by Ryan B. Jackson, Ed.D
I’ve talked before about my decision to stop drinking alcohol. This New Year’s Eve marked four years sober. My biological father died well over a year ago, end result of a hard-living life. He and I had been estranged five years before he finally met his grandson (relationships first to go with substance abusers) and at that point in my life I was over two years sober. I had never outright called myself an alcoholic but his premature death coupled with my own struggles with excess left me forced to face facts. Thankfully, by the time my father died and grief left me temporarily toiling over the inescapable idea that I was more than likely genetically hardwired to follow suit, I had already read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I eventually detached from grief-stricken logical fallacies because I understood and accepted Frankl’s concentration camp-tested claim that man’s greatest innate ability is undoubtedly his power to choose.
So I chose sobriety and with it the blank canvas of re-starting my physical, mental and emotional health journey. My very next move was seemingly trivial and by all accounts superficial but the effects and catalyst-like impact on my life have been game-changing. I was in the early stages of my doctoral program so I had “free” access to the university’s gym. I set an immediate goal of losing beer-belly fat so began the extremely humbling process of hitting the gym three times a week.
What I found out soon after those embarrassingly painful first gym visits, however, was an almost instant improvement in my entire physiology. Ever the skeptic, I just couldn’t deny I was feeling, looking, sleeping, even thinking better!
It was upon this realization that the Fit Leaders ideology was born.
Never a big fan of self-help or motivational gurus but Tony Robbins’ mantra “Progress equals happiness” rang true after every session spent bettering myself in the gym. If life is our constant physical battle against gravity – literally keeping ourselves off the ground – then each session in the gym for me equated to grabbing the very next rung on the ladder of life. Now at this point in my professional career I’m transitioning from teacher to administrator in one of Nashville, TN’s toughest high schools. Maplewood High School, where I started my education career, is the stuff of legend: high discipline, high poverty, gang violence, low student achievement, etc. It was Dangerous Minds but real life. In the 80s a teacher was shot, mid 00s a murder at our graduation ceremony, pick a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching scenario we had it.
Now I was being asked and, ultimately, asking myself to lead others in this pressure-cooker of a high school. So my choice to abandon alcohol, consume more water, and force myself into the gym couldn’t have come at a better time. My job performance blossomed because I had more energy. My ability to influence increased because I could think better. It became crystal clear the correlation between personal and professional health, as I got physically stronger so did my job performance. As I looked and felt better, my interpersonal skills and relationship-building skyrocketed. This health-job correlation helped me turnaround a struggling inner-city high school, helping raise both ACT scores and graduation rate in the process.
I felt and thought better which meant I was able to pour into my passions even stronger.
I love art and believe it breathes life into the soul of a school, which led to me infusing art into our STEM curriculum – which attracted the attention of a nearby school system looking for an innovative school leader willing to embed Art across curriculums and create the nation’s first PK-14 STEAM campus. [Side Note: I’m now the Executive Lead Principal of the Mount Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone, the United State’s first PK-14 STEAM campus]
As my career and energy-level steamrolled, I took to twitter and Instagram to share and connect with other thought and fitness leaders. I was bitten by the Abraham Maslow bug, eager to belong to a tribe of NewAge leaders who were ready to change the world by leading the millennial generation towards a healthier, purposeful life. Through this process a hashtag was born: #FitLeaders serves as a beacon, a categorical calling card that attracts, connects and bonds all those wanting, willing and striving for a better life. The Fit Leaders movement now reaches coast-to-coast, from Marilyn McAlister in Southern California to Sean Thom near the shores of New Jersey. With a growing presence stretching across the United States, the Fit Leaders vision has crystalized, formed by a collective of passionate leaders.
Fit Leaders is a lifestyle brand striving to sustain high-quality, innovative leadership across all industries in an ever-changing world. Our mission is to empower all those wanting a better, healthier life for the sake of both ourselves and the industries we serve. We understand that progress equals happiness and that even small, daily advances of momentum can result in life-changing good. Lastly, we commit to leading ourselves so that we can be rock stars at leading others.