We all have experienced situations, circumstances, or even periods of time that we perceive to be terrible. Just absolutely, flat out, awful. Oftentimes, we allow these perceived situations to hold us back, while in reality they are the very things that can propel us forward.
The thing holding me back at this very moment, literally exists in my back. I have a herniated disc between my L5 and S1 vertebrae. As a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, I realize that this is a byproduct of years moving incorrectly as a collegiate and professional basketball player, where abuse to joints through jarring repetitive movements, without correction, is the norm.
Truly, this is one of the most humbling obstacles I've ever dealt with. Yet, I don't embrace the vulnerability of writing this for you to feel sorry for me, quite the contrary actually. I write this because I know I'm not the only person out there who has or currently is struggling with something that feels debilitating, injury or otherwise.
The Objectivity of Pain
Pain is an interesting thing. Back in April when I hurt my back the first time, for apparently no particular reason, I became an empty shell of myself. I caught myself feeling sorry for myself as I would lie on the floor in excruciating pain, unable to stand up. Or when I would drop something on the floor and stare at it, because I knew there was really no forgiving way to bend down to pick it up. This, by the way, makes you very crafty with your toes and shimming things up walls.
At the worst points of my pain, I couldn't sleep. If you've ever experienced sciatic pain before, I am giving you a sad look through the computer, because it is NOT fun. If you've been so lucky as to not feel sciatic pain, let me describe: imagine someone takes a hot, grotesquely large knife to your butt and then slowly and continuously slices down your leg, sometimes all the way to your ankle. Great, right?
It was the simple things that we take for granted every day that became ridiculously difficult and painful. But with time, I healed. And I forgot about the pain.
I forgot what it was like to wake up every morning hunched over with hair disheveled like Golem from Lord of the Rings. I forgot what it was like to have to very carefully do a supported pistol squat into my car and hope no one heard my muffled screams of anguish as my spine temporarily bent to fit through the door. It's amazing how our minds forget. I suppose this is why women have more than one child. If childbirth was an overall positive experience, we forget the discomfort of what it's like to have a small human rip its way through our bodies into the world. I say that like I've had a kid, I have not. So kuddos to all you moms, and to my own mom, thanks for doing that for me, you kind bad ass, you.
Coming fresh off my injury, I swore I would never allow myself to injure myself to that degree again, whatever it took. But a few months later, after feeling back to my "invincable" self (that is my own false confidence speaking), and repeatedly slouching lazily in my chair, squatting heavier weights than I should have been, and just generally forgetting that my back had a dormant, but angry disc just waiting to get pissed off again, it decided to remind me.
Oh Yeah, That...
Embracing a difficult circumstance or situation is not easy. What would be easy is complaining about it to any loving friend or family member who will listen, feeling sorry for oneself, making excuses, playing the victim, or allowing negative shoulder guy to tell us things will never improve, or at least not fast enough.
But what does that help?
You know as well as I do, that it helps nothing. Furthermore, people truly do not enjoy being around a whiner and complainer, unless they are stuck in the brain of a high school drama queen. And now that I think about it, I do know some energy vampires like that. I'll give you their number if you want to complain. You guys can build straw houses of negativity and banks of sadness together.
So here we are again. As I write this I have ice and e-stem on my spine, and of course I am sitting like a serial killer in my chair (you must have outstanding posture at all times if you've had a back injury).
The most interesting part about any hardship are the psychological impacts it can have. The physical pain of this injury definitely sucks, but I know at some point during the day it's going to dissipate and I'll be at least able to stand straight. It's wrestling with the mental gorillas along the way that has been challenging.
In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday writes:
Whatever we face, we have a choice: will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them? The world is constantly testing us. It asks, are you worthy? Can you get past the things that will inevitably fall in your way? Will you stand up and show us what you're made of?
The overall resounding point I am trying to make, is that our vulnerabilities and shortcomings can actually give us incredible strength. My vulnerability to share this glaring weak point with you, is not for you to lose confidence in my ability as a coach and trainer; but, instead to share the silver-lining of this situation in that now I can coach and connect better with people dealing with injuries, specifically to their back, better than ever before.
Moreover, it's vital that kids learn how to properly move and cope with adversity at a young age, and that adults unlearn bad movement patterns and relearn how to do them properly. I do not think I would be dealing with this now had I learned at a younger age how to properly brace, hinge, and work prehab and mobility exercises into my workouts.
Of course, this is a huge motivator as to why I love what I do now. Yet sometimes I cannot believe how difficult it is for young athletes, even some coaches, and adults, to buy into the weight room and to put work into their bodies. I believe we have this perception of "strength and conditioning" as lifting heavy and running sprints. Folks, it's so much more than that.
And finally, perhaps one of the most unrecognized area of strength and conditioning, is the relationship and culture building piece that good coaches weave into their workouts. We are able to create environments where athletes must overcome obstacles, are made to struggle and suffer, which naturally spurs their ability to build life skills like leadership, responsibility, developing a positive and relentless mindset, pain management of any kind, and so much more.
Conclusion: There isn't.
In conclusion, there is no conclusion (heh). Life is a cyclical process of self-discovery and growth. If we aren't challenged to step outside of our comfort zone within this process then we will never grow to greater heights. So regardless of what you're going through, injury, loss, change, whatever... you've got this.