Thirty Years and One Major Lesson - A Short Story
Today marks a major milestone in my life. As of this morning I officially turned 30 years old. No longer a kid, but yet still not "old" by the standards of all those who come before me. In the same vein as last year I wanted to write a narrative that commemorates the milestone while sharing my struggles, my fears, and where I'm at currently. You can check out when 28 met 29 here.
It's my hope that posts like this stand out from the traditional noise of the fitness industry. It's so easy to write about new ways to get jacked and tan, the merits of sumo stance versus traditional, and what nutrient people should eat more or less of. Yet, to lay bare our souls is both scary and courageous. It is with my deepest hopes that this empowers someone else to face their shit and grow out of their shell and into who they are meant to become.
I'm not saying I'm there yet, but here I am on this journey and today feels like the perfect day to reflect, collect, and direct. Here is to thirty!
"Boop de boop. Bop da bop. Deeeee dong deeee dong, bop deee dong de boop."
The sound of an alarm cuts through the morning air and my eyes open, slowly, to find the room glowing with the morning sun. Confused, frustrated, and not quite ready to start the day I hit snooze on my Google phone and roll back over, pulling the pillow over my face in the process.
My heavy eyes soon begin finding repose, that sweet embrace of a ten minute snooze. Yet, just as the world began fading away, a hand ripped the pillow from around my head and the covers from my body. Terrified, irritated, and expecting to see my girlfriend Whitney standing next to me, I quickly sat up and yelled, "What the fucking fuck?"
Instead of seeing my incredible girlfriend of two-and-a-half years I saw myself standing at the foot of the bed, holding the blankets in one hand and the pillow in the other. Still reeling from the shock of it all and not quite capable of rationalizing what the hell was going on I simply asked:
"Am I dead?"
Other me just stood there, taken aback that I wasn't more excited to see him, me, it..."No shithead, it's your Birthday! You are now the big 3-0 baby! Old man status for real." He laughed as though he were significantly younger, but damn it if he didn't look just like I looked when I went to bed last night.
I responded,"OK, and who the hell are you and why do you look just like me?". At this point I began getting out of bed and placing my feet on the carpet. Still hobbled by a bad ankle injury from a game of basketball last week I stumbled a bit as my right foot accepted pressure for the first time in eight hours.
Other me shook his head in agreement, "That shit hurts doesn't it? I'm dealing with it too. I'm you at 29 dude. In fact, I'm just you last night. You left me behind in the middle of the night as you moved on to 30...you old man"
"Dude, I'm like 6 hours older than you, you turd. Stop acting like you are so young, wild, and free" I exclaimed as I could finally walk like a normal human. Damn, this ankle is frustrating. I began to walk to the door and head towards the bathroom...
"Don't go out there yet" blurted 29. "I need to explain something first. Remember last year when I walked in on 28 and gave em that talking to?"
I nodded my head without saying a word because I do in fact remember that day. I was trying to eat California tortilla, enjoy a bourbon, and keep up with the stock market when my new age came in and made himself right and home. The amount of reflection done that day helped me grow up and let go of the wounds of my past, the fears of my youth, and find a new strength in who I was, and who I'd become.
"Well, it is time for your yearly intervention. Except, this time I brought a bunch of friends."
I quickly yelled, "dude, it's 7:00 in the morning and I need to go to work. Why in the hell are you bringing people over?"
29 smiled at me and sort of giggled. "Relax you old fart. You'll be at work on time. Everyone in the living room is just other versions of you. We've all done this same shit at different points in YOUR life and we really want you to do better this year man. Seriously, we want to help you get past another fear and doubt that has lived in all of us and get you to that other place, that higher place, where you can truly soar and help others my man."
I sat there debating inside of my head for a few moments at least...
What the hell have I struggled with my whole life?
Why am I the only person that this shit happens to?
Did I set my fantasy team up for the weekend?
