As a lifelong competitive athlete and self-proclaimed gym rat, I’ve always prided myself on the ability to outperform the vast majority of those around me. Sounds a bit arrogant, I know. Combined with half-way decent genetics, incessant hardheadedness and a childhood physical training regiment parallel to that of Michael Jackson’s youth, life hasn’t worked out half bad for me thus far.
Yes, Context Matters…
One of my favorite childhood memories - the list, of which, is quite limited - is the story of my pops telling me how, for his third birthday, he received his first pair of leather boxing gloves from his father, the former heavyweight champ of Palestine. For context, my pops too would go on to have a very successful career as a life-long boxer before so graciously bestowing upon me, at the age of three, a pull-up bar. Legos - mmm not so much. Hot wheels - that’s cute, but no. Lincoln logs - that’s for sure out. A pull-up bar on the other hand… that, my friends, is what every three year old boy needs in his life to better cultivate emotional health and well-being. Ding, ding, ding… toxic masculinity: 1, Austin: 0
No, in all seriousness, I really do appreciate the hard work ethic that was instilled in me at such a young age through sports. Did it come at a cost? Yes, undeniably so. However, I also know that it’s a huge part of how I came to cultivate my stick-to-itiveness and grit - two qualities that I hope to never lose.
Was the old man’s approach a bit well, “off”? Without question. But I know now that he meant well, and I also know that it was his way of communicating his love to me at the time. After all, it was all he knew. It was how he was socialized by his father before him, and well, we all know the saying… The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Fallen apples look up to the trees they’ve fallen from. After all, we are a part of them, and there’s a natural order as to why we seek the approval of that which we emanate from.
Fast forwarding to today… Every time I step foot into a gym, I do so with the intention of strengthening my mind and my body. How you workout - the intensity you bring forth - is arguably more important than the working out itself. In particular, I make it a point to always focus on the areas that I’m most deficient in. Upper chest is looking a little underdeveloped… that’s okay, let’s put in some extra work. Calves - let’s go! Regardless of whether it’s for performance reasons or purely aesthetics, symmetry and balance are key! And yet, despite the fact that I’m well aware of said notion, I continue to neglect the most important muscle of all - my heart.
I suppose, there’s an infinite number of reasons as to why that might be. Is it that I’ve become so consumed by shallow egoism amidst the social media era and my constant desire to be seen? Is it because deep down I’m seeking validation in order to fill the insatiable empty void of lovelessness left behind from whatever early childhood shit I’ve yet to confront? Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that plays a fairly significant part. But it’s more than that y’all...
We, as a society - in particular, when it comes to our young men - DO NOT value emotional well-being and mental health to the same degree that we do physical well-being and physical health. Our priorities are COMPLETELY ass backwards. We were all born into the systems, constructs, and values that we’re born into. And if you’re lucky enough to, you might spend the entirety of your life working to “unlearn” everything goddamn thing you’ve been taught. Wow, does that sound depressing. No, that my friends is the whole point - that’s education. Learning to “unlearn” and question EVERYTHING, only to then rebuild, reshape, and reconstruct yourself in a slightly healthier and more advanced way than the version of ourselves before that.
If I spent half as much time flexing my heart as I did my biceps, surely I’d be a happier, more whole and increasingly more self-actualized.
Prioritize Your “Vur-pees”
This past Friday, I was doing my bi-weekly morning check-in with my therapist, and as the conversation began to unfold, we suddenly found ourselves talking about this very subject - “flexing” our hearts. After a bit of harmless back and forth banter and giggles, she mentioned the word “Vur-pees.” I looked at her through the computer screen, paused with a seemingly perplexed look across my brow, and said, Vur-pee what lol!? Her response: “You know, it’s like a burpee but instead of an actual physical burpee, a vulnerability burpee! You gotta work that heart out the same way you do that body!”
After a moment of laughter and smiles, I looked at her and said, “you know what, thank you. I think you’ve just given me an idea for my blog-post this week!” Vur-pees! ***Let the record note, it has officially been coined a term as of today. The credit, of which, goes exclusively to my therapist, whose name will not be mentioned for privacy purposes. The only credit I desire is for readers to bring forth and manifest this term - conceptualize it - into your way(s) of knowing and being. Deal!
Each and every single day, I want you to ask yourself, “have I done my vur-pees today?” I can’t emphasize it enough… PRIORITIZE. YOUR. VUR-PEES! I want you to treat that shit like it’s bout’ to be Monday-chest at the gym and you can’t wait to run in there on some pre-workout after a shitty day in the office. Yes, prioritize it that much! Our mental and emotional health is a code red crisis alert, and I need us - men especially - to start thinking of it that way.
Look, I’m no expert. In fact, I couldn’t be further from it.. I’ve seen doorknobs with a higher emotional IQ than myself five years ago. The only difference between me and a lot of other young men is that I’ve taken it upon myself to consistently show up and do “the work” of unlearning what it means to be a man. And believe me when I say, I have messed up more times than I can count. But that’s okay. Give yourself grace. This is hard work! There is no finish line... It’s not a point at which you ever arrive, so don’t expect to “fix” yourself. That’s not the point nor the intention.
Rather, it’s an infinite, lifelong journey. A path that you will fall off of every single day, at which point, you must proceed to pick yourself back up and course-correct. Get back on your path and keep walking, keep exercising, and keep doing “the work.” KEEP DOING YOUR VUR-PEES. I promise you… the strength of your heart and emotional well-being will FAR outweigh that of any other muscle group you’ve ever trained. The payoff is worth it y’all.