Almost everyone feels inadequate in at least one aspect of their life. And this can cause you to settle for less than you want or deserve in those areas--your health, your relationships, your economic status...
I've heard that 85% of the world's population are affected by low self esteem.
Traveling was the thing that turned my confidence around, and changed my life. I just deleted 11 examples of how this happened, because it really comes down to three important things.
People treat you differently when you travel
When you're visiting a new country, you'll meet people who are proud of their home and want to show it off. They will often be very interested in you, too.
They'll tell you stories, show you where to get the best food, and help you learn their language and customs.
Pretty soon you'll naturally expect everyone to treat you with kindness and respect. And when you go into a new situation with this expectation, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
You will be tested, and discover strengths you didn't know you had
When you put yourself in new environments and new situations, things will go wrong. You will lose your phone or miss a train. You will end up somewhere you didn't mean to go.
You'll be forced to be creative and resourceful as you get yourself out of this mess--and you will manage to pull it off.
You'll come away feeling rightfully proud of yourself, and you'll start to wonder what else you're capable of doing.
You will come back with new gifts
When you travel, you'll pick up new languages, new knowledge, and new skills. (I can field strip a katana, replace bicycle spokes using a large rock and two bottlecaps, and make you the best cappuccino in Los Angeles).
Most people will quickly tire of your pictures and your stories, but don't take it personally.
Once you've been outside your comfort zone for a while, you'll start to question things that you always accepted. You'll have a new perspective on old problems.
You'll see a lot of improvements in yourself, and soon you'll be thinking about how to improve the world.
Find out for yourself.
Starting in 2022, I'm going to organize at least one mass bike touring event in the Mediterranean each year until I'm too old to ride.
In the spring of 2022, we're going to follow the Via Appia in one direction, then cross the Adriatic sea and tour the Balkans.
I'm officially inviting you to join me for the whole ride or any part of it, or to follow along virtually.
While we ride out the pandemic in 2021, I'm going to help you prepare for the first ride. I'll teach you ways to pay for your trip, how to get physically in shape for the ride, along with the history, philosophy, and cultures of the places we'll visit.
I'm talking about this weekly on a Facebook page, where I'll be speaking live every Wednesday at 5 pm Pacific time. You can join me and ask questions here: https://www.facebook.com/AppiaBike
This is lesson 2 for the online course, "An Iron Will." You can access the full course here.
This week you’re going to start building your will and your Reservoir of Power.
Pick one of the exercises below and start doing it every day. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. The benefit comes from doing something over and over again.
The exercises themselves will make your mind and body stronger, but your real goal here is to exercise your will. Every day that you repeat the exercise, you’re accomplishing several things:
You’re teaching yourself to be consistent. In the future, you’ll probably be in a situation where you want to practice something every day, study every day, workout, or maybe you’ll have to do a difficult job or chore. This will be easier for you, because you have already consistently done things every day.
You’re exercising your will. There will be days when you feel like you’re too busy or too tired to do the exercise, and days when you just don’t want to. But when you do it anyway, you are using your will. Remember, your will grows stronger with use.
You’re building your reservoir of power. This is hard to explain, until you’ve experienced it. But when you give yourself the discipline of doing something every day, you start to feel more self-confident. This carries over into every part of your life. When you’re under stress, your daily exercise will help you feel more grounded and secure.
Here are a few more pointers before you get started:
If you’re generally an active, athletic person, choose one of the more mental activities. If you’re more of a thinker, choose something physical.
Once you’ve picked out an exercise to cultivate your iron will, get a marker or a pen of your favorite color. Hang a calendar on the wall, somewhere you'll see it.
Every day that you successfully carry out your chosen activity, put a special mark on the calendar. Aim for 30 marks in a row without missing a day.
You can download the 30-day Challenge Calendar, and hang it up somewhere you'll see it every day. Or if you don't like using paper, try these apps:
Disclaimer: I do not use any of these apps and I am not affiliated with them. Including these links does not imply an endorsement or recommendation of the apps listed.
When you do something 30 days in a row, your will grows stronger and you are ready to take on a new, harder activity. At this point you are ready to think about increasing the exercise or choosing a new one.
In your journal, write notes about how you feel when you do your chosen exercise, and how it’s affecting you.
Warning: Do not try any of the physical activities mentioned below without consulting a physician or other health professional.
How many push-ups can you do in 5 minutes? Do this number of push-ups every day. When it starts to become easy, increase the number or decrease the time. Can you do the same number of push-ups in 4 minutes? If you don’t want to do push-ups, you can do this routine with burpees, pull-ups, or any other simple exercise. Challenge yourself.
Write down 10 new ideas every day. They can be anything: new ideas for an article or a book, a new invention, business ideas, recipes to try, art projects, etc. They don't have to be good ideas but you need to come up with 10 of them, quickly. You are training your will to think creatively in a pinch. Do this for a few months and you'll surprise yourself.
