Gym Fouls – Don’t be that guy

As we ease into Saturday morning, I sip my coffee and contemplate my upcoming workout.  I’ve got 2 nagging injuries so I’m going to have to “train around them”. Two simultaneous injuries suck, but powerlifting is life so off I go to the powerlifting club.  I am going there today primarily because it has the specialized bars and stations I need to do the exercises listed above.  Also,  we can blast music at improbably volumes and use healthy amounts of chalk all in a pleasantly mirror free environment.

More importantly, I’ve cancelled my membership to the big commercial ‘Globo’ gym near my house.  As I’ve said in previous posts, I went to the Globo gym about half the time as it’s close where I live and work and therefore convenient.  Also, I have to admit, in a weird way I enjoyed the dysfunctional ambiance.  One of my team-mates recently told me that she avoids this Globo gym like the plague because, even though it’s very well equipped, it’s awash in negativity and gym haters.  She’s not wrong.

It made me think about the most common gym fouls that one encounters in a commercial gym.  I think we can agree that we’ve all committed gyms fouls at least once, so let he or she who is without sin cast the first protein bar.

  • Talk, talk, talk:  I live and work in Northern Europe.  People here are, generally speaking, quite reserved.  Taciturn, even.  Yet, for some reason, the gym seems to make some people wag their tongues like their life depended on it.  As I’ve said in previous posts, I often struggle to find time to go to the gym, so when I do go, I’m all business.  Friendly, but focused on my training, as I don’t have all the time in the world.  My training is usually multiple sets of relatively heavy weight which takes a long time to complete, so I’m often in one location (bench, rack, etc) for an extended period.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve had 2 or 3 guys camped next to me, just straight up blah, blah, blahing for 30 to 45 minutes straight.  Just talking.  And, no, we’re not talking about the deepest, most interesting conversations you’ve ever heard in your life.  Thank god for headphones.  It’s even worse when one of the offenders is basically sitting on a bench you need to use to carry on his extended oration.  Times like that you have say something, and more often than not the guy gets all butt-hurt.
  • Mirror, mirror, on the wall:  OK, I get it that some people are serious about their bodybuilding and I get that you need to check the status of your “canvas” from time time but nonstop checking yourself out in the mirror is well creepy in my book. Hey, Abs guy, kudos on your diet progress but gazing longingly at your abs whilst holding your tank top up in your teeth?  Get a room.  I see far more guys than girls engaging in this behavior.
  • Wearing as little as possible:   This is not about body shaming or some sort of repressed “moral” stance.  I’m all about positive body image and letting it all hang out to a certain extent.  However, if I have have seen 1 tight leggings,  tank-top with requisite samurai-style top-knot hair thing gym bro, I have seen a 1000. It’s a tad cringey.  For men or women, there is a fine line between functional gym wear and “hey, get a load of these apples” gym wear.  If you are rocking your skintight outfit because, well, you “can” and, lets be honest, also get some sort of validation from it – fair enough.  Just know that we all know.
  • Wearing really revealing gym wear part 2 – please don’t:  I may get some negative comments about this, but here goes nothing.  Just because an item of clothing exists doesn’t mean that all of us are destined to wear said article.  If, for example,  you have a gut ( and this applies to women as well as men) maybe a cropped t-shirt is not the best look…For example, I am a 53 year old man.  I have a decent amount of muscle while, at the same time, I’ve got a bit of a gut.  It’s a one pack, not a six pack.  I could possibly get away with a tank top and shorts, but I’m an older dude and this ain’t the beach.  A t-shirt and sweatpants are just fine. (As an aside – the required Powerlifting competition singlets are comical, probably the worst look known to man.  Everybody looks ridiculous in them which kind of makes them fun.).  So, if you are rocking your ill-advised outfit because you’ve always wanted to wear it and it ‘sparks joy’ to quote Marie Kondo…  there are worse things, I suppose.
  • Gym haters:  You, me and the guy over there, we’ve all been gym haters at least once.  I just spent 2 paragraphs throwing shade (humorously, I hope) on gym goers who wear tight clothes because they can and gym goers who wear tight clothes but really shouldn’t.  We all judge each other constantly, so rather than create safe spaces or run off to Planet Fitness to gorge ourselves on doughnuts, let’s just recognize this exists.  The difference, I think, is the degree to which you can keep your snarky judgement to yourself.  Most people can throw on their headphones, do their workout and mind their own goddamned business.  But…there will always be minority of people that can’t.  Some commercial gyms have the social ambiance of a middle school playground – cliques, rampant gossip, dirty looks, the works.  If you can’t, by your words or actions, keep your negativity in check then you’re a Gym Hater.
  • Creepers:  Stop staring, for &%#$ sake.  Have you been locked in a basement for 10 years?  And, no, this is not nightclub either although it’s shame there are no bouncers.  2 days ago I was in a big commercial gym and some heavily tatted guy I had never seen before was running up to all the attractive young ladies to give them “workout advice”.  He even did this to a girl who was working out with 2 guys.  He ignored the guys completely as imparted his highly questionable ‘words of wisdom’.  Has that ever really worked, Bro?  Take your meds, for Christ’s sake.
  • “Gym is life” guy: We all know the type.  They arrive at the gym knowing absolutely nothing about training.  The upside is that they are generally sociable.  The reason you know them is that they probably already engaged you in conversation.  The downside is that they’ve got no filter or sense of socially appropriate behavior.  Soon, you will see them literally every time you go to the gym, no matter what time you happen to go.  4 months ago they didn’t know the difference between a set and a rep.  Now, however, they are veritable founts of bro-science knowledge thanks to YouTube and T-Nation forums.  And they naturally assume you share the same goals and interest.  “Yo, bro, maybe you should diet, bro.   You work out a lot but still could stand to lose a few Kgs. I eat only chicken breasts and $200 of largely worthless supplements a day”…”Yo, squats are for chicks, man”…”Why you never push a set to failure, bro?  You’re doing it wrong.”  They are generally harmless, and can be amusing.  Then, one day around the 1 year mark, they just stop coming to the gym, never to be seen again.

Who am I, what am I, what am I doing here?

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

(Spoiler alert – this post will buck all the hard won knowledge I have gleaned in 4 years of blogging regarding what sparks a reader’s interest.  As a result, I’ll probably be able to count the actual views of this post on one hand.  So be it.)

I decided to start a blog for one reason:  to force myself to write more.  Real writing, not terse emails or the stilted language of technical documentation.  I really didn’t care if my posts were read by a lot of people or not – however putting them on the “internet”, accessible to anybody, gave me the extra impetus to create content that is more structured than a stream of consciousness personal journal.  That my posts might actually be read by strangers keeps me honest, more disciplined than I might be otherwise.  

