8 things I learned the hard way


You can usually figure out what really needs to be discussed by paying careful attention to what people aren’t talking about.

I want to share 8 things that I had to learn the hard way that have gone on to make a real difference in my life.

I wish I learned these things in school because they help me understand how the world works, and we can use them to create happiness, confidence, and connection, and that’s far more important than calculus or the nightly news.

1) There is nothing wrong with you

The self help industry and virtually every marketer ever has a lot to gain by making you think there is something wrong with you and that you need to buy their shit to fix yourself.

The truth is, you’re awesome. Don’t forget that.

Is there room for improvement within you? Of course. At least there is for me. No one is perfect. But is there something critically wrong with you? Highly, highly unlikely.

Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with you, try focusing on what’s great about you. That’s a far healthier approach and one that that is much closer to your true human nature.

2) Slow is smooth and smooth is fast

I ran into a friend from high school the other day. He asked me how I built my business so quickly. I almost did a spit take. It wasn’t quick at all. Here’s what really happened with Ignited Leadership in the first four years:

Year 1: I lost $12,000 more than I had, and had like 6 clients

Year 2: I made enough money to pay my bills, but only if I ate pasta and red sauce nearly every night and declined over 90% of the invitations to grab dinner/drinks/coffee with friends. I had roughly 15 clients.

Year 3: pretty much the same as year 2 except I had enough income so that I was able to go out with friends about 50% of the time. I think I even saved $100 for retirement. I had about 20 clients.

Year 4: only around year 4 did the business start to produce any sort of real influence or income. Finally I had more clients than I could handle.

Year 4 was also right around when people started asking, “Hey man, what’s your secret?”

The secret? There is no secret. There is no easy way. There are no shortcuts. Life hacks are a joke. The fastest, most efficient way to get to where you want is to go the hard way. If there really were an easier way to success, everyone would be successful. The trick is to sit down each day and do the work. The hard work. The work no one else is willing to do. That’s how you succeed.

If you can, figure out how to enjoy the ride while you’re on it. That will make the process more pleasant. If you can, figure out how to focus on your effort and not your results. With right effort, right results will eventually follow. You can’t control the results, only the effort, so it makes much more sense to focus on effort and trust that the results will follow.

3) The world looks like whatever you focus on

In any given moment, we are exposed to far more stimulation than we can actually take in. So our focus works with our consciousness to filter out the vast majority of the world, and whatever is left over is what the world ends up looking like.

Most of us use reactive focus. Our phone rings, we answer. Our boss tells us to do something, we do it. Something’s on TV, we watch it. When we do that, we are forever slaves to whatever siren blares the loudest and that makes the world appear chaotic and unmanageable.

With work you can develop controlled focus. Use silence, reflection, or meditation to become aware of your thinking and inner monologue. Practice ignoring inbound focus destroyers like emails and texts and train your focus on the parts of yourself and the world that you want to cultivate.

You’ll notice that as you light up new parts of your focus, you will be able to control your perception of the world and that will give you the ability to shape your life and your reality.

4) Success tends to magnify your problems

One of the most common myths that people fall victim to is the expectation that “success” (money and status) will make them happy and solve their problems. It wont.

Success magnifies problems. I found this out when I built Ignited Leadership to a level way beyond anything I ever expected, and then physically and emotionally collapsed several months later (more here).

If you don’t already like yourself, no external force will change that. You have to work on you. The most important thing you can work on is learning to love yourself. Everything flows from there.

And your problems? Those are solved by acknowledging and addressing them head on.

Your best bet: invest in yourself first, especially your physical and mental health. If you build a life for yourself that you enjoy, not only will success become less important, it will also, zenfully, be more accessible.

5) Your rough edges are what make you attractive

One of my clients is an insanely, insanely successful man. When he first started succeeding he bought expensive cars and wore expensive suits. Despite that, he was actually more comfortable – and more authentic – wearing jeans and a black t-shirt.

Recently, he was looking through photos and noticed that in all of the photos where he was forcing himself to show off his wealth (the cars, the suits, etc.) he was alone, and in many of the photos where he was being authentic (the jeans, the shirt) he was with friends. This is not a coincidence.

Society has trained us to polish our rough edges. We don’t fart in public, we do hide our insecurities (often from ourselves), and we curate our social media to make our lives look way more interesting than they actually are.

