How Extreme Focus Can Change Your Life
I’ve fantasized about living a successful life since the age of 14. I was first exposed to ideas of entrepreneurship in high school but never really understood what it might entail.
All I knew was I wanted to have an impact on others. I wanted to create something I could be proud of forever.
I had a feeling I couldn’t put my finger on. The people who had made it seemed different – they seemed to be cut from another cloth.
The more I hung out with those I deemed successful, the more I learned about their thought processes – and they didn’t seem normal.
Their thoughts were outlandish and at times, a bit unrealistic – but I loved it because it seemed their thinking was far above the average person.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Today, I want to share a very personal story in hopes that it will inspire you to do things you might not have ever thought possible.
I want you to think about why you’re here and what it is you want more than anything. My aim is to encourage you to, no matter the circumstances, never give up on doing exactly what you feel most passionate about.
The fact remains: nothing worth having ever comes easy.
If it did, everyone would live a happy, comfortable life with no worries or stress. But if that were the case, what’s the point in courageously chasing your dreams anyway?
Here we go.
The Struggle Begins
Back in early 2005, I was preparing to graduate high school. I’d applied and was accepted to a local college – the University of Arkansas. I was on my way to studying biology for my undergrad. Then I planned to head south about 3 hours to finish my graduate studies at the pharmacy school in Little Rock.
There was a problem though. I didn’t want to study biology. It was an external pressure and I finally told my parents it was not what I wanted to pursue.
I broke the news over dinner. I wanted to study something other than science and the war began. My mother was supportive, my father wasn’t.
The problem was that neither of them had gone to college – so the notion of me getting a fancy degree was their dream. However, I imagined this field of study was going create nothing but resentment and lack of fulfillment in my future.
The following fall I simply took the general prerequisites – aimlessly wandering through academia. I led a great social life, joined a fraternity and made lots of friends. But no matter what I did, I still felt empty inside.
I wasn’t making a difference. My existence didn’t seem to matter much.
That following spring, I entertained the idea of leaving northwest Arkansas for a while. I’d lived there my entire life and I needed a challenge. I needed a change of pace – a change of scenery.
Either I would succeed or I would fail.
After visiting Nashville that spring, I got into Belmont University and made plans to move.
During my first visit I met someone who is now one of my best friends and mentors.
Great Lessons Are Not Always Obvious
Once the spring semester was over, I moved back in with my dad and started working a dead-end retail job until the fall semester began. Since I was to be moving, I knocked out some more useless classes at the community college.
No real goals, nothing to focus upon.
I’d had enough at this point, and decided to take the spring 2007 semester off because I would soon continue my studies in Nashville. I picked up another part-time job to pay for my gas and random outings. In the meantime, I started working for a local salesman – a direct marketer.
While I initially believed this to be one of the worst work experiences in my life, it actually turned out to serve me very well.
I spent a few hours daily doing nothing but calling the coldest leads you’ve ever known. My job was to pitch them on a product I didn’t believe in to get them interested. Once they were hooked, I’d hand them off to my boss for the close.
The first week was the worst experience ever. I really don’t know why I stuck with it but I did anyway. In retrospect, it all makes sense. At the time, I was miserable.
If you’ve never cold-called someone, you cannot fully understand my experience.
Yet at the end of each day, it got easier. No longer was I afraid of picking up the phone and giving my sales pitch. I didn’t care if someone told me “no” or told me to “jump off a bridge”. I became a machine and selling became easier with time.
What did I learn? A few things, actually:
- I learned how to communicate with a stranger – while this seems elementary, the thought of approaching and conversing with a complete stranger scares many people. Not to mention the idea of pitching your product/ideas to someone you’ve never contacted and will likely never speak to again.
- We are much more concerned about ourselves than others are – I found the more I let go of my preconceptions about what I believed others might be thinking of me, the better I became at building rapport and nailing a conversation. Once you remember that we, as humans, are inherently selfish, you realize the other person is more worried about what they’re going to say as opposed to what you’re about to rattle off.
- How to get a result – the more time I spent selling, the better I got at obtaining a result. Now regardless of whether or not I got a “yes” or a “no,” I was still getting a result. I became diligent and assertive. I made sure no stone was left unturned and that I walked away feeling good about the exchange, regardless of the outcome.
- “No’s” are rarely personal – it just means that whatever happened in that moment, the person was not ready to make the exchange. Most of the time, when a person told me to jump off a cliff or to drink lighter fluid, it was merely a reflection of something they were struggling with internally. I just happened to be the first person they could take out their frustrations on. Once I figured this out, I never got upset – it was just part of the game.
