Let’s Be Unrealistic

Was that my wife who gasped? Or was that me?

I think it was everyone. We were watching Thor, and Chris Hemsworth just peeled off his shirt for the first time, and I swear the air just went out of the entire theater.



Yes, I went a little gay for Chris at that moment. Maybe a lot gay. I also felt wholly inadequate. This is what a man was supposed to look like, and I would never look like that. My wife could gasp at that ideal, but she would end up going home with little old me. Chris, meanwhile, would carry on being Chris, and the world was chock-full of perfect specimens like him who don’t know what it’s like to eat half a dozen Krispy Kreme’s at a single sitting.

Except . . . there was more to that scene than met the eye. The brutal regime Chris underwent for that short take would be unrealistic for anyone to maintain. Even Chris.

Everyone should read this incredible piece in the New York Times detailing the demanding diet and workout routine actors suffer through for shots such as the one above. The article shows how fragile the careers of these actors can be and how much pressure they face to be bigger and beef-cakier. Even more powerful, perhaps, is this piece looking at how emotionally draining these shots can be for the same actors. As a male who grew up staring at bulging superheroes in skin-tight costumes, who watched Arnold kill aliens on the big screen, who then felt puny in front of his mirror, these stories come as a revelation. I can only imagine this is what women felt when they learned the truth behind those doctored fashion covers. The ideal I can’t live up to isn’t even possible for those who embody that ideal.

This is not to say that eating whole chickens and then cutting water weight for that one shot of Chris’s abs is quite the same as airbrushing and Photoshopping after a fashion shoot, but it is similar to the grueling dietary standards models, actresses, and dancers suffer in order to remain employed. I spent a lot of time around a dance company growing up, and I saw firsthand what those performers suffered. The pressure to stay unhealthily thin often came from each other and from family members. The need to achieve what was deemed to be “perfection” was intense, sad, and unrealistic.

From these exemplars, the pressure then falls to the rest of us. Grueling standards are portrayed as easy or harmless. But they aren’t.

I learned a long time ago that comparing up was dangerous. Reading People magazine or watching MTV’s Cribs is a quick way to make your own life feel unglamorous. I made a habit, then, of comparing down—of looking at those who would cherish what little I did have and feeling damn lucky as a result. This was healthier than peering up and seeing all the glaring deficiencies in my life.

Something like this came up over dinner last night. A friend mentioned the Fabulous Facebook Effect that occurs when we present only our highlights to the world. When all we see of each other’s lives is our vacations, our best meals, our post-workout photos, our new cars, our clean homes, our adorable children, what does this do to us? I like to think it mostly makes us happy for our friends and family, but does it come with a cost? Does it become difficult to look at ourselves in the mirror? To gauge our own lives? It’s the opposite of the wallscreen in the silo, which reveals an ugly world that makes us not want to explore. This is a similarly doctored view but of a utopia we can never reach. The results are largely the same.

Success can be like these culturally defined paragons of beauty, with an undeserved randomness that arises like the mixing of chromosomes. Yes, Chris works out and observes a strict diet and few could probably endure what he goes through—but the photo above captures for eternity what is maintained for only a brief moment. We don’t see Chris pumping iron right before that shot. We don’t see him cutting water weight for two days prior. We don’t hear him complaining and pining for a doughnut or a heel of bread. It looks so easy. Like anyone can do it. And dammit, we are failures if we don’t.

When I started writing, I allowed myself to dream of being a bestselling author. Hell, the funny thing is that I dreamed of this before I even started writing. Without a single book to my name, I dreamed of being a bestselling author. I also dreamed of winning the lottery, even though I have never bought a single lotto ticket in my entire life. These were unrealistic dreams. They were impossible dreams.

They became less impossible as I forced myself to write every day. But they remained just as unrealistic. Writing as a habit can be as grueling as eating 5,000 calories a day and working out for hours without ever slacking off. And as some of the actors in the Times piece found out, there’s no guarantee these brutal sacrifices will even get you a job. Your hopes can be dashed however hard you work. There is no recipe for success. No easy path you can take by placing one foot in front of the other.

What are we to do with this? Resign? Hell no. Finding out that the girl on the cover of the magazine has her blemishes airbrushed away, or that her waist was squeezed in with Photoshop, or that Chris walks around with 8-pack abs instead of a 12-pack abs (seriously, do those muscles even have names?!), is no reason to say “Fuck it” and give up. There is some middle ground of hopeful pessimism, where we know the odds and the expected outcomes, but we allow ourselves to strive and dream. There is some median where we can spend a few blissful moments with our heads on our pillows, thinking of what it would be like to find success or be healthier or happier, and then in the morning working toward those goals with the knowledge that we’ll never reach them. But that we will be better and full of joy for trying.

