Welcome back to pain to purpose. I’m Rebekah Gregory, your host, and I hope you’re enjoying the show so far. I know that I’m having a lot of fun with it. And today, I just want to ask you a question that’s kind of been on my heart: If everything in your life is going well and you’re excited about all of it… and you’ve got this whole routine and schedule, and everything is mapped out for the next number of years… What happens if something were to come along and derail all of those plans? How are you responding to those circumstances? What is your thought process in the morning? Are you getting up and looking for your next opportunities? Or are you just focusing on the obstacles?

The reason that I asked these questions today is that today’s guest, my personal friend, Nastia Liukin, is a great example of this. She really embodies the pain to purpose title; in 2008, she won five medals in the Olympics for gymnastics, including the individual All-Around Gold medal. So at 18 years old, Nastia Liukin had already accomplished something that so many will never get to do. And then she went on to try and qualify for the Olympics again at age 22 in 2012 and fell… on something that she was supposed to be the best at. So all of a sudden, Nastia Liukin, who had everything planned out and had fully anticipated making the Olympics in 2012, didn’t qualify. And so she retired from gymnastics. And she had to figure out her life after gymnastics after it’s all that she’s ever known. So while you’re listening to this interview today, I really want you to think about what’s happening in your own life… and what pieces you have to pick up and maneuver around and try to figure out, and I hope that it inspires you.

Life isn’t over because something bad happens to us… and sometimes it’s even the beginning of a beautiful brand new chapter.

Click to Read Transcript

Thank you so much, Joe for coming on the show today. It is such an honor to talk to you. It’s good to see you. How are you hanging in there with the Coronavirus right now?

Joe:

I’m here, I’m alive, you’re alive, got no complaints if we’re alive, but this switch to digital and all these video conferences – I’d rather be carrying a sandbag up the mountain.

 

Rebekah:

I knew you’d probably say something like that. And before we really get into the interview, I want you to just tell people who you are and what you do. I know everyone pretty much already knows, but just talk a little bit about that and your backstory.

 

Joe:

Yeah, so I grew up in Queens, New York in a strange little neighborhood that, for whatever reason, was the organized crime capital of the world. I don’t know why. It was very Italian, very focused on you know, pizza and pasta, and somehow my mother found yoga and meditation and became a vegan. And so my dad and my mom split, and I just had these two things where I wanted to be tough with, you know, go the direction of where the guys were in that neighborhood. But my mom was pushing spirituality and health and wellness, and so I picked up a little bit from each. And I think, fast forward, I’m an entrepreneur, I built a bunch of businesses. Spartan came out of it and really melded the two. It’s a little tough. It’s a little rugged, but it’s also got some spirituality and some philosophy and yoga and a little bit of meditation, cold showers mixed in there. And so we’re in 45 countries, we have 325 events now – all of which are shut down during the virus, which is a nightmare… and we own our competitor called ‘Tough Mudder,’ which we purchased right before the virus; yep, the worst time to do that. We launched a brand called Deca fit right before the virus; the worst time to do that. And so yeah, I’m just trying to stay alive right now, stay afloat with this mess, but we’ll be fine. I mean, you and I will come out of this okay.

 

Rebekah:

But it seems like, you know, this is what Spartan stands for, right? It’s all of these obstacles that everyone has in life, and it’s a matter of overcoming those; I love the inclusion of what Spartan offers because I’ve done some Spartan races and as soon as I get my legs up and work, and again, I’m going to be out there on the course. But now, has that always been kind of a passion?… to make sure that you incorporate everyone so that no one has excuses as to why they can’t ‘get up off the couch’ like you say?

 

Joe:

Yeah, you know, one thing I talk about a lot is human beings are motivated by the avoidance of discomfort. It’s our number one motivation. And it has kept us alive on the planet for over a million years, right? Let’s avoid the cold. Let’s avoid falling off a cliff. Let’s avoid the lion. We just don’t want to be uncomfortable. And we don’t even know our subconscious is doing that to us in the morning when you wake up, and you’re about to do your workout. If you’re a morning person, your mind subconsciously says, ‘Oh, you got to check your email. You have to check your email. You don’t have to do the workout.’ Your mind is saying, ‘avoid the discomfort.’

