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Lewis Howes on Surviving and “The School of Greatness”

By May 25, 2016 August 9th, 2020 One Comment

This week, Commander Divine interviews Lewis Howes, former football player, currently on the US Olympic handball team and an entrepreneur, speaker and author of the bestselling book based on his own podcast “The School of Greatness.” Lewis has been recognized as one of the top entrepreneurs under 30 by the president, and has been featured in Forbes, Men’s Health and The New York Times. Mark and Lewis speak frankly about the role that adversity can play in success in addition to determination and an underlying dedication to principle and gratitude.

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 Transcript & Shownotes

Hey folks, Mark Divine back at you with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me. If you haven’t heard of my guest today then you haven’t heard of much because he is got a great book out, former professional athlete, recognized by the White House as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in the country under thirty. That’s pretty cool. Wonder how you get that. He’s a contributing writer for Entrepreneur, Yahoo Health featured in New York Times, People, Forbes, Men’s Health, Today Show, but before I introduce formally Mr. Lewis Howse, if you haven’t opted into our email lists then go to often so you can stay apprised of all the really cool things we’re doing and also and go ahead and rate me or us and leave us a comment on iTunes because it really helps get the show noticed.



Alright Lewis, welcome. Supercool to meet you thanks for your time today.

Lewis Howse: Yeah, great meeting you. I’ve heard such great things about you over the years. So congrats on everything you’ve done.

Mark: Thank you very much. That’s pretty cool I always think it’s kind of… When people say that I’m always surprised, because just like you I got my head down and just cracking along.

Lewis: Focused.

Mark: Focused right. You’re up in LA right now you said is that where you hail from? Tell me a little bit about you…

Lewis: I hail from Ohio. The greatest state in the country. And it’s the heart of it all as we call it. It’s actually shaped like a heart. I mean if there was any state shaped like a heart it would be Ohio.

Mark: I just learned my one thing.

Lewis: There you go. Yeah. Actually go look at it on the map. It kinda looks like a heart. I’m from Ohio and I was playing sports growing up and then I moved to New York City after I was done playing arena football. And then I fell in love with a girl that ended very quickly after I moved to LA for her about four years ago. And I kinda stayed out here ever since. Some great things have happened since I been out here so I keep staying out here.

Mark: So you just went through about thirty years in thirty seconds. There’s probably a few other stopping points along the way. So you mentioned arena football. So you obviously played football in high school. Where did you go to college? Where did you play football in college?

Lewis: I played at… I transferred to three different schools. I actually started at a D2 school called Southwest Minnesota State, in a very small town in Minnesota. Then I transferred to probably, I think it’s one of the smallest colleges in the country with a little under 500 students right now. Called Principia College. So I went there. It’s in a village called Elsah, Illinois. It’s right off the Mississippi River looking over the river on the bluffs of the Mississippi. So I was there for a little bit and then I transferred to more of like D3 powerhouse football program in Columbus, Ohio called Capital University.

Mark: Yeah, I’ve heard of that. Now did Principia have a football program?

Lewis: It did. It does not anymore though. It got discontinued a few years ago. Because when I played we had-I think thirty-six players on the team. And we were playing against other big D3 schools that had eighty guys on the sideline. And I saw… It was like playing high school ball for me. I never came off the field. I was the punter, I was the kicker, kicking off, field goals, safety receiver… Everything. I was on the field.

Mark: It must’ve been pretty interesting when you had away games. You probably had like five fans there.

Lewis: Exactly. Yeah. And we had one bus and everyone could fit on it.

Arena football [4:28]

Mark: Interesting. So you went on to play arena football. Tell me about that. I don’t know anything about that. Tell me about arena football.

Lewis: Yeah. Imagine Astroturf on a hockey rink. With padded walls. That’s arena football.

Mark: And it’s a pro sport?

Lewis: It’s a pro sport, yeah. It’s been around for twenty-five years now. There’s guys that drop down from the NFL and guys that move up to the NFL from the arena football league every year. It’s kind of like the minor leagues, but… It was fun man. I only played it for about a year and a little bit over a year, but I got injured, broke my wrist diving into a wall. To try to catch a football on a route. I played through the whole season with a broken wrist after that, but it was surgery after that. Bone graft, took a bone from my hip put in my wrist and for six months I was in a full arm cast. So it took another six months after that just to get my arm to straighten out fully without being weak and pain a lot. So I had to miss the next season, and it was just kinda like… the dream of going to the NFL was kind of slipping away at that point.

Mark: Yeah, I can imagine that. Now if the entire arena is walled in, I imagine that running into walls is a pretty common thing.

Lewis: Very common. Yeah. That’s the out of bounds. So you can’t just step out-of-bounds either. You get hit into the wall, or you get hit into the Astroturf, which is on top of a hockey rink.

