“You learn to develop humor. You learn that that’s the only way to get through this whole process that you can’t make sense of right now.”- JR Martinez
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JR Martinez (@iamjrmartinez) is a well-known speaker, author and media personality. In 2003, while serving with the Army in Iraq, he suffered extensive burn injuries after the Humvee he was driving hit an IED. With a great deal of humor, he and Mark talk his long process he went through to overcome his injuries—and the physical, mental and emotional steps he took to recovery.
- JR is more than simply his military career. Many people start and end with his service, and while that is certainly significant, it’s not the whole story.
- Learning how to be of service changed his outlook and approach to military service.
- JR’s future musings on acting and voice acting specifically.
Listen to this episode to find out how you can learn to move past things that are holding you back with humor and humility.
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Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for being here. My name is Mark Divine. I appreciate your time, your attention, your focus. And for caring enough to be unbeatable yourself. And to forge that Unbeatable Mind.
My guest today is JR Martinez, former army 101st airborne operator. I’m gonna get a little bit more into JR’s background and some of the cool things that he’s doing now. And his story.
But before I do, let me remind you that I need your help with a challenge that I put out to our tribe this year–you might be doing it, so thank you if you are–but it’s the Burpees for Vets Challenge. I challenged the tribe to do 22 million burpees this year. And I’m doing them with them.
Of course couldn’t do it alone. I had the idea back in December when I was doing like a 30 day personal challenge of 200 a day–and I didn’t want to stop. And so I said “what can I do? How can I make this real? How can I challenge myself, but bring other people in?”
So I said “you know what? 22 vets a day are committing suicide.” post-traumatic stress. Yeah I mean something you and I can talk a little bit more about. It’s insidious right? And the VA system hasn’t really helped at all. As well-intentioned as those guys are.
So what’s happened is this like little cottage industry of nonprofits–and I know you’re involved in this too and I am. So I started a foundation called courage foundation so I could do my part.
Because I felt so helpless. Because these guys and girls need help and there are solutions. There’s some good solutions. Yoga, breath-control, teaming–you know, getting back and feeling like you’re part of a team again–having another mission you know? There’s so many ways that you can possibly help someone out of that darkness.
So anyways back to the challenge, so I said “you know what? Everybody can do burpees. Most everybody. They suck. We can suffer a little bit for them. They suffered for us.”
So 22 million burpees. If I do a hundred thousand I just need 21 other people to do 100,000 burpees with me.
Jr. That’s insane. Is that why I’m here?
Mark. (laughing) yeah, I just recruited you dude.
Jr. (laughing) I just had lunch.
Mark. So this is our spot. Right here.
Jr. (laughing) put a mat down just in case.
Mark. I actually did that to Joe DeSena on a podcast. “Dude, we got to get our burpees in.” And we did. We cranked out a few hundred of them.
Jr. Oh my gosh. That’s awesome.
Mark. So I do 300 a day. I have you know a couple hundred people–close to a couple hundred people have joined me in the challenge. We’re at 11 million. We’ve raised close to $200,000 our goal was 250 and we’re gonna hit 22 million.
My point is we’re only a little over halfway there I’ve got four months left. We’re gonna have a big push on veteran’s day where we’re gonna have a whole group of teams trying to do 22,000 burpees in 24 hours. So that alone could put us over the hump.
But you know we’re gonna be chipping away until we hit our 22 million. And then we’re gonna put as many vets as possible through immersion training and holistic healing, integrated health… You know… Those types of things that I do within Unbeatable Mind and then assign them a mentor for 18 months to help them. Especially when they skid along the bottom.
Jr. That’s awesome.
Mark. So burpeesforvets.com is where you can learn more. You can either sponsor me, sponsor another team, create your own team. Learn about the veteran’s day world record attempt. And appreciate your helping that. It’s really important right?
Now there’s a lot of important causes but for JR and I this is an important one.
Jr. Yeah. Absolutely.
Mark. So dude you were in the army… Forget about that… Let’s talk about who you were before you joined the army. Where you from? What were your formative influences in life?
Jr. You know, that’s great, that’s interesting, because you know a lot of people, of course, when they start to pay attention to my story and learn a bit…
Mark. They start right there…
Jr. They quickly as if that was I was born and I joined, you know? (laughing)
But it’s… Thank you, I mean it’s great because I mean I use the analogy sometimes of like you know I took a lot of you know subtle… At the time, of course, they felt like huge, massive, heavyweight punches to the gut as a young man.
But of course later in life…
Mark. They all formed you. Formed who you were.
Jr. Right, exactly. They kind of gave me that core strength. They kind of toughened me up so I was born in Louisiana. Shreveport, Louisiana.
Mark. Southern boy
Jr. Southern boy. Father left when I was 9 months old. Raised by a single woman…
Mark. God bless her. That’s a hard job…
Jr. And it’s not easy, because like my mom…. You know, one of my sisters passed away from an illnesses she was born with when I was three. My sister was seven. And you know that was obviously challenging for my mother.
My mother in the midst of trying to find a partner for herself unfortunately fell into becoming like a victim of domestic abuse. I witnessed that as a young man. And like when you look at kind of like the standard out in the United States and if you were to you know kind of categorize us, you would say that we were poor–in poverty–but in comparison to where my family is initially from, which is Central America, we were wealthy. We had everything, right?
Mark. Where in Central America?
Jr. El Salvador.
Mark. You’re from El Salvador?
Jr. Well, yeah my family is.
Mark. Your family is. That’s cool.
Jr. Yeah, it was interesting because everything’s perspective right? And I remember going to El Salvador for the first time when I was six. And I went back several times before I graduated from high school. And I just remember being around my family and you know seeing kind of what they had.
And almost being content with that. You know, kind of like the minimalist life and lifestyle. And so what it did, is it gave me a deeper appreciation for what we have in this country…
Mark. Oh my god, yeah. Our poorest in this country are wealthy beyond comparison.
Jr. Exactly. A lot of people don’t see it that way, right? We’re rich just as simply the ability for as a young kid to be able to go to school. And to receive an education, when so many places in the world that is a luxury.
And so that gave me a different perspective of life. So I lived in Louisiana until I was nine. Then we moved to Arkansas and I lived in Arkansas till I was 17.
Jr. At the end of my junior year I orchestrated a plan for us to move out of Arkansas and go to Georgia. I did that because it’s just to kind of quickly touch on it… Unfortunately at that time when I was living in Arkansas, there was a lot of a lot of negative energy that was taking place in the community. It was a small town…
Mark. What town was it?
Jr. Hope, Arkansas. And there was a lot of drugs…
Mark. Not a lot of hope in Hope, Arkansas.
Jr. Not a lot of hope in hope. And I kind of understood that I needed to kind of change my environment…
Mark. It was having an impact on you right?
Jr. Right, it was. And so my mom had a friend that lived in Dalton, Georgia… Just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee…
Mark. That’s my middle name. Dalton.
Jr. Is that right? I was going to say “Chattanooga or Dalton?”
Jr. (laughing) Mark Chattanooga. That’d be fun.
And so I orchestrated–really eager to leave Arkansas–I orchestrated the plan for us to move to Georgia. And he did. And it was my senior high school…
Mark. Your mom obviously was amenable to this plan? I mean…
Jr. Well originally no. No. Originally she was like “no, we’re not leaving. You have your senior year of high school. Good job.”
And then I kind of present–this is pretty much what I presented–I said “listen it’s the summer time between my junior and senior year. I have nothing going on. Why don’t I go to Georgia and get a job and just see how it goes. But if I’m doing well in one month then you have to move.”
Mark. Oh no kidding. Was it just you and her at this time?
