Ethan's battle with depression and addiction comes to a climax after a terrible accident sends him to prison. However, Ethan discovers five keys to success that help him to turn his life around and help others along the way.
Keynote speaker and mental health advocate Ethan Fisher draws from his life experience to challenge, motivate, and inspire his audiences. From star high school athlete to prison inmate, to the recipient of an MBA with honors, Ethan’s life is a lesson in accountability, passion and perseverance.
Growing up in a family that did not speak openly about mental health, Ethan spent his teenage years secretly battling clinical depression while he publicly received accolades for his uncommon talent on the basketball court. He began to self-medicate, leading to a years-long battle with alcoholism and substance abuse that derailed his basketball career and ended in a 3-year prison sentence.
Sober since 2004, Ethan went on to become the first athlete in Colorado to play college basketball on inmate status and was recognized as an All-Conference and Most Valuable Player (MVP). He graduated summa cum laude, was awarded the entrepreneurship student of the year award and was the recipient of the President's award.
Ethan’s experiences became a catalyst for his devotion to inspiring others. He has spoken in hundreds of cities, motivating and engaging almost 100,000 audience members to take hold of their lives and pursue their dreams. A raw and passionate speaker, Ethan captivates audiences with his story of adversity and his techniques for channeling desire into purposeful action.
A staunch mental health and substance abuse advocate, Ethan is the founder of the non-profit, Life Con, to support education and prevention for students and student-athletes. He has been featured in a best-selling book, and interviewed for other books, newspaper articles, and numerous podcast, radio and television shows.
Imagine it's just one of those nights, when you kind of have a bad feeling, there's just something in the air. Even though you can't point to any one reason, you feel like you should stay in. Maybe it just don't feel like drinking or getting high tonight. You feel like stuff has been getting out of hand lately, even more than usual. But your friends, they have other ideas. They tell you that you have to come out that you have to party to push all those bad feelings aside and just have fun. So you do you go out and party. But the next morning you wake up in a hospital bed which is a bad start to the day already. You can't remember last night, how did you get here? Finally, someone comes in and you are asking a ton of questions. And that's when they tell you last night when you were driving, you blacked out at the wheel and killed a man. This is exactly what happened to Ethan Fisher. Hello, my name is Ethan Fisher. Today, we're going to track the events that led up to this pivotal moment in Ethan's life. And what he did afterwards to turn his life around. I'm Clint Mally, and this is real common treatable, where we talk about overcoming mental health, addiction and substance use challenges in simple, everyday language. But before we pick up from when he woke up in the hospital, we need to take you back to the beginning. We need to give you some context. My story started back in middle school in high school, and I didn't realize what was going on at the time. But in middle school, I hit this depression. And I didn't know what depression was. And you know, I grew up in the 90s. So nobody talked about mental health. Nobody talked about that stuff. And especially as an athlete, like if you said you had a weakness, you were taught to cover it up so that nobody knew like you were struggling with stuff. And it got to the point where it was so bad in eighth grade that I screamed at the top of my lungs that I was going to kill myself, I had a knife to my wrist. And my parents stopped me. And like I say in my speeches, I don't know if I would have gone through it there. I don't know if it was something I needed just to like get attention from my parents. But all I know is that at that time, I didn't want to live. And so what happened over the next couple of years is I've you know, kept that all inside. He didn't didn't know how to deal with his depression. It didn't know where these feelings of wanting to end his life were coming from. Would people think he was crazy? He didn't know who to tell? How do you bring something like that up? So he started to cope in a different way. That didn't tell any of my friends didn't tell any of my classmates. And I started using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Why? Because I was afraid to talk about depression, I was afraid to talk about suicide because I thought I was the only one in my school that had those issues. And so I felt alone. And that's what the big thing is with mental health people feel like they're alone in the reality and we know the numbers. There's millions of people struggle. So I thought I was alone. And I got to high school and I started drinking every single day my junior year, I started smoking weed in eighth grade, and everybody thought it was just partying. And for me it was I was drinking myself to the point of Oblivion, I wanted to die. But nobody on the outside knew that. Like, middle school and high school were the worst times in my life. And you're gonna see I've been through a lot that even after high school, I had some really, really, really tough times. But as an adolescent, you're struggling with all this pressure of school and being a kid trying to fit in and like I tell people all the time, I can't imagine what this generation is going through with social media. Like eighth grade, I was ready to take my life and we didn't even have cell phones. So I can't fathom what these kids are going through. Despite depression and suicide. There was one thing that brought Ethan joy, basketball, competing, scoring, just playing the game. He loved it all. And he was good, good enough to play in college. However, those mental health challenges, they followed him to college. I basically went to five different colleges over the next