Arnold Schwarzenegger: Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life
THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The seven rules to follow to realize your true purpose in life - distilled by Arnold Schwarzenegger from his own journey of ceaseless reinvention and extraordinary achievement, and available for absolutely anyone.
The world’s greatest bodybuilder. The world’s highest-paid movie star. The leader of the world’s sixth-largest economy. That these are the same person sounds like the setup to a joke, but this is no joke. This is Arnold Schwarzenegger. And this did not happen by accident.
Arnold’s stratospheric success happened as part of a process. As the result of clear vision, big thinking, hard work, direct communication, resilient problem-solving, open-minded curiosity, and a commitment to giving back. All of it guided by the one lesson Arnold’s father hammered into him above all: be useful. As Arnold conquered every realm he entered, he kept his father’s adage close to his heart.
Written with his uniquely earnest, blunt, powerful voice, Be Useful takes readers on an inspirational tour through Arnold’s tool kit for a meaningful life. He shows us how to put those tools to work, in service of whatever fulfilling future we can dream up for ourselves. He brings his insights to vivid life with compelling personal stories, life-changing successes and life-threatening failures alike—some of them famous; some told here for the first time ever.
Too many of us struggle to disconnect from our self-pity and connect to our purpose. At an early age, Arnold forged the mental tools to build the ladder out of the poverty and narrow-mindedness of his rural Austrian hometown, tools he used to add rung after rung from there. Now he shares that wisdom with all of us. As he puts it, no one is going to come rescue you—you only have yourself. The good news, it turns out, is that you are all you need.
A few months after I left the governor’s office in 2011,
my world came crashing down around me.
It’s not like things had been going so great in the
years before that. After winning a landslide reelection with 57
percent of the vote in 2006, then passing environmental
policies that inspired the world and making the biggest
infrastructure investment in California history—one that will
serve California’s drivers, students, and farmers long after I’m
gone—my final two and a half years in the Capitol, which I
spent in the thick of the global financial crisis, felt like being
stuck in a clothes dryer with a load of bricks. It was nothing
but beating after beating from every direction.
In 2008, when the crash hit, it was as if one day people
were starting to lose their homes, and the next day we were in
the biggest recession since the Great Depression, all because a
bunch of greedy bankers brought the world’s financial system
to its knees. One day California was celebrating a record
budget windfall that allowed me to set up rainy-day funds. The
next day the fact that California’s budget was too tied to Wall
Street left us with a $20 billion shortfall and dragged us nearly
into insolvency. I spent so many late nights locked in a room
with the leaders of both parties in the legislature, trying to pull
us back from the brink, that it felt like the state might legally
recognize us as domestic partners.
But the people didn’t want to hear any of that. They just
knew that we’d cut their services while we raised their taxes.
You can explain that governors don’t have control over a
global financial disaster—but the truth is, you get credit when
the economy’s on the way up even though you have very little
to do with it, so it’s only fair that you get the blame on the way
down. It just doesn’t feel good.
Don’t get me wrong. We had some wins. We blew up the
system that had given political parties virtual veto power over
the best interests of the people and turned our politicians into
do-nothing losers. We beat the oil companies trying to undo
our environmental progress and moved forward even more
aggressively—we blanketed the state in solar power and other
renewables and made historic investments to lead the world in
But I learned in those last years of the 2000s that you can
pass some of the most groundbreaking, cutting-edge policies
that state government has ever seen and you’ll still feel like a
total failure when a voter asks why you can’t keep them in
their home, or a parent asks why you cut their kid’s school
budget, or workers ask why they’ve been laid off.
This wasn’t my only experience with public failure,
obviously. I had dramatic losses in my bodybuilding career, I
had movies that went in the toilet, and this wasn’t the first time
I’d watched my approval ratings fall like the Dow Jones
But I wasn’t even close to rock bottom.
And it wasn’t the recession that brought my world crashing
I did that to myself.
I blew up my family. No failure has ever felt worse than
I won’t be rehashing that story here. I’ve told it before in
other places, and other places have told it multiple times. All
of you know the story. If you don’t, you’ve heard of Google,
and you know how to find it. I’ve hurt my family enough, and
it’s been a long road to repair those relationships; I will not
turn them into fodder for the gossip machine.
What I will say is that by the end of that year, I had found
myself in a place that was both familiar and foreign. I was at
the bottom. I’d been here before. But this time, I was face
down in the mud, in a dark hole, and I had to decide whether it
was worth it to clean myself up and start the slow climb out, or
to just give up.
The movie projects I’d been working on since I left the
Capitol went up in smoke. The cartoon loosely based on my
life I was so excited about? Bye-bye. The media wrote me off
—my story would be over after three acts: Bodybuilder, Actor,
Governor. Everybody loves a story that ends in tragedy,
especially when it is the mighty who have fallen.
If you’ve ever read anything about me, though, you
probably already know that I didn’t give up. In fact, I relish
the challenge of having to climb back up. It’s the struggle that
makes success, when you achieve it, taste so sweet.
My fourth act has been an amalgamation of all three
previous acts, combined to make me as useful as I can, with a
little something else added in that I didn’t expect. I continue
my bodybuilding and fitness crusade with a daily fitness email
to hundreds of thousands of hungry people and my Arnold
Sports Festivals all over the world. My policy work goes on at
After-School All-Stars, where we serve one hundred thousand
kids in forty cities across the nation; at the USC
Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, where
we advocate for our political reforms all over the United
States; and at the Schwarzenegger Climate Initiative, where
we sell our environmental policies all over the world. And my
entertainment career? That pays for it all. This time, after
climbing out of the Hollywood wilderness doing movie after
movie, I returned with a television series, which is a new
creative medium for me that I’ve enjoyed enormously trying to
I knew I’d continue all those careers. Like I always tell
you, I’ll be back. But what I never expected was that, as a byproduct of all this failure and redemption and reinvention, I’d
become a self-help guy.
