The surest way to get me to do something it to tell me I can't do it. It's been the greatest motivation my entire life. The second someone tells me you can't do that, I'm on fire to prove them wrong. Bodybuilding included. Growing up, I always knew I was loved and that my family had my back. That was a great feeling then and also later in life, when things weren’t going so great for me. I can’t thank my parents enough. But, just because my dad loved me doesn’t mean he was always easy to be around. He had his own bodybuilding program planned for me. It was called hard work in the trenches as a manual laborer. He was a brick and stonemason, so he certainly knew a fail proof system to get me strong. Now, I’m proud of my dad and don’t think of myself as being above manual labor— that’s just not what I wanted. I was mesmerized by the world of bodybuilding.
When I first showed my dad the pictures of Lou, Arnold, Franco, Samir, and others to explain why I was eating a dozen eggs and drinking a whole gallon of milk each day, his immediate response was “you can’t do that.” When he found out I was sneaking into the weight room at Rutgers University, all he said to me was “you can’t do that.” When I left Rutgers just short of graduating, to pursue my dream of being a bodybuilder in California, the capital of the bodybuilding world, once again he said to me, “you can’t do that.”
The problem for my dad was that he raised me to be independent, to take chances—and to work hard. So his words didn’t discourage me and obviously I didn’t agree with his opinion. I can honestly say that him telling me, “you can’t do it,” was a great motivator. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t trying to get back at him. But, I did want to prove him wrong. I wanted him to be proud of me. And, I succeeded in that endeavor.
When I turned professional and writers and other competitors said I couldn’t become a champion because I was too small, I have to admit part of my motivation was to prove them wrong. I never wasted much emotional energy on it, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get any satisfaction from hearing people who said I couldn’t succeed, have to explain how I did it.
Motivation can come from a number of different directions. Most importantly and best of all, is when it's internal and tied to your own dreams and goals. We all need the extra boost of motivation we get once in a while from an encouraging word from a coach, a boss, a parent, a friend, or a competitor. I’m sure you can think of someone who's had that kind of impact in your life. Don’t forget to return the favor and encourage others.
The good news is we can turn any negativity that comes our way into a motivational tool. I grew up when dads let the belt do their talking. Fear of punishment definitely motivated me. Today, a rebuke, a bad performance review at work, a low grade on a test, someone mouthing off to you - so called experts today shudder at the very thought of such negative confrontations. They are terrified it’s going to ruin your self-esteem and short circuit healthy development. Too many people believe the experts and settle for mediocrity rather than challenge someone to do better.
What it comes down to is this: the proper response to someone telling you that you can't do something is to get mad, or frustrated, or whatever other emotion you need to harness to get yourself motivated and determined to succeed. The next time someone tells you that you don’t have what it takes, tell that person, “thank you.” Then go out and prove them wrong. Few things in life are more gratifying.