34 Catalysts Reveal What Drives Them

Jun 12, 2012

Welcome to The Catalyst Project.

I believe there’s no greater accomplishment in life than to contribute to others in a meaningful way. I have a secret for you – we ALL have the ability to be Catalysts in some way, shape or form.

The 34 catalysts that you will learn about come from a wide range of fields. We have best-selling authors, corporate leaders, digital entrepreneurs, bloggers, non-profit rainmakers, teachers and Olympic athletes.

I want you to live a fulfilling life. We spend too much of our time at work to not have fulfilling jobs. Everyone from the secretary to the CEO needs to find fulfillment in what they do. The line worker, the doctor, the lawyer, the coach. We all crave the same thing.

Are you performing the way you want (and need) to?

What about your relationships – both business and professional? Are they meaningful?

Do you know what you’re truly great at? If you don’t, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Maybe you’re not in the right job or the right role – in the company you work for now.

Why are you here? What impact are you making?

What’s your CONTRIBUTION going to be?

I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many different people throughout my career and life. I’ve been inspired by so many people, famous or not. If we take a learning approach to everything we do, we are much better off for it.

I simply asked these 34 Catalysts the following question:

What’s your inspiration for being the catalyst you are?

So, without further ado, here are some amazing catalysts that we all can learn from – the difference makers:

David Allen – Founder, David Allen Co. and Best Selling author of “Getting Things Done”.

I love being able to help others experience greater freedom, confidence, and capability to manifest more of who they are and what they’re here to do. I’m totally blessed to be able to do work that produces that result for virtually everyone who engages with it. I couldn’t stop doing what I do, if I tried!

Scott Dinsmore – Founder of Live Your Legend and Author of #1 ranked personal development eCourse, “Live off your Passion”.

My inspiration comes from constantly surrounding myself with passionate people – that’s where it all starts. They show me that anything is possible. Literally anything. All you have to do is find the right models, mentors and friends. They, you all, inspire me to inspire others. And so the process continues indefinitely, as it should be. I make no progress without the people around me.

Jonathan Mead – Founder, Coach and Writer at Illuminated Mind.

More than anything, curiosity inspires me. Remaining open, having a beginner’s mindset. On the other hand if you approach life as more of the same, the same routine, etc, it will become very dull. Try looking at everything new, as if for the first time as much as possible.

Jonathan FieldsInspirational Speaker and Author of “Uncertainty”.

Career-wise – the endless array of opportunities to serve, illuminate and elevate the human condition, even on the smallest scale. Big picture – my daughter and wife inspire me on every level, in every way.

Marshall Goldsmith Recognized as the Most Influential Leadership Thinker at the Thinkers 50 Conference (sponsored by Harvard Business Review). Writer of best-selling book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There “, which was listed as the #2 bestselling business book for 2011 by INC Magazine / CEO Read.

My mission is to help successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior: for themselves, their people and their teams.

I am not here to tell people what they want to change. I am here to help people achieve the change that they (in their heart) believe is most important.

I am truly a catalyst. I have learned that no one gets any better because of me. I only help great people do what they know they should.

Chris Guillebeau World traveler and writer of best-selling books, “Art of Non-Conformity” and “$100 Start Up”. Founder of World Domination Summit.

I’m driven by three things. One, the feeling that I’ve been very fortunate to have had a wide range of life experiences. I do work that I love, travel to 20+ countries every year, and don’t answer to any boss. Two, the sense that life is short and I have to make it count for something meaningful. Three, the people who care about what I have to say. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and continually fall short, but for some reason they keep coming back. For all these reasons, I feel very inspired.

Dave LoganSenior Partner, Culture Sync, Faculty Member (Marshall School of Business – USC) and Author of “Tribal Leadership”.

What inspires me is seeing people find, get to know, and unlock their leadership potential. People have enormous capabilities that they can’t, or don’t, see. The look of profound awe on someone’s face as they see what they can do makes it all worthwhile.

Alex LawrenceVice Provost at Weber State University, Partner at Lendio and Founder of Start up Flavor.