five years for all college basketball. Every single one of them, I failed out a semester. My first year I actually played all the way through. And then I failed out second semester with a, you know, low GPA. I was drinking every single night, my second school, I made it to semester at a GPA of 0.0. Then Ethan started turning to harder and harder drugs, I turned to coke and ecstasy and really got in some really, really bad situations that I'm very thankful and blessed to be alive, because that was probably the height of my drug use, and came back home, went to another school failed out, ended up playing at another school, my fifth year, made it through the first semester had suicidal breakdown, where I didn't want to live anymore. Again, here is where we start to see Ethan's rock bottom, taking us to the exact situation that we left off at the beginning of this episode. And I actually call my pops and went to a counselor for the first time in my life and actually talked about my mental health for the first time when I was 23 years old, and went on medication. And then I didn't listen to my doctor and ended up the next year failing out drinking like most people, most college students do. And I got to the point of a blackout, and I woke up in a hospital bound bed and found out that I drunk, drove and killed somebody. And so that, obviously, is my rock bottom. And from that point on, my whole entire life has shifted. And that's why I do the job that I do. And obviously, I went to prison, did three years in prison 11 Total 11 years, many people when dished out a sentence like this would feel like their life was completely over. However, this became a chance for him to look inward. To think about why he coped with drugs and alcohol and struggled with depression. When he finally did emerge out of prison, he was a much different guy. And then I went back out and play college basketball as an inmate. And that's never been done before in the state of Colorado. So I wouldn't play college basketball as an inmate at 2829 and 30 years old. And the great thing about it from an academic standpoint is I went back from a GPA of 0.0. And failing out of five schools to I got two bachelor degrees, and I graduated summa cum laude, a magna cum laude, a prison award winner, entrepreneur, Student of the Year. On top of that, I got my master's and I graduated, you know, with honors in that. And then I'd had to make a decision, do I keep chasing this basketball dream? Or do I do something to help the youth? And so I started speaking in 2014, and I haven't looked back. How did Ethan change though, what was the process that allowed him to go from failing out of school to graduating with a master's degree. So my, my situation was a little more extreme than what most individuals will have to go through the night of my accident when I took somebody's life. And I woke up in the hospital, I had to, I had choices to make, and I knew I was going to prison. So when I went to prison, I ended up volunteering for this military boot camp. So I did this DRC, Department of Corrections boot camp with Greenbrae Desert Storm. And that's where I started learning. A major point that these are tying into my five keys where we're going to talk about, but that's where I learned about accountability. And so from that time and forward from those prison cells in the bootcamp program, I started holding myself accountable to everything that was happening to me, I put myself in the right positions in the right situations. And then when I started going through that process is when I came up with my second key, which is setting goals. And I learned how to set goals during that time. And it's kind of cool as I can go back and look at my old journals for my three years of prison and writing down, I actually have being a speaker in there. And I had no idea what a speaker was. And so I actually talk about that when I do prison events. Like here, I was writing down in a prison cell saying, Hey, I'm going to come speak to inmates. And then 10 years later, almost to the day, I was speaking in Florence federal prison. And it was like one of those things like, oh, this, this actually works. He had been synthesized what he learned from his time in prison to turn his life around into five keys. These five keys can apply to anyone, whether or not they're struggling with mental health or substance use. So the first key is accountability. The second key is setting goals. The third key is choices and decisions. The fourth key is perseverance. And the fifth key is faith. So accountability, what I believe is holding yourself accountable. And so there's multiple tiers to this accountability program. One you have to hold yourself accountable. I will never blame anybody for my situation. I can't blame anybody for getting me drunk. I can't blame anybody for getting me I. I look back on those moments and realize that I wasn't strong enough to say no So when you start to learn how to hold yourself accountable to the choices and decisions you make every single day, a whole entire world opens up that you didn't realize, like, if I don't have an event happen, it's because of something that I didn't do, right. And I can't blame other people, I can't blame the pandemic on my things I just didn't pivot enough. So when you start looking at yourself, and realize that it's up to you, that's, I think, one of the biggest keys to your life. And it's not just the five keys that I have, but in who you are as a person. Once you know that you have some control over your life, then you're not simply a victim of circumstances and your environment, that you have some agency that you can start making plans and setting goals, which is the second key setting goals and our scientific research to this. The it's at, I think it's 84% of the population walk around this planet without setting any goals. So what do they do they go through life, I'm just going to go to school and, and get through high school and graduate. That's not even really their goal. They're doing it because they're told to, well, then they get into college, and it's like, oh, I got to get a degree, they don't really set that goal