Full text of personal growth expert Peter Sage’s talk: How to Become Your Best When Life Gives You Its Worst at TEDx Klagenfurt conference. In this talk, Peter shares his story along with how you can deal with the toughest situations and become your best when life gives you its worst.
Listen to the MP3 audio here:
Peter Sage – Personal growth expert and author
At 2:00 PM on January the 20th, 2017, I was walking down the stairs of the high court in London, wearing handcuffs on my way to one of the most violent prisons in England.
Having never been arrested, accused, charged, or convicted of a crime. In fact, not even the police knew that I was going to prison.
A week before, I was running a successful company with over 50 staff, helping thousands of people. And a week later, I was down to virtually no staff and faced with losing everything I had, including my home.
And so began the most incredible adventure I’ve ever had the privilege of living.
How I got there isn’t quite as interesting. I was arguing a years old business deal in court with a major multinational and one that had far deeper pockets to flex far bigger legal muscles than I did. And when they threw a contempt of court application at me, I didn’t give it much credibility.
I remember an old long-time friend and business mentor Dan Peña once told me that when it comes to business, litigation and civil actions are nothing more than a tool. And I thought this was a chess move to try to pressure me into an early settlement. And I didn’t really take it that serious.
That was a mistake.
I learned a lot about how the court system works, shall we say? And when I was sitting in the hearing, my fiancé turned around to me and said, this isn’t going the way we thought it was going to go. You know what happens? You know, you could even go away here.
And I’m like, I don’t know why this is happening, honey, but here’s what I do know. I’ve been very blessed, very privileged over the last 20 plus years to have millions of people around the world, benefit from my work. I said but maybe the people that could benefit the most, never really get to hear it because they’re in somewhere like jail. If the universe or whatever you want to call it wants to send me in to hold a light, let me go do my work.
And I was reminded by a quote by Tony Robbins, who I had the privilege of working alongside as an experienced trainer for over 15 years. And he said something profound. He said, “The strongest force in the human personality is the need to remain consistent with how you define yourself.” In other words, your identity.
For example, why do vegetarians not eat meat? It’s not because they have different teeth or a different digestive system. It’s because their identity is, I am a vegetarian.
Now, the reason they may choose that identity is personal and varied for either health or moral reasons. But once you adopt that identity, it governs what you order off the menu.
So I had a choice walking down the stairs as to which identity I wanted to adopt. I could either adopt the identity of a prisoner and a victim and complaining about the courtroom shenanigans, or I could choose something more empowering, someone who is going in on a mission as a secret agent of change.
I remember getting to the prison and I had my medical. They gave me my clothes and I sat with a doctor for a while before they gave me a cell. And he leaned over. He says, “Can I ask you a question?”
I said “Sure” he said “Are you undercover?”
And I smile. I say, “Why do you ask?”
He said, “Well, in my entire career, I’ve never seen anybody so happy on their first ever day in prison.”
I took that to be a good sign, but not even I was prepared for what was about to happen.
Let me set the scene for you. Pentonville is a 200 year old Victorian prison. That’s never really been modernized. It was built to house over 900 inmates. And when I got there, there was over 1,300, including murderers, terrorists, drug lords, armed robbers, to name a few.
By the government’s own statistic, over 1 in 5 people in the prison population there are on anti-psychotic medication with many more on antidepressants. Violence is epidemic; drugs are to order, and many of the cells have their own pets in the form of cockroaches and rats.
Let’s just say that if it was a hotel, it wouldn’t do very well on TripAdvisor.
In fact, I remember walking into the showers a couple of weeks after I arrived, and this is my first shower in four days. And my cellmate walked into one set of showers. I walked into another and three guys followed him in and closed the door behind and one, pulled out a weapon. It was a toothbrush that had been sharpened to a spike on the concrete wall, and with razorblades glued into the other side, crude, but very effective. And they didn’t waste time.
Now, luckily, they weren’t after my cellmate, but somebody that had just walked in ahead of him. And while I didn’t witness the attack personally, like he did, the blood coming from under the doors in the shower was like something out of a horror movie.
In fact, this is what it looks like inside. And this was taken from an article in the paper of somebody else that was murdered just before I got there: welcome to Pentonville.
Now I’m also a great believer that one of the greatest days in a human being’s life on the journey of emotional maturity is the day that we realize that life is not a comfort centric experience, but a growth centric experience.
I believe that we’re in Earth school. And for me, this was a practical exam: was I able to actually walk the talk that I’ve been teaching for so many years in a real environment with no cameras, no second takes, and obviously learn my own lessons that I needed to learn, also about my own ego and some of the things that happened in court.
But I believe that we can be empowered by that. If you can understand that Earth school is here for everybody, but how do you handle that environment in Pentonville? Positive thinking just isn’t enough; you need a tool set.
And luckily after three decades, almost in personal growth, I had a decent tool set. And I want to share a few of those with you here today. Not that you need to go to prison to test these. Yeah. Leave that for the idiots like me.
But if your son or daughter comes home from having a tough time at school or not getting the grade they want, or your spouse is suffering through having worked downsizing or whatever, you may be able to use some of what I was using in order to be able to help you. And that’s one of my main purposes here today.
Now one of the first tools I was using is often underrated, and it’s the Power of Acceptance. Most people don’t get to acceptance because they confuse it with apathy or resignation. But if you are complaining about something that has already happened, you are wasting your time.
As soon as I walked in there, I implemented a zero-tolerance policy on my own thinking of any thoughts that started with if only, or what if. Why? Because you can’t go back and change anything, the milk may be spilled, but that’s not going to put it back in the bottle if you sit there and feel sorry for yourself.