Here are a few observations and insights regarding the blogging game I’ve picked up thus far:

  • “Likes” indicate very little.  I’ve had a post immediately garner 5 likes and no views within an hour of posting.  The likes come from bloggers who probably search on the tags or category of the post, and like it without reading it.  Why?  I don’t know exactly but I’m sure it has something to with some algorithm somewhere.   If you do know why this happens, can you leave a comment below?   The “views” tend to happen more gradually, over a period of time. 
  • Personal “life lesson” posts will garner an average amount of likes and very, very few actual views.  Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t read somebody else’s personal life lesson post either, would you?  Which is fine, we write these posts for ourselves.  Or at least I do.
  • Adding “buzzwords” to your tags or category works to get more views – but only to a certain extent.  A few years ago I added the tag ‘vegan’ to a post, and I immediately noticed a much higher than average number of views and comments.  Thereafter I made an effort to add “buzzwordy” tags to see if my views jumped dramatically on average.  Sometimes they did, but I think it happened because readers found the article via categories and tags, but the title and description of the post made them click on it.  Posts with buzzwords and cryptic titles didn’t really do well.
  • Posts on your particular niche passion will usually generate the most comments.  I do a lot of posts about powerlifting and strength training and these generate 95% of the comments.  Probably because people with niche interests are happy to find and interact with others who share that interest.  My more general posts are far less likely to garner a comment.  Interestingly some of my most “viewed” posts have 0 comments, but consistently get views on a daily basis.
  • My most viewed posts are recipes.  It’s not even close, recipes are viewed much, much more than any other sort of post.  I have one recipe post that gets a least a few views every day, year after year.  In fact, it gains momentum as the years go on, perhaps due to the Google algorithm which is more likely to list it higher in a search the more times it’s been clicked on.   Interestingly, most posts fade out of view and rarely get views after a few weeks.  Recipe posts, even old ones, don’t seem to fade away.  
  • I don’t feel blog post writing reflects my most honest self.  The pros with blogging are that I write more frequently and in a more disciplined manner.  The con is  I find myself not so subtly trying to write succinct, topical posts that are likely to be read (based on the knowledge of blogging I’ve acquired).  Which is fine, but I do think it’s time to dig deeper if I want my writing to evolve.  

I lost 10 years

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

10 years.  I lost 10 years.  10 years in which I completely lost the plot.  10 years that I survived, rather than thrived.  I wasn’t depressed or unhappy, but neither was I happy.  But I was stressed.  Constantly.  10 years when I was so strung out on work stress I couldn’t stop to ask myself if, ultimately, it was worth it.

Over the summer I had an health scare and an extended convalescence.  I was immediately confronted with my life choices and my own mortality.  Ironically, for a powerlifter, my condition made me very, very physically weak.  I had “physical” nervous breakdown, rather than a mental one.  The body cannot live in a permanent state of stress and poor sleep.  It will stop functioning correctly – as it did with me.

During my many, many medical visits, my doctor began to question me about lifestyle – how much I worked, what did I do outside of work, how were my family and “romantic” relationships…I should preface this by saying my doctor is an old school medical professional and a Germanic one at that.  He says exactly what he thinks, and nobody will accuse him of being too touchy-feely.  He came to the conclusion that, as he put it, “You don’t have a life.  You work too much and when you’re not working, you stress about it.  Are working to live, or living to work?”.

10 years I assumed, almost overnight, a quantum leap in responsibility at work.  I certainly wasn’t going to say “no”.  I have always worked hard, and to be honest, was chafing at not being recognized.  Well, I got recognition, and with that recognition came a lot more responsibility and visibility.  I managed more people.  I was suddenly thrust into the bigger leagues, with all that implies.  

I had to learn a lot of new skills quickly – with little in the form of mentoring.  It wasn’t easy, and I made mistakes.  I learned to take criticism and feedback with the right mindset – and to never take things personally. I realized that you get the most criticism when you are doing something of real consequence.  Make no mistake about it, I had to work hard…but the challenge was exciting at first.

The stress levels I undertook were exponentially more than I had experienced previously.  The stress caused by looming project deadlines or dealing with a difficult employee were not impossible to deal with.  A solution, I knew, would be found.  What became impossibly to manage as the years progressed, however, was being on the receiving end of a greatly increased workload for which my team and I did not have sufficient resources.  Working week after month after year in those conditions is a losing game.  I worked longer and longer hours…and when I wasn’t working, I literally could not sleep as I’d think about all the deadlines we’d miss.

Without noticing it, I prioritized only work and my children.  I scarcely had time to train powerlifting – and even that suffered for extended periods.  Work did not directly cause any of my romantic relationships to end but it made creating new ones difficult.  I began to stop making middle to long-term plans (like great trips, planning the purchase of a vacation home, making a big sports goal) etc. because I knew with experience that work crises always arose and I’d have to put my plans on hold.  I have, many times, cancelled vacations.  Slowly, I stopped reading, which is a habit I’ve had my entire life.  I was simply too keyed up to concentrate on reading…and by the end of it, I couldn’t follow TV shows either.

I couldn’t have been much fun to be around.  Living in constant crisis mode made it difficult for me to be present in the moment.  I’ve always been prone to “being in my head” and daydreaming only now I was zoning out to imagine crisis situations in a never-ending loop.  More nightmare than daydream.  I had no interests other than powerlifting anymore – so really not much to talk about.  Other than being with my kids, my main pleasure in life was not working.  In just about every picture taken of me the last 10 years, I look like a real miserable bastard.  And I was. As funny as this sounds now, I just didn’t realize to what extent.

Negative thoughts and emotions generate a sort of negative energy that people pick up on and, quite naturally, seek to avoid.  That was me, a veritable positive energy black hole.  Having a Dad who was constantly in stress mode and who couldn’t be present in the moment had to have sucked.  I knew it, of course, but I told myself I was working hard for them and, besides (and this is not untrue) I tried to always be there for them in many other ways.  And I was, but again, I wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs.  My dad  lost the plot after my parents divorced when I was young and receded into the (literal physical) distance as time went on.  I told myself that I wasn’t going to do that- and for the most part I didn’t – but the inability to relax, be present and live in the moment is a form of “distance”.

I have had many issues with alcohol, but this post is not meant to examine that in detail.  During this period, my alcohol use changed in a very interesting way.  I stopped drinking wine and spirits.  I wasn’t seeking to “get trashed”, per se.  Instead, I took an exact dose of beer most evenings (after 7pm).  It was very clinical self-mediation, I drank enough beer to ‘disconnect’ but I wasn’t getting completely blotto nor did I have crashing hangovers the next day.  I just needed to stop the incessant stress monkey in my head.  I was ashamed of this, of course, so I drank in my room.  My kids knew I was drinking, and I knew they knew, but again I told myself I’d get a handle on it shortly.  The shame just added to the anxiety.

Physically, I changed radically.  I gained weight to the extent that people who hadn’t seen me for X numbers of years often did a double-take.  Sometimes, they’d not be hypocritical and say what they were thinking as in “hey dude, what’s up with that?” which I knew was warranted but I didn’t like.  Much of this weight gain, to be fair, was also linked to muscle gain due to powerlifting.  I had added a lot of muscle pretty quickly (to the extent that an ex-girlfriend who manages gyms thought I was on gear at one point).  So I was bulky…but I also gained more fat that I should have and, worse still, often had a bloated appearance.  I was bulky, bloated, red-faced and feeling pretty shitty for the most part.  And it showed.  I’m not vain, but neither do I like being the guy in the picture who looks shit.  It was depressing but, again, I told myself handle it soon.

