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Why Pain Is Your Best Teacher with Guest Sean Stephenson: MakingBank S2E12


Sean Stephenson

Why Pain Is Your Best Teacher with Guest Sean Stephenson: MakingBank S2E12

with Sean Stephenson

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Whether you’re  a successful entrepreneur always aspiring for the next accomplishment, or a happy blue-collar worker plugging away along the assembly line, your life is adorned with moments of success, and marred by moments of failure.

And just as the successes carry you to soaring emotional heights—joy, pride, exuberance—the failures send you plummeting back to Earth and into fits of insecurity, doubt, anger, and fear.

But there is no danger in successes and failures themselves. Nor is there danger in the emotions successes and failures lead you to feel.

The danger is when you allow yourself to be thrown off-course.

When you give-in to the successes, the failures, and the emotions they create. When you start to think you can control the uncontrollable.

So what can you actually control?

That’s the question addressed by today’s Making Bank guest, Sean Stephenson, who argues the only thing you can control, and the one thing you must control, is your response.

Instead of letting a failure lead you down the road of self-pity—or letting a success take you by the hand along the path of extreme pride—you need to temper your emotions and simply ask, what am I going to make this mean? How am I going to use the now, be it positive or negative, to create a better tomorrow?

After being born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare bone disorder, Sean had to temper his emotions, accept his limitations, and ask himself what am I going to make this mean? How am I going to perceive the body the universe gave me? Will I make the lot I’ve been dealt a burden or a blessing?

Reflective, tempered questions like these are how Sean has managed to create an extraordinary life for himself, in spite of his disorder. Today, he is a speaker and therapist who has inspired millions worldwide through his keynote speeches, media appearances, live events, and his best-selling book Get Off Your ‘But’ which has been translated into 10 languages.

Tune-in to hear Sean and Josh discuss the value of mindset as well as…

  • Discovering what you have to offer and then running with it at full-speed
  • Playing BIG when the world is telling you to play small
  • Why pain is a gift, not a burden
  • How rejection makes room for opportunity
  • Approaching success and failure from the RIGHT mindset
  • Fighting insecurities as an entrepreneur
  • Balancing family and the entrepreneurial life
  • Brain chemistry and your quality of life

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Josh Felber: Hi, I’m Josh Felber. Welcome back to Making Bank. I have a awesome guest on my show today. I’ve had the fortune and honor to be able to connect with him, I think over the last six months almost every month it seems like. We’re connected somewhere. Just hearing his message and being around him, I just knew I had to bring him on Making Bank to share with all of you what he has to offer to the world. And so, I really want to welcome Dr. Sean Stephenson. He was predicted not to survive at birth because of a rare bone disorder. Today, he’s inspired millions throughout his keynote speeches, live events and media appearances. His book, Get Off Your Butt, is available in 10 different languages. Dr. Sean Stephenson’s also a board certified therapist. Sean, welcome to Making Bank.

Dr. Sean S.: Thank you for having me, bud.

Josh Felber: Sure, man. Like I said, it’s an honor to have you on today and share your story. I mean, tell me a little bit about at birth, the rare bone disorder, what those struggles were and let us know who you are, man.

Dr. Sean S.: Sure. Certainly, came into the world with a unique container called osteogenesis imperfecta, is the name of the disorder. That’s just a fancy Latin term for bone gene imperfection. My bones did not form properly, and therefore were stunted in growth, that’s why I’m only about three feet tall, and extremely fragile, that’s why by the time I was 18 I’d fractured over 200 times. Growing up with that made life different. I was stared at, laughed at, teased, and I learned pretty early on that if I didn’t develop a phenomenal personality, I was going to get left behind. And by phenomenal I don’t mean like tooting my own horn, I mean like a personality that was like no other, it didn’t get overlooked. There’s Steve Martin, be so good they can’t avoid you, right? That was my mentality is, “I’m not going to get to develop in this world if I don’t show people very clearly how I can help them.”

