He’s written and contributed to 34 books, been a New York Times best-selling author with his own book, and spoken to over four million people at 4,500 appearances. He’s given addresses in all 50 states, 54 countries and on six continents. He’s inspired U.S. servicemen on trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, written a country song for which he received a Gold Album, wrote a novel that was made into a movie starring Jack Lemmon, and rubbed shoulders with governmental leaders from across the globe. He’s even soared to the edge of the atmosphere in a U2 reconnaissance spy plane—so high that he’s observed the curvature of the Earth.
So why is Dan Clark, born and bred in the Salt Lake Valley, a graduate of East High School and a former football player at the University of Utah, still relatively unknown in his home state?
“I’m not really sure myself,” Clark says. “I’ve spoken here many times, to a lot of conventions that have been held in the state. I’ve been in every single little town and community. I love Utah, which is why I live here. And I’m always bragging about the state to corporate leaders wherever I go. But I really want to do more for Utah businesses. I want to have a significant impact on helping them.”
Clark is now planning to focus part of the vigorous speaking schedule he enjoys each year (he averages 140 engagements annually) on presentations here at home.
Clark planned on playing professional football when he entered the University of Utah, a highly-touted athlete who was considered to be a top draft pick for either the NFL or Major League Baseball. But during a tackling drill in practice, he collided head-on with another player, cracking his neck, severing a nerve in his right deltoid and suffering a grade-two concussion. The injuries left him paralyzed for 14 months.
“Sixteen different doctors told me I wouldn’t get better,” Clark says. “As a teenager, I’d focused only on sports and other ways to gain fame and glory. At that point, I felt like I had nothing.”
Instead, what he had was a revelation, a realization that instead of focusing on how to get better, he needed to figure out why he should.
“I had to think about purposes rather than shallow goals,” he says. “Now, I feel the injury was the best thing that could have happened to me—not the accident, but the lesson I learned about myself as I worked on coming back from it.”
In other words, he learned the importance of being significant, which has been a driving force behind the messages of motivation and inspiration he’s delivered to millions—from business professionals to high school students. He has keynoted addresses to leaders of 200 of the Fortune 500 companies. He was inducted into the National Speakers Hall of Fame in 2005, and has been named one of the top 10 speakers in the world. Between 1983 and 1989, he was the primary speaker for Former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No program. His résumé goes on and on.
“Think about it. Where else can you find a 21-year-old with this kind of responsibility?” he says of the many servicemen he’s met in the U.S. Air Force. “Where can you find a 26-year-old who’s trusted with a billion-dollar plane? That’s why I always tell my corporate audience that one of the most important things they can do is hire veterans. They’ve got some remarkable skills and experiences, and their core values make them strong, resilient people.”
Last January, Clark was presented with the American Spirit Award at the Air Force Recruiting Service Leadership Conference in San Antonio. Since 1980, the award has been presented by the conference to civilians who have made a significant impact on airmen and the Air Force. Past recipients have included luminaries such as Bob Hope, Reba McIntyre, Dolly Parton and the Chicago Bulls.
“I can think of no better person to get this award,” says Maj. Gen. Garret Harencak, the Air Force Recruiting Service commander. “He’s a friend to each and every one of us [in the Air Force]. He’s our wingman. You know before you go into peril your wingman will be there, and even when you don’t know Dan, he’s been there for us.”
“I’ve received a lot of awards and trophies in my day, but this is by far my best and means the most to me,” Clark says.
His words have not only come from the lectern, but also through his contribution to the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul series. No other author has contributed more to those books than Clark. He also authored his own best-seller, The Art of Significance: Achieving the Level Beyond Success. In it, through what’s called the “Twelve Highest Universal Laws of Life-Changing Leadership,” he explains the difference between significance and success, and how they can impact our lives.
“Attaining significance means becoming aware of your purpose and working hard to bring that out in the world,” he says. “Things happen for a reason, but it’s our human responsibility to determine what that reason is—what our purpose is.”
That train of thought helped Clark when he was immobilized for 14 months, the one that motivated him to develop the skills and mindset to deliver that message to others. He is proud to say that since he began addressing groups in 1982, he’s never missed a speech—even if it meant renting a car and driving through the night to a location because of a flight delay or cancellation.
“No one is a bigger fan of Utah, our economy, our lifestyle and our future than me,” he says. “I want to share with businesses here what I’ve been blessed and lucky enough to share with others. That’s my cause.”