Most all humans can be broken down into two groups.
People from the first group are accountable, meaning they realize that most of their circumstances are a direct result of their own decisions and actions. These people take responsibility for what they do and own it. Generally speaking, these people lead better, more fulfilling lives than the others.
The other type of person fills the second group. These people see their circumstances, when they be unfavorable, as something that has been done to them. These people tend play the victim and truly believe that things beyond their control cause almost all of the negative consequences in their lives.
Now, there are varying degrees of each, of course. And your experiences shape you. It's also possible for people to shift, over time, from one group to the other.
This can be a beautiful thing, when someone has a moment of clarity and suddenly realizes he has himself to blame for what he doesn't like about his life, and in fact, has been causing most of this own problems.
Sadly, it can go the other way, too. I've seen it with my own eyes.
In this piece, I'm going to go on a bit about accountability and decision making, but most of what I have to say can be summed up in a single sentence. Almost all of the things that you love or hate about your life are a direct result of choices that you, yourself have made.
That applies to your job; your relationships with lovers, family members, friends; your training, performance and overall health; all of it. These are all, to a good degree, the result of a long series of decisions.
Like many of my weekends, I spent this past one at a powerlifting meet. Five of the biggest lifters from Keyhole Barbell competed, at one point four of them in the same flight of squats. So, you could say there was some friendly competition, and that I had my hands full. I coached and did bench-only.
I was able to set a lifetime PR for the first time since my spine surgery, by dropping to a lighter weight class. This meant cutting twenty pounds of body weight over the course of ten days, twelve of that in the showers the night before weigh-ins. The cut is part of the meet, as far as I'm concerned. It maybe the hardest part, but I'm used to it by now. I'm an obstinate human being, and over the years I've acquired the trick of taking my medicine without letting on how bad it tastes. I've got a PhD in acceptance, when it comes to suffering. I guess I can thank prison for that.
Now, the PR I set was nothing heroic, nor was it anywhere near the most I've ever pressed. It wasn't even the most I've ever been able to press at that body weight, by a good bit. But, it was the most I have ever actually done on the platform in that weight class. So, it's a lifetime PR. And at this stage in the game, where my body parts are as sure as a seat in a game of musical chairs, lifetime PR's are few, and very far between.
Whatever. I'll take it, because I earned it. The cut was brutal, and while that was a part of the payment, there is an all encompassing factor, which is much more unwieldy. That factor is something which will have the strongest effect on where you end up, when all is said and done: choices.
Choices are the meat of this story.
The decisions we make throughout the course of our days and weeks and years are what ultimately have the biggest impact on how things will play out for us. Like I said before, this is true for training, it's true for competition, it's true for every aspect of our personal and professional lives.
There are other factors, sure. And these are the ones that pretty much everyone blame their failures on. You know, the things that are out of your control, like life not being fair, or having bad luck, or not having rich parents, or coming from a bad neighborhood, or being a convicted felon. I'm sure you've got some great excuses of your own that came to mind just then. I mean, life is extra hard for some people. Right?
Maybe as a result of my own life experience, I have a better than average understanding of just how much my own choices steer my course. No matter the obstacles beyond my control, if I decide to do all the things in my power to get where I want to be, I usually end up pretty fucking close.
Sometimes this means choosing to not do things I want to do with every cell of my being, like punch someone in the face in traffic. Or in the case of this meet, choosing to not miss training sessions because of my rather intense travel schedule, or choosing to not eat the foods I wanted to for entire week prior to weigh-ins. Choosing to suffer in the shower for another five or so hours, to sweat out the last twelve pounds of body weight, instead of just getting under the covers and going to sleep. No one made me do these things, I decided on my own. As a result, I made weight and got a PR. Choices.
I didn't tell myself I couldn't because I was traveling too much, or that it was okay to miss because I was focusing on work. Everyone would have understood if I had. Instead I found a balance between my personal, professional, and training responsibilities that I could live with.
Is it possible that I could've performed better? Absolutely. If my own performance in powerlifting was my number one priority right now, I would have performed even better. That is not the case. However, with the level of commitment I consistently show to the balance I was talking about above, I was able to take this meet on four weeks notice and manipulate things in such a way that I got a lifetime meet PR. All of this, and my personal and professional life did not have to suffer.
One time I trained on a Thursday night, got on a plane at 4:00 Friday morning, without sleeping, and spent most of the day in an airport on a layover. Then I met up with Greg Panora for the connecting flight to Texas. After we checked in to our hotel, we decided to drive to Metroflex in Ft. Worth and train, because it was the only opportunity we would have that weekend. Two workouts with cross-country travel and no sleep between them. Nobody would've thought less of us if we'd just gone to sleep. Choices like this made doing that meet possible.
Yesterday, after the excitement of the meet weekend and was over, I had to drive my father who lives with me and is in his 60's to the VA hospital to detox from the drugs and alcohol he is addicted to. He was clean and doing alright for eight years until a few months ago when he fell off the wagon, hard. I brought him with me, five years back, when I moved out here to open Keyhole Barbell. I did it so he could have some kind of life, and so I could keep an eye on him, because he doesn't have anybody else.
In my car, on the way to the VA place, he was shaking like a leaf and telling me how he felt like shit. I clenched my jaw and took a deep breath. I told him that the decisions he made brought us to where we were at that moment. He was good for a long time and no one made him do these things. He decided on his own. He chose.
I don't think any less of him for fucking up. Life is hard. And the choices I keep talking about — they are hard, too. However, it's important to keep in mind that these things are hard for everybody, not just some people. And no matter what your circumstances are, no matter how shitty, you have the ability to make choices that will either worsen or improve them. The path of least resistance usually doesn't lead anywhere you would want to go. Trust me on this. I've seen the end of that road.
I've also seen how much can be accomplished when you make the choice to do whatever it takes to reach your goal, even when the deck is stacked against you. When I got out of prison, I didn't have much going for me, but I did have a whole raft of great excuses to throw in the towel. I had years of parole to make it through, not so much as a car to drive to work, and I don't think anyone would've been surprised if I'd gone right back to the big house.
The things is, I never did. I took what skills I had, and made about as much of them as I can imagine anyone doing. The choices I made changed me, and they changed my circumstances. I became the accountable one. Me, the violent psychopath. I had myself to blame for what I didn't like about my own life, so I changed it.
Mike Flowers, one of my Keyhole Barbell lifters who did the meet, works swing shift at a steel mill. As a result, his training schedule is all over the place. Sometimes he's busting his ass, grinding slabs of steel until eleven at night. Then he comes right in to train, 45 minutes from his house, exhausted and covered in metal dust. I come out and help him or spot him when he needs, until all hours of the night, because I fucking love people who are willing to work. Even with the obstacles he faces, he's been making consistent progress for years.
In fact, in six meets, I don't think he has ever not PR'd. This weekend he smoked a 470-pound PR bench on the platform, which is at least 70 pounds more than his first meet, just over two years ago. Choices.
At the end of the day, you are accountable for the decisions you make, good or bad, and whether you like it or not.
Your successes and failures, on the platform and in life are decided, long before they manifest, in the choices you've made along the way. If something is important to you, those choices are going to reflect it.