On Being Smart and Pacing Your Passion

So I am doing my utmost right now to actually be smart. I know, I know… why start something so radically different for myself now? Isn’t it a little late to show up to that party?  Probably, but I’m also a crazy dreamer.

My decision to engage the rational and logical parts of my brain for a change (as opposed to the parts enamored with XBox, muscle cars and the supreme hilarity of Tosh.0) stems from a bit of a setback in my training program.  A few weeks back I was absolutely ROLLING.  Things seemed so free and easy and new records (at least on several on my important lifts) were coming almost every week.

Heck, I even was able to reach one of my all-time goals of hitting a 500 lb. squat.  I have video of it, but I am debating about putting it up just yet.  Why?  Because once I finish the set and realize what I just accomplished, I lose my collective mind like an utter fool.  In a positive way.

Ahh… but what cometh before the fall, my children?  Pride, of course.  I just hit a 500 lb squat!  Who knows what mountain was there to conquer next and yield to my steely will and chiseled handsomeness?  So I kept pushing at the same pace… umm… and I decided I should try to get ready for soccer… and I started sprinting a few times a week… and hey, wouldn’t it be great to be a little leaner too?  Yeah, yeah… throw that into the mix… plus the utter hectic pace of work.

Whether you realize it or not, everything I just outlined is a recipe, but not a recipe for some kind of completely decadent pumpkin cheesecake of goodness.  Oh, tut-tut my friends.  That would be crazy talk.  No, this recipe would be more like a steaming 5 lb. ball of rat poop.  Deelish, n’est-ce pas?

That’s when my lifts were going down instead of up.  And while I mean that in terms of overall performance, I also mean it like “I tried squatting that weight and on my 2nd rep, the weight went down but… uhh… it didn’t go back up.  Yeah, not so much.”

And that’s when the conundrum of this site’s very motto… “Relentlessly push yourself forward”… found itself a wee bit out of sync with how I was feeling.

And therein lies the issue for so many people with passion for something: how do you sometimes pace your passion?  This is a real sticky wicket for a lot of people who are all about weight training (especially guys who have an easy time letting ego, pride and machismo get in the way of using an ounce of simple common sense).  We can be excellent at going at something full bore, but what about then easing off the throttle and collecting yourself for the next round of fun?  Hmm.  Maybe not my best quality for sure.

What's that body?  You have something important to tell me?

What it really got down to was a lack of listening to the signals my body was giving me loud and clear to chill the hell out.

Our passions move us. Drive us. Give us the chance to risk big, fail big and (hopefully) win bigger than we could ever imagine. They should… no… must be celebrated and cherished.

But it’s also OK to give them a few moments of respite so they can soak up their energy anew and burn oh-so-brightly again.  They won’t hold it against you.

The Fine Line Between Possibility and Stupidity

People who lift weights… I mean really lift weights… tend to get viewed through a certain lens by a large bulk of society. Muscle = moron in a lot of contexts. You need look no further than your average Planet Fitness commercial. It’s as if there is an inversely proportionate relationship between size and smarts. It’s fairly ridiculous, but since it tends to make for an easier way to categorize or pigeonhole people, then hey… why the heck not? There are certainly people I’ve met who reinforce the view that weight trainers are not even as bright as the iron they throw around, however, there is also an inherent sense of wisdom in those who take their lifting seriously that I don’t think anyone outside of the lifting community ever really understand.

Let me see if I can illustrate a bit.

I stroll into my basement gym on the day I will be doing deadlifts. Now, the deadlift is a fairly straightforward exercise: the bar is on the ground and your job is to pick it up off the floor to a standing position. There is more technique to it than just that, but at the end of the day, that’s about it. Bar on floor. Bar being held in standing position. Ta da!

Bar waiting for a deadlift

But the deadlift, like many big lifts in weight training, is also a greater truth serum that sodium pentothal. Either you can pick up the weight or you can’t. There is no debating with it. There’s no reasoning with it. And the beauty… perhaps the misery… of the deadlift is that when the weight is too much for you, it stays completely stuck to the floor. On a lot of other lifts, there can be a modicum of movement before you bomb out and sometimes you can pull the bar a few inches up in a deadlift before all hell breaks loose… but much of the time, there is absolutely nothing.

That’s humbling. It never feels good. You know what else it is? An incredible learning experience in the shape of steel and iron.

When you get pretty serious about weight training (as I believe I generally am), there is a pursuit of pushing yourself a little further all the time and over a period of time. You are continuously pushing the outer edge of what you believe to be possible for yourself. I could deadlift 405 lbs. before and suddenly… huh… I can lift 425 lbs… and now I can do 445 lbs… and I never thought I would get there. Then one day… BOOM! I’m stuck. I can’t get any more than 445 lbs. I know exactly where I stand at that moment – again, the weight simply does not lie.

