Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rock and Dinner Roll

Graham was born in Seattle, Washington to a Navy family.  Moving was a part of life and they traveled constantly, relocating from the Philippines to Hawaii, and from California to Maryland.  Growing up a "Navy brat" allowed Graham the opportunity to see the world and all fifty states during his young life, opening his eyes and mouth to amazing flavors from around the globe.  His parents were also into food, often cooking native dishes from whatever country they were living in.  Graham himself began helping at a young age, making the cranberry sauce each year for Thanksgiving.

An early music lover, Graham bought his first album at the age of seven.  His passion for music developed quickly, and soon he was playing guitar and dreaming of life as a musician.  With a desire to get the most out of life, Graham made the risky decision to drop out of high school at age sixteen.  Living in Virginia, he found work in the food industry as a dishwasher and bus boy.  The head chef was a culinary graduate from Johnson and Wales University, and he encouraged Graham to go there if he wanted to pursue a career in food.

Graham was dividing his time between playing guitar and singing while working at the restaurant.  Eventually, he faced the question that had been in the back of his mind for some time:  Did he want to be a cook, or did he want to be in a band?  Searching his soul, Graham admitted to himself that food was just as creative, emotional, thought provoking, and romantic as music.  With that, his decision was made, and he enrolled at Johnson and Wales.

Graham graduated from the culinary program at the age of eighteen.  He wasn't tied to a particular style of cuisine, like French of Mediterranean, but was driven and ready to make his mark.  He started as a cook at a five-star property near Dallas, Texas.  It was his first experience in fine dining, and it was a twenty-four hour operation. Graham quickly came to appreciate the level of detail required when a place is always working, as opposed to a traditional dinner-only restaurant.  He also learned many of the ins and outs of top-tier cooking:  to keep his head down, his towel perfectly folded, and his trash can close by.

Venturing to Vermont, Graham joined the kitchen of a New England inn and restaurant, where he came to understand the value of regional ingredients and local culinary history.  His next move took him to Chicago, where he learned what it meant to work at the highest level of culinary professionalism.  Each task was just as important as every other, from how pans were seasoned and knives were sharpened to how the floor was swept.  Graham had never been in such a kitchen, where everything was so in tune, and it made an impression. During this time, he also began earning recognition in the form of award nominations and high profile reviews in major food publications.

When Graham decided to apply all his experience into the creation of a restaurant, he was very clear about what he wanted.  He could hold his own at the most demanding level of the industry, but in his heart, he was still a rock musician and liked doing things differently than everyone else.  Graham's first restaurant was a perfect reflection of his feelings about cooking:  that it's personal, spontaneous, and should always reflect the style and individuality of the cook.  His kitchen was characterized by constant laughter, relaxed professionalism, and pop-music debates.  From foie gras lollipops to apple-cheddar risotto topped with Cheez-It crackers, the menu was Graham on a plate.

At 27, Chef Graham Elliot became the youngest Four Star Chef ever to earn that honor.  He owns three critically acclaimed restaurants in Chicago, has served multiple times as the Culinary Ambassador at the Lollapalooza music festival (where he cooks for both the public and the performers), and is one of co-stars of the hit TV cooking competition Master Chef.

When asked to share advice for the next generation of dreamers, Graham suggests, "Don't try and please others by being someone you're not.  Be authentic.  Be yourself. Stop trying to live someone else's dream and start living your own."

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Just Do Your Best

Anthony was born in the small town of Westerly, Rhode Island.  Because of his father's military service, their family had moved seven times before Anthony was ten.  Each move, which took them to bases across the country from Hawaii to Connecticut, meant that Anthony had to make new friends in a hurry.  Despite a speech impediment and a somewhat low attention span, he became pretty good at it, gaining confidence and a sense of humor that would serve him well in life.

While his father excelled at sports and set numerous high school athletic records, Anthony wasn't much of an athlete.  In his high school physical fitness test, he barely managed fifteen push-ups, and couldn't complete a single dip.  He was a decent student and had imagination and drive, but was often the last picked for physical activities.  And when he did try to participate in high school football, he was more of a tackling dummy than a true team member, sitting on the bench and tracking the stats for the actual players.  It was humbling and often embarrassing.

At the University of Rhode Island, Anthony took a class in weightlifting and enjoyed it, thanks in part to his coach’s sense of humor.  After graduation, he moved to Hollywood with only $400 to his name.  His dream was to become an actor, but a talent agent made it clear that Anthony’s body and physical health were impediments to his success. Working as a handy man, gardener, waiter, and stand-up comedian, Anthony got by, but the long hours made it difficult to spend time getting the body he wanted.  Proper exercise and nutrition eluded him, but he knew that if he was going to make it in showbiz, he needed to do something.

