FINDING THE LIGHT
EVEN IN THE DARKEST OF TIMES
I grew up in darkness. I lived amidst abuse; I experienced homelessness and hunger. I experienced abandonment and despair. I lived largely alone as an 11-year-old boy in the mountains of Montana. We had no running water. I ate squirrels, I ate worms, I stole food . . . I was just surviving.
I know what it’s like to live beneath your potential. I know what darkness feels like. I’ve devoted my life to solving this problem. I am committed to helping bring people out of the darkness and into the light . . . to helping them find their purpose and figure out who they are, where they’re going, and how they’re going to get there.
I started a company, Life Engineering, the culmination of my life’s work. An entire company devoted to helping you discover and achieve your potential.
Life Engineering is more than a company. It’s a belief. It’s a belief that you can take control of your life. It’s a conviction that you have power, and that when given access to the right support, you can activate and achieve your full potential.
This is the story of how it all started.
ONE BURNING QUESTION
WHAT HAD I DONE WRONG?
I sat with my mom in the living room of my grandma’s house, the morning sun pouring through the windows. I remember the day so clearly.
We were best friends.
I was 11, and we had gone through tough times together: abusive husbands, poverty, my dad’s attempt to take my life, so much disappointment and despair, and more moves than I can remember. And even though our family had been broken apart, my mom and I had stuck together.
We were inseparable.
That’s when she told me she was leaving.
In that moment, my world stopped moving. My heart stopped beating. In fact nothing existed, except one burning question that haunted me for many tough years to come… What had I done wrong?
This is my story.
one quick note
about this story
This was hard to write. It was was painful to excavate and reconnect with these emotions. For so long I didn’t write it, because I worried about offending and I fret about accuracy.
Additionally, as an adult I would learn that the reasons for my mom leaving, and my being taken from her, might not have been what they were made out to be. As you know, lives are complex, and excavating for truth is not always worth the effort.
On top of it all, I know memories are fallible. But ultimately I’ve decided to share my story with the context that I had at the time, because that’s how I lived it. I hope it will all become clear as you read.
And I hope you find my effort worth it. I decided that if my story can provide strength and perspective to someone who might need it, then I should share. Because mostly this is a story of how I realized that we all have a choice. We can succumb to circumstance, or rise above it. We can dwell on the past, or change our future. This is a story of finding light, even in the darkest of times.
And by the way, as an adult, my mom, sister and I were reunited. It remains one of the happiest memories of my life. My mom is an amazing woman, with a compelling and heart-breaking story of her own.
he's not your son
In 1974, I was born into a small family in Utah. I had a single older sister, and we lived a simple life in a small house, in an inconspicuous town in Utah.
When I was two or three, my dad developed schizophrenia. It would set my life on a path I could have never imagined.
He began hearing voices. He thought they were the voices of biblical prophets. They told him he would be next and would heal the world of its suffering and wickedness. They started teaching him and giving him instructions. This greatly concerned my mom, and for good cause.
Before long, he received an ultimatum. To prove his faith and worthiness, he was required to make a sacrifice: me.
My mom saved me.
My dad came up the stairs, walked into the kitchen and grabbed a knife, then came to get me. My mom asked what he was doing, and he told her he had been told he had to sacrifice his son. Thinking quickly, she replied, “Then you should know, he’s not your son.”
As he returned to the basement for revelation, my mom grabbed my sister and me, the keys to the car, and we got out of the house and went on the run.
Assuming he would still be looking for us, and with her just trying to make ends meet, we moved every couple of years… always to small towns throughout Utah and Montana.
It meant I would never really develop friends, or roots. I was always the new kid. Always the one who didn’t fit in. Always the one who got beat up. Always the one whose clothes didn’t fit, or whose hair wasn’t cut, or who didn’t smell very good. But in the end, all that mattered to me was that I still had my mom. She was my foundation, and that was all I needed.
ALL DAY WITH MY MOM
When I was about 4, my mom remarried, and we moved into a tiny upstairs apartment, cramped and poor, but still together.
I was excited to have a new father. I was hopeful that we would be friends, that he would accept me. But he was an alcoholic, and was very angry when drunk, which he was often.
In fact, I remember setting up traps… hangers dangling from string tied from doorknob to doorknob (I slept in the hallway). When either door opened, the string would sag, and the hangers would clink together to wake me up when he came in. That allowed me enough time to get out of the way, or at least be awake if he was drunk and felt like hitting. He was not my friend.
Soon that marriage failed, and my mom, sister and I moved to a small town where my mom got a job as a hotel maid. They allowed us to live in one of the rooms as part of her pay, and during the day I would go around with her, making beds and cleaning rooms. This was a happy time for me. I still remember her teaching me to fold the sheet corners over the mattress. “It’s ‘hospital style’” she would say, as she taught me to be tidy and clean and look for the details.
