Terry Crews knows a thing or two about creating success: He went from broke and in debt in college to playing in the NFL to sweeping floors for $8 an hour to Hollywood stardom. Today, he stars in NBC shows "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "America's Got Talent," and he hit the big screen in popular flicks like "Sorry to Bother You" and "Deadpool 2." Crews says his journey was painful at times, but it taught him priceless lessons about work, life and what money can't buy. He sat down with CNBC Make It's managing editor, Jenna Goudreau, to talk about that journey. The transcript from Money Talks with Terry Crews follows.
Watch the full interview here: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/13/terry-crews-on-being-broke-and-his-mindset-for-success.html.
All references must be sourced to CNBC Make It.
Jenna Goudreau: Thanks for being here today.
Terry Crews: Oh thank you for having me.
Jenna Goudreau: People say only one in a million makes it as a pro athlete or in Hollywood. And you've done both. If you could credit your success to one thing, what would it be?
Terry Crews: Perseverance. You know it's funny you would just say that about the phrase one in a million. I remember I told my father I wanted to be a pro football player and I'll never forget this. He was in the car, we were in the car driving together, and I don't have the best relationship with my dad. And he said, "You know what, you know what, Terry? Only one in a million ever get to make it to the pros." And I was like, "Dude. I'm one in a million. That's me, like that is me." And it hit me that the only way to make it was to think of yourself that way. You know what I mean? Because you truly are. But people tend to think that means someone else.
Jenna Goudreau: That's right.
Terry Crews: But I was like, "No, I choose to think that's me." And that changed everything.
Jenna Goudreau: And how did you have the belief in yourself and then maintain through all the hardships?
Terry Crews: Well you know one thing is too, you can get to a point where, you know, I like to say, you have nothing to lose. You know what I mean? There were things that I had to really just examine. There were times when my wife and I, you know I told my wife when I met her, I said, "Look, first of all I'm going to play in the NFL. And then after we play in the NFL we're going to move to Hollywood. We're going to make movies." And she was like, "OK!" Now again, we were little kids – I had a high top fade with a blonde streak and we were just living our life. But I meant every word. But the deal is that we were like, we can face many, many obstacles but then you start to realize, "OK, we don't have any money." But then you realize, you can have no money anywhere. If you're going to be broke why are we broke in Michigan? Let's be broke in L.A. where we're at least around what we want to do. And so we decided that we were going to be broke. We're at least going to be broke where we were in the vicinity of the things we wanted to be around. And that changed everything too. And you start to get shots and get chances and you're humbled and you come back. I had a friend who gave me many, many loans. He was so cool, he was my best friend. His name was Ken Harvey. He played on the Redskins. He was a big time player. He knew I was retiring. He was like, "here man, here's a loan." The whole thing. But I kept coming back to him. Asking him for loans, asking him like, "can I get another loan?" And he was like, "yeah, yeah, here you go, man. Here you go." And then probably 10 loans later, maybe 15, might be more than that.
Jenna Goudreau: OK.
Terry Crews: You're talking about bad financial management. I mean I'm literally depending on this guy to support me. But in my mind, I'm just still, that's my friend, that's what friends do. So finally I call him up I'm like, "hey man let me, I need another loan." He was like, "I can't do it." I was like, "what?" "I can't do it Terry." I was like, "oh, oh, oh, okay, alright cool, cool." You know when your voice goes up that high? You know you're doing something wrong. But then when it was over. When I hung up the phone, I was mad at him. I was like, "how dare he. He is supposed to be my friend. He's supposed to give me, if I ask him – what kind of friend is this?" And then all of a sudden a little voice hit me, and it said, "Terry, why are you mad at the only person who helped you in the first place?" I was like, "what? " He was like, "no, listen. Why are you angry at the only person who helped you in the first place?" And I went, "oh my God. I'm wrong. I'm wrong." And this is the deal. To find success is in those moments. The moments when you're off. You don't see it, you don't know it, you're alone. But you hear a little voice that says, "you know what? Maybe it's me." Because any time you point out and someone else is the cause of your problems, you're wrong. You. It's you. And I went the next day and got a job at a place called Labor Ready, where you basically go there and show up and they give you a job to do with manual labor for the day. They gave me a broom, I was sweeping a factory all day long for eight hours, $8/hour. I'll never forget it. This is the thing. My wife was telling me the whole time I needed to get a job, but I was like, "I'm super cool, I'm a pro football player." Let me tell you something, I was so humble. I was sweeping that factory thinking, "Oh my God, my life is over." Because you think if you go that low you're going to fall apart. I just kept sweeping, kept doing it. I had $64 at the end of the day. I went, "Oh my God, I actually made this money on my own." I was never broke again. I never stopped working.
