Breaking Free from Defeat and Despair with Weldon Long
Our conversation spins around Weldon’s extraordinary comeback, the habits he built over time to make a 180° change on a personal and professional level, and the experiences that inspired his books. Weldon shared several golden nuggets of wisdom he learned throughout his life, the challenges he faced and overcame, and so much more.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we have a special guest with us today. He is a dear friend. I love this guy. He’s amazing. He’s written several books that I’m going to tell you about in a few moments. But I’m going to start off this podcast a little differently because I’m going to read one of the pages in the book. It’s how he started out one of the books. He told the story actually. So, hang with me on this one page, you’re going to really get into it: Once upon a time, there was a man who had destroyed his life by the age of 32. And although what so many people claim is true is that you can measure a person’s character by how he responds when the chips are down and his back is against the wall, there was nothing in this man’s life to suggest he was even remotely prepared to overcome the challenges before him. But you never know what somebody can accomplish if he or she wants it badly enough. And on June 10, 1996, this individual stood motionless in a prison cell, a cell indistinguishable from so many others that had served as his home for more than six years. Devastated over the recent news that his father died, he looked deeply into the eyes that glared at him through the scarred stainless steel mirror in his tomb. Through the initial sprawl by an unknown tenant before him, he saw the reflection of an unemployed high school dropout and a three-time loser who’d spent his entire adult life in a hopeless state of despair. For as long as he could remember, he’d known only prison, poverty, and struggle. He had no money, no hope, and by all accounts, no future. And he had never held a steady job or owned a home and he had abandoned his three-year-old son. He had never done an honorable thing in his life. And as he stared at his pathetic countenance grieving over his dead father, the son he had left behind, and the life he had essentially wasted, he considered the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson—one of my favorite authors, poets, and contributors of literature, who he had just discovered—who wrote this: “We become what we think about all day long.” Well, I’d like to just fast forward a little bit and tell you a little bit more about the ending of this story. In 2003, our guest walked out of a homeless shelter after serving 13 years in prison, a ninth-grade dropped out, and a three-time convicted felon, he found himself broke and unable to gain employment. And in just five short years, he grew his company from zero to $20 million dollars a year and was selected by Inc Magazine as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in America. Weldon Long, our wonderful guest, my friend has since trained thousands of sales reps, generated over $40 million across the six companies, and over 480 million for his clients, which includes Fortune 500 companies like FedEx, Home Depot, Wells Fargo, and Farmers Insurance. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author of The Power of Consistency, Consistency Selling, and Upside of Fear. Those are three different books. He is one of the most sought-after speakers. He and I’ve had a great opportunity to work together. Welcome, Weldon long.
Weldon Long: Thank you, Mr. Shallenberger. This is quite the warm introduction, the reception, and it’s interesting you read those words there in the foreword of “The Power of Consistency.” I wrote those 11 or 12 years ago, and I don’t think I’ve looked at them since then, just a powerful reminder of how bad it really, really was at that point.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, and how far you have come, and really how far a person can come when they get some things right. I’m so excited to have you, Weldon. He and I have had the opportunity to associate with a group called the EGIA (Electric Gas Industries Association). Weldon is the voice of EGIA. It’s one of the most successful and influential associations in the United States and North America and really focuses on contractors. They provide such great resources, of which Weldon is one of them, and they use so much of this. So, he’s influenced a lot of people. Well, Weldon, let’s get right into this. And let’s start out, I’ve shared some of your background but if you don’t mind, if you could share whatever you think is relevant in any turning points and what’s had a significant impact on you, and then we’re going to just run it forward and pick Weldon’s mind, and get advice and thoughts of something that we can gain a thought or two or three or four, but maybe something you could share with others as well. So, let’s start off with that question.
