1-Sentence-Summary: Be Useful is an autobiographical collection of 7 rules that helped fitness legend, Hollywood icon, and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger live life to the fullest, ready to keep you inspired and taking action until your dreams come true.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
Walk into any bar in Germany, order a beer, then say “I’ll be back” in an accent before wandering off to the toilet. You’re guaranteed to get a few chuckles. Why? Because the Terminator, aka Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a folk hero here.
Born in a small village in Austria, he became Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia, the latter 7 times. He was the highest paid actor in Hollywood for a while, as well as governor of California, America’s richest state. “Ze Arnold” has had a career like no other.
In 2012, I stumbled upon a short a speech of his: 6 Rules of Success. “Damn,” I thought. “This guy deserves our respect twice as much as our jokes.” All his success goes back to “the best piece of advice my father ever gave me,” Schwarzenegger claims: “Be Useful,” which is also the title of his latest bestseller.
In the book, Schwarzenegger offers “Seven Tools for Life:”
- Have a clear vision.
- Never think small.
- Work your ass off.
- Sell, sell, sell.
- Shift gears.
- Shut your mouth, open your mind.
- Break your mirrors.
The book seems to be based on some of the rules from his speech years ago. So, in today’s summary, we’ll focus on the ones present in both lists. Those are the most timeless and important.
Here’s a closer look at items number 1, 3, and 7:
- Work out your vision for life by starting broad, then zoning in over time.
- You can work hard enough and long enough for your dream because you have more time than you think.
- Give back both before and after you succeed, because ultimately, no one is “self-made.”
Let’s see what we can learn from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life!
Lesson 1: Even if it’s broad at first, work out a clear vision for your life.
Arnold’s young life was full of “ads” for America. The movies he watched were made in Hollywood. Magazine covers showed the Golden Gate Bridge and people driving Cadillacs. At 10 years old, Arnold had no idea what he would do in the USA — he just knew he belonged there.
It’s a good idea for outlining a vision for your life, he thinks. Going back to your childhood, that is. “It’s obviously not that easy, but it is that simple,” Arnold says. “Think very broadly about the things you used to love.” You don’t need to know you want to be a concert pianist playing a Chopin piece at the Royal Albert Hall. Go broad, then zone in later.
For Arnold, zoning in happened at the gym. He read an article about Reg Park, a man from humble beginnings who had become Mr. Universe. Then, Reg broke into acting thanks to the title. “That’s my path to America!” Arnold thought. And off he went.
“For you, the path will be different; so will the destination,” Arnie writes. “Maybe it involves a career choice and a change in scenery. Maybe it involves a hobby that you want to turn into a lifestyle.” There are no wrong answers. Just pay attention to which specific parts of your broader vision speak to you, then narrow the focus when you can.
Sooner or later, your vision will become very specific, and then all you’ll have to do is…
Lesson 2: Work as hard as you can for as long as it takes — because even if it’s not a lot, you have more time than you think.
Arnold’s most preeminent piece of advice is “Work your butt off,” as he states in his unmistakable accent. Between sharing this rule in his 2005 USC commencement address and in his 2023 book, I noticed his definition of “work hard” has grown larger. Perhaps his age has taught Arnold that there’s more than one way to do your best.
Alas, both versions of him exist: The hardcore fitness fanatic who worked out five hours a day, and the more mellow but still focused writer, who admits that even an hour a day can go a long way. “If you want to write a novel, sit down and write for an hour every day, and aim for just one page. At the end of the year, you will have a 365-page manuscript. That’s a book!” he says.
Whether you’re young and full of energy or a mom of two kids with little time to spare, don’t let your dreams die on the back burner. Put in whatever time you have, keep doing rep after rep after rep, and follow up and through until you hit your goal.
Arnold inspiringly breaks down a 24-hour day: Even if you sleep 8 hours and work 8 hours, there are still 8 hours left! Sure, some will go to commuting, chores, and other obligations, but at the end of the day (pun intended), everyone has at least 1-2 hours left. Use those hours, and don’t quit!
Lesson 3: Remember to give back not just after you’ve won but also along the way — because there’s no such thing as a self-made man or woman.
After Arnold had achieved fame and success, people called him “a self-made man.” He didn’t understand. After all, without America, how could he have lived the American dream? “No one lifted the weights or spoke the lines or signed the bills for me,” he writes, but without many special people in his life, he never could have become who he is.
The same applies to you, and I, and everyone, Schwarzenegger claims: “I’m not alone in this. We are all here thanks to the contributions of other people.” That’s why it’s important to give back — to your community, your close ones, or your country — and not just after you’ve climbed the mountain of success.
“You don’t have to rearrange your life to help other people,” Arnie reminds us. “You just have to keep your eyes and ears open. When you see someone struggling — with a bag of groceries or a difficult emotion — stop and give them a hand or a hug.” Plus, countless studies have shown that generosity makes us happier, too, like this one from Harvard.
Remember the people who help you along your journey, and extend that same helping hand to others every now and then. After all, the true magic of being useful happens when we are of service to more than ourselves.
Be Useful Review
Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life is a short-ish, simple, and actionable read. The book combines previously untold stories from Schwarzenegger’s life with inspiration and straightforward advice. Arnold’s goal is not to come up with some breakthrough insight but to remind you of the big truths in life and get you to act on them, and on both accounts, this book delivers. Good read!
Who would I recommend our Be Useful summary to?
The 15-year-old D-student who’s worried because he doesn’t yet know what he wants to do with his life, the 48-year-old doctor who feels she’s lost sight of what matters, and anyone who loves working out, action movies, or is a fan of the Arnold.