(Ten Lessons Toward Life Mastery)


Tom Justin

Proposal Introduction

   The man looked mean, and he was scowling at me. There were 849 other people seated in the ballroom, and every one of them looked nicer than him.

My partner, Jim Britt and I would be alternating as speakers in a workshop with this audience for the next two and a half days. This was a required conference for our client’s independent distributors, who had to attend if they wanted to advance to the highest commission levels.

The Scowler was sitting at a round table right in front of the stage along with five other people. They had all come together, and none of them looked especially happy to be there.

He was barrel-chested, short and squat, about fifty years old. His square shoulders framed a beefy neck and arms, topped with a jowly face, sunken droopy eyes and a crew-cut that accentuated his appearance.

Each button on his white short-sleeved shirt bulged impossibly against his oversized chest which was exceeded only by his over-lapping beer-belly. Those buttons must have been attached with high-test fishing line. His top collar was unbuttoned and was surrounded by a tie that probably belonged to his father, with remnants of his father’s last meal still evident. He looked like a human bulldog – in a tight shirt and bad tie.

Notwithstanding our suggestion, that people sit with others they didn’t already know, that group owned that table for the life of the conference. Whenever I looked down from the stage, I was confronted by this glowering group. They looked like the finalists from The National Lemon Sucking Contest.

Despite the laughter and warmth that most of us shared together, the man was unmoving. He frequently glared down at the table, then back toward the stage, never once showing emotion or recognition that he was getting any of what we were teaching. When a member of his group laughed or applauded too much, he glared at them too. It was unnerving, but by the next morning, when I realized he wasn’t going to attack me, I ignored his demeanor and that of his fellow sourpusses and went about my job.

For some reason, that weekend, without prior planning, I altered my presentation style. I told some very personal stories. They served to illustrate some of the most powerful lessons in my presentation and my life. In the middle of some of these stories, I was surprised that I was sharing them with anyone, let alone almost 1,000 strangers. There has always been a lot of humor in my seminars and workshops, but for the first time, there were tears on many of the faces staring up at me – except for the frozen-faced scowler.

Sunday afternoon came fast. Jim and I received a standing ovation. The appreciation we all felt from one another was beautiful. The man quickly disappeared into the crowd. I felt pity for him and what his life must be like with so little joy.

Later, at the autograph table, I noticed him waiting, shifting around impatiently with the rest of his group. While most of those leaving were animated and laughing, the members his group were still somber; him most of all. Even the best speakers in the world can’t get everyone, but still, I was dreading the tongue lashing that was sure to accompany this gloomy crew. I could see the lemon juice dripping from their mouths.

As he approached, I smiled and reached out to shake his hand. He stood there for a moment, arms at his sides with his hard eyes locked into mine. Then he lunged at me, cinching me in a crushing bear hug. My paranoia returned. Suddenly, loud sobs, punctuated with earsplitting inhaling noises reverberated against my head. He was crying. This man was actually crying! He was practically lifting me off the ground.

He was trying to talk, but there were still too many sobs in his way. His thick torso chugged against mine as he tried to compose himself. His group stood staring at us in wide-eyed amazement. Finally, he stepped back, setting me down just far enough so that his head was still close to mine. He didn’t want to look at me yet. With a beefy hand on each of my shoulders he said, “All my life, I never learned my lessons. I was never shown love as a child, and I hated that. I’ve never shown love to my family, and I hate myself for that. I’m learning all of my lessons too late, and I don’t know what to do!”

I was taken aback by his unexpected outburst. I said, “You may have learned your lessons late, but I have a feeling they’ve come just in time. Go home and hug some more people.”

He hugged me again and darted away. A woman from his group stood there for a moment, staring first at him as he walked away, then, quickly back at me. There were tears flowing rapidly down all four cheeks, hers and mine. “He’s never even hugged our sixteen-year-old son. Thank you!” She followed him with the rest of their group, who were muttering thank you, but still clearly in shock.

That seminar was the most inspiring program I had ever attended, or given. I was deeply inspired by the stories others shared, both during the program and after. That man was inspired, and he inspired me, and most of those who heard his story. The realization that I was to come later to was that finding inspiration was like finding gold. It creates excitement, energy, power, and mastery. If not mastery over life, at least mastery over moments in life.

A few months later I was back in that city for an awards banquet. Three people approached me; a man, a woman, and a teenage boy. All were smiling. At first, I didn’t recognize the man without his scowl, or the woman without her tears. He looked ten years younger. One of his big arms was around his wife and the other over the shoulders of his son. He was beaming.

“Hey Tom, I just wanted to thank you and Jim. Boy, that last seminar was great! I never laughed so hard in my life!” Laughed? “Those stories sure did change my perspective on life.”

His wife looked at her husband adoringly and then at me and said, “We’re making more money now than ever before, we’re happier, I mean we still have our problems. . .”

“Yeah,” the son chimed in, “But nothing like we used to. . .”

The ex-scowler looked back from his son and said, almost embarrassingly, “And I’ve become huggable.” His wife let loose with a sharp giggle, and his son turned red-faced.

Nothing about that man had changed physically, but everything else about him had.

Those stories? From that day on in 1988, I began to teach through the power and magic of stories. Later I saw this concept magnified by my friends and colleagues, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen with their record breaking, Chicken Soup For The Soul series.

A gift we offer to others is sharing our lessons through life stories. They are funny, sad, powerful, inspiring and most of all, lessons to live by. If finding inspiration is like discovering gold, to inspire is to create gold. For those who wish to achieve ever higher levels of success and mastery, one of the driving forces is inspiration. That we give it and receive it in equal measure is the balance of real inspiration.

Most of us think that when our lessons come, they’ve arrived too late, but if we are still breathing, they’ve arrived just in time.

Tom Justin’s Life, Business, and Strategy Coaching

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