TShane Johnson: “Keep your feet moving”

The idea is to remember that “the leader fits all.” In a business sense, this means being able to adapt and accommodate all employees and those in support roles by taking on various leadership styles. Being nimble is extremely important when you’re the person on top. All leadership styles work for me, but for different […]

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The idea is to remember that “the leader fits all.” In a business sense, this means being able to adapt and accommodate all employees and those in support roles by taking on various leadership styles. Being nimble is extremely important when you’re the person on top. All leadership styles work for me, but for different reasons and around different people.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing TShane Johnson.

When Marine Corp veteran TShane Johnson was in his 20s, he died three times after a terrible motorcycle accident, and later endured two years of homelessness on the East Coast. Having overcome these tremendous obstacles on his journey, Johnson now focuses his efforts on raising funds to help homeless veterans and bring awareness to the issue of veteran suicides. He has completed a series of Hike Across America tours, each time covering approximately 7,000 miles and speaking in more than 60 cities along the way. During his 2019 Hike Across America tour, he also challenged the world record for fastest 1-mile run carrying a 100-pound pack. Johnson broke that record and is now training to break two marks in the Guinness Book of World Records: the most pushups in one hour and the most pushups over 12 hours.

Now age 40 and a full-time, single father, Johnson owns and operates several successful businesses he created; he’s the author of three books; and he is in high demand as a motivational speaker. Along the way, he has inspired employees at big companies such as RedBull, the U.S. Navy, Hyatt, Best Western Hotel and Resorts, Caesars Entertainment and more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path

I don’t think I chose this specific career path; it chose me. The fact that I experienced death gave me the ability to live. When I faced death, God chose for me to live that day — my time wasn’t over and only he and I knew that. God said to me, “I want to allow you to live, it may be painful, but I need you to live.” Years later, my Hike Across America project raised awareness of veteran suicides and delivered 10,000 hygiene kits to homeless veterans and others in need. But it also allowed me to have conversations with these people and better understand their struggles. It made me want to help change their perspectives, which then made me a speaker. I knew it was time to help change people with my words and my experiences. People started to tell me how I changed their lives, whether it was about drugs, the military, diverse challenges … it was all God’s work.

Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

I’ve had many journeys, but the first major hard times that impacted me — literally — was when a car full of gang members ran my motorcycle off the road and then robbed me as I lay bleeding. They left me with a smashed ribcage and injuries to my lungs and other organs. I managed somehow to crawl to a fire station, where I received treatment and was airlifted to a hospital, and during that process I flatlined three times. Each time, the paramedics and doctors brought me back. I lost 50 pounds in the first two weeks due to my injuries and knew the road back was going to be difficult.

The next major hard times I faced were economic rather than physical. In my 20s I built a successful mortgage company and was enjoying a six-figure income when the market collapsed. I went from driving a brand-new Mercedes to a Honda to absolutely nothing. I ended up spending the next two years homeless, walking endlessly and trying to earn enough money to eat one meal a day. It was humbling to say the least.

Later, I managed to move to Charlotte, North Carolina, with $500 to my name. I’d taken a job at a gym and then soon found a great corporate sales opportunity, which I jumped at. Ironically, my car was repossessed that first day on the new job, as without the gym job I no longer qualified for the loan. There went my $500! I felt frustrated and hopeless as I walked back to my empty apartment. Pretty soon the new corporate job sent me to a Manhattan sales conference, because I quickly became the number-one seller. Paychecks took a while to process back then, and I remember taking all the bagels and the bananas at the conference, so I could eat the rest of the day. The $300 gift card they awarded me would completely go toward transportation, so I felt both hope and hopelessness in a matter of seconds.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

As I lay in the hospital bed after that crash, enduring what would be a long and painful recovery, my father challenged me to choose the pain rather than give up. And there was a lot of pain, and it sucked. This experience helped shape one of my core philosophies, which is you have to “embrace the suck.” Choose the pain and know it is reshaping you, getting you to that next level.

