Don’t Escape. Get Inspired.

In my nearly six years of writing for Nerd Fitness, I’ve come to a big realization that has guided my daily decision making process.

Books, games, movies, and our own experiences are a chance to do one of two things: temporarily escape our own existences, or get inspired to improve ourselves in real life.

These decisions start innocently at an early age. 

As kids, we use those books, games, and moves as both a fun escape and inspiration. When our parents asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and we mentioned things like:  “I’m gonna be strong like Popeye!” or “I’m going to travel like Dora!” – the response was always “you can be whatever you want, you can do anything!”

I remember playing Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past as a kid; I would go out into my backyard, imagine it was the Lost Woods, picture myself as Link, and feel like the fate of Hyrule was truly in my hands.  It was a great mixture of imagination AND adventure.

Then, something happens: we grow up.

We stop thinking of what’s possible and instead think of what’s rational, responsible, and realistic.  Anything outside of the norm (which is bizarre term) is an opportunity to be judged by our peers, our family, our friends.

And damnit, we’re busy! We tell ourselves that we can’t do the things we want to do. We tell ourselves we don’t have the time, money, or the genetic gifts to accomplish our goals.

Those games and books and movies that used to provide a chance for our imaginations to run wild and inspire us to LIVE our fantasies are just a chance to escape a dull existence.

In fact, I was in trouble of getting caught in this cycle until deciding to flip reality on its head.  This was the subject of my 2012 TEDx Talk.

Luckily, I found my way out, and now I’m a part of a group of folks that have found their way out too: The Nerd Fitness Rebellion.  We love these games, books and movies – but they’re used as inspiration, rather than escape.

Don't Escape

Remember, we are presented with two choices as Nerds and Rebels:

We can daydream about becoming Superman, the man of steel, or we can find a way to get stronger.

We can wish that we could run like the Flash, or we can work on getting faster.

We can lie awake imagining life as Indiana Jones, or we could set aside five dollars today for that trip.

We can be jealous of Tony Stark’s Ironman suit, or we can decide to rebuild ourselves.

We can admire the honor of Captain America, or we find a way to embody his spirit.

We can watch in awe as Oliver Queen’s Green Arrow moves gracefully through any environment, or we can start to train like him.

We can complain that we don’t look like that other person at the the gym, or we can make the comparison to ourselves from yesterday.

We can admire the courage of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins from the comfort of our couch, or we can learn what courage really means, and then step past our own scarecrow.

Every time we make a decision to get lost instead of inspired, we are telling ourselves “imagination land is better than reality.”

We choose to remain trapped in the Matrix – trapped in our own dream, like Cobb in Inception.

In The Two Towers, when Aragorn asks Eowyn what she fears, her reply is perfect:

“A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.” 

Nerd Fitness is a community of Rebels who know this all too well, and have chosen to break free of that cage.

We’ve chosen to be unplugged from the Matrix.

We use our characters as inspiration for what is possible.  We use those books and movies as blueprints to start planning our own adventure.

And then we get off our asses, step outside our hobbit holes, and see where the road takes us.

Game on.

What character or story have you used as an escape in the past? How did you turn it, or plan to turn it, into your inspiration?

-Steve

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PS: Nerd Fitness was featured in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. If you happen to be a new reader thanks to that article, welcome to the Rebellion!  We’re glad to have you 🙂

photo source: @ambrgarnr: Don’t Escape, Get Inspired

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  • Andi

    The latest Zen Pencils comic is just this. Dreaming is great, but you have to _do_ something to make those dreams come true. You can accept the standard quo, or you can buck up and make an effort. There’s a reason why not everybody does it – because it takes effort. Which is what makes it all the more rewarding.

  • Great stuff about the two choices we have. We can all work towards our dreams and even though we won’t be as fast as the Flash or have a weakness to kryptonite, you will be satisfied with the results if you gave it your all.

  • And Steve does it again; another tearjerker >.> Camp rekindled my childhood flame of venturing outside and I feel inspired more so than ever to parkour it up like Ezio Auditore! #WatchOut #ItsABirdItsPlaneNoItsEzio

  • NeedMoar2

    Awesome! Great minds.

  • Heh, since before I found Nerd Fitness I’ve been using Conan soundtrack/Wheel of Pain to start my workout music. Got several John Williams soundtrack pieces in there as well. In each case, this music is all from scenes where the main character decides to go on and not give up.

  • ggg121

    Thank you Steve for another wonderful post! I had this realization just before my 30th birthday this year. I was playing through Borderlands and Borderlands 2 when it hit me. I looked at the time I spent playing these games (according to Steam), and it was shocking. From the Borderlands series, Elder Scrolls, Dust, the Bioshock series, and a number of other RPG-styled games, I spent thousands of hours leveling up virtual characters.

