About Justin Nolan

Justin Nolan lived with crippling anxiety and panic attacks due to endless grief, hardship and loss throughout his life, but turned it all around and hasn’t looked back.

About Justin Nolan Just Keep Learning Profile Photo

He’s here to show you how you can turn chaos to calm too. It all starts with clarity.

Justin has a Masters in Education. And has over 100,000 social media followers.

He is host of The Just Keep Learning Podcast.

A top global show with guests like Brendan Kane, Cody Wanner, Freelance Fairy, Sister Helen Prejean, Danny Miranda, Buster and many more.

Justin has battled mental illness since childhood, which taught him a lot about overcoming adversity. He’s a parent, writer, coach, creator and speaker. And he grew up in a funeral home, which taught him a lot about death and grief.

But even with all of this “preparation” the impact of his two younger brothers dying just one year apart almost ruined him.

Sadness is normal. But anxiety, panic and confusion took over again.

Writing allowed Justin to transform his life by opening his soul to the demons from within, allowing him to minimize their reach, and empower himself.

By sharing his struggles, he’s been able to build a community and find peace from the chaos that once consumed him. He’ll show you how even in the darkest of times, you can learn, adapt, and find meaning. He specializes in helping people recover and heal by writing, finding their voice and sharing their message.

In one word Justin is about helping you feel “EMPOWERED”.

He will help you succeed by going from confusion and distraction to clarity and purpose.

He shows people how to succeed by

  • Modeling growth mindset
  • Sharing life writing, podcast and videos
  • Coaching people with goal setting
  • Teaching creator tools

Justin has a message for the world to hear. That everyone is (or could be) a great teacher.

And you could make a living teaching what you love, even if you don’t think it’s possible. You just need to learn what to teach, why you want to teach, how to package it and where to share it.

How Justin Nolan Can Help You:

JKL NEWSLETTER Read the newsletter to succeed in life as a creator. Justin writes about overcoming adversity, learning, and creator tools.

JKL PODCAST Listen to interviews with experts who have succeeded in their industry and are sharing what they learned. As well as solo episodes where Justin shares everything he is learning about succeeding in life as a creator.

CONTACT JUSTIN Justin has lived an interesting life. And we can probably all benefit from learning from it. A lot of people ask him for interviews. Which you can request here. Or maybe you want to book Justin for a speaking gig, or collaborate in some other way. Feel free to reach out here.

CLARITY SESSION Get full clarity over your direction in life. Go from stuck and confused to clarity and clear goals. Unlock your creative potential by defining your first steps by booking a coaching call with Justin.

If you are researching Justin, or just want to learn more, here are some parts of the story….

A Journey From Mental Clutter & Chaos To Creativity & Clarity

Have you ever wanted something so bad it could make you cry? I have that feeling right now. And I believe you should too. But where does that feeling come from?

It comes from your WHY.

Your why should be so big that it can make you cry. Here let me share what my why is.

Justin Nolan Quote Focus On People, Not Things

My “why” is to help people go from chaos to calm while they learn to follow their big dreams.

That’s my overall life goal. From now, until the day I die.

Whether that’s a week, or 60 years, the goal will be the same.

But how exactly did we get here and what caused this insatiable desire to help people like you go after your dreams, while putting all your worries behind you?

Losing both my younger brothers a year apart turned my world upside down. Those tragic events led to so much anxiety, panic, and an overwhelming sense of loneliness.

It really makes you wonder… Does anything matter?

Moving forward seemed impossible.

At that time, it felt like there was no way I could have a vision or a goal. How could anyone even think of such a thing, when faced with the biggest tribulations of their life? Losing not just one, but two of the closest people in life.

As many people do, I had a habit of burying my emotions deep down inside.

I also struggled to be creative because I didn’t understand there was a specific mindset that was missing from my life.

A mindset that can actually be taught and learned by anyone. Even someone suffering from the most terrible circumstances they’ve ever faced.

But something changed. My mindset shifted.

And I found a way to channel my energy into something more meaningful, that ultimately gave me more purpose.

Justin Nolan Creating Photography

And for me, that was content creation.

Inspiration has come from fellow creatives and mentors I interview on my podcast.

Their advice and encouragement continue to guide me through my darkest times.

I’ve gone from feeling alone and overwhelmed, to healing through expression and community.

Now I use writing, teaching and content creation to channel my emotions of anger, anxiety and grief.

I’ve found my voice, and I would love to help you do the same. Here’s how it all came to be.

Growing Up Beyond Borders As A Proud Canadian-American

Most people were confined to one location when they were raised as a child.
For me, things were a bit different.

I was born in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and my Dad’s hometown. But I was also raised in Detroit, Michigan, where my Mom’s family is. I still have a shirt that says “Detroit Raised Me”.

Because it’s true. I am equal parts Nolan and Webster. Proud of the Red, White & Blue, but also say “eh” a lot.

USA Canada Border

I’ve learned different things from both sides. Eye opening experiences kept me far from being sheltered as a kid.

Like the time I was shooting guns downtown Detroit that we kept in case robbers came to my Grandpa’s business.

My uncles taught me how to walk tall, even though I’m not.

And then they’d put me up to the task of walking family members to the store, or standing guard outside of a car.

I was street smart, tough, but also anxious and scared all at the same time.

And for that I am grateful.

About Justin Nolan Creativity

If I chose one word to describe what my life has given me, it would be “bravery”. As I matured I was able to stay even keel, calm and supportive in difficult situations. This bravery comes from a whole lot of perspective that’s developed over the years.

Almost too much to handle. Almost.

But, probably the most important thing I learned was to live a creative life. I NEED to design my life to be as creative as possible.

Without creativity I will die. Spiritually, emotionally, physically. I NEED to be creative.

But I’ve lost and had to regain this worldview many times.

The Really Early Years And Misunderstanding My Creativity

I had a supportive childhood, in the traditional sense. Everything was pretty typical from birth through the first few years.

Justin Nolan Baby Photo

And I grew up in a privileged country. In fact, when I was 12 years old, my writing was published for the first time. The Ottawa SUN Newspaper published a letter I wrote all about why Canada is so great.

I always loved writing. I would write songs, stories, comics, letters and essays.

If you believe in “natural talent,” then I guess you could say I was a “natural writer”. My school sent me to workshops for young authors.

