Eric Stevens

Fitness Speaker, Author & Personality

Eric Stevens is a health and fitness coach, trainer and practitioner. Eric has broadened that body focused fitness with writing, presenting and acting in order to reach people, change lives, and create dialogue.

Filtering by Tag: Humility


“Midlife is not about the fear of death. Midlife is death. Tearing down the walls that we spent our entire life building is death. Like it or not, at some point during midlife, you’re going down, and after that, there are only two choices: staying down or enduring rebirth.”  -  Brené Brown


We’ve all heard the term “midlife crisis.” Some might associate the phrase with the man who buys the fancy red sports car or leaves his wife for a younger woman. Midlife might also be thought of as the woman, who after decades of raising kids, decides it’s finally time to get her body (and life) back - She joins the gym, hires the trainer and gets plastic surgery to feel the vitality and freedom of youth once again. Though there are countless connotations and instances, these examples point to the stereotypical reaction for many to the midlife crisis – a change of personal or material circumstance.

In some ways, society sees such changes as positives. It’s considered noble to improve your body at any age. It’s thought of as admirable to find new love even if it’s at the expense of your previous love. And in our culture, red sports cars, while maybe a bit douchey, are highly coveted.

But regardless of the changes we make to alter our present material state, deep down we know what eventually awaits us. The truth is, there isn’t a sports car fast enough, a partner young and attractive enough, or a body strong and defined enough to protect you from life’s setbacks and the travails of aging. In the long run, you cannot trade your current ‘model’ in for a better, sexier, or younger one. Facing your aging self, failures, and mortality is something everyone must eventually grapple with. You can’t outrun your shadow no matter how fast you run on the treadmill of life.

Still, many of us desperately flee from the inevitability of midlife and the traumas associated with aging and loss. But midlife isn’t just about physical decline or only reserved for those in their 40’s and 50’s. Anyone who suffers a crisis of identity can feel the burdens of midlife. John Mayer even used the term “quarter life crisis” in his song “Why Georgia.”

How we define ourselves in things like our relationships and professional identities will morph over time. Our physicality will also change like the seasons. Such profound change can spark a sense of crisis in many. Personally speaking (though I am literally facing midlife as I write this) the ‘midlife’ crisis is not a new concept for me. Whether it was traumatic physical setbacks like reconstructive ear and rotator cuff surgeries in my 20’s, a significant career transition in my 30’s or divorce in my 40’s, I’ve learned that the daunting prospect of massive life change is a part of any stage of life, not just midlife.

One of the paradoxes of getting older is that we seek to reverse or slow aging and uncertainty through avenues and material things that we feel we can directly control - our body, money, relationships or professional status. But at the end of the day, the notion of control in any of these arenas is a fallacy. Money can’t protect you from disease, injury or heartbreak. Even the best, most fulfilling job in the world at some point will run its course. Relationships evolve, change and eventually end. And, as the laws of physics and gravity dictate, the race against your aging body is not a winnable one. Try as we might, as Brené Brown suggests, “you’re going down.”

You ultimately have the choice to go down kicking and screaming or you can accept your next chapter with grace and surrender to the notion of rebirth.

As athletes know all too well, defining life by your physical capabilities is a young person’s game. I’ve often wondered what the aging star athlete sitting at the end of the bench thinks as the clock keeps ticking. What questions does she ask – ‘Who am I?’ ‘What’s next?’ ‘How do I start the next chapter?’ These are questions all of us must ask at some point. Each life crisis we face whether quarterlife, midlife or old age all bring forth opportunities for rejuvenation, renewal and reawakening.

In the Bible it’s clear that ‘rebirth’ is a necessary step in spiritual evolution. Yet starting anew isn’t confined by the physical constraints of aging. It isn’t physical strength or abundant material resources that are requirements for a fresh start, but the vitality of a youthful and humble disposition. And when it comes to spiritual rebirth it isn’t by planning, controlling, or seeking new answers that we grow, but by the willingness to ask new questions. Midlife isn’t a crisis we must endure, but an opportunity to evolve our state of mind.