It’d be easy to say that the extra fat and bloating was all due to the beer.  Certainly it was the major factor, but I think constant sky-high cortisol levels (due to stress) also played a role in the weight and water retention.  Some months ago I did the calculations of my weekly calorie intake.  Other than drinking beer, I tended to eat clean and not too much.  Veggies, fruit and some proteins.  My daily calorie intake was surprisingly just over the what I normally needed to maintain weight, even with the beer.  I knew the beer was adding empty calories and carbs, but I was shocked to learn that it wasn’t as much as I had imagined.  My body, however, due to aging and stress, had become much less efficient at burning calories.

Obviously, this was not a sustainable life style.  The wheels were, inevitably, going to come off.  Some years ago I finally went through a period of mental burnout\exhaustion.  I took 2 weeks off, which really wasn’t nearly enough, and just powered through it afterwards.  For better or worse, I’ve learned how to cope with some pretty extreme periods of depression/anguish.   I don’t think my resilience did me any favors in the long run.  Then, about a year and a half ago, my daughter left for college.  Just like that, gone to college.  It seemed that I remember her being born like it was just a few weeks prior.  I realized that while highly present on a day to day basis, we didn’t really have a bunch of good memories to look back on in the preceding 10 years.  Epic trips, things like that.  You’re busy, and you put things off, but the thing is your children can’t be put “on hold”. They grow, and mature.  Fuck, I thought, how did I let that happen.  I must change.

Finally, a few months ago, change was thrust upon me.  My physical body decided to pull the plug.  It turns out there is a limit to the amount of stress the body can physically endure.  For a relatively brief, but scary , period I was fairly certain I had come to the end of the road.  We will all die, of course, but the only unknown is when.  Well, I thought, it may indeed be now.  And then I immediately thought, “what the fuck have I been doing with my life?”.  I had no answer.  But I knew, very clearly,  that all of work and the stress was not worth it.  I had wasted that time and I was not going to get it back.  10 years of not being the best parent I could be.  10 years of ignoring my own happiness and well-being.  Nothing, really, to show for those 10 years.

I realized that I made my own private hell.  Was my work stressful?  You bet.  Had I, over a number of years, taken pains to communicate the unsustainable level of stress myself and the teams were under?  Absolutely.  Did anything change substantially?  Not really.  However, what I realize now, is that there is always a choice.  The work situation was not going to change.  I work for a really good company, they are not slave drivers.  But certain conditions are endemic in both our industry and the modern workplace.  The change had to some from within.  I have options.  I can quit the job.  It’s not the end of world.  Dying, however, due to work related stress would be the end of my particular world.  Or I can change how I react to the job.  I can revise my expectations.  I realized it’s OK to say I’m going to do the best work I possibly can, but not at the expense of my health or family.  That means less hours and overall putting the work into perspective.  As I said, I work for a great company, and they have really been supportive during my health issues.  I have communicated clearly with them and for now things seem to be trending correctly.  Will that work for my employer and myself in the long-term?  Time will tell.  

A few days ago I was profoundly shocked to learn about the death of a friend that I had grown up with.  We weren’t the best of friends in school and, in fact, got to know each other better during our 20s.   He was a bright, caring and very smart guy. He was the sort of guy that naturally stayed in touch, that constantly sent crap jokes, that sort of thing.  I’ll never see him again, which is something I am still processing  There are no guarantees.  I’m in my 50s, with luck I have maybe another 10 years of good physical shape ahead of me.  I intend to take advantage of them.  

 

Hard Truths – A dating primer…

“We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality”-      Ayn Rand

So you want to dip your toe in the dating pool and, perhaps, find a potential partner.  I recently re-learned the hard lesson that your success and eventual happiness (should you find a partner) are contingent upon being very honest with yourself and others.  Above all, if you are a grown-ass adult or even middle-aged (as is your fearless scribe) it’s imperative, before starting, that you ask yourself some hard questions.   What are you honestly looking for in a relationship?  What do you look for, or prioritize in a potential partner?  What are “deal-breakers” for you in a potential relationship?  Do you have good, realistic idea of how others perceive you?  Are you self-aware and do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Are you, above all, happy with the life you have created for yourself?

A cautionary tale:  About 8 months ago I created a profile on 2 major dating sites because I felt some ill-defined  need to put myself out there.  My last semi-serious relationship had ended a few years ago and the last of the ancillary “non-serious” relationship opportunities (read between the lines, folks) had dried up over a year prior.  I had been stuck in that familiar Covid rut of working long hours and spending any remaining time I had attending to my kids’ needs.  I hadn’t even had much time to train for powerlifting, which is essential to my physical and mental well-being.  The problem was I thought to myself, hey, on paper,  I should really clean up in this dating thing as  I’ve got a good job, I’m not bad looking, I’ve got tons of interests and I’m not in some unclear relationship status.

So I created two really half-assed profiles and uploaded (only one) photo of me from the summer before the Pandemic.  Yes, you heard me, it wasn’t an old picture, but it certainly wasn’t up to date.  (Dating site veterans probably already see where this is going) As I began to surf the sites I realized very quickly that things had changed since the last time I was on dating sites (about 10 years ago).  For one, there are a ridiculous amount of fake profiles which made trying to find a real profile an absolute chore. And people had, for the most part, lost their sense of humor, at least in my age bracket.  A good 85% percent of women seem to have “No ONS, No drunks, No Liars, etc” in bold in their profiles, as if that incantation somehow magically repels lying, drunk ONS aficianados. All that tells me as the reader is that this person has made some questionable relationship decisions in the recent past.  We all have done so, of course, but it’s probably best to not advertise it to the internet.  Additionally, many profiles read like a laundry of non-negotiable demands which is both good and bad.  One needs to know what one wants but one should also be realistic.  I know, for example, that I really want a McClaren P1, but the reality is that I can’t afford one right now.  I will remain a gentleman and not comment of relative attractiveness of some of the women who posted the “No ONS!!! Must be 1m80 minimum and own a Formula 1 racing team” type of profiles.  And yes, I know from female friends that a large portion of men posting on these sites seem to be demanding hairy bridge trolls, so it’s not a gender exclusive thing.

So, to recap, I posted half-assed, not entirely up to date profiles and when I logged in I noticed a distinct negative vibe in the majority of posts.  I therefore wasn’t providing much motivation for women to swipe right, and I wasn’t inspired by the vast majority of profiles I saw either.  Weird, I thought, I don’t remember it being like this.  10 years ago I posted a profile on 1 dating site.  While my profile wasn’t awesome, I was uber-motivated.  I became pretty good at “cyber chats” and transitioning over to real dates…and I met a lot of women.  I had some great dates(and a few relationships), a lot of average dates, some stinkers and some really weird ones.  I remained on the site for about 3 years total and it was a positive experience.  I was motivated, I knew what I wanted and was up front with the women I eventually dated.  (I was also in pretty good shape at the time, for what it’s worth)

This time, though, I wasn’t that motivated.  I guess I expected women, the right women,  to fall magically into my lap due to my killer (ha) profile and obvious charm when they met me.  Also, honestly, there wasn’t much for me to be motivated about, as I slogged through endless fake profiles and/or profiles from women who seemed to have ongoing life issues.  Nevertheless, I did swipe right on some profiles and managed to go on a number of dates.  The results were underwhelming.  The outcomes fell into 3 categories – A Yes from me, but a No from the lady, A No from me but a Yes from the lady and finally a Yes from both parties but after a few dates nothing got off the ground.  Let’s examine why:

Firstly, the issue was me.  I lacked self-awareness.  I posted a picture that was not quite a year old but I should have taken a realistic look in the mirror.  After many exhausting months of working from home, I had gained weight, there were bags under my eyes and my hair had gotten grayer.  So I wasn’t exactly the guy in the photo, a big strike one.  Also, while I feel I was relatively comfortable in my skin and was able to facilitate conversation, etc I was no where near as motivated as before.  I didn’t have that spark.  Some of the women I had initial hiking or coffee dates with were quite attractive.  (Hard truth #1 – Men prioritize physical attractiveness above all.  It’s important to women too, but more as part of an overall package. That’s just how it is.  The more attractive you are, the higher your “market place” value is).  These women obviously thought “I can do better”.  One of these women actually told me that I looked older and fatter than the picture and she could do better.  She didn’t say it in the spirit of refreshing honesty, shall we say, but I stopped taking things like that personally about 10 years ago.  It was feedback about my profile ,and I learned something useful about her.  (Hard truth #2 – if you can’t take feedback, you’ve got no business dating.  You are putting yourself out there so it will be unavoidable.  Not everyone will be nice or constructive but you should have a healthy enough ego to put things into perspective.  This does not mean, however,  that you should ever accept rude behavior.)

The second issue was, well, with them.  A large number of women showed up looking almost nothing like their pictures.  I’m talking about pictures that were obviously many years old.  See above – this a not a great strategy because it quickly becomes the elephant in the room.  You know that I know that you look a lot older than I thought.  I should say, nonetheless, that some of these women were still attractive.  So the next very important criteria I look for is a) is this person normal (i.e. not visibly a nut-case) and b) relatively fun to be with.  That somebody showed up looking different from their pictures wasn’t a complete deal-breaker.  However, if they then rattled on for ages about how life is difficult and her ex-husband is psycho, it was a hard No.  So after the requisite 20 minutes of coffee and chatting, I would thank them for their time and move off into the sunset.  (Internet dating pro tip – never, ever met for a meal on a first date.  If things end up being awkward (or worse) you are literally stuck).

The third issue was, I guess, with us both.  In a few cases we ticked each others boxes and dated casually for a time. These fell into two categories – Successful women with careers and kids and less successful women with kids.  I am relatively successful in my career thus had more in common with first category than the second.  The problem with the first category is that because of our responsibilities we couldn’t prioritize dating – and this was only exacerbated by Covid lockdowns.  Typically there would be weeks between dates.  So things would invariably fizzle out.  The less successful women would often not understand the pressures and responsibilities I have so, in their eyes, I seemed to prioritize work over them.  Which, of course, I was doing especially since it was early days.  Eventually we’d both tire of that conversation so things would again fizzle out.

Something, I realized, was amiss.  I wasn’t presenting my best self and my lifestyle was not amenable to dating.  I realized that in spite of my “on paper” worth that I am currently unhappy with aspects of my life.  During the last several years, like many of you, I’ve been in a continuous “live to work” mode and as a result relationships with family and friends suffered and I had allowed my physical and mental well-being to deteriorate.  It is a problem and, as such, should be closely examined to identify options and possible solutions.  I had tried ignoring it for a few years but that clearly doesn’t work – it never works.  So right now I’m asking myself the tough questions – who am I, what do I value, what do I want to do right now, in 5 years and in 10 years?  What are the best strategies to achieve these goals?

This leads me to Hard truth # 3 – If you’re unhappy with your life and haven’t created the life you deserve, you shouldn’t be on a dating site or even thinking about relationships. Put yourself first, find your purpose, make a plan & achieve excellence. Your life depends on it. Everything else is secondary.  You are not responsible for your partner’s happiness and they are not responsible for yours.  If you concentrate on your excellence you will not only be happier but eventually more attractive in the eyes of others.  If letting life happen to you is a vicious cycle, taking responsibility for your happiness is a virtuous circle.

Gym Bullies

A few weeks ago there were a spate of articles in the UK press regarding the prevelance of sexual harassment in Globo (aka commercial) gyms and the Netflix documentary on the Bikram yoga guru that really opened my eyes to what women endure on the daily. Also, not so long ago, I witnessed  another type of bullying situation that, I realized later, was not unknown in Globo gyms.  To me, the gym is a sort of universal right, the way access to clean drinking water is a right.  It’s where one goes to improve one’s physical and mental health.  When emotionally stunted trolls think they can interfere with that right, it touches a nerve.

The two types of harrassment I have witnessed in Globo gyms are varying levels of  male on female sexual harrassment and straight up male on male physical bullying.  I should preface this by saying I have never witness either behaviour in a strength training gym. Doing so in such an environment would be an excellent way to get summarily ejected from the premises and could quite possibly be very hazardous to the offenders’ health.

Sometimes everything in life seems to go pearshaped at the same time.  At times like those, it’s essential to have a healthy, productive way of working off one’s stress.  Let’s establish the baseline that everyone, absolutely everyone, deserves to be able to do so without harrassment of any kind.  One caveat, however – in serious sports training such as powerlifting, boxing, MMA, crossfit, gymnastics, etc you will be sometimes pushed to your physical limits.  This, however, is to expand your boundaries.  There should, and usually is, a clear boundary between this sort of training and “hazing”.

As guy, and not a particularly small dude at that, I haven’t experienced harassment in a gym for a long, long time (more about that later).  The most prevelant form of harassment I notice in globo gyms are various levels of sexual harassment – from the ubiquitous staring “creepers” to (occasionally) particularly egregious thirsty dudes who think they can chat up women during their workouts.  It goes without saying that 80 percent of women in globo gyms never venture into the weight room, and it’s probably for this reason.  Rather, they do classes or congregate in large numbers in the cardio area, relying of the power of numbers like wildebeest on the Serengeti.  Of the remaining 20 percent of women in the weight area, some have pretty strong personalities and God bless ’em.  It seems that even creeps know to steer clear.  Invariably, however, some thirsty dude you’ve never seen before will make a nuisance of himself to some poor woman.  (NB:  it’s usually not a regular because, at least in my experience, socially handicapped guys like this don’t last a long time).  There is a difference between normal friendly behaviour like nodding, saying “hi”, asking if piece of equipment is free, etc and thirsty-ass harassment.

A few months ago I was in the bench press area and next to me was a woman who I know very sightly.  Some dude (who I had never seen before) comes up and immediately appoints himself her personal trainer.  Now, he was a good looking guy which in his case engendered a sense of entitlement as in “no matter how clumsy and annoying my approach is, she’s going to dig me”.   This guy was all over her like white on rice with a nonstop line of bullshit that was painful to witness.  He went right up to her, started talking (making her take off her headphones) and began giving her “advice”.  Worse still, he knew F*** all about bench-pressing (which she was doing correctly, she obviously didn’t need his crap “advice” and didn’t seem to dig the attention).  It wasn’t a case of some cheeky, self-confident guy, the whole approach was oppressive and weird.

