A Different Kind of Core Strength
How I found meaning, purpose, and core values in heavy construction equipment.
Shane and I often write about the human need for meaning and purpose. We typically discuss this through values, community, and connection. These are all important factors, but very recently I began to see our pursuit for meaning in a new, profound way. Let’s jump in.
ONE FROM THE AGES
“If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.”
― Walt Whitman
ONE FROM TODAY
“Build your empire on the firm foundation of the fundamentals”
— Lou Holtz
ONE FROM US
For the latter half of 2020, I felt a little adrift. Not lost or depressed, but missing something. A few months ago, I tried a few new things that surprisingly pulled me back into alignment with my core values. And I was reminded of my core foundation while staring up at a tower crane, of all things.
It may seem strange to find personal revelation in heavy construction equipment, but not entirely unexpected for this philosophically-inclined mechanical engineer. I walk past this crane everyday and often stop to stare up at it. Drawn in one day, as I tend to be by large mechanical systems, I pondered it’s design and realized that we require similar maintenance to operate at our best.
This crane can lift and manipulate extremely heavy loads. It can safely extend out to the limits of its reach without risk of toppling. It can also grow taller to assist in larger projects by simply adding vertical sections to its trunk. But these abilities require balance. Its capacity to lift and extend requires proportional strength in its base. It’s usefulness depends not only on the reach of the arm, but on the design and strength of its base.
The huge concrete slabs that hang off the back allow the crane to reach full working capacity. They provide counterbalance to stabilize the load at the end of the arm. They must be many times heavier than anything the crane can lift because they extend only a fraction of the distance to the opposite side. Imagine a group of friends standing across from you on the opposite side of seesaw. Their combined weight, even very close to the center, would allow you to walk out to the furthest tip of your side. This is a simple mechanical principle that we all intuit from a very young age. However, this same relationship of balance, stability, and reach gives profound guidance for how we must structure our focus and energy.
Last year, I grew too heavily focused on reaching into new areas without a proportional investment in my base. I got a new job that took me away from fulltime fitness coaching. We moved out-of-state and I allowed our new space to interfere with my training and sleep schedule. My personal reading and exploration went down a political/cultural tangent that, while not a waste of time, distracted from learning more about physical and emotional health. I was too busy exploring at the limits of my crane’s reach to realize that I was ignoring the core practices that make me strong and capable.
My personal fitness took a backseat role. I wasn’t working toward any athletics goals. My commitment to proper sleep and hydration dwindled. And my coaching was not up to my standards. I eventually began to feel like a shell of my previous identity. From the outside, I appeared healthy and disciplined. I still ate well, remained strong, read often, journaled, published consistently, and upheld my commitments to the coaching clients I so value. But I felt an internal friction—some deep part of me knew that I was not operating from my true core.
There are universal human needs—experiences and aspects of our well-being that are rooted in our evolution. Basic needs like food, water, shelter, sleep, sunlight and sex. Emotional needs like love, significance, and community. Our spiritual needs for meaning and purpose come from how we choose to meet our basic needs. This comes down to values. While our basic needs are universal, we all have unique values that will define how we satisfy them. These are the pursuits and values that bring us the most personal meaning and they nearly always have an aspect of contribution outside ourselves. This is our true core.
Two major aspects of my true core are coaching and my developing my physical capacity. More than just a value on my personal fitness, I need to feel myself becoming more capable and in-tune with my body. I need to acquire new skills and hone old ones. I need to test myself with new challenges and, on occasion, with risky situations where the only way to safety is through physical skill. I need to constantly deepen my relationship with my body. And I need coaching and teaching at the core of my life to help others do the same. These values are rooted in the universal human need for physical capacity and connection to people and the natural world, but they are more dominant needs for me because of my unique background and nature. Just as a lifelong musician may have pronounced musical needs, as a coach and athlete, I require more focus on physical practice and teaching.
Without investing in these parts of myself, I cannot be the best partner, writer, coach, friend, son, or brother. This is beyond important. To me, it is almost sacred. While this might seem sensationalistic, this distinction aligns my life. I no longer see fitness and coaching as merely enjoyable or rewarding. My personal training and coaching each supports the other and provides some of the deepest meaning that I have ever felt. Perhaps it’s only possible to see how vital these are from the periods when I didn’t have them at the center of my life.
We all share the same basic human needs, but the value that we receive from specific aspects of our growth will be unique to us. Our different natures and our different life experiences will determine our unique core values. Like the crane, we have certain parts of our nature that reach and we have parts of our nature that provide stability for this growth. We can provide immense meaning for ourselves and others, but we need to maintain the base that makes this possible.
Physical mastery and coaching are more than just special or fun. They are keys to unlocking some of the deepest and strongest parts of me. They are my best tools to become a better human. In order to operate at the limits of our potential, we need a solid base to anchor this reaching. In order to expand our capacity, we need a proportional investment in our core values, the foundation that is the portal to growth in every other sector.
Thank you all for reading this week, especially for some thoughts that have deep personal meaning. I’ll leave you with a question, what are things in your life that contribute to everything else?
Life is too short to be normal (or without a strong base)
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