Mark: Good God, that sounds utterly…

Lewis: Yeah, it gets pretty physical. Imagine the most angry human beings in the world, in a confined space, with nowhere to run. The guys I played against are some incredible athletes, and guys that played… All Americans, guys that played at Notre Dame or USC all over the country, but either dropped down, or they didn’t get their break at the draft, so they played a season of arena football league. And they’re so angry that they’re not playing in the NFL. And we were making $250 a week. And they would put us up in apartments, so we got living for free, but we to roommate with someone on the team. And they would give us essentially, glorified food stamps to have meals throughout the week. We would get Chick-fil-a coupons, we would get Subway, and a couple of the local stuff. I was living in Alabama at the time. So essentially glorified food stamps. And it was funny, Mark, we would get bonuses every time we scored a touchdown if we touched, like, a certain sign. Like, one of the sponsors, then they would pay us a twenty-five dollar bonus check. It was definitely an experience. Like, once in a lifetime.

Mark: That’s awesome. I love the description of a bunch of angry men with nowhere to go, or nowhere to run. It reminds me of my SEAL platoon, stuck in the Phillipines, you know, the Superbowl’s going on over in Iraq, and there they are sitting in the Phillipines. I mean, what the hell?

Lewis: Yeah, I mean it’s… but every week was like a fight for your life. Because every week they would bring in guys who were fresh and who they had signed to play on a team. I mean, there was no, like, year contract guaranteed. If you didn’t perform, you got injured-you were cut. And so they were bringing guys every single week. So again, we’re beat up, banged, but on Monday we’d have to come back.

Mark: It sounds like it would be a great reality TV show, but…

Lewis: They shot a reality show of our team that season. The whole season. Every week there was an episode in Alabama on, like, the regional TV or whatever. It was hilarious.

LinkedIn [8:01]

Mark: That’s pretty awesome. So unfortunately you broke your wrist and you had to move on. So what was next for you? What inspired you to come… besides the girl you chased to LA?

Lewis: Well, this was before the girl. Some… 23, 24 at the time now and I moved back to Ohio, and I didn’t have a place to stay, so my sister let me crash at her place, which was supposed to be a couple months. I was supposed to recover quickly, get back out and play in the next season. Couple months turned into a year and a half on my sister’s couch.

And the whole time I’m in this cast for six months, longer than I thought I’d be. Time is slipping away, I’m not healing fast enough and I’m just in this place… I didn’t have a backup plan. I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to go get a degree and, like, do something with my life afterwards.” It was, “No this is my life, this is my dream.”

So essentially, every day I felt my dream slipping away from me and realizing that my identity was wrapped up in this dream and now I have nothing. Like, this is what I felt, at the time. I felt like I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have anything to fall back on. There was no backup plan. I had no skills. I left college early to go play, so I didn’t have a college degree yet. This was in 2008, when the economy was like… you know, people with Master’s degrees were not getting jobs. So I was like, “How am I going to get a job?” Now at the time, LinkedIn was pretty powerful, was getting bigger. So I spent all my days on LinkedIn, like all day for months and months. And that’s kinda how I got my start. I started just reaching out to successful people, people like you and I would email people and reach out to them, and say “Hey, how did you do it? Tell me your story about how you became successful and how you got to where you are.” And through that I built my own little network of influencers.

And then I started teaching people about LinkedIn. People started asking me “Hey, you know so-and-so connected on LinkedIn. Can you introduce me and can you show me how you’ve created such an incredible profile?” So when I was making zero, I started making a little bit just by teaching people how to optimize their profile, connect with people the way I was doing it. And then little by little, someone said “You should write a book about this so you don’t have to teach 101 anymore.” So I said, “Okay, let me figure this out.” And I wrote a book. And then I did an online course about it, and then people were like, “Well, since you know LinkedIn, can you teach me Facebook and Twitter, and all these other things that I don’t know anything about?” And I said, “Sure, I’ll figure it out.” And so for years I started just creating online courses teaching people about social media and online marketing and I started to develop new skills, connect with more people, add more value. And it kinda grew from there.

Mark: Well that’s pretty interesting. And it is fascinating. LinkedIn and Facebook, you know, how they’ve become such… almost crucial business platforms. You know, I was one of the first 100,000 people to set up a profile on LinkedIn. The only reason I know that useless fact is they sent me a badge or like an icon once. “Congratulations.” And I’m like, “What do I get for this? Is there any money attached to this?” No. But… You know, and I don’t optimize it myself, yet. We’re just starting to really look at it, you know. It’s just amazing where these social platforms have come, and it’s going to be interesting to see where they go in the next few years. So you became kind of a guru on how to use LinkedIn.

Lewis: Before anyone was talking about I was like the guy who wrote a book. I was speaking at all the big social media conferences. They were like, “We need to start talking about this.” And I was like one of the few people really doing it. But I started branding myself as the LinkedIn guy. So that got me opportunities and…

Handball [11:44]

Mark: Right. So, that early success… so you created these courses, and you started speaking and you probably said, “Okay, here’s another inflection point. What’s next?” So where did the idea of “The School of Greatness” come from? Love that name, by the way.

