Out of the Darkness and Into the Light: Internet Marketing, Life, Tony Robbins and Other Stuff!

by John Zajaros on August 31, 2009

It seems longer, almost an eternity ago. I was living my life from pain pill to pain pill…more like PAIN PILL to PAIN PILL…and doctor’s appointment to hospital stay. It certainly doesn’t seem like a matter of months…it seems like a lifetime ago! Yet, as I think back, it really wasn’t that long ago at all! So, how did I get here? How did it all happen so fast? Is it important to tell my story at all?

Well, to the last question I would say yes…but then, I am somewhat biased. Not egocentric, mind you, just somewhat biased.

You see, I think my story is important. The story isn’t important in the “Here I am!” and “See what I did!” or “Look what I have!” sense but it is in the “See what I’ve been able to accomplish and you can too!” sense. The story is important if only to give someone else hope, to assure others that, no matter how dark their present may be, there is an alternative future just beyond the range of their sight, beyond the horizon, just out of their grasp. It is a life-lesson, passed on from me to you, assuring you that you can get there, wherever and whatever there is for you, if you simply persevere and remember that someone else, in this case yours truly, has been there before you, with you, and has done it, whatever it is…so you can too!

This seems to be a time for baring of the soul, telling how we got here, sharing the trials and tribulations that brought us to the point of self-realization, self-discovery, and finally, of self-knowledge.

But that is way ahead of the story…way ahead of it!

Before we get to all the self-actualization “stuff,” to use a technical term…cuz everybodies got “stuff“! Just ask George Carlin!

Oops! Got off the subject with George there. Hope you came back! Or, better yet, click the link later. It will be worth it, too funny…and true!

Back to self-discovery:

Self-actualization is a term that has been used by psychologists in a variety of ways and for a long time now. The interesting thing about the term self-actualization is that the term is used in slightly different ways by different psychologists at different times. In many instances, as with history itself, psychological thought is a reflection of the times it was written in as much as it is or was about the subject matter itself. While a topic for a different time and a different article, it is interesting to note that our history, and much of social scientific and physical scientific theory seems to reflect the period it was written in, as much as being a reflection of the thought or theory itself. Meaning, like it or not, we see the world in terms of the world we live in…and that is a very difficult bronco to buck!

So, as we seek to understand ourselves, we also need to take a hard look at our context, how we are living our lives and who is shaping our beliefs, consciously or unconsciously…some would say subconsciously.

OK! Back to self-actualization. To quote Wikipedia (Why not? Everyone else does!): “The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realise [sic] all of one’s potentialities. In his view, it is the master motive—indeed, the only real motive a person has, all others being merely manifestations of it. However, the concept was brought to prominence in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory {Tim Schmidt has incorporated this nicely into his Tribal Marketing concept!} as the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all basic and mental needs are fulfilled and the “actualisation” of the full personal potential takes place.

In other words, as a consequence of our life-lessons, by way of a journey of self-discovery and the eventual fulfillment of the needs below on the pyramid, below self-actualization on the hierarchy, we come to an awareness of our full potential, our “full personal potential” or our “potentialities.”

I would argue that there is, in fact, a degree above this, true self-actualization takes place when we implement our potentialities, when we put our selves (spelled put our a##es) into gear and get going with the business of living…thus achieving our true potential or potentialities, whatever that or they may be!

Just to be clear, because the image, when transferred, blackened out the labels somewhat, the lowest level of needs in Mazlow’s hierarchy are physiological. Next up on the pyramid are the needs associated with safety. Then come the needs associated with love and belonging. The next level up are the needs related to esteem, and this is where most people get stuck…if they get to this level at all. And finally, we reach the peak of Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs, those needs labeled as self-actualizing, or simply self-actualization!

Whether you agree with the whole of self-actualization theory and Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs or not, it seems apparent, at least to me, that we all search for a purpose, something larger than ourselves to identify with and to incorporate into our schema of the world, the meaningful world we seek to identify with and become linked to.

Why do you think social media is so popular, aside from the whole issue of marketing…spam notwithstanding? It’s because we all seek to attach ourselves to something or someone greater than ourselves! Notice the emphasis here on selves! Something or someone exciting, larger than life if you will…and certainly larger than our lives! Our current lives anyway, the lives many of us wish we could escape, or at least change drastically!

So what is stopping us?

Well, I hear a lot of gobbledygook phrases (wait to click it until after you’ve finished the article, OK?!) like:

Inertia!

Take action!

Visualize!

Whatever the mind can conceive and believe…

You know the remainder of the last one, you finished it without me even writing it out here, didn’t you?

…it can achieve!

Change your state!

Huh? What? How?

We all know the catch phrases, we all know the goobledygook terms…but how the heck do we implement them and what has to happen in our lives, to our lives, in order to get us to the point where we:

1.) Counter the inertia that is our life!

