Very few people have the courage to pick up the standard of the fight against human trafficking, partly because it is such a difficult topic and a very stressful one to handle. How does an advocate for human freedom build the personal resilience that they need to get through the emotional burden of the cause they chose to fight for? Joining Adam Markel to share her own resilience tips and stories is Mitzi Perdue, a speaker, science and health writer, environmental columnist, entrepreneur and staunch advocate of the fight against human trafficking. In 2019, Mitzi founded Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking, an organization dedicated to raising funds for the global fight against one of the most lucrative and impervious criminal establishments in the world. Listen to this conversation and learn how Mitzi has found the resilience to advance the fight against one of the most insidious evils of the world.
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Personal Resilience Tips From A Human Freedom Advocate With Mitzi Perdue
I am feeling giddy inside right now. That’s what’s going on inside my body. In part because I’m vibrating from having had a good refreshing swim. It’s this gorgeous sunny day outside and the air is clean and have the time to give myself even this little respite in the day to take care of my body, to go out and breathe some air, be in the sun, take a swim and just feel good. I feel like I’ve been good to myself. For that, I’m giving myself a little pat on the back and go, “Good.” We’re going to talk about resilience and I have this special guest. That’s one of the two other reasons why I’m giddy. One, I get to spend time with this amazing woman. Two, my wife was so thrilled when she started to look into what this woman has done with her life and the way she’s lived. There are many things that we often hear about or people talk about or you aspire to. This is a person who has lived a life that is quite something.
You guys buckle up because it’s going to be great. I’m excited and vibrating with the anticipation to speak with Mitzi Perdue. She is a science and health writer. She holds a BA with honors from Harvard University and an MPA from George Washington University. She is a past president of the 35,000-member American Agri-Women. She’s also a former syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard. Her column, The Environment and You, was the most widely syndicated environmental column in the country in the 1990s. Her television series, Country Magazine, was syndicated to 76 stations.
She is the Founder of CERES Farms, the second-generation family-owned vineyards that sell wine grapes to wineries such as Mondavi, Kendall-Jackson and Bogle. Mitzi combines the experiences of longtime family businesses. Her father, Ernest Henderson cofounded the Sheraton Hotel chain and her late husband, Frank Perdue was the second generation in the poultry company that now operates in more than 50 countries. In 2019, she founded Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking. It is with great honor and tremendous pleasure that I welcome Mitzi to the show. Mitzi, it’s great to have you with us.
I’m vibrating too because it’s exciting to meet somebody warm and inviting. I’m loving this. Thank you.
I’ve read a fair number of people’s bios and introductions. Since I left the practice of law years ago, I’ve been involved in both speaking and emceeing events where I’ve got amazing people to introduce and that’s one of the most significant bios I have ever read. With that, I’m going to ask you this question. What’s one thing that’s not written in that bio that you would love for people to know about you?
I’d like them to know more about human trafficking, what they can do about it, how to stop it, and how I got involved with it.
Maybe we should start there then. How did you get started in that? What was the story? I’m speaking not for myself but for a lot of people. Just to hear the term human trafficking, it stops you dead in your tracks because you know there’s something awful there. You might not know what that even means and what does that look like. Maybe you’ve heard something about it or heard a celebrity or someone else who’s made that part of their platform. You might not even know what it is. Would you give us a little background and how it is that it became something you’re so involved with?
You gave me the perfect setup for my story because up until April 11th of 2019, I haven’t heard the term human trafficking. It didn’t mean anything to me. It was like, “This is something awful.” I heard a lecture by a guy named Paul Hutchinson and in this lecture, I’m sitting in my seat getting more and more horrified about what I’m learning and I realized what I didn’t know. What I learned is there are 40 million people in this world who are being trafficked and that figure comes from the United Nations.
What is it like to be trafficked, particularly sex trafficked? I bet somewhere or most of our audience knows some twelve-year-old girl. She might be a daughter, niece, cousin, one way or another. Think of a twelve-year-old girl that you know. Imagine that she’s been kidnapped, abducted or lured into being traffic. Here’s what’s going to happen to her. On average, she’ll have to have sex with strangers as many as twelve times a night 365 days a year. Her life expectancy is seven years. What’s going to take her is a drug overdose, murder, disease or often suicide.
I have a friend whose name is Dr. Bob. He’s retired from New York Medical Center. He’s Chief of Psychiatry. Thinking of that twelve-year-old girl, our minds can’t grasp how awful this is. I asked him since he treats patients and helps with rehabilitation, “What is she feeling when she’s being violated twelve times a night?” He’s a psychiatrist and he said, “Think of the worst depression you’ve ever had in your life? Maybe your mother or your best friend died. I don’t know what’s the worst thing that ever happened to you in life or how bad you feel or felt. That’s how she feels every day.” He also said, “When a patient comes into my office and they’re coming in with depression that aren’t trafficking victim, there’s a beginning, middle and end to their depression. On the other hand, in the case of a little girl who’s being trafficked, there are no good days ever. It’s the continuing worst depression that you’ve ever known.”
