On February 17th, I emailed Tim. Tim is one of my best friends from childhood. We grew up on the same street in a small town in Maine. We went through all the rites of passage one goes through from 10 to 18 together. We played little league together, played in a garage band together, and had consulted each other with infinite wisdom on our first romantic undertakings. He has been living in Shanghai, China for the past year and a half teaching at a school for english speaking students, mostly expat children. I’d been meaning to write Tim for a while just as a general check-in. Though we haven’t seen each other physically in far too long, I think I’ll always consider him one of my closest friends. I wrote to him to give an update on my professional life running a gym in Boston (something I’d told him was a goal years before I even started coaching), to give an update on married life (I got married six months ago, him about a year and a half), and to tell him about my current undertakings in writing and creative work (Tim has always written and has a better imagination for fiction). Oh, I also figured it would be good to check in on the Coronavirus, something that I’d heard was making people sick in China. Of course I didn’t think he would be sick, because he’s Tim who grew up down the street from me, not a Chinese person I don’t know.

It was a few days before I heard back. I’d written a long email and he wrote a long email in response. With us both being writers of a sort, long written correspondence is a nice thing. It makes me think of the correspondence that’s happened with writers throughout history. Ours is of less popular significance, but at least living in a tradition. He certainly had quite the update. His family (him, his wife, and their ten month old child), had been on vacation in South Korea for the Chinese New Year when the Coronavirus outbreak got into full swing. The entire nation of China went into lockdown. Though they enjoyed their time in Jeju, an island province in South Korea, it was too expensive for them to stay there for the remainder of the lockdown, so they’d flown back to the states. As of his first writing, they were staying somewhere outside Los Angeles, making a stop there to ease the strain of the long travel on their less than a year old child. He was teaching his students remotely. Many of them had Ivy League aspirations in the following year, so stopping school altogether was out of the question. At the same time as all of this, he mentioned he’d started a creative writing MasterClass. I’d mentioned my own MasterClass endeavors, so we were both keeping that dream alive. After the hold over in LA, he was planning on coming back east (the US east) for an undetermined amount of time (weeks??). We hoped to be able to connect. This final piece came with unfortunate news: he was coming home to be with his mother, who had recently been diagnosed with lymphoma. He said that the diagnosis process had been arduous, but noted that her current condition was “hopefully not too serious.”  

I wrote him back with a few responses to some points we had been hitting on in the pursuit of creative life, working with others through teaching and coaching, and I also expressed my concern for his mother, but kept a positive attitude. It was my understanding that non-hodgkin’s lymphoma was fairly treatable. He’d seemed fairly confident about her condition, so was I. Since we’d grown up together, I’d known his mother my whole life. She was an impressive woman. She had been the highest ranking member of the Air National Guard at a local base where we grew up. Being the commanding officer of an air base seemed cool when I was a kid. I didn’t really think much about the weight of a woman holding that position. That was just Tim’s mom. Tim’s mom’s job was to be the commanding officer of an air base. Now her job was to get treatment for lymphoma. Luckily her son was going to be home because of a small viral outbreak on the other side of the world. The stars were aligning for her to have some extra support to beat this thing. Of course she would. True to form, I sent Tim another long email. I ended it with some proposals of weekends for us to meet up in person when he was back in the north east. I was also about to go on vacation, so it would take a little time for our schedules to align, but they would. It would be great to see him in person and I could finally meet his daughter, who I’d only seen pictures of on social media.

Tim responded with a short response a couple days later. He said there was a lot he wanted to respond to my email, so he’d write a longer response later. He asked for a quick take on a public intellectual I was well aware of and looked on favorably. I saw the email just before bed one night and gave a quick response. That was it.

I returned from my vacation on March 4th and sent a quick email trying to set up a weekend meet up. I didn’t hear anything. I assumed he was busy remotely teaching students on the other side of the planet, helping his mother, and looking after his ten month old child with his wife in his parents home. At this point the momentum was building in the United States for a response to the Coronavirus. When we traveled home from vacation, the talk on the flight was of work travel being suspended indefinitely. There was a presidential task force. I wondered how this would affect the gym that I run.  We’d have to do more cleaning. 

