Chapter 1Have a Clear Vision
So many of our best people are lost.
So many of the good ones don't know what they're doing with their lives. They're unhealthy. They're unhappy. Seventy percent of them hate their jobs. Their relationships are unrewarding. They don't smile. They don't laugh. They have no energy. They feel useless. They feel helpless, as if life were pushing them down a road to nowhere.
If you know what to look for, you will see these people everywhere. Maybe even when you look in the mirror. It's OK. You're not broken. Neither are they. This is just what happens when you don't have a clear vision for your life, and you've taken either whatever you can get or whatever you thought you deserved.
We can fix that. Because everything good, all great change, starts with a clear vision.
Vision is the most important thing. Vision is purpose and meaning. To have a clear vision is to have a picture of what you want your life to look like and a plan for how to get there. The people who feel most lost have neither of those. They don't have the picture or the plan. They look in the mirror and they wonder, "How the hell did I get here?" but they don't know. They've made so many decisions and taken so many actions that have landed them in this place, and yet they have no idea what any of them were. They'll even argue with you: "I hate this, why would I have chosen
it?" Except no one forced that ring on their finger or put that second cheeseburger in their hands. No one made them take that dead-end job. No one made them skip class, or miss workouts, or stop going to church. No one made them stay up late every night playing video games instead of getting eight hours of sleep. No one made them drink that last beer or spend their last dollar.
Yet they fully believe what they're saying. And I believe they believe it. They feel as if life just sort of happened to them. They really think they had no choice in what became of their lives.
And you know what? They're partly right.
None of us has a choice about where we come from. I grew up in a small village in Austria at the beginning of the Cold War. My mother was very loving. My father was strict, and he could be physically abusive, but I loved him very much. It was complicated. I'm sure your story is complicated too. I bet growing up was more difficult than the people around you think it was. We can't change those stories, but we can choose where we go from there.
There are reasons and explanations for all the things that have happened to us up to this point, good and bad. But for the most part, it wasn't because we didn't have a choice. We always have a choice. What we don't always have, unless we create it, is something to measure our choices against.
That is what a clear vision gives you: a way to decipher whether a decision is good or bad for you, based on whether it gets you closer or further away from where you want your life to go. Does the picture you have in your mind of your ideal future get blurrier or sharper because of this thing you're about to do?
The happiest and most successful people in the world do everything in their power to avoid bad decisions that confuse matters and drag them away from their goals. Instead, they focus on making choices that bring clarity to their vision and bring them closer to achieving it. It doesn't matter if they're considering a small thing or a huge thing, the decision-making process is always the same.
The only difference between them and us, between me and you, between any two people, is the clarity of the picture we have for our future, the strength of our plan to get there, and whether or not we have accepted that the choice to make that vision a reality is ours and ours alone.
So how do we do that? How do we create a clear vision from scratch? I think there are two ways to do it. You can start small and build out until a big, clear picture reveals itself to you. Or you can start very broad and then, like the lens on a camera, zoom in until a clear picture snaps into focus. That's how it was for me.Start Broad and Zoom In
The earliest vision I had for my life was very broad. It was of America. Nothing more specific than that. I was ten years old. I'd just started school in Graz, the big city just east of where I grew up. It seemed like everywhere I turned in those days I was seeing the most amazing things about America. In my school lessons, on magazine covers, in newsreels that played before shows at the movie house.
There were pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and those Cadillacs with the big tail fins driving down massive six-lane highways. I watched movies made in Hollywood and rock 'n' roll stars on talk shows filmed in New York. I saw the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, which made the tallest building in Austria look like a toolshed. I saw streets lined with palm trees and beautiful girls on Muscle Beach.
It was America in surround sound. Everything was big and bright. For an impressionable kid like me, those images were like Viagra for dreams. They should have come with a warning, too, because the visions of life in America they aroused did not
go away after four hours.
I knew: this is where I belong.
Doing what? I had no clue. Like I said, it was a broad vision. The picture was very fuzzy. I was young. What did I know? What I would learn, though, is that some of the strongest visions emerge like this. From our obsessions when we're young, before our opinions about them have been affected by other people's judgments of them. Talking about what to do when you're dissatisfied with your life, the famous big wave surfer Garrett McNamara once said that you should "go back to when you were three, figure out what you loved doing, figure out how to make that your life, then make the road map and follow it." He was describing the process for creating a vision, and I think he's absolutely correct. It's obviously not that easy, but it is that simple, and it can begin by looking back in time and thinking very broadly about the things you used to love. Your obsessions are a clue to your earliest vision for yourself, if only you had paid attention to them in the beginning.
Look at someone like Tiger Woods showing off his putting skills on The Mike Douglas Show
when he was only two years old. Or the Williams sisters. A lot of people don't know this, but their father, Richard, exposed all five of his kids to tennis when they were young, and they all had talent. But it was only Venus and Serena who showed passion for the sport. Obsession.
And so tennis became the framework for how they grew up and how they saw themselves.
