When 28 met 29 and taught a Life Lesson - A Short Story
Today marks another birthday celebration for yours truly - 29 has came and plopped itself right down on my couch. On the way in it poured an ounce of bourbon, turned on CNBC, and ordered a really spicy burrito from California Tortilla that still has the guy writing this text contemplating tomorrow's prospects.
Yep, good ol' 29 still loves bourbon, burritos, and the stock market. Cool...not that much has changed...I can get behind this. Still got some muscle mass, my wit and charm seem to be intact, and my metabolism hasn't hit a brick wall yet, awesome. This rocks.
As it finished a bite of the spiciest burrito from Hell, twenty-nine looked over at me and said, while tearing up from the droplets of sauce that lingered, "we should talk." The look on its face showed it wasn't kidding. I assumed that maybe it looked so serious because it was mixing two feisty substances in the same meal, but 29 was serious for a real reason.
Still surprised that it didn't even offer me some of the bourbon it so graciously helped itself to I simply nodded and said, "shoot". As twenty-nine washed down the final bite of Satan's chicken burrito with a smooth pour of Reserve it simply claimed, "Dude, it's been a hell of a year - do you understand what you learned?"
Now a year older I knew I shouldn't rush to a quick answer, because you know, I'm mature and stuff. So, I sat back into the couch that has supported me for epic naps, thousands of words in blog posts and articles and I thought for a moment.
What has this year taught me?
It showed me that hard work does pay off. Another year as a Master Instructor for Equinox has allowed me the opportunity to oversee the development of over thirty trainers careers. Whether it be program design, the biomechanics behind an exercise, or simply provided sound business advice - I've earned a position where I can be trusted by my superiors to steer others in the right direction. And every single day I'm honored that this is my purpose.
I've learned that fitness is a part of who I am. It's not just some fad that got me excited back in the day that faded as I grew tired of the grind. Another 1500 hours of training, group exercise classes, and complimentary services has been rendered. I still look at clients as my most important focus. What better feeling than to be the light that guides someone through darkness, or at the very least, the conduit for which someone can light up a dance floor in their wedding dress. And every single day I'm thankful I serve others.
I've learned that I'm a lot more of an entrepreneur than I originally thought. I used to assume I was more of the blue-collar, hard-nosed employee that can get the job done when asked. I still am this, but I've become so much more. I see holes in business models, understand market demands, and contemplate ways of creating capital. I study the stock market and trade frequently. I've read more books on finance, investing, and business than on fitness this year. And I'm grateful that I'm growing into a higher functioning adult and moving towards having a larger impact.
And these are just a few of the more serious bullet points leading to by biggest revelation. There are tons of others that filled out a year -
I've also learned Kevin Spacey is a creep, in fact, all of Hollywood seems jacked up.
I've learned that you'll never win a political debate and that its better to focus on the color of a dress on the internet when in public.
I've learned that people either hate or love EDM and that it is really hard to plan a spin class at 6am.
My Orioles will always be cheap, my Ravens forever injured, and I probably shouldn't throw softballs so hard in pick-up leagues when I don't warm-up.
Oh, and too much whiskey can ruin a man, you should always friends who tell you that you fucked up when you do, and you should develop a friendship with your superiors built on openness and honesty.
All of these things matter in some degree, but the biggest and most powerful realization was also the most private. This year began by bringing me to my knees and forcing me to start over. This year brought fears of inadequacy, fear of the unknown, and even the thought of skipping out on the rest of my movie to the surface.
What follows is painful and true, but also invigorating to discuss. It is incredible to have seen the front-side and back-side of a hurricane, especially when you reflect upon when it was over you and you didn't think you'd survive. What follows is the most valuable lesson I've ever learned.
So, as 29 stared at me I realized I hadn't been talking. Stuck in my own head replaying memories like videos on your phone I had lost track of time. Twenty-nine had already poured another bourbon, turned CNBC off and took a short nap, waking just before I snapped to.
I apologized for my rudeness. There was a guest in my house after all and I sure as hell want to make sure 29 feels right at home. I quickly summarized everything I had been thinking about, lamented the movies and shows I'd feel guilty watching now that everyone seems to be an asshole. I mean seriously, I love the first few seasons of House of Cards...
But, twenty-nine quickly drew attention back to the matter at hand. It asked me, very directly and without apology, "how about that anxiety and depression eh?"
Well fuck, thanks for ruining the mood buddy. I was about to pour you another bourbon and turn on some Youtube music videos and talk about the redeeming value of Martin Garrix, Avicii, and Tiesto, but sure let's be serious...
