A couple weeks ago I drove down to one of the most incredible places within an hour of my house, Castle Rock. This place reminds me of some of the rockiest areas of Great Falls, MD, except it’s up in the mountains (great views) and the rocks and trees to climb range from the pretty easy and basic (kids and people in flip flops climb them) to really damn hard (I got stuck in one spot for about 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get down or up, and serious rock climbers come out to train here).
I love getting outside and exploring. Sometimes I just wander around and find things to climb while I totally relax by connecting to nature. Other times I search for whatever adventures I can get in to. For me, challenging myself is what it's all about. Not only because it's fun, but because I think its important. So, I had three separate scenarios where I got myself pretty nervous, and that is what I want to get into here.
There is this massive redwood that fell against a huge rock-face and it seriously looked like it was deliberately put there to climb. You can start right at the base and sort of spiderman crawl up the tree about 50 yards while using those awesome branches for support. Most of the way up this thing you realize that you are a good 20-40 feet above the ground until you reach the “safety” of the rocks being about 5-10 feet under you near the top. Now I’ve done enough climbing around the woods to not really get too concerned for my well-being on something like this. But it had been a long enough time for me to feel that heightened sense of excitement as I climbed. My heart raced, and my senses got super focused. My breathing quickened and I made myself pause in the middle of the tree to appreciate the feeling. I hadn’t felt that way in a while
This is the one I mentioned in the opening paragraph. It was this sort of crack between two large rocks and I decided it would be a fun challenge to shimmy up between the two of them to the top. The best way I am able to do this is to press my back against one rock while pushing my feet against the other one and slowly leveraging myself upwards. Well, this rock decided to be weirdly angles making that strategy not possible. So, I just found my way up. This worked really well until the halfway point. Here I found myself sort of stuck in a game-of-twister style position, wedged between two rocks about 30 feet above the ground. Yes, it took me a solid 10 minutes of slight body weight shifts and risky hold changes to finally get myself through the top and to safety. That got me pretty scared for a few minutes, along with extremely dirty, sweaty, and scraped up pretty good too
This is the one that got me thinking about fear and how important it is for us humans to experience it. I climbed up an absolutely awesome tree. This huge one about 50 yards off the trail with two massive branches stretching out into the silent forest. One was about 15 feet high, the other about 20 feet. To get up to the first branch I had to do a bit of a trust jump going from a knob near the base of the tree to what I hoped to be a decent hand-hold on one side of the lower branch. Lucky for me it was a solid hold, and then I used what little muscle up skill I have to maneuver my way up onto the branch (again, even dirtier, sweatier, and more scraped up). But the reward was a huge natural mezzanine of sorts that I could actually lay down and spread out, listening to the forest and really connecting with nature. The tree was covered in moss too, so it felt like a super comfy natural bed. I hung out there for a while, it was really, really nice.
But eventually I had to get down. And getting down the way I came up was risky enough that it was out of the question. So, my only option at that point was to jump off the 15 foot branch into a very sloped and branch-and-rock-filled earth below. No problem, I tossed my bag down first (it proceeded to roll over itself about three times showing me just how sloped the ground was there), then stood up and got ready to jump. I froze. Damn. I was so scared!
What if I tripped and fell? What if I landed wrong? What if I got hurt, or worse, what if I crashed to the ground and got empaled by a huge branch?!
This fear very quickly gave way to sheer excitement. I immediately remembered why I love being out in nature so much. And why I insist on climbing things, and jumping off things, and exploring, and getting lost. I crave this fear. I know tons of people out there can relate. Climbers, adventurers, explorers, race car drivers, divers, motorcyclists, surfers, the list can go on and on. The fear we feel in these situations makes us feel alive. It gives us purpose. It trains us to understand our emotions and learn how to control ourselves in extreme situations. Putting yourself at risk, getting so far out of your comfort zone you genuinely don’t know what to do for a period of time, those times are when you learn the most about yourself. Those times are when you become a better version of you because you HAVE to. When you walk to a ledge and the only way down is to jump, you learn to trust yourself, to trust nature, and have faith. Faith is one of the greatest things we can have. It is how we overcome fears. It might be faith in God, or something spiritual. it might be faith in yourself, or just in an idea that things will work out. Allowing yourself to disconnect from all those fears you have learned to have is such a unique and incredible skill. You must believe in the fact that whatever happens in the moments after your leave your feet, you are ready for it, good or bad.
