Fitness is a word for spandex-loving, sweat gushing, mat-toting, protein-guzzling, routine-type A people that hit up the gym sometime before or after they hit up the office. Right?
Wrong. After spending more and more of my days on the road, in towns and cities that I cannot call my own, living a daily life that my iCal can barely keep up with, I finally figured out that keeping up with my health was not only possible for someone like me (we’ll get into what exactly that is later) but that it’s crucial to my success as a human being…. that is…. my physical and mental health.
Insane was the word that described me about a year ago. I was working a day job, recording an album, and planning a tour that included shows in international cities. I was transitioning myself out of the day job to a less routine and more inconsistent (and less financially stable) life of a budding singer/songwriter/performer/rock star. Not that fitness was ever routine to me; although I was a competitive athlete most of my life, I never did get used to waking up at 5:45 am for crew practice when I was attending Cornell, nor did the summer swim team I competed on during my childhood and teen years ever amount to anything tangible. I was an average kid, not paying attention to consistency or regularity of my fitness life. All I did know was that when I exercised or competed, I loved the feeling afterwards, I loved the clarity and focus I had when only having to complete one task. Right after I graduated from college, I even became a certified personal trainer to make some money on the side while I was figuring out how to land a cool job in New York City. And when that happened, fitness, as I knew it, slipped away for almost 4 years. Somehow, I finally managed to re-incorporate fitness (and subsequently, more focus, sanity, and revelations) into my new life of scheduling, writing, driving, rehearsing, promoting, booking, performing and the occasional sleeping.
When I left my consistent day job of composing and assisting the technician at a big jingle house, I started to tour and promote my new album. I knew things were going to change. The routine I had so nicely developed over 3 years was demolished. I suddenly felt things were out of my control (more than usual) and I had made a mistake. “Steady paycheck” was a phrase of the past. “Take what you can get” became my new mantra. I was booking shows at restaurants, cafes, schools, anywhere I may be able to sell a few CDs and make ends meet. I wanted to hire a PR firm to help promote my shows and my album because making booking calls and updating my web pages and teaching piano lessons took up all my time. The PR firm ended up costing more money than I was making, and I felt my finances spiral into oblivion. I kept telling myself it was all an investment in my music, in my project, in my passion, in myself.
“Myself” was becoming very fragile. I was tired, worried, and doubted that my talent and drive could compete in one of the most competitive industries. Completely forgetting my competitive athletic streak as a kid, I ignored regular exercise, despite the large part it had in my life pre-loss-of-sanity-and-job. I didn’t want to turn back to the day-job world, and I wanted to give this touring thing a shot. What was missing?
I started off figuring out all the things I did have control of. Like how messy or neat my apartment was. How my relationships were going. How well my checkbook was balanced. I started to organize every little part of my life where there was a mess, and the more areas I investigated, the more I found in my control. My physical fitness was on that list. I started making it a point to do a few exercises a day, no matter WHAT. Then I would add on a run, or a bike ride, or something mildly aerobic. Pretty soon, I became the “most organized person” my friends knew. And I felt in control. I knew where my files for booking contacts were, I knew where my money was going and coming in. My car didn’t look like a junkie’s basement, and my apartment was tidy to the point I would notice if the cat had sat on my bed or not.
Amazingly enough, having my life in order allowed me to feel confident enough to give up a little time a day to get moving again. So exercise re-entered my New York life and completed the circle of sanity that I called my life.
Then I hit the road, and everything could have changed. But it didn’t. I printed out maps and made a binder of directions and venues and places the band and I were crashing. I stayed organized. The car stayed organized. Each of us band members had our own space and every time we arrived at a new hotel room, we staked out our own areas. This neatness and slightly obsessive organization provided a much-needed constant. Messes and spatial issues often result in petty arguments, something being lost, and overall frustration. In addition to dealing with grumpy sound guys, late-coming audiences, bad map-quest directions and digestive problems from too much fast food, there was really no room for extra stress.
To stay on top of the fitness portion of my life, I enrolled my band members to help me out, even if just in theory. The idea was that we would give ourselves enough time in the morning to get over any residual hangovers, ringing in the ears and sleep deprivation by going on a run, showering and grabbing a decent breakfast. At game time, even if everyone decided not to run, I was still up and ready to go, and usually could recruit one or two other members to join me. I’d do a few stretches and a few ab exercises, and more often than not, I was not alone.
The energy I had was contagious. And the fact that anyone who participated in the morning run or hike was actually able to say they “saw” the city we were in (so many bands I know have complained they’ve been to tons of cities but never really get to see and experience them) made the extra half hour in the morning a sacred time. I finally stopped hearing complaints when we stopped along our long drives up the western US coast to hike around the Redwood Forest, or check out a well-known hike in Maine, or run through the capitol area of DC. We toured Swiss cities on foot, increasing our heart rates as well as our photo collection.
Back at home, post- tour, in my regular post-tour state of “what now?”, I turned to my solitary times of running or biking to come up with new ideas. I started to think about what I really loved, what I was good at, and how to really excel at those things. I was able to take some undistracted time to reflect on myself…. something I rarely do when my phone, computer and bills surround me. I have come to cherish my exercise times, not because I am pushing myself to crazy limits and winning races, but because I can conquer my daily fears and answer my own questions. I can step away from my life and observe it carefully. I have been able to turn my face to the face that I get to choose my day, and that this is a blessing. And I can choose to include an element of fitness. And when I do, the outcome both on and off the scales is totally worth it.