“You need not be great to start, but you must start to be great.” This quote has been recycled so many times that I have no idea who said it originally, but there are very few original ideas so I hope the orator or author can find it in their heart to forgive me for accrediting them. For the sake of diving into this article, I’m going to assume that Bryan Callen spoke these words mere seconds after His inception.
The quote is interesting to me because it encapsulates my takeaways from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, and is complimented by the ideas of Carol Dweck in Mindset and Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code.
I was born and raised in southern West Virginia. As many may know, education is not exactly of utmost importance in the hills of Appalachia. This, however, was not the case for me. I was often lectured on the importance of education and “making good grades.” But, I was never actually taught how to learn. In high school, I vividly remember having a heated discussion with my mother about a failing grade in Spanish. In Huntington, WV one has little need for speaking Spanish, unless that person has a vested interest in the looming opium epidemic, but that is a topic for a different day. What is important is that my poor mom was floored by the fact that I was openly admitting that I did not know how to perform the most basic of school activities – study. I had absolutely no idea how to teach myself anything, or so I thought.
I grew up playing sports so athletics have always been an outlet for me. Those sports, however, did little in the way of teaching me how to learn or lose. For the better part of my life I lived with the assumption that I was unable to expand my intellect or physical skill set. I assumed that the abilities I had been assigned would just have to do, and that can become problematic when living in a culture of honor. It would take many years for me to understand that the culture imposed on me was largely responsible for my constant playground battles and, later, alcohol-induced antics. Growing up with a fixed mindset would prove to be extremely limiting to my overall personal evolution, especially since, for many years at least, I had no problem breezing through the not-so-stimulating arena of public education.
Fast forward twelve years and a couple useless, framed pieces of paper, and I still had not learned much about learning. While living in the mountains of Colorado I was given a crash course in physics by a gentleman so intoxicated he could not adequately fill out his part of a police report. A couple weeks went by and I began to lose mobility on the left side of my body – the side that absorbed the lesson taught by a Toyota Tacoma. While at the Breckenridge Recreation Center I was approached by a strength coach who noticed that I was unable to move in any fashion that could possibly be considered athletic. We talked for a bit, and he asked if I would like an abbreviated training session in Olympic weightlifting. The value of this exercise would prove to be more closely aligned with the kind of resistance Steven Pressfield preaches than that of actual resistance training.
“In weightlifting”, I was told, “we start from the top and work our way back.” Armed with that information, I was forced to face the fact that I could not perform the most basic of tasks assigned by my new instructor. I was tasked with learning how to break my new discipline down into chewable pieces. There are only three movements in Olympic weightlifting. All lifters spend the majority of their athletic careers attempting to perfect the snatch and clean and jerk. Some lifters really break down these movements like the student athletes Daniel Coyle writes about in The Talent Code.
Some lifters just do “stuff” without much thought and that’s what’s dangerous.
Slowly, I began to understand deep practice, but could not internalize the concept until I was unable to connect these things until I stumbled across the Mixed Mental Arts community. Around that time I was challenged by a dear friend to come down off the lifting platform and try my hand at CrossFit. At this point, I’d like to get a couple things out of the way: you can get hurt in a CrossFit class, but tripping on a curb while Snapchatting can be equally detrimental to your ankles and ego. CrossFit can also be a bit culty, but no more so than the MMA community or any other community. As any Mixed Mental Arts white belt knows, everything is a cult. We all have our t-shirts. We all have our memes. We all have our biases.
Those things being said, CrossFit is an absolute amusement park for those who wish to find, and practice, things they are bad at. Regardless of one’s skill level, a competent coach will always find ways to modify the movements so that anyone can participate in the class. There is phenomenal potential for applying the growth mindset in CrossFit. The greatest potential comes not in the knowledge handed down by the coaches, but by the wisdom of those in the class who can, and happily will, educate you on various strategies and techniques. These are groups of people who not only want to better themselves, but who also want to lift up those around them. Sure, there will always be some who choose to engage in competitive behavior, but if you can learn to run your own race, you might find yourself growing faster than you ever imagined. Although there is no amount of muscle that will allow you to tug around an untrained elephant, you may just learn that surviving some CrossFit classes has taught you that you are capable of far more than you previously thought possible. And for Callen’s sake, you might just find that you’re having a ton of fun in the process. Bryan forbid we learn how to have fun in the middle of all the madness of humanity’s first family dinner.
To rip off Henry Rollins, there is no place I would rather suffer than in the gym. My weaknesses become woefully apparent, and if I am unable to detect the many blind spots of which I am unaware, I will always have a classmate or coach ready to shine light on them. The gym is my favorite place for personal growth, and the captive audience makes it much easier to be a missionary in the Callenphate.