Students and young professionals are growing up in the most amazing time in history, but they are also facing more challenges, uncertainty, and competition than ever before. The current education system doesn’t prepare us, and even it is going through its own revolution right now with the coronavirus. Even if we do have a good career, it doesn’t prepare or teach us how to be happy or live with purpose.

In the new book, The Standout Experience, John Walsh provides us with the clarity, simplicity, and certainty that serve as the core foundations for success and happiness in life. By reading the valuable ideas and advice from experts and mentors, as well as actionable strategies laid out by John, you will get the playbook to rise, shine, and impact when it matters most.

In today’s episode, John shares with us why he believes we all have one purpose, what that is, and how self-discovery should be a fun and exciting journey. Enjoy.

Miles Rote: Hey, everyone. My name is Miles Rote, and I am excited to be here today with John Walsh, author of The Standout Experience: How Students and Young Professionals Can Rise, Shine, and Impact When it Matters Most. John, I’m excited you’re here. Welcome to The Author Hour podcast.

John Walsh: Thank you, Miles. It’s good talking to you. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here.

Miles Rote: Before we jump into your book, first, tell us a little bit about you and your background.

John Walsh: My background is probably very similar to the audience. I went to college and got a job working for Disney, of all places. I spent 18 years working for the Walt Disney Company in Orlando, Florida, in finance and strategy. I moved to New York City to help launch Disney Plus, which is the Disney streaming video service. Then from there, I left Disney and went to Madison Square Garden as a Senior Vice President of Finance and Strategy. I’ve recently left MSG, and I’m about to start my own company and launch this book. It’s exciting times.

That’s the surface story and there’s obviously a lot underneath that. Like a lot of people listening, there were challenges along the way and risk-taking, and uncertainty, and all that, so I’m sure we’ll probably get into those as we go through the podcast today.

Miles Rote: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about that now, as far as what inspired you to write this book. It sounds like that’s quite the career. I imagine that there are many ups and downs and risks you had to take.

Walk us through what inspired you to write this book and the standout experience concept in general?

John Walsh: I would say it was probably the intersection of two stories happening and coming together at once. The first was I was always afraid of public speaking. A good friend of mine was going to the University of Florida to do a speech on personal branding, and he couldn’t go, and he asked me to go to the Career Services Professional Development Day.

I went, nervous as can be, getting up on stage talking about personal branding, a topic that I didn’t know a whole lot about, but had some familiarity with it. I went in nervous and everything else and, when I walked out, I really enjoyed giving that talk. There were probably 150, 200 people there, all young students. Many of them came up afterward and were talking to me about what I had shared. It was a wow moment for me. I thought, “Wow, you can really make a difference in people’s lives.”

Then, not related, when I was an executive at Disney, I had reached a point in my career where I had plateaued. My leader and HR left a note. It was actually two days before Christmas. I was in a meeting, and I came back and there was this note on my desk. It was well-intended. It was intended to be, “Hey, you’re doing really well, but here are some things that you can do to get to the next level.” The way it was written, it felt almost like a performance plan.

Effectively, it was to double-down or go into personal development. That is what really got my journey going. It suggested a mentor for me, a book to read, and then some leadership classes to take. I did all of that. I didn’t read any books leading up to that, like a lot of people. I read the book and I got so much value out of it. Then it led me to read another one, and then another one. I started reading a ton of books, and I started listening to as many podcasts as I could. I just fell in love with personal development and growth and inspiration and motivation.

Then you take the being able to get up in front of students and help coach them, and then this passion for personal development and growth.

I should say, there’s a third part of that, which is when I was at Disney, in finance, after September 11th, and in that 2012-2013 time frame, Disney scaled back on their HR resources. One of the things we had to pick up as a finance organization, was recruiting.