Yes, this is a metaphor for life. It doesn’t have to be jumping from a tree, it could be starting a new job, trying out a gym that uses barbells and atlas stones, traveling to a new country, telling someone you love them, anything that takes you out of your little world of comfort. Sure, you can always measure your risk levels and assess that joining a gym is a little less risky than climbing Mount Everest, but you see my point. For some people, unfortunately, stepping out of the house in the morning is as much a scary situation as it is for others to climb a 100’ foot cliff. It’s all relative. And my message holds true to anyone and everyone out there: these fears are good, and NECESSARY for you to grow and improve as a human being. Embrace them for all their scariness and appreciate every single thing in your life that you’ve had to take a risk to achieve. Those things are so worth it! Most of the greatest achievements come from great risks. So damn it, JUMP!
Back in that tree. I actually laughed out laud. It felt so good to fear in nature. It was a rush of excitement and I missed it so much. I looked around the woods, felt the cool California dusk wave over me and heard the birds chirping as the sun went down. The trees rustled, the giant rocks loomed all around me, and there was not a single sound of another human being, car, or plane, It was perfect. I took a deep breath and jumped.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Man, this title is one of those things that could literally be left alone, nothing else stated besides those simple words. Or, it could be one of the most in-depth statements out there. Kind of like Michael Pollan’s statement of “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants”, so simple but confusing enough to most people that an insanely successful book was based off it. So what do I mean then, when I say “Do Something You Suck At”? Well, I guess it’s my more childish way of stating o of the lines from the lululemon manifesto: “do one thing that scares you every day”. The idea is that if you stick to what you know, what you are comfortable with, and what you are good at, you’ll never really get all that much better.
I know someone who was scared out of their mind to do a box jump. The idea of leaving the ground was so overwhelming it caused complete paralysis. Well that was no excuse in my mind and I did everything in my power top help motivate this person through their fears and just, freaking, do it. And you know what happened? Well yes, they got the box jump, easily in fact. But more than that, they got an even higher box, then an even higher one. And from that day forward, little events that once seemed like a major life hindrances became nothing but minor speed bumps. When you overcome something, you become more confident, stronger, happier and healthier.
But I want to talk more specifically about something else. Overcoming fears is great, I write about it a good bit and I am constantly thinking and talking about it. Today I want to talk about doing things you suck at. I know, I know, when you think about it it’s kind of a blurry line between sucking at something and being scared of something. We are generally scared of things we suck at whether we will admit to it or not. But rather than getting all psychological on you, I’ll just keep it basic. I suck at snatches, I suck at handstand push ups, I suck at swimming, I suck at NOT eating cookies, I suck at warming up properly, yeah, this list could go on. When I’m down my response to sucking at these things is to just do them minimally, and when I do do them, I’ll put less intensity into getting better at them. Hell, there will be times when I totally “forget” about how much I suck at them all together because I just don’t work on them at all! But if I’m really good at box jumps and deadlifts, and I want to be a serious CrossFitter, doing box jumps and deadlifts all the time are NOT going to do very much for me. Sure, I’ll get damn good at those two things, but I won’t really get all that much better as a well-rounded person. What I generally tend to do, or, when I’m “on my game”, is to program these things in on a daily basis. So, each and every day I am making a point to do at least one thing I suck at. The goal being that I suck less and less at more and more. This then leads me towards truly becoming good at the things I really want to be good at. If I want to be a highly competitive CrossFitter, I have to NOT SUCK!
