“My goal is to rid the world of insecurity.”
Sean Stephenson said to me at the start of my 12-hour therapy session with him at his office in Scottsdale, Arizona.
And you could see by the look on his face that he meant it.
By the end of that day, Sean had broken me down and built me back up. It’s not hyperbolic to say that he changed my life and imparted lessons and insights that made me a better man.
If you’ve ever been to one of my workshops or retreats (or read my essays for more than a few months), you’ve heard me talk about Sean.
He was the best motivational speaker I’ve ever seen, the author of Get Off Your But, and a certified therapist with a heart of gold and insatiable desire to serve the world.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sean’s story, he was born with a rare condition called osteogenesis imperfect that made his bones as brittle and fragile as your average water glass.
Because of this disease, Sean suffered from more than 280 fractures and dozens of other medical complications that threatened his life.
But he didn’t let it hold him back.
He was playfully referred to as the “3-Foot Giant” and was a man who brought joy, laughter, and hope to the world–and made a massive dent in his big goal.
Unfortunately, last Thursday, the world lost one of its giants and Sean passed away unexpectedly.
“How did he die?” people will ask. But that’s the WRONG question.
“How did he live?” is the question to ask.
Sean lived life to the fullest – fuller than most able-bodied men and women. He made workout videos of himself madly cranking out pushups. He was happily married for years. He had a very, very dirty sense of humor – and knew how to use it.
Sean Stephenson loved life. He was the quintessential “Operator”.
The world will miss Sean sorely and it needs his message now more than ever.
But on the bright side, Sean left us with hard-earned wisdom on living a better life and becoming unstoppable… and now we need to apply it, shed our insecurities (as Sean so dearly wished), step into our greatness, carry on his bright shining light, and spread the love that Sean gave to the world.
And today, I want to share some of the most powerful lessons I learned from Sean (and a few other “Operators’) that will help you build your unstoppable mindset, live life more fully, and eradicate your insecurities.
Operators Focus on Their Identity… Not Their Goals
My favorite part of my day with Sean was when we took a break from the heavy mental lifting of the therapy session and kicked back in his office.
We ate some of Sean’s favorite cookies, watched YouTube clips of X-rated comedians (like I said, Sean had a very dirty sense of humor)…and then he showed me one of his favorite videos – a documentary on the Cuttlefish.
Cuttlefish are known as the chameleons of the sea.
They can alter their shape and color almost instantly to blend in with the environment and hide from predators.
It was a skill that Sean also mastered. If you were tempted to treat him differently because of his appearance or condition, Sean would dismantle your temptation within seconds. His intelligence, charisma, and humor would quickly convince you he was no different than you.
Sean was the perfect example of a person with a powerful self-image and rock solid identity.
He knew who he was and he didn’t let anything or anyone sway his views.
Sean also understood that it is your identity, not your goals that determine what you get out of life and this understanding was one of the foundations upon which he built his breakthrough sessions and therapy practice.
Now, let me make something clear.
I am a HUGE believer in goal setting (as was Sean).
A life without goals is a life of mediocrity. Goal setting is an important tool that allows you to move your life forward, measure your progress, and clearly determine what habits and processes are working or not working.
But you cannot achieve your goals until you change your identity.
Sean achieved a lot in his lifetime.
But those achievements never could have happened without his identity as an Operator.
If he’d adopted the identity that he was “disabled”, instead of seeing his disabilities as a gift, Sean never would have had such a massive impact.
If he believed what other people said about him and saw himself as less of a human because of his condition, his goals wouldn’t have mattered. Because he would not have had the self-belief to achieve them.
And the same principle holds true in your life.
You might set the goal to lose 30 lbs of body fat in the next 6 months. You diet, train hard, prioritize your recovery, and after the 6 months BOOM! You’ve lost the weight.
However, unless you experience a fundamental change in your identity and start to see yourself as a healthy person, the changes will be short lived.
As the next 6 months start to pass, you begin to overeat, skip workouts, and stay up late skimming social media instead of getting adequate rest.
Before you know it, you’ve gained all of the weight back and then some. You focused on changing an outcome (your body composition) instead of your identity (becoming a healthy person).
However, if you were to flip the script and focus all of your energy on building a rock solid identity as a healthy person – and slowly developing all of the habits that a healthy person has – you will slowly but surely begin to make progress until the weight loss takes care of itself.
When you change your identity first, the results tend to follow.
When you focus only on the results, you might achieve them for a little while, but you’ll eventually slip back into your old habits because you did not build an identity congruent with the outcomes you desire.
