It was Christmas 2012 and life had just punched me in the face — my business had failed, I was broke and my girlfriend dumped me.
I was a mess.
I’ll admit it: the stress and anxiety I experienced on a daily basis was intense. I tried everything, but nothing seemed to shake it.
I couldn’t sleep.
Every time I went to bed and closed my eyes, horrible images would come to mind of my ex fucking her new boyfriend and fantasies of suicide.
It felt like it would never end.
Closing my eyes became a daily nightmare. To fall asleep each night I would mix enough pot with melatonin to pass out in the middle of watching “The Daily Show.”
But going to sleep wasn’t the only time I had to experience closing my eyes.
I also had to do it in the shower, and I hated it in the same way.
Imagine starting your day off by wishing you weren’t awake at all, as time slows and you feel paralyzed to make any movements whatsoever. That was my morning routine. I would wake up, (eventually) hop in the shower, and naturally I had to close my eyes. Instantly the same visuals would be there.
This sounds pathetic and, believe me, I felt pathetic having these experiences in the moment. And it’s certainly awkward now sharing them publicly.
Ya… so I, uhh, used to see visuals of my ex fucking her new boyfriend every time I closed my eyes… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
One afternoon I was standing in my living room and I recognized that the pain was real and I couldn’t continue living this way. I decided to ask myself an honest question. “Am I actually serious about killing myself?” Or was I just a coward and using these fantasies as a way to create more pain?
In that moment, I asked myself another question: “If I could get better, if it was actually possible to get better… would I choose that?” And I knew that, yes, I would. I would choose life over death. I would choose happiness over despair.
I looked to my left and down the hallway to my bathroom mirror, and thought about what I could write on my mirror as a reminder of this choice, of this desire.
“If I could, I would.”
If I could get better, I would choose to get better. I just didn’t know how. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t going to stop showering (you’re welcome) and I could only keep my eyes open so much. Pot and melatonin weren’t going to do the trick here either. I had to find a different solution.
Growing up playing hockey in Canada I had the privilege of being taught peak performance by world-class sports psychologists. One concept that stood out above the rest was the power of visualization — seeing is believing.
‘’I visualized where I wanted to be, what kind of player I wanted to become. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.” — Michael Jordan
In hockey this technique worked well, but since my retirement I had only used it sporadically.
What a perfect time to try it out again.
Anxiety comes from a negative expectation of a future result and this process would allow me to do the exact opposite: I could visualize a positive result (say, accomplishing a goal) and in doing so, alleviate the anxiety I could no longer bear.
I made a commitment that every time I had to close my eyes, I would instantly focus my attention on a goal I had. A goal I knew, honestly, I did want to achieve.
At this point, I didn’t even care about whether or not using visualization in this way would actually help me achieve the goal — I’ve never been one to rely on the “Law of Attraction” — but instead the intention of using visualization was to simply alleviate the anxiety I was experiencing.
And, who knows, maybe I would accomplish the goal and that would serve as a cool experiment. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t, but it was worth the shot. I mean, I didn’t exactly have any other ideas.
But what was a goal of mine?
I thought about it, and the first goal to pop in my mind was to speak at a TEDx event.
Since 2006, when I began my personal development journey, I had spent many nights watching TED talks, especially early on before I learned to enjoy reading books. Speaking at TEDx was something I thought I would do eventually, so why not?
I wasn’t really sure what I would talk about, so instead I visualized myself walking out on stage, sharing my talk and then celebrating with friends and family at the afterparty.
This seemed to work. I would just focus, focus, focus and replay the visuals in my mind over and over again. It wasn’t a perfect fix but in the least it gave me something else to think about and I experienced less pain and anxiety.
I would continue to do this every morning in the shower for nine months.
So much of the depression and loneliness I found myself experiencing on a daily basis was a result of living my life in fear, and it didn’t take a genius to see that wasn’t working out so well.
