Dan Adams, founder of The Higher Purpose Project talks about being an anti-stereotypical college football player, being kicked out of school on false charges as a 17 year old, and then getting a college football scholarship while playing on his new high school’s state championship team. Using his knowledge in the world of finance, Dan left the corporate world to create The Higher Purpose Project. His first trek up Kilimanjaro became a documentary, and earned his climbing partner, Kyle Maynard an ESPY Award from ESPN.
29 year old Dan Adams is the founder of The Higher Purpose Project, which is, as he describes it, “the modern day justice league.” The group includes some of the strongest members of Dan’s network to create an experience to encourage collaboration, big thinking and taking action. To date, the group has led five summits, and includes individuals such as Kyle Maynard and others.
DAN’S VISION AND BACKGROUND (2:25)
Dan grew up as a student athlete. He credits football with helping him understand the power of visualization by watching film to see how people fit together on certain plays. He also was able to overcome people’s opinion of himself. He was an undersized player who became a championship-caliber middle linebacker at 190 pounds and just under 5 feet 9 inches.
He says in high school people thought he was too small, would never be able to succeed. Using those opinions, he was able to lead the nation in unassisted tackles as a collegiate middle linebacker – a position that usually requires height, strength and speed.
He says of his collegiate experience, “I did other things that nobody else wanted to do.” It was that attitude which he credits with his ability to be a record-breaking linebacker.
After college, Dan went into the world of finance, following his dad into the finance industry. Not long afterwards, he realized finance was “not my path.” He later went to Africa to form Mission Kilimanjaro to help others become empowered by facing our fears and limiting beliefs. He envisioned “taking a kid with every type of physical limitation and reaching the summit.”
Later, he proposed climbing the mountain to Kyle Maynard in 2010. In January, 2012, the team reached the summit, and Kyle was named 2012 Male Disabled Athlete of the Year by ESPN at the 2012 ESPY awards.
Dan was looking to use Kyle’s story to help others look inward and confront their worries, fears and allusions in their heads to help them move forward in life. Dan explains that he wanted others to understand, “when we unlock that superpower within us, amazing things happen.”
DAN’S STORY (4:45)
Host Jordan Agolli asks Dan if he was always able to face his fears – specifically in Middle School.
Dan replies that middle school was a tough time. Being so small, he was sick a great deal, required allergy shots very often. But, around 11 years of age, he decided, on his own, to change his entire dietary intake. Taking out a lot of certain things out of his diet, and taking wrestling, Dan was tired of being looked at like an underdog.
But, middle school is also where he says he learned to operate out of a place of appreciation and gratitude, not one of anger, resentment and competition.
In high school, he was kicked out of school at the age of 17 and falsely accused of a felony for a fight with another student. The fight, which occurred on Halloween night in the front yard of Dan’s parent’s home, brought about a Class 3 Felony Charge of Malicious Wounding.
Following a five and a half hour trial, all of the charges were thrown out against him and expunged from his record. The charges had been filed inaccurately by a rookie police officer, Dan says.
But, being kicked out of his high school brought about a larger blessing. He says of the decision by the judge to toss out the charges and allow him to pick any school he wished to attend taught him that “when that door closed… a window opened.” Dan was able to attend the school he always wanted to attend, and to play football for the coach he always dreamed of playing for. And, of playing on a championship team.
Dan served as a captain on his team, played in the regional finals for the state championships, for an undefeated team, and was offered scholarships to play football in college. “When the world feels like it’s crumbling around me, and I feel the weight on my shoulders, I know that’s my growth,” he says of those years.
Dan points to a positive mindset, which gives him vision and power to accomplish so much at the age of 29 to the occurrence of his expulsion from high school.
Dan says he felt the pain of not knowing what would happen during this time. But, he says, events such as that, gets your life out of autopilot. And forces you to step outside of yourself and ask the important questions early on in life. It gave him a greater awareness, as well as more compassion and intuition.
“The biggest thing in life is when you get into these type of situations is taking accountability,” Dan says of the life lesson he learned from the expulsion.
STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS (15:00)
At his new high school, Dan eventually played in the regional finals, as part of a #1 ranked team, undefeated and part of a senior class with 12 Division 1-A signees. That, he says, set him up for college scholarships and increased his personal expectations which led to his success.
College football is where he learned the power of staying in a vulnerable state, he says. “When I get knocked down, as long as I get up, I’m going to win!” He had played under 4 position coaches and 4 defensive coordinators before completing college, but, he learned during that time, “if I’m willing to do the uncomfortable work… and step into it… then, I can create my path and I’m accountable to that.”
ADVICE TO HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES (17:50)
Dan says for high school seniors to look at how the system operates. It molds students at a young age to conform. To recite facts, and rely on outside sources for evaluations. The system teaches us to “learn to relay on external validation instead of internal validation.”
