First, it’s important to realize that YOU are the master storyteller of your life. You’re the only one who gets to determine what things mean to you. We all have experiences — positive, negative, and neutral — suppose someone gets fired from a job — is that the end of something, or the start of something new? You can’t move forward in a book to a new chapter if you keep re-reading the previous chapter.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Roadruck. Jeremy is an actual kung fu master in Shaolin Wing Chun, a Pan-American champion and multi-time US National Champion in Kung Fu, a two-time bestselling author, a parenting coach and speaker, husband and father. He also had a challenging childhood and almost didn’t graduate high school. Because of the many challenges he faced growing up, his mission is to help parents to empower their children to speak up and own their voice, creating their own emotional safety.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Absolutely! First thing that happened was, I was born. I believe that’s how must of us start — but my challenge was that my mom had 8 miscarriages; only my older brother Brian and I lived. I found that out at eight years old and it brought me a massive amount of guilt because I already wasn’t happy with myself and now I feel like I have to live a better life for at least 4 of my siblings that didn’t make it. And, I wasn’t happy because I’d already shifted from a child brain to a teen brain, but I wasn’t ready for that shift.
I’d always been a high-energy kid… 4 years old and running into traffic so I was raised on a leash… climbing the fig tree in the back yard and getting on the roof of the house in Turkey, also at 4 years old. And then, in Saudi Arabia at 5, I was out playing where I wasn’t supposed to be and ended up being abused by a security guard. Being a little kid, I blamed myself and hid what happened, and things started to change inside me. Then, a year later in the US, I was abused again by some kids up the street and that’s when I truly shifted from child to teen.
Because of that shift, I didn’t know who to trust. Somehow, I blamed myself for the abuse — not I did something wrong, but I am wrong. That’s a HUGE identity shift. So I hid — hid myself, my thoughts, my feelings… everything unconsciously became life and death for me. That amped in even MORE intensity than I already had just being a high-energy kid.
When I shifted to teen-brain, “because I said so” stopped working on me. That meant my parents — who were and are wonderful people that gave me unconditional love — they lost some connection and influence with me. I manipulated them to get what I wanted and could play whatever role was required of me. I never felt like a good kid, so I struggled emotionally. I was smart but I didn’t quite get “it” when it came to social situations because I saw things from so many different levels and points of view simultaneously. Basically, I was one of those smart-but-no-one-quite-knew-how-to-reach-him type of kids.
Skipping over middle school and high school, everything changed when I was 20 and started martial arts. I finally had a place where I felt accepted, and could deal with myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially because when everyone can kick your butt, the old manipulation strategies don’t work and you start to grow as a human being.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Honestly, it was very early in my martial arts experience. My teacher’s teacher was visiting, and I didn’t make the workshop because of my job. However, I did make it for social time afterwards. During the evening, my teacher heard me say something to myself, about myself, out loud that was destructive and derogatory. He stopped what he was doing, looked me in the eye, said ‘don’t talk to yourself like that,’ paused, then went back to what he was doing.
Who he was and how I related to him in my life made his words hit me like a ton of bricks. I know my parents told me similar things, but he had a skill in his delivery that helped me start noticing how I was talking to myself. I realized I was a jerk to myself so of course I was always on the defensive! It was literally a life-changing comment.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
So, I was teaching, and we had this giant training floor and I’m working with a 4 year old. And he’s just running around, not listening to anything. I had permission from his parents to pick him up like a sack of potatoes and put him over my shoulder if he wasn’t listening. There I am, martial arts instructor attempting to boss a 4-year-old around. He’s having none of it, I’m boring and he wants to play on the giant floor. So, I threatened that I was going to pick him up. He ran away from me. So, I picked him up and put him over my shoulder. And as I did, he was just giggling and laughing at me. I was so angry. And then I realized something important.
