Don’t Start Your Diet & Exercise At The Same Time

Diet and exercise, Diet and exercise, Diet and exercise, for advice-givers of all tiers diet & exercise is the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.

And when you’re up and inspired to get your shit together diet and exercise are two piles of shit you’re going to want to put in your shit backpack. But, importantly, they are not the same pile of shit.

They go hand-in-hand, they’re symbiotic, there’s no point in having one without the other but don’t think you need to perfect both all at once when it’s motivation time.

Why?

  1. The bigger the change the more likely the change back. If you become your best self (TM) all at once you will most likely give up being your best self all once as well.
  2. You don’t know shit about either thing and learning both at once will seem overwhelming
  3. Your image of eating right (TM) is not eating. From just cutting out sugar to full blown sufferfest joyless broccoli and rice every meal, people always think good eating is about what you don’t eat

And that’s where the worst shit happens. For one, if you’re working out, and especially if you’re new to working out, you need to be fueling up. You don’t take on a bunch of new duties at work then also take a huge pay cut or lose a bunch of staff. More work requires more power to do the work and in this case it’s eating that powers the work. People think it’s all about grit because grit is a character trait you can tell yourself you’ll have when you need it but grit will not turn a good work out into bigger muscles, only food does that.

And for the junk food that you know you should give up anyway? It’ll go away on it’s own later, I promise. In the meantime don’t give up something that brings you comfort when you’re taking on something that pushes you out of your comfort zone.

Once you’re working out a lot you’ll have to start eating more foods that are ‘good’ because they’re beneficial (fats, fibre, and protein) rather than ‘good’ because they’re engineered to be tempting (i.e, carbs in colourful package), plus you’ll notice what makes your body actually feel good as opposed to just that it feels good to get something that’s tempting. I’ve seen it in myself – the best a package of cookies will ever make you feel is when they’re in your cart at the grocery store it’s all subtle disappointment after that.

But that’s a concern for the future, like I said if you’re new to working out and you’re used to eating lots of cookies go ahead and keep eating lots of cookies. If people were only allowed to do things the best and smartest way possible we’d never be able to start anything.

Beginners & Training To Failure

I shifted my mindset on something recently and I’m going to try and talk it out:

I love training to failure, pretty sure all fitness people love training to failure. And it makes sense because the brain releases a lot of endorphins when you train to failure – it thinks you just survived some massive fight-or-flight situation and wants to switch into recovery mode to deal with the fatigue and muscle damage you just accumulated.

But of course we don’t know that’s what we’re feeling even if we know that’s what we’re feeling. That neurological state merely exists and we put narrative words to it – we move from merely feeling good to feeling good about ourselves. We feel hardcore, we feel strong, we feel primal, we feel like real lifters.

This is the root of the problem with training to failure. It can feel like the only thing that makes a work out legit. Training smarter not harder can feel like not training at all. When you empty the tank you really know you did something – even if what you did is technically worse for the outcome you’re after.

Because, yes, the current state of play in exercise science is that training to failure builds up a tremendous amount of fatigue and injury risk for very little increase in muscle mass. You’re better off over the long haul doing sets to near failure so you can get in more sets of effective reps. Because after a set to failure you’re in the land of diminishing returns. But if you can stay out of the land of diminishing returns, just stay on the doorstep, you can get another set of effective volume in.

But this is supposed to be about beginners so lets get back on track. For beginners there’s no need to be training to failure at all because you’re going to get great stimuli off any exercise sheerly because it’s novel. Plus safety concerns and yada yada yada. The reason that everyone recommends beginners do a little bit of failure training is to know what failure really feels like. To know how much space there actually is between when a weight gets tough to move and when it doesn’t move. Because that golden zone of effectiveness is when you can get two more reps but you know you can’t get three.

I was recently thinking about another reason noobs should TTF and it’s, duh, the same reason that we all do it – it feels great. I was taking someone through some beginner work recently and it was light weights and safety focused and designed to work on the downsides of their desk job and – it really made working out feel like just another chore.

As an analogy – it’s like when you go to learn guitar and they insist on teaching you jingle bells, just 5 notes on two strings at too-slow a pace. And they insist this is beginner stuff and learning this is fundamental to all the cool stuff you’ll get to do later and then you quit guitar lessons. The best way to teach people is to teach them what they want to learn and then work backwards into the fundamentals. Let them have fun just because you should let them have fun but also because that’s what keeps them coming back and doing the work and building the habit.