I’m in the audience listening to speakers on this subject and I’m thinking, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life. That’s the biggest atrocity I’ve ever heard of.” I’m sitting there in the audience and I’m thinking, “I want to do something. I don’t have any expertise in rescuing or rehabilitation but there is something that I could do. I wanted to write a check.” That’s what I thought I could do initially, but I started thinking, “If I write a check to the Child Liberation Foundation, that means cutting back in other charities that I support,” because there’s a limit to what I can give and I’m totally at that limit. I didn’t want to cut back on the Food Bank, Red Cross or other organizations that I dearly love. I started thinking, “Who do I cut back on?” I came up with the idea that I want to share with everybody.
It occurred to me, it’d be hard for me to write a great big check to the Child Liberation Foundation without cutting back somewhere else. What I could do is I inherited a 17th-century desk that we think belonged to a cardinal. I could sell it. I could give the money to them and on top of that, there would be a lot of publicity associated with it. I decided to spend the years still left of life doing what I could to raise money and raise awareness about human trafficking.
As I’m listening to you, it brought me into that seat. I’ve been in the seat where I’ve heard someone share a story that brought me to tears or gave me an awareness of something that to that point I was completely ignorant of and almost feeling embarrassed. I’m not saying that’s how you felt but to me, as I’m listening to you share about this, there’s a level at which I even think to myself, how is it that I wouldn’t know some of the things that you even said, that that’s the experience of somebody?
I have an opinion on that and it has to do with money. Here’s what it is. The three largest criminal enterprises in the world as far as money goes, are illegal drugs, illegal arms and human trafficking. They’re quite interconnected. The people who are involved with one are often involved with another. To give another statistic to put what I’m about to say in perspective, I’m going to share with you something that I learned from an NYPD sex crimes division officer.
He told me, “If you are a sex trafficker in New York City and you have a stable of four girls, your income can be $1 million a year tax-free. That’s how much they’re bringing in for you.” With that money at stake, the bad guys have every possible incentive in the world to brush it under the rug. They pay spokespeople to come and say, “I’m in the sex trade and I’m fine with it. I should have my choice to be able to do it.” There are a lot of documented cases of people who have made those statements publicly in the press and been on national TV. They’re told, “We’re going to kill your daughter unless you speak.” The incentive to keep this as quiet as possible is enormous.
There’s been a concerted effort to not have this become wider. For example, to talk about Jeffrey Epstein, I almost feel like I’m supposed to spit or something after you say his name. It’s quite awful and the fact that so little was publicly known.
Look at the effort that they went to keep that quiet. I have a personal girlfriend who wrote a book on Jeffrey Epstein. She happened to travel in the social circles that he did. When he first came to the attention big-time of law enforcement, she decided to write a book on it. She wrote the book in 2005 and initially, there were all sorts of publishers who wanted to publish it. They were so excited because she could give names.
It was a total exposé but she was on the inside and she interviewed hundreds of people, whether it was law enforcement, former victims or society people who interacted with him. She said over and over again that the following would happen. She would take her book to a publisher and they would say, “Yes,” and then a few days later, “Nope, we’re not interested.” That happened consistently that she’s pretty sure that there were ways of keeping her shut up. Once the dam burst with Ronan Farrow’s exposé in The New Yorker, then her book did get published. She said that for years and years, it was an amazing woe that kept her from talking publicly. There are politicians who desperately wanted her not to talk. They were able to accomplish that.
I’m not usually at a loss for finding the breadcrumbs in terms of a conversation to where we lead. I always find it quite unusual if you’re watching morning news or any other news shows, but those morning news shows in particular like Good Morning America. They go from this devastating story that got your heart in your throat, and the next second they’re talking about the sports, social media, or this light segue. I get it that’s a skillset in that area and that you have to do it, but I’m feeling in this moment even now how awkward that feels to me to move.
However, I’m not all about bad news because as bad as the problem is, there’s a lot being done about it and that we can do about it.
Let’s move in that direction. I wasn’t feeling so much that it’s only bad news thing. I realized that with everything, awareness is the start. The start of any change in someone’s life for the better will begin with awareness. That awareness is often a shock. When you become aware of something that you’ve been formerly unaware of, there’s a bit of a shock factor in it. I also want to take my own moment to honor the fact that there are countless women and probably men as well who’ve been trafficked, and people’s lives that have been devastated. Collectively, perhaps as people are reading this, that they send a prayer out to the families and hold something in their heart for the people that have been impacted by something that has been kept silent for so long.
I have a guess of how you’re feeling because I remember the first time that my eyes were open to it. It’s changed my life, but I’m not asking to change anybody else’s life. There are 2,000 organizations that are working on this that the UN recognizes and there are probably 10,000 or 20,000 in addition to those. I write a weekly blog and my approach is to visit different organizations that are combating human trafficking. I’ve discovered that with great frequency, the people who are on the front lines have to practice a fair amount of self-care. They can’t spend their whole time diving into this or jump off a bridge because it’s so dark.
That’s one side but the other side is when you know that you’re doing something that can make such a difference in people’s lives, it’s about as rewarding as anything that you’ll come across. On top of that, the people who are caring enough to be working on this and doing anything for it are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life. My life changed totally April 11th of 2019. I would say it was for the better because it’s a good feeling to know that people will have better lives because of the efforts you make.
You were open in sharing your age and not everybody’s so happy to do that. Everybody who would have your energy, look the way you look, sound the way you sound, everybody would be happy. I will aspire to that.
