YouTuber and comedian Zach Anner has a saying these days: “Once you’ve crapped your pants and lived to tell the tale, you can do almost anything.”
He’s referring to one of the many humbling stories from his new book If At Birth You Don’t Succeed, a characteristically hilarious and candid book about growing up with cerebral palsy, winning a reality TV contest with Oprah’s OWN channel and becoming an unlikely-yet-inspiring fitness guru and YouTube celebrity with more than 10 million views.
In a phone interview with What’s Trending, Zach explained that every great opportunity he’s had along the way has been paved with horribly embarrassing moments - but he’s been able to put them in perspective and learn from them.
“On the second day of the Oprah reality show, I went in there and I was like ‘I want to portray people with disabilities as independent and not helpless, they can do everything themselves,” he said. “And on the second day I ended up crapping my pants. My biggest fear was that stomach problems would rear their head, and then it happened. And I went on to win the show anyway.”
Much of Zach’s story is common knowledge in the YouTube community by now - how he uploaded a submission to a contest sponsored by Oprah that received over 2 million votes, hosted a wheelchair travel show called “Rollin’ With Zach,” inspired John Mayer to write a song about him, and launched an exercise show on YouTube called “Workout Wednesday” that inspired a remix video from the Gregory Brothers. He’s also hosted two shows for Rainn Wilson’s “Soul Pancake” channel - a light-hearted take on religion called “Have a Little Faith,” and a parody news show called “Top of the Monday” focusing on positive and silly headlines.
Writing If At Birth You Don’t Succeed was a way for Zach to go a little deeper into that story and explain to his devoted followers why he has the crazy, blessed life that he does.
“It really was a response to the question that I get most often, which is how do you stay so positive all the time. I wanted to show people that it’s not really like I’m a sunny person all the time - you go through a lot of struggles in your life, and you can choose to look at them through an optimistic lens or through a pessimistic one.”
Part of that journey was learning to look at his most embarrassing moments with compassion and optimism. By sharing those moments in the book, he hopes to give people a boost of confidence in their own lives as well as make them laugh.
“I say in the opening of the book that I’ve now published everything that up until this point I was too afraid to tell my mother. I don’t really hold anything back in the book - it’s a means to make people feel a little more comfortable in their own skin and more accepting of the struggles that they’re going through.”
Finding romance was a particular struggle for Zach until a few years ago, because he would keep psyching himself out and focusing on all the ways approaching a girl could go wrong - there’s an entire chapter about manscaping, and “me freaking out about my undercarriage not looking up to snuff.” Once he figured out that he was approaching love with a negative outlook, he was able to shift his perspectives and have a successful relationship with musician Gilllian Grassie.
“One of the main themes of the book is you have to be kinder to yourself,” he says. “You never really know what the embarrassing thing means until you have perspective on it, and you can use what you’ve learned from those experiences to make a great life.”
Friendship is another major focus of the book - Zach has gathered extensive support network of friends cheering him on and helping him reach his goals, both in person and on the internet. Reddit, in particular, has helped many of his videos go viral.
“I have the best fucking fans - and I know everybody says that, but I have looked at other people’s fan bases. People are so positive towards me. I’ve been very, very blessed to have people that are digging what I’m putting out there. They really are just open to sharing their most intimate and personal details of their lives, and it really matters when people are telling me personal stories and being so supportive.”
His travel show “Riding Shotgun” was all about traveling to different places based on Redditors’ suggestions, and hanging out with people he met on the internet.
“It was the most rewarding professional experience ever, because you realize the internet is this collective of anonymous people usually, and then you realize there’s so many good individuals behind it. We went to so many amazing places just because Redditors hooked us up. We went to waterfalls in the wilderness, and we went up mountains, and to fancy restaurants. Of course in Montreal, the first thing they wanted us to do was go to a strip club. It was a real mix, and it was great because we found amazing people in every city.”
If at Birth You Don’t Succeed will offer his fans a deeper look at the emotional struggles and difficulties of his life than what we see on his YouTube channel - not because his online persona isn’t genuine, but because he believes that when the camera is on, it’s his job to be an inspiring and uplifting figure for his followers. Knowing that people are counting on him is one of the ways he finds the silver lining in everything.
“If I’m having a really crappy day because I’m going through something, the thing that helps me find that energy is I know how much it means to people. I get feedback all the time that even the most ridiculous thing that I put out there, even the videos that I think are pretty dumb, have a real impact on people. And that’s something that I don’t take for granted. So yes, there are days that are darker than others, but still, when I turn that camera on, I think about the people that are counting on me to bring them a little light and joy. And that helps me find it.”
Ultimately, he wants his book to show people that their own hopes and dreams are not beyond their reach, even if the path forward is a long and difficult one.
“I just want them to think, ‘Wow, if this guy can make a successful career, then I have to be prouder of the journey that I’ve taken.’ I also want people to close the book and think, ‘I need to take a naked selfie with this book.’ If I could get lots of tweets from people in awkward poses with the book, that would be amazing.”
If at Birth You Don't Succeed hits shelves and your favorite online stores on March 8.