If I could do it again, which I can, I’d say basically listen we’re gonna do all the smart, correct stuff a little bit later and I’ll explain why it’s smart and correct and why you need to be doing it but first let’s just take a day and bro out doing bench press and deadlifts. Lots of rest between sets, lots of form correction, but ultimately just work up to doing a set to failure.

And, this could be good for some clients, changing what failure means to them. Because it’s so different for us, we happy few who have been fitnessing years. A beginner might feel like I’m here to lift weights and here’s this weight I can’t lift, this reflects on me, I am a failure. Whereas for us it’s such a joyful thing, the way it reflects on our character to be failing a lift is that it makes us stronger, it’s shows our grit, it shows courage and control. It’s so great to get into that failing state and think this is the part that matters and then fight to stay there as long as possible.

As I’m writing this, and drinking coffee, I’m getting amped up. I could go do some failure sets right now. Just get on the bench and push weight up until you get that first sticky one (because, for anyone who hasn’t done it, the middle of an exercise is the toughest part. So you start the rep, go through molasses, then finish strong and lower under control) and you know the next one is going to be it. You get into that sticky spot and it’s just nope. Like god came and put their hands on the weights and they are not rising. Then you just stay there. And you’re pushing with everything you have just to make them stay still and you gotta even fight your own mind that’s giving you little bursts of fear as your body digs into adrenal reserves just so you can keep fighting this impossible battle. Against god.

Then another couple breaths and you lower them onto your chest and sit up. And you do a big exhale, you smile, you tell god good game, good game. You feel like you really did something and now it’s okay to rest.

Fitspo

No idea who this random guy is or who took this photo, I saw it because it comes up if you’re searching for ‘men’s tank top fashion’, but man this is so exactly how I aspire to look.

Except the glasses, I guess, and maybe the gold chain but even that’s kind of winning me over.

But really if I was going to pick someone to be my Fitspo idol (I should explain that Fitspo is a jokey internet term for Fitness Inspiration) I’ve discovered it’s Marlon Brando in Street Car:

Tank top tucked in again… still can’t imagine doing that. I can’t imagine tucking any shirt really unless I’m wearing a suit.

But yeah when I saw this photo (on that same google search just looking at photos of guys in tank tops to see how I might accessorize when I wear one – and yes it’s embarrassing to type that) I was instantly struck by it. Like, if I were still a teenager I’d be walking around for a week wondering if I was gay because of this photo.

And after seeing this photo was when I was like oh god, I thought I was doing fashion but I’m actually doing Fitspo! I’m susceptible to Fitspo and must die. Which is how I react to absolutely everything I think typical people do. I google-image-search tattoos and fashion and most of the photos I see are from pinterest but the idea that I would ever go on pinterest is like the idea I’d ever shit on a dinner plate.

But after looking at Brando I looked at a bunch of modern celebrities shirtless photos and typical Fitspo stuff and was never impressed. So I think a big part of it is just that it’s Brando in Streetcar and it’s got massive classic cool vibes. And I was thinking he must simply have, by genetics, the perfect shoulder-to-hip ratio or something like that but the all-knowing internet couldn’t tell him Brando’s measurements at time of filming.

And that’s the story of how I enjoyed looking at pictures and then thought for a week about how I enjoyed looking at pictures.

How To Give Someone A Fitness Mentality

I’d love it if that title was more of a statement than a question but it’s really not. Hopefully as I talk this out we’ll get somewhere.

I never needed to be ‘given’ the fitness mentality. In 2016 I saw The School Of Life video that said good intellectuals take care of their bodies because the body takes care of the mind and I was like yeah, makes sense and started a morning exercise routine with the intent to take up running in the morning when winter was over.

I tell people that I’ve always been a runner, I just didn’t start running until my 30s.

And I really started. I got my running gear, laid it out before bed each night and ran every morning. Never skipped a run. Even as I made every beginner mistake possible I just researched more rather than ever take a break.

I heard the saying about how exercise shouldn’t be viewed as a punishment for you ate but a celebration of what your body can do and I thought exactly. That articulated exactly how I felt. I feel celebratory when exercise.

But I was working with someone the other day who evidently does not feel that way. The moment the different mentalities clicked for me was when we were going through some motions to detect whether they had an injury or not, they said “how many reps do I do?” and I said “As many as you want.” Because we weren’t trying to build muscle or anything we just trying to see what hurt, and they said “I don’t want to do any.”

I can only imagine wanting to know if I’m injured and being relieved to find out I’m not, in that situation. I can’t imagine any other way of feeling. I can’t imagine thinking that finding out I’m hurt and learning what I can do about it is a chore.

