2 a.m. I woke up with a disturbing thought. What is it doesn’t work?What if this business doesn’t work out? What if all the money, time, and effort was a waste?
For the next hour, I tossed and turned, attempting in vain to go back to sleep. These thoughts based in fear laid their spider web over my mind. I could not banish them regardless of how hard I tried.
I woke up groggy and tired at 5 a.m. Getting ready for work was a struggle. The commute was even more of a struggle. I powered up my office coffee maker, brewed a cup, and then proceeded to look at it deciding whether or not I would take a sip.
The thoughts continued to linger. Am I letting my family down by pursuing a hopeless cause? I turned on my laptop and pulled up my morning checklist. How am I supposed to write my next article to a website nobody even knows exists? How do I proceed? My only recourse was to do what I always do when I get a little down. I took out a blank piece of paper and began to write. I turned inward. I turned to my philosophy and the guide stones that have allowed me to stay the course.
What is the purpose of my business?
It is to help people. Specifically, it is to help people find the strength they deserve, the strength they need to complete their daily activities. On the surface, strong people navigate life with less difficulty. They are less dependent on help from others, including those whose primary occupation is to prescribe medication. Going deeper, strong people are often mentally tougher, braver, and better disciplined. My purpose is a good one. And if there is nothing wrong with it, and I believe that it is what I should be doing, then…
What should I do now?
I never once thought it would be easy. I never thought this would be some overnight success story. Yes, I am swinging for the fences, but I also know the game I am playing is a long one.
The past is gone. Hopefully, I learned something along the way. The future is uncertain. All I truly have is today. How many small victories can I win today? If I stack enough of them up and do it every day, then I will get a little closer to the goal. That is all there is. The plans have been made. The only thing left to do is the work. This mountain I am climbing can be conquered only if I can keep taking the next step. One day at a time. One small victory followed by the next.
To have your name attached to that improvement in perpetuity is icing on the cake. Didn’t someone once say, you are only truly dead when you are forgotten?
Maybe it is possible to hear your own name beyond the grave. If not, then why does it really matter?
How many remember The Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun”? If you are over 40, there is a good chance you do and can even sing the main line and hum the few bars that follow. The song is over 50 years old. Yet a good portion of the world’s population remembers it. Surviving this long is an amazing feat. How long will it last before it is completely forgotten? Now, think about Marion Harris’s song, “After You’ve Gone.” Do you remember it? This chart-topping song came out 50 years before Here Comes the Sun.
What was popular then has faded away. And what is popular today will eventually share the same fate.
Things will get lost in time. Languages, cultures, and civilizations will crumble and turn to dust.
We take our legacy seriously. We want to say our lives have meaning and the measuring stick is how long we will be remembered after our bodies are no more. But even the greatest names of humanity’s ancient past will drift off into obscurity.
Where does that leave us?
The first king of Israel was Saul. He was a tall, good-looking man, and the leader of God’s chosen people. One could say that he had at all. Yet, he had a problem. As Fr. Mike Schmitz explains it on The Bible in a Year podcast, Saul suffered from the sin of vanity. And what is vanity? He was overly preoccupied with what people thought of him. Two kings later, Solomon would in Ecclesiastes 1:2 say, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” I’ve often wondered about this saying. But it wasn’t until I understood Saul, that I could understand Solomon’s words. It was then that I could see my own problems and how my life has been one of vanity even from my earliest age.
Does it mean I should stop chasing my legacy? Well, if I want to remove vanity from my life, then yes, I should leave it behind. Can I do that and still have a positive impact on the world? The answer again is yes. My focus shouldn’t be on the results but rather on what I am doing today.
Here are four things I should take seriously rather than worrying about my legacy.
#1 A just mind
If you want to be righteous, you need two things: right thoughts and right actions. The first component of that is right thoughts. Our mind is a sacred enclosure, and no thoughts can enter into it without our permission. This begins with what we consume. If I litter my mind with garbage, then it won’t be long before that garbage permeates into my thinking. And that in time will affect my actions. To have a just mind, I must begin to permeate it with good material which in turn will lead to good thoughts.
#2 Socially useful actions.
