Jul 22, 2019
Lately, I've been thinking quite a bit about life. I've been engaged in some deep introspection and self-inspection, which I think is healthy for everyone to do on a regular basis. In this case, I was forced into this exercise of self-examination, and into a state of extreme humbleness and ego dissolution when I failed to complete a recent event.
See, during the Train to Hunt National Championships in Colorado, I came down with an extremely high heart rate, dizziness, extreme fatigue, and an inability to simply put one foot in front of the other. This was likely a combination of pushing myself too hard lately (in both work and travel), along with mild jet lag from having just returned from Europe, the 9700 foot altitude of the race that I hadn't had a chance to prepare for, and a cluster of other emotional factors (feeling guilty about being away from my kids again, missing my wife, feeling too distant from my company Kion) that basically left me dropping out of the race, and lying in my hotel room bed for about twelve hours, barely able to sleep, staring at the ceiling, and thinking generally about life.
This is what I posted on Instagram about it.
It wretched my heart to have to drop out of the Train To Hunt National Championships competition this weekend. Although I didn't wake up feeling 100% I never imagined I wouldn't make it through the day. I am a firm believer in the sage wisdom that "Pain Is Temporary, But Quitting Lasts Forever". And I’ve only ever had one DNF in my life. However, in this case in very high altitude and extreme heat, my body and brain were sending me every signal that I needed to hit the brakes hard - shortness of breath, very high heart rate, numb hands and feet, extreme dizziness - the works. Feeling like this, I made it through the first several hours of the competition, but realized at that point I needed to live to fight another day. I never like it when I can't "represent" on the field of battle the way I should be able to, but I know when I need to stop before I do lasting damage. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in action soon!
A post shared by Ben Greenfield (@bengreenfieldfitness) on Jul 15, 2019 at 9:16pm PDT
As I lay there with a journal, a bottle of water, and a plate of kiwi fruit (about all I could find that was healthy to eat in the local area), I had some interesting thoughts that I think you may find valuable for your own life, and give you deeper insight into where I'm coming from, and where I plan to go in the future.
Now one thing that you need to understand is that I'm a fan of personality tests. It's something that we are actually very big on at Kion: everyone takes an Enneagram,and my personal Enneagram score puts me in a very, very high category of a what's called a Perfectionist (type 1)and an Achiever (type 3).
That is a pretty dang dangerous one-two combo (or I suppose in this case, a one-three combo) because, as you can imagine, this causes me to expect a lot of myself in every task that I attempt to perform while simultaneously taking on a lot of tasks all at once. That's an exhausting combination that in many people can lead to burnout, into spinning too many plates at once, and into trying to do everything that you're doing (which is often too many things) perfectly. This means that you do everything with near-perfect precision but have zero time left over for relaxation, for hobbies, for family, or for self-care, or...
...perfection becomes impossible to sustain, projects begin to decline in quality, and all those plates you're spinning crash to the ground, then eventually you crash to the ground too.
In addition, the Achiever personality type on the Enneagram dictates that one who fits that profile tends to try to be who others expect them to be, or at least who they think that others expect them to be. As a matter of fact, the direct quote from the Enneagram is that...
..."in the headlong rush to achieve whatever they believe will make them that more valuable, Achievers can become so alienated from themselves that they no longer know what they truly want or what their real feelings are. Thus, the deeper problem is that their search for a way to be of value increasingly takes them further away from their own essential self with its core of real value. Step-by-step, their own inner core - their heart's desire - is left behind until they no longer recognize it."
Now that problem, combined with the perfectionist mentality, can create a person who tries very, very hard to seek the approval of others, to be perfect, to try to be someone they're not and to neglect what makes them truly happy. And frankly, I feel like I've begun to slip into that scenario myself. That's not to say it's wrongto want to achieve excellence in things. Nor is it to say it's wrongto want to achieve great things in life and create a lasting impact. Indeed, when steered in the right direction in a state of true authenticity and also a state that enables one to accept the fact that they cannot be perfect, one can go on to achieve great things as an Achiever and a Perfectionist.
But in my case what I've done to myself is this: I've built constant 24/7 pressure to do many things all at once - to be fit as a fiddle for my next event, to be a CEO of a massively expanding supplements company, to complete a huge book, to be on an airplane nearly every week to give a speech, to juggle podcast appearances, podcast production, article writing, article editing, to maintain attempts to write fiction and make music simultaneously, to coach ten different executives and CEOs and athletes who rely on me for advice, and to try to fit in time with family and spiritual growth in the process.