I think this is why a lot of people come to fitness only after a health scare of some kind. It makes the necessity real. A lot of people wish they fit; wish they were strong, fast, good looking, ‘healthy’ but that wish goes away every time what it actually takes sinks in. It’s only when they feel like they’re losing something that they’ll work against that loss.

Just like how people feel much more negatively about losing $100 than they feel positively about gaining $100. If people had to pay even a dollar to opt out of a marathon we’d see a million more runners overnight.

But I’m straying from the train of thought… The thing is, without a health scare of some kind, can you induce a love of fitness in someone who doesn’t have it?

Because people will never get there by feeling bullied. If shaming worked we wouldn’t have any fat people or drug addicts or cheaters or politicians. Shame has been tried, it’s been the only thing tried in our entire modern cultural history and things have exclusively gotten worse.

Daniel O’Brien long ago pitched the idea that gyms should have a beginner’s night. A time to go in and see what you can figure out without feeling like you’re in someone else’s space. And I think the answer is somewhere in that thought.

I think the best thing a person can do is a buy a medium kettle bell and try to learn everything they can do with it. That exploration, I think, would be fun and encouraging, and eventually they’d have a collection of exercises they liked doing which would get through the first humps and later they’d be invested enough to find what holes they were leaving in their regime.

This does lead to another beginner – or pre-beginner – problem I’ve seen though… Instead of moving goal posts some people keep moving the start line. There’s something they need to buy or some specific event that needs to pass, or someone else who’s supposed to show them or join them, and then they’ll get started. But once that thing is bought or that date comes or things ‘slow down’ it’s not suddenly any easier and resolve fades away.

It’s just so natural to reward yourself for what you’re going to do that when it comes times to do it it doesn’t feel good.

I think there’s another tip hidden in there, too. Don’t tell anyone what you’re going to do. Just tackle it privately and seriously and wait to let other people notice on their own.

That’s something that worked for me. One of my stated goals when I started hitting the gym was for someone in the change room at work to say “Ooh, you’ve been working out.”

And it worked. I got to the point where I could tell I had some gains and felt like it’s gonna happen any day now… and then it did. And it took basically nothing, just a couple months of consistency and I took my physique from worse-than-average to average but people notice the change more than they care about the objective result.

Ugh, I keep describing the fitness mentality, which I’ve covered before, but not gotten any closer to the idea of how to instill it in someone.

Like, I have the feeling that I’ve built something and am continuing to build something so consistency is easy. What do you do with people who’s self assessment is only a feeling of loss, a feeling that they used to be thinner; used to be more energetic, used to be whatever and now they feel like are just something less than they used to be. It’s just like people in debt who feel it’s not worth it to climb out because they’re just climbing back to baseline not actually gaining anything.

And you can tell people “This will get worse if you ignore it.” and they’ll say they know but ignoring it will feel just that little bit better than starting to deal with it and admitting how big or journey it really feels like; and how scared you are you might not be able to do it.

So the question is really what takes away that big road block?

Running Analogies I Never Get To Use At The Store

This is just the shit that rolls around in my head all day.

  • Imagine stepping off a 4ft counter onto the hardwood floor. What would you do? Instinctively you’d land on the balls of your feet with flexed ankles and bent knees. That’s your body’s shock absorbers. Now, imagining landing on your heels with your knees locked. How much cushion you would want in order to do that? Is there any amount that you think would make that feel good? No? That’s why no amount of cushion in your shoes is going to protect your joints. Your joints protect themselves if you let them.
  • Do you know the story of Cornflakes? A hundred years ago a guy thought bland food would cure masturbation and thirty years after that his nephew added tons of sugar so people would buy more. That’s it. That’s the whole billion dollar cereal industry and all the options you see in the super market. That’s also why modern running shoes are high heeled and max cushioned – weird assholes with dumb ideas start companies and then the priority is finding a way to make them appealing.
  • Everybody runs different? Sure, every car is different too but if your wheels are angling inward or outward and fighting against the efficient movement of the car, you don’t just say “Oh that’s just how she goes.” You fix whatever is misaligned. And not from the tires up but from the driver down.
  • And while we’re on the topic of Everybody Runs Different, don’t you find it just fucking quirky that only people with money for fancy science-magic shoes are afflicted with the problems cured by fancy science-magic shoes? God smited all the middle-class white women with dreaded over-pronation and not a single Kenyan school child, huh? Didn’t know Kenyan school kids were Moses’ chosen people on running shoe Passover.
  • If you tell me you need a Phillips Head Screwdriver…. and I pass you a Phillips Head Screwdriver… Don’t go “eww” then push it away and ask me if I have any other recommendations. If you want a fashion screwdriver go to the fashion screwdriver store.
  • Okay, a thing that happens every single day: People feel a bit embarrassed coming to a running store and saying they don’t run so, out of a dead silence, they’ll defiantly announce how far they walk or how long they’re on their feet for work. Which… fine. We need more people to think of themselves as athletes in the sport of normal life. The thing is, they’ll follow it up by saying they therefore need a shoe with tons of support and cushion. If you’re so proud of your damn bike why are you shopping for training wheels, tiger? I’ll happily work with someone who’s like “I’m a squishy little wuss and need all the help I can get” but I can’t tolerate some self-declared badass who’s suddenly all “Can you stwain the pulp from my owange juice?”

