It’s been almost four years since I was abruptly fired from the company I co-founded and forced to hit the reset button, Jerry Maguire-style, on my entire life.
Since then, I’ve rebuilt my show, started a family, and created a much stronger brand and business. In every conceivable way, these have been the best four years of my life. Daunting at times, sure. Stressful, definitely. But also eye-opening, exciting, and super fulfilling.
Adversity has a way of laying bare what really matters in a way that success does not. Don’t get me wrong: I love doing well, I like making money, and I’d rather be thriving than struggling. But it’s only when things go sideways that we’re really forced to confront the reality of our lives. What we’re doing. Whom we’re doing it with. Why we’re doing it in the first place. Failure forces introspection and evolution.
Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me. I know that sounds like a cliché, a hyperbolic stance to rationalize the struggle. In fact, everyone I talked to during this chapter told me I’d eventually feel this way, which I found super annoying at the time. But they turned out to be absolutely right.
Because over the past four years, I’ve learned a few lessons that have changed the way I think, work and make sense of life. They now show up in everything I do on a daily basis, so I figured I’d get them down and share them with you.
Starting with the discovery that…
Starting over is never really starting over.
When I got the boot from my old show, I felt that I lost everything I had built over the last 11 years. My audience, my company, my income, my brand, my routine — they were all gone. On some level, I felt like I had lost myself.
If you’ve never been through something like this, take my word for it: It’s terrifying.
I spent two weeks on the couch having something akin to a cosmic freakout. Then, with some tough love and incredible support from my wife and my team, I finally decided to get up and get back to work.
Book a few guests. Conduct some interviews. Write an article. Guest on other people’s podcasts. Spread the word that I was launching a new show.
One foot in front of the other. Grasping in the dark.
And the moment I got back to work, I suddenly realized that there were a ton of assets that I hadn’t lost. Assets that were actually impossible to lose.
Skills. Experience. Reputation. Taste. Relationships. (Especially relationships.)
Once I booked my first guest — who, funnily enough, turned out to be Frank Abagnale, mascot of reinvention — I found that I was still sitting in front of a microphone, with the same experience, the same knowledge, the same passion. Hell, even renewed passion.
When I sat down to write my first article — not coincidentally, a piece about how to avoid suffering — I found I still had thoughts about the world, and they were even clearer.
And when I appeared as a guest on other people’s shows, I now had an even more compelling story to tell — about the loss I had just experienced, how I was rebuilding, and what I was learning in the process.
A lot had changed, of course. And I was beyond stressed. Starting over ain’t easy.
But I could still do great show prep. I could still ask good questions. I could still use my voice. I could still market my show.
And the more I tapped into those assets, the more it started to feel like the greater part — the more important part — of my life was still intact.
There’s no such thing as a total loss. No matter what happens to you in life, you’re always building on previous assets.
This is true even when you shift from one industry to another, one role to another, one lifestyle to another.
You might lose your job as a fitness trainer and find yourself unable to work at a gym again. But you can still teach people physical skills. You can still assess a client’s needs. You can still apply your knowledge about the body and mind to help people succeed. That foundation might take you into teaching, coaching, therapy, athletics — anywhere your skills find a new application.
Similarly, you might find yourself divorced without a partner to turn to later in life. But you still have the experience of partnering. You still have the capacity for intimacy. You still have many of the friends, family, memories, and rituals you gained during your marriage. That experience might lead you into a new relationship, a new calling, or a new connection with the people around you.
There’s no such thing as square one.
Crises force innovation. When you’re robbed of your usual avenues to apply your skills, you’re pressed to hunt for new ones. Or to find a new way to capitalize on your skills in another arena. Or to appreciate them in a whole new way.
And the same principle applies to careers, relationships, life stages, hobbies, and health. Beneath the shifting circumstances of our lives, there’s a layer of assets that are untouchable.
Success, as fun as it is, is usually stasis. And adversity, as painful as it is, is growth — if you take inventory of the gifts at your disposal.
Which, by the way, is as good a definition of gratitude as any.
We’re not naturally good at valuing our skills.
During those two weeks on the couch, a few thoughts kept playing on a loop in my head.
Is it really possible to rebuild?
If so, do I even have the skills to get back to where I was?
Do I need other people to get there? Who? And how do I convince them to work with me?
And maybe my favorite one:
It’s too late for me. I’m not cut out for this. I’m doomed.
