When Terry Crews hit rock bottom, he found a better way to be ‘tough guy’

Image credit: Leigh Keily

Why doesn’t my family like me now? That was the harrowing question Terry Crews found himself asking one night 12 years ago. The professional athlete, actor and entrepreneur worked to the bone—and in a way, he got everything he wanted. He had been married for decades and had five beautiful children. After a seven-year career in the NFL, he found success on the big and small screen, starring in TV shows such as everyone hates chris and movies like Stay smart and The longest Garden. Now he is also the CEO of the virtual production company Amen&Amen, presenter of america have talentand designs furniture for Bernhardt Design.

But that night in 2010, Crews was forced to admit that all was not well. Painful experiences from his past were catching up to him. Crews suffered during an abusive childhood in Flint, Michigan, and struggled against the headwinds of racism. He ruthlessly competed for the top, never allowing himself to look back or process his traumas. He feared that any display of “weakness” would bring down the entire house of cards. But as he writes in his new book, Hard: My Journey to True Powerthe fight took a terrible mental and physical toll, leading to exhaustion, addiction, and decision-making that nearly destroyed everything he’d worked so hard to achieve.

Below, Crews offers his own experience as a workaholic and “tough guy” in recovery. He explains how, more than a decade since his personal assessment, he has found another path to success.

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We are often told that it is difficult to succeed when showing “weakness”. What does the word “tough” mean to you right now in this context?

I called my book Resistant because I had to change what that word meant to me. Most men live their lives trying to settle scores. You will show anyone who doubted you – success is the best revenge! when i watched the last dance documentary about Michael Jordan – he took it all personally. It was a revenge movie. That’s how you win, but I ended up hurt and hurt by that mentality. Then I read a sentence that surprised me. He said that smart decision-making sometimes requires us to forget what we’ve lost and re-evaluate the situation as it exists today. And I went, wait a minute. I have to let these things go. Being tough is not showing people. To be tough is to examine yourself to the extent that it hurts. You are performing surgery on yourself, reevaluating your life and decisions. It’s painful, but that’s what’s difficult.

What led you to start this kind of work on yourself?

My wife was leaving me. I got to a point where I was very successful in my career, but when I looked at my personal life, I thought: How did I go wrong? How did I miss this? In fact, I had to go to rehab for pornography addiction. And while I was in rehab, I learned the serenity prayer. That was a watershed moment for me. This surprised me. Prayer is about accepting what you cannot change, having the courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. So instead of asking me, Why doesn’t my wife believe me? I started to ask, Why did I lie? I had a lot more power than I realized.

How do you suggest someone begin this kind of self-assessment? It’s not always easy to see our own flaws.

Look at your life as if it were a business. Are you not getting the results you want? See the spreadsheet. We’re losing money here. We have to stop this. That’s what I did with my life. I’m doing great here, but this part isn’t working. Ask the people you love to help you. You don’t want a bunch of sycophants around you. This is a disaster. I realized that people who really love me will tell me the truth, no matter how painful it is. And that is! It’s like walking with a nail in your shoe. But sooner or later, when these things heal, you will be stronger than ever.

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Many entrepreneurs struggle with a nonstop hustle mindset. Have you ever experienced this?

The world will praise you for being a workaholic. For me, this led to small errors and lapses in judgment that got bigger and bigger. People who are very successful start to think they can cheat a little bit. Do you know, I’m already doing fine but I can do much better if I just lie about this little thing. Bad decisions pile up and your morality is destroyed. Eventually, you have this image of a happy, successful person, but the reality is entirely different. I was like, Holy cow, I am two people! That’s why my wife left. I managed to find balance when I did one thing: what she said she was going to do.

Image credit: Courtesy of Terry Crews

You write and talk a lot about toxic masculinity. What are some ways that culture can negatively impact teamwork?

I played in the NFL, where it feels like you’re on a team – everyone’s wearing the same uniform – but it’s actually a bunch of men competing for the same show. Then I could smile at you and say, “Hey, I’m ready to work with you.” But secretly, I’m trying to destroy him. With every injury on an NFL field, someone is rooting because this is their opportunity. Competition like this leads to nothing but damaged goods. But once you realize that someone else’s success really helps you, that changes everything. If the guy next to you prospers, we all win.

What has acting taught you about collaboration in the workplace?

Every time I tried to steal a scene or make everything about myself, it sucked! If you approach the scene wanting the other person to laugh, you will! It’s the law of the universe: the more you give, the more you get back. In everything we do, as soon as people see you giving instead of competing, they will come to your aid.

Related: Personal growth means recognizing that you are the sum of your contributions

You’ve been very public about your addiction, as well as a sexual assault you suffered by a Hollywood executive. What gave you the courage to speak up and what did you hope to accomplish?

Going public about my own problems helped me deal with them. As soon as you put it out there, it loses its power. And I was so inspired by the women who spoke out about Harvey Weinstein’s abuse. When [that type of] abuse happened to me, I didn’t say anything. I don’t know why I didn’t, but I didn’t. These women gave me the courage to do this. I will never forget to stand before Congress for the Bill of Rights of Survivors of Sexual Assault. Talking about these things is embarrassing and people will say all sorts of things about you. But standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves and expose themselves as a human being and not some kind of superhero? This is proving difficult.

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