The Forever Student
There’s a technique of framing arguments (which is really a bit of a cop-out) by dividing THE WORLD into 2 camps. You’ve probably seen it before and used it as well – Lord knows I have.
There are two kinds of people in the world, man. People who totally understand why pineapple on pizza is amazing and then there’s barbaric heathens, destroying the foundations of Western civilization with their disdain of this culinary delight.
It’s dramatic and eye-grabbing. I mention it because of how tempting it was to use here for this because here is something I do wonder about whether there are two camps:
People who seek to learn for life and those who mail it in once formal schooling ends.
There’s definitely shades of interest and intent between these two positions, but sometimes it doesn’t seem it.
Now, as I title this post “The Forever Student”, I don’t mean this as that one guy you knew from college who seemed to be trying to figure out a way to never graduate, much to the chagrin of his parents or eventually his credit rating as he amassed a student loan debt that would rival the gross domestic product of many first world nations. (Side note – Why is there always talk about first world and third world countries, yet no one even mentions second world? These things bother me… and yes, bother me way more than they should).
All of this swirled in my head a little bit yesterday as I attended a strength training seminar at my gym. Two exceptional coaches/lifters in Swede Burns and Greg Panora came through for a 7+ hour seminar covering any topic you wanted to throw at them, as well as hands on coaching on the “big 3” lifts of the squat, bench press and deadlift. It was the second time I’ve been to a seminar they put on and it was exceptional – they could not have been more generous with their time, knowledge and teaching. I’m a better lifter today for having been part of this. Without question.
The reason this idea of the forever student jumped out at me was noticing the people who weren’t there versus those who were. Why, you undoubtedly ask? Simple – there are plenty of lifters in that very gym who could have gotten a ton out of this somewhat rare opportunity to pick the brains of two of the best around while having them give direct feedback on the finer points of their lifts. But they weren’t there… and that baffles me. Because they absolutely needed to be… which isn’t an insult to any of them (unless they are one of those people who actively thinks they are better than the coaches who came… and they absolutely are NOT). It’s just stating a fact – none of them hold all-time world records and the funniest thing is that those who do will admit to all of the top-notch coaching that allowed them to get there.
I just don’t understand the mentality of “No thanks…I’m good as-is and have it all figured out.” You know the types. The ones who cannot accept any advice, no matter how learned or proficient the person providing it because…hey, I cannot imagine fixing anything.
Now, before I get accused of virtue signaling (a term that gets trotted out… and incorrectly… way too often), it’s quite the opposite. This isn’t me giving myself a self high five – I just cannot imagine anything but being a student because I know that there’s mountains of things I don’t have figured out in any way, shape or form. Why wouldn’t I want to listen to pros and hope to get even incrementally better than yesterday? I will be the first to admit I need work in any of a number of areas.
I think at a fundamental level that a big reason for my position on this is I refuse to think of myself as a static person where everything is sit, never to change… which also means to never improve.
Hence, I hope genuinely hope I kick my silly ego out of the way as often as possible and embrace the fun of not knowing how much more there is to learn… but giving the effort to try and find out.
If You Think It, It Will Come
Let’s chat for a minute about improving yourself. Sure, that’s most of the theme of this blog in general, but let’s talk about it in a seemingly unique and obvious concept. Yes, unique does not often go with obvious, but damn it, tonight it will.
Suppose for a moment you wanted to improve your health, fitness, well-being or some other part of your physical being. Would you just sort of amble about through the day and hope that after a while, you were better off than when you started? Wait… you wouldn’t? Come on… seriously?
Seems pretty straightforward. You don’t tend to get better by accident. There is effort, focus, determination, planning and execution of that planning. It’s not even that complicated – it just takes actually putting into motion a half-decent plan. Not even a great plan necessarily – just something semi-good that you give strong effort to.
Everything you’ve read up to this point is the obvious part. Here is what is a little unique: Why is it so damn few people, including me, take that same approach when it comes to their “inner” development? It’s as if the path to being a better person lies in just saying one day, “Hey, I want to be get better…” at some positive personal quality (listener/thinker/more caring/more resilient/better empathy/stand up for themselves) and one day, BOOM! There it is! Glory, glory hallelujah! Sing unto the heavens for I have raised myself up to new heights! Can I get an amen? AYYYYYYY-MEN!
I am a bit taken aback by the extent to which I swing and miss on this very point. My approach to physical training is focused, planned and borderline obsessive (I prefer meticulous, but then again, I am powerful sweet and don’t see this as a bad thing). I know I need to do certain lifts to get stronger in particular areas and I need to work conditioning to stay in shape. I know if I just blow them off, nothing happens… well, nothing good at least. But what about wanting to be less distracted and more thoughtful/focused? Don’t I need to have a plan for that? Don’t I need to spend actual time on getting better at that?
It’s as I act like these things will just be taken care of because, hell, my mind is going all day long so… umm… it must be working on something. Maybe it’s working on my being more thoughtful too! WOO!
Horrible, horrible plan. And especially galling considering how perfectly clear it is to me that a lot of work goes into my physical development. It’s borderline silly I don’t have time set aside to think about my personal development.
