You may encounter a lot of frustrations and obstacles in life, but don’t give up. Remind yourself that you are meant to achieve great things no matter what happens to you. You have a purpose, and you have to discover it. Look deeper into how you perceive things and control your life. Of course, the people you love will also be an important factor. Having endured a deleterious environment when his mom remarried, Mark Drager had to move out at sixteen years old and start his own family at 22. Mark is a brand strategist, podcast host, and the founder of a growth agency. He already experienced many challenging things at such a young age but turned those into motivation for a better life. In this episode, he talks with your host, Dr. Patty Ann Tublin, about how things happen in your life for a purpose. Tune in to gain a unique perspective on facing life’s biggest obstacles!
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Discovering Your Purpose And Accepting Major Life Obstacles With Mark Drager
We had an amazing and incredible guest for you. I cannot wait to get started. Before we do, since I know you are going to love this interview on this show, make sure you like, comment, share and subscribe to the show. Our guest is this incredible man. I am not even going to read his bio because when I give you his name, you can read it yourself.
This man is passionate about helping you conquer your fears. He is passionate about helping you create success in your life because he truly has spent many years of his life feeling crippled by his fear, unworthiness, and bullied by people because he was not good, strong, big, smart, or rich enough. He is here to tell you that you are enough. Buckle up because Mark Drager is about to take us for a ride.
That is one of the greatest words of affirmation, my love language. Thank you for building me up so much. I’m happy to be here.
You can cut, taste, and take with you. Take me on the road with you anytime you want. I do not mind being in the company of someone like you that is so passionate about helping people. Let me stop talking, and please share your journey at whatever point you think will be most helpful to people because people say this crap all the time. You mean it. How old are you?
I’m in my late 30s. I have heard it said that you always feel old because you have not yet gotten any older. This is as old as I have ever been. Trust me when I say 38 feels old. When I’m 50, I’m sure it will feel old when I’m 60 or 70, the same thing. We have never gotten past the point we are now. We cannot even imagine what that looks like.
I’m grateful that you did not ask me my age because it is still true that you are not supposed to ask a woman their age, so we will go back to you and your youth.
There are a few different chapters but it does not life work the way that when you reflect on it, it is more of the same. I grew up in an amazing household. My mom remarried an alcoholic, angry stepfather with mental health issues, and he was dealing with his stuff. I grew up in this pressure cooker environment. I moved out when I was sixteen. I meet my future wife at seventeen. We are married at 22 and have our first daughter.
Where are you located at the time?
I grew up outside of Toronto, Canada. I’m Canadian. If we want to spend a bit of time on the family of origin because of so much of where we come from, the relationships, and watching the dynamics of how you think grownups, they’ve got to figure it out. This is how you are supposed to live. I’ve got four kids. My oldest is a teenager. I’m pretty honest with them when I tell them I do not have this figured out yet.
We have no clue. We are trying to get along here.
In terms of growing up, I grew up in a suburb of Toronto in an upper–middle-class family with an amazing mom. I grew up with my aunts. It was my mom, aunt and sister. Up to the age of seven, life was pretty awesome. It was pretty rocking. We would go down to Florida for a few weeks every winter. We would spend summers at my grandparents’ cottage for the whole summer. We would go camping. We would do all this stuff. My mom remarries.
You said you had an idyllic childhood until your mom got remarried. There must have been some rockiness in the divorce.
My parents split up.
Life is messy and people do all kinds of weird things for all kinds of weird reasons.
Was that very difficult? Did they do it as adults?
My dad was going through his midlife crisis, and the week I was born, my dad left. I never grew up in a home where it was my mom and dad but all credit to my mom. They stayed friends through it all. My dad was with us on Christmas Day. He was at our place celebrating with us, even on Thanksgiving. They are still friends all these years later. They’ve got divorced in 1983, and all of these years later, they maintained a relationship and stayed friends.
I would go to my dad’s. It was hard going to my dad’s. I missed my mom a lot but looking back, I’m trying to reflect on what were those traumatic points? Up until the age of seven, I was the youngest kid in a great family. I had cousins to play with. I had extended family. I was not so good at school and figuring that out. It was a pretty rocking childhood.
Your parents split before you could not remember that you knew anything else. That was your life. Your parents gave you the incredible gift of being an adult in the divorce process because it is never about the money until it is about the money. It is never about the kids until the kids become a pawn in the power play. Kudos to both of them.
Looking back, it is remarkable. I hit an age in my life when my dad left in his early 30s because his dad died in his early 30s. My dad left, and my sister was two. I was a newborn. There was a time when my oldest daughter was two, and then we had a son in my late twenties. I’m standing in front of my wife in the hospital bed holding our newborn son and it hits me, “This was the moment my dad decided to leave.” I had to work on trying to understand that and talk to him about it. We do have a pretty distant relationship.
