That kind of life is most happy which affords us most opportunities of gaining our own esteem; and what can any man infer in his own favour from a condition to which, however prosperous, he contributed nothing, and which the vilest and weakest of the species would have obtained by the same right, had he happened to be the son of the same father?
To strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity; the next is, to strive, and deserve to conquer: but he whose life has passed without a contest, and who can boast neither success nor merit, can survey himself only as a useless filler of existence; and if he is content with his own character, must owe his satisfaction to insensibility.
— Samuel Johnson, “The Pleasures and Advantages of Industry”
The greatest and most understated benefit of strength training beyond just lifting heavy weights is that you’ve completed a task you couldn’t do previously. Let’s say I’m working with some 50-year-old trainee who has to squat 275 for two sets of five reps. He’s got a task to complete. Based on the outcomes of prior training sessions, he doesn’t know whether he can do that last rep of that second set of 275. This trainee has a choice. He does the first set, completes all five reps, racks it, and sits down. He then realizes he has to do it again. Now he’s on that fourth rep of the second set and it’s hard — he may get stuck at the bottom of this, he may get hurt. Does he continue for a fifth rep or rack it? His spotter is right there.
The decision he makes teaches him something about himself. This decision transforms people. There are few instances in the modern world when we get to make such a decision. I’ve had people who have been training for years tell me that they’ve noticed people treating them differently. Something has changed in them. What was it? Well, now they know that they can complete tasks with uncertain outcomes that depended entirely on their efforts. This is terribly important for people of all ages, something that you owe it to yourself to experience.
Do you have the guts to try the last rep? If you can make yourself do it, you have proven that you have that courage. This is one of the few ways you can still learn that kind of lesson. Learn it under the bar, then watch it carry over into everything you do for the rest of your life. How can this be any harder than that fifth rep of that second set with 275 pounds? Now you welcome the challenges of the world. You don’t cower.