Over the past ten years, my goal has been pretty straightforward: become the best version of myself.
Growing up I was an angry kid. I struggled with depression and anxiety—most of which stemmed from feeling like a colossal failure at life.
I often used aggression and rebellion to hide from my feelings. I was a jerk to people around me, yelled at my parents, and basically did whatever I could to create the persona of someone who didn’t care.
Unfortunately, this was far from true. The truth is, I hated myself for being a failure (my perception), and assumed everyone else would think the same if I let them in, so it was a whole lot easier to pretend like I didn’t care.
So while I appeared to be someone who didn’t care what others thought and lived life on my own terms, inwardly I actually cared a lot about what they thought and was lonely and miserable.
For much of my early life, I didn’t know there was another way, I just assumed I was stuck being the person I was.
I remember going to Borders Bookstore when I was a senior in high school, and instantly fell in love with the place. As I read books that talked about reinventing yourself and overcoming the things holding you back, I started to have hope that change was possible—that I truly could experience the freedom provided from living authentically.
I’ve been a “hero in training” for over a decade now. I’ve read hundreds of books and paid thousands of dollars to learn from some of the best personal development teachers in the world.
Here are 11 things I’ve learned (and continue to learn) about living a life that matters, overcoming fears, experiencing fulfillment, and becoming a man that others look up to.
1. Be The Hero
When I first started my journey of personal development, it was a selfish pursuit. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to feel good about who I was. And even though I use a word like “selfish,” which often has negative connotations, I don’t mean it in that way. I think it’s normal to want to improve for yourself.
But over the past few years, I’ve learned something interesting: as much as I want to be the best version of myself, everyone around me wants that too. My wife wants an honest husband that she can trust. My kids want a daddy that loves them unconditionally. My friends want someone they can count on, someone who truly cares about them. Strangers that I encounter on a day-to-day basis want someone who will restore their faith in the goodness of the human race—someone who has the guts to step up and change the world for the better.
The world and everyone around you needs a hero. Your happiness and fulfillment in life rely on your ability to become the best version of yourself. But there’s a lot more to it than that too. By improving the person you are, you will have the opportunity to change many different lives for the better, and maybe even change the world.
2. Failure is a Prerequisite for Anything Worth Achieving
Got big dreams? Get ready to fail a lot.
I used to be scared to death of failing. I think a lot of use are. We don’t want to let others down. We don’t want to look stupid. And perhaps most significantly, we don’t want to lose hope that we are capable of something remarkable. We are afraid that if we fail, that hope will be lost.
One of most common threads I’ve found that runs through every story I’ve heard over the past 10 years is that successful people fail a lot. In fact, they probably fail more than they succeed. The only difference between a successful person and someone sitting on the couch eating nachos and watching reruns of Modern Family all day is that instead of viewing failure as final, they took for what it is—a learning experience—and kept moving forward.
This has taken me a long time to learn, and I still struggle with it. Every Time I “fail”, my mind wants to tell me to quit. That if I stop trying, I can stop experiencing the pain of failing. But you know what? The pain of wondering “what if” is worse than the pain of trying something remarkable and falling short.
3. Live With Purpose
Each of us has a specific life that we were meant to live. Live it.
You have been given strengths and abilities that no one else has. Use them.
It may set you apart (it probably will). Embrace it.
It may mean that you have to do hard things and stand against popular opinion (it will). Do it anyway.
Stop asking “what someone like me would do,” and start asking, “based on the information I have, what will align most with what I believe to be right and true in the world?”
Stop letting the world affect you and start affecting the world.
When deciding what to do—what decisions to make, how to spend your time, how to treat others—ask yourself what is going to allow you to look in the mirror at the end of the day and be okay with the man looking back you.
Now go do that.
4. Live Authentically
The easiest way I’ve found to live a life defined by guilt, self-doubt, and discontent? Live a double life.
Say one thing and do another.
Believe in something but let fear stop you from living out your beliefs.
Do what makes you feel good without regard to how it affects others.
Pursue immediate gratification at the expense of doing what’s best for you (and those you love) in the long run.
When you do these things, you create conflict at the very core of your being.
When you do things that clash with your innermost beliefs about what’s right and wrong, you will be ruled by guilt—and a life of fulfillment and joy will be impossible.
So if you’re living a double life (and you know who you are if I’m talking to you), don’t make the same mistakes I have.
Stop, and start living authentically.
5. Invest in the Happiness of Others
When you’re The Hero—when you become the best version of yourself—you can’t help but help others.
While it starts as a journey of self-fulfillment, you quickly learn that the true way to living a life that matters is by building connections with other people and helping them in any way that you can.
Get to a place where you genuinely care about the hopes, dreams, and feelings of others, and do what you can to walk alongside them in their journey, and you’ll find happiness.
6. Right Your Wrongs
When you do something wrong, admit it, and make sure you make it right with anyone that it affected.
Don’t have enemies. Are there people you’ve treated badly in the past? Find them and apologize.
Say, “I was young and dumb and I was wrong. I’m sorry for how I treated you.”
Write them a handwritten letter. Give them a phone call.
When I was younger, I had a lot of enemies. I’ve since reached out to all that I can remember and made it right.
It wasn’t always fun. In fact, it was a hard thing to do, because I had to let go of the “alpha male” mentality so popular in our culture today and be vulnerable enough to admit that I was wrong.
