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Chasing greatness

Lewis Howes

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Howes is a lifestyle entrepreneur, high-performance business coach and keynote speaker. A former professional football player and two-sport All-American, he is a current U.S. Men’s National Handball athlete. He hosts a top-100 iTunes ranked Apple podcast, which has more than 60 million downloads and 600 episodes since it launched in 2013. In his presentation, Howes will talk about how to eliminate doubt and achieve high levels of performance by chasing greatness.

I grew up in a small town in Delaware, Ohio. My parents are amazing. They had three incredible kids, and then they had me. My brother was the top classical violinist in the country under 17, one of the top in the country. My sisters were extremely talented and gifted in school and sports. Again, and then my parents had me. And my mom, I think I made her go insane because she got her tubes tied right after me. I think I drove her a little crazy.

Now, while my parents got my sisters and my brother the best teachers and trainers to help educate them and watch them overperform, they got me the best tutors in the world and watched me underperform constantly. In eighth grade I had a second grade reading level. I don’t know if you guys remember this, but back in the day we used to do all these standardized tests. Anyone remember standardized tests in school? Who is the one person clapping for the standardized test? The worst part of my childhood experience was the standardized test.

The reason why is because it was almost impossible for me to remember and comprehend anything that I was learning in school. These books, they were so big, I couldn’t remember anything, and my worst nightmare was going to school. Let me know if you remember this, going to school and the teacher saying, “OK, little Lewis, please open up your book to Chapter one, page 10 and start reading the first paragraph. Oh, come to the front of the room and read it aloud.” For me that was my biggest nightmare because I would look down at the book and just start stuttering and mumbling. I couldn’t read clearly. I just struggled with looking at the words and seeing what they said.

I really didn’t have many friends. This was my only friend, Ace the cat, which was just like the cat that I tortured all day long because no one else would hang out with me. [visual]

Now, I later realized I had this thing called “dyslexia.” I don’t know if anyone here has dyslexia or understands what that is. This is not how you spell dyslexia, but that’s how my brain works. [visual] I think it sounds that way: dixlesia, so it should be spelled that way. Even with spell check, I still mess things up all the time today.

Every time someone introduces me and says, “The New York Times bestselling author,” I just kind of laugh and chuckle because during my senior year in high school, my English teacher was telling me that I was failing. If you fail your senior year in high school English, you can’t go on to college. You can’t get accepted into college and play football. That was my dream.

I remember her working with me every day after school, tutoring me. And in elementary school, my mom would come to class. She was my greatest tutor. She would actually come to class. I was in the special needs classes, in that room with three or four other kids who struggled. She would come and teach me how to read, how to write and how to comprehend. Big thanks to my mom. Give it up to moms who really support their kids.

The biggest challenge for me was really understanding who am I in this world. If school and tests and these standardized tests are the things that we’re judged by, and if I can’t perform well at these things, what am I going to do? How am I going to survive in my life? I put all of my energy into after school. After school was where I got to shine. I had this frustration, this anger, this resentment that I was the worst student in school. I don’t know if any of you remember this, but at my school, they used to rank us on our report cards. It was even worse. When I’d get the report card, I’d open it up, and I was number 100 out of 100 or 99 out of 100, or 97. I was always in the bottom four.

I used this frustration again. I thought that ranking us was the worst idea because it didn’t make me feel good. Maybe it did for the people at the Top 10. All of you were probably in the Top 10. You were the smartest people in the school. I was one of the dumbest. But, I used that energy toward athletics. That’s where I put all my focus and attention. At 3:30 p.m. when the bell rang, I said, “This is where I can get my energy out; this is where I can learn something.”

Really, coaches were my teachers. That’s where I learned the greatest principles in life that I’ve used now for the rest of my life. I went on to be a two-sport All American in the decathlon and in football. I went and played professional football. Then, everything stopped. I got injured. Have you ever heard of arena football? Anyone ever heard of arena football? It’s indoor football, so it’s for the people who aren’t good enough to make the NFL. That was me. I was almost good enough, I had tryouts, but I didn’t have the speed.

Now, in arena football, imagine a room like this. This is about the size of the arena. There are walls surrounding the arena. Now, I was doing whatever I could to get to the next level, to get to the NFL. That was my dream, my goal. One day I was just going all out. One day the quarterback throws me a pass, and I’m sprinting down to go catch the pass, and I dive and forget there’s a wall. And I dive right into the wall and snap my wrist. This is in the second game of the season. I was like this is my rookie season. If I sit out now, I’m probably not going to get a chance to play next year, so I need to play all through this pain.

