wonder if the worst thing about you could also be the best thing about you. That one idea just kind of led to looking at the world in a different way and seeing that it seems like that is true and it’s true for more people than just me.
Jonathan: Building on that, what was something that you wish you had more courage or imagination to do when you were younger?
Dave: Well, yeah, I wish I had the courage to tell those people I thought they were wrong. I wish I had the courage to sort of stand up for myself back then. And I wish I had the imagination to see that my weaknesses were strengths back then, and to see that there’s not a lot of difference between talking and speaking, that it isn’t a big reach for someone who talks too much to get paid to be a speaker. I wish I would have had the imagination to imagine situations in which my bad qualities would be good qualities and be able to move towards that a lot, lot sooner instead of spending most of my childhood and early adulthood trying to meet other people’s expectations of what I could be or should be or what I was supposed to be, yeah.
Jonathan: But you know, it’s hard enough as an adult to have those conversations. How do you coach a child who doesn’t have a lot of power? I’m thinking about a neighbor of mine. This kid, he has more energy than any human being I’ve ever met, and it’s such a gift. But it is not a gift when he is supposed to sit still in a classroom. So, like, how would you help him talk to his parents, talk to his teacher to say, “No, no, it’s a strength that I can’t sit still.”
Dave: Yeah. I don’t know that I end up in the situation of coaching the kids. What I usually try to do is coach the parents to help that kid find situations outside of school where he can be active and be rewarded for that. And so he can frame the criticism he gets at school as, I’m failing at school but I’m not a failure, or I’m struggling at school but that doesn’t mean I’m broken. But you know, I guess what I would tell that kid, I wrote a book called “The Freak Factor For Kids” and basically I would just probably tell them my story and tell them other people’s stories of people who…it’s sort of a long-term story, right? It’s a little difficult, but I think if a kid has hope, it can change their perspective on their current situation. And so, you know, you tell them a story about how, you know, Michael Phelps had ADHD and now he’s the most decorated Olympian of all time.
We pick examples of things they know, people they admire and you connect that those people had weaknesses. Those people aren’t perfect. And especially when you can find the one like Michael Phelps where it’s the same exact, you know, weakness, or disability, or difficulty the person is having, and I think that gives them hope. And that’s what somebody said actually. I shared a lot of stuff on dyslexia, for example, in my talk and how people with dyslexia grow up to be very successful. And a woman came down and said her daughter had dyslexia and now after hearing that, they had hope.
So I think my primary goal would be to give the kids hope that your success or failure in school isn’t a determinant of your success or failure in life. And that what seems like a big problem now is a huge advantage. And it’s not hard in school to see those opportunities as well, right? So, you know, pursue the presidential fitness award in gym class, pursue athletics and sports, and opportunities to be active in places where you can be rewarded for that and the success from that can increase your confidence and esteem.
Jonathan: Makes sense. Dave, describe something in your family life that you’ve consciously made more fun, easy, meaningful, or joyous.
Dave: Fun, easy, meaningful, or joyous. I think for me it’s traveling. I’m required to travel a lot because I’m a speaker. And so I try to make that more fun for myself and also more fun and joyful for my family by bringing them along. I’ve been able to take my wife to Australia twice. Last year we got to go to Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, London and Paris for presentations that I did, and have just an amazing trip. I’ve been able to take my older two daughters to their first trips out of the country. And we’ve been able to take trips as a family. Last year, we got to go to the Big Bear Lake, California as a family and stay at a retreat center there while I was doing a presentation and got to play paint ball for the first time with my daughter.
So look for an opportunity instead of saying, you know, “You need a work/life balance.” You need to spend as much time, you know, with your family as you spend at work, or find some way to even those two out. I try to find ways to integrate my family into my work and get them involved in the process. I’ve had my daughter design some of my PowerPoint slides. I sometimes have my daughters do research for my books, and I’m getting them more involved in that. So try to just make it something we can all do together instead of something that we do separately.
Jonathan: What is something about your current family life that you wish was more fun, easy, meaningful, or joyous?
Dave: Something I wish was more fun. I think probably just our time around the house, you know. I think my kids are getting older, and everybody’s got an iPad. Everybody’s got an iPhone. Everybody’s, you know, we used to be upset that people watch too much TV, but if you’re watching TV oftentimes, you’re at least watching it together. So I think I wish just sort of our regular around the house time was maybe a little more interactive, maybe a little bit more connected, and that we were interacting with each other more than we are, instead of just sort of doing our own thing in our way and kind of tapping into those things that interest us the most.
Jonathan: What’s something that you treasure from your childhood that you’ve tried to recreate with your own children?
Dave: Oh, that’s an easy one. My dad, we had four kids in our family, and my dad would take us out one on one. It wasn’t real regular. I think he had the goal to maybe make it regular. But he would just take us out and maybe we’d just get a candy bar, or maybe we’d just get sine McDonald’s or whatever. But he made an intentional effort to spend time with us one on one, and I’ve done that with my girls since they were very young. We call them special dates. And I let them pick where we eat or what we do. We spend time one on one, just the two of us. I think that was important for my life, and I think it created a real foundation of relationship with my daughters especially as they grow older. And it’s harder and harder to find time because they’re busy with sports and schools, and the oldest one’s driving and things like that. So those opportunities to be one on one have been diminished. And so that was definitely one, of spending that one on one time with the kids instead of just as a family or haphazardly, making it an intentional thing.