I was the executive champion for recruiting, which meant my job was to lead a team to go out, travel to schools and associations and things, and find our next talent coming into the finance organization. I really just got excited about meeting young students and giving them opportunities at Disney. If you take the getting in front of people and helping them, you take this just immense desire and passion for personal growth and development and then helping people get the right jobs and start their careers, it all got me thinking about this book.

I know this is a long answer, but I think it’s important that, to me, the reason why I wrote the book is that there’s so much information out there. I mean, anything that you want to know, you can find out about–leadership, personal development, everything. To me, there was never a, “How does it all tie together? What does it mean? What are the step-by-steps? What do I do with all this information?” That’s what got me thinking about this book.

I shared the concept with some friends of mine, some other folks that I spent a lot of time with. Everyone said, “You’ve got to write a book about this.” I started going back to the University of Florida and some other schools, and doing leadership classes, and trying out this framework, and tweaking it. Everyone told me that it’s so good. It’s so helpful.

The book just naturally came from that. What’s interesting is how the company has come as a basis for this book that’s being written.

Bringing It All Together

Miles Rote: I love that. I love you walking us through that matrix that led to this book, and you can really see those experiences in the book as well. Speaking of just the book in general and how helpful it can be, who did you write this book for?

You mentioned personal development and finding all of this information out there, but it really not being in one place expressed in the way that you’ve outlined. Who did you write it for?

John Walsh: I wrote the book for students and young professionals. Miles, I think there’s a lot of problems in the world today and we all know that. I just think there’s so much talent, and ambition, and desire from young folks coming into the world to make a difference and do something.

I wrote this book specifically for students and young professionals in mind. Because when you read a lot of the personal development books, and you follow Tony Robbins and Brendan Bouchard and all these wonderful thought leaders, it really feels like it is for adults. It felt like there was an empty space. I think it’s starting to get filled a little bit more. I saw this empty space for students and young professionals, particularly as I traveled the country and talked to students in different schools. I wrote it for them in mind.

I also have three young, beautiful children of my own. At some point, they’re going to go to high school. They’re in middle school and elementary school right now, so they’re going to eventually go to high school and go on to college. I wrote this for them. Honestly, I think I wrote a little bit this for myself, in the sense that, through no fault of anyone else but my own, I had a little bit of a challenging upbringing to get started in my career. I think it was therapeutic in some ways for me to write this book, to say, “Let me capture, if nothing else, for myself.”

Maybe this book helps one person, maybe it helps just me, but to capture all those ideas and everything that I learned and put a book out there, which is, and as you know, is no easy task.

I think I wrote it for a lot of people, and I think, at the end of the day, we’ll talk about purpose later. I think it fulfills one of my purposes and one of my missions in life.

Miles Rote: I feel a theme throughout your book is self-discovery. It seems also part of writing the book and this whole process helped you with self-discovery. Let’s talk a little bit about the process of self-discovery. What does that look like as a young professional and a young adult coming into themselves, and starting to discover maybe who they are, or who they want to be?

John Walsh: I think self-discovery is a great way to put it, Miles. That really is. Self-discovery, in my opinion, it happens backwards. The natural evolution of us as humans is we discover ourselves over time. Some people discover themselves early and know exactly what they want to do, and who they are, and they go, and they live their life like that, and we admire people that do that. Others, including myself, it takes a while. Sometimes you never really figure it out, or you figure it out too late and you have regrets.

What I see today is students and young professionals focusing so much on the things that they’re taught. Resumes, and what to wear at an interview, and how to answer questions, and the major that they are studying, and the school that they get into, and how to get that first job. There’s a lot of great books out there–what to do in the first 90 days on the job, and here’s how to succeed in your job.

At the end of the day, we’re losing the basic fundamental that you’ve got to start with who you are, which means what? It means what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re good at, what you can contribute to the world. It’s not just the self-discovery of who you are, but where you’re going. I think one of the problems that I see out there today is a lot of students and young professionals are going for these jobs, either right out of school, or they’re going for a second job once they get into the working world.