    I enjoy the grind. For example, in Earthbound, I never leave Winters (when you first get Jeff) without buying the T-Rex bat and the Coin of Silence. For some reason though, I couldn’t apply the same to my life. I made excuses…not enough time, too tired, maybe tomorrow. I took stock and realized that I was going to hit 30 years old and have a bunch of leveled up virtual characters to show for it. I was miserable with my health…I knew then that this had to change.

    My girlfriend (now fiance) was always the athletic type. I told her that I was tired of the lifestyle I was living and that I wanted to make these changes. She helped me through the hardest parts of getting started and keeping with it. She still helps me with this today.

    Now, I’m 30 lbs lighter than I was 6 months ago and stronger than at any point in my life. I’ve started leveling up my own life. My fiance and I run races on a regular basis. We’re currently registered for a 5k this Sunday and a half-marathon in December (both of which I eagerly anticipate)! She’s starting to get me into cycling and swimming with the goal of doing a sprint-triathlon together next year!

    The spark that ignited these changes came from the realization that I could level-up my own life instead of these virtual characters. I imagined what it would be like if I invested as much time on my own life as I did on these characters. That’s just what I did and it feels pretty awesome!

    Thank you again Steve for this post, your blog, and all you do to reach out to us. It’s truly inspiring!

  • Ravenet

    My earliest inspirations were Mario, Donatello, and the kids from the movie Space Camp.

  • Kaiba

    After working my very first 9-5 adult job I got flabby and lazy. One day I was playing Skyrim and realised my drahonborn could sprint in full daedric and at the end swing a warhammer through a trolls head. The next day I picked up a dumbell set, now a year later I’m hooked on power lifting. In the last year I’ve learned what my body is capable of, I made mistakes, I got too skinny, I lifted with terrible form, I let dieting control my life, and I had to admit I was wrong more than I ever have before. I’m strong now, and getting stronger by the week.
    Nothing is too hard anymore.

  • Fred J

    Do. Or do not.

  • Tom

    I’ve loved Star Trek since I was a little kid. When I was 11 I had a serious accident on my bike and was laid up for several months. During that time I learned to use Star Trek as an escape. I built models, taped whole marathons of episodes, read magazines, and basically did everything I could to bury myself in that world.

    As an adult I find myself in a situation I don’t like: I’m overweight, I’m unemployed, and I’m at risk of letting my life pass me by. Why? Because since I was 11, I’ve chosen escape.

    I went back to school and got a degree in English. Using my new English Major powers, I went back to my favorite TV show and took a closer look at it. I realized that Star Trek is all about inspiring us with an optimistic vision of humanity, of showing us how getting off our butts and getting out there can make us better and make life meaningful.

    With that in mind, I still watch a lot of Star Trek. But now I watch it for inspiration rather than as an alternative to doing something with my life. I work out now and Star Trek music is a significant part of my playlist. I use that music to remind me that I’m getting out there and doing what the show is supposed to help me do.

    I like associating with my fellow fans, but sometimes they worry me. I see them escaping, filling their garages and their lives with collectibles, packing their heads with minutiae about the shows, spending valuable energy and emotion arguing about what’s good and what’s not about Trek and whether JJ Abrams is evil. What a waste! I don’t look down on them. I am them, or I used to be. I can do better. So can they.

    Thanks, Steve, for this post and for your blog. Both the post and your talk will have me thinking for quite a while, and hopefully doing.

  • Hacky Duck

    I’ll own up to taking the blue pill a few months ago. Got tired of trying and failing. You can only disappoint yourself so many times before you realize you’re just not gonna change. To paraphrase a favorite song: we can’t all be cowboys; some of us are clowns. I can think of worse gigs.

  • 13remon

    My escapes, eh? Well, I’ve always used books, mostly fantasy as a escape. As a child, I used to be bullied a bit, not in the physical sense, but in the verbal. I started to believe that, and when I felt low, if I failed, sometimes a voice in my head started screaming at me that I really was worthless. In some ways, I was my own worst bully.

    But not so in books. I always imagined me as the savoir, coming to the aid of the protagonists, with awesome magical skills and swordsmanship, armed with knowledge (mostly gained by reading the book, in a way that I know more than the protagonists), and saving the day, correcting all those obvious mistakes and shortsightedness they have (which the writer used to keep the story interesting).

    I was also the kind of kid that kept things to himself, that tried to do things all alone, without help from others, nothing telling my teachers, nor my parents. I still feel guilty for not telling my parents. I was also a bit of a clown, using humor, mostly mocking myself, and to a lesser extent, others, as a shield, as a way to get people to like me. I also stored all negative emotions, till I broke down during class at the end of elementary school and my teacher finally heard my story. Immediately I got placed into a kind of anti-bully group, in which they learned you technique’s to deal with it.

