Be Useful - Critical summary review - Arnold Schwarzenegger
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Be Useful - critical summary review

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Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0593655958

Publisher: Penguin Press

Critical summary review

Throughout his bodybuilding, acting, and political career, Arnold Schwarzenegger found motivation to excel in the simple advice his father gave him - always try to be useful. In an effort to follow this advice, he has built the tools and a roadmap to the life he always wanted to live. Now, as a self-help writer, he wants to share his secret to success with others and, above all, help them be more useful in their lives. So, get ready to hear what one of the world’s most successful actors, bodybuilders, and politicians can teach you.

Tool No. 1: Find your vision 

All life changes start with a clear vision. As Schwarzenegger puts it, ‘’To have a clear vision is to have a picture of what you want your life to look like and a plan for how to get there.’’ How can you find your vision? Where can you begin? According to Schwarzenegger, you can start small by creating little goals and then build out until you see a big, clear picture in front of you. Those goals can, for instance, be little daily achievements in nutrition or exercise. They can be about networking, reading, or getting your house organized - simply the things that you enjoy doing ‘’with a little goal attached to them.’’ Then, you will notice how accomplishing these goals will change your perspective and open up a vision of what you want to reach in front of you.

Another way to find your vision is to start very broad and then ‘’zoom in’’ on what you want to focus on. For Schwarzenegger, the broad vision he began with was the vision of America. Since he was a child, he knew he belonged there. Then, he started doing what he loved - bodybuilding - and it eventually brought him to America to train at Gold’s Gym under the great Joe Weider.

Tool No. 2: Always think big

Once you realize what your vision is, you should formulate the goals that will take them to it. Here, you need to be careful not to think only about chasing your goals but whether the goals you set for yourself will make you motivated to excel and make a difference in your life. For instance, if you enrolled in college, your goal shouldn’t just be walking out of it with a piece of paper. Dream of learning something that will change your life and try to better yourself while being there. 

After he made it as an action movie star, Arnold could stop there and just continue killing people on screen. Nevertheless, he did not want to think small - his goals evolved, and he decided to show the audience that he could offer much more than muscles and mayhem - that he could be funny, dramatic, and human. Despite that everyone - journalists, agents, studio executives, and friends - thought it was a bad idea, Arnold decided to do comedies. Fortunately, he found a man who supported his vision - comedic producer and director Ivan Reitman. Both of them worked together on some ideas, and as a result, ‘’Twins,’’ Arnold’s first movie that crossed $100 million at the box office, was created.

Tool No. 3: Work, work and work

Perhaps this will sound like a worn-out phrase, but if you want to achieve something, you must put in the work. ‘’There is no shortcut or growth hack or magic pill that can get you around the hard work of doing your job well,’’ Schwarzenegger writes, ‘’of winning something you care about, or of making your dreams come true.’’ Hard work won’t only get you where you want to be but also give you the sense of achievement you wouldn’t otherwise get if you didn’t push yourself. What do you think - would Sir Edmund Hillary have felt the same if he had only been dropped at the summit of Mount Everest by helicopter instead of trekking to it over two months? Would the view from the top have been as beautiful?

One sign that will tell you that you work hard enough towards your goals is pain. If you don’t feel it occasionally, it means you don’t give enough of yourself in the pursuit of your dreams. So, ‘’pain isn’t just an indicator of sacrifice, though, it’s also a measure of growth potential.’’ Take exercising in the gym as an example. Unless what you are doing starts to hurt, you haven’t done enough to unleash the growth potential of the muscle you are targeting. That is why Muhammad Ali said he didn’t start counting his sit-ups until they hurt. In other words, if you want to be great, there will be pain in the process, but knowing it has a meaning will give you the strength to bear it.

Tool No. 4: Sell your vision

‘’No matter the size of your dream,’’ Schwarzenegger says, ‘’you have to know how to sell it and who to sell it to.’’ When he came to America, he realized that, apart from people from the bodybuilding community, almost nobody had an awareness of bodybuilding culture. Newspapers and sports magazines did not bother much to write about it. You could rarely find something about it on TV networks. And when there was media coverage, the picture they sent was wrong as they concentrated only on the visual aspect - a group of tan, shiny men flexing next to one another on stage. They did not report about their effort, only about looks. So, Arnold decided to talk to the journalists and help them articulate a new public image of bodybuilders.