Part of that is now that I’m grown up, a father, a husband and a man, I struggled to understand why he made the decisions he made and why he left. I’m not looking for an explanation, forgiveness or anything but this is why I say you can pick any moment in life and it’s more of the same because we see these things echoing through the generations or decisions that were made. I grew up that my dad and mom were friends, which was amazing. I was the youngest child, which as the youngest child, is pretty good. You think that the world is being laid out for you and everything is easier for you.
Sometimes the adults are not paying attention anymore because they are tired, so you get away with stuff.
A lot changed quickly. My mom met her future husband, my stepfather, and within a year, they were married. My dad remarried the same year. Suddenly, I’m now the youngest of step–siblings on both sides. My stepfather had mania, so he had the manic side of bipolar without the depression side. He would go through these 3, 4, 5, 6 weeks cycles of being extremely manic, not medicating and refusing to medicate, and also a very angry person. From the age of seven, my aunt is gone.
Let me clarify, people because I’m familiar with manic depression but when you said mania, correct me if this is not in your experience, they think of high, up, manic, happy but the mania reference is the level of activity. The go thing.
It is sleeping 1 or 2 hours per night or making erratic purchasing decisions. I can remember in the early ‘90s, it was decided that they would start a church and not a Christian Church but a brand new faith. “Let’s start a new thing. We are all founders of this brand new thing and this new way of thinking.” Deciding that at 11:00 at night on my mom’s birthday. It was snowing, and the driveway was going to ice over, so I was out there as a little boy, and the whole family was out there shoveling the driveway and trying to chip the ice away because it was the most important thing to focus on.
It is psychotic and crazy.
You could say that. I would not say that. Is that your clinical definition of it?
Yes, because you are out of touch with reality. We are all on the rock but when you are out of touch with reality, that is hostess. My point is the way you described it if people think it goes one minute you are up, one minute you are down. The cycles last for weeks or months.
Typically around vacation, a major move or a major life event. Everything changed. From the age of 8 to 15, we left my childhood home and moved out to the country. I went from being in the city to being in the country. My mom got incredibly sick and ended up in the hospital for 4 or 5 weeks with gangrene and had to have her leg reconstructed and almost died. A few months later, my uncle was involved in a terrible car accident and had to go through all kinds of electroshock therapy and mental health issues himself. My grandfather had a heart condition. Only upon spending some time with a therapist that I realize my mom was remarried, and they started a second family.
I started having half-brothers who came along. It was this period of being 11, 12, 13 with a lot of change and a lot of very turbulent times with major things coming my way. Upon reflection, realizing that I did not have someone who helped me process it. I did not have that empathetic witness and person who could help me work through, “This is what is happening, and this is how to feel about it. This is what to think and whether it’s your fault or not your fault or any of that stuff.”
It is not even telling you what to feel about it but not allowing you to feel whatever it is you are feeling. What you described is when your foundation is rocked, you are not on the steady ground at all. You do not even know what a feeling is to talk about.
It was only in the last years that I even realized that any of this stuff mattered, and it shaped me at my core. It was still affecting me decades later that the way that I took feedback or my need to be a perfectionist or the pressure I would place on myself were all remnants of these earlier years. The story I was telling myself was at sixteen, I moved out because I felt I was ready to move out, but it’s because I had to get out of that house. I met my wife, and we started dating. Within five years, we are married. We married very young. She was 21, and I’m 22. We have my daughter at 23.
Why did you get married so young?
I was joking with my wife, I already had my midlife crisis years ago. I’m ahead of schedule, and that is the story I told myself. We are mature. We are ready for what is next. We feel like we are ready for it. Every step along the way, I was 5 or 10 years ahead of most of my peers. As I’ve got older, that stretched out. The majority of my friends are in their early 50s, even though I’m in my 30s, because we are at a similar life stage.
The right question would have been, why not get married?
We were incredibly foolish. I even joked with my in-laws, and our family, friends, were still in touch with them. I do not know why they thought this was a good idea, why they were so happy for us or celebrating us, and why they stood at our wedding and clapped. I would have been like, “Are you bananas? You are so young. Why are you rushing into all of this stuff?” At that time, we felt ready.
If they would have told you differently, would it have mattered?
Probably not. What can you say to someone in that situation? My wife reminded me again that we spent way more of our lives together than apart. We have been together for many years. We spent well over half of our lives together. I know that these are conversations about relationships. What more important relationship can any entrepreneur, business person or leader have than the person that hopefully you are going to spend and share your life with, work towards similar dreams and visions? They are going to challenge you and help turn you into a better version of yourself along the way.
Help us understand how you worked through that. Your first son was born, and it hits you, “This was when my dad left.” Take us through that journey if you do not mind.
