Me at my last powerlifting meet.
So yesterday, my friend Kate Herold posted a very nice thing about me on her fitness inspiration (fitspo!) Instagram account.
"Today's #mcm is my friend @seanofkelley. In the improv/comedy scene there's no small amount of suspicion and derision of dudes who lift -- like anyone who is fit is an idiot jock and can't possibly be funny. But Sean is a smart and hilarious improviser and comic book nerd as well as an amazing cook and #crossfit badass.
Thanks, Sean, for being an inspiration in both comedy and crushing it in the gym!#mcm #gymcrushguy #fitfriend #badass #mondaymotivation #getafterit"
All of that is very, very flattering.
But reading these very kind words got me thinking about something:
Talking about fitness in an inspirational way makes me feel weird.
I mean, I've written about Crossfit and Powerlifting and how great and empowering both things have been for me. I should also let you know that I follow a ton of fitness oriented accounts on Social Media. Actually, I'm on Tumblr and Instagram and probably 80% of the accounts I follow on those services are either weightlifting or Crossfit related. So it's not like this is stuff that I never talk about in my public life. And it's not like I think fitness inspiration is dumb. I LOVE seeing people's before and after pictures from their fitness journeys. I think it's cool to see peoples' healthy eating recipes. It's amazing to me to read a blog entry by a woman about the day a light went off in her head and she realized she wanted to be strong more than she wanted to fit into a size 2 dress. It's inspiring to read about a guy who's in his first year of weight training as he hits PR after PR. It's thrilling to see a picture someone posted of visible bicep definition that didn't exist a month prior. When I read fitspo content, it inspires me to get into the gym.
So why don't I talk about my own journey more often? Why don't I post more pictures of my body as it's grown stronger, or more videos of myself when I hit a PR? Here are a few reasons:
1. Per Kate's post, I also do comedy. Comedians, for the most part, are hyper aware of both the world and of themselves. They (we, me) are also mostly hypercritical of it. That's how comedy works. Very few comedians are Ellen Degeneres or the Muppets- spinning comedy gold out of joy. Comedians hold up a mirror to society to point out what's sad, frustrating, or ridiculous, then process it into a joke to make it more palatable to everyone else. Inspirational content is almost diametrically opposed to (most) good comedy. Or it seems to be to someone who spends most of their time marinating in comedy. On top of that, some of the fitspo content you see really is worthy of derision. Some of it is selfish in that it puts people down more than it builds them up. Whenever I see a post that says something like "Do tigers lose sleep over the opinions of sheep?" or something like that, I think "I don't want to be associated with that kind of thing." Some fitspo content is actually unhealthy. Quotes like "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" encourage poor health and also make me want to run as far away from it as possible. Even more likely- it makes me want to write a satirical blog entry lampooning it. To sum this up- my hypercritical comedian's brain often makes me go "don't post this thing- it's not inspiring. It's ridiculous." I tend to think that a picture of me in my underwear would just look ridiculous as hell.
2. It feels selfish. While I haven't practiced in over a decade, I was raised Catholic. Growing up Catholic, going to church, going to Catholic school, we were taught the importance of service to others. You are less important than everyone else, and it is your responsibility, rather than drawing attention to yourself, to serve the less fortunate. Interestingly enough, this is also one of the central tenets of the teaching philosophy of iO Chicago- as an improvisor, it's your responsibility to make your scene partner look good, not yourself. To quote Del Close, "this journey isn't about you, it's about everyone around you." When you've lived the better part of 3 decades having that philosophy drilled into your head, it feels a little weird to talk about your own accomplishments or to post shirtless pictures of yourself that display the progress you've made over time. It feels like you're making the journey about yourself, and that's never really been my thing.
2A. It feels vain. Vanity is another one of those sins that a childhood spent in Catholic School sort of beats out of you (or tries to). Vanity is it's own form of selfishness which is why I have it listed as thing 2A here.
3. Who gives a shit? I kind of feel like the fitspo content I might post that didn't feel selfish would also feel incredibly mundane. Do you really want to see the picture of the pork tenderloin, rice, and broccoli I had for dinner last night? Do you really care about the number of squat reps I did and at what weight on a given Monday night? Do you care about my particular feelings on the rule at most powerlifting meets that dictates that all athletes must wear singlets (spoiler: I don't get it)? My assumption is that most people don't.
4. I'm not that inspiring. Finally- I'm not a big guy. I'm 5'7". I weighed 135 pounds from the time I was 15 to the time I was 25. I got teased mercilessly for being small as a kid. I've grown up and I've changed, but I don't think that feeling of smallness will ever leave me completely. I think if I weighed 250 pounds and could deadlift a half a ton I'd still think of myself as that small, anxious kid in some of the more important parts of my mind. I don't really think I'm that inspiring. I think I'm small.
Oh, and I also don't want to be one of those people who talks about Crossfit all of the time.
But you know what? All of that stuff is ridiculous. It's mostly untrue. Oh, there's a nugget of a true thing to every single one of those points but that doesn't make them right. That little voice inside of my head is completely wrong. Completely and totally wrong. I believe that people like Kate, or my wife Chelsea who have documented their fitness journeys in public for all to see are very, very brave. Why? Because they probably have thoughts similar to these, and they share them anyway. The content that they post isn't just helpful to them- it's helpful to everyone who sees it too. It's inspiring.
In a way, as I write this, I realize that NOT SHARING my own stories is selfish in its own way. When someone shares their trials and their triumphs on the path to becoming healthier, it might just inspire someone else to take their own health more seriously. It might make it easier for someone who's started down that path to stay on it. People bemoan the inherent selfishness that they see as an intrinsic part of social media but often, social media gives us the tools to be a more supportive, more effective community that can make a real, positive impact on the lives of its members. By not... sharing more I've essentially been negligent of my end of that social contract- I allow myself to be inspired by others without even trying to inspire them. Which... I know it's kind of roundabout logic, but that's also selfish in a way.
So what am I going to do? Well, I'm going to try a little harder to share- I'll try harder to share when working out is hard and when I fail, and I'll try a little harder to talk about feeling successful.
Here goes, a first attempt.
These are my legs. I'm very proud of them. I can squat 380 pounds and deadlift 435. I have a hard time finding pants that fit because my legs are thick but my waist is not. I think that's kind of awesome. If I can't fit into a pair of pants anymore, it means I have outgrown them physically and also metaphorically. I'm proud when my clothes rip. Building leg strength is hard. It has required countless hours in the gym, and even more time making sure that I've eaten enough of the right things. That's worth more than all the pants in the world.
Also... just FYI- I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt in this picture. I've just cropped them out.