February 04, 2018

Never give up

Two years ago, when I was probably at the lowest point in my life due to my back injury a friend of mine, Alex Voloza, asked me to answer a few questions for his project about motivation. He was probably hoping to get a lot of positive answers to questions like how to be and stay motivated and just overall long-term dedication, but I was very sad at that time and couldn't give him answers like that even if I tried. 

I was in a situation where I wasn't able to walk for 4 months, immobilized in bed, it was winter, I was home alone most of the time and all I did was think about everything I had learned about my life to that point. 

To give you some background on the injury, I was suffering from chronic back pain for about 10 years. I was gradually giving up on more and more of my activities that were bringing me so much joy, to one day when I completely tore my intervertebral ligaments and couldn't walk without excruciating pain. Doctors were sending me to invasive surgeries resulting in a very decreased quality of life and an almost certain inability to do sports later. Furthermore, the outcome of these surgeries was questionable and I wanted to take my time to make the decision. 

I know that there are things that are much worse in life. People die in wars, entire families and nations suffer, I didn't think I was special in any way. I was just very sad that my life space was getting narrower and narrower by eliminating things I loved doing and I was suddenly confined to a bed and four walls with no change for the better in sight. To me and my mind at that time, I really felt like my life was over. 

If I look at the interview now, it doesn't seem that depressing, but knowing how much I usually enjoy my life and love to laugh, this was indeed in a very sad place.

Interestingly enough, the picture above was taken just about a year after this interview. Time passed in my lethargy and one day I just decided to grit my teeth one last time, and gradually cured my back on my own. I got back to fitness training and even though my back will probably never be in the same condition it was before, I'm back:)

If you're asking why I would share an interview like this, it's simple. It might look negative, but for me personally it has a very positive message. At the time of the interview, I was convinced that my health was gone and would never be back. I was equally lost in my mind and values, lost with no outlook for things to get better, yet they did.

This is just my story and an insight into the mindset I had when I thought everything was over. At the time of the interview, I would bet all of my money on the fact that I would never walk again, yet I did. It's never over until it's over:)

(Since a lot of people asked and will ask me again, if you would like to learn more about my fitness routine, a year ago I made a podcast recording rambling on about how I work out and what I eat for about 30 minutes:) You can listen to it here and if you'd like to show some love to my friend Alex who made the interview and told me it was depressing as f*ck, which was probably one of the first sparks telling me to not give up, you can check out his web page here: alexvoloza.com)

Have you always wanted to do challenging things and set ambitious goals? Why not settle for normal?

I don’t know. It’s the Alpha male thing I guess..

Do you think you are very talented, physically/mentally? Where do you think your strengths are that help you succeed in things you are good at?

I think I’m more intelligent and physically predisposed than the average, but you know better than me that there are thousands of people like that, so I definitely don’t think I’m special. You know I am super critical of myself and set myself high goals so if I don’t, for instance, win the world championships in gymnastics 6 times in a row by a huge margin and it isn’t considered the greatest achievement in history up until that point and far into the future, I don’t think it was a successful moment and I think it’s something anyone could do. So..I see my small successes as only me being able to invest the necessary time and willpower into something at that particular moment, which is something anyone else could do, but for some reason they didn’t. From this point of view, I don’t think I’m special at all. This attitude is retarded, because I am never or extremely rarely happy with my results. Strengths…I can’t even think of any. I’m stubborn as hell and that doesn’t help at all. The only thing that even with my super critical mind I see as being really above average is that I’m balanced physically and mentally with pretty ok results in both.

Especially with youtube and internet in general, where you can see thousands of amazing achievements every day, seeing others excel is something very humbling. It’s like the entire world turned into a battleground for all these alpha-males to fight for and we’ve been brainwashed and all played along:) If you think about it there is really no point in challenging yourself to do all these crazy things or a conscious decision to do so that could be justified by a reasonable argument. It has to be some sort of a genetical predisposition or something like that. I mean, I personally don’t take my time to consciously think about what next thing I want to spend my every moment developing to excellence and beating everyone along the way for the next 10 years.

What do you think are the most important qualities that are necessary to become a polyglot? What do you think are the most important qualities that are necessary to develop extraordinary physique?

To be a polyglot, I think you need to be genetically predisposed. I’ve been thinking about this and I don’t think this is something anyone can do. Notice that people who say that ‘anyone can do it’ are usually selling something. I can’t imagine climbing like Chris Sharma or swimming like Mike Phelps, because I’m just not built for that.

To name the qualities that one needs to have, I would say: good memory, good ability to imitate, have a good hearing, be good at guessing patterns and have a feel/touch for a language. These all seem to be genetically conditioned. The only thing I can think of that is not is consistency, but that might be rooted in willpower and that, as I wrote earlier, might also go back to genetics.. so I don’t know.
For a good physique, I think you need good genetics, a reasonable diet, have a good technique when you exercise, reasonable cardio and consistency. So somehow.. it all goes back to genetics too. But I’m no expert and only say this based on my own experience, so I might very well be wrong.

What do your typical days look like? Do you have any routine that helps you?

Before my back injury, I would wake up between 5:30-6:00 am, drink a glass of water, have a full body gymnastics warm up and do my back exercises. I then eat breakfast and protein I do my usual daily stuff and then I do the first half of my workouts until I think I’m bored or tired. Later during the day I try to finish off the second half and have my second protein. I go to sleep at around 9:30-10:00 pm.

Do you have bad days? What do you normally do when you do not feel like learning or working out? What do you say to yourself?

You mean like, bad days where I don’t want to work out? Once in a while, but I think I’m pretty consistent. I’ve been working out/doing competitive sports since I was 6 so it’s absolutely normal to work out. It’s like the fact that you need to eat something when you’re hungry. I just stand up and do the first set.

