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How to be a TRUE Influencer by Cody Deaner

Everybody today wants to be an “influencer.”

As I travel across Canada, speaking to youth, I always take time to spend some 1-on-1 moments with the young people I’m about to do a presentation for. During these moments, I often ask them: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The number one answer I get back from them is: “Famous. I want to be famous.”

We live in a world where young people are striving to increase their viewership online. They want more “followers.” They want more “likes.” They want to be seen as an “influencer.”

When I get this answer from young people, I immediately ask, “Famous for doing what?” And, 9 times out of 10, they respond with, “Anything. It doesn’t matter. I just want to be famous.”

I don’t like this response. It goes against everything in my being. I share this feeling with the youth I’m talking to. And I tell them why.

When I was a kid, I dreamt of being a professional wrestler. My idols were guys like Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. These men were my heroes. These were my “influencers.” The amazing feats of athleticism and charisma they displayed in the wrestling ring inspired me. It developed a passion for performance in me that I never lost. I just knew in my five-year-old childhood brain – “I have to do that.”

I never grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler because I wanted to be rich and famous. I grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler simply because I loved it. I was passionate about it. I found something in wrestling that captivated my attention. And spawned my imagination. I found something I truly loved. And I just had to do it. Being “famous” for doing something I loved never crossed my mind.

Fast forward over thirty years. After years of determination, perseverance, and hardship, I find myself living my dream. I now find myself wrestling on a television show that airs worldwide in 120 countries, in 150 million homes. And, I also find myself getting to share my adventures and lessons I’ve learned along the way with thousands of youth across North America as a professional speaker. A lot of the youth that I speak to are enamoured with the fact that I’m on television because in their eyes, it means that I’m “famous.” I’ve achieved what they desire… to just be famous. It’s in these moments that I find the need to share with them what really matters in life. And it sure isn’t being “famous.”

The truth is… it does matter that we be influencers. But, not the kind that just accrues an online following because of the clothes we wear or the shoes we’re sporting. What matters is that we be a positive influence in this world rather than a negative one. And we all have the power to be a positive influence in this world… if we simply make that choice.

A number of years ago, I started a grassroots charity fundraising campaign called “Giv’er for Charity.” I began partnering with young fans I was meeting at wrestling shows and raising money for different local children’s charities. I was able to recognize the sphere of influence I operated in. Children looked up to me, and I wanted to use that positive influence and be able to spread it to others. Since I started “Giv’er for Charity” in 2018, together with young people I’ve connected with at my wrestling events, we’ve been able to raise over $18,000 for different children’s charities across the country. I don’t tell this fact to youth to brag. I tell them this fact because I want it to inspire them. I want it to teach them a valuable lesson: You don’t have to be in the “big time” to make a big difference.

The fact is… I wasn’t wrestling on national television when I started “Giv’er for Charity.” I wasn’t in the “big time.” I was essentially wrestling in the “minor leagues” of professional wrestling. The shows I wrestled on only had a few hundred people in attendance… not thousands. And the shows were not televised. It was definitely not the “big time.” However, I noticed the small “sphere of influence” I had at these events and capitalized on it. I used that influence to help change the lives of hundreds of young people by working with amazing organizations like the Rumball Camp of the Deaf, the Lansdowne Children’s Centre, and the Special Olympics.

One thing I try to instill in youth who want to “just be famous” is this… quantity follows quality. Many young people today are focused on the quantity of their influence. The quantity of their Instagram likes. The quantity of their so-called “influence.” I strive to change that perspective for them. My story helps them change their perspective. To focus on the quality.

When I started to focus on the quality of my human interactions, rather than the quantity of my digital ones… my influence started to grow. The quantity of my influence grew because I focused on the quality of it. I used my influence with young people to try to help other people and be a light in the world. And guess what happened? A few years after I did that… I signed a contract with a major wrestling company and started wrestling worldwide. And my influence grew exponentially. But that was never the goal. The goal was to simply do what I love. Be a professional wrestler. And help some people along the way. Quantity follows quality.

When our goal becomes to strive for doing whatever we are passionate about… and being a positive influence to others along the way… it changes the world. That sounds like a grandiose claim. But it truly does.

I know that because I’m doing it right now. I’m doing what I love as a professional wrestler and sharing that story with youth across the country. I’m inspiring young people with my stories of working with disadvantaged youth and being a positive influence to them. And in doing so, I’m seeing perspectives change.

When I share these stories with youth, the typical statement of “I just want to be famous” changes. I start to hear from the hearts of young people. I start to hear that they actually desire to make a difference in the world. They want to help people. They want to inspire people to make the world a better place in some way.

I have a new passion now. I still have a passion to perform as a professional wrestler. The same passion that I had as a young five-year-old boy. But my passion has evolved. I have a passion to share stories with young people that ignites a newfound passion in them. A passion to be a true positive influencer in this world.

I’m living out this passion every day. And I couldn’t be more grateful. 

So yes… it’s true… everybody today wants to be an “influencer.” But I take pride in the fact that I have the ability to change some young people’s perspectives about what this really means. They want to be an influencer. A positive influencer. One that inspires good in those around them. And, in doing so, the cycle of positive influence continues. This is the key to being a TRUE influencer.

Cody Deaner