These days, no one wants to admit they are wrong (it’s a whole lot easier to blame someone else).
Be the Hero.
7. Be The Best You
Be active and fuel your body with good food.
Push yourself. Exercise is a great way to learn self-discipline and develop the skill of being able to push through temporary pain to better yourself—and to learn how to do what needs to be done even when you don’t feel like doing it.
Use physical activity to look good, but don’t stop there. Being obsessed with how you look will distract you from what’s truly important and ruin your ability to be content with who you are.
Find things you enjoy and invite others to enjoy them with you. You don’t need to try and be anyone else, focus on yourself. Be a little bit better today than you were yesterday.
The person you were yesterday is the competition you should be worried about.
Read books—lots of them.
Connect with people who have achieved what you want to achieve and learn from them.
Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to admit that you need help.
9. Do one Thing at a Time
You may think you’re the best multi-tasker on the planet. You may make listening to music while browsing the web while watching TV a regular habit…and think you’re getting along just fine.
But here’s the deal: You suck at multitasking. All of us do.
When you try to do a bunch of things at once (work), you are mediocre at all of them.
When you try to experience a bunch of things at once (texting while talking to people instead of looking them in the eye and showing that you actually care about what they are saying; reading fitness articles on your phone while your kids beg you to play with them), you fail to fully experience any one thing.
Stop trying to do ten (or even two) things at once.
Find the most important thing and JUST DO THAT.
If you’re spending time with your family or friends, give them your whole, undivided attention. Is reading another article about getting a “six pack” really more important than the people you love most in this world?
If you send the message that your kids or your wife or your friends aren’t worthy of your undivided attention often enough, then there won’t be anyone left to ignore. You’ll learn your lesson quickly, but it’s not a lesson you want to learn the hard way.
Turn off the cellphone and focus on what’s right in front of you.
You’ll be happier, and those around you will be happier. And the world will be a better place.
10. Take Action
Fear (of rejection, of failure, of anything) will hold you back from actually doing something. If you are stuck, paralyzed by fear, find something more important than your fear and you will be compelled to act anyway.
Everyone—even the most successful people—have fears and doubts. The difference is that they have found a purpose greater than their fear.
Most people look at a situation and say, “Will this make me face ___[insert fear]?” And if the answer is “yes,” then they don’t do it.
Successful people look at situations and say, “Will this make me face ___ [insert fear]?” And if the answer is “yes,” they do it anyway, knowing that in facing that fear they will be that much closer to finding success and fulfilling their purpose.
Every time you feel the fear and act anyway, the fear loses power.
Reading, listening, and learning in all ways is good, but don’t stop there. At some point you have to stop gathering information and start doing something.
Don’t worry about waiting for the “right” time. Start doing something now and correct course along the way. You don’t have to be an expert to start; just be open and honest about the process and share what you learn along the way.
I “thought” about starting a blog for years before I finally did it. I didn’t feel accomplished enough. I asked “what makes me worthy to give other people advice?”
I finally realized you’ll never feel ready, and you don’t have to an expert. Just start doing stuff that matters and share your experiences in an authentic way.
That’s good enough.
11. Master Your Body
You’re never gonna live a full life doing things that you want to do if you’re stuck inside a body that holds you back.
This isn’t about being Mr. Olympia or about spending every waking hour trying to build a perfect body.
There’s a fine line between the kind of body that allows you to live life on your own terms and becoming the type of guy who is always thinking about the way he looks.
You want fitness to serve you—to allow you to experience this life in the way that you want to. You don’t want to serve fitness, becoming a guy that can only think, talk, or read about building muscle and getting shredded.
All too often, I see guys get caught up in the escapism of fitness: they place too much of their identity in the way they look or how much weight they can lift. They convince themselves that being a man is about these menial things.
Sooner or later, they find that such vain pursuits lead down a path of frustration, confusion, and skewed priorities.
Don’t get caught up in the madness. Build a strong, athletic body and the rest will take care of itself.
Spend a few days per week lifting stuff and moving your body through space. Go for a run or play a sport. Find physical activities that you enjoy (and preferably can do with others) and do them often.
Make it fun. No one does things consistently that aren’t at least a little bit of fun.
When you have a strong, athletic body, the world doesn’t affect you, you affect the world.
In the process of pursuing a strong, muscular, and athletic body you’ll end up looking a lot better and reaping the benefits of feeling good about your image.
But just as importantly, you’ll have a body that gets you off of the sidelines and into the game.
You’ll never have to avoid or miss out on something because you can’t do it.
Wanna go rock climbing? You can.
Impromptu game of beach volleyball breaks out? Count me in.
Need the energy to chase your kids around after a long day at work? You’ll have it.
Training is something you do. Strength is something you live.
As you look over this list, you may be thinking: “damn, I’ve got a long way to go.” But you know what? So do I, so does everyone. The purpose of this isn’t to beat yourself up for your shortcomings, it’s to provide an opportunity for self-reflection and to create the possibility for personal growth.
When you become the best version of yourself, you improve your life, as well as the lives of those around you. When you’re strong (mentally and physically) and motivated, you can help others become strong and motivated too. When you’re capable of setting goals, forming habits, and having the grit to step up and be the hero that you can be, you can help others do the same.
That’s your mission.