I totally gave him my self-control. He didn’t take it; I gave it TO him with my expectations. I was playing a “listen to me” game and he was playing a “just be silly” game. He just wanted energy and connection. When I picked him up, I played right into his hands. In my heart, I said thank you. And I started playing a more engaging type of teaching with my students because we ALL have a little 4-year-old inside who just wants to play, who wants to feel safe and be silly. Nothing wrong with that at all!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Oh, there are several. Of course, my Sifu: Grand Master Benny Meng and his wife, my Simo: Sunmi Meng. Sifu means teacher/father. Simo means teacher/mother. They created a place where I was able to just be me, and not feel defensive or judged. I literally have no idea where I’d be without their influence in my 20s and 30s.
And, my parents — as much as I was a dirtbag child and teen with little respect for them, they gave me a tremendous example of unconditional love. My parents do their best to live their faith. My dad’s a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church but I was never confirmed. He could have been embarrassed, threatened me or required me to do something I wasn’t sure I believed in, but he told people, “At least he has strength in his convictions, so we did something right.” My mom always said, “You’re the only Bible some people might ever read — so be a good example of the things you profess.”
And finally, from my youth, Bandito my cat of 14 years. He was a constant companion from when I was a kid and he just loved me and made it okay for me to love someone or something else. Before him, I’d always had a chip on my shoulder, always been defensive, always expected others to reject me. He just loved me. When I was a kid, I couldn’t cry… when I had to put him to sleep because his liver was failing, in my early 20s, was the first time I’d cried in over a decade.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
As an entrepreneur you wear multiple hats — I teach in my kung fu school, have a podcast, write, speak, consult with families, produce videos for YouTube and Instagram PLUS do most of my own marketing, networking, cooking, help with cleaning the house, laundry… it’s EASY to get overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done at work, at home, in relationships with my wife and kids. There’s ALWAYS more opportunities to help, to serve, to promote. So, you have to start with self-care.
In the martial arts school, we teach our students about the three most important factors to success in life and in life-and-death challenges… those three factors are: have honesty in your heart, have knowledge in your mind, and be strong in your body. Those are the three minimum legs of success. Delete any of the three and everything falls apart. And EVERYTHING starts with honesty — about yourself, where you are, how you feel, what you love, what you hate, etc. When you’re honest, then you can gain knowledge that will help you, or action a plan to get you stronger.
When you’re honest — you can ask for help, you can acknowledge you’re in overwhelm, or lost and confused, feeling twisted and used. You can also give credit where credit it due which increases loyalty in those around you who are supporting you or partnering with you.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
For the team you have — or want to have — and the audience you want to serve, what would make them WANT to be there more than be at home? If you can treat your team in a way that they can’t get anywhere else — validation, acknowledgement, appreciation, approval — when you meet their needs at a high level it’s easier for them to meet each other’s needs and the needs of the customer, student, client, patient, etc.
Obviously, the caveat here is to have healthy boundaries — which is why honesty is central to everything else.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
1) First, it’s important to realize that YOU are the master storyteller of your life. You’re the only one who gets to determine what things mean to you. We all have experiences — positive, negative, and neutral — suppose someone gets fired from a job — is that the end of something, or the start of something new? You can’t move forward in a book to a new chapter if you keep re-reading the previous chapter.
Once upon a time, I worked at the Ohio Renaissance Festival selling merch: t-shirts, garlands (head salad we called it), mugs and such. Hated it. I’d yell to the crowd, “’Buy a t-shirt!” then mutter under my breathe (damnit!) I was completely unmotivated because it wasn’t what I wanted to do and no one asked me about it. So I get called in to the owner’s office, we talk about what’s going on, he gives me a raise. I say thank you and leave. As I’m walking out of the building, I get called back into his office and fired. I was completely shocked — he talked with me about motivation, incentivized me with a raise, and then fired me before I had a chance to even implement his suggestions. I could have gotten upset, angry, hurt… but I just chose to feel confused. I went to visit some friends of mine who owned booths and we worked out a way for me to give them breaks during the day. I ended up receiving a worker’s pass so free access to the Festival, meals paid for, got to run around in costume and talk in silly accents, and spend time with my friends. All in all, exactly what I wanted from my Festival experience. I didn’t make any money, but it was the experience of being there, playing, and connecting with others. I chose to be confused by being fired instead of being upset.
