Remember that there will be times when you may not like an aspect of yourself — and this can be a healthy way to improve something. Think of someone who is selfish. If they only love and accept themselves, they will never be able to admit to being selfish. If they can notice their selfishness, and recognize that this is not an aspect of themselves that they want to perpetuate, they can work on eradicating it and becoming more of the person they truly want to be. BUT, and this is important, while you are working on that aspect of yourself — remind yourself that you still love and respect yourself. You are a work in progress, and that is okay. The more you embrace your true self, the better your life will be.
As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Motivational Speaker Ari Gunzburg of JTreks.
Ari Gunzburg is a motivational speaker, wilderness liaison and podcast host. Ari experienced trauma at a young age, when a teacher died while out on a field trip. This traumatic experience was the catalyst for many life changing moments, including moments that could have ended it all. After a long journey, with many ups and downs, Ari is now sparking creativity, inspiring happiness, and connecting with audiences everywhere to inspire productivity, increase efficiency and grow creativity. Ari also works with teens to help them make the right decisions and to have the most fulfilling life with the greatest chance of success.
Thank you so much for joining us Ari! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
Wow! Great question! My whole life has been one wild ride, and getting to this point was no different. I started working in graphics, marketing and websites back in 2007, after a mentor of mine pushed me to stop working at a restaurant and try to make something of my life — I had previously trained in graphics and websites. Despite working in the field for over 10 years, it wasn’t fulfilling for me. I wasn’t happy doing the work, except for very few instances. I also wasn’t happy with some of the clients. Look around online for horror stories of clients of designers — I lived some of those moments. In addition to the graphics business, I had a small advertising business, which was going nowhere. I started working with a business coach to help me get unstuck, and how to get out of the cycle of dissatisfaction that I was in.
There were two aspects of what I was doing that had to be addressed before I could entertain the thought of a new career and focusing on something that made me happy. One was the advertising magazine. I was literally “married” to the idea of the business even though it had been steadily losing money. I simply couldn’t see that it had no potential.
My coach asked, if it was wildly successful, how much would it make? When I did the math, and realized that the absolute best that the business would ever do was a few hundred thousand in revenue a year, I finally had the moment of truth I needed to pull the plug. And so I did — I slowly pulled the plug of the magazine, painful though it was. I tried to sell it, but to no avail. And so I had to say the painful goodbye to something that I had invested a lot of time, effort and money into. Now I see how much better off I am without it.
The second aspect that had to be addressed was the graphics and web design business I had been working in. I am only now truly shutting the door on that chapter of my life. It has been a slow journey to finalize that career and fully move into my new career, both because during the transition I still needed income and because I wanted to transition all of my clients to people who would help them. I didn’t want to leave anyone high and dry.
And now, the good part! Once I realized I was no longer going to work in the graphics/web field I had been pursuing for so long, the question was what to do. I had been listening to a lot of motivational speeches, and I thought maybe that was something I could do. I had my first rewarding moment as a speaker when I was asked to go speak to a group of teens who were locked up in a juvenile detention center. Honestly, at first I didn’t want to go. But a few days after saying no, I realized that I had an opportunity to really connect with these kids, and so I volunteered. On my way down there, I was terrified — scared of speaking, nervous about going back inside, concerned that they wouldn’t want to hear my story or anything about me.
So I gave them the choice. I told them I could tell them my story — within which they may see some similarities to their own stories — or I could just go directly into the purpose of my visit, which was to present my career. They raised their hands and asked to hear my story. And what a trip that was! After telling them my story, we did a marketing exercise (creating a laundry detergent and branding) and they had fantastic ideas! I sent them over a graphical representation of what we had discussed, and they hung it up on the wall in their section of the detention center. Since that moment I have been actively working to help improve people’s lives through speech, and now I am branching my speaking out into the 2 podcasts that I have in production (hopefully out in the 1st quarter of 2019).
