Step outside your comfort zone. Regularly stepping outside of your comfort zone helps to make you comfortable with discomfort, which is essential to building resiliency.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Knauff
Jeremy Knauff is the founder of Spartan Media, a published author, host of the Digital Marketers Podcast, and a Marine Corps veteran.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
After serving in the United States Marine Corps, I started my first company, which failed less than six months later. I took some time to reflect on what caused my failure and identified my mistakes and weaknesses, which was painful but necessary.
The failure of my first business, while a powerful learning opportunity, was also devastating both financially and emotionally. So, I spent the next several years recovering financially and building the skills I would need to start my next business.
This meant holding down two and sometimes three jobs to dig out of my financial hole and rebuild my credit. It meant taking some jobs I didn’t particularly enjoy, and even taking some that were far outside of my comfort zone because they offered the opportunity to build the skills I would need for my next business.
It’s important to point out that this wasn’t a short period of time — it took five years of grinding. That’s something most people aren’t willing to endure. If you’re not, then entrepreneurship might not be right for you.
Once I had things back on track, I launched and successfully ran a marketing agency for about ten years, until I was faced with a health crisis that nearly killed me.
I was confined to the bed and couch throughout most of the first year of that crisis, and while I was able to move around a bit more throughout the second year, I generally only left the house for doctors’ appointments and trips to the Emergency Room.
As a result of this, my company screeched to a halt, approaching zero revenue. I lost most of my clients and had to start over again.
And this time was worse than the first.
I had burned through well into six-figures in medical expenses that were not covered by insurance and had run up additional debt on top of that. The icing on the cake was that I was still facing this health crisis. So at that point, I had to rebuild my business from less than zero while feeling physically and emotionally worse than I had ever felt in my life.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
For me, the most interesting story of my career was losing everything and rebuilding it over a period of just a few years. This is both because it resonates with my belief in the importance of resilience and because it serves as a case study on building a personal and a company brand.
There were two lessons hammered home here
The first was that we need to take the necessary actions regardless of the circumstances we face. Feelings don’t dictate actions. Resiliency is essential for this because often, we won’t feel like doing the things we need to do in order to achieve our goals.
My previous challenges and my mindset had set the stage that enabled me to develop the resilience I needed to overcome my new challenges.
The second was that we can accomplish so much more by working together than we ever could alone.
In the past, I had tried to put everything on my own shoulders, but the health crisis I faced forced me to accept the help others offered. In doing so, I rebuilt my business far faster than I ever could have completed on my own.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I run Spartan Media with the same mindset that we approached missions in the Marine Corps. It’s a zero-excuses mindset.
Things will go wrong in any project, but we need to adapt along the way to ensure the success of our clients.
For example, a client may be facing a particularly well-funded competitor. Rather than simply throwing up our hands and saying, “It can’t be done!” we may need to find an unconventional way to achieve their goal with a smaller team and budget.
This doesn’t mean that we’re going to succeed 100% of the time. In fact, anyone who claims they can is either delusional or lying. But we’re damn sure going to do everything in our power — and more than most will do — to make sure our clients succeed.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I was always the “strong” one who never asked for help but tried to help everyone else. And up to this point, I was able to be that person without any problems.
This time, I couldn’t.
But when I started working to rebuild everything for the second time in my life, people seemed to just show up offering help.
At first, I felt weird. And guilty. Because after all, I’m a badass and don’t need help.
Except…I did need it.
I had just turned 40 and was starting over from less than zero. My health crisis had caused me to burn through our savings and run deep into debt.
The more I thought about it, I realized how ridiculous my feelings on this were.
I had always tried to help others but always felt weird about letting people help me.
Eventually, I begrudgingly accepted it.
I was surprised at how many people seemed to go out of their way to help — without ever asking or expecting anything in return. In some cases, a few of these people were technically competitors.
It’s kind of crazy when you think about it, but the digital marketing industry is unique. In some ways, it’s a lot like the military in that it’s a tightknit community where we all look out for and support each other.
Some of the first were my good friends, Alan Bleiweiss, Dave Davies, and Tracy Ingram, who introduced me to several people and sang my praises to help jumpstart my progress. As fellow professionals who are trusted and respected in the SEO industry and who had seen my work over the years, they were in the perfect position to do this.
