So often, we hear people share the shiny, successful parts of their journey and then ignore the "learning experiences." In this episode, Tony Lister shares some of the business and personal experiences that have shaped him. There have been some really "high" highs and some dark moments. He’s basically trying to convince us of two things: first, he’s actually created some legit stuff in his life, and second, he’s done some epic sabotage along the way! If you want to know what shaped him into the eccentric storyteller that he is, enjoy this trip down memory lane.
This particular episode is the origins episode. We talk about business. We're going to talk about relationships, sex, drugs, rock and roll, inner world, and getting into this outsourceable zone of flow. I wanted to talk about my background and how I got here. I'm at my parents’ house and we started this new business because our business was stolen from us from a family member. I have the opportunity to be next to the grade school where I grew up. There’s this door 6C, I was at Ms. Donovan's room. Ms. Donovan was my sixth-grade teacher and that is where my entrepreneurial career began. I noticed when I was a kid, I had a paper route. I used to have to cut across this schoolyard in the wee hours in the morning because it saved me a bunch of time when I was walking and I would buy bubblegum with my paper route money.
I would get to school and then the pretty girls would ask me if they could have some gum, then I would share it with them but then other kids were like, "Can I have some gum too?" Pretty soon I ran out of gum. I noticed that these kids' parents would give them $0.25 or $0.50 to buy popcorn at lunch. We didn't have the extra $0.25, but I noticed that I could buy this gum for $0.10 and sell a pack of it for $0.25. I started doing this and I sold the ten pack. The next day I reinvested my money and I sold the twenty pack. I reinvested that money again and I bought 40 packs and I sold all 40 packs. I reinvested that money and I bought 100 packs of gum. I remember I was so excited because finally I had enough inventory that I could start taking profits and I was making ten times selling gum when I made by doing my paper route. I make $1.50 or something, $1.75 a day on the paper route.
One day, it was successful. I was at lunch, I sold gum to every kid and the kids would bring extra money to buy gum. We get back in from recess and there are gum wrappers all over the place. It is covered with gum wrappers. The trash cans are full of gum wrappers. There's gum stuck everywhere, desks and on the chairs. Every kid in that class is smacking on a big old wad full of the big red cinnamon gum. They're all chomping away. Ms. Donovan walks into the room and her eyes were burning. There was so much cinnamon in the air. She's like, "Where's all this gum coming from?" Everybody points at me. She comes over and she opens up my desk. She opens up the tote and there are 100 packs of gum sitting there. That was my first lesson in government intervention but I became an entrepreneur more out of necessity than out of necessarily and say, "When I grow up, I'm going to be an entrepreneur." I was told that I needed to go to college to succeed.
My wife and I got married young, we fell in love and we're going to this private college. It was expensive and we had racked up a whole bunch of student loans. I couldn't afford to pay the student loans. I have time to go to college working like a normal college student job. I was forced into something else by thinking way outside the box. While I was in college, I started this mattress and furniture outlet. This particular episode is where I'm supposed to brag. I'm supposed to go, "I've made millions of dollars and I've traveled around the world. My relationships are amazing and my body is always healthy." All that BS. I have travelled into a lot of beautiful places, made millions of dollars and hell no my relationships are not always smooth, cohesive and easy, but sometimes they're really amazing. Sometimes my body feels great and I've had significant injuries that have handicapped me for extended periods of time.
I'm going to tell you some of the stuff I've done just to go, “I’ve done stuff.” There was a period of time in my life when I thought I had the Midas touch. I thought that everything I took on worked out and turned to gold. I had about a ten-year window where it felt nothing I touched would take off. I want to share it from these different perspectives. I started the mattress and furniture business. I opened up locations in several states and it was putting me, my brothers and my brother-in-law through college. September 11th, the terrorist attacks happened and we went out of business. After that, I started up doing real estate investing where I could talk people into giving me a contract on their house and then I'd go find somebody that had money and I get them to finance the house. I'd turn around, they'd sell the house for more and I fixed them up.