I think I was an entrepreneur in training from a very early age, because I also realized that I could look at my container, my body, my condition in one of two ways. I could look at it from a, “This sucks. This isn’t fair. Why me?” Or I could say, “Wait, this is a competitive advantage in business.” When I roll into a conference, I don’t even need to meet people for them to remember me if they saw me. And so, in marketing, you want to be that purple cow. You want to be that sticky note in somebody’s mind that doesn’t away. That’s what my container is. It allows me to be remember. And then, when I can couple that with a message or product or a service that they can’t forget about and they enjoy using, that is a huge leg up in business.

Growing up with this condition, I didn’t know that I would do all the things that I’m doing now in terms of the reach that I’ve had, but I knew that I had a purpose to why I was going through the pain and I knew I had a purpose to why I was going through the dark days. My childhood was filled with love from my family, but pain from my body. I spent most of my childhood in excruciating pain. I have more days in my past where I was fractured than when I wasn’t, and so you can imagine with that level of pain, you’re left with your thoughts a lot. Pain is … it’s a teacher. I think most people look at pain as like a punisher, and I don’t think it is and I’ve had a lot of it. It’s a teacher. It teaches you who you are. It teaches you how to get present. It teaches you what’s important. It teaches you to pay attention to not repeating it. Those are the lessons that were gathered over the years of all the fractures and the limitations.

Josh Felber: I know you said it kind of helped prepare you for your entrepreneurship and everything that you’re doing now. What was kind of that turning point for you along your journey that it just clicked? Or was it a series of events that you just felt like, “Man, this is the path I’m supposed to be on. This is where I’m supposed to head. This is how I’m supposed to be leading.”

Dr. Sean S.: In business specifically?

Josh Felber: Well, I guess personal and then business.

Dr. Sean S.: Yeah. Well, personally, I was challenged by my mom in fourth grade. My mom saw me in a very vulnerable state after breaking my leg and not being able to go in to Halloween. The kids are going around the school with their costumes and the parties and all that. You have kids, you get that Halloween is a fun time for a child. I just broke my leg the morning of Halloween and I knew wasn’t going to go anywhere. She could see the devastation in my eyes. She asked me a pivotal question, she said, “Is this going to be a gift or a burden in your life?” That’s a pretty profound question that changed the course of my life. I realized that, “Yes, this sucks. I wish I didn’t have to go through this, but I still love my life and maybe the purpose of my pain is to help other people love their life amidst their pain.” That was kind of like the turning point personally to not go into the hell hole of pity.

But professionally, there’s no sexy way to say this other than the truth, which is I became an entrepreneur because I needed money. I wasn’t getting hired in regular companies. I applied to three different positions. I applied to … this was when I was younger. Most kids have paper routes, they have all the different physical, manual, mowing lawns, things of that … I couldn’t do any of those things. So, I applied to be a receptionist at a chiropractor’s office. I applied to be a sales person at an electronics store. And I applied to be a dispatcher at a limo company. I got turned down for all three of those positions for blatant discrimination reasons.

I’m not somebody that likes that to spark up controversy if there’s not controversy there. I find drama to be pretty obnoxious. However, they came right out and said, “Well, what if you can’t run errands for us?” Or, “What if we need you to go out and get coffee for us?” Or, “What if you can’t reach the top shelf?” And that might sound like a legitimate set of reasons, but it’s illegal not hiring somebody that could handle the objectives of the position because of their disability. And so, I was faced with do I want to sue a company that won’t hire me? I mean, that would make a really awkward first day on the job. A, I’m in class action lawsuit with you right now, and the only reason why I’m here is because I forced your hand. It didn’t work. Didn’t feel right, I should say.

I became an entrepreneur because the opportunity was there to get paid to speak for one hour for $75. I was like, “That’s a lot of video games,” when you’re a kid. And so, I took the gig. I had a blast. I still remember it. I mean, it’s over 22 years ago and I still remember my first speech, kinda getting a bug. I got bit and I was like, “Wait, I get paid to do something the rest of the day I do for free. Talk.”

