From Fighting Against People to Fighting for People: Leadership Lessons with MMA Star Justin Wren

Justin Wren, renowned MMA fighter turned humanitarian, shares his profound transformation from battling opponents in the ring to fighting for the rights of the forgotten Pygmy communities in Africa. In this powerful interview, Wren unveils the personal struggles and revelations that redirected his path towards creating significant social impact through his non-profit, Fight for the Forgotten.

This episode dives deep into the essence of human connection, resilience, and the power of purpose-driven life. Wren’s journey is a compelling narrative of overcoming personal battles with addiction and depression by dedicating his life to service. Through his work, he provides transformative opportunities for the Pygmy people, focusing on essential resources like water, health, and education.

Justin’s efforts go beyond mere charity; they empower communities to sustain themselves and flourish. His story is not just about fighting; it’s about building bridges of empathy and understanding across continents.

Notable quotes

“What is my why? I would say really it’s to put love and compassion in action and to fight for people.” – Justin Wren

“My journey is one of kind of going from fighting against people to fighting for people.” – Justin Wren, on naming his initiative.”- Justin Wren

“I think when there’s a strong alignment between the purpose of the company and individual purpose, people are creative, want to do a good job, and want to find ways to use their creativity to make improvements that are mutually beneficial for the employee and the company.” – Justin Wren

“The higher up you get, you’re always on call. But if you don’t love what you do, then it takes a backseat.” – Justin Wren

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Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Justin, thank you so much for joining us. So what is your why?

Justin Wren: What is my why? I would say really it’s to put love and compassion in action and to fight for people. And so my journey is one of kind of going from fighting against people to fighting for people. And so coming from that fighting background, a lot of people don’t normally think the first thing I think about is how can we put love and compassion in action, but it is.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

And where do you want to put love and compassion in action the most?

Justin Wren: I mean, it’s whoever’s right in front of me, I would say. So hopefully for a listener listening right now, but also I had a very unique circumstance that took me to Africa 13 years ago. And so started a nonprofit.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Justin Wren: That’s really about them and building better lives for the Pygmy people, a hunter-gathered tribe. And I got to live with them for a full year. I built up probably more than three years there now. And I lived in a twig leaf hut. I went from, I guess, the cage to the Congo and now we’ve expanded into Uganda. And we build homes, we start farms, we drill a lot of water wells, and we’re getting ready to build a hospital and school. And so it’s been quite a journey going from…I don’t know, just fighting for myself. And that being a bit of a selfish sport, it has to be it sometimes, because there’s real consequences when you’re not properly prepared. But yeah, I found mixed martial arts because I grew up getting very heavily bullied.

And so from third grade to eighth grade was really bullied. And then I think that might be one of the reasons I have a heart for the forgotten. When I met them, they said, everyone else calls us the forest people, but we call ourselves the forgotten. And so that’s where the name Fight for the Forgotten came from was me being a fighter, them identifying as that. And it’s like, you know what, let’s try to do something that…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.

Justin Wren: Honors your culture, and I know you’re all about culture. And so we want to preserve their culture that’s being lost and to help with practical needs for sure. But since they’re, the Pygmy people anthropologists say are some of the oldest people, if not the oldest in the world today, anywhere from 10 to 15,000 years old. And so we don’t wanna lose those stories and them as a people group. And so putting love and compassion in action for them really revolves around asking questions, maybe the right questions, and then making suggestions on what they wanna take action on.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So can you tell us about that transition from fighting for yourself to fighting for others? I mean, did you have a spiritual experience or some kind of awakening? What happened?

Justin Wren: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I would say so. I, you know, my childhood dream at 13 years old was to be an MMA fighter. If I could fight in the UFC, then I will have successfully fought my way out of bullying. And I did that, but when I got there, I was getting my hand raised and thinking, is this it? Is that all? Like, there’s gotta be.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Justin Wren: Something more. I mean, I get my hand raised and people are stoked. It might be something for a highlight reel. And I would be thinking, I would be thinking, so what, you know, and I ended up going back to, I remember a big fight in Las Vegas as the main event at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas and you know, thousands of people watching and millions on TV and me going back to the hotel room alone, kind of pushing every love person.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Ha ha ha!


Justin Wren: Loved one out of my life and or in that moment, because I was confused. I was, I wasn’t driven to a purpose. And I feel like, felt like it wasn’t just losing. I lost my quote unquote mojo. Like it was just gone and it didn’t matter to me. And I was taking a bunch of Oxycontin and drinking. And so that’s how I fell asleep. Whenever I was, I was a champion on the outside, but I was completely broken on the inside. And so about 11 months after that,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Justin Wren: I well shortly after that I had a father hit me up on Facebook and say hey my son had a traumatic brain injury He’s a fan his brother’s a fan We’re fans of yours. Would you come visit him at the Children’s Hospital in Colorado? And so I went and It kind of messed me up because I saw a young boy that I thought I was gonna go encourage

yet when I knelt down to take a picture with him, it was an awkward moment and he was just moaning in agony and there was nothing I could do. They didn’t know if he would walk again, talk again, be able to eat again. And when I left there, I had tears welling up in my eyes and that hospital chaplain said, hey, are you okay, what’s going on? You know, you did a good thing today. I just told him, well, what was that about? Like, you know, he’s not even gonna remember I was in the room.