And if I knew then what I know now, I would have kept writing. My job title would have been “online author”.

But that’s not how life works.

About Justin Nolan Playing Hockey

Like a musician who is told that music isn’t a real job, I was made to feel like writing was cool, but not a “real job” either.

I kind of liked school. For a few reasons. For one, everyone else was doing it. I also loved gym class and recess. Basically any time we were able to be creative. I realize now that I loved doing things without too many rules. Constraints are helpful. Like the rules of a sport, or what medium you use to paint with.

But within the constraints, you get to be creative. There are no right answers.

Stuff like this puts me in a state of flow.

I kind of think creativity has saved my life.

When I’m being creative, on a field, or with a paintbrush, or pen, my nerves melt away.

And time flies too.

Why Conventional School Didn’t Work for Me (And How Quickly I Found Out)

I was never there to impress. From a young age I hated the “school system”.

I could see the weapons of mass instruction being assembled. So, I always focused on doing what I thought was right. I would argue with teachers about the purpose of a worksheet, or article.

Justin Nolan Waiting For Kindergarten Bus

The cycle repeated itself.

If something was a waste of time I would not do it. I wouldn’t fight, I just would avoid doing it.

Then a teacher would tell me I had to get it done.

And I would say “no I don’t”. The debate would begin.

At the time I wondered if I was a punk kid. Perhaps they were right and I was just being oppositional?

Now I know (sadly) I was right.

There was no real world purpose to the work.

They were just filling (wasting) valuable time. And there were so many better ways we could learn. That’s why I loved creative classes like gym, woodworking, art, drama, and anything with a camera.

Learning that’s less rigid, less predictable, less shallow, truly unique and deep.

My Promise To The Little Girl In The Coffin And Why She Helps Me Daily

I lived in a funeral home when I was a kid.

They say that emotions make us remember. Well, I remember it like it was yesterday. I didn’t know it was emotional at the time, but how could it not be?

I remember one specific night, I could not fall asleep.

I’m not overly religious, but I went to Catholic school and I certainly am spiritual. So I asked my dad if I could go say a prayer. Some kids might be asking for ten more minutes on a video game, or movie.

I went to kneel at the casket of a girl my age.

My hands clasped over the edge of the wooden box.

Girl's Casket With Red Flowers

A nicely cut and finished wooden box, but a box nonetheless.

And there she was, laid to rest.

A family photo and some keepsakes surround the room, but no flowers. They’ll arrive in the morning and her parents shortly after. Parents get the “privilege” of having some alone time before the rest of the family.

I explained to her I didn’t understand why I’m still alive, but she’s not. And I promised her I would never take a day of life for granted.

Then I went back to bed.

Growing Up In A Funeral Home And Coming To Terms With Death, Grief And Loss

In the last 30 years I’ve almost never gone a day without remembering that moment.

In the last 30 years I also have had to deal with anxiety about the fear of death.

Every day, all day I have to learn to deal with these intrusive thoughts. These thoughts make it tough to focus, complete projects, or achieve goals. And they’ve ruined relationships with people I loved.

I can’t say for sure, but I think the funeral home might have caused my anxiety about dying.

I often say in interviews that I had two things that were a big curse when I was a kid, but eventually became positive.

Kelly Funeral Home Ottawa

One, growing up in a funeral home.

The other, struggling with mental illness.

I’m not scared of the pain, or experience of death. I think I’m actually scared of regret.

When I waste precious moments doing things that won’t matter, my head feels like it’s going to explode.

Because I want to accomplish so many things. Most importantly raising our kids.

But, this is what makes us human. Death is the only thing we all have in common. And we have very little control over when, or how it will come. So it’s important to focus on what we do now, because we’re all leaving a legacy.

This deep understanding of the circle of life helps me stay focused on “my why”.

I live every day with an intrinsic appreciation for gratitude and perspective.

Like Biggie said, I’m ready to die.

Our Parents Divorce And How It Leads To More Grief

My Mom and Dad taught us about learning, love and resilience. Everything that relates to life.

Dad coached every single sport he could, helped us do fun projects at home and reminded us that we should live in the moment.

Mom was a great cook, made sure that we were always well looked after and reminded us that we could be anything we set our mind on.

They both loved creativity in terms of language, painting and movies.

And they were both incredibly kind, generous, fun and energetic. As kids we just think our parents will be together forever. But then, for many of us, our parents split up.

I don’t know how old I was. Somewhere between nine and eleven.

But I certainly remember the emotions.

The simple definition of “loss” is feeling like we wish something turned out differently.

Nolan Brothers With Santa

At least at one point I felt tremendous loss. Obviously we wished our parents didn’t break up. But there is a complexity to those feelings. I felt betrayed, angry, scared and guilty all at the same time.

The separation went on for a while. And when it was finally over it crushed us as kids. It’s something we’ve normalized in society, but does not make it easy.

It happened at an age where I was just starting to figure out who I was. My values, identity and so many changes in my brain and body. We had anticipated a stable family foundation for support.

And then, all of a sudden, our schedule became a shuffle between two homes. Within that shuffle was an unspoken sensation of picking sides.

But the complexity of adult relationships didn’t matter. As kids we just feel loss, heartache and stress. We put pressure on ourselves.

Divorce is never a kids fault, but it sure feels like it.

We feel shame, guilt and wonder what we could have done to help?

This was yet another lesson for me in the fragility of life.

The fact that all we can expect is the unexpected.

And we’ll never be ready.

It was also another moment where I leaned into building skills. Figuring out how to channel my emotions into something positive. I started writing more and at this point in my life started my fitness journey too.

The First Memorable Signs Of Anxiety

Ever since I can remember I have had to “deal with” anxiety and panic.

In fact I actually just found some of my childhood medical records.

Justin Mental health notes anxiety, panic attacks, depression

It seems the anxiety, depression, and panic attacks stem from a fear of death and illness.

I’ll give you an example.

Do you know who Terry Fox is?

He is a Canadian hero because of his Marathon of Hope. He ran across the country on his prosthetic leg to raise funds and awareness for cancer. Schools use his story every year to teach perseverance, hope, and raise money for cancer research.

Terry Fox Running

Well, after my kindergarten teacher taught us about Terry Fox I was convinced that I had cancer. I don’t know why. Maybe every other kid in the class was like, “huh, cool story.”

