NO STRAIGHT ANSWERS • HEAD COACH XN'S BLOG

​Head Coach and Next Level founder Christian Matyi – a/k/a "XN" – gives notoriously complex answers to even the most simple of questions.  He'd always rather you "think more" than "know more." So you can only imagine what'll happen when there wasn't any question even asked . . . 

You never know what his many years of coaching will inspire him to claim as "relevant" to your progress. 

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Competing to gain is better than competing to win.

Why are you competing?  No really, why?  I mean, if you're not competing in a contest any time soon, this question may not seem to apply to you.  Unless, of course, you're instead trying to get a better job.  Or a good grade.  Or jockey for attention of a mate.  Yeah, most of us are kind of competing.

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From Mr. Scott, Mr. Olympia and Mr. Corey: Shame The F#@% On You

I originally had no interest in bodybuilding.  Absolutely none.  

When I discovered lifting, I fell in love with it.  I fell in love with the process.  I fell in love with the results.  (Duh.)  I was fascinated by the culture.  I admired the practices of physique athletes.  But even with all that love, I had none for the competitive sport.  In fact, I never really understood the sport, and so beyond just disinterest I also had a bit of revulsion.  

Scratch that; I had a lot of revulsion towards it.    Bodybuilding, to me, seemed weird.  And I'm weird.  So if a thing seems weird to me, it seems ESPECIALLY weird. 

And still does.

And yet I am now a competitive bodybuilder. I guess I am a bit of a hypocrite.  So shame the fuck on me, right?

But "normal folks" have to interest in the sport of bodybuilding either.  It is fringe.  It is quirky.  It is esoteric.  So my shame is mitigated; I was in the majority; my take was the common take. And while many people admire the look of a sculpted, muscular physique, only a few find the pursuit of it to be much beyond a frivolity; certainly not important for the "big concerns" of life.

The first eve Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott.  While only a footnote in the broad history of muscle culture, he is nonetheless a bro in the eyes of many who are part of that culture.

This morning, I discovered my attitude has not much changed in the over two decades that I have become a competitor, a coach, a reference in the sport.  it was proven to me win I learned that an icon of the sport's American history had passed away.  And I thought: "Holy crap, XN!  You didn't know?  Shame the fuck on you!"

Now, again in my defense, the name Larry Scott is not hardly a household one.  Th average person on the street will more than likely not know the name, and if they do it is just random trivia – certainly not known for some relevant place Mr. Scott holds in the cultural fabric.  And, if we really push the issue, he wasn't super-relevant unto himself.  

The Mr. Olympia . . . is a “proof of concept,” but not the concept itself. And thus Mr. Scott will forever be a name on a list rather than character of heritage; he was a player of the game but not nearly the rulemaker.

Larry Scott was a footnote in a much larger and more complex cultural history.  He was the first to ever have the title which is now at the center of a media propaganda empire: Mr. Olympia.  And while endless discussions and accounts can uphold muscle culture and bodybuilding as a major cultural shaper (pun intended) in the American pop landscape, The Mr. Olympia itself is merely a detail; it is a "proof of concept," but not the concept itself.  And thus Mr. Scott will forever be a name on a list rather than character of heritage; he was a player of the game but not nearly the rulemaker.

"The Golden Boy" of competitive bodybuilding.

But this is not to say he was not important to many pool in his career in the sport.  Since the 1965 Olympia title he won, he has been idolized by many who admire muscle, and even more by those who seek to craft their own.  He was "The Golden Boy."  He was a legend within a sport's culture.  He was a hero.  And I am force to admit this because that is how I learned of his passing.  I am not someone who spends much time groping about the internet and newsstands for the lats bodybuilding news.  However, being in a central spot of a big community, I learn fast when big news goes down.

The death of Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia, is try big news.  If you are in any way connected to muscle culture, it is like the loss of a star; like the passing of a rock star for music fans or the passing of an actor for movie buffs.  