Jr. It was just the two of us yeah. And she was seeing someone.
And I said “but if I don’t get a job within that month, then I’ll come back to Arkansas and won’t bring it up until I’m done with high school.”
And she said “deal.”
Mark. No kidding. That’s cool. Good for her.
Jr. And so I got on the greyhound bus, because that’s all we can afford–now we can have a whole conversation about that experience. Being on a greyhound bus.
And I got to Dalton, Georgia which is actually the carpet capital of the world.
Mark. Car pit or carpet? (laughing)
Jr. “carpet” it’s so funny cause like my wife who’s like a New Yorker who has an accent instead of saying “saw” she says “soar.” and I’m like “where are you soaring to?”
And then she gives me so much grief about my accent. Like the other day I was like yeah “heels.” you know the “heels” that we live in the hill country in Austin, Texas.
And she’s like the “heel.”
And I was like “yeah.” and then I have a think about it. “Heel?” and I’m trying to figure out how to say it.
Mark. It’s like me trying to say bagel. I say “bag-el.” I’ve got the New York accent.
Jr. Yeah. And it’s just like this accent of mine. This little twang that I have. She laughs at how I say vehicle. “Hickel, hickel.”
Why do you say that? I’m like, “I don’t know”
Mark. So “car pit.” what does that mean? Like what it’s like a dump like cars all over the place?
Jr. No carpet
Mark. Oh, “carpet.” (laughing)
Jr. (laughing) see? I even spelled it out for you…
Mark. Car pit or carpet.
Jr. Not pit, p-I-t. P-e-t…
Mark. I’m wondering what a “car pit” is. Pit full of cars? How weird.
Jr. (laughing) so we’re gonna tell this whole segment into accents now. And understanding what each other is saying.
Oh my god. So “carpet…”
Mark. I didn’t know there was a carpet capital of the world.
Jr. Yeah well Dalton. It’s your middle name, my friend.
And so I get a job, I call my mom that first day that I went and apply for a job at a carpet mill.
Mark. To make carpets?
Jr. Yeah and… Well I was gonna work in the distribution center. I was gonna drive a Hyster and I was gonna load the carpets, the rugs on 18-wheelers, on semis…
And fast-forward a month later I saved up enough money to secure an apartment. So the deal was she had to move. And she did.
And I tell that story because I think a lot of times too often is that especially in our youth right? In certain communities where kids don’t feel like they have a voice or they have power to kind of influence any sort of change. Here I was as a young man, at the age of 17 years old had orchestrated for us to leave the state. Not just the neighborhood, but the state.
Mark. Well the insight that you had–maybe not so earth-shattering to you–but just how an environment can… A toxic environment can really affect your consciousness and your sense of well-being, and your attitude.
And that’s how kids get sucked into gangs and stuff like this. Cause their environment is sucky.
But if you put them in a different environment, they’ll thrive
Jr. Exactly and it’s a matter of getting them to understand that, “hey, it’s okay to kind of break away from this. It’s okay to have a breakup with this, which is what you’ve known. Just because you know it doesn’t mean it’s the most important…
Mark. Those people you’re leaving if they’re real friends, they’ll still be friends.
Jr. They’ll still be your friends. And honestly I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of the people that I went to high school with and pretty much grew up with.
The Start of the Military Career
So I graduated high school in Georgia. And then, of course, after graduation you know I was kind of trying to figure out what I was gonna do.
And you know as you know 9/11 happened a few months before. Because I graduated in ’02. And we were already in Afghanistan. And there are rumors of us going over to Iraq. And you know–I guess pretty cliché in a way–but I saw you know there had been recruiters coming to our school throughout my senior year. So kind of was somewhat aware…
Some of my football coaches had served. It was their kind of at the back of my mind.
Mark. It was a possibility.
Jr. Not so much of me joining, but just more of kind of just aware of the military.
Mark. Were you an athlete?
Jr. I was an athlete. I played football–that was the consistent sport that I played.
And so I just saw a commercial. And I decided…
Mark. Be all you can be? What was the slogan back then? Army of one?
Jr. No, be all you can be. And then shortly after…
Mark. That was way better than army of one. The army of one was a big…
Jr. Oh my god. I don’t know what that meant.
Mark. I don’t either. But be all you can be was inspiring.
Jr. It was inspiring and it was… I tell you what who has… The navy has some really awesome you know commercial. They have some commercial market it’s like maybe get back in it. I never thought about the navy…
Mark. But they show a lot of the SEAL team guys now in their commercials too. Like everyone thinks they can join the Navy be a SEAL.
Jr. Exactly that’s the new thing.
Mark. The Navy loves that. They’ve always used that for marketing.
Jr. It helps, man. It helps.
Mark. Sizzle on the steak.
Jr. Yeah. So I joined as an infantryman. 11b. Went to basic training Fort Benning, Georgia. Was there for three months. After three months, I was assigned to my unit which was a hundred and first out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Arrived there in January of ’03.
Mark. Did you go to airborne training? Isn’t hundred first an airborne unit?
Jr. Air assault.
Mark. Air assault. Got it.
Jr. So you know we didn’t have time. I mean it was a matter of “hey, let’s just get you to your base. Cause we know something’s gonna happen and it’s not gonna be in Afghanistan. There’s gonna be somewhere else.”
Of course, they weren’t saying that you know, but we understood something was going to happen. It was verbalized to us during basic.
And it was interesting because–and you would appreciate this–I mean, I was 19 years old. Young, cocky, nothing’s gonna happen to me. Very naive. Even though… I tell people even though I raised my right hand and I understood that war was a possibility, I never thought it would be my reality.
Mark. Yeah, you don’t think that when you’re not 18, 19, 20.
Jr. Of course not.
Mark. They count on that. Your brain isn’t fully developed to think through all that…
Jr. Exactly. You don’t you don’t know what potentially could happen.
Mark. It’s just a big adventure.
Jr. Yeah exactly. It’s like, “oh wow. Okay, cool. This is a journey,” right?
Jr. And one day my platoon sergeant comes up to me and he tells me that I need to be prepared, because we’re gonna deploy. And this is my response–I patted him on the back and I said “aw relax sarge. It’s all good. I’m not going anywhere yet.”
And of course he made me do every push up, every sit-up, every exercise you can think of, because I told him to relax in a very kind of you know on a first name basis kind of tone.
But honestly it was simply… It was just me trying to… It was like I was just naive and I think was gonna happen. And sure enough two months later I was on a plane with the rest of the unit heading over to the Middle East in March of ’03. A few months… A few weeks before the war started in Iraq. And you know and it was like here we go.
Mark. Where’d you go? What base?
Jr.so we were of course we were originally in Kuwait right?
Mark. So you were part of the initial thrust…
Jr. Yes sir. And we were kind of on the border waiting. And it’s interesting cause I met up with a buddy of mine, who I served with, and I said “hey man, what were those areas called? Because they’ve all changed now.”
Jr. You know like the bases and the camps and this and that. And he was like “man, I don’t even know anymore.” like they changed it so much every year that he went back–he went back a lot–every year that he went back he said “man it was like I didn’t know where I was.” and you know unless…
They had the big city was like the landmark right? Like certain cities. And so we were just kind of patrolling through the southern part of Iraq, through small towns. Providing security for different…
Mark. After the invasion.
Jr. After the invasion. Yes sir. And so we’d get through towns, patrol. Different moss would come up to us. You know different jobs in the military would approach us. We were one of the units they would ask to…
Mark. What was your specific mission, your job? Both individually, and your unit. Well I was a private, so one I just did everything that was asked of me. I was pretty much an intern, just with a little bit of money. That was really it.