The Big Move and Unbelievable Grief
As the summer came to an end, it was time for the big move. My mother and father had divorced in May 2007. As a result of the splitting up, my mother wanted to follow me to Nashville in support of this decision to start my new life.
I never asked her to do this, but was incredibly grateful she wanted to help support me as I transitioned to the new city and continued my education.
I remember weeping uncontrollably in my room the day before I moved. I began to question my motives. Why did I want to leave it all behind and venture out, knowing that failure is a possibility?
I wanted change more than I wanted to sit and rot. I needed to get out. I needed a challenge. And boy did the challenges come.
After the 10-hour drive into Nashville with a truck full of stuff, we rolled into a very small apartment complex and proceeded to move into the cabinet-sized living quarters.
To this day, I have no idea how we fit everything into that dump, but we did. We used one of the bedrooms for storage only, so I spent the next year sleeping in the living room on the couch.
Financial Disaster and More Dead-End Jobs
Classes were scheduled to start within a few weeks. I was afraid and excited at the same time.
As for the backstory – this was in 2007, during the mortgage crisis. It just so happened that my mother worked in real estate banking as a loan closer. She helped build a bank from the ground up for 10 years before eventually moving to Nashville. As a result, she owned a nice share in the privately owned company.
She opted to cash out her retirement and move it into other investments while she found work in the new city. However, something wasn’t quite right.
The disbursement never came and the officers were not returning her calls. Something was fishy, and time was ticking.
Long story short, the bank failed and just about everyone involved lost their entire retirement due to the fraudulent owners’ actions. I immediately withdrew from the high-profile college because accruing a debt that Belmont would incur would be my financial demise.
She fought and fought for what was rightfully hers, but it never came.
So I did what I knew to do – go out and get a job. And I did just that.
By this point, I’d given up on academia. It was time to hustle.
Over the next year, I worked part-time at a few places. One job was in a local gym where I built a great relationship with the owner but I just couldn’t make ends meet. Something had to change but I had no direction – no idea what I was to do.
Stress and it’s Effects
Later into 2008, I began looking for a full-time job as opposed to random part-timers. At the same time, I began to withdraw from friends and depression slowly started setting in.
I’d officially been in Nashville for a year and nothing to show for my move. I was embarrassed, regretful and lost for ideas. Around the same time, my mother explained to me some symptoms she’d been having.
A few weeks, and numerous doctor visits later, she was officially diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I remember welling up as I sat in the white room with her as she was given the diagnosis. Hitting rock bottom seemed to be in my near future and that’s where I was headed.
I was still looking for a full-time gig, and work at the part-timer was slowing down. So I had a ton of time to reflect and think about my situation. I needed an outlet – something to work on.
I’d always been into health and fitness and I found myself reading article after article on the topic. I had a conversation with someone who is an internet-entrepreneur – I told him I wanted to start a website – an outlet where I could just write and nothing more.
He asked me what I felt I could write about. Health and fitness immediately came to mind and my website JCDFitness.com was born. At first, I just wrote – without any real direction. It was my outlet and I didn’t care if anyone was reading. It felt good to do something that felt meaningful.
Within a few months, I landed a corporate gig in December 2008.
And This Is Where It Gets Really Dark
At first the training was easy. I didn’t care for the work, but it was easy and we were paid decently for sitting in a cubicle farm answering phone calls all day.
But over time, the stressors grew exponentially. I’d never worked in a setting with such high expectations. Jobs were threatened if we didn’t meet certain quotas. Email after email came with rigid guidelines or changes to policies.
Within a few months, I’d become a drone – floating through the workdays writing subtle haikus to myself. I’d show up at 3 in the afternoon and put in my time until midnight every Tuesday through Saturday. I lost a piece of my soul every time I scanned my badge to enter that building.
The faces all around me were long and worn out. The atmosphere reeked of disgust and everyone muttered how badly they hated their work.
In the mean time, I was losing weight, and my skin was turning pale. I had trouble sleeping and I couldn’t maintain a workout schedule.
I had some labs run to find out what was going on inside my body. The results came back with signs of very high stress levels. My thyroid hormones were out of whack and my testosterone levels were that of a 90-year-old man.
The stress was killing me and I was only 22 years old.
By May 2009 I was a zombie.
I had to call in “sick” because I would wake up unable to leave my bed. Some days the world was so black all I could think of was ending it all. I no longer wanted to do anything. I wanted to lie there and rot.
