This story originally appeared in series about entrepreneurs at the intersection of business and life, written by a Eliya Finkelstein, Storytelling Coach & Marketing consultant. Find out more at www.heyeliya.com
In a single moment, as time hung suspended in the air…
a little hazel-eyed boy teetered on the edge of a decision that, though pivotal for him in his own life, was about to be monumental for his father.
The little boy knocked something off a table and as it hit the floor and smashed into a million tiny pieces, he froze in place.
A reflexive move young children use while they weigh the meaning of a new moment, while he weighed these questions:
What just happened?
Did I do something wrong?
Am I in trouble?
Am I safe?
Am I okay?
Am I okay?
The silence quickly filled with sobs as tears flowed freely, time collapsing again because of this simple unknowing.
A quest for acknowledgment and a need for answers opened a new void that was filling with fear… and more tears.
As fast as the tears came so did his father, who wrapped his son in his arms to do as great fathers do and answer the questions, abate the fear, and fill the void:
“It was an accident, it’s not your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong…
You are okay, you are not broken.
You are okay, I love you.”
But as that father built his son up in one of those moments parents innately know to be crucial in their child’s life, he was crumbling inside.
The events of his own life filled his mind: all the times he beat himself up and was angry at himself for doing something “wrong”. How it turned into the desperation to control each moment of his life, to manipulate the situation, to never let his guard down.
He realized he wasn’t “okay” – he had never been “okay”. Not from the time he himself was a small boy looking for the very reassurance he was now giving his own son.
A reassurance that never appeared.
As a result, his life had been filled with hurt.
And, in turn, he had been spending his life hurting himself, hurting his relationships, and hurting his business.
As he stood rocking his baby in his arms, he realized he didn’t love himself the way he loved his son – he never had.
And it was destroying him.
As far back as George Bryant can remember, he has searched for someone to tell him he was okay. Born as a baby addicted to cocaine to a mother with severe mental illness and a dysfunctional family, life was never “okay”.
He talks openly now of stories of abuse – both physical and sexual, of driving his father’s Harley Davidson through the door of a shed at four years old, of violence, bullying, self-harm, eating disorders… screaming for attention, screaming for validation, desperate to feel loved, desperate to just feel.
He talks openly about what can only be comprehended as his unwavering will to survive the life – the hand – he had been dealt.
His story from there is one he recounts as a cycle of not feeling good enough, driving himself physically harder than should be humanly possible just to prove his worth, and then sabotaging his progress. Only to repeat that process again.
It played out in his years in the Marine Corps where an extreme addiction to body image and weight loss led to bulimia, over exercising, Compartment Syndrome where he almost lost his legs, recovery, a World Record attempt, triathlons, a Paleo lifestyle, and then finally his outwardly successful brand, the Civilized Caveman.
Finally, it seemed like he had “won”, like he was enough, like things were okay.
But even then, behind the scenes life was falling apart.
Civilized Caveman had turned into another form of addiction for George, who found himself addicted to the dopamine and the feeling of being loved. Every single decision he made to scale that business turned from one of helping others, to a quest for another way to amass more “likes” on social media, more comments, and more fans.
“I started to see it as a demon in my life,” George says, “but it was also a back door I was keeping open. Like a backdoor to mediocrity, a backdoor into old patterns and habits and addictions. I knew I needed to get rid of it, but I didn’t have the courage; I wasn’t willing to own that. (Civilized Caveman) was my identity and I’d identified myself as it. I wasn’t really willing to let it go because I didn’t want to stand in my power… I was more committed to being right than I was to being good”
So George continued to pour into Civilized Caveman, as all addicts do, without seeing or knowing a way out. He was allowing it to be his identity – a place of comfort and familiarity. Still, things continued to disintegrate around him in his relationships with others and with himself.
At the same time, he picked up working as a digital marketing consultant on the side, a move that would serve as the final permission slip he needed to close the door on Civilized Caveman.
Seeing others succeed was the first time George started to believe in his own abilities.
It finally came to a head when, the morning after a transformational experience with Ayahuasca, George awoke to make the first business decision he ever made completely for himself. He called a friend and handed over his entire Civilized Caveman empire – the whole company – and simply walked away.
Even then, old ways die hard, and his work as a consultant initially went down the same path as everything he had just walked away from.
“A lot of those demons carried over,” he says. “For about a year and a half I felt like I was in purgatory and it was worse than when I had Caveman. Being a digital marketing guy, I was creating millions and millions and millions of dollars in results, but I was so empty and dead inside because I was just recreating the same addiction.”
And then one day his small son dropped something on the floor and the world changed for George:
“I got to witness my story happen in an 18-month-old pure ball of love and perfection… and it broke me. Tell me how a one and a half year old is afraid of doing something wrong. I had 30 years of my life flash before my eyes. All the times that I beat myself up and I was angry at myself…I never needed to be.”
It rocked George to his core, left him empty and void and scared in a whole new way.
He realized he hadn’t loved himself like he loved his son, like the “ball of pure love and perfection” he once was, too, who just needed to know if he was wrong or if he was okay.
It just took George 30 years to answer that for himself.
30 years to begin to fix what was broken within himself, what most of us never even recognize, let alone face head on.
“You can put a nail in a fence and if you take the nail out the hole is still there, right?
(That) shifted everything for me, because I realized I can’t be a father, I can’t be a business coach, I can’t be a business partner, if in every conversation I’m coming from a place of ‘I’m broken, there’s something wrong with me.’ I’m just gonna make everybody’s problems worse and repeat the same cycle if I do that.
I knew I needed to dedicate my life to falling in love with myself and documenting the journey… (so) I fired all of the clients that were once my heroes and I walked away and cut out every bit of cancer that was in my life and filled every leak in the bucket. It was hard…but it was the only thing that would allow me to be in integrity”
Integrity is what George walks in every day…
It’s in every relationship he builds with his team, with his customers, his family, and himself. You see it in the way he shares his stories and in the way he builds his business. Nothing is forced, or faked, or from fear – George shows up from his heart, authentic and humble and real.
His business exists as part of himself now, not as a separate entity … and it’s stronger for it.
His signature framework uses a Lighthouse, the quintessential immovable, unshakable, solid, strong, symbol of light and hope and guidance.
Every lesson he teaches comes from his journey back to love and, once you know what to look for, you see it everywhere: ‘fulfillment’ sequences, ‘nurture’ sequences, ‘out-caring’ competition.
Even his trademarked slogan, “Relationships Beat Algorithms”.
All of it straight from the pages of his own love story.
“It’s why I say nobody has a marketing problem, everybody has a relationship problem – with themselves, their team, and their customers, informed in that order. Because the biggest shifts in my life happened when I started doing more with less and spending that time with myself…”
George pauses, chuckles, and escapes in a quick moment of reflection…
“and I can’t believe I’m rewarded for being a decent human being.”