Chalk Talk: The Self-Abuse of The Grind
There’s a certain allure that comes with persevering, getting to the top, sacrificing it all at all costs. As we’ve consumed sport and participated in it at its near highest level we’ve subscribed to this lifestyle. It has been ingrained in us by most coaches, by us pushing one another and by some trainers. The message is simple and unwavering, do whatever possible in all circumstances in order to play, in order to win. It will make us better, stronger, more unified as a team, period. I’m curious if on a personal and or professional level that that same mentality will bring us the success it once brought us. I remember basking in it as a player. One night in particular I got to the library after a normal day (lifting, class, practice, class) at around 1030pm with it made up in my mind that I was staying in the library to finish my senior thesis until 545am and then I would proceed to walk into the weight room for strength and conditioning on no sleep and a few cups of coffee and still compete at a high level shouting and beating my chest like some primitive species. This somehow was the pinnacle of hard work in a distorted kind of way in my mind at the time. I’m not totally sure why but it felt like I had reached a point where I walking alone, above the other peasants on some sort of jayvee grind. They certainly didn’t grind like this. They didn’t bypass their health to walk on this uncharted holy ground that only few can walk. This is fantasy. Risking your physical health, mental health, happiness, relationships and lifestyle for a fleeting feeling of glory that in turn makes you sacrifice and risk more and more each time is stupid. It is not training, or a solid worth ethic. It is a misguided and unrealistically driven attempt that continually breaks you down over and over. I do wonder if we have been conditioned to operate like this as athletes, as student-athletes until we are taught to do otherwise. Most of it is good, it is the foundational leg work for future career success. I find that to be true in a lot of cases but for some it is detrimental and can be harmful without balance. To embody “the grind” that we all ingest from various sources is to become engulfed in mindset where we see self-abusive tendencies as strength and self-care practices as weakness. It has become a mindset of disregard for our romantic relationships, our health and our families. Colleagues and peers in various fields have become so consumed by carrying over this mentality into their professional work that they are alone and unhappy. Their relationships have suffered because planning time with friends means stepping away from the work. Their health has suffered because investing in health means uninvesting in their career. Their happiness has ultimately suffered because any break, any let up or time off means they aren’t working hard enough. Ultimately this is all false, it is something of fiction that we have convinced ourselves of by the polarizing, black and white way of thinking that we've always known. People lose touch with their kids, with their partners, with themselves all while thinking they are doing what is best for them - cause you know, they’re on the grind and no one can stop them. I had a professor, a nationally renowned psychologist who told a story of one of his former colleagues who created his entire private practice by treating depressed lawyers. It’s unfortunate that that even exists; that someone can spend their entire life’s work aiding people all from a particular field who are now depressed- divorced, bankrupt, alone, distant from their kids, disconnected from a life of meaning whatever. It’s not necessarily causal but there has to be some truth in that in a lot of fields this is happening. We push and push and push thinking there is going to be a real pot of gold once the grind ends but we never find it and lost it all along the way. Reality is your grind can’t last that long if you never take care of yourself. I catch myself in these moments from time to time when I’m caught up in an quick Gary V video I just watched or DJ Khaled popped up on my timeline. I've replayed Eric Thomas speeches where he talks about wanting to breath as much as you want to succeed (we’ve all heard that one). I like them don’t get me wrong but they are momentary, they cannot be a lifestyle. By all standards it would be unhealthy and counter to the overall message. I think the purpose of them is to just get you to the point where you go from the couch to the gym, or pick up the pen and write or grab the phone and connect with that person you’ve been meaning to call. I think they are just suppose to get you from static to moving. Repurposing what we thought the grind meant can save your life. In a few of our previous episodes we had some really successful people talking about investing in yourself. I’d argue that a lot of that has to do with taking care of ourselves. Allowing ourselves to rest and recover and reenergize. It is imperative to actually be in the grind for the long haul successfully. Like I said pulling all nighters on Red Bull’s, refusing to sleep or drink water or eat healthy meals all for the work is momentary. There is no glory in that. There is no glamour in ruining all that is good around you because you’ve misdiagnosed what hard work means. I recently shared with Neil this calendar where everyday was marked with one thing specifically that you were going to do for your self-care.
It was designed clinically for mental health but It can truly be something that everyone can do. We also had on Wyatt who talked a lot about writing things down to hold yourself accountable and I think this is partly related to that. Not only should we be held accountable for our professional work but we should hold ourselves accountable to take care of ourselves for the long haul because one of these things is actually a prerequisite for everything else.
Chalk Talk is a weekly What's Next column by Anthony Cinelli, one of our founders. It will be published every Monday morning. Anthony is currently a mental health counselor and baseball coach in New Jersey.