It all started when a six foot four, 250 pound black man named Earl looked me in the eyes as if he had known me my entire life and asked me, in the most sincere way I had ever heard “What do you want?”
I remember feeling something shift inside of me. I felt as if I was the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz movie and Dorothy had just found out that I wasn’t the all powerful being I claimed to be. Suddenly, I was this little girl, sobbing in the arms of a man I had met seven minutes prior to this. Everything I had ever wanted started flashing in my mind as if I were watching a movie and observing the main character’s near-death experience. All of these images became a frenzy in my head as I realized in that moment that all I ever wanted was nothing that I had. In that same moment, I would have done anything to have them. Anything.
No, this was not a religious experience. I was not at church. No one was trying to convince me to give myself to God and let Him take over.
I was at a guest event for a highly intense Personal Effectiveness and Leadership course. For many reasons, I am going to leave the company nameless.
For a considerable fee, I could take a nine-day course that would not only help me identify the things in my life that I wanted, but I would also figure out what was blocking me from having said “things” come into my life. I would have a team of people working with me as well as a personal coach that would be there to guide me through the process and answer any questions I might have along the way. At the end of nine-days, I would have a different outlook on my life and its accomplishments and have the necessary tools I would need to transform everything I was into everything I could be.
Sounded good to me. After all, I’d been trying to achieve this through church for years but the problem with that is that I had to continue going and listening to the constant ramblings of a belief system that was put into place long before any of us even existed and had played the game of “telephone” time and time again, only to leave me with seven hundred different dissections of one scripture. The fast-track seemed like a much better option to me. Besides, leaving my fate up to God, whom I’ve had a very rocky relationship with my entire life, seemed ridiculous now that I understood I could simply take the wheel and steer it in whatever direction I wanted to.
Before the woman who was hosting the guest event could even finish her pitch, I was already at the back table with Earl, filling out all of my personal information as well as clearly writing down each and every number of my credit card so that I would be guaranteed a seat in the next class that would be starting in a week. I was excited about this opportunity. It had been a long time since I felt excited about something. I had only been in Las Vegas for six months, but it was the loneliest and most depressing six months I could remember having. I had no direction and no desire to do anything of substance. The only reason I was at the guest event to begin with was because the guy I was sleeping with had just finished with the course and asked me to attend. I felt like Ally Sheedy’s character in the Breakfast Club; taking time out of my day to learn about how to change my life exponentially and live without limits - all because I really didn’t have anything better to do that particular evening.
I went home that night and knew that I was on to something big. I couldn’t believe I had just put that amount of money on my credit card, but then again, it was only money, right? How much is happiness worth, after all? Earl had me convinced that I was making the decision of my lifetime. The last thing most people would ever call me is dumb or naïve. Therefore, I was very confident that I was making the smartest decision I had made in years.
The first five days of the training were unbelievable. The trainer was dynamic and powerful, the lessons intriguing. There were no notebooks, no videos; all of the learning was experiential. There was a lot of music involved and countless activities took place. Some of these were done solo, some with a partner, some with a small group of people and still others with the entire class. Each night we had homework to do and the homework was always of a remarkably profound nature – consistently exercising my brain in ways that I had never used it before. Each day, hours before the next class, I had a call with one of the volunteer coaches to discuss how I was feeling and what emotions were coming up for me. Each call was to get me ready for what was going to take place in the next class. In the first five days, I learned all about personal responsibility, the power of intention and universal law, specifically the law of attraction. I learned that there was no such thing as victimization and that everything we have is exactly what we think we deserve. All of these ideas were so new and refreshing yet, at the same time, they made so much sense. I finally found something that was consistent with what I felt I had always known but that was the complete opposite of everything I had been told in church and in youth groups. By the end of the fifth day, I watched even the most skeptical of classmates change their energy and opinion on subjects they had been stubborn on their whole life. I felt like I was part of something special.
There was a week off in between the first five day class and the second class, which was four days long. Throughout this week, I had two calls with my personal coach and a little bit more homework to do. I was anxious and excited about what else was left to learn. I was already doing things I wouldn’t normally do, like calling my mom out of the blue to tell her I loved her and making amends with people in my past that I had wronged. It seemed like I was in my own 12-step program only the addiction I was getting rid of was the addiction to my own self-image and insecurities. I was uncomfortable yet persevered through all of the difficult tasks assigned to me that were designed to get me prepared for the second half the course.
