Johannes Atlas: Believe You Are Enough #56

Warwick Fairfax

February 16, 2021

He was born with Poland’s Syndrome, a rare disease that left his right hand malformed and his muscle development non-existent. But Johannes Atlas was also born to parents who, as he puts it, “refused to baby him.” Their support led him to overcoming his physical challenges on a variety of sporting fields and his emotional challenges by believing — as him mom and dad told him often — he was “enough.” Coming under the tutelage of business mentors as a young adult and inspired by his faith, Atlas has launched a growing speaking career and is encouraging others to overcome their own crucibles en route to a life of significance through his Pressing Toward the Mark events.

 

To learn more about Johannes Atlas, visit www.instagram.com/jo_speaks

To learn more about Crucible Leadership, visit www.crucibleleadership.com

Highlights

  • The challenges — and blessings — of Poland’s Syndrome (3:11)
  • Discovering confidence through finance and leadership education (5:04)
  • How his parents not babying him helped him overcome the challenges of his disability (6:47)
  • How sports helped him build confidence on and off the field (12:01)
  • When his faith grew (16:03)
  • How being the “playground mediator” helped him (17:01)
  • Why it’s more rewarding to focus on helping others than worrying about your own challenges (18:57)
  • The power of realizing “I can do something” after you’ve been through a crucible of failure (22:36)
  • Surviving the high school years (24:44)
  • How getting involved with his hometown chamber of commerce brought him new confidence (26:00)
  • His work with the Pressing Toward the Mark conference (29:29)
  • Coming to believe he is “enough” (32:41)
  • How to keep crucibles from defining you (41:17)
  • Key episode takeaways (42:38)

Transcript

Warwick F:
Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Johannes A:
My dad is very wise, just a lot of wisdom. I mean, he has a lot of insight that he shares with me, just things that blow my mind at times. And so yeah, and just how they raised me and everything. They really just normalized it, and really gave me that how-can-I attitude because in that I had to figure it out how I can do this. And so, I think that was something that my dad really helped me with. Super grateful for it today because I mean, it’s made all the difference. And not even just for me physically, but in business, in self development, in just a lot of areas. I then asked myself, “Okay, well, how can I do this?” And so, it’s transferred from physically, how can I do this, to how can I in my emotions, in my career, in my relationships. And so, it’s given me a figure-it-out mentality.

Gary S:
A figure-it-out mentality. There may not be a better phrase to describe the mindset we need to overcome the crucibles we encounter on our journeys through life. That’s what today’s guest, Johannes Atlas, has discovered as he’s navigated through life being born with a rare disability known as Poland syndrome, which left him with physical abnormalities affecting his right hand that caused some emotional challenges he spent decades sorting out.

Gary S:
Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, the co-host of the show and the communications director for Crucible Leadership. Johannes, he goes by Joe, explains to Warwick that he’s found his footing thanks to the wisdom of mentors, and the belief that Poland syndrome or not, he is enough. It’s a message he shares these days through his public speaking and his Pressing Toward The Mark events.

Warwick F:
Well Joe, thank you so much for being here. Really appreciate it. It’s funny, you were telling us off-air just about the origin of your full name, Johannes. I want you to just tell our listeners, I think it’s a pretty neat story about your dad and his thinking.

Johannes A:
So yeah, my dad, he made me Johannes. He actually comes from Johannesburg in South Africa. And it translates to King. And so yeah, he really liked the name. He actually wanted to name me Johannes Charleston Atlas, would have been the full thing, but then my mom threw in Patrick. So, it’s Johannes Patrick Charleston Atlas.

Warwick F:
There you go.

Gary S:
Wow. That’s a name of royalty right there, young man.

Johannes A:
Thank you. I appreciate that.

Warwick F:
And I have a feeling, as we’ll get into later, when you think of king it probably has more than one meaning. That’s a spiritual meaning, and an earthly meaning. As a person of faith, that’s pretty cool to have a reminder in your name, every day it’s like okay, I know who my king is, right?

Johannes A:
Right, right.

Warwick F:
So, that is so cool. So, now you grew up in California, did you?

Johannes A:
Yes, California.

Warwick F:
Right. And you’re there at the moment?

Johannes A:
Yes.

Warwick F:
Okay. So yeah, just tell us a bit about growing up, about your family and background, and just tell us a bit about Joe Atlas, and as you grew up.

Johannes A:
Yeah. So, I was born with Poland syndrome, so you can see the difference on my hand. For people who might just be listening, to give you an idea my right hand will literally fit in the palm of my left hand. So, one thing that I’m grateful for growing up in regards to my parents, is that they never babied me. They never gave me any special attention, they just treated me like normal. And on top of that I played a number of sports growing up, so I played baseball, basketball, football, tennis, Muay Thai. And in playing all these sports it allowed me to figure it out. And that’s the thing I’m most grateful for was the mentality that it gave me as to figure it out, because there was certain things, and not even just in sports, but there was just everyday life things that I wouldn’t be able to do like everyday individuals would.

