Dusty Rhodes: A Polka-Dotted Inspiration

What the Life of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes can teach budding entrepreneurs

For those of you not in the know on hot topic current events, the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes passed away today.  Who is that?  Only one of the most inspirational professional wrestlers that ever lived.  What’s that?  You never watched professional wrestling?  Well, then I suggest unfriending me on LinkedIn, unsubscribing from my blog, and untattooing my photograph from your lower back because everyone knows that one’s level of professional success is directly correlated to one’s level of wrestling fandom.     

Anyway, now that we’ve culled all the never-gonna-be’s from the readership as of that sentence, I’m going to request that you load up the below video and play it as background music for both reading this article and the next time you have an intimate encounter.


Perfect.  So if there are still people reading who weren’t familiar with Dusty previously you might be thinking that this man does not look like the prototypical professional wrestler, muscles rippling and gleaming in the sunshine.  Dusty spent maybe one or two of his 30 years in the industry looking remotely like an athlete and the rest…well, looking like Dusty.  Those who aren’t as familiar with pro wrestling might be surprised to find out that Dusty is considered one of very few absolute *legends* in the field of sports entertainment.  Many people view him as a genius, a mentor, an incredible person.

What does this have to do with entrepreneurship?  Everything.

Dusty became successful in an industry where by all rights he probably shouldn’t have succeeded.  He had the wrong body type.  He wasn’t an athlete.  He had a small lisp when he talked.  At one point in his career, in addition to all of the above he wore a headband and tight shorts with polka dots on them.  Yet through all of this he was *still* one of the most popular wrestlers, known the world over.

There are 6 things that Dusty did – arguably better than anyone else before or since – that are directly responsible for his success, and I can guarantee you that if you can be even *half* as good as Dusty was at them, you either:

  1. will be tremendously successful at your venture
  2. you won’t even care about being successful at your venture, because you’ll still be phenomenally personally successful

Learn how to make people care about what you’re saying.

In wrestling, a “promo” is when someone is talking into the mic to the audience.  The point of the promo is very simple is much like any other public speaking endavour minus the fact that in this case you’re half naked and in an arena full of thousands of screaming people: get people invested.  The best “promos” are the ones that get the audience to want to spend their money to see a wrestler take on another wrestler.  You could argue in fact that these are the only promos that count.

For any professional, the ability to get people to “buy in” is particularly important.   For someone at a startup, your pitch is essentially that promo.  In both cases, you are trying to convince someone to spend their money on you – in the former to a wrestling arena, and the latter hopefully in a business arena.  Professional tip: for those of you who think there’s a crossover, an investor who says they are paying money to see you wrestle in a Speedo is likely not the kind of investor you want bankrolling your company.
Now, Dusty…Dusty is considered the greatest “promo man” of all time.  Yes, all time.  He had the ability in 3 minutes or less to get you to feel like he was on your side, that his wrestling match at the arena tomorrow night in some way represented your struggle, that he was wrestling for you personally.  The ability to get someone on your side in under 5 minutes is one of the most valuable skills you can ever cultivate.  I’m not saying that you should stand in front of your mirror and start yelling about “Hard Times”, far fr…oh who I am kidding, I *totally* am!!  You should be practicing how to get people invested in you every single day.  The ability to tell compelling stories is the ability to get married, land wonderful opportunities, score great investors, and make friends.

Have excitement about everything you do.


No human being on the planet possessed more unbridled enthusiasm for anything he or she was doing than Dusty Rhodes about *everything*.   While this was evident in his wrestling days, it became even more prominent after he retired and became a color commentator.  Dusty, even when completely unintelligible (and trust me, this happened often in his days talking through the matches) was so giddy about everything going on that he simply pulled you into being engaged with him whether you wanted to be or not.  People slamming cookie sheets on each other’s heads?  Dusty was there laughing uncontrollably for 20 minutes.  A brawl goes into the men’s bathroom and a woman comes out for no reason?  Dusty thinks it’s the most amazing thing to have ever happened in the sport’s history.  Dusty made you feel like *everything* was the best thing he had witnessed to date in his life and you *knew* just by listening to the man talk that he was just incredibly happy to be there.  He even managed to convey this attitude when he was dressing in polka dots and filming vignettes about fixing people’s plumbing!  I can safely say that although I generally have the enthusiasm and verve of one thousand blazing suns, that if you stripped me down to polka-dot briefs and told me to dance like a monkey, my first reaction might not be “thrilled to be here” as much as it would be none of your business, jack.  The point is that when you are incredibly happy to be somewhere, people not only know it but anyone that isn’t a complete sociopath *also* gets a little bit happier.