I’d like to say 2 things:  firstly, I’m not a hater, if this guy was smooth and had a good line of patter with “positive” energy, I’d be the first to give a silent golf clap.  Secondly, I’ve learned over many years to keep mostly to myself in Globo gyms.  I remain friendly, of course, but intefere in other peoples’ shit, nope.  This, however, was beyond the pale.  Luckily the guy would periodically go to the other areas of the gyms (I watched him, he was trying to “chat” up several women simultaneously with the same shit “advice” approach  – I swear you can’t make this up).  At one point this women was looking for a 10 Kg plate so I said she could take mine as I was changing plates.  I then said, hey, you know so and so who was a gym acquaintance of both of us and we started to chat about benching which, it turns out, she did indeed know a whole lot more about than this moron.  At this point your man comes back and literally interrupts us, dishing out more bullshit “advice”.  She ignored him and we continued chatting about proper form.  He tried again, employing the old “talking louder and louder” approach to interrupting.  I began to think I may have to ping this dude upside the head with a 20kg plate as there was something off here, this went well beyond a tone-deaf semi-harrasing manner of “chatting up”.  The guy was clearly off his meds.  He eventually left to go try his luck elsewhere in the gym.  The woman who was benching finished her sets and eventually left.

Now, this guy was about my size so I was not physically intimidated.  What was the intimidating was the very real possibility that the guy was crazy or having a manic episode.  I thought about the woman, though, who was maybe 55 kgs and 1m60.  What’s it like to be harassed and physically intimidated by a some big, possibly crazy dude who is clearly sexually interested in you?  Hopefully, this sort of incident is rare.  However, if I was that woman and it happened to me, even once, you better believe I’d steer clear of the weight room and possibly even attend a women-only gym.  I didn’t really understand it before but I totally get it now.  As I’ve told my daugher, if you must work out in Globo gyms, try to find one with really positive energy, with 0 tolerance for this sort of bullshit.  Better yet,  find a strength training gym.  I’m not saying this would never happen in a speciality gym, but if one chooses carefully the probability is much lower.

There is another form of gym “harrassment” which, thankfully, one sees very rarely these days.  When I started weight training as a 145lb weakling in the mid 1980s, weight rooms didn’t just “seem” intimidating, they were intimidating.  Weight rooms in North America were inihabited solely by two groups, US football teams and roided out bodybuilders.  The ambiance in your local weight room was there something akin to taking your first stroll out into the “yard” at San Quentin prison.  It’s hard to communicate just how neanderthal the mentality was.  Football teams are, I suppose, insular by definition.  They are team, after all, and perhaps more apt than most other sports to be “juicing”.  Bodybuilders in those days, however, had to been seen to be believed.  Huge, hulking super roid beasts decked out in resplendent mullets, perma-tans, ridiculous multicolored baggy “gym” pants, cutoff stringer t-shirts and, very weirdly, Rebook hightop gym shoes that were the same model their high-haired girlfriends wore to aerobics class.  It was a hugely Gay esthetic, but these same dudes would beat you to a pulp for merely suggesting that.  It wasn’t that one felt passively intimidated, if you dared to wander into the weight area you were straight up harassed.  “Who are you, what are you doing here, don’t touch that bench, I’m using it…hey, Tony, look at this guy” etc, etc. Also, I’ve heard recently that the roid rage phenomenon is rare, blah, blah.  Perhaps it is now, but I can tell with 100% certainty it wasn’t then.  Fight in gyms or anyplace that the bodybuilders frequented were common.  Perhaps the “gear” people are using those days was more apt to make them behave like mentally addled toddlers.  Suffice it say that after a few forays into weight room and basically being told to “F” off, I got the hint.  Happily, sometime in mid-90s attitudes changes and I soon found myself back in the weight room.

Bottom line – don’t ever accept harassment in the gym.  It’s everyone’s right to be there and to train without some asshole ruining it. It’s relativey easy to spot a gym that tolerates an evironment that allows for harrassment.  If that’s the case with your gym, find a new one.

 

Why Powerlifting does not = Chick Magnet: a Primer

In past posts I have expounded at length about the many benefits of powerlifting.  We’ve also examined the “why” of powerlifting; namely, it’s insanely fun to be able to lift heavy shit.  However, nobody every tells you the shameful truth underlying this otherwise laudable sport.  Sit back, gentle reader, and clutch your emotional support pillow as your fearless author lays some truth bombs on your (lard)ass.  Powerlifting maybe life, chico, but the lifestyle and everything about it is kryptonite to many women.  Why?  Glad you asked:

  • You fuscular, son – Powerlifting ain’t about aesthetics.  Every weightlifter knows that weight moves weight.  If you’re  serious about the sport, you will gain weight both in muscle mass but you’ll more likely than not have some fat on top of it – aka “fuscular”.  Which looks bulky AF and, as every powerlifter knows, makes buying clothes a neverending challenge.  The body type is decidedly not straight up fat guy, but neither does it scream Adonis.  So, if you take your nutrional and body comp advice from Mark Rippetoe of Starting Strength, you will undoubtably lift more weight.  You just won’t be using those strong, strong arms to beat back the hordes of admiring women.
  • Strong body equals weak mind?  – I know, I know, logically speaking this doesn’t make sense but stereotypes die hard.  Lifting weights is for meatheads goes the old trope.  You must be some sort of emotionally and intellectually stunted moron to want to lift weights.  What are you trying to compensate for?  Obviously, lifting weights doesn’t automically qualify you as a genius, but neither is it evidence of being terminally dim.  Why, then, is this attitude so prevelant?
  • Classism:  Simply put, any sport that requires strength is for the lower classes, the hoi polloi.  (Ironically underlining how far we’ve deviated from the classical physical ideal of ancient Greece).  This explains the persistent classist attitude in the US regarding baseball vs. American football.  Baseball is famously the favorite sport of American intellectuals while football is seen as a very blue collar, working class past-time.  While I myself prefer baseball, I have to admit the football is actually the more intellectually and strategically interesting.  It’s the Art of War in real time and in 3D.  Nevertheless, tennis, running, baseball and cycling are all sports that get the upper middle class seal of approval.  Your girlfriend or partner would not frown on you discussing these sports at her BFF’s next cocktail party.  Not coincidentally, while these sports will make you fit, you will not be jacked unless you’re taking the same “vitamin” regime as A-Rod, Jose Canseco or Barry Bonds.  On the whole, however, being more muscular than the average and engaging in a strength sport is akin to advertising you’re working class (and possibly illiterate) in blinking red lights.  And that is a huge turn off for many women, although many would not admit it.
  • Intimidation:  This is weird one, but I understand it on the surface.  I’m not saying that powerlifters intimidate people the way MMA fighters do.   Most women, as we’ve illustrated, will have taken one look and classify you as a bulky simpleton with low earning potential.  Some guys, however, will manifest a similar response but with a “competition” angle.  More than once I’ve found myself in, literally, a cocktail party where some guy will ask me if I lift, what my PRs are, etc and then mention that he did better – back in high school.  My dear Sir, if that is indeed the case, kudos to you. Never, ever call this into question.The only sane and mature response to that is “Cool” and then swiftly change the subject.  Or you get the guy who will try to subtly spin the “you’re dumb”  or “you’ve got issues” tropes because that’s what some guys do in social settings.  Whatever.  Very rarely, you’ll meet a secure dude who will ask you questions about powerlifting either because he’s interested in the subject or maybe just being social.  Which brings up another important point, which is…
  • The first rule of powerlifting is you do not talk about powerlifting.  This means do not just casually bring it up in conversation or, God forbid, try to “humble brag”  about your lifts, training, etc to a fine young Thang.  For one, It’s a niche sport and a boring one at that unless you are actively involved in it.  Basic decency and rudimentary understanding of social etiquette require one to keep to topics that are relatable and, hopefully, even interesting to the other person.  Nothing quite screams socially stunted Incel as bragging about your lifts, unbidden, or worse droning on about your training.  And no, if she does Crossfit this doesn’t give you a hall-pass to talk shop.  For one, she probably knows tons of much more “shredded” guys from her “box” (I’m referring her Crossfit gym, you animals).  Also, you’ll invariably bring up the whole “AMRAP”ing heavy weights by an already tired athelete is a recipe for disaster, encourages bad form, etc, etc…and she’ll shut you off for contradicting Crossfit canon.  Currently Crossfitters are the notorious “fitness bores” of the lifting community…let’s keep it that way.
  • The exception to the rule:  On some rare social occasions the fact that you powerlift might come up, either from a acquaintance or a particularly efficient “wingman”.  Now, gentle, lardy, powerlifting reader (see, we read) this is your one and only shot to do discuss your nerdy, niche passion in public.  Don’t f##& it up.  And by that I mean respond to the question, as in “Thanks Julio, the competition prep is going well, I hope to PR in bench”.  And then quickly change the subject to say, the relative merits of Cabernet Franc and what it brings the overall Bordeaux “assemblage”.  This works because you will look a renaissance man, a multifaceted James Bond like character schooled in many different arcane arts.  I sincerely hope for your sake that powerlifting ain’t the ony thing you got going on, Bucko.

