At 19, every plan and aspiration that J.R. Martinez had to that point in his life went up in flames – literally. Then an Army infantryman, the Humvee Martinez was driving in Iraq hit a roadside bomb and he was trapped inside the vehicle, incurring disfiguring third degree burns during the ensuing blaze.
But rather than buckle and retreat into depression and self-pity, Martinez found a way to overcome the hard hand he’d been dealt – and to inspire thousands of others with his touching story of survival, hope, persistence and success. He shared that story with a rapt audience during his keynote speech Thursday at The ASI Show Dallas. “It all starts with your attitude,” Martinez said. “Focus on controlling what you can control.”
Speaking in an easy-going style and interjecting humorous asides, Martinez delivered insights through a narrative that spanned his humble origins in Shreveport, LA, to his ascent into being a famous motivational speaker, author, actor and winner of Dancing With The Stars. His conversationally-toned talk was themed around the idea of “boxes” – or circumstances that people find themselves in. He emphasized that the key to success in life and business is learning how to adapt to these new, dynamic situations. “Don’t be afraid to change and grow,” Martinez said. “Trust yourself.”
Certainly, Martinez had to do a lot of such self-evolution. Up through high school, his life plan centered on playing big time college football and getting drafted into the NFL. But the lack of a scholarship and a middling academic performance rubbished that plan.
Then one day, while on lunch break from his job, the then 18-year-old Martinez saw a television advertisement from the US Army. Here was a fresh direction: He could join, do a few years, get some college credits and still be young enough to get his college football career on track. But things didn’t go that way. A war was on, and he was soon deployed to Iraq where during a transport mission he sustained his injuries. Suddenly, his plans were dashed: No chance of football, no more Army. And, he had the prospect of a lifetime of dealing with the fallout of his very visible burn injuries. “I fell into a deep dark place,” said Martinez.
Fortunately, he didn’t stay there. Thanks, in part, to a kick in the pants from his mother, Martinez formulated a new plan: “Get through the day. Be positive Have faith.” He started putting these directives into action and new doors started to open. He began speaking with other burn victims, bringing hope to their lives. He got involved with a nonprofit. Soon, he was landing engagements as a motivational speaker. It was then he determined that motivational speaking would be his career, but even that didn’t take off as he planned. Still, he persisted, stayed positive, and eventually earned the opportunity to play a wounded war veteran on the soap opera All My Children. A gig that was supposed to last three months went on for three years thanks to his excellent performances. Acting propelled his speaking career and led to the Dancing With the Stars opportunity and ultimate victory.
Given what he has achieved against the odds, Martinez could be excused for resting on his laurels. But that’s not his style. Instead, the young father is embarking on a new endeavor – one he’d always had in mind anyway: College student. “I’m a freshman,” he said, laughing. “I’m finding ways to grow.” He encouraged ASI Dallas attendees to do the same: “You can control your attitude, your willingness to learn, your willingness to grow.”
Counselor caught up with Martinez to find more of his advice for overcoming obstacles in business and life. Click below to watch the video.