Joe Rogan kind of envies you. Yes, you. To legions of his fans (maybe you’re one of them), that probably doesn’t make sense, seeing as how men from their teens to their 50s wish they could be him—strong, dangerous, charismatic, multi-skilled, rich, famous, and fast becoming both a sports and entertainment legend.
The ironic reality is that, despite his achievements, Rogan is more inspired by yours—or what he knows you could achieve even if you’re currently overweight, unsuccessful, or afraid to chase your dreams. Because the more arduous the journey you have to where (and who) you want to be, the greater the satisfaction that awaits you in getting there. “You can improve the fuck out of your life,” he says.
Rogan will turn 50 this year, and while he’s had many different careers—stand-up comic, TV personality, UFC commentator, and host of one of the most popular podcasts on the web—he’s used them all as vehicles to do what he does best: find the truth at any cost, and use it to become a better person. After a half-century of living and looking, he offers the following tips to inform your own path to self-improvement.
Allow Yourself To Learn
“I think I’ve always been a person who was seeking for the truth in things because I grew up disillusioned,” says Rogan, whose parents divorced when he was five. He was a victim of Catholic school, and lost his faith early thanks to the nuns (“this is not the work of God, whatever or whoever that is!,” he says, looking back at their cruelty.) “I had a lot of people in my life who didn’t turn out to be who I hoped they were. Because of that, I think I really valued honesty, truth, character—and reality.”
His biggest revelation came through martial arts. He started training in taekwondo as a teenager, and, taking advantage of his natural athleticism and aggression, became a four-time Massachusetts state champion and won tournaments against larger opponents on the national level. In search of new skills, Rogan took up American-style kickboxing.
“I thought of myself as an elite martial artist,” he says. “But when I started kickboxing, I was alarmed at how easy it was for people to punch me in the face.” In taekwondo competition, punches are only thrown to the body, “so you get a very distorted idea of what you’re capable of.” Thus began Rogan’s journey to learn the most effective way to fight. He discovered muay thai, and then, after the debut of the UFC, grappling by way of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“Jiu-jitsu was the ultimate revelation. It all happened again—I got owned,” he says, describing how he was rag dolled on the mat. “You have an idea in your head of who you are and what you can do, and then someone comes along and exposes it as bullshit. Now you have to do one of two things—run away from it, or learn the solution.”
“Don’t believe anyone who says they’re happy doing nothing all day. People who say they just want to smoke a joint at home aren’t happy. They just say they are.”
Choosing the latter made all the difference in Rogan’s life, paving the way to his role with the UFC and a prominent place in history as mixed martial arts’ (MMA) first true TV analyst. Today, he’s the Howard Cosell of the sport (minus the nasal vocals), and he now holds two highly credible black belts in BJJ, bestowed on him by Jean-Jacques Machado and Eddie Bravo.
Rogan’s other long-standing passion is stand-up comedy, which he began at age 21 when sparring-induced headaches forced him to rethink a future in competitive martial arts. He took his blows on stage as well. “You have an idea of how people perceive you, but you don’t know how they perceive you until you perform in front of them and then they react to you. In stand up, it’s so immediate. You’re looking at the people and you’re feeling whether or not they think it’s stupid or funny, and that forces you to have no filter between you and the truth, which forces you to be funny.”
The bluntness in Rogan’s opinions, as well as the confidence he has in sharing them, has broadened his reputation beyond being another funnyman to that of a pop-culture watchdog. “His comedy has changed,” says fellow comic, actor, and friend Bryan Callen. “He went from being very silly and aggro to talking about the world as he sees it. He does more social commentary now. He loves exposing the hypocrisy in life.”
Callen points to remarks Rogan made about Caitlyn Jenner. “She was being called ‘Woman of the Year,’ and people were saying she was ‘beautiful.’ Joe said she’s not. It’s fine if someone wants to be a woman, but don’t lie. Joe said, ‘She’s not beautiful, and you know who else isn’t beautiful? Me!’”
Rogan has released nine comedy specials, and his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, was voted the best comedy podcast on iTunes in 2012. In January 2017, Rogan claimed the show had reached over 95 million downloads per month.
The key to growth and getting better at anything, says Rogan, is to recognize when your ideas are wrong and abandon them for the truth—which he acknowledges is easier said than done. “People defend faulty ideas because they feel that those ideas are theirs. But they’re not; they’re just ideas. They’re not something you use to measure your score in life.”
Rogan isn’t scared to be wrong. “You have to have your mind blown every now and then. It opens your brain up to new information that can change your vision of the landscape of life. People who don’t do that box themselves in. Then you’re not just trying to get better, you’re trying to get better within the parameters of your own faulty belief system.”
Rogan says you can monitor your own ego by asking yourself a simple question. “Do you truly believe something or are you clinging to it because you’re scared to be wrong? People will argue things and know that they’re not correct—they’re just trying to win the discussion. You have to be able to entertain contrary ideas and figure out which one is right.”
