Hustle and Grind

Got your attention, didn’t I?  In the fitness industry, there is nothing we romanticize more than “the grind.”  Hell, I’ve done it myself.  It’s seductive–post a picture of yourself at the end of a workout, or in an empty gym late at night, and hashtag it #thegrind or maybe #wontbeoutworked (I’ve done both), and you will get likes, clicks, and a few comments maybe about what a badass you are.

It’s great but here’s the thing: EVERYONE can do this.  Can you delay gratification while suffering through the pain of your last set or a hard workout for a few minutes?  Almost all of us can do this buuut…’Grats–instant hero.  Are you willing to torch your health and some relationships in service of late nights (and, let’s be honest, the adrenalin rush that comes with that grind…guilty as charged)?  Welcome to the Hustle.  You will never be short of acolytes so long as you attend to your social media profile with the necessary breathless dispatch.  (Again, guilty as charged.)

But acolytes and clickers aren’t members and partners.  It’s certainly not because I scream Fortune 500 or even 200, but being in this business I get the chance to talk to a lot of younger people who are interested in a career in fitness, and almost all of them are ready to work their fingers to the nub.  Laziness is a vastly, vastly overstated trait in the younger generation.  They’re ready, and in many ways they’re ready to kick our asses out of the driver’s seat.  Good. They should be.

The thing is, it’s not about the grind.  It hasn’t been for a very long time, if we’re being truthful.

It’s about the embrace.  You may be willing to work eighteen hour days, but are you willing to say “thank you” to every person who tells you good job?  Are you willing to look someone in the eye, even when you’re tired, even when you’re sick, even when you’re in a bad mood or HANGRY (Jesus take the wheel and make that word go away), and ask them how they’re doing and…here’s the kicker…wait around and actually LISTEN to them when they answer?  Are you willing to take the chance on making every person you come into contact with feel like you might possibly care very deeply about them when it’s all said and done?

Are you willing to embrace others and allow them to know you and embrace you back?

That’s the actual grind, and I can tell you it takes a hell of a lot more genuine energy and heart than it does to sit in front of a computer until your eyes squeeze shut with sleep.  It’s a hell of a lot more challenging and, going with this guilty as charged theme, I fail just as often as I succeed here.  Probably more often most days.

But I know what’s at stake.  Someday, technology is going to do the lion’s share of our assessments and generate the lion’s share of our workouts.  Our phones and basements will be our gyms and our coaches.  (If you doubt me, google “Sam Waterston SNL Robots”)  And someday, for that matter, it’ll be much easier for you to hook into inexpensive recovery protocols and downsize the time you spend training if that’s what you want.  (I won’t link to that stuff, but it’s out there. Five, ten minute workouts.  It’s there.)

And when the smoke clears, the hustle will be like a single footprint hugging the shore, and we’d better be able to embrace the people who are left standing there after the wave takes everything else out to sea.

It’s about the embrace.


I Am More

Wrote this for a pretty cool project I was asked to participate in.  Thought I’d share.  Even when things get rough, we’re much more than we realize.  Hope this helps if you need a hand today:

I’ve been good with words since I was a kid.  When I was five, I wrote a letter to Senator Ted Kennedy wishing him luck in his Presidential run.  That summer I went back and forth with my kindergarten teacher, Sister Roberta. She thought it’d be good for us to be pen pals.  Words don’t usually fail me when I can hunt and peck from a remove, and more often than not they provide the comfort of distance and perspective…

Of control.

Maybe I’ve been good with words, but I’ve also been pretty good at being afraid of life for just as long.  Sometimes this has manifested itself in relatively harmless ways, but during other periods of my life, it’s been like a rock on my fucking chest, like I’m not sure I’m going to make it another day.

I remember being six or seven and absolutely terrified that my ride, five minutes late for pickup, would never arrive–and that would be it, school would close, I’d be left in the parking lot by myself, and I’d just sink into hell through a crack in the pavement.  I remember being twelve, going to a new school, and sitting in Latin class every morning for six months thinking about whether it’d be better to die before or after my parents died, whenever that would be. Every morning.

Being sixteen and afraid to drive, being eighteen and afraid to drink.  Twenty-five, delivering wine in New York city, convinced I was being followed by scam artists and creditors, catching my reflection in a store window and being horrified by what I saw: hollow, dead, wide eyes.  Like they couldn’t see anything but debacle. So many long, shitheaded nights in a big empty city, because the morning fears wouldn’t abate until after supper and it was like I had this window of four or five hours to attenuate by any means necessary.

And being forty-two and convinced I was dying, for a good six months.  Standing at the computer on the worst morning I hope I will ever have in my life in July 2016 and writing my family goodbye letters.  My sons were 7 and 5 at the time. Jesus. I had a doctor’s appointment and thought I wouldn’t make it home. Thank goodness I was wrong.