But for me, it made me feel like I was going to lose my leg and die of cancer also.

Sharing this sounds crazy. But that’s how anxiety works.

There were many more events, where similar reactions occurred. For example, I witnessed multiple deaths as a little kid, where people tried CPR but it wasn’t enough. My mom had a miscarriage that I remember like it was yesterday. We had a tiny little baby casket and burial. Not to mention the stuff I saw in the funeral home.

And my uncle, one of my closest relatives, someone I really looked up to died when his three beautiful kids were really young.

So, yea, my inner child is a nervous wreck.

I often had heart palpitations, muscle sensations, insomnia, headache, and worse of all, panic attacks. These symptoms forced me to keep to myself and miss out on some awesome opportunities. They led to unnecessary trips to the doctor, hospital and an overall feeling that I’ll never be successful.

I know there is no way we can thrive when we’re simply trying to survive. So it’s been a lifelong battle to identify triggers and do less of them. While also building my toolbox of the things that help, coping strategies and doing more of them.

Stepparents, Sisters And Growing Up In A Beautiful Modern Family

Sometimes it feels like the term modern family really applies to us. Both our parents found new life partners. Not sure when exactly they found them because that’s adult stuff.

Justin Nolan Parents Rick And Nancy

But pretty quickly after the divorce both of our parents had moved on.

As you might expect, it was not easy for us. But not because they were bad people.

In fact, both step-parents were really great people.

It’s just that kids have a tough enough time with authority figures heading into the teen years. And then you add two additional parents with zero foundation of trust.

So ya, it wasn’t easy.

But our stepmom and stepdad both became very loving, caring, supportive, fun parents to us.

Justin Parents Becki And Steve

Nancy and our Dad raised us on values of hard work, financial literacy and kindness.

Nancy is always helping you live a better life. I remember her giving good advice, and being incredible at all things arts & crafts, sewing and making cakes.

Steve and our Mom taught us to live life in the moment, have fun and be generous.

Steve is incredible at solving problems. I remember him being extremely patient, making things with us and someone we wanted to be like.

Justin Nolan And Siblings

In both families we were educated in the idea that life is short, so we might as well enjoy the time we have. It also brought a lot of joy in terms of new siblings.

I was blessed with three incredible sisters that have been here for all of the craziness and happiness too.

Jen became part of the family when her mom married my dad. We have a lot in common. Jen also has her teaching degree and plays sports. She’s really creative, kind and a great parent.

When a lot of people think of “step-siblings” they probably think of someone who exists kind of on the outside of the family a little bit. But in our case, Jen was not a step sister.

In reality she was really, truly our sister. Just another member our family. And teachers, coaches, or neighbours would never know the biological difference.

Same goes for our sisters at my Mom’s house.

Jenna & Justin With Sky & Scarlett

Sky and Scarlett were adopted by my mom and step dad. They’re a lot younger. But growing up fast!

They’re both fun loving, passionate and kind. Funny thing, they’re closer in age to our own children. But technically they are our kids’ aunts.

There have also been many foster siblings over the years. Too many kids to count living in our household. And each one of them teaching me something valuable about relationships and life.

So ya, like I said, a pretty modern family. And I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

The Teen Years Where Things Turn Inside Out

The gap between childhood and adulthood wasn’t easy.

But like any story worth telling, there was tension between good and bad. As a teen things got worse until the panic attacks and depression were an all the time thing. A lot of times I didn’t even feel like waking up in the morning.

Justin Nolan Preteen

I didn’t feel like eating. Heck, many times I didn’t eat.

“What’s wrong with me?” was something I asked every day. I legitimately thought all of this was physical sickness. Looking back, I realize it was probably all anxiety.

And I love the fact that anxiety is a character in the sequel to “Inside Out”. The more we can understand our mental health and the more we learn ways to heal the better.

At that time my main coping strategy was flight. (Often while listening to Eminem on repeat). I’ll never forget barricading myself in the bathroom outside my psychologist’s office because I couldn’t get my heart rate and panic to slow down enough to be able to talk. Staring through that little gap in the blue stall door hoping no one would ever come and find me.

Pretending I “had to go to the bathroom” as a kid was the easiest way to escape.

Many people are surprised if they learn all of this because youth who struggle are great at hiding it. And I was one of the best. Not too many people would know. Another myth is that people struggling don’t have friends. But I had the absolute best friends in the world and many of them.

About Justin Nolan, Teen Years

Yet, I lived with extreme panic attacks, and felt like killing myself most of the time.

I’m often asked why?

Like, what caused it?

And I have no clue. That’s the truth. If it’s worth debating, or guessing, then I’m up for that. You can interview me, or we can “go live” or something. But no matter what You, I, or my therapist come up with, we can’t know for sure.

I think it’s why I’m so interested in helping other people. It’s so damn confusing and so stressful that we can use all the help we can get!

Using Distractions And Unhealthy Methods To Numb The Pain

Partying

I was really young when I started smoking, doing drugs, having sex and drinking.

I think partying, or “psartying” as we called it was just another distraction. Another way to numb the pain.

Self harm, verbally abusing myself and doing anything else to get my mind off of life was common.

The more distractions the better.

Yet again, something that was unhealthy had a silver lining. Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the slower moments in life.

When we get to slow down, meditate, do dishes, go for a walk, do nothing.

Distractions

In these moments we have to think.

And it is healthy to be alone with our thoughts.

But for the longest time this was extremely difficult.

We can heal once we understand why we need to avoid distraction.

Learning to do this in a productive way is a big part of turning things around.

Moving Away To Play College Football And Find A Career Path

I went to school 500 miles from home.

Justin With Poppa

I stayed in Canada, but went right on the US border to be close to family. My American family was able to watch me play football. Something they missed during my highschool days.

“Papa” made it to every game.

I think football was the first time that I actively created a framework for chasing a big dream.

And it paid off (kind of). I had a pretty good career as a collegiate athlete.

Things I learned in that game still serve me in everything I do from parenting to coaching and business.

Like trust, resilience, time management and overcoming fear.

I was a solid player too. Coaches were quoted saying I was the “toughest in the country.”

It was a lot of fun. But, I mostly loved the pain the sport provided. Looking back, that’s probably not the healthiest reason to play a game.

As far as school, I was focused on pretty traditional pathways.

I wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, psychologist and chiropractor. We get a lot of our beliefs from people who raise us, and I wasn’t around many entrepreneurs. School was all about preparing for the pathways you could find in a university pamphlet.

And I didn’t grow up in a family interested in business. We aimed to secure traditional jobs. Jobs with a steady pay cheque, 9 to 5 schedule, benefits and retirement. This was the only goal.

So, I too was head down, working toward traditional paths, because I thought I “should.”

Justin Reading

But, I actually enjoyed creative classes more.

If something was binary, with factual, black and white answers I was not interested. I just felt like I could look the stuff up when I needed it. And that I was wasting my time memorizing things I would forget.

In the end I chose teaching. Not a full artist’s field, but a nice, messy middle for a while.

Something I realized is that the tension between being a creative, or working toward other people’s goals is not healthy. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me. If I’m not creating, I feel like I’m not even living.

It’s ok if you feel like you’re lost too. The traditional path does not need to be for everyone. The amazing thing about that fact, compared to when I was younger, is it’s so much easier to find your own path.

Understanding that you want to be more creative, and taking steps toward making that a reality is life changing.

Changing “Education” To Make It More About Learning

Speaking of school, from kindergarten to today I’ve always loved learning. At the same time, I’ve hated the institution and system of school.

Justin Teacher Principal Education Photo

I understand why the structure exists. But as early as first grade it made no sense to me. It’s crazy that we start out as creative, divergent thinkers. And then lose this ability over time. It’s one of the only skills that actually shrinks as we get older.

As we grow up, we “learn worse”.

I was blessed with emotional control and so I never had to worry about getting kicked out permanently.

Although it certainly came with detentions and some low grades.

But so many children don’t have this ability to survive the system and that’s a big part of “my why”. I’ve seen so many kids feel like they have nowhere to turn when they don’t fit into the school system.

A very powerful example was the time I met a student at a school specifically for teen mom’s working on their mental health. She said, “Isn’t it crazy that I had to get pregnant just to go to a school that actually helps me?”

And I have witnessed similar stories on hundreds of occasions.

My ONE THING is to teach.

About Justin Nolan Coaching

How I teach, and what I teach can change.

I can teach on a podcast, blog post, or in a classroom.

But my one thing is to teach.

I’ve taught every single grade. Kindergarten to high school seniors. I have a Masters in Educational Leadership And Teaching. And I’ve had the opportunity to work as a Vice Principal and Principal.

Justin Teaching Creators

Now, I went into education because it was easy. It required the least amount of graduate schooling. But I ended up loving most things about it.

I love coaching people who want to learn. And I love coaching people who don’t want to learn (yet) even more.

The traditional school system is broken. Very broken. And my big, insane goal is to change it. But it’s tough.

I’ve watched some incredible hero’s try.

Sir Ken Robinson, John Taylor Gatto, and Randy Pausch.

Rest In Peace.

And a few who keep fighting the good fight.

Carol Dweck, Brene Brown, and Seth Godin.

All of these heroes paved the way with their books:

Growth Mindset

Schools Kill Creativity

Weapons Of Mass Instruction

Daring Greatly

The Last Lecture

Stop Stealing Dreams

We should approach school with the belief that everyone has a learning opportunity.

We should stop stealing dreams and understand that ADHD is a myth.

And appreciate that life is too short to focus on things that don’t matter.

But, this is not how we approach school in a systematic machine of supervision and compliance. The kids who fit into school will be fine. But the people I want to work with don’t fit into school.

They’re the round pegs trying to fit into square holes. And usually they drop out. Or, they get pushed out.

So how do these learners get the best education possible?

That it is my life’s work to try and figure it out. I don’t have all the answers. But I do know one thing though. We should teach in an experiential, project based, exploratory, design thinking way, where effective feedback loops are created specific to that one student.

If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Shifting My Focus To Mental Health Work

Almost my entire life has been dedicated to working with people who have challenges thaking care of themselves.

We grew up in a family that had forty plus foster children over the years. As long as I can remember I’ve lived with foster siblings who taught me a lot about stress, trauma and adversity.

Education In Jail

I’ve worked with people who struggle with mental illness and physical ailments. And I’ve worked with teens who are parenting, in jail, addicted, in hospital, homeless, or any combination of these.

This is one of my favourite photos. Side note: I wish people would capture more real world images like this.

It’s a shot from inside the yard of one of the custody for youth institutions I had the honour of teaching in.

Through these experiences I see how the realities of society can make goal setting difficult for people. I am a teacher, in all contexts, but the main group I teach are youth who struggle to be in school.

Every year we lose students through illness, suicide, drugs, or violence.

While this could be “depressing” for me it’s not. It’s a reminder.

To get to work and continue trying to impact people’s lives for the better. I spend all of my working hours helping people learn skills they are interested in. Over time these skills stack and they can design the life of their dreams. We solve creative problems that they want to focus on to help their own learning journey.

I see it time and time again, people give up pursuing their interests. They feel so much tension between what they’re “supposed to do” and living with regret.

But I’ve realized people only give up when they’re missing:

Self care

Role models

Mentorship

Specific knowledge

Patience

My Therapy, Healing And A Lifelong Battle

Another thing I don’t know for sure, but think, is that my therapist saved my life. At a time when I was really struggling with depression and anxiety, I met Dr. B.

I was fifteen. Now I am forty. And I still go to see Dr.B.

Having someone outside of your family unit, who you trust is extremely powerful.

Justin Therapy Dates

He reminds me a lot of Stutz, the famous Hollywood therapist. Dr. B used a lot of drawings and imagery to explain things to me. Like how he explained the sensation of panic attacks.

You’re standing on a sidewalk you’ve walked a million times. Yet, someone starts jacking the sidewalk up.

Tick, tick, tick. Ten feet high isn’t too crazy. But, they crank it up higher and higher until the sidewalk is a thousand feet in the air. At this height, you’re super scared to walk it. You get dizzy, start sweating and feel anxious.

You are so afraid that you just want to lie down and cling to the ground. But if you remember the sidewalk is the exact same width, then you know there’s no way you’ll fall.

I know for some people mental illness has a chemical fix. For others, a therapeutic solution. Many people probably need a combination of both. And sadly some never figure it out.