By way of material things, we had next to nothing. But in truth, I didn’t mind. In my mind I had everything. I got to be with my mom all day, every day. I’m sure I was incredibly helpful to her. I tried to be.
hiding in a pipe
pretending to play
When I was about 5 she gave marriage a third try. I was optimistic about this one. The first time my mom brought him home, he acted really interested in the matchbox cars I was playing with on the hotel floor. I imagined having a dad that would play with me. I had seen that happen with other kids, and that idea made me really happy.
We left the hotel and moved to a little trailer house in a remote Utah town, and that’s when my mom took me to my first day of school.
I hoped this school experience would be different than the others. But it wasn’t. I soon realized I was still inferior, stupider than all the other kids, I didn’t look like them, and I didn’t fit in. I was still the poor kid. I smelled bad. My clothes were worn out and didn’t fit right. I was new and I didn’t know anybody, and it wasn’t cool to hang out with me. What was cool was to pick on me, make fun of me, push me down and chase me. I got a lot of that.
I wasn’t very smart. I remember my teacher telling my mom I couldn’t come to class until I knew my alphabet. This was a dilemma, because I couldn’t be home alone as she had to work, and there was no money for a sitter. So my grandma came over to teach me. I remember feeling the pressure. I had one day to learn the alphabet. I remember my grandma actually pulling my hair in her frustration about how slow I was to learn. She probably thought it was the best way to get through to me, but I remember thinking she was mean. But it worked, I did it… but that meant I had to go back to school.
School was a harsh place. At recess I would hide in a huge cement pipe by the playground to avoid getting beat up. It was dark and I was alone and safe in there. I remember crouching in the pipe, with my back curved against the wall. I remember looking out and watching the kids play. I would imagine being among them. I wasn’t, but in my mind, I would pretend.
I often remember that long walk home from school with my sister. She was my friend. But no matter how dark my days were, my mom was my ray of light. She was always there when I got home, and she would make me feel better.
She would sing to me. I loved to listen to her sing. She began teaching me Karate to defend myself. I remember practicing in front of her in the living room. Watching and working for her approval. She was a black-belt; she was so cool. You didn’t mess with my mom, and I felt safe with her.
no water or electricity
When I was about 9 my stepdad got a new job on an oil rig in Montana. The move to another remote town didn’t bother me. Montana was deep-forest, and to a kid who played almost entirely alone, who had learned to live in his imagination, it was totally awesome. The forest was my playground. It was full of mystery and intrigue. I spent every possible hour by myself, wandering the woods, using my imagination. Escaping. Especially if my dad was home.
He was often drunk, and usually angry. He was no longer interested in my cars or the forest discoveries I brought home to show him. Even the dead turtle I found in a hidden mountain pond. I carried it all the way home on a stick held far out in front of me because it smelled so bad. He especially didn’t like that.
In fact, I was mostly in his way. He was easily frustrated with my childish enthusiasm. When he got frustrated he’d reach out and smack me on the head with his fist. I hated that. It hurt, of course, but it wasn’t the physical pain, it was a reminder that something was wrong with me. It was a reminder that I was less than everybody else. It was humiliating. I learned that pain goes away a lot faster than humiliation. Humiliation stays with you, like a shadow you can’t outrun. But I was tough, I could escape to my forest and my imagination, and not even he could break my enthusiasm for that.
Money was very scarce. At one point we lived in a tent. I remember my dad coming home one day with a quarter of a box of pancake batter. We sat around the fire to make pancakes. That was the idea, but ultimately the smell overcame us, and we just ate the batter with our hands. It tasted so good. To this day it remains one of the most memorable meals of my life. I learned that satisfaction is a function of expectation.
Eventually my mom tired of his constant meanness and abuse, so when I was about 11 my mom, sister and I left and moved into a tiny camper-trailer parked in the woods a few miles down the street. A neighbor there was willing to let us set up on his property.
We didn’t have running water, or electricity, or heat, and very little food. My mom and I would walk down to the lake with a bucket, splash around in the water and catch fresh crawdads, which we’d bring home to boil. Those are happy memories. We ate a lot of millet (seed). I learned to shoot a squirrel out of a tree with a little recurve bow and arrow I had gotten one Christmas (Katniss Everdeen would have been pleased). And I had one good meal every day because I got free lunch at school. Whoever thought of that is my friend.
Most importantly, I had my mom. That was what I really cared about. She remained my constant.
No more free lunch
Because we had no running water, in the summer I would occasionally shower under a hose attached to our neighbors house, but in the winter, I just never showered. As an 11-year-old, that’s not good. I started to really smell bad. It’s really hard to be only tolerated at school, and I was constantly made fun of by the other kids. And even my teacher.
I remember my teacher. She had built a little 2-walled cubicle in the back corner of the class to isolate me and my smell. When I would walk in, I would go sit alone at my desk and close the cubical walls behind me. If I didn’t, she would. I could only listen to what was going on outside my fo