I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of students and they’re prepared to answer the technical questions, and they’re prepared to answer the questions about the company, and that stuff, but they really have a hard time articulating who they are. I think people can be so much happier if you really understand who you are, what you do, how you do it, why you do it because it makes decisions so much easier. A lot of students that I’ve meet, and young professionals, they feel a lot of pressure. Whether it’s pressure from society, it’s the pressure from their parents or whatever else, to go into certain jobs and certain careers, but it’s counter to who they really are as people.

One of the reasons why is there is so much unhappiness and lack of job satisfaction is because people aren’t doing what they love to do. They’re doing what they think they should do. I think, the sweet spot for self-discovery–reading the research and talking to experts–it seems like that is when you are a sophomore in college. It’s where you start really getting to learn a little bit about who you are. That’s why I wrote this book that has a playbook to it, it starts early on, and the very first thing is self-discovery. It’s one of the basic fundamentals before you start adding other building blocks on top.

Miles Rote: It can be a complex thing and a multi-faceted thing to discover yourself, obviously. It’s always a process. It can be really confusing, because, as you mentioned, self-discovery oftentimes is who we’ve become and understanding who we’ve become, but so much of that is influenced by the things around us. Unless we are the ones having control over those things around us, then we’re actually becoming something that is influenced solely from our external circumstances and not from within.

One thing about your book is you offer that playbook, and you use the acronym STANDOUT, which I really like. Maybe you can just give us a high-level overview of that playbook and what that looks like?

John Walsh: Before I get into that, I’ll just touch on one other thing about self-discovery. There are two other important components of that. One is, my goodness, that self-discovery is fun. It really can be fun. I think so many people are trying to figure out their purpose, and who they are, and you know what? It actually is a journey. The second point is it’s a never-ending journey, because the more you expose yourself to things, the more you discover what you like and what you’re good at.

I think self-discovery is a process that never ends. It’s a fun journey. It’s what life is all about. You should always be reaching for that, “Who am I?” And challenging yourself to be that next version of yourself, the you 2.0 and you 3.0.

The playbook which is in the book, the acronym is STANDOUT X, which is the name of the company that I’m the president and CEO of.

Basically, what I’m trying to do is help students, young professionals, and even people that are in their careers and want to go back. You might be a stay-at-home mom and you want to get back into the working world, or something happened in your life and you want to restart your career, or go into a new industry, or do something different. This book and this playbook, while specifically targeted for students and young professionals, is really, “Here’s how you go from start to standout.” Each letter stands for something. We just talked about it with self-discovery.

The S is self. It starts with yourself, and really understanding who you are.

You talked about control, which I love because that’s the first chapter in the book because you have to understand that you have control of everything that happens to you, and I mean everything. If you don’t believe and you don’t take ownership of that control, then you’ve already lost and there’s no point going on through the rest of the acronym because you’re assuming that everything happens to you.

The book starts with the first thing, which is the acknowledgment of self-control. We are 100% in control of our lives and the decisions we make. You make choices every single day about what to do. You make choices every single day about what not to do. People always say, “Well, what about if the unexpected happens, there’s a death in the family, or a hurricane tears down my house, or whatever else it is?” You can control that, but you can control how you react to it and what you do with it.

The acronym starts with the two most important pieces, which is Self and Tomorrow–that’s the S and the T. I won’t go through the entire acronym, because I want people to read the book and work through it, but it really starts with who am I right now? With all of my past glories, past challenges, everything else, who am I today? Where am I going tomorrow? Which is the T. If you don’t know who you are and where you are today, and you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter what you learn about resumes and how to interview and taking that first job, because you’re always stuck in that, “I don’t know who I am, what I’m doing, and I don’t know where I’m going.”

What most people do is they live a year like that, they do it 80 times, and then they call it a life. You look back and you’re like, “I didn’t truly discover who I was, and I wasn’t truly expressive of myself, and I didn’t achieve the goals and dreams that I wanted to do,” and I think it starts with that.

