A sherpa is a Himalayan local, renowned for their ability to climb mountains. They guide beginners up treacherous mountains. When you are about to climb a ‘mountain’ in life, something new, big, intimidating and potentially dangerous; it is important that you find a sherpa. Someone who is skilled in climbing that particular type of ‘mountain’. (They don’t have to be of Himalayan descent, but that a plus) Your mountain might be a new workout plan, learning a new language, a drug fuelled night in Ibiza or an actual mountain. Life is full of these challenges. They are the incredibly rewarding. But like a mountain, they can have very real risks.
“It’s not running that hurt you, it’s how you run that hurt you”
Having spent a lot of time in the fitness industry, I can’t tell you how many people I have seen who tried to climb a marathon mountain or a weightlifting mountain without any sherpa, just a shitty map from a magazine. They often end up with serious issues that limit them for the rest of their life, either physical injuries or mental hangups. If you have never run before, and are obese you should not just start pounding the pavement for an hour and a half every morning. You will blow your knees out faster than you can update your Instagram with #fitfam. Training for a marathon without any guide is equivalent to saying, “I’ve never hiked before but I am going to climb K2, without a jacket, proper gear or a map”. I admire the sense of adventure and commitment but put in the time to find a sherpa. You will save lots of effort and suffering, and will likely drastically increase your results.
“Ok I get it, my friend is skinny and she runs on a treadmill all the time, so I should just get her advice?”
Not so fast. Not all sherpas were born equal. There are three levels of sherpas. Bronze, Silver and Gold.
They have no formal experience or training, they have only their ‘hands on’ experience with the issue. These sherpas can be helpful but can often lead you down a wrong path, because they will base their advice solely off of their own experiences, which may not translate to you. These people typical fall into the ‘broscience’, blogger(I know), and friend of a friend category. “I didn’t change my diet and I lost weight no problem”.
Sherpas with formal experience and training, and no hands on experience. These are the overweight dieticians, the bankrupt business gurus. These sherpas have read the studies and watched shows, but their advice will always fall flat because they have never actually climbed the mountain. These people are the ones who have never touched a cigarette but will blurt out to a smoker “just don’t smoke anymore, it’s bad for you”. Or the overweight doctor who will tell his obese patient to “just eat less”. Thanks, guys, revolutionary advice. Only follow a bronze sherpa when you are really lost.
These are the sherpas who have their own experience and a mix of self-guided training. They have done some reps, read some articles. They are the cheapest, most available sherpa. These are the sherpas you are likely to know already. Look around, I am sure you have at least a few of these; Computer whizzes, language lovers, amateur bodybuilders. This category of sherpa can often be extra effective because more often than not, these sherpas are excited to share their passion with you. Follow these sherpas as often as possible.
Lastly are the Sherpas with lots of experience and sophisticated training. They are likely professionals, probably charge for their services, and are often in high demand. If you find yourself with the opportunity to be in proximity to these people, make sacrifices and do what it takes to get there. Realize the value of their knowledge and soak up as much as possible. If you don’t have any gold sherpas available, don’t despair. They aren’t necessary and their lacking is not a limitation (but always be on the lookout). Life has thrown a few of golden sherpas at me.
When I started Law school I was creeping Facebook and found a competitive CrossFitter in my year. At the time, I was fairly new to CrossFit and was excited by the aspect of seeing a real life pro. He will confirm that the first time we met (I was drunk) and I begged him to let me train with him and that I promised I wasn’t always a drunk fool (seriously, I’m not). For the next two years, I worked my ass off to get as much time in training with him as possible. I went on his schedule, joined his gym, and sometimes put up with his bullshit (sorry Mitch). Remember, Mitch is a guy who people pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to learn from and I was getting this experience for free. My skills and knowledge increased exponentially. I learned more in those two years regarding training, commitment, and drive from Mitch than many will learn in a decade.
(Mitch lifting more weight than I can roll down a hill)
Sherpas are not gifted in every area of life. Ask a mountaineer how to climb a mountain, but don’t ask him how to change your oil. Often times, people make the mistake of thinking “he is really good at lifting weights, he can probably teach me to swim”. (Mitch is seriously shit at swimming, so don’t ask)
Some sherpas have mastered multiple mountains, but more often than not, they haven’t. Go to a chef to learn to cook, a gymnast to learn to flip and a lawyer if you hate your spouse. When I was a personal trainer, I would see other trainers doling out life and nutrition advice when they had almost zero idea what they were talking about. They were great trainers and had good bodies, but a fit body does not a life coach make. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to these people, they might actually have good advice (Remember, I was one of them). It means don’t blindly follow anyone up a mountain
(Unless you were that blind guy that climbed everest, then you don’t really have a choice)
“There is no lack of knowledge out there, just a shortage of asking for help”
-Mark J. Carter
You should never follow anyone 100% blindly. The degree of how much faith you put into a sherpa should be relative to their skill, prowess and experience. I’ve been misled by trusted professionals enough to know that even expert sherpas make mistakes. You shouldn’t let this information cause paralysis. Risk is inevitable. Let me assure you, the riskiest place is at the bottom of the mountain, looking up. That’s where the avalanche will hit when shit breaks down.
Always be ready for a gold sherpa to fall into your life and until that happens, make use of the silver and bronze sherpas already surrounding you. They can be the deciding factor between you blowing up your first marathon or blowing up your ACL. Look at your life, figure out where the mountains are, and start searching for sherpas. It is true that the journey is the goal and not the destination, but I promise you, the view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking.