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From Zero to Hero: The Unlikely Journey of The World’s Most Admired Thought Leaders

Your past doesn’t matter, but your performance skills today do.

7
minute read
Published on
December 20, 2023
Students front row at CORE | The Breakthrough Experience.

You know those jaw-dropping keynotes and life-changing books that leave you questioning everything you thought you knew? 

Well, you might be surprised to discover that many of the world’s most revered speakers and authors didn't exactly have the sexiest resumes before they made a name for themselves. Years before stepping onstage and inspiring you with their ideas and stories, many of these world-class artists were weekend warriors who worked boring jobs and dreamed of a better future. 

The wizards behind many of those mind-bending experiences weren’t always the people you admire today. 

And that’s great news for you. 

Why? Because in the wild world of professional speaking and authorship, meeting planners and publishers don't go scouting for resumes. They don’t need a list of your past jobs. They don’t need letters of recommendation from your bosses and employers. None of that matters. 

What event planners want are speakers and authors who can change the way audiences feel, think, and act… today. 

You Don’t Need an Outstanding Professional History

The truth is, your past exploits matter less than your ability to blow minds in the present. 

Sure, there are thought leaders with PhDs from Harvard who do research at M.I.T. And, yes, Navy SEALs and neuroscientists boast some impressive credentials. But the majority of working speakers and popular authors made a name for themselves, well, just being themselves. 

Take Seth Godin, for example. 

I know someone who worked with Seth Godin before he became SETH GODIN. When I asked him what it was like to work with such a brilliant thought leader, he put it this way:

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The best thing Seth Godin has done is become Seth Godin.

And, that’s not a knock on Seth. Seth is an innovative and cutting-edge marketing strategist and one of my role models. But it’s what he does now that matters, not what he did 30 years ago. 

And the same is true for you. What you did 30 years ago―or 20 years ago, or 10 years ago―doesn’t matter. 

Audiences Want Your Ideas Not Your Life Story 

You don’t need to have climbed Mount Everest or run a billion dollar company in your past to become a transformational thought leader today. 

Meeting planners and publishers… and most importantly, audiences and readers, don’t care as much about your past as you might think. They care a lot about your present. 

Most importantly, they care about what you can do for them today

When you’re not famous, audiences want to be wowed by your ideas, not hear your life story. 

HEROIC speakers and authors understand this. They know how to craft keynotes and write books that live at the intersection of entertainment and insight. Because in this industry, you’re not selling yourself. You’re selling your speech, and the transformational experience that you provide your audience.  

The most inspirational, powerful, and transformational speakers you admire and respect know this. They’ve left their past behind. They’ve found their voice. 

And today, they share their voice, their ideas, and their core message confidently and proudly with audiences around the world. 

From Unexpected Humble Beginnings 

Here’s some surprising examples of rags to riches stories from the lives of thought leaders you might know. 

 

This Popular Podcaster used to be D-3 College Football Player

Lewis Howes was a D-3 college football player with limited professional prospects. He played just 2 games in an arena football league. Then, a career-ending injury turned his world upside down. 

He wasn’t an expert in any field, and he wouldn’t go on to become a professional football player. 

Today, Howes is the founder of the School of Greatness and hosts one of the top growth mindset podcasts in the world. He became a successful entrepreneur, New York Times bestselling author, and motivational speaker. 

This Best-Selling Author Studied Biomechanics in College

James Clear had no formal training in psychology. He had no academic experience in the study of habits. In fact, he graduated with a B.S. in Biomechanics from Denison University. 

Today, he’s recognized for his expertise in habits and continuous improvement. His book “Atomic Habits” is a #1 New York Times bestseller, with over 10 million copies sold, a mind boggling number. 

This Australian Hall of Fame Speaker Used to be an Aerobics Instructor

Matt Church studied sports science at The University of New South Wales, and taught aerobics classes. He later became a successful fitness trainer and wrote a book about the business of fitness.

Today, he’s one of Australia's top speakers. His speaking success earned him the prestigious awards, Australian Speaker of the Year in 2014 and Australian Educator of the Year in 2011. He has made countless contributions to the speaking industry and continues to inspire audiences around the globe with his masterful keynote presentations. 

The Creator of the “5-Second Rule” Was Fired or Quit Every Job She Had

Mel Robbins used to be an attorney who worked for a corporate firm in Boston defending violent crimes offenders. She also worked as an executive in two different technology companies and later ran and sold franchise businesses. 

