Make Fear Your Ally and Adversity Your TeacherSocial Sciences
After leaving Dr. Wellington, Charlie had gone back home and worked on his Empowerment Pyramid Workbook. Incorporating many of the insights he’d learned from his trip to the Grand Canyon with Mitch Matsui and in his hyper-hypnosis session with Dr. Wellington, he was able to achieve a level of clarity previously inaccessible to him. Now, on one piece of paper, he had distilled a sense of purpose and direction that could serve as a guide for refining his own memories of the future. He picked it up and read it again.
The first block of the Empowerment Pyramid – IDENTITY – had yielded the biggest surprise. His real identity was totally incompatible with being a business consultant and corporate bureaucrat. In fact, for as long as he pursued that path, he was destined to eventual failure. He now realized that his authentic identity was much more as a crusader and as an entrepreneur. He shuddered to realize how badly he had distorted the “real him” to make it fit inside a cubicle at LPI.
The day he was working on his mission statement to include in the Pyramid’s second block – MISSION – Charlie happened to read a cover article in Fortune magazine called “Finished at 40.” It was about people just like him who, as they approached what should have been their peak earning years, had been let go by their companies. Ironically, Charlie found himself feeling distinctly unsympathetic to the complaints of people worried about their big houses and fancy cars, their six-figure paychecks, and their 401(k) plans. If they would spend less time whining about the temporary reduction they might have to make in their standard of living and spend more time figuring out how they could make a real contribution, they’d be much happier, he found himself thinking. In the long run, they’d probably be a lot richer to boot! These people need a support group, Charlie thought, an organized program that could teach them the skills and give them the courage to let go of the past, to stop worrying about money and status, and to think big, dream big, and achieve big. There was, Charlie knew, no such support group. Was it possible, he wondered, to build a successful business by creating programs of this type? It would certainly be compatible with his newly discovered sense of identity. He started writing, and after several drafts, had a mission statement with a solid ring of authenticity:
My mission is to build a worldwide organization that gives people tools and resources that will help them create meaning and also create wealth in their lives and in the lives of others.
Charlie had known he was on the right track when he shared it with Pam and she smiled and gave him a big hug. “Create the meaning and the wealth will create itself,” she’d said, with a lot more confidence than Charlie felt at the time. But the mission excited him and he spent many subsequent hours working on a vision statement to implement it:
What would the world look like if I were becoming the person I am truly meant to be, and enthusiastically pursuing my real mission in life?
Just as Dr. Wellington had said it would, every time he tried to create a mental picture of his vision for the ideal future, the weeds of doubt began to cover it up. Using his new “weedwhacker” was the first real use he put to the tools she’d given him, and he was surprised at how effective it was. The images had begun to flow more and more smoothly, one into another. In his mind, he saw a whole catalog with the types of products that had been so helpful to him in recent weeks – like The Janitor in Your Attic and the Empowerment Pyramid Workbook. Charlie envisioned groups of people meeting every week, all across the country, to support and encourage each other – and periodically, everyone coming together at huge conventions. Naturally, with his technical background at LPI, he also saw a big role for Internet-based programs.
Soon, the vision was growing too fast for the weeds to keep up with it. Charlie saw himself leading small groups of inward-explorers into great places like the Grand Canyon, in much the same way Mitch Matsui had led him several months earlier. Cross country bike rides, youth programs, entrepreneurship festivals, summer success camps – Charlie smiled to think that Spike would have to add an additional aisle of shelving in the attic just to hold all the new boxes full of ideas. The vision was beginning to be a bit overwhelming, but the immediate action steps were becoming crystal clear. Charlie would need help, and he would need money.
So now, he found himself standing outside the door of his bank. Earlier in the day, he’d signed a licensing agreement with Dr. Wellington to develop a family of products built around The Janitor in Your Attic theme, and had incorporated his company as The Courage Place, Inc. at his attorney’s office. And several minutes ago, he had signed the biggest loan he’d ever taken out, pledging the entirety of his personal assets as collateral. Suddenly, he felt like someone who had just started down a very steep mountain on a pair of skis. There was no stopping, there was no turning back. It was exhilarating. It was terrifying.
