“Life is a book with many chapters”, my Mother would tell me as I riddled her ears with my stories of life’s frustrations. In these moments, from the time I was a kid to an adult, I always expected her to give me the golden key to relieve my frustration and she would usually say “Life is a book with many chapters” followed by “And a new one will start soon.” To be honest, this only added to my frustration but still, in appreciation, I did the customary head-nod and thanked her. Initially, I thought the phrase was cliché and despite hearing it all my life, I never reflected on the significance of her words, until now.
As I’ve matured, I now deeply reflect on my “storied life” and I must say, my Mother was completely right (don’t tell her I said that, she hears this too much 👍 ). Life is indeed full of chapters and at this very moment, I can pinpoint the various chapters closing in my life. The special thing about these chapters is that they were tied to a close relationship, a former career path, changes in my health, which impacted my overall identity.
Chapter 1: Relationship
The first chapter in my life that recently concluded is my past relationship, which lasted for almost 4 years. The relationship started as a friendship and blossomed to cohesiveness, support, love, and respect. Through undergrad and post-undergrad, my identity was tied to her and I was proud of that. Within the third year of the relationship, the drive to work at the relationship was gone. I tried so hard to maintain the passion for the relationship, but it simply was not there anymore. Over time, the drive and passion within me to sustain the relationship faded and we ultimately reverted to a friendship. This relationship is/was difficult to let go of because it was the first time I was in love, but it also was the first time I fell out of love. But I reflect on the joyous moments we had, what I learned from her and our time together, and how I can be a better partner in the future.
Chapter 2: Career Aspirations
“Atten-hut!!” The military, oh sweet military! My high school offered a JROTC program and I initially had no interest in joining since my Brother had joined years before. I didn’t want to copy him, but I saw the positive impact it had on his life, so I enrolled in the program. Over time, a faithful step became an all-out lunge. I embedded myself in every aspect of the program and for the first time in my life, I felt like I mattered and yes, the trophies, awards, and ribbons validated my efforts. I needed this external validation because internally I was still recovering from the years of bullying. I latched onto the military because in middle school I had no foundational center. In middle school, my identity and worth were determined by other people as I was bullied throughout most of my time. I desperately needed something, anything, to help build my self-worth, self-esteem, and self-respect.
In high school, I was obsessed with joining the military. I read military manuals for fun, ruck marched on the weekends, watched military movies such as Patton, Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers continuously, and talked non-stop about my plans to join the Army Special Forces and Ranger Battalion. I wanted to shoot guns, jump out of planes, and travel the world. As I stayed in the JROTC program throughout my high school career, my confidence was cemented, and I viewed a military career as the ideal option.
I then attended college and learned more about the military-industrial complex, observed the volatile national and international political arena, exposed myself to different career options, and reflected on my lifestyle goals (religion, values, family, health, finances, etc.). The high-speed military career I desired as a teenager no longer aligned with who I was and where I wanted to go as an adult. The military training definitely bettered me in a multitude of ways, but I was no longer the high school kid who obsessed over military movies and read military manuals for fun!
Despite my moment of clarity, after college, I attempted to delve back into that side of myself for a few months. Each day I had to convince myself the hard-charging military lifestyle is what I wanted, but deep down inside it wasn’t. This part of me was difficult to move away from because it was the one thing that brought me back to life from years of bullying. The military gave me confidence and was the first thing I truly excelled at. As I’ve matured, my confidence is now based on who I am and not who I was.
Chapter 3: Health
“Man, I am sore.” “Goodness, my back is aching. Why did I do that workout yesterday.” Over the past couple of years, I would say this to myself each morning after long and arduous workouts. In high school I wrestled, did CrossFit (multiple times a day), ran and in college, I played rugby, ran some more, and did CrossFit (once again, multiple times a day). As a teenager, I could recover in less than 8 hours. Each day, I would concoct and complete these workouts that would be fatigue-driven and most of the time, the end result would have me covered in sweat and collapsing to the floor. I always felt alive after an intense workout and I was addicted to the feeling of exhaustion, but a price comes with that type of lifestyle and exercise program.
I have paid the price for those high-speed workouts involving high-impact and dynamic movements such as snatches, cleans and presses, muscle-ups and more. Honestly, I wasn’t trained in any of these movements. I just simply mimicked CrossFit training videos on YouTube. Speedily completing workouts with half-ass form have resulted in knee issues, rotator cuff tears, and tendonitis. I made the mistake for doing these movements without any proper training.
Two years ago, I was invited to an open gym CrossFit workout and as an experienced CrossFitter and a gym-aholic, I was ready! Looking back at it now, I would have questioned the trainer who created the workout for the day. The workout was full of different complex movements. Completing complex weighted movements over a long period of time while fatigued while trying to out-do yourself and others is a horrible idea. Especially, if the movements are targeting one specific area of the body for hundreds of reps. A challenging workout and an ill-planned workout are two separate things. After completing the workout, I felt my endorphins rushing but I did not imagine how sore and how much pain I would be in the next day. My knees and back screamed in agony each time I walked upstairs, sat at my desk, and laid down. Then it hit me. I knew that I could no longer do these types of workouts. The risk to reward ratio was too high and I was already facing injuries from a lifetime of sports.
It was time for me to take my exercise regimen in my own hands. I researched and learned from experts such as Steve Maxwell, Paul Chek, Firas Zahabi, Ido Portal, and Science for Sport. I learned about movement, nutrition, rest and recovery techniques. My motto is: functionality + form = longevity. No longer do I push myself to exhaustion each workout and my nutrition, rest and exercise are regimented. Now that I am older, I had to accept that my body is actually changing as I cannot recover so effortlessly like before.
It was a shock as I laid in my bed realizing that I really can’t do those crazy workouts anymore. When I was younger, I prided myself on doing long, sweat-inducing workouts. The extreme workouts gave me extreme confidence as I pushed pass so many barriers daily but as mentioned above, it all came with a price. I have learned to work smarter and for longevity, not for the constant “burn.”
Each of the chapters mentioned above was part and parcel of who I was. The whole of my being was centered on it all and when these chapters closed, I initially felt off-balanced in my life. At times, I would travel back to what was most familiar and place my energy in those areas, but it just wasn’t working anymore. It was like watering a garden that refused to blossom.
In an effort to find an answer, I meditated for hours, wrote out vision boards, watched motivational videos, talked to family, you name it, I did it! While meditating, my Mother’s words hit me, “Life is a book with various chapters and a new one will start soon” and that was the moment of clarity I needed. I acknowledged and accepted the fact that those various chapters of my life ended and there was no going back. Yes, they are a part of me, but it is, in fact, the past and what I must focus on are the present and the future.
The great thing about when chapters end in life, we each have the opportunity to write the next chapter of our lives. It’s okay every now and then to revisit the past but it’s not a place to take up residence. It’s a drop-in every now and then. This new chapter of your life is a blank canvas and you can paint it however you want!
Are there chapters in your life that have closed but you continue to hold on? Are there chapters that need closing? What would make the next chapter of your life better than the previous one?
Photo Credit: Tahar Ali. “Which Chapter Are You On?” January 11th, 2019.