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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:

 

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.

 

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.

 

New Years Resolution

 

DCIM101GOPRO

Winter

We are down to the final days of 2016.  Many of us are looking back on our year and making plans for the one ahead.

The first day of the new year comes with a tradition in western culture where we promise ourselves that we will accomplish certain actions. We call them new year’s resolutions and while many people make them every year less than 8% actually accomplish them.

I have watched this unfold year after year at various gyms across the country. January rolls around and they are slammed full of people for the first week making it hard for the regulars to get in a good workout.  Some people begin the month doing two-a-day workouts.  By February 80% are no longer working out.  The excuses are always the same: I’m sick, my children are sick, I have no time, I got hurt, work is busy, I’ll do it home. Sadly, by March 98% have quit.  The key is not two-a-days, the key is patience: slow and steady progression.

Last year I decided that I would not eat refined sugar and I decided to stay closer to my former fight weight.  It seemed an impossible task.  I eat healthy for the most part, but I enjoy a few treats.  One in particular that I enjoyed is candy corn. I love candy corn, and they have recently come out with so many new flavors that I have wanted to try!  The end of the year is now here and I have made it the whole year without eating a single candy corn!

Another goal I had during 2016 that has been very hard for me to do is to let go of grudges and anger that I had towards others. I have made progress, but this is a lifetime goal and will take a lot more work.

I had a few other goals in 2016, all of which I worked on bit by bit, and accomplished.  This year I have a few new ones.

I will start by defining my goals with a definite finishing point. Goals don’t begin with, “I will try,” or “I would like to.” They will be goals that while difficult are achievable with hard work.

I will have to be patient, because nothing will happen over night or even in a month if it is worth it.  It is hard to see progress, but change will come.

If your goals are fitness related, you will reach a plateau – most likely more than once – on your quest. This is where it takes strength to keep going.  When you make it past these difficult points you will notice notable, change.

I speak to a lot of people who tell me they wish to write a book.  A common reason for not writing it is time.  Everyone can find an hour a day to write.  If you cannot write at home, go to a coffee shop or a library for an hour. It is work, you have to do it on a regular schedule.  The more you do, the better your work will be.  Don’t worry about getting it just right at the beginning, because the first draft never will be right and neither will the second.  Instead, get it on paper from beginning to end and then go back and make it better.

Vocalize your goals to others, they become real when you state them.  It helps when others are involved and keep you accountable by asking about them.

If you do something every day it is like putting money in the bank.  Some days I do not feel like training, but I do. Writing is the same, but as long as I do something, it will be better than nothing.

If something beyond my control happens or even if I just get lazy, I make myself get back into it right away. You might feel that you are starting over.  It will be easier if you string together as many days as you can without missing any.

People often say Friday is my cheat day, or rest day.  Try to avoid that and keep a floating day off instead. This way if something comes up on Sunday or Monday take that day off from your schedule and then go right through the rest of the week.

This year I will read the Bible start to finish. I will also write two books.  My last goal is to have a podcast or a radio show of my own.

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Colossians 3:23

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

Philippians 2:3

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

 

In Weakness

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The Robot Surgeon

Last week started the same as any other week.  On Tuesday, after I trained my clients, I headed to wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu practice for two long hours.  I came home exhausted.  I rehydrated, showered and tried to sleep. I didn’t eat any food because early the next morning I was going to have an operation to fix a hernia.

After many years of uninterrupted mixed martial arts training, I was going to have to slow down.

There were so many things going through my mind. As I laid in bed I watched an educational video about general anesthesia, since I’d never had any surgery before.  I was worried about it.  What if I didn’t wake up?  What if I was allergic to the medications they gave me? What if…?  

Then I started thinking about the recovery.  How long would it be before I could exercise again? Spar? Lift kettlebells? Walk my dogs?

Sleep came hard with all these thoughts going through my mind.  I was up early to head to the hospital, and saw that in the night I had gotten emails and texts from people wishing me well.  Friends from my small group at church said they were praying for me.  People reaching out helped to ease my mind.

My head was pounding from dehydration, hunger and lack of caffeine.  Every morning I drink at least one huge cup of the strongest, thickest coffee to start my day.  Once I tried to give up coffee, and I lasted eighteen hours before I broke down and drank a cup.

My wife drove me towards the hospital, down a quiet country road alongside the recently harvested and now very barren fields.  She said a prayer, and I began to relax and let the anxiety go.

Once in the hospital, everything moved pretty quickly.  We filled out some papers and then I was given a gown, a bed and wheeled toward pre-op where they started my IV.  When the resident who was helping with my anesthesia came in, I was reading a book.  I looked up and noticed she looked just like a friend of mine from Los Angeles named Shannon.  That was the last thing I remember until I woke up several hours later and asked the nurses when the surgery would start.

When they told me it was over, I was a little disappointed because I had wanted to see the robot that was performing the laparoscopic surgery on me.  

The rest of the day was a blur.  The next morning I felt better, good enough to walk around the farm a couple of times.  I thought, “Wow, this is going to be easy, I’ll be training in no time.”

When evening came, so did the pain.  It hurt deep down in my abdomen all night, even the ice and the prescription pain meds (which I hadn’t intended to take) weren’t taking the edge off.  That night and the following day were the worst. There were times that I didn’t know how I could deal with it.   

And then it was over.  Saturday my pain was almost gone and I stopped taking any pain pills.  

Sunday was a busy day at church, and I had no problem being up and about.  I felt good, but was pretty tired by the end of the day.

By Monday morning I was back to my normal routine, up before dawn walking the dogs, heading to the gym to train clients, and then home to write.

For my whole life, I have found my identity in my physical strength.  Other things about my life changed, but I always had my martial arts and my fitness.  Surgery stripped that from me temporarily, and I had to rely on others to help me in things I had always been able to do for myself.  It made me question where I get my strength from when I have none of my own.  God is the ultimate source of both strength and peace in any situation.  

It was a great experience for me.  Not only is my hernia fixed, but I have a new appreciation for all the small things that make up each day that I took for granted, and for God being my strength when I am weak.

Isaiah 41:10

Fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Hebrews 4:16

Let us approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.