If you have big goals but you’re going through hard times, you’re not alone. I was 20 and had everything I’d dreamed of. 4 book deals. A fancy car. Living in LA. Two years later, I lost everything but $23. Here are 5 things I learned from losing everything and what I did to get it all back.
I’ve kept a secret from you, and almost everyone else I know, for about 6 years, and now I want to tell it to you because I think it’s important in case you’re like me.
My life has been stranger than I think I’m able to realize because I’ve lived through it, so it all seem normal, until I tell a story that to me is only mildly interesting but to other people is quite bizarre.
Not many people know that I grew up on a goat farm in Texas and I’m not sure how many people believe it when I tell them, especially now that I’m living in Los Angeles, where there ARE no goats.
Like a lot of people, I’ve always had big dreams for what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my biggest dream as a teenager was to become a published author. So when I was 14, I had an idea for a book, started writing it, and kept writing it for 5 or 6 years.
Of course since we were on a farm, my writing time had to work around the goat’s schedule, which looks like — 6 AM, wake up, eat, 6:02 AM, yell blaaaaaaa, and repeat until the sun sets.
So every morning around 5 AM, I’d crawl out of bed and start typing out notes for my weird book ideas. Then I’d milk the goats, start school since we were homeschooled, feed the chickens and cows and pigs and ducks and the goats again, then try to squeeze in some more writing time before I went to bed. And even then, I’d usually be tapping out more of my books on my Palm Pilot, letter by letter, just like Shakespeare did.
There wasn’t any promise that at the end of all that writing I’d even reach what I wanted, but the dream of being a published author kept me going, and writing, and rewriting, all these millions of words and hundreds of chapter drafts.
Maybe writing was an escape. I was homeschooled so I didn’t see many kids my age. We lived 15 minutes down a dirt road with a barbed wire fence surrounding our house, so I didn’t have much interaction with the outside world. So I wrote a story about an alternate universe where magic is real but it’s illegal, and this kid with a weird name who was homeschooled and didn’t have much interaction with the outside world and lived in a city surrounded by a wall to keep the gnomes out.
You write what you know.
Then I got myself a book deal… and another one.
When you spend a third of your life dreaming of doing something big, you start to look at your chances of accomplishing it more realistically, so it was still such a huge surprise to me when I got the call that I scribbled this in big letters in my notebook.
I am going to be an author. Is this real life? Dreams DO come true?
So I packed my bags, and moved from Texas to Los Angeles, California, because there are no goats here, except in my nightmares.
My experience was better than most first-time authors because schools and bookstores loved the story of a teenager who wrote a book, and they all wanted me to come tell my story and hopefully inspire kids into seeing that… hey, if you start writing at 14, you too can be an author!
So I did a huge national book tour and everything was awesome. Plus I got paid. I even bought a fancy BMW because I was all cool and LA now, and I’d made it… right? I was 21. I’d reached my dream. I had a career I loved. And when you’ve gotten everything you dreamed of, what dreams do you have left to reach for?
So I stopped reaching. I put all my eggs into that one basket: I’m gonna be an author, like I always dreamed. And dreams are all you need, right?
Contracts in writing: not worth much if they have bigger lawyers than you.
I lasted about two years before it all hit me. I’d signed four book deals, I’d grown what back then was a huge following online (thanks to you), and suddenly I found myself with only 23 dollars in my bank account. Everything else was just gone.
I sold a bunch of my stuff. I dropped the lease on my LA apartment because I couldn’t afford the rent, and I ran to Arizona.
My new fancy BMW had to sit parked outside melting because I couldn’t even afford to fix the battery.
One day I had to choose between feeding myself and feeding my chinchilla, and pets can’t skip meals just because their owner is suddenly poor, so guess who ate that day?
Where did I go wrong? I’d worked hard, dreamed big, and somehow I’d ended up worse than before.
And the worst thought was… what if someone finds out?
Here I was going on my second book tour as an “inspirational speaker”, talking in front of thousands kids and teens about how they should follow their dreams, while my dreams had turned into nightmares about electric company goons collecting past due payment in the form of my fingers, which I kinda need to write those book things.
If those kids found out that chasing my dreams led to failure, would that make them afraid to chase theirs?
So I kept it all a secret, and I lived a double life of signing more books than actual paychecks.
I was rags to riches… to rags again. That’s not how the story is supposed to go.
And truthfully… that’s where the problem started.
Life isn’t a storybook while you’re living it. Stories have beginnings and middles and ends. No matter where you are in life, you’re always somewhere in the middle.
No one cares about all the work and the time and the dreaming someone does to become successful. People only see the end result — the skyscraper that was built after countless delays, or the book that you finished after 43 drafts, or the person you marry after dating a dozen others.
My biggest mistake was reaching my goals, and then not setting new ones.
I thought my dreams would keep me alive, and if I gave in and got another job, I’d be giving up on everything I’d worked for since I was a teenager. But when I looked at the number 23 in my bank account, I knew something wasn’t right. I could keep holding on to that raft and hope something would save me, or I could jump off and start swimming.
I also liked doing website design, and there are a lot more design jobs than author jobs, so I started looking. I was so desperate I answered an ad on Craigslist for a cheap website designer, and thankfully I got it.
My new boss liked what I did so he set me up with a full-time job that got all my bills paid, my car fixed, and food back in my apartment – for me and my chinchilla. Later that same boss convinced me to try something new by taking all of the stuff I learned from YouTube and writing and designing and put it all together as an online marketing consultant for companies.
That business led to bigger business, which led to me moving back to Los Angeles, which led to me going to Vidcon, which led to me meeting my wife, which led to… now.
Six years later, I’m back in LA, I own a company, I’m back to writing another book, and I’m married with two kids — I mean two puppies.
All of this because I failed.
If things hadn’t gone wrong, I’d still be living at my old apartment, thinking I’d “made it” when I hadn’t.
If I hadn’t been unable to pay my rent, I never would have moved to Arizona and met the people who pushed me to try new ideas.
If I hadn’t been left with $23, I never would have been forced to faced my fear of failure and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.
Owning an Internet company wasn’t my goal. It wasn’t my dream when I was 14 or on a farm in Texas. But being forced by failure to step outside my comfort zone led to the most profitable work I’ve ever had, and now I’m free to write books again.
If I never failed, I never would have picked myself back up again.
Here are five things I learned from losing everything:
Dreams are imaginary, and this is the real world. Don’t let your imaginary dreams get in the way of your real life success. Dreams are fuel for the hard work and dedication you need to succeed. If you aren’t willing to take risks and fail and then get up again and adapt so you can take more risks, then you’re wasting your dreams on a broken machine, just like I was.
Learn to enjoy the pain of failure. The worse a failure hurts, the less likely you are to make that mistake again when the stakes are much higher. It’s smarter to gamble and lose and learn from it when you have $100 before you gamble and lose when you have a million dollars. When I make a mistake now, I hope it hurts so I remember it next time.
Don’t ever think you’ve “made it.” Don’t think your first million gives you a pass to stop working. When you reach your goals, set new goals so you always have something to work for. If you don’t have a project to work on, invent a new project to keep you doing something.
Sometimes the dream you had isn’t the dream that’ll get you where you want to go. It might seem like taking a detour is giving up on the road to your dreams, but it might be the best path around the roadblock you’re facing. As long as you keep moving forward, every step is still one step closer to your goal.
Don’t ever think you’ve failed too hard to make a comeback.
This is how much money I had in 2010. If you have this and dreams and dedication and you’re ready to work hard, you can come back from anything too.