On March 15th, I finally heard from Tim. I had started to worry that he and/or his wife got sick. Maybe they got quarantined somewhere, as they were traveling in the states after being in China and South Korea. He sent me a text, which came as a surprise since he hadn’t had a normal cell phone to communicate on for quite some time. The text let me know that he wasn’t avoiding me or my requests to meet up. He was texting to let me know that his mother had passed away two days ago. She had a rare blood infection caused by the lymphoma. Those couple weeks that had passed he was dealing with his dying mother.

In those two weeks, I had dealt with the growing storm of domestic worry over the spread of coronavirus. What had been the worry of people in a far off land was now a concern for those in our midst. At this point we had closed the gym. Officially we would closed for two weeks, but everyone was bracing for a longer haul. The process of closing the business I worked for was anxious and tense. Were we overreacting? Underreacting? What would happen with my salary? Would the business be able to withstand this period of closure? A couple days later, the government would have made the decision for us. Everyone was to stay at home. Everything in the city was shut down. The world had changed quite a bit in the month’s time since our first correspondence.

I sent a text back. If someone texts you, it’s polite to text back. Finding the right text to console your childhood friend on the death of their mother is a difficult text to write. I expressed my sympathies and condolences. I said I was there to talk or do what I could. I knew how much she had meant to him. It was a shock to my system to think that one of the stronger women I’d known as a child was now in the age of getting cancer and dying. Selfishly, I thought about my own parents. 

Under normal circumstances, I would travel home for the funeral. In the time of coronavirus quarantine, I didn’t think it would be right for me to go. I’d been in the gym with exposure to a lot of people in the days leading up to closure. At that point everyone was well aware that you could carry the virus and be asymptomatic. We also all knew that someone at my age of thirty six was likely not in a particular danger, but going to the funeral would mean coming into close contact with people like Tim’s dad and my own parents, a gathering of that sort was a casualty of the quarantine as well. I respected Tim’s mother’s life and death, but I would have to do so from a distance. 

My mother, who still lives up the street from Tim’s family, went down and brought them some baked goods. That’s the sort of thing you do when there is a death in a family. There’s nothing really to say. My mother talked to Sarah, Tim’s sister. After considering how many people would want to gather for Tim’s mom’s funeral, the family decided they couldn’t have a typical remembrance during the time of corona quarantine. My mom thought they had something small with the family.

A few days after the text message, I tried calling Tim. He didn’t pick up. I left a message saying I was just calling to check in and talk. Truthfully I was hoping we would talk and end out having a far reaching conversation like we normally would. I thought it could be a distraction for him. I also knew that I wouldn’t have much useful info for him in the way of “what to do if your mother dies while you’re cast out of your home on the other side of the planet and your family can’t have a funeral out of precaution for the spread of disease in a global pandemic.” Not my area of expertise. No playbook to draw from. In the message, I said he could call me back, or not. Whatever he wanted. He hasn’t called. I’ll try and reach out again. We’ve been living at a distance, but everything’s a bit closer to home now. 

Written on April 22, 2020

Choosing a Different Path

My guest on the show this week is my oldest friend, Tim Protzmann. Tim has chosen a different life path. Not content to move to the closest big city, Tim went a bit further and has chosen to live the life of an international teacher. Tim has lived for extended periods in Guatemala, Peru, Kuwait and China. He gives us insight into the moments that led him to move abroad, learning languages and cultures, and raising a family in a country outside of the one you were born in. Tim also recounts the difficult process of not only leaving China during the COVID-19 pandemic, but doing so while his mother was hospitalized and later passed away. An impressive woman who ranked as a General in the New Hampshire Air National Guard, Tim’s family mourns her loss during the lockdown.

