I have been remarkably untouched by tragedy and unwelcome struggle in my life. When I was a teenager my dad went through some health issues that culminated in open heart surgery, but I don’t think I was mature enough to truly appreciate the gravity. That is to the best of my recollection as bad as I’ve ever had it. Really there have been surprisingly few deaths and serious illnesses in people closest to me. I’m incredibly, unspeakably thankful for this.
As a result, by and large I’ve been able to do the work I want to do for my whole life, unhindered by the kinds of things that knock you back on your ass and leave you feeling like it’s an accomplishment just to make it through the day doing basic tasks.
And when I say the work, I’m not talking about the labor you do for a paycheck to pay your bills.
The work might be self-improvement, pursuit of a hobby or skill, playing a sport, daily life tasks like cooking, creative endeavors, getting stronger or any other number of the zillion things the modern human can choose to do. The work is the stuff that matters. Filing your TPS reports or not isn’t the work, that’s bullshit that doesn’t matter. Writing your book, making your art, raising your kids, healing your body, that’s the work.
I’ve been so lucky that I’ve pretty much always gotten to choose the work.
And so, it was quite the punch in the gut when on the same day that one of my very best friends started chemo for an aggressive cancer – one of my dogs, Franklin, became completely paralyzed in all 4 limbs by a sudden neuromuscular disease of unknown origin.
The work that my friend wanted to do for the next several months is not to go through chemotherapy and various other treatments, while spending every waking moment thinking about cancer, learning about cancer, waiting for forks in the road, and making tough decisions.
But it’s the work now.
The work I wanted to do for the next several months is not to carry my dog around the house because he can’t walk, and to put diapers on him because he can’t stand to pee, to say nothing of the possibility of having to say goodbye. If he has a chance at running around wagging his tail again it sounds like lots of physical therapy will be a part of it. It’s not the #project I planned for the summer.
But it’s the work now.
The other day, as I was going to the store to buy some PVC parts to make Franklin a cart, I got a message from someone who had read my deadlift book, Off The Floor. He gave me permission to share a screenshot, but I’ll paraphrase instead for brevity. “David, I herniated S1 and L5 and things were terrible. I’m a paramedic so my job was harder. I stopped lifting and doing jiu-jitsu, my hobby, completely. I heard about your book, bought it, and learned about how to test things. I started doing that and it is fixing me. I’ve found certain deadlifts are the only ones that test well, and how to modify my squat for it to test well. I have days where I forget I have a problem. Soon I’m going to start BJJ again. You’ve completely changed my quality of life, and I don’t even think about drugs or surgery anymore.”
Being in back pain is terrible, I’ve been there. And the impetus is to do nothing. It’s the leading cause of disability worldwide for good reason. You just don’t want to do anything when you’re in that kind of pain. But as best as we can tell doing the right type of movement is one of the few things that is correlated with resolving back pain, and from all of my experience what I can tell is using biofeedback testing is the best way to figure out what the right movement is.
The thing to me that’s remarkable about his story is that he did the work. He did the work, I’m going to do the work, and my friend is going to do the work.
There are two sides of this coin I call the work. It’s like a 2×2 matrix of choice. It can choose you or you can choose it, and you can choose to do it or not to do it. Man, when you can, do as much of the work you choose as you possibly can. Make your time count. Don’t waste it.
When the work chooses you, well, you don’t have to do it. You can choose not to.
But, you can be sure of one thing, there’s nothing on the other side.