Johannes A:
I would have to figure it out in my own kind of way. And so, I didn’t really become conscious about my hand until about high school. And so, of course in high school everybody wants to fit in and be cool, and so because I wanted to fit in and be cool ideally this thing wasn’t cool to me. So yeah, that’s where I would hide my hand in my pocket, I mean, on a regular basis. Unless I was doing something where I needed both of my hands, my hand was always in my pocket just to hide from the circumstances or from situations from being teased and being made fun of, I just hid my hand in my pocket all the time.

Johannes A:
And so, in those moments was when I … Was when the baggage for me, my emotional baggage was really started, unconsciously. I didn’t really know that what was happening, but it wasn’t until some years later, I’ll get into that. But so, after high school was when I would really want to … I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and really just grow as a person, because I felt … I was feeling stuck, a little bit, and I felt that me, hiding my hand in my pocket, it was becoming a problem. And so, I got involved with this finance firm and it was … Though we taught about finance, it was more like a leadership and self-development course. And so, super grateful for that as well. And within that, it was a lot of teaching you to believe in yourself. And so, within that, between that and …

Johannes A:
I grew up in church, and then at a certain point I started speaking at church as well, was where I’d actually gotten the desire to want to become a motivational speaker. And so, I remember the Sunday too, where just during Sunday … Excuse me. During church on Sunday, there we go. So, you know how we have … There’s altar call at end of service.

Warwick F:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Johannes A:
And so, during altar call it was breaking my heart to see Sunday after Sunday people coming up and getting prayed for. But I mean, just some of those are just the most macho-y men coming up and crying, and just to see them dealing with life was just … It hurt my heart. And it was in those moments where I was like, “Lord, we can do something. We need to do something about this, because it’s just not making sense why some of these things are going on.” And so, that was where I really started wanting to become a motivational speaker, and I have … From there, I started doing videos on Facebook, and on Instagram, and some on YouTube as well. And I then, in the beginning of 2020, I’d actually started my first event. It was called Pressing Toward the Mark conference.

Johannes A:
And it was right before COVID hit, perfect timing. And then I ended up going on tour with this guy named… I spoke in Texas, and in L.A. as well. And then it wasn’t until May of last year that I had this experience with God where he opened my eyes to my own baggage. And I was able to then free myself from the things that I was dealing with for over the past number of years.

Warwick F:
Boy, that’s a remarkable story. I just want to delve a bit into your parents, and how they raised you in a way that was probably so helpful, but just … Because I think most listeners, and me included, until we started speaking I’ve never heard of Poland syndrome. So, how does it come about? I mean, I’m assuming it’s in the womb, or it’s some genetic thing. But for listeners who may never heard of Poland syndrome, what is it? I mean …

Johannes A:
Yeah, so it’s characterized by the underdeveloped chest and arm muscles. It’s all characterized on one side of the body. So, it’s all on my right side. So, on top of my hand being smaller than my left, I don’t have any chest muscle on the right side of my body. So, there’s no cure for it, they don’t know what causes it, it’s not genetic, it’s not like my mother was smoking or drinking, or anything. Nothing crazy in the womb, it’s just like a freak thing. It just happens.

Warwick F:
And it’s not like it’s hereditary, it’s not like you can go back a few generations and there been others in your family with it, it’s just … It sounds like it’s fairly rare, and often when things are fairly rare they don’t really understand what it is, because there’s so many things to focus on. So, as you were growing up, I mean obviously you must’ve felt different than the other kids. How did that affect you where you were, I don’t know, three, four, five, six? At a young age. Obviously you were aware of it, but how did that affect you, emotionally, physically, just in general?

Johannes A:
It’s funny because I remember there was just certain moments from elementary school where I think it was on my part, where I was trying to fit in with the wrong crowd. And I wasn’t quite fitting in. And just, I got into a couple fights in elementary school, and just not getting teased and made fun of for my hand, but just for, I guess in a sense, for being different. Wasn’t directly correlated to my hand, but was just being different in a sense. And so, it was in elementary school is when, I just realized this not too long ago actually, was that was when I was really seeking that acceptance. And that was something that I couldn’t seek in other people to give, I had to seek that for myself and give myself that acceptance that I was looking for.

Johannes A:
But yeah, no, it was just in elementary school was kind of where it started a little bit. But then, eventually as I started getting older, I found my crowd to fit in with.

Warwick F:
Obviously not that many of our listeners will have Poland syndrome, but it’s inevitable when you’re in elementary school, kids always want to fit in. And kids can be mean, anybody that’s different, they look different, they’re from a different part of the country, maybe they’ve moved, anybody that’s different gets teased. I don’t know what it is. I think you could go to any culture, at any age, at any time, and it’s just … I don’t know. From a spiritual perspective, I guess you could say the fallen nature of humans. But it’s so sad that anybody that’s different will get teased. I mean, and probably you’ve seen it in others, and whether it’s your skin color’s different, maybe you’re not as athletic, or you’re a bookworm, or you’re … I don’t know what. You’re quiet, or whatever it is, anybody that’s different gets teased.