Charlie had no more appointments that day, the sun was shining, and Pam had taken the kids to a symphony rehearsal to teach them culture – after bribing them with a promise of pizza and ice cream afterwards – so he decided to take a walk. Feeling pulled to his right, he headed down the street. After several blocks, he felt a tug toward the left, so he followed it. After a few more turns, he realized his feet were leading him towards the Downtown Gym, run by his old friend Nick Amatuzzo.
Nick had been a champion professional fighter. He’d also been an alcoholic and a drug addict. He’d known both the winning side and the losing sides of life. For the past twenty years, he’d put his heart and soul into the Downtown Gym. It had started as a haven for troubled boys whose only alternative might have been life with the gangs, but later evolved into one of the city’s most popular recreation and fitness clubs. Though he was now back on the winning side of life, Nick never forgot the lessons he learned from his days of trouble, and never gave up on his commitment to the kids.
As he rounded the corner, Charlie saw the big sign over the gym’s front window – and the message that had drawn him there in the first place, years ago:
Make Fear You Ally
Make Adversity Your Teacher
Charlie saw Nick prowling through the weight room talking with clients and making sure everything was just right. He knew he could expect a warm welcome. Not only were they good friends, but he and Pam had been among the gym’s most generous supporters in its early days. Pam even picked Nick’s kids up after school and gave them rides to the gym.
Charlie waited by the counter, watching Nick make his way through the weight room. He didn’t recognize many of the people working out, but Nick seemed to know everyone. He stopped for a bit longer at the bench press station, yelling encouragement at a powerfully-built young man who was straining to lift a barbell that Charlie guessed to weigh about as much as a Volkswagen. A final heave pushed the bar to a position above its resting cradle, where Nick and another spotter guided it home. The young man sat up and Charlie recognized Bill Duffey, one of the young men that Pam used to pick up after school. Duffey was one of Nick’s success stories; he’d earned a degree from Saint Johns and now worked as a loan officer for the biggest bank in town – the bank to which Charlie had just mortgaged all of his earthly possessions.
Eventually, Nick saw Charlie and walked over. “You’re getting a little pudgy, there, marshmallow,” he kidded, poking Charlie in the ribs. “Where’s your gear? There’s an exercise bike out there with your name on it. You know what old Teddy R. said, that it’s better to wear out than it is to rust out.”
“Not today, Nick. I’ll come in over the weekend – promise. But if you’ve got some time, I actually have something serious I’d like to talk with you about.”
Nick looked suddenly concerned. “Everything okay at home, Charlie, with Pam and the kids?”
“Yeah, Nick, everything’s fine. It’s really more about work. I got fired, you know. I don’t work at LPI anymore.”
“Gee, I hadn’t heard that. How long ago?”
“Hmph.” Nick scratched a bristly cheek and looked down at the floor. “Back in the workforce, huh? That’s what happened to most of the guys here right now.”
“Really?” Charlie guessed there were at least fifty people working out in the weight room and on the exercise machines beyond.
“Sure. Look at the clock.” Charlie checked the wall behind the counter. It was 3:15 in the afternoon. “A year, two years ago, most of these guys were sitting behind desks at some company downtown. Then one day, Bang!” Nick smashed his right fist into his left palm to emphasize the point, “they get a pink slip and they’re back in the workforce.”
Charlie shook his head. “You mean they’re out of the workforce, don’t you?”
Nick laughed. “Heck, no, I don’t. What most of those guys were doing wasn’t really work. They were sitting in boring meetings, writing memos, talking on the phone. Now, they’re coming face-to-face with the fact that no one’s gonna pay ’em to do that anymore. They’re gonna have to start making something that someone else wants and then sell it to them at a profit, or they’re gonna starve.”
Nick looked into the weight room and shook his head. “Look at ’em, Charlie, all pumped up and strutting around like Greek gods. And you know what? Inside, most of ’em are scared to death.”
Now Charlie laughed. “So am I, Nick. Getting thrown out of the old comfortable workplace and into the tough new workforce is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever been through.”
Nick put an arm around Charlie’s shoulders and started walking back around the reception counter toward his office. Event though it had been over twenty years since Nick had been in the ring, he was still hard as stainless steel. Charlie guessed that facing Nick in the ring would still be far more terrifying than entering into a competitive marketplace.
