Mindset can either make or break you. What you believe you want to achieve can be attained if you work your way through it and not self-sabotage every opportunity you have. For Jonathan Walters, he has tested his attitude towards grasping opportunities and has grown from being a high school drop out to a PhD student of Educational Psychology, an educator, and the Founder of The Mindset Matrix Podcast. Today, Jennifer Whitacre interviews Jonathon about how he awakened to the beauty of not being afraid of chances and positive options. Jonathan shares how he lived as a homeless person and how his Daily Ten strategies have turned his life for the better. Learn from this inspiring episode how being called stupid growing up and hitting rock bottom became Jonathan’s greatest teachers.
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A Homeless High School Dropout & A Growth Mindset With Jonathan Walters
Our guest is Jonathon Walters. Jonathon has a fascinating story he’s going to share with us. He went from a homeless high school dropout who was dyslexic, to a successful six-figure entrepreneur with a Master’s degree in Education. He’s the Founder and CEO of The Mindset Matrix. He’s been able to succeed in life even though the odds have been stacked heavily against him. He’s endured a lot of abuse and a lot of adverse experiences in his childhood that have led him down this route. We’re going to pick that apart and find out how he healed, what he did to get through it and hopefully, give you all some tips and techniques in case you’re struggling as well. Jonathon, welcome to the show. Thank you for coming on to share your story with us.
Thank you for having me.
It’s an honor to have you here. I know that you were a homeless high school dropout. What was the life that led you to that position to being a homeless dropout in high school?
A lot of things. In hindsight, I look at it and I’ve pinpointed it to the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was in fifth grade was when I realized I quit caring about school. I quit caring about everything going on. In my fifth-grade class, I was up at the front of the chalkboard and they were asking me to do a problem and the teacher’s like, “Write the reciprocal of 3/5.” I’m like, “I got this. I can do this.” I wrote down what I thought was the answer on the board. I didn’t know at the time that I’m dyslexic, so numbers and letters all flip around for me and I get them out of order all the time. I wrote down what I thought it was, turned around, proud that I knew what was going on and the teacher asked me, “Are you stupid?” right in front of everybody. I had about half the class who was laughing and I had about half the class who shared my pain at that moment.
I’m at the front of the classroom and I don’t even know how to act because I never thought I was stupid. I always thought I was smart up until this point. Her asking me got me thinking. I have five sisters, definitely not the first time I’ve been called stupid, but it’s the first time I’ve been called stupid by an authority figure or somebody who I would never expect it to come from. I’m sitting there and I could tell my face was getting super red. Even thinking about it now, I go back to the embarrassment of that moment and it feels real to me even still. I started thinking about it and I’m like, “What do I do?” I started walking back to my desk and I feel tears coming out of my face. I’m embarrassed because I was called stupid and I’m the kid that’s crying in class. I sunk back down into my seat. I remember I’m never going to put myself in a position to be called stupid again. That was the slippery slope where it all went downhill from there.
That is a compensatory behavior that collapse and shut down and that, “I’m never doing this again.” That aligns with the freeze response in the sympathetic activation and that, “I give up, F it.” That’s compensation that we often carry through into adulthood with us. I like to point these little things out so people can see the seeds of some of these dysfunctional behaviors that we have.
I had that. You’re not kidding whenever you say it follows you through adulthood. It snowballs. It gets bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier as you get going. Whenever you’re in fifth grade and you’re like, “I’m not going to participate in math class,” that’s one thing, but then you’re like, “I’m not going to participate in any class,” because you start getting distrust for people and you start getting distrust for certain positions. You start having a real issue with authority and that was me. I got through fifth grade with relatively no issues. I passed my classes for the most part, but then in sixth grade, I went in with a chip on my shoulder. I’m like, “I’m not even going to try and I’m going to show up. I’m going to do what I want to do and go.”
I remember getting in a lot of trouble because I did have an entrepreneurial spirit back then. I would sell stuff in class and I would get in trouble all the time for it. I would sell baseball cards, toys and watches. At one point in sixth grade, I was selling ten Fossil watches a week. I was making $300 a week as an eleven-year-old but I got in trouble. The first time I got in trouble I tried to bribe my principal and say, “I’ll cut you and give you a percentage of it if you let me do it.”
Did it work?
I got in detention for bribing, I was going to get in trouble and told to stop. I did what every kid in my situation would do and I started selling to kids I could trust so I’m not going to get told on.
You got sneakier at it.
Yeah, I had to get sneaky. I started getting in a lot of teacher-to-student trouble in sixth grade. I started becoming a little bit defiant. Come 7th and 8th grade, I started becoming hateful. I started despising other people. I hated other people’s success. I hated other people in general. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I didn’t want to talk to the teachers. If I had a problem with the teacher, I was the kid that would tell them where to go. I was completely hateful about it. I was probably the least favorite student at this school for kids and adults. I was not liked by anybody and it’s because I put up a shield to not be liked. I did not want to disappoint anybody, so I made sure I disappointed everybody essentially. Keep in mind when I’m in 6th, 7th and 8th grade, I had no idea what I was doing. I felt this is the way I needed to act.Self-sabotaging is putting one's self down when an opportunity arises. Click To Tweet
It wasn’t until I look at this in hindsight that I realize, “This is what I was doing in this situation.” Come eighth grade, September 11th happened. I’m not from New York or anything like that but witnessing it on the TV with my teachers and seeing my teachers sob hysterically after I thought they were these impenetrable forces and mean people, I saw them break down. I remember having the biggest feeling of fear I’ve ever had. That was a super traumatic event for me just seeing this. For the most part, I am empathetic.
