Success is terrifying.
It’s a weird thing to say or write, but it’s true. Success is exposing. It’s standing on stage naked and facing the crowd. It’s allowing the world to feel the weight of who you are. It’s accepting that failure could come at any moment.
I’ve spent most of life afraid of success for this reason. I was afraid that my true identity might be revealed, and that I might not be much of a man. So sometime around my freshman year of high school I discovered self deprecation. Rather than face the risk of being laughed at, I could beat them to the punch and laugh at myself first. I’m not sure that I even realized it happened, but I became the funny guy.
This works well at parties. It does not work well in the gym.
I finally realized this on my fifth day of the LSU Shreveport lifting program. We’d just finished our first week of ten rep sets, and I was fired up to lift heavy snatch and clean and jerk singles. I was feeling swol. Real swol.
Except that didn’t happen.
My lifts actually went backward. I could barely lift 30 pounds less than where I was the week before. I felt so defeated. I did the walk of shame, trading my heavy plates for lighter ones. I went for a big boy challenge and got crushed, like a little kid not picked for the team.
So I went back to my old habits. I made lame jokes about Kryptonite and that I was on “reverse Shreveport”. I was my 15 year old self trying to not get picked on in Algebra class. When I walked to my wife (whose doing the program with me) to get a laugh out of her, she instead called me out.
“You need to take yourself more seriously.”
She was spot on. Lifting takes courage. Not because it’s hard to put your body weight over your head (which it is), but because lifting forces you to accept yourself as is. I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not when pulling the bar off the ground. In that moment, I was a man who could snatch 115 pounds and I felt like a failure. My jokes were a place to hide.
Success in the gym isn’t measured in lifting more than everyone else, and it’s not measured in lifting more than you did last week. It’s in the daily practice of doing something hard. In accepting where you are today and then challenging those limits.
Not in PR’s. Not in competing. Not in winning.
I don't make jokes about my lifts anymore. Not because they're not funny (although sometimes they are) and not because I stopped being myself, but because I don't want to hide. I have to accept where I am today and challenge that limit. Tomorrow that may be different, but that's how I will determine success today.
Today, I will do something hard.