BOB’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY
Life, Mental Health, and the State of the World
This week I celebrate exactly a decade ago when I left my electrical engineering career behind to pursue becoming a personal trainer. If you never read my bio about that, it’s right here. I cannot say enough thanks to my wife Tracy, who at that time encouraged me to see what should have been evident for a long time. I was able to turn a hobby into a passion, a career, a lifestyle. My world was forever changed in ways I never dreamed possible because of you. Continued thanks to my family and friends for their support every intimidating step of the way during the transitions. My appreciation as well to all of you who have crossed paths with me on this journey – any success on my part is only measured by what it has brought to your lives. You all have impacted what I do on a daily basis and what I continue to strive for.
I’d like to share an extremely personal post about my life, mental health, and the state of the world. Earlier this year I had some ideas of what I wanted to write about for this anniversary – full of some fun stories, plenty of motivational quotes, and of course my extra fancy professional picture. I eventually decided however, that is not what I needed to discuss here. I have to be much more transparent than that. I needed to share extended details of my story as a message of hope, or if nothing else, maybe someone reading this might not feel so alone.
The infantile state of my human mind has in recent years been trying to understand the power we have in the universe as human beings. I have very slowly learned that this power is not what I thought it was. Society often expresses power in a variety of superficial ways – anything from how many push-ups someone can do, all the way up to being in charge of a billion-dollar worldwide business. Society could not be more wrong.
Our true power in life comes from the exposure of our deepest vulnerability. It comes from being fully open with ourselves and sharing that with every living thing around us. Strength is not only about expressing pure love, but also revealing your weaknesses and confronting your darkest fears, regardless of how everyone else may view you. It’s about being comfortable in realizing we don’t have all the answers we sometimes so desperately think we might. It’s even more about accepting all of that in everyone else. This is a struggle though, as all of us are born with a very tiny view of the world around us. This small window we look through immediately conditions us in the exact opposite way of what I just mentioned. We are coerced into to believing all of that vulnerability makes us less of a human being and it separates us. The future of our species depends on breaking free of that conditioning and discovering this power within us. The following paragraphs are my small steps of discovery towards that.
Throughout most of my life, even as an adult, I spent quite a bit of time like most people do. Sitting in a variety of places in neat little rows being told what to fill my mind with, how to behave, how to occupy my time, when to come and go, what to believe, how to be part of society, and what’s best for everyone. Learning, contributing, and kindness are of course vital aspects of life, but I always had this odd feeling in the back of my mind that something seemed off. A feeling coupled with thoughts that what I was being told wasn’t completely accurate or the people telling it didn’t have it all figured out themselves. Regardless, I was always a very happy, curious, creative kid and no matter what, I invented my own innocent enjoyment in life whenever and wherever I could – largely ignoring that distant, lingering feeling. Especially since life was good in suburban America – I had all the basic comforts, all of the aforementioned places early in my life were very pleasant, and I had a lot of wonderful people around me (so many of whom I still stay in contact with to this day, thank you for all these years.) Everyone else seemed generally content with what was going on – so I ignored any uncertainty I had and casually went with the flow. Which was my first critical mistake in life. I never noticed how narrow the stream was and why that was so dangerous.
As I was approaching my teen years, that odd little feeling in the corner of my mind started to express itself as boredom to much of what was going on. (I think many kids that age who have that same feeling begin to express it with rebellion, but I didn’t have the confidence for causing trouble.) High school made things much worse with all the classic reasons for a shy, tiny kid with glasses. It was also a particularly challenging time for my family with my father’s depression. The emotions I had from that, which I didn’t understand or really acknowledge, caused me to feel even more distant at school. (I was lucky enough to have two cousins who went there, and it meant the world to me that both of you were simply there with me for a few classes, even though I never really talked about my troubles.) By sophomore year my grades crashed, I sat alone at lunch, and spent the last hour of every school night in complete dread of what the next day might confront me with – all this lasting until my last day of senior year. What it felt like at school was constantly being punished for simply being myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on it now, it my first experience with my own mild chronic depression. My solace at the time was escaping with video games, books, movies, music, comics, etc. I also had a job teaching swim lessons and life guarding, which I loved. (I met a few amazing friends there who accepted me for who I was, friends I still have to this day and not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate that openness you offered me at that time.) Something that felt ironic to me about all of this was that my high school was a well-intentioned, private, all male institution. A very structured place with a formal dress code and the illusion of a higher moral standard, yet after how I saw so many people act there, I was left with nothing but fear, judgement, insecurity, sadness, and anger. The thing that most bothers me to this day was not how I was often treated – it was the fact that I was too intimidated by all of it to help anyone else I noticed who also got treated that way or worse. It was also detrimental that even though I had plenty of incredible people I could have talked to about how I was feeling, I was too scared to ever share what I was going through with anyone.
