18 Sep Close the gap!
In my google drive, there’s a folder called “maybes.” It is full of videos of myself reflecting on my struggles. They are usually short videos shot from my phone with all the problems in quality that that entails. Sometimes a cat makes an appearance. Often the dogs bark too loud and I get annoyed. Seldom are they are scripted, and most of the time they end abruptly with a “fuck!” and some instructions I give to my future self to finish. They are the outcome of a very productive habit I have: to turn all my adversity into content. Every once in a while I go through them looking for ideas and seeing if I can salvage anything. I usually find ideas and amusement, but quite often I have to pass on sharing any of them. They are just too raw, unfinished, and unpolished. They are this strange mix of real and shitty.
In my last sweep, I realized I had made at least three videos talking about biking. They are all very similar in every respect. My already big head is even bigger because I have my bike helmet on. In all of them, I am panting as I just came home from some job-related endeavor. In all of them, I tell the same story. I say how difficult it was that day to choose the bike instead of the car. I look pretty happy and I conclude how much better it was to ride the bike than the car, and how absurd all those tribulations about biking were. In all of them, I talk about the cyclist hat that I usually wear under my helmet even though I don’t see its practical purpose. It is a “Cafe de Colombia” hat made famous by Colombian riders in the 80’s. Those riders were the first Colombians to have global sports success. For a country only known for its struggles, that’s huge. I don’t talk about that in the videos, but you can guess the importance of it.
The message of these videos is not about how hard it is to go to the gym or to adhere to your fitness routine. I mean it can be, but only at a superficial level. When I look at those videos, I don’t think about struggling to get a workout in. I actually think about all those endless afternoons I spent circling my computer before starting to write my dissertation. All the five years of afternoons it took me. I think about when I moved from Chicago to Salt Lake City and had to go to gym after gym presenting myself asking for a job. I think about all the moments that I struggled hard to achieve exactly what I wanted. When I am choosing between biking and the car, I am not choosing what is good for me because of my health. I am not choosing what is better for the environment. I am not trying to do the right thing. It is not a moral choice. What I am doing is closing the gap between who I want to be and who I am.
What matters is that staying true to your own self is hard. It takes work, and it does not come easy. Quite the opposite, what comes naturally is often not who you want to be. Recording all those videos is easy. Polishing and sharing them is hard. Yet who I want to be is not a video-journaler, I want to be a guide who helps others to be more faithful to themselves by sharing what I have learned in as many mediums (it should be media, but that’s confusing) as I can.
This is Integrity: the constant work of staying true to yourself. That’s how I understand it. It is not a set of moral rules. It is not a dogma to follow. Our self is our ultimate creative freedom. You have one life, one set of experiences, make sure your actions are a good representation of the person you want to be. It is the paradoxical nature of life: you have the freedom to be whomever you want to be, but also the responsibility. Awesome, but also … fuck!
I did not learn this by reading books. Although books helped. I learned this when I started coaching. You see, Integrity is the core of all good coaching. Coaches are guides that help people with spectacular projects. Lowering blood pressure is one of those projects, as much as is running a marathon, or really learning how to play the violin. When a person comes to you with one of these projects, all you have to do is to make sure the outcomes they want align with their values and their behaviors. If they do not align, the project is going to fail. If they do, coaching becomes nothing more than creating the contexts in which this alignment happens.
The cool thing is that once you experience one of these projects working, Integrity becomes the most powerful tool. The transformative process of creating and shaping a new self changes the coach too. I saw Integrity in my athletes and my students before I saw it in myself. But once I saw it, there was no coming back. It is now at the heart of all my systems, it has made me a more effective coach and a happier human. It has not been easy, and the gap between my actions and who I want to be is always there. But it is narrower now … on average.
What I have learned is that the hard part of Integrity is that it requires two things: courage and honesty. And those are not easy, not at all. You need the courage to know precisely who you want to be. You need the courage to re-evaluate that and accept it will change. You need the courage to admit you will always be a version of yourself, not the best or the worst, just a version. But most of all, you need the courage to be unapologetically yourself. It is your own responsibility not to let anything shame who you want to be.
And then you need honesty. You need the honesty to look with eyes wide open at your gap. That’s a hard one. Your brain is a justification machine. There will be no shortage of ideas to justify the gap. And yet the gap is the gap, and justification or not if your actions are not matching who you want to be is still your job to fix it. In a world so centered around results, looking at your behaviors independently of your results and evaluating if you are acting according to your true self is defiance. That is hard, but also is the beauty of it.
When I get back to the videos, I am happy I shot them. I am proud of that silly hat and what it means to me. It helps give meaning to my bike ride. It helps me be closer to my family and friends, and all the experiences I can attach to it. I could write a whole novel about that hat. But I won’t, I have shit to do, and a gap to close.
Close your gap!