Leonard Kim is the coauthor of Ditch the Act: Reveal the Surprising Power of the Real You for Greater Success. In his book, Leonard reveals the eight-step expose yourself process which teaches readers how to own and expose who they truly are, form meaningful relationships that move the needle, and ultimately, uncover the greatness that already exists from within to stack success. Leonard is recognized by Forbes as a Top Marketing Influencer, Inc. Magazine as a Top Digital Marketer and Top Youth Marketer, and by Entrepreneur as a Top Personal Branding Expert. Adweek recognized him as one of their Socially Strong Entrepreneurs Every VC Should Be Following. Leonard went from being almost homeless to becoming a personal branding expert whose content has been read over 10 million times. He has amassed a social media following of well over 500,000 people, and has been featured over 300 times in publications, including Mashable, Inc, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fortune and more.
What brought you to this career path?
Before I started writing, I used to sell cars, which wasn’t that prestigious of a career, and worked in a couple of startups, but they all went bankrupt. After failing continually and having to reinvent myself each time I went to find a new job, I eventually hit a point where I gave up. When I did, I wasn’t able to pay my electricity bill for six months and got an eviction notice, informing me that I needed to vacate my home. I ended up moving back with my grandma because I didn’t have anywhere else to live.
After living there for nine months, I gathered up my courage and found work at American Honda in Southern California where I made $16.24/hr. I took the subway and bus every single day to commute 2.5 hours a day, and got to the point where I became sick and tired of being sick and tired.
After being at American Honda for two years, without earning a single raise or getting a single promotion, I realized that it was time for me to try new things. If I didn’t, then I would be stuck at the bottom of the barrel for the rest of my life. So I applied to hundreds of jobs and even though I had a few interviews, I had no luck in finding a new career. I went back to school, but school was a long term plan and wasn’t going to result in a short term fix either. Through this entire process, I also started to write because I wanted to make sure that others wouldn’t have to go through all of the pitfalls in life like I had. When I began to write, I didn’t have a lot of expectations about what would happen. In fact, I didn’t think anything would really result from it.
I wrote about my failures becauseI figured that no one is absolutely useless, and if anything, I could always serve as a bad example, where others could avoid the same pitfalls I had come across. I thought I could teach others how to avoid a lot of the same mistakes I had made, but the result was much different than what I expected. People who read my content saw me as being vulnerable and open.
I started to write at the end of May 2013, and by the end of December 2014, I had 10 million reads. In that timeframe, around a thousand people asked me if I could mentor them and teach them how to be as vulnerable as I was, but through their own writing. I initially said no, because I didn’t have the time, but then realized that I could help others by setting up a course. So, I made a website, registered a business, and started building an online course.
Luckily in September of 2015, I got an invite to Keith Ferrazzi’s house. There, I met Ryan Foland, my business partner, and we shared our struggles. Ryan opened up with what he needed help with, and I opened up with what I needed help with. We began working together and created Influence Tree. Fast forward to today, and I’ve done so many things that I never even believed was possible for someone like me to ever achieve. From 2016 to now, I’ve landed hundreds of media features, appeared on a television show, married Angie, the one true love of my life, been featured in books published by large publishers, worked with NYT bestselling authors and Fortune 500 executives, and published a book with McGraw-Hill Business.
Can you tell us a little about your upcoming book Ditch The Act?
Well, one of the first things that we looked at is our society as a whole: Occupy Wall Street, corruption, racism, the Women’s March, the Science March, and the #MeToo Movement.
We were seeing all the ways people banded together and protested against what was happening. We saw Harvey Weinstein get taken out, and we saw people who held positions like his replaced by new leaders who care about others and have a high set of morals and ethics.
Our society has evolved into a much more caring environment than what it was before. In the past, if you opened up about your vulnerabilities, the alpha personalities would shoot you down because it wasn’t an acceptable way to blend into society. However, we are now in a much more open environment and a lot of people are going out there, speaking up, and revealing their whole selves by sharing their truth. In other words, we have evolved to a point where people are finally comfortable with taking off that mask to showcase who we really are and building compassion, camaraderie and empathy with others.
Ditch the Act is about seizing the ability and opportunity to literally ‘ditch the act’ and show your vulnerability. For the first time ever, we can go out there and not put on a mask. We don’t need to pretend to be happy. We don’t need to act like we are living the best life possible. Instead, we can share our failed relationships and failed businesses. We can go out there and be our whole self.
By being your whole self, you can create instantaneous connection with anyone and have people reach out to you by the droves, tapping you on the shoulder and supporting you into bigger things in life — some you may never have ever thought possible.
What are the five things you wish you knew?
1. Don’t forget how you were raised. For me specifically, it was remembering how my grandfather raised me. I try to live in his footsteps and it has led me to success.
2. Be humble and grateful. Once you take too much pride, you will start to lose everything that you have.
3. It’s not always about hard work. Sometimes, it’s about taking that step back and looking at things from a birds-eye view. Once you get in the weeds, it’s very tough to find your way out.
4. Make sure that you are having fun. Enjoy yourself. If you start to lose that passion, it becomes work and a stressor.
5. Whenever you encounter an upsetting situation, face it. You can’t forget about it or avoid it. Otherwise, it will come back and haunt you. So go out there, face it, and come out victorious.
What do you believe in?
Always do your best. No one is completely useless—you can serve as a bad example. Where you are today is exactly where you are supposed to be based on the collective decisions and actions that you’ve made.