There are few things more satisfying than to be appreciated for the effort it takes to accomplish a difficult task. Rewards in life can sometimes be difficult to obtain and often seem few and far between. So when they are received, whether in the form of a check, a trophy, or a simple pat on the back, they are all the more special. And in those moments, it is quite easy to be humble and gracious. The warmth of the spotlight is a nice reminder of how fortunate we are. But when we leave the lighted stage for one more common, do our rewards not go with us? If so, it is important to take our humble appreciation with us as well.
To be a physique sports athlete requires spending a lot of time focusing on yourself. While your goals may involve self-improvement, from the outside it may be perceived as being more like self-absorption. It is important to recognize that not everyone will understand your journey and that you are always being watched. Anytime you are part of a minority, as physique display athletes are, you are representing not just yourself, but everyone involved in your industry. The people we come in contact with, whether in the gym or at the grocery store, most likely will have very little opportunity to interact with anyone from our sport. The impressions that they draw will therefore not only reflect upon you as an individual, but upon the entire industry. Whether you’re a celebrated champion or a novice competitor, how people see you is how they will see your sport. As the WPC makes a push to create more opportunities for the athletes and positions them to be in front of a broader range of people, if we ever hope to gain more recognition and respect collectively, we must always try to make the best possible impression individually.
A close friend once recounted a story to me of the time he met his childhood hero. The superstar baseball player, known for his World Series heroics had been an idol of mine as well. When my friend gathered up his courage and politely introduced himself to “Mr. October”, he thanked the star for providing him with much enjoyment and athletic inspiration during his youth. My friend expressed his honor in meeting such an accomplished athlete and how he has told his children stories of the stars exploits. The casual indifference that the star treated my friend with left him feeling quite insignificant. Maybe after hearing this type of story a thousand times, it didn’t carry much meaning to the star. He no longer had the capacity to appreciate the excitement and positive memories his hard-earned skill and ability had instilled in my friend. But by putting up his “I’m too good to be bothered” walls, he tarnished memories that had been cherished for years, and cost himself the opportunity to meet someone, in my opinion, much greater than himself.
In contrast to this, I remember walking out of a major league clubhouse with a player who would be that year’s MVP. The family friend was stopped countless times with requests for handshakes and autographs. You could tell it was a regular occurrence. His team was the defending World Series Champion and there were great expectations and pressures being placed upon him. As he stood there patiently accommodating his fans, all of whom were unaware that he was supposed to be arriving somewhere else at that moment, the smile never left his face. The 52 homeruns he hit that year were not nearly as impressive as the countless number of great memories he created just walking to his car.
Those two contrasting examples illustrate why it is always important to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that you are in position where people might look up to you. The person who interrupts you during your workout with a question may have mustered all their courage to do so. They are certainly not trying to sabotage your training, let alone your career. Allowing yourself to react harshly towards them will do a lot more damage to your concentration than a polite reply. If you happen to be working a booth at a show, remember that not everyone can afford to buy all the pictures they want. But if they have a good experience meeting you, they might be ordering several from your website in a matter of weeks. Some of the people at these shows may be quite overwhelmed and intimidated to finally meet you in person. Whether they have been following your career for years or they are newcomers to the sport, the way they perceive you today will determine if they are fans tomorrow. A lot of the people you come in contact with may not be familiar with you, but big fans of one of your competitors. By always giving proper respect to your peers, you might be adopted by a larger fan base. Putting down other competitors is a good way to insure that none of their fans will ever become fans of yours. And since people outside of our industry consider bodybuilding, fitness modeling, figure, physique, and bikini as relatively the same, being an athlete in one of those divisions, while putting down the others, makes absolutely no sense at all.
Some of the people you come in contact with may even have another agenda. They could be associated with a company there to observe and evaluate you for a possible opportunity. The way they see you interact with people may determine whether or not they want you to represent their company. And though it doesn’t seem like physique display sports get much favorable “mainstream” media attention, the media is ever present and you never know when a positive interaction can lead to an unforeseen opportunity. Whether you come in contact with the CEO of Under Armor or the average Joe or Jane from the street, you are unique and they will remember you. If they have a good experience, maybe they will tell others about you. But rest assured, if they have a negative experience, they will tell everyone.
By making every effort to portray yourself in the best possible light, you may be creating greater opportunities for yourself and helping to create a better future for your sport. The memories you create for those you come in contact with will be positive experiences for you as well, and may lead to rewards more valuable than any trophy you will ever receive.