Lewis: Thank you. Yeah, I didn’t want to lose my competitive spirit, and my ability to compete. And this is partly, I’m assuming, I don’t know this, but it’s probably partly why you do what you do, after you’re done your training, you’ve been competitive, you’re creating this brotherhood, all this stuff trying to keep you in the game, so to say. And so, when I was on my sister’s couch, broke and didn’t have this going for me yet, I watched the 2008 Olympics. Summer Olympics. And I saw a sport that I’d never seen in my life before. On TV at like 3 AM one night. And I was instantly blown away at this sport. And I was like, “How is it possible that I’ve never seen this sport? This looks like it’s the perfect fit for me. I should have been playing this my whole life.”

Mark: What was it?

Lewis: The sport is team handball. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard it or seen it. Team handball is like water polo on land, and it’s crazy. It’s a huge sport in Europe, but pretty much unknown in the US. There’s no professional league here. And I remember seeing this and I was like, “I’m going to go to the Olympics and play team handball for USA.” I just declared it in 2008.

Mark: You’d have to create a team probably from scratch.

Lewis: Well that’s the thing, I started doing research. I was like “Okay, USA handball. Handball in Ohio.” I was just like researching to see what was going on. There was no team in Ohio, but there were club teams all around the country in major cities. And essentially what I found out is that club teams are mostly made up of Europeans who had moved over and started these clubs. And I saw that there was a national championship for these club teams every year, and the New York City team was back to back to back champions. So I said, “Okay, I’m going to move to New York City one day when I make any money. And I’m going to learn this sport and see what’s possible. And see if I can make this USA team. And two years later I moved to New York City and start playing with a team, and nine months after I was living in New York, I make the USA national team. And play my first international competition with them. And it was a game changer. I mean, my life was on fire in New York City, I was just like… everything I wanted I was going after it and achieving it. It was amazing. And so I was there for about a year and a half and then I met this girl. And it all falls apart.
It either all falls apart or it all comes together with girls, doesn’t it?

Mark: You’re right, it does.

Lewis: So I meet this girl that I just like… I fell hard for. Like, within a couple of months. And she was in LA and I was in New York. And I told my buddies, I would visit LA to go speak, or go attend conferences, whatever, for a while. And my friends were like, “You gotta move out here. The west coast is the best coast.” I was like, “Nah, I like the east coast. I like the grind.” I wasn’t a fan of LA. I was like it was too superficial and it’s too big and blah, blah, blah. But a girl was able to get me to come out, because she was there. So my buddies were always trying to get me to come and I’d never do it, but a girl would take me there.

But the day I got… So I get rid of my lease in New York, I pretty much get rid of everything. I don’t really have much anyways…

Mark: So was this giving up on your dream of going to the Olympics too?

Lewis: No. I was still on the USA team. There was a team in LA that I could play with and practice too. I was just like, “Well, I can go play out there, and try this out. And see what happens.” So I moved, and take two bags and a laptop.
And she really wanted me to move. She was like, “I really want you to move. I’ve been doing long distance in my past relationships and I’m just sick of it. And I don’t really want to be in this relationship unless we’re in the same city.” And I was like, “Well, I can be in LA two, three weeks a month, cause I’ve got a laptop lifestyle kind of deal going on.” And she’s like, “No, I really want to try it with us in the same place.” And I was like,” Well, why don’t you come back to New York?” And she was like “well, I just moved to LA.” So it was kinda like… she was kinda like giving me an ultimatum which I was a little resentful of. But I was already kinda hooked, so I said, “Screw it. I’m gonna give this a shot.” I move out there. The day I land, guess what happens?

Mark: She breaks up with you.

Lewis: She breaks up with me.

Mark: No way.

Lewis: I swear to God.

Mark: What the heck? She couldn’t have made the call before you got on the plane?

Lewis: Exactly. Or a few weeks before I got rid of my lease? Or whatever? So I have no place in New York. I’m Airbnbing it for a few weeks in LA, cause I don’t where I’m going to stay yet, and I’m like “What am I doing? This is miserable. Why am I here? Why don’t I just go back to New York where things were great?”

Mark: You’ve got your sister’s couch, back there in Ohio.

Lewis: Exactly. And I decided… we ended up getting back together, and kinda like figuring out for a few months, but it was just like a roller coaster, it was like a nightmare, and a few months later we ended up like just ending it for good. And I remember I was just kinda in a funk. I was resentful, I was in a funk. My mindspace wasn’t the right place. And I was just kinda mad. I was like, “Why did I allow myself to do this? I should have never trusted this. I shoulda listened to myself… whatever.” And…

Mark: Kinda like running into that wall in arena football.

Lewis: Exactly. It was just like…

Mark: You’re an angry white guy now in LA.

Lewis: Angry white guy, yes. And I remember I was driving around in LA traffic to go to the gym or something. And just being like, frustrated, upset, you know, I didn’t forgive myself yet, I didn’t forgive her. And I remember, like… there was a lot of people mad that day driving. You know, they were just angry drivers everywhere. You understand being in LA, probably witnessed it.

Mark: Yeah, that’s a daily occurrence.