Okay, that wasn’t really an analogy and I’m getting dangerously close to just bitching about work so I’ll wrap it up. The funny thing is, I wrote this post because I used an analogy at work today and my co-worker was like “Will you write that down for me?” And when I opened this document to start I mentally couldn’t find a clue as to what I’d said to him earlier. So there’s more in there somewhere.

I Still Worry I’m A shoespirasist

I wrote a while ago about checking my confirmation bias and I feel compelled to rehash that before I start: I put up a poster in the store which references some studies about how pronation control shoes do nothing, max cushion shoes are hurting you, the usual barefoot zealot type stuff, and I realized that’s typical confirmation bias – I found what I wanted and then stopped looking.

So I looked some more and I found hundreds of studies confirming what I think. Well, one hundred fifty eight.

But what bugs me is I couldn’t find any “other side”. Not for running shoes anyway, I got into a rabbit hole of learning about tennis shoes and they made a pretty good case for orthopedics having performance benefits. (Here’s that link. Also this guy has a video where he buys one of Serena William’s shoes on eBay and buys the over the counter public version and cuts them in half to show the difference which is such pure shoe nerd I respect him forever.)

Even one of my go to shoetubers on the topic of heel drop was like shrug emoji. All the minimalist stuff makes sense to him but he still feels like cushion and heel are somehow normal. Like, they just have to be because otherwise why would most shoes have them? But also it’s worth pointing out that he’s had a ton of all the typical running injuries and had to learn exercises to correct them, not just buy more and more ‘supportive’ shoes.

Which brings me to the majority problem; the normalcy problem. Running is the only sport where a majority of participants report being injured every year. It’s weird to deflect to the idea of normal when the norm is injured.

Like, with smoking, everyone has some example of an uncle or someone who smoked a pack a day right up to the end and it never seemed like it was doing them any harm. The thing is the vast vast vast majority of smokers do see palpable harm and premature death from smoking so we can dismiss those anecdotes and say that smoking is definitively bad.

So here we are with most runners being injured and more and more of the gen pop having foot problems and kinetic chain problems and still everyone is like I guess we just need to smoke harder? Like, running injuries and foot problems have just gotten worse and worse since Nike debuted and took over the market and everyone had to copy them or go bankrupt but barefoot running is regarded as a niche trend that passed?

The thing is, particularly when it’s anonymous, anecdotal evidence still sways me. I worry that I’m the crazy one and I’ve just opted for certainty over… I want to say confusion but if I weren’t confused I wouldn’t be writing this post.

But you get it. It simplifies things to be dogmatic; To declare everything towards the center from me is just bullshit and never have to deal with any worry.

When anecdotal evidence isn’t anonymous though holy fuck am I elitist. I’ll get people in the store with feet that are just destroyed saying insoles relieved their Trinidadian cousin’s friend’s shin splints and I… I just die a little more inside.

Not everyone of course but it still shocks and disappoints me when I tell someone I can show them the stretches they can do for free and the much cheaper roller they could buy to surely solve their problem rather than a spend-and-hope, spending-is-solving, expensive-is-better strategy. And this is again where I sound like a conspiracy theorists because there is a dreaded they.

They want you to think expensive is better, they want you to be confused, they don’t want you to think you could solve your issues without them.

But really it’s that there’s 70+ shoes companies in an extremely competitive market and they’re all trying to make payroll by selling what sells. It’s like professional YouTubers – a sensational thumbnail and a clickbait title full of comments telling you you suck is, by the numbers, by the ad revenue, a better video than something sincere that’s totally true and useful but just a little dry.

It’s not evil to follow the sales numbers and worry about your employees feeding their kids.

And yet the thing is – this is me just turning into work venting now – people still get mad at me. In a personally impersonal way. I field complaints all the time where people tell me how much money they spent and their problem isn’t solved and I’m like I know! You spent your money dumbly like a dumb idiot and now you want my sympathy while you’re giving me attitude? Take my name down… ’cause you’re gonna be writing to customer service about me. I didn’t build the industry, I didn’t make the shoe or advertise the shoe, I didn’t chose the shoe to be in our corporate bullshit store, but sure act like the minimum wage employee you meet face-to-face is the author of all your pain. You righteous avenger, you.

