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The Story Behind Mr. Positive

Before Jon Gordon became Mr. Positive, he had a crisis of faith that changed his life—for the better.

How his crisis of faith helped him become a positive thinker

I teach people how to be positive.

If that sounds like a great job, well, it is.

These days I’m a pretty positive person, but sometimes I can tell what people are thinking, Of course this guy’s optimistic. He’s got no problems.

Wrong! I have challenges just like everyone else. And I remember a day, only eight years ago, when they nearly overwhelmed me.

I was in sales for a dot.com startup. I’d been working 12 hours a day for the past six months on a big account. That day I hoped against hope the deal would close.

I got to the office on the second floor of my house a little after 7:00 a.m., right after my morning jog. Breakfast—two waffles and OJ—sat next to my computer. No time to eat with the family this morning.

I needed to make something big happen, something that would really blow away my boss, Keith, in Atlanta. And still, deep inside, I worried it wouldn’t be enough.

On the corner of the desk was a photo of my wife, Kathryn, and the kids. The little guy, Cole, had just turned one. His sister, Jade, was three. We’d recently moved from Atlanta to Jacksonville to be near the beach.

One day I’d get out to the beach with them. But that would have to wait. Right now I had to get some cash flow.

“Right now” seemed to have become my mantra. I was haunted by the thought that if I took my foot off the gas for even a minute my whole world would fall apart.

Twelve-hour days wore on me, but it was all going to pay off—big time. And I was leaving nothing to chance. In a month I was opening a restaurant, a burrito place. If it did well, I planned to open multiple franchises.

“Once the restaurant gets hot, I’ll quit sales and spend time with you and the kids,” I had promised Kathryn.

I started lining up my calls for the day. Then around 8:00 a.m. the phone rang. “Jon, it’s Keith.” The boss’s voice sounded a little odd.

“Hey, what’s up,” I answered. “How are things in Hotlanta?”

“Hold on, Jon,” he said. “Someone from HR’s joining us on the line.”

“HR? Keith, what’s going on?”

“As you know, things have been slow for some time,” he said. He sounded like he was reading from a script. “There’s no easy way to say this. Jon, we’re letting you go…effective today. It has nothing to do with your performance. We’re laying off most of the sales team.”

It felt like the room was spinning. Laid off? We only had a few hundred dollars in our bank account. We’d sunk everything into the house when we’d moved and then maxed out a home equity loan to launch the restaurant.

This can’t be happening. I’m going to lose the house. Everything. Focus. Take control of the conversation.

“Keith, you can’t do this to me!” I shouted into the phone. But he’d already hung up.

I slumped in my chair. This office was the center of my universe—where I made things happen. What am I going to do? I’ve got to call him back, show him he’s made a mistake.

Frantically, I clicked through my upcoming appointments. I had some huge proposals coming up—like the one today. That alone was a game changer. I just needed to tell my boss.

Picking up the phone, I noticed the monthly sales reports on my desk. Then it hit me. I hadn’t made a sale in a month. I’d made some great presentations, but prospects kept putting me off. I mean, look how long I’d been pitching that big account.

Outside the office I heard my daughter running down the hall. “Yahooo!” she shrieked.

“Be quiet,” my wife said. “Daddy’s working.”

Omigosh! What am I going to tell Kathryn? I’ve gotta have a plan—some way to get us out of this mess.

Lately, it seemed to me like Kathryn wasn’t supporting me in my work, telling me to take a night off, saying things would work out. “I don’t even recognize you anymore,” she said one night. “You’re so distracted, so wound up.”

What did she expect? I’d told her I was going to have to put in long hours. She just didn’t understand about sales—how it was all on me. It was always all on me. And I had never felt as alone as I did now.

I scrolled through my contacts. C’mon, Jon. Think! There must be someone you know. Someone you can call. Someone you’ve met.

