F.A.T.E. – From Addict to Entrepreneur; “Chasing the High” (Author Interview) with Michael Dash
Entrepreneur Michael Dash had it all — a multi-million dollar business, cars, real estate, you name it. He also had a compulsive and addictive personality that led him to gambling, drugs, and a destructive path that brought it all down. In his new book, “Chasing the High,” Michael lays out his path to redemption in a raw, honest, framework that he’s turned into a program called “F.A.T.E” — From Addict to Entrepreneur.
Ledge and Michael talk about addiction, the positives and negatives of the entrepreneurial drive, and most importantly about life balance and the critical habits he’s discovered to keep himself happy and effective after missing the mark for many years. Every listener will see something of themselves in this story, this episode, and Michael’s book.
Ledge: Hey, Michael. It’s great to have you on. Thanks for joining.
Michael: Thanks, Ledge. Looking forward to it.
Ledge: For the audience to know, this is fun for me because Michael and I went to high school together, so way back in the day. We were just saying that I probably haven’t seen him for like 30 years since track practice, so this is fun. Still connected online.
Michael is the author of a new book called Chasing the High: An Entrepreneur’s Mindset Through Addiction, Lawsuits, and His Journey to the Edge. I just thought that was a really pertinent topic, bunch of subject matter, that our audience would totally relate to.
Michael, welcome. Love if you could give an intro of yourself and what we can expect from the new book.
Michael: Thank you. I appreciate that, and thanks for dating us 30 years back.
Ledge: Back when we had a lot more hair between us.
Michael: Yeah. Exactly. For the last 20 years I was in the staffing and recruiting business, focused mainly in the technology sector. I was staffing software engineers, basically.
Ledge: Yeah. We know about that.
Michael: I figured your audience could relate to that because every company needs good software engineers, so there was plenty of work to be done.
For the last 11 of those years, I had my own staffing firm called Parallel HR Solutions, along with a business partner, in Salt Lake City, Utah where I ended up after following a business opportunity, which ended up being a business.
I was in that field for, again, 20 years – 11 years running the company – and really was complete money play. I saw an opportunity to make a lot of money staffing a software engineer for 120,000 on a full time basis, getting 20% of that, 24k. For me it was like, hey, this is where it’s at. I’m going to make a ton of money and build this company.
That’s what I did. I led those decisions based on my drive to accumulate possessions. Accumulate things. Accumulate money. Thinking that that would drive and bring me the happiness and fulfillment that I was always looking for.
Little did I know that it really did nothing to fill my soul, fill my heart, fill my being, so to speak, but it did line my pockets for a while. I spent that money on pinstripe suits, which were completely unnecessary. Houses. Investments. All this stuff to just keep growing and growing.
Five-and-a-half years into the business, I bought out my business partner because we were butting heads. I wanted to keep growing, she was content to how it was. Then we ended up getting into a legal matter about the agreement we signed shortly thereafter within six months. I ended up in a lawsuit with her.
That lawsuit lasted six years, and I spent over a million dollars on that lawsuit – and it was all over 350k.
During that entire time, I was kind of fuelled by a variety of addictions. Cocaine, Adderall, marijuana, GHB. This was all coming out of a 20-year gambling addiction, which I had stopped at that point but I was participating in all these other things that I just mentioned.
Adderall specifically. After I overcame the cocaine addiction and moved to Utah, I was introduced to Adderall. Adderall really fueled me both from a production standpoint but also an emotional standpoint. It really drove a lot of the decisions I made that prolonged the lawsuit, that prolonged my misery, that got me into a deeper hole, and that really landed me in a place where I was completely unhappy. Running a business that was running me. Stuck in a lawsuit that cost me a million dollars. Building this life that I felt completely stuck in.
Ledge: I’m familiar with addiction literature and the things people go through. What was your path to breaking that? There’s the euphemism of the rock bottom. Was that your experience or was it more gradual than that?
Michael: It’s been an interesting journey. I’ve had a lot of different instances occur that got me to reevaluate the behavior that I was participating in, but I didn’t take what I learned from one addiction and bring it to another. I continued that pattern of poor choices because I was escaping the realities of my life, exhausted by making a decision.
