Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ring, Ring... "Hello?" "Hi, it's Tina - Have You Been Saved Today?" PART TWO

Cult [kult] n < L cultus, care cultivation 1 a system of religious worship or ritual 2 devoted attachment to a person, principle, etc. 3 a sect – cult’ism n. –cult’ist n.

The next week, I brought my brother to a guest event. He was high. I didn’t know he was high, but it wouldn’t have mattered. I was sending him to the training kicking and screaming. I’ve done very few things for my brother in his life but at a time when everyone else was ready to give up on him, I found a way that he could actually save himself. A lot of drama happened between the time he attended the guest event and the time he actually went to the training, however that’s either another blog or might just stay in the vault. Regardless, I got him there.

He had no place to live at the time so he was staying with me during his training. I was driving him back and forth every day and in the car rides as well as when we got home, we spoke about what he was experiencing and the different things that were opening up for him. I had never had conversations like this before with my brother. Once again, we were sharing on a level that was so deep and connected. It made me truly understand and appreciate the importance of the human bond. I realized that up until this point, our relationship had not only been strained, but even at its best, it had been superficial. I think I was starting to coming to terms with the fact that all of my relationships were only surface deep. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was have this kind of connection with everyone.

After his training, my brother was a transformed man. He had made a huge impact in his class and had received the support from all of his new friends to go out and change the world. One of the volunteer coaches in his class was able to help him find a job in his field and he had also met a girl there that he fell in love with, eventually married and just had his first child with. He never touched meth again.

While I know that it was ultimately my brother who stepped in and did the work, I am thankful every day that I was shown this path and had the opportunity to bring him with me. For this, I will forever remain in solemn gratitude for my experience with this training.
It was everything else that happened afterward that still tastes sour.

My first weekend of my leadership course was underway at the time my brother finished his two weeks of training. He had decided to take the leadership course as well but did not finish it. There are many times in my life I wish I would’ve made the same decision however as I know, each of us has a path to walk and even though I’m sure I would’ve had a lot less strain and stress had I ended my experience after the first nine days, attending the leadership portion definitely gave me knowledge I don’t know if I could’ve found anywhere else.

I spent a few days preparing my personal strategic plan, putting together very specific goals and how I intended on achieving them. I actually struggled very much with this as I was at a point in my life where I had no idea what I wanted. I knew I wanted to lose weight and save money, but the idea was to dream big and come up with goals that seemed completely unrealistic. Being a diehard realist, this was a challenge.
However, I was able to come up with some exciting goals and put them in my plan along with the required list of twenty-five people that we knew in our lives that could benefit from the training. Even at the time, I started feeling uncomfortable as I made that list. I knew I was going to be asked to go out and become a recruiter. I didn’t like the idea, however I was constantly reminded of the benefits of bringing others to the training every time I looked at my brother. Besides, I was a complete skeptic at the time when my friend brought me to the training and it had definitely changed me in a way that I never knew possible. So, I did the best I could to stay positive about what the “enrolling” process would look like.
Talk about a blur. In a nutshell, this is what the leadership portion looked like on paper: three full weekends, a meeting once a week, coaching calls that started out on a 2-3 times a week basis and eventually increased to daily calls, volunteer service at least one hour each week and the remaining hours were spent living our regular lives, working on our personal strategic plan goals and talking to people about the training. The idea was that after living one hundred days of life like this, anything was possible.

This is what leadership actually became: The first full weekend was spent talking about why we chose the program and what it meant to us. We were sent out on that first weekend to talk to our closest friends and family and enroll them into the training. We spent approximately two hours on the last day reviewing our personal goals and our plans for achieving them. Any time that was not packed with enrolling or our personal goals was filled up with activities that were similar to what we went through in the first two weeks of training, however even at the time, the intentions seemed different. I felt like we were being built up to amazing heights, being told we could do anything, change the world even, and then immediately sent out to make phone calls and visit our friends and family.

A few people I talked to that weekend that I considered to be some of my closest friends have, to this day, never spoken to me again.

Our weekly meeting was a mini-version of the weekend I just explained. We would walk in, dance around a bit to feel a bit silly and vulnerable and then sit down and take a poll around the room on whom we had enrolled that week. If someone had been enrolled, we would celebrate. If someone hadn’t, we would ask why and find out what kind of support would be necessary in order to turn this around. There would be more activities that were designed to show us what was blocking us from achieving our goals, however as the weeks went on, the reference was more to why we weren’t connecting with the people in our lives in a way that they would sign up for the training. At the end of each meeting, we would make a declaration on who we would be talking to that week and who, by the next week, would get to be saved.