Other days were perfectly normal but it was during these low episodes in which I knew something was very wrong.
I eventually began having anxiety attacks that would cause me to miss work altogether.
Shortly after, I found myself in some major counseling with a psychologist in town.
After a few sessions, she eventually suggested I see a psychiatrist due to her belief that I was showing signs of major depression and the possibility of bipolar disorder.
I ran so fast out of the clinic – could I be so depressed and lost? Could this be happening to me?
I realized in this moment that I must change. While everything around me was crumbling, I knew within my being that I was in charge of how I felt and that if I fought hard enough, I could change everything.
I was going to be a miracle story. The thing is, hardly anyone knew about my suffering.
A Ray of Hope
After I ran out of that clinic in such ferociousness, I had to make a plan. I had a few objectives in mind and they were:
- Work toward something that made me happy.
- Get out of the job that was killing me.
- Get my health back on track.
The Advice of Others
I had a good friend who encouraged me to begin brainstorming some ideas on how to regain my focus and eliminate some stressors. While I’d given up on the idea of continuing college, he suggested I seek some financial aid and apply to some schools – what could it hurt?
So I did just that. I applied to MTSU and a few other universities.
In the mean time, I sat down and figured out what I wanted to do with JCDFitness. How I kept up my writing despite the turmoil, I will never know, but my audience was growing.
I saw the potential to pour my efforts and knowledge into the site and hopefully help some others sidestep some of the fitness mistakes I’d made in the past.
This was also the time I began to get to know Alan Aragon, one of my biggest influences within the fitness world. He has since been a big help to me and for that I’m forever grateful.
I started to exercise again and take better care of my body. I was eating better and actually getting to sleep at night.
Shortly after my application to MTSU, I received a full-ride back for the following academic year. Come August, I’d be living in a new place, surrounded with people my age and back on track to finish my studies – 3 whole years of being out of school and I’d never been so excited in my life.
Some More Hope
After I headed back to campus, I cut my hours down from 40 to 20 at the call center. I was working 10-hour days on Saturday and Sunday, while traveling back to MTSU during the week for a full school schedule.
This lasted until February 2010 when some major scheduling conflicts arose in the workplace. As you might imagine, the corporate world is not very accommodating to a class schedule. I was to either accept the new routine and quit school, or quit the job.
At this point, I worried because I was midway through the spring semester and was about to lose my major source of income. Luckily, I’d saved up enough for about 6-8 months of unemployment and I quit the corporate hellhole.
For once in my life, I felt completely liberated. I no longer had the anxieties I did going into work. I didn’t worry about my boss’s calls or weekly reviews. The stress was gone, for the most part.
So I took the next few months to relax and begin figuring out what I needed to do to create the life I wanted.
It Was Time To Focus
I realized at this point that I needed to find work and continue my studies. All my energy at this point when toward creating content for JCDFitness, writing guest articles, and school work.
I began taking fitness clients and doing some freelance writing. I remember the first month I made enough to pay for my living expenses and groceries with nothing but money I made from consulting and writing.
I was so pumped (and a little freaked out). For the first time in my life, I’d made things happen on my terms and I loved every second of it.
I kept doing this until the semester ended and eventually worked part-time over the summer at a local gym helping with flood-relief from the massive Nashville flood in May.
On Looking Up
JC Deen and Alan Aragon
My health was back to normal and the labs proved it. I’d moved back to Nashville for the summer and spent it with my best friends.
This past summer (2010) has been my most productive one yet.
I managed to knock out 13 hours of classes whilst working 20 hours per week at the gym. My days started at 4:30 every morning.
I managed to land articles in some major online fitness publications, most notably the Alan Aragon Research Review, Bodybuilding.com and WannaBeBig.com.
I was terribly bored with my schoolwork and needed a creative outlet – something other than my fitness writing to keep me sharp.
So in the late night hours, I began taking WordPress templates and dissecting their code. As a result, I taught myself how to do web design. I completed tutorial after tutorial until I was proficient in Photoshop.
Then I went to work. In June, I sent out a newsletter to my readers promising a brand new web design. I had no idea what I was going to do for the new look but had to hold myself accountable, as I couldn’t afford to pay $2500 for a pro web design at the moment.
So I created a test-server and built the new JCDFitness web design. I launched it and no one could believe I did it all myself. Hell, I couldn’t believe it.
Shortly afterward, a few friends hired me to do their websites.
Then I got inspired.
What if I could continue pursuing the things I love most and get paid for it? Better yet, what if I could get paid to help others change their lives for the better, improve their relationship with health, fitness, and their dietary habits?
