It all started back in 1980, when my dad decided we were going to escape Communist Russia. I was six years old and at the time we lived in Armenia under communist rule. My dad was a member of the Communist party, not by choice. When you’re offered the opportunity to be in the party and you say no, you’re pretty much shipped off to Siberia so the answer had to be yes.
Of course he hated the idea of oppression, of the communism way. In 1980, he bribed the Communist government with 25,000 rubles and we escaped into Italy on “vacation.” All we took was one suitcase and what he had in his pocket, which ended up being a couple hundred dollars. From Italy, we went to the American consul there and said that we were actually political refugees escaping communism. Two weeks later, we legally entered the United States in June 1980.
My dad knew that we were entering a country of opportunity and freedom, and as long as you worked hard, you could achieve whatever you wanted. That’s what the Westernized way meant to him. But what he quickly realized was that we didn’t speak English, we were broke, and those opportunities really aren’t just paved in the streets. You have to earn them.
Hard Work, Three Valuable Lessons
And that’s where the hard work began. Some of the best lessons that I still pull from as I built 17 different companies was watching my dad build this tiny little tailor shop in Anaheim, California. He used that tailor shop to buy three homes, one of which he still lives in and one he rented out. And to see a man at the age of 45 years old come to this country broke and without any understanding of the culture was amazing.
I saw that when my dad didn’t have resources, he would always become resourceful. One of the many jobs he had was pumping gas in the middle of the night, and some guy came to rob him at gunpoint. The guy took shots at him. Thankfully he missed—but when you look at the kind of life he had to live and the kind of work he had to do to earn money for family, I quickly realized that you can’t be allergic hard work.
The second lesson I learned was, if you don’t have the resources, get resourceful. For my dad, it was working three jobs in the day and not one, since none of them paid him minimum wage.
Another big lessons I learned is to look at adversity as an advantage. Every time he would say he only had so many dollars left; we could either pay for electricity, water, gas, or food. We had to make our choices. We needed electricity and water, so he would lift me up into the dumpsters behind grocery stores and I would dig out food. I always tell people that I felt like I was the breadwinner since it was my job to dig up the bread and cheese from the dumpsters.
I learned the ability to build rapport from my dad. He knew that if people liked him, they’d help him more in the community. Even though he didn’t speak English and had a broken-up language pattern as he started to learn, he was always nice and shook hands with people. You learn in books like Influence by Robert Cialdini that when you can bring that touch factor, when you can help people by just doing something small, there’s reciprocity later on. I got so many lessons like that from my father, and I call it the “immigrant edge” in the American dream.
How I Became a Trainer
I became a personal trainer in the weirdest way. Some people were natural athletes and grew up playing soccer, football, and baseball; it was like they couldn’t go wrong on the athletic field. That wasn’t me. I was a fat foreign kid who had a funny haircut and funny clothes. I was very insecure. As senior year of high school was coming up, I wanted the opportunity go to the prom. In my head, I thought that if I was in better shape, girls would find me more attractive, and I could ask a girl to prom.
So I bought a lot of muscle magazines and asked classmates to teach me how to work out. During the summer before senior year, I lost 35 pounds of fat and came back like a new person. I had more confidence, higher self-esteem, and more self-worth. I realized that if working out has this kind of impact on someone, this is what I wanted to do for a career.
You Can Only Succeed If You Sell Yourself
You would think that with the certification and education that people would flock to me, but nobody came. It was a really painful process because all I wanted to do was help people, but I found myself working in a big box gym racking up weights instead. I was a personal trainer, a fry cook at Disneyland, and a bouncer on the weekends just to make ends meet.
I remember thinking one day: there is no nurse or doctor who is also a fry cook and bouncer. Why is it as a personal trainer, I see so many other trainers who have these a side jobs to make ends meet? I asked the client of mine, Jim Franco, to mentor me. That was an education you wouldn’t find in college or a personal trainer certification course. It was neat to learn from him what referrals were and then to start generating referrals from my one or two clients.
It doesn’t matter what product or service you sell, you have to be able to sell yourself, your message, and the value you provide. That led to opening up five personal training gyms in San Diego, which led to me selling those gyms, coaching and consulting the fitness industry for over a decade until 2012, when I created the Fit Body Boot Franchise.
