feature photo credit: telegraph.co.uk
Work has always made me feel accomplished. I did stuff simply for the sake of getting it done. Checking off a box or crossing off a project was immensely satisfying. Afterwards, I waited anxiously, bouncing my heel until I could write something else in. In hindsight, most of my almost 37 years seem like filler. I never fulfilled goals with a lofty purpose. I simply moved in the direction my head turned. Graduating college wasn’t an ambition. It was just what I was going to do. Getting in my car and starting from scratch two thousand miles away from anyone I knew wasn’t a grand gesture meant to ‘find myself’. I saw the next task in the sequence, as matter-of-fact as taking out the garbage.
When you live your life as ticking items off a list, you have a sort of built-in motivation for pursuit. The one area where I did go above and beyond was in fitness. I entered into this comparative realm by wanting to get better at sport. Apart from practicing my skills, getting stronger was the extra I could sacrifice for. A spot on the roster would make me a necessary part of the team machine. I could find my fit here.
Athletics is a perfect match for those with a strong work ethic. Effort is heralded over all the attributes, and I was great at trying hard. I thought nothing of diving into the stands for a basketball. The ball was more important than anyone, and what you could do with it defined your worth. The capacity to find and retrieve the ball transferred exceptionally well into rugby. Effort led to results. I not only believed the mantra of competitive sport, I lived it.
Because I was successful, I stuck with what I knew. I was a rugby player, and I developed the habits and training routines that defined what a rugby player was — strong, powerful, anticipatory, and tough. I had zero interest in anything that didn’t contribute to these qualities. I followed the Athlete’s Performance (now Exos) program that the pros used, watched video, and kept pushing, no matter how much it hurt.
The trouble with being really good at something is that it’s all you want to do. Those who’ve found success through a single endeavor are the most reluctant to enter down a different path. Often times, they’ve invested so much that the success part becomes arbitrary. It’s ride or die, and as long as they can keep peddling, they’re going to.
The all-or-nothing mentality is a bit of a trap. Nothing isn’t really an option. When you decide to sink or swim, you never imagine yourself drowning. You have to cut yourself loose to choose air. As your thing drifts away, along with your identity and focus, the world almost seems too big. It’s crippling to be confident but have no idea what to do.
Success leads to confidence but confidence doesn’t necessarily lead to success.
This is what I pondered while I floated.
All I had left was me. And a blank page.
I could have found a pen, but I wouldn’t have known what to do with it.
Specialization becomes destructive, either physically or psychologically. It presents goals as a choice of either/or, and demands full commitment. We obligingly follow the commands and plans of others because experts exist in the world of ‘one-thing’. But what if that ‘one-thing’ was you? Not an attribute or a feat, but true self-actualization unattached to any system or social construct. This is the work that we were literally made for. In the most essential of odysseys, we have to defend our very existence.
My saving grace was that I loved to learn things. With my broken body sidelined, my brain and I got reacquainted. At first it was awkward and silent, but mostly it was sad. Then there was this golden recognition: Figure out how to fix yourself. Mission received, I dashed off to test my capability once again. I had the next phase of my quest.
As I dug into anatomy and motor control and physical therapy, I longed less and less to get back into rugby. There were so many other things to understand! The body revealed itself as this magical, adaptable force, and it seemed crazy to want to slam that into people. As I healed, everything shifted. Knowing that people were better than me was exciting. The same evaluation would have been crushing as an athlete. I probably wouldn’t have admitted it. Here, though, smarter, more experienced people were standing before me, sharing what they’d figured out. I didn’t mind being in the audience on the bleachers. I was fascinated by how different everything looked and felt from here.
Having the tunnel-vision knocked out of me put everything in a perspective of expansion. I could mix and blend and borrow. I could question and contradict. Being self-taught makes you self-assured. A lack of rules or structure allowed me meander. I might have been slow, but I was free to develop my own ways of thinking.
The biggest idea I pulled from this time was we don’t have to abandon what we know to try something new. This was the missing philosophy in trying to define myself as one thing — it also meant I couldn’t be anything. Only using resources that catered to athletic development, left huge gaping holes. The second time around, I wouldn’t play favorites.
As much as I write about Functional Range Conditioning, I don’t consider myself an ‘FRC-er’. Though it’s had a huge impact on how I look and train movement, I work off script much of the time. The minds of Gray Cook and Sue Falsone and Charlie Weingroff are with me just as much as Dr. Spina. I thank them for the influence they’ve had on me, and that their bold thinking gave me permission to develop my own. Self-efficacy is the greatest gift of information. It’s why people pursue it so intensely.
Specialization is not the enemy, but a viewpoint that can continue to deliver purpose and meaning if used with a variable lens. The ability to zoom in and out of a particular situation gives us multiple options and cultivates adaptability. We take pictures to study our subject from multiple angles, creating an awareness of details we’d otherwise miss. Trying different has solved more problems than trying harder. Greater application of a skill set makes for greater opportunity to be useful — the desire of any human being.
Following a curiosity down a different road isn’t a betrayal of identity, but the exploration of one that may be further reaching. The value in collecting perspectives is that it intrinsically creates a unique filter, pooling into a unique voice. Even if you keep it in your head, you’re cultivating your own brand of thinking. There is an excitement and engagement that comes with novelty, in a potential to extend what you know so you can extend what you do. The greatest appeal of the movement/ mover craze is the width of the umbrella. There’s space for everyone to explain what they see, and practice what inspires them.