The story that drove Leonard to ditch the act
Who is Leonard Kim?
Leonard Kim is the coauthor of Ditch the Act: Reveal the Surprising Power of the Real You for Greater Success. In his book, Leonard reveals the seven-step brand process, which teaches readers how to own and expose who they truly are, form meaningful relationships that move the needle and ultimately, uncover the greatness that already exists from within, to stack success. Actions include:
- Crafting a unique bio and creating an “Exposure Résumé”
- Writing out stories and thought leadership insights based on the Exposure Résumé
- Extracting key content pieces to turn into video scripts for posting, sharing, and embedding in existing content
- Fostering camaraderie in new relationships
Leonard is recognized by Forbes as a Top Marketing Influencer, Inc. Magazine as a Top Digital Marketer and Top Youth Marketer and by Entrepreneur as a Top Personal Branding Expert. Adweek recognized him as one of their Socially Strong Entrepreneurs Every VC Should Be Following. He went from being almost homeless to becoming a personal branding expert whose content has been read over 10 million times. He has amassed a social media following of well over 500,000 people. He’s been featured in a huge list of publications, including Mashable, Inc, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fortune and more.
Leonard is managing partner of InfluenceTree. At InfluenceTree, Leonard and his team teach you how to build your brand, get featured in publications and growth hack your social media following.
I grew up in a loving home with my grandparents. For the longest time, I thought they were my parents. My grandfather showed me love every opportunity he could, from taking me out on bike rides to stopping at the local McDonald’s for a happy meal. On the other hand, my grandmother reprimanded me for everything I did wrong and sometimes would spank me for my wrongdoings.
Life was great, until the first day I had to go to school. When I was being dropped off by my grandparents, I couldn’t stop crying. I never wanted to leave their side. Not even for a few hours.
I made friends and had all the fun a child could have, until I met my first bout with racism. Another student came up to me and slanted his eyes. I think I tried attacking him, but poor little me couldn’t harm a fly.
I spent most of my youth doing all the things that I loved, from playing video games, riding my bike and failing miserably while trying to skate. The most memorable moments were the time I spent with my grandfather, Robert L. Landis. He led his life by wearing his heart on his sleeve, giving to everyone without expecting a single thing in return. My inspiration.
Unfortunately, when I was in high school at John F. Kennedy High School in La Palma, my grandfather had his leg amputated. Shortly after that, I lost him to Alzheimer’s.
I didn’t know how to react, so I lashed out; trying to forget all about him. My grandmother became so fed up with my behavior that she sent me to live with my mother.
While I was living with my mom, the twin towers were hit on 9/11. Our country went to war and the economy collapsed. My mom lost her business and along with it, everything we owned. After that all we could afford to eat were daily meals of rice, egg and soy sauce. Losing everything became something I became quite familiar with, at multiple phases of my life.
As my mom tried to rebuild what we had lost, I did some soul searching. I had a conversation with future Leonard and told him I never wanted him or his family to ever experience this kind of poverty ever again.
The Beginning of my Career
Years went by like seconds on a ticking clock and in 2005, my mom eventually moved to Hawaii. Only, she left me stuck with the car payments and rent. At the time, I was working at Macy’s selling women’s shoes so I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough. With no idea how to pay all of these bills, I asked my friends what they were doing to earn money. It turned out one of them was selling cars at Toyota and earning $4,000 a month. I was shocked. That seemed like all the money in the world at the time.
I got an interview and soon after, I landed the job.
My start wasn’t exactly glamorous. The first two months, I was eating popcorn out of a machine because I had no idea how to sell cars. Selling high heel pumps is one thing, pitching an automobile is something completely different. And while eating popcorn may sound like a dream job, it wasn’t earning me the commissions to pay the bills. But by the third month, I cracked the code and figured it out.
Was This It?
From there, I thought life would be great. I’d have money, a wife by my side and most of all, the power to create the life of my dreams.
But it didn’t happen that way. I was chasing the American dream and had everything I could have ever wanted. But something was terribly wrong. Instead of feeling on top of the world, I felt empty inside. So empty that I turned to destructive behavior to fill the void. I ended up chasing away the woman of my dreams and when I lost her I tried to compensate by going for more. Remember when I thought $4,000 was all the money in the world? By that time, I was making six figures and I felt like it wasn’t enough. I wanted more.
The Heartbreak of Chasing the American Dream
So in 2007, I spent half a decade chasing dream after dream. First it was real estate, then finance at an investment fund, then startups in the lead generation and entertainment space. I was constantly chasing, trying to strike it rich. But like a bad slot machine, each pull of the lever ended up losing and I was left empty handed. And that Lamborghini that I wanted at the center of the casino? The harder I chased after it, the more that velvet rope kept me away from it.
Companies went bankrupt, checks bounced and like a bad movie cliche, I was showering in the dark because I couldn’t pay my electric bill and was eventually evicted from my home.
You know you’re at your lowest point when all you can think of is to call your mom and tell her you’re going to live under a bridge. Well that’s what I did. She called my grandma, who to my surprise, took me in. But there’s only so many months you can sit on the couch, playing video games and feeling sorry for yourself, before your grandma starts yelling at you to get a job. So, I did just that, but that company was going nowhere too, so I borrowed a few hundred dollars from a friend, moved back to LA, slept on a sofa and got an entry level job at a Fortune 100 company.
