Fear can be devastating.
On the other hand, as Erik Seversen discovered, it can be one of the most energizing forces around.
On today’s episode of the FlipMyFunnel podcast, Erik, the author of Ordinary to Extraordinary, shared how the lesson he learned while a gun was pointed straight at his head has helped him in business.
Here’s what we’re unpacking today:
- The four pillars of being extraordinary (belonging, storytelling, purpose, and transcendence)
- How having someone put a gun in your mouth puts everything into perspective
- How business lessons relate to teaching ESL
This blog post is based on episode 376 of the #FlipMyFunnel podcast. If you’d like to listen to the full episode, you can check it out here and below.
Ordinary to Extraordinary and the Four Pillars:
All of Erik’s life experiences, including having a machine gun in his face in Nigeria, turned into 42 written narratives about his life.
His agent said, “Wow, you and all your friends are going to love this.” Which isn’t a compliment.
So Erik reworked the book into what is now Ordinary to Extraordinary, a book about finding meaning in his life. Along the way, he learned that recognizing four pillars of meaning as described in Emily Esfahani Smith can turn a normal middle-class guy into someone who achieves dreams.
Everyone wants these things in life, as it turns out. They want them in marketing, too.
“If you get somebody to feel they belong to your group or club, they want to be part of that. They have meaning because they have a belonging,” Erik said.
“If you let someone tell their story as you’re marketing to them, they’re going to feel a lot more engaged when you’re telling your story,” he added.
Making connections and sharing stories gives purpose to a relationship, far beyond just a sales exchange. “They’re doing something beyond themselves suddenly,” Erik said. “Having a purpose beyond just good for them is an important ingredient in satisfaction in life.”
The Gun Story:
So Erik decided he wanted to go to Africa when he was 19. He mowed lawns for eight months, bought a ticket to London, and hitchhiked from England to Zaire (now the Congo).
Along the way, he found himself in a taxi at a border crossing. The taxi driver tried to speed through the checkpoint, and Erik was the one who got taken to be interrogated.
“It was gun to my head, dragging me into a hut,” Erik said. The border crossing guard yelled that Erik was a spy because of Erik’s incredibly bad, one-month-old ability to speak French.
“At one point he literally stuck the machine gun inside my mouth, where I can taste the gunpowder of the gun,” Erik said. “It was almost like an out-of-body experience where I see what’s happening, and I was frozen with fear.”
Erik was allowed to leave after he agreed to give the crossing guard his tent. Once Erik made it to Lagos, he had nowhere to go and couldn’t access his money at a bank because it was Sunday.
Another man in the taxi warned Erik the city was so dangerous that he would be dead by morning if he didn’t find a place to stay. He brought Erik to the house of one of his friends.
“I spent three beautiful, beautiful days in Lagos with this family that accepted me,” Erik said. “That was the first time I had this motto that I still live by: Things work out.”
Fast forward a month and a half, when Erik is on the edge of a panic attack before an interview. An inner voice reminded him that he had a gun in his face and lived. The interview wasn’t a big deal.
“I relaxed, went in, had a great interview, and got the job. That’s when I realized that fear is meant to give us these great qualities of faster, stronger, sharper in a time of crisis,” Erik said.
Fear doesn’t paralyze Erik anymore. It energizes him.
Business Lessons from the ESL Classroom:
After becoming a teacher overseas and in Los Angeles, Erik realized he needed to go into business in order to support his family.
He loved the change but realized something unusual: Nobody in education was using the wisdom of classical business formulas for success.
“I wanted to go back to where I was contributing directly again to the human, changing individual humans’ lives,” Erik said. “I knew I had to integrate all of these business skills into education.”
Erik started a language school based on principles of business. He views teaching English as a tool, not an end of itself. A successful school is one that allows an emotional connection between students and learning.
“Marketers have figured out that we need that emotional connection with our customer. If there isn’t that emotional connection, there’s not going to be a transaction,” he said.
Same in the classroom. “If English is thought of as a subject, you’ve already failed. English needs to be thought of as a tool,” Erik said.
Here are my two big takeaways from this podcast.
First, I’m going to go read Ordinary to Extraordinary to find out more about the Four Pillars. People want to belong to something, they want to remember stories–not data, not facts–but actual stories. They all want to have purpose in life, otherwise we feel like we aren’t fulfilling our potential.
Second, I’m completely inspired by Erik’s story of someone putting a gun in his mouth. To be able to see what kind of business lesson he learned about perspective gives us all the stark reality that we need to come to that realization, too. We have nothing that can stop is from achieving whatever we want to achieve. Anyone in a situation that makes them unhappy can remember Erik’s experience, take a giant deep breath, and let our fear become energizing.
A challenge from Erik:
As always, I asked Erik to challenge us with something we can do right now to carry us away from ordinary and towards extraordinary.
He gave us two.
Step #1: Make a list of all the things you’re working on. Put a little dash by the three most important ones. Make sure that you do something small towards achieving those every single day.
Step #2: Put a star next to the item on your list that scares you most. Then start with that one.