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Answering my calling

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

I can tell you exactly where I was when I finally made the decision that now is the time to finally do it.

Call it destiny or our calling, we all have one and it comes in all kinds of shapes and forms. You maybe always wanted to open a dog shelter to save animals but you are stuck in a corporate job. You maybe a dentist that always loved writing and is scared to start writing that book you always thought of.

My shadowcareer

Many of us choose "shadowcareers" (see book of Steven Pressfield "Turning Pro") instead of facing our fear of finally doing what we always knew we wanted.

Today I want to talk about my shadowcareer and how I with 32 eventually came to the point to face my biggest fear and act. The day I made the decision that freed me. The day that I finally answered my calling and acted on it.

Since I was a child I always loved sports. That is nothing rare in any case, most kids love to be active and do sports so it didn't seem like an unsual passion. With 4 years old I stood on skiis, a bit later on the snowboard, in the summer we windsurfed. As a kid being obsessed with the movie "Karate kid" I fell in love with martial arts. I tried Karate, Taekwando but ended up loving Judo the most which I pursued from then on for years. I was that much in love with Karate kid I even joined a gymnaistics group 3x a week for a year being one of two boys in a group of 25 girls, just in order to learn to do backflips, "flicflacs" etc. Without sounding arrogant here, the fact was I was very talented in almost any sport. I got the hang of it very quickly and became above average in a short duration. I could just look at others that achieved mastery of the sport and from then on I needed only a few tries to copy the movement into my own movement pattern.

We all have regrets and one sticks out from my childhood and pushes me to this day. After the green belt in Judo my teacher said I was too good for my current age group and I should train with the older guys. They were about 3 years older than me. At that age 3 years might as well be 10 years, they were different in all ways and I was the young kid and outsider. I must have tried the training only a few times before I quit the sport completely. A little resistance came my way and instead of trying different clubs or finding a better way, I just quit. Sure I was just a kid and you are a product of your nurture and your environment at that stage, but it lives in me to this day because I am certain that if I kept pursueing that passion I could have achieved mastery and greatness in that field. That could have meant the Olympics or even an Olympic medal, I would never find out and get an answer. That door was closed forever.

In highschool most of my class mates played Handball, so I gave that a try. A big part being the social aspect and joining the pack, becoming accepted. Again the same happened I went to the average level pretty quickly, but the actual passion for the sport was never the same as in let's say Judo. I actually kept going with handball for 8 years. I was middle of the pack skill wise for those years. While surely I started about 3 years behind the top guys, like I said I also lacked the passion for the sport to train more than the needed 3x a week. Instead I found the gym at the age of 17 and started running more in the local forest outside of training.

The gym and running were a perfect playground for me to push my own limits frequently. Looking back now, it should have been clear that I enjoyed sports more that are non-team sports and focus only on my performance. It always frustruated me that in handball we could win a game when I played crap or we could loose a game when I played as good as I could. That never sat right with me. I wanted the objective result for what I did, good or bad I could accept that.

With 18 I went back to my roots again with Martial arts and started training self-defense focused Wing Tsung & Escrima (stick fighting). That originated from a moment when some older kid tried to beat me and my friend up and all I could do was run away. That didn't sit right with me, that all I had left was fight or flight. While running away is always the best option, I know know that I have the skills needed to this day to defend myself and friends and family around me if there is no way out.

At the age of 18 or 19 I found my biggest passion to this day, triathlon. One of my handball buddies who joined me for runs in the forest, heard of this local small triathlon where you would swim 500m in the pool, ride 20km on a roadbike and then run 5km. While that sounded like a fun challenge and I was one of the good swimmers in my high school, I had no road bike or anything. Long story short, the finished the event on rented road bikes from a friend's dads and I fell completely in love immediately.

I did several 10km and 21km events before and time wise a short distance triathlon like that only takes about 1hr. The feeling of completing 3 different sports, going from swimming to biking and then running was an absolute thrill and I love it to this day. Every day of training is all for that thrill on race day, to reap the rewards for all the hard work you did in training.

To my surprise I ended up coming in quite close to the front of the race and the local triathlon groups coach came up to me afterwards and asked me to join their club. I wasn't ready at that stage though and too deep entangeled into the handball group to leave that behind. I ignored that passion and didn't act on it right away.

This passion was too strong to be ignored for long though and about 1 year later I signed up for another one, same distance but this time swimming outside in a lake in Eupen (Eupen Triathlon) Belgium, then cycling hills and running in the forest. While I lacked self-belief and confidence in daily life, for some reason I felt that I could be great at this sport and self-confidence was high from the start despite the actual training not matching up to what I thought I could do (a thread that repeated itself for years after).

2nd triathlon ever, not much training in me but my logic for that triathlon in Belgium was:

"Why would I start swimming in the back and have troubles overtaking people when I can start in the first row? Rather have them trouble to overtake me than me loosing time overtaking others".