For example, take the constant pressure I place on myself to be on the "pointy-edge" of fitness. In the past, I have told others (I think in partial error) that in order to drive you to be motivated to be fit, you must always be signed up for something that slightly scares you, pushes you to the cliff edge of fear, or challenges you while pushing you far outside your comfort zone—and while this can be healthy, in some cases it can backfire. In my case this means, that I'm finding myself no longer able to travel and spend time with my family without waking up an hour early to crush the gym, to sit in a movie without feeling like I should be out training, to enjoy life without simply thinking about whether or not I'll be ready to represent on the starting line of a race, and to do just about anything without the thought at the back of my mind that I need to be that perfect person who inspires others to greatness and must be able to perform at the drop of a hat.
It's been that way for a long time. Whether I'm competing in tennis tournaments, bodybuilding, water polo, volleyball, cycling, triathlons, obstacle course races or anything else, there's never really been a time since I was thirteen years old that I haven't had some type of event I was preparing for, or that I haven't worn the mask of an athlete, a competitor, a gladiator, or a warrior.
In addition to feeling the pressure to be fit for the next event, I often also feel that I need to project the perfect person to the world: the perfect skin with no crow's eyes and no suspicion from anyone that anything I'm doing in the anti-aging department isn't working, the perfect six-pack abs, rippling muscles, extreme fitness and everything that I've grown to define myself as...
...because I'm under the impression that that's who the world expects me to be. To dig myself even deeper into that while all my bios, and all the information about me you can find on the internet, or when I'm getting up on stage to speak, are not focused on whether I'm smart or intelligent or witty or studious or any of those things that I try to try to maintain and pride myself on, but instead: what sets this guy apart is that he's the Ironman triathlete, the masochistic globetrotting adventurer, and the man who's able to handle any physical obstacle. I truly feel like that has dug me into this hole of needing to be that person—that hard-charging, high-achieving CEO with the chiseled chin who can handle anything life throws at them and simultaneously kick your ass in a 10K, triathlon, the gym, or anywhere else.
Well, let me tell you something: that's exhausting to constantly be that person, and I often feel like I'm a failure if I'm notachieving. I feel like I'm a failure if I'm just lying around reading a work of fiction or watching a movie with my children. In that scenario, I feel as though I'm somehow shorting myself and not being that person who I'm called to be. And sure there's somewisdom to that: there's somewisdom to the idea that you don't want to laze around and spend your time unwisely; but at the same time that mentality can be taken to the extreme, and it can very much affect those around you because they sense that what you'd rather be doing is figuring out a way to make yourself even more perfect and go out and achieve even more.
But what's interesting is when I wrote my entire Lifebooklast year—a book that dictated everything I hold dear in life, the mark I want to make upon the world, what will be written on my tombstone, and much more—frankly, being an extreme athlete wasn't really a big part of that book. Sure, I did include the fact that I think it's important that I occasionally go out and engage in challenging adventures like climbing a mountain or swimming in an icy cold river or doing something that makes me a little bit physically uncomfortable—and I think that's fine.
However, I think that my life has become skewed much too far in that direction, and the other elements of my Lifebook that I dictated that I hold dear—such as being in a community and forming close friends and building quality relationships and spending more time with my children and immersing myself in nature and building my spiritual self—have been allowed to fall by the wayside because there simply isn't enough time to do all that and also push my body to the absolute limits with exercise, travel, and work.
It's a vicious cycle, isn't it? Race, achieve, project the perfect person, post that person to Instagram, rinse, wash, repeat.
But when I stop and ask myself: what do I really want? What do I really want?And even more importantly, what would God want of me? Well, in this stage of my life, after a deep amount of introspection the past couple days, I can especially tell you that, in addition to simply spending more time with my children, with my wife, and forming deep, meaningful relationships with other people, I want the following...
...I want to be more present in my local community: I want to know my neighbor's names, I want to attend events in my local community, and I don't want to feel like I have to hop on a plane or go to a conference or go to a mastermind or go to a meet-up in order to be with my friends. Instead, I want to build ties and roots in my local community...
...furthermore, I want to be able to help people without feeling rushed. I want to be able to find out about, for example, an opportunity to go play my guitar at a nursing home or go volunteer at a park cleanup, or go help out at my church, or go do other things that involve helping others—and not look at my calendar and think "Well crap, I can't do that because I've stretched myself too thin, I'm busy and I'm in some other state, some other country, or some other nation far from my home." I'm not saying that I don't want to still travel the world and help people and use the platform that God has given me in that way to affect global change in people's lives when it comes to their health and fitness and longevity and spirituality and happiness—but again, there's an imbalance. I have almost no ties in my local community...
