Model, actor, writer, and life coach—and RealJock.com member (fitness guru)—Giovanni Ortiz talks about getting back your power and shares what he thinks is the biggest challenge gay men face.
Life coaching, as a profession, has really made its way into our cultural consciousness recently. Is it a fad?
No, it's not a fad. There have always been people around—counselors, spiritual advisors—who would give people that boost to move forward. I've been life coaching since the late '80s and early '90s, but no one had ever heard of the term. Then in the late 90s and the early part of the millennium we finally came up with a name that fit.
How did you get into life coaching?
I graduated from seminary school, and I'm furthering my studies as we speak. I'm also a fitness trainer who works predominately with gay men. My life coaching has become more of a natural progression of what I've already been doing. People who came to my fitness seminars would want to hear more about what I was putting out there. For instance, I was an actor and a model who was 5' 7", way below the standard height of 5' 11" to 6' 2.". People in the business would ask, How can you be working? We're the standard height and we can't get work. And I would say, Well, what are you doing to put yourself out there, to maximize your potential? And we would look at that together.
How does one go about finding a life coach?
Well, now you can even Google "life coach" and you'd be directed to different web sites. But you have to look for experience and educational background. Many life coaches have written books and are licensed therapists. Most importantly, you have to find life coaches that have "walked the path." If that person hasn't lived life and learned from what he's gone through, how is he going to propel you forward? What life coaches do is empower a person, give you back the power that you released to so many other sources.
Do you work with many gay men?
I work predominately with gay men. Many of them have come to me after I've trained them in the fitness realm. For example, one of my clients worked on Wall Street for many years doing the whole stock market thing. He made lots of money but was not happy, so now he's working at a health food store, and even though his workload has tripled, he's much happier. Yet he misses the drive he had on Wall Street. So we've had to find a way he can find that "at the wheel" feeling again, some way he can find that at the health food store. So we research together how to get back that feeling without going back to Wall Street—because it's not the money he misses; he just misses the drive, the thrill of the action, the high it gives him.
What have you found is the biggest challenge to gay men in taking control of their lives?
Low self-esteem. I've found that true with the gay men I deal with who are in their 40s and 50s, because they were raised with no role models, with having to be closeted, having to settle for careers that were forced upon them by their parents or their community and their environment. They find themselves in a space where they're saying to themselves, I don't care about the pension plan, but what do I care about? And if they really research what they care about, it always seems to be that they've always wanted to be an actor or a dancer or a singer. They've always wanted to be a writer or an artist. But they never got the chance to do it, so now they're facing middle age and they're going, I am so unhappy but why—I have all the money I can spend, I have a position in my community, I have a great lover, but I'm not happy.
Even gay men in their 20s and 30s are asking the same questions of themselves. We're desperate for mentors, but we don't have anyone we can turn to and say, You succeeded. Can I learn from you?
The focus of my work at the Gay and Lesbian Center in New York is to mentor youth. I meet with a group at the center once a week that's supposed to have an age range of 14 to 19, but I'm finding that not only are teenagers coming, but also people in their 20s—and even 30s, just to be part of a roundtable discussion and say, OK, what can we do? We don't always have to hang out in bars; we don't have to always drink and drug. Being that I'm a fitness professional, I always bring in the fitness arena into the group, because I want people to know that that's an outlet. It's not just about having the nice body, but it has to do with internal well-being.
It's disturbing that you still find self-esteem the biggest issue among gay men. Do you find that low self-esteem is just as prevalent among the younger members of the community?
You know what? I feel that there are a lot of [gay] kids from the burroughs in New York City that still feel they're not worthy of becoming successful teachers or writers or even being openly gay—as progressive as New York City is, this still happens. The feeling is, if you're straight, you can be anything you want to be, but being gay puts a mark on you, and these teens have more resources than gay men in their 30s and 40s.
How do you combat low self-esteem among gay men?
I say to all gay men who want to experience a different side of themselves, Look up Truman Capote, look up James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, Ian McKellan. I point to the talents of these men and say, This is what you can do.
As a fitness trainer as well as a life coach, do you believe gay men put too much emphasis on looking good and body aesthetics?
I would say no—we should put a lot of work into looking good and feeling good, physically. But I do meet a lot of gay men who, no matter how beautiful they are, no matter how chiseled or strong their body looks, they still don't feel they're good enough. That's because they're not doing enough work inside.. Just as we have to work through physical injuries, we also have to work through inside injuries that might have been brought about by our families or by society. We have to work on both the physical and the emotional.