Iron Philosophy 102 – The Superiority Complex

It’s all over, running rampant.

I’ve seen it.

You’ve seen it.

We’ve all seen it—the superiority complex. Hell, a lot of us have lived it, posting statuses and quotes to convey our struggles (and, really, just to remind everyone that we’re busting our tails) alongside fellow gym-goers and keyboard warriors alike. You probably know the general gist of what I’m talking about—something like a black and white backdrop of a mountain or some yoked dude set to the tune of, “Today I do what others won’t so that tomorrow I can do what others can’t” all in big, block letters (see above). #thegrind

Now, I admit, when I see these things, I get just as fired up as the next meathead. At least for a moment. “Yeah,” I think. “Shit yeah! I’m doing things that others can’t—becoming something that others won’t.”

For a moment, it all seems so deliciously badass.

For a moment, I think about hitting the share button and reposting this motivation-in-a-can to remind everyone how badass I am.

Then that incessant voice of reason comes forward in my mind, and the moment passes. Why does it matter what others won’t do?  Why do I need to remind those “others” that I’m doing those things? I think, for the most part (and this is probably true-ish for most people), that it comes down to some combination of pride and insecurity, and those are two things that I’d prefer not to promote in my own life.

So, instead of focusing on proving oneself in the eyes of the “haters,” allow me to propose a counter to the popular adage and simply say, “Today I will do what I love so that tomorrow I can build on it.” Or even:

I do what I love

Phew… I got chills. How about you? No?

Look, I know that this variation is not as sexy or appealing to a scorned soul, but at the end of the day, I think that this is mostly what it comes down to for me: building something. For me—and I suspect for most people—there is therapy to be found in the process of creation. Whether it’s training, or writing, or building, or playing, or inventing, it just feels good to be making something. No need to worry about what she did or what he said—just the satisfaction of creating something; improving it; honing it.

I pretty frequently see people citing things like “proving the haters wrong,” as a source of motivation. On one hand, I understand that feeling—wanting to lash out against the voices that say, “You can’t.” I certainly feel flashes of it myself at times. On the other hand, though, when I stop and reflect, it seems to me that the entity I’m actually lashing out against is not some external judgement from others but in fact my own self doubt. I think that if most people in similar positions take a really honest look at where they stand, they might see the same thing.

that's so deep i can see adele rolling in it

Truth be told, most people who think they have haters watching them—waiting to see them fail—probably actually don’t. And you know what? Even if they do, using that as a source of motivation isn’t the path to victory. Why? Because there is no victory in this game. As a brief consult with the interwebz (or Taylor Swift) will tell you, haters gonna hate. Sure, you can get all strong and sexy looking to show the high school bully or your unrequited love what’s what when you see them at the reunion, and maybe the ploy will even work. Maybe they’ll be consumed by a fit of jealousy and storm off to binge on Ben & Jerry’s and cry themselves to sleep watching reruns of Dawson’s Creek.

Maybe so. But then again, maybe not. Maybe they just shrug and think, “Wow, they sure turned into a fitness geek; they probably have no life.” Maybe they don’t even freaking notice you at all. Either way, what’s the damn point?

“Rising above adversity” is one thing. I can certainly admire someone who keeps their focus on the task at hand and perseveres when many of those around them tell them that there is no way they can succeed in their goals. It’s great! However, there is a difference (in my mind, at least) between pushing on in spite of naysayers versus doing so because of them.

For one thing, relying on criticisms and expectations from outside voices for motivational fuel leaves one more or less under the control of those voices, fighting for approval that could very well never come. Furthermore, if the promised day does come and one manages to irrefutably “prove the haters wrong,” what comes next? With nothing left to prove, where will one turn to for motivation?

prove them wrong propaganda

These messages might feel motivational at first, but it’s hard to deny that they also have some negativity intrinsic to them.

Another unfortunate outcome of “proving the haters wrong” (and, coincidentally, kind of the point of this entire post) is the increased likelihood of a superiority complex rearing its insidious little head. Of course, I’m sure that this doesn’t apply to absolutely everyone, but I think that generally, those with a tendency to be driven by the desire to prove themselves in the eyes of others probably have underlying insecurities about themselves. I get it, and I know it’s not the easiest thing to avoid falling into the trap of trying to prove yourself to others, but those that do are often opening themselves to the subtle creep of bitterness and resentment towards those whom they strive to impress.

It might not seem so bad at first. Our righteous warrior may very well persevere and seemingly conquer every obstacle in their way, eyes alight with righteous flames. But along the way, each small victory—each obstacle conquered—may also very well be another stepping stone for our righteous warrior’s ego—another small brick laid in the foundation of a wall meant to obscure their insecurities from themselves and from the world, and, coincidentally another reassurance to the slowly building belief that they are simply better than others. After all, they’re working harder, right? Accomplishing more?

haters will see you walk on water

People can be critical; I get it. But inviting comparison between one’s quest to “get fit” and the plight of probably one of the most influential figures in recorded human history? Jesus Christ, guys…  ; )

I think, at the heart of it, that this basically comes down to a subconscious need to protect one’s self-image. Unfortunately, I don’t think these defensive tactics ever really solve the underlying problem. Those who go on perpetually striving to prove themselves will probably find that their insecurities are still there, perched square on their shoulders, a persistent, unwelcome companion. If anything, they may just grow deeper. Much like treating the symptoms of a disease rather than the disease itself, their effort has been focused towards constructing walls to hide the insecurity rather than looking it in the eye and challenging its existence. In short, even if this hypothetical person makes great leaps and bounds in pursuing their goals to prove those darn haters wrong, they may not find the satisfaction that they originally set out to capture.