I knew I’d broken my wrist because I’d broken it in high school, so I understood the pain. I was like, “Man, this sucks.” I taped it up and played the next 14 games with a broken wrist. I pretty much caught with one hand and just kind of shimmied people when I was trying to block them.

Now, at the end of the season, I go to the hospital to get X-rays. The doctor’s looking at me like I’m crazy. He goes, “You probably should have had surgery 14 weeks ago. What were you thinking?” I was like, “Well, when you get hit this hard in the head that many times you really don’t think that much, right?” He understands my pain. He’s like, “Yeah, I know that.”

I have surgery. The doctor tells me, “You know, we could have done a simple surgery, put a little screw in there. You would have spent six weeks in a cast, been good to go and you could’ve been back on the field in like three months. But now since you were stubborn, and wanted to do things your way and didn’t listen, we have to cut a bone out of your hip and put it into your wrist because the bone is now crumbled in your wrist. So, you’re not going to have functionality. We can’t put a screw in there anymore.”

I don’t know if anyone’s had a bone graft surgery. I had never had a surgery; I didn’t take medicine before this. They essentially put you under, and there’s no easy way to take a little piece of bone out of your body. When I woke up, I was black from my shoulder all the way down to my ankle. Black and blue. I realized afterward that they take essentially a sledgehammer, and they try to chip bone out of your hip to try to get a little piece of bone. There’s no easy way to cut a little piece of bone out of your hip, right?

They sledgehammer this bone; I’ve got 20 staples. I’m bent over and walking around like this for the next six weeks. [visual] For a year and a half, I sleep on my sister’s couch. This is the cast that I have to wear for the next six months. [visual] As opposed to a six-week recovery, it’s six months in a full arm cast.

Now, to set the stage here, I had no money. We were making $250 a week playing arena football, so it’s not this glamorous life in the NFL or something. I’m making nothing. I’ve got credit cards that I’m living off of. I’ve got student debt. I’m living on my sister’s couch for a year and a half while I’m recovering and trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. I’m 23 years old. I hadn’t graduated from college yet. I wasn’t that smart in school. It took me seven years to finally graduate. This was my life for six months in this cast.

There was a moment when I was watching the Olympics in 2008. Ten years ago in 2008, the Olympics were on, and I saw this sport called team handball. Instantly I became obsessed. It gave me a new purpose of something to do in my life. I said, “I’m going to get out of this cast and one day I’m going to make the Olympics playing for the United States of America, playing team handball.” A few years later I made enough money, and I moved to New York City to go start playing this sport. I ended up going to play professionally in Spain. In about a year, I made the U.S. national team, and I’ve been traveling around as a side hobby for the last eight years playing all around the world with the U.S. national team.

We haven’t qualified for the Olympics yet, but it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world when I get to wear “USA” on my chest and sing the national anthem. For me that was a fun.

Now, is anyone from Ohio?

Audience: Yeah.

Howes: All right, O-H.

Audience: O-H. Ohio.

Howes: I like it, OK. Anyone from the Midwest?

Audience: Yeah.

Howes: A lot of people from the Midwest. Now, if you’re from Ohio or the Midwest, it’s pretty much like a meat, mashed potato, mac and cheese, and milk type of lifestyle. At least that’s what it was for me growing up. I was drinking about eight cups of milk a day. Drinking, did I say eating? Yeah, drinking eight cups of milk a day. Eating just all meat. I had a zero veggie, zero fruit diet. That was my rule. No veggies, no fruit. I still only eat apples and bananas, but they have to be a certain texture. Is anyone weird about fruit? It’s got to be a certain texture, right?

Then, I moved about seven years ago to Hollywood, to Los Angeles. One woo and one boo at the same time. I go from meat, mashed potatoes, milk, and mac and cheese, to paleo, Whole30, keto-friendly, gluten-free, non-GMO. It’s smoothies and green juices, which essentially means all I eat is kale chips, and I’m always hungry. That’s my life now, so it’s a complete contrast.

Over the last 6 1/2 years I got off my sister’s couch and started to pursue business. I started online marketing and started to pursue business. I’ve always been fascinated about other people. I’ve always been curious and fascinated about what this individual is thinking in this moment. What are her biggest dreams? What are her biggest challenges? What’s her biggest pain? What is she insecure about? What is she proud of? I think about it for each individual. I’m always curious about individuals. What makes people tick? Why do they do what they do? You see, when you’re not good in school, you have a lot of free time to observe people.