Sometimes I’ve found that when things aren’t working out, I just need a small tweak. I’m close, but I need a simple adjustment. Other times, if I’m not getting the results I want in life, I need to try doing the complete opposite of what I’ve been doing. And I’ve found a lot of success in my life from the latter.
This was one of those times. Instead of living my life from a place of fear, I was going to live my life from a place of love.
So, I moved to Colorado!
On April 19th, I got in my car and drove 1,081 miles to Boulder, Colorado, from Calgary, Alberta. The decision to move to Colorado came after spending four months considering if it was what I really wanted. And when I finally moved, my focus was still solely on my self-care, with an intention to be curious about new opportunities that presented themselves. I chose Boulder after falling in love with it on an unexpected trip the previous October.
In May, my friend Victoria Gigante came to visit and we attended the TEDxMileHigh event in Denver.
I had never seen a TEDx event live and was excited to take it in.
After the first speaker I looked at the stage and couldn’t help but feel like I could do it too. The event was fantastic and I enjoyed listening to each speaker.
The photo on the left was posted on Facebook and my friend Boris commented: “DAMN! be sure to share your talk!”
I knew it would happen some day.
I’ve always felt like a high achiever, but I seemed to run into resistance when it came to pursuing my goals. I made this a point of emphasis: to uncover why, as someone with ambition, I seemed to lack the instinct to truly go after what I wanted.
It hadn’t always been this way, but this seemed to shift for the worse over the past few years.
And it was in the combination of a few breakthroughs that led me to the epiphany of why this was occurring and how to shift it for the better.
The first was when I failed to audition for “Big Brother Canada.”
Growing up I’ve always dreamed of being on the show “Big Brother” and, after a decade of waiting, it finally came to Canada. But I never auditioned because I feared what it would say about me if I didn’t get picked. I was afraid of failure.
Actually, it wasn’t failure I was afraid of… it was the rejection.
As I discovered this, it inspired me to look at where this may have come from, and it wasn’t long before the answers seemed obvious.
Throughout the eighth and ninth grades I experienced intense bullying at school and on my hockey teams, and with this type of rejection I would do my best to avoid any potential for these in the future.
I had a fear of rejection.
The second breakthrough happened when I made a commitment to live my life from a place of love instead of fear, a decision I made partially due to this fear of rejection I had recently uncovered.
Although this fear was very clearly having an influence in my life, I had no desire for it to continue to do so.
“After enlightenment, the laundry.” -Chinese Proverb
So I began to look for opportunities I was interested in and, with my newfound awareness, I could make a different decision — to, in the very least, lean into it and become more comfortable with the experience of rejection.
In July, I went to an event called “So You Want To Give A TEDx Talk?” by Erin Weed. It was at 9am on a Wednesday and I wasn’t much of a morning person at the time. I got up and went to it thinking it would be a nice low-key way of hearing someone talk about public speaking, a topic I’ve always had an interest in.
After grabbing a coffee with almond milk (Boulder was very progressive back then), I picked a seat next to a dude and laid back. Erin introduced herself and went into an incredible story about how she became inspired to start “Girls Fight Back” after her friend was murdered in Chicago.
Her talk was powerful.
After ten minutes, she shared how the structure she used to tell her story was based on a framework she had developed that didn’t force her to memorize her talks and instead allowed them to flow naturally — to speak her truth — while still being deliberate to share the key elements.
To develop the framework, she has an exercise called “Speech in a Bag,” a series of 10 questions you can ask yourself to get all of the important details for your talk, and we were going to pair up and do the exercise right now.
For a minute I stared at her unimpressed with a blank look on my face, “You’re seriously going to make me pair up and do this exercise right now??” I came to sit and listen, not to participate. Plus, I didn’t even know what I wanted to talk about!
I had no way out, so I turned to the guy sitting next to me and off we went.
In the few short minutes we had, I decided that the only topic I knew well enough to do this exercise properly was my “How to Quit Playing Video Games FOREVER” article.
About a year prior, I had started writing a book on the topic of problematic gaming. During the research phase, I did learn a few interesting statistics, so that could help. In the very least, this could make the exercise a bit less painful!
