It’s 10:56am on Monday 18th November 2013 and I am on fire…..
On Friday just gone, I went with my son Jordan and my friend Sammy to “The Power to Achieve” – A conference by Jet Set Speaker Andy Harrington….I’d never heard of him.
Sammy, who is a partner in Brand Brain Magazine, tells us what to expect. She talks of “personal breakthroughs” and says the experience will be life changing. I don’t believe her. Let’s get something out in the open right now. When your own mother rejects you, leaves you with your grandparents and throughout your life tells you that you ruined hers and you should have been an abortion, you do one of two things. You live your life, worthless and in the gutter or, you spend your life over achieving to prove to yourself that you are not worthless while all the time strengthening a big coat of steel that you wear every day to protect yourself and contain your insecurities. That coat grows thicker over the years, through the children’s home, the homelessness, the cruelty, the abuse, the humiliations and the losses and in the pockets you store all the pain that life throws at you until you become invincible. There is no-one that can hurt you and there is absolutely no-one that will convince you to take that coat off.
I go to the conference thinking it will be a good networking opportunity and I hope it will be good for Jordan’s mind-set to be around a bit of empowerment. I know there will be no breakthroughs – I won’t buy into that.
Getting up at 4am is no fun. Leaving the house at around 5:15am is even less fun. When we arrive, Sammy shoots off to a meeting. She is part of Andy Harrington’s team and will be ‘crewing’ the event. Jordan and I register, tag ourselves with name badges and plonk ourselves down at a table as more and more people file in through the doors. I can’t pigeon hole them: it’s a diverse mix.
Within a few minutes, other people have taken the vacant seats around our table and we start getting to know each other. Next to me is Debbie, a coach and fellow author. We hit if off straight away and spend the next three days glued at the hip. Jordan attracts the more lively people and is definitely beating me at the handing out of business cards.
The event begins. Booming music from the speakers, quotes and words of empowerment flash up on the two huge screens that border the stage and over the music comes an announcement
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome ANDY HARRINGTON”
After generous applause, he talks.
OK, so what are my first impressions? Well, you can’t help but notice that he is little – not skinny no, in fact, when you see him bouncing around, you can tell he is fit. When he takes off his jacket, you can see there is shape to him. When he tells his introductory story of being a drug addict, you can imagine him on the dance floor gurning and when he tells you he is now a successful businessman and a self-made millionaire, you can see it in him. He is likeable and incredibly engaging but, I don’t believe he can change my life.
We, his audience, listen and make notes. We fill in our work books and some raise their hands to answer questions. Other speakers are introduced, they tell us their stories, some rags to riches, some just riches. A lot of them are selling something. Debbie and I have fallen into the pattern of analysing. We raise our eyebrows at each other when services and products are discounted and people rush to the back to fill out forms. It’s not that we don’t believe, as the things on offer are more than worth the money and we have learned a lot from the presentations. I guess we are just being cynical.
At times, we are asked to stand and turn to our right; asked to place our hands on the shoulders of the person in-front and give them a massage, then a scratch. Its fun, its barrier breaking and it reminds me of corporate team building exercises from a previous life. Under our chairs is a square of wood. We have been told that we will be breaking this in half with our bare hands at the end of the day; using our energy. This has not really registered with me – I’ve really not thought it through.
In our workbooks there are some very personal questions. Each time Andy speaks, he takes us through a process and we have been filling in our answers. What are we most afraid of? What is holding us back? What are the feelings that are controlling us? Later, he asks us to write some of this on the boards; on one side our fears, the other what we want to achieve.
As the day draws to a close, all the chairs are moved and we form a large circle. Inside it are crew members who will hold our boards as we break them. Everyone has seen the demonstration, everyone knows the stance, everyone is bopping to the music and getting high on the energy in the room and I am trying to skulk into the shadows. Jordan notices this – its affecting him I can tell. He keeps looking at me and shaking his head and is not bounding around like he normally does as he is focusing on my actions not his own experience. I tell him I’m going out of the room and I do. I leave so that he can enjoy the experience. I stand outside for a bit; angry at myself. When it comes to doing something in a public arena, demons reach up through pockets and restrain me.
I DON’T BREAK THE BOARD….. I tuck it under my coat as I leave the room, hiding my shame and my fear.
Day two has the same format. More workbook, more massages and today a bit of dancing. There are also more speakers, one of whom is Raymond Aaron, another self-made millionaire. He is informative and funny and reminds me of an older Billy Crystal. He’s an author and offers the audience his services – helping them write and publish a book. Debbie and I are still not buying. We look at each other with superior attitudes that say
“But we are already published authors”
A few minutes later, Raymond, in his Billy Crystal twang (yes he sounds like him too) says something along the lines of
“You know, people come up to me after my talks and say I’m already a published author”
Debbie and I turn to each other and smirk
“And I say to them, so what?”
Our smirks turn to frowns
“How much money are you earning?” he delivers that line with great timing
Our frowns turn to laughter as our superiority is torn down and rendered ridiculous. That told us eh?
Today is breakthrough day. Andy has told us that that toward the end of this session, we will be taken through a process that will make us uncomfortable. That we must not leave the room and that we must not try to comfort anyone that breaks down. Me and my steel coat are not worried, just a bit curious.
