Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential with your host, Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com.
Lisa Tamati: Welcome back to Pushing the Limits, your host Lisa Tamati here, and today I have a fantastic guest all the way from America again, this man goes by the name of Bobby Cappuccio. And he is a world-famous fitness professional. He trains a lot of the trainers that are out there. But Bobby has an incredible story that I really want to share with you today. So, Bobby was born with a severe facial deformity. And he also had deformed legs, and he was given up for adoption. His mother couldn't care for him, and he ended up being adopted by another man. But he had a very, very abusive rough childhood. He also developed Tourette Syndrome at the age of nine. In all this adversity you'd think like ‘oh my gosh, what sort of a life is this guy going to live’? But Bobby has had an incredible life. He's a fitness professional, as I said, he's worked in many gyms. He was the founder and co-owner of PTA Global, which does a lot of the professional fitness development. And he has devised his own strategies and ways of educating people. And his programs are just second to none. When I told my business partner, Neil, that I just interviewed Bobby Cappuccio, he's like, ‘Oh, my God, he's a legend in the space.’ So yeah, he was really a bit jealous that I got to speak to him. So I hope you enjoy this interview. It's some rough topics in there. But there's also some really great gems of wisdom. And the funny thing is what Bobby is just absolutely hilarious as well. So I do hope you enjoy it.
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Lisa: Hi, everyone, and welcome back to Pushing the Limits. Today I have another very, very special guest and I was recently on this gentleman's show and now we're doing a reverse interview. I have Robert Cappuccio with me. Robert, welcome to the show.
Robert Cappuccio: Oh, thank you. When you say you had a very special guest, I thought you were bringing someone else on.
Lisa: You are a really special guest.
Robert: Had a lot of anticipation like who is this person? What a surprise!
Lisa: Well, you're a bit of an interesting character. Let's say that, throw that.
Robert: Just the microphone.
Lisa: No, I'm really, really interested to hear your story and to share your story with my audience, and to give a bit more of a background on you. And share gems of wisdom from your learnings from your life, because you've done some pretty cool stuff. You've had some pretty hard times and I'd like to share those learnings with my audience today. So Robert, whereabouts are you sitting at the moment, whereabouts are you in the States?
Robert: Okay, so at the moment, I'm in a place called Normal Heights, which is probably a misnomer. It's not normal at all. But it's a really cool, funky neighbourhood in San Diego.
Lisa: San Diego, awesome. And how’s lockdown going over there, and all of that sort of carry on?
Robert: Oh, it’s great. I mean, on St. Patty's day, I've got my skull from our own green. I've just had a few whiskies. So far, so good.
Lisa: This is a very interesting interview.
So can you give us a little bit of background? Because you've had a very interesting, shall we say, difficult upbringing and childhood. And I wanted to perhaps start there and then see where this conversation goes a little.
Robert: Is there any place you want to start, in particular? How far back do you want to go? Do you want to start from the very beginning?
Lisa: Please go right at the very beginning, because you're intro to your backstory is quite interesting from the beginning, really isn't that?
Robert: Okay, so I was born, which is obvious, in Manhattan, and I moved to Brooklyn early. So I was born, rather deformed. I was born with a significant facial deformity. And my lower extremities, my legs, quite never— like, if you saw my legs now, they're great. I have a great pair of legs at this moment. I'm not going to show you that because that would be a little bit rude. But my legs were kind of deformed and contorted. I had to walk with braces for the first couple of years of my life.
I was given up for adoption. I'm not exactly sure, I have the paperwork on why I was given up for adoption, but I'm not really certain about the authenticity of that story. And I wasn't adopted for a while. So as an infant, I was parentless and homeless and really not well-tended to. I'm not going to get into why I say that because it's pretty disgusting. And then I was adopted. And then my adoptive father, this is kind of interesting, he had cancer, and he knew during the adoption process that he was probably not going to make it. He wanted to make sure that I found a home because nobody wanted to adopt me. Because when they came in, I was physically deformed. It's like, ‘Oh, this baby’s, it's broken. Something's wrong. Do you have a better baby’? And when he saw that, he thought, ‘Right, I've got to give this kid a home.’ So he passed.
He passed when I was two. I didn't know him for more than a few months. And I hardly have any memory of him at all. My mother who adopted me, to be fair, she's developmentally disabled, and so she was a single uom with not a lot of skills, not a lot of prospects, terrified. And she basically, I think she met a guy when I was five, who I don't know if there's a diagnosis for him. He was mentally disturbed. He was a psychopath. I don't know if clinically he’s a psychopath, but that's pretty much how it felt.
Lisa: You were a child experiencing this. Yeah.
Robert: Yeah, I'm not like, I'm never sure in what direction to go with stuff like this. Never sure what’s valid, what's relevant. I spent my childhood in stressed positions, being woken up in the middle of the night with a pillow over my face, having bones broken consistently, and a series of rape, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and just every sort of trauma. Like imagine when I was nine years old, I was diagnosed, on top of that, with Tourette Syndrome. So I was physically deformed, going through shit like that at home. And then on top of it, I started losing control of my bodily functions. I started exhibiting tics, I started exhibiting obsessive compulsive behaviour. At some point, it was uncontrollable, like lack of control of my impulses, of the things that I would say, vulgarity. At some point, the doctors just thought that perhaps I was Scottish.