Do Things The Hard Way
Rogan likes being right, even at the steepest cost. In 2007, comic Carlos Mencia was riding a wave of popularity, but to many of his fellow comics in the know—including Rogan and Callen—he was a joke stealer (Mencia denies this). One night, while Mencia was performing at The Comedy Store in Hollywood, Rogan charged the stage to confront him.
They argued in front of the crowd but—luckily for Mencia—came short of trading blows. Still, the incident damaged Rogan’s career. His agency dropped him and the Comedy Store barred him from performing. Callen offered his sympathies, to which he says Rogan replied, “It’s OK. I’ll win in the end because I’m doing what’s right.” Look up where Carlos Mencia is now and it’s clear that Rogan did.
“You can improve the fuck out of your life.”
“Joe is highly ethical,” says Callen. “Deeply honest with himself and other people, for better or for worse.” In late 2014, after UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub was brutally KO’d by Travis Browne, Rogan gave his friend a reality check as only he could.
Rogan appeared as a guest on Callen and Schaub’s The Fighter and The Kid podcast, telling Schaub he didn’t have the skill to be a top contender and risked brain damage unless he retired. Rogan didn’t want to say it, but felt it was his responsibility. Schaub later admitted the ambush intervention nearly brought him to tears.
“I didn’t know Joe was going to do that,” says Callen. But Joe was right. And Brendan, in retrospect, knew that as well.”
As tough as Rogan can be, Callen says he’s equally soft-hearted at times. “He’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever met, especially financially.” He offers this story about a coffee run the two made together: “The guy behind the counter was looking a little down on his luck and Joe didn’t say anything but he put a tip in his jar. I didn’t see it but it didn’t look like a normal tip. So I looked more closely and I saw that it was a $100 bill. We got out of there and I asked him about it. He said, ‘I call that a love bomb. I drop a hundred dollars in and then I get the fuck out of there.’ That’s the real Joe.”
“At 50,” says Rogan, “I’m motivated by the same thing I was at 21—life.” He warns people who think they’ll one day know or have enough to relax that it’s a day that never comes. To Rogan, the purpose of life is to enrich your mind by learning and experiencing as much as you can get your hands on, and managing your emotions so you don’t stand in your own way. The process of total human optimization is never-ending.
All pursuits, he says, are interrelated. So don’t think of one interest as being a distraction from another or underestimate its ability to enhance how you approach your main passion in some roundabout way. “If you’re trying to improve your pool game, I think it will help your archery,” says Rogan. “If you’re trying to improve your yoga, I think it will help your jiu-jitsu. Life is about the pursuit of excellence. That pursuit is probably more exciting to me now than ever.”
Rogan’s journey has led him to achieve a high level of skill in many disparate areas. Fans know he’s a bow hunter and pool shark, but, according to Callen, he’s also skilled at imitating accents (“he doesn’t use it much in his stand-up but he can do anyone”), and drawing. “If you saw his sketches, you’d be like, ‘Dude, why don’t you do this for a living?’”
”Obsession fueled discipline and discipline manages that obsession.”
Rogan’s ultimate forte, however, is his ability to make you listen to him and take his advice. Through his podcast, he’s achieved his greatest degree of fame as a relentless truth-seeker. People who have little interest in Ultimate Fighting and never watched Fear Factor stream his show to learn alongside him about a variety of topics from a plethora of authorities. When Rogan is suspicious of a guest’s answer, he doesn’t hesitate to grill him or her. His open and no-nonsense interview style has brought Rogan as much street cred as the experts he hosts, and often even more.
One could argue that Rogan has had as big an impact on the growth of mixed martial arts and the UFC as any individual fighter has, or promoter Dana White. “He’s the greatest MMA commentator of all time,” says friend and 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu founder Eddie Bravo, who says that the techniques used in the sport itself have been influenced by Rogan’s presence.
“He’s opened my eyes to the possibility of taekwondo kicks in MMA,” says Bravo. “And you’re seeing more and more of that now in the UFC, especially with Yair Rodriguez and Wonderboy Thompson.” Not bad for a guy who retired from fight sports at 21, years before cage fighting was even invented.
Let Obsession Be Your Discipline
If you take nothing else from Rogan’s example, he wants you to remember this: when in doubt, go back to what you love.
“When I found something I was interested in, I didn’t have to be disciplined because I was obsessed,” he says. “Obsession fueled discipline and discipline manages that obsession.” Prior to his discovery of martial arts and comedy, Rogan couldn’t focus on anything he wasn’t deeply interested in, and it’s still a challenge for him today. “So I just filled my life up with stuff I like,” he says with a laugh.
“Joe’s formula for success is simple,” says Callen. “It’s ‘I like doing this. I’ll just do it every day, no matter what, until I get really good at it.’ That’s his secret.”
And it can be yours, too.
Joe Rogan At 50: What Life Has Taught Me