“Hey, I don’t want the guy with man tits.” 

And that’s how my wonderful Saturday morning in rainy San Francisco started. It was the spring of 2008 and lacking the proper rain gear, I was bundled up with a few layers that hugged my upper body tightly. I knew my outer layer was tight, but I didn’t think much about it as I left my apartment that morning.

11 year old Mathew repeated once again looking in my direction – “C’mon man, I don’t want to be partnered with man tits.”

Mathew was one of about 30 kids we were mentoring as part of a great organization called City of Dreams. I’d been volunteering with them a few Saturdays per month – we’d take under served kids from the inner city and expose them to experiences they would never get to participate in.

The prior week we were hiking through the Marin county woods, and a few weeks back, we took a big trip to Lake Tahoe and went skiing (picture above). Let me tell you this – getting an 11 year old kid who has never experienced snow to stop throwing snowballs, holy cow now that is one tough task. But I’m not here today to talk about snowballs.

On this rainy, overcast day we were in downtown San Francisco exploring the Museum of Modern Art. I was never a big museum guy as the baseball and football stadium always seemed more enjoyable to me, but this is for the kids I thought. And a little culture never hurts, right?

As we were partnering up adults with kids, this is when I was so fortunate to hear the words – Nick and Mathew.

Mathew had the reputation of being a little difficult. So when I heard the words echo out of his mouth I wasn’t too shocked. But the impact of those words jolted me from the inside.

Did he just say “Man tits”? Wait, what. Really? To me?

First I thought, how the hell does an 11-year-old kid know the words man tits? Isn’t that something you learn as a teenager? WTF. I guess these kids are growing up fast.

I then ran through an extensive list in my head of how he can’t really think that can he? Does that mean other people think that too? I’m a fit 30-year old dude I think to myself. I work out. I run. I play basketball. I surf. I feel pretty good with my shirt off.

In the moment I shook it off as no big deal. I’m a man and I can handle this. My tough guy response was something like “hey little man, these are pecs buddy”.

But inside it killed me. It hurt. It went against everything that I stood for. It tore apart my identity of who I was as a former athlete and fit person. I felt like shit.

On the outside, I was strong as hell. But not on the inside. My emotional strength was non existent. I had no ability to counter that little voice in my head that started chirping away – doubting my fitness, questioning my health, worried about what others thought of me. It was a fight to hold back those emotions, but I did and moved on through the day.

Matthew quickly got over the fact that I was in fact his partner, and nothing was mentioned about it again. We actually had a fun day walking around the museum and exploring art that we both had never seen before.

This rainy day left an imprint on me that I’m still dealing with today. As I reflect, I’ve realized 2 concepts that have helped me deal with this. I hope they can help you too.

 1) Got Insecurities? Good, you’re human.

We all have insecurities, doubts, fears, and worries. I am no different. You are no different. I still to this day am a little self conscious of my chest. I do tend to store more body fat there, that’s my genetic predisposition. I have some days where I think I have man tits, that’s a true fact. I know at 10-12% body fat that some of you might be thinking that I’m delusional. How could you possibly think that about yourself? I dunno, but I do sometimes.

It’s real and hopefully by sharing my shit it might help you deal with your own stuff.

While I’m aware of this insecurity, I try not to let it take over my life. And that’s the big distinction that I’ve discovered over the last few years.

It’s chatter in my head that’s part of what I get for being a human being.

Sure, these emotions and thoughts are real, it’s not about denying them or pretending they don’t exist. It’s about not being attached to them. It’s about not having them define me for who I am. It’s saying something like this – I’m aware of this feeling, but they are not me. And with this awareness, I’m going to choose to focus on something else.

And you know a simple trick that’s worked for me if I get in a funk? I’ve found that moving my body seems to do the trick almost every time. It doesn’t have to be a long workout either. I’ve found the act of standing up and squeezing the living hell out of my butt muscles works wonders. (You should try it sometime. Let me know how it goes). Or maybe I drop and do a handful of push-ups. It’s this simple act that seems silly, but I encourage you to give it a shot. By changing your own physiology you can more easily drop the negative thoughts and focus on something else.

 2) Words Are Powerful – Choose Them Carefully and Remember You Are In Control

Two words, spoken from a harmless 11-year-old had the potency to level me as grown 30-year adult. I choose my words very carefully nowadays. I’m aware that some innocuous sounding words out of my mouth can be interpreted in a certain way that is harmful.

I try to really think through my thoughts before speaking. I try to be more thoughtful with how I communicate with people. Not that I was ever a big loud mouth to begin with, but I now select words much more carefully and am aware of the impact they can have on others.

On the receiving end, I also now realize that we have the ability to control how we hear those words. And more importantly how we respond to those words. We are in the driver seat. We can choose to let someone bring us down, or we can choose to ignore him or her and move on. We have the power to choose.

Strong Exterior, Fragile Interior

In that moment and the days and weeks that followed, I let those words really affect me. It threatened the manliness that defined me my whole life. As an athlete I was always strong, and while I certainly had the external strength well developed, I didn’t realize there was some serious work to do on the internal strength. I learned that admitting weakness was OK. I’d been conditioned my life to be strong, to be the leader, and to never be vulnerable.

So you can imagine how powerful it was when I said to myself – I have the emotional maturity of an 8-year-old kid and it’s time to grow the fuck up and be OK with feeling weakness. That is part of being a human. No more shoving that shit down further and further. It’s time to work on it.

The huge realization I discovered was that getting stronger internally (let’s call it emotional or psychological health) is no different than building physical muscle. The more I focused on it, the more energy I put into it, the better I got.

It’s very similar to the effect of lifting weights on building physical muscle. I started a mindfulness practice where I do nothing other than focus on my breathing for 10 minutes every day. I learned the best practices from some of the sharpest people in the world. Tony Robbins, Peter Sage, and Sam Harris have all helped me build that muscle.

Progress certainly requires patience. Over time, I’ve been able to get stronger through awareness which has helped me acknowledge that non-stop chatter, but not let it define me for who I am.

This has built a powerful resiliency where I can now let these negative things roll off my skin easier.

And most importantly, I’ve learned there are more significant things in life to give a shit about. Who cares what others think or say or do. I’d rather save my finite mental energy on those vital things in my life. On my family.

 

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On my amazing, beautiful Julie.

On my business. On growing relationships with people who bring me up. On my health. On making a difference. That’s what I give a whole lot of shits about these days.

Thanks for reading and letting me into your life. I hope you got something positive out of this post. If you did, I’d love to hear from you.

Nick

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