I can remember where I was when I made the decision. Sitting in my office, staring at the computer screen at a phone number I could barely bring myself to dial. That call changed the trajectory of my life, and it has not always been for the good. Filing for divorce never is, no matter the circumstances.
They told me it’s like a death. I laughed, they laughed. They knew better.
Fast forward 14 months and I sit here writing this article on the steps I took to break myself out of this funk. Truth be told I’m still not out of it. Not even close; but I’m a helluva lot better than I was last year at this time, and I will be even better than I am now by this time next year.
1. Work Harder
So much of our identity as men and my identity since I started playing sports, has been rooted in the ability to work harder than anyone else. It’s a primal instinct, and one that when ignored will set the stage for a fall that can never be recovered from. Men need to work and they need to work hard. Sure you need to find a purpose and constantly stoke that fire. But the work is more important that the purpose when you’re digging yourself out of a rut. Put your head down and get to it. I hate the phrase “grind it out” but that’s exactly what you need to do at this stage.
In his book Raising Men, Navy Seal Eric Davis perfectly sums up the battle we face when we embark on our mission to work harder. “Effort does not guarantee success. It only removes the guarantee of failure.” And there is the problem, the lack of a guarantee; the fear of losing the safety net. If I had to sum up everything in my life that I regret, it’s the fear of falling and hitting rock bottom. The fear of having no one there to pick me up but myself. Of being lost in my thoughts, in the solitude, in the quiet. It pisses me off every day that it has taken me this long to realize that all I did by not trying was to guarantee my own failure. I thought I was really giving effort, when in reality I took the easy way out. Something I abhor.
Now is the time to move on some dream, some objective, some practice that you have been ignoring. Make a list. Prioritize that list, and then get to work on item number one. Don’t worry about anyone else’s list just focus on the process of turning yourself into a man who gets shit done.
Few things can compare to the feeling you get from hard work out. That euphoria is a natural high that stays with you and leaves you with the feeling of accomplishment. It has been an evolution for me in this area of my life. I have been training for 15 years at this point, which makes me in my opinion a beginner. To quote Jim Wendler, creator of 5/3/1 which is the program I follow, “training has become mental for me.”
It’s no longer about just lifting as much weight as you can, though you can’t put a price on the mental toughness it takes to shoot for a rep PR. The consistency is what I crave now. It’s about the discipline to train every day in some capacity and constantly look for little improvements. Let the process of doing the work drive you show up again and again. I can’t overstate how important this step has been for me in reclaiming a part of my life. There are no excuses in this category. No weights? Use your bodyweight. No time? Get up earlier.
While we are on this subject now, let’s just be honest. No one gives a fuck about my problems and I certainly don’t give a fuck about yours. That doesn’t mean I don’t empathize with people. I do. I know what rock bottom feels like (for me) and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But don’t kid yourself into thinking people should feel sorry for you or go out of their way to help. I would much rather accomplish this on my own anyways. I want to pull myself out of this mess on my own. It’s about the confidence you gain when you realize the only person you need to rely on is yourself. So fuck the people who tell you it's ok. That you did everything you could and there were no other options for you now. That you have to accept life on everyone else’s terms. I call bullshit on that. Do you see men? This is where you go when you live life according to someone else’s rules.
Physical challenges will teach you that you don’t need to rely on anyone but yourself. That and unbreakable spirit and will are within your reach and that they can be trained every day. When you finish a heavy lift, a hard run, or a rep PR and all you can do is think about catching your breath or keeping yourself from falling down, life gets really simple. All the bullshit, assholes, and crap of the world goes away. All you can focus on is the next breath, the next step.
There’s a quote from the movie G.I. Jane (go ahead and judge me) that has stuck with me since I heard it. “The best thing about pain is…it lets you know you’re still alive.”
3. Read (a lot)
Few things can clear the mind like reading a good book. An informative book, one that helps the reader build himself in some capacity. The type of reading we are talking about isn’t designed primarily for your enjoyment. Sure it is to me, and to a lot of people, but there will be times when you’d rather turn on the tv, or check your social media accounts. But what you have to realize is every time you do that, you have lost a chance to invest in yourself. You’ve lost a chance to improve in some way and every time you do it you are one day farther from being the man you’re supposed to be. How pathetic it is that I have wasted time like this in the past when I could’ve been writing this article.
Choose biographies, leadership books, articles from this website and sites like it, just find something that challenges you to be a better man. The great men such as Roosevelt, Churchill, Patton, Eisenhower, and the many more I am forgetting. Grab a book by anyone in the military and read about the obstacles and challenges they faced and I dare you not to think of your problems in a different light (unless you’ve served of course). Don’t get it twisted, many people who have never served have been dealt horrible cards in life through no fault of their own. They understand what rock bottom is. Still, we can gain a new perspective. We can learn a new tactic, and we can be inspired by people we’ve never met. The challenges they overcome will give us the confidence required to make the changes we already know we need to make. Sometimes it’s just a kick in the ass that does it.
Some of my favorites:
Raising Men by Eric Davis (just finished)
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
Lone Survivor by Marcus Lutrell
Winston Churchill CEO by Alan Axelrod
The key is to build a base and library of knowledge you can refer to when times are tough. Books that remind you yes someone has been there before, yes it can be overcome, and yes your problems probably aren’t really that bad. Change your mind, change your life. Better yet, build your mind, build your life.
4. Extreme Ownership
Coach Lawson wrote about this recently in his article on mindset and goal setting. I admit to never having read the book, it’s ordered and comes in tomorrow, but I have read as much as I can of the author Jocko Willink’s articles. Not to mention listening to his podcast, which is a crash course in how to take life by the balls. The more I read about extreme ownership and the more I listen to the podcast the easier it was for me to see how much I let slide because I thought the result rested with someone else.
My divorce? My fault. My kids being angry? My fault. Season not going well and players unhappy? My fault. The point isn’t whether things are actually in your control, the objective is to take responsibility for everything in your world. Because the alternative sucks, it means we are at the mercy of any and everyone around us. Those who lie to us, take from us, hurt us, bring us down. Why in the hell would we ever want to give them any semblance of control over our lives. Yet this is exactly what I was doing. I was making a choice to allow others to influence me. You better believe it’s a choice. You don’t get mad, you allow yourself to become mad. Sometimes you need too, especially when someone is hurting those who can’t stand up for themselves. By all means get pissed. But don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give them the power to control the situation.
In my life this looks like this. Co-worker forgot to do their paperwork. Ok I’ll get it done so we don’t get fined. Ex talks about me in a negative way to our kids, cool, confront them and find a solution to this problem. Because as I have learned, it’s not my problem or her problem, it’s our problem. That’s extreme ownership, looking at life through the lens of solutions instead of blame. As long as you are still breathing you can exert your influence on the world; you can take on extreme ownership in every area of your life. Let’s face it, the large majority of this world doesn’t want to have any responsibility. They don’t want the pressure, actually they can’t handle the pressure. But us, we’re different. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to others why we would want to shoulder the burden of our load and everyone else’s when there is really very little chance we can ever succeed. But these people, man, do they miss the point. It’s not success we’re after; it’s the journey, and the fight to get back up again and again. We’re men, we just don’t fuck around with this stuff. We don’t create work for others, we are the work, a work in progress. It feels good at the end of the day when you lay your head down to know you earned the rest. But then you feel it, that fire starts to burn again, and you remember, tomorrow the game starts again. Are you ready?