At a recent crossroads in my life a few years ago, a friend suggested reading the book Falling Upward by Richard Rohr commenting that the questions I was asking were ‘second half’ questions. Rohr’s book asserts that there are essentially two ‘halves’ of life - The first half is characterized by worldly pillars of power, comfort and recognition. We spend this first half of life constructing and filling up our “containers.” That is, pursuing status and professional success, establishing defined roles (as friend, spouse, relative or parent) and compiling worldly possessions. Rohr describes such first half actions as “rising, achieving accomplishing, and performing.”

Conversely, the second half is about self-emptying and the willingness to let go of our earthly definitions. The second half is characterized by the actions of contemplation and surrender and by the willingness to wrestle with purpose-driven, existential queries. Though Jung first popularized the term “two halves,” instead of relating the notion to aging, Rohr likens the second half as having the courage to let go of ego. Meister Eckhart captured the essence of the second half eloquently, stating,“To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God.”

While the search for meaning and moving beyond our ego can be seen as a terrifying downward spiral for some, Rohr actually calls this process “falling upward.” But even if you don’t buy the spiritual notion of the ‘second half,’ anyone can buy into the concept of staying young at heart. While we will all likely encounter physical challenges, loss, fractured relationships and career setbacks, we needn’t suffer lasting mental anguish and an ‘elderly’ state of mind. As Robert F. Kennedy once said, “This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.”

Not to completely dismiss the first half mind you. I’ve spent the better part of my life in pursuit of my professional identity, health and a fit body. Certainly, I enjoy the fruits of my labors and cherish my close relationships and my roles as a son, friend, brother, and husband. Filling up our ‘containers’ is natural and responsible. But jobs, possessions, relationships and even experiences don’t define the real essence of us - qualities do.

Facing midlife is about having the courage to let go of material desires and the resolution to replace that drive with a different type of tenacity. As Rohr suggests, the mark of rebirth is to be “grounded, not guarded” in giving our authentic gifts.

Falling or getting knocked down is a part of life and for many, an acute crisis in midlife. Getting back up with humility, an open heart and the desire for rebirth is our true task at any stage of life.

Response Ability

I had my first summer job in junior high. My Dad knew someone who needed sort of a ‘gopher’ for a heavy equipment company. The job was located in the industrial area of Portland, which was full of warehouses, truck stops, and machine shops. Though it was a mere 20 minutes from where I lived, for an upper middle class kid from the suburbs, it might as well have been Greece.

My parents were emphatic that I get a summer job and felt the experience of working in the shop would be good for me, so every day my Mom drove me to and from work in the family sedan. To say the shop guys raised their eyebrows at this Mercedes chauffeured, smart-ass kid from the west side was an understatement. On my first day, I was asked to fetch a 7/16 wrench from the toolbox, and I just looked at the guy as if he were speaking a foreign language. “A what???”

Still, despite my initial apprehension and my lack of technical skills notwithstanding, I gradually warmed up to the experience. I felt like a big boy drinking bad coffee and taking grief from the guys. Plus, I had a little spending money in my pocket and as a pre-driving teenager, I had fun driving golf carts and turf equipment to my heart’s content.

One day I was driving a little too fast out in the shop yard and while cutting a corner sharply, I badly scraped a golf cart on a piece of scrap metal. My first instinct was to look around the yard. I couldn’t see anyone for miles. “Thank God. These carts are beat to hell anyway and no one will ever know,” I thought to myself. Then, amidst my planning and scheming ways not to get caught, a voice of reason took over…”Do the right thing Eric.”

I walked into the shop and found Frank, the foreman, to tell him what had happened. “I was goofing off driving too fast in the yard and I messed up the side of one of the carts pretty badly.” Frank looked me dead in the eye and said, “Eric, I appreciate your honesty and you taking responsibility. If it happens again, you’re fired.”

Though they had tolerated me, I don’t think those guys in the shop thought I was worth much of a damn with my polo shirts and designer jeans. They were a rough and tough bunch; blue-collar guys who measured your value by your work ethic and what you could do with your hands. I was about as far from tough and handy as you could get. But at least on that one occasion, they respected that my parents had taught me to do the right thing. One of the guys even took me aside and told me it took real guts to go in and tell Frank the truth. It’s a memory that has stuck with me for over 30 years.