Let’s talk about depression in young men

I’ve reached an age when the children of people in my social circle are now young men and women and are taking their first tentative steps in establishing their adult identity – leaving home for university or, in some cases, going directly into the work-force.  2 of them, young men, are displaying signs of depression.  Discussing their issues immediately brought back a flood of memories of my own experiences with what I now recognize as fairly serious depression as a young man.  As I learned more about what these young guys were going through,  two thoughts  echo’ed in my head “Just hang on, it will get better” and “I wish they knew what I know now”.

According to a recent CDC study, “The percentage of adults who experienced any symptoms of depression was highest among those aged 18–29 (21.0%)” **.  (Please note that what follows are my opinions based on my own personal experience.  I am not, in any way, an expert in the field of mental health.)  Given my experience, I was not surprised by this result.  As far as I can tell, there are 2 types depression: situational (caused by stress, events) and innate (genetics, body chemistry, etc so that one may be predisposed to depression even in the best circumstances).  If you’re already predisposed to depression, taking those first steps into adulthood creates a lot of situational stress which, in my opinion, creates a perfect storm for a really bad bout of depression.  This is made worse by one’s relative inexperience with depression – not knowing what is happening to you or if it will ever get better.  This is why colleges famously get their share of freshman freakouts or worse.  I don’t know if it’s an apocryphal story, but we were told the reason that college dorm room windows don’t open completely is because of “jumpers”.

Looking back, I realize that I was predisposed to depression.  I was a fairly depressive kid and this was only exacerbated by factors in my childhood.  I was a sensitive kid with a very active imagination who was constantly daydreaming.  I’I had some good times, but also downright bad times.  I learned at an early age that life was often unfair and unpleasant, and there were times that the best you could do was to slog through, to endure.  It comes as no surprise that when I drank my first beer at the age of 15 there was an instant attraction.  My anxiety (briefly) vanished, and the incessant monkey mind chatter in my head was silenced.  Of course, the following hang over just made my anxiety levels sky-rocket.  Self-medicating with alcohol was, and is,  a viscious circle but I was young and very oriented toward short-term results.

As I’ve related in other posts in this blog, I left home at 18 and moved “back” the States.  In many ways, I was very much on my own.  I had a bit of money and the addresses of some friends I could stay with as I got on my feet.  Lest this sound like I’m playing the world’s smallest violin (woe is me), I did quite a bit to deserve this situation.  I barely, just barely graduated my senior year in high school so obviousy I hadn’t bothered to apply to colleges or even think about them in any material way.  I was, in short, a real handful my last 2 years of high school.  Rebellious, never home and more often than not partying with friends.  So my brilliant plan when I hit the US was to live some sort of bohemian working class existence that was part Jack Kerouac and part Bruce Springsteen.  Embarassing, but true.

Spoiler alert – it was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated and rather less glamorous.  I really scraped, scrounged and couch surfed.  I worked a multitude of shitty jobs, at one point working two full-time jobs simultaneously.  Looking back, I’m sort of impressed by what I achieved and the discipline that I imposed on myself.  The dark side of this achievement is that I had painted myself into a corner.  I really had no other options other than what I was doing – working and trying to get by on my own.  After about a year, I had managed to find a decent bottom rung of the ladder corporate job – working in a mail-room.  The pay was better than retail or restaurant jobs and the job actually had benefits like medical insurance and a 401k.  It seemed like things were looking up, however I soon found myself in what seemed like a black, bottomless pit of despair.  It felt like a dull physical pain and it made everything that much harder.  Getting out of bed, acting normal around people, going to work and not just suddenly walking out because I couldn’t deal with it anymore required gargantuan effort.

Because I was young and had relatively little life experience, I didn’t know what I could do to remedy this situation…so I just continued dragging myself to work and trying to ignore this heavy feeling of suffocation.  Finally, one day at work my body began to seize up.  I literally could not move my neck, it was frozen in place and I began to have a full-blown anxiety attack.  I excused myself from work (they were not at all understanding) and went to straight to my shitty HMO (US Healthcare, I  realize now, is a travesty) where I had to wait 3 hours to see a doctor.  When I did get to see the doctor he said there was nothing wrong with me and accused me of trying score drugs.  No counseling, no advice as to where I could get appropriate care, no concern about mental health at all.  I did the only thing I could think of – I scored some beer and drank.

The beer helped in the short-term, but when I woke up with a hang-over my situation was worse.  My anxiety was off the charts.  I realized my only option was to will myself to relax, one small step at a time.  So that is what I did.  It was horrible, I could only focus on the immediate – on literally hanging on.  I had no immediate safety-net.  I could completely lose my shit, but that would land me in unknown, possibly much worse, territory.  I still had to work, of course, so my major challenge was going to work, toughing it out and trying hide everything I was feeling.  Still, each day I did this was a small victory, and each time I was able to check my anxiety and will myself to do something positive gave me a very small measure of confidence.  After a while, I realized that I was not going to drown in this tsunami of anxiety and depression.  I could keep my head above water, if only barely at first.

I didn’t suddenly wake up one day without depression, happy and refreshed.  This bout slowly lifted in very small increments, two steps forward, one step back.  What did happen is that one day, many months later, I realized that I was making it through the day more or less normally.  I wasn’t particularly happy, per se, but neither was I being crushed the darkness.

Life is not a Hollywood movie.  I would like to say that I never suffered bouts of depression after that, but I did.  None of them were as scary as that first one that hit me at the cusp of adulthood.  Also, with experience I was/am able to handle depression better.