If you write a book, the reward will be having written a book. If you publish, the reward will be having published. Dream of seeing your name on bestseller lists. But don’t let dreams become expectations. Don’t feel like a failure when the lotto doesn’t hit your numbers.

I don’t have an easy answer for how to do this, how to bounce back and forth between flights of fancy and being sane and grounded. Hopeful pessimism doesn’t quite cover it, and neither does dire optimism. Maintaining a balance between the two isn’t realistic. Perfect bodies aren’t realistic. Expectations of fame and wealth aren’t realistic. I don’t think it’s even healthy to want these things. But it’s also not healthy to throw up our hands and quit giving a shit. It’s not healthy to eat poorly and wreck our bodies when we realize societal ideals are impossible and even unseemly. It’s not healthy to hold back our contributions to art because we fear the works won’t measure up and no one will ever care.

I think what is healthy is to hear how an actor suffers in order to fool us for just a moment or two. I think it’s healthy to see the before and after pics from Glamour Magazine. I think it’s healthy to tell you that the happiest I’ve ever been was those years of writing lottery tickets, not what came after I got lucky and won.

It’s not that I’m not grateful. I love the adventure that I’m on right now. I’m literally living my dreams. I pinch myself every single day. But maybe it helps to tell you that I miss my family when I’m on the road. That talking to my wife is hard when time zones don’t match up. That I cross the street to love on someone else’s dog because I haven’t seen mine in two months. That I took over 50 flights last year, spent more than 6 months of 2013 on the road, that I have to rush back to my hotel room to take a 5 minute nap to get through the next function, that I no longer have time to interact with friends and family on Facebook, that my hair is going gray from stress, and the 16-hour days are not sustainable.

This takes eating whole chickens and spending six hours in the gym every single day. For me, it’s worth it. But it isn’t easy. And wherever you are along this journey, and however you spend your time dreaming, find that balance of being happy for what you have while comfortably striving for what you want. Be okay with not getting it. But don’t give up. Does that sound possible, achieving that balance? It certainly isn’t easy. It might even be unrealistic. But throwing our hands up isn’t an option, and neither is holding up an ideal and hating what we see in the mirror. There is danger either way. Our wallscreens can show us a dystopia or a utopia, and both can paralyze us and make us miserable.

We have to see the world as it is and dream of the way we want it to be. This is the challenge of loving ourselves while wanting to be better. Of being satisfied while striving to improve. My name is Hugh Howey, and I don’t know about you, but I struggle with this every single day.

61 responses to “Let’s Be Unrealistic”

  1. Hugh, you are as genius as they come! And while Chris is sure dreamy to look at, I would never in a million years pick him over my hubby, whom I love completely, even if he doesn’t have a 12 pack :)

  2. I’m so glad I caught this blog post. I must share far and wide. Well done, Hugh. :-D

  3. “I would never look like that.” Maybe, but I’m happy with what I’ve got and I think most men can achieve their fitness goals too. The same goes for women. The image may be an unrealistic ideal, but at the same time, people should discover how far their bodies can actually go. Chris Hemsworth got that way because of hard work that everyone can do. Eventually anyway.

    1. The key is when you said “their goals”. Not their parents’, not their friends’, not their co-workers’.

      Also, there is a difference between “fit” and “how far your body can go”.

      1. I will never look like that either, but my belly is better for a party. Hemsworth may have a six-pack, but that runs out quick, my Keg lasts all night.

        I think if you were in Hollywood Hugh and had access to all the best dieticians, fitness gurus etc. etc. you could look like that too.

        I also wanted to say thank you Hugh.

        I have followed you for a year now and I finally self-published, I started with a short story and now it’s ranked #49 on the best-sellers list for horror short stories!


        My novel comes out this Spring and I will send you a copy (signed) as soon as I get it.


  4. This is an excellent post. My friend and I have started a webcomic, blog, and podcast dedicated to this very idea of maintaining happiness while striving toward realistic goals. We are two fat guys just trying to get fit and these kinds of images don’t help. No one is going to have six pack abs in just six weeks, nor can they be expected to maintain that image.

    1. What’s the name of your webcomic/blog/podcast?

  5. “I made a habit, then, of comparing down—of looking at those who would cherish what little I did have and feeling damn lucky as a result. This was healthier than peering up and seeing all the glaring deficiencies in my life.”

    Yes, Hugh! And I think that mindset had helped you get to where you are today. You have a drive and a passion for what you do that is unparalleled, and yet you purposely stop to smell the roses. You miss your wife and dog while on your whirlwind tours. You appreciate what you have and yet you strive to be better.

