A few days ago, I was running on a treadmill, listening to a podcast in my AirPods, sweating and puffing my way to 10Km. I looked around and saw two people — a man and a woman — whom I see every time I go to the gym. You know the type. They are there when you get in, they are still there when you get out. Everyone says “hi” to them. They seem to know everyone; everyone seems to know them. Everytime you see them, they’re either chatting away with someone, or killing it at the gym: on a treadmill, with weights, boxing, CrossFit, you name it.
But in a way, it feels sad. When someone spends that much time at the gym — and they’re not a professional athlete — I can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with their life.
Is it that empty, that they have to exhaust themselves physically just to fill that hole? Are they so insecure that they have to make sure their bodies are perfect? Do they care about other people’s opinions that much?
My shrink once told me that, “You can either destroy yourself, or you can destroy the world.”
You can rephrase it in a slightly more constructive way: “You can either build yourself or others.”
Which is to say, you can’t do both.
The modern wellness-fitness-healthy-eating-meditation religion aside, it’s true that when people focus too much on their appearances, they shift their focus from the world to themselves. On the other hand, you know stories of people who were so dedicated to their work, that they frequently forgot to eat, sleep, or do chores around the house.
These are extremes, of course.
The point is that the outer world always wants you to work on you. You might have ambition to change the world or make an impact, but the world doesn’t want to be changed. It resists change. Instead, the world wants you to be “more fit,” be “smarter,” be more “successful”, “rich”, etc. — to make you fit its (arbitrary) standards.
The question is, what do you want?
Are you working out every day because you enjoy it, or because you care about what other people will think? Are you killing yourself at work to make a point to your parents, or because you take pride in your job? The same two things done for two different reasons are two very different things.
You’ll begin living your life the moment you stop ticking other people’s checkboxes.