One whole wall of Nick’s office was lined with pictures of famous fighters. Most of them were pictured shaking hands with, or shaking a fist at, Nick. It was a who’s-who of the ring: Dempsey, Ali, Hagler, both Sugar Rays, Forman and Fraser, and many others Charlie didn’t recognize. In the place of honor behind Nick’s desk, however, were pictures of men much less famous, but who owned the lion’s share of Nick’s heart: the boys he’d helped raise from juvenile delinquency to adult responsibility. Without asking Charlie whether he wanted one, Nick poured both men a cup of coffee as they sat at his small conference table. “Nick, you’re getting soft in your old age,” Charlie chided. “Real chairs?” In the early days, Nick’s office had been outfitted like a boxing ring, with turnbuckles in all the corners and nothing to sit on but the stubby little stools that fighters rested on between rounds.
“Had to do it for the yuppies,” Nick replied. “We’d give ’em the grand tour of the place and they’d be ready to sign up. Then we’d bring them back here and have ’em sit on a stool, and they’d get cold feet, wanna go home and think about it for a while. Before long, we’d find out they’d signed up at the Pink Slipper Boutique.” Nick was referring to his cross-town competitor, which catered to a softer crowd. “So what’s on your mind, Charlie?”
Charlie sipped Nick’s industrial strength coffee and began. “I’ve decided to start my own business, Nick. You know Cheryl von Noyes, don’t you?” Nick nodded. “She says that the letters J-O-B stand for jilted, obsolete, and broke. I don’t ever want to be in that position again, so I’m going to take charge of my own destiny. I incorporated it today. It’s called The Courage Place. I’m still working on the details, but it’s going to be a membership organization that’s part support group, part training center, and part adventure team.”
“That’s terrific, Charlie!” Nick beamed. “Heck, I bet we could walk out to the exercise room right now and sign up fifty guys. So what’s bothering you?”
Charlie blew softly across hid coffee cup. “The problem is that I’m scared to death.”
Nick’s laughter boomed off the walls and the ceiling. “That’s good, Charlie, that’s real good. Better scared than stupid! Most of the time I went into that ring,” and Nick pointed to an old poster that had a picture of a boxing ring superimposed with photos of Nick and some long-forgotten opponent, “I was scared. I could never make the fear go away, so I figured I might as well make friends with it. As long as it was going to hang around, I thought I should at least put it to work. And I did. I made fear my ally.”
Charlie had never seen Nick sit still for more than a few minutes, and today was no exception. Now he stood up and shadow-boxed an unseen opponent, throwing a left-right-left combination, and finishing with a sharp upper cut. “Fear is quite an opponent, Charlie. Mine’s not as tough as he used to be, but he’s still there. Every day. Every time my accountant walks through the front door. Every time the Pink Slipper runs a new ad campaign. Fear’s still there, telling me that the fight’s not over yet, so I better not let down my guard.”
“How do you do that?” Charlie asked. “Make fear your ally? How do you make adversity your teacher? If they’re going to show up for the fight anyway, I’d sure like to have them in my corner.”
Nick folded his arms and looked towards the door. “You’ve got the hard part figured out already, Charlie, which is more than a lot of the macho studs out there right now have done.”
Charlie shook his head. “I’m not sure I understand, Nick.”
“You’ve seen the young bulls out there with those t-shirts that say No Fear?” Charlie nodded, and Nick responded with a contemptuous snort. “No fear means no courage. Someone with no fear may be reckless, but they’re not brave. No fear, no courage. Big fear, big courage!”
Nick sat back down again and drank some coffee. “Early in my fighting career, I developed my own formula for making fear my ally and for making adversity a teacher. I teach that formula to all these young people who come into the gym’s youth program. I tried to get the local school system to build it into the curriculum, because too many kids are scared today, and no one’s teaching them how to handle it.” Nick shook his head and popped back out of the chair. “They laughed at me. Said it wasn’t their job. But they’re wrong; it darn well should be their job.”
