I stared at the world map on the wall of my office, a moment that turned my life around forever and yet a moment unnoticed by my co workers close by.
“Is this it?”
“Is this really it?!”
I’m 26 years old, I have a really good job, I make my own hours, have a company home, company car, expense account and a pension fund and I’m looking at the map of the world and the city in which I live is too small to even be acknowledged.
I had just put the phone down on the boyfriend I couldn’t shake and as I stare at the map I’m thinking that this one person who lives in this one city that isn’t even big enough to show up on the map of the world is dictating my life. The whole world is out there and I’m being led by the nose by the comfort of my life.
“Is this is really it?!”
My name is Joanne Lee Cornish and I first stepped on stage as a bodybuilder when I was 18 years old, back in the 80’s when the sport was new and shiny and pretty unheard of.
I had ran track as a teenager and was encouraged to build my legs to help with my speed work and so I joined a gym. That was the first door I opened that would change my life forever. The gym was owned by an Olympian judge named Bill Boyd and within 6 months he had me onstage in a local bodybuilding show. I hope never to come across any photographs from that show but I did win it and so my competitive chapter began.
Winning feels really good, it’s a feeling that you are happy to repeat and I was winning a lot. I was always getting ready for the next show, the next diet, the next appearance. The ultimate goal was to win the British Overall Championships and turn professional.
As well as competing I was studying for my Business Degree and by the age of 25 I had won the World Championships and the European Championships, I had my Business Degree, secured an amazing job and at long last I had won the overall British Championships and had my pro card.
“Is this it?!”
Since being a teenager I had always been aiming for the next show or the next exam, now I find myself at the top of a couple of ladders with nothing of great certainty on the horizon. Was I really meant to cruise in this humdrum life where there is no real reason to leave but no real passion to stay.
I had achieved the generation before me’s nirvana – the secure corporate job where you marry someone somehow and work until they give you a nice gold watch and the rewards of the pension you have paid into for decades. I couldn’t shake it, I was now 26 and this was really it! The lull of life where years slip by until they surprise you with that gold watch and walk you out of the office. This was my life? Really?
A seed had already been planted a couple of months before my map epiphany, a seed that started me doubting this nirvana of corporate happy ever after. I worked for British Steel, I was a steel inspector with clients all over the North West of England, there was a gentleman named Rex who did the same job but with a different territory, he had been with British Steel fifty years. The job involved a lot of driving and we had rather nice company cars which we maintained ourselves and billed the company for the expense.
Rex had been with British Steel since he was 16 years old, now at 66 with the British economy taking a nosedive he had been asked to retire. When it came to his final day at the office, there was no gold watch, no party the company paid for, just a bill for the tires he had put on the company car which were no longer going to be used for company business. After 50 years he got a bill for tires!!
My parents generation had the very real dream of corporate security, get with a great company, give your life to that company and you would always be well taken care of. Rex was a huge wake up call to me – the dream, which had been real for many decades, was no longer real, you create your own future, no one is going to do that for you.
I look again at the map; Rex’s desk in the next office is empty. My life is pretty good, I have all I could wish for and I’m only 26 but is this really it?!
I stare at the map some more pondering where is the farthest I can go on this planet, the most distance I can create between this place and another, thankfully this turns out to be Australia.
Within a few months I am boarding a plane with a working visa and heading to Oz.
I gave up on the ‘dream’ and decided to create my own.
That year went by very very fast and soon I had another ticket in hand, this was a ticket back to England. It was November and I was leaving summer in Australia to go back to Winter in England. I didn’t have a job to return to, I had no money, no car. It’s a long flight from Australia to England and there has to be a stop for the plane to refuel, thankfully (again) the stop was in California. With some cash in my pocket a backpack on my back and a couple of cocktails in my stomach I decide not to take the last leg back to England and I find myself In Los Angeles.
It might seem that I am extremely driven and a bit of a risk taker, that really is not the case. I’m more likely to save money than over spend and I’ll lose sleep over debt but the one thing that motivates me more than anything is happiness – I simply cannot stay in a situation where I am not happy.
Age 28 and I’m in Gold’s Gym, Venice CA, the most famous gym in the world. I had friends who had vacationed to America just to train in this gym. I’m a Professional Bodybuilder and I couldn’t be more at home, I’m rubbing shoulders with the people I had only seen in magazines and I am on a first name basis with movie stars.
My Business Degree was not about to help me now and the one thing I knew and the one thing I loved has always been training. Training and Nutrition is all I ever wanted to read about or study, to take certifications and courses was fun for me and so I started to build my Personal Training Business.
I’m trying to build a business alongside some of the best trainers in the world and maybe it would have been smarter to go to a smaller gym/pond but I stuck it out at the Mecca, I studied more, learnt from others, led by example and so my business grew.
I was competing and jumping through hoops with an attorney I couldn’t afford to get my green card through my Professional status. I went from a $500 car to a floor to a second hand futon to my own apartment by the beach.
I made it to the Ms. Olympia stage twice and this really represented my bodybuilding summit, I was happy to put that goal aside and concentrate on the progress of others. 9 years after arriving in America I became a resident, I did it on my own merits of which I am very proud. Now in my 20th year running my own Personal Training and Nutrition business I truly feel I am successful.
I work long hours and yet I don’t feel like I have had a job since I was 26.
I haven’t had a vacation of more than a week in 20 years and yet I live in Malibu and seldom feel the desire to leave.
I spend every hour of ‘work’ with a different friend and I work alongside a family of other trainers in a gym that I love as much as the first day I trained there.
There have been ups and downs and feasts and famines and I am happy, incredibly happy.
What I would ask you to take from this tale is that you don’t have to be the smartest, the most driven, the most ambitious, the most fearless. Just do not settle for less than you are capable of, do not take the safe road just because the other road looks too rocky and if you are good at something, keep doing it, keep practicing it, keep educating yourself and just keep doing it, do not stop for a second, do not give up when times get hard – if you know you’re good and you love doing something just keep doing it, you will succeed.
I would be amiss if I did not acknowledge a few people that made my life possible. I have the most incredible family, I always knew if the bottom fell out of my world I could always go home and I married the most amazing man, nothing makes sense without Kevin.
P.S. British Steel went out of business.