by James Toland
Every single time I get on an airplane to travel for one of my freelance jobs, I repeat the quote, “with no risk, there is no reward,” in my mind. This has driven me to push myself to try new things in a dozen different ways in the past couple of years.
My people (mostly rural folk of west-central Illinois, prone to being born, working and dying in the same town their whole lives) are not among those who “put themselves out there” in any sense of the phrase. I was blessed with two hard working parents who never let me quit and encouraged me every step of the way as I was finding my way through my adolescence and into college.
Despite all that, I grew up as . . . well . . . a wuss. Not only physically inferior to my classmates and fellow athletes, but a bit anxiety ridden as well. Part of this was learned behaviors. My mom was so afraid of flying I became convinced that if I sat on an plane, it would explode as soon as it left the Earth. Because of this, I didn’t take a flight until I had graduated from college and needed to attend my friend’s wedding on the east coast.
Ok, let’s jump back on topic. The point being that I never grew up around visionaries or risk takers. So much so that some of the things I have experienced in the past year even astonish me.
But throughout this journey, I always assure myself that there is, in fact, a method to my madness.
• • •
It started on an unseasonably warm March afternoon. I had heard of CrossFit from my brother-in-law who sent me an email which simply explained that one of their gyms had opened in my town and that I should go check it out. I did. It was difficult. I was given the option of coming back the following week and trying it out for free. It did. It was more difficult. But I loved it.
That was 2010. 5 ½ years later, that risk has lead to more rewards than I could have ever imagined.
In December of 2012, because I had been doing CrossFit training, when a Facebook post about “looking for writers and media personnel for the CrossFit Games Open and Regionals” appeared on my social media newsfeed, I decided to take a chance apply. They gave me a shot. I gave it my best. They loved it and I spent 3 years writing for the CrossFit Games website.
At the conclusion of my first year, I wanted to do more writing. So I took a chance, built a resume/portfolio of all the articles I had published and sent it to every publication I could think of that was related to CrossFit or Fitness. One responded, The Box Magazine, my favorite magazine related to CrossFit. They hired me on the spot and I’ve been working for them ever since.
During the spring of 2013, I was invited to go to the local Regional competition in Chicago. The issue was that they only had room for one paid writer. My boss (see: Editor) presented me with two options: work as an unpaid volunteer and collect athlete interviews for the head writer or work a paid position in the video production tent as an “expert” and provide athlete info and statistical analysis for the director, producer and broadcast team. Now I had NO idea how to do anything except write about CrossFit. But I took that risk (and the money) and embarked on my first experience in sports television broadcasting.
I guess did a good enough job, because I didn’t get yelled at . . . much. Additionally, I was able to become friends with all the professionals, with whom I kept in touch with over the next year. When a spot opened up in the summer of 2014 to do more broadcast work with this group, they contacted me to help at the CrossFit Games in Los Angeles. Part of the deal would be traveling to LA by myself (which I had never done before) and working for 8 days on the broadcast for ESPN working a job which I barely had any experience doing.
But they convinced me I could do it and I talked myself into taking this risk. The reward was that I did so well I got invited to work all the Regionals for 2015 which included travel to Atlanta, Harford and even Copenhagen, Denmark. In addition, I went back and worked the 2015 CrossFit Games in Los Angeles for a second time.
None of this would have happened if I wasn’t able to push past my fears and take some chances. Opportunities present themselves in all different ways and there’s no easy answer or road most traveled that will let you get better without putting in the work and often going outside your comfort zone.
All I know is this, if you stay true to yourself and understand both your method and your madness, the world will open itself up in ways you never imagined.