By the end my partner handed me a brown paper bag with ten sticky notes in it, my Speech in a Bag, and said he was impressed and that I was definitely on to something. He told me to email him after I had given my talk.
I approached Erin afterwards to connect and thank her for a kickass workshop. She would turn out to be an invaluable mentor during the process of preparing for my talk. (Thank you, Erin!)
Two weeks later, I was on Facebook and my friend Cesar had posted a link about TEDxBoulder accepting applications.
From an early age, I’ve always felt called to speak… to be a voice. I always had an inclination I’d speak on stage. It was just one of those weird intuitions you have as a child, but I had never truly experienced speaking on stage other than doing a few free workshops here and there with my first company.
TEDxBoulder seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience public speaking and whether or not I would enjoy it, plus I always knew I wanted to give a TEDx talk, so I said fuck it and applied. (My application is here.)
A week or so later I got an email that I had been accepted for an interview. I figured there were like 10 people who had applied so I was fairly confident I would end up being selected. Later I discovered there were 426 applications, 50 accepted for interviews and 10 ultimately chosen.
Or in other words, I had a 2.35% chance of being selected.
My interview was tough. The head organizer of TEDxBoulder, Andrew Hyde, grilled me pretty hard, especially on whether there was a non-obvious solution to quitting video games.
“Good talks are predictable, like giving a talk on losing weight by saying eat less… yes, the advice is accurate but it’s boring. Great talks are unpredictable. It’s like giving a talk on losing weight by saying: eat a grapefruit within the first 30 minutes of waking up in the morning. People remember great talks!”
During the interview I was convinced I had blew it, and felt kind of bummed. But at the end, to my relief, he said I was in and I’d be getting a confirmation email tomorrow.
Saturday came and went. “Oh, I’m sure they’re just busy…” Sunday came and went. “… Damn…”
Monday I was flying to Portland to meet my mom and sister and I figured they must have changed their mind. Oh well, I was just proud I had applied.
I landed in Portland and of course the first thing you do when you land is you check your email. Or maybe that’s just me…
And there it was: “Hey Speakers!”
In the middle of the airport terminal I threw my fist in the air. YES! I started walking to baggage claim and looking around at people thinking about how they didn’t even realize how cool I was.
It was pretty ridiculous, but I was excited.
From that moment until the talk, I had about five weeks to prepare. My entire focus went to it immediately. I used the time wisely and set myself up for success.
I knew this talk would consist of two elements:
- The talk itself.
- The personal development side of it for me.
I wasn’t just merely trying to come up with a talk, but also making sure I was in the best shape possible to embody who I needed to be on stage.
I knew the writing would take care of itself, it would just take focus and effort on my part, but I already had the structure from my article and I felt confident in knowing what I needed to share.
It was on the personal side that I set specific intentions. I got a lot of sleep, ate lunch at my favorite restaurant, Sherpas, every day, and even flew to Portland the weekend before the big day to have a mini-vacation to come back into the final week of prep feeling fresh and ready to go.
To deal with the anxiety of speaking in front of 2,000+ people for the first time ever, I went through my visualization exercise regularly. I especially focused on the celebration with friends and family afterward and the feeling of how proud I would be of myself for stepping up and into my comfort zone.
The truth is, yes, having the opportunity to give a TEDx talk was an incredible honor and I was passionate to share an important message about problematic gaming. But, for me personally, it was a moment in my life where I was going after something I wanted. I was putting myself out there with a real possibility of failure and, in the worst case, total humiliation in front of thousands of people.
But regardless of these inherent risks, I was so tired of living my life playing it safe. I was exhausted from years of living with low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in myself. And I knew stepping up to speak at TEDx was a chance to do something I would be proud of.
And I had an inclination, inspired originally from making the move to Boulder a few months prior, that doing things I was genuinely proud of myself for was the path to developing a true sense of self-esteem. One that would last for a lifetime.
