Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ken Rutkowski.
Ken Rutkowski is a serial entrepreneur, super-connector, talk show host, and keynote speaker. As the creator and host of the #1 Business Radio Talk Show in America, Business Rockstars, Ken has interviewed over 20,000 entrepreneurs from over 130 countries, including Steve Jobs, Sara Blakely, Bill Gates, Oprah, and Elon Musk. Ken is the founder of METAL International, a community focused on business strategy, mental health, and improving social connection.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Iwas born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. My dad was an international banking officer turned financial advisor, and my mom was a stay at home mom who started an in-home business coordinating gifts for busy executives.
Entrepreneurship began early for me. At the age of seven, I held weekly events in my parent’s garage, charging $0.25 to the neighbors for entry. I would show off new things I learned, such as magic, or share cool facts on science or culture. I spent hours obsessing over books and magazines, and sharing this information became my favorite pastime. Before I knew it, I had a loyal following of people who were always curious in what seven-year-old me had to say.
When I turned 14, my dad gave me a lawnmower. At first I was so disappointed; the gift seemed more for him than for me. Knowing that I wanted a microscope or a new cassette player, my dad said sternly, “That mower will be your favorite gift ever.”
A few weeks later, I was begrudgingly mowing the lawn when a neighbor approached and asked how much I’d charge to mow his lawn. That’s when it hit me — that lawnmower was my ticket to the microscope, cassette player, and anything else I wanted!
Quickly, I started picking up lawns to mow, and after a month, I invested in three more lawnmowers. I recruited my friends to mow for me at a fraction of what I was making. By the end of summer, I had a full-blown lawn care business employing the community kids, and making more than enough money to buy whatever I wanted. Indeed, as my dad said, the lawnmower became my favorite gift ever!
While enjoying a taste of success as a kid, my life drastically changed at 16 when my dad was in a serious car accident. His back and neck were broken, and the doctors said he would most likely be paralyzed for life.
My father was a top athlete and former bodybuilder, and hard as it was to watch him suffering with screws in his spine and a full body brace, the one thing that stood out was that he never gave up on recovery — he had astounding resilience. He fought hard on that tough road, surpassed all odds to finally walk on his own again, and went on to build a thriving financial advising business, still strong over 40 years later. My father set the foundation to resilience, mental strength, and a will to thrive in my life.
By my early 20’s, I was truly an entrepreneur who had started and sold quite a few businesses. I was also a professor at Northwestern University, and had launched various radio shows, including what became the number one business talk radio show in America, Business Rockstars.
Ever since that first event in my parent’s garage, I’ve continued creating gatherings for people to connect, and now have a business built on a thriving global community of accountable men who make better husbands, brothers, fathers, and leaders, called METAL International.
Sharing knowledge with an audience, creating meaningful businesses, and building communities based on trust, loyalty and resilience is my life’s purpose.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Early in my career as a Radio Personality, I had the number one technology show called the World Technology Round-Up. It was the first show on the Internet, proudly sponsored by Microsoft, with over 250,000 listeners daily. One day, I got a call from Apple Computer’s PR team asking if I would like to interview Steve Jobs. At first I thought it was a joke, but then I got worried — was I in trouble? I was notorious for slamming Apple. Luckily, it turned out to be the real thing, so I accepted the invitation and headed to the San Francisco Bay Area to meet Steve Jobs.
I arrived at the interview with my gigantic HP laptop, and was sent to a room to setup. When Steve Jobs arrived, he shook my hand, ignoring the clunky HP computer whirring in the background like a motorcycle engine. Back then Apple was computers only, so Steve and I talked about why people were so fanatical about these Macs. Truthfully, I couldn’t understand and made it clear I was full of doubt.
Steve reached into his bag, pulled out a MacBook, made some clicking, swishing, and trashing sounds, then closed it down and handed me his personal MacBook.
“Why don’t you try it out?” was the last thing Steve Jobs said to me as he stood up and left.
For two days I didn’t touch the MacBook, until curiosity got the best of me and I enlisted the help of an “Apple for Dummies” book from Borders. I can’t remember if I even slept that night; by the morning, I was so in love with Steve’s MacBook that I was raving about it on my technology show.