There is a story my mom always told, which was my sister, two years older than me, Cheryl, would always wait at the screen door every day for dad to get home. I’m too little but I could picture this 24-month old, every day waiting at the screen door for dad to get home. The reason why this stuck with me is she mentioned that for the weeks following his leaving, she would wait every single day for him to get home. It’s not that he took off but their marriage was dissolving, and so he went to live somewhere else. He was not coming home. He did not feel like he was in a position to care for a two-year-old or even a newborn baby on weekends or supervise.
As a dad, I can look at my oldest daughter, Rachel, at that age and think, “She is standing there at the door every day, waiting for me to get home, and then suddenly, one day, I do not show up. That is because of a decision I made, not because of illness, death or anything out of my control.” For me to look at my son, Jonah, that I’m holding, this newborn baby, and think this was me crystallized and helped me visualize what he walked away from. He walked away from me, my sister, and my mom. Now that I’m older, I understand that life is messy, and people do all kinds of weird things for weird reasons.
I can work to understand it but at the time, it made me angry because I thought, “I’m not going to do this.” Possibly, the success of our marriage or myself as a father, how involved I want to be, I could say, “Thank you, Dad, for doing that and making me angry, upset or feel hurt, so that way, I will work a little bit harder to be there for my kids.” Maybe this is the greatest gift ever but at that time, it painted a picture for me, “This is the moment that you decided to leave. This is what you decided to walk away from.” I struggled to respect that decision.
You are thankful to your dad because he told you exactly what you do not want to do. If you want to look at the upside, that is a gift. Although, when you are a child, I’m not so sure you can be quite that gracious.
That would be a false expectation to place on a child. You cannot be that gracious. When you are angry, you cannot perhaps be that gracious but it is later, upon reflection. Part of what this childhood raised was not only about given bad anxiety and this feeling of needing to show up and perform, and you started your intro by saying enough. I struggle to feel enough, and I’m working on that but also very cynical and sarcastic. I even used to think that made me good at my job because if you could be cynical, sarcastic and hard on things, if something passes that tough test, “It would better be good.” That is what I would tell myself.
Nobody ever wants to fail in front of people.
What I work towards is more than gratitude and reframing these situations. I’m working to try and connect the dots to understand that the hard times, hardship, challenges, and the things that I did not ask for have served me. I’m not a victim. These things did not happen to me but there was a reason behind it, whether I can see it or not, I have to have faith to believe that at a certain point. I will always be able to look back on anything that happens to me. This is what I want to believe in anything that happens to me at a certain point with enough perspective and distance. I will be able to connect the dots for why it served me.
There are so many different places I could go with this. When you talk about having the anger, sarcasm, and cynicism behind or overarching, all of that is anger. That is an angry statement. Anger can fuel us but when it consumes us, it is not a productive emotion. It is a little bit more complicated than what I said but you know that. When you talked about you can become the victim and I said, “You can be the victim or you can be a victor,” it’s your choice. We are having this conversation. We are in the middle of the egg. Who the heck knows what is going on with COVID?
Everybody has been dealing with the same situation. Everyone has a choice. When life gives you lemons, you can make lemonade. Here you are saddled with this anxiety that your situation brought to you because it’s not even the rug was pulled out from under you. There was no rug. There was no brown floor to ground you. Everything seemed to be in turmoil.
You become anxious, and then fear dominates. Fear, we know, is a future emotion. When your relationships are built on fear or anger, they are not creating the type of relationships that speak to success. When I coach very successful clients, there is that fear of, “Am I good enough?” It may show up a little bit more polished in some than in others.
You have a sense of that. It’s almost like intuition, and to what you said earlier, we now know it’s intuition. We think from neuroscience, and I do not know enough about this but I’m learning more than our intuition speaks to our individual history of where we are from, our people, and our culture. It’s quite interesting.
You were so tapped into the ability to overcome fear and anxiety to be victorious. Share with us how you do that. Did you do that in your personal life with four children? Did you do that with your clients? Did you do that so successfully? Did you sit in the first row of a Tony Robbins event with Evan Carmichael? People need to get this wisdom from you.
There are a few things. Anything that serves you will also be the thing that holds you back. I believe that our greatest strengths are our greatest blind spots or weaknesses. I say this all as a caveat for the fact that I am not even halfway through this journey yet but originally, the success came from the fear of failure.
When I started my company at 23 years old, I decided to start my firm the week my daughter was born. We are both 23. She is at home with no income, and I quit my $45,000 a year job to start my creative agency. I did it because I thought, “If I do this for 1 company, if I did it for 10, we are going to make so much money. It’s amazing.”
It was so hard in 2006 to start this media agency off of $7,000 and some hopes and dreams, and a few friends who were going to “give me business.” Six months in, we were on the verge of bankruptcy. We had worked through the line of credit that I borrowed from my mom. We had worked through all of our cash on hand. My wife had no income. I quit my job. The first few years were spent fighting the feeling that I do not want to embarrass myself and fail in front of all these people who saw me step out on the ledge.
Let me go back. Can you tell me what your wife said when you said, “I’m going to quit my job and start a company?”
