About the Book
About the Author
Title Page
An Invitation to Transformation
Chapter One: The Seven Superpowers
Chapter Two: My Black Buddy
Chapter Three: Learning How to Breathe
Chapter Four: The Rule of Seven
Chapter Five: Coming Out (Not That Way … Yet)
Chapter Six: The Freshman 50
Chapter Seven: TransformaShaun Time
Chapter Eight: Learning to Live in the Eights
Chapter Nine: The Hot-Doo-Doo-Mess Career Plan
Chapter Ten: Shaun T, The Musical
Chapter Eleven: My Audition in the Bedroom
Chapter Twelve: Look Good Naked
Chapter Thirteen: Before the “Before,” and After the “After”
Chapter Fourteen: Loving (And Hating) Shaun T Live
Chapter Fifteen: The Last 70 Meters
Chapter Sixteen: Running Straight Through the Finish Line
Appendix: Feel the Work!
Time to Pass the Baton…



In T is for Transformation, Shaun T unveils the 7 transformational principles that guided his progress through life and that are at the core of his blockbuster workouts.

Shaun will also show you how to become more flexible and resourceful, give everything you’ve got, and, most importantly, the mental fitness to trust and believe in your path to success.

As a fitness icon and motivational mastermind, Shaun T has helped millions of people transform their bodies and their lives through his Hip Hop Abs, INSANITY, and CIZE workouts. People who think of Shaun T as just a workout force are missing something…


Shaun T is the creator of revolutionary workout programs Hip Hop Abs, Rockin’ Body, INSANITY, T25, INSANITY Max: 30, and CIZE. All told, these workout programs have rolled up a mind-blowing billion dollars in sales, and transformed the lives of millions of people worldwide. Through his wildly successful infomercials, workout programs, personal appearances, and Trust and Believe with Shaun T podcast, he challenges people mentally, physically, and emotionally, so that they can clear obstacles and become their best selves. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and travels the world and the internet to connect with his legions of fans and followers.

Advance Praise for T Is for Transformation

T Is for Transformation is so much more than just a personal memoir. I finished the book feeling like a better version of me. I’ve been lucky enough to have Shaun T as a personal mentor and friend for years, so it was no surprise to FEEL his motivation exploding out the pages of his book.”

Bob Ruff, host of the Truth & Justice podcast

“Shaun has helped millions of people transform their bodies and change their lives. And he’s the most genuine, down-to-earth dude you’ll ever meet. I can’t recommend his book enough to people who want to take control of their lives and maximize what they’ve got.”

BJ Gaddour, Men’s Health fitness director

“Shaun T is the most caring person in this world, and his book will be life changing for those who truly want to dig deep and transform even if they’ve had a rough go at life so far. You just gotta Trust and Believe in Shaun T and he will show you the way.”

Drew Manning, New York Times bestselling author of Fit2Fat2Fit

“This book gives you the tools you need to understand that nothing comes easy, but anything is possible. It is NOT a book about Shaun T—it’s about you. His life story is the conduit through which you can achieve your dreams. Now I have answers to my biggest challenges and so will you.”

Eddie Nestor, host of BBC Radio London’s Drivetime with Eddie Nestor

“Not only has Shaun inspired millions of people to transform their bodies, his incredible personal transformation in this book will no doubt help millions more transform their souls and hearts, as well.”

Harley Pasternak, celebrity trainer and New York Times bestselling author of The Body Reset Diet

T Is for Transformation is a testament to the fact that within every obstacle there is opportunity. Shaun T is a life changer—I dare you to read this book and not want to take on the world.”

—Andrea Boehlke, Survivor contestant and host of PEOPLE Now

“Shaun T is in a class by himself and knows the struggles we all face day-to-day. Having been fortunate enough to work with him on set, this book T Is for Transformation encompasses all the magic and positivity he exudes in person, while giving the mental tools we all need to succeed.”

—Albert Bianchini, executive producer, Milojo Productions

“As someone who knows Shaun T well, I still found myself deep into this book finding out even more about him than I knew before and being motivated and inspired in new ways. I finished this book feeling inspired to take action, ready to tackle my life, and motivated to truly trust and believe in who I am.”