A couple shows later, Microsoft, my sponsor, asked me to stop talking about the MacBook. But the more I learned and the more I used, I just couldn’t stop raving about it. By the second week, Microsoft threatened to pull out, and by week three of having Steve’s MacBook in my hands with uncontainable excitement, I officially lost my six-figure sponsorship, less than a month before renewal. Even though I didn’t hold back in sharing this amazing product with my audience, I was scared to death about losing my primary income — I had no idea how I was going to survive.
A few weeks later, Apple called and asked if I wanted to keep or return Steve’s MacBook. Of course I kept it! I loved it so much — this computer got me into so much trouble, and I jokingly told them how it cost me the sponsorship of my show.
I spent the next few months working diligently to find new sponsors, and failing each time. It was as if I had been blackballed in the tech space, especially since I had the number one show. It was a painful period, but then one day, Intel’s marketing department called. To my surprise, they offered an even greater sponsorship than what I had before — I was saved and the show could go on!
A few weeks later, I was invited to attend the annual Mac Expo so I could discuss it on my show. I sat front and center as Steve Job’s made the next big announcement about the newest technology for Apple Computer. As I made eye contact with Steve standing confident and proud on stage, he smiled and announced that Apple was moving from IBM to Intel. That was the moment I realized why Intel called to sponsor my show!
The lesson I learned: Never deviate from something that feels true for you. Once I discovered that I loved the MacBook and Apple’s technology, I continued to share with my audience, no matter the pressure from my first sponsor. Although I ended up losing that sponsorship, staying on course and speaking my truth led me to an even greater, more powerful relationship, sponsorship, and accomplishment than I could ever have imagined. Keep on speaking your path of truth through obstacles, you’ll create greater resilience to your destiny.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
METAL is a group of accountable, heart-centered men who work together to support, uplift, and improve each other. What makes it different from other organizations is that there is no discussion of politics or religion; we focus on the well being of each man and help each other find greatness within.
We use the collective wisdom of experience, intelligence and heart to unite, change, and grow communities and businesses. Our members are people who have failed and found success. We support, cherish, and lead each other and our actions create a better world through purpose and friendship.
To demonstrate our growth in action, a member published a book on Cricket, which has done incredibly well. Prior to METAL, he never had the courage to write this book. In turn, his actions inspired his son to also write his own book, and lead to other positive changes for the entire family. Through the METAL community, this member also secured an incredible internship for his son with Bob Iger, former CEO of Disney. I personally received a call from this member’s wife raving about their happiness, and how METAL has made their family’s dreams come true.
Businesses, deep relationships, and trust are forged within the METAL community. I found my wife, my business partner, and my closest friends through METAL. Bringing people together is my forte and METAL is the actualized outcome of this strength.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It wasn’t until I met my life partner, Sandy Grigsby, that I discovered how I wanted to live for the rest of my life. Sandy continues to be the fuel behind my most recent success, not only in business, but in personal pursuits as well.
Sandy is my twin flame, life partner and in a lot of ways, my mentor. She shows me what isn’t clear, reminds me of my strengths, and helps me pursue things greater than myself. Her special talent is making massive projects feel “bite-size” and obtainable, all while keeping me laughing along the way. She truly is my bright star.
I’m grateful to Sandy because prior to having her in my life, I felt lost and I was at a mid-life crisis point. I had achieved success, but I wasn’t working to create more greatness, I was just settling into what I had already done. Creating big things was no longer in my field of view, as if I had been there, done that and given up — a very unsettling feeling that kept me small and stuck. My community was on the decline, my business opportunities were narrowing, and I had stopped fulfilling my life’s purpose. In essence, I had gotten caught up in materialistic, pleasurable things that were keeping me small, and I wasn’t holding myself accountable to greater things.
Sandy brought her expertise in personal image branding into my life. She reset my thinking and gave me a new perspective. She also purged decades worth of clothes from my life! Looking back, the old clothes were a symbol of comfort and attachment without purpose, and reflected in both my personal life and career.
Once the old clothes were gone, life became easier and less complicated. I refocused on my purpose, which reflected in my career and life choices. During this process, Sandy asked me a very simple question: Did my things match ME, my personality, and who I wanted to be? I realized much of my life didn’t match me at all. Once I let go of what wasn’t me, I was able to transform into a better, more focused version of me. This may sound trivial, but it really made a difference not only in my performance, but in how others perceived me as well. I was back on my game, and METAL is now growing stronger and doing more good than ever before.
Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is the outcome from recovering after being knocked down, not giving in to despair, but to get up and come out even stronger and more profound. Like the Spartans of ancient Greece, who fought against foes regardless of the threat level, they kept going, even when defeat was imminent. Resilience isn’t just doing the same thing over and over again, it’s learning from your mistakes, and applying that newfound knowledge to move forward and achieve the next success.
Resilient people have failures, are pushed down, their path slowed and blocked by challenges. They struggle through the thick of anything, but never allow the hardship to defeat them. Regardless of the odds, resilient people bounce back with a stronger force than they had before, and fight against what pushes them down. They keep failure in the rear view mirror rather than in front.
Elon Musk is a great example. Despite his many knocks with failure, he never gave up. Musk slept in his factory for three years knowing bankruptcy was just around the corner, he still kept going. He learned to do every job in his factory, working elbows deep with his employees, getting an in depth understanding of anything and everything to make Tesla succeed. His resilience catapulted Tesla into one of the biggest car companies in the world.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
I believe that resilience is the heart and courage is the blood. With grit, resilience gives you the courage to take action. It’s a necessary component for courage to remain strong, especially since courage can waiver. Resilience acts like a pump, pushing courage through the body, so you can stand up again and again.
Both resilience and courage can give you that shot of adrenaline, a “come on let’s do this!” motivation, but its resilience that takes you further. Resilience pushes you past the extra mile, allowing you to do things again and again, even when your mind is saying you can’t.
I believe the biggest difference is this: courage is the fuel you must have to move the vehicle into action, while resilience is the actual vehicle itself that not only houses the fuel but is also solar powered. By its mere presence, resilience is always there, giving you the ability to be in motion as you gas up with courage along the way.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My father is my greatest example of resilience. In his mid-thirties, he was in a serious car accident that broke the second vertebrae in his neck. The doctors told him he could no longer live a normal life, nor could he expect his body to have normal range of motion, but my dad simply did not accept that as the answer.
Despite everyone telling him it was hopeless, Dad refused to listen, and his resilience was fueled with courage to continue. He found a way to workout, building his physical strength, albeit with pain, but he returned even stronger after the accident.
Dad always believed failure was not an option, and that was his resilience. I was 16 when this happened and watching him beat the odds through all of the adversities taught me not to rely on the word of others and take the future into my own hands. The doctors said he would be paralyzed for life, and my dad said, “no way.” Today, he is living his best life.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
When I first began, people would tell me it was impossible to make it in the broadcasting field without a college education and proper training. Back in the early 90’s, this statement might as well have been true. Everyone just assumed we had to move from A to B to C to D, and the next, to reach the finish line. It’s obvious from my childhood that I never followed the traditional route, so I decided to go from A to G, then B and D, and so on.
My goal was to become a leader making a difference in the broadcasting industry. Without a college degree and proper training, I forged ahead and started in Internet radio. Through hard work, sheer determination, and resilience to keep going, I quickly built up a known name on the Internet. This allowed me to transition directly into radio, bringing my own audience that radio did not typically have. The naysayers told me I couldn’t it and I’d only succeed if I did it their way — this argument I challenged and won.
I still remember where I started in that tiny radio station, broadcasting from a trailer located 90 miles south of Chicago. Within three years, learning everything on the job, I had a weekly show on the number one radio station in all of Chicago. Later on, I created Business Rockstars, which became the number one business radio show across North America and was broadcast to over 330 radio stations. I made it all happen without a college degree, which was like fighting the impossible during that time.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
One of the biggest setbacks in my life happened in 2018. I lost the majority of my greatest financial wealth when a long-term relationship ended. At that time, wealth was everything to me; it defined me and made me feel as if I had “made it”.
I had lost everything and had to build from the ground up. While I had gone through financial loss in the past, this time it was on a much greater scale, and I wasn’t 25 anymore. I’d grown comfortable in life and fighting to rebuild fortune in my mid-fifties was daunting. Instead of dwelling on my loss and age, I decided to reach out to my community, a network of trusted friends and allies, to rebuild my business.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do. There were days when I felt like I was on the edge of collapse. Opportunities arose but never panned out, disappointment came at every turn, and for many moments, I felt as if I would fail and end up homeless and alone. To make things worse, just as I was getting back into action building a thriving community with live events, the pandemic hit and crashed landed my reality.