In high school, Dan learned to start questioning teachers. That would displease them, he admits. “It’s up to us to take control of our education,” he challenges. “The only way we learn is through direct experiences”
He says he learned these truths as a fifth grader. His teacher offered his class a competition. If they behaved and learned, they would earn a chance to win a prize from her collection of prizes. But, at the end of the school year, after having kept good grades and following the rules, the teacher decided at the end of the class year to disband the contest. That event, he says, completely changed his perception of education at 11 years of age.
He says he learned no to rely on the system for his personal fulfillment. He also learned to tune out high school.
He relied on football, leading, communicating, getting knocked down and back up for his life education, he says.
“You can be responsible for your education,” Dan says. He points to resources such as Google, and even social network media. “Do something,” he says, “reach out to someone you admire. Figure out ways you can provide value to them, and take action.” He presents a formula for an individual’s future:
intuition + individual skill sets = your future
TRUE POWER (22:30)
True power comes from vulnerability, says Dan Adams.
Admitting that it sounds counter-intuitive, it is important that we learn from our mistakes. That is done, he says, by owning our mistakes — taking responsibility for them. “Sometimes it is your fault, and sometimes it’s not your fault,” he admits, but he says, ownership of our mistakes brings about change, while pointing fingers at others makes us a victim.
“That identity doesn’t serve you,” he reminds us. Rather, he says, it develops a mindset that there’s nothing we can do about our situation and puts us in a place of “horrible energy.”
The victim mentality gives us a false perspective that the only person suffering is ourselves. We have no role models from which to gain perspective.
But, by owning our mistakes, we learn that we are the only person who can change our situation, and that role models give us the opportunity to have a proper perspective on our life situation. “Kyle Maynard,” says Dan Adams, “has no hands, no feet. But, Kyle climbed Kilimanjaro. Kyle drives a car. Kyle operates a cell phone.”
Mindsets and habits are able to develop when we assume responsibility, that factor into the winning life you’re creating.
FROM FINANCE TO FUNDRAISER (27:45)
Dan says he pursued football in order to be closer to his father. And, he followed his father into the world of high finance for much the same reasons.
His parents came from nothing, they were the first people in their families to complete college. They were the first to build something amazing on their own. His mom is now a dental hygienist, while his dad is the CFO of two different companies. “They started two amazing paths, with their vision of building a family — a thing they never had,” he says, calling their lives, “a hero’s journey.”
Following his father into the finance business, Dan sold insurance products like group life insurance and long-term disability insurance – something he didn’t believe in. At the age of 24 years of age, he was making between $75 – 80k a year. But, he says, he couldn’t spend all that money. Plus, he explains, since the way he was making the money wasn’t aligned with who he was, he felt like it was “blood money,” and was unfulfilling to him.
Around the same time, a beloved family member became manic. Dan was advising them to not give up, and to live out their life to a greater purpose, one that aligned with who the family member was. But, he says, he wasn’t living according to his own advise. “I felt like a huge hypocrite,” he says.
His girlfriend at the time was a medical doctor in her residency. Because of the pressures and emotional turmoil, she began self-medicating. When he would confront her, she would reply “you say these things, but you don’t live them – you’re afraid.”
That’s when he decided to sell everything and invested it all into his dream. And, while he had never before met Kyle Maynard, he had seen his story on an ESPN documentary. He explains that he say Kyle, and his story, as a “huge tool to get through to people.”
Dan wanted to get through to people in order to encourage them to write their own story, and to able accountable for their own paths.
He wanted people to learn what a hero is: someone willing to confront their struggles, to be vulnerable in the face of their challenges, and to pull through their life difficulties. And, he wanted them to learn how to be their own super hero.
After meeting Kyle, the two raised $60k in 9 months. They had raised enough money to take two veterans with them to Kilimanjaro.
To Dan and Kyle the mountain was a metaphor for life. And once they were able to accomplish their summit, they would have a platform from which to speak about life issues such as eating, or disability, or whatever challenge one might be facing.
Nine months after climbing the mountain to it’s peak, the two were on the ESPN ESPY AWARDS show, where Kyle was named Male Disabled Athlete of 2012.
Following that award, both, Kyle and Dan have been able to meet many of the people they have looked up to in life: actors, directors, athletes, and others have been open about their struggles and their victories with Dan. “It was a huge opener for me,” he concludes.
Dan says he had no experience fundraising, but Jordan points out that he worked in finance, earning lots of money each year at the age of 24. As mentioned earlier, Dan and Kyle were able to raise about $60,000 in nine months. The two met in Washington, D.C., where he explained his vision to Kyle. “I was willing to die for this vision,” Dan says.