Lisa: And you’re funny as well.
Robert: And they put me on Haldol, which damaged my brain. That and the fact that, it's estimated, I've had at least over a half a dozen major concussions within my childhood —
Lisa: From the abuse.
Robert: — half a dozen to a dozen massive concussions. Yeah.
Lisa: Absolute horrific start into life.
Robert: When I was 10, I started binge drinking. And I thought this will help, this is a solution. But you know what? It's not. It's a little bit weird when you start a story off like this, because in some sense, it's not me being delusional, or Pollyanna, because I tend to think that I'm a little bit of a realist, sometimes too much, sometimes to the point of walking a fine edge between being hopeful and being a cynic. But I have to say that a lot of things that I experienced when I was growing up, turned out to be quite beneficial. It’s shaped me in a way and it helped me engage in certain career paths and certain activities that I don't think I really would have sought out, had this stuff not happened. So it's not like me, delusionally trying to create like all silver lining about stuff, it was shit. I understand the severity of what I went through. But I also understand where that led me. And I understand the good fortune that I had of running into certain people that resonated with me, and I resonated with them, largely in part because of my history. I don't think I would have related to these people had I not come from where I came from.
Lisa: So you’re talking like people along the way that were, ended up being mentors, or teachers or friends or helping you out and through these horrific situations? Is that what you're meaning, sort of thing that would actually helped you? Because I mean, given a background like that, if you were a complete disaster and drug addict, and whatever, nobody would blame you. You didn't have a good start in life, whatsoever. I mean, look at you now. Obviously you don't have any facial deformities, and you don't exhibit, right now, any of that stuff that actually you were and have been through. So how the hell did you get to where you are today? Because you're a very successful person, you have a very successful and a very strong influence in the world. What, how the heck do you go from being that kid, with brain problems and concussions and Tourette’s and abuse and rape and all of that, to being the person who comes across as one, number one, hilarious, very crazy and very cool? How the heck do you get from there to there?
Robert: Just listening to, I can tell that you're someone who's highly intelligent, perceptive and an amazing judge of humour. So thank you for that. I think a lot of it was quite accidental.
So I had thought when I was younger, that I wanted to be a police officer, originally. And I wanted to be involved with special victims, even before that was a TV show. Brilliant show, by the way, one of my favourite shows on TV. But even before that was the TV show, I thought, if I'm going through what I went through, and it's very hard because I had Child Services in New York City, they were called ACS. They were at my house consistently. But the problem is, I believed at a young age that my stepfather was nearly invincible, like nobody could touch him.
Lisa: You were powerless against him. Yeah.
Robert: And when they came to the house and like, look, I had broken bones, my arm was in a sling. A lot of times, I broke my tibia. They won't take me to the hospital because they thought they would suspect stepdad of doing it. I couldn't even walk. And these people were sitting down, said, ‘Well just tell us what happened.’ And I somehow knew that, at a critical moment, my adopted mother would falter. She would not have my back. She would rescind on everything she says.
Lisa: She was frightened too, no doubt.
Robert: She was frightened. I don't think she had the emotional or intellectual capacity to deal with the situation. That's all I'll say on that. But I knew once they left, I just knew they couldn't do anything, unless I was all-in. And if anything went wrong, he would kill me. So I would have to just say that, ‘Well, I fell.’ And it’s like, there's no way a fork, like I would go into camp and I would have stab wounds in the shape of a fork. And people are like, ‘What happened?’ And I said, ‘I was walking, and I tripped, and I fell onto a fork that went through my thigh and hit my femur.’ It's like, okay, that's just not possible. But I kind of knew. And I kind of felt like nobody's coming to the rescue. And I thought, if I was a police officer, and I was worked with special victims, maybe I could be the person that I always wished would show up for me. But then, there were issues with that. So I think I got like, out of a possible 100 on the police test. I did fairly well. I think I got 103, there were master credit questions. And I thought, right, yeah, I'm going. And then I took the psychological and by some weird measure, I passed, that seems crazy to me now. It kind of seems problematic. I think they need to revisit that. But then when I took the medical, and with Tourette's, it was kind of like, ‘Ah, yeah.’ It was a sticking point. So I had to petition because otherwise I would be disqualified from the employment police department.
And during that time, I started working in the gyms. And when I was working the gyms, I kind of thought, there's no way I'll ever be as intelligent as some of these other trainers here. I'm just going to make up with work ethic what I lack in intellect. I would run around and just tried to do everything I could. I would try to clean all the equipment, make sure that the gym was spotless. But again, kind of like not like having all my wits about me, I would be spraying down a machine with WD-40. And what I didn't account for is, the person who was on the machine next to me, I'd be spraying him in the face with WD-40 when he was exercising.
Lisa: They still do that today, by the way. The other day in the gym and the girl next to me, she was blind, and she was just spraying it everywhere. I had to go and shift to the other end of the gym, is that right, cause I don't like that stuff.