In the first month, all of my friends from California were no longer speaking to me. In fact, I had received some of the most awful and horrifying phone calls and emails that I had ever taken in my whole life. The only person that I still kept in contact with was Nancy as she was the only person I wouldn’t talk to about the training.

The second weekend was what I remember as “enrollment weekend.” It’s basically all we did. I know that there were other things going on, like activities and what we called “stretches” which were sort of like dares that we put each other on in order to expand our belief system and what we thought we were capable of. Some of these were really exciting – like watching someone who was scared to be in front of people get up and do karaoke for the first time and rock the house – and some were ridiculous, like dressing up like bums and begging for money to ride the Big Shot at the Stratosphere. Some of them made sense and some of them still baffle me to this day. I suppose the ideas behind them were good and I find myself even today setting up stretches for myself every now and then, as a reminder that I can do things I didn’t think were possible.

Other than those activities, however, all I really remember about second weekend was being on the phone and driving to people’s houses. My mom and dad were having nothing to do with the training (my mom basically had a panic attack in the middle of a guest event) and my “closest” friends wanted nothing to do with me. Anyone who did seem interested told me it was too expensive or that they didn’t have time. So, I started teaming up with some of my other classmates and helping them with their enrollment conversations.

One of my worst memories of my leadership was during second weekend when we were being heavily pressured to come up with more enrollments and one of the men in my class said he wanted to go to his hairdresser’s house to enroll him and his boyfriend. All nine of us (the final number of “truly committed” people from the original 30) piled into two vehicles and drove to this man’s house. The rest of it plays out in my head like a bad television show that I was forced to watch. There we were, nine people – eight that this guy didn’t even know – sitting in his beautiful, multi-million dollar house in Anthem Country Club at 10:00pm on a Saturday night, trying to sell him on the idea that his life was not complete and that even though he had everything he wanted, that this training could somehow make him feel even more complete. And we wouldn’t take no for an answer.

After almost two hours, he finally filled out paperwork for himself and his boyfriend, wrote us a check and sent us on our way. He promptly cancelled the check the next morning and never spoke to his client again.

These are the things I remember most about my leadership training.

Our third weekend finally came and it started out as a scavenger hunt that, much to my delight, did NOT end with us having to enroll more people, but brought us up to a beautiful cabin outside of town where we basically spent some time going through a sort of catharsis over what we had experienced and then celebrated ourselves for deciding to take on our lives and live big.

Our goals? Very few of us actually achieved any of the personal goals we set out to accomplish. However, the person that enrolled the most people into the training received a very special title and was also given the “gift” of becoming a captain of an upcoming volunteer training team for another class.

I did not weigh any less, I had little to no money at all and my other goals… I can barely even remember what they were, let alone had I made any headway on achieving them.

After my leadership course, I became very disconnected from the program for a few months. However, the challenge was that I didn’t have any friends left from my past life. My new job and new surroundings were all people who had participated in the training. As a matter of fact, the person I was just speaking about who had enrolled the most people during our leadership had also enrolled me in becoming a marketing manager for his mortgage company.

He and I went to lunch one day and he told me about the team of coaches he was putting together for the next training course. He wanted me on it. I told him no. He told me he wanted to do something different. I told him no. He told me that he wanted to make it about achieving personal goals, like we thought our leadership was going to be about. I told him no. He told me that he wanted to take on the people who had coached and trained us and do things differently than they did. He wanted to make it about each individual person that took the class and help them actually achieve their goals and desires. He wanted to hold people accountable for their personal strategic plans and spend just as much time, if not more, on those goals than on the enrollment numbers. He wanted the people he coached to have a different experience than we did in our leadership. He wanted to see just how far he could put his toe over the line to change the way things were happening in the organization. He reminded me of how we felt after our first nine days and how we thought leadership was going to be an extension of that and how it should’ve been. “People should be seeing their friends and family with big results in their lives through their personal strategic plan and ask how they can get some. That should be how enrollments occur, not by going door to door and pressuring people the way we’ve seen it done and done it ourselves. Do we disagree that this experience changed our lives? Look at your brother. Look at my brother. We shouldn’t walk away from that completely, should we? Let’s take a stand… let’s piss some people off and do things our way.”

I told him I’d think about it.

The next week, there I was, sitting in the back of the room, a volunteer coach. What was I doing? The really cool thing was that I got to experience the first nine days of training again, with two new trainers and from a completely different perspective. Once again, watching the transformations of those in the class through the power of trust and sharing blew my mind. I was immediately brought back to how I felt and thought that perhaps my friend was on to something. Perhaps we could make a difference and do things our way. I started to fall in love with all of these people as they threw their preexisting belief systems to the side and started to see what was possible in their lives through the power of love and connection. By the time we were helping to celebrate the graduation from the first two weeks and gearing up for our one hundred day leadership training as coaches, I was convinced, once again, that I could change the world.

