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Pursuing Your Passion

Years ago I wrote a book and I sold the movie rights to FOX studios.  They wanted a screenplay written. I had never given much serious thought to writing a screenplay for the big screen or the small screen.  After writing a book and being approached about a screenplay, I thought, “Hey, that’s what I want to be in life – a screenwriter!”

They asked me to write it with an Academy Award winning writer.  The writer invited me to lunch at their home.  It was an informal lunch eaten around the pool with the producer of the project and myself.  I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn from successful Hollywood individuals, so I thought the best course of action was for me to keep my mouth shut and take it all in.

I learned the writer, like me, had never gone to school for writing.  I learned the producer had built up an international production company in Scandinavia and sold it for a huge profit, then moved to Hollywood and started a new company in a new country.  Instead of retiring, he started over and continued to work hard.

During my time working with both of them, I was given a crash course in writing for a studio.  It was like a private lesson in screenwriting.  Looking back now I can see that I was already losing interest in writing for Hollywood, the more I learned about the business.  What I thought I had wanted, I was realizing was not my passion.

Even though I was unsure about my next steps in life, I learned valuable lessons and kept pushing forward.   In the end, my show was not picked up by Fox, but I learned enough to write my own western screenplay and sold that to History Channel.

Through my contacts on that project, I was able to secure a writing/consulting job for a movie production company in Stockholm, Sweden.  I grew up immensely while going through this Hollywood period of my writing career. The screenwriting work was a chance for me to work with people from all walks of life.

People like to talk about overnight success.  I learned that successful writers toil away for years before they get an opportunity to shine, and even then, they may end up losing it all.

Projects will come and go, but the people you work with along the way are important, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.  Work hard on every project, big or small, and always go above and beyond.

We each have our own paths with unique wants and needs.  If we follow someone else’s path we may have limited success, but it is fleeting.  We are all on our own journey, and as long as you keep learning from every opportunity and developing your skills, no project is a failure.

Opportunities often come in life when we least expect it, and they often come from unexpected people or places.  Work hard, keep a positive attitude, treat everyone with respect and pursue the passions that God has put in you – and you too will fulfill your purpose in life, even if you aren’t sure what it is right now.

Philippians 2:3

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

Ecclesiastes 3:1

   There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

 

Clarity Of Purpose

Regardless of who you are today, you had dreams and goals in mind when you were young. Maybe you dreamed of playing professional baseball or maybe you aspired to be an astronaut.  

Life happens.  As a result, those dreams may have fallen by the wayside. Why is that?  A lot of times we settle for jobs we don’t love just for the paycheck, so we can live.  The cash starts rolling in and now you have a lifestyle that you have become accustomed to.  You cannot change and do what you really want because you have so many obligations. Does this sound familiar?

I understand this situation very well because that is how my life played out.  I was on that treadmill for almost forty years.  I did things I did not like, only because of what I could put into my pockets as a result.  Many times, I tried to convince myself that I liked what I was doing. Even though I detest gambling and alcohol, both played a role in my livelihood.

I learned how to “take action,” or bookmaking, from an older gambler named Mark. Mark had been a bookie for at least twenty-five years when I met him.  In fact, I am sure he is still taking action to this day – well into his eighties.

I had expressed interest in making money through bookmaking and loansharking (also known as shylocking) to a number of men associated with the Los Angeles cosa nostra family.  They all knew me as a kid who worked hard and brought in cash, so they put me in touch with Mark.  I began to work for him, and during that time I mastered the art of running a sportsbook.  This was in a time before either cell phones or the internet.  We used a series of payphones, hardlines and answering machines to run the business.  We got our updates on odds and point spreads from what was known as the “Island Line.”  We also had Las Vegas contacts who helped with lines and laying off some of the action.   Mark pulled in a great living from sports gambling and he also ran some after hours card games.

