Of Heros, Scapegoats, and Status
Ahhhh, the transformation story. Empires are built upon them. Cultures endure the slog of millennia with the epic held firm in the culture’s collective unconscious and, at an individual level, these stories act to mesmerize, motivate and solidify courage.
Collectively, these transformation stories are the mythic hero’s journey etched deep in our subconscious. Etched so deep, in fact, that we might even deny not just their influence, but their very existence.
But even though we may deny their pull on our individual actions, we cannot overlook the magnitude of their influence on our culture.
We create heroes and cast them as demigods, only to tear them back down again. The famous and infamous serve as vessels for our public sentiment; they’re praised amid prosperity, and blamed for misfortune.
In our own culture, celebrity and sports heroes have taken the place of mythic kings and emperors. Johnny Manziel; Britney Spears. Just two examples of our culture’s very own Icarus story.
We watch NASCAR for the wrecks, football for the big hits, and we follow the tabloids for the latest celebrity fall from grace.
This is not a new phenomenon. We’ve bowed at the feet of our demigods, then lopped off their heads when the gods send strife, pestilence and civil unrest.
The most obvious example of this, in a predominantly Christian culture, is Jesus Christ.
The alpha male rules by club and claw… at least until their sight grows dim, and they lose a step. The end is then swift and brutal; the price to be paid for a life of garnering the best that the pack can provide.
At the core, our heroes serve both as inspiration and sacrifice. And this makes sense in primitive society. It’s advantageous to have a single leader to rally behind. But it’s also advantageous to have a scapegoat upon which to place blame. In the grand scheme, the health of the tribe has to supersede the health of the individual.
And just as our bodies still operate with stone age “machinery”, so too, in large extent, does our psyche.
Collective and the community
In modern society, those undergoing personal transformation provide us with all the same hero/scapegoat story needs (and those undergoing the transition are subject to the same paralyzing, loss-of status-fear), but in smaller doses. Think community vs collective, here. To use a sporting metaphor, we might think of this as the “farm league” system in Major League Baseball.
Transformation then, for the person going through the transformation, is a major gamble. Those going through the process (as well as those coaching the process) stand to lose status Both at a personal, egoic level, and in a public, transpersonal way.
Because, let’s face it: transformation that sticks is a low-odds game.
Do we really watch the Biggest Loser to be inspired? For weight loss motivation? Or is it, as I suspect, to follow the “winner’s” inevitable backslide over the months to come.
Real transformation is tough business. It’s a daily grind; mentally, physically, and emotionally. An unsung, 2-steps-forward, 1-step-back slog through both internal and environmental quicksand. And again with the specter — and extremely high odds — of status loss hanging like an albatross around the neck.
In fact, the heavy potential of “status loss” is the fear factor that many never get over. It’s what separates “fan” from “performer”, doer from dreamer. Because, in an ironic twist of our human nature, it’s safer to have never tried, than to have tried and failed.
And when it’s one of your own going through the transformation, this reality really hits home. The stakes are that much higher.
So when my own son came to me and said he wanted to not only completely overhaul his life but to document it publicly, I knew what a HUGE leap of faith he was undertaking. And I don’t take that leap of faith lightly.
Our aim is to dive deep into this transformation story over the next few months. Beginning today, with the introduction that follows. Following that, we’ll create the beginnings of a path forward for him.
And if you’re embarking on a transformation of your own, we invite you to follow along. If you know someone going through this process, or on the fence about getting started, point them this way.
Because there is power in knowing others are going through what you’re going through. Power in tribe. It’s the secret of enduring military boot camp and preseason training camps.
Tribe is a powerful motivator. And knowing that the “tribe has you back” is the antidote to that paralyzing fear of status loss. In fact, it’s the secret that primitive cultures employed to help see young men and women through arduous rights of passage.
We truly are stone age bodies and psyches wondering in a modern, man-made zoo.
“Mr. Norris, place your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest…”.
That simple statement changed everything. The only thing running through my mind was “what the f#*! am I doing?”.
My name is Mitchel Kleat Norris, and I’m a 27-year-old, 4-time college dropout. I’ve worked dead-end line cooking jobs for 9 years. I’ve had drug problems. I’ve been depressed and lost for what seems like an eternity. I’ve had family and relationship problems. I’ve had financial problems. I’ve had eating problems– sometimes I wasn’t eating enough, and at other times I was eating too much. I’ve been arrested multiple times, and I’ve been in jail.
I used to be a completely different person. I played as many sports as I could growing up, and ended up playing baseball through my senior year in high school. I was 6 feet tall and weighed 185 pounds—all muscle. But somewhere down the line, I gave up, and I settled for a less than mediocre life.
There were plenty of times where I told myself “Today I am going to make a change…”, and it never happened. Maybe it was because I was so far gone that I felt like there was no way I could return. But more than likely it was because the drugs wore off.
So what do I consider my “Aha!” moment? It was actually a period of time…
…correction, the WORST period of time, in my life. I got arrested for possession of heroin while driving my mom’s car.
I was cuffed, read my rights, finger-printed and cataloged. Then, I was stripped of my clothes and possessions and given an orange jumpsuit, a thin mattress, flip-flops, and a blanket with a huge hole in it. With my hands and ankles cuffed, I was MOVED to the C-Block of Vance county jail, and was told to “pick a cell”. I was naked (minus the orange jumpsuit) physically, mentally, and emotionally, while simultaneously going through withdrawals in cell C-6. Rock, meet bottom. I spent 5 days and 4 nights thinking. Non-stop thinking. I had to hear my parents crying on the phone. I couldn’t talk to my girlfriend. Everybody knew I had been arrested. I was told when I could go in and out of my cell, when to wake up and go to sleep, and when to eat. I had to go to court for my first appearance without getting any sleep, no shower, and I hadn’t been able to shave (for obvious reasons). My parents saw me in an orange jumpsuit and chains…..it was one of the worst days in my life. This was the first time in my life where I thought about just giving up.
