03/09/2015 04:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Life Lessons From 'Survivor' Winner John Cochran

A few weeks ago, whilst slowly waking up, I was reflecting on what a fantastic season of "Survivor" it was when the underdog, John Cochran, came back from a defeat in his first season to claim victory on his return. For those of you unfamiliar with the reality TV game show "Survivor," it is a brutal physical, mental and emotional test of endurance and a fascinating, highly entertaining study of human politics and psychology. If you love television you will love "Survivor." As a life coach I personally attest that you will become more enlightened if you watch it.

Later that day I went to watch a friend and client play in his band and to my delight saw that Cochran (as he is known) was in the audience. I had just been daydreaming about him (sounds creepy I know) and there he was, a rockstar in his own right.

Embarrassingly, my heart raced. My friend knew Cochran and kindly introduced us. I blurted something and asked if I could email him with a few "life coachy" questions. Cochran was gracious and generously got back to me in crisp prose. Here are five practical life lessons I garnered from this inspirational "Survivor."


John Cochran-from superfan to "Sole Survivor."

1. Change Your Destiny

I was really inspired by your story. To me it is a wonderful example of a dream being realized. Would it be too far of a reach to say that it felt like you fulfilled a part of your destiny when you won?

Thank you so much! That means a ton. My "Survivor" experience was absolutely a dream come true, but I wouldn't necessarily say it felt like I was fulfilling a destiny. Part of what was so exciting about participating on (and eventually winning) "Survivor" was that it felt like such a complete departure from what I had assumed my "destiny" would be. At the time I was playing "Survivor," I was a law student who wasn't especially enthusiastic about pursuing a legal career, but had nonetheless resigned myself to that being my "destiny." By separating me physically, mentally, and emotionally from law school, however, "Survivor" really did open to my eyes to what my "new" destiny could be. It encouraged and inspired me to chase after experiences that I found more gratifying, rather than just following along the path of least resistance.

2. Face Your Fears

What advice would you give to a person who suffers from social anxiety like yourself?

I don't have any especially novel insight or advice, apart to say "exposure" therapy is basically what worked for me. Just forcing yourself -- whether it's diving in headfirst, or in a series of baby steps -- into scenarios that trigger social anxiety, and realizing that you actually can cope with it, and eventually adapt to it in a way that doesn't cause you discomfort. Another little related revelation I had is that a lot of my anxiety is caused by worrying that people I'm with are assuming the worst about me, and hyper-analyzing what they must be thinking about me... The realization that, in truth, most people don't really care enough to expend the energy doing that sort of critical assessing is liberating -- everyone's really too worried about themselves, regardless of whether they articulate it or not, to be that focused on your little quirks and eccentricities.

3. Know Your Strengths (and Weaknesses)

I found it interesting that you said you had to play your own game and not go into the fray trying be the next Boston Rob (a previous and popular winner). How did you play the game that most suited your strengths?

I guess I just did a lot of self-assessing and realized that the only way to play well and win is to recognize my own strengths and weaknesses. Doing that helped me come to the realization that a lot of my weaknesses could even be leveraged as strengths. My general insecurity and self-effacement, for example, which ordinarily would be taken as a very clear weakness, actually proved itself valuable in the context of "Survivor" because it helped establish me as a relatively unthreatening personality, and invited people to console me in a way that built strategic bonds that helped me through the game.

4. Have a Sense of Humor

How did having a great sense of humor help you in "Survivor"?

As fun as it looks on TV, "Survivor" is very, very difficult and boring in person. On the island, we're all hungry, thirsty, tired, irritable, and unable to rely on creature comforts for distraction. In that sort of environment, having a sense of humor -- whether it's self-effacing or even directed at other contestants -- provided much-needed relief from the tedium of day-to-day life out there, and helped reduce tension. Making a joke out of a difficult situation is always preferable to having some big argument or silently sulking.

5. Take Positive Steps Towards Your Dreams

What advice would you give others who were thinking about taking a risk to pursue a dream?

It's trite, but you've really got to go for it. Playing "Survivor" and being a comedy writer, two things I've had the incredible good fortune to experience, were always dreams of mine. But they were dreams that weren't ever going to become realities unless I took some positive step towards realizing them. For "Survivor," that meant sitting down and recording an audition tape, despite how silly the entire experience made me feel. For comedy writing, it required a lot of good luck and timing, but also required me to actually be vulnerable for a moment and very publicly state a dream of mine. My experiences aren't typical, but what is typical is that dreams are unlikely to come true unless you actually act on them. It can be intimidating, but it's well worth it.

For more of John's wisdom and the full interview click here.