On to the other aspect of my new career! I have always loved nature; when I was a little kid almost the only thing I did was run around in the woods and play with friends. Ever since I went on an Outward Bound trip when a teenager, with white water rafting and caving experiences earlier that same school year, I wanted to get into the field of helping others have the epic outdoor experiences that I had. That is how JTreks was born — JTreks https://jtreks.com offers kosher wilderness expeditions.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
As I just mentioned above, I am working on producing 2 podcasts that I have been working on the recording aspect for a number of months. This is my main focus for right now. Once these podcasts are launched, I have another project that I am very excited to get started on — it is a real game changer. I have a vision of this next project being a catalyst to help people all over learn to feel better and live better. But this project is staying under wraps until it is further along in development.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?
First off, I struggle on a daily basis. I have a pretty clear idea of who I am and what I stand for, but that doesn’t mean the implementation is always perfect. This is part of being a human being. It helps when the people around us can be understanding.
Now for the personal story! In 2018 I entered a contest circuit that culminates in the World Championship of Public Speaking. I won at each level, and then I went to the district contest. Mind you, the 1st place winner at the district level goes on to be a semi-finalist for the World Championship. I was incredibly nervous. I had never competed at this level before. It was the largest audience I had spoken in front of up to that point. And I, who at times can be soft-spoken, had to do it all without a microphone.
I got up there and I gave it my all. I felt that I had the audience completely worked up, in a good way. I felt CONNECTED to the audience. When I sat down, the guy I was seated next to told me, “I’ve never seen you speak before; I already want to see you speak again.” I felt sure I was heading to the World Championship.
It came the time to give out the prizes. Imagine my surprise when my name was announced on the loudspeaker as the second place winner; NOT first place, which was my goal.
It was a moment of extraordinary achievement and at the same time a moment of absolute defeat. I was crushed even as I stood there holding a trophy and knowing that out of over 2000 other district members, that year I had placed 2nd in the contest circuit.
Moments of defeat and triumph like that always create difficulties for me. I find it very hard to cope with these things, but I do know that if I allow the thoughts to truly sink in for a few days or weeks, and allow the experience to sink in, that I can get over it; that I will get over it, and come back stronger.
Since then I have contemplated what I can do better, and I do believe that it has helped me overall to become a better speaker than I would have been had I won. If I had won, I would have patted myself on the back and possibly not looked as deeply at what I could improve.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
Oh the causes can be so many things it may be easier to discuss what CAN’T be a cause of this. Aging is certainly a part of it. But I think it mostly comes down to the incongruence of magazine photos compared to the real looks of the models, airbrushing, constant surgery by many (not all) famous people to maintain a youthful appearance, body sculpting or personal training for many hours per day, and other tricks to adjust appearances to what, for most of us, is unreasonable to attain. When you surround yourself with a constant expectation of very muscular, or very thin, or perfect skin, or perfect hair, or perfect clothes, it is easy to imagine a world in which many people look at themselves in the mirror, compare themselves to those famous people, and find dissatisfaction.
I think ALL of us would be better off working towards a future in which everyone can find and maintain a healthy weight and a healthy body. Science, policy, and society all need to take part in this movement to help it be successful. Sometimes that means no airbrushing photos, or only lightly touching up. Think #nofilter.
Healthy should be the goal. Healthy in the way we eat, move, exercise, think, feel, and more. The more we know we are healthy, the better overall we end up feeling — and this has a domino effect on each person and all of the people around them. The better we feel about ourselves the more we are able to affect the people around us positively — sometimes by something as simple as giving a stranger a genuine smile.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
First I want to point out that for many of us, simply having this as a goal and making strides toward it can be enough. You don’t have to figure it all out by tomorrow. Take your time, work on one aspect of loving and accepting yourself at a time. That is really what life is all about: the journey you take to get to where you are.