This is an important quality to cultivate, particularly as a leader and even moreso as a entrepeneur.  The road you walk down as either is not always lined with suitcases full of money and rainbows full of happiness – there are times when things will be difficult.  But someone who has a spirit of fun, enjoyment, and joy about them is far more likely to engage and galvanize the people working with them than someone who is simply dour and bummed out all day long.  Now, I know some of you are probably reading this and saying, “Oh Justice, if only I was like you and could work for a hot startup with equally hot people in it, but my job is terrible” – well then quit your job and find someone you legitimately like doing.  You have one life.  Don’t waste it doing something that saps your will to live.  But that’s another article for another time.  This is about Dusty Rhodes!


Love people.  ggggh.


I have to confess that as a man who possesses a cold, reptilian heart and generally only likes attractive people – so you can assume if you are connected to me on LinkedIn, I probably consider you one of them – that this is much easier for me to say than actually do.  Thankfully in this rare case I am actually not the person I’m recommending you emulate!

One thing that’s notable about Dusty in his field is that very very few people have anything bad to say about him personally, and he has very little bad to say about anyone personally as well.  In professional wrestling, an alpha male sport if there ever was one, this is almost unheard of.  But there’s no shortage of people who praise Dusty for being a mentor, a role model, an inspiration, or just wonderful to be around.  Those accolades were floating around well before his passing, so they aren’t just sound bites people threw together to sound like they cared about the deceased.

I’m not an authority on Dusty’s life so I can’t say this with 100% certainty, but from my own personal experiences watching people I admire I can say that you are not likely to have that sort of glowing reception unless you truly enjoy and take joy in other people regardless of who they are and the circumstances they found themselves in. It’s worth consideration that:

  1. Every successful venture I’ve witnessed or been a part of has had at least one successful “super-connector”
  2. Every “super-connector” that I have known has possessed the above love and warmth for people
  3. given Dusty was essentially the “super-connector” of professional wrestling I think it’s a safe assumption that he also possessed these qualities

Of course, as you can imagine, all of this pales in comparison to my *favorite* quality:

Charisma will take you everywhere.

Watch this video:


Note that at around 2:45 the crowd is screaming.  Dusty puts up his hand and the crowd immediately silences itself.  That’s called having power over an audience.

Dusty knew how to tell a good joke, but more importantly he knew how to tell a good story.  You would be *amazed* at how forgiving people are if you can do the above; you can effectively do no wrong.  Likewise, believe it or not, a large part of my choosing the opportunities I have involve answering yes to:

“Are they funny?”

“Do I like being around them?”

And if I’ve applied that criteria to potential consulting gigs,  I’ve applied it *even more* stringently when it comes to choosing people as partners.  And you should too.  You should endeavour to be:

* around people who other people like to be around

* to *become* a person who other people like to be around

You’ll go further that way.  Trust me.  To use a dated reference, the real world isn’t “House”.


Know that you’re great.


Let’s be real.  Dusty knew he was awesome.  Read this tribute and you’ll see what I mean.  You should know that too.  The only thing worse than arrogance is false humility.  This isn’t to say you should be arrogant, but you should be confident in yourself and you should be willing to say “Hey, I’m pretty awesome” from time to time.   Maybe you don’t say it to your wife, your parents your friends, people at the grocery store, the dude who was spotting you at the gym, the dog that ran up at the office to sniff you, and the people who are running away from you and telling them they don’t want to hear about your special qualities anymore or they’re calling the police.  That’s cool.  It’s a free country, if you want to live your life being afraid, that’s your business!  But at the very least, you should be saying it to yourself.

This also doesn’t mean that you’re greater than everyone else.  Other people are great too.  But so are you.  And if you want to be a leader, or a visionary, you should remember that.

Finally and most importantly…

Always, always be a leader.  Never, never be a walk behinder.

“When you’re a walk behinder…when you walk behind and you’re not a leader, the view never changes, baby. The view never changes, baby. The view never changes.”

Amen to that.

RIP Dusty.