Jenna Goudreau: That was the turning point.
Terry Crews: That was – when I tell you the turning point because you realize you're willing to do what it takes. See, people say they're willing, and then when it gets down to it, "can I get another loan?"
Jenna Goudreau: Right.
Terry Crews: But I had to figure out was I really, really willing to do what it took. And that was it.
Jenna Goudreau: Did you pay him back?
Terry Crews: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Jenna Goudreau: What did you owe him in the end?
Terry Crews: I mean you know what, it was more so, I paid him back because we're publishing a book together.
Jenna Goudreau: Wow. So your friendship continued.
Terry Crews: And he was already rich, so it was like one of those things because the loans were really minimal. But to me they were giant. But I paid him back in just thanks and continued friendship. Because he was a real friend to me. He really taught me a lesson. I was like, "man, whatever you need from me, I got you." And so we've been supporting each other for the last 20-25 years.
Jenna Goudreau: Wow. That's a great story.
Terry Crews: It's a great story, I gotta tell you. I know it's long, but it's really a good story.
Jenna Goudreau: What are some of the other big money mistakes that you've made?
Terry Crews: Oh. When I was in college. I got married in college, sophomore. The day before my 21st birthday, I got married. OK so I was 20 years old. And I had every credit card you could get because in school they gave you a card. There were people who had full time jobs and they were like, "I can't get a credit card. How'd you?" My mother was like, "How'd you get a credit card?" I was like, "what? I got four." She was like, "FOUR credit cards?! You have four credit cards?" I was like, "yup." I had a Discover, two American Expresses, I had Visa, I had MasterCard. That's five. But I had them all. And I ran those suckers up, I bought VCRs back in the day. See I let you know how old I am. VCRs, TVs. I bought furniture for my apartment. And I could not pay it back. The most heartbreaking thing. I had so much debt that the neighbor in my apartment complex came down, he had one of those long corded phones. it wasn't cordless. It was one of those long corded phones. He was like, "dude, the bill collectors are calling me about you!" I was like, "I got a problem!" Can you imagine getting a knock on your door and the bill collectors are calling your neighbors?
Jenna Goudreau: No!
Terry Crews: That was nuts.
Jenna Goudreau: What did you do?
Terry Crews: I was like, "hey man. Sorry about that." And I slammed the door. Let me tell you, I took the stuff back. I had to take the stuff back to the store. You couldn't – I couldn't pay it off anyway. But I had a huge mountain of debt. Huge and it was just ridiculous. Again my wife, the whole time was like, "don't do this. Don't do this." But my biggest mistake is that I was always trying. Every money mistake I ever made is because I was trying to keep up with people that I was trying to impress that I really didn't like anyway. You know what I mean? It was all about the image. And "if I look like this, I'll be better, I'll be more accepted, if I look like this. If I have this, if I have these things," all of a sudden, the answers will be there. But the thing is, and it's funny because it's just like some sitcom. The answer was inside you all along. You know what I mean? People just kind of hear that but it's really true. And those mistakes didn't stop. I mean it was for a while. It took a long time because I was really really into the material. You know? Into the image and a lot of times, even in my personal life, it was not good. But as long as I looked good, and let me tell you, this is the big thing the whole world is figuring out right now. That image means nothing. And this is one of those things that gets past money. It gets past all this stuff because what happened is, and I tell you this all the time, success is the warmest place to hide. Because all the trappings, all the images all the things, the cars, the homes, that make it look – make you look good clothes and all this stuff. You are empty inside. You're a horrible person. You have major, major issues. Let me tell you, it goes, it's deeper than money. And it goes beyond, and I think the whole world is realizing, wait a minute, wait a minute. You have to be – that image has to line up with who you really are. And I think we're just finding out right now more than ever that it's so important that the inside is good. And that people are actually good people.
Jenna Goudreau: Absolutely. So back then, you were dead broke and you were spending beyond your means. How has your life changed now that you have money?