    We could all go far with that mindset. I’m sharing this with my friends. You always give such good advice.

    Be happy, Hugh. Be happy, my friend.

  6. Hugh, there’s another danger to all of the perfectly presented images. Looking around and seeing how “effortlessly” others are succeeding creates the idea that it really isn’t hard. That’s a guaranteed road to failure and self-hate if there ever was one. Exceptional people in every field are doing a lot to get there.

  7. Great post, Hugh. The phrase, “Chop Wood, Carry Water,” comes to mind when I think of it. I believe that if we do what we do with the utmost presence to whatever it is we are doing at that moment – if we write, we write, if we’re with someone, we’re fully with that person, if we wash dishes, we wash dishes wholeheartedly – we are not so fixated on the outcome but on what happens right then. This is, to me, the most freeing thing. Write for the moment. Wash dishes for that moment. Chop wood for that moment (okay, that doesn’t count for Florida ;-). The award is the moment. The expectations for the future must be laden with the fear of failure.

  8. I am a strength and conditioning trainer and a huge sci-fy/ apocalyptic novel fan. Through working with actors who demand physical perfection both in movies and on stage, I’ve learned a new definition of excess. People that sap their bodies of nutrients and stress their internal systems with excessive exercise to create a desired effect are literally “The Walking Dead”. Writing involves discipline, but it’s not an “all or nothing” effort.

    Here’s to normalcy in an imperfect world.

    1. “Here’s to normalcy in an imperfect world.”

      I love that.

  9. All I’m taking away from this article is that you’re gay for Thor:)

    Good stuff here. Thanks for sharing. If I compare my sales with yours, I despair. But when I compare my numbers with the numbers of traditionally published authors who aren’t doing as well as I am, I feel better about myself. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. I have more books to publish, however they do. The book is the thing I love and it’s quality is in my control. A lot of other factors such as having Ridley Scott decide to option it aren’t in my control.

    I hope you won’t mind if I tell you I saw an interview with you in which you looked less than awesome. At the moment, my heart lightened and I thought, oh, okay, that’s just some guy in Florida who writes. An undeniably cool guy, but we have those in Indiana too. My friend Mike Mullin gets letters from readers who claim he’s written the greatest book they’ve ever read, and he has, he has, but I critique his first drafts and am assured that neither he nor you walk on water. To a way, waaaaaay lesser extent, sometimes I read reactions to my book and wonder what readers would think if they saw me first thing in the morning with my hair everywhere and baby spit-up running down my front.

    I am sad to hear that you aren’t enjoying your success more. Past a certain point, how much money do you need? How many more records do you need to break? One day we’re all dead. Why not take some time off now and again. You’ve earned it. When I get as many books out as you, I’ll take some time off myself. Until then, back to work.

  10. Love this post, Hugh.

    I’ve started to go to the gym this year because I’ve had enough of getting chest infections whenever I develop a cold. Alongside that I’ve been trying to slim down a little to lose christmas weight but my goal is to be healthy first and foremost. Two months on and I’m delighted with the results and very conscious to not get caught in the distorted self-image trap. Instead I’ve used the experience to get me writing more, as I realised that having a schedule for the gym that I stick to was what I needed for the writing too.

    Aspirations are great but only when they’re realistic. Aspiring for the impossible just leaves people miserable or worse. Here’s to a balanced life!

  11. How ironic, Hugh, that you feel that way about Chris Hemsworth because I think many writers hold you in the same regard. You set a standard that’s both inspiring and so far into the stratosphere that it can make us feel wholly inadequate. But that’s the danger of comparing one’s own journey to someone else’s, and I’m as guilty of doing it as anyone. You are one of the most productive writers I know of (I really don’t know how you keep producing high-quality work at such a rapid clip with the rigorous travel and promotion schedule you have), yet you still have a graciousness and humility that we should all emulate. Writing may not be physically taxing, but the constant pressure to maintain quality, the deadline stress, having your work being open to the world for criticism, and being pulled in many different directions can make writing a very hard job. Even saying no can be difficult when you reach your level of success. I commend you on your effort to face up to your struggles while finding the right balance in how you approach work and life.

    Someday I hope to meet you in person at a writers conference and get to know you better, but I suspect I have a good sense of who you are already through your writing.

  12. I’m so sorry that you miss your wife, dog, sibs, parents, friends….home. It makes me sad that you’re making yourself gray and exhausted. I love that you’ve found such success, but I wish you peace and contentment…lots of it, and soon.