For me, therapy is the best chance at survival.

How I Slowed Down The Panic With Community & Creativity

There are hundreds of self help books that use the word “Fu*K” in it. They all resemble a similar goal to help you Un-Fu*k your life.

For me, the biggest struggle that I needed to counter was the panic.

The sensation of a panic attack coming on still exists, but it doesn’t grab hold of my mind and body like it used to. It used to be crippling. It was so stressful and painful that I never knew if I would survive it.

I’m often asked how and when my panic attacks stopped?

Justin Photography Practice

But life’s a mystery and mental health is about as simple as outer space. So, all I can honestly do is share what helped me.

I feel like a lot of it had to do with figuring out what I call the pyramid of life.

Focusing on self care, and then relationships I started to build a foundation for the fun stuff.

Once I had this foundation I turned to figuring out my creativity.

What did I want to learn, purely for the sake of learning it? Things like photography, painting, and filmmaking. Writing was one of those things and has been a huge help in easing my struggles.

Having a supportive community to remind me that “it would be ok” was also helpful. Finding community and opportunities for collaboration goes a long way with helping us feel we’re not alone.

Another thing that helped a lot was lifestyle design. The art and science of choosing how you want to live your life.

I can’t believe we don’t teach this in school!

Justin Veecon With Friends

If minimalism is making sure that everything you have brings you joy, then life design is making sure that everything you do brings you joy.

Of course life has ups and downs. But you do have a lot more control over the life you live than you realize. Essentially I started doing as many things in line with my dreams and removing as many things that weren’t.

There are so many factors to how the brain works. But, taking steps toward uncaging my creativity, on top of a foundational pyramid has been life changing.

When I am engaged fully in creative things, like painting, writing, or playing sports, I feel pretty damn good.

I’ve gone fifteen plus years now without having a true panic attack.

Sure, I feel the signs coming on, but they don’t completely destroy me like they used too. So I am not complaining. If you’re struggling, these things would help you too.

I mean they definitely can’t hurt.

The Massively Positive Impact Of Designing Your Life For Flow

One day when leaving his office, my therapist, Dr.B had a prescription for me.

He said, the only time we know for sure you don’t have panic attacks is playing sports. So, rather than seeing sports as a little part of my life, he suggested making them the foundation. Then fit school, work, and friends into the remaining blocks of time.

Justin Painting With Ricky Kruger

It’s true. When I’m playing hockey, or football, I don’t notice anything else.

I also feel this way when I am writing, podcasting, painting, and filmmaking. When I am creating.

Time seems to disappear. Emotions, stress and nerves melt away. I’m so immersed in a state of flow that the world could be collapsing and I wouldn’t know.

Maybe you get what I’m saying?

But, society isn’t really set up to help people like you and me.

So how can we change society so we spend more time doing the things we intrinsically enjoy?

When I think of the most mentally healthy world, I think of the opportunity for people to do their favourite thing for 50 plus hours a week, eat for 21 hours, sleep for 56, meditate for 7, and exercise for 10. Then, do whatever “responsible” life stuff other people pick for you in the remaining 24 hours.

I want to help you achieve this level of life design.

Building A Family Through Serendipity And Adoption

Jenna McQueen and I first met working as camp counsellors at a summer camp during college. We were friendly, but both had separate lives and friend groups 500 miles apart.

Justin Jenna Adoption Engagement Photos

As fate would have it, years later, we ran into each other at a time in our lives where we were both looking for that one life partner. And we found it.

Jenna was so caring, funny and equally importantly laid back that we hit it off.

Things quickly progressed to taking on all of life’s challenges together. And there have been a few big ones. For example, when I think of an example of incredible goal setting ability, I think of the adoption.

Jenna and I had bought a house and were planning on getting married when Chloe came along.

She was in foster care with my mom when it was determined she would be adopted.

Just like some families adopting a puppy for Christmas, we were rewarded with our first child.

I say rewarded because the journey was insane.

We got to know Chloe in foster care and although I had been a foster brother to something like forty other kids, this was the first time that we were so close with a child. Chloe always makes us laugh, asks incredible questions and is going to change the world someday, in her way.

Adoption Court Ruling

And the first time we were getting ready to build a family.

Chloe had been uprooted so many times in her short life that we felt we had to provide some stability. It’s a very long story. But basically we were told we could adopt her in August 2014.

Chloe Nolan Running Down Wedding Aisle

Then we were told we couldn’t adopt her in October 2014. Over the next eight weeks we went through ten different lawyers and worked our asses off to win a legal battle that would allow her to move in with us.

On December 18, 2014 we were rewarded with custody of our daughter. We worked day and night for two months, leaving no stones unturned to make this happen.

There were plenty of sleepless nights. And so many tears shed.

But in the end we were successful. And parenting a child who will forever be working through her story and trauma is an amazing experience.

It was also super friggin cute that Chloe was able to be a part of the actual wedding day.

Family First And How Balance Is A Myth

I am so grateful for Jenna, and the girls. I say “girls” because we welcomed our second child, Olivia into this world on April 4th, 2018.

Olivia is amazing. She’s really wise, funny, and incredible at anything creative.

And I say “grateful” for many reasons. But, anyone who is in a relationship, or parenting while chasing big goals knows it can be tough to “balance”. Although I am a believer that we actually can’t balance it.

Full Family Photo With Kids

The term that makes more sense is “counterbalance”.

Sometimes I can write, or film all day.

But usually I am carving tiny blocks of creative time out of my daily schedule. Juggling making lunches and school drop off with a quick blog post, kids doctors appointments, getting a couple videos filmed and then picking them up again in time to make dinner.

And then there are days when I need to drop all of the work stuff and focus 100% on family.

Like when we spent a week in the children’s hospital. In times like these we need to focus 100% on family. Nothing else.

Anyone building a creator business while parenting knows how difficult it can be. But it’s so worth it! At this point I have no interest in “success” unless it is built on top of the foundation of family.

My best advice and what I have to remind myself over and over again is to create your business like a pyramid. The top will be all of the fun things you can do in terms of offer creation, marketing and collaboration. But the base of your pyramid, the foundation must be built on self care, family and friends.

In that order.

