How to Find the Courage to Take that First Step

It was 9:30am on a Wednesday. And I was sitting in a bathroom stall in an office building in Ottawa writing Communist slogans on the toilet paper.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a Communist by any possible stretch of the imagination. I was doing this in an effort to stay sane. Working as a temp in a government office where not a single person bothered to learn my name was starting to get me down, and drastic measures were called for.

And so each morning on my break I stuck a felt tipped marker in my back pocket and went to the toilet. I rolled down the paper and wrote things like “Power to the People!” or “The Party is Always Right”. And then I rolled it back up again.

I spent the rest of my mornings unfastening endless piles of research grant applications and putting them into a different order, because the applicants hadn’t followed the directions. I was grateful for the money, of course. But it was mind numbingly boring.

Whenever I began to feel my soul draining out of me, I pictured some guy in the bathroom peeling off a strip of toilet paper and finding one of those slogans. His first reaction was likely to be, “What the….?” quickly followed by, “Why…?” And then hopefully he’d start laughing like he hadn’t laughed in years. I wanted to bring a little sunshine into that otherwise grey world.

I hated that job. I hated every job I ever had. I woke up swearing every morning. I swore in the shower and I muttered profanity under my breath all the way to work. I felt useless because the work I was doing had no meaning. I wasn’t drawing on my talents. I wasn’t making the world a better place. And I felt trapped because the pay I earned was barely enough to live on, and I didn’t have any savings.

I wanted to write, and I knew my words would add value to other people’s lives. But I couldn’t see a way to make enough money to survive at it.

I finally reached a point where that didn’t matter anymore. I couldn’t imagine a more miserable life than the one I was already in. And so I vowed to make a living by doing what I loved — or starve to death trying. And I meant it in every fiber of my being.

When the contract ended, I asked the temp agency to remove my name from their list. And that was the last actual “job” I ever had.

Since then I’ve met an awful lot of people who feel trapped by the miserable circumstances of their lives. They’re completely unhappy. But when I ask them why they don’t change, they say they’re afraid to take the first step.

Well I’ll let you in on a secret…

You don’t need courage to take that first step. You just need to focus on two things: hate and desperation.

You already know that I hated my old job so much that even the worst failure was better than going back to that office. But where does “desperation” come in?

Fast forward to a couple years later. I was earning a little money from my writing, but we were still living on my wife’s salary as a translator in the automotive industry.

Payment for freelance work was irregular at best, and I needed money to pay some bills. Badly. By the middle of next week. And I had no idea how I was going to get it.

I had no one to borrow from. I didn’t have a job. And I wasn’t expecting checks from any magazine publishers either — not that you can ever count on “Check’s in the mail” from them!

What did I do? I drew on everything I learned in my 20+ years of martial arts training. It was the only other thing I could consider myself a legitimate “expert” in. I drove over to Future Shop and bought a mini-DV video camera and some editing software with my credit card. Then I sat down with a paper and pencil and wrote a list of every crazy push up variation I could think of. I got on the floor and made up a bunch of new ones too.

I filmed it all as a 25-minute tutorial, named it Beyond Pushups, uploaded it to a website called E-Junkie, and linked it to my PayPal account. And then I posted a teaser and description of my program on a fitness forum where I was a certified coach, and I emailed the link to everyone I knew.

I set the price at $10. My wife didn’t think I’d even be able to pay for the camera. She gave me a smug look and said, “And then what are you going to do?”

I plugged my ears and went to bed. And when I woke up the next morning, I had $1,000 in my PayPal account. I paid off the camera and software immediately, and still made a nice little profit.

I ended up filming several more of those downloadable tutorials in the following months. One on ab exercise variations, one on ankle strength, and one on mobility drills using a stick. My audience loved them. Each one sold better than the previous installment, and always for $10.

People would write to me and say, “Why are you giving this away for so little? You could easily make it into a full DVD!”

But I didn’t raise the price. I over delivered and built loyalty and trust with my audience instead. And six months later, I coauthored a larger online product with a friend. We called it Bodyweight Exercise Revolution and it made $10,000 in its first month.

Fast forward again — this time by 3 or 4 years. That coauthored program evolved into a business partnership. Adam Steer and I created and sold many more online fitness programs through a site called And today we’ve got a seven figure business called Shapeshifter Media, where we help other new authors publish their work in the online fitness niche.

