I’ll give it to you straight here. This digital age we live in has brought us a life of convenience and entitlement in warp drive. And all of us have been affected, and infected by this reality, myself included.
We want what we want when we want it, and we expect things we haven’t really earned; we only think we have.
And then every so often we get a reality check of the dream world we’ve been living in. Make no mistake, this era of ultra-convenience and entitlement has imprinted on each and every one of us, especially as consumers.
I’ve seen it in my coaching my whole career. There are just people who want results they haven’t earned in real terms and who have completely unrealistic expectations as to what is possible with minimum sacrifice.
But, what about maximum sacrifice.
What about real hard times.
Many of you who are my age grew up with parents who lived through the depression. Yes, we’ve all heard the jokes – “When I was your age I had to walk 6 miles through the snow with no boots to get to work, never mind being lucky enough to go school.”
As kids, we all rolled our eyes at these stories of parents going without when they were young.
But something about those stories always stayed with me and left their own imprints on me.
In fact, when it came to making it bodybuilding or earning my university degree, I always thought about people who never had the opportunity to pursue such goals.
But I also went deeper.
I studied and researched people who made good in truly hard times. I studied their character. And it was these people who always made me realize how easy I had it by comparison. And that always motivated me to give it my best when I was younger.
As a Coach, I have 5 decades of experience under my belt now. I see clearly the common denominators in why people fail at physique goals and why they succeed.
So often I want to explain to them the same stories of success that I contemplated and that kept me going in my younger years.
In particular, for me, this wasn’t so much about the bodybuilding as much as it was about earning my degree. In those early months at University, I felt like such a fish out of water, and at the time, I couldn’t imagine making it through 4 more years and beyond.
But holding on to stories like the one I am about to share with you, was like bitch-slapping myself in the face about how lucky I was to be there at University to begin with. And that staying there was going to be all about character, not logistics.
I wish more people would look at weight loss and physique goals as something you get to choose to do, not something you have to do. And staying with those goals for as long as it takes to achieve them is reflective of character.
And when doubt creeps in as it inevitably will, latch on to some success story of some historical figure and how and why they were able to make their mark against much harsher realities than what we face today in this era of ultra-convenience and entitlement on steroids.
Here is one such story I remember latching on to for motivation before I competed in my first bodybuilding contest in 1983 – and I will add some lessons you can learn from it as well, when it comes to losing weight and transforming your physique
Milton Hershey (1857-1945):
Milton Hershey was barely 12 years old when he quit school to go to work. He went to work at a print shop, but hated it. Then he went work at a candy and ice cream shop.
At the young age of 19, with financial support from his family, he eagerly opened his own candy company. That endeavor didn’t work out so well, and Hershey filed for bankruptcy.
After this first business failure he left town and went to Colorado with an aim to get rich through silver mining. But he was too late to the scene and not only did he not get rich (again) but he struggled to even find work at all.
Falling back on what he used to know and do, eventually, he found a job in candy making again. Combined with his previous experience, he learned even more about candy making. He relocated to New York and tried again at the candy making business.
And guess what?
There were simple too many other established candy shops there already and he didn’t have the financial resources or wherewithal to hang in there and compete.
This second major business failure had other consequences as well. His family was frustrated with him. They shunned him. They viewed HIM as a failure, rather than viewing the business attempt as a failure.
But amid all this pressure Hershey remained undaunted. He moved back to Pennsylvania and eventually opened a caramel-making company. He worked tirelessly making candy during the day and then selling caramels on the streets at night with a pushcart.
Eventually, he received a large order for his caramels and he was able to secure a bank loan to fill it. You would think he would be leery of yet another loan and yet another possibility of failure; but instead, he saw opportunity to succeed, in spite of his past.
Hershey filled the order, paid off the loan and subsequently launched the Lancaster Caramel Company.
And then, all that previous experience culminated with him becoming a millionaire and one of the most successful businesspeople in his area. He continued to expand his business. He went from being shunned as a failure, to being respected as a success.
But he didn’t stop there. He began making chocolate, and by the year 1900, he sold the Lancaster Caramel Company and opened a chocolate factory.
Hershey worked determinedly on perfecting his chocolate-making formula. In a very short time, he became the only person in the United States to mass-produce milk chocolate, and soon he began selling chocolate all over the world.
SUCCESS THEN SETBACK: ALMOST FAILURE AGAIN
When sugar became scarce during World War I, Hershey established his own sugar refinery in Cuba. But as soon as the war ended, the sugar market collapsed. Hershey found himself in financial trouble, AGAIN.
He borrowed money from the bank, but to secure the loan he had to mortgage his properties until the loan was paid off. Instead of being intimidated by the possibility of another failure, Hershey doubled-down on an investment in himself and his previous success before the war.
And instead of pressure and potential failure, Hershey managed to get his business back on top and he paid off the loan within two years.
