Tony Robbins’ life is built around success.
His books are written about how to achieve it financially and personally. His business is built on the idea of helping other people get out of their own way. His life is optimized for it—a daily process that starts with visualization, jumping from a sauna into a freezing cold pool and doing intense workouts meant to exhaust him in a matter of minutes.
These are just some of the hundred little things that Robbins does every day—routines and mantras and habits he's developed—that keep him in peak condition to do what he does: Fly all over the world and offer advice to some of the most famous people in the world, speak to sold-out conferences where tickets command thousands and run more than 30 businesses. And he's been incredibly successful at it.
There may be people who don’t like Robbins’ brand, but there aren’t many people who wouldn’t say owning a private island is a mark that someone has made it.
Yet for all of the money that he has now, that’s not how Robbins defines success at all. In his mind it's simply about, “Doing what you want to do, when you want, where you want, with whom you want, as much as you want.”
He preaches too, that the quality of your life is based not on the quality of what you own, but the quality of your relationships. And the only way that Robbins is able to do whatever he wants in his own life is through that unique focus on other people.
Practicing What He Preaches
Robbins often tells entrepreneurs that their main concern should be finding a way to offer more value to their customers—and that's exactly the approach Robbins takes to the business of human improvement. Before he goes on stage, he repeats a mantra to himself: “I now command my subconscious mind to direct me in helping to help as many people as possible today to better their lives.” That mission is based on a journey that Robbins took himself as he pulled himself out of a childhood that had him destined for anywhere but success.
In life you need either inspiration or desperation.-Tony Robbins
When Robbins started the journey that transformed him from night-shift janitor to self-help millionaire, it was an exercise in self preservation. Robbins’ own childhood was painful, filled with abuse and financial struggle. The skills he developed were largely coping mechanisms.
But it was the experiences in those early years that gave him the inspiration to help other people improve their lives—a focus that has become not just the heart of Robbins's self-help business, but has inspired him to give back above and beyond his self-help business. He's made large contributions to charity, like his goal of helping to donate one billion meals to the hungry by 2025 with Feeding America.
That dream of feeding people—just like his desire to help people—came in response to what was going on in his life as a child. Robbins remembers having to go and ask neighbors for food so that he and his brother and sister could eat. But something happened on Thanksgiving Day in 1971 that changed his perspective forever—and first planted the seed for the success he became.
There was no food in the house again, and his parents were fighting, when out of nowhere a stranger knocked on the door and delivered enough groceries for a Thanksgiving feast. In that moment, all of the messages his parents had been telling him his whole life about nobody caring about anyone but themselves went out the window. Robbins made a conscious decision to pay back that generosity for the rest of his life. In return, it's given him more than he ever could have imagined.
Born Under Pressure
The Tony Robbins up until that point was a very different person from who he is today. He didn’t even have the same name. Robbins was born as Anthony J. Mahavoric, on Feb. 29, 1960 in North Hollywood, California. The last name he now has came from former semi-pro baseball player Jim Robbins who legally adopted Robbins when he was 12. But where adoption would be something most fatherless kids would see as a blessing, for Robbins it was just one more man in a rotating cast of stepfathers and men who came and went through his mother’s life.
Robbins' household was abusive, as a result of those men in his mother's life and his mother herself. She was an alcoholic and pill addict who he remembers beating his head into a wall until it bled and pouring soap down his throat until he was sick. It was learning to deal with her abuse in those early years that first taught Robbins a kind of practical psychology to try and manage what would set her off and figure out how to protect himself and his siblings.
When he was 17, however, his mother’s abuse would outstrip his ability to deal with it. In a particular bad mood one day, she chased him out of the house with a knife. Robbins left and never went back.
At 17 and without a home, he began looking for a way to support himself. His mother had wanted him to become a truck driver, which would have enabled him to make double what her husband did, but Robbins craved freedom.
Making His Own Path
He found it in a strange place. Working the night shift as a janitor—a job he took because he could do it from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Those long nights of menial work freed his mind up to think and work on improving himself, a journey he had already started, reading to build on the practical psychology he had developed in response to his mother. In middle school, Robbins took a speed-reading course and through his teenage years plowed through 700 self-help and psychology books and biographies, trying to teach him everything he could to help himself deal with his situation. In spite of the struggle he was in the middle of, he knew there was somewhere different he wanted to end up.
Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.-Tony Robbins
During those years when he built his mind, Robbins' entrepreneurial streak started to show itself too. One year when he failed to make the baseball team, he shifted to becoming a sportswriter. But rather than taking a course on how to do it, he started printing business cards that declared him as one and went straight into getting interviews. It worked. In spite of his youth and inexperience, he managed to score some of the biggest names in sports like Howard Cosell.
Through that experience, something shifted for Robbins. He started to see what was possible with hard work and he had the motor to put it in. He worked to develop himself in those years mentally, his personal growth mirrored by an incredible physical growth. Over the course of high school he grew 10 inches as a result of a pituitary tumor, rocketing him toward the 6’7” frame that he towers at today. And it didn't take long for that growth to manifest in other ways.
Committing to Excellence
He started selling music subscriptions door-to-door, and by 1978, the $40 a week he was making as a janitor looked like nothing. Using his powerful personality and persuasive skills, he was raking in $3,000 a month doing it.
But the path to his real potential wouldn’t click until he attended a seminar by motivational speaker Jim Rohn. “He taught me that if you want anything to change, you must change. And that the secret of life is working harder on myself than on the job, or a specific skill, or anything else. Jim taught me that as soon as I committed myself to excellence, I would really have something to give others.”
That experience was so profound that it changed the course of Robbins' life forever. He adopted Rohn as a mentor and started working even harder on improving himself. He put his sales skills to work for Rohn and, by the age of 19, was making $10,000 a month promoting his conferences.
Then, in his 20s, Robbins encountered another mentor, John Grinder, who taught him to study the successes of other people for clues to how they got there. Robbins already had a head-start from those 700 books he had read in his school years, but once he got the idea of imitating success to repeat it, everything seemed to click.
The Final Chapter
At the age of 25, Robbins took his first big step in imitation and did what the people he looked up to had: He wrote his own book. He took everything that he’d learned from his mentors on his personal quest for greatness and put it all together in Unlimited Power, a book which has become a lasting classic in the self-help world. Two year later, Robbins took it a step further, creating his first infomercial, selling his services as a personal coach. And as the years went on, Robbins continued to build, adding conference dates and more books, until he has what he's built today: an empire that has reached more than 50 million people with its training programs.
There are those who might look at Tony Robbins with the suspicion of a salesman. He’s too slick, the way he has quick answers for everything can’t be that simple. But the true value of Robbins’ story isn’t something you need to read any of his books to get or attend any of his conferences to learn. It's a simple idea learned by so many other self-made greats: that at the end of the day it's other people who make you a success. Edison knew it and focused on commercially successful products. Carnegie lived it by bringing those along who helped him become successful. But Tony Robbins' ability to find success not with an invention or product, but purely by helping other people, might be the best proof of all.