Friday, August 2, 2013

Making the best of the time in your prime

People are often surprised to find out that I have a regular job, and that it has nothing to do with fitness or lifting. That's because even when I was young, I knew I wanted to be able to make a good living for my family, and try to be well rounded. So computers seemed like a good choice. In the 15+ years I've been doing IT work, that particular decision has never failed me.

I know of some "greats" in powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc that basically live hand to mouth now, or have to work menial jobs in order to support themselves. Mainly, because instead of seeing competing as something they did, they saw it as who they were. They became engrossed in it, and from my perspective, became lost in it.

Everyday was about meal prep, training, supplements (both legal and illegal), and isolating most of their time off from the world in order to reach their goals. I know of one chic who didn't go out to dinner one time in 9 months because she was so convinced she was going to win her big show, that she cut virtually everyone she knew out of her life, and only left the house to train.

I'm not sure what made her believe this measure of extremes needed to be taken. The judges don't ask who was the biggest recluse at fitness shows, as far as I know. But I've never donned a bikini and stood onstage to be judged either. As much as I know you guys want to see that, I don't believe it will be happening.

She took third.

She lost money on her travel expenses alone. Even more sad to me, is that she lost time she can never get back.

Focus and drive are a great thing. So is balance. I could never figure out what avoiding eating out for nine months gave her an edge in. I couldn't figure out what essentially sealing her life off from family and friends did for her. Not from a competitive standpoint.

I can't imagine the emotional fallout she had to go through afterwards. I can't imagine it because I'd never put myself in that situation for any reason. Life is far more important than any show. What's an award worth if life's trophy case is empty?

I guess the answer to that is different for everyone.

But it's not just about money, either.

I have met so many of these people, or read about the things they go through once the curtain closes, and it's always a depressing ordeal. They end up losing their entire identity in competing, and when it's over, they have no idea what to do with that energy. 

Former NFL player Trevor Pryce wrote a piece a few years ago that really stuck with me. In it, he wrote....

"If you’re not prepared for it, retirement can become a form of self-imposed exile from the fulfillment and the exhilaration of knowing you did a good job."

So now that that is all gone....where does the fulfillment come from? When you never took the time to cultivate relationships or a career that can sustain you emotionally and financially afterwards?

Some people still find it, in other avenues related to the industry. Coaching, personal training, gym ownership, etc. For those that don't it reminds me of that HBO special I watched on strippers. The eldest of the strippers in the club talked of how she knew years before that she needed to get out of that line of work, but that she had wasted all of those years when she was making great money, with no thought of the fact that it was all very temporal.

Now she sat, dejected, watching the younger and far more beautiful girls take away all of her business, and could do nothing but wander on her numbered days.

Make the best of the days you have in your prime. Part of using that time wisely is making sure you're also setting yourself up for a great future. You won't be young and beautiful forever.


  1. only you sir, could relate the fragility of life to strippers

    1. Nowhere is the essential fragility of life more in-your-face and obvious than in the countenance of an over-the-hill stripper.

      Washed-out athletes who sacrificed their prime years to their chosen sport but never made it to the pros could be a close second. It's one thing to have a dream, another to nurture a delusion.

  2. It's easy to bash other people and attribute their so-called failure to poor judgment.

    It's easy to create a straight line from your decisions to your personal success.

    However, what is hard is owning up to the fact that everything is temporary. Attachment is pain. Your so-called "balance" is simply a pain mitigation measure taken to spread it around. Your family, your friends, your job. All of these things will one day be gone, and the only thing separating you from despair is your outlook.

    I applaud people who put all their time and effort into one thing. I applaud people who lose everything. They learn the greatest lesson from the most harsh teacher. I would rather give everything I have and receive nothing in return than have to live with the idea my efforts were once worth something completely transient. Then I would know what it means to be human. To be worth nothing and loved by no-one...that is to have seen things as they truly are. You can let this knowledge break you, or you can be liberated by it.

    I am glad you have a great job and a loving family, Paul. You clearly have created a success story for us to enjoy. However, peace and contentment come from within. No amount of friends or lovers is going to create that for you. No amount of powerlifting trophies, either. Nothing and no-one except you.

    I'm sure this will receive a lot of flak. Especially considering how truth and success are measured these days...

    1. do you think that the people who end up with nothing in their life, have "peace" and "contentment"? The people who sold out and turned their back on families and friends, after it's all gone, do you think they usually feel good about those things?

      I can tell you from talking to so many of them, they don't. So you can talk about how much you admire those people but I can tell you from talking to them, and getting it from the horses mouth, that more times than not they regret it.

      I don't know of a single person that went down this route that felt good about it later. Not ONE. They all live with great regret over the selfish nature of their actions.

      If you applaud that, that's your choice. However ultimate selfishness tends to end up leaving that person hollow and emptied out.

      Unless you've sold out like that, then you're not really speaking from experience. So they aren't applauding with you.

    2. "To be worth nothing and loved by no-one...that is to have seen things as they truly are. You can let this knowledge break you, or you can be liberated by it."

      This is dime-store internet nihilism and I hope that you don't mean what you just wrote.

      You gain nothing from sacrificing everything for a goal you could realistically never attain. To devote your efforts to such a goal demonstrates cowardice (and selfishness, if you are impacting other lives other than you own), since the same effort could have been put toward something more productive. Instead you choose to pursue something unattainable and fail at it (and have the excuse of "at least I tried"), rather than actually try.

      Failures are not always the result of poor judgement, and the line to success (in any degree) is seldom straight. But there is a difference between coming to a fork in the road and choosing to go right instead of left, and going off the road completely and getting lost in the forest (or some such shit) because you couldn't commit to either direction.

    3. Well "said" fatman. Well said.

  3. Funny how so many lifters work in IT

  4. Paul, I am relatively new to reading your blog and find it quite informative. This entry really strikes a cord with me because I work in a profession that is the epitome of differed life balance (biological research in academia). It is always work more, give up work/life balance, go to graduate school for 5-7 years, post-doc in another lab for 3-5 years, chase tenure for 3-7 years, chase dwindling grants your whole life.

    I picked up lifting a few years ago to cope with the stress of all these things. As I came to it at the late age of 25, I've worked hard to curb my type A personality and understand that I might never realistically hit the kinds of numbers you or Jamie Lewis do. I thank you for your perspective that everything should be in moderation (even moderation).

    1. You have no idea what kind of numbers you are capable of right now. Stay the course and keep chipping away. focus on 5 pounds here and 10 pounds there. You will end up surprising yourself.

  5. "Focus and drive are a great thing. So is balance. I could never figure out what avoiding eating out for nine months gave her an edge in. I couldn't figure out what essentially sealing her life off from family and friends did for her. Not from a competitive standpoint. "

    It's much easier to seal off than to find balance.
    great article Paul, i had people telling me this and i wish i could of grokked this when i was in my early twenties
    this is an important message to get across...

    1. I think we all wish we could have grokked certain things in our 20's that we never could.