My endless walks while I was homeless taught me another core philosophy that ended up becoming my second book, “Keep Your Feet Moving: Seven Principles to Get You Through Hard Times.” Your greatest power is to just keep moving through times of hardship. I put this into practice on a much larger scale when I did my Hikes Across America and walked thousands of miles to benefit homeless veterans and raise awareness about veteran suicides. It was this same drive to keep moving that helped me break the mark set in the Guinness Book of World Records for fastest 1-mile trek carrying a 100-pound pack in 2019. And I’m applying that same principle in my training today, as I ramp up to breaking two pushup records on May 1.

As a single father to my 6-year-old daughter, I am constantly driven by my desire to be her hero. She inspires me to do greater things and surmount challenges — and she even helps me train now, yelling “put that cookie down!” when I’m about to cheat on my training diet. She’s worse than my drill instructor! And she is my “why,” she’s the reason I do it all.

So, how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

Grit is the key component to success, and it’s what helped me turn my life around and even fight to stay alive when I was on the brink. It’s what made me drag my battered body to a fire station after being thrown into a brick wall at 45 mph, robbed and left for dead. It’s what drove me to pick myself up after losing millions of dollars, and go to Dunkin’ Donuts to use their Wi-Fi and start my next business. It’s what made me walk everywhere when I had no car. Grit is an integral part of life; it’s that drive to keep going. It’s embracing the pain that we experience in the thick of the fight, whether we are fighting to survive or fighting to accomplish a seemingly unattainable goal. Grit is the anger and frustration that pushes you over that hill. Grit is giving more than you think you have to give, digging deep and finding that last bit of energy. Grit is the opposite of giving up.

Having a life that is 100% pleasure isn’t real. Try to imagine that. There is no high without a low, no good without evil, no rewards without effort, and no success without grit. My past pushed me, and the trouble and pain I’ve felt is what made me who I am. Grit is the ability to take that pain and keep going, with the knowledge the pain is simply what you feel on the way to where you want to go.

Based on your experience, can you share five pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

Keep your feet moving. In the Marine Corps, you learn the fastest way to complete something is to never stop. You can slow down, you can walk and you can rest, but never ever stop. This will teach you to always keep moving forward no matter how tough it is. I’ve died three times. I have been homeless. I’ve suffered major medical issues. I have been alone, but no matter what I always kept my feet moving.

Embrace the suck. Pain is inevitable. As a matter of fact, it is the catalyst to greater things in most cases. Learn that pain is not always your enemy. Right now, I do almost 1,000 pushups a day for training. Do you have any idea how painful it is for one’s body to endure that much training? But I embrace it because I know the outcome will be breaking a 32-year-old world record, and I will be the only person in the world to complete that.

Know your “why.” I love this one. Honestly if you do not have a passion, then no matter how strong you are, you will break. It is a shame that fictional superheroes exist to our children when in reality we could be that example to them every day. I want my daughter to see her father as her superhero, so that it sets a real example for her to believe and follow.

Suck it up, Buttercup. No one is coming to save you, and it’s lonely at the top. Zero time for excuses! When I was homeless, not one person was coming to save me, and, honestly, I probably would not even have let them. I put myself there and it was my responsibility to get myself out and not be an emotional vampire on others. So, suck it up and get it done.

Take massive action. As business leader and motivational speaker Art Williams said, “That’s great. Just do it.” Get out of your own way and, if you won’t, at least get out of my way. When I write my goal down and commit, I take massive action to make it happen. You don’t train daily for a 19,325-pushup, 12-hour world record without taking massive action. So, whatever it is you want to do, do it now!

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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

At my lowest points, I honestly didn’t have anyone who helped. They say that it’s lonely at the top, but it’s lonely at the bottom, too. When I lost everything, the only person I felt I could count on besides God was myself. That’s a mindset that can sometimes set in too hard, however. I remember once when I was walking home overloaded with groceries, back when I was walking miles each day as I tried to get back on my feet and also extend a helping hand to my sister and her son. All the grocery bags broke in the middle of the road. It was pouring rain and felt like things couldn’t have been any worse in that moment. A lady tried to help me, and I didn’t want help. I was rude to her. I was angry. I was hurt. I will never forget what she said back to me, “Sometimes we go through hard times. It’s okay to ask for help.”