The book is a playbook. Hopefully, we can get into that and I could explain what the playbook means a little bit.

A Playbook

Miles Rote: Yeah, yeah. I think that would be great. Also, how using that playbook can help young professionals and really anyone, because, as you mentioned, it’s geared towards young professionals. But as someone who is 37-years-old, I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a young professional, but there was so much helpful information in there for me and anyone, again, who wants to go from start to standout. You really want to help people rise, shine, and make an impact. How can we use that playbook to do those things and what do those things mean to you?

John Walsh: Well, two parts to that question. The first is to close the thought on the playbook. One of the challenges that I see is students and young professionals, they’re not ready for their career and for life after school. They’re also feeling a lot of pressure and stress and uncertainty about the world. The other is there’s just so much information out there. We all get recommendations on books to read, and you see a lot of quotes out there, there are webinars, and seminars, and conferences, and all these things.

To me, it was always getting bits and pieces of a puzzle and not connecting. My wife loves to do puzzles. You may have read a great book and there’s a great piece to the puzzle. But what do you connect it to? You can’t start putting the puzzle together until you start connecting the pieces. Everyone is looking for someone to tell them exactly what to do.

That’s a really tough ask of anybody because you’re the only one that knows yourself. Every situation is different. Every experience is different. Every journey is different. To be able to tell someone, “This is exactly what you do,” is really not doing them any favors.

What the framework, and I call it a playbook because it’s really nine-point the S-T-A-N-D-O-U-T-X, it’s really a playbook to give someone and say, “Here’s the framework. This is your playbook for life.”

These are the important things in the specific order and there’s a reason that they’re in that order.

What the reader’s control or responsibility is, is to go fill out that playbook with what works for them. You assess yourself and you understand, what do you need to do to improve the S portion of it? What do I need to do to really work on those components of U? U stands for Uplift, which is, as a leader, you’re supposed to uplift other people. There’s a whole chapter on leadership.

It really is a playbook to hand to someone and say, “Here’s how it all ties together. This is your roadmap. This is your framework. This is your playbook,” whatever you want to call it. “Now let’s help you fill in the blanks of that playbook, what works for you, and your environment, and the people around you.”

I write in the book that if you’re anyone who’s associated with a student or young professional, you could be a parent, or a teacher, or a leader in an organization, a coach, it actually is a great tool to help ask the right questions and lead the people that you’re trying to help into their best self. That is the second part of your question, which is the rise, shine, and impact.

One of the letters of the acronym is the N, which means Now. It’s all about your purpose in life. What is my purpose and what do I do right now to live my purpose? What is my purpose in life? What am I here for? It’s my argument, and I argue this in the book, that we all have the same purpose in life.

Don’t try to find this needle in a haystack, the one thing I was meant to do, because can you imagine how unfair life would be if you were put on this earth with eight billion other people, and you’re going to live 364 days, or 365 days, 80 times over and there’s only one thing that you were destined to do? How ridiculously unfair would life be? I don’t think everyone has one purpose, a specific purpose. I think we all have one reason for being here and that’s rise, shine, and impact.

It’s my argument that we are all here to do three things. The first is we were all given unique gifts and talents, and we’re all individuals. There’s no one else like us. The rise is just being your best self. I think we have a responsibility to be the best person that we can be.

Then the second is shine, which is once you’re your best self, you have a responsibility to help other people be their best selves, and that’s the shine. I think leadership is like shining a beacon. It’s lighting the way. It’s helping people get to their best selves.

Then the last one is impact. Once you’re working and you’re your best, the best that you can be, and you’re leading to help other people, then I think we all have a responsibility to make a difference in the world, to leave the world a little bit better than we found it, whether it’s today, tomorrow, over the course of your lifetime. I think our purpose–all of us, we’re here to do those three things. Be the best that you can be, lead to help other people, and then make the world a little bit better. That’s our purpose, and that’s why I wrote the book and that’s why there’s a whole chapter dedicated to it.

