Musicians, artists, and actors relentlessly, religiously hone their craft, greasing their own groove, making automatic the fundamentals of their art, so that when they reach for a performance, they stand upon a firm foundation built by hours of practice.
A school teacher writes a curriculum, staging the development of her pupils, and often herself, over the course of school year. She plans, then she executes. She assesses, refines, then reassesses.
The baby-boomer mother, having seen children through to adulthood and maybe even parenthood, has forged a high degree of grit, patience, dignity, and work ethic.
The professionals, the people who show up and do the work, they punch the clock, cut through the fluff, and do the damn thing. Repetition after repetition, day in and day out, laying roofs, cleaning teeth, writing code, becoming more proficient, and efficient every day, by doing.
They all show up, do their homework, and understand the value of doing something well. Frequent, thoughtful practice in pursuit of mastery makes sense. Respect for history and tradition, and the great practitioners who came before us, these go hand in glove with most worthy undertakings.
Do any of these sound like you?
Remember the Possibility of Possibility
Before any of these principles can work for you to achieve strength, or any significant personal growth, you must first accept and embrace possibility. As kids, we were great at this part. We dreamed of doing great things, of being awesome. We also all happened to squat, run, jump, cartwheel, and climb.
And just as society’s institutions stuffed us into the desks that eventually sapped us of that youthful physicality, so too do they steadily chip away at our mountain of accepted possibilities. Until one day, you look up and all that remains is a meager stone. And inscribed upon that lowly rock are the words, “If only…”
“If only I could lose weight…”
“If only I could become strong…”
“If only I could start my own business…”
Real Life Doesn’t Care How Much You Curl
I think back to my life ten years ago, in Memphis, Tennessee. I was a plump musician. Not obese, but definitely getting fluffier by the year, and much weaker than my six-and-a-half-foot frame implied. A poor diet, a rock guitarist’s lifestyle, and an abject aversion to the gym had all taken their toll on a body that wasn’t great to begin with. Before I’d even escaped my early twenties, I felt old and tired.
Eventually, I mustered enough gumption to start running around my block and doing calisthenics in my living room a few days a week. That only took me so far, so I joined a commercial health club, where for years I floundered around on all of the shiny machines, and chased the pump alongside the lunch crowd of bodybuilders. I leaned out a bit and grew some pecs and biceps, but I wasn’t strong. Not really. Sure, I was sporting some muscles, but when I started training Krav Maga, I learned some hard lessons.
Turns out, combat just doesn’t care about your leg extensions, your curls, your bench press, or how many miles you can stagger through slow jogging your knees into oblivion.
Strength Is a Skill
My life turned a sharp corner in 2012. My friend, mentor, and Krav Maga instructor Xris Omotesa sent me to Dallas to attend a one-day kettlebell course led by Senior SFG Tommy Blom. Tommy moved with precision, lifted with grace, instructed with quiet dignity, and illuminated the simple truth that strength is a skill that can be taught. Like self-defense. Like music.
Down the rabbit hole I tumbled. I returned home and hunkered down to practice the principles, and to study. Later that year I certified as a personal trainer, then moved to Florida to start my own training business. Which I did, within a week of arriving.
It failed. Abysmally.
You needn’t much foresight to imagine how such a venture might land—moving to a city as a complete unknown, to bootstrap a business which is driven as much by reputation as by training knowledge. Well, I certainly lacked that foresight.
After six months of random stabs at getting off the ground, I was forced to find a job. It turned out to be a driving gig, delivering prosthetics for a dental laboratory. After work, I practiced for my upcoming SFG and taught the occasional kettlebell student at a local boxing gym until nine or ten o’ clock most nights. Some nights, after twelve hours on the road, the last thing I wanted to do was train, but train I did. I felt better after putting in some time with my bells. Every. Single. Time.
Thus a year passed before I girded my loins with the experience gained in my previous failure and aimed another swing at training for a living.
The Strange Magnetism of Mediocrity
I tried the corporate route, accepting a training position at a gigantic chain health club. At last, training had become my main gig. I navigated my clients’ loaded-carry complexes between rows of Nautilus machines and swarms of dudebros. I taught the get-up beneath the gaze of the few among the treadmill legion who might occasionally tear their eyes from their iPhones long enough to exercise some curiosity. I hammered out thirty-minute personal training sessions to an overhead soundtrack that consisted of, at the very least, 40% Katy Perry.
And while that’s far from ideal, even on that training floor, there existed nothing else for me but my student and those bells. I had achieved flow, and I strove to remain in that state as many hours of the day as I could humanly manage. Nothing else mattered unless it forced itself into the equation. Unfortunately, everything about that place did just that.
I was underpaid and overstressed, spending long days bathed in bad fluorescent light and fighting a losing battle against a cynical corporate culture that cared little about my clients and even less about me. Before long, I wanted out, to share my vision and experience as an independent teacher. But it’s funny, once you get a little taste of what you’re striving for, the fear of losing it can keep you mired hip deep in mediocrity.
Something needed to change.
It was at my SFG Certification that I had the realization of how to make the change. It was made clear to me that I already had the tools. I already had the circumstances. I’d made it this far. Now, it was up to me to create the possibility and act.
I stated my desire to go independent as soon as I could.
“Do it sooner,” I was told.
So I did.
The Value of Doing Something Well
In preparing for the SFG, I made a plan, and put it into practice. I consistently worked it, reassessed, and refined it as my practice milled itself into gritty experience. It was now time to apply those same timeless principles to my next adventure: founding Going Strong. In the weeks following my Certification, I laid the groundwork for the new business, a training studio geared toward those who, like myself, had spent more of their lives in libraries and rehearsal halls than gyms and sports fields.
I made short-term accommodations at some local gyms, and fired the globo-gym. This time I had some clients at the outset, and after six months of scraping out space in other facilities, I found the perfect spot to open my own studio.
It’s humble, but it’s mine, and while some days I feel like the master of my universe and others like I’m running through mud, I know everybody swinging iron under my roof “gets it.” And they are helping me every day to pass “it” on.
And what is “it?”
The idea that your brain is brimming with the mental tools to become more than what you are. In art. In business. In your profession. And particularly, in strength. Effectiveness leaves hints, in a pattern that transcends the challenges it overcomes.
You have the information before you. You are walking around with the principles to use it. It’s just a matter of application.
I hear what you’re thinking, and I’m telling you, as I was told: Do it. Do it sooner.