Don’t Break the Chain: The Value of Persistence

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I began playing organized basketball at the age of six.

By the age of ten, I was playing year-round for various travel teams in various leagues, almost always in the age bracket above mine. There was never an offseason. Camps, practices, summer leagues, fall leagues, spring leagues, open gyms – I did it all. When state rules prevented us from holding official practices, we all met at our point guard’s home and conducted practices on the full court in his backyard.

Basketball was an everyday thing.

By the time I walked off the court for the final time in the spring of 1998, I was mentally fried. I was eighteen years old and I was done.

Whenever I read about Olympians or actors that have been performing their craft tirelessly since early childhood suddenly having a meltdown when they reach their late teens or early twenties, I completely understand.

I was far from a great athlete – I had no chance of playing at the next level – but I worked my ass off and was a pretty good athlete who was in great shape. I never missed practice and I went hard every single day. Running, lifting, drills, shooting – I poured myself into all of it to the point that I had nothing left. I was the co-captain of my team because of my dedication, not my talent.

A behind-the-scenes shot from People‘s Sexiest Man Alive photo shoot in 1997

Yes, I was skinny because I was eighteen and had that glorious metabolism, but it’s really because I was getting after it every single day. Even over vacations and breaks, I was on the court or in the weight room. I rarely took time off. I was always doing something to improve my body or my game.

So when my career was done, so was I.

I needed a break so I swore off exercise. I didn’t need it. I was young and skinny. I had been skinny forever. I would be skinny forever.

Then I went away to college and I got fat.

Freshman fifteen? Double it.

It wasn’t the beer as much as the food. A chicken parm sandwich and cheese fries at midnight on a Tuesday is unsustainable. I was shocked because I had a belly for the first time in my life and nothing fit. My body quickly became as soft as a MyPillow.

I hated being fat but I didn’t care enough to do anything about it. I had lost all of my determination. My burnout turned into laziness. Doing nothing became the new routine.

Over the next decade-and-a-half, there were moments when I’d decide to get my shit right. I’d hit the gym and go hard, but my efforts were thwarted by continuing to eat and drink with abandon and, ultimately, my inability to keep the momentum going. There were various reasons for this – crazy work schedule; 150-mile round trip daily commute; fatherhood duties – but the results were the same.

In April of 2018, twenty years after I played that final basketball game, I fully committed to making a lasting change. I hit the gym every weekday and watched what I shoved in my mouth. I wasn’t perfect – I still enjoyed my wine and indulged in a bagel with cream cheese now and then – but I was persistent. I kept at it. The results began to show.

On October 1st, a week before my second daughter was born, I stepped on the scale. I weighed less than I had since the ’90s. I had shed nineteen pounds in less than six months, largely because I hadn’t broken the chain.

It’s the same with everything. Getting a degree. Writing a book. Raising a child. Mastering a skill. Saving for retirement. Building a website.

Regardless of whatever it is, persistence is the key.

Jerry Seinfeld knows the value of working at it every single day:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

There was only one thing in the world that could get me to break it.

I took off two weeks for the new arrival. No work. No working out. Just family time.

I have consistently put my family above everything else in my life. I’ve turned down amazing job offers because there was too much travel and I’ve declined fun opportunities because it would have taken me away from them. So when it was time for the baby, everything else was pushed aside.

The first week was spent in the hospital with my wife and new baby, eating terrible food and sleeping very little with an exercise routine that consisted of walking to the cafeteria and back. The second week was more of the same, only this time I was home and, in addition to the new one, we also once again had a slightly human to care for as well. It was great – I was able to take my older daughter to and from school every day – but my schedule was off and my routine was broken.

When I finally made it back to the gym, I stepped on the scale. I was all the way back to my original weight.

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I felt like Sisyphus. Time to start pushing that boulder again.

It’s now been three months and I’m still struggling and working to get back to that point. Breaking the chain has long-lasting effects. In many ways it’s even harder this time, but I’m not quitting.

And I’m going to do my best not to break the chain.


Christopher Pierznik is the author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at MediumHis work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business InsiderThe CauldronMedium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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