Adventures in Growth Mindset & Mastery.

"This is just a ride…"

“Lift Your Soul”. The Unusual People You Meet At The Gym.

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“Hey man, looking good. You’ve lost weight!” he called out from the row machine, with a gregarious smile & thick accent that sounded South American.

“Oh…um, thanks!” I mumbled, startled out of the furious internal monologue I had on the way to the treadmill by such a pleasant comment.

I wasn’t ready for what was going to happen next.

He was one of the gym regulars: the older men who show up so many times they blend into the background. Unlike the younger guys who lift hate, depression, & girl problems along with their weights…there lies a certain sense of calm, of focus, in every one of their reps. They’ve dealt with enough problems & worked out for so long that they’ve claimed the gym as their timeless temple while the machines are treated as passing guests, the free weights as mere ornaments. Regulars, as part of the congregation. Resolutioners, as heathens.

Through their warm ups, lifts, music choice, and the inadvertent eavesdropping from squat rack & locker room conversations, you get to know them. You notice when they struggle to lift a weight they handled easily a few days ago, and wonder if they’ve just had a bad day. You hear about their kids. Their wives or girlfriends, sometimes even boyfriends. Their regrets and worries. Their politics, favorite sports teams & players (also politics), and that one time you just had to be there. Trust me.

You hear about their glory days stories which, throughout the years, have gained such a theatrical flair you can’t tell the difference between the icing and the cake. But in that way only guys know, we didn’t question it & we gave each other space. A way of recognizing each others’ stories, as well as our own. And though we didn’t want to admit it, a way to collectively fight off the terror of fading memories.

The man with the big smile & thick accent was interesting, to say the least. He’s the son of an Egyptian Muslim and Syrian Jew, which explained his curly hair, almond skin, & his disdain for religion. He grew up in Columbia and lived all over the world, from Algeria & Italy to Israel & recently Canada.

A man that well traveled has learned the kind of lessons that make young men like me sit up & pay attention.

We shared our tips & hacks for health, which ranged from modern day techniques to tried-&-true methods from antiquity. Best sore bodies & lactic acid with alka setlzer, drink lots of green tea, eat cinnamon, turmeric, cumin. Try vitamin D3, and only D3. Fish oil. Fish oil. Fish oil. “We come from ancient people,” he mentioned with pride. “Me, Egyptian & Syrian. You, Indian. Stay away from pills as much as you can. Our people have answers for most health problems”. I’m not surprised anymore when people peg my ethnicity correctly.

We shared our thoughts on life, society, culture. Never before have I heard someone speak of consciousness, empathy, spirituality & humanity which such passion. Sure, you see people talk about them in books, in lectures, in TED talks. You see it with friends. But live, in person, from a stranger gym regular methodically doing reps on the row machine? That’s a first.

“You read?” he asked.
“A lot, yeah. At least I try to.”
“Me too. I read for the same reason that I travel. Which is why I never had kids”
“Really? Why’s that?”

Living in a society that tells you to go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, be dependable is the norm. Rationalizing away the act of doing what others tell you as something you were going to do anyway is a tradition. Why have dreams when you can buy more stuff you don’t need? Forget your worries & wants. Forget physical self-mastery by lifting weights & cardio. Eat some junk food. Kill your soul. This message has been brought to you by your mindless, faceless, local fast food restaurant!!! 😉

The tyranny of expectations.

Rejecting that is revolution. A quiet rebellion of an unquiet mind.

It’s something that has been weighing on my heart recently. Something I so want, demand, yearn. Not out of selfishness, but more out of…self-care? Self-interest? Self-actualization. To live life on my own terms.

And every now and then, you meet someone who has lived the life you want to live. I used to think that was a message by the Universe telling me that it’s possible. The older I get, I’m met with a similar yet deeper message: your wants, needs, the aching of your heart, the demands of your mind….you’re not alone. You never were alone.

“Because I wanted to be like Columbus”
“Christopher Columbus?”
“Yesss,” he said through a big grin. “I wanted to learn, to travel, to explore. To find out about the world. About cultures. About myself”

The pounding of feet on treadmills. The hiss of the row machine. Background noises faded in and out as my thoughts filled the pause in conversation.

“You don’t seem to like popular opinion”, he tested. The lines on his forehead showed as he sized me up, but a slight smile gave his position away.
“I don’t. I care about the truth”, I replied, trying to hide the pain all of us endure when faced with the choice of likeability or authenticity.
“What are your questions?”
“My what?”
“The questions that move you. The questions that beg your soul for an answer.”
‘Where am I from? Why am I here? Where am I going?’  Those are mine. I’ve lived a good life because of them”
“…Well, I guess mine are ‘Who am I? What is the truth?‘ “.

He looked away & smiled, knowingly. The fear, the uncertainty, the questions of mad youth were met with the open arms & familiarity of a life well lived. I wanted to ask him if he’s read Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”. Something told me he already has.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, brother”. My hand extended out, the muscles in my palm and forearm primed & ready for the only kind of handshake that exists between men in a gym.

“Pleasure meeting you too”. His hand met mine, but his handshake was measured. Firm, but not strong. Not tender, but not trying either. Confident, like he didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. But aged, by trials & time.

“My name’s Varun. What’s yours?”




Varun Ambrose
January 17th, 2013

*Based on a true story.

Written by Varun

January 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Lessons Learned

One Response

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  1. Powerful post Varun! And once again, you made me think. Specifically about what my own questions are, a big one for me being “What is my destiny?” and whether my destiny meets up with my personal desires, or do they clash?


    January 18, 2013 at 6:20 am

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