Whenever there’s an underdog story, I want the underdog to win. I don’t even need to know the other team, whoever is losing needs to be the winner. It’s probably because I was rooting for myself or something at that time. I did that. Whenever I went to high school, I started originally like, “Let’s make this happen.” Within the first week, the teachers were warned about me and I could tell the teachers were warned about me. One kid would do the same thing I did, I would get yelled at in detention and they got nothing. In my eighth-grade year, I had 89 detentions. I went to freshman year of high school and I didn’t know it at the time, but I probably had a warning label on my permanent record that says, “Be careful of this kid.”
How big was the community that your schools were in? Was it an urban, rural, suburban area?
It was a rural area. We only had about 600 kids in our whole school and what would’ve been our graduating class was 167 kids and I was 166 of 167 on that list. I was almost the last person. There’s one person a little meaner and worse than me.
I grew up in a rural area and it’s like what you’re talking about. Your reputation proceeded you into high school. Where I grew up, I had 45 in my graduating class. It’s way small. It’s like the drive-in movie theater scene in Grease where she’s telling the secret in the restroom and before she gets back to the car, the river gets to the car before she does. That’s how it is. Everybody talks and everybody knows everybody. It’s almost in these small rural communities, part of the toxicity is that there’s almost this license to have your nose in everybody else’s business. That’s what makes it toxic. You go into urban areas and there’s a whole other set of good things and toxic issues across the board. I’m not surprised it was a rural area if that reputation beat you to the high school.
I had three sisters that went to that specific school before me and they were all like, “There’s no way you’re their brother,” because my sisters were excellent in school. They had perfect attendance and this and that. I’m caught in school as often as possible. I’m calling teachers every name in the book, flipping desks.
How much older were your sisters?
We are all two years apart.
How old were you? Because you had trauma with your grandfather.
That was in between my 4th and 5th grade school year. That was right in that same timeframe that the teacher called me stupid. That happened within a year. My grandfather was murdered. He got pulled over by police and they said he was being argumentative. They handcuffed him and then a pedestrian thought they would take it upon themselves to go over and start beating them. The cops started beating them. Before you know it, my grandpa was lying on the ground dead and then I’m seeing it all over the news. This happened in Jacksonville, Florida. It went huge nationwide news and massive. There were cameras surrounding my grandma’s house and stuff like this. People were trying to come up and talk to us to get us to talk about it. It was a whoa experience. That was crazy. That was a whole another situation that led to it and made me give up on everything in seeing that and experiencing that.
You get these layers, there’s complex trauma in there. You were at a different age than your sisters were. Your teachers saying those things like you can’t be related to them goes to show how little we knew back then. Even now, we’re still learning. We’re still at the beginning phases of learning about trauma like developmental and intergenerational trauma, early childhood and epigenetic issues. We’re in the infancy there and back then, it wasn’t even something we talked about. The ignorance, not knowing about trauma, it is what a lot of us dealt with when we were in school. Nobody knew how to deal with it. We were shamed for something that wasn’t our fault.
This was stacked on. It didn’t help. I was overweight in school. I wasn’t likable because I didn’t want to be liked. I was a target for all bullies and out of that, I became a bully myself. I would make sure nobody wanted to be around me to some extent. Doing that, I attracted a lot of people who were overall hateful towards me. I would do it more to be in isolation and they would do it to pick out somebody that they think is an easy target. I went through a lot of that and that’s what led me in high school to get into a ton of major fights and broken bones on multiple sides. One time, I even got arrested in high school because me and another kid got in a fight. It was me trying to help an underdog. He was calling a teacher a name.
I said, “You need to stop because she can’t hit you, but I can.” He was badgering the teacher and I went over there and I punched him so hard in the back of the head that his desk bent down. I’m like, “I’m going to the principal’s office. I know what’s coming.” They arrested me and they took me to the juvenile center and sat down there and waited for his parents to get there. Luckily, his parents were super understanding, asked them about it and they didn’t press charges or anything. That was my sophomore year and that’s when I decided I’m going to hurt somebody with this mentality and being in school. I dropped out.
That was the incident that caused you to drop out. It’s amazing that you had this awareness and the why that you dropped out. It wasn’t, “Screw the school.” It wasn’t, “To hell with education.” It was, “If I don’t remove myself, I’m going to hurt somebody.”
I was super blessed with my father. He was always the angel on my shoulder telling me consequences for things I was doing. He always said, “Don’t let a second of stupidity ruin your life.” Don’t let a knee-jerk reaction cause you to hurt somebody. I’m quite a bit bigger than most people. Whenever I did this, I was 6’3″ and 300 pounds after I left high school in my sophomore year. I could easily hurt somebody on accident if I tried to, but I didn’t want to be violent. I kept feeling I had my back against a wall. I was getting pushed into a corner a lot of times. It led to that. There are a lot more incidences like that that pushed me. That’s when I said, “I can’t do this anymore.” The awareness comes from my dad constantly talking sense into me and try and talk me down and calm me down in those situations.
You said that you dropped out of high school there and you became homeless. How does homelessness fit in here?