Now, I observed something that I’m not proud of, which was called cheating. When everyone else would have their Scantron test, the only good thing about testing was the Scantrons because I had incredible vision. I would sit at the right place with the smartest kids around me, and I could see what was on their tests. It was called survival mode. But, I also became so curious about what made people tick. Why do they do the things they do? What makes someone like you? What makes someone buy from you? What makes someone enroll in what you have to offer? What makes someone vote for you?

I grew a business that I had for a while, and I ended up selling it and pursuing this curiosity that I had, this curiosity about people. I said, “You know what? Growing up, I was in school. I didn’t really learn much from the classes that I took because they didn’t work for me. But, I learned so much on the sports field — on the basketball court, on the track, on the mound pitching baseball. I learned so much when I was doing that, and from the coaches whom I met and the teamwork and the goal setting. From all those things, I learned incredible lessons.”

I said, “What would it be like if I could connect with the most influential people in the world and learn how they got to where they are?” What if I could create a new school for myself and for the world? I said, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to set my life moving forward to pursue this quest, and I’m going to call it the School of Greatness. I’m going to create the school I wish I could have attended growing up.”

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to interview some of the world’s greatest athletes, doctors, scientists, business leaders and billionaires. [visual] I’ve had the chance to interview a lot of the world’s greatest leaders. I’m going to flip through these quickly just so you guys can see. From Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all, to Novak Djokovic, who’s been on a roll lately if there’re any tennis fans here, to Ellen DeGeneres. I don’t know if you guys are fans of Ellen; I’ve been on “Ellen” a few times. I had a chance to interview her about her success. Maria Shriver. We’ve got political leaders. We’ve got billionaires. We’ve got the guy from “Shark Tank,” Daymond John. And we’ve got Sara Blakely, who’s the founder of Spanx.

Any ladies in here know about Spanx? All right, ladies. Any guys know about Spanx? Yeah, I like it. She’s the youngest female billionaire in the country. Tony Robbins, anyone a fan of Tony Robbins in here? Getting to sit down with these individuals has been extremely powerful for me.

We’ve got over 80 million downloads. We’ve been doing it for almost six years, 715 episodes. I’ve gone all over the world to find the best information for my life to confirm things that I realized growing up through sports, and also to share this wealth of information with the world. That’s been my mission. How can I impact as many people as possible?

What I realized is that there’s something that holds us all back. Whether we’re just getting started, whether we’re hitting that six-figure mark, that seven-figure mark, eight-figure mark or nine-figure mark in our business, whatever it may be. We all have something that holds us back. I learned from all these interviews, from all these individuals — from scientists to Harvard professors to doctors to the world’s greatest athletes. All of these people have confirmed that there’re three causes of doubt. There’re three main reasons why we’re not achieving what we want, and I want to reveal those things today.

You probably already know what these are, but I want to confirm this. Before I share these three causes of doubt, I want to share the second reason why I’m excited to be here. When I was growing up, by dad was a life insurance agent for Northwestern Mutual. Anyone here from Northwestern Mutual? But, every year he would get excited, and he would go away for a weekend and come back with this badge with all these crazy ribbons on it that you no longer have. I don’t know if you remember these things called VHS tapes. Does anyone remember those things? Yeah.

He would bring these tapes home, and he’d put me down. I’m six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years old. He’d put me down, he’d shove in a tape and say, “Get off the Nintendo and watch this.” For me, my development of expanding my mind and my ideas and my confidence and belief in myself started with those MDRT videotapes, so I just want to appreciate MDRT for all that.

I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dad taking these trainings and going to the Annual Meetings. He was an MDRT member for 25 years. He sold life insurance for 35 years. Yeah, give it up for my dad. For me it was a powerful experience to learn about these things early on, so it’s really cool to kind of come full circle as the kid who always felt insecure, insignificant and alone. My life has been incredible over the last eight years with what I’ve been able to manifest, and I’m just very grateful for it all.

But, to come back to this, there’re three causes of doubt, three things that hold us all back from achieving the next level, whatever that next level is for you in any area of life. Whether it be health, relationships, career, business, income. I want to talk about these, and we’re going to break it down, and I’d love for you guys to talk about these a little bit in your small groups afterward.