I really believed that. My whole story made me feel hopelessly under-equipped for the task ahead. What did I really know how to do? Plug in a mic and crack dad jokes while lobbing questions at people way more interesting than me?
Like I said, it was a rough couple of weeks.
But once I got down to rebuilding, I realized just how useful my weird hodgepodge of skills actually was.
Strategy, marketing, hosting, networking, researching, planning — these don’t fit into a tidy job description, but they’re the foundation of everything I do. They’re immensely valuable skills. I just didn’t appreciate that before because I took them for granted. When you’re drowning, you fixate on finding a life raft, instead of remembering all the different ways you know to swim.
We tend to overvalue skills we don’t have and undervalue skills we do have.
I’m not sure why. There’s probably a cognitive bias or two that explains this phenomenon. It’s kind of like how someone who’s good with numbers will say, “I can do these calculations in my head, it’s not that hard,” but then they’ll read something you’ve written and go, “I could never do that.”
I’ve seen this tendency in myself, and I see it all the time in people going through a major transition. They wish they were smarter, more qualified, more advanced, more strategically located, more connected, better-looking — whatever it is — instead of taking stock of all the assets they do have, and figuring out how to put them together in a compelling way.
Sure, there’s always more to learn and accomplish, you can always get better, and you should. But you can only get better by drawing on the arrows in your quiver right now — not by obsessing about the ones you can’t possibly have yet.
And one of the most powerful arrows you do have is the people around you.
Relationships are everything.
I know I bang on about how important networking is, so I won’t belabor this point. But as anyone who’s gone through a huge loss will tell you, it’s the people in your life who determine the quality of your experience, who help you survive and find a path forward.
Strong relationships are another asset that tend to survive adversity. In fact, they’re probably the most durable asset you have. Short of some catastrophic hit to your reputation, it’s possible to lose everything in your life except your network.
Sure, you might not be able to hit up your old boss or your previous customers when you get fired from your sales gig (although I’ve seen great networkers who have managed to pull that off). There will probably be some subset of people who stop talking to you when you get fired or divorced or leave a certain community.
But you can still stay close with many of your colleagues, vendors, clients, mentors, peers — whomever you built a meaningful connection with along the way. Or you can use the loss to form even stronger relationships with new people. If you invest in them the right way, those connections will weather almost any setback.
In fact, good relationships tend to grow even stronger during a crisis. Adversity accelerates closeness.
During my reset, I turned in a major way to the relationships I had spent the previous 10+ years building. I didn’t have any choice. I needed help.
So I got on the phone. I told people my story. I asked for advice, guidance, introductions. I offered my time, my energy, my connections. I put myself in a position to be supported — and by doing so, I discovered I was supported, more than I ever could have imagined.
Of course, a ton of hard work went into building that network over the years. This wasn’t an accident. But it was only when I truly needed my friends that I discovered just how crucial great relationships are. (I’d been preaching the importance of digging the well before you get thirsty for years, but I never thought I’d actually be this thirsty! That’s when I understood that a killer network is priceless.)
The people around you are hands-down your greatest strength. A thriving network is more important than money, status, or experience.
If you ever want to find out which is more important — money or relationships — then a crisis is a great way to find out. I promise you, the people in your network will always do more for you than the number in your bank account. Money is just a reflection of other forms of capital.
You could get canned, you could get sued into oblivion, you could lose your house in a flood — but you can, in most cases, get those things back.
But if your reputation takes a serious hit, or you drive people away, or you lose your capacity for connection, that’s when you’re really in trouble. (Unless you can retire immediately and don’t care about having friends. But then what’s the point of being successful?)
Take your relationships seriously. Invest in the people around you. Form meaningful bonds. Choose people who share your values and reciprocate your generosity.
These people will be your safety net, your insurance policy, and your way back. They’ll also keep you from going completely insane in the meantime.
Take the time to process a loss — but no longer than necessary.
My two weeks on the couch taught me a lot. Mostly, that I don’t like lying around on the couch all that much.
But because I had just lost a huge piece of my life, it felt necessary. I had to process what I had just been through, to feel all the feels — confusion, anger, despair, anxiety — and, if I can be a little dramatic here, to mourn that loss.
I had to move through that stage of the experience. We all do. If you try to suppress your feelings, “hack” them, or just soldier through, they will find a way to express themselves somewhere else. You’ll be in line at Trader Joe’s a year later and explode at the cashier for double-charging you for wasabi peanuts or whatever, or you’ll get rejected from a job interview and start crying in the middle of your Crossfit class. Obviously not ideal.