My business partner and I did 148 deals in a row and made money every deal. I thought for a while I was like, "I got it." I had a doozy where I swung for the fences, which has been a pattern of mine in my life. Sometimes I've made a lot of money and I've gone broke more times than I can count because I swing for the fences and I go all in so it doesn't work out. In the past, I didn't want to share that because I had so much shame around the financial failures. I wanted to do the whole shiny thing of like, "Look at my businesses, they're successful and look at all the money." There was a lot of shame around the failure. When I'd lost that money, I'm being hiding around that.
I ended up starting to teach real estate seminars and then had about 10,000 people go through our course and then I started to coach. I didn't even know what coaching was back then. Years ago, no one had heard of coaching other than a basketball coach. I started coaching people in their businesses, CEOs, athletes, artists and performers. Also, people that were doing big projects like being a stay at home mom, which is the hardest endeavor of investing in a human being that I've ever witnessed. I have five children. My wife and I have raised them. I don't know that I want to take any credit for it but it’s so much work. I did a bunch of coaching like 10,000 or 11,000 hours over the years. When the real estate market crash in 2008, I was wealthy but I was overextended. I completely got wiped out.
We started over from scratch. I jumped into internet marketing and started to create content and product. At the time I was a bit burned out on trying to make a buck, I'd spent a lot of years chasing the mighty dollar and I wanted to do something that felt more purpose-oriented. I dove in and created some online courses. One of them was an addiction recovery course. It was an online course and reach tens of thousands of people in 35-plus countries. That led into some other businesses. One of the media companies that I helped found, we had a reach of 100 million people in one week on social media and it’s our best week. It's interesting because I can tell that story in the typical fashion of, "Look how successful I am."
There's the other side of the story, which was in a very short period of time, there was a big change on Google and Facebook and that business went out. It's been this interesting ride as an entrepreneur. Within this space, I got hit by a drunk driver. I got a brain injury and I was unable to do public speaking for several years. I was unable to finish my sentences for a while. I'm dizzy for months and couldn't read, write or do math in my head anymore. I had about maybe 90 minutes a day that my mind was clear. I would lay in bed and coach from my back but I didn't tell people. I would work about 90 minutes and then I'd be dizzy the rest of the day. I just lay there and hope that my brain healed.
I did that for several months and it took me about four years to get better. It was in this space of coming off the brain injury and I was in a situation of a business challenge. Some of my business stuff has become really well. There have been other challenges like the one we're facing as a family, where business partners don't get along, things blow up and there are lots of lawyers involved. I'll paint the picture for you a little bit of I made my first million by the time I was 31 years old. By the time I was 33, I had collapsed it all and I went into this place of sabotage. I had several years where I could not get a business to take off very well. I couldn't get things to improve.
I went through this period of time where I was in total shame for having sabotaged my business. I'm like, "What is wrong with me? If I knew how to make all that money, build that business, and do those things, why was I living in poverty after having made millions?" There was so much shame around this. I'm stuck in this world. I was curious. I'm like, "What was the edge? What was the Midas touch? What was that magic that I had in my twenties that I couldn't seem to tap into in my 30s?" I searched and searched and I asked the universe for answers and I tried to find what was that thing. I found myself in a situation where I was coming off of a brain injury. We had gotten into a conflict with a business partner and we were in lawsuits. We were spending sometimes 2 to 3 hours a day yelling on the phone with attorneys. It's toxic. It was incredibly exhausting.
In that space, my wife says to me one day and maybe you have a partner in your life who's willing to say things to you that you deserve to hear. She says, "You're creating more of this." I'm like, "Do tell. What do you mean?" She says, "If you're holding this energy all day long of being pissed off and this toxic fighting in this chaos that's happening with these attorneys, then you're creating more of that." I started to contemplate that. Part of my process of coming out of the brain injuries, I started to follow a guy named Wim Hof and he teaches breathing methods. I could do this breathing and my brain would come back online. I started doing ice water submersion. I'd get into ice water and my brain would come back on for three hours. I was doing all these different things and I started to use some of these different tools and I'll teach you some of these tools throughout the show.
I started to get into this peak state and in a period of time where everything on the outside of me was in disarray, everything was chaotic and crashing. There were many threats and so much uncertainty. I'd raised about $1 million in this business from people that trust me. That was weighing heavily on me of being able to pay those people back and get them their money. It's so much pressure, and my brain was all messed up. I was like, "There’s so much coming at me from the outside." Through this process, these tools, and this getting into this flow state, I begin to connect with something in me that was quiet. I could find this quiet place within me. As I would show up in that quiet place, my business partner was like, "What's up? You're different. What's happening? What are you doing?" I'm like, "I'm doing some of these little processes in these steps." He goes, "Can we do that together?"