That came down a little bit further down the line. I dropped out and I thought I knew everything I needed to know. I was ready to go to the working world. Here I am, I now have an open schedule and a job at Arby’s. I’m unstoppable.
The smartest I’ve ever been in my life was when I was between 16 and 21. Every year I get dumber.
As I was 16 to 21, those are the years that I screwed my 30, 32 years self over because I made many bad decisions in the timeframe. It was terrible. My dad told me, he goes, “Quitting is unlike anything else. It is only hard the first time you do it. Once you quit, you can become a pro quitter after the first time.” I’m like, “Whatever.” Being my smart sixteen-year-old self, I went on. I went to my boss at work and said, “Schedule me 40 hours.” Being the entrepreneur I was, I want to make as much money as I can. He scheduled me 40 hours and I started working. I worked for a whole bunch and kept building it up. I have no idea how I managed to get up into management by doing that. I was bad at it. I did not have the skills that I guess they would have taught those last two years in school to run a multimillion-dollar business at the time.
I made a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of enemies. I burned a lot of bridges. From the time I was 16 to the time I was 20, I probably had fifteen jobs because I would get there and I’d be like, “This management’s terrible. This business is going in the wrong direction,” then I’d be done. I’d give it 3 to 6 months and then after that, I’m done. If I didn’t like what was going on, I would quit. Every time I quit, I think back to my dad saying that, “Quitting is only hard the first time you do it.” I’m like, “He was right. It’s spot on.” In that timeframe, me being the genius I was, I didn’t realize that I lived in a rural area with limited opportunities. I had burned every bridge to a working paycheck. I had met my wife at Arby’s and we got married young at eighteen. By the time we were twenty, I was sleeping on friend’s couches because I had no income coming in and I could not find a job and keep a job. I essentially destroyed my self-image of being worthy.
Let me put it this way, I would self-sabotage. If there was something going good for me, I would make sure it didn’t anymore. If I had an opportunity to better myself, I would find a reason why I didn’t deserve that opportunity. I did this a lot. There were times I was offered higher management positions. I would take it and then completely screw up on purpose. I would quit coming to work and I have no idea why. I thought if something’s going good, something bad is coming right behind it. Over this time, I lost 6 to 7 family members to cancer. When I was a little bit older, my dad had a heart attack and passed away. My grandpa died of cancer. My grandma randomly died of a heart attack, she suddenly died. I had aunts and uncles dying of cancers and all of this, one after the other, back-to-back. I kept thinking, “Life’s short and I don’t want to spend any more than three months working at this company,” because I hate it.
What you were saying, you answered your question. You didn’t have a question, but you said, “I didn’t know why I did it.” You were talking about how you self-sabotage yourself. You said, “I don’t know why I did it,” but then you went on to say, “When something good happened, I was afraid I was going to lose it or it was going to be ripped away from me.” Whenever you have a layering of trauma where there’s a lot of death, a lot of loss and even hopes and dreams. You were in fifth grade, every fifth-grade kid has hopes and dreams. When you are shamed in front of your peers by a teacher at that age and it leaves that much of an imprint on the nervous system, there is a little bit of ripping away of your hopes and dreams.
From the child’s perspective, there’s this perception within the child that, “Everybody sees me differently now. Everybody thinks I’m stupid because somebody who’s in a role of authority said it. Everybody believes that.” You’ve got this label of stupid over your head everywhere you go. It’s like the scarlet letter. That’s a normal compensation not to want to experience the celebration, the joy, the happiness that comes from accomplishing something or achieving something. If we can sabotage ourselves, we get into this pattern where, “If I can take it away from myself, then it’s not going to hurt as bad because nobody else can take it away from me.”
There’s this illusion that we’re taking our power back, but it’s in this subconscious dysfunctional way that it comes out because it’s not conscious behavior. You didn’t wake up and decide and say, “This is what I’m going to do. I am going to go to work and I am going to screw up so bad that I’m going to lose my job.” It’s probably something that happens subconsciously. Everybody led you to believe that you are a screw up because that’s what happens with traumatized people. They get blamed for what happens to them. To explain how some of these early childhood traumas imprint on the nervous system and then affect our behaviors and how we interact with everyone in the world around us. I’m curious because you said you were in a rural area, you were twenty, you were unemployable, did you have to move before you got out of your predicament? Are you still in the same area? A change of environment is necessary to start to heal.You need to fail. Failing is inevitable. Quitting is the option. Click To Tweet
This is where I can pinpoint the healing process began for me. I was about twenty years old sleeping on a couch at a friend’s house. My wife and I finally got a twin-size mattress. It would fit in the back of my car that I had at the time. We could take that to people’s houses and sleep on it. It was a bad time. I was applying for any position that would come up on the internet because I needed a job that bad. I had applied to an AT&T job for a door-to-door sales rep. I know nothing about phones. I know nothing about selling. I know nothing about going door-to-door, but I need a job. I applied to the job and they said, “That job should have never been posted in your area. We don’t have door-to-door sales reps in your area.” I’m like, “Okay.”