Show available on iTunes, Stitcher, or direct from Libsyn:


Show notes:

Nice White Parents

Carol Protzmann Military Career


Performance Problem

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,”

Society writ large has had to learn and unlearn many things in recent months. The outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd spurred many to take to the streets, dig into their pocket book, and, perhaps above all, take to social media. In the melee of activity that ensued. We had to develop a discerning eye for “performative allyship”. This concept applies when a non-Black person expresses support more broadly for the moral impetus of the Black Lives Matter movement, but does not take steps beyond merely voicing support. A common critique of the Black Square many, yours truly included, posted on Tuesday June 2nd in support of “Blackout Tuesday” was that the post merely served to present oneself as in line with a just cause, but didn’t require any active activism on the part of a participant. An individual engaging in “performative allyship” is seeking the benefits of reputational rectitude without performing “the work”. As the saying goes, “It’s all show, no go.” 

“At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.” 

At this point, the cultural zeitgeist has taught us to be aware of corporate and celebrity performative allyship. Non-Black people have had to learn to question their own displays of righteousness, again yours truly included, into whether or not we are engaging superficial displays of support. Are we truly committed to actual change? What actual effort have we contributed? How do we go from silence, to voicing support, to actual contribution?

It is worth pointing out that social movements of the digital age will continue to be confronted with this problem. As more social movements are initiated on social media, the tendency will be to skew towards theatrical and dramatic displays. Why? Because social media is only a device of communication. It has proven to be a powerful tool of motivation and mobilization, but the disparate voices of the many social media activists can only communicate ideas and messages through the medium. The tool itself only allows for displays; it is not action in itself. 

“Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth.”

Further confounding the issue is the current iteration of the movement has been largely focused on symbolic displays of change, rather than addressing the systemic issues at root. Protests themselves, the large gathering of people in support of a cause running counter to the status quo, are performative; they are a dramatic depiction of mass support for a cause. A protest again motivates, activates, and mobilizes, but by and large they do not focus on concrete changes to systems. There is no bill passed, no redistribution of wealth that results. A protest makes a voice heard. 

What is more, the pulling down of confederate statues, deposing controversial business leaders, or even arresting the killers of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, or Briana Taylor will only bring about episodic or momentary instances of victory. They are good symbols of change, but symbols nonetheless. They will all make for good videos on instagram or headlines to tweet. Defund the police and take down all the confederate statues, but fall short on addressing the true issues of economic inequality and the movement is high on dramatic appeal, but low on systemic change. Decreasing the rate of Black families in poverty from 20% to the same rate as White families of 9% may not have the same ring as “Arrest Breonna Taylor’s killers”, but it will go far beyond a presentational performance. (Sidenote: 9% poverty seems like an odd goal for the wealthiest country)

“And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part.”   

“Performance” is first defined by Mariam-Webster as:

1a: the execution of an action

b: something accomplished : DEED, FEAT

2: the fulfillment of a claim, promise, or request : IMPLEMENTATION

This is the notion that many of us are likely familiar with when we head into our “performance review” at work. Most likely we meet with our bosses to have a discussion about our broad set of behaviors as it relates to our responsibilities. We have our performances assessed based on our achievements large and small over a given year. 

Really, it is this sense in which allyship or adherence to the desired goals of a social movement should be assessed. Performance over time in many instances. What problems have you addressed? What action have you executed? What has been accomplished? What promise has been kept?

Tellingly, the theatrical definition of “performance” is given as the third entry for Mariam-Webster: 

3a: the action of representing a character in a play

b: a public presentation or exhibition

a benefit performance

Allyship should be performative indeed, but performed on an everyday level. Displaying your support, or not, on a device of communication (social media) can only be theatrical or dramatic. It cannot be the type of performance we need.

“The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound.”

Unfortunately, the performance that is required for real social change is long and boring. The work will be tiresome and tedious. Advocacy at your state and local legislatures will likely not bring with it a social media following. Lobbying for bills to get out of committees on economic development and education will not be a bomb of a tweet. You’ll get more of a response posting the video of a police officer beating a protester than you will of posting a screenshot of the agenda for your state senate’s personnel and administrations’ committee, but you should take note of what indicates a worthwhile performance.

“Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene, VII “All the World’s a Stage” spoken by Jacques

An Ongoing Conversation

In light of recent and ongoing events, I invited back previous guests Steph Hunt and Tom Ward to the show for a conversation. Steph is the director of the African American and Latino Scholars program at Brookline High School; Tom is a Deputy Superintendent with the Brookline Police. I originally had each of them on the show because they are two individuals trying to make the world a better place in their own way. That remains to be the case today. This is not a debate, but a conversation between two good people. Available on iTunes, Stitcher, and link below.


Marathon Music

April 6th I first saw a basketball hoop with the rim removed. The sight by itself was striking. I shared the image on social media. It got quite a reaction. For those of us who love the game of basketball, the game is so much more than tallying points between opposing sides. The game is collaboration, the game is improvisation, the game is rhythm, the game is harmony, the game is music. That backboard perched above cracked pavement with no rim meant that April 6th was the day the music died.

We’re all sheltering in place. We’re social distancing. I went to the grocery store yesterday and wore a mask and gloves. I wear a mask to walk my dog. I’m compliant with the orders. I go outside to get my exercise, which I do alone. I’d hoped that I could still go to the court and shoot alone. Anyone who’s put work into their game has put in a lot of hours alone on the court. You must practice your instrument in order to be ready to play with the band. I had heard reports of people still playing football or basketball games, which are obviously too social for the current standards, but couldn’t we still get some shots up? The sound of the ball going through the hoop would do a lot for me right now.

It’s April 20th. Two weeks since the basketball hoops were forcibly removed. If things had gone according to plan, my fair city would be teeming with people today. A lot of businesses would still be closed, but for a more joyous occasion. People would have traveled from around the world to complete a globally recognized physical task, the Boston Marathon. 

For those uninterested in sports, cancelling the Boston Marathon can be easily lumped in with the cancellation of all major sporting events. I’ve been watching reruns of old Celtic games instead of gearing up for this year’s playoffs. Yesterday I saw some Wimbledon classics being played, with the classic tournament being canceled for the first time since World War Two. The overnight snow we experienced over this past weekend hit a little harder having not had Spring ushered in by the lush grasses of Augusta National’s the weekend before.

All of these cancellations hit hard for the fans who earmark their years based on passage of these annual events. It’s fall when football is played, it’s spring when golf and tennis return. Lovers of sport will even earmark their lives based on when sporting events happen. I may not be able to tell you the year the Red Sox won that curse breaking world series, but I can tell you the feeling on my college campus that was split between Red Sox and Yankees fans for two years. I don’t remember what year Vinatieri hit the field goal against the Raiders, but I remember driving my car home on snowy roads from a high school friend’s house.

Here’s the thing about the Boston Marathon, no one is really a fan of marathon running. There may be a few outliers, but that statement rang true for more readers than it offended. With that said, on Marathon Day, all of Boston and it’s million plus supporters play music together for the Boston Marathon. We all play the same song. If playing basketball is a band, the Boston Marathon is a live orchestra of the human spirit. We marvel at the top level athletes who run at superhuman paces for the duration, we are emboldened by bravery of those who run the marathon on prosthetics or pushing a wheelchair, we are inspired by the everyday athlete who put in the work over the cold, dark New England winter to get ready to run a four-hour marathon  for charity.

In 2013, the marathon was bombed. A traumatizing attack that left the city reeling. I remember I had just crossed the route near my apartment to go get a sandwich when I heard that bombs had exploded. I remember the chilling act of going to my office blocks from the finish line the next day, the entire neighborhood blocked off with armed security everywhere. I remember sheltering in place during the manhunt of the bombers. I remember taking to the streets with a joyous city after the perpetrators had been apprehended. 

