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Native Sun News: Dave Anderson shares life skills with youth

Filed Under: Education | National
More on: dave anderson, native sun news, south dakota, youth

The following story was written and reported by Lisa Lynott-Carroll, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.

Dave Anderson, entrepreneur, philanthropist, motivational speaker and founder of the nationally renowned Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurant franchise, made a presentation to Wagner High School students Nov. 28. Anderson, who is of Choctaw and Ojibwe heritage and is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe in Wisconsin, at one time served as assistant secretary-Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior. PHOTO FAMOUSDAVEANDERSON.COM

‘Don’t let your problems be your excuses’
Wagner students learn life skills from ‘Famous Dave’
By Lisa Lynott-Carroll
Native Sun News Correspondent

WAGNER — The Wagner High School students filing into their school’s auditorium on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 28, could be forgiven for feeling anxious about their futures as they were greeted with some sobering statistics.

The information, displayed on a screen above the stage, told them that 70 percent of high school students fail to graduate as college-ready and that only 54 percent of all students attending college will graduate.

As if that weren’t discouraging enough, the final statistic showed that 75 percent of college students lack the skills to perform real-life tasks.

But the man the students had come to hear was going to help them avoid becoming a part of those grim numbers. Known as “America’s Rib King,” Dave Anderson, the Native American founder of the award-winning national Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurant chain, was introduced by Vanessa Iverson, Wagner Community School’s cultural coordinator, who’d invited him to share his success story and his motivational insights.

Anderson, whose website,, tells you to “get fired up, smoke the competition,” fired up the students for his presentation by rousing them out of their seats and telling them that “if there was ever a time in your life to stand up, it’s now,” leading them in a cheer of “I feel happy, I feel healthy, I feel terrific!”

They were then directed to turn to the student next to them and tell him or her that they were “amazing, incredible and good-looking,” drawing laughter and applause. This was a beginning demonstration of Anderson’s beliefs in the importance of displaying energy and enthusiasm and helping to make things better for others.

While he may, as he said, currently be a “multimillionaire,” the road to such a success was long, rocky and paved with obstacles that constantly needed to be overcome. Raised in Chicago, Anderson, who is of Choctaw and Ojibwe heritage and is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe in Wisconsin, began his first restaurant in the small community of Hayward, Wis., where barbecue was not known to be popular and where no one but himself expected it to be a success.

But he kept believing in it and sharing his optimistic dream with everyone, his relentless drive in keeping with his philosophy to “be the best, not average” — that “just good enough” was never enough. This philosophy paid off, as this first restaurant grew into a chain of more than 200 franchises in several states. Anderson would be the first to admit that his was not a likely success story. Raised in a poor family and graduating at the very bottom of his class, dealing with attention deficit disorder and the beliefs of others that such obstacles would prevent him from achieving anything substantial in life, he turned his weaknesses into strengths and recognized that he was the only one who could work to make his dreams happen.

This was a practical demonstration of his core message to never let your problems become your excuses. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you’ve been in life, with determination and drive you can overcome anything,” Anderson said. “We are meant to struggle because success only comes through such struggle.”

As an illustration of this message, Anderson told the Native American creation story of the eagle and the clam. The Creator told the clam that all he had to do to eat was to just open his shell; being placed on the ocean floor, he was safe and secure when the storms came.

The eagle, however, was given strength as the storms would beat on his nest and he would need to work and struggle to obtain food. The eagle was meant to soar, just like we are, and — while no one likes problems and adversity — by working through them we become stronger and achieve the change we want. Anderson said that while most people believe that change is something that either just happens or happens “out there,” he advised that change is really the result of someone working through adversity to make it happen for themselves and committing to constant learning.

His own life serves as a prime example of such a philosophy, as is indicated not just by the unlikely success of his restaurant chain but the fact that the low-performing “goof-off” high school student obtained a master’s degree from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., at the age of 36 and continues his learning by reading four newspapers per day, and four books and 50 to 60 magazines per month.

And when the recession of 2008 hit, affecting his restaurants, he worked through it by meeting with his employees and telling them to take ownership of the problem by thinking “my economy” instead of “the economy,” thereby personalizing it and working harder to overcome it.

Working hard to overcome adversity has been a main theme of his life as well. By Anderson’s own admission he “should have been dead three times” from substance abuse and has declared bankruptcy twice. But he lived his own philosophy of not allowing his problems to become his excuses.

Anderson made clear that profit is not just about what you do for yourself, but learning how to create value to make the lives of others better, and giving more than is expected. He has given more than $6 million to assist his people and will continue to do so.

Anderson’s motivational messages can also be found in his books, including “Life Skills for Success,” and can be summed up as follows: Circumstances don’t dictate your future so take responsibility for your own life as you have control over your attitude and actions; there are no excuses; and you have everything you need in life to succeed, it is up to you.

(Contact Lisa Lynott-Carroll at

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