Why? In many ways this can be the most important question you ask about a certain topic or situation. Unfortunately, this can also be the most overlooked question as well. Whenever we are doing something, whether big or small, I believe that it is extremely important for us to ask ourselves why we are doing it. If we are doing something for the wrong reasons we can end up wasting a lot of time and energy doing something, and this can cause a lot of pain and heartache. This is a concept that I have thought a lot about in the past year, and it has greatly changed my life. In this article I want to walk you through my journey to find my why, and then give you some takeaways that you might be able to apply to your own life. My hope is that by being a little vulnerable with my story that it will help someone not make the same mistakes that I made.
For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player. I can remember watching games on TBS and ESPN and telling my parents and my friends that one day I was going to be playing on TV as well. If you asked me why at the time, I would not have been able to give you an answer. I watched those guys play day in and day out and I thought they were the coolest guys in the world. I wanted to be one too. I played many sports throughout high school, but I always knew in my head that baseball was it for me. After high school, I only had one significant opportunity to play baseball in college, and even though I had some better offers for other sports I decided to go play Division 3 at Millsaps. I ended up having a great career at Millsaps, but did not get drafted after my Junior or Senior years, despite being scouted by several teams. This was a huge blow to me because I felt that I had done everything that I needed to do, numbers wise, to justify a chance. Not to be deterred, I signed with an Independent team in south Texas and played a season of professional ball there. I was traded before my second season, and then released 10 at bats into my second season by my new team. I will never forget that drive back home after being released and knowing deep down that my dream had died. I half-heartedly worked out the rest of the summer in hopes of getting signed by another team, but another chance did not present itself. I realized that it was time to move on. I was fed up with baseball, and I completely quit following the game.
It was August 2010, and I had no idea what to do next. My whole life my plan had been to be a professional baseball player, with no backup. Luckily I had received a Business degree, as well as an MBA, from Millsaps during my time playing there, and I was able to find a job in the working world. That month I also started CrossFit, which quickly took the place of baseball in my life. After a few months of CrossFit I had moved to the top of the gym’s leaderboard on most workouts, and realized that it was something that I loved to do. I did some research and found out about the CrossFit Games, and this became my next goal. I was very lucky in that CrossFit was still in it’s infancy and the competition was not near the levels they are now, and I qualified for Regionals in my first year. I went to Regionals knowing that I was not going to qualify for the Games and just wanting to have fun. I competed that June in Texas and had a blast, and came home freshly motivated with a clear objective. I wanted to compete at the CrossFit Games. Once again, if you had asked me at that time, I would not have been able to tell you why. I just knew that I wanted to compete out on that floor with the guys I was watching on the Internet. It was baseball all over again.
Fast forward to 2015, and I was still pursuing this goal. I had quit my job and opened a gym, largely so that I could train for the Games. I had been to Regionals four consecutive times by now, but had only been relatively close to qualifying for the Games once (11th place in 2013 when the top 3 qualified). CrossFit reduced the amount of qualifiers to Regionals to 20, and I ended up missing qualifying by 1 point. One more rep in any workout and I would have made it. This was a tough pill to swallow as it was my first year not to qualify for Regionals, but I did the regional workouts at home and knew that I would have been very competitive at Regionals. I decided to dedicate myself more than ever to qualifying. I increased my training volume by adding an additional coach, I got my diet in check, I focused on recovery, and I gave up all outside distractions. However, by December of that year I was completely burnt out. I was unmotivated to train, I had a nagging hip injury that zapped a lot of my strength and range of motion, and I started slacking on my recovery. I was just going through the motions. By the time the 2016 Open came around I knew, deep down, that I was not close to where I needed to be but I still thought that I could qualify. There were different plans, however. The first and last workouts both had burpees, my forever CrossFit nemesis, and I ended up with my worst finish in the Open ever. I was not even close to qualifying for Regionals.
I will never forget the night the Open finished that year. I went to my parents house to eat, and I completely broke down at the table during dinner. I realized that this goal that I had been pursuing for six years was never going to happen, and I just started crying (don’t tell anyone). It was baseball all over again, and one of the lowest points of my life. Over the next week I took a good hard look at my situation. I was over six inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than the average CrossFit Games athlete, with extremely long arms and legs for my height. I was 5 years older than the average competitor, and I had terrible mobility in my left shoulder from surgery I had in college that severely limited me on all overhead movements and Olympic lifts. The field had made tremendous strides in the six years that I had been doing CrossFit, and the level that the Games athletes were at far surpassed any level that I could have ever imagined people reaching. The chances of me achieving my goal were slim. More importantly, I was not willing to sacrifice another year of my life in pursuit of this goal that I was not guaranteed to achieve. I seriously considered quitting CrossFit (which would have been tough considering I own a gym). I was tired of the clock, tired of the pain of the workouts, and tired of the expectations I was putting on myself.
During this time period I had been listening to a lot of podcasts and reading a lot of books, and I kept hearing the same message over and over. Know your why. Know your why. Know your why. I started to self evaluate myself to determine just that. Why did I want to be a professional baseball player? Why did I want to go to the CrossFit Games? These were questions that I had never been honest with myself with. After a lot of time pondering, I realized that all of my reasons were selfish. I wanted the fame and notoriety that came with these positions. I wanted the status symbol of being a professional athlete. I wanted people to know who I was when I entered a room. I wanted to be important. All of my self worth was wrapped up in my position. I was Hunter, the All-American baseball player in college. Then I was Hunter, the Regional CrossFit athlete after that. Both of these status symbols were taken away from me, as all status symbols eventually are, and I felt lost without them.