Until now. Finally got that booked into my calendar on a daily basis and what now becomes important is this: Will I do it? Will I guard that time and treat it with the same level of care I do my training? If I do, good things will come. If I don’t… well… then I will just be back to knowing that a very good intention married to a non-existant plan is a sure bet for a looking utterly dopey.
And this blog is not about sheepishly sitting idle. It’s relentlessly pushing myself forward. May I not just write it, but live it.
Explaining the (Seemingly) Inexplicable
I take a lot of pride in this here blog. Every post I write very much comes from the heart – what I write here, I mean and believe.
But here is something a little funny about the blog. Friends of mine who mention the blog to others who haven’t read it will turn to me and say, “Kev, tell them what your blog is about.” And you know what I inevitably do? I pause… like, for a while. Not the thoughtful pause of a man with great wisdom who is merely taking a moment to let the listener pull closer before he unveils the truth of the universe. Oh, how I wish.
No, it’s more like a pause of, “Sweet mother of God… how do I describe the shenanigans I write on this site? Think, think, think… umm… damn it all…”
So in the interest of having a more well-constructed answer than my typical response of “Well… it’s about a lot of things…” (a real crowd-pleaser, by the way), I will seek to answer in this post.
I am a very strong believer in the idea that every person must have core principles they hold very dear which guide them through life. This doesn’t need to be a massive list – in fact, it should be purposefully brief so as to avoid conflict, confusion and doubt. This blog is a reflection of a few of my core views of life: (1)we are each made up of equal parts mind, body and spirit; (2) a lot of life is thoughtfully developing these things over time; and (3) the development of each of these can have a hugely positive impact on the other parts.
The best example I can give is the meaning of weight training to me and the impact it has had on my life. Lifting weights, especially over the last 5-8 years as I’ve gotten a lot more thoughtful and focused in this effort, has certainly done quite a bit to develop my physical capabilities, but has probably had at least an equal positive impact on my mindset and confidence. There is an inherently amazing level of self-understanding you develop when you throw a few hundred pounds of weight on your back… especially a weight you have never handled in your life… and then see if you can lift it. You begin to wonder about things like:
Will I be able to handle it? What happens if I screw up? How will I handle that gnawing fear in my gut that this lift is going to go straight to hell and take me to the floor in the process? Will I be afraid to try again if I fail? If I succeed, how do I keep progressing?
A great example is a story I’ve heard numerous times about Vasiliy Alekseyev, one of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all time. He was stuck on one of his lifts at a particular weight – no matter how many times he tried it, he simply could not seem to complete the lift at the weight in question. So, when he went into a competition, his coach had him lift just below at what that weight was… except that’s only what he told Vasiliy. In reality, he had the bar set with the weight Vasiliy had never been able to lift. Up to the platform this giant of a man steps, grabs the weight… completes the lift.
Was he physically any different at that moment? Of course not. He was mentally stuck about what he could and couldn’t do, so it took a little trickery from his coach to get him past that seemingly insurmountable set point.
So what does all of this have to do with Fierce and Mighty? Oh, I have the answer for you (umm… which is most of the reason I asked the question – I don’t want to look like a complete maroon, ya know).
It can take the success of a physical act to get you to see new potential in yourself, not just in the weight room or the track or the pool or the field, but in your entire life. When you can demonstrate to yourself time and time again that you can break through your own preconceived ideas of what is possible, the carryover to other parts of your life is absolutely striking.
That’s what this blog is about more than anything else: my personal journey on the path to developing body/mind/spirit in equal parts, learning something in the process and sharing all of it with you in the hopes you may find benefit as well. I may give advice here, but it always comes from a place of my own steps to follow that advice too.
So that’s Fierce and Mighty, described as best I can. Now if I can just figure out how to explain that to someone in 10 seconds or less in a conversation, I might really be onto something.
Push It Too Far
For as long as I can remember, my Mom has always scolded me a bit about how I take things too far. I am known as the most emotional one of the three boys in my family and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. I can be all or nothing, no doubt about it. When I am focused on something, everything else falls away a bit. This can be both incredibly useful and less-than-helpful – useful when I am diligently applying myself to a positive task and bad when I push myself to the point of burn out. It’s for this reason I try to keep myself much more even keeled… with varying degrees of success, but I do try.
But sometimes? I completely don’t give a single rip about balance, moderation or anything in that bland milquetoast middle that I sometimes see people getting sucked into (and I have as well at times – full disclosure). There is a time for a balance and there’s also plenty of times not to settle. To push the boundaries of both good sense and what you thought was possible for yourself.
Sometimes, you have to have moments like this:
What happened here? Oh, it’s a pretty simple formula: sunshine + 30 degree weather + less-than-bright guy x Prowler = flat on your back, staring skyward. And feeling utterly alive. Gasping for breath and woozy, but really, really alive.
I don’t recommend this on a daily basis or even weekly… but you will never get the chance to see what you can be until you get to the edge of your comfortable boundaries and begin to nudge them a little. Or maybe more than nudge them… maybe run into them headlong with wild abandon.