Danielle Natoni, creator of Fit & Funky and Beachbody LIVE Master Trainer

“To see Shaun fight his way out of the darkest of places not only inspires me to be braver, it shows me that no matter what life has in store for us, we can all have a Secret Backpack and can unleash our superpowers whenever we are faced with life struggles and challenges.”

Tania Baron, founder of Team Machine and Beachbody LIVE Master Trainer

T is for Transformation: Unleash the 7 Superpowers to Help You Dig Deeper, Feel Stronger & Live Your Best Life




“For what?” you ask. Making it all the way to page 1?

Yes, exactly.

Congratulations for being motivated to start on your personal transformation. And for trying to turn the page on everything that has been holding you back.

That’s amazeballs.

But, congratulations as well for being whoever you are right now. People who are willing to take the first step toward life transformation are the strongest people in the world.

The more struggles you’ve had, the stronger you can be.

IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU’RE LOOKING forward to your fifth go-around with INSANITY.® Or if you pressed play on one of my workout programs and thought: Insane is right. I’m not doing that.

Because the kind of fitness I care most about is inside you.

It’s in your mind.

It’s in your heart.

And both of those are great places to find strength, because you’re in charge there. Nobody else can tell you what to do, or who you are, or how strong you can be.

It’s all up to you.

Can you screen out the noise in your life to hear what you need to?

Can you push away the people that tell you it can’t be done, and decide for yourself what you can achieve?

Can you trust yourself to handle the stress of change? Can you believe in your ability to succeed now, even if you’ve fallen short before?


You can see why I keep on going back to those two words. They’re the engines that get me out of bed every day, knowing that I’ll be a little farther along toward my goals by bedtime.

You may have to train yourself to trust yourself, and the time to start that training is now. Not that every day will be great. But, even if I have a disappointment or a setback or an injury, I know that trusting and believing will help me understand why I failed, and I formulate a plan to overcome it.


It’s a place where you’ll gather life-changing tools and learn to use them.

It won’t happen quickly. Nothing worth achieving ever does.

But, I promise you that it’s going to feel so good as you move forward that nobody will be able to stop you.

So, don’t rush the process. Enjoy it.

You have the power to turn your struggles into strength.

It all starts here.

Trust and believe: You can do this.



THIS BOOK ISN’T about me. It’s about you.

I want to share my life story to show you what I’ve been through and how I handled it, so that you know that I’ve been there. I want you to believe that the lessons I learned from my challenges can cross over into the life you’re living, and they can help you figure out where you want to go from here.

You have frustrations? So do I.

You’ve fallen short of your goals? Me, too.

You’ve been disappointed by the people closest to you? Read on.

But this isn’t only about failures and screw-ups.

It’s about that awesome feeling when you lose the first 4 pounds on a weight-loss journey.

Or, when you find a love that surprised you with its intensity.

Or, when your job provides rewards that go way beyond the paycheck.

You see where I’m going?

Shaun T has been there and done all of that—downside, and upside.

Sometimes, it feels like we’re on a hamster wheel, running as fast as we can and ending up exhausted but in the same place as we’ve always been. Listen up: I know about rat racing. Neither of us should go there, and it’s time to get off the wheel!

Unless … being a rodent is just a step along the way to an amazeballs outcome you couldn’t have imagined; I actually played a rodent on stage (see Chapter Five), and that experience taught me a lot. But more on that later.

It’s past time to step off that wheel and make real progress. I’m not just talking about building a six pack or losing 100 pounds or shutting up your annoying sister-in-law. Here’s what I want: for you to identify what’s actually important to you, to find a way to achieve that, and to make your gains an authentic part of who you are. That kind of growth and progress will last the rest of your life, and nobody can ever take it away.

To help you build your transformation toolbox, I’ll be giving you a test that will help you learn more about who you are, plus exercises to help you find pathways from where you are to where you want to be. I’ll be asking what you want out of your life, and challenging you to figure out what’s holding you back. I’ll also suggest strategies and life experiments that can move you forward.

By the end of this book, you will have built interior strength—the only kind that really sticks with you—to fend off failures, answer the haters, and give you the energy to move upward. I’m also going to give you some tools to build your physical strength, because, sometimes, it helps to practice pushing yourself physically in order to get better at doing it mentally.

