You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I’ve listened to Chris go on about fitness for years and I’ll admit that he has moved me from never going to the gym to one day considering possibly maybe going to a gym. In his post today, he addresses some apprehensions that may push me even closer. But, I doubt it.

There are some days when I find it pretty concerning that people are asking me for my advice about diet and exercise. I haven’t been eating right for very long and the appearance of my stomach muscles seems to come and go with every cheat meal I indulge in. There are days where I don’t feel like the model of fitness. But, another popular blogger recently said something like this; “Never forget, no matter where you are on your journey, there are others behind you. Sure, there are plenty in front, but the ones biting at your heels haven’t been where you are yet.” That bit of advice reminded me of all the folks that gave me (and keep freely giving me!) tidbits of their own advice, any of which I can take or leave. But, I’m really thankful for the folks who cared enough to take the time to pull me aside and make corrections or share tips. They knew something I didn’t know. And, I was able to take all those pieces and make my own way. It just takes a little humility to admit you don’t know what you don’t know.

I remember over three years ago that even after I’d decided I was going “to do this” that it was the fear of humiliation that made me put off going to the gym.
For weeks I made excuses like “let me lose a little weight on my own first.” But, I was really kind of afraid of walking in to a gym and having all the perfectly fit people stare me down like I was intruding on some secret club I hadn’t yet earned my way into. I wondered if there was a clandestine community of in-shape people that raised fitness models from birth in order to integrate them in to high schools just to make the soft kids feel bad about themselves. Then they all grew up to work out all the time and just be sponsored by gyms who wanted muscly people hanging out there.

It was this fear that had me stalk my CrossFit gym’s web site and Facebook pages. I was actually kind of hoping to see teams of really perfect buff people glistening with the hard-earned sweat of a military-style workout inspired by Navy SEALS or something. Because, surely I wouldn’t belong there. Not a good fit. Unfortunately, the photos were all of normal people. There were a few success stories and before and after pictures…but generally, there seemed like a wide mix of high-school kids, moms, grandparents and even active-duty military and law enforcement types, all in the same place at the same time. I also noticed how in the pictures everybody seemed to be working their collective butts off, and that was still kind of scary. But, I reasoned with myself that if the grandma in the picture could handle CrossFit…then I really had no excuse. Or, worse yet, what if grandma could handle it and I couldn’t?

The bottom line is I had to get over myself. If I wanted to be able to stop sucking in my gut to fit into my clothes I just had to admit that I couldn’t do this without help. And, I’d most likely look really stupid for a while as I figured it out. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. As a guy who never asks for directions, that’s pretty intimidating. I just had to be ok with being what I now call “fitness stupid.” Being “fitness stupid” is perfectly fine at a gym if you’re willing to listen to peoples’ advice. But, I’ve observed that being “fitness stupid” is not OK if you’re the kind of guy who refuses to ask for directions. Because there’s a difference, I think, between ignorance and sheer idiocy. The main difference being that you can learn yourself out of ignorance. Thank goodness I did that (although, as a guy, I feel like I’m always toying with a fate that could earn me the next Darwin Award.)

I think the key to getting over the humiliation associated with being fitness stupid was the realization that, as I took a quick glance around, nobody really cared.
I mean, nobody noticed the pathetic husky guy in his thirties walk into a CrossFit gym and struggle with the straps on the rowing machine. Nobody seemed to point and laugh as my belly jiggled when I jumped-rope. And, nobody let out exasperated, huffy sighs as they threw their arms up when I couldn’t do a pull-up. Nobody. Because, as it turned out, this wasn’t the “me show” where everybody gathers round to point and laugh. What actually happened was a bunch of people, one at a time, would come over and give me a tip. Or tell me an easier way to do something. Or ask of I’d reached my breaking point yet on the diet stuff. Some of these people were really fit-looking, hard-body types. And, you better believe I took their advice. They were doing something right. Then I realized that after a few months, I’d lost some weight, I was better at rowing and pull-ups, and people were asking for MY advice. I realized it was my turn to share. A few months later I happily watched as those people passed my tips on to the next new guy.

But it all started at fitness zero. No knowledge whatsoever, just a few patient, articulate fit people willing to share what they’d learned. None of us are trying to win any bodybuilding competitions, nor do we see anybody losing weight as a threat. It would appear that healthy people really enjoy seeing other people get healthy too. There’s a lot of passion for it — an annoying amount of passion. I guess at some point its hard to stay humble and you want everyone to just admit what they don’t know so you can share some advice. I think we’re all smart enough to realize that nobody knows it all. But, be aware, because I think everybody knows something worth sharing. All it takes is a little humility to be willing to admit that you don’t know what you don’t know.

In an effort to make the world less dumb, we are now giving away free books. Check out this page and read, or be stupid. 

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