Robert: I mean, in my defence, the members were very well-lubricated. And so, people would go upstairs, and like there is this fucking trainer just sprayed me in the face. And the owner would say, ‘All right, let me see who this guy is. What do you talk? This doesn’t even make sense? Who hired this guy?’ We kind of had like the old bowl, the pin. And like you could walk up top and look down into the weight room, and there I was just running around. And there was something about someone running around and hustling on the gym floor that made him interested. He's like, ‘Get this kid up into my office. Let me talk to him.’ And that forged a friendship. I spoke to him yesterday, by the way. So we've been friends for like three decades. And the owner of the gym became kind of like a surrogate dad. And he did for me what most guides do and that is when you know that there's somewhere you want to go, but you don't know exactly where that is, and you don't have complete confidence in your ability to get there. And what a good guy does is they help you go just as far as you can see, because when you get there, you'll see further. And that's what Mitchell did for me. And he was different because I have a lot of adults.
So I grew up with not only extreme violence in the home, but I grew up in Coney Island. I grew up living on the corner of Shit Street and Depressing. And there was a constant violence outside the home and in school and I got picked on. And I got bullied until I started fighting, and then I got into a lot of fights. And you just have these adults trying to talk to you and it's like, you don't fucking know me. You have no idea where I come from. You can't relate to me. When you were growing up, you had a home, you were being fed. You were kind of safe, don't even pretend to relate to me. And he was this guy, who, he was arrested over a dozen times by age 30, which was not why I chose him as a mentor. But he had gone through some serious shit. And when he came out on the other end of it, he wanted to be somebody other than his history would suggest he was going to be, and he tried harder at life than anybody I had ever met. So one, I could relate to him, I didn't think he was one of these adults who are just full of shit. I was impressed at how hard he tried to be the person he wanted to be. So there was this mutual respect and affinity, instantly.
Lisa: Wow. And he had a massive influence. And we all need these great coaches, mentors, guides, surrogate dads, whatever the case may be, to come along, sometimes in our lives. And when they do, how wonderful and special that is, and someone that you could respect because like you say, I've had a wonderful childhood. In comparison to you, it was bloody Disneyland, and so I cannot relate to some of those things. And I have my own little wee dramas, but they were minor in comparison to what you experienced in the world. So how the heck can I really help you out if you're a young kid that I'm trying to influence. And not that you have to go through everything in order to be of help to anybody, but just having that understanding that your view, your worldview is a limited, privileged background. Compared to you, my background is privileged.
Robert: Well, I don't think there's any ‘compared to you’. I think a lot of my reaction to adults around me who tried to intercede — one, if your intercession doesn't work, it's going to get me hurt, bad, or it's going to get me killed. There have been times where I was hung out of an 18-storey window by my ankles.
Lisa: You have got to be kidding me.
Robert: Like grabbing onto the brick on the side of the building. I can't even say terrified. I don't even know if that encapsulates that experience as a kid. But it's like you don't understand what you can walk away from once you feel good about interceding with this poor, unfortunate kid. I cannot walk away from the situation that you're going to create. So it was defensive mechanism, because pain is relative. I mean, like, you go through a divorce, and you lose this love and this promise, and somebody comes along, ‘Oh there are some people in the world who never had love, so you should feel grateful’. You should fuck off because that's disgusting. And that is totally void of context. I don't think somebody's pain needs to compare to another person's pain in order to be relevant. I think that was just my attitude back then because I was protecting my existence. I've really changed that perspective because, like, my existence isn't threatened day to day anymore.
Lisa: Thank goodness.
Robert: So I have a different take on that. And I understand that these adults were well meaning, because I also had adults around me, who could have probably done something, but did nothing. And I don't even blame them because my stepfather was a terrifying person. And the amount of work and energy, and the way the laws, the structure, and how threatening he was, I don't blame them. And me? I’ll probably go to prison. But I don't blame them for their inaction.
Lisa: Yeah, and this is a problem. Just from my own experiences, like I said, this is not even in childhood, this is in young adulthood, being in an abusive relationship. The dynamic of the stuff that's going on there, you're frightened to leave. You know you are going to be in physical danger if you try and leave. So, I've been in that sort of a position but not as a child. But still in a position where people will think, ‘Well, why don't you just go?’ And I’m just like, ‘Have you ever tried to leave someone who's abusive? Because it's a very dangerous thing to do.’ And you sometimes you’re like, just, you can't, if there's children involved, even, then that's even worse. And there's complicated financial matters. And then there's, whatever the case may be or the circumstances that you're facing, it's not cut and dried. And as an adult, as a powerful woman now, I wouldn't let myself be in a position like that. But I wasn't that back then. And you weren't because well, you were a child. See, you're even more.
Robert: I just want to comment on that a little bit. And this is not coming from clinical expertise. This is just coming from my own interpretation experience. I think, obviously, that when a child goes through this, you would think, ‘Okay, if this started at age five, what could you have done?’ But a lot of times we do look at, let's say, women who are in severe domestic violence situations, and we say, ‘Well, how could you have done that? How could you have let somebody do that to you’? And I think we need to really examine that perspective. Because powerful, confident, intelligent women might be especially susceptible.
