Sometimes to appreciate where you are, you have to go back to how it all began. In life there is undoubtedly some obstacle, some struggle, some lack of faith you had to overcome before you could get to where you are today.
Make no mistake there is always a tale of courage, hope, or inspiration – or maybe all three – which others can learn from, or from which we can empathize. We can all grow from the experience of learning what you have to share.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (65): From Darkness to Light
For nearly two weeks Zephan Blaxberg sat there in his kitchen, in mental pain and anguish, staring at his collection of medications… and that knife. He sat there thinking, painfully considering the reality of his current, tormented situation. This is what it had come to, his eventual fate, for even he realized there was no way his life could, or should, be like this. Better to end it all rather than continue on attempting to survive in a constant state of panic, anxiety and suffering.
At 15 years of age, before he had a chance to really live, Zephan Blaxberg was ready to die.
“If there was a medication, you name it, I was on it”, says Zephan. “At 13 I was diagnosed with bipolar manic-depressive disorder and panic and anxiety order. I had already lost a friend to suicide and another who died in a car accident.” Zephan knew he was in a dark place.
He says believe it or not, a lot of uncertainty in his life really began when he was young. Zephan’s parents divorced when he was only 2-years-old. His father became very religious, his mother did not. Zephan was shuttled back and forth between his parents and their very different lifestyles. He says it was not an easy life for him, he was constantly in a state of flux, and as a teenager when he saw others suffering, he too suffered, it became too much for him to bear. He just couldn’t cope.
“I was having 50-to-60 panic attacks a day”, says Zephan. It was debilitating to the point I never graduated from the 8th grade because I was essentially bedridden.” Zephan was on a host of medications for his disorders, including strong tranquilizers. But in the fall of what would have been the beginning of 9th grade for Zephan, he made the decision to stop his treatments – stop them cold. No more meds, and with no one knowing what he was doing. Zephan decided he was ready to face whatever happened next.
“At 15 I cut my medicine, cold turkey, without telling anyone”, says Zephan. It was a two-week process of experiencing the worst day on earth over and over. My mom would go to work, my brother and sister would go off to school and I would sit there alone. Horrible withdrawal for two weeks. I would stare at the pills, and I had that knife, but I couldn’t do it. I thought about killing myself multiple times, but I couldn’t do it.”
After two weeks of “hell”, the panic attacks stopped and life began for Zephan. Now, 25, Zephan says it’s been a long process since that time, but he has learned a lot about himself, so much so he is ready to share what he as learned and inspire others in a podcast called, The Year of Purpose.
More on that in a moment.
Zephan managed to graduate from high school and go to college, attending James Madison University. There he majored in film, but minored in criminal justice were Zephan says 75%of the courses were about psychology, abnormal psychology and science of the mind. It was something Zephan knew about because he had lived it, but he also used it to his advantage when it came to working with the psychology of other people.
In his final year of college, it was Zephan who convinced a professor to allow him and several classmates to make a movie, one for which if they passed would give them course credit. It had never been done before, but Zephan and one of his fraternity brothers had a script and a plan. The movie, titled, “Six Things I Know About You”, was about his fraternity brother’s infatuation with a girl for which he only knew six things, and how he had used this infatuation as a huge distraction so he didn’t have to deal with other issues, like the breakup with his ex-girlfriend and the very recent and unexpected death of his mother.
Professor after professor denied the boys the chance to earn credits for making a full-length film. Until finally, in a last-ditch effort, one professor agreed ,after Zephan put his own college career on the line, telling the teacher he could fail him (Zephan had been going to school year round to graduate early) and if so, he would come back and re-take another year of college credits.
With an agreement in hand the boys went to work on their 118-page script. From January to December of 2010, the team of students revised the 118-page script, did casting calls, got donations from local businesses, rented school film equipment, even hired the services of a stunt person off Craig’s list. They premiered the film in front of sold-out crowds in the movie theater on the James Madison Campus. Zephan says the reaction was incredible. They took the final film and submitted it to the Broadcast Education Festival. The film didn’t win any awards – but the team got their grade: An “A”.
It was time to graduate.
Just a few years removed from those horrifying few weeks where his depression and anxiety nearly cost him his life, Zephan was flying high. He got a job out of college working in the video department with the largest information marketing company in the world, working with Bill Glazer and Dan Kennedy. But after about a year the business moved to Chicago and Zephan was unemployed. But he refused to go back to the dark place which had held him prisoner.
Zephan did some free-lance video work then got hired at a local Apple store as an iPhone and iPad tech. But he says the “aura of working with one of the world’s largest company fades fast”.