And yet, I am more than that. I have to be.  I am a husband and father and I love my wife and sons more than anything. I am a brother and a son.  I am a business owner. When I think of all of the things that I already AM, it reminds me that I don’t have to have all of the answers; I don’t have to be afraid of life anymore or all of the time but I can wake up every morning and resolve to let my ACTIONS define who I am in this world.  I don’t have to control all the minutes of my day or every interaction on the docket. I can countenance worry but I can move forward. I can respond instead of react. I can do the next right thing. I can run the next play, and let that be enough. I can be movement and strength and kindness and let those things tell my story.

And I am a weightlifter because when I get under that bar and take it into the hole, it doesn’t matter how much weight there is, or what face I make, or anything really other than this:

Will I stand up?

Father’s Day 2018

It is a weird time to be a dad.  I suppose it was always thus, but I am feeling it pretty hard this year.

We strut and fret the actions of one particular man on the world stage, and yet we jog on by simplicity and a normal speaking voice to fete braggarts, loudmouths, and bullies in our own smaller sphere of influence.  Because they’re our kids’ coaches sometimes, or it’s not a wise political move to ruffle feathers, or it makes us feel good when we say “you’re amazing” to people when they pat themselves on the back, over and over again.    We want kindness and calmness but we happily countenance and usually recognize noise and self-promotion.  It doesn’t compute for me.

We say we want men who treat people gently, who listen before they speak, and yet we spend inordinate amounts of time online arguing with people about ridiculous shit, shouting in big fifty-point font and hectoring folks who don’t agree with us at first yell.  We use the cover of anonymity or groupthink to say truly bizarre things, personal things, fucking deeply weird things.  We cry crocodile tears about what the world is becoming while treating people who don’t agree with us like ineducable pieces of shit.  I don’t get this.  It’s paper-thin.

More and more I have no idea what to tell my boys other than to just keep your head down and work.  Maybe that’s always been the best advice, but I guess it’s usually struck me as a little short-sighted and maybe a little tendentious.  Shouldn’t you slow down, look up every once in a while to see how things are being received?  Wouldn’t that help you correct course if things are going wrong and provide some positive feedback if things are going well?

Then again, would it?  Maybe the better course is to find your people, do your thing, and act like you’ve been there before.  Shut out the noise, cultivate 3 or 4 folks who just get you, who would go to bat for you and you for them, do the best you can, and hope like hell that good work ripples out into the world.  I don’t know.  That’s what I’ve got this year.

To the dads out there who are putting their heads down, getting it done, and especially to those trying to raise good men, here’s to you.  To those who have or have had dads like that, here’s to them.

Happy to let Ronnie have the last word in these and most matters.  He knew what’s up.

You Matter

Kate Spade, now Anthony Bourdain.  There will be others.  Some will give us pause, and some we will truly mourn.  Bourdain, past the bluster, past the persona (or maybe because of it), seemed to me to be a truly genuine soul, intent upon deepening his life by seeking to understand others.  We need more of that.

But ultimately, we know these stories because we know these names.  And we hear these stories about these names when they end so dramatically, without warning, in pain and found spectacle.

I’m not a doctor or a mental health professional–of course I’m not.  I know enough to know that I don’t know very much.  What I can write, however, is what I’ve observed: we make decisions every day in which we tell ourselves how much we matter.

The small things, the things that might seem inconsequential–they add up, and they can start to tell you how you should treat yourself and be treated if you let them.

Sweats instead of slacks.  Skipping the gym.  Eating the leftover chicken nuggets off your kid’s plate.  Sitting in front of the computer, not shipping, not producing, nothing.  Just because.  The picture is pointillism, and eventually from a vantage it reveals itself as a lack of care, a lack of attention.  What do I matter?

These are examples and they are mine intermittently so they may not resonate with you, nor should you take them on for your own.  And I’m sitting here, relatively content and able to write about these things clinically.

But they are the whimpers.  Listen to them.  Before they become bangs, remember that you matter.  Nothing else matters more, in fact.  And every little choice you make is a chance to remind yourself of that.

Hope Like Calculus, Hope Distorted

File this one under: if you know, you know.

Went guitar shopping today.  I had gone to the store (Manchester Music Mill–holy crap, this place is awesome) thinking I’d pick up something modest and a tiny amp to play at home.  There were a couple of reasonably priced Jazzmasters on sale, and it’s legit been four or five years since I’ve plugged in, so the voice in my head was steering me towards the budget section.

I tried a few of the smaller, lighter instruments and kept finding myself back in the heavier section.  One of the salespeople was super nice and encouraged me to try as many as I liked, and he didn’t make a peep when I plugged in and sounded like garbage.  (This is huge; music and especially guitar store employees are stereotypically pretty arch–think that IT guy skit from SNL but with facial hair and maybe a ponytail.)

By fifteen or twenty minutes in I was pretty giddy.  “This is such a great place,” I said to the guy.  “Christ, it’s been so long…your prices are cheaper in here than online.  I think I can take a step up.”

He told me that he’d be happy to work with my budget and see where we could take some more money off.  Enter the red Gibson.