My children. When I have quiet time to myself I often think about what their life is going to be like. Everything I do, at it’s core, is because I want my kids to have lives full of joy and opportunity.

Lori DuscheneFounder of Tiny Buddha and author of “Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions”.

This is an interesting question, because I’ve never thought of myself as a catalyst. I have two main motivations with Tiny Buddha: I want to help other people while helping myself, and I want the site to be a space where we connect on a meaningful level based on our shared humanity.

This is a big part of why I run the site the way I do, sharing my challenges and lessons candidly, and also publishing one blog post from the community every day. I want people to feel safe, free, and inspired to share their honest experiences, feelings, struggles, and successes, and also distill lessons for themselves and other readers. I personally find this type of writing incredibly empowering, because it helps me make sense of my past, make wise choices in the present, and, in doing so, take responsibility for my part in creating the future.

Danny Bader Inspiration Speaker, Founder of Jackrbbt and author of forthcoming book, “Back From Heaven’s Porch”.

Why be a catalyst?

cat·a·lyst (noun) – a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic

As I reflect on the definition of the word catalyst—as it relates to people—I’m certain I strive to be one every day. Ever since I was young it seemed that being able to help someone create more happiness & fulfillment was a good deal for both them and me. This need to help others has intensified over the years as I stand on the doorstep to the big 5-0; and I look forward to it growing even stronger.

Much of this way of being came through early influence from my Mom and Dad as they raised me, my sister, and six brothers to respect and love each other and ourselves. I remember a few times my Dad lovingly disciplined us when we operated outside the guideline of love and respect.

In my early 20’s I began to tend bar—a part-time career that spanned almost 20 years—and recall the wonderful feeling of meeting people and interacting with them and encouraging them to keep things in perspective, develop strong visions of what’s possible in life, and enjoy every day as it comes. My work with the Make-A-Wish foundation and the courageous young people challenged with life-threatening illness has inspired me to continuing growing as a catalyst.

But most of all, I am thankful to be a catalyst because of a second chance I was given in 1992 after an accident left a friend of mine dead, and me having had a brief encounter with a beautiful source of love and peace that I know was God. For some reason—and trust me I’ve stopped trying to figure it out—I was sent back to this Life. I struggled with this assignment because I did not want to come back; I wanted to continue on into that state of intense Love. But I am here, I am alive, I love life, I love God, and I love my family. And I am humbled and blessed to help others.

Barrie DavenportFounder and Writer of Live Bold and Bloom.

My inspiration for being a catalyst is the joy and fulfillment I get in facilitating positive change in other people. I’ve been doing this informally all of my life, but only in the last few years have I learned I can apply that passion to my work in meaningful ways. This realization propelled me to go back to school and get certified as a personal and career coach, and it inspired me to start my blog, Live Bold and Bloom, where I write about topics that challenge people to stretch themselves and live boldly. Being a catalyst for others feels like my calling and hopefully my legacy. At the very least, it’s what brings me meaning in every day.

Corbett Barr Web Entrepreneur and founder of Think Traffic.

One of the things I love most in life is seeing people change their lives for the better. I write to help more people make those positive life changes.

Sarah Kathleen PeckWriter and Founder of It Starts With ; Communications Director for International Landscape Designer, SWA Group.

I think the world is full of potential. People brimming with talent, ideas, inspiration, and yet somehow we get stuck. We don’t do the best of our ability. We hold back. We play it safe instead of daring to take risks.

I decided when I left for college to learn as much as I could and do as much as I could, if only because I had the opportunity. I had a hidden mantra, (something I haven’t actually shared yet), which was “Live like you are 50 by the time you are 25.” I wanted to have lived a life as full as a 50 year old by the time I turned 25. I wasn’t finding satisfaction in the regular, in what it felt like I “should” do, so I thought, why not try everything and see how it works out?