2.) Take the necessary action because we simply can’t stand the pain of inaction any longer!

3.) Get to a point where or when, although it may be difficult, if not seemingly impossible, we know there must be something, anything that ranks higher on the life-satisfaction scale than our lives do now. Something out there that ranks higher in terms of satisfaction, reward, meaning, and here’s the million dollar word…potential!

It is the potentiality, the possibility of potentiality, that will ultimately fuel our action, breaking through the inertia of our inaction that is our lives! Without belief in the possibility of potentiality…we are doomed!

That takes me back to my story!

Phew! Thought we’d never get back here, didn’t you?

The fact is, I thought I was doomed! I was absolutely, totally, completely, utterly, finally (get the idea?) doomed! That was my mindset, just roll me over and stick a fork in me…I was done!

Here I was at the time, a 53 year old guy with a huge gap in his employment history because of catastrophic illness (almost dying in the process-see below). I had finally come through several surgeries to save my life after doctor after doctor (some of the “best” in the word), and hospital after hospital (also a few of the “best,” like the Cleveland Clinic) misdiagnosed me, or didn’t bother to diagnose me at all.

I actually had one doctor, I had to admire is honesty, who told me my back was too big a mess for him to handle and he’d, “rather not touch it!”

Yup! Doomed!

I was in so much pain, I couldn’t crawl to the bathroom, literally. It was horrible! I was on so much pain medication that when I finally found a surgeon willing to operate, I almost couldn’t find an anesthesiologist to do the honors! That would have been the height of irony…and about my luck back then! Fortunately, I found a guy, a good one, who was willing to take me on and it ended up saving my life.

Osteomyelitis!

They woke me up in the recovery room to one of those good news-bad news lines:

“Mr. Zajaros,” who cared if they got the title wrong, “the bad news is, we couldn’t fix your back.”

“Mr. Zajaros,” did it again, “the good news is, we found a massive staph infection throughout the vertebrae and the surrounding tissue. We think it may have been in there for several years…and you are going to live!”

I have to tell you, the pain when you wake up from spine surgery is worse than anything you can possibly imagine! You really think death would be a relief, it’s that bad. But at least I knew all the pain I had experienced up to that moment was not in my head, there was a reason, it was based in a medical reality; and, that was strangely satisfying. Just knowing that I hadn’t imagined it all, that it wasn’t “in my head,” that it wasn’t “rebound pain” or some other ridiculous misdiagnosis…

…I was relieved.

Little did I know, the battle of my life was just beginning.

That was May of 2000.

Several more surgeries, many years in hospitals, yes years, and I can’t tell you how many pills, bills, and doctors I went through on my way to recovery.

“Recovery?”

I walked away from a comfortable 6 figure a year job (well, they got tired of waiting for me to get well and put me on leave), spent months going through our retirement, 401k, IRAs, everything we owned, including the better of the two vehicles (a brand new minivan we had payed cash for), to keep from living in a box…or in the back of a 1992 Chevrolet Cavalier Station Wagon!

Had it not been for amazing friends and the help of Catholic Charities, we would have been homeless, evicted while I was in the hospital having surgery number 13…of 14 or 15?! We had run out of time…and money! Thank goodness we still had friends!

We moved…started over.

Operation.

Moved…started over.

Operation.

Moved…started over.

Operation. Addiction (there is no such thing as a “controlled addiction,” physician monitored or not). Depression. Blackness.

I felt utterly and completely doomed!

Then, in March of 2007, I fell while walking out our door and down the front walk. The winter had lifted the sidewalk and I didn’t notice it. That is, until I was falling into the bumper of my in-laws new pickup truck, denting the bumper with my head, ripping open my scalp (100+ stitches), and the concrete sidewalk (crushing my shoulder). The osteomyelitis had weakened my bones, when I say I crushed my shoulder, I mean it was almost completely destroyed, they pinned it back and rebuilt it as well as possible but, as you can see from the videos, it is still quite a mess!

While recovering from the reconstruction, yet another operation if you are keeping track (15 by now), I had a pulmonary embolism, along with another large clot in my shoulder, congestive heart failure, and a myriad of other health consequences and complications.

By April of 2007 there was little left of our previous existence, I should say our previous lives…because what we were doing by 2007 was existing. We no longer had our lives, we muddled through each day, I on the sectional or in the recliner, taking pain pills to kill the pain, physical and psychological, in pain 24/7, severely depressed, truly at the and of things…all things…or so I thought.

I was doomed in every sense of the word…except one…I had an amazing wife and family!

Each time our standard of living dropped and our prospects diminished…my self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth with them! Yet, my family never gave up on me and I never saw anything but love and respect in their eyes. I will never forget that, I can never adequately express my feelings concerning it…or ever repay what it meant to me or did for me.

