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Becoming a federal security officer is a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. Back then, it was sort of a superhero thing — I wanted to catch bad guys! (Plus, I watched pretty much every episode of Law & Order with my mom when I was growing up.)
But when I graduated from George Mason University in 2013 with my degree in criminal justice, I didn’t feel much like a superhero. I felt out of shape, out of control with my eating, and out of energy.
I’ve always been tall — I’m six feet four inches — and when I was a kid, basketball was my thing. I played through high school, but during my senior year I got into a bad car accident. I suffered a subdural hematoma and broke the orbital bones around my eye socket. Forget basketball; I couldn’t do much of anything for about four months while I recovered.
I know now that this was when my health began to spiral out of control. I went from being an active kid who was outside a lot to sitting in front of my computer playing video games nonstop. I recovered from my injuries and went on to play intramural basketball in college, but playing video games often kept me online all night.
I also pretty much lived on fast food in college. There was a Taco Bell on campus, and you could use your meal plan to eat there. After classes, I’d stop by McDonald’s on my way to and from work.
In short, when I graduated college, my body and mind didn’t match my goal to be a strong protector. So I set my dream aside and focused on the job I had at a grocery store. I liked the job and worked my way up to being a manager. I don’t think I was unhappy, but, looking back, I remember a voice in my head reminding me that I wasn’t living the dream I’d imagined.
Dreams Don’t Die
In 2017, when I was 25 years old, I was a groomsman in a friend’s wedding, and the vest my friend had chosen for his groomsmen didn’t come in my size. That meant I had to wear a different vest than the rest of the party. I hadn’t realized until then how heavy I’d gotten, and even now I don’t recognize myself in those pictures.
Soon after that wedding, I went on a cruise with my best friend. He was preparing to go into the army, so he was in super-good shape. There we were on the boat, on the beach, at the pool, and the difference between us — in our energy, our bodies, and even our sense of purpose — was just so obvious.
I started thinking again about my dream to go into criminal justice. I needed to be physically strong for the kind of life I wanted, and I was ready to commit. I signed up for a membership at the Centreville, Va., Life Time.
Like a lot of people at the start of a fitness journey, I didn’t know what to focus on. I’d show up to the club two or three times a week and do whatever. I mostly did cardio and tried a few of the machines. Finally, I signed up for some workouts with a few different trainers, which is how I met a trainer called Solo.
Solo helped me get strong from the ground up — literally. In our first session I had to bend over from standing, walk my hands out to the top of a pushup, and then lower myself down to the ground and press back up. Ten of those and I was gassed!
I started going to Solo’s Alpha group-training sessions (Alpha is a Life Time training program focused on Olympic-style lifting and metabolic conditioning), where I was motivated not just by him but by a group of super-strong — and super-supportive — athletes.
I also began reducing my fast-food intake and worked on making substitutions for some of the foods I liked to eat at home. For instance, instead of eating ground beef, I started eating more turkey burgers.
I should mention that I’m competitive. I like to challenge myself and win if I can. When I learned about Life Time’s 60day Challenge series, I signed up for every one that came along. I liked the idea of competing against a bunch of other people to improve myself.
But it turns out that changing your life isn’t as simple as being competitive. For the first few years, I’d sign up for a 60day, get all excited and throw myself into it, then falter partway through. I’d let other people’s progress get into my head: If someone lost more weight one week than I did, I’d find fault with myself. If I went to Burger King one day, that voice in my head was mean: You haven’t changed at all. You’re still doing the same old things.
Self-Knowledge Is Power
It’s taken time to understand how my body and mind work. I used to go cold turkey on habits I wanted to change, like eating fast food, and then I’d throw in the towel when I inevitably lapsed. And I’d set goals without understanding exactly how I could get there.
I decided to approach the spring 2022 60day differently. I set two tiers of goals this time — one big goal (I wanted to achieve a certain percentage of body fat) and a subset of little goals. I’ve learned it’s important to celebrate small wins, so I gave myself a win each day I showed up at the club no matter how my workout went.
For me, tracking what I ate helped, so I set mini goals around that as well. But I stopped tracking things like daily steps and calories burned, which never seemed to match how I felt.
I also stopped comparing myself to my Alpha teammates. They had different goals. I wanted to lose fat, which meant I wasn’t as focused on building muscle. When I saw my Alpha teammates getting stronger, I reminded myself to stick with my own plan.
Recovery was huge, too. I tried to hit the steam room a couple of times a week, and I slept a lot! People asked me how I could be so active, and the answer is that I slept eight hours a night. It’s cool how that works — working out helps me sleep, and sleeping helps me work out.
Those two months were tough, but by focusing on my small goals and not giving up when I’d slip a little, I hit my big goal and won the spring 60day!
Funny story: I didn’t think I would win, because Solo was playing it cool. I remember passing him on my way into the club the morning I found out. Solo was on his phone, and I didn’t think anything about it, but he was letting the staff know I was on my way in. There’s nothing like walking in and having everyone pop out from behind the desk with balloons and confetti. It was awesome.
The confidence I gained through participating in multiple 60days and making progress on my fitness gave me the boost I needed to finally apply for my dream job — and now I’m getting started in my new role as a federal security officer.
The sense of purpose I was looking for before I started this journey has come to light, and I’m proud to be where I am. I know I have the health and fitness needed to fulfill my mission to protect my community.
Jarron’s Top 3 Tips for Success
- Focus on “process” goals as well as “outcome” goals. Not only does this help you break down the steps you need to get where you want to go, it gives you lots of chances to celebrate small wins, which is motivating.
- Use tracking if it works for you. Jarron didn’t have a good sense of how food made him feel, so tracking helped him change his habits. Conversely, he ditched his fitness tracker when he realized it was giving him information that made him feel worse about his workouts.
- Hold on to your dream. Jarron learned that just being competitive wasn’t enough. He had to focus on his own goals, which were different than his Alpha teammates’. He wanted to serve, and his health and fitness were key to that dream.
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