#87: Challenge Yourself

trapeze

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to play in a local Fire vs. Police Charity Hockey Game. At the time, I was in the process of becoming a Firefighter with the local department, and the veterans were kind enough to include me. Being asked to play was a big personal thrill.

While I’m extremely grateful that I was asked to play, months later I am still too salty to fully appreciate the experience. Predictably, the Cops cheated and brought a line full of ringers, and Law beat Fire 8-5. Not that I am at all biased.

You need to understand that Fire and Law have a mostly-antagonistic, Dogs vs. Cats-type relationship. Last February, I had a New Hanover County cop pull me over and hand me a $160 ticket for “No Seatbelt” as I was leaving the Fire Station. My experience has been that Fire and Law cooperate when absolutely necessary – such as legitimate crises or life-and-death situations – but otherwise squabble like siblings.

Fire won last year’s game 10-0, and really it shouldn’t have been shocking if I saw Alex Ovechkin deputized for the day and skating for Law. Understandably not wanting to be drubbed again, the cops enlisted a few overqualified players with loose connections to the local departments. Fire got manhandled on a number of shifts by this unit of players, the three of whom appeared to be a regular line on an upper-tier amateur team.

It would probably be much more sound politically for me to not publish this portion of the article, but as you know my ethics as a Hockey Player supersede everything else about me. As a Hockey Player, I don’t think what Law pulled was particularly classy. Fire beat Law badly in the 2013 game, but all of the guys skating for Fire in the 2013 game were Firefighters or EMS personnel. I am ruthlessly competitive, but I don’t play D-League to sate my ego because there’s no honor to it. As the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger says in the epic film Predator, “No Sport.”

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I know for a fact that Fire could have had a much stronger roster for the 2014 game, but the Captain of the Fire team rightly pointed out that the game was “so people could watch the firefighters in their community.” He very respectably stayed within the spirit of the game, even though he could have beefed up the roster with players loosely connected to Fire/EMS. This entire scenario seems to play into my view on how some people look to break rules in order to Do the Right Thing while others do whatever they want as long as it’s within “the rules”. I’ll let you figure out which groups most cops and most firefighters respectively fall into.

While I’m salty, admittedly irrationally so, that Law brought in a group of 18-year old Junior players to win a Charity Hockey Game, that’s not the issue at hand nor the point of this article.

Months later, I am angry about how I played. I played…OK. I had a Goal and an Assist, won 90% of my Face-Offs (as I am wont to do), and competed hard. But outside of the Face-Off dots, I was not dominant, at least not in the way I am accustomed to being. Fire lost, so in my view, I did not Rise to the occasion. My view is that it doesn’t matter if Law brought half of the Carolina Hurricanes in to play for them, I should have made a better account of myself. I did not play to my ability at an opportune time, and that clearly continues to bother me.

(Jack’s Note #1: I am may not have been “Tiger Mode” dominant, but I’m still Jack Farrell. See Alan in the red jersey cutting behind me? I also see him, even though I’m looking at the net. He’s about to get a pass under Blue’s stick as soon as Blue bites and tries to knock the puck off me, which he won’t because I’m teasing him with it as Mario, Jagr, and Kovy taught me. God, do I love Hockey.)

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(Jack’s Note #2: Not to further detract from the point, but I am able to sleep at night knowing that I had blown rivets on my skates for the Fire/Police game. Notice the glorious USA Hockey soakers on the Modano Tacks. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, but holders coming off the boots will knock any Hockey Player down a peg or two. Here’s a picture because I don’t lie about this sort of thing. Keep reading though, there’s a lot of helpful stuff later in the article.)

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As with most aspects of my life, it takes failure in Hockey to force me into personal or psychological growth. I did not elevate my level of play in a situation that really mattered to me because I had become too accustomed to playing at half-speed. The root of this problem, like many of the other problems that plagued me in 2013 and early 2014, was not my lack of effort or Will, but the fact that in several ways I had become complacent, or worse, resigned.

I am not entirely sure how it happened, but at some point I began to routinely accept mediocrity in my life. If you know anything about me, you know how completely out of character that is for me. I am an Elitist that borders on being snobby. Like MLB Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, I hate to suck. My disdain for personal incompetence trumps my desire for Excellence, a trait you commonly see in those of us with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s almost more important to not be bad than it is to be good.

Also, if you consistently read my blog, you know some of my core tenets are Rising and using Willpower to get through almost any conceivable scenario. But there is an underlying concept that enables Rising and Will, the same way spark plugs enable engine ignition, and that concept is Challenging Yourself.

Challenging Yourself is the road that leads to Rising. You cannot be expected to swim the English Channel if you can’t do fifty laps in the community swimming pool. Continually overreaching and exceeding your limits is what allows you to Rise to a given occasion, when needed.

