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How a Childhood Incident Created His Unhealthy Drive for Success Success is measured in a variety of different ways.

By Mike Swigunski

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

What is your idea of success? Is it having tons of money in the bank? Respect from your family, friends, and peers? Or is it the freedom to live the life that you've always wanted?

Like most people, John Lee Dumas always thought that the way to become successful was through financial independence. However, the more he chased money, the less successful and satisfied he felt. It wasn't until he made a significant mindset shift that his life took a pivotal turn.

By taking money out of the equation, Dumas was able to see the bigger picture and create a business and life that he truly loves. Today his award-winning podcast and website Entrepreneurs on Fire consistently brings in six-figures a month and helps millions of people find financial freedom and fulfillment.

Related: The 10 Commandments of Podcasting

A Childhood Incident Leaves an Indelible Mark

Dumas had what most would consider an ordinary childhood. He grew up in a small town in Maine where his father was one of three lawyers, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. He got decent grades, played sports, and led a generally sheltered life. However, one jarring incident would change how he viewed himself and shape his relationship with money for years to come.

"One night when I was about eight or nine years old, my Dad called me downstairs. He was sitting at the table doing his taxes, and he was not in a good mood. He made me sit down and look at all the paperwork, and he said, "Look at how much money you're costing me.'

Prior to that, I had no concept of money or the fact that I could be a burden on my parents. I didn't realize the stress it caused them to keep me alive. So I developed this mentality of constantly trying to be financially independent so that I wouldn't be a burden on my family. This attitude would lead to a series of bad decisions."

The Search for Financial Independence

After graduating from high school, Dumas applied for an ROTC military scholarship so that his parents wouldn't have to foot the bill for his education. He spent four years at Providence College knowing that he would have to participate in military service after his program finished. Dumas was in his senior year when the September 11 attacks took place.

"I was going to be an officer in the army in six months, and it just went from peacetime to war," says Dumas. "A year later, I was in Iraq commanding a tank platoon with four tanks and 16 men. Only 12 of us made it back. It was incredibly traumatic. Here I was getting shot at and dealing with death, and to think it can all be traced back to me just wanting to get a scholarship and not be a burden on my family."

Dumas finished his active duty at the age of 26 and entered what he calls "six years of struggle.' He still had deeply ingrained ideas of what he thought success was. He began seeking out jobs that would earn him a lot of money but found that each one only made him more miserable than the last. It also didn't help that he was dealing with PTSD.

"At first, I tried to follow in my dad's footsteps, so I applied to and got accepted into law school," says Dumas. "I thought that everyone in my family would be proud that I was in law school. People like to brag about stuff like that. But the PTSD made it difficult to focus so that I couldn't do the work. I eventually dropped out after one semester."

After dropping out of law school, Dumas tried his hand at corporate finance in Boston. He lasted 18 months before deciding the environment was just too toxic. He then joined a tech start-up in New York City but also hated the job. In San Diego, he started working in commercial real estate, and it was during this time that he had an epiphany.

Related: The 4 x 4 Financial Independence Plan for Entrepreneurs

A Defining Moment

Dumas' job as a commercial broker required him to spend a large part of the day driving, so he started listening to podcasts and audiobooks to ease the boredom. Although he was making money, he felt unmotivated by life in general, so he began listening to stories about innovative entrepreneurs and other inspiring people.

"I'll never forget one quote I heard on a podcast," he says. "I was 32 years old, and it changed my life. An Albert Einstein quote said, "Try not to become a person of success, but rather a person of value.' I had never thought about life that way.

"I looked in the mirror and asked myself, "What have you done over the past six years that's been of value to anyone?' The answer was nothing. I was doing everything for myself. That day I told myself I was quitting my job. I didn't know what I was going to do, but I did know that the only requirement was it had to be something of value."

Creating Financial Freedom and Fulfillment

On a mission to make meaningful change, Dumas started devouring podcasts featuring interviews with entrepreneurs. In fact, he devoured so much content that he began running out of episodes on many podcasts.

"I wanted to hear inspiring content every day, so I searched for a podcast that had daily interviews with entrepreneurs. I couldn't find one anywhere," Dumas says. "I couldn't believe there were daily sports podcasts and whatnot, but none that interviewed successful entrepreneurs every day. It just didn't exist. I decided to change that.

"I knew I was going to suck at first, but I was willing to put in the hard work. I hired mentors, and they emphatically told me the venture would fail. My attitude was "challenge accepted.' If the best people in the industry were telling me it couldn't be done, and I could find a way to do it, think of the opportunity there. That excited me. It also met my requirements to stop chasing success and become a person of value."

Dumas' plan was simple: create free, valuable, and consistent content that would inspire people just like the interviews he had listened to had inspired him. He launched Entrepreneurs on Fire in Sept 2012, and within just a few months, he had logged hundreds of interviews and was becoming an authority figure and influencer in the industry.

As the podcast and website grew in popularity, people began asking Dumas how they could do the same thing, so he created a course teaching people how to start, grow and monetize their own podcasts. That month Entrepreneurs on Fire made its first $100,000. Since then, the business has consistently earned seven figures every year.

Related: 4 Simple Steps to Reaching Financial Independence and Retiring Early

Success to Significance

Even though the money was rolling in and Dumas was putting something of value out into the world, he still felt like there was something missing. An interview with Aaron Walker, life coach and founder of View from the Top, made him realize what that was.

"Aaron talked about how he became financially independent at a young age, but how that actually became a negative for him," says Dumas. "He had all this money, but it didn't make him feel fulfilled, so he asked himself how he could go from success to significance. Since 2015, that has been my mentality."

Dumas began thinking about how he could share his success with others in a significant way. He got involved in philanthropy, donating thousands of dollars to organizations like Pencils of Promise, a non-profit that builds schools in developing countries.

In 2016, Dumas and his fiance Kate moved to Puerto Rico, where they now run the business together. He managed to scale his life back so that he only works hard for about five days a month, and the rest of the time, he can run on autopilot. Instead of massively scaling the business, he and Kate have decided that what they earn is more than enough.

Adding value to the world has always been at the forefront of Dumas' business model, which is why he continues to find new ways to inspire and help people. His first traditionally published book is The Common Path to Uncommon Success, a book that teaches people how to find their big idea so that they can create financial freedom and design the lives they deserve. Dumas based the teachings in this book off a decade of interviewing over 3,000 of the world's most successful entrepreneurs.

"After years of searching and struggle, I've finally been able to define what success is for me," says Dumas. "I'm living in my zone of fire, doing something that lights me up and excites me every day. In doing so, I've designed the life that I want. The problem with most people is they never identify what their version of success looks like.

Dumas doesn't think that his story is particularly remarkable. Instead, he believes that anyone can create a successful business by combining passion and expertise.

"There is a buried opportunity in everyone that can be unleashed to achieve the financial independence and the fulfillment you desire. You need to know where to start. Once you do, it's a really powerful journey. You might stumble on the way, but as long as you stay true to that zone of fire, you'll continue adding value to the world and you can't go wrong."

Mike Swigunski

Founder of, Author of Global Career Book

Mike Swigunski is the founder of the remote job board and author of the best-selling book Global Career: How to Work Anywhere & Travel Forever. Swigunski has worked in and traveled to more than 85 countries over the past decade and loves writing about remote work and entrepreneurship.

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