When you get paid to talk, your mind changes of like, “Wow, I have something people want to learn from and I have perspective and I have insight and I have ideas that could help people.” And so, I got paid to speak to schools as my starter. And then, that branched out to some of the parents would see me and they’d say, “Oh, you should come speak to our hospital.” So I started speaking to hospitals. And then somebody said, “We run a GED course in the prison system. Will you speak to the prisons?” So I started speaking to prisons. It just kept growing until, by the time I was in college, I was a full-time speaker who was trying to complete his degree. I would leave, back in the micro-cassette days, I laid my little micro-cassette recorder on my desk and have a classmate pick it up because I wouldn’t be there. I would be on the road speaking. I was making $1500, at the time, a speech, and when you’re in college you’re making $1,500 for one hour of your time, you feel you’re making-

Josh Felber: That works good.

Dr. Sean S.: Yeah. Feel like you’re making bank back then, right?

Josh Felber: That’s right.

Dr. Sean S.: It just kind of grew and I … It came through a necessity to survive, to be able to afford things, to be able to have a place in the world. Josh, what I’m about to tell you I’m not proud of, but it is what it is, and that is I think for a long time I’ve been angry at those three companies for not letting me be ordinary. Like I wanted so desperately to have an ordinary job that made minimum wage and I would get treated just like garbage like everybody else that takes that route of doing something that anybody else could mindlessly do, and God love whoever gets those jobs because they’re not jobs that are based on passion.

You’re working for somebody else’s passion. That chiropractor, that’s his passion. That limo company owner, that was his passion. That electronic store’s company, that was the board of directors and shareholder’s passion. None of those would have been my passion. It’s funny that I’ve been angry, and I just recently let it go, that I was born into a condition and a life that I have not been given the opportunity to be ordinary. The universe, God, call it whatever you want, continues to nudge me to do something extraordinary. Any time I play small, it doesn’t work. I have to play big or it doesn’t work. That’s my life, and I’m very grateful for that.

Josh Felber: No, that’s awesome. Can you stick around for a minute? We gotta take a quick break.

Dr. Sean S.: Absolutely.

Josh Felber: Excellent. I am Josh Felber. You’re watching Making Bank, and we’ll be right back.

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Josh Felber: Hi, I’m Josh Felber. You’re watching Making Bank. We’re here today with Dr. Sean Stephenson who has been telling us a little bit about his background, his challenges, and what he’s had to overcome that has transformed and shaped his life today as a person, as well as an entrepreneur. Sean, welcome back to Making Bank.

Dr. Sean S.: Thanks, buddy.

Josh Felber: So you recently let go, you were mentioning, kind of that anger that has built up. What have you seen from that? How has that helped you and your life now?

Dr. Sean S.: Well, I think it gives me clarity to know that those three companies that wouldn’t hire me were actually my angels. They were those angels in disguise that whenever you get rejected, it’s actually … there’s an opportunity there that when you look for it you find it. The opportunity by being rejected from those companies was I built a very successful speaking career. I guarantee you had I been hired by one of those companies back all those years ago, I would have played into the role of complaining about my job. I would have probably played small and I would not have reached hundreds of millions of people in my career. That came from rejection. When you get rejected, it’s because there’s something else for you. There’s something bigger. There’s something greater. And in the moment of rejection you say, “Screw you. I don’t want to hear that shit. I’m not here to have a kumbaya moment. I’m hurting. I’m angry. I’m feeling tossed aside.” But that’s because you’re looking at it only from that perspective of self-pity.

Josh Felber: Totally. Do you kind of have a process that you go through or a little framework that allows you to … because when we’re in that state, we’re in that mindset, like, “Oh, man.” You’re feeling bad for … What do you use to make that transformation or that transition out of that?