Nick picked up a book from his desk and tossed it on the table in front of Charlie. “Have you read that yet?” Charlie shook his head. “Well, you should. It’ll teach you how to worry well.” Charlie picked up the book and read the cover – Worry by Edward R. Hallowell. “You know what he says is the biggest learning disability of all? Worse than dyslexia, worse than attention deficit disorder?” Charlie shook his head. “Fear. When you’re afraid, you don’t learn. Fear and curiosity are mutually exclusive. I’ll tell you this, we’d have a lot fewer kids in trouble if the schools would teach emotional skills for courage and perseverance alongside the three R’s. That’s another reason why I have all my kids memorize The Self-Empowerment Pledge. Oh, they complain at first, but in later years I’ve had them tell me it’s the most important thing they’ve ever done.” Nick walked over to a table on the corner and came back with a laminated card, which he handed to Charlie. “Memorize these promises, Charlie, internalize them, make them part of the fabric of who you are. Every single day, you make that day’s promise to yourself and you keep making it until you start keeping it. That’s the sort of empowerment that no one can take away from you, not ever.”
Monday’s Promise: Responsibility
I will take complete responsibility for my health, my happiness, my success, and my life, and will not blame others for my problems or predicaments.
Tuesday’s Promise: Accountability
I will not allow low self-esteem, self-limiting beliefs, or the negativity of others to prevent me from achieving my authentic goals and from becoming the person I am meant to be.
Wednesday’s Promise: Determination
I will do the things I’m afraid to do, but which I know should be done. Sometimes this will mean asking for help to do that which I cannot do by myself.
Thursday’s Promise: Contribution
I will earn the help I need in advance by helping other people now, and repay the help I receive by serving others later.
Friday’s Promise: Resilience
I will face rejection and failure with courage, awareness, and perseverance, making these experiences the platform for future acceptance and success.
Saturday’s Promise: Perspective
I will have faith that, though I might not understand why adversity happens, by my conscious choice I can find strength, compassion, and grace through my trials.
Sunday’s Promise: Faith
My faith and my gratitude for all that I have been blessed with will shine through in my attitudes and in my actions.
Nick sat back down again as Charlie read the seven promises, only this time he pulled his chair up against the table as though he intended to stay for a while. Pulling a yellow pad in front of him, he sketched a square and a diamond. “The one thing you must never lose,” he said, “is your hope. On this paper I’ve drawn the despair square and the hope diamond. The despair square,” and as he spoke he traced the four corners of the square, “is despair leading to pessimism leading to inaction leading to failure.” Now he moved his pen to the diamond. “The hope diamond is hope leading to optimism leading to action leading to success. Without hope, it’s hard to find courage.”
“You also need energy. Courage and energy go hand-in-hand. Courage without energy is nothing but good intentions. Energy without courage is as likely to run away as it is to stand and fight. That’s why your business plan had better include renewing your membership in the Downtown Gym, Charlie! You better get in shape so you can have the energy to fight fear. Fear can be an ally if you subdue it, but if you don’t, it will be the most deadly enemy you ever face.”
Charlie smiled sheepishly. “I’ll be in on Saturday with a check, Nick. But I’m not really sure what you mean when you say that fear can be an ally. My fear has always seemed like the worst of enemies.”
“Fear can be an ally in four different ways,” Nick responded. “First, it can simply be a warning that you’re not ready for something. Whenever I climbed into the ring, the magnitude of my fear usually had more to do with how well I’d prepared than with the caliber of my opponent. When my legs and my belly were strong, I could stand in there with anyone; when I’d cheated myself by slacking off on training, I knew I could get knocked out by a nobody from nowheresville who happened to toss a lucky punch in my direction.”
Nick rubbed his jaw as though feeling the residue of an ancient knockout blow. “When you’re running a business, man, there’s a lot to be afraid of. Of course, you can always run out of money. And you can run out of time. You can get cheated by your employees. If you’re not a good boss, you can end up cheating your employees. So you take an accounting course and discipline yourself to look at the books at the end of every day so you won’t run out of money. That makes fear of bankruptcy your ally. You read a book on time management and you stop watching TV so you have time to watch your business. That makes fear of deadlines your ally. You do a better job of screening new employees to make sure they fit the values you want your company to stand for, and you spend time getting to know them and building up their trust. That makes fear of getting cheated your ally. And you learn how to become a better leader, someone who doesn’t just care about making the most money, but is even more concerned about making the most of his people. That makes fear of inadequacy your ally. And so on and so on.”
Listening to Nick speak now, Charlie could hardly imagine that he once made a living by pummeling other human beings into senselessness.
“The second way fear can be an ally is that it can tell you when you’re on the wrong path in life. When your heart is pulling you in one direction, but your feet are following the paycheck in another, you’re going to live with a lot of fear. I’m guessing that the last year or so at LPI you suffered from a sort of chronic dread. Am I right?”
“Knockout!” Nick smiled.
“That’s because your heart didn’t belong there but your ego didn’t want to believe it. You were to used to the paycheck and the perks. But when the emotional price you were paying for the pay and the perks started to escalate, your fear started to rise. That kind of fear is like a cancer that will eat away at you, and as long as you keep walking down the wrong path it will never be your ally. But once you turn around…”
Nick paused for a moment, then pointed at Charlie.
“You told me you were terrified when you walked out of the bank today, but you had the wrong diagnosis. What you were really feeling was the exhilaration of a new beginning, like a kid about to go on a roller coaster for the first time. That’s the magic that transforms fear into an ally. Look at the card again, and read Wednesday’s Promise on Determination.”
Charlie did as he was told, then Nick continued. “The third way fear can be an ally is when you recognize it as a call to action. When I had my shot at the title, I got a videotape of some of Alport’s biggest fights. Alport never had the notoriety of Hagler or Hearns, but I’ll tell you, he was every bit as tough. When I watched tapes of him punching a man into a meatball, my blood turned to ice.” Nick was silent for a moment. “You know, Alport killed a man once. They were just sparring, for heaven’s sake. The other guy had on a helmet and everything. Alport hit him so hard they say he was dead before he hit the canvas. And I had to go into the ring with that man! I was scared, of course, but I was also proud. I didn’t just want to live through that fight, I wanted to win it. I trained like a monster. When the opening bell sounded that night in Madison Square Garden, I was faster and stronger and more confident than I’d ever been in my whole life.”
Nick momentarily retreated into his memories, his gaze on a poster taped to the far wall. “I’ll never forget the way Alport tried to stare me down. There was murder in his eyes; it seemed that the ref’s instruction took three hours that night. But you know, something funny had happened: my fear had become hard, just like I was. Like iron forged in the fire, my fear was transformed into an angry determination.”
Nick’s eyes went soft as he relived his moment under the spotlight. “It went all fifteen rounds – that was back in the days that championship fights were longer, you know.” Nick had a sort of melancholy smile, nostalgia without regret. “He beat me pretty convincingly that night, Charlie, but I won the bigger fight. I won the respect of my fear. And we’ve had a pretty good relationship ever since.”
Nick brought the coffee pot over and refilled both cups. “The fourth way fear can be an ally is most important. Fear can be a call to faith. The things we’re most afraid of, like dying, are things we really can’t do anything about. So we make a choice. Do we face dying with fear or do we face it with faith? Every time I went through those padded red ropes into the ring, I crossed myself and left my life in God’s hands. And you know what? Even though the other guy in the ring was determined to hurt me as bad as he could, I’ve never felt safer in a funny sort of way, like God was telling me he wasn’t done using me in this world just yet, and to go out there and do my best and leave the outcome to him. God never let me down.”
Nick was back in his chair, but squirming like he wouldn’t be sitting still for very long. “Today I’m afraid of different things, of course. No one is trying to knock my head off, at least not in a physical sense. In business, it’s things like rejection and failure we’re afraid of, not getting a physical beating. But you know what? It’s like I tell my kids.” Nick was back up, marching over to the wall adorned with pictures of his young charges. “Rejection is like the red badge of courage. It may hurt for a while, but the more rejection you’re willing to take, the more successful you can be. Cowards don’t get rejected very often, because they don’t even try. And failure is like the medal of honor. You can be a hero if you try something and fail, but you’ll never make anything of yourself if you avoid failure by failing to try.”
Charlie looked over at the wall of fight photos. There in the center was a
black and white picture of Nick and another man standing inside a boxing ring, separated by a referee. Nick’s face looked like it had been run over by a Sherman Tank. The ref was raising the other man’s hand, but something in Nick’s expression told you that he had won the bigger fight that night. He stood proud and tall, beat-up but unbeatable.
“I’ve heard you talk about twelve steps of courage and perseverance, Nick. Can you tell me what they are?” Charlie had been making notes in his steno pad, and turned to a new page.
