Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Brian Johnson Is Helping To Change Our World

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Unfortunately, most of us have been seduced by society to believe that fame, wealth, and hotness is where it’s at. But science is clear, we need to pursue the intrinsic motivators: becoming a better person, deepening relationships, and making a contribution to our community.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Johnson.

Brian Johnson is the Founder and CEO of Heroic Public Benefit Corporation. He’s 50% philosopher, 50% CEO, and 101% committed to helping create a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by the year 2051. As a Founder/CEO he’s raised $25M+, made crowdfunding history, and built and sold two social platforms. As a philosopher/teacher, he’s helped millions of people from around the world, trained 10,000+ Heroic Coaches from 100+ countries and created a protocol that science says changes lives. He lives in the country outside Austin, Texas, with his wife, Alexandra, and their two kids, Emerson and Eleanor.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Thank you for having me here today!

My childhood backstory goes something like this…

I was the youngest of 5. My mother got married at 17 to my father, who had just come out of the Navy. She had her first child at 18.

I was the fifth child, 13 years later.

I grew up in a very conservative Catholic family. We were blue collar, lower middle class — my father worked in a grocery store.

My father was a hard-working man who struggled with alcohol. His father struggled with alcohol as well, and ended his own life.

I like to say — and I can joke about it now — that I appear to have lost both the genetic and environmental lotteries with my male lineage.

On that note, I had my own struggles with anxiety and depression as a young boy and young man. Those experiences have fundamentally shaped my desire to help people move through pain and suffering and discover their ultimate potential.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

The very first self development book I ever read was by Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I read it while I was attending UCLA, and it fundamentally changed my life. It was the first time I was introduced to the idea that I could deliberately create a life of meaning, and it transformed me and catalyzed the life that I live.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know about a funny mistake, but over the process of the last 25 years I’ve learned just how important mistakes are.

I like to call them “mis-takes.”

Any time we fall short of our standards, or we make a mistake… It’s really a “mis-take.”

All we’ve gotta do is step up, try again, and have a growth mindset.

We need to know that in any scenario, we either win or we learn. And when we learn, we’re winning.

Therefore there really are no such things as “mistakes” because those become moments when we use that data to learn, and as a result, get better and better.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I hope that the book helps catalyze our movement with Heroic Public Benefit Corporation. I’ve dedicated my life to helping create a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by the year 2051.

Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential distills the essence of our Heroic app and Heroic Coach program — integrating ancient wisdom, modern science, and practical tools to help people move from theory to practice to mastery, together.

So we can each be the change we want to see. And in the process, change the world together.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

There are a number of stories that I personally found interesting. The one I probably found most interesting was related to how I decided to write a book that features 451 micro-chapters. These are 451 big ideas, any one of which I hope can change someone’s life. And in aggregate, I hope, can help activate their Heroic potential.

This story focused on my decision to overload with a ton of ideas. And it goes something like this…

Admiral William H. McRaven is one of my heroes. As a Four-Star Admiral, his final assignment was as Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces. (You may have seen his commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin called “Make Your Bed.”)

He’s written a number of great books. In his most recent book on leadership, The Wisdom from the Bullfrog, Admiral McRaven shares eighteen military aphorisms that have guided his life.

One of them is called “When in Doubt, Overload.”

When aspiring U.S. Navy SEALs want to see if they have what it takes to join one of the most elite military forces in history, they have to go through what’s known as BUD/S.

BUD/S is short for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.

Of course, that training is an extraordinarily challenging mental and physical trial. Only twenty percent of those who start finish.

Now… A little more context…

On June 6, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower led the invasion of Normandy that turned the tide of World War II.

According to the Eisenhower Library: “The invasion force included 7,000 ships and landing craft manned by over 195,000 naval personnel from eight allied countries. Almost 133,000 troops from the United States, the British Commonwealth, and their allies landed on D-Day.”

Now… Before the troops could get their three thousand landing craft on the five beaches of Normandy, you know who showed up in the darkness of the previous nights to clear the way?

Some of the very first U.S. Navy SEALs.

They were underwater demolition experts who found and destroyed the underwater barriers that had been set up to prevent that landing.

All of which leads us to McRaven’s sixteenth leadership principle from his great book and one more question…

You know what U.S. Navy SEALs are taught as they calculate how much explosives they need to use to blow up the underwater obstacles they’re tasked with destroying?

As McRaven puts it: Whenever they were in doubt about the amount of explosives to use, they were told to “always overload. Always put more energy, more focus, more power into the situation than seemed necessary. It was the only way to guarantee success in the face of uncertainty and doubt.”

That’s what I had in mind as I decided how I would structure this book.

