I probably started lifting around 15 or 16 years old, which makes sense, as its also around the time I got serious about wanting to impress girls. Ladies love muscles, right? My dad and I would get up every weekday at 5:45 am and head to our local Prairie Life Fitness. He’d run on the treadmill, and I’d pump iron. After working out and showering, he’d head to work and I would head to school.
Fast forward 16-17 years: Married, with kids, full-time job, 35 pounds heavier. While I’ve had some success sticking with running over the years and “there was that stretch where I joined the gym at work!!!”, I was struggling to model a healthy lifestyle for my kids. This past May, I decided to join a gym near my house with my brother-in-law JJ. A few things to take note about JJ: He’s eight years younger than me, he’s lean with virtually no fat to lose, and when in the gym, has a honey badger “I don’t care how much it hurts you get that damn bar up off your chest and stop crying like a little sissy girl” attitude. For the full effect, you need to read the quoted text in the Arnold voice. I need to be pushed like that. However, you could imagine my dismay the first time I hit the gym with him. Trying to impress JJ and prove to myself that I “still have it”, I try throwing around weight that I was comfortable lifting two years ago. You know, when I was consistently going to the gym five days a week. You can guess how that turned out. Had it not been for JJ spotting me, I would have crushed my chest lifting 140 pounds. I used to bench over 200. Undeterred, we moved on to pull-ups. You want me to bang out some pull-ups? NO PROBLEM…I’VE GOT THIS. That confidence is quickly replaced by abject humiliation, as I’m barely halfway up on my first one and start flailing around with as much gracefulness as a whacked pinata. Wait a minute…was that person over by the squat rack filming me? FailArmy gym fails compilation here I come!
Needless to say, I came home sore, crawled up the stairs, and licked my proverbial wounds. My pride may have been bruised, but I came back the next night…and the night after that. JJ kept yelling at me (thankfully) and encouraged me to stick with weight that I’m comfortable doing now. There was no need to compare myself to what I could do previously when I was in shape. Show up, do work, and in time, the gainz will come.
True to his words, that’s what happened. In the span of two months, I dropped 15 pounds, felt better than I have in a long time, and was steadily progressing on all my lifts. I could have gotten frustrated and angry that I wasn’t as good as I used to be. Instead, I decided to accept where I currently was (out of shape), set goals, and work towards small, incremental changes day after day, week after week. In the end, they paid off.
Up to this point, you may have thought this post was about me overcoming adversity and setting healthy routines. It is. That said, while I’ve taken steps to better myself physically, I’ve also come to recognize that I’ve neglected the mental component of my overall health. To that end, I started seeing a counselor last week. Many people feel there is a stigma associated with counseling….I don’t count myself among them. I’ve been to counseling multiple times throughout my life in various situations. While each situation presented its own challenges and obstacles, having an unbiased and experienced point of view as a sounding board helped me to sort through each scenario and correct my preconceived and misguided notions. This time around, the goals are fairly straightforward: I want to best the best husband, father, and man I can be. I have things in my past that I need to deal with, I’ve been unsuccessful in facing them myself, and I need someone to help me. Much like JJ in the gym, I need someone to be firm and not accept my bullshit excuses, while at the same time, have the kindness to proverbially spot me and help me lift the bar off my chest when I need them to. I’ve been living life weighed down it’s affecting multiple areas of my life. While I do my best to project a sense of happiness and contentedness with my life, the truth is, I often set unreasonable expectations for myself and others, lack confidence, and struggle with feelings of anger and inadequacy as a husband, father, and a man. I’ve been operating out of a place of “good enough” for too long and in the process, have shortchanged my wife, kids, family, friends, and myself. Going forward, settling for good enough can’t exist as an option. Just “showing up” won’t cut it. It’s time to stop making excuses, do work, and get on with life.
I’ll close with this passage from Donald Miller’s book Through Painted Deserts: Light God and Beauty on the Open Road:
“And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?
It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.
I want to repeat one word for you:
Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.”
Here’s to leaving the past behind and becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.