Dr. Sean S.: You only can control two things, Josh. You can control your interpretations and what you think are happening, what you make something mean, and then your response, what you do about what you think it means. You can’t control the outside world. You can’t control the weather. You can’t control how people treat you. You can’t control those outside factors. You can control, “What am I going to make this mean?”

I’ve been a therapist now for 16 years, and when I deal with those very sensitive cases where somebody’s child dies and they’re like, “Gosh, how do I recover from that?” My question to them is so very critical, I say, “Right now you are in pain. You are grieving. You are in loss. Nothing’s going to make that happy, happy, joy, joy. You lost your child. However, you need to be very careful what you make this experience mean. Do you make it mean that the world’s unfair, that God hates you, and that you’re cursed? Or do you make it mean that you have to be even more attentive to your other children now and your spouse, and appreciate your own life, and live out the legacy for your child that passed and be the example to others who lose children and see the richness, the life and how you only get the time that you’re given and to live it to it’s max? That is going to give you a different outcome.”

And so, when anything tragic happens, what you make it mean … Or even positive. When people get full of themselves, it’s because they take something good that happens and they go, “This means that I am the world’s best and that I’m better than other human beings, I am superior to others, and that I will never make any mistakes in my life.” Man, I can’t think of a more dangerous way to set yourself up for a huge disappointment down the road.

Josh Felber: Definitely. I mean, those are, I think, some definite critical pieces just for mindset. I mean, as entrepreneurs, whether it’s our personal or business life, we’re always running into challenges. There’s always failures. How we look at it and how we create or interpret that meaning will determine where … if we’re going to be more successful down the road, if we’re going to continue on with this business or another business or whatever it might be within our lives. I think those are definitely two big pieces to take a look at, for sure.

Tell me a little bit about, I know we’ve talked a lot over the last six months, whenever we’ve seen each other, I know you’re really focused to help rid the world of insecurity. I’d love to hear a little bit more about what you’re doing there and how that can really connect with our audience and everything.

Dr. Sean S.: To do that, let’s first define what insecurity is.

Josh Felber: Sure.

Dr. Sean S.: Insecurity is a feeling. It’s not a person, it’s a feeling that you’re not enough. That you’re not smart enough, wealthy enough, talented enough, tall enough, skilled enough, whatever you feel like you’re not enough, and you are owning that, like, “I am not enough.” You are going through a space of insecurity. And, Josh, I believe everybody has insecurities and think that insecurity are like cancer cells. We all have cancer cells inside of our bodies. Some get activated and some don’t. And so, we all have insecurities inside of us. Some of activate them and live a very insecure life, and some of us don’t. Some of us might only activate them temporarily, and then get conscious and say, “Wait a minute, this is not what I’m committed to.”

What I’m doing on this planet is, it’s an education thing. I’ve been teaching for 22 years and I go onto podcasts and I go onto videos and I create messages that are bite-size that people can spread virally on the internet, any way I can get my message out there of what it takes to turn around those moments of insecurity and that you’re not alone.

I think that’s the biggest thing is that we look at somebody watching this program, they could say you and be like, “Oh, God, look at Josh. Look at how many people he’s interviewing. Look at how long he’s been in business. He probably never has a bad day. He probably doesn’t ever feel insecure with these guests. He probably doesn’t ever feel insecure in his own business. He probably never feels insecure raising his children.” Because you put your best foot forward on these programs, and so therefore they assume that’s who you are. They take your highlight reel and they compare it to their behind the scenes. When you do that, you’re going to be miserable. You’re never going to be able to compete with somebody’s highlight reel if you’re comparing it to your behind the scenes. Josh, I guarantee you have days where you doubt your abilities.

Josh Felber: Right. Oh, yeah.