The Deaths Of My Brothers Ryan And Shane

You can’t really put a brotherly bond into words. Literally. So while reading what I’m trying to write, please keep that in mind. As kids we did absolutely everything together.

Justin With Siblings, Ryan And Shane As Kids

When you grow up with brothers it feels like you’ve been blessed to be a member of the Ninja Turtles. It’s just you and your bros taking on the world. The quote, “he’s not heavy, he’s my brother” rings very true in real life when you have a close relationship and do things in “three’s”.

Shane was hilarious, easy going and always knew how to keep life in perspective. He had a dream to be the best Madden player in the world.

Ryan was thoughtful, social and always wanting to make something creative. He had a dream to be a successful documentary filmmaker.

Both of them would give you the shirt off their back and freeze before you got cold. They would bend over backwards to help people. Maybe that was one of their biggest stressors.

I love the book “Invisible Sisters” by Jessica Handler. She lost both of her sisters and wrote a memoir of the experience, her survival and recovery through grief.

I guess we have at least a little bit in common because I lost my brothers two years apart.

Shane died in a car accident in 2020.

Ryan died of heart failure in 2021.

Two times I had to deliver the news to our Mom.

It feels like deja vu, when I think about having to tell my mom that we’d be having another funeral.

Justin, Ryan And Shane As Adults

It replays in my head almost like it was actually a nightmare. Like those traumatic flashback scenes in the movies.

But I know it happened. I can still hear her screaming and feel her shaking in my arms.

We didn’t get to say goodbye either time. I never got to say goodbye to two of the closest people in my life.

Shane died instantly in a car crash. The closest I got to saying goodbye was the “privilege” of picking up his body. My uncle and I drove to the morgue to get him and bring him back to Ottawa.

And Ryan lasted a few hours on life support. Hooked up to every tube you can imagine, with all the buzzes and beeps. We were able to give his body a hug, but the doctors assured us he “was gone”.

Perhaps that’s a positive to working in a funeral home. We can use the experience of death when we need it most.

When it comes to my brothers specifically, it’s still very painful. I loved them so much and thought we had so many more moments ahead of us, that I don’t really know what to say.

Writing and building little projects I’m passionate about is one of the ways I’ve been able to recover.

But even though I can’t think of anything else to say here, I am very much an open book when it comes to these difficult topics. I’m just not as good at writing creatively about it (yet).

I do way better with questions. So if you have any questions please feel free to reach out. I’ll share anything you’d like.

Settling Down Vs Building A Business In A Side Hustle Society

Do you ever have this feeling like you were “meant” for something more?

I don’t judge people for wanting to “settle down”. But for me I’ve always wanted to chase big goals. I felt like I was supposed to be doing something “greater” or “bigger”. While I was on this search I was very guilty of getting excited about any and every opportunity.

I would run around chasing every single shiny object, hoping it would be the grand thing. But I could never catch any of them. I feel regret when I look back, because I wasted a lot of time.

Like that time I built an entire hoodie brand on Shopify, just to see what would happen.

Justin ecommerce hoodie store shopify

On the other hand I was learning what I didn’t want.

I didn’t want to sit around and wait for retirement. I didn’t want to take on a second job. But I did want to build a side hustle in a calm, collective, and fun way.

It needed to be sustainable. Something I could work on with patience, for the long term, no matter the short term outcomes.

So I built an educational media brand.

Content that helps you better understand growth mindset to achieve your own goals.

For years I would stay up late at night writing blog posts, or editing podcast episodes. And every time I had a couple minutes to spare I’d be answering people’s questions. Building JKL changed my life.

I believe everyone should have a side hustle. Big, small, or anywhere in between. But everyone should have one. It’s an opportunity to chip away at something you are passionate about that might even take off.

Just Keep Learning Is Born And How It Can Help You

I learned a lot from other entrepreneurs about life design and business.

And the more I learned the more I realized that I would only be able to serve my life’s purpose beyond the classroom walls.

My goal is to help millions of people across the globe use growth mindset to achieve their own creator goals without too much stress.

Justin and Wellington collaboration video

That means I needed to find a way to make the teachings informal, online and scalable.

In traditional “schooling” you sign up for a course, study for a hundred hours, write a test and get branded with a score.

Such a rigid system is kind of silly. Maybe it has its place, in some fields. But I focus on common sense and creativity.

Another challenge I had was working with youth in prison. They have no access to videos on the web.

But they can download MP3s.

The accessibility of audio content sparked a realization.

I personally learned a ton from shows like The Art of Manliness, Tim Ferriss, and Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income.

Learning through audio isn’t for everyone. But if you do enjoy podcasts, then I can make a very helpful show.

And that show can be shared around the world.

And so, the infinite goal of JKL was born.

Share content that is accessible, impactful, vulnerable and relevant to the journey of aspiring creative entrepreneurs.

Why Does Growth Mindset Help Us Heal So Much?

Growth Mindset is a term coined by psychologist Carol Dweck. I’ve been “obsessed” with it for a very long time.

It is the belief that one’s abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication, effective learning and perseverance.

We can improve and learn new skills, if we want.

Whereas a fixed mindset, is when we see abilities as static, or unchangeable.

We are either “good” or “bad” at something.

Cody Wanner, Justin Nolan Selfie

Growth mindset is not just a fixed personality trait. It’s a skill that can be taught, learned and nurtured step by step.

It involves embracing challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, seeing effort as the path to mastery,

learning from criticism, and finding lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

Even in very difficult times.

I love Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” where he shares his ability to set goals and live with purpose while suffering in the most extreme environment of the holocaust.

He wrote, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

This quote encapsulates the essence of growth mindset within adversity.

Even if everything around us is crazy, and everything inside us is turmoil, we can find the power to grow internally.

From Random Chaos To Organized Focus As A Content Creator

Creative entrepreneurs need counterbalance. We need to learn to stay fully present and in the moment with everything we do.

Rest fully when sleeping.

Exercise without distraction.

Be a great partner, parent, or friend.

Focus on your writing, podcasting and sales.

Whatever you are doing, in that moment, be locked in.

How To Set Goals Youtube Thumbnail

Without it, fear, procrastination, and hardships will hold you back. Now I used to think that “routine” was bad for my creative brain. Books that would teach a ton of structure, and planning as a means of success would piss me off.

