How to Continue The Building of a Proud ‘Self’
We all strive to be ‘the best.’ We model our definition of success off the media’s small representation of champions, public figures, politicians, rich tycoons, spiritual leaders, and pretty much anyone else who has had ‘success.’ They tell us how we can be just like them, presumably happy, if we do exactly what they did. But few people actually take the time to challenge their own perspective of what success means. Our subconscious minds are imprinted with the idea that in order to feel the peace and satisfaction of self we must ‘succeed’ in the external world. There is a common trend in the public that we can’t be proud of ourselves until we accomplish something ‘great.’ The problem with this mode of thinking is that time makes everything irrelevant. Some day, the thing you dedicate all your life to will no longer be respected by people. For example, how many people remember who the NFL MVP of 20 years ago, or how many people remember who the number one golfer in the world was prior to Tiger Woods? Whomever they are, they have achieved the thing most people seek to feel proud of themselves; fame, money, respect, adoration. Unfortunately those things are transient and likely won’t remain in your life forever. It’s possible that those people are still incredibly proud of themselves and living full lives, but there are also many horror stories of people that ‘had it all’ killing themselves, becoming drug addicts, or having tragic falls from grace. So, we must look to redefine our version of success if we hope to ensure it lasts long after those things fizzle out of the short-term attention span of the mass media.
Our relentless athletic pursuits are riddled with powerful motivational clichés like, “I want to be a champion and I will only be satisfied when I achieve that.” Frequently any indication that this premise won’t come true causes extreme feelings of rage, self-doubt, failure, and feelings of self-loathing. Essentially, what we are saying is that we aren’t proud of who we are today. We feel like losers and unworthy of respect. We feel only when we get to the top can we be proud. I have watched so many people in the CrossFit Open fall victim to this trap. I have seen past Games athletes who won’t make the regionals publicly justifying their losses vowing to come back stronger, I have seen my own gym-owner/athletes that have no desire to be competitive anymore unable to cope with the perceived judgment of their members expectation of their performances, and I have seen people who fell in love with fitness through CrossFit decide they no longer want to compete because they aren’t ‘good enough’ anymore. To me, this is a self-destructive way of thinking that makes people miserable. Ironically those same motivating speeches we give ourselves lead to a large portion of the emotional burnout of competitive athletics. This lie that so many of us perpetuate makes us think we should hate ourselves if our dreams don’t come true. I contend that there is hope for you to have self-respect if you dedicate yourself fully to a pursuit, even if your journey ends in ‘failure.’
The world is a chaotic place and there are so many things outside of your control. Successful people largely attribute their success to themselves. They will generally explain to other people and say it was THEIR work ethic, THEIR skills, THEIR desire to be the best, THEIR communication skills, THEIR intellect, etc. Generally, I see this concept as incomplete because there are so many things that influence the outcomes of the best performers. Let’s take CrossFit for example. Is Rich Froning the best solely because of him? If so, what about Greg Glassman? If he never developed the theories that are now CrossFit, Rich may never have been on the public stage. If Rich had different parents and his DNA didn’t support insane muscle physiology and an enormous capacity for oxygen uptake, would he still be “Rich”? If Rich didn’t go to school for exercise physiology and get smart enough to coach himself, and introduced to CrossFit, would we even know who he is? If Rich’s father didn’t prescribe a large physical work load in his early years, would his energy production capacities have been as high as they are today? If the CrossFit Games became a legitimate profession for the top athletes five years later and he didn’t have the opportunity to earn a living for his family at this age, would anyone know who Rich Froning is? The answer to these questions that dictate ‘who’ deserves the credit will never really be known. What we do know is that a lot of different things over the course of the past had to line up perfectly to create the most dominant athlete the young sport of CrossFit has yet seen. We also know that Rich is the one and only success story in a very large number of the male athletes who are training with the dream to standing on top of the podium of the CrossFit Games. And, I don’t know Rich Froning. So I don’t even know if he is living his dream. Maybe his dream was to be a professional baseball player and he just decided to do this because it’s competitive and he likes to work out. The point is that we have no idea what someone else’s reality or internal life is like. Similarly, we have NO idea what will play out in our lives. Mike Tyson once reminded us, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” which is a good metaphor for life. You can put all the training in, have perfect nutrition, perfect your lifting mechanics, hire the best coaches, and at the end of the day Rich Froning can come along and destroy your dreams. So, how do we cope with this uncertainty? Should we avoid commitment all together because we are so unwilling to deal with failure? If so, I believe you also forgo the small chance that you build a great body of work in your life.