Lisa: Apparently, that’s the case.
Robert: Because you have a track record, and you have evidence to support that you are capable, and you're intelligent, and you find yourself in a situation that you didn't anticipate. And I think it's easier to gaslight someone like that. Because it's like, ‘How could I have had a lapse — is it me?’ And it creeps up on you, little by little, where you doubt yourself a little bit more, a little bit more, and then you become more controlled and more controlled. And then your perspective on reality becomes more and more distorted. So I think we have to be very careful when an adult finds themselves, yes, in that position, saying, ‘Well, why didn't you just leave? How could you have let yourself very easily?’
It can happen to anyone, especially if you have a strong sense of confidence and you are intelligent, and because it becomes unfathomable to you, how you got into that situation.
Lisa: Looking back on my situation, which is years and years ago now, and have no consequences to the gentleman that I was involved with, because I'm sure he's moved on and hopefully, not the same. But the fact that it shifted over many years, and the control shifted, and the more isolated you became. I was living in a foreign country, foreign language, unable to communicate with my family, etc., etc. back then. And you just got more and more isolated, and the behaviour’s become more and more, more radical ways as time goes on. It doesn't stop there. Everybody's always lovely at the beginning. And then, as the power starts to shift in the relationship — and I've listened to a psychologist, I’ve forgotten her name right now, but she was talking about, she works with these highly intelligent, educated women who are going through this and trying to get out of situations where they shouldn't be in. And she said, ‘This is some of the common traits. They're the types of people who want to fix things, they are the types of people who are strong and they will never give up.’ And that is actually to their detriment, in this case. And I'm a very tenacious type of person. So, if I fall in love with someone, which you do at the beginning, then you're like, ‘Well, I'm not giving up on this person. They might need some help, and some, whatever’. And when you're young, you think you can change people, and you can fix them. And it took me a number of years to work out and ‘Hang on a minute, I haven't fixed them, I’ve screwed myself over. And I've lost who I am in the process.’ And you have to rebuild yourself. And like you and like your case is really a quite exceptionally extreme. But like you, you've rebuilt yourself, and you've created this person who is exceptional, resilient, powerful, educated, influential —
Robert: And dysfunctional.
Lisa: And dysfunctional at the same time. Hey, me, too.
Robert: And fucked up in 10 different ways.
Lisa: Yeah. Hey, none of us have got it right. As our mutual friend, Craig Harper would say, ‘We're just differing degrees of fucked-up-ness’.
Robert: That would be spot on.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And totally, some of the most high functioning people that I get to meet, I get to meet some pretty cool people. There's hardly any of them that don't have some area in their life where they've got that fucked-up-ness that's going on, and are working on it, because we're all works in progress. And that's okay.
Robert: The thing you said that I really caught is you lost your sense of self, and the isolation. And that is what abusers do, is progressively they start to isolate, and create enemies out of strong alliances and allies. And when you lose your sense of self, and you're so isolated — because as much as we want to be strong and independent, we are highly interdependent, tribal people. We form and calibrate, we shape our sense of identity and the context in which we navigate through the world off of one another. And when you're isolated with a distance sense of reality and you lose your sense of self, you become highly incapacitated to take action in this situation. And you develop, I think what Martin Seligman, called learned helplessness. And I think assigning fault or blame or accusation either to yourself or doing that to somebody else, not only does that not help, it stops people from coming forward. Because it reinforces the mental state that makes them susceptible to perpetual abuse in the first place.
Lisa: Yeah, it's so true. So how did you start to turn around? So you meet Mitchell, Mitchell was his name, and he started to be a bit of a guiding light for you and mentor you, and you're in the gym at this phase stage. So, what sort of happened from there on and? So what age were you at this point, like, your teenage years, like teenagers or?
Robert: I met Mitchell when I was like 19 years old. And what he allowed me to do, and it wasn't strategies, he allowed me to focus outside of myself. Because every emotion, every strong emotion you're feeling, especially in a painful way, resides within you. So if you feel a sense of despair, or you feel disgust, or loneliness, or isolation, or any type of pain, and you would look around your room and go, ‘Well, where's that located? Where's my despair? I searched my whole desk, I can't find it’. It's not there. It's not in your outer world. It's your inner world. And what he gave me the ability to do is say, ‘Okay. I grew up physically deformed. And despite everything I was going through, my physical deformities were one of the most painful things’. But the irony, more painful than anything else because you could see me out in the shops and go, ‘Okay, this is a person who has been severely physically sexually abused, who's suffered emotional trauma’. You could see that as I walk through the aisles, because you say, ‘Okay, this is someone who doesn't look right. This is someone who —', and I can see the look of disgust on people's face when they saw me physically. And then there’s nowhere to hide, you couldn’t mask that. I started thinking, ‘Well, what about people who feel that about their physical appearance and they don't require surgery? What are they going through? And how do I focus more on them? How do I take a stand for that person? What's the areas of knowledge? What are the insights? What are the resources that I can give these people to be more resourceful in finding a sense of self and finding their own way forward?’
