“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”

Norman Schwarzkopf 

On this show I like to bring you the real mindset masters, and today we’ve got an absolute superstar, Marcus Smith, who’s been through more wars than most. Marcus is an entrepreneur, an extreme athlete, and a performance coach. Based in Dubai, he’s the founder of InnerFight, which helps everyone – from kids to corporate clients – unlock their peak performance, as well as owner of Smith St Paleo, which provides paleo food offerings to help people make better nutrition decisions.

Marcus is fit, and I mean FIT. At age 18, he started playing professional rugby, making it to the 2009 Rugby Sevens World Cup. Since then, he’s completed pretty much anything with “ultra” in its name, including:

In February 2018, while training to set a world record in ultra-cycling, Marcus was hit by a truck, with the impact smashing him into a brick wall. But he stared death right in the face and said, “Not today.” Rather than focus on what he lost, Marcus decided to create a documentary ‘Fight for Every Breath’ where he details his experience and his journey back to full health.

Just nine months after the accident, Marcus completed not one, not two, but 30 marathons, in 30 days!

In this episode, we’re going to talk with Marcus about:

Strap yourself in. Let’s WIN THE DAY with Marcus Smith!

James Whittaker:
What was it like growing up in Dubai? Can you also take us into a bit of an overview of the city for those who haven't been there?

Marcus Smith:
To be honest, it's almost like shatters to dream because when I came here, when I was four, there was nothing; there was no lights, there was no highways, there was no buildings. And I think that's kind of what I love still about the places I see it quite, if you'd like, quite naked. I see it for what it is for the culture, which now it's a lot different. There's obviously a lot of stuff that's maybe a little bit more, make sure we say it, let's be honest, it's quite plastic. And a lot of it is not very real at all, but I've got friends here that have been here forever and Dubai's kind of been home for the last coming up 40 years, then I say, "That's a long time."

What's it like geographically? Is it a lot of the sand like you would imagine being in the Middle East or is there bits of greenery and things around too?

There's a lot of green, James, and that's what the government has done super nice. But from my house, I'm literally in the middle of the desert within 20 minutes, which I absolutely love. And mate, next week we've got some public holidays coming up and I'm an hour from the mountains and I'll be there for about three or four days that public holiday so I can get away from it. And this is one of the things, people come as tourists to this country, and it's like, "Oh, it's malls and it's buildings." There's a lot more, if you like sand. If you don't like sand, don't come here, mate. That's quite a lot.

And you and your wife have a paleo food company, don't you? What's it like getting fresh produce and things in Dubai?

That's all good. Yeah, we set up Smith St Paleo in 2016. My wife's from Australia and she was actually an air hostess with Emirates for 13 years where we met, mate, imagine that on an airplane. And we set up the paleo food business basically based on the back of her suffering a lot of inflammation when she was traveling and she just started cooking paleo food.

So getting good food back in the day, when I first got here, I can't imagine what it'd been like when my mom was trying to cook for us as kids, but now everything's available. We've got a lot of home grown organic food. So yeah, it's super good. But mate, I think we have probably on par with America, if I'm allowed to say it, the number of burger joints per capita is probably some of the highest in the universe. We're trying to do a good thing, but a lot of the time burgers win basically for a lot of people.

You met your wife on an airplane. Tell us about the pickup line you used!

It's not even good, mate! I was fast asleep and, she’ll tell this story, she's like, "He looked okay and he was a nice sleeper." So I'm there with my mouth shut. We didn't really speak much on the plane. We ran into each other in a bar here in Dubai. One of my mates was over from Australia going back. And I said, "Mate, if we're not going to see each other for six months or so, let's go out for a couple of quiet beers."

And we walked into this bar and Holly was in there. I was like, "I know you." And we've literally been together ever since. I went back to live in Australia because I was playing rugby down there. I'm about to live there and she sort of was flying in and out. Then I was like, "This is the one" and I moved back to Dubai.

And in end of 2004, I moved back here full-time and it's amazing. We have a great life, and one day we'll be back in Australia and very happy. Well, we're very happy now, I mean, but I think she definitely didn't take much persuading to say that we'll spend the rest of our life in Australia. I was like, "Yeah, I'm in for that."

One of the most amazing things about your background is your career as an extreme athlete and we'll get into the accident and those elements that have really defined a big chapter of your life shortly, but where did this love of extreme sports come from – the ultra-running, ultra-cycling, and all those types of things?

Honestly, it's the environment that you're brought up in. I'm not blaming it on my parents, but they did such an amazing job of making sports such a big part of my life. And I'm eternally grateful to them. I see a lot of my habits were their habits – it's incredible. They'd have people running from the house, they'd be off at triathlons. Mum would be winning running races here in Dubai. And I would just be begging the whole time from like four or five years old to go out and go running with them.

As I got a little bit older, I was allowed to run a little bit further down the street with them and then they'd be like, "Right, you've got to go home now." I do believe, James, you are a massive product of your environment and I feel a little bit sometimes not super comfortable saying that because I know people didn't have such fortunate upbringings that I had, but I know that people had perhaps more fortunate upbringing than I have, and haven't done much with it.

You are a massive product of your environment.

But endurance sport was in my blood, I think, from the start. Dad has cycled the length of New Zealand, he's cycled the length of England. He cycled pretty much halfway across America so that's really where it comes from. And even to this day, my dad's pressing 74, 75. I was speaking to him the other day, he's out on his bike and mum's doing workouts in the garden and it's amazing. I love my parents so much and they've given me so much.

Yeah, you need to catch up! It's a good benchmark of fitness and adventure for your life.

Yeah, absolutely. It really is.

You've done ultra-marathons through the Sahara Desert and had some other incredible experiences. Was there a particular moment where you felt like maybe you'd bitten off more than you can chew?

No, absolutely not. The Sahara was the moment where a lot of things came clear, mate. I was running 250 kilometers across the Sahara self-supported and honestly, I have a picture of it just before it happened, it just so happened that one of my friends took a picture and about 50 meters from where this picture is taken, I stopped and the sand, it was almost like a salt flat and the earth had almost parted. And there was just this big line of runners. And I was like, "Wow, I'm in the middle of the Sahara Desert." We hadn't seen any other civilization since we'd been there for like five days.

And I just thought to myself, "This is amazing that we, as human beings are allowed to pass on this earth." And from that, I always had a massive appreciation for nature and for the outdoors. I spent a lot of time when I was young in boarding school, in the UK, outside. But on that moment, I think a lot of things changed. Since then, all I've wanted to do is cross landscapes on foot and walk and hike and run and cycle. Holly was probably going, "Yeah, this is where it all went wrong. I let you go to the Sahara!"

But yeah, I just had this almost epiphany, if you want, and reflection, I'm huge on, James. And the more I think about it every time I sort of tell that story, the closer I come to it. Yeah, there's tough times, mate, don't get me wrong. It's brutal. Ultramarathons, endurance sports are I call them the wildest rollercoaster ride you'll ever go on because you are literally, you have these moments and you're invincible, no one can touch you.

You're running through the Sahara and it's just amazing. And a few hours later, the sun goes down and you're like, "Why the hell am I here? Why do I even exist as a human being?" And that's what's so amazing that you have these ultimate highs and lows, which allows you to come back into life.

You're running through the Sahara and it's just amazing. And a few hours later, the sun goes down and you're like, "Why the hell am I here? Why do I even exist as a human being?"

And when you come back, I believe you live on a different level. Again, it's no better or no worse than anyone else. But for me, it's elevated my game in a number of areas, family, business, a number of different areas. So yeah, the Sahara was very special.

I often think about those sliding door moments about one decision you made. When I first moved to LA in 2013, there was a barbecue that I went to in the afternoon which became the foundation of so many friendships, which has led to so many other amazing things. For you, the one decision of doing the Sahara Desert has helped you with a whole heap of inspiration.

For those who don't know, can you take us into the specifics of running through the Sahara Desert? Is it soft sand? Is it hard sand? Is it super hot? Are you wearing shoes? What's the deal!?

That's a great question. Marathon des Sables, it was the second big ultra that I did, is quite famous. It's a 250 kilometer race. You carry everything you're going to need for those six days on your back. You only get given water along the way and you wear normal trainers. And we stitch in what's called a sand gator to stop the sand from coming in. Despite people thinking the Sahara is all sand, it's not all sand, but a shit ton of it is sand! You get sand everywhere.

I was going to ask how effective the gators were. Sand is like water. It's sort of hard to get out if you're right in the thick of it!

I mean, they're good, but you get sand everywhere. And a lot of places, it's like a clay sand. So at the end of it, you're like, "Is this a real sun tan?" And then you have a shower and all comes off. But mountains in the day, it's super hot. In the night, it gets really cold. And that's why it's such a brutal race, that particular one, because a lot of races, like you'll have a race in a country that's quite hot most of the time.

I was in Kenya last year and that race is quite warm the whole time. You'll have races in the Arctic, there's an ultra where it's just freezing cold all the time. Whereas the Sahara, it can get down to about 6-8 degrees Celsius at night, but up to 45 degrees Celsius in the day. So you get these massive swings and it sounds quite straightforward, you're going to put everything on your back and you're going to run, but that pack shouldn't weigh really more than about nine kilograms.

So you're eating dehydrated food, which after a few days, obviously does quite funky stuff to your digestive system. For some people, it completely blocks them. Other people are literally just diarrhea the whole way through, so those problems are real.

And then we've got hygiene issues as well. You're not able to wash properly because you only get enough water to drink. So literally you're starting to come out with rash on your armpit because you're just sweating so much. And I don't need to go on about how your private parts will look, but you can imagine that as well, it's carnage.

I train a lot of people. I've taken over 20 people through that race now, and people will come and see me and I'd be like, "Tell me what it's about." And I just I'll say, "Listen, this race is nothing about running. This race, like life, is about all the other stuff. If you get all of your little admin bits in place, if you control the controllables, we've heard it like three million times in the year of COVID mate. But if you can focus and control on what you control, then you actually have a great time."

And it's mental, we're over 1,300 people running through the Sahara. So as you can imagine, we’re all absolute fruit loops!

Is everyone setting up their own tents or how does that work? Where do you sleep?

They put together this absolute token shelter that most nights just falls down, and you've got eight blokes laying literally like sardines. And when it falls down, no one can be bothered putting it back up because everyone's so tired. People just sleep under the stars, on rocks, you don't sleep properly for the seven days. That’s just the nature of ultra races.

This is what really takes people down because you've got lot of people who are very good runners, but if they can't manage stinking, I'm very good about washing in normal life, but when I'm in the bush or in an endurance event, you've got to deal with that and you don't have enough water and you won't have enough sleep – and eating dehydrated food the whole time is not like eating fresh paleo food, for example – and it's all these things that just start to chip away at people slowly.

And most people, you can move forward. And this is one of the biggest learnings I've got from ultra-running and from endurance sports is that you can keep moving forward. But when you're moving forward to another camp that you don't have anything to look forward to, it's quite a difficult argument to sell to yourself in a way. It's not like, "Mate, you finished this, we're at the pub. We're going to have a countertop meal and we're going to have a schooner."

You can keep moving forward.

But it's like, "Yeah, we're going to get to this other shit camp site where you won't be able to wash, you'll have to cook your food which tastes like crap anyway. And then you'll sleep on a rock. Do you want to go?"

It's like, "No, I don't really want to go there."

Sounds enticing.

Yeah, exactly! So these are the challenges, but that's what makes it absolutely incredible.

How do you feel at the start line of these things now that you have done so many of them – do you feel nervous, or have you gone through it that much now that you're just prepared, you understand the process, and you just got to focus on putting one foot in front of the other?

Yes, to all of the above, but I still get a bit nervous, mate, in a way that, when I go to these races, most of them now I want to try and push a little bit. We're on a journey of self-discovery. We all are, we're expressing that in different ways. So I want to see where my limits are. I want to sort of start to push it.

And I also love it, because I've been to a lot of races and the pre, the day before everyone gathers, and then we start the race the next day, I love just listening to people, listening to stories. If it's their first race, people talking about their shoes, their equipment, and just sitting back and listening and taking it all in.

I want to see where my limits are.

And you meet some people that generally, and this is what we always say that endurance sports brings together people that, we wouldn't be friends. This is the one thing that brings us together. We don't have anything else in common. We don't like the same music, but through this crazy sport of suffering, we all come together and you make some amazing, amazing friends. Like all of my good friends now I sort of know through endurance sports, it's gone from rugby mates to endurance mates. And they're both a crazy bunch.

The way you talk about it is the way that people talk about Burning Man and Ayahuasca, it's like this experience of self-discovery that people go through. It's really interesting.

Yeah. It is that James, that's a very good way of putting it together.

Obviously, you have a competitive spirit and somewhat of an obsessive nature to do the work behind the scenes to get this done. Are you very competitive and obsessive about all other areas of your life too?

Yes. What do I say!? No, mate, I'm totally chilled out. I'm really relaxed. I'm very OCD on a number of levels. Without this sounding wrong, that's one of the reasons why I love my wife so much because she puts up with it. Everything is like bang, bang. My diary is just so strictly done. My training is strictly done. And because when I was playing sport, when I was playing rugby competitively, and then when I moved into ultras, you're going to be in a remote place in an ultra. If you're not OCD, you could've left one thing that could just ruin your whole experience.

And that for me is sad because you might have to pull out the race because one of the guys rocked up to one of the races that I've been in and he didn't have his insoles in his shoes. So his race is destroyed. He'd washed them the day before and forgot to put them back in. So yeah, I'm pretty OCD in pretty much every area of my life. I'm very routine driven, which again, you wouldn't be surprised comes from my dad. It's like every single Sunday we do this, Monday, we do this, it is bang like that. And that's how I work really well.

I have my whole work life. I run two businesses. I do all this training and I try and spend as much time with my wife as I can, I have to live in these buckets. So Sunday's for this, Monday's for this. And I try not to tell Holly that, "Okay, I'm home now, we've got two hours make the best of it," sort of thing.

We did take as much holidays as we could. We try and get away four or five times a year. Obviously, COVID made that quite difficult. But I think that downtime is really important as well, because a lot of people would say, "Yeah, you're really intense." And when I'm here, I'm just on. Like this morning I was up before 4am and I was riding my bike at 4:30am and then bang, bang, bang the whole day.

And just literally an hour ago, I got home for my sister because it was her birthday. And now we're having this chat. So it's banging, but I love it. And I think that's what helps me as well. It's not for everyone, but it's just the way it's what works for me.

Yeah, the more prepared you are, the more you allow yourself that luxury of surrender. There's an old quote that's taken so many different forms. It says, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” It's like people in the UFC, they talk about “The more you sweat in the gym, the less you bleed in the octagon.” Clearly you have no troubles putting in this work behind the scenes. What is that secret to the daily motivation? Is it just something that's instilled in you as a kid from your parents, as you mentioned earlier, or is there actually something going through your head every single day?

Like I talk about a lot about the “Win the Day” mentality. So I literally have that in my head as I step into the cold shower in the morning, it's “Win the Day”. My alarm says “Win the Day”, it's like a little mantra that helps me move forward. Have you got something like that to inspire that daily motivation and enable that consistency?

Yeah, I do James, and it's not dissimilar. My alarm's called “Dominate”. When I'm waking up to dominate, which is most days, I'm waking up to dominate. It's funny, because when I'm waking up to teach people, my alarm's called “Make people better at life”. So when I'm teaching first thing in the morning, when that's my first appointment, it's that.

But I get up every morning, as we all do, and I look in the mirror and I say, "Literally, this is it. I'm excited. I want to do this." And I try and carry that attitude.

Mate, I'm not full of crap, some days are shit; not every day is amazing. But I look in the mirror every morning and say, "This is going to be the best day of my life. This is really it."

And then one thing that I think is super, super healthy – and Holly and I have done it since we've been together 17 years – whenever we've been in each other's company is we sit down at the dinner table every night. You'll laugh at this, there's one month of the year or three weeks of the year where I have a screen on, which is when the Tour de France is on. She lets me watch it. It's wild because the finish of the Tour de France is like five o'clock in France, seven o'clock Dubai time. So I'm like, "It's live, I've got to watch it." And she bought into this years ago.

Mate, I'm not full of crap, some days are shit; not every day is amazing. But I look in the mirror every morning and say, "This is going to be the best day of my life. This is really it."

