I’ve learned a lot from the time spent inside gyms. The value of patience and persistence, for example. Also: it only takes a little extra effort to distinguish yourself from the pack. But most the most important lesson of all has been to seek and embrace opportunities to fail, for failure is a friend. This one took time to appreciate. I still struggle with a perfectionist mindset and often fall victim to “all-or-nothing” thinking. The messy internal battles that define creation scare the shit out of me, much more than a loaded barbell resting heavy on a steel rack.
Of course it wasn’t always this way. I fumbled through a decade or so of half-assed physical training, never truly pushing myself or focusing on tangible goals. Come to think of it, you could describe my very existence at that time in the same way. I coasted through college on ability alone. Writing has always come easy to me so I intentionally chose a major—journalism—that would present minimal challenges, or at least challenges I could ignore and still get a passing grade. This is how I approached the gym, too. I’d wander to the weight room between classes, run through a series of arbitrary exercises that took some effort, yes, but nothing quite so challenging that those efforts would payoff in any noticeable way.
How you doin??
God my twenties sucked. I was a mess, an insecure and arrogant mess. I was convinced I had everything figured out, that life was mine for the taking. So certain was I of my many preternatural gifts that I assumed employers and women would fall at my feet the minute they met me. This despite having very average credentials and a “charm” somewhere on the spectrum between Joey Tribbiani and Patrick Bateman. Sometimes I think back to those years and I shudder. But hey, that’s what your twenties are for, right? It’s like going through puberty all over again, only instead of zits and wet dreams this time you have to deal with the crushing realities presented by adult life.
One can only walk around with their head up their ass for so long. Eventually you need to come up for air, at which point, God willing, you’ll also see the light. My awakening came in the form of a kick to the head; I discovered martial arts and learned quickly that half-measures and excuses are worth sweet FA. It took another year of travelling solo through China and then moving away from my hometown upon returning before I could recognize how full of shit I actually was. Those were also two of the hardest things I ever did. Coincidence?🤔
The obstacle is the way
As I write this I’m two years into my forties, and I swear I gained more out of the last 10 years than the previous 20 combined (my first decade was untouchable, HOF numbers right there). All credit for this goes to not backing down from difficult tasks. Whether it was practicing my swing kick, learning how to deadlift, or refining my writing, the only way I managed to get better was by putting in the work.
We’re naturally going to retreat from anything that stresses us to the core. This is why relating end-results with self-worth can be a problem. We learn to fear failure rather than recognizing it as an unavoidable stop along the way towards any goal worth achieving. Unless we fail—in the gym, in life—we never grow. What’s more terrifying: looking back upon a lifetime of effort and ordeal or sixty-odd years of same old same old?