We’ve been through trauma before, but the music resumed. The Boston Marathon is rescheduled currently for September 14th. Maybe it will happen then, maybe it won’t. I hope the basketball rims are put back on the backboard before then. Whenever we are able to play the music again, I can’t wait to dance.  

This Is Our Time

New podcast up.

This is our time. In this first solo episode of what I will try to make a weekly series during the quarantine period, I talk about the Kairos moment I had yesterday when I went from a displaced mindset of fear to one focused on intention and positivity. We cannot choose our circumstances, we can choose our response. I will be making an effort to connect more and spread positivity during this time, making this time an important reminder that we are always in control of our contribution to Life’s Work.


Surviving Guilt

I was seventeen when my grandmother died. It was not a particularly traumatizing death: she was older, had smoked her whole life, and battled with complications from emphysema. It’s always sad when a family member dies, my mother and her siblings were upset, but it was not a shocking death. There is a sort of inevitable justice when someone from an older generation dies. You hate to see them go, but we all have to go at some point and at least they got a full ride’s worth.

During the funeral, I linked up with two cousins of mine, David and Brandon. David was a little older and Brandon a little younger, but we were all essentially the same age. I saw David fairly frequently growing up, Brandon a little less due to his growing up a few states away. I hadn’t really kept in touch with either of them as we all went through our respective disillusioned teen years. At the funeral, someone suggested that we leave the ceremony a little early and go back to my grandmother’s house. Frankly, we were bored by the proceedings and wanted to get out of the grave yard. Our parents needed to stay on the grounds for a little longer, but were fine with the idea, as everyone would be meeting back there for reception. 

The three of us talked a bit on the ride and caught up on our respective lives. Brandon was more into sports. He and I both played golf. Though I wouldn’t admit it then, he was better than I was. David was more into music. Though I played in a band, when David talked about the punk shows he went to, I felt insurmountably less cool for not having heard of his favorite bands.

We were all into booze and drugs.

To varying degrees. We all had some chemical experiments. I got the sense that I had traveled the furthest down the rabbit hole at that point. It’s hard to communicate to an outsider, but when you find a certain substance common place and others react with too much enthusiasm or trepidation you know who’s had more trips around the ferris wheel. It’s hard to say who was the most accomplished drinker. We were all experienced. 

I don’t know who suggested it first, but someone had the idea that we should go in and tap into the liquid resources for the reception. Being underage, we would have to get some drinks in before everyone got back to the house and be discreet about it. The idea sounded good to all of us. We poured some drinks and commenced to do what we did. 

The funeral proceedings ended up taking our parents and family members a while, so we had longer than expected with the bottle. By the time everyone arrived, there was no hiding how much we had drank either by the amount of booze drained from the bottle or our hazed condition. Our parents weren’t necessarily happy about it, but I don’t think there was a single family member shocked that we had drank. Given the day’s occasion, we were given a pass for drinking underage. 

I can’t speak for the other two, but I blacked out. I came to in a sleeping bag on my grandmother’s living room floor. My cousins were on the couches and floor around me. I certainly hadn’t expected, planned or wanted to drink to that degree, but it was the sort of thing that just happened. I felt guilty for drinking that way at my grandmother’s funeral, but it was the sort of thing that just happened.

To be honest, I don’t know if I ever saw Brandon and David at the same time again. I know I saw David at a couple of weddings thereafter, but we didn’t stay in touch.

Brandon and David are now dead. Brandon died a few years ago, he was thirty one. David died this past year, he was thirty six. Both as a result of the abuse of drugs and alcohol. I have been sober for over nine years. 

As I write that, I feel the guilt come on. There is no justice in that reality. When I think back to that meeting of teenagers at our grandmother’s funeral, we were all in the same boat. I distinctly remember that my own drug taking was a bit heavier than the other two. To think that of the three of us, I am the only one who survived, I am the only one who made it out of the mess of drug and alcohol abuse… Why am I the one who got sober? Why am I the one who got to live? I did nothing special to merit the gift; they did nothing wrong to merit the punishment.