Terry Crews: Well you know what? This is so strange to say. I was always broke when I was trying to do things for money. Like, how much money can I get when I do this? And you turn things down because they're not paying you enough, and this and this, so you're always chasing money. Everything changed for me when I stopped doing anything for any money at all. I totally just was like, "you know what? I don't care what you pay me." I need to get this for me. So I would take a job that I looked at it, was a brilliant wonderful opportunity and I didn't care what they paid me. One of the big opportunities I had that really got us out of debt is I started doing security for motion pictures and movies and TV and all this stuff. And let me tell you. It was a very satisfying job because I was in the business. I was making a little money. I remember it was like $12/hour. But I was happy because here I am in a business I want to be in. And I didn't care about the money anymore. And I told my wife, "you know what? If this is what I was going to be and this is what I'm supposed to be doing, then I'm happy here." And then money just started to come. Let me tell you something, it was crazy. People were like, "man, you are the best security guard in the world, man. We need you over here. We need you over here." And then I had people coming to me and saying, "man you're too big for this. You need to be on TV, you need to be in front of the camera." I was like, "no I like it here." It was weird. And one thing I discovered. And this is one thing I've been telling a lot of people is that there is really no such thing as money. There's only equity and honor. Equity is value given for value received. If you are really pleased with a service that I'm giving you and you're really happy with it or something that I sold you that gave you that you love, you give me money to represent that. But it just represents equity and honor. And the honor part is for a job well done. If you do it really well. Now, you have a lot of people who are doing very, very bad things and thinking they're rich. So there's a lot of things that have no equity or no honor, but make money. And the deal is, are you truly rich? Because remember, what money is, is equity and honor. And my opinion is, when I discovered that, I was like, "I always have to go after equity and honor. Just do really, really good things, really." Let me tell you. it's like, even after last year when we faced this whole thing with my agency and you know, I had my MeToo moment and I came forward with my story, I had to go home and I said, "Rebecca. Hollywood's over. We're done."
Jenna Goudreau: You thought that was the end.
Terry Crews: Oh yeah. It was. I mean people were like, "oh you're done." I mean, people were told like, "OK your career is over." I was like, "it is. But I have my equity and I have my honor." So we need to stand up for people who care. And all of a sudden, all of the other opportunities – I have more money now than I ever had in my entire life. More jobs, more opportunities. I have to turn down tons of opportunities because I just can't even fit them in the schedule. Because people understand equity and honor. But some people think, I got a lot of money. We all know that guy who is, first of all scamming people, the product is less than good, but you got – you need it. Gouging people because, OK we need some water. We don't have any more water it's in the middle of a disaster. Well, now the water is $100/gallon, you know. And people make money but they don't have any equity or honor and it all falls away. And that sounds real existential or spiritual, but it's for real. It's not even a joke. And I'm telling you I will preach this til the day I die.
Jenna Goudreau: Is there something that is worth it to you that you're willing to splurge on?
Terry Crews: Oh yeah, my clothes.
Jenna Goudreau: Your clothes. Well, you look fantastic.
Terry Crews: Well look, oh thank you. My thing is, you know and now this is another thing. Is it really a splurge if you are getting out of it what you need? Like a lot of times for me – getting dressed today. It helps me do a better interview. And it helps me feel better about myself and it helps me feel better about everybody around me. And so all of a sudden I'm like, "this is worth it." But if I was about save some money on a suit that was ehh, and it didn't look that good, but I was like, "well, you know." But all of a sudden it will hurt my interview. It would eventually hurt different things. So I never – I am not against great things and I think it's all about what you value. What you're about. And you can call it a splurge, but it's funny because what's a splurge for me is a necessity for someone else. You know what I mean? So it's kind of like that. I love good clothes because it makes me feel great.
Jenna Goudreau: Yeah. What's the designer you're wearing today?
Terry Crews: You know, I designed it myself.
Jenna Goudreau: Really?
Terry Crews: Oh no. This is my own. All the way down to the shoes. We did this all ourselves.
Jenna Goudreau: Wow.
Terry Crews: That's the thing. And I spent the money into making my own things because I'm an artist myself. So I can do it.
Jenna Goudreau: Yeah.
Terry Crews: And so we pick the fabric, we pick the whole thing. I find a guy who is like the designer and we get it all together and it's me and my friend and we make this – we make our own clothes. It's so cool. man.
Jenna Goudreau: Is there something that you refuse to spend money on? That you're like, "Nah, not with my hard-earned cash."
Terry Crews: You know, I won't spend money on a lot of like, tickets for things. Like, one big thing that I remember buying season tickets one time to a football game and I bought NFL season tickets. And I was like, "you know this is cool." But then I was sitting there and I was like, "you know what, I would much rather be working out and making money." You know what I mean? I was like, "I'm wasting four hours." No. More than that. It was literally a six hour jaunt to try to go to a game. And I was like, "first of all I could watch it on TV. Secondly I don't even have to watch the whole game, I could watch just the highlights. I won't miss a thing. And I could get another job." So there's things that to me, I was like, I'm not going to – and I had to give those tickets up. I was like, "that's a waste of money for me." I had to find out that way because I thought, I was going to invite my friends, but I was like, "you know what, I would really rather get another job."