The School of Greatness [17:38]

Lewis: And I remember being like, “Gosh, there’s gotta be something… There’s people commuting and stuck in traffic all day, which I didn’t really realize because living in New York City, walking everywhere or on the subway. Wasn’t a big deal to me. But I was like, “People are just not happy, and this is probably happening all over the world. And what if I could create something to get in front of these people who aren’t happy so they could be inspired?” And I remember at the time, this is in 2012 when I thought about this, a couple of my buddies were doing podcasts and they were just crushing it. They were like, “I’m getting the best connection with my audience, I’m getting a lot of leads, it’s driving the most traffic.” Like all these things. And I was like, “Really? I thought podcasts were dead.” And I remember being like, “If these guys can do it, I think I could do it.” I’ve got some… At this point in my life I had some great relationships in both business and sports world. And just a wide range of industries. I was like, “I think I could interview a wide range of people from all walks of life.” Not just a business thing. And do essentially what I did on early days on LinkedIn, where I was reaching out to just awesome, inspiring people, and share those conversations with the world.
So I remember thinking about the name and I was like… I didn’t want it to be my name, like the “Lewis Howe Show” or something. And I didn’t want it to be like a marketing show or something, so I was like, “How can I make it more broad?” I got horrible grades all through school. I almost flunked out of English class my senior year. So I hated school, but I loved education. And I loved learning and growth. So I was like, “I just want there to be a different type of school. A school with principles they don’t teach in school. “The School of Greatness.” That’s kinda how it came about.

Mark: I love that. So right now “The School of Greatness” is basically a podcast with guests, and you parlayed that into your first… not your first book obviously, but your book by that title, “The School of Greatness.”

Lewis: Yup. So it’s a podcast. It kinda started as well let me try this thing for a year and just see how it goes, once a week. And then it just blew up. And, you know, we get over 1.3 million downloads a month, and then a book deal came out of it, which hit number 2 on the New York Times, which I was super-grateful for.

Mark: That’s awesome.

Lewis: They just kept asking for more. My community was like, “more, give us more of this.” So I created an online academy, and now I’m creating a summit called the “Summit of Greatness.” That’s going to bring everyone together.

Mark: Awesome. I wanna be there.

Lewis: Yeah. Come.

Mark: So tell us about some of the guests and some of the principles that you preach so to speak in the school of greatness.

Lewis: I mean, some of the guests… It’s a wide range. I’ve had everyone from Hollywood directors, guy named Jon Chu who’s got a movie coming out right now called “Now You See Me 2.” Had a lot of meditation experts. Andy Puddicombe who’s the founder of Headspace app, which is one of the biggest apps on meditation. You know, I’ve had Tony Robbins on a couple of times, I’ve had Grammy award winners like Alanis Morissette, I’ve had Ariana Huffington, to top chef, to Tim Ferris to Olympic gold medalists. I mean, for me it’s about spreading the net wide and trying to really find people who are great in all walks of life and that’s what interests me.

Mark: What have been some of the most surprising things that you’ve learned from these guests? Can you think of a couple things that have just really stunned you, or just… made your jaw drop?

Lewis: You mean, all the… The reason I wrote my book was because I started seeing common themes. And I know you do as well with everyone you interview. And I saw these common themes that they all have in common. The thing that’s most powerful… maybe it’s not jaw-dropping maybe it’s more of just like, “Oh yeah, these are things that we’ve all heard that most people don’t execute on.” And, when you break it down it’s so simple, but we make it so challenging sometimes.

And I would say that the biggest jaw-dropping thing is that almost all of the people that I interview were up to big things… And living greatness in my mind… they have such a big heart of service. Their mission is to serve. Even if their goal is to be an Olympic gold medalist, in the process they’re trying to serve other people with their generosity, with their talents, with whatever it may be. But usually the people at the top are giving the most. They have the most joy, the most positive attitude. They have the most love. They want to create the most healing in the world. They wanna create more abundance for people. Whatever it may be, their mission is to serve, and that’s the thing that just made so much sense to me. You know, we were born in this world, we were given so much.

Even if we were born into poverty, or drug addict parents, or whatever issues that we have, we’re born and we don’t even know why we’re born but we’re given this world to explore, to adventure and to discover and learn and acquire things and it’s I believe it’s our duty to give back to the world. You know, the people of the world that gave to us. That’s one of the main things.

Mark: I agree. That is such a powerful driver.

Lewis: Yeah. I’m sure that’s why you are doing three episodes today of your podcast and continue to spend money on something that’s completely free for you. Create content and just educate, inspire and give value because you get to serve people.

Mark: And you can serve a lot of people through digital media, which is pretty cool. And it’s fun to see where it can go. It is a lot of work to offer a lot of free content, but what goes around comes around, and you just trust that it’ll be taken care of. It’s never been about the money for me either.

Lewis: I was going to say another thing…I talk about eight core principles that they kind of all have in common, but I’ll just talk about two. Living a life of service is probably the thing that people I think forget about at some points. You know, you talk about life is chaotic and unpredictable, and when that happens, and listen I’m at fault for this at times too, we get in our own world. We become like… isolate our ideas and our minds and we share how negative things are and how we’re unhappy, and we get upset about things.

