“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
(The Bhagavad Gita)
When we launched our Something Significant interview series, our goal was to share stories about the pursuit of significance from real men and women who have done great things in the world. We believe significance is a foundation of health and a key to overall happiness, and the pursuit of significance is what gives life meaning, focus, and purpose.
This is our 14th interview in the series and the final one for 2015. I cannot think of a better way to wrap up the year than sharing this honest and thought-provoking interview with Keith Norris.
Keith is an owner and co-founder of Paleo f(x), the largest Paleo symposium in the world. He is also an internationally regarded strength & conditioning specialist, coach and trainer who, with his business partner Mark Alexander, has molded the Austin-based Efficient Exercise into one of the most highly regarded fitness entities in the nation. Additionally, Keith is a collaborative partner on team ARXFit, which offers a proprietary training equipment that delivers perfectly matched resistance 100% of the time. (Check out this video of Matt trying to “master” the ARXFit machine at last year’s Paleo (fx) conference!)
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got where you are today?
I am a lifelong athlete who had to train hard and smart to compete against athletes who were more naturally gifted. This led to a manic pursuit, from an early age, of “how to get better.” And nothing was off the table — diet, training, lifestyle issues, mindset — I looked for ways to optimize them all. This ideal of constant self-betterment continued beyond my formal competitive years, into and through military and corporate careers. And it continues even now, in my second life as an entrepreneur.
How has significance played a role in your journey?
Significance has been my north star in every major pursuit I’ve ever undertaken. To truly immerse myself in a project means there better be a greater good as the ultimate goal. And for me that greater good is to serve others, to make their lives healthier so that they may have the strength and vigor to pursue dreams and help others as well. If you look at my entrepreneurial endeavors, you’ll see a common thread: leveraging my skill set — coaching health and wellness, being a connector and networker, talent identification — as the underpinning of my business pursuits. And I know all too well what it’s like to be on the other end, when the significance fades. This is what ultimately led me to leave Corporate America (and a cushy, Big Pharma gig) to impact people’s lives in the ways I knew would ultimately have greater and more lasting impact.
Was there a specific moment or situation when you became aware of those things that are most significant to you?
For me, this realization has been a constant unfolding over my entire life, punctuated by the one stand-alone moment I can recall: the loss of my daughter in an auto accident. But mostly, the realizations have come by way of continual course correction.
Early on, there were major trajectory shifts: the decision to choose excellence over simply “mailing it in,” the pursuit of personal growth and the long-term view over immediate monetary gain, the choice to use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) or not.
Now those course corrections are more finely tuned — akin to really dialing-in the frequency for crystal clarity vs. just scanning the spectrum to find the general location of the station. And now, with that rather weak, AM/FM radio metaphor, I’ve just shown my age, haha.
What obstacles have you faced in your pursuit of significance? How did you overcome them?
Wow, where to even begin. The truth of the matter is that there will always be obstacles. The world operates on mediocrity and expects you to follow that dictate. Every thought leader in every category imaginable has had to overcome this dumbing-down effect. Don’t rock the boat, don’t cause a ruckus, and for God’s sake, don’t draw attention to those of us who just want the easy glide.
My wife Michelle and I took the entrepreneurial plunge at the absolute bottom of the last financial crisis, a year after losing our daughter, Brittani, in an auto accident. Well-meaning friends and family thought we’d gone entirely nuts. Give up those gravy-train corporate gigs for a wing and a prayer? The first two years of Paleo f(x), though a significant outward success for the Paleo community, were a financial debacle for us. Bankruptcy loomed. We had to create a business model from scratch at a time when “smart business” said that the public wanted anything but a live event, and that the return on investment would never materialize.
How did we overcome? We truly believed in the significance of what we were doing and that the worth of the Paleo f(x) product was far greater than any financial return could dictate.
What is one thing you wish you knew 10 years ago?
That the quickest route to getting what I want is to help other like-minded individuals achieve what they want. Changing the world as a cohesive network of powerful individuals is, in fact, not only doable, but unstoppable. This is the bedrock of what Paleo f(x) is all about.
What is one hope you have for the next 10 years?
That people realize, and act upon the realization, that they control the destiny of their own health. Not doctors, not the government, nobody has as much influence upon their health as they do themselves. Changing the course of one individual’s health can change the course of the world for the better. I want people to realize that potential world-changing dreams cannot flower in a poorly managed plot, and that managing that plot is really not that difficult.
Are there any books or resources you would like to recommend to our readers?
This is tough, as I am an avid reader. But being someone who has been into self-betterment my entire life and someone who has an affinity for Eastern thought, I can’t recommend enough the Tao te Ching and Book of Five Rings. There is a whole world of “commentary” books on these two as well; you’ll find a plethora of Alan Watts’s material on my bookshelves. The Bible and Bhagavad Gita offer insight into “other” as well, and each cover “blind spots” not adequately reconciled by the other two.
Also, I feel that fiction, because it allows for liberal use of metaphor and analogy, is a venue that can best express our reality, or at least what is possible in this reality. Anything by Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses, et.al) is my go-to.
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