 

Spartan was really born out of this idea of getting people comfortable being uncomfortable. Could we get people of all sizes, all shapes, and have something very inclusive? Could we get them motivated with each other to actually embrace discomfort and work? You know, a lot of people said to me over the years, Joe, let’s build a permanent course. I said it’s not gonna work because people get gym memberships, and they don’t go. And there’s not going to be four friends that go out and do a permanent course; the reason they’re interested in going to a Spartan course, or a Tough Mudder or whatever, is because of eight or 9000 people there at the same time, and they’ve got a date on the calendar. And so what it does it takes regular people, not Olympians, just regular people, and motivates them because their friends are going to be there, too. They’re committed. They’ve told people, maybe they posted something on social media, they don’t want to miss out, and it completely flips this idea of avoiding discomfort on its head. And then they get there, and they’re scared out of their mind. And they’re in over their head. And they nearly pass out on the course. And somehow through sheer will they end up at the finish line, they collapse. They vow to never do it again. And then they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m stronger and tougher than I thought I was.’

And then you become addicted to that feeling.

 

And then you’re addicted to it, and then you’re like, not complaining anymore when you can’t find a parking spot too close to the grocery store, right? It’s like no big deal because you’re not crawling under barbed wire and climbing a mountain with a sandbag on your shoulder. So yeah, it’s just become this thing that’s a part of society now. It’s just like, you even see it on resumes. ‘I completed the Spartan Trifecta’ when they’re applying for a job. So it’s really become this rite of passage almost.

 

Rebekah:

It’s a really neat sense of accomplishment like you said, you do feel like you’re going to pass out and I know for me with one leg, I did this one particular race in Jacksonville, we were kind of trekking through the mud, and I got my prosthetic foot stuck under this branch that I couldn’t see, and I had mud all over my face… and I was like, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ And then you jump over the fire, and you cross the finish line. You’re like, ‘this is awesome. I’m signing up next month.’ I just love that that is what you get to do for a living. I think that’s the coolest thing in the world.

 

Joe:

It is hands down the greatest job on the planet when there’s not a global virus.

 

Rebekah:

So we talk about bottom rock bottoms on this show, and we talk about people’s worst moments. Do you feel like this is a rock bottom for Spartan? Or can you tell us one time in your life where you felt like you weren’t getting it right or you felt like it was going to fail? Because mentally, I think people are kind of in a place where they’re stuck, or they’re confused about the unknown. Just talk a little bi about a time in your life where you felt like that.

 

Joe:

I don’t know. Like, my whole life has been like that. Yeah, it’s never perfect; growing up, my parents used to fight terribly because they just were so opposite each other. My mom moved us away. They got divorced. My father lost almost everything. That was a nightmare for young kids to go through. My first business was a disaster. In the beginning, I couldn’t get that to work, and I finally got it to work. I tried to apply to college four times. They said no; I finally got in. Because my mother taught yoga to the woman, who finally gave me a second look and got me into school. I went to Wall Street; my first business failed. I lost all my money that I’ve been saving my whole life at that point. I finally get going. I lose all my money again with the internet bubble burst, and the Trade Center collapses 100 yards from our office. That was a disaster. We just go down the list, and then Spartan I started out of sheer stupidity. And we lost money for 15 years putting on races. We lose money for 15 years, finally beat our competitor, Tough Mudder. Finally, we acquire them, finally getting our legs under our feet, and we are starting to make money, and the virus hits. So this is just par for the course.

 

Rebekah:

I really resonate with that because I feel just like you do, and it’s been a series of obstacles my entire life. It’s like the sink or swim mentality. You have no other choice but to swim; you’re given so much. And it’s all in what you do and what you make of it. And I love what you said Spartan, so you lost money on it for 15 years. So how did you keep going in those 15 years where you’re like, what’s gonna happen now? This is failing.

 

Joe:

Well, again stupidity, there’s no business person in their mind that would have kept going. I was making money on Wall Street at the time so that I could use that money for sport and, and it was many iterations before it became called Spartan. And I just knew there was something there, even though it wasn’t making money, I was getting so much feedback from people that would do the events that was like: ‘This is life. This is so unbelievable. I have to keep doing this.’ And then I raised money, and I had friends on Wall Street that gave me money, it was a disaster. But there was a series of good things… if you flip a coin on the other side, that were kind of making it all continue to work. And so really, it’s just the way you look at life because yeah, there’s some tough times and obstacles but then there’s another side to it, and then this happened that got me through that. So there’s two sides of the coin just the way you look at it.

 

Rebekah:

Now you look back, and you realize why things had to happen almost. And you can never say what if this or what if that, but I feel like you can always see the blessings and the obstacles every day.

 

Joe:

That’s right. There are always blessings.