But then I read “atomic habits” by James Clear and I started to understand the link between not having a routine and feeling like we’re stuck in quicksand.

I also started to understand the connection between clear, concise practices and creative success.

Steven Pressfield, Julia Cameon, Seth Godin and I all believe that habits and systems are key to helping you thrive as a creative.

I do this by implementing a few strategies.

Time Blocks

Schedule your foundation of self care, friends and family time.

Reverse engineer your goals and create a block of time for the habit that is in alignment with that goal.

Action Board

I put my someday dream at the top, followed by annual goals, and quarterly goals for only 2-5 projects at a time.

Whatever habits are required to achieve these goals gets put into the weekly schedule.

I review my schedule quarterly to see what’s working, what isn’t and make any changes.

Mindfulness

Whatever you are doing, be 100% committed to that activity.

Am I A Failure? Four Tips To Ensure Self Care While You Chase Your Goals

I can be really hard on myself.

And sometimes I have trouble telling the difference between holding myself accountable and doing damage.

Aside from being hard on ourselves, we can often let others judge us.

Justin Reflections Kobe

The reality is the more people that love our work, the more haters we will have.

It’s simple math. Nothing more.

The key is to remember. You are not your work. And you are not your anxiety, or your challenges, or successes for that matter.

If we don’t overly identify with the things we do, then we can turn every “failure” into a chance to learn.

There is a healthy amount of examining our life. Otherwise we walk around like zombies.

And before we know it we’ve run out of time.

I spent so much energy on anxiety and living the rat race that I did feel like a failure.

But there are a few things that always pull me through.

One, focusing on immediate friends and family.

Two, understanding the power of now. If we live a mindful life, we live a good life.

If I added a third it would be to take consistent progress toward your goal, but NOT worry about results.

I could blame my past decisions and struggles for feeling like a failure.

Or I can live in the moment and make a little progress each day.

And perhaps the quickest trick to put life in perspective is to talk to your kid self.

Every time you engage in self talk, make sure you are chatting with your inner child.

That little kid who tried things cause they’re fun, explored without boundaries and chased big dreams.

Don’t chat with your judgemental adult self, talk to that kid you want to support.

How We Need Just The Right Amount Of Stress

You’ve probably seen quotes that say something like “growth comes from being uncomfortable”.

And while this is true, we often get it wrong.

Justin Photoshoot Ottawa

Picture an upside down (inverted) U.

Like a hill, or a mountain.

The bottom of the hill shows our stress so low that we’re bored, unchallenged.

The right side, after the hill, shows extreme pressure and stress.

In the middle, at the mountain top, we find the sweet spot.

This is the optimal level for growth.

If we rev too high, our nervous system burns out.

Spend all our time relaxing and we don’t learn, or achieve.

I went from struggling with anxiety, burnout and stress to finding that optimal place for growth.

Now I find that happy middle for any project, or learning goal I have.

Writing Is The Foundation For Me And You

“When our heart breaks, we should make art with the pieces.”

The first time I ever heard this I thought it was incredibly powerful and actionable advice, all in one sentence.

Every time I’ve been struggling, I begin to recover when I start writing.

When I say writing I mean doing both:

  • Morning pages as a form of meditation
  • Creative writing as content (blog, social media, podcast, script, etc)

Writing led me to creating one of the most successful podcasts in the world.

And within a couple years I grew a social media audience over 100,000 followers.

I used to look up to creators who were able to build for their community.

And now I’m coming to terms with the fact that is me.

It still doesn’t feel quite real.

Writing, creating and sharing online can change your life.

But you know what the cool thing is?

You are a writer too!

Writing is a universal skill for making things.

Writing itself can be art.

But, no matter what form of art we make, writing is our foundation.

Writing Helps You:

  • Explore your mind
  • Release inner tension
  • Find your authentic self
  • Let go of your resistance
  • Recover, or reinforce your creativity

Writing Eulogies And What I Want My Epitaph To Say

I’ve done three eulogies at the time of this writing.

As weird as it may be, that’s a workshop I’ve thought of giving.

“How To Write A Eulogy That’s Not All About You”

Or something like that.

Justin Nolan Eulogy Poetry Talk

But a valuable exercise is to decide what we want our epitaph to read.

Or you could think of your own eulogy.

Who would read it?

And what would they say?

When people attend your funeral, their words for you WILL come to mind very quickly.

People know immediately how they remember others.

So think of the legacy you’re leaving.

If someone spoke at your service and summarized you in three words, what do you hope they would say?

Chatting With Mark Manson And If I Could Only Teach 1 Skill It Would Be Lifelong Bravery

Have you ever wondered why some people chase a dream, while others don’t?

I work with people in prison, crisis units, in psychiatric hospitals, with addiction, homelessness, human trafficking, and teen parenting.

Some of them follow their dreams, some of them don’t.

I also know a lot of people who have trust funds, full family structures, healthy food, education and every network possible

Some of them follow their dreams, some of them don’t.

There is no individual correlation between people following their dreams and the cards they’ve been dealt. Everyone is unique!

So what is it then?

The key is learning bravery.

Justin At Veecon Minnesota

Bravery is a next door neighbor to confidence. And confidence comes from action. But we don’t take action unless we are confident enough to do so. It’s a chicken and egg problem. But it’s a problem worth solving.

When I met Mark Manson, author of Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fu*k I realized that there

is not much that separates us as people. Here’s a world class, millionaire writer, who so many people aspire to be,

and yet he is just a normal dude.

And this is one of the things that really holds us back. We don’t see any of our hero’s as normal people. We put them on a

pedestal, therefore we don’t have confidence to achieve anything ourselves. And we don’t take action. When, funny enough,

it’s the action and bravery that will lead to confidence.

You need to show up as someone worthy of your goal. Because you are. You need bravery.

Bravery to demand vitality in your life and work.

And the bravery to answer the question, what do you want to do?

That means, as teachers, coaches and parents, we need to teach bravery too!

I wish “Life Design” was a mandatory course in school.

But it’s not. So I want to help you here.

My Big Dream And Getting Clear On How To Help You

By day, I work with youth in jails, hospitals, addictions facilities and teen moms. I teach them to use entrepreneurship to turn life around.

Justin Coaching Big Dreams, Bravery, Creators

By night I hustle to be a full time creative, for this mission to reach a greater audience.