And he goes, hey, stop that. He kind of scolded me. He goes, stop being selfish. This wasn’t about you. It was about him and his family and doing a good thing today. And you did that. So why don’t you think about doing it more? And so I got a nurse invited me to come back and be a volunteer. And so I guess what I would say is that opened up my eyes and my heart to finding purpose through service, something outside of myself, for someone else, for them, for me, for the world.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.

Justin Wren: And so about 11 months after being an official volunteer at the Children’s Hospital, three days, five days, seven days a week, sometimes a wild thing happened, but I ended up in Africa. And whenever I met them, I just was like, whoa, I was blown away by their culture. I was blown away by who they are, how they have so much yet in the standard world terms, like they have so little, but yet they have so much because they have each other and they…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Justin Wren: Suffer together, struggle together, celebrate together, just love each other. And there’s one thing that I think really changed my perspective. And it’s a Swahili proverb now pretty known, but at that time, 13 years ago, at least for me, I’d never heard it. And it was, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. And they just, that was in their DNA. It is, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: That’s a Swahili proverb? Oh.

Justin Wren: And our well drilling team taught me that and the Pygmy people taught me that. And it’s like, it’s true. They, the times that I wanted to quit, I would be injected, I guess, with optimism and purpose and just because we fed off each other’s energy of like, when things got hard, like you didn’t have to do it alone and it was beautiful.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

That is beautiful. So let me ask you, can I ask you a personal question? So is that when you got sober? Is that, was that all happening at the same time?

Justin Wren: Sure, absolutely.

There was struggles that had happened. I think what helped me the most when it comes to depression and addiction, I went to treatment twice. I did that after attempting suicide twice. So, you know, I attempted suicide, went to treatment.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Justin Wren: Fell back and then felt like I was in a rear naked choke I couldn’t get myself out of. That’s a move in MMA where someone gets on your back and they have their two arms wrapped around your neck and you have to fight your two hands on their one hand if you have any chance to survive or tap out. And addiction felt like it was I had no arms to fight the two arms wrapped around my neck strangling me and that was how it felt all day every day.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.


Justin Wren: Until I went to treatment the second time and then really started to learn through healthy relationships and coaches and just people that have gotten well. Learning from them, not just world class psychologist and psychiatrist. My doctor has been Dr. Dan Neumann now for like five or six years and he’s incredible and he can say things to me that just lands and it’s like whoa. But then equally as powerful, sometimes even more powerful is hearing someone else that had been at the bottom, just like me, maybe even worse, and them sharing their story and some of the tools, techniques, habits that have worked for them, be like, ah, it is possible. Because I thought…you know, maybe I’m a lost cause or whatever.

But the two things I would say when it comes to addiction, you have to face it all, feel it all, because that’s where the magic happens. Instead of running from it, because it’s gonna catch up. Face it all, feel it all, that’s where the magic happens. And with depression, for me personally, it’s been loving myself, like my life depends on it, because for a guy like me, it does. For a guy that has almost died of addiction and almost died of depression or two suicide attempts like.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.


Justin Wren: Learning to love myself. I was quick and easy to give it away, but very hard to accept it or receive it or even give it to myself. So those are the two things that really kind of helped me out of that season for sure.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Well, your story reminds me of the second mountain. Have you read David Brooks book, The Second Mountain? It’s, I…

Justin Wren: Oh. I haven’t even heard it. Heard about it, but yeah. Okay.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Oh man, there’s an op-ed if you want the short version in the New York Times from five or six years ago, I’ll send it to you, highly recommended. But imagine two mountains and we all typically climb that first mountain which is the mountain of how can I be successful? How can I accomplish my goals? How can I get to the top of the mountain? The way that we value things in society today, which is wealth.

Justin Wren: Please, thank you.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Success, achievement, and notoriety. Well, a lot of people get to the top of that mountain and have the moment that you had when your hand is getting raised, and you’re like, is that it? Is this, okay, I got it. Why don’t I feel different? Why isn’t it now better and magic the way that I thought it would be coming up this mountain? And then that leads us to go down the mountain into a sort of crisis where…

Justin Wren: Hmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: We go into the valley between those two mountains where we’re like, is that all there is to life? What else is there? Why didn’t that work to make me feel fulfilled and happy? When you get down to the bottom of that valley, you see a second mountain. And the second mountain is one of service and love and compassion. And when you start climbing that mountain, you actually find the thing you were looking for on the first mountain all along. And that has been, I mean, I have a big piece of art in the main room of my house, which is two mountains to remind me of.