And so with such passings, the culture that praises the star pours out with eulogies of solace.  Countless posts about "what this great athlete meant to me."  (Such posts on social networks were how I learned of his death, actually – not to mention was reminded of who he was in the first place. I know, I know: shame the fuck on me.)

That was where I paused.

So often when there is the passing of a significant person in culture, the eulogaic commentary waxes slightly hypocritical.  Folks want to exult their response to the death, and really prove that their sadness is not only valid but significant to the loss. Everyone takes to comments of what the person's work meant to them.  And often these comments are beautiful.  Yet they are also too often hollow.  Too often, people claim a sadness for the loss, and yet indicate no interest in learning from what the deceased offered in the form of gain.

Let me get more specific: being amidst strength athletes, I am seeing many comments about what a loss the death of larry Scott is, and how much he was admired.  And yet so few of these admirers have stepped up to compete, as Mr. Scott did.  They admire his drive and passion, and yet emulate none of his resolve.  They sing his praises as an important influence, and yet have not taken his example and stepped up to compete. And I am speaking here of strength athletes and lifters with a long personal history of muscle-building and the basic equipment to take on a bodybuilding challenge with high rewards.  The guys who seem dented have rarely been competitors, yet have often been loyal, hard-working and driven athletes.  See the hypocrisy? How can we learn what Mr. Scott had to teach us if we do not at least dabble in his example?  Shame the fuck on you!

Revering the iconic alone is not the sam as understanding what they might signify for us.

Now, this is not to say his influence is strictly across a parameter of competitive bodybuilding.  Of course he was also iconic, and his imagery held profound encouragement, motivation and positivity towards many exceptional pursuits far beyond bodybuilding.  These aforementioned lifters certainly did validate the examples of Mr. Scott in many ways.  I am really just questioning why they wouldn't also validate his work by walking in his shoes?  

Many of them have great explanations.  Life and family and business are valid.  A time-consuming desire to accomplish more in the sports they already engage is solid.  Disinterest in the sport's details – the trunks, the posing, the diet, the dye – certainly has merit.  Heck, they sound like what I used to sound like.  I didn't want the added burden either.  I was happy with what I was doing.  In fact, i was beyond happy; my practice was rewarding and peaceful and I wanted for nothing within it.  Compete in bodybuilding?  Why bother?  I was fine without that addd pressure, thank you.  Who needs the added burden of the weight of something they may be cut out for, but just have no interest in pursuing?

Adding the challenges you are not originally excited for is what builds skill.

The answer is found in the try practice lifters engage week in and week out.  The very quality of the work they love holds the answer to: "why add the pressure of something on doesn't like?"  It is the try quality of their hands on the iron that tells the truth: has any great endeavor in physique sports been accomplished by aggressively de-loading the pressure of added weight?  Dos lifting less improve a strength athlete?  Does obeying the excuses of preference and heeding the avoidance of inconvenience make someone powerful and strong?

As Chris Corey once told me: "shame the fuck on you?"

Oh, did I mention Chris Corey yet?  No?  Well, Chris Corey is a man whom I consider my own, personal Larry Scott.  It was nothing short of the brief influence of this man who got me started and everything and – I mean everything I have ever accomplished since, in bodybuilding and beyond – has been influenced by the lessons he taught me.  The Next Level,  The PhysiQademy, The PhysiQulture Collaborative, The Big Inside, even my branding & design business Scorpio Creative have all been touched, indirectly or specifically, but the lesson that Chris taught me which put me into a bodybuilding contest.  

Now most people don't know my origin story.  That is partly strategic – as a coach it is good to play one's cards close to the cuff, pulling aces only when needed – and partly respectful – I some parts are only understood after other parts are completely comprehended prior.  And fewer that have heard my origin stories know who Chris Corey was.  He was the man who was the single most resonating influence on my work, and to whom every single athlete I have assisted, peer I have collaborated with and dreamer I have inspired owes a huge debt of gratitude.  Similar, I guess, to how people hold gratitude for Mr. Scott.  While Mr. Scott was not the main hero, his influence certainly helped inspire those who would act heroically in his legacy.

But Chris was no levitating demigod; he was merely a peer.  He was someone whom I went to college with at Carnegie Mellon University, and knew at first mainly through artistic endeavors rather than athletic ones.  Chris was bright.  Chris was whipsmart.  Chris was funny and highly intelligent and creative.  He was many remarkable things, but his stature in people's opinion was always elevated by what Chris possessed not only from the neck up, but also from the neck down.  You see, Chris was built.  I mean crazy built.  Like, "how the heck did that guy get such an awesome roll of the genetic dice?!" built.  Of course he had an incredible work ethic, and attacked the gym with a passion and playfulness that only made his exceptional genetics shine all the brighter.  He was a military man as well, which added to his disciplinary abilities and expanded his physical talents.

The guy was pretty incredible.  Yet to those unaware of his soulful heart and heightened intelligence, Mr. Corey was, by anyone's concept, the epitome of a bodybuilder.  It worked against him often, obviously, because you could to "see through" his exceptional mass and shape try easily; the muscle was unavoidable.  The very ways he moved and presented himself declared physical confidence, an enviable aesthetic and a fascinating self-awareness of the influence of his own image.  

If you truly have the ability to do something, but don’t do that thing, well, then shame the fuck on you.
— Chris Corey

It came as no surprise to anyone that, after laving the service, he took on his first bodybuilding contest.  It was even less surprising that he loved it.  Well, less surprising to everyone but me.  I was still skeptical, remember?  I still didn't see the point; to me it was just added pressure towards something I cared little for.  And I challenged him (as I am now known for doing) on his point; I wanted to see and comprehend just what was really in it that such an artistic, creative and influential young man would go for it.  And in response to my questions, Chris had many answers.  But the one that really stood out was the one he concluded with:

"If you had the ability to do something," he told me. "But don't do that thing, well, shame the fuck on you."

The only thing stopping me was thoughts and ideas. In other words, the only things stopping me weren’t real at all, in spite of how I treated them that way.

Wow. That one hit me.  I had reasons for not doing it, and they were good ones.  I had explanations why I wasn't going to, and they were well-conceived and sensible.  And I had opinions why I was not interested, and they were logical and rational.  But I also had the ability.  There was no doubt I possessed the ability; there was really nothing stopping me.  All the reasons, explanations and opinions could be recreated as easily as they had ben originally create.  The only thing stopping me was thoughts and ideas.  In other words, the only things stopping me weren't real at all, in spite of how I treated them that way.  

 "I am an artist," is what I roughly recall of all the things he told me on so many occasions.  "I have the heart of an artist, and I personally believe everyone does.  We just forget that when we start thinking and planning and explaining our world to ourselves.  The art goes away, and we become monotonous and stuck.  It's a risk to let that all go, but when we do we are following our heart, so the risk always pays off.  Which is why, when we can do a thing, we should just risk it and get going.  Those who don't and get stuck in their thinking are the problems in this world.  And this world needs less problems.  So shame the fuck on them!"

And it made sense.  A lot of sense.  And then Chris had an opportunity to go on a trip to Bali.  Just an excursion to explore the Far East.  And it was a dream come true, and his artist's heart sure as hell wasn't going to be unable to do it.  And so he planned to prep for his next contest after he got back from the trip; day one on his return from Bali was all bodybuilding contest-prep mode.  

And he got on the plane to come home from Bali and the plane crashed and he died.

And that was the end of Chris Corey's bodybuilding career.  The end of one of the most perfect physiques I have ever seen.  Now all just a memory.  Just an inspiration.  He could never compete again.  And here I was – alive and well and with all the ability in the world to arrange it – still dismissing it.

Shame the fuck on who, now?

Such a profound influence on me, I mutter thanks to him every time I hit certain poses.

The lesson only sunk in after his death. Which is what has made it so poignant to me.  Even after two decades, it still feels like fresh lesson.  I suppose that is because it is true.  If you have the ability to do a thing, but don't it is rather shameful.  It's entitled, self-indulgent and wasteful.  It gains you only temporary comfort, but ultimately helps almost no one.  And it was how I was regarding bodybuilding.