I think what we have to do now is we have to find our mission within that purpose. How do you do that? How do you fulfill that purpose? What jobs, what people around you, what things that you do help you rise to your best self, shine as the best leader you can be, and make the greatest impact in the world?

I think the fun part of life is to find a mission. The reason I love saying mission and not purpose is because, you don’t have one mission in life. I think once you accomplish one mission, you can go on to the next one.

I mean, look, my mission I thought was to go work for Disney, help Disney grow as a company, make the guests that came to Disney, make their vacation as magical as possible, help grow the teams around there. That was my mission and I loved it. It was one of the greatest companies to work for.

Now later, as I’ve left Disney and I’m trying to help other people, my mission has changed. My mission now is to help other people. It’s okay to have your mission change. I want people to rise, shine, and impact. I think you have to prepare to do that. Then once you do that, I think you have a responsibility to make the world a little bit better a place. That’s what it’s all about. I love long answers, as you can tell.

Life As a Game

Miles Rote: No. You’re nailing it. That’s exactly what I was looking for. How you just broke that down, I think is so important in regards to having a mission and how that, in fact, should change. Our missions should change if we’re growing and challenging ourselves and taking risks as you recommend, but our purpose doesn’t have to be this idea that you finally find this one thing that suddenly will light you up and then it’s going to stay that way forever because the truth is finding something that we’re passionate about, we can be passionate about it for some time, and then that passion wears off, and we find our interests growing somewhere else.

That doesn’t mean that the purpose that we thought we had for our lives was wrong and we have to start over. It’s, as you said, realizing, “Hey, this is an overall bigger purpose to continually be refining and becoming greater and making an impact.” My favorite thing about it is making it fun, as you talk about. One way that you recommend people making it fun is gamifying things, and thinking about life as a game, and looking at different aspects as a game.

Let’s talk a little bit about that. Why is that important and how can that help people have fun with this?

John Walsh: It was interesting. Where that came from, I remember I was doing a talk in front of some young professionals at Disney. There may have been 80 of our best and brightest in the company. I was giving this speech and I was telling them, “Here’s how you’re successful,” and all that stuff. I would get a lot of comments on it, and one of them wrote, “This is all great, but gosh, he doesn’t look like he’s having fun. It’s very scripted.” I was like, “Gosh, you’re right.” It’s like at the end of the day, you can do all these things, but unless you’re enjoying life, then what good is it?

There’s so much pressure out there to do a certain thing and be a certain way. I just found that for me, what worked is you relieve so much pressure if you approach everything as a game. In the book, that’s part of the A, attitude, approaching life as a game. There’s so much that we’re wired as humans to thrive on gaming–the competition, the sense of achievement, the teamwork, the fun, the play aspect of it. It is the game of life. It really is.

If you approach things from a gaming perspective, that you’re going to compete, you’re going to practice and prepare, you’re going to be ready for game time when your moment comes, that standout moment. It alleviates so much pressure and anxiety because you are playing this game. If you lose a game, you haven’t lost the championship, because you can go on from there.

It was interesting, because as I was writing this book, Simon Sinek’s book, The Infinite Game came out. I thought, “Wow, that’s cool,” because he says the same thing. Life is an infinite game. It really is. What I find is that students, young professionals, and even not so young professionals, they go into certain meetings, or they approach projects, or they’re working with a certain boss, or collaborating across matrix organizations, and they don’t even understand the game that’s being played.

There’s always the meeting within the meeting, and there’s always the project within the project, and there’s always the culture within the company. I think it’s hard to win and it’s hard to stand out if you’re playing the wrong game.

The book goes on to break down what gaming is. There’s a game board, and there are moving pieces, and there are rules, and there are rules that you can break, and there are rules you must follow, and there are objectives to win. I think, if you approach life with that mentality, it’s really helpful. There’s a reason it’s early on in the book. We just gave away STA, which is Self, Tomorrow, and then how you Approach life.

