on a rite of passage
and undergoing a transformation of identity. from unfit to being on the path of fitness.
the rite of passage
In almost all cultures, we see a traditional ritual or a rite of passage where "boy becomes a man". Whether it is going on a hunt once you turn a certain age, or getting circumcised, or land diving, it signals a huge transitional moment in life.
We have rituals for a whole lot of things - getting married, for example. It is about acknowledging the changes that we are going through and accepting/understanding the transformation in our roles and identities.
Rituals and these rites of passages are a huge part of human history and evolution.
Well, yes, what does that have anything to do with fitness or strength training?
my rite of passage
I was an unfit person for the longest time. And that identity was something I kept reinforcing for a long time. It was not until I enrolled myself in a rite of passage - running a half-marathon - that I started the transformation away from unfit. I did not realise it back then but enrolling in that rite of passage was a crucial step for me. I can clearly see the "before I ran a half-marathon" and "after I ran a half-marathon" versions of myself.
One undergoes a physical and mental transformation. Who you thought you were - well, that person would not do this or be able to. But by the end of it, you are someone new, someone, reborn.
This might sound a tad excessive. I am not comparing this to something as fantastic as hunting a lion or surviving 7 days in the wild in a loincloth and a knife.
But a rite of passage it surely is.
acknowledging the transition
The celebrations and rituals that go with completing a rite of passage seem to help drive home the lesson. I think ancient communities and societies did this rather well. To us, it might seem barbaric and backward but there was a point.
The drawback I can see from my personal journey and that of a lot of my students is that we don't fail to see the huge chasm we've leapt across. We don't acknowledge that transition.
If you tell my 13-year old self what I can deadlift or press today, or the mere fact that I am a strength coach - it would blow that kid's mind away. But silly me living in the present keeps thinking "Sure sure, but I can deadlift a bit more".
I see this with a lot of my students as well. Sure, you've lost a lot of weight or are able to squat when you previously could not but that person next to you at the gym is doing so much more.
That is a complication that we need to overcome. Or ignore. I am not entirely sure which.
transformation of self
I can distinctly remember my first day running, many of my weekly long runs, and then a day when it was not a slog and then a rather weird feeling where I was actually looking forward to running. I've written about this previously.
That transformation of identity, of being a runner, of not being unfit - it happens as you go through physical and mental duress. Over days and weeks, as you struggle you make progress. Inching towards something you are not sure what.
If you find the right challenge and the right community, you get to find yourself. I think a lot of us will do much better if we can acknowledge this pivotal point in our lives better. The before/after.
Personally, as soon as I was done with that 21k, I could see was a new world open up. CrossFit and subsequently strength training. Inside this world (and any world that you decide to explore), there are multiple rituals and challenges and rites of passage available to us. But the main one is done!
Over the past decade, there have been interesting new rituals that have entered my life. Benchmark workouts with my training partners, Saturday community workouts, training plans that culminate in pressing half my bodyweight, training for certification, striving for mastery - just so many.
Along the way, other rituals have vanished. Rituals that did not strike a chord or were not relevant any more.
Today, when I chit-chat with fitness-minded folk, we talk about what we lift or something new we learned.
We are all on this side of our journey i.e. somewhere, we've undergone our rite of passage.
These rituals that you choose to put yourself through are powerful and transformative. You can choose to shed your previous conceptions of yourself and start becoming someone else. You are no longer that person you thought you were - you just proved it to yourself.
To really drive the learnings home requires more work. Maybe requires more fanfare. Maybe that's what certifications and what-not try to do but I don't think they do the job.
For a long time, I've been pondering about my own lack of complete belief in my transformation. Seeing it reflected in a lot of my students, I realise that there's a need to acknowledge this.
As long as it is not as painful as getting one's teeth knocked out, it should be fine.
Something for me to think about, and possibly structure into our students' journey.