When I plugged in and found the right gain setting then just sat there and let it feed back, I felt this twin wave of joy and disappointment.  Joy that I’d found that sound again–that I made that sound again, that howl and wave that I can always get my head in and out of, that somehow I would want to stand in for my actual voice and words most of the time.  That noise.  That is who I am.

But disappointment, a sharp jab of sadness, that I had willingly deprived myself of this feeling for so long.  Because…I couldn’t spare the time?  I wouldn’t spare the time?  I thought I had nothing left to share?  I don’t know.  I let that howl hang out in the air for someone else to grab and get inside of for way too long.  Never again.  It’s mine.

I hit an E5 at seven and pushed the Gibson towards the amplifier.  Some dude across the room took a step back, turned his head.  I got inside of that noise and felt the guitar in my hands, and then my eyes teared up.

Goddamn it is good to be home.  It is so fucking good.

Lessons Learned From Rocky 1 to Rocky 3

One of my favorite Cornershop songs.  (Actually one of the only two ones I know and like.)  Did a podcast today that should be up in a few days and before the interview we spent a decent amount of time talking about lessons we’ve learned over the years and I did mention I had this blog sooo……….

Here’s the hardest, most important one if you are bent on starting your own business, particularly one that you hope will enact your heart somewhere out into the world:

It is okay to want to make money.  You should, in fact, plan to do that.  Your business (you know, the one with your name on the insurance binding) exists to serve you and to serve your family by serving your customers and employees.  Healthy, happy, profitable businesses make the world and especially their immediate surroundings better places to be.  There is no valor in being a martyr to ‘the grind.’

I’m not sure if it was the Catholic upbringing, falling into the pit of apologetics (not the good kind, but the apology kind), handing out discounts like candy to make people smile, or what, but it took me a good five or six years to realize a person shouldn’t feel badly charging what they’re worth.  The right people will appreciate that, they will see that you work hard to fill that exchange with value, and they’ll stick around.

There is this sort of toxic soup around cost that can make it hard to understand these things.  Living and working in a small town, I see this all the time.  It is as though things are expected to materialize and services to be rendered at no cost.  Engaging in that dialogue and being around that sort of diseased magical thinking can be incredibly disheartening and it can rob you of a significant amount of your pride in a job well done.  None of those things are happy and healthy.  Get a good amount of gone between yourself and that sludge.

In my mind, the antidote is a clear and present meditation on greatness.  Does that sound corny?  Probably.  But what I mean is to take yourself back to the start–when you were dreaming, when you had the fire to believe that your idea deserved a seat at the table.  What do you burn for, what do you ache to be?  What would you still do if they took it down to zero and started everything over again?  Start there.  Think big and start small.  Plan to be great.  Look for people who want you to be great.  Find one or two who demand that from you.  They’re out there.

Read great books.  Look at great art.  Learn about people who went hard in the paint at their dreams.  Folks who designed intricate bridgework, built skyscrapers, wrote novels.  Stand tall and aim high.

But start.  Now.  With alacrity and a bold heart.  As Ronnie sang, “you can do this…if you try”


Some Of This Stuff Is Private

Some of this stuff is private.  The things I say to myself in front of a barbell.  Some words, some names.  Sometimes just sounds.  Sometimes listen you fuck, you finish this fucking lift.  That’s not private; it’s listen, you fuck.

Sometimes it’s this word, just this something you say over and over and over again until it becomes what you do within an exhale, then within the inhale, then within the howl between breaths.  And when you get inside your own wind, when your need is that acute and the word is an intake hiss, you feel like the fucking ocean.  Illimitable in domain, formless in shape.  Just this big, sucking maw.

On Sundays a few summers ago, I would squat and push the Prowler.  Every Sunday was pretty much the same workout.  10 sets of 6 on the safety bar, 3 sets of 12 goodmornings, and 8 prowler sprints.  It was my church.  I’d come in here, open the garage door, turn up the music (Hellacopters, Pixies doing Memphis and Head On, old Kenmore Square shit like the Joneses and the Neighborhoods), and go to work.

Those were some of the best days.  Maybe it’s crazy to remember so many moments from workouts, from training.  The way the sun felt walking back into the gym, thinking how I’d forgotten Unchained was on that playlist, bent down beat down on a bench, not sure if I could do another one but making a deal–okay you have two left but you only have to do one.  And then well fuck, you only have the one left and it’s going to hang low in your brain like some stupid bauble you had within your reach so fucking do it.  Empty the fucking tank.

You don’t have to prove anything to anybody is what Rowdy Roddy Piper said.  That’s your mantra.  Fucking see you later, tootsie, and you do the last push.

Hold fast to the truth here: that you are making memories.  Every bead of sweat, every stink of work: you own it.  Every time you put yourself through this shit, you are making memories.  How hot it felt.  How cold the water was when you were done.  The nap you took, still wet from your shower.

You wish every day could be like this.  Not every day will.  Maybe not many days.  But every now and again, you live one that you’ll remember for the rest of them.  You made it.