The business world is filled with rags-to-riches stories. It's amazing, really – folks who are faced with unbeatable odds manage to start from the bottom and work their way up. George Soros escaped the Nazis. John Paul DeJoria ran a business from his car. Oprah Winfrey was a victim of childhood sexual assault.
But what about the people who start out with riches and end up in rags? We hear less of those stories coming out of the woodwork – possibly because they aren't considered as dramatic, or as sympathetic – but I find these stories equally incredible.
The truth is, many of us are dealt an amazing hand as children. Maybe we've got loving and supporting parents, or our school provides a great education. We may be born into a family with money and power, or we might have a natural talent for a certain skill.
No matter where we’ve come from, though, we can’t be sure of the future; there are only a few degrees of separation between those who have it all and those who have nothing. And sometimes, we find ourselves in a rut we could never have imagined.
Today's newsletter is about Zeke Pike, a guy who truly knows what it's like to fall from riches and wear his rags. More importantly, though, he's been able to rebuild and become even more successful than he was before.
So today, I’m simply going to tell Zeke’s story. I want you to know that there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – you can’t bounce back from. Let’s dive in.
It's people like Zeke Pike who remind me why I freaking love my job. I think sometimes we forget what humans are capable of. Mainstream news slams us with our failures – but in the people I interview each week, I'm able to dwell on our successes instead. It's awesome.
For anyone who hasn't seen his podcast episode yet, Zeke started out as an NFL superstar when he was super young. His dad was in NFL, so it was a natural career path. His family were supportive, he had an amazing talent for NFL, and the stage was all set for Zeke to go professional.
And go professional he did. At just 16 years old, Zeke was considered among the best of the best. It didn't take long for the offers to come flooding in; anywhere he wanted to go, he'd have a full scholarship waiting. In other words – he was living the absolute dream.
The Downhill Spiral
For anyone who grew up as a naturally gifted kid, you'll know that the blessing comes with an unbearable curse: pressure to perform. And not just from your coach, but from your parents, your friends, and even strangers.
It's a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders – and for some, it leads to a downward spiral. That's exactly what happened to Zeke.
“For me, it started in high school. I just started wanting to fit in with the normal crowd and live this fantasy life of partying on the weekend."
This is a really sympathetic situation; no matter how cool it is to be the best at something, you'll always wish for a 'normal' life that more people can share in and relate to. For Zeke, this lasted throughout high school and well into his college years.
"Being a high-level athlete, I needed to have boundaries. And I didn't always have balance and boundaries. And that's what kind of destroyed me," Zeke shared.
From Five Stars to Five DUIs
When you're the best at something from a very young age, it's hard not to end up with a massive ego. For a while, Zeke struggled to rein his in.
“My ego was the one thing that really destroyed me in life at a young age. I was able to get through it in high school because there wasn't as much publicity, but I got exposed when I went to college. No matter how good you are, you're easily able to be exposed – especially in today's age.”
“Alcohol was really what took me... I got myself in trouble. I got a public intoxication. And by the time I got back to my dorm room, the next morning, it was on ESPN: ‘Five-star Freshman Quarterback Zeke Pike, Arrested.’”
Yikes. Imagine everything you've worked so hard for – your career, your reputation, everything – gone in a single night. And in his time as an NFL player, Zeke scored not one, but five DUIs.
“It really continued to spiral downhill for me; the negative publicity. I hated it. And I didn't know how to handle it.”
A Tragic Turn of Events
Quick trigger warning: this next part of the story talks about topics like death, depression, suicide, and incarceration, so please be kind to yourself and skip ahead if you're sensitive to any of those topics.
Things got heavy at this point in our conversation. I was in awe of Zeke's willingness to share, as well as his total and unflinching honesty.
“I dated a girl for a little bit of time who ended up passing away while I was dating her. So many things kept happening; I got a DUI, and then when I made these mistakes, I was exposed. I didn't want that. So I went to a dark, dark place where I was super depressed.”
What a nightmarish experience. Sadly, things continued to spiral out of control.