Lisa: Being okay with the way that they are, because it must be just—
Robert: People are okay with the way they are, seeing an ideal version of themselves in the future. And engaging the behaviours that helps them eventually bridge that gap, where their future vision, at some point, becomes their current reality. So I started focusing on things and a mission and people outside of myself, who's going through something similar to what I have gone through, even if it's not precisely the same situation? How do I help them find their way out? And by helping them find their way out, I found my way up.
Lisa: Wow, it's gold. And that's what you ended up doing then, and within the gym setting, or how did that sort of work out from there?
Robert: Well, I became a trainer. And in the beginning, I was like an average trainer. But I became, what Mitchell called, like the person who saved people. I never saved anyone; you can't change anyone but yourself. But the reason why he called me that is, anytime someone would think about joining the gym, if they would sit down with someone, they approached it from, ‘Well, what can we do? Can we give you a couple of extra months? Can we give you a guest pass to invite some —‘. They approached it from a transactional perspective, where when I sat down with these people, I approached it from a transformational perspective. ‘What did you want most? What do you want most in your life in this moment? And what hasn't happened? What missed? What was the disconnect? Where have we failed? What did you need that was not fulfilled in your experience here and how do we give you those resources? How do we support you going forward?’ And it was also like, ‘Look, if you want to leave, we totally respect that. You've given us a chance to help you. And obviously, the fault was ours. I never blamed anyone. But if you had the chance to do it again, what would have made the difference? And give us that opportunity’. It’s like, ‘Oh, this person is like a retention master’. It's not that, my focus wasn't in retention, it was the intention rather, to relate to the individual in front of me.
Lisa: I’m hearing about the actual person and their actual situation and their actual wishes and goals, rather than, how can I sweeten the deal so you don't leave?
Robert: Precisely, and that had some unintended consequences, because it put me in a bad situation, because I got promoted against my will. And I didn’t want to get promoted. And I thought, ‘I'm just getting a reputation for being somewhat good in my current job. And now they're going to promote it to my level of incompetence. And now I'm going to disappoint Mitchell, he's going to find out this kid's actually an idiot, he's a fraud — ‘I was wrong.’ And the one person who believed in me, I'm going to lose his trust and his faith, and that's going to be damaging.’ So me being promoted into management led to a series of unpredictable events that shaped my entire career.
Lisa: Okay, tell us about that. Tell us about it. So you were pushed out of your comfort zone, because you just got a grip on this thing, the crazy worker.
Robert: So Mitchell had a consultant, and his name was Ray. His name still is Ray, coincidentally. And he said, ‘Yeah, I think you should promote Bobby, just a small promotion to head trainer. Not like fitness manager, just head trainer’. And when they approached me, it was almost like they told me like, I had to euthanise my pet. It was horrible. I was not excited about this. I was like, ‘Oh, thanks. But no, thanks. I love where I'm at.’
Lisa: Yep. ‘I didn’t want to grow.’
Robert: Well, they had a response to that. They said, ‘There’s two directions you can go in this company, you could go up, or you can go out’. And they fired me that day.
Lisa: Wow! Because you wouldn’t go up?
Robert: They’re like, ‘You've chosen out. And that's okay. That's your decision’. And I was devastated. Like that my identity is connected to that place. And on my way out the door, Mitchell's like, ‘Come into my office.’ And he’s sitting across from me, and he kind of looked like a very muscular, like an extremely muscular version of Burt Reynolds at the time, which was very intimidating, by the way. And he puts his feet up on the desk, and he's leaning back, and he's eating an apple. He says, ‘You know, I heard a rumour that you're recently unemployed. And so I would imagine, your schedules opened up quite a bit this week. You know, coincidentally, we're interviewing for a head trainer position. You might want to come in and apply because you've got nothing to lose’. What a complete and total cock. And I say that, with love, gratitude, gratitude, and love. So I showed up —
Lisa: Knew what you needed.
Robert: I remember, I showed up in a wrinkly button-down shirt, that is not properly ironed, which was brought to my attention. And I got the job. And I was the worst manager you've ever met in your life because first of all, my motivation was not to serve my team. My motivation was not to disappoint Mitchell. And that was the wrong place for your head to be in, if you have the audacity to step into a leadership position. Whether you tell yourself you were forced into it or not, fact of the matter is ‘No, I could have chosen unemployment, I would have done something else. I chose this. Your team is your major responsibility.’ And that that perspective has served me in my career, but it well, it's also been problematic. So I had people quitting because for me, I was in the gym at 5am. And I took two-hour breaks during the afternoon and then I was in the gym till 10 o'clock at night, 11 o'clock at night. I expected you to do the same thing. So, I didn't understand the worldview and the needs and the aspirations and the limitations and the people on my team. So people started quitting.
