I suppose the 12th of December (when I’m starting this draft) means it’s time to reflect on the year that is 2021. I’m not a Christmas guy at all but I must say, one of the things I really like about this time of year is putting pen to paper and reflecting on the last 11/12 months.
It’s therapeutic, cathartic and educational all rolled into one! Oh and let’s not forget it’s traditional and cliche as f*ck. I hate tradition for tradition’s sake but I know these round ups are more than that; they’re a resource hub, a diary and something I’ll love reading if/when I’m 70 or more.
Before I sat down to write this I went back over all the roundups I’ve done from previous years. I read last year’s, 2019‘s and 2018‘s. I didn’t venture further back as anything 2016 or prior was just the epitome of ‘like fishing’ – where you create content for content’s sake and just try to write what you think people want see, and what they’ll click ‘like’ on.
From 2018 onwards it’s been sheer experience talking though. This year will be no exception either. The beauty of re-reading these years later is not to be overstated. It’s all there: how much you’ve grown, how much you’ve stagnated, how your beliefs have evolved, what matters, what doesn’t and how they all changed year to year.
Every year has an underlying theme. 2018 was turning tragedies and mishaps to triumphs, 2019 was appreciating everything you have when you have it and 2020 was making the best of ‘sub-optimal’ circumstances.
So, what’s this year’s underlying theme?
Making tough decisions, trusting your instincts, knowing everything is cyclical and nothing comes without a cost of some kind.
You are the company you keep?
The first lesson of this year was one that tied in with a saying I’d known and said for years: you are the company you keep. I’d thrown this around myself but I’d never been in a position where I’d had to make a tough call in this department…until the start of this year.
And as anyone knows who’s distanced themselves from people they were once close to, it’s not an easy decision at all and shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are many factors to consider and in my case I had to choose between someone’s current words and repeated past actions. This is a battle of hope vs expectation. You hope the words are true this time but you know deep down they’re as true as they were all the other times; not true at all.
Actions are always louder and the older and wiser I get, so are my instincts. And I really think people should trust their instincts far more than they do. Your instincts are usually born out of long term observation/analysis, and the natural understanding you have of the person/situation – a powerful mix.
So here I had to make a pretty ruthless call, while fully aware of the cost. Just because someone has a red flag flaw or has abused your trust, it doesn’t make them inherently bad at all. More often than not they have loads to offer still but you have to see past it and look at the bigger picture: what’s more important, little redeeming qualities or big scale issues that could seriously bring you down in the future?
Most will read this and not relate; they’re too used to just accepting bad behaviour, lies and immorality all the while still complaining about their friends and the people in their life. It’s simple: change it or stop complaining. I did the former. I just knew it was the right thing to do. I’d thought long and hard about it and I don’t regret it. Ultimately it comes down to your deep rooted values and what you will/won’t accept in your life.
Actions and words misaligning, dishonesty and pretending to be someone you’re not is a pet hate of mine and it wasn’t one I was willing to be around any more. It just so happened that the timing worked out that one year drew to a close, while another rolled around.
You could label it as callous, unforgiving and harsh, but it doesn’t need to be forever. It does need to be for a while though. Because change doesn’t happen quickly, especially character change and the rebuilding of trust. This can take incredible amounts of time and even then it’s only possible if the person in question A) believes there’s a need to change and B) actually wants to change.
Find pleasure in what is vs what was
2021 was a very tough year physically as I’ve made fairly well known. Chasing heavy muscle ups, pull ups & dips etc at the back end of 2020 left me with a left shoulder/bicep issue that I assume is a combo of mild impingement and bicep tendonitis.
This affected almost every move where I had to straighten and bend my left arm. It sucked. I either had to train partial ranges of motion or accept it would hurt to go full range. Or stop altogether.
I tried all sorts to work around it – stretches, mobilisations, exaggerated warm ups, researching until my eyes came out my head, manipulating my training balance (the 2:1 Pull: Push Ratio) and not just once, consistently over long time periods.
And it would tease me. I’d feel like I was moving forward only to wake up in pain that would linger for a week sometimes. I’d feel like I was identifying the offenders only to be betrayed by them later. I would stubbornly forge on, trying to work around it not wanting the one thing I really enjoy in life to slip out my grasp; training.
