From Victim to Victor with Ben Kjar
Today’s episode is an inspirational one, and I guarantee you’ll come out of it motivated, changed. Ben kindly shared bits of his past growing up, looking different from the other kids, the cruelty he experienced from other kids and adults, and the life-saving message his mother imprinted in him. We also talk about love, forgiveness, compassion, treating failure as an opportunity to bounce back, and always being ready to say yes, and go for what we want in our lives.
Rob Shallenberger: Alright, welcome back to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners. This is your host, Rob Shallenberger. And we have a treat in store for you today. This is going to be a great interview. And I’m going to get to that here in just a second. If you haven’t had the chance to listen to people’s stories recently, there’s so much inspiration that can come from people’s stories. We all have a story. Some people may be like, “Oh, I don’t have a story to tell.” Well, that’s not true. We all have a story to tell. And we can learn so much from each other’s stories. And I’m excited for you to hear Ben Kjar’s today because it’s one of the most inspirational, motivational, just really incredible stories that I’ve heard. And I’ve had the chance to see Ben from afar for years. And then, coincidentally, one of my very close friends is his brother-in-law and sister-in-law. So, it’s just a small world and we connected actually through them, and then we’ve had the chance to meet and become friends. He’s been through our eight-week Virtual Breakthrough Leadership Conference, and we’ve just become good friends. And I’ve always just continued to be amazed by him and my respect level just goes up and up the more I learn about Ben.
Rob Shallenberger: So, let me just give you a brief intro, and then we’re going to get into Ben’s story. And I’m extremely confident that you’re going to walk away from this podcast inspired, motivated, and just seeing life maybe through a slightly different lens than we did before starting this podcast. So, first of all, Ben was born with Crouzon syndrome — and I’m going to let him talk a little bit more about that. One of the things that the doctors told him when he was young is that you’re going to have a different life. And that’s exactly what he’s done, and you’re going to hear a lot about that here on the podcast. And one of the things that I love that Ben consistently says is that it’s about rising above life’s challenges and becoming a victor, not a victim. And so we’re going to talk specifically about what he means when he says that. Ben was UVU or Utah Valley University’s first-ever NCAA Division I Wrestling All-American, and he also represented the USA team internationally. So, this is not the guy you want to wrestle with in the living room to have some fun. He’s also an international speaker. He’s told his story to millions of people around the world. He’s really gotten into real estate over the past six years. He’s flipped nearly 200 properties. He’s compiled a rental portfolio of almost 100 multifamily rentals and three storage unit complexes. So, again, I’ll let him talk about that aspect of his life and how that came about. Ben and his wife, LaCol, who I know, are proud parents of three beautiful adopted kids – and get this – all under the age of three. So, they have their hands full right now. And so, we’re going to get into this, so excited to have Ben here. First of all, Ben, welcome, and tell our listeners just maybe expand a little bit more on your bio or background, if you don’t mind, and then we’re going to jump into your story.
Ben Kjar: Rob, I’m so excited and pleased and honored to be here. I just thank you so much for having me. It’s interesting because I love listening to stories. When I’m on the airplane flying or traveling, I’m the person that goes right to the documentaries. And I’m that type of individual. And I truly believe that it doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your background is, or what your demographic is, or what your skin color, or female/male — whatever it is — we can all connect somewhere, someplace, or in something, in some angle of our life. Now, the listeners here, whether you’re from around the other side of the ocean or not, or next door, you probably haven’t wrestled like me, you probably haven’t done real estate like me, and maybe not have three kids under three years old or have Crouzon syndrome. Maybe you just haven’t had the experiences that I have. But I truly believe that we’ve all had the choice to choose; be backed against a corner, whether it’s through pain, anguish, hate, or we want to get revenge on someone and we’re like, “You know what? Am I going to be a victim or a victor? How am I going to choose?” And I fully believe – in my life, I’ve seen the same – we distinguish who we are and we set our legacies by the decision that we make in the darkest of times. So, when a trial comes or an obstacle comes, the next decision that we make will literally tell our future of what our legacy will hold and what we’ll be remembered for.
Rob Shallenberger: And this is one thing I love about Ben is his perspective on life. We’ve talked about, now a couple of times, that he was born with Crouzon syndrome. So, tell our listeners what that actually is, Ben, and how has that impacted your life?
