After paying $2,000 for a ticket to Unleash the Power Within…
After the 3-hour flight out to California…
After fully committing, with a completely open heart…
I walked out of Tony Robbins’ seminar.
In this post, I will share why I went to Tony’s event, what it was like, and why I walked out. I will also show you what I did after I left, and what I learned from the whole experience.
If you’re skeptical of friends who say, “You have to go see Tony Robbins…”
This article is for you.
If you’d prefer to watch a video about it:
“But doesn’t everyone LOVE Tony Robbins’ events? Are you just a hater?”
I know the diehard fans — the self-proclaimed Cult of Robbins who “drink the Kool-Aid” — are already having doubts about this article.
“This guy wasn’t truly committed. He didn’t do the work, because he was afraid. Now he just wants to act like he’s more enlightened than everyone else.”
None of that is true.
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Here’s what you should know about me…
I have a ton of respect for Tony Robbins. I’ve read (or listened to) several of his books. I’m amazed by what he does (I recently shared how he gets 1 million visitors per month), and wanted to experience his coaching in person. A lot of my friends are big TR fans, and they all gave strong endorsements for UPW.
I’m not “better than you” for walking out. I’m not writing this because I’m a sophisticated aristocrat who turns his nose up at self-help groups. At many points in my life, I’ve been a total mess. I’ve written about depression and addiction. I wrote about the most embarrassing and painful period of my life (then I published a book about it).
I put in the work. I’ve had a ton of failures, and a few huge successes, because I’m constantly trying new things. Like how I built an 8-figure business. Or how I intentionally gained 40 pounds in 2015, then got into the best shape of my life in 2016. It wasn’t easy to eat so much food, or to go to the gym every week, but I put in the effort to reach my goals. (You can read more about my goals in 2020).
I’ve read hundreds of books and taken action, because I am 100% in on improving myself. (Here are 18 books that changed my life). I’ve also publicly documented my self-improvement journey for the last 15 YEARS. If that’s not “doing the homework,” I don’t know what is.
I’ve attended a lot of paid seminars before, and loved them. A few events that changed my life were Gayle Hendricks’ Big Leap event and David Deida’s workshop. Both were three days long, 5–8 hours per day. I didn’t even consider walking out of either. I’ve even hosted my own seminars! Last September, my company AppSumo hosted our second annual conference, with over 200 attendees. I’m astonished Tony hosts events for 10,000 people at a time.
This article isn’t “fear-driven.” I committed to the event for seven hours. The only thing I was afraid of was wasting more time. Besides, I believe in helping people overcome their biggest fears — like talking to strangers, or starting a company. I now have had time to reflect on this experience.
Finally, Tony Robbins is one of my customers. In addition to Appsumo, I run a sister company called Sumo. Tony’s team uses our products. Do you really think I’m dumb enough to bash one of my highest profile customers? Hell no. This article is written with love.
In other words…
I’m not hating on Tony Robbins, or people who love his events.
I’m just defending a viewpoint few people ever bring up in public: the negative experience.
Most people are hesitant to talk about experiences that make us sound foolish. We diminish our losses, we downplay the bad stuff — especially if it goes against the crowd.
Think of Vegas.
Hardly anyone says, “I lost $2,000. It was a waste of time and money.”
We always say, “It was fun! Almost broke-even. Hashtag WORTH IT.”
For me, UPW wasn’t worth it.
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My Experience at “Unleash The Power Within”
In the days that lead up to the event, I felt nervous. The discomfort was reassuring.
I’m going in the right direction.
The two areas of my life I most wanted to tackle during the event were:
- How to better position myself to be in great relationships.
- How to create a work environment that continually motivates and excites me.
Before the seminar began, I had a chance to talk with my neighbors. One was a recovering Jehovah’s witness. The other was transitioning jobs in Los Angeles. We had a nice discussion about why we were there, what our struggles were, and what we hoped to get out of the seminar.
Then, Tony came out on stage.
Tony’s presentation skills were incredible. The guy has been doing this for 30 years, so I expected him to be good. He was great.
Some of the things Tony did really well:
- He encouraged us to meet our neighbors and keep each other excited.
- He kept participation super high. He continually asked everyone to raise their hand and say “I” if they agreed. He also let the audience finish a lot of his sentences (“The truth will set you ____”).
- He challenged us: “I’ll deliver but you have to promise to commit. If you sit down during the dancing, then you aren’t committed, and you aren’t going to get what you came for. Play full out with me.”
- He repeated things over and over to drive points home and increase retention. He also backed up his claims with statistics.
- He told great stories and incorporated a lot of humor.
Of course, there were some things he did NOT do so well…
- At times, he was all over the place. “Let’s work on what you’re afraid of… Now let’s talk about how to get anything you want… Focus, mean it, do it!“
- There was conflict of interest. There’s a day where we talk about health and nutrition… and then he sells supplements. Tony also mentions his other events, and encourages you to sign up for more seminars during the middle of UPW.