Mere months after Chris dies, I was in my first contest, and I was very much thinking of him in thankful prayers the whole event.  In fact, when I execute the pose "abs and quads" pose, Chris' name is invoked, with gratitude.  The pose requires an athlete to exhale completely and hold – literally without breathing.  It is like being underwater; you are literally trying not to suffocate to execute it properly.  It is a moment in competition where you need as much strength as you can muster.  And when I execute it, many have seen me mutter something – just my lips moving – right before I breathe out.  I am saying a quick "Thanks, Chris; stay with me."  Literally, over scores of contests, I still thank him every single time.  It reminds me of the lesson: I have the ability and will not shame myself by ignoring it or doubting it.  My role model no longer has the ability; I do.  So forward I go.

Which is why the passing of Mr. Scott, the Mr. Olympia, reminds me so much of Mr. Corey.  The lesson, in a nutshell, was simple yet clear: "You are alive and well, and have the ability, so if you turn away from your callings, then shame the fuck on you!"  We all have talents, and just because our talents don't match our interests does not mean we should therefore squander our talents.  Of course we can not do everything at once, but that does not mean a pursuit of a talent does not make it to the to-do list, the bucket-list, or the long-term-planner.  It is not the same as saying "maybe one day"; the goal needs to be an absolute agenda.  This is what truly shows that a hero influenced us; when we elect to not only learn their lessons, but walk the path on which they learned them.  

Don't be shameful: tai on the challenge!

So many of the people mourning the passing of Mr. Scott have no specific plan to compete in Larry Scott's sport of choice.  Sure, many of them say "maybe one day," but no gains were ever retrieved through maybes.  No one puts on strength by saying "maybe I'll lift heavy things."  No one gets faster by saying "maybe I'll sprint some day."  No one gets wiser by saying "maybe I'll look into it."  Maybe is useless.  Mr. Olympia knows no maybes, so Mr. Scott knew no maybes.  And neither did Mr. Corey.  Because maybes are a little shameful.  And stack too many maybes up, and you got a big ol' shame-the-fuck-on-you headed your way.

So when you look at the death of Inaugural Mr. Olympia Larry Scott, also meanwhile look at your well-crafted rationals for not competing in Larry Scott's sport.  Look closely at your explanations, and even closer at your opinions.  Because I guarantee you will find you totally – absolutely – possess the ability; no explanation you offer will diminish that fact.  You possess the ability.

So don't just honor your heroes in words; learn their lessons in deeds.  Nurture your talents as they did, not just with eloquent rhetoric but also by agenda'ed action.   

You possess the ability to compete.  And if you turn away, "just because," well, on behalf of Mr. Olympia, Mr. Scott and my beloved Mr. Corey: shame the fuck on you.


Please post thoughts, opinions, reactions, responses and any thing else below, or hit me up, as always, via email.

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Bodybuilding + CrossFit + StrongMan + Functional = 1938

He didn't have what we have, but he got what we want.  

The image is one of those vintage magazine shots, where the muscular dude on the cover is posing like a Greek statue.  It was shown to me by an athlete, and I was captivated.

"This," I thought. "This explains what The Next Level means when we say there's no difference between solid bodybuilding and solid strength lifting."

These images always captivate us when we come across them.  Glimpsing the past is always fascinating.  But when it comes to the retro muscle magazine images, there is another message being declared that we do not see so much in our own media any more. And this message holds an important lesson for you.

We often arrogantly consider our current standards for what constitutes "muscular body" as somehow more advanced than what came before us.  Yet when we look art this dude from 1938, he looks very much like many of the guys we might see pursuing bodybuilding.  Or trying to accomplish a powerful lift.  Or eagerly diving into CrossFit.  The thing that makes his body so compelling is not that it is better or worse than our current standards; it is that it is so much the same as our standards.