I started with a stumbled phrase, "it was hard...the hardest thing I've ever experienced". It nodded back knowingly. It tipped its glass towards its mouth in a way that signaled keep talking, so that I did...
"It was so loud my brain...the doubts...the inadequacy...every moment felt like a rain storm. Why did I break so bad? Sure, I had wounds, but damn it hasn't been that bad has it?"
29 smiled and said, "well, you lied to yourself and everyone for a long time...you had it coming".
"Sure, I mean...I always acted like a big shot and pretended that everything I did mattered way more than it did. But, I was doing well. I was a Men's Health...."
"shut up about Top Trainer already, and the music videos, and the independent films already" yelled my guest. "No gives a shit about your shots at fame and cameras. That's where you messed up all along. You thought you could compensate for all your shortcomings as a kid with a laundry list of accomplishments as an adult, wrong!"
"Well yeah" I said, "I figured I could show everyone that doubted me that I was better than they thought, that I was better than them. I assumed that my six pack and reputation would give me those girls I had missed out on in my youngest years."
"Sure, let's make up for a rough teenage period by chasing every girl you ever thought was remotely attractive once you have a few bullet points below your name" 29 rebuked. "Maybe all those pointless nights only made you worse in the long run...made you think you were hott shit and the talk of the vagina monologues."
"Well thanks for the confidence, dick" I shouted back.
Ironically, it said "you're welcome" and went back to the whiskey barrel bar to re-up.
29 continued, "see you had to go through that phase, like any guy. You had to break hearts, have your own heart broken, and come to realize that for as fun as one-night stands can be - they leave you hollower and hollower each time. That's why she scared you..."
"whoa, a bit of a jump there don't you think, and who are you to bring my girlfriend into this?" I declared. "She has been the best thing that happened to be in a long time, and you are damn right she scared me...have you seen her bro?"
29 paused, laughed, and finished a fresh pour of bourbon in one gulp and started...
"You see Kevin, she scared you because she was the first person to ever see through your bullshit that you cared about. Your parents had done it all along, but you brushed them off as being old-school. Some of your friends would call you out, but never pushed the issue because it was annoying, but tolerable."
"With each passing year you built a bigger wall around who you really were and continued to refine this false idol for the public to consume. You were Mr. Superhuman, Mr. Top Trainer, and Mr. I'm going to be a fucking movie star. You acted like the smartest guy in the room even when you weren't, flirted with girls just to see if you'd get the attention, and buy shit you didn't need just to make appearances".
"A big heartbreak and another run at being an asshole left you right where you deserved to be, vulnerable. She came into your life and literally kicked your bullshit in the teeth. She worked with you, so you couldn't lie to her about what you could lift compared other guys. Hell, she could keep up with you on anything single leg".
I giggled, "yeah I suck with unilateral work".
29 continued, "Then, once you found out that there were other guys she liked because of course there fucking was...you cracked. You didn't know how to be anyone but that bullshit idol you wanted to be. She saw the real you, and you worried it wasn't enough...didn't you?"
"Yes", I gulped...knowing I was about to relive the moments that still scare me.
"So you got angry when you were challenged, you doubled down on your ego, and you attacked her for everything she was before you didn't you?" it questioned.
"Yes", as I relived worrying about if she loved someone before me, if I was enough for her, and if she was going to leave me, expose me to my entire world, and exile my foolish ass from the life I had crafted.
"AND IT BROKE YOU" 29 screamed.
"The sleepless nights, the excessive amounts of shitty whiskey, the obsession with martyrdom, and the pullback from your friends and family".
My guest was right. This last year made me question everything, tear down most of it, and start anew. I lied to my parents about opportunities that might take place just so my Dad would think I was successful. I put up a false bravado to everyone else so that they would think I had no problems and so that they'd envy me.
The realization was painful. The effects made me drink more, get angry, and even contemplate some radical shit. All the while a select few, most namely my girlfriend, stood next to me and coached me through the worst. She broke up with me once and I begged her to stay and promised I'd see a therapist. After thousands of dollars and countless hours I was only moderately better. The voices in my head would scream about not being enough and make me act out like an asshole. I flipped during silly volleyball games, would disassociate in groups of friends, and would stare through my clients at class members as my brain struggled to block negative thoughts.
Eventually, I took the leap and started a dose of an anti-depressant to eliminate the fog. Within a week I could function without anxiety and the gut-wrenching fear of failure. My body felt rejuvenated and my mind clear to fly. Days became weeks and weeks became months. But soon enough the effects had diminished.