I took to this “job” because I liked the attention, and most importantly, I liked the cash that came with it. I used to tell myself that the money I brought in gave me the freedom to do what I really wanted to do in life.  Looking back that is funny because I can tell you this: I never did much of anything else.  I spent all of my time running the business and living it.

It’s important, to be honest with yourself about your gifts, your goals, and your dreams.  You must decide if what you are doing or will be doing is right for you.  Does it align with your values? Is it what you were created to do?

You will most likely spend years working at something to get it working well enough to put dollars in your pocket.  This where your own personal values come into play.  When I was young I had some vague, at best, personal values – and it showed in how I conducted myself.  Once you have a good personal value system in place, the decisions you make will help guide you toward lasting success.

Clarity of purpose is key to living a successful happy life. Once we find our purpose in life, it will help guide and shape our decisions.  In the end, being successful looks different for every single person.

I was lost for so many years until I came back to living a life that wasn’t about my desires but about God’s purpose for my life.  I was lost and broken, but I could never understand why I  was feeling the way I did.  When I found my faith I realized that life was not all about me, it was much bigger than that.

Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

2 Timothy 1:9

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

 

Grateful For My Life

It has been an unusually busy week for me.  Nothing like the go, go go of New York or Los Angeles, but it was more than the regular schedule I have become accustomed to in rural Illinois.

Part of my old world collided with my new world this past week.  On March 31, 2017 my friend King Mo Lawal was coming to town to fight Rampage Jackson in Bellator 175 at the Allstate Arena in Chicago. I first met Mo many years ago at Jokers Wild Fighting Academy one day during a fight class. I was told that day that I would be working with him, which was a huge step up for me. We trained a lot more over the following years.

As his trip to Chicago approached, we made plans to meet up when he arrived in town before his fight.  He had told me to bring my gear because we might train.  I arrived at the hotel and left my gear bag in my car since I wasn’t sure what our plans would be.  Right when I walked into his room he asked me if I had my stuff, so I went back out to grab it.

Soon we were inside the “blue team” training room.  It was nothing more than an empty conference room that had wrestling mats laid down wall to wall.  He had his coaches from American Top Team there, and he had Jeff Mayweather started running him through some boxing drills.  They had him do three minutes of boxing followed by three minutes of wrestling with me, back and forth.  It was a surreal moment for me.  Here I was wrestling with the headline fighter for a Bellator fight in front of coaches from one of the premier mixed martial arts gyms in the world – in Chicago of all places.

It got even stranger for me when I looked up and saw former UFC champion Matt Hughes watching us.  After we finished the training session Mo had a press interview to do and I ended up sitting next to him for the interview.  Dinner came next, where I found myself speaking with the matchmaker of the Bellator promotion as well as Royce Gracie, the man who really brought Brazilian Jiujitsu into the mainstream.

The next day I drove back up to the city again to train with Mo.  This time I brought an Illinois friend who is a casual MMA fan with me.  I was worried that he would be bored, but we ended up having a great time.  When we were hanging out with Mo I was watching to see if he was affected by the upcoming fight – less than twenty-four hours away.  Was he stressed?  He was not.

We sat around talked about old times, people we know and politics.  “King Mo” is the character the fans see in the cage, “Mo” is the guy his friends know.  Mo cares about others and is a genuine person.

Driving home later that evening I thought about my life, and all the old memories of helping other fighters prepare for big fights.  I realized I missed the time I spent hanging out with my fighting friends, but not the life that came with it.  I found myself very happy to be headed home to my new life on the farm and the nearby town of eight hundred and thirty-seven people.

I thought about all the things that fell into place in throughout my life to bring me to this place.  I have been truly blessed in life by being in the right place at the right time.  I was able to recognize that and make the most of my situations.

This past week somebody posted an old picture on facebook and I was in the background. It brought back some memories both good and bad of my past life. While I am not proud of many decisions I have made in the past, I am thankful for where they have brought me today.