People always ask me: What is the key is to losing weight—exercise or diet? I always tell them: “Neither. The most important thing is your mind, and that’s a muscle you can build just like any other.” I’m here to help you build yours, starting with two key truthbombs:

TRUTHBOMB: The only meaningful obstacles are mental ones.

TRUTHBOMB: Nothing looks as good as confidence feels.

Whatever your goal is—losing weight, finding your life’s work, meeting The One, tapping into your passions—you’re now on the path to achieving them.

The pathway of your life may wander a bit, and that’s okay: It can go anywhere you want it to.

Mine has wandered … a lot. That’s why I’m going to tell my story—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and I’m not going to hold anything back. It’s the only way I know how to be.

Parts of my life story are embarrassing for me. But even the most difficult things that have happened to me have made me who I am today. If not for the bad parts, I never would have made it to the best parts. And the best parts are worth looking at, too, because they flow in a direct line from the worst. I’m not complaining about anything. I’m celebrating the good, and acknowledging how it sprang directly from my biggest struggles.

If you bury your painful experiences deep, or hide them in the closet, or deny them completely, you’ll never be able to move past them.

I’ll never do that again. It hasn’t always been that way for me, as you’ll see.

But right now, I’m asking: What are you hiding from yourself and others? What pain, embarrassment, or difficulty are you holding onto because letting go of it seems too hard? Trust me: I know what that struggle feels like.

If you’re holding something back, it’s holding you back—from true happiness now, from the better future you dream of. If you don’t deal with the most difficult aspects of your life, past or present, you’ll keep living them every day you have left.

TRUTHBOMB: You get stronger by unpacking the baggage, not by stuffing it into the closet.

People see me today, smiling on Facebook or leading a workout, and they’re thinking, this is easy for him . I’m here to tell you, nothing was easy about getting Shaun T where he is today, and it still ain’t easy.

And anyway, easy isn’t the point.

The pain is.

The work is.

The process is.

And finally, the progress is.

THERE’S NO BETTER PLACE TO STUDY human motivation than a workout studio. I’ve led thousands of workouts in my life, so I’m super-sensitive to what holds people back, and also what allows them to break through. The people who fail do it in the same old ways—negative self-talk, not showing up, excuse-making—and those who succeed show similar strengths: scheduling workouts, setting goals, recruiting a supportive posse. Just as developing certain muscle groups and cardio endurance can help you get through an INSANITY session, developing certain skills can help you move on to a whole new life. And that means helping you to help yourself.

Think about that word “core” for a minute. You’ve heard thousands of exercise coaches talk about the need for core strength. I talk about it a lot, too. But what I really care most about is your personal core—the values that drive your choices, the people you surround yourself with, your attitude toward yourself. The same way strong abs and back muscles support every move you make, a strong personal core can help you move decisively into your future. It’s your choice: You’ll either suffer with every move, or go strong into the future.

That’s why you have to learn:

What’s important to you.

Who’s important to you.

What’s driving you forward.

What’s promising to take you to that place you’ve only dreamed about, but didn’t dare expect for yourself.

There are core exercises that can give you a six pack, and there are core exercises that can give you the strength to absorb the gut punches life delivers. I’ve shaped plenty of abdomens in the last 20 years. Now, I want to empower you to reshape your life by working at what’s most important to you. Your core values.

Change has knocked me sideways plenty of times, but then, success is seldom a straight line. You can zig and zag your way to the promised land. In fact, there’s no other way to get there.

BAD TIMES ARE LIKE BOOT CAMP. You go through them to build up strength—to reach a better place. Every tough step you take moves you forward, and the tougher they are, the more strength you build and the greater the leap you can make.

I’ll help you find the purpose to your pitfalls, as you learn about my hard times, too. Like I say in my workouts: Use your own body to build your body. It’s the same with every difficult thing you’ve done and experienced. Use your life—whatever it brings—to build your life. When strength comes from within, nobody can take it from you.

Not the relative who molested you.

Not the spouse who beat you.

Not the boss who harassed you.

Not the mean kids who bullied you.

Not the people who counted you out, told you that you didn’t matter, brushed you aside.