These actions are not a green light to be a member of The Social Media Thought Police. Instead, it is how I can make my little place in the universe better. Modern technology has given us the ability to have a global outreach, but are we reaching out in our community as well? Setting up a nonprofit in a remote place on the other side of the world is wonderful. Also wonderful is helping your neighbor in need, picking up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, and opening the door for the lady walking behind you. Small things done daily to make your community better will have a lasting impact over time.
#3 Speech that never lies.
We could imagine a world filled with nothing but truth. Politics, media, big corporations, the used car dealer down the street. Sadly, we are surrounded by corrupt people whose objective is to deceive for their own personal gain. Not everybody is like this, but there are enough bad apples causing us to question the whole bunch.
We cannot force others to the truth. After all, they are doing what is right in their own eyes. The only speech we can control is the ones that come from our own mouths. We can be the bearers of truth. We can assure that our words are trustworthy.
#4 Welcome everything that happens as necessary.
As much as we like, we cannot control outside events. What we can control is our own response to it. Why did the universe put this unfortunate event in our lap? Who knows? Fortune gives and also takes away. Can this event make me a better person? Of course. That is part of our response to the event. By itself, the event cannot make us a worse person. Our response to the event, however, can make us a better person.
In any case, what is it to be remembered forever? Nothing but vanity. So what should one take seriously? Only the following: a just mind, socially useful actions, speech that only ever tells the truth, and the ability to welcome everything that happens as necessary, as comprehensible by reason, and as flowing from an equally rational original source.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.33
Vanity of vanities, how can I remove vanity from my life? I can move my focus from the future and put it in the present where it belongs. I can take these four things from Marcus Aurelius seriously and work on them daily. Doing this will make me a better person and cement the legacy I imagine.
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The pursuit of knowledge is commendable. It is a lifetime endeavor bearing an abundance of fruit, if…
A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting.
We should gather it up. Then, we should go about trying to understand it the best we can. After that, all that is required of us is the action, not thinking about the action, but acting on the knowledge that has been required.
Imagine studying money but never applying it. What good does it do if you learn but never earn, save, or invest?
Imagine how much is learned in school and forgotten as soon as the test is taken.
Get the knowledge. Go about understanding what it is and how you can use it. Think about the action you plan on taking. And then finally, take the last step: ACT.
The opposite of excellence is mediocrity. Occasionally, we find ourselves in such a “less than” state where a project didn’t get completed in time, a goal was missed, or we just didn’t show up on time if we ever showed up at all. Sometimes we have these one-off events where we missed the mark. And that is okay. Things happen.
For some, it is not only one time. Instead, it has become a habit, or an accumulation of multiple bad habits. And the results? These individuals have become the very opposite of excellence. Their less-than-desirable habits have led to a less-than-desirable way of living.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.
There may be the occasional act of excellence. But for the mediocre, these acts are rare and may even come as a surprise to the actor and the audience. One-time acts, however, do not constitute an excellence of life. Excellence then goes beyond the occasional and moves into the rarified air of “always.” Not an act, but a habit.
How do we find excellence? We program it into our lives. We look at our bad habits and find ways to correct them. We pick desirable habits and then pursue them. It is consistent pursuit involving self-analysis, planning, and finally execution. It is walking a path of discipline. Not on the occasion, but continually. Everyday. This is where we find the freedom to excel, to become excellent.
The right habits will make the individual incredibly disciplined. It will put her on autopilot towards her desired destination. Like a direct deposit into her retirement plan, she won’t have to think about it. It just gets automatically done.
What can we do to optimize our routines? Is it moving the alarm clock farther away, so that we are forced to get up and out of bed? Is it prepping our meals at the beginning of the week, so that we can plan what is going into our bodies and reducing the chances of putting something undesirable in?
The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, add to it another filament, until it becomes a great cable and binds us irrevocably thought and act.
Orison Swett Marden
We can start with small habits and then build upon them. We can design who we are going to be drawing the blueprints now for our lives and creating the habits that will get us there. Each one a small invisible thread waiting for us, the weavers. There is no stumbling upon success. Instead, we automate it into our daily processes.