The army friend I’ve often written about on this blog posted a picture this past week that was taken when he was deployed in Afghanistan, laying against a dirt berm, geared up with his M4.  He wrote, “You know, I kind of miss this. I remember vividly this moment and being so tired. It seems a lifetime away and I have almost completely disconnected myself from this old me.”  I too have disconnected from my old life. I recognize who I was then, but it no longer seems like me.  I have changed.

I was written about in the local papers this week.  This time, the spotlight was not due to my past.  The article was about what I am currently working on.  It made me realize just how grateful I am for my life.  My past has brought me here, to this place. Training with top coaches and athletes for all those years has prepared me for this important endeavor.

This time I am not fighting for money, I am not training an athlete for a big fight or an actor for a big role. Instead, I am using all those skills to train up a new team of people to fight back against Parkinson’s disease and all the degenerative effects that come with it.

I am so blessed.

Philippians 4:11

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 

You Get Out What You Put In

There are a few simple rules in life.  One of those is you get out of life what you put into it.If you look back throughout your life history you will come to the same conclusion.

Take stock of your life today.  Are you reaping the benefits of years of work put towards a goal? Or have you been coasting, putting off the work?  Are you letting your circumstances dictate your schedule, or are you making your goals a priority with your time?

So you want to write a book?  I hear this a lot.  What is stopping you from writing?  Common answers: no time, no money, I don’t know how or I do not have the education.

You want to write?  Then you must write.  Everyday you write so you get better. Writing is like a muscle and you have to use it in order for it to work properly.  You have to become a wordsmith, a person who is constantly working on their writing so that they become more proficient.

Writing has got to be one of the cheapest hobbies around, because all you need is some blank paper and a writing instrument. I have a friend, Matthew, who has written six books – good books – in eight years.  Three have been published and the others are in various stages.  He has written screenplays and edited other people’s work, all while holding down a full-time job.

He is married with a child, is active politically and he never went to school to be a writer. He just does it, day after day, until it becomes second nature.

I train a number people in all shapes and sizes in the art of boxing. One group really stands out –  the fighters in Rock Steady Boxing Minooka.  They all have Parkinson’s disease.  It has been over a year since I first watched Leslie Stahl from 60 Minutes do a story on Rock Steady Boxing.  Leslie’s husband has Parkinson’s and he started training at Rock Steady Boxing.  The difference in his life has been huge.  Before the video segment was even over I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.  I went to the Rock Steady Boxing headquarters and took a weekend seminar on working with Parkinson’s patients. It change my life. I realized that everything I had learned and trained over the years could actually be used to help others fight back against a debilitating disease.

My first Parkinson’s fighter has been training with me for almost one year, three times each week.  His wife is his “Cornerman” and she trains with him every workout too.  They have stuck with it and pushed themselves.  They have missed very few workouts in the entire year. All of their progress has been amazing.  It has improved their strength, balance, coordination, footwork, speed, form, posture, health and cardio. Why?  They show up even when they do not feel like it.  They show up when they are tired or have other things to do.  It is important to them.  This is the same for all of us, no matter what age or fitness level. If you put in the time, you will see results.

If you wish to improve your body, you have to do the work.  Any magic plan that promises fitness with no work is a lie.

Have you ever noticed that when you really wanted to do something, you found the time?  When you really do not want to do something, or it is not a priority, something will always come up. If you are just doing something for money or just doing enough to get it over with – it shows.  Quality in = quality out.  Mediocre in leads to the predictable outcome.

The ability to get good at anything takes a lot of work, but to do so as a full grown adult is rare. It is not because we can’t, but because we are not willing to invest the time or go through the hardship of change. We have, to be honest, harsh and merciless with ourselves and most people are too sensitive get a lot better at anything.  If you never intend to work hard, then anything you wish to do well – will be impossible.

