I overcame being beaten up and bullied as a teen to build multiple million dollar plus companies in my 20s. In my 30s, a rare health disorder severely disabled me, and I battled against the odds to regain my health so that I could help my pregnant wife with her fight against cancer. When it was all over, we were delivered from hardship, and I had become a pro blogger.
I want you to know who I really am. Every “about page” I see talks about how great the person is and what they have accomplished in business. My close friends and family have seen me on top of the world running multi-million dollar businesses. They have also seen me mentally and physically disabled, watching helplessly as I faded away. This is my story, and I hope that it gives you an idea of who I really am.
Making Money Mowing Grass and Investing in Cards
As a kid, I spent every dollar I made on calculated investments in baseball and football cards. I knew the value of every card, and I kept each one pristine. Other kids walked out of K.B. Toys with action figures. I walked out with boxes of baseball card rack packs. In December, I used my hard-earned lawn mowing cash to buy every 1984 Topps Football rack pack I could get my hands on, depleting every single store in the area. Years later, I would turn that $300 investment into $20,000 to pay for my college education.
Beaten But Not Broken
My freshman year in high school was the roughest year of my young life. I felt like I had a target on my back walking through the halls as a white boy in a world where everyone was Hispanic. Every single day, a local gang of older boys cornered me by the lockers and made me wish that I was anywhere but there… anyone but me.
My daily ritual involved watching the shadows and anticipating when I would get jumped next. I eyed every child warily, knowing that if they were bigger than me, they would hit me, spit on me and throw food at me. If they were smaller than me, they would just gang up on me and win the numbers game, because I had no one to fight with me. From the time I rolled out of bed to the time I climbed back into it, I hated everything about my existence.
I went to the mall with my mom a few days after my fifteenth birthday. It had been months since I’d smiled or laughed, and it felt like years. I was toying with the idea of killing myself with my dad’s shotgun. There wasn’t a single day that I didn’t think about pulling the trigger.
As I browsed Walden Books with my mom, one book caught my attention, and I stopped on the spot to leaf through it. I kept reading until my mom found me. I was hungry for knowledge that I didn’t even know I wanted, but now that I’d found it, I needed it, and I just had to keep reading. I didn’t stop thinking about what I’d read for the rest of the day, and I kept wanting to come back and read more.
That book was Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by Napoleon Hill. It saved my life and planted me firmly on the path to success. Nothing would change at school for another year. Despite that, the words in Napoleon Hill’s book gave me the will to battle through it all, and I did. It would all be worth the fight, and Napoleon Hill told me that first.
My First Business Selling NSA Water Filters
During my junior year of high school, I swallowed my fears and took the leap. I purchased a multi-level marketing distributorship and a thousand dollars worth of inventory in water filters. This would be my very first real business, and years of selling baseball cards and watching my dad’s insurance sales tactics from afar had prepared me. I got my hands on my dad’s customer list, and I dialed for dollars all afternoon after school.
I had a formulaic approach to these phone calls, and I quickly learned how to tweak it to be as effective as possible. First, I introduced myself as my dad’s son in the interests of full transparency… and letting the customer know that we had a connection via my dad’s business always helped. Next, I would ask the potential customer what time would be best to meet up and demonstrate what they can do to have tap water that’s 80 percent cleaner. Armed with an old-school videotape and a water testing solution, I knocked out five presentations a week. I made several thousand dollars before my dad asked me to stop calling his customers, and I went back to focusing on girls and playing sports.
All Everything Baseball
My senior year was all about baseball. I was the most feared hitter in the region. At 6’4″ and 220 pounds, I could hit a baseball further than anyone. My end of the year batting average was .683 with seven home runs and 52 walks. As a pitcher, I didn’t allow more than three hits in any game, which included two no-hitters.
Working My Way Through College
After two years of playing Junior College baseball, I knew I wouldn’t make it as a professional. I loved baseball with a passion and I was great at it, but it wasn’t my future. I decided to quit baseball and move to Austin, so that I could eventually get accepted to the University of Texas at Austin. I had to own my choices and be my own person. I became a bouncer at the most famous club on the fabled 6th Street to pay my bills while I attended community college for a semester.