To be honest, once Jim started to help me with those follow-ups, I realized that I could actually make a good living. I quickly realized that money is not something to be afraid of. Money is not a source of evil because as a trainer, no one goes goes into the personal training business industry to make money.
Money Measures Your Impact On The World
We go in there because we want to wake up early in the morning and help you, coach you, and train you. I realized that if I wanted to get marry, go on vacation, and give my children everything I didn’t have, I needed money. So I changed my perception and my relationship with money, and I realized that money was now a vehicle of freedom. As I opened up my first gym, I started to care about money as much as I did about the results I gave the clients. It turns out ever since that the more money I made, the more impact I made on the world. Now, money is a measuring tool, a barometer, of the impact and significance that I make.
Around 2001 was when Jim Franco really beat it into my head that I really could be an entrepreneur. The reason I was able to build that courage is through environmental exposure. You hang out with someone who’s successful long enough, you realize that they’re normal—and I realize, I can do this. Through his mentoring, I realized I can do this and, in fact, I do have a duty to do this because if I don’t, they’ll go to lesser trainers.
By the time I had my third location in San Diego, personal trainers started to reach out to me. They had heard of me and were trying to start a personal training gym, and asked me to help. The only question I asked was if they were located anywhere near my three locations at the time, and they weren’t, I would help them because they weren’t going to be competitors. I would teach them what Jim taught me and how I would use it in my business.
Once I sold my five personal training gyms, the Internet was just started up again in 2004. At that point, I had enough success that I made the leap into coaching and consulting. I’ve helped over 43,000 small businesses; here’s over a decade and a half, now, of experience. Today, I coach and consult outside of the fitness industry as well and I’m just really fortunate to be able to do that.
Choose Your Creative Hour
I have a friend, Craig Valentine, and we became business partners. Just through environmental exposure, I would watch him aways eat dinner at 5 PM and by 8:30 PM, he’s in bed. As I started to then wake up and go to bed earlier, I realized that while the rest of the world is sleep, I’ve got 2 hours to work on my business uninterrupted.
I’m more creative because I’m not overwhelmed. I’m actually excited about getting up because the night before, I would write a list of everything I needed to do the next morning. By moving everything from my brain to a list, I had better sleep. I realized my business was progressing faster and I was seeing greater results in profits. Nothing really changed other than my discipline and structure.
If you hit snooze first thing in the morning, you’re sending a message to your subconscious mind that you would choose 8 to 10 minutes of interrupted, mediocre sleep over getting up and dominating my day with purpose. The rest of the day is destined to work against you and not in your favor.
In the beginning, when you’re an entrepreneur, you have to live on the hustle and grind. And that hustle needs to be one thing: you need to go narrow and deep in one thing. Most people who become successful get stuck in the hustle face. You’re going to hustle and grind to your first half million to a million, then you’re going to be smart about creating systems, strategies and scalability. Your family suffers and your health suffers in the hustle-and-grind mode.
Putting Your Competition Out of Business
I’m a big believer where you not only have to dominate your competition, you have an obligation to put them out of business. If I believe I’m the best at something and I can back it up, then if you went and used a lesser service, I’ve done the industry a disservice. If the competition feels they’re better than me, they should make that attempt as well. This does two things: thin out the herd and hold the people who decide to stay on the competitive field to be more competitive and to raise the bar.
Fear Without Doubt = Success
If someone has doubts, it comes from a place of insecurity and low self-confidence. That I can always trace back to parenting. There might be some kind of self-limiting behavior because they were effectively bubble-wrapped as kids. It creates low-confidence, low perception of self—and that creates a lot of doubt when someone becomes an entrepreneur or a leader in a workplace. When it’s time to make a critical decision, they become indecisive.
On the other hand, we all have fear. But, the people who experience fear without doubt have high confidence. They step into the fear knowing that, even if the worst-case scenario happens, they’re strong enough to survive it. Those who have fear but have low self-esteem have doubts as well, which keeps them from stepping into their fear. We all have fears, but only the insecure have do