I felt zero desire to do anything but lie on the couch and watch CNBC. I left my passion for fitness in the dust and figured I could just stay home and day trade...a much easier life I thought. I just wanted to trade stocks and drink...the end. At first this was great, but eventually it tore at my relationship, made me feel like shit, and look like a boiled potato.
To shorten the length of this story I soon cut down on my dose and eventually eliminated it all together. There was a few weeks of funky behavior as my body re-centered, but as of now there is clarity beyond explanation. The view now is the equivalent of going from the bottom floor of a building to the top floor of a skyscraper.
"I guess it really did, but I'm better now. I've learned so much along the way. The medicine really helped rid me of the thoughts and help me see that not everything is vanity. It made me slow down and appreciate the subtle nuances of life." I finally stated.
"But, what did it really teach you Kevin, about you and the world just the same" 29 quipped.
I pondered, stuck in my own head wondering what the hell I was supposed to learn in a grandiose sense. "I learned that living artificially is not worth the price at the end of the game, and that being true to yourself is the most important thing you can do everyday."
"Cute, but not it...THINK BIGGER!" demanded my newly acquainted friend.
Lost, but not out I thought deeper one last time and found what I felt was the most true answer I could ever rationalize.
"I learned that the show will always go on. That life has a tremendous way of passing you by if you choose to step back from the train platform and go home. You've gotta get out there and give it your all, but do it in a way that helps the world before it helps you".
I gained confidence as I continued, "and everyone has their own demons. That girl you think is a real turd-magnet could have had a rough childhood, and that really good-looking guy is so scared that someone will challenge his abilities in front of others. Each of us has a proverbial cross to bear, scars from the moments before. It's important to be accepting of others".
29 smiled at me, but beckoned that there was still more.
"Maybe we can all be better at having an honest conversation with ourselves. That's it...I learned to be honest with myself instead of letting the world judge. For better or for worse I stand by my efforts now and I'm OK if I'm not the talk of the town. In fact, I don't want to be all the time. I want to help others find their purpose and see the value in authenticity...that's it...THAT's IT!
"The greatest lesson I've learned is that you need to get of your own head and see the world from other angles. You can't survive living selfishly. You can't survive with the burdens of failed attempts. You have to take off the heavy jacket of insecurities and run naked..."
"Dont run naked" - 29 affirmed.
"Metaphorically you dick" I quipped. "You have to be free of the weight so you can truly fly, so you can truly help others, and so you can actually be embraced by the people you desired for so long. You have to know your enough!"
My guest leaned back in his chair, nodded approvingly and said, "we're done here, I'm proud of you Kevin".
I smiled and said very simply, "thanks for the talk buddy, and you are welcome anytime".
He nodded, laughed, and told me that he was here for the next 365 days and that I needed to get used to him. Sorta thrown off, I muttered "well you better pay rent, or at least buy me a new bottle of bourbon".
29 got out of the blue chair that sits angled towards the 65" flat screen that was my gift to myself last year and walked towards me. Sorta creepy like actually. It stood over me and said, "I'm you now and you are me...we'll pay the rent and buy the bourbon together going forward".
I smiled and nodded knowing I'd buy plenty of good bourbon and pay the over-inflated rent here in D.C. whether I wanted to or not. And just as I thought we'd concluded our chat twenty-nine looked at me and said one final quip...
"Can we tone down the hot sauce this year, day one and I'm already over it!"
I laughed, finally poured myself a bourbon and let my imaginary friend become me. I'm 29 now folks and its already been a hell of a ride. Thank you to every person who has fought for me, fought with me, and to all those for which the fighting has not yet begun. I'm nowhere without my family, friends, and mentors who saw that I never lost my way even when the darkness made light impossible to find.
To my girlfriend - thank you for making this year work and standing beside me when I couldn't even stand myself. Let's keep catching waves.
To those who may look to me for inspiration and guidance...follow me until you find your own way. I'm going to share with you everything I've ever learned and bestow upon you all the dreams as they hit me. Life is too short to be selfish, so damn it, let's let the good light flow.
And lastly, thank you for reading. Today was an attempt at a new writing style as well as a personal note to the world - it has been scary as both a writer and a human. Feel free to share my post with any and all. Depression and anxiety are some evil assholes, but they can be defeated. I'm here for anyone, whether I've met you or not, if you find that the voices are winning in your head.
Don't hesitate to call a friend, a Help Line, or the neighbor you've never met if you can't take being alone. We all have a beautiful purpose here on this Earth and you'll see it once you navigate your waves.