This is the first lesson you must learn to become a true Operator.
Rip Your Labels Off Like an Old Bandaid
I want you to do a quick exercise. I promise it won’t take long.
Pull out a sheet of paper, grab a pen, and write down ALL of the ways that you’ve labeled yourself over the past few years that aren’t serving you.
For example, you might say things like:
- “I’m always late.”
- “I’m not a reader.”
- “I’m not good at sales.”
- “I’m too busy to eat healthy and can’t lose weight.”
- “I’m not a good writer”
- “I’m an introvert”
- “I’m bad with money”
- “I’m not good with women/men”
Whatever labels and identities you’ve created for yourself that aren’t serving you, get them out of your head and write them down.
Don’t worry, I’ll wait…
… Are you finished? Great!
Now, I want you to take that piece of paper and fold it over 4 times. Got it?
Ok… Now tear that son of a bench into a million tiny pieces and throw it in the garbage can (or set it on fire if you’re feeling dangerous)
Everything that you just wrote down is b.s. fake news. They are the lies that you’ve conditioned yourself to believe and, as a result, live out in your daily life.
As you work to upgrade your identity, you must first learn to identify and eradicate the label lies that are preventing you from achieving success.
You cannot adopt a new identity until you shed the old labels. You cannot transform yourself (or your business or your health or your bank account) until your beliefs serve you and the identity you want to embody.
So start today.
Identify the lies you’ve been telling yourself (maybe for decades) and put in the work to destroy them.
Developing Your Operator Mindset and Bulletproof Identity
With his condition, Sean could easily have hidden away from the world, played small, and used his birth “defects” as an excuse for mediocrity.
He could have convinced himself that he: Could never have a normal life, could never exercise like other people, could never find love, and could never achieve what others achieved because of disease.
And frankly, no one would have blamed him.
But he didn’t…
Sean saw his condition as a gift to be leveraged, not an alibi for a half-lived life.
He was a best selling author, world-renowned speaker, millionaire coach, Ph.D., and all-around badass. And, most importantly, he was happily married to the woman of his dreams.
He inspired individuals like Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, and The 14th Dalai Lama.
Sean was the quintessential Operator.
He refused to allow any excuse or setback to hold him back or stop him from living the life he wanted.
He got the job done, no matter what. No excuses.
When compared to the adversity that Sean faced, ask yourself, “What’s my excuse?”
To an operator, there are no excuses. There is only the mission.
You show up every time on time and you get the job done, NO MATTER WHAT.
Take all of the excuses that you wrote down from the previous section and ask yourself a simple question.
“Has someone in my situation or worse achieved success despite their excuses?”
If the answer is “Yes” then your excuse is no longer valid.
If the answer is “No”, guess what? Your excuse is still invalid.
For an Operator, there is always a way to achieve the mission.
You might have to crawl through miles of enemy territory with a broken back, several gunshot wounds, and pieces of shrapnel stuck in your spine (much like the Lone Survivor Marcus Luttrell), but you WILL accomplish the mission no matter what.
If the door is shut, kick it in. If it won’t budge, blow it up. If that doesn’t work then dig under it, climb over it, or keep on bashing the darn thing until you get where you want to go.
Not because you feel like it. But because that’s who you are.
Say the Operator Code with me…
I am an OPERATOR.
I will get it done.
It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a morning person, aren’t good at networking, or don’t like sales.
You’ll get up and accomplish the mission because it’s who you are not just what you do.
Becoming an operator isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.
But the question still remains…
What are the tactical steps you can take to cultivate your operator mentality? What are the tangible action steps that you can use to start thinking, acting, and achieving like an operator?
Glad you asked.
How to Become an Operator in 3 (Not So Easy) Steps
Before the Operator Mindset becomes an automatic and unbreakable part of your identity as a high performer, you must first build the habits that reflect an operator mentality.
You need set-in-stone routines that eliminate the guesswork and help make your decision making automatic.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Start with Your Personal Rules
Although I didn’t learn this particular strategy from Sean (I believe it was first introduced to me from Stephen Pressfield’s “Warrior Ethos”), it is one of the foundational pillars of success and becoming a true operator.
Operator’s don’t like indecision. They make moves and they make them fast.
To help facilitate this speed and decisiveness, Operators will create a core set of rules and guidelines for their life to help make their decision making automatic.
Take the Ketogenic diet for example. When someone commits 100% to following the Ketogenic diet they don’t have to wonder whether or not they can eat that slice of cake or gorge on that delicious bagel.