Fit people were everywhere in Hollywood, and Anthony decided to emulate one of the most obvious:  Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He joined the World Gym in Venice, California, where Arnold and other famous bodybuilders worked out.  Anthony took notes on their workouts and nutrition programs.  He decided that their physiques were too big and bulky for his goals, and began developing a fitness routine that focused on increasing his speed, flexibility and balance.  Over time, he assembled a cardiovascular and resistance training approach based on the programs of world-class tri-athletes.

Anthony’s now-fit body affected every area of his life.  His mental clarity improved, and his renewed energy levels allowed him to be more productive.  With new possibilities opening up, he explored activities like rock-climbing, inline skating, yoga, and Pilates.  He expanded his fitness regimen to include circuit, cross, and interval training, weight and resistance training, aerobic training, advanced stretching, yoga, and kickboxing. 

People around Anthony began to take notice, blown away by his physical transformation.  He continued to refine techniques for maximizing his workouts, and started training co-workers and friends.  This led to increasingly high-profile introductions.  Hollywood studio executives sought Anthony out for his workout guidance, and after meeting musician Tom Petty, Anthony used his newly developed system to help Petty get into the best shape of his life.  Soon, his rock 'n roll friends were banging on Anthony's door and demanding his expertise.  Anthony realized that his passion was to bring fitness to everyone who wanted it and was willing to accept the challenge.  

Anthony rapidly built a successful personal training career.  His acclaimed exercise techniques appeared in Men’s Fitness Magazine and got him in front of the camera as the spokesperson for Nordic Track. Celebrities and recording artists alike sought out his unique fitness system and motivational abilities.  He realized that working with public figures brought high expectations, and figured out quickly that the best approach was to try to motivate them without letting them get frustrated. 

Anthony “Tony” Horton is the workout guru responsible for developing P90X, the most popular home workout in history.  Succeeding where many other fitness infomercials failed, P90X earned nearly half a billion dollars in its first seven years and spawned three follow-up programs.  In December 2010, Horton published his first book, Bring It!

Tony Horton’s method for motivation focuses on unbridled optimism, encouragement, and understanding.  When pursuing your dreams and undertaking something new and difficult in life, Horton offers this advice:  “Do not say, ‘I can’t.’  You can say, 'I don’t want to.'  You can say, 'I’m not willing to put forth the effort.'  But never, ‘I can’t!’  Just do your best and forget the rest!"

Until next week...

Live Your Dream

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Actions Speak Louder than Words

I met James in the summer of 2010. He was 17 years old and he lived in Kenya. James attended a summer program I helped create called the Ultimate Life Summit. All of the students learn the 7 Mindsets that the world’s happiest and most successful people have in common. The purpose of the summit is to empower young people to live to their greatest potential so in turn they can live their ultimate life and make a positive impact on the world.

As you might imagine, learning the 7 Mindsets is one thing but living them is entirely another. One way we help our students put the mindsets into practice is through something we call the Live to Give Challenge. We ask the students to connect something they are passionate about with a social cause they truly believe in. Upon returning to Kenya, James connected his passion for soccer with a very severe social issue. Many young Kenyan teens join gangs and get involved in violent activities. James organized a soccer league targeted to at-risk youth so they would learn to play together instead of fight with one another. I received a special letter from James and I ‘want to share part of it with you…

“Scott, have you ever had elaborate plans that you were about to unleash on the world and then something changed? Here’s what happened to me. I was asked to speak at a local high school in Kenya to help motivate the students to improve their academic performance. After a long day of teaching the 7 Mindsets to 500 students I went into a lounge for some refreshments. It was there that I met a man named Alex. Earlier in the day I listened as Alex played the guitar and sang beautiful lyrics for the other students. It was truly inspiring. But now he looked depressed so I approached him to see what was wrong.

“Alex told me that he’s had a troubled past. He had to drop out of school when he was 14 because violence erupted in his village. His family was forced to live in temporary shelters and their belongings were regularly washed away in storms. Due to the pressure his family fell apart. His father abandoned them and then his mother remarried leaving him to fend for himself. He did menial jobs just to survive and eventually saved some money to enroll in high school at the age of 22. However, he could no longer afford the tuition of $400 and he was being asked to leave. Then he turned to me and said, ‘James, I believe you can help me.’

“Without even thinking I blurted out, ‘Me? I am only 19. I am younger than you. How can I help you?’ Scott, just the day before I was paid $300 for work I had done at a research company. I had been saving my money so in July I could buy some cows and start my own small ranch. As you know I’ve been accepted into a college but I don’t have enough money to attend. I’m trying to save money to help make my own dreams a reality. Many thoughts swirled through my head and then I heard myself say, ‘Alex, I will pay your fees.’

