The screaming wheels of the graffiti battered yellow tube cut through the silence of the subway station. The noise of the brakes mingles with the smell of empty beer bottles. Over there a young man dressed in black with more piercings on his face than the Bible has pages. Just another morning in Berlin.
I stand in front of the gray ticket machine. Next to me, my good old friend Sam … sonite! He carries the scars of time, but he still serves me well. I think about what Alex told me the night before: Florian, can’t you sleep somewhere else tomorrow?
The gray ticket machine says: €2.10. I dig deep into my pockets…. €1.27.
Sam and I never made it onto that tube.
Have you ever felt emptier than an empty bottle? Have you ever thought, this is it? Have you ever felt like throwing in the towel? Then you know how I felt at that subway station in Berlin on that sunny September Saturday in 2009.
Thanks to one secret ingredient in life I kept that towel in my hand. Thanks to one secret ingredient I’m standing here with you today. As charismatic leaders, you, too, need this secret ingredient.
Let’s go back three years. Another sunny day. Madrid. I am a business consultant for one of the biggest advisory firms in the world. The Spanish practice is celebrating its annual leadership conference. My dark suit and tie blend perfectly into the sea of dark suits and ties.
It’s 11 am. The keynote speaker enters the stage. He’s tall, he wears designer glasses, and his black hair is perfectly trimmed. A true Spaniard. Dr. Mario Alonso Puig is a surgeon who studies the impact of mental processes on the development of talent and ability. At our conference he links his studies to leadership. At one point the voice of Dr. Mario Alonso Puig turns sharp as a knife:
As leaders, one thing you will always need: optimism. Here’s the goods news…. You have an excellent source of optimism: People! The people in your lives. But not everyone. Only the ones who support you, motivate you, challenge you, inspire you, tell you… ‘Don’t give up!’
Dr. Mario Alonso Puig calls them: White Holes!
On that sunny day in Madrid the Doctor nailed it! No one I know had ever put it in simpler words. More optimism in life? Surround yourself with White Holes.
Back at the Berlin subway station. The yellow tube has left. Sam and I drag ourselves up the smelly stairs. I feel like a loser. Outside, the sun shines so bright, I almost have to close my eyes. The phone rings… It’s Christoph!
Christoph is one of my best buddies. He’s German, but he dresses and behaves like a Californian surfer dude. I’ve never seen him in a bad mood. He’s always cheerful. And whatever I say, he answers: COOL, MAN!
Hey, buddy, I’m in Berlin! Christoph answers, COOL, MAN! So what are you doing in my second hometown?” I tell him about the €1.27. And what does he answer? COOL, MAN! That’s more than I had back in my dark days. I made it; you will make it. Enjoy the sunny day! I have to run, buddy!
In that moment Christoph’s inspiration was my source of optimism. You see, Christoph is a White Hole. But was his inspiration enough?
For three years, my five partners and I had been working on making my dream come true: a giant European cultural festival. That’s why I had left the dark suits and ties.
Everyone I talked to loved the idea… But no one ever gave us a single cent. I went broke, I went bankrupt, I went… partying.
This is how I ended up at the subway station.
In the end, Christoph was right. I made it… back to my hometown Barcelona… after 48 hours of partying. Rose, my partner in love, was waiting for me. Rose believed in my European project. When my wallet was drier than Death Valley, she was my rain-shower. Rose wanted me to succeed.
In life I learned something: silence is gold. But silence can also say: I’m disappointed in you!
In the car Rose said… nothing. In the elevator Rose said… nothing. In my flat, Rose said…
Florian, what the fuck are you doing with your life? Why don’t you write a book?
You see, White Holes kick your ass… in a constructive way! Rose is a White Hole.
On that very day, I began to work on my first book The Seven Minute Star. That book was the springboard for my professional speaking career.
White Hole Christoph inspired me with his positivity; White Hole Rose kicked my ass constructively. Together they kept my optimism alive.
Who are your sources of optimism? Who are your White Holes?
Seek them out; surround yourself more with them! You will be more optimistic in life.
And if there is one thing you can never trade in as a charismatic leader it is… optimism.
The story above is one of my signature stories in life. It is part of my new upcoming keynote speech C.E.E.E.O – The Killer Charisma Keynote. Special thanks to my coach Mark Brown, one of my favorite storytellers. Coming soon at keynoteboutique.com.