Present Pain. Future Payoff.

A little slice of personal joy

A funny thing happened on the way to my soccer game this past Sunday.  Not like literally during the drive over, but in the time leading up to the game and it all happened without me specifically noticing it.

As I mentioned a little bit in my post yesterday on potential, my experience at Tough Mudder really opened my eyes a bit to what I can and cannot do.  Going through such an unbelievably challenging event like that (probably the hardest physical thing I have ever done) made me reflective in the weeks that followed.  If you asked “How so, you charming devil?”, well… then (1) thank you for the compliment you kind and observant soul; and (2) let me tell you.

Between work busy-ness and life busy-ness and all the lifting and physical training I do anyway, I’ve sometimes been concerned about overdoing it.  As Saint Mom Kuzia has always said about me, I tend to be either all-in or all-out.  I’m not terribly good at finding that smooth, even-keeled middle that some other people tend to have as they navigate the waves of life.  I’ve gotten a little better in this regard, but certainly not great.  So I have had times where I felt rundown or tired or unmotivated as I pushed through my training sessions.  I would chalk this up to life catching up with me and just being way, way, waaaaay too overstretched.

After Tough Mudder, I suddenly wasn’t so sure.  I certainly have more stress than I would care for, but was that really what was limiting me?  Or, as I wrote yesterday, had I created an artificial boundary around my own potential?  I decided to say “Screw it” and see if I couldn’t get a little more juice going for myself by pushing a little harder in each training session I had.

Lo and behold!  I play soccer this past Sunday, switch to more of a midfield position versus my typical backfield defender position… I need to run a ton more… and probably played the best game I have had in YEARS.  I am no by NO MEANS some kind of talented soccer wiz – quite the contrary.  I picked up the game seriously 10 years ago at 29 and have loved it ever since, but I will never be the guy to dazzle you with my deft footwork and majestic shots on goal.  I’m a worker.  A scrapper.  A hustler… and boy did I hustle this past week and had a ton of fun doing it.

None of this would have happened if I didn’t get myself out of that preconceived notion of my own boundaries.  That’s the beauty of finding moments to really get out of your own comfort zone – the time in that awkward experience is likely terribly unpleasant, but in many ways, you aren’t doing it for that moment, but for ones that follow.

Present pain.  Future payoff.  An excellent personal transaction.

The Size and Shape of Potential

After I did yesterday’s post, the topic of potential started knocking around a lot in my brain for the rest of the day.  You see, I find potential to be one of the more interesting concepts to think about because it has a lot of nuances to it, both good and bad.  I think this is why I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with potential.

The positive side of potential is fairly obvious: it’s about having the chance to do much, be much and achieve much.  It’s about that bright horizon of promise where so many good things await and you just want to sprint towards it with fervor.  WOO!  GET SOME!

On the other side of the ledger, I think about the quote from former NFL coach Brian Billick when he said, “Son, your potential is going to get me fired.”  The darker side of potential is that it means someone has gifts, talents and abilities… but without the realization of those innate qualities.  Hmm… that’s never good.  This is when all the promise and hope bumps up against the passage of time and people begin to ask, “Umm… soooo… do you plan on actually doing anything with all of your gifts?  Or are ya just gonna sit on them?”  Oof.  Not good.

Potential: cool and refreshing

It made me think about what analogy works best for potential. My initial thought was a glass of water.  There sits a nice, cold, refreshing glass of water representing all of your potential.  If it just sits there and is ignored, it’s just going to become room temperature and possibly taste a little funky after a while.  Instead, you want to get into and drink deeply of it to gain all of its great benefits.

But what happens when you start to get near the bottom of the glass?  When there is just sips left?  Sure, you have nearly maximized everything of that crisp, satisfying potential… umm… but then what?  It’s gone?  Empty?  Nothing left?  What do you look forward to now?  Is there some kind of problem with being incredibly efficient at bringing out the best of the glass of potential you have because one it’s all done… that’s it?

It was at this point I realized the problem was more with the structure of the analogy.  Sure, there is something keenly appealing about the idea of the cold glass of water and making use of it instead of letting it become lukewarm and bleah… but it really hit me that our potential is never going to be a finite container.  How could it be?