  13. Wow. Just wow. Great blog, Hugh.

  14. Oooo la la, yes Chris is inspiration for erotic novels! But, I must finish the memoir first. Thanks Hugh for taking me off into the never-never land of fantasy for that brief moment of entertainment reading your blog. I’m so busy writing, I can’t even name a movie that is out on the big screens!

    Gotta write! Mmmmm, dammit that image of Chris is ingrained in my head now.

  15. Love this post! Lots of good stuff. For me, “It’s not healthy to hold back our contributions to art because we fear the works won’t measure up and no one will ever care.” is the main quote I need to take with me. I need to remember that I’m writing and creating for me and my passion not for anyone else. Thanks for the reminder. Cheers. Lori (Devon’s wife)

  16. Lovely post, as always. My unsolicited advice: Put business travel on indefinite hold. Stay home, bake pies with the wife, and play with the dog. All you need to do is write books, and you can do that from home. Your audience is behind your computer screen. You don’t need to go anywhere to get to them. Don’t let success drag you down.

  17. You can love the adventure you’re on as long as you understand the consequences for that length of time away from your loved ones and you’re willing to pay that price. First online lesson I learned a long time ago – social media does not scale and trying to force fit it to do so means a physical, mental and spiritual cost.

  18. We paint the picture of our lives from within it, making it difficult to see just where the next brush stroke should go. To fully appreciate the picture we’re creating, we have to develop the ability to step outside, to view it as a whole. Only then can we best judge what needs touching up.

    While I envy your monetary success and critical acclaim, Hugh, I don’t desire the constant tugs and pulls you must endure from fans, colleagues, publishers, and media. Chin up and know that your work, be it writing or indie advocacy, is much appreciated.

  19. There’s a lot of that with being a mom… You see your friends homeschooling, taking their kids on field trips, posting a pic of the homemade vegan soup they made, and posting about all the Pinterest activities they’re doing. But I know the truth. I also post that stuff, but it’s a tiny portion of what actually goes on every day. ;)

    Whenever I see your posts about traveling, I always think that it’s really cool for you, but I’m also reminded of my husband’s deployments (thank the gods he’s out of the military now!) I want to travel, but I want to be able to travel with my family. I think traveling alone would get to be emotionally draining for me after a short time.

  20. Great article, Hugh, but it needed way more beefcake pictures. One won’t cut it.

  21. I’m really glad you shared this Hugh. There is no doubt that the last couple of years have been an incredible gift. But it’s true that people only see the highlight reel of each other’s lives on facebook, including your life. Complicating the picture is that with any good luck and hard earned good fortune, people will respond poorly to anything that might sound like complaining or whining, so people don’t. It’s a vicious little loop.

    I have a good friend that always says, “Just do the next right thing” whenever I began to feel overwhelmed on my way to a goal. The totality of steps can feel like too much, too big, too hard. But the next right thing is all that needs doing. And it’s just one thing. Easy.

    Off to do the next right thing…changing into yoga clothes. Who knows, it might even lead me to get out my mat. To practice. And through many practices, too become a better, calmer, more loving person.

    1. “Just do the next right thing.” I really like that. Thanks for sharing it. I struggle with that every day because it’s so hard to choose, but that’s because too many of us try to look too far into the future. Do the right thing for the next moment.

      I am writing everyday, but I don’t know where it leads. I am just doing it right now. I honestly hope it doesn’t lead to your kind of schedule Hugh, but I will not worry about that now, I will just do that next thing.

      Great post, great responses.

  22. I remember all the travel, all the conferences, all the bookstores, all the interviews, all the signings, all the schmoozing, all the staying up until 4am and then getting up at 7 to do panels, all the shaking hands, all the smiling, all the working with legacy publishers, all the stress.

    So I quit. I quit doing appearances. I quit doing interviews. I quit the legacy industry. I quit booksignings, and travelling, and even answering all of my email.

    The result?

    I’m just as stressed out as ever.

    I don’t think it has ever been about fame or wealth with me. It’s been about trying to be the best I can be. Sometimes people notice. Sometimes people don’t. But I notice all the time. So if I don’t push myself hard in one area, I just wind up pushing myself hard in another.

    No one deserves success. I’m a firm believer that luck plays a gigantic role. For every Chris Hemsworth there are a thousand other actors working just as hard.

    What I’m basically saying is, even if you quit your current pace and itinerary, you’re going to wind up going gray from stress anyway, because that’s just how some people are wired. It’s never enough. I went to 500 bookstores in a summer, and it almost broke me. So instead I’m franchizing and starting two businesses, and it’s breaking me again.