Needless to say it zapped my enjoyment, enthusiasm, confidence and left me wondering if this was it? Had I peaked? Was there was no more? All I’d be now was one of those guys who tell the younger ones what not to do, or they’d end up like me. It was made even worse by the fact I met up with loads of great athletes, and even became good friends with some new training partners that were flying high.
I’d been flying high in 2019 but that felt a long time ago now. Despite thoughts of packing it in many times and seeing old memories through social media come up, where I would purposely not look at them, knowing it would depress me, I hung on in there. I kept trying stuff, kept studying. I kept my eyes and ears wide open. And I tried to learn to enjoy it as it is, not as it was. This was the death of my ego, which is always painful but immensely freeing.
And I’m DELIGHTED to say at the time of writing, I feel as good as ever and my pains/issues have almost subsided. It’s now only if I do a lot of really offending exercises (ring muscle ups) that I feel the old symptoms but as long as I take care of the structural balance, I’m right as reign the next day!
I feel like a reprieved man. I feel born again and like someone has pressed the reset button on my training career; my brain is sensitive to all the classic stuff again. It’s fun and I’m hungry. Except this time I’m wiser. I know I’m not cured and I know how easily I can slip back if I slack but that’s two-fold, as I know how easy it is now to stay healthy; I’ve identified what I did wrong and I’ve learned.
If you can’t resonate with this analogy because it’s too ‘training heavy’, trust me, it’s a metaphor for many aspects of life. The lesson here is acceptance. Sometimes you can’t change a situation or set of circumstances instantly, so you’re forced to change your approach/outlook/attitude to them.
Another lesson here is the power of delayed reward/gratification. Too many people don’t remain consistent for fear of wasting their time and it not paying off. But that’s just the chance you have to take. Very few things come with guarantees, you’ve just got to chance it and try many times over.
I tried so many methods and had no idea if they worked but I believed they should, so I carried on and accumulatively they clearly did. But look at how much time it’s taken….I started trying all this as early as February and I’ve only really started getting good results from about late October onwards. That’s a really late harvest but boy, is it a sweet harvest!
All areas of life are similar. People start writing and expect X amount of followers within a month, then Y amount of traffic by said time, and when they don’t get it, they wilt and stop. They close the case assuming their website wasn’t designed right or their message wasn’t clear enough, or people just don’t like them, blah blah blah….
When in reality they just never stayed consistent enough to plant enough seeds for the growth down the line. Businesses take years to be successful, mentors take years to be wise, relationships take time to flourish, changes in your body happen over years not months and ultimately the time will pass anyway so you might as well do something.
Go with the flow, accept what is and try not to compare it to what was. This is stoicism in all its glory. There’s a reason it’s as ancient as it is; it works today just as it did centuries ago. Find beauty in darkness, crush comparisons & keep doing little bits extra every day. 1% better, heck even 0.1% better repeated adds up to a dramatic sum.
Tragedy & Triumph All At Once
The mid-late part of August this year was an absolute rollercoaster for me for so many reasons. I was turning 30 and hadn’t been feeling great about that even as far back as 2 years before. I’d also planned to tackle the ‘3 Peaks‘ as a way of marking the occasion – which in itself is the very definition of a rollercoaster; moments of doubt, struggle, beauty, triumph and fear all rolled into a timeframe of less than 30 hours.
But above all of that I lost someone I knew’s time was limited but I didn’t know it was that limited, my nan.
All of this happened in a 3 day span.
What’s crazy is the 3 Peaks idea was forming in my mind as early as January or maybe even before that. I remember just thinking it would be cool to do it. I’d done them all separately and if you do them fast enough, they’re challenges and special in their own right. But all combined? That had to be even more special!
It was an adventure I truly wanted to do. Not something put in my mind by someone else or subtly brainwashed into me by social media. There was no girlfriend saying she’s taking me to go somewhere that’s supposed to be for me, but is actually for her. I wanted this. I dreamt about what it must feel like when you reach the summit of the third and final peak.
And I made it happen. I wanted to prove to myself that although society and conditioning wants you to feel old now you’re 30, in my case I was better than ever. I smashed my previous best time on Ben Nevis by 15 minutes and in worse conditions, and I nailed the whole challenge in under 30 hours, just like I fantasised about all those months before.