They called me and let me know that they had made a mistake. They said, “Tell me a little bit about yourself and why this job would be important to you?” I might have been the only person that ever cried in their call, but I was to a breaking point. I told them, “I don’t have a lot to offer. The only thing I have to offer is I need to succeed and I’ve got a drive to succeed. I need to change my ways.” That landed me an interview at a store. They said, “We don’t have that position open, but we do have a store that’s a little way from you if you’re willing to drive.” I said, “Anything, we’ll make it work.” I got scheduled for this interview and we get eight inches of snow the night before the interview. I’m like, “God, why are you doing this to me? It’s like you’re putting every possible obstacle in my way to try to be successful.” I told my wife, “I may not make it to this interview in one piece, but if I’m going to die, I’m going to die trying.”
We drove in this crazy snow. I got to my interview and my future boss looked at me and he goes, “I’m surprised you showed up. Other people have called in and rescheduled their interviews.” I’m like, “I want this job and I’m going to show you I’m going to do anything it takes to get it.” We did the interview and I told him, “I’m not a salesman. I’m nothing like that, but I can be anything you want me to be. I need a mentor more than I need a job.” That’s what my person wanted to hear because he hired me on the spot. He ended up mentoring me and over the next year, he told me every single day, “Jonathon, you have a wonderful attitude.” I didn’t have much to offer, but I did have a good attitude every day I came in. Every single day he told me that, I felt a little bit better. I started doing what’s called a Daily Ten. I take the first ten minutes of my morning and write my goals for the day and then the ten minutes in the afternoon I write how I did to those goals. I did them every single day.
Within a few months, I went from unemployable to a rockstar salesperson at AT&T so much so that I got invited to these award shows so that they could recognize me for my sales. I was a part-time sales rep outselling every full-time sales rep because I was hungry for success. They invited me to these things where we would go to St. Louis at these nice casinos and they would hand out awards in front of all the big dogs there. He constantly pushed me to do better. I started reading a lot of books. I started reading a lot of Jim Collins and stuff like that on how to improve myself. There was a point in time where I was reading 12 to 13 self-help books a month and I’m talking 200 or 300-page books. I would read them overnight, write down what I wanted out of them, practice them and start a new book. I would do that.
He allowed me to start showing leadership. He allowed me to start hosting the Saturday meetings with the teams. Before you know it, within one year’s time, I went from unemployable to they offered me an assistant manager position at a new store opening. I had to get out of Southern Illinois to do this. I had to go over to Southeast Missouri, 150 miles away or so, and I opened this store. I lost my mentor and old habits came running back. I sabotaged myself like no other. We did well. We were setting records. We had all of our reps making tons and tons of money, but I started falling back on old ways. I don’t believe in myself. I had a manager that was a bit toxic. He would skip work and not show up on time and stuff like that. I didn’t feel the level of encouragement or the coaching that I needed to keep growing.
I wasn’t away from not needing a mentor anymore. I thought I was, but losing my mentor completely kicked my foundation out. I sabotaged and I quit. On that job, I quit without notice. I gave them a fourteen-day notice but I ended up quitting after six days. I’m like, “I can’t do this anymore. I’ve got to go.” I left, came back. Now we’re back to being homeless. I lost it all instantly and this was the time that I got homeless so bad. I know that sounds weird, but here are different levels of homelessness. I had nothing. I was selling stuff. Everything, every one of my worldly possessions I was selling. This is the pivot that I said, “I have to change something.” This was when I traded a guitar for a camera and that’s when it started blowing up. That’s when I started going in the right direction.
Before we get into the camera or whatever’s next, a couple of things I want to point out is that you started your Daily Ten, morning and afternoon routine. Whether somebody has experienced a lot of trauma or not, it’s important to have some daily practice, even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes to get your mind straight. What you were doing, I don’t know if your mentor told you to do this or you started on your own, but doing an afternoon or morning and when you wake up and before bedtime practice is important.
I have over 6,000 Daily Ten entries from whenever I started it. I have never missed a day on my Daily Ten since he started me back in 2010. Some of them are short, some of them are books. Some of them are, “Let me get this.” Some of them should have been called the Daily Two Hours because I spent so much time thinking about, “What do I need to do to get to the next step?”
You’re going within yourself. What I want to point out to the readers, if you’re going to heal from the trauma or whatever situation that your life is in, if you want to change your circumstances, you have to do this. You have to go in and start to look at what can I change within myself? How can I change my thoughts? How can I change my behaviors? How can I manage my emotions instead of worrying about what you think other people think about you? I also want to point out your level of awareness because of a lot of what you have said, it’s like you have the awareness in you and I’ve had clients where I’m trying to teach them to have the level of awareness that you’re talking about. Knowing that you need a mentor and not a job, that right there in and of itself is a level of awareness of what you need and asking for it in a brief moment.
It was scary too because there was a good chance he did not want to take on a person who needed a mentor. They wanted a body to fill a position. It was one of those I knew if I wanted to grow, I’ve got to grow in the right place because you could take the most beautiful flower and put it in a toxic place and it’s going to die. That’s what kept happening to me. That’s why I would get that quick job and I would tell the interviewer anything they wanted to hear to get the job and I sounded awesome, but it wasn’t what they needed to hear to hire me, the individual behind the clock-in number.
