If health is wealth, I work for the 1%. At Clif Bar & Company I fine-tune down dogs, tenderize IT bands, and lead rounds of kettlebell swings. Sweaty, barefoot, and with Eminem on the stereo, it’s a dream job. Starting with a weekly class, I carved out the niche role of In-House Yogi. Alongside two full-time trainers, I’m in a cadre of part-time, contract practitioners (a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, life coaches, massage therapists, nutrition consultants, and various group exercise instructors) who serve the 300+ employees.
While the country debates dis-ease profiteering (a.k.a. “health care”) Clif folks chat in spin class about cycling through the Dolomites. Employees take breaks for Zumba, rock-climbing with buddies, or to get a back massage. The company goes beyond health insurance and subsidizes health assurance. Benefits also include onsite haircuts, a childcare center, and pork belly ramen in the café. To be clear, Clif employees work very hard, but two paid months of rock climbing, hiking, and biking seems like the epitome of prosperity to me.
Rehashing the Clif Bar PR usually sparks questions about how to get a gig at this California capitalist utopia. (Hint: Excel proficiency matters as much as your ability pitch a tent.) Besides, landing a job at Clif doesn’t automatically make you a triathlete.
I’ll be honest: I see the double-edged sword of privilege everyday. With chefs, athletes, musicians, and MBAs, we have copious talent, creativity, and drive on the payroll.
But there’s also plenty of whining. In the middle of the empty gym, surrounded by equipment, and with my undivided attention, I hear arguments for deficiencies. My arms are too long for the Turkish Get-up. The class is at the wrong time for my schedule. I don’t have the time. It’s so seductive to orient towards limitation, scarcity, and being a victim. Privilege breeds entitlement and entitlement is a form of denial.
Gratitude airlifts us out of Whinyville. When we acknowledge how damn lucky we are, we face our self-limiting crap. With cheerleading, handholding, and expertise, Clif subsidizes a preventive care safety net that most Americans lack. Poverty arrives as a bag of fast food dripping with financial stress and little access to education. I respect those real barriers. Being broke, broken, and burn out, life’s speed bumps become roadblocks.
But money alone can’t buy health. Until we figure out how to outsource selfcare, we all still have to show up. For both health and happiness we need that kinda-sucky, kinda-awesome practice of conscious change. We’ll recognize it when we’d rather whine but go for it anyway. Fulfillment and wellbeing can’t be spoon-fed. The healthiest folks at Clif are the ones that say thanks, take advantage of what’s given, and run with it. Literally, they go out for a run.
During my last six years, I’ve observed this nexus of sustainable health and privilege. Some thoughts:
- Self-care takes a village. Our small, consistent rituals are infinitely easier in a community that values health.
- Fitness is a small component of well-being. Athleticism can easily be confused for good health. Eventually we realize that no one is immune to aging and even elite competitors are forced to see the bigger picture.
- Movement medicine is equal parts therapy and butt-kicking. After a pummeling weekend, dinged-up athletes need bodywork. More sedentary types can use a dose of physical labor i.e.: weight lifting.
- Even with dutiful stretching, sweating, and vegetable eating, health is never guaranteed. No one is bulletproof. Virtuous habits just make the party more likely to last.
- Excess can deplete our resilience and resourcefulness. I never use about 80% of the gym equipment. I rely on a few therapeutic tools, some weights, & solid playlists. I wonder if we’d end up in better shape locked in a prison cell and left alone with our wits. (For the record, I don’t want to actually try that experiment.)
- “Project Healthy Me” is the quintessential first world problem. Surviving our excess requires discipline, especially curbing narcissism and vanity.
After a workday of mobilizing hips, cueing lateral breathing, and downing green tea I leave this citadel. My hardest (and unpaid) work begins when I sit down to write. I corral my epiphanies into recognizable grammar and attempt to communicate beyond the Clif Bar echo chamber. When I get whiney I remind myself that it’s a privilege to be right where I am.