But the point is we sit down, no devices, nothing except those three weeks of the year. And we'll debrief the day, not formally. It's not like, "Oh, what did you love about today?" I'm not really like, can I say airy-fairy like that. We're pretty straight forward, "Now, how did it go? What went on?"

And I think we spend more time talking, like we never watched TV. I can't watch Netflix. I hate it. And this is also because of the way that I was brought up in boarding school, discipline was huge, but I think those things really help you, or they really helped me. And the way that I live is the way that I live. I don't think it's for everyone, but the same that you wake up with an attitude to win the day. I don't get why people don't try and wake up with that attitude.

I know some days you wake up and I know there's things on your agenda that you're not 100% looking forward to, but when you switch that attitude on, I'm going to win this day. Even if this thing that I have to deal with this shit, I'm going to win at it. Then you're going into it in such a positive way with such a beautiful mindset that you're actually going to turn that bad experience into a good one and have an awesome day. And we can all do that. I really believe that we can.

Yeah, it's an opportunity each day to also do something that your future self will thank you for.

You're very big on people finding the right training and the right nutrition and the right routine that suits them, rather than just trying to go on and get a downloaded a template version of the internet. When everyone wants that magic bullet for perfect abs, rather than finding out what’s going to fire them up and keep them consistent.

I think that's the key. Everyone's always worried about what everyone else is doing. And no one else is living your life. You're living your life. You've got to deal with your problems. You've got to get out of your bed and look at your face in your mirror.

So we need to go inwards to figure out what works, to get different ideas from here and there, listen to your Win the Day show. I was listening to it earlier today when I was riding my bike; it’s a beautiful show, with a very, very inspiring lady who you had on. And I got some ideas, but then I have to take them in to figure out what I'm going to do with them.

I think that's super important. Taking different ways of training, different ways of meditation, different ways of approaching life – it’s different for everyone. If someone's listening to this show and they get fired up and they go and try and live the way I live, it won't work for you. It will not work for you. You need to take small bits, and they might start to work and then we can start to develop change, but we have to figure out what works.

But I don't know what you think, James, that's the hard bit. And that's the bit where we have to look deep into ourselves to figure out what we are, who we are and how we are going to live. And I think it's easy to go, "Oh yeah, James is saying live like this. I'll do that." And it will give us happiness, but it will only last for a certain period of time because it has to come from within. And that's tough.

For sure, the win starts within. And I think that's where having the right friends is important. I was speaking at an event last night and I was asked by someone in the audience, “How do you get away from toxic people?” Which is so important, because you need to protect your energy source at all costs.

I just don't have any negative people in my life at the moment, I just don't. We’ve only got X amount of energy each day so we need to allocate that to people who give us energy.

Yeah, I think that's super important. It was funny, I was just with my sister and we were talking about that. Actually the scenario we're talking about was, if you pass someone in a supermarket that you don't really like, but you kind of know, would you stop? And I'm like, “No, of course I won't stop!”

I don't need to stop, because I’d rather spend 30 seconds calling someone I really care about to try and change their life in those 30 seconds. And she's like, "No, no, you've got to stop." And I'm like, "No, I'm not stopping!"

Your accident has so many parallels with the Janine Shepherd story. A big theme from both of you is that we can be on what we believe is the right path and everything might be looking good for us, but completely out of left field – through no fault of our own – something massive life-changing shifts our trajectory forever.

Can you take us into that day of the accident and exactly what happened?

Yeah, of course I can, like you rightly said, I was just on a completely different path. I was actually training on my bike, I was going to try and set an ultra-cycling world record. We were about two weeks out from the first race, and I was in the mountains about an hour or so from my house. I was riding with three other friends and I was hit by a truck at just over 55 – 60 kilometers an hour. And that truck pushed me on to a brick wall, which I then hit at 54 kilometers an hour, which is a little bit problematic being an 88 kilogram human, traveling at 54 kilometers an hour, going into a brick wall.

There's so many crazy things about this story, but in this split second, I dropped my shoulder. Like I would have done in rugby, and it took all the impact. So on impact, I broke my scapular and seven ribs. Without sounding too blasé about it, bones are not really that much of a problem. But I realized very fast that it was almost like I'd been winded and I couldn't breathe very well.

Then I started trying to figure out why I couldn't breathe. There was a lot of blood coming out of my mouth, and I remember having thinking to myself that in movies, when the guy gets shot, the blood comes out of his mouth, and next thing the guy's dead. So I knew I was in big trouble.

And one of the things through ultras and this thing I talk about the ultra mindset is if you have a problem, you have to admit you have a problem. You can't just deny it.

On impact, I broke my scapular and seven ribs.

And I couldn't deny it. There was blood coming out of my mouth. I couldn't breathe. And I'm like, "Shit, I've got a problem." What had happened was, on impact with the wall, my left lung had essentially almost exploded, like a beach ball. And that makes breathing incredibly hard because you're breathing essentially with the lung on the right side, although they're both together. It took almost two hours to get an ambulance because we're in the mountains, so I was just lying there. And so many amazing things happened.

Thank you for asking me the question, because this is part of my therapy. The more I reflect on it, the more I know in that moment that my body and my mind were detached, my soul left and I saw something different and a lot of people are listening and going, "Wow, this is going to be crazy." But in that moment that I was out of my body, all of the pain stopped, I could breathe again and everything was totally normal.

I thought to myself, "You're in a bit of a bad situation. Well, what's the options here?" And essentially there were two options. One was just give up. I thought to myself, James, I was like, "I love my life. I'm doing something I love, I'm with my mates. My wife's at home. No, that's NOT an option.”

There was only one option, and that was to fight for every single breath.

When I decided to take that option, I couldn't breathe again. I was back in my body and I was just trying to draw this breath. And it was just wild. It was just such an amazing experience to reflect on the power of choice, the amount of choice that we have in the world these days. And then when that choice is removed and you have to put all of your energy into something that is just so, so simple for us, which was breathing. And I made it through; the long and short of it. Obviously, I'm here.

I spent three days in intensive care, which is really awful because no one really knows what’s going on. You want an answer, but no one has the answer. You're like, "Am I okay? Am I going to live?" You're conscious, and they’re saying, "Yeah, we're hoping your lungs going to open.”

You're like, "What do you mean, you're hoping!? Is that not going to happen?"

And they're like, "Well, we'll send someone else in to see."

And you're in this weird, weird time. But again, mate, it was just an amazing time to reflect, to think, to listen to others. Then when I was moved to the main ward, I was able to answer people's questions, probably not with quite as much energy as I've got right now, but I was like, "I'm okay." Because you just literally. People would be making me laugh. I'm like, "Can you please not make me laugh."

This is what I believe life gives. It’s these unique moments and super unique opportunities where we're asked to respond and we're asked to make decisions. Those decisions almost define us, and they prepare us for what else is coming in life. The decisions that I made during the recovery of my crash has prepared me for things that I'm facing now.

I was never aggressive but I'm so much calmer now than I was before. And I'm just happy to sit back, listen, take stuff in, and I'm comfortable to say, "Thank you, James, let me come back to you on that." Whereas I remember before I'd be like, "No, James. We got to do it like this. Let's finish it right now, right now, me and you," you know what I mean? And now I'm just like, "Yeah, it's cool."

And because lungs need time to heal, you can't rush it. I always used to want to rush things, even until I was 40, I was going always super fast. And I was like, my accident and reflection has just told me you can slow down and it's okay to say nothing. And it's okay to say to someone, "Thank you so much. I'll come back to you tomorrow." That's cool.

We're in this world now where if you don't reply to WhatsApp within like 3.5 seconds, you're not a nice person. That's bullshit, mate.

We're in this world now where if you don't reply to WhatsApp within like 3.5 seconds, you're not a nice person. That's bullshit, mate. We don't need to live like that. And we're forced to live like that often by the system and we just don't need to. So yeah, it was a wild year. 2018 was just the best. Honestly, I mean it from my heart, it was amazing.

When did you realize the severity of the situation? The big problem that I have with doctors and psychologists – who do great work, don't get me wrong – but it's when we put a label on someone that can force them to say, "Oh, you know what? That is the reason why I shouldn't do X, Y, and Z” rather than giving them the motivation and opportunity to go out there and actually make something happen.

Because most doctors have got to err on the side of caution. When I was in Boston, about eight years ago, I had a Grade III shoulder separation where you get this little bump on your shoulder, after the ligament has ripped clean off the collar bone. And I remember the doctor telling me I would never be able to do some things that I loved to do. He was an expert so I believed him.

I went home with the bottles of painkillers that I’d been given. Combine strong painkillers with doctor’s severely constraining your idea of what’s possible for you, and it’s a path to suicide. It really is. I remember moments standing in the shower in tears, before I threw them all out and swore I’d never take a painkiller ever again.

Yeah. I had something similar when they sent me from hospital, I was taking these painkillers and I was losing it. And literally, I came downstairs one morning and I took the bag and I went out to the garbage and I just threw them all away. I said I'm not having more painkillers. The funny thing is, mate, and folks that I tell this often, anytime anyone asks me, go back on my Instagram the day before my crash which was on like the 9th of February, crashed on the 10th of February, I posted a picture that said, “Everything happens for a reason.” And the next day this happens.

On that theme, the doctors that I had were incredible. They never made me feel like I was going to be unable to do something. And I remember, and I'm forever thankful for this guy. The physio came in to my room when I got moved to the main ward. Well, there was three really cool things. One, the guy in the emergency room was just totally calm, super calm and so nice; softly spoken. And that made me feel comfortable.

Then I went to see the surgeon, he was a South African guy. And he said, "Listen, your shoulders in so many pieces, I wouldn't know where to start putting it back together. So I'm not going to bother operating. See you later." And I was like, "Yes, that's the best news ever!"

Then I got moved to the main ward. A physio came in and this was a real turning point for me, James, , I'd been in intensive care for three days, and it was like the second day in the ward. So I hadn't moved from the bed for almost five days.

And he was an English guy and he looked at me and he goes, "How are you feeling mate?" And I went, "Actually, I feel pretty good mate." It was morning. And I'm looking in the mirror and I'm feeling good and I'm doing what I said earlier. And he goes, "Do you want to go for a walk?" And then my face must've just dropped. I suddenly wasn't feeling so good." I was absolutely petrified. And I went to him, "Are you serious?" And he went, "Yeah, you can go for a walk if you want." I was like, "Mate, I would love to."

I was going to say, as long as it's an ultra-walk! Is that what you were thinking!?

Well, That's the thing, James, it literally was! It took me over 10 minutes to sit upright in bed. At this point, I had a pipe coming out from my lungs, draining the blood off. I had a pee bag in, I had a catheter in and he just grabbed these two and he clipped them on his belt as I stood up and he said, "Come on then mate, let's go for a walk." And it was like, I was reborn.

At five days, I didn't know whether I'd make it through. I was fighting for my life on the side of the road. I had no idea whether I'd make it through. And I started shuffling out of the hospital room down the ward, and I was just I had this grin on my face. I was holding my left arm because everything here is broken. I was almost crying. And I was like "This is amazing, this is amazing."

You could see the look on his face – he was so happy for me, and I felt just superhuman. But at the same time, my piss bag was on one clip on his belt, my blood bag on the other, and my hospital gown at the back was fully open. I'm cut to shreds and I'm having the best moment of my life. And I'm like "Wow, this is just so, so surreal. And no doctor is going to tell me I can't because I'm going to do this. And I'm going to recreate this feeling as often as I can."

I only had one more physio session after that, and I did all of my own rehab on my shoulder. I woke up every morning at 4:30am, went to my gym and started training. I got in that environment.

And the first week, when Holly was cooking dinner, I'd sneak out the house, get in my car, and I'd drive to my gym. She called me she goes, "Where are you?" I'm like "I'm at the gym." I just wanted to be there, mate, because of this environment of people. And I knew the power of the energy to heal me was going to be something amazing. And it did. I did it for a week.

Then when I could start training, I started training, and I just asked myself every day – it goes back to what we were talking about to “Win the Day.” I said, "What can I do today just to get better?" When you're really buckled, progress is super small but also super big, like to be able to lift my hand in line with my shoulder, it's like nothing really. When you think about it, like you're so far from being able to lift up a bottle of water or anything, because all you can do is get it to here.

But three weeks before I couldn't even lift barely my hand off my leg. So your whole perspective on things just starts to change. And that's when you realize that the human body and the human mind, they are incredible. For the amount of time that we disconnect them. we talk about mental and physical. We're one being, we are a human being and we're an amazing piece of machinery. It's incredible. It really is.

I love it. There's a part of your bio which is crazy, 30 marathons in 30 days within nine months of the accident. I want to ask you a question. There's a story about Bear Grylls, former British SAS who was in Africa and he jumped out of the plane, had an issue with his parachute, and ended up breaking his back. Lying in hospital, he had a picture of Mount Everest that he put at the wall at the end of his hospital bed.

The nurse came in and said, "Why have you got a picture of Mount Everest there?" And he said, "Because when I get out of hospital I'm going to climb Mount Everest." The nurse replied, "The only thing you're going to be climbing in and out of is a wheelchair."

Sure enough, I forget the timeframe, but he went and climbed Mount Everest, after he had a broken back. You had 30 marathons in 30 days within nine months of your accident. Where did the idea for that first come from?

It's very similar to that story, James. I was in the hospital bed and I was fortunate to get such amazing support in hospital, so it was one of the rare times I was alone. And I had this thought because my whole life had been about this ultra-cycling world record. And I was like "That's gone."

I had to make peace with it being gone. Then I had this thought of, "Well, if I can't ride my bike I can definitely run." And I sent a message to one of my friends, Rob, who now works with me. It's almost like a romantic love story. I sent him the route in Corsica that someone had sent me before. And it's basically crossing the Island of Corsica from the top left-hand corner to the bottom right corner; 195 kilometers, 10,000 meters elevation.

And I told Rob, who was a schoolteacher at the time, "Tell me what date you finish school because the following Monday we're going to run this."

He just wrote back "Mate, leave it, get better speak to me in a few weeks."

When I was training for that, I actually picked up the Dean Karnazes book about him running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days.

In 2018, I turned 40, and thought, "Bike crash near death in February. Turning 40 in December. I need to do something pretty special in between." And there's the Dubai Fitness Challenge which is a 30 day challenge. I called up the organizers and I said "You guys have got this challenge?" And they're like, "Yeah, 30 minutes a day for 30 days." I said, "I'm just about to blow it out the water."

The guy said, "what are you talking about?" And I go "Well, mate, I'm going to run a marathon every day for 30 days." And he's just like, "No." I was like "No, no, no. You don't understand." He's like "Mate, this is for sedentary people to get them moving for 30 minutes, it's too extreme."

And I'm on the other end of the phone going, "Yeah, exactly. If I do something that's absolutely so stupid, then everyone will just go, "Well, if that moron can do this..."

I had this sales pitch, James!

You’re a man of the people trying to get everyone’s averages up!

Yeah! He’s just going "No."

Anyway, few more phone calls and I got it through and that's really where it came from. I was just like, "You know what, my motivation for doing it was super clear in that I wanted to see where I could push myself too, physically and mentally, because that's what the ultra-cycling would have done."

I wanted to test my potential. In the process of that, I want to inspire a lot of people as well. I thought, "I live in Dubai. Dubai has been my home for a number of years. If I can run into schools, that'll be something absolutely amazing."

So I finished about 16 of the 30 days in a school. Some days I had 2,500 kids trying to race me around a 400-meter track which, when you've already run 42 kilometers that day and you've run 10 or 15 of these things, and you’re absolutely smoked, the kids are trying to run like three and a half minute Ks because they're running with the marathon man.

But we were able to create an amazing impact. And it's so ironic that it's actually the day that we're recording this, 24th, it's two years ago to this day that I finished my 30th marathon. So it was wild. It was just … you learn so much, mate. I got to meet so many amazing people, again, the energy just feeding off people. I'd have people that just get up 4:00am, drive to where I was, start running with me. I had 40 or 50 people that ran a full marathon of which 30 had never run a marathon before, I was literally only on my own for like three hours of the whole month.

I downloaded 20 audiobooks, and I didn't even listen to one! I'm like "At the end of it, what am I going to do with all these audio books that I had?" It was wild. A lot of these things it's so much fun.

