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Just over a decade ago, a student in Vancouver, British Columbia, changed high schools three times as his family’s finances plummeted. Coupled with a severe case of shyness and anxiety, the moves left him feeling invisible. Few of his classmates even noticed Stefan James. When they did, it wasn’t good.
“At every new school, I felt more like an outsider,” remembers James. “I was the weak target. I would just sit there while other kids made fun of me in front of everyone.”
The humiliation made the shyness even worse. James couldn’t relate to others, hold a conversation, or pluck up the courage to attempt a relationship of any kind.
“I didn’t enjoy learning. I’d get so much anxiety before a class presentation that I would skip it and fail the assignment,” says James. His grades declined as a result, and he failed science one year.
James attributes some of his shyness to a challenging relationship with his father. “My dad was a strict perfectionist. Whatever I did, it wasn’t enough.” He recalls weekends and summer breaks working at his dad’s warehouse with his two older siblings. “We didn’t really get a pat on the back when we did a good job. He’d usually point out what we did wrong or how we could do better.”
As his doubt and loneliness intensified, James withdrew further from those around him and became addicted to video games. “When I played video games, I could be whoever I wanted,” he says. In other words, he could be anyone other than the person he didn’t want to be — himself.
James developed a crush on a fellow gamer he knew only online. When he was 16, he built up the courage to go to a party with others who played the same online game, Multi-User Dimension. When he met his crush in person, he fell hard.
“I was infatuated. I thought it was love — but she didn’t feel the same way,” says James. “The rejection was so painful, I had a knot in the pit of my stomach for months afterwards. I sunk into a deep depression that made me question my whole life.”
In his heartbreak, James picked up a book from an otherwise forgettable relationship author, who taught him something critically important: Everything he disliked about himself was the result of his choices — and by making different choices, he could become a new person.
“I discovered self-improvement, and everything just changed,” says James. “I looked in the mirror and realized I’d had enough. I made a decision that would shape my life forever. It was simple but profound: I would never again settle for less than I could be or do.”
At 17, James turned off the video games and decided to do whatever it took to improve his social skills. “I signed up for classes in public speaking, acting, and improvisation — even though I often had too much anxiety to actually go,” he says.
James needed to catch up if he ever hoped to date someone who wasn’t an avatar. “I went to coffee shops and bars and tried to talk to women,” James says. “I knew if I got comfortable with those conversations, I’d start building my confidence.” But being comfortable didn’t mean being effective. “I got rejected a lot,” he laughs.
The man in the mirror.
Though it only took a day to commit to changing his life, making it happen was a different story. Through his late teens and early 20s, James looked for a new person to emerge from the mirror. But it took time for him to notice a difference. “I’d still revert to that shy person around my family or in an old environment,” he says. “I only realized I’d changed when others started telling me.”
Before long, James found he could talk to anyone easily. To his own surprise, he developed charisma and a strong sense of humor, which earned him a lot of positive attention.
Others didn’t just notice his transformation — they started asking James for help. “One guy paid me $300 to take him out for a weekend and push him to be more confident,” he says. “I realized I liked teaching and had developed something that could help others.”
James turned his new skills and hard-earned perspective into a side hustle as an assistant to an experienced dating coach. He’d continued working for the family business after high school. Against his father’s wishes, when James was 21 he and two friends started a business to help other men improve their social skills and confidence.
“My dad wanted me to take over the family business,” says James. “We didn’t talk for several years after that. I really struggled, knowing I was disappointing my dad. I didn’t want to let him down, but I also needed to do what was best for me.”
James made no more than $2,000 a month, barely enough to get by in a city like Vancouver, where one-bedroom apartments rent for that much, a beer costs $7, and a McDonald’s meal is over $10. James paid a friend $500 a month to live on his couch, but he didn’t spend the rest on beer or Big Macs. Instead, he hired the best life coach he could afford for $500 a month.
“I learned everything I know from others,” says James. “I’ve always invested in myself because I believe that’s the best investment anyone can make. One new thought or idea can change your life.”
After about four years of hard work but minimal business growth, James and his partners accepted that there wasn’t enough demand for their coaching in Vancouver, and they shut down the company. James continued coaching a few clients, but he needed something sustainable. He’d been teaching himself internet marketing for the business, so he decided to try it full time.