Looking back, I greatly appreciate people in my life who have helped me by inspiring me to push harder. My father was a champion bull rider who worked out constantly to stay in shape, and he inspired me to start doing “card pushups,” where you’d pull cards from a deck and do the combined number of pushups. As a result, when I joined the Marines I was the one guy who never got tired of doing pushups.

Right now, I am grateful for the help of my world-class trainer, gold medal athlete and Golden Gloves champion Jamie McGrath. She’s no stranger to grit and understands the mindset of what it will take to do a grueling 12 hours of pushups, and she pushes me to my absolute breaking point. Sometimes people help you by making things tough, and she definitely does that — by not having pity on my prior injuries and making me work until I throw up!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have used my success to bring goodness into the world by being the version of me I always wanted to be and impacting people from all over the world. I use my struggle and my story to inspire people in a way that makes them want to get up and change their lives. Because of my experiences, I have been able to make connections and relationships with people from all walks of life. I genuinely believe in people. I fight for them to be successful and invest myself in that fight because I know that person is capable of more. It is a wonderful feeling to hear someone tell you that you’ve helped change their life. That’s what I try to do by being real, by pushing them to understand who they are and what they deserve. Not everyone has a dramatic brush with death like I did, but our dreams can die too — and dreams die quietly without any fanfare. I want to remind people to hold onto those dreams and goals, feed them so they become reality.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My new project is called “Pushups for Purple Hearts,” a dual record-breaking event in support of the National Purple Heart Honor Mission. Starting at 6 a.m. May 1 at Southpaw Training Center in Pineville, North Carolina, I will be attempting to break two world records: the most pushups done in one hour (currently that record is 2,919), and the most pushups in a 12-hour period (that record is 19,325). The 12-hour record, held by Paddy Doyle, was set in 1989 on May 1, so if all goes well I’ll be breaking it exactly 32 years, to the day, that he accomplished that mark.

All proceeds will help bring Purple Heart recipients from across the nation to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor and tell the stories of valor that these combat wounded and those killed in action embody. The amount of pain I will endure is nothing compared to the pain they have experienced. It is the least I can do to help this organization raise funds to continue doing amazing things for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. My hope is that not only will my effort help in a fundraising capacity for the National Purple Heart Mission’s Patriot Project, but it will also inspire people to challenge themselves to go above and beyond, to overcome setbacks and accomplish things they never could have imagined.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

The idea is to remember that “the leader fits all.” In a business sense, this means being able to adapt and accommodate all employees and those in support roles by taking on various leadership styles. Being nimble is extremely important when you’re the person on top. All leadership styles work for me, but for different reasons and around different people.

You have to remember that not everyone is going to like you or your style. People are driven for all different reasons — some will be driven by money, others by ego, status or family, and so on. I am driven by the knowledge that I can do anything and everything because of where I come from.

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. 🙂

Bring back Dad, the HERO! I think dads need to step up and understand they are a very important part of the home life and that nothing — not even work — is more important than being a dad. I go into this in my third book, “Done by 2:30: The Essential Guide to a Successful Work Life Balance.” Simply put, there is no balance! Family is first, everything else is second.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life living like most people can’t.”


This sums up what it means to set aside comfort and work toward your goal. I have always said that as human beings we are all amazing and can do incredible things, but you’ve got to have the grit to put in the work, and that often means pushing yourself far beyond your comfort zone. Years ago, I pushed myself to just keep living and recover from my injuries. Then, I pushed myself to build businesses after suffering extreme losses, and now I’m pushing myself physically through pain with each long training session to break these two pushup records. We should embrace pain more. Pain gets a bad rap. Pain means you are pushing through to level up.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m @Tshanejohnson on all social media platforms.

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