Weldon Long: I’m just really so pleased to be here. I think the world view and I just enjoy hanging out with you and chatting with you so much. As you outlined in the introduction there the power of consistency, I really spent 25 years of my life in prison, poverty, and destruction. I was a ninth-grade high school dropout, as you mentioned. Ended up running the streets as a teenager, and not really involved in criminal trouble at that time, just kind of a pumk and irresponsible thug. And at 23 years old, I pulled a gun on a guy, and I went to prison for four and a half years. I was paroled and I was out about two years. Went back to prison a second time for a couple of years, and then get out the second time at 30 years old. And then went back at 32 years old for seven years. So I did a total of 13 years, starting in 1987 until 2003. At roughly 16-17 year span I did 13 years. So, obviously, a very, very disruptive life. And as you alluded to, in the portion of the book you were reading, in June of 1996, I was in federal prison, I completed six years already in the state and I was just starting seven years in the federal prison system. And my father died on June 10th of 1996. At the time, my son was three years old, I had fathered him when I was out on parole. So, I’d abandoned him and went back to prison. When my father died, it’s kind of that moment of clarity. And it’s really even hard to describe. We talk about people having that “come to Jesus” moment, epiphany, moment of clarity, whatever you want to call it. For the first time at 32 years old, I saw myself in that mirror, that scarred stainless steel mirror my prison cell. For some reason, Steve, the blinders came off when I saw myself as what I really was. So I made a decision that was going to change the course of my life, and I was very desperate to do so. But once I made that decision, it’s like, “What do you do now? Where do you start turning the Titanic of this life around?” I still had seven years to do in prison. And with no education, not really many resources, so I came up with the bright idea that I was going to study what successful people did and I was going to start doing that. So I started reading books, and from there I began to understand the power of the prosperity mindset and changing my habitual thinking, adopting a set of characteristics in my life based on honor, integrity, faith, and fidelity, much of the stuff that you’ve taught over the course of your career. And seven years later, I walked out of prison as a different man and I began creating the life of my dreams. We can get into the specifics about some of my philosophies, teachings, and things I’ve learned. But really, that’s kind of how the story goes. It’s hard to believe I walked out of prison to a homeless shelter 20 years ago and my life today is just absolutely unbelievable.
Steve Shallenberger: That should give hope and encouragement to every single person that’s listening and people that are trying to get ahead. So, thank you for sharing that. One of the books that Weldon wrote is called The Upside of Fear. I love this book, Weldon, it is a spellbinder gripper, had me on the edge of my seat. It really just goes through all of it, doesn’t it?
Weldon Long: It really does. That book starts out in 1987. The first chapter is my night out with Elliot. And Elliot was a young man I picked up hitchhiking. And he and I got the bright idea to commit a robbery together under the influence of a lot of drugs and alcohol. And that’s where the story started. It’s funny, that book, my wife always tells people, “If you’re going to start reading it, you have to agree that finish it,” because you’re going to hate me the first half. You’re going to absolutely hate me the first half because how can somebody be so hard-headed and so dense that they can’t learn their lesson because I was in and out and in and out. But in the second half of the book, you’ll love me, because I start getting some sense about me, start learning some things, and start putting those things to work in my life. And of course, it made a huge difference.
Steve Shallenberger: It’s really great. I love it. As you think back and where you are today, what are some of the things that you’re most proud of? And then once we’re done with that question, let’s get back and talk about what you think are some of the most important things that allowed you to go through that transformation.
Weldon Long: I think the thing I’m most proud about now is my family. When I was writing about that portion of the prison time you were reading there, my son was three years old, and he was 10 when I got out. And I got custody of him and was able to raise him. And I’ll never forget when he was 18 years old, took him off to college. I live in Colorado, and he was just going to school up in Denver, so it was just a couple of hours away. We went to the dorm where he was going to be living that first semester, and we walked in, and this lady checked his name off of a list and she turned to my son, ad she said, “A mandatory housing meeting at three o’clock.” And I said, “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be there.” She said, “No, you won’t. At three o’clock, he’s a grown man.” And all of a sudden, it hit me that this little boy that was three years old when I kind of came to my senses. He was 10 years old when I got out and raised him. Here he was starting his life. That afternoon, just before I was leaving, I gave him a big hug and I told him, “Son, my greatest dream for you is that one day you will have a son that you love in the same way that I love you because that’s the only way you’re ever going to know what it feels like to be your dad.” And I put my hands then on his shoulders and I said, “Son, words cannot even describe how much I love you and how proud I am of the man that you’ve become.” And my 18-year-old son looks at me, dead in the eye, reaches up and he takes my hands off of his shoulders, he puts them down by my side, and he puts his hands on my shoulders. And my 18-year-old son looks me dead in the eye and says, “No, Dad, I’m proud of the man you finally became.” And that moment with my son was beyond perfection. And I think it probably symbolizes so much of the struggle and what I was trying to reach, the point I was trying to reach, to have that kind of life and that kind of relationship with my son. So, I think that that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of and just so many wonderful things have happened over the course of the last 20 years. It’s really hard to comprehend sometimes. Sometimes I’ve got to pinch myself. It’s funny because people that come into my life now and see me speaking, and they hear about the 13 years in prison, they hear about the 25 years of desperation, but it’s really hard for them to kind of reconcile that with the person that they’re seeing in that moment, but it really did happen. I can remember, years ago, going to some prisons to do some speaking and some of my staff was along with me. We saw guys in that prison that I knew. When we left there, they were like, “Wow! You really were in prison for 13 years.” So, it’s been a huge transformation. But I’d love to talk about some of the common themes that you and I both have learned over the years and you spent decades teaching that really made the difference in my life.
