Tortured, Robbed, Hunted, Stabbed, Displaced—Enormously Successful

By: Joe De Sena

What would you do if you were held hostage for 92 hours, hung upside down and whipped until you bled, given electric shocks, slapped, punched, kicked, and stabbed in the ears by people you didn’t even know, and then robbed of everything you owned until you were homeless, friendless, and broke in a foreign country?

I bet you have never even thought that something like that could happen to you.

This past summer, I talked with Karim Jaude, who told me how all of that happened to him—and you would not believe where he is now.

This man, who back in the 70s owned some of the biggest real estate companies in Iran and Lebanon, got kidnapped, tortured in all the ways I just listed, and interrogated by seven different groups who all wanted his money. He finally escaped between the seventh and eighth interrogations; he was released on three conditions: sign over everything he owned to his captors, leave Lebanon immediately, and never talk about being tortured. He was put on the first plane out of Beirut in his dirty clothes and his bloodstained shirt. He woke up in a hospital in Geneva.

I recommend you listen to the whole podcast with Karim Jaude, because it’s unreal.

Fast forward. After spending years on the run in a full-body black cloak from people he didn’t even know—he finally ended up on a plane to the United States. He had $17 in his pocket, no family, no friends, and no home.

What did he do?

He went on with his life.

At 40 years old, Karim had a lot of experience in real estate, so he started looking around his area—on a bicycle, because he had literally no money—for houses to buy. You have to keep in mind that at that time there was no Internet, and no apps to find houses for sale. What Karim did was find the houses on his bicycle, look up their previous owners, talk to them and write to them.

He made an offer on every house on the market.

Now, keep in mind that Karim only had $17. All he had was his vision and his determination. It turns out that Karim’s investment of his own time and his own sweat blew his lawyers away, and they invested $30,000 so Karim could renovate his first property in the United States. It was amazing—he remembered exactly where the house was.

“We bought the first house in Mar Vista, on Inglewood Boulevard, between Venice and Washington,” he said.

When he said that, he had this smile that made it so clear that it was one of the proudest moments of his life. When the first house was finished, he sold it and bought three more with the profits. “The rest is history,” he said.

Now, Karim is in his 70s holding seminars on success.

How does a person like Karim go through so much and still come out with the momentum to move forward? I have to wonder, does going through a terrible struggle actually make a person successful? I asked Karim, and he said something that I still think about every day.

One day, around 1945, Karim and his father were talking about the war. Karim asked his father, “Dad, you said the war is over. How come there [are] still innocent people being killed? He hugged me and told me, ‘Sonny, in the history of man, there has never been justice in the world, and there will never ever be, but what you and I can do is to help reduce other people’s suffering and not to add to [it].’”

The rest of Karim’s life came out of that grounding belief. “To be able to start a foundation, I had to make money,” he said. So that’s what he did.

Even after he was kidnapped and tortured, Karim never gave up. In Karim’s mind, a person always has two choices: “You can either sit in the corner and whine, or you can go on with your life.” After every setback, he just kept on overcoming and overcoming obstacles.

Many of Karim’s friends who were tortured ended up taking their own lives after they were released. But because of Karim’s driving belief in reducing others’ suffering, he had hope for his future. Because his father had told him at an early age that he could always count on another day of adversity, Karim was able to have a vision that outlived his own suffering.

These lessons are the kind of lessons we are trying to teach through the Agoge. In the Agoge, we talk to the candidates about their True North—the one thing in life that drives them crazy that is the reason behind everything they do. In order to have a spirit like Karim’s, Spartans need to think:

  • What is my True North? What’s pulling me forward when everything is against me?
  • What would keep me moving forward after being tortured? Or would I cave in under the pressure?
  • Do I believe that there’s justice in the world? Could I keep moving forward even if the answer was no?

Karim is not the only person I’ve come across who has become supercharged by adversity. I talked to Meb Keflezighi, the Boston and New York marathon champion and Olympic medalist, about how your motivation can be saved by a goal that’s bigger than yourself. The team talked with Monty Halls, the adventurer, who believes that our best selves—the best predators on the planet—come out only when we struggle. We also met with world-record-holding ultra-marathoner Mimi Anderson, who reminded us that, if we don’t push ourselves out of our comfort zones, we’re not going to grow. If we figure out our True Norths like Karim did early on, we can actually do that, and go out of our comfort zones, and struggle—and survive.

To whine in the corner, or go on with your life…which is going to be your story?

Spartan up. Sign up.

Joe De Sena

CEO and founder, Spartan Race

For more inspiring stories and lessons on success, listen to the Spartan Up! Podcast, available on iTunes.