To a Greater World

By Jon Gilson

[Editor's Note: This was originally published on March 28, 2008.]

We’re bringing personal responsibility back. You can’t do what we do while shirking your load, depending on other people, or otherwise passing the buck. Your WOD time is yours and yours alone. You cannot turn in a fifty-minute “Fran” and then scold your classmates for the result. Blame is not cast in the gym. 

Conversely, I can’t count the number to times I’ve seen an athlete turn in an epic time and then thank everyone in the room for making it happen. Adulation is shared.

I view the gym as a microcosm of the moral world, one in which control of success and failure ultimately lies with the individual. There is no fatalism in the gym. Your maximum pull-up number is not preordained by some higher power. It is determined by speed, strength, coordination, accuracy, agility, and mental fortitude, all qualities that are within your domain and solely within your control. Others can give to the effort through correction, encouragement, and support, but they cannot make your chin clear the bar.

For some reason, the extraordinarily clear relationship between effort and success, responsibility and result, fails to make it through the gym doors into the wider world. Fingers are pointed freely, horizontally as well as vertically. Misfortune becomes the byproduct of an unknowable cosmic soup. Accidents are happenstance, determined by coincidence. Crime is not a choice, but the unfortunate result of socio-economic divergence. Individual awareness and control fall by the wayside in favor of widespread blame, the ridicule passed ever higher, until personal responsibility lies with no one.

Success is hoarded like so much gold, rarely shared outside of the occasional Academy Awards speech. Encouragement, support, and contribution are forgotten in favor of glory, fame, and reputation, and suddenly the locus of control returns squarely to the individual.

Imagine the day when my substandard split jerk becomes your fault. After missing out front, I get in your face, screaming about too much load, lack of support, and my astronomically bad childhood. I start in with the if-onlys and why-God-whys, sure that if things had been different, I would have nailed the lockout. Reduced to tears, I put an asterisk in my workout journal next to the repetition, noting that the miss was your fault. 

In the gym, the irrationality of my actions would be obvious. Why is it that a similar thought process, applied to my career, significant other, or a simple traffic jam becomes acceptable?  

It’s time to take the lessons of the gym outside. Burdens, whether iron or pure metaphor, do not move themselves. Successes are rarely the result of individual action. Looking to the sky for help or harm is an exercise in futility. 

Take stock in yourself, and those nearest you. Accept responsibility, and share your triumphs. Ours will become a much greater world.

Jon Gilson is the founder of Again Faster and former member of CrossFit’s Level I Seminar staff. Photo of Kevin Montoya courtesy of Patrick Cummings.