Sure, we are all humans, we share a common biology and psychology – but personalities are also pretty different and conditions rather unique. So, just as I’d rather not watch TV anymore but live my own life (as much as  TV series may be the myths of the modern world), I’d rather live my own life than learn about other’s. Hence, no biographies. Then again, one can learn from other’s stories.

Finding Ultra banner imageAs for Rich Roll‘s story, as described in Finding Ultra…it truly had me hooked.

His being an Ultraman triathlete with a family and a career sounded good enough, accomplishing what he does on a vegan diet made it all the more interesting – but then, there’s his (earlier) life story of an all-American career.

At college, he may have looked either like one of those athletic types  who are admired and get good-enough grades to boot, or like one of those binge drinking students of many a Spring break horror story. Alcohol was the solution to shyness and social ostracism that had plagued the high school years.

Sports fell aside as the career got started – and the career was one that, again, may have looked good from the outside, but was really just coasting along on as little work as possible, in the legal profession stumbled into because of family background and the desire to not be adrift completely. As good as it may have looked, it was fueled by booze.

Maybe even more telling is the story that’s really the nadir of Roll’s tale: Getting into rehab took long enough, things luckily fell into place both professionally and personally afterwards… and that seems exactly the point, where most people get hung up on how life is as it goes, and goes well: wife, kids, house, job paying enough and even fun, relaxation in front of the TV with junk food, and the bulging belly that just comes naturally with success and normal life.

What fascinates me so much is that this story truly could have gone on just as Rich imagined it, winded just getting up a few stairs: on to a heart attack, maybe or maybe not living to see his daughter’s wedding (Hey, modern medicine is a miracle, right? Right?!?) – and it would just be a prototypical story of a life that was well-enough lived.

Most go for the easy solution: If you get afraid you haven’t done quite enough, let alone meaningful enough, with your life, just get over that midlife crisis the usual way. Get a fancy sports car, or start going to the gym and complaining that there’s neither enough time to get trim, nor enough success to really make it worth the time spent there. There’s still a bigger house to get, greater vacations to go on – or maybe a personal trainer. Or a younger wife or lover.

Even Rich’s transformation to triathlete seems not all that unusual. Many a person manages an active lifestyle from the get-go, or a change to more activity.

In the case of Rich Roll, though, the shift was one to an active lifestyle as well as  to a different food lifestyle, not just more sports making it possible to go on as before when it comes to eating, and life.

He does not escape getting political (but the issue of what we eat is a highly political one), nor somewhat preachy, but he also gets into his own misgivings about the preachy and political character of many a vegan lifestyle . In the process, even as chapter 7 (which is explicitly on his “PlantPowered” diet) reads more like a manifesto and is a rock in the stream of the story’s flow, Rich’s story is not just a captivating read about a life that was meandering between success and drunken stupor, but also a life – and not to forget, a physique – changed by knowing something of his own psychology (going all out or doing nothing, but having become willing to listen to a coach’s advice and to seek it out; needing a goal to stay on track…) and experimenting with diet to find ways of eating that are better for the future that he seeks.

In that change, and with the shift to Ultraman greatness that came with it, his example is a good one to tumble the common perception that you can, once you are invested in a certain life path, never really change things.

As much as one could argue that he had a good foundation in sports from his youth, or even that the fixation on diet and sports is still very self-indulgent, the way he jumped into change and experimented with his lifestyle holds lessons each and every one of us, huffing and puffing along a certain life path, ingesting “food” just as we have been taught to, could very much profit from using ourselves.