…And So Turneth the Page.
Well. It’s here. The start of the rest of my life. Of course, the same can be said of each of us every single day… and we should probably all be saying that to ourselves every day. However, today was the start of a new chapter for me in a much more literal sense. I’m not writing from my basement in Spokane Valley this evening. Instead, I’m in a hotel room in Tacoma. I spent the day training for my new job, and I’m filled with real excitement and hope for the first time in a long time.
Many of you have followed my journey since January, and are well aware of the challenges I’ve faced this year regarding employment and just trying to survive through the year. Well, that’s all behind me now. I have a new full-time teaching job at the public online high school for Washington State. It’s literally the best case scenario for which I could have hoped.
Of course, there are the obvious perks—getting the paycheck I was expecting to get for the last year, getting the benefits and retirement that I was expecting to get for the last year, working from home and getting summers off still—but those are all things that you guys probably think are neat. Meanwhile, the thing I’m most excited about is the fact that I’ll be TEACHING KIDS AGAIN!
I’m not kidding. I started training this morning and once we got started I felt a feeling I haven’t felt in a year: The anticipation of starting a new school year. The school for which I work is technically considered an alternative high school, which is right up my alley. The administrators started talking about the school’s core values and mission statement this morning and it couldn’t be more aligned with my strengths and teaching philosophy.
Wait… What Does This Have to Do With Fitness… Or Yetis?
Well, I’m glad you asked. I know that most people who read this blog—especially Mantra Monday posts, are usually looking to read about fitness and discipline. That’s where my teaching philosophy comes in. See everything I tell you all about goal-setting, forgetting motivation, cultivating discipline, focusing on small changes and baby steps and improvement—all of that is encompassed in the way I teach kids. I tell them all of the same things.
I tell them they can’t rely on motivation. I tell them that they are the ones responsible for living their own lives, and that nobody else can make their decisions for them (after they turn 18, of course), and that they are the only ones responsible for their own success or failure. I tell them to imagine what their lives are going to be like in the future, then I guide them through how to make the goals to get them there.
That’s where the Yetis come in. That was a term we started using in training today, and I really like it, because it encompasses my whole philosophy. It’s a name for people who say “not yet,” instead of “I can’t.” In other words, it’s a simple way to remind students (and myself) to keep what we teachers call a “growth mindset.”
So What Is A “Growth Mindset?”
The idea behind the growth mindset is that nobody is ever really great at something the first time they try. Okay, okay. Shut up. I can already hear you saying “Well what about natural talent? Some people are just born with gifts.” Yeah. Okay. You’re right. But remember… there was a time when Eric Clapton couldn’t play guitar. There was a time when Michael Jordan had never touched a basketball. There was a time when Stephen King couldn’t even write his own name.
We ALL start out as novices. No matter what the skill. Sure, some of us take to it more naturally than others. Also, sometimes people are pushed into it at an early age and it becomes so ingrained into their identities that people believe they have some kind of “natural talent.”
I’m not qualified to talk about whether there is such a thing or not. That’s for biologists and physiologists to figure out. I don’t think there is, though. After all, do you think Tiger Woods would have been Tiger Woods if his dad hadn’t pushed him to play golf at two years old? He may have been a good golfer, maybe even great, but not the sensation he became.
My point is, no matter how much “natural,” or “God-given” (bullshit) talent you have, without practice, development, hard work, dedication, tenacity, and sheer gumption, you’ll never be great.
I started playing guitar when I was fifteen years old. I’ve been playing on a semi-professional level now for over twenty years. I’ve always had an “ear” for music, but that doesn’t mean learning to play was easy. It wasn’t. When I was in high school, I never really did much else for those first couple of years. I’d come home from school, stay in my room most of the night and play guitar for probably four or five hours a day. A year or two later, I considered myself “good.”
Today, I consider myself “really good.” I wouldn’t call myself a “great” guitarist, though, because for all of my “natural talent” (bullshit), I stopped really practicing or trying to grow as a guitarist over a decade ago. Now, I still play all the time, but not every day. And I’m nowhere near as technically good as I could be if I would sit down for a half-hour each day and work on finger exercises.
That’s Right. Even the Best Can Get Better.
I’ve been called “the best guitar player in Spokane” a few times by people who aren’t necessarily close friends, and who, quite frankly, don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. I mean, it’s never been an official title, and I’d never make that claim myself because it’s simply untrue. I’m not the best guitarist in Spokane. Period. There are at least two dozen players in town that are better than me… probably more. But I am one of the best. And I’m okay with that.
Still, there are so many ways I could be better. For example, I’m a novice slide player at best. I don’t do arpeggios very well. I can’t sweep pick, and I’m not the best finger-picker.
Now, if I wanted to get better at any one of those things, I’d have to spend some serious hours practicing. Even as good as I am, and as much “God-given” talent (bullshit) as I have, I’d still have to practice for hours and hours each week to get really proficient.
The same goes for anything. I don’t care how good you are. You can always get better. And if you can’t, then it’s time to move on to something else.
Part of the reason I haven’t become a good slide player, or finger-picker yet is because I haven’t had the desire. I learned to play guitar and developed my own signature style, and I’m satisfied with that. It’s not that I can’t get any better, it’s that I don’t really want to in those areas. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done in order to become the guitarist that I am, and while I still play all the time, I’ve shifted my learning focus onto how to be a better writer and teacher.
The Power of Not Yet…
I may or may not have posted this here before, but just in case I haven’t, you need to watch this video.
Yeah, it’s totally an elementary school video, but wow! What a transformation. I show this to every class I teach because I think it so perfectly illustrates the process of growth. It also illustrates how important constructive feedback, and really listening to that feedback are.
So Now Let’s Apply The Growth Mindset to Fitness
When I started my fitness journey over three years ago, I weighed nearly 265 pounds. I’m only 5’6″. According to all BMI standards, I should weigh 150 pounds or below. So by that metric, I was 115 pounds overweight. Now, there are a lot of issues with the BMI, so I won’t go into all of that here, but I will say, that when I graduated basic training, I weighed 155 pounds, and that was the least I’ve ever weighed as an adult.
In late 2016, I started losing weight. For nearly all of that year, I’d been a mess of anxiety and poor health. I had severe sleep apnea and zero energy. I felt terrible all the time. I talked to my doctor and got the sleep fixed. Then I started losing weight, but my anxiety worsened. Once I talked to my doctor about the anxiety and got that under control, I decided to capitalize on the twenty pounds or so that I’d lost due to being anxious for a few months.
I found that working out helped me feel better not only physically, but mentally as well. I lost over 80 pounds in a year, and by the summer of 2017, I was down to around 183 at the lowest.
Then 2018 came around, and I went through all of the job stress. I started eating too much again, I didn’t work out for a few months, and I gained nearly thirty pounds back.
In January, I started working out again, and now I’m back down to 185. But it didn’t happen overnight. I work at it every single day. That’s the growth mindset. Back in January, I couldn’t run a half a mile. Now I run 2.5 miles three times a week. It didn’t happen overnight. I had to work at it, making small, incremental increases to facilitate growth. And it works. Period.
You Can Do It, Too.
Three years ago I “couldn’t” run long distances. I “couldn’t” do a pull-up. I “couldn’t” do twenty push ups… YET!
Now I can. I can do all of that and so many other things I could never do before—just because of the power of “not yet.” Just because you can’t do something you want to do now, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do it a year from now, or even six months from now. If you work at it hard enough, and want it bad enough, chances are, you can make it happen.
Now get out there and get it done!