I started doing horribly within my position. And then Mitchell brought in another consultant, and he gave me some advice. I didn't take it as advice at the time, but it changed everything. And it changed rapidly. This guy's name is Jamie, I don’t remember his surname. But he sat me down and he said, ‘So I understand you have a little bit of trouble’. Yeah, no shit, man. Really perceptive. ‘So, just tell me, who do you work for?’ So, ‘I work for Mitchell’. He said, ‘No, no, but who do you really work for?’ I thought, ‘Oh. Oh, right. Yeah. The general manager of the gym. Brian, I work for Brian’. So nope, who do you really work for? I thought it must be the fitness manager, Will. So, ‘I work for Will’. He’s like, ‘But who do you work for?’ And now I'm starting to get really irritated. I'm like, yeah, this guy's a bit thick. I don't know how many ways I can explain, I've just pretty much named everybody. Who do you reckon I work for? He said, ‘No, you just named everyone who should be working for you?’
Lisa: Yeah, you got that one down.
Robert: ‘Have a single person you work for? Who are your trainers?’ He said, ‘Here, let me help you out. Imagine for a second, all of your trainers got together, and they pooled their life savings. They scraped up every bit of resource that they could to open up a gym. Problem is, they're not very experienced. And if they don't get help, they're going to lose everything. They're going to go out of business. They go out and they hire you as a consultant. In that scenario, who do you think you'd work for?’ I was like, ‘Oh, I'm the one that's thick. I've worked for them’. Because in every interaction you have, it made such a dip because it sounds counterintuitive. But he said, ‘In every meeting and every interaction, whether it's a one-on-one meeting, team meeting, every time you approach someone on the floor to try to help them, or you think you're going to correct them, come from that perspective and deliver it through that lens’. And things started to change rapidly. That was one of two things that changed.
The second thing that changed is Mitchell believed, because he would listen to self-help tapes, it inspired him. So he would have me listen to self-help tapes. And he believed that oration in front of a group public speaking was culturally galvanising. And in a massive team meeting where we had three facilities at the time, where he brought in a couple of hundred people for a quarterly meeting. He had me stand up and speak. Oh, man. I know you've done a lot of podcasting and you do a lot of public speaking in front of audiences. You know that experience where you get up to speak but your brain sits right back down?
Lisa: Yeah. And you're like, as Craig was saying the other day, ‘It doesn't matter how many times you do it, you're still absolutely pecking yourself.’ Because you want to do a really good job and you go, ‘This is the day I'm going to screw it up. I'm going to screw it up, even though I've done it 10,000 times. And I’ve done a brilliant job. Then it’s coming off.’
Robert: If you’re not nervous in front of an audience, you've got no business being there. That is very disrespectful. I agree with that. I mean, this is coming from, in my opinion, one of the greatest speakers in the world. And I'm not just saying that because Craig's my mate, and he gives me oatmeal every time I come out to Melbourne. I'm saying that because he's just phenomenal and authentic in front of a room. But I had that experience and I'm standing up brainless in front of the room. And as I start to realize that I am choking. I'm getting so nervous. Now this is back in the 1990s, and I was wearing this boat neck muscle shirt that said Gold's Gym, and these pair of workout pants that were called T-Michaels, they were tapered at the ankles, but they ballooned out. You know the ones I’m talking about? And I had a lot of change in my pocket. And all you hear in the room, as my knees were shaking, you can hear the change rattling, which wasn't doing anything for my self-confidence. And just instantly I was like, ‘Right, you're either going to epically fail at your job right here. Or you are going to verbatim with intensity, recite word for word, like everything you remember from Dennis Waitley’s Psychology of Winning track for positive self-determination’. Sorry, Dennis, I did plagiarize a bit. And I said it with passion. Not because I'm passionate, because I knew if I didn't say it with fierce intensity, nothing but a squeak will come out of my mouth,
Lisa: And the jingle in the pocket.
Robert: And the jingle in the pocket. And at the end of that, I got a standing ovation. And that’s not what moved me.
Robert: What moved me was weeks ago, I was clueless in my job. I got this advice from Jamie on, ‘You work for them. They are your responsibility. They are entrusted to you. Don’t treat people like they work for you.’ Now I had this, this situation happened. And my trainers avoided me a month ago when I got promoted. But now they were knocking on my office door, ‘Hey, can I talk to you? Would you help me’? And it just clicked. The key to pulling yourself out of pain and suffering and despair is to focus on lifting up others.
Lisa: Being of service.
Robert: That was it. I thought I could be good at something. And what I'm good at is not only, it's terrifying before you engage in it, but it's euphoric after, and it can help other people. I can generate value by developing and working through others.
Lisa: This is like gold for management and team leaders and people that are in charge of teams and people is, and I see this around me and some of the corporations where get to work and consultants stuff is this was very much this top-down mentality. ‘I'm the boss. You’re doing what I say because I'm the boss’. And that doesn't work. It might work with 19-year-olds who have no idea in the world.