When you build the strength to move past those people, or climb over an obstacle, you have a new superpower nobody can take from you. I’ve been building new superpowers since I was a little kid, and now I use them everywhere I go. When another big challenge or problem comes up, I deploy what I need to overcome it or make it disappear.



Maybe you don’t even realize it, but you’re building superpowers, too. That’s another reason I wrote this book: To help you realize just how strong you are already. It’s amazing what you’ll accomplish when you start pulling out the tools whenever you need them.

This book is about finding out who you really are, how much you trust yourself, and what you truly believe you can do.

I’ve boiled down all of the lessons I’ve learned into what I think of as the seven superpowers of personal transformation. I’ve lived them and used them, and I want you to build and use yours as well.

You and I probably have a lot more in common than you think. If you pay attention to what went down with Shaun T, you’ll get some ideas about how to bring about your own happily-ever-afters, too.

Let’s run through the inventory of the T Is for Transformation superpowers that can help you survive the zigs and accelerate through the zags.

In order to advance, it helps to be …

UNCOMFORTABLE: Wait. What? Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. And that’s fine, if you’re willing to plan for and take smart risks.

FULL OUT: Here’s your force multiplier—the enthusiasm, excitement, and commitment you put into every plan that can drive you forward.

CREATIVE: You can find (or make!) the tools you need to cut your way out of personal traps, and you can identify helping hands that can lift you up.

FLEXIBLE: You can swerve through the twists and turns, and accelerate through changes to reach for the life you really want.

SELFISH: That’s right. Shaun T is giving you permission to be the center of your universe, but in a good way.

FEELIN’ it: You identify your passions and feel them all the way, because that’s ultimately what determines success.

BANANAS: When you’re pushing your life forward, there are bound to be surprises, disappointments, eye-openers, and other WTF moments. Plan for them, accept them, enjoy them, learn from them, and move forward because of them

I know you can make these seven superpowers work in your life and bring incredible change. How do I know that? Because I did it. And I wouldn’t ask you to try anything that hasn’t worked for me, first.

Starting after Chapter Five, you’ll find ways to test your superpowers, plus specific exercises that will help you practice using them.

Ready? Press “Play” on the next awesome phase of your life.



THE STRUGGLE ALWAYS comes before the happy ending. In fact, you could make the case that without struggle, there are no happy endings—or even happy middles or beginnings.

TRUTHBOMB: Just like the frog always comes before the prince, the wound comes before the healing.

So, let’s look at what has gone down for you so far. You’ve probably had some successes worth remembering, but there have probably also been some painful periods that you would just as soon forget.

But, if you don’t understand the hurt, if you don’t take the time to make sense of why you felt the way you did, you’re unlikely to heal going forward.

That’s how this chapter begins. You may want to cover your eyes at some points, but what 8-year-old Shaun Thompson went through was the necessary first step on a journey that led him to where he is today.

He’s the one who gave me the strength to choose the path that I’m on, rather than having a disastrous path chosen for me by the worst person in my life.

As you read my story, think about your own. Whatever went down, the more clear-eyed you are about your past, the sharper the vision you can bring to your future.

THERE WERE ANGRY FORCES PUSHING AND pulling at my house when I was growing up, and it felt like it all might come crashing down on me. From a very early age, I turned a hard shell against the world to protect myself. When I started day-care, I was the little kid who grabbed onto his momma’s leg at drop-off time, screaming like they were about to throw me into the fire instead of a classroom. I was like, “I hate these people. I’m not going to play with nobody. Take me home right now!”

In my confusion and vulnerability, I built defenses: I refused to speak with anybody but my brother Ennis and my mom, and I hid within the four walls of my closet, where I spent most of my time. That’s right, I was in the closet before I even knew what being in the closet was all about.

At least I had a friend in there.

In fact, to know about me as a little kid, you need to meet a toddler-size black doll with kinky hair and a hard, plastic head. He was My Black Buddy, and he was my only true friend for the first decade of my life. I’m lucky my mom bought him for me, because without him, I had nobody.

