Today started as a pretty normal Monday for me. I woke up after two (Ok, 3) snoozes on the alarm clock, started getting ready, and had a protein shake and a banana standing in my kitchen (still pantless). I walked the four-or-so blocks to Equinox where I train and proceeded to prepare, and train, my 8AM client (Sadly, I had pants on by this point). Upon finishing a very good workout I went to sit into the cafe and have some more calories prior to deadlifting at 10AM.....That is when the day changed.
While sifting through Facebook and downing a few scrambled eggs an old client of mine, Rich, was settling in for his breakfast at the table near me. We exchanged some words and he began to tell me about his most recent climb. (Rich is a big, strong dude who absolutely loves traveling the world and climbing various peaks). He spoke of how his latest mountain left him disappointed; about how as he has gotten older it has become less about reaching the summit (to fuel his ego) and more about the journey to the top (cleansing of the soul).
He then said this gem when describing why he loves the tougher journey:
Without Being Broken...There Can Be No Rebirth
You could have smacked me in the face with a four foot fish at that moment and I wouldn't have noticed. There was so much truth and lesson in those eight words that it made my mind numb.
I've since trained a few more sessions, conquered my own workout, got a haircut, and downed a huge Subway sandwich (Double chicken, no cheese, spinach, tomato, BBQ and Siracha on Oat for those interested in trying my order).
Learning the Lesson
I have been telling my clients for a while now that they do not come to the gym only to succeed. Rather, it is by my design and their own allowance that they should aim to reach a point of failure.
Sure, sure, I want them to feel success and pride about their efforts. I'm not a mindless asshole who throws burpees between everything just to make someone break.
(In fact, I probably don't "break clients" enough because I value skill development and strength over the "sweat-economy").
Let's explore this idea of failure though. What does it mean? Does it mean that we are weak and incapable? Does it mean that we are not good people capable of great things?
It means we are human, a biological system with positive and negative feedback loops that lead to some form of adaptation. It means that we can be broken without being ruined. We can be put together again!
Greek mythology speaks of the Pheonix, a bird who comes ablaze as it dies by its own fire, only to be reborn again from its own ashes. This bird has been used as a symbol for many of centuries to inspire individuals to allow themselves to burn away, and become reborn from their own ashes.
Your ashes are your lessons. They are the scars, wounds, and stitches that you carry with you through life. So often, we bury our pain, our weaknesses, and our fears in an effort to drive forward and be seen as a strong and powerful individual. Whether we look at stay-at-home moms, top level CEOs, professional athletes, or even personal trainers; everyone has scars, and everyone has worked to hide them.
To quote my mother, "we all make mistakes; that's why they put erasers on pencils".
We all fail sometimes, and we all fall too! The important matter is to grow and adapt from these mistakes. We must allow our ashes to be our lessons so that we can grow into a bigger, and more beautiful version of ourselves.
We must allow ourselves to be broken before we are ever reborn!
It can be downright scary to contemplate your pains, scars, and weaknesses. Fear of failure drives us, but it also keeps us from becoming the finest version of ourselves. The legend of the Pheonix continues to say that every time the bird was reborn it came back stronger, and wiser than it was before.
So too can we!
How To Be Broken
The severity of our break, or the area in which we must be broken is different for us all. Some may go like this:
He may wake up in the morning and look in the mirror at himself with a different set of eyes. He's been pushing for years to be the leader at the firm, or the champion of Wall Street. He's bounced relationship-to-relationship, whiskey-to-whiskey, and hotel-to-hotel. He has gained weight, has dark bags and wrinkles on his face, and he gets lost in translation when he looks into his own eyes. What happened to him? Where did that wide-eyed boy go? When did he lose the heart that once beat in his intern chest?
To be reborn he must break!!
She finds herself standing on the scale again. Tears are running down her face. She has been dieting on and off for years since college, and goes to the gym a few times every week. She has sweat through cardio, done bootcamp classes, and even hired a trainer once to make the weight fall off. Still, she stands; heavy at heart just as in weight. She wants to give up and say F*** it all. Where did that girl who used to be a cheerleader go? Where did that pretty little girl go who couldn't be kept inside on a summer day? What happened to that body she took to spring break?
To be reborn she must break!!
Seek a moment of failure. Seek a chance to adapt. Whether it is climbing a mountain like my man Rich, or standing on the side rails of that treadmill contemplating another interval sprint. It doesn't matter what breaks you; it only matters that you broke.
Take your next workout to the point in which you have nothing left in the tank. Add ten pounds to that lift you've been doing for years. Add another MPH to that sprint. Sign up for a 10K, do a bodybuilding show, or climb a damn mountain.
The road to rebirth is paved by each individual who chooses to break themselves. Ask yourself what you want to become, and be willing to feel defeat more than once as you stumble down the road towards rebirth.
The Pheonix does not simply lie down and die quietly, and you shouldn't either. Go down in your own fire. Pour so much heart and effort into your next journey that you have no option but to adapt from it.
Not every failure is monumental either. One can fail a mountain climb simply by taking a new route that requires an extra day to reach the summit. They don't have to fall down to the bottom to learn the lesson of patience, perseverance, and committment.
Beyond the gym...the lesson still holds true.
You'll never find true love if you've never felt heartbreak.
You'll never land that dream job if you don't have the tenacity to build your resume doing the one you hate!
Why this Matters
This blog post took on another life of its own once I sat down writing it. I had notes and thoughts on the paper beside me. Did I use them? Nope. I didn't follow my notes because writing this blog allowed me to be reborn in my own little way. Not everything has to be scripted and contrived. Speaking from the heart and letting the words flow into the post make this more authentic and genuine; even if half of it is jibberish (I hope it isn't)
I tell my clients everyday... "be the best version of yourself". I tell my friends, my family, and any stranger on the street who wants to hear it. We are a product of our experiences and the moments that led us here to today. Whether you believe in God, or that we used to throw poop at each other like monkeys; I don't care. Just know that you are special and that your journey is one meant experiencing.
It's more than the summit. It is the experience. You must burn to be born. Face your fears and conquer your demons. Let your scars show and let your wounds finally heal. Do not look to only succeed and feed your ego, but to fail in a blaze of glory and feed your soul. You will hurt, but you will heal.
You can be reborn!