Have you ever thought about how much happier you would be if you just had money?
More than that, have you ever fallen into the trap of believing all your problems would simply go away if you attained fame and success?
If the answer is yes, you’re absolutely not alone. Almost everyone is guilty of getting wrapped up in the idea that money and fame will make all of your hardships disappear — my younger self included. And while it takes some self-searching and life experience to break out of this idea, it’s not entirely our fault.
Our society is obsessed with being rich and famous. We are constantly bombarded with social media or television telling us that the secret to happiness is fame and fortune. It’s no surprise that the goal of many people is to achieve success and wealth, but it’s so important to understand that there is much more to finding fulfillment in your life.
Today’s guest is a perfect example of this fact. Not only did he achieve incredible wealth and success at the young age of 25, but he’s done the hard work necessary to soul-search and discover what truly leads to fulfillment in life.
Please welcome to The School of Greatness the one-and-only Steven Bartlett!
Steven Bartlett is the 29-year-old founder of the social media marketing agency Social Chain. From a bedroom in Manchester, this university drop-out built what would become one of the world’s most influential social media companies when he was just 21 years old, before taking his company public at 27 years old. Now, Social Chain has a market valuation of over $600M!
Steven is a speaker, investor, author, and content creator, hosting Europe’s biggest podcast, “The Diary of a CEO,” and recently released his debut book, ironically titled Happy Sexy Millionaire, which is a Sunday Times bestseller. Steven also joined BBC’s Dragon’s Den (UK’s version of Shark Tank) for Series 19 this January 2022, as the youngest ever Dragon in the show’s history.
Steven’s journey is an incredible story, and I’m not sure there is anyone better suited to describe just how unfulfilled you can still feel after achieving wealth and success.
At the young age of 25, Steven was approached by a big company asking to buy his marketing firm. This was no small purchase, and the money he would receive from this deal would propel him to a level of wealth he had never known. Immediately, Steven went home and calculated just how much money would go into his pocket upon this deal’s completion. That was the moment he gained a new perspective on the idea of wealth and success.
“I sat there and I remember exactly which room in my house I was in. I remember what I was wearing, [and] that it was pitch black outside. As I sat there on the floor, for some reason, looking into the screen, I was looking at a future life of emptiness. I could see it. And it was this weird paradox, this contradiction of knowing that if I bought these things, I would be poorer — but not financially. ” – Steven Bartlett
Steven said this made him realize what his true purpose was. His company was his friendships, his connections, his meaning. Part of him reinforced the idea that buying a big house with plenty of space was the goal, right? If that wasn’t the goal, then what was?
As it turns out, a few months after living in a big empty mansion alone Steven realized he was not only miserable, but he was confused. If this wasn’t what it was all about, then what was it all about? This experience ultimately taught him that his business wasn’t about marketing, it was about community purpose. How could he trade that for a big house? This was part one of the catalyst that led him to understand where to find true fulfillment.
About six months after achieving incredible wealth and living in his own mansion, Steven met someone who he had looked up to for quite some time. This person had everything that Steven had ever wanted from an entire Louis Vuitton room to a guest room with walls lined with every sneaker he could think of. Even with all this, Steven could see this person was miserable.
“As I began to walk through his house, I could see that he’s the only one there. No one else was there — not a girlfriend, not a friend, only the security guard who had been paid to be there. He ultimately asked me to sleep in bed with him that night. A 40-year-old man asked me to sleep in bed with him. No way, I didn’t flinch at all. I said, yeah, of course, because I knew what it meant — he was lonely. That was me. I was looking at my future if I didn’t change course and reassess my priorities.” – Steven Bartlett
Wow. That just goes to show that the people who you look up to the most — who seem to have everything you could ever want — may be some of the most lonely, miserable people you can find. Money can buy you a big house with lots of things, but it can’t make you feel loved or happy. It can’t provide the warmth of human connection.
