Thoughts on Self-Esteem

I’ve been thinking about self-esteem a lot lately – not from an academic perspective, but from a personal perspective. In thinking about the topic, I suppose the most important question is easily “What is my self-esteem level and is it healthy or not?” From there, we get into conversations about raising low or unhealthy self-esteem, which I believe to be outside the scope of my ability to discuss in any productive way.

What I’ve come to realize over the last few months in evaluating my personal level of self-esteem is that it swings wildly between extremes. I’d say that ~90% of the time I feel an extremely high level of confidence in the actualization of my best self. I am who I am, I believe what I believe, and I’m confident in my own dignity and principles. I know I have the ability to be the version of myself that I can respect and believe that my life’s trend is to become more that person with every day.

It would be a mistake to insist that these feelings stem completely from an innate sense of worth. Some of it surely stems from a variety of accomplishments that I am proud of in varying degrees. The life that Angela and I have built together is one that makes it easy to look around and feel great.

That being said, there eventually come stretches of days, sometimes even weeks at a time, where my self-esteem takes a nosedive and I doubt everything that I think I know about myself. I doubt my decisions, I doubt my reasoning and ability, and I doubt whether I’m the person I should be or even the person I want to be. The questions come quickly, and I inevitably end up in a terrible mood:

  • Is my net-worth too low? Have I made the right financial decisions? Are we on the right track or should I do something different with my money?
  • Why am I not stronger? Can I even be stronger? Everyone else seems stronger than me.
  • Why aren’t I leaner? Can I even be leaner? Everyone else seems leaner than me.
  • Is my business really a success or am I just inevitably going to fail? Am I doing enough or am I doing too much?

Comparisons to other people, both those I know personally and in the abstract, allow me to paint myself in a negative light and I end up in a death spiral to a nadir of self-worth. The worst part is that it is all in my head – there’s no external pressure or positive or negative feedback that cause these episodes of internal despair. All I know is that they are real and they are tough to deal with. When I stop feeling confident in myself it is like I’m no longer the real Nick Ohrn but am just playing a character who acts a lot like Nick Ohrn would.

Eventually the feelings subside for what seems like no reason (again, no external pressure or feedback) and everything goes back to being great. I sometimes wonder if this is something to be defeated or if it is something that I’m just supposed to deal with.

So why write this post in the first place? It certainly doesn’t add much of a useful data point, but I’m hoping that, just like my post about grieving my sister, it helps other people deal with similar feelings. I have often felt abnormal only to discover that someone wrote about feeling or experiencing something just like I have and it makes me feel better, so hopefully this post can help someone, eventually, in a similar way.

100 Days of Squats, a Retrospective

On June 9th, I finished 100 days of consecutive squatting. I was inspired to take on this challenge by Cory Gregory after an article of his was published in FitnessRX for Men. It promised increased strength, better endurance, and the ability to call yourself a badass and mean it.

I’ve taken the last week or so to really think about what I learned from the program, both about my body and about myself, and to figure out how to share the parts that I think are most important. I’ll get to that later in this post, but I think its important to identify a couple of things first; where I was when I started, and what the workouts that I did over the course of my 100 days actually looked like.

My Starting Condition

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first. I’m 5’10” tall and weigh around 200 pounds. The weight fluctuates from 195-205 depending on how gluttonous I’m feeling in any particular week. I hesitate to give an exact bodyweight percentage, but I’m definitely under 10% and most likely around 8% most of the time.

I’ve been weight training consistently for about eight years now with very little in the way of breaks. My morning routine is essentially:

  1. Wake up
  2. Prepare for workout
  3. Workout really hard
  4. Get on with my day

It has been that way without exception ever since I started to recover from my busted up shoulders in college. My workouts prior to this program were already heavy on squats, with me squatting at least twice a week with many weeks containing three legs days depending on how I was feeling. I love squatting, especially because it doesn’t put stress on my shoulder joints, which are definitely the weakest parts of my body. I tend to squat like a hybrid powerlifter / bodybuilder, with a mix of high-rep and high-weight workouts.