Warwick F:
I mean, you’ve probably obviously seen that. But I don’t know, it’s pretty sad. You would think that kids would give each other a break, but not always.

Johannes A:
Yeah, it’s a weird part of human nature, and it’s not until sometime after high school, or sometime after grade school that we really start to come together more as a unit. The teasing kind of really stops. It’s more of kid stuff, but … Typically, not all the time. But typically I guess it’s when we get older then the … We become more unified at that point.

Warwick F:
I want to kind of talk a little bit about what you said about your parents not babying you, and that’s probably, in hindsight, was a remarkable gift. Because a lot of parents would’ve, “Oh, we’re so sorry, Joe. This is awful, and we’re going to put you in … We’re just going to baby you, we’re going to protect you, and put our arms around you, and we’re going to make you safe from the world.” Which is a noble goal, but not always … Maybe wouldn’t serve you. So, talk about your parents’ attitude, and in a sense, if it was, the blessing that it was in terms of how they handled all that.

Johannes A:
Yeah. So, and just as you were saying, yeah, my parents, they never … Just like you were saying, they never babied me. The thing was, it was never really a huge topic of conversation. But there was one thing that I … When I was little, I would kind of put my hand up like a chicken wing, so I’d put it up like this. And so, my dad would tell me all the time, “Hey, put your hand down.” Because I would, just for no reason, just for no reason, I would have my hand up.

Warwick F:
Right.

Johannes A:
And so, he trained me in that to put my hand down. Within that, them allowing me to play sports, and then my dad also helping me with that a little bit, to help me figure out how am I going to do this. Because when I played baseball, I would catch and throw with my left hand. So, I would catch the ball, I’d have the glove on my left hand, catch the ball, take it off, grab the ball then throw it really. It was a quick little exchange. But it was just little things like that he helped me figure it out.

Warwick F:
For most people, that wouldn’t be easy. I mean, I grew up in Australia, so we played cricket. So, maybe you would’ve been better off there because there’s no gloves. Unless you’re the wicket-keeper. So, you would’ve been, at least in fielding, would’ve been fine. But-

Gary S:
Well, and there was a professional baseball player, Jim Abbott, who had the same … I mean, it wasn’t Poland syndrome, but he did the same thing. Caught with a glove, took it off, and threw it. And he threw a no-hitter with that … It is a triumph of the will to be able to pull that stuff off. And I would imagine, Joe, that doing that the confidence that gave you right from little league on, each step you took, that helped build confidence and helped you overcome some of those hidden doubts about yourself.

Johannes A:
Yeah. No, it definitely did. Because just like you were saying, it gave me that hey, I can do this. And me having to figure it out, and let me know hey, you can do this. You can figure it out if you’re willing to. So yeah, no, it definitely did.

Warwick F:
And it’s really remarkable, because your dad could’ve said, “You know what, Joe? Forget baseball. Any kind of football, pick anything like that you can’t do it. Just accept your limitations.” Some parents, maybe a lot, would’ve said that. But he’s like, “Okay, now don’t think of yourself as limited. You just have to adapt, be smart.” And that’s so good. I mean, I think of an earlier era with polio, like Franklin Roosevelt had polio, there was a time in which in, after the ’50s, if you had polio it was meant to be a shameful thing. You would stay home, don’t go out. Somehow they were almost blamed for it, which is kind of crazy. But I like to think we’re a bit more enlightened now.

Warwick F:
So, the way your parents handled it was so wise. It’s just, again, don’t think of yourself as even challenged, just okay, there are some challenges, but let’s figure out how to adapt. And that’s a big lesson I’m sure you probably share with other people. We all have limitations, some a bit more obvious than others. But just figure out a way around it. I mean, your parents set you up for success, and not all parents do that. But, I don’t know. I mean, as you look back do you feel like boy, the wisdom that they had is truly remarkable in terms of how they really tried to help you?

Johannes A:
Yeah. No, I definitely do. Especially in regards to my dad, because we grew up in church. My dad was a minister, and so I used to … My dad is very wise. Just a lot of wisdom. I mean, he has a lot of insight that he shares with me, just things that blow my mind at times. And so, yeah, and just how they raised me and everything, it was they really just normalized it, and really giving me that how can I attitude. Because in that, I had to figure out how I can do this. And so, I think that was something that my dad really helped me with, and super grateful for it today. Because I mean, it’s made all the difference, and not even just for me physically but in my … In business, in self-development, in just a lot of areas. I then ask myself, “okay, well how can I do this?”

Johannes A:
So, it’s transferred from physically how can I do this, to how can I in my emotions, in my career, in our relationships? And so, it’s given me a figure-it-out mentality.

Warwick F:
That’s awesome. So, you mentioned your dad was somebody that went to church, and faith was important. So, what role did that play in your family, and you, as you were dealing with challenges in growing up? How did that all weave itself in the spiritual side?

