What inspired you to become a motivational speaker?
You know, Michael, there are two types of people. There are those who say, “Something needs to be done” and there are those that say, “I want to go out there and do something.” I’ll be honest. For years I was guilty of saying, “Why don’t they do this about this or do that about that?” Then I realized that we all have a story. We all have something that could help somebody else, and I realized that my story really can change lives and help people overcome adversity. There’s no greater joy than helping another person.
In addition to all of the presentations you give, you wrote a book called How to be the Happiest Person on the Planet. What was that experience like?
In 2008, I put a Post-it note on my computer and all it said was “Book: 2010.” I had this goal of having a book come out in 2010, so I put a two-year time frame on it. Of course, every day I’d get in front of my computer and what would I see? I’d see this Post-it note that says “Book: 2010.” Michael, a whole year goes by with me doing nothing related to the book but it was a reminder. All of a sudden I was like, “Oh my gosh, I only have one year left!” That was when I got busy. I started writing as much as possible and put my thoughts on paper. I had to find an editor, a publisher, determine how many chapters the book was going to be, cover, title, pictures – everything in that year to become an author. Two weeks before the end of the year – before 2010 – my book, How to be the Happiest Person on the Planet, was delivered to our office here in Orlando, Florida.
That’s why I really challenge people to write their dreams into existence, and you have to put them where you can see them. Otherwise, years go by and you have these dreams and goals inside of you that never came to fruition. You’ll wind up looking back on your life and saying, “Those were the days” or “I wish I could of…” I have to tell you, Michael, these are the days. These are the days we can accomplish anything we put our mind to. Go after dreams and goals. You want to write a book, you want to start a business, there is so much information out there to do amazing things in this world. It really is about reinventing yourself, especially as an adult. We tend to become so complacent. One day becomes the next and we settle for the status quo. Man, I want the rest of my life to be the best of my life. I don’t want to think that the best of my life is behind me. When we say, “Those were the days” we’re essentially saying that the best days have passed us.
It’s funny. When you write a book years go by and you look back on it and say, “Oh, I wish I had said this or said that.” You learn and grow in grace and knowledge. I have a book that I’m thinking about writing and I might title it Letters from the Edge. It would be all the letters I get from people that talk about attempting suicide, harming themselves or anxiety. People who have shut down and told me that something in my presentation saved their lives. The idea behind the book is that it would give hope to other people. It would let them know that it’s never too late. It’s about not giving up, rising from the ashes, perseverance, heart, knowing that after every storm the sun is going to shine, and that the best chapters of your life are about to be written. You’ve gotta believe that.
Both you and I are friends with Diamond Dallas Page. What does Dallas mean to you?
I’m smiling as we’re talking because when you mention him many times when I go to Atlanta, I stay at Dallas’ home. We have this energy when we’re together. When we’re together, we just challenge each other. The last time I was there, we were really competitive when it came to those 10-second push ups. We go nose-to-nose on these things. We’ve just always been competitive in our matches and our lives. Seeing Dallas reinvent himself with DDPY and me reinventing myself with Champion of Choices – we’ve both taken these different avenues in our lives. Then, when we come together we just have a way of taking each other up to another level. It’s so much fun. Whether it’s just me and Dallas or we’re at the DDPY Performance Center or with friends and family, we have such a great time.
Michael, we become who we surround ourselves with. Your friends are like elevators: they’re either going to take you up or they’re going to take you down. Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.
You mentioned the push ups, and I saw Dallas post on social media that you finally beat him at 10-second push ups. What was that like, and how many push ups did you get compared to Dallas?
10 years ago, Dallas and I were in the back room at a Gold’s Gym, where they have mats and things. We were always really competitive in everything we did. We were having this push ups contest and he said, “Let’s do these 10-second push ups.” I said, “Sure.” We did them and I can’t remember how many we did at that time. I would estimate that we got in six or seven. Remember, we’re nose-to-nose and we’re looking in each other’s eyes as we’re doing this. We’re moving at the same speed and the same momentum, everything. We’re counting together too. Here we are and we got that last one in, number six or seven, I can’t remember. We’re looking at each other and Dallas says, “Bro, I’ll call it a draw if you call it a draw.” I thought he couldn’t do anymore so I said, “No way!” So we both go down while counting down to 10 and hold it at the bottom for 10, and when we start coming up for 10 I couldn’t lift my arms up. He did and he beat me. It was stuck in my mind for 10 years.