That experience taught me a few things:

  • Just. Hang. On.  You are stronger than you think.  Sometimes the only thing you can do is focus on small victories.  Forward momentum, no matter how slight, is key.
  • You need something that imposes structure in your life.  Staying in bed all day is only good for deepening your depression.  It can be as small as setting a goal such as today I will take a shower, get dressed and take a walk in the neighborhood or, as I did, go to work.  This was exhausting for me, but one positive aspect is that I was forced to focus on something other than myself for part of the day.
  • Substance abuse makes your anxiety/depression exponentially worse.  Avoid it.  I’ve had issues with substance abuse in the past, however during this episode an innate survival instinct made me avoid alcohol for the duration.  I was literally scared of ramping up my anxiety even further.
  • Find a competent mental health professional ASAP.  Keeping trying until you find one.  My experience was inexcusable.  We’re not in the 80s anymore, so I sincerely hope mentalities and overall compentency in dealing with depression have evolved.
  • Physical activity is the most effective way to alter your mood.  This is why it’s the most popular method addicts use to help modify their behaviour.  Walk, run, swim, bike, lift weights…golf, tennis, whatever it is, do it.

Finally, I think that depression hits young men differently than young women because men famously do not talk about their feelings and, if they do, certainly not with friends.  That being said, I think it’s key for young men suffering from depression, as it was for me, to spend time with their friends.  What male friends are good for is talking shit for hours, playing dumb video games, hanging out and doing whatever.  In the case of depression, this might actually be a better approach than endless talks about feelings.

** 2019 CDC Study about rates in the US

Pikliz – Haitian spicy pickled veggies #Superfood#takethatkimchi

Dear readers, I apologize for not having brought this recipe to your attention before.  One of goals of this blog is share healthy and tasty recipes that elevate your daily cooking.  Pikliz does exactly that – it adds a zingy, spicy, crunchy texture on top of fried foods (such as falafel), rice and sandwiches.  It is a painless way of adding a few more vegetables to almost any dish, which is alwas a good thing.  I also love dill pickles and Korean kimchi, but I find that pikliz is on a whole other level.

Ingredients:

  • A decent size Mason or a recycled and santized jar from the supermarket (I actually use recycled Dill Pickle jars)
  • Thinly sliced or grated cabbage  **  If you grate instead of slice, you are looking to use the larger grater blades that give you you long thin slices and don’t “crush” the vegetables.   Also, I’ve used cabbages of all colors for pikliz – they all work well.  What’s important is the crunch and texture.
  • 1 or 2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced or grated.
  • A lesser amount of bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced (for added color and texture) *** Pro tip/cheat code – if you can find bags of presliced or grated cabbage, carrots, peppers and celery  (meant for salads)in your local supermarket, by all means use this .  If you make as much pikliz as I do, it’s a timesaver..  
  • 1 decent sized onion, thinly sliced (do not grate this)
  • 1 spring onion, thinly sliced (including the green stalk part).
  • 2 to 4 Habanero chiles, cut in half and seeded ** (the Habanero imparts the zingy spice notes so I cut it in half to allow it to do so.  Some people cut it thinly which means you’ll eat the pickled Habenero as well.  Generally speaking, I love lots of spice, but in my opinion the that is not the raison d’etre of pikliz.)
  • A few garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt or larger grain sea salt
  • A pinch of black peppercorns
  • 3 good pungent cloves 
  • 2 to 3 cups of white vinegar ( I find the Heinz variety does the trick)
  • Lime juice (extra points for key limes, but if not, any fresh lime juice will do)

Instructions:

This is a very basic method of pickling which means marinating the sliced vegetables in a salty vinegar acidic solution.  This is a cold picking method but I know people who heat the liquids first with the cloves, peppercorns and salt and it works just a well.  Ideally you should make pikliz at least 3 days before consuming it as this will allow the vinegar solution to meld all of the flavors as well as drive excess water from veggies.

Quantities – I have shied away from citing exact quantities because it really depends on how much pikliz you want to make and how big a jar you are using.  Suffice it to say that the cabbage, carrot, onion and bell pepper make the backbone of this dish, and the other parts play a supporting role.  

Add all of ingredients, save the salt, lime juice and vinegar to your pickling jar.  Now add the salt (at least a few teaspoons, but it shouldn’t be overly salty either), the lime juice and the vinegar until all the veggies are covered by the liquid.  Use a wooden spoon to mix everything together well.  Use the remaining vinegar to “top it up”  a bit more but the vegetables should just be covered by the solution, not swimming in it.

That’s it.  Pikliz should as month in the fridge, at the very least.  At my house, we eat it quite a bit so it doesn’t last long enough for me to test it’s preservation properties.  Enjoy.

Where do you want to live for the rest of your life?

 

I don’t feel old.  Nevertheless, if I was in States I’d probably start receiving mailers from AARP as of next year (I’m in my mid 50s).  Thanks to training in powerlifting for the past 7 years I’m fair stronger now than I was in my 20s or 30s.  I’m not a senior citizen nor will I be one in the near future.  I am, however, smack in the demographic that should be in the “end game” part of retirement planning.

The impact of technology on the work/life balance of modern corporate workers has been dramatic – and Covid-19 has accelerated the process.  There is effectively no barrier from you and your work – and no real or tacit “down time” is allowable.  Corporations obviously know that short term gains will be followed my mid-term burnouts and therefore pay a lot of lip-service to “disconnecting” and “wellness” but this belies their real productivity expectations.  For most corporate workers, the only realistic way to meet current expectations is to work long hours and on weekends.

For all of my career, including the present, I’ve always worked hard and never been hesitant to put in what ever hours are needed.  Recently, however, I reached the “wall” to use a runner’s term.  I cannot literally sustain or “increase” my current pace of work for another 10 or 11 years (if I was to program a traditional North American retirement age).  I’m literally living to work, with some short “family time” and powerlifting training (becoming harder to fit in as we work later and later) breaks thrown in.  Real vacations, where one could actually stop working, have become rare indeed.

I’ve reached an age where many people I knew growing up are passing away on a more regular basis.  Some of them were adults when I was young, but a number of them have been my age or younger.  Given that I started working full-time at age 18, by my calculations I’ve worked approximately 35 years so far.  This, of course, forces one to ask that existential question – what is the purpose of life?  I know the answer isn’t “work to live”.

My current situation:

  • Senior Manager in corporate setting.  Reducing hours or taking a more junior position is not possible.
  • In the country where I live, I’m at the age where employers start to find ways to “off-load” older employees quietly, so chances are I wouldn’t make till 65 even if I wanted to.
  • It goes without saying that employers here do not hire older people for the same reasons above (higher “social” costs than younger staff) so an “end of career” change is not likely.
  • I’ve two children – 1 in university and 1 in high school

Therefore my current goal is stay employed until my youngest is has finished his bachelor’s degree.  The country I have lived in for the past 23 years is a great place, I owe it almost everything.  One thing it is not, however, is cheap to live in.  Therefore, I’ve actively started looking for a country suitable for retirement.  My criteria are the following:

  • Reasonable cost of living (this includes real estate cost as well as reoccuring expenses).  The goal is to be able to live comfortably on a retirement income.
  • A decent infrastructure, political stability and in an area that will be hit less by global warming in the next 20 years (i.e. no beach front property in 3rd world nations).
  • Language – it should be one that I already speak fluently or speak to some degree.  Croatia is flat out great, but realistically I’ll never probably speak the language beyond a rudimentary level.  Ditto Thailand.  I know a lot of English-speaking expats don’t mind living in countries where they don’t speak the language, but that would quite frankly bother me.
  • Culture/Cuisine – Very important…is it a country that, as my kids would say, I “vibe” with?