I’ve already quit and everyday multiple times a day I wish I could quit again harder.

Anyway, anything left to say? Did I resolve anything for myself?

One thing I should mention that I don’t talk about enough is injury. Acute injury. If you just ruptured your Achilles, yeah, don’t get into barefoot shoes. Specific injuries, chronic and acute might have different specific needs. The problem is the gen pop has been deliberately mislead as to what’s an injury and what’s a weakness. A lot of things labeled as chronic injuries are in fact just weakness and you fix a weakness by getting stronger not by wrapping everything in a cast.

And because we’re talking about runners I have to say specifically I do not mean mental strength. Fighting through pain is being stupid not being strong. Being strong is your body being able to flourish when doing what you ask of it, not ignoring it. Mentally, if you want to be tougher, be tougher; physically, if you have plantar fasciitis, learn to stretch your fucking calves. Let your body do the work in a controlled way, let it practice, so that it doesn’t catastrophically fail you when it’s suddenly tested.

This has just turned into full on self reinforcement. I’d prefer a post be self exploration that gets me somewhere new but I’ll also take something that makes me feel better about where I am.

I Wish People Understood Running Shoes Aren’t “Good” Shoes

I feel like apologizing for sounding like a broken record but I think it’s because I have to talk about this every day at work, not necessarily that I’ve written about it too many times.

But regardless I will make my points immediately so you don’t have to read the whole thing to benefit – running shoes are specialty shoes, they are not magic cure-all good-for-everything shoes.

  • Running shoes are terrible “Everyday” shoes
  • Running shoes do not have “good” arch support
  • Running shoes are not good work shoes and telling me how many hours you’re on your feet won’t change that
  • Running shoes are terrible gym shoes
  • Running shoes will not “correct” anything about how you move unless the problem was caused by already wearing worse running shoes
  • You do not need to wear “good” running shoes just because you are old

A big part of my frustration comes from the fact those customers keep the lights on, they are actually my job’s core audience, and yet we don’t actually serve them well. The industry tells them we do but at the ground level we’re stuck serving them merely as best we can with terrible options. Like, we don’t even sell good running running shoes let alone good running shoes for non-running shoe problems. It’s like we’re a tennis shop selling badminton rackets to hockey players.

But that’s a corporate problem and I can’t hope to change that. I can only shout into the void and tell myself that I’m #informing people.

I think there’s two reasons at the heart of the problem. One is just marketing and there’s two sides to that coin too. Athletic shoe marketing obsessively uses words like support, structure, help, comfort, performance and promise you access to your best self; meanwhile medical advertisers treat feet like a Starbucks order where you gotta know if you’re a high arch, wide-foot, over-pronating, heel-striker; which is all nonsense to make you feel overwhelmed.

Now, some people LOVE being the Starbucks order of feet, it makes them feel unique and important. And like so many unique, important people they use tons of words they don’t understand. And those people I don’t think can be helped. At least not by me.

So top-down advertising is a problem. The second part of the problem is bottom-up. People have aches and pains and think athletic shoes will help. But, no, it’s being an athlete that would help. It’s what you do, not what you wear.

People want to walk in and buy the solution to a problem. I’ve learned that I have to sell someone a shoe first before telling them how to solve their problem for free with a few exercises or they will complain about me to national leadership.

Another part of the problem that I should acknowledge though is no one else is even trying to serve the market. Running shoes captured the whole make-feet-feel-good-please market because no one else is trying.

There are actually good running shoe manufacturers making all around great shoes but only marketing to hardcore runners so they don’t occupy enough of the market to be in in stores everywhere; while the Pop-Tart running shoe manufacturers make glorified lifestyle shoes that are actually worse than lifestyle shoes but they market them to everyone. Smartest of all they market them to women. Women make choices for themselves but also for their kids and for their husbands.

If you can convince parents they are doing the right thing for their kids by doing the magic voodoo gait analysis then you not only got them, you got the kid indoctrinated for life too.

And I think big lifestyle brands can’t risk looking like they care. Like, if Converse built an ad around being only 1/3 as bad for your feet as Nikes they’d be giving up their carefully cultivated care-free image.

There are some small companies that are really trying and I want to leave with something good and worthwhile so here’s a video from one of my go-to channels:

The Story Of Working At The Running Room

My time at the RR is coming to an end. So I keep mentally rehearsing what I’m going to say about it in future job interviews and subsequently thinking things we all know you never say in future job interviews.