Ben Kjar: Crouzon syndrome is a cranial facial anomaly. In other words, like in normal English, non-doctor terms, it would affect my face and I would look different, and I would eat differently, I would breathe differently, I would hear different a little bit. Why? Because the mid part of my face would grow at a different speed. My upper jaw, my cheeks, a little bit of my eyes, my forehead, and stuff like that. And what would that mean? What would that detail in my life? Well, I remember in junior high, being able to put a finger in my mouth, bite down and not touch my finger. So, I’d go into the cafeteria, we’d have sandwiches, let’s say, and I couldn’t bite down on the sandwich. Or if I did, I would just make an indention, I wouldn’t tear it apart. So, I’d have to sit there and pick it apart and eat. I remember, for all of your fans out there that are just carnivores, that have to have meat for part of your meals during the day, I didn’t have my first steak that I could swallow until I was 21 because I could literally just not bite down. I remember going to elementary school lunch, and having the French dip sandwiches, and just people making fun of me because I couldn’t legitimately bite down and tear a piece of sandwich up, and so I’d have to pick it apart and my hands would get dirty. I remember going to the restaurant, ordering the steak, just to be able to cut it up, put it in my mouth, chew on it for the savor and the flavor of the liquid, and then having the need to spit it out into the napkins because I couldn’t swallow it because my teeth wouldn’t just break it down to being able to do that.
Ben Kjar: More than anything, though, the doctors would tell my parents, “You know what? You’d better save money. Not just for his physical surgeries. Save money for the therapy and the emotion, and maybe the psychologist that he’ll have to chat with.” And they would say that, as you can imagine because there would be an emotional side to this healing. And that healing would come, and those pains and those situations would be a lot different. So, I would have many, many experiences that would affect me. And you asked, “Well, how did it affect me?” I’ll give you one example.
Ben Kjar: I remember going to the market. And my little buddy growing up, he would go to his mom, and his mom would be like, “Hey, I would just need you to come to the store with us” and she would bribe us with chocolate just so we would help out and he had a big family. I remember loading her grocery cart up with all this food and going to the checkout. Now, mind you, this is way before automatic checkout, way before drone delivery, and all this stuff. So, you actually waited in line at the grocery store. We were second in line, there were tons of people behind us. And I’ll never forget, grabbing the Twix off the shelf, feeling like I was like the grand champion of the lottery and feeling this feeling in the corner of my eye that something was about to happen; there was an adult and his two kids, a little boy and a little girl that were about my age. And as my friend’s mom was putting groceries up on the table to start to check out, this gentleman was getting ready to pay and leave, but not before he would do this. In elementary, in my simple mind, I have been used to people making fun of me, unfortunately, as sad as that may sound. But this adult was different, adults didn’t usually do this. Kids – yeah, they didn’t know any better sometimes. But he would look at me and grab his kids, and out loud in front of everyone — it was like rush-hour traffic at the grocery store and he would say, “Look at that boy. Look how funny he looks. Can you believe that boy has any friends? Look how funny he is. I can’t even believe this.” As he hurried to pack up his stuff, he stopped talking as he was worried. I remember peeking out of the corner of my eye just folding my arms, I forgot how the Twix candy bar felt in my hand, it was just like melting. And looking down, I remember looking down at my shoes, and there were little kids’ shoes if you remember those. I remember thinking if it was these ugly shoes that he was making fun of, I would have thrown them five isles over just to never see them again. But I couldn’t – I couldn’t get rid of the pain of what he was making fun of me for. It was something I couldn’t change.
Ben Kjar: Before the man left, he grabs his kids, shoves them behind him, grabs his bags that he just paid for. And as he was walking out like he was getting ready to get away from a monster, protecting his kids, he would say, “Let’s get out of here. Hurry. Let’s get out of here because I don’t want you to touch him. Don’t touch him because he’s probably contagious.” You can’t have that. I remember going home, just awkward in the car, driving home, running inside. And mom was home, luckily, she was a stay-at-home mom, running into my dad’s office, and off the office, my dad’s bathroom. Melting down on the wall and literally trying to figure out in my elementary mind how to take off my face physically. My mom luckily broke in like a ninja that she was, cuddled on me, and she’s like, “Ben, are you going to do this every time you have a hard time? Are you going to cuddle with toilets? Are you gonna hug toilets? Or are you going to step up and be somebody? Make the difference – your difference for change. Make your situation a situation that you can rise from and thrive and not just survive because that’s not what life’s about.”