Saying what you needed to say and saying, “I need a mentor, not a job,” there’s a vulnerability and you’re right. I can imagine how scary that must have been for you. That’s the old phrase that we keep hearing in spiritual circles, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” You’ve got to be willing to express that vulnerability because there is a vulnerability behind that statement. The only reason I’m picking apart is so our readers can understand that this is a turning point whenever it comes to coming out of trauma. It’s the first step. It’s a turning point. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. That’s one of those steps and the process is finding those moments where you need to be vulnerable and you say that thing that is scary to say because we all do that. We all go into job interviews and we say what we think they want to hear. There are articles all over the place in what to say in a job interview and how to answer this question. There’s not a whole lot of articles out there about how to be your authentic self in a job interview. That’s what you did. You were homeless and you’ve got a camera.
I sold my guitar because nobody wanted it. This guy reached out to me and said, “I’ll trade you a camera.” My funny brain thinks it was me 80 years from now by doing this time traveler thing, hopefully saying, “This is going to set you up for success,” but it wasn’t. It was coincidental like Biff does to himself in Back to the Future.
You’re not 80 yet. You don’t know if it was you or not.
It might be, I don’t know. This random guy reached out to me and said, “I’ll give you a camera.” I’m like, “Okay, whatever. Let’s try this. Nobody wants a guitar.” I get the camera and I’ve got to make sure it works. I’m taking photos and I’m like, “This is cool. Let me sell some of my other stuff and hold onto this for a minute.” I started taking photos and I go over to my friend’s house and I started taking pictures of the band. I’m like, “This is cool. This would be neat.” They’re like, “You got a natural eye for this?” I’m like, “Would you pay me to do it?” They’re like, “We can’t pay you but you’re doing good at it.” I’m like, “Whatever.”
A few months after me walking around with my kids and shooting photos and stuff like that of bugs and stuff, I see that one of my favorite bands, American Authors, is coming to DuQuoin State Fair near me. I’m like, “I bet I could score some free tickets if I try to get in there to shoot photos for them.” I messaged them on Facebook as professionals do. I said, “Can I shoot your show?” They’re like, “No.” I remembered I’m like, “That’s a no. That means next opportunity.” I’m like, “I got to call these people and find out why they said no.” I called the fair and they’re like, “That’s auto-generated from the state. That doesn’t even come from us.” I’m like, “What?” I called them and I said, “I want to do this.” They’re like, “Do you have a portfolio?” I’m like, “I got a Facebook page full of bug pictures.” They’re like, “We’ll check it out.”
I was not expecting a call back at this time, but her name is Carrie. She called me back and she goes, “Jonathon, we love your photos.” I’m like, “They’re bugs, but okay.” “You took a picture of a dragonfly. It’s amazing.” I’m like, “Okay.” She’s like, “What do you charge to take photos?” I’m like, “What? Are you going to pay me to do these? I just want free tickets.” She’s like, “We can pay you an X amount of dollars.” I’m playing it cool. I’m like, “Okay.” My eyes are massive, huge. I’m like, “I’m going to get paid to go to a concert and to shoot photos.” She’s like, “Can you do other concerts too? Not just that one.” I’m like, “How many did you have in mind?” She booked me for 92 concerts in an eleven-day span. I was working eighteen-hour days for almost two weeks straight-shooting concerts for them. To say I got into concert photography, trial by fire would be the best way to say I got more experience than most people get in years in two weeks.
I’m sitting there on YouTube looking up, I’m like, “I’ve got to make it happen.” It’s one of those things if you don’t know how to do it, agree to it anyway and learn along the way. That’s exactly what it is. I was terrified. I knew I was going to fail on this. I’m like, “I got to do this.” I YouTube it and I’m like, “Here we go. Let’s make this happen.” It turns out I made a lot of good friends with musicians because I had all the access. I was sitting backstage with some of these top artists and some of the platinum-selling artists and I started making friends. The cool thing about the music industry is everybody knows everybody. They’re like, “Why don’t you call my buddies over in this band?” I’m like, “Okay.” Before you know it, by the end of two years, I had shot for over 500 different artists. I had shooting photography full-time and I never had a doubt in my mind that I would do anything other than shooting photography.
It was the first job I ever had was freelance photography and it was the first job that I could keep for an extended amount of time was freelance photography. I ended up shooting album covers for platinum-selling artists and stuff. Their CD covers, I’ll walk into Best Buy and see and I’m like, “That’s my photo. That’s awesome.” I’ve got a couple of those that I’ve done and then covers of magazines and stuff, some neat stuff. All because I didn’t accept the no from the Facebook message. If I were to accept a no, I would be like, “No, not this.” I would have gone on to the next thing. I did that. I was traveling one time and blew my eardrums. We went high in the mountains. We went from 400 feet to 12,000 feet in a matter of about eight hours. I didn’t know it at the time, but you can’t do that. It’s bad for you.
I already had some ear issues and my eardrums ruptured. It was this loud pop sound and I had blood and stuff coming from my ears. I got back to my ENT and he said, “You are not going to be around loud music anymore. It’s going to be bad for you.” I did what the sixteen-year-old me would do and I said, “Whatever, I’m doing it anyway.” I get to a show and he wasn’t kidding. I have something called BPV. It’s where the crystals don’t sit right in the fluid in my ear. A bass sound hit and I went face-first into the stage.
You would’ve lost your balance.