I wish I could tell you that since then I’ve been able to live up to the example of my 15-year old self throughout my life. But truthfully, I haven’t always been truthful. I’ve had more than my fair share of failing to speak up, step up and admit my wrong doings. Honestly, over the years I’ve cared a lot more about my image and appearance than uprightness.

In our social-media inspired ‘look at me’ culture, a genuine heart-felt apology is a rarity. Frankly, it pays to portray a carefully crafted and constructed image of awesomeness and assuredness, versus the vulnerability of humility, remorse and forgiveness. As Andre Agassi once said, “image is everything.”

In the era of seeking validation and popularity, the ability to respond is a lost art. When the notion of responsibility does actually rear its head, it’s seems to be only as a last resort. But admitting guilt once the cat is out of the bag isn’t the same thing as truly taking responsibility. Saying you’re sorry when you’re out of options and under pressure doesn’t really count. In the modern news cycle, stories of scandal dominate the headlines and the obligatory half-assed response occurs only after the jig is up, if at all. This trend has been going on for so long now that we pretty much accept a lack of responsibility as normal.

After years of accusation and speculation, Lance Armstrong only admits guilt after his ongoing brash, arrogant defiance. Back in the steroid era of baseball, while under Congressional oath, Rafael Palmeiro blatantly lied while Mark McGwire took the 5th.  Kevin Spacey remains silent despite dozens of credible accusations. Bill Cosby expresses no remorse whatsoever for his actions and when the Harvey Weinsteins of the world actually do get caught red handed, they play the ‘I have a sickness and am getting help card’ as if the sickness (and not their own actions) were to blame.

What ever happened to ‘I hurt people and I messed up bad. I did it and it was really, really wrong.’ That’s a good place to start. Mistakes and royal screw-ups are a guaranteed part of the human condition. Unfortunately, humility and self-reproach are not. ‘I made a mistake and I am going to try and fix it’ requires a moral compass while ‘I’m never wrong’ or ‘I have all of the answers’ simply requires narcissistic arrogance.

We need to stop judging others by the mistakes they’ve made or what news network they watch. Instead, we need to judge others by their response to their mistakes. Our dialogue needs to change from black and white, red and blue, right and left to the more refined qualities of meekness and responsibility. Those who display the ability to respond deserve our patience and understanding and those who don’t, do not. The complexity of our times demands the simplicity of humility.

I like baseball regardless of steroids and PEDs. I rooted for Lance when he was hoisting yellow jerseys. I watched The Cosby Show religiously as a kid and I still think it was groundbreaking TV. I think Kevin Spacey is a great actor. I still appreciate Tiger’s greatness and he will likely go down as one of the best golfers that ever lived. That said, our ultimate reputation isn’t marked by our accomplishments or transgressions, but by our responses to life’s inevitable stormy waters.

The ability to respond is to be “morally accountable for one’s actions.” Every athlete, movie star and politician makes mistakes. We all do. But as my parents tried to teach me, the right thing to do is to get out in front of our missteps and face the music. To heal requires forgiveness of self and others. Healing also requires the ability to step up. It isn’t talent, success or mistakes that defines us; it’s the ability to respond that makes a lasting impression and defines character.

You must be present to win

To be completely honest, winning doesn't come easy for me.

If memory serves me correct, in grade school I won the MS read-a-thon fundraiser by reading the most books. In junior high, by sheer dumb luck, I won a free throw competition at the Ralph Miller basketball camp…Although it was a bittersweet victory because my friend Andrew took credit for having made more free throws and ended up getting the accolades for the win. Years later, over a few beers and a lot of laughter, Drew fessed up and presented me with the winner’s certificate. I once won a NCAA “March Madness” pool by picking the Arizona Wildcats when they weren’t favored. I’ve hit a couple of numbers on the roulette wheel in Vegas and left town with a few hundred bucks in my pocket. But that’s really about it.

