It all began, as many things do, with devastation and a door closing, permanently.
All-American football player and decathlete Lewis Howes sustained a wrist injury in 2007. The resulting surgery landed him in a cast for six months and out of the game forever.
As he recovered on his sister’s sofa, Howes pondered his future and didn’t like what he saw: no career, no college degree, no money.
Christmas came and he was still living on that sofa. He got one gift that year, from his brother who drew his Secret Santa. It was a book. “As a dyslexic who struggles with reading, I remember thinking it was one of the worst gifts you could give anyone like me,” he recalls. “Plus, it wasn’t even wrapped.”
The book was The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss—and Howes read it in three days, cover to cover. “Which, for me, was really fast,” he says. “I couldn’t put it down.” On the fourth day, he closed the book and said out loud: “One day I’m going to become really good friends with the author, Tim Ferriss.”
He had no idea how it was going to happen. Ferriss was already a big deal and “I was a nobody,” Howes shrugs. But on that day, eight years ago, he drew his line in the sand. Howes decided someday he would write a book. He would inspire and open up possibilities for millions of people around the world, the way Ferriss’ book had just opened up his.
And so he has. A few weeks ago, Lewis Howes found out that his book, The School of Greatness—based on his wildly successful podcast—is a New York Times best-seller. In eight years, the journey had come full circle.
In our culture, you hear many near-mythical tales of prodigies, golden men and women, and instant success. And, should this be your perception of Lewis Howes’ success, he deprives you of it immediately. It was a long, hard road of twists and turns, missteps, and trial and error.
So, maybe you’re broken and broke, too, not sure what’s next, either. His story can help you reinvent yourself and who knows, maybe, just maybe, build your own multi-million dollar business:
1. Find a mentor or three.
The first thing Howes did was find mentors. “I had been an athlete. I knew that the better the coach, the better I got. And so I very consciously looked for people to help coach me.”
He had three mentors during the long stretch on his sister’s couch—let’s just call them the Sofa Years.
It so happened that Howes despised the cast he was stuck in for six months. “It kept scratching my face, plus it smelled and was ugly.” And so he created an arm sleeve to cover the cast. It occurred to Howes that there might be a market for his creation. His girlfriend made an introduction to an inventor she knew.
Their first meeting was in a bar. “I was this talky jock walking into the bar with a backward cap on. I got up the nerve to ask him to mentor me.” And the inventor did. He taught Howes everything about taking a product to market: creating, branding, marketing, packaging, licensing, even how to name things.
That product went nowhere, but it served as a catalyst for Howes learning how to market and brand.
Another mentor had mentioned that Howes should check out LinkedIn, which he did, so much so that in 2009 he went on to self-publish a book about it. A third mentor helped Howes figure out how to leverage that book.
Related: 12 Easy Ways to Make Extra Money
2. Put yourself out there and learn from everyone you meet.
Remember Neo from The Matrix? Howes did his best to channel him during the Sofa Years. “I said as long as I’m here, I want to be like Neo and download as much information and build as many skills as I can and really I put myself out there.”
One of those skills was salsa dancing. And it was during salsa that Howes met a guy who traveled around the world and gave speeches for a living. Howes was terrified of public speaking and asked his new friend for advice on how to be a better public speaker. The man urged Howes to join Toastmasters.
The following week, Howes found a Toastmasters meeting nearby. He attended every single week for a year. By the end of the year he had overcome his fear of public speaking. It was another piece of the puzzle: “an incredible journey of becoming more influential and more impactful in my message,” he says.
3. Hone your instincts and honor them.
Howes’ sister was amazingly supportive through all the troubles and experiments of the Sofa Years. Eighteen months in, she asked him, in the gentlest way possible, if he could begin pitching in by getting a job. “I said yes, of course. I was putting myself out there so much, but nothing was happening for me,” he recalls. He began searching Craigslist for sports marketing jobs in Columbus, Ohio. He sent out a slew of résumés and eventually got called in for an interview.
