The Life-Changing Pep Talk That Turned This 'Flip or Flop' Star's Life Around

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Bruce Hulse/Styled by Neil Cohen

The wisdom of learning from failure is indisputable. In this "Secrets From People Who Stumbled" column, ONE37pm will catch up with influential figures who have navigated through a rough patch and used the setback to set themselves up for future successes.

Tarek El Moussa got his competitive spirit and strong work ethic from his father. The 37-year-old star of HGTV’s Flip or Flop earned his real estate license at 21 and was selling multimillion-dollar mansions like hotcakes by 22.

But when the housing bubble burst in the late 2000s, El Moussa went broke and had to move from his million dollar home into his parent’s garage. While sleeping next to the family station wagon surrounded by cans of paint, he devised a plan to rebuild his wealth by flipping ramshackle properties. And in 2011, El Moussa sold the idea of a house-flipping series to HGTV. Now in its seventh season, Flip or Flop remains one of the network’s most-watched shows.  

That’s not El Moussa’s only comeback story.

“One of the most prominent setbacks happened to me in 2013, when I found out I had not one but two different cancers,” El Moussa told ONE37pm. “I had just started filming season two of Flip or Flop. I was in an extreme amount of pain for a year. I lost close to 50 pounds, and I was on opiates for the severe pain I dealt with all day, every day. I couldn’t walk right, couldn’t get out of bed and could barely get dressed.”

El Moussa wasn’t made aware of his cancer until a dedicated Flop fan, registered nurse Ryan Reade, called producers to alert them of the lump he noticed during a binge watch of the program in 2013. "I noticed that at certain angles, at certain times, it just caught my eye that Tarek had a lump on his throat," Reade told TODAY, "and I thought it was something that needed to be brought to his attention." El Moussa’s health took a toll on his mental and physical well-being, but he said he was determined to not be a victim.

“I told myself to be a fighter, be a winner, be a warrior and do everything I could to fight my way back,” El Moussa recalled. “Self-belief is important to move forward and never quit. One’s mind is a powerful tool. One of my favorite quotes about success is, ‘In order to achieve success, one must visualize the result before taking the action.’”

El Moussa attributes his triumphs to being open about his journey.

“My success came when I shared my story with the world,” he said. “Because of my struggles, I was able to help others. My story went viral and because of that—lives were saved. Many people found out they also had cancer because of the exposure I created about awareness.”

The father of two encourages people to embrace setbacks and think of failure as part of the process.

“It’s impossible to create success without a multitude of failures,” he says. “Every time we fail we learn something new. The ones who never quit regardless of how hard something is are the ones who succeed.

“I would tell my younger self to do exactly what I did, but to be happier and less stressed while doing it.”

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