I believe that we build a life we are proud of through 100% dedication to your current life’s work, all the time while acknowledging wholeheartedly that failure is a possible outcome of your future. There is nothing wrong with hating failure or desiring a better tomorrow, but there is something wrong with being so scared of failure that you are inconsolable every time you hit a bump in the road in your quest to be the best. It’s as if we can only be set on the path to ‘success’ if we let go of the fear, ‘what if’s,’ humiliation of loss, etc and our only being happy with a singular outcome. There was a time in my life that I wanted to be the best ____ in the world. You can fill in the blank there with a multitude of goals including, wrestler, CrossFitter, football player, and the path with which I am dedicating my foreseeable future towards – Coach. And, in each one of those quests, to which I have dedicated so much, I have ‘failed.’ The feeling of humiliation, shame and failure was so profound for me in many of them that I never thought I was worthy. I hated everything about myself because I tried so hard to be THE BEST and never lived up to the dreams with which I attached to my self-worth. What I never realized was happening along the way is that all of these failures strengthened me, and brought me closer and closer to the reality of my current life, for which I feel great pride. At one point, the small fat kid in me never thought I would allow myself to walk around at 18% bodyfat. The small child who’s family went through bankruptcy didn’t think I could survive without ‘enough’ money in the bank account. The ‘alpha male’ inside of me didn’t think I could feel self-confident if I couldn’t beat the $hit out of anybody that disagreed with my opinions. The athlete inside of me never imagined I could enjoy working out with no desire to compete at a sport anymore. But, I am in fact more prideful about the life I have today than I have ever been before. Does that mean I am satisfied? Absolutely not! After getting my body healthy after years of abusive training, I want to get my body into a dominant state of movement and power so I can trash talk my athletes and back it up. I want to know everything there possibly is to know about human performance ranging from behavioral psychology to exercise physiology. I want to have a huge coaching organization respected for our knowledge, work ethic, unique approaches, and educational infrastructure. I am not sure I will ever be satisfied. I love to dream big and I love to quest. I dedicate almost every waking moment to the future I want to build. The difference this time around is that I am proud today regardless of whether or not the outcome I hope for tomorrow comes true. I am in one of the most ironic points of my own life story where I am happier than I’ve ever been, with much less than I always wanted. I feel that I have earned this pride through so many failures. Each one destroying the identity I projected and wanted the world to validate. My life now allows me to train two hours a day, coach athletes in high levels of different sports, travel around the world to teach, coach people who just want to be better people, have conversations about life, film educational courses, play with my animals, go hit golf balls whenever I want, and most importantly wake up without hating myself.
I whole-heartedly believe that no one can truly ‘succeed’ until they experience failures in goals that they committed themselves to fully. To me, success is less associated with the common things society tells us are good like medals, recognition, praise, money, fame and has more to do with how you feel about your self when no one else is around. To make this argument more relevant to people finding themselves training towards a goal in fitness, what does that mean? If you want to use fitness/sport as a path to find yourself, you must first fully commit to it. You must put a large part of your focus, energy, time, and will power into the specific task of maximizing what you have to work with. You must work on your nutrition, work on your skills, risk being ‘injured’ in your training, push the boundaries, prioritize sleep and recovery, hire a coach, and fully invest in the process of athletic development. The best athletes will be the small number of those who rise to domination with perfect past and present circumstances. They will find themselves on the podiums, with the praise of society, the money from sponsors, and the fifteen minutes of fame their careers will allow before the next young stud comes along. I hope that my athletes who reach that level will have self reflected enough so that single aspect of their identity is not all they think they are. I think that this outwardly success sometimes actually makes it harder to achieve life long self-respect than when you put forth the same commitment and fail at your goal. So, more likely you are one of those people that failed during the open? You thought you were better than you were. What do you do now? First, consider yourself lucky for the opportunity to learn from the failures of life. Then acknowledge where you are and be proud regardless of the disappointment. You must analyze how much ground you have to cover to be what you want to be, and make a decision as to whether or not that is in the realm of possibility. If you and your coach feel that your dream is still possible and worth it, push on with full commitment. But remember to be proud of yourself TODAY while maintaining a relentless desire to attain what it is you set out to achieve tomorrow. Feel no shame in your ‘failures’ because you have no idea what this lesson will teach you for your life tomorrow.
If, however, you are being honest with yourself and you know that your ‘dreams’ are no longer possible for whatever reason (age, growth of the sport, mental anxiety, life commitments, etc), just make peace with the fact that we wake up from fantasies. Just wake up from your daydream. Shake off the perceived ‘loss’ that you feel from not peaking in your own personal journey yet. Figure out where you are, where you want to go, and start forward again on a new path of self-creation. One day you will realize that the only person you really care about satisfying is yourself. The epiphany will hit you that each one of those ‘failures’ left you stronger and more prepared for the journey you are in today. You will realize that your inner critic is much more harsh than any criticism you will hear from the outside world. You will lose a desire to have the external praise that you once felt was vital to your existence. And ultimately, which is the best part, you will no longer fear the people who criticize your choices, your accomplishments, your decisions, your looks, and your behavior. The approval you were so desperately seeking from outside people through your determined work ethic will become a complete waste of your time. You will open your eyes to see that not only are those critics generally unhappy themselves, but as Teddy Roosevelt so beautifully said,
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”