Dennis Yu and Jason Hennessy, two fellow agency owners helped me by sharing advice from their experience in building their own agencies. This saved me from making costly and time-consuming mistakes as I scaled back up. And this help was especially important now because my energy was reduced by the health issues I faced.
And Cheryl Snapp Conner, Danny Goodwin, and Debra Mastaler helped me to increase my visibility both as an individual and as a company. This played an important role in rebuilding my brand authority, but also my own confidence.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
The first and most important characteristic of a resilient person is that they have a powerful reason behind what they do.
I’ve seen time and time again, people who were only after the money and the glory, give up as soon as they face real adversity. They talk about all the big things they’re going to do, but ultimately, it’s all about them so when things get difficult, they throw in the towel.
Having a powerful “why” gives you a reason to push through adversity.
In the Marine Corps, we faced austere environments and life-threatening situations daily. We didn’t do this because it was enjoyable. We did this because we wanted to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. We believed in what the Marine Corps stood for, and we cared so deeply for our fellow Marines that we would often endanger ourselves in order to protect them.
That is the type of mindset that creates resiliency.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
One who really stands out for me is David Goggins, the former Navy SEAL and author of the book, Can’t Hurt Me.
I listen to the audio version of his book frequently. And I use it as motivation for when I’m going through a period when my pain and symptoms are particularly bad.
I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone who hasn’t heard it yet, but I will say this — as you make your way through his book, you’ll see him overcome what appears to be one of the more intense challenges a person could face, only to see him turn around and overcome something even more intense next.
To put it all in context, this is a guy who thought Navy Seal training wasn’t quite tough enough, so he started doing significantly more training on his own.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
All the time, but I don’t have a specific story that I can recall. Probably because I don’t pay much attention to those people.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Crashing my first business was one of my greatest setbacks, and at the time, I thought it was the most difficult thing I would ever face because I lost my life savings and destroyed my credit and confidence.
But I rebuilt stronger than before.
But then I faced my more recent health crisis, nearly died, and lost significantly more money, ran up significantly more debt, and really did a number on my confidence. I mean, here I was at forty years old and I had just lost everything again — and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to survive.
But while it was easily the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced, it also provided an opportunity for me to learn just how much I could overcome. This was a brutal experience, but it helped to eliminate some doubts that I still had about myself.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I didn’t have what you would call a good childhood, but I don’t regret that because it made me who I am today. I remember running away as a young kid in elementary school and moving out on my own, working two jobs while still in high school.
I’m not saying parents should try to create a harsh environment to raise resilient kids. On the contrary. That’s just a small part of what made me who I am.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Read and listen to podcasts
Our perception of the world is based on our own experiences and beliefs. By learning about what others have gone through, we can radically transform our beliefs of what’s possible. Sometimes, simply knowing that someone else has overcome what you’re facing can be enough to get you through it.
Step outside your comfort zone
Regularly stepping outside of your comfort zone helps to make you comfortable with discomfort, which is essential to building resiliency.
Take on increasingly difficult challenges
If you run five miles every day, running one mile will be easy, but running twenty will still be grueling. It’s not rocket science — the more you do consistently, the more resilient you’ll become. This is true of both physical and emotional challenges.
Focus on something bigger than yourself
When you have a driving reason behind a goal that’s bigger than your own wants and needs, you’ll generally be willing to endure more in pursuit of it.
Give back to the world
In giving back, you’re contributing positively to the world, which we desperately need. But you’re also interacting with people who are going through a variety of challenges which helps to keep your own past challenges fresh in your mind to remind you of what you’ve already overcome.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to see people start to put more energy into supporting each other. Social media has created a polarized environment where people are eager to attack each other over minor differences in opinion.
I think that’s ridiculous.
Life can be hard enough, to begin with. We don’t need to make it more difficult by fighting with each other over every little difference we can find.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
There are two people I would love the opportunity to have a meal and conversation with.
One is Gary Vaynerchuck. Most people either love him. I believe that’s because he is completely passionate about what he does. But I also have a lot of respect for him because, despite his massive success, he genuinely cares about his audience.
The other is David Goggins, who is equally polarizing because of his “no excuses” mindset. He’s one of the few people who constantly reach for new and bigger challenges at the magnitude that he does.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me pretty much everywhere. I’m on most social media platforms, or you can just Google me.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!