And you know, the goal is to have a clear powerful vision. You know, another thing that people have is they have a clear powerful vision of what they want. They don’t focus on what they don’t want or what they lack. They focus on what they’re going to create in the world. And all these people that I’ve connected with, they’ve started with usually it’s some type of pain. Some type of frustration or conflict or pain or problem that they’re trying to solve.

And then they have an idea, in their mind, and they go make it happen. And this idea is their vision. And they’re so crystal clear on who they want to be to create what they want. And you know that’s one of the things that makes these people that I’m sure you interview as well, so interesting and inspiring is their vision to… And it’s usually their vision to serve. Coupled together that’s really powerful.

Mark: Yeah, you said something that would have been easy to miss but it’s such a crucial point is that these successful people, yourself included, they have a vision of who they can be, no necessarily what form that success will take. Because that’s always changing and, the opportunities will come and go as they come and go. But you stay clearly focused on who you are and who you can be and get a clear sense of the potential, the vast potential that lies within you and that will be your guiding North Star everyday as you execute on all the tactical stuff.

Lewis: Exactly.

Spiritual Compass [26:34]

Mark: Have you becoming friends or found any mentors through your networking with this podcast?

Lewis: Oh yeah. I mean, I feel like so many people I’ve had the chance to interview who I’m now close friends with, or even mentors of mine now. Someone who’s become a closer friend, I guy that I didn’t know, I wasn’t even aware of was Rob Bell and he’s a guy you should check out if you don’t already know… He was one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people in the world. And he is a former pastor at a church that he started. Built one of the biggest churches in the country, and kinda left the church to do his own thing. He’s written, I don’t know, like ten New York Times bestsellers, and he’s just kinda like my spiritual compass. He just like reminds me, if I ever falter, really why I’m here and not to get caught up especially in LA not to get caught up. Just to be grounded and loving and giving, so…
But I feel… one of the cool things about doing the podcast is I get to meet all these cool people and then build relationships with them. Many of them are featured in my book, and then luckily a lot of them supported it and promoted me when I needed a favor in return, so it was pretty cool.

Mark: That is really cool. And it’s nice to have, you know, someone who can keep you humble. I think that’s a really important point. Because if you’re not keeping yourself humble or if you don’t have someone who can constantly remind you that, “Hey, it’s about the service and it’s about keeping your feet on the ground and your head out of the air,” then the universe will have a way of smacking us down.

Lewis: Exactly.

Mark: We see that all the time. And we’re just like, “Oops, there goes another one.”

Lewis: Yeah. Exactly.

Daily Practice [28:22]

Mark: So tell us about what you do every day to remain focused, to make good decisions, to stay grounded. So what does your day look like? What are your rituals, and…?

Lewis: For me, I start with gratitude. I think gratitude is the most important thing. And it helps me stay grounded because I’m focusing on again what I already have as opposed to what I don’t have. I’m focusing on the good. Even if I don’t have…I don’t know… even if I have like a little gut, and it’s not a perfect six-pack, I’m not focusing on “Oh, I’m so pissed that I’m not in the best shape of my life right now.” No. I focus on I’m so grateful that I can move and I’m flexible and I’m strong. I focus on the good in my life.

I constantly come from a place of gratitude. You know, it’s the last thing I talk about before I go to bed. I talk to my girlfriend and ask her what three things she’s grateful for from the day. And then I will share what I’m grateful for right before we go to bed. It’s on my voice message, so I say, “If you want a response, tell me what you’re grateful for.”

It’s a daily practice, it’s a way of being it’s something I’m constantly doing. With my team, I’ll ask them what they’re grateful for. I’ll express… and I think that brings in more positivity, brings in more abundance when I’m in that place, as opposed to when I’m negative and coming from a negative mindset. So that’s something that I do every day.
My goal and intention is to work out every single day, and if not then don’t miss two days in a row. If I’m too busy, and I try and do that in the morning. It depends on what I’m training for at the moment, but it’ll either be a run, basketball, a lift or some type of HIIT workout. And the a green juice…

Mark: No more handball?

Lewis: No, I just got back from the national championships yesterday, and we got third place, unfortunately. But the pan-American Championships is next month. And I should know in the next two days whether I’m getting picked up on the team again to play against Argentina and Brazil, who are both going to the Olympics this year.

Mark: Nice. Well good luck with that.

Lewis: Thank you. So then I’ll have a green juice or smoothie in the morning and set my intention for the day after that. And that’s kinda that morning.

Mark: And what do you do, let’s say in the middle of the day, if you just have a huge setback? How do you pull yourself out of it?

Lewis: I take a walk or I go workout. But then it gets, I think for me, because I can be in my workspace all day all night, and just get caught up in it and be in the craziness of it all. And if I don’t take a break, take a walk to clear my mind, then it can kind of be overwhelming. Like I just did a three and half mile jog right before I came to do this interview, because I needed a break midday.