Steve Shallenberger: Let’s do it, Weldon. What are some of the things that really contributed to your turnaround, the liberation? I’d like to start there. And then I have a question of how do you make that part of your life on a permanent basis. But let’s hit what are some of the key things, realizations, or insight you had that were most helpful to you?
Weldon Long: Well, on June 10th of ‘96 when my father died and I made that decision that I’ve got to change my life, I made a simple decision that I was going to be a man my father could have been proud of, and I was going to be the father that my little boy deserved. And I walked out on myself, and I’m walking down the prison tier. I’m on the second tier and I’m looking down at all the guys slamming Domino’s, working out, doing their laundry, and cooking their ramen noodles, and just looking at my life — that’s going on my life. And there was a broom closet down at the very end of the tier. And in that room was a big box of books. And I was just desperate for something to start reading. I had never been much of a reader at that point. And I started digging through that book and I came across a book written by a dear friend and associate of yours for many years, Dr. Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The second half of that book was a pretty deep book for a guy like me, not much of an intellectual. But the personal habits of success, the private victories really made a lot of sense to me. I remember reading in the introduction of the seven habits, Dr. Covey said that you can live out of your imagination rather than your past. And that was big news for me because my past was prison, poverty, struggle, and difficulty, and now I had this man telling me that I could live out of my imagination, and I had an extremely vivid imagination. A couple of months during that same summer of ‘96, I then came across a quote from Frederick Nietzsche, Frederick Nietzsche said that we attract that which we fear. And then about a month after that, I read in the Bible, Job says, “Father, that which I have feared has come upon me.” And then Dr. Covey had talked about a book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, I read that the same summer, and Frankl said, “Fear may come true.” So, I kept seeing these signs that the things I’m afraid of most, I might be attracting into my life. And at first, I thought it was nonsense, why would I attract things in my life I didn’t want? But I decided to do a little test, so I sat down at the little metal desk of myself, I took out a pencil and a sheet of paper, and I wrote down my greatest fears. Do you know what they were? Living and dying in prison, never being a father to my son being broke and homeless and just a total loser. Well, that was a perfect description of my life at the time. And it hit me that somehow all the chaos in my brain was getting out and showing up in my life. So, the implications were pretty obvious. I better start thinking about different things. So, I took out another sheet of paper and I wrote out what a perfect life for me would look like. The first thing I wrote down is “I’m an awesome father to my son.” Well, obviously, that wasn’t true at the time. But hey, I was living out of my imagination. “I’m wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. I have a beautiful home in Colorado.” I had all these amazing things. And the last thing I wrote on that list, in fact, was that I’m a man of honor, character, and integrity. Because from seven habits, I learned that you can’t compromise the principles of success, the principles of humanity, the principles of honor, faith, and fidelity; you can only break yourself against them. And that’s what I had been doing. I realized that 32 years old, while I haven’t compromised the principle of integrity, I’ve just destroyed myself against it. So, I took this list, and I put toothpaste on the back four corners and stuck it to the wall on myself. Then I began to read it every day. And as I began to read more about visualization, meditation, and some classic stuff, Napoleon Hill and things like that, I just started absorbing myself in this new life. And over the course of the next seven years, I began to read and study, and I began to think differently and feel differently and behave differently. And it comes as no great surprise, looking back, but I created better results. I changed what I was doing. That was kind of the genesis of all of it is starting to read books.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, fantastic! There are so many messages in what you just talked about. And as you were talking about that I was thinking of Mr. Emerson once again, and the quote that we started out with, “We become what we think about all day long,” and you started thinking differently, you changed your thoughts from what you feared. I love it. These are great quotes to a whole new way of seeing things.