I was a pretty bright teen, but rather than using my intelligence preparing for some forgettable standardized test, I gradually realized I could use my smarts to observe the systems at play and take advantage of the rules. I could do the bare minimum, keep the powers that be content by making it look like I was interested in what was going on, and most importantly – be noticed as little as possible in the process. That way I could concentrate on what was enjoyable to me or what I felt was more important in life. If nothing else, it meant getting passable grades while not doing much homework, avoiding getting picked on, and not getting in trouble. Problem was that living this way takes a personal toll. You start to slowly lose yourself by mistakenly allowing other people’s perception of you to be of importance. Looking back, I wasn’t really in control of the decisions I was making. I think a vast majority of people experience that in their own way, often not even realizing it, until it avalanches out of control as the years go by. This also lends itself to a somewhat selfish and closed way of thinking.
I had no clue what I wanted to do in the future aside from getting out of high school as soon as possible. In my defense, I think it’s neither common or safe for an eighteen-year-old to truly understand their full purpose in life. Regardless, I had an instinct for math, and liked my video game systems – so I fed guidance counselors lines about maybe being an electrical engineer and spouting off the name of a random college I heard someone else mention. After graduating, I went to a local community college, and honestly somewhat enjoyed school again for the first time in many years. I had a better sense of freedom. I rediscovered what it was like to enjoy learning on my own terms. My grades there got me a scholarship to help pay for a regional university that I commuted to while working. I eventually got an electrical engineering degree. Despite not being passionate at all about what I was doing, I was attempting to build a life for myself and I am very thankful for the opportunities I had. Sadly, I continued my trend of going through the motions, faking my way through my adult professional life in engineering, and bringing back my depression stronger than ever. The continuation of that story is again part of my bio link at the beginning of this post.
Moving ahead into my transformation of becoming a personal trainer, I spent the recent decade going back to being as happy as when I was a little kid. The daily inspiration I discover is an incredible way of life I wish so many could share. I truly believe that challenging yourself in physical activity can have amazing effects in all aspects of one’s life. I am beyond proud of what my wife and I have accomplished with the help from so many people. That does not mean things are easy or that I have found all the answers. The first few years after becoming a trainer were challenging. I went through all of my savings, lost half the value of my condo having to sell in a bad market, lived on a shoestring budget, and often questioned if I made the right choice after seeing little success. (I am not looking for pity – this is nothing compared to the hardships so many people have.) My career did begin to accelerate though and years later we were able to open our own studio. The entire process of starting our own business was beyond overwhelming for all kinds of reasons, but my wife and I pushed our way through and we succeeded. Later that year as the dust settled, I started to notice the little effects of stress like I used to back in the engineering days. The little knot in the stomach that wouldn’t go away, or having some trouble falling asleep for one too many nights in a row. I couldn’t believe it. How could this be happening again? I fixed all that. I’m happy now. Truth is, I was happy, but during the years of transition to this point, I was running off the drive of pure determination and adrenaline. It didn’t mean I wasn’t stressed. I started to realize that even though I drastically changed my circumstances for the better, I never really dealt with the many past years of unhappiness, anxiety, depression, and hiding my thoughts and emotions.
I was reading several intriguing books at the time pointing towards ideas of mental focus and meditation. If someone told my twenty-year-old self I would be adopting meditation as part of my lifestyle, I would have made fun of them – which is a shame. As I practiced and educated myself more, I was shocked at what a mess my mind had been all these years, especially after living a pretty ‘normal’ life. As I mentioned earlier – I couldn’t believe just how destructive the conditioning is which society blankets us with. I have learned so much and will spend the rest of my life not only continuing to understand how my mind works, but also discussing whatever I learn with anyone who’d like to talk. (A side note one this topic, it’s vital to point out that natural nutrition and regular exercise are the proven best medicines for depression.)
Despite improving my mindset and being proud of how much I can now deadlift, I must remember that just like every other living thing, there is always vulnerability. I wanted to share a recent experience. A little over a year ago was one of the busiest times I’ve ever had in my life. My wife and I were running the studio, she was also operating her own separate business, and we were building a studio expansion. Attempting the expansion while all that was going on was overwhelming to begin with, and much of what could possibly cause setbacks were happening. We were not burning the candle at both ends – we were setting a flamethrower to it.
During that time, my wife lost both of her grandmothers within a few weeks of one another. I also got a call that a lifelong friend of mine took their own life. It was a crushing time of loss, sadness, and contemplation. We grieved and then immediately got back to what needed to be done. This past year the upgraded studio has been a huge success and the past summer was by far the busiest I have ever been as a trainer, with extremely long days and minimal down time. This year I also watched a few people close to me go through some particularly challenging times. Near the end of summer there was a moment that gave me a vivid reminder of a time many years ago when someone close to me attempted suicide. The next afternoon after that vivid reminder, my wife and I were discussing some fun weekend plans, and out of nowhere I broke down in tears. That has never happened to me before like that, not even at my darkest times of depression. I could barely speak. The freight train of the past twelve months just hit me all at once. A humbling day that showed me I always need to be open about how I feel, and every step of the way take a moment for a deep breath. Despite what society says otherwise, it’s not admirable to always be ‘expertly’ multitasking and taking on the world. It’s more important to always find that time for personal reflection and daily appreciation of even the smallest things. Years ago, I would have hidden those tears in shame as being weak. I instead attempt to try and use strength to express it. Tracy, thank you for listening that day. (I didn’t intend to freak you out when all we were talking about was water slides.)
I’ve never had the slightest thought of suicide, but my life has been exposed to it since I was in middle school. I have lost too many friends and family to the tragedy of it. I’ve known people close to me who have attempted it multiple times. Even my love for rock music has seen many artists I admire take their own lives. Those occurrences happened throughout this life story I share now, having a monumental impact on my psyche. It has caused me pain in ways I can barely describe and has pushed me to appreciate life in ways I care barely express. It has caused me to have anger with the world that I now try to constructively use towards positive change.
As I have gotten older, I have found my struggles were definitely not isolated within myself. I have gradually started to discover more and more people I know who have dealt with anxiety and depression. It’s getting to the point where it’s a majority of the population around me, with more who probably haven’t even admitted it to themselves, let alone others. It’s even happening to younger and younger people. Suicide rates are rising out of control. My hopes are that people begin to open up more about what personal challenges they face and even more crucial – everyone else is open to hearing what they have to say, free of judgement. With some of the losses I’ve seen in my life from suicide, I sadly wasn’t even aware of that person having trouble. What I find curious is that the people around me struggling mostly come from relatively comfortable situations. Food, shelter, health, family, friends, even moderate luxuries are often abundant. They’re not in the midst of the horrors so many people in the world have to face on a daily basis. As I said, even ‘celebrities’ who seem to have it all aren’t necessarily happy. I relate all this going back to that odd feeling I had as a kid that something was off in the world around me.
Not that suicide isn’t dark enough, but I am going to be somewhat bleak for a moment. The incredible force of life we call humanity has had quite a journey, one that we can’t be often proud of. The tens of thousands of years of evolution and progress is amazing. We have continued to create possibility, which is positively crucial, but we haven’t really taken full responsibility for the long-term effects of what we accomplish. The last five thousand years or so, we started to discover these negative effects, but haven’t learned from our tragic history or have simply chosen immediate reward. We are now born into an environment we are vastly ignorant to, all the while under the egotistical veil of how far we think we’ve advanced – a toddler can expertly navigate advanced technology like a cell phone, yet most of us couldn’t even explain the details of how a common natural occurrence like lightning is created. Our population exponentially grows, but our resources for basic survival are controlled by smaller and smaller groups of people – and those resources being more finite than most realize, so we squander them carelessly. Our society revolves around the concept of money, something of imaginary value, and we spend most of our time doing whatever is necessary to get it. We are sorted in “classes” because of it. Some people have access to unlimited abundance, while some people are discarded away with nothing. Our humanity is rampantly being replaced with technology addiction and barely anyone is noticing just how threatening that is. There is more and more unnecessary separation in our species, arguing and destroying each other over issues and ideas we have ourselves created. Even from a health perspective, we literally now cause most of the major natural reasons of death in the ‘civilized’ world…like the toxic ‘food’ we’ve invented to the lack of any need in our world for the right kind of physical activity. Worst part is that even in the face of death, we’re too ‘busy’ to eat foods that heal us or engage in exercise that strengthens us – the temptations for processed food or laziness is too strong because we’re too overwhelmed with life. Sadly, this paragraph is just a few examples of the problems we face as a species.