I have a personal trainer that trains me here in Orlando. Part of my workout is mixing in DDPY and the 10-second push ups. I always do the 10-second push ups at the beginning of my workout and I was able to get up to six, seven, eight, and then nine. I almost got 10! Each of these push ups takes 30 seconds to do, so that’s five minutes of nonstop slow-motion push ups.
I recently stayed at Dallas’ house and we had a push ups competition. We had a bunch of people there doing this and I felt strong. I think I almost got 10 that day but I couldn’t push up out of my 10th one. DDP got seven or eight. I beat him pretty good. Don’t get me wrong, I bet this son of a bitch is thinking about this right now because he is the most competitive guy. What’s so fun about our relationship is I’m not walking around bragging about it because I know he’s right on my tail. (laughs) Probably, when I go to Atlanta the next time and see him, he’ll beat me and take his title back. You never know.
I was staying at Dallas’ home and I was presenting at schools in the Atlanta area and DDP said, “Hey, bro, why don’t you let the guys film one of your events?” We always get photo releases and video releases at schools so I said, “Sure!” He had Steve Yu and his crew go down and film my presentation at a local middle school. Maybe a week later DDP called and said, “The guys put together this really cool video. Do you mind if they put it up? You never know. Maybe it’ll go viral.” Sure enough, that video has now been seen by half-a-billion people. When you combine all the places it has appeared and all the celebrities that have shared it, it’s incredible. It makes me think back to when Dallas said, “Hey, Bro, you mind if we record your presentation?” Steve Yu is a genius. He really is. I always kid him and say, “Some day, when I find my Steve Yu, we’ll take Champion of Choices to the next stratosphere.”
You’re the #1 most requested school presenter in America. Approximately, how many schools are you speaking to each year?
Over the last five years, we’ve averaged 231 events each year and that’s within a 10-month period because schools are closed during the summer. When you factor in holidays and testing, our schedule is pretty tight. This coming year is pretty cool. We’re going to the UK in November and we went to Guatemala last May or June. We’ve even spoken to schools in Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
That’s incredible! Are you doing all of the speaking or do you have colleagues that also handle presentations?
Last year was the first year that we hired other presenters and we got some really good ones. I pick people I really like because I want to make sure that they will connect with their audience. They have to be good storytellers. We started working with Jonte Hall. He’s from the Harlem Globetrotters and just retired from the team. He went by the name “Too Tall” Hall but he’s only 5′ 2″. He’s a little guy but he does things with a basketball you’ve never seen before. The Harlem Globetrotters are incredibly entertaining too. When he gets in front of an elementary or middle school, he has the kids in awe. Then, when he tells his story of overcoming adversity and being too short to ever play basketball, it’s an incredible story. It’s great for kids with low self-esteem or those who feel insecure about their body image. He really takes audiences to another level. I love him.
We’ve got another got another girl called Makaila Nichols. She wrote Blatantly Honest: Normal Teen, Abnormal Life. She’s a model and she’s beautiful but she gets up there and talks about how she was bullied in school. Many people are going to be able to relate to her story. She’s another one that I’m really excited about working with this year.
And then we have another guy that’s been with me for 14 years. He was one of our backup dancers when we do the entertainment aspect of our presentation. His name is Meleeke Jones. We took him out and had him share his story of becoming a two-time national dance champion, and he puts on a dance show that’s incredible. Some of these kids I had working with me went on to the quarterfinals of America’s Got Talent because they’re so good.
I’m from Philadelphia. Have you spoken to any schools in the area?
This past year we did. I spoke at Kensington High School and they told me about this corner where there has been an alarming amount of overdoses from heroin. It was a great presentation and I had a tremendous connection with the kids at that school.
Have you visited any schools more than once? If so, how do you make sure that your presentation is just as fresh and compelling the second time around?
You know what’s really weird about that is when you have a presentation that’s as good as ours is, schools I revisit will often ask me to give the exact same presentation that I did the first time because they loved it so much. There are hundreds of thousands of schools for us to go to but the schools that ask me back really want the same presentation. As kids grow up, different parts of the presentation resonate with them compared to the first time around. I’ve had kids come up to me and say, “Man, that was the fifth time I saw it. I cried every time.” It is really powerful on a heartfelt level.
