Engage and Change

I want to start by saying that I’m in a bit of a rough place right now. Also, sorry for how long this is.

For anyone who might not know, I’m a recent college graduate. Since I graduated in May, I’ve interviewed for but not been selected for three different positions, moved the love of my life back to school as we start a long-distance relationship, and the start date on the retail job I have managed to get as a temporary position has been pushed back by two weeks now. As such, I feel like I’m freeloading on my parents, I’m failing my girlfriend by not providing for the future, and I don’t have much to take up my time other than looking for jobs and sitting around the house. I don’t say all of this in order to try and make you pity me, I just want you to know what my situation has been recently.

One of the things that I’ve decided to do in order to get myself doing something is exercise. Growing up, I had a very strong metabolism, to the point where I was actually almost under weight. But in the past year or so, while I’m still in a healthy range of what I should weigh, I’ve put on a little bit of a gut.

As you might guess, exercising wasn’t really something I did much, and consequently, I never really learned how to exercise, if you understand what I mean. Sure, run, lift weights, grunt a lot, I get that. But I didn’t really understand what I should do, how I should do it, etc. This has always been something that kept me from wanting to go to the gym even when I was uber skinny, because I didn’t want to look like a weak fool who didn’t know what he was doing.

But I figured that since today was a Tuesday morning, most people would either be at work or school, and I might have the place to myself. So this morning, I found myself a nice, two dollar personal trainer app that would help guide me through some workouts, I laced up my sneakers, and I went to the free community gym at the neighborhood clubhouse.

When I got there, it was just me and one other guy who looked about my age. However, while my body generally looks like a pile of cooked noodles, this guy was definitely a regular. He wasn’t at a Schwarzenegger level, but much closer to how I wish that I looked. The app told me to start with some cardio, so I hopped on the treadmill and ran, one of the only forms of exercise I’ve usually been good at.

As I ran, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be free of my own self-made embarrassment when I started working out, because this guy was a pro. He was busting out set after set, listening to his music and concentrating on nothing but what he was doing. Meanwhile, I was becoming more and more demoralized. I realize it’s foolish to expect to look like this guy when I’ve never really worked out before, but my arms have always been extremely long and lanky. I think I’d feel better if I had some meat on my bones I needed to burn off, because then they could at least look like they had some muscles. But with my stick-thin frame, I felt like I’d look like dry spaghetti, ready to snap as soon as I started lifting. (Quick sidebar, that’s unintentionally the second pasta reference I’ve already made. This is most likely why I’ve gained a gut, whoops.)

So, I finish running, and by this point, I really feel bad about myself. I did just fine running, but I don’t want to now struggle in front of this guy who is working harder than Rocky in those montages. I convince myself that nothing will get done if I leave now, and so I decide to stay and try. The first workout that the app tells me to do is just some simple dumbbell bench presses, but with the bench at angle downward so it’s more work (I guess?). I get the weights and go to the bench, and that’s when I realize that this cheaply-stocked gym bench doesn’t move, and that’s that.

At that point, Samson walks over to put back one of the weights he’s using. For no real reason at all, I was expecting him to chuckle at me or say something to discourage me, this puny guy who was making a fool of himself. Fearing dejection, I went back to looking at the bench even though I knew it wouldn’t move, when he stopped and took off his headphones and asked if I needed any help. Following the brief mental sigh of relief that he wasn’t some juiced-up jock, I asked him if the bench would move at all. With a genuinely kind smile, he laughed and told me, “No, this cheap gym is too basic for something like that.”

Slightly embarrassed at still feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing, I chuckled, and he asked if I was okay; that perhaps I wanted to use the bench press machine instead? I eked out a smile, and told him that I was good, I would just do it a bit different instead. With the seriousness of a friend, the stranger told me that if I needed anything, he’d be glad to help, saying it in a way that sounded both authentic and humble at the same time. I thanked him, and we both went about our workouts. He left before I finished, and as he walked out, he said to me in an intentional manner, “Take care of yourself, man.”

This stranger didn’t change my life in some drastic way. We didn’t have a deep heart to heart, neither of us cried, he didn’t become my best friend that will now always motivate me to work out. My day still isn’t perfect, and I’m not sitting around smiling all day. Because to be honest, more often than not, that’s the stuff of movies. Life can be tough and hard sometimes, and you’re not always going to have someone or something awesome happen to your life and make everything better in an instant.

But that doesn’t negate the fact that his little bit of willingness to help did give me a bit of a confidence boost, enough to stay and finish the workout that I needed to do. So often, I think we hear these stories of extraordinary people who magically change the lives of everyone they come into and interact with for the better, and we feel like we’re not doing enough to make the world a better place. At least I feel that way at times. But this stranger’s simple act of checking on me motivated me enough to stay and try to better myself.

This isn’t really a call to action, some mandate to go out there and radically revolutionize the world in an impressive, newsworthy way. Simply engage with and encourage people around you, and you can make a real change in the lives of individuals around you, regardless of how “large” of a difference it might be. You don’t have to be some superhuman philanthropist to make a change. Simply be a Good Samaritan in how you live your life on a daily basis, and you’ll leave this world having made it better.