Can I break in and tell why I have this attitude?
Yes, please but I’ve got to ask this question before that. Have you always been this light, vivacious and enthusiastic human or were there times in your life when you were maybe not as quite inspired for yourself?The older you get, the nicer the proportion is between doing what you choose and doing what you have to do. Click To Tweet
There was a period. I’ve been married twice. One was absolute bliss and that was Frank Perdue, but I did have a previous marriage where it was as dark and difficult as my marriage to Frank was happy and joyous. During those seventeen years, if I’d stayed in one more year, I might not be here. I know what it’s like to be down, devalued, and think that you don’t have to take up space on Earth. Another comment about my attitude on age. I have an aunt who lived to 95 and somewhere in her early 90s, I spent some time with her on a road trip. We loved each other and I dared ask her anything because I loved her and she loved me. I asked her the world’s most indiscreet question, “Auntie, what’s it like to be old?” That’s an indiscreet question, but she didn’t hold back. She said, “As long as you’ve got your health and you’re not worrying about paying the rent, it gets better and better.”
She said, “Here’s what happens as you get older and it certainly worked out for me.” She told me that the older you get the more freedom you have to spend the time the way you want to. She said, “You’re in grade school. Maybe you’re learning the irregular verb, the multiplication table or something that’s work and you don’t want to be doing it. Maybe you get through college and you’re starting your first job. You’re totally constrained. You’re worried that you’re not going to get the job and you have to work like crazy.” Even in your 40s and this is where she put it, “You have to spend a lot of time doing things you don’t want to.”
The way she put it was entertaining visiting firemen. What that meant was even if you’ve gotten fairly far in your job, you still have to spend time with people that wouldn’t be your first choice. She said that by the time you’re in your 70s and 80s, the proportion of time that you spend exactly as you want, maybe it’s helping a charity. Maybe it’s reading a book or maybe it’s even taking a course. She said, “There’s so much freedom.” She said and this is the kicker, “In my 90s, there isn’t a moment in the day when I’m not doing exactly what I want and often it’s service-related. It’s total freedom to do what fulfills me.” I asked her, “Auntie, what happens when somebody comes by who’s mean, nasty and you’d rather not be with them?” She said, “That’s simple. I’ll act crotchety. People expect people my age to be crotchety and they go away.” To me, it’s true. The older you get, the nicer the proportion is between doing what you choose and doing what you have to do.
You were saying earlier that you were taking a course. How often is it that you’re finding yourself still studying and taking a course?
I have a rule that a year doesn’t go by where I haven’t taken at least one course and frequently 3 or 4. At age 75, I decided maybe to follow in your footsteps because you say you do a lot of public speaking. I thought that to do the things I wanted in this world, it’d be nice to polish public speaking. The National Speakers Association has a yearlong course. It’s eight hours once a month, but you have to do 40 hours to prepare for each eight-hour class. It was a lot of work but in the end, I loved it. It opened so many doors for me. There are other courses I take. I’m always taking Red Cross Disaster Preparedness courses or first aid. I’ve taken a five-day course on how to be a good podcast guest and I’m flunking it. Among the things that they teach you is don’t monologue for too long because people tuned in to hear the host, not you.
That’s good advice, I suppose. You could teach a course about emotional intelligence at the same time that you are teaching that.
I love reading books on persuasion and psychology. I’m close to an addict watching things on YouTube. Whatever you want to learn more about, it’s there.
It’s leveled the playing field. People from anywhere that they can get a good internet connection can watch a video and learn something about something they’re fascinated about and want to get better at. It is remarkable. Do you fancy doing a TED Talk someday?
Yeah, I would love to.
What would you like to speak on? Would it be this topic?
The reason I want to get better at communicating is because I want an even bigger platform to share what I know. I did want to get into what I’m doing about human trafficking. I mentioned that when I was sitting in that audience not knowing where I could get money to give to the cause and that there was a 17th-century desk. I’m a public speaker and I often speak to family businesses often about how to make your family business last because the Henderson family has been business for over 180 years. The Perdue family has been in business for over 100 years. I have access to a lot of high net worth people, including ultra-high net worth people and I began exploring. I have a foot in the door because I get to address in their conferences. I began asking people, “Do you have items that you would put up for sale if there was a giant auction?” The biggest people have pledged, although this didn’t come from this conference, is a 69 karat perfect ruby that belonged to a Song Dynasty emperor.
There are two brothers who hate human trafficking and there are fourteen dinner plates that belonged to a Russian Tsar. It was Sir Alexander II and his father gave him fourteen dinner plates. Two of those are in the Hermitage Museum in Russia, and twelve belong to these two brothers who hate trafficking. They’ve pledged them. Other pledges that come in are one of the largest perfect emeralds and it has a great story that goes with it. The donations that have come in have attracted the attention of PBS and they have done a half-hour story on the different donations. The great part about that is that the donations will raise money, but they also raise awareness.
You mentioned the Red Cross, for example. They are among the most well-known organizations, charities that go into areas that have been devastated in some way by a natural disaster. Is there one organization in particular that’s more well regarded or that you believe is the right one to donate to when it comes to human trafficking?