So yeah, that’s what I tell people when they ask me, “How do you get the courage to take that first step?”

In my experience you need two things:

1)    Hate: you have to hate where you are right now so much that staying the same is far worse than the discomfort it’ll take you to change.

2)    Desperation: sometimes you have to back yourself into a corner so you’re forced to come up with creative solutions.

I hated my job so much that staying there was worse than the risk of trying to live my dream and starving to death. And I needed that moment of desperation — having bills to pay but no money to pay them with — to free up my imagination so it could find a creative solution.

But thankfully you don’t have to do anything dumb to get that desperation. There’s no need to go into massive debt, or poke a lion with a stick. It can be something as simple as setting a really tight deadline. Or buying a one-way ticket to a place you’re scared to travel.

Try it today. Rig the game in your favor and commit to your goal in public. You’ll be amazed at the creative solutions you come up with.

And don’t sweat it too much if you hate your current circumstances with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I hated mine too. Transform that energy into positive momentum instead.

Tell us what first step you are ready to take.

[Ed. Note: Ryan Murdock is the author of Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams. When not helping people find their own brand of personal freedom, Ryan travels the world’s marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. He recently released his first travel book, called Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America.]
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  • Trxie

    Ryan, You needed hate, desperation and a wife who worked. Without the wife, you wouldn’t have had a chance.

  • Runner50

    The first sep, I ma going to take towards increasing my cash flow is learn about copy writing. Providing me with the ability to enhance the value of products being marketed through print. The vehicle of the print is not important. newspaper, online, direct mail.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Well done!

    • Ryan Murdock

      You’re in the right place, Runner50. ETR is packed with great information that’ll help you. The editor Craig Ballantyne was a huge help to us in the early days of our online business. Read everything he writes, and follow it to the letter.

  • Maria

    Awesome Article! My first step is to create a plan I follow everyday. And making it simple. I tend to make things difficult so my thing is to make it simple.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Yes Maria, great attitude!

    • Ryan Murdock

      Thanks Maria, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Check out my reply to Carmen above – that earlier article I wrote for ETR on Deadlines and Accountability will help.

  • Carmen

    I am taking the copywriting course from AWAI and want to write about healthy living or/and travel writing. I have a hard time to focus and work on it everyday because I get distracted about reading my emails on health info. So I need to focus if I want to finish this course. I have no excuse, I am retired.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Stay strong Carmen, and attack your work first thing in the morning!

    • Ryan Murdock

      Carmen, I’ve been there too, and I understand how hard it can be to stay focused, especially when life gets in the way. I wrote a previous ETR article that will help

  • Mary

    I’m checking out Shape Shifters Media right now. I have some ideas I could develop and need some help. Thanks

  • Ryan Murdock

    Trxie, I completely agree. I’m very grateful for the support she gave me during those years. And I’m pleased to report that the tables have now turned, and I’m able to support her as she pursues her passion of photography. You can see some of her work if you search for Tomoko Goto

    • jdavis

      And what do we do when we are single without said support? I thought about just filing bankruptcy, quitting my job, and starting over. Anybody got a place I can crash?

  • Tom Schweickert

    Hey Ryan – I think I bought your stick-fiting product an age ago. That was a two-element set called “Secrets of Stick Fighting,” yes? Hey, that’s a good product! All the best –

    • Ryan Murdock

      Tom, yeah, those were part of the series. Glad you found them helpful 🙂

  • Okwuoma Efobi

    The situations you described are exactly what i am going through now , which i insist must change.I currently have some books ready for publication and even and some info products I know will sell.The real snag is I dont have the cash,not to talk of a website. I need a mentor.I desire to get out of this rut.

  • Christy

    I disagree. Without someone supporting him, he still would have done well – it just would have taken longer. The article says that he didn’t start with high costs. He increased his costs as he went. If he had to work, he just would have worked on it at night. I also imagine they lived frugally which most of us r unwilling to do. If you’re committed, you’re committed.

  • Ryan…Looks like terrible jobs that we hated served both of us. That “Bodyweight Exercise Revolution” affiliate promotion back in 2009, was the first big affiliate promotion I ever made to my list. I remember almost running out of money right before you guys launched it. Saved my butt!

    • ttcert

      Rusty, always great to hear from you! Congratulations on your success. Hope you are living large!

      • Life is good Craig! Spent the past year mastering paid advertising and funnel development, etc.