I feel particularly guilty to their parents. Sometimes I see them express their pain on social media, how they miss their child who they outlived. Who I outlived. I imagine they ask themselves all the questions I ask myself, what could have been done differently? How could it have been possible for their children to grow older and see more of life? And yet, here I am, growing older, seeing more of life. I got sober out of what feels like dumb luck. I went to a twelve step meeting and listened. I’d been before and not listened. It’s hard to pin down why that even worked out for me when it did. 

I can’t pin it down to intelligence. Smart people die of drug overdoses. People who have displayed no intelligence their whole life get sober. Trust me, I’ve met both types. It’s not that I possess some greater will power. This is a common misconception about sobriety. I drank every day not wanting to drink. I couldn’t stop using my will power. I tried for years. I knew I had a problem. Anyone who reaches the everyday or truly self destructive level of drinking knows that they need to stop to live, but stopping based on your own mind just doesn’t seem to work. I wasn’t sent to any facility, there was no intervention, no dramatic event that preceded me getting sober. It just happened one day after years of it needing to happen. 

Why did it happen to me and not my two cousins? Why are they dead and why am I alive?

Of course, I’ll never know the answer to these questions. I can only know how I will respond in the absence of an answer. I can be grateful that I am able to live life today, even if it is possible because of an unmerited gift. I can share my story. I can do my best to try and help others who are getting sober. I can live my life fully. Play the sports I want to play; listen to the music I want to listen to; doing the work I want to do. Even if I don’t know why I have it, I can make the most of this chance that I’ve been given. It’s clear that living life is no guarantee, whether you are guilty or not.

Life’s Work Risk Analysis

If you have a steady job, keeping it is the safest thing you can do. Going after something you’re passionate about is risky. There are a number of aspects of your life put at risk: finance, emotion, and reputation to name a few. If you are going to leave behind the standard career path, these are the risks you assume. That is the dominant narrative anyway.

Before becoming a full-time fitness coach, I worked as a university administrator. I had a good job title at a respectable institution, a team of employees reporting to me, and a decent salary with a robust benefits package. I had been promoted a number of times and my boss had talked to me about taking the next step in the universe of higher education administration. I was safe. 

I wanted none of it. I remember consciously telling myself to respond diplomatically to the possibility of advancing further in the system. My inner voice was screaming “No!” While the next step up would clearly distinguish me as someone with a bright career, my insides recoiled at the notion of taking one more step down that path. That said, I didn’t know what to do. I had carved out a nice piece of territory for myself in the system and couldn’t rightly just give it up. That would be too risky. 

While I had looked at postings on HigherEdJobs.com, I knew that moving to another university system would not help me. My skills and qualifications would lead me to the same type of role in a different setting. Maybe a bump in pay or more prestigious institution, but the nature of my work and my daily life’s dynamics would not change.

For quite some time I had held onto the clandestine notion that I could change lives and become a fitness coach. Years prior, I had gotten certified to coach and did so on the weekends as a part-time passion project. It gave me a way to further cultivate my love of fitness and nourish my desire to connect with and help people. There were a number of full-time fitness coaches at the gym where I coached. While I could fantasize about joining their ranks, I didn’t know if I could make the same sort of living working in fitness. Additionally, I worried about whether my passion for fitness would endure if it became my full-time job, not just a hobby. Lastly, what if I couldn’t measure up to the standard of a full-time fitness coach? I knew enough to know that the job demanded a lot of personality in addition to skill and knowledge. What if I tried and failed? My reputation would be forever stained as someone on a successful track who gave it up to fail. Also, again, it’s worth repeating, what about the money?

