I really didn’t know much about the details of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life before reading his book, Be Useful: Seven tools for life. In fact, this type of book is not my usual thing to read, so I surprised myself by taking it home. I was even more surprised when I actually enjoyed reading it.
Arnie. What a guy he is. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Thal, a tiny village in Austria. His family was poor. His childhood was tough. And although he doesn’t explore this greatly in the book, as a child he was beaten with the belt. It seems it was what happened in this part of the world at that time. It seems many local kids suffered the same fate from their parents. Conform or take the consequences.
For some, this might break them, creating a boulder of pain that they drag around with them their whole lives. But for Schwarzenegger it drove a determination to escape, to make a success of himself, despite the hand he was dealt. He wanted out, he wanted to become famous. So he rebelled.
No matter his opinion of his father, he recognised a kernel of advice that he once gave him. Be useful. Of course, his father’s opinion of what ‘be useful’ meant did not correlate with his son’s, but that didn’t stop Arnie from pursuing what was his clear line of sight to what he wanted in life.
You may be sitting there thinking, this is just another celebrity sharing what they think we need to hear. A bit fluffy maybe. I beg to differ, as Schwarzenegger has something to say that is actually useful. Plus, I learned along the way exactly what he has achieved, which is surprisingly a lot. Most importantly, as the old crooner Frankie Sinatra would say, he did it his way. He always stuck to his guns to keep his identity and not allow anyone to tamper with that, even as Hollywood tried to make him conform
to what they wanted him to be.
Of course, while you’re reading this book, Arnie’s voice with its thick accent, booms in your head. You can’t help but read every word of this book using his voice from beginning to end. I find I can’t help but call him Arnie. He says you can call him Schnitzel, Termie, Arnie (so I’m safe), and even Schwarzie, but not a self-made man. He credits those around him with helping him achieve his dreams.
There are many takeaways from this book. The first chapter is ‘Have a Clear Vision’, and his razor-sharp vision from early in his youth right throughout his life is quite astounding. He was already training for bodybuilding with his eye on the prize in his teens, whereas I was floundering around trying to understand what I wanted to do in life, flitting from check-out chick to meat-packer.
He intended to become a world champion body builder and emigrate to America. He then planned to become an actor, but more than that, not compromise with anything but a leading man. He later wanted to contribute to society by becoming the Governor of California.
No matter your politics, you have to admire him. He didn’t pay any credence to the political game. He just wanted to make a difference. Brushing aside any political lobbying he went straight for the jugular of running the state. He came to it as a human, not a politician. Oh, for all governments to solely govern for the people rather than power.
Arnie gave me a saying that’s repeated in my head since. Reading it you have to have Arnie’s voice in your head as you say this … ‘There is no plan B, Plan B is Plan A.’ When you start to think like this you can’t help but drill down into what you really want to do. The more you do that, the more it appears achievable. The more it appears achievable the more you believe.
As he says, this becomes quite addictive. He admits there will be failures, but also says that failure is not fatal. It’s a cliché, but it’s true, and we all learn so much from failure. We grow.
Among all the lessons he shares, he also tells us of some of his achievements and, although that can be a little tiring at times, I certainly came away with a totally new respect for this man. I even started gushing about him to other people. Many might have formed an opinion of him from his bodybuilding years, possibly a skewed view from our own perception of that sport. Then again from his early ‘Conan the Barbarian’ movies to the ‘Terminator’ series. Films that were more about brawn and the action.
But Arnie can actually be quite funny, which he showed in Twins and which I experienced again in his latest Netflix series, Fubar. He’s a highly intelligent man, but he is just a human like the rest of us. Using his pinpoint determination, he has a list of achievements that is highly admirable.
In the back of the book he talks about reading Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. He was struck by the realisation that Meditations was really about people who helped or taught Aurelius something valuable. So Arnie ends his book with his own list of people who helped him duing his life and suggests you make your own too. It will keep you humble.
As the New Year is here, if you’d like something to prod you or someone you know to follow a dream, this book would be a great start. Now every time I think of some diversion from something I want to do, Arnie is there to help me. Plan B is plan A!