By Dr. Monroe Mann, PhD, Esq, MBA, ME, LLM, EMT
& Founder, Break Diving, Inc.
Note: this article, written by Monroe Mann, originally appeared as a chapter in the book, “Guerrilla Marketing on the Front Lines” by Jay Conrad Levinson & Mitch Meyerson, published in 2008
This is a story of overcoming odds, and turning the most sour of lemons into the most delicious of lemonades. I took a situation that most would consider bad luck of the highest order, and turned it into one of the greatest experiences of my life. You see, on May 23rd, 2004, I was busy running my business school for artists, playing with my band and acting in films, and producing the world’s first wakeboarding feature film entitled, “In the Wake.” On May 24th, Uncle Sam changed all that with a solitary phone call: “Lieutenant Mann, pack your bags. You’re going to war.” And I was scared out of my mind.
LESSON ONE: Prepare for the unexpected. I joined the Army National Guard in 1999, 2 years before 9/11. While I knew that war might happen, I certainly didn’t realistically think it would happen. Well, I was wrong, and I learned my lesson the very hard way. I’m hoping you will learn from my mistake: PLAN FOR THE UNTHINKABLE; IT ACTUALLY JUST MIGHT HAPPEN!
So, yes, I was scared out of my mind. Not scared so much about going to battle—for I was trained for just this event. No, ironically, I was more scared about leaving my civilian life behind. About leaving everything behind. About my dreams being shattered, destroyed, and thrown to the wolves. And depressed beyond comprehension.
Breaking the lease for my Union Square office in Manhattan—on Broadway!—was probably the worst. Or maybe it was my band breaking up. No, wait, it was the fact that I had to tell everyone that my feature film, In the Wake… was no longer in production. Or quite possibly, it was the gut-wrenching feelings of disappointment when I had to shut down my business and tell my clients and students I would be incommunicado for quite some time.
Depressed? That doesn’t even come close to how I was feeling. I was absolutely miserable. And sure, I’ll admit it: I cried. Proud to be serving my country, but jeesh, do my career and business have to get thrown so far into left field as a result? That’s how I felt the entire first three weeks of my training up at Fort Drum, NY.
But wait! If I allowed this deployment to be a problem, then it would be a problem.
So my first step to recovery was simple: I just stopped thinking of this deployment as a problem. After these few weeks of depression, I suddenly realized that if I continually looked at this as a setback, rather than as an opportunity, then it would be the worst year of my life (if not the death of me). Not only would I have a loaded weapon in my hand every day, but I’d be depressed too. Probably not a good combination!
If I chose to look at my service to my country as a problem, rather than a challenge—and in fact a solution—then possibly I would become just another could’ve been, would’ve been, should’ve been. Forget that. I am a GOING TO BE!
Rather than give up on my ambitions, I decided to heed my own advice. I decided to practice what I preach and live by something I call the Break Diver’s Creed: No Rules, No Excuses, No Regrets.® What is Break Diving, you ask? Simple: instead of waiting for opportunities to float to the surface, Break Divers dive right in and find those opportunities themselves.
Why does fighting in a war have to be only a bad thing for me personally? Says who? Why can’t I help the Iraqis and help myself at the same time? Why does my career have to go on hold, and my businesses get shut down? Where does it say that? Why couldn’t I—like a true Guerrilla—use this deployment to my advantage?
Well, using this chain of thinking, I forced myself to look at my 18-month combat sabbatical—not as a setback—but as an opportunity and a blessing. I became determined to make this experience something I would be grateful for, and benefit from. I became determined to make my deployment—my deployment into a WAR ZONE where I just might die—not only an educational playground, but a veritable potpourri of possibility.
And so I did.
LESSON TWO: Refuse to be a victim of your circumstances. Life is what it is, and people who are successful do great things with whatever hand they are dealt. It’s too easy to be a victim; it’s a lot more impressive to be a master of your circumstances. You are not a victim unless you allow yourself to be. In my opinion, a victim is someone who allows bad circumstances to overshadow the good things in life, and who forgets to seek the good that can come from the bad. Don’t let that happen! It’s difficult, I know, but the alternative is failure. And truly, there is nothing more disgusting than someone who has accepted his fate. Here’s the solution: LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, AND REALIZE THAT SUCCESS IS YOUR FATE.
The transformation from depressed victim to conquering victor began for me at Fort Drum, by writing out the ‘Top Twenty Benefits of Me Going to Fight in the War in Iraq’. That list included things like, “Serving Your Country”, “Great Ideas for Screenplays”, “Great Ideas for Books”, even “Makes Me a More Interesting Person.” I kept that list in my pocket during our unit’s entire deployment.
Perhaps you might find it even more interesting to discover that not only did that list keep my spirits up, but to my surprise, those inspiring words actually came to pass. I actually did most of the things I wrote on my list.