A Simple Lesson Lost

At some point, like so many other people, in a number of ways I stopped Challenging Myself. It becomes frighteningly easy to stop striving and to embrace the relative comfort of complacency. When there are a cacophony of external stresses – Financial, Mental, Physical, Psychological, Sexual, Social – it becomes very easy to cut corners, or worse, put particular areas of your life on Cruise Control.

The problem is that at times Life is like pushing a boulder uphill: it gets more and more difficult, especially if you lose momentum.

sisyphus

If you are familiar with Greek Mythology, you will know the tale of Sisyphus, King of Thebes. An arrogant, clever cat if ever one existed (my kind of guy), Sisyphus continually mocked the Greek Gods, at one point cheating death by tricking Thanatos, Death Himself, into releasing him from bonds in Tartarus.

Anyway, as punishment for his gall and hubris, Zeus eventually condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of pushing a boulder uphill, only to watch the boulder roll back down as soon as Sisyphus neared the top. Wikipedia sums it up very nicely:

“…an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration. Thus it came to pass that pointless or interminable activities are sometimes described as Sisyphean…”

Going back the Boulder analogy, this is what happens when you cease to Challenge Yourself on a consistent basis: useless efforts and unending frustration. There becomes a recurring pattern of falling a day late and a dollar short. Sisyphean activities. How much you care and how hard you try become irrelevant if you have not properly conditioned yourself for adversity. Almost all of us can identify with this.

I’ve given a lot of thought to why 2013/early 2014 was such a rotten time in my life personally, and I think I have traced the problem to the source:

A few years ago, I was doing very well in all of the areas mentioned above – Financial, Mental, Physical, Psychological, Sexual, Social – and like Sisyphus, I had perhaps grown a bit too arrogant for the gods’ liking. Shortly after college, I decided that I had enough of my bar manager at the time stealing from my register to fund his on-the-clock cocaine habit, so I became a Personal Trainer. Obtaining the PT Certification was a Challenge, but my work habits were strong enough that I was able to accomplish it with a reasonable amount of dedication and effort.

I took a job at the first place I applied, the endlessly-greedy and corrupt LA Fitness, despite the fact they were offering me slave wages and nonexistent benefits. I made more in an hour fondling the waitstaff and letting drunk girls flash me than I would make in a day at the vaguely-French LaFitness, but for whatever reason I decided to…settle. It was easier to let LA pay me pennies than to continue searching for a job that compensated me properly.

As they say, Fortune Favors the Bold. The inverse is true as well. Because I settled for the first employer that said ‘yes’ rather than continue to beat the bushes for a better opportunity, I set myself up for failure, and in the process managed to take a very bad perspective: Good is Good Enough. I’ll explain why this mindset is not only flawed, but potentially self-destructive.

 Unlearning Bad Habits

unlearning

Regrettably, one of the things most of us learn is how to stop striving. We encounter professional situations in which nothing in our power can compel an employer to increase our pay grades or in some way show greater appreciation. Rather than continuing to press or finding a new employer, we most often yield and accept that things are the way they are. We don’t just accept, but embrace, mediocrity.

This leads to a litany of undesirable effects, not the least of which is a cloud of negativity that not only follows you around, but permeates to everyone in your vicinity. Resignation is a slow, painful death by atrophy, and the emotional erosion is in many ways worse than the mental and physical tolls extracted.

I have always been a worker, and as an adult my confidence has usually bordered on arrogance. As such, traditionally I have never needed motivation to strive for accomplishment. For most of my Life, I have wanted to be excellent at everything simply for the sake of being so. Challenging Myself was something that came naturally and thoughtlessly.

Unfortunately, the decision to take the LA Fitness job taught me an awful habit: to accept mediocrity, from others and eventually myself. A heavy toll was taken on all of those areas – Financial, Mental, Physical, Psychological, Sexual, Social – in which I had previously expected accomplishment and progress.

One thing that will always stick with me about the LA Fitness experience was how thoroughly unprofessional most of my coworkers were. I would sit for hours at night coming up with innovative training programs for my clients, and treat all of my clients – even the absolute train wrecks – like they belonged to the President’s Cabinet. Meanwhile, my coworkers couldn’t be bothered to stop playing on their phones long enough to ensure that their clients weren’t dropping weights on themselves, or to look at their clients while they were speaking. The contrast was jarring.

At first, this didn’t change anything in my approach, because I was dedicated to excelling. But the combination of the atrocious employee treatment, nonexistent pay, and catty glares and whispers from my indifferent, lazy, resigned coworkers began to grind me down, again in all of the areas of competence mentioned above. A poisonous professional situation such as this is one most anyone reading can identify with.