Even if you have the most amazing idea, or plan, or even if you are the best at something, if nobody knows it exists, it is a waste of time and effort. Therefore, find your customer and sell. Sometimes, it won’t be that obvious who you need to sell your product to. In such a case, pay attention to who is reacting positively to what you are doing. ‘’If you can do that,’’ Schwarzenegger writes, ‘’you will know who all your customers are before they even know that you’re selling to them.’’

Tool No. 5: Shift gears

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most frequent things you could hear in the news was that the U.S. did not have enough ventilators, masks, and other personal protective equipment for hospital staff and first responders and that it would take months to secure all the equipment to satisfy the growing needs. When he watched such news at home, Arnold couldn’t believe this situation. Why didn't officials look for what hospitals need in the open market or contact one of those massive logistics companies whose business was to source stuff like these in bulk and ship them worldwide?

If you encounter a bump on your road to your goal, complaining about it won’t make it any better. Problems should only motivate you to find a potential solution and not to whine about how bad it is. Therefore, you have to know how to navigate tough times, get good at shifting gears, and shape failure into an opportunity to grow and be useful. And this is what Arnold did at the beginning of the pandemic - he shifted gears from complaining to solving the problem by asking his office to donate a million dollars to the Frontline Responders Fund that worked with the logistics company Flexport that imported masks and other equipment from China.

Tool No. 6: Open your mind

If you want to be successful at what you do and maximize your potential and opportunities, you need to train your mind and be curious about the things around you. Perceive the world as an ultimate classroom that offers knowledge that you can use at any time to solve challenges and realize your vision.

Many people nowadays wrongly believe that learning is only connected with the classroom and, therefore, go into huge debt to enroll in colleges that often do not teach us how to find purpose and vision, set goals, communicate, help others, and overcome failures. Arnold says that the most important things in life, such as goal setting, planning, and working hard, he learned not at school but at the gym between the ages of 16 and 25. Therefore, he advises young people to think twice before deciding to go to college. It is not because he has something against them, but because ‘’easiest way to close a person’s mind is to make them feel like they can’t afford to dream, and that’s exactly what college has been doing to a lot of people.’’ Listen to the world around you and discover what excites you every morning, and you will realize that it is not that challenging to find a purpose to build your vision around.

Tool No. 7: Give back 

Whatever you achieved in life, it was because of your motivation, discipline, and dedication. Take Arnold as an example. No one lifted the weights, spoke the lines, or signed the bills for him. However, be aware that others also, somehow, contributed to your achievement, and your responsibility is to give them back - to be useful. 

You might say it is easy for someone like Schwarzenegger, with all his life experience and resources, to talk about the importance of helping others. Nevertheless, even if you don’t have resources such as time or money, you can create space to be there for people around you. You don’t have to do anything monumental - ‘’Helping others is a simple practice that requires nothing more than awareness, willingness, and a little bit of effort.’’ It can, for instance, be answering a call from a friend in the middle of the night or giving a math tutoring class to your neighbor’s child. Follow the example of the great American writer David Sedaris, who has been picking up litter along the roads near his house in the English countryside while taking morning walks for years.

When you cannot come up with an idea of how to give back to others, just think about what others did to you and try to do the same for those in a similar situation. Eventually, you will become addicted to helping others, and your usefulness will reciprocate so that the more you give, the more you will get.

Final Notes

Whatever your vision is, you should formulate your goals so that they push you to become the best version of yourself. Of course, you will have to work hard for this, as there will be many bumps on your road. Once you encounter them, remember to shift gears so that they don’t take you where you don’t want to be. And, don’t forget, you are not alone on this journey - there will be those who disapprove of you and those who will help you move forward. Perhaps the latter will be your best customers or those you will help to achieve their dreams. All in all, don’t concentrate on others more than you need to - try to work on realizing your dreams and being useful along the way.

12min Tip

‘’Regardless of the size of your dream,’’ writes Schwarzenegger, ‘’if you don’t push yourself, if you don’t give it your all, if you don’t cut the legs off your sweatpants when the situation calls for it, then you’re only letting yourself down.’’

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Who wrote the book?

Arnold Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-born bodybuilder, actor, businessman, philanthropist, bestselling author, and a former governor of California. He won significant bodybuilding contests, including Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia and is regarded as one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time.... (Read more)

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