I convinced her. She reminded me that I do not ask her about things. I tell her things. If I do not get a strong allergic reaction or resistance, then I take that as a go-ahead. I have asked my wife, “Why do you let me do these things?” She was like, “I trust you. I know you are not going to let me down. You are smart.”
Let’s see how smart I am, you trust me, and this is great but then there is the tremendous pressure and fear of letting her down. At first, we were doing so little. We were scraping to get by. In our first year, we only had $18,000 in household income. We were below the poverty line. The government forced us on social assistance because we were two parents at home with a child, and they said, “You cannot live in the city on this income.”
It was so hard for the first few years. I worked incredible amounts of hours. I worked really hard. I knew that I was sacrificing my health. I knew that I was building up my stress and missing the first few years of my kids growing up. Also, that way, I could give them something. I do not want to fail in front of people. We started getting successful around years 4, 5, 6, and we started growing and scaling.
I can grow the team. We start making money. It becomes like, “I do not want to lose this thing that I have.” How many of us entrepreneurs and business people get “success”? We move from an aggressive place of trying to earn, win and grow to a place of I do not want to sacrifice or lose the things that I have.
A very different mindset shift.
I found myself in my early 30s in a position where I had eliminated all risks for my life.
You are playing it safe for the first time in your life, if I’m understanding you correctly.
I felt incredibly comfortable and safe. I was 30 or 31 around then. I had a client with who we became friends. He flew up from Chicago, and we are having coffee together. He is telling me about this new business venture. I play devil’s advocate a lot. It gets me in trouble because I start debating with people about causes that I do not even have an emotional stake in. He is trying to tell me about this business, and I’m cynical and skeptical trying to poke holes in it. I’m helping him here.
If you are not helping him, you are having fun.
I’m not helping him because he got super pissed off. It was the first time where someone across from me got visibly angry, and it caught me off guard because I’m like, “We are just talking. We are having this conversation. I’m trying to help poke holes and stuff.”
I love playing devil’s advocate. I will take a position for something I do not even know what it means. I know you are supposed to feel one way. I’m like, “I feel the other way.” I’m amazed at how many times people do not even ask me why. They are reactive to it. If they ask me why I look like an idiot because I do not even know what I’m talking about. What you are describing is you are taking pleasure in poking the bear.
Upon reflection, I had a few days afterward because he got super angry. The conversation turned quick and later, I apologized, and it was never the same. Our relationship was never the same after that. It destroyed the entire friendship and relationship on this one conversation. I realized that he was coming at it from an entrepreneurial point of view, which is, “I have this idea. I’m excited. I believe in it. I have investors who are going to invest money, and if it does not go well, they lose their money.” That is what investing is. My moral position was because I’m running this bootstrap company and never take money from anyone. That is like, “You are willing to risk investor’s money on something that you are not very sure about.” The line that may have got him was something like, “That is stealing.”
You were questioning his integrity.
Learning lesson number one, I learned so much about that but in that conversation, he challenged me and I said, “Go prove me wrong. Here is where I am at. I had paid off my mortgage, so I had zero debt. I had a business that was worth a lot that was earning me money. I had the freedom to leave my company whenever I wanted. I had a great wife and kids.” I was proud. I was saying, “At 31 or 32, look at how I have been able to set up my life.”
He looked at it as like, “How could you not be challenging yourself? How can you not be taking on risks? How could you have given up so early?” I did not even realize until much later how right he was. It took me a few years after that of questioning, “Is this it?” I had not been challenged myself and paid everything off. We were living comfortably. That was the third period. There are these chapters of life.
This is important, especially for entrepreneurs reading. No growth happens in the comfort. It is all in the discomfort. You’ve got too comfortable being comfortable. When you do that, you take zero risk. It can be steady as you go but you are not going to grow.
Not only will you not grow, the very things that used to excite you no longer excite you. The things that would wake you up in the morning, fire you up, help you create a better vision or rally the troops or anything. We use the word growth but what does this mean? What this means is you end up finding yourself at a place where you dread going into the very thing that you built or someone calls you up with a new opportunity that used to excite you, and you are not even excited by the opportunity. Not only that, if you make mistakes like me, I did not even replace myself. I watched this slow boredom and mediocrity takeover and I was not even sharp enough at the time.
Going back, I would do this differently. I did not even replace myself with someone who had that spirit and energy, who could have filled that gap, so I could move on to something else. I stayed still. It was terrible. That was the third phase. The first was, “I have to make this work because I cannot fail and waste all my time.” The second was, “This is working. I do not want to lose something.” The third phase was, “What do I have? Is this it with my health?” I was 70 pounds heavier than I am now. I have lost 70 pounds in my life.
Tell us about this. Did you gain 70 pounds as you were growing the company? Does it correlate your weight gain to the success of your business? I want to know that.