Within six months, I held in my hand an acceptance letter from UT Austin. I relished the letter, knowing that soon enough, I’d be in a place where I belonged. Over the next four years, I would pay my way through college by managing apartment complexes and selling off my massive baseball card investment on the weekends. I earned every moment of my experience at UT Austin, and my college years were that much sweeter because of it.
Getting 50 Million Unique Visitors a Month
In the days before Google Search became famous, I worked diligently for many months straight to reverse engineer the search algorithms of Yahoo and Alta Vista. I knew that this information would help me understand how to ensure that every website I created would rank number one. My diligence paid off and I cracked the algorithm perfectly. I called up my best friend and asked him if he wanted to come along for the ride. It took us less than a year to fly past seven figures. We blew every goal and expectation out of the water. During our second year, we spun off an e-mail marketing company, which also went over the seven figure mark.
At our peak, the company’s websites were getting over 50 million unique visitors each month. We helped build FreeCreditReport.com and Esurance from the ground up. I was worth millions and I wasn’t even thirty yet. I partied with billionaires and drove around in a custom Dodge Viper with over 800 horsepower. During the third year of the company, I started to have an increasing amount of health problems and it took my focus off the business. My best friend took over the company six months later.
Moving to Ireland for My European Start-Up
A year later, I packed up my entire life into one carry-on bag and flew into Dublin, Ireland. I secured spots for my new business and my home within a week. In 2007, I moved to London to open a second office. Every day, I visited museums, ducked into a new coffee shop, ate at world-class restaurants and explored one of the greatest cities in the world.
Despite this being one of the best periods of my life, something wasn’t clicking. My mind and my body continued to decline. After yet another medical emergency in London, I decided it was time to come home and fix what was broken.
A Rare Disorder Tears Down My Mind and Body
I moved to Houston and went to see dozens of specialists. None of them knew why my body was slowly failing me. My mind and my body were a shell of what they used to be. The list of countless problems continued to grow, and finally, my heart began to fail me too. My doctors sent me to one of the top cardiologists in the world. I underwent a cardiac stress test and the specialist immediately called in multiple doctors to review the results. If a top cardiologist needed extra opinions to interpret my stress test, I knew that my prognosis was not good.
Before I knew what was happening, the medical team whisked me away to have an echocardiogram. After seven hours of tests, I finally drove home. By the time I pulled in to my driveway, the head cardiologist had already called to inform me the grim news. He told me that I needed to come in for an immediate heart catheter procedure the next morning, and it would most likely be followed by open-heart surgery that evening. I made two of the roughest phone calls of my life and let my fiancée and my parents know what was happening.
The next morning I had the cardiac catheterization and spent an hour waiting in my hospital room with my parents and fiancée. The cardiologist came in with a team of specialists trailing behind him. He told me that in 40 years of practicing medicine, he had never seen anything like this. The muscle of my heart appeared healthy, but it was sending off signals that were identical to a failing heart. Nothing made sense. For the next six hours, I was introduced to seven different specialists who would begin conducting new tests on me.
At the end of that day, I got up from my hospital bed to take a shower. In the shower, I felt lightheaded and told my fiancée that something was wrong. I barely made it back to the bed before collapsing. My femoral artery had opened up where they had performed the heart catheter, and I was bleeding out rapidly.
Through the fog and the pain, I heard someone call out “code blue” as the room filled with medical personnel. A team of specialists and nurses took turns applying pressure to my leg, and one doctor stood over me asking me to hold on. As I lay there dying, I thought about how terrible it was for my life to end this way. I was completely naked, surrounded by panicking doctors and nurses. Everything was for nothing. I was going to die on this bed and nothing could stop it. I could see my fiancée distraught, collapsed against the wall, completely helpless.
I could do nothing to spare her from witnessing my suffering. Miraculously, after fifteen minutes of people taking turns applying pressure to my leg, I was stabilized. Clearly relieved and stressed to the point of joking, the lead doctor joked, “Give this man a towel and let’s end the free show.”