When the time comes, we’re taken out of our comfort zones, told to swap seats and sit with strangers. I move to the other side of the room and sit between Mister Personal Trainer and Miss Little Bit Hippy. Mister Personal trainer turns to me and says
“I’m a little bit worried about this. I don’t know what to expect”
Well, what we should have expected was this……
The lights are dimmed. We are told to stand and close our eyes and in that state we are taken through a process by Andy, his voice both commanding and comforting. It’s not long before the sniffing starts followed by sounds of distress from various spots in the room. And then, there is shrieking from somewhere ahead of me and a deep guttural howling from the row behind. At this point, I want to pull out a box of tissues and offer comfort. There is no noise from my row, I am obviously in the “hard as nails” section. Sneaking a peek I look to my left….Miss Little Bit Hippy has wet cheeks and to my right, Mister Personal Trainer is quietly wiping his eyes. Hmmmmmmmmm? I feel nothing much. I have worked the process. I have taken it all in and done as I am told but I don’t feel very much emotion. I have gone back in time and met myself. I’ve stared into the eyes of that little girl but I didn’t know what to say. Could I tell her she would be ok or should I tell her the truth?
“Look I’m sorry darling but your mum is never going to love you. Your Nan is going to die before you’ve had a chance to grow up and you’re not going to have any friends anytime soon. Yes you are still going to be bullied. Yes people are still going to laugh at you and take the piss out of you. Yes you will go through your life lonely. No people are not going to like you much and no sorry you won’t fit in. No, there won’t be a safety net to catch you and no relative to comfort you and make things better. No you won’t have a home. No-one is going to tell you if you are pretty or clever or funny or talented you will only be told you are ugly and fat and worthless and you will learn to hide in the shadows until the day you discover alcohol…… and then?…… things will get even worse”
There, I told her – after all, what’s the point in giving false hope. Oh, what’s this? This small lump and this little tear? And do you know what I think then? I think “how nice”. “How nice to feel something for myself and how unusual” – I can cry buckets for other people.
Is this my breakthrough? One little tear?
Andy is talking again and we are now tearing up all that shit in our workbooks – all the hard stuff we had to write down. The music is pumping, the energy is high, it’s a feel good room and it’s comforting. No-one is judging. I rip and tear along with everyone else. I tear up that paper and throw it high in the air to join thousands of other pieces thrown by all those people in the room, casting their pain to the sky. As that white rain falls down on me I feel happy and happy is good right?
But, has anything really changed? Well, I’m just about to find out…….
“Now grab hold of someone and dance” says Andy
I watch as people turn and grab hands, arms and shoulders with others around them. I watch them laugh and toss their hair as they fling themselves around united and I watch Mister Personal Trainer and Miss Little Bit Hippy turn outward to other people as I stand in the middle of them, alone. It’s then that I find out what has changed for me. Instead of shaking my fist at the sky and asking why me. Instead of shrinking at the embarrassment and humiliation of being not worth dancing with……I smile. I smile and I dance by myself. I have every right to be here. I have just as much right as anyone else in this room to be here. I have just as much right as everyone on this planet to be here and be here I will. Luck can shove its rotten tricks up its arse – they will no longer affect me no matter how hard they try.
On day three there is more of the same. More great speakers, more opportunities, more massages, more dancing and at the end of all this, there will be some iron bar bending….
Over the past few days, although I have appreciated the speakers and learned from them, I have not felt the pull to sign up with them. None of it has jumped out at me and shouted “you need me” but, the conference is not over yet.
I’m listening to Andy talk about “Jet Set Speaker” and its seeping in. My instinct is screaming at me that I should do this. I feel that If there is someone I should learn from, it will be him. I believe in him.
Debbie turns to me
“You’re going to do this one aren’t you” she says
When Andy gets to the end, the point where you can sign up, both Debbie and I stand and walk to the back.
“Look at us” she says
We laugh at ourselves and our cynicism as we sign on the dotted line. As I stand with that piece of paper in my hand, that confirmation slip, I feel an arm around my shoulders. It’s Jordan.
“I’m proud of you” he says “I was just coming over to tell you that you must do this one. It’s the one for you”
Later that evening, I bent an iron bar with my neck….
It’s 10:56am on Monday 18th November 2013 and I’m telling you this: On a business level, my head is on fire with ideas and I am full of enthusiasm and certainty; I can’t wait to get started. That is what I got out of the conference, that is what I got from those great speakers and that information but, that’s not all I got…..
On a personal and much more surprising level, I can tell you this: My Coat of Steel is gone. It has been replaced with a Harrington Jacket and to prove it, I’m publishing this blog. Not just writing down the words as therapy and then throwing them away. I’m putting it out there in the open and I really don’t care what anyone says.
I don’t know anything about you or your life but, if you are even a little bit like me, I’m sitting here with my hand on my heart and telling you that if you want to change your life then you really should find out more about Andy Harrington and The Power To Achieve.
When you are ready, you can try on your own Harrington Jacket but be careful, as I suspect, once you put it on, you will wear it for life.