That’s a great point. It’s like a terrific song. There are certain elements of the song you’ll notice upon listening to it again.
Michael, there are certain ways I’ll modify it. For example, if I go to a school that has a high rate of suicide or suicide attempts, I will ramp up that part of my presentation and spend a little more time on that. If we’re talking about depression or anxiety, I can share different stories. I have different stories based on the needs of the school but they all tie back to the main themes. It’s my life story.
I’m actually doing pretty good. The sad part is, like everyone, you think you’re going to be married forever. I’ll never ever say a negative thing about my ex. She’s an amazing person. The sad part was that I’ve been on the road for 13 years presenting and when I’m gone for a long time, it’s hard to maintain a strong relationship. The other side of that is I take on a lot of peoples’ pain, adversity and brokenness. Sometimes, I get caught up in someone else that is really hurting and I may not be able to be the best husband that I should have been. We actually separated three years ago. We tried. We went to counseling and we went on dates together. There was no infidelity or anything like that. It came to a point in our lives where we said, “We need a change.” I wanted her to be happier in her life. We actually went to court holding hands, sat next to each other in court, and gave each other a hug and kiss goodbye. It was emotional. But I’m OK. I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my life. I know that with the next person I fall in love with my first question is going to be, “Do you like to travel?” (laughs) We’ll see.
Speaking of marriage, what are your thoughts on your first wife and any lessons learned from the first time around?
Every time you go through marriage, a separation or a divorce, I pray that you take something away from it to be a better husband. Obviously, I didn’t have it right. I learned a lot from my most recent one. The thing I understand is how precious time is. Even if it’s just hanging out and being next to each other, time is the most valuable commodity. When you don’t give enough time and you give away your time other places, it should always be, in my heart, God first, marriage second, business, ministry or whatever your calling is after that. When you start getting those things mixed up, your life starts to fall apart, and I was guilty of mixing them up.
The most fun moments I had in wrestling were in WCW. I had some fun times in WWE but WCW was special. Dusty Rhodes gave me my break. With my character Johnny B. Badd, he wanted me to be really flamboyant and over the top and it was a little bit uncomfortable at first. Once the character got over I asked Dusty, “Hey, can I drop the makeup, the feather boas and the overtones?” and he was cool with it. I started thinking about the character as a combination of Little Richard and Muhammad Ali. Then I really had fun with the character from 1993 to 1996. It seemed like the crowd really liked it too.
How do you think your time in WWE compared to your expectations going into your contract with the organization?
I really had high hopes. Vince really pursued me to to go WWE and gave me a nice, big signing bonus and a guaranteed contract. The other thing I asked Vince for was I wanted my wife to fly all over the world with me. He had no idea what she looked like and he said, “I’ve never heard that before” but he agreed to it. He agreed to fly my ex all over with me. I said to him, “Since you’re flying her with me everywhere, why don’t we use her as my valet?” He said, “Let’s just worry about you for now.” When my ex, Rena, known in WWE as Sable, and I went to New York to sign my contract and we walked into the office Vince said, “Oh my god! I’ve got to put her on TV!” Her and I came up with the name Sable and that’s how that all started.
You reprised your Johnny B. Badd character in TNA. What was that experience like?
So many years had gone by and I had my hair cut real short. It was a totally different look from the original Johnny B. Badd, so it was a little unusual. It was different. I don’t feel that the fans got behind it like back in the WCW days.
Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?
Champion of Choices is ramping up for its 13th year at schools, and I’m really excited about going to the UK. I’m praying that it will open up some doors overseas so we can travel there more often and do more presentations there. I’m staying really healthy too – eating really clean, doing my DDPY, doing my push ups, doing my circuit training. I feel really good, especially after heart surgery. A lot of people get depressed after surgery. I’ve had 14 surgeries now. Now, I feel like Humpty Dumpty, man. They put me back together again. I feel like a kid. Everything’s working. I was born with two heart valves instead of three. So, I have a new cow’s valve inside of me, and they stopped my heart for 40 minutes to do this surgery. It’s incredible that I’m alive and I feel healthy. If I didn’t have this big scar on my chest, I wouldn’t notice that anything is different.