I’d spend hours in a make-believe world with him, cutting and combing his hair, telling him stories, and, when necessary, using his hard, plastic head as a weapon against intruders. Even my brother felt the blows. (Sorry for the bruises, Ennis!) I was desperate for somebody to protect me, somebody to stick by me, somebody to occupy my mind. It’s pathetic that I could only find it in a child-size doll, but at least I had that. My Black Buddy seemed like one of the only friends I could count on in a world where the people closest to me either did me harm or failed to protect me from it.

Can you imagine me as a world-hating, hostile little kid? The same guy who now hugs everybody, who works out with 20,000 people at a time during a Beachbody Summit? Sometimes, I have a hard time connecting those dots, too.

But as I look back, I can see how each step—backward or forward—was critical to my arrival where I am today. Life is relentless: You make one choice, gauge results, make another, and then a little piece of chaos knocks you sideways. But all of that adds to your experience, teaches you lessons, and maybe furnishes a new superpower or two. If you’re paying attention, and harvesting the fruits of your experience, you can move forward. I have done that, and I want nothing more than to help it happen for you, too.

If you feel stuck, maybe it’s because you have tools you’re not using or lessons you’re not applying. Transformation comes from correcting both of those things, but you have to will yourself into action. I did that after some serious blows that life dealt to me. But I learned to hit back. I know you can, too.

But change didn’t come quickly for me. In the early days, I needed My Black Buddy for defense, because there were others in my life who were an immediate danger.

I spent the first 7 years of my life in a one-room apartment on Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia. My earliest memory is of my mom washing me in a yellow basin in the kitchen sink, which was in the living room, which was the hallway to the dark bathroom—a closet, more like—and the only bedroom as well.

Everything back then seemed huge to me—those high stairs up to the apartment, the park across the street, the crumbling porch wall my older brother Ennis fell off of one time. But, when I go back there now, the place looks tiny; our apartment was probably less than 400 square feet for two adults and two kids. And I see a struggling family trying to make it in an apartment where we could barely breathe.

It’s not that we lacked oxygen; the rattling window frames let in plenty of that. But we were suffocating from the lies we told about our lives together. My mom tried hard, wanting the best for us. Most of my very best traits come from her—my openness to change, my way of reaching out to people, my way of bouncing back from a tough blow. But she turned to the wrong men for comfort and companionship.

I never knew my biological father.

I’ve heard stories about how my mom moved to Louisiana to be with this guy. They had twin boys together—Ennis and Eric. My mom was awakened at 5:00 a.m. on July 18th, 1977, by my brother screaming in the crib. She jumped out of bed, from a deep sleep, to run to the crib. That’s when she discovered Eric, the brother I never met, cold and stiffening in the crib. The cause: sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and his absence haunts all of us to this day.

My mom was 21 at the time.

Her grief, and the fear that went with it, might explain some of the questionable men she accepted into her life, and mine. She fought a lot with my biological father, but in the meantime, she got pregnant with me. During one of those fights, he pushed her out of a bathroom window.

We were both lucky to survive that fall.

She left him with me still in utero, and Ennis just a year old, and moved closer to her family. She was alone when I was born in Camden, New Jersey, across the river.

She brought me home to an inner-city apartment, grieving the loss of a child, reeling from an abusive relationship, and with a 1-year-old and a new baby. She needed warmth and support. And the man she chose was even worse for our little family than the last guy. He joined our family when I was 2 years old—the only father I ever knew. So, I was part of a two-parent household, but I put that in huge air quotes.

He wasn’t a stepfather.

A stepmonster is more like it.

Before the people in my family understood who this guy really was, they kind of looked up to him. Okay, he was a violent alcoholic, but at least he hung in there with my mom. He could keep a job, and his money helped the family move up the ladder and out of Philly.

Maybe I saw him a little more clearly than most. Even from early on.

I can remember kneeling on the couch in our living room, which was backed up against the windows in the front of our apartment building. From that lookout, I could see our neighborhood and find out what my neighbors were up to.

One time, I saw him doing a West Philly version of Fight Club, trading punches with another man across the street. Who knows what that was about? Maybe a manhood contest, marking territory, or just the fun of a random head whomping. There was blood, and bone cracking, and an animal fury unlike I’ve ever seen anywhere outside of an MMA cage fight.