But what I am trying to do is move past that limit and see what else I can accomplish. At it’s most basic level, when I go down into my gym and lift weights, I am constantly looking to see what my limits are and how I can exceed them. It’s as if the entire activity has nothing to do with getting bigger or getting more muscle or any of that and everything to do with learning more about who I am, how I handle adversity and whether I can pick myself up when I get knocked down. It’s a constant learning and testing experience when done properly. In some ways, those who take this activity so seriously have a finer understanding of who they are than 99.9% of the people on the planet.

It’s certainly not just weightlifters either. Endurance athletes looking to run farther and faster or the Crossfit devotee who is looking to finish their WOD with more weight in less time fit the bill as well.

Everyone in this community who takes training (not just working out or going for a light jog or looking to “tone” up for Summer) seriously is always walking the fine line between find out what is possible and pushing themselves too hard to potentially get hurt, burned out or maybe just get funny looks from family and friends. To many, all of it looks more like stupidity than possibility. But sometimes you need to risk a bit in the search for greater self-knowledge. And trust me… I don’t want to get hurt (been there a bunch of times) or burn out (I am there right now because my ego outstripped my recovery ability)… but I must confess I do enjoy the funny looks from time to time. 🙂

So before you see someone who takes their weight training incredibly seriously as basically a semi-evolved primate… stop and ask yourself… when was the last time you put yourself in a situation where you were forced to figure out what was truly possible? And then think about what it would be like to do that 3… 4… 5… maybe even 6 times per week.

If you realize it’s been a while, then I would prescribe a little bit of iron therapy. You would be amazed at what you will discover about what is possible within you.

Mother May I?

There can really be a lot of gates in this world.  Just a variety of places where you need to stop, seek out permission/validation/approval before you can really do… well… anything.  It’s not exactly the kind of thing that inspires you to go bigger, reach higher and do tremendously amazing things, is it?

In some cases, the world of permission is just an inherent and unavoidable part of life.  I think of life in the corporate world that I know oh-so-very-well.  My workaday life is filled with policies and permission and forms and approvals processes.  You cannot do what I do (company ethics officer) and avoid that in any way… and honestly, you shouldn’t avoid it anyway.  Can it feeling limiting to people at times?  Of course it can, but it’s just a fact of big corporate life that one needs to accept and move on from.  It’s part of the understanding of being in Corporate America and if it’s something that causes you such an enormous amount of heartburn and stress, you will probably need to find a workplace more conducive to your style at some point, because I don’t see it all changing anytime soon.

form_permis

Ahh… but what about the life outside of work?  You know, that area in our personal lives where… in theory at least… we finally have the chance to freely choose what we do, where we go, what we read, with whom we associate and so on.  What about there?  Surely within the bounds of the law we must be unfettered in our ability to make our decisions, no?

If only.

Whether due to religious/social/family norms, we do still tend to live a lot according to the wishes of others.  Some of this is just lubricant to keep the gears of the relationship machine running smoothly.  Oh, you know what I mean.  The dinner you go to with your in-laws even though you would rather be home, feet up and soaking up a massive college football showdown in the SEC.  The helping a friend to move into a 3rd story walk-up.  It’s a lot of little things like this where you need to do someone a solid… but truth be told, you would probably like to do something else entirely.

But what about beyond that?  Are we limiting ourselves from things that would honestly make us happy because we worry too often what “others” (however it needs to be defined for the situation in question) will think?

Oh believe me, I do this as well, but I am getting just a tiny bit better about it all the time.  I still care (more than I probably should) what my parents may think about certain things I want to do or whether my friends or colleagues might find something I enjoy odd (pushing a Prowler in the snow, anyone?).2009-12-31 11.50.16

But damn… the more I move away from caring about a lot of the minutiae about who might… GASP!… judge me poorly and more about whether something will add a positive to my life… darn it all if I don’t end up being happier.  In a way, one method I can use to spot areas where I might find more happiness is listing out things that my friends and family might look askance at.  Chances are there are more than a few perfect nuggets in that list of things I darn well should be doing.

So take that as a little exercise for yourself as well.  Don’t alienate your loved ones just for the sake of being a complete jerkweed.  No one likes that guy and he’s just a completely ponderous fool (and we all know at least one of these dudes).

Find your Prowler in the snow.  Push the hell out of it.  And revel a little more in the fact that while no one else gets it… you love it.