The Unsexiness of Excellence

During the past 10 years that I’ve been working at my company, we have gotten a company-wide shutdown that runs from Christmas through New Year’s Day.  As far as perks going, it’s definitely a darn fine one and makes for a perfect way to close out the old year and prepare for the new.  I find myself always becoming more reflective during this chunk of time away from the hustle and bustle of the workplace – not surprising, really.  This last break ended up being 13 glorious days away from work and I was able to get down to some serious navel-gazing time.

And what came out of that period of time?  What new and meaningful insights poured forth from my head like Athena from that of Zeus?  One word kept coming back to me over and over again:


And with that word, the famous Aristotle quote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

So to the YouTubes I went and made this nice video for you.  Yes, just for you, gentle reader and no one else.

Excellence… a flashy word for something achieved in a very unsexy sort of way.

The Intelligence of Hard Work

Certain things in life will always stick out in your mind, irrespective of when they happened.  I’ve never been able to figure out why I remember certain things or events with the utmost clarity and yet can’t remember at all something from the day before.  Whatever flips that switch, I have no idea, but it would be cool to find out more about it.  In that vein, I always remember a conversation I had with a few guys in college, I think around my junior year.

I had the reputation for being the studious one and probably with good reason.  I never skipped a class in my entire college career… except for one time… and that was so I could do work for a different class.  It was just how I operated since I was very single-minded in my focus to get the best possible grades to help me get into the best possible law school.  Anyway, the topic of grades, studying and intelligence came up and two of these guys said to me, “You know, Kuz… it’s not that you’re really any smarter than either of us.  It’s just that you study more.  I’m sure if we studied that much we would do just as well.”

Even today, some 19 years later, that STILL makes me laugh and shake my head in disbelief, for the simple reason that it’s just a cop-out for being mediocre.

Sound harsh?  Perhaps… but it’s something I continue to see or hear about today in a variety of contexts.

“Well, I would look as good as Sally if I spent that much time in the gym and was that strict about my eating…”

“Sure, Larry is moving up in the company… but hell, I could do that if I was a workaholic like him…”

Now, if you are comfortable with who you are, please don’t let me try and convince you to be otherwise.  It’s really not my place and I’m a firm believer that each of us has the freedom to pursue whatever path in life brings us the greatest happiness and inner joy, provided that walking such path doesn’t harm others around you.

2010-08-04 20.25.02

But I can’t believe the extent to which people will shake off the commitment, drive and passion of others as being seemingly nothing and if they worked as hard as that person, they would be in the same place.  Here’s the problem with that thinking: If you don’t put in that work, you’re just not the same.  You’re not… and no amount of patting yourself on the back with notions of “If I only did X…” will change that… unless you starting doing whatever X may be.  This is a line of argument that places some vague, hazy notion of “potential” far above working to get someplace.  Potential… in the end… is more of a nice notion and all it means, in the end, is something great that has not been fulfilled as of yet.

Potential is a great thing to have… but only for a very, very small window.  Hanging onto potential too long just becomes a disappointing case of “What could have been…”

None of us has to be like gym rat and diet freak like Sally or work-’round-the-clock like Larry.  We each get our choices and if you choose a different path, more power to you.  I am in full support of that with all my heart.

But the point at which we seek to tear down those who have chosen their own path with notions that we could each reach that too it IF ONLY… then we not only discredit their passion (a horrible act in my book), but we also look to soothe ourselves with a balm of settling for mediocre and explaining it away as if it were acceptable because we could easily get to that place too.  That’s justifying something average.

I don’t come at any of this from a place of cockiness or arrogance – just from knowing that nothing good is achieved or worthwhile without some hard work to get there.  I am far from perfect and would never, ever describe myself as the purest paragon never-ending, ceaseless hard work… but I do work pretty hard for what I believe in.

Remember… the crime is not in picking your own path, but in making that of another who pursues theirs with drive seem like something anyone could do.  I’ve caught myself in this trap a few times before, but with some awareness now, I will battle hard never to do it again.

“We could get your grades, Kuz, if we just studied as much as you do…”  But they didn’t.  And hard work is an intelligence all its own.

Welcome to Milquetoast Nation

I like a good commercial.  There is something great about taking an attempt to get you to buy something and transcending that medium to make you think, laugh, cry or just get plain pissed off.  Whether it was the famous Apple commercial from back in 1984 to signal their assault against the bland groupthink of personal computers or even last year’s Snickers commercials with Betty White.  I just enjoy something well-crafted and memorable.

A commercial I’ve seen recently and had a bit of a chuckle to was from Planet Fitness:

Now, Planet Fitness has a very particular business model for their “gyms”… and yes, I placed that in quotes and you’ll soon see why.  They have really low monthly rates and are incredibly proud of their “Judgment Free Zone®”.  If you’ve never been there, this is how they describe it on their Web site:

As the most innovative health club brand in the United States, Planet Fitness is known for a lot of things – our absurdly low prices, our Lunk™ Alarm, and most of all perhaps, for our Judgement Free Zone® philosophy, which means members can relax, get in shape, and have fun without being subjected to the hard-core, look-at-me attitude that exists in too many gyms.

What does this mean in practice?  Well, for starters, their dumbbells only go up to a certain weight because having more than that would attract the “lunks” in Planet Fitness-speak.  They also don’t allow any grunting, dropping of weights or… apparently… “judgment”.  And for that matter, they don’t seem to allow anyone who really and truly gives a damn either.  Let me explain.

While no one really wants to train in a gym with guys (and let’s face it… the biggest maroons I’ve seen acting like complete fools in gyms are 99.9999% of the time guys) who are there to call attention to themselves by needlessly dropping weights, hogging up sections of the gym floor and just being a general jackass.  However, what Planet Fitness is also driving out with their overly broad and… surprise!… completely judgmental approach is anyone who actually gives a damn about their training and is looking to improve.  The guy in that video might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but you don’t end up looking like he does without a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

Don’t believe me that some of these gyms are not for people who actually care?  OK, let me throw this out to you then.  Which environment do you think is better for improving yourself in?  A place where you are surrounded by others that strive for excellence and consistently push themselves to be better?  Or a place where we don’t want people to be TOO good because… gosh… then others may feel bad about themselves?  The latter is what you get at a place like Planet Fitness.  Me?  I would rather lift completely by myself as I have done the last few years or find a group of likeminded people to surround myself with to push me each and every day I train.  I couldn’t do this at Planet Fitness because if I suddenly let out any noise while lifting, I risk being kicked out.  Instead, I would have to sit there quietly and never do anything that could possibly offend my purple and yellow overlords.

Are there people who are serious at Planet Fitness?  Of course there are… just not as many as there ever COULD be.  I’ve had the dubious pleasure of training in a few Planet Fitness locations before and I can never imagine going back there again.  If you want to be surrounded by people who think the check-in-the-box of just showing up at the gym is good enough, then feel free.  Have a ball.  If you are only spending $10 or $15 a month, that might be fine for you and, in truth, some exercise is better than none at all.

But if you want to get results?  Something tangible to show for devoting your time and energy to being fit, strong and healthy?  Go elsewhere.  Find a smaller training studio with a well-certified strength coach or trainer.  Put the money down to get yourself to truly commit to making positive changes instead of just checking the box.  Find a place that won’t set off alarm bells if you did a deadlift.

Reject the Milquetoast, my friends, and embrace the chance to be good or even great… not by anyone else’s standards… but by your own.  Give yourself the chance to know the deeply incredible feeling of pushing yourself through a difficult training session and knowing when you’re done, that you weren’t content to just be average and passive.  It’s not just good for your body, but it’s good for your soul.

Alternatively, you could just join a gym where you can ring their alarm every time someone who cares and might have a few muscles comes along:

Planet Fitness Lunk Alarm

Because why should anyone dare to aspire to be their best?  It might just hurt someone’s feelings…

Reject the Milquetoast.  Save your soul.

Embrace the Team

Throughout my life, I’ve been on a wide variety of teams.  As a kid, they pretty much involved sports of one kind or another, from a formal Little League team to whatever teams we would cobble together to play pick-up football, baseball, Wiffleball, street hockey, basketball or the always classic “war” (which involves 10 year old boys running around with pretend guns blasting the bejeezus outta each other).

I’ve always loved the team environment, which is a bit interesting because I am an introvert at heart.  Some people recharge their batteries hanging out with big groups of people whereas I need some quiet time by myself to decompress properly.

But still, the dynamics of the team (especially one that works well together) has always resonated with me in a deeply satisfying way.  These days I end up on teams in the workplace to a degree, but I maintain most of my outlet for teaming in a competitive sports venue with soccer.  I play on two teams, one of which as just a player and the other as the captain (see our handsomeness from a few season ago here):

Best looking team around

Admittedly being the captain is sometimes akin to being a glorified secretary and babysitter (yeah… that’s right… babysitter… stuns me to think the extent to which I have to shoo along people in their late 20’s and up to get them to the damn games), but I do love it.

So why all this team talk?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to opening up my home gym to anyone else who wants to come and train.  It’s been a bit of an interest process of contemplation for a lot of reasons.

  1. Who would I open it up to?  Friends?  Complete strangers, but people who are as committed to training as I am?
  2. How would it work?  This is at my house, so what if I was unable to train one day.  What would the other people end up doing if they came to rely on my gym as their sole training spot?
  3. What happens if it’s not a good fit and I get people who are not nearly as focused as I am or are just complete douchebags?
Legendary bodybuilding training partners, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu

In the end, I can’t help but think what I am missing out on by training solo.  Don’t get me wrong – I have seen a helluvalot more benefits to training at home versus a commercial gym.  I can do any lift I want, play any music I want, be as loud as I want and do so without any… umm… “distractions” (that would be the fairer sex whom I love to pieces, but can completely throw any rational guy out of his rhythm in the gym… that’s just science.  But I would definitely have women as training partners – no doubt).

And getting beyond just thinking about the team as a means to measurable results, I think there is just a ton to be said for the relationships forged as part of a group striving for a common (or at least very similar) goal and being there to push your teammates along the way.  I miss that camaraderie to a big extent, so I might be looking for a few good men and women to join in the quest to do a little better, be a little stronger, push a little harder and go a little farther than any of us thought possible.  Isn’t that one of the great joys in life anyway

So who’s with me?

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