2) Second, deliberately feed your heart and mind. Pay attention to the things to ready, hear, see, feel, and think. You can control all those things. I deliberately filter my Facebook feed so negative people don’t show up. I don’t unfriend them because maybe something positive I post might reach them, but I don’t take in the negativity they are sending out. A good guideline is to ask yourself, “would I want a 4-year-old version of yourself seeing, hearing, reading, or thinking this?” If not, then filter it out. Your unconscious mind is basically a 4-year-old who can’t argue or refuse. What we put into our unconscious will show up in our actions and beliefs. All the only spiritual and mystical texts caution us to keep safe our mind and it’s because what we think we feel, what we feel we believe, and what we believe, we create.
3) Next, be deliberate in what you send out — what you say, write, share, etc. You always have the power to choose if you’re going to be kind or be cruel. Anyone can say something hurtful, especially in a painful moment. The saying is hurt people hurt people. In our world of social media, instant feedback, need for validation, sometimes saying nothing is better than engaging with negativity.
Friend of mine on Facebook was always sarcastic and negative about anything I posed that was positive. So, I unfollowed him but kept sending him positive articles. A few years later, he apologized and said that he appreciated that I never argued with him and continued to send him positive stuff. He was struggling with accepting himself so my online acceptance of him helped.
4) Also, connect to the values that matter to you. Do you have a list of what’s important to you? Are you living those values and celebrating those values? I have a list of 12:
a. Being Loving and Warm
b. Being Healthy, Vital and Alive
c. Being Knowing, Guided, Understanding and Inspired
d. Being Wise, Intelligent and Compassionate
e. Being Honest
f. Being Playful, Happy, and Cheerful
g. Be Expanding (Learning, Growing, Contributing)
h. Being Passionate
i. Being Humble and Grateful
j. Being My Best
k. Make a Positive Difference
l. Be Creative
Because I know that these 12 values matter to me, I focus on ways to act on them each day for myself, with my family, with my students and clients, and even with strangers.
Ask yourself, “How can I send out something positive in this moment?”
5) Finally, realize that the Sun doesn’t shine every day. It’s okay to have “down” time — on purpose or by accident. Making yourself wrong for needing a nap or making a few moments — even a few days — to recharge isn’t being selfish. You can’t give what you don’t have so make time to recharge. There are seasons to the year for a reason. Harmonize with them, factor them into your plans.
The longest week of my life was 67 days. I started working January 3rd and didn’t stop until March 11th. That was the plan, anyway — seven days a week for about 12 weeks. Except my engine seized on a road trip — the water pump broke which melted the radiator, but it was -8 in late February, so it was too cold for the engine to melt. Because of the cold, I just needed a new radiator and water pump instead of a whole new engine. Took 3 days to fix so I was stuck in a hotel literally hours from home. And then my body crapped out on March 7th and I literally spent 2 days in bed to exhausted to get up. I struggled with my story and my emotions — I felt like I was failing everyone, being too needy by asking for help to cover classes from the assistant instructors I’d been training for just such an occasion… What? Hello Jeremy!
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
For me, I’m all about controlling the meaning. When it comes to retirement, is that an “I have to” type of conversation or an “’I get to” type of conversation? I have to quit working or I get to start travelling? If you can find a more powerful meaning to something, you can handle pretty much anything that’s happening. That’s the fundamental premise of “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. Realize that your body is going to change — embrace it and laugh about it so that you stay in the driver’s seat. Don’t take anything too serious — life is a death sentence, ya know? We all have an expiration date — be scared about it or enjoy it. Your choice.
How about teens and pre-teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre-teens to optimize their mental wellness?
How much time do we have? There’s SO MUCH that can be done in this space. It’s why I wrote my book, Your Best Child Ever: Is This Game Worth Winning? Kids need help, but parents need MORE help. Parents tilting at windmills and overreacting doesn’t help the kids. Parents being stressed and scared often transfer their fears to their kids — and when the kids grow up with anxiety and uncertainty (in a bad way), if life becomes comfortable, they don’t trust it. It doesn’t feel “right” to them because their biochemistry is used to more stress hormones, so they create drama to feel comfortable.