So, everything is progressing as it should be?
Oh, yeah. The doctors have told me that all the tests are coming back and they’re all good. I feel great. I’m really looking forward to this new year because I really believe there is a lot less pressure on me. I don’t mean this in a negative way. Not being married is a little easier because when I was there was a little pressure when I came home, taking care of my family and stuff, and I don’t have that now. Not that I don’t want to have a family, don’t get me wrong. There’s just a lot of pressure sometimes when you’re helping a lot of other people and then you come home. I can still do what I love doing.
There’s always good that can come from bad, if you look at it the right way.
Yeah, I’m also considering a big move in my life. I live here in Orlando, and I’m thinking about, maybe in the next six months to a year, moving to Atlanta.
Obviously, I like to be around my family and friends that I have there. It’s always great to be around positive people.
You mentioned DDP Yoga earlier. What are your thoughts on the program?
I do my own version of DDPY. I do circuit training, where I go from machine to machine. I’m using heavy weight but I’m doing 40-second protocols. I still lift because I want to keep my muscle size. I mix in the DDPY with my own workout. The trainer I have combined them so fluidly. I love it. They just mesh. When I go see Dallas, I just do DDPY with him. When I see Dallas, we do a whole class. They’re really fun because they’re high-energy classes, which is really cool. What’s so great about Dallas’ program is that there are so many people encouraging each other. It’s not like you sign up and never hear from anyone. There are people who will text you, call you or be in a group with you, and all of these people are in the same predicament. Everyone is trying to get their lives healthy, whether it’s losing weight or recovering from an injury or whatever it is. My back, my knees, my shoulders, my elbows. I’ve had surgeries so many times, and I actually feel like a kid again because of the type of workouts we do with the stretching in DDPY. The constant cardio. Man, you can get your heart rate up by barely doing anything. You can lose weight more quickly that way too.
It’s funny you mention that because I recently met friends, Scott and Amy, in-person for the first time because they flew in from Arizona purposely so they could meet me and other friends and so we could do DDP Yoga together down at the Jersey shore. It was incredible and a wonderful experience we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Both Scott and I are in training to become DDPY certified instructors, and I’d argue that the communal aspect of this program is what makes it so special.
Yeah, it’s really important. If someone is smiling at you, encouraging you or giving you a hug when you need it, that’s so important. These workouts, they’re tough. But when you see the results people are getting, it’s incredible. I don’t mean this to demean it. Actually, I mean it as a compliment. There’s a ton of great workouts out there. The gift Dallas has is he takes people to the next level and then they take other people up to the next level. That’s the whole DDPY universe and what they’re doing out there. It’s about taking people to the next level. It’s encouraging. When I go to the DDPY Performance Center, it’s always great. Everybody is always excited to see you. There’s just a positive energy there, and it starts from the top. That’s how Dallas is. He brings it, and everybody else has it too.
Both you and Dallas are focused on inspiring people to be better. Inspiration is a powerful thing. We get inspired by ourselves, by other people, by positive affirmations, and even by bad situations. Until you have the right mindset, some people don’t realize the power that comes from inspiration and how it can really transform your life.
Amen! That is so true. Like I said earlier, there is no greater joy than helping another person. I live for it every day. To wake up and whether it’s through social media or private messages I get or talking to people on the phone, helping someone else is the joy in my life. It’s like finding your calling. What really makes you happy. What makes you want to get up the next day. So many people are in dead-end jobs or dead-end relationships and they just continue and continue and continue. The idea, man, is make a change. Reinvent who you are as a person, and it starts with a positive mindset. I’m not going to go back there. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to move forward – realizing that the sun is shining, man. There are no more clouds. I’m going forward.
What haven’t you done yet that you’d like to accomplish?
Wow! That’s a great question. I’ve been blessed through wrestling and through speaking to tour and travel the world. I think the journey is so exciting right now that there’s not a destination. So, if I had to say what it is that I’d like to accomplish, it’s being able to do more of what I do at a bigger, mass-event level. Whether it’s being on a major television show to get the word out, to get the word out to inspire not just thousands but millions – that would be a great thing. Getting on Ellen or doing something with Oprah. Doing something that would make a massive difference, not just being in front of a thousand people or five thousand people, or people seeing a video. Instead, really getting out there and doing something life-changing.