You may very well get knocked flat on your bee-hind. I did, as is so obvious. However, I also learned that I could do a little more than I thought I could. Next time it will probably be easier and now I will be standing at some new point and thinking, “Hmm… now if I made this a little harder… then what?”
You don’t need to be Herculean or superhuman or possess the steely nerve of an Old West gunslinger. What you need is nothing all that special and you probably have felt it before or feel it right now. What is “it”? Just a bit of an itch to get out of the everyday and into something special or different. That’s it. That and the catalyst to act on feeling that way.
But admittedly… being a little crazy doesn’t hurt either. And just think… if you do hit that wall and end up on your back, you may have a beautiful view of a bright blue Winter sky like I did. How could you let that pass by?
Easy Morning Brain Expansion – No Stretching Required
About 3 months back I wrote a post entitled “The Quiet Drive” which detailed how I was looking to make different or better use of my daily morning commute to work. The reason behind this time of reflection was that it was proving to be a dedicated part of my every day life where I allowed myself to do nothing but think… umm… and drive. I guess if I just lapsed into navel-gazing reflection while doing 65 MPH on I-84, I think this habit would end itself (and me) rather quickly. I mean, I’ve got mongoose-like quickness, but even I would not be able to leap out of a car at full speed on a highway. I do appreciate the faith all of you have in me that I have this capability – it’s quite touching.
This morning I changed it up a little bit and decided to use a chunk of that drive for a little bit of brain expansion. See, with my switch to the Evil Empire of Apple for my computing needs, I started using iTunes again. I know it seems impossible that anyone with an iPod would use something else, but seriously… I hate it. Slow and controlling and bleah. It’s a little better when you are using a Mac, but I still have that part of me that rebels against the way Steve Jobs likes to keep everything closed and under his thumb in the world of Mac.
Back to the brain expansion. If there is something that iTunes seems to have done well in the time I have been gone from using it, that may be the inclusion of iTunes U. iTunes U is a free resource for downloading a rich array of course content from a variety of schools and educational institutions. The list is impressive: Harvard Business Review, Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, Texas A&M, Yale, etc. There are interviews, lectures and even video based pieces for your perusal on a really wide range of topics. Thus far, I have not seen any you would even pay for, which is nice.
So give your brain a little morning shake up to go with your coffee or morning Diet Dr. Pepper (my choice for the AM pick-me-up). Hell, you might learn something. I did today… freaky.
Confessions of an Educational Mercenary
With each passing year, I gain a greater appreciation for education, learning, reading and all of the food for the mind that is available in the world. I often say that if I hit Powerball tomorrow, I would definitely like to go back and get another degree in something for the pure pleasure of learning without the worry or concern of the grades that went with it. Well, after taking at least a year to not do much of anything besides play golf, lift, read, travel and further cement my plans to assert my rightful claim as heir to the Polish monarchy (Hey, just because that was several posts ago doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about it).
Thinking back on my time in college, I was an utter educational mercenary. I was completely fixated on getting into the best law school possible, so my grades were everything. I only skipped a single class in my entire college career… and that was so I had more time to study for another class. I was completely disciplined in my approach to school and studying and it paid off well when I graduated magna cum laude (missing summa cum laude by the difference of a single B+ being an A-) and never getting worse than a A- from 2nd semester of freshman year on.
I don’t mention any of this to brag or to shout “Ooh! Ooh! Look at me! Love me! LOOOOOVE ME!”… although you should both (a) look at me on account of the fact I am so easy on the eyes and (b) love me because I am just one loveable son of a gun. No, I bring this fact up to show where my focus resided – the number. The grade. Pure and simple. This was my target and I would do all I could (ethically) to hit it. Heck, I can remember taking a Latin class and I had certain portions of the Miles Gloriousus so completely memorized that when I had to translate it for a test, all I needed to see was the first 3 words of the passage and I could just write out the next 3 lines without looking back at the Latin. But what I did I get out of that poem after the fact? Hmm… probably very little.
While this numbers fixation certainly helped in in achieving my purpose and I am proud of all I put into reaching that goal, there is one element of it that I do wonder about occasionally on a clear Summer night as I enjoy a cold adult beverage on my patio: If I never worried about my grades and was only focused on true learning, what would have been the result? Would I have gotten better grades? Worse? Would I have better absorbed topics I would carry with me to this day?
I do still carry some of the things I learned in college with me to this day and I certainly learned quite a bit from the professors who really were able to bring new and fascinating concepts to life. This happened quite a bit in my philosophy classes, truth be told and I’m glad those lessons still stick with me and shape the way I think for I am far better off for having had those experiences.
Today I am seeking to give myself another shot at learning for learning’s sake, mostly through what I choose to read and such. Ideally I would like to set up my own little personal educational curriculum to round myself out in areas of interest to me where I am not as strong as I would like to be (fine art jumps most readily to mind). Yes, those damn Jesuits got their hooks into me deep in college and there’s no going back now from my obsession with developing the whole person. In a way, this entire blog is proof of that.
The mercenary is retired… long live the reborn learner.