My approach is whoever donates something and that would be greatly expensive things, $1 million or more, there would be an auction at Sotheby’s that has to take place after COVID-19 is over. The donor gets to choose where his or her money goes. I’ll give you an example. There’s a man who has a $1 million diamond necklace that belongs to Marlene Dietrich. The proceeds of that will go to the Child Liberation Foundation. Whoever makes a donation, they get to pick where it goes. There are tax deductions to be had. If you care about publicity, either for yourself or for the organization you care about, we can engineer that on a scale that’s mind-boggling. It’s global.
This Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking, is that one of the organizations that would be the recipient of funds that come through an auction like the one that you’re describing.
If somebody loves what we’re doing, yes, by all means. In general, most of the donations or the pledges that are coming are from people who already know about the anti-trafficking organization that they believe in. There are three major approaches to anti-trafficking, one is prevention, one is rescue, and one is rehabilitation. I’m excited about prevention because you don’t want anybody to go through what I described with the twelve-year-old girl.
It’s a big topic so what do you believe the most important steps are in prevention if you can give us a couple that we could be thinking about and become more aware of?
I don’t want people to hate me but the police are playing an enormous role in prevention. Here’s a statistic and I have this from law enforcement people from all over the world. They all pretty much agree with this statistic. If you’re a trafficker and I mentioned the trafficker in New York City who have an income of $1 million a year, without effective law enforcement, that trafficker has almost no chance of ever paying the price for what he’s doing or even being interrupted. The odds are 1 in 100 of the traffickers have ever paid any price. That’s where law enforcement comes in. If I could wave a magic wand and do something consequential rapidly, it wouldn’t be defunding the police. It would be increasing their budgets. Also, giving them the tools that they can interrupt trafficking and have the bad guys prosecuted.
It’s inconceivable to me that we would have situations like this that weren’t being aggressively addressed. The question again becomes one of the resources as it almost always is, especially in publicly funded institutions like the police, for example.
Because of doing public speaking, I’ve been on four continents in 2019. Wherever city I get to, I’d love to talk with a member of law enforcement, frequently the chief of police. The shining light for the whole world is in Taiwan. All of Asia and the world has this problem but Taiwan used to have a terrible problem with human trafficking. The head of state of Taiwan, the head of law enforcement and also the head of immigration all got together. They were hunting around for what can we do to have the biggest impact? They realized that Taiwan like the rest of the world, the bad guys pay no penalty. They make vast amounts of money and they don’t end up in jail. The three who are working on this together started thinking, “What can we do to change that?”
One of the reasons that the traffickers pay no penalty, at least in Taiwan and presumably in lots of other places in the world is you rescue a girl, she fingers who did it, but she almost never testifies. That’s true all over the place. The girls won’t testify or it could be boys but since the majority is girls, let’s focus on women for the moment. She’s not going to testify because she’s scared of her life. She’s scared that they’re going to kill her children. The consequences of testifying frequently are beyond imagination horrible. What Taiwan did is there’s a girl who’s willing to talk. They have a large hotel which is completely dedicated to housing these women. It could be for 2 to 3 months or it could be half a year until the case against the bad guy is solid, they can testify, the guy will be put behind bars, and they’re no longer in danger. During that time, they’re getting an education, well-fed, and getting the chance at starting life over again.
Our US State Department judges countries throughout the world according to how bad they are in preventing human trafficking. Taiwan is at the top of the list of being a shining example. They know how to do it. I mentioned the head of immigration. Here’s what happens all too often in countries. You’ll have somebody who will testify against somebody, but if she’s not in some hotel with guards in the doors, I don’t know whether the bad guys are going to drug her, threaten her or what. They get her out of the country so she can’t testify. In Taiwan, I’m not sure the mechanics of doing it, but it’s probably the equivalent of taking her passport. She cannot leave the country.
There’s witness protection that becomes the focus of how it is that they can make and keep a case. If the case falls apart, that’s been the case in repertoire in the United States as well.
Allow me to share what I know about Jeffrey Epstein and my girlfriend who wrote the book on it. Can we think of the name of the guy who let him off easily in 2005, 2008 or whenever it was?
Do you mean someone in Florida who was a prosecutor?
It was the prosecutor and everybody’s been down on this.Limit yourself of thinking about the horrors of human slavery. Instead, focus on what you can do about it. Click To Tweet
I can’t recall his name.
I can’t remember but there was a specific guy, it might have been Gates, but a prosecutor who seemed to give the tiniest tap on the wrist to Jeffrey Epstein. Here’s the story on that and it comes from two sources. Let’s say the guy’s name was Gates. I’m not sure if it was or let’s call it Smith. This guy, Mr. Smith, the prosecutor, had an absolute watertight type case against Jeffrey Epstein. He had all sorts of girls who would testify. He had people who worked on the island who would testify. It’s the most perfect case in the world. As they got closer to coming to trial, the girls began disappearing. The people who worked at Lolita Island began disappearing. The people who stayed recanted their testimony. People at higher up told him to lay off.
He was afraid that it was going to be a case where you come to trial and you don’t have anybody who will testify against someone and Jeffrey Epstein gets off clear as a bird. As a prosecutor, he got the best that he could for the victims but he didn’t have the resources to send up against the dream team that the other side had. What do you do if your prosecutor and you find out that your witness is in Africa or East Europe somewhere?