Is there any sacrifice involved in success in languages and fitness? Is there anything you do or not do compared to most people?

I don’t know actually. I’ve been living such an isolated life for the past 6 years, that I completely lost touch with reality and view world through Facebook:) also I really don’t know what I do that is different and what others do that I don’t do.

Can anybody get a six-pack or get ultra-fit? Can anybody become a hyperpolyglot? What would you suggest anybody who wants to go big in anything in life?

I don’t know. I’ve seen pictures of people who were overweight their entire lives, started working out quite intensively and regularly and nothing helped. My friend used to run every day, had fantastic times and still he was unfortunately still a bit overweight. I thought it was genetics, but now that same friend is doing ironmans, his workout routines and ethic are insane and he is shredded. I don’t know.. I guess you just have to work around your personal situation to obtain the results you want - which completely goes against what I was saying about genetics earlier:) But I don’t think I tried to succeed in something that I clearly saw would take me 10 times as much time and effort as those who were genetically more suitable for that particular activity.

Are there any words of warning you would like to give to anybody who is starting their way to big challenging goals, like getting fluent in Chinese or becoming a top triathlete?

No, not really. If you want to do it, just do it. But if it doesn’t work out for a really very long time, be reasonable to admit it’s over and move on.


  1. Thanks for sharing Vlad. Always inspiring. I've been inching closer to my goals in my three languages of choice: French, Russian, and Japanese. I believe your interview points are accurate about imitation, memory, pattern recognition, and hearing playing a huge role in making for a polyglot. Consistency, though, brings it all together. Much respect.

    1. Thank you Kent. You're right. Good luck with your studies man.

  2. In what ways has your thinking changed since this interview was made? Do you incline to any kind of philosophy? (stoicism, maybe?)
    I saw all your videos (some of them at least 5 times) and you are just so inspirational to me... Honesty, consistency, passion, hard work, results, ups and downs. I don’t even know how to describe how thankful I am for coming across your videos and your personality. Just thank you, this post was amazing;)

    1. Hi Eric:) Thank you for the nice comment. I would like to write more articles and make more videos about topics like this, because I personally see purpose in them, but I'm afraid they would be too depressing :) They all have a positive message, but can easily come across as negative.

      You know 4-5 months of being immobilized in bed alone in winter is a very long time to think. And.. it was not just 4-5 months. Prior to that, for about 6 years, I lived a very solitary life and my back condition kept worsening, so I really had a lot of time to think about life. The last 4-5 months were only the ‘grand finale’.

      There are many things I decided I would not do anymore or things that I would do, but the main takeaway from this experience for me personally was this:

      1) Life was never meant to last forever, nothing was meant to be unique and compared to the vastness of the universe and time, everything is insignificant - this used to depress the hell out of me, but during that time in bed at one point I realized that it was pointless to be sad because of this.

      It always was and always will be like this. That's just how things are meant to be and how they are. I just misinterpreted them somehow as many others did, since I personally think humans are not very good at understanding these things. The point of freedom from this thought came when I totally embraced this fact (life will end, nothing is unique, everything is insignificant etc.) and felt that I wanted live it anyway. Work hard in my life fully aware that it will end one day. Prior to that my lethargic mindset was: why bother doing anything when my life will end one day anyway?

      2) It's easy to be happy and calm when everything is going well. It's when your world is totally falling apart and you still manage to be naturally calm and happy when you win at life.

      I know this all seems a bit dramatic, but at that time I really did think my life was over.

  3. Hi, Vladimir. In the interview, you said, "Strengths…I can’t even think of any. I’m stubborn as hell and that doesn’t help at all." I think that stubbornness was necessary to overcome your back issues and get fit. If you had been any less stubborn, I think you would have quit sooner. The same goes for your Chinese learning during periods where you weren't that motivated to learn it. (You said once that it took a long time before you started to enjoy the language.) Granted, you have lifelong habits to help you, such as the fact that you have played sports since the age of 6.

    1. Hello Andy,

      thank you for the comment. It's an interesting angle. I thought about it as well, but I think stubbornness has led me to more mistakes than successes. Or I think at least :)

  4. "I think it’s something anyone could do. So..I see my small successes as only me being able to invest the necessary time and willpower into something at that particular moment, which is something anyone else could do, but for some reason they didn’t."

    Do you know why people can't do that? Where does this need to invest the time and willpower come from?

    This is very interesting.

    Thank you in advance for your answer and have a nice day.

    1. Hello and thank you for the comment,

      For me personally, when I think about it now, even if it will sound a little cocky, I think it was because I wanted to be the best and I knew that with a lot of dedication and hard work I would be.

      And then it all crashed when I realized that there was no such thing as being the best. From my experience, there always was a bigger fish, even if only for a moment and if not then, then in the future there would be.

  5. Hi, please can you share how you managed to cure your back? I struggle a lot! Please help!

    1. Hi. I’ll try to make a whole video abaut it. Hang in there. Backpain is a life killer.

  6. What wisdom! Wish there were more people like you, then the world would be a better place!

  7. That's pretty inspiring Vladimir. I'm just middle aged with a lot of weight I've gained the past ten years (happens to a lot of people my age). While my knees are in pretty bad shape there are still lots of things I could do to improve my fitness. I'm just very busy and that has been my excuse. If you can come back from a severe back injury to get really fit again I surely can find time to do the same. I have to remind myself that its never to late to get fit again. Thanks for telling your story!

    1. Hi Jeff. Thank you for the comment. Good luck with everything.

  8. Opravdu: nikdy se nevzdávej! To, co dokážete (vaše jazyky), je úžasné. Vaše tělo je úžasné. Jsi úžasný! Takže se nikdy nevzdávej!