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.

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Falling into Place

“When we learn to fall, we learn that only by letting go our grip on all that we ordinarily find most precious—our achievements, our plans, our loved ones, our very selves—can we find, ultimately, the most profound freedom. In the act of letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them." — Philip Simmons

When I was a kid I loved the New York Yankees with all of my heart. My Dad, a New Yorker by birth, brought my brother and me to games while visiting family back east, and in seeing the “House that Ruth built,” it was love at first sight for me. The aura, the tradition, the pinstripes, Babe Ruth and Don Mattingly - what’s not to like about the Bronx Bombers?! The Yankees were perfection and I was going to be their future second baseman. At least that was my plan when I was seven.

At that point, I was enrolled in art class at the Portland Art Museum for the summer, but in seeing the kids out on the local baseball field, I was adamant that my mom let me quit art class and allow me to sign up for little league baseball. She reluctantly agreed. I wasn’t a terrible second baseman, but by the time I was 12 it was pretty clear that Yankee pinstripes weren’t in my future.

In high school and college I was determined to become a successful advertising executive like my father. I joined both a business and a social fraternity and even had my own briefcase, just like Dad. And after finishing school, I was a pretty decent ad man and the money was good, but it didn’t feed my soul, so I kept searching.

I left traditional advertising for new media and after a failed ‘Dot-Com’ start up venture in my late twenties, I decided it was high time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. After months of soul searching, I landed on acting. I had been an enthusiastic actor in high school and I seemed to have a knack for entertaining others. “Broadway here I come!” I thought to myself. After landing a couple leading roles in local plays, I applied to some of the top Masters programs in the country for acting - Yale, Cal Arts and a few others. But despite my enthusiasm, I didn’t get in to any of them. Still, I persisted with acting, grinding out local theater and independent film productions in Seattle. While I loved the creative process, as the years passed, I also realized that life as a starving artist wasn’t in the long-term cards for me. 

Along the way, I had picked up a job as a personal trainer to feed my acting habit. As someone who was passionate about exercise and a fairly adept communicator, I did well in fitness. I enjoyed coaching and made a decent living, but the income was erratic and offered few benefits outside of the high hourly wage. I felt trapped by the glass ceiling of monetizing hours in the day.

Then the idea occurred to me that instead of chasing passion and purpose, I should settle for stability. I had befriended someone who was a police officer and he made a good living, raked in lots of overtime pay and enjoyed one of the few careers that still provides a guaranteed retirement. Though law enforcement wasn’t really in my creative, free thinking wheelhouse, I liked the idea of helping others and helping myself with a ‘stable’ career. The only problem was, I didn’t get in to the police departments I applied to. Whether the cops didn’t like my critical thought process and ‘question authority’ disposition or I had partied too hard in college, I’ll never know. But at the end of the process, it was clear - I wasn’t going to be a cop.

I stuck with fitness and decided that I would change the world through my natural ability as a personality. I auditioned for and was selected to be on national television as an on camera trainer in a TV series for MTV. Surely this was my big break and I was destined for speaking engagements, on camera work, and life as a celebrity trainer. But it didn’t turn out that way. The show flopped after one season and no one called me to become the next Jack Lalanne or Jillian Michaels.

I decided a change of scenery was necessary. Colorado is a fitness mecca and the vitamin D suited me well. I started blogging and writing and with my creative background, storytelling seemed to flow naturally. I began publishing regularly for fitness magazines and websites. Surely a book deal was right around the corner...But the reality was, writing provided even less income and stability than acting. Back to square one.

As I approached middle age, the prospect of not having a stable and successful career track seemed utterly terrifying. In many ways it still scares the hell out of me. But instead of planning to be the next Derek Jeter, Brad Pitt, or Mickey Spillane, I’ve decided to just be Eric. Instead of trying to figure out my next step, I’ve decided to simply concentrate on trying to live my current step.

I’ve realized, as the quote from Phillip Simmons says, that in order to truly discover my authentic path, I must be willing to let go, stumble and fall…a lot. To that end, I seem to be making progress! Besides, as someone who thought that I had all the answers along the way, not knowing can actually be somewhat liberating. Having a passion and a plan is great, but I’ve also learned through the years that falling and failing is ultimately the only way we truly learn and grow.

Still, the tape in my head continues to play on auto repeat. “What if I’m not that special or talented? What if I never get rich? What if I don’t ever reach that mountaintop? What if I never figure out what I’m supposed to be when I grow up?” These dilemmas have kept me up at many a night. 

But falling and failing has taught me two things: I will get back up and I will keep going. Furthermore, it is life’s failures that forge our character and give us meaning. 

My brother had the world by the balls before a massive medical issue at 30 changed his career, personal life and lifestyle. While he had to let go of his hobbies as an avid rock climber and motorcycle enthusiast and ended up leaving a high-income job, he said hello to a lifelong commitment to his wife and his faith. As my brother learned, cool motorcycles, nice houses and fancy vacations are great, but they aren’t the meaning of life. Nor is a decorative title or a ‘successful’ career.

I’ve realized, just like my brother, that what is really important is loving my wife, family and those close to me. What’s important is contributing to my community and deepening my relationship with the Divine. That is the meaning of life.

I’m now in yet another new career in hospitality. I like helping others and hope to build a brand at some point in wellness fused with hospitality. But by now, I’ve learned enough to know that plans change and in the meantime, life happens. Instead of planning for future success, I’m now trying more so to listen in the present.

Falling (and failing) has been a mixed blessing in my life. Sometimes it’s tempting to feel sorry for myself for not having reached the pinnacle of what society deems as success. But life doesn’t work that way. There is no mountaintop, only climbing and falling. On the journey, if we’re lucky, we live and learn and fall in love. To that end I am super fortunate to have lived, learned and loved. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I know I’ll keep trying, failing and getting back up along the way.