Now, this guy comes from 1938.  He didn't have supplements. He didn't have gyms and training facilities and CrossFit boxes and yoga studios.  Heck – this dude didn't even have our precious (hear the sarcasm?) fitness industry.  He only had what all humans have: the resourcefulness of his mind and the focus allowed by his interests.  No doubt he had mentors and help, but he was mostly improvisationally working; his amazing physique relied more on his observational discerning than his aggressive demand for a fix.

[An] amazing physique relies more on observational discerning than [an] aggressive demand for a fix.

Now, I hate that I don't have a name for the guy.  However, he is here standing emblematic of all the physique athletes of this era; more specifically, emblematic of physique development in a non-industrialized format.  He didn't have mags, internets, powders and chrome machines to make this work.  He had food and effort and intelligence.

This perhaps proves a point that many find radical, but that you must consider seriously.  The body's aesthetics can be recreated without the supplements, brand names (sorry CrossFit – you're a brand first, a program second) the D-list, self-celebrating celebrities (read: Zyzz), the science wonks that "tell you exactly how it is scientifically, without hype" (yet isn't that statement the definition of hype?) – without any of the million trappings of the industry.  His body was not reliant on anything but his own resourcefulness, open-mindedness and drive for a remarkable goal.

The fitness industry is completely unnecessary for your success. It is incidental. It is an add-on.

In short: the fitness industry is completely unnecessary for your success.  It is incidental.  It is an add-on.  It's solutions are always ever ad hoc to what you can do of your own patience and peer-engagement.

In fact, the fitness industry has complicated the matters, hasn't it?  It has created all these points of focuses, and calls them all "solutions."  And each focus is refined more and more specific to an end; each point of focus is separated further and further apart from the bigger landscape from which is was derived.  In the name of "clarifying," it only adds confusion.  By trying to convince you of a specific direction – a supplementation program, a training regiment, a scientific application – it only makes us more aware of the clutter.

You are an integrating machine, yet the fitness industry is a separating machine.

Now I am not sitting here saying "it was better in them good ol' days."  But what I am suggesting is you look at how the fitness industry creates separation between practices.  Yet, when you choose your practices, you need to integrate them.  Diet with training; rest with work; healing with attack; you have to choose your plans and make them work together, not as discrete, separate entities.  You are an integrating machine, yet the fitness industry is a separating machine.  You see how the two are at odds in their end-goals?

 Strong men who bodybuilder are better strength athletes. Bodybuilders who practice competitive strength building are better bodybuilders. They are the same because they were never different.

Strong men who bodybuilder are better strength athletes.
Bodybuilders who practice competitive strength building are better bodybuilders.
They are the same because they were never different.

And this is seen so often with the obnoxiously harsh delineation between the pursuit of strength excellence and and pursuit of aesthetic excellence.  They have been separated far too severely by the industry – so effectively separated, in fact, that many people just believe them to be fundamentally different.  They are not.  They are one and the same.  Our buddy from 1938 knew that.  In fact, he may not have even thought that the two pursuits – aesthetics and strength – needed to be separated at all. The likelihood was that he saw it as one, integrated process, which is a perception we can barely wrap our brains around today.  The two sides have been so divorced from one another by the machinations of a force seeking to industrialize profits that we are confused when we try to see them as the whole that they were prior to the industry.

Oh, quick side note: the industry is only about a hundred years old, yet the pursuit of physique excellence is at least 3500 years old – give or take a millennium.  That means the beliefs that came out of the fitness industry are not only new, but gravely misleading.  If man has been kicking ass for almost four millennia, don't tell me that bumper plates and neon-green powder is what we've all been missing all this time.  Man has been achieving aesthetic excellence and exceptional performance as one single agenda.  The only thing that cleaved that agenda into various parts was a greedy industry that figured out it could sell more if it divided and conquered.

 All around athlete.  All around physique success.  

All around athlete.  All around physique success.  

But the data supports (adopt 3500 years of data) that the vast majority of physical achievements that bear any mark of superhuman or legendary had nothing to do with the fitness industry, and were not achieved through the separation of pursuits.  

