James Fell offers a list of hard-learned lessons about life, bravery, and morality.
Remember what Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption said: “Terrible thing, to live in fear.” Fear can hold you back from being the person you’re meant to be.
Some of these won’t apply to you, but perhaps some will. Here are 16 things some people need to stop being afraid of.
1. Hard work
I’m not ragging on young people as a bunch of entitled loafers here. I am one of the laziest people I know to the point of almost being “too lazy to fail.” Heaven help me if I ever won the lottery. My life would go to hell it rapid fashion.
But there is a plague of “quick” and “easy” upon society, and I’m not just talking about the fitness industry.
Have you ever cleaned a bathtub? If not, you need to get on that. If yes, then perhaps you are familiar with the term “scrub free.” If you’ve ever used a bathtub cleaning product proclaiming to be scrub free, then you know that’s marketing bullshit.
You know there will be scrubbing involved. You don’t believe the marketing hype of bathroom cleaning products, so don’t believe the marketing hype of there being an easier way to do anything else worth accomplishing. Getting in shape takes hard work. So do relationships, career, entrepreneurial ventures, developing talent or skills of any sort. They all taking planning and effort.
Sometimes, luck plays a role in fulfilling dreams and achieving destinies. More often, it’s careful planning and perspiration that brings it to fruition. And it’s got to be the right kind of effort, which is why I mentioned planning.
Confucius said, “Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well, that’s a crock. I love what I do for a living, but there are plenty of days that it feels a lot like work. But it’s much less work than sitting in a cube with a boss breathing down my neck.
Question: When has anything truly worthwhile in your life ever been achieved without hard work? Luck can only take you part of the way.
2. Doing the right thing
I don’t believe in a mystical form of karma. I don’t think the universe will punish you for your misdeeds. Rather, you punish yourself.
Do something bad and get away with it and it becomes reinforcing. It leads to more and more bad behavior. Eventually, it’s going to bite you in the ass. This isn’t karma, it’s playing the odds.
I have a sticky note on my desk that I can see easily while I work. It says, “Rule #1: Go with your gut. Rule #2: If in doubt, take the high road.”
Every time I’ve gone against my gut instinct I’ve been burned. Deep down, you knowif it’s the angel or the demon whispering in your ear, and you know which one you should listen to. When you listen to the wrong one, it may pay off short-term, but in the long term it leads down a bad path.
Just last year I was offered an interview with Paula Deen about her success with weight loss, but I’d heard some rumors and my gut told me not to do it, so I passed. It wouldn’t have hurt my reputation much, but it feels good to not have my name associated with hers right now.
3. Standing up for what’s right
It’s one thing to do the right thing yourself, but can you stand up in the face of other’s doing wrong?
Yeah, way tougher.
I grew up in a progressive family. I won’t go into details, but lets just say we became sort of a second family for a young gay man whose family had all but rejected him. But in the 80s, homophobia was rampant, especially because of AIDS. In high school many of the guys I knew were homophobes. Slurs were spewed and weak boys were bullied. I stood idly by, and even participated a little. This fills me with a shame I will never live down. I knew what was happening was wrong and I didn’t speak up. I went along. I don’t do that anymore.
There is evil in the world. Be brave in the face of it. Take a stand.
4. Doing things you suck at
“Sucking at something is the first step at becoming sorta good at something.” – Jake the dog
There are many paths to becoming a better human, and each obstacle you overcome provides valuable experience. A good physique alone probably won’t get you laid, but confidence may. Being terrible at something, and then achieving a level of mastery via patience, planning and persistence builds confidence not just in that activity, but in the rest of your life as someone who can accomplish goals.
My column with the Los Angeles Times came about because of a cold call to the health editor.
I have had so many editors reject my work it’s beyond counting. In my past there are jobs and promotions I didn’t get, programs I wasn’t accepted into, and many women who turned me down (sometimes in the most humiliating way possible).
Rejection sucks. Rejection hurts. And yet, if you’re not willing to thicken your skin and accept it as a very regular part of life, you’ll not get the things you want by taking the risks necessary to achieve lofty goals.
I’m not saying go out and ask everyone for everything and take what comes. Be strategic. Pursue what you believe you have at least a shot at achieving with passion and vigor, and accept that most of the time the answer is still going to be, “No.”
But sometimes, the answer is, “Yes.” And that makes it worth trying.