A funny thing happened after all of this self reflection. I realized that people really didn’t care whether I made it to Regionals or not. They didn’t care about my collegiate baseball stats. They cared about Hunter, the person, not Hunter, the CrossFit athlete, or Hunter, the baseball player. I also realized that I was spending all of this time trying to qualify for Regionals, when I had not enjoyed the experience at all when I was there. The whole weekend I was stressing about the leader board and the workouts, and by the third day I was ready for it to be over. Why would I train a whole year for something that I didn’t even enjoy when I actually got there? It was time for me to find a new reason for doing what I do, or else I needed to find something else to do. I started to look around and realized that my reasons were right in front of me the whole time. I had a gym full of people who looked up to me in CrossFit. They were always watching what I was doing and constantly telling me how I was motivating them. I had a group of people who I had been training with who would do anything to compete at Regionals like I had. I realized that I wanted to help other people reach their goals. I wanted to be a positive influence on as many people as I could.
In the end I came up with three reasons that I wanted to continue to train and compete in CrossFit. First, I wanted to help people achieve their goals. We have a lot of people at Coyote who want to compete at a high level, and I knew that I had six years of trial an error of trying to get better at CrossFit under my belt, as well as two years of working with a top notch coach. I knew that I had the knowledge to help these people achieve their goals. Second, I wanted to set a positive example to our competitive athletes, as well as to our class members. I knew that if they saw me working hard, they would be a whole lot more likely to work hard as well. It would be tough for me to get people to do a tough workout program day in and day out if I wasn’t willing to do it myself. I also wanted to set a positive example for all of our members by leading a healthy lifestyle and giving my best effort every single day. Third, I wanted to achieve the highest level of fitness that I was able to achieve for myself personally. I quit worrying about what everyone else was doing and only focused on improving myself. I realized that setting a goal like qualifying for the Games was largely outside of my control, but that I could set a goal to be the best that I could be. As long as I was constantly improving and giving my best effort every day, I was doing all that I could to achieve this.
A funny thing happened once I changed my perspective and my why. I started to have fun again. I was looking forward to training again for the first time in years, and I enjoyed competing again. I quit being caught up in worrying about the results and started enjoying the process. I took way more joy in seeing other people PR than I did in my own PRs (which let’s be honest are few and far between at this point). Our competitors decided that we wanted to compete as a team for the Open this year, and we each gave our best effort each day not for ourselves, but for our teammates. We knew that we wanted to compete at Regionals as a team, but more importantly, we wanted to push each other and have fun each and every day. Things worked out and all the pieces fell together, and qualifying for Regionals as a team this year is by far my proudest moment as a CrossFit athlete. However, if we would not have made it we would have been ok with it because it was not about the result-it was about the journey. To know that these people who I have been working with every day, some for years, are going to get the opportunity to compete in Texas and represent our gym gives me more joy than I could have ever gotten from competing myself. I am also excited to give the people from our gym a team to cheer for, and hopefully we can motivate them to push themselves to achieve their own highest level of fitness.
Now that you know my journey to find my why, I want to give you a few pointers that will hopefully help you find yours as well, and find a reason that will keep you motivated.
1. First is the most important one of all. Ask yourself why? Why are you doing what you do? It can apply to any aspect of your life, but let’s use CrossFit as an example. If you are training for two hours a day in the gym, then why are you doing it? If you take the class five times a week, then ask yourself what you are trying to get out of it. Be honest with yourself. Think about it for more than five minutes. This can be a process that takes days or weeks. If you know your reason then that’s great! If you don’t then I would highly recommend that you find one.
2. Next let’s talk about the different reasons why. As I discussed before, selfish reasons are not nearly as fulfilling, and will eventually leave you feeling burnt out and wanting to quit. If all of your reasons for doing something are based on what you will get out of it (fame, money, status, etc.) then, even if you do achieve these things, you will still feel empty. You will constantly be trying to get more-more fame, more money, better status. However, if your reasons are unselfish (helping other people, setting a good example, etc.) then you will constantly be finding fresh motivation. There are always people in this world who you can be a positive influence to and help, and this is always much more rewarding and satisfying than our own selfish pursuits.
3. Finally, make it a reason that you can control. Qualifying for something that is very hard to qualify for or making it to a professional level in something is largely out of your control. You could do everything right all year around and then get sick the week of your competition and not qualify. Or Rich Froning could move into your region and bring four of his buddies and take up all of your qualifying spots to the Games. Life happens, and most of the time things don’t go as planned. If you are relying on these external motivators to keep you going, you are eventually going to lose motivation. You might not make it to your goal. Or worse, you might actually achieve it. But then what? How many stories have you heard of people achieving the lofty goal that they set and then falling into a deep depression after they do? In my experience it is much better to rely on internal motivators to keep you going. If you are constantly trying to be better than you were yesterday and being the best version of yourself, then you will always have something to work on and improve. It will be a never-ending process and you will never get burnt out. The moment you start comparing yourself to others, however, is the moment you lose that motivation. Worry about what you can control, yourself, and let the outside stuff just be a bonus.
I hope that you can take my story for what it’s worth and learn from my mistakes. Don’t spend 5, 10, or 15 years doing something without knowing why. If you have done this, start today and make a change. I can honestly say that simply finding the reason for doing what I do has drastically changed my life, and I hope that it can do the same for you.