In her own words, she was fired from or quit every job she’s ever had. 

Today, she’s one of the most popular female speakers in the world. Her TED Talk has over 32 million views and she surprises and delights audiences with her visionary ideas about taking action and personal development. 

And so many more…

Take Michael Gerber, for example. He was a jazz saxophone player. Today, he’s a mega bestselling author and business consultant. He’s sold millions of copies of his book, "The E Myth," which proselytizes the importance of systemizing small businesses.

And Marie Forleo, who was a fitness instructor who worked odd jobs like bartending and waiting tables while she built a coaching business. Now, she’s a wildly successful entrepreneur, bestselling author, and the host of MarieTV, an award-winning show where she imparts wisdom on business and personal development.

I couldn’t forget Erik Wahl, who was not a famous graffiti artist, until he lost his job and decided to turn to art and start his own business, rather than return to the corporate world. He’s now an internationally recognized graffiti artist, #1 best selling business author, and iconic professional speaker who incorporates graffiti art into his presentations.

 

And of course, Mike Michalowicz and AJ Harper. Before, Mike Michalowicz was a serial entrepreneur and AJ Harper was a Ghostwriter and book publisher. Now, after co-authoring the mega bestselling book, “Profit First,” Mike shares his revolutionary ideas on stages across the country. And my good friend AJ is a Partner here at HEROIC, where she shares her writing, editing, and leadership expertise with professional speakers, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs around the globe.  

And then there’s me. 

I used to be a not-at-all famous actor with a Master in Fine Arts from NYU and 5 years of experience in the business of fitness. 

 

Today, after working at the top end of the speaking circuit for decades (with a quotable fee of $30k), I’m a NY Times, WSJ, and USA Today bestselling author of 9 books. I built, ran, and sold the Book Yourself Solid organization and am currently the CEO of HEROIC, which I co-founded with my wife, Amy (Marrying Amy was actually the most significant and important accomplishment of my life).  

Your Past Doesn’t Define You, But This Does

So many people talk themselves out of their dreams because they’ve had let downs in the past or others who came before them didn’t find their voice.

We hear the inner voice saying, “this is not you,” or maybe a voice of authority from our distant past saying, “you really don’t belong here.” That sense of not fitting in or not being ready for the spotlight is something almost all of us face at one point or another. 

But in the kind-of made up industry of thought leadership, nobody cares if you were a rocket scientist or a professional dog walker before

Your past is like a B-movie—it’s still on your resume but no one really cares about it. The real attraction is what’s happening now. The anti-resume movement is all about creating an unforgettable experience, not showing off your dusty participation trophies.

So, if you’re an aspiring speaker and/or author, put aside the notion that your past defines you. It's your ability to craft an experience that transforms, entertains, and leaves a lasting imprint that truly matters. 

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I like to think of it like this: the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams and have the willingness to find their voice and confidently and proudly share it with others.

In the end, meeting planners, publishers, audiences, and readers, are hitching a ride on your present journey, not your past escapades. 

After all, the most fascinating stories are the ones still being written.

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The best thing Seth Godin has done is become Seth Godin.
,

And, that’s not a knock on Seth. Seth is an innovative and cutting-edge marketing strategist and one of my role models. But it’s what he does now that matters, not what he did 30 years ago. 

And the same is true for you. What you did 30 years ago―or 20 years ago, or 10 years ago―doesn’t matter. 

Audiences Want Your Ideas Not Your Life Story 

You don’t need to have climbed Mount Everest or run a billion dollar company in your past to become a transformational thought leader today. 

Meeting planners and publishers… and most importantly, audiences and readers, don’t care as much about your past as you might think. They care a lot about your present. 

Most importantly, they care about what you can do for them today

When you’re not famous, audiences want to be wowed by your ideas, not hear your life story. 

HEROIC speakers and authors understand this. They know how to craft keynotes and write books that live at the intersection of entertainment and insight. Because in this industry, you’re not selling yourself. You’re selling your speech, and the transformational experience that you provide your audience.  

The most inspirational, powerful, and transformational speakers you admire and respect know this. They’ve left their past behind. They’ve found their voice. 

And today, they share their voice, their ideas, and their core message confidently and proudly with audiences around the world. 

From Unexpected Humble Beginnings 

Here’s some surprising examples of rags to riches stories from the lives of thought leaders you might know. 

 

This Popular Podcaster used to be D-3 College Football Player

Lewis Howes was a D-3 college football player with limited professional prospects. He played just 2 games in an arena football league. Then, a career-ending injury turned his world upside down. 