The first thing to give was my body. Because my employer was more than happy to drive me into the ground without compensating me properly, my ability to Challenge Myself physically went by the wayside. If I managed to force myself through a workout at the end of a 12-hour day, it was almost certainly a half-assed one. I gradually lost the ability to stave off the daily physical stress I was putting on myself.

One of my major character flaws is that almost everything I like to do is Physical. I have tried to round myself out to a certain degree, mainly through writing, but my favorite activities, in no order, are fighting, working out, having sex, and playing hockey. I actually like farming and doing chores around the house (ladies, take note). Every job I’ve ever sought – bartending, landscaping, house-painting, stripping, training, construction, Fire/EMS – has involved the use of my body rather than my mind, and not by accident. My version of Eternal Torture is being forced to sit still.

So, it was a catastrophic blow to all areas of my well-being when I severely injured my knee about four months after taking the LA Fitness job. I was playing a hockey game at Bethel Park in Pittsburgh, made a routine turn, and something just snapped in my knee.

I did not have Health Insurance at the time – thanks again for the employee benefits, LA Fitness! – so I never had an MRI nor the surgery that those results likely would have recommended. I still haven’t had an MRI, so Lord knows what’s happening down in my right knee. All I know is that I walked with a noticeable limp for nearly a year, and had disability and intense pain for nearly two. The knee still flares up if I am not diligent with my training and nutrition.

I might have still injured my knee if I had not taken the job with LA Fitness. However, I have a hard time envisioning a scenario in which I would be more employer-raped and physically run down for less money. As I detailed in Jack’s Rules, I made a major miscalculation by putting pride and the wants of people who did not care about me above my own needs. Had I made the more Challenging decision to put my own well-being above that of a ridiculous, underpaying job, I likely would have saved myself a lot of future turmoil.

Because I did nothing, I not only embraced but endorsed a culture of mediocrity. My advice for you is to refuse to do the same, both now and in the future. If you have learned how to underachieve and how to do the bare minimum, Now would be an excellent time to reverse that line of behavior.

Challenging Yourself vs. The Challenge of Others

youvsyou

As I wrote above about my experience with LA Fitness, an insidious Challenge becomes when you have to differentiate between Challenging Yourself and the Challenges others present to you.

Let’s say you are a talented, goal-scoring soccer player. You work your tail off, you’re gifted physically, and you have a great mind for the game. Yet, you are failing to reach your potential on your current team because the moron playing Center Midfield refuses to pass you the ball.

When you have controlled all of your personal factors – your commitment, your conditioning, your work habits, and so forth – and external factors begin limiting your personal success, the Challenge of Others comes into play.

This is an experience I personally understand very well, because I have spent my life playing Team Sports. While many athletes are naturally cooperative and team-oriented, quite a few thrive despite being relentlessly selfish. A unique frustration sets in when the selfishness of someone else undermines your personal success, and this idea is never more prevalent than with Team Sports. One indifferent or lazy player can often derail the efforts of 10 or 20 committed, hard-working ones.

The Challenge of Others is one area in which I have to admit writing is superior to Sports: in writing, the Writer becomes the only true impediment to his or her success. All of the brainless editors and bureaucracy in the world cannot stop you if you properly hone your writing ability.

Anyone who has spent considerable time in the Dating Scene will also know what I mean by The Challenge of Others. The ongoing Battle of the Sexes, and the continued unwillingness of most Men and Women to admit that they need each other, is a Biblical-era classic. Men and Women present continual and never-ending frustrations for each other because their genetic goals are diametrically-opposed. It’s the oldest rib in the history of the human race, and it’s hysterical.

One thing that most of us will agree is that you cannot force other people to be attracted to you. There are ways in which you can influence others and enhance your own attractiveness, but I’m sure all of us have that “one that got away” who we seemingly couldn’t seduce under any circumstances.

The Challenge of Others in this case is that there is only so much we can do to make another person attracted to us. If you Challenge Yourself properly, it’s possible to climb Mount Everest or lift 500 pounds, but most of us have yet to unearth the secret to making someone special fall in love with us. It’s like trying to use a net to catch a mist.

The only thing you can really to combat the Challenge of Others is to stack the deck in your favor as much as possible. You may not be able to make anyone fall in love with you, but it certainly helps if you’re a handsome, talented, wealthy actor. The freedom comes in knowing that there are external factors that you can control, if you Challenge Yourself appropriately. Focus on yourself, and do not let the Challenge of Others frustrate you to a debilitating degree.

Grow or Die: the Atrophy Principle

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In Exercise Science, there are a number of terms that refer to the state of Muscle Tissue. Muscles, like all tissues, can grow (Hypertrophy) or they can wilt (Atrophy). Homeostasis, a state defined by little or no change, is possible in Muscle Tissue, but many factors make it uncommon.