After a while, the fight broke up, the winner and loser (or two big losers) disengaged. Soon after, I heard footsteps on the stairs. The stepmonster appeared in the door, beaten and bloody, and stepped over to the kitchen sink to wash up, fouling the same place my mom washed me as a baby. Then, he went back into the street for round two. Something seriously wrong with that.

His battlefield wasn’t confined to the street outside my window, either.

Another early memory is of riding in the backseat of our battered car, and my mom and the stepmonster yelling at each other up front. Ennis and I were taking it all in, wide-eyed, scared silent for once. We stopped at a red light, and the stepmonster bolted from the car. Naturally, in our crazy world, my mom went after him.

So, there’s Ennis and me, alone on the street in a car with no adults, winter wind blowing through open doors, my mom and this guy laying into each other on the sidewalk, horns honking all around us.

Two-parent household, my ass. More like a three-ring circus, with an evil clown for a ringmaster.

I remember thinking, at the time: This is crazy. I’m cold, and I might die. Why are Ennis and me in this car all alone? What’s going to happen to us?

The stepmonster was good for one thing, at least: dealing with rodents.

He used to set traps—snap!—and toss the dead carcasses. Perfect job for him, in fact.

Except one time, he decided to have a little fun with Shauny, instead.

I remember I was in the bath, enjoying the warm water and bubbles and that clean soapy smell, when the stepmonster entered the bathroom. He was holding something in his hand, and I didn’t realize what it was immediately. He walked over, crouched next to the tub, extended his hand, and thrust a dead, squashed mouse toward my penis.

He must have enjoyed my shrieking and the geyser of bath-water that erupted.

Painful memories for me, yes. Maybe you have some like that. I couldn’t blame you if you are reluctant to pull them out and examine them. It has taken me years to reach peace with the feelings that that scared little boy in the backseat had. But I promise you: Unless you are able to look your former self in the eye, comfort your younger self, and once and for all accept that chapter in the past, you will keep living the pain every day. The deeper it’s buried, the more urgently it needs to rise up to the surface and be acknowledged and understood. Only then can you convert it into a superpower that you can apply to similar circumstances in the future.

Yes, I was alone and frightened in the car that day. But it helped me learn to seek the right kinds of relationships, and make sure I could grab the steering wheel when I needed to. So, my current life wouldn’t be possible if it hadn’t happened to me.

IF ANY LITTLE KID EVER HAD a reason to believe that it was a mean world, that people weren’t to be trusted, it was little Shauny. At least I was in the craziness with Ennis, who wasn’t crazy at all.

As I grew up, I followed my big brother Ennis around like a little baby duck. We would dress alike; both of us had big old Afros even as little tiny kids; and I signed up for every activity he did. I wasn’t avoiding the shadow of my older brother, I was his shadow.

For all the weird stuff that went down during my childhood, my brother Ennis was my only normal relationship. Okay, yes, we had our disagreements. We competed at everything, but we were so close, and he felt like home to me, at least for my first 14 years.

It’s sad and funny now for me to think about my two pillars of support, back then: One real, one imaginary. I was desperate, of course, but at least I could sort out the friends—Ennis and My Black Buddy—from the enemy stepmonster. A little later in the book, I’ll take you through an exercise that will help you divide your home team from the opposition, but for now, ask yourself a few questions:

Who are my true pillars of support, and who is ready to tear me down if I step out of line?

Whose path should I follow, and who is ready to lead me someplace that I don’t want to go?

Who’s a positive example, and who’s a negative one?

When you sort out the Ennises from the evildoers, the Buddies from the bad blood, you’ll begin to build a support network that can catch you when you’re falling, and launch you when you’re ready to fly.

I WAS AN EXTRAORDINARILY SENSITIVE LITTLE boy. Everything I felt, I felt 100 percent. I was that kid that, if we went to the Jersey Shore, I would be walking 30 feet behind my family because … the lights! The ocean! The clothes! It was sensory overload. My mom bought one of those kid leashes to link onto 4-year-old me, or else I may have wandered off permanently.

The stepmonster interpreted “slow walker” as “mentally slow,” so he called me Turtle. I was so far behind everybody else that I was more reptile than human, you see. But even then, I knew: I was slow because the world was awesome. If I sped up, I might miss something great. I wanted to take it all in. Especially before I learned to reach out to people, I had to keep a lot going on inside to fill up my time, my life, and my overactive brain. I was good company for me, and I had to be!

