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A 12-step experiment designed to open our hearts, eyes, and minds. Learn more
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Step 08
Walk a Mile In Their Shoes

It’s easy to judge lifestyle decisions that we don’t like or that we don't understand. We participated in the lifestyles of others as a way to learn more about them and their decisions.


Step 08: Walk a Mile In Their Shoes

Part 1: Let's Work It Out

Then it hit me like a pair of Bowflex dumbbells! I do not understand gym-rat culture. I can think of a million things I would rather do than go to the gym.

For step 8, we tried to become less judgmental by participating in a lifestyle we’ve judged in the past.

Thanks to my mom and my upbringing, I’ve always been a pretty open person, so I didn’t think this step would be too hard for me. One thing that stands out about my childhood is that my mother was friends with people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and lifestyles: rich, poor, gay, straight, black, Jewish, handicapped, tattooed, straight-edge, party animals, religious people, atheists… the list goes on. My mother is an amazing person that way. The one thing my mom’s friends all had in common was that they were funny. And the stuff she’d let me watch was funny, too (albeit probably wildly inappropriate for a six-year-old). I would watch Eddie Murphy's stand-up, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Cheech and Chong, anything Chevy Chase, all of John Hughes’ movies, and my favorite, In Living Color. It really made me keen to American pop culture, and gave me an early understanding of other cultures and backgrounds. 

Like my mother, I now have different friends from all kinds of different backgrounds, but this didn’t come to me so easily. Besides some lame judgments I might have about people like, “Seriously, they still have an AOL email address?” or the “Wow, she wears Uggs,” I had to think long and hard about what kind of people I judge on a deeper level. What kind of people am I not very forgiving of? Who don’t I understand? 

And then it hit me like a pair of Bowflex dumbbells! I do not understand gym-rat culture. I can think of a million things I would rather do than go to the gym: eat, work, watch a movie, watch the news, draw, have sex, watch an original Netflix series from beginning to end, eat a bag of Bugels, go to an annoying five-year old’s birthday party with 35 other annoying five-year olds, wait in line at the DMV, or take my driver’s test over. The extent of the weight-lifting I’ve done in my life has involved picking up my iPhone, picking up a doughnut, picking up a beer, or putting on my favorite pair of Nikes. 

I know it sounds absurd, but seriously, why do people work out with weights? I understand exercising, and all the health benefits that come along with that, both mentally and physically, but lifting weights never made sense to me. Is having muscles just about vanity? Is knowing that you’re bigger than the next person about some underlying insecurity? If you can make money at having muscles, then great. If you’re an athlete, then great. But if it’s just simply to be…big? That seems crazy to me. Reminds me of this hilarious Kevin Hart skit where he talks about working out at the gym. 

So why do I hate gym culture so much? It's the time spent, the money spent, and the mentality you have to project that bother me. I mean, what’s so appealing about these big-muscled-no-neck-protein-shake-drinking-probably-small-penis-having-from-all-the-steroids-and-hormones-they’re-on-meatball-meatheads? See, there I go judging again! 

My judgement even goes beyond the big muscle heads. I don’t even understand why “normal,” non-"meathead" people feel they have to routinely go to the gym every day and lift weights, either. One guy I used to work with was so dead-set on going to the gym every morning at 6:30 AM that he wouldn't even stay in bed on a Sunday and cuddle with his awesome girlfriend.  

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do understand the need and desire for exercise. I even started running last summer when the girl I mentioned in step 4 broke up with me. It got my mind off of things, it made me feel mentally healthier, and it allowed me to kill some excess energy that might have otherwise been used to slam down more whiskeys during that difficult time. I understand the rush you get from exercise—but this gym culture, and the people who seem to be a part of it, has always been very off-putting and odd to me. So I’m going to use this opportunity to find out more. 

What’s so appealing about these big-muscled-no-neck-protein-shake-drinking-probably-small-penis-having-from-all-the-steroids-and-hormones-they’re-on-meatball-meatheads? See, there I go judging again!

First, I did some reading. Scientists say that the fittest people show lower levels of stress hormones than those who were the least fit. Another study found that after a stressful situation, the blood pressure levels of people with the most muscle returned to normal faster than the levels of those with the least muscle. Furthermore, your diet is supposed to improve since you’ll burn more calories. One of the most interesting things I learned is that people who performed three weight workouts a week significantly improved their scores on measures of anger and overall mood.

I did find all those stats to be positive. So why am I still so resistant to going to the gym? Will I suddenly become a gym rat myself? I do think it’s interesting that I’m much more open to spiritual health than Jessie, and Jessie is much more open to physical health. I’m interested to find out if our views will change with this step.

Part 2: A Personal Work Out

To start off, I made a couple appointments with a personal trainer. If I was going to attempt to lift weights, I felt it was important to figure out the “right” way to do this. So I did the most logical thing: I found a personal trainer using Google! I decided to roll with a place with the unique name, New York Personal Trainer.