Suddenly, people were paying me as much as former
presidents to show up and give motivational speeches to their
clients and their workforces. Other people were taking the
videos of those speeches, putting them on YouTube and on
social media, and they were going viral. Then my own social
media channels started to grow, because anytime I used them
to share my wisdom about urgent matters of the day or to offer
a calm voice amid the chaos, those videos went even more
People really seemed to benefit from learning from me, the
same way I benefited early in my career from reading about
and meeting my idols, many of whom you will hear about in
this book. So I leaned into that. I started spreading more and
more positivity out in the world. And the more I spoke, the
more people came up to me in the gym to tell me that I’d
gotten them through a dark time. Cancer survivors, people
who had lost their jobs, people transitioning into the next
phase of their career. I heard from men and women, boys and
girls, high school kids and retirees, rich people, poor people,
every color, creed, and orientation in the rainbow of humanity.
It was fantastic. It was also surprising. I wasn’t sure why
this was happening. So I did what I always do when I want to
understand something. I stopped and analyzed the situation.
What I noticed when I took a step back was that there was so
much negativity and pessimism and self-pity out in the world.
I also noticed that a lot of people were really miserable,
despite the fact that experts keep telling us that things have
never been better in the history of human civilization. There
has never been less war, less disease, less poverty, less
oppression than right now. This is what the data shows. It’s
But there is another set of data. A more subjective set that
is harder to measure but that we can all see and hear when we
watch the news, or listen to talk radio, or scroll on social
media. So many people talk about feeling irrelevant or
invisible or hopeless. Young girls and women talk about not
being good enough or pretty enough. Young men talk about
being worthless or powerless. Incidents of suicide and rates of
addiction are on the rise.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, we
are experiencing an epidemic of these emotions across
virtually every segment of our society. Depression and anxiety
have increased 25 percent worldwide since 2020. In a study by
the Boston University School of Public Health published in
September 2020, researchers discovered that the prevalence of
depression among US adults had tripled between 2018 and the
spring of 2020, just a few months into the lockdowns.
Whereas before, 75 percent of American adults reported
feeling no symptoms of depression, by April 2020 that number
had dropped to under 50 percent. That’s a huge swing!
But the problem goes beyond COVID-19, because there are
groups out there—entire institutions and industries, if we’re
being honest about it—that are taking advantage of people’s
misery and selling them nonsense, making them angrier,
feeding them lies, and inflaming their grievances. All for profit
and political gain. These forces are incentivized to keep people
miserable and helpless, and to obscure how simple it should be
for them to engage with the tools of usefulness and selfsufficiency that are the primary weapons in the fight against
unhappiness and apathy.
That, I think, is why so many millions of people all over
the world have flocked to podcasts and Substacks and
newsletters like mine in search of answers that make sense to
them. Things have gotten so bad out there in the culture that
they are seeking out someone they can trust, someone who
refuses to play the bullshit games, someone who tries to be
ruthlessly positive when everyone else is being relentlessly
Those are the people I was bumping into at the gym every
single day. And I felt a kinship with them because they were
expressing a lot of the same emotions I felt after I left office in
2011 and things fell apart. I also noticed that when I offered
them advice and encouragement, when I tried to inspire and
reassure them and pump them up, I was pulling from a very
familiar tool kit.
It was the tool kit that I’d developed over the course of
sixty years and followed successfully on my journey through
the previous three acts of my life. It was the very same one I
reached for more than a decade ago now, when I hit bottom
and decided to dig myself out of the hole. This tool kit is not
revolutionary. If anything, it’s timeless. These tools have
always worked. They always will work. I think of them like
elements of a blueprint or a road map to a happy, successful,
useful life—whatever that means for you.
They involve knowing where you want to go and how
you’re going to get there, as well as having the willingness to
do the work and the ability to communicate to the people you
care about that the journey you want to bring them on is worth
the effort. They include the capacity to shift gears when the
journey hits a roadblock, and the ability to keep an open mind
and learn from your surroundings to find new ways through.
And most important of all, once you get where you’re trying to
go, they demand that you acknowledge all the help you had
along the way and that you give back accordingly.
This book is called Be Useful because that is the best piece
of advice my father ever gave me. It has stuck in my brain and
never left, and my hope is that the advice I am offering you in
the pages to follow will do the same thing. Being useful was
also the motivating force behind all my decisions, and the
organizing force around the tools I used to make them. Being a
bodybuilding champion, being a millionaire leading man,
being a public servant—those were my goals, but they were
not what motivated me.
For a number of years, my father didn’t agree with my
version of what it means to be useful, and I might not agree
with your version, when it comes down to it. But that is not the
purpose of good advice. It’s not to tell you what to build, it’s to
show you how to build and why it matters. My father passed
away at the same age I was when I brought my world crashing
down on me. I never had the chance to ask him what I should
do, but I have a good idea what he would tell me: “Be useful,
I wrote this book to honor those words and pay forward his
advice. I wrote it in appreciation for the years I’ve had that he
didn’t, which I’ve used to make amends, to climb back from
the bottom, and to build the fourth act of my life. I wrote this
book because I believe that anyone can benefit from the tools
I’ve used through every phase of my life, and that all of us
need a reliable road map for the kind of life we’ve always
wanted to live.
But most of all, I wrote it because everybody needs to be
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Names: Schwarzenegger, Arnold, author.
Title: Be useful : seven tools for life / Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Description: New York : Penguin Press, 2023.
Identifiers: LCCN 2023019948 (print) | LCCN 2023019949 (ebook) | ISBN
9780593655955 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780593656716 (international edition) |
ISBN 9780593655962 (ebook)
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