Once you get those three things, it starts to make sense and you start to have more fun. You can tell, I’m ready to jump out of this chair and go just preach it. I think it’s so important.

Miles Rote: I agree. It’s one of my favorite things about your book because I think for a lot of people, it can feel intimidating to think about those things, or overwhelming. As opposed to even leveraging our biology, in the sense of this is how our biology acts, and how it thrives. If we can leverage that while also taking some pressure off, because it’s just a game, and have a little bit more fun with it, and put a little skin in the game, it just changes the entire perspective. I think it’s so important.

Thank you for writing this book. You did such a good job. As you mentioned before, writing a book is no joke. Congratulations. If readers could take away one or two things from your book, what would it be?

John Walsh: I think there’s probably two things–one is that it’s a very competitive world, and at some point in our life, we all want to stand out. Of the average 250 candidates that are going to apply for a job, one is going to be chosen. There are eight billion people in the world, you’re going to hopefully find that one true love. We all want to stand out.

You don’t just stand out. There’s a process to get there, so that when the moment comes, by the time that moment comes, it’s almost done deal because of everything you’ve done up to that point.

I think what I hope people take from this book is that, if you want to stand out, there are things you have to do before that moment happens, so that’s the first.

The second thing is, the book is written really in three sections. I know there’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and that’s all great, but, at the end of the day, what we as humans and as career professionals, there’s three basic needs we’re really looking for beyond, again, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Those are clarity, simplicity, and certainty.

We all want to be a little bit clearer about who we are, where we’re going, and what are we doing. We want to take all this complex information and simplify it to just the stuff we need to know and the things that are most impactful.

Then certainty. There’s nothing that is certain in life, but there are things that you can do that increase the probability of success and increases the possibility of certainty. I hope, people take the framework, the playbook, as I call it, with them everywhere. I hope it makes things very clear, very simple, and increases certainty for everyone. Then I hope people get involved in the standout movement.

My website is because I think that there’s a community involvement and effort with this. Imagine what we can do if we get millions of students and young professionals energized and engaged to stand out, to rise, shine, and impact the world, and we give them this tool, this playbook that people just need? Imagine what could happen in the world if millions of students and young professionals go out there in the world and make a difference?

Gosh, the world can be a greater place. At least I’ve done a little bit of my part to help that, so that’s what I hope. I hope it’s a fun read overall.

Miles Rote: Thank you. You have done that. Thank you for the work that you’re doing and making this your purpose now. You’re basically giving up a very professional career to try to make the world a better place and impact people. It’s amazing and thank you for that.

John, this has been such a pleasure and I’m so excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called The Standout Experience: How Students and Young Professionals Can Rise, Shine, and Impact When It Matters Most. You can find it on Amazon. Besides checking out the book, you mentioned your website, but where else can people find you? You’re on Instagram as well, correct?

John Walsh: I’m on Instagram, @JohnWalsh_Standout. You can find me there and that’s where I have this acronym that I post out there that’s about freedom, and it’s giving people frameworks, and research, and education, and examples. That’s the FREE part of it. I’m posting a lot of stuff there. Then it’s up to my followers on Instagram to do the DOM. They have to do it, they have to optimize what they do, and then measure against it.

Hopefully, my Instagram account is an extension of the book and we’ll dive in deeper. If you go to and you join the movement, we’ll have webinars and, eventually, once we come out of COVID, we’ll be doing hopefully live events again and other things around the book.

Then you can follow me on Facebook as well at John Walsh – Standout Movement. Those are the two that I’m most active on at the moment. Everything flows through the website right now.

Miles Rote: Beautiful. Everyone go check it out. John, thank you again so much and keep winning at the game of life.

John Walsh: Thanks, Miles. I really appreciate it. Great job today. Thank you.