Sure, I served my country, but while there in Iraq—working 12-hour days as an advisor to the 4th Iraqi Army and dealing with the daily stress and anxiety of mortars, rocket fire, car bombs, and rifle shots—I also wrote a book inspired by these experiences called, Battle Cries for the Underdog – Fightin’ Words for an Extraordinary Life. The book has recently been released, and has been recognized as the first self-help book to come out of modern combat. I even managed to get a blurb from the man himself, Jay Conrad Levinson. He writes, “Monroe Mann gives readers an almost too-vivid vision of immortality through success. In Battle Cries for the Underdog, Mann energizes classic words that have been uttered since the beginning of conflict on earth with his own insightful, encouraging, and relentless inspiration. Yet, these are timeless words, and Mann deserves special commendation for his restraint in still allowing the classics to speak for themselves. A profound work.” Thanks Jay!
Did I mention that I also managed to keep my business alive and breathing by sending a weekly tip, called a RoeTip, to my email list every week. From Iraq. From a warzone?
Oh, yes, something else. I kept a video camera in my cargo pocket the entire time I was there. I have over 100 hours of original miniDV footage that I am now turning into the world’s first comedic documentary about the war in Iraq, called Fobbits – and Other Tales from the Lighter Side of Combat.
Perhaps I should also point out that while in Iraq, I enrolled in an online novel writing class, and in my spare time, began tapping out the beginnings of my first John Grisham-like thriller. I also hired a script doctor to help fine tune the script to my film, In the Wake, and got a write-up about the film in Wakeboarding Magazine. I also managed to get interviewed by a number of publications about the film, the book, and my school.
How did I do all this? Nine simple letters. G.U.E.R.R.I.L.L.A.
LESSON THREE: Do not limit yourself! Among the many lessons I learned from the military, the strongest is this: you have NO IDEA of what you are capable, so stop trying to put a limit on what you can accomplish! That is defeatist. Don’t do it! Stay away from that negativity. Don’t get depressed when something goes awry, or when up against an ‘insurmountable’ obstacle—instead, ask yourself, “If I had to make it work, how COULD I make it work?” Then, when you get the answers, the next step should be clear: MAKE IT WORK! YOUR LIFE TRULY DOES DEPEND ON IT!
Some of you might be wondering how I met Jay in the first place, yes? Well, before I left for Iraq, I decided to go out on a limb and try to contact my hero, Mr Levinson himself. If I were to die in Iraq, at least I would let Jay know what an impact he had on my life before I had no life. Logical, no?
So I launched online. I found the email address for his webmaster. Expecting to hear nothing, I sent the webmaster an email with a request to please forward my message on to Jay. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the next morning, you’ll never guess whose return address I saw when I heard AOL scream, “You’ve got mail!” I received an email from the great marketer himself, Jay Conrad Levinson! I was the happiest man alive!
Turns out Jay—go figure—is also a US Army intelligence officer, and—again, go figure—he actually read my book The Theatrical Juggernaut. He actually knew who I was!
Long story short, we became email pen pals, and as my training continually moved closer to the imminent flight to Kuwait, we became friends.
By the time I left Iraq, we were far more than just friends: we teamed up to write one of the newest books in the Guerrilla series entitled, Guerrilla Networking. Co-written by Jay Conrad Levinson and (ta da!)… Monroe Mann.
LESSON FOUR: If it weren’t for the war, and my thoughts of impending death, I would never have felt such an urgency to get in touch with Jay. If it weren’t for the war, I would probably not be co-writing a book with him, and you certainly wouldn’t be reading this story. Facing death is certainly a wake up call, but please, don’t wait until death is staring you in the face to find the courage to reach for your dreams, and to do what you should have done yesterday, and to say the things you know you should be saying, and to say thank you to the very people who change and impact your life. TOMORROW COULD BE THE LAST DAY YOU HAVE TO LIVE. ACT ACCORDINGLY.
Ladies and gentlemen, the bottom line message of this chapter is to use setback to your advantage. I’m not sharing my story with you to brag. I am instead, as I like to say, just sharing the vibe. I am sharing the vibe with you to inspire you. To help you realize once and for all that there truly are no obstacles, except those we set up in our mind. To help you realize once and for all that there is opportunity right in front of us at every waking moment of our lives, and that it is but our own self-imposed limitations that prevent us from seeing them. I am sharing my story with you to help you realize once and for all that if you fail… then it is—brace yourself—YOUR FAULT!
You see, you cannot blame your circumstances! I think my situation has proven this. I could easily have used Iraq as a great ‘excuse’ for why my career went down the drain, why my business ‘went under’, and why I never ‘made it’ in show business. Gosh, and every one would have felt so sorry for me.
But that’s too easy. I refuse to be a victim. Because I am a Guerrilla. And a Guerrilla Marketer to boot.
One of the clear reasons why I was able to keep my dreams alive in my own head and my business alive for my clients and fans is through the use of Guerrilla Marketing principles. Low-cost, high-impact marketing. That is Jay’s philosophy in a nutshell, and one of the secrets to my success while stationed in a combat zone.
