Travis Daigle has all the traits one might expect from a motivational speaker. Not the type of speaker who plays cheesy Rocky hype music with all the pomp and circumstance that comes with making a quick buck, but the kind of speaker who lays his personal trauma on the table, tells it like it is, and prompts his audience into at least several moments — hopefully longer — of deep introspection.

Whether meeting the 6-foot, 3-inch combat veteran as he’s stepping off stage or bumping into him at the Old Town Starbucks in Tacoma where he conducts his online day trading, Daigle exudes charisma, grace, warmth, and humility. 

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Daigle said he was an “easily intimidated and very overweight kid.” At 17, he said, he weighed more than 300 pounds and was ridiculed and bullied. He shed the weight in the early aughts as he was finishing up high school and progressing to college. 

While pursuing a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Houston, Daigle found college presented a new set of challenges both academically and socially as he struggled to form friendships. 

Three months after graduation, Daigle found himself working as an engineer for gasoline giant Shell. Daigle was dating, earning a steady paycheck, and he’d bought — through a loan — a new car. But after 11 months working there, he fell into “a deep depression,” racking up a significant amount of personal debt. In 2007, Daigle eventually elected to join the U.S. Army and was given the opportunity to try out for special forces, an elite group of soldiers known as the Green Berets. 

“At the time, I was an unlikely candidate,” Daigle recalled. “I was 25 years old, I had never been a great athlete, I had never been on a hike, I had never been camping, I’d never shot a gun, and I didn’t know how to swim … I knew it was going to be a long shot for me, but I was determined to try.”

Daigle found the pain, stress, and psychological torment he experienced in his special forces training akin to the experiences that he endured as a child. He credits this — coupled with the grit and determination he found during his weight-loss journey — for his successful completion of the program. 

Daigle served at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and performed a one-year-long tour in Afghanistan, before separating from the military in December 2012 upon completion of his contract. 

Today, the 37-year-old splits his time between the gym, day trading, security work, and his motivational speaking and writing business. We recently caught up with him for a little inspiration and a dose of motivation to kick off the new year. 

SSB: You have led a life full of experiences that have defined you. How do you use that to inspire others?

TD: The goal of my speaking is to use my life story to expand upon and convey principles that I think lead to a person being able to lead a more satisfying and fulfilling life. And those experiences are diverse, so I think that is what helps me connect with (my audience). As I’ve gotten older — in terms of overcoming and taking on certain challenges — there just seem to be certain themes that are always at play. 

How do you boil that all down into a concise, often timed, presentation? 

I always talk about three things: Ownership, fundamentals, and being able to embrace failure. Those three things in different ways, shapes, and forms are what I try to expand upon — through various stories — in my writing and my speaking. 

Let’s unpack that a bit. Can you give an example of what ownership might look like? 

Ownership is really about getting to a place where no matter what happens, you focus on things you can control. It’s challenging because sometimes you actually have a good reason, you do have someone to blame because someone did do something to you. But I think what I try to get people to realize — and what I even have to remind myself of — is: OK, this has happened, and now I’m dealing with the fallout. So, if I want to experience change in life, I have to take the ramifications of that situation and own them … One could blame one’s parents, “You let me go to college; you let me go into debt.” Or you could say, “OK; my parents didn’t have that knowledge to pass to me so now I must go acquire it so that I can change this situation.” 

Does acquiring that knowledge play into your next point about fundamentals?

Yeah. So, when I talk to people, whether you are in a company like a Starbucks or you’re an individual, each one of us is kind of a little company. We have to manage cash flow; we have to manage our own kind of human resources department, which is like the people we allow into and out of our lives; and we have to manage our own health benefits department, like exercise and eating — just fundamentals of taking care of our bodies. And all of that understanding came about from looking at things logically and asking, “What do people need to flourish in life?” You need money, you need life-giving instead of life-taking relationships, you need to be healthy and have energy. That is going to help make your experience better, that’s going to make you more resilient when unexpected challenges pop up. 

Speaking of resiliency, let’s break down that third point about embracing failure.

I see these stories that people have about the way that life is supposed to work. Some parts of your story are right, but some are incorrect. The willingness to let failure happen and see that this part of the story isn’t right is crucial. (Saying to yourself) “Oh, Travis, getting an engineering degree and working for someone else wasn’t for you, you’re an entrepreneur so you need to go do that,” and allowing those failures to teach you something about yourself and the world around you. (Instead) you engage in kind of like a controlled failure versus what happened to me after college, which is what I call “hitting a wall.”

A lot of motivational speakers might sugarcoat their methods or make light of certain situations, but it seems like you’re pretty comfortable with telling it like it is. Can you discuss why you continue to keep it real?

We have to deal with some harsh realities about the way the world actually works and once we do that we can achieve (anything). It’s like having a map, like in land navigation. One of the worst things is to have a map in the middle of the woods, but not know where you are on the map. Now the map is almost useless and you just kind of just wander aimlessly until you hit some big land feature that is obvious on the map. Life is similar, if we’re not acknowledging certain truths about life, we kind of just wander around aimlessly until we hit something. Maybe you win the lotto, or maybe you get cancer — now you know where you are. If you do critical thinking on a regular basis around who you want to be and where you want to go, then even if you have a long, hard journey in front of you, at least you know where you are on the map and what path you are taking — I call it the map of life. 

You have spoken at myriad events to diverse audiences that run the gamut from youth to veterans to small business owners. How do you define your audience? 

Boldly, and a little bit audaciously, I think my message applies to anything. If you are in corporate America and you are trying to change the culture of your company: Ownership, fundamental aspects of a business, and being willing to fail and iterate in the implementation (of that failure) are going to be key. If you are a small business: Ownership, it lives and dies by you; fundamentals like accounting; and being able to fail forward, boom, you’re able to do this thing. … Demographically though, I kind of think a lot about millennials and younger generations, because the issue of resilience seems to come up a lot when I speak to audiences. People will come up and say, “Man, my kid isn’t as resilient” or as mentally tough as (that parent) thinks they should be. 

In addressing these diverse audiences, how can you ensure the impact of your message is heard, and everyone is leaving the room with takeaways? 

Life is a process of self-discovery, so I don’t know what it is that you need to discover about you. But what I can do is say, “Here are some things that have helped me through major paradigm shifts in my life, and here’s some questions that I want you to ask yourself — questions that I want you to get meditating on.” If I can wrap it up in this charismatic, well-spoken package, then maybe it teases those neurons in there to say, “Maybe I can look at this in a different way.” 

What is next for you? 

I’m studying to be a day trader. I can trade part-time, and if I make money speaking, I can flip it in the stock market and do a book. 

What would a Travis Daigle book look like? 

I want to tell my story in the book about where I get these principles from … I feel like there is so much diversity in my story, so creating a plumb line for people where they see how it all connects, to see what’s always at play, and see how I’m using these tools to move forward. I think this is what that book would contain. I would hope to follow on writing more practical strategic books from there. You want to get healthy, let me walk you through that process from a practical standpoint. You want to get your finances right, you want that career that you love, let me walk you through the strategic things that I did in a more granular, detailed sense. 

To learn more about Daigle or to follow his insights, visit travisdaigle.com/blog.