© 2024 Ivan Nikolov All Rights Reserved
Hi. I'm Ivan Nikolov
There are about 200 of us on this faithful Zoom call.
Our mentor is about to say something that will forever change how I view myself – and the quality of my life.
Until this moment, for more than four and a half decades, I had believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I was damaged goods.
All along my grand strategy for avoiding my inadequacies and insecurities has always been to fight my circumstances. To force life to tell a different story about me.
And for decades, I felt exhausted without feeling any better about myself.
But let’s not get ahead. Before I reveal what my mentor told me, let me explain how I got here…
Beginnings - initial insecurities
I was born and grew up in communism. From early on, I was brainwashed to expect only one future – a laborer who follows orders.
At home, my parents fought all the time. I was constantly trying to stay between them. Or hide. I felt unsafe and as if I was always walking on eggshells. When both my parents were at home, I did not want to be there. But there was nowhere to go.
During my childhood, I felt ignored by my father. For him, I existed mainly when I had to be disciplined or “motivated”, for which he used negative motivation. He often told me, “You’ll never amount to anything.”
(Btw, I now understand why my father was that way. He did the best he could for who he was and what he was going through at the time.)
I was bullied often in elementary school. Maybe because I had a good-natured but rebellious spirit. And maybe because I was the second shortest in my class. The other kids gave me the nickname Shorty.
Later in high school, during the critical time when young people become sensitive about what others think of them, I developed IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
With IBS, you feel like you are about to sh*t your pants every time you feel stress or discomfort, which made social interactions very challenging. So, I avoided them. And that seriously damaged my self-image and my confidence.
I had to get out of there
From as early as I can remember, I felt like I didn’t belong to the country, to the values there, to the shared mindset. I felt different, but in a way that there was something wrong with me – like I was the abnormal one and everyone else was normal.
I was convinced that my circumstances were causing my predicament. So, I desperately wanted to get out of there. And there was only one place I wanted to go to – the United States.
It finally happened when I was 28 (but almost by magic).
I believed that once I was in the country of my dreams, everything that was holding me back would simply disappear. And I will be free, secure, and confident.
But my experience would be quite different from my dreams and beliefs.
As a child, I wanted to be accepted by my father. As an adult, I wanted to be accepted by others. And especially by the country I wanted to live in – the US.
My plan to get US citizenship was to get to the top of the competition in natural bodybuilding and qualify as an accomplished athlete. I competed and got to the top. I had the US citizenship in the bag.
Or so I thought. But then my immigration petition was denied. I felt rejected.
For years after that, my inner critic would scream inside my head, “See! You aren’t that special after all. And certainly, you aren’t valuable enough to be accepted by your dream country.”
Eventually, my immigrant petition went through – 7 years later. I was 35. A long time to live in the story: “I am not wanted”. Doubt and unworthiness had gathered momentum.
I didn’t know it back then, but the acceptance I was seeking was not “out there”. It was the inner work I had to do. My circumstances were simply reflecting back to me my lack of self-acceptance.
Growth through pain
The month I got my US residency, I opened a small specialty bakery. Once again, my dreams were big.
But self-doubt, lack of confidence, and a deep sense of unworthiness aren’t good ingredients for dreams to happen. 3.5 years later, I closed the business down. The mental story of “I am a failure!” was reinforced.
Then Life offered another twist.
The woman I had been married to for 13 years (and was sure I was going to be with for the rest of my life) decided that we had to separate. Less than a year later, we were divorced.
More failure. This time not only as a businessman but as a husband and a man, too.
Now, at 44, I felt I had to run. Again.
I ended up on the other side of the planet – in Malaysia. There I met my second wife. And at 46, I got married again.
But life had yet another twist for me. Just two years after we got married, we separated.
Little did I know when I got married that unacknowledged parts of my shadow self would get in the way. I had subconsciously been living my life from the beliefs “I am a failure” and “I am not wanted”.
What’s more, deep down, I also felt unworthy and undeserving of having an amazing woman next to me.
My Teacher appears
I wasn’t ready to be a father. I didn’t even know how to be a father. Other dads told me that I’ll never feel ready. And that I’ll have to learn as I go.
My son was born. And for months, I struggled immensely. I couldn’t accept him. He was an “interruption” to my “normal” life. He made my life even more difficult than it already was.
The little soul waited patiently.
It took six months for me to feel (and know in my heart) that I love him unconditionally.
I thought I knew what love was before he showed up. Oh God, I didn’t. He was demonstrating pure unconditional love to me from his very first moments. But for months, I was too angry and confused to even register his pure love.
My son quite literally tore down the shield around my heart so I could learn how to truly love. To love him. To love my childhood. To love my father. To love my circumstances. To love my shortcomings and my mess-ups. To love my entire life.
He came here to teach me how to love myself.
The truth is loving oneself is the ultimate aim. Unconditional self-love goes infinitely farther than mere self-acceptance, trying to feel worthy, deserving, and confident.
The shift and the calling
There was absolute silence in the seconds before my mentor would say this. And the 200 of us perhaps instinctively knew this.
He said: “The reason I am so effective as a coach is because I know that there’s nothing wrong with anybody. And that includes you.”
I had spent almost my entire life believing that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. That I’m damaged goods. That I’m not good enough to be accepted and loved.
I never felt like I truly deserved to take my space under the sun. I never felt good inside my own skin. I wasn’t accepting myself, let alone loving myself. And I always felt shame from my past.
In just a moment all of it was gone. The way I viewed myself radically changed. All the negative stories I had been telling myself about myself suddenly faded and lost their meaning. I felt lighter. I felt free.
And something else happened, which I will find out soon after that. I became far more effective as a coach and guide – all because I had an entirely new view of all human beings…
“There is nothing wrong with anyone.”
And that includes you!
This is your story
Here’s the real drama… My story is your story!
Many of us men spend our entire lives trying to make sense of who we are.
We tirelessly navigate between on the one hand – the outdated societal narratives about manhood, and on the other – the expectations others have of us as to how we “should” be as men, sons, husbands, professionals, and friends.
We unconsciously numb our true nature and spirit by constantly trying to make ourselves “palatable” to those around us. At the same time, we are desperately (and secretly) trying to “fix” our perceived brokenness.
As I discovered from personal experience, living life that way leads to unnecessary suffering and massive loss of life energy.
What I know today, and what I believe all of us are here to learn, is this:
The true path we are all seeking is radically different than the one we are currently walking. And it’s ultimately very simple.
It’s revealed in the following sentence…
“Being at peace with who you are exactly as you are.”
This path is not somewhere out there. It’s in.
To live in alignment with my true essence and be fully at peace with how life is while remaining committed to living an extraordinary life. And to help as many men as I can to live that way, too.
If this inspires your soul, let’s explore the possibility of walking this path together.