Justin Wren: Hmm.




Dr. Jessica Kriegel: That story, that the thing that we’re really trying to do is be of service, ultimately. When you get down to the nitty gritty of what every spiritual leader has said, it’s about how can we serve? And I think that’s starting to seep into business. And I would imagine that for you, you are, cause you’re running a business that is all about service, right? So how do you…

Justin Wren: Yeah.

Hmm. Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Marry those two things though, because business isn’t necessarily about service, business is about profit, right? And so are you operating a non-profit or how does that work for you at a personal level?

Justin Wren: Hmm.

I am. I’m the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Fight for the Forgotten. And I would say it’s been not different reasons and different seasons, but it’s been an evolution of it being a passion project, then us giving our 501c3 and then us floating around at a certain level where we can do some stuff here, but we can’t do everything we want to do for sure.

And now it’s really trying to take the trajectory of it up, you know, 5x, 10x, our, our fundraising so that we can do literally 50 to a hundred times more with, with just that not smaller increase it’s, it’s big 5, 10x, but the money goes so much further there. So it’s been, it’s been awesome. Like now I’m getting coaching. You know, I, I always sought out the best coaches in the world for MMA, wrestling, jujitsu, boxing, always sought those out.

Now it’s doing the same thing in the speaking world, sharing the story, raising awareness, but also through the fundraising world. I just, right before this, I got off a call with my executive business coach for fundraising. And what also through the journey is we started with water because I wanted to knock out the water crisis for my Pygmy family after I held a young boy in my hands that died, his name was Andy Bo.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Justin Wren: And it was one dollar for the pills that would have cured them. It was three dollars for the one shot cure. It was six dollars for the shovel that I bought to help dig the grave and it was 30 plus dollars for the casket and that just wrecked me. It just it ripped my heart apart, it changed me and now but from even before that hearing what their vision was

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.


Justin Wren: Chief Leo May with a stick in the ground and actually not even stick, it’s a spear. So the spear was at the top back of him, but he was drawn with the other side, the handle in the dirt if we could have land ownership to call our own. If we could have food to eat on it, shelter on it, clean water to drink. And if we could have health care and education and sustainable livelihoods, like that’s the dream like they’re asking for basically.

Basic human rights or needs and necessities. And so we finally got to the point, you know, 13 years later where now we have a $2 million, $2.5 million commitment for the medical supplies for the hospital we’re building. You know, we get to outfit it with great stuff, but now I have to fundraise to build the actual structures, right, over 30,000 square feet for the hospital school, community health, vocational school. And I would say that…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.

Justin Wren: For me, it’s all about contribution and like making a worthwhile contribution and meaningful impact. And that’s really the question I had to ask myself. I heard that, you know, maybe the second first mountain was like, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? So, okay, I’ll fight. And that’s what I’ll do. And the second mountains is like, what meaningful impact would I make if I only knew I could? Like, truly, like, what would I do?

And for me, this next project, creating a sustainable community, like for over 3000 people closer to 5000, it’s like, that’s what I would do. And then create a model that’s scalable, that we can grow, replicate, and, and show this proof of concept. Like, Hey, this worked and it actually changed the game for this community. Um, I think, I think there’s a new wave of charity coming in and it’s pretty cool to see because it used to be more about handouts.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Justin Wren: One-time things that don’t last that can actually cripple communities. That’s why there’s over 230,000 broken water wells in Africa right now. It’s a show up blow up blow out technique where you announce your arrival with a parade and you throw a party and get your pictures and peace out you’re gone and there’s no real relationship. No one locally knows how to maintenance it and now it’s like people are starting to think about how can we really meet needs and empower the locals to where they get to be the change in their own community.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Can you speak to your keynote, purpose, performance, impact? I mean, who asks you to come and speak to their people and how is this story inspiring action beyond your nonprofit?

Justin Wren: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think some of the key takeaways, another Swahili proverb that really changed my life after Andy Bow died, the one that I buried, and then I was still drilling wells and trying to get success, and we failed for another five, maybe six months. We needed to make one adjustment, the smallest change to our well drilling process that made all the difference. And…

But right before that happened, I got malaria. I lost 33 pounds in five days. I was vomiting red and green, blood and bile at some called black water fever, which 25 to 50% of the people that get that die. So it wasn’t looking good. And I came back after that because one of my mentors there, he’s like a father figure.