of what they want out of it. Then they get to life. And it's like, I'm going to work a nine to five, go home on the weekend and hang out with my kids and then do it all over again. Which is fine. But nobody sets these goals. And between an 84% of the population just walks around with like their heads like a chicken cut off. Ethan is big on goal setting, but not just thinking about or saying goals, but writing them down. Think about creating SMART goals that's specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. If you don't have a focal point, and you don't have an idea of where you want to go, where are you going to go? I am a huge believer in writing down your goals. Like I have five goal boards in my office, I got a daily goals, weekly goals, I got monthly goals, I got goals for the next 25 years of my life. And I have them in a place that I can see them every single day. Because if I'm not reminded of where my big time stuff is, I'm going to lose track. I'm going to get caught up in the regular, you know, nine to five work life or I'm going to lose, you know, any momentum that I've had. So I see my goals, even if they're these big, audacious, like, I've got goals that people are like, Dude, are you crazy, you're never going to be able to do that. But that's what I want. Because that gets me focused on something to do things bigger and better than just being somebody that just trudges through life. Once you set your goals, you need to figure out how you're going to get there, you need to have a plan, set some choices. Anytime you decide. One thing, you're also deciding not to do other things. When we come back, you'll learn the other keys for success, as well as learn what Ethan is up to now. This podcast is brought to you by sandstone care. Sandstone care provides a mental health and substance use treatment specifically designed for teens and young adults. They offer a full continuum of evidence based treatment programs from certified professionals, including residential rehab day treatment with academic and vocational support. And after school or work treatment options to change is possible. And sandstone care is here to help go to sandstone care.com to get support today, or call the number linked up in the description box. Alright, now back to Ethan. It's time for us to talk about key number three, which is choices and decisions. Think about it like this. Every single person who's watching us every single person on this planet, we have an infinite amount of possibilities into who we're going to become. And it starts with the choice that we make at this very exact moment. So talking about accountability, I think about every single choice before I even step foot out of my bed when my feet yet what am I going to do i i personally get up and I thank whoever's above that I'm alive and breathing. Then I'm go okay, what's my next choice? My next choice to get to my next speech, my next choice to make sure that I take care of my wife. My next choice is to make sure I take care of my family and my dogs and I think about every choice that I make every single day, and how it's going to impact the rest of my future. And I don't I don't tread on that lightly. Here, Ethan give some specific examples post accident on how he managed his choices to turn his life around. When I got my accident, I look back on that night every single night and I was peer pressured by my friends. Now I don't hold them accountable for it because it was my choice. But if I don't go out that night based off of wanting to see my friends, chances are I don't get in that accident. And then I'll fast forward to like when I was in prison, I had to make decisions and choices based off of who I was and where I wanted to go, and how I got out of prison. So what did I do? Most inmates do the bare minimum, they just sit in there. So they, they watch TV, they go to the yard, I made a choice. When I sat down in those cells on that first day, I started writing down my goals of what I was going to do over the next 10 years of my life until I got out of prison. I read every single book that I could, I volunteered for every positive program that I could, I did the military boot camp, I did fought fires, I took college courses, those are all choices that I made, that let me get out of prison earlier, where the most of the population, they don't make those choices. So when you sit down and actually think about who you are and where you want to go, it starts with a choice. And you have to focus on that. He then also has an interesting perspective for anyone who has ever been addicted to anything. We tend to think about sobriety as not doing something not doing drugs, not drinking. But as many addicts will tell you, sometimes sobriety looks like substituting one addiction for a better or more positive one. I'm tired of being a failure, and you have that burning fire inside, no one will stop you. Like, find that. And when you find it, you have to you have to hold on to it. I know I'm getting a little off topic, but this is my speaking stuff is my passion. And I'm still an addict. But what did I do? During my addiction and how I changed that. I was addicted to school, I was addicted to basketball, I was addicted to speaking. I just substituted all my addictions for these positive things in my life. I still am an addict. I still struggle with the thoughts of doing things over and over and over even though I know I should. But I just substituted all in for positive stuff. Because I don't want to go back to that dark place that I used to be. Anyone who has ever tried to follow through on a New Year's resolution will tell you that sticking to a plan is not easy. In fact, it's kind of the hardest part, which is why Ethan's fourth key is perseverance. So the fourth one is perseverance. And so perseverance for me is is I mean, it's resiliency, it's, it's every person has to have something that they're they're willing to, they're willing to go past a roadblock, they're willing to go past, you know, a teacher telling them, they're not smart enough, or they're not capable enough, they're willing to not listen to one of their friends, peer pressure