"But what if we didn't do that..." There I was again, sitting in a light blue gown on the exam table, negotiating with my doctor. It was the third time we were considering blood pressure medication. Every time the conversation came up, my skin crawled. I had arrived at this point in life. Manifested in a subcutaneous physical objection to spending a lifetime on pills trying to fix it. My head dropped itself into my hands. Defeated. Fuck.
Like many of my generation, I approached my twenties with unbridled fervor. Driven by a yuppie parent-induced achievement complex and caught in the momentum of a roaring economy (until the Great Recession, that is), I pursued an identity solely defined by academic and professional wins. By my thirties, I had achieved more than I had hoped, made some fancy lists, and appeared "successful." But the cost was more profound than I could have ever imagined my health and happiness.
Just before leaving for a business trip, I remember buying size 40 shorts. A loathsome experience. Those Brooks Brothers powder blue shorts were undoubtedly a statement piece on my frame. I had gained over 60, maybe even 80, pounds. It's hard to remember precisely how much because it was even harder to remember how it happened in the first place. If I had to guess, it was sometime between that dressing room, losing my best friend to PTSD, that doctor's office, and my ever-expanding workaholism. "Competency is a curse," they said.
I had arrived in my early thirties with only one means of dealing with the downside, compartmentalization and excess. But blowing off steam only gets you back to where you started. My burnout was on the verge of bringing down everything around me.
I was becoming the "This is fine" meme
"Yeah, it's like you're asleep at the wheel of a car on fire; what can I do?" I was lucky to have friends who were willing to point out I was becoming the "This is fine" meme. A colleague introduced me to a therapist that was a great fit. My forever "Co," my former Co-CCO and now Co-Founder, got me thinking about the future we had dreamed of as assistants at 22 - starting our own thing. He and I got up from our desks and started moving again, not toward the next meeting but towards life—one friday afternoon workout at a time. Then, I fell in love with someone that taught me how to love myself. She got me to the yoga mat and put a racquet back in my hand. That's when it all shifted.
Shoshin: The Beginner's Mind
In Zen Buddhism lives the idea of Shoshin. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities… But in the expert's there are few".
Over the next six months, the freedom to fail opened my world to new opportunities—yoga a new study) and tennis (a passion reignited) cleaned the slate of my mind and body. No longer was I tied to winning, but in fact, I was falling in love with "losing" or, more accurately, not keeping score.
Let go of the need to win.
Yoga permitted me to bend again, to wobble, to fall. The hot room and a mat could be an entire world: just breath and the infinite possibilities of a single position continuously discovered. Covered in sweat, surrounded by acceptance, and present in the moment, achievement left the building. In one respect, I was vulnerable again in front of others. In another, I remembered to get over myself and realize the other 20 people in the room could give a shit about my tree pose. It turns out you can't win Yoga class. Once I stopped trying to win every class but instead explored each pose through curiosity and enjoyment, I found significant satisfaction. Yoga taught me to find presence in my practice. To become conscious of my own physicality. By removing the need to win, it was a lesson I could take into my tennis game, and in many ways my life.
Live in a growth mindset.
"I think it's time to try a two-handed backhand." I had been a bit too persistent in trying to make my one-handed backhand work. During the process of rebuilding my backhand from scratch, it reopened my mind to the beauty of tennis.
Every drill, every match was a reminder that progress was not recapturing the past but forgetting everything I knew about the game. Truly learning to step outside what I thought I knew about the sport and re-learn a game whose techniques had changed since the 1990s, much like the body. Suddenly, it wasn't the reconstruction of a stroke, but each time I stepped onto the court was a chance to study and progress my entire game.
Cognitive Neuroscientist Christian Jarrettis, Deputy Editor of Pysche, suggests that to develop a growth mindset, we should remind ourselves that expertise accrues through study and effort. This will help you to be more open-minded. In this mindset, we become able to see our gaps, not as limits but possibilities.
In this mindset, we are able to see our gaps, not as limits but possibilities.
Put yourself in a position to lose.
Achievement, high performance, and expertise are comfort zones. Defined through our surroundings, perceptions, and influences. But no matter your level of perceived expertise there's more to learn. As we set out to create OFFFIELD, I felt great about my progress on the tennis court. So, my girlfriend and I entered a new recreational tournament, The Low Desert Open at The Courts in Borrego Springs. At "four tennis courts, a clubhouse and a pool in the middle of the desert," we met a gathering of players and fans all with the same goal in mind: enjoyment.
There, recent college players, current retirees, and working creatives faced off under the sun and stars. I faced an art director from Sweden whose work brought him to LA, his longing for community brought him to The Courts. He was lean, he was fit, he looked the part. He even played the part. I was not lean, I was not fit, I enjoyed a clean polo shirt as much as the next guy, but I did not look the part. He began bouncing the ball, preparing for his first serve. Through the humid desert air, he looked like Federer ready to strike.
The match was a thrill, not because we had some incredible exchanges (we really didn’t) or because it was a nail-biter (it was not). But because you can't fake fun.
After the match, we became fast friends. We had a great time playing. We were thrilled to be there. It was the best day either of us had had in months. And quickly, into the second set, a crowd of spectators bore witness to my defeat and my joy on the court “number one.” It was at once humbling and educational in a setting that inspired awe. It was also the moment I knew I'd never put down my racquet again.
As for my health? Sunday morning, we left Anza Borrego. Sunday night California began lockdown. Thankfully, Yoga and Tennis were safe and sane pursuits during these "unprecedented times." An open mind and an active life in 2020 helped me get healthy while giving me a community in distant times.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was a beginner's mindset that made it possible. It gave me the tools to recognize how to bend, reflect, and learn again, and most importantly, how to have fun doing it. It's not enough to be told by someone "this is exactly how you need to live your life, stay healthy, be happy." You need to try things that interest YOU, fail at some, fall in love with others, and do it all over again. Reflecting back on my experience, I now realize the only thing I really lost was 60 lbs and blood pressure medication.
I gotta say, it's fun as fuck to begin again.