Of course, another possible outcome of this whole scenario is that that person fails, gives up, and is left with a similarly (albeit more obviously) damaged sense of self-worth, but that doesn’t exactly seem like an improvement.

The point(s… I guess there are a few) I’m trying to get to, wading through the suds of my preachy soap box, is that, firstly, while I clearly appreciate someone having the stones and the fortitude to go ham in the gym day in and day out, I see no logical basis by which such a person has any reason to think that they are better than the “sheep” (ya know, those who decide they’d rather read a book or eat some cake… whatever, man) or the “haters” that they might bash alongside their lifting brethren on the interwebz with propaganda like the one on the cover of this post.


To arrive at such a conclusion, one has to posit that getting jacked, shredded, and/or strong has more intrinsic value to an individuals overall “worth” than, ya know, reading books or eating cake or whatever, and, while you can make all kinds of arguments about how lifting is great because it makes you healthier, more physically capable, etc., at the end of the day, this idea still comes down to an opinion, based on an arbitrary set of beliefs about what’s “important” in life. Does that make it “wrong?” Hells no! My point is that I don’t think there is a “right” or a “wrong.”

We’re all just people. Different people are going to place different values on different things, and while I’m not going to say that everyone “should” be open-minded and tolerant of other peoples’ values and beliefs, I don’t see much reason to bash on someone or to talk down to them because they don’t like squatting and eating chicken breast and broccoli 8 times a day. No reason, that is, aside from the desperate need to reassure oneself of one’s own worth in the face of encroaching insecurities, as I discussed above.

I don’t (or at least, I’m trying not to) say this maliciously, but if those people really care that much about lifting (or whatever it may be), they would probably find a lot more satisfaction (not to mention be a lot more helpful to others) by trying to share their passion with those who are interested rather than flaming those who are not.

For posterity, I’ll also point out that this logic runs in both directions and that non-lifters have just as little basis for bashing dedicated lifters as lifters have for bashing them. If someone’s knee-jerk reaction upon seeing another’s passion is to try to insult them for being overly dedicated, my guess would be that that person feels they are missing something in their own life. Maybe they are resentful because they want to have such a pursuit in their lives but haven’t yet found anything that has likewise impassioned them. Maybe they are just lashing out because deep inside they do know what it is they love to do, but they’ve been told by their parents and friends or the media and society in general so many times that their dream is not valid or worthwhile that they have begun to believe it themselves.

It’s easy to just shake our heads and dismiss such people as plain, garden-variety assholes, but I really do think that, for the most part, we’re all more or less pretty similar at the core. Maybe the difference between the stud with the superiority complex and the toxic, angry, critical keyboard warrior just comes down to common insecurities and the different actions they initially chose to keep them at bay. And the difference between those two and the person who was able to look their insecurities in the eye and see them for what they were? Well, that person probably still has some insecurities, but they are probably also able to confront them rationally each day and pursue their own goals for their own reasons rather than fixating on proving themselves in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.

Maybe. I don’t know; these are just some thoughts!

So what is one to do with all of this? Well, I guess just try to be honest with oneself and find ways to do what one loves instead of what one feels like they are “supposed” to do. Insecurities are unfortunate, but they don’t have to govern one’s life path. I think that a good place to start is simply acknowledging that they are there. From there, I’m sure people will find their own ways to confronting them and making peace with them. I’m just saying that, from my limited experience, it seems like most people don’t have such great success from simply sweeping them under the rug.

This might all seem pretty hypocritical coming from a guy that routinely posts footage and details from his workouts on Instagram and Twitter and such; I can’t concretely refute that. What I do have to say for myself, though, is that everything I share, I try to share with the intent to help others learn about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and whether it works for me (ya know, that whole “trying to share one’s passion” thing I was babbling about a few paragraphs back). In case you haven’t caught on yet, I freaking love lifting, and while I can’t honestly say that I have completely eliminated the desire to impress others from my mind, first and foremost, what I do in the gym (and in the kitchen, etc.), I do… wait for it… For the Love of Lifting. Awww yeeeeah!

I’ll say it again; we’re all just people. I see no reason why we can’t all just try to do what makes us happy and let others do the same unmolested. Today I will do what I love so that tomorrow I can build on it.

In the elegant words of 21st century philosophers, “You do you; umma do me.”

As always, thanks for reading, everyone! Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts or grievances with the views I’ve expressed here; I’d love to discuss! If you are not a fan of this wishy washy mumbo jumbo, fear not; I’ll (try to) make sure my next post comes packing some good ‘ol practical meathead knowledge bombs!

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