Reflections on Turning 45

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Birthdays are a convenient time to reflect on the years past and the years ahead. It’s trite to call these milestones arbitrary, whether it’s your birthday, New Year’s, or the spring equinox. Of course they are arbitrary—all calendar dates are. Sure, they’re simple dates that could be substituted with another date if you like, but that’s not the point.

The point is that we ascribe importance to them and they offer us a chance at introspection. And that’s the true value. We all could do with a more regularized opportunity to look within ourselves and see if we are where we want to be, or at least actively working and seeing progress to that point.

I’m heading into one of those discretionary landmarks soon, my 45th birthday.

Being well into statistical middle age happened like James Taylor sang, it “hit me from behind.” It’s astonishing to be in a time of my life where 20 (and more) years ago doesn’t mean I was a child! At 24, I was just starting my career and immersed in learning and growing and understanding. Here I am at 21, but it really feels like just yesterday.

Jarlo in hula costume

Maybe it seems crazy to me because, for the most part, I’ve been doing pretty much the same things for the majority of my life. I started training in martial arts and embroiled myself in physical fitness when I was a teenager. I became interested and obsessed with it then, and for whatever reasons, I continue to be fully immersed in them 30-odd years later.

I’ve been especially fortunate to have established a life where what were initially pastimes turned into fruitful and productive careers.

Journey to GMB

What began as a way to improve my martial arts performance (with high school anatomy and athletic training classes), then morphed into pre-Med and then finally into a Physical Therapy degree. And from there, into helping to found and run a company that draws upon all those experiences. I’m very grateful to be part of a group devoted to helping others understand and improve themselves.

Jarlo Physical Therapy

When I was primarily in clinics/hospitals, I was happy to do what I could to help a handful of people each day. And it does add up—during those 18 odd years, I’ve conservatively had over 30,000 patient interactions. And this is not unique to me; any health care professionals working for this many years interact with at least this many people over the course of a career, my wife and other therapy peers included. Shout out to all of them!

And now, with GMB, we reach multitudes above that.

At the outset of GMB, it was enough to feel like I had something useful to say and share. We started at a time when information wasn’t as readily available as it is now—it was both harder to find and also, unfortunately, of dubious quality. I figured if I could contribute even a little bit of guidance from my education and experiences, it’d be a worthwhile use of my time.

But now, with over 55,000 clients that have used our paid programs, and into the hundreds of thousands that read our articles and watch our videos, the reach of my work still boggles my mind. It’s nice to know I’ve had a hand in helping that many people move and feel better. It’s an important responsibility that I don’t take lightly.

Feedback in the Age of the Interwebz

The positive feedback from emails, social media, messages, etc. is also very gratifying. In our company communication platform, we make sure to share these messages so that everyone sees how we are doing in our mission to change how people see and incorporate physical fitness training to improve their lives. In particularly stressful weeks, this helps us to see we aren’t just shouting into the wind.

And they serve as an especially important reminder when we encounter negative and frankly hostile comments from time to time.

It’s an unfortunate truism now in this age of instant public (and relatively anonymous) communication that quite a lot of people feel the need to speak without any consideration or tact. I’m sure we’ve all experienced, or simply read, comments that range from catty and coarse to outright hateful. And I can’t be alone when I think to myself, why is this so? What’s the reasoning?

Flight of the Concords Why

Well, some people are just terrible. It’s just the reality of it, I’ve treated enough people to know that not everyone is likable (as I’m sure people who work in retail can also attest). But surely, there has to be more to it than that.

In the course of writing articles, and sharing videos and other such posts to help people and share my experiences, I necessarily have to put myself out there, which of course is an invitation for comment and feedback. And this is the way it should be! It’s how we can all engage in useful conversations to help each other learn and grow.

But it also can lead to the aforementioned negative discourse. Whether it’s simply trolling or passive-aggressiveness or full on malice, those voices rise up out of the muck.

Though the majority of comments (thankfully) are positive, in many posts and videos, I’ve also read in various forms that:

  • “Your knees will explode!”
  • “Why can’t you do that on your left leg?”
  • “You’re just showing off. This isn’t helpful.”
  • “No one can do this.”
  • “Anyone can do this.”
  • “This is stupid, you should do this instead.”
  • “What’s with the music?”
  • “Your face is dumb”

Well maybe not that last one, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that soon.

It is a bit understandable, as the topics of physical capability, body image, fighting training, are all primal things that can bring out passionate feelings and responses. A running joke in our company is that if we want more comments, we’ll just post a statement about nutrition (particularly that it’s fine to choose to eat meat).

And perhaps for some people, they think their comments are genuinely helpful. But for most people, I really don’t think that’s the case.

In my opinion, all of this primarily stems from a feeling of insecurity—about our relationships with our physical abilities, our looks, and how we are perceived in the eyes of others. With the unfortunate consequence that life becomes a kind of contest, a zero-sum game in which you think you can only have more if others have less. The feeling of not being able to celebrate others’ accomplishments because it takes away from yours.

This is, of course, very wrong and very unhealthy.

Physical Autonomy and How it Combats Insecurities

Andy Ryan Jarlo Birthday Cake

As the years went by and I gathered more experience, and particularly with the inception and work done by GMB, it appeared that the common denominator in my pastimes/career/raison d’etre is what we’ve termed Physical Autonomy. It’s our somewhat fancy name for having the physical capabilities to perform what is important in our lives.

It seems a simple thing really, that we should train to be able to do what we want to do. It’s like saying the sky is blue. You should eat food and drink water. Never get involved in a land war in Asia!

There’s no end to the positive mental and psychological benefits of participating in meaningful physical practices. We’ve all heard the stories, and likely have some ourselves, of how life-changing and meaningful it is when people have found the type of training, or nutrition, or any other routine that helped them. Taking care of ourselves and improving our capabilities just makes sense.

But much like anything else of value, it’s the details that make the thing. Because oftentimes, what we think we want isn’t necessarily what we really need. Which I think relates to the insecurity and inadequacy which leads to the negativity and default argumentativeness out there. The feeling that life is a competition and you have to be “right” and everyone else is “wrong.”

Everything I’ve experienced and seen over the years demonstrates that the feeling of capability and being “at home” in our bodies is incredibly important, and leads to well-being that goes beyond the physical.

But on the other side of that is when people aren’t able to find what works for them, or perhaps worse, thinking that what they are doing is what they need, yet they are still not truly happy with it.

This is a lot of rambling to say that we need to continually assess what we are doing and see if it genuinely matches what we want from our lives.

If there is a disconnect, then I truly believe there will be an underlying sense of “wrongness” within us, an unconscious feeling of unease that can manifest in many negative ways, including our happiness with ourselves and how we treat others.

Jarlo and Burton Richardson

A milestone like a 45th birthday sparks an occasion of reflection but we don’t need to wait for that, or any other number, to take some time to assess ourselves. It’s for sure very difficult to do this and much messier than just zombie walking through life, but it’s fully worth the effort.

There’s a part of a commencement address I read many years ago by Bill Watterson (the creator of Calvin and Hobbes) and I’ve carried it with me ever since as a reminder, and perhaps it can help you as well.

“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”