People confuse the terms "normal" and "common," leading to what I call the average myth. It's this idea that commonplace somehow connotes goodness. Regularity somehow ends up meaning acceptable. This conflation makes us victims of the average myth.
There are three incarnations of the average myth: deprecating reverence; deviance proclamations; and guru fairy tales.
Deprecating reverence - "That's so amazing. I could never do anything like that." - You recognize it's a great accomplishment; but you fail to realize that it was done by an imperfect, flawed, foolish, bumbling, stumbling human being not too unlike yourself. Yeah, be realistic. With zero background, it's unlikely that you will at 70 years old begin your first ever exercise regimen and win the very next Olympic Gymnastics competition. However, fear and pre-visualized failure are self-fulfilling prophecies. If another human has done it, you can do it. It's just a matter of will multiplied by time.
Deviance Proclamations - "Well, that prodigy couldn't have had a normal childhood; that athlete's diet is just too weird; that successful person just has such an odd schedule." - Duh. You recognize that they're doing something different; but you have to vilify it so as to protect your own complacency and laziness. Again, deviance from the commonplace is what makes exceptionalism.
When you say, "it's normal for people to eat like this, act like this, think like this, etc.," what you really mean is that it's common. Yes, it is common. Common isn't good, healthy or worthy of esteem. It is common to eat like crap. It is common to abuse your body. It is common to balk at hard work. Vilify the hard workers, the dedicated, the dutiful all you want; that vilified deviance you lament is the very grit which creates a bell curve. Feel free to sit in the fat bubble in the middle. But some elbow grease will have you soaring elsewhere in another quadrant.
Guru Fairy Tales - "You can do anything you want. Just look at me, and here's how I did it with less than one hour per week, a two dollar budget and walking uphill in the snow both ways." - The premise is largely true, but the method is bull. I like to pick on Tim Ferriss for this example because, well, it's easy. I'll leave aside "The 4 Hour Work Week" nonsense, as plenty of others have picked it to pieces. And I'll stay just within my immediate domain of expertise: fitness. Tim Ferriss is this guru who has sold a brand whose message is basically "all the results without any of the work." The titles of his books say all. But the funniest thing about his 2010 "The 4 Hour Body" is that, although it contains a great number of good factoids on intense exercise, ultimately it's a sham. The overt claim is that about four hours of "smart" work is all that's needed for exceptional physical wellness. Now, keep in mind, Tim Ferriss has never GOTTEN INTO shape. He's a lifelong athlete, holds some world record for ballroom dance, is into mixed martial arts training, and, as of late, got into rock climbing. So when, pray tell, did he ever experiment with only four hours of activity getting him into superhuman conditioning? The obvious answer is never.
Anyhow, the point is clear. Yes, you can do a lot more than you think. And yes, there is value in working smarter not just harder. But careful on your sources. Gurus are out there to sell a lie that is loosely based on some actual facts. You won't get where they are by doing what they claim. You will get to where they are by doing what they do. Unfortunately, in most cases, this means becoming a lying cheat. So, if you want to accomplish something big AND maintain some modicum of ethics, morality and humanity... you won't do it in less than an hour a week OR on a two dollar budget.
You may have to walk uphill in the snow both ways, because, after all, that would be weird, abnormal, and uncommon. But you can do it, even if you thought it was too late in life to get started. Don't worry. That's normal.
I invite you to read on only if you are ready for tough love:
In fact, only professionals choke. The word itself connotes that you operate at a level wherein you contend for the top position in the world. While vying for it, you missed, or "choked."
It just happened to Brazil.
It just happened to a hot dog eating competitor.
But if it just happened to you (and you're alive) there's no need to hang your head in shame. For one, you had the opportunity to choke, which in and of itself speaks volumes for the hard work and dedication you've put in up to this point. Two, in many cases you don't have to wait another four years for another opportunity.
Yes, yes, I know. This particular opportunity "will never happen again." This is true almost none of the time, even for a 90 year old who missed the last Halley's Comet. There are other comets. And, guess what: thanks to technology, we can see everything ever recorded at pretty much any moment.
No matter what happens, you can always focus your energy on what you don't have, what you missed out on, what you wish you had. That's a primer on how not to be powerful, happy or successful. It may sound like something from Tony Robbins, but it is true. If you had everything you wished for, you still wouldn't have everything that you WILL wish for once you get it. The secret to happiness is wanting less.
Nevertheless, in this particular situation, I'm sure you're looking for something to get you close to the sensation of accomplishment you were hoping for and which just eluded you. The same advice applies, plus my question for you is "what now?" You see, the story isn't over, ever. If you had just won the lottery you'd still be faced with how to keep the piranhas away, protect yourself, your family and your identity. If you had just nailed that job, now you'd be faced with how to be great at it every day. If you just beat your competitor, you'd still be faced with the next challenge. Each moment, each minute, each hour, each day you are still going to be faced with "now what?" Whether you choked or won, you still face the same question. You have to go DO something. Something else. No matter what.