“Certainly,” Nick replied. He cracked his knuckles loudly, then shook his head as if to say I gotta stop doing that one of these days. “There are six each – six steps for courage and six steps for perseverance. The first step to building your courage is understanding your fear, to identify it. If you give fear a name, it becomes just a problem, and it’s a lot easier to solve problems than it is to conquer fear. Let me give you an example. Johnny Dolan is one of the kids in our after-school program. He comes in the other day and shows me his report card. It’s terrible! The boy’s darn near flunking out of school. And he’s afraid his daddy’s gonna give him a whipping. So I asked him what the problem was. He says that his daddy’s gonna whup him. No, I said, that’s your fear. The problem is that you’re not doing very well in school. I asked him to write down a list of things he could do to fix the problem – like spending more time studying instead of watching TV, or asking his teachers for help. Then I told him to circle the ones he was willing to make the commitment to do. Well, you wanna know what happened?”
“When Johnny showed his daddy that report card plus his plan of action for making it better the next time, not only did he not get a whippin’, his daddy actually took him right down to the office supply store to buy him a new organizer, because being disorganized was part of the problem he identified. Fear is imaginary, so you can’t really make it go away, but problems are real. You can fix them, and then fear becomes your ally.” Nick held a fist to his chest and nodded.
“The second step is to talk to your fear, to understand what it’s trying to tell you. When I decided to expand, to go from being just a gym for tough street kids to being an upscale health club, it was the scariest time of my life. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a knot in my stomach. That never happened when I was boxing, not even before the big fights. Finally, I decided to have a conversation with my fear, ask it what the problem was.”
Nick looked at Charlie as if to make sure he didn’t think this was too silly, then went on. “You know what my fear told me?”
“That my laziness was going to get me into big trouble. See, up to that point I had just assumed that running a health club would be pretty much like running a gym, but on a bigger scale. But my subconscious mind, and the fear it was creating, wasn’t so sure. It wanted me to do some market research, to interview a couple dozen health club owners in other cities, and maybe to hire a consultant who specialized in that area, before I started pouring my life savings into a new building. You know what happened to my fear when I started doing all those things?”
“It went away?”
“Where have you been for the last hour!” Nick bellowed. “Have I been talking to a wall or something! Fear never goes away, at least not in this world. It became my ally. Whenever I’d feel the fear come back again, I talked to it. ‘What do I have to do to convince you this time?’ I’d ask it. And it would tell me. Sometimes,” Nick continued, going back to pacing the room, “fear wouldn’t like my answer. And then I had a choice: either to give into the fear and not do what I was about to do, or to talk back to it, to put it in its place. You’ll be amazed at how cowardly fear can be when you stand up to it.” Nick glared over at Alport’s picture on the wall, and Charlie wondered if he kept it up there just to keep himself motivated.
“The third step is to get connected. If you’re trying to do something important, you’ll never do it alone. The feeling of being alone against the world can be one of the most frightening experiences anywhere. When I was a fighter, I had a whole team in my corner, and I had a coach. I still do have a coach. Only now, it’s a business coach, someone who can teach me new skills and knowledge, help me stay on track, and give me a new perspective on my problems and my opportunities. I spend four or five hours every week networking, meeting new people and building better relationships with people I already know. The more connected I feel to other people, and the more people I know understand and support my dreams and goals, the more courage I seem to have.”
“Who’s your coach,” Charlie asked, “and what are some of the groups you belong to?”
“You ever hear of Ryan Bennett?”
“The bedroom billionaire?”
Nick laughed. “You read his book, huh?”
“Yeah. Pretty amazing, how a guy turned a business he started in his bedroom into a billion dollar empire.”
“Yep. Well, back when he was just getting started, he had this coaching program. He’d meet with a group of us every month, share his wisdom, give us homework, critique our business plans, and mostly just give us the shot in the arm and the kick in the ass we all needed to get moving. Now, of course, he’s got a whole team of people he’s trained to be coaches using his philosophy. And I’ve stayed with the program, year after year.”
“Don’t you ever reach a point where you don’t need it anymore?”
“Charlie, think of the greatest professional athletes who ever played in any sport: Ali, Joe Montana, Flo-Jo, Michael Jordan, Kathy Rigby. Name any one of them who got so good they didn’t need a coach anymore. Just one.”
Charlie was silent.
“No matter how good you think you are or how much you think you know, one of the best investments you can ever make is having a good coach in your corner.