The following fall, I didn’t sleep. I was up in the morning at 5 a.m. to work on articles before class. During the day I’d go to my lectures and at night, I was up reading nerdy books on web design till about 1 a.m. I did this the entire semester.
Within that time frame, I’d become proficient in Photoshop, css and html. I’d put my skills to use on a few websites and I was really enjoying my work.
I was also taking on fitness clients as they came for personal consultations. The joy I got from helping others reach their goals was incredibly fulfilling.
I was getting a glimpse of what my life could look like doing my own thing on my own terms. It was addictive.
The Text Message
Late one night I got a text message that would change my life. You see, at the time, I was living in the college town about 45 minutes southeast of Nashville, so my trips back to the city were usually on the weekends.
The text message was from one of my best friends and mentors who lives in Nashville and runs a very successful performance coaching business.
It read: “hey, both my roommates are moving out in January, why don’t you drop out of MTSU and come live with me?!”
I literally fell out of my chair. Here was an opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to live with someone who was not only one of my best friends, but someone who has much more experience than I with entrepreneurship.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Then he said: “I’m kidding about dropping out, but you have a place to stay and it’d be great to have you here.”
There was only one problem. My lease in the crummy apartment wasn’t up until the following August. The choice was an easy one – I had to get out of that place as soon as I could.
So what did I do? I made darn certain over the month of December that I found someone to take over my lease. And sure enough, I made it happen.
I’d moved out the day before Christmas, crashed at my mom’s place for a few weeks and then moved into my new place. Life leveled up from great to awesome.
Shortly thereafter, I did a complete redesign of JCDFitness.com and from that point on I was incredibly busy with fitness consults and web design inquiries. I actually went to Vegas in March to celebrate my roommate’s birthday on the profits I’d made form the previous months.
I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It was all becoming real and I’d never been more excited and scared at the same time. All of those that once discouraged me from entrepreneurship and personal training and who told me to get a “real job” were now eating their words.
Those who told me I was wasting my time “playing on the internet” were completely wrong.
I felt an extreme sense of accomplishment and was fired up to keep marching forward.
Getting From Point A to Point B
For anyone out there who has goals and dreams, the biggest obstacle we often face is getting started. The next obstacle is continuing our journey. It’s not always easy to stay motivated, especially when the environment we’re in isn’t the most ideal.
I’ll say this again: I have not “made it” just yet, and I still have a long way to go. I do know something for sure. I have the best job in the world because I am continually challenged and I get to work with people on a daily basis.
Someone once asked me “why do you do all the stuff you do?”
My response was “I’m extremely passionate about people. I’m also incredibly passionate about health, fitness and design work. This way, I get the best of both worlds: I do what I love whilst working with people. A work day for me is hardly ever ‘work’ at all.”
I’m currently 24 years old and have never felt more fulfilled in my life. I’m extremely fortunate to have found my passion at such an age because now I can continue working and pursuing what I love in full force.
However, I understand there’s often a major disconnect when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B. In my case, I had to hit rock bottom before I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
It’s Never Supposed to be Easy
I always find comfort in the words of Tyler Durden from the movie Fight Club when he said: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
Now, I don’t particularly believe you must hit the bottom of the barrel before you will know what to do with your life. It was simply the wake-up call I desperately needed to get my crap together.
What I do believe, though, is that you will have struggles on the road to finding your life’s purpose. The road to being who you were meant to be is never an easy one. It’s going to require hard work, diligence and persistence in the face of adversity.
Sometimes you’re going to feel beat down. Sometimes you may think your goals are unreachable. There will be times when your loved ones will try to discourage you from doing what it is you’re passionate about. Sometimes their motives are selfish and other times they’re legitimately worried about potential disappointment or afraid of failure.
Here is what I say to that. Go on and fail. Fail forward, but never ever give up on what it is you want the most. I look at “failure” as just another way NOT to do something. Either way, if you keep pushing, you’re going to get a result. Over time, you’ll be much closer to your goals than if you never tried in the first place.
The only person in control of you is yourself. You have the ability to make a conscious decision on a daily basis to work toward your goals and to make your visions a reality.
I’ve never shared this story so openly before but with it, I hope to encourage and inspire you to do much more with your life. If you have big dreams and aspirations, I beg you to push hard and never give up because there are people out there who will benefit from your efforts.
You are only limited by the size of your belief. I choose to believe anything is possible and everything is within my reach. It only takes time, hard work and knowing full well that you will make it.
You will make it.
Photo by OUCHcharley