Finally, snapping back into reality I looked at 29 and excused myself for the bathroom. I really had to take a leak before sitting down to listen to all of my former selves. If i'm going to get anything out of this I should probably avoid doing the pee-pee dance.
Soon enough I was in the living room staring down all different version of myself. 29 leaned against the counter tops and sort of smirked as he introduced the room.
"Here is 12 year old you, 16 year old you, 21 year old you, and 25 year old you. Oh, and me. There is quite a few of us who want to see you finally kick this feeling you have in your guts every day when you wake up."
"And what is that exactly?" I asked as I went to fill up a glass of water from the deer park jug.
25 year old me sat up tall in his chair and said very directly, "That chip on your shoulder that makes you feel like you have to prove yourself to everyone you meet."
My eyes locked on 25 and then looked down at my own body. Fuck, that guy is really muscle'd up and tan. What the hell am I not doing these days? In all seriousness, younger me had so much more time to work out, a bigger desire to eat and look great naked, and he certainly was missing the last five years of injuries.
"OK then. What am I doing wrong?" I said while still wondering why my body fat has jumped up almost ten percent over the last five years.
"It's not what you are doing wrong, per se, but the fact that you keep doing it" said 21 year old me. "It was normal for me to feel this way. I'm only 21 and I still drink vodka sprints at Cornerstone for 2 bucks. I'm still trying to get a job and become a personal trainer. You are thirty now man. You need to feel better".
"How do you know how I feel" I retorted, angry that this young turd was telling me how I feel. How does he know...even if he is me in the former?
He just stared at me with a blank face, irritated that I'm asking him such a rhetorical question in a scenario where all of my former selves are suddenly plopped into my living room here in Washington D.C. He didn't acknowledge me, but instead pointed off at 29 to take the lead.
"Dude, you still don't believe in yourself. You work your ass off every single day because you want to be special and make your place in this world, sure, but you still crave the recognition and love from others more. You threw yourself into the fire and took on a ton of projects at once because you wanted to prove to yourself, and the world, that you could handle it...that you didn't need to slow down and rest...that you could out hustle them."
I nodded my head a bit, but fought back, "dude, I haven't always been this way. I've just began to be so focused on making it. I have goals, real goals. I started a publishing company, developed the Daily Trainer app, launched a Fitness Consulting company, and wrote a fucking book this year. I'm dialed in!"
16 year old me finally looked up from playing Playstation and said, "dude, you are working super hard...like way harder than I'd work. I'd just play these games all day and eat chocolate fudge pop tarts and drink mountain dew. Sure, I got cut from the baseball team, but I don't care. I'm free to be free."
In unison, all of us, including 12 year old me, looked at 16 and said, "shut up and stop lying to yourself"
Quickly, 16's emotions changed. His face melted a bit and tears began flowing. Crying his heart out he exclaimed, "they cut me from the baseball team. All I care about is being able to play ball. I want people to think I'm cool, and a good athlete, and to be accepted at school for once...but it won't happen. I hate my life. No girls like me and all the guys think I'm a loser because I don't work out or play sports anymore. My life is ruined!"
There I stood. I could feel that pain like it was the first time. 21, 25, 29, and myself all looked at each other and nodded. We've never quite dealt with that rejection have we?
21 walked over to 16 and rubbed his back. Confidently he began, "don't worry buddy. You'll play ball again. In fact, you'll play some while at the University of Maryland in a few years. Some of your best friends will be pitchers on varsity and they'll be with you through the whole thing too. It's not over. In fact, you are going to get pretty jacked, grow a chin-strap, and be able to flirt with all of the girls at the Thirsty Turtle. Life is fucking sweet man. You party, meet girls, hang with athletes, and eat Chic-fil-A on the regular. Oh, and you have abs."
I looked over at 21 and just laughed. Oh how little he knows. Although, his tolerance for alcohol is pretty solid...granted it is cheap vodka and sprite. I looked at him and said, "brother man, you have so much to learn."