I start doing this with him in the morning and soon our manager is like, "What the hell is going on with you guys? You guys are freaked out before and now you're super calm and have things resolved." Pretty soon our manager and half of the company was getting on the phone every morning doing these processes together as the startup of our day. The business begins to shift because we shifted and things started to change. We would have this thing that we would do each morning where we'd go, "What are we creating today? What's happening in our world and space?" We would declare what it was we were manifesting. We're like, "I find the solution to this problem. We hit profitability. We do this and that." Within that space, the company transformed. We hit profitability. We were able to sell it. Everyone got paid back, everyone made their money. I got to call my investors and say, "Here are your profits. Here's your principal. Thank you for trusting me."
I attribute that to getting into the flow state. It was such a chaotic moment in my life but it was this answer that I had been searching for almost a decade. How can I tap into that energy and space to be able to manifest the things that I wanted? From that, I then started looking at my body and I was still having a lot of symptoms from the brain injury. That was the tough one for me to connect with what felt good. I started using these tools and these processes to connect more and more to wellbeing. My body and brain start healing. The hardest one of all was in my intimate relationships. I can only speak for myself. I don't know what your intimate relationships are like. For me, there are so much vulnerability, fear of rejection and guardedness in the space of my deepest, closest relationships.
There's a lot of trauma that comes up and I put my walls up quickly. My soul partner, my wife, we'd been together for a couple of decades. When I have been with someone for a long period of time, I begin to go, "This is how this person is. They're not going to change. I have all this evidence that this is how they are." I carried inside me this victim story and pattern that said, "I can't get what I want in this space." You're going to learn about this throughout these different episodes. I encourage you to explore what are your victim patterns where we get into these emotional patterns that keep us stuck and experiencing what we want to experience, what we want more of. Mine is big time, this one shows up for me often in my life is this space of getting emotionally stuck in going, "I can't have what I want."
It often shows up on a lot of beautiful things that are happening. A lot of great things are happening on the outside of me but inside it's like, "It's not quite good enough. It's not exactly how it ought to be." I get stuck in that energy. For me to envision and use the tools that I'm going to teach you. I'm not teaching you the tools on this because this one is about anything. I want you to get an idea of where I come from in this. I'll teach you the tools and programs that we'll make available for you in other episodes. I started to do these tools in the area of the relationship. That was by far the hardest because I had so much internal evidence around my victim story that couldn't transform the way I wanted it to.
I started to practice this and after a couple of months of practicing it in the area of my closest relationships, I started to have connected experiences that were deeply profound and beautiful. I didn't think that I could change it in that area. For me, the making money piece, once you figure out that the skills and the game of making money, it's predictable. Does it always work? No, but if you do the right thing in enough times, either your business isn't not working or you're not doing the right thing the right way. Making money is easy as far as the game goes. Our physical health, if we follow certain rules, it can be predictable. We can get predictable results. Can we always get exactly what we want? No, of course not. Can I make my hair stop turning gray? I haven't figured out that one yet. There are things that are going on, but we can make headway. We can improve those situations.
For me, the intimate relationships have been where there's another person involved. There's another human being that has a background, patterns, trauma, pain, and all the different things they have. It's not something that's as predictable but it felt miraculous to me to experience the connection that I didn't think was available. I want to make my little disclaimer here. When I got into the public eye and I started teaching seminars, producing product, doing all my marketing and all that stuff, I didn't understand it at the time of what was happening but I allowed myself to be put on a certain pedestal that I had my crap together.
I grew up in a family where facade maintenance was important. I was the fifth generation of a fundamentalist religious background and there were some beautiful things that were there around family and tribe. There were some incredibly toxic and deeply destructive trade teachings, modeling, and things that took place as well. It's been an interesting process of unraveling some of those toxic ideas, beliefs, and patterns. Within this, my grandmother had broken her back when she was about 38 years old. She had eight kids. The oldest was 15 or 16 years old and the youngest was 2 or 3. Back then, the remedy for a broken back was they would tie sandbags to someone's legs and drape the sandbags over the edge of the bed and the person would lay there and let their back get pulled straight. That was the best technology they had. They put her in traction, they tied the bags to her legs, gave her morphine, put her in bed, and she got hooked on the morphine. There was incredible chaos in their home growing up.
