Remember how when you were growing up, the most important thing was fitting in?

And remember how you would often hear advice like “Just be yourself.”?

That might be the worst lie ever told. Seriously.

But you might be thinking, “Rich, you’re taking it too literally.”. 

Sure. There definitely needs to be more context applied to this statement.

If you’re unkempt, irresponsible, forgetful and lazy, “Just be yourself” seems like real terrible advice.

I’d even go so far as to say, don’t be yourself.

And because we’re never perfect, it should always be in our nature to strive for better. 

Others will say ‘Be your best self then.’

I’ll admit. It sounds a lot better.

Wanting better but not knowing how

I adopted the mantra “be better” for as long as I can remember.

From being the runt in my family to the skinny third-stringer on the football team, I always tried to keep up with the bigger boys.

So, I hit the weight room. Hard.

I ate. A lot.

The teenage Rich Franklin wanted nothing more than to get bigger, faster, and stronger.

By the time senior year rolled around, I was turning in my equipment. It was then that I realized my place probably wasn’t on the football field.

Super explosive. Ultra-fast. Big. Strong.

Just about every attribute that I needed but didn’t have. 

While I was clinging on to hope, my dreams of becoming a professional football player faded fast.

“Ok, I suck at this. I don’t have the God-given talent for the sport. Maybe I should just go do teaching.” Those were my thoughts.

Changing my environment

Since young, I always wanted more for myself. I believed that there was something greater out there for me.

My parents divorced when I was five and it made for an unstable home. We moved around a lot, and I was left mostly unsupervised to my own accord.

And in the Midwest where I’m from, sometimes there are preordained paths for troubled young kids. 

The places you hang out frequently, the things you do every day, and the people whom you surround yourself with.

Slowly, you begin to think equal to your environment. As long as you keep thinking the same way, you’ll only create the same life you’ve always had.

If I wanted to be better, I had to think greater than my environment.

Being a pro athlete was supposed to be my way out.


New personality, new personal reality

Far too often, we see people struggle to change their lives. 

They try to create a new reality, but their personality stays largely the same.

Fundamentally, our personality births the personal reality that we perceive. Only by changing our thoughts, emotions, behaviors and actions – elements of our personality – can we create a new personal reality.

After football, I found martial arts and fell in love with it. 

Even though I had made the transition to teaching, I never fully let go of my dreams to become a professional athlete. 

I was a part-time teacher during the day and part-time fighter at night.

Wishing I had superpowers or clairvoyance, I channeled my energies into a pursuit of a vision I couldn’t physically touch or see – to become a full-time professional athlete. 

That was the personal reality I sought to create.

Finding new routines

My efforts in the amateurs were starting to get noticed. When I got the call from the UFC, my vision and my personal reality started to take shape.

Surrounding myself with a team of nutritionists, trainers and coaches from different disciplines, I had to learn who I was as an athlete.

You’re not the biggest or strongest guy. You won’t win a 100meter sprint but you’ll do well on the 400 or 800 relays. 

I trusted the advice from my team. Focus on the mid-range, they said. 

My routines converged towards making me one of the most conditioned athletes in the UFC.

Unorthodox training regimens, specialized diets, mental coaching, heart rate monitors – all cutting-edge stuff at the time.

Instead of a three-round fight, I could go the distance and wear my opponents down and finish them in a five-round thriller.

Walking my own path

If you told me when I was a teenager that I would one day be a World Champion athlete, I’d say you were crazy.

All I wanted was to be a professional football player.

Without guidance and help, I would have never been able to successfully reconfigure my thoughts, actions, and attitude.

I’ve always been proud to have forged my own less-traveled path as a pioneer in MMA, but I know it’s a path that others have walked alongside me.

Nonetheless, every major change hinges on that first important step.

It’s often the hardest but the one we must courageously make.

I learned that you’ve got to stop being yourself. Because sometimes, it’s just not enough to get you where you can go.