Johannes A:
Having that spiritual advisory, growing up, because I was born and raised in church. And so, I mean, just a lot of the … Just hearing stuff Sunday after Sunday. Especially as a kid, I didn’t really know what was really going on, I didn’t really understand what was … Everything that was going on, but as I gotten older … It was after high school when I had got my first job, I had quit going to church. Because I started working Sundays. And so, then those next few years was when I really started my heathen backslide. And so, yeah. But then after a number of years I really felt that pull to come back. I felt that in my heart, and I wanted to go back. My parents, they weren’t, “Hey, you need to go back to church. You need to get back in …” It was nothing like that, but I wanted to.

Johannes A:
And so, then kind of going, getting back into church. But even with that, growing up I’ve been, in a sense, a voice of reason for a lot of my friends growing up, helping them with a number of things. I remember in, again, in elementary school actually, where I have a thought that I wanted to be a counelor. Just because I would help my friends a lot with stuff that they’re going through, and things like that.

Warwick F:
You use apparently a phrase, that you were … Maybe you were seven or eight, you were the playground mediator. So, talk about what did that look like? You’re on the playground, people are having fights, teasing each other, what did that look like for you being the playground mediator?

Johannes A:
It was kind of cool, just helping my friends when … Dealing with some of the problems that they were dealing with, whether it be personal or at home, or between some of their friends I’d kind of help them bring resolution to it all. And whatever that they were dealing with, to, “Hey, it’s not that serious, guys. Let’s just have fun and be friends. We all came here to have a good time.” And just bring the level of aggravation down a lot was … It was fun. It was definitely rewarding, I’ll say that.

Warwick F:
And that’s also remarkable, because again you could’ve been internally focused, and feeling sorry for yourself, which would be company understandable. But it sounds like you weren’t focused or obsessed with yourself, you were focused on others. Even at an early age, which is truly remarkable. I don’t think too many kids your age, seven or eight, would’ve been thinking, “Hey guys, we don’t need to fight here.” And thinking of others. So, as you look back do you feel like that’s, I want to say not normal, to be focused on others as much as you did? But sounds like you did.

Johannes A:
I think I can definitely attribute that to growing up in church, because the greatest commandment’s in the Bible, love God with your everything. Second is to love your neighbor as yourself. And so, and just not being so focused on me all the time, I just always just hey, what can I … How can I help? What can I do? Just having that servant leader’s heart was something that, again, growing up in church I’m super grateful for.

Warwick F:
Well, and that shows a tremendous degree of empathy, and one of the things, I’m sure you probably talk about this, it’s easy to wallow in our own challenges sometimes, as self-inflicted sometimes, at no fault of ours at all. But either way, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself, and as understandable as that is it sometimes is more healing, or more rewarding when you’re focusing on trying to help others. And it sounds like you’ve done that your whole life. For listeners who may have other challenges, talk about how focusing on others in some ways is sort of healing, or at least … Why is that the way to go? I know obviously the Bible talks about that, which we agree on, but why is that helpful rather than being obsessed with your own challenges and problems? Why is that really a better way to go, focusing on others and trying to help them?

Johannes A:
I feel like when it comes to helping others, in helping others we really help ourself. So, we are a spirit, and the Bible says that there is one spirit. And so, we all have the spirit of God within us, whether you know or believe that, or not. Everybody has the same spirit. And so, it’s like when I go to counsel somebody I’m secretly kind of counseling myself as well. And just on helping somebody deal with whatever they might be dealing with. But in helping somebody through a challenge, through some kind of struggle, it also simultaneously helps to minimize what I am going through. Not in a sense that saying that what I’m going through is not a big deal, but it takes the pressure off of me and helping to focus on somebody else, but also to realize that hey, what I’m dealing with, it’s not as big as I think it is.

Johannes A:
Or it’s not as great as I feel it is. Or though hey, it may be a big deal but if I’m helping somebody else to go through what they’re going through, I know that I can make it through what I’m going through. If I’m able to help somebody else while I’m still struggling. Or whatever the case is. But in just helping others, it does such a tremendous work in us, while we don’t even realize it may be doing a work in us but it’s subconsciously and secretly doing a great work in you when you take the time to help somebody else though we may be struggling.

Warwick F:
I think that’s so true. It’s also empowering because when you’re not focused on your limitations, and you’re focused on helping others, it’s probably empowering. It’s like, well, look what I can do. Yes, I can do baseball and other things, but I’m impacting people’s lives. I mean, look at the impact I’m having. It probably makes you feel maybe a little less challenged, and a little bit more empowered, and capable of look … You can say obviously God, through you, which I think we can agree with, but look what I can do. Look at the change I can make in my world. I mean, that’s an empowering, uplifting, and energizing concept. I mean-

Gary S:
And I’ll jump in here, Warwick, because what you just said reminds me of something you’ve said about your own crucible. When you said, “Hey, I can do something.” I remember you talking about that job that you got at the aviation services company, and it wasn’t … You weren’t leading a multi-billion dollar company, but you came to a point where you said I can do this. After feeling like after the failure of the takeover, that there wasn’t much you could do, you found that success. And it’s remarkable, listener, catch this, Warwick’s crucible and Joe’s crucible are extraordinarily different. But the emotions that they’ve expressed about hey, I can do something, that was powerful. Wasn’t that powerful for you, Warwick?