Some reasons why it is important to love yourself? The more accepting you are of yourself the greater your confidence levels will be. The more you know and understand yourself, the better you are able to determine why you do certain things, and then either do more of that activity, if you like it and what it entails, or work on reducing that activity if it is something you don’t want to be a part of yourself. Every moment of clarity you can have about yourself is another step in YOUR journey toward being your best self.
Lastly, remember that there will be times when you may not like an aspect of yourself — and this can be a healthy way to improve something. Think of someone who is selfish. If they only love and accept themselves, they will never be able to admit to being selfish. If they can notice their selfishness, and recognize that this is not an aspect of themselves that they want to perpetuate, they can work on eradicating it and becoming more of the person they truly want to be. BUT, and this is important, while you are working on that aspect of yourself — remind yourself that you still love and respect yourself. You are a work in progress, and that is okay. The more you embrace your true self, the better your life will be.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
Oh my! What type of mediocre relationships? Marriages? Marriages with kids? Just dating someone? Are any relationships always mediocre or do they have swings? Each situation is so independent that it is really hard to pinpoint one particular cause. I’d bet that there are still many research psychologists studying just this. If I had to venture one guess, that would be most applicable across all situations — I would say because of inertia. Because of the comfort zone. People get into a situation that is comfortable — mediocre, but comfortable. And they don’t leave the situation because it is too hard, it is too difficult, it would take too much effort.
There are some times when this inertia can be helpful. Everything in life ebbs and flows, everything has its ups and downs. So maintaining a long-term relationship when it is on the down (aka currently mediocre) can often be a great favor to the people in the relationship — for when the relationship is then on the up, or when the people have the time, tools, or inclination to work on improving the relationship — they both benefit from having stuck it out.
However, there are also times when that inertia can be a disservice, such as when two people are really truly incompatible, or are not that committed, not necessarily in a long-term relationship, and the two stay in the relationship simply because it is more comfortable than breaking up. In that case, rip that band-aid off! Go live a little!
When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
What really makes you unhappy?
Do you truly think you will be happy when you ______ (fill in the blank here)?
If that won’t make you happy, what changes can you introduce into your life right now to help you on the path to happiness?
What are some things that you have been deliberately ignoring?
How can focusing on those things help you determine what you should do about it?
What is one aspect of yourself, that despite difficulty, you can truly love?
What is one step you can take to make that actually happen?
What is one activity that you LOVE that you don’t do enough of?
Go out and do it!!
When I started training for a mountaineering and ice climbing trip in Colorado last winter, I started doing a lot more hiking. It was while I was out, enjoying the woods despite frigid temperatures, rain, and nonetheless stunning views, that I began to contemplate why I had neglected going out for more hikes, why I had essentially not made nature and the forest more of my life, like it used to be when I was a kid.
It was during those times of quiet reflection that I began to realize that I probably stay away from nature and the forest because of what happened to me when I was a kid. When I was 10 years old, my teacher died while we were on a class field trip, hiking through the woods. I won’t say that I never went back in the woods after that, but I certainly spent less time there. Even now, as I’m sitting here, I am realizing that despite my love for nature, I haven’t been spending as much time out in the woods lately. Yes, it is the winter, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m fine with the cold, with the wet, with the snow. My instructor for the Wilderness First Responder, Jerome Gabriel, says, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad equipment.” If you have the right gear, you can be comfortable almost anywhere.
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
I am embarrassed to say that I haven’t been practicing this aspect of introspective alone time for myself lately. Thank you for bringing this up; I hope to bring this back into my own life. We all get busy and forget to take care of ourselves. YOU are number one — if you are not taking care of yourself, then all of the things you are working on will ultimately get neglected or won’t get done. In learning to be a wilderness rescuer, you learn that you are the most important person in any rescue scenario — because you have the tools to help the others, so endangering yourself can potentially endanger the entire group. Take a few moments for yourself, for your own sake, for the sake of your friends, for the sake of your family. The longer the better.