So here’s the tip-to-tail story, to get it off my mind:

It all starts because Liv’s parents, particularly her mum, know I’m into running and was working on being a fitness instructor. There was a sign in the window of the shop looking for people to lead clinics and group runs. They texted a photo to her to show to me and I went in with my entirely cooking-based resume. And I fully expressed that I thought it would be good first chance to start building my coaching resume, since that was my life plan. And I expressed how much I love running which had a impact because everyone else there was only familiar with running as cross training for other sports. Actually hockey. Just hockey.

I got hired to lead the running group. Clinic groups had talks and I had no heads up when we didn’t have a guest speaker so I always had one prepared; I had no heads up if a route was planned so I always pretended I had one prepared.

It was the best of times. I liked who I felt I was to the group and to the store. It was technically a job which was better than technically having no job but really it was volunteering. I got paid 18 dollars per person. Which was astounding when I thought 18 dollars per person 3 times a week, holy shit but it was actually 18 dollars per person for the whole 8 week clinic.

So basically I was making 120 bucks for two month.

Or would have been. Because COVID happened before the first class wrapped up and head office kept all the money while cutting off all communication between the company, and me, and the group.

But that’s March and my story is still in December. Long before the lay-off I accepted some retail shifts behind the counter. And I had expected to be asked, I loved running and I was the only person of the entire staff of 8 part-time, random-shift, moms-and-students to have, frankly, any knowledge about it.

The manager at the time was enthusiastic about that. She even thought I’d be a good replacement for her. She was on her way out; She’d had enough of the corporate culture; Everyone in the company was a stupid jerk, she warned.

Honestly, I thought it must be that she was dumb and lazy. When someone thinks everyone around them sucks it usually means they just hate being called on their shit.

So I was working one night a week and she was leaving. Training was, shall we say, chill. I carried my notepad, I absorbed everything I could – which then all changed anyway but more on that later.

The assistant manager and I talked a little bit about what was going to happen next and then… she left too.

I was suddenly, officially, a full time employee and the defacto heir apparent because I taught the clinic, wasn’t in school, and didn’t have another job. I became the go-to guy when I’d spent about 40 hours in the store over about 3 months.

I was taking deep breaths and thinking I’d figure out all these challenges on the fly but luckily I didn’t have to. Because COVID.

I worked one of the last days before the big lay off and we took in no money while doing 500 dollars in returns. I imagine it’s that, with so much sudden uncertainty, people felt something like guilt about luxury purchases like running shoes and wanted to liquidate that money.

A different Area Manager called me in a confused fury and demanded to know what was going on, why were all Calgary stores in the negative?

I asked him, basically, who the hell he thought he was to yell at me about that and he hung up. And I thought that must have been one of the peeps the former manager was talking about, what a stupid jerk.

So, lay off happened the next day.

I started collecting CERB and living the dream. I always said, in answer to the office space question what would you do if you suddenly didn’t have to work, that I’d just train twice a day and read a lot. Which is absolutely what I did.

When the re-opening was happening I said yes immediately and took the pay cut. I wanted to show loyalty and show my hand’s-always-up.

So the store reopened with me and one other chap working open to close everyday and that was it. We were the staff.

Now he, by education, was a chemical engineer. By athleticism he was a volleyball player. By give-a-shit he was nothing. He had the school boy mentality of doing whatever he felt like as long as he wouldn’t get in trouble. If something happened and he was scared he’d get yelled at it threw him into a panic.

Luckily for him we never got yelled at for anything. The worrying lack of oversight was not worrying to him. He was actually pretty alright and I smile when I think about him – he did get a chemical engineering job and moved to Manitoba.

The first problem we diagnosed – before he left – was the daily paperwork. You see, at the end of a normal day we print off a bunch of stuff and put it in a basket. Back in the day the basket would be empty at the start of each week. And it was Charles who pointed out that it was not. It was just accumulating.

The baskets where overflowing and the drawer the baskets where in had also begun to verge on overflowing.

And I could not get an answer out of anyone I could contact as to what, specifically, to do with it.

There are, like, 8 envelopes you’re supposed to send off to Head Office each week and my A1 problem was how do I send things to head office. I only know a handful of store numbers if I’ve sent them customer transfers.

But, I figured, the stores are sequential based on when they opened (Calgary currently has stores 013, 065, 078, 086, and 1 more but I’m not looking up fucking Crossiron) so head office might be 001. So I jammed everything from the weeks before the lay-off and everything since into two envelopes and said okay, I know this is wrong but it’s probably so wrong that someone will scream at me about it and I’ll be able to say… thank you, now where is it supposed to go and how it supposed to be filed?

Doing something dead wrong in the worst possible way should be the easiest possible path to feedback.

Instead… nothing.

I wanted to step up, take a shot, and risk looking like a fucking idiot but it turned out I didn’t look like anything.

And that actually explains the tone of the company communication.

You are at best shouting into a void. The norm is shockingly worse.

My favorite bad examples are once receiving an email that was just a question mark and copy/pasted line from a spreadsheet and when I replied could they explain what they were asking they replied a few minutes later your manager should have told you.

And the second thing I can never forget I already wrote about, but when I’m enraged and talking about it I summarize it as me having to track down one pair of shoes by calling California, two people in Edmonton, then getting a call from one person in Kingston, finally to have Edmonton email me to say listen, we sent them wherever they’re supposed to go. But then the next day getting an email saying the shoes were coming direct to my store from Kingston and we don’t know what happened.

Motherfucker you happened. This must be one of the guys the former manager was trying to tell me was a twat.

And this is the whole toxic culture of the place – maybe they really didn’t know what happened. Maybe something got dumped in their lap with no context and no guidance and they did what they thought was possibly correct then felt an absence of gratitude when they got called out for guessing wrong.

Because that’s ultimately all this company is. The answer to every problem (unless you are exceptionally lucky and if you are exceptionally lucky we will laughingly tell you) is I don’t know why that happened and no I can’t fix it.

And it got to me, it toxified me. When customers, innocent and niave people, came to me with a problem my first reaction was to be so dismissive and cold because this wasn’t my problem and I couldn’t help. All i could do was want you to try elsewhere.

The store got a pseudo-manager in the form of the events coordinator. But all he does is tell people he’s the events coordinator. He resents the store and the company more than I do. Because he’s been in it longer. And he hates customers more than I do to the point it shames and appalls me.

But from the companies point of view there’s no one else.

You see, no store actually has employees right now. 2 Area Managers, 3 store managers, 1 Events Coordinator, and me represent the entire, dwindling, work force for the 5 Calgary stores.

And those Managers, over-worked as they honestly are, have vacation days. Vacation days they have no intention of missing.

So my job has turned into just showing up, opening the store, and having no idea if I’m solo for the whole day with no breaks or if I’m on for 3 hours and 1 or sometimes 2 salaried old men are coming in to relieve me.

Oh the email, oh the email I have to talk about the “thanks” email… When someone rage quit and the Area Manager was going to have start covering their shifts (and therefore not covering all the shifts they were already covering elsewhere) they sent out an email telling us that profits are up and it’s all thanks to us doing what we do to keep wages lean.

My highest concern, thanks. All day I had to repeatedly fight the urge to reply that the federal government has paid my rent 18 months in a row but I’m super glad corporate profits are up.

And that’s where we are right now. Everyday on a pad at work I write a number out of ten for how much I dreaded going in and how strongly I feel the pull to just leave. I’m on the verge of just leaving while a customer is talking.

Because… it’s retail. You know retail. I don’t know if I’ve written this point before but there’s bad, neutral, and good customer experiences. And the majority will always be that neutral category. That neutral category though becomes bad when you look back on a day or a week and feel that nothingness.

The bad becomes stories and stories give meaning.

The good… few are far between. I still light up when someone has sincere athletic questions and is receptive to sincere athletic advice; I still get customers who remember me and thank me by name. There’s usually one interaction a week where I’m glad and I feel I’m doing my service and I can sigh with relief. Other than that I’m just a listening-whore for old ladies for the remaining 150 interactions.

That’s a shit ratio for job satisfaction. That’s shit job satisfaction for minimum wage.

And yet I feel like if I could just be perfect this wouldn’t matter. Why can’t I be a listening-whore for old ladies, do I think I’m so much better than that, isn’t it egotistical to want to be valued for I want to give?

Maybe. But fuck it, life’s too short to dread your job.

The myth of gait analysis pt 2

So I said in the previous post that even if in-store gait-analysis told us something useful it still wouldn’t matter. I didn’t properly explain that. So here we go:

If I were going to do an analysis it would this one from Bob & Brad:

And yet if someone failed these tests I wouldn’t use that information to sell them a particular shoe I would just say you aren’t ready to run. Go exercise until you are and then come back.

Which would not be a store that could keep the lights on. So instead the business model has to be you’re a pussy? Here’s your pussy shoes. Gimme 200 dollars and go get weaker.

