I’ve always known deep down inside that I wanted to be different, wanted to be successful, wanted to be famous for what I did and make a positive impact on the world. Where did this desire come from? My humble upbringing in an Austrian village during the post-WWII period? Being the second child who felt he had to compete with an elder brother? Wanting to impress my parents? I honestly don’t know, and the reason is almost unimportant — the really important thing was that the seed of dramatic change was always there; I just had to find the correct avenue to follow.
In 1962, at age 14, I saw my first issue of Joe Weider’s MUSCLE BUILDER/POWER, which had a feature on Reg Park, who was a two-time Mr. Universe before becoming a movie star. Like a light switch being flicked, I knew I had found my vocation. I would emulate Reg by first being recognized as the best bodybuilder in the world, and then going on to Hollywood.
The magazine and Reg had given me the future I had been seeking; it was now up to me to make it a reality. And that is where bodybuilding gave me the “What you can see, you can achieve” blueprint I have followed all my life. First comes the vision of the end result. Then you must formulate a plan made up of short-term goals that will carry you toward turning that vision into a reality.
My bodybuilding goal was to create the best physique the world had ever seen. I envisioned my biceps being as massive and peaked as the Alps of my homeland; I pictured my pecs being as full and rounded as the protective breastplate armor of a Roman centurion. That was the long-term vision, but before I built a 22" arm, I had to plan to build a 16" one, then a 17" one, then an 18" one, and so on. Each inch represented a short-term goal on the way to the ultimate realization of the master plan.
When a contest was four weeks away or so, it was like I was reaching out and grasping for the prize while knowing it was still out of my reach. I knew that in order to get my hands on it, there were still four weeks of training twice a day before I got there; that I was still thousands of situps away, hundreds of sets away from being ready. Then, when I stood onstage finally holding the trophy, I knew that, without the investment of all those hours of reps, I would not have won. Every single pound I had lifted had propelled me toward victory, and anything less would have meant me coming up short. I came to firmly believe — to know — that if you work hard enough for something, you can achieve your goals.
Once I had climbed to the top of the bodybuilding ladder, I realized I could adopt the same “vision/ plan/execute” formula for my subsequent careers. A byproduct of having used that template in my bodybuilding career was that I found the prospect of other life challenges did not overwhelm me and make me want to give up before I started. I knew that with a vision, a plan and hard work, I would get where I wanted to be.
Of course, whenever you set out to succeed, there is always the risk of failure, of not getting exactly where you want to go. But the person who never takes a risk never wins anything. The prospect of failing is part of the winning conundrum. Every great boxer loses a fight or two along the way; no runner wins every race. As long as you learn from failure and come back stronger, then every setback will be part of the winning process.
In your own bodybuilding endeavors, I implore you to dig down and face adversity head on. By doing so, your work ethic will improve, and you will forge an iron-willed determination that will also be beneficial in your life outside the gym. The “What you can see, you can achieve” philosophy has been my cornerstone in several different careers — now it’s time for you to take that formula and put it to work for you.