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You are not a unique snowflake

Fixing the feet

Whenever I slump towards laziness, when my training’s lacklustre, or I sense I’m becoming less ambitious and more accepting of mediocrity, I turn to Mark Twight. His caustic writing is not to everyone’s taste. But it’s certainly a good, honest wake-up call.

Mark trained the actors for the film “300”. I haven’t seen it and it doesn’t matter if you have or not. All you need to know is that his gym trained the actors. And the actors have received a barrage of criticism that their muscles were all CGI, make-up, steroids, etc. Mark is clearly annoyed that no one has said, “those guys worked really hard and had the self-discipline to control what they put into their mouths.” Here he goes on a rant which I loved. I couldn’t care less about body-building, but much of this applies to whatever you want to do in life. It’s about doing things well, honestly, and without cheating yourself…

The guy who earns my scorn is the ass who tries to disguise his drooping belly with a baggy t-shirt and pushes his chest out whenever a girl walks by because he has convinced himself he’s “not like the rest.” He’s the guy who offers free advice about training just because he’s one step ahead of the poor guy who has to listen. And the most annoying pricks are the ones who say, “I’ve tried to get that ripped (muscular, lean, fit, fast, whatever) and I can’t do it so it’s impossible that anyone else can do it without chemicals.” Those who aren’t the real thing always find an excuse for their failings when confronted by the real thing. Or they cast the accomplishments of anyone further up the food chain as having been achieved by cheating.

Even in the small world of mountain climbing a few guys were convinced that their betters were using EPO, “because there’s no way they could be that much faster than me.” Ski mountaineering racing is the same. Cycling is the same; the best guy in the country goes to an international level race, finishes below the 50th percentile and before checking into his own training/diet/recovery/stress-management/genetics/etc the ego goes into self-preservation overdrive and imagines all sorts of doping practices to be responsible. This is a natural consequence of having been told from childhood, “you are a unique snowflake.”

Well you’re not and I’m not. If you weren’t given the gift you can’t get the gift so the best you can do – if your goal is important – is work as hard as you possibly can, pay attention every hour of every day and then maybe, maybe if you’ve done enough and been smart enough you’ll emerge from the muck of mediocrity to shine a bit brighter than you shone before. Then, upon reflection you might decide your goal is a bit more important so you’ll start paying attention every minute of every hour of every day. You’ll find people who are better than you and you’ll take an empty cup when you meet them. Their example will destroy or inspire you and if it’s the latter you may stay and learn. You might imitate, doing as they do because you’ve already accepted that you do not know best – if you did you’d be leading the group they were trying to join. Perhaps being exposed to their superior ability will drive you to work harder than you thought possible, or necessary. Maybe you’ll overcome your self-imposed (or worse, society-imposed) limitations and shine even more brightly. Wow, you’re getting it: positive reinforcement for hard work and suffering. So maybe you give your goal even more significance and you begin cutting away the ideas and the expectations and the people who you believe prevent you from achieving it. Now you become a real selfish prick, and you begin paying attention every second of every minute of every hour of every day, and you sustain your awareness for weeks and months at a time. You no longer think yourself a unique snowflake, you’re a steel-edged blade shaped like a snowflake and you’re spinning at warp speed. You’re the biggest fish in the pond. You’re a badass. Now you have options.

1) If you think you haven’t yet done enough, and you could do more, you might begin to understand that, the more capable you become, the higher the mountain rises ahead of you. At that moment you may recognize the existence of a legitimately serious group, ahead of you, above you, somewhere you’re not. They are silent, implacable, constantly improving and evolving and because they are truly capable they are accessible to those who are genuine. Among them there’s no defensiveness, no posturing or pretending, and they aren’t interested in anyone else’s. Selection for such a group isn’t based on physical performance alone. Issues of character and commitment, and discipline and persistence balance physical talent. Because you clawed your way out of the muck, were “up all night, dedicated” and maintained interest for long enough to differentiate yourself from the short-attention-span sporting dilettantes who commonly brush up against this group they might accept you as an apprentice. If you empty your cup your chances are better. If you redouble your efforts your odds improve again.

2) If however, you think you’ve done enough or you decide you have “arrived” then you’ll stay in the small pond and stagnate. And when the rot is complete you’ll be just a little bit better than those around you – your initial example will have driven them to reach higher levels of performance – and there you’ll sit, an intellectually bloated, pontificating fuck who once had the juice to work hard but having done so feels entitled to coast on past success all the way to the grave. That’s when you’ll start offering opinions based on the certainty of your own short-lived, amateur experience.

3) And if that limited practice has convinced you anyone better than you is so because of drugs or because they won the genetic lottery or they have better equipment, you may be right. But it’s a lot more likely they are better than you precisely because of your cop-out opinion, because you are lazy, or confused about the meaning of hard work and diet control. Maybe you think self-discipline means drinking two beers instead of six. Maybe you think (OTC) supplements can end-run a bad diet and inadequate recovery. Maybe you think 3×8 of something, anything, is the apogee of training theory. Or maybe you think intelligent training means competing in the gym or on an Internet forum where people are as fit and capable and talented as they anonymously pretend to be. Maybe you read about a workout, do it, think it was easy and exclaim that anyone who found it hard is not as good as you. Well wake up, everyone is a geek to someone and maybe the “300” workout you found easy has been done with more weight, or faster, or with longer range-of-motion. Maybe that named workout doesn’t matter. Maybe the person you compare yourself to doesn’t share your definition of fitness, or happiness or health. Perhaps his or her objective is altogether different. Perhaps, an honest self-assessment would reveal all of your pretense and blind obedience to a particular ideal. Maybe you need self-destruction to lead to self-creation, or reinvention.

How many of you know where you want to go? And where you are now? And how to get from here to there? How many will start on the path, but fail? How many will settle for less? The answer to these questions, based on “your own experiences (and common sense)” is that very few know, and very many will settle for less.

Are you even curious?

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  1. jackson Griffith Posted

    What a wonderful slap in the face that is! Excellent writing. Reminds me of a similar, more succinct statement from Blues guitarist Albert King, to his protege at the time, the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan, “The better you get, the harder you work”.

  2. Thanks Alastair, this is great motivation and something I will definitely refer back to!

  3. I saw 300. It was a horrible movie that destroyed history and was a slap on bravery (The Chief Spartan kept kicking the ambassadors into a deep pit). A parody made on 300 deservedly fetched more dollars from the audience.

    But point is taken. Thank you for sharing.



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