"He really does. Don't act like you don't want to fit in still" said 29 from the kitchen. "You go out every weekend on the look for a new girl because you feel it's the only way to validate your masculinity. You drink too much and run your mouth about a bunch of bullshit and try to impress everyone with who you know, who your friends are, and you basically thrive off the fact that your friends with so many tall people".
21, in a stunning reversal, put his head down and just sighed. He knew 29 was right and he knew that everyone older than him agreed. He really was just running around hoping that meeting girls would validate who he was as a man. He lifted weights and spent too much money on alcohol. That was his life in a nut shell. He wishes he was cooler.
Randomly, out of the corner of the room, 12 year old me spoke up. "Hey, I told people at school that I smoked weed today. I don't. I just thought it made me sound cool because all of the kids at Perryville were doing it. They aren't like that at Rising Sun. Everyone hates me and thinks I'm a loser now. I just wanted to fit in for once."
I teared up. I remember that now. I remember sitting at the lunch tables prior to school starting and homeroom announcements and being interviewed by all of the new kids in my life. I still remember exactly who was talking to me but I won't mention names now. It was 8th grade and I was already younger than everyone else and scared.
I was asked if I smoked and I said yes. I really just wanted to fit in even though I had never even seen what weed looked like up to that point. I stayed with those same kids all the way through high school too. I wondered in that moment as I stared over at 12 year old me and 16 year old me...did I screw up my own high school experience with that one lie?
I glanced over to 21 year old me and thought to myself...was he just trying to undo the mistakes of high school and be the "guy" he thought he was supposed to be? Was 21 year old Kevin just yearning to be accepted by the bros and loved by the girls unlike his younger self?
29 cut in and said very proudly, "Do you see why we are doing this man? You need to see that you've always wanted to get other people's attention. You always, and still, want to be loved. I know...I'm only a few hours younger than you."
He continued, "I go to bed every night and hope that people appreciate me. I try my hardest to be a source of love, and positive energy for people, I write and speak with my heart on my sleeve, and I give my all to being something more than I thought I'd be at sixteen. Every little thing I do I hope that people appreciate me and my efforts, because like you I just want to make a positive impact on the world and have a legacy."
25 finally put a shirt on and spoke up, "dude you know it is more than that. I'm younger than you and I know exactly what is going on. I am a Men's Heath Next Top Trainer and I won't shut the fuck up about it. I want everyone to know because I want all the people from my past to realize that they screwed up by miss-labeling me. I'm so much cooler and fit and jacked, and funny, and normal than they ever thought I was. I wake up everyday to show people that they fucked up. And this show is proof."
To which this brought my voice alive and made me correct him. "Dude, you don't need to do that. Grudges are heavy and you gotta let that shit go. You can't ever undo your past. You can't make up for twelve or sixteen. You can't flash your abs around and expect those girls who turned you down in college to suddenly show up at your door like next day mail."
"The Hell I can't", 25 shot back. He was pissed. His anger was showing. The veins were bulging from his neck and he looked like he wanted to hit something. I looked at him sternly and gave him fatherly eyes...the kind that say..."don't do this shit...not right now".
He bit his lip and piped down. He knew this wasn't about him.
After the tense moment had passed we all just sat together and zoned out for a bit. Twelve year old me just wanted to fit in as did sixteen year old me. One wished he hadn't said something and the other wishes he could work out more and discover the body he would find in college a bit sooner. Maybe he still could have been shortstop for his high school team. Instead he played video games and felt like a loner for a few more years.
Then there was 21 year old college Kevin. He was living his life weekend-to-weekend. Hoping that good party and a new girl would come into his life. He wanted to live the real life "American Pie". Hot girls, booze, and crazy memories. He had a few...but he wasn't the guy he thought he'd be. He still wished people love him for him. He wished he was the center of the party and the guy who's phone never stopped buzzing. Instead, he spent a lot of Friday nights playing video games hoping that the world would call.
