Our society is obsessed with Cinderella stories. And yet few manage to maintain the gruelling, consistent effort it takes to make it to the top. Curious, I asked one of the true fairytales of our generation, Lachlan Phillips, what it takes to go from the gutter to success.
“Success,” he tells me, stroking his recently shaved head, “is not a destination. Success is a decision, a lifestyle, and a mind-set. As is living in the gutter.” Lachie, as his friends call him, did not always know this. His constant attitude towards self-improvement was adorned on him when he took a Buddhist sabbatical at the tender age of 17.
“I was in a really bad place. I’d been on and off drugs from an age when most boys were signing up for Facebook accounts. My family had fallen apart, parents had split up, and I joined a local gang as a means of escape.”
I asked him what inspired a change of heart. “Well, to be honest, it was probably my music teacher,” he replied through a chuckling fit of laughter.
“Can you explain that a bit?”
“Sure. You see, although my life was a mess, my one solace was music. I’d taken up singing lessons with a teacher from the conservatorium and, although I had to keep it secret from the other gang members [he later told me that all ‘intellectual pursuits were banned within the gang], it really was a comfort to me.
“Anyway, one night I was watching some stuff on the internet I probably shouldn’t have been watching, if you catch my drift. I’d had a big day rounding up fertiliser for the gang’s latest attempts to stockpile ammonium, and so I forgot to close the inappropriate tabs before falling asleep. Next day, I had my singing lesson. My teacher asked if she could look up a song that she wanted to show me, as she’d forgotten her phone. Happily oblivious to my oncoming reckoning, I unlocked my phone and handed it to her.
“I’ll never forget that contorted look on her face. Man, she handed my phone back to me like it had been dropped in a sewer. Obviously, she’d seen the tabs I’d left open from the night before. I was so embarrassed that I said to myself, right, something’s got to change.”
And change it did. Lachlan quit the gang, stopped drinking and smoking, and gave up the hardcore drugs. “I dropped my heroin habit straight away,” he said proudly. “But it did take me a bit longer to get off the softer, recreational stuff.” He sold his xBox and started meditating. He was going to start a reading habit but realised that his literacy levels would have been put to shame by a dyslexic toddler with a learning disability. He began a reading program intended for kids in pre-school, and worked his way up from there. “I really did have to start at the bottom of the ladder,” he sighed.
“Once I’d started to detoxify my body, I realised that it indeed was a temple. And yet I didn’t have any sense of worship or reverence, and that’s when I realised that spirituality was missing from my life.” Blessed with the new-found ability to read, Lachie began to consume the religious texts of every major sect: the Bible, the Koran, and many others. He finally came to the conclusion that Buddhism seemed to be his calling. “I rang up the travel agent, and asked for the cheapest package to Japan they had. Four months and three sunken dinghies later, I arrived, ready and rearing to find the secrets of the Buddha.”
Lachie shaved his head as a symbol of his adoption of new ideas and values. His teacher, Obi Two Cenobee, taught him that it is through the body that we shape the mind, and consequently Lachie started training.
“So here’s how my day went for pretty much a year: I would get up at 2:30am every morning, and walk on my hands to the stream near our monastery. The water was below freezing, but through acute mental concentration, I was able to continue the motion of the water molecules through my spiritual connection with nature. After taking a plunge in this water to initiate my central nervous system, I would begin my physical training. For three hours, I would just do pushups. Breaks were not an option. Pain is simply weakness leaving the body, and it’s simply a firing of neuronal cells to indicate discomfort. Obi Two taught me that pain can be overcome.
After I was finished with the pushups, I would run up and down the steps of the temple. I had to climb a total of 100,000 steps. At sundown, if I had completed my training for the day, I would be allowed to sip a cupful of sencha tea and, if I was particularly lucky, smell the wafting aroma of a recently cooked bowl of brown rice.”
I asked Lachie if he was allowed to eat the rice. “Oh no, of course not,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m what’s called a Hini Vegan, which means that I understand that all organisms are part of our life force, and eating any of them detracts from our relationship with mother nature.” I was holding a sandwich at the time, and I postulated, “So the grains in this bread…”
“Have been murdered, yes,” spat back Lachie, eyeing off the 100% natural wholemeal slices with a vengeful hatred.
After returning to Australia, Lachie maintained his new habits, and picked up the intensity. He started to conquer the business world, founding three separate businesses: a cat-food manufacturer, a video-game designer, and finally a cat-food video-game . “My most recent venture, KittyNite, is a third-person shooter with a lot of potential to redefine the way we think about video games and the way we think about pet nutrition.”
With all this rigorous self-improvement, I wondered how Lachie rewarded himself. “Occasionally, I let myself lick a Goji berry. Sometimes, if I’m really lacking self-discipline, I’ll look at calendars that have pictures of cake in them.” Despite these occasional lapses, the results are evident, at least physically. “My body is now the temple I desire it to be,” Lachie tells me. “And my god is the hard work I put in to sculpting it.”
Lachie also realised that global warming was a huge issue, and wondered what he could do to help his planet. “Obviously, methane and other greenhouse gases are released in huge quantities in the production of meat. So I’m doing my part by being vegan. But what else could I do? I realised that I was driving around a lot, and this certainly wasn’t conducive to a healthy environment. So I decided that I’d skateboard everywhere.” True to form, Lachie clutches his skateboard as I talk to him, cradling it as if it were the son he never had.
“I’ve always wanted to have children,” he admits. “I guess I never just found the right girl.” I had heard some rumours of a girl named Stephanie, and asked him what happened there.
“The usual story,” he whispers, more to himself than to me. I can see his mind reliving the heartbreak and sorrow of what was an intense romance. “While I was playing Fortnite, Stephanie was playing my heart.”
So what’s the next step for Lachie? “Obviously, I’m still a work in progress. The Japanese have a word, kaizen, which refers to continual self-improvement. I want to meet people a few days after I’ve last seen them, and I want them to think, How the hell has he gotten better already? Our success is dictated not by circumstance, but rather by our decisions.”
Words to live by indeed.
©Photos by Peter Begg.