Zephan wanted out, but didn’t know what to do next. Then one day an irate customer came barreling into the store, in front of 200 other people, complaining about her device and expecting Zephan to help her. He was busy and it got so heated the woman had to be removed by security. Out of the corner of his eye Zephan saw a former client, for whom he had done free-lance video work, who came over to ask what had happened. Zephan explained to the client about his unhappiness doing what he was doing now.
“The client of mine took me to dinner that night”, says Zephan. “And on a bartender napkin he showed me how easy it could be to start a business and to replace the $30,000 annual salary I was making at Apple. He made it so simple, showing me how it was not the $30,000, but the ability to earn $115.00 a day. I figured no matter what I did, I could find a way to make $115.00 a day, working only 5 days a week. That would equate to $30,000 a year. It made sense to me. The guy made it easy for me. I had been afraid to quit because I was afraid I would fail.”
The next day Zephan quit his job and decided he would start his own video business. The same frightened teenager, once on the edge of throwing it all away, was now about to embark on one of the hardest, but most rewarding experiences of life – become an entrepreneur, no net, just the talent and the will to survive.
Zephan said it was a lot of trial by error. He started reading online and figuring out how to create an LLC and talking to those he had worked with before. Fortunately some past clients, including the man who “saved” him from his most recent job, hired Zephan to do video. His referrals increased and he networked – getting his name out there and becoming the go-to-guy for video. He even got a gig to do a photo-shoot at the White House.
Now at only 25-years-of-age Zephan has built a team for his business, ZMB Media, (www.linkedin.com/in/zephanblaxberg), and he’s even managed to take time off to travel across this country with his friend, mainly by car, staying at friends homes and using airbnb (https://www.airbnb.com/) to truly get to know the “locals” and live the experience of each location from the “inside-out”.
Speaking to this young man, you can hear the confidence, enthusiasm and his zest for life. It’s hard to believe where he has come from and where he is today. Maybe when you feel you have lost something along the way, especially in those early years of life, you are more inspired to gain back what you think you missed, and that is simply to live life to the fullest and as Zephan says, “live life on your terms”.
In fact this past January Zephan started a worldwide podcast, The Year of Purpose, (http://yearofpurpose.podbean.com/), featuring speakers, authors, influencers and heroes all over the globe, on a journey for purpose. A recent podcast featured Sonya Baumstein, who is attempting to row 5700 nautical miles from Choshi, Japan to San Francisco… in a rowboat. Making the impossible, possible, realizing that we all have a gift to share and can accomplish feats and live a life which inspires others, these ideas inspire Zephan. His Year of Purpose podcast has more than 30,000 downloads and he has been on the front page of iTunes, (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/year-purpose-podcast-entrepreneurship/id961644268?mt=2).
Zephan is on a mission. The blackness which had enveloped Zephan’s life just years earlier is now a distant memory. But there are tremendous lessons learned and he is sharing those in his work, his podcast and his speaking engagements.
With all transparency my own daughter Sophie heard Zephan speak recently at a Teen Leadership Summit, and told me about him. I reached out to Zephan because I know it is the story we all have inside us that can help others to find their own purpose and inspiration. And Zephan has three tremendous lessons to share:
“The first thing is the lesson I learned from Bill Glazer: don’t ask, don’t get. Do we ask permission, or do it and apologize later. I found in everything, making the movie in college, starting my own business, doing the podcast… if you don’t ask, you are not opening yourself up to the opportunity.
The second one and it’s a really big thing, is that nothing is permanent anymore, life keeps changing. You come out of college you think you are set. Our parents raised us to think – just go to school, get a job, hold on to it for a really long time and retire. It doesn’t work like that anymore. I don’t want to just get a paycheck. Your job doesn’t have to be the job for the rest of your life. You can work and save up and then do what you really want to do.
And the third one is that happiness is a choice. It is a decision that comes from within. For example if you want to lose weight, to start that diet, you need to decide to do it. It won’t happen by just knowing you need to do it, it will happen when you make the choice to do it. It goes back to my own experience of depression and my medications. At the end of the day the meds were simply a band-aid, the underlying issue was still there. I had to be the one to take action to make the change. So do you.”
And now Zephan Blaxberg is making a difference. From his Year of Purpose podcast, to the years it took to find his own purpose, Zephan says he wants to change lives. The gift for us is this young man started with changing his own.
From darkness to light and the glow from Zephan which we all get to share.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Huffington Post Blogger, Speaker, Emmy Winner, Financial Services
Author: The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
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