My mom was the only person I could talk to, and I begged her to pay the $1,000 to bail me out. The same mom whose truck I just got impounded, the same one who was giving me $100 a week so I didn’t have to work in the restaurant industry anymore while I found a different way of life.
After I got bailed out I called my girlfriend, Rima. I cried my eyes out, but she never left me. My family never gave up on me. None of them ever judged me, or cussed me out, or wrote me off. In fact, it was the complete opposite. My girlfriend and my family supported me 100%. They made it clear to me that I am worth so much more than the way I’ve been acting, and treating myself. This is when I concluded that the “old” me is dead, but what the hell am I going to do with the “new” me?
And this is where the “how” comes in.
I began attending court-ordered Narcotics Anonymous meetings. I cut all ties that weren’t good for my path forward, though I didn’t yet know what that path was. I went to drug abuse therapy. All of these were fantastic jumping off points, but I had no clue what to do from there.
So, with the input and motivation from my girlfriend and family, I decided that I wanted to start a new life in Texas. I wanted to change everything, everything about the way I was living.
I uprooted myself from my comfort zone and planted myself in unknown territory. My dad was someone that I always looked up to. I watched him chase after his dreams, and be successful. He surrounds himself with good-hearted, motivated and healthy people—exactly what I need in my life. So, we have devised this plan: a documented transformation story.
This includes me completely changing my environment and the people I surround myself with. A total overhaul of my diet, the inclusion of an active lifestyle with an intelligent and rigorous workout schedule, and a newly regimented sleep schedule.
I have also been tasked with numerous books, podcasts and blogs to study. Everything from diet and exercise to entrepreneurship and personal improvement. I’m also witnessing, from the inside, what the day-to-day grind looks like for an entrepreneur, what it’s really like to work for yourself and build your dream.
I guess it’s never too late to be an apprentice.
I think that documenting this entire process will in itself be very therapeutic. I want to track all the changes I’m about to experience. The wins and the setbacks. I want to chart this complete change in all aspects of my life: mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. My goal is not just to be a new version of myself, but the best version of myself that I can be.
But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared. I’m scared of failing. I’m scared of making my father look bad. I am scared of telling everyone my story, and I am scared of being judged. And let’s be honest about this….this sucks. It’s hard, mentally and physically. I’m quitting smoking, and that’s hard enough as it is. I moved to somewhere brand new. I don’t have a car, which means I am biking and busing everywhere. I’m finally starting to make some money by doing odd jobs for Paleo f(x), but I was a line cook for 9 years so this is completely out of my comfort zone. My sleep schedule is having to adjust, which is also hard because I’m used to going to sleep around 6 a.m., not trying to wake up around 6 a.m. My diet is radically changed. I’m living an active lifestyle now, which is completely different. Quite literally, everything is changing. Everything is different. Everything.
But I know I need to do this. I have to do this.
I also know that if I’m diving in, I am going to do it all the way. To the best of my ability. No half measures. No compromises.
My promise to everyone following my story that I will always be honest, uncensored and real. Because this transformation is not only for myself, but also for everyone out there who can relate, and anyone who wants to be inspired and motivated to do better for themselves. I am going to share everything I can: what I eat, how I get around, what workouts I do, what I’m reading, and more importantly, how I’m coping with all this change.
The dictionary defines transformation as: 1) to change something dramatically, or 2) to undergo total change. That’s exactly what I am going to do.
The “why” is easy, the “how” will be challenging, but the outcome is worth it. I might not know where everything started going wrong in my life, but I will know where everything started going right.
So as of 10/4/17, here’s where I’m at:
Weight: 245 lbs
Measurements: Waist- 41 ½”
Chest- 41 ½”
Upper arm / bicep- 15 ¾”
A quick overview of the plan going forward
Note: The details of this plan and the ongoing story narrative will be updated frequently over at the TTP Youtube channel, and with some FaceBook live drops over at the Theory to Practice group. As well as with follow-up blog posts here.
The structure of Kleat’s transformation will be built upon a solid, six-tier approach:
- A nutrient-dense, lower-carb, Paleo diet. Not ketogenic, per se, but definitely Paleo. The aim is for him to become metabolically flexible.
- A smart exercise plan including (a) daily movement (walking, biking, etc.) and frequent, punctuated bursts of high-intensity strength training. The Five Ts, in action.
- Pin-pointed supplementation
- Habit change hacks
- On going, situation-appropriate biohacks and n=1 citizen science
- A deep-dive apprenticeship in the black arts of entrepreneurship. Our go-to text here will be the Last Safe Investment, by Brian Franklin (also, here)
Each of these points will be fleshed out thoroughly as we progress through the transformation. Every aspect of his transformation, in fact, will originate from one (or a combination of) these points.
The ultimate goal? To feel, look, and perform better. And more specifically, a body that’s strong, muscular and fit, at about 15% bodyfat. And to gain a foothold in the entrepreneurial world.
That is to say, a complete reversal of his current mental, physical, emotional and financial life.
As I touched on earlier, putting one’s self out there for public consumption is both exhilarating… and scary as hell. The potential of status loss is no joke to the psyche, to emotional well-being.
Kudos to those who are up for the challenge.
Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –
Late edit, 10/18/17 — the accompanying video: