Several years ago a friend wrote, “You have blazed a path in life that I highly respect and admire. Your gym is a great resource, but I'm interested more in how all of it came to be. Specifically, the vision needed to create a life of your own choosing.”

I couldn’t reply cogently then. I don’t know that I can now. But he made me think. Over and over. His query made me examine how I arrived wherever I am now, how physical effort influenced my trajectory, and what might evolve from what I would have considered evolved had he not hit “Send”.

With climbing I recognized how badly I wanted and needed to do it, so I organized my life in a way to follow through. "Organization" meant recognizing and writing a hierarchy that allowed me to achieve the goal, or at least commit to the right path with enough momentum that braking couldn’t stop me. There were casualties to that hierarchy, and also beneficiaries. Some got hurt. Sometimes it was me. Some got loved, remade and dragged beyond their potential. By that I mean to say it wasn't all sacrifice and pain and suffering. Many describe the path to success or achievement with those words. It’s not. The road can be difficult. What we do to walk it can be destructive. But the satisfaction and the glory I felt on that path was equally strong, and marked me and those I love forever.

Establishing the hierarchy was one thing but more importantly, I travelled to the place where the best guys in the world were doing what I wanted to do. Once I was in that sphere of influence The Way became more clear. In that environment, having made the commitment to get there and stay there, I couldn't help but succeed. The mountains allowed me to do so, and didn’t kill me.

The gym was a happy accident, though not entirely unplanned, nor the result of luck. I recognized something I wanted to do, something I needed to learn about, learn from, and maybe, I thought, it could nourish a nagging hunger. I pulled the thread, found the people who—though not necessarily the best—could teach me what I needed at the time. Instead of going to the environment where the so-called best (always self-coronated in the world of fitness) had coalesced I decided to try and create it. The mountains had taught me what it looked like.

It’s a place where hard work is expected, and considered normal. Within it individuals are expected to confront themselves, to take risks, to be willing to fail, to break free of group and self-limitation, to overcome themselves—and others. There are rules, of course, with penalties for non-compliance. Rewards exist as well, but are difficult to earn and more meaningful because of it. The persistent pressure of the environment is ruthless. Who commits to working in that place will never “arrive”. They take steps on a path that lengthens ahead of them as their capability increases. That path is their lifetime if they choose to walk it. Or so I imagined.

The environment is a bubble, separated from the negatives that could deflate it and that’s what makes it so powerful. Sadly, the more opaque the bubble becomes the less those inside can see. Outside. Around them. They turn ‘round and ‘round, imagining progress that doesn’t actually manifest. The questions cease because in the bubble there are only answers. This is the demise of any process and project: players begin to believe their own lies, they celebrate partial steps as progress, using close proximity to their predicted potential to justify what is really stagnation. In this moment several options offer the means to truly progress. I like one above all others.

I made myself on a thesis of destruction. I couldn’t become who I wanted or do what I imagined without first destroying what allowed me to recognize what I might be. I blew up what prevented me from becoming without erasing the vision and intelligence nurtured by my upbringing. So thank you, dad, on Father’s Day. You nourished, of course, but smothered with equal effect. So I found Nietzsche. He steered me toward the notion of “active nihilism” whereby I might raze myself in order to rebuild, to create and live life as my own work of art. This, ultimately, is what I hoped the gym would become: a place where individuals could self-destruct in order to become. And it did. It is. But every group becomes its own problem.

Human beings want to arrive. We want to succeed and bask in triumph, to climb to a crest and coast down the other side. By accepting success as a destination we defeat ourselves. We suffocate the potential we created when we nourished our ambition in the first place.

We could destroy again, to create. Though it’s a bit tedious. Instead the environment we create within which to grow ourselves anew, or the means we choose to facilitate personal evolution, must include a built-in mechanism to prevent us from languishing on an imagined summit. What is it? I don’t know. But I do know that doing the same old shit is pointless—no matter how far we progressed to be able to do it.

I’m sick of adding a few pounds and calling it success: it’s still lifting fucking weights. It is not different than pushing a few more watts or running a tenth of a second faster. I understand: it gets you off. Me too. But at the end of the day we should all ask—and demand an answer, “Is this all there is?”

Any truthful response is itself a commitment to continued growth.