Your Personal Best: Montel Williams

At 3 a.m.,most people, even most highly successful people, are deep in sleep, resting for the next
challenging day. Not Montel Williams. The Daytime Emmy-winning talk show host stays
awake and alert late into the night, averaging only four hours of sleep. For him, maximizing every hour of every day is a
necessity.
He oversees five businesses, a charitable foundation and a new syndicated radio talk show, with plans for new ventures in
the works. All of this while battling multiple sclerosis, a disease that keeps him in almost constant pain.

Williams admits he keeps busy to distract himself from health issues, but says the rush he gets from multitasking is what
drives him. “I hate to say it like this, but I’m like a crack addict with [my companies],” he says. “I’m
an information junkie.”
Williams’ new radio show, Montel Across America, debuted on Air America Media in April. Stations have been adding
his
show ever since, helping thrust Williams back into the American consciousness, a fact that is essential to the viability of
his
other ventures.

The majority of Williams’ business interests grew out of his
string of New York Times best-selling motivational books aimed at
helping people live life to the fullest. His “Living Well” empire now
includes a food processor and a pain relief product, and will soon
include self-help tutorials and a members-only organization
designed to help others live healthy, active, successful
lives. He also recently launched a series of one-day
symposiums, led by Williams and select speakers,
designed to bring his books and Web site to life.
“This isn’t just for people who are ill,” Williams
says, referring to his fight with MS. “This message
is for everyone. We’re the only animals with the
gift of choice. Animals react on instincts, but we
make decisions based on evaluation. You have
a choice; you can give up or do something to
better yourself. I’m not special; anyone can
do this.”

Williams may not think of himself as
special, but the one-time Marine and Navy
officer has overcome more than his share of
adversity on
his way to
a successful
media career.
In 1998, a
congenital
birth defect
stopped his
heart for several
minutes before
doctors could
revive him. He
was diagnosed
with MS in 1999
but kept it hidden
for several months,
fearing it would
negatively affect
his career. Then,
in the winter of 2008, CBS TV unexpectedly
canceled his talk show after Williams made
comments critical of the media’s coverage of the
Iraq war while appearing on Fox & Friends.

The abrupt end to his 17-year, Emmy-winning
show was a difficult blow, but one
Williams was able to deal with, thanks to
his outlook on life and his battle with a
debilitating disease. “Life is dynamic, not
static,” he says. “You rise one day and fall
the next.”

For Williams, the end of the program’s run paled in comparison
to battling multiple sclerosis. “It’s been a roller coaster with MS. I’ve
had bad days that made me want to take my life. Initially, I looked
at this as the final nail in my coffin…. I questioned my
values and
asked why me, just like everyone does.”

But every time he was discouraged, Williams
kept going back to the first rule he
lives by for
guidance. “I alone define who I am. I own that
definition. The doctor defined me
as someone
who would be in a wheelchair in
three years,
but I’ve not been in one yet.
Maybe that
doctor isn’t as smart as he thinks
he is.”

More than
anything,
Williams credits the tenets
of his Living
Well value
system for
his success
in dealing with MS. He
pored over medical
journals, learning
everything he could
about the disease
and any
new treatments
available. A fire
began to grow inside
Williams, who says his
22-year military career taught
him to always “take the hill
and never retreat.” Despite
almost constant neurological
pain in his legs and feet, he
eschews heavy painkillers, preferring
to use positive thinking to
cope. His decade-long fight has
been an evolving collaboration of
exercise, determination
and mental
toughness.

“Melding my symptoms into
my daily life—I’ve had to regain
the energy and stamina to work
and be productive—
was difficult,
but I have MS; MS does
not have me,” he
says. “The
second I saw that, I
found ways
to mitigate the emotional and
physical symptoms.”

Each of the obstacles he’s faced has led
Williams to this moment. The cancellation
of his television show led to his
national radio program. His battle with
MS gave him the desire to help others
make the most of themselves and become
productive members of society. “The
Living Well method is about paying attention
to the impediments in your life,” he says. “If you can
meet your own needs and contribute to society, that’s what
Living Well is. I want to give everyone the tools to succeed
personally, financially and physically.”

Williams’ captivated followers have bought his books
by the thousands. Many are searching for fi nancial freedom,
others are looking for happiness, and some see him as an inspiration
in a fight against a disease that has no cure. “Whether you’re a television
celebrity or a garbageman, we all relate to things the same way.
People can relate to the obstacles I’ve faced. I’ve had people call or
write to me to say I gave a voice to something they could not articulate.
If you can help someone with the gift you’ve been given, you’re
obligated to help that person. If you don’t help, I think you end up
losing that gift.”

People follow the Living Well creed for a variety of reasons, but
Williams says everyone is searching to satisfy the same fundamental
need, whether they know it or not—happiness. “Happiness
is elusive,” he says fervently. “Since the dawn of man, people have
searched for it; it’s truly the Holy Grail.” So just what defines happiness?
“It’s the drive to be successful even when you’re knocked off
course. It’s building and nurturing strong relationships. If that’s what
happiness is to you, those things are achievable. There are simple
exercises you can do that will have you looking forward to walking
out your front door.”

The program certainly works for Williams, who
attacks life with a ferocity few can match, but even
he warns fans that not every day will be perfect. But
he
never lets the pain in his legs detract from his longterm
goals and dreams. “If I can wake up and say I accomplished
something yesterday, that’s a good feeling,” he says. “I’m not
special—it’s a conscious decision to ignore my pain and focus on the
rest. We all have the power to do that.”

His sights always set on the future, Williams expects to grow the
marketing and product segments of his Living Well franchise in
the coming months and years. Banks once hesitant to invest such
relatively “small” amounts (think several million dollars) into his
business are now calling, he says, looking for less capital-heavy
opportunities. Even Williams himself can’t say where it will all lead.
“If I want to do 10 companies, I’ll do 10; stop me!”

In addition to new efforts for his MS foundation, Williams, who
estimates spending nearly $3,000 a month on medication to treat his
MS, is increasingly focusing on his growing partnership with insurance
companies to offer medications at a reduced cost for uninsured
or underinsured citizens. He knows the challenges they face and,
while programs like his go a long way toward easing their fi nancial
burden, Williams can’t resist encouraging them to take matters
into their own hands. “Adversity is a trampoline, an opportunity to
springboard toward success.”

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