I may not have been sharing much with the outside world, but I had an active inner life. I know now that I was taking it all in: the bad and the good. It’s one of the reasons I so appreciate little Shauny when I look back at him now. He was biding his time, observing the world, preparing to advance with the best people and activities, and leave behind the worst.

I hope you’ll give yourself a break with this, as well: Just because you haven’t taken steps yet toward that new job, or away from that old relationship, doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t. You may just be in your own “slow walking” phase, watching carefully in anticipation of the moment when you have learned enough to succeed brilliantly.

At least the stepmonster got one part of it right with my nickname: I needed a hard shell to protect me, and growing up, I doubted it would ever be safe to poke my head out of it.

When it was time for us to enroll in school, my mom pulled a fast one, and shifted us into a stronger district. She informed the school board of Deptford, New Jersey—about 8 miles away, where my grandparents lived—that we were residents, and enrolled us.

Every school day, she would roust Ennis and me out of bed at 5:00 a.m. We would stagger down to her beat-up black car, with a brown door and a faulty starter. I remember thinking: Why doesn’t anybody else drive a car like this? It was the first sign I had that we were barely scraping by.

But I give my mom credit: She was trying to work it out for us.

She’d crank that dead engine until it coughed and wheezed to life, and rev the engine to warm the car up beyond icebox level. Then, we’d make the trek over to my grandparents’ house via the Walt Whitman bridge. And then, we’d stand in front of Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s house to catch the school bus to Lake Tract Elementary School.

Our school commute ended when my mom got a better-paying job, and we were able to upgrade to a neighborhood about a mile from where Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop lived. After the move, we had a whole house to ourselves, and school was a quick bus ride away. I was so happy: Oh, my God, I thought. I got my own room! We actually have stairs and a driveway! And a basement!

On the surface, things were looking good. Of course, that’s the problem with the surface. It’s like a frozen pond. With a glossy layer of ice, you don’t see the dark layer of muck down below.

IS IT ANY WONDER I WENT looking for escape routes? In school, we had a reading program called The Super Kids. The main characters drove around having adventures in a school bus; it was designed to teach us how far reading could take us in life. I loved to read, and I loved those kids, and maybe I was looking for magical transportation that would take me anywhere beyond the closet. My stepmonster wasn’t going to do that for me, and my mom was just too exhausted from work and dealing with Ennis and me. So, naturally, I turned to my grandparents, the Reverend Charles Dawson, and his wife, Effie, aka Pop-Pop and Mom-Mom.

If my home life was all dysfunction and chaos, theirs was calm and harmony. They loved me, and I knew it. So, when I said, “Pop-Pop, would you make a bus out of cardboard and bring it to school?” he didn’t hesitate.

Okay, I’m sure they had to call my teacher and say, “Shaun needs a what, made out of what ?”

But, here’s everything you need to know about my Pop-Pop: He did it.

I can still remember him dragging the big boxes into my classroom, helping us decorate it like the Super Kids school bus, all my kindergarten classmates playing in it, and me as proud as I could be that my grandfather made it, and knowing that he did it for me.

THE STORY OF MY CHILDHOOD GETS a lot darker than it was in that closet with My Black Buddy, but still I say: I love that little kid, and I credit him for all he did to launch me into a life I love.

Life is unfair. People can be cruel. Each of us has been hurt, and each of us has suffered things that we did nothing to bring about. None of that changes for any of us, no matter how we choose to look at our lives. What changes is how we react to it.

Every one of us is hiding in some kind of closet, whether it’s an abusive person in our past or present, a memory of past failures, or a struggle to get the resources that we need. But by packing that mess away into some dark secret place, you are limiting your access to the best part of your life ahead.

We’re gonna break out together, if you’ll just give it a try.

If you built a closet, know that the four high walls aren’t real. You’ve imagined them into existence, and you can tear them down just as easily as you built them, by deciding they’re flimsier than you imagined, or that they don’t exist at all.

Your mind is a sledgehammer. Swing it!



TAKE A LOOK at the turning points in your life.

The moments when you were suffering, or just dissatisfied, and then decided you wouldn’t live like that anymore.

The afternoon you quit that job you hated.

