Alpha in Action is Not Always Like a Lion

After about two-and-a-half months, I have left my coffee shop job in order to pursue personal training and online coaching full-time from home. I realized, through the influence of others and of my own words, that it’s time to follow my own advice.

My initial plan was to work at Java Love, go to grad school, and maintain some supplementary income through PT/OC, but one day, while I was scrubbing Java Love’s dishes, I realized that this plan made little sense. In order to attend grad school without paying tuition, I would need a graduate assistantship, which required a full-time classload and a 20-hour per week research commitment (albeit adding a small stipend; almost too small to mention). Add to that 15-30 hours of work at the coffee shop to make working there even worthwhile, and 5-10 per week spent on personal training…at minimum that’s forty hours per week. When am I supposed to do my work for class? I have procrastinatory tendencies; this all sounds like setting myself up for failure.

Many folks work full-time and go to school full-time, you say. Yes, but wouldn’t it be groovy if I didn’t have to do that (not to mention them)? And what’s a way to, perhaps, effect that outcome in my case? It is, of course, to focus on personal training now, which pays me literally 3-7 times more per hour; which doesn’t require I have a boss or set hours; which allows me to work from home; which allows me to maintain my own healthy habits (whereas coffee shop work—all the bending and leaning and reaching and cash-registering—will bend a tall guy like me all out of shape, and make me lose weight that took years to put on); which leaves me with enough energy and time to pursue personal projects like this here blog, for example. Et cetera.

I recently saw a few old friends from college, and told them what I was up to: “I work at a coffee shop,” I’d said. I said it with both a certain humility and a certain pride. Work is work, food on the table is food on the table, and in large part, who really gives a fuck? In addition, on the pride side of things, I am a great barista and I could own my own coffee shop someday (it would be a co-operative). But at the same time, I was humble. I’m in my early thirties, I have a college degree, and I’m working in a coffee shop. I spoke to one of the friends again on the phone a week later, and she told me how she felt when I told her how I was earning a living.

“Poor Mark! He’s a college graduate and he has to work at a coffee shop to make ends meet!”

Mind you, this is coming from someone who has worked numerous unpleasant jobs in the service industry, and damn well aims to be done with them completely one of these days.

But it is not with contempt for coffee shops or coffee shop jobs that I received her sentiment. More than that, it was with the understanding that, in a way, I was squandering a cool gift: the ability to work and earn something resembling what my labor is worth. My NASM certification gives me that gift, as does my personal training experience for the last two years. All I needed to do was decide that, not only COULD I focus on it, not only SHOULD I, but that I WOULD, and wholeheartedly. No underachieving, no waffling, no fears that lead to deterred ambitions. There may be fears, there may be failures, but there will be no regrets. And no unnecessary hardship. Someone who needs a coffee shop job should have that job. But I don’t, and as a 32-year old man, it’s time to grab hold and make it happen, as best I can. Make what happen? Life.

I could end this entry right here with that inspirational message, but I wanted to describe what else converged around the last few weeks to get me to face my fears and focus on training. My brother’s rock band, Apparus, were all set to break up in a few months. My brother, John, was scheduled to move to Italy in July. You see, after several visits there, part of John’s soul is in Italy and he feels it’s about to time to reunite himself with himself, and really begin living. I can relate due to my experiences in Vermont at Marlboro College, a decade+ ago.

But after a recent Apparus show where everything came together—performance, sound quality, audience reaction, et cetera—he’d started to reconsider. How often does a person end up in a cohesive, distinctive rock band at its peak, filled with great musicians? He’d sacrificed some years to it already, but suddenly it didn’t seem like as much of a sacrifice; it seemed like a gift, like an opportunity for fun, adventure, perhaps even financial gain. So he altered his hard-made plans, and everyone in the band felt invigorated. Far from breaking up, it was time to redouble their efforts.

Around the same time that this was developing, I watched a Youtube video by Chris Jones from Physiques of Greatness, in which he explains his take on “overtraining” and whether it is a real thing. Chris’s perception of it is very pragmatic: overtraining exists in relation to a person’s lifestyle. In his case, he trains up to two hours a day doing high-volume bodybuilding training, far more than the average person—with an average lifestyle—could handle. But then, once he gets home, he eats bountifully and sleeps prodigiously, allowing him to recover adequately. This made me think: hey! I could work from home too, sleep and eat to match my health and fitness goals, NOT lose weight and NOT get neck and upper back pain from all of the bending. I have that ability, and yet I’m not making use of it.

The last inspiring experience that I’ll describe: I was talking to a friend about drug abuse, and how it can take over your life. I’ve had drug problems in the past and I know how being in a drugged state creates a kind of “pleasure dome” as Samuel Coleridge described it, in which the problems of the world and the unanswered questions and the angers and jealousies and inequities and discontinuities don’t touch you, and questions exist to remain unanswered, and no feeling or thought or development or disorder is unnatural or undesirable because all judgment has been suspended. It makes a chaotic mess of one’s life.

I told my friend, who is considering leaving his pleasure dome, how hard society makes it to transition into a “conventional” life of values and decisions. Rarely can someone do something they love and survive on while maintaining enough free time to also pursue personal interests, hobbies, or passions. Very little is provided: healthcare, no. Education, no. Employment, no. Housing, no. All of these things must be worked for, or you will be a failure, indigent, possessionless, worthless. It is up to you, completely, to give direction and then meaning to your life, and either you will succeed or you will fail. It is a harsh (and in a way, incomplete) realization to make; it makes leaving the pleasure dome all that more difficult.

So rare is the person who can do what he or she loves and have free time to boot. And I heard myself talking about myself in a way. Are writing and music closer to my heart than fitness? Perhaps. But I could be making money right now as a trainer, not years from now as a musician or novelist. And I can still write novels and make music as a personal trainer. Not so much as a barista/research assistant/part-time trainer.

It took a lot of courage to send that resignation email. I wrote it on my computer and left it, and picked it up again on my phone. Each time I mustered the courage to hit Send, by the time the phone was in my hand, awakened and ready, I’d lost the courage. Until I finally made myself do it. I made myself press Send, and in doing so, I crawled out of my sub-standard pleasure dome, my dome of insecurity, at least a little bit, towards a present—never mind the future for now—of my own making.

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