Admittedly, Steven did not have the best of role models when it came to understanding a loving and healthy romantic relationship. He described how his mother would scream at his father for hours while he just passively accepted it. He even remembers a time in which his mother chased his father around the house with a knife, causing his father to lock himself in rooms for safety.
Steven spent his younger years wondering why his father never did anything about the way his mother treated him. He even goes as far as describing his view of romantic love as a “prison” based on his experience with his parents. Because of the lasting effects this had on him, Steven sabotaged his own relationships because he was afraid of ending up like his parents.
“In that moment, I put myself in my dad’s shoes. Which was essentially feeling like you are in prison. You are a bird trapped in a cage. You have to run. It was actually journaling — doing my podcast. It was that real honest introspection at maybe 25 years old, where I look at myself and go, why have you never had a girlfriend? Why have you always self-sabotaged? I kind of managed to put together the dots — that my model of love was that as a man, love and a relationship is a prison sentence. That’s the story I believed.” – Steven Bartlett
Unfortunately, many of us grew up with poor role models for romantic relationships. It is not uncommon to grow up with parents that can’t stand being around one another, and it almost always causes issues down the road in adulthood. The important thing in these situations is being able to pick out the positive amongst all the negative.
I asked Steven what the most valuable lesson he learned from his mother was. He told me about how his mother would wake up early every day to run her business, a small corner store that sold candy bars and toiletries, and sleep on a bag of rice in the back. Steven remembered asking his mother why there were bite marks on the bags of rice, to which she replied that they sometimes had mice, but it didn’t bother her. She was determined.
Talking about the dynamic between Steven’s mother and father got us talking about why some people feel the need to scream at their partner, and I loved his perspective.
“The first is they don’t feel like they’re being seen and heard. Nigerians have a bit of a reputation sometimes for communicating in a certain decibel tone. And that’s what she had learned — that’s how she learned what communication was and how it worked. My dad, however, had learned the opposite about communication. He was a passive white man — they didn’t know how to communicate. So my mom clearly wasn’t feeling heard because she was repeating herself, and my dad didn’t know how to acknowledge what she was feeling.” – Steven Bartlett
This is incredible stuff, guys. I know relationships with parents can often be complicated, but taking a different perspective on how you look at your parents can really alter your opinion on the lessons they taught you.
Steven had a lot of negative aspects to hold on to when it came to his relationship with his parents as well as his parents’ relationship with each other. Nevertheless, he was able to look at these things from a different perspective and assess the importance of the valuable lessons he learned from his mother, despite the negative.
As we started to wrap up our conversation, I asked Steven about the truths he would leave the world if his legacy and accomplishments were forgotten. His answer did not disappoint.
“I don’t really matter, which for me is a really liberating foundation. Whenever I watch a documentary about the cosmos and it zooms out on the Earth and It just keeps going and going. Oh, of course, I don’t matter. Then the other point is that I really do matter in the subjective reality in which I live. I can have an impact that matters on peace — and I felt peace and I felt the lack of peace. So if I can sway that, my presence and my existence does matter.” – Steven Bartlett
I totally understand what Steven is saying here, and I also take solace in the fact that I don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but also that I really do matter. We all matter. We are all part of the life experience, contributing to each other’s lives and happiness and peace.
If no one has told you today, I want to take the time to tell you that you matter, you are loved, and you have value. Viewing the spectacle that is the vastness of the universe doesn’t mean life is meaningless, it means we are special just for being here and being able to view the beauty around us!
I don’t think anyone is better suited to talk about today’s subject material. Steven built his own company at age 18 and achieved immense success and wealth by 25, but has managed to keep a healthy perspective on the most important parts of life: worldview, relationships with others, and your relationship with yourself.
There was so much more I couldn’t fit in from this podcast episode, guys! If you want to hear more from Steven Bartlett, go check out his website! There you can find all the info you need to hear more about his story. Make sure you give his podcast, Diary of a CEO, a listen too!