But I had no voice, I had no opinion. I just did, did, did. But early on our job was to patrol through the southern parts of Iraq providing security for different jobs in the military. That was it.
Mark. Yeah, presence was a big deal.
Jr. But something happened, Mark. So when I joined the military I thought three years. I’m in and I’m out. I’ll be twenty-two. I’ve done my time. I’ve given to this country. I’ve traveled. I’ve got discipline. I got money for school. Great. Perfect.
Well then something happened. Embarking on these missions, I started look at the people that we were escorting, and I would think to myself “I don’t know who they are, but I’m led to believe that those people are going to go help somebody else.” and I was a part of the process of helping them get there.
Jr. And what happened is I started to buy into service. Suddenly I bought into a purpose.
Mark. You understood the why behind what you were doing. For the first time.
Jr. Yes sir. I have a purpose. And I started to slowly change my thought process and thinking well maybe not just three years, maybe I’ll do this for twenty.
Mark. This was going to be a real thing.
Jr. Maybe when I come home from our deployment I’m gonna go to this school, and this school. And that school. And I’m gonna be a bad-ass soldier.
That was my thought. I’m gonna be tapped out, right? I’m gonna be highly decorated. That became my thought process, because a leader–one of my commander–had one day given a briefing to the unit. In the midst of him speaking to a couple of hundred guys, it felt as if he was speaking to me and only to me.
Mark. That’s great.
Jr. And he made me feel that what I did as a private absolutely mattered. And if I as a private did not do my job, then him as a colonel–and anybody else–could not do their job.
And so I bought in…
Mark. And that’s true.
Jr. And it’s true right?
Mark. That’s not hyperbole.
Jr. No, it’s not corporate nonsense.
Mark. In a team every cog is important.
Jr. It’s like, you know, every shock, every valve, everybody, everything… Every part of a car has to operate in order for it to do the things that we want it to do. And I bought in and I loved it. And then it changed.
Mark. Then it changed.
So I haven’t told the audience. If you’re watching this, you probably have a sense that there was an accident. There was… Something happened but listeners wouldn’t necessarily know unless you see a picture. But you had an IED on a mission.
Mark. And that was… Wow. Tell us about that.
Jr. So here I was, escorting this convoy, driving. And then driving this Humvee passenger. Gentleman behind him. Someone manning the weapon on top of the Humvee, a gunner.
Mark. So it’s a convoy. Was this a high-risk mission? Or was it routine?
Jr. No, no. We had already escorted…
Mark. Already heading back to base?
Jr. So we were heading back to base and we were told that we have a new mission. So we had to go meet up with the group of guys to go secure an air base in Karbala. Right outside of Karbala.
And so we waited for our commanders to come back and find the safest route. And after about two hours, they said “all right we have the route.” we all got in our Humvees. It was my turn to drive and I started to drive and you know, you just kind of, you know, shooting the breeze. You know I mean? Like just trying to distract your mind a little bit. And just having some jokes and laughs about whatever.
And I remember looking at my commander, like the sergeant in the vehicle, and laughing at him in the passenger seat. And looking at the road just casually, then “boom.” ran over a roadside bomb.
Jr. It was a landmine. You know what’s interesting? And I haven’t really put a lot of thought into this, but I think it’s worth mentioning. In all of the training that I went through leading up to my deployment, I was never afraid. And I can honestly tell you this like I yeah I didn’t think it was gonna happen to me but I was like “well, you know I’m not afraid if I were to get shot. I’m not afraid if we get into hand-to-hand combat.”
Like the one thing that I was terrified of…
Mark. Getting blown up.
Jr. Was a landmine.
Mark. That’s horrible. I know, me too.
Jr. A landmine and to think that that got me. And I think that there’s something to that. It’s like the mind has a tremendous power. Like if you allow something to ultimately kind of seep into your thought process… Like, it might become the thing right? Like if you give it that much power and attention. And you don’t figure out a way to kind of navigate through that fear–it becomes the thing that ultimately kind of controls you and almost kind of eliminates you right?
Mark. Even in war you’re saying we might be able to create our own reality.
Jr. Yeah. That’s what I feel like I did in a lot of ways. And I know we’ll get to that…
But was trapped inside of the Humvee. Immediately exploded. Other three guys thrown out of the vehicle…
Mark. Was your Humvee up-armored?
Jr. No. It was before. That was… The up-armor came up after.
Mark. They didn’t start up-armoring until 2004.
Jr. 2004, yeah. And then I started doing the V. Yeah, yeah.
So we didn’t have that. And within a matter of seconds this Humvee was engulfed in flames.
And I think it’s worth mentioning you know, because people… And I think this this dynamics really, really great in the sense of where I think people that are watching right now or even listening, when they think of veterans, they think of individuals like myself. And the reason I say that is because they think of people that have the visible wounds. They think of people that have burns and have scars like myself. Or amputees. Or have lost their vision, or have a service dog. Something visible that they can actually see…
Mark. It’s a pretty small percentage that have visible wounds.
Jr. Exactly. But then look at you and look at what you’ve done. And I’m sure there’s something that exists. I’m sure there was something that existed, but you don’t see it. But there’s more of you out there that are dealing with that internal wound, than there is of me navigating through this space, you know I mean?
Jr. And I think it’s worth… I think it’s important for people like myself, who have the platform and people’s attention–because people are curious about this. It’s important to say “yes this is what happened to me, but let’s not lose sight of this individual. This man or this woman who is also equally done the same thing… If not more than I have. And have a different wound that exists inside of them.”
And the reason I say that is because those three individuals that were thrown out of the vehicle, they didn’t physically have to go through what I went through.
Mark. So the three other passengers were thrown out.
Jr. Were thrown out of the vehicle.
Mark. And they didn’t have burns or anything like that?
Jr. My sergeant sitting in the passenger seat, he had a little bit of shrapnel in his hand. And they took it out…
Mark. That’s unbelievable. They were like miraculously saved.
And then you were trapped in the car.
Jr. It’s interesting, because somebody said–and I don’t know the science behind this, or the data. I don’t know the…
Mark. The Humvee had doors on it?
Jr. It had doors on it. And it somebody said something to me–and they used to work for you know… Crash dummies. They tested these cars and see how they would respond in a car accident. And they said something interesting to me–one guy says something interesting to me, he says, “you know, it’s interesting that a lot of people think that if somebody were to hit you like if you’re driving they hit you on the driver’s side. That naturally they’re gonna push you to the passenger side.” he said “but, what happens is the force actually pulls you towards it.” and I was like “really?”
And he said “yeah.” and I was like “okay.” I mean, I guess to some extent maybe that makes sense, because the explosion was right under my feet. And it maybe kind of pulled me towards it. Versus the other guys that threw me out.
Mark. In a way.
Jr. I don’t know, but the point is those three guys walked away with minor injuries. One guy came back to the states, because the gunner was thrown out. He’s shot up in the air. When he landed, he injured his leg so he had to come back to the states. But then he quickly went back. The other guy just busted his lip, or had a little… Got a little shaken…
Mark. They got lucky.
Jr. They did. But I was trapped inside. I was completely conscious.
Mark. How did you get out of the damn car?
Jr. So two of my sergeants after five minutes pulled me out. They pulled me out and I started to…
Mark. Why did it take so long? I’m just curious…
Jr. Well, because there was behind my seat there was ammo. That was heating up and shooting off in different directions.
Mark. Oh shit.
Jr. So the guys, and you know this…
Mark. They thought they’re under fire, fire-fight probably.