So when did you get so much smarter than the millions of awesome warriors before you who got way better results on far less?  When did you realize that separating the pursuits into discrete practices of "power," "strength," aesthetics" and "performance" would yield the best results?  Such separations are a distraction, friend.  They will not avail you the results you want until they are combined in an integrated system.

This is actually a founding principle in The Next Level; that our teams are not just pursuing bodybuilding versus just pursuing strength sports, but rather seek to pursue physique sports as an integrated whole.  You are not only inadvertently pursuing one when you pursue the other, you are made more effective in the pursuit of that one if you conscientiously integrate the pursuit of the other.

You are not only inadvertently pursuing one {capacity] when you pursue the other, you are made more effective in the pursuit of that one if you conscientiously integrate the pursuit of the other.

This is not to disparage specialization.  Of course the demands of sports require an athlete to specialize in certain capacities. But specialization is not a "long game"; specialization is a medium- or short-range practice.  

Think of it this way: just because a violinist learns a complicated tune does not mean she stops playing other kinds of music.  And to play other kinds of music, she must continually engage a broad form of practice; practice that is general and allows her versatility with her instrument.  Who learns an instrument just to play one song?  You do not specialize in a song just to then never learn to play others. In fact, if she learned a pieces of classical music, then took a break and played a cheerful reel, she may be more agile when she returns to that original classical piece.  The pursuit of all the forms makes her better when she has to specialize in just on in a concert setting.

 No one masters the violin to play just one tune.  (Violinist Leila Josefowicz pictured.)

No one masters the violin to play just one tune. (Violinist Leila Josefowicz pictured.)

Your body is the same way.  Specializing in an area can help you in other areas.  Dieting strategies and their effects on the body's hormones can influence strength gains.  Unique lifting forms can help evolve movement capabilities for bodybuilding contest posing.  Heavy, powerful lifts can help develop the speed and performance used in functional training competition.  They are all different tunes, but the goal is not to master only one song, but rather to be a master musician.

Perhaps the musical analogy can be pushed further by comparing your work to a symphony.  While you may like the sound of clarinet the most, there is no doubt that a symphony is more versatile than just the clarinet alone.  The whole symphony can create more sounds, play more songs, and undulate between intense and soft better than just one of it's instruments could do alone.  So it is arguable to say that a clarinet-player who is also capable of conducting a symphony would be a better clarinet player.  

 Don't just play your favorite instrument.  Become the conductor of the entire symphony.

Don't just play your favorite instrument.  Become the conductor of the entire symphony.

You want to be a conductor, my friend.  You want to direct all the instruments and all their power in one triumphant symphony.  What songs you specialize in is up to you, but no one masters a symphony to play just one song.

And no physique athlete can be said to have truly mastered their body if they stubbornly stick to just one pursuit.  Specialization in a pursuit is not the same as isolation from any others.  That is what the industry wants you to believe; that to specialize means to separate your thinking from other pursuits absolutely.  Then, as you get less and less gains from your pursuits that you have mastered, they will "sell" you more of their precious "solutions."

The dude from 1938 never separated his pursuits.  And that body is pretty impressive – even by today's standards.  Now, he had it lucky because he didn't have an industry with an agenda preying on his passions.  We do.  And that industry's messages – both overt and subtle – can undo our best efforts.

Specialization in a pursuit is not the same as isolation from any others.

Specialize from time to time, but make sure you are not neglecting other pursuits for the sake of one.  Explore the options and integrate them.  They are not separate by design; they are separated via marketing.  Put them back together.

Let's return to 1938.  It was a far more captivating time.

Another man lost at the North Star.

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This post is not about bodybuilding.  You don't have to know – or care – a thing about bodybuilding to get the point.

This post is also not about a charismatic bodybuilder named Derek Anthony, nor is it about his very recent death at a rather young age.  

 This post is not about this guy.

This post is not about this guy.