    And now I am studying Medicine at the University, and doing well, I finished my first year Bene Meritum, which is one step below Cum Laude. I have more friends than I ever have had before and I am also stronger than I ever was, not that that is saying much.

    Sorry for the long post :).

    tl;dr: I had problems during my childhood, but things are better now.

  • Taylor

    Awesome, thanks for sharing your story.

  • Taylor

    Wow, thanks for sharing! I’d love to hear more if you are interested in sharing more. You can reach me at taylor@nerdfitness.com.

  • LuckyNumberC

    A Link to the Past! Oh, the memories!
    It seems embarrassing but I used to imagine myself somehow becoming Link in reality.
    In all the Legend of Zelda games, what makes Link so cool is that he gets it done. When Zelda is captured by Ganon, Link does whatever he does to free her. And after many failed attempts on my part, we get it done.
    It’s a funny relationship we had.

  • Taylor

    This is a safe place! 🙂 All of us used to imagine ourselves becoming our favorite heroes. Wait…used to? 😛

  • LuckyNumberC

    Bahaha You got me.. I still think it would be super cool to save the world with a sword and shield.

  • Cheesman

    I used Ezio Auditore as my escape. I first played Assassin’s Creed 2 when I was 16, about the age Ezio was at the start of the game. He reminded me so much of myself. Preferring starting fights to working, always angry, sarcastic, the typical teenager. But he could do all these amazing things I couldn’t. I played through AC2 over and over until I got every single achievement, and then played some more. I constantly wished I could be him. Then came Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Ezio was now older, calmer, and wiser. I saw him take in new recruits, and train them. My desire to be like him grew ever stronger, and I wanted to try to better myself, but I didn’t know where to start. I just want to say thank you Steve for guiding me along the path to my dreams.

  • Ryan H.

    Thank you Steve, this post is EXACTLY what I needed today…

  • p diddy

    It’s like a jungle sometimes
    It makes me wonder how I keep from going under
    When they hit me with the thunder and lightning
    Its trifling, enlightening, and frightening
    Some might think that it’s even exciting

  • Taylor

    awesome 🙂

  • D Halverson

    Great article! And great point.

    Artemis Fowl is a book series I used in middle school to get inspired to learn other languages. Now I speak Spanish and a smattering of others!

    Whenever I am binge watching on Netflix I feel like inspiration is much harder to come by compared with a shorter thing like a movie. Just a thought.

  • teddie.bare

    When my daughter was a year old my back went out – a damaged disc slipped out of place for the second time. A specialist gave me some anti-inflammatory medication and a 25-lb lifting limit. For life. My daughter was already near this weight and when the doctor told me to stop picking her up, carrying her, or getting her in/out of her car seat, something snapped. I was not going to spend my daughter’s childhood unable to keep up with her. I was severely overweight and out of shape, I was a terrible role model for my little one, and it was obvious to me that no one was going to be able to fix me – but me.

    I love the story of Princess Fiona rescuing herself in Shrek Forever After. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I thought, “Not this princess,” and started looking for ways to strengthen myself and possibly repair my weakened core. I’ve always loved a good comeback, and I decided I was going to slay my own damn dragon.

    I found Nerd Fitness a week before the first Level Up Club, and promptly joined. I am now a member of the Academy, and attended Camp. I have invested in my own health and well being, and have an entirely new life to show for it. I’m down 70 lbs, and I can easily keep up with my now 3-year old. I ran two 5ks last year, and lift heavy at the gym 3-4 days a week.

    That 25lb weight restriction? I can now easily deadlift my own bodyweight. I’ll never be at the end of my journey, but I am having such a good time learning new things and enjoying the strength I built for myself.

  • Alex

    Doctor Who! The Eleventh Doctor greatly inspired me, especially in The Rings of Akhaten. There was a scene where he’s telling Clara that one of the rules for traveling with the Doctor is they don’t run… They don’t run unless they have something precious, then they run, and they keep running. And the big speech at the end where he’s speaking furiously with the old star offering his memories.

    I watched it, and there was a heroic quality to him, a sophistication, and yet will allow child-like quality to him at times. I thought to myself it was about time to find my own inner Doctor. There’s always time and room for a man to give in to adventure to please the inner child!

    After that I gave up almost all television except the couple of shows I honestly enjoyed: Doctor Who and Walking Dead. It was about time to get into my own wild adventures!

  • Red Foot

    Whenever I played Dungeons and Dragons, I was always an elven ranger. Drizzt was the coolest ever! So, with that in mind, I ended up going to Tom Brown Jr.’s The Tracker School. I spent a year, working as a caretaker for them and living in a primitive shelter in the woods. And because I always loved Snake eyes, I also took a month long vow of silence while living out there. It was amazing!

  • Godeskian

    Oddly enough, Dragon ball Z was a huge inspiration for me. Sure, my hair doesn’t turn golden when I scream for five minutes, but the training ethic is very appealing.