He wasn’t an expert in any field, and he wouldn’t go on to become a professional football player. 

Today, Howes is the founder of the School of Greatness and hosts one of the top growth mindset podcasts in the world. He became a successful entrepreneur, New York Times bestselling author, and motivational speaker. 

This Best-Selling Author Studied Biomechanics in College

James Clear had no formal training in psychology. He had no academic experience in the study of habits. In fact, he graduated with a B.S. in Biomechanics from Denison University. 

Today, he’s recognized for his expertise in habits and continuous improvement. His book “Atomic Habits” is a #1 New York Times bestseller, with over 10 million copies sold, a mind boggling number. 

This Australian Hall of Fame Speaker Used to be an Aerobics Instructor

Matt Church studied sports science at The University of New South Wales, and taught aerobics classes. He later became a successful fitness trainer and wrote a book about the business of fitness.

Today, he’s one of Australia's top speakers. His speaking success earned him the prestigious awards, Australian Speaker of the Year in 2014 and Australian Educator of the Year in 2011. He has made countless contributions to the speaking industry and continues to inspire audiences around the globe with his masterful keynote presentations. 

The Creator of the “5-Second Rule” Was Fired or Quit Every Job She Had

Mel Robbins used to be an attorney who worked for a corporate firm in Boston defending violent crimes offenders. She also worked as an executive in two different technology companies and later ran and sold franchise businesses. 

In her own words, she was fired from or quit every job she’s ever had. 

Today, she’s one of the most popular female speakers in the world. Her TED Talk has over 32 million views and she surprises and delights audiences with her visionary ideas about taking action and personal development. 

And so many more…

Take Michael Gerber, for example. He was a jazz saxophone player. Today, he’s a mega bestselling author and business consultant. He’s sold millions of copies of his book, "The E Myth," which proselytizes the importance of systemizing small businesses.

And Marie Forleo, who was a fitness instructor who worked odd jobs like bartending and waiting tables while she built a coaching business. Now, she’s a wildly successful entrepreneur, bestselling author, and the host of MarieTV, an award-winning show where she imparts wisdom on business and personal development.

I couldn’t forget Erik Wahl, who was not a famous graffiti artist, until he lost his job and decided to turn to art and start his own business, rather than return to the corporate world. He’s now an internationally recognized graffiti artist, #1 best selling business author, and iconic professional speaker who incorporates graffiti art into his presentations.

 

And of course, Mike Michalowicz and AJ Harper. Before, Mike Michalowicz was a serial entrepreneur and AJ Harper was a Ghostwriter and book publisher. Now, after co-authoring the mega bestselling book, “Profit First,” Mike shares his revolutionary ideas on stages across the country. And my good friend AJ is a Partner here at HEROIC, where she shares her writing, editing, and leadership expertise with professional speakers, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs around the globe.  

And then there’s me. 

I used to be a not-at-all famous actor with a Master in Fine Arts from NYU and 5 years of experience in the business of fitness. 

 

Today, after working at the top end of the speaking circuit for decades (with a quotable fee of $30k), I’m a NY Times, WSJ, and USA Today bestselling author of 9 books. I built, ran, and sold the Book Yourself Solid organization and am currently the CEO of HEROIC, which I co-founded with my wife, Amy (Marrying Amy was actually the most significant and important accomplishment of my life).  

Your Past Doesn’t Define You, But This Does

So many people talk themselves out of their dreams because they’ve had let downs in the past or others who came before them didn’t find their voice.

We hear the inner voice saying, “this is not you,” or maybe a voice of authority from our distant past saying, “you really don’t belong here.” That sense of not fitting in or not being ready for the spotlight is something almost all of us face at one point or another. 

But in the kind-of made up industry of thought leadership, nobody cares if you were a rocket scientist or a professional dog walker before

Your past is like a B-movie—it’s still on your resume but no one really cares about it. The real attraction is what’s happening now. The anti-resume movement is all about creating an unforgettable experience, not showing off your dusty participation trophies.

So, if you’re an aspiring speaker and/or author, put aside the notion that your past defines you. It's your ability to craft an experience that transforms, entertains, and leaves a lasting imprint that truly matters. 

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I like to think of it like this: the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams and have the willingness to find their voice and confidently and proudly share it with others.

In the end, meeting planners, publishers, audiences, and readers, are hitching a ride on your present journey, not your past escapades. 

After all, the most fascinating stories are the ones still being written.

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