Your Past Does Not Define You: The Inspiring True Story of Super Affiliate Mark van Stratum
16 March 2017
If a millionaire told you that he found success after being hit by a train, going to prison, dealing drugs and forgetting friends… would you follow his footsteps?
You may know Mark van Stratum from his career as a dating coach – or perhaps you’ve done business with him in the affiliate marketing space, where he’s found unprecedented success. But you probably don’t know much about his past – and more importantly, what it means to him (and what it doesn’t).
Mark’s upcoming book, Drug of Choice, explains in raw detail how important it is to trust yourself and learn from your mistakes. His inspiring story proves how difficult it is to ignore your past… and how rewarding life can be when you take control and create a bright future instead.
We recently sat down with Mark to ask him about his story, with a focus on the lessons you, as both an affiliate marketer and as a fellow human, can learn from it. He will also give an exclusive talk at the Advidi Adventure celebration this summer, where you can get a chance to share your stories in person. You’ll have to read Drug of Choice to get the whole story… but here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what motivated him to share it:
Note: Some of the text below contains explicit language and vivid descriptions. We included everything because without the whole story, you don’t get the whole lesson… and every little piece of it adds to who he’s become.
First off, who is Mark van Stratum for those who don’t yet know?
I’m a former dating coach for Love Systems. Currently I’m an offer owner and a major affiliate marketer running big volume in several niches through several networks. And since recently, I’m a published author. But before all of that, I lived a completely different life… and not necessarily one that I like to talk about.
Your book, Drug of Choice, is very personal. Why did you decide to share your story?
Funny story. I went back to my old home town to go to a concert. I met a few people from my past, and they talked to me like I was still the same person. As if I was a violent, drug using criminal. But that’s not who I am. I didn’t recognise myself in the way they perceived me at all. I tried to explain to them how much I’ve changed and how I’ve done it. I told them that the way I was behaving in my teens and early twenties was only the result of a bad childhood, not because I was a bad person. I decided to change my life because I didn’t feel good about it at all. But they gave me a questionable look and took everything out of context. I heard from someone that he was convinced that I was actually a big time gangster in another country. He only saw my recent wealth and didn’t understand that I completely changed my mindset and behaviour, that I let go of all the anger and frustration and built a positive group of friends and just worked my ass off. He didn’t even believe me. It was ridiculous.
At the same time, in my current life I sometimes try to explain to people where I came from and the things I used to do. Most of the times they don’t believe me – they think I’m joking, or they just don’t get it at all. Which was fine by me – I don’t like talking about it anyway. But it was just interesting to me that most people can’t even imagine it. The people from my past can’t imagine what my life looks like now. And the people from my current life don’t even believe me when I tell them where I came from.
When I told my publisher, Jesse Krieger, about this, he told me that my story would make a great book. That’s why I started to write. After I sent my first draft to an author friend I know, he called be back the next day and told me he read it in one go, cover to cover. He came up with the logline: The Inspiring True Story Of The One-Armed Criminal Who Mastered Love And Made Millions.
I worked on the book for almost a year after that. I really just wanted to do my best to make a cool story to read and at the same time inspire people to make the right choices. I want to show people that you aren’t defined by your past. And you should never let others tell you what you can or can’t do. Not your parents, not your teachers, not bullies in school… no one!
What was the most difficult part of the writing process?
I wrote about parts of my life that I kept hidden from people. No one really knew what my life looked like before, and I always wanted to keep it that way. I was scared that people would look at me differently if they knew the things I’d done in my past. Prison, using drugs, selling drugs, my violent behavior – those were all things I left behind and never wanted to think about again. Writing about my childhood was very hard as well – losing my arm, being bullied in school, my parents’ divorce – it was very emotional for me. That really was the scariest part of this whole process. In the book I did my best to explain how and why I went down that negative path, but also explain how I went toward the positive as well. It’s all part of the story, so it had to be told. It’s honest, and it’s real.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment – both in life and in affiliate marketing?
I think my biggest personal accomplishment is that I’ve gained the ability to look at my own behaviour and admit to myself when I’m doing something wrong, and then put all my effort and focus toward learning new skills, letting go of bad habits and emotions, and basically letting go of my ego in order to grow. That’s what’s responsible for all the great things that have happened to me. I had to fuck up a lot in order to gain that skill. It was a very painful road, but eventually it’s all worth it.
Which part of the book are you most proud of?
The part where I decide to leave behind my old life. Leave it all behind. Say “fuck it” and just go. It was scary when I did it at the time. But I knew it was the right thing to do. People called me stupid, people called me all kinds of things, but I did it anyway. Looking back now, everyone sees it was a life changing decision. Everything started with that one decision. It was pure determination.
A lot of people may be reading your story and seeing themselves in your shoes before you changed. They know they need to change, but don’t know what the first step looks like. What was the “last straw” that caused your decision to change? And what was the first step you took?