Dr. Sean S.: It just happens. It happens to the best of us. And if we can all come to the awareness that it does happen to all of us, I think that … There’s safety in numbers. It’s like, “Oh, I’m not a loser. I’m not this rare reject in the human race.” When you stop feeling defective or deformed and instead you feel like you’re just like everybody else and you’re going through this experience of life learning as you go, making mistakes, that really makes an impact. Getting products out there, doing live events, speaking, and again, doing this education piece through programs like yours where I’m letting people know you’re not alone. If you are going through those moments where you wonder, “Do I have what it takes?” Especially when you become successful. When you start earning money, when you start having people look up to you, when you start having people see you as a leader, then you feel like you really gotta bury your insecurities because, “Oh my God, what if the shareholders know that I’m not flawless? What if my employees know that I get into ruts of self-pity?” The pressure can build.

Josh Felber: That’s so true. Even some of the best entrepreneurs out there, what we consider the best, Steve Jobs and [inaudible 00:24:14], all these different, they all go through that. I think, as an entrepreneur, it’s how we accept it, how we look at it, how quickly we recover from that. I know, at least for me, if I have a day and I’m in that situation, the faster that I can get out of it, that can then start to change it and move that day to a better position. I think a lot of us, as you were saying, we get stuck in that though, and it’s how do we get out of it? How do we make that change?

Dr. Sean S.: So, can I give you the cure to insecurity?

Josh Felber: Sure.

Dr. Sean S.: Two very simple worlds. Self-care. That when you are doing self-care work … I have a self-care list on my wall here. It’s called the when life works list. Things like hydrating, exercise, mediation, journaling, consistent sleep, proper hygiene, staying organized and clean, having at least one meal a day that’s all vegetables, reviewing materials about business marketing, following up with my mentors, connecting with my wife, reviewing my goals, planning my day on paper, hanging out with my niece or nephew, creating new content. I mean, when I do at least four of those things in a day, just four of those 16 items, the day runs smoothly, because I took care of me. I put the oxygen mask on myself first. Insecurity breeds in a body and a life that’s not been cared for.

If you think about when you’ve been most insecure, you probably weren’t getting enough sleep so your brain chemistry was off. You were probably eating like garbage because you were traveling. You were probably maybe not spending enough time with your spouse or children, letting them know how much you love them because you were focused on, “Oh, man. I need to do more to give them what they need, and I need to have more money so that they can do what they aspire to do.” But kids and spouses, they disconnect from us when we forget that loving them and making them feel heard and spending time with them is the most important. They feel disconnected the moment we place something above them.

I see this a lot with men, especially entrepreneurial dads. They’ll bust their ass because they think, “I need to make a ton of money so my kids can go to the right school, so that my spouse can have the right shoes, so when she goes to the party she looks good, she feels good. I need to make sure we have the right kind of money so we can pay for this nice home in this nice neighborhood.” They’re all about making sure they have all the external factors. Meanwhile, their kid comes into the office and gets turned down for dad time. Meanwhile, the spouse gets put on the back burner to another client, another meaning. And the years go by and these people who you’re trying to do all that for have slipped away from you. They either end up in a divorce with you or they stop talking to you, or they’re like, “You know what, that’s just dad. He’s just cold-hearted. All he cares about is money.” Meanwhile, you started it all because you thought you were taking care of them.

Josh Felber: Yeah. No, I totally understand what you’re saying. That’s one of the things I’m trying to do is really make that a priority every day and stuff. I think that’s, as you said, that it’s that time piece and that connection piece that’s most important.

Dr. Sean S.: Remember in your priorities, your kid, no matter what age they are, would rather go on a walk with you … And that’s why I love your Snapchat is you fill out what you do with your kids … they would rather go on a walk with you and tell you about what happened at school, even though they might not offer it up at first, tell you about what happened at school than for you to buy them something. They might temporarily be excited about the new video game system you got them or whatever, but in the end, when they look back on their life, if they didn’t get to dad or mom, they didn’t get to know who you were, there’s this feeling of like, “Wow, all they cared about was business. They didn’t care about me.”