Robert: It reeks of inexperience. You think you're the boss because you've had certain qualities, and that's why you got promoted — do what I say. You are a detriment to the company — and I know how many people are fucked off and calling bullshit. I don't care. I mean, not to toot my own horn. Like anything I've ever accomplished, I've learned I have accomplished through hiring the right people and having a team that's better than me. But I’ve been in so many management positions, from the very bottom to the very top of multiple organizations I've consulted all over the world, you are only as good as your team. And to borrow from the late great Peter Drucker, ‘The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer. And your most valuable customer’s your internal customer, the team that you hire. Because unless you are speaking to every customer, unless you are engaging with every customer complaint, unless you are engaging in every act of customer service on your own —' which means your business is small, which is fine. But if it's a lot, you're not ‘— you could scale that, it is always your team. And your job is to create and keep your internal customer by serving them with, at the very least, with the same tenacity, sincerity and intention that you are serving your external customer. If you don't do that, you're going to be shit as a leader. And honestly, I don't give a fuck what anybody thinks about that. Because I have heard so many opinions from people who are absolute — they've got a ton of bravado, they beat their chest, but they are ineffective. And it's extraordinary what you can accomplish when you know how to be, number one, hire the right person. Number two set expectations clearly — clearly, specifically. Number three, understand what motivates each individual, as an individual person and as a team, and then develop that team's capacity individually and collectively to channel that capability towards the achievement of a common vision, of a common monthly target. Period.
Lisa: Wow. So that's just, that’s one whole lot going on in one.
Robert: That is leadership in a nutshell.
Lisa: Yeah. And this is the tough stuff because it's easier said than done. I mean, I'm trying to scale our businesses and grow teams and stuff. And number one, hiring the right people is a very big minefield. And number two, I've started to realize in my world that there's not enough for me to go around. I can't be in 10 places and 10 seats at once. You're getting overwhelmed. You're trying to help the universe and you're one person, so you're trying to replicate yourself in the team that you have, and provide the structure. And then you also need those people where you're weak, like I'm weak at certain aspects. I'm weak at technology, I'm hopeless at systems. I know my weaknesses. I know my strengths, so.
Robert: I resemble that comment.
Lisa: Yeah, In trying to get those people where you, that are better than you. Not as good, but better than you. And never to be intimidated because someone is brilliant at something. They're the ones you want on your team, because they are going to help with your deficits. And we've all got deficits and blind spots and things that we're not good over we don't love doing. And then trying to develop those team members so that you're providing them and treating them respectfully, looking after them, educating them. And that takes a lot of time too, and it's really hard as a smallish business that's trying to scale to go from there wearing a thousand hats. And a lot of people out there listening will be in similar boats as ours, like, wearing a hundred hats and trying to do multitasking, getting completely overwhelmed, not quite sure how to scale to that next level, where you've got a great team doing a whole lot of cool stuff. And then realizing the impact that you can have as tenfold or a hundredfold.
Robert: Absolutely. And I'm not really a good business person, per se, like I've owned a few businesses myself, I've worked within quite a few businesses. And I think what I'm good at, and this goes back to another person that I worked for shortly after Gold's Gym. So Gold's Gym was sold, that's a whole story you don't need to get into. This is an interesting guy. I was doing consulting, I was just going out and doing public speaking, I had independent clients. And I crossed paths with an individual named David Barton. This is someone you should get on your podcast. Talk about an interesting individual. And David Barton had the one of the most unique and sexy edgy brands in New York City. And that's when you had a lot of competition with other highly unique, sexy, edgy brands. And he was the first person — he coined the phrase, ‘Look better naked,’ it was actually him. That's the guy. It was on the cover of New York Magazine. I mean, he was constantly, like his club in Vogue, at Harper's Bazaar, he ended up hiring me as his head of training. And his company at that time in the 1990s, which is quite the opposite of the mentality, the highest position you could ever achieve in his company was trainer. It was all about the training, and it made a difference culturally, and it made a difference in terms of like we were probably producing more revenue per club and personal training at that point than almost anyone else in the world, with the exception of maybe Harpers in Melbourne. So this is how far me and Craig go back actually.
Lisa: Wow. It’s that right.
Robert: Yeah, because we had found out about each other just a few years after that.
Lisa: Some of that Craig Harper.
Robert: Craig Harper, yeah, when he had his gyms. So we were introduced by a guy named Richard Boyd, a mutual friend who's like, you got to meet this guy, because he's doing what you were doing. And it all started when I went into David Barton gym, and I just thought, this is a different world. This is another level. Am I in over my head? So again, it was that doubt, it was that uncertainty.
Lisa: The imposter syndrome.
Robert: But I did. Yeah, and I think we all have, and I think the only people who don't have imposter syndrome are imposters. Because if you're fraudulent, you wouldn't engage in the level of self-honesty, and humility and conscientiousness, to go ‘Am I fraudulent, is there something that I’m missing’? Only a con artist never considers whether or not they're fraudulent, it's ‘Does that keep you stuck? Or does that help you to get better and more authentic, more sincere?’