There is nothing we can't do. We just got to figure out how to do it.

And thank you for the great questions, mate. It's fun to talk about them and to continue the reflection but a lot of them are just, honestly, they're quite surreal. Sometimes I'm just like "Did this stuff happened?" Is this me, is this life, and then you realize, "Yeah, it did. And this is life and it is amazing."

Because on February the 10th, I'm in intensive care and on November the 24th I had just run my 30th marathon. There is nothing we can't do. We just got to figure out how to do it.

That legacy is going to live on for a long, long time, in all the different people who you helped with your story. You're a super positive and inspiring guy. High energy. Was there a particularly dark day that stood out in that recovery period between the accident and the marathon?

Yeah. There were tough days. There were really tough days. The first week that I went home was brutal because you can't sleep, and sleep deprivation is really tough. I'm okay with pain but when you can't sleep, I'd say to Holly, "I just want it to go away. I just want it to end. I just want this pain to end."

You laugh too hard, a rib pops. You roll over in bed, a rib pops. And you're just like "Oh my God." But when you're committed, like you are, to wake up every day and to say I'm going to win the day, that starts a programming in your subconscious, and you do it now subconsciously. So it's going to take a lot for that dark moment in the night where I'm almost in tears because I'm in so much pain and I've thrown the damn painkillers away because they’re giving me nightmares and stuff.

All of that's forgotten when you've programmed your subconscious, but it was brutal. And a lot of people will say to me, "Oh, Marcus, this is amazing, you recovered so fast." And in that same tone that I said before, I just look at them and go, "Yeah, bro I recovered fast." You don’t know the half of it. And I never would say that to people because people are just trying to be polite. And I just appreciate that they say nice things to me.

But when you do the first month of my training, I would just make it simple because when life is hectic training should be simple. I would just do 100 rounds of Tabata every morning; 20 on, 10 off, for 100 rounds. And it's still set up like that in my phone, 100 rounds. When people come to train with me, they're like, "You've got it saying 100 rounds, are you really going to go 100 rounds of Tabata?"

I'm like, "We'll see how it goes, bro."

And so yes, there are a lot of challenges. There are a lot of tough times. And I think that's one thing that people who listen to shows like yours, mate, you have very inspiring guests on; you give off a lot of great energy.

I think for people to think that we don't have tough days that we don't just look at it and go, "Oh my God," or get overwhelmed. We ALL get overwhelmed and we have to be honest with ourselves on that. But I think what the difference is from what you said and from what I see in my life is that no matter how bad today is I'll wake up tomorrow and it's a new day, then I'm ready to dominate and you're ready to win the day.

If I can just encourage people that every time you go to bed when you get up the next day, you've been just gifted this unique opportunity to do amazing things. And you've got a fresh mind. And if you come with it with this great positive mindset you're going to have an awesome life and you just rinse and repeat that. And it's beautiful.

Yeah, it's so true. There's an old saying it says "A happy person wants 10,000 things. A sick person wants just one thing." What did facing death head-on teach you about life?"

To live every single day. Don't waste time because it's brutal. It nearly ended. And it's hard for me when I look back at it, when I think about, it's very, very emotional mate. And wouldn't it just be a waste, how close was I? You could say very, very close. I was very close and I'm here. So I'll live. And that is something that is easy to say, but I think it's challenging and it's tough. Some days are very tough but that's what I learned from it.

Goal setting is a big part of what you do by the sound of it. You're always focused on a big achievement in the future. How do you balance that hunger for future achievements with your happiness in the present?

Because the goal is just where you're headed to. The goal for me is important, but the process is my love. Holly will tell you, "You only sign up for these races so you can buy new stuff." And for me, often the end goal running across the Sahara, running in Kenya, all of these places I was in Sri Lanka last year, amazing, amazing. But the training, the waking up tomorrow morning at 4:30am, it’s dark and cold, but I’m going out and do something, eating well the whole time, being hydrated, sleeping eight hours a night. That is what I love.

The goal is just like the icing on the cake. It's good for the selfies and stuff, you know what I mean? It's at the end. That's why I think people struggle a little bit sometimes because they're so focused on the end goal that they forget that the process is life and it has to be part of your life, this end goal, you have to enjoy.

When life is hectic training should be simple.

There's no point in dreaming about climbing Everest, you have to dream about cold adaptation training. You have to dream about wearing big down jackets and you have to be in love with that. You can't just dream about taking the picture on the top of Everest. That's not it, it's the process, because that process is life.

Otherwise, you just go from one six-month goal or race to another, and that would be awful. I get people that come to me for endurance coaching, and they've just had awful experience, they hate it. And I'm like, "Wow, you spend 16 hours a week doing the sport that you hate. This is ridiculous."

I love the process mate, again, do I love every single minute of training? I try to, because I always make it fun. And I'm at a stage now where I’m 42 and this is what I've chosen to do. Is it my calling in life, if that's what you want to say? Yeah, it is. And I absolutely love it. I love every minute of it. I really do.

Life is too short to do what you hate. And it's not necessarily the will to win, it's the will to prepare to win, which I really I feel like is a big theme from you.

Yeah, absolutely.

Final question. What's one thing you do to win the day?

I wake up one minute before everyone else. I never set my alarm at 4:30am, I set it at 4:29am. I would never set it for 5:00am, I set it at 4:59am. I've done it for a while now, and I feel that gives me the edge and I never ever, ever press snooze … and nor should you.

“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” 

Norman Schwarzkopf 

On this show I like to bring you the real mindset masters, and today we’ve got an absolute superstar, Marcus Smith, who’s been through more wars than most.

Marcus is an entrepreneur, an extreme athlete, and a performance coach. Based in Dubai, he’s the founder of InnerFight, which helps everyone – from kids to corporate clients – unlock their peak performance, as well as owner of Smith St Paleo, which provides paleo food offerings to help people make better nutrition decisions.

Marcus is fit, and I mean FIT. At age 18, he started playing professional rugby, making it to the 2009 Rugby Sevens World Cup. Since then, he’s completed pretty much anything with “ultra” in its name, including:

In February 2018, while training to set a world record in ultra-cycling, Marcus was hit by a truck, with the impact smashing him into a brick wall. But he stared death right in the face and said, “Not today.” Rather than focus on what he lost, Marcus decided to create a documentary ‘Fight for Every Breath’ where he details his experience and his journey back to full health.

Just nine months after the accident, Marcus completed not one, not two, but 30 MARATHONS … IN 30 DAYS!

In this episode, we’re going to talk with Marcus about:

Strap yourself in. Let’s WIN THE DAY with Marcus Smith!

🎞️ For the video interview, click here.


Resources / Links Mentioned:

📝 Marcus Smith Facebook.

📷 Marcus Smith Instagram.

⚡ Marcus Smith website.

😋 Smith St Paleo in Dubai.

🏃 50 Marathons 50 Days: The secrets to super endurance by Dean Karnazes.

👶 Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall.

🎙️ We Are Members: Learn how to create a thriving business from your podcast.

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Oscar Wilde

Today, we sit down with one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and all-round legends, Mike Michalowicz. If you feel like you’re treading water in your career (or simply have lofty goals), or you’re thinking of going down the entrepreneurial route, this is the episode for you.

By his 35th birthday Mike had founded and sold two multi-million-dollar companies. Confident that he had the formula to success, he became a small business angel investor – but then proceeded to lose his entire fortune. Then he started all over again, driven to find better ways to grow healthy, strong companies.

Mike has devoted his life to the research and delivery of innovative, impactful strategies to help business owners succeed. He is the creator of Profit First, which is used by hundreds of thousands of companies across the globe to drive profit. He is the creator of Clockwork, a powerful method to make any business run automatically. And his latest, arguably most impactful discovery, is Fix This Next, where he details the strategy businesses can use to determine what to do – and in what order – to ensure healthy, fast, permanent growth (and avoid debilitating distractions).

Mike is a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal, a business makeover specialist on MSNBC, and author of #1 bestselling books such as Clockwork, Profit First, Surge, The Pumpkin Plan, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, and his new book Fix This Next.

In this interview, we go through:

You’re going to love this one. Let’s Win the Day, with Mike Michalowicz!

James Whittaker:
Mike, thanks for being here. First, I want to start by letting you know that The Pumpkin Plan is the best audiobook I’ve ever heard! Energy and content are both on point, so well done, sir. It must be comforting to know that if all else fails, you at least have a profitable career as a narrator ahead of you!

Mike Michalowicz:
Perhaps, right!? It's funny, when I go to the recording studio, I always stand — and I’m the only person who stands. So, when I arrive, these studios are like, "Here's your seat," and I'm like, "No, I'm sorry," because I get so jacked up.

Well, I went to this one studio, and the narrator before me for his book was a guy named Michael J. Fox, you know that name. I remember coming in, he had just left, and I talked with the producer. I said, "What's it like having Michael J. Fox present?" She goes, "He's a thoroughbred. He wants to be whipped and he'll run faster." I'd read for a while, then I said, "What do you think I am?" She's like, "You're kind of a Clydesdale. You clump along and you get the job done, but we have to do a lot of retakes." So, that's my reading skill.

You work with entrepreneurs, but it seems your work overlaps spousal relationships, professional services, and so many other different areas. Have you found some unexpected results outside of that entrepreneurial audience who you primarily serve?

Yeah. You know, it's funny, I have. It's married couples. I am not a couples counselor by any stretch of the imagination. I have had multiple occasions where couples who are also business partners have reached out and said, "We've reconciled our marriage. We feel stronger." It's interesting how our personal lives and our business lives are locked, and when it's our marital life and our business partner life, it can get to be a real nightmare.

I think it's the systems I teach that simplify the process, but it also simplifies the communication. Partners start speaking eye to eye, and they're not cross-talking. Perhaps that serves marriages. I never expected that, but I do hear that frequently.

Even planting the right seeds and making sure we’re focused each day on the end goal, whether it is a successful marriage or a successful business partnership. Those who go into business with their spouse are usually in for a bumpy ride… I mean, there's maybe two or three times I've seen that actually work successfully. Everyone else just ends up burnt out, on all counts, and the relationship is one of the big sacrifices.

Listen, I can barely be with myself 24 hours a day. That's actually really hard. Being with someone else 24 hours a day? Forget it!

In your books, you challenge the modern-day definition of ‘entrepreneurship’ and state that real entrepreneurs shouldn't be doing most of the work. Instead, it's their job to identify the problems, discover the opportunities, and then build the processes that allows other people and other things to do the work for them. But how do these entrepreneurs recognize that they are on that hamster wheel, and what can they do about it?

If you start seeing yourself doing repetitive tasks, that's the number one indicator. So, if you do something again and again and again, that's an indication that there's, first of all, demand for that task to be replicated, but you, the entrepreneur, need to find a way to outsource it, systematize it, and assign it out – because if you're doing the repetition, that means you are now within the business. An entrepreneur, at least in the early stages, we are that icebreaker. We're going to break into the new space and leave space behind for other people to do the work. But if we keep on turning around, we can't break forward.

Ultimately, too, we need to transition from doing any kind of work, including the icebreaking, and moving our way to designing outcomes. What I mean by this is clear vision, and then considering, almost like a chess board, putting the right people in the right places, the right system in the right places to choreograph them collectively to achieve that outcome. That's the ultimate definition of entrepreneurship: we are not doing the job; we are creating the jobs.

What separates the top entrepreneurs and professionals – the ones who are always onto bigger and better things, making a bigger impact, and appear free in their day to day life – versus your run of the mill entrepreneur / professional who's constantly on the brink of burnout and never seems free?

You know, it seems to be purpose. Purpose in the business. A greater purpose of why we're doing what we're doing. I believe the entrepreneurs who struggle are going after money and thinking, “This is a way to make an income and support my life.” Well, that's a very volatile thing. If this doesn't make enough money, we move on to something else, we get frustrated.

That's the ultimate definition of entrepreneurship: we are not doing the job; we are creating the jobs.

But entrepreneurs who lean into purpose, meaning “This is why I'm on this planet and my business is an amplification or expression of serving that reason,” those people become relentless. I'm not saying relentless in that they're working ridiculous hours necessarily. They may. That's not healthy, in my opinion, but they have a ridiculous commitment to achieving that purpose. They become very thoughtful about it. They look at ways of amplifying it. They look at ways to leverage. That is the drive of purpose.

People with purpose also don’t give up. You know this – overnight successes take 10 or 20 years. A lot of these successes when they come to our purview, when we see it as a consumer, well, they've already been around for 15 years working relentlessly on this purpose. But it's purpose that begets drive and drive begets success.

Yeah, which incorporates mastery and enables you to be resilient and resourceful to acquire everything you need to achieve that mission.

What about passion – where does that come into it? A lot of people hear about ‘passion’ and ‘purpose’, but how are they aligned and how do people go and find these things if they don't already know what their purpose on the world is?

I would say purpose is the beacon and passion is the fuel. So, there is a difference. Purpose is asking ourselves what we’re moving toward. Business owners who don't have purpose are running away, thinking, “I can't handle these struggles” or “I don't want this problem.” They’re running away from that problem. Purpose is we're getting pulled towards something, and you move so much quicker when the magnetic force is pulling you in the same direction. That's what purpose is.

But passion is the fuel. It's the day-in, day-out fuel. If you have a great purpose, but you're not passionate about what you're doing, it becomes a real slog to stick with it.

The key is to find out what gives us joy in the activity.

The key is to find out what gives us joy in the activity. Not all entrepreneurs are cut out to manage people and to choreograph resources and stuff like that. Some entrepreneurs create an amazing idea, but they really should stay as doers. They're really talented at something. Those entrepreneurs, if they're smart, are going to bring in someone who has the talent to do the management of people and so forth. But we have to make sure that we're in a field of passion that gives us excitement on a day-to-day basis. As an entrepreneur, find that for yourself, drive toward that purpose, and you got the one-two punch.

A lot of your work encourages business owners to have a business that runs itself, and I think everyone aspires to that goal. But it might seem impossible for some people who are too deep in the trenches. Where do they start, especially the ones who are concerned about quality control?

Yeah. It's called the ‘I Can Syndrome.’ It's dangerous. I suffered from that from years. I said as an entrepreneur, "I can do this. I can do that." It's true, I can do it, I just do a real shitty job at it. That's the part I didn't add in. So, we can do lots of things, but ‘can do’ and ‘competence’ are two totally different things. First of all, we have to acknowledge that about ourselves, that we're not superheroes. We may have super talents in certain areas, but we can't do everything.

The next thing is to get the muscle of delegation in place. Delegation is where we assign outcomes to people and then hold them accountable to the outcomes. We have to start with the low hanging fruit, stuff that we are repeatedly doing and that there's low risk of assigning someone else. If they really flub it up, how much damage can that really do to your business?

For example, invoicing. That is easy to outsource, and the risk, if they really flub it up, that's recoverable. That can be caught pretty easily. It's actually a low risk. If someone instead of charging $1 charges $10 million by accident, the client will probably figure it out and bring you some awareness there. It is recoverable, but there's certain things that are irrevocable – for example, if they mess something up and it kills the relationship. Those are the things that we have to get a little more sophisticated in our delegation before we start doing it. So, start slow with delegation and then let it grow.

In the last few years, we've heard so much about the importance of starting with your why, but in your new book Fix This Next you talk about the power of what and understanding your what. How do people discover what their ‘what’ is in their business?

In Fix This Next, I did this thing called the business hierarchy of needs. It's a translation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is a human needs system as a business needs system. The great distinction is the Maslovian hierarchy of needs, we know what we need instinctually because we have inputs like eyesight, hearing, smell, touch, we get gut instincts. Our gut doesn't work so well in business. We need empirical data. We need the information from our business.

So, I created five levels just like Maslow, but within them, there's five needs at each level. Collectively, I call them the 25 core needs. I found this to be consistent in businesses of any type and industry. What we do is we go through a sequence and we make sure that the base level needs of our business are satisfied, and only when they're adequately satisfied can we elevate high-level needs within our business, just like human needs.

You and I both need to breathe, eat food, drink water. If we're not breathing right now, this interview is done. Even though we're serving a higher-level need right now, if the base is compromised, we go to it. Well, in business, the base is the generation of cash, which comes through sales. If you're not generating cash, your business is suffocating. We got to breathe. We revert to that. But once we have sales in and it's adequate, then the focus is profitability, the retention of cash, because that brings about stability, longevity. You can see in the 2020 crisis, the pandemic, how many businesses were focusing on sales but not profit. They're off the planet now. They're done. So, profit is the next level of needs.

You can see in the 2020 crisis, the pandemic, how many businesses were focusing on sales but not profit. They're off the planet now. They're done.

Once that's satisfied adequately, we move to orchestration of efficiency, which is no dependency on any individual – particularly the owner – like we spoke about earlier. There's impact, that's the creation of transformation. This is where businesses systemically don't do transactions, but transformation. What I mean by systemic transformation, it's not one client saying, "This was an amazing experience." That's when every client says, "This was an amazing experience."

Then the highest-level need in a business is the formation of legacy or permanence. This is where a business is designed to live on beyond the owner. This is where business owners find out that they were really never business owners in the first place. We've been business stewards. We had a responsibility to bring this entity to life, but it's about the entity continuing on for generations, to serve generations regardless of the owner's input.

I'm really happy you brought up retention of cash because I actually read your book Profit First earlier in the year. It's a concept that I feel like is so rare. Why is it that that profit first mentality such a rare thing for businesses when they're starting out?

I think because it's not logical. But the ironic thing is we don't need logic. We need behavior. We humans, we feel that we're very logical, but we're behaviorally based. Traditional accounting tells us a very logical formula. Your sales minus expenses you incur results in profit. So, sales minus expense equals profit.

But I saw a study that just opened my eyes to that formula not working. It was conducted by a US bank which identified that 83% of small businesses globally – small businesses is a company with up to $25 million in revenue – are surviving check by check. They’re in a constant panic, and are not profitable. I'm like, "How come the 250 million people who start a business to achieve wealth, to be financially free, can't figure out the number one reason we started a business?"

That's why I looked at the formula. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, it's right there in the formula." It says profit comes last. In fact, it's in our vernacular. We call it the bottom line or the year end. All these terms say last. It's the behavior of people, humans, when something comes last, it means it's insignificant. So, we're saying profit is insignificant. We delay the consideration. At the end of the year, they have profit, “No, dammit, maybe next year.”

When something comes last, it gets delayed and delayed. So, in Profit First, fundamentally we flipped a formula. It's sales minus profit equals expenses. In practice, what I'm saying is every time revenue comes into your firm, take a predetermined percentage of that money, allocate it toward a profit account, hide the money away, and run your business off the remainder. It's the ‘pay yourself first’ principle applied to business.

What about with early-stage entrepreneurs who feel like they've got their purpose, but they're not comfortable charging what they believe they're worth, or they're not comfortable having the conversation that gets them remunerated for the expertise that they have? What advice do you have for those people who struggle to charge for something that they're inherently good at or something that they want to make a business out of?

First of all, I get it. Secondly, I want to shake them and say, "Are you kidding me!? You have to charge more," because the number one argument you'll get not to increase prices is always from yourself. It's our own head, "I'll lose my customers. What if no one likes me anymore?" Here's the deal. If you raise your prices and you lose customers, it means all they cared was that you were the cheap guy. They want cheap, and who wants someone that wants you because you're cheap? So, they're cheapening you. I'll tell you something else, and this is the big secret. The vast majority of your clients, I guarantee, want you to be profitable.

Now, here's the deal. They don't say, "Hey, can you charge me more?" And they won't say, "Could you rip me off a little bit? I really would like that." But what they will say is, "I want your full attention. When I buy your product or service, I want you delivering the best of yourself. I want your undivided attention. I don't want you worrying about where you're making money and panicking, because then you'll half ass me. So, care for me."

This is the big secret. The vast majority of your clients, I guarantee, want you to be profitable.

The only way you can care for a client, the only way you can give them focus, is if you're not worrying about money. The only way you can do that is if you're sustainably profitable, and the only way you can do that is by increasing your prices. Your clients want you to increase your prices because they want your full undivided attention.

So true. It's interesting, a lot of the concepts you talk about really are flipping that script on the traditional way of thinking.

It really is. A lot of it’s framing, right? It's the old, “Whether you think you can or can't, you're right.” I think Henry Ford said that. If I say I suck at math, I won't do the math practice and I'll suck at it. What if I said I like to find shortcuts in math? I will start repositioning myself. The internal dialogue we have is very important on how we position our business.

You’ve stated previously the importance of being irresistibly magnetic in business to succeed. But what if you're in a fairly traditional job, like an accountant or a lawyer or a financial advisor, what do those professionals do to be different and irresistibly magnetic?

Well, start by breaking the label. As you were saying, accountant, lawyer, oh my God, I start falling asleep myself! The thing is, if I said to you, "Hey, James, I'm a lawyer," the conversation is done. You know what a lawyer is, you know I'm going to sue somebody. The question is, since all lawyers are the same from the customer's perception, it's like, are you cheaper? So, if your label is the same as your competition, the consumer sees you the same, and then you enter the downward price pressure game, which is a dangerous game to be in. It's a race to the bottom. The first step is break the label. Don't be an ‘accountant’, be a ‘profit advisor.’

Now, it's got to speak to your skill set. You better know how to increase people's profit. Don't be a ‘lawyer’, be ‘integrated counsel’, someone that integrates into the culture to write better legal documents. You have to break the label and it has to speak to your service differentiator. If you don't change the label, I don't care how different you are, clients aren't going to see it, because the second you say, you're a lawyer, they're going to say, "I know what you do. Don't tell anything else. Are you cheap?"

In business, no one seems to care as much as the owner. What can business owners do to empower their team to care as much about the day-to-day operations and the results as they do?

It's funny, I'm working on a book, I mean, this won't come out for five or six more years, so we're in deep analytics right now doing this and running tests. I own multiple companies. We're testing on our own companies, but we're testing other companies. Here's the number one discovery we've had: no one cares about the business goals except for the owner.

In my own business years back, I was in the forensics industry doing computer crime investigation. It was very clear… I calculated if we did the right moves, we could have a $10 million year. For me at that point, that had been the biggest business I’d ever had. I came out, I called all my employees together and said, "This is the year," I had the drumroll going, "We're going to do $10 million. Ta-da!" It was crickets.

I'm like, "Why aren't you guys excited!? $10 million!" My trusted confidant, her name was Patty, came up to me and said, "Mike, if we make $10 million, you get a new car, a new house, but why do we care?" That's when I had the realization that the number one concern for every single person is their own concerns. Judy cares about being home on time to be with her family for dinner. Mark cares about saving money to buy his motorcycle. Dave wants to go back to school. And it goes on, and on, and on. Everyone has their own concerns. So, the job of a business owner is to understand the vision and desires that our colleagues have, then organize the path of the business to satisfy their needs as we achieve the journey of our own personal goal. It's called individual goal alignment.

The job of a business owner is to understand the vision and desires that our colleagues have, then organize the path of the business to satisfy their needs as we achieve the journey of our own personal goal.

In our own wall here, we call it the path to intentions. There's a whole wall in our building with everyone's individual dreams. They're little micro dreams, leaving early on Fridays so I can go to baseball games that my son's playing in and stuff like that. We have them pinned up, and we say, "Are we achieving these individual dreams?" Now, the company is not going to buy a house for someone, but it's going to free up the time for them to see a real estate agent. It's going to bring the dream up over and over again and say, "What are you doing to get there?" Because people feel empowered when they achieve their own dreams. We just need to support them and recognize them.

So, the people who aren't even going out of their comfort zone to inquire as to what it is about their team's dreams, they have no one else to blame for their inferior results if they're not getting there?

Correct. When we're like, "We're all fired up. You're making a salary!" we need to recognize that a salary is a means to a living, but it's living that we need to address. The vast majority of businesses, including myself for years, ignore that. Now I'm attuned with that.

I've got a super little company. I have multiple, but this is the hub company where I'm broadcasting from, there's six people. Of the six people, three of us are full-time and the other three are part-time, yet our numbers are consistent with a company of about 20 employees. I'm getting consistently asked and curious about how can we be performing at such a level? But we are so attuned to what every individual wants. We also figured out another thing is match people's talents not to titles. We used to be very title oriented. If you're reception, you've got to answer the phones, do this and light data entry.

We now match talent to the tasks. We have a web like structure. Jenna, one of our colleagues, is extraordinary at writing. She used to be our email manager. Well, she's not our email manager anymore. She writes the emails. We have someone else who’s good at the number crunching and the data set up, but she's also writing articles and blogs now, which is Jenna's passion. Jenna has elevated extraordinarily and represents us better than ever before. Her work output is three times what it was before because she's not in any area of frustration. She's doing what she loves. We try and do it for every employee. The result is we don't have that pyramid structure of an organization. We have a web like structure.

I had Keith Ferrazzi, author of books like Never Eat Alone, on the show a few months ago, and he's been a huge influence on me.

Oh, yeah. I've seen him speak before. He's excellent.

His new book, Leading Without Authority, talks about that concept of co-elevation, where instead of your mission, you actually bring a lot of people into that to make it a shared mission. So, the way that they care about the company and its results is by you interlocking their desires and their dreams with their role at the company. Is that correct?

That's exactly it. You know, I was looking at popular mechanics, I get a little geeky, and they were looking at these things called Doric and Corinthian columns, columns that would support heavy structures made out of marble. They plugged into a supercomputer and said, "How do we make a column of the same material, but with less density and retain the strength? The system went through and it made... it almost describes a web like structure. There was no symmetry to it, it was just this web like structure. The column I think was one-third of the material, but retained the exact strength. That's what we need to do in our business, these web-like structures.

You mentioned before you've got a new book coming out a little bit down the track. You've already got at least six books out that we know about that have been translated into 20+ languages. They're all seriously kick-ass books. I’m curious, what's your process of being able to come up with a concept and figuring out whether there's actually demand for that particular solution that you're providing, as well as being able to get books published at a fairly frequent basis?

I'll do reverse order. I'm writing constantly. I wrote for three hours today already. But I write in parallel, so right now I'm about to submit my manuscript actually in two days for my most current book. I'm also working on a manuscript for my next book, and I'm working on the outline for the book after it. So, I do parallel processing. I think that's a big component. I'm already working on the 2025 to 2028 books right now.

The testing is real simple: I reach out to my readership. The beginning was kind of tough because I didn't have a readership. Now I'm very blessed. I have a readership that's engaged and will respond, and I say, "Hey, where are you struggling now?" And it's the feedback I use from them to pinpoint what subjects are important in the sequence.

Then, going back to the inception of books, I've been an entrepreneur my entire life, and I've had some wonderful successes. I've had some really, really big struggles. It was during the struggling periods I wrote down what I didn't understand about entrepreneurship. I wrote probably about 100 different elements I didn't know. I've distilled it to 25-30 things that I think are important, and so I think ultimately I'll be producing 25-30 books as long as it's in alignment with what people want. That's how I do it.

You're brilliant at taking these seemingly complex tasks and projects and making that something easy where people can essentially put one foot in front of the other. So, thank you very much for all you do and sharing everything here.

Systems are a big part of what you do now. I want to ignore the business side for a moment and focus on you personally in your role as a husband, as a father, or even as a role in your own health. What systems do you have in place? Is there anything that comes to mind that helps you be effective in any of those roles?

Yeah, I think so. I'm very process-oriented, so I wake up at 5:30am every morning, and go through a meditative practice. I write from 6:00am to 7:00am. I call it writing sprints, which I do with other authors. From 7:00am til 8:00am, I hit the gym for either cardio or weights. Then, I’ll eat, take a shower, hang out with my wife for a little bit, and I'm off to work.

I'm walking into my office at 9:00am. It's very ritualized, right? I'll prepare my cup of coffee. What I do is I put these elements of anticipation in, so I'm always looking forward to the next moment because there's a little ritual there of the coffee or sitting down with my wife or working out.

I put these elements of anticipation in, so I'm always looking forward to the next moment.

I workout regularly. I don't like to workout. I just don't miss it. So, at the end, the ritual is a text to an accountability group saying, "Workout done," and a show of my Fitbit results so I can't fake it. I look forward to those moments, and therefore push harder through the activity. That's served me in my personal life, my health and stuff like that.

My wife is also a great guard of time. It's very easy for me to not stop working because I have such a passion for it. She'll say, "All right, you said you're done by 5:00pm. I expect you home at 5:15pm and I have a bottle of wine waiting for you." She also is a great accountability partner, and wine doesn't hurt.

It sounds like so much of this stuff that you've got is around just having an awareness of what helps you perform at your peak, and then being able to create the systems that help facilitate that, even if it's a task you don't particularly enjoy.

I think so. For me, it works very well. I think it's a little bit manic for some people that I'm so process-oriented, but it works for me. I will say this. I've cooled down a little bit as the years have gone on, and have been more present in more moments, and I appreciate that.

My daughter, for example, this is about two months ago, she said, "Hey, I want to go to cross country, my friend can't do it because of the COVID situation. Do you want to go on a 14-day trip with me cross country?" My schedule is booked up so my instinct is “No,” but my knowledge is like, "If your daughter wants to spend a second with you, you better say yes and figure it out." So, I said, "Yes, I'm in. I'm the third wheel guy, I'm in." I had to change everything accordingly. It was the best move of my life, I think, to be with my daughter like that. I am a work in progress, but I'm learning the importance of presence.

Yeah, you can't get that time back with your daughter. You realize that the most important thing is making sure that you're not just spending time with them, but having that presence and that quality time with them.

That's exactly right.

Final question, what's one thing you do to win the day?

It's so obvious. It's exercise and health. There's a big difference. As the day goes on, my energy is building, and people are like, "How do you have so much energy?" I'm like, "I really work at maintaining energy." My output at the end of the day often feels just as strong, if not stronger than it was throughout the rest of the day. I attribute that to religious exercise and rest and recovery, exercise and recovery.

Yeah, absolutely love it. Mike, thanks so much for being on the show!

James, thank you, brother.


Resources / Links Mentioned:

⚡ Mike Michalowicz website.

💰 Profit First by Mike Michalowicz.

📙 Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr Robert Cialdini

🧭 Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

🎙️ We Are Members: create a thriving business from your podcast

🗝️ Apply for The Day Won Mastermind

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Oscar Wilde

Today, we sit down with one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and all-round legends, Mike Michalowicz. If you feel like you’re treading water in your career (or simply have lofty goals), or you’re thinking of going down the entrepreneurial route, this is the episode for you.

By his 35th birthday Mike had founded and sold two multi-million-dollar companies. Confident that he had the formula to success, he became a small business angel investor – but then proceeded to lose his entire fortune. Then he started all over again, driven to find better ways to grow healthy, strong companies.

Mike has devoted his life to the research and delivery of innovative, impactful strategies to help business owners succeed. He is the creator of Profit First, which is used by hundreds of thousands of companies across the globe to drive profit.

Mike is also a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, a business makeover specialist on MSNBC, and author of #1 bestselling books such as Profit First, The Pumpkin Plan, and new book Fix This Next.

In this interview, we go through:

You’re going to love this one. Let’s Win the Day, with Mike Michalowicz!

🎞️ For the video interview, click here.


Resources / Links Mentioned:

⚡ Mike Michalowicz website.

💰 Profit First by Mike Michalowicz.

📙 Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr Robert Cialdini

🧭 Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

🎙️ We Are Members: create a thriving business from your podcast

🗝️ Apply for The Day Won Mastermind

“When things change inside you, things change around you.”

Buddha

Welcome to my third annual holiday gift guide! Each year, I outline the items that have made the biggest impact in my life throughout the year, and I know they’ll do the same for you.

Before we begin, this holiday season – rather than squandering money on gifts with little long-term value – consider giving something practical, like a life-changing book that gets the recipient excited about taking ownership of their future.

Aside from allowing us to delve into the minds of the most inspiring and innovative people who ever lived, books are a great gift because they sit there staring back at us: providing gentle prompts, imaginative thought, and unprecedented motivation when we need it most. In fact, many of the people I interviewed for Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy noted that, in times of distress, just staring at the cover of Napoleon Hill’s original classic made them feel better about themselves.

Audiobooks have again been a huge focus for me this year because you can listen with an increasing playback speed and also listen while you’re doing something else, such as cooking dinner or exercising, and it can even be used socially if, for example, you're driving and want to enjoy the book with someone else. Your mind gets amazingly good at an increased playback speed and now I listen to most books at about 1.5x, and you can simply rewind 15 or 30 seconds if there’s a point you missed or want to reinforce (which I do regularly).