One important note: I lift raw, meaning I don’t use a weightlifting belt, knee wraps, wrist straps, or any other form of assistance. That’s how it has been for about six years now and I love it. I feel like it protects my body because I’m not able to push myself past the threshold of what I am physically able, and gives me a limit to push against as I drive for new performance.

The Workouts

The article that Cory Gregory published was a little light on details of what you were supposed to do from an actual implementation standpoint. He had listed a typical workout that he would do, but the most important part I gained from his writing was to just do some type of squats every day for the 100 days and you’d fulfill the requirements. As a note, he later published a four week squat everyday workout that I know some people have been following that is much more prescriptive. It might be a good place to start.

I always squatted first before working out whatever other body part I was targeting on a specific day. I felt like it got me in the mood to push myself harder with the other work I was going to be doing. In general, the workouts looked like one of the following two options:

High Rep Workout: Pick one of high-bar back, low-bar back, or front squat and do five sets of 12.

High Weight Workout: Pick one of high-bar back, low-bar-back, or front squat and do (back/front) 135/135 x 8, 225/185 x 8, 315/225 x 8, 405 / 315 x 3, 455 / 365 x 1.

There were times during the 100 day program where I didn’t have access to a barbell for some reason or another. On those days, I did 5 sets of 20 bodyweight squats to keep my streak alive. Reasons for being without a barbell include traveling for business (conferences / consulting) or being out of my house and thus away from my gym because of home repairs.

Without exception, I made sure that I did some form of squat workout every day for 100 days. That includes flag football game days where I’d get up before my games, get my squat workout in, and then go play football. Once, I didn’t have time to do it before my games so I had to do my squats after a doubleheader in the middle of the afternoon. That was probably the toughest single day of the 100 days.

My Impressions and Conclusions

If you check out the #squateveryday hashtag on Twitter, you’ll see tons of testimonials from people about how they’re hitting new PRs and really upping their squat game, doing things that they’ve never done before. That’s awesome! Unfortunately, those things didn’t happen for me.

I loved the program, but I was already a 500 pound squatter at sub-200 pounds when I started my 100 days. I’m not an elite strength athlete by any means, but that’s a lot of weight to move around. Without dedicated strength training, there’s very little room to grow from there for someone at my weight and height.

As such, I didn’t expect to get substantially stronger because I structure my training to ensure a good mix between athleticism (to make sure I continue to be good at flag football), strength (for my ego), and physique (for my vanity).

The reason I did this program was to test my mental fortitude. Could I really do something hard for 100 days without breaking? Could I push myself every single day on something that I enjoyed initially but I knew would turn into a slog after a while? Apparently the answer is a resounding YES. I’m proud of myself for completing the program.

Now, I intend to apply the principles to other facets of my life, especially my business. A lot of what makes a business person successful is the ability to continually do the small things that add up over time to make a big difference. Now that I was able to spend 100 days in a row doing something I really enjoy, I’m looking for the equivalent challenge for my business life.

As for squatting, I love it and will continue to do it. I’d like to hit a high-bar back squat of 405 x 8 and a front squat of 405 x 1 (in the same workout) by the end of the year. I don’t have any doubts that I’ll hit those marks as I push towards them consistently.

Grieving My Sister – Renee Ohrn

Today would have been my sister Renee’s 21st birthday. Unfortunately, she’s not alive to enjoy it – she died in an apartment fire about two years ago.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been going through the grieving process and it has been really, really tough. In this post, I’m going to talk about some of the things that I’ve felt along the way and some of the effects it has had on me and my family. I’m mostly writing this post because I’m hoping it will be therapeutic for me. That being said, maybe someone who is experiencing similar things will find this post in the future and me sharing my feelings and the effects this tragic event has had on me will help that person. Before I get into all that, though, a few words about my sister.