Mark: Yeah. It gets the blood flowing. Just the change in perspective is really good as well.

Lewis: Absolutely.

Mark: We call those spot drills. Getting up and just doing twenty burpees, or like you said, just go for a one mile jog or a brisk walk or, you know, some breathing exercises. You can do those three, four, five times a day. Whenever you’re feeling like, “Okay, I need to change it up.”

Lewis: That’s it.

Adversity [31:47]

Mark: It’s very stimulating. You mentioned something earlier that seemed like most of the-if not all of “The School of Greatness” guests and protegés have come from some either real physical trauma or emotional trauma or some major setback in life. And that proved to be an inflection point for them. Can you talk a little bit about what you learned from these experiences? What do you think it is about that? You know, about coming to this cliff in your life, and like Yogi Berra says, “There’s a fork in the road and you know I gotta take it.” And these really successful people took a fork that brought them to where they are today, but so many other people don’t.

Lewis: Yeah, I think adversity does something interesting for us. It gives us a reason to be held back or spring forward. And it’s that… It’s kinda like our why moment. You know for me… I was picked last on the dodgeball courts on fourth grade recess. I was picked last between all the guys and then all the girls. And then… this isn’t that adverse, but I’m just giving an example… but I remember saying at that point “I’m never gonna get picked last again.” I wanna train myself so this never happens again. You know, sports… I mean, there was a lot of other things that happened, my brother went to prison when I was five, I was raped by a man that I didn’t even know when I was a child, there was all these other things that led to these experiences of me… of this adversity. I’m going to be driven to be someone of value, and that people don’t disrespect, that people aren’t going to pick last, that people aren’t going to sexually abuse. I’m going to matter in the world. So there was a number of adversity moments for me that came up, that kind of like led me to where I’m at now. But I think a lot of people… you know, I mean Tony Robbins he was, grew up poor. Someone at Christmas or Thanksgiving came to his house and gave him a Thanksgiving dinner when they didn’t even have food. And so it’s been his “why” ever since. He’s like, “I’m never going to be hungry again, and I’m gonna make so much money, and when I make all that money I’m going to give back to people who are in my position.” And now he feeds, I don’t know, a million people a year or something through giving back. So you know there’s all these moments of like, singers, directors it’s like, they create something meaningful to them where maybe they were lacking spiritually or physically or sexually or whatever may be at some point. And that becomes their driving force to move forward, but there’s with all the people who are successful out there, there are so many people who go through similar adversity but for whatever reason the fear of looking bad and the fear of failure hold them back instead of moving them forward. So it’s really like a deciding point like, do I wanna move forward in this or do I just wanna keep this perpetuating and be stuck. And that’s the choice for all of us.

And there’s also a lot of successful athletes that I’ve seen who have gotten injured, and either they spring forward, or they fall back and they never get out of it, because they’ve never dealt with something like that, so we have a choice in many areas of our life to either move forward or spring back.

Mark: Yeah. It is a fascinating subject though, and you wonder though, if you trace it back… ultimately though it’s about choice, but you can’t make a choice unless you’re in control of your mind and emotions and most people aren’t.

Lewis: Exactly.

Mark: And then what’s behind that? You could have like… I remember this story of these twins, right? And one was really successful and one was living under a bridge. A reporter found them and interviewed them and the successful guy says, “Well, you know, I didn’t really have any other choice. My father was a complete drunk, an alcoholic and abused us and I had to do this, I had to get away and make something of myself.” You know where this story goes, right? So he goes and finds the guy under the bridge, right, and asks him “What do you attribute your situation to? Your state in life?” And he says, “You don’t understand, I didn’t have a choice, my father was a drunk and an alcoholic and abused me and I didn’t have any other path to take.”

Lewis: Crazy.

Mark: Ultimately it is a choice but what backs that choice is ultimately your spirit or your soul or whatever other word you wanna use. It’s like, if it’s there for you, and you feel that sense of I am underneath all that and you feel that sense of “I am underneath all that,” and you say, “I got this. I can do this.” That’s cool, then you can go forward. But if you don’t feel that sense. If it’s buried in shame or something like that then oftentimes it’s a bridge too far for some people.

Lewis: That’s it. That’s it.

Mark: On that point I wanna bring up a subject that’s probably painful, but you mentioned something very important in your life, and that was being abused. You know, and the emotional shadow of that has a long tail. How have you dealt with that, in your life?

Lewis: I mean, for twenty-five years I didn’t tell a soul. And from five to thirty, no one knew about it except for me. And I actually kind of like brought it up to a sociology professor after class one day in college, as he was talking about statistics of rapes and this and that. And I kind of like mentioned that something happened to me, but I never really fully shared it. It wasn’t until three years ago when I opened up about it and started telling my family and friends. And then I actually opened up about it on my podcast. Which I was terrified to do.

Mark: That took some courage.

