From a very young age, Darren always felt he was supposed to do something great with his life. He couldn’t really explain why, but he remembers always having this sense of a bigger purpose or calling. As Darren recounts the story of his “dysfunctional” childhood, and the path he took as a result, he reveals how he came to know his purpose. In his words, “Where I am today is a product of me really wanting to love people properly. I knew if I didn’t become everything I needed to become, my kids were going to suffer.” Despite having that faith, he was a really restless child, and his path to success was far from smooth.
This is Darren’s story, and this is what he taught me:
Words of Wisdom:
Be willing to make really aggressive, quick transitions. Although it is more painful, be willing to go through the discomfort. By the time the world sees you as successful, not knowing what you went through, you will be able to influence lives.
Make your life about other people. The only true satisfaction in life is what you can give to other people, and what legacy you will leave behind.
Definition of Success:
I never had things growing up, so I thought having things would compensate for not having the life I wanted. After working with people who had many things, but were broken inside, my vision of success has changed to be how much value I can bring to someone else’s life.
Raised by a strict, traditional family, and being a self-professed, problem child, Darren fought against the status quo every step of the way. The ‘June and Ward Cleaver’ persona he describes, referring to his mother staying home to raise the kids and his father making all of the financial decisions, didn’t feel right for him. Despite using the idealized suburban Cleavers to describe his family, his home life was far from perfect. His father ruled with an iron fist, and did not take kindly to being challenged. The dysfunction and fighting that went on in the home took its toll; a fact he didn’t really appreciate until after his father left. “It was the first time in my life I experienced peace in my home,” he admits. As it happens, it was also the year Darren decided to do a ‘victory lap’ in high school. Up to that point, he had been very good at doing what it took to get by, resulting in mediocre grades and the label of ‘jock’. However, that persistent feeling that he was meant to do something greater, warned him he was on a path to ended up exactly where he didn’t want to be.
During his aptly named ‘victory lap’, Darren set an intention to teach himself the discipline he would need for the life he wanted. Refusing to live like his parents, he was determined to do something great, raise great children and find a wife “made in heaven”. His efforts paid off that year, as he earned university-worth grades, newfound respect from his teachers, a celebrated lead in the school play, and newly acquired habits for success.
Leveraging those habits, Darren sailed through university to earn a degree in Kinesiology and even met the love of his life, Anna. As those pieces of his life came together, he started to understand what he wanted from his career. Not fully aware of all the details, he sensed his knowledge and experience in kinesiology would help him create something really groundbreaking.
In order to gain the experience he would require to get to that goal, he started working as a personal trainer for an exclusive fitness club. Although he was quite successful attracting and retaining clients, he struggled to relate with the club managers. His drive to make a name for himself, combined with his desire to elevate the role and status of personal trainers, proved to be challenging. Over the next couple years, Darren’s vision and passion grew, as did the chasm of misunderstanding between him and his supervisors. Eventually the differences in opinions and approaches led to a confrontation that ended with Darren being fired.
The following year led to a free lancing career, where Darren trained clients in their homes. As he continued to deal with difficult people, and faced the frustration of having a very different mindset then most of them, he learned a really important lesson. Perhaps it was habitual, from his childhood, to push against the status quo and reject a certain way of being. However, he now had the foresight to consider the idea that he needed to change his approach, if he was going to be successful. Finding a balance between his drive for success and caring more about people was a turning point.
Not long after, circumstances led to his previous company rehiring him. Only this time, Darren brought with him a new desire to serve others. While his reputation started to change, he also earned more leeway to create the environment he wanted. For the next eight years, he built up a successful training business, developed amazing relationships with his co-workers and negotiated his salary to over six-figures.
In the end, the success tied to his enviable salary didn’t do much to quiet Darren’s longing to create something really groundbreaking. One day, on the long commute home, he called to tell his wife he was ready to branch out on his own. That same day he put in motion the steps necessary to build a gym in the garage of his home. Needing the income to sustain his growing family (his wife was pregnant with their 3rd child), Darren juggled his full-time hours in the city with the escalating hours associated with building his business in the suburbs. Although doubt washed over him in the early days of attracting clients, his perseverance paid off as his new business started to gain momentum. Working six days a week, 18-hour days, he barely saw his family for ten months. “The pain was grueling,” he says. “I sacrificed everything!” Over the next three years his workload would get even heavier as he moved his gym out of his garage, into a beautifully designed studio.
With the new studio up and running, Darren’s focus started to shift toward rehab as he developed a program to get people injury free and into the best shape of their life. When I’m curious to know how Darren mustered the courage to tackle that goal, he says, “Essentially, from the age of five, I never felt qualified for anything I did. But, I did it anyway.” Despite the pain that usually causes, he believes people spend too much time in transition. He intentionally makes the changes necessary as quick and aggressive as possible. His advice to others is that they learn how to master the art of transition, and get comfortable being uncomfortable. He explains, “You are going to feel like you are going to lose everything, every moment of every day, but persevere knowing there is a greater end result.”
For Darren, even though he didn’t always know what it would look like, his faith and belief he was called to do something great, was motivation enough. Recently, he has come to understand how he can use the experience of his greatest challenges to help others. Toward that goal, he created an intense leadership program to train his staff. “When you follow your calling, and by the time you get to the point where the world sees you as successful, without ever knowing what you went through, you have the ability to influence lives.” He openly admits to the number of mistakes he made along his journey, but an unexpected byproduct has been his ability to help others avoid similar mistakes.
Eventually his interest in creating leadership programs led to the development of the Life Source Fitness Education program, that he currently runs in elementary schools. Although it started as a side project, it has become his true passion. He starts to describe how important it is to affect children when they are young. Evident in the emotional tone of his voice, and the watery appearance of his eyes, I understand his passion stems from his childhood memories. He confirms my hunch when he says, “I think back to when I was five; I could have gone down some terrible roads with the kind of dysfunctional environment I was in.” His tone shifts as he starts to describe his own children. “My four boys are a product of what I was willing to go through,” he says proudly. He starts to describe their accomplishments in athletics and their reading levels as proof his system works. Taking an opportunity to work with the students from the small private school his boys attend, benefits of his program have extended beyond his family. “I just knew it was my mission to influence the lives of young people so that they would think about themselves the right way; regardless of what they came from.”
To illustrate the impact of the program, Darren recounts the story of a boy who is beat regularly by his mentally ill brother. The boy wanted to gain more confidence, because he had a hard time looking adults in the eye. Darren chokes up as he tells me, “to this day, when he sees me, he purposely looks me in the eye every single time. And he’s thriving.”
Darren is currently in the process of putting together a team and a proposal to bring his education program to schools across the country. The goal is to change the culture in school systems, using a physical education platform that teaches children their value.
Fascinated by the path that led him to this point, I start to reflect on how perfectly the stones were laid. A difficult childhood, where he found solace in athletics, followed up with a job that honed his problem solving and leadership skills toward helping to heal broken adults, and finally, an opportunity to apply all of it by using physical activity to equip young children with the habits and self-worthiness they will need to be successful.
Considering the grown man, who just wanted to learn to love people properly, and become who he was meant to be, I’d say he is well on his way. And, to that little boy inside of him, who fought the status quo, and always believed he was called to do something great, I believe he is doing just that. Congratulations to both of them for Finding Fabulous, and daring to share it with the world!