The reason I do this is simple.

Lifelong learning, and pursuing your own goal has massive benefits for your mental health and vitality.

I want you to leave this world knowing that at least you tried to achieve your wildest dream.

If you don’t know your big dream, then I want to help you find it.

Clarity is always the first step.

Once we have clarity we need the right mindset and a plan.

The rest is just the details of your story.

The Vision Of What I Am Building With Just Keep Learning

I don’t want you to be limited by the plans that society has for you.

By society I mean your parents, teachers, and possible bosses. I want you to decide on your own goal and go for it. The challenge is a lot of people don’t know how to “go for it”.

I’ve always appreciated how people like Jim Carrey, or Donald Glover are able to cast a vision and then set forth to achieve that vision.

But you know what I appreciate even more about those two?

The fact that they’re not special. They often say it themselves. Anyone could “go for it”. Another thing that’s super cool is how they pivot based on intrinsic values. They act, they produce, but then they might write, or paint.

Justin Just Keep Learning Podcast

A lot of times you get caught up in the definition of who you are. But you are you, completely unique. You have your own playbook.

I hope to inspire you by sharing my playbook.

On the podcast I interview inspiring people to teach you how to achieve your goals. I also share solo episodes that teach creator concepts and skills.

I write a newsletter that teaches you everything I know about turning adversity into success.

And I make videos that showcase real world learning and creative skills.

With these three media properties (aka content) I am growing an audience.

As this audience continues to grow I have more and more opportunities to bring value to people in the form of coaching, courses, speaking and sponsorship deals. As the money side of things grows I can do more things that I am fully aligned with, like speaking to schools, doing live Q & A, or making art simply for the fun of it.

That’s my plan. Summarized in three simple paragraphs. Now, I would love to know. How will you design your own life?

How You Can Actually Design Your Life

One thing that always got me in trouble was waiting for other people’s advice.

Dream Big, Lose Sleep Hoodie

Maybe you experience this too. You have an idea for a business, or creative project and you go in search of validation. But that idea is like a seed to an unknown flower. No one can tell you what it will turn into.

I did this my whole life. Every time I had an idea I “ran it by someone else.” Most times I got the impression it was a bad idea. But that’s probably just because they didn’t understand.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a healthy level of seeking feedback, especially in business.

But when it comes to designing your life, there is only one person with the answers. You have your own unique script.

And your job is to continue to craft it in a way that makes more sense to you over time.

I love this quote from Kobe:

“A lot of times we are born into this world, we actually end up going backwards. It seems like the more we mature, the more responsible our dreams become and the more governors we put on our dreams, on ourselves and our ability to imagine.

It’s always a fight to make sure your dreams stay pure. Really, it’s not a matter of pushing beyond your limitations, or expectations.

It’s a matter of protecting your dreams, protecting your imagination. That’s the key and when you do that, the world is limitless.”

I leaned my ladder up against the “wrong tower” when I chose football as my big dream. I realize now, there are massive sunken costs to choosing a passion like football. For 10 plus years of life, you sink 40 plus hours a week into perfecting your craft.

And then, when it’s done, it’s done.

There is no more growth. You can’t continue to improve. You are just finished. Something like golf, painting, or music would have been a passion that I could still be developing to this day. This is why I’m such a huge fan of learning to play infinite games.

The ultimate infinite game is designing your life.

Pick a forever dream. Lay out the steps.

And get to work.

It’s Time To Build Your Badass Dream

For the longest time I battled a lack of bravery. I was just a consumer, not a creator.

It seemed like everyone else was making progress, but I was stuck.

The turning point was when I designed the life of my dreams and started making more than I consumed.

8 Steps You Can Take To Design Your Life

You will live your best possible life if you do these eight things. It will take some tinkering and pivoting. But if you return to this list, over and over, incredible things will happen.

  1. Mindset. Appreciate that you can choose how to live.
  2. Build Your Foundation. Focus first on wellness and relationships.
  3. Money. Find a way to meet your basic financial needs.
  4. Self Discovery. Choose a vision tied to an intrinsic goal. Nobody else can pick the dream for you.
  5. Define Habits & Systems. Put a step by step path of actions in line with the vision.
  6. Take Action. Do the steps each day without worrying about results.
  7. Find Others. Engage in community, mentorship and people you can support.
  8. Review. Quarterly review how you’re doing on steps 1-7 and make adjustments.

Do You Know Your Own Next Steps?

My real game-changer was when I started publishing my work, writing, podcasts, and videos.

It was like finally finding the path out after wandering around in a scary forest. But that’s my story. And I want you to find your path too!

Whatever success looks like for you, not only is it possible, but it is probable. If you take the right steps.

But there is so much spam and snake oil out there that I want you to have the best support possible.

I’ve paid for courses from at least fifteen other creators. On topics of business, goal setting, social media and content creation. I’ve also invested in coaching from many mentors over the years. And you know something I learned? We “could possibly” succeed on our own. But it’s more fun working with people. And I appreciate learning faster from those with specific knowledge. I already know two coaches I’ll work with and three online courses I’ll take next year.

With everything I’ve learned over the years I know we can get you to your big goals as soon as possible.

Thanks For Reading. Keep In Touch,

Justin

Oh, and if you want to work together, there are a few ways I can help you.

Are You Ready To Work Together?

I will always do my best to help you own your creator dreams.

My own journey was influenced by so many coaches, course instructors, and colleagues in the creator space, each sharing valuable lessons and insights. So I’m excited to give back too.

Here are a few ways I will help you when you’re ready.

JKL NEWSLETTER Read the newsletter to succeed in life as a creator. Justin writes about overcoming adversity, learning, and creator tools.

JKL PODCAST Listen to interviews with experts who have succeeded in their industry and are sharing what they learned. As well as solo episodes where Justin shares everything he is learning about succeeding in life as a creator.

CONTACT JUSTIN Justin has lived an interesting life. And we can probably all benefit from learning from it. A lot of people ask him for interviews. Which you can request here. Or maybe you want to book Justin for a speaking gig, or collaborate in some other way. Feel free to reach out here.

CLARITY COACHING SESSION Get full clarity over your direction in life. Go from stuck and confused to clarity and clear goals. Unlock your creative potential by defining your first steps by booking a coaching call with Justin.