6. Asking for help
Although it may not always seem that way, we live in a society that is based on helping out our fellow humans. Evolution programmed us to work together. The whole concept of every man for himself is a crock.
We live in a quid pro quo civilization. Help others when you can, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. This is what makes the world turn.
7. Asking for more
I can’t tell you how many people I know accept the first salary offer when taking a new job. This is usually a mistake.
If a company tenders a job offer, that means they want you. When they offer a salary, they lowball because of budget constraints. If you try and get more, it doesn’t automatically make them say, “Screw this guy,” and they rescind the offer. What happens instead (in most cases), is:
a) You actually get more money.
b) You get more respect because you didn’t accept the first offer.
There is a difference between ask and demand, and there are polite ways to ask for more that work better than being an arrogant jerk about it. Also, know that expectations will be higher, so you have to earn your pay. Earning that pay can also put you on a faster track to advancement.
Anyway, I’m not just talking about salary. Don’t live life as a moocher, but if you think you have earned more, then it’s okay to ask for more.
Don’t cook? Want to be in great shape? You should learn.
Since 1955 the amount of American food dollars spent on eating out climbed from 25% to 49%. Restaurant, fast food, delivered, take out and frozen pre-prepared meals are all loaded with calories (and a bunch of other crap) that make sticking to a calorie-restricted regimen necessary for weight loss next to impossible.
The shift towards not being willing to prepare healthy meals with fresh ingredients over the last several decades is the primary cause of the obesity epidemic. Eating out makes you fat. Cooking your own meals gives you control over ingredients and calories. To male readers, women usually dig a guy who can cook.
9. Chasing dreams
There is a lot of cheesy motivational pablum out there about chasing your dreams, but it’s not always a good idea. And yet since I did chase mine, and succeeded, then I need to give this one a thumbs up.
But I need to give an even bigger thumbs up to planning and adaptability.
At first, I wanted to be a science fiction author, but after investigation and consideration I came to the realization the odds against making a living at it were astronomical (sorry). But I still had a passion for writing, and through much analysis was able to determine that a career as a fitness writer was a financially viable alternative (especially since I knew far more about fitness than which episodes ofStar Trek Kirk banged that green chick in). Yeah, this was my backup dream.
And even then I dipped my toe in the water cautiously, keeping a part-time job as executive director of a not-for-profit to keep money coming in for a couple of years while I built my business.
Making a good living as a writer is almost as tough as making it as an actor or musician or an athlete. The odds were against me, but through careful planning and adaption I made it work. And yes, it’s still work. A lot of work. I also have an extremely supportive wife.
If you have a dream, consider if it’s actually achievable. Marrying Bar Rafaeli and sponging off her modeling income is probably not an achievable dream, so determine what the odds of success are. Do you have what it takes to make it happen? Can you build a sustainable career out of it? Do you have a backup plan? Do you have others who will support you?
The answers may point to, “Yes.”
Life is not a zero-sum game. Just because someone else wins, doesn’t mean you have to lose. I’ve visited heavily bipolarized countries that have big divisions between groups of people, and this creates untold levels of strife.
More egalitarian countries have higher standards of living across the board. There is less obesity, bullying, depression, imprisonment, teenage pregnancies, mental illness, drug use and lower school dropout rates. Be more accepting of differences and admit that all your fellow humans are entitled to the same rights as you are, and you’ll help make the world a far better place.
11. Accepting criticism
The word “criticism” is loaded. Perhaps “feedback” is better.
I have had my writing ripped apart, and it has made me better. I’ve received feedback on, uh, well, you know … and that has made me better at that too.
It’s tough to hear that what you did is not perfect. And you don’t always have to accept this feedback, because the people offering it aren’t always right. But I advise learning how to recognize good advice and then incorporate it.
Take a step back. Be objective. Find out if this feedback really would make it better. You shouldn’t be going through life thinking, My way or the highway, and neither should you question every little thing you do. When you listen to what others have to say (as long as it’s thoughtful) about you and your work, and it objectively resonates as good advice, then it’s often a path to self-improvement.
A little while ago I was on my bike and a woman blew through a stop sign and missed me by scant inches. It scared the ever-loving crap out of me. I thought I was a goner.
I cannot tell you how furious I was at her. But then, she came back.
As much as I like to think I’m a good guy – as much as I try to be a good guy – I can’t say I would have done the same thing. What she did took amazing guts. She could have driven on and then I would have hated her for a long time, but she came back and profusely apologized, and asked if I was okay and if I needed help.