Ben Kjar: And so, in that moment, she did things in my life that literally would change my life, Rob. And this is what I challenge the listeners to do: In the moment of darkness, in the moment of doubt, where you feel like there’s something that needs to change, or you feel like sometimes there’s no way out so you think about checking out. My mom would repattern my thought process through verbal positive self-talk or what people call incantations. In my prepubescent voice, my mom’s voice is lower than mine at this point, she’s like, “Ben, come on! You gotta believe that you are somebody.” And I’m like, “I believe I’m somebody. All right, let’s do it!” “You’re gonna step up!” “Okay, Mom, I’m gonna step up!” “You’re gonna defy the odds!” “You know what, Mama? I can defy the odds.” I would repeat this after her. Till today, Rob, when I go and speak in front of thousands of people, stadiums, or even just a room of single moms or kids, I repeat that before I go out, and I tell myself that I’m not just enough, but I’m who I’m meant to be, and who God created me to be so that I can make the impact that He wanted me to have.
Rob Shallenberger: What an amazing story. And it hasn’t gone away, though, has it? I mean, I caught one of your Facebook posts. I don’t know how long ago it was, a year or so ago. You’ve shared this story before where you adopted these children not too long ago, fairly recently, and someone made a comment about your face on Facebook regarding the adoption of the children, like, “How could you adopt these children?” Or something like that. Tell our listeners about that. I mean, you shared that experience, and I just love your response to these kinds of things. Because you can tell that this is something that you’ve really become a part of your character. And I think all of us can learn so much from the way that now you respond to people like this. And if you don’t mind sharing that, that was really inspiring to me.
Ben Kjar: Absolutely. And I appreciate you bringing that up. For the listeners who don’t know my story, sometimes you think your journey of challenges is over, like, “Ah, I’m gonna be overcoming Crouzon syndrome. Woo!” I’m beyond that, I believe who I am, I’m comfortable. Well, our story, and having kids is we got married 10 years down the road, four IVF cycles, two miscarriages, two failed adoptions, a ton of money and heartache involved. We got a call to go pick up a baby boy. What Rob is talking about is a YouTube video that I posted on Facebook. And if you go on YouTube, it’s a video of me and my beautiful wife adopting these two beautiful kids that we heard about just days before, and coming home, and totally surprising my family. And it went viral, and we filmed it, and it’s on YouTube under “Kjar Adoption Story,” my last name, Kjar.
Ben Kjar: Well, I tell you in the moments of your celebration in the most glorious times of your life, having kids, being a dad, and just dreaming of coming home and having your kids run up to you and say, “Dada!” That was a dream of mine. The simplest things that are natural were a dream of mine because I was kept from it. In those times of celebration and telling the world, “Look at what we were able to do,” it changed your life, there are people out there that will take the low side, and they will try to pierce you with their anger darts. And I’ve had the opportunity to celebrate with many people around the world in our adoption story. But I’ve also had the opportunity to connect and have empathy with people going through pain. And the specific one you were talking about was a person coming out and saying, “You know what? Of course, they adopted. I would never want to have kids if I had a face like him anyway.” And there are many other comments saying like, “You know what? I can’t believe adoption parents would even select that type of human to be a parent to those kids.” You know what? I want to tell this story, if you don’t mind. There are people out there that posted some nasty things. And this is the story, this is the moment, and this is the opportunity that we all have.
Ben Kjar: Whenever you’re going through, whatever darts are thrown at you, what do you do with those and how do you react? And let me tell you something. If I would have reacted like a victim and fought back and punched back — if you remember, I’ve trained wrestling my entire life, I’m a trained warrior. I could have reached through the monitor type of deal and just taken them out, and we feel that way, Rob. Many people say, “Oh, just, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” No, that’s not the right way. But it’s also not easy to turn the other cheek. It’s not natural. But guess what? To be unnatural is amazing, to not live a natural life, not to be a robot in the life of the normal people out there. It’s cool to be abnormal. It’s cool to step above and beyond. I want to tell you a quick story that changed my life. There was a lady that posted a crazy meme of me looking like the guy off the Goonies. The sloth with the Superman shirt that says, “Hey, you guys!” And it was pretty nasty. And in front of millions of people, after this video went viral, I remember she saw how I reacted to another individual that said I didn’t look human, and I ended up inviting him over to my house for a little discussion, and he apologized because of how I reacted in kindness. And I invited him over to my house to meet my kids – what a change of events.
