When I applied to the medical school I wound up attending, I applied into a program that focused on returning doctors to rural, underserved areas to practice. Of course this is why they accepted me. And of course, I kept my mouth shut during that education, too.
This lack of belief in myself was so prevalent in everyday life that it was something I never actively thought about or struggled with. I didn’t have to work to convince myself that I wasn’t worthy or deserving of things. It was already hardwired into me. The only confidence I felt in myself was when I reflected on my success at deceiving people into thinking I was intelligent enough to attend their school. After three decades of living, I began to unconsciously uncover the disservice I’d done myself. And this took place through a medium I would have never expected: a gym.
In the book, The Boys In the Boat, rowing is described as a sport that requires the perfect mix of ego and humility for success. In reflecting on my time at Warhorse, I’ve determined that the balance of these same qualities is also required for successful strength training, and that this same balance has helped make me a better, more confident person outside the gym, too.
Gaining strength requires an awareness of current limits, an acceptance with the present. But it also requires a willingness and confidence to push beyond the present. There’s nothing more humbling than when a lift feels far heavier than it is in reality. There’s also nothing more satisfying than the opposite: when a lift is so smooth that it looks and feels far lighter than it is. Despite the differences, both circumstances result in motivation to be better: to improve upon your failures and to build upon your successes. In the right environment, and with the right mix of humility and ego, you find yourself picking up a heavier dumbbell thinking, ‘I’m pretty sure I can do this...Yeah, I can do this...Well, shit, I’m actually doing this.’
Inadvertently and unconsciously, I found that I was successful (side note: my definition of success is my own) at strength training because I’d started to figure out the balance between ego and humility on an individual level, and as part of a group.
Unlike rowing, lifting is often viewed as an individual sport, but for me, that’s wrong. Lifting at Warhorse is more like a team sport than I’ve ever experienced. Like a team attending practices, we consistently show up. We experience the pain of the same airdyne workout. We can tell when someone is off or is coasting. We feel the push to be better when someone beside us is working their ass off. We watch as our teammates progress from negative chin-ups, to chin-ups with the green band, then the blue band, to body weight, all the while, inspiring the rest of us. We support each other. We challenge each other. We lean on each other. All so we can individually be better and by consequence, and perhaps unknowingly, make the entire unit better. And all by sensing when to call each other out and when to call ourselves out. Lifting is a team sport.
Without initially realizing it, I started taking what I felt and learned inside a small space on 2nd Street and applying it to the rest of my life. I started to push myself a little more. I started to be more assertive in my relationships and work life. I recognized how much more I could learn by speaking up. I started to expect more of myself and of other people. I began to slowly feel confident in voicing my opinion and needs, and admitting when I was wrong, all to try to make myself, and the groups I was a part of, better. Eventually, I became aware of the constant tearing down of myself that I’d been so great at my entire life. Eventually, I made the decision to actively root in myself some confidence. And eventually, I began to see the fruit of striking a balance of ego with humility outside the gym.
So, here I am now, attempting to harvest some of that fruit as I strive to reach my career goals while I also broken-heartedly acknowledge that I have to leave behind the place that’s helped provide the tools I had no idea I needed my entire life.
To say that I no longer struggle with confidence would be a total lie. But I no longer let it define me like I once did. I’m acutely aware of it and put in regular work. I’m still self-deprecating, but my self-deprecation is more rooted in humor than in actual belief these days. I still struggle with the idea that a residency program thinks that I would be a good fit. But, my time and energy are better spent being the best physician, coworker, and advocate that I can be. Picking up a barbell wasn’t the silver bullet--therapy was a great potentiator--but I truly feel that lifting was a gateway for me.
I was on a work call the other day when I asked if I could offer my opinion. With a laugh, my boss responded with, “Well you’d give it to me anyway, even if I said ‘No.’” I’m proud that she knows that I’ll speak my mind when it’s appropriate. I’ve come a long way from that letter of recommendation that my basketball coach wrote and I’ll continue to attempt to find balance between ego and humility as time goes on. It’s time for me to lead by example, and when appropriate, with my voice.
Chris and Jaclyn, thank you for creating a space that’s provided the tools to build in me something that’s so much bigger than physical strength. I wouldn’t be taking the steps I am without you and your gym. WHBC community, your fellowship is something I would have never expected to extend beyond the confines of the gym; how ignorant I was. Its presence is something I’ve come to lean on and for which I’ll be forever grateful. Thank you for holding me accountable inside and outside those walls, for showing up every day to work your asses off, and for some really entertaining ice breakers. I love and will miss you all, even 6AM Bryan.