A Van Down By The River

Every self-proclaimed self help guru has a story about when they hit rock bottom. Where they were at before they turned their life around. Infomercial super star Don Lapre was living in a tiny one bedroom apartment when he learned how to make a fortune with classified ads.

And then there’s Chris Farley’s motivational mastermind Matt Foley striving to make something of himself while living in a van down by the river.

Everyone’s got a van down by the river story. Here’s mine:

A couple of years ago, I was working part time as a bartender. Now I wasn’t a bartender by trade. I owned what had been a successful ad agency, but the ad business had fallen on hard times and I was tending bar at concerts and sporting events to help keep the wheels on the bus.

Garth Brooks was doing a series of comeback concert, something like 12 sold out concerts in 7 days in Nashville, taping them for a network special. He hadn’t toured in about a decade so it was kind of a big deal.

I was working behind the counter with a friend of mine from England who had only lived in the states for a few years and honestly had no idea who Garth Brooks was or why he had 12 sold out shows. I was explaining that during the 80’s and 90’s Garth Brooks had probably sold more records than any human – alive or dead – more records than Elvis and the Beatles, maybe combined.

Then she asked me “How old is he?”

And I answered, without pause, “He’s our age. Like 50 or so.”

That’s when it hit me. “Like 50.”

As soon as I said it, it was like someone had kicked me in the groin. I was about to be 50 freaking years old!

My friend even noticed my sudden change in demeanor or maybe it was just the color rushing from my face.

I was a handful of years away from turning the big 5-0.

My business, which had been my entire self identity for a long time, was on the verge of failing.

I was a happy meal shy of 300 pounds. And I drank too much.

My shit was fucked up.

It occurred to me in that flash of a moment (epiphany is the big boy word). It occurred to me that if I didn’t get my shit together, and soon, it was probably gonna be fucked up for a long time to come.

About the only hobby I’ve ever had, other than working and drinking, was playing ice hockey. I was already one of the oldest players playing rec league hockey. But I knew a few guys who had played into their 50’s, 60’s, even 70’s.

My personal hero, Jerry Franz, played hockey in Nashville well into his 70’s. But here’s the thing: Jerry was a lean, mean hockey machine. He worked out, ran triatholons and took a lot better care of himself than I did.

Nobody was skating around the ice at 300 pounds into their 50’s and 60’s much less their 70’s.

If I didn’t start taking better care of myself, I wasn’t going to be playing hockey much longer.

If I didn’t get myself turned around I was gonna be Matt Foley – fat, broke and living in a van down by the river.

Now, if this were one of Don Lapre’s infomercials, I’d tell you how I went out and placed one little tiny classified ad that solved all my financial problems. How I discovered a secret fruit milkshake that tasted like Godiva Chocolate and helped me lose 100 pounds in 3 months. How I invented a workout program that only took ten minutes a day and gave me rock hard abs without ever doing a single sit up.

That’s not the way it worked out.

I knew something had to change so I started making a few tweaks. A little tweak to my diet here. I little tweak to my exercise program there. A couple of tweaks to my sleep patterns and work habits scattered around. And gradually, I began to see a difference in my life. Slight at first, but picking up steam as I made more and more changes. And then my successes gave me the energy, the confidence and the willpower to make even more changes.

I’ve dropped about 50 pounds. And when someone mentions that I look like I’ve lost weight, the first question out of their mouth is “What are you doing?” By which they generally mean which magic potion have you bought? Which highly marketed diet regimen are you on? Which $200 exercise DVD did you buy?

What’s the Magic Bullet?

But, in the real world, there is no magic bullet. And my answer is generally “I’m eating less and exercising more.”

That’s the quick, safe answer.

But I’ve told a few people the truth.

I’ve made multiple specific changes in my life. Some so tiny that no one would ever know unless I tell them. Some so gigantic that they’ve rocked my entire idea of me, who I am and who I can be.

Losing 50 pounds is, honestly, the least important benefit that I’ve seen.

I’ve doubled my income since that dark moment filled with the smell of stale beer.

A lot of that is thanks to the economy. But if I hadn’t righted the ship, got the oars back in the water, and repaired the sail no amount of rising tide was going to get my business afloat. I’d be just as broke today, probably broker. The changes I made saved my business.

And for that I’m incredibly grateful. But that’s still not the best part.

The huge benefit of the tweaks I’ve made over the last few years is that I’ve changed the way I think – about almost everything.

And changing the way I think has changed the way I feel.

My friends ask me how I feel since I’ve lost the weight. And tell ’em “I feel freaking fantastic.”

I feel like a superhero. I fell like I could shoot fire out of my fingertips if I really wanted to.

People who know about horses and dogs are always looking at their teeth and nails to judge how healthy they are. I look at my fingernails now and they’re almost embarrassingly pink. I’m afraid people are going to start asking me if I’m painting them.

I’ve got more energy. More stamina. More money.

I’m a better hockey player than I’ve ever been. And I’m just plain happier.

I’m a better me and that’s the story I want to tell.

The story about the minor adjustments I made to my life, which snowballed into lifestyle changes which helped me drop the weight, make more money and learn to be happy.

I want to tell people that you can turn your life around. No matter how old you are. No matter how fat you are. No matter how broke you are.

If you’re ready to make a change in your life, you don’t need to run a marathon tomorrow. All you have to do is get your dead ass up off the couch and take the first step today.

You CAN Change Your Life… One Tweak At A Time.

Terry LancasterTerry Lancaster is the VP of Making S#!% Happen at Instant Events Automotive Advertising, father of 3 teenage daughters and a Beer League Hockey All Star, as if there could ever be such a thing.

You can connect with Terry on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.