Talk a walk, run, skate, or bike on the same route every day. Each day, try to notice a new detail along the route.
Find a spot in your home that is always cluttered. Not an entire room, but just a counter or a tabletop, for example. Clear it off now. Commit to keeping it clear. Do not go to bed at night until your spot is clear.
Take a cold shower every day. See how cold you can get it and how long you can stand it. When that becomes easy, try laying in a bathtub of cold water. Eventually add some ice. Then more ice.
See how long you can go without something. For example, coffee, sugar, your favorite video game, etc. How many days in a row? If you don’t make it through 30 days, give up something else for a while. But every day, give up something that isn’t good for you
Instead of an exercise, choose a habit that will be good for you when you do it consistently (for example, call your mother, floss your teeth, etc.). Make a commitment to do it every day no matter what.
Congratulate yourself. Buy yourself a nice meal or some other treat to celebrate.
You need to have at least one of these two things if you want to get anywhere in life: Self-esteem and a strong will.
Sooner or later, you're going to have to do something hard to reach your goal. If you don't have confidence or a grit, you won't do the hard work that needs to be done.
The good news is that if you have at least one of these qualities, you can use it to build the other one.
The better news is that you can develop both of them, just like building a muscle. In fact, someone wrote about this more than a century ago in a book called An Iron Will. You can download the book for free right here: http://gutenberg.org/ebooks/13160
Now I've got something even better for you. I took the information from An Iron Will and made it into an online class. Here's the introduction. If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you'll find links to watch the other lessons and download the worksheets and other handouts.
You are going to have a fun, challenging, and enlightening adventure. You could get in better physical shape, and you'll probably pick up skills that will improve every aspect of your life. That's how the journey will change you.
You'll find out what that means later, but here's what it means now, for you.
By the end of 2021, I'm going to prepare at least 1,000 people to do a bike tour around the Mediterranean. In 2022, we'll make the journey.
Whether you participate in some or all of the ride, and whether you do it virtually or in person, this could be a life-transforming experience, and I'm hoping it will change the world.
You are going to have a fun, challenging, and enlightening adventure. You could get in better physical shape, and you'll probably pick up skills that will improve every aspect of your life. That's how the journey will change you.
Here's how this could change the world.
The Mediterranean was the cradle of several major religions and influential civilizations. There are very few places in the world that haven't been influenced or impacted by at least one of the major belief systems that came out of the Mediterranean.
The trouble is, many of the best ideals have become the basis for wars and conflicts. East vs. West. Israelis vs. Arabs. The list goes on.
But what would happen if we all took the time to travel together, eat together, share our cultures and learn from each other instead?
I have a vision of thousands of people traveling together through multiple countries on bicycles. Thousands more joining us virtually, possibly as they do parallel rides in their own countries.
Along the way, we'll stop to do volunteer work and for educational experiences. It's a chance to bring the whole world together over something fun and beautiful. It might make a difference.
Is your life going more or less the way you want it to?
If not, you might just need the right leverage to turn things around. Let me explain.
If you want to bake a cake, there are certain ingredients you need. If you leave out an important ingredient, you're going to ruin the cake. The good news is, once you discover which ingredient you're missing, all you have to do is add that ingredient and you'll soon be on your way again to baking a perfect cake.
If your life isn't perfect, there might be one or more "ingredients" missing in one or more areas of your life. A few of the better known important ingredients:
If you're missing just one of these, it's going to hurt you. If you have them all, you can have anything you want.
Fortunately, all of these riches are available for the asking. You can have some of them instantly, the moment you decide you want them. The rest you can develop and cultivate. There's no reason you can't have every single one of them.
If you're reading this from anywhere in the United States, you know what's happening.
We’re approaching the event horizon of an election that’s going to be a black hole of poisonous rhetoric. Let’s at least have some fun with it.
Here’s what I propose: Civilized political trash-talk. Here's how it works.
Choose a willing friend who strongly disagrees with you on a divisive issue. You shouldn’t have to look too hard: Trump/Trounce Trump. Mask/No Mask. BLM/ALM. You get the idea.
At least once a week between now and the election, post a strong political statement on your Frenemy’s timeline in your favorite social media platform. They will do the same for you. Your post can be a meme, a link, your own content, or anything else you choose. Preferably something creative or funny.
There’s only one inviolable rule: You can comment on the stupidity of a person’s words or actions, but not the stupidity of the person themself. You don’t insult any individuals directly. Not even presidential candidates.
We all know how divided the USA has become. I’m hoping this is a way we can start to get along again. If you want to do this, reach out to a politically challenged friend of yours and get started.