I said, I think I’m out of gas. Like I failed, I failed. I buried more than just Andy Bo. Like it’s eating away at me that we haven’t had any success. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never tapped out in fighting or wrestling, anything like that, but I’m almost gonna tap out. I don’t know what to do. Like maybe I need to go back home and get more training. And he said this Swahili proverb, which was, if you think you’re too small to make a difference, try to sleep in a closed room with a mosquito….and it’s a little tongue in cheek. But whenever I thought about it more in a hospital bed with IVs in me, where I got evac’d out from Congo to Uganda, and I’m like, holy smokes, like I have fought guys six foot seven, six foot eight, skipped six foot nine and fought a dude six foot 10. Thankfully or gratefully, I actually finished those guys in the first round, but a mosquito or…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Justin Wren: a parasite, like a microscopic parasite inside of that mosquito, you know, kicked my tail in a way that I never experienced. It almost took my life. So if that little thing can make that big of a difference in my life, like how much more of a difference can we all make in the lives of each other? And I think that is hopefully the lens of the keynote that I get people to start thinking about how can they make a difference in the life of their company, but for their customers, their colleagues, their…their community.

You know, we can all do so much more than we think possible. That’s just the truth of it. If I look back at my journey, like I wanted to drill two water wells on 20 acres of land. Like get them back 20 acres of land, drill two wells. Now it’s 85 water wells providing clean water to more than 52,000 people. And we’ve got back over 3,000 acres of land.

And I never thought this was going to be possible. It wasn’t even part of the goal. But through helping both sides, the Pygmy people are severely oppressed, like some of the most oppressed people on earth. But through land ownership and drilling water wells for their oppressors, we’ve seen more than one thousand eight hundred people transition out of a life of actual slavery and into a life of freedom. And it was because clean water changed the lives of their people that were their slave masters. It’s like, how much would this actually change your life? Could you become a dual income family when you’re a single income family because your wife has to collect water all day? Could you send both kids to school because now one doesn’t have to go collect water all day?

And we did a survey and we literally like, how much is this impacting you on a day-to-day basis? The average family income in this one community, they were…spending $165, $168 a year on treatment of waterborne illness. Yet the average person is making a dollar to a dollar 25 per day. And it’s like what if you had clean water? How much does that actually change? And so then it’s like hey this is what

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.

Justin Wren: we hope could happen this bring peace and wholeness and community development that provides opportunity. Now what’s the opportunity here? And we as an organization say opportunity is greater than charity. Charity can be great in certain circumstances, but opportunity is normally just always better. And so it’s on broad strokes, it’s my story. It’s the fight for the forgotten story and it’s the story of the people we serve. But out of that, we pull out hopefully some deep insightful moments. And it’s like, well, how can we relate this to our own life?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So what do you say to someone who’s experiencing a level of adversity in their own life to help get out of their own way? Because that can be crippling and you’ve had depression. You know what it’s like when you’re your own worst enemy in that situation. How do you build that resilience when you’re coming from a place of my tank is empty?

Justin Wren: Yeah.

Ah, well you just reminded me of another proverb they told me. I haven’t thought of this one in years, but it was something about how they say, if there is no enemy within, the opponent on the outside can do us no harm. Right. And so I like start here. So if there is no enemy within the opponent on the outside can do us no harm. And also in a fight, like it’s high stakes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm

Justin Wren: And there’s this moment of truth. The moment of truth is when you get in there either the amateur level, the professional level, or on the big show for the first time, your debut. It’s when that cage door locks, it can be paralyzing to some guys where they’re so much better of an athlete than they showed or displayed, but we’re paralyzed with fear. And what I think

It’s not the fighter who has the strongest muscles, that one. It’s the person with the strongest reasons. And so whenever I left fighting for five years to go drill wells and live there, but then I made a comeback and it was a different feeling. Whenever I, when that cage door locked, I would literally smile. And it was just like, I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Justin Wren: and I have more reasons, you know? Like, I have so many more reasons. We’re staring each other down and I know that he knows he doesn’t have the same reasons I do. He’s not gonna go drill some wells whenever this is over. He’s not fighting to win the mic. And at least this is my mind frame, my mindset. Like, you were locked in here with me and there’s no way in hell I’m letting you stop me from doing some good work for the people that I love. Like, there’s no way.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: That’s amazing.


Justin Wren: And so I think the fighter or the person facing adversity, stack your reasons, know your reasons and stack your reasons and remind yourself of those reasons anytime that adversity comes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: And sometimes when people feel like they don’t have reasons, it’s because they haven’t put themselves in a position of service, right? I mean, service is the way out. I mean, it’s the way out of addiction. It’s the way out of self-loathing and depression. It is when you make yourself available to serve others, then something magic happens where you get out of your own way and…

Justin Wren: Yeah.


Dr. Jessica Kriegel: You see that in the business world with businesses really leaning into their purpose and their why and being of service to their customers, but you also see it in people’s own personal journeys that you see online, etc. Right? I see it in my own life. You saw it in your experience. Your reasons are your purpose beyond yourself. The reasons can’t be, I’m going to make more money.

I’m gonna win, I’m gonna feel better about myself because I’ve validated some sense of worthiness that I have. That’s all self, it’s all inward facing, right? The reasons have to be outside of self in order for it to really drive.