The night you told that lame boyfriend to “bleep” off.

The time you looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize who you’d become, and vowed to make a change.

The drink you threw down the sink, or the cigarettes you dumped into the toilet.

The morning you dropped the doughnut, laced up your running shoes, and went out for a run.

Turning points can feel like your very best moments, or your very worst, but they have one thing in common: They separate out your life into a before and an after, and they are like beacons of light pointing out the events that caused everything in your life to be different.

Sometimes, it feels like that’s when the transformation happens. But really, your life leading up to moments is a series of small successes (or failures), and your life after that moment or moments is a series of choices on where to head next. Down or up?

Your mission: Start looking back at those moments, learning what brought them about, and pull the levers that bring about positive change.

I DIDN’T START LIVING UNTIL I was 14 years old.

I was born in 1978, but it took me until 1992 to decide that I wouldn’t be the victim in my life story. I chose to live for myself, rather than suffer through what others were doing to me. My first 14 years could have turned me toward the darkness for the rest of my life. If I was looking for reasons to hide or reasons to hate, they were everywhere as I grew up.

I wouldn’t wish my years of scared silence on anybody. But as bad as it was, it set me on the journey I’m still on today. So many times, when a disappointment comes now, or a relationship goes bad, or a lawyer-scammer-businessperson tries to get the jump on me in a deal, I just repeat my mantra: “I have survived the worst parts of my journey already, and there is nothing the world can throw at me that I can’t handle. I just need to be as strong today as little Shauny was so many years ago.”

Everything I needed to learn about facing hurdles—how to be real with myself, how to be honest with others, how to take charge of my life—I learned from my 14-year-old self. He’s my hero, because he was strong enough to seize control of himself and his future.

Sexual abuse is a curse. You’re about to read how it happened to me.

TRUTHBOMB: Dealing with the worst that can happen can prepare you to chase the best that can happen for the rest of your life.

I didn’t have a choice or a voice in what happened back in my childhood. But when I was ready, I responded.

I still can.

I still do.

Do you?

SOCIAL WORKERS AND CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS KNOW to look for a haunted silence as a potential sign of abuse. Nobody saw or understood that in me. I just hid away in my closet and waited to see if anybody would notice I was missing or hurting or in trouble.

Mostly, they didn’t.

Or, maybe they were afraid of what they might find if they asked questions. The urge to turn away is powerful, and I get that. I’ve long ago forgiven the people who could have stepped in to save me, but didn’t.

Either way, the stepmonster took full advantage. I was alone, and ripe for the taking.

I wasn’t an easy kid, as I’ve said.

Because of the walls I built around myself, nobody could see into my life. The stepmonster was counting on that when he chose me as his victim. The worse the abuse got, the quieter I got.

He kept me off-balance, confused, frightened. When he approached me quietly, with strokes rather than threats, with kindness instead of a dead mouse, it felt like I’d escaped something even worse. That was his plan, and he executed it perfectly.

The abuse began after our move to Deptford.

The basement there was the stepmonster’s lair; I don’t think my mom ever went down there, probably under threat. He kept his porn stash down there, lying around in plain sight. As a little kid, I knew that wasn’t meant for me, and I averted my eyes. And I didn’t feel good about it when he announced that we were going down there for “movie night,” one time when my cousin was over.

It started out okay. We were watching a movie, sharing popcorn, just like a family would. But, at some point, the stepmonster invented some task for my cousin and sent him upstairs, to get him out of the room for a while.

Then, he turned his attention to me.

“Shaun,” he asked, “Have you ever kissed a man before? Have you ever kissed anyone?”

“No,” I said, swallowing hard. I was 8 years old.

“Well, I’m going to show you.”

It didn’t go beyond that … the first time. As if a grown man tongue-kissing a young boy wasn’t bad enough. He must have been waiting to hear if I’d squawk. Call him out. Complain to my mom. Instead, I was ashamed, so I was silent. If anybody would avoid speaking about the unspeakable, it was silent Shauny.

It was just the opening he was looking for.

There was a pattern to the abuse.

He would come home drunk on weekend nights.

He’d pick a fight with my mother in the kitchen to get her out of the way. Then, the coast was clear for what would come next.