Anytime I experienced loud sounds, especially bass or if a car goes outside loud and has the sub stomping, it can make me sit here and start spinning crazily in the room. I was done after that. I’ve tried it a couple of times to see if it was that after I did that. Another time I was on the band’s Warped Tour and I were doing the same thing and I fell. That time whenever I fell, I pulled my earplugs out and my earplugs were bloody. I’m like, “I’m done.” I had lost something that I hadn’t self-sabotage. I fought; I was even putting my health in jeopardy for it because I wanted to do it so bad. I’m like, “What am I going to do now?” Probably by the time I put all my time into it, I was making like $15, $20 an hour doing it, which isn’t terrible for a high school dropout that’s homeless and stuff like that. I did that. One of my friends asked me if I could shoot his house since I couldn’t go to any concerts because he was selling a house. I said, “We’ll give this a try.” That’s where it blew up and I found my niche.
Your company takes photographs for real estate companies. I find it interesting because you told me you’re not working for that business. That’s not your full-time. You still have the business, but you have hired several photographers and you’re not taking a lot of pictures.
I started out shooting houses and then I’m like, “This is neat and all,” but I wanted more out of life. I wanted him to try to see how I could give back. I found myself doing a lot of photos for students and stuff at the school and everything. Every time I could get involved with the school, I would do something like that. I’m like, “How can I go in the right direction with this?” I started thinking about that and I started shooting houses and I started getting more houses than I could handle. I would do more and more. Before you know it, we shot 1,156 houses or something like that. We have five full-time photographers that now do all these houses and I was able to back up from the business. Everything for me is 100% passive. All I’ve got to do is make sure people are going where they’re supposed to go. I work on it for about two hours a week and everybody else does all the work and they make sure everything looks good. They take pride in what they do. It’s a nice fluid system treating people how they need to be treated. They stick around and keep taking photos.
Somewhere in here, you must have gotten your GED because you’ve got a Master’s degree now. How did that all happen?Hitting rock bottom is a great way to push yourself off of a solid foundation. Click To Tweet
I decided that I no longer wanted to be a high school dropout. I got my GED, started looking at options. One of my jobs prior, required a GED. I was able to do that. I went and took the test on the GED and I scored max on everything. I’m like, “Maybe I’m not as stupid as my fifth-grade teacher called me.” This is the first time I ever applied myself. At this time, I had tried to go back to school. This is a complex story. I tried to go back to school, but I’d failed out of college five times because I couldn’t balance the work-life balance, the money needed to make money versus not being available because I had to do schoolwork and stuff.
You said you were dyslexic. Did that play a role in it too?
Yeah. We had found out in high school when I was dyslexic because when they are defiant and hateful, they don’t usually think dyslexic. They usually think defiant and hateful. I didn’t even find out and get a diagnosis until high school and by then, they were going to apply to anything because I was checked out. I had gone to college and I had asked for accommodations for dyslexia. The first time I did it and I almost got laughed out of the office whenever I did. I was asking, it was when one of their administration buildings that I said, “I have trouble reading. I need to be able to read out loud and stuff like that. I see if I can take tests in a different setting or something?”
They almost laughed me out like, “We’ll let anybody take a test wherever they want. Take the book home with you.” I’m like, “Okay.” They were hateful. I didn’t bring it up again in college. It was one of those things I didn’t even let people know around me. I felt stupid whenever I told them that again or whenever I brought it up there’s something wrong with me. I have dyslexia, wonderful. It caused issues at my jobs and stuff. I would transpose numbers and say stuff weird all the time. It caused problems with my real estate photography business and required me to hire an assistant to put in all addresses because we had photographers knocking on the wrong doors to take photos like 466, but you put 644 Maple Street or whatever.
That was going on in there. I was always struggling with that and I ended up failing out of college or quitting college five times until I started running my own business. The business is what gave me the confidence of, “I can do anything.” I can let my dyslexia and make me think it’s a learning disability or I can make me think it’s a superpower, which however, I look at it is how it’s going to be. I said, “I’m creative and I’m going to say that’s the dyslexia’s fault or credit to dyslexia.” I can’t look at the book and look at it like most people do. I have to take pictures in different ways. I have to chunk texts in different ways. I see things vividly and I like how I envision things. That’s why I was successful with the photography side of things is because I can’t read a story to you and make it sound amazing. I have to show you my story. It’s because I’m more of a visual and kinesthetic learner and it works that way for me.
I had my photographers out shooting one day and I’m fishing with my mom. I said, “I need to do something with my life.” She’s like, “What do you want to do?” By the end of the conversation, I’m like, “I’m going to be a teacher.” She looked at me like, “Are you kidding me? You hated every second of school. You hated everybody at school and now you want to go be their coworker?” I’m like, “Yeah, I could do it.” I signed up for a four-year degree plan and I asked them, “I like to do things my way and at my pace.” They’re like, “Go for it. They stack as much as you want, as long as you don’t fall into these grade levels. You won’t be on academic probation or anything.” I said, “Okay.” In my first semester, I did 43 credit hours. I’m doing four times the normal amount of work. I’m like, “Can I do that again?” They’re like, “Absolutely.” The next semester, I completely wiped out my Bachelor’s degree. I finished my bachelor’s in two semesters and then I did my student teaching on that third semester.
I’ve never heard of anybody doing that before.