This extends to living a Christian life.  If all you ever do is go to church once a week and sit through a sermon, do you really feel you are giving God his worth?  We are all sinners and not one of us is perfect.  It is a constant battle to live a life that honors God.  If you work on every day, you will see change. If you continue to just show up weekly at a service what can you really expect?

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

Proverbs 13:4

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

Accomplishing The Impossible

How many times in your life have you told yourself that something was impossible to do, yet you ended up accomplishing it? We all have the ability to make the impossible possible.  It comes down to mindset.  If you believe you cannot do something, you won’t be able to do it.

If instead, you have an unwavering belief that you will reach your goal, you will.

There is an author that I have admired since I was a little boy. To date, he has sold over 300 million books in many different languages. He was even a favorite of Presidents like Ronald Reagan.

He was never a book critic favorite, but he nevertheless could produce books that people would read.  He wrote over 100 novels and 250 short stories in his lifetime, passing away in June of 1988.  He never went to college and in fact, he only ever made it to the 10th grade. Times were hard, so he had to quit school and begin working to support himself and his family. He might not have had any formal training after that, but he read as many books as he could get his hands on.

He was a professional boxer at times, a trainer, a merchant seaman, and an officer in World War II.  He held so many jobs that I could not even begin to list them all here.  He later used this vast experience and the knowledge of the people, landscape, and history to fill his books.

He had no formal training, he just sat down and wrote.  The man was Louis Lamour, who today is mostly known for his Western books.

People around him early on urged him to get into a career that would pay so he would have something in life.  He believed that he could accomplish what everyone told him could not be done.

Deep down we have to believe that we can do what we set out to do no matter our situation or what others tell us.

You have your own unique ability to do what most people will tell you is impossible.

 

Throughout my life, I always felt that I could do anything that I worked hard enough towards.  I directed my energies in the wrong direction many times, but I did complete what I set out to do.

My main problem was I would take short cuts. I was willing to do whatever it took to get to where I wished to be.  This works on the short term, but it has long-term effects and nothing is on solid ground.  In a society where there is so much emphasis on the outcome and reward it is easy to fall into that trap.

I decided that I wanted to fight an MMA bout years ago and my coach told me that I would have to fight at 145 lbs, which was much lighter than I walked around.  He based it on my height, body type, strength and skill set.  I thought he was kidding because even in high school I was never that small.  I doubted I could get that low.  The good thing was that I was in a good gym and we had many fighters that passed through. One of those was a fighter named Cub Swanson.  Cub was getting ready for a fight and he was cutting weight.  We all rolled with him and trained hard.  Cub was going to fight at 145 lbs at the end of the week and yet he was stronger and bigger than me.  Cub made weight and won his fight.  After watching Cub make weight, I knew that it was possible for me.

My time came and with the help of two fighters: Tim and Arian, I was able to make weight.

I learned that I could lean out and I learned that I could stay fit and strong while weighing less.

We can never forget that what seems today impossible will only be so until we complete it.  If others have done, it so can you.  If you have the courage and drive there will never be anything out of your reach.

There was a man who died 1,983 years ago who was only actively teaching for 3.5 years, yet today 2.2 billion people claim to follow his teachings. When he was alive he had 1/1000 of a percent of the Roman population following him. In just a few centuries 56 percent of Romans were believers.  That man is Jesus.  His story would seem impossible, yet here we are today.

Matthew 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 17:20  For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Job 42:2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

Jeremiah 32:17 ‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.

Self-Discipline

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Every dream, goal and plan comes down to being self-disciplined enough to get through the rough parts and the ability to stay committed until completion.

Self-discipline is our unique ability to control our urges, wants, desires and our emotions in order to reach our goals. It is a mindset that must be built upon so that we make the right choices daily to guide our lives in the direction that is best.  It means we must give up small momentary pleasure in order to gain lasting happiness.

