What Going to the Gym Has Taught Me About Life

“You have to build calluses on your brain just like how you build calluses on your hands. Callus your mind through pain and suffering.”
—David Goggins

There’s an old gym adage that I’ve always believed in: no pain, no gain.

No, this doesn’t mean you should crush your fingers between two weights and lose a fingertip, like I did a few years ago. It refers to lactic acidosis, or the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, which can cause a burning sensation that is often very painful.

I tend to reach this lactate threshold fairly quickly and, while the science isn’t altogether clear on the role that lactate plays in muscle growth, I have always found it useful. Yeah, I know that’s “bro science” at its worst, but Dr. George Brooks, a professor of integrative biology of the University of California at Berkeley, backs me up — well, kind of.

“Lactate is not a waste product, and in fact, it is the most important [new glucose generator] in the body.”

In other words, Dr. Brooks is saying: “Dude, you gotta feel the burn to get the gainz [always with a ‘z’, my friends].”

But, on a serious note, if this notion of “no pain, no gain” works in the gym, why don’t more of us utilize it in our everyday lives? I asked myself this question recently after watching a video featuring David Goggins.

For those who don’t know who Goggins is, suffice it to say that he is the biggest badass on the planet. And he has a saying: “Embrace the suck.”

david-goggins-quotes-sucks
Photo from fearlessmotivation.com

Goggins believes that, just like in the gym, our greatest growth comes from welcoming pain into our lives. Rather than playing to our strengths, we should focus on our weaknesses, Goggins says.

“We’re not gonna triple down on our strengths. We’re not gonna do that crap. We’re gonna work on our weaknesses so we grow. We need friction to do that. Without friction, there’s no growth. Without friction, there’s confusion.”

I realize — and I can’t pinpoint why or when it first began — that I’ve spent too much time in my life seeking comfort. I don’t have a lot of real close friends, but the ones that I do have I’ve leaned on too heavily for support… only, recently, it hasn’t been working.

In retrospect, I think this is due to the fact that I know in my heart that only I can make the changes necessary for me to find happiness again — if, in fact, that’s even the goal. I’m not really sure it is for me.

John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.”

I love that quote. And, in the same video I referenced earlier, Goggins gives his own unique take on it — which I found incredibly moving.

WARNING: Strong language.

Look, I’m not a religious guy, but I do believe that we should all strive to maximize our potential… and I know I haven’t. Being happy is not going to change that; family and friends are not going to change that.

Only I can.

The Journey Begins

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.
— Arthur Miller

The problem with so many self-help/motivational books and websites is that they always document things after the fact. It’s typically some guy — usually in his 30s — telling us how his life used to be and what he did to change it. Worse, many of the examples simply don’t resonate, at least not with me.

For example, just yesterday, I watched a YouTube video that focused on LeBron James and how hard he worked to become the great basketball player he is today.

I’m sure he did work hard. But James is also 6’8” and 250 pounds. I stand 5-feet, 8-inches tall and weigh about 200 lbs. While I’m all for positive thinking and a can-do attitude, nobody is going to convince me that, even if I outworked him, I’d be a better basketball player than LeBron James — or even any good at all.

Frankly, I find that attitude kind of insulting and have often wondered how many people are doing things they are ill-equipped to do, simply because they were told that, if they worked hard enough, they could accomplish anything. Well, personally, I’m glad Albert Einstein wanted to be a physicist instead of the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics.

Then there are people like me — folks who don’t know what they want or what they want has changed.

When I was a senior in high school, as part of a class project in home economics (yeah, that was still a thing when I went to school), I wrote a letter to myself, detailing my hopes and desires for the future. The letter was mailed back to me five years later.

This is what I wrote:

rhsletter

Although it took much longer than expected, I achieved all my childhood dreams.

At the age of 40, after a series of mind-numbing jobs and more disappointments than a deep-sea diver in Nebraska, I began a career as a writer — first as the sports editor of the Moffat County Daily News in Craig, Colorado and, then, as a freelancer, specializing in both business and sports. Eventually, I became the editor of USRacing.com, where I continue to work today.

A few months ago, at the age of 51, I set a personal best by bench-pressing 405 pounds — twice.

Yet, I’m reminded of the words of the great Les Brown, who said: “Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.”

After much soul searching and months of unhappiness that I blamed on everything and everybody, I realized I was one of the people Mr. Brown was referring to — and it was making me miserable.

Hence, this website.

It is my goal to document my life’s journey over the next year, as I attempt to redefine my life goals and find the happiness that has, thus far, eluded me.

Of course, the risk with an adventure like this is that I may not find any answers at all. My journey may end in a big pile of nothingness or it might conclude in a totally unsatisfactory way — perhaps with me living in a van down by the river (for those of you who remember that old Chris Farley bit on Saturday Night Live).

Regardless, I think it is a project worth pursuing, if only because it is real. As the poet Robert Burns noted, sometimes our best-laid plans go astray. There is no script that I am following, no ending that can be sculpted to fit a message I wish to convey — because there is no message. There is only an attempt to understand, an attempt to learn and a burning desire to avoid falling deeper into life’s abyss.