Renee Ohrn – My Awesome Sister

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Renee was everything you could want a young woman to be. She was kind, intelligent, and outgoing. She went out of her way to make others feel comfortable and safe. She loved and laughed and lived as hard as anyone I’ve ever met in my entire life. She was a true beauty and an amazing athlete. I swear she squatted and benched better than most men I’ve met.

When I think of my sister, I can’t help but feel she was basically the best of my brother and me. I also think about the impact she had on the people who met her. She was only 19 years old when she died and close to 1,000 people showed up to pay their respects. I could hardly believe it.

My Grief

Modern psychology says there are five stages of grief that a person goes through in order: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. I can’t say that I ever denied what happened to my sister, but I can definitely say that I’ve experienced both anger and depression over the last year and a half.

I was angry that my sister died due to something that had an improbably small chance of occurring. I was pissed that she was the only one who died (not that I wanted other people to die, I just didn’t want Renee to die). I continue to be upset that she didn’t get to experience the rest of what promised to be a full and exciting life. I’m still angry about these and other things from time to time.

I have been depressed on and off since Renee died. I don’t believe it is a clinical depression, but it has lead to me laying in bed and thinking things like:

  • Why even get up? Nothing you do today will matter because you could die at any moment.
  • Who cares if you get work done today? There’s always tomorrow – unless there isn’t.
  • Why do you even care about doing your best? You shouldn’t care – no one will ever remember you anyways.

The depression I’ve experienced has made me cynical and has lead to me being negative almost all the time. I don’t want to think about the future, don’t want to make plans, and I don’t get excited about the things that I used to look forward to. For example, Angela and I are saving for a house right now and I find it really hard to get pumped up about that. Before this happened, I couldn’t imagine thinking the way I do a lot of time.

Sometimes I can’t work because I’m just paralyzed thinking of the unfairness of life. My sister didn’t deserve to die, but she did.

I don’t want to go out and do anything fun. I mean, why is it fair that I get to live this life and Renee didn’t get to?

Effects on My Family

I have a great family, but when I say “My Family” at this point I mostly mean Angela. She’s the one I live with. She knew Renee and loved her.

My grief has made me an asshole sometimes. I know it has, and I know when I’m being one, but I find it really hard to snap out of it. Angela is the one who has had to deal with that.

In spite of all my negativity and the sullen attitude I tend to adopt, Angela has been my rock. She has supported me and loved me even in the moments where I have just been unbearable to be around. I cannot imagine going through this process alone and I feel so lucky to have a supportive wife who I can lean on.

What I’ve Found

Over the last year and a half, I’ve come to the realization that you can’t really control how you feel sometimes. This came as a huge shock to me because I’m a big control freak and I had convinced myself that I was totally and completely in control of my feelings all the time. Newsflash: that’s not true at all.

I don’t want to be sad or angry or depressed, but sometimes I literally cannot help but feel that way. There are things I can do to mitigate those feelings, but they’re often just temporary fixes (and unhealthy, at that, like eating a box of donuts).

I’ve also found that you can’t do everything on your own. You have to talk to people and ask for their help – even if you really don’t want to. I’ve never really been one to ask for help, but over the last year and a half I’ve learned that I have had to, otherwise, I will never get better.

From Here, Where Do I Go?

Honestly, I’m not really sure. I know that I have to go on living my life – enjoying it while I’ve got it. There’s nothing really else to do.

I’m relearning how to relax. For the first 6-7 months after Renee died all I did was work. I’d wake up at 5AM, workout for an hour, and then I’d work until 10PM. I made a ton of money, but the stress was eating me alive. The positive thing for me, or so I thought at the time, was that I didn’t have to sit idly and think about my sister. What I learned is that you have to idle your brain sometimes. I’m learning how to do that again.

I’ll be fine, though. I have a loving wife and an awesome puppy. I live a good life and don’t really want for much. I’ll keep on living and trying to take advantage of the life that I do have and I’ll encourage others to do the same.

