I have an important confession to make that might change the way you look at me. But I don’t care. This needs to be shared.
I used to wonder what it was like to go to a school party. I’d have those thoughts all the time because I’ve never been to one.
When I was in high school I never went to homecoming. Or the prom. Hell, I never went to any organized dance that didn’t include the words “Bar” and “Mitzvah” smashed together.
If you ask anyone from my high school, they might tell you they don’t remember me. In fact, I’ve seen people that I grew up with who have no recollection of my existence. Apparently, I just didn’t make much of an impact. Maybe it wasn’t my time, or maybe I was a late bloomer.
Whatever the explanation, I knew that the world around me—and the way others perceived me—wasn’t how I felt about myself inside. And yet, in many ways, I let the perception of others shape the world I lived in. And that, in turn, led me to question what I could do, what I could become, and what I would achieve.
Fast forward many years, and I was named one of the “50 Hottest Trainers,” according to SHAPE Magazine. It’s awesome to receive any type of praise, but it made me think about perception. Not the perception I have of myself or even what people from high school would think of me now. That doesn’t matter to me. I thought about your perception of me, and the path I took to get here.
You see, most of us believe that some people are just born successful…or good looking…or lucky and fortunate. We believe that this is a society of have’s- and have-nots. While it’s true that some might have an easier path, it doesn’t mean that you can’t create the type of existence you want.
Throughout high school, I never dated anyone. So it would have been easy to consider a loner, introvert, or even ugly. In my early and mid 20s, I didn’t make much money, and you could have considered me unsuccessful or without direction. And for much of my life, I struggled to understand why my own perception of myself differed from the one the world created for me.
I’m sharing this now not because I want you to feel bad for me. And it’s not because I want you to applaud me for turning things around. I’m telling you my story because it’s important for you to understand the power you have over your own life.
Why We Fail (And Why it’s Not a Bad Thing)
I’ve said this before in another story I wrote for Greatist, but I truly believe that my success and happiness is a byproduct of my failures. It wasn’t until I understood that my perceptions mattered more than the perceptions of others that I was able to take control of my life and start determining what I could achieve, and the difference I could make in this world.
The truth is, I’ve failed in every aspect of my life. I’ve been viewed as a loner, a loser, or someone that just wasn’t meant to succeed. The key word here is “viewed.” I never believed that, but I did allow it to prevent me from taking steps I should have taken or wanted to take.
At some point, I realized that the bumps and bruises might never end. So I could either accept that fate and what others thought of me, or start taking control, stop making excuses, and pushing towards what I wanted—no matter what.
If you take a brief look back, you’d see that I’ve fallen or been knocked down repeatedly:
- When I started lifting weights, I could barely bench press the bar. One time, I was even crushed underneath a whopping 65 pounds.
- For years I tried to gain muscle and become stronger—only to become skinnier and seemingly weaker.
- In relationships, I’ve failed many times. In fact, I was even engaged once before and watched that turn into one of the most miserable experiences of my life.
- When I wanted to become a journalist, I applied to 27 different jobs and received 27 rejections for 27 difference publications.
- When I applied for grad school, a certain program (and Pac 12 rival) told me, “You are an academic. You will never be able to write for the general population.”
- Once accepted into grad school I wanted to teach. The university told me no.
- Then, when in a grad school, I tried to get a job at the local paper. I was rejected…again.
- Even when I had some success and got a job at a major publication, I had multiple book ideas rejected and my superiors questioned if I had the talent to succeed.
This all led to a fundamental decision that changed my life.
The Happiness “F-word”
So what happened? I said, “F-it.”
No, not that “F.” I decided to flip it. Flip the perception. Flip the expectations. And flip the negativity and make it positive. The world can be a cold and dark place, but you can warm everything up if you choose to be happy, smile, and be the change. (Yeah, I lived in Boulder but I promise this isn’t some hippy mumbo-jumbo. It’s a truth too many people fail to accept.)
By flipping my perception I was able to:
- Work on my bench press to the point that I could press 315 pounds for reps.
- Transform from 130 pounds of skinny fat, to a solid 175 pounds. I never looked like a model, but I was happy with the work I put in and the results in delivered.
- Trade my failed engagement for a woman who appreciated me for me. And I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.
- Earn that teaching job. I flew to the school, and met with every professor possible to prove that I could teach. And I did.
- Fight for my first steady journalism gig. But I had to grind it out and work for free to have a chance. It all started with the rejection, and deciding to attend high school football games, write stories without assignments, and then force my way into an editor’s office and prove that I could do the job I didn’t have. It was aggressive, but it worked.
- Take the criticism of every editor and turn it inward; I focused on what I could improve, I sought out more people to learn from, and I decided to always be a student and focus on what I could do better. The result was much less complaining and a lot more success.
Finding Happiness, Motivation, and Success
I’m a firm believer that your destiny is not pre-determined. Your destiny is what you make of it. Whether you believe it or not, you choose what you become. You choose if hurdles stand in your way. And you can build the type of life you want.
Finding happiness is about setting out a course, having a vision, and never stopping. Detours occur. Goals may change. But the only “wrong” step is taking no steps at all.
Don’t take this as an overly optimistic view of the world. I know some hurdles might seem insurmountable. And that not every single goal can always be achieved. But most people don’t realize what is possible because they stop when one door is closed. Or they decide not to try when a wall seems too high or impossible to climb. We say, “I can’t have this.”
F-it. You can have it.
Your destiny is dependent on being true to yourself. It’s about looking deep within, deciding what you want to be, and then pursuing that goal as if nothing else in the world matters. Because you know what—nothing else does.
Your job is to be happy. So imagine what that happiness looks like, and then go after it.
What do you want to be? What change do you want to make? What do you want to accomplish?
These are the questions you should ask and the ends that you should pursue.
Whether you actually accomplish all of them is not the point. It might be your primary goal, but success and happiness are more likely to be achieved by pursuing the version of the life you want—and not the life that others create or typecast for you.
Our society is one of preconceived expectations. We put people in boxes, judge others, make perceptions, and then almost force people into a universe not of their own choice.
Flip it. Don’t let the world define who you are and what you can become. I wanted more control over my life, so I started with my body. Once I discovered that I could control how I look and feel, then I found happiness in my ability to “be me.”
The more I was able to “be me,” the happier I became. The more I was able to shape my world, my destiny, and help people around me, the more I understood that success is not about reacting to everything. It’s not about seeing what others say or do and responding to it.
The world you want—one fueled by motivation and happiness—is for those that are proactive. For those that believe life has something better for them, and that goals and dreams can come true, as long as you don’t quit.
None of my goals ever had anything to do with being a “hot trainer.” It’s flattering, but I honestly couldn’t care less. And you know what? My goals didn’t include being a best-selling author, either. It all started with wanting to be fit, healthy and the best writer possible, while covering a topic I love. Everything else has been a result of following that dream and never losing sight of it, no matter what stood in my way.
Don’t believe what others say or think. Believe in what you can become. Believe in what you can do.
It will take you from a life of wondering to a life of living. And that might be the best party of all. Your invitation is waiting for you.
Taking the Next Step
If you want to know more about overcoming hurdles and improving your body, you can apply for a spot in my online coaching program where you work with me one-on-one to help you achieve your goals and find your happiness.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.