Last week was a big milestone for me, as it marked my last undergraduate class, and I’ve now finally completed my undergraduate degree. This article isn’t intended to be me bragging, as getting an undergraduate degree is hardly anything special; however, I wanted to share because I feel that without having lost and kept off 200lbs, I would not have been able to get my degree.
I’m sure that might sound silly, but bear with me.
I’m 34, and I started college in the late 90’s at age 17. That means I’ve been in college for half of my life! Most of those 17 years were spent just making the same mistakes over again, or being content with the fact that I’ve made those mistakes, and that I had to live with them for the rest of my life.
After having lost 200 lbs, and having a daughter, I was able to gain some perspective on my life up to that point. I realized two things in losing that tremendous amount of weight: 1.) I was no longer the person who had made those mistakes because I had changed for the better and 2.) the skills and habits that I used to lose that weight could be generalized and applied to essentially ANYTHING!
This opened a doorway for me that I never realized was even closed. I now had a systematic way to tackle any obstacle in life. Tasks that had seemed insurmountable were no longer so. Not only that, I was starting to realize how many opportunities were easily within my reach. I simply had to reach out and take them.
The largest of those obstacles facing me was the fact that I had failed out of college once, and then upon a second attempt had barely scraped by with an associate’s degree. This failure on my part was having repercussions on my career and had nearly resulted in being turned down for a promotion that I had already truly earned. Then and there, I knew that I had to rectify my past failure and finally get my undergraduate bachelor’s degree. I told myself that if I was going to go back to school, it was going to be different this time. I would apply both of the lessons I had learned from my weight loss, as well as what I learned from being a failing student, and I would create new habits to fuel my success.
Late in 2010, I did some research and realized that my company offered tuition reimbursement. Weeks later, I was a 30 year old man taking night classes to earn my bachelor’s degree in Information Systems. I was scared, I was out of my element, and I was staring at the sheer face of a cliff and being told to climb. And that’s exactly what I did, one inch at a time.
For four long years, my family and I carried the burden of me being a student on top of our regular life. To add to that burden, I was filled with a sense of purpose and desire to not only make up for the mistakes of the past, but to fully correct them, and my way to do that was to do the best damned job that I could. For me, this meant being a 4.0 student and not accepting anything but my best work. In reality, a 4.0 would not really confer any particular benefits as I had no plans to apply for jobs that favor high a GPA, but for me it was a personal quest. The old me had failed out, so if the new me could maintain a 4.0, I would know even more fully that my changes were permanent and could be used to fuel success in any area of my life.
How did I come to this lofty goal? I didn’t realize it at first, but it happened the same way that I had came to my goal of losing 200lbs. I started with a minor victory. I lost 10lbs. I got 1 A. I lost another 10 lbs. I got another A. These minor victories began to build toward something that was greater than the sum of their parts. They were ideas that grew beyond me, and I became addicted to the momentum that I had gathered. Had I not gone down the path of my weight loss, I doubt that I would have ever been able to return to college as an adult and be successful at it. The cost of being a 4.0 student, keeping and growing a happy marriage, being a dad of two great kids, working as a software developer and then towards the end, becoming a fitness coach…these things added up. But in the end, the only things I lost were some sanity, my hair, and my social life.
The cost was high, but the benefit was greater. By absolving myself of my past mistakes through the fires of this ordeal, I know I’ve become a better person, a better husband, a better dad, a better software developer, and a better coach. Why? Because through this ordeal, I’ve come to know myself better.
Your habits make or break you. You are your habits. Seek to identify and eliminate the bad habits based on your previous failures. Create good habits based on your past successes and knowing which habits fuel your end goal. Do not try to conceptualize the entire journey in front of you. Reach for things in your immediately grasp, and do them as well as you can. If you fall, get up. Learn from the times you stumble, but keep going forward.
Regardless of what you want to achieve in life, be it turning your life around toward health and fitness, or undoing your past mistakes, there are some aphorisms that I’ve found along both of my journeys that I’d like to share. Someday when my children ask me about how I lost weight, or how I managed to go back to school while being a dad, a husband, a programmer, and a coach, these are the lessons that I will share with them. I hope that some of them resonate with you, because I want you to understand that you too can achieve whatever it is that you desire. Luck will not take you all the way through, but proper preparation, habits that fuel your success, and hard work will.
Since Robert A. Heinlein is my favorite author, and I’ve been a fan of aphorisms ever since reading Time Enough For Life in grade school, I present to you my list of borrowed/paraphrased/butchered aphorisms that I’ve found to apply to both adult education and fat loss:
- Always finish what you start.
- Never, ever, ever give up.
- Always believe in yourself, but always surround yourself with people who believe in you more than you believe in yourself and you cannot lose.
- It is never too late to start.
- The saddest phrase in the English language is “it could have been”.
- The only thing to it is to do it.
- Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
- If you aren’t going to give it your all then give it nothing.
- Consistency, professionalism, and kindness in all you do sets you apart.
If you like these aphorisms, check out the list from the aforementioned Heinlein novel here: The Notebooks of Lazarus Long and let me know which are your favorites!