In short, it’s been phenomenal. I am grateful, inspired, and full of wonder on a daily basis. Were there hard times? Yes. Not moments. Years. There were difficult, frustrating, mind-bending months and years where I thought that I’d never get out the other side. Will there be more of those? Yes, unfortunately, I’m sure there are quite a few more challenges ahead of me. But the opportunity to work on yourself, to change who you are, to make a difference, to build something worth building? I can only say, simply, that it’s worth it.

Jacob Sokol Writer and Personal Development guru of Sensophy.

To understand my ‘inspiration’ for what I do, we should first acknowledge the derivation of the word. The word “inspiration” comes from the word “inspire” which comes from the root word “spir.” “Spir” means to breathe. So when we are “in-spired,” we are being fill with air.

That’s what inspiration means to me – it means to be filled with air and life. If I’m not inspired, I don’t feel truly alive so it’s an unconscious need of mine to find inspiration.

How do we find inspiration? Simple.

Work toward creating a life that excites you, and combine excitement with growth – your natural tendency will be that of inspiration. I’m excited to push my sense of what’s possible with life while helping others to do the same. That puts the air in me!

Michael Bungay StanierBest-selling author of “Do More Great Work” and “End Malaria”, as well as Senior Partner of Box of Crayons.

About eight years ago I landed on a personal mission statement that focuses and catalyzes me: “to infect a billion people with the possibility virus”. It’s something I keep coming back to, as it helps remind me: 1. Get out of the way: don’t be the bottleneck. 2. Create great stuff that can reach the most people at the least cost. 3. It’s about people “taking responsibility for their own freedom” (in the words of Peter Block).

Joshua Fields MillburnAuthor of “Falling While Sitting Down”, debuted #1 on Amazon’s short story list. Founder of The Minimalists.

I feel compelled to add value in whatever I do. Adding value — in corporate world, in my current relationships, in my own business — allows me to contribute beyond myself in a meaningful way, which allows me to grow as an individual. As long as I’m adding value, I’m a necessary and important part of the equation.

Tyler TeervorenFounder and writer of Advanced Riskology

I have two levels of inspiration that I draw from when I need a boost with something. One is an internal motivation—something inside me that just compels me to do something. I think everyone has this; it’s just a matter of finding what it is you’re most motivated to do and then allowing yourself to do it. The other inspiration is the sense of belonging I get from my community. When I share what I’m working on with them, and they give me feedback and tell their own stories about what they’re working on, I feel like I’m a part of something much bigger than myself.

Mars DorianVisual Storyteller (aka – kick-ass artist) and writer.

My biggest inspiration comes from the fact that my work impacts other people’s lives. It’s such an epic feeling to see that your work touches another person. I know it sounds like lalilola kumbayo, but nothing can replace the feeling of using your creative ability to inspire the heck out of a human being. Creating & shipping my work worldwide everyday and getting awesome “thank you” messages in my inbox make me want to scream so loud it shatters the glass of my neighborhood. It’s such a privilege to do this kind of work, and I thank the internet everyday by doing a Mars Dorian gratitude prayer. It’s sweet-a-licious.

Laura Vanderkam – Best-selling author of “168 Hours – You have more time than you think”, and “All the Money in the World -What the Happiest People Know about Getting and Spending”. Also, the just released, “What Most Successful People do before Breakfast”.

Ideas are powerful. What is most inspiring to me is hearing from readers that something I wrote has actually made a difference in their lives. In particular, I love it when parents tell me that I’ve helped them see that there really is enough time for everything that matters. We don’t have to choose between work, family and self. We can have abundant lives. Whenever I interview people who live that philosophy, I come away more inspired to keep spreading that message.

Matt GarlandFounder of Winning with Edits, helping independent authors deliver their projects to the world.

Catalysts, by definition, are powerful elements that influence action and change in their environments without undergoing permanent foundational change themselves. I find that beautiful, that someone (or something) can make a lasting impact in their world while staying true to their beliefs. That’s the balance that I try to strike with my work – to incite deeper thought and better creation through a deliberate harnessing of who I am and what I believe.