After nine days in the hospital and over 100 different tests and procedures, the doctors thought they had found the root of my problems. They believed a tiny brain tumor next to my pituitary gland had been secreting toxins for years without detection. My case moved on to MD Anderson and St. Lukes, and a doctor used a pharmaceutical drug to seal the tumor.
After this was done, I could still barely find words to complete a sentence, and I struggled to walk a matter of steps before experiencing vertigo. I felt demoralized having to urinate in bottles because I could not make it to the bathroom. I went back to moving from specialist to specialist, seeing 17 doctors in just a month.
The most likely theory was that the damage to my brain was constantly stimulating the other major systems of my body. If my body could not rest, then it was just a matter of time until I would die. I went on to see the top sleep specialists in the world, but there was no drug that would allow my adrenal system to rest. My brain literally woke up over 280 times per hour during sleep.
My medical tribulations brought me $390,000 into debt. The fortune that I made in my twenties was gone. I felt robbed by my body. I knew that if I could just think clearly again, then I could build another business. If I couldn’t think, then I was as good as dead. As I continued to battle, I became part of a miracle. My wife became pregnant with our first child. At that point, my body was so exhausted that I could barely tolerate our bodies coming together as one. Through a true act of love, at my weakest state, we were blessed with a new life.
At this point, I needed to get my life back, and I started pursuing experimental treatments. After seeing almost 50 different specialists in 60 days, I found a doctor that believed he knew how to help me. He gave me a cocktail of drugs, and I slept 38 hours over a 48-hour period. I slept so much that my wife thought that I was dying. My doctor said this was normal because I had a six-year sleep deficit to make up.
The final diagnosis was a rare disorder called Dysautonomia. The solution was a combination of three drugs and sleeping for 13 hours each night in a controlled environment, which was optimized to suppress my adrenal system. I would sleep in a room supercooled to 58 degrees, completely blacked out, soundproofed, with special air purifiers and earplugs. This kept absolutely all stimuli out during sleep. After 45 days, my mind and body started to slowly come back online. Little did I know that God was lifting me up only to face me with the biggest battle of my life.
My Pregnant Wife is Diagnosed with Stage 3 Cancer
My wife was five months pregnant when she found a red mark on her breast, along with a nodule the size of a pencil eraser. We watched in horror as the nodule reached the size of an orange within a month. That same month, my wife was diagnosed with stage three inflammatory breast cancer.
We had a week to decide between her life and my son’s life. If we treated the cancer, then we would most likely lose our unborn son. If we postponed the treatment until we could safely have a C-section, then my wife would have gone from a 40% survival rate to a 5% survival rate. Our son would be born alive, but hers would be gone, having waited so long to begin treatment. I couldn’t make such an agonizing choice.
I decided that there had to be another way. I spent 20 hours a day researching everything I could find about pregnancy and cancer treatment. Every waking hour, I hunched over the computer, reading journal article after journal article. E-mailing professional after professional. Three days in, I found something. On the fourth day, I asked the oncologist to perform a variation of the needle biopsy. My version used a hexagonal axis for the basis of testing all areas of the tumor. My suspicion was that the growth rate of the tumor, which was stimulated by pregnancy hormones, had caused the clinical diagnosis to be inaccurate.
The results came back on day five, and those results confirmed my theory. MD Anderson’s top doctors came together in an emergency meeting to discuss the direction of treatment, and I no longer had to choose between my wife and my son. On day seven, my wife joined only a handful of women to ever have had a mastectomy during the second trimester of pregnancy.
Our first son, Grayson Burke, was born healthy three months later. On December 23rd of that same year, we found out that my wife was officially cancer-free. The next day was the best Christmas Eve of my life, knowing that my wife had beaten cancer. It was the most difficult year of my life, and it made me appreciate life in an entirely new light.
Getting Back to Business and Another Son is Born
It took another two years for me to get my health back to the point that I could start another business. I came to terms with the fact that I would have to sleep in a special room for 13 hours a night in a drug-induced state for the rest of my life. Then I let it go and focused on what I could do. There was an awful lot left in store for me, and I knew it. By the end of the year, I had erased over half a million dollars of debt and established a profitable marketing services business. In November, my wife gave birth to my second son. We named him Branson Blake.