Jr. Right and so they don’t just approach right away, because you had to evaluate the situation, and set up a perimeter. Because then also what happens is that what if somebody just emotionally runs into the situation. Now you’re trying to get two guys out instead of one.
Mark. Yeah. Right.
Mark. Now you potentially lose two guys instead of one and so on. And that was really something that was really difficult and challenging for me to kind of comprehend.
Mark. Right. Ex post facto. Trying to figure out what’s going on.
Jr. Right. “What do you mean? If somebody’s injured I’m gonna go save them.” and my sergeant would say, “no you’re not. You’re gonna wait. And we’re gonna evaluate this situation. And then we’ll all go in as a unit. But you don’t just run…”
Mark. I’m sure there’s a lot of second-guessing going on in that scenario.
Jr. A lot and so that’s why it took five minutes.
Mark. So besides the burns… You got burned on how much of your body?
Jr. 34% of my body was burned. And it consisted of my head, my face, my arms, my hands, my back, my legs, my ass…
Mark. So was the fire in front of you like the engine compartment? Or underneath you?
Jr. It was pretty much the whole Humvee. Yeah it was…
Mark. I can’t… I mean, I’m having a struggle just thinking how you even survived that. I’m glad you did.
Jr. Yeah. It’s interesting because again the mind right? Like the mind has this tremendous power. I was completely conscious the whole time that I was trapped inside of that Humvee. And I was screaming and yelling, which I felt at the top of my lungs…
Mark. “Get me the f out of here!”
Jr. And it was hard for me to yell. And in between every single yell, I was (gasp) because I had broken ribs. I couldn’t really get air.
Mark. Yeah and you’re breathing the heat and the smoke…
Jr. Which was doing even more damage. You know, and it was interesting because it was like there were times when my eyes would get heavy and be on the verge of closing.
Mark. Don’t close them.
Jr. Exactly. I would think in my mind… I would lose hope. I would like “these guys aren’t gonna come get me.” because of course to me it felt like I was in there longer than five minutes. And then I would think…
Mark. Five minutes is like forever in a situation like that.
Jr. Especially when you’re going through like a fire.
Mark. Were you trying to get out? Were you still strapped in?
Jr. I was still strapped in. I was pinned. I couldn’t move.
Mark. You couldn’t move.
Jr. I couldn’t move at all. And I remember thinking in my mind, if I close my eyes that’s it. Just exactly what you said. And I would fight to open my eyes and continue that cycle of “help, (gasp), help.” Just because I had to make myself believe, psych myself out to believe, somebody’s going to come. And five minutes later they came.
Mark. There may not be hope in Arkansas. But there’s hope in your mind.
Jr. There’s hope in Iraq.
Mark. There’s hope in Iraq.
Jr. It’s funny because hope, Arkansas is actually the birthplace of President Clinton.
Mark. Oh, is that right?
Jr. And so years later I got a chance to meet him. And when I met him I said “hey, you know, I actually grew up in Hope, Arkansas.” he’s like “oh, that’s great.” and because I said well we have two things in common I said I grew up in Hope, Arkansas he’s like “oh, that’s great…”
Mark. (laughing) And I left it.
Jr. And I said “I left and never went back, just like you.” he didn’t think that was funny. He kind of chuckled and kind of turned away. I was like “come on man. That was funny.”
Sometimes I don’t realize… That’s why I wouldn’t be a good comedian. Like I would just use every joke, everywhere. Not realize my audience. I would just throw it out there.
It’s like when I lived in la, when I would do these events people would they would read my bio and introduce me.
And Mark, I tell you, they would read as if they’re reading my eulogy. I’m standing next to the stage, “I’m actually coming up right after you. I’m still alive.”
So you know, trying to lighten it up a little bit I’d come onstage and I would say yeah I’ve had, you know, 30 some-odd surgeries at that time. 30 some-odd surgeries. But haven’t all of us in the room had plastic surgeries.
Mark. (laughing) Dead quiet.
Jr. If I went to San Diego or up here in Lake Tahoe. Or if I said they joke anywhere else outside of la, everybody laughs. But in la, they didn’t laugh.
Mark. (laughing) Cause the truth hurts, right?
Jr. (laughing) Yeah. I’m like, “wait, it’s a secret now? I’m not sure. Coach along with this.”
Mark. So most of your recovery was for the burns.
Jr. Yes. Most of my recovery was for the burns, because with the burn and the skin it constantly contracts. So my hands initially were like this. The claws.
And so they had to do a lot of splints, a lot of occupational therapy just to get range of motion.
Mark. That’s amazing. Your hands look great.
Jr. They look great. But the challenge that I still face even like right now while I’m holding my hands up, I feel it… But you wouldn’t know it. Is that right here this graft. This is web spacing. You’ll have this scar that’ll still raise, and what that does is it limits my range of motion. So for example like this right now, I feel like a tightness…
Mark. So that’s skin from somewhere else in your body?
Jr. Yes. So they did this in 2013. It was at the point where was so tight it was starting to be like this, and I couldn’t… To grab something it was harder. So I’d start to have the graft like this…
Mark. So you’re constantly having to do occupational therapy? Not occupational, but physical…
Jr. But honestly myself is just… I’m probably the only guy that walks around with lotion. I’m always putting lotion on, because it helps kind of the scars and kind of soften it up, and loosen it up, you know?
So yeah, so the majority of it was just trying to get that range of motion back. And then obviously trying to, from a reconstructive standpoint, just kind of you know…so the left side for those of you could see is obviously the worst part that was burned on my face. And it went all the way down to the top of my chest. Man, but you could see now that it’s scar, scar, scar and then drastically, it just stops, and there’s good skin.
Well this is skin from my chest.
Mark. Is that right?
Jr. So my chest wasn’t burned. So what they did is they gave me a tissue expander–which is pretty much a breast implant. And they put it under my left side, and once a week for three or four months depending on the doctor’s discretion, they injected–there’s a port and they inject it with saline… Just salt water. Inject it.
And at the conclusion of three or four months as you can imagine I had of boob. I had a boob job.
Mark. Wow you’ve had a boob job. Bonus.
Jr. I had a boob job. I tell you, it was it was great man. And I had it… They did they put it in and I think it was around February, March. And so by the time May came around I had this you know this huge thing.
Mark. That’s not awkward at all, by the way.
Jr. No, it’s not, no. And it’s funny, because I’d sit in the chair similar to this one. And I love basketball, and this is like the time the playoffs are happening. And I’d sit there and I’d just lay my head on my tissue expander. Fall asleep on it. Great pillow, man. Great pillow.
You learn to develop humor. You learn that that’s the only way to get through this whole process, that you can’t make sense of right now. And I found humor in all of this. And ways to kind of joke about it and honestly…
Mark. You must have had some really tough moments through all that.
Jr. Oh I did. I mean, honestly I’m sure you understand this, but there were moments where I would just scream and cry in the dark.
Mark. I’ve heard the burn… I mean, it’s just one the most painful things…
Jr. Yeah. For burn survivors, if they remember the incident that caused the trauma, they will tell you that wasn’t… That’s not the most painful part of the whole process. It’s going to the shower, when you’re in the recovery process. So imagine what the skin does for our body. But when we don’t have it, they still have to take us to the shower and scrub and clean. And you don’t have this skin protecting you.
Mark. Ugh. You gotta disinfect. The skin is the barrier to the outside world.
Jr. Exactly. And so then suddenly now you’re hitting nerves–everything. So imagine the pain and the sensitivity that one would feel.
