In this space, we’ve been discussing our challenging world and the adversity many of us are going through due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve consulted a select group of PepTalk coaches who have first-hand experience rising above challenging circumstances.
Antwone Fisher is a renaissance man. He’s been a sailor who served his country in the U.S. Navy, a corrections officer, and now a successful author and screenwriter. He documented his turbulent early life in the well-known memoir, Finding Fish, which he adapted into the award-winning, autobiographical film Antwone Fisher. You may remember it as Denzel Washington’s directorial debut.
In fact, you may remember that Denzel Washington’s character in the film — Dr. Jerome Davenport — gives the film version of Antwone several important talks. A couple of them might even be pep talks.
Today, Antwone is based in Los Angeles and in addition to his writing career he speaks to groups around the country about overcoming adversity, becoming a successful artist, reforming the foster care system and advocating for children’s rights. Finding Fish continues to be taught at schools and colleges across the U.S., including social work faculties.
The list of struggles Antwone overcame is long and significant: he was born to an incarcerated mother. His father had been murdered by a former girlfriend. He lived in a foster home where he suffered abuse, and escaped to live on the streets until he decided to join the U.S. Navy. In spite of dyslexia, he became a published writer and even succeeded in adapting his memoir for the screen (and convincing film producers that he should do so!).
How did he rise above all these challenges to create the life he wanted?
1. The Decision
Antwone says that the most important step along the way was making a decision — deciding with great deliberateness the life he wanted to have.
Then, everything he did was designed to advance his life in that direction. He decided he was going to “make it” in life. He eschewed drugs. He avoided phone calls from friends who might lead him down the wrong path. He joined the Navy.
Antwone recommends making a decision, starting from “inside yourself,” and taking even small subsequent steps to succeed.
2. Be Brave
Antwone maintains that we must support our decisions and resulting actions with as much bravery as we can muster. Even if we’re shy, even if we think of ourselves as quiet or laid-back people, we must approach our chosen path with the bravery of a gladiator.
He describes it as “learning how to take a smack.” Life will smack us down, but we need to find a way to be brave through it and keep going.
3. Be a Locomotive
Antwone grew up in Cleveland, a railway hub, and a vivid childhood memory is the freight train that used to pass by his home late at night. He would lie awake and listen to the power of the locomotive barreling down on the track, rocking the walls of the house.
The train was unstoppable. Antwone says that we should be, too. We should have the determination of a locomotive in how we move through life on our chosen track.
Antwone decided he would make it in life. He approached his career and life choices with clear steps building toward the life he wanted. He learned to take the smacks life had to offer, and he bravely made his way through the Navy, the publishing world, Hollywood, and more. You might say he’s had the determination of a locomotive.
He made it. Antwone Fisher succeeded in the life he wanted to have, becoming the person he wanted to be.
As we reflect on our own lives in this challenging period, we must also come to a point of decision about what’s next. This means knowing the steps we need to take, being brave in our execution and having the determination of a locomotive.
That’s the advice of a renaissance man.