There’s a trend in our culture right now — especially in the toxic rise-and-grind hustle tribe — that anyone who complains is being self-indulgent or wasting time.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. This glorification of repressing your feelings is pure hustle culture bullshit. You’re supposed to process your emotions if something horrendous happens to you. A big part of mourning is accepting the loss, fully feeling that wound, and coming to terms with your situation. That doesn’t make you weak. It makes you healthy, functional, and resilient.
So allow yourself to acknowledge the thoughts and feelings that come up after a major loss. They’re normal, they’re necessary, and they require some airtime.
That said, it’s also very tempting to indulge that mourning process. There is such a thing as over-processing.
At a certain point, sitting with certain feelings isn’t productive grieving anymore. It’s self-protecting, wallowing, and self-pitying. And it can contribute to a persistent victim identity.
It’s important to give yourself the time to hurt, despair, and make sense of a professional loss — but no longer than is absolutely necessary.
You’ll know when that time comes. Your thoughts will begin to shift, your energy levels will change, you can often feel it in your body.
At that point, your job is to get back up and start putting one foot in front of the other. It could be two weeks or two months — tragedies hit different people in different ways, of course — but that moment will eventually come.
Does that mean you won’t still struggle with negative feelings? Of course not. Does that mean you shouldn’t be kind and patient with yourself? Absolutely not.
What it does mean is that you can experience whatever feelings come up and still act. The ability to keep going even while you’re still processing an experience is a kind of superpower.
Now, if you find yourself struggling to summon the will to keep going, then you might need some extra support. If you lose your job and stay in bed for four months, or you break up with your business partner and you can’t open up to new people, then it’s time to reach out for help.
Therapy is where it’s at. You need it even if you don’t want to need it. In fact, starting therapy during a major transition is an excellent time to begin analysis. There’s so much to explore, and so many productive ways to apply what you learn. (And if you’re looking for a good place to find someone to talk to, then I always recommend BetterHelp.)
But you can also find that support and insight from the people in your network. Opening up to trusted friends and mentors is yet another way that processing a setback can actually bring you closer to the people in your life — which gives you an even stronger foundation to build on.
And talking things out will also give you a whole new lens on your situation, because…
Adversity puts everything into perspective.
I usually want to punch people who say this. I know it’s corny. But it’s true. Here’s what I mean.
Loss is a chance to radically reevaluate your life.
Losing my company made me realize how many assets I still had. But it also made me question why I had been clinging so hard to the assets I lost.
For a good 10 years, I felt I needed to be tethered to my old company, my old partners, my old business model. I thought I needed the brand, the curriculum, the following that came with them. I enjoyed the security of being part of that world. These structures were comforting, and I largely equated them with success.
Then, when they were taken away from me, I was forced to find out who I was without them.
And I’m not going to lie — the first couple of months were pretty scary. Try reconnecting with your fans when you’ve lost your huge Twitter account, or giving a corporate talk without a brand to back you up, or investing in a new venture when you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from. It’s pretty demoralizing.
But then something interesting happened. I began to realize that many of the things I thought were so important — stability, attention, money — weren’t nearly as important as I thought. In fact, a lot of those assets seemed trivial now that they were gone. And the fact that I was successfully rebuilding without them only confirmed that I had been prioritizing the wrong things.
What mattered to me now was a shorter list of more meaningful assets and experiences. Creating a great show. Forming a deeper relationship with my audience. Getting to know other people who overcame adversity. Spending lots of quality time with my family.
I wasn’t just adapting to this new period. I was reevaluating my most fundamental values.
You can only truly understand what matters to you by losing something big.
In the aftermath of a crisis, the things that are truly important become more important, and the things that only seemed important become less important. That’s another gift of being dealt a huge blow — the ability to see yourself more clearly.
And I’ve seen this play out with tons of people over the years.
I have super successful “internet marketer” acquaintances, for example, whose businesses were decimated when Google changed its algorithm. Overnight, their impressions plummeted, the gravy train stopped, and they suddenly had to scramble to cover their obscenely lavish lifestyles.
The friends who questioned their needs and recalibrated their lives made it through that shift and built even stronger businesses. The ones who fought tooth and nail to hang onto their mansions all took a huge hit, and most of them are now peddling their skills to dubious agencies and shady MLMs. When really, it would have done them good to ask themselves if owning 17 classic cars they never drive is really the best idea in the world.