None of those risks were present in my university job. I had financial security, personal validation as a successful professional, and respect of people around me. If I left my administrative job, I would either make a living coaching or fail fantastically have no way to support myself. There was a lot of risk in leaving. The risk analysis that kept me in my administrative job looked a little like this:

Stay in JobLeave and FailLeave and “Works”
FinanceLow Risk (Felt satisfied)High Risk (Worst case)Medium Risk (could I make enough money?)
EmotionMedium Risk (Felt unsatisfied)High Risk (Would be ashamed)Medium Risk (would I still feel the same about fitness?)
ReputationLow Risk (Felt respected)High Risk (Would be viewed as failure by both administrative and fitness professionals)Medium Risk (Would people respect me as a fitness coach in the same way as a university administrator?)

 However, I was miserable in the day to day of my administrative job. The prospect of progressing deeper into that world filled me with dread. That dread was a key component to the reappraisal of my situation’s risk analysis. What if I stay in higher education administration for the next thirty years and felt that dread every single day? What if I lived my whole life with contempt for what I had to do to make a living? Conversely, what if I could earn a living doing something I loved? What if I enjoyed the place where I went to work? What I was risking by staying was a lifetime of unfulfilling work. 

I also began to reexamine the prospect of what it would look like to fail at being a full-time coach. If that was the case, what would I do? Well, I would probably go back to some form of administrative work. I would apply for jobs and have years of experience advancing within a certain field. I would have to explain a gap in my resume, but I would be able to say that the reason I had the gap was because I took a shot at what I was passionate about. Would people really hold that against me? I certainly wouldn’t look down on anyone who took a shot at something special or different. 

Lastly, I looked at the financial risk with a bit more of a realistic lens. Working in higher education is not the most lucrative field. While I was content with my salary, I was in no way wealthy. Additionally, as I stated, at the gym where I coached part-time, there were a number of full-time coaches. While they didn’t seem wealthy, they were also clearly making a living and had been sustaining themselves in that profession for years.

My newly thought out risk analysis looked more like this:

Stay in JobLeave and FailLeave and Works
FinanceLow RiskMedium Risk (Would take a hit, but could resume career track)Low Risk (I knew fitness coaches making a living)
EmotionVery High Risk (A lifetime of dissatisfaction)Low Risk (Would be unfortunate to fail, but I would have an answer)Low Risk (Even if passion waned, it would be more enjoyable than a cubicle)
ReputationLow RiskLow Risk (Few people judge someone for taking a shot at something special)Low Risk (I would be a person serving others in a field I enjoyed) 

It became clear that despite what one may initially think, the riskiest prospect was staying in my current line of work. I would be risking an entire lifetime of fulfilling and enjoyable work. Though there was the possibility of failure of making it as a full-time fitness coach, I could still resume my conventional career. That’s the thing about the conventional path, it’s pretty widely available. If I were to leave and it worked out, I had the highest possible benefits: having a career I loved and a workplace I was happy to go to every day.

As it worked out, I left the  administrative job and started coaching. The life of a fitness professional has not been without challenges in the emotional, reputational, or financial realms, but I have not regretted that decision for one second. It baffles me that I was kept in a line of work I found unsatisfying so long out of fear of losing something. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. There is a false sense of fear that you will be risking too much by pursuing a passion. However, if you are in a job you dislike, you are already in the worst case scenario. We spend too much of our time at work for it to not be something that we feel a calling for. An accurate risk assessment proves not that you should value stability over fulfillment, but that you should seek out meaning and settle for stability in a worst case scenario. We are taught that stability and safety are of the highest value, but this is inaccurate. Meaning, passion, and purpose are the highest ideals. Stability should only be sought in a worst case scenario.    

Desire to Train: Physicality and Life’s Work

The desire for a perfect compass that always points to true north is shared by many travelers, but often times the path we travel is instead led by contours of rock and soil that make passage not just possible, but enjoyable.

Strength and conditioning, as with seemingly all other aspects of modern life, has advanced technically and analytically with time. There are constant innovations in equipment for both completing exercises and measuring the output of athletes. Strength and conditioning coaches can look at their athlete’s heart rate monitors, test an individual’s maximum oxygen intake, and even measure the speed with which an athlete moves a weight in a given lift. More and more professionals are tracking sleep, dietary choices, and recovery to maximize results.  Individuals who study the science and practice of strength and conditioning are constantly looking for new ways to deliver, measure and assess the best programs for their athletes.