    Dreams aren’t unrealistic. Success isn’t unrealistic.

    What is unrealistic are my expectations of myself. Satisfaction isn’t in the cards. I’ve said before; if you want to be happy, become a Buddhist monk and deny all of your needs, hopes, wants, and desires. But I wouldn’t want to hire a bunch of Buddhist monks to build an addition to my house.

    You’ll always have flights of fancy. You’ll never be sane and grounded. I’m saying this to every writer reading this. Things don’t get easier once money and success happens. You have the same stress, but about different stuff. And life won’t get simpler if you decide to slow down, because you’ll find another way to burn yourself out.

    I wrote an article for Writer’s Digest, years ago, about my first book deal. Then I commented on my own piece, after years of experience. It’s long, but I think it’s a worthwhile read for any writer seeking success and wondering if they have what it takes.


    Bottom line: I think we all have what it takes. But maybe we all need to re-evaluate what exactly it is we want.

    And yes: the Big 6 should have paid me to shut up. :)

  23. As for the whole body image thing, no wonder why women are so nucking futs. Back b4 I was publishing, I was known for making any woman, at any age, with any figure look drop dead beautiful. The beauty is already there, minus the chickens. It’s the right pose, light, and shadow and best of all, it wasn’t fake. It was really them. http://www.pinterest.com/hmward3/boudoir-poses-tips-for-glamour-photographers/

    As for publishing, I went nuts trying to figure out how to hit Amazon’s top 100. I tried and tried and failed and failed. I finally hit it and got a NYT bestseller when I gave up and decided to be content with being a midlister. I was just talking about this in my very first podcast. You can make a kickass living, being a midlister, and no one knows your name. That’s freakin awesome and wasn’t an option years ago. It is today.

    I’ve always striven to be the best at what I do, but I’ve been content sitting at the back of the section (cello reference), being a supporting character (acting), and writing b/c I like to create. Being an artist of any kind is awesome. Getting paid for it is extra awesome.

    Anyway, I seem to be mental and do better when I don’t try. :) Be happy with middleness, so says the middle child with severe middle child syndrome. lol.

    And, not for nothing, but Hugh dude, you’re cute w/o eating chickens. :D

  24. Y’know, I’d like to start running, hiking, and biking again. Because I enjoy it. The smaller waist and physical fitness are a nice side-effect, but I’d still do all these things just for pleasure. For me, I decided a long time ago that I’m not willing to go through all the gym work that a 6-pack requires, I just try to keep my keg down to a reasonable size for health’s sake.

  25. Hugh — and Joe, and Holly — I can’t tell you how much your comments reached me. Perfectionism (for what you are talking about is a form of it) is something I have struggled with almost every day since I was a kid. It has severely hurt my fiction output, because I’ve been unwilling to give myself permission to be less than…what? That’s the problem. The standard isn’t measurable. It’s open-ended. You wind up “testing” yourself at the keyboard, against a shimmering mirage.

    Intellectually, I have known all this for a long, long time. Managing it has been the problem. as Joe said, I got lucky — first time out of the gate. That’s a curse. “Am I a one-hit wonder?” “Sophomore slump.” Etc. It’s a relief to admit this in public.

    But I soldier on. Trying to give myself permission simply to write my heart out…rather than write “perfectly.”

    Whatever that is….

  26. Love this, Hugh. Sometime ago I wrote this: Comparison is death to a writer. Don’t look up or down. Look at the page in front of you and nail it.

    Every day I can look at another writer’s career or recent success and get bent. Or I can be grateful for the career I have and keep doing what I do, which is write and try to do it better every time out.

    There’s something tremendously satisfying about that. I refuse to compare myself to others. Twenty years ago, unpublished, if I’d been shown my present career in a crystal ball I would have said Yes! Let me have that! It’s perverse not to be grateful.

    Gratitude is the great secret to happiness. Being content with what you have. You’re unpublished or underselling? Be grateful you have the ability to keep learning. Be grateful for new opportunities in the e-world. Your critique group getting you down? Be grateful for the people in your life who love you. Dogs and cats count, too.

    Off to look for my abs now. I misplaced them thirty years ago. But I’m grateful I don’t type with my tummy.

  27. So you’re a big lover of ‘man boobs’. I always find that peculiar but lots of us have varying ideas of ‘what a man is supposed to look like’. And that is a good thing for the world.

  28. I live in Silicon Valley. It’s a messed-up place to live.
    To keep up with your Apple, Google, and Facebook neighbors here, it’s not enough to merely be “successful.”
    Your success also has to come from doing something cool, sexy, and high-tech. Or it doesn’t count.