I kept my business alive, and even expanded its reach, from the most unlikely place on earth. How so? The list of weapons I used—beyond my rifle and pistol of course!—is endless: mailing lists, websites, testimonials, referrals, press releases, advertising, word-of-mouth, a newsletter, email, and on and on. And of course, a stubborn refusal to give up in the face of defeat.
The writing is on the wall: I’m a Levinson disciple through and through. Like a true ‘guerrilla’, I decided to beat the odds and turn the war and my unlikely odds to my advantage. Not only did I help the Iraqi people in their drive for freedom and security, but I helped myself at the same time. And truly, if I was able to keep my dreams alive from Iraq, then certainly you can keep your dreams alive from wherever you may find yourself as well. Get what I’m saying? I’m not trying to minimize your problems; I am simply trying to put what you think are problems into a different perspective in hopes of making us all realize that our ‘problems’ aren’t really that problematic after all.
As they say in my business… the show must go on! It doesn’t matter if the lights go out, if you aren’t rehearsed enough, or if the lead performer fails to show up… the show must go on. This principle applies as equally well to your own business endeavors: the marketing must go on! The business must drive forward! There is no alternative but success!
It doesn’t matter what your own personal situation is, you must—as Jay points out repeatedly in Guerrilla Marketing—be Consistent with a capital ‘C’. In other words, no matter what comes your way, you must continue to be a Guerrilla. You can’t let the odds against you diminish your determination and momentum. You must not allow your own personal ‘deployment to a combat zone’ allow you to slow down, give up, or worse, quit. You need—read absolutely need—to use anything that happens (or doesn’t happen) to your marketing advantage. Get up! Fight one more round! You are three feet from gold! And four feet from stardom!
Bottom Line: whatever your own ‘war situation’ may be—get over it! We all experience them. The winners overcome them. As my drill sergeants would say to me every day at basic training, “SUCK IT UP AND DRIVE ON, PRIVATE! I DON’T WANT TO HEAR YOUR EXCUSES!” Take solace and comfort in the undeniable fact that you are not the only one experiencing difficulty in the running and expansion of your business. You are not the only one! J
I know that each of you reading this can—and are going to—become a great success, and that you are soon going to be the future powerbrokers in this great nation. I salute you. I applaud you. I support you.
And I look forward to meeting you… AT THE TOP!
(And if you get to the top before me, please remember to pull me along. J)
LESSON FIVE: Opportunity is knocking wherever you may find yourself, no matter what your station in life may be. No matter what life hands you, there seems to always be a silver lining of opportunity for those who are looking for it. You, as a Guerrilla, need to look for it… and exploit it. Life often gives us more upsets than it gives us victories; therefore, doesn’t it make sense to search for many of those opportunities in the upsets since we seem to get them in such abundant supply? If there’s one overarching lesson I learned while in Iraq, it is that the vast majority of people do not take advantage of the freedoms they are given. Most—in fact—take for granted the economic freedom, the freedom of the press, the freedom to work, the freedom not to work, and the freedom to enjoy the fruits of our labor that we are afforded each and every day. Don’t squander that freedom. Take advantage of it. Every single day. Ladies and gentlemen: OPPORTUNITY IS KNOCKING. ARE YOU LISTENING?
P.S. – One last question. Each week, someone new is going to be on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes, etc. Either you… or someone else. The question is simple: Who is it gonna be?
NOTE: the below ‘bio blurb’ originally appeared in the book, so it is reprinted below. It was current as of 2008, though much has evolved in the years since! Any phone or web addresses that are no longer functional have been removed.
*Monroe Mann—a certified Guerrilla Marketing Coach—is the founder of Unstoppable Artists, a business, marketing, financial, and strategic planning firm for up-and-coming actors and artists, located in Manhattan, New York City. His clients have produced their own films, directed their own shows, started their own bands, written their own books, signed with major agencies and management firms, and been written about/been guests on Carson Daly, Inside Edition, Good Morning America, ABC News, Glamour Magazine, NY Times, NY Post, Boston Globe, Premiere Magazine, Entertainment Tonight, Backstage, Philadelphia Inquirer, and the list goes on and on. He is the founder of the American Break Diving Association; the CEO of Loco Dawn Films, LLC; and the producer of the upcoming feature film, In the Wake, with music by Avril Lavigne, Sum41, & yes, his own band, Running For Famous. He is the author of the books, Battle Cries for the Underdog, To Benning & Back – the Making of a Citizen Soldier, the co-author of Guerrilla Networking with Jay Conrad Levinson (2007), as well as Guerrilla Marketing for the Arts (2007), and the author of The Theatrical Juggernaut – The Psyche of the Star (2nd Edition, Director’s Cut), a book that Jay Levinson says is the only book besides his own on his computer desk bookshelf. If you’d like to receive Monroe’s inspiring business newsletter via email, visit http://www.monroemann.com or call the school at —— for a free career consultation by phone.