6 Short Life Lessons From Terry Crews

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

The below profile is adapted from the new book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World, which features practical and detailed advice from 130+ of the world’s top performers. Enjoy!


Terry Crews (@terrycrews, terrycrews.com) is an actor and former NFL player (Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins, and Philadelphia Eagles). His wide-ranging credits include the original viral Old Spice commercials, television series such as The Newsroom, Arrested Development, and Everybody Hates Chris, and films including White Chicks, the Expendables franchise, Bridesmaids, and The Longest Yard. He now stars on the Golden Globe Award–winning Fox sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. In 2014, Terry released his autobiography, Manhood: How to Be a Better Man — or Just Live with One.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel. I have read hundreds of personal development books, but this is the one that clearly showed me how to visualize, contemplate, and focus on what it was I truly wanted. It revealed to me that we only get what we desire most, and to apply myself with a laserlike focus upon a goal, task, or project. That in order to “have” you must “do,” and in order to “do” you must “be” — and this process is immediate. Although it takes time for these desires to manifest in our material world, you must see the thing you desire as completed, finished, and real, now. The better you can do this, the more you can accomplish. I have bought several copies of this book and distributed it to family and friends. I also reread it probably once a month to keep my vision clear.

Two more are Viktor E. Frankl’s incredible Man’s Search for Meaning and David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart. Both books are absolutely essential to me in order to keep my perspectives correct in a changing world.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

1986. It was my senior year in high school at Flint Academy in Flint, Michigan. I was the starting center for our class C basketball team. We had a great team that year, and we were expected to go very far, if not all the way, in the state playoffs. We faced Burton Atherton in the district final, and we were expected to trounce them, but they tried something we’d never seen before. They didn’t play. They would bring the ball down the court and just pass it back and forth at the top of the key. There was no shot clock, so they did this forever. The only time we scored was when we managed to steal the ball. But our coach, for some reason, decided we were going to let them do it. I remember standing there, with my hands raised in zone defense, watching them hold the ball without even attempting to shoot. I was frustrated, and every attempt I made to step out of the zone was rebuffed by our coach. This method was working for them, because with only five seconds left on the game clock, they were up 47-45.

One of their players made a mistake and tried a long pass cross court and I stole the ball. I desperately dribbled the entire length of the court . . . 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . for our only chance to win. I missed. Their fans go crazy, as it was the biggest upset of the year, and I collapse in a heap, thinking my life is over. The coach afterward told the whole team that I had no business taking that shot and I should have passed it to our star player. It was in the paper the next day that I failed, and I was ridiculed by students and teachers alike. I was beyond crushed. A dark cloud covered me everywhere I went as I internalized the loss.

A few days later, as the fog of failure began to lift, I remember having a rare time alone in my room (I usually shared it with my brother). As I sat in the silence, another thought pierced through my sadness. “I took the shot.” It was invigorating, even exciting. “Hey, when all the chips were on the line, you didn’t leave your future up to others, YOU TOOK YOUR SHOT.” Instantly I felt free and in control. I knew from then on that I could have the courage to fail on my own terms. From that moment, I decided that if I was going to succeed or fail, it was going to be up to me. I was changed forever.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?

“God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love this quote because it is all about defeating fear. Every great and extraordinary accomplishment in this world was done through courage. Hell, you don’t even get to be born unless your mother has the courage to have you. I repeat this phrase when I’m anxious or nervous about something. I ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen. Usually, the answer is, “You can die.” Then I answer back, “I’d rather die doing something I feel is great and amazing rather than be safe and comfortable living a life I hate.” I talk to myself a lot, and this quote helps me sort out my fears and deal with them. The more you run from your fears, the bigger they get, but the more you go into them, the more they tend to vanish like a mirage.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

There is a big difference between intelligence and wisdom. Many are fooled into thinking they are the same thing, but they are not. I have seen intelligent serial killers, but I’ve never seen a wise one. Intelligent human beings have been given this trumped-up position in society where, just because they’re intelligent, they are to be listened to, and I have found this is extremely dangerous. I was in a Christian cult along with other very intelligent people but, looking back, if I had heeded wisdom, I would have seen we were all on the wrong path. Intelligence is like following a GPS route right into a body of water until you drown. Wisdom looks at the route but, when it takes a turn into the ocean, decides not to follow it, then finds a new, better way. Wisdom reigns supreme.

Ignore any advice that tells you you are going to miss something. Every mistake I have ever made in business, marriage, and personal conduct was because I thought if I didn’t do or get this now, it was never going to happen. It’s like most clubs in LA. The trick is to keep the line long at the door, while the club itself is empty. The “aura of exclusivity” is really code for “bad atmosphere.” To do what you desire to do, you have all you need.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“Work hard to beat the competition.” The truth is that competition is the opposite of creativity. If I am working hard to beat the competition, it actually prevents me from thinking creatively to make all concepts of competition obsolete. As a football player, I was told to work hard to compete against the other team, some perceived future threat (new draftees, age, or injury), and even my current teammates. As an actor, you are told to look a certain way or do things you don’t agree with in order to “compete.” This competitive mindset destroys people. It’s the scorched-earth way of thinking, and everyone is burned.

