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.