Freezing blasts of soul-crushing wind. Huge metal monsters swirling all around me.
And somewhere in the blustery cold, I discovered my phone was gone.
I should have known I was in for an eventful day when I woke up sore and aching in a misty rain. I hit the road and started climbing steep hills almost immediately. When I stopped for a hot cornetto and coffee at a bar, I started shivering.
The road wormed up and up, and then the switchbacks gave way to a punishing ascent in a ruler-straight line which ended in the lofty town of Aeclanum. This had been an important city in the past, but it was mostly destroyed by the Byzantines.
I knew there would be some worthy ruins, so when I saw a sign indicating an archeological site, I took a sharp right into the entrance.
Now the rain was like a shower of arrows. They hit my poncho with an endless pelting sound. I walked my bike to a modern building in the murky distance. Half a dozen men were drinking coffee inside. I asked if I could leave my bike there while I explored the ruins.
First they wanted to know what a guy with a foreign accent and a loaded bike was doing in Aeclanum. And they insisted I have coffee with them, which I was grateful to do.
“America!” said one of them named Roberto. “The modern empire.”
I told him that our Empire was crumbling.
“Yes, but it will take a long time to fall apart.”
I spent the next hour trekking through the wet remains of Aeclanum. The archaeologists had reconstructed a section of the road, piecing together a jigsaw puzzle of dark basalt hexagons. Healthy grass grew around this marvel in rich shades of green. The rain gave the stones a slick, shiny gleam.
Roberto drew me a map and gave me directions to several other archeological sites around Aeclanum. Most of them were too far off my route, but I'll get to them someday.
“Here, I will take you to the closest one,” he offered. By now the rain had stopped, and we walked through the mud to a beat-up blue Fiat with no seatbelts. I hoped he wouldn't drive too fast on these wet and winding mountain roads.
It was only a short way to a large excavation area. Walls of tufa brick emerged from the ground.
“This is the past coming back to light,” Roberto said, “but this is also our future. This is our petroleum.”
I nodded as Roberto lit a cigarette. “A lot of tourists would pay to see this,” I said.
“Eh! Si!,” he answered. “Italy is not rich in silver or iron. We have a lot of good food, but a modern economy can't survive on agriculture.”
He pointed his cigarette at the compost of ancient Rome. “Archeology is Italy's petroleum.”
It’s been many years since I had this conversation with Roberto. The next time I went to Rome, I was upset to find that I had to buy a ticket to enter the Forum. I remember the year of the Jubilee, when it was essentially a park, and you could wander in for free anytime while the gates were open.
My frustration is mixed. Whenever I see a fence around a historical monument, I try to remind myself that Italy has finally understood the value of what she has.
Still, nothing beats an ancient relic that has become a part of the wilderness, unfenced and unregulated. One of the sites on Roberto's map was a broken Roman bridge that had once crossed the Calore river. His directions were longer than the way to the Ponte degli Aurunci, and twice as complicated.
I had to descend the steep, straight hill that had brought me into Aeclanum in the first place. This meant I would have to go back up the hill again later that day. After this, I would find a winding road that went up and down more hills and eventually crossed a highway. A series of turns would take me to a footbridge that went over a stream. After this, I would have to take a dirt road, follow it to another dirt road, turn left and look around for the Ponte Rotto.
This “Ponte Rotto” (broken bridge) was near enough that I was willing to try to find it.
I got through the first few twists and turns. The very last part of the paved “road” was little more than a one-way track just wide enough to accommodate a single car. As I grinded my way up a slope designed to disintegrate knee joints, I met a car heading the opposite direction.
The driver rolled down his window, glanced at my bike, and said, “Duro, eh?” It's hard.
I told him I was looking for the Ponte Rotto and he gave me his own version of the route. My dirt road was up ahead, only a short distance. When I came to the second crossroad I had to turn left. There I would pass two intersections and turn right at the second one. A road would branch off to the left from there, and I had to take this branch, make the next right turn where I could, and then turn left as soon as possible after that.
He gave me these directions in Italian, with bits of a dialect that I struggled to understand. I don't know if it was the altitude, the strain of climbing so many hills, or too much coffee. I felt like I was in the middle of a weird dream.
The dirt roads were a labyrinth between gentle hills and green grassy fields. Sometimes I would see a sign that said “Ponte Rotto” but indicated a direction opposite of what I had been told. Roberto had warned me to ignore the signs. “People move them every year. They tell you nothing.”
My left knee was throbbing from when I fell on it the night before. I did the best I could to ignore it as I counted the intersections, trying to remember when to turn and whether it was left or right. I burrowed deeper into the countryside, wondering if I would ever find Ponte Rotto.
Then, as I rose to the top of a slippery hill, I saw a distant row of huge, sweeping arches that stopped suddenly at a line of alders and shrubs. It was still far away, but my road led straight past it.