The first cause of doubt. [visual] There are three main fears. The first fear is failure. I call this a doubt diagram. [visual] The doubt diagram. The first fear we all face is failure. How many of you have ever been afraid to fail at something in your life? Just a show of hands, if you’ve ever been afraid to fail.

Failure. We’re afraid to fail. Why are we afraid to fail? Can anyone just shout out, raise your hand, and shout out why we are afraid to fail? Does anyone have an idea why?

Audience: Because it hurts.

Howes: It hurts to fail right? What’s this? [visual]

Audience: Shame.

Howes: Shame, rejection. What’s this? [visual]

Audience: Embarrassment.

Howes: Embarrassment, right. We don’t want to be embarrassed if we’ve put ourselves out there. What if we set this goal and then we fail, and everyone says I told you so? “Why did you even do that, Lewis? Why did you even go after that big dream? I told you so. You’re not going to be able to do this. This is crazy. What are you thinking?” I told you so. The embarrassment. People saying these things.

We hold ourselves back, whether it be in our career, our business, if we’re trying to get more policies, whatever it may be. By the way, thankfully, my dad instilled the importance of whole life insurance in me as a 5-year-old. How many people here sell whole life insurance just so I’m aware? OK, cool. He was always getting me, whatever, I think it was like $100 policy when I was born or something, you know, just to get an extra credit I think to get here at MDRT. The first years, right, you just get like 17 kids, and it’s like $25 a pop, or whatever.

I remember when I started making money. I started making a lot of money in my late 20s. I started saying, “You know what? I have like a $100,000 of life insurance that my dad got for me, but I really need to invest in this more.” Oh, by the way, I became an agent myself. I went to an internship program at Northwestern Mutual and I passed the test. It took me three times to pass the frickin’ life insurance exam, and I about drove myself insane because I’m the worst test taker. I remember studying for six months to complete this test, and I think if you fail the third time, you have to like wait a year or something.

I remember thinking, How am I going to pass this thing? It was just the scariest moment of my life. I realized that life insurance wasn’t for me to sell, but it was for me to invest in. I’ve got over $1.5 million in whole life insurance, and I keep putting more money in every single year. I’m a firm believer in whole life insurance, but that’s because of my dad, and I preach it to my whole audience. Again, we’ve got a big audience, and I’m always telling people to do that.

The first cause of doubt that holds us back is failure. We’re afraid of what other people are going to say. Embarrassment, shame, you guys all had it right. The second fear is success. The second thing we’re afraid of is success.

Now, for me growing up, I always wanted to succeed. I always wanted to achieve because I felt alone; I felt insignificant. I felt like I wasn’t achieving in school, but every time I achieved in sports, I got rewarded. I got acknowledged. I got praised, loved, all these things. I said, “I want success. I want the responsibility.” But, a lot of people are afraid of success and for good reason. Have you ever been afraid of succeeding, of making that exact number that you want to make, of achieving something? Go ahead and raise your hand if you’ve ever been afraid of success and what that looks like.

This is common. A lot of people have this fear. Let’s talk about this. Why might we be afraid of success? Go ahead and shout some out.

Audience: [Inaudible]

Howes: You have to do it again, oh, the pressure. You’ve done it once, but can you keep doing it? Can you keep it up? What else, anyone else? Extra responsibility, that’s a big one. The responsibility, the weight, the pressure when you have that success. I’m earning $1 million a year now. Oh, and now my siblings are calling me. Now, my family members need me to hold them responsible. When I started making money, I had all these friends from like 15 years ago, whom I never talked to, reach out to me say, “Hey, can you help me out with this and this?” It’s like this extra weight and responsibility.

What else, anyone else over here? The fear of success. Change. As you started to grow in your careers and your businesses, how many of you started to notice that maybe some friends or family weren’t growing as rapidly as you? Just a show of hands if that’s ever happened. Sometimes we have to leave friends and family behind, right? If it’s our friends, we no longer have things to talk about. We’re no longer going to have things in common, or they’re not growing at the pace we’re growing. We start to lose the pack. We kind of isolate ourselves, and that fear of success makes us play small.

These are again things that people do, the three fears that hold us back. The first one is failure; the second one is success. These two were never an issue for me on a major level. On small levels they were because of failure in sports. How many of you played sports growing up, just a show of hands? Yeah. In sports I learned early on that the only way to succeed and achieve what I want is through making mistakes and failing every single day.

My coaches instilled this fail mentality. Like, that’s how you learn; that’s how you grow. So, I embraced failure at an early age and realized that was the foundation for success. Not repeating the same mistake over and over but taking risk, you know, putting yourself out there. I dropped so many balls it was crazy.

I learned quickly that failure was the key to success, and I wanted the responsibility. I wanted the pressure that came with success. Now, the third cause of doubt, the third fear that holds a lot of us back, and this was the one shaped my entire childhood until about five years ago: the fear of judgment.

What I realized is that failure wasn’t a fear of mine and success wasn’t a fear of mine. Again, maybe to some small degree here and there, but really what I was most afraid of was being judged, being judged by my peers, my teammates, my colleagues, the media, influencers. All these things. I took action. I showed up in a way based on this fear of judgment. The embarrassment, the worry. What are people going to think about me if I do this? How am I going to look? I was very focused on image and ego for a lot of my life, and I was focused on accomplishments.

So I started to put myself out there in a big way. I started writing books and articles, and I started speaking. When people would give me feedback or critique me, it was like the worst thing ever. I couldn’t take feedback. I was always defensive, always guarded. I was always pushing back, and I was like, “You guys don’t know me. You don’t know how hard I worked for this.” I would take things very personally because judgment ruled my life, this fear of judgment.

Now, all three of these have something at the core, and if we have a fear of failure, success and judgment, then we feel this even more. And that is that I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough is at the core of all these things.

I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I was the youngest child. My parents ended up getting a divorce like most people’s parents. I was in the special needs classes. I told myself all these stories about why I wasn’t good enough, why I wasn’t going to matter. That fear consumed my life. It consumed my psyche until I kept putting MDRT tapes on repeat to remind myself that I was enough.

What I realized from all these interviews, from the greatest people in the world, is that self-doubt is the silent killer of big dreams. Self-doubt. Now, this may seem super basic and self-explanatory, but what if we could eliminate self-doubt on all levels of our lives? What would we be able to create, manifest — financially, relationships with our marriage, our kids, with our families, with our health, with our spirituality, our fun, our play, our adventure? What would we be able to manifest if we could eliminate self-doubt? That’s the key.

I want to talk about how I eliminated it through some of these great teachers who taught me. Now, let’s just shout out some of your biggest fears. Some fear that you might have. Just go ahead and start shouting it out. What’re some of your biggest fears? In life, anything, like snakes, spiders, it could be anything. Bumblebees, go ahead, shout it out.

Audience: Heights.

Howes: Clients? Oh, heights. I thought you said clients. I was like, you’re in the wrong business here. What else?

Audience: Rejection.

Howes: Rejection.

Audience: Heights.

Howes: Heights, a lot of people afraid of heights here.

Audience: Regulation.

Howes: Regulation? What do you mean regulation?

Audience: Overregulating.

Howes: Overregulating, are you talking about the business, the industry? Oh, the things you can’t do. Yeah.

Audience: Swans.

Howes: Swans? They’re scary aren’t they? Frickin’ scary swans, they come and attack you. What else, anyone?

Audience: Letting someone down.

Howes: Letting someone down, yeah.

Audience: Being alone.

Howes: Being alone. Does anyone have a fear of dying alone? Just two, just one of us, two of us? One of my greatest fears, and one of the greatest fears of most people in the world, is public speaking. That was my fear 10 years ago. Has anyone ever had that fear of public speaking, or am I the only underachiever here? OK, a lot of people here. I remember when I was on my sister’s couch, I knew that if I wanted to make money, if I wanted to build a business, if I wanted to impact people, I had to learn how to stand up in front of a room. Literally stand in front of people and just speak and convey a message.

Because growing up I wasn’t able to do that. I couldn’t stand in front of three people without just stuttering and mumbling because I always thought that I wasn’t good enough. That was the story I told myself. I remember saying that I’ve got to learn how to master public speaking. I’m terrified to stand up in front of a small group. I can’t even speak in front of my friends. How am I going to speak up in front of tens of thousands of people, or share a message to the world?

I met a guy who was a professional speaker who told me the secret. He said, “You need to go to a thing called Toastmasters.” Has anyone heard of Toastmasters? Man, this is like a star crowd here. How many of you have done Toastmasters, just so I’m aware? Half this room will understand this.

