The 1 Question Every Person Needs to Eventually Ask Themselves
Summary: This article is going to get to the heart of why fitness matters; really, why anything matters. Please share if you find this inspiring or important.
The other day, Jason Leenarts invited me on his podcast to talk Generalism. (I’ll share the link when it’s available.)
I do between 5 – 10 podcasts per week (not including my own), and often they’re the same sort of thing–blah, blah, blah, bleh, bleh, bleh, Generalism! I’m not complainingt, because I get that not everybody has heard me talk about the things I believe in (Generalism, Minimalism, etc), so while I may be saying the same sort of thing, I get that it’s going to be new to most of whoever’s listening. But this conversation was different. I not only got to talk about Generalism. I also got to talk about God.
The question that brought about all this was, “Why?” As fitness coaches, we often ask these questions of our clients, “Why are you doing this? Why does this matter to you.” We tell those wanting to get in shape that if you’re clear on your why–if you really understand the reason for doing something–you’re going to be much more likely to get through all the parts that nobody particularly enjoys. Parts like waking up early, and hauling your sorry, saggy bum to the gym. Your why is your anchor. It stops you from being taken out by your own excuses into a sea of regret.
So Jason asked me what my why was; he wanted to know what oriented me, what inspired me, what kept me going on all the days I’d rather not. I told him that asking about my why may lead to more of a discussion than what he was ready for. I told him I’d be happy to talk about it, but that it wouldn’t be the usual spiel, probably. He said he wanted to go all the way. So here’s what I told him.
I started by explaining that I’m one of those people who converted to Christianity far later in life than I wish I would have. I told him that I grew up with a strong indifference toward religion, and that Jesus-y people in high school tended to get on my nerves. Maybe it was all the hemp they wore–I don’t know, there was just something about them. (Turns out, a lot of people tended to get on my nerves in high school, only the problem wasn’t them; the problem was me. But we’ll get back to that.) So I said I was mostly agnostic growing up with a hint of Buddhism whenever I felt I needed a little something, something. Buddhism worked for me, because Buddhism didn’t force me to think about the big questions as much. It just gave me something to work on, like meditation.
Fast forward ten years or so, and, after explaining my conversion (I’ll save that story for the actual podcast), I told him that Christianity in no way made my life easier; it only made my life better. I told him that my priorities changed, and that my why shifted dramatically, as well. My mission was no longer for myself. Or, where it was for myself, it was about changing myself, and not getting more nice things for myself.
Here I cautioned the story. I said that part of me feared if I started become less self-centered that I might not get as much done–I might not be as “accomplished.” But only the opposite has been true in fact. Orienting my life around–call them “certain religious values”–has motivated me beyond all want of material things. My productivity and creativity has never been higher, and the reward never so rewarding.
So now we can ask: What, exactly, is my why? It’s simple: To become the type of person other people would want to hang around in heaven. To develop virtues such as compassion, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. Also, faith and charity and hope. I see earth as a training ground. The place to become the person you were meant to be for when you’re stuck with people for all of eternity. This orientation requires a religious perspective, and that’s the point. That’s what changed my everything.
Notice, however, that none of what I’m saying is an argument FOR eternity, God, or any of that. I’m happy to make those arguments, but that’s not what this particularly article is about. This particular article is about how you should live your life on earth, not how you will exist in eternity. Whether or not you believe in anything I’m saying, I’m laying down a practical framework that will fulfill you here and now–not in some afterlife–but today. This is an important distinction. Please keep this clear in your mind.
Before, when I was an agnostic, my why was about getting stuff and getting ahead and staying there. It was about pride and it was about being better than people. Now my life is about creating things and loving people and living in a way that people will want to replicate. I still do a lot of the same things–in fact, I’m doing more than ever–but now I do them for different (and, I think, better) reasons. I’m still pretty self-centered, don’t get me wrong; which reminds me of a mug that my mom got me when I was a boy, that read: “Patrick was a saint–I ain’t.” But I really am working on it.
So the question every person needs to eventually ask themselves is, “Why?” And you need to press that question until you hit the deepest, hardest philosophical bedrock. You can’t stop at, “Because I want to live long,” or, “I want to look good.” Go deeper. Life shouldn’t be lived only on the surface of things. The surface is boring and meaningless. You won’t get very far skimming.
I’m not saying these questions will lead you to Christianity like they did for me, but they will lead you to a point where choices will have to be made, and certain philosophical and/or religious perspectives taken into consideration. And I’m not saying you need to become a Christian to have a deep, meaningful reason for doing things. But I do think you need a view that life is more than just about mere materialism.
And as for fitness, I do think there’s a case to be made, indeed, on “certain religious principles”, for keeping your body in good, strong shape. I told Jason that so long as fitness is inspired by an admiration and protection over the gift that God gave us–that is, the gift of life–then fitness should be pursued eagerly. But as soon as fitness is inspired by self-conceit, something has gone awry. This is why orientation matters.
A final disclaimer: I’m not pushing any religion on you. But I am trying to get you to think why fitness matters–and beyond that, why anything matters. To me, this means asking simple but difficult questions, moving past the level of superficial materiality that most of us are operating on, and looking toward the philosophers and theologians–and not just the coaches and scientists–for some of the answers.