Justin Wren: Yeah. Well, while I was on a call earlier today, my manager manages a ton of Olympians that are getting ready for Paris. And we started talking about it. And I said something about reasons because he was talking about one of his athletes. And it’s so cool to look at sports sometimes, and I can almost pick who’s going to win a fight oftentimes from the stare down, oftentimes from the stare down. Or if I pair that, especially with.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Justin Wren: How much adversity have they had to overcome and finding out some of their reasons and then also seeing like is this is this genuinely them or they trying to psych themselves up to like convince themselves they’re prepared and ready but anyways at the Olympics I lived at the Olympic Training Center for wrestling I was a national champion a couple times and sometimes there’s underdogs or dark horses

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Justin Wren: that like shatter the world record. And oftentimes it’s not just to be the world champion. It’s because their mother, grandmother just passed away of cancer or has it currently and they want them to see them win that. Or they were from the inner city or some sort of community that they wanna show those kids that were where they used to be that, hey, you can do this too, right? They’re stacking reasons of why that comp.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Justin Wren: Competition matters. What’s like the necessity to win? Like you have to put those, remind yourself of those reasons over and over and over again.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, that’s beautiful. So we have multiple people that reached out that want to ask you a question. You’re very popular amongst our listeners. So let’s go now to listen to those callers and see what wisdom you can share with them.

Justin Wren: Oh, well great.

Wow. Thank you, Jenny. Awesome. I would say

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Justin Wren: I mean, in fighting and wrestling, it’s all about not giving up. Um, and there were so many times I almost actually did. And if I would have been successful at 13 years old, attempting to take my life or 23 years old, attempting to take my life, I just look at all the impact that I’ve been part of, not, not saying it’s all because of me, but it’s something I got to contribute to and what would I have missed out on and what could possibly someone else have missed out on if I would have been successful in that and it’s just gotten so much better just so much better having stuck it out and then I’d also say for me I got stuck in a trap of almost being

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Justin Wren: a one trick pony where it’s, I just wanted to be great at wrestling and then I just wanted to be great at MMA. And then whenever that didn’t fulfill me, like why wouldn’t I seek out the best advice and coaches and community? And now it almost makes me wanna cry thinking about how many great people I have around me. I feel like one of the luckiest guys in the world to be.

Wildly in love and engaged and we talked about that right before we started filming, you know, and So many good people have contributed to my life that I would have I would have missed out I would have missed out and so I think sometimes people have to put themselves in a position to Learn to grow but also take opportunity.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm

Justin Wren: How would I say this? I’m looking at a picture of some of the kids in a swing on one of the huts, and they’re just sitting in these bamboo, basically strings that they made. And you know, there is no real privacy. You go into your hut to lay down, to go to sleep. And if there’s an argument, people hear it.

And then if it’s something they need to intervene in, they’ll invite you to the fire right there in the center of the village and have a conversation. Here in our culture, a lot of times, you know, we have these big walls where people can’t hear us, where we can isolate, where we can just drown out the world on our device or through whatever means we want and be alone. Like we choose loneliness.

And so I would say choose to have community, choose to talk. It’s not weakness, it’s strength. Whenever you ask for help, where you contribute to help someone else. And like that is, for me, some of the zest of life is like being around people.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, that’s beautiful. Thank you for that. I just got chills. Will you share the picture of the kids on the swing with us so we can put it in the podcast? Yeah. Okay.

Justin Wren: Yeah.

Yeah, right now? Yeah, I’ll share it. I’ll share it, but I’ll also walk over to it right now so you have a picture, so.

They’re some of those beautiful kids. So the huts are just made of those twigs and then it had rained so the leaves fell off. And yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Oh, wow. That’s beautiful. Yeah, that’s. That’s incredible.

Wow. OK. Let’s go to the next caller and see what else we’ve got for you.

Justin Wren: Thank you.

Yeah, I actually love Scott. We are in the same mastermind group and he’s awesome. I would say when I met Scott, him and I were, it was our first time at this event and he asked me, you know, it was the first 15 minutes but.

It’s a big group and we could have gone and met a bunch of different people. And, you know, sometimes you’re at those, whether it’s a networking event or a conference, you know, sometimes people, you might be trying to talk to them and they’re like looking past you or looking around and they’re thinking about who they’re going to talk to next. And Scott asked me if I wanted to sit down and have a conversation. And I was like, yes, absolutely. Let’s do it. And him and I were in our own little world for a little bit. And it was.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Justin Wren: Perfect at that moment. It was powerful and potent. We went deep on life, family, all sorts of stuff. So community, I’m learning speaking. I’ve been on stage more than very gratefully like more than 400 times sharing my story and this keynote. But now it’s like, hey, let’s do it a whole new way. That’s even more impactful.

And seeing other people do it at a high level and being able to learn from them and grow and ask questions. I was doing it alone before and now I’m not doing it alone. So I have grown leaps and bounds. I think the impact is bigger and deeper and I just I’ve been like a sponge where it’s like holy smokes like having a community and mastermind group and I’ve been in a couple of different ones.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.

