Jack Jones is a video game-loving Asian bodybuilder. His YouTube channel, The Healthy Gamer, combines those passions in motivational videos packed with workouts, nutrition advice, and inspirational messages designed to get gamer-types to level up their lives.
Considering his unique brand, I was surprised when he announced plans to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
The first time I met Jack I was living in Columbia, Missouri. I could tell he lifted weights, but I didn’t realize the height of his physical condition until I saw his videos on YouTube (here’s an intermediate routine where he’s wearing Kippo shorts). We soon became friends and gathered with a group to share ideas about business and life. It was during our get-togethers at Panera Bread I started seeing Jack’s soulful side; the part that struggled with purpose. He seemed to be on a torturous search for meaning. It was like he placed his life under a magnifying glass of philosophical scrutiny and mostly found flaws.
To the outside observer, it seemed preposterous that Jack would have such significant struggles. He is smart, kind, and always seemed to have a smile on his face. But like many others, myself included, he hid his crisis and buried his pain, and was probably hard on himself for allowing his emotions to take such a negative turn. After all, he would probably say to himself, wasn’t he blessed to be in good health, to have a strong mind, and to be living in a country where there are opportunities abound?
Even if he felt self-absorbed and guilty, the pain was real. Bodybuilding became a vehicle for dealing with depression. Flipping through self-help books and aching for answers was another distraction from getting down to business and facing the fear. I could see Jack’s pain. I related to his longing for direction. Just a nudge would be nice, anything to show the way. Our paths were so different, but eerily the same.
At first, it surprised me. Why would Jack tackle such a long journey? But as I reflected on our friendship, I understood.
Jack is trekking the Appalachian Trail not to find himself. He is hiking the Appalachian Trail to become best version of Jack Jones. On the trail, tiptoeing behind bear tracks and capturing misty morning Instagram pictures that blossom only for those willing to step into the wild, my friend Jack is finally Jack. No longer does he deny the essence of his being. He’s becoming the person who, in his soul, he knew he was supposed to be.
Many men (and women) are anxious for an answer to life’s big questions. Like the old Jack, they keep coming up empty handed. The self-help section isn’t screaming an apparent answer and the treadmill keeps delivering the same monotonous view.
Jack may have realized the flaw in his thinking and cracked the mystery of meaning. The more I chase my own philosophical rabbit trails the more Jack’s journey makes sense. Action is the answer. You get from life what you ask of it, so you better be specific. You must tell yourself it’s possible and put together a plan. You better ask for help from friends and give it a real shot and not let regret become the hallmark of your existence.
Jack wanted something only a journey reveals. Like most of us, he wanted a challenge and couldn’t find it inside the gym or a book. He wanted to face himself—alone, without a safety net—and know he could overcome his greatest enemy and work together with his most important ally. Himself.
Humans don’t only want to be happy. We want to face a challenge, become absorbed in moments, and grow through those experiences.
Like all journeys, The Healthy Gamer’s time on the trail will end. When he hits that final marker in Maine and completes the game, Jack will leave this part of his journey and return to normal life. That can be scary. When closing the medicine cabinet, the mirror may catch his eyes. Will they sparkle, knowing he did what made him feel alive? Will he be proud of the person staring back? Or will nostalgia for the trail, for the past and its people, for what it made Jack feel, overshadow the return?
Fear is not a reason to never begin. Jack overcame his demons and he will be forever blessed. I am proud of you, Jack. You have inspired others with your courage and I know when the medicine cabinet snaps shut, and you stare into your soul, you’ll see the man you were meant to be.