Lessons from a Hermanator: An interview with Herman Cain

What lessons lie in burgers, politics and pizza? At the age of 68, former presidential candidate Herman Cain was recently able to tell me. Cain started with humble beginnings in Atlanta. As the CEO of Godfathers Pizza, Cain also became the Vice President of the National Restaurant Association in 1996–all the while serving on numerous boards and entering the political stage. We all remember Cain’s 2012 run for the presidential office, but today he continues to stay relevant. His homespun candor captivates audiences by way of radio, syndicated columns, tea-party activism and news contribution.

With Cain’s resume, it’s no wonder I would want his advice. If you want to go somewhere, you talk to the people who have already made it there. What lessons would Cain teach his younger self? What would he, for that matter, teach my current self? When asked, Cain noted the importance of knowledge. “Create your own knowledge base,” he said. “Become as knowledgeable as you can.” But in all of this, I couldn’t help wondering what other wisdom he could impart. It was, after all, no surprise that the author of They Think You’re Stupid… would place an emphasis on knowledge. I suspected, however, that knowledge alone did not position Cain to seek out the highest office in our land.

I realized that goals were also a driving force behind Cain’s success. After pausing, he thought back. “I don’t know where I got this from–I started setting what I called decade goals,” Cain said. “Decade goals are big goals . . . but it always kept me moving in the direction that I wanted to move in.” It was then that I grasped the underrated importance of setting one goal at a time. “You don’t want to be doing a random walk,” he said. “In my 20’s I had a decade goal of completing my master’s degree . . . at 68 years of age I still have a decade goal before I hit 70.”

There is no dodging the fact that Cain’s advice stands at odds with the general message of Americana. We are allured to “live in the now”–to heed pop culture’s warning that “you only live once” (gingerly termed “YOLO”). A sense of focus is, however, what seems to truly be most important. By having benchmark goals, we are more clearly able to envision where we are headed in life. Make goals. Have direction. Seek knowledge. News nuggets straight from the man who has been there, done that and got the t-shirt. And when all else fails, “Avoid putting on the stupid cap that they want you to wear,” Cain says to listeners.