Meatheads like myself are obsessed with Hypertrophy, not because we are obsessed with growing to the size of gorillas (most of us), but because of how unpalatable the alternative, Atrophy, happens to be.

“Muscle Loss” will make a fitness enthusiast break out in a cold sweat. There are many fitness-minded people, myself included, who would rather lose a job than consistently lose muscle. Atrophy, or the idea of erosion and wasting away, is powerful enough to compel people to go to the gym at 5:30 AM or to eat Protein Powder by the spoonful.

Speaking of fitness-minded people, as noted above one of my all-time favorite people is Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s safe to say that he played a heavy influence in my decision to pursue a degree in Exercise Science. In my estimate, Arnold Schwarzengger is the real Most Interesting Man in the World, having had such a variety of experiences that encapsulating them would go beyond the scope of this article.

If you want to talk about someone who never stopped Challenging Himself, take Arnold. All of the details are in his outstanding book Total Recall, but here are some of his accomplishments:

* Went from being poor as a boy in Austria to being a five-time Mr. Olympia, champion bodybuilder, and fitness icon

* Parlayed his bodybuilding career into an acting career, in which he was one of the highest-grossing box-office stars in the history of entertainment

* Parlayed his acting career into a political career in which he was elected and re-elected as the Governor of his adopted state, California

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More recently, Arnold has returned to his roots and become an Action Movie and Fitness icon. He is absolutely revered, and rightly so. If you were to ask Arnold the key to personal success, I strongly suspect he would cite the fact that he never grew complacent, and never stopped Challenging Himself, a concept he largely drew from his experiences as a bodybuilder.

One of Arnold’s first films was called “Stay Hungry“, an idea he frequently acknowledges in interviews. I think most would agree that a big reason for Arnold’s success is that he has continued to evolve and grow as a human being, if only because the alternative – Atrophy – was completely unacceptable. Again, I think Arnold would agree that this was a lesson he learned moving heavy weights and subsequently applied to other arenas.

This lesson applies to you and I, as well. Grow or Die. If you fail to Challenge Yourself, you will assuredly regress. Embrace competition and reach beyond your comfort zone, in all areas of your life, and always pursue growth.

Areas of Challenge

I could describe specific examples, but I believe those of you still reading will know how to Challenge Yourself in all of the following Areas of Challenge:

Challenge Yourself Intellectually

Challenge Yourself Mentally

Challenge Yourself Psychologically

Challenge Yourself Physically

Challenge Yourself Sexually

Challenge Yourself Socially

What you may or may not have articulated or considered are specific methods of Challenging Yourself, or that you have become complacent or worse, resigned, in certain areas of your life. My suggestion to you would be to consider the Areas of Challenge I listed above, and to seek balance, as in my view they are all interconnected.

As a fitness trainer, I came to know many people who would endlessly Challenge Themselves physically, but would not pick up a book or strike up a conversation with an attractive stranger. Like bad bodybuilders, some people overdevelop certain areas of competence while completely ignoring others. As written above, failure to regularly Challenge Yourself in all areas will lead to Atrophy, compromising the Areas of Challenge you are striving to hard to enrich.

The Final Lesson

Writing is not a major challenge for me, at least under most circumstances. I have a clear voice, and I love the sound of it, so I am almost never short for ideas or material. My Challenge becomes making my writing more and more worthwhile.

Any idiot with Microsoft Word and a stolen WiFi Connection can compose an article that looks and reads adequately, but fewer writers can consistently entertain, invigorate, or motivate their readers. At this point, simply putting words to paper is not an adequate Challenge for me. My Challenge as a writer is to write exceptionally, rather than just passably, because I’m capable of doing so.

However, obtaining my EMT-Basic certification was a major, major Challenge for me, for reasons I’ve written about. There were people in my class who I was pretty positive could not read the nutrition label on a box of Ritz Crackers or operate a can opener, but were excelling while I was floundering. But as I wrote in the EMT article, I was extremely proud of myself for leaving my comfort zone of Barbells, Hockey, and MILF Porn long enough to complete something that I do not have a natural aptitude for.

The Final Lesson is to keep Challenging Yourself. I separately and deliberately underlined those words so they sear into your brain. What Challenges me may or may not Challenge you, and vice-versa. Do what Challenges YouIf you are lacking for inspiration, consider and evaluate the Areas of Challenge I’ve suggested. Look for Challenges every where and in everything. Upcycle. Do whatever it takes to continue evolving and growing, for the alternative (Atrophy) is not just undesirable, but unacceptable. Grow or Die.

Jack

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About sfarrell11000
All over the place

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