Author, speaker and entrepreneur Pat Divilly on Every Conversation Can Change A Life at TEDxGalway – Transcript
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Pat Divilly – Author, speaker and entrepreneur
Five years ago, I moved to Dublin as an early qualified personal trainer with huge hopes, dreams and ambitions. I’ve always wanted to be something special. I even remember as a kid being sat in these seats, in this theater with my parents and thinking, someday I’m going to speak on that stage. And I didn’t know what for but I always wanted to be something.
So after getting qualified as a personal trainer, I made the move to Dublin, and I saw it as my time to shine. I thought about how they’d be so proud of me back in Galway when I became Ireland’s leading fitness guru. And I thought about how proud my family and friends would be of me when I made it in the big smoke.
I quickly found out living in Dublin, it wasn’t going to be that easy. I had no community or no network there, and I struggled to find my first few personal training clients. Before long I was working part time in a clothes shop to try to pay the bills. I didn’t tell people that at home, because I didn’t want them to know that I was struggling. And I didn’t want to let the dream die.
Even with that, I couldn’t pay the rent and I was borrowing money from anyone I could. I wasn’t willing to admit defeat. I didn’t want to borrow money from anyone. I didn’t want to be working in a clothes shop part time but more than anything, I didn’t want to fail.
But eventually I had to admit defeat. On Christmas Eve, my dad rang me inquiring as to when I would be home to see my family for Christmas. And I tried to keep it together on the phone, and swallow my pride as I told him that I wasn’t doing that well, and I didn’t have the €12 to get the bus fare home.
I’ll never forget the bus journey home. For three hours I cried, it’s Christmas Eve, the time everyone is excited to go home and see their friends and family, and here I am, the biggest failure, the biggest loser. I put my hood up, I put my head down, and I just cried. Usually if you get the bus home from Dublin to your hometown, you meet people you know. There was probably people I knew on that bus, but I just didn’t know what was going on in my head. And I couldn’t even buy a small gift for my mum. So I got a card and I wrote: “I’ll take you out to lunch on the new year when things are better” and it broke my heart.
Lucky for me, a friend of mine offered me some part time work in a pizzeria. People on Galway will know the place. It wasn’t the dream for a personal trainer but it got me out of the house and it got me out of my own head a bit. When I wasn’t working as a waiter, I’d walk up and down the beach for hours everyday, just looking for some revelation, some inspiration, some glimmer of hope and some light at the end of this dark tunnel. More often than not, I’d have tears in my eyes or tears streaming down my face, still feeling like a failure. And if I’d bump into someone I knew I’d wipe away the tears and make sure they knew that there was nothing wrong.
And on one of these walks, I had a little bit of a breakthrough. I realized, yes, I failed on my first personal trainer business. Yes, it’s a recession, but there are other people that are doing well. So there must be a way.
And I headed home, and with nothing to lose, I jumped on my dad’s computer and emailed some trainers in the UK that looked like they were doing really well. I said, I’m a young trainer. I’d appreciate any advice on how can I get this thing started. And to my surprise, one guy got back to me, a guy called Mark Tregilgas over in Cardiff who was doing really well as a trainer.
Mark said later that day he would hop on the phone with me and give me some tips, some advice and some encouragement. And he did that, and it amazed me that this stranger was reaching out and taking time for me. That little bit of belief that he instilled in me prompted me to give it another go, to give my dream another go.
I advertised the fitness class down on the local beach and people later told me that was genius, outdoor training. But I had no money for rent, so it was genius. And I remember turning up the first day, and I turned up an hour early and I had no equipment to cycle down and I put cones on the floor. That’s all I had, the little bit of equipment I had and for an hour before the class I walked back and forth and visualized 20, 30, maybe 40 people turning up to my class, and come seven o’clock, as it was due to start five people turned up, only five. And to anyone else that might have seemed like a failure and they might have felt dejected by that, but I was over the moon.
I cycled home faster than I’d ever cycled before, excited to tell my mum about my new business and my five clients. You see, I was coming at personal trainer now from a different perspective. When I lived in Dublin, I was caught in my head, I wanted to be a superstar and I thought fitness was about push-ups and sit-ups and broccoli and spinach, that’s all I saw.
And now I’d come home and I’d hit this low point, I realized it could be so much more, and it should be so much more. I think we have all got three places: our home life, our work life, and then our third place. So for some people, the third place is yoga class or a meditation; for other people it’s, I don’t know, the pub, for some people. Everyone has got somewhere they go to escape, because the home life is not always happy, and the work life is not always fulfilling. We’ve got stuff going on, we want somewhere to escape.
And I knew the third place for the five people on the beach with me was the beach with me, that was their third place, their place to get away. I didn’t know what was going on in other areas of their life, but I knew I could be a great part of their day. And I set out to try to be the best part of these people’s day. The same way Mark had instilled a little bit of belief on me with that phone call when I needed it, I said I’m going to pass that forward to these five people.
And I came back the second month to the beach and I’ve got 20 people on the beach. And they start instilling this belief in each other, it’s not just me passing it over, everyone is starting, it’s reciprocal.
And then I come back the third month, there’s 100 people on the beach. When I came back from Dublin, said I was going to do a boot camp on the beach. People told me you are not in California. Now Pat, you are in the west of Ireland, no one’s going to train on the beach.