Tag Archives: passion

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.

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.

My Insanity is the Sanest Thing I’ve Got

If there’s one area that I tend to cause puzzlement in my friends, family and co-workers, it’s the way I approach my training, exercise and diet regime.  It’s not that they are necessarily amazed at my being into health and fitness (since lots of people are), it’s really the specifics of my philosophy and approach that give them pause or cause them to cock their heads, look at my askew and remark (after an extended sigh) “Seriously… why???”

It can actually be a little odd to explain to someone outside of the worldwide family of lifters and physical culture devotees who make this kind of strenuous exertion the best part of their days.

I have talked to or exchanged ideas with on forms a lot of people who are as into training (I almost never call it “working out”, FYI) or even more so into training than I am.  There seems to be a fairly common thread that ties all of us together into one big, borderline irrational family:

The power of transformation.

With training, you will truly get back from it what you give to it.  If you learn a bit and then work hard at what you learned, the results will come.  They just will as sure as day follows night.  They will come faster for some and slower for others, but they do come when you give yourself over to the training.

Can you see the appeal?  Think of how many areas in life where despite your best efforts and all your smarts and all your talents and all the sweat of your brow… you get diddly-squat back in return.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  It’s ridiculously frustrating.

A few years back I went to a doctor for my lower back.  He was a pretty good physician, but very, very old school.  He took a look at my x-rays, showed me how one disc was a bit narrower than the others and simply said, “You need to stop all exercising that loads your vertical spine.”  I gave him a look of “Umm… you gotta be kidding me, dude.”  He went on to say, “I don’t know what it is with you weightlifters and why you can’t seem to stop.  There are so many other wonderful kind of exercise out there.”  You can tell I really didn’t listen to him and I am trying my best to be a lot smarter about how I train… but I ain’t quitting.

I think this is why when I had someone very special and very close to me going through leukemia for several agonizing years, the weight training I did was utter salvation to me.  I could not fix her horrid illness which ravaged away at her for those 5 long years.  It was excruciating to feel so powerless to do much except to be an unyielding form of support the whole way.

My EliteFTS power rack (i.e. my baby)

But during that time while I was training?  I could effect change.  It was at least something I could control and for at least a little while, use to chisel away some of the hurt in the process.  It was also something that taught me a lot about myself and how to push through the challenging parts of life… and then I would use all of that to better support her day after day after day.  The two things began to feed each other and without that constant of my training, I’m not sure what all of those 5 years would have been like.

So the fact I hit a new personal record on my deadlifts (427.5 lbs for 5 reps, in case you were wondering… and I just know you were) tonight just makes me feel like a little bit more is right with the world… that things can make a little more sense… and that when it comes to my training, I will get back what I give.

All of which raises one question for me: If you don’t feel the same about your own exercise program… why not?

You might view me as nuts for what I do… I see it as a lone sane act in a sometimes completely insane world.

Re-Mojofication

Mojo.  An absolute fantastic word that is truly difficult to define.  You could go with what our good friends at Merriam-Webster and say it is:

a magic spell, hex, or charm; broadly : magical power <works his mojo on the tennis court>

That’s pretty good… not great, but a fairly solid B on the grading scale of life.

I tend to think of mojo more from the Dr. Evil definition from Austin Powers:

Austin Powers always defeats me because he has mojo… The libido . The life force. The essence. The right stuff . What the French call a certain I-don’t-know-what.

Granted that seems rather vague, but the vagueness is the beauty of it all in the end.  Mojo is the juice that gets you going and excited about life.  It’s passion, but with a bit of a funky twist.

Mojo has been on my mind of late, mostly because I have had a loss of it for a variety of reasons.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not exactly all-world when it comes to dealing with change, but despite that fact, life has given me a bit of it over the last year or so.  Funny how life works like that – you would think it would just listen to my wise counsel on how things would go, but apparently not.  Slowly but surely, I woke up to find myself just not quite feeling it… and that’s really the problem with losing your mojo.  It’s not as if you are struck by a blinding white light like Saul on the road to Damascus, but it’s more of a slow creep that nibbles away bit by bit when you lose your vigilance.