When you’re not a quality time person, hanging out, talking and just connecting is really hard.
If you gain a few pounds, 5 pounds a year, eventually, you find yourself going from larges to extra larges. You hit a point where you are going to outgrow your extra larges and you go, “I cannot do this anymore.” At 30, I decided I’m going to get healthy. For about six months, I’ve got healthy and lost weight. Over the next year or two, put it back on. I was like, “I’ve got to get healthy again.” It was when I was 35 or 36 on the 2nd or 3rd time of being uncomfortably overweight. I was going to have to go into size 40 pants, from extra larges to whatever is beyond that.
My wife got heavier over time. When we met, we were young. I was 180 pounds, which is about what I am now. She was a size 4 or 6 because we are young. By our mid-30s, we find ourselves much heavier. She was a size 14 and had to move from 14 to plus size. If that is where you are at, there is no judgment on my side. We hit a point where we knew this was not us, and yet, we did not know how to change. We felt this is it. We started and done everything young. We have accomplished some stuff.
When you are a high achiever, you look at your peers or the people in your life, and you already know that you are doing more than them, you feel guilty for wanting more. We wanted more health, wealth, and better relationships. We have huge dreams and aspirations, yet in our social circle, we were already the high achievers amongst them. How can we then turn to these people and say like, “I know you look at what we have and think it’s awesome. We think it is nothing. Let’s go get some more.” All of that stuff kept us stuck. It was hard.
Two things, one is you started to make the change because you became uncomfortable with where you were, which is what we are saying where the growth happens. Unless I misheard you that with the trappings of success, it sounds like if you and your wife felt isolated from others.
We still feel that way, and we have for quite some time because I do not make friends or hold onto friendships very well. I work with people. I’m saying this so clinically. I care about people. Let me convince you how much I care. I’m more of an act and service guy. If you are doing something for me, if I’m doing something for you, if we are working beside each other, then we can build a relationship. I’m not a quality time person. Hanging out, talking, and connecting are hard for me.
My wife has always struggled on her side with a sense of belonging. That is her biggest challenge is feeling like she belongs. It’s hard. When we moved to a new city, it was very hard to make friends and relationships, so we joined a church. We started making friends and connecting with people. We found a great church community. One that helped us plug in with people. I have my struggles with Christianity and the church but I could bite my tongue. Playing devil’s advocate is not a great position to be in.
I’m not judging at all. A lot of people join any religious organization for the camaraderie, the social and relationship aspect, not necessarily the religious aspect. That is cool, too.
You mentioned that I’ve got to sit in the front row of Tony Robbins’ event with Evan Carmichael and how cool there was. That was 2018. We went there. It was November 7th, 8th, and 9th of 2018. There is me, Evan, and then beside Evan is this lovely woman who I find out is a Christian singer in Ireland. She is there. She is a believer. We are getting to know each other and working through things. For whatever reason, she feels compelled on the last day to tell me, “You know God up in your head but you do not know God in your heart.” I was like, “Thanks for that challenging thing that I did not ask for.”
I started to walk away and think about it more when I realized she saw something and was right. It started the deconstruction of Christianity for me because I realized I was a cultural Christian. I liked the culture, the media, and what I hoped it could do but I was not plugged in properly and nor was my wife. Getting back to your question about friends, relationships, and what have you because of us moving to a new town and plugging into a church, we found ourselves making relationships with people who are amazing, awesome, and lovely.
They were not a few steps ahead of us. They were not challenging us. It ties into this guilt that my wife and I had. We had so much. How could we ask or want more? We are already achieving so much. How could we have our eyes set even higher than that? The easiest way to explain this is we have four kids. We love our kids but any parent knows, sometimes, you do not want to be a parent.
I have four kids, and if people do not tell you that, there are days you would give them a way either they are on serious drugs or they are lying.
We had these amazing friends who worked for twelve years to have kids and never could conceive. I felt so guilty. There are these people who want this thing. All of that stuff is all on me. It’s not on any of them of how I internalized it into my place and where I want to be.
You felt like you were not allowed to be happy. That is how I’m hearing it.
That is probably true because when I was a kid, I can remember getting yelled at for laughing and having fun. There you go. You unlocked something in me.
You said that you and your wife feel guilty or bad because I’m hearing what you are saying and what you are not saying. I’m trying to listen to what the audience is hearing, too. You said, “How could we want more?” I never once heard you say you wanted more money, children or stuff. I do not feel that from you. Nothing about consumerism more than you want. I was thinking as I was listening, “What the hell is he talking about?”
It is those material things, though. We want more. We want to live in a different place or house that costs a lot more. I have expectations of what I will give my kids, and I want to pay for all of their post-secondary school education if that is what they choose to do. We want to have a home in a warm area that we can travel to, have freedom, take time off and do all those things that entrepreneurs want. We want nice things.
