Champion UFC fighter Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson has spent more than half his life in the ring, following the moves of his celebrated father, Ray Thompson. Unlike rugby or football, where getting hurt is a probable, though indirect, part of the game, mixed martial arts demands it. It’s also a battle of wits: psychology, as Thompson sees it, is paramount to winning.

Training isn’t only physical. Success is, first and foremost, a mindset. It is envisioning the goal and settling for nothing less. The key to transformation is the willingness to step into the ring, to a place where we anticipate the punches, even potential defeat. But to elevate our game, we must face what scares us.

Transformation requires us to be uncomfortable. It demands vulnerability. We cannot be our best without a clear look at our present—what is working for us, what is holding us back. As author and entrepreneur Sallie Holder reminds us, we stand in the way of our best self and allow limiting thoughts to keep us in “rock middle”—a comfortable, but disappointing, place. Though the future compels us, we allow the past to hold us.

Holder herself experienced an awakening, a call to take a long look in the mirror. She felt unhappy and unfulfilled, and she knew that living this way would eventually suffocate her. Feeling a pull to business coaching, she decided to transform her own life, seek guidance, and push herself to a career passion of helping women unlock their potential.

Like Holder, Dr. Brian Chad Starks leads others to a higher plane by challenging racial barriers, bias, and negative perceptions. His goal? To transform systemic oppression through diversity training. His ring? Companies striving to be informed and more inclusive.   

This work will feel disconcerting at times, and certainly challenging. Yet transformation is not a one-way experience. To help others change their lives usually means that the teacher has also been dealt the blows—and yet, like Thompson, Holder, and Starks, still willingly steps into the ring.


Blair Knobel
Twitter / Instagram: @LBKNOBEL

Self-portrait by Blair Knobel.