So, for kids and teens:
Don’t make yourself wrong. Realize you are experiencing something and look for what you can learn from it. Literally state the problem then ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” or “How can this make me a better person?”
Recognize that not everyone who is nice is actually your friend. To be your friend, they should say good stuff and do good stuff. Any time they help you to feel small, sad, or cold inside you really need to evaluate why this person is in your life.
Your life will go on past middle school, past high school, past college — these aren’t the best years of your life, they are just a season that can and will change. Don’t get too stuck on any of it — good, bad, or sideways. I was abused at 5 and 6, stopped smoking at 9, was kicked out of the gifted reading and math programs in 8th grade, had mono my 11th grade year and no one came to visit me until my brother shamed them, almost didn’t graduate high school because I just needed an English credit — so I chose newspaper only to discover I didn’t like writing about what I didn’t like writing about and I didn’t like writing to deadline. My parents offered to buy me a car — a hearse actually — if I made Honor Roll… so I had 5 As and 1 F. In Newspaper. 3.2 average which is better than Honor Roll. I had to beg for a special project just to graduate. And today, kung fu master, international champion, two international best-selling books. Out of high school, I worked in a sandpaper factory. Ended up getting burned out and started thinking of ways to get injured at work so I could draw worker’s comp. When you’re planning how to sever a body part for money, just leave. You’re in the wrong place. So, I left. Joined the military reserve. Became a security guard. Then a software tester. Then started my own business. You’re only stuck if you keep holding on.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Yes, The Seventh World of Chan by Meng Zhen Shakya (or, Em as she liked to be called). It’s an intermediate level review of the origins, psychology, and practice of Southern School Zen Buddhism. The martial art system I practice is Shaolin Wing Chun. Chan (sometimes written as Ch’an) Buddhism — also known as Zen Japanese was born in the Shaolin Temple and was practice by ancient warrior monks. The basic idea is to be present in the here and now, to be practical, spontaneous, and complete. On the fighting side, “here”’ is the space and “now” is the time. In a fight, only this moment exists — not our thoughts, fears, projections, just the reality we are experiencing.
I read Seventh World of Chan when I was 25 and it helped bring multiple areas of my life into harmony. Meng Zhen’s writing style is perfect for me — and she included Jungian psychology and archetypes in the book, so she was truly writing my language. It’s something I recommend to all my clients because it touches on so many topics such as integrating the self, dealing with projecting our fears and desires, how a person should integrate and develop in a healthy way, and more. There’s also the history and drama of Ancient China and a corrupt empress, politics and intrigue — humans have been humans since forever!
If I may share a passage of particular value, it’s in Part II Chapter 5, talking about the high price of desire and how we create our own heaven or hell:
Let us imagine a room, a parlor in the home of Miss Jane Doe. In this room a human being sits on a blue velvet sofa. Opposite the sofa are two pale silk brocade chairs. At the ends of the sofa are tables upon which sit lamps which have large, ruffled shades. On the floor is a rose and cream medallion rug and on the walls are many oil paintings which bear the signature of Jane Doe. The windows are open and a strong breeze causes the curtains to billow into the room. Outside, a poplar tree branch slaps rhythmically against one of the window panes. A clock on the mantle chimes eleven o’clock.
This description of things exactly as they are is the reality of Nirvana or Emptiness.
Now let us imagine this same room as seen though the eyes of the person who is sitting on the sofa. Let us say that this person is Louisa Doe, Miss Jane Doe’s niece who has come in response to an invitation for tea. While the aunt is busy in the kitchen, the niece looks around the room and says to herself, “Those paintings are atrocious. No wonder the poor woman never married. And those lampshades. Good grief! But this sofa is first rate. She must have paid a fortune for it. I remember seeing it years ago and it still looks the same. So soft… Too bad I’m not into Duncan Phyfe. Lord, she ought to recover those chairs! The armrests are positively grungy. But this rug… I’ll bet it’s a real oriental. Yes… This must be the one she bought in Cairo. That breeze means business. I wonder if I left the car windows down. She’d better get that branch cut back or one of these days it’ll break the glass. Eleven o’clock! Ah, that’s the old Hamilton chimer Daddy says is rightfully his. I hope I can get out of here by noon. I wonder if she plans to leave this place to me.”
his description of things viewed through the intervening ego is the distortion of reality, Samsara or Form.