Forget comparing yourself to what others may want or have, why are you not allowed to want for more and better. That is how society evolves if we do not want to learn how to kill them.
The work that I have done over the years has helped me take ownership of it. It’s okay to know what you want. It’s okay to want what you want, especially if you believe in your heart that you are doing it for the right reasons. It’s okay to try and pursue those things and fail or succeed. While you may not along and the readers might go like, “This is easy stuff.” Deep down, this was all stuff that was holding me back. Even me telling people, “I want to do this.” How often do leaders or entrepreneurs have a goal in their heads? We may be struggling a little bit more to write it down but if we are trained, we will write it down.
If we are trained, we will start talking about it with people because we know that is how we are going to manifest it and make it happen. Until you can get to a place where you are comfortable doing that, most people will not even admit to themselves what they want or if they do want it, they will judge. “Why do I want that when there is something else I should be doing?”
That is also a way to protect yourself if you do not get it. I want it but not really, so you do not manifest it. This part of the conversation to me is crystal clear as to why you were so successful with your clients because you expressed with probably the majority of them experience as well. They know that you are authentic and have been there and done that. Thank you so much for that for being transparent. That is awesome.
I’m not sure where you want to take the conversation because we can take it wherever we want to go. Essentially, what I have been able to do is look back at these challenging moments in my life. I’m starting to realize that these hard, difficult, and scary things that I do not want to do will serve me. If I do and attack them that it’s okay to try and release some of the judgment that you place on yourself, when you do that, you find yourself judging others less.
That is where I have been working on trying to train myself is I struggled not to judge myself all day, every day, because I’m in my head. What I’m doing is working to stop judging others, be more understanding, and try to be more empathetic towards them because if I can release my judgment of others, then I believe it will be an easier path for me to release the judgment for myself.
You are living it. It was a conversation or an interview I had with Evan Carmichael and if it was not Evan, then forgive me if I’m attributing something to him but we all know how brilliant and humble he is. I’m pretty sure he said, “I forced myself where I insist that I do the things that I do not want to do.” That is what you said. It’s a way of coming out of our comfort zone. As you have evolved and allowed yourself to want more because, why not?
It is my response to you. Whose life are you living? How have you kept in sync to make sure that you and your wife are growing together as you go apart? How were you doing that? We know, especially the entrepreneurs, and I work with many entrepreneurial couples in business, and entrepreneurial couples because the challenges are different in marriage. How have the two of you been able to navigate that?
I’m very proud when I say this, and I hope that I look back in ten years and think we are even so much better. We have a stronger relationship than we have ever had in our lives. Part of that is the maturity that comes from growing up and spending more time together than at earlier ages. Part of that is the fact that our kids are no longer in diapers, and we are on a good night’s sleep. We can go out for date nights and reconnect. The biggest part over the last years, especially with the pandemic and COVID, is an amazing gift for me. I used to spend most of my time outside the home. I would get up, go to the gym, be in the office at 6:00 AM, and work until 5:00 or 6:00 PM.
I would get home at 7:00. I would see the kids for 20 to 30 minutes, and off they would go to bed. Being forced to be at home, not only forced me to spend more time parenting but also gave me more time to parent allowed us to be more of a partner with things. It also allowed me to audit my wife, what I want to achieve, and my progress. It forced us all to spend more time together. A few things that we did that are super tactical but we found helpful is, every single day, unless if she is working because she is now in our new career and we are amazing with that, we go for a 45-minute walk together.
Is she an entrepreneur as well?
She is a performer. She is an actress, a singer, and a personal trainer. She has gotten super fit as well like me, and we have both gone all-in on that. Unless she is working, we go for a 45-minute walk every day. I finished work at 4:00 PM, and then we go for a 45-minute walk. It helps us transition from the day to the evening time, whether we have something to talk about or not, forcing us to spend time together is first really good. Pattern recognition is something that I’m good at. Most entrepreneurs are good at pattern recognition, seeing the same thing, trying something realizing, “This is the reaction. Let’s tweak it. Let’s change it. This keeps happening.”
We have had these high-stress environments where every few months here in Canada, we go into a lockdown. The first lockdown is traumatic. The second is not so bad. The third is not so bad but I could watch my wife react to these things. I could share with her my fears or challenges on these walks. I could realize that she is someone, even though she has not been in corporate, entrepreneurship or a career, I respect her opinion more than ever before. At some point, my wife resented the fact that I could go out to work. She did not say that but it was there.
You are stuck home with four kids. You get to go to the bathroom by yourself. You get to do it by yourself.
If you can release your judgment of others, then it’ll be an easier path for you to release the judgment for yourself.
Fourteen years she was at home with the kids before she started her second career. I cannot do what I do, and the kids cannot do what they do without you, but that was enough for her. The reason why I think we have a stronger relationship than ever is I have been able to see how she reacts, and we can deconstruct it and talk together. We strategize about this. I can see how I have this challenge up ahead and bounce that off her. We can start to note these things that are happening. You mentioned Evan Carmichael. He is brilliant. I have been lucky enough to know him for many years.
