What do Princess Diana, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, Walt Disney, Sir Richard Branson, Charles Dickens, and Elton John all have in common? Each one of them dropped out before finishing high school, but none of them needed support from Nutrisystem, Tony Robbins, or Garmin to figure out what direction to go in life. How did they evolve into the leagues of the world renowned? People write books, lead lectures, and create reality television shows about the secrets of success, but the real secret is that each path is different.
People change. At least, I believe they are supposed to change as the years slip by. My favorite things to eat as a kid were bacon double cheeseburgers, ice cream sundaes, and donuts. As a teen, I added cheap beer and tequila shots to the list. I played sports through high school, but in college, nothing interrupted my social (drinking) schedule. I developed a temper and felt awful most of the time. Twenty years later, I’m a vegetarian. I don’t drink, and I’ve run three marathons. People find out that I don’t smoke or ingest alcohol or eat meat, but I do run 26 miles for fun and they conjure images of me as a baby knawing on brocolli stalks and running laps around the crib refusing to believe that I wasn’t always this way.
In my case, transformation began as an experiment. By senior year in college, I was actively searching for ways to feel less like crap. To quit staying out until 3am at the bar every night would have been too much to ask, so I gave up fast food. It was amazing how much one small adjustment helped. That step became permanent and the process continued until I subsisted almost entirely on plant matter.
Other issues were handled in a similar fashion:
Problem: 8 hour desk job = extra pounds.
Solution: Tried the gym, didn’t like it. I had friends who jogged, so…after a few weeks, I could shuffle along (I wouldn’t call it running) for three miles, and the pounds started coming off. My sister suggested we run a marathon. I thought she was crazy, but signed on anyway. A year later, I ran across the finish line of my first 26.2 mile race ready to sign up for another. I took to running like I took to eating vegetables. Both did a lot of good with little downside.
My motivation to succeed came from a desire to unearth a better version of myself. But was I evolving or moulting? Did my changes come about because I was expanding into a better version of myself? Or had I begun to shed old layers of crud?
At certain age, we all find ourselves lacking (too ugly, too dumb, too clumsy) and start trying to cover up the bad with clothes or make up, by drinking or smoking, with over eating or under eating, or by trying on identities like Halloween costumes (I’m a jock, I’m a brain, I’m a diva) only to reach a point in life when the costumes don’t fit anymore. Whatever we’ve used to hide our true selves needs to be cast off to find the person we rejected so many years before.
Not everyone gives up fast food and ends up vegetarian. Not everyone starts exercising and becomes a marathoner, and not everyone can be Walt Disney, but everyone has a true self, a better version of you inside that needs to be visited, checked in on, touched base with, tweeted, or IM’d once in a while because that person holds the secrets to success.