And no pain medication is gonna completely eliminate that. It’s gonna numb it, and dull it to some extent. But it’s still there. And every burn survivor will tell you, that part of it is the most difficult part of the whole process. You could take the toughest dude you know, the toughest person that’s here do some races, put them in that situation and you can hear the screams and yells from down the hall. You don’t even have to be in the same room. I mean that’s how challenging it is.
I mean there’s a lot of people that have you know pts from that. And I saw a lot of civilians come to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio that developed a lot of this because of the trauma that they experienced. And they didn’t like it. They never wanted to set foot in that facility again. They never… You know, like, the fear. I mean, it’s interesting how when I hear the conversation about pts, people will tend to… We don’t understand, we label it and then we kind of what we do in our house with household items. We put it in a box. We label it and then we kind of push it away. Because we don’t know what to do with it.
And that’s what we do with our veterans. We label it we say “pts. We don’t know what to do with this.” so we just put them in a corner. When the reality is we need to spend time listening and getting to understand those individuals.
But listen, more importantly, let’s understand that it’s not just a school salute exclusively for veterans. Everybody suffers from some pts.
Mark. I would say there’s a good chunk of people have some element of stress. Cause it’s trauma. You go through trauma. Life is about trauma.
Jr. Everybody has some sort of trauma.
Mark. So dealing with trauma is really… I mean, it’s not always as painful as what you had to deal with.
Jr. Right. But to them and to their own experience, it’s painful, right? And fair enough.
And so I spent almost three years in the hospital just trying to…
Mark. What helped you get through that critical period? What helped you get through?
Jr. I don’t know how to…
Mark. Friends, faith, family…
Jr. There’s not just one thing. And I think…
Mark. Your mom was still around.
Jr. My mom was still around.
Mark. Did she camp out at the hospital for you?
Jr. My mom told me one day “have faith that something good is gonna come. Believe and try to be positive.” that’s all she said to me.
And I tried it. And things became manageable. And I think there were a lot of things. I think I had to kind of mentally trick myself to believe “okay.” I had to have these conversations with myself and say when I would have these moments of being in my room–in this dark room and I would cry and I would just be so angry, clench my teeth.
Mark. All alone. “Why did this happen to me?’
Jr. And just so angry. And I couldn’t do anything about it. And in the midst of all of that, I would then connect with myself. And I would be present in that moment, in that feeling and I would think to myself, “this can’t be it. Life isn’t this cruel, it’s just gonna give this to me and this is it like no there’s a reason. There’s something else.”
And after a few minutes I would literally like I would tell myself that and I would say “walk out of that door. Out of my barracks room.
And that’s literally what I would do. I would kind of wipe it off and just walk out. And just by walking out I ran into someone. Distracted me. Someone shares something with me. And I’ve learned like for me, I tend to be pretty… I don’t think there’s any accidents right? I believe there there’s no such thing as coincidence. I believe everything happens for a reason. But it’s up to us to actually see it and interpret it and accept it in that form.
And I can’t tell you how many times there have been… I mean, even the other day here’s an example, because I can’t think of what happened 15, 14 years ago–but the other day I was traveling home. I just did a speaking engagement, I was traveling home and I was back in Austin. And I was pulling out of the parking garage. And pulled up to the booth to pay.
And I had like a moment where you know I kind of had a moment where I just kind of was like some thoughts or kind of seeping into my head. And thoughts about–and I’ll be just completely honest with you–like, you know, the relationship with my mother and I isn’t the best. You know, it took my mother 10 years after I was injured to put a picture of me the way I look now up in the house.
Jr. And so she had never had closure. She was constantly in denial.
Mark. She wasn’t processing that.
Jr. But she never dealt with the loss of her previous child. She never dealt with the trauma she experienced. So you throw this trauma on top of it, it’s all gonna spiral down.
Mark. She was taking it personally. She was being punished.
Jr. Exactly. And then she would… Then who she associated that with was me of course. Because I was the one that pushed to join the military. So then there’s blame came to me. And I’m saying “well wait a minute. I’m the one living through this. Like I’m the one that every day has to show my face to the world. And deal with the looks.”
And I had to finally come to an understanding of, you know… As the only son and the youngest, and I love my mother dearly I had to–in the midst of me trying so hard–I had to finally come to the conclusion… And honestly through therapy and through doing that work… Understand that I can’t do anything.
Mark. No it’s up to her.
Jr. And I’ve presented the alternatives that’ll help her get to that place. That helped me, and helped a lot of people if you’re willing to do the work. And she has pushed it back. And so I’ve said to myself, I have to put boundaries up. And it’s unfortunate because to think–and I never thought in my wildest dreams I would ever say that about my mother who has done so much for me and always been there for me–but unfortunately all that is seeped… Mark. Doesn’t mean you don’t love her. In fact, boundaries is an act of love.
Jr. It doesn’t mean I don’t love her. I love her so much and I think about her every day.
So this is what I was thinking about. I just had a moment like I just… “I miss my mom. We don’t talk as much. We don’t have this sort of conversation.” and it bothered me.
And I get up to the booth, and the lady at the booth says–an older lady, Asian like I don’t know exactly–she says to me, she said “did you serve?” I said “yes ma’am, I did.” and she says “thank you for your service.”
And I said I appreciate that thank you very much for saying that. And she puts her hand out to shake my hand I’m in my car and I reached up and she grabs my hand and she turns it and she says “wow.” and she’s rubbing my scars, and she says “can I pray for you?” and I said yeah.
Mark. Why not, right?
Jr. Yeah, yeah let’s do that so she didn’t say a word. She just closed her eyes and she did her thing. I don’t know what she said. But then she said “hold on” and she writes something down on one of the tickets, you know. And she writes–and I don’t know if I’m pronouncing this correctly, so I’m sure there’s gonna be people that are gonna write in and be like hey tell them that pronounce it this way–but it’s amitoba. And it’s a– from what I quickly had to like look it up–it’s within Buddhism. And it’s about it’s this Buddhist that is it represents infinite life. And an infinite light. And goes around. It has all this wisdom it helps and guides other people.
And she says “when you have moments, when you have thoughts, put your hands together like this, close your eyes, put your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Relax and just say amitoba and close your eyes and be connected with yourself. That’s it.” and she’s telling me “you have this. And you have that. And you are this and you are that.”
Finally when I was when I left I was like “yeah, that’s what life does. Yeah if you’re willing to be what you need to when you need it.”
Mark. If you’re open to it.
Jr. It provides it. We just have to be open to it.
Mark. If you had been in your head and just handed her the ticket, she wouldn’t have been able… She wouldn’t have had the opening.
Jr. I gave her the opening. I gave her the invite. Like, for her to say you know when even when she asked me “did you serve?” “Yeah, I did.” that could shut it down.
“Can I pray for you?” “No, I’d rather not. I have to go.” that could have shut her down right now.
But she gave me something, and I went home and I looked up real quickly what this meant. And I contacted a few of my friends who practice Buddhism and they were explaining it to me. And I was like…
Mark. That’s really cool.
Jr. But those are the amazing things that the world has given me over the course of 15 years. So when you asked me what was the thing, it wasn’t just one thing. Literally the world…
Mark. It’s a series of synchronicities…
Jr. People can come into our lives for their purpose. Give us something.
Mark. Well, I think that’s how most of us find our calling or our purpose in life. Is by the primal urge. And then through this series of synchronicities, that kind of like shut some doors and open others. And we feel like we’re being funneled… Channeled, like a river almost, in a certain way.
And for someone like you who has such a traumatic event, it’s got to be like “okay, god. That came out of left field. Wasn’t expecting that.”
Jr. (laughing) Coulda warned me.