them into using drugs and alcohol. There's something inside of all of us, that allows us to persevere through hard times. And when you find that you have to attach it and lock onto it. From the way that Ethan talked about perseverance, it almost sounded like he expected for things to go wrong. So I had to ask him, his perseverance, the expectation of obstacles. That's exactly what it is. And that the more you set goals, and the more you hold yourself accountable, and the more you focus on your choices and decision, you're better prepared for those instances where a lot of you're talking about those roadblocks. See what I'm saying. And so when you have all that you're able to it's you're able to easily easily easier, persevere through things because you've prepared yourself. You know, and like, again, let's I'm just making this as because of what happened. But normally, I traveled with two laptops, three clickers, because I don't want anything to mess up my speaking career. And so I get there, like most of my speaker friends, they'll fly in the day of their event, I fly in the night before because I don't want to take a chance. And they're like, Oh, you're wasting so much extra money on hotels, and I'm like, I don't care. Because I want to make sure that I'm there and that I don't get snowed out or that I have I don't have a flat tire. And to me that's how much that means to me and I I'm better prepared so that when obstacles do happen, I can get through it. So you know that you need to keep going to make good decisions that aligned with your goals, to recognize that to have some agency in your life for the good and the bad. But doubtful days are bound to come right. Here is where faith comes in. Sure, it could be a higher power, but it doesn't have to be can also be faith in yourself. The antidote for imposter syndrome. Hear Ethan describes our final key faith. So having faith in the choices that you make, is going to allow you to accomplish your goals. So this speaking career to me, is my entire purpose. And I have faith in every single day that I wake up that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. So when I plot out my choices and decisions, I think about what they're going to do to my speaking career, I think about what they're going to do to my family and my loved ones, and how other people are going to react to it. And if I don't have faith in those choices, I don't do them. Because I don't want to do something that's going to stop me from being who I'm supposed to be. So I have faith in who I am as a speaker, and what I do each and every single day, because I, I know, this is what I want to do. This is what I'm supposed to do, because I get to help people. And I think it's the coolest thing in the world. So I have faith in the choices and decisions that I make. I hold myself accountable. And I make sure that I'm going in the right direction. So if you have belief in yourself, it's very easy. To achieve your goals, you're still gonna have, you know, roadblocks, you're still gonna, you know, hit those moments where people try to bring you down. But if you have faith in who you are, and where you're trying to go in life, no one's gonna stop you. The only person that can stop you is you. An important thing that Ethan wants to leave people with is actually something that I've seen as a theme for a lot of the smart people that I've interviewed from this podcast. If you can love and support someone early on as a teen or young adult, it can be the thing that changes someone's life. I've made so many bad choices. And I love who I am now. I love the career I have, I love that I get to help and like change 1000s of lives. And I regret who I was as a kid. I wish and I always look back, I wish in eighth grade, I actually would have talked to a counselor, and and talked about my depression and my suicide attempt. Because that might have been that pivotal point. And you think about choice. That might have been the point where if I got help in therapy in eighth grade, I might not turn to alcohol and drugs. I might actually been a basketball player, like I wanted to play professional basketball, I might not have ever hurt bill. And that's the biggest part. And that's the that's the man that I took an accident. I look back and that's that, that pivotal point, that's a choice. And, and I, I wish I was stronger when I was a kid and I wish I would have known to to keep sticking to my guns and I didn't want to drink or party when I was I was a teenager I didn't. But I got caught up into the depression and peer pressure. And it just took me down a path I couldn't get out of. And so that's that's why this is so important. Because I do this to make sure that kids don't do this. Because once you get started, it's so hard to get out. So if I can help uh use never do use drugs and alcohol, we've changed the entire direction of who they are and where their life is going. Now, Ethan is doing stuff, helping people making a difference today. He's got some awesome projects going on. So most of my youth stuff is through my nonprofit called Life con.org Li Fe co n.org. And it's a nonprofit where we raise money and go and speak to middle schools and high schools all over the country. We host parents sessions. We also give out Mental Health First Aid instructing courses to staff and teachers and parents as well. We have a new partnership with a basketball camp where we host basketball camps to keep kids off of drugs and alcohol so you can look up life khan.org And then from a personal business side, you can look up Ethan e tha N dash Fisher calm. And that's all my professional and college stuff. I keep both of them separated because one's one's where my heart is and the other is a business. And that's where I try to keep it. If you want to continue the conversation then join us in the real common treatable Facebook group. A safe place to learn all about mental health addiction and substance use challenges. Look, ya'll all this depression, suicidal ideation, addiction stuff, it's real, but it's also more common than you think. And most of all, it's treatable. All my love, and we'll see you on the next episode.