Sam Tooley: Who Are You Living For?

This blog is written by Sam Tooley (@coach.samtooley) who is:

  • Owner of Alpha Performance Studio in Westfield NJ
  • Founder of Alpha Fit Club in Westfield, NJ
  • Founder of The Tooley Legacy Foundation
  • Founder of The Night of Lights 5K Race

If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Sam has written for the blog before. He shared his story and it was so powerful that it drew attention like wildfire and inspired countless lives (you can read it here).

This year, in just a few days (9/8/19), Sam is holding the first ever Night of Lights 5K in honor of his late brother Jake. With the race fast approaching, I’m excited to share the piece with you all; it is the definition of vulnerable and it will touch your heart. 

Without further ado, here’s Sam.

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[Sam’s voice]

I want this, just like everything I do, to be about making you realize you’re not alone.

Life can feel that way sometimes. Many of us are fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who love and support us. But if we are going through something that we ourselves have a hard time articulating, it can feel as if we are in it alone, separated in spirit from those around us with nowhere to turn. The feeling that no one can relate to us can be incredibly isolating, almost debilitating at times. It can make us want to quit, to give up, to change our master plan, to shift our goals, to drop our dreams, to shut off from the world – or in what was my case, go onward and smile and struggle in silence.

‘you’re not alone’

The fact that we struggle is universal and unquestionable. However, in a world that is transfixed by, and often presented as picture perfect within the confines of social media, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be open and honest about what we are fighting with. Ironically from my perspective, as we continue to grow further disconnected from one another in ‘the real world’, that willingness to be vulnerable is what could save us from our own silent suffering.  

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Maine writing this on a yellow notebook pad. One of my favorite things to do. It’s a reminder that life can be SO simple and SO good if we let it. But almost out of habit, it’s equally easy to overcomplicate. I’m often asked what I’m striving for? For me, it’s a life of simplicity. That simplicity does not come from a shortened to do list or less responsibility, but rather out of a sense of clarity in knowing who I am and what I want, and most importantly – why I want it. To help you understand what I mean in depth I think it’s important to explain where I’ve been, where I’m at, and where I’m going.

In high school I would avoid my picture-perfect home like the plague. It felt broken and in turn so did I. In college, that broken soul would lose interest in the only positive outlet it had, the glue that held it together – running. I would later turn to alcohol and drugs to numb that discomfort. That pain ran deep and, as I reflect now, boiled down to an inability to confront underlying issues that I wanted to keep far from my surface. However, rather than seek help and confront the problem, I buried myself. I turned into a smiling zombie, trudging through the motions of everyday life.

‘That simplicity does not come from a shortened to do list or less responsibility, but rather out of a sense of clarity in knowing who I am and what I want, and most importantly – why I want it.’

My true fear? Appearing weak to the outside world. The worst part? I knew how weak I was being by living what felt like a double life. I was running from the tormenting thoughts and the anguish that ate at me from the inside-out. I pretended that none of it existed and eventually it caught up with me. I would find myself kicked out of college, working at a dump (literally), sleeping in a tent in an unfinished basement (also literally), driving home in tears contemplating crashing into a barrier just to end it. I felt shame for letting my family down. I felt pathetic for living at less than my potential. And I felt like there was no way out.

Like many of us, I knew I was destined for more. I knew I was capable of greatness. So, what had been my downfall? Why didn’t I feel like I could be real with people and voice my struggle? At first, I would blame my circumstances. I would blame the hand I was dealt. I would blame everything and everyone outside of myself. The truth was, for as long as I could remember, I was living for the acceptance of other people. I was living under the umbrella of what other people deemed important. I was striving for what they defined as success. I wanted to be popular, I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be admired and approved. It was a never-ending cycle that left me emptier with each go-around. At the end of the day, I was still Sam. I was still smiling, getting through my rather comical circumstances seemingly un-phased and indifferent. While the world had no idea, deep down, I knew that my indifference was a defense mechanism.

‘I would find myself kicked out of college, working at a dump (literally), sleeping in a tent in an unfinished basement (also literally), driving home in tears contemplating crashing into a barrier just to end it.’

