Everything Starts at Zero

TAGS: professional relationships, personal traininer, career change, business, working with clients, fitness industry, networking, Alexander Cortes, personal training, beginner, strength training, barbell, training

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Whatever your goals are, you never start at the “end.” You start from the beginning. And the beginning of anything generally doesn’t impress much.

Regardless of the process and regardless of whether it's lifting, business, a career change, education or relationships, none of these things have grandiose starts. The majority of the time, the beginning is grinding, discouraging and filled with a lot of hope and promises that may or may not pan out. There will be times when “golden” opportunities arise, but even those things are created. They aren't ‘found,” and they are the exception, not the rule.

For the majority of life, everything starts from “nothing” and you add to it from there.

Get Comfortable With Zero

Businesses all start from zero. You don’t make a profit. You don’t have a salary. You don’t have customers ready to place massive orders or clients beating down the door. You start from nothing. You're just a name much of the time, and you build from there. To say that this is a lot of “work” is an understatement. No successful business owner who makes a profit will ever describe it as easy.

Lifting starts with the barbell. The barbell is 20 kilograms or 45 pounds. Regardless of how strong someone becomes, the barbell is what everyone starts with. That is the “zero.” Technique is based on the movement of the barbell, not the “weight” on the bar. Bad technique at 45 pounds will never become “great” technique at 515 pounds as weight is added. Sound technique starts with the empty barbell. That’s what everyone learns with. Whether you get to add a plate or two or three your first time using it, one can't assume that natural strength grants advantage. Strength is built technically from the zero mark.

A career change can be a great opportunity. I had one recently moving across the country. Despite the conditions of the situation that I was given, I still started from zero when I walked into the new facility that I would be working in. Clients didn’t know who I was, and no one had seen me train. The team I was working with didn’t know me at all. I had to prove myself as much as anywhere else I've worked, regardless of whether I had a reputation before arriving. Even more so, I had to fulfill and exceed expectations.


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The opportunity was a tremendous one, but my mentality wasn't to arrive and assume it was a “lay down” and that I didn’t have to prove anything. Rather, I approached it “from zero.” I had everything to prove.

Learning Starts With An Empty Cup

There is a Daoist tale in which a student approaches a master and asks to be taught everything that the master knows. The master starts, but the student protests immediately to what he is being told. The master replies, “I cannot fill your cup if it's already full. You must pour it empty first.”

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This story was popularized by Bruce Lee, but it’s a very old tale from Daoist philosophy and the lesson is fairly universal: learning starts from zero. Education, relative to any field, is built on itself.

Enough of the ‘student” mentality has been written though that I don’t need to make a verbose point. If you approach learning from the assumption that you already “know” as much as there is to know, you will always be getting in your own way. Learning has to start from zero, and regardless of how advanced you become in a subject, you can't lose that mentality.

You Can't Copy Trust

Relationships can mean a lot of things, but regardless of type, they are built with time. You can't copy trust. You can't copy faith in someone. You can't magically create shared values. Getting to know someone, regardless of context, takes many, many hours of conversation.

Imagine a business meeting scenario. I have many situations in which I Skype or call someone before working with them. These might be one- to two-hour calls to “get to know” each other. In many industries, it isn't uncommon for a full eight hours to be spent on face-to-face meetings or even multiple days if large teams of people will be working together. Is that enough time to get to know someone? On the surface and relative to business, perhaps, but they all start from the zero mark.


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I consider this in the simple context of working with clients. I have many people that I see about three hours a week or 12 hours a month. For a personal training client, that’s damn good frequency. In reality though, I’ll see them essentially for one “full” day every two months. So that's six days a year in which I might get to know someone. In total, that's 144 hours. Is that so much time?

For training, it definitely is. For truly “knowing” someone, not truly. Unless you’re interacting with someone for over 12 hours a day every day for weeks and months and years on end, the likelihood that you know him or her well is pretty low. This isn’t to imply that clients must be super close friends or that you must spend hundreds of hours in "deep" conversation with every person you meet. Rather, it’s the larger point that people overestimate their relationships with colleagues, clients, friends, family and lovers under the belief of knowing them so well when in reality, the time that they’ve truly spent interacting with that person is limited. Twenty dates isn’t that many dates when there are 365 days in a year. A two-hour phone call a few times a week doesn’t even add up to one day over the course of a month.

The point is that relationships, trust and the values thereof take time. This starts at the zero mark, and each second gets added to the minutes that pass by.

You Can Get Knocked Down to Zero

There will be times, perhaps many, when a process must be restarted from the beginning. To say it plainly, this can fucking suck. But sometimes it's unavoidable, and sometimes getting knocked back to the start tends to do a lot to improve learning. At the same time, processes will be at stages where you are far ahead of the “zero” mark, but you can't take those for granted either. Hubris and a lack of gratitude—that unmakes a lot of people.

Always be grateful for where you started from and don’t be reluctant to start the beginning of anything. Time will pass regardless. You want every minute to add up toward something. Make it all count.

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