Lewis Howes, New York Times bestselling author and host of the wildly successful School of Greatness podcast, was named one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under 30. He went from making $250 a week and living on his sister’s couch to being described as one of the five internet gurus who can make you rich. Bullied in school and challenged academically, Lewis joined Glenn in studio to talk about his amazing journey and the playground pivot point that drove him to success.
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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
Glenn: School of greatness, one of the top podcast, over 30 million downloads, detail magazine calls Lewis Howes one of the five Internet gurus who can make you rich. Named one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under 30. At 33, he has built and sold several multimillion-dollar online businesses, and here’s the reason why he’s on this program. He’s from Ohio, he went from having a dream of being a professional football player, it ended in a snap, if you will of his arm or wrist. He went from making $200 — $250 a week having food stamps, so he had food on the weekend to living on his sister’s couch for two years?
LEWIS: Year and a half.
GLENN: Year and a half. Two years later making over a million dollars a year. And it’s all because of a mindset, and I want to pick up the conversation. We don’t like to bring people in until they sit down on the chair as we’re inducing them. But a mistake happened. And he sat down on the chair, and we started talking, and this is going to be a Frank and open conversation. Because he sat down and said something about my story that you read up about my story.
LEWIS: I’m so inspired about what you created and I’m always interested about the origin story of someone who’s so driven, so successful, and who has a massive impact on the world. Usually, when someone has a huge impact on a lot of lives, something happened or a series of events happened.
GLENN: Correct. That drives them.
LEWIS: That drives them.
GLENN: And we were talking about my mom’s suicide. And he said “Well– I mean, I don’t have that. But.
LEWIS: Yeah, I was sexually abused when I was 5, I was raped by a man that I didn’t know. The baby-sitter’s son. By 8, my brother went to prison for four and a half years selling LSD to an undercover cop. My parents were always arguing and fighting and eventually got divorced, and I was bullied in school because I was a special needs learning disability student, you know? I had dyslexia, hard to read and write. You know, I —
GLENN: Yeah, yeah, whatever. Did you hear that Stu, he had his front quarter panel that he had to replace in his car. When was that? About 1998?
STU: Yeah, insurance covered it but —
GLENN: So, please, stop your whining, man. Stop your whining.
GLENN: I’m really inspired by people who I like pivot points, you know? Pivot points tell me everything you need to know about a man. Because life is not about what happens to you. I know that sounds trite, but it’s not. It’s about that moment that you say “I’m at the brink. I’m right here on the edge. And I’m either going to jump — or I’m either going to fall off and die, or I’m going to jump because I’ve got an idea, and I want to do a different thing.”
What was your pivot point? Where was your low point?
LEWIS: Well, there were many. For whatever reason, when I was picked last in elementary school playing a dodgeball game on the playground; right? I was picked last, it was two captains. Two guys in my class, they picked all the guys on the team, except for me, and then they started picking all the girls.
GLENN: Oh, boy.
LEWIS: And I remember I was the last picked by default to get on the team. And at that point it was, like, third or 4th grade, and I was, like, I’m never going to be picked last again. I’m going to train my mind or body or brain so that this never happens.
GLENN: Wow. Because I continued to be picked last.
I just kind of went dead inside. So that’s an interesting choice to make.
LEWIS: Yeah, that was a moment of time. Now it’s so long ago. But there were so many moments where I continued to try to improve myself whenever something bad happened, I was, like. Okay. What can I do — this is feedback for me. How can I be better? How can I improve my life? So my vision was to be a pro athlete, you know? That was my goal to be in pro sports because that’s all I really knew how to do. I wasn’t good in school, so I was, like, what’s the other option? If I can get paid to play football and hang out with my buddies, awesome. So I just trained every single day to do that.
GLENN: And you really didn’t pay attention in school.
LEWIS: I tried, but I couldn’t consume the information or retain it. So it didn’t matter how many tutors I had, how much I studied, it was just exhausting. I would read a page over and over for 20 minutes, and I couldn’t remember what I was reading. So it was just really terrifying. And terrifying for me to read aloud when the teacher would say read aloud. I would just miss the simplest words. So it was intimidating, scary.
LEWIS: Yeah, humiliating, I was already being picked on. So I couldn’t wait until the bell at 3:30 to go on the sports team and just let it all out.
GLENN: So you were the stereotypical dumb jock.
LEWIS: Yeah, I was. I was. And it was challenging, but I found kind of my niche in school@.
GLENN: You didn’t get into the NFL. You made it into arena football. You were making $250 a week. A little different than the NFL.
LEWIS: It was so brutal because every week they’re bringing in new guys who have a dream to play. There’s, like, no rules in the arena football league, pretty much. It’s like bush league. People are going so hard. They’re doing any cheap shots they can. The referees don’t really care. It’s like the wild, wild west of football. It’s so physical, you’re pretty much landing on concrete every play, and there’s walls, you’re constantly getting banged up.