We can always develop and get a little better than before – mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.  There may be some outer boundaries at some point.  For instance, the window of opportunity for me to fulfill my lifelong dream of playing running back for the Dallas Cowboys is quickly closing… and shut your filthy mouths, you naysayers who say it was never open!  But you see what I mean – I probably will not develop 4.2 speed and the ability to hit an inside draw for a game winning touchdown in Dallas.  That’s OK.

But a lot of my other physical development?  I don’t see any outer limits right now.  It may all take a while, but it’s there because… why the hell not?  You and I are mostly limited by our own set boundaries in the end.

Or intellectual development – does anyone seriously believe they have capped out there?  Who couldn’t learn more and open up their mind to new and exciting possibilities until they draw their very last breath?  I will tell you who – those who decided it couldn’t be done and stunted their own growth in that area.  Them and them alone.

I think that was the most eye-opening part of doing the Tough Mudder a few weeks back.  In the middle of the race, several hours in and feeling tired and beaten all to hell, I realized one important thing – as banged up as I felt, I knew I would finish.  I simply knew it as sure as I was drawing breath (which was probably more like wheezing at that moment, but still a form of oxygen intake regardless).  If I could push through that, what else could I do?

Truthfully, all of my physical training since that time has been markedly improved because the 6 grueling hours of that race showed me where I had limited myself in the past.  It took that grind to break down my self-created walls and open up some squeaky-clean and shiny-new potential.

Flex those boundaries a bit today, my friends.  They will stretch more than you think… especially because you probably created 90% of them anyway.

Half-Truths, Mistruths and Damned Lies

My t-shirt inspired my blog post today.  Even looking at those words after typing them looks and feels a little odd, but it doesn’t make the initial statement any less true.  The t-shirt in question is here as Exhibit A:

Photo on 6-5-12 at 8.16 AMPhoto on 6-5-12 at 8.15 AM #3

Man that’s a lot of good-looking going on there.  But I digress (per usual).

The t-shirt comes from Jim Wendler, the creator of the 5/3/1 system for weight training.  I’m not sure the origins of the quote, but it’s always something that struck me a little bit in how it can be applicable in so many areas.  From Jim’s perspective, it pertains primarily to how the fitness industry bombards people with such bad information, snake oil ripoffs and thick layers of hype, none of which will make you any stronger, faster, fitter or healthier (but will likely line the pockets of someone who cares little about you achieving any of those goals).

But today my thoughts on this shirt had less to do with strength training and more to a broader application of the statement.  It’s fairly simple to me:

Every single day, in some way, shape or fashion, society is lying to you, me and everyone else you know.  It’s constant.  It’s pervasive.

Now, if you are thinking, “Who slipped the paranoia pills into your coffee this morning, wacko?” I’m not sure I would blame you.  My assertion is a wee bit on the broad side, but stop for a second and think about it and you will likely come around to my vantage point on this issue.

How often do we hear about the negatives of the world?  The restrictive ideas of who we can be or what we can achieve?  The constant pigeon-holing of everyone into neatly categorized little boxes where we are defined by our jobs?  Or defined by some narrow stereotype or title about how we should live our lives?  Or think about problems big and small?

Let me see if I can illustrate by way of example: Does being a lawyer by training define who I am?  I would never see it that way, although I probably did while in law school and for a while after graduating until one day it occurred to me that was such a confining way of living my life.

Or how about one’s age?  A lot of people have been posting fond memories on Facebook of actress Kathryn Joosten who just passed away at the age of 72.  She didn’t even start acting until she was 42 and only moved to Hollywood when she was 55 years old.  What if she listened to the idea that no one can make a new start (let alone one in the age-obsessed film and TV industry) at such and age?  She would have never had the chance to win 2 Emmy awards.

I could go on and on about this point, but hey, I’m a swell dude and will spare you a mind-numbing barrage of examples to prove the same point… and that point is this:

Today you will be exposed to a colleague, friend, family member, TV commercial, stranger in the street, billboard or God only knows what else that will try and tell you what your potential may or may not be.  It may sound kindly and will almost assuredly be very well-intentioned… but it also may very well be a complete fabrication.

Don’t listen.  Don’t give in.  Be that which you long to be.  And I will give all I can to do the same.

Deal?  Deal.