How many times have you been faced with something where you know you are going to do poorly? What did you do? Did you turn and walk away from it? Did you itch and moan about it and then just go through the motions? Did you bitch and moan about it, do it anyway, then make excuses as to why it didn’t go so well? Or did you sack up and give it your all?
Given the nature of this post, I am sure you can assume which of those I would say is the right choice.
Here’s food for thought: you are standing on a cliff. 40 feet below there’s a body of water, dark, still, waiting for you to jump in. From this insane vantage point you can’t tell how far the water is. You blink and it seems like it’s ten feet away, another blink and its miles. You have no clue what’s underneath, could be rocks, damn, could be a gator for all you know. You just know that you’ve seen a couple other people jump in and they came out fine. Do you:
A. Holler in sheer joy as you pounce off the rock
B. Shimmy your feet to the edge, pause, then leap
C. Pace back and forth for about 10 minutes before cautiously jumping
D. Turn back, and climb down
What you do here says a ton about your personality and how you approach life in general. But the best thing you can do as you read this is be honest with yourself, pick the answer that best suits you, then ask yourself why. If you care to share, post away and share. If you’d rather keep it to yourself, that’s fine too. All I ask is you take the time to figure out what kind of person you are. When you have a second, take out a paper and pen and write down 10 things that you suck at. Anything. They don’t have to be fitness related at all, just 10 things you know you are not good at doing. Now try to do the first one tomorrow, the second the next day, third the next and so on. Feel free to share your experience!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Updates before I get into this post: An “Into The Wild” detailed post will be coming out tomorrow, along with registration. The main thing I want to get out there is that I’ll be capping the weekend at 30 people, so make sure to register early! Also, I will post here and will be posting it over and over again; there will be NO REFUNDS! There is a lot of planning going into this thing and the second you commit to this, I will have no choice but to assume you will be there. So, set your weekend aside, and be there!!
Respect, humility, thoughts and prayers go out today as we all remember the incredible tragedy and inspirational stories of this day 10 years ago. I is true, we will never forget.
On to todays post! I woke up insanely early today (4:30am) to walk 2+ miles to the Potomac River to join about 4000 other athletes in the 2011 Nations Triathlon (the swim was cancelled thanks to the crazy flooding from the storms over the last couple weeks). I finished the 40k bike and 10k run in 2 hours and 10 minutes. I struggled with being passed by so many at the start of the bike, but after looking into my prep for this thing, I chose to just enjoy being out there, sweating alongside so many others on such a wonderfully sunny day. But my struggles, and my complete lack of interest in taking the even as seriously as I know I should have got me thinking about who I am as an athlete. You see, in the past 3 months I have biked a total of zero times (besides commuting, which I guess is a pretty good amount…), I ran no more than 4 miles at any time, and I swam twice. I then drove out to the Virgin Music Festival where I hung outside rocking out to music for about 8 hours, got home at 12:30 am, got to sleep at 1am and promptly woke up for this race.
Now, there’s a little part of me that thinks, “oh man, I am so cool, I can just do whatever I want and show up to fitness events and do a respectable job”. This is the elitist, bad ass CrossFitter in me… But then, the actual intelligent side of me comes out and asks: what the hell are you doing man, why don’t you take anything seriously?”
I struggled with this all day today, and I have decided to just let the floodgates open here on my blog about my confused relationship with sports.
For my entire life I have been pretty damn good at anything active. I could play pretty much any sport at a highly competitive level, I adapted so well to exploring and just being human. As I grew up I found that the one sport I loved the most, baseball, was all I really wanted to do so I focused all my attention on it. No joke, I carried a handwritten note in my wallet everywhere I went, written by my mother, that read “what did you do to make yourself a better baseball player today?”. I would commit to do something every single day of my life that I though would make me better at the sport I loved so damn much. This incredibly focused attention to baseball led to my general success at two division 1 colleges and then 1 year of pro ball in Europe and two in America. It also led to me viewing baseball as the mist important thing in my life. Over girls, school, and sometimes even family.