    I’d love for you to do a dbz inspired article like you’ve done for Zelda or ninjas turtles

  • Emily Champoux

    Omg, Steve, that LotR quote is one of the ones I have posted as one of my huge inspirational favorites.

  • This is exactly what it’s all about! I have a really hard time believing that I could be my own superhero, as it were – that’s why I love these posts so much. For me, it’s all about Lara Croft in the 2013 video game reboot. They made her much more accessible as a person instead of just a hot video game avatar. She was the inspiration for my first cosplay. Now she’s the inspiration for my workouts 🙂 http://i.imgur.com/pt8a5RV.jpg

  • That is an awesome idea! I need an “Epic Movie Score” playlist too.

  • This is AMAZING. Good for you! I love the “beat the odds” stories. You are an inspiration 🙂

  • NO WAY. My ex boyfriend took a class from Tom Brown years ago and I have always wanted to go myself. It sounds like an absolutely incredible experience!

  • Michiel

    Ironically, by (finally) accepting you are not going to change, you actually did.

  • Red Foot

    I would definitely recommend it. Tom Brown is a pretty amazing individual. That school completely changed my life!

  • Red Foot

    She’s a much more inspiring character like this than her old form!

  • I just try to escape with eating too much food or rather numb down my anger or pain – it’s a way I take myself of being “the man” rather than dreaming of being a confident, solid and strong man.

    I turned it on October 1st by getting back in line with my low carbohydrate keto diet. Every time I want to eat fruit/carbs or “turn back” or just “one more time” I think of being a total baller rockin’ my life – creating financial stability, and waking up next to the beautiful, blue eyed, voluptuous woman I’m dreaming of!

  • Shuli

    Bene! 🙂

  • Liz

    Inspiring!

  • Loving this post and the examples of characters we look up to and how we can learn to be our own versions of them, instead of admiring them, great post!

  • Daniel Donohue

    Nothing got me more pumped than Vegeta training his ass off in the Gravity chamber. Still makes me want to go lift heavy things and fight Frieza. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhMFt10JYKo

  • Icy

    This post is exactly what I needed today. I was actually looking up articles for Escapism because that is exactly what I’ve been doing for a long time now. I dream in my head that I’m in my favorite movie, book, or game and I’m strong, confident, nice looking and all those things that I am not in real life. I need to stop fantasizing and start living but I’m not sure how. I haven’t looked yet, maybe there is a section in the forums for people who suffer and try to overcome this escapism mentality. Thank you Steve, I needed this article. 🙂

  • Claudio

    Amazing, amazing. Man you`re very inspiring. Thank you!

  • Hey Andi, thanks for the Zen Pencils link. I think I just got lured into the Related Comics wormhole..

  • Hey Steve! Just started reading the site. As someone who’s getting heavily into fitness and used to be a ginormous nerd (OK who am I kidding, I still am :p), I’m really liking how you’ve built the site. Look forward to seeing lots from you!

    I fucking LOVE video games. But, I realize with the limited time I have in a day and in life, they aren’t the best for me. Sure, I plan on binging here and there, but not much anymore. I used to play them for HOURS on end when I was a kid, and stare into YouTube…

    I realized I was using it for escape, just as you said. Though things were entertaining…

    I didn’t really want to watch guys saying funny things to girls to go on dates with them, I wanted to do it myself.
    I didn’t want to see people partying in exotic locations, I wanted to see the places myself! I wanted to travel.
    I didn’t want to see people playing games together, I wanted friends that I could do that with.

    Now I use everything as inspiration, and only go to things like YouTube for research. OK, maybe an occasional time waste here and there…

    One thing I found though after travelling Europe for a bit: When you are in “RL” having adventures by yourself, you couldn’t care less for simulated adventures except for things you REALLY care about (books you love, etc.). You stop using them as escapes, but only as re-charging stations as an introvert, or true activities that make you happy. And that’s exactly how they should be used: inspiration or for true love.

    Stay awesome my friend!

  • Ectokooler

    I recently just had to “remember” who I was and can be. Star Wars and martial arts have always been my passion and I realized I was heading toward the darkside. I didn’t want to be Anakin, I want to be Qui Gon Jinn (or at least Obi Wan) so I’ve gotten rid of toxic friendships and rejoined the shinkendo dojo I was a member of years ago (closest martial art to being a real jedi lol) Is it a lonely road? Absolutely. But even Obi Wan had to become a hermit so that he could further along the will of the force. I’m just glad that Nerd Fitness is here as proof that none of us are alone in our journey of making our passions, real or imaginary, an attainable reality.

  • Summer Wang

    really inspiring words, dreaming is great, but you have to make efforts to make them come ture, thanks for sharing your feelings

    Serena Milton from cosplaysky.co.uk

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