Justin Wren: Some are more broad strokes, some are very specific, and this one’s the most specific. And I feel like with that comes, you don’t become a master at like martial arts or black belt, but not really focusing on honing the craft. And a black belt technically is just a white belt who never quit, they just kept learning and growing. And being a black belt, you actually, it’s a service mindset. It’s giving back and teaching those that are, you know, not as far along as you.

And so I had that in the sport and then I almost lost it being here. And that’s why I love going back to Africa and having it. So I think finding that community with like-minded goals, we’re like-hearted, um, like-spirited, it’s been, it’s been transformative for me personally and professionally.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: It’s beautiful. Okay, last caller.

Justin Wren: That’s a good one. I could probably pull it up super fast because it’s in my favorites and it’s, I probably should cover the number, but it says best mom ever. My mom’s still saved in my phone that way since I was 16 years old. And I’m really grateful. Like, Brittany obviously is one of those as well where she’s like thinking about that. And I think that

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Justin Wren: For me, my mom didn’t know how bad it was for me at school until this big fallout public humiliation in front of basically the whole school premeditated. It crushed me. It absolutely crushed me. And then my mom found out. My mom was always a safe space for me to share with, but I was just embarrassed. And so I wonder, my mom, I wouldn’t say made these mistakes or anything like that, but.

Maybe if she would have asked a little bit more specific questions of how my friendships are and do I feel welcomed at school or who are my friends and do I feel like I’m bullied or is anyone mistreating me, you know, it might have helped me open up a little bit more to where I could have shared. And so they made the best moves for me possible once they knew what had happened and they got me into wrestling and I had two Olympic gold medalists as my high school coaches. And so it all worked out. But.

I would, and I would not trade it for anything because it made me who I am. But I would say being that safe space and asking specific questions and then for this might not be for Brittany but I just met a dad yesterday at the bank, actually of all places and we talked and.

He wants to get his son into wrestling and I said that’s my parents best move They ever made for me was getting me in wrestling because it’s an individual sport where you’re forced to do hard things And it’s on you. I mean, yes, you go on to the mats with it your team behind you and your training partners But I think there’s something to Doing something hard and feeling the reward of it paying off That that helped me develop resilience

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Justin Wren: And then I would say Brittany’s question was really, that was, it was a great one. There’s so many things, I’m not a parent yet, but I think mental health-wise, being that safe space to talk is always the best. I go to talk therapy and have therapists in my life and it’s just having that safe space to bounce things off of really changes…changes people’s perspectives and lives. Side note, I do cold plunges every day. And that’s probably the best daily thing.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So.

Oh, I know about your cold plunges. Yeah, that’s actually the cure for cancer. It is the thing that will get CEOs to drive more performance. I mean, cold plunges apparently do it all. But on that note, I would love to know the number one kind of listener that we have, demographic of listener is CEOs. Number two is founders. So we have a lot of business leaders listening. And I’m curious what your message to them would be about

Justin Wren: Hehehe


Dr. Jessica Kriegel: what you’ve learned in your journey that if you could impact these people in a way that created positive forward momentum, how would you wanna do that?

Justin Wren: I think whenever you provide an opportunity for people to fill purpose, and you’re an Includer, where you invite people in on the mission and vision, like, and you cast it, you cast it in a powerful way. And if you cast that vision and help them catch that vision, and work to develop them and let them know you have their back, you are in their corner.

My email signature is in your corner, Justin Rinn. Like, because I want people to know I have their back, I’m in their corner, and I think when people feel like you don’t have their back, or you’re talking behind their back, or whatever, like, people wanna feel part of something, part of something special, part of something making a difference, part of something taking the hill.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.


Justin Wren: the second mountain, you know? And so whenever they know they’re part of that, I would say a good CEO loves his people, loves their people, loves her people, and that they let them know that like, they’re part of something great and that they’re welcome there, and that they’re part of like, they’re a vital, crucial part of the mission. They’re not expendable. Like, we need you.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, right.


Yeah. You know, I think that fundamentally that is something that CEOs get today as opposed to 10 years ago. What we see as being the largest challenge for that is doing that at scale. That the bigger you get, the harder it is to ensure that people at all levels of your organization are still connected to purpose. I mean, that is, that’s what we do. You know, we connect people to purpose and to culture at scale.

Justin Wren: Mm-hmm. Yeah.


Dr. Jessica Kriegel: And it’s hard work, man. I mean, it is not a complicated process, but it is work. It takes resilience. It takes attention. Okay. Yeah. Please do.

Justin Wren: I’d like to ask you a question, if that’s okay. Can I ask you a question? Because the culture aspect gets me thinking sometimes. One time I shared with the Pygmy people, it was Chief Liu-Mei and Bajanji and Baiwanji, like these Chibu Siku, like these people that I just know and love and been in tears of laughter and my cheeks hurting from smiling around the campfire so much.