James attempted this for a while, trying different income streams including selling e-books and affiliate marketing, where he earned a commission promoting others’ products. He was lucky if he made as much as he did coaching in a month, and usually averaged a few hundred dollars — not nearly enough to get him off his friend’s couch.
Prosperity through purpose.
James’ break came when he discovered Kindle publishing. He’d already written a substantial amount of content for his other marketing efforts, so he packaged it into e-books and sold them on Amazon. He made money right away. Empowered by those earnings, James dove headfirst into Amazon publishing around 2011. Within the first year, his income skyrocketed.
On solid ground at 24 years old, most people would think they’d hit their stride — but not James. “I lived the four-hour work week for a while, just going out and having fun,” he says. “But I got bored; I needed a purpose. I was passionate about self-improvement and wanted to share what I’d learned with others.”
So in 2012, James created Project Life Mastery — a blog and YouTube channel that would document his experiences as he mastered his life. His mission was to demonstrate life’s unlimited possibilities for those who truly commit. He wanted to help others master all areas of their lives, including health and fitness, emotional well-being, relationships, finances, and spirituality.
James didn’t design Project Life Mastery to make money, but his content became so valuable that it attracted clients who wanted to pay for coaching. Many who followed James and his methods wanted to replicate his lifestyle, so he began teaching them how to start their own online businesses.
Now James offers courses on life mastery, morning rituals, book publishing, affiliate marketing, selling on Amazon, and creating online businesses. He still does some coaching, primarily through his mastermind Online Business Mastery, an intimate event for other entrepreneurs.
James shares the progress toward his financial goals on his website. While most would balk at openly posting their private finances, he wants to demonstrate the impact of rituals and goal setting. He hit CA$1 million in net worth around age 27 and at 32 has made over CA$3.7 million this year.
He didn’t just master his finances; he began competing in fitness competitions and strengthened his mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being as well. But there was one area of life he had yet to win at: relationships.
Life mastery and love’s mystery.
As James continued to master life, love decided to show him its own mysteries. He connected on Tinder with a Brazilian-Lebanese girl, Tatiana Buree, and they met in person on a beautiful summer day in Vancouver. “We went for a walk along the seawall and immediately hit it off,” he beams. “We had this powerful soul connection, which turned into a deep conversation about life and our values.”
Their relationship quickly hit a speed bump. Buree was going to volunteer in Brazil for two months — only three weeks after they met. “I was nervous,” admits James. “We had a great connection, but it was too early to separate for that long.”
So James suggested something perfectly normal for how he’d been living since he fully embraced life at 17. “I offered to go to Brazil with her, and she was game.” James was preparing for a fitness competition at the time, so he met her in Brazil as soon as it was over.
When they returned to Vancouver, James helped Buree start her own online business, and she quit her banking job less than two years later. They said goodbye to Canada and have since traveled the world living the “laptop lifestyle.”
“We love to experience new countries,” James says. “Travel is one of the few things you can buy that makes you richer. Happiness comes from experiences, not material things.”
Through his self-development work, James learned to look at his childhood challenges as a blessing that shaped who he is today. Now he has a great relationship with his dad, which he says is based on unconditional love. “We learned to forgive and accept one another,” says James with a smile. “He brags about me all the time now. It feels good to make him proud.”
James and Buree moved to Panama in June 2018, and he proposed in Santorini, Greece, two months later. When they’re ready for a break from exploring the world, they plan to move to California and start a family.
James says it’s no coincidence he met his fiancée after he became successful. “Your mindset determines your success. I’ve seen people succeed and fail with the same strategies because they had different mindsets. I’ve also seen them achieve financial success at the expense of their relationships or health.” He says that’s why it’s important to focus on your identity, beliefs, and rituals.
There is no getting without giving.
If there is such a thing as mastering life, it’s this: “Find something you’re passionate about and that you enjoy, then share it,” says James.
For James, that includes caring for others, which he says gives him unlimited motivation. He’s helped build schools in Ethiopia, Kenya, Ecuador, and India with Imagine1Day, Free The Children, and WE.org. He has also built houses in Nicaragua and El Salvador with TECHO. He says this work is a big part of his mission and the legacy he wants to leave.
James realizes it’s ironic that a boy who disliked school now places such an emphasis on education, but he believes that knowledge got him where he is today. When he isn’t coaching others, he still works with his own coaches and teaches himself new things — a far cry from the shy boy who hated learning.
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