December 21, 2021

In New Book, Two Brothers Exercise the Right to Get to Know Each Other Better

GROWING CLOSER: In their new book Pushing Up, authors Stephen Gilliland (left) and Jim Gilliland describe the deeper dimensions of a year-long fitness challenge. (Photo credit: Belinda Trussell)

“This is not a book about getting in shape.” Now that’s a curious thing to say at the beginning of a book that talks a lot about fitness and exercise.

But the reason the authors—University Professor Stephen Gilliland and his brother Jim, a longtime investment executive—offer this caveat at the beginning of Pushing Up: What Twelve Months of Physical Challenges Taught Two Brothers About Connection, Leadership, and Purpose (Modern Wisdom Press) is that they want readers to know their goal is more than just presenting a roadmap for attaining physical health.

Pushing Up is the story of how becoming disciplined in exercise and serving as each other’s accountability coach over 365 days actually leads to their deeper connection as brothers.

The outcomes of such projects always yield more than expected, and the brothers Gilliland soon uncover new understandings of other relationships in their lives and the nature of good leadership itself. (Stephen Gilliland leads the university’s Master’s in Leadership program). What they learned forms the substance of this insightful and heartwarming new book.


Inspired by the Navy SEALS

It was Jim Gilliland who, inspired by the book Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet, came up with the idea of a workout challenge.

And it was Stephen who realized the leadership dimension of what they were doing after talking about the challenge with students in his leadership training programs.

The challenge really resonated with them, he said, and that made him realize that their brotherly challenge might have potential as a book.

“I could see the ideas really reached them,” Stephen said. “Probably about six months into the year, I got the idea of writing a book about the journey. However, it wasn’t until late December that I actually suggested the idea to my brother. At that point, I thought writing the book would be a way for us to continue our journey together.”

A Month for Each Lesson

Pushing Up is organized as you might expect a book focused on a single year: Chronologically, with each chapter devoted to a specific month.

January, for instance, introduces us to the challenge, which started with a text exchange between the brothers on New Year’s Eve, 2016. The goal was disarmingly simple, as Jim Gilliland laid out in a text:

“We promise to each other to do at least one physical activity every day in 2017. Doesn’t matter how little, and it doesn’t matter if you are sick, traveling, tired. Worst case, 40 sit-ups and 10 push-ups, but at least one activity each day.”

While subsequent chapters introduce unexpected discoveries along the way—how, for instance, the challenge teaches them about goal setting, being honest with themselves (and each other), encouraging each other at tough times, and facing the fact that failure is inevitable despite our best efforts—all of these discoveries open out into invaluable insights applying to many other parts of life.

The Brothers Gilliland: Stephen (left) and Jim. (Photo credit: Belinda Trussell)

Leadership Lessons

“I had elevated my confidence in my power to push through adversity,” writes Stephen Gilliland in a chapter about recognizing one’s limits. But the problem was, “I had failed to look at the other side of the cube, the side that knows the body needs rest and recovery when sick or injured.”

Any executive can say the same thing, especially when he or she enacts a change without considering its impact on the team or the company at large.

The same goes for consistency, especially in terms of good leadership.

“Knowing effective leadership is not very hard,” Stephen Gilliland explains. “On the other hand, consistently demonstrating effective leadership is very hard.”

Pushing Up is written in an engaging style that alternates between the two authors’ voices. The chapters are sprinkled with their text exchanges showing us how their conversations grow beyond the limits of merely comparing notes on the current day’s fitness challenge.

If you’re not already exercising, this book might inspire you to snap on some sporty kicks and go out for a run—or maybe just a nice walk.

And even if it doesn’t do that, that’s ok, too: Reading this book will give you an unexpected and holistic perspective on setting expectations and the many roles we carry as spouses, parents, siblings, children, friends, colleagues, and leaders.

In the process, the authors teach us that success in any of these roles requires taking “small steps to reach impressive heights.”