I asked the FBI agent if my brother was okay. What happened next changed our lives.
There is an audio version at the end.
The phone rang and woke me up. It was 4 am in the morning, but I still answered. It was an FBI agent. He said, “Ted, we found your brother and your family needs you right now.”
I asked the agent if my brother was okay. He didn’t answer and restated that I needed to get over to my parents’ house. I got dressed and got over their house as quickly as I could. That’s when I found out what had happened. That’s the exact moment when my world fell apart 20 years ago. And it’s taken me years to pull my life back together since that day.
But I did it. And I believe that no matter what you’ve been through, you can still find meaning and fulfillment in your life. But before I get to that, I want to tell you the rest of the story.
I was already having a tough time. I lost my biological mother in a car accident when I was 14—right before I started high school. Right after 9th grade started, I started getting into trouble.
I skipped class. I drank a lot of alcohol and did drugs. I was arrested several times. I did exercise regularly, but I was compelled to lift weights because I suffered from very low self-esteem and a profound sense of powerlessness. By some miracle, I made it through high school—albeit with less than stellar grades.
As soon as I started college (a local community college as that’s the only place that I could get into), things started to change for the better. Cooler teachers and the freedom to choose my educational path sparked something inside of me.
I was also living on my own and away from a bad situation with my dad and stepmother. My grades improved, and I started to like school for the first time.
I could see myself getting my Ph.D. in psychology or neuroscience, and then doing something great to help people live better lives.
Then, seven months after my 19th birthday, something happened that sent me down the darkest road I’ve ever been on. My nine-year-old brother disappeared.
And after a three-month search that included being interrogated by the FBI, having local and national media camped outside my house, and many sleepless nights, my family found out what had happened to him.
He was kidnaped, raped and murdered.
The details, which I won’t get into, were so dark that it became a story on the TV show FBI True Crime story.
My brother’s murder became national news. My parents met with two presidents and even went on Oprah to help protect other children from sexual predators.
But while my parents were off helping others, my world was falling apart. I was lost.
Everything that I had planned to do with my life slipped away. I got so depressed that I dropped out of school. It was too hard to deal with so much pain.
I couldn’t focus on my classes and homework after what I had just been through. And although I was a relatively healthy young man, I was dying on the inside.
I barely ate and started losing weight off my already skinny frame. Things continued to get worse for me until I hit rock bottom and had nowhere to go but up.
Thankfully, it only took a few years to come back from that dark place. Today, I can say that I’ve never been happier in my life.
I’m in pretty good health, and I have nothing but optimism about what the future holds for me. And I’ve turned my story of tragedy into one of triumph.
As I said before, I believe we all have the power to change our life for the better—no matter what adversity we have been through.
When I’ve shared my story in interviews, people always ask me how I got through it. What did I do? What steps did I take?
It took me a while to figure it out. It wasn’t like I was following some best-selling book with a five-step program to get over a family members murder. I figured this out on my own. So, I want to share with you three powerful things I did to turn my life around.
1. Moving beyond attachment.
The grieving and healing process is something that varies from person to person, but in my case, I felt that the anger and depression part went on too long.
And to be honest, the acceptance of the loss was one of the most difficult decisions that I made. But, it was the first step in creating a better life.
I had to accept that no matter how bad I didn’t want any of this to be true, there was no getting around the truth that this was, in fact, my life.
Acceptance of what I could not change had to happen first. The next step was to take charge of my life.
Not that anything was my fault, but whatever actions I took from here were my choice.
If I wanted a better life—a life filled with joy, adventure, and passion—I needed to take the right actions to create that for myself. I needed to make peace with my past, and no one else could do it for me.
2. Strong body, strong mind.
Part of taking responsibility for my life meant to get myself as healthy and strong as I could. What I often tell people is that your health and fitness is the foundation for success in every area of your life.
This is something that isn’t talked about enough by self-help gurus. You can say all the affirmations you want, but if you’re sleep deprived, eating too much junk food and under-exercised, you haven’t even earned the right to feel happy.
Sometimes, we wonder why it’s so hard to get out of a bad situation or even to get more clarity in certain situations. And, we forgot that is because you simply don’t have the energy or focus to do it.
I committed myself to regular exercise, better sleep and eating right. Although taking the right actions all the time wasn’t easy to do; I kept doing them until they became a habit. You must commit to your health.
3. Change your friends to change your life.
Many of us have heard the famous Jim Rohn quote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
When I interviewed high-performance coach Dan Pena, a man credited with creating $50 billion dollars for his mentees, he said, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”
Changing the people I spent time with has been one of the most important changes I’ve made in my life. That has improved my health and happiness, made me more money, and created opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed about before.
Because of all my new friends and friendly acquaintances, I’m now on a faster track to living the type of lifestyle I want and helping more people as I go along. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also research to back this up.
In his TED talk on the influence of our social networks, Nicholas Cristakis shares research that determined if our friends are obese, then we have a 45% chance that we will be obese, too. And even if your friend’s friends are obese, your chance of being obese is 25% higher. He also found that happiness is highly correlated with whom we choose to spend time with.
So there you have it. Three powerful steps you can take to put yourself on a path to a better life.
If you don’t think you can do it, know that I’m the living proof that you can. I wasn’t born with great genetics or any special talents. I simply found the things that improved my life and did them consistently.
Many people find it hard to believe that a person with so much tragedy in his life could turn it around and become successful. But the truth is that it happens all the time.
So, the next time that something happens to you, I want you to think about how you will deal with it. Will you choose to take control of your destiny and create a better life out of a bad situation?
Remember, you have the free will to do whatever you wish. But after making peace with what has happened, it’s time to move forward and live life to the fullest extent you can. We only live life once. I want you to make it count.
Photo: Flickr/ Kat N.L.M.