I started working out when I was 14 years old and a freshman in high school. It didn’t take long before I started having thoughts of not only wanting to get on stage and do a teenage show, but that this teenage show would simply be a stepping stone to an illustrious career in professional bodybuilding, pitting me against the likes of the great Rich Gaspari, Lee Labrada and Mike Christian. How I was going to go from having their pictures on my bedroom wall to standing next to them on stage was not something I fretted over; it was essentially a formality in my teenage mind.

By the time I was 15 I was setting dates for shows and “starting prep.” I did this roughly five times the first year, three times the second year, and twice when I was 17, always having to bow out of the prep phase for some unforeseen reason that I had absolutely no control over. Sometimes I even lied and made up reasons as to why I had to pull out of shows. At the time I didn’t give it any thought, at all. I was very good at justifying the reasons (read: excuses) as to why I never seemed to be able to finish a prep and get on stage.

I asked myself frequently how I was ever going to be a pro if I am constantly side-tracked by all of these obstacles. I mean, clearly my teenage life was rife with stress: a part-time job at a pizza place or fast-food place until it got in the way of a workout; not paying any bills; driving my parent’s car because all of my money was spent on bodybuilding supplements that were going to take me pro; homework — oh wait, rarely did that; picking my high school classes based on the teachers that would allow me to sit in the back of the classroom and read FLEX and Muscle and Fitness and pass me with a D-.  I could go on and on, but I think my point has been made. My life was far more stressful than the average fat person that had no muscle and got no chicks. What losers.

RECENT: Whiny Physique Competitors, Let’s Get Something Straight

Fast forward to the other day and I have a couple clients that have been wanting to get on stage for a while now. They legitimately have things going on in their lives that are important — more so than me when I was 15. However, I noticed a pattern that has lasted quite a while and realized that these patterns—though not the exact same obstacles that I dealt with—had quite a few parallels to my situation.

bodybuilding competitor arnold

See, there are people with a lot on their plate and there are very good reasons that can sometimes sidetrack our goals. You might say, “NOTHING SIDE TRACKS ME FROM MY GOALS”, and that is great, but if you mean that if your daughter was diagnosed with cancer you would not be sidetracked, please jump in front of a bus, because the world doesn’t need or want you. The reality is that there are legitimate reasons that sometimes sidetrack us and then there are situations where we either WANT to find an obstacle or we aren’t willing to work hard enough to get over or around that obstacle. It is sometimes hard to tell where your personal situation falls because, on the one hand, if you simply give up when an obstacle presents itself you will not get very far, but if you never give in to obstacles—especially if they are important—you can foster a pretty dysfunctional existence where what you want is the only thing that matters.

In my situation, and in the situation of my two clients, I consider this self-sabotage. You are purposely, though not consciously, putting obstacles in your way to keep you from having to reach your goal. The reason for this is incredibly simple and sometimes difficult to admit: fear. It is the fear of the unknown and more importantly the fear of failure. If you never get to your destination, you can’t fail. If you can’t get there because of something that you feel is out of your control, you can’t fail. This is precisely why I would sometimes make up reasons that I couldn’t finish the prep and as long as you justify those reasons/obstacles, not only does everyone else buy into it, but you buy into it as well. You believe your own bullshit. This buys you time so that you don’t have to quit on your goal; you just postpone it.

How do you tackle your fear of failure? Ask someone that is qualified to answer that question; I honestly have no clue. I am not even sure how I overcame my fear and got on stage the first time. It could have been due to the maturation process because I was 21 when I competed the first time. It could have been that I subconsciously knew I wasn’t a very good bodybuilder or doubted how good I was when I was young and insecure. I had doubts when I was preparing for the show where I finally got on stage at 21, but it was different because I had more confidence and felt that I could do well.

Or it could just be that I had come to the point that I figured out I was bullshitting myself for years and figured I should probably man up, do the work, and let it all play out, letting the chips fall where they may. It only takes one time where you truly do not know where you will fall and that is the first time. After that, you have a good idea of how you stack up to the competition, the type of condition you can get into, and how much you need to improve to get better and place higher.

More importantly, I think I figured out that continuing to pull out of doing shows for lame reasons was a failure in itself.  I knew that if I did the work, was disciplined and followed through by doing something most people simply do not want to do or cannot do, I would not fail.  If you are making excuses and creating obstacles for yourself, you are already failing. You might as well follow through because not placing is far better than failing.  Just Sayin’.