Elisabeth has asked me to write a guest blog post again this week. We quite often discuss our unique perspective on the U.S.A., being from a neighbouring country and all. Though some of you might think that Canada is just America-but-North... well, you'd be wrong - for reasons I’ll get into later.
My topic this week started out as my perspective of the Whole 30 experience having just turned 30 years old. As Elisabeth and I talked, we realized there are actually a lot deeper, cultural-level things going on with regards to the way we eat and live here. Some of them might actually surprise you. This will be part one of a two part insight, with the next section out in the coming weeks.
As many of you may know, Elisabeth has had her share of experience with anxiety. I hear from her regularly how women tend to worry about when they’re going to get married and have kids, how they look in their clothes, and showing signs of aging on their bodies and faces. These things are pretty socially pervasive for women.
I’m here to tell you today that as men, we tend to have our own worries, and that you’re not alone in your struggles. We worry too about falling behind in life – when many of our friends are getting married and having kids. We wonder if we’re just not meant to have a family; starting over after failed relationships. We worry about losing our jobs and not being able to support our families. We worry about limiting ourselves and making commitments to career choices. We worry about the effects our life stressors are having on our close personal relationships. We worry about screwing things up after finally finding the love of our life. As you can tell, we have our share of fears. Guys deal with almost as much social pressure to be Mr. Independent as women do to be married with kids by 30.
As amazing as it’s been to have lived here in Houston, it’s really put us in a difficult spot financially. All told, I’d have to repay my company about $20k for relocation expenses if I quit. On top of that, our immigration and wedding expenses (along with Elisabeth not being able to work for the better part of a year), meant that I was supporting both of us for most of 2015. It didn’t give us much of a chance to save up or even for me to spend my own money. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into at the time, but it was definitely more than worth it to be with the love of my life.
All the stress at my job (between worrying about job loss and being overworked) has caused a good amount of my hair to fall out recently. Signs point to it growing back over time, but it really made me think about how our sense of perspective shifts as we get older. Often this happens in ways that we’ve been warned about time and again by our older friends and family. Somehow it just doesn’t matter; we still trash our bodies and don’t think much of the consequences until we get older.
Attempting Whole 30 made me primarily realize how poorly I had been eating and how out of touch with my body I’ve been for some time. I feel like I’m getting old. Although that probably has more to do with the fact that I haven’t been to the gym consistently for a while, my body is starting to show signs.
I fretted in my 20s over looking good so that I could find a great partner, as most of us do (whether we admit it to ourselves or not). It’s something I am learning to let go of since marrying the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. If anything, I’ve learned I need to step up my fitness level for her and for my own longevity.
I’ve learned that a lot of growing older is practicing self-forgiveness for past actions that we knew better than to do, and have now made things harder for our future selves. A colleague of mine recently explained that one of the biggest differences between an adult and a child is that the adult evaluates the consequences of their actions. Part of maturing into an adult means that the practice of risk evaluation is something we get better at as we age. We didn’t start out as experts and should accept our past mistakes.
As Elisabeth’s last post said, the effects of Whole 30 tend to work faster on guys. Our hormones and muscle mass make it almost too easy when making physical changes. I leaned out without even trying. Although I’ve fallen off the wagon a few times already, it’s shown me that I do a lot more emotional eating and drinking than I knew because of my job. My personal research has taught me we do that because we’re attempting to exercise control over a different aspect of our lives where we feel a lack of control. That’s certainly true in my case with my job.
Anyways, it’s been interesting to have these discussions where we can compare and contrast our changes. We talked about how people can chalk up the inability to change their bodies (or perceptual self-image for that matter) because of genetics or social pressures. Often those same people are eager to achieve a body that they will never have just by virtue of the fact that everyone is different. We’re all stuck with the life cards we were dealt, but it isn’t a free pass to just blame genetics or whatever.
I liken it to two students in class. One just naturally gets the material and doesn’t really have to study. The other doesn’t automatically get it, and in order to pass the class they have to put in a good amount of work. It’s the same thing with physical fitness. Some people are just born with the right hormones and body structure. Many people can (and often do) eat and drink whatever the hell they want and still look like a model. Yes it’s unfair, but such is life sometimes.
The interesting thing is that often it’s the person that has to consistently work their ass off that has a more rewarding life. These are the people that develop the ability to teach others because they had to learn things the hard way. They practiced and learned the subject inside and out, backwards and forwards, while the other person is content just to use their natural talent. They say “those that can’t do, teach”, and I say that those are the only people that really can. It’s the diligence that makes the difference. Eventually all that diligence pays off and it becomes easy for those people too.
The real hard part of this equation is deciding what you are willing to give up, if anything, to have the body you want. Are you willing to give up drinks with friends after work? Queso? Sleeping in? The time and energy you’re currently putting into something else is exactly what you’ll have to redirect if you want to effect real change in your life. It’s a matter of what’s more important – a question easier posed than answered.
It starts with listening to your body and self-observation. For instance, today I have about five really important tasks I need to get done (including this post). It’s been one of those days where I had so much to do that I decided to take a nap instead. I listened to my body and realized that I just really needed rest more than anything else. I find my body rebels when I try to push it too often to get things done. It would actually be pretty easy to mistake a genuine need for rest as depression, because often I really don’t want to watch TV or even consider eating when I feel that way.
That’s probably a bad example because it’s one of me having a nap instead of working towards my goals, but the point needed to be made. I find when I truly satisfy my need for rest, my ambition and motivation returns with a vengeance.
Deciding what to give up is a question of figuring out what you really want to apply yourself towards, and assigning your priorities. Not being aware of your own inner voice means you’ve failed before even starting - you’re going to think that what society tells you is what you should do with your life. Figure out what really boils your blood and gets your heart pounding, without regard to what other people might think. What problems do you want to solve for yourself or for humanity? Is having a killer body really one of them?
Pursuit of these answers means taking a leap of faith, because who the hell knows if you’ll ever get there. Besides, it’s not the goal but the journey that makes life worthwhile. Having a real blood-pumping goal is what gives you the courage to jump in the first place, which is why it’s so important to figure out.
In my next post, I’m going to talk from a Canadian expat perspective about how that suppression of rest and intuitive self-awareness, for the sake of competitive productivity, has become so pervasive in American society to the ultimate detriment of its people.