I stood on the platform, a chill in the air. I blew into my hands to warm them, watching a stream of people leave the train.
Nope, not him.
Ah, there he is.
Approaching with a wide smile and a week’s worth of stubble, he dropped his bag on the floor in front of me. I held out my hand, expecting a standard shake.
“No,” he said. “I’m a hugger.” He pushed my hand aside, wrapping his arms around me.
This was the first time I met AJ Leon. I had interviewed him for my book and we had spoken on the phone, but this was the first time we stood face-to-face.
I flinched a little. I am not a hugger. I struggle with human contact at the best of times, let alone on a first encounter. But I went with it, and I’m glad I did. For this was the first life lesson AJ taught me…
Hugs are okay.
Inspiring Life Lessons From a Nomadic Vagabond.
I write this because I consider AJ one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. He has a way with words and an aura that seems to glow from him.
He started life on Wall Street, a corner-office guy with money on his mind. One promotion followed another, and he lived the high-life. Literally, both his apartment and office were high up in the sky.
Yet on the eve of his wedding, he did something remarkable.
His boss stood before him, offering yet another promotion.
But this one was different, because this was the sort of salary you don’t escape from. Lots of numbers, but with it, a lifetime of commitment. No turning back. If he said yes, this was his life… forever.
Except, he wasn’t sure if this was the life he wanted. In fact, he was sure it wasn’t. So despite the obvious answer being yes, and the fact everyone expected him to say it, he didn’t.
He said no.
He turned it down.
He flipped his life upside down, and began an incredible journey that he continues today.
Inspiring Life Lesson #1: Say NO, Especially When it’s Hard
Later that evening, I interviewed AJ as part of a small local event I organised.
In the middle of a global book tour that took him to various countries, towns and cities, I invited AJ and his wife, Melissa to my own. In front of a small yet compelled gathering, I asked him about his life today compared to way back when.
I couldn’t understand how he had said no, a few days before his wedding.
Not only did he say no to that promotion, but turned his back on the career he had spent years building. Why? How? What were the size of this guy’s balls?
This is one of the biggest, inspiring life lessons I’ve learned from AJ. To say no, especially when it’s hard.
He told me in a later conversation, how much of life is binary.
Yes or no.
Do or don’t.
Fight or flea.
It’s in these moments you learn who you truly are. Life’s decisions aren’t meant to be easy, but you must make them regardless. It’s not about the easy answer. It’s not about the one other people want for you.
It’s about the right answer; the one YOU need to make.
Oftentimes, the right one is no. Yet I, like so many others, struggle with no. Because “no” brings fear and the worry of ‘what if it doesn’t turn out okay?’
It doesn’t matter. If you need to say no, you need to say it.
AJ taught me this, and the life he’s built since has shown me how powerful that tiny word can be.
Inspiring Life Lesson #2: Create Your Own Path
Today, AJ heads up Studio Misfit. It’s hard to say what they do, because they do a great deal.
In essence, they’re a creative agency. But they are unlike any agency you’re likely to come across.
There’s a reason for this, and it comes back to something AJ likes to say:
“Don’t Follow Well Lit Paths; Grab a Machete and Hack Your Own.”
This is the next big, inspiring life lesson AJ has given me: to create my own path, no matter what.
Often, we look for permission from other people. We seek shortcuts and blueprints. We gaze at other people and try to replicate what they do and how they do it.
But does this really work?
At best, you become a clone of someone else.
And if this is the best case scenario, is it really what you want…
I imagine not, but it’s hard. It comes back to fear, which is an emotion we all have; AJ included.
Not long ago, I visited AJ in Stratford Upon Avon, for a new book I’m working on. As a huge fan of Shakespeare, this town is AJ’s Mecca. It’s also where he and Mel visited shortly after he quit his job.
They had nothing, and had to hustle for work, food and a roof over their head.
Yet he told me how amazing that period in life was. Not just in hindsight, as he looks back with fond memories. But at the time; a time full of smiles and happy faces.
Because despite the fear and the unknown, he was finally on a path he had created. They would work on their terms, and turn Studio Misfit into the agency they want it to be. No compromise.
No scratching the surface…
Inspiring Life Lesson #3: Go a Mile Deep
“Go deep,” he said to me. “I would rather go a mile deep with forty people, than an inch deep with a million.”
In a nutshell, this sums up Studio Misfit, and AJ as a person.
They don’t care about scale and huge growth.
He doesn’t care about fame or fortune.
What AJ cares about is, significance.
He wants the work he does to be significant. He wants to feel significant. He wants the impact they have on other people to be… significant
You cannot achieve this if you go an inch deep with those you serve. Be it inside your business, at home with your family or as you wine and dine with friends.
Try to be everything to everybody and you will become nothing to nobody.
But commit to being something to someone, and you’ll become all you need.
I’ve experienced this first hand with AJ. Be it an email or in-person chat, he’s invested in you. He listens. He’s there, all in. This means he has to say no to a lot of things and a lot of people, but when he says yes it’s a HELL YES!
This is how you create an impact.
This is how you leave an impact.
We all have that choice: to be a pebble that scratches the surface, or a meteorite that wipes out the dinosaurs. AJ inspired me to follow the latter, and there’s no time like the present.
Inspiring Life Lesson #4: Don’t Wait. Get on with it!
The pub grew darker, as evening set in. We had spoken about a lot during my time in Shakespeare’s hometown, and I had gotten everything I needed for my book. We would soon go our separate ways, but first he had one final nugget of wisdom for me.
“Don’t wait… this is what I would tell your lead character in the book. The fact he’s having those thoughts and asking those questions, proves he knows what to do. So, don’t wait. Get on with it.”
We all have dreams. We all have a life inside our head that we intend to live, some day.
But as Gillian Welch sang, “I wanna do right, but not right now.”
It’s easier to put things off until tomorrow or sometime in the future. It’s easy to say you have a dream, but to then commit to it and live it… that’s hard.
That requires action. That requires you to face your fear and do what you need to do.
Yet, this is all that really matters. This is how we measure our life, when we reach the end of it.
What have I done?
Not, what did I plan to do…
This is why we cannot wait, because this life we have is finite. You’re closer to the end of it, simply by reading this article. Will it end in a month, a year or fifty years? You do not know, and that’s the point.
Life isn’t a game. It’s life; your life. You only get one, so do not sit on thoughts and dreams you know you have to do. If it feels right, do it. Do it now. Do not wait.
Thank You, AJ, For These Inspiring Life Lessons
When I say AJ is one of the most inspiring people I’ve met, I mean it.
He’s a good guy. A kind, interesting guy. But he’s just a guy, like anyone else.
Yet he’s one that lives life like too few do. I find myself slipping from this, more times than I’d like to admit to. But when I do, I think of people like AJ. I think of the inspiring life lessons they’ve given me.
I think about who I am and what I want.
- Say NO, Especially When it’s Hard.
- Create Your Own Path.
- Go a Mile Deep.
- Don’t Wait. Get on with it!
Who knows what these inspiring life lessons will lead to. You get no guarantees in this life, but I do believe following the above will at least set you free.
Give you the freedom to live the life you want.
Give you the purpose to do something significant.
** AJ appears in my latest book, a parable about what it means to go a mile deep, escape the hustle and build a life that truly means something. If you want to learn more about it and dive into AJ’s Inspiring Life Lessons, click here ==>