And this post is certainly not about the dangers of steroids, nor about how their powers played a role in Derek Anthony's demise.

This post is about getting where you want to go.  This post is about how that depends on knowing the direction to head.  It is a post inspired by the death of Derek Anthony. And it is entirely about you.

Let's say I knew a place that had everything you desired.  A really cool place with perfect scenery, ideal weather, lots of money and your favorite foods.  it was a place where you could do whatever you wanted and people adored you for it.  Sound like a great place to go, right?  So how do you get there?

Now, in order to get to this Ideal land the directions I tell you contain only one instruction: "Follow the North Star, and you will eventually get there.  Do not veer course; do not take any other route.  Just keep focused on that North Star and you will eventually gets to that land that has everything you ever desired."

Pretty simple.

So off you go!  Easy directions and an AWESOME promise awaits you; just follow the North Star.

Now, even though I did not implicitly say it, you sort of assume that you would never actually arrive AT the North Star.  You only follow it because it is a fixed point.  Your journey's goal isn't to actually set foot on a star.  The star is merely a guide for your journey.

 We all have a myth about who we want to be.

We all have a myth about who we want to be.

However, some people approach their life goals with the opposite logic; some people actually believe they will be able to set foot on their North Stars.  They believe that the things guiding them are somehow the destination itself.  They start believing in a myth; they think that just because they believe a place is real it therefore can be arrived upon.  And the myth is tempting; myths hold awesome promises.  Why wouldn't someone want to try to get to the North Star?  Maybe that idea is not a myth at all . . . ?

But we know it is.  You can't actually set foot on the North Star.  You can only follow it.  Yet if you believe you can get there, you will too often end up going too far, yet feel like you haven't ever gone far enough.

Now, that is not to say the mythology about "where you are headed" is all bad.  In general, mythology is useful.  Like the North Star, it provides us with directions; symbols to help us figure out where we want to go.

However, symbols are only meant to guide.  We are not meant to actually become those symbols; we are only meant to follow them.  I mean, just putting a giant red "S" on my chest does not mean I can fly like Superman any more than wherever a bald eagle stands is innately American.  The symbology and mythology of Superman or Americana are only meant to inform my decisions, not actually define who I am supposed to be.

If a symbol does explain exactly how to be, it is not a symbol at all.  It is a sign.   Like when we see the golden arches, we know there are hamburgers there – it is a sign for a McDonald's franchise.  And when we see an exit sign, we know there is a door out.  Symbols can tell us what we want to look for, but it is only signs that tell us where those things may actually exist.

 Chasing a myth can have dire consequences.

Chasing a myth can have dire consequences.

So what happens when we treat a symbol like a sign? What happens when we think we can get to the North Star, instead of understanding it is only a symbol to guide us? 

Well. that is why I brought up the late bodybuilder Derek Anthony.   Now, I honestly never met the guy.  All I know about him is what anyone can find in a few Google searches.  

Derek Anthony was a competitive bodybuilder, and a sort of a "D-list" celebrity in the bodybuilding media.  As with many young bodybuilders, he was introduced into the media of muscle as the next big thing.  He was a remarkably handsome blonde man – unusually handsome for someone so thickly built.  So he had the looks of a model and the body of a brute.  Those features alone gave him the appearance of an icon; it was like he embodied a mythology in his very flesh.

 Derek started out as the "next big thing"; a Golden Boy of the much-overblown bodybuilding myth.

Derek started out as the "next big thing"; a Golden Boy of the much-overblown bodybuilding myth.

And that may seem overblown but this is often how "the new guy" is presented in competitive bodybuilding.  Each new neo-celebrity is touted and revered as "capturing the mythology."  Having the ability to do this is really why so many young men get so passionate about bodybuilding; they see guys like Derek Anthony and imagine that they, too, might actually arrive at their North Star of physical perfection!

And Derek Anthony no doubt had this same dream: to arrive at his own, personal "Ideal Land."  Without knowing a thing about him, I can see in his work alone how he was driven to some lofty and perhaps unrealistic goal.  