The New Objective
A fresh start. I decided I was to work my way up from the bottom to the top and become a director. With renewed energy, I mapped it all out: I would earn six figures and live out a 40/40/40 plan: 40 hours a week for 40 years of my life to retire on 40 percent of my income… Yay…
Two years in, I outperformed everyone in my department. But despite that I was never once promoted. I was earning $16.24 an hour. That’s the only thing that stayed constant – the money coming in. My rent, health insurance and even food prices, all the costs of living went up – the money going out. I couldn’t afford to drive to work and had to stop eating lunch for an entire year.
When I ReAssessed my Life
As if that wasn’t enough, I came to some pretty hard truths. As I watched myself from the outside like a bad reality TV show, I realized I would never amount to anything in life. In December 2011, I almost decided to end it all but didn’t go through with it. Then in February, 2012, I broke my ankle which is when I finally decided to rethink my life. Think about that for a moment. I actually had to break a bone so I could understand certain hard truths like where you are today is exactly where you’re supposed to be. This was a big bitter pill to swallow. I had to accept that all of my choices led me to where I was. And where was I? I was nowhere with nothing going for me. I had a piss poor reputation and I didn’t really have any friends. I certainly didn’t have any money. I was struggling and nothing was really working for me. While I could blame any number of things, circumstances or people, at the end of the day, I had to accept that I was here, at my lowest of the low, because of the decisions I had made.
Why I Couldn't Succeed
Looking back, I realize I had two problems in my life.
In the early years, it was naivete mixed with arrogance, or what I call “narrogance.” Narrogance is where people are so sure of themselves but lack the wisdom of the world, so they end up getting scammed, taken advantage of and ridiculed. My narrogance came from losing my grandfather to alzheimer’s and a lack of understanding how to deal with it.
In the later years, I had some big fears: a fear of trying again, a fear of failing. Then later, a fear of success combined with impostor syndrome.
In life, it’s easy to feel afraid. Even to this day, I feel afraid every single day. You may be thinking, wait, why should you be afraid when you’re successful? Let me share this with you: anyone who tells you that success isn’t scary either doesn’t have any or is narrogant. Success can be just as scary as failure. Am I going to bomb that radio interview I was booked for? Will I choke at that speaking engagement? Should I really reveal this much of myself in this piece that’s going on a publication?
Like I said, it’s one big bitter pill.
What I Did to Overcome Failure
BUT… once I swallowed that pill, I could finally start to piece my life together like a big puzzle. How? By rebuilding it from scratch. I discovered two things.
- I put obstacles to block my own path to success.
- My grandfather wanted me to be a person who would do more and be more.
So how did I rebuild? I began writing. A year later, I took the next step and published my writing in public forums. Within half a year, I had 2 million reads on my content. Crazy right? But it didn’t stop there. Within 1.5 years I had 10 million reads and within 2.5 years, I had over 100,000 social media followers AND then within 3 years, I had over 250,000 followers and features in some of the most prestigious publications today.
If you asked me back in 2013 when I started writing if I ever thought this would happen, I would have said you were either joking or smoking something. I might have even asked you for a hit of it.
But it did happen. And my life turned from being an upside down pineapple bundt cake to a right side up red velvet cupcake.
The Reasons for Failure
Want to know why?
I learned by hitting rock bottom several times over that you don’t achieve success simply by chasing goals: whether it’s $1 million, 1 million views, or that shiny new Lamborghini. When you do that, you fail and fail repeatedly.
- You’re always distracted
- You’re always looking 20 or 100 steps ahead
- You’re constantly chasing something that’s too far off over and over and over again
The Changes You Need to Make
So what did I do to change all of this?
I duplicated the habits of successful people who knew how to be present. Once I did this, success came my way and I no longer had to chase it.
More importantly, I learned that to overcome fear, you must do one of two things:
- If you fear failure (or success), get rid of expectations and think of action steps (or creating habits) instead. In other words, the end result is a distraction. Stop chasing results and focus about the actions at hand.
When I got rid of my expectations and just started writing out of passion, my entire life transformed and success (network, credibility, income, etc.) came to me without the chase.
- If you fear how others will judge you, understand that it’s not a reason to stop but a reason to execute. This kind of fear means you’re onto something great. Why? Because it means you have something that a wide audience can relate to. When I had this kind of fear, the reactions ended up being the *exact opposite* of what I expected. This is how I was able to reshape my life from constant failure to ‘public figure’.
How to Do It
Want to know how?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Success is like baking a cake. A bakery that has an amazing chocolate cake will know how to replicate it each time they sell one. How? By following a recipe. And just like with cake, there’s a recipe you can follow for success. It may sound hard to believe but not only have I followed that recipe but so have my business partner and several clients I’ve worked with. And guess what. They all experienced the same results: a great gooey chocolate cake called success.
Your Next Steps
Want to know what’s next?
I want to teach you how to do the same, to stop chasing and have success follow you. Imagine living a great life and not just wishing for one. Why do I want to do this? I can’t bask in success all by myself. It’s a little lonely up here. And here’s the good news: success is closer than you ever imagined. How do I know? Because you’re reading this right now.
Let’s reshape your future the way I did mine. Let’s bake your cake of happiness, joy and success. Your future self is hungry and counting on you.