I’m very excited to present a Guest Post written by my wonderful husband, Jason.
I recently came across an article entitled, “The Iron”, written by Henry Rollins. For those of you who have never heard of Henry, he is an American spoken word artist, writer, journalist, publisher, actor, activist and musician. In the ‘80s, he fronted the punk band Black Flag and has always been a proponent of straight-edge culture. I’ve seen him speak at Convocation Hall on the University of Toronto St. George campus and listened to many of his spoken word albums. After all this, one thing about Henry became clear to me: the man is a testament to what is achievable through dogged determination, passion and the sheer, unrelenting will to succeed. This is a person whose unfortunate experiences throughout childhood could have just as easily created a criminal as not, and for the way that Henry has taken the reins of his life and steered it exactly where he wanted it to go, he has my respect.
But this post isn’t dedicated to Henry Rollins. I’m writing this because I want to share one of my moments of clarity that allowed me to make a decision that has had a profound positive influence on my life, and I want to know about the moments in your lives when you’ve experienced that rare blend of clarity, open-mindedness and determination and chosen a path and never looked back.
“The Iron” is an article that really resonated with me. In it, Henry talks about his childhood and school experiences as being generally negative ones, with him feeling alone, misunderstood, excluded. He was skinny, uncoordinated and not very good at sports. He was bullied and beaten, his teachers unsupportive. He says that he “…hated [him]self all the time.” For a long time and for various reasons, I shared some of his feelings. Elementary school was not kind to me. I had no confidence, and as a result, I didn’t have many friends, though the ones I did have were truly great.
Henry then writes about arguably one of the most influential figures in his life: Mr. Pepperman, his advisor and teacher. In short, Mr. Pepperman saw something in Henry that perhaps others had seen, but unlike anyone else, even Henry’s father, he then acted on it. He told young Henry to buy a set of weights, and then taught him how to use them.
Mr. Pepperman’s mentorship, however, came with some conditions. One was that Henry was forbidden to look at his reflection or tell anyone what he’d been up to until Pepperman said otherwise. I thought about this for a minute, as Henry must have, then came to the realization that this wasn’t as simple as keeping a secret. It had to do with the desire so many – indeed, the vast majority of people – have, and that is the desire for approval from others. Look around you. How many people do you know who you can honestly say do not, on some level or another, seek approval from others, be it for the clothes they wear, or for the life decisions they make? The most personally powerful people I know are those who not only do not seek the approval of others, they have trained themselves to not need it. Mr. Pepperman’s instructions to Henry were not only a lesson in humility, but more importantly, a lesson that approval has to come from within. Be the person you want to be, without worrying about whether people will approve of you or not. Improve yourself not for the approval of others, but rather for your own positive self-image.
I remember the moment in my own life when I decided to take action and began to lift weights, alongside my good friend Mike. After a few months, I began to notice things. What once was impossible to move, wasn’t anymore. I had been bitten by what my high school gym teacher Mr. Jones called, “the iron bug.” Instead of making excuses not to train, I used the gym as an excuse not to play hooky and not party excessively. I became stronger – physically at first, and then mentally, and that gave me confidence; confidence to be okay with feeling uncomfortable with a new sport, confidence to have faith in my decisions and the confidence to know my self-worth. All of a sudden, the world was a much less scary place. People treated me differently. I had the courage to go out and make new friends. When life’s problems would pile up, I knew I could always find solace for an hour alone with the iron, when nothing mattered except moving the weight. As a child, I didn’t have anything that I was passionate about – I had hobbies, played some sports and did all the other things children do, but I didn’t have anything towards which I could work that I could call my own. The day I started lifting weights was the day that changed. I finally found something that lit my fire, and I did it in the face of discouragement from some of those closest to me. This was mine, and no one was going to take it from me.
Like Henry, The Iron has taught me many lessons, directly or indirectly. Most importantly, on some unconscious level, it taught me that if I wanted to change an aspect of my life, I would have to fundamentally change the person that I was before, and that that was okay. In this example, I learned that if I wanted to be physically fit, I would have to become a person who enjoyed physical activity. There is no other way to get what you want and have it last in the long run. If you want your life to be different, then you cannot continue to be the person you are – you must evolve; your fundamental behaviour must change. I would only become conscious of this years later, but I’m grateful that I eventually did.
I could try to expound on what I find so addictive, so humbling, so painful and at the same time so comforting about The Iron – maybe it awakens some of our primal instincts, our reptilian brains – but Henry says it so much better in his article, so I leave it to you to read here. Maybe you’ve chosen a different vehicle through which to transform your lives, to drive your own evolution. Maybe you’ve chosen some of the same ones as I have. In any case, I admire and respect those of you who, despite any fears or discouragement from others, choose to change and evolve and to test yourselves against something that wants to remain static, for ultimately it makes you a better person. The world needs more people like you.
– Jason Martinko