Derek Anthony never hid his heavy use of pharmaceuticals and steroids to try to achieve his vision.  He used them so heavily, in fact, that they contributed to his failing health.  Dialysis and chemo and a host of other treatments were what precipitated his death, but Anthony never hedged admittance that he abused drugs to achieve his muscle ideals.

Derek would parlay his extreme behavior into a constructed public image; he was a "bad boy" in the media.  He would rationalize his drug use and dodge criticisms by claiming he was just "misunderstood."  

 Derek Anthony was known more by fans as a gay pin-up boy than as a successful competitive bodybuilder.

Derek Anthony was known more by fans as a gay pin-up boy than as a successful competitive bodybuilder.

In short, Derek's pursuit of his North Star made him unscrupulous.  A father and publicly identified as a heterosexual, Anthony was meanwhile a soft core gay sex idol on the side.  There was an idea that "it didn't matter", regardless of the fact that he was meanwhile creating new symbols that others may follow – and misinterpret.  There was no idea of authentic self-representation; to him it seemed just a job.  It seemed attention and adulation were the only goal, regardless of what may be affirmed in the eyes of others via the symbolic after-effects of his actions.

And now Derek Anthony has met his "final healing"; he passed away recent to the publishing of this post.  All in the pursuit of some mythic muscle symbol of perfection.

Derek Anthony arguably died because he tried to arrive at the North Star.  His rhetoric was that of determination and discipline, but his work was that of self-delusion and recklessness.  He was convinced he could "get there" – wherever "there" was in his mind.

 Chasing our own myths warps our reality.

Chasing our own myths warps our reality.

And we are, all of us, prone to this delusion.  We all have glowing Ideal Lands which we construct in our imaginations.  Derek is not the only young man mesmerized by the idea that he could achieve some unique and self-congratulatory physical perfection.  Over and over men and women are seduced and deluded by a dream of perfection, and begin resorting to extremes to get there.

It is a grand thing, indeed, if we can for to promote the positive aspects of a mythology.  At their best, the big brutes of the muscle media do just that; they embellish a grand and glowing ideal of discipline, excitement, social power, personal strength and a million other useful concepts.  The big, shining bodies are not unto themselves bad.  Indeed, the work to promote positive mythic ideals is arguably vital.

 We can only recreate ourselves so many times before the significance of our actions trumps the power of our symbols.

We can only recreate ourselves so many times before the significance of our actions trumps the power of our symbols.

But when men and women try to actually literally become those ideals, we have the opposite effect; we instead get signaled that the mythology previously exposed as motivating is instead wrong and vile.  Myths are meant to guide, not meant to be lived. While we can work to color and expand the understanding of a given mythology, there is great danger in trying to adopt it as a life goal.

It is the kind of danger which slowly robbed Derek Anthony of his life. Derek Anthony symbolized positivity in the eyes of many when he first started out; he was iconic of vitality, strength, charisma and self-sufficiency.  Those are great things to symbolize!  But – alas – it was not enough to merely symbolize those things.  Derek anthony vainly tried to literally become those things.  And that pursuit resulted in him now sadly signifying the opposite values; self-corruption, loss of perspective, delusion and death.

 Acknowledging what we are is more important than relentlessly focusing what we want to become.

Acknowledging what we are is more important than relentlessly focusing what we want to become.

Your work already symbolizes something, too.  You may not yet be where you could end up, but what you have done already has value.  It can be transacted to motivate positivity and growth in others.  You do not need to get to the North Star to show others how to be  guided by it.

See, that is what this post has been about all along.  Not about Derek Anthony nor bodybuilding excess.  Not about the dangers of steroids nor the darkness of vanity.  It is about valuing what you are more than valuing what you imagine.

Yeah, let me repeat that for you guys still thinking your goals are more important than your work:

We need to place more value on where we are than on where we wish we could be.  Only by doing this will we be able to discern what is really significant, and what is merely symbolic.  

That is what this post is about.  It is about you.  Not where you wish you could go, but who you are right now.