It creates an impossible task.
People are down on this prosecutor but he did the best he could fabulously.
Money and the power that’s often associated with it is a big part of how these people have been able to evade the public outcry and public awareness that we’re seeing more of now which is in part due to people like yourself who are bringing it up. It’s a difficult topic to talk about yet you are doing that. It would be wonderful to see you create a talk that might find its way onto a TED stage or other stages because this is something that I feel people don’t know enough about.
You said I was looking up and were kind enough to use the word sparkly. It’s because the doors that are opening for having good things come for spreading the word. I’m talking with three different global organizations about having a podcast, which they would sponsor. I’m not sure which one I will go with, but it’s so darn exciting to have them come to me. The format of that would be or at least for one of them, and the others are similar. For one of them, that would be that I would interview people from all over the world who are working for anti-trafficking organizations.
I don’t want to turn people off by having it too dark. That’s a fear so I would interview them briefly about what the problem is, and the first one is likely to be Botswana? What are the problems in Botswana? What are the unique things that are going on there? What are you doing about it? I’m only going to interview people who have success stories that can encourage other people. This is not about making people throw their hands up in despair and say, “I give up. It’s too awful.” The final part would be what would you wish people would do? As I said, there are three pretty large organizations that I’m negotiating with now.
You use the word helplessness. Rather than going down that path of what helplessness or learned helplessness looked like, the opposite of that is resilience to me. Let’s talk a little bit about that. For somebody that is as inspired as you are at this phase in your life to be taking on something like this and to be so inspired by it, you’ve got to be incredibly resilient. Not only because it’s so much work to fight for any cause on any good day, even the best of days, I know that’s incredibly challenging. You’ve got to develop your own personal resilience. You’ve got to have the energy to keep fighting that fight. I’d love to turn the focus more on you now for a moment. To be where you are in your life, what is it that you do on a ritual basis? I’d love to get your definition of what resilience is and I’d love to know what some of your rituals are to maintain and create that resilience.
I’ll give an overall answer and it’s one that I’ve heard from other people as well. If you focus too much on the absolute evil of human slavery, you want to jump off a bridge and you can’t do that. I limit myself to how much I think of the horror that’s going on. Instead, I try to focus on what I can do about it. If I find my energy flagging or my commitment lessening, I’ll start thinking about the other people whose lives can be improved by what jointly we can do together. I try pretty hard not to woe in how awful it is, instead, I want to get my energy from thinking that there are other things that we can do. They’re not going to be done immediately. It’s a long haul with as many people as possible in the world working together.
The mindset that you described is vitally important because even with regard to social justice and the movement, and in where we are in the United States, because I know people read this from all over the globe. In the US in particular, where the movement for social justice is so deep and enriching our lives now. Looking at that situation and being disheartened by, you can almost even become resigned to the fact that it has gone on for so long and it is still going on.
I watched a basketball coach of a team that I followed in the past and I have respect for him. He was being interviewed and he’s emotion was coming up. He said something to the effect of, “It’s shocking to me that we could love this country, that I could love this country, and other black Americans could love this country so much, that this country refuses to love us back.” It broke my heart to hear it. It had broken his heart long before he said it. There’s that aspect of it where what you said is right. If we focus there and we get stuck in that, it’s quite difficult to get into momentum in making change happen, and seeing the problem as the actual solution, and things like that. It’s sounds motivational but they’re also true in terms of how things change in any area of our lives.
Resilience is the word that we are typically putting to that, the resilient individual, the resilient organization. That’s a lot of work that we do. We go into companies. We help to see how it is that their workers are either being built up, made more resilient, that the culture is one that promotes resilience, or does that work culture promotes burnout, exhaustion, and the kinds of things that lead to helplessness or the feeling of learned helplessness? We’ve got a pandemic on our hands. The statistics are stark in terms of young people aged 18 to 24. One in four young persons in June considered suicide. If you could imagine. It’s shocking statistics. What I would love at this moment is you being somebody that has lived such a vibrant life and is now more so doubling down your energy for this cause that we’ve been talking about. How is it that you create resilience? What do you think about resilience? More importantly, what do you do to cultivate it for yourself?
Let’s start with physical. I’m a huge believer in diet, exercise and mental attitude. For diet, I have a simple rule that’s taken me a long way. That is whenever you have a choice with what you’re going to eat, pick the least processed. Supposing you’re out with friends or maybe you’re visiting somebody’s home and they’ve made a fabulous dessert. You don’t have a choice or you do, but I would probably eat the dessert. I would never do it if I have a choice where it’s not going to hurt somebody’s feelings. I avoid sweets, because that’s highly processed.
I’m somewhat low carb because bread is highly processed. The odds of my eating a candy bar are zero. The odds of my eating loads of fresh fruits and vegetables and maybe beans and unrefined stuff, that’s what I do. I made a bet many years ago that eating unprocessed foods or when you have a choice to eat the less processed food in favor of the other. I’m twisting my tongue around, but what I’m trying to say is when you have a choice, choose the less processed food. It’s taken me a long way because I feel younger than I should. On top of that, before COVID-19, I would have described myself as a gym rat. Since I’m not going to the gym, I’m doing all sorts of floor exercises. I live on the eighth floor of my building and I do not use the elevator. Two or three or four times a day, I’m using the stairs and that keeps me younger. I love lifting weights at home and doing weird strange yoga postures.
