I’m going to let you in on a secret of mine, everyone-on-the-internet; something that I have only recently learned about myself. That secret is the very reason that I train.
I want to be awesome.
It’s that simple. I want to be really good at something, and thereby achieve the coolness and wow factor that comes with that.
The human mind is remarkable in its ability to express a quality through our actions while simultaneously being completely ignorant of it. For years I tossed around any number of goals and apparent motivations for training. I wanted to be a great martial artist, I wanted a better physique, I wanted to be strong, fast, and agile. All fragments of the greater goal that has stood as my training dogma for my entire active life.
If I may play armchair psychologist for a moment, I think my deep desire for awesomeness stems from years of struggling with various skills (piano, martial arts, etc) and always feeling like I had never even reached mediocrity. (I once walked off-stage in the middle of a failed piano performance at a Christmas concert. Youch!) Mostly this was because I had zero practice skills when I was younger, despite the repeated attempts of my dear grandmother and piano teacher to drill some wisdom into my brick-like brain.
I have also realized that the praise of others has rarely made me feel any more accomplished. In the end, I always have to answer to my own self-expectations. In fact, while part of me loves to show off, any ensuing praise leaves me feeling self-conscious and embarrassed. Maybe this is because I never feel like I’ve quite earned that praise, like whatever I did wasn’t that impressive (it usually isn’t, I’m sure). It’s worst when I’m given loud, enthusiastic praise for something I consider truly elementary or basic.
On the other hand, when it is a client, student, or training partner who is celebrating some meager action of mine, that embarrassment is laced with excitement. I feel like I’m looking into a pool, examining the wonders deep down. The person praising me is delighting at the light on the surface, and all I can think is “wait until you see what’s below that, because it goes so much deeper”.
Oddly enough (and blessedly), my harsh scrutiny of accomplishments does not extend to others. It’s almost the opposite, really. When I witness even the tiniest light bulb appear over someone’s head in training, I feel like organizing a parade! That is, after all, the joy of being a teacher. I have the privilege of leading others around the obstacles I have overcome, to guide them down a more efficient route to realization; and when they arrive at each destination it is a great cause for celebration.
That’s not to say that I don’t celebrate my own accomplishments. Every new milestone I reach is one step forward towards that ever-elusive mastery that I so desire. The critical detail is that I’m never satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. I’m always happy with progress, and it grants me some solid fulfillment, but the moment I grow satisfied is the moment I become stagnant and lose the driving force behind my training.
There is an obvious issue with my mindset, however, and that is the mortality of our species. (Valar morghulis, and all that.)
I expect this is the evolution many young athlete-slash-coaches face, as they slowly realize that, for whatever reason, they will ultimately fail to live up to their ever-inflating notion of how great they want to be. Youth is fleeting, and, as time trickles on, first physical prowess and then skill will inevitably decay. The only solace (and cruel irony) is that wisdom can continue to be accrued. The coach can then leverage their great experience to lift the next generation of athletes up higher, and it is through this that we must find satisfaction.
The ultimate reality which I must face on my quest for unlimited awesomeness is that I will need to learn, eventually, to let go of that very goal. On one hand, it is for the aforementioned reason: I will get old (and I’m already running through my strongest physical years rather quickly) and lose my potential to explore high levels of performance and advanced movement skills (you don’t see many eighty-somethings cleaning twice their body weight and doing back handsprings). On the other hand, the very definition of the awesomeness that I yearn to achieve is modest, free from the crippling effects of a dominant ego, so even if I am to reach my lofty goal someday I will have to relinquish it altogether.
In a way, I’m already learning to let go of some of these expectations. I’m learning to slowly replace that driving force with something better, something that will serve me in the long term: to become a wiser, more intelligent mover than I was yesterday. While I am young, this mindset will help me climb to greater levels of performance while preserving my body for the future. When I am old, it will allow me to continue to advance my abilities and enjoy movement, even though I won’t be as strong, fast, and agile as I once was (I’ll still be pretty spry for an old dude, right?)
It’s important (as Ido Portal says) to examine our dogmas, to be critical of the framework on which we construct our training philosophies. We each train with different motivations and goals, and that is certainly fine; the world of movement would be otherwise terribly dull and underdeveloped. But some motivations are stronger and more sustainable than others, and will still lead you to the same goals. I urge you to take the time to look deep and really examine the true reason you train. If what you find does not satisfy you, perhaps finding a stronger dogma is the most valuable step you can take at this point in your journey.