I work with them every day; so I know how awesome Precision Nutrition’s coaches really are.
Today you get to meet one of them, Jason Bonn. This way you can find out too.
If you meet PN Coach Jason Bonn he will smile. Look you in the eye. Shake your hand. Possibly chat about the weather, your favorite sports teams, or current events.
For most folks, that fact would be unremarkable. For Jay, it’s an achievement.
One day, the folks at Cressey Performance told him: “Jason, ya gotta talk to people.” Inside, he cringed.
But he knew they were right.
He’d spent his first three decades of life being a man of few words. As a male athlete, he could easily chum around with teammates, getting by on terse conversations about baseball plays or speculations of player trades. Or saying nothing, simply being the stand-up guy who’d always catch the ball without a lot of fuss. After all, nobody wastes air talking about imagination and feelings in a football huddle.
He was well-liked, but mostly a silent enigma. Let’s just say that talk radio host or used car salesman wasn’t a career option for him.
“I guess maybe I had a fear of failure,” he confesses, in his Long Island drawl, by way of explanation for his shyness.
“I kept quiet for so long because I thought it was better to say nothing than to say something and be perceived as a fool. I didn’t want to be judged. Of course, we all know that nobody ever really judges you as harshly as you judge yourself.”
Jay’s not worried about what other people think as much as he’s worried about letting himself down. He takes coaching very seriously. Like the other PN coaches, he’s deeply devoted to his job, and to being the best mentor he can.
And sometimes, that catches up to him.
“Yeah, I’d say I have high standards for myself,” he acknowledges. “I kinda take it personally when coaching clients struggle. I want to do everything I possibly can for them. I have these grandiose visions in my head that for all other coaches, everything is just roses and butterflies. I know that’s not true when I think about it logically, but I just want to do a good job. I don’t want to let myself down.”
Ironically, he spends his days coaching with great compassion. He good-naturedly allows his PN clients to fumble their way through the learning process, like kids learning to catch an erratically bouncing football. He’s got a quick sense of humour and loves to make people laugh (“even if it’s just me laughing at my own jokes, sometimes, eheheh”).
He’s like that jovial, avuncular gym teacher who’s got a million fun beanbag games that make you forget you’re actually exercising. Who never punches you in the arm, never makes you “walk it off”, and never makes fun of you.
In fact, the only person he’s hard on is himself.
I ask him whether he takes time to feel good about his new-found social skills.
“Nah,” he says. Pause. “I’m not gonna crap ya on that one.”
He’s too busy working on self-improvement. He’s utterly focused on being the best coach he can be.
He thinks about this for a few moments. I let the silence unfold between us. “I guess I really wanna be a good person and a good coach, but it’s also kinda, in a selfish way, maybe I sorta also wanna get recognized, I dunno. Maybe it’s I just… I don’t wanna be the shadow in the background any more. Maybe that’s why I’m starting to take action.
“This is kinda me trying to peel back my own damn layers.”
I grab a layer of Jay, figuratively speaking, and start peeling it back myself. (I figure as a shy person myself, it’s okay for me to dig in there.) I dive into the awkwardness and root around in it a little.
I start poking at the next layer down. Why so shy? Jay thinks a bit. “Um, I dunno, my dad and brother were sorta like that too?”
OK, maybe nature. Or nurture. Let’s keep peeling and prying.
“Honestly?” Jay finally confesses. “It might have been body stuff. I was pretty chubby back in the 4th, 5th, 6th grade. As I started sports, I started to lean out. I was always a little chubby. I went through it. I always had it.
“I guess I always kind of carried that over. I think I carried it around even when I started working out more in high school, where I was weight training for sports. I always felt a little, I dunno… behind the 8 ball with other people.
“In middle school, everybody starts dating. I never caught on with that. I was always two steps behind the crowd. A lot of clients feel that too, if they feel their progress is too slow, or they don’t get the habits right away. They feel behind, like they missed something. Of course, I tell them that there’s no schedule. There’s no rush.”
He chuckles. “I’m a victim of not following my own advice.”
Roll the tape back. Long Island, 1995. Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” is blasting out of some kid’s car speakers. (Appropriately, Diana King’s track “Shy Guy” was #43 on the Billboard charts that year.) A teenage Jay is captain of pretty much every team he’s on. He wrestles. He plays darn near every position in football. He lifts weights. He’s muscular, fit, athletic, smart, and handsome. He’s a nice guy. He’s the kid that seems to have it all.
“I don’t wanna toot my own horn,” he says modestly, “but I was one of the best athletes on the team. I was a great kid. I never got into trouble. I always did well in school. I had a good attitude. Never mouthed off. Cognitively, physically, all my other domains were rockin’.
“But then there was that other thing. Instead of being Johnny Football Hero, dating the Homecoming Queen, I was Johnny Football, sitting in the background at dances. That was the only thing I didn’t have, that social aspect. I always had that other side, the side that felt totally behind in life.”
Now, at 32, Jay is determined to get over the social jet lag of childhood angst.
“I’m still struggling with it, to a point. it’s still awkward, meeting people, but I’m definitely growing. In the past I never would have been talking about it. I would have skirted around the issue. Avoided it completely.”
He pours his experience and insight into coaching. He understands clients who also struggle to come out of their shells. And hey, if you want to get him talking, just get him launched on the subject of sports.
