Sitting atop Mt. Lafayette.

Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail Gave Me Permission To Be Me

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. Thanks for following along after all this time! May 8th, 10 days from the writing of this post, marks the one year anniversary of when I stepped off on the Appalachian Trail.

I’ve been getting my life back in order. I’m working out at MKT CrossFit and I’m going to coach some classes and do personal training there starting in May. I’m working on a documentary modeled after Super Size Me. But instead of eating McDonald’s I’ve been floating in a sensory deprivation tank for 90 minutes everyday for 30 days. In mid May part one of my Appalachian Trail documentary will be released on YouTube – I’ll post a link here when that goes live.

Start-up mania

So like I said earlier I’m getting back into personal training. I’ve been playing video games in the evening and updating Healthy Gamer regularly with new videos. What’s interesting is that this is pretty much the same path that I started off on back in 2012. In 2012 I had just graduated with my accounting degree and was trying to figure out the next step. I didn’t know what I wanted to do – I just knew that being a CPA was not for me. It was that summer that I started The Healthy Gamer. I went on to get my personal training certificate and I was fully intent on working part-time as a personal trainer while I continued to play video games and produce videos and articles on Healthy Gamer.

But somewhere along the way I got sucked up into the whole start-up/entrepreneurship culture. It seemed like everyone around me was raising big capital and going on to have massive success, and I didn’t want to miss that boat. My attention shifted from the original plan to work part-time as a personal trainer and build up Healthy Gamer to let’s build up a big company and become one of these people that the magazines write about.

I started to think of being a personal trainer as “just” being a personal trainer. I started to think of Healthy Gamer as “just” a YouTube channel. I berated myself each time I loaded up a video game because I thought I was wasting precious time. Time that should be spent building the next billion dollar start-up. If you believe the magazines the road to success it paved with 100 hour work-weeks and copious amounts of caffeine.

Speaking of caffeine… at the height of this start-up craziness I was drinking 7-8 cups of coffee a day. I just had this notion that I had to do more, more, more. Because I kept comparing myself to these success stories of unicorn companies founded by people in their mid 20s.

I started to wonder what was wrong with me. Here I was, 28 years old, barely scraping enough to get by month-to-month, without one truly successful business under my belt. I was way behind the curve. Or so I thought. So I better work extra hard. Drink more caffeine. Try to take on more work.

It was crazy! Truly insane. I had completely lost sight of why I was doing any of this. I was neglecting my physical health. I was neglecting relationships. I was neglecting friends. Why? Why was I doing any of this? I never stopped to ask myself that question. The only constant thought I can remember from that period of my life was a overwhelming anxiety that said I needed to work harder, that I needed to work faster, that I needed to do more. That if I could make a bunch of money then everything would be okay. Then I would be okay. Then somehow I would be worthy of love, and admiration, and respect.

Burnout

The hard work did pay off to some extent. We found investors for our start-up and we paid a lawyer to write up the convertible note. Funny aside: when we did our taxes for the company the only person that really got paid was the lawyer.

We were about to get the investment we needed to really grow the company but I was burnt out. I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. Even with 8 cups of coffee a day I couldn’t muster up the slightest bit of energy to do anything productive. I finally had to admit to myself that this was unsustainable. And if I kept moving forward I was very likely looking at an early death due to stress related illnesses. I have several patches of gray hair on my head to prove it.

During this time my partners had some job changes and more of the responsibility of the company shifted to my shoulders. I had to decide whether to continue to push it or walk away. Ultimately I decided to walk away. For all that stress, and pain, and toil I got a buyout check for $50. It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. But I had nothing left. I was a burned out husk of my former self. There was no spark of life left inside. What’s the point of making money if you’re already dead?

Permission to be

You probably know the rest of the story already. I walked away from the company and hiked the Appalachian Trail.

During my float yesterday I realized that I’d gone back to my starting point. Back to the original plan of personal training part time while building up Healthy Gamer.

I think my 205 days spent hiking the Appalachian Trail really taught me that it’s okay to just be. I don’t need to be anything. I can just be. I don’t need television, magazines, or an Inc. 500 list to define success for me. I need to answer that question for myself. Who am I? What makes me happy? Why am I alive? What’s my purpose?

I really love this quote from Earl Nightingale in regards to success.

“A success is the school teacher who is teaching because that’s what he or she wants to do. A success is the entrepreneur who start his own company because that was his dream and that’s what he wanted to do. A success is the salesperson who wants to become the best salesperson in his or her company and sets forth on the pursuit of that goal.

A success is anyone who is realizing a worthy predetermined ideal, because that’s what he or she decided to do … deliberately. But only one out of 20 does that! The rest are ‘failures.'”

I was a failure because I had not deliberately decided my own life. I had let the influence of our culture dictate to me how I should live. What goals I should pursue. What I should value.

This clarity and this freedom to be is what has allowed me to come back to the starting point. To come back to personal training and Healthy Gamer. I started Healthy Gamer because I love fitness and I love video games. And with Healthy Gamer I’m able to directly impact the lives of thousands of gamers all across the globe. Just this morning I got a comment from a viewer that said he’s lost 8kg in the last 3 months because of my workouts. That’s why I started training people. Because fitness truly can change lives. And I love being able to share my experience and help others find happiness, and confidence, and fulfillment.

Testimonial

Now that I’ve stopped comparing myself to another person’s idea of success I’m not “just” a personal trainer. I’m not “just” a YouTuber. I am me. I am doing what makes me happy. And the interesting distinction is that I think I will find more material success following this route then I ever could have previously.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I think one of the most important steps we can take toward lasting happiness is to give ourselves permission to be who we are. Be you. You are whole, and perfect, and worthy of love and respect. Right now. This second.

Comments

  1. Jonathon

    Hey Jack,

    Was wondering when you said that being a cpa wasn’t for you – had you already taken the cpa exam and started working or did you just decide that wasn’t the path you wanted to persue?

    I’m asking because I am in a very similar situation. I am graduating soon and have the opportunity to get my masters for free and take the cpa exam but I’m not sure that’s the route I want to go. I also don’t know what else I would do either so I will probably continue on that path until I can find what I really want.

    Glad you’ve figured out what you want to do and that money isn’t everything. If you can get by doing what you love and not struggle financially then you’ve won.

    1. Author
      Jack Jones

      I hadn’t taken the CPA exam but I’d worked for two firms. Maybe you could take a year off after graduation and just travel. There are many very inexpensive ways you can travel. You could teach English overseas, work at organic farms for room and board, work on a cruise liner, go for a long distance hike like the AT. I think taking time for yourself to travel helps clarify the mind for what you want to do more than anything else.

      Personally I hated every aspect of the accounting job. Sitting at a computer staring at spreadsheets and punching in numbers all day was mind-numbing. The people I worked with, for the most part, really weren’t happy. I think that was the biggest factor for me. I worked in STL for a big accounting firm and everyone’s routine was to get drunk every weekend. I didn’t want that to be my life. I can only think of maybe 2-3 people that were genuinely happy to come into work. Everyone else was just doing it for the money.

  2. Anonymous

    I like your insight in to what happiness really is. Something most don’t figure out till they are much older. There is a lot of pressure these days to live up to others expectations, what we think we are supposed to do and be. Some are never able to find the strength to just be and let the rest go. If your not the smartest, prettiest, richest , it ok.
    Good luck with what you are doing and never forget your own revelation.
    Peggy

    1. Author
      Jack Jones

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment Peggy. I agree, perpetually comparing ourselves to others leads nowhere good.

  3. Mark Kinsley

    Jack, it’s been so much fun following your journey. I couldn’t agree more about giving ourselves permission to be. Sometimes being who you are is difficult because we live so distracted and very few people stop, zoom out, and reset (like you did by hiking the trail). For those who aren’t sure who they are, I encourage them to revisit childhood. Remember what filled you with wonderment? Take those moments and figure out how to update them for adulthood.

    1. Author
      Jack Jones

      Hey Mark! Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. I think many problems in our society could be solved if we took time to slow down and reflect. It doesn’t have to be go, go, go all the time.

  4. wisdom

    Hey Quadzilla,
    often, when I enter the kitchen, my wife gets startled deeply; then I jokingly tell her that she does not live alone in this appartment (20+ years and counting …) and she need not be afraid, no ghosts, no wild animals, just her husband.
    But then, she is in her *cooking meditation*, she says; where she is in complete presence and connection with what she is preparing. Seems like a really productive kind of flow with the outcome of self-made food.
    giggle
    wisdom

    1. Jack Jones

      Hey Wisdom, good to hear from you! I love your stories. Hope you’re doing well.

Leave a Comment