    You want to talk about unrealistic expectations?

    I’m describing the Silicon Valley normal here.

    I was a literal rocket scientist at Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon. Did cool-as-shit secret missile stuff and DARPA tech. Then I ran a 35-person software consultancy to Fortune 500 clients. I led an award-winning mobile game studio. Spent a decade as a C-level technology executive in venture-funded startups–most recently a 400-person video game publisher with studios in Europe and Asia.

    And I fucking hated it.

    Not all of it. And not all the time. I liked the people I worked with. I made some great friends.
    I got off on the adrenaline rush of the big moments, like spending a month in Washington D.C. working on a ten-billion-dollar National Missile Defense proposal, or having a $400,000 Silicon Graphics supercomputer as my personal workstation, or negotiating the management buyout of a company, or landing Hewlett Packard as a quarter-million-a-month client, or partnering with Disney/Pixar to do mobile games based on my kids’ favorite movies, or launching social games on Facebook that 4 million people a day were playing. I got off on being the go-to tech wizard who could do a particular kind of tech magic better than anyone else. I liked the endorphin-blast feeling of success. But the price wasn’t worth it. Not to me.

    I fucking hated being on airplanes all the time. I hated the hours spent in meeting after meeting. I hated being away from my family. I hated nearly missing the birth of my first daughter because of a client emergency that meant I had to fly cross-country. I hated the dinnertime strategy calls that lasted hours, night after night, hated stumbling back inside to find a dark house and a sleeping family. I hated the constant stress–hated watching it age my peers.

    So I walked away from it all two years ago and started writing and publishing fiction instead. Adrenaline-charged techno-thrillers, natch. ;)

    Now I’m doing what I always wanted to do. And spending way more quality time with my family.

    I’ve never been happier.

    Life’s short. Don’t let anyone else’s expectations define yours. Figure out what makes you happy. Then do it.

    And if you’re doing something that makes you unhappy — no matter how “successful” it seems to others — then stop.

  29. Welcome to the world of women, Hugh.

    Uh, I mean the impossible pressure to be something you can’t, not the love of that one scene in “Thor”…

    I’m going to have to read this a few times more. The dissatisfaction I feel, with great shame, actually, when I look at others’ careers has to stop. It’s why I took the motto on KBoards of “no F’s to give in 2014.” :)

  30. I love this. Beautiful.

    I live by: Only Compare U2U.

    I can’t know much about anyone else’s life.
    I can’t get away from knowing ALL about mine.

    When I compare me to me I see my changes that are not yet visible to the outside world. I feel progress and appreciate myself because I know I’m growing.

    My compare me to me is based on the things I value rather than standards that society offers for us to live up to.

  31. Burnout is real, and it is easier to avoid it than to heal afterwards. The world won’t stop spinning when you stop running on top of it.

  32. Kenneth Stevens Avatar
    Kenneth Stevens

    No one has pointed out the obvious, namely, that actors aren’t tested for steroid use.

    Today’s beefed-up action heroes aren’t performers, they are science experiments. If you doubt me, compare the physiques of Hollywood tough guys in the Thirties and Forties to what audiences gasp at on the big screen today.

  33. What you wrote touches on the aftermath of discipline which is, the beauty. Chris Helmsworth as Thor is FINE and don’t even get me started on Henry Cavill with his beautiful self who pretty much has to do the same thing for MoS but the take away is, discipline brings beauty.

    Discipline makes your dreams comes true.

    True story.

  34. Sarah DeThunderr Avatar
    Sarah DeThunderr

    I’m just one of the sqwillions of adults around the world dealing with the long term health implications and mental remnants of (and I hate saying the word) anorexia nervosa. Ever since I decided that I did not want to be perfect and instead just sought to be the best me I could be life has improved. I’ve now worked my socks off for two degrees and I also work. I’m not the best in my field, but I work to be good at it. And I like that. I enjoy being a content realist that will still reach to better myself my whole life!

    This blog post is really touching. Thanks for sharing Hugh

  35. I gave up on the six pack years time ago, and accepted my permanent pony keg. My fitness goal is maintaining a view of my toes when I’m in an upright and locked position, and I strive to seek balance in my life by daily repetition of the following affirmations.

    ‘Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,Or what’s a heaven for?’ – Robert Browning

    ‘Life’s much less stressful since I abandoned all hope.’ – Anonymous

    Seriously, great post (as always).