I could have delivered a standard 200- to 300-page book with a few dozen (or even one hundred) potentially life-changing ideas. I decided to OVERLOAD and give you a 1,001+ page book with 451 potentially life-changing ideas.

I want readers to FEEL the explosive power of the ideas in this book as we get to work blowing up everything that may be in the way of us actualizing our potential so we can win the ultimate war between vice and virtue we are ALL waging all day every day.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

Over 20 years ago, I remember reading the book How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci in which Michael Gelb suggests that we do something called the “100 Questions” exercise. In which, you sit down and write 100 different questions that come into your mind.

Then he has you pull out the 10 most important questions from the list and rank order them from 1 to 10.

The questions I came up with on Saturday, June 8th, 2001 are literally the questions that are guiding my life today.

He also asked what he called a power question: “How can you get paid to do what you love to do?”

The answer was incredibly clear for me. I wanted to get paid to understand how to optimize my life, how to live a truly great and Heroic life in service to something bigger than myself, and get paid to help other people do the same.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We’ve been blessed to serve a broad range of people from some of the most elite military officers, athletes, coaches, and executives around the world.

But the stories that have always most moved me are those who found meaning and purpose in their lives through my work — some of whom were contemplating ending their own life, but decided not to as a result of the impact we made on them.

Nothing motivates me more than helping people go to the next level in their lives. But those who are struggling the most, who then find meaning and purpose, and find a way to give their best to the world, is my deepest motivation.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I think there’s one thing that any individual in our society can do, which is to live in integrity with their highest values.

That is the essence of my life’s work. I help people get clarity on who they are at their best, and then challenge them to be that best version of themselves more and more consistently.

When each of us do that and truly activate our Heroic potential, we can and will fundamentally and permanently change the world.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question of what leadership is, but I think in essence, a leader has done the hard work to get clarity on who they are and what they’re here to do.

They set a clear vision for what’s possible for themselves, their organization, and they create a clear strategy to bring that vision to fruition.

But most importantly, I think a leader is a radiant exemplar. A leader has activated their Heroic potential and their moral charisma. Their soul force is their greatest gift to the world, their team, their community, and the world.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

The first thing I wish someone told me when I was in the depths of despair, struggling to find meaning and purpose in my life, was that I was not alone.

I had a story that it was just me. I was the only one who was experiencing the challenges I was experiencing. That’s why today I am so transparent with the challenges I’ve faced and continue to face in my life, and think that understanding our common humanity is essential.

The second thing I wish someone had told me was the importance of dominating my basic fundamentals: eating, moving, sleeping, breathing, and focusing. Our physiology drives way more of our psychology than I was ever told. And I wish I learned that earlier in my life.

The third thing I wish someone taught me was that I had been seduced to play the wrong game in life.

This is Objective I in our book, and in our coaching program. We teach people that the ultimate game in life is all about showing up as our best, most Heroic selves — in service to something bigger than ourselves.

Unfortunately, most of us have been seduced by society to believe that fame, wealth, and hotness is where it’s at. But science is clear, we need to pursue the intrinsic motivators: becoming a better person, deepening relationships, and making a contribution to our community.

The fourth thing I wish someone had taught me, that my coach Phil Stutz taught me a few years ago, is what he calls emotional stamina — which I now call antifragile confidence.

I wish someone had taught me that the worse I feel the more committed I need to be to my protocol. Since I’ve adopted that, my life has fundamentally changed.

The fifth thing I wish someone taught me is that I am the hero the world has been waiting for, and, by extension, that YOU, reader, are the hero we have been waiting for.

We need you to forge strength for two so that you can show up as your best. Together we can make a significant difference in the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If I had to summarize my entire philosophy in one sentence. It would be Abraham Maslow’s admonition, “What one can be one must be.”

Abraham Maslow, of course, studied the self-actualizing individual and created the hierarchy of needs.

I’m deeply moved by the idea that once one attains a certain level of development, the need to actualize our potential is as fundamental as our need to breathe. I call that “soul oxygen.”

Helping people actualize their potential is the ultimate purpose of all of my life’s work. Again, “What one can be, one must be.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Yes! The person with whom I’d like to have a private conversation (ideally while on a walk on the trail on my property) is whoever is reading this right now!

Every single thing I do is for YOU. You are the Hero we’ve been waiting for.

It’s time to move from theory to practice to mastery together today.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The easiest way to find us is to go to You can also find Heroic: The Training Platform in the Apple and Android App Stores. And of course you can find Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential wherever you buy your favorite books.

Really enjoyed our chat. Thank you!

As I like to say, it’s Day 1. We’re all in. Let’s go, heroes!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Brian Johnson Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.