What You Do in the Dark

Rusty Weights

A few years ago I worked with a Leadership and Team Development Company called The Program. I was an assistant leadership instructor. That summer we took collegiate athletes through 2-day events where we put them under stress in order to coach their leadership capacities and willingness to come together as a team under under adverse conditions. It was a really cool experience. I got the opportunity to work with Division 1 Football players (University of Tennessee) and Basketball Players (University of Oregon).

The sports facilities that some of these universities have can be awe inspiring. The weight rooms are filled with state-of-the-art equipment. There are sometimes milk machines that dispense post-workout chocolate milk. It’s crazy. When I was growing up I always wanted to be one of those athletes that had access to these facilities. Somewhere in my mind I thought these things made a difference. However, as a grown man in my mid-thirties, I have no misconceptions about nice facilities being causal to championship teams.

As I would walk into some of these amazing workout facilities I would sometimes smile to myself. In my head I knew that I was getting just as good of a workout with my pull bar, the long hill in my neighborhood, and body weight exercises, as these kids were getting in this nice fancy weight room. There was something satisfying about knowing that my fitness was not limited to access. I also understood that even if I was someone who preferred weight lifting, the weights don’t lift themselves. Some of the strongest bodybuilders and powerlifters of all time lift rusty weights in what seems like dark dungeons. Or better yet, think about people who go off to prison for several years and leave out physically transformed. They certainly don’t have any milk machines in a fancy weight room.

There’s a mindset there – ‘I’m going to execute no matter what condition I have to do it in and no matter what resources I have access to.’

How I Built This

I’ve mentioned listening to the How I Built This Podcast. The host, Guy Raz, interviews entrepreneurs and other leaders who start businesses or other influential organizations. There are times when he interviews someone who comes from a wealthy family that invests in the endeavor in the early stages. An uncle throws in $50,000 or parents kick in $100,000. There are also plenty of people who take there own money saved from a career they’ve worked for a while and they begin their company with that investment. And then there are people who start the business right after a divorce like Chicken Salad Chick founder, Stacy brown. Here’s an excerpt from the episode webpage:

“In 2007, she was a divorced mother of three looking for a way to make ends meet. So she started making chicken salad in her kitchen and selling it out of a basket, door-to-door.

She eventually turned that home operation into Chicken Salad Chick, a chain that now has close to 150 locations in the U.S.”

When you have a business there’s always this temptation to believe that a large some of money from somewhere will change your destiny and make all the difference. If there is anything that I have learned from listening to How-I-Built-This, it’s that money is not what makes entrepreneurs successful business builders. It’s persistence combined with luck. It seems as though the more persistent you are, the more likely you are to eventually run into luck. A million dollars isn’t going to change the fate of someone who lacks desire and doesn’t follow through. Money won’t change anything if you’re not willing to grind your way through all the problems that come up in a personal life, a bad economy, and the business itself.

Again, there’s a mindset that says, “I’m going to keep fighting my way forward even when it takes me to the edge of my sanity.” Plenty of the business owners on that podcast have talked about multiple failed ideas and dealing with many emotionally dark days.

In The Dark

The grass is greener, right? If we could all just get that thing we want, then our lives would be infinitely better. We know it’s not true and we know our time would be better spent pondering what we could do with what we have. One could be easily tempted to think that access to a world class training facility and coaches will change their body. One could be tempted to look at Billionaires like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk and believe that their life is easy. We know that those thoughts and beliefs are wrong. Nobody really wants to get up and eat a meal every 4 hours like 9x Mr. Olympia Champion, Ronnie Coleman. Nobody really wants to live in their office like Elon Musk did when he was building PayPal. Nobody really wants to give up their car for repossession, go into financial ruin, and, over five years, climb their way out of debt like I did when I decided I wanted to take my life in a new direction. But everybody wants the outcomes… never mind the process.

I can remember a night in my 5th year of college where I was preparing for a tough exam that I was taking the next day. Like so many nights before, I was settling in for an all-nighter. I had a nervous breakdown that night. I was becoming more and more burnt out. I broke down and cried in front of one of my roommates. All I wanted to do was go to sleep like a normal human being. At this point I had spent 4 years of my college career enduring sleepless nights. To be able to go to sleep in peace seemed like such an elusive thing at times. That night, after the tears stopped, I got my books together and I went to the library. It was a dark day. There were many dark days on the road to getting that degree. There’s something incredibly fortifying when you find the will to press forward in those moments.

Yeah, the weights are nice but they don’t lift themselves. Yeah, $100,000 from your parents would be nice but is the pressure of knowing that your family has invested a significant portion of their life’s savings into your business idea, also nice? Success in any difficult endeavor is not dependent on nice facilities, money, or some unicorn ingredient. It could be argued that those things actually hamstring your ability to to be creative and think outside the box.

I’ve spent the last 28 years of my life working out. 90-95% of those workouts have been on my own using my own ideas and design. Making stupid mistakes, working through boredom, and seeing mostly small incremental changes. Today, I still get asked about eating and exercise. It’s so hard to convey the idea of commitment and follow through for long periods of time. In 28 years a million tragedies have happened in my life. A million disappointments, heartbreaks, deaths, betrayals, embarrassments, humiliations, failures of character, and letting other people down… Dark Days. I still get my butt up and workout. Merry Christmas.


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2 thoughts on “What You Do in the Dark

  1. We all have our things Joanna. The commitment to writing every week has always been a challenge. But the world needs our work in whatever form it comes – Merry Christmas!

  2. Merry Christmas to you, Travis!  Yes – the commitment, rain or shine, whether in pain or feeling fine – it is fuel.

    For you it’s to getting your butt up and at it. For me, it’s the buttkicking.  Workouts support that commitment today for me, too. It’s really a commitment to a different kind of life, isn’t it. Thanks for your ongoing inspiration to us all. Joanna

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