Justin Peck has quite a story to tell. And it’s one that he lives every day.
It began, perhaps, the time he attempted suicide. He put a gun to head and pulled the trigger. But the gun didn’t go off. It’s in that moment that Peck decided to take control of his life in a way he never had before. To live fully—and to inspire others to do the same.
This story, and all the ideas that sprung from it, are beautifully captured in his book “Bulletproof,” which tells the story of his life with bi-polar disorder, having depression, being a champion race car driver, an entrepreneur, and perhaps most importantly, a success in spite of his mental health issues.
Since the launch of his book, Peck has travelled the country speaking to people from all walks of life about mental health and how to overcome the stigma around it. He lives every day to fully embody his mantra, that “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for those who don’t believe in their abilities.” His words, his story and his authenticity have inspired hundreds of thousands of people.
We had a chance to talk with Peck about what got him here today:
Unite4:Good: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship?
Justin Peck: I started my own company at 17, and to be a business owner was always one of my dreams and goals. The dream was based on being financially successful, and then of course as the years go on and as we get older, we understand that it’s not always about financial success, it’s about the other forms of success that truly make us who we are.
U4G: How do you define success now?
JP: Well, success for me is all based on—and I know it probably sounds a little goofy—the smiles that you can provide to other people. If I can give back to charity, advocate for mental health, and ultimately provide a sense of hope for others, that’s the true meaning of success to me.
U4G: You wear a lot of different hats. Can you talk about your journey from business owner to being a professional race car driver?
JP: My primary company started out as just construction management. That gave me time to pursue my racing, and as the years went on and I got sponsorship, that allowed me to start my own race team. Understanding that traditional sponsorship was the way of the past, I started my supplement company, Gear 49, which helped me fund the race team. I also started to realize there was a need for advocacy in motor sports, itself, so I created the USMA. The United States Motorsports Association.
U4G: Did you grow up in a family of entrepreneurs, or are you kind of the outlier of your family as far as like being the business owner?
JP: Yeah, that is the perfect term for that. My mother had to work her 9 to 5 job type stuff, and then my dad was a truck driver, so we didn’t have any money growing up. I slept in a sleeping bag until I was 13 years old, and as I got older I realized that for me, I really wanted to find my path in being an entrepreneur so that I could provide for my family and ultimately provide for those people around me that I loved. So, I started my own company at 17. My parents, they wanted me to go to college, and kind of do the secure thing. But I didn’t. I mean, that just wasn’t my path. So I started the company at an early age, and yeah, I’ve been that guy that in my family, that has kind of stepped out of the comfort zone. I’m the only one in the family that actually owns companies now.
U4G: You’re also probably the only race car driver.
JP: [Laughs] Yes, I am the only race car driver in the family. I guess I can brag a little bit and I can say I’m the only pro off-road driver in the entire state of Utah.
U4G: Because you’re from a working class family, and now you’re running this large enterprise, what was the learning curve like, in taking all of that on?
JP: My parents didn’t have the money to send me to private schooling or big colleges or any of those type of things. And plus, while growing up, I was severely bullied, literally from kindergarten until my senior year of high school, so I really hated school. So what I learned at the very beginning of my career, is that I learn by experience. So I started companies, I started corporations, and that was my college in a sense. You know, I would go in and I would fail over and over and over again, but still had that never quit mentality. So yes… I created success, but there was so much failure on the way. It’s like the iceberg analogy, I’m sure you’ve heard that before. With an iceberg all you can see is the tip of the iceberg when it’s floating in the water, right? But no one can see the failures and the massive amount of ice underneath the water. So the success I have now all came from losing everything, gaining everything, losing everything again, and realizing that there was no such thing as QUIT.
U4G: One of the primary areas you advocate in is mental health. What called you so strongly to this work?
JP: For me, honestly it was that there’s a lot of times that I just don’t want to get out of bed. My bedroom and my bed is my safe place, and so knowing that for me, I know that I’m not unique in that way. I know that there are hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people that kind of go through the same mental health issues and problems that I do. So I want to be able to provide a sense of hope, a sense of purpose for others that they can be successful and still battle for better mental health.
U4G: Mental health and entrepreneurship are not something people really talk about very often together. As you started advocating in this arena, what have you learned about your fellow entrepreneurs?
JP: What I have noticed is that most of the people that I have communicated with and that are business owners and that are very successful, we think outside the box. We have different concepts of how to run companies and how to be creative in our own different ways. Most of the people that I talk to will always tell you that their mind spins really fast, and they always have these crazy ideas. That they always have a lot going on in their brain, and I’ve kind of come to my own personal conclusion that most successful people must have some sort of mental imbalances. We’re very creative humans when we’re in our mania phase, and we have a lot of motivation, a lot of ambition, and a lot of high expectations for ourselves.
Speaking to the other people, speaking to other business owners, that’s kind of where I’ve put the one and one together and realized that the successful people in this world have a lot of struggles, but we also strive for personal success more than most. We don’t ever see it, as the consumer or as the guy that’s outside looking in. Most of you see the success of the person, but you never see what’s behind the closed door.
U4G: What kind of coping mechanisms do you deploy to stay balanced?
JP: Well, the biggest coping mechanism that I have has to be the race car. I’ve had bipolar disorder for probably 35 years now, and so when I realized that Bipolar was a way of life for me and that I finally had a chance to put a face to the name, I was able to understand that the adrenaline side of my personality was a huge coping mechanism for me. So if I was in a depressive state and I could get the adrenaline coursing through my veins, it kind of brought me out of feeling down and helped my personal self worth. So if I put on a helmet, for me, when I race, that is a big deal to me. I’ve always said that the helmet is my medication. I can put the helmet on and all the chaos from the outside world just kind of goes away, and my focus is on being the best driver I can possibly be.
I have to keep on a good schedule. I have to be very organized. I have a specific bedtime that I need to make sure I that I hit, that I get good sleep, that I’m good and rested. I have to make sure that my diet is spot on, having the proper nutrition always helps with positive brain function, and so that’s a big thing.
U4G: As you’ve gone around and done your speaking tours and connected with people who are benefiting from your message, what are some of the most surprising things you’ve learned?
JP: One of the biggest things that kind of surprised me is that maybe 90% to 95% of the people that I meet, either have some type of mental disorder, or they know someone who has a mental disorder. There’s so many people out there that have this struggle, and there’s just no awareness to it. There’s a stigma behind it and to be perfectly honest, I hate the stigma. So if you look back 20 years ago, the word bipolar wasn’t even in existence. I mean, people had no idea and if they started talking about mental health issues, the stigma was so strong that if you had a mental health disorder, you needed to be locked up. And that’s just not the case.
U4G: What do you recommend someone does if they’re going through a mental health crisis?
JP: The very first thing that I always tell people is just talk to someone about what’s going through their mind. It doesn’t need to be a professional, or even a therapist. It doesn’t need to be anybody on the professional level. If you can talk to what I call your “tribe,” which is your close friends and family, you will realize that you have a voice and it’s valid. Just to have the opportunity to let them be aware that you’re going through tough times is a huge personal relief. Then the next step after that is, once you have the people that love you on your side and they are aware of some of the issues that you’re going through, they can help you feel okay about seeing a doctor, calling the crisis hotlines, or ultimately having a safe person, right? Someone that you truly trust, and that you can confide in. Having that someone that you can vent to without any judgment is a very important part of our personal progression.