Josh Felber: Yeah. I think, as we have a lot of entrepreneurial viewers and everything else, I mean, I know it’s probably hitting home with a lot of people out there. I think that’s, if you have kids or a spouse, that’s where you need to start. As, I think you said, your self-care list, a few months ago I got that from you, did that, as well. I think making sure you get through those four or five or those a day is important because it helps from a mental standpoint, as well as a mindset standpoint overall.

Dr. Sean S.: Yeah, I mean, it gets you right. At the end of the day, your quality of life is based on brain chemistry. People don’t realize that, but when your brain chemistry gets off, it throws off the rest of your life. If I give you the best running shoes, Josh, I give you the best track to run on, I give you the best clothes that help you stay aerodynamic, I teach you how to be a great runner, and right when you go to run I break your leg with a baseball bat and say, “Run as fast you can,” how far and how fast are you going to go? That’s brain chemistry.

You can have great personal growth coaches, great business, great this, great that, but if your brain chemistry is off, it’s going to be impossible to get your max speed. That’s the thing. Your serotonin levels, your dopamine levels, your oxytocin, all these different brain chemicals that most people don’t even know are there, when that balance gets off from lack of sleep, from not exercising, from not meditating or praying, from not taking care of you, then the world can feel like there’s a filter of suck. Everything sucks. You come up with an idea and go, “No, that sucks.” Somebody comes to you with an idea, “That sucks.” Meanwhile, you just don’t realize your brain chemistry is off. It’s like running with a broken leg. I don’t care how good of materials you got to work with, if you’ve got a broken leg you’re not going to go at full speed.

Josh Felber: Right. No, I think that’s a good analogy for sure.

Dr. Sean S.: I got that from a book on brain chemistry. That stuck with me because I was like, “Wow, you really could become as positive as you want, but if you’re not doing your self-care rituals, you’ll never be enough.”

Josh Felber: Right. Because, I mean, you do. You see all those people who are super positive out there and everything else, but then there’s something still kind of tweaked off a little bit because of the brain chemistry or whatever is … something else in their life is throwing it off overall. I mean, that’s some amazing insight. As you guys are watching this, I hope you’re definitely taking notes here with Sean. He’s giving you so much insight to be able to transform your life, to move your business forward, as well as your personal relationships. So I appreciate that, Sean.

Dr. Sean S.: My pleasure, brother.

Josh Felber: Cool. Well, we’re getting to starting to run a little bit out of time. Tell me a little bit about where can people connect with you at? What different things, I know you offer different events and everything, to know more of Sean and get some of this other knowledge.

Dr. Sean S.: So, I’ll give you two areas. One is I start everybody at the same place. I have an ebook. It’s a small investment, and if you like learning from me and you want to learn more from me, you’re going to love this. It’s called How to Stay Positive When Life Gets Crazy. Anybody can be positive when things are going well. How do you handle it when they don’t go well? And so, you get that ebook, you get the audio version of me reading it, you get three webinars, and my ebook for kids, all from this one website,, like golf club. is where I would filter everybody. And then if they want to follow me on social media, go to That’s I live stream quite often on Facebook.

Josh Felber: That’s awesome. And I know you’ve had some unbelievable viral Facebook videos that have reached over what, 62, 65 million people?

Dr. Sean S.: About 68 million now.

Josh Felber: 68 million.

Dr. Sean S.: Just from that one video.

Josh Felber: That’s amazing. And I know, I mean, you went from what, a couple hundred thousand to close to a million followers?

Dr. Sean S.: In about a period of three months.

Josh Felber: That’s amazing. I mean, people … you guys, Sean’s message is there. His training, his information and he just gives, gives, gives. There’s so much content that’s there to help you move yourself forward. Sean, I really appreciate your time today. It was honor to have you on Making Bank, and definitely love to have you back on down the road again soon.

Dr. Sean S.: All right, my friend. Thanks for having me.

Josh Felber: Hey, I’m Josh Felber. You’re watching Making Bank. Get out and be extraordinary.