They have strict rules that make their dietary decisions automatic. While this might sound restrictive, these personal rules will actually create more freedom than you’ve previously experienced.
When you don’t have to think about what to do or when to do it (especially when it comes to the big rocks) everything in your life becomes easier and you have more mental bandwidth to focus on the things that really matter.
To help get the ball rolling, here are a few examples of my personal rules.
- I wake up at 4 a.m. every day and go to bed by 8pm
- I plan my days the night before
- I do not swear or act rudely towards others
- I I do not check email or social early in the morning
These personal rules are the light that will guide you when the fog of war (aka resistance to doing the work) creeps into your life.
Start small with ONE rule and then slowly layer more and more boundaries into your life to help you accomplish the goals you’ve set for yourself.
It might not sound fun, but I promise it’s worth it.
(If you want to learn more about this topic, check out my last essay on the personal rules everyone must follow!)
2. Train the Body and Allow the Mind to Follow
Despite his “disabilities”, Sean understood the power of physical exercise and worked out on a regular basis. You can even see him on YouTube cranking out pushups like a bodybuilder.
Sean understood that one of the fastest ways to strengthen your mind, eliminate anxiety, and get over your insecurities is to first strengthen your body.
Whenever I start working with a new client, regardless of their income, their status, or their achievements, one of the first things I will ask them is:
“What does your physical training program look like?”
If they don’t have one, then it’s one of the first things that we address.
There is no pursuit I can think of to help you build your Operator Mindset faster than committing to a rigorous training program.
Even if you only have time to go to the gym three times a week (which is more than enough for most people), committing to an exercise routine will help you build the physical and mental toughness required to become an operator.
The strength that you gain from pushing yourself to do just one more rep when your muscles are begging for mercy will translate into the mental strength to truly embody the Operator mentality.
3. Commit to Your Family and Your Big “Why”
I’m going to make a confession…
I don’t like being disciplined. There, I said it.
Despite the fact that my clients have dubbed me as “The World’s Most Disciplined Man”, I hate waking up early, I don’t particularly enjoy denying myself the pleasure of sweet treats, and I occasionally miss ending my day by binge watching Netflix.
But I do what needs to be done anyways.
Because being an Operator isn’t about me. It’s about the lives of the people I impact and my future family.
Operators don’t put in the work because they want to be rich, famous, or externally successful.
They do it because they have a mission that is bigger than themselves, they have a compelling reason for getting up and doing the work day in and day out.
For Sean, that mission was to eliminate insecurity wherever he found it.
It wasn’t about him or his ego or his bank account. It was about selflessly serving others and making the world a better place.
But without that mission, he could not have created the unreal life he got he got to live.
So right now, let me ask you… Why must (not should, MUST) you become an Operator?
What’s really at stake here?
If you don’t show up and do the work each day, who is paying the price for your laziness?
Because I can promise that it isn’t just you.
Until you know exactly why you are doing what you’re doing, you’ll never be able to tap into the raw power of the Operator mindset. You’ll be a dabbler.
When things get hard and you want to quit, what will keep you pushing through?
Money, success, and fame are nice. But they aren’t enough.
You must have a compelling reason for why you are doing what you’re doing.
- Maybe you want to set a good example for your children and ensure that they have the life you never did as a child.
- Maybe your goal is to provide for your spouse so that they can retire from their soul sucking job and pursue their passions.
- Maybe you want to impact 1,000,000 lives, build schools all over the world, and help end hunger.
Whatever it is, write it down, put it in your wallet, and look at it daily.
This “why” will be the fuel that pushes you to excel when everything in your mind and body is screaming for you to stop.
When you shift your focus from yourself to others, you’ll no longer be tempted to hit snooze, skip the gym, or take a lazy day off of work. You’ll remain focused, energized, and charged up because you are serving a higher purpose.
Just look at the story of Desmond T. Doss (the only conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor). He went into enemy territory without a rifle and saved the lives of more than 75 of his brothers in arms.
He didn’t do it for a medal, for fame, or for recognition. He did it to serve his brothers and bring the men he cared about home.
So who are you doing this for? Why do you want to be an Operator? Who is counting on you to show up and put in the work?
Keep them in your mind at all times and commit right now to never let them down.
Alright, that’s it.
Take these lessons from the 3-foot giant and go execute, dominate, and finish your mission.
Then back off, recover, plan strategically, put structure in place, and go out and do it again.
The world needs you now more than ever, and action beats anxiety.
Please find that first step that you can take to move ahead today.
And that’s how you’ll find TRUE freedom in life.
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