And one time I felt in a safe space to see like, what would they think about that I’ve attempted suicide? And I told them and it just blew their mind because it was almost like, I think one of the elders said they had heard almost a legend of someone somewhere, some time did that or attempted that sometime in history. And like they just didn’t see it, right? And so on the culture aspect,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.



Justin Wren: Um.

Normally their people group lives in about 85 to 135 people, sometimes 150, sometimes 200, sometimes 300, but normally they’re smaller. And when I’ve seen when they’re smaller, they oftentimes are more in sync. And it’s almost like what a chief, what the elders, what the, I’m thinking of Mama Dengoro and Mama Grace, and they’re like, there’s the chief, and then there’s those two, and those two really lead the way with the people. And I wonder about culture when you say that it’s tough,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Justin Wren: you scale and grow, how do you address that if it’s a 2,000 or 3,000 person organization or 500 person organization? Yeah, oh wow, right?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: or an 80,000 person organization or 150,000. I mean, I was at Oracle for 10 years and they’ve got 140,000 employees. Well, that’s a great question. And the way that you scale it is that you have to cascade the purpose deep within the organization to the smaller level. So the CEO of Oracle was Larry Ellison.

He did not create my culture when I was at Oracle, right? I mean, he was not the guy that was influencing the experiences I had every day. I never even met that guy. The culture that we live in is the experiences that we have which shape certain beliefs. I have an experience in the interactions that we’ve had, Justin, we met at a conference that we were speaking at. You followed up with a note, I followed up with a note.

We had a conversation, we’re now doing this podcast. All of those experiences has led to me holding beliefs about who you are and what you’re about. And if I had different experiences with you, I might have a different belief about you, right? And so when we’re talking about scaling culture and purpose, it’s seeing evidence that the people that I work most closely with are connected to the purpose and are creating experiences that lead me to the belief that it’s worth the extra effort because we’re making a difference or I am cared for here or I belong because of the way that the people around me are treating me. So we do say that culture is leader led because the CEO ultimately calls the shots, but it is co-owned by everyone. And so the hard part of the scale is the CEO ensuring accountability for culture all the way down to the frontline because they ultimately can’t.

Justin Wren: Hmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: do it for everyone, no matter how pure their heart is. When you get to multiple thousands of employees, it’s up to the workforce to carry the torch for culture because the CEO can’t.

Justin Wren: Good. Thank you. Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So I would say it’s accountability. Thank you for that question. I mean, here’s the problem with culture today. American society is built on this American dream of independence. And there is this story of value that the more I have, the less I need you and the less I need you, the better I’m doing, right? So when I hear that…

Justin Wren: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: you’re independently wealthy or you’ve got all these, you don’t need any emotional support, you don’t need any financial support, you don’t need anything from me. It’s like that is the hallmark of someone who’s killing it in America, right? They got everything. They’re happy, they’re mentally well, they’re financially independent, they don’t need you. And so that actually is chasing a dream that is super isolating, which is leading to the loneliness epidemic. And that’s not what they have.

Justin Wren: Hmm.


Dr. Jessica Kriegel: in the Pygmyorg culture is that you’re involved in and you even mentioned the lack of privacy. I don’t think that’s a coincidence that there’s a lack of privacy and a complete disbelief in the idea of suicide.

Justin Wren: Yeah.

Yeah, yeah. Well, they asked me, they said, they said, why would anyone ever do that? Because of course it would hurt them, but it would hurt everyone. Like we need them. Like, yeah, they’re a contributing part of this community. Who would take themselves just out of that? We need them. Like it doesn’t hurt just hurt them, it hurts the family and the whole tribe. And so that was really interesting to think about, but.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Right, service mindset.

Justin Wren: I’m super grateful for you. This is a fun conversation and thinking about how to, even as I scale and grow my nonprofit and I travel more to speak on more stages, it’s like, how do we onboard people correctly and let them catch the culture and help create even…a better, stronger, deeper culture that’s going to go further than we have before. Because I really feel like we’re just at the tip of the iceberg of what we’ve accomplished in the past and where we’re going. And we’re going to expand across multiple nations where the Pygmy people are represented across eight or nine African nations in the Congo Basin rainforest. And it’s like, we got to scale it, grow it, replicate it. And as we do that, it can be intimidating a bit because it’s like, okay, this is a new

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.


Justin Wren: with new people and we don’t have the more than a decade of trust built up with them. And so I’m talking about the team part and yeah, pulling in the right people that are on the right bus, sitting in the right seat, headed in the right direction, going up the right mountain, right? And

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah. Going up the right mountain, that’s totally correct. Well, let’s wrap up this podcast and then let’s you and I have a conversation because I would love to talk about how we can support you in the work that you’re doing. So let me ask you this last question, which is my favorite question to get us to the end here, which is what is something that you don’t get asked about very often in…

Justin Wren: second one.