I spare you the details of a lot of belgium lake water swollowed, but I got dunked underwater hard by actual good swimmers who started in the first row and quickly made sure I was out of the way. My pre-race swim logic didn't turn out to be as good as I thought but I still absolutely loved the event and even laughed at my ignorance during the swim after I caught my breath post-underwater-dunking.

Let's speed up the clock a bit and get to the moment I started with in this blog post.

The moment I stopped my shadowcareer and actually pursued what I loved most from a young age and knew I could be good at, sports!

After highscool I subconsciously again looked for a new challenge that fit the "sport focus" bubble which ended up being a German Military Unit in the south of Germany 800km from home that was focused on Mountain Warfare. My brain just heard skiing, mountain running and climbing (no experience to that point). I loved it immediately and as a young boy playing with toy soldiers, this sounded right up my alley.

After talking to the local military advisor that helps to choose the unit you can join (airforce, army etc.) he quickly made sure to tell me it was a pipe dream to be able to join that unit since he "never in 20 years had sent anyone down (south Germany) there". For some reason I cannot explain when it came to sports and real passion and if I really wanted to do something, I never to this day take no for an answer. While outside of that I was just as insecure as any other kid around me that age. 18 years old, no clue of the world, I completely ignored his adivice and wrote direct application letters to that special forces unit which is not a common thing to do. I called and called, annoying the crap out of them til the day I actually received the "being drafted" letter. If I wouldn't have been able to join that moutain unit, I would have definitely refused to join the military and do something else. It was all about that sport focus in that unit and the feeling I had that these guys will level up my mental and physical game, if I want to or not.

The day I received the letter and being "summoned" to appear at the exact time and date in "Mittenwald" Germany, I knew I entered a different chapter in my life. Away from shelter and saftey, away from weekly partying and even away from my girlfriend at that time which was a very hard call that time. Somehow I knew, I had to do to it. The experiences from that time in the mountains set up to everything I would do afterwards in life. Learning that most physical limits originate in the mind and can be overcome to start with. Operating through the day on 4 hrs of sleep for 3months straight, being able to sleep in minus 20 degrees in the snow for a week and the friendships and bonds that I formed with my "comrades" that last to this day.

After the time was done, I was sent back to the real world and back to square one. I was back to lacking the confidence to keep pursuing this passion of sports and pushing physical limits. I was back to my normal environment, back to the society that seeks to find "titles" in order to fit into the hierachy of the world . The world in which "laywers and doctors" are top of the food chain. The world where a fancy car and clothing makes you a "better" man/women.

I found a "young brother" to my sport passion disguised in the form of interest in the human body and the medical side. Medicine and becoming a doctor suddenly sounded great, but was immediately forgotten since I lacked the grades for the German system but it would have been a good way to climb my dillusional society ladder to the top.

In found the perfect shadow career in form of stuying Physiotherapy in English in the Netherlands with the intend of doing "Sport Physiotherapy" working with athletes. Not having the guts to pursue it myself, but instead be close to the actual thing (professional athletes that did have the guts and skill acquired).

During my studies I started to train more and more for triathlon to fill that void. Run with dutch 200m champions 26x 200m and pull a hamstring in the last rep. The dutch running coach called me a "fanatic", which I saw as a compliment at that time. While there is some power to it, I trained out of frustruation and with anger in hard sets. Anger can get you far but it burns you from the inside. Subconsciously back then I already knew you are wasting your time studying for something you didn't really want to do. I just wanted to train 24/7 and I had talent which would be left in the basement, well hidden, for a few more years. Half-assing and self-boycotting myself with pushing on all fronts next to sports, may it be studying or working, but not focusing on actual recovery at all.

Solitude and silence was the worst fear at that time.

The reason being, when I was alone and it got quite, that deep voice within me started to talk to me. The same voice you have when it gets quite and tells you that you hate your job and waste your time. That voice isn't immaginary and can only be silenced for some time. It will come back stronger

After studying, living abroad in Italy and the UK and then eventually Switzerland I was still in the same boat. I worked harder and harder, spending more time next to training doing all kinds of things that require time and silence that voice within.

Through sheer luck I found my former business partner and gym owner that offered me a deal to start building up my own dream of how the ideal Sports Physiotherapy clinic should look like. It was the perfect silencer, a huge project that surely helps in the superficial world of society me eventually getting the "title" of CEO which means jack-shit to be honest. Just like any other title, it's made up. It only means something if the person doing it is loving it and answering their calling, that goes for doctors, laywers and CEO's or the mechanic, same same. So I started diggin my teeth into the new project, still training 20 hours a week but working on avg. at least 60-65hrs a week. Sleep had to be cut to often 5 or 6 hrs a night just to cram it all in. Rest and recovery was the enemy, since by 2019 the voice was getting real loud. My performance in training and racing from 2017 to 2022 was basially stagnating despite training 20hrs a week. The obvious reason being that I didn't aborb most of it, lying to coaches that all is balanced.