Warwick F:
Yeah. I mean, it’s obviously always a challenge comparing crucibles, because I feel like what I went through is nothing compared to Joe, and his situation in terms of the challenge. But yeah, I mean, more generally, yeah. I mean, there was a time in which lost a 150-year-old family business founded by a strong person of faith in my family for generations. And it fell under my watch, yeah, I was feeling pretty bad about myself, and everything I touched I just destroy. And maybe I should just go away and hide, and maybe I won’t hurt people. I mean, I don’t know if it was quite that graphic. Maybe a little bit, but little bit by little bit, as you do things, you’re not screwing up, you actually can help people or do something positive, it’s like, well … I call it a drop of grace. It’s a little drop of grace.

Warwick F:
Like a little drop of water in the dessert. It’s like wow, I can do that. And little bit by little bit, you connect enough drops of grace and you got a pool. And, I don’t know about an ocean, but maybe like a big pond. Maybe even a little lake. But it’s … Yeah. I mean, I found it very helpful. It’s not every once in a while I’ll read something, or somebody writes some article and it’s like, oh yeah, that’s right. That was me. Yeah. But it is true. I mean, in my own very different way, as you’re focused on others it is so empowering. So, talk about high school, teased a bit, but it sounds like you got through that. I mean, how’d you get through the whole high school thing? Was that the pinnacle of teasing, if you will? Or gee, I’m different, kind of thing?

Johannes A:
Yeah, that really was it. And it was then that, how I kind of dealt with it, was I would just … I mean, consistently, my hand was always, always … My hand was always in my pocket. Unless I was doing something where I needed both my hands, it was just, my hand was always in my pocket. And honestly, that also carried over until when I got out of … Even though I got out of high school, it wasn’t until that I got involved with the Riverside Chamber of Commerce where that was a position where I was really nervous to get into, because being involved with business, business 101, you look somebody in the eye and you give them a firm handshake. And that was the thing that I was really nervous about was because I didn’t want to be reminded of the reactions and the faces that I would get when I would go to shake somebody’s hand.

Johannes A:
Whether it be pull back, or they would shake my hand and freak out, or just various things. And so…

Warwick F:
And that’s a challenge-

Johannes A:
For that.

Warwick F:
… because in our culture, we tend to shake hands with our right hand. Now, obviously some people are left-handed, but the majority, I don’t know what the percent is, the majority are right-handed. So, culturally you lead with your right hand. I never really thought about it until now, but even if you’re shaking a left-handed person’s hand, my guess is they’ll still stick out their right hand because why just make life difficult? They just say, “Oh well, here we go again.” But that’s got to be … Yeah. Because then people feel awkward, and they’re like …

Johannes A:
Exactly.

Warwick F:
Which, even if you weren’t feeling awkward, you are going to feel awkward once they feel awkward. So, it’s like-

Johannes A:
It’s funny you say that, too, because I’ve tried to shake with my left hand a few times, and exactly that. It was a awkward moment at that point. So, yeah.

Warwick F:
Yeah. Well, at least during COVID, and one of the small blessings there, the whole elbow bump. It’s like, okay. I can do that, I can do an elbow bump. So, nobody’s shaking hands these days. But speaking of that metaphor of drops of grace, it sounds like that Riverside Chamber of Commerce, that was somewhat of a significant step for you in your outlook, and your feeling that you can contribute. So, talk about how that really helped change your thinking, or grow your thinking a bit.

Johannes A:
Yeah. So, in doing that, because it’s, like I say, Riverside Chamber of Commerce, where I’m in a room with a lot of … A bunch of business owners, and we’re all just talking, and connecting, and networking. And so, it’s obviously a lot of shaking hands. And so, in just doing that I was … Like I said, I was literally nervous to do it because I did not want to be reminded. But at that point, I was really wanting to get out of my comfort zone. And so, I got into it anyways, and so I started shaking people’s hands. And some people noticed, and other people didn’t. And it wasn’t really a big deal. And it was kind of within that, and just the habitual shaking of hands that I started to … I learned to begin to get over it a little bit. Even after being involved with the Chamber of Commerce, there was still a little bit part of me that wasn’t until about eight nine months ago, that I really got over it.

Johannes A:
But there was still a little bit a part of me that still stuck, that still held on to that ill-feeling I had toward it.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve felt this, but there’s this concept where if you seem to be over it and not awkward or embarrassed by it, somehow it helps other people not be embarrassed by it, or feel awkward. Have you felt that with other people? If you’re like, “Hey, this is cool. It’s okay,” that it’s easier for other people to relax and not worry about it? Have you found that?

Johannes A:
Yeah. Sometimes I’ll make little jokes about it, and it does kind of help ease some people’s tension about it a little bit. Or they’ll go to shake my hand, and they’re like, “Oh.” They’ll make a comment, and I’ll make a comment and say something funny, just to … Yeah, I have noticed that, and it’s … Yeah. You’re right. And it’s only when I made it a big deal that it’s been a big deal to people. When I don’t make it a big deal, then it’s not a big deal to people. It’s interesting how that works out, but yeah.

Warwick F:
It’s an important lesson. So, what was the role of being an ambassador at the Riverside Chamber of Commerce? What did that involve?

Johannes A:
So, in being an ambassador we were pretty much just helping new businesses coming in to the community, and pretty much just situated, come in and network, how can we help you, in what ways can we assist them at that point. Invite them out to different events that we had, pretty much getting … Because we would have events from time to time, and it was pretty much getting as much people as possible to come out, and network. And talk about their business. Because Riverside, it’s a big business city as far as … It’s small businesses. And so, it was a lot of just pretty much getting the community to build itself.

Warwick F:
And I imagine you had all sorts of different businesses, maybe people from different cultures, different backgrounds. So, talk about how that felt like helping a lot of very different people? Because I’m guessing it was a lot of different people, a lot of different backgrounds. So, how did that feel helping those folks?

Johannes A:
Yeah. When I was involved, I was a little bit more on the backend of it. I didn’t really get to the front to see all the different businesses and whatnot. But no, it was rewarding in a sense to see the different businesses, and people come out and network, and come back and talk about it a little bit later where some people would come back to our meeting that we had every week, and they would say how much some of the events that they’ve came to made a difference. And some of the networks and connections that they made at that point.

Warwick F:
Okay. So, talk a bit about what you do now with Pressing Towards the Mark, and … Yeah. Just the things that you do now.

Johannes A:
Yeah. So, with Pressing Toward the Mark conference, that was actually a God-given idea. I remember I was driving home and then just God dropped the idea in my mind, was like, “Hey, have an event at the … Have an event.” And he was like, “Call it Pressing Toward the Mark.” And I’m like, “Lord, that’s dope. I love it.” So, I really had no idea how it was going to work or anything, but God told me to do it so I’m like, “All right, I’m going to do it.” And so, I just started getting everything going. I found the venue and I started marketing, and finding people to come to the event. So, that was my first event. And so, with Pressing Toward the Mark, it was really just about pressing toward your goal. Whatever goal you have in mind, whatever it is that you want out of life it’s pressing toward that and making sure that you achieve what you want, because we only have one lifetime.

Johannes A:
And so, might as well get what you want out of this life.

Warwick F:
And so, what are some of the keys from your perspective, about pressing towards the mark? How do people do that? What’s some of your key philosophies there?

Johannes A:
In Pressing Toward the Mark, one of them was to … You have to really believe in yourself. And between believing in yourself, having mentorship, and growing was where my key points in that. So, with believing in yourself, the Bible says that as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. And so, if you don’t have the belief in yourself, if you think lowly of yourself, that’s something that we have to become aware of and heal from that, in that sense, to be able to believe in ourselves so that we can achieve what it is that we’re looking to achieve at that point. And then, having mentorship. I had my mentor there as well, and so I pointed that out to the audience, to have people to come in and help to give you positive criticism, or help direct you. What could you have done better? What could you have done different? And things of that sort, to better guide you down the route that you’re going.

Johannes A:
And then growing. Growing as a person is the other huge part of that, is because we can’t excel past who we are. And so, we have to grow to the point of what it is that we’re looking to, whatever it is that we’re looking to grow towards, what it is that the goal that we’re looking to achieve. We can’t grow past that, or we can’t move past that unless we grow to who that person is, and in the thinking of the mind of that person who it is that you’re wanting to be, you have to become that.

Warwick F:
You said a couple very important things, just the importance of mentors. Sometimes we have this attitude, I don’t need help, I can do it all myself, but it’s amazing … You’ve probably found, when you’ve asked, there are probably people that actually are happy to help you, that want to help sometimes, but they go, “Nobody cares, nobody wants to help.” But if you found in your own experience where maybe you’ve asked people to come alongside, that you have found people that actually want to help you get to where you want to go? Has that been your experience?

Johannes A:
Oh, definitely. Definitely. Once you just start talking about what it is that you’re wanting to do, and your mission, your goal, people, yeah. A lot of people are very willing to help. But I think simultaneously, I’ll say with me in the beginning, when I first got started into it and I would have conversations with people, there was still that part of me that didn’t necessarily believe in myself. So, my baggage for me was that I’m not enough. What I ended up making my hand mean about me, was that I’m not enough. And so, when opportunities, when that’s one way how it affected me, when certain opportunities would come around, because I had that belief about myself was that I’m not enough, I messed up certain opportunities. But yeah, people are definitely willing to help. Willing to-

Warwick F:
Yeah. So, how did you overcome that concept of I’m not enough? Because some of it’s internal, but you have a daily physical reminder, and if you choose to go that way you can say … You can look down, okay, I’m not enough. I mean, how did you overcome that concept? Because if you hadn’t overcome that concept life would’ve been very different for you. How’d you get past that?