Always run the short road, and the short road is the one that’s in accord with nature. Say and do everything, then, in the most sound way possible. With that kind of purpose, one is freed from fatigue, hesitation, ulterior motives, and affectation.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.51
The quickest way to get from Point A to Point B is to take the direct route. No detours, no sight-seeing, no dilly-dallying. If this is the highway, then it is hammer down and go. If there is an obstacle in the way, then it is best to go through it or go around with the hopes of getting back on as soon as possible.
Our lives are best lived going directly from A to B. Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way.
On the highway, we see the signs. Here for gas, another for food, and another for lodging. Though often necessary, these detours often add time to the journey. With traffic up ahead, we take the alternate route winding up and down smaller, slower roads broken up by the occasional traffic light.
As we journey through life, we see the same issues. Straight ahead down the planned path is ideal, but we are met with detours, distractions, and unexpected delays forcing us away from the road we desire to travel.
Take our health for example. Imagine if from a young age, we ate only healthy foods, stayed active, and got the proper amount of sleep every night. What would our bodies look like? It is an ideal path for optimum health, yet one that may no longer even be possible in our modern world. Instead, we eat only for pleasure and convenience, indulging in destructive food and drinks that come from a laboratory rather than nature. And if you are anything like me, you spend the remainder of your days trying to get back on the path you should have been on from the beginning.
Our health is only one part of the journey. How many other detours have we taken that have set us back socially, professionally, and financially? How many times have we been detoured by bad advisors and friends, distracted by costly vices, or fell victim to our own inability to maintain pressure on life’s accelerator.
We stopped to smell the roses and found ourselves tangled in the thorns.
Every time we have left the path, we have gotten farther away from our intended destination. We have made our travels more difficult. Sometimes, we have even stopped along the way and never resumed the journey.
Unless we have lived the perfect life, we have all been down the wrong road a time or two. Personally, I have been down so many wrong roads, I have often been unable to find my way back. Wrong choices that cost me years away from my journey, that forced me to completely redesign my route.
What can be done?
The farther away from the path increases our stress, makes us more tired, and deteriorates our confidence. What should have been the highway has become the untraveled dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Though it is not the ideal place to be, all is not lost. The destination has not moved, only our locations in relationship to it.
From your current location in life:
This new route may no longer be the highway, but the roads will improve the closer we get back to it.
I learned this at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.
Henry David Thoreau
To get where we want to go, we must keep going. A journey of a lifetime cannot be completed in one day. The way is long, so we must travel a little bit of it every day. One foot in front of the other, one mile then the next. Win the day and keep stacking victories one upon the other. In time, we will be amazed at just how far we have come.
The summer was a hot, sweaty mess. Twice a week, the three boys with an occasional fourth or fifth, would show up, go inside the gym, lace up their wrestling shoes, and hit the mat. As the weeks passed, the wrestling became more and more intense. In time, the boys got so familiar with each other’s style, that the matches would end in stalemates with little to no action.
The drills before the matches were to give them options, to add to their arsenal of moves. But when the opening whistle blew, they almost always reverted into their comfort zones, forsaking the new and sticking with the old.
Is It Working?
“Is it working,” called out the dad sitting next to me. His son got into a bad position but would not let it go. Was he weighing the risk versus the reward of his current position? Or was he so committed to that pursuing other options was unfathomable? As an observer, it was easy for the dad to see the problem. But for the exhausted wrestler struggling in the heat of the moment, the obvious wasn’t so clear. Of course it wasn’t working, but when the boy was locked in, it felt easier for him to stay the course.
Discontent is the first necessity of progress.
The question of “Is it working?” is permanently engrained in my mind. I heard it from the dad a hundred times, and I said it myself equally as much. And every time we said it, we discussed it as the amateur analysts that we were. Why were our sons not changing? Why were they stuck in their ways?
Donut was the assigned safe word. When it was called out by the coach or by one of the parents, the wrestler in the bad position was supposed to bail out of it. It didn’t always work, but it made for an easy verbal cue for whatever the wrestler was doing that was not working.
Donut became the second most prevalent shout in the gym. Easy for the parents to say, but not so much for the wrestlers trying to bail. They may have heard it in the background, but some positions were seemingly inescapable. Knowing to bail out and the ability to do so were just too far apart.
Too many times we get locked into what we are doing even if it is not working. The current process is familiar, maybe even easier, and change is hard. But if it is not working, why do we continue to do it? Is the comfort of routine greater than the discomfort of a lack of progress?