...I want to spend more time in nature, but not time in nature as a workout or time in nature being crushed in a race. I just want to be able to go out and learn more of plants, of plant medicine, of hunting, of tracking, of trekking, of building with my hands, of spending time in sunshine and fresh air and water because I want to and not because I'm there to run intervals or to post an Instagram story about how good I am at wild edible identification. Instead, I want to be able to enjoy nature for the simple sake of nature...
...I want to participate in sports without the feeling that everything has to be a workout. I want to play tennis like I did when I was a kid for hours, where I was just hitting balls and having fun with my friends. I want to be able to swim and hike and even lift weights and go to the gym, which I love to do, but without the pressure of it needing to be an absolute sufferfest because I have some event I'm supposed to be in peak physical fitness for...
...I want to care for my spirit and build my spiritual muscles in the same way I've built my physical body. I want to wake up in the morning and know that I have the time to pray and to meditate, to grow more deeply in my relationship to God, to memorize Scriptures, and even to fast. I've said this before, but there are many times when I want to fast and I want to to take care of my body in that way (almost as a religious practice), but can't because, yet again, I must dump calories down the hatch to be ready for the next workout and to get me fueled for the next hardcore masochistic event...
...I want to have the freedom, flexibility, and time to be able to devote focused, deep work and excellence into building my company Kion, and not feel as though it's a rushed afterthought because there are so many other items on my plate or because I feel like my company expects me to be out working out or buffeting my body so I can go be the big, perfect frontman face of the company. I want to build a company that will change the world, and me running around in the forest with my shirt off throwing spears at shit isn't really a sustainable, scalable way to make that happen, no matter how many likes it gets on social media to drive traffic to a product...
...and finally, I want to do what I know truly makes me happy and has made me happy since I was a child. I want to write and play more music and I want to write and read more fiction. Both of those things are elements that I draw a great deal of happiness out of, and that might sound selfish, but I want to create music that makes people happy. I want to write books that tell the hero's journey and inspire people. And I don't want every piece of content I create to be about the next injectable anti-aging molecule or pill you can pop or biohacked workout, but instead perhaps just a nice story about a princess, an elf, and a dragon that makes children smile.
So when I close my eyes and I see myself five years from now, I've achieved that balance. I have friends and relationships and local community and volunteering and time with my family. I have a deep relationship with every plant in my backyard and the acreage around my house and I actually know the names of all our Nigerian dwarf goats and I help my wife with planting the garden and tending to the fruit trees. I'm still enjoying physically challenging events, and I'm still a healthy human specimen, but not in the way I've been doing it—not as a hardcore athlete, but instead as someone who enjoys physical culture because it makes them feel good, not because they have the pressure to perform. I want to transition from being an athlete to being a mentor, a teacher, and a well-rounded person who enjoys and has time for other aspects of life.
I'm telling you all this so that you can simply know my position, so that you can know where I'm coming from, and so that as you see me evolve over the next several months and years, you can realize that I still have a deep desire to explore the depths of performance and fitness and health and longevity and biohacking and beyond, but in a balanced manner that doesn't turn me into a person who is simply sitting on a plane, lonely and banging out yet another article on biceps and abs while I travel to a conference to speak to a group of people and foster the relationships I've built afar because I don't have any back home.
I simply can't take the pressure of being that perfect person any longer, and I realized that the pressure that I've placed upon myself to climb Mount Everest every day is not truly making me happy. I don't want to be that alpha male with the yin dominance and huge bank account, but with tired eyes and a wife and children who resent him. I don't want to be full of sadness or regret on my deathbed because in the end I really just made a lot of money and did some hard things but never actually built a lasting, meaningful legacy, changed people's souls, made my family happy, or took time myself to smell the roses and savor life.
So I'm in a transitional phase. Yes there are certain obligations that I have committed to this year such as competing in some obstacle course races and doing some physically challenging events; but after that, I really truly want to focus more on simply enjoying life with far less of the extreme pressure and on building a platform of balanced health, longevity, adventure, joy, and fulfillment in life for myself and for others.
And that's why I've created this article for you: so that you can understand where I'm coming from and perhaps so that you can learn a few things about yourself in the process. So I thank you for reading all this. I hope it's given you a little bit of perspective on who I am and where I'm coming from and where I plan to go.