Author’s note: minor spoilers for the latest Star Wars movie will follow. Also, this is longer, more archaic, and more personal than most of my posts, so be warned.
Hermitage is a common theme in the fantastic. The hero, returning home from their hero’s journey, is so changed by the journey that, while they are capable of bestowing boons upon their close loved ones, they do not quite fit anymore. The act of journeying has made them into someone else entirely. The acquisition of forbidden knowledge and forbidden fruit comes with it the idea that this fruit cannot be shared, or should not be shared, for the sake of the others.
It is a common theme in movies, and in particular in sequels. A new movie needs new characters, a new plot, a new conflict, so they reinvent the wheel with a new cast. But now we have to figure out what to do with the old characters: so it’s convenient to say that they’ve have gone into hermitage, gone into hiding, ready to return when it serves the plot the most.
In the Fast and the Furious franchise, this is represented through the powerful effect of the law. After all, the protagonists of the F&F movies are criminals - even the cop character, Paul Walker's Brian, increasingly finds himself disobeying the law and falling in with his criminal friends as the series progresses. Characters come and go - new gang members are introduced, old ones are killed, resurrected, returned, and so on. Hermitage in F&F means moving somewhere further away from the law, where they can spend their criminal earnings in peace.
In the latest Star Wars trilogy, Luke has become a hermit after the events that occurred between movies 6 and 7. Distressed by the inherent capability of the force (an inherently neutral ability) to be used alternately for both good and evil (and for people to have conflicting impulses), he ends up renouncing the good altogether in order that he can renounce the evil as well.
He becomes an island monk, hiding from the greater world and the politics that it entails. That his position seems challenged by his later need for intervention in the outer world is ultimately rendered false by the fact that, when the conceit is revealed, we discover that he never left his island at all, instead projecting an astral body to a planet untold light years away so that his friends can escape. He chooses to end as a hermit through and through, minus the occasional pushes of necessity. I don't believe that this strategy is ultimately sustainable outside of the logic of the Star Wars fantasy world, but that's an entirely different discussion for another time.
Around 2012, I got into the fitness industry. I was a graduate with a degree in philosophy, a desire to earn a living, and no valuable employment skills. I wanted to be a novel writer, but knew that it would be many years before I would be able to make money doing so, if ever. At the time, I was a huge fitness enthusiast: I worked out sometimes every day for weeks without taking a day off. Some of my workouts might top 3 hours at a time. Looking back on that, I’m shocked that I ever had the energy to do so: I’m legitimately not sure how I did it.
When I was 16, I almost committed suicide. Instead, I promised myself I would start being the best version of myself possible. To me, a part of that meant that I needed to take myself as far as I could with my personal fitness. I wanted to set world records, build elite amounts of muscle, and be the next big fitness icon.
I became a trainer to follow that passion. In 2011, I had started to really research fitness, looking up everything I could on the internet to know more about training and diet. After I got my personal trainer certification in 2012, I literally started purchasing exercise science textbooks on Amazon and reading them at home on my own time.
When I got my first gym job, I was living with my parents and had about $100 in my bank account. A trainer at one of the gyms I was applying at (ultimately, I didn’t get the job) suggested that I purchase a copy of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, so I did - even though it’s effectively a $50 coffee table book full of thick, glossy pictures and a spine that’s ready to crack at any moment. It was well worth the cost, not that I really had the money to spare. In fact, when I got my first paycheck (about $250, since I only had 1 client at the time) I ended up spending another $50 of that on another textbook.
During that time, I voraciously read through all the existing fitness blogs. I got into powerlifting. One of the writers I came across was Nate Green - a T-Nation contributor and fitness industry veteran. One day, he shared a post entitled I’m A Recovering Fitness Junkie - I legitimately can’t remember when it was posted or when I read it, and he doesn’t time stamp his posts, so I don’t have any way of knowing. Suffice to say, I read it.
In it, Green recounts his own fitness journey - from being obsessed with fitness and working out 5x+/week, to injuries and burnout, to only working out a couple times a week, cutting back his focus on his business, finding balance. At the time, I didn’t much care for it. I considered it a kind of cautionary tale, and not much more: don’t make the same mistakes that this guy did, etc. etc.
About five and a half years have passed since I got into fitness, as a business. It’s been much longer, almost 12 years, since I first started working out. Over the past 12 years, I’ve rarely gone much more than a few days without a workout. Occasionally, I might take a week or two off here and there due to vacation or something similar. Sometimes, I worked out seven days a week. One time, I got so sick for two and a half weeks that I just took off the entire month before starting again.
But throughout that time, I’ve consistently exercised with the best tools available to me. I’ve tried every diet and exercise program under the sun. I made the switch to designing my own programming, and have gone through a variety of styles of training since. I have consistently progressed, building strength and size throughout. I'm happy with the results I've gotten, and I've certainly neared my absolute genetic limits.
During that time I’ve also built my business and my website. My website was actually a new year’s resolution in 2012: seeing other fitness bloggers and wanting to be like them, I knew I should get started. For three years, my blog did very little, and I didn’t get any money out of it. I rarely posted, my posts were garbage, and no one read them. I’ve gone ahead and deleted most of my older posts because 2018 Adam just finds them embarrassing.
I went through ups and downs in my career. I worked with hundreds of clients all over the world. I watched one online client turn into two, and then five, ten, and so on. Throughout, I was absolutely convinced at numerous times that I should quit. After one particularly frustrating day at a job I hated, I drove home screaming in my car, called my girlfriend and vented for a half an hour, and then, arriving home to find out that my internet was down, drove directly to an all-night diner with wifi and started applying for new jobs on my laptop.
Through all this, I stuck through. This year has been the best year of all for my business, with my online income now being about roughly 4x what it was when I started focusing on it full time. I’ve spent the last 6 months putting the finishing touches on my first paid products. (If you like my writing, check out Better today!) My following has tripled. My website views grow each month.
At the same time, I’ve been tired. Some days I would put 8-12 hours straight into work without any issue, and then other days I’d wake up and just want to play video games all day, exhausted from the day before, trying to put off answering client emails for as long as possible. After a long day of work, sometimes I’d feel so exhausted from answering client emails and writing posts that when I arrived at the gym, I’d be too tired to do much.
I’ve also been at this for so very, very long. After 12 years of training, I’ve come very near to my genetic limits. I used to believe that you could just keep improving forever - and while this is true, particularly if you go from poor diet/training to better diet/training, there are limits. After a while, it takes so much training to get further results that you start to wonder whether or not it’s worth it.
In the last year of training, I’ve put only about 40lbs onto my total, with much of that coming from recovering from a leg injury that made it hard for me to squat without pain. The reality is that most people hit most of their potential with about 5 years of serious training, and I’ve been at it for much longer than that. At this point, it’s clear that I’ll likely never set a record or become a world class athlete (without a bit of help from steroids, and I don't really plan on going that route).
At the same time, I find it hard to get into the gym much more than 3-4x/week, when I used to go 6x/week without issue. It’s not an issue of recovery, but motivation and free time. Knowing that my results will be small and take a long time to become evident, I’m simply no longer terribly interested in pushing myself further or spending unnecessarily long periods of time in the gym. My current physique, while it isn’t perfect, is more than enough for me on a day-to-day sense. Sometimes, I think a lot more about maintenance than building.
I’ve never actually been an outgoing person. Being a personal trainer and online coach has been difficult for me, a thing to get used to, something I’ve had to practice a lot. Even then, it’s not always easy. Long periods of social interaction, for me, require long periods of relaxation and recharging.
In writing profusely about fitness and health over the past couple years, I’ve also come on a realization: I’m not as excited as I used to be, to write about it. Sure, I love fitness. It means a lot to me. It’s a vital part of who I am, how I work, how I make my money, who I interact with. I will never be a person who doesn’t work out, or who doesn’t write posts about fitness.
At the same time, I’m so terribly tired of most fitness writing. There are a few great writers and researchers out there who are writing things that legitimately don’t exist anywhere else. But for every post that one of these awesome writers make, there’s about five to ten articles about how to squat (again), about how yes, women can lift (shocker), about how CrossFit sucks (I get it, they don’t follow the rules), about “secret tricks” to burn more fat or pack more onto your deadlift. Fasted cardio has been debunked a while ago, but this doesn’t mean that a casual glance at any website doesn’t still pop up an article about it. That's the way stuff goes: there's new BS invented every day, and even with good research, it can sometimes take years or decades for people to get over it.
Now I hear stuff about “water diets” and Silicon Valley going nuts over “raw water”, both of which are of course silly and pointless. But that's because the point is elsewhere: the point is that some people will be tricked, some people will make money, there can be a media hype cycle of critical stories about the subject to cash in on the phenomenon, we’ll move on, and no one will really (permanently) learn much out of the experience - “there’s a sucker born every minute”.
