Fitness and Tolkien and Lessons for Life

“As of right now, you’ve already made it through the most difficult day of your life.”

Why is this quote so cheesy and so inspiring at the same time? (Shout out to my favorite spin instructor, Jourdan, for dropping this quote in our class.)

There’s so much freedom in that statement. I think to myself, wait a minute, I survived, I’m stronger than I thought. I don’t have to be endlessly anxious about the future. We are so much stronger than we think.

This post is about to throw much more cheesy inspiration your way. I know it’s the new year and fitness will be on a lot of people’s minds. Considering that, I want to share how fitness, which has radically changed my life, taught me several life lessons. Specifically, I want to touch on strength, community, and process.

I guess I’ve become one of those people, the ones that excitedly talk about fitness. But hear me out. My hope is that you’re more inspired than annoyed, and maybe even laugh at it a little.


You are much stronger than you think (cue Kelly Clarkson). We need to hear this daily, maybe hourly. But really; another spin-instructor-ism is, “You’re stronger than your mind gives you credit for, keep pushing.”

I wandered into the gym just a few years ago, thanks to a free membership provided by my employer. It was a free membership at a fancy gym that required I go a certain number of times, so off I went, having no idea what I was doing. Luckily, I had a complimentary session with a personal trainer, which I gladly signed up for, and proceeded to sign up for three more sessions.

This changed everything. Within that short time, he gave me the comfort and confidence to go anywhere in the gym and try things out. But most importantly, he showed me that I can do WAY more than I thought I could. Before Everett (the trainer) showed me the way, I would pump out some bench presses, get tired, then just stop for the day. But he’d switch up the exercise, the sets and repetitions, what body group we focused on, and suddenly, an hour would go by. I worked really hard but I realized it was doable, even as a beginner. I remember going into a third set of push-ups, or core exercises, in shock that I was still able to get some more out.

It’s amazing how much a few minutes break can do between exercises. I was capable of so much more than I thought. And it made me want to try for more.

“Take those pressures you’ve been carrying this week and put it on that bike.”

I know, a little cheesy spin-instructor-ism again, but it works. I think of all the frustrations, the hurts, the rejections, and I push into that exercise, most likely a climb. But as a broader lesson, isn’t that the best way to view our lives, our struggles, and our obstacles? The best thing we can do is take those challenges, those hurts, those failures, and learn from them, and grow because of them.

The strongest people, in my experience, are the ones who say they wouldn’t trade the hard times they encountered because it makes them who they are today. To be honest, I’m not 100% there yet since there are some obstacles I’d gladly give back. But that’s probably because some challenges are still in process. In the meantime, I can still acknowledge the benefits gained and lessons learned.

Enter Literary Reference

My favorite author is J.R.R. Tolkien. Almost every life lesson has its correlation in his writings. When considering obstacles and unseen benefits, one of my favorite Tolkien poems comes to mind:

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

I know this just went real deep, and I hope you can see the depth. What reminded me of this in regard to strength, is that the obstacles we face may not be so obviously beneficial, and we may not see the resulted goodness until the end, whenever that may come.


If you’ve read anything I’ve written so far, I always emphasize the importance of community. For me, this has not only proven true in fitness but again, also in life’s obstacles. You need those people who can spur you on, challenge you, and support you when you don’t think you can make it.

The Fellowship of the Ring is Tolkien’s first volume of the Lord of the Rings. When reading this story, you’ll quickly note the importance of community in achieving any great victory or overcoming any challenge. It’s actually all in the title, The Fellowship of the Ring. Fellowship is one of the most beautiful and beneficial things to us or any human while the ring is symbolic of all evil and struggle. I find this title interesting then, pointing to one of the most beautiful things (fellowship) as it surrounds and attaches itself to overcoming the most evil thing (the ring).  This can really be an allegory for the struggles we face in ourselves.


As I stated above, I may not be 100% convinced of all these inspirational slogans. However, life is a process; we don’t see results immediately. This is especially obvious in the gym, but you can see how that applies to life too. We are a life-long process. There were several instances and people this week that reminded me to take it one day at a time. As you go into the new year, that’s all you can do, take things one day at a time, whether it be fitness goals or other challenges.

In a cycle class I recently took, in between songs the instructor had us shake out each arm, the right and the left, and reset our form, each time. And boom, another lesson. As we press through each obstacle, relax, shake it off, and reset your form.

James Abyad is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He lives in Alexandria, VA, and loves people, food, music, geography, languages, and Tolkien. His full-time job is just another basic federal employee, specifically a contracting officer, while fully enjoying the Washington, D.C., region. After studying International Relations and Arabic at American University, he aspired to work in diplomacy or a related non-profit; yet, like most millennials, he is trying to pay his student loans off first. So, in the meantime, you can find him investing time in family, friends, community, church, spin, and eating. You can read his posts here.

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Ronda Lindsay

This is great. Thanks for sharing. I’m a fitness instructor, among other things, dealing with some serious life obstacles right now, and this is exactly what I needed to read.