It was the same for Steven Spielberg. He wasn't a big movie fan when he was a boy. He loved TV. Then one year his dad got a little 8mm home movie camera for Father's Day to record their family road trips, and Steven started to mess around with it. Around the same age I was when I was first learning about America, Steven discovered moviemaking. He made his first movie when he was twelve years old. He made one to earn a merit badge for photography in the Boy Scouts when he was thirteen. He even took the camera with him on Boy Scout trips. For Steven, who had just moved with his family all the way across the country from New Jersey to Arizona, moviemaking gave him his first bit of direction.
It wasn't moving to Hollywood. It wasn't winning an Oscar for Best Picture or Best Director. It wasn't being rich and famous or working with glamorous movie stars. Those more specific ambitions would all come later. In the beginning his vision was simply to make movies. It was big and broad, like it was for Tiger (golf), Venus and Serena (tennis), and me (America).
This is perfectly normal. For most of us, it's necessary. Anything more detailed gets too complicated too quickly, and you get ahead of yourself. You start missing important steps on the road map. Having a broad vision gives you an easy, more accessible place to start from when it comes to figuring out where and how to zoom in.
That doesn't mean you get narrower with your vision, just more specific. The picture gets sharper. It's like zooming in on a map of the world when you're trying to build an itinerary for a trip. The world is made up of continents. Inside continents are countries, inside countries are states or provinces, inside those are counties, and inside those are cities and towns. And the thing is, you can keep going like this. Inside towns are neighborhoods, inside neighborhoods are blocks. Blocks are stitched together by streets. If you're a tourist and you just want to see the world, you can hop from country to country or city to city and it doesn't matter. You don't have to pay close attention. But if you really want to know a place and get the absolute most out of your experience, if you might even want to call that place home someday, well then, you better hit the streets, talk to locals, explore every back alley, learn the customs, and try new things. That is when the itinerary you're trying to create-or the plan you're trying to build to achieve your vision-really starts to take shape.
My plan took shape around bodybuilding, after the first clear picture of my future snapped into focus. I was a teenager and I saw the current Mr. Universe, the great Reg Park, on the cover of one of Joe Weider's muscle magazines. I'd just watched him play Hercules in Hercules and the Captive Women
that summer. The article described how, as a poor kid from a working-class town in England, Reg discovered bodybuilding, then made the transition into acting after winning the Mr. Universe competition. I immediately saw it: that was my path to America.
For you, the path will be different; so will the destination. Maybe it involves a career choice and a change in scenery. Maybe it involves a hobby that you want to turn into a lifestyle or a cause that you want to make your life's mission. There really isn't a wrong answer as long as it sharpens the focus of your vision and makes the steps you need to take to achieve it more clear-cut.
Still, this part can be very difficult for people, even those with the broadest of visions. When I go to the gym these days, for example, I will sometimes see a person wandering around, bouncing randomly from machine to machine like a Ping-Pong ball, and it's clear they have no plan at all for their workout. I'll go up to this person, and we'll have a conversation. I've done this many times, and it always goes the same way.
"What's your goal coming into the gym?" I'll ask them.
"To get in shape," is what they'll usually say.
"Yes, great, fantastic, but get in shape for what?" I will say. It's an important question, because not all forms of "in shape" are created equal. Being in bodybuilder shape isn't going to help you if you're a rock climber. If anything, it's going to hurt you having to carry around all that extra mass. In the same way, being in shape like a long-distance runner is useless if you're a wrestler, where you need both raw strength and explosive quickness.
They'll pause, then they'll stammer, searching for an answer that they think I want to hear. But I stay silent, I don't let them off the hook. Eventually, most of them give me an honest answer.
"My doctor said I need to lose twenty pounds and get my blood pressure under control."
"I just want to look good at the beach."
"I have young kids and want to be able to chase them around and wrestle with them."
These are all great answers. I can work with each of them. Zooming in like that gives their vision some specific direction, which will help them focus on the exercises that are best for achieving that goal.
Bodybuilding is all about zooming in. Not just on the specifics of what you want to achieve as a bodybuilder, but also on the steps you need to take in the gym to get there. When I got to America as a twenty-one-year-old in the fall of 1968 and I landed in Venice Beach to train at Gold's Gym under the great Joe Weider, I'd already won a number of titles, including Mr. Universe earlier that year, in my professional debut. Those titles were steps on the path that brought me to Joe's attention, which ultimately brought me to America. But they were not the final steps. Joe didn't pay for me to come to America because I'd already become a champion. He was investing in me because he thought I could be more
than a champion. I was still very young by bodybuilding standards. I also had an incredible hunger to work hard and an insane desire to be great. Joe saw all these things in me and thought I had a real shot to be the greatest bodybuilder in the world, maybe even of all time. And he was going to help me zoom in even closer to really figure out what it takes to become the greatest ever.
I was in America, I was Mr. Universe, and the work was just beginning.
Copyright © 2023 by Arnold Schwarzenegger. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.