On the Experience of Using a Guest Pass at an Elite Gym

You used to comfort yourself with the knowledge that social media is fake. But now the beautiful people are here, in person, all around you, and there is no denying any of it. They perform movements you’ve never conceived of, loaded with weights you never thought possible.

Are they on steroids? Some of them, sure. But the better question is, why do you need them to be? Would it be so unacceptable if there simply were un-enhanced humans of this caliber walking the earth?

You’ve spent years decrying the illusory nature of snapchat filters. The judgment inherent in every act of self-promotion. The body-dysmorphia incurred by exposure to this super-stimulating hellscape.

It was about protecting teen girls, ostensibly. But you haven’t met one in years, nevermind cared for their wellbeing. No, this was always about your needs. And a fear, whispered only in darkness, that these beautiful people might actually be out there.

And now here they are in all their glory. Sweat shimmering in a way baby oil cannot. Sculpted abs popping out of midriff-cuts, deltoids bulging out of tank tops, leggings so tight you could see cellulite, if anyone had any.

Your mind flits from one possibility to another. Sure, he’s bigger than you are, but is he smarter? Is his work as socially impactful? Is he as mindful, aware, and empathetic? Those are the qualities after all, which truly determine one’s value in life. But oh how shameful to even ask these questions. To cannibalize so readily every aspect of your character merely to shield your ego. To set ablaze every virtue you may claim to possess at the altar of the vain god.

This itch not to be outdone served you well, but only in smaller enclaves. You could be the best in your grade, your school, maybe even the country. But to want to be the best everywhere at everything demands a reconfiguration not only of your life but of the value system underlying it. Instead of working harder, you do a perverse kind of emotional labor to explain why, actually, this is fine.

How can one possibly live under these conditions? Let’s not ask merely rhetorically.

One: Return to the cradle of subculture society. Go all-in on your hobby. Ignore the chads and study the blade. Develop allegiance to an all encompassing single-axis theory of value. If they are better than you, it can’t be in a way that matters, and so “mattering” ends up taking the hit.

Two: Develop a specific combination of traits so that for any 1:1 comparison, you can always find a way to come out ahead. Become a polymath. Find your niche at the intersection of an increasingly contorted Venn diagram. Convince yourself that this combination of traits is coherent as a value system.

Three: Do this dynamically and on the fly, deciding only at the moment of battle which axis is the one that really matters. Meet someone bigger? Decide you care about the intellect. Meet someone smarter? Tell them to touch grass. Charizard will always be weak to water, but he can also learn Thunder Punch and counter right back. Adapt to any and all phenomena like a late throw in rock-paper-scissors.

Those are strategies for dealing with the mess, but what if there’s something better? A way to outright escape. To opt-out. You could stop making this kind of comparison in the first place. Accept yourself simply for who you are. Find peace.

Next time you see someone better, just think to yourself “Ha! They don’t even realize that you don’t have to compete”. Just be above it all. And hey, maybe that could be your thing.