Becoming a Top Business Blogger
With my marketing company growing larger every day, I decided to start a small business blog. Before I launched the blog, I spent six months studying the most successful blogs in every industry. I created a process from everything I learned, and I launched my blog with my first seven posts. Within four months, my blog garnered over 100,000 monthly unique visitors. The blog and its passive income continued to grow. This gave me and my family the financial freedom that we always wanted to have. Today, I get over 5 million monthly visitors.
Launching My Course and Podcast
I spent another six months developing a course that laid out my step-by-step process for taking a blog from zero to 1 million monthly visitors. It broke down my secret process into easy to understand video modules. The course was so successful that I had to make people sign up to a waiting list so that I could make sure I delivered the best of me to everyone that was signing up.
I dedicated the last 4 months of 2015 preparing to launch my podcast, The Blogging Millionaire. I did not know anyone with a podcast, so I joined Podcast Paradise and leveraged the expertise of John Lee Dumas to guide me down the road of podcast success. The show is essentially me breaking down different strategies that I use to drive the millions of visitors to my blog. Last year, my podcast had well over 1 million downloads.
Handing My Life Over to God
This winter of 2016 was a little tougher than normal for my family. My youngest son started seeing double, and we quickly went from an eye doctor to a pediatric neurologist. They thought he might have a tumor or brain damage. Fortunately, the problem was with the muscles in his eyes. He ended up having eye surgery, and it fixed his eye problem. Even though the outcome was great, the three months of cat scans, MRIs, and tests took a toll on all of us.
To make matters worse, I had to go to the hospital on two successive months because of my heart being out of rhythm. The extra medication for my heart caused my other meds to not do what they were supposed to do, and my health quickly fell off the table.
I felt guilty for being a burden to my family when we needed to focus on our son’s health problem. With everything that was going on, I was overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Because the two times my heart went into flutter and AFIB occurred when I was sleeping, I dreaded as I watched the clock get closer to the time when I was supposed to go to sleep.
My doctor told me to take it easy, and I did. Unfortunately, no matter how many long walks I took, my mind continued to worry about my family and the prospect of my inability to be there for them. During this time, my Mom stayed with us for a couple of weeks to help us out. Before she went home, she tied a charm to my medicine cabinet. The charm was in my Grandmother’s purse the day that she unexpectedly passed away. It read, “With God All Things Are Possible.”
That small act of love from my mom led me to truly surrender my life to God. I bought the book The Purpose Driven Life and began a new path of faith. I would be lying if I told you that my anxiety and stress went away the day I surrendered. It took work. I went through each of the 40 days of The Purpose Driven Life and did what it asked me to do.
Starting from page one, I began reading and studying The Bible for 40 minutes a night. In November of 2017, I finished my ten-month personal Bible study, which took me from Genesis to Revelation. At this point, I can tell you that I rarely felt stress or anxiety anymore. I have come off the majority of my heart and blood pressure medication, and I am filled with love and joy on a daily basis.
Here I stand at the halfway point of my life. My beautiful wife and I have beaten the odds and have also been blessed with two children. More than anything, I’m grateful for my family’s faith in God. God has performed real miracles in my family over the years…
When my life was fading, he gave us our first child.
He lifted me up out of a mental abyss to be there for my wife and unborn child’s fight against cancer.
He used me as a vessel to tell the doctors they were wrong and saved my wife and child from having to undergo chemotherapy and possible radiation.
He worked through me to convince the surgeons to come up with a variation to the surgery, which reduced the surgery time from 10 hours to less than 3.
And of these are just a few of the miracles that God has performed in our lives.
I want you to know that we are a living testimony that with God… All things are possible!
I would greatly appreciate it if you took a quick moment to support my podcast by subscribing to it on iTunes or Google Play. If you are using an Apple iPhone or iPad, then go here to subscribe. If you are using another type of mobile device, then go to here to subscribe. Anyone using their computer can just go to iTunes or Apple Podcasts on their iPhone and search for “The Blog Millionaire.”
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my story, and I hope the story of your life is being filled with faith, hope, and love.