The countries on my shortlist:

  • France:  this checks all the boxes (provided you avoid the more expensive parts) , I know it very well and it’s the language if I feel most at home in after English.
  • Spain:  Even cheaper than France, love the cuisine and culture.  Very cheap real estate and living costs (save utilities). My Spanish is both rusty and Latin American influenced, so there’d be a learning curve, but it’s almost a plus.  I’d look forward to improving my Spanish.
  • Portugal – As above, only my Portugese in non-existant.  Harder to learn than Spanish by all accounts.  Still, it’s such a cool place I’d consider it provided I spent the first year in intensive Portugese classes.
  • Mexico:  I know what you’re thinking, Mexico is corrupt and has almost entirely taken over by the Cartels.  Vast swathes of the country are flat out dangerous.  Still, there are still pockets (Merida, San Miguel de Allende, etc) that check the boxes above and remain relatively safe.  For how long, though?
  • Italy:  This should tick all of the boxes above and I feel that Italian would be easier to learn than Portugese.  Amazing country, but I’m not sure I want to live there.  However, given the right reasons, I would consider it.

I am currently planning trips to Spain, Portugal and France as soon as travel restrictions are relaxed a bit.  My first order of business if to find a house in good shape that I can buy cash and use a vacation rental to help cover expenses until I retire.  Realistically, this phase might take a least a year.  I don’t anticipate “jumping on a property” right away unless it absolutely meets all my criteria.

I guess it’s interesting that retiring to my “country of origin” is not even on the radar.  I don’t really have a compelling reason to go there.  It’s not particularly cheap unless I want to live in some areas 100s or thousands of miles away from the remaining family and friends I have there…there are a lot of great things about it, sure, but there are a lot downsides too – that are obvious to those of us living outside the country, but less apparent to some living in the country.  I wasn’t born there nor have I spent most of my life there.  If I had to go, so be it, it’s just not my first choice.

I think my situation is only unique in that it’s unusual even now for Americans or Canadians to expatriate or immigrate and even more so for retirees.  Most of the rest of world’s population, this option has always been on the table (if people were given half a chance).  Even now, as I vist Canada and the US and I explain that I live in Europe, I’m often asked “why??” by truly surprised or puzzled people.  I feel this is shifting and will continue to shift as we’ve seen a lot of recent US or Canadians immigrants going back to countries like China, India, Nigeria, Ghana and Mexico as opportunities in those countries grow and as the trade-offs of living the American or Canadian dream become less worth it on the whole.

Question to you my readers:  What country would you consider retiring to and why?  Please put your answer in the comment section below.  

We all need a party-trick – or the fun of cultivating obscure, semi-useless natural talents

Talent is the natural aptitude or skill one has in any given action.  If one is really fortunate, one is able to combine their given talent with their livelihood.  If you have a calling, as the saying goes, you will never “work” a day in your life.  What I’m talking about is something that comes easier to you than it seemingly does to others although one must work hard to refine this talent.  Most of us, if we’ve lived at least semi-full lives, have discovered a number of things we are terrible at,  a smaller collections of things we are middle of the road average at and a very small list of things that, for one reason or another, we kick-ass in.  This post is a celebration of the cultivation of those weird, random talents.

When I was 11 I begged my mother for months to let me take martial arts classes.  It’s not that she didn’t want me to, it’s just that we didn’t have that much money at the time.  Finally, she relented, and we found a suitable dojo/boxing gym.  This place was open 7 nights a week – the first 2 hours for boxing, the 2nd two hours for Shotokan Karate.  I usually went a minimum of 5 days a week and attended both training sessions.  After 10 or 11 months of this the following things became apparent.  I was shitty boxer and at best I was able to attain a level that didn’t provoke outright embarassment in onlookers.  On the other hand, I was better in Karate…and what really distinguished me was my flexibity, speed and kicking ability.  My kicks were well above average, and my hands, even in Karate were, well, meh.  For those of you who are new to martial arts, Shotokan is a Japanese style that is not generally known for flashy kicks.  I , however, lived for such, so this being the early 80s I ordered books (yes, kiddies, no Youtube tutorials) written by well-known Korean Taekwondo practitioners that gave detailed technique breakdowns of many jump-spinning kicks, double jump spinning kicks and the like.  Soon  I started to do tournament sparring and it turns out I was relatively succesful.  I was painfuly shy at this point in my life so nobody at school had the slightest idea what I was doing with my spare time until my tournament results got some very localized media attention.  But perhaps even funnier, of the “party trick” variety, was the reception I got at first in the actual tournaments.  I remember once I destroyed this kid, a black belt, 3 points to 0 with rapid fire high kicks.  As we finished the head judge said “Hey, outstanding job for a yellow belt, you do Taekwondo?”  When I replied “No, Shotokan”, he did a doubletake and laughed.  The thing is, I trained 10 to 14 hours a week on this really obscure (especially at the time) skill that was really only applicable in this very specific setting.  I have never been a skilled fighter, I don’t have the instincts.  What I was very good at, however, was this very specific form of “tag” that is tournament karate sparring.

Another very, nay, extremely unlikely skill that I possess is the benchpress.  If you told me at 18 that one day I’d be that dude in the gym who benchpresses more than everyone else, I’d have laughed my ass off.  Until my mid-40s, I had a slimmer atheletic build.  I’ve always had fairly broad shoulders but otherwise I wasn’t big-boned, hairy chested or, at the time, overly burdened with muscle.  I was, and in some ways remain, the original metrosexual.  Benchpressing was for Neanderthals.  I was much more focused in my 20s and 30s on my 10K times than powerlifting.  Fast forward 2 decades in time and almost 8 years of Powerlifting training.  My deadlift is pathetic by almost any standard, my squat is respectable when I’m not injured but my bench is another matter.  On any given day in a commercial gym I can probably outbench anyone in the gym, even the heavier guys.  I might not out-bench everybody in a powerlifting gym, but I’ll at least make a good showing for myself.  I don’t grind out my benchpresses, they go up easily, even when I’m very close to my 1RM…until I’m over that limit and it doesn’t move.  I never train to failure and I only fail lifts a couple of times a year.  As my coach asked me the other day, “So what’s it like having this one weird thing you’re really good at?  I bet it doesn’t come up much in cocktail party chat”…

Finally, the last thing I’m weirdly good at is Trivial Pursuit or Jeapordy type games.  My cousin actually had a week long winning streak on Jeapordy program (RIP Alex Trebek) in the 90s so perhaps it’s in the genes.  So much so that I immediatey vibed with with the move Slumdog Millionaire when it came out.  I just happen to know a lot of weird, random facts for a number of weird, random reasons.  I clean up in pub quizzes, as long as it’s general interest and not too (which can happen where I live) UK specific.  I’m always getting the “WTF, how do you know that?!?!” reaction.  What can I say, I guess rampant boredom and no TV growing up had something to do with it…

We all need these party tricks, these obscure skills that maybe don’t garner much public glory but make us feel good about ourselves.  Firstly, because skills or talents are only discovered and developed because you’ve gone out there and tried many things until, lo and behold, here’s this crazy thing that you’re better at than most people.  Secondly, you need to work hard take the skill in question to the next level.  All of the skills I mentioned above were examples applying many hours of hard work to a specific apptitude.