That’s when resilience awoke with full force, and I decided to pivot. I took my entire community online, reaching beyond my immediate city, state and country; I went global. This changed everything for my business and the community. The company was able to serve on a global scale, we started uniting people from all over the world, friendships and business relationships were forged and lives were transformed.
I’m grateful for all the hardships in the past that prepared me for this: everyone goes through different challenges, but you get used to working through the challenges, gaining confidence in yourself and your abilities to overcome anything. I remind myself that if I were younger going through this same process, I’d be incredibly worried, scared, apprehensive, and riddled with self-doubt. Through the resilience I’ve built up over time, plus a trusted community, I’ve bounced back and reclaimed my life.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I grew up with ADHD and dyslexia, which was both embarrassing and debilitating. As a sophomore in high school, I couldn’t even read. I memorized everything just to appear like I could. To me, a word as simple as “the” was a picture, while to everyone else, it was obviously made up of letters. I had to memorize the way a word looked, not the way it sounded. Even now, if I come across a word I’ve never seen before, I have to ask what it is. To this day, it remains one of my biggest struggles.
By my junior year of high school, I had memorized enough words to pass under the radar, but where I found my gift was in coding computer programs. Coding was an exact output, numbers and images, and I didn’t have to memorize, figure out sounds or guess their meaning. I was obsessed with coding, and I was great at it. So great in fact, that it helped me overcome my fear and self doubt in reading.
I was so talented at coding that in my senior year, I hacked the school’s computer systems and changed the attendance and grades for myself and my friends. Being entrepreneurial, I found an opportunity to earn money while providing the need to fulfill better grades and attendance. My hacking business thrived for months until I got caught and expelled from high school.
Luckily, my father came to my rescue. After reviewing the student handbook, Dad noticed there was no specific mention of computers, as they were still new during that time. That was the loophole that saved me from permanent expulsion, and the school had to accept my return. As punishment, I had to educate the teachers on everything I knew about coding and computers; thus, my hacking career was over.
The gift in this lesson was I had figured out what I was good at with resiliency. Dyslexia and such didn’t stop me, and now I knew there were other things I could be amazing at, including what happened a few years later: I became a professor of engineering architectural design technology at Chicago’s Northwestern University and Loyola University, leading me into becoming a tech specialist on radio, all without a college degree!
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
As a super-connector, I believe the first step to becoming more resilient is making connections. When you build relationships, you give and accept support from others, allowing all to become open and willing to listen and learn. You help each other see and understand your strengths, especially since we tend to forget what we’re good at or what makes us unique during times of hardship. Strong connections bring us together, keep us vulnerable, and make us want to move forward, building resilience.
When I was going through the most difficult time in my business, it was the love and support of my community, connections I had made over time that came to my aid. They reminded me of my strengths, helped me make better choices, and supported me when I had to rebuild. With help, I was able to bounce back bigger and stronger than ever. If you’re looking to build your connections, start by asking people about their story, and get to know them on a deeper level. Set your judgments aside and work to understand where they’re coming from. Keep in mind, a genuine connection today may bear fruit many years later, but it could be the richest, most delicious fruit.
The second step in resilience is the ability to look beyond the current challenge. This is extremely important, as many people are stuck in what is happening right now, completely unable to see what the future holds, and when the challenge is overcome. If you can see into the tomorrow of your today, you’ll be able to deal with the situation much better because you’ll know you’re not bound by today.
In my mid 20’s, I had a bicycle accident that left me with broken bones, serious damage to my face, loss of teeth, and a concussion. My face was shredded, and even though the doctor told me I would heal, it was hard to believe and my confidence took a hit. For months after the accident, people stared at me in horror, which continued to punch down my confidence. Each morning when I looked in the mirror, I worried that I’d never look like myself again, and this led to doubting my capabilities. One day I was sick of it all, and decided to stop stressing on my looks, just focusing on my business instead. Looking beyond my current challenge allowed me to trust the healing process and gave me the confidence and resilience to move on. Today the scars on my face are a proud reminder of the challenges I’ve faced to get to where I am today.
