Tom Asacker is an author, teacher, and innovator. He has been teaching and inspiring organizations and entrepreneurs for over 20 years with unique educational offerings, advisory services, and one-of-a-kind keynote presentations. Tom is the author of The Business of Belief, Opportunity Screams, A Little Less Conversation,and A Clear Eye for Branding, groundbreaking books that redefine business and communication for the new age of abundance. His latest book Your Brain on Story is now available.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I was born into a large extended family in a segregated southern state in the U.S. in the 1950s, but I was raised in an equally large immigrant family in an integrated city outside of Boston. As a child, I spent time going back and forth between those environments, and as such, I was exposed to wildly different cultures, norms, and values.
Rather than any particular experience shaping my life, it was my exposure to that broad and quite a divergent set of human stories that informed my thinking and decision-making. Over the years, I paid close attention to dozens of my relatives, including my parents, looking for models of behavior that would tell me how to live an optimal life, and I simply could not find one. And that experience is what shaped my life. It told me to do what I wanted to do, and not what others modeled or advised.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That it’s all made up. Life, as we perceive it, is a mental construct. And, for most people, that creation is a serious and self-important personal narrative.
I’ve written a new book to help people see that dangerous illusion earlier in their lives and, hopefully, to escape from it and live fully and passionately. It’s called Your Brain on Story: The Destructive Seduction of the Hero’s Journey.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I’m not sure where to begin. Most recommendations I hear are nonsense. A few of my favorites are “start with why” because, first and foremost, people in the marketplace choose your purpose. In fact, what people choose are brands and causes that tap into their unique desires. They use “purposes” to help rationalize those decisions.
There’s also “never lower your fees” and don’t let people “pick your brain” for free. Business people have turned life into a series of outcome-obsessed transactions, instead of a dance of interactions based on curiosity, compassion, and creativity. Most, if not all of my greatest accomplishments and relationships have come from following my heart, and not by trying to strategize and manipulate outcomes.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
What is a dark period? Is it a time when things didn’t work out as planned? Is it a time when you lost something of value, or perhaps when the world didn’t see or embrace your ideas? Or is it a time when you’ve lost touch with your inner spirit and have lost confidence in yourself and in possibility?
I have never lost touch with my inner spirit, and I accept change, in all aspects of life, as both the intended and inescapable nature of reality. And so I can honestly say that the only truly dark periods I’ve experienced were when I’ve watched loved ones suffer. And if we’re fortunate (which I certainly am), we eventually come out of those depressive states. And what we learn is that life is short and that we must embrace all of it, fully, while we have the opportunity.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I suppose that depends on what you mean by success. A brilliant friend of mine once posed this question to me: “Why is success viewed as happiness? Why isn’t happiness viewed as success?
That said, the one thing that I do that has been the biggest contributor to my success is this: I only do what I want to do, and I never worry about whether or not I can actually do it. I believe I can figure pretty much anything out as I go, and so if something interests me and I can see how it can make life a bit better off for others and it engages my creative spirit, then I’ll do it. And if, and when, it doesn’t do those things for me any longer, I stop doing it.
What is your morning routine?
I don’t really have a routine. If my schedule is free in the morning, I’ll sleep until I awaken, typically no later than 7 am. I’ll then have a cup of coffee or two, while I catch up on world news, online and on TV. Around 8 am, I’ll either go for a walk with my dog, or I’ll work out with weights for an hour, after which I’ll shower and drive to my office. That said, prior to the pandemic I was travelling a lot, giving talks and working with clients, and so my mornings were even more fluid.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I intentionally keep my thoughts out of both the past and the future. Of course I do imagine new possibilities and work to make them a reality, but once I make a decision to take action I embrace the creative process and the uncertainties of tomorrow.
And as far as the past goes, to me, and as the song lyrics say, it’s just a goodbye.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
My strategy is what I stated in your previous question. I use my energy and thinking mind to engage fully in my work, in the here and now. I do not waste it on things that either have or haven’t happened.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
During my senior year in High School, I was introduced to the British-born American philosopher Alan Watts through his book titled, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.
It was through Watts’ writing and his recorded talks that I became aware of concepts like culture, and spiritual and social identities. Those ideas set me on an early path of self-reflection—questioning the status quo and living a spirited, authentic life.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
One is from the British photographer Cecil Beaton, which I recite at the end of all of my keynote speeches: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safe, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
And the other is from the great G.K. Chesterton: “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.”
If you live your life in the spirit of those two quotes, you’ll live a life free of anxiety and filled with passion and possibility.