When I went to Hurricane Island Outward Bound, they made us go on a solo — 30 hours, alone, in the middle of nowhere. The solo experience is an integral part of every Outward Bound experience. It is a time of reflection, a time of peace, a time of solitude. Being able to not speak to anyone, to be alone with your thoughts — many people don’t realize just how therapeutic this is. You don’t have anywhere to be. You don’t have anyone looking for you. No goals, no aspirations, no needs; just you, nature, your food, and your bed. You can truly relax, truly sit down and work on allowing yourself to be at peace, with yourself. For there is no one else around.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer, in her poem ‘The Invitation,’ said it well: “I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
I am still working on this aspect myself! When you are self-aware, which I am working towards, but don’t know that I have fully achieved (do any of you feel you fully achieved it? I would love to hear more about your journey!), I think perhaps you have the capability to be more empathetic, and to see what people are doing and why — even if you don’t agree with the rationale behind what they are doing.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
Time. Time away from work, time away from technology, time with family, time alone. Time not spent focusing on your goals. Relaxation time. Reflection time. Nature time. Time where the only goal is to spend time with the activity or person you want to spend time with.
Individuals can prioritize this time. Put firm limits on their work life / personal life boundaries. Put firm limits on technology or other distractions.
Society can help individuals in their quest to prioritize this time. Society can help people make the shift back to, work is work, and my time is my time — if everyone trends in that direction together, we all win.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
Nature — Spending time in nature is helpful; I find that nature always connects us with our thoughts, and disconnects us from our worries.
Yoga — Any moment you are practicing yoga, and focusing on the moment, you are nurturing your connection with yourself. For the greatest efficacy stay in the moment and leave all judgements aside.
Cycling — This is more of a summer thing (I don’t like stationery bikes or spin class) but going out on a long solo ride (25+ miles) is an amazing way to reconnect to yourself. There is nothing but you, the scenery, the bike, and the spinning.
Cooking — I’m more referring to healthy cooking. Cooking can be meditative, if you allow it to be, and the act of putting together a healthy meal for yourself, and others around you, is helpful to reconnect with yourself.
Family — Family (siblings, parents, cousins) helps you remember where you came from, and they help your idiosyncrasies seem normal (especially your siblings). If you are raising a family, your own immediate family also helps you refocus on the group, including you, and that helps you maintain your own connection if you let it (be careful not to entirely lose yourself in family needs — they need your individuality to shine through, to lead your kids down your path of values).
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
Some books I really like include Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage, Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (I should re-read that one). Each helps focus on certain aspects of how we can be better people. And one particular favorite is Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist — a simple page turner that helps us focus more on the meta and the abstract, the way we are all connected, and helps to draw the focus away from the nitty gritty that many of us get lost in sometimes.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
Ha! This is ironic. I’m literally in the midst of developing the framework for building a movement. The whole concept behind the movement is bringing a tremendous amount of good into people’s lives. I believe I have found a perfect mix of methods and practices that will be easy and accessible for each person to start and maintain, while giving people the true foundation of strength and internal confidence that each person needs to both succeed and feel true happiness and joy.
Want to get involved? Please reach out to me via my website! Once my initial framework is complete, and I have completed my necessary prototypes, I need other visionaries and thought leaders to help me spread this method all over the world. Remember though that the goal of this project is good, not money.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
I’ll give you two; each has its own resonance.
Les Brown said, “Shoot for the moon — because even if you miss, you will land among the stars.” Always go for it. It may be a long shot, but the benefits of going for it and failing far outweigh the costs of having a dream and letting it die.
The second is from Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound. “There is more in us than we know. If we could be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.” We have a way of thinking we won’t be able to deal with certain situations, that we won’t be able to prevail, or to do something well. Each of us has so much incredible strength, perseverance, and stamina to do things that we can’t imagine. The only issue is that many of us never see it, never experience it. Once we do…..there is no going back.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!