Multimillionaire celebrity coach Tony Robbins shares a life-changing moment that forever changed how he thinks about money

Kathleen Elkins

He went from a cash-strapped upbringing to an estimated net worth of $440 million, has coached some of the wealthiest people in the world, and even wrote a book about mastering your money, "MONEY: Master The Game."

His financial perspective is unique — he does not equate wealth with a dollar sign — and he recently shared the defining moment that shaped this outlook on Farnoosh Torabi's "So Money" podcast. 

Robbins was 11 years old, but he remembers the moment with clarity: It was Thanksgiving Day, and his family could not afford to put food on the table. The financial strains coupled with the stress of a holiday had generated a tense argument between his parents, he recounted to Torabi, but it was cut short by a knock on the door:

I open the door and there's a tall man there with all this food, saying, "Is your dad here?" It was mindboggling. It was a gift from God as far as I was concerned, and I went and grabbed my father. He didn't respond too well to the idea of charity, even though we were starving ...

But my dad took the food and it changed my life. Before that happened, my father and my family had always said, "Nobody gives a damn about anybody else."

There was so much evidence that people could be so selfish, mean, and harsh — especially when you're struggling financially — oftentimes, that's all you notice in the world. But I couldn't deny that strangers cared ... And so I thought, "If strangers care about me, I'm caring about strangers."

I decided that day, that someday — and I didn't call it "pay it forward" in those days — but someday I'm going to pay it back.

To this day he doesn't know who delivered the food, but the memory of that stranger would go on to affect how Robbins made each of his financial decisions, starting with his first one, which came six years later. He was a broke 17-year-old just starting his career, but managed to find the means to feed two families.

The ability to give when in such a difficult financial position gave him a sense of freedom — freedom from fear, or from money controlling him, and that is how he defines of wealth, he told Torabi

"I gave when I didn't have anything, and it became natural for me," he said on the podcast. "People say, 'When I'm rich, I'll give.' They're lying. If you won't give a dime out of a dollar, there's no way you're going to give a 100 million out of a billion. But if you can do it today, the biggest thing that giving does, is it teaches your brain there's more than enough."

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