Advice to my 37 year-old self

Last night, as I was having my second serving of dessert at a board dinner in New York City, the 37 year-old COO of the company asked me how I could eat as much as I do and stay fit. I told him that it was much easier for me at 47 than it was at 37. Counterintuitive, right? I asked him how old his kids are (2 & 6) and how much he travels (often). He said he seems to carry an extra 10-15 lbs that feels impossible to shed. I explained that at 37, I had the same issues. My kids were 3 & 4, I traveled a ton, and I was in the first couple of years of starting Highway 12 Ventures. Instead of the 150-155 I weigh these days, it was impossible for me to get out of the 165-170 range back then. I see pictures of myself from that time period now and can’t believe it was the same person.

Fact is, if your kids are under 10 years old and you have a demanding job (exacerbated by travel and the nutrition challenges that go along with business travel), I think it’s extremely difficult to be be great at your job, be a great spouse and parent, and maintain the level of fitness that we all dream about. That’s a three-legged stool that’s really difficult to manage and you’re probably not going to do a stellar job at one of those. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing people who are able to accomplish it. My friend Seth Levine at Foundry comes to mind. Amazing parent to young kids and a terrific husband, incredibly bright and successful and fit as a fiddle. For most of us however, we chose fitness as the weak link and I believe that’s the right move at that stage of your life. However, there’s a few things I’ve learned over the last decade which would have helped me feel better at 37 than I did:

  • When you travel, whatever you do, exercise in the morning. 30 minutes on the crappy elliptical or bike in the hotel is better than nothing. No excuses. You’ll feel better.
  • I love ice cream and eat it almost every night. However, I’ve made it a rule that I won’t eat dessert if I didn’t exercise that day. Period.
  • I really didn’t understand how the makeup of today’s bread affects the body. I’ve largely eliminated it from my diet. If you eat a lot of bread, do your research. Nothing has had a bigger impact on keeping weight off for me than this.

I can go on with more suggestions but there’s mountains of advice on this subject and I’m not Tim Ferris. I really believe if you simply commit to these three things, you’ll see a huge difference. The fourth and most important piece of advice I have is this: Lose the guilt. Being a great parent and spouse is the most important thing your can do for yourself and will increase your happiness more than anything else. Don’t skimp there. Job and fitness come next. You have to choose which you want to be better at. If we’re intellectually honest with ourselves, there aren’t enough hours in the day to excel in all three areas. Carrying around an extra 5-10 lbs isn’t the end of the world. Working out for 45 minutes on Saturday morning and seeing your kids soccer game vs. the epic four hour bike ride with your pals should be an easy decision. If you must do the four hour ride, wake up earlier. Before you know it, your four year-old will be 14 and you’ll know what I mean.

Now that I’ve built some real discipline around nutrition and my kids are teenagers and are embarking on their own lives, I’ve been able to focus more on fitness. In fact, at 47 I’m in the best shape of my life and ran an ultra-marathon this past fall. But I’ve got to be honest: I loved having young kids and I just can’t believe how fleeting it is. I miss scooping them up and holding them and the feel of their skin on mine. I’m glad I chose family and job as my priorities when the kids were young. I can’t remember the extra 10 pounds I carried around but feel like the investments I made in my family and career back then were the right choice for me. If you’re in your 30’s, have young kids, a challenging career and are able to maintain a high level of fitness, please share your hints liberally…

19 thoughts on “Advice to my 37 year-old self

  1. I’ve lived through this as well. With the exception of the recent back implosion I just experienced I can second Mark’s comments. I put on close to 20 lbs during the hardcore Filtrbox days and now that I’m about to hit my 40th year I’m easily in the best shape of my life. Prioritizing your heath is so hard, but so very worth it. You show up better everywhere else when you invest in yourself.


  2. Nicely done, Mark. And 1000% agree on all fronts. I’ve been blogging on this subject (in fact, something I’ve dubbed “The Three Part Teeter Totter) for some time now at Family / Work / Sport (health). It’s discipline. Sheer discipline to manage those three seats. Yes one of the seats…shit, some times ALL of the seats…collapse to the ground every now and again but it’s the desire to keep them in balance and pushing hard on all fronts that is so rewarding (if not at times difficult beyond belief). But I’ve found it’s life itself with all it’s constant balancing that is the teaching. Nutrition is a core part of that (my wife has taught me) that is key to maintaining it all. Let’s have some ice cream some time and chat about it.


  3. Great post. Thank you for sharing. The Thrive Diet book (Brendan Brazier) opened my eyes to good nutrition. I won’t ever be full vegan (I love my pizza and ice cream) but replacing 50% of my normal diet with plant-based nutrition has done wonders. I think twice about bread, as well.


  4. Great perspective here, Mark. I especially agree on the “something is better than nothing” comment. As a former collegiate runner, I really struggle with the idea of not even coming close to the mileage that I once did in trying to balance work and family. One of the guys who ran for my alma mater in the 70’s (including one Olympic team) was famous for never taking a day off during his career–somedays he trotted; some days it was only a 2 miler. But, he always moved his body, if only for the mental benefit of commitment. In trying to ‘fit it all in’, something is better than nothing.

    And when in Boulder–Glacier is the place to get your fix!


  5. Hey Mark,
    It’s been said that a good method to judge the quality of a film is to see how you feel about it a day, a week, or a month after you’ve seen it. If we apply that same logic to blogs, then I think you have some content that is getting better with age. I read this post the day it went up in April and have thought about it quite a few times since that time. As a 50-something with a daughter in high school, I can relate to all of it and appreciate how you were able to articulate some important lessons. I’ve mentioned this post in numerous conversations with 30ish friends who have little ones and directed them to your blog. You provide great insight and show there is a successful way to balance work, marriage, kids, fitness, life – all told from the perspective of a guy who made it safely to the other side. I’ve had the pleasure of spending a little time with your family and it’s quite obvious, that together you all got it right!


  6. Dave,

    That might be the kindest, most thoughtful comment anyone’s ever made on this blog. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this pal. You completely made my day!


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