Okay, that was drastic and I wrote it when I was annoyed. But I stand by it anyway. Because, back on point, it wouldn’t matter anyway if someone did pass what should be a bare-minimum-human-body-owners-manuel test – there’s no shoes in most shoe stores for you.

People offer up, desperately, a ton of useless information to their shoe salesmen and it doesn’t matter. Not because you don’t matter but because all the 32 options you see on the wall are basically the same option. I am trying to do good and have a positive impact and give you a joyful educational experience when you’re in the store yet at-the-end-of-the-day all I can actually do is find you a pair of shoes you like.

It’s like tomato sauce. Imagine the store was called The Pasta Sauce Place and yet all we had was 32 different types of tomato sauce.

People come in expecting – Not because they’re bad people (although some are of course) but because they’ve been promised by marketing – that we’ll be able to diagnosis what the perfect food is for them and meanwhile we lowly salespeople with no control over what’s available in the store have to be like …let’s try 4 different tomatoes, then eliminate 2 and try 2 more, then do that again… over and over until we have 2 then it’s finally a technical discussion of if you get heartburn which will make it least bad.

I have this thing where I imagine how to be a happy Sisyphus and push my boulder up the hill each day and I think if I were to push the same boulder, up the same hill each day I could find joy in perfecting the path; doing the same work but having it be easier and easier.

The problem in my job is that sometimes the boulder is a lot farther down the hill than you’d like; farther than it was with the last customer; the farthest down it’s been all week – and you just want to not bother. One time I seriously had an urge to leave the store mid-sentence when I was starting my spiel for a basically pleasant, totally naive old lady.

I was even preparing a you-need-to-leave speech for customers where rapport has failed and they don’t get my process although I have yet to deploy it. Like, if I have to dig you so far out of such an intellectual hole just to get some okay shoes then you are best served by me saying no. Which is a favour people do not like receiving.

I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but I’m some people’s shot of whiskey. And it’s rare I go a whole week without getting to actually explain running form and the value of shoes and do what I’d like my whole job to be.

And I am trying, right now you’re seeing the trying, to get upstream of the problem and educate people before they come in the store. The world doesn’t really need me because we have Kelly Starrett but I’m doing the best I can each day to spread the gospel.

I Do Deal With Good Customers Too

I know that I inadvertently give the impression that I hate my job. It’s just that there’s nothing to dig into and talk about when it comes to good customers.

New runners hungry for advice, experienced runners trading advice or talking about upcoming shoes, just nice people in general, very occasional babes.

But what more do you say about that? It wouldn’t be bragging per se because it wouldn’t inspire envy to be like I had a good day at work. In fact times I’ve mentioned having a good day people are pleasant and encouraging, that’s not the response you get if what you’re doing is bragging. But it’s still a pointless thing to share. It’s sometimes tedious to be told someone is having a god day because it’s really annoying if you’re not.

When I talk about shitty customers I’m trying not to merely complain either. Because obviously that’s pointless and annoying too. I’m trying to dissect the situation to see if I’m at fault or if I can learn anything even about just not being a shitty person. And if I can learn then I can share – That’s blog worthy – or not worthy per se but it causes things to rattle around my head and necessitate writing.

And there are absolutely times when I’m just coming clean because I know I was the shitty one in a situation.

But back on the topic of good customers, something I should mention is that I rely on good customers. I put in a lot of emotional work into not staying angry, not reminding myself to stay pissed off long after a situation is over, not believing in bad days only bad minutes. So after a garbage customer or boss interaction I leap into the next encounter deliberately believing it’s going to go well.

And most often what happens at work is disappointment rather than any kind of confrontation. It’s odd when you say it but the majority of Running Room customers are not runners. It’s actually rare that I get to deal with runners and actually get to use the expertise I’ve been building.

And I can avoid the bad day/bad life feeling when dealing with problems but dealing with the pointlessness of ferrying grandma shoes puts me in a self-hating spiral, bringing out increasingly worse versions of me. So like I said, I cherish the good customers I get. Sometimes I think it’s just my elitism that I resent dealing with people there for non-athletic reasons but at the same time, a lot like working in kitchens, it’s also that I hate being merely a body. So of course I value when I get to be me and bring something I’ve worked hard for to the conversation.

Really, a good customer is just one that’s receptive to advice. Often times people want the advice they already think and can get upset if you give them something else – which sucks because the deliberate and accidental swirling misconceptions around shoes are legion.

Actually a long time ago, thinking about how I could take action to improve my job satisfaction, I started putting up infographic posters in the store thinking maybe I could sneak some facts into people’s heads and stop dealing with the same misconceptions over and over but no luck so far.