I got as close as I could, left the road, and wheeled my bike through damp, waist-high grass to a gigantic arch made of orange tufa bricks. It sheltered me just as the clouds opened up with another downpour.
Tall grass flashed and flickered with thousands of tiny diamond drops of water. Colorful flowers peeked through the sea of green. I leaned against the orange wall and rested in the rain.
This was the happiest, proudest moment of my entire trip.
There’s nothing more satisfying, more empowering, than finishing a task that seemed unbearably hard. Whatever hills you need to climb, whatever strange paths and roads you need to navigate, every difficult act you do is a monument to your extraordinary role as a human being.
I’ve led tour groups to the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Acropolis in Athens and the statue of David in Florence. For three years I spent almost every weekend and holiday visiting some of the most famous buildings and works of art in the world. But this broken bridge meant more to me than Saint Peter's Square.
On my way back into town, I came to an intersection and couldn't remember which way to go. I searched the ground for my own tracks, but the rain had already obliterated them. I had to guess the way.
You probably know that I chose correctly. If I hadn’t, I would be working on a farm today and sleeping under a broken bridge.
I got back to the main road and cruised through wooded mountains for a few hours. When I stopped for a slice of pizza at a roadside bar, a man driving a produce truck offered me a coffee. When I told him I had just had one he replied, “Well you'll have to have another one, then. Come on!”
He gave me a bag of oranges and beans that were still in their pods. “For the road,” he said. He showed me how to split open the pods and eat the large, pale beans inside. When I tried to pay him he pushed my hand away.
“It’s for the road,” he insisted.
I stuffed most of the fruit and beans into my pockets and panniers, but there were still three oranges that wouldn’t fit. I put them in a sack that dangled from a handlebar, swinging around whenever I turned.
It had to be afternoon by now, but the sun was hidden by the grey sky, occasional rain, and sometimes a thick fog. I was almost always climbing uphill, but I felt cold most of the time. A strong wind pushed me from my back, and sometimes I had to fight it head on. Usually the wind was blowing on my side. It chilled me and made it hard to keep my balance. Was this the Maleventum, the bad wind the ancient Romans talked about?
At one point, I came around a bend and heard a mechanical-sounding whirr, like an electric engine. It reminded me of a light rail train. This sound was joined by high-pitched squeaks about once every five seconds.
Away in the distance, I saw a towering grey shape through the fog. As I got closer, the sounds grew louder, and the grey giant was moving. It looked like a huge, deformed man running in place up in the sky. Was I about to be abducted by aliens?
A minute later a spinning sheet of metal flew out of the fog, and then I saw my monster completely. It was a windmill.
A flat, green plain opened in front of me. There was almost nothing to see in any direction except the road ahead of me, endless grassy fields, and scores of windmills generating electricity. At least all of this wind was doing some good. It was a Beneventum after all. But I still had to ride through it.
For the next few hours I crossed an empty, green steppe. I was on a nearly flat plain, with just enough small hills to stop me from seeing what was ahead. I was riding steadily up a slight grade that never leveled off. The strong, shifting wind made pale waves on the endless fields of grass, and also made it hard to keep riding.
That’s the situation I was in when I realized my phone was gone. Maybe the constant pedaling had pushed it out of my pocket. I was lost, facing a cold demon wind, and had no communication.
It felt like I had been pedaling for several hours with no change. Just a numbing, grassy sameness to everything. I wanted the day to end, but I was worried about what would happen when it did. When the light began to fade, I thought about setting up my tent, but the wind would have made this impossible.
At dusk I came to a sign that indicated the way to Aquilonia. It was on a road that went up yet another steep hill and disappeared around a bend. I remembered reading something interesting about this town once, long ago.
I had a map from Touring Club Italia. When I took it out the wind filled it like a sail and made a jagged rip where I held it in my hand. I had to fold it up and look at one small rectangle at a time.
From what I could tell, there was no definite, main route through this area. But it looked like the road beyond Aquilonia would eventually bring me towards Venosa, on the other side of the Apennine Mountains. That’s where I wanted to go.
Another blast of cold wind drove ripples through the tall grass. I needed shelter, and Aquilonia looked like my best option.
For the last time that day, I rode up a hill towards what turned out to be one of the most memorable places of the entire journey.
This is the 16th Chapter of my book, Rome to Brindisi: How Biking Down an Ancient Roman Road Saved Me From a Life of Quiet Desperation. I'll be posting a few chapters each week during the Covid19 shutdown. I'm also reading them out loud on YouTube (check the menu for links) so you can listen while you're shut in.
If you enjoyed this article, you'd be crazier than a young Caligula not to sign up for the newsletter. When you do, I'll send you a free copy of my travel notes from the latest bike tour along Via Appia.