Ben Kjar: But she saw that response and she deleted the video. Days later, she would send me a message on Facebook. And Rob, you’ll never believe what she said. She says, “Ben, I came to you in anger. I want to apologize. Will you please, please forgive me? I posted this video and I know that it caused you harm and anger, and you’re probably pretty sad or hurt by it. I want you to know why I came to you in anger. I want you to know why I singled you out even though it was a celebratory time. Your oldest boy, his name is Liam. I want you to know that I lost a boy, two and a half years old, from a heart defect. This happened right before I saw your story and I made that comment. When you were accepting and rejoicing in your adoption of Liam, I just lost a boy named Liam.” And that pierced me, Rob, emotionally, when I heard that story. Because if I would have come back to her in pain and anger, what would have that done to that lady who just lost her boy? I was blessed to be able to have the character and the strength to come back. And you know what? Tell her my thoughts and feelings of love and admiration for her as a mother, and that she’d still have the ability to hold that baby one more time, and many more times in the future. And that God is very, very good and merciful and He loves us. So, there’s opportunities that we all have to come back and forgive that individual, to love on that person that may have harmed you, because we have no idea where they’ve been or what they’re going through.
Rob Shallenberger: And this is what you mean by being a victor, not a victim.
Ben Kjar: Exactly. The opportunity to choose even though we don’t want to choose the higher road, we choose the victor opportunity and we choose to be victorious in that moment.
Rob Shallenberger: Well, I love it. I hope people can sense the goodness that’s in Ben’s heart and the lessons that we learned from this. My thought as you were sharing that, Ben, very touching story, is the title of our book, our company, everything is Becoming Your Best. And it’s not Become Your Best, it’s Becoming. And we’ve actually put a lot of thought into the difference in those two words and as I’m listening to your story, and I hope all of our listeners are doing the same, is when we’re reflecting on who are we becoming, what are these opportunities for us to respond in light kindness as you did when it’s not easy to; when emotions are high, it’s a lot easier to punch back. So, this is the whole journey of becoming that we’re talking about. I hope that all of our minds are really going and thinking about how can we become in this process of becoming a better version of ourselves?
Rob Shallenberger: Here’s something, Ben, just switching gears just a little bit, if you don’t mind, I’d love you to share just a couple of thoughts on this. I’m not sure if some of the people listening to this around the world, in different parts of the world, may realize what a monumental feat it is to become an NCAA Division I All-American wrestler. That is a huge deal. And for anybody that’s wrestled, I don’t know of a sport out there that is more grueling or demanding on your body. I mean, two minutes into it, every muscle in the body is clamoring, saying, “Enough!” The whole body is on fire, burning. So, it’s just a tough sport, man. And it breeds champions. It breeds that mentality that we’ve heard you expressed here in the last 20 minutes. So, being that is such a huge feat. You don’t just get to be an All-American without this champion mindset that you’re talking about – victor, not a victim. There’s so much hard work, there’s so many “failures”, there’s so many challenges that you’ve got to have that kind of mindset to become that kind of champion or an All-American wrestler. So, along that journey of wrestling and any other aspect, what are one or two of the biggest things that you took away from that whole journey that have impacted your life? Because I can only imagine that that has really become a part of shaping you into who you are.
Ben Kjar: Yeah, that’s so true. Wrestling has absolutely changed my life and impacted who I am and who I’m still becoming, as you said, which is phenomenal, and your book is phenomenal. So, I tell you what. There’s two takeaways, I’ll tell you right now: step out, do it. The moment I became an All-American was in Philadelphia in front of 20,000 people. And I wasn’t wearing a football mask. You can’t hide behind it. My face was different. I would go through interviews where they would interview me and there would be trolls that would come – step out and do it. Whatever you guys are thinking about doing — it may be starting a business, it may be starting a family, it may be not starting anything but quitting, it may be saying no to good things but just saying yes to great things. Sometimes we think, “Oh, yeah, we’ve just got to do good things.” No, sometimes it’s even better to save your time and your opportunity for the only great things in your life. So, that’s one thing I took away; do it. Step in, even though people are going to see you, they’re going to see you fail, they’re going to see you in your wrestling leotard, per se, and that’s about it. And they know if you lost, and it’s up to you. Number one, do it, be a part of the failures, bounce back. And there’s a saying that many people just have, it’s wrong. And for decades it’s been wrong, centuries. They’re like, “If you fall down six times,” what do they say? How many times do you have to get up, Rob?
Rob Shallenberger: Seven times.
Ben Kjar: Right. And many people say that, they’re like, “If you fall down six times, you have to get up seven. It’s not even that hard.” Not that it’s not hard to get up. But when you fall down six times, you really just have to get up six times. You fall down once, you get up once. So, the moment of failure is really just a rebounding. Number one, do it and don’t be afraid of failure. Number two is this: Win before you win. I remember stepping on the scale. You have to make weight in wrestling if you don’t know that. And you step on the scale. If you wrestle 125 pounds, you have to weigh 125.00 – you can’t even be one ounce above. I remember standing there, looking around, and even before I ever put my wrestling gear on, even before I placed my shoes up or my headgear or ran out in the crowd with the lights on me, even before the sweat started, I mentally won. I remember looking around, stepping on the scale, and being like, “Man! Who is gonna take second today? Who is gonna take second? They must always do their time, they shouldn’t even be allowed to scale up.” So, I have those two things that would absolutely change my life: Be willing to do it, rebound from the failures, learn from them, and then win before you would win, and understanding that you will achieve and know the success – how it feels, how it smells, what it tastes like long before you would ever feel that.
Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, a form of that, a word we use – you’ve heard this – is Chair Flying. If I understand you correctly, you’re saying create the mental reality prior to the physical reality. In other words, you’d already won in your mind. I love the way you said that “Who’s gonna finish second today?” I think we can all relate to this on both sides of the coin. There are times where we have mentally won before and there’s times where we’ve mentally lost. I’ll use golf as an example. For our listeners, if you’ve ever been out there, how many times have we lined up with that ball, and just before we swing, my last thought is, or your last thought is, “I know this ball is gonna slice.” And sure enough, what does it do? It slices. Versus those other times where you’re like, “Man, I just can’t lose. I’m just nailing this thing.” And there’s such confidence stepping up to that ball, it’s like, “I’m just gonna crush this thing. How far down the middle of the fairway is it gonna go?” And what a difference in those mentalities. And I just love that, Ben. But that’s something that comes with repetition and training, and being very intentional with our mindset because it’s so easy to let the alternative negative creep in — you know, all the what-ifs. And very rarely is there anything good in the two words “What if?” Because our minds, for most humans, tend to spin that to the negative: “Well, what if this happens? What if I don’t finish first? What if?” And so I just love that thought process. Here’s one more thought – and I just love the whole concept of this and the tenor of this conversation; victor, not a victim – if I understood correctly, Ben, several years ago, you lost your job, and that’s what then propelled you into the real estate market. And we only have a few minutes left, so maybe you can just expand on what may have been a perceived challenge at the time actually turned into a huge opportunity.
Ben Kjar: In 2014, I remember getting called down in the office by my dad and my brother. If it’s a worst-case scenario, I don’t know what it is, than being let go. Because the company would have eventually shut down and I was one of the people to go. I had the opportunity to decide would I work up at my family cabin and get paid what I was getting paid to dig trenches or would I have a new beginning. And I chose to have a new beginning. I remember packing my stuff up in a box and actually having a relief of my wings being clipped and being able to soar. 2021, I’ve done stuff all over the country. We just bought a bunch of beach condos out in North Carolina and storage unit complexes and developments. And it’s incredible what we can do in three to five years. I think many people out there, Rob, you meet them all the time, highly underestimate what they can — Let me say this, highly overestimate what they can do in one year, but massively underestimate what they can do in three to five years. Year number one, I flipped two houses. If I were to quit after year number one, I would have been victorious with two houses. A few years later, I’d be flipping 40 houses at the same time across the country.
Ben Kjar: So, if you’re listening out there, and you wake up today, and you’re like, “Can I do this?” Absolutely. With consistency and repetition, you can become whatever you want to be with intentional work and surrounding yourself with the right people. And Rob, I remember being a part of your mastermind, and being around those people from around the globe, and being like, “This is a good place to be.” People that are like-minded, connecting, and people that you attract in that success. So, I appreciate you for allowing me to share my story. I appreciate you for allowing me to allow other people to know that they have a story and that they can tell it, and to not be afraid. And yeah, there’s going to be people that say bad things. But guess what? If you come back with love and be a victor and not a victim, then that’s how you live a life that’s totally abundant on another level.
Rob Shallenberger: Well, and here’s one of the common themes I see throughout your life, Ben. Whether it’s an All-American in wrestling, whether it’s the grind of the real estate, you know, two in the first year and now just completely crushing it. I love the statement; “We overestimate in one year, but totally underestimate three to five years.” And I think what I see in your life is you take that same mentality to everything you do: in wrestling, All-American; real estate, in the first year, two homes were great, good start, but then massive difference a couple of years later; three adopted children after numerous years of trying to get there. And here you are. For me, it’s just an inspiration. It’s such a great example, that if we can surround ourselves with the right people if we can adopt this mindset that you’re talking about — victor, not a victim — and then if we’ll step out, if we’ll do, it’s amazing what can actually happen in life. And like you, I believe that all things work out for our good. If we’re doing our best, if we’re giving our best effort, there’s a higher power, there is a God, and all things will work out for our good. So, Ben, as we get ready to wrap up, any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our listeners?
Ben Kjar: Yeah, and thank you so much. I believe that we’re given another day, not every day. And one time those days are going to run out. But have gratitude – gratitude is the antidote of life. We thrive from that gratitude. Imagine if we wake up tomorrow morning and realize that we truly are a king and our wives are queens, and our kids are that in training, and that we can live a life of true royalty, and we are an heir to many blessings. And if we can have that abundant mentality, then our lives and our perspective will be completely different. And we will treat other people differently, we will embrace them, we will have empathy for them no matter what they look like or smell like or what their demographic is, or how big their house is. But I tell you what, we are so blessed. And as long as we can realize that we’re meant to do big things, then I think life could be very, very interesting. And we could live in a very different way that can be truly rewarding and fulfilling.
Rob Shallenberger: Oh, I love it, Ben. How can people find you? Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, website, whatever it is; how can people find you if they want to follow you or get to know more about you?
Ben Kjar: Instagram and Facebook are the two biggest things. So, again, my name is Ben, last name is Kjar – it’s Danish. And I have the opportunity to speak all over, and I would love to connect and collaborate with tons of people. And Rob, you’re a fantastic person, you’re a man of light, a man of influence. And thank you so much again for allowing me to just share a few of my golden nuggets that have impacted me in my life. And I hope you guys out there, you, listeners out there, if you’ve just been able to take away one or two things today and for you guys to come back and just connect with Rob and what he’s doing because he has more and more people that will choose to come out and share. And so, I appreciate you and I appreciate your connection and your friendship. So, God bless you, brother.
Rob Shallenberger: Well, thank you, Ben, I feel the same about you. And appreciate you being here, Ben. To all of our listeners, thank you. I began this podcast hoping and really promising because I knew we would be, that we would be inspired walking away from this, that we would want to become better versions of ourselves in this journey to becoming. And I know I have. And so thank you, Ben, for sharing your story. For all of our listeners, I hope you felt the same. And I hope you’ll share this with the circle of influence, the people in your life who you’re surrounded with, whether that’s your children, whether that’s your friend or other family members, whether it’s your co-workers, because you never know what they’re going through. And I’m confident that what Ben just shared today could have an impact on anyone’s life who’s willing to listen to this. So, I hope you’ll be willing to share this story because it’s powerful. So, with that being said, we hope you have a wonderful day and a great rest of your week. Thanks for joining us.
CEO, Becoming Your Best
Leading authority on leadership and execution, F-16 Fighter Pilot, and father
Owner at Kingdom Training Center / Real Estate Investor
All-American Wrestler, successful Real Estate Investor, husband, father, and Victor