For years now, I have made the very simple and factual statement to my clients, “I’ll never go pro, I don’t have the genetics”.
Boy, does that upset some people.
“Oh, you’re too hard on yourself! You have an amazing physique and could go all the way!” Blah blah blah, insert smoke into rectum so we all feel good about ourselves.
You’re not listening.
Nowhere in my initial statement was there an underlying emotional inflection, “Oh woe is me, the world doesn’t love me, I’m a failure and will never earn the respect of others because I don’t have elite muscle-building genetics”.
Those close to me know that I don’t really lack self-confidence. Quite the opposite—most describe me as something of an arrogant prick. I absolutely believe in myself, and believe that I can accomplish just about anything I set my mind to. And always have.
But I do not think I can take off and start flying if I flap my arms fast enough. And I also do not believe I can will myself to become a pro bodybuilder, just because I am dedicated and driven.
You can’t change the width of your clavicle with hard work. Nor the width of your hips. Nor your muscle lengths, insertions and attachments. These are the physical facts that make up the human body, and you need a certain amount of natural assets (quite a few, actually) to have what it takes to become an IFBB pro.
The real question to be asked, however: Does it keep me up at night? Does it bother me? Do I give anything less than 100% because I know I’ll never get “all the way to the top”?
Of course not. That would be idiotic.
Why this rant? One of my clients said I should write about how to not get depressed when you know you’re not achieving your goals. Which made me stop and think—why would you not be achieving your goals in the first place? Only things I can think of: either you aren’t putting in the necessary effort to achieve your goals, or your goals are unachievable in the first place. If the former, shame on you for being a lazy sack of shit. If the latter—shame on you for being somewhat crazy, or stupid, or (fill in the blank with whatever word you want to use for “not objective”).
Remember that old acronym when it comes to goal setting, SMART—you want your goals to be specific, measurable, ATTAINABLE, relevant, and time-bound. I want you to read that third word—ATTAINABLE (caps again, to make sure I hammer you over the head properly).
If you start with an unattainable goal, you’re doomed to failure by definition. And all the self-help motivational crap in the world spewed at you notwithstanding, yes, some goals ARE unattainable. Sometimes, facts trump hopes and dreams.
Now here’s the real kicker: when we all start working out and lifting weights, we don’t really know what we’re capable of achieving. In fact, we never do. God never comes down and paints a clear picture of our upper-limit genetic potential. In theory, if you continue experimenting with your training, your diet, your supplements, for a long enough period of time, you could continue making progress indefinitely, until a very old age.
My goal when I began all of this was simple: to be less fat and more muscular. I never quantified how much less fat and how much more muscular, because I had no clue what was realistic or attainable. I never knew I’d be competing on a bodybuilding stage, taking my first class win 7 years after I began training. I never knew this would become a central chapter in my life, defining the last 12 years on this planet. It would have been impossible to conceive of that when I first started. And as such, with each step forward that I took, I was pleasantly surprised, and re-motivated to stick with it and push harder.
If you would have told me from day one that I didn’t have the genetics to go pro, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have batted an eye, and I certainly wouldn’t have put any less effort into my training or diet. Since I studied competitive bodybuilding almost from the beginning of my fitness journey, I had a pretty good idea of what assets were needed to go pro, and that I didn’t possess them.
Even though I was technically defeated, I was never any less driven. My goal was never to be “the best in the world”. My goal was to be the best that *I* could be, dissociated from everybody else. If there was a nuclear war tomorrow and every human being on this planet died except for me, it wouldn’t impact my goal, since my goal stood independent of all other people. From day one, even if everybody else died, I still knew I was fatter than I wanted to be, and I knew I could change that. And I knew that I was less muscular than I wanted to be, and I could change that.
And so, I did.
A good analogy here would be to wealth. I grew up pretty poor. I had the goal, when I got older, to never have to worry or stress about money (especially once bringing a child into existence). I didn’t want Raven to have to go through what I went through. But my “goal” was never to be the richest man on the planet, or even in the top 100 for that matter.
And so, I busted my ass with my business. I knew that most personal trainers can’t afford to buy groceries, so I knew I had to work harder, work smarter, find ways to do things that others hadn’t found. I was driven, even though I knew I would never be the richest man out there.
Flash forward a decade, and I live pretty comfortably. I still work too much, and bust my ass at everything I do. But the fear is gone. I know I’m in an economic position now where I can likely take care of my family for life, provided I continue to do a good job with my clients. I have “made it”, in that sense.
But I will still never match the bank account of Donald Trump.
Does that bother me? When I see a Ferrari driving down the street, do I feel compelled to moan about my Cadillac and say, “Man, this sucks, all this work and I still don’t have that Ferrari”?
Hopefully, that sounds as ludicrous to you as it does to me.
Success in this world is relative. You don’t have to be THE best at something, in order to really appreciate it for what it’s worth. Sometimes, being in that upper 20% is sufficient to really be grateful for how far you’ve come, and what you have compared to what many others want. None of us will ever be the richest, or the most muscular, or the most ripped, or the most ANYTHING. With 7 billion strong, it’s damn near statistically impossible to be the “most” at anything.
And so, I will settle for being “pretty damn muscular” and “reasonably economically comfortable”. And I will enjoy every second of it, with no pissing and moaning. Even being genetically average, you can still work up to “way above average”, with time, hard work and consistency.
Because even though I was defeated from the start, I was never any less driven for it.
-David A. Johnston
David Johnston is the founder and lead trainer of TEAM Warrior Within. You can also listen to him weekely on the GEARD Up podcast. ( GEARDUp.com ) David works with clients ranging from the everyday person just trying to lose weight and get healthy, local and national bodybuilding and physique competitors, to IFBB professional athletes.
David lives and breathes all things related to physique transformation, and has devoted nearly half of his life to passionately studying and educating himself to be the absolute best at what he does. His intensity in the gym is matched only by the passion he gives to his clients.