I could probably write an entire part three on how the following leadership went, but it would read very similarly to this one. Yes, there were definitely times when I felt like we were making a significant difference in these people’s lives and two of the people I coached will forever be in my soul as I felt I had an actual part in taking their hearts and opening them up. We did take a stand and there were some ugly moments with the trainers and the woman responsible for the whole organization. In fact, I recall being the only training team she actually threw her hands up in the air and walked out on because of our resistance to her message. That was pretty cool.

However, in the end, no matter what we did, it was all about enrollments. In fact, the person who received the highest honors during third weekend this time was, of course, the one with the most enrollments for the one hundred days but also the one that had connected the least with the class, had accomplished very few items on her personal strategic plan and was the coldest person I had worked with in the organization up to that point. She was also, conveniently, one of the wealthiest and most powerful people that had enrolled in the training. In that moment, it was finally crystal clear, as I had suspected from the very beginning that money and power were the primary reasons for what we were doing. Leave the “saving people” portion up to the churches.

Although, I think many of us can say that money and power sort of sums up many religions as well.

After I finished coaching, I faded into the background. Conveniently, the mortgage company I was working for closed and I found myself back at the restaurant I was working at when I first started the training. And, life resumes. I still keep in contact with a few people from the organization, but I definitely feel as if I took exactly what I needed from my experience, both the good and the bad, and bolted. Admittedly, there are moments where I wish I would never have done the trainings at all, however every time my sister-in-law posts a new picture of my nephew, I am quickly reminded about how lucky I was to be at that guest event so long ago. We don’t always know how far the ripples will go when we throw that first rock.

A few times, never by her directly, but by others, I’ve been asked why I never felt the need to enroll my friend Nancy into the training. It’s actually a couple of reasons – first, I was afraid she would stop talking to me as well… however, more importantly; I never felt she needed it. She was always my inspiration with the way she led her life without anyone’s permission and according to her own beliefs and desires. She has never gotten righteous on me, even at my most ignorant, and whenever I needed her, she was there. We speak about things of substance and laugh all the time. The kind of relationship I have with her is the kind I think is capable with every person in my life. And we didn’t need any kind of training to interfere.

I’ve never been much of a small talker. In fact, my least favorite subject is the weather (which, by the way, the universe has a pretty funny sense of humor in bringing me Jeremy who went to school to study meteorology). If there is anything I learned from my time in the training, it is that life is made up of a billion different experiences, all waiting to be shared in due time so that we can all connect on deeper levels. This is the purpose of my blog. For way too long, I was perfectly happy simply being right about everything and sitting back with my arms crossed. Now, I love the fact that I don’t know anything, but that through my own open, honest and uninhibited sharing, I am attracting new and powerful things into my space.

I have a long way to go. My mom and I still can’t find a way to communicate, my brother and I are back to our old ways and my dad simply runs interference all the time. I do my best to take it one day at a time and am constantly trying to “stretch” so that eventually, I can have the kind of relationships that I’ve always wanted.

Jeremy, I love you for living your life on purpose and always willing to get uncomfortable in our conversations, especially this early on in our relationship.

 Maryann, I love you for standing by your beliefs and asking for respect.
Nancy, I love you for your acceptance of people as they are and for allowing them the space to be themselves without needing an excuse.

 Travis, I love you for wanting a healthy world and not being attached to what it looks like.
Nick, I love you for taking a stand against everyone who says you should be different. Different is exactly what you are, and that’s where the beauty is.

Mom, I love you without having to understand you.

Dad, I love you for your ambition and fearlessness and for always trying something new.

Erin, I love you and your big heart.

J.J. I love you for choosing to save yourself.

And Tina, I love you for taking risks, for believing in yourself and for taking the road less traveled every time the fork comes. It’s scary, difficult and lonely many times over… but I love you for knowing in your heart that the other way is simply not for you. Stay strong through the tears and you will be rewarded beyond your imagination.  
Out of all the people I was asked to save, the only one I actually did… was me.


  1. Yep, I'm crying. This was amazing Tina. I can't wait until you write your book so you can expand on all the topics that you say "are too long" to explain on this blog. I love learning about you and your beautiful soul!!!!

  2. I was surprised to see you put up a pic of me here with a comment, it kinda surprised me and now I'm speechless. Thank you, I didn't realize I made other people feel what you do. I'm sure the other people you put up probably think a similar way too.