If You Want to Improve, You’re Going to Have to Deal With Some Shit

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Today’s guest post comes from regular contributor, Justin Kompf. It’s a personal story, but a story many of you reading will either appreciate or commiserate with.

I hope the former.


If You Want to Improve, You’re Going to Have to Deal With Some Shit

There was once a young man who was enrolled at West Point; he found himself absolutely miserable at the academy. Luckily, at the time his mother was friends with a smart dude. This smart dude happened to be the 16th president of the United States. He wrote the cadet and said:

“Allow me to assure you it is a perfect certainty that you will, very soon, feel better-quite happy- if you only stick to the resolution you have taken to procure a military education. I am older than you, have felt badly myself, and know, what I tell you is true. Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did.

On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life”

I highly doubt Abraham Lincoln would have thought those particular words he wrote to the West Point cadet would have an impact on a young man trying to figure his life out over 100 years later. How could he know that those words were exactly what I needed to hear at the time?

In the Summer of 2016, I was in a predicament; for a while, I had intended to apply to doctoral programs to study health behavior after completing my Master’s degree. But when push came to shove, I got scared. Irrational thoughts flooded my mind.

My life won’t start until I’m done, and I’ll be 31

“I’ll be so far behind everyone else

“What if I find out I don’t want to teach and do research when I’m done?”

A PhD program would involve me devoting four more years of my life to school when all I really wanted to do was get my life going.

So, I panicked.

I found myself exploring different career paths.

I would drive down to a health and fitness center in Ithaca to talk about becoming a dietician. I drove to Syracuse to talk to my Aunt about nursing. I called my cousin in California to talk about her job as a physician’s assistant. I had meetings with Cortland faculty members to get information on how to get into PA school. Then I was calling friends who were physical therapist to talk about their jobs. PT sounded right for me; I started observing a physical therapist in town and began the application process to physical therapy school. These all seemed like safe, high paying jobs, with clear career trajectories.

I was all over the place.



Every time I thought of a new career path I diverted myself from the fear of four more years of school and an uncertain career future. There was always an instant sensation of relief from that fear.

But then a few things gave me a sense of insight.

Aside from reading sage advice from historical figures I was also exercising my ass off.

One night I was trail running to clear my head. It got dark really quick and rain started to come down, an appropriate metaphor for how I felt at the time. It was hard to see any more than a few feet in front of me. But somewhere towards the end of my run I was hit with some clarity.

None of those career paths I was looking into would give me the voice I wanted to make a positive impact on the world. If I didn’t have my voice and pursued a career I wasn’t passionate about just to be safe, I would be miserable.

And rather than the temporary misery I was feeling now, I knew the misery of not pursuing my passion would be permanent.

Fear is just an emotional construct, something that can’t really hurt you. I knew I couldn’t control that I felt it, but it was my responsibility as to whether or not it controlled my actions.

I knew that if I didn’t adhere to my purpose I would regret it the rest of my life. All those other careers wouldn’t fulfill the passion I had.

Winston Churchill once said “to change is to improve, to perfect is to change often”

What he didn’t say is that change is a scary and uncomfortable process. My modern interpretation of that quote would be:

“If you want to improve, you’re going to have to deal with some shit”

When faced with the decision of what shit sandwich I wanted to eat, I knew I could either (A) take the leap and accept fear and discomfort, or (B) live with regret but have comfort, I chose to accept the fear.

I applied to PhD programs, was accepted, and am heading to the University of Massachusetts Boston in the Summer to their Exercise and Health Sciences Program.

Whether on social media, or in real life, when people announce an accomplishment, others might look on in awe and wonder how they got to where they are now.

Well, more than likely, the answer is that they dealt with some shit.

They worked hard, stepped out of their comfort zone and got comfortable feeling uncomfortable. For me it was an eight-month process of dealing with uncertainty and fear. It was also putting in years of extra work to be a good candidate for a program like this.

In the end I wrote this because, a simple, “hey I’m going back to school” Facebook update didn’t seem justifiable and I think my experience can help people. Taking a leap is scary but I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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