Kyle jumped on board, and the two moved to Atlanta, Georgia, with no idea what they were doing, or how to use the adaptive climbing gear they had obtained. While in Atlanta, Dan’s mom heard from a dental hygienist patient about Erik Weihenmayer’s No Barriers Summit in Colorado. (Weihenmayer is the first blind man to reach the peak of Mount Everest) Dan says as soon as they heard about it, he and Kyle flew out to Colorado and participated.
Kyle’s arms and legs were wrapped up in hotel towels and taped up while he climbed 14,000 feet up. Erik was so impressed that he volunteered to help, providing introductions and unlocking his network, and motivating them with his own story of success.
Dan likened it to “going to a basketball court and then Michael Jordan comes by and shoots hoops with you.”
While they were training, and fundraising, Dan says there were many failures, but, they refused to surrender. But, he says, “there are moments you have to learn to surrender… and to believe a solution will arise.”
Using a multi-tiered crowd funding approach the two later partnered with actor Edward Norton’s CrowdRise. Once they had settled on a dream amount, there were two sudden $10,000 donations, which started the momentum building. But, the support went far beyond donations to the Kilimanjaro climb:
Dan explains about how one woman joined his Higher Purpose Project after helping fund Kyle’s Kilimanjaro’s summit, weighing 50 pounds overweight, and ended up climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on her own.
“That’s why we did it (climbed the mountain) – it wasn’t about disability – it was about getting people to wake up, to answer their call, and to take accountability for their life,” says Dan Adams.
CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN (41:37)
Dan describes the Kilimanjaro summit as “an amazing journey.” He says he had to learn patience, with a willingness to hold to the ideal. The team was focused on Kyle, and his completion of the journey. They had a common purpose for which to collaborate, but they also had their own individual goals.
Once the team arrived in Tanzania, Dan says he experienced one of the “biggest big I ever experienced,” as he and Kyle looked at each other, exclaiming “we’re here,” knowing they had accomplished the first goal of actually making it to the foot of the mountain in preparation for the climb.
The team originally started on the Machame path. But, Kyle found himself discouraged by the constant up and down of the trail. So, the team decided to move to the Western Breach – a more dangerous trail that was more like a straight path up to the summit. Dan explains that the constant up and down of the Machame party shorted Kyle’s psyche about midway through. But, the more dangerous and upward path helped Kyle’s emotion as he focused on the horizon, instead of getting caught up in where they were heading.
Finishing the trail in 10 days, the team took about 5 days longer than most teams take. The western trail would end up taking 10 days of about 16 hours a day of climbing. That path, however, ended up being about 6 days ahead of schedule reaching the summit.
The slower pace gave the team opportunity to see things others would not have, but, “Kyle rocked his pace” up the mountain once he was heading in a steady upward party.
The team completed with such speed that they were able to spend time at the Zanzabar beach. While at the beach, a time of retreat included the discussion of dreams and visions of all of the team members, including two men, who since that time have become film makers and movie directors, both now living in Los Angeles, working in Hollywood. One of which currently has a $3 million dollar contract to make a movie soon.
HIGHER PURPOSE PROJECT (50:00)
The Higher Purpose Project began while Dan was in Japan, reading a book called “Ugly American,” about an undersized American linebacker to moves to Japan an drakes lots of money. While reading the book, he thought about meeting the writer, and a few months later, he runs into the author – begins to strike up a conversation with him, and then sets the stage to develop a relationship with him.
From there, in addition to the ESPY awards, Dan and Kyle are able to converse with high-profile individuals and ask them questions, learning from their life lessons.
The idea for Higher Purpose Project (HPP) is to show people “the paradigm:
- if you answer the call on your life
- if you get clear on what you want to create
- if you take action
- if you confront the darkness (fear)
that’s when you are able to bring those things (you dream of) into this world”
Along with the vision and goal of the HPP, the team has some of the strongest people within its support structure:
- a 13 year old who reached the peak of Mount Everest
- media moguls
- a Columbine shooting victim
- and those “who refuse to surrender”
LAUNCHING HPP (56:30)
Dan launched the Higher Purpose Project knowing he just had to start. So, he started the pilot summit trip at a discounted price.
By starting the project, Dan set up the application process, the website and the overall message of the Higher Purpose Project.
He brought in fantastic people to challenge and inspire those who participated in the summit. Since that time, there have been five summits, with another one in the Boston area at Concord, MA scheduled for the summer.
Dan says that each summit has a different theme, and that while each one is focused on the individual, they also have plenty of time to encourage collaboration.
APPLICATION PROCESS (1:02:00)
When asked about the application process, Dan replied that his team is looking for individuals who are able to communicate, who are able to take a few steps on their own, who want to pursue growth and personal development, who is willing to be vulnerable and who are willing to try.
VISION FOR HIGHER PURPOSE PROJECT (1:03:30)
Dan expresses his vision for the HPP as:
To create a community of some of the strongest catalysts and creators all throughout the world.