I will work the rest of my life, for them, that is my burning desire…my one thing!

It literally kept me alive…their love!

You know, it seems like everyone has a near death story, it’s almost the new Horatio Alger, Rags to Riches thing….

As an aside: Horatio Alger wrote rags to riches stories, yet at the time of his death he was living with his sister and brother in law, he never made a lot of money from his writing. His image today is somewhat tarnished by rumor and innuendo, another tragic fatality of revisionism and conjecture in historical research. But the American Dream, the ideal of a rags to riches life of achievement based on honesty, hard work, integrity, and ingenuity is embedded in American social culture at least in part due to his stories.

Anyway, back to the recent wave of “I Survived…Buy from Me!” stories!

< For a moment, anyway!

Or

“I Survived the Black Death and Learned 12 Life-Lessons! You can learn them all for $997 and $97 per month!”

Or

“How I turned lessons learned from the plague! Yes, the actual Black Death, I survived and turned it into a marketing miracle, you can too!”

“Get your ‘I Had a Heart Attack and Now I Para-Sail in Cancun!’ Home Study Kit!”

OK! Maybe the last one is a bit much…but just barely! Maybe they para-glide off of Mt Everest!

My point is, illness and disease, near death experience and all the baggage that comes with it has sadly, almost tragically become cliche! Amazingly, the rags to riches stories have too! We have, as a society, a nation, even a world of skeptics. We have become jaded, not knowing who or what to believe. It’s sad, almost tragic.

And, if we do believe…so what? What does it mean?

Well, I really don’t know…what it means!

The only reason I’ve told you as much as I have, and I have waited quite a while to do that, is to get you to this point, to the here and now of this article…so you will get what comes next…I hope!

By April of 2007 I was ready to throw in the towel, quite literally! Had it not been for my family, and the knowledge of what it would do to them, I would not be here today. I am not being overly melodramatic, I am being brutally honest when I tell you that I was in so much pain, physically and psychologically, I was ready to leave this world.

Nothing had changed, I still felt doomed.

I had come to the rubicon, I was either going to commit to life, giving it everything I had one last time…or I was out of here!

So, I checked myself into a clinic, got off the pain medication, went through 28 days of meetings, treatment, the whole ball of wax, and got clean and sober! It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. Remember, I was on prescription pain medication for a legitimate chronic pain condition, I had been through 15 major surgeries. And, I was totally, hopelessly addicted. There was absolutely no way I was getting off of the pain medication on my own…no way!

It had been 10 years…and remember how hard it was to even get an anesthesiologist! And that had been 7 years before, in May of 2000!

The treatment was an ordeal, at first it was brutal. Again, getting off of the medication was one of the most difficult things I have ever been through, but it worked and the fog started to lift; and, so did my mood. You see, once I got off the pain medication, I started to believe other things might be possible! I even talked about working again and, to my amazement, my family didn’t discourage me, also something new.

Here we are at the beginning of the article!

I’m a 53 year old guy, a huge hole in my employment record, a catastrophic illness just behind me, overqualified with almost 3 decades of achievement in business and academia, including a doctoral fellowship at one of the most prestigious academic consortiums in the country, perhaps the world, and I can’t get a job. I can’t even get an interview. Every day I go out, make calls, fill out applications and every day nothing. I started to get the old feelings again.

Was I…doomed?

I have to say, feeling mentally sharp and being rejected every day was humiliating. And, it was the first time in my life I saw another expression in my family’s eyes…pity!

Pity!

Was I imagining it? Certainly I felt ashamed, even humiliated, by the whole experience. The economy hadn’t hit bottom, but it was heading there, yet I still felt like I should be able to get a job, something…anything!? And yet there I was, each and every day, more ashamed and more humiliated than the day before.

Heck!

I didn’t even get called back for a pizza delivery job. And I’m not talking about Papa John’s or Domino’s, I’m talking about the neighborhood pizza shack! The owner with his belly hanging over his belt, dirty t-shirt, the whole deal. That’s where I was! That’s what I would have accepted! Just to get someone to say, “Yes!” to me!

Then, I got a call from BP!

Yup!

The gas station people. Not for a management position, not for an assistant manager position, also known as the night manager, not even for full time work, days or nights, but for a part-time counter person working afternoons, 3 days a week. That was it…after weeks of looking, a part-time job at a gas station/convenience store down the street from my house.

Well, I almost took it. In fact, I went in, interviewed for the job, passed the background screening and credit checks, was set to start…and didn’t!

You see, I knew one thing with a certainty that was so clear it was frightening, I knew if I took that job I was in fact…doomed! I can’t tell you how or why, but I just knew.

