“We’re not going to be getting ice cream anymore.”
I remember my sister saying this to me when I was 7 years old after my father announced he had been laid off from McDonnell Douglas. All week, my brother and I had been anxiously awaiting a trip to Baskin Robbins with our sister that Friday. But once we heard the news, the trip was off.
At 7 years old, I didn’t fully understand the situation, but I knew two things for sure that moment: something serious had happened, and money is important. Years later, I realized the fear I felt in that moment -- of poverty and not having enough -- which subconsciously drove me to become an entrepreneur from a very young age. At 9, I sold baseball cards. At 12, I did door-to-door sales. At 14, I joined Amway.
In 2003, I got the opportunity to launch DMV.org with my brother. In four years, I grew the site to over 60 million visitors a year with annual revenue of over $16 million.
Things appeared great. I received numerous accolades and was labeled one of “America’s coolest entrepreneurs under 30.” I was “successful.” I should have been on top of the world. Still, it wasn’t long before I would hit rock bottom.
Within a span of three years, I was sued in federal court, my mom passed away, my marriage ended and my health suffered. During that time, I battled obesity, addiction and depression. Alone in my more than 4,000 sq. ft. home, with no friends and no wife, I felt passionless. I was searching for an escape from reality, from my own despair and from my business.
From this place, a light appeared at the end of a dark tunnel and I finally got clear about what I really wanted: health and purpose. I began a personal journey of wellness, losing nearly 50 pounds. I continued my process of healing. I practiced yoga, received and gave massages, started speaking in public and built an amazing community of friends. I found value in myself outside of my business. My identity was no longer tied to the company. It was within me.
From this place I could shift not only myself, but also my business -- which today, 10 years later, feels like a startup again. I now have a single focus on making the greatest impact in the world with profits to sustain that mission.
Nowadays, I feel incredible feelings of joy and success. What’s the secret? It’s simple. “Today, life is… (Fill in the blank).” Your life will be whatever you put in that blank. Your experience is based on the lens through which you see life.
I’m often asked how I got the perspective I have today. Frankly, a great deal of it came from challenges such as getting sued for false advertising and unfair competition. During the lawsuit, I felt like a victim. I couldn’t believe it was happening. While I sometimes skated the line, I was doing what I knew to be best. Through the process of sitting on the witness stand and answering uncomfortable questions, however, I saw my own actions from a new perspective. I knew then that I was ultimately responsible.
Today, I am grateful for the gift of radical accountability. A sense of personal and corporate responsibility drives me daily in my commitment to contribution, connection and growth. I now see success as doing well for my team, our users and the world. Today, I am not solely an entrepreneur. I am a social entrepreneur committed to making a positive impact on people and the planet. Every action I take stems from this intention.
In retrospect, the lawsuit was a gift, a catalyst for the shift to a purpose-driven life. I now feel more fulfilled by my business each day and I see the “bad” things that have happened as blessings. Now when I feel challenged by an experience, I remember to ask myself, “What is the gift in this moment?” I have faith that every experience happens for me, not to me. I let my past help shape my present, but not dictate my future. When I change my lens and focus on gratitude, I have the energy and perspective I need to move forward.
I invite you to embrace every single moment -- find the beauty in it, feel empowered by it and enjoy the responsibility of choosing the meaning you give it. From this place of real power, you can create the life of your dreams, right now.