The  problem with life is, it’s dirty. Dishonourable. It’ll come out of nowhere, and it doesn’t care about the rules. Vicious, like it’s trying to put you in the ground and cover its tracks. Low blows, stabs in the back, these are everyday things. When you’re down, it’ll kick you, and again, in the head, for fun. The problem with life is, you know it’s coming for you, but you can’t get out the way and you never think you deserve it. Life knocks you down and the world counts you out and you wonder, why me.

Before joining Men’s Health, I’d been at my last job almost two years before I realised I was really unhappy. Before I realised everyone around me was really unhappy too. One day, depressed, I said to my wife, what do I want? One of two things: to move to Men’s Health, or to take on a new career. I’m not sure why, but those were the only two things I could think of that would help me get out of my head, moving somewhere new, doing something new and fun and exciting and interesting and awesome.

Then I got retrenched, and for some reason it felt really, really shit. The problem with life is, you can only see it from where you are. When you’re unhappy, depressed, locked in a pity party of doubt and debt and despair, all you can see is what you have: problems. Like the fog of a thousand fists coming at your head, like a shadow you can’t shake. Problems crowd out the good things, until you can’t see a way out, until you can’t see what you have or who you are.

Before joining Men’s Health, I didn’t know what I wanted. Maybe I allowed myself to get too ground down by the deadlines, too burnt out by a broken system, but before long I couldn’t see the woods or the trees or anything beyond the things I had to now, now, now. I gave myself to my job, and it almost killed me. Maybe it was the experience of working on a cursed ship, surrounded by cynical sycophants, but I was a stressed-out, sour-faced asshole before I even knew it. Then I got retrenched, and I should have thanked my lucky stars.

Opportunities are everywhere. It takes some work to see them, past all your problems, but they’re there. Somewhere beyond the fog of a tired brain and a tired body and a tired broken heart, there is room to move and think and be. You just have to believe in it. The pain of a million issues in your head is real – it hurts like hell to drown in the idea that you’re stuck fast and sinking faster – but past that pain lie a million second chances. You just have to look for them. Like so many stars, opportunities are everywhere. Far away, but always there.

Men’s Health is good for you. Like a visit to your doctor, this magazine can sort out your life. The MH Staff Challenge is many of the best things about this magazine, rolled into one. Like quality time with good mates, like an honest chat with your wife: you need it. Like an overdue call to your mom: it’s not always fun. But it’ll open your eyes. If nothing else, it’ll show you how closed your eyes have been. I’ve given myself over to this job, hoping it’ll go better than the last one. To this challenge, hoping it won’t kill me.

In boxing training last Saturday, Clever beat me up. Imagine a whirlwind of pitter-patter pain. He puts his gloves on, punches my fist. Says, let’s go. First punch, my head snaps back, second one, he gets my nose. Eyes watering, mind reeling, I forget everything. All my training goes out the window. Leaning back, I’m asking to get hit. Eyes closed, I duck into punches. Clever comes at me like a hurricane of hurt, catching my chin, my ribs, shoulders, stomach. Clever hits me and I can’t get out the way and I wonder, why me.

Getting punched in the face is good for you. It’s not fun, but you need it. It’ll wake you up, or at least make you realise you were asleep. And it’ll teach you, quickly, what it means to stay awake, eyes wide and on your toes, ready for the punches. Ready for life, and all it’s dirty tricks. When Clever comes for me and I move away, he likes to say, where are you going? You can’t get away. This ring, it’s too small to run. When Clever moves towards me and I throw a weak half-hearted jab, he likes to say, what are you doing? Hit me. Hit me now.

This is what improvement looks like, in boxing terms: when you take on your shadow and win.

A lot of boxing training is just dancing. From one foot to another, watching the mirror, bobbing and weaving and stepping and moving and throwing jabs, jabs, jabs, at yourself, at no one. A lot of boxing training is knowing that your opponent isn’t that guy waiting in the ring – it’s you. Your problems, like the fact you can’t keep your foot on the ground, stable and strong where it belongs. Like the fact your arms keep dropping. Your issues, like the fact you’ve never hit anyone in your life, but you sure as hell know how it feels to get hurt.

This is what learning looks like, at The Armoury. When you know the punches are coming, when you know how it feels to get hurt and keep going. To know you’re not dead, not finished, not scared. Boxing against the guy in the mirror, boxing against Clever, it’s the same thing. Clever hits me so many times because I don’t move smoothly enough, quickly enough. He hits me to teach me how to keep my arms up, back bent, legs straight. So all of his punches don’t knock me over. So I can move, move, move, and hit him back.

He hits me because I don’t move past taking the punches into throwing my own. Opportunities are everywhere. In being retrenched; in being dared to enter the MH Staff Challenge. In walking into The Armoury, skinny legs and all; in these endless push-ups. In this ring, in getting hit, over and over. These are second chances that look like endless setbacks. These are punches that aren’t problems at all: these are possibilities. Clever hits me until I know who I am and what I have. Until I move past my problems to know what I want.

My shadow knows me. It knows what I do under stress, how I get ground down and knocked out. Facing up to my shadow, facing up to Clever, it’s the same thing. Getting punched in the face is good for you. Just one punch, just like that, you’re paying attention. To your feet, your fists, your head. To where you are, what you’re looking for, and how to get it. You’re aware, in all new ways, to your problems. All the things you do badly. All the things you could do, to be better, feel better. All the chances you have to save yourself.

When Clever reaches forward to hit me in the head, he wants me to see that it hurts. And to understand, too, that I’m still alive. More awake, if anything, to the opportunity he’s presenting. When Clever reaches forward to hit me, he leaves his chest exposed. His ribs, open and waiting, if I look for them. Even his chin, at this point, is a target. Far away, but there. It’s not about the pouring rain of pitter-patter punches, it’s about how I respond to them. Reeling, I’m in no shape to see them coming. Eyes closed, I’m in no place to hit back.

The main problem with life is, it’ll keep coming for you, from all angles, like a tornado trying to take you out. Like a poisonous shadow that knows all your weak spots. Each punch to the gut, every uppercut to the chin, is a new opportunity, if you believe in it. If you know where the punch is coming from and you know you can take it and you know how to move around it and hit back. If you look for life’s problems, eyes open, fists up, they stop looking like problems and more like opportunities: to change, to move forward and fight back.

Knowing these things, now, is new. Before joining Men’s Health, I didn’t know how to step forward into a punch, move around a problem, calm and steady, like I’m bulletproof, like a bomb. All of this is new. All of this is helping me know who I am and what I have.

Men’s Health is good for you. It’s good for me. Boxing training will change your life, if you let it. It’s changing mine.

Photo by Safouane Ben Slama via Flickr