  36. What a thought-provoking post! It is hard for everyone to live up to the ideals that society has created.

    For the dreams part, the trick is to not be attached to the outcome. Being attached to any plan is what causes us pain. So I like to tell myself, “my happiness does not depend on such and such.” :)

  37. I had the same reaction seeing Chris Hemsworth in Thor – yes, the sound my jaw made as it hit the floor echoed through my house (pay per view). It was a definite OMG moment but so was seeing Christian Bale in The Machinst. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club versus Reign of Fire had the same effect on me. The vast transformation that both actors went through was incredible. For someone to have that kind of dedication was impressive and inspiring.

    But – it’s all “smoke and mirrors” as they say. How do they make Tom Cruise look taller than his 5’7″?

    And speaking of Hemsworth – in Snow White & The Huntsman – NONE of the actors who played the dwarfs are really dwarfs but they appear just 3′-4′ tall in the movie. I am not saying Hemsworth isn’t a big guy – he is 6’3″ and IMO the epitome of a human male specimen. Yes, that was and probably still is hard work for him to keep that body looking like that – I think he’d be lying if he said it was easy.

    Halle Berry (breathtaking) – the woman has a baby and in a week she’s got her gorgeous body back – not everyone can do that, i.e., Jessica Simpson.

    I think it is healthy to admire actors for both their talent and looks – even use them as inspiration for physical improvement. But we need to make sure that what we expect of ourselves is realistic and our goals are achievable otherwise we’re all going to be in a world of hurt. Someone has already mentioned eating disorders.

  38. Hugh, there is so much goodness here I don’t even know where to start. I just want to say Thank you for being honest and open. It’s easy to look around and see perfection without ever really seeing the sacrifices. It’s easy to compare and come up short. Balance is the hard part.

  39. I saw Chris Hemsworth on a couple of talk shows promoting the latest Thor movie and he looked totally different. He was on a starvation diet (500 calories a day) in order to get thin enough to play a starving shipwrecked sailor in “The Heart of the Sea.” He described himself as “overtrained and underfed.” He said it made him moody. It would make me homicidal. And when that film is wrapped up, he’s got to start putting all the Thor weight back on. I hope he really loves acting for it’s own sake, not just because he wants to be a movie star, because the physical price he’s paying is outrageous. I’ve never had a day writing, even a really really bad day, that was even remotely close to being that grueling.

    When I decided to pursue my writing dream at age fifty, I worried that I was too old. I let myself be intimidated by all the youngsters publishing their first novels in their twenties. But the farther along I get, the more I realize what an advantage I have being older. I really don’t care anymore what people think about me, and I know myself well enough to be able to shut down all the negative self-talk before it starts. I don’t have the time or energy to be a perfectionist. When I look in the mirror I choose to like what I see, wrinkles and all, because long ago I realized that was the more sane response to aging. That doesn’t mean I don’t take care of myself, but I do it for my health not my appearance.

    We need to figure out what matters to us most. Is it writing? Or is it being a writer? When I focus on writing, I get good results. It’s when I start focusing on “being a writer” that it all goes to hell. For me, the first one is about doing something I love. The second one is about proving something to the world. For me, balance means figuring out what I need to accomplish as a writer so I can afford to keep writing. Everything else is just a distraction.

  40. So true. At least so far, I’ve managed to not look at you and JA Konrath and despair of ever reaching that kind of height. What has kept me balanced is the writing friends who would kill to get to my level. And these are people I look up to as writers. Sure, I’m improving with each release, but why am I having even modest success while they’re languishing near the tip of the long tail? I’m too busy trying to think of a way to pull them up to worry about catching a star.

    Oh, and as far as six-packs go, I think I have one in the fridge.

  41. We indies are often control freaks. What we cannot control, however, is our level of success and how it affects us.

    What could be frightening for me would indeed to have success with my debut novel (or another) and suddenly, become a vehicle and no more the driver of my success (or lack of success).

    As an unknown, I’m a vehicle of my story, and it is driving me. I like that. But being driven by fame and success is another matter entirely.

    Still, I’m striving to make a living with my writing. That would be my kind of success. I’ve blogged about my debut science-fantasy novel, by the way: http://emmanuelguillot.over-blog.com/2014/02/the-breath-of-aoles-released.html

  42. Wonderful piece. I made a decision a long time ago, long enough ago in fact that I still had the majority of my hair. The decision was this; I chose to develop my character and my mind rather than spend hours and hours in the gym to fine-tune a body that would fail one day no matter how hard I worked on it. So I learned to play guitar and bass. I learned to write. I learned to fly an airplane, then a multi-engine airplane, then a seaplane. I had kids and learned how to take care of them, even when I wasn’t in the mood to take care of them. It all turned out to be worth it, too. Even the part about dealing with unruly kids worked out pretty well. Eventually they grow up and become pretty interesting people to hang around with. They even learn to clean up after themselves more or less, or they move out. Either option works.