Mark. But being open to what does it mean. That’s what it sounds like I’m hearing from you. Like the recovery process is so painful, but just that thought… “There’s got to be something where this is leading.” it’s so empowering isn’t it? There’s got to be some reason for this.
Jr. We spend so much time as human beings because of the pressures the society places on us right?
Mark. Sure. Wanting to look perfect, be perfect. Impress everybody else.
Jr. We spend so much time on that, and on the destination…
Mark. And yeah, getting to that end state.
Jr. Whatever that destination is for you. And you know what we overlook? Is the journey. You know, all of us have done the exercise where you take a sheet of paper and you write out you know your 5-year plan, your 10-year plan, your 20-year plan and between there’s this space. And we ignore that space.
Mark. The space is the most important part.
Jr. And that’s the body right there, man. That’s where all the nutrients are. The food is. All the stuff that gives us the strength that we need to get to the 10-year Mark, and into the 20-year Mark.
I can just share this with you. Because I talk about this a lot with my clients. It’s a concept that my Zen master put out at one of our lectures. So every Thursday night–this is before I join the seals–for four years I practiced Zen and it was through a karate program. And every Thursday night we’ve meditate for an hour. And then he’d give a little Zen talk.
And one of them was you know put the kanji characters and then he wrote in English what it meant. And it was one day, one lifetime.
And then he goes on to talk about what that means… But for a warrior it’s clear what that means right? Every day is an opportunity for a lifetime of learning, a lifetime of experiences. But also every day might be your last. So pay attention.
Pay attention. You want it to be miraculous. You want it to be special, right?
Jr. That’s great, because people ask me all the time like…”JR, we feel such passion” and I was like “yeah, you know why? Because god granted me, blessed me with the second chance at life. But not all of us get that.
Mark. Not all of us get that. Imagine if you could live as if you were living a second chance.
Jr. Right, so if you and I… Just you and I who are here. Who have been through what we’ve been through. And have experienced what we’ve experienced. And we’ve learned a lot through those experiences.
If we can share that with them, right? And hopefully pass something on to people while they’re still on their first chance, to maybe kind of pay attention and kind of change something. One small tweak.
Mark. You might avoid the pain of the second chance.
Jr. You avoid getting to the point of when that day comes. That other people aren’t saying “man, wish you would have done that.” No they did it.
Mark. I know. Regret is the worst thing.
Jr. The regret is the worst thing, man.
Mark. I think that you’re onto something, and I agree with you, because I think that one of the reasons I started the 50-hour Kokoro camp thing that we have is because I have this belief that if you bring the challenge to yourself, and to learn the lessons that life has for you, then the challenge will just dissipate. And you won’t have to experience it in a painful way.
Jr. It’s so great, man. Because when I said earlier that I created this. It’s because I have understood and I have learned that in the midst of me not being able to control a lot–and I spent a lot of time trying to… I had to understand to learn “I can’t control those things. I can control my attitude and how I show up today in this very moment. And that’s all you can control. And that in itself will then suddenly start to dictate and spiral and open up other opportunities.
Mark. Changes everything. As soon as soon as you give up trying to control the things you can’t control your life changes.
Jr. Oh my god. You feel so much lighter. You feel so much freer. It’s like happy hour baby. Like, here we go. It’s great, man.
And I think that was the thing… You know, I tell people all the time is like I challenged myself and I placed myself in so many uncomfortable positions, that when something comes into my life? I’m like, “it’s fine.” something that I didn’t create like challenge or change that I didn’t create. I’m like “it’s fine. I got it. It’s okay. I’ll get through it.”
Because I’ve already done so much and I’ve proven it to myself, I initiated so much of the change. Change isn’t bad if you’re willing to adapt. The key is, are you willing to adapt? Are you willing to try to re-identify yourself and do the work to find out what your new identity is?
Mark. Change is an opportunity to change the story about your life. Every major situation is just an opportunity to change your story. And to strengthen yourself.
Jr. The mind does so much man, and we have to be willing to do the work. And we have to do the work… When we’re addressing the mind, we have to do the work with the right people that understand and nurture us. And challenge us. And yet support us.
I mean, let me tell you a big key component that I try to spend a lot of time talking about, because I think it’s crucial people get caught up in thinking about–as we talked about earlier–the blast, and the explosion, and my recovery. And how I get through this on a daily basis.
2006 I got out of the army. I went out into the world thinking I was gonna be this motivational speaker. Everybody was gonna book me.
It didn’t happen that way. Everyone put me in a box and said it was a veteran–that’s it. That’s all I could talk about. I became very resentful. I became very angry. I–in a lot of ways–was reckless. I was of age, I was drinking and I was just angry, angry.
My best friend who is 17 years older than I am did 20 years in the air force. And he and I both were kind of in this nonprofit space, kind of helping veterans right? Yet you know I was still… I was needing help.
We were at an event in Indianapolis one night. And a bunch of veterans in the car. I’m in the very back of the SUV. My best friend’s driving. Somebody says something in the SUV and I kind of snap at them. And I was just this bitter, just unpleasant kid to be around. And my friend, Danny, says “hey, JR. Like, leave him alone. Lay off.” and I just lashed out at him. And I was like, “you want to fight?” this guy’s 6 foot 5, 275 pounds and you saw up 5′ 9″. I’m 190. Like, there’s no way I had a shot.
But you know what he did? He didn’t engage. We went back to the hotel. Everyone got out went into the room into the hotel. And he said, “Stay here.” and he said “sit in the passenger seat,” and he was in the driver’s seat. And he said “cry.” and I was like “what?” and he said “cry.” and he kept saying it. And it’s like he hypnotized me and I started to cry. And he said “man, you got so much pain. And so much built up inside you cry, cry, cry.”
And we had this really long two, two-and-a-half hour discussion in the middle of Indianapolis. I don’t even know where we were.
Mark. And you never met this guy before?
Jr. No, no. I’d worked with him in a non-profit previously. But here’s the interesting dynamic. So prior to that interaction, he would always end the conversation and say “I love you.” and I said “all right, I’ll talk to you later.” after that night I was like “I love you” before he said it.
The reason I say that is because it’s important for us to be able to–and I want to target men, because I think men have a tendency at times I think from an ego perspective…
Mark. They can’t say that….
Jr. We can’t show emotion. We can cry. We can’t be that vulnerable. And it’s like no, no, no, no. The weakness is actually not going to that place. Weakness is actually not dealing with it. It’s not a sign of weakness if you don’t deal with it. It’s the opposite.
And so I was able to go to that place in a safe zone with that gentleman, who is now my best friend. And it literally… It changed everything
Mark. That’s cool. Yeah, I love that.
Jr. Do the work and I tell you what? At most every day of my life I try to hold myself accountable. I look at myself and I say why am I doing this? Why did I do that? Why did I say this? Why did I act that way? Whether it’s being pissed off at traffic or whatever it is. I’m always trying to like, look at myself and be honest with myself. And be open to the constructive criticism that you Mark, and the world is going to give me.
Mark. That’s great.
Jr. Spend time right? Like that’s where the work is. And we, I think, are starting to somewhat understand in 2018 that this thing up here is the machine. And we have to deal with this thing, when it comes to our veterans. When it comes to everybody. We have to really address this.
Mark. We use the metaphor of the courage wolf and the fear wolf as a simple way to get people to understand that the brain is where the fear wolf lives. And the heart is where the courage wolf lives. And the wolf that wins, is the one you feed. And so by surrendering to feeling and being able to tell another guy “hey buddy, I love you. Thanks for your help.” Like, there’s nothing weird about that once you open up.
Jr. Right, right, right and it’s like…
Mark. Dude, I love you for what you do. I’m okay to say that. That’s feeding the courage wolf.