“I had an option of sticking to my business plan or to reach out and save a life. Too often we let our age, financial positions and norm deter us from experiencing the fulfillment of transforming lives. That experience taught me that the greatest joy will never be drawn from self-gratification, but from putting a smile on someone’s face. As I write, Alex is in school stress free. I may have no money in the bank, but I can smile each day knowing full well that I made my greatest investment in Alex. The best place to leave your imprint is not on billboards, newspapers or magazines, but on the hearts of men. LIVE TO GIVE!!! Yours Sincerely, James.”

Well James, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Since I know you read my weekly story I hope you don’t mind that my response to you is shared with the 2 million other readers who receive this every week. Your letter has inspired me to create a special Ultimate Life College Scholarship Fund. There’s no need for you to apply as your actions speak louder than anything you could put on paper. Congratulations James…you have become the first Ultimate Life Scholar and with this designation I am awarding you a $10,000 scholarship. James, pack your bags, you’re going to college! I believe investing in you will pay the world many dividends. Thanks for reminding all of us that the fastest way to live our own dreams is to first help someone else live theirs.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When Harry Met Peachie

Five years ago my family adopted a dog from the pound, a black lab mix with a scar on his forehead in the shape of a lightning bolt, we named him Harry.  Many of my weekly stories are inspired during morning walks with Harry.  Not long ago, we decided to adopt a rescue dog as a friend for Harry, another black lab mix that came to us with the name Peachie because she’s so sweet and fuzzy.

Harry loves his new friend.  She is full of energy, and enjoys playing chase and tug of war.  They aren’t far apart in human years, but in dog years, it’s as if Harry is 37 years old and has a new friend who’s just a teenager.  After a few weeks, though, Harry gave me a look that I interpreted as, “When does this play date end?  I’m exhausted.”  I recently enrolled them both in doggy training camp, and that’s what inspired this week’s story…

Young Cesar’s affinity for dogs was clear to everyone in his poor farming town of Culiac├ín, Mexico.  In some ways, it was difficult, because it led to his being teased, and he was nicknamed “El Perrero,” or “dog boy.”  Cesar grew up relating to animals more easily than to people.  In fact, he spent so much time watching American television shows starring well-trained actor-dogs like Lassie, that by the age of 13, he had decided he wanted to be a Hollywood animal trainer.

At twenty-one, Cesar told his parents he was leaving for the United States. His father gave him one hundred dollars, his entire life savings, and off Cesar went on his journey.  Cesar had no idea how to cross the border.  All he knew was that others before him had done it, so there was no reason he shouldn’t be able to as well.  He took the bus to Tijuana, the Mexican border town opposite San Diego, California, and spent two weeks looking for a way across.

When Cesar came upon a hole in the border fence, he met a guide there who was charging one hundred dollars to take illegal immigrants safely across.  He knew there was no way the man could know how much money he carried, but took it as a sign that if you want something badly enough, you must be willing to do whatever it takes.  He paid the fee and was taken through the fence, down a dark tunnel path and into the United States.

Cesar spent the next two months homeless in San Diego, sleeping under a freeway bridge while trying to negotiate his way around a new country.  He spoke almost no English and knew no one, but some other local immigrants taught him how to ride the trolley at specific times for free, giving him transportation to look for work despite having no money.

Cesar got his first job working as a dog walker and groomer, and when clients saw how well he soothed their nervous canines, they began asking if he could train the pets as well. Cesar developed a following, acquiring a reputation for being able to work with even the most aggressive dogs.  He also met actress Jada Pinkett, who became one of his clients and biggest supporters.  When Cesar told her about his dream of being a trainer in Hollywood, she said he had to learn English first, and helped him do so by paying for his first year of language tutoring. 

Cesar moved to Los Angeles and opened his own dog-training company.  After a profile of him ran in the Los Angeles times, he was approached by several production companies, and began working on the idea for a television pilot.  He continued to amass a growing number of clients from amongst Hollywood’s elite, all of which finally led to an offer for his first television show.

Cesar Millan, known to many as The Dog Whisperer, was a hit on the National Geographic Channel, and his show took off.  In its first season, it was the cable channel's top-rated series, and earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Reality Program.  Millan's first co-authored book was published just as the second season of his show began airing, and became a New York Times bestseller.  He was living his dream.

Commenting on his success, Cesar says:  “Even though the odds were against me, I tried to never think about the negative.  When you’re poor, you have nothing to lose and nothing to be afraid of.  The dream was always at the forefront, and holding onto it is what helped me succeed.”

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams