Lewis Howes grew up depressed, functionally illiterate and headed -- he worried -- for jail, like an older brother.
Today he's on the U.S. Olympic handball team, has launched and sold a 7-figure business and is on a mission help 100 million people live their dreams.
Raised in Delaware, Ohio as the youngest of four, Howes, 31, says he struggled to gain attention in his family -- especially over the frequent arguments of his parents. "They met in college where they were both opera majors -- they wanted to be professional singers," says Howes today. Instead, they started a family at age 19 and Howes's dad worked three jobs, including laying concrete, and struggled financially for years until later in life when his father succeeded in the insurance business. "They weren't happy. They weren't making money doing what they loved," says Howes. "There were miserable times, and that tension in the house impacted us kids."
An older brother spent time in jail after selling drugs to an undercover police officer, and a sister struggled with alcoholism, Howes says. Howes suffered at school. He was placed in special education classes, but even so, school was torture. "When we would go around the room and take turns reading, I would sweat and get chills waiting for my turn. I couldn't really read -- I would mumble the whole time," he says. "I got made fun of a lot and I became really insecure about speaking in public."
Miserable at home and in the classroom, "a really tall, ugly, stupid child with acne who didn’t have any friends," Howes committed to athletics, focusing on football as his ticket out. But before that, a life-changing meeting changed his course.
Every summer Howes' parents sent their kids to a Christian summer camp, and one year Howes became friendly with a few kids who attended a boarding school in St. Louis. "Something about their energy really connected with me," he says. "They were so welcoming and interested in creativity and having fun -- not judgmental or gossipy. I immediately thought, 'This is the kind of energy I want to be around.'
"I was not happy in my small town, and I found myself being someone I didn't want to be -- stealing, lying and cheating, and not feeling good inside. I needed to make a change. I knew I couldn't end up in prison like my brother."
Upon returning home and relentlessly campaigning his parents, Howes attended the boarding school for 8th grade (where he tested at a 2nd grade reading level) and excelled at football. "I was never the biggest, fastest or strongest, or best athlete on any team I've been on. But I was always willing to sacrifice more pain to make the plays," Howes says today. " That was my gift: I was willing do whatever it took to make it happen. It came from feeling all alone as a kid -- I felt I had nothing to lose."
He eventually went on to play college, then play professional Arena League football, where, based in Huntsville, Ala., Howes earned $250 per week. "This was the bush league, and we played on a hockey rink covered in AstroTurf. If 20 people showed up, you felt like a God," he remembers. "There were these sponsors around the wall of the rink, and a chicken tender sponsor paid a $25 bonus if we got a touchdown, then ran and touched his poster."
When Howes broke his wrist in 2007, his bank account was also broke. He moved in with his sister in Ohio, went through rehab for 1.5 years and found himself with few professional job skills at the height of the 2008-2009 recession.
During this time, Howes -- depressed and aimless -- was watching the Beijing Olympics on TV and happened to catch coverage of the handball event. "I was mesmerized, but also pissed off -- I was pissed I'd never seen this before. But I thought: 'This could be my sport,'" he remembers.
Howes learned the best U.S. club was in New York City. "I decided right there I would make money so I could move to New York to practice with this team," he says. "But my time was running out -- I was already 25 years old."
Back at his sister's house, Howes spent hours every day on the Internet, learning to read better, watching videos on personal development, and trying to figure out a business model that would help him earn enough to move to New York to pursue handball. A mentor mentioned LinkedIn as a place to start he search, and was immediately mesmerized. He spent up to eight hours per day on LinkedIn, connecting with influencers, figuring out how to maximize the tool, and eventually launched a LinkedIn group for sports executives which grew to 10,000 members within a year.
This is what happened next:
Members started to contact me and tell me my group helped them land jobs and consulting gigs, others offered to pay me to coach them on using LinkedIn for business, and still others urged me to build a business based on what I knew about social media. I started hosting live mixers for those interested in these ideas, and through this contact I was invited to make a guest presentation on a webinar of social media giant Joe Comm. I realized I loved making public presentations, sharing what I knew. At the end of my presentation I mentioned my PayPal account and said they could sign up for advanced LinkedIn training the following week. When I opened my email the next day, it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen -- even more beautiful than any woman. There was $6,300 in my account. I felt like the richest person in the world.
From there Howes "became obsessed" with public speaking and creating digital educational materials. Together with a partner he created and sold webinars, ebooks and other online training materials, teaching people how to grow their careers through social media. Webinars were his tool of choice. Today he has held more than 750 webinars as selling tools, including teaching others how to leverage their power. Within the first 1.5 years, the company had grossed $1 million, and in the next 2 years, $2.5 million.
"By then I had finally moved into my own apartment in Columbus and was paying $495 per month in rent," he says. In 2012, Howes moved to New York (rent: $3,700) to play with a handball club there. "I'd never played before, and all the players were European professionals, laughing and talking about me in their languages," he recalls. Nine months later Howes was picked for the U.S. national handball team, and is currently training for the Olympics.
Two years ago, Howes sold his education company to his partner and launched his podcast, School of Greatness, which aims to help people make a living doing what they love. The podcast has been downloaded 5 million times and consistently ranks in the Top 5 on iTunes. This month Howes is launching Greatness Magazine on iTunes, and has signed with Rodale a book contract for a title based on the same concepts that have helped him find his own success.
Howes says his goal is to reach 100 million people - whether through podcast, articles, public speaking or his book. The goal is save people from being unhappy in their lives because they are unhappy in their careers - which Howes experienced first-hand as a child. "I believe if people are doing what they love, the world will be a better place."