Lewis: I mean I was terrified to tell my family, right? I told each one of my family members, and told them, “Is there anything that I could say or do that would make you not love me?” And, that’s kinda like what I did to set it up, because I think I was afraid of them not loving me after they would know. And, I created the most incredible connections with my siblings and my parents after discussing it and a lot of things came up on both sides and they… each one of them shared things that I never knew about _them._ It’s funny when we become vulnerable and open, what we can create in the world is really powerful. And I started sharing with my friends, and again, connection was deeper and deeper with each time I would share it. And each time I would share I felt like it owned me less and less. Like, it was something that controlled me, and I was so guilty of and so ashamed of. That’s why I didn’t want to tell anyone.
And it kinda got to the point, you know, three years later I can talk about it and it doesn’t own me, you know. It’s not like something that’s like this horrible, painful thing to me anymore. Yes it’s horrible, and it was painful. But it doesn’t control me now. And, yeah, I remember doing it on my podcast. I was waiting for like, six months to post it cause I was just terrified. I was like, “What are people gonna think about me? Is it going to ruin my business?” I had no idea. But something kept telling me that I’m gonna help serve a lot of people. And if I come from a place of giving and service, then nothing bad is going to happen to me. Maybe I’d lose a few followers or something, but whatever… I thought it would help more people. And every time I talk about it openly, it’s only proven to create healing for so many people. Because there’s not really many men that I’ve heard of, that talk about being sexually abused or raped at any point. But the challenge is… the statistics show that one in six boys have been sexually abused in some way.

Mark: No kidding.

Lewis: One in six. And that’s the statistic we know about, so…

Mark: That’s the reported statistic.

Lewis: Yes. It’s probably more than that. But it’s just crazy to think about all the men in our lives that we don’t know about who have been… some kind of sexual abuse. And when I started opening up about it, it created a space and permission for so many people to share with me their stories. And for weeks after I posted this I was getting hundreds of emails from people just sharing essays of what had happened to them. And saying, “Thank you for opening up. I’ve held this secret for forty years. My wife doesn’t even know. This is what happened to me. But now you give me the courage to go ‘Let it go.'” And that’s been something that’s really cool, you know… I still have a lot to work on my personal self. In no way am I perfect. Still have a long way to go. to be evolved to where… in full integrity in everything that I do, all these thing. But I’m trying to be the best that I can every day and serve people along the way.

Mark: That’s a powerful story. It’s just bringing up the recent story with Dennis Hastert, you know, here’s this guy who was Speaker of the House, and all the young boys that he abused, and they kept that secret just like you did. But you know what, I really applaud you on that… it’s just an incredible story, and what courage that took and of course, the shame and doubt and fear, of not being loved or being judged. But I can see how just sharing, every time you share it, it’s like bleeding a little air out of a balloon. Where awareness goes, energy flows, and so you’re bringing positive energy to such a negative, dark corner of your life until essentially it’s gone, and you’ve realized that an event that happens to us doesn’t define who we are. To get back to this, that is ultimately eternal beneath everything that’s precious, and no amount of jerks in the world can take that from us.

Lewis: Exactly.

Mark: That’s really powerful. Wow. I mean, I could see that just being, in itself, being a mission.

Lewis: Well it’s funny you say that. I just signed my second book deal. And the title is called the “Mask of Masculinity” and for twenty-five years I was living with a mask, showing people what I wanted them to see about me, but never actually showing them the true, 100% truth of the essence of me. And I wasn’t fully living a lie or something, but I was putting on a mask and showing people what I wanted them to see, without ever really being vulnerable and opening up. And as I started to go through this process over the last three years of being as authentic and vulnerable and compassionate as possible, essentially doing the opposite of what I was trained, and I think most boys in America at least, as athletes are trained again not cry, not show people you’re hurt when you fall down. Never let them see you sweat. All these different things. It didn’t serve me. It didn’t support me. In some ways it drove me to get things, but it left me feeling very empty and unfulfilled inside and lonely. And I never understood why I was lonely inside all the time. And going through this process has really helped me.

I don’t know what they teach SEALs. I don’t know what you guys go through, the type of training. In terms of emotions, what type of emotions you can share. But just from the movies of just like of just calling you guys names all the time at boot camp and like screaming at you and this and that, I don’t know if that’s actually real or not. But I can imagine there’s some of that in there. That’s just like “Don’t be a this, don’t be a that.” You know, whatever.

Mark: There’s… It’s interesting-there is a lot of that-but what I noticed in the Special Ops and I think this is true for most infantry units, is that you end up getting so intimate, and I use that term in a healthy way, you know what I mean? You literally experience a love for your team mates that is not _normal_ in life. So you share things, you cry together, you see team mates bleed and die and you’re willing to lay your life down for your team mates. And I’ve had team mates lay their lives down for my team mates, and that’s powerful. So yes, the boot camp kinda model seems it’s there to develop emotional hardening and resiliency, but ultimately that is so you can get through the chaos of combat, so you can be there for your team mates and have their back. And so there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of that training. It’s powered to develop emotional resiliency and emotional awareness, but it’s not enough, at the same time. I do think that there’s a lot more you can do. I recently did a video series which I haven’t published yet called “Emotional Power.” And I’m excited about it. I just want to go back and rework it cause I think it’s so important, and I’ve had a lot of projects… I want to do it justice, you know what I mean?