- He name-dropped and bragged constantly. Credibility markers are essential for a presenter to be taken seriously — especially with an audience of 10,000 people. And we all know Tony has done some amazing things. But the number of times he mentioned his relationships with presidents, celebrities, and business people was overkill. We get it — you have a private jet.
- Finally, Tony has the weirdest clap I’ve ever seen.
In the first few hours of the seminar, we danced (a lot), massaged our neighbors, fanned our neighbors, did aerobic exercises, pumped our fists, watched Tony run through the audience like some idol, and other ra-ra tactics.
Still, these were minor annoyances. Those come with any event. None were deal-breakers.
But as the day unfolded, I began to question whether this seminar was a good use of my time.
Tony called on people in the front row and recited their names. Which made it seem like he knew everyone in the audience, though I’m sure they were his VIP ($75K per year) customers.
He called on John.
“What’s your issue, John?”
John wasn’t loved.
Here was Tony’s response:
- Everyone in the crowd faces that issue.
- John should come up with a new name. “Edward.”
- “Edward” walk towards Tony like a bad-ass.
- Tell Tony you are unleashed (basically).
- Everyone in the audience say “I love you, John.”
Of course, no one expected Tony to solve John’s emotional issues with some light role-play and applause. The whole sequence was superficial (and entertaining).
Still, John clearly has deeper issues around his family. He wasn’t loved enough.
I wanted John and Tony to go deep.
I wanted to go deep.
I wanted to do the hard work we needed to do.
Then we had to massage our neighbors. Again.
Okay, I understand we need to break through social discomfort and energize ourselves, but I don’t enjoy random dudes touching me.
I looked at the agenda for the next three days.
Then booklet work.
For two days.
I looked back over my notes.
Sure, there were some great takeaways, like…
Dedicate time every week to work on yourself. Reflect upon whether you are growing, and making progress.
What are you scared of right now? How can you move towards that? Discomfort is your growth!
Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.
Look at things from appreciation and gratitude. Instead of complaining about traffic, appreciate that we have cars to get us to places faster.
Modeling is valuable. Study and replicate the people that have already figured out what you want to do.
What’s a goal that excites you? What goal would genuinely energize you immediately?
What distractions are holding you back from your goals? Remove them.
These are his quotes I turned into instagram memes.
It finally hit me. Dread.
I was officially dreading the rest of the seminar.
To stay for three full days felt like a self-imposed prison, rather than an opportunity to genuinely grow.
I thought about what I most wanted to get out of my time, and whether this event was the best use of it. I decided it would be better for me to work on my specific issues, one-on-one with a friend.
So, I walked out.
Did I feel embarrassed? Yes.
Did I feel disappointed? Yes.
But what I really felt, more than anything else…
Empowered to make choices about what I want, and empowered to turn down the things I don’t.
What I Did After I Left
Rather than fly home, I planned a “Personal Development Day.” Here’s what I did the following day:
- Drank coffee
- Went on a 3-hour hike to discuss personal and professional growth with a friend
- 90-minute personal development discussion (recorded on video)
- Ate a healthy lunch
- Reviewed some of Tony’s other materials
- Read a book
- 60-minute discussion with my mastermind group, where I shared some of my biggest issues
- Got a massage
- Sushi dinner
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This may have been the best part about Tony’s personal development seminar — it forced me to create my own.
Tony has great intentions, a strong presence, and it’s clear most of his attendees feel the event is worth the investment. I am in the minority, who asked for a refund.
A quick Google search shows his net worth in the several hundreds of millions. So luckily my refund request didn’t break the bank.
For many of his attendees, it seems there are deep-seated issues with a lack of love, and the belief that they are not enough.
If you struggle with those issues, then Tony’s seminars might change your life.
For a few days, you will feel loved.
For a few days, you will feel like you are enough.
That’s intoxicating, and many attendees (understandably) go back for more.
For my friends, the seminar was overwhelmingly positive and deeply moving. For me, it felt superficial and cheesy.
I don’t plan on attending another Tony Robbins’ event. But I would, if his team made a few big changes:
- More time to talk with the people around us. The most valuable time, for me, was when we shared our lives with each other. We all attended for personal development, and we all faced similar challenges. Bonding over common ground was great, and I wish there was more time dedicated to it.
- Shorten the seminar to just ONE day. Less dancing, less hoopla, less fluff… Just get to the meat. We wouldn’t need to be “awakened” every 20 minutes if the event didn’t take so long. (Then again, maybe it’s dragged out to create the sense that we got our money’s worth.)
- Focus. The seminar felt too general. I know it’s impossible to custom-tailor an event for 10,000 people, but more specific topics would have helped.
My good friend Tynan said it best:
“If you never quit, you probably aren’t trying enough new things.”
I don’t regret attending Tony’s seminar.
Nor do I regret walking out.