What Do You Want to Do Before You Die? | Ben Nemtin
Ben Nemtin is one of those people whose story by itself is enough to inspire. And inspire it has. These days, Ben is a TV personality, film producer, and public speaker.
But he wasn’t always such a high flying success. In fact, it’s the way he traversed the path from the depths of despair and depression to his current life that will surprise you and bring a huge smile to your face.
Here’s what happened.
Athletic Performance and Depression
Ben grew up in Victoria, BC, the Mecca of Canadian rugby. He excelled at rugby from a young age. He did so well, that, by the time he was in university he was added to the Canadian National Team. He would represent his country at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Ben would play against the greatest rugby nations on Earth at the World Cup in France. Naturally, this was a high pressure situation. Adding to the pressure was Ben’s position of fly-half. For those of you who don’t know the first thing about rugby, just understand that fly-half is the position that kicks the ball through the uprights. It’s rugby’s version of a field goal kicker.
Upon learning that he’d be playing in the World Cup, Ben began obsessing about these kicks. The obsession turned to fear, which soon got so bad he started losing sleep. Soon he couldn’t sleep at all, and the next thing he knew he was missing practices. It got so bad that he was living the life of a complete shut in, downstairs in his parents’ basement.
Naturally, he couldn’t keep his position on the team considering the World Cup was fast approaching and he couldn’t even leave his house. He lost his spot and his one and only chance to play for Team Canada at the World Cup. The whole process took only six months.
Where Inspiration Leads
Ben remained debilitated by his crippling fear and depression until some friends pulled him out of the basement and dragged him to Banff, in the Canadian Rockies for the summer. Banff is an internationally renowned mountain village and National Park.
Like Yellowstone and other world class parks, it bustles in the summer. And for the first time, Ben was exposed to different types of people. It was a global crowd in Banff, and many of the young people he met there inspired him in a way he’d never felt before. He met backpackers living their travel dreams and young people running businesses. This was very different from the normal suburban youth he was exposed to.
Coming back home to Victoria after the trip, he knew one thing: he was going to spend time with people who inspired him. That simple, singular goal led to what would ultimately define the next decade of his life and lead to him making a big impact in the world.
The Buried Life
When Ben thought about who in his own world inspired him, Ben thought of one guy above all the others. And it just so happened to be the guy who took his sister to prom. His name was Jonnie, and he, along with Ben and two others, would eventually become the The Buried Life crew. Ben was drawn to Jonnie because he was a filmmaker (hence inspiring), and along with the other two members — Dave and Duncan — they started asking themselves what they wanted most.
All four of them were in much the same situation — young and without purpose. None of them had much going for themselves at the time, nor did they have any great prospects for the future.
The group’s defining early moment came when Johnnie, who was studying in Montreal, reached out to the other guys to share a poem called “The Buried Life.”
The poem made them realize that the feelings of uncertainty they were having were universal. The message was that, buried below the practical concerns and problems of life, something beautiful and worth pursuing was alive.
They made it their mission to dig up their buried lives.
The poem and their newfound friendship inspired them. So they started working together, and that meant first asking themselves what they really wanted the most, then writing it down.
This led to them writing out their audacious bucket lists and deciding that for every one of their own bucket list items checked off, they would help someone else achieve their own dream.
How Help Appears: The Magic
The guys had decided on making a film about this journey. As a shared project, they’d head out on a two week trip with what little funds and materials they cobbled together. They even cold-called companies pitching themselves as filmmakers. They eventually got sponsorships, including one for gas so they could make their mission real.
They never really thought they’d achieve the bucket list items they’d dreamt up. But they acted like they could. And something crazy happened along the way. They began telling people what they were doing, and almost like magic, helped started to show up.
One item was to ride a bull, and someone on the Internet connected them with his ranching uncle. Things like this started happening all the time, and they began checking items off the list. They came home after that first year and re-tooled to keep it going the next year.
And keep it going they did.
It’s now ten years later, and the guys have done a ton of incredible things. They’re written a NYT bestselling book, produced a film, helped a girl get a bionic hand. But perhaps craziest of all, they got to play basketball with President Obama.
Those are just a few. Check out the book to learn all about their adventures.
The Mindset of Making Dreams Come True
The massive success of The Buried Life took Ben and the rest of the guys by surprise. But once they got into the groove of striking items off their bucket list (and helping others) they were quick to take lessons.
This is no small feat. A lot of people, upon hitting success once, miss the lessons and never learn how to repeat it. This wasn’t the case for the Buried Life crew. They became expert at making incredible dreams happen.
The basic formula is to a) dream big, as though anything really is possible, then b) to tell people about it and ask for help, and c) keep moving towards the goal no matter what happens.
Ben shares how the basketball game with President Obama almost didn’t happen, but they followed some version of this formula and finally struck the item off their bucket list.
There is a magic component to making big dreams come true. But there’s also a stick-to-it attitude that Ben and the other guys deployed to check all those bucket list items off the list.
Learn From This Story
There is so much to be learned from this incredible story — the mindset of possibility and taking steps towards big dreams to name just two.
Ben is an inspiring man. Give this podcast a listen, then go out there and make shit happen.
Guest Bio: Ben Nemtin
Ben Nemtin is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of What Do You Want To Do Before You Die, the star of the MTV show The Buried Life, an internationally renowned keynote speaker and producer. As the co-founder of The Buried Life movement, Ben’s message of radical possibility has been featured in The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC News. Oprah Winfrey called Ben’s life work “truly inspiring.”
In a pit of depression, Ben and his three best friends decided to create the world’s greatest bucket list to make them feel alive. They bought a rickety old bus and criss-crossed North America, achieving the unthinkable. And most importantly, every time they accomplished a dream, they helped a complete stranger cross something off their bucket list. From playing basketball with President Obama to streaking a soccer field, from raising over $400,000 for charity to placing a record-breaking $250,000 bet on roulette—Ben’s bucket list quest has inspired millions to chase their dreams.
Ben is co-founder of THEOS, a full-service production company in LA that develops mold-breaking programming for the GenZ and Millennial generations. THEOS has created and produced four series for MTV and Freeform.
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Thank You to the Team:
Editing & Mixing by: Aaron Johnson