The upside of Jay’s laconic nature is that he’ll never BS you. He gives you the truth straight up, no chaser. He’s still a man of relatively few words, but each word is carefully chosen, and when he speaks, you should pay attention. He’s also a gifted observer of people. He’s spent so many years watching people carefully, he has a deep command of human interaction. He knows what evil lurks in the heart of – or what cookies lurk in the cupboards of – Lean Eaters.
The six minutes that changed Jay’s life occurred at a routine staff evaluation at Cressey Performance, where he was interning.
Knowledge of exercise physiology? Check.
Knowledge of equipment? Perfect.
Coaching skills in general? Excellent. (Hey, Jay’s got several cohorts of PN Coaching under his belt.)
Communicating in person with clients? Needs improvement.
“Boy that was awkward,” sighs Jay. “I knew it was right, 100% right. I know exactly what I do. It’s just… to hear it… ugh. Your defense systems go right up. Luckily that reaction only lasted about six minutes.”
After years of football and wrestling, it was going to take more than a few hits to knock Jay down. Just like in PN Coaching, he knew that growth and change involved some discomfort. And he was at Cressey Performance to darn well grow.
“You can’t be the kid in the back of the class that never raises his hand and expect to learn. It was hard, but it was definitely the kick in the butt that I needed.”
He rose to the challenge. Got down to work. Got a plan. Took action. Every client that came through the door of CP got a smile and a hello, excruciating as it might have been at first. “In the beginning, I hadda fake it for a while. It wasn’t comin’ naturally at all. But now, it is.”
“Everything I wrote in that Success Tips article was true. No shitting, no embellishing at all. These actions were perfect for me, to gradually get me out of my shell. Now I feel so much more comfortable, just going to up to people, like clients, for the first time and just shooting the breeze, like I’ve known them for ages. I’m not taking this lightly.”
Yet, he grins, there’s work to do. “I’m still not a friggin’ social butterfly.”
And, he admits, he graduated from the Long Island Finishing School of Driving Etiquette, where there’s a “helluva lotta traffic”. Where people “want stuff done yesterday”. Where insults are creative and the honks are loud and long. “I think I’m very laid back, but on the other hand, I think being quiet masks my impatience with some things, like driving. I don’t wanna sound like some asshole screaming out the window of their car.”
“Even though I have done it. I’m not gonna lie.” He laughs. Good thing he carpooled for his earlier career as an elementary school teacher in Chicago. “Otherwise I woulda lost it.”
However, ladies, he is handy in the kitchen. In fact, he spent a year in cooking school. He slices and dices like a pro. He’s even gotten brave enough to shoot his own first cooking video.
What perfect meal would he cook for a date? Whatever she wants, he says. “I guess I always want to help and please others. It’d be whatever they like.” Put your orders for filet mignon and lobster in now, girls.
He’s excited now by the possibilities that his new skills offer. “For the first part of my life, I was always asking, ‘Why? Why should I stick my neck out? Take a risk? Why should I do something?’
“Now I’m asking, ‘Why not?‘”
He’s gathering momentum now. “I’m really working on this. Very rarely are the ramifications or consequences of any action going to be un-repairable. I’m not a psychopath going out and maiming people and robbing banks. Say I do go up and introduce myself to someone, what’s the worst that can happen? I don’t get a response? Alright, fuck it! How bad can that be? Why shouldn’t I take this trip, or a road trip, alright, maybe it sets me back a few dollars, but can’t that be made up?”
He’s taking training risks, too. He’s discovered that just like taking the risk of signing up for PN Coaching, sometimes ya gotta just say “What the hell,” and go for it.
His courage and newly discovered disinhibition are carrying over into other areas of life, where, he grins, “I just say ‘Screw it! I’m going!‘ I pulled 50 lb more on a deadlift today than I’ve ever done. Just grip it and rip it. Just go. Thankfully my spine is still here and hasn’t shot out my back.
“That’s no small thing. It’s got me thinking. Why am I holding myself back? In what other areas am I holding myself back? I should just put my head down and barrel through them.”
After several months of working with Eric Cressey, “I feel like I’m a friggin’ genius, even though I know I’m not up to their standards yet.” Interning at CP was one risk that’s certainly paid off, and he knows it. Now he’s thinking about what other risks he can take. “Maybe I should give JB a phone call and see if I can crash on his couch for the next four months.”
What else is on his Bucket List? Right now, not much beyond being the best coach that he can be. He’s writing more, practicing expressing himself in other ways. He wants to reach out and empathize with others, such as his clients who are going through challenging transformations of their own.
“I’m a simple person. I don’t need a lot of outside stimulation. I don’t need to spend life taking guided tours. I just kinda enjoy the little things. A Sunday morning newspaper and crossword puzzle. A good breakfast. It’s really all about the little things that make me happy.”
The best part? He’s teaching his LE clients how to appreciate the power simplicity in their lives too.
“Recently I was helping one of my clients with a kitchen makeover. His kitchen was full of every gizmo and gadget you could imagine. He’d tried every diet out there. His nutritional life was chaotic. So we started over. We started with a knife, cutting board, his stove, and an in-door grill.”
“Clients are always looking for high-excitement novelty. But that’s the opposite of what they need. So I try to get that across with my actions. I’m like ‘give me a knife and fire and I’m good.’
The novelty of the simple is profound indeed.
“I am very thankful for the simplicity of good days. At the end of the day, I’ll lie in bed and think about whatever happened. If it was a good day, I’ll be like, damn! I’ll say it out loud: ‘That was a good day.’
“I guess I do celebrate in words, after all.”