When you lose a big piece of your life, you often discover that you didn’t really want what you had anyway. Or that you didn’t really need it as desperately as you thought you did. Or, if you did need it, that you didn’t value it the way you should have. And if you ever get it back, you’ll appreciate it way more.
Being at the bottom also makes you treasure the most basic assets at your disposal. Your relationships. Your skills. Your interests. Your curiosity. Your creativity.
It’s easy — tragically easy — to discount just how damn powerful these things are when life is going well. When it stops going well, they become everything.
Now that I’m out of the other side, my order of priority in life is basically this: Family first, friends and peers second, interesting experiences third, money fourth. And obviously, these are all connected, they all inform one another, and some days they jostle for attention.
But I don’t spend every hour of every day trying to figure out how to milk as much ad revenue out of my show. I know that the money I make is just a means to having more time with my family, creating meaningful experiences, and investing in the people around me.
Loss is a bitch. No doubt about it. But it’s also an opportunity for different things in life — and a different relationship with the things we ultimately decide to keep. That’s because…
Rebuilding is always an option.
I’m about to get a little Zen, but since I’ve been through the wringer here, I feel like I’ve earned the right to be “that” guy for a minute.
The stuff you can lose on a material level — money, status, location, lifestyle, even health to some degree — was never really yours to begin with. And that stuff never truly defines you. Not in a real, fundamental way.
At the same time, virtually everything you can lose on the material level can be rebuilt or reacquired. It might take a long time, or look different from the way it used to, or operate in a new way. But you can recreate virtually anything you lose.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this. If you lose your house in a flood in a third-world country, it might be impossible to get your house back. If your spouse dies in a tragic accident, you’ll never experience that person the same way again. I’m not glossing over the fact that there are profound and irrevocable losses in life.
But even in the most gut-wrenching losses, there’s usually the possibility of renewal in some form. You might never get your house back, but you can probably find or build shelter again. You might never get your spouse back, but you can still find love and connection in various forms with other people. And these losses will probably make those future assets even more precious.
That doesn’t make these struggles easy. It doesn’t make them fair. But it can make them meaningful.
Now when I talk to someone who’s struggling, I ask them what they’ve truly lost, and why it matters. They’ll tell me that they lost their company, their savings account, their home — all of which is undoubtedly traumatic. But in most cases, they haven’t lost their talent, their ambition, their creativity. They haven’t lost their family, their peers, their purpose. I’d be really worried if you lost those, I tell them. Once you lose those things, then there’s something to really worry about. But in my experience, it’s pretty hard to lose those permanently, too.
And even if you do, that can be another gift, because…
Failure is a boon to purpose.
When I decided to rebuild my show, I also discovered just how sturdy my purpose really was. I was still fired up about talking to successful people, I still felt compelled to share their secrets with the world, and I still found a ton of meaning in that mission.
In fact, learning from remarkable people became even more urgent during my reset, because I needed their wisdom more than ever.
It’s a weird paradox, but having my purpose snatched away from me brought me even closer to my purpose. Because in reality, only the vehicle for my purpose had been snatched away. The raw material of my purpose remained. I could always create a new vehicle.
For other people, though, going through a huge loss can alter or even destroy their purpose. And as scary as it is, that can be healthy, too.
Those internet marketing friends I mentioned are a great example. After the whole Google algorithm change, a few of them realized that coming up with clever ways to make people click a link and buy a product wasn’t actually their life’s calling. After wandering in the wilderness for a while, they took their skills to more gratifying roles, more noble companies, more altruistic missions.
Losing their cash cow broke the spell. It forced them to confront what truly lit them up. The ones who embraced their crisis managed to pivot to a deeper purpose. The ones who clung to their old purpose in spite of the facts suffered and stalled. Or they managed to find new ways to make money off of strangers on the internet, and now they’re friggin’ miserable.
People talk a lot about how purpose leads to success. What they don’t talk about is how purpose can also lead to failure — and how that failure is often the soil your purpose needs to grow deeper roots, or to evolve into something else. The difference between adversity making or breaking your purpose is how you process it, how you make meaning out of it, how you learn what it’s trying to tell you.
For some people, that’s terrifying. Me, I find it exciting. I like remembering that purpose is one of those indestructible assets. It can change states, but it’s still the same raw matter. And if it survives a major loss, then it’s pointing the way to something even more fulfilling. Which, if you think about it, is yet another gift in the aftermath of a crisis.
[Featured image by Brett Jordan]