I love weird strange yoga postures too.
Often I’m listening to podcasts, particularly self-improvement ones.
Your filling your mind and head with good thoughts, not just Pollyanna thoughts. I grew up in New York and I was a lawyer for eighteen years and a litigator. I have a practical and pragmatic side to me, and yet I realize how powerful it is that we hear things that are enlivening, inspiring, forward-looking and innovative to us. Those thoughts that are regenerative for me. It sounds like that’s the same case for you. You call that self-help. I pick up self-help books six times to Sunday, anytime I can get my hands on it. Has that always been the story of your life?
Yes. I mentioned that my father and my uncle were the cofounders of the Sheraton Hotel chain. Father told me that he would read Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People every ten years. My mother also for that matter and even Frank Perdue did. Speaking of resilience, the story of my father about resilience. When he was 26 years old, he got engaged to my mother. My mother was from West Virginia. She came to Cambridge, Massachusetts to meet her future in-laws. My grandmother Berta, my father’s mother, told my mother, “Don’t marry Ernest, he can never stick with anything. You’ll end up poor.” Can you imagine what resilience it must take to recover from that? His own mother told his future bride don’t marry him.
He took that as a wakeup call. He went to whatever the equivalent of Yellow Pages back then was and found the Jack Snow Connor Career Guidance Counselors to try to figure out why he couldn’t keep jobs and why he couldn’t stick to anything. He wanted to get married and didn’t want his wife to end up poor. Jack Snow Connor spent an entire day with him giving him batteries and batteries of tests. In the end, he said, “Mr. Henderson, you have the worst human relations skills I’ve ever come across. You’re a bright fellow so you could have a career life in science in a laboratory where you wouldn’t have to interact with anybody. Meanwhile, you aren’t gifted at getting along with people.” My father took that as a challenge. Here’s why he took it as a challenge. He calculated and he’s told me this, that getting along with people is the most important skill that there is.
Almost nothing else matters if you can’t get along with people. You’re not going to have friends and you’re not going to have a good life. He began doing everything he possibly could to crack the code of how to get along with people, what motivates them, what makes them tick. Dale Carnegie was one of the courses that he took. He took the course in addition to reading books. He took courses in public speaking, salesmanship, read books, went to lectures, read magazines. He studied everything he could, about how to get along with people. His greatest deficit became his greatest asset by the time he started the Sheraton Hotels, and we’re talking 1933.
It’s the beginning of the Great Depression.
The Great Depression in the early ‘30s was so bad that there was 25% unemployment. That meant that people didn’t have surplus monies to go to hotels. Nobody was buying them.
It’s not an optimal time you’d think to start a hotel chain.
My father thought it’s the perfect time because with his enhanced understanding of human relations and human motivation, let me tell you what to do the first day that he takes possession of a hotel. I’ll also tell you ahead of time what the story is going to illustrate is a way of getting employee engagement, love, and something that will make them stick with him for life and go the extra mile. The day he takes possession, he’d invite them all into the hotel ballroom. He’d stand up there on the stage. The first words out of his mouth were always, “I want every one of you to keep your job because I know that you know your job better than anybody else in the world. My job is to give you the resources and the encouragement to show the world how good you are. You’re going to see in a few months that this is going to be the most popular, the most well served, and the example for the rest of the city that things can turn around. You’re going to be part of the team that does this.”
Since there was 25% unemployment, you can imagine that they were initially afraid that they’re going to lose their jobs. The first words out of his mouth are, “I want you to keep your job.” The next day, there would be cavalcades of plumbers, electricians and decorators coming into the hotel. My father told me to never go directly. They wouldn’t spend their time in the first few weeks on the areas that the paying public would see. It would be the areas that only the employees would see. For example, the employees’ dining room, kitchen, showers and locker rooms.If you know that there's something that you need and you're no good at, why not try to get good at it? Click To Tweet
He would spend the first money on things that would show and communicate to the employees how important they were to him. He told me that this was the best investment possible because it’s the employees that are going to make the hotel a success or not. He wanted to communicate to them how important they were to him. The results were the first hotel that he bought did so well that he had money to buy a second, a third, and until the time of his death, 400 hotels.
When did he pass? What year?
It was 1967. It was a long time ago. Nevertheless, isn’t that an amazing example of resilience? You’re told by your mother that your fiancé shouldn’t marry you, and that his greatest deficit became his greatest asset?
Let’s define that. Wealth speaks for itself. I’m a big fan of taking a story like that and encapsulating it some way into one principle. His resilience was born out of something that he took as a personal mission or a calling.
If you know that there’s something that you need and you’re no good at, why not try to get good at it?
Turn the thing that is your deficit or maybe even your greatest deficit.
It was dad’s greatest deficit. I used to think that here he is in the hospitality industry, 400 hotels. I’m going to guess, except for national politicians, there are a few people in the country who interacted with more people in a more gracious, understanding, inviting, and welcoming way than a person who is a star in the hospitality industry. Who would have ever guessed that somebody who had terrible human relations skills could be fantastic at it?
