Away From The Before.
A friend asked me other day why CrossFit has worked for me when, over the last 25 years, nothing else has. It got me thinking, but as much as I like all y’all, Diablo CrossFit is neither necessary nor sufficient to where I am going. And I’m not sure this is an answer anyone else is looking for, but maybe and so, like a bottle on the tide, maybe it will find a home.
The first photo was from July 2019, on the Big Island, about three weeks before I started my on-ramp with Stephen Stover. It looks like I’m having a good time. Kayaking down the Kohala ditch — an irrigation ditch (and a series of tunnels) — built by Japanese laborers who apparently had a choice between fighting in the Russo-Japanese War, or hand-hewing tunnels up to a half-mile long through volcanic rock. Big Island Flumin’ in Hawi is a great little trip and I highly recommend it. And I suppose I was having a good time by that point. Three hours earlier, I was not.
I was not “miserable inside.” The day before this and the day after this was great. Most of this day was pretty great, too. As has been almost every day of my life before and since. And this is not some “I knew something had to change” moment. Because, I want to assure you, like everyone whose been as big as this or bigger, I’ve had thousands of those. The day I defaulted to 3XL t-shirts. The day I was about a minute away from being offered an airline seatbelt extender. I, too, want to note that every calorie I’ve consumed since the age of about ten has been entirely of my own choosing. I did not somehow get fat. Economists call it a revealed preference. I have preferred to be fat because — in retrospect — I have chosen it over other available pathways. So, let’s start with that. I chose to be there.
“Hier bin ich, ich kann nichts anderes tun.” (Here I stand, I can do no other.)
The important thing in this picture is that I stepped on the scale in the condo that morning and, for the first time my life, the leading digit was a three. I weighed..
“Three Hundred Fucking Pounds.”
Now, looking back at other points in my life — most notably in the depths of life (really, “life”) as a BigLaw attorney — at times back then, I was clearly more than three hundred pounds but I had studiously avoided stepping on a scale for years.
This number did not surprise me, not really. It was — given the choices I made — functionally inevitable.
Now why would I step on a scale in Hawaii? Because the weight limit on Big Island Flumin’ is three hundred pounds. And I knew I was on the bubble.
So I was a right shitty mood that morning.
I drank coffee but ate nothing. I was grumpy, irritable, and most unpardonably for a needed family vacation, I was distant. I girded myself for to talk my way past the proprietors or argue with them or, worse, suffer the embarrassment of having my family pretend I was just fine with them going along without me and wait in the car or have them have to bail on the event altogether.
Instead of enjoying the view of the Pacific that morning — the same route the IronMan takes to Hawi and back — I was, instead, focused on that 3. But somewhere along the old irrigation ditch, though, as I was paying attention mostly to my relief that there was no scale and — of course, tour companies build some slack in the system, they aren’t worried about guys tipping the scales at 315, but at 405 — something dawned on me.
Now, at this point in the story I am supposed to say that I was inspired. The thing is, I’ve been inspired a thousand times. That I was motivated. I have — like most middle aged guys — been motivated hundreds of times, often for periods that lasted as much as two weeks. That I was resolved. I’ve done more resolving than the Oxford Union and with about as much to show for it.
In my many abortive attempts to get in shape — Couch to 5K, Globo Gyms, early morning swimming, an evening constitutional, even something that was, in retrospect, just CrossFit with the serial numbers scratched out — I’ve always been trying to get to some destination. You see, if I just lose twenty pounds then maybe that girl (NB: prior to meeting my wife) will fancy me. If I just lose forty pounds, then this will become easy. If I just lose sixty pounds, then I can declare victory.
I was trying to get somewhere, but it’s sad to realize — and sadder to accept — that life does not come with a 1980’s cinematic training montage at the end of Act II. There is no Styx or Survivor or Guns ‘N’ Roses soundtrack that’s going to do the work for me. These things that I had always clung to, or rather just hoped for, like a New Guinea cargo cult — motivation, inspiration, resolve — would come from far away and be visited upon me. And then I could do this. Maybe these things work for others, but to me they are about as rare and useful as unicorn farts. They don’t exist and even if they did, they wouldn’t even operate as a lifting gas to help get the covers off in the morning.
I am — I must note — a great fan of Calvin Coolidge. I’ve read plenty on the man. And what’s not to like? A Laconic wit, a baseball-loving wife, a view that an indispensable trait of a good man is one who minds his own damned business. I’ve admired the fellow for years, but it turns out I never really listened.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
And so I realized, sitting there in the front of a boat in a ditch in a jungle on the side of a volcano on an island in the middle of the Pacific, that I needed to stop trying to get somewhere.
Getting somewhere was not only not the point, it was the problem. Getting somewhere cannot be the goal. Getting somewhere might be the result, but it cannot be the purpose.
I showed this photo to a couple of folks in Strong! this morning. And don’t get me wrong, I am as proud as all hell of what I’ve done — as of yesterday (not quite so much as of today), I was forty pounds down from when I walked in the door to Diablo CrossFit in August of 2019. And since I gained back 20 pounds during the ‘Vid, I haven’t done the work to lose forty pounds, but sixty. Coach Carrie suggested I put it up on the FB as a before and an after.
And, ordinarily, that’s what one does here. This where I was. This is where I am. And I appreciate the many kind and encouraging words from all of you, especially in the last few months as this really seems to be building a head of steam.
But the after is not only not the point, the notion that there is a destination is what was wrong with my model all along. Diablo CrossFit is neither necessary not sufficient for my journey to some after, because neither DCF nor anything else will ever get me there. Rather — and why I found a home here — is that it is in the marrow of Diablo CrossFit and everyone at Diablo CrossFit that no one here is looking to finish. No one is trying to get somewhere that will satisfy them. But no one is slowing down.
Trying to reach an “after” is what held me back all these years, and why I always failed.
Here, no one is looking to be done. No one is trying to get to somewhere and declare victory. Diablo CrossFit would be not only dispensable but pointless if I were still trying to get somewhere, because wanting get somewhere is self-defeating.
But DCF — all of you are — utterly indispensable for the important thing:
To get away from where I was.
To get away from fifty years of bad choices.
To get away from thinking that if I could just get to some place then things would be better.
I am succeeding because I’m no longer interested in getting to After. Because there is no After.
There is only the Away from the Before.