He said, “You need to go, and you need to go to the most challenging one for you, the most difficult one where it’s going to push you out of your comfort zone. And you need to go every single week. Go every single week.” I did this. I said, “OK, this is like a sport for me. This is like my coach; I’m the athlete. I’m going to do exactly what this person says. I can do this.”

I found a Toastmasters in Columbus, Ohio. I went to five different ones in one week, and I went to each one on back-to-back days to see which one scared me the most. I found the one with everyone looking like you, all in suits, like professional high earners and high achievers. Everyone’s not afraid of speaking except for me, right? Everyone in this room was this. [visual] I got there, and they say, “OK, we’re going to have you come back in a couple weeks and give your first speech. Your first speech is called the Ice Breaker speech. It takes five minutes; tell us about your life.”

Now, at 23, 24 years old, I didn’t think I had much to share, and five minutes sounded like an eternity to me. I was on my sister’s couch at the time. Remember? [visual] I had that cast. Do you remember this cast that I had on? I had this cast, and I could hang it down here, or I could put it up here, but I couldn’t straighten my arm, so I looked like the kid from “Rookie of the Year.” Did you ever watch that movie? I’m walking around like this most of the time for six months. It wasn’t a fun time.

I work on this five-minute speech for two weeks. I type it out; I print it out. It’s my moment. They call me up. I’m sitting down, and they call me up. They say, “Lewis Howes, for his first speech, the Ice Breaker.” People start clapping. You can clap if you want. [clapping] Thank you. That’s about the reception I got.

I’m standing there like this, right? [visual] There’s a podium, so I put my papers on the podium, and I start talking. I stand at the podium, and I’m looking down. And I am the most nervous human being alive. Now, at the time, everyone was in suits, remember this. I’m wearing a tank top because I can’t wear a shirt big enough to go over my cast. I’m wearing a tank top, sweating profusely out of my pits, yellow stains coming down already. I’m like in the wrong place. Someone’s like, “We didn’t need that visual.”

I start reading. Now, I wrote this and practiced this for two weeks, and even though I wrote the words, I’m still messing it up. I’m reading word for word, and I go through and I finish it. I look up at the end, and I get this really sad applause. Just give me a sad applause. It was worse then that, OK. Worse then that.

Now, here’s the thing. What was my biggest fear? Can anyone remember?

Audience: Judgment.

Howes: Judgment was my biggest fear, right. Speaking, but the fear of being judged by other people was my insecurity. Now, if anyone remembers what happens at Toastmasters, what do they do right afterward? They judge you. They’re like, “OK, it’s time for feedback.” That’s what I didn’t want. I knew I did a bad job. I knew I wasn’t any good, and I wasn’t excited about what I was going to hear. I’m standing there like this. [visual] I’m looking up, and they’re clapping like you guys did. And the first person says, “Well, Lewis, like way to go for being up there.”

It’s like they had to say something positive, right? They have to say something. It’s like it’s a nice environment, so they have to be kind. They’re like, “You stood up there. You completed the speech. Great job.” Like they’re trying; they’re searching for something.

Then they give the constructive feedback, and they’re like, “Next time, why don’t you try to look up at us? Why don’t you look us in the eyes? We’re up here; we’re not down at your paper.” They’re giving me other constructive feedback. I take their feedback, and I work with my coach. I meet with him a couple times a week, and I practice the next speech.

The next speech; “Lewis Howes for his second speech. Let’s bring him up.” I get to the podium. I got my papers down. I’m still in the cast and the tank top. I’m looking down, and I’m reading word for word. My second speech, and I’m reading everything. Now, I got smart here. I listened to one of the feedbacks. At the end of the first page, I circled and highlighted “look up now.” So, I look up, and I just start smiling. I look down and keep reading the next page. Then, the second page, “look up now and smile.” I do the same thing. Then I get the feedback.

They start giving me feedback. “Great job for coming back up here. Most people only do it once, and they leave, so you were up here again. That’s great.” “You looked up at us this time. You took the feedback, and you applied it. Congrats. The next time we want you to try looking up more, and start using your voice a little bit better. Start fluctuating your voice and connecting with us. There’s a word of the day. Try using the word of the day next time.” All these different things they tried to incorporate.

Week after week I’m getting back up there. Week after week I’m practicing, and I’m going in with my coach. I’m practicing. It gets to be like the third or fourth time where I’m still using the podium, but I have just one page of notes. I’m kind of reading a little bit, and then standing up and talking to people, and then looking down. I’m using my hands more. Well, one hand, one good hand, and you know, one cast. It gets to a point where speeches five, six and seven, where I’m going in front of the podium now, and I’m revealing myself. I’m going deep, right? I’m letting everyone see me. There’s no guard, but I’ve got a couple of note cards, and I’m looking at the bullet points, and I’m connecting this way. It’s just a little bit more revealing.