What wasn’t in my dreams leading up to this though, was my nan passing away on the very morning I set out to climb Ben Nevis (where the adventure started). She had terminal breast cancer for a few years prior but it was the slow kind – the kind where you still have reasonable quality of life. But as the months and years crept by, the pain was increasing, as was the size of the lump.
It got to the point where we had to gamble on an operation at the age of 98, or she’d have to suffer a worsening of her current condition. Neither was without risk and sadly it never paid off. While we were ‘prepared’ for this, you’re never fully prepared really but there was lots of beauty in this tragedy (as there is in any tragedy, it’s just identifying it)…
Not that I’m the type to forget anything but how could I ever forget her? She’ll be eternalised in my mind as I’ll never forget that weekend; I turned 30, climbed the 3 Peaks and lost the best nan you could ever have.
And even more so, I managed to visit her some weeks before she passed and I wrote down a load of stories (something I’d been meaning to do since 2018/19). Had I not done this, I’d have kicked myself forever. I’ve spent my whole life doing things too late and waiting for perfect moments. Yet in this case, I did the right thing. I sensed the preciousness of the moment and I’m glad I did, and I’m sure I’ll be glad for the rest of my life.
How did the summit feel with everything else going on?
There’s no feeling quite like it. Pride. Sadness. Elation. Relief. Triumph. Reflection. Introspection. And a whole load more adjectives could fit like a hand to a glove…
I type this and I could smile and clench my fist with pride. I could pat myself on the back (If I had the mobility ;)). I could also sob with happiness or sadness. I’m not an emotional person at all but an event like this in context like this, makes you feel all sorts and above all, every bit alive.
From 2021 to 2022
Overall another great year full of friendships, tough decisions and learning curves.
To summarise the lessons of 2021, I learnt:
- Changing the company you keep makes a huge impact on your productivity, beliefs and ultimately, achievements.
- Future friends can be right under your nose without you even knowing.
- If you’re direct about things/clear about what you want, it’s amazing how easy life can be.
- When you accept a big task will take time, you’re forced to incrementally break it down to the logical steps that will get you there (this was the case for video editing; when I first set out to self edit my YouTube videos, I was completely overwhelmed yet 8 months later it seems so insignificant looking back).
- You’ve got to stay true to yourself the older you get & not settle because someone likes you so much. It takes bravery to do this but you’ll never attract the right people, if you accept the wrong people.
- You must have boundaries in all areas of life but particularly with people. Know when to push, know when to relax and know when to stop altogether.
- Don’t wait for guarantees. If you want to and it seems/feels right, execute, repeat and have faith the results will come when they’re ready to come.
- Being alone is better than being around people with hidden agendas and/or not on the same page as you.
- Years of hard work & consistency isn’t washed away by a few weeks/months of not being able to do something.
- Forcing friendships/relationships never works. If it’s supposed to be, it will be. Having to jump through hoops for no reason is a sign it’s not the right time and/or right person(s).
- An open mind is crucial to levelling up. Whether it’s friends, work opportunities or everything in one, you’ve got to embrace opportunities and be excited by the very possibility everything and everyone offers.
- Oh and time moves faster and f*cking faster. Cold hard facts.
- You can have all the knowledge and expertise in the world but unless it’s packaged into a product, you’ll never be a ‘business success’.
I’m going to leave it there. I could always say more but I’ve said plenty. This is by far and away the rawest recap of a year I’ve done to date. I’ve literally wrote what I want, instead of what I think would sound good, be funny or go viral.
It’s only took me 30 years to not be scared of being true to myself – and I’m by no means ‘cured’ – although I am getting better and better with it. People take it to extremes and use this mantra as an excuse to go around offending people, that’s just being a jackass. But most spend their lives doing things for others’ approval, working jobs to keep society happy, that they secretly hate (or not so secretly in most cases), chasing and bending over backwards for friends who wouldn’t spare a single thought for them if they died tomorrow…
And the worst thing is: THEY KNOW IT DEEP DOWN but are too scared to be true to themselves.
Thanks for reading and I hope you got something from this. Thanks also to everyone who’s read an article on my site in 2021, watched a YouTube video, followed me on Instagram, liked my posts, commented and supported me in any way. I love you forever and the support means the world, so thanks again!
Happy holidays & an even happier new year to you, your friends, your family and everyone in your life.
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.