When baseball was over for me, it only took me about 4 or 5 months to find something new to dedicate myself to completely, marathon. I trained for my first like it was nobodies business; I never missed a training run, even if it meant running at 1 in the morning. My goal was to run a sub-4, and that’s what I did. Then, I was challenged to run another one and that is exactly when the Josh Courage so many of you know became the Josh Courage I am. I fee as though I sometimes define myself buy trying to figure out what I can and can’t do physically. I ran 10 more marathons that year, along with a 50-mile ultra, along with continued powerlifting, basic CrossFit training and for 4 months out of that year, and extreme diet that I would NEVER recommend to someone running a marathon every month. Since then I have done like 4 triathlon, 5 or 6 CrossFit competitions, got into jiu-jitsu, yoga, climbing and exploring. Shoot, if two weeks ago you challenged me to try stand up paddle boarding, I would probably be out racing by the weekend!
I am really good at all these things, but I do not excel at any. And the crazy thing in my mind is that I am really good at all these things while never really putting the attention and effort I put into baseball or that first marathon. I have created such a psychological need to do freaking everything that I don’t allow myself the ability to ever see how good I could be at any one thing. And every time I tell myself that I am going to focus in on a program, it lasts about a month and then you’ll find me out giving something else a try. And if you’re super close with me, you’ll probably hear me talking about this new challenge in my life and all the crazy ideas I have for incorporating it into my life. I swear, I must challenge myself to some crazy event (pre-existing or invented by me) every 4-5 days.
So why can’t I focus on just one? Why, if I am supposed to be some sort of expert at health and fitness, do I have such a hard time committing myself to any sot of program? Well, I think it’s two things: curiosity and fear. The curiosity speaks for itself I think. I mean, I LOVE fitness. So, if I’m on the Internet and read about SealFit, I want to do it! Or, if a buddy of mine tells me about a triathlon coming up next weekend, I want to do it! And when I try out surfing for the first time and I feel really good, and have a blast, I want to do it every weekend and see how far I could go! I have a never-ending curiosity about what I am capable of doing. Fear on the other hand is a little more confusing. What the hell could I be scared of if all I ever do is attack any challenge with no fear? Well, as strange as it sounds, I might be afraid of success, afraid of failure, afraid of commitment, and/or afraid of losing my curiosity and drive to continue to challenge myself. Being afraid of success just doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s not the most far-fetched idea that I wouldn’t know what to do if I all of a sudden was at the top of my field at a specific sport. Would that mean I wouldn’t have the time or ability to do and try other things? This actually ties onto my last point there: if I am so successful at a sport that all I can do is focus on that, would I not only lose my ability to try new things, but also the desire? Yeah man, I am scared of that.
Fear of failure is pretty common. On the surface I am in no way at all scared of failing. I actually love it as it itself is the strongest challenge out there. Failure challenges you to keep going, get back up and try again. But I think this goes a little deeper I think. Perhaps the idea of getting myself to be at the highest level of a sport brings out a fear failing at that level. If I finish in the top 20 at the CrossFit Games Regionals, I don’t have to deal with making it to the actual Games, stressing out about wanting to win the whole thing, and then dealing with potentially failing there.
This idea is SO damn hard for me to even write about as just an idea. I passionately hate that this exists in me. I hope it’s just a little because the idea of excelling at something is so appealing to me.
To be honest, I don’t really know what else to write about with this one. Just writing that idea above has left me completely lost in thought about how to figure out if this is actually going on in my head. I wanted to write about the idea of being scared of commitment, because I think there is a pretty decent part of me that is with all this fitness stuff. But I can’t seem to organize my thoughts enough to get those points down on paper. So, that being said, I hope this little stream of consciousness inspires some serious self-thought about what and why you are doing what you are doing. If you want to truly be successful at anything in life, you NEED to understand exactly what it is you’re doing. Take the time and think about these things, be honest, be BRUTALLY honest and see what happens.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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