In every dumb fitness fad I can see myself, much younger, testing out every diet to see what works because I didn’t have any other tools to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. It would be easy to mock people for falling for these fads, and harder to admit that I can only do so because I fell for them, constantly, when I was starting out.
There have been times over the past year where I’ve struggled, putting out 1-2 posts per week, to write words about fitness, because it seems absolutely bonkers to write words about fitness when so much other bullcrap is going on. You can exercise and eat a great diet and do your best, but that doesn’t mean jack if your health care is repealed or priced out of your reach, or if escalating tensions with North Korea mean that nuclear war could break out at any moment.
I get tired of writing (yet another) article about some fitness topic that’s been rehashed fifty times, on the off chance that it might benefit a few people who haven’t heard about it yet. It feels weird to pop out another instagram photo about eating more protein or vegetables for the hundredth time when you know that, while this is the kind of thing that will get attention and likes, few people are actually going to really go home and eat more veggies just because they saw a picture on instagram.
All in all, I can’t be too upset. Fitness is, after all, my business. My clients support me in what I do, and enable me to make my career by writing words about fitness on my site. My job is better than a lot of people’s jobs, and it’s the best job I’ve had so far. About that fact, I can’t complain in the slightest. I'm glad to continue to put out my work if it helps even just one person at a time.
One of the big things I’ve been focusing on this year is pivoting into writing more about the things that interest me in the moment, fitness or otherwise. Stuff like productivity, ethics, the value of hard work vs the value of innate talent, tech, and more have started creeping into my site. Hell, I sometimes just want to write video game reviews.
All the same, people read it, people subscribe - if you build it, they will come. I’ve come to believe that ultimately, so long as you write, and so long as you can do so consistently, people will come, no matter what you’re writing about. GAINS has started turning into just that - a place for me to get out my frustrations and joys on the page, regardless of whether or not it has to do with fitness.
I’ve been considering the concept of goals a lot recently, in large part due to the new years and the resolutions season. It’s common for us, we goal-oriented fitness people, to talk a lot about goals, about what we’re going to accomplish, what we want to do, and so on. I’ve found it so hard to do so, in part because I don’t really know what I want to accomplish this year. The more and more that I think about it, the more and more I relate with that Nate Green post. If anything, I would say that what I want to accomplish this year is balance.
Fitness wise, I’ll probably stop training as a powerlifter. I’ve been training for powerlifting for five years now on top of my previous years of building muscle, and I’ve certainly come near to my genetic limits. At the same time, serious training has meant lots of heavy lifting, exhausting and long workouts, and not much freedom to just have fun in the gym. It’s been a long time since I’ve really been able to do a lot of cardio, and I want to get back to that. I want to consider having another go at serious bodybuilding training, since I haven’t trained seriously as a bodybuilder since long before I was really a good trainer or coach.
I’m still learning Danish as a language, and I’ll probably continue to do so this year. In past years, I’ve generally tried to focus on one language per year, and I don’t really see much of a reason to change that this year.
In terms of my business, of course, I’ll always be trying to expand. I’m always happy to continue to write, to help more people, to work with new clients. But I’ll probably be stepping back a bit, compared to what I’m used to doing. I’ve reached a point at which I’m comfortable. I’ve accomplished most of what I set out to achieve. I’ll be paying off my student loans soon, and that means I’ll have a lot more income to dedicate to investing and saving for the coming year. I'm planning on finishing up a few more paid products, but after that, I'm not sure what else I want to write, fitness wise.
I’m not sure what the next step is. I need time to analyze myself, to figure out where I want to go from here, to assess what I really want to do. As always, I’m so massively grateful for my readers and clients, who make it financially possible for me to explore this journey fully and see where this rabbit hole goes. Whatever the next steps will be, I’d hope you’d be happy to follow me where they lead. If you're interested in supporting my work, as always, you can do so by purchasing my books, applying to work with me as a client, or giving me a few dollars a month on Patreon.
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
“I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”
- Depression and Anxiety
- When I'm Rich and Famous, I'll Give All My Money Away
- I Don't Think We Should Glorify Hard Work
- Is "Ethical Egotism" A Possibility?
- My Single Best Productivity Investment
Ready to be your best self? Check out the Better book series, or download the sample chapters by signing up for our mailing list. Plus, get two free exercise programs: GAINS, a well-rounded program for beginners, and Deadlift Every Day, an elite program for maximizing your strength with high frequency deadlifting.