The next step to resilience is accepting and embracing change. As American author Leo Buscaglia shares, the only thing certain in our lives is change. Think of technology, new inventions, ways of thinking, and even world events like the pandemic; these have proven that change is constantly taking place. Accepting change and actually embracing it allows you to handle things better, be more creative, and move forward no matter what the circumstance, making you more resilient in life.
For decades, my business was built on live events, and I thrived on being in person, being able to engage with the audience and having interactions where I could gauge their expressions. When the pandemic lockdowns started, I had to figure out a way to keep my business going and to continue serving my community. The only way to engage with my audience became virtual, and I had to accept that. Even though I wasn’t excited about the method at first, I embraced the shift and started doing live events online.
In the beginning it was awkward, I couldn’t easily see people’s faces or interact the same way as I did in person. It was a challenge and for a few weeks, I wondered if it would even work. However, I kept going, showing up for my community, and in turn, they kept showing up for me. After a few months of adapting, accepting and embracing this change, the community grew by enormous proportions. As a bonus to this new model, we now reach more members from all over the world.
The fourth step to resilience is rather than detaching yourself from the problem, you must take action. Don’t dwell, be proactive, and take action to move forward. Wallowing in the negative or staying stuck and trapped will never improve your situation.
During the pandemic, my fiancé and I decided to sell everything and live abroad. Like most of the world, we’d been in lockdown for an extended period of time, but I always knew we needed to take action despite the fear. It’s my duty to serve my community, and I have members in different countries all over the world, from UAE to Indonesia, Turkey, Nepal, Greece, Jordan, UK, Italy, Australia and more. Against the grain, as soon as flights were available, we got on a plane, taking action towards our next chapter and destination. Our goal was to improve the quality of our life and continuing to build the business within a global community. Taking action to move forward will give you the resilience you need to move past your current situation or anything in life that is holding you back.
Finally, the last step to become more resilient is to take any hardship, problem or challenge as an opportunity for self-discovery and a way of learning. People naturally learn more about themselves after they conquer challenges. There’s a confidence, a belief that happens when you gain security in your abilities, which leads to almost always understanding yourself at a deeper level — by building your resilience you can get through anything. I’ve been speaking on stages for decades now, and still, when I get booked for an event, I see it as an opportunity to discover more about myself, and what I can learn. Over the years, this step has truly made me more resilient. Now, when I’m in front of an audience, connecting, engaging, and confidently sharing my experience, I tell others they can do it too!
When you take all these things — making connections, looking beyond your current challenge, embracing change, taking action and seizing the opportunity for self-discovery — and do it all with a positive mental attitude, you can’t help but become powerful with resilience.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One of the biggest killers of men today is suicide. My movement is to create a global community of heart-centered men, helping one another find growth and success, supporting with accountability, so that we achieve goals and dreams. No man is left behind, preventing isolation, feeling alone, and falling into depression. This movement will create better fathers, brothers, husbands, and humans, positively affecting families, friendships, and relationships all over the world.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
As a polymath, I’m always seeking people who have the ability to master multiple inconceivable things. I would love to have a private meal with a specific gentleman, who has done just that. He’s someone who claims to not understand business, even unable to discern net revenue from gross revenue. This same person has built multiple billion-dollar companies and is world renowned as one of the most down-to-earth entrepreneurs with the unlikeliest of success stories — Sir Richard Branson.
Sir Richard Branson had everyone betting against him, yet despite it all, he rose to the top and continues to live his best life.
That said, if I could pick anybody throughout history, I’d have to go back to the late 14th Century and choose the most unique polymath of all time — Leonardo DaVinci. As a painter, draftsman, designer, engineer, astronomer, scientist, and more, DaVinci was the ultimate polymath who truly lived many lives. If I could somehow bring to together both Leonardo DaVinci and Sir Richard Branson, now that would be an extraordinary lunch!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best way to follow my work would be through my stories @kenradio on Instagram. I love to share what’s relevant and happening right now and do daily stories with moments that I see as important and fun. I truly love to share teachable moments and incredible people that I get to hang out with on my journey. To participate in the incredible community of heart-centered men, you can visit https://www.metal.international and join us for an experience.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!