So I had the presence of mind to ask David a very important question. And I said, ‘David, if there was like two things, or three things that I can do in this company, exceedingly well, what two or three things would best serve the member, the company as a whole, and of course, my career here with you?’ And David leaned back and he did one of these dozens of things he gave me, literally. And he sat there for — it must have been like five seconds — it felt like an eternity and I'm thinking, ‘Oh my god, that that was the stupidest question I could possibly ask. He probably thinks I should have this whole, like sorted out. After all, he hired me, or am I going to get sacked today?’ And then I was like, ‘I can't get sacked. My house just got ransacked by the FBI’. That was a totally different story. He comes, he leans forward. And he says, ‘Two things. Two things you got to do. Number one,’ and a paraphrase, but it was something very similar to, ‘I want you to be a connoisseur of talent, like a sommelier is a connoisseur of wine. I want you to hire interesting, and great trainers. That's number one.’ And he just sat there again. And I'm like, I think it was a power move. Looking back, it was a power move.
Lisa: Using the silence.
Robert: What’s number two, David? And he said, ‘Train the shit out of them. And when you're done with that, here's number three, train them again. Number four, train them again. Number five, train them again.’ And that stuck with me. And a year later, I wound up leaving David Barton, and I come back to work with him periodically over the course of many years, and I personally loved the experience every time. We’re still good friends today. And I went to NASM, and I became a presenter, senior presenter, and eventually I became the director of professional development for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. And I brought that with me. And trust me, there was times when I was quite a weirdo, because I thought quite differently than then a team of educators and clinicians. But it helped, and it served me well, and served me throughout my life. So I am shit at so many aspects of business. But I am really good, and probably because I'm very committed to recruiting people with the same level of insight, precision, intuition and sophistication that a sommelier would approach a bottle of wine.
Lisa: Oh, I need to talk to you about my business at some point. I need the right people because I keep getting the wrong one.
Robert: That, I'm very confident I can help. When it comes to recruiting and selection and hiring and training and development, that is my world.
Lisa: That’s your jam.
Robert: And because anything I've ever accomplished, it's totally through other people. It's because I hired people that were a lot smarter than me. It's funny because that's another piece of advice I got way back in my Gold Gym days, where one of the consultants was in the room and said, ‘You'll be successful to the degree that you're able and willing to hire people that are more intelligent than you’. And Mitchell quipped, ‘That shouldn’t be too hard for you, Bob’. Okay, yeah. Thanks, Mitchell. Yeah.
Lisa: Oh, yeah, nice, friend. You need those ones, don’t you? Hard case ones.
Hey, Bobby, this has been a really interesting and I feel like we probably need a part two because we haven't even touched on everything because you've had an incredible career. And I just look at you and how you how far you've come and there must have been so much that you haven't even talked about, have been all the really deep stuff that you went through as a child —
Robert: No, I've told you everything. There's nothing else.
Lisa: But how the hell did you actually turn your mindset around and how did you fix yourself and get yourself to the point you know where you are today, but I think we've run out of time for today. So, where can people engage with what you do and where can people find you and all of that sort of good stuff?
Robert: Okay, well, I just started my own podcast. It's decent.
Lisa: Which is awesome because I've been on.
Robert: So if you are looking for, like one of the most dynamic, interesting and inspiring podcasts you've ever encountered, go to The You Project by Craig Harper. If you still have time after that, and you're looking for some decent podcast material, go to The Self Help Antidote, that is my podcast. And I'm on Facebook. Social media is not really where I live. It's not where I want to live. It's not where I like to live, but I'm there. I'm on Facebook. I mean the rest of the older generation, yeah, piss off kids. And I'm on Instagram. I'm occasionally on LinkedIn, but not really. I will be on Clubhouse because I got to find the time
Lisa: What the hell is Clubhouse? I'll never come along.
Robert: Clubhouse — you know, it’s funny, I'm going around talking about Clubhouse. I'm promoting Clubhouse. I don't even know exactly how to use it. I don't know what it is. But I've been invited on it a couple of times to join in and to speak in a seminar. I'm like, “This is amazing. This is a game changer. I love it.” I don't even really talk about, but I'm intending to get on Clubhouse. It's one of those things where, it's like you see someone across the room. It's like, I don't know who she is or what she's about, but there's chemistry.
Lisa: We'll have to look in the Clubhouse.
Robert: I just realized, I'm way too excited about Clubhouse but anyway yeah.
Lisa: It's the beginning of a love affair, you always get over excited at the beginning.
Robert: It’s going to burn out quickly. I will wind up using all the social media platforms.
Lisa: So Bobby, so The Self Help Antidote is your podcast. It's the best way to connect to you. You’ve got a website, too, that people can go to?
Robert: Okay, I'm constructing a Self-Help Antidote website. My website developer is moving a lot more slowly than I thought. I'd have to sack them.
Lisa: Welcome to my world. Everything moves slower in the world of, the new world today.
Hey, Bobby, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for sharing so openly and vulnerably about your past, your childhood, some of the dramas that you went through, and I love your sense of humour. I love what you stand for and how you help people, and you help teams be the best that they can be. And I really appreciate you and I'm very glad that Craig has connected us and Tiffany. Thanks, guys. You guys rock. And we'll get you back again, alright then.
Robert: Thank you so much, Lisa.
That's it this week for Pushing the Limits. Be sure to rate, review, and share with your friends and head over and visit Lisa and her team at lisatamati.com