A long, long time ago when I was young (yes, that long ago…) I spent some time with certain elements of the British Army. Among all the technical terms I had to learn, and all the manuals of arms I had to memorize, and all the squaddie slang, there was one memorable phrase that pithily summarized the ethos of those I was training alongside: Don’t Be Shit.
When you’re tired and wet and cold and hungry and you have a tasking to perform, there’s no use being negative and there’s no excuse for not getting the job done. Get a grip, crack on, do the business.
I learned a lot about determination and I discovered that the mind nearly always gives up long before the body. Ultra-runners and other endurance athletes discover the same truth. Conditioning the mind enables the body to perform quite astonishing tasks.
Although my professional career has been strictly white-collar for decades now, I’ve always tried to stay near operational condition both physically and mentally, though inevitably it’s getting harder and harder as the decades slip by. But sadly I’m fairly atypical in this regard. It’s far more common to see young people who are, in the words of my long-ago Army companions, “in shit shape.”
A few years back I was doing some build-up training for the Fan Dance. Carrying my Bergen weighing 30kg, I was jogging up a gentle incline on the periphery of Muir Woods in Marin County, nearly at the end of a 25-mile tab. Ahead of me a very overweight young man in his late teens was sitting on a tree stump. In one hand he was clutching an enormous plastic bottle of cola and in the other a large bar of chocolate. As I passed him, breathing heavily and soaked in sweat, he said, “Why yo do that to yoself, man?”
I felt like asking him the same thing. Except it wouldn’t have made any sense to him because he was just doing what everyone else is doing: failing to make adequate lifestyle choices and thus squandering health and years of enjoyable life.
Turns out, however, there are times when it can be very useful when the world around you appears to be quite dysfunctional.
A few months later, as I was walking across a darkened carpark after leaving my local supermarket late at night, two young men were of the opinion it would be productive to relieve me of my…