Heck, a prime example of my mojo loss was this very blog that means quite a bit to me.  I had to go back and look at it today to see when my last update occurred… February 28th.  Yeesh.  But I was just not feeling the inspiration or the muse to make this blog happen… so today, I decided “Aww screw this” and sat down to write the words you read this very moment.

But let me be crystal clear in my view of the loss of mojo… it doesn’t happen because of what life does to you.  Not at all.  It happens because of how you respond to what life throws at you.dwight-gooden(2)

For instance, let’s say life went all circa 1985 Doc Gooden on you by throwing you a  major curveball – the kind that no one alive is going to be able to deal with well.  Break-up.  Job loss.  Illness of a loved one.  Those things are certainly going to drop you in your tracks for sure and any of those scenarios takes a lot of time, effort, patience and faith to pull through.  In that sense, no one on earth should expect someone dealing with anything like that to immediately bounce up and say, “Well dagnabbit all!  Life is all about how I respond and not allowing anything to be done to me!  I think I’ll go watch Mary Poppins and whistle a happy tune!”

But at some point in that coping process, it becomes a lot less about whatever happened and all about how you respond to it.  For bigger life changes, that period is longer and you shouldn’t beat yourself up for not bouncing back like a damn superball.  You cannot be low forever.  You cannot mourn for an eternity.  You cannot go all Brian Wilson and lock yourself away in your house for years while wearing a bathrobe as your fashion statement on a daily basis.

Which is why I love this Nike commercial so much:

Because it’s about at least pushing yourself to see how quick you’re gonna get up.

As always, the words I write in this blog do not come from a place where I am sitting idly back and pronouncing forth how I think everyone else should live because I have it all figured out.  I write this because it is equally a challenge to myself to do more, to be better and… in this case… to reclaim my mojo.  I just hope detailing some elements of my own personal fight gives hope or insight or even just a sliver of amusement to those who read this.

So to end it all, I give you the example of Sylvester Stallone.  No, seriously.  While Sly makes for a very easy target these days, it helps to think back to his earliest days before he was a big star.  Why?  Because in spite of everything he faced and all the hurdles in his way, he kept his mojo working against a Fat Bastard world that was seeking to sap it all from him.  Listen as Tony Robbins tells the story of Rocky:

Mojo – use it or lose it, people.  It’s far easier to keep than to reclaim.  I let it slip and now I’m working hard to get it back.

Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.

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).

A big pile of knowledge 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.

Got Scars?

Today I was out in the gray chilliness that is Winter in Connecticut and doing some pushes and pulls with my beloved Prowler.  I strained and struggled and fought it with all I could for a shade under 30 minutes before calling it a day.  As I completed the last push of the day, I finished and immediately dropped into a semi-kneeling position, almost like genuflecting.  However, I successfully kept my breakfast down.  But you know what I thought to myself?

“Huh… no puking yet again… maybe I’m not doing this hard enough.”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the insanity that is my noggin.  Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times because I really can’t be held responsible for what may happen otherwise.

Now why on earth would I think that?  Seriously.  First of all, I really hate puking.  I know that is not a penetrating insight on par with the work of Plato or Immanuel Kant, but I mean I really hate it.  Second, how can anyone rationally think that puking could be a sign of anything remotely good or positive?  It’s like those kooky powerlifters who seem to enjoy the fact they get blood shins from doing deadlifts where the bar drags along their legs.  That can’t be sane… can it?

I’ll tell you why I think this… because I often wonder, if you don’t bear scars, have you really tried hard enough?  Or put another way, have you truly found the thing you are just so passionate about that you are willing to run the risk of skinned knees or puking or falling short in the process?  Willing to run the risk of embarrassment over not coming through as a total success because you just love the process so much that winning or losing is a distant second?

I wonder this because I believe (at least in my own personal case) that for things that truly and deeply matter to me, I am willing to risk the scars or the falling short or the skinned knees or possible ridicule of polite society.  I know if my heart was not truly in whatever this “thing” may be, I wouldn’t be willing to run the risk of any of that.  Who wants any of that for something that doesn’t stir up the passion of your soul?  Not this kid right here, I’ll tell you that much.