    So I’m overweight and bald and closer to being dead than being born. I’ve had some great experiences over the years , many of which filled my life with something far more exciting and satisfying than a flat stomach or bulging biceps ever could. At least for me. You’re on own as you flounder around in life trying to decide how much time to put in at the gym and how much to put into everything else you want to do.

    Good luck. I hope you make the right decision, for you anyway.

  43. If I were an actor, I would only hand pick roles like George Clooney in Syriana where he had to gain a million pounds to embody tubby CIA agent Robert Baer.

  44. I’m a late arrival to the Wooliverse, finishing Wool just yesterday. After discovering the Silo phenomenon, I read the reviews and the various interviews. I devoured the Author Earnings report. I scoured everything on Indie publishing and Kindle Worlds. I began to comprehend the world you’ve created for us, as consumers and creators. My mind whirled, struggling to process the seismic shift in publishing. I’d stumbled into the world’s greatest party, somehow happening right under my nose.

    I descended into the Silo inspired, eager to heed the call to individual empowerment, throw off the self-shackled chains and join the uprising. With the grime cleaned from the lens, I saw the world through new eyes. Intimidation and self-doubt were leavened by the inspirational tale of Wool.

    Then I read the book. And the intimidation returned.

    How could I hope to surprise my would-be readers when I couldn’t see the surprises coming in Wool? How could I possibly craft a page-turning plot, hone the tempo to a razor edge and draw compelling characters such as these? I closed the last page with a smile for a journey well-taken (thank you for that), but decidedly unsure about how to attempt such a monumental undertaking. I felt myself steering toward the old course.

    Then I read this post. And the inspiration returned.

    The challenge we face is balancing gratitude for today with hunger for tomorrow. And in any endeavor, the odds always favor failure. I don’t know if I have what it takes to write a book, and I’m anything but certain anyone would ever read it. But you’ve inspired me to find out.

    Your path clearly presents no shortage of compromises. Perhaps the idea that you’ve inspired so many others along their journey will provide you with strength on yours.

  45. Thanks Hugh I needed that !! :-o

  46. I’m going to look like Thor by the end of this summer! I lost 80 lbs last year and this year I’m going to look like an underwear model. Thats just the reality of it. I refuse to accept the possibility of it not happening because that is what I’ve decided I’m going to do, come hell or high water, and its going to feel awesome when I get there.

    So often the difference between success and failure is simple determination and the balls to just go for it and do what it takes everyday. I remember reading about Hugh waking up super early to write, writing on his lunch breaks, writing after work. He figured out something he cared about enough to accomplish and was bound and determined to do it. Look what happened.

    Don’t start a long journey with a wishy washy attitude. Figure out where you really want to end up, and start moving. If you give it everything you’ve got, whatever happens will feel like a victory and will make you a better person for it. Just believe in yourself and do what it takes every single day!


  47. Everyone doesn’t go for the extreme muscle guy. It’s a fact some find it unattractive. From a practical sense unless your mate’s business card reads ‘barbarian at the gate’ it makes no sense to devote hours per day to the gym. Strength training is fine, being fit is fine. Actually running and weight lifting often add up to Michelangelo’s David look and that’s OK. I’m sure it’s a pain for the actor. We are lucky to write because we can create alternative worlds without steroids, protein shakes and endless revisions to our appearance.

    As always a provocative post. Thanks.

  48. And just what does society have against chest hair? I’m always a little sorry to see one of these wax jobs. Yes, he looks good, but he’d look even better with some natural man-fuzz.

  49. This post immediately made me think of the only fortune cookie I’ve saved, taped to my mirror:

  50. […] 3, 2014 Robert Leave a comment Cool post the other day from Hugh Howey commenting on an NYT piece about actors aspiring to be action […]

  51. […] Let’s Be Unrealistic | Hugh Howey […]

  52. […]  Why?  Why do we even go there?  So, Jamie is Chris Hemsworth hot.  And that’s so hot straight guys lose their breath for him. Maybe Jamie is the Chris Hemsworth of the Highlands?  Is that what […]

  53. Somehow I didn’t read this one to the end until now. Today was the day I needed to read it.

    Thanks, Hugh, for sharing your always-wise perspective.


  54. Mr. Howey, I’ve never read any of your fiction. My familiarity with you is that I’ve heard one interview and read a few of your blogs.

    That being said, I wanted to thank you very much for improving my life with these words. I’m sure I will be back for more.

  55. Love it. I have already been searching for like this specific. Great information My business is back to learn more in terms of Fluid Diet program.

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