I get to call and spend time with him. There used to be a time when I would be listening to his videos, and my wife would be like, “I’m so tired of Evan’s voice. You can talk, and why are you watching Evan’s videos while doing the dishes?” I would be like, “The mindset stuff, and I’m trying to learn this stuff and everything.” She was so resistant to it. She saw some of the changes it’s made in my life. She became a little more open, and over time I won her over. She is a little competitive. If I do something and see gains, she does not want to be left behind.
Through all of this time, we have been able to become stronger partners by one, me being much more open with her, being in a position to challenge her, her challenging me, and us working at this the way that you would work with any business partner where you are trying to build something. We are trying to build something here.
That is the exact point. That is where I tell people when I’m working with intimate business partners but business partners, this many of the similar challenges from a marriage. You hit the nail on the head. Two things. One is when we do not have things we want in our life or relationship in anything. Anything that is important to us we prioritize. How do we prioritize it? We put it on the calendar. We schedule it. People say, “I do not want to have to schedule a date night. I do not have to schedule sex. I do not want to have to schedule with my COO.” There is a good chance it will happen.
You did that besides having those walks, which is the connection and goal of all communication. You schedule, prioritize, evidenced by scheduling it, and then you communicate by connecting first. It does not matter what you are talking about. You do not even have to talk about anything. You are walking, and while you are walking, you are connecting. It is the template for how you grow together and grow apart while staying together thing. I’m sure you do that with all your clients.
I wish I was as diligent with all of my clients. I own a creative agency.
You do not think the hardest person on the planet to win over is your life? Clients are easy.
We talked about this being enough. I still marvel at how or why my wife loves me the way she does or how, why she finds me attractive, or if we go away for the weekend, the spark we are able to tap into. Part of that is probably insecurity, and I feel so fortunate enough. A great example without getting too intimate, we were lying in bed, and she has her arm on my shoulder, and I’m sitting there, and we have been together for years and I’m thinking, “This is Jacqueline. The Jacqueline. The one in high school that I used to marvel at.”
When we were young, the one that was standing across from me and I could remember all of these life moments that we have shared, and yet I’m still amazed that this woman is here with me.” It’s not always like that but I work to try and have more of those moments and have seen some success with that with my business partners or others, it’s so easy to get caught up in the tasks in the day-to-day. I try to stop and take a step back and go, “Evan Carmichael is my friend?” On Christmas Day, I sent him a note saying Merry Christmas. I’m thinking of you. I’m like, “I get to be friends with this person?” I do not know if that is healthy or not but does it make me feel grateful for the people and the things that I have?
It’s so interesting what you are saying because from learning about you, what you are not acknowledging is what you help your clients with. You help your clients see in themselves what they do not see in themselves. You give them the confidence that they can do it and overcome the fear. They can quiet the anxiety. They can be who they want to be. You do that by allowing them to see themselves the way you see them, and that is the start of them than owning it. You are looking at your relationship with your wife and Evan through your eyes.
You need to look at it from what she is thinking, “I cannot believe this guy is my husband. I have known him since forever.” For most teenage girls, it’s not a pretty time in our lives. Truth be told. Even if you were the successful, beautiful beauty queen, speak to them later on, and there is a lot of tough teenage girl. It’s tough being a teenage girl. You are thinking about Evan is like, “Why is he friends with me?” He is thinking, “I cannot believe I get to be friends with Mark.”
I do play that game. I recognize that that is what it is. That is good advice. I need to do that more.
It’s not a game. It’s right here. I’m going to read it. More than anything, deep down, you want to help people like you build the most extraordinary and meaningful things possible. This is a product and experience. It does not matter. I love being part of the process, as small as it may be, that leads to the moment when others look at what you have done and say, “You did that.” It’s amazing. You do it all the time, all day, every day.
I will accept your compliment graciously. It’s closing the gap. This is what I do tell people. We need to close the gap between how awesome we are and either how we see ourselves or how the world sees us. Either people come at it with an overinflated sense of self or an underinflated sense, either you think your brand, company, position, and marketing are the greatest thing on Earth, and yet, no one is buying or you are down on yourself because you struggle to figure out how to figure it out. The truth is we are all awesome at something. What we need to do is figure out how to close the gap between how awesome we are and how we show up.
The biggest question that I tend to ask myself these days is, “Who do you need to be?” I’m getting ready for bed. I’m tired. I get up early. I realized I had not even spoken to my thirteen-year-old son pretty much all day. He came home from school and did stuff. I’m busy, and he is busy. I realized, “Do I want to be the dad as a day goes by where you do not even talk to your son who is in the same house as you because you are tired? I do not want to be that person.” I go downstairs. I connect with him. I ask him how his day is. He lights up. It makes me feel like the greatest dad in the world for doing that one small thing. Whether it’s your brand, business, relationships at home, or ventures you are trying to do, the greatest question we can ask ourselves is, “Who do you need to be?”
