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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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.