Sam Morris is the founder of Zen Warrior Training. In 1999, just after leading a bicycling trip for nine teenagers across the United States, Sam was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Years of struggle from his condition forced him to experience over a dozen surgeries and to lie down for over three years, two of which were in hospitals.
Determined not to become the victim of his circumstances, Sam learned and created a system of mental and physical training based in Zen philosophy, meditation and somatic disciplines that healed his mind and body and brought him more vitality and clarity than he had before his injury. He created Zen Warrior Training as a means by which to share what he has learned with the world.
Sam is a keynote speaker, Zen Warrior Training workshop facilitator and individual and group life coach. He has been featured in numerous magazines, podcasts and radio shows and has been a regular guest on Business Rockstars.
In this interview with Startup Savant, Sam shares his experience getting into an accident and becoming paralyzed at a young age. He shares despite his condition, how he learned to overcome the struggles and made himself stronger, both mind and body through Zen meditation, which in turn ignited the entrepreneurial spark in him to influence others to strive for their best version.
For entrepreneurs starting a business in California, his advice:
Be innovative. At least where I live in California, you will get eaten alive if you don’t stand out, if you’re not doing something that is truly new. If you are doing something new, there’s no better place to be to get it started because Californians are the most open-minded people in the country and we’re always looking to make our lives better. And my third piece of advice is to back up your vision and not your ego.
Can you tell me a little bit about Zen Warrior Training, Sam and what else do you do as an entrepreneur?
Zen Warrior Training is a personal development program that I created to help people to become the masters of their own minds, and, through doing so, conquer any challenge with a great attitude and live up to their highest potential.
The cliché that we are our own worst enemies could not be more true, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The fact of the matter is, most people are just not aware of the power of their own consciousness and so they live very limited lives. Through accessing your passion for life and constantly deepening your self-awareness and ability to relate with others, you can become more and more connected to your true power.
Zen Warrior Training was born out of my experience of having to endure years of challenges as a result of becoming paraplegic in a car accident caused by a drunk driver at the age of 24. I had just finished leading a bicycling tour across the US, I was an avid snowboarder, skier and hiker and I was in the best shape of my life.
In an instant, my whole life was turned upside-down when I became paralyzed. Years of complications left me lying flat on my back at home and in hospitals and receiving multiple surgeries. Through it all, I trained my mind how to become more Zen. I practiced meditating for hours on end in the hospital. I practiced letting go of my expectations that my life should be different and embracing reality exactly as it was.
I discovered that I was gaining a superpower by doing so. I learned how to stop fighting with myself and start loving myself in ways that I’d never known I could. People began wondering how it was that I had survived such extensive trauma with such a great attitude towards life. It was then that I realized that I could make this experience into a gift to be of service to the world.
I essentially reverse-engineered how I mentally did what I did and turned it into a set of principles for self-empowerment that I could teach others. I now coach people privately, do workshops nationwide, do keynote speeches and I’m working on developing an online platform where anyone can go to tap into Zen Warrior wisdom.
What does Zen Warrior Training do that makes it better than the rest? In other words, how did you find your competitive edge?
In a sense, what I’m doing could be called life coaching. But there are a lot of life coaches out there and very few of them have much training or experience. Part of what sets me apart is the degree to which I have been challenged in my life and have come out victorious. That alone gives me a ton of credibility and my clients can experience that energy first-hand. There’s no arguing that I’ve been through way more than most people have, and, despite it all, I’m rocking my life.
Another thing that gives me a competitive edge is that I am constantly training to get better at what I do. Personal growth, to me, is like being an Olympic athlete. I’m not the type to go to some eight week training and think I’ve got everything I need to be the most effective coach possible. That’s impossible, and there are plenty of coaches doing just that (or who haven’t gotten any training at all) out there.
I dedicate fifty hours a month to my own training with a master teacher who is constantly helping me to become more present, wise and able to relate with different types of people. But, ultimately, I’m not really competing with other coaches. I’m competing with myself. I know damn well where I’m strong and where I’m not and I’m constantly pushing myself to both acknowledge my strengths and to get to my next level.
What do you consider the biggest milestone that you have hit with your business? What was the biggest thing you did to get there?
The biggest milestone for my business was when I was invited to be a featured speaker at METal International here in Los Angeles. METal stands for “Media, Entertainment and Technology Alpha Leaders.” This is a group of some of the brightest, most successful entrepreneurs in their respective industries. To get to present to them was such a huge honor.