I’ve never won a big sporting event, hit the game winning home run, or been on a championship team. I’ve never hit it big on the lottery. I’ve never won a raffle or a car or a membership to a gym. I’ve never been given a lifelong achievement award. In the martial arts, I've probably lost more sparring matches than I have won. As an actor, though I have landed some parts here and there, I’ve never secured a role in a Spielberg film. I’m not a loser, but you certainly wouldn’t see my picture under the word winner either!

Not being born a bona-fide winner isn’t easy in our country for winning is as big a part of American culture as apple pie and baseball (I guess it’s now football). We’ve lost only one war (and had one tie). Between 1896 and 2016, the US has won more Olympic medals (2520) in the summer Olympics than any other nation (Russia holds the all-time tally for the Winter games). We have more millionaires and billionaires than any country on earth (by far). The US has had the most Nobel laureates and prize winners.

Whether it's science, commerce, or sport, we are a nation of winners. Culturally, we laud the Lombardi-esque mantra, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Even our president brags, “My whole life is about winning…I almost never lose.” But everybody loses sometimes and as of late, especially us. While we are a nation of winners historically, the tide has turned...

·      When it comes to health care, America ranks as the worst among the top 11 industrialized nations and according to the WHO, the US isn’t in the top 35 globally.

·      Just over a decade ago, the US ranked third among rich developed nations for happiness. Now we rank 19th.

·      Despite boasting many of the world’s most prestigious universities, the US ranks 14th in  overall educational performance. Frankly, it’s surprising it’s that high – The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction.

·      According to the WHO, the US ranks just 31st in the world for life expectancy.

But surely, our illustrious nation still takes the cake in something, right?? Breathe easy, we’re still tops when it comes to the following:

·      Prisoners - the US ranks first in the world with the highest prison population on the planet with an estimated 2,217,000 incarcerated people.

·      According to an annual questionnaire and conducted by Ipsos/MORI in 2016 we were number five in the world when it comes to ignorance (we were #2 in 2014, so I suppose we’re getting better!).

·      We’re ‘the best’ when it comes to gun violence! According to a study published in the American Journal of medicine, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries.

·      We’re the heaviest country in the world. Look no further than the global pandemic of obesity (started right here in the US of A) as a glaring example of corporate greed and personal excess.

·      America has the highest drug overdose rate on a wide margin. While our population comprises 4% of the world's, we account for 27% of the overdose deaths on the planet.

This for the most successful and ‘winning’ civilization in the history of the planet. Heck, we can’t even qualify for the World Cup! It’s a sad state of affairs indeed. But my purpose is not to be a naysayer or doom and gloom prognosticator. I believe in the inherent goodness of mankind and especially the ability of Americans to rise to the occasion when our backs are against the wall.

Now is such a point in history. While the tipping point may not have yet occurred, we can probably all agree that a necessary moment of drastic change is near. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and find our winning ways again.

As noted, I’m no expert at winning. But as far as I can tell, more than anything, winning takes the ability to be present. As the old adage states, ‘you have to be present to win.’

Many take this to mean showing up literally through the elements of discipline, desire, and determination. It’s hard to argue the importance of such qualities. But there is something even more imperative than mere tenacity when it comes to being at hand and ready. Being present essentially means the ability to see truthfully. To accept and deal with circumstances as uncomfortable as they may be. Through introspection comes humility, through humility comes perspective and perseverance, and through perspective and perseverance, character.

Being a winner isn’t just about showing up, but about expressing meekness, fortitude, and acceptance. Olympic Icon Wilma Rudolph captured the essence of what it means to win stating, “winning is great, sure, but if you’re really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all of the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” The crux of winning is about modesty, self-awareness, and the ability to sit with the pain of our losses. With true presence we ultimately acquire qualities that champions possess - character, conviction, and courage.

Learning to Fail

One of the more poignant moments I can remember in recent years is getting the crap beat out of me shortly after one of my biggest life failures. Just weeks after signing my divorce papers in 2012, I had to endure a few rounds of hard sparring at a martial arts testing and I got pummeled. Already bloodied and bruised, in the third round I was kicked so hard in the ribs that I doubled over and took a knee. In order to pass my test, I had to make it through all three rounds - I was literally saved by the bell.