It is ridiculously fast. It’s a competency-based university, it’s regionally-accredited, but they let you work at your own pace and if your pace is obsessive-compulsive, more power to you. That’s what I was. I had given myself this freedom with my job, I could spend as much time as I needed to at school so I could spend 16 hours a day on the schoolwork if I needed to wherein I was working on it nonstop. Once I realized I’m going to do something to make sure another kid doesn’t get called stupid, it became my passion. I went and got my teaching degree. I finished all of that in fourteen months from start to finish, from zero credits to degree in hand.
I decided I’m on a roll, I might as well do my Master’s. I enrolled in two years of Master’s program and I finished it in four months. I blew through it and I did my capstone, which is the thesis project. I still have my bullheaded thing on that because I did growth mindset as my thesis project and they were like, “That’s too broad. You’re going to have trouble defending that and getting data on it.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m going to do it anyway.” I did it and I wrote a captivating thesis for a growth mindset and how it affects kids. I essentially used my story to show teaching them seventeen different ways to do addition is cool and all but let me teach them to have some self-efficacy in their lives, let me teach them how to be proud of themselves.
Let me teach them how to know that because mom and dad aren’t good at math doesn’t mean you won’t be good at math. That math is important. Even though we’re in a rural school, we have a 90% poverty level, crazy high. Let me show them that this is not a sentence that they have to serve, that they can do whatever they want with their lives. I did it and it ended up being the 88 best pages I could have ever written of anything. The research was awesome. It got me going. That’s what made me enroll in my PhD in Educational Psychology. I thought, “There are a lot of psychologists and PhDs who study it, but how many of them get to live it?” That’s where my perspective came from and that’s why I enrolled in my doctorate and working towards that.
How many months are you going to finish your PhD?
Unfortunately, they throttled me on my PhD. I have to keep up with the class on this one because we’re in a cohort together. My PhD will be 36 months total, 36 to 60 months. It won’t be 60 months because I’m 90 to nothing. I got to get it done. The dissertation time is the longest time on it. That’s where it starts. You can get done in three years or if you want to take a long time to do it, you can get done in five, you have to have it done within seven or else you’d get dropped and have to start over, which is terrible. That’s the route that I’m going is to get my PhD in Educational Psychology, so I can immerse myself in what are kids thinking? How can we make this a better world for kids to be learning in?
Thank you for sharing your story and I love to hear this because it’s illustrative. It can help our readers who might not understand some of the situations that they’re dealing with in their day-to-day situations in life. Somewhere along the way, because you even talked about it when you dropped out of high school like in childhood, I’m breaking it down from what I see as a trauma specialist. You have more of an external locus of control where you were looking outside of you. You didn’t care what other people thought, but if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have acted the way you did.
I cared so much about what they thought that I tried to push them away so they couldn’t analyze me.
Having that moment whenever you realized, “I’m going to hurt somebody if I don’t get out of here.” There’s a shift from what’s going on around you to what’s going on inside of you. My guess would be there was something even deeper going on. It was more than, “I’m going to hurt somebody and I don’t want to see somebody else hurt.” You’d been in a lot of fights and you’d already seen people hurt. I suspect that maybe there was a little bit of a shift in, “I don’t want to live with myself if I hurt somebody too badly.” That is a switch to an internal locus of control like, “How can I bring myself from inside myself a little bit more under control?” It did.
It took you time. It took you years. It’s not something that happened in the snap of a finger. It didn’t happen on your yoga mat. It didn’t happen on a rock while you’re sitting there meditating, overlooking this beautiful mountain scene. That’s not where it happens. It happens at the moment and in a moment of adversity when you realize that, “I’m not going to do this anymore.” Your story illustrates that beautifully because those are those moments in life where they’re transformational. That’s where the alchemy happens is whenever we can stop ourselves at the moment and chooses a different path for ourselves. You gave examples of several of that. Thank you for sharing all of that. You’ve been through a lot. We’re getting close to the end. Tell us a little bit about The Mindset Matrix.
I started reflecting on everything that’s happened in my life and The Mindset Matrix was the podcast that was born because of my thesis project. I saw the impact that a couple of weeks of explicit mindset instruction had on these kids. I had kids calling themselves stupid saying dreamily showing characteristics of an extreme growth mindset. I had kids that would try hard on things that would give up easily on other things. I thought, “Imagine if educators had access to see the importance of growth mindset.” My administrator talked to me and she said, “We had talked about my growth mindset thesis because I had to do it at school with my third-grade class.” She goes, “I want you to talk to everybody about the growth mindset, all the teachers.” I’m like, “I’m a first-year teacher getting ready. Do you want me to give a three-hour presentation on growth mindset?” She’s like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “Okay.”
I started thinking about it and I started writing and I’m like, “I need to contact some experts on this. I need to talk to some people.” I started talking to people who were on TED Talks and stuff like this and having great conversations. I’m like, “Why am I not sharing this with people?” That’s exactly how it went. Ever since my photography, you go big or go home, that’s where I got the idea. I would go to TED Talks and I look for people and that’s where I met J. Stuart Ablon, where he had a TED Talk on skill versus will and kids. We were able to have an hour-long conversation on growth mindset with kids. I’m like, “We’ve got to record these and get them out there for people to hear.” The more educators can start realizing the impact of their words, the world would be a better place. Teaching kids that it’s okay to fail. You need to fail. Failing is inevitable. Quitting is the option.