You said it’s a small thing but you had to have the self-awareness, want, and desire because other people would have gone through that same process. “I will talk to him tomorrow. It’s not a big deal. He is playing his video games.” I, for one, can see one of many reasons but probably a very big reason why you are so successful is that you do not propose to be anything you are not. This entire time we spoke, you were so vulnerable and open. At one point, I thought you were going to say, “Stop asking me these questions. Cut the interview and edit. None of your business.”
You went with it, and people can relate to that because we are all struggling on the journey, not because there is anything wrong with us but because it’s called life. I’m so grateful that there is someone like you that has such integrity when you are working with people trying to figure out their way. Having said that, two more questions. What is the one main thing in life that you have learned that you want everybody to know?
All the things that you think matter do not matter. The things that matter the most are probably the things that you are not spending time on. If I break this down a little bit, all the things you are stressed out about are not the things that are going to go wrong. The thing that goes wrong is the thing you would have never seen coming. If you cannot see it coming, why are you stressing out about all these things? The thing that you are chasing and working so hard towards that you want to achieve is amazing. It’s great. Do that. Challenge yourself. In 10 or 15 years, it will be a line item maybe on your bio if it’s big enough. All of the huge things that go wrong in your life are terrible.
Most of the things that go wrong for you are things wherein 5 or 10 years, if I ask you about it, you probably would not even remember. What I have worked towards is letting go of a lot of these things that can lead to hopelessness or if none of this matters does anything matter? We know the answer is yes, things matter. You need to challenge yourself, learn, grow, serve others, build strong relationships and create something lasting because those are the things that matter most.
Those are the things that were on your deathbed. People say they want to die without regrets but let’s be specific. They want to die knowing that they did what was right for them and their loved ones, that they challenged themselves, pursued those passions, took those risks, they fell flat on their face, and it led to the most beautiful and amazing thing ever. They do not want to die having played it safe or living for someone else. That is what matters most.
I am debating between two questions to close this off with. I’m going to go with the one that I’m not sure is the best one, so I’m going to go with it. If you could have the answer to one of the mysteries of the world, which one would it be and why?
I would want to understand God and religion in the afterlife. My biggest struggle as a Christian was somehow believing that Christianity was the way and everything else must be wrong. I cannot live in that space, whether there is an afterlife or there is not something that I’m afraid of, but I would want to understand greater than anything. I would want some understanding or assurance, so I can know what truth is. This is why it’s faith, a mystery, and no one knows. I would love to know what the answer is or the higher power that may exist and what is waiting for us on the other side.
It’s indicative of where you are at this stage in life. I’m going to ask more people that question. Where can people find out or learn more about you? I know they are going to be looking for you.
The best place to go is to go over to Instagram. You can find me, @Mark.Drager. If you send me a DM, I get all of those directly, so drop me a little note, ask me a question, whatever you would like, or go over to YouTube and check out my podcast, The We Do Hard Things Podcast.
Thank you so much. I could go on and on but that concludes this episode. I know Mark did not disappoint, so make sure you like, comment, share and subscribe to this show. Until next time.
- Mark Drager
- @Mark.Drager – Instagram
- The We Do Hard Things Podcast – YouTube
- [email protected]
About Mark Drager
As a kid, I can remember these moments. I can still feel it in my body if I send myself back there. Heart pumping in my ears so hard it would hurt. Wishing for nothing more than to melt into the background as to not be the target of a grown-up’s bitter anger, counting the seconds hoping that the cutting comments would come to an end, trying desperately to just take the aggressive bully tactics on the chin.
And so I got really good at hiding, trying to get in front of things when they were on edge, and when things got bad, dare not do anything that would make things worse.
But there were times, those heart-pumping times, where I stood frozen, unable to move. Hitting the point where anger overtook fear, where consequences be damned I was going to try and hit back. Where I’d hold my ground. Stand straight and stony-faced. Look them in the eyes. Not hide. Not pacify. Pull the pin and throw the grenade, full well knowing it would make things worse.
But my shaky voice and the tears I struggled to hold back betrayed the boldness I attempted muster.
This was my childhood. Because from the age of seven onward I was raised in a home where I was always on edge, never sure if what I said, or what I did, or how I acted would get me into trouble. One moment everything was fine and the next I was told I was the most ungrateful, worthless, and pathetic waste of space.
That’s what comes from growing up with a bitter, alcoholic step-father who had mental health issues.
And so that was my home life until I moved out at 16. It took me a long time comfortable with my childhood and to understand how it shaped me into the person I am today.
How the anxiety, the fear, and the constant feeling of never being good enough lead me to my ultimate purpose: to help people crush the fear & doubt that’s keeping them from building an #Extraordinary life.