“I didn't know if I was supposed to play football. I didn't know if I was supposed to get a job. I didn't know if I was even supposed to be alive. And so I kept searching my whole life for something to fulfill me; I thought I found that in alcohol or drugs or partying or women.”
The first major blow came when Zeke decided to quit football; the career that seemed so obvious to him at first now felt totally impossible. I know some of you will be able to relate to that feeling.
“I was always searching for something more, because I was never comfortable with who I was. Then in 2016, I was done with football. The biggest coaches in the world were begging me to come play for them, but it got to the point where they were like, “We're not touching you. We don't want anything to do with you.””
It was an intense and cruel depression that drove Zeke into the woods one night, ready and willing to end his life before things could get any worse.
“I got three chances. I had opportunities. I self-sabotaged my entire career. It got to the point where I had a gun to my head, and I was gonna end my life.”
Life Had Other Plans
As it turned out, God (or the Universe, or whoever you believe in) had other plans for Zeke.
“I look in my rearview mirror, and there's red and blue flashing lights, and I get pulled over. And it was like some something greater than myself came and said stop, man.’”
And so began Zeke's time behind bars – a humbling experience, but a crucial turning point (and a total slap in the face.)
“I spent the next 364 days in jail because of what was found in the car. It was scary – but I was still alive. And it was in those moments in that cell that I found who I was. I realized that I'm okay with Zeke.”
What I found so fascinating about this story is that Zeke didn't immediately recover from his suicide attempt and win his old life back. He did his time. He waited, and in that time, he took the opportunity to do the hard work and heal his wounds.
“Not only did I find who I was, but I came to really have a relationship with God. Call it what you want, but I really believe God saved me on that night, because I was fully prepared to die. And I’ve never gone back to that place.”
After getting out of jail, Zeke had gone through a total transformation of mind and spirit. He'd essentially been sentenced to a year of deep inner work, and boy, did it pay off.
The opportunities started flowing in almost immediately.
“I got an opportunity to speak as soon as I got out of jail; I talked to the entire school. And I realized that God had something for me that was even greater than football. I started speaking – probably spoke at like 250-300 schools, high schools, middle schools, universities all across the country.”
Not only did Zeke tap into his new talent for speaking, but he also decided to give NFL another shot.
“I just felt like there was more here for me, and I still thought it was football. I trained really hard for like 18 months straight – really, really hard. I was in the best shape of my life, and I finally got an opportunity with the Indianapolis Colts."
Unfortunately, the opportunity fell through – but Zeke decided that it was time to explore other career options, and eventually, his determination led him into ecommerce.
Within a matter of a year, Zeke’s stores were producing seven figures. He decided to start a business and help investors create passive income streams, and in a matter of months, Zeke quickly scaled EZ Ecomm to seven figures just from investor enrolment fees with his total store sales totalling over eight figures.
“I had some things happen as a child that were unfair to me. We all have faced things in our life. But when I was down, my dad raised me to always get back up," Zeke shared with me. And that's exactly what he's done.
We humans are storytellers. Our strongest religious and longest-held traditions have all been passed to us via story. When we need motivation, we listen to a podcast from someone successful. When a friend is upset, we relate to them by sharing our own experiences of overcoming adversity.
Stories give us hope; it's one of the biggest reasons for my podcast's existence, and it's why I was so keen to share Zeke's story with you all.
Because I know for a fact that starting out with excellent odds in life is never a guarantee of happiness or success. It's just not. Life throws curveballs at everyone. Shit happens.
But what we can learn from a riches-to-rags-to-riches story (yes, I'm officially coining that) is a reminder of what you and I – and all people – are capable of. We can literally come back from the brink of suicide and take the gun away from our temple. Not only that, but we can turn around and become more successful than our younger selves could have ever imagined.
"You can do this. And it's not going to happen tomorrow, or even next week, or next month, or probably next year. But keep taking one step at a time. Just take action.”
I know today's newsletter has been a little more story-based than usual, but I hope you enjoyed something different. I especially hope it’s provided some comfort for those in a tough spot.
Thanks for reading, as always! And take care of yourselves.
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