There I was on my laptop, deep in thought, working on a cool post-workout nutrition article. I was beyond focused – not even the lure of some Internet porn just a click away could distract me.
Then the phone rang, and my samurai-like ability to concentrate on the task at hand was disrupted.
A few years back, someone very close to me was battling serious drug addiction. We'd tried everything we could to help, but to no avail. One night he overdosed, ended up in ICU on life support, was miraculously revived, and came to with needles and tubes sticking out of his body. But he survived.
We thought he'd hit rock bottom, had been scared straight, and had been given a second chance to get his life back on track, straight out of an episode of VH1's Behind-the-Music. We thought wrong. Turns out the call this night was to inform us that he'd relapsed into drug abuse and overdosed again.
I wonder how many more chances he'll get?
I wish so badly I could help this person. To know you can't help someone close to you through their personal struggles is one of the worst feelings in the world.
But after years of trying, I came to the cold, hard, truth: I can't. We're just two different people.
Something is missing in his life. The same way something is missing in the life of anyone who lets the challenges of life overwhelm him to the point he eventually falls down a path of self-destruction.
It's something that's not missing in yours or mine. A passion for something, a sense of purpose, an identity, an outlet, a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, a reason to not throw our hands up and say F-it all.
You, Me, and the Iron
After addressing my friend's situation and heading back into a normal day of work, I was at the computer screen again. While Internet porn was still the furthest thing from my mind, the details of a nutrition plan also didn't seem so important. Sometimes, there are way bigger benefits of living this Iron Way. And every once in a while, we should remind ourselves of the true value of this path we've chosen.
Addiction is a curse that runs in my family. I'm lucky that, at a young age, I became addicted to living the life of an athlete. I'm particularly thankful that the commitment to the Iron Way has followed me into adulthood. Sometimes I think of the many times when I could've gone down a different path were it not for my personal identity being tied to this lifestyle. Perhaps it would have led me to the wrong side of a hospital wristband?
At times my life follows me into my work. Whether that makes me a good writer/coach because you know you're always getting something authentic from me, or a bad one because I can't seem to separate the two, that's for you to decide.
This time around, that connection got me thinking – maybe I can somehow help you instead? After all, by virtue of being here on T NATION, you and I are much more alike than this person. Regardless of who you are, where you come from or what you believe, we have something in common.
Call it an attempt at karmic redemption, or just trying to make myself feel better so I can sleep at night, but I feel like it's my duty to help you realize the true benefits of having found this Iron Game.
The Iron Awaits
The Iron Way has provided me with a solid foundation in this chaos called life and my journey in particular, which has been full of ups and downs, successes and failures, achievements and disappointments. I've always been able to find comfort, peace, escape, value, and a sense of purpose in the gym, even when I was in my darkest stages and hopelessly lost in the real world.
That probably sounds cheesy or ridiculous to a normal person. Who cares? If you're living your life according to what other people think of you, you're wasting your time. As Bruce Lee said, "If you love life, don't waste time, for time is what life is made up of."
Besides, one of the reasons why I wanted to write for a place like T NATION is that for many of you, that sentiment probably doesn't sound so crazy. Maybe it even hits home?
Yeah, we want to get bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, and we want confidence while hitting on chicks, etc., but the Iron Game can mean so much more to a true athlete. Can you imagine the void in your life without the commitment to some sort of athletic endeavor, or the daily pursuit of physical excellence? I'm sure you could find things to fill the void, but what could possibly be as rewarding?
The pursuit of something greater, or just a better version of our current selves doesn't make us immune to some of the hardships of life, but it certainly makes our ability to deal with them a little bit easier. We have something in our lives that provides us with a rock-solid foundation.
Maybe your life isn't going great right now. The economy sucks, your career is crumbling or is nonexistent, your relationships are in shambles, you don't know what to do with your life, etc. Maybe it feels as if the world is against you.
It makes no difference. Beyond those gym walls, the iron will always be waiting for you. It will never judge, never disappoint. You can live for that hour a day where it's you versus the weights and nothing else matters.
We're not victims or whiners or complainers or helpless souls; we're athletes, and true athletes keep their mouthpiece in and stay in the game no matter what the situation, no matter what life throws at them. We don't make excuses. We put our head down and go to work. We know that successes and disappointments will come and go, but the work we must do always remains.
A 45-Pound Plate to You and Yours
That's what the average person doesn't get about the Iron Game. I'm not the greatest bodybuilder or strength athlete in the world, not even close. But the Iron Way will be a part of my life until the day I die because of this deeper meaning.
There will always be a few dickheads running around with inflated egos, trying to make themselves feel better by dragging others down, and just overall giving this lifestyle a bad name. Unfortunately, those who talk the loudest often get heard the most. They drive many people away from a lifestyle that could give many wandering souls a sense of peace.
Pay no attention. These are the same guys who burn out, end up with nothing to show for how badass they supposedly were, and are forgotten over time.
The true vets of the game, however, the guys that have stood the test of time, the guys that will be in the gym twenty years from now – training or coaching just as they are today – understand the true spirit of the Iron Way. You don't see them talking shit. You see them trying to help people. They know what the Iron Game has meant to their lives, and they know what it can mean for someone else.
The Iron Game is bigger than any one man. The weights were here before us, and they'll be here long after we're gone.
If you're just starting out, learn to respect the true meaning of the Iron Way. If you're just waiting for biceps and big benches, you're going to eventually burn out. Six-packs are meaningless in the real world. Trust me. I've had one for a long time and other than making me a few pennies, it's gotten me nowhere.
But believing in an idea, taking pride in what you stand for, chasing lofty goals day in and day out with a warrior's discipline and commitment? That's priceless. Those aspects of the Iron Way will get you through more than you can imagine.
And if this isn't ringing home, that's okay too. But let me give you some advice. You better find something in this world that you are passionate about. We all need an outlet that helps us get through the grind that life can become. If you don't have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, if you aren't chasing something in life, you're just waiting to die.
For me, and for many of you, however, we're lucky that we've already found something that makes us tick.
So whether you are a guy trying to get to 2% body fat and are looking to me for advice, or you are a mass monster that probably hates my guts and wants to punch me in the face (don't punch me in the face though – that's my moneymaker), it's all good. Today I raise a 45-pound plate to salute you and yours.
I always like to include some practical tips at the end of all my ramblings. So here they are:
• When you hit the gym, leave the paranoia that so often plagues perfection-seekers behind. Don't worry if you have the optimum protocol or set/rep schemes or tempos or rest periods. Just lift man.
Lift until you can't lift anymore, and then do a few extra sets because you know it's a privilege to be there and to pay your respects to the Iron gods. Feel your hands wrap around the iron, listen to the clanging of the weights, and be thankful this is all part of your life.
• Down your Surge®, go home, and then grab a good meal. Feast like a barbarian. It doesn't matter if you believe in high carbs or low carbs, Paleo nutrition or sports nutrition, intermittent fasting or 18 meals a day.
What matters is that you believe in something.
"The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one – no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts. This you can trust."
– Conan the Barbarian
And I still owe you the post-workout nutrition article I mentioned at the beginning of this ramble.