25 year old Kevin had apparently figured it all out. He was absolute shredded. Like...wow you are really in-shape sort of shredded. He was in Men's Health, had his own website, was loved by the women in his group class, dating and partying with some money his pocket, quarterbacking his flag football team, and had his own apartment in Washington D.C. He was on the top of the world.
Except every night during the week he was depressed. He wished someone appreciated how much he cares about others and how much he wanted to make it in the world. The loss on Top Trainer absolutely devastated him. He didn't want to show it, but he cried about it a lot. He spent a lot of time by himself just playing video games and wishing another day would come to be.
And there was 29 year old me. He was just six hours younger, so he was quite the same. He yearned for people to appreciate his dreams and goals in life. He was incredibly motivated to make it. He started the publishing company because he wanted to help support other writers and creators achieve their dreams like he did with his book, Day by Day. He launched Daily Trainer because he wanted to disrupt a corrupted and empty personal training industry that makes a ton of money off of trainers who aren't getting much education.
He writes his blogs, trains his sessions, teaches his classes, spills everything he knows to younger trainers, and volunteers for every project known to man....
Because he wants to show the world that he is worth its time. He wants to be valued, appreciated, and accepted as a leader, a visionary, and a good man. Even with his girlfriend, money in the bank, and a steady job that allows him a lot of opportunity - it just isn't enough...
Which is why we are here after all. It clicked. I've lived my whole life yearning to be accepted by others. It doesn't make me weird. Everyone wants some level of acceptance. I'd just let my desire to fit in lead me astray back when I was younger. My desire to stand out when I was older did me more harm then good. It seems like I've acted and lied and worked and cried and failed and succeeded and smiled and hurt on this inside because I just wanted to be accepted. I just wanted the world to know I mattered. The pains in my gut, the sleepless nights, and the countless energy drinks that have been put in my body are all because of the chip on my shoulder and the emptiness.
29 looked at me and said, "be better than us dude. You are enough. You've always been enough. The people who love you tell you that all the time, but you won't listen because this chip on your shoulder, this grudge, this fear is like a blanket you won't let go of. Just like that blanket this morning...you have to rip it off and start a new day. It won't ever get better until you get out of bed and start anew." 25 nodded and said, "dude, you know how tiring it gets. You know how hard it is to sleep at night. You are worse than me. You still chug energy drinks because you think you have to do everything overnight."
12 chimed in and asked for Fruity Pebbles. 16 laughed and said that sounds great as he started another match of Call of Duty. Neither of them were ready to hear about change, but they had played their role for the day. They taught me a valuable lesson.
21 sort of nodded. He was a smart kid. He knew a lot of his shit was stupid and that he cared more about what his friends thought than he should, but it was hard to let go. I mean, how can I blame him? He was 21, with abs, and ready to party until 3am. He would have to learn in his own time, and he would, because I'm him 9 years later.
I looked at everyone and said, "thank you guys. You really pointed it out to me. I gotta go to work now, but I think I get it. I've spent my whole life trying to be loved by everyone else when I really just needed to appreciate myself more. I need to be enough and do things because they matter to me. Not just for the vanity or the sense of self worth."
Everyone looked at me, nodded their heads and smiled. Their job was done and they could go back to the corners of my mind where they live as memories. Except now, I better understand the wounds and shortcomings each faced and realize that I've never quite grown past the thirst for acceptance that has always plagued me. Suddenly, I stood alone.
The room was quiet and I was a bit wiser. I understood what needed to happen.
The Lesson here: You are enough. You've always been enough. Sure, push yourself to be the best you and grow as a person and as a professional. Be a better parent, kid, spouse, employee, leader, CEO, exerciser, friend, lover, and beyond. But...don't stop trying to love yourself. No one can ever give the acceptance you can give yourself.
Trust me. It took thirty years for this lesson.