Weldon Long: And as I began to understand what was going on, I’m not a super smartest guy in the room type of thing, but I started getting some books to the library. We had a system at this facility I was where you could order books. I was an interlibrary loan system. So I had access to pretty much any book in the world. It might take a month to get it, but I could eventually get it. And I started reading some of the basic neurology about how thoughts transmute themselves into into results. And what I learned is that when we have a thought, it shoots a little electrical impulse into a part of our brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then begins to secrete chemicals that triggers the corresponding emotion. So, if I get angry, for example, my brain starts producing epinephrine and adrenaline, and I feel angry. If I feel very loving and happy, my brain starts producing dopamine and endorphins, and I feel loving and happy. So, it was a huge thing for me to understand, “Wow My emotions are not just happening in this vacuum. It’s a chemical reaction based on what I’m thinking.” And then, of course, when you have those emotions, that drives behaviors, whereas behaviors produce results. So I began to see this whole “self-fulfilling prophecy” situation to where the thoughts trigger emotions, emotions trigger behavior, behaviors trigger the results. But what I really figured out that blew my mind—this might be kind of silly to most smart people out there, but it was mind-boggling to me—that my behaviors, actions, and my emotions were a perfect reflection of my thoughts even if my thought was wrong. In other words, I could believe something that was a lie, I could believe something was inaccurate, and it would still produce very real emotions, very real behaviors, and very real results. And that was a major aha moment. Then I finally understood that’s why my thoughts end up creating my life because the emotions trigger behaviors, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I tell people, that’s why our mothers always said, “Be careful what you wish for.” People have known this. You don’t have to be a neuroscientist. It’s kind of funny when The Power of Consistency came out, it hit number five on the New York Times bestsellers list and number two on Wall Street Journal, and I got a call from a guy who’s a PhD. His name’s Ed Nottingham. He’s a clinical psychologist. He works for FedEx, that’s how big how FedEx became a client. And he teaches this stuff but he’s a very academic, smart guy. He calls me up and he said, “Mr. Long, I gotta tell you, this process that you described in this book. This is the simplest explanation of the neuroscience behind decision-making and results and the principles that are the underpinnings of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy I’ve ever read in my life.” And I was like, “There’s a name for this stuff?” It was just common sense for me. I just figured it out from the street level.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, I love it. It is so fun just visiting together with Weldon. And I’m just thinking this, Weldon, thinking about your transformation. He and I have talked about Becoming Your Best, and he knows all about The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders. But it’s worth taking just a moment and talking about how we discovered this or how we observed it, which is I did 40 years of research on what set apart high-performing individuals from everybody else, and interviewed over 175 CEOs around the world, and just collected this data. And what we discovered is that nobody was perfect, yet we saw 12 things over and over again that they did. And that’s what we put in the book, Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders. So, if we’re all to sit back today, what we’ve learned is that people, as they learn about these 12 principles, they too can get the same result is they apply them. I didn’t invent the principles, I just observed him, and Weldon applied them. He got the result, it’s about leading your life with a vision. In other words, what are the thoughts that are in your head? Are they positive or negative? Are they fearful or faithful and hopeful? And the idea of setting annual goals so that what this does is it starts occupying our mind with what the best looks like. Weldon is inspirational and really wonderful example of this today. But if you look around those that have really made a difference, have blessed the world for good, have left it better than they found it have done this. So, let’s keep going on this, Weldon. You may have some reflection on what I just talked about. But then one or two more questions. We’re almost the end of this interview.
Weldon Long: Obviously, the work that you’ve done over those decades, and it’s interesting as you were telling me how you interviewed these 175 CEOs. And at first, all I’m thinking, “How awesome must that have been to induct 175 really successful people.” But you’re kind of a modern-day Napoleon Hill because that’s what he did 100 years ago: went around and talked to all the successful people and he identified what they had in common, and that was the basis of Think and Grow Rich. And then you’ve done the same thing, 100 years later and transcribed it and put it into modern-day terms and activities. The thing that I’ve learned is that neuroscientists estimate that we make 30,000 small decisions a day. And a lot of times we think that our life is made up of the big decisions: Should I marry this person? Should I buy this house? Should I take that job? And the reality is you’re going to have a handful of huge decisions in your whole life. Meanwhile, we’re making 30,000 small decisions every single day without even thinking about it. And those are the ones you really got to pay attention to because you’re going to reach in your brain and pull out a choice a decision 30,000 times a day, you’ve got to be really careful about what you’re reaching in and pulling out. And I know that that you’re a big proponent in your 12 principles, and in your new book too, in terms of the planning and the organization. I think that’s so critical. The clear vision, obviously, is critical; you’ve got to have an idea where you’re going,. And I like to define, when we’re working with organizations, with people, we kind of divide it into their financial security, which is their profession, their retirement plans; their relationships, which can be spouse, friends, and community; and then their mental, spiritual, physical health. And you’ve got to get clarity on what you want in those ideas. But as I often tell people, success is not a knowledge problem, it’s an implementation problem. The key is then to lay out the vision where you can see it. And then as you talk about the weekly and the annual planning, because if you don’t have it there spelled out for you “This is what I’m gonna do each day,” it’ll really get away from you. You get so caught up. I was rereading, recently, the four disciplines of execution, and you get caught up in the whirlwind and you don’t get the main priorities done. And I think that’s where the scheduling, the planning so much that you talk about, is such a critical part of success. One of my favorite quotes is from another guy, I’m sure that you’re familiar with: James Allen. James Allen said that dispersion is weakness and concentration is power. Well, when you’re doing planning, when you have a vision, you’re planning each week how you’re going to get there, that is concentration, that’s focus, and that’s powerful. The dispersion is, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do, maybe I’ll do this.” That’s weakness. So, so much of the work that you’ve done over the course of your career goes directly to those issues: having the vision and having the plan to execute.
