“I tend to be not my own best company. I can get a little lost if I don’t have my work to occasionally focus me.”
I’ve talked before on the blog about how much I love Springsteen. He’s my all-time favorite artist and an absolute storytelling hero to me (if you have not seen “Springsteen on Broadway” on Netflix yet, load it up right now. It’s an absolute master class in storytelling). But as much as I love Bruce and the characters and pictures he paints in his songs, I never really saw much of myself in him.
He is the wearing his heart on his sleeve on-stage extrovert that I’ve never been. Seemingly ready to light himself on fire for the entertainment and adulation of the audience he’s built. Who treat his concerts as much as religious benediction as musical entertainment.
I’m a nearly mute introvert who would probably eschew fame even if it fell in my lap. And though I very actively and consciously watch how people act and react in the face of difficulty every day – and make decisions for them based on those reactions – barbells and books and paintings and songs have always made a lot more sense to me than people.
But I’ve never felt so connected to someone I did not personally know as when I heard Bruce utter those words in a recent interview discussing how he struggled when he took about 18 months off of writing and performing and being “Bruce Springsteen” (he took that time off to spend with his youngest during his last year of high school – before he became an empty nester as to not regret not having spent more time with son).
To say that I obsess over my work would probably be considered an understatement.
Honestly, I appreciate (maybe even idolize) people who are “all in” on something. Who continuously read and study and practice what they are trying to master. I was probably the only person who watched “Whiplash” and thought “Yes! This is exactly what he should be doing. Practicing til his hands bleed.”
But I also started to question if all this was normal.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking about how I could snatch one more kilo or why so-and-so client’s back squat wasn’t improving or what our latest program was missing.
In fact, and I haven’t really confessed this before, I was considering going to therapy for this. It didn’t feel healthy to be this preoccupied with, well, getting myself and others strong and healthy.
But, like Bruce, I’d gone so deep down the rabbit hole that without the focus of my work I too had not become my own best company. Sure, I could expertly tell you what percentage of your back squat you should be doing for your sets of 8 but I was having a really hard time figuring out who I was outside the gym.
I wasn’t completely blind. I was still working hard at being a good Dad and a loving husband and a reliable friend. And while this all felt responsible, it didn’t really put me in a much better position. In fact working hard at those things just gave me further reasons to not pay attention to myself.
I’d love to say this is all in the distant past. That I’m well beyond all of it and I now live a balanced life or work and family and relationship with myself. But that wouldn’t be true. It’s a work in process. A meathead’s constant struggle.
This isn’t a call to eschew who you are and all that you believe in and everything you are working hard towards. I still very much believe in working hard, in training diligently and in learning everything I can.
But I also believe that being overly consumed is not the answer. That, in fact, if you make some more space to allow for other things to come in and be part of the journey (and, God forbid, maybe allow yourself to relax for 5 minutes) that you will be rewarded with more strength and success and enhance everything else you are trying to achieve.
Or, more succinctly, as the Iron Sheik put it:
STAY FOCUSED. GO AFTER YOUR DREAMS. OTHERWISE GO FUCK YOURSELF.
(capitalization is the author’s own)
The tour after Springsteen’s hiatus was arguably one of his best. Breathing new life into old songs and even doing a bunch of one-time-only covers while playing in the original singer’s hometown (search YouTube for his versions of “Highway To Hell,” “Staying Alive” and “Don’t Change” from the Australia leg of the tour). He seemed focused. Committed. He looks like he’s having the time of his life.
It seems the time away from being “Bruce Springsteen” gave him more appreciation for being Bruce Springsteen.