“After you get connected to people, the fourth step is to become detached from things. The more attached you are to your possessions, your lifestyle, your job, the more you set yourself up for living with the fear that you might lose all those things. And the more attached you are to having things turn out the way you want them to turn out, the more you’ll feel the dread that they’ll turn out some other way. Be thankful for what you have when you have it, but don’t mourn the loss if you should lose it. Have wonderful dreams and work hard to make them happen, but don’t cry if the outcome is different than what you had hoped for. It’s like they say at AA – Let Go and Let God. There are a lot of people in this gym today who say they would give their eye teeth to do what you’re doing – start their own business. But they’re not willing to pay the price, to give up the big house and the luxury car. You might say they no longer live in a house or drive a car; they live in a prison and get from one place to another in a jail on wheels. They’ve become prisoners of their possessions. No wonder fear is never far below the surface in their lives.” Nick shot a quick left-right at an unseen foe.
“Step number five is to lighten up and have more fun. It’s hard to be frightened when you’re laughing. You know, I used to enjoy watching Ali more than any other boxer, but not just because he was the best – which he was. He was like… like joy in motion. Not just in the ring, but all the time. When he was training, when he was clowning around at the weigh-in, during interviews. Part of the reason the man seemed so fearless is that he was always having fun! When I decided to expand in the health club business, I used to hate making cold calls to sell memberships. And because I hated it, I wasn’t any good at it. I knew I had to find a way to make it fun. Well, you know me, I’m a sarcastic S.O.B. who’s still pretty rough around the edges, and I get a kick out of giving people a hard time. So I just started doing what comes naturally to me. Walking up to people and insulting them.”
Charlie looked aghast and Nick just laughed.
“Really! I did. I’d walk up to some potbellied businessman waiting for a cab and say, ‘Hey, fatso, why don’t you get in shape so you can get a life.’ Then I’d hand him a card for a free one-month membership at the gym. Or I’d walk up to a lady smoking in a bar, hand her a card, and say, ’Why don’t you work on getting curves instead of working on getting cancer?’”
“Sure did! Pretty soon I was the talk of the town. I was on all the TV news shows. Even had Sports Illustrated wanting to do a story about me, but they backed off when I called the publisher to tell him what a rotten thing it was for a sports magazine read by almost every kid in America to be pushing smoking the way it does.”
“Did anyone ever pick a fight with you?”
“Hell, no! Look at this face,” Nick commanded, pointing to his lopsided nose. “Would you start a fight with some guy wearing a Golden Gloves t-shirt and this face?”
“No way!” Charlie exclaimed.
“Actually, one time I was in a bar handing out cards, and this guy, whose table I’d passed by without stopping, comes up to me and says, ‘What’s the matter? Aren’t I fat enough for ya? Look at this gut,’ he said, pointing at his belly. ‘How come I don’t get a card?’ Well, I gave him one, and two months later he made membership a free benefit for everyone in his company. Now he’s my biggest account.” Nick laughed explosively and it struck Charlie that fear didn’t stand a chance against that kind of humor.
“The last thing, point number six, is that you’ve got to have faith. Like I said earlier, the biggest fears aren’t so much conquered as they are accepted. When you have faith in the meaning of life, in the individual purpose of your existence, and in the benevolent hand of the Creator, you begin to see how so many of the things you’re most afraid of, the adversities of life, are really to your ultimate benefit.”
Nick stood and stretched and cocked his neck left and right several times, the way Charlie had seen fighters do it on TV when they were facing each other down during the ref’s instructions. “And that brings me to the second half of the formula – making adversity your teacher. The first step is simply to expect it. It’s funny how, when something bad happens to someone, they take it so personally, as if somehow bad things should only happen to other people. They should read the Twenty-Third Psalm again. It says we go through the valley of the shadow of death – not over it, under it, or around it – through it. Jackie Meyers was one of my greatest mentors in the fight game. Here’s what he taught me to say when adversity strikes: ‘I knew you were coming, adversity, I was just hoping you wouldn’t come quite so soon. But as long as you’re here, we might as well sit down and talk. What lessons have you brought me? How are you going to make me stronger?’ That attitude always helped me keep my perspective when things seemed to go wrong. The second step, though, is to realize that even though we must eventually all go through the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t need to camp out down there in the darkness.”