Despite these advances, many grey areas still exist in the world of strength and conditioning. The data is still far from exact. Therefore, many rely on experience in the practice. One such method is “Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).” In this method,  an athlete is given an exercise with a prescribed number of sets and repetitions; they are also given an RPE score on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, if an athlete is told to do a set of squats with an RPE of 8, the athlete should feel like at the end of their set they could have done a couple more repetitions. If the prescription was for a set of 5 repetitions with an RPE of 10, then the athlete should feel like there were no more possible repetitions left when completed. This method allows an athlete to autoregulate their day’s training based on how they feel that day. Some days an athlete feels well rested and is able to hit a heavy weight with an RPE of 6; on days where the athlete feels sluggish, they will use the same weight for an RPE of 8.

A related “soft” measure that strength and conditioning coaches may collect from an athlete is a “Desire to Train” score. At the beginning of each day, an athlete will simply log their desire to be in the weight room or at the track on a scale of 1to 5. This may be a subjective score that is prone to individual variation (some people just like training more than others), but it provides a valuable insight into how hard an athlete should push or lay off. A low desire to train may indicate the end of a long hard training cycle where a period of rest is needed. It may indicate that an athlete has not slept or eaten enough to fuel their training. It could mean that life outside of sport has been stressful and their energy has been spent on mental rather than physical exertion. These are all good things for a strength and conditioning coach to know. Collecting a Desire to Train score can tell a coach and athlete when it is time to back off, rest, or reformulate a training plan. 

While most of us do not have anything riding on our physical performance, I would like to highlight the importance of this lesson to our everyday lives. 

What is your Desire to Complete Life’s Work score when you get up each morning to take on a new day?

Just as physical training takes energy and effort, so does life’s work. There will be days when you feel like you’re ready to attack the world and take on all comers, do it. There may be days where just showing up and going through the motions is what you have in the tank, that’s fine too. But examine the data. What was present when you felt like taking on the world? What were the circumstances that led you to just go through the motions? It may be due to factors such as a good night’s sleep or something out of your control such as a death in the family, those are still factors worth noting. Advanced strength and conditioning programs undulate and vary. There are high days and low days. Life works in the same fashion.

The highs and lows of daily variation aside, there is another important lesson to glean from the Desire to Train metric: burnout and change in focus. If an athlete is consistently reporting a very low Desire to Train, a strength and conditioning coach needs to look at whether the individual has overtrained and a significant rest or deload period is required in order to restore the athlete’s central nervous system. Likewise in life, a consistent period of days where your desire to meet the demands of Life’s Work may mean that it is time for a vacation or a few days off. 

What is more, a consistent low Desire to Train may mean a larger question needs to be asked of an athlete: do you want to keep doing this? Athletic careers don’t last forever and when the spiritual fire is out, why continue on? This is a hard conversation to have. Many athletes identify themselves with their sport and their training. If they stop, who will they be? What will they do? Again, the parallels to Life’s Work are strong. If you wake up consistently not wanting to go to your job, should that be the place you spend the majority of your time? If the idea of continuing on in your current line of work seems daunting, do you want to keep doing this work? 

Not all paths are endless. Sometimes you reach a trail’s end. This requires asking some deep questions. What is it you truly want to do? Who are you really if you are not your job or career? What will wake you up with a desire to commence Life’s Work each day? Your previous data can be a guide. When was the last day you were fired up to do life’s work? What was present? When did you start just going through the motions? What was lost?  

Many athletes continue on in training because it is what they have done, but not always what they continue to want to do. Similarly, many people continue on their paths because it is the one they have been walking. Just as an athlete can take up something else with their physical activity, you can take up a new challenge for your Life’s Work. Either way, you should have a high “Desire to Train” score to do the work.