HOW DO WE OVERCOME ADVERSITY?
It is always interesting to look back on our lives from the position of being at peace. I don’t know about you, but my life has consisted of many, many peaks and valleys. One of the things I have learned is that when I am in a place of a being down, I have a mind that lies to me. It says it will always be like this.
I call it ‘having a faulty filter’. I believe what is not true, I interpret what is not meant, and I hear what is not said. I must always check with someone I can trust when I get into that state of mind. Fortunately for me I have a wonderful group of friends who help keep me on the straight and narrow.
So, what started this morning’s thinking?
A few days ago was the anniversary when I made the decision to change the direction of my life. It was thirty years ago. There I was, minding my own business, in a second marriage with two young children. I had just lost a lot of money on a movie I was producing, and I calculated I had a good 25 to 30 years to make a comeback. No problem. Relaxed, I went to bed and woke up at age 60. I was stunned. How could this be? I wish I’d planned better. But the time between my 30's and my 60's flew by like a rocket!
You might say that it was like riding the head of a ballistic missile, unguided, as it would turn out. When I stopped to take stock, here is where I am. I have a nice home in Vancouver, and a nice apartment in Toronto. I have a reasonable amount of savings. But it wasn’t always this way.
One day, totally out of the blue and unexpectedly I was injured and it appeared the career I had was about to end abruptly. I had to ask myself, what are my choices? I had to take stock of my life and figure out; how can I transfer some of my other assets and learn how to make a living in a hurry.
As a producer, what I had was the talent and ability to conceive an idea and translate that onto the screen so that significant numbers of people would want to watch what was created and produced. More importantly, in the past, when I made 10 pitches, I would end up with between 3 and 5 productions on average. At my lowest point four years ago I went through 335 no’s. It wouldn’t take a Las Vegas bookie to say the odds were not in my favor.
I started to focus on a new career, writing nonfiction self-help books and doing inspirational and motivational speaking. I also considered a teaching position. I had won a teaching award, so I knew I have that ability. The good news is, three years later, I am back producing, and I’ve now written three books, one of which has won the Reader’s Favorite Award in New York on this very subject of Overcoming Adversity and Aging. So here is what I learned in a nutshell.
If you are about to embark on any major changes in your life due to a financial setback, the loss of a job or management position you want to know: what can I do to help myself?
You may be impacted by the financial meltdown that occurred after 2008. You may have experienced the loss of your spouse or life partner or your closest friends. You may have recently been diagnosed with a life-altering illness, whether it’s terminal or not. Or you are one of the Boomers who are fortunate enough to be retiring. It’s important for any of us, whether self-employed or as an executive or manager or as a front-line employee, to do an inventory of our assets.
That inventory should include not only our financial assets, but also our family, friends, health, mementos of our past, keepsakes from our children, awards, and a list our achievements. It is a very good idea to do this. It is also important to sit down and look at every aspect of your finances too.
Why? Because the same brain that lies to us will also try to convince us that we are completely deficient. My mind will tell me “I don’t have all the skills necessary to proceed with something that is out of my comfort zone.” It might say, “I’ve worked at Acme Tool and Gear all of my life, and now I want to start up a bookstore cafe. How crazy is that”? Not very if you are innovative and add things like coffee, comfortable chairs, author’s readings, a gift shop, book club and make it a center for the community!
While my story may be different in the sense of what I did for a living, my experience of being blind-sided by some unforeseen event is exactly what happens every day of the week across North America, the UK (Brexit was a shocker, no?) and around the world in general. And it is only exacerbated by what is going on in the world geopolitically. There are those whose lives are altered because of a serious car accident or industrial accident. You may have experienced the loss of their marriage, the death of a partner. Someone close to you is suffering from the family disease of alcoholism or drug addiction. Difficulties with our children or challenges with our siblings, or the financial meltdown over the past several years may be plaguing us.
Here is the good news. If I found a way out, so can you. And here is the key: you are not to blame. You may have to take responsibility for what’s happened to you and not get caught up in a victim stance, but you don’t have to give up.
We may also have to change course in life. For any of you who are sailors, you know that frequently we must tack when we’re heading into the wind and go in the opposite direction to get to where we are going. At times, it will appear we are going the wrong way as we go to a starboard tack to a port tack. And we may have to be ready to let go of old ideas if there is something new trying to make its way into our life.
There are countless millions of others out there going through the same thing that you and I are. The key is to find fellow travelers with whom you can share your journey in a safe environment and thus overcome whatever adversity life throws at you.