So, sitting, inactive, impotently lamenting the loss, the choke... that's not what pros do. It's not what winners do.
And it's not what you're going to do.
Nothing is ever as it might first seem. So allow yourself to take a chance and mold the world to how you would have it be. Think of how you imagined your life a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, before you directed yourself to where you are. Did it all turn out the way you thought it would back then? Think back to what you thought it would be like to go through the various rites of passage before you went through them. Your fitness and wellness journey is no different, and will be no different in the future. Serendipity steps in. You learn more. You take the reigns or give them to others. And, truth be told, it can end up being so much better than you expected.
I'll give just two illustrations of seemingly impossible circumstances where the outcome was nothing like what one likely expects. In doing so, I want the reader to consider his/her own seemingly impossible roadblocks (not just in your fitness goals, but whatever struggle you may be having in life). However, reconsider them. If these two examples show you anything, it's that you too can get past your roadblocks to something unimaginably wonderful.
The picture above is of one of my clients who is the team lead for the American Men's Greco-Roman wrestling team on her trip to Iran for the 2014 World Cup. When she returned she regaled me with a hundred stories about how repeatedly pleasantly surprised she was at her interactions in Iran, and how the Iranians were repeatedly pleasantly surprised at the interactions with her. In a nutshell, each party underestimated the respectfulness, gentility, humility, piety and cultural sensitivity that would come from the other. And it resulted in her having a "media darling" week in the country of Iran.
As I listened to her debrief throughout the week, it kept occurring to me that her Persian expedition was not too dissimilar from a fitness journey. That is, with a little bit of guts and taking a chance, beautiful impossible things happen. Almost every part of her trip was historic, in that a woman had never been in various buildings and forums where she went. And "knowing" what she thought she did beforehand, she could've easily just forewent the tour, stood this one out, played it safe and stayed home. The Iranian government could've easily declined entry and the various concessions they had to make to accommodate her. Instead, both boldly proceeded and people's worlds changed.
Prior to my client's return, two weeks ago, I myself was overseas; and my son was standing on a canon outside the mansion once home to Laskarina Bouboulina (whose statue is next to him). Born in 1771 Bouboulina was the only woman in recorded world history to be named a full admiral until 2013. She had no female role model after whom to model herself. She could've easily said, "this is how things seem to be" and accepted her plight. But instead she challenged every imagined imposition in her path, amassing a furtive arsenal on the island of Spetsos, chartering the construction of one of the largest ships at the time, bribing Turkish officials to look the other way, and launching a series of offensives against the Ottoman Empire to ultimately play a pivotal role in the Independence of Greece. She was born to be just another Greek woman (in fact, she was born in a prison), quietly oppressed by the Turks; but she imagined and created something so much greater. Even when she had acquired a large estate, she was not content to stand back and enjoy retirement. Rather, she personally attended to brutal battles at the ripe old age of 50, which is REALLY saying something for a woman in the early 1800s.
Nothing is as it seems to begin with. And that's because you make things what they are. Holding back from a full commitment to your fitness is just like holding back from the rest of life. You think you know what it's like, so you shoot yourself in the foot before you take a step, and now you dare not put it forward because it could get hurt worse.
Yes, it requires doing what maybe no one including yourself thought possible. But you know what? EVERYTHING EVER DONE once seemed like it couldn't be.
Do you remember the story about the boy who reluctantly learned only half of the alphabet and grew up to become one of the greatest and most prolific authors in history? Neither do I. That isn't how anything works, and yet it is how most of us try something we want to master or be great at.
We dip our toe, maybe even both, and then complain that we haven't won the Olympic 400 meter freestyle. So we lower our expectations, equivocating, and saying, "I don't want to become a fanatic."
"Instead, maybe if I dip my toe I'll at least be able to learn the backstroke."
When that doesn't work, we justify the failure by saying, "I just couldn't wrap my head around getting my hair wet, so I got as far as I could without doing that."
And now you don't even know how to swim.
For the most part, this is what I deal with in coaching people. It has been the same whether I hired a manager, a trainer or worked with a new client. Those who dive in learn to swim right away and forever. Those who never more than dip their toe never even doggy paddle.
It's the same whether someone is trying to get ripped, grow a business, become a better person, learn a new language, master an instrument, a skill, a subject, a job, build a marriage, a friendship, succeed in school or life. Commit, wholeheartedly, blindly, passionately; and do something great. Or skeptically, tacitly, dip your toe, making the most sophisticated metaphysical justifications for being average; and, one day, when you fall in, drown.