The idea of catalysts comes from science, both in nature and in labs. I find that my attraction to being a catalyst derives from observing other catalysts. I think that’s very similar to what science teaches us, that for every action there is a reaction. I am reacting to the world I see, and the ideas I feel. Those ideas and opportunities were generated by thinkers and doers before me. They’ve left the steps for me to take. It’s only fair that I try to leave a few behind me for more to follow.

Steve KambFounder of Nerd Fitness, dedicated to helping others get fit, healthy and to achieve the right mindset.

Get busy livin, or get busy dying.” That’s my favorite quote from my favorite movie, the Shawshank Redemption…I’m constantly reminded every day how lucky I am to have the opportunity to live a great life and help others do the same. Because of that opportunity, I almost feel like it’s my responsibility to create something world changing that can really make an impact….or to borrow from the late Steve Jobs “put a dent in the universe.”

John CostiganCEO of Costigan Training, a world-class sales training organization.

When you wake up one day and realize it’s not all about you….and it’s not just an occasional gesture but becomes part of your DNA. When that light bulb goes on, look out because the whole world looks different.

Ed WallaceAuthor of “Business Relationships that Last” and CEO of Relational Capital Group,

In business today, everything cam be commoditized, digitized or outsourced, except for Relationships! I realized that relationships and the experience you create for customers around them are the secret to success now as always.

Megan EllisFounder and Writer of TRUE Strength, Director of Development – CASA of Franklin County

Have the courage to question. These are the words I wake with each morning. Question status quo, question past goals, question once imagined limits. Each day brings new opportunity and having the courage to question allows me to push professionally and personally to new Levels. I have the courage to ask our community to question what we’ve always done to take care of our own and what more can we do. And I have the courage to constantly question myself as to old goals and how I can surpass them to be a better person, wife, mom, leader and stronger and healthier inside and out.

Brent SimondsExecutive Director of Mid-Ohio Board for an Independent Living Environment.

My main source of inspiration is my dad. Oddly enough today marks 18 years since he passed away. While growing up I watched how he interacted with others. After his death I listened to tearful stories from strangers about how he influenced their lives. While he was undergoing treatments for cancer, he was always determined to fight on, even when it caused great pain. At the time he left my life I was a Sophomore at St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio, where I was guided by the motto: Men for Others. During this transformative period in my life I learned that no matter what situation a person may find themselves in, there are always opportunities to not only help themselves but to make a positive impact for others as well.

Tom LennoxCancer Survivor and Executive Director/Founder of world-class cancer research funding event, Pelotonia.

I created Pelotonia because I was inspired to rally the community behind a cause that kills too many people. Really, my job is pretty simple. We identify like minded people who are interested in curing cancer. We provide an opportunity to do so – in our case its by riding. And then we celebrate each others success. Pelotonia and it’s success is driven by passionate leaders. While we have had great success, so much more is needed. Plain and simple, this miserable disease motivates me.

JD Bentley Web Designer, Internet Entrepreneur and Founder of Blog Design Guy.

Although my ultimate goal is to do work I love, in most cases I’m not moving toward something I love as much as I’m moving away from something I absolutely, undeniably hate, something that runs counter to my principles. I strive to better myself and to better those around me by discerning what is absolutely unacceptable and weighing the best path out. I work for change in myself and others in order that I can uncover and distill the most essential truths of life and then put them into practice.

Sandy JennySocial Marketing Director of cb.socially of Collective Bias and founder/writer of Organize with Sandy.

My goal is to help others organize their homes and educate them in how they can manage it themselves. It is something that comes easy for me, and I love the feeling of being able to help others learn some tips that will them declutter their lives. Using social media is a format that enables me to reach far more people, through my blog, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Pinterest. Building relationships through engagement builds the trust needed for people to listen. Plus it’s just fun to get to know people you would never have met otherwise.

Ralph Hicks – Physical Education Teacher, Owner of Crossfit New Albany and coach of multiple Crossfit Games Athletes.

The simple answer is that its the right thing to do.