We deserve to enjoy the benefits of our hard work in these ‘golden years’ in a way our parents or grandparents could never have ever imagined. “We are the Champions” as Freddy Mercury, sang in his iconic hit song with his band Queen, back in the 70s.
So, how you ended up here was by showing up and not dying. From the point at age thirty-five until today seems like it’s only been a few years. It's over thirty! To many people, it’s half a lifetime. It’s gone by so quickly.
TAKING STOCK OF OUR LIVES
So what have I accomplished? What is the truth? Yes, we’ve had disappointments. Who hasn’t? But because of taking responsibility for them and doing the work that needed to be done, I’ve clean up the wreckage of my past. Financially I’ve probably paid back eighty, or ninety per cent of the people I harmed through indebtedness when I was in my late 20's and lost over $5 million dollars on a movie I was producing in the United States. And, more importantly I’ve never had any of those kinds of financial problems again. Another tough lesson learned. And another case that I never thought would improve. I was sure I was destined to be a pauper.
I was married a second time to a very funny lady, Deborah. Because of that union, we have two children who are now young adults, Brendan, and Laurel. They have both worked with me in the past. I have healed my relationship with my two oldest children, Andrew, Colleen and my four grandkids, Sophie, Guerin, Henry, and Conlan.
I taught as a faculty member at three universities: York University and Ryerson University in Toronto, where I was the recipient of the CESAR teaching award. Then I added one more university to my CV - Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia.
In addition to my film and television productions, I’ve been President of several film and television production companies that have enjoyed tremendous critical and financial success. I've had the privilege of working with a lot of people over the years in a few disciplines, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the most intelligent, noteworthy and influential people on the planet. So there is hope.
The key is to find a group of like-minded people you can trust. I used the 8 Steps of the Master Mind to assist me in my journey. It’s easy to find on the internet. It is a blueprint for how to live your life with purpose and meaning. Or, you can go to my website www.davidbradybooks.com and read about it there or watch a few of my videos. We are designed to be with others. That is the key. Know, that you are not alone.
What have you learned on a good day? In my case, not much. It is only when I am hurled into a corner, jammed up against a wall with nowhere to go that my ego will finally allow the light of reason in. Imagine how it would feel if your face was squashed up against a panel of Plexiglas. So I can say “okay, what is my lesson?” Here’s a great starting point: clearly what you are doing is not working too well, is it?
Last night I received one of the most beautiful reviews I’ve ever had in my life or career as a writer, producer, director and especially author. It has really got me thinking about the ways that we are all the same and the challenges we all face. If you are interested in reading the review, it is on my website www.davidbradybooks.com under the title Survival: Transforming Childhood Trauma.
I survived a childhood no one should ever have to. In a nutshell, my father, an important professional and church-going man in our neighborhood, while in a drunken stupor, loaded, aimed and pulled the trigger on a Remington Pump Shotgun that was pointed at my mother and I. The gun jammed. It would not fire. What saved our lives was the fact my older brother, Robert, walked through the door and disarmed my father just as the gun jammed. I was only 12-years of age.
That experience, combined with the nearly eight years of physically and emotionally abuse I’d endured by that point, led me first to a life of addiction as a teenager and then into over-achievement in academics and the arts as a young adult. I stopped drinking at the age of 22 and stopped all other mood altering substances a few years after that. I am now in my late 60s. What I didn’t understand then, is that I was self-medicating as the emotional pain was so great. Very little was known about the resulting trauma thirty odd years ago. So many of us are running on information we acquired between the ages of four and twelve-years of age. We have faulty filters: we hear what is not said; we believe (and catastrophize) what is not true, and we interpret what is not meant. These are never ending beliefs that continue running us in our adult lives regardless of what we’ve accomplished or who we’ve become to the outside world. Thank God for my mother. She was sane, sober and had faith beyond understanding. It was her support that enabled me to turn my life around.
After graduate school, I became a partner in a film company that continuously produced wonderful and award winning film, tv series and documentaries. While the success was exhilarating, it would eventually lead to my first of two financial ‘crash and burn’s’. I would end up owing over $5 Million. I was humiliated when the headlines in the New York Times & The Globe and Mail shouted out my failure. In the end, I was a victim of commercial fraud.
How do you turn that into a lesson? At the time, it only felt like an absolute disaster. But here’s what I came to learn with the passing of time: Make sure that you investigate, do your due diligence and have all of your legal agreements prepared in advance. I had tried to do this without a business plan. This is a pretty big lesson if you want to succeed at all in business. Always have a business plan. From that day to this one - over one hundred and thirty episodes of prime-time drama, comedy and documentaries - I have never once been a day late making any loan or production payments.