The truth is that you need the success of everyone in your field in order to achieve your own success. Creativity operates differently. You work hard because you’re inspired to, not because you have to. Work becomes fun, and you have energy for days because this life is not a “young man’s game.” It is an “inspired person’s game.” The keys belong to whoever is inspired, and no specific age, sex, gender, or cultural background has a monopoly on inspiration. When you’re creative, you render competition obsolete, because there is only one you, and no one can do things exactly the way you do. Never worry about the competition. When you’re creative, you can, in fact, cheer others on with the full knowledge that their success will undoubtedly be your own.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to? What new realizations and/or approaches helped?

I realized that I had to let people leave my life, never to return. Every relationship I have in my life, from family and friends to business partners, must be a voluntary relationship. My wife can leave at any time. Family members can call me or not. Business partners can decide to move on, and it’s all okay. But the same is true on my end. If I say I’m ready to move on and someone doesn’t accept that, now we have a problem. I remember trying to move on from a very close friend because he was displaying behaviors I wasn’t comfortable with. Soon after, I received a letter by certified mail, threatening me with a lawsuit for over a million dollars because of the demise of our “friendship.” It was ridiculous and it still is, so I actually framed the letter as a reminder of the necessity of letting people go and moving on. One approach I use is imaginary great-grandchildren. I talk to them all the time. I ask them about decisions and relationships and whether or not to continue them. They tend to speak loud and clear. “Grandpa, you shouldn’t do this, or you need to leave these people alone because we will be affected negatively, or worse, we won’t exist.” Those moments show me that this whole thing is bigger than me. It’s the realization that there is a “will to pleasure,” a “will to power” and, in the words of Viktor Frankl, a “will to meaning.” You won’t take a bullet for pleasure or power, but you will for meaning. So you sometimes have to do what I call a “crowd-thinner.” One wrong person in your circle can destroy your whole future. It’s that important.


The above was taken from Tribe of Mentors, which shares short, tactical life advice from 130+ world-class performers from every imaginable field. Many of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, and artists are part of the book.

Get Tribe of Mentors at these fine retailers or at your local bookstore!  Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Apple iBooks | Books-A-Million | Indigo

Here’s a partial list of people included: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and roughly 100 more. Click here to see the full list, sample chapters, and more.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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15 Replies to “6 Short Life Lessons From Terry Crews”

  1. Any chance your book will be in Audible format? And thanks for your contribution to my life and the lives of so many!!! Keep going!

  2. Hey Tim, not related to this post but wondering when you might be coming to Boston for an in-person meetup? We are a Mecca of innovation and I’m sure you’ll find a ton of your fans here that would love to join you live. Looking forward to it!

  3. So pumped you’re coming to ATX 🙂 My book is ready…however, I am pregnant and due any day. Hoping baby holds off until AFTER book signing.

    Love your work, Tim – it’s been super impactful in my life and in those I coach through ED recovery. Many thanks.

  4. I was hanging with Wim Hof this weekend and your name came up during a chat with him and I️ can’t wait to hear about your post Kilamanjaro experience with him. Just want to say, I look forward to the day we will meet as the meet ups you have listed are only in cities local to me while I am currently out of the country. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I just know at some point we will cross paths in person. There are too many coincidences where you talk about or do things I am already into before I know you are and then I see you sharing them. I look forward to the day when our miticlorians (sp)-never sure how Star Wars would have spelled that-are in proximity! Thank you for being. Keep on sharing the good things you do with the world.

  5. Congratulations on what sounds like another great book. You’ll have to put Dublin (Ireland) on your tour schedule at some point.

  6. Can’t tell you how much I love the new book AND podcast. We have a daily Lean 19 Meeting throughout our 9 offices across the world and one of the things we do each day together is read a section from the Tools of the Titans book. NOW, it will be even easier as they are shorter.

    I especially love the advice for college students. Could I ask your permission to allow me to summarize that answer from all 130+ titans and put it in a poster format? Will make a great graduation gift for my son’s Pepperdine water polo team seniors.

  7. Sounds like a man after my own heart. I love his ‘intelligence and wisdom’ advice. Isn’t it the truth. And the friend thing… been there, but never been sued! How crazy is that? I haven’t read The Master Key System, so that’s on my Christmas wish list now!

  8. i got goosebumps reading this interview, especially his recollection of the basketball game. I tried out for the olympics in basketball and when it was the last day before final selections we played 5 on 5 to determine the finalists. I can clearly remember my father yelling from the sidelines…shoot the ball. I did and it was blocked by someone 5 inches shorter than me. It was a great lesson, I didnt make the final cut but played first string division one bball in college and I never had a shot blocked from behind again. That became my motto for life, when an opportunity came along, I would take the shot. Such great lessons in our “misses” in life.

  9. Thanks Terry for the The Master Key System recommendation. I’ve just bought it and to me it’s much better than other books on Law Of Attraction I had read.

  10. This was the best podcast yet and i never would have thought i could relate so much. Also, interesting to hear, tim was a comic illustrator… Can i suggest interviewing keith urban ? He is an outlier in thar he got there very late and has stayed very late. Also has beat alcoholism and seems very young and healthy for his age. Also, he has gotten super famous in country music despite its poor reputation here in oz. And comes from my town, same as steve erwin the crocodile hunter. Keith is an unbeleivably good guitarist.

  11. I read Tribe of Mentors,I have bought and am reading a few of the books,one recomendation The Master Key System,it says you can create with your mind,I am also reading A Mind At Home With itself,by Byron Katie,it says you should question your thoughts ,that they may not be true,and mainly are not,could you read both and give me your take,my thoughts are running away with me.