However, even though I had the leverage necessary to push past my fears, I made one last decision that created a significant difference.
Inspired by my friend Sam Solie’s TEDx talk, “Defining Your Own Success,” I committed to defining what success meant to me at TEDx before applying.
Was it a million views?
A standing ovation?
Neither. Although both would be fantastic, my definition of success was process-focused, instead of outcome dependent:
Have No Regrets.
I couldn’t control whether I got a million views on my video, or whether the crowd resonated so powerfully to give me a standing ovation.
But I could control how hard I worked to do a good job and whether or not I gave the talk everything I could.
And as long as I did that… as long as I left everything I had out there… regardless of the outcome, I could leave with my head held high.
And I’ll be honest… during times of intense anxiety leading up to the talk, it was reconnecting with my definition of success that made the difference. I knew all I could do is to keep, working, hard. So that’s what I did.
Eight days after I received confirmation, the organizers held a TEDxBoulder Beta event to introduce the city to the speakers. I showed up relaxed, with the expectation that it would be a happy hour mingle-type event, which it was until Andrew had us all get on stage and, while we were up there, broke the news that we’d all be giving a one-minute preview of our talk, right now.
I remember we all looked at each other thinking, “Ooh shit.” We didn’t have anything prepared!!
One by one, each speaker went up to the mic to introduce their talk. I was near the back and got more nervous as time went on.
I wasn’t really sure what to say, so all I remember is blacking out and trying to say every passionate reason why someone should care about my silly talk on video games.
One moment stood out the most, and it was when I shared the statistic that the fastest growing age group in the U.S. for people playing video games is kids aged two to five. The crowd of a couple hundred people gasped.
I survived the Beta event and knew it was time to get that much more serious about having my talk prepared.
From this point forward, I had about 19 days until the big day.
My day consisted of me waking up, having breakfast and heading downtown to a cafe to work on the talk, going for lunch at Sherpas, going back to a cafe to work on the talk and then going home to work on the talk. And sleep.
I also helped promote the event by appearing on CW’s “Daybreak” and FOX31 Denver’s “Everyday” morning shows, which were both new and incredible experiences for me.
Throughout this time, I received so much support I’m grateful for including my friend Chris who designed my slides.
(Video of CW appearance is here.)
I landed back in Boulder after my weekend getaway in Portland with five days left before the event, and spent Monday and Tuesday practicing my talk in front of friends to make any final adjustments. My friends were such an invaluable resource, providing both feedback and encouragement.
On Wednesday, I presented in front of the TEDx committee and got their approval, so I locked in the final version and spent pretty much every minute possible from then until the talk on Saturday rehearsing.
I was living in an intentional entrepreneurial community called The Village, and each week on Wednesday night we would have a communal dinner.
I presented the talk in front of about 25 people (including, randomly, Khalida Brohi — how cool is that!? She gave me great feedback, and receiving validation from someone like her really made me feel confident.)
I still didn’t have the talk memorized though. So on Thursday and Friday I spent 12 hours in my room saying it over and over and over again, timing myself, focusing on vocal pitch and theatrical performance.
My roommates never complained once!
I just did my best and worked as hard as I could, since that was my definition of success and the only thing I could truly focus on.
On Friday, my parents arrived. During a late night walk around Boulder, I said I had something to confess to them.
During my TEDx talk, I planned to share a story about deceiving my parents by pretending to have jobs, when really I was at home playing video games. I didn’t want to blindside them during the talk.
Having lived with me throughout my teenage years they weren’t surprised.
I woke up Saturday and it was finally #gotime.
I went for breakfast with my parents and then drove over to the auditorium. We never got to practice on stage beforehand (the soundcard broke right before the event) and I found out the auditorium was sold out:
2,300 people would be here. And I had never given a talk like this before.
The moments before going on stage were intense. During Ash Beckham’s talk (now 5M+ views), the walls backstage would vibrate from the roar of the crowd. She killed it!
Next up was Erica Chenoweth with “The Success of Nonviolent Civil Resistance.” Also did an outstanding job!
Finally it was my turn, and all I knew was that when I walked out on stage I had to put a big smile on my face. If you watch the talk, you can see when I walk out at the beginning that I look to my right (away from the crowd) and then come back around with a big smile on my face.
Ya, I had to force it. I was terrified, but I knew smiling would help relieve it.
I started out and immediately missed the third line of my talk. But as I learned in DJing, when you mess up, the key is to just keep going and work with what you’ve got — most people won’t notice, so that’s what I did.
I was just trying to hold on. It took me a minute, but midway through I found my stride.
And then… I blanked out. I’m standing there, everything is going well and then, nothing.
One second felt like an hour and the crowd began to cheer me on.
So I said: “Oops, I forgot my line.” The crowd laughed and I continued on.
I found my rhythm and again everything was going well.
“Now this wouldn’t be a good TEDx talk unless I shared the lessons I learned and how you can use them to help yourself, or someone you know overcome this addiction.”
Fuck fuck not again.
If you’ve never blanked out on stage in front of 2,300 people, let me share with you how it feels.
At first, there’s an awkward silence that lasts for a second and feels like forever. Then, you feel the entire weight of the room as the eyes of every person in the crowd begins looking at you.
While this is happening, you’re stuck between total panic and trying to remember what you are supposed to be saying!
To make matters worse, this was the second time it was happening. I felt like the first time the crowd was giving me the benefit of the doubt, but now I was just being a dick.
I had a vision of my friend Evan in the crowd leaning over to my buddy Phil and saying: “Damn, this dude’s fucking up.”
So, that’s what I said: “Well… looks like I fucked that up again!”
The whole crowd laughed and I continued on and finished strong.
As the talk ended and the crowd applauded, I looked to my left at Andrew who was coming on stage and shrugged my shoulders.
I gave it my best shot.
I was frustrated.
I remember walking backstage and then into the crowd trying to hide my face from embarrassment… but when people saw me they had the opposite reaction and instead thanked me for being raw and authentic. They said it added a powerful element to the talk because they related to me as someone like them on stage instead of some “expert.”
I kind of wish the video was unedited for that reason.
After 30 minutes of sitting in the crowd by myself, when I got honest with myself, I knew I had worked as hard as I could and there was nothing else I could do.
I knew I did my best and to feel sorry for myself in this situation would just make me an asshole, so instead I thought about how incredible it was that I just gave a TEDx talk and how grateful I was for the opportunity.
The best part was that the reason I did the talk was because I knew once I did it, I could always feel proud of myself for it. It was something I could never take away from myself… and I’m usually pretty good at taking things away from myself. ;)
So I’m thankful for that. I just really wanted to nail it.
After the event finished, I had three afterparties to attend, including a rooftop party hosted by my friend Eric where 100 of my friends were getting rowdy.
I couldn’t remember the last time (or if there was ever a time) someone threw a party just to celebrate me.
Walking in was a special moment.
One day shortly after the talk, I was in my favorite cafe, Ozo, in Boulder when a gentleman recognized me from the event. He was a successful entrepreneur and man’s man. We talked for a few minutes and as he got up to leave I was sharing with him about how I just really wanted to nail it.
He turned to me and said: “No. You did nail it.”
I’ll never forget that.
The talk has been a big catalyst in my life and inspired me to think about other goals I’ve had that I simply never pursued. Within the next two weeks I had gone skydiving and got on a plane to London, where I would begin a two-month journey traveling throughout Europe.
Most importantly, the message about problematic gaming has been received well, which was the main goal at the end of the day. I was on stage to share the story of those who want to quit but struggle to, and to shape the conversation to a productive avenue.
In January of this year (2015) I launched Game Quitters to offer tools and resources to support those who want to quit playing video games and starting living their life to the fullest. Join the community for free, here.
I’m excited to see where it goes from here.
Game Quitters is a community for gamers who want to quit and get their life back on track. You can join the community for free, here.
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