In fact I never was at peace and balance with myself until the day in November 2021 that I decided to answer my calling. It took that long because the actual shadowcareer of Sport Physio Clinic CEO was lifting off, we grew massively in the first year and within 2.5 years we went from 2 to over 20 employees. Only a dumb nut would throw that away wouldn't he? The society ladder was climbed, I got that fancy car and monthly pay, but I felt worse than ever. More work would surely do the job? Double down on training and everything maybe the loud voice at night screaming at me, giving me insomnia and probably burn-out like symtopms would stop then.

While I heard from many how "brave" I am to pursue the sport of triathlon professionally now and quit everything, I am actually not that different from you.

I am not special.

It took a massive amout of resistance for me to change and face that fear. That fear of not being good enough as an athlete to become a PRO and mix it up with the best. I mean how could I even catch up? Most those guys went through the junior ranks, went to the Olypmpics so how could I possible have a shot? Desite my work obsession for years I still managed to qualify for Hawaii twice. 6 weeks before the 2nd time on the island in 2018 a car hit me and I flew over the stearing at 50kph. Destiny saved my ass to leave me with no broken bones which I saw as a result of charged up positive Karma from years of helping & healing people as a Physiotherapist. While there may be truth to that I think the muse wanted to give me another shot to pursue my calling as an athlete instead of ending up in a wheelchair or worse.

My first calling (that I still managed to ignore) came during at run km 25 during the 2018 IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii. I remember it clear as day til right now. While I was banged up from the crash and overtrained like hell, I shuffeled through the heat along the Queen K Highway towards the finish line.

That's when I saw the top 10 PROs batteling it out, coming towards me on the other side of the road. It was one of the strongest epiphanies I ever had to this day. My inner voice screamed at me the first time during the day instead of the night:

"What the hell are you doing here? You should be on the other side of the road with them!"

I almost stopped running because I was so shook from it. It was so loud and clear, so strong and truthfull I couldn't think of anything else for the rest of the run. I just ran in rage at myself what the heck I was doing there, still shuffling along, still not even remotely performing to my ability for years on end. I gave everything to triathlon I thought, but I gave equally much to everything outside of triathlon. In an endurance sport based on many hours of training that needs recovery, that equation doesn't add up and will set you up for failure. The only reason I didn't stop triathlon after 5 years of setbacks, was that I swore to myself after that first sprint triathlon, that after quitting Judo:

I will not quit this sport until I find my potential, no matter what!

While I was boycotting the progress beautifully for years since then, I never quit and still actually thought I was giving it my all day to day next to work and all the other things I piled up nicely. More is better to silence the voice within.

Now that you understand my "story" let's finally go to the day that I answered my calling.

November 18th, Zürich, Switzerland, 2021.

The insomnia took a firm grip on me by that stage. I mostly drove through the night with my fancy car to comfort me that I am still doing the right thing. The pain of years of neglecting my calling to do what I loved most, was close to unbearable at that point. Sickness, migranes and feeling empty were the result of it. One night the pain took it to a new level and I hit what Tony Robbins calls "the pain threshold".

The pain threshold is the needed level of pain/resistance a person has to meet in order to actually change. We all knew long before what we had to do, but fear of failure keeps a firm grip on us until we hit that pain threshold.

So I hit mine that night and I knew immediately that I would quit the job. No clue what to do next, but I just knew I had to stop. One reason contributing to hitting my pain threshold was age. Long distance triathlon might be the only sport one can still pursue professionally with 32 onwards and have a shot. Any other sport let's say swimming or cycling, forget it. So I knew if I don't go all in right now the door will have closed and I won't have time to "catch up" in order to have a shot at being world class by the age of 37 ish. By the age of 40ish the natural aging process will slow any athlete and end the natural journey of being a professional triathlete.

So it was now or never.

I quit the job, dealt with all kinds of resistance that followed because of it, eventually moved country with my wife to end up in Espoo (Helsinki area) Finland.

I am about 6 months into my journey of being all in on this. No more plan B's, no more self-boycott. All in for one goal, for one obsession. Is everything easy and balanced now? No it isn't - finding balance is an ongoing quest but that voice that screamed at me is at peace.

My muse is content with my decision. It stopped talking to me at night, I sleep like a baby and wake up every morning loving the fact that I finally made the decision to pursue what I love most.

I hope you too, find that courage to make the decision you knew you always had to do.

Only then you will feel truely free.

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2 comentarios

"Fortune favours the bold", they say.. I'm sure Fortune will smile at your boldness, keep going! Such a brave story!

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Dino He
Dino He
22 mar 2023

Awesome and inspiring story. Thanks for sharing Matti!

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