It’s no wonder we’re all so stressed out. Our tiny brains haven’t even had a chance to catch up. We’re taught so much, except how to truly take care of ourselves and each other – how every life form is important and the real ways we each need to contribute. We are currently left with a world where so many people are taken advantage of, even lose their lives, in order for others to be comfortable. A world where airplanes are flown into buildings and mass shootings are a regular part of communities now. What’s equally as tragic is how often we’ll say some well-meaning, but recycled words of sympathy when something terrible happens, not attempting to learn from the situation, not taking action, gradually forgetting about it, going on to ignorantly and inadvertently contributing to that which makes the world worse, and then when something terrible happens again, we actually say things like “How could this happen?” There are detailed histories and very definitive reasons for the horror we self-inflict on our species We tend to either complain about everything or choose to live in our own little bubble, oblivious to it all. Neither of which offer any solutions.
All those discouraging things being said, there is always hope. I have to be honest that with the situation humanity currently finds itself in, the hope is small, but it offers immense power – the power I talked about earlier. I don’t think major change will happen in epic glory, massive revolution, or some amazing leader coming to save the day. History has tried that too many times – we always end up losing so much, often gaining so little, and making the same mistakes over and over again. The answers to discovering hope won’t be found where most of us think they reside. Hope hovers here in this very moment. The chance of the human race saving itself is equal to the motivation of each one of us right here, right now. Not this weekend, not next month, not next year. It’s about immediately after reading this, taking one upsetting thing in your life you regularly ignore, and making a small step to change it, even if it seems insignificant. The possibilities are endless, especially if every person on the planet does it all at once. Otherwise, we gradually accept self-extinction, which is our collective choice to make. Every last living thing on this planet is in this together.
As I get closer to the end of my message, I will be completely honest in saying I have no idea what I am talking about with anything I write here. I don’t mean that in some sarcastic way. I mean this isn’t my expert opinion on the hard, factual evidence. I could be way off base with all of it. I simply consider this some of my personal observations to the small circumstances I have been exposed to and how my limited mind has processed it all. I think at least some of what I say might be accurate though based on the problems we have created. My guess is that if everyone started to humble themselves more, our society would be in a much different state. This is better explained by a term called Beginner’s Mind. It’s about approaching life with the curiosity and wonder of a child, free of any preconceived mindsets. It’s about creating a deeper understanding and connection to the natural universe. It’s about respectfully questioning anything humans have formulated, even the stuff most personal to us – everything from basic table manners all the way up to global ideologies – asking things like why this is here, where did it come from, what purpose does it serve, how does it make us better people, how does it make us worse, and most importantly, can we let go of what limits us, even if it’s something we have held onto so closely all our lives?
My closing thoughts go out to the people who feel alone or different, the people lost in the dark, mistakenly being made to believe they are of no use to the world. It can be crushing in ways most can’t even comprehend. You are not alone though. There are millions of others hidden in plain sight who share your struggles and hopes. They are searching for you because they need your help. They can’t find you unless you give a beacon of your infinite power, your true beautiful self. That beacon can’t be seen if you hide or disappear in what scares or embarrasses you. That beacon is dimmed if you rebel with an ego of what makes you unique, or immediately judge those against you. Humbly celebrate who you are, regardless of circumstance. Be proud of every moment you stand beside someone who needs your strength, even if you feel like you have none to offer, and you’re both in the face of insurmountable opposition. You are the person who may often be misunderstood by the world, but you are also the person who makes the world a better place. Your unique, incredible view of the universe will one day lead to saving the world.
