Everybody has their respective motivation. Whatever you call upon, whatever drives you, your fantasies, dreams, fears, lusts, we each have what it is, that spark deep down that ignites our ass to leap out of bed on a cold day and do battle with the bar. For each of us, it’s different. For each of us, it’s important.
For years, my motivation was primarily the oversized chip that resided on my shoulder, a burning need to prove that I could work harder, work smarter, work longer, faster, more efficiently, more logically—that I could outperform, outthink, outsmart, outpace—any other sentient being I was placed toe-to-toe against. I viewed the universe as my adversary. I was at war with everybody. No allies, just me and everybody else—my goals, my ends, my passions, desires, callings, vs. those who stood in my way. Nobody was going to hand me anything. And I wasn’t about to settle for whatever fell in my lap. No, that was the way of my family. I was going to be bigger and better, even if it killed me and every person in my vicinity.
But times have changed slightly. I’m a little older, perhaps a little wiser, perhaps a little more tired—the insanity has ebbed ever-so-slightly these past few years. In large part because I’m a parent now. And I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir on this one, but becoming a parent changes your perspective, or at least your orientation, regarding a few things.
My first year competing with Raven in my life was when she was a mere 10 months old, at the 2010 NPC Philadelphia Championship. At that age, my only motivation was, “How cool is it that I have a daughter, and she get to see me doing something extraordinary on stage”. My posing video from that show is still on YouTube, and to this day, if you listen closely, at the 1:55 mark, you can hear Raven saying, “Dada”. One of my most cherished moments as a bodybuilder, to be sure. I will watch this when I am old and watching her get married, or whatever else the future may hold for her:
My 2012 season was different, harder, more hectic. Every possible obstacle got thrown at me during that season, and my continued mantra to myself was, “Prove to your daughter that nothing can stop you, that you can’t be defeated, that no matter what life throws at you—torn biceps, 100 hour work weeks, ever-changing contest plans—that, if you work hard enough and put your nose to the grindstone, you can get through it and accomplish whatever you set your mind to”.
And that’s exactly what I did, taking the overall title at my first show of the season and having a tremendous run at every other show. However, my daughter, as motivation, was more symbolic at that point: I was out to teach abstract life lessons, something she was not nearly mature enough to grasp, but would hopefully understand as she aged.
Then there was 2014, Nikki and my “comeback year”. Raven was now old enough to take it all in and appreciate it—Mommy and Daddy on stage, two fellow warriors, knocking out the competition and getting accolades from so many around us. She saw the positivity, she saw the payoff—the beauty, pride, and achievement that comes from setting a goal and striding relentlessly towards it.
But now we’re on the cusp of 2016, and things are different yet again. Going into next year’s competition season, I can truly say that Raven is my motivation. First of all, she has started to comment—she knows there’s something different about myself and Nikki than there is with all of her peers’ parents. When we come to lunch and hang out with her and her class on Fridays, the other kids all start asking us to make muscles and flex. And Raven proudly pulls up my sleeves to show off my “bigger muscles”.
So I asked her, How would you like it if we came to your school next spring and did a demonstration for the entire school? My lord, you should have seen her eyes light up with pride and excitement, knowing she would officially be the coolest kid, having parents like this! All while showing me last night how many sit-ups she could do, and tonight, for the first time, trying salmon and other healthy food!
It has always been an interesting topic to me—many adults look at bodybuilders and see the shallow pursuit of mere physical sculpting, taking the husk of your body and elevating it to center stage with no regard to the spiritual and cerebral. (Which is a steaming pile of crap in its own right, but we’ll save that for another blog.) Yet when a huge bodybuilder walks through the locker room, you can guarantee that every set of children’s eyes turn immediately to that figure and watch his every move.
People forget, as humans, we start on the perceptual level, and that’s all we know. And of course, it takes decades of learning, combined with a ton of life experience, to learn the important principle that “you can’t always judge a book by its cover”.
But kids don’t get that. Kids only see the cover, and think it tells the entire story.
And realistically, the cover often does tell a whole heck of a lot about the story. Not only is Raven wowed by our unique physiques—not only does she knows that there’s something “special” about Mommy and Daddy such that they get all kinds of positive attention—but we also continually reinforce that these physiques are the end product of lots of hard work, discipline, and focus; as well as eating right, exercising, and being consistent and smart in how we approach our lives.
Going into this next season, I can say unequivocally that my daughter Raven is my motivation. I can’t let her down. I can’t be anything less than my own perfect, as perfect as my genetics will permit. She knows I’m not guaranteed wins, but she also knows I will fight with every fiber of my being, to present the best bodybuilder that is within me on stage next year. She knows I am the living embodiment of a superhero—or at least, that’s how she views me—and I personally choose to rise to the challenge, and be precisely that.
It remains to be seen if she’ll still have this positive outlook once she reaches her cynical adolescent and teen years. But for now, I’ll take it and run with it, and cherish it for all it’s worth.
You’re tired. You’re busy. Your life is hectic. I understand. So is mine. And if it was just me on this planet, I would succumb—I would give in, I would cherish ease and comfort over fighting and ascending. But I have to make an impression, and convey some lessons to my daughter. I have to show her what happens when you work hard at something, when you persist despite fatigue and hunger and discomfort. I have to show her, in concrete form, the physical manifestation of living a certain way.
That, after all, is bodybuilding: a work ethic made flesh. And I will be that superhero for my daughter next season. Nobody else’s praise matters, but hers.
-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.