Charlie laughed. “You’d be amazed,” Nick responded, “how many people actually take up permanent residence down there. It’s more comfortable for them to be down in the valley, because then their expectations can be so low. It takes a lot less energy to be miserable than it does to be happy, so they just wallow around in the valley, moaning about how terribly the world treats them, and blaming everybody but themselves for their problems. People like that become adversity magnets. The longer they hang around down in the valley, the more bad stuff rolls down the hill on top of them.”
Charlie thought of Ingrid, who’d worked several cubicles away from him at LPI. Every day, she seemed to have a new tale of woe. An adversity magnet. The title fit her like a glove. She lived to complain.
“The third step is to see adversity as an advertisement for opportunity. The rainstorm that ruins a picnic also bring flowers and rainbows. The best time to invest is when the stock market hits bottom.” Nick looked over to the wall upon which hung the pictures of the young men who had graduated from his gym. “I invested in those kids,” he continued, “when they had hit bottom. The dividends I’ve reaped are beyond counting. You know, after people get fired, they spend a lot of time down here working out at the gym. I think it’s a way they can get away from their problems and do something that builds up their self-esteem by getting physically strong – no heartless boss can ever take away your health or your strength. It’s pretty funny, because at first they’re all really depressed, like it’s the worst thing in the world. Of course, when I see them a couple of years later and ask how things are going, what do you think they say about having lost the old job?”
“It was the best thing that ever could have happened?”
“Absolutely! One hundred percent of the time. And that gets me to the fourth step. It’s from the title of a book by Father Michael Crosby: Thank God Ahead of Time. No matter what happens to you, there’s always something to be thankful for. You can avoid so much pain and misery in your life by adopting that attitude. The fifth step is to stay grounded in the present, to be thankful for what you have instead of agonizing over what you’ve lost. Remember the fire we had here seven or eight years ago?”
Charlie remembered it well. It was a miracle that no one was hurt.
“Well, one day, without really thinking about it, I found myself praying for recovery, as if God might come down from Heaven and personally restore what had been lost. Suddenly, a phrase popped into my head from The Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread. It struck me like thunder: there’s no mention in that prayer of tomorrow’s bread! My gym had nearly burned down, but I still had bread to be thankful for. It’s a real paradox: the more thankful I am for today’s bread, the more certain I can be that tomorrow will bring a rich harvest. On the other hand, the more I worry about tomorrow’s harvest, the less I appreciate the bread I have today. And when I don’t appreciate today, tomorrow is not as good either.”
Nick’s phone rang but he ignored it. “Number six is to recognize apparent failure in the middle. I read somewhere that everything can look like a failure in the middle, and it struck me as one of those great eternal truths. When you get started on some new project, everybody’s all exited and your success seems assured. After the final bell has rung, you know whether you won or lost. But in the middle things can get pretty chaotic. Sometimes the only difference between winners and losers is that the losers quit rather than work their way through the chaos. You’ve got to keep moving, Charlie, both physically and emotionally. You’ve got to do those things you don’t want to do.” Nick laughed. “Being a good Catholic boy, there have been many days I’ve been tempted to think that I could just go to the chapel and light some candles and pray, and that I’d be delivered from all my problems. As a matter of fact, that formula almost always works – as long as when I’m done praying, I go back out and do the most important thing for me to do, which is often the thing I least want to do. I always think of the 3-P’s of perseverance. They are Purpose, Passion, and Patience. That’s what Never Quit is all about. Know what your purpose is, be passionate about it, and be willing to be passionate for as long as it takes to make the vision become real.”
Nick got up and walked over to his desk and pulled a small pad out of the top drawer. He wrote something on the top page, ripped it off, and handed it to Charlie. “Speaking of doing things you don’t want to do,” he said, “this is a gift certificate for our pro-shop. I want you to go over there right now and cash it in for some shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt. Then get your fat ass out there into the exercise area and go to work.” Nick waved his arms as if to sweep Charlie out of the room, then he smiled. “While you’re out there, talk to as many people as you can about this idea of yours for a courage place. I’d be real interested in starting one here.”
Twenty minutes later, Charlie was peddling an exercise bike wearing a bright yellow Downtown Gym t-shirt. Turning to the person on the bike next to him, he smiled and asked, “So, how long have you been out of work?”
The other man shot back a surprised look. “How did you know that?”
Charlie’s smile broadened. He had the feeling he might have just recruited his first customer for The Courage Place.