The unconscious narrative that we’ve been fed is that perfection is possible, and the closer we get to perfection, the more attractive we’ll be.

In fact, the exact opposite is true. When you show the world who you truly are, you will become more attractive in every sense of the word.

What we all crave is a human in her raw form, showing us who she truly is. That’s the most sincere expression of confidence and humanity, and it’s exactly what will draw the right type of people to you.

Your challenge: show the world your rough edges.

6) You are directly responsible for your physical and mental health

It’s criminal that no one ever clearly tells us this at some point along the way, so let me make this clear: you are directly responsible for your physical and mental health.

I wish we lived in a more compassionate society where we could lean on one another, but for most of us, that’s not the case.

Personally, I learned this the hard way when I collapsed after a national speaking tour (yes, I’m aware of the irony here…).

So a few rules of thumb, and if you get these, you’ll be at least 80% fine:

  • Get 8+ hours of sleep per night
  • Exercise at least moderately 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week
  • Take good care of your diet (and if you’re going to eat the donuts – which is perfectly reasonable from time to time – eat a handful of greens first)
  • And this is the big one for most people: if you think you may be able to benefit from a mental health professional, then schedule the appointment now. Like, this moment now.

7) It’s normal, even healthy, to go through bad times

When I came home from my first big stint travelling the world I went into a huge funk. I spent several moths doing little besides sleeping in my parent’s basement, playing guitar hero, and drinking Jack Daniels. Occasionally I’d go attend a class or call a friend, but mostly I wasn’t motivated to do anything of any substance.

I felt like something was wrong with me. The self-help industry makes it seem like it’s possible to be happy all the time. Only later did I realize that this was bullshit and that it’s perfectly normal to go through bad times in life.

I’ve learned that it’s not possible to be happy all the time. As humans, we are relative creatures; the light helps us understand the darkness, the highs help us understand the lows.

The important part is to remember that everyone goes through peaks and valleys. When you’re down, lean on your people. Let them lean on you when they’re down. If it’s really bad, get help.

But if you’re not happy 24/7, don’t worry. It’s ok to not be ok from time to time. In fact, it’s normal.

8) There is massive power hidden within silence

Society is noisy these days. There is a constant wirr of phones and texts and emails and background music and work and blog posts (yes, even this one) and a million other things.

The constant input clutters our consciousness and detaches us from ourselves.

Every now and then, sit in silence in a dark room and remain completely quiet. Let your thoughts and vision cultivate themselves. You’ll be struck first by the chaos inside of your head, and then by the calm, power, and beauty resting beneath the surface within yourself.


Photo credit: “1980’s” by Vladmir Fedotov

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4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “8 things I learned the hard way”

  1. Bill McGuirk October 21, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Jason, I continue to be impressed by your honest and articulate approach to life in general and leadership in particular. Your writing style, informing/advising through deeply personal experiences gives so much “clout” to your message. It is abundantly clear to me that you have made such a positive impact on so many, and have made many sacrifices along the way. You live your life as I remember you doing back in your high school days, compassionately and thoughtfully. Thank you for being Jason. Thank you for giving such sound advise to so many. Keep up the good work, and yes, take time for yourself and to connect with family and friends!

    • Jason October 22, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Mr. McGuirk – you have put the biggest smile on my face. Thank you. I work my hardest to be sincere, vulnerable – and hopefully valuable – on this blog and on stage. To hear feedback like this from you, a man who has deeply influenced my personal approach to life and leadership…. I’m speechless. Thank you. Thank you for the kind words, and for being a phenomenal role model for me. You have made my day in ways you’ll never know.

  2. Diane Connell October 30, 2014 at 2:53 am

    Jason, the end of your blog was read during both Contemplations in my Tranquility Yoga class last week”

    “The constant input clutters our consciousness and detaches us from ourselves. Every now and then, sit in silence in a dark room and remain completely quiet. Let your thoughts and vision cultivate themselves. You’ll be struck first by the chaos inside of your head, and then by the calm, power, and beauty resting beneath the surface within yourself.”

    This week students were still talking about your message, and asking for your website. Thank your for honest and genuinely good advice!

    • Jason October 30, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      That’s awesome, thanks for sharing!

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