Johannes A:
So, it was a moment. It was literally in a moment that that was happened. So, some time, it was in last May. I was praying, because at a certain point in my life I was just … At this point in my life, I was just really just feeling stuck in a sense. I was wanting to grow, but I wasn’t sure what was going on. And so, I prayed, I’m like, “Lord, open my eyes up to me beyond the limitations of my understanding.” And so, because at that point I was ready for the answer. It was within about a week and a half to two weeks, I got an answer to that prayer. And so, I remember I was standing right here in my room, and I’m … God had opened my eyes up to a moment back into high school when I … There was moments when I would get teased, and I got made fun of, that he opened my eyes up to that moment.

Johannes A:
And it was in those moments that I took on that identity of I’m not enough. So, those were the moments of my innocence, my trauma that I had then made it mean about me that I’m not enough. But when you look at the moment, none of that means that I’m not enough. None of that means that. When I really look at the moment from a camera’s point of view, nothing in that situation means I’m not enough, but that’s just the identity I then attached onto it. So, once God had opened my eyes up to that, I then, at that point, just affirmed the opposite. And I told myself, “I am enough. Who I am as a person, I am enough.” And really just in saying that, I had to really feel that, really emotionalize that. And from that point moving forward, there … I had to keep in mind too, because there were certain moments that, moving forward, that would trigger that feeling of I’m not enough.

Johannes A:
But then when they would come about, I would catch it. And I would affirm that I am enough. And it’s just a consistent thing of hey, no, Johannes, you are enough.

Warwick F:
Joe, what you’re saying is so profound, because every human being are going to have days when they think, “You know what? I’m not enough. I’m worthless, I’m …” You may not say it out loud, but inside there’s hardly a human that hasn’t had that thought once in a while. Maybe often. And so, being able to affirm no, I am enough, you have a spiritual foundation obviously. I think of Psalm 139 that says, “I am beautifully and wonderfully made.” And it’s hard to say, I mean, really? But from God’s perspective, everything happens for a reason, and he all makes us different. We look different, we have different background skills, but in his eyes we are all perfectly made. It sounds a strange thing to say, but biblically that’s what it says, right?

Johannes A:
Right.

Warwick F:
And so, if you think you’re enough, and God says you’re enough, what more do you need. You and God together, it’s not a bad team. So-

Johannes A:
A good duo, right there.

Warwick F:
Yeah. So, that’s important. And whatever people’s spiritual beliefs, I think just that concept that you are enough, you just have to own that concept. Whatever your anchor is, it might be a different faith, or a different philosophy, spirituality, it’s got to … Unless you start with believing that you are enough, you can’t really do anything. That’s the rock in which you’ve got to found your ability to contribute to the world, and move forward. So, that sounds like that was huge. You’ve had mentors, what are some other aspects of really helping people press towards the mark, and achieve their goals. I mean, how do people grow beyond that?

Johannes A:
I would say it does vary person by person. I mean, a lot of it starts with awareness, and you have to be self-aware in seeing … Being aware of who you are as a person, being aware of your strengths, and your weaknesses, the things that you struggle in. And in being aware of that, just notice. It firstly starts with just noticing where the struggle is. And when you notice it, hey, it’s not right, it’s not wrong, it’s just what is. And so, then at that point you then have to have the desire to … Or, yeah. You have to have the desire to want to grow at that point. It’s easy for us, as human beings, just to stay where we are, to stay in our comfort zone. But it’s like you have to have the desire to really want to grow and get out of our comfort zone. And so, at that point, once you become …

Johannes A:
You start becoming aware of it, for me hey, I noticed that I was … I struggled getting out of bed in the morning. I struggle with procrastinating a lot, I struggle with my discipline. Notice those areas where the areas of struggle, and then become aware of it. And in becoming aware of it, then you start working on doing something about it. Sometimes just take little baby steps, sometimes just hey, if I struggle getting out of bed in the morning, then let me put my alarm clock across the room. Find one little step, just take little baby steps instead of trying to conquer the whole mountain at the first step.

Warwick F:
Yeah. I mean, one of the things we talk about in Crucible Leadership, is small wins. I mean, I’m not somebody by nature that moves a million miles an hour. I’m a sort of thoughtful person, which can be good. But so, sometimes the mountain can seem overwhelming, but it’s like if you look back, okay, what did I accomplish today? Okay, I did this, this, and that. Okay, if you connect enough small wins it ends up being a big win. But rather than saying, “Oh, that’s impossible, I’ll never, like in your case, be a motivational speaker, I’ll never do this and that.” Okay, what’s a small win? Maybe I can talk to somebody, maybe I can prepare, maybe I can practice with friends and neighbors. I mean, there’s probably a series of small steps you’ve taken to get to your goal.

Warwick F:
Rather than saying, “Okay, gee, I don’t know if I’ll be able to speak at, I don’t know, Staples Center, or something in L.A., or some massive auditorium. And gee, that feels a little far away.” Okay, well maybe one day. But let’s start a little smaller. Maybe there’s some place locally. You know what I mean? Sometimes you can set the bar so high that unless you do that today, then I’ll fail. Well then, okay, just small step at a time, right? Does that make sense?