I used to think I had it all figured out. I felt I lived in a stupid town, with stupid people. I became violent and just constantly put myself in situations that caused problems for me. But I blamed everyone else.
Nothing scared me. Being expelled from all the schools I attended, going to prison… I really didn’t care about any of it. Until everything seemed to collapse at the same time.
Everything that I depended on, everything that I was telling myself was valuable to my life, all of it just collapsed. I was left with nothing but the realization that I was the one who caused it all. No need to blame other people any longer. I saw what I did to cause this, and it was all my own fault. From that day on, I didn’t have a choice. It was either change or die. So I changed.
Of the struggles you’ve overcome, which was most difficult to face?
Letting go of old friends. I have always been very emotional about the people I consider to be my friends, and I’ve always wanted them to share in my success. But what I had to learn the hard way is that some of those people weren’t really my friends. They were only people I shared certain bad commonalities with. Usually it was anger or drug use. Those do not form a strong foundation for friendship. It cost me a lot before I saw that. Luckily, in today’s life, I am surrounded by great and positive people. I just needed to grow out of that dark place, and I had to shed the people I met during those days.
Did you have to step outside of your comfort zone to share your story? Now that you’ve shared it, how do you feel?
I actually cried while writing the story. It sounds lame saying it now, but it’s true. When I started, there were certain things I didn’t want to talk about. Losing my arm after being hit by a train and waking up in the hospital with my mother crying next to me, my father leaving us, an ex girlfriend I had to leave behind because she just wouldn’t leave the drug scene with me – those were all things that were too emotional for me. I had never spoken about those things. But they are all in the book now.
Did you learn anything while writing the book?
I’ve come to see everything in perspective. It always felt unfair that so many bad things had to happen to me when I was a child. But now that my whole life is on paper, I see it all makes sense, it was for a reason. I have come to realise that things I learned in my darkest days actually came in handy in my career as a dating coach, and later as an affiliate marketer.
What role did Advidi have in your story?
In my story I mention a few people and companies that have taught me big lessons regarding relationships, business, mindsets, and running affiliate campaigns. Advidi is one of them. When I started working with Advidi I immediately picked up the vibe and company culture Advidi had. There was just a natural flow and energy that helped me to scale the campaigns to incredible heights. I really felt that we built a very personal relationship consisting of trust and the same motivation to move forward.
If you could change a decision you made, which would it be?
There are many mistakes I’ve made that have caused me lots of headaches. But I wouldn’t say I would change them. Because after every period where I felt like shit because of some fuckup, there was a period of learning and then prosperity. If I wouldn’t have made those mistakes, I would not have learned this much.
So yeah… actually… I would change one thing… I would make more mistakes. Not all mistakes are valuable, but I would be much smarter now if I had made a few more that I could learn something from.
What do you think that newcomers in the industry can learn from your experiences?
Don’t limit what you believe is possible. A lot of people think they can’t do something because they don’t have the right education. Or think they can’t start a business because they don’t have a brilliant idea or aren’t as smart as Bill Gates. Guys think they can’t talk to a girl because they are too fat, short, or have one arm. But that’s all in their heads. Yes, you can. You can do it all. Set aside your ego. Your ego is what’s holding you back. Your ego is scared of failure or rejection. You aren’t. Your ego is what’s keeping you from learning. There is no such thing as failure – only feedback.
Spend time with people who are smarter than you, richer than you, more experienced than you. The people you spend time with will influence you, whether you want them to or not. You need good people around you. Treat these people with respect. If you learn how to treat people with respect, they will want you around.
Are you excited to be part of the Advidi Adventure meetup in Amsterdam and talk in front of other affiliates? Which topics will you cover?
Oh yes, I can’t wait! Along with my affiliate marketing experience, I’ll be speaking mainly about personal growth. How to never play the victim. Limiting beliefs. I’ll speak a lot about picking up girls if they’re interested. I’ll speak about the relation between the pick-up scene and internet marketing. The importance of mentors. I’ll speak about my personal journey and some of the setbacks I’ve had, along with how I overcame them – and how you can overcome yours as well.
Meet Mark in Amsterdam
There you have it – the Hunter S. Thompson of affiliate marketing has spoken!
Whether or not you believe in luck – or simply create your own, a la Han Solo – there’s no denying that Mark has had his fair share of the good and the bad. Get your chance to talk with him about your own ups and downs – and what you’ve learned from them – by winning Advidi Adventure. The contest is on now, and Mark is one of many exciting highlights waiting for the winners!
Mark’s book, Drug of Choice, is published by Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press. You can find a hard copy for $19.87 or a Kindle version for $3.19 at http://www.amztk.com/drugofchoice1
Mark will take part in the Advidi Adventure meetup in Amsterdam from 6-9 July 2017. He will have an exclusive Q&A session with the winners of the contest and will sign copies of the book for them.