How to Shatter Roadblocks, Change the Narrative in Your Head, and Move Beyond Tragedy

Photo: Paul Formica

Keep Going, No Matter What Other People Say

Before we end our time together, there’s input from one more expert I’d like to share with you: Senator Paul Formica. I first met Senator Formica at a Rotary gala event in Niantic, Connecticut. A mutual friend introduced us, and we had a chance to connect during the event. We also had an in-depth heart-to-heart conversation on the phone several weeks after meeting.

Before I tell you what he told me, let me say that Senator Formica is an incredibly genuine and smart man. It’s essential to surround yourself with supportive, encouraging, and inspirational people like Senator Formica.

“What is the secret to your success?” I asked Senator Formica. “How did you get to where you are?”

“I didn’t listen to other people when they told me what I could and couldn’t do,” Senator Formica said. “I didn’t let other people stop me.”

I included this near the very end of the book because you can apply every one of the tips in this book and yet there may still be people out there who will tell you that you won’t be able to achieve true prosperity. Be respectful, but don’t listen to them. Prosperity is your birthright, and it’s yours for the taking. Don’t let people take the wind out of your sails. While you are changing for the better, you’ll notice other people who refuse to change. Don’t judge them and don’t react angrily, but refuse to give away your power.

“That’s powerful,” I said. “What is the secret to authenticity?”

“Look inward, not outward,” Senator Formica said. “Recognize your own weaknesses, strengths, and passions. Then ask yourself, How can I develop these weaknesses, strengths, and passions?”

Beware of Both Internal and External Roadblocks

“There will be roadblocks in front of you, placed there by people who don’t want you to succeed,” Senator Formica said. “You’ll face these roadblocks from others in any competitive arena. I also want to point out that I had a fear of success. I sabotaged myself because it felt uncomfortable succeeding.”

“I appreciate you sharing this and being so open,” I said. “A lot of people struggle with the fear of success. Can you talk about this a little bit more, and how you got past it?”

“The fear of success was largely psychological for me,” Senator Formica said. “I felt inadequate and undeserving. What I did is I developed a process of goal-setting where I set goals ten to twenty percent outside of my comfort zone.”

“That’s excellent,” I said. “You set goals that were a challenge, but not impossible to reach. What were some of the challenges you faced growing up?”

“I was the oldest of five boys,” Senator Formica said. “When I was ten years old, my dad died in a car accident. His last words to me were Take care of things for me. I had a great mom and she did everything she could. At ten years old, I put pressure on myself that I couldn’t handle. In my early teens, I started drinking alcohol and abusing other substances. This addiction lasted for many years. When I was twenty-eight years old, I realized I needed to stop these destructive behaviors, or else I’d have a wasted life.”

“That’s powerful,” I said. “You had an enormous amount of pressure at the age of ten, and you did the best you could. When you had a turning point at age twenty-eight, was it a specific event that caused you to change or more of a gradual process over time?”

“It was more of a decline over time,” Senator Formica said. “I realized I had to say goodbye to my dad, stop drinking, and hello to a new life. This happened in August of 1981. I found within me the strength to overcome the addiction of alcoholism. I realized you can achieve anything you want to achieve.”

“That’s incredible you found the inner strength to do that,” I said. “Your story is incredible.”

“When I went to Alcoholics Anonymous,” Senator Formica said, “I felt a weight lifted off of my shoulders. It was a physical feeling of relief.”

Whatever you are currently struggling with, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Whether it be a small problem, a big problem, or anything in-between, there’s always help available for you. Leaders ask for help when they need it. It takes a big and courageous person to ask for help.

Change the Narrative in Your Head

“There are a lot of people out there who make progress on their goals,” I said, “but still face an enormous amount of resistance from family, friends, coworkers, colleagues, and acquaintances. I know you talked earlier about people placing roadblocks in front of us. I was wondering if you had more thoughts on how to move beyond challenges like those.”

“When I was drinking,” Senator Formica said, “I was hanging out with friends who were also drinking, people who were comfortable living in the gutter. I had to move away from them. I used to love the famous quote If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all. To get out of a tough spot you have to change the narrative in your head. We are what we think. I forgave myself and I said to myself, I, like anyone else, deserve the best this world has to offer. Changing the record player in my head was very important.”

Senator Formica is saying the famous quote he used to love was not a productive or effective narrative to have playing in his head. When he changed the story he told himself, and realized he was worthy, he was able move forward with his life. Also, we all make mistakes. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made in the past. Doing this will free you from the pain of your past, allowing you to step into the triumph of your future.

Senator Formica came from nothing. After he graduated high school, he hopped on a bus heading out of his hometown of Cheshire, Connecticut with forty dollars in his pocket. This man is a true leader and inspiration because he shows his true self to the world.

Moving Beyond an Unexpected Tragedy

“You already talked about a powerful turning point you had,” I said, “as well as some of the things you overcame. Other than what you already discussed, when was a time when you had to deal with an unexpected setback? I ask because I know authentic leaders like yourself deal with unexpected circumstances all the time.”

“I started a business with my wife,” Senator Formica said. “We opened up a fish market offering clams, shrimp, chowder, and lots of great food. Now it has turned into a ten-thousand square foot restaurant with catering.

“In 2009, the day after Christmas, my wife unexpectedly passed away. She was a wonderful soul and the backbone of the family. She was my life’s partner, the person I shared the little things with, and the woman who gave me four great children. She helped with my business and lots of other things. My kids were devastated, and I was devastated. To be stripped of that raised a lot of doubts. This happened right after I was elected as first selectman, and we had just celebrated my re-election.

“Everything is connected and there is power in love. My wife gave love to others her whole life. After my wife passed away, the community wrapped their arms around us and gave us love in return. My wife grew up in the projects of Norwich and did wonderful things with her life.”

Senator Formica’s wife was a true gift to this world and touched the lives of others. Let’s carry her legacy forward by being loving and kind to others.

“As I’m talking to you on the phone,” Senator Formica said, “there’s a lot of traffic here on I-91. On the back of the tractor-trailer in front of me, the company’s name is Rowe. That was my wife’s maiden name: Donna Rowe. There is a spiritual energy and if we tap into that, we’ll be guided with our circumstances. There are people watching over us from the other side.”

Final Thoughts

It’s been a true honor to have you on this journey throughout the book. If you’d like to continue the discussion, feel free to email me at [email protected]. Stay true to yourself no matter what, and you’ll be the epitome of an authentic leader. See you at the Mountaintop.

Senator Paul Formica is a Republican member of the Connecticut Senate. Jeff Davis featured him in the final section of the final chapter of The Power of Authentic Leadership: Activating the 13 Keys to Achieving Prosperity Through Authenticity. In this book, Jeff featured insights from a billionaire, two Senators, New York Times bestselling authors, world-renowned leaders, and icons on the power of being authentic.

Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis is a professional speaker and the author of several books. He has done keynote speeches internationally and is a sought-after expert on self-leadership, anti-bullying, and overcoming adversity. Jeff frequently speaks to high schools, colleges, nonprofits, organizations, associations, conferences, and businesses. He’s been to five different continents and has a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. He also did a well-received TEDx talk in New York City.