That’s what I tried to focus on and that’s what we do in The Mindset Matrix. I get people who have had bad stuff going on, bad stuff happens. They’ve had adversity, they grew up, they’ve been in prison or they’re experts in their fields on this. I like to be controversial. I’ll try to play devil’s advocate a lot. It’d be like, “What about the people who do this or this?” I want them to be able to defend their position and that’s why I do it. So far, I’ve yet to be able to find anybody I’ve interviewed that cannot attribute their mindset to their success. Where there is a success, there’s the mindset behind it. There’s usually adversity with the strongest mindsets comes a whole world of adversity. There are people that say, “I’m at rock bottom. There’s no way I can do it.” Rock bottom is a great way to push yourself off of a solid foundation.
There’s the mindset behind rock bottom too. There’s the mindset behind everything we do in life. Mindset is what happens inside of us that drives our behavior is paramount to everything that we do. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the work of Dan Ariely. He’s a Behavioral Economist, which is one of his degrees, and he works at Duke University. I don’t know if they’re Ivy or not. He’s written a book called Predictably Irrational. He studies why people make the decisions they do. Every decision we make in life is emotional. The conscious suppression in American culture and Western culture of emotions, it’s not just our culture. There are other cultures around the world where we deny that we have emotions.
If you have an emotional issue or some emotional dysregulation like depression or anxiety or something going on inside of you, then you’re labeled as somehow defective. We’re not good enough or there’s something wrong with you. Instead of helping people learn how to manage what happens inside of them because we have this focus on the world around us, we have to buy this thing so we can be whatever the commercial or the advertisement says.
Everything in our world pushes us and it’s more than advertising, like TV shows and movies. Everything that we watch is pushing us to care about what other people think of us and how we appear and how we show up in the world instead of what fulfills you. What brings you joy? What drives your soul? I believe that we need to start changing the conversation and changing the language a little bit. Are people going to jump on board? I don’t know but growth mindset is important and there’s the mindset behind all of it.
The thing that I like about the mindset is it’s essentially binary. Your decisions are based on a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. It’s one of those two things. You’re either stuck where you are making your decision because of comfort or you’re willing to grow and there’s not a lot of in-between there. That’s why I like it. It’s easy to see how your decision was made if it’s off of 1 of those 2.
A growth mindset requires self-awareness. It’s a given. You have to have self-awareness. If you don’t have self-awareness, you’ll go back into where you’re subconscious, you weren’t consciously choosing to sabotage yourself. You were subconsciously sabotaging yourself. That’s what happens. It’s a subconscious behavior where you look back and you’re like, “Why did I do that? What was I thinking?” The thing is you weren’t thinking. It was not your conscious mind that chose to do that. Your subconscious took over. I don’t know if our readers are aware of this, but your conscious mind is 5% of who you are and 5% of the control that you have in this world. The other 95% is your subconscious that’s driving the bus. If you have no awareness of your subconscious and what’s going on inside of you and no self-discipline, then it’s like letting the kindergarteners drive the school bus.
What’s great is you can change that subconscious thought with a growth mindset. The more conscious effort you put towards changing your mindset, the more your subconscious will take care of it. That’s what’s awesome about it. You can say, “I’m going to give it one more try,” because there’s that part. You’ve all seen the kids on video games where they’ll get frustrated and slammed down their controller, that’s a fixed mindset, “I’m done. I give up. I can’t do any better.” You’ve got that other kid that tries again. That’s the growth mindset. You can train yourself to be more comfortable with failure and to try again. That’s what I love about it.
If anybody’s interested in the Mindset Matrix, the website is MindsetMatrixPro.com. Jonathon, thank you for coming on the show. Before we finally check out, are there any final tips or bits of wisdom you’d like to leave with our readers?
I would say the biggest thing is don’t ever get down on yourself where you are because there’s no designated place where you need to be at any certain age or point in your life. Anywhere you are now is a good time to start doing something to work towards tomorrow. That’s the biggest thing is never think that I’m too old or it’s too late or anything to work on that. I appreciate you having me on the show. I’ve learned a lot from you. I feel like I need to pay you for a therapy session. You’ve locked all my secrets and my life and I understand myself better now.
I’m glad that you have a better understanding of yourself and that’s why I have these conversations because many people don’t realize what drives their behavior and what’s behind it. Jonathon, thank you. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to have you here. For all of our readers, I’m Jennifer Whitacre. You can find me at JenniferWhitacre.com. Please subscribe, read and share. This information can help a lot of people. We fear what we don’t know. When you don’t know your mind, you fear to be alone with yourself. If you can understand a little bit more about what goes on inside yourself, then you’re going to reduce your anxiety, you’re going to reduce your depression and all of these other mental illnesses and diagnoses that are at epidemic levels. Please share, this is important information. I hope to see you all.
- The Mindset Matrix
- Predictably Irrational
About Jonathon Walters
Jonathon Walters grew-up facing adversity that most of us can’t fathom. Shortly after his grandfather was murdered, his 5th-grade teacher humiliated him in front his peers. This was a turning point in his life. In the years that followed, Jonathon lost several family members to health issues, such as heart attacks and cancers, and Jonathon eventually found himself a homeless, dyslexic, high-school drop-out.
Yet, Jonathon managed to pull himself out of homelessness to become a successful, 6-figure entrepreneur with a Master’s degree in Education. Jonathon is also a full-time teacher (who’s vowed never to humiliate his students), a PhD student in Educational Psychology, and founder of The Mindset Matrix podcast.