I learned lots about cash flow and long-range planning because of this, which became the foundation for a successful career.
But what about the personal and emotional lessons? Often these can be just as potent, if not more so, than the financial ones. First, it brought me to a place of accepting I was powerless over the individual who had misrepresented the financing of this film to my attorney and I. I would eventually come to a place of realizing that if I didn’t change, I would go bankrupt and not be able to redeem myself. And after all was said and done, I still went ahead and raised an additional three-quarter’s of a million dollars to finish the film. I had cavalierly started the film believing I would always be able to complete the financing and the film if I had any problems. But the film was a flop. I learned a few things about being overly cavalier without having the evidence to support that I was making a good choice.
But more positive life-altering results than I could ever have predicted would come from these adversities. Because I had returned to Toronto from Vancouver and Los Angeles where I had been working on this deal, I was given the opportunity to make amends to my mother who lived in Toronto, and be in her life until the day she died. What a gift that was.
I reconnected with my older children from my first marriage. It took an enormous of amount of physical and emotional work to repair those relationships but the point is I was given the opportunity. I was introduced to an excellent doctor and a group of like-minded friends who allowed me to start examining my childhood dysfunction. I began to see the deep-rooted fears that influenced most decisions I made. It was also made apparent to me that I kept choosing people who could not give me the kind of support I needed in business – especially in a crisis, with only a few exceptions. I also ended up meeting the woman who was to become the mother of my two youngest children and with whom I have a remarkable relationship today, even though we are divorced. Believe it or not, I am still paying off that debt but I am about ninety percent of the way there! It’s taken me almost thirty years to do it. Those are some pricey life lessons.
Thirteen years down the road, I would end up in another business situation that did not end well, and I am still dealing with the fallout of it all these years later. Here is what I learned from this one: I am limited in life if I don’t operate ethically. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes or quick deals. Anything that claims to have quick rewards usually has very little ongoing benefits. As you can imagine, today I am very cautious about who I am in business with. I have not repeated either one of those two terrible mistakes, and as a result, I have had a life that has been financially manageable and solvent for the most of the past thirty years.
Adversity is the universe’s way of helping you grow. Or if you are spiritually inclined, it is the stepping stone to peace of mind. Without adversity, there is no growth, no self-esteem, no sense of accomplishment. It is why so many individuals who come from extreme wealth lose it by the third generation. They never had to pay the price their forefathers and foremothers did to get to where they are. No one is perfect and we are all the same. It just depends on the circumstances and the day. My lesson here that I want to share with you – don’t be too hard on yourself for being a human being. Only baseball recognizes errors as part of the game.
Fear is the biggest trigger for most of life’s problems and adversities. Real or imagined I might add. But they seldom become a reality. Usually it has us say and do things we should never say or do. It is our reptilian brain that worked one hundred thousand years ago to protect us from predators, but it is now an ancient and out of date hardware. We need to reload the software in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our automatic fear reactions, because it is about as useful as the original DOS operating on top of the newest Apple or Quantum Computers. Obsolete, redundant and a tad unreliable. It’s responsible for our fight or flight reaction and our sexual impulses and the little bugger is always creating pitfalls that we must dig out of or else we fail.
What I believe today is that there is no opportunity for genuine growth, true brilliance or genius, no groundbreaking discovery without adversity. We see it time and time again, whether with the Wright Brothers, folks like Steve Jobs or the Space Program. The bigger our dreams, the greater the adversity you will encounter. Welcome it. Make it your friend. Fail fast to get it out of the way.
Am I personally immune from it? I often forget that it’s my friend when I’m in the middle of ontologically imploding. What have I learned after having faced an enormous amount of it from my childhood to losing eighty percent of my memory seven years ago after sustaining a catastrophic brain injury and losing just about everything one could lose as a result? What could I have possibly gained? A new perspective on life including an understanding of what is truly of value. My children and my grandkids. After that, I have peace of mind and a real sense of healthy self-esteem combined with an enormous amount of gratitude because my biggest adversities have been my greatest teachers. I am a better man, a better human being, a better father, and friend because I faced the challenge and rose to the occasion. And yes, I’ve now written three books and I am in the middle of adapting 31 New York Times Best Seller for broadcast in 2018.
If I can overcome a series of overwhelmingly big and challenging setback to find a way back to a better, more rewarding life, than it is my belief that absolutely anyone can.
David Brady has 30 years of experience as an award-winning writer, producer and director of feature film and international television productions. In June, 2015 he founded David Brady Communications and changed his focus on writing nonfiction books.