As we were speaking earlier before we hoped on here, I was making a decision every 15 minutes of the day for 10 hours, 12 hours straight and I was just completely exhausted. I just didn’t want to think about anything or put anything into focusing on my mindset or my health. I just wanted to escape it.
It wasn’t a specific moment, but it was several little things that happened. What got me to stop gambling was when I was taking a car ride with my brother to Massachusetts from New Jersey for Thanksgiving, and he wouldn’t let me listen to sports radio. I asked him why, and we kind of got in an argument, and he said he was going to Gamblers Anonymous and he’s not allowed to listen to it.
After that car ride, a soothing car ride with three-and-a-half hours of music where my mind was actually completely quiet and peaceful, I thought to myself, what is this Gamblers Anonymous doing to my brother? I need to find out.
I just decided to go to a meeting and that was the last time I gambled, actually. I went to meetings for 14 years since then, and celebrated my 14 years clean a month ago when I released the book.
It was a curiosity more than anything that led me to that direction. However, it didn’t lead me to stop the other addictions. I just transferred over. I was doing cocaine and gambled at the same time. Cocaine, I actually went to break up a fight with a friend of mind and some stranger and got punched in the face and I had to have constructive surgery on my nose. They handed me a bill for $10,000. At that moment I said, there’s no way I’m ever putting anything up this $10,000 nose again.
Ledge: Then there’s always the stories that come together into this book experience. Talk about that. Some of the things you just said really struck me as really pertinent to the kind of crazy impulsiveness that goes into entrepreneurship in general.
I love that you brought those two topics together. You don’t see that a whole lot. I think you’re even working with other folks, where you have an organization around it now related to addiction and entrepreneurship.
Tell the story of how those things go together.
Michael: Absolutely. In the entrepreneur space, a part of a lot of different entrepreneurial organizations – and I see the same behavior traits from myself to other entrepreneurs who I’m around – they’re leaning on something. There’s a huge Adderall problem – huge – in the entrepreneur space but just in the space in general. I decided that I wanted to do something about it.
I first started an interview series called F.A.T.E. From Addict To Entrepreneur, where I interview former addicts who are now entrepreneurs and built multimillion dollar businesses. I write articles for Thrive Global and for Medium. I’ve interviewed guys like Joe Polish who started the Genius Network that Tony Robbins went through, and Richard Branson. I interviewed Mike Lindell who started mypillow.com and he sold over 23 million pillows. He was a crack addict. Coss Marte, who was a drug dealing kingpin. Did seven years in jail. Started a company called ConBody that connects you with ex-cons to keep you on your workout routine. Some amazing people.
I realized that we all had similar traits – that addicts and entrepreneurs have similar traits. Addicts, if given and put in the right set of circumstances, the right environment, surrounded by the right people, can be some of the best entrepreneurs in the world because they have that attitude of, they won’t take no for an answer. They’ll go above and beyond the call of duty to get their fix. They will be as creative as anybody could be to accomplish their goal.
In the cases of addiction, it’s about getting high. But if you can take those same traits and focus them on entrepreneurship, they can be some of the most successful entrepreneurs out there.
Those are some of the similarities that I found, and I wanted to make an impact on people. More than getting that engineer who’s making 100 grand, 120 grand job, I wanted to have more impact than that.
So, I sold my staffing business last year in June and started a program – it’s a 10-week mentoring program – to work with leaders and entrepreneurs who are dealing with compulsive or addictive behaviors that want to stop that pattern and really step in to the leader and the family member and the friend that they truly are.
Ledge: How do I recognize in myself those patterns? The symptoms that might be recognized by you, from the third party coach seat ,as constructive compulsion versus the healthy sort of craziness of entrepreneurship? You sort of have to have the right screws loose to keep doing startups over and over again. Yet, that can spiral out of control like any addiction.
How do you diagnose, if you will, the symptoms and conditions that are trending toxic?
Michael: Well, I think even positive symptoms. Having a compulsive nature in even positive symptoms can be negative. For me, it’s all about having a balance.
I talk about in my book Chasing the High, there’s a chapter called the habit of habit-making. It’s really important to build a strong foundation of positive habits. As we continue to evolve in life, and maybe those same habits from five years ago don’t resonate with us now, it’s important to continue to tap into curiosity and try new activities for yourself. Not based on what other people around you have said, but try them out for yourself and see what resonates with you. That’s how you continue to evolve. Then incorporate what resonates into you into those habits so that you have a fulfilled life.