And then, not only did he build a booming chocolate factory, but he created a thriving town around that factory – Hershey Pennsylvania.
During the Great Depression, something you and I can’t even imagine living through, Hershey was able to keep his employees working, which was something back then considering all the bread lines of the time.
With his vision, he created numerous edifices essential to any town, including a school, a sports arena, and even a hotel. All this new construction employed many people.
As a side note, throughout all his success, Hershey also became a great philanthropist.
While he past struggles obviously stayed with him, he didn’t define them as failures, even though other people did.
Hershey’s ability to learn from his mistakes helped him go from running failed candy businesses to owning the world’s biggest chocolate company and building a town. The town known as Hershey, Pennsylvania, is adorned with streetlights in the shape of Hershey’s Kisses, and millions and millions of visitors have toured the Hershey’s chocolate factory to learn how Milton Hershey made chocolate go from a bean to a bar.
Sticktoitiveness: Hershey kept at it and at it. Maybe it was something deep inside him, and maybe it was just the reality of the times he lived in. I like to refer to it as him establishing a ‘keep-trying-ethic’
This is what character offers that merely following procedure never can. For people like Hershey, they seemed to create a snowball effect for motivation when things are going well and an adaptability effect when they are not:
In short: When things get hard, you work harder; you don’t quit: quitting is the only failure.
I remember one day while naively preparing for that first bodybuilding contest back in 1983 – I was way over-trained and way over-dieted, and I had just come across Hershey’s biography.
Combined with stories my own father told me about the times he lived through growing up – I established the “quitters never win, winners never quit” mantra in my mind to make it through to the contest – always reminding myself that so many other successful people achieved far more from far less, with far greater challenges to endure than what was in front of me.
That self-reminder always kept it real for me.
And even though I made every mistake imaginable preparing for that first bodybuilding contest, I still won the show, and I learned a lot, not so much about winning (I gave away my trophies to my training partner for being there for me)
I learned about prevailing. I learned about not making excuses for myself. I learned about building character through pursuing goals, regardless of outcome.
Look, when you view your mistakes not as something negative but instead as an opportunity to improve yourself, you’ll be able to devote time and energy into making sure you don’t repeat those mistakes. You’ll be able to see them coming and put safeguards in place so that you become proactive to creating conditions for success, rather than remaining reactive to the conditions going on around you.
This is what Hershey mastered.
Many people from his era knew what they wanted to do, but had little to no idea how to do it. No one had gone before them and created the blueprint for their particular target industry.
But this is NOT true for weight loss and physique goals. Many blueprints to success exist.
By comparison, weight loss goals are not nearly as hard as what Hershey accomplished.
The difference between Hershey’s era and the current era we live in is that back then there were no soft places to land. That was their reality. If you failed, it often meant going hungry, literally.
(Let me also suggest you check out the bio of James J Braddock “Cinderella Man” who went from average palooka boxer to world champion, incentivized by watching his family go hungry and not being able to provide for them, during the depression – or just watch the movie starring Russell Crowe)
Over the years, I have shared many of my own mistakes with you all and also my triumphs. I can tell you it is not about winning or losing. It’s about outcomes. Desirable or undesirable outcomes can all teach us something valuable for moving forward. It’s about staying in the game and letting that build character.
As Hershey’s story teaches us, defeat does NOT = failure.
Remember, Hershey wasn’t intimidated by failure. He looked forward. He didn’t let himself be hamstrung by the unfavorable outcomes of the past.
So even if this is your 50th time trying to lose weight, employ the lessons from past experience and use them to your advantage. Experience is an excellent teacher, likely THE BEST teacher: And as the saying goes:
“Good decisions come from experience, and experience usually comes from bad decisions.”
This was certainly true for Milton Hershey.
And that’s what progress looks like – a bunch of defeats strung together while being connected to learning something from each one and building on these experiences. Then the periods between each set back/defeat get longer and longer and the setbacks get less calamitous.
This is the messiness that leads to success, then achievement, then TRIUMPH.
Let’s also remember that afflictions like being overweight or obese are afflictions of EXCESS, an offshoot of being members of our world of ultra-convenience and entitlement.
As I’ve discussed in previous articles, obesity was a rarity in the era of Hershey because ‘excess on steroids’ simply didn’t exist.
With weight loss goals and such, it’s just too easy to quit. Don’t let that happen.
If the goal is serious to you, then just stop giving yourself so many options and choices. The road to your achievement will always be marked all along the way with many Lazy Boys offering you to do nothing instead, at least not today.
It’s never going to be easy, but worthy goals never are.
Remind yourself that there are so many other things in life that are far grimmer than trying to lose weight or sculpt your physique. Have some perspective, but also find your grit and your chutzpah.
You can do this.
And when doubt and choice seem like they are starting to get the best of you – latch on to success stories like Milton Hershey’s and let them ground you.
Some of you will get it
Some of you will not