Jonathan: What’s something from your childhood that you’ve consciously changed in raising your own children?
Dave: Oh, well, it’s what we kind of talk about before. I mean, I don’t push my kids to do certain activities because they’re “good activities”. I don’t criticize my children for not conforming and for not hitting some kind of idealized standard of good, or moral, or appropriate. I try to encourage them to be themselves. I try to help them find activities that match their unique abilities. I try to see the strengths that are hiding inside of their weaknesses. I try to make sure that they know that I see that. That I’ve spent far less of my time as a parent sort of fighting my kids in who they are and trying to change them than my parents did. I spend most of my time trying to uncover who my kids are and encourage that and kind of help develop that in that direction, help them be more of who they are instead of consciously trying to make them less of who they are and more of who I think they should be.
Jonathan: Dave, what’s the best thing about being a parent?
Dave: Best thing about being a parent. I think it’s watching them learn and grow and be able to do new things. I think I’m a very achievement oriented person. I like to accomplish things. I like to finish things. So when my daughter gets on the swim team, I feel good for her when she wins her race. I feel proud of what she’s accomplished. It’s good to know that you’ve influenced someone in a positive way and given them the opportunity to achieve things and to have a good life. I found that even though in recent years, for example, I’ve completed, you know, my first Iron Man Triathlon and completed my longest ultra marathon, that the satisfaction I feel from that isn’t just deep and profound as watching, you know, my daughter win a first place in a gymnastics meet. And so I think the thing I like most about being a parent is contributing to my children’s lives and watching they accomplish, and feeling that pride in what they’ve been able to achieve.
Jonathan: Dave, tell me about your current project or something else you think I should know about your work.
Dave: Yeah, that’s a good question. So I realized that…in fact I just looked it up last night. In 2011, I wrote a blog post called “The Ten Rules Of Blogging”, “The Ten Unbreakable Rules Of Blogging And Why You Can Break Them”. And I just went through all these things that were sort of the conventional wisdom about blogging. You need to keep your blog post short, and you need to be professional, and you need to use lists, and you need to do this. If you want people to read it, you need to do that. And I presented that in an example of somebody who does it that way and succeeds, then I presented the opposite. And that you can write long blog post, and people read those as well, and they can present them without lists, and people will read those as well.
That was the beginning, although I didn’t know it, of my new project. Here’s what’s lying in my Freak Factor book. I talked about…there’s a section on doing the opposite. And when I speak about innovation, there were examples of companies that innovated by doing the opposite of what everybody else did. And so I finally realized there was a pattern there, and that I was studying this over and over again in different contexts, and I should bring it all together. So my next project is called “Oppositioning” and it’s based on the idea that the opposite of a good thing is a good thing, and that even those…a company or a person is succeeding doing something a particular way, that doesn’t mean the opposite of that way would be unsuccessful or ineffective. In fact, oftentimes, it would be an excellent choice.
And so I give business examples and life examples, For example, eHarmony is an online dating service, and they say that they have more marriages than any other online dating site. But it seems like if you are gonna start an online dating site, you would try to create more marriages. You would try to have better algorithms than eHarmony has. And you would try to have more detailed scientific matching, and you would have people answer even more questions than the thousands of questions that eHarmony makes them answer.
eHarmony tries to help you find the one forever and the opposite of that is Tinder. They try to help you find anyone for right now. And they’re both successful companies and yet they’re doing the exact opposite thing. Using the exact opposite strategy, Tinder doesn’t even ask you any questions. You just post a picture. And they don’t match for you. You just match by looking at someone, and if you decide they look nice, you swipe to the right and you contact them.
And so that’s the opening example that I use. And I’m just trying to stimulate people thinking to be more innovative, to be more unique, and to, yeah, come up with better and newer ideas instead of just kind of following the crowd and doing what everybody else is doing. Because we assumed that if it’s working for them, it must be the right way and we should probably do something similar.
Jonathan: Where can I find out more about you and your new work?
Dave: My website is drendall.com. So D-R-E-N-D-A-L-L.com. It’s got my Oppositioning talk, a 10-minute version of that. It’s got a 30-minute version of my Freak Factor talk. It’s got links to the books and descriptions of the keynote presentations I do and things like that, it’s all right there, drendall.com.
Jonathan: Wonderful. Dave, this has been such a treat. I’m grateful for your time, your wisdom, and the example that you share with me and our listeners.
Dave: Thanks a lot, man. I appreciate you having me on.
Here’s a link to a video version of Dave’s book Freak Factor for Kids—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhdleqd93UI
In two weeks I’ll give a free Kidorable Umbrella to whoever leaves my favorite comment and shares this interview on the social media platform of their choice.