Jenna Goudreau: Well, you have a lot of jobs.
Terry Crews: I know, it's crazy.
Jenna Goudreau: You have Brooklyn Nine-Nine coming back. You're hosting America's Got Talent. You have a furniture line, a book coming out. How do you fit it all in?
Terry Crews: First of all, you know, this is another thing I found out is that by giving up those season tickets, I could go and design another furniture line. So on Sunday, I just sit down, the three hours that I would've been watching a game, three hours is where I will design my new couch, my new loveseat, my new chair. And then I watch the highlights and I didn't miss a thing. You realize, once you start to do inventory, it's almost like looking at your budget. But your time is like that too. And I started to look at all the things where I was like, "you know what," and I'm going to get real raw right now. I'm going to get real, real deep. When I gave up pornography I had more time than you could ever believe. I was like, "I got three more jobs!" When I got rid of that addiction. I was like I was wasting so much time. And you don't get that back. And I was like, "well, I got to get rid of this because I was like, I can do three more jobs." Let me tell you. It made me a better person. I felt cleaner, I felt great, I felt good. And it's like, oh my God. I used to do security outside of bars. I watched guys come right out of work and spend the whole evening in the bar. Go home and go to work. Now they could have a whole other job. They can have a whole other life. They have a whole other career. But they sit in the bar and complain about the job they just spent 8 hours in. And I was like, "Wow. That's the thing – I can't do that." And I'd watch and I'd say, "that's something I can't do."
Jenna Goudreau: Change your habits, change your life.
Terry Crews: That's it, that's it. Because we're talking about money. But it all relates, you know what I mean? It really relates because when I look at, when you look at African-American culture, a lot of times it was let's wear the gold, let's wear the jewelry, let's buy the most expensive thing. Because you would – in society you felt ignored. And there are lots of deep, deep psychological things. And then the moment you do feel recognized, you don't need the jewelry anymore. You know what I mean? It's really, really wild. It's kind of like once you start it – like I can afford that car that I've always dreamed about. But then you go, "you know what, I didn't want – because I feel satisfied with who I am, I don't need it that much anymore." And that is the trick. Because a lot of this stuff is all based on how you feel about yourself. You know what I mean? Now I realized, for 30 years, I was walking around just trying to increase my own presence to the world. I was buying all this stuff to feel like I was a human being. But I was already. You qualify. You're priceless, you're good.
Jenna Goudreau: And what changed for you? Where did you get that epiphany?
Terry Crews: It happened in several stages you know what I mean? And again, I have to be totally honest here. My wife has been so brutally honest with me the whole time. Because unless you have someone in your life that can tell you the real truth, I don't think you can ever get it. Especially the guy. Because we are, men are the most delusional human beings on the face of the earth. Like I have to say, women are a lot more dealing with, they deal with themselves in a more real way. But we live in an action movie. You know what I mean? Like if you let us go, we'd have a whole other narrative. We have a whole story that we can live and think it's great. And people are like, "hello? Hello?" And you are like, "no I'm great, I'm wonderful. I'm going to jump off the building now." You're like, "no! Don't do it." But that's the way we are. And my wife is always like, "no. You can't jump off the building. Don't do that. No you can't do that." And she's like, "you see how you wrecked yourself, you see that?" And I'm like, "yeah, I get it. I get it." And I started listening.
Jenna Goudreau: Our audience watching today, they want to make it. They want to achieve their potential. They look up to you. What is your best advice for them?
Terry Crews: First of all my best advice is that you are already enough. Now, knowing that, go get it. See. You see how it is? It's like ambitiously content is what I tell people. Really know you have it. It is all in you. You don't have to prove anything to anybody. You don't have to compete. You don't have to fight. Just be creative. But Go. Now. Do it now. Like, do not hesitate. And I mean work on your endurance, work on the fact that you need to do it faster, better. And do it all day without being tired. But also know that you are enough. You can do both at the same time without the stress, without the pain without the, "ugh I have to do this." No. Relax. It's all good. You're good. Now just go as far as you can. Every day. And you just keep getting farther and farther. And I'm telling you, you will wake up and you will have made it. You will have made it. And you'll be like, "oh and it was good. And it didn't come with any stress. It's good stuff."
Jenna Goudreau: Well thank you so much. This was fantastic.
Terry Crews: Oh, thank you. Great questions.
Jenna Goudreau: Great talking to you.
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