They had to get help from their church for food. It was funny, my granddad was a Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman. He would sell vacuums door-to-door and he was the best salesman in his entire region for Kirby vacuum cleaners. The owner of the company was going to come through the town where they lived and he wanted to meet him. It was this big honor, but their furniture was crap because they were so poor because of all the medical bills. They took all the money they had and they bought living room furniture with it. There's a beautiful living room furniture. The owner of the company swings through. He comes in, he visits him for 30 minutes, sits in the living room, shakes his hand, talks to him, gets up and leaves and then they didn't have any money for food, so then they had to get food from their church. To add to the facade, my granddad had co-signed on a Mustang convertible for one of his employees and then the guy bailed.
They had this beautiful Mustang and this beautiful furniture. On the front of the facade, everything looked great and behind it was chaos and a lot of trauma, some difficult situations happening. My uncle's job as a little boy was to take the cans of food that they got from their church and cut the labels off. He burned the labels so that no one could see that they were getting help from their church. That was the generational patterning of act like everything is fine. Coupling in with that, and this is the message I got, the religious background of like, "You have these certain ways that you should be and these certain ways, please God, please leaders or please somebody else. Those are the answers you should have, you should be and you should look." For me, all the thoughts I had seemed to be wrong. My thoughts about money, anger and sex seem to be wrong. Everything about who I was as being was the wrong way.
I learned how to BS, put on this façade and say the right answers and then I did a ton of personal development. There's a real toxic problem in personal development particularly among us teachers of personal development. It's this idea that to be a teacher, you have to have it all figured out, which is so contrary to the truth of the path of learning. The nature of the brain is that whenever we're at the cutting-edge of our life, it's going to be chaos. It's uncertainty. Our brain is going to create all kinds of resistance. For us to grow, we have to have parts of our life in chaos. This idea that the teacher is going to somehow have it together, if they're the teacher of the relationship then the relationships must always be happy. It's so contrary to the truth of relationships because to reach the deepest levels of intimacy, we have to tear down the facade. Tearing down the facade is a part of us dying. A part of us has to die for us to live at the next level. We have to tear down these beliefs and replace these beliefs. It's incredibly chaotic.
There's this problem among us teachers that we allow ourselves or we perpetuate pedestals that we somehow have the answers and we somehow have it together in all these areas of our life. It's not the way it is. For me, on my own journey, I'm saying it because I've done a lot of coaching for people that have big national platforms and I'm the coach behind the scenes for the crap show that happens in their life. This is all my long-winded way of saying, “This is my big old disclaimer.” I started teaching seminars and producing programs at age 27. I allowed myself to go into this pedestal and become more and more inauthentic and move further disconnected from myself and from others. I had to get away from it for several years to find myself. I decided if I ever came back into this, taught, trained and create a show and these types of things, I would only do it from a place that allows me to be on my path.
My big old disclaimer is I don't have this figured out. I do know how to get you into the flow state and how to help you manifest incredible synchronicities in your life over and over to create your own luck. I do not have it all figured out with money and relationships. I have almost nothing figured out with parenting even though I have five children. I figured out a few things in my body that are working for me, but when I was 27, I didn't have to exercise, I could eat anything that I wanted, and my body was in great shape. I remember that I was talking to somebody in their 50s and I was like, "Just do this and do that." They're like, "A-ha." At 27, I'm like, "What's their problem?" Maybe I just had genetics and young age on my side.
In saying all this, I'm going to show up in this space on my path and I'm going to share some stuff with you that's worked and go try it out. Go test it, sample it and see what works for you. If it works, use it. If it doesn't, let it go and move forward. This is where I'm coming from. I want to share with you these tools. I've been a fun, interesting, sometimes horrifically painful ride so far in my journey of being human. I'm excited and honored to share it with you. I'm going to jump into some of these topics on the next episode. In the meantime, create yourself a fantastic day.