Arnold Schwarzenegger's Philosophy On Failure

A life-changing moment turned into a massive disappointment. Here's how Arnold responded, and what you can learn from his turnaround.

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Today’s Health Upgrade

  • This made a difference

  • The life sentence

  • Arnold’s philosophy on failure

  • Let’s talk toxic masculinity

Arnold’s Podcast

Want more stories from Arnold? Every day, Arnold’s Pump Club Podcast opens with a story, perspective, and wisdom from Arnold that you won’t find in the newsletter. And, you’ll hear a recap of the day’s items. You can subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

From Arnold: This Made A Difference

This week, we’re sharing the best posts, tips, and advice from a year of daily email. Today, I wanted to focus on the posts that struck a nerve and led to many emails and posts on social media. 

We cover many great fitness and nutrition topics but are not afraid to discuss the bigger picture. Today, you’ll see posts about death, the time I cried all night, and the fight against toxic masculinity. Rereading these made me proud of this special village.

Sentenced To Life

From Arnold: This village is about more than fitness. It’s a real community of people lifting each other up, and I’m always blown away when I see how you support each other. Today, I want to give the platform to Adam. Many of you know him as Co-Editor-in-chief of this newsletter or his books. But this might be some of his finest work yet. 

I looked at my dad. Then, down at my phone. 10:32 pm. July 21. 2023.

My dad was gone.

On Friday night, I watched my father — my Superman — take his final breath. It was a moment of peace for a man at war for three years.

My dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer (glioblastoma) in 2020. Some doctors told him he had six months to live, at best. They gave him all the grim stats, told him how his body would shut down, and plotted a future hell on earth.

At 65 years old, my dad was given a death sentence. But a funny thing happened.

My dad heard all the negativity, and he chose not to listen. Instead of waiting for death, my dad leaned into optimism and got busy living.

He had brain surgery and did chemo and radiation. After treatments, he would lift weights or walk for miles. He adjusted his diet, and my mom became his personal chef, making everything from scratch. My dad was a man on a mission. And the prize he chased wasn’t just time. It was quality of life and making the most of every day.

Instead of preparing for the end, he traveled the world, climbed mountains and skied down them, swam in oceans, and even did acro-yoga (if you knew my dad, you’d know THAT man doesn’t do acro-yoga). None of these options were ever discussed in the cancer pamphlets.

For three years, death tapped my dad on the shoulder. But my dad gave the grim reaper the middle finger, trained harder, walked farther, and ate healthier.

He did the impossible by believing it was possible.

When cancer took away his ability to use his left arm, he trained his right arm to do more. Watching a 68-year-old man teach his non-dominant arm to use chopsticks is an art of pure determination.

When cancer took away vision in one eye and limited his field of vision in his other eye, he re-taught himself how to read.

And when cancer left him unable to walk or bathe himself, even though he hated his limitations, he asked for help because that was the bravest and strongest thing he could do.

I watched my dad suffer, and I never heard him complain. Not once.

When my grandfather — his father — died a few months ago at 95, I thought it might break him. And when his four brothers had to watch him struggle to walk and talk and told him it was unfair, my dad remained steadfast:

He insisted the cancer was not unfair. Saying so would mean that his entire life was unfair, and he loved his life. He just hated the disease and thought it was terrible. And his job wasn’t to curse his life but to make the most of it.

And for him, that meant a simple choice: either feel bad for yourself or do something to make your life the best you possibly can.

My dad got lucky. Sometimes, people do everything right, and the disease still takes life far too fast. But with the time he had and the time he created, my dad didn’t think cancer would take him.

Even when he only had a week left, he would lie in his hospital bed and ask me how we would get him to football games in the fall. We both had season tickets to our beloved Colorado Buffaloes. They have been terrible for the past 15 years, but we still showed up to every game and stayed till the end. My dad was excited about the fall. Deion Sanders was bringing Prime Time to Boulder. He wanted to be there on September 9th to see the first victory on the path to the greatest turnaround in college football history.

Some people thought he was crazy for talking about attending football games while in hospice. To me, it was just part of his vision.