I think it stems from a few things:

1) I was basically born really good at baseball so I spent most my life helping my team

2) for whatever reason I pick up quickly on things making it almost necessary to help people

3) both my Mom and Grandma are teachers

I get a ton of fulfillment out of seeing other people “get it”. I live a very rewarding life so on one side I give a lot but on the other I get a ton.

Maybe I was just born this way but I think I’ve bee this way my entire life, never jealous but always wanting people to succeed.

Stephan Cooke – Executive Director of Project Seedlings, helping teach inner city youths about the environment.

I would have to say it was the way I was brought up. I got somewhat of a jump start in that I grew up in Berkeley, CA in the 60’s. I was exposed to so much and in short, the mentality was to think outside the box and to challenge status quo but at the same time to contribute. I moved to Texas in high school and was exposed to a very simple country mentality of you look out for your neighbor and your friends and neighbors are important. Probably what you could consider a “farming” mentality. What has influenced and driven me most though is the influence of my mother. She always helped out, contributed, made a difference and if you asked her why she did it, she would simply say, “because that’s what you do.” So in short, it is important for me to give back, to make a difference, and to contribute, why, “because that is what you do”….

Keith Simon – Fitness and Health guru, Fuel by Simon, Crossfit Instructor and Athlete.

For fitness/nutrition my inspiration is my father, who passed away from heart failure at age 51. I don’t want to end up like that, nor do I want others. Coaching provides a great avenue to not only push myself, but others as well.

Eric Wunderlich – Managing Director, Paradigm Management Services and former Olympic swimmer (1996 games).

When I was a sophomore in high school I was a pretty decent swimmer but there were two young girls on our team that were both 13 that traded the American record back and forth in the 200 yard breaststroke every time they raced. The old ESPN show Scholastic Sports America came to do a piece on the two – Mary Ellen Blanchard (grand daughter of Heisman trophy winner Doc Blanchard) and Amy Cavanaugh.

During the interview with our head coach, David Marsh, David had indicated that a portion of their success was due to their exceptional training environment. We had a lot of excellent athletes that were a few years older than Amy and Mary Ellen and would push them every day to train harder – both in and out of the water.

When David was asked about me in particular, I overheard him say that “Eric was not that talented, but incredibly determined “. I took that as almost an insult and was driven from then on to prove how “talented” I was. That sound byte stayed with me over the next decade as I made it to the national level, won 3 national championships, an NCAA championship, 3 World Championships and set an American record of my own.

Whenever I’ve stagnated or had difficulty in any facet of my life, I’ve reflected upon the time when I overheard David say those words. To this day, I’m not sure whether he knew I was there with earshot or not, but when I asked him about it years later, he shot me a sideways smile, as if it was all part of his plan.

Regardless, David may have been right.

Edgar Meza – Vice President, Loya Insurance Group, one of fastest growing hispanic companies in the world.

I’ve been able to create opportunities….helping others recognize and seize them. That’s my responsibility and privilege.

Joel KovacsLead Pastor, New Albany Church.

“Church is boring and meaningless.” Most people feel this way and when I learned that it made me mad. I know God and He is not boring. He is is valuable and needed! But why do people paint Him into such a terribly boring corner? So many Churches have no passion and they project God to be this judgmental boring and unimportant entity. Ultimately more people turn their back on God because Churches and Christians leaders don’t share who Christ really is with them. Well my goal, calling, and passion in life is to introduce people to the amazingly interesting, creative, passionate and loving person that is Jesus. I know Him! In 2010 we started New Albany Church to help lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.


There you have it. Just a flavor of some extraordinary people and the great work they’re doing. Special thanks to all 34 for contributing and inspiring me along the way!

I think you can sum up all of these catalysts into one simple message – To inspire the world to do more. To perform a little better than what you do today. To give a little more. To figure out what inspires you, what makes time stand still for you – and then find ways to spend more time in that zone. To, ultimately, determine what you can contribute to the world. To….reach YOUR potential.

The world is waiting.

Welcome to The Catalyst Project.

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Additional Reading:

The Beauty of Failure and Doubt

The Power of Asking Yourself Why

The Corporate Athlete – A Simple Process to Get Results


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