I was thinking about where I learned self-discipline.  One place I am sure I learned it was when I was at Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad, California.  The morning wake-up bugle call reveille would sound at 6:15am.  Your bed had to be made, you had to dress with shined shoes, brass for inspection.  I used to get up at 5:30am so I could shower with plenty of hot water and take my time.

I was never in a rush to get ready and out to the quad for formation.  There really is something special about being awake while the world around you slumbers.  I committed to waking up early at a young age, and it has followed me through my whole life.

When I lived in New York I used to walk two miles every morning at 5am, then get two newspapers and a coffee before I came home.  This would set the pace for my day. I felt like it let me get in front of the day before others were awake.  I also feel like I have been able to get more finished in my life with this “extra” time.

People always talk about how they do not have any extra time.  Why not find that time before the day starts?

Many people feel that being self-disciplined will mean that they will have to give up much of what they feel is good about their lives.  There is no doubt that when shifting towards a more disciplined lifestyle your life will change.  It does not have to be bad or painful.  Examine your life and decide what is important to you.  If eating and drinking whatever you wish with no limits is what is important then look at the inevitable outcome.  You get to live with obesity, heart disease, and a host of other ailments.  How about staying up late to surf the internet or binge watch your favorite show? You must accept being tired at work or school the next day, and not performing well.

What if instead, you choose to eat food that is filled full of nutritional value.  Drink more water, keeping yourself hydrated. How would those choices harm you? Eating healthy foods does not mean a diet, it just means choosing the right tasty things to fuel your body. How about choosing to read a chapter of a book each night before bed and get to sleep at a reasonable hour?

Everyone has heard the phrase, “You just have to do it.”  It is much easier said than done for the average person with years of bad habits ingrained in their life.

So start small with something that you can do very easily.  If you need extra time in your day, how about waking up an hour earlier?  If you would like to lose weight, how about starting with a walk every morning before breakfast without fail.

If you make a commitment and stick with it, no matter what, it will translate into other areas of your life.  That means you must throw out all the excuses of the past… the  “I’m too tired,” “I have no time,” “My alarm did not go off,” or “I’m not feeling well.”

Once you make a habit of the first small change for a month, it’s time to commit to another small change. After a few months of these small victories under your belt, you can clearly see the changes that have come from your new found self-discipline.

This is something that you cannot buy.  There is no magic pill.  You have to be committed and work on it a little bit every day.  Think about this for a minute: why does the diet and self-help industry bring in billions a year?  They know that people do not want to put in the hard work necessary for lasting change.  A lot of people are looking for the easy way because we all hope there is a way.

The bottom line is that every journey begins with that first step and then continuing to step even when you don’t feel like it.

You must decide what it is you want in the long term. Once you have the goal in mind it will help you push aside the many distractions that will inevitably arise. You may feel discomfort along the way, but knowing that is part of the process makes it bearable. It is time to make decisions that benefit you for the long term.  Surround yourself with other people who are self-disciplined and cheer each other on.

Hebrews 12:11

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Proverbs 5:21-23

21 For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths. 22 The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. 23 For lack of discipline they will die,  led astray by their own great folly.

 

Failure

There is no escape, no way to hide.  It will find all of us at one point or another during our lifetimes.  It has been said that a book of failures would be a great book to read, so that we could learn from other’s mistakes.

Have you ever noticed that there are never any “failure seminars”?  There are plenty of speakers on the topic of success.  You can catch a motivational seminar online or in a conference room in a hotel most any weekend.

I have failed at so many things I could not even list them all here.  The good news is, I took a valuable lesson away from each one.  One of the best thing about pushing yourself hard and ultimately hitting your goals, is that our minds tend to gloss over the periods of heartbreak and failure, focusing instead on our successes.

One day I decided to take up a new hobby: prospecting for gold in the mountains and deserts of California.  I really did not know much about it at all, but when my wife and dog and I hiked in the mountains we had seen several people panning for gold in the streams and it got me interested.  I started reading everything I could about gold prospecting and the history of the gold bearing regions in California.