I walked into class the following week, hugged my new friends, talked about the things that had opened up for me and how the sun seemed to be shining a little brighter than I remember, the sky a little more blue. Everyone agreed. The time ticked down to the start of the class and we all got to our seats, ready to tackle the next task at hand.
This class had a new trainer. I was so in love with the trainer from the last class and knew that this one had to be even better. My stomach flipped around as she walked into the room and I put myself in open-body position, ready to receive the lessons that were bound to flow my way.
Blindsided doesn’t quite cover it.
For the next eight hours, we were insulted, screamed at, humiliated and made to feel like the most unworthy specs of dust that every dared to settle on the ground. Knowing that it was all part of the territory, the majority of us held our heads up, took the flying curse words in stride and did our best to play the part that we knew we needed to in order to get the message that was, hopefully, coming our way. Not everyone shared our “enthusiasm”. A few people got up and left the class, disgusted. A few others tried to argue back, only to be shot down again and again with the expert lashing of the well seasoned trainer. Some stayed until the end of that first day, but did not return to complete the class.
And me? Well I was absolutely fucking fascinated!!
Once again, this was not church! They don’t use the f-word in church! They don’t call you a piece of shit in church! Well, they sort of do, but only in that tragically passive aggressive way that we all know as Catholicism. This was the most in-your-face-take-it-or-get-the-hell-out kind of learning I had ever experienced. And I was eating it up left and right. Yes, it was horrible and yes, I spent a lot of time in tears. However, the people who stayed in the class and put forth the effort that was being requested of them started opening up and sharing. Sharing. In the most authentic and beautiful way that I have ever encountered. Sharing about their fears and their past experiences. Sharing about being molested, gang-raped, killing another human being, incest, adultery, abortion, sibling rivalry of the worst kind, addictions and the desires to DO some of these things. And the people in this class were normal, well-functioning members of society! This was our naked world. Confession had nothing on the kind of catharsis we were going through.
This continued for four days. Four very long and exhausting days (although in retrospect, everything is kind of a blur). I watched some of the most amazing transformations happen right before my eyes. I realized what my own personal vision for the world was and how I could play my part in making it a reality. I saw opportunities for myself, my friends and my family that I had never thought was possible. I remember very clearly after class one night, driving home in a state of deep thought and calling my mom to tell her that I found the way to get my brother off of meth once and for all. Knowing how intelligent my brother was underneath his addiction, I knew that if he could see and experience the things that I just did, there would be no way he would choose to go back to the lifestyle he was leading.
On the fourth day, I looked around at the faces of the people I just spent this time with and knowing that, realistically, I wouldn’t see many of them every again, I took some time to really love each and every one of them for who they were. Before and after this course. I loved them for deciding to take on their life and for opening themselves up to a roomful of strangers, only to be rewarded with acceptance and love. I looked at my trainer and loved her for her commitment to the work she was doing and thought of how satisfying it must be for her to play such a huge role in changing people’s lives. I was proud of myself for my decision and excited about taking my new tools out into the world and making changes that would bring me the gifts in life that I had always wanted.
As the class started to wrap up and we began to prepare for our graduation ceremony, a bunch of extra volunteers came into the room with clipboards and paperwork. We all got into small groups and a volunteer came to speak to us. As it turned out, there was an extension of the training that we could sign up for.
For another considerable fee, we could sign up for the one hundred day Leadership course where we would work with our small group, a “buddy” and a personal coach on a daily basis to ensure that we were taking the tools that we had just received and using them in a way that fulfilled our lives. We would be putting together a personal strategic plan with very specific goals that someone would support us in being accountable for, thereby increasing our chances of success by tenfold. Always wanted to buy a home? Want to finally lose that 50 pounds you keep saying you are going to lose? Ready to finally find the relationship of your dreams? Once again, it all sounded pretty good to me! Besides, I had already established such strong connections with so many people in my class these past nine days that the thought of having their support for the next one hundred days seemed like a wonderful way to ensure accountability.
I admit, I struggled with the time commitment and the fact I would need to put this additional fee on my credit card as well. However, in the end, the trainer, my classmates and the volunteer coaches enrolled me in the idea that I could change the world. So, there went my name on the dotted line.
I was going to do big things, I could feel it…