What got me there was preparation. I practice endlessly at broadening my self-awareness to take on the world as much as possible and to catalyze the change that I really see that is needed. Most of that work happens on the inside. It’s about training my mind, training my attitude and keeping my body in the best shape possible so that I can have the physical vitality that I need to be able to rock it. I have endured years of such intense challenges that it would’ve taken most people completely out. But all of those challenges have been grist for the mill.
What is the biggest business mistake that taught you a powerful lesson? Would you mind sharing how it changed your business?
The biggest mistake I’ve made in business is trying to grow too fast. It’s easy to get caught up in the next thing and miss out on what’s right in front of you that needs to get handled. By focusing too much on the future, it has, at times, drained the energy from my business.
It’s key to acknowledge the timing of where you’re at and not move too slowly or too fast. Just keep incrementally growing. Don’t try to scale before you’re ready. Timing is everything.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there something you make a point to do each day?
When I roll out of bed at 5:45am, I’m often pretty sore due to the paralysis and all the ways that it affects my body while I sleep. But I rally and get to the gym so that I can give my body what it needs. The rest of the day is consumed with working with private clients (some over the phone and some in person), working on my book, blogging and putting together my Zen Warrior Training online platform.
I try to take at least a half hour every day to meditate, just be with myself. Get out my thoughts and into my being. That is an essential part of being able to do what I do. Because I’m constantly working on helping others to see that they are not limited by their thoughts and feelings, I have to regularly condition my own mind to not be limited, as well.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
I tend to use struggle as a motivator, both personal struggle and the struggle of humanity. I know that if I were to not keep up with what I’m doing and push through the challenge, I would feel like crap because I wouldn’t be following the path that is here for me.
And, frankly, the challenges that I’ve already been through in life are so much more extreme than any temporary lack of motivation, so it’s all relative. I guess that’s part of the gift of having gone through everything that I have. No entrepreneurial challenge will ever compare to lying helplessly in a hospital bed for over seven months.
Did you have a hard time starting your business? How did you handle time and resource constraints?
Starting a business is always hard. When you’re no longer working for someone else, you have to be your own boss. You have to set your own deadlines. You have to train yourself to focus on what’s needed and shut out everything else. That’s a lot of hard work in itself. Then there are all the practical aspects of developing your product or service and getting people to invest in it.
Part of handling time and resource constraints is getting that there will always be time and resource constraints, so you can either accept that fact and do your best or you can let the time and resource constraints get to you and affect the health of your mind and body.
In my experience, it’s crucial to keep my body and mind moving. While I sit in a wheelchair, I’m moving around all the time, I’m focusing on my breath, I’m tapping into my vitality and focusing on the present moment, whatever is here in front of me.
It’s amazing how much time and how many resources most people let pass them by because their minds are caught in the past and future and they are unable to see what’s right here in front of them. That’s a pattern that I frequently help people to get through.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? Is there something you are most proud of?
Freedom! Freedom is my greatest value. On the one hand, being an entrepreneur can limit your freedom because you have to put in longer hours than most people. You don’t have much time to socialize or hang out and you have to set your own structures. On the other hand, I get to do what I love and do it my way! I get to experience seeding a vision that comes from deep within me and then actualizing that vision in physical reality. How awesome is that? That, to me, is true freedom!
My sense of pride comes from seeing transformation in the lives of the people that I work with. People who stick with the program and work with me for awhile see monumental shifts in their lives. Knowing that I’ve played such a big role in helping those shifts to occur feels awesome.
I strongly believe in reading. Do you have a book that you highly recommended Startup Savant readers and I grab a copy of?
Yes, pick up my book when it’s done! And, in the meantime, here are a few great books that are totally in alignment with what I teach in Zen Warrior Training: The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle and The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz.
I know you asked for one and I gave you three, but take your pick. They’re all fantastic. If you can really deeply understand any of these books, you are on your path to true mental, emotional and spiritual freedom.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice that you would give someone starting a business in California? What do they need to know from the beginning?
Well, first of all, if you are concerned about paying a lot of taxes, move to Nevada. But if you want to stay in one of the best countries (it really is its own country) in the world, stay here and make the best of it.
- Be innovative. At least where I live in California, you will get eaten alive if you don’t stand out, if you’re not doing something that is truly new.
- If you are doing something new, there’s no better place to be to get it started because Californians are the most open-minded people in the country and we’re always looking to make our lives better.
- And my third piece of advice is to back up your vision and not your ego. There are plenty of people in California who think that they’re the shit but there’s nothing beneath the surface. We are inundated with this type of personality. Shallow and manipulative people abound. Watch out for these people and don’t be one of them. And make damn sure they have nothing to do with your business.