 

Rebekah:

So, what do you feel like the future is for Spartan? I mean, I don’t know how you could take it any further because of what you’ve already accomplished. I mean, how many people have you gotten off the couch as of today?

 

Joe:

7 million people around the world. 45 countries. Maybe that number is even bigger now because of Tough Mudder because now that’s part of the family.

Yeah, so I have a free pass to heaven. No matter what happens.

 

Rebekah:

I honestly feel like you do inspire so many people. But I think it has to do with the backstory too, but when I met you, I’m not gonna lie, I was intimidated. You have this persona about you have that spark, you know, and it’s like, oh my gosh, that’s Joe de Sena. But then when I listen to you on Instagram Live and all of these different videos that you do, your heart really comes through that; you’re still tough, and you’re still strong, and you have this way about you, but you can tell how passionate you are. And I feel like our passion comes from the pain in our lives. All of our passion does, right. I mean, do you agree with that?

 

Joe:

I agree with that. I agree with that. I’m glad you said some heart comes through because people would argue that I’m a little too coarse. But yeah, I’m trying to live life, and I’m trying to motivate a bunch of people.

I want to change 100 million lives; that’s our goal. It’s a bold, ambitious goal. We’re not going to get everybody to come out and do a race, but maybe we’ll get them to sprinkle a little Spartan in their life… maybe they’ll take a cold shower… maybe they’ll put down the chips… maybe they’ll go to bed a little earlier… but if we could somehow motivate 100 million people, then my job is done here.

 

Rebekah:

What advice do you have for people as far as just right now during the Coronavirus because I know it can be a big excuse not to workout. But right now it’s like you can’t go to the gym, you can’t do this, so people are like oh, I’m just gonna sit around and eat cake and get all fat and sassy.

 

Joe:

I love this saying for right now: The standards don’t change.

So whatever your standards were before, those are the standards we got to stick to now. I immediately put a very rugged schedule together for myself, right? This is what we’re doing… we’re waking up early, whatever those things are that we did pre-virus, we’re holding to those standards. I’m actually working out more; actually,the standards are tougher during the virus.

There’s a great saying I can’t think of it right now, but something to the effect of, if you let your mind wander, or if you have an empty mind or nothing to do, that is a problem. If stuff starts creeping into your mind, the mind will do some damage. I like to say, if you’re in your own head, you’re behind enemy lines. So just keep busy. Doing my podcasts with people like you that are wonderful. I’m doing my live shows, I’m doing my meetings with my team, and then every night I pass out, and then I wake up early, and I start all over again.

So I think the biggest advice to give people is get a schedule together and by the way, if you’re looking for a job if you were furloughed, or this wasn’t a job you were happy with to begin with… Right now, every single manager, every single CEO, every single company needs help right now. And if you’re willing to lean in while you’re at home and you’re not driving to work every day and help a company, it will be remembered. So don’t tell me you don’t know.

It’s an excuse. We all look for excuses.

 

Rebekah:

I think when you said mentally, it kind of gets to you if you sit around with nothing to do; I totally agree with that because that’s a trigger for me. So April is the anniversary of the bombing. As a matter of fact, the seven-year anniversary is tomorrow. And I found myself the other day, I’ve been having some pain with my leg. And I had to put off doing surgery because of this. And I really felt like it was creeping in. And so my husband and I worked out. And I think fitness has always been a big part of this for me, but it took me losing my leg in order for me to really see how much fitness plays into your mental health and I’m kind of ashamed to say that, but it’s true. And so I feel like I’m trying to encourage people through fitness as well. And I just commend you for that because it goes hand in hand.

 

Joe:

Well, how many years ago was that? What year was that?

 

Rebekah:

It was 2013. So seven years tomorrow.

 

Joe:

That next year after the bombing, in 2014, my son was eight. And he heard you; he heard you speak at an event. And he said to me: I want to run the marathon. He didn’t know what a marathon was. He was eight years old. And the marathon was two days later, and we did it. And it was because of you. So if I get arrested from social services, I’m going to blame you.

 

Rebekah:

That’s a lot to take in because I don’t feel like I provide that kind of inspiration…

 

Joe:

You did it. You did it. You inspired it. Obviously, me and everybody in the crowd, but even an eight-year-old, to go out and do it. And when you talk about how fitness rewires the brain and gets you feeling healthy, you know, I don’t know if you get this experience, but if you go and wash your car, somehow it drives better, right? The car gets washed and dries and feels better. And that’s why I believe everybody’s got to sweat every morning, right? You’re just gonna have a better day, and then a better week, better month… everything just becomes better.

 

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