Ironically, the only time I lived by my own rules was out of a place of rebellion. Excelling in school and maintaining my grades? Yeah, not for me. An internship during college? Yeah, not for me. A relationship? Yeah, not for me. In reality? By declaring indifference it was just an excuse to divert from anything that didn’t come naturally or could result in failure. Training and partying – that was easy and natural, and therefore – those were for me.

‘I would blame the hand I was dealt. I would blame everything and everyone outside of myself.’

By living for others in this way, it was inevitable to feel ‘less than’. I was always comparing myself and in turn, I was always angry. Luckily for me, those circumstances that I allowed to define my world would catapult me into a new mindset with a refreshed perspective. Nearing my eventual breaking point and bouncing off of rock bottom would propel me toward something bigger than myself. But as I would later learn, my long-time struggle of living for myself and what I deemed important versus the alternative – was not something I had completely moved beyond.

‘Living for someone else’s approval was like living in a never-ending nightmare. It had ripped away my identity, my self-worth, it’s made me question who I am, why I’m here and if I’m good enough.’

Now, living for someone else has become my saving grace. Today, I find it has given me a strength that I always knew was deep within, it’s given me courage and resilience, it’s given me opportunity and ambition, it’s given me the power to look doubt in the face and prevail. These contrasting viewpoints came at totally opposite times in my life. A then, and a now. The low of the low came when my problems, as uncontrollable as they were, seemed like the end of the world. In the end – they were just growing pains, bumps along the way and lessons to learn from.

‘The strength I live with now comes after having had my spirits been truly battled tested beyond comprehension. I have lived through my nightmare and come out the other side a warrior. Pain coupled with perspective grants us power.’

Today, I live not for the approvalof others but rather in the memory of those I love the most. It’s amazing thepower that removing your own selfish and self-serving intentions can grant you.I live to make my family and those who support me proud. Knowing I am doing sofills me up. It’s the polar opposite of the deflating feelings I had when Ilived for the acceptance of others, of people I barely knew.

But I am not without my faults. My time away in Maine, my simple yellow pad and my morning coffee, have given me time to reflect. Having lost my Dad and my brother Jake just nine months from another woke me up to some harsh realities. Life is precious. Nothing is guaranteed. And that we have a choice every single morning in how we want to attack our days. I live with a sense of urgency and a sense of gratitude because of them. And that mentality has helped me grow, build successful businesses, and push past myself proclaimed limits in a multitude of ways. But now as many of them reach their hopeful tipping points, I have begun to ask the question of what’s next? And again, most importantly – why?

‘Today, I live not for the approval of others but rather in the memory of those I love the most.’

My realizations of late; more for the sake of more is not better. Better is better. I want to create something that helps continue transform people’s lives in a REAL way. I want to help people believe they are capable of more. I want them to know they are not alone. How that unfolds and what that looks like is to be determined. But know that I’m just getting started. If you’re struggling with comparison, with living life to the standards of others and what they deem success – know you aren’t alone. But know that you don’t have to live that way. I urge you to decide what YOU want, what makes YOU happy and fulfilled and go after that with everything you have.

The question is, what will you go after?

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[Joe’s voice]

It’s me again.

I’m not sure about you, but Sam’s words resonate with me on a personal level. While our objective stories and struggles are different on almost every level, the core message is the same.

You are not alone. You are strong. Your time on this earth is about something bigger than you. Find that. Be about it. Live it out.

I am beyond grateful to call Sam a friend and I am honored to be able to share his latest writing with you. Whether he knows it or not, he’s changed the way that I see the world; he is someone who I look up to.

This blog isn’t my show, it’s Sam’s, and for that reason, it’s quote time (ala Sam).

‘More for the sake of more is not better. Better is better.’

Sam is an incredible person with a passion for motivating others. Sam is too humble to promote the Night of Lights 5K race in this blog, so I will do it for him. Read below.

If you don’t do so already, check out Sam on Instagram (@coach.samtooley) for inspiring, motivating, vulnerable and thought-provoking content.

Thanks for reading!

Joe Rinaldi, PT, DPT

IG: @joerinaldi.dpt

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Night of Lights 5k Registration

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