For people who struggle with traditional books, I highly recommend audiobooks, although if you’re looking at a gift for someone other than yourself, perhaps a hardcover book is better.

Anytime I find a book that really speaks to me, I am sure to grab a copy of the hardcover version too so I can use as a quick reference point whenever I need it. And the #1 book I’ve read this year is actually an audiobook, as you’ll see below.

Filling your mind with the knowledge you need is the best way to transcend your circumstances so you can achieve whatever you want in life, regardless of what’s happened in your past. Every book I have read has changed my life in one way or another, so that hunger for learning should hopefully be a priority for you too.

Without further ado, here are the books that I think would make the best gifts this holiday season, for you, a friend or a loved one. They’re mentioned by category, rather than in any ranking order, so just pick whichever ones intrigue you the most.

Note: If you're new to the Win the Day show, welcome! You can subscribe to the podcast or on YouTube.

Best to future-proof your life:

Millennial Samurai by George Chanos

Many of you first came across George in Episode 27 of the Win the Day show where he spoke about the technological tsunami that’s sweeping the earth. That push to automation has only increased during the covid era, and this book contains hundreds of practical tips that you can use to prepare yourself for a world so different that even futurists have a hard time predicting it. George does an excellent job at communicating what some of those breakthroughs are likely to be in this easy to read book.

George has had an extraordinary career as Attorney General of Nevada, chairman of restaurant chain Capriotti’s, and even argued successfully in front of the United States Supreme Court. His book Millennial Samurai contains insights into artificial intelligence and so many other things that will rapidly transform the world in the next 30 years, and gives you a detailed plan to ensure you’re able to massively leverage the future rather than be made redundant by it.

George is an incredibly insightful bloke and if you want to future-proof your life, or be one of the leaders in the future, Millennial Samurai is the book for you.

Best for young people:

The Road to Success by Brandon T. Adams and Samantha Rossin

Brandon and Sam released this book in conjunction with their TV show Success In Your City to detail their journey all over the US to find out the true meaning of “success”. Together, they interviewed some incredible people who have defied the odds and created a life more meaningful than they ever imagined. Both the TV show and the book also include their wedding in Nashville, which was an amazing time, and – fun fact – I was actually the marriage officiant.

But the two themes of the book I enjoyed the most are:

If you want the perfect gift for a young adult with big dreams and looking to pursue a career as an entrepreneur, The Road to Success is highly recommended.

Best for parenting:

Blue Sky Kingdom by Bruce Kirkby

I just finished this book last week and it’s incredible. It reads like fiction. It’s a firsthand account of Bruce Kirkby, an engineering physicist by trade who quit his high-paying 9-5 job so he could spend his days in the great outdoors as a rafting guide. One day, after seeing how addicted he was to his iPhone, Bruce and his wife Christine decided to spend six months living in a Buddhist Monastery in the Himalayas so they could disconnect from modern life and reconnect with their two young children.

An extremely funny turn of events led to our mutual friend Wes Dening, who is a very successful TV producer in Los Angeles, coaxing Bruce into the idea of filming a TV show that documented their experience, which turned into a journey from Canada to Korea, India, Tibet, and many other places (including Mt Everest) with Bruce, Christine and their two young boys – on one condition: they wouldn’t use an airplane the entire time. That journey became the TV show My Big Crazy Family Adventure, which was a top-rated show on the Travel Channel.

Bruce is such a wonderful guy and his insights about what it means to reconnect with being human are a must read for all of us in this era of being increasingly distracted and glued to our phones that really don’t serve us like we think they do. Bruce also delves into the challenges of having a son on the autism spectrum, while balancing the rigors of modern life, and the stress of a 6-month backpacking trip through Asia with a film crew documenting your every move.

The language in the book is so creative and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Best for personal growth:

Andrew Carnegie’s Mental Dynamite by Napoleon Hill and James Whittaker

This book was released just three months ago and has been getting rave reviews. It’s based on the initial conversation between Napoleon Hill and Andrew Carnegie. Hill, at the time, was a young reporter tasked with interviewing Carnegie who was (and still is!) one of the most successful people who ever lived, both in wealth accumulation and philanthropy.

In fact, before he died, Carnegie gave away almost his entire fortune so it could help make the world a better place. An example of that is the more than 7,000 public libraries that have been created from his gifts.

This book will show you how to master self-discipline, how to learn from defeat, and how to create relationships that give your life meaning, impact, and financial freedom. I’m so grateful that I was asked to help with this project, and you’ll see examples of the world’s leading individuals and companies who personify these lessons so you can have both the inspiration and the blueprint to achieve whatever you want in life – and make the world a better place along the way.

Andrew Carnegie’s Mental Dynamite is in thousands of bookstores in pretty much every country, so grab a copy today.

Best for gratitude:

The 5 Minute Journal by Intelligent Change

Next on our list is the best book for gratitude, and this is the only book that has made the list three years running! If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen how frequently I post these as daily stories. A huge percentage of CEOs have spoken about the importance of journaling for mental well-being; yet staring at a blank page each day can be daunting. The 5 Minute Journal provides a useful structure to start and finish the day in the right mindset.

On this show, we talk constantly about winning the day. The best way to win the day is to know what actions you’re going to take on a given day and how they relate to your long-term mission, and this book gives you a forum to be able to do just that.

To me, it’s been truly life-changing and it’s the book I gift the most. If you want an introduction to gratitude, this is where to start.

Best for relationships:

Leading Without Authority by Keith Ferrazzi

In August, I was extremely grateful to have Keith Ferrazzi on the Win the Day show. Keith is undoubtedly the global leader in relationships and networking. His latest book Leading Without Authority contains a blueprint to getting other people excited in your mission, so it becomes a shared mission – giving you a far greater probability of making an impact and having a lot of fun along the way.

What I love most about this book is how tactical it gets in the second half. In a covid world, this is essential reading, since Keith is also one of the world’s foremost experts in remote work, where he contributes to Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal.

One of my proudest moments this year is having the opportunity to connect with Keith, and any of his work will change your life like it did for me. You can also check out his #1 NY Times bestselling book Never Eat Alone, which is still a monster hit today.

Best for empowerment:

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

It’s hard to think about 'empowerment' without mentioning Brené Brown. Brené's work on the power of vulnerability has created a huge following, and her latest book Dare to Lead contains a lot of practical strategies to tap into your vulnerability and use it to strengthen, rather than weaken, your life. Like Keith, Brené is focused on real relationships with massive long term benefits, rather than transactional encounters that seek to benefit one person over another.

The book also delves into why values are so important and gives you a step by step guide to creating a compass that will point you in the right direction, no matter what crossroad you come across in life.

One big takeaway for me was that vulnerability without courage doesn’t exist. If you have that voice in your ear that says you’re not enough, but Dare to Lead give you the empowerment you need so you can start to make your mark on the world.

Best for entrepreneurs:

The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz

My favorite book this year – I know you’ve been waiting for this one – is my recommendation for the best book for entrepreneurs, and it’s The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz. We’ve actually got an interview with Mike scheduled for early next year, and he’s going to drop some incredible knowledge bombs.

To be clear, The Pumpkin Plan is the best audiobook I’ve ever heard – Mike has this incredible energy, and if you’re an entrepreneur or professional feeling constantly burnt out and that there aren’t enough hours in the day, this book will show you how to free up your time to focus on what matters most, while at the same time making a huge impact with your business.

Mike has written 7x bestselling books, and in The Pumpkin Plan he gives you a framework to turn your business from just another offering to being irresistibly magnetic. One of the biggest takeaways for me was the quote “Your first success is being happy”. As an entrepreneur, we constantly attach our happiness to tomorrow – or another date in the future – when what we should be doing is implementing a plan that gives us happiness and freedom in the present.

Mike is a great dude and you’re going to love this book if you’re an entrepreneur. Check out The Pumpkin Plan – I highly recommend the audiobook – and definitely keep an eye out for his episode on Win the Day coming in January 2021.

Best Gift (or Accompaniment) for Everyone:

The final recommendation on this list, which is the best gift (or gift accompaniment) for everyone, is a letter or card – handwritten if your legibility allows – to acknowledge the recipient for all the loving and selfless actions they have taken to brighten your world and illuminate your spirit. Expressing our gratitude to one another in the long form written medium has become a lost art, but that just means your opportunity to make an impression will be even more powerful.

You've heard me say many times before that the best way to get is to give first. This holiday season, give someone a piece of your heart, and watch the way your life changes as a result.


I proudly recommend all these books and know they would be a welcome gift in any stocking. This year give your friends and loved ones the inspiration and ability to help themselves.

As we approach the end of 2020, I wanted to thank each and every one of you for your continued support. This will be the last episode for the year, and we’ll be back stronger than ever in the second week of January with incredible guests. And their mission? To help you win the day, every day.

If you haven't checked out our YouTube channel, click here and get access to exclusive content and other videos to help you blast through whatever obstacles you're facing.

Have a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones and get excited for an incredible 2021.

Remember, to get out there and win the day. Until next year, onwards and upwards always.

Happy holidays,
James Whittaker

“When things change inside you, things change around you.”

Buddha

Welcome to my third annual holiday gift guide! Each year, I outline the items that have made the biggest impact in my life throughout the year, and I know they’ll do the same for you.

Before we begin, this holiday season – rather than squandering money on gifts with little long-term value – consider giving something practical, like a life-changing book that gets the recipient excited about taking ownership of their future.

Aside from allowing us to delve into the minds of the most inspiring and innovative people who ever lived, books are a great gift because they sit there staring back at us: providing gentle prompts, imaginative thought, and unprecedented motivation when we need it most.

In fact, many of the people I interviewed for Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy noted that, in times of distress, just staring at the cover of Napoleon Hill’s original classic made them feel better about themselves.

Anytime I find a book that really speaks to me, I am sure to grab a copy of the hardcover version too so I can use as a quick reference point whenever I need it. And the number one book I’ve read this year is actually an audiobook, as you’ll see.

Filling your mind with the knowledge you need is the best way to transcend your circumstances so you can achieve whatever you want in life, regardless of what’s happened in your past. Every book I have read has changed my life in one way or another, so that hunger for learning should hopefully be a priority for you too.

Without further ado, here are the books that I think would make the best gifts this holiday season, for you, a friend or a loved one. They’re mentioned by category, rather than in any ranking order, so just pick whichever ones intrigue you the most.

🎞️ For the video episode, click here.


Resources / Links Mentioned:

🤺 Millennial Samurai by George Chanos

🌞 Blue Sky Kingdom by Bruce Kirkby

🚧 The Road to Success by Brandon T. Adams and Samantha Rossin

🧨 Andrew Carnegie’s Mental Dynamite by Napoleon Hill and James Whittaker

💑 Leading Without Authority by Keith Ferrazzi

✏️ The 5 Minute Journal by Intelligent Change

🧭 Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

🎃 The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz

💰 Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy by James Whittaker

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision."

Helen Keller


Before we begin, I want to make something very clear: how you respond to adversity when it inevitably strikes is what separates ordinary people from extraordinary achievers.

That’s right, none of us are immune to adversity – and, in fact, the most successful people use the adversity they’ve faced as fuel to move forward stronger and more resilient than ever before.

Today we sit down with Dr Sonja Stribling who has faced enormous adversity her entire life.

She was born into a family as the youngest of 12 children, to parents who only had a second-grade education. At age 15, she gave birth to her first child. And just two years later, at 17 years old, she was raped and left for dead.

Sonja went on to college, but just prior to graduating, she joined the US Army for what would become a 21-year career, including combat tours in war-torn countries like Iraq and reaching the rank of Major.

While in the military, her 18-year marriage fell apart, and she returned to civilian life without any idea of what to do next. Considering taking her own life, Sonja had an epiphany that there was more to her story than what had been written.

Since that fateful moment, she has become an internationally renowned speaker, author, television presenter, and business coach, as well as recipient of the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award.

In this wide-ranging interview, we talk about:

She holds nothing back and I know you’re going to love it. Let’s win the day with Dr Sonja Stribling.

James Whittaker:
You're one of the strongest people I know. You've also got about the biggest heart out of anyone that I know, and you've helped so many people all around the world. We'll get into the amazing highs and lows of your story very shortly.

But first I wanted to say thank you for your service and thank you for all you do to make the world a better place. I'm deeply honored to have you here today.

Sonja Stribling:
Thank you so much for your continued support James.

What was your life like growing up, especially as the youngest of 12 children?

Honestly, I felt like I was the only child because they were so much older. At the very beginning, everyone was two years apart, but when you get to the last three or four of us we were spread out a little bit. Of course I was what they called the “mistake baby” and the mistake baby came eight years after everybody else. So when I showed up, it was a little different.

I didn't know my dad and I had to dig deep into that later in life, but I remember him being around once. Maybe when I was 9 - 10 years old, but that's about it. So my childhood wasn't the best. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't the best. And so just being the youngest of 12 and knowing my mom had a third-grade education and my dad had I think second-grade education, that's about all I remember of him. But my mother is a strong woman, for sure.

And your teenage years were particularly challenging. You had a child at 15 and just two years later, you were raped and left for dead in a field. How did those experiences change your mindset at the time, having that happen at such a young age?

Well, I can remember being 15 years old, James, and you will see me look up because I can remember being in that hospital room, giving birth to my first child at 15 years old. I remember them strapping me down to the table. I can smile about it now, but for years I couldn't tell that story.

A 15-year-old should not be giving birth, but I did. It was a blessing later, but during that time I had to grow up really fast – I’m very open and transparent now about my story. My mom was a saving grace. She was there when the rest of my family wanted me to have an abortion. My mother was like, "No, that's not what we do. You made this bed, you're going to lie in it." But it was a blessing. My son will be 34 this year, but it's a blessing that I had a mother like that who insisted I be responsible for this child.

I had to grow up really fast.

And then, as you mentioned before, James, two years later in the wrong place at the wrong time. I grew up fast. I skipped my entire teenage years, and all the fun things we’re supposed to do as teenagers, because I was a mom. I didn't get the opportunity to do that. I was busy with school, busy with a child, busy just trying to figure out my life.

It was a bit much, but at 17 when that happened, it really changed who I was. I didn't think the same. I was very angry. I was very hurt, disappointed. So it was a lot to deal with as a young adult.

At 22, you went and joined the military, which was a career you ended up having for more than 20 years. What was it about the US Army that appealed to you?

It's so funny. I laugh about this because it was just a couple of years ago that I realized that out of 12 siblings, seven of us were in the military. Four of us were retired military. Because they were so much older, they weren't around. And then when I got older, I went to college, played college basketball, and then joined the military. It wasn't the conversations that we had, because I wasn't there. During their adult life, I was younger and with mom. So it was just different.

I always saw the "Be all you can be" army sticker on the door. So when I joined, it just seemed natural that I was supposed to be there, and I absolutely enjoyed my career in the military. I'm glad it's over, but you know once a soldier, always a soldier.

It gave me the opportunity to express how I felt about the heavy things that I couldn’t express previously. So it was a blessing for me to join and serve my country.

Well, doing combat tours in places like Iraq, I'm sure that presented elements of life and humanity that other people would really have no idea about. What did those experiences teach you about the world?

Wow, great question, James. By the way – you ask the best questions ever! Just being in a foreign land… I’m a country girl from Wilson, Arkansas, who had never been on foreign soul. And when I traveled on foreign soil for the first time, I was an Officer, and it was just like, “Wow, am I really in the desert?” Like proper desert, not Arizona or any place like that.

Iraq is a place I never want to go back to – not in that situation and as a mom having to leave my kids for 15 months. I was married at the time. My husband was there and he was about a 45 minute flight away, but you can’t just walk outside of the gate and say, “I'm going to go see my husband.” You had to catch a flight. And of course that was dangerous.

So that experience in itself is something I can't describe. I wouldn't really want to, but I would just say it really opened my eyes to what was happening around the world. And the fact that I was a part of a war is, I don't know… War is something that I didn’t find myself in, it’s something I volunteered for. I raised my hand and said, “This is what I want to do.”

War is something that I didn’t find myself in, it’s something I volunteered for.

I volunteered to serve my country and that was a part of it. So I wouldn't take it back, but I don't want to go back there either.

When was the moment in your life where you felt empowered for the first time? That you felt maybe you had more power than what you ever thought possible?