On the day of the interview, he couldn’t leave the house. “I was paralyzed. I had a feeling I was going to get the job,” he says, “and my instincts told me I was about to make a big mistake.” He called and canceled.
“I was still working with my mentor, the inventor, and I remember telling him I could really use some money.” Howe will never forget what the man told him: “He said, ‘Lewis, money will come to you at the exact moment when you’re ready for it.’”
It wasn’t until much later that Howes understood exactly what that meant.
4. Stay consistent, build momentum and master the art of the leverage.
“The first time I made $1,000 off sponsorships for a three-hour LinkedIn networking event, I was floored,” he says. For the next several years, Howes hosted dozens of these events around the country. He promoted them through his ever-growing channels and they continued to build momentum. He emphasizes the importance of consistency: “People will start a project or company and will stop because it got too hard. I was consistent in doing the same thing and building momentum.”
But consistency doesn’t mean you get too comfortable. Howes mastered every opportunity and then leveraged it to move to the next level. Following one of his events, he was approached to do a free live webinar. That led to him teaching an advanced webinar. He liked it. He also found it lucrative. “At the end of that first session, I gave out my PayPal link. Within an hour there was $6,200 in my account.”
That was a game changer, he recalls. “I could teach people from all over the world information that I know from my laptop? I thought, I’ll do this every day!”
And so he began to master the webinar, both to build his game and his audience. It worked. Since 2009, he has conducted close to 1,000 webinars, with more than $10 million in sales.
Build The School of Greatness and they will come.
Howes knew it was time to move on when he began to lose his passion for the webinars. He sold the company to his partner and began to look around for his next gig. He moved from NYC to LA for a girl. She broke up with him the day he got there.
“It was so dramatic, being in a new city, and I was stuck in traffic all day.”
One day, during the hour it took him to inch forward a single mile, it occurred to him that there had to be a way to get in front of all these people, literally sitting in misery. He recalled the goal he had started out at the outset of the Sofa Years: to inspire, to open up possibilities for millions of people around the world.
The rest is history, of course. The School of Greatness book launched a few weeks ago and soon hit the New York Times best-seller list. The podcast has an audience of millions. And Howes himself is something of a phenomenon, particularly in the way he inspires people to do what they otherwise may not have had the courage to do: Start an ice cream company. Heal a relationship. Lose 100 pounds.
They come to his readings, from hundreds of miles away, to tell him their stories.
His success, he says, is all about connection, love and intimacy. He thinks people relate to him because he shares his pain. Because he’s open about his vulnerabilities. Because he shows his imperfections and fears.
This is what I believe, he tells me: “We were born to be great, to discover our unique gifts and talents and to pursue our dreams, even as they evolve. It’s our duty to go after our dreams. Because not only are we ourselves more fulfilled when we do, but we also inspire others to do the same. We give each other the courage.”
And with that, Howes bids me a quick goodbye, and school is dismissed.
Amanda Enayati is an author, columnist and communications strategist, whose essays about stress and happiness, health and technology, and creativity, design and innovation have appeared widely, including in SUCCESS, CNN, PBS, NPR, Washington Post, Reader's Digest, Salon and elsewhere. Her most recent book, Seeking Serenity: The 10 New Rules for Health and Happiness in the Age of Anxiety, was released by New American Library/Penguin Random House in 2015.
Amanda consults and speaks for a diverse range of clients, including hospitals and medical centers, corporations, including B corps, foundations, international development agencies and universities. She began her career as an international corporate attorney and consultant for several large law firms, the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Amanda’s writing has been used in several university textbooks on communication and writing, and her essays have been incorporated into curricula at Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, University of Texas, Dallas, and elsewhere.
She has been featured as a speaker at SXSW, Stanford Medicine X, The Literacy Project, Aspen Writers, among others.
Born in Tehran, Amanda fled the Iranian revolution as a child refugee and lived in several countries in Europe before settling in the United States in the mid-1980s.