Often the great teachers are sharing things that they most needed to learn in their lives. Even sometimes the things that they’re most learning at the time is a significant catalyst I found in teachers that are passionate and effective. More than passionate even, but effective at conveying information about something that’s vitally important to them. It’s where we put our attention. Attention is love. You put attention to something, the recipient of that attention feels love.
Frank Perdue was a lot like that and it’s something that I had something to do with. We had a program that began when we got back from our honeymoon. We’re walking on a beach. It’s a romantic area and suddenly I stop and look up at him and I tell him, “Frank, we should entertain every single person who works for the company in our home for dinner.” Frank thought that was a completely crazy idea.
Was your father still alive at that time?
No. I wish they had met because they had a lot in common. Initially, Frank’s reaction was, “No.” I pretended that I didn’t hear the no. I said, “Let’s have them at 100 at a time.” They were 16,000 employees at that time. He said, “No, that’s way too many.” I said, “I bet we could put it together and start in six weeks.” He’s like, “That’s way too soon.”
I feel like we’re getting a relationship course now. I love that.
We went round and round with me going ahead and planning what it was going to be like. I grew up in the hospitality industry and we think that you solve everything by good human relations. Frank’s initial reaction was, “No. What galaxy did you sit down from?” As we continued to talk, he started to think that maybe there’s something to it. Finally, he’s like, “I like it.” For the next seventeen years, roughly three times a month, we would invite people 100 at a time to our home for dinner. The reason Frank eventually agreed to do this was because it was yet one more way of showing the people who worked with him how important they were.
There would be a great big long buffet table with several servers but Frank would stand behind the buffet table and he would wait on his employees. At the end of the evening, he would always thank his employees saying, in different words each time but roughly, “I know the company wouldn’t be what it is today without you. Thank you.” Frank grew up in a rural area. I bet the population might have been 200 at the time. He lived on a farm and he was a shy country boy. He transformed himself from somebody almost too shy to speak to people to a marketing icon. I found it amazing that somebody who was inherently shy like my father could become extremely good at something that didn’t come naturally to him.
There’s an element of resilience in that as well because it’s so interesting that part of how we develop resilience in ourselves is that we challenge ourselves. Not only face the challenges, but we go into them with great enthusiasm. I’m an introvert. When we train and work with speakers or people that go on TED stages and things like that, I’ll often say, “I see that you’re shy and your voice is quite restricted even. It could be from early childhood when someone told you to better be seen than to be heard and things of that sort.”
We all get that it comes from someplace, but I’m naturally more comfortable in small groups of people. I’ve spoken to 15,000 people at a time in China and places around the world. I’m much more comfortable in the green room reading a book by myself or with 1 or 2 other people or for that matter, not even being there. I typically get my energy from that introverted behavior where some people get their energy by being around a lot of people and they’re much more extroverted.
Almost every public speaker I know that I’ve enjoyed and I respect are not the gregarious types naturally or outside of that environment. I call it being a situational extrovert. A friend mentioned that to me years ago and I was like, “I love that term, situational extrovert.” The reason why that’s important is that when you have something that’s important to you, when you have a mission like you’re describing your husband is having this mission and your dad had a mission. It was something that was more important than their own personal comfort. If you lead me to my comfort, I wouldn’t choose to speak to 1,000 people because there are nerves involved. There’s wanting to do well. There’s ego and all the responsibilities of being in service of not screwing it up and making it happen well. It’s a lot of weight. It’s exhausting.
If you had your druthers, you sit home and you read a good book, go for a walk, take a swim or something. To put yourself out there like that, the mission is a great driver to know that there’s something bigger than you that’s much more important than you that will help you to develop the resilience to stand in the face of things that you’re not good at. When you practice something you’re not good, at some point you become quite good at it.
Frank has a saying which I treasure, which is, “If you want to be happy, think what you can do for somebody else rather than be miserable and think what’s owed to you.” A lot of his life was about service. A little tale out of school, Frank had almost no interest in money other than the pleasure of giving it away. He didn’t have yachts and racehorses. When we traveled, it was almost always economy. When we would visit different cities, we would go by subway. Whether it was Tokyo, Beijing, Paris or wherever. He didn’t need the trappings of money, which I thought was neat. He would rather not spend it and give it away. Allow me to tell you about my father. My father said that the greatest pleasure his money ever gave him was in giving it away.
People need to hear that. I’m happy that you said that because often, especially people that have not had great wealth or have no proximity to it, they think of it like many things that we think of that are unknown to us. We make them into something that they’re not or think that they’re a great panacea or a great solution in their own personal lives. Money for sure can do a lot of good for a lot of people, but for you personally, it can be a magnifier. If you are a humble person, you have humility, and you think of others, money will only help you to be more able to do those things.
Money is power. I want to use the power that came my way for good and I do have a focus. I live fantastically below my means. I live in an apartment building and my neighbors, one is a librarian, one is on probation to work in the sheriff’s department. This is not millionaire’s row but I’m happy to be here. I don’t need a great big fancy house.
Here’s what I can say with certainty and I’m going to be audacious to say this but in looking at you and listening to whatever you are doing, you keep doing that because you have this light and wonder that is still so evident. If people are watching this on YouTube, what you’re going to see is a person who have so much light in you, in your face, eyes and smile. It’s far from me to say it but keep doing whatever you’re doing because it is more than just working.