Anybody working 12 to 14 hours a day, every day, five or six days a week, is going to end up in an unfulfilled place. I can promise you that. It is not healthy.
Now, there are certainly times throughout the year that we need to put those hours in. We might be trying to launch a new product. We might be trying to hit deadlines. We might be trying to do these things, but it’s important that we have activities such as meditation. Such as going to a sound bath, which is sound therapy. Which is amazing.
If anybody in your audience wants to try something, go to a sound bath. You don’t need to speak. You don’t need to put yourself out there that much. You just show up, you lay down, and they play you these sound balls, and take you on this sound journey for 45 minutes to an hour. It’s the most relaxing thing ever. It’ll clear your mind.
Listening to positive podcasts. Listening or doing affirmations. Journaling. Getting out in nature. Going for a hike or getting to the ocean can be so super powerful. Working out. Being healthy. Travelling.
I feel you have all these buckets in your life and you have to fill these buckets up at least partially on a weekly basis. If you fill them up on a weekly basis, then you will remain fulfilled. If you don’t, then something will be empty and missing in your life and you will be driving towards these negative thought processes that always kind of creep up on us. That negative self talk that will creep up on us if we’re really not cognizant and focused on it.
Ledge: I’m curious about the systems that have worked for you. The recovery and the coaching program you’ve come up with. How much do you draw on what you learned from the 12-step modality?
If anyone wants to know what that is, you can always Google ’12-step’ and you hear about it. That’s the time honored framework for addiction.
I know my own experience, I just always felt like when I did the 12-step work that it would… ‘Gee, everybody should do this anyway. This is just healthy living.’
Has that been your experience? Do you add or subtract at all from that superset?
Michael: I had a great experience with the program in Gamblers Anonymous, but when I left Gamblers Anonymous – or I shouldn’t say left because I’m still part of it, but when I tried to go to Narcotics Anonymous I had a completely different experience. It did not resonate with me whatsoever. I was completely turned off by the program. It just didn’t work for me.
The same principles that worked in Gamblers Anonymous for me did not work in Narcotics Anonymous. I needed to find another way.
So, I took some of the principles of Gamblers Anonymous – remembering those – but really just kind of adapted things that worked for me as a leader, as an entrepreneur. I was in a different situation when I was dealing with the drugs because I was running a business. But it was really running me, I wasn’t running it.
Constantly having to make a decision all day long is exhausting. It’s exhausting. You don’t want to deal with your other problems or your other challenges, just other things in your life after you’re doing that for 10/12 hours a day.
Ledge: Which in itself is an addiction. We talk about workaholism. You can use work as an escape for all kinds of personal problems. You know, I don’t want to go home, so I stay at the office. I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t want to deal with that. Work itself can be sort of a treadmill of miserableness even if you’re not making decisions all day.
Michael: 100%. All of these things can serve as escapism. And escapism is when we lean on certain behaviors or activities to escape the realities of our life – that will still be there when we stop these activities. They’re not changing. Those things are a set of circumstances that have no feelings whatsoever. Those circumstances are going to remain in our life whether we go and spend a few hours gambling, a few hours drinking, go getting high, a few hours coding. Whatever it is. Staying in that office a couple more hours because we don’t want to deal with our spouse or our girlfriend or our boyfriend or whatever it is, or family. Those things are still going to be there.
It’s really not a healthy behavior, and it’s not sustainable. It’s really then about strengthening our mindset so that we’re in a secure place that we don’t convince ourselves we’re exhausted, for some reason, and we don’t want to deal with something. We can face it head-on in a healthier emotional state.
Ledge: You talk about that habit-forming. That habit can be as simple as, get your ass out of that chair, you can’t even feel your legs anymore. Get out of the spreadsheet and go for a 20-minute walk , 5-minute walk. Anything. Eat a healthy lunch. Take a damn break. Get off your phone.
Who doesn’t know an entrepreneur that doesn’t drink 16 cups of coffee and relish in, “I work late and I’m kickin’ ass!” That we, a lot of times, glorify the hustler mindset. Just go, go, go. You can’t win unless you hustle or grind.