GLENN: You break your wrist.
LEWIS: I played wide receiver, so I don’t have into the wall trying to catch a ball and snapped my wrist.
GLENN: That was it.
JEFFY: Did you catch it?
LEWIS: I did not, so it was even worse.
STU: Does it count as a drop when you break your wrist? I don’t think it does.
GLENN: I think it does. It does.
PAT: Arena football is interesting in that the wall is the sidelines; right?
JEFFY: Indoor war, baby.
PAT: Surprising more guys don’t do that. Get hurt like that.
GLENN: So then you go from, you know, making $250 a week to making nothing, living on food stamps.
LEWIS: And I was in college debt. I didn’t graduate college yet. This was in 2007 when I was injured, so ten years ago in August.
GLENN: Oh, good now you’re right up to the financial crash in Ohio.
LEWIS: Exactly, exactly. I don’t have a college degree because I left early to try to make the NFL draft. You know, I didn’t really have any skills, besides playing football, but that was gone now. And, again, 2008 and 2009, they weren’t hiring for people who had MBAs and degrees in the first place, so I was out of luck. And a mentor of mine, you know, my sister, bless her heart, she just let me crash there for a long time and eat her macaroni and cheese or leftover food that she had. And I was living off about three credit cards at the time, so I didn’t have any money coming in.
GLENN: Hang on a second. Were you at that point, were you still this bright eyed guy that you are now? Or were you depressed and, like, I’m just not going to make it?
LEWIS: A little bit of both.
LEWIS: I was depressed and sad that my career was over, and I thought I was going to come back. I was in a cast, so I broke my wrist, they took a bone out of my hip and put it right here because the bone crumbled so much, so they couldn’t put a screw in it. So I have a big scar here from the hip surgery, and I was in a cast from here to here for six months.
GLENN: From his shoulder to fingers.
LEWIS: So my fingers could move, my thumb was tight, so I could just do this.
GLENN: So anybody who was coming or going, you were, like, hey. See you.
LEWIS: What’s up, guys. You know the movie rookie of the year? Ever see that baseball movie?
LEWIS: The kid had an arm cast and had superhuman strength afterward. I wasn’t like that.
STU: Was that a documentary? Because that —
GLENN: Surprisingly, that I believe was a Disney movie.
LEWIS: Yes, exactly. So six months like this on my sister’s couch, no money, you know? No college degree. 2008, 2009. And it was just kind of — I thought I was going to be able to come back. I was, like, I’m going to be able to make it, I’m going to be strong enough. And after the cast came out, it was another year of me recovering just so I could bend the elbow and the wrist to get a certain amount of strength. So I realized. Okay. I’m probably not going to go back to the arena league and make 250 bucks a week and make it to the NFL, two or three years later, it’s not going to happen. It was already, like, a tough spot for me.
STU: Is that a tough moment of realization?
LEWIS: Really tough. It took years for me to overcome, like, the feeling every, you know, fall that came around football season, it was hard to watch the game because I would play against guys in the NFL, like, oh, they’re making it and look at the money that they’re making and look at the opportunities and look at me here.
GLENN: Jeffy’s son was in the NFL.
LEWIS: Oh, yeah?
GLENN: And was out within an injury.
JEFFY: Within a year, it was the same kind of feeling. In the end, it’s been difficult. It’s been, like, three years now.
LEWIS: It’s your identity of. It’s what you wrap your whole life up in. And when you don’t have that, it’s hard to move forward and feel confident.
GLENN: I think that happens — I mean, I’ll be real honest with you. This will be everywhere. Stu was saying don’t.
STU: There’s no point in going into where you’re going.
GLENN: You don’t even know where I’m going.
STU: Yes, I do. I’ve known you too long. I know where you’re going.
JEFFY: Yes, we do.
GLENN: You know, yesterday, Tucker Carlson takes Bill O’Reilly’s spot. Well, you know, I was at 5:00 and the 5:00 show moved up to 9:00 and Tucker moves to 8:00. All great stuff. I’m so thrilled for all of them. I really am, and I wouldn’t go back to fox. I don’t want to go back. But it is a weird thing to see, you know, would have been, could have been, whatever, and it plays with you. It does play with you. But I think that happens in everybody’s life. Whatever it is you do, you see good people that you like, and you’re, like, I wonder if I could have — I wonder — you know what I mean? It’s hard.
LEWIS: Yeah, there’s a guy that I played against in college named Pierre Garçon who’s still playing wide receiver, and I played against him in the national champions. I went to a small D3 school, and he was a stud in the other D3 school, and I broke all of these school records against him. He didn’t even do that well. And at the end of the game, he says “You’re the best wide receiver I’ve ever seen.” And I was, like, “Wow. Okay.”
This guy was playing in the NFL for ten years saying this to me, I was, like, what could have happened? What if I just made one practice squad and caught a touchdown and they’re, like, we’re going to keep you want to a two-year contract, understandable you just never know.