Arnold always talks about vision, and my dad also believed in it. And his vision didn’t include death. He envisioned himself in that stadium. And while he won’t make it, that vision helped him go farther than any doctor said he would.

None of you knew my dad. But he loved life so much that he was unwilling to see his sickness as anything other than another obstacle he would overcome.

In my last conversation, my dad told me something I’ll never forget.

He talked about finishing what I started -- as a husband, as a father, as a friend, and in my work. We started Arnold’s Pump Club when his health started to rapidly decline. We didn’t discuss much about my work, but he told me he read every email and that I was doing something important.

In facing death, my dad believed the world needed more positivity. If there was anything he learned, it’s that optimism is the way.

He then asked me how many people we reach each day. I told him 500,000.

He then asked how many I wanted to reach. I told him 5 million.

And then he dropped the mic.

He said, “Adam, why put a limit on what you can do? Where would I be if I did that when I was diagnosed?”

Man. My dad didn’t always have many words, but the ones he had were damn good.

In the end, my dad made his vision a reality. He stayed optimistic, bet on himself, and appreciated each day as if his life depended on it.

After I watched my dad take his last breath, I told him I was proud of him. I kissed him on the forehead, and I said, one last time, it was good to see him.

I walked out of hospice that night, sat in my car, and thanked my dad for sentencing me to life. And I hope my dad’s story can do the same for all of you. -Adam

Arnold’s Philosophy on Failure

You have probably screwed up many times when pursuing an important goal. Am I right?

First of all, the biggest reason people fail is that they aren’t keeping their program in front of them and checking their goals off every day. So, if you haven’t been keeping track, start NOW. I always had my program written on the wall in the gym, and I knew I did it every day when I marked it off.

Second of all, even if you’re writing it all down, you are going to fail. It isn’t easy to build a routine from scratch. You’re retraining your brain after who knows how long.

But here’s what gets lost in the mistakes, distractions, and failures. 

These screw-ups are part of the process, which means thinking they are not actually screw-ups can change your perception and lead to more success.

Here’s what else I want you to know: Failure is not fatal. It can’t kill your progress unless you let it. I know some of you go nuts and get frustrated, and you might even say, “Well, I said I would exercise every day, and I missed day 10 like a real forehead, so now, what’s the point?”

The point is that you’re the type of person who faces failure and adversity, gets up, and keeps moving forward. Our first goal with the New Year challenge was to teach you to build a routine because routines are the key to success. Our goal is to teach you how to get going again when you fail. We want you to choose progress, not perfection. Because none of us are perfect.

It’s ok to spend a little bit of time reflecting on why you failed. But I don’t want you to dwell on it. Here’s a quick story about one of my failures that led to quite a few tears before I got back in gear and kept moving.

It was 1968. I had just won my second Mr. Universe contest in London. England was the place I got started. A telegram came from Joe Weider, the godfather of bodybuilding, to invite me to his Mr. Universe show in Miami (there were two different federations with the same title; it was all confusing). This was the moment I had been waiting for. My ticket to America was in my hand. I was 21 years old, and all the people who told me I’d never make it to America were about to be proven wrong.

I didn’t even go back to Germany where I lived in the spare room of the gym where I worked in Munich, to pick up my things. I just got on a plane to America with my gym bag. I was about to take America and its bodybuilders by storm, and Joe Weider would want me to settle down in California to be the frontman of bodybuilding.

That’s not what happened.

Frank Zane beat me. I was shocked, I was depressed, and I was all alone. I had just left everyone I knew and everything I had in Europe for this. All of the thoughts you can imagine went through my head. 

First, the denial: how did that little guy beat me? 

Then, the mental beating and the worst-case scenarios: I’m a loser, why did I ever think this was a good idea? Weider won’t want to work with a loser. I’m going to end up back in Austria yodeling by next week.

I cried all night. And in the morning, I woke up a little more clear-headed. Now, instead of denial and worst-case scenarios, I saw that Frank won because he was more cut than me and he had better definition. That meant I needed to work on my definition.

And just like that, I went from misery to a mission. Joe Weider still wanted me to stay in America, proving those worst-case stories we tell ourselves are almost always wrong. I moved to Venice near Gold’s Gym, and one of the first things I did was invite Frank Zane to stay and train with me. I wanted to learn from the person who beat me, and Frank was a great guy.

I went on to win 10 more world championships. Frank and I became friends, and Joe Weider became a mentor and father figure. None of that would have happened if I had gone along with the horror stories my brain was telling me and given up and gone home.

Your brain will always tell you why you should give up or that you screwed up. But you haven’t. If you believe you can’t screw up, you will succeed. (Adam teaches you how to create this mindset in his book.)

Your job is to take a step back, see where you can do better, and keep moving forward. So, if you have failed one of your goals we set at the beginning, stop beating yourself up, and turn that misery into a mission today.

Ketch’s Corner: Rethinking Masculinity

Last week was my dad’s birthday. I learned most of my early lessons about how to be a man from him, so I thought I’d share a little bit about where my thinking about masculinity comes from.

You hear a lot about the importance of role models in raising strong, positive men, so knowing where I come from might help you understand where I’ll go in this column as it evolves.

My dad works in farming. He drives a truck and wears boots for utility, not for vanity. When I was young, he always changed his own oil, rotated his own tires, and trimmed his own trees. He’s slowly accepted that his time is worth enough that he can pay other people to do things, but he still helps me anytime he visits and something at home needs fixing.

He coached my baseball teams, played catch with me, oversaw our Boy Scout camping trips, taught us to shoot (after making us take a gun safety course), showed me my first exercises, and did everything you’d expect a manly dad to do.

At the same time, because my mom was a teacher and then a principal, and he had a more flexible schedule during the day, he was my “class mom” more than once. Yes, in the ‘90s, it was so rare for a dad to be the one bringing all the kids cupcakes for class birthdays that the title was actually “class mom,” and he didn’t complain about it; he just laughed about it. My mom made a mean manicotti and Basque soup and taught us a million lessons on her own, but when she was busy educating kids or doing back-to-school nights or school concerts, my dad was always ready to cook our dinners. I’ve watched him change all of his grandkids’ diapers like a pro.

So when I see these manfluencer and “trad” (apparently this is the internet way to say traditional) accounts post things about a man should never change a diaper or cook a meal for his family or clean because it’s emasculating, I realize they didn’t have positive male role models like my dad.

I know I’m lucky. I want all men and boys who read this crap to realize that being afraid to change a diaper or cook for your family is the opposite of being masculine.

The most traditional definitions of masculinity involve being a provider and a protector.

You might think providing means you need to be the only or the biggest salary, but that’s a narrow view. If you’re making sure food is on the table, then you’re providing. You might think protecting means puffing up your chest and sitting on your porch to scare people off. This isn’t the Wild West. Expand your definitions. Changing that diaper protects your kid from an infection.

Basically, anybody so soft they’re afraid of baby poop should lecture anybody else on being manly.

I’m lucky my dad showed me the way so that my version of masculinity can be a mix of lifting 500 pounds, walking miles with a heavy ruck on my back, being the cook for my family, changing a lot of diapers, and having pretend tea parties. I learned from him that doing any of these things and more is the opposite of emasculating — because real men do what needs to be done without asking if it is manly.

I’m also lucky because I’ll be totally honest: until we started this newsletter and I read Richard Reeves’ book and dug into these manfluencer circles, I didn’t think about my masculinity at all.

When it comes down to it, that’s what my dad really taught me. Masculinity isn’t some puffed-up, showboating thing you must prove every second of every day. The manliest guys will never tell you how masculine they are.

Real masculinity is confidence. It’s strength. It’s nurturing. It’s positive.

You don’t hear about it as much on the internet because real masculinity is also quiet. But it is out there.

So, for those boys looking for how to be a man, my advice is to beware of the loudest voices. Skip past the talkers and find the doers. They might be closer to home than you think. -Ketch

Publisher: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Editors-in-chief: Adam Bornstein and Daniel Ketchell