I’m hearing you say that, on the flipside of that there’s a lot of danger and probably not as much success.
Michael: 100%. We wear it as a badge of honor but it’s really doing a lot of damage to us because we’re not well rounded anymore.
In this technological age, people don’t even know how to personally communicate with each other in a close setting. Think about and try this the next time you’re with another person in business. How long can they look you in the eye before moving their eyes to something else in the room? We can’t even look at each other in the eye. It’s not because we’re not genuine, it’s because we’re uncomfortable because we don’t do it. Right?
Ledge: Yeah. Interpersonal habits are just part of the equation too. Going home and not having a conversation with your family because you’re used to being on Slack all day. I know I’ve gone through that myself. It’s like, “Can we just text about this?” instead of being in the room. I’m like, wow, that’s kind of messed up.
Michael: It’s still messed up, and it really affects society. It’s affecting it now. Think about what it will be in 50 years.
It’s important to get that human connection and to have feelings. We numb these difficult feelings. I do it too. I’m no different, but it’s a continual work in progress and it’s really about connection.
Connection is extremely important. I have this four-step process that we work through, that I work with people in my program, and we take them from self-recognition and we build this circle of prosperity for them about what they want their lives to look like, and how much time they want to spend in different areas and still be successful at what they do.
Then we take them through the power of curiosity so that they can tap into these activities that they’ve never tried about but heard about, but for whatever reason they just haven’t done that.
Then we move them into action. Then that action will move them into connection. Connection with other humans leads to community. That community leads to being part of different tribes – what I call tribes.
I found that extremely important, to have tribes in your life. I have many of them that I can lean on in times of weakness, in times of pain, in times of challenge.
I have my entrepreneurial tribe. Whenever I have some stuff going on in business that I’m really struggling with, I can lean on them. I have a philanthropy tribe. Whenever I want to go out and raise money and give back, I lean on that. I have a tribe at Orangetheory Fitness where I go workout. If we want to get together or do something outside of that gym, or talk about working out and talk about health, I go there. I have a travel tribe where we’ve travelled all around the world. To Bali, to Nicaragua, and we’re going to Madagascar at the end of this year.
It’s all these different tribes that you can connect with.
I have a men’s tribe also, which is very important, and they’re popping up more and more. As a man, we have been trained a certain way to not expose our feelings and to act all stoic. We should be able to handle whatever comes our way and not complain about it, not have feelings about it, don’t be upset about it. All this complete, utter nonsense which is completely not true.
We’re just like anyone else. We have feelings. The more we hold them in, the worse it’s going to be for us in our relationships and then for our health as well.
Ledge: I love hearing the passion. It sounds so comprehensive. Wow! You’re hitting on a lot of things that, if someone in the audience doesn’t relate to all that, they certainly relate to some of it. I think that’s how maybe, in a self-discovery kind of place, you can find the places that you go, “Yeah, I relate to that,” which means that’s probably the area that needs a little bit of work and inventory, what you might call it, and 12-step work. Just, hey, let’s take stock of where we are here and get out there and try to make a difference in that particular spot.
Okay. People relating to what you say, I want to make sure they can find you online and have that conversation. Where do they go?
Michael: If they’re interested in the program that I just described, I have a webinar on it that they can sign up for and listen to. They could find that at michaelgdash.com/fate.
The book, Chasing the High, which I spoke you about before – I know you were reading some of it – they can find that at chasingthehighbook.com.
I’m on all social media. On Facebook. On Instagram I’m @mdash1. On Facebook I’m michael.dash1. I’m on LinkedIn and all the other fun tools out there.
I mean, how many tools can you possibly have.
Ledge: Hundreds. Yeah, right.
Michael: Yeah. If you want to pop on my website, it’s michaelgdash.com.
I try to keep it simple for people. Would love to hear from anybody if they have any questions. Anybody who’s hurting, I’ll open up to your audience to have a free 45-minute consultation call with them.
Ledge: Very cool.
Michael: For anybody dealing with any compulsive behavior challenges.
Ledge: Excellent. Thanks for coming on. Everybody check out Chasing the High, Michael G. Dash.
It’s been cool to have you on. Thanks for sharing the insights. I know it’s going to be useful.
Michael: I appreciate it. Thank…