Then I get to the point where speeches eight and nine come around, and I’m just getting more in the flow. I’ve still got my little safety card though. I’m looking at it over the side if I need it, connecting with people, getting more involved.

Then comes the 10th speech. Do you guys remember the Competent Communicator manual, that there’re 10 speeches? Does anyone remember this? To finish the first book of Toastmasters, you’ve got to do 10 speeches. It’s my time to do my 10th speech, and they call my name. “Lewis Howes with his 10th speech.”

I’m feeling good. I’m getting excited. Now, I’ve got so much more confidence. This is about a year in now. I’ve been doing the work, and what have I been doing every single week? I’ve been failing. Constantly failing, getting feedback, and continually retrying to apply what I was learning. Again, using the foundation of failure to my success.

I stand up there. I throw the podium away. No notes. No note cards. I’ve got my nice jacket on; I put it on for the last one. My cast is off now. I’m like a real human being with arms that I can use. I get up there. It’s like a five- to seven-minute speech. I think it might have been a seven-minute speech for this one. I feel like I was just in the flow. I didn’t care what people thought. I didn’t care about the judgment. I knew that I had prepared so much all year to improve, and I stopped fearing what people were going to think about me. The critiques. I got used to the judgment. I did it more and more where people would give feedback, and I would say, “Yes, give me more feedback. Give me more because I want to learn and improve.”

I’m giving my speech. I’m telling this incredible, what I thought was an incredible, story at the time. I’m using all my passion, all my energy, and people are literally leaning in. I was thinking, Are they doing this on purpose or am I actually getting better? They’re leaning in; they’re interested in me. At the end, I dropped the bomb with my final moment, and they stood up and gave me a round of applause. It was an incredible time.

I felt this surge of energy, like wow, I’d gone through so many iterations of failure, feeling insecure and feeling like I’m horrible up here. These are people who are making a lot of money speaking. I’m just this kid in this cast who has no life skills, who’s got no life experience — all these stories I’m telling myself. That was my greatest fear at that time. I applied this same principle to so many different areas of my life, and I wasn’t even aware of it.

I applied it to salsa dancing. I’m a very passionate salsa dancer, believe it or not. I’ve traveled the world to the greatest salsa clubs, to put myself in the most scary, uncomfortable situations. Places where I don’t speak the language, where all these dancers are way better than me, and I force myself to overcome these fears of being judged. I was never able to dance, and I said, “I don’t want to have this fear hold me back.” I forced myself to learn how to salsa dance, and I’ve been doing that for 13 years.

I was terrified to put my work out, to put my writing out, because I almost flunked English in high school and was always a poor student. So, I forced myself to write every single day. I ended up writing five books, and one’s a New York Times bestseller. I forced myself to learn an instrument. Again, my brother is now the greatest jazz violinist in the world. I couldn’t play tiddlywinks on a frickin’ piano. I didn’t know how to do anything, so I forced myself to learn how to play the guitar. I forced myself to do all the things I was the most uncomfortable to do.

I started doing those things, and I started applying this. I want you to think of the biggest goal that you have right now. The biggest goal for your business or for the income or for the policies that you want to tell. Think about that one goal that you want to have for the next 30 days. If you had a goal that was so big. We’ve got, I think, six weeks left until the end of the year. What is a goal that is so big for you right now that seems unattainable?

I want you to just write it down and circle it for yourself. I want you to think of the one big goal, and I want you to think of what’s the biggest fear you have in your life right now. For me it was public speaking; it was salsa dancing; it was having those uncomfortable conversations with my girlfriends at the time, you know. All these different things I had fears of that were based on judgment, how people were going to perceive me: Am I going to embarrass myself? Am I going to look foolish?

Whatever that fear is for you, and I can’t say what it is for you, you’ve got to think it for yourself. I want you to write it down, circle it and ask yourself why you haven’t gone all in on that fear. Ask yourself why you haven’t gone all in on that fear.