There is no intrinsic difference between Form and Emptiness. We merely perceive them differently.
In both Samsara and Nirvana the room was the same. But in Nirvana there was no judgmental scrutiny or evaluation. There were no memories or plans, no ‘before and after,’ no ‘what used to be,’ or ‘what will be,’ or ‘what should be.’ There was no prejudicial I or me. In Nirvana there only ‘is.’ And the perception of what ‘is’ is direct, spontaneous, and, as it happens, accompanied by profound joy and serenity.
In this short story — for me — is the reality of how most people live — there’s a constant chatter and judging of everything. If we can just simply be, simply breathe and be present, life gets easier and happier and we can be genuine with ourselves and others.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s easy because I’m on this mission every day: teach all the children of the world how to play win/win games. A win/win game is one in which YOU feel warm, big, and happy inside and I feel warm, big, and happy inside. Any game — any type of behavior — that’s win-lose, lose-win, or lose-lose will ALWAYS fail given enough time, be it on any scale such as in a personal relationship, an economic system, or a geopolitical system. The world has more than enough resources. The problem is access and distribution. If we can all start playing win/win games, we’ll have more people to play with, they’ll be happier, and life gets better!
As an example, maybe there’s something you hate to do — like clean your house — but someone else might love to do it. And you might love to cook but they don’t. You could simply trade services and you both get what you want — a clean house for you, food for them — but each of you didn’t have to do the part you didn’t like. Win/win. This is obviously a simple example, but I think it gets the basic point across.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Overachiever that I am, I actually have four:
1) Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to. Don’t try to see through the distances. That’s not for human beings. Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move. Walk to the well. Turn as the earth and the moon turn, circling what they love. Whatever circles comes from the center. (Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks)
For me, this is a reminder to keep moving, keep growing, don’t get stuck in my head, don’t get complacent in my attitude. Walk to the well, do the work. I read this daily. Especially at night under the moon and stars.
2) Heaven, when it is about to place a great responsibility on a man, always first tests his resolution, wears out his sinews and bones with toil, exposes his body to starvation, subjects him to extreme poverty, frustrates his efforts so as to stimulate his mind, toughen his nature and make good his deficiencies. Only then do we realize that anxiety and distress lead to life and that ease and comfort lead to death. (Mencius)
For me, this is a reminder that when it feels like everything is getting difficult, I’m actually being prepared for something amazing. I went through a period where I was pretty much done with dating and romance. I was just going to be alone the rest of my life. Then I felt this gentle nudge and 6 months later, I was married to an amazing woman and we’ve never looked back. But there was pain before she showed up.
3) A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. They then dwell in the house next door, and at any moment a flame may dart out and set fire to his own house. Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force. (C.G. Jung)
For me, this is a reminder that the only way out of hell is through. If we give up, side step, numb ourselves, we just prolong the difficulties — better to be bold and direct. This is part of my daily routine too.
4) Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable. (Helen Keller)
For me, this is about simply living — and it’s a reminder not to hold my kids back from the things that light them up. Sure, activities can be scary and there’s no guarantees. But to grow we have to get into the game of life. My wife does a great job keeping me playing the game and out of my head. I’m a lucky man to have her.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I’m most active on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jeremyroadruck. Of course there’s Your Best Child Ever: Is This Game Worth Winning (available for free at http://bit.ly/FreeBook_YourBestChildEver) and there’s my podcast available everywhere and specifically on itunes at http://bit.ly/theparentingprogram. Finally, here’s also my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/KungFuGuyJeremy.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank YOU! I appreciate you making time for this. You friggin’ Rock!