In a twisted way, it was actually sort of cathartic to have my body feel the way my heart did – battered and broken. While getting beaten up isn’t something I’d necessarily recommend, I can also tell you that failure is almost a certainty in life and learning to cope with pain is a critical part of progression in anything.

Yet culturally, everything and everyone seems to be telling you the opposite – that success happens by finding your bliss and seeking pleasure. The quick fix is everywhere you look. Get rich quick seminars, crash diets, and fad exercise programs tell you the news your brain loves to hear – that there’s a convenient solution and a comfortable change - it just takes hard work and the right program.

But what if it wasn’t about the program, the right timing, or even how hard you worked? What if advancement was simply about the willingness to face the pain and the certainty of failure.

If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that I may or may not reach my goals, dreams, and aspirations, but I will most definitely fail while trying. The silver lining is that failure brings with it the opportunity to find authenticity and wholeness through introspective work and forgiveness. While more life lessons are surely on their way through my next mess up, here’s what I have learned so far:

o   Ego can take you to the depths of hell. In every major failure I’ve had, ego was in the driver’s seat. You are not your body, your job, or even your relationships, but you become the thoughts you give power to. Ego says you are defined by quantities, while your true self is defined by qualities.

You may lose your job, but you haven’t lost the qualities that got you that job. You may lose your relationship, but you haven’t lost the opportunity to love with your whole heart. Next time your ego tells you that you are defined by what you have, remind yourself that in the end, you will be remembered by your qualities.

o   Honesty isn’t your best policy, humility is. Your failure is an opportunity to perfect your virtue which is simply the opposite of your vice. My vice is pride. When others wrong me, I cast them aside and never, ever turn back. Puffing my chest up may be my default, but when I am at my best, humility governs my thoughts and actions. The problem is that when we fail, we often look for something or someone to blame, even if it’s us. In doing so we can lash out to those who have wronged us, and frequently, that lashing out is self-directed. Here’s the thing though – playing the blame game ultimately proves nothing. What matters is the humility to face the wreckage and move on.

o   Quitting is sometimes your best option. Anyone who’s ever been divorced can attest to the utter devastation associated with such a separation. You don’t get married before friends, family, and God to see it fail miserably. Compounding the effects of a trauma like a divorce are the prospects of acute pain, loneliness, and the loss of companionship. But if love, justice, and truth are worth fighting for, abuse and hatred are worth leaving behind. Leaving a relationship, job, or bad habit is sometimes our best option as something built on a false foundation isn’t worth salvaging, it’s worth tearing down and starting over on the right footing. 

o   Victims don’t heal. One thing I have seen over and over again in my in life both personally and professionally is that no one ever makes a lasting change that they don’t genuinely want to make. People make changes when they’ve had enough and their back is against the wall.

It sucks to get downsized. It sucks to get hurt or heartbroken. It sucks to get sick. It sucks when your genetics aren’t perfect. A lot of life’s setbacks aren’t our fault. It wasn’t your fault that your parents were lousy role models or your boss is an asshole. But it is your fault that you hold on to your pain, anger, and self-justification. True freedom can only come about by releasing negativity and allowing wounds to heal though the natural order of time and forgiveness. The statute of limitations is now – you aren’t a victim, you have the power of choice.

o   You must face the pain. Sometimes you’re going to get your ass kicked and it’s going to hurt - maybe even worse than you think. It’s tempting to run the other way. But the great irony of the things that mask our pain (booze, sex, food, etc.) is that these temporary reprieves only prolong and compound the inevitable pain. One of the best ways to cope with pain is to find support. If your body hurts, treat it gently and get a massage. If your heart hurts, join a support group and seek those who can understand your plight. If your mind hurts, force yourself to sit with your thoughts until they pass.

More than anything though, we have to face the hurt and the trauma. Peace is only found on the other side of it. There’s no way around the storms of life – our job is to face the pain and release its grip by swimming with the current.

Learning to fail isn’t something covered in school. There are no participation trophies in the game of life. We’ll have many wins if we’re fortunate and few failures if we’re lucky. But failure is going to happen and regardless of circumstance, the work is clear – peace of mind and character are forged with finding the resolve to face the mess and the courage to clean it up.