Jr. That’s okay to say. That’s comfortable. And I’m okay with you saying it to me.
Mark. But it take a few iterations to get comfortable with that. In the SEAL teams we’re big huggers. They’re like, “big tough guys.” Bunch of teddy bears when we’re together.
Jr. Exactly. And it’s great though, because it’s like once you do this a couple of times. Once you’re vulnerable once and you see the reward that comes from that. Then it becomes a little bit easier on every occasion…
Mark. And that’s what I mean by feeding the courage wolf. You literally are opening up your heart. And your heart is part of your brain… Or part of your mind… Not the brain up here, but the heart is literally neurological processing power. Which is more powerful than the brain in terms of its ability to connect, and emote, and energy transfer. They’ve done studies on that.
And so if listeners could begin to understand that this up here, behind this hard shield, is just one aspect of your mind. Your heart’s another important aspect. Your belly’s an important aspect. The enteric nervous system. Your peripheral… Everything.
I mentioned this earlier, but I have this belief that the body is your mind. Body even extends beyond… Or the mind extends beyond the confines of your body. This is how we can have such synchronicity in the world, because we’re interacting, we’re influencing at an energetic level what’s happening around us through our thoughts.
But not just up here, with the fear wolf. Here as well.
Jr. I love that, man.
Mark. So I love how you’re a living example of that. You are embodying that. You had to go through the fire, literally, to get to that though.
Jr. And I think in many ways I still am right? I think no day is a perfect day really.
Mark. Of course not. One day, one life.
Jr. Right. I tell people like I have to practice positivity every day. And it’s not a one-time payment…
Mark. Part of it’s because the way the brain is kind of wired to look for obstacles. To look for the bad. To prevent or avoid danger and so it’s constantly negative.
And then it’s being fed a constant barrage of negativity through media, through socials through other people, through traffic, through whatever….
And so it’s hard for people to be positive genuinely.
Jr. We’re all here to help other people, you know? But we have to really buy into that. How we truly all can really help each other.
Mark. We’re all connected. We’re all interdependent. We all have our unique reason for being here. But it doesn’t mean we are separate from other people, right? That’s a big… That’s a huge message for people these days. Like, we have to end the feeling of separation.
Jr. Yeah, right. This division. And I think we’ve lost the art of “agree to disagree.” You know, like I can disagree with you on something, but it doesn’t mean that I you know I’m not gonna listen to what… Why you’re saying what you’re saying, or doing what you’re doing. And still love you. And be like okay well let’s talk. I don’t agree how you’re going about it, but I respect it and I’m willing to at least listen. And I agree with what you’re necessarily… What you’re really trying to say.
And I think that we have lost the art of being able to say “I agree to disagree. But I’m still gonna be here. And I’m still gonna…”
It’s like we all want to have people on our team that just get us. And that’s great.
But you also need people on your team that get you, but also gonna challenge you, right? You know we’re so quick to just “I want like-minded people.” And it’s like “well find some people that are gonna be like-minded. That’s fine. But challenge you as well.
Mark. Like-minded in the ability to challenge each other.
Jr. And that you’re gonna be open to that criticism, that feedback, that’s gonna come. Because if you’re not going to be receptive to it, then people are gonna say “I’m gonna stop saying something, because this guy doesn’t like it.”
Mark. Shuts people down. Shuts the conversation down.
Mark. Shuts the energy of the team down and basically it sinks to a lowest common denominator.
Jr. Right. Yeah. So for me, man. I think what’s really great is that it’s a little uncomfortable and I think you probably feel the same way. But it’s uncomfortable when people kind of put me on a pedestal. And put me in this position and say all these great things. And I’m like “no, no.”
Mark. I’m not comfortable with that either. Geoff would know. I’m always talking about that…
Jr. What makes me more special than you or anybody else? The fact that I was on TV? TV creates all this other fuzz and clout. I was like “no.” at the end of the day I am trying to survive just like everybody else. And I think for me, it’s about how do we use our platforms that we have that we’ve created…
Mark. To serve others, to help them…
Jr. To help to serve others. To help them, for them to find their own voice. On their own platforms. And I think that’s what… At the end of the day aside from all of this, I think that’s the one thing that I want. Is I want my daughter–who’s now six–but I want her when she’s older to say that “my dad, like, his legacy, and all he wanted to do is help empower people. And helping save people. And get people to live and not just be content with being alive. But actually live.”
I mean I watched that Mister Rogers documentary on the flight the other day. And I’m sitting there balling. And I’m sitting there like you know just boo-hoo over Mister Rogers.
Mark. He’s all about service to kids.
Jr. Yeah, and it inspired me man. And I was just like I want my daughter one day… That’s what I want her to see in me. Not the dance, not the entertainment and stuff. Not that I spoke at this event and that event. Not the amount of money…
That’s not what it’s about. What I did for other people. That’s what I want.
Mark. That’s cool.
Mark. What’s up besides more of that? What’s really interesting you these days? Are you gonna do more TV? Or you gonna focus more on your speaking?
Jr. So I do a lot of the speaking. I’m actually–two years ago I decided to go to school go to college
Mark. Oh really?
Jr. Yeah, and I just again…
Mark. Because you didn’t have a chance to finish that up?
Jr. No. Well, I never started. I never started and I wanted to actually go and grow, and learn, and challenge myself. So I’m actually in my junior year right now. So I’ve been two and a half years deep into this, man…
Mark. Are you going to…? Like, is it a campus thing?
Mark. So you get to interact with the other students. Oh, brilliant.
Jr. I get to interact with 18, 19, 20 year-olds. And I’ll tell you that is probably the best part of this me.
Mark. Gem for them to have that.
Jr. Well, you know, it’s also a gem for me. To be amongst these individuals. Because we hear so much about millennials, right? Millennials, millennials, millennials. And they’re this way. And yes there’s some truth to that, and I get it.
But I’m in a room with these kids. And I’m like “these kids know what they’re talking about.”
Mark. Yeah, there’s some smart… These kid’s generation coming through school right now. Jr. And honestly this is what I do. So my legal name is Jose Rene Martinez. And so I decided to go by JR when I was a junior in high school–I mean a senior in high school. Not junior but Jose Rene—JR–and it was my way of creating my own identity.
And it was great until I lived in Dallas and everybody walked up to me, “who shot ya?” this is a bomb. It’s not a bullet. Bullets don’t do this. I was so confused, and then they told me about this “Dallas” show.
But when I go to school I am Jose Martinez. I sit in the back of the room. I really don’t say much. And I literally just listen and take it all in. And I tell you what, man. I walk out of there and I’m like “oh that’s interesting perspective. I never would have thought about it that way.” you know like I’m learning from…
We get we got a problem in the sense of we’re like a lot of people. I see this in corporate America, and I’m sure you probably do too. Where you have someone who has been in the position for so long. And then you have someone new that comes in with a kind of innovative way of doing something. Maybe a more efficient way of doing it.
And they just reject it. And they’re just like no, no, no. And it’s like “well, wait a minute. We can all kind of work in conjunction here. Like we can all kind of figure out a way.
Mark. But in a sense a lot of entrepreneurism starts that way, because people are like “I can’t do this in the corporate structure.”
Jr. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Mark. So they spin out and they do their own thing. Put the old company out of business.
Jr. So I have… I’m doing the school thing on campus. Some semesters I’m able to do it on campus, because I know I’ll be there every Wednesday or whatever.
Sometimes I have to go online… I’m doing a speaking thing. And now I’m kind of getting back into like the entertainment industry. Where I’m kind of getting back out to la, and meeting with my agents, and talking about opportunities that exist.
And I think the reason… What really pushed me… And it was almost like a blessing in disguise, was I was running into a lot of like roadblocks with an entertainment industry where getting… I just come off of dancing with the stars, and I won, and I was all over the world.
And I couldn’t I can walk around because everyone recognized me. That show gave me so much attention and publicity.
Mark. Which can expand your reach.
Jr. Yeah, absolutely. But then when it came to like trying to do other opportunities in the entertainment industry, people were saying “well, you know, you don’t have the look. And the scars and then we have to tell that story.
And I was like why? Why do you have to spend time telling that story? I mean, I don’t get it. I don’t really come from that world.
So I’m like why? Like why can’t it just be based on the talent? If I’m there and I’m doing and I’m talented and I’m telling the story, like what does it matter that I have this. Let them… The viewer do the work, and figure it out, and google me or whatever.
And so dealing with that frustration and lack of opportunity, because a lack of people wanting to be innovative in that space. And trying to think outside the box, I just said “to hell with it.” and I just decided to go to school. Which has honestly been an amazing feat.
But now I’m kind of like, I kind of want to see what’s out there now.
Mark. Yeah, they’re changing really fast. With Netflix and Amazon and Apple. And everyone getting into that business. They’re coming out with a lot of creative shows. A lot of interesting programs. I can see how that would be an opportunity for you.
Jr. Yeah. And so now I’m interested in… I tell you an interesting dynamic that my daughter and my wife kind of geared me towards is my wife continued this tradition that her mother had with her that she’s to read to her every night. And then when my wife was of age you know she was able to read books on her own, she was always reading.
I didn’t have that. And so since our daughter was born we were reading to her, reading to her, reading to her. And in the midst of me reading to her like I, you know… I’m a big kid and I start creating these characters and these voices. And it’s and it’s like a show that I put on, you know?
And my wife will come up during story time just to kind of hear the story of the show. And so my wife–who also worked in the entertainment industry–was like “you should really look into voiceovers.”
So I’m now kind of working with a coach, kind of doing voiceover work, and just seeing if there’s a way… Another platform where I can kind of just…
Mark. That’s pretty cool.
Jr. Yeah, it’s fun man. It’s really fun to kind of understand… We understand performer communication is obviously verbal, right? Like our tone and everything. And it’s just really interesting to kind of understand this. This right here and the power that it has and what it can do.
Mark. This is interesting, but I think that’s a really, really cool talent. And you should definitely follow up on that, because I can see you succeeding in that.
1:05:08 I just started about a year ago… Maybe not even a year ago… But nine months ago started listening to audiobooks. I don’t know why it took me so long. And I’ve always loved sci-fi movies, and so I was like flipping through I was like, you know… I was first getting like all the stuff that I read anyways with books. Like all the human performance stuff and I love reading about yoga and philosophy and spirituality. I got stacks and stacks of books. You know I’m catching up on so I first started listening those Narnia books. And they’re all putting me to sleep. For some reason I’m better turning the page and reflecting on stuff.
So I said “well maybe I’ll do this sci-fi book.” and I got this sci-fi and is written by this–or read by–I don’t remember the name of the author. So I apologize to him now but I remember the name of the reader, RC Bray. And RC Bray made the book come alive for me. Like, every single character had a different personality. Different voice different personality. Male, female, young, old, all by one dude. He was reading the book, and now he’s well-known that’s in this really weird niche of sci-fi audiobooks.
Jr. That’s cool and I that’s interesting…
Mark. Because his voice and the way the authors can write, make it come alive so that I can see in my mind what’s happening. Almost better than what I’m seeing on TV which happens too fast.
Mark. It’s fantastic. I don’t know.
Jr. Yeah, there’s something is interesting though. That’s something that…
Mark. You could read audiobooks.
Jr. It’s funny cause that’s what a lot of people have said. Like, “you have this voice and you could definitely do like audio.” it just means I get a space like there’s a lot out there for voiceover work and just there’s a lot of stuff you could do out there.
And so it’s a kind of a new world for me and I think for me it’s about… I’m comfortable being uncomfortable, right? And I love placing myself in kind of situations where I’m not the best at it you know? And coming into and saying “okay. How do I work my ass off to be the best thing?”
Because my daughter like she’s like “I’m not as good at that as that person is.” I was like “well yes, they have natural talent. And I get that. But you know what’s gonna separate you is that you have the work ethic. And the work ethic will outdo their natural talent. Because many people have natural talent but they won’t work at it to be the greatest. There’s very few people that’ll do that. So if you’re willing to work and put in the time, you will outdo that natural ability, because your work ethic is going to ultimately… I mean you’re just gonna be amazing at what you do.”
And she’s like “okay, I guess.” she’s six, you know. I find myself sometimes I’m getting too deep and too philosophical with her sometimes, you know? But I try to like you know as a father and I try and like trying to instill as much as I can. To prepare her. You know, it’s seeping into her foundation so it’s always there.
Mark. Yeah, good for you. Parenting. We could go in a whole ‘nother two hours…
Jr. Oh my gosh. She’s at an interesting age right now, man.
But you know listen Mark… I you know a lot of people say this to me. And I’m quick to share the love. Because I know it’s not just me, you know? But thank you for what you’re doing. And thank you for being a voice out there. And thank you for you know sharing your platform with a lot of people. Sharing it with me, because I’m sure there’s a lot of viewers and listeners that I’ve never reached that have no idea who I am. And because of your willingness to share this, I mean, now they know at least one other knucklehead out there in the space.
Mark. Honestly didn’t know we were gonna be interviewing each other right today about halfway through the day. It’s been the really interesting thing about this. And I appreciate Joe DeSena of Spartan for bringing us all up here to Lake Tahoe.
Jr. Yeah this is great.
Mark. It’s super cool to meet you. And I appreciate it. And if I can support you in any way be of any assistance whether it’s through nonprofit work or whatever you’re doing.
Jr. Well same here. I’ve gotta… I’ll talk to my wife and we’ll see if we can kind of do some of these burpees with you…
Mark. Yeah, okay…
Jr. Gotta kind of get in that as well, because I think that’s an important cause. And I think people care, they just need something tangible to kind of hold onto. And a program that’s actually is effective…
Mark. Veterans Day we’re gonna do 24 hours of burpees. Non-stop. So if you just want to pull an all-nighter with us. Just come down come over to San Diego and join my team…
Jr. Should we edit that part out? Where I just said I might do it with him?
Mark. (laughing) Called you out, man. Just invited you to step up and be more uncomfortable.
Jr. Oh my god. Be all you can be. That’s awesome man.
Well keep up the great work, Mark. Thank you, again, man. This has been great. I’ve really loved this back and forth and honestly really learning from you. And listening to what you had to share as well, man. I think it’s been really great to be able to…
You know hopefully people at home are able to take something tangible away from this conversation, and apply it to their life, and hopefully it helps them.
Mark. That’s what it’s all about.
How can folks find out more about you or connect with you on social media or whatever?
Mark. Cool. Or google “JR dancing with the stars.”
Jr. (laughing) Or google “JR who shot ya?”
Mark. That’s going to take you on a different route, I’m sure. Hooray. You rock.
Jr. Thank you.
Mark. Awesome. All right folks. Wow. Super-interesting. Thank you JR. For being here. Best of luck with everything. And I hope to see you again soon.
Jr. Yes sir
Mark. Yeah, hooyah. All right folks that’s it for today. Thanks for tuning in. At the Unbeatable Mind podcast. And stay focused, train hard, embrace the suck, get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Go to the challenge, so the challenge doesn’t have to come to you.
See you next time. Out here.