How do we get out of this rut? First, we must ask ourselves if it is working. Often, this requires us to pause the activity and take a step to observe. If we are still too close to the problem, then we should seek the guidance of a trusted advisor. Let them observe and counsel accordingly. Maybe their insight can provide the change we seek. Next, we can’t be afraid to call “donut” on our current situation. I’m not saying we should give up. But if it is time to bail on one tactic and try a different approach, then that is what we should do. The end goal doesn’t have to change, but maybe the path to getting there does. Better to pivot, than to remain stagnant.
We all have an inner voice. And while we wish it was always lifting us up and propelling us forward, it is usually the other way around. Often, our inner voices are our biggest naysayers. It is loudest when we are uncomfortable. It tries to soothe us into complacency. And when we attempt great things, it will use logic and reason to back us off the edge.
Generations of just trying to survive has made this voice a powerful ally. It tells us to stay indoors because a lion may be outside (Proverbs 22:13). It tells us we need more rest because we will need all that energy to hunt our next meal. And it will tell us to take a few more bites of food because we don’t know when we will be able to eat again.
Yet, for most of us, we left that hunter/gatherer lifestyle long ago. No longer is our day-to-day survival dependent on this ally that begs us to proceed with caution. Our lifestyles may have changed over the ages, but did our inner voice? If so, then why does it still suggest staying inside where it is safe, choosing relaxation over productivity, and eating an over-abundance of calories?
It is winter. The temperatures plummet and the water coming up from the well is frigid. Thank God for a water heater! As I enjoy the warmth of a hot shower, I look at the dial. I take a few deep breaths and turn it all the way to the coldest setting. The water hit like tiny needles. Soon, my skin turns pink. And then, no longer able to contemplate the past or the future, I find myself fully locked into the moment. As I feel every droplet of water on my skin, my mind awakens. I am alive! Is it uncomfortable? Of course. Am I suffering? Not a chance!
The hardest part is not enduring the cold. Instead, the hardest part is the decision to make it cold. It is a choice that flies in the face of everything the inner voice cautions against. My ancestors did everything in their power to protect themselves from the cold. And now here I am, choosing the opposite. My family thinks I am crazy. Well, all but one. My little boy used to find it amusing. But then, I started noticing that the dial was left on cold after some of his showers.
Your fitness is 100% Mental, your body won’t go where your mind doesn’t push it.
How many times have I stopped a training session short because I allowed my mind to talk me out of continuing? Too many times to count. My inner voice, my mind, may be one of the greatest adversaries in my fitness quest. It is the voice that tells me to sleep in, take it easy, and eat or drink whatever I want. And though it behooves me to listen to the angel, it is the little devil that attacks when I am at my weakest. And it is all 100% mental. The body listens to the mind. And if the mind is weak and won’t push the body, the body will be weak as well.
2022 is gone. And like every new year, 2023 begins with many making their resolutions. Some would suggest this is a waste. Instead of resolving to do something in the future, they would advise us to already be moving ahead with our plans, to be already engaged in our goals rather than waiting for the new year to make some momentous change to our lives. Though I agree to some extent and actively work throughout the year to improve, I like the age-old tradition of making resolutions at the beginning of the year. It is a time for me to look back on the year, a time to look back at the goals I achieved and the ones still lacking, and a time to look ahead and consider whether my one-year goals are still in alignment with my big-picture three and ten-year goals.
Go to the ant, O sluggard, study her ways and learn wisdom;
For though she has no chief, no commander or rule,
She procures her food in the summer, stores up her provisions in the harvest.
The above passage may be one of my favorite proverbs. It is a reminder to get up and get going, to get busy with life’s purpose. The ant isn’t lying about, chilling in the mound to some Netflix. No, she is busy. She is living her purpose. And on the face of this proverb, the message is clear: get busy.
Busy is nice. It is a sign of industriousness and productivity. Your parents, boss, teacher, and maybe even your spouse want to see you busy. To be busy is to be engaged, to be getting stuff done, and to be putting those little check marks in the box. But Solomon doesn’t tell us to be busy in this proverb. Instead, he tells us to study the ways of the ant and to learn wisdom.
Past, present, and future. Here is the wisdom of the ant.
Past: Remember your training and learn from your mistakes.
Today’s ant is a product of countless generations of ants. Encoded in the ant’s genetics are the basics: food, shelter, and community. Mistakes made by previous generations have become the blueprints for survival today. Mistakes made by the young ant are corrected by the colony.
We have the basics given to us by our ancestors. And no matter how technologically advanced we have become; we should not dismiss the legacy for survival and success passed down to us by those who went before us. We must take these lessons to heart and learn from both the good and the bad. In addition, we must learn from our own mistakes. There is nothing wrong with failure if we learn from the experience. Through learning, failures become the catalyst for success.
Present: Complete the task at hand.
What does the ant do in the present? Whatever is the task at hand. The past was a learning tool. The future doesn’t matter if the work today is not completed. The ant is either working on the community center (mound) or scouting/gathering food. He gets in formation and starts marching. Survival tomorrow depends on the actions of today.
Being present is one of my greatest challenges. I love reminiscing about the past. Preparing for the future gets me excited. But neither gets the work done today, especially with all the distractions our modern world presents to us. If we can’t stay present, then our tasks remain incomplete, our productivity grinds to a halt. The ant doesn’t stay in bed because he got a bad night of sleep. He doesn’t hang out in the mound because he doesn’t feel like going out. Instead, the ant gets busy.
Future: Busy with a purpose.
Is the ant busy for the sake of being busy? Not a chance. The ant’s tasks are in alignment with future objectives. Gather in the summer to prepare for the winter.
The wisdom of the ant: Get busy with daily tasks that meet the plan’s objectives. Plan, then execute. Busy, with a purpose.
It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?
Henry David Thoreau
The New Year really is no different than any other time of the year. It is a time to get busy. But as Thoreau asks, what are we busy about? To be busy about fitness without a plan will never generate the desired results. To be busy at the office without a focus will ultimately bring the business to ruin. Arrows are designed to hit their intended targets. But if we never aim at a target, those arrows become ineffective and useless. It is not enough to be busy. We must have a purpose for our busy-ness.
Strength has become my passion and a fundamental part of my business. My goal in life is to be as strong as possible. My goal in business is to get my clients as strong as they possibly can.
With strength, an individual can sail into their senior years confident they can perform everyday tasks needed to both survive and thrive. Greater strength reduces the risk of falls and accidents. It reduces the risk of age-related diseases such as osteoporosis, sarcopenia, heart disease, and diabetes. Imagine looking and feeling younger than your actual age. Imagine running around with your grandchildren and not having to worry whether you can keep up. With a foundation of strength, this is a possibility.
Once you have strength, you will do everything in your power to keep it. You make better nutritional decisions, have better sleep hygiene, improve stress management, and in general, you become more active. Lean muscle tissue is metabolically expensive. The last thing you want to do with that hard-won strength is give it away.
I do everything within my power to protect and build my strength. Maintaining bodily strength is not that difficult. The major requirement is to do the work.
There is more to strength than the physical. And while I won’t readily give away the physical, I have recently started giving away the mental. Lately, I have been floundering in a raging sea of:
Current world events,
Current local events,
Past events, and
Future possible events.
So much is going on in the world, and I have been trying desperately to make sense of it all. There once was a time when life was slower. The news came a day, week, or a month later. Communication was through letters or maybe a phone call. A person’s focus was on doing the tasks of the day that would ensure food, clothing, and shelter was available to family and loved ones. People did what they had to do to survive and spent little time worrying about everything else.
Maybe I am not alone in this. Maybe I am not the only one struggling to stay as strong mentally as I am physically. The temptation is to shut it all down. If the sky is falling and the world is going to pieces, who am I to stop it? And that may be my greatest question because I can’t stop it. I do not have the power to stop a financial crisis, a plague, or an asteroid from hitting the earth. I can prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but things outside of my control will remain outside of my control.
You have power over your mind not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
Committing mental energy to things outside of my sphere of influence is a poor investment and an expensive waste of time. Even worse, I am giving away my strength and no longer serving others. How am I living my purpose on this earth by focusing on that which is out of my control? I am not, and therefore, I must get stronger and put my focus where it belongs.