That night, the night I made that decision, I asked my daughter if she knew anything about building websites and would she help me. Well, as much time as she was on the computer, I figured she would know, right? Wrong! But I knew enough to stumble upon (yup! pun intended) the right resources, constructed a website, placed a few ads, and by the end of the night had put my education to work and had built an online and in-home tutoring business. It had been in front of me the whole time! I had tutored kids for years before getting sick. I love kids, teaching, coaching, it was a natural!

At first?

Nothing!

Surprise anyone out there?

I got very discouraged, this would be the final humiliation if I failed at this…I just couldn’t do it again…or so I thought at the time.

Enter an email from Anthony Garcia, a very nice guy who works for Tony Robbins. Well, I talked a bit to Anthony via email and on the phone, told him my story, a little of it anyway, and he was very kind and offered me some encouragement, some words of advice, and was just in the right spot at the right time.

Interestingly, I don’t think any of us realize the real power of a kind word or gesture at just the right moment. In this case, the right gesture, at precisely the right moment kept me on track, gave me enough of a push to go just one more day.

Do any of us realize we have that sort of power?

I wonder!

Anyway, a short time after that Tony Robbins started video blogging, vlogging, and he was online quite frequently. Having purchased one of his original programs, Personal Power II (I still have it on my desk) years before, I have always followed his career and watched for his products, purchasing them when I felt the need. So, when I discovered this free resource and his videos, I felt I had hit the mother lode!

In fact, Tony said in one video that he would stay up all or most of the night reading the comments from people. Well, one of those people was me, and I was moved by the message in one of his videos, so I commented and mentioned how much Anthony’s kindness had meant to me and what a difference it had made in keeping me on track…just that simple act of kindness. Well, one night he must have read my comment because I got a response, then a call from Anthony, and then a pretty amazing gesture from Tony himself.

The gesture was a small one in the grand scheme of things and I never did take him up on the offer. However, the gesture kept me going, inspired me to “pay it forward,” in fact my email address and the semi-annual “Zoobies for Kids” is inspired by Tony’s action and the challenge he made to pay the kindness forward. I have…and I do!

After that?

I started to get a nibble, then a bite, and before long I was working…and I mean really working my tail off!

One thing lead to another, I worked and I began to study. I started looking at Internet marketing as a second doctorate, this one in entrepreneurial science..so to speak. So, I consumed everything on Internet marketing I could find! I got some great stuff and I got ripped off…sound familiar?

In the end? I’m not there yet! I now have over 5 separate enterprises and close to 50 blogs and websites going, with more in the works. I literally have trouble keeping up and am looking for help now, full time help! John Zajaros, who almost took a menial, 3 days a week job for next to nothing! Imagine what my life, my self-esteem would be like…never mind speaking of potentialities!

I am still learning, growing, and evolving into the entrepreneur I have been for most of my adult life. I started my first business in 1974, 19 and just out of the Army. And, aside from my stint in academia and as Indiana Zajaros trotting the globe, I have been involved as an entrepreneur, primarily in sales and marketing, my whole life…usually as a business owner but occassionally as a top sales representative.

This is just in a different arena now, one with new rules, one with limitless possibilities.

However, had I quit, given up, rolled over and played dead, or worse, I wouldn’t be succeeding in the manner I am today.

Had I not taken the necessary steps to reclaim my life and then followed through, as painful as it was at the time, I would not be facing the amazing future I am today.

Had I taken that menial job…how different would my life be today? Talk about self-esteem and self-worth!

Had Anthony Garcia not been put in my path, sent me that email, made that call?

Had I not answered his phone call!?

Had Tony Robbins decided to spend time doing something else that night, instead of being online with his videos, answering comments, making one small gesture….

So much for coincidence!

This has become a tome instead of an article…I dread the thought of proofreading it!

My point here is that if I can do this, so can you…anyone can! It is simply a matter of perseverance, determination, and faith!

Faith in the possibilities!

Faith in yourself!

Faith in others!

Faith in a Higher Power!

Or, as Tony calls it…grace!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

tony robbins September 2, 2009 at 3:20 am

Hey John! A friend pointed me to your blog and this article. I'm so impressed with all you have faced and continue to conquer in your life. I'm touched that Anthony and I some how were guided at the right time to cross paths and give you the small bit of encouragement you needed to continue your journey of mentoring and giving. It's ironic that it's 1:30 am here in Fiji I leave for a seminar in Singapore at 5 am and of course I was online reading some of latest blog posts and twitter which is what led me to you again!;-) You are a very compelling writer and I wish for you continued success in all your endeavors. thanks too for the kind comments. Keep living with passion and blessings to you! Tony Robbins p.s. I followed you on twitter. Please send me a DM and I'll give you my email. I'd love to invite you to a seminar as my guest.

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