Lewis: yeah, yeah.

Mark: Because guys in our country, especially guys, young and old, have no language and no role modeling around emotional development and overcoming emotional adversity and things that brought shame, and anxiety and arrogance into their lives.

Lewis: Well I’m going to have to interview you for my book then. Cause I’m just starting the process, so…

Mark: Right on. I’m in. Hey, a couple weeks ago, we had Steve Weatherford, down here at SEALfit.

Lewis: Yes. Love that guy.

Mark: He’s awesome and I tell you what we crushed him in a workout. He did a _good_ job, because you know, he’s been training a different way. But he did a really good job. I was proud of him. And we were laughing, because he was so out of his element. He took his shirt off, right?

Lewis: He is shredded.

Mark: He’s totally shredded. We figured that he was trying to intimidate us because the guy had like 0.1% body fat.

Lewis: He’s a mutant, dude. He is such a mutant.

Mark: I look fat compared to him, and I’m in really good shape. I was…someone took a picture, and I was like, “What? I look like a frickin’ doughboy compared to Steve cause he’s so ripped.”
Anyway, I brought that up cause I think it’d be fun and you would really enjoy our Kokoro camp. I’ve invited Steve to come down to Kokoro camp. That’s our fifty hour Hell week simulation. It’s non-stop training for fifty hours.

Lewis: Oh my gosh. No sleep?

Mark: No. No. Who needs sleep?

Lewis: Oh my gosh. How do you get through it?

Mark: Well you do. It’s just one of those things. The whole point is to learn… or to prove to yourself that you’re capable of so much more, and it’s experienced in what we call the five mountains. Physically, mentally, emotionally, intuitionally and spiritually. So we train those throughout the camp, but you kind of go through those in layers, until really it is your spirit and the team spirit that’s getting you through. It’s an extraordinary experience.

Lewis: So two days, no sleep and like, full…

Mark: And yeah, you’re not sitting around knitting either. I mean, it’s non-stop arduous training, you know?

Lewis: Oh my goodness. Are you doing the training? Are you doing the workshop?

Mark: I have twenty different certified coaches and so at any one Kokoro camp, depending on the number of enrolled people, we have maybe four Navy SEALs, SEALfit coaches and a couple of civilians who I’ve trained up over the years…

Lewis: Do they sleep?

Mark: The coaches do, yeah. But I tell you what. We’re on number forty… oh gosh I’m forgetting… forty-three since 2008. And for the first twenty-five to thirty I was up for all fifty hours. I don’t need to do anything more so I don’t.

Lewis: You’ve done enough.

Mark: I’ve paid my dues. I would love to get you and Steve down to do that. We’ll get some cameras rolling and it’d be a hoot.

Lewis: How much weight do people lose over those fifty hours?

Mark: You know what, quite a bit, but it’s mostly water weight, and it bounces back. It’s really extraordinary, it’s the kind of thing you want to train for. You want to spend six to nine months training for. You don’t want to go into it cold. Because you’ve got to do a lot of running…

Lewis: You could really hurt yourself, maybe.

Mark: You could, yeah, and so we usually have about 30% of the people who enroll don’t make it through. But our intention is to get everyone through. It’s not like SEAL training where they’re intention is to make sure you don’t get through unless you’re one of the superhuman, studs in the world. But it’s pretty cool.

Lewis: Yeah, I would love to train for that sometime. Once handball’s all done, I’ll be… I’m all about it.

Mark: You’ll be looking for your next challenge.

Lewis: Exactly. I’m gonna need something, man. I’ll be bored… that’s awesome man, I’m really excited.

Mark: Cool. Well, we’ll keep you posted. It was super-neat to meet you Lewis and to hear your story. So, your next book… it sounds like you’ve got some time. So folks, right now, they should go look for “School of Greatness” on Amazon or where they should they go to find out more about you?

Lewis: Yeah, they can go to Amazon or just and you can get the information there as well.

Mark: That’s where your podcast is too I’d imagine.

Lewis: Yup.

Mark: Okay. Awesome. We’ll look forward to your new book, which will probably take you off into new vistas.

Lewis: It’ll be amazing.

Mark: Yeah. It sounds cool. I look forward to watching that journey. And let me know if I can help in any way.

Lewis: I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on Mark.

Mark: You bet. My pleasure. All right folks that’s it. You just heard from Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness. How cool. What a neat guy. I’m super-stoked to have done this call with him, and I look forward to more connection with Lewis. You know the deal everyone, train hard, and stay focused. Do the work everyday and then it’ll work for you. If you don’t, then stand by, you’ll start sliding backward, so do the work. It’s not that hard. Just a little bit a day. Just be disciplined and focused. And if you are hearing this for the first time, then get on our email list. Go to and rate us on iTunes.

Coach Divine out.


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