These closing thoughts likewise go out to every ‘normal’ person – those idly accepting the template humanity has forced upon you. Those who either misuse the system in place or just let the effects of it all rule their lives. Realize that you don’t have to continue to disguise yourself in order to be accepted. There is a shroud of outside influence covering who you really are and what you can truly contribute to the world. It starts with the smallest daily change – just taking a random short walk outside or talking to a stranger. Take the time to understand where the things you have in life come from. Embrace those “dull” moments in life – moments when you are just waiting for something, moments where most people now sit mindlessly scrolling through their notifications and media feeds – and use those moments instead to silently observe the immediate world around you. There is endless possibility right in front of you. The people in the world who desperately struggle, the people you often put below you, need you to ignore your distractions, quiet your judgments, and simply listen to them with a Beginner’s Mind. You’ll discover amazing things you never imagined possible for yourself. Your small courageous actions breaking from conformity will one day lead to saving the world.
Thank you all for reading. Thank you for listening. Thank you for doing some really difficult exercises even when you don’t want to. Thank you for eating your fresh garden veggies. Thanks for being who you are. Thanks for being there for others and accepting them for who they are. Thanks for being part of my life.
To my Mom & Dad – don’t ever dare forget what you have personally contributed to the world. Thank you both for giving life and love for my brother and I. Thank you especially for letting me run around in that little red Superman cape as a kid – despite being a character costume accessory, that cape is a continuing reminder to be myself no matter what, always curiously see potential, and try to be a hero for the lives that need it.
P.S. – I wanted to share a few amazing books that offer some incredible ideas which expand well beyond what I write here. I honestly wish every human being on the planet would take the time to read them. While I am no expert on life, these brilliant, creative, and experienced authors offer real attempts to open our minds. The next time the world hurts you, don’t immediately write some ignorant post or complain – instead, respect yourself enough to try and learn something about it and take appropriate action.
The first few non-fiction books listed give an understanding of humanity that is both horrifying at times, yet offer real hope. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of understanding the information contained here. They provide detailed reasons for what is wrong with the world and offer realistic answers from a variety of viewpoints. It shows how we can not only improve our own lives, but every living thing around us.
The second section of non-fiction books offer some unique concepts expanding upon some of the first books I listed. These books might even contradict the other books at times, but I feel that is also the beauty of what they give us to think about.
The final section of books are fiction, full of thrills and adventure, but also actual history and real science. A few of the books were written decades ago and considered just fantasy at the time, but now it’s a little scary how spot on the authors predicted much of the future. These books are fun reads, but also have some incredibly deep lessons. Each one of them has some ‘controversial’ content within our narrow-minded society, but that’s just the point – they can lead to some amazing debates and conversations for anyone willing to see beyond themselves.
by Deborah Eden Hull
“The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight”
by Thom Hartmann
“Brief Answers to the Big Questions”
by Stephen Hawking
by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman
by Eric Greitens
“The Power of Off”
by Nancy Colier
by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal
by Michael Crichton
“The Bone Labyrinth”
by James Rollins
by Dan Brown
by William Gibson
In addition to these books, I highly recommend watching the film ‘Finding Joe,’ a documentary about the visionary author Joseph Campbell, and his ideas about facing your life and finding purpose.
One final note (I promise) about one of my passions – heavy metal music (or “noise” as many people call it) … I discovered rock music at a young age and my tastes have expanded to be heavier than ever. I always loved the sheer intensity and adrenaline rush of it. More importantly though is the content from much of metal’s message, which has attracted me more and more as the genre has evolved. What I have discovered is that the artists creating the music and lyrics often come from troubled history. Terrible history actually – victims of mental and physical abuse, addictions or the effects of other’s addictions, poverty, homelessness, depression, suicide, oppression, violence – the list goes on. Their music initially was a way of expressing pure anger at the world. That’s why it can sound so damn scary. As they matured though, the music remained heavy, but became outlets to expose their emotions in a more thoughtful way. Even the most vulgar metal song today can often be offering positive solutions and finding strength overcoming past horrors. Heavy metal music has been a part of my entire life. It brings me enjoyment, inspiration, contemplation, challenge, and honesty on a daily basis. A majority of people may not ever listen to it, but I hope my passion for it inspires you to find your own. I at least will always share some of the powerful messages from it. Rock on.