I read a book recently that wrecked me.
It’s called Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived, by Peter Barton, with Laurence Shames. It’s an autobiography about Peter’s battle with terminal cancer.
I’ve had the book on my shelf for years.
I finally read it on my flight to visit my brother in San Diego. By the end of the flight, I was crying my eyes out while contemplating the meaning of life.
Meanwhile, my seatmate was having a much happier time.
Here’s the gist: Peter was a world-traveling, healthy-eating, fun-loving entrepreneur with a beautiful wife and 3 healthy kids.
Then, in the prime of his life, Peter was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. Determined to beat it, Peter threw as much optimism, healthy living, and the best doctors at the problem for years.
Unfortunately, those things weren’t enough.
It’s heartbreaking, inspiring, and one of the most powerful reminders I’ve ever had with regards to “Memento Mori:”
Father Time, Mother Nature, and Lady Luck are under no obligation to make sense to us. And in the end, they always win.
I wanted to highlight a passage from the book about Peter’s favorite movie, and one that helped him keep life in perspective:
“Andre is a romantic, an aesthete, a perfectionist. He tells his friend Wally that, for him, a great day has to be sublime in every detail. There has to be a perfect meal at a perfect table overlooking a perfect sunset. One flaw anywhere and the whole experience is spoiled.
“Wally is just the opposite.
“He asks very little of life. He’s thrilled with whatever scraps of pleasure the world throws his way. A good day for him is when he wakes up in the morning, finds a cup of coffee left over from the day before, and discovers that no cockroach has crawled into it and died.
“Well, when I was young and healthy, pumped up with the brightness of my prospects, I wanted to be Andre.
“Demand the best. Insist on perfection. But later in life, humbled by sickness and the prospect of mortality, I’ve come to understand that Wally, all along, was really the wiser person, and certainly the happier one. He had the great gift of being pleasantly surprised, of seeing small delights, as large victories.
“A person of Andre’s temperament would have a really tough time getting ready to die. He’d grumble at every bodily insult, mourn every vanished possibility, see every lost pleasure as a personal affront. A person like Wally, on the other hand, is already so much closer to acceptance and peace.
“Thank God I’m becoming more and more like Wally.”
Trying to be less like Andre and more like Wally
For most of my 20s, I was Andre.
I needed the perfect gym to train out of, or I wouldn’t bother training at all. Why bother exercising if I don’t have access to all the right equipment?
I needed to know what the PERFECT diet was – any bad meal ruined the day. Lunch was unhealthy, therefore dinner is a lost cause. I needed to get to a level of physical attractiveness that was completely unattainable. I needed to actually look like Captain America, and I needed it yesterday.
On the business side of things I wasn’t much better…
I needed to make Nerd Fitness into a galaxy-altering company, and it needed to happen as soon as possible.
Who cares that I wasn’t sleeping? Who cares that I got injured from overtraining? Who cares that put my personal life on hold for years? I was doing important work!
The company and the gym came first.
Life could come later.
These days, at age 35 and 10+ years into Nerd Fitness, my perspective has changed. Frankly, I’m trying more and more to be like Wally.
For the first time in 15 years, I’m not in a rush to get somewhere.
I finally feel content with where I’m at with my health and physique. I’m not rushing to gain weight or lose weight quickly for a certain goal.
I don’t even really HAVE a goal right now. Just, “stronger and happier than yesterday.” These days, I travel far less too – usually only to visit friends or family. I feel like a Bilbo after his run-in with the dragon, glad I did it, but content to spend most of my time in my hobbit hole.
A great day for me includes time to write, time to read, time to play music, and time spent with friends and loved ones.
I’m reminded of a quote from Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key: “Build a life you don’t need to escape from.”
A healthy lunch and a good dinner.
On some days, I strength train. Usually in a gym, but not always.
On others, I go for walks.
Professionally, I’m still trying to help as many people as possible with Nerd Fitness – it’s just done with less naivete, more humility, and with the right goals in place.
Paradoxically, this attitude shift has helped me become stronger, healthier, and less injury prone than ever before (which I wrote about here).
From a company perspective, Nerd Fitness is more financially stable and successful than we’ve ever been. Our team is now 25 people big, but this time it actually feels managable.
By lowering the unrealistic expectations of myself and my company, by focusing less on perfection and more on finding meaning in TODAY…
I’ve actually made more consistent, permanent progress.
Today is a Good Day
Regardless of where you are on your fitness journey, or how much farther you need to go…
You woke up today.
That’s a pretty good start!
Let’s build on that.
So you only have 30 minutes to work out rather than your normal 60? Who cares! Do the damn workout. So your kid is sick and you can only do a few sets of push-ups instead of going for your normal weekend run. Who cares! Do the damn push-ups. So you had a bad day at work and ate half a cake. Who cares! Make the next meal healthy.
Your quest for perfection will either keep you from starting or eventually ruin you. That is, if a bus, or cancer, or a piece of contaminated lettuce doesn’t do you in first.
Life is absurd and unfair and nonsensical.
Peter died of cancer despite the best doctors. My friend Scott Dinsmore was killed by a freak rock slide accident in the prime of his life – and he was a real life Captain America.
We’re just emotional bags of meat on a floating rock, hurtling through space.
And death comes for us all.
That is morbid. It’s also incredible.
Can You Be More Like Wally?
We never “get there.”
We never arrive. All we have is today.
So give yourself a break!
And then get to work.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
If you also happen to wake up tomorrow – and I like your chances – try again.
Provided I continue to exist, I’ll continue creating and trying and training and learning!
Let’s make a pact to try and fail and stumble and crawl and try to figure this stuff out.
It starts with waking up. NAILED IT!