Steve Shallenberger: Thank you, Weldon. You’re spot-on on that. That is a perfect point. If you don’t mind, I’d like to finish up today, and let’s just talk about The Power of Consistency. This is Weldon’s New York Times best-selling book, an awesome book. If you were to just put it in a nutshell, so people can start getting a feel for it. What’s some of the best advice in that book?
Weldon Long: Well, what I talk to people about is once you understand the basic concept, as you outlined in the Emerson quote, “We become what we think about all day long,” then the question becomes, “Okay, so how do I do that? How do I create more productive thoughts.” And I use a very simple four-letter acronym, FEAR, that stands for Focus, Emotional commitment, Action, and Responsibility. That’s the upside of fear. So, the focus is strictly identifying what do you want in those key areas of your life, and what one or two behaviors if you executed on every single day would help you get there, and then what limiting beliefs might be holding you back. I have a whole chapter on dealing with what are the things I need to do to achieve these things, but what limiting beliefs could be undermining what I’m trying to accomplish? The next step is emotional commitment. It’s a simple process of writing it out. It’s the vision that you talk about, writing out the vision, and then doing what I call a daily quiet time ritual, which is 10 to 15 minutes a day reviewing the plan. I call it the prosperity plan, but reviewing it and getting deeply emotionally connected to it. And then action, of course, is taking consistent action each day on that plan. And the R is responsibility, personal responsibility. A lot of people are into CYA, I’m into CPA. And CPA is understanding that I cause, permit, or allow everything in my life that happens to happen. And I tell people that the highest form, I believe, of emotional maturity is when you could look at situations that you’re angry or hurt about at some person or some situation, and when you can see your role in what happened, that is the essence of emotional maturity, that’s personal responsibility. And our lives ultimately are reflections, not of our problems, but of the decisions that we make about our problems. And that ultimately, I look at my life today, and in my life, I had a really bad situation 20 years ago. All of it is self-created by the way. But my life today is not a reflection of that situation; my life today is a reflection of the decisions I made about my life.
Steve Shallenberger: Thank you for taking the time on that. And I’m just thinking about this that we learn and grow. Look where the real turning point for Weldon came; it was in reading books. You just don’t know which book is going to finally push you over the tipping point where you get it. So, I love reading and I’m excited about The Power of Consistency. It just adds to it. It’s one of those that can say, “Oh, wow, man, I get it.” And it just helps you. So, thanks for doing that through that book.
Weldon Long: That’s my pleasure. As I said, I just hold you in such high regard and I just appreciate so much the opportunity to chat with you. It’s just a real honor and I just always enjoy it. I know we got to see each other a month or so ago in the studio out here in Colorado, and just hanging out there for half an hour talking was really a treat. You’re just a really very special man and I appreciate the friendship.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you. I feel the same way about you. How can people learn about what you’re doing?
Weldon Long: I think the easiest way is our website: weldonlong.com. You can check out all the books on Amazon. Of course, I’m on all the social media platforms @weldonlong. So, I’m pretty easy to find. Good thing I’m not hiding from the police anymore because I wouldn’t be able to hide.
Steve Shallenberger: You’re the best. Well, it’s been a delight to have Weldon with us today. I mean, we’re honored and love our listeners. What an extraordinary group. They’re working on becoming their best. They’re really moving the bar up. They’re having fun. They love life, trying to make a difference, and this has helped us I think today to move that up. So, thanks, Weldin, we wish you the best.
Weldon Long: Thank you very much, Mr. Shallenberger.
Steve Shallenberger: And to our listeners, we wish you the best today and always.
Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.
Owner at Weldon Long
Keynote Speaker, NYT Bestselling Author, Mindset & Sales Expert, Founder of Rehash Leads