Moral Courage

"Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately."  - Elie Wiesel

My mom used to read to me at night…until I was in high school! She read children’s books to me when I was little, sports books when I was in grade school, and as I matured, she read biographies and history. One theme was consistent in the books she chose – moral courage. Moral courage is defined as the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences.

I’m not sure if it was Mom’s intention to instill the virtues of being some sort of moral crusader, but those books made a big impression on me. My main take away from those readings on the likenesses of individuals like Anne Frank, Malcolm X, or Jackie Robinson is that the true mark of success isn’t defined by what assets you have, your resume, or even how long you live, but by your willingness to stand for what you believe in.

How many of us are willing to take such stands? How many of us are willing to truly stand up - to our employer, our church, our government and risk persecution, our job, and even our freedom? To many, the comforts of modern life, validation on social media, and the distractions of technology hold sway over urgent and pressing systemic problems. We are too busy being distracted and seeking comfort to be burdened by life’s inconvenient truths.

Moral courage is seemingly in short supply these days although there are glimmers of hope if you look closely enough. Ishrad Manji is the founder of the ‘Moral Courage Project’’ at the University of Southern California where she teaches students to “do the right thing in the face of four years.” Manji is a Muslim who has openly stood up for the rights of women and minorities calling for reform in her faith in her bestselling book, The Trouble with Islam Today.

A recent example of moral courage is also former NFL player Ed Cunningham quitting his lucrative job as a television football analyst because he believes that football has negative long-term health ramifications. He felt could “no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot” in promoting a game he believes in hazardous to your health. In announcing his decision Cunningham added “I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.”

The point isn’t whether people like Manji and Cunningham are right. Personally, I like football and though the studies on football appear to be fairly damning, I have no idea if the science is absolute or conclusive with regard to long-term brain damage and its correlation to football. The point is that Ed Cunningham quit one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his convictions. The point is that Manji stood up to her faith at the risk of being ostracized or worse and has dedicated her life’s work to furthering the movement of moral courage.

The point is also that such stands of courage are notable because they are a rarity in our times. Moral courage tends to be the exception to the rule of the day – ‘me first.’ The mantra of me first is at the root of almost every major problem we face today – disparity of income & wealth inequality, dysfunctional government run by lifelong politicians, the epidemics of addiction, crumbling infrastructure and the failing environment. And it’s not just ego and selfishness that drives these problems, but they are compounded by a modern culture of apathy, indifference, and contempt.

Said Noel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” Wiesel goes on to say that “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Elie Wiesel wrote about perhaps the most glaring example of such neglect which occurred in the 1930’s & 40’s in Nazi Germany. Many protected their own self-interest - Their families, their jobs, their possessions. In doing so they contributed to one of the biggest crimes against humanity, not to mention their own countries demise and destruction. Indeed, when we put only our needs first, we neglect the moral necessities of our time.

These days there are also many who want to put their family, country or company first. While in some ways it’s natural and understandable to put you and yours first, frankly the sentiment is misguided and ultimately wrong. 'Me first' presents a self-absorbed narrative that puts blinders on the many extremely important issues of the day – poverty, failing societal health, the environment, education – things that affect us all in one way shape or form.

To right this ship, the single most important question we can ask ourselves is ‘what do you love in life more than you love yourself?’ Said another way, ‘what are you willing to die for?’ It’s a strong question, but one we all need to ask in our daily lives if we have a shot at correcting the sentiments of indifference, selfishness, and greed. Rather than responding to the issues of today with apathy, we have an ethical responsibility to stand up and ask, ‘what is going on here?’

We live in important and tumultuous times where a desperate need exists for leadership and the willingness to take stands. Even at the cost of a job, relationship, or personal gain we must put our conscious and community first. In a world of limited resources, interconnected economies, and common problems, the notion of me or even America first is archaic. As Thomas Paine said, “My country is the world. My religion is to do good.” Our ultimate task is to put the collective needs of the community first and as Paine rightly stated, “to do good.”