In this very home, some years ago, I was lying on my back, James, and I was just reflecting on my life. All the things that we spoke about. I was in a very deep, dark place, depression, all of that. I had recently retired from the military after serving 21 years. I just wanted more.

It was this feeling of, “Okay, you cannot live like this. There's got to be more.” I wanted something that was going to bring me happiness. I just remember crying. My prayer was, "Please don't let me live like this." Because as a woman of faith and a believer in God, it was, “God, please help me. Don't let me live like this.”

I had children and, James, if I can be very honest and very transparent, I was at the moment where I was literally wanting to take my life. I didn't want to be here anymore. It was just way too much. Thinking back: being in the Army for 21 years, having a child at 15 years old, what happened at 17. Those things happened. Then a marriage of 18 years ending in divorce that took three years to dissolve. It was a bit much for a single mom of three kids.

I was literally wanting to take my life. I didn't want to be here anymore.

I sat back and thought, “Okay, there's got to be more. So if you're not going to let me take my life, please just don't let me live like this. Just use me in whatever capacity you think I fit in.”

After that, I found myself very quickly on social media sharing my story, sharing my life about divorce, and all of these women thanked me for helping them, but it was helping me too because everything that was pent up on the inside of me I could share it very openly. Messages, emails, all of that were coming through.

So the turning point was when I realized that there was more for me to do, when I began to bring a smile to somebody else's face helping them get through whatever they were going through, it blew my mind. No one ever talked to me about it. No one ever shared that, "Hey, you can tell your story. You can share," but that's exactly what happened and it changed my life forever.

That honesty and authenticity is such a big part of your personality and one of the things I love most about you. Well, you had this 18-year marriage, which you just mentioned was a really difficult time in your life, but that then went on to inspire your book. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience, what the book means to you, and the lessons in it that help other women today?

The book is called, The Divorce that Saved My Life: 12 Principles to Overcoming a Broken Relationship. You can go and find it on Amazon and at the bookstore. The book was more of my story, but it wasn't just my story. It was tips and tools for women or men – whomever read it – to really help them walk through the journey and to know that divorce is not the end.

Divorce can be the beginning if you want, because in itself that book was my story of how I overcame all of the trauma and the pain in my life and the disappointment in the divorce in itself. It walks individuals through identifying the problems, why you're in broken relationships, and why we choose the mates that we choose, and all of that. So it was a part of my give back, to share the very intimate parts of my life.

And it was just inspired because I had to get it out. One day I was like, “I want to write a book” but I didn't realize how challenging that was. Even to this day, I cannot read it all the way through without crying. I was like, “Who is this and how did she survive?” Knowing that it was me and I was a part of this big movie. But the main thing is that it helps someone else. So that book was just something that I just wanted to give back to help someone else write their own story.

Recently I had mindset and brain expert, John Assaraf, on the show. And he was talking about using the past as a guiding post, not a hitching post. It sounds like you had something similar.

What was it about your life that made you want to work with female empowerment in particular, which of course has led to you having your own TV show and a whole bunch of other amazing opportunities around the world?

Well, truth be told James, I didn't want to really help women. I Just didn't. I wanted to focus on just me, because simple fact, because I'm a woman, I know what we deal with, all the nuances, the ups and downs and the roller coasters and all of that. But of course the universe and God had a different plan for me, and women began to come.

Men do come and I do coach men as well, but my focus in my heart was for women because all of the things we deal with. We multitask so much. We have so much on our plates. We're our husbands' wife and we're our children's mother, and we're the caregivers for everybody else. And people are pulling at us and I realize, “What if I can help another woman get to where I am?” I’m not saying I made it to the mountaintop, but I sure feel like I had, and I know it's just the beginning. So I just decided, okay, let me help some other women build their business.

One day, I had walked off stage after a speaking event, and a woman tapped me on the shoulder. I thought she wanted a signed book, but she said, "No, no, no, I don't want a book. My marriage is great. My relationship is amazing. I want to know how to do what you do."

I thought, “What am I doing!?” I didn't realize I was doing something! I was just doing at the time, what I thought was necessary and needed. It helped me, but it helped other women.

She said, "I need a coach."

And at that moment, that's when I stepped into this role of being someone else, not just a life coach, but someone else's business coach, because all they wanted to know is how do I do what you do? How do I build a six figure or higher business?

I was like, “Wow, I am doing that!”

At that time, I had made a million dollars in my business just helping others, not really thinking of it as a business, which is crazy. That's a whole different story in itself. But then I realized, James is that they were asking. So I began to build something so massive that would help women change generational wealth, to take them on a journey to help other people and really change the trajectory of their life and their business, if that was their choice to have.

You're very candid and open about talking about money, yet it seems to be almost a taboo subject in most countries. Tell us more about this mission to help others build wealth and freedom and why so many people have a bad relationship with money?

I think it's all from our childhood around the world. I mean, I used to think it was just for women and men who were in the US. But then I began to travel to the UK, Australia, and Canada, I realized it was everywhere.

Money makes the world go round. I don't care what anyone says. Most people who say it's not important, normally don't have any, which I not necessarily their fault. It is just more about what we've been taught along the way.

Money makes the world go round. I don't care what anyone says.

We can sit at a table and talk about money, but if I look at the table men talk about money, no problem. But women are very shy about having conversations about someone paying for their services. I wanted to change that thought process of you sitting at the table and being very confident about who you are and what you bring to the table, because you wouldn't allow someone to do that in a job.

You know what you're worth, but why is it so different when it comes to business? That's the pathway I want to change for women to know that they are worth so much more than what they give themselves credit for and what they allow others to put a price tag on them.

There was something I heard you say in another interview, “If you didn't come from a wealthy family, let a wealthy family come from you.” What does that mean exactly?

Oh, wow. So I was sitting in church some years ago with my son who was in his freshman year of college, and the pastor said something very similar to that. At the time, my son elbowed me and said, "Mom, he's talking about you." Oh my gosh, James, my face at the beginning just swelled with tears. I started crying so har, just from the simple fact that my youngest realized that our lives or his life, his children's lives, are different because of that.

So when you hear me say publicly and in books and wherever that if you didn't come from a wealthy family, let a wealthy family come from you. Just because you came from nothing doesn't mean your family has to carry on that tradition. It means you get to create whatever lifestyle that you want. And so it's just been my mantra.

Just because you came from nothing doesn't mean your family has to carry on that tradition.

I don't want my children to suffer the way I did or the way my mother did. It's not just about the money. Being rich is more about teaching them different ways that they don't have to always go get a 9:00 to 5:00 and always have to go to school because school is not for everyone, but there are other means to create wealth. You just need to know where to find those ideas and the strategies and the tips and tools to do so.

This year in particular has really shone a light on social injustice. To me, one of the most alarming statistics is that the average net worth of a black American family is $17,000, whereas for a white American family it's $170,000. At a community level, or at whatever level you think you want to talk about, what can be done to help balance this wealth gap? Because clearly a very real problem exists somewhere.

There's so much. I was having this conversation with one of my sons at home, and he plays in NFL at times, and then he was coming over to Canada to play, but of course they closed the borders. And we were talking about the years from slavery and all the things that were happening.

And by the way, James, when this took place, I think for eight days at the beginning, I cried every day. Every single day. I had to stop watching social media. I literally felt like it was happening to my family. I have three young black sons, so I called them all the time to check in. One was home, one went back to college, and the oldest one was in Arkansas. So I was constantly on the phone to sure that they're okay.

And then even during the pandemic, I'll be honest, my business tripled. It is simply because I got the opportunity. I worked from home, but I was doing a lot of traveling before COVID, but I just made the pivot and I start working from home. I started thinking about not just the community but what about us as African Americans and what we can do. I truly believe what has happened is we have not been educated at the same level that others have.

What I mean by that, talking to some of my Caucasian friends or anyone outside of the black community, the conversation that some of them are having at their kitchen table wasn't about survival. It was about, "Hey, when you get 18, if you don't go to college or you need to go to college, you can get more education. So you can be the accountant in our business, or you can do those things." They were having conversations about business.

But we weren’t having those conversations in my community. I know I didn't have that conversation with my mom. Not at nine sitting at the kitchen table, it was just, "Hey, we're going to eat today. What are we eating? And do you have homework?" It wasn't about the future per se, other than graduate, get a good job, go to college, get a good job. That was the conversation. And what I believe our community is missing is that education.

I’ve been in the military 21 years. Did I see racism? Yes. However, most of the time when I was in the room, James, I was a senior person, so people said, "Hey, you may not want to do that with her." It was just a respect thing that was mandated through the military. When I retired, I saw the world different. So I felt like I'd been sheltered a long time. I'm not saying racism doesn't exist in the military because it absolutely does. But what's happening in the world now is at a whole different level.

And so I think for us, we haven't been shown a few things, but I also think we have to take responsibility and not think it's about looking good and having these nice things or nice hair and all of that. There's so many other things that I've learned along the way. Just to say that I'm the first millionaire in my family is a big deal. Sometimes I get choked up about it. My children know, my family knows I'm the youngest, but I had to take on opportunities when they weren't always offered to me. I had to go find them.

You mentioned access to education, which I think is so important. In my experience, where I’ve learned the most in a practical sense is actually doing things – it’s solving real life and business problems. It's not necessarily what I learned at elementary school or high school of which I really remember probably zero. It was from having my own businesses.

I know that there's a lot of associations out there working with communities now to try and give people real life business experience through simulations, training, and programs, and I hope that style of education continues, especially in low income communities, all around the world. Entrepreneurial skills, especially now that the barriers to entry are so low where all you really need to start a business is an internet connection and a phone.

Oh yeah, 2020 is a year of the expert. If you have some life experience and knowledge... This year, James, I launched a new platform called Kitchen Table CEO. It's just that. It is more of taking your life experience and the knowledge that you had to be able to create generational wealth, because people are picking your brain all the time. They're asking you your opinion on things, and we just give it away and not thinking that you actually have something on the inside of you that many people want.

You don't need 100,000 people to make a $100,000 anymore. You need a handful of people who are willing to invest in themselves, and you take them on a journey. When I learned that, it changed the game for me.

You don't need 100,000 people to make a $100,000 anymore. You need a handful of people who are willing to invest in themselves, and you take them on a journey.

I was sharing with one of my colleagues who was in the military 28 years. He was talking about how he had just written his book and he's doing all these great things. I said, “If I would've known what I know now…” and I've invested a lot, James – and I'm sure you have as well – in my self-development but also in the business that I saw for myself.

Did I imagine one day it would be a multimillion-dollar business? Absolutely not. I just wanted to make $10,000. I wanted to replace the income from the military and that began to happen not just by the month and by the week and by the hour. It was like, “Wow, I have my hands on something.” If I had learned this years ago, while I was active duty military, I probably would have gotten out early. So it happened at the right time, but I've learned so much about wealth, the difference in wealth and riches and just really creating your own table.

And I love to say write your own check. When you're able to do that, no one can take that from you, not even a pandemic.

Yeah, it's so true having that resourcefulness and of course the resilience that you've forged from a life of challenges that you've overcome. And a lot of the mutual friends we have are all about making sure that we can learn the lessons from adversity and that it's never fatal unless we accept it as such.

You mentioned systemic racism before and it's been a major spotlight in 2020, not just in the US but around the world. Now that a bit of time has passed, how do you feel about the activism that's happened this year? And since we seem more divided than ever, what can people do to move forward united?

Well, the social injustice that's going on right now has led me to learn more about history than I've ever done. I didn't know anything about Black Wall Street. I learned about that, the killing and the massacre of a whole town and black business owners. They burned the city to the ground – just wiped out families.

It made me reflect on what happened in our history that made us think that because of someone's skin color, that they're less than. You have to think about how imbalanced someone is to think on that level and for it to carry over hundreds of years, even to today.

And when you hear the conversation about black lives matter, and then you say all lives matter... It's almost like, James, your wife coming to you and saying, "Honey, I'm not happy today because this is what you did."

The wrong thing for James to do is to say, "Well, I'm not happy either," right?

Whoa, wait a minute – I came to you first! This is not a tit for tat. I came to you to let you know that I'm not happy and to see if you could help me work through this. It is not the time to say all lives matter. Because all lives matter is not the point right now, it is about black lives matter. It's not saying everybody's not important. We're not saying that. We're saying right now, what we see in society is there a lot of black people being killed. There's a lot of injustice for the black community and we want something done.

And so when I sat back, I never really thought about this before. Again, I was in the military. I believe I was very much sheltered from what was happening in society. Well, I'm no longer sheltered. I'm wide awake. I see what's happening and I'm not very happy about it. At one point I was very angry, mainly at the fact that I missed it. So what I believe is happening is just some of the old thought processes that people have had. They have instilled it in their children.

But as far as unity, it's just time. I'm loving that Nike and Sprite and all those folks, national platforms are bringing awareness. You see tennis pros wearing a t-shirt with ‘Say her name’ and things like that.

But there's still some people who are quiet. Why? It could be about the bottom line, what's on their paycheck.

We’re going to get to a place where it's not all about the money. It is about justice and being right and fair. But we have to do something. We can no longer go back to the way we were. I'm very interested to see what the upcoming years look like about social injustice and when we ever get to a point, it's going to be a process for sure, but I'm curious to see what it looks like at the end of the road, at least during the time that I'm alive.

Can you imagine us all working together and that in itself, I would love to see that. I believe we're on our way. We have some ways to go, but it has to start from the very top from leadership. And that's the thing that needs to be changed and challenged more so than anything.

You're a mom to three boys, and I'm a new father. It's funny when you become a parent, it's like the fears that you have for yourself get passed down where you worry about what’s going to happen to your children rather than yourself. And it seems weird that the fear I have for my one child could be amplified by three because of the three children that you have, and parents who have even more children! As a mother, what is the greatest fear that you have for you children?

That they will be judged by the color of their skin and that they will not get a fair shake in life. All three of my boys now have dreadlocks; it’s not something I'm a fan of, right? Not because of a race or anything – I like clean-cut military, but they look very nice in their dreads. They are athletes too. So it is just assuming that all young black men are thugs or gangsters or whatever. They're very educated, highly respectful young men but my fear is that they will not be treated fairly because of their skin color.

But the second fear I have is that they will have a poverty mindset, and I know I have a responsibility in that. Not under my watch. We're not playing that game at all. I'm adamant about that, that it is not a ‘woe is me’ scenario, even though there's a pandemic happening, even though there are leaders who are not looking out for your wellbeing, and all of that. I want to give them something pandemic-proof, but at a minimum to make sure they don’t have a poverty mindset.

Now, as they get older, if they make decisions along the way and they do that, that's fine. But I don't want to raise them in that thought process. So a lot of the ways, James, that I used to think about things have changed because of what's happening right now. A lot of people are having to make decisions because of the pandemic, such as what they do financially.

About a week ago, I started a real estate company for my kids. That was the best feeling in the world, that I can change generational wealth because of how much I've invested in myself, the things that I've learned, so they don't have to go down that pathway and they can create their next level, if they want. Do they still have to deal with some racism? Yes. But I don't want them dealing with racism and being in poverty.


Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Sonja does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about her favorite quote, what advice she’d give her 18-year-old self, her favorite book, and a whole lot more 🚀


That mindset is such a big thing. The reverse of the poverty mindset is the growth mindset, or wealth mindset as some people might call it. I think a growth mindset is about as good a gift as you could give any child on their journey through life.

Final question, what's one thing you do to win the day?

I wake up every single morning and I ask myself, “Who can I serve today to get to their next level?”

Resources / links mentioned:

📷 Sonja Stribling on Instagram

⚡ Sonja Stribling website

📙 The Divorce That Saved My Life: 12 Principles To Overcoming A Broken Relationship by Dr Sonja Stribling

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision."

Helen Keller


Before we begin, I want to make something very clear: how you respond to adversity when it inevitably strikes is what separates ordinary people from extraordinary achievers.

That’s right, none of us are immune to adversity – and, in fact, the most successful people use the adversity they’ve faced as fuel to move forward stronger and more resilient than ever before.

Today we sit down with Dr Sonja Stribling who has faced enormous adversity her entire life. She was born into a family as the youngest of 12 children, to parents who only had a second-grade education. At age 15, she gave birth to her first child. And just two years later, at 17 years old, she was raped and left for dead.

Sonja went on to college, but just prior to graduating, she joined the US Army for what would become a 21-year career, including combat tours in war-torn countries like Iraq and reaching the rank of Major.

While in the military, her 18-year marriage fell apart, and she returned to civilian life without any idea of what to do next. Considering taking her own life, Sonja had an epiphany that there was more to her story than what had been written.

Since that fateful moment, she has become an internationally renowned speaker, author, television presenter, and business coach, as well as recipient of the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award.

In this wide-ranging interview, we talk about:

She holds nothing back and I know you’re going to love it. Let’s win the day with Dr Sonja Stribling.

For the video interview, click here.


Resources / links mentioned:

📷 Sonja Stribling on Instagram

⚡ Sonja Stribling website

📙 The Divorce That Saved My Life: 12 Principles To Overcoming A Broken Relationship by Dr Sonja Stribling

“My biggest fear is that when I die the person I am meets the person I could have become.”

Author Unknown

Won’t that quote (above) make you think twice about living every minute to the fullest!?

Well, today's guest is a truly extraordinary human and DEFINITELY living to the fullest! And if you’ve got kids of your own or an adventurous spirit you’re going to absolutely love this one.

Bruce Kirkby grew up in Toronto as an engineering physicist by trade, but going through the motions each day left him feeling like there was so much more to life than what he was experiencing.

Despite almost failing English in high school, Bruce became a wilderness writer and adventure photographer, and today he’s visited more than 80 countries and is renowned for connecting wild places with contemporary issues. Some of his most notable accomplishments, of which there are many, include the first modern crossing of Arabia’s Empty Quarter by camel, a descent of Ethiopia’s Blue Nile Gorge by raft, a sea kayak traverse of Borneo’s northern coast, and a coast-to-coast Icelandic trek.

Bruce is the author of three bestselling books, winner of multiple National Magazine Awards, and has been featured in The New York Times. His television show Big Crazy Family Adventure was released by the Travel Channel in 2015 and followed Bruce’s journey with his wife and two young children from their home in Canada to India with one condition – they weren’t able to use an airplane the entire time. That adventure in particular has some truly incredible moments.

In this interview, we’re going to dive into Bruce’s craziest experiences, of which there are many. We’ll also look at:

He’s got an incredible energy, some amazing stories, and I know you’re going to love this episode. Let’s get into it!

James Whittaker:
What was an average day for Bruce Kirkby growing up?

Bruce Kirkby:
I grew up in the suburban wastelands of Toronto at the end of the subway line, so I felt like I was kind of removed from the action. I was a bit of a geek – good at maths and science. I was pretty active too, and loved to ride my bike and explore. Now, I've spent my whole life doing wilderness travel but, even at that age, I remember the joy in poking around construction sites once the workers had left. At the time though, I did not see myself as anything other than a math and science nerd.

In high school, I failed English. It's kind of weird that I ended up writing books and being a columnist for newspapers! But I thought I'd always go into math and science. By the time I got to university, I wanted to be like Michael J. Fox in Family Ties. I'm like, "I'll get an MBA and I'll just study engineering." I thought it would be this killer duo.

When I graduated, I was off to chase the money, until I started guiding rafts and everything else.

You’re an engineering physicist by trade. When did you get the sense that there was much more to your life than that traditional route you were on?

Eng phys is beautiful because you learn why the sky is blue, how electricity works, and all kind of practical things, but it only prepares you for academia and research. I knew already that wasn't for me, so I got a job in a little consulting firm and I loved the excitement. It was six people at the start, and I left four months later was 45 people, so it was growing quickly. It was in IT consulting, and I was in Ottawa, the capital of Canada.

As that was happening, my housemate had rented a cheap house in Ottawa and was starting a bungee jumping company as part of a rafting outfit on the river. I went to a meeting and the head of the rafting company said, "Why don't you guide rafts for us?" And I did. There was just such clarity for me that those two days of the weekend were so much more… not just joyful, but meaningful. They mattered to me more than the other five days of the week, even with the 99.8% cut in pay. I decided that's where I was going to go.

Too many people, especially in fields like investment banking, are living to work?

We put a lot of demands in western culture, and that's not wrong. I'm still a full Type-A guy, and it happened to be that my interests and my joys evolved. People often ask what my strength or superpower was that led me through this. For whatever reason, I had real comfort with uncertainty.

When I quit engineering, I didn't need to know what was going to happen one year later, or five years, or 30 years. But it led me to find the things that mattered to me, which is remote landscapes and threatened indigenous and traditional cultures around the world. So I still brought that full intensity, that full Type-A work ethic, into what I do. I just realized pretty quickly that working in a downtown setting wasn't for me.

Some of the adventures that you've been on are absolutely incredible in your travel to 80+ countries. Let's start with the Arabian desert where you did the first modern crossing of Arabia's empty quarter by camel. For those who don't know much about that region, the climate, the geography and anything else, how brutal was that experience?

Well, so many expeditions are difficult but fun. The empty quarter was the quarter of the world. The Bedouin thought it was uninhabited. They thought there was this huge sand desert in the middle of the peninsula that was empty. So only really three people had crossed it before us and in modern times no one. Wilfred Thesiger was the last fellow in 1938 who had been through that region. So we went back in 1999 and bought 12 camels.

It got hot. I remember our thermometer broke. It was 52.1 Celsius (126 Fahrenheit), so for a Canadian, we call it a toque. I like to have a hat on and my warm boots. Because you can escape the cold, but you cannot escape the heat.

There was no way out. It was hot, but none of it seemed like deprivation. I remember we really tried to go as traditionally as possible. I'd heard about other people who had made attempts and brought plastic water jugs that had just cracked in the heat. Instead, we had sheepskins. You basically take a sheep, cut the head off, empty it out and turn it inside out, and hang it by the legs from the saddle, one on each side. Man, the water that came out was green, and there's like these floating hairs and pieces of other stuff.

You talked about it being brutal. That does sound brutal, but for me, the joys were learning about the Arabic culture and learning about the Bedouin. That feeling of working over a period of time towards our destination… when we saw the blue waters of the Arabian Gulf and rode into Abu Dhabi, it just felt incredible.

It must have been an amazing feeling. What about the Blue Nile Gorge in Ethiopia and Sudan? They’re two countries that are known recently for unfortunately some violent conflicts. Tell us about that experience?

That was a good year in 1999 because right after crossing the Arabian Peninsula, I went down the Blue Nile with the National Geographic team. The Blue Nile is the bigger tributary of the Nile. The White Nile is longer and it's famous for its origins in the mountains. The Blue Nile supplies about 70% of the water to hit the Aswan Dam, and Ethiopia had been through a period since the early '70s called the reign of terror where no expeditions had been in there.

Blashford-Snell in '68 had led an attempt to go down part of the Blue Nile. One of his men was eaten by a crocodile. A lot of stuff went down, so this was the opening of Ethiopia. It was still kind of controlled by the deputized outlaws and brigands in those highlands.

The Blue Nile Gorge is huge. It is three times the size of the Grand Canyon. We traveled about 500 miles on those big, big volume rapids. The white water wasn't crazy difficult, but at the bottom of every rapid there were 20 to 30 crocodiles. I mean, to the crocs, the rafts look like bloated cow carcasses. And you're probably familiar with how aggressive crocodiles are in the Nile.

As an Australian, I'm very familiar with crocodiles!

Exactly! The Salties in Australia. These were Nile crocodiles. On the first day, one of our interpreters and guides picked up all these little rocks and I was like, "What are those?" He's like, "Oh, they're croc rocks." And he put them beside himself on his seat. When a crocodile showed up, he threw it at the croc, and the croc disappeared.

The white water wasn't crazy difficult, but at the bottom of every rapid there were 20 to 30 crocodiles.

I thought, "Wow, that's amazing." Then I realized it was relatively easy to scare these crocs away, until we got to the big ones.

They always say that you can estimate the size of a crocodile: the distance between its eyes in inches is roughly equivalent to the length in feet. So some of these early ones had a whole lot of inches between the eyes, because that's what you see coming at you. We had a monster come at us – we hit it with oars and paddles, even the croc rocks, and they did nothing. The head was the size of an engine block of an F-150!

Where were you even sleeping at that point!? In Australia at least, crocodiles are known for traveling a long distance on land too.

I was sleeping beside the slowest runner on our team! We were on the banks, but definitely we were aware at all times of what was going on.

Did you have any challenges from a government and military perspective at the time?

We had all types of stuff going. In fact, a friend of mine ran the river the next year and he met a herdsman who said, "Oh, I shot at a couple rafts that came down the river last year, but I missed them." Thank goodness!

We got taken hostage at one point. And when I say hostage, I mean basically three kids. The oldest was 18. The other two looked 13, with AK-47s. Fingers on the triggers. They wanted to walk us in the jungle and take us to their leader. And that's a pretty intense moment when we're going through three layers of interpretation from English to Amharic.

Eventually, with some bribery, we walked out of that. People often talk about the scariest and most uncertain times on these expeditions. People with guns scare me more than anything because most other things have a certain level of predictability to them. You know, you can understand a bear's behavior, a crocodile's behavior and whatnot.

People with guns scare me more than anything because most other things have a certain level of predictability to them.

We met some tribes in the lowlands who had zero contact before us. A lot of my writing and a lot of my thinking is about preserving the incredible knowledge that is held within these vessels of indigenous cultures. So I really had some mixed feelings about that. But the interactions… they would ask how we got on our tight white shirts and then we'd say, "That's our skin!" And then they'd be like, "You guys are disgusting. You're see-through. It's horrible!"

What did you use to bribe them with? Did you have any cash on you or did they want something that was more valuable than perhaps a piece of paper with a number on it?

Do you ever go anywhere without some Ben Franklin's in your wallet!? The American hundred-dollar bill is a universal lubricant. We had several of those and I think it's recognized everywhere. I mean, we had lots of other things that we would trade and give away, but I don't think there's anywhere in the world that $100 doesn't speak pretty loudly.

I know you went to Mount Everest as part of Big Crazy Family Adventure, but what were your experiences with Everest like before that?

I went there in 1997, which was one year after the big Into Thin Air tragedy. I went there with a Canadian team and my role was to set up the communications to run radios on the mountain and send satellite stuff back to sponsors.

It was pretty shocking for me. I mean, the Himalaya are beautiful. I love that land and landscape, and the Sherpa people in particular. But it was the start of, and this is going to sound harsh for me to say, but the ego-driven side of Everest – people really going there in a very goal-oriented way without perhaps the respect and understanding of the mountains or perhaps the mentorship they probably should have gone through.

Just paying big money so they could tick the Everest box?

Absolutely. I saw husbands and wives break up with each other over trying to get to this summit. I understand the allure of the summit and I'm a driven guy, but I have to admit overall I was a little disillusioned.

I had a chance to go back to Everest a few years later or go to the Arabian Desert and ride the camels on the empty quarter. I knew immediately which I was going to do largely because I was interested in being away from those crowds and that insanity. I mean, there were showers in base camp and huge satellite receivers and it's only gotten worse. That was '97. Some people don’t mind that, but it wasn't for me.

Crowds certainly dampen your enthusiasm for wilderness adventures. Outside of the Galapagos Islands, Yosemite is the most spectacular place I’ve ever been to. But there were just so many people there that I just can't imagine how amazing it would have been hundreds of years, prior to the crowds.

Totally. And the funny thing in Yosemite and the Galapagos is you can get away from it a little bit. I mean Yosemite, if you're halfway up The Chief or something, you're on your own generally. The other routes can get a little bit busy.

Particularly hard for me was the focus so intently on the summit at Everest that people lost sight of the beauty, they lost sight of the culture, and the land and the history.

A large part of my work is that I think we need to stay connected with wild places and want to get people out to the Canadian parks. We talked about Banff and Glacier and all these places. It can be hard. Particularly hard for me was the focus so intently on the summit at Everest that people lost sight of the beauty, they lost sight of the culture, and the land and the history. They're going to walk all over each other just to get to the top of this pile of rocks.

Yeah, that “I’ll be happy if” mentality. Like my Everest journey will only be a success if I make it to the peak.

Totally. I think people thought it was going to change their life. Consistency and habits change your life. Standing on top of a pile of rocks doesn't change anything.

In 2015 your TV show, Big Crazy Family Adventure, was released by the Travel Channel and our good friend, Wes Dening. It followed the Kirkby family as you traveled from Canada to India, more than 13,000 miles by every mode of transportation without taking any airplanes.

You were on cargo ships, donkeys, canoes, rickshaws – you name it. You traveled with your wife and two children, aged seven and three at the time. How did you prepare for that journey?

That was a big trip. We were going because we wanted to basically live in a Tibetan, Himalayan Buddhist monastery and get away from this crazy amount of distraction and business we were feeling in our lives. I'd been talking to our good buddy Wes over the years about TV shows and ideas for adventure. I called him and said, "Wes, I'm just going to be out of the loop for the next six months because I'm taking my kids to live in Ladakh."

And there's this pause on the phone. He's like, "Hold on, mate. That might be it! The ultimate family relocation."

I went back to Wes and said, "I was thinking about Ewan McGregor and Long Way Round, like just one embedded photographer. Maybe we film it ourselves just really up close and personal and gritty."

There's another pause on the line and Wes said, "Mate, the Travel Channel has a different vision. We got 16 on the crew and budget for eight helicopters."

I'm like, "I better go talk to my wife, man!"

Things escalated quickly! I can imagine your wife would have been thrilled that your family adventure had quickly turned into a global television show with eight helicopters!

It did escalate quickly! There was a lot of great stuff about the trip and people cannot believe that it wasn't intrusive having the TV crew around. Obviously, there are stressful times. You're wearing a mic, your camera is around you for 100 days almost. That said, it was like Teflon to my boys – it just bounced off their backs.

There's a lot of upsides. The one beautiful thing is we have a nine-hour home documentary about our trip that was produced by a crack team in Los Angeles. The boys watch it all the time! I don't go back and watch myself too much. Once the crew left us, we had this incredible experience in the monastery.

There's another pause on the line and Wes said, "Mate, the Travel Channel has a different vision. We got 16 on the crew and budget for eight helicopters."

But it was really neat and we did a lot of things we wouldn't have done with them. But in terms of preparing, we'd already taken the kids out a lot. We have a thing similar to Yosemite in Canada, with some granite spires. At three months of age, we had Bodi in there. We climbed up to high camps with them. At eight months, we'd had him down in Patagonia. We've done a 70-day horse trip in the Republic of Georgia with both boys. Taj was eight months old at the time.

With the boys, one of the particular challenges was that Wes is like, "We're not going to help. You got to do it all on your own." So we had to pack into two duffel bags, everything we would need for a 100-day journey across the North Pacific over the Himalaya, down in the jungles and heat of Nepal. There were a lot of environments that we were going through. Our plan was I would carry those two duffels – one on my back and one in my arms. Christine would have the two boys in her hands, and we could navigate anything: train stations, guest houses, busy roads in Beijing.

Essentially that's how it worked, so we went light. It's easy to think, "Oh, the kids need a lot of shirts. We'll wash them in the sink at night and dry them and they'll be ready for the morning." We had maybe two or three shirts each, and some first aid and some good hiking boots and that was about it.

How did you prep for the first aid side? When you've got two young kids in the mix and different languages and medical facilities that mightn’t be as good as what you're used to. How did you prepare from that perspective?

Our assumption was we couldn't get medical help. Once we were at the monastery, we were at least two days drive away – in the best conditions – from a hospital. Or, if the road was closed, that would be 14 days of walking. It was a long way.

Luckily, I have friends who are doctors. And as a guide, you have lots of wilderness and first aid training. We took pretty robust medical kits. I took sutures. I've had these sutures forever and I'd watched a Sherpa get 79 stitches in his face at Everest when he fell off a bridge, and that had been two decades earlier.

One of the novice monks at the monastery had a rock hit him that opened up a gash, and I put four stitches into his forehead. We actually use those sutures we took and that was a pretty intense moment. I write about it in the book a bit and the bond between me and him, the trust that's required to sew someone's forehead together, it was unreal really. It was a pretty special moment. And the boys still talk about Jigmet probably more than any other of the novices. But we had everything. I had the most buffed-out first aid kits, because you're taking kids, right? You need to be ready for anything. We had three or four EpiPens just in case.

What did that journey teach you about yourself and your family?

I hinted earlier that the genesis of this was the idea of distraction. I was a bit slow adopting to these smartphones. I probably got my first iPhone a few months prior to that trip. I think just like a tractor beam, I got sucked in really quickly. Just staring at streams of Kafka coming across Twitter and Facebook. I had these two beautiful boys and I knew that I want to be paying attention to them, and I started realizing I'm wasting my time on other stuff. I tried to change it.

We're a lot more fluent now with our understanding of distraction and how these devices work. But both Christina and I wanted to go to the Himalaya with our kids, to live in a Buddhist monastery, and this just seemed like the time.

So when you ask what it taught us, it reinforced to me that time away from distractions with your family forms this incredible bond. No matter what happens when you're home, the gutters need the leaves pulled out of them and that something is broken down, the car needs more gas. There's always something to do. But when it's just the four of you in the same tent every night for six months, something really special happens and I've been exposed to that before. This was the longest big trip we've done at that time.

Time away from distractions with your family forms this incredible bond.

And there were other things that I came home with in terms of Buddhism and things I learned from those ancient cultures. What we've kept doing is going on big trips every summer and it's almost like it just resets that plaster that holds us together.

We just spent 21 days in canoes on the Columbia River and that first night we all crawled into the tent and we have our little positions, we lie, and the kids on the outside, me here. Everything has got to be right because my kids are sticklers for a routine. It just felt we're back! Here we are and by the time we got off the river, we were a well-oiled and well-connected family.

I love that. When our daughter was born 17 months ago, our big focus for her was making she was used to travel, noise, and people. Me being from Australia and my wife being from California, we knew there was going to be a lot of travel on our horizon. When she was two weeks old, we’d taken a six-hour drive to Shaver Lake. At six weeks old, she flew to Hawaii with us. At seven months old, we flew to Australia.

From everything I’ve learned in my 37 years on this planet is that getting kids as adaptable as possible is so powerful. Obviously there are elements of routine that are important, and there are unforeseen challenges that can emerge for any parent. But raising her to be constantly out of her comfort zone has been, and continues to be, a big focus for us as parents.

Totally. There's a lot I can say about kids and travel, but kids need love and their parents. If you're providing those, you're everything. I figured that out really quickly. The other amazing thing with children is what a window into the culture they are as you travel. You go to Buenos Aires or Southeast Asia and you're a 20-year-old backpacker and the locals look at you like, "Don't you have to work? What are you doing!?"

You show up with a baby and it's like everyone has that struggle, right? It's a universal part of all our journey in life. They're like, "You can't sit in the sun. You can't wait for the bus here. You need to come to my house!”

When we took Bodi away for the first time, and I'd been traveling non-stop for 20 years, it changed everything. People will also say, "But they aren't going to remember it. He's only 18 months old." But everything we know about early childhood education is those first years, the bonds are the most critical.

Kids need love and their parents. If you're providing those, you're everything.

So I've often posed a question to people. What's more impactful – taking your daughter or son as a 20-year-old or as an 18-month-old to board a ferry and go across Lake Tanganyika in Africa? Who's to say that the fact that they can't remember it doesn't have a bigger cascading effect on their life? We’ve taken our children out right from the start.

On any of your adventures, along or with your children, where you felt that perhaps you had bitten off more than you can chew?

I remember waking up to a gun fight once and it was intense. I was in Ethiopia and some mule thieves had come. I remember the first thought. I was like, "If someone was going to shoot into the tent, should I crawl up like a ball? How am I going to miss these incoming bullets?"

I think the most out there I felt with the kids was on the container ship. We were crossing the North Pacific Ocean on this massive cargo ship. They were just these little boys and this is an industrial setting with wrenches the size of horse legs hanging off the walls! We hit a storm and the ship was heaving side to side, and the captain came to our bedroom and said, "Just sleep perpendicular across the bunks so you don't roll out in the middle of the night."

I'm like, "Oh, god. What does he know that we don't!?" So it was beyond our control at that point, right? We were really at the safety of someone else's hands. So that was a bit intense. But I felt pretty good with the boys.

At one time Taj, my younger son, had what appeared to be an altitude reaction and we were just starting to acclimatize him. We talked to lots of pediatric physicians and we took him down and kept measuring his oxygen saturation in his blood and brought him up a few days later and he was totally fine. In fact, we got our boys almost to 17,600 feet. Pushing 6,000 meters on the passes as we went in and out of Zanskar and they were just absolutely unfazed.

As a dad, what's the biggest fear you have for your children as they get older?

Oh, boy. Well, I mean these days there's a lot of fear. The world seems pretty dynamic I'd say, not knowing what the future will look like. I want my boys to have the courage and freedom to pursue what matters to them in life. I think that's a journey that we all go through. And I don't want to paint with too broad of brush, but within western society, sometimes, we may get deep into life and look back and think, "Why have we made the choices that we've made? Why have we done the things we've done?"

I want my boys to have the courage and freedom to pursue what matters to them in life.

So I don't want them to get to that place. One thing I try to instill in them is just the precious nature of every day. We don't know what's coming. Of course, as a parent, you look at this beautiful child to love something you have to risk loss. Something could happen to your children and what a horrible thing for parents to consider. But that doesn't mean we don't have kids. So I want them to be aware that every day is so precious.

My fear would be nothing catastrophic. It would just be them not taking full advantage of this opportunity of being alive.

That’s such a good point. One of my favorite quotes actually is, "When I die, my biggest fear is that the person I am meets the person I could have become."

Well, of the countries you've traveled to with a young family, and with all your experiences, what environment or what country in particular do you think would be good to raise a young family in 2020 and beyond?

I love that you asked that. There's a bunch of things that come to mind, but so many other countries really worship the child like the child, and the elders are god and king. So when we took Bodi to Buenos Aires, the very first day we were walking down the road and construction workers were coming up to us and saying, "Goo goo ga ga," like pinching his cheeks saying, "Cachete," which means the cheeks. Businessmen would stop on the road. We were going out for coffee. It was 8:00 AM in the morning and they want to hold our child.

Can you imagine walking around downtown LA, Vancouver, or Toronto, and businessmen or construction workers or high school students asking to hold your baby!? No. So again, does the child know that? I think they do because we brought Bodi back and you'd be in a Starbucks and he'd start trying to get people's attention like making these little gurgling sounds and people be like, "Oh my god."

When you get on a plane holding a baby, everyone looks like the devil has just got on the plane, right? They do not sit in my row or within one row on either side. Man, I got on to a plane down in El Calafate with Bodi and there was this lady. She was an old kind of rancher from the pampas. It might have been her first flight. She was sitting in the exit row, which was row 12. We were in row 56 on that plane. She saw me and my wife walked by. She stopped us. She could speak no English, so she had the kid beside her translate for us and say, "You can't go to the back of the plane. You need this seat. Give me your ticket. I'm going to the back." This was an 80-year-old lady.

So all of that to say the amazing thing in other countries and the thing that I'm trying to bring home is that respect and love of the child, the respect and the love of the elder, that sense of community because it truly takes a village to raise a child.

One of our challenges within a busy lifestyle is not to view our children as a burden, but as a gift.

South America would be an incredible place to bring up your child, but I think anywhere where the child is respected and not seen as a burden. I think that's one of our challenges within a busy lifestyle is not to view our children as a burden, but as a gift. The more busy we are, the harder it is to see that gift they are. But they just flourish when they're in that environment.

It says a lot about the character of the human spirit, doesn't it? Across the world, we come from different cultures and backgrounds, we have different political leaders, we follow different sporting teams and have different interests, but at the end of the day we're all human.

Speaking about busy and the world that we're in, a question I wanted to ask you is about the traditional path. For most people, they get to high school and their whole focus is on getting good grades so they can get into the college program they want. And then once they're in college, their whole idea is to get good grades so they can get the job that they want.

Then they finally get that job, they move to a big city. They pay thousands and thousands of dollars a month for a tiny apartment. Then they commute for an hour a day on a bus, train or car – and I feel like sitting in traffic brings out the worst of everyone – myself included! And people are increasingly glued to their phones. Have we lost the sense of what it means to be human and what can we do to start getting away from that daily grind?

You make an excellent point. I remember being in a physics class in grade 11 and the teacher heard one of the students in the class say, "Oh, I can't go to the dance this Friday. I got too much homework." And the teacher stopped the whole class. He's like, "Everyone sit down. Forget the experiment. Sit down."

He's like, "I don't want you to make this mistake. You're going to forsake your fun right now, forsake living the way you're talking about, so you can get into a good university. Then you're going to say, "I'll have fun later once I graduate and get a good job." Then you're going to say, "I'm going to have fun later or live once I get a promotion and then once I retire.' Then you're going to retire and then you're going to die."

This man said this to me at like, I was probably 16 or 17, and that had a very big impact on how I led my life. And I think we have lost that sense. I suspect we're going to see some form of adaptation going on because it's almost reached a cracking point in the insanity of the news cycle right now. So quite a bit of what I wrote about in this new book that's coming out was this idea that development so often goes one way.

We go to an indigenous culture, we bring healthcare and improved education and all types of technology that eases the rigors of life. But it's always a one-way interaction. Nothing comes back. So the Zanskaris, this place I was living, they had all types of skills and abilities, and I'll give an example of one in a second, to help cement the community, to help bring people's attention to the moment. I was like, "We need to bring some of that back." So one thing that Zanskaris had is this idea of the Paspun which is a group of three or four families and every family, in every village, in all of this valley that's deep in the Himalayas is a unique social construct, is a member of a Paspun.

So they share some religious artifacts. They help each other during times of planting and harvest, and they cradle each other through this journey of life like at the times of birth, marriage, sickness, death. They are there for each other. It's a word we have no equivalent for in English, but it was a very powerful concept to how that society operated and as modernity comes into that valley. This will be eroded. I think we'll probably get into some routines and ideas of trying to find peace amongst the chaos.

But community is clearly a part of that. I mean, there's self-care and consistency in our work and time and all that. But I think we're going to find ourselves going a little bit back in time in some of the ways we interact. I guess that the fundamental thing it saved, James, is attention. This whole trip was about attention and our attention is this gift. It's like this hose. It's always on, pouring out. We can pour it into everything. We pour it into our kids, our family. We can pour it into our phone. We can pour it into traffic and frustrations, watching CNN or the news.

So I think the fundamental part is learning to manage our attention and obviously you can do that through mindfulness and different things. You simply do it through awareness of what matters to you and paying attention to it.

It’s a good segue into the next question I was thinking about. You've spent a lot of time in Buddhist monasteries where they talk about one of the tenets of Buddhism being that all life is suffering, and suffering comes when we desire something we do not have. But then in books like Think and Grow Rich, they talk about the starting point of all achievement is desire.

What do you do as part of your daily routine to balance happiness in the present while at the same time focusing on future accomplishments on your own growth?

Boy, that's a tough one. I'm just going to step back a bit come and answer that. Part of what I've done for the last 20 years has been speaking to corporate audiences. At first, it was just telling stories. I'd go and talk about going across the empty quarter. But slowly, you have agents representing you and they're like, "We need business lessons." So I've tried to really think hard about things that adventures taught me that I bring home and apply to my own life and I've talked about change.

A big thing I talk about is the importance of dealing with uncertainty. It’s a huge gift if we can deal with that. Recently, grit and resilience have been quite large. So what you're talking about is really one of these three core things that I talk about when I'm finding resilience or grit within us in the balance of the here and the future. You're going down this mountain ridge, you've got to look at your feet, you've got to look at the summit. How do you balance those two things?

Really the way I boil that down is this idea of purpose, process, and practice. To me, ‘purpose’ is more than winning. Winning is an outcome and purpose is a cause, not an effect. So to me, purpose is like how we can make the world better. What do friends love in us?

I'm sure Wes doesn't love you because you win, Wes loves you because of the things that make James a cool person. Therein lies the start of us finding purpose – how we're going to leave the world a better place. So that's the long-term view, the desire, because I really think people talk about big goals that they're setting for themselves, but really we need to find the thing.

I was guiding the arctic, which is severely threatened landscape. I was in love with that landscape. And on my first trip a senior Alaskan guide with a big mustache like a squirrel's tail said to me, "You know what we're doing here?"

I was like, "No.” I was tired. It's late at night.

He said, "We're creating ambassadors for the wild."

That gave me a purpose to what I was doing,  so that's the long-term view.

Then at your feet is the ‘process’. Those are the daily habits. And the other little piece I have is ‘practice’, which is that we need to get better every day, right? We need to not just play to our strengths, but we need to address our weaknesses.

For those who have spent too much time in the cities and want to take a wilderness adventure so they can start to experience some of the benefits that you've spoken about here, what's the best way that they can go about doing that?

There's all types of opportunities, from day trips to longer ones. One of the things I found early on was the longer the trip – I was going to say the more intense the experience – but the better the chance to actually disengage, and the way I learned that was guiding five-day trips. I was doing a sea kayak run out of Vancouver where I take people for two days on the weekend then the five-day trip over and over and over. And on that five-day trip, on Monday, everything would be new. They'd be getting used to the sea kayak on Tuesday and still be a little uncomfortable. By Wednesday, they were free, and then Thursday they were thinking about the ferry ride home, and Friday was a write-off. So of the five-day trip, they had one day I realized where they were totally free.

Time is so precious, so if they can go a little longer – whether they're sea kayaking or climbing or whatever, it is – even three or four days, it really gives you a chance to enter a new environment. I encourage people to do things that make themselves uncomfortable, just from a philosophical point of view because so much growth comes from that.

Also, guided experiences now are so well regulated and safe. No one should have any concern about taking on something new, whether you’re paddle boarding, sea kayaking or whatever.

Your amazing new book, Blue Sky Kingdom, is getting massive praise all over the world! Tell us about the new book and who it's written for.

I really took my time with this one. It took me six years to write it and to see that some of this early praise come out has been really meaningful. I mean, I do read a lot of Himalayan literature. So guys like Peter Mathias and whatnot have been massively influential to me.

It touches on the Himalaya, but it also touches on family life. My son is on the autism spectrum, so it touches on that. It touches on Buddhism. I really tried to make it accessible to anyone because, really, in a sense it’s a family drama, a family love story playing out in a remote landscape.


Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Bruce does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give her 18-year-old self, his favorite book, and a whole lot more 🚀


Final question, what's one thing you do to win the day?

I wake up every morning, I have a big glass of water with a pinch of Himalayan sea salt, and then I get in my ice bath. And that has changed everything for me.

Resources / links mentioned:

📷 Bruce Kirkby on Instagram

Bruce Kirkby website

🌎 Big Crazy Family Adventure on the Travel Channel

📚 Bruce’s brand-new book Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya

💚 Blue Sky Kingdom trailer

🎙️ We Are Podcast: Learn how to make money from your podcast

“My biggest fear is that when I die the person I am meets the person I could have become.”

Author Unknown

Our guest today is a truly extraordinary individual and one of the world’s leading wilderness experts. Bruce Kirkby grew up in Toronto as an engineering physicist by trade, but he had that itch that there was more to life than simply going through the same boring motions each day.

Despite almost failing English in high school, Bruce became a wilderness writer and adventure photographer, and today he’s visited 80+ countries and is renowned for connecting wild places with contemporary issues.

Some of his most notable accomplishments include the first modern crossing of Arabia’s Empty Quarter by camel, a descent of Ethiopia’s Blue Nile Gorge by raft, a sea kayak traverse of Borneo’s northern coast, and a coast-to-coast Icelandic trek.

Bruce is the author of three bestselling books, winner of multiple National Magazine Awards, and has been featured in The New York Times. His TV show Big Crazy Family Adventure was released by the Travel Channel in 2015 and followed Bruce’s journey with his wife and two young children from their home in Canada to India with one condition – the only mode of transportation they couldn’t use was airplanes.

In this interview, we'll look at:

Perhaps the best lesson from this interview is how to reconnect with what it means to be human.

Bruce has an incredible energy, some amazing stories, and I know you’re going to love this episode!

For the video interview, click here.


Resources / links mentioned:

📷 Bruce Kirkby on Instagram

Bruce Kirkby website

🌎 Big Crazy Family Adventure on the Travel Channel

📚 Bruce’s brand-new book Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya

💚 Blue Sky Kingdom trailer

🎙️ We Are Podcast: Learn how to make money from your podcast

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