Goal Progress – Q1 2012

I’m quite goal conscious and have become more so in the last couple of years. I think that writing down and thinking about measurable, concrete goals is the way to a happy life. Writing them down and having measurable targets makes sure that you know what is required to get to where you want to be and you’ll know when you reach that point.

I have some pretty ambitious goals for 2012 and, as we’re 1/4 of the way through the year already, I thought it’d be a great time to think about where I’m at in relation to where I want to be. I’m not going to go in-depth for every goal, but I do want to hit the highlights.

Fitness

I divided my fitness goals into two categories: speed/strength/power and endurance. I’m doing OK on both at this point, but have suffered some injuries in the last two months that have been a little bit of a setback. I’m confident that I’ll reach the following goals this year:

  • Squat 405 Pounds for 12 Reps
  • Deadlift 405 Pounds for 12 Reps
  • Bench 275 Pounds for 12 Reps

You’ll notice those goals are all endurance related. I took some time off from going heavy with weights to practice going for higher reps and it has been going pretty well. That’s why I think I’ll hit the above goals for sure.

The following goals are a little iffy, and I’ll explain why after the list

  • Squat 545 Pounds for 1 Rep
  • Deadlift 575 Pounds for 1 Rep
  • Bench 405 Pounds for 1 Rep
  • Run 1 Mile in 5:30
  • Run 3 Miles Contiguously in Less Than 20:00

First, I haven’t been running as much as I should be. Quite frankly, I think that running is boring (outside or inside) and just do not like it at all for some reason. I’d much rather do plyometrics or iron cardio style workouts and that is holding me back.

Second, I’m starting to get afraid of going very heavy with my weights. After suffering a strained or torn shoulder tendon and some knee issues so far this year, I really need to give my body a break from the heavy weight to heal up a bit. I plan on doing that over the next few months and then trying to train heavy again. At that point, it may be too late to actually hit my strength goals in 2012, but that’s OK.

Career

My career goals are proceeding along just as planned and I’m on track to hit all of them. For review:

  • Gross $180,000 in Revenue – I’m on track to make over $200,000 this year based on average daily income extrapolated out
  • Keep Contractor Expenses Under $12,000 – This does not look like it’ll be a problem based on the fact that I’ve only paid out $2,500 this year and we’re already 1/4 of the way through it
  • Increase Effective Hourly Rate to $250 / hr – This seems to be the least likely to happen as I’ve had some projects that ran over by a lot but it is still hovering up around $180 / hr
  • Reduce Business Maintenance Expense to Less Than $100 / month – I believe I’ll hit this as I’m hovering around $100 / month and have a few places I think I’ll cut in the next few months
  • Go to a Professional Conference – I’m heading to Future Insights Live here in Las Vegas in about 4 weeks, so that will cover this one
  • Release Another Product for Sale – I completed this one earlier this year by releasing Viral Downloader with Chris Guthrie. It wasn’t a raving success, but it was a good experience and just about paid me back for the time I spent on it.

I’m pretty excited about the progress I’ve made here and a lot of that is due to better organization and heartier work patterns. I don’t see anything going wrong here, hopefully.

Personal

I’m not doing so great on my personal goals. That doesn’t mean that my personal life is bad or anything, I’ve just been shifting my energy in different directions and may need to rethink some of these things based on the fact the weather here is ridiculously nice and most of my personal goals involved staying inside (something I’m not sure I want to do that much as long as I’m living in Las Vegas).

The goals I’m closest to are write 200 articles on a personal website and get picture in Muscle & Fitness. This website is something I enjoy writing on and I’m trying to stay consistent (that’s why I’m writing this post!) and Muscle & Fitness recently introduced a section where you can send in your picture and they’ll feature you. Based on the last two months, I think I should be able to score a picture in that section in the coming months.

Review

Overall, I’m happy with the way I’m going this year. Angela and I are really happy and enjoying our lives here in our (still new) city. I may not hit every goal that I set at the beginning of the year, but they’re helping me experience life and become a better person.