When I was interviewing Sara Blakely, again the youngest female billionaire in America, founder of Spanx, she told me a story about her father. Every single day when she would come home from school, they would have dinner, a family dinner. Every single night at dinner, the first question her father would ask her was, “What did you fail at today? What did you fail at today, Sarah?” Every day she had to tell her dad what she failed at. And if she didn’t fail at it, that’s when he was disappointed. He said, “You’re not trying hard enough. You’re not putting yourself out there. You’re not risking enough.”

She told me that the secret of success is to go all in on the thing you’re afraid of. That’s the key. Whatever it is you’re most afraid of, if you’re not actively tackling that, then it may be something that’s holding you back to the next level.

I use this simple principle. Again, all these things are very simple. You probably know all this stuff already, but I want to remind you about this. The “Act principle” is something we created. When you have the fear, as opposed to being paralyzed by it, you’ve got to act on it. You’ve got to act on it and stay committed to it.

When most people start public speaking, they do one speech at Toastmasters, and then they stop. They took the first action, but they don’t stay committed. You’ve got to commit to it until there is some type of transformation, until the fear goes away. Act on your fears every day until the fear goes away.

I did this in salsa dancing. I’ll tell you what, I stand out like a sore thumb in a Latin salsa club. I’m a foot and a half taller than every guy and every girl. I’m a white guy. I’m the only white guy in the club. I stand out. In the middle of the dance floor, I can see over everyone, and everyone can see my mistakes. It was the most embarrassing thing for the first 3 1/2 months when I started. But I did it until the fear went away, until I felt so much confidence just getting up there and dancing with anyone. So now every time I go to another city and find a salsa club, I go right to the best dancer in the club.

That’s the first person I go to. Fifty percent of the time it’s the most beautiful woman who’s just so talented, this professional dancer. I’ll go right up to her and say, “Can I have this dance?” Usually they say no. It’s the most embarrassing thing for me to receive that. I say, “You know what? I’m going to get this person to ask me to dance later.” I make it my mission to dance with every other girl around her until later she says, “Let’s dance.” I say, “You know what? I’m good, thank you.” I was teasing; I’m much nicer than that. I’ll dance with anyone.

Every single day until the fear goes away. For me it gives me so much more confidence in my life, in my business, in my career and my relationships when I continue to do this. I’m constantly thinking of what I am afraid of now. Now that I’ve achieved a seven-figure business, an eight-figure business, what’s the next fear? What’s the thing that’s holding me back the most right now in my life? That’s what I think about. I want to finish with this.

Usually, there’s an emotional fear that’s bigger than something we have. The fear of success, failure, judgment. Usually there’s a bigger, deeper fear underneath that. For me it was my whole life. For 25 years, I didn’t share one thing that I needed to share with people. When I was five years old, I was sexually abused by a man, and it consumed my life. I was insecure about it. I was ashamed about it. I felt guilty about it. I felt like my life was over. Here I am, this guy, straight man, who was sexually abused by another man, an adult, and I never told a soul.

It was one of the driving factors that made me so resistant and frustrated and angry, and I wanted to prove everyone wrong. That’s what my life was about until I finally started to open up about it five years ago. My life started to transform and change. That was my greatest fear. It was other people seeing the things that had happened to me. Revealing my true heart. Revealing everything.

Not just salsa dancing in front of people and being worried of what people think about me there, or public speaking, or playing guitar and all these other things. Yes, those are fears, but my deepest fear was, Are my parents going to love me if they know about this? Are my siblings going to love me? Are my friends going to accept me? When I finally started to open up about this, I had a sense of belief in myself and acceptance of myself for the first time ever. I was able to sleep at night. I could never fall asleep growing up until this time.

What I realize is that when we chase our fears and we start pursuing them more and more, we’re going to feel a sense of weight that’s lifted off of us. We’re going to feel more confident. We’re going to feel a sense of belief. All those things are going to help us achieve results. I achieved The New York Time bestseller list and made millions. I’ve got one of the top podcasts in the world. I hang out with all these fancy people. I get awards. And all these things are great, but none of them were helping me feel good at night. None of them were allowing me to sleep at night because I wasn’t accepting myself.

I wasn’t still believing in myself; I was still judging myself. When you finally start to accept all the insecurities, all the fears, all the doubts, and you pursue them, and you believe in yourself, that’s when you stop chasing things. That’s when you stop chasing the money, the goals. You stop chasing greatness, and greatness starts chasing you.

Lewis Howes is the New York Times bestselling author of "The School of Greatness," a lifestyle entrepreneur, a high-performance business coach and a keynote speaker.


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