The Oregon Trail

As a child my family would frequently visit relatives in New York. The "Empire City" captivated me with its towering skyscrapers, hot dogs and pretzels, Broadway, and of course, the Yankees. Coming from the quaint town of Portland, Oregon, the Big Apple felt like the center of the universe. On my return trips home I always wondered why my parents left such a mecca for the sleepy confines of the Pacific Northwest.

For the life of me, I couldn’t see the appeal of a tiny hamlet like Portland compared with the glitz and glamour of New York. The “Rose City” was a place for hippies and lumberjacks, and I didn’t plan on becoming either. When you’d mention Portland to a New Yorker their response was always the same - a shoulder shrug of indifference.

Still, I eventually grew to love my hometown with its majestic beauty and art-inspired culture. While Portland will never be confused with New York, it certainly holds its own these days. But it isn’t the food trucks, Powell’s Books, or the hipsters that make 'Portlandia' great, it’s the spirit of the place - The rugged sense of adventure and the willingness to explore what moves us on the inside by changing our circumstances on the outside. That spirit is woven in to the fabric of the Pacific NW dating back to the most famous thing to ever occur there – the Oregon Trail.  

The Oregon Trail isn’t just an old dirt road talked about in history books or a cheesy 80s computer game, it’s a quest and an energy that lives on to this day. Many risked their lives and livelihoods exploring our nation’s final frontier. While some sought to stake a claim on cheap land and others simply wanted a rush of adventure, those that braved the trail all shared a common theme – leaving the old to discover the new.

This sense of uncovering and unearthing our destiny is our ultimate task spiritually, emotionally and professionally. Nike founder Phil Knight referenced this spirit in his compelling biography Shoe Dog. Knight’s famous college running coach and mentor Bill Bowerman frequently used the Oregon Trail lore in an effort to inspire his runners like Knight and the legendary Steve Prefontaine. “The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way. That leaves us,” Bowerman would say.

Says Knight, “Some rare strain of pioneer spirit was discovered along that trail, my teacher believed, some outsized sense of possibility mixed with a diminished capacity for pessimism – and it was our job as Oregonians to keep that strain alive.” The sentiment struck a chord with Knight inspiring him not only to run faster, but also to pursue a new way to express how we play. In doing so, Knight and Bowerman changed the world of running, sport, fashion, and culture.

In describing his own quest Knight explained, “Deep down I was searching for something else, something more. I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run, and I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And important. Above all…different. I wanted to leave a mark on the world. I wanted to win. No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.” It wasn’t dumb luck, playing the game, or even hard work that propelled Nike to one of the biggest brands in history but belief, optimism, and the resolve to chart a new course.

Though a New Yorker by birth, My Dad (also named Phil) is an Oregonian in spirit. Like millions before them, my parents blazed their own trail back in the day, renting a small U-Haul and making the trek across the country to start a family and new life among the Doug fir trees and the peaceniks. They missed the food and the energy of Manhattan, but they never looked back. The trail was out there in front of them.

While New York personifies the traditional pinnacle of success and the height of commerce and culture, the Oregon Trail represents a different narrative - Bigger, better, and louder isn’t the metric of success, purpose and authenticity are. Success on ‘the trail’ isn’t about climbing the ladder, but about displaying courage and risking it all to discover your true destiny.

Like the two Phil’s, my aspiration has long been to have enough fortitude to trade the known world for purpose and meaning. My dream is to live a life that manifests the qualities of serenity, peace, and creativity. I imagine an open sky and pray for an open mind. On my quest, I’ve tried my hand at being a salesperson, dot-comer, and actor, a trainer, manager, and a writer. I’ve lived downtown, uptown and in the suburbs. I’ve tried the mountains, the city, and the ocean.

What I’ve learned is that it isn’t the vocation or the location that matters, but grit and the willingness to wrestle with the important questions of the day. Thankfully, I’m not alone on the journey as faith, family and friends are constant companions. I not only possess the support of those close to me, but when the trail seems particularly daunting, lonely and treacherous, I have the courageous examples of others right beside me -

·      My best friend faced the biggest trauma of his life by reinventing himself and finding the courage to pursue his true calling as an actor. He’s now the artistic director of a theater company.

·      A former colleague of mine left her long and successful career in fitness to go back to school and pursue her life long dream of living in Paris where she now resides.

·      One of my childhood friends recently moved to the Mojave desert to live off the grid, open a music studio, ironically leaving Oregon to do so.

The Oregon Trail isn’t about Oregon being an answer any more than it’s about New York symbolizing a status quo to leave behind. The grass isn’t any greener in Oregon (actually it is, but you know what I mean!) than in New York. The meaning of life isn’t found in a new place and you can’t simply leave your problems behind by changing addresses. What matters is facing adversity, the ability to adapt, and the resolve to change courses when you’ve lost your way. For that matter, true satisfaction and bliss can be found without ever leaving home...But I’ll take my chances out here on the trail.

The Oregon Trail is a metaphor for life and we all have the capacity to be frontiersmen and women and explore the boundaries of possibility and wonder. Brené Brown calls this quest Daring Greatly. Another author described the trail metaphor in this way: “Life is full of distractions. It's full of people telling you can't cross mountains and can't achieve your dreams. It's full of disease. It's full of people you love getting sick...It's full of mistakes, miscalculations, and missed opportunities. It's confusing and too short and too long.”

Life is worth living and truly doing so means risking disappointment and heartbreak. Choosing the trail is about confronting the nagging questions, pursuing callings and passions, and most of all, the willingness to fail. I’m still in the covered wagon crossing the rugged mountains and barren plains, but my heart is open and my spirit is full of hope and wonder.