You can spend a lot of time becoming yourself. It’s a funny thing. As you move further from your own youth, the thing that you measure yourself against - is still you. There are obvious gifts of youth - health, vigour, and time to spare. But with age comes more subtle gains, those treasure that are hard-won. You are not getting older, you’re getting better.
I just finished an interesting book by Teddy Atlas, trainer to such boxing legends as Michael Moore and Mike Tyson. Atlas gauges success not by who wins a boxing match, but by something personal the boxer has overcome, a great fear that haunts him from the past faced down and defeated. The boxing ring is only a metaphor for the batles raging inside. Decisions about whether to flinch or press the battle begin long before a fighter steps into the arena. The biggest question of all, what a man determines he will be... and this battle must be decided before he can defeat someone else.
In Atlas’ opinion, the greatest boxing triumph of all time was Joe Louis over Max Schmeling, Hitler’s aryan strongman, set out to prove issues of racial superiority to the world. Given that this match took place before civil rights in America, Joe Louis was fighting an inner battle with the weight of his own history. He had already been beaten by Max Schmeling years earlier, and therefore had to face the possibility of being defeated again by the same man. His was a victory I would have liked to witness.
Another epic battle, Buster Douglas over the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson. According to Teddy Atlas, Mike Tyson could fight the physical aspect of a fight but was weak where it counted, in the mind. He had nothing internal to fall back on when the chips were down. If he could not pound through you, he had no plan B. Buster Douglas on the other hand, had somehing to prove. The second-wind he got in the ring after being felled by a vicious uppercut from Tyson, came from his mother, who had died the week before. She had told him he would win the fight, and somehow he believed her. He was answering something larger than life. It gave him the spiritual fortitude to go on.
Our biggest battles always come down to faith, as an antidote to despair. Despair is crushing. It makes everything stop. Stopping is literally, death. When there is nothing more you can do, when there is nothing more to accomplish, your life is truly over.
Teddy Atlas poses an interesting question: if you were put into the ring with your younger self, would you win? Despite that you were younger, fitter and had more energy, could you outweigh that with the things you have added on to yourself since? Inner strength can outweigh the mere physical when push comes to shove.
It’s those lifelong fears that loom before you at 3 AM that you must ovecome. Those seminal issues like finding a home, finding family, true love, righting past wrongs to move forward, there is a laundry list of things important enough to leave a wound - those things you must prove. Everyone’s list is different, and every list has a bit of overlap. You know what your own issues are. The most confusing thing in this struggle is that part of getting past yourself, is regaining some things you used to be, but have lost along the way. You want to be that same man – only moreso. It’s hard to be satisfied with a trade-off.
Are you ready for that cage match, the one where you take on yourself? Look at that scrawny naive contender staring back at you in the mirror. He was young but he was also dumb. You are older and smarter. The real victories in life are triumphs of the spirit, and the first and last person to be overcome is always yourself. You will have to knock yourself out in order to truly know what you are made of.
Perhaps Dallas Willard said it best. “The most important thing in your life, is not what you do, it’s who you become. That’s what will take you into eternity.”
Your biggest obstacle is always yourself. Go ahead. Knock yourself out.