The next weekend, instead of heading off on our usual hike, we packed our lunch, a few shovels, and some tools we had picked up for gold panning.  We headed to the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.   We parked our car and hiked a mile or so up a path along the river.  We found a giant boulder and I started digging out buckets of dirt and passing them to my wife who would pan it out in the water.  We dug for hours and found nothing, not a trace of that elusive gold.  We did have a great time! Our dog fished in the river, we enjoyed the sunshine, cool water, amazing scenery and our hike.

We went back to that river many times.  Each time we dug deep holes and found nothing but black sand and tiny gold flakes in our pan.  One day, an older prospector came by our hole to chat.  He told me where I should dig based on his experience.  Later that day we found a small “picker,” which is what you call a tiny gold nugget that is big enough to pick up with your fingers.

We were doing almost exactly what the 49ers did during the gold rush.  Instead of iron pans, we used plastic pans, and unlike them, we were not trying to make a living from it.

It turns out that most of the gold is still there, undiscovered.  The early miners took the easy gold that they could find near the surface. It is back breaking labor with little payoff to keep digging and looking for the deeper gold. I enjoyed it because it was a challenge and a treasure hunt.

We graduated from panning to setting up a sluice in the water. The next stage was learning how to metal detect in the Mojave desert – which meant getting out there in the early hours before the temperatures rose.  Hunting for gold nuggets in the desert with a metal detector is called “nugget shooting.”  We joined the Prospector’s Club of Southern California, which gave us access to claims all over the region.  Then I graduated to operating a dry washer in the desert.

I learned to love the peace and quiet of the dry, desolate Mojave desert.  We started finding “color” almost every time we went out.

I wanted to find a good sized nugget with my metal detector before I left California, but it was not to be.  On my last attempt before moving, a solo trip early in the morning, I saw some fellow prospectors find a gold nugget just a few yards away from where I was looking.  I guess you could say I failed because I never found that fist-sized nugget I was seeking.  Instead, I would say that I gained some useful knowledge and made some great memories.

Prospecting mirrors so much of what we do in life.  Each one of us is seeking some kind of treasure.  There’s no guarantee you will find that big nugget.  Successes and failures: they all come with valuable lessons.  I look back on the hours I spent digging dirt holes and wandering the desert not as a failure, but as some of my favorite memories.

My friend Mark and I spoke about the topic of failure this past week.  After a successful high school and college wrestling career at Oklahoma State, where he was a two time All-American, Mark began his mixed martial arts career with the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting).  He did well enough to be picked up by the UFC when they bought the WEC.

When I first met Mark, I noticed that he carried himself differently than most of the guys I knew, and he was open about being a Christian.  Mark was not pushy with his faith, but he was setting an example by the way he lived and he was always ready to lend a hand to anyone who needed one.

I trained with Mark for his first fight in the UFC, which he lost.  It was a bad loss, but he was back to training within a week.  Mark Munoz went on to have a long UFC career and while he never won the belt, he always left the ring a winner.  He was voted as “the nicest guy in MMA” by the UFC.  I learned from Mark that in MMA, a loss does not equal failure.  When you keep fighting, improving and moving forward, you are succeeding, regardless of what the outcome of any one fight may be.

Mark told me that if you have a fear of failure you will fall backward.  If you embrace it, you will take away a valuable lesson.  We all fail.  We have to learn from it and keep moving forward.

Resilience, Adversity, and Desire: A real champion in life, whether you are fighting in a cage, prospecting for gold, or trying to get a promotion in your job, is the person that shows resilience even when they fail.  Adversity is something to use to make us better, not break us down.  We will all face it, but how we view it and push past it will define us.  Desire is what will make you get up each day with determination: study harder, work harder, train harder.

Mark also reminded me that what we speak about every day is what we become, so choose your words wisely.

 

Romans 5:3-5

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Proverbs 24:16

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.

Luke 6:45

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.