That’s where I met Giacomo Barbieri, a personal trainer for the NYPT. Giacomo is very lean and very ripped and very into looking good. He loves what he does. A day before we started training, I interviewed him for an hour to get the gist of what we would be doing together. Honestly, I was a bit nervous about going to the gym to meet him. The last time I was in a gym was when I played football in 10th grade. All these dudes would yell at each other as they lifted, and slap each other’s asses, and make fun of me. Giacomo wasn’t like that, though. He was a super nice guy and let me ask him all kinds of dumb questions. The next day I met him for our first session.

We did squats, and ropes, and leg curls, and arm lifts, and a 15-pound press, and some rowing thing, and some dumbbell balance thing, and I lifted some metal thing up and down until I almost threw up. We did a couple other body press things that I can’t remember the names of, but I really couldn’t go on anymore. My mind felt good, as if I was Rocky training for the Russian at the end of Rocky IV, but my body was going down like Apollo did when the Russian killed him in the beginning of Rocky IV. At one point, this dude literally told me to squeeze my butt cheeks together to get my blood to rush to my head when I was feeling so tired. WTF!?

Then I started getting super dizzy. So we slowed it down, and went through a series of stretches that were actually pretty amazing. We were literally stretching for 15 minutes. He said he’ll stretch for an hour sometimes.

Giacomo was really great to work with. He talked about what to eat, how to work out the right way, and how to stretch. Later in the day, he sent me over an entire workout and nutrition plan. According to him, many people don’t lift correctly, which was something I obviously was not aware of. All I know is that I’m super sore right now and my legs feel like spaghetti with extra parm cheese on top. 

Part 3: Why Work Out?

Besides my own personal experience, I wanted to better have an understanding of why people go to the gym and what benefits they get from it. So if I was going to do that, why not go BIG and ask the people who would know best: Big-ass, body-building dudes. Perhaps they could shed some light on the matter for me, or maybe they’d just solidify the stereotype more. As I searched for guys to interview, I found myself down a slippery slope (pun intended) of waxed muscles and protein shakes, eventually finding an array of different Instagram accounts and websites including this one.

To get a peep into this world a bit more, I interviewed a couple body builders I found. I'm grateful to them for writing me back and answering some of my ridiculous questions about working out, life, women and... how many times a day they poop.

“I usually poop around 3 or 4 times days, especially when I’m dieting!”

“If I looked like you, I would take it as a challenge to see how much I could progress. At the end of the day, you always have to compete against yourself. I work out for roughly two hours each day: 15 minutes of cardio, 90 minutes of resistance training, and 15 minutes of stretching. Right now I'm not really focused on strength training, but I could bench 405. I'm currently dieting on 2800 calories. Haha, I usually poop around 3 or 4 times per day, especially when I'm dieting! That's because I'm eating a lot of green veggies, which contain a ton of fiber. I was definitely skinny in high school, and it was hard to put on real weight until college. Working out has become so much a part of my routine that I don't even think about it anymore, I’m just thankful that I find enjoyment in it. And it makes it worth it when someone tells me that I've inspired them in the gym. As for women, you'd think it would be easier to find great girls but that isn't the case. Between the diet and the workouts, a lot of girls don't understand the lifestyle. That's why I found a fitness girl who has similar goals to me. She's awesome!”

“I’ve found that my appearance makes it easy to get the wrong girls, and harder to get the right girls.”

“I was "skinny" up until about my sophomore year in high school. As a matter of fact, my fascination with science and the human body led to my curiosity of bodybuilding. I work out about one and a half hours a day, five days a week. I firmly believe that strengthening the body in the gym makes everyday life that much more easy. Simple tasks like walking up stairs can become difficult for someone over time if their body is out of shape. You don't have to be the Hulk to feel good about your body. There are too many ways to improve on how you feel about yourself, other than becoming muscular. I eat about 2200 to 2500 calories a day. Lots of vegetables, fruits, lean protein (mainly chicken), and a protein shake post-workout. Lol, I only poop once, maybe twice a day. I’ve found that my appearance makes it easy to get the wrong girls, and harder to get the right girls. The wrong girls are focused on my appearance. Only the right girls seek to see me for who I am, which is how it should be. While I do prefer a woman who wants to take care of herself, I won't say she has to be muscular.”

“I work out five days a week, around two hours a day, and I eat at least 5000 calories a day.”

“I eat at least 5000 calories a day. I usually have a plate of beef and sweet potato fries twice, chicken and regular potatoes, two weight gainer shakes, and a meal at the end of the day. My metabolism is very fast so I can basically eat anything I want and not get fat! Haha, I poop usually twice a day. I grew up being the skinniest kid in the room. I started working out at 14 years old. I hated it, but I wouldn't accept myself the way I was. I've seen how people treat you through two separate lenses and it’s much better this way. Putting on muscle has built my confidence more than anything! I work out because I love the adrenaline rush that I get. When you’re truly passionate about something, you give it 100%. That's why I work out five days a week and around two hours a day. The most I've benched with no spot was 435. A woman who’s into fitness is a big plus, but it’s definitely not required. Getting girls is a lot easier now. Most women love the muscle, especially older women. Obviously you have girls who think it’s disgusting as well.”

