Overcoming Mediocrity Through Strength and Purpose

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.

Overcoming Mediocrity

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.

Strength Is a Skill

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.

Kettlebells in sunlight

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.

Overcoming MediocrityI 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.

Jason Borden
Jason Borden is a personal trainer, kettlebell instructor, and founder of Going Strong, a strength training studio in Altamonte Springs, Florida.

There, he’s made a mission of teaching principles of strength and physical self efficacy to people who have been alienated from athletics and fitness.

Since discovering kettlebells in 2011, Jason has certified NASM-CPT, FMS, and SFG I, and is currently preparing for the SFG II in 2016.

Away from training, Jason practices Krav Maga, is a recording musician, singer, and songwriter, and is hopelessly addicted to learning.
Jason can be reached at: goingstrongflorida@gmail.com, www.goingstrongfitness.com, and www.facebook.com/goingstrongfitness
Jason Borden on EmailJason Borden on Facebook

21 thoughts on “Overcoming Mediocrity Through Strength and Purpose

  • Excellent article Jason, can absolutely relate to both the pull of the mediocre and the doing it soon, the ‘king of my domain’ and the ‘going through mud’.
    Keep up the good work, thank you for putting your experience into a great post, your words are very inspiring!

  • Awesome stuff, Jason. I’m live in Central Florida as well. I guess I’ll see you in Longwood in June.

  • Thank you for sharing! Beautifully haunting and encouraging at the same time…I absolutely love this sentence: “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.”

    Your story hits very close to home for me, and hearing more and more stories like yours, with encouragement to “do it sooner” are tremendously helpful!

    • Thank you, Maureen! One of the greatest lessons I ever learned, and am still learning, to be honest, is that action cures. I’m terribly prone to paralysis by analysis. Of course, risks should be calculated, but you can’t take a shot without pulling the trigger. And even if you miss, there are benefits to glean, lessons learned, contacts made, experience reaped. Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert,” speaks to this point at length in “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”

      Perhaps it is most crystallized here: “The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.” Prussian General Karl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, 1832

      Thanks for commenting, and best of luck in your endeavors. I’m honored to learn my words might help a little bit along the way.

  • Great, great article, Jason! One of the best I’ve seen to date. Insightful, personal, VALUABLE. Many thanks for writing and sharing.

  • Reading between the lines, I suspect that what you have learned is the incredible value of the intangible rewards that accrue from the proper teaching and learning of the SFG program of kettlebells and the inherently related StrongFirst Code. Congratulations. The trick now is to transition what you have come to more fully appreciate into a viable business that will allow you to grow both your craft and your business. Others have done it successfully and so will you. Long hours and hard work, but persevering in something that you truly believe in can be a reward in and of itself.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Jim. I read your account as well, and can’t overstate how impressive it is that you carry the SFG at your age.

      It’s funny you mention the parallels between strength and growing the business. I was fortunate enough to find the right spot to open the studio that allows me to bootstrap, debt free, and grow at a sustainable, manageable pace. The analogy may be that I’m in a position to grow my business like I grow my military press: over time, consistently and progressively expanding my mastery without constantly bouncing against my limits.

  • Hey buddy, you are an inspiration!
    I come from an overweight background myself. I started training by myself, did the gym thing and eventually became a PT myself to be able to give back and help people who may be in the position that I was. I’m PTing part time around my driving job here in Sydney, Australia.
    I’m in training for the SFG L1 Cert in June and my goal is to train people fulltime.
    You have inspired me mate, thanks for your article

    • Thanks Tim! Good luck with your cert. Train smart, practice consistently, you’ll get there. Sounds like you are getting into the field for the right reasons, which is great. They don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.

      Being thought of as an inspiration on the other side of the world makes me want to work even harder, so I guess it works both ways!

      Best of luck, sir!

  • I agree with Carl! I’ve been in those stifling situations. It is entirely liberating to utilize the skills you have learned without hesitation or subjugated to any judgement. The reason I became StrongFirst is exactly this, and to share it with great individuals and friends.

  • Great writing and message Jason!

    Chasing your dream and being your own boss is not easy but that’s what will hopefully make the journey all the more sweet. Trying to live life in full colour takes guts.

    Good luck with the business and hope to see more articles from you here!

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