What's in a word? Are we what we do?
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
A recovering depressive weightlifter; or, someone who lifts weights and gets down sometimes
As some of you know, I'm a writer, collaborator, performer and burgeoning personal trainer. And if we are what we repeatedly do, then I'm also a cyclist, procrastinator, cook, boyfriend, moaner, loner, walker and confidante.
I might be described as any and all of those things – and many more – and I might not. Equally, I might be described as a person who writes, collaborates, performs and is working on a personal training business – and I might not.
Can you tell the difference between these two ways of describing someone? To my mind, the former is definitive – it is what I am – while the latter is descriptive – it is what I do.
While the former is helpful in that it quickly gives people an understanding of what I have done, might do or will do (i.e. writers write), it has been more unhelpful for me in finding balance. When I get down, for instance, I might describe myself as a piece of shit, rather than someone who can be a piece of shit sometimes.
Can you see how both are "bad" but only one is permanent? I've found that, when I'm in a slump, a funk or downright bad place, re-contextualising my self-[insert negative adjective here] as a transient descriptor rather than a permanent state helps to get out of that place quicker. If I'm a piece of shit right now – but I have at times not been and rarely, if ever, plan to be – why is this the case? what can be done about it? who can help? I've found when I've stopped making statements, I've started asking questions, and if I've asked the right ones, discovered that being a piece of shit is rarely the (or only) answer.
In the other direction, Jonny Wilkinson described in a High Performance podcast episode how, after his rugby world cup winning drop-goal – harder than ever – he chased ideas, pre-conceived notions of what it meant to be elite, perfect or a winner, rather than accepting his passing experience/s of those things. And while he was trying to be a world cup winner after the fact, he was struggling to be the best version of himself in every other aspect of his life, by his account.
You are you, as much as what you think you are and what you do, what you thought you were and what you've done, what you will be and what you will do. And all of this is valid, as are the feelings and experiences that go with it.
But, if being defined by words you didn't come up with is making you sad, it might be time to reflect on whether you can let go of those words and their meanings, or, change the narrative: we can't step in the same river twice; this too shall pass; you are not who you were.
Thinking on who I was, am and will be, I realised that, most broadly speaking, I have become someone who uses regular exercise and mostly planned nutrition to feel level, having found that both these things were useful when I was massively depressed to getting back to a manageable baseline. I also motivate busy adults to lift weights and eat well for sustainable results and enjoyment; I am an "online coach" but what this definition quickly gives it also quickly strips away. There are millions of coaches in the world who might write that coach spiel in their social media bios but maybe only a small percentage of those have had experiences like mine that might mean I better understand how to motivate someone else.
Going one step further – in both increased depth and decreased marketability – I help adults with being accountable and aspirational and accepting of themselves and their actions through sustained and progressively tweaked modifications to their eating and sleeping habits alongside the encouragement to start/continue resistance training. Often times because I have been and sometimes still am [insert negative adjective].
And while this might not be as sell-able, I'd suggest it is closer to describing what I do, what I want to do more of and what I might like to be known for. "I coach", for me, is more helpful than "I, coach", and "aye, aye coach", well, that's another story.
Fight Club (1999) Directed by David Fincher.