Thank you. Thank you so much.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: these interviews or when you’re getting Q&A from the stage that you wish more people asked you.

Justin Wren: I think it’s what hair product I use or beard oil. Actually, I get that one. I got that one earlier today. But I think.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: HA!

Thanks for watching!

Justin Wren: I think what people don’t ask even after they hear what was wrong, what was, you know, with that first mountain and second mountain, you know, I’m changing up from what I was thinking, but I used to sign my book, now I sign in your corner and fight for people, but I used to sign it, Live to Love, Love to Live, because…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Justin Wren: I think I was on this pursuit of just wanting to love to live. And I think that’s backwards. If we truly live to love, and I know this can sound cheesy or cliche, but this was me at 23, 24 years old, that was like, oh, I had it backwards. You know, I thought if I loved my life, then, you know, I would help other people. I think it’s…

It’s live to love, put that paramount, like at the forefront of your mind, not as an afterthought, because I just see so many things passing people by because they think one day I’ll do it or when I’m when I’m secure I’ll do it or whatever. I’ll tell you what, I was broke as a joke for the first two, three, four, five years of doing this thing because volunteering doesn’t pay the bills. But

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Justin Wren: I felt so alive. I would not change it. I slept in a twig and leaf hut. The dirt was my bed. The fire was my blanket. I didn’t have a toilet for a year. No running water unless we drilled the well that had the clean water. I was having to filter every sip I drink and if the filters broke, had to put iodine in it or chlorine tablets and just to stay safe. And I’ll just tell you, like, when you just live to love other people and yourself,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmph.

Justin Wren: Like life gets so much better. I remember after my second suicide attempt, I woke up to a gasp. I should not be here. Like I took over 80 OxyContin, drank a whole handle of tequila, tons of Xanax. They said it was 100% a lethal cocktail. Yeah, I woke up the next day. I did that at noon, next day at 6 a.m. It was a gasp, like a. Oh!

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.


Justin Wren: And I just thought, holy blank, I’m alive. Like, F, I’m still here. Like, what’s going on? And after I gathered myself, I walked out at six in the morning. And before the sun came up, like I sat in the water. I just wanted to get my feet in the sand and my body in the water. And this was the first time I felt the healing powers of water. And I got inside.

But at first it was just wave after wave of shame. I was on my knees, the waves were pushing me back and it was a shame, more and more shame. It was first thing, what would this have done to my mom? Second thing, that’s so selfish, someone would have had to find your body. Like, and I was in Mexico, I took a one-way trip to Mexico with no plan to come back. And something outside of myself, right? I don’t know if it was my higher self, God, the universe, some sort of…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Justin Wren: thing, spiritual guide love, the source of love, whispered just in my soul, like be grateful for that beating heart in your chest. And I thought I’m grateful for the beating heart in my chest. Be grateful for that breath in your lungs. And I took a deep breath and my eyes are closed and tears are dripping out of my closed eyelids. And then it was this like, and my heart felt like it was going to explode from all the drugs. And then it was open your eyes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Justin Wren: And when I opened my eyes, that is the moment the sun popped up on the horizon. And I was like, whoa. And it wasn’t just that the sunrise happened. It was the most majestic sunrise. The only word I can explain it with is majestic. And I don’t explain really anything that way. It was like a masterful, a master painter painting his masterpiece, her masterpiece, its masterpiece right before my eyes. And I just.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Justin Wren: sobbed, I just wept and was like this happens every day, twice a day all over the world for all of us like how is this possible and that’s when I decided I’ve got to do something about this like I can’t try to do this on my own in a fight and this is my biggest opponent I’ve ever faced I go to the right training partners, I go into fight camp, I treat it seriously and I prepare for it, get the tools tactics needed and so that moment I’m just like whoa like

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Justin Wren: Just a beautiful sunrise. Now every morning I wake up saying, I am grateful for the breath of my lungs, grateful for the beating heart in my chest, and grateful to be alive. I’ve been grateful to be here with you today.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.

Oh, me too. Thank you so much, Justin, for joining us. One last question. Where do people go to find out more about what you’re doing and how they can get involved?

Justin Wren: Sure.


Yeah, so for speaking, it’s justinwrenspeaks.com.

and so Justin Wren speaks and for Fight for the Forgotten if people feel led or moved to find out more about what we do or if they want to support and donate we are building a real hospital in school this year breaking ground in July and they can join our Fight Club it’s at figh or to simplify Fight for the Forgotten you can do fftf.org and you can join our monthly giving club or donate five bucks or to do. We would love that support but we’re also on Instagram at Fight for the Forgotten where my personal one is TheBigPygmy. That used to be the Viking in the UFC. That’s what they called me and ThePygmys named me Mabutiman Bo and that means TheBigPygmy so that’s my name on Instagram. Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: That’s awesome. That’s beautiful. Thank you so much, Justin. It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Justin Wren: Yeah, thank you.

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