This weekend, I did something pretty cool.
Well, okay, not really. Or at least, not literally. I killed a figurative white whale.
I’ll explain in due course.
To begin at the beginning, I spent this weekend out in Los Angeles. Along with a number of other fitness professionals, I was invited into the home of best-selling author Bill Phillips to brainstorm, mastermind and discuss new and old ideas about the fitness industry at large.
Bill is a great guy, very different than I’d imagined he’d be…and I don’t mind saying that I’d imagined meeting him a lot. After all, as a young guy, I used the program in his best seller with success, read his magazine, and generally looked up to him as one of the most successful people of the industry.
It was kind of surreal—I remember being an 18 year old kid going through the Body-for-LIFE program and thinking what it must feel like to be Bill; to have written a program that was helping change people’s lives and bodies must feel awesome.
Now, 10 years later, I have written my own programs and books; and while I haven’t (yet) gotten them into the hands of as many people as Bill, I do feel pretty grateful—and awesome—to have been able to do that.
It’s pretty amazing to me that I was invited to meet and hang with Bill, share my ideas, and be part of this elite group of professionals who have really made big changes in the industry and in the lives of their readers and clients.
I’m certain that a lot of people will be surprised to hear me say this, but I am not so wholly consumed by arrogance that I can’t step back and be honored by inclusion into such august company.
In any event, I didn’t write this post so that I could involve you in the introspective musing on the dichotomous nature of my personality. I wrote to talk to you about some of the things I’ve been thinking about since my discussion with some of the people in attendance.
This being an all-star event with the Who’s Who of both fitness and marketing, it’s not surprising that conversations with such intelligent people lead off onto tangents not necessarily related to those fields.
In fact, while on the way to the event, I was having a conversation with Craig Ballentyne about some of the books we’ve been reading lately. I told you about most of mine in a recent post, but as it happens, I also just finished reading Here’s the Situation by Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino of Jersey Shore fame—which was a surprisingly funny and fairly clever little book.
Craig, for his part, was reading Moby Dick, which ironically has turned out to be a bit of a white whale for him, as he’s having the hardest time finishing the book.
That tome has long been fascinating to me because of the way it has changed in the public consciousness over the years.
First and foremost, the book was written as an allegory about the whaling industry, a fact that remains lost on most of the current readers. This is often true of most allegorical works; while some of them (Moby Dick included) are often good enough to stand on their own, the topic about which they were written ceases to be socially relevant. In the case of Moby Dick…well, the whaling industry is hardly a hot button topic in our society.
Told from the perspective of the sailor Ishmael, the book relates the tale Captain Ahab, who is completely obsessed with finding a specific whale. This great white beast, the titular Moby Dick, previously attacked Ahab’s ship and bit off the captain’s leg.
Ahab, for his part, is so completely obsessed with revenge that finding the whale becomes the sole driving force for his entire life.
He does this, of course, but in the end it costs him his ship and the lives of his crew, as well as his own.
Moby Dick, regarded by many as THE Great American Novel, and the story contained therein has worked it’s way into our the fabric of our society to the extent that it’s become part of the lexicon; that is, to term something your “white whale” is to describe it as the focal point of your attention, and obsession, and usually carries a negative connotation.
At the time of Moby Dick’s publication, Herman Melville saw his fame skyrocket. However, after enjoying his celebrity for only a brief time, his fame suffered a precipitous decline, and never recovered during his lifetime.
In fact, there is a story that Melville died in such a state of destitution and obscurity that the New York Times misnamed him in his own obituary, listing him as “Henry Melville” instead of “Herman.” (This is not, in fact, true but rather serves to drive the point home).
While his other work enjoyed a bit of success, Melville and Moby Dick were, for all intents and purposes, the literary equivalent of a one-hit-wonder.
All of this stirring in my head, I sat down on the bus ride and began to let my mind wonder.
Some of you may be familiar with one of my favorite quotes, often attributed to the Roman poet Virgil:
is the wellspring
Ahab is so obsessed with the whale that it drives him mad and leads him to his doom. However, the genius of Melville shines through, and we are gifted with a fabulous novel and a cautionary tale.
And I began to wonder…
I remember when I first became involved with bodybuilding…the single-minded pursuit of developing my physique certainly had some consequences. I lost some friends because my lifestyle was not suited to the social scene college.
I frequently had fights with my family, who contended that I was endangering myself with either extreme dieting to get lean, or by supplementing with “dangerous” things like protein and creatine. That seems laughable now, but at the time the blowout fights with my mother were stressful.
I remember becoming obsessed with strength, and a 700-pound deadlift became my white whale. I wanted to badly to break that number that I trained that movement 4-5 days per week.
I remember training with a fervor that I’ve never been able to recreate, an intensity that I now realize I could not long maintain. Rather than simply lift, I sought to conquer. Each workout pushed me to the brink.
On many occasions, I remember pacing nervously around the bar between sets, glancing at the clock in anger during my rest periods, as if I resented the very passage of Time itself for daring to stand between me and my Whale.
I remember an extremely bleak period after a break-up with a girl I just couldn’t get over. I was completely obsessed and I don’t mind saying that those six months may have been the darkest of my life.
(In retrospect, I’m pretty happy that particular whale got away.)
And, not so long ago, I had made it my goal to climb to the top of this industry—to become published in every big name fitness magazine, to train professional athletes, models and actors, to help people through my programs and to become one of the most popular fitness writers in the world…the kind who gets invited to charity events at Bill Phillips’ house.
Not exactly a white whale, but there were periods just before FPFL came out that I remember sleeping 2 hours per night and working past the point of exhaustion. It seems to have worked out. As Virgil’s quote implied: sometimes your obsessions drive you crazy, and sometimes they make you feel like a genius.
Moving briefly back to Melville, I think it’s pretty obvious that he will be remembered as the author of Moby Dick, rather than the broke novelist who died ignominiously.
For his part, while he has certainly taken on other projects, Bill Phillips’ will probably be remembered as the author of Body-for-LIFE, and helping to change the lives of over a million people.
Of course, that remains to be seen—with his project, Transformation, Bill’s goal is to completely transform America: as he puts it, take us from “worst to first in health and fitness.”
From what I know of Bill, he seems to be the type of person who will take on this task with fervent dedication and work at it in earnest until death claims him. I don’t know that the pursuit of the goal will yield his undoing, but I do not doubt he’d work himself into the ground to achieve it.
Which brings us to the Situation. Here is a guy who has somehow managed to become famous because he’s got a big personality and a decent set of abs. Interestingly, he also seems to have an exceptionally shrewd business mind, and seems savvy enough to play up a lot of what he’s doing. He may, in fact, be a bit of a satirist.
I think it unlikely that he’ll ever escape the character he’s created, and will be remembered for being the guy who lifted his shirt on TV, but depending upon what his obsession is—if it proves to be anything other than fame—we may be surprised.
And now, we come to you, and to me.
I want you to think about two very specific things:
Once you have those two answers, I want you to ask yourself one more question.
If you achieved the thing you’re working hardest for…would it help you to be remembered in the way that you want?
If not, perhaps it’s time that you reassessed your goals, the passion you have for them, and start thinking about how you can change the world.
As for me…