Part 4: Soul Cycle Is Killing My Soul

Soul Cycle. I keep hearing about this sweeping phenomenon that’s taking over NYC. People all over NYC seem to be flocking to cycling like it’s got a hold on their souls. Makes sense though; running sucks, so why not bike over and over and over? There’s no real commitment involved, and yea, your shirt will be soaking by the end, but it’s relatively stress-free. (Besides, my girlfriend kept badgering me to go.)

So, we wake up at 6 AM to make the 7 AM class. When we get there, I have to sign in and everyone working there is chirpy and nice and I basically want to kill them. As we walk into the sterile and trendy-looking locker room, I put my stuff in the locker, and I can’t help but notice how everyone looks tired and sad. I mean, it’s 6:50 AM for God’s sake! I wanted to run away that second. Why wake up this early to work out when I could be SLEEPING? Studies show that sleep is much more important than working out. (Okay, I may be making that up.)

I put on my cleats, walk up the stairs, and walk into a dark room with rows of bikes and loud music playing. Great, it’s a fucking disco. It’s my first time, so the instructor clicks my feet in. Trying to act confident in front of my girlfriend, who has been to Soul Cycle many times, I stood up and start peddling to get warmed up before the class starts. What I didn’t know is that my legs have some sort of instinct when I stand up, and they want to stop my feet from peddling and try to “coast.” But there is no damn coasting on these bikes, you have to keep your feet moving! My feet rip off of the straps and I’m already in pain. My girlfriend looks worried.

Then the overly excited (annoying), super fit (hot) “bike guru” (instructor) with an ear-piece microphone begins motivating people (yelling!), “Good morning everyone! Aren’t you super pumped to be here right now?! Your body is craving this! Give it all you got, feel the energy in the room! We’re gonna get it in now!” Are you kidding me? I can’t even get my feet strapped in the fucking bike, but somehow I’m going to ‘get it in’?! But ‘get it in’ is what happened, as my legs slowly but surely felt more and more like Jell-O. 

Then the overly excited (annoying), super fit (hot) “bike guru” (instructor) with an ear-piece microphone begins motivating people (yelling!), “Good morning everyone!” 

Oh, and the music! All the Top 40 hits were slowly and softly killing me. But I have to admit, when The Fugee’s “Killin’ Me Softly” came on, I was definitely feeling it. Michael Jackson’s “Man in The Mirror” was next. The instructor starting yelling out, “I think this song is perfect for us now, don’t you agree!? I feel like we need this song right now! Don’t you think we need a little bit of this in the world!” I did feel great afterwards. I felt open to my day; I felt like I was ready to take on so much. I felt positive. I also felt more connected to my girlfriend.

Part 5: Working Out To Work My Issues Out

It’s weird, because as much as I think weight training is pointless, I realize that you also have to be super vulnerable to go to the gym. Maybe that's a benefit? I got a membership and went a couple times a week for a month or so, and I couldn’t really get used to it. People are watching you, everyone is judging each other, and you have to be secure with that. I’ll be the first to admit that I Iike a little attention, but not in this way! At the gym and at Soul Cycle, I was super conscious of who was watching me, how ridiculous I looked, how I couldn’t match up against anyone there, and why I didn’t feel a part of this culture. I didn’t like that feeling.

Then I had a locker room moment, something that brought me back to being a teenager. There were two big guys next to me talking about some girl in this small locker room. Things start to get heated between them, and testosterone was flying all over the place as they yelled their opinions out. It was so annoying. I felt like a little skinny teenager again in the football locker room when I was a sophomore in high school. I was a wide receiver for one year and that whole locker room / shower experience damn near damaged me for life. 

Honestly, on one hand, I feel like I failed at this step. After 2 weeks in the gym, I just had to quit. I feel like I'm a cheat for not following through with this more. I don’t have any great before or after photos to show — no big forearms or biceps, no epiphany or newfound respect for the culture. I still feel like the gym brings out the worst in people, and learning more about this culture hasn't really changed my mind about anything. 

On the other hand, I did have that good feeling after Soul Cycle, so maybe something is there. While I find the culture surrounding working out alienating, the actual exercise is enjoyable and it probably is important. Maybe I'd live longer if I picked up some weights? Maybe I’d find some sort of peace of mind? Maybe I'll find more confidence and solace in my life like the bodybuilders I interviewed? Who knows, but for now I'll keep lifting the doughnuts.

Part 6: Make Your Own Step

We'd love for you to participate in this 12-step journey with us. Is there a lifestyle choice you don't like or understand? Step eight is all about walking a mile in another person's shoes. Challenge yourself to try out things you think you hate. Comment below or tag #12kindsofkindness on social media and let us know your stories. We'd love to hear them!

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