I’ve died and gone to heaven. Thank you.
Thank you so much for being on the show.
I love them to come and visit my website.
I’d love to check-in and find out more about that auction.If you want to be happy, think what you can do for somebody else rather than be miserable and think about what's owed to you. Click To Tweet
I should tell you about the auction, even though we’ve got the most amazing fantastic donations that are going to be famous throughout the world when it happens, it is on pause. You can see the donations but they’re not going to be available unless you’re in a real hurry to buy the 69 karats perfect ruby.
My wife is a July baby. She’s a Cancer. That’s the month that Ruby is the birthstone.
Buy it for her. It should go for around $60 million.
Just $60 million?
I know that you want two but there’s only one in offer.
It wouldn’t insult anybody if I started the bidding at $50 million. Perhaps that auction can happen online because people will tune in now to see something. People often don’t go to Sotheby’s. They have somebody there as a representative, and they might be watching it on closed-circuit TV or whatever it is. That’s entirely possible.
I’m going to listen to the wisdom and experience of Sotheby’s who said, “You’ll get some buyers but there’s so much economic uncertainty now that you’re going to get bidding wars that would get it to the high.”
Let’s listen to the experts for sure.
Not a choice because they get the same.
Although you could take the position that the stock market is at all-time highs, and people that are invested are probably doing quite well at the moment. We’re also talking often about people that are spending money that’s not their rent money. It’s money that is in foundations and other places where their plan is to give it to good causes. I’m always a bit counterintuitive when I hear things like that. Now is a wonderful time if it was properly marketed.
There are other issues, which is they will give a date that’s a year in the future. They’ve got to predict that a year in the future the stock market is still doing well.
That’s true. There are many moving parts here.
I’m excited because in my life, one door shuts and another opens. I mentioned that I do have three organizations that are large and they have a fabulous distribution that want me to do their podcast.
Lots more in this discussion and for our readers, please leave a review. You can go to AdamMarkel.com/podcasts to let us know your comments, your thoughts and your feedback. They’re valuable to us. If you’ve not yet subscribed, please feel free to do that as well. I’m going to leave us all with a reminder. I get to do this each time for myself and to the extent that if somebody has not heard this before and those who have even it’s important that we think about how it is that we create our days. What’s the process to create the day of your dreams like the perfect day? That is possible when we start the day, as my grandmother would say, on the right foot. The right foot is the right thought. I have a simple process to create the right thought to begin the day. First of all, we all have to wake up. Mitzi Perdue, did you wake up today?
Yes, you did and you totally get that. There’s no question you do not need another cup of coffee to be awake, you are awake. How lovely if we’re fortunate to get to wake up yet again tomorrow. When we go to sleep and we put our head on the pillow tonight, there’s no contract for that, no guarantee. If it happens when it happens tomorrow, we get to say, “What a blessing this is to be awake, alive, and even with the challenges that we face, the alternative is not even thinkable.” We can be grateful. We wake up and we’re in gratitude. Even a moment in gratitude at the beginning of the day is so powerful.
The third piece of it is this simple system is starting the day on the right thought and the right foot. Often for me, it is the right thing that comes out of my mouth. The first thing that comes out of my mouth is usually the reflection of my first thought. I have these four simple words that I start the day with every single day and that was the subject of the TED Talk I gave. The four words are, “I love my life.” That’s it. I love my life, no matter what. The question for you, Mitzi, is what words will you start your day with tomorrow? That’s for all of our readers as well. You could start with, “I love my life,” you could start with something entirely different.
I had a woman that answered that question and she said, “The first words I say are, ‘I wonder what miracles are coming today.’” Judy Whitcraft was her name and she’s also a woman in her late 70s who I so admire. She says, “I wonder what miracles are coming today.” I’ve started using that as well. When I wake up, before I look at my phone, before I go do anything, coffee or anything. It’s like, “What do I want to say out loud as a way to usher the day into something great.” Mitzi, any thoughts on what you might say when you wake up tomorrow?
How can I better serve?
That’s epic. Thanks for being a guest on the show.
I’ve loved every second of it. Thank you so much.
Ciao for now.
- Mitzi Perdue
- American Agri-Women
- Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking
- Paul Hutchinson
- Blog – Mitzi Perdue
- The National Speakers Association
- Child Liberation Foundation
- How to Win Friends and Influence People
- YouTube – Adam Markel
- TED Talk – DOING THIS for 10 Seconds Can Change Your Life!
- Judy Whitcraft
About Mitzi Perdue
Mitzi Perdue is the daughter of one family business titan (her father founded the Sheraton Hotel Chain) and the widow of another, (her late husband was the family business poultry magnate, Frank Perdue), and she is also a businesswoman in her own right. She started the family wine grape business, now one of the larger suppliers of wine grapes in California. Mitzi likes nothing better than to share insider tips for successful family businesses. Her family of origin (the one that started the Sheraton Hotels) began with the family business, Henderson Estate Company, in 1840, and her Perdue family started in 1920 in the poultry business. These two families have a combined tradition of 276 years of staying together as a family. Mitzi is happy to share actionable advice on how they created and maintained their family businesses. Mitzi speaks on how to make your family business last across the generations, and she also talks about success tips from mega-successful people.