The physical acts of which I speak and the scars that can accompany them are just one tool or expression of what any person walking this beautiful planet can be passionate about.  As you and I well know, not all scars are physical and those that are not can certainly mark you more deeply than ones etched upon your skin.  But the fact still remains… that for those things we care most about… our families, our faith, our ideals or whatever it may be… we will put ourselves out there and run the risk of the scars.

I’m still working on this all the time… the process to find my true passions for all aspects of my life.  It’s certainly not easy because it’s rare to just wake up one day and think “By Jove!  I’ve got it!” and just know what you were meant to do or who you were meant to be.  So I keep plugging away at those things I know I love and by virtue of the struggle, sweat and scars, I hope to find it.

Even if I may have to get a little sick to do it.

The Lemonade Stand Experience

lemon1Seth Godin is a pretty gosh-darn interesting guy.  My proof?  He’s generally acknowledged as the creator of permission-based marketing (i.e. you give someone permission to market to you based on your preferences and interests) and author of the book “Purple Cow”.  Let’s be honest people… purple cows are just de facto interesting.

Seth also does a pretty cool blog and his post from a few days ago is pretty thought-provoking.  It’s analogy of the most classic form of childhood entrepreneurial dreams: the lemonade stand.  The analogy compares two lemonade stands with profoundly different approaches to selling their cold, tart and refreshing products.

The first stand is very typical: a fold-out table and $1 to buy a cup of lemonade.  Pretty straightforward.

The second stand is a different matter entirely:

The other stand is different. The lemonade is free, but there’s a big tip jar. When you pull up, the owner of the stand beams as only a proud eleven year old girl can beam. She takes her time and reaches into a pail filled with ice and lemons. She pulls out a lemon. Slices it. Then she squeezes it with a clever little hand juicer.

The whole time that’s she’s squeezing, she’s also talking to you, sharing her insights (and yes, her joy) about the power of lemonade to change your day. It’s a beautiful day and she’s in no real hurry. Lemonade doesn’t hurry, she says. It gets made the right way or not at all. Then she urges you to take a bit less sugar, because it tastes better that way.

Pretty different approach eh?

While the first scenario was about the selling of a product, the second was clearly the selling of an experience and also a connection.  There was something that causes a connection between the person providing the lemonade and you as the person soon-to-be enjoying it.

Seth’s essential question is which of these two aspiring entrepreneurs will end up better in the long run?

I thought about this one for a little while, even though it’s pretty clear which way Seth was going on his post.  Honestly, I was trying to think of whether I could refute it… not because Seth would even care, but just to see if I could.  But truthfully?  I really couldn’t because I do believe in the power of connection provided by the second example.

Perfect examples. Even though I know it costs more to shop for suits at Brooks Brothers, that’s where I went before starting up my new job to pick up a new navy suit and 2 pairs of dress slacks.  There is something about the professionalism and sheer classiness of how you are treated as a customer that makes the experience worthwhile.  It’s less a business transaction and more the feeling that you are being properly fitted for a high quality garment.  The measurements are precise and the tailor checks every fit point like a master craftsman.  I know I am walking out of that store with something that will last me an inordinately long time, it will have a perfect, classic fit and will look sharp whenever I wear it.  That’s all part of the experience they bring.

The takeaway from all of this, for me, is not simply about making the provision of an experience part of a marketing effort (although I do enjoy that concept).  For me, it’s bigger than that because what creates the experience here (even if you remove it from some kind of commercial context) is the joy, interest and passion of the person providing it.  This all works because there is someone who truly cares about the thing they speak about, whether it be the lemonade in Seth’s analogy or the Brooks Brothers salesperson in mine.  You can’t fake it.

It’s probably one of the more fundamental way to have a positive effect on others – to share your joy and your passion with them.  It’s an amazing way to connect with people because when you bring your true joy forward, most people cannot help but share in your excitement to some degree… even if they never shared that same interest in their lives.  Most people (except for you crotchety and cynical bastards) enjoy enthusiasm and find it kindles your own.

Now if I can just figure out a way for everyone else on the Interwebz to see how gosh-darn cool my blog is, THEN I could be getting somewhere.