The only person I could think of was this guy I’d talked to at the gym a few days ago. He’d invited me to some kind of men’s prayer breakfast, said it always got his week off to a great start. I’d kind of blown him off. No time for that. Now I had nothing but time. But I didn’t even know how to pray. What would that guy say to God at a time like this?

I believed in God, though Kathryn was much better than I was at trusting her faith. But believing in God certainly didn’t stop me from worrying. Someone needed to worry. Someone needed to take charge. That’s what I was good at, taking care of all the little details, staying in control.

Until now. All my hard work and everything was falling apart. I couldn’t even take care of my family.

I was shivering, like I was freezing, yet sweat was running down my face. The room began to spin again. Suddenly, I found myself sliding out of the chair, falling to my knees, burying my face in the carpet.

“God,” I cried, “I don’t know if you’re listening. I’ve never asked anyone for anything, but I need your help. Please provide for me and my family, and I will do your work. I need you.”

For what seemed like forever I lay there on the carpet. The house was dead silent. The only thing I could hear was a slight hum coming from the computer. Funny what you can hear when you finally shut out the noise in your mind.

I felt like I was floating. Maybe this was how it felt to relax, to let go. I couldn’t remember. I hadn’t relaxed in months. Make that years. And I don’t mean just physically. My mind relaxed. The anxiety that had constricted my thinking suddenly loosened, and it felt wonderful and new.

For all those years, fear was really what motivated me, not ambition. I’d always thought I needed it to push me harder. Now, my worst fear had come true. And all my worrying and frantic work hadn’t stopped it. Maybe I needed to put my trust in someone other than me. Right then a feeling of calm and security swept over me, like someone had covered my shivering body with a warm blanket. It was a feeling I’d never experienced before, a sense of peace I hadn’t known was possible. Could I really stop being afraid?

I slowly got to my feet. Then I remembered—I had to tell Kathryn I’d lost my job.

I found her in the kitchen, doing the breakfast dishes. “Honey,” I said, “I just lost my job. They laid off most of the sales team.”

She dropped the dishrag and rushed over to me. “Oh, Jon, you must feel awful. But things will work out, I’m sure of it. We have to have faith that God will take care of us. We’ve still got the restaurant. We can make it happen if we work together.”

Kathryn and I poured everything into that restaurant opening. For the first time in our marriage we were true partners. I even took care of Cole and Jade while she designed our flyers. We printed them and hand-delivered them all over town.

Amid all the craziness, I made time to pray. I still wasn’t sure what I was doing, but it felt good to take my worries to someone else.

A week after the doors opened we broke even, an incredible accomplishment. That evening I thanked God for his blessings. “I know I don’t deserve it,” I said. “I know I have a long way to go. But I just wanted to say thanks for helping me, for showing me I’m not alone.” Then I spent some time, like I did each night now, just listening, the most amazing experience of all. How had I ever expected to hear God when I never stopped to listen?

The next morning over breakfast with Kathryn and the kids—my most important appointment of the day—I said, “You know what we should do this afternoon? Let’s go to the beach, all four of us.”

“But what about the restaurant?” Kathryn said.

For a moment I felt a twinge of doubt. Our bank account was dwindling. All it would take was a couple of bad nights to put us under. And there was so much work to do. I had to take care of those vendor negotiations…

“It’ll survive for a few hours without us,” I heard myself say. “C’mon. Don’t we have some old sand pails lying around somewhere?”

“Jon, I don’t know who you are anymore,” Kathryn said. But this time she was smiling. And for the first time in a long time I could recognize myself.

Soon I was able to get a consulting job that carried us until the fifth month. We were literally down to a few cents in our bank account, all lines of credit maxed out, when it happened—our restaurant turned a profit.

Trust had paid off, just as Kathryn said it would. Eventually we sold the restaurant and I embarked on my current career—as an author, speaker and consultant. I work with schools, corporations and NFL coaches to develop positive, engaged people and teams.

There are a lot of people out there like me, motivated by fear rather than trust. By using the example of my life, I show them how the former can be overcome by the latter.

And that most of all, you never have to face your problems alone.

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