Because of the nature of my job, people assume I’m healthy all of the time. But that’s not always the case. I write for GQ, I work with Nike, I train clients, I’m trying to get a non-profit off the ground, in addition to other consulting projects. From late October to Thanksgiving, for instance, I was working like crazy. I took something like 12 flights. As we know, travel takes a toll: I was bouncing from place to place, and I stayed up late working, which meant I wasn’t exercising, sleeping, or eating as well as I would have liked to.
We glamorize work in this country, but that's not what I'm trying to do here. Though I consider myself lucky to have these opportunities, I don't consider those 12 flights a badge of honor. But it is reality. There are going to be stretches where we can’t keep up with our healthy habits. Before it was planes, my overworking resulted in taking long bus rides, or crashing on a buddy's couch. We've all done some version of this when we're first coming up.
A shortcoming of the current wave of wellness is that it never recognizes this truth. We hear about “balance” all the time. But some people have to fly across the country every week, or don’t have the money to spend on good food, or are just straight up confused about having time and energy leftover to invest in being “well” after the grind of daily life. I get that. I’m trying to “balance” all of these things, too. And, sometimes, you just can't.
So here’s a distinction that has helped me accept that there are times when I can’t do it all: there’s a difference between health and performance.
Health is your overall condition, or general long-term well-being. Performance, on the other hand, is usually a short-term burst of (negative) stress, where you’re pushing your limits. Professional athletes help highlight the distinction between the two, since they often have to do things for their performance that are not good for their health. Consider a long road trip in the NBA: the athletes often play late into the night, immediately get on a plane, go to another city, try to find some pockets of sleep, and then go out and stress their body again on short recovery. They're performing. But it's definitely not healthy.
Maybe you’re thinking: Yeah, but I’m not an NBA player. Sure. But we all have some version of a "performance," where we have to push ourselves, often at the expense of our health. For a student, it’s exams. For a businessperson, it might be board meetings. For a runner, it could be a marathon. In all these situations, your body is under an intense amount of stress. But how can you be a great student if you never take a test? How can you be a great runner if you never run a race? If you want to be successful or perform at a high level in any field, you have to push your limits. I've been lucky enough to get to train and work with Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton and creative genius behind Off-White. He's serious about his wellness. But I’ve seen him leave a party late at night to go to the studio to work. He didn’t get to be one of the most successful designers on the planet by being balanced all the time.
Meet Joe Holder, GQ's New Fitness Guru
Where most of us err is in thinking either that these stretches can go on indefinitely—they can't, or else we'll be chronically fatigued; even professional athletes get an offseason—or that, when the stressful period is finally over, we can just do nothing. In fact, when our performance is over, that’s when investing in our health becomes most important.
This is why I'm not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. The end of the year often provides a stretch of time where work slows down, and many of us can take some time to take care of ourselves. We can eat right, exercise more, and sleep better. But, because of resolutions, many of us just put that off until the new year, when we vow to get around to being better. And I get why! We're overworked in America. So leisure becomes a narcotic. We use this period to retreat and indulge. The problem? When the new year hits, we’re trying to balance our self-care with all of the other bullshit the new year throws at us—and then we're even more overworked and stressed out.
We need to invest in our health in the downtime before that, so that we can deal with the stretches of unhealthy behavior that are ultimately going to come. Because they will come. We can't avoid the responsibilities, duties, or stresses of everyday life. But that’s okay. We should—and can—be equipped to deal with that.
For instance, I train some clients to run marathons. But to prepare for that, the first two to four weeks we have a prep phase. I’m not even concerned about your time. I’m just getting your body comfortable for what it’s going to do down the line. I can't ask you to sprint if you can't hug your knee to your chest. But then, over time, we start to ramp it up, and, eventually, you’re going to do something that’s not good for your health: run 26.2 miles. But you’ve prepped for this short stint of unhealthy behavior. You’ll be okay because you’ve invested in your health in the lead up to the marathon. It’s like going out in the rain: you can’t avoid the water if you want to go outside—but if you have a good jacket, you’ll be fine.
Well, life is similar to sport in that regard. We can look at the way athletes train for performance and apply it to our own lives, be it for an extended business trip or a crucial presentation. It's a philosophy that helps keep external circumstances from overwhelming us. There will be stretches of time where we’re going to go too hard. It’s going to rain. But if we take care of ourselves, we will not lose our overall health. In fact, we’ll come back even stronger, because we’ve pushed our limits. We’ve created a new normal.
It's this push-pull between periods of performance and periods of health that allows us to get better over time. Sometimes we have to stay at the office late, or experience back-to-back days of drinking too much caffeine and cramming for exams, or take 12 flights in a month (and drink a few too many glasses of wine). That’s okay, as long as we invest in our health when that period of performance is over, and restore equilibrium, setting ourselves up for the next stretch where we'll be tested.
A body that’s truly “well” isn’t one that never experiences stress. It’s one that’s equipped to deal with them, that can say, “Okay, I can put up with the shit that you’re about to put me through.”
Introducing GQ's new fitness columnist and wellness guru: super-trainer Joe Holder. What makes Joe special—and why his roster of clients grows increasingly star-studded—is his holistic philosophy. Instead of killing yourself every day at the gym, why not save some energy to eat right, recover completely, and meditate? For his first column Joe gives us a look at the approach that powers his own life.
Introducing the exercise snack.
“You could have all the money in the world, billions of dollars, sports teams, airplanes, this and that, and if you have a sore throat? None of that matters.”
Originally Appeared on GQ