And it went a long way to diffusing it. I forgave her, and even admired her courage. Hell, I told her I admired her for coming back.
It takes courage to apologize, which is perhaps why so many people suck at it. How many politicians have you seen do the “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apology crap?
But the thing about apologizing – when deep down you know you were wrong – is that it makes things better. Most people are decent, and they forgive and respect you for owning up. It also makes you not want to have to do it again soon, so you’re less likely to screw up in the same way that lead to the need to apologize in the first place.
Oh, and “I’m sorry I got caught” doesn’t really count.
13. Walking away / letting it go
This takes courage too.
Sometimes you need to follow #3 and stand up for what’s right, and other times it’s something petty and you just need to walk away. Is it worth getting into a scrap over who bumped into who, a spilled drink, a thoughtless comment, or a look? No, it’s not. Just say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t consider this worth arguing over. I’d like you to have a nice day.” Then leave. Or, just leave.
And it applies to old hurts as well. Quite a while back I was at my 20th high school reunion, and leading up to it wasn’t thrilled about seeing some guys who had tormented me in junior high. But the instant I saw them I realized none of that crap mattered anymore. I had changed, and they probably had too.
To quote William Shakespeare: “What’s done cannot be undone.” Don’t be a doormat, but in most cases, you’re better off focusing on the future.
I’m not saying to all the men reading this that you have to dash out the door and buy someone a diamond. This can be about relationships, or about anything else, including fitness.
Quitting is habit forming. You can give up on things and not necessarily experience direct negative consequences, and it even alleviates pressure. You often don’t realize what benefits your inability to follow through cost you.
There can be damn good reasons to give up on something, and you don’t always have to do what you said you were going to. It’s impossible to keep every promise, but “I don’t feel like it” isn’t the best of excuses. Yes, quitting is habit forming, but so is sticking to it when you realize what following through can do for you. I’ve stuck with friendships through tough times and it paid off with giving me a new brother who would drop everything and cross the country to bail me out if I asked him to. I stuck with a master’s degree when 60% of my classmates quit, and successfully defending my thesis gave me the self-confidence to chase my dreams. Twenty years ago I really wanted to stop this fitness bullshit and just drink beer and eat pizza, but now I have a lean and high-performance body instead of an obese and sickly one.
I have given my relationship with my wife everything I have, and she has done more to lift me up than any other could.
There is such a thing as not throwing good money after bad, where you need to cut your losses and bail. But when your gut tells you following through is the right thing to do, being someone of your word will reap benefits.
This is not about a quest for power, but about being an agent of change when you see an opportunity to put your own skills to good use to help others or just make something better.
I did it recently. I wasn’t THE leader, but just a lower-level one among many, because I saw an opportunity to help and I seized it.
In late June of 2013 there was massive flooding in my city. More than a tenth of the city’s population was evacuated and thousands of homes were badly flooded. (I wrote about the cleanup here.)
When people were allowed back into their homes the city arranged a program to organize volunteers. They asked for 600, and several thousand showed up so most were turned away. Seeing this, I took a small leadership role.
I have a lot of people in my city who follow me on social media, so I started communicating what I was going to do, and what other volunteers could try. My advice was to just show up in the hard hit neighborhoods and start knocking on doors, offering to help. I suggested what supplies they may need and where they could go.
I was far from the only one doing this, but I was leading rather than waiting for someone to tell me what to do, because I had a good idea of what we should do, and I was right. While volunteering, I posted pictures and told people what was happening, and it helped spread the word so volunteers came out of the woodwork to help. The next day I went to a different neighborhood taking friends with me who I’d inspired to pitch in. I’d also learned from the previous day’s exploits and we were better prepared as a result. I shared more pictures, told more stories, offered more advice, and it helped add to the advice many were looking for about ways to help in the cleanup efforts.
Sometimes, it’s just a little thing like that. A lot of people emailed me saying I was the one that got them involved, and all I used was Facebook and Twitter because I had an idea of what should be done.
Good leadership isn’t about wanting power or wanting to be in charge. It’s about wanting to help because you believe you have the skills to make a positive difference.
And you need to be able to do this too.
News flash: You are not the best at everything. You are not the smartest person on Earth. Sometimes, you need to relinquish control and let those better-suited run the show.
Follow and learn.
An earlier version of this post originally appeared at SixPackAbs.com