Johannes A:
Yeah. Yeah, no, definitely. And that’s something that I really been attaching onto more and more. And I have it written at the top of my white board here, just 1% every day. Just a 1% gain every day, and at the end of the year you’ve grown 365%.

Gary S:
That is a fantastic word, and I will take my one small step as the cohost of the show, to say that I think that I also heard the captain turn on the fasten seatbelt sign, and it’s getting to the point that we’re going to be moving toward landing the plane. Joe, before we do that, and Warwick asks you another question or two, are there places in social media that folks can find you? One of the things I thought fascinating about your story, and it went by really quickly, but you mentioned that you got your start in reaching out and helping people manage those things that torment them, those things that challenge them by using YouTube videos. And that is a fascinating way to leverage that technology to live a life of significance. But how can people, if they want to know more about Joe Atlas, and your speaking, and your conferences, how can they find you?

Johannes A:
Yeah. So, right now I’m working on a website, that’ll be up pretty soon here. It’s JoeAtlasSpeaks.com. It’s not up yet, but when it does come up … Facebook, you can look up my business page. It’s Speaking To The You In You. That’s the name of my company, and then on Instagram it’s J-O underscore speaks.

Warwick F:
So, I know one of the things you talk about is … And that’s been your whole life, is not letting crucibles, not letting challenges define you. For those people that may be listening right now, and they’re going through a crucible, it could be physical, personal, a marriage breakup, a death of a loved one, getting fired, I mean, how do you avoid letting your crucibles, letting your challenges define you? What’s the way out?

Johannes A:
I would say that whatever the situation was, whatever your crucible was, however it made you feel, you are completely valid for how you feel. That’s first and foremost, I want people to know that. You’re completely valid for how you feel. But now, looking at it, knowing what you know now, do you want to continue to feel that way? And that’s a big thing that people sometimes, we as people, have to take the time to answer. Do we want to continue to feel that way? And then, if not then what is it that I want to do moving forward, but wherever that area that brings us the most hurt, or trauma, wherever the area of our struggle is, we have to work to bring resolution to that area so that we can move forward in what we’re dealing with.

Gary S:
I have been in the communication business long enough, gentlemen, to know when the last word on a subject is spoken. And Mr. Joe Atlas, you spoke the perfect last word in our conversation for today. Well, so I’m going to do what … I mean, there’s a lot. I’ve pulled three takeaways, I think listeners can take from our conversation. There’s a lot more than that, but the three that sort of leapt off to me, and Joe, I got to tell you I do this in every episode, and it took exactly 45 seconds of you speaking when I wrote down number one. So, you’re the fastest person to the finish line on a takeaway that I’ve done yet.

Johannes A:
Awesome.

Gary S:
But takeaway one from this conversation, listener, I think is this. Take the time in the midst of your crucibles to, as Joe did, figure it out. There’s no timer on moving beyond your crucible in most cases. It’s not like an action movie where the hero has to diffuse a bomb before the numbers on the dial get to double zeroes. You can press into the pain, face the challenges, look at the lessons you’re being taught, and then apply them as you press ahead at your pace. Second takeaway, believe you can bounce back. Truly believe that. We hear the word mindset a lot these days, it’s a popular term. And as Joe put it, he built a figure-it-out mentality in navigating life with his physical challenge. He was encouraged by his parents that there was no limitation he could not conquer. You find that encouragement in your own crucible.

Gary S:
It might be your parents, your spouse, your friends, whoever it is find a person or people who give you support that you need to conquer your crucible. And then the third point, give to others. Become a mentor. Help them with the challenges they face, talk to them about their emotions. Help them articulate and pursue their goals. Again, as Joe put it, funny, as all three of these points I say as Joe put it, as Joe put it help them press toward the mark. Help them understand that they are enough. Listeners, thank you for spending this time with us on Beyond the Crucible. Warwick and I have a little favor to ask you. If you enjoyed this conversation, if you got some insight and some hope and encouragement from it, we ask that you would click subscribe on the app in which you’re listening to the show. We also ask that you drop by and leave us a rating.

Gary S:
The more ratings and subscriptions we get, the more people we can bring these insights, like Joe Atlas has shared with us today, to more folks. And until that next time that we are together, please remember this. Your crucible experiences are painful. Joe described some very painful, traumatic situations. He did it with some lilt in his voice, but the pain was real of what he experienced. But the beauty of that, it was not the end of his story. It was just the start of his story. And it can be the start of your story, your crucible can be, if you learn the lessons of them. If you apply some of the lessons we talked about here. And the reason that it can be the start of your story is that it brings you to a place, you learn those lessons, you leverage those lessons to a place that allows you to pursue a new story that can be the most rewarding one of your life. And it is rewarding because as it has done for Joe, as it has done for Warwick, it leads at the end of the day to a life of significance.

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