Fitness was always part of Christopher Matthews’ life. As an active child of active parents, he was exposed to soccer, track and field and other sports—and he took up karate. He went to the gym with his dad and messed around at home with free weights and a bench his dad gave him. But Matthews characterizes himself as “the skinny guy.” He knew he wanted to build a great physique, but he wasn’t sure exactly how to do it.

Matthews’ twin sister had enlisted in the U.S. Army and she urged him to join, but he resisted. “I wasn’t going to listen to anybody telling me what to do,” he says with a laugh. But life had plans for Matthews that prompted him to rethink that resistance and he enlisted.

Now he’s a sought-after fitness and social media influencer, creator of the fitness apparel line CAM Theory, and is learning to play the guitar (and 24 Hour Fitness is proud to call him a member of the 24 Hour Fitness Plantation Sport Gym, in Plantation, Florida). 24Life asked Matthews to tell us what it was like to follow his own voice even when his enlisted peers and friends back home questioned his path or his enthusiasm.

24Life: You were working at an athletic shoe store. Why did you decide to enlist after all?

Christopher Matthews: I was in my early 20s and I had a son. My boss took me aside and had a little talk with me, and that night, I decided my next move was to enlist. When I went to basic training, I told myself, “This is your opportunity to get in the best shape you’ve ever been.” When we’d get [in trouble], I would make sure I pushed myself as hard as I could go just because I wanted this new physique.

24Life: What did you think when people noticed the difference—and questioned your focus?

CM: Obviously, that kind of feedback is always great for the ego. But when I was deployed to Iraq, I really wanted to take my body to the next level because I had more knowledge about fitness. I still wasn’t super confident in myself.

While I was in Iraq, I studied the nutrition aspect of bodybuilding and I continued to work really hard. I worked communications night shifts, and those are 12-hour shifts—and then went to work out, usually seven days a week. A lot of people work out because there’s nothing else to do, so my first sergeant asked me, “Matthews, why do you do this every day?” Back then, I joked, “I do it for the ladies.” But now I can say it’s obviously for more than that.

24Life: What was the thing that surprised you the most about yourself on this journey?

CM: Just the fact that I could actually put so much time and effort into one thing, for so long. I could go into any gym, with my eyes closed, and just start picking weights up and [start] because I’ve been working so long. Even when I’m working 12 hours a day, whenever I get in, I still find time and energy to go, while other people wonder, “How do you do that?”

24Life: When you reach a plateau, what do you do to keep going—and get past that little voice that wonders if you’ll ever get unstuck?

CM: What I’ve learned, whether it’s learning the guitar, fitness or in life, in general, is that sometimes it requires just taking a step back and taking your mind off it. You put yourself under a lot of stress sometimes when you can’t accomplish something, and you know it must be possible because the guy that’s teaching you is doing it, and he’s not a superhero.

Even backpedaling can be helpful—just doing something that makes you feel accomplished again. If you’re trying to do a maximum weight, going back to the basics and feeling good about yourself for a second allows you to approach your goal with a different mindset of, “OK. I accomplished this. Now I’m going to accomplish the next goal.” Sometimes I’ll pick up the guitar and just go over the old stuff and not even worry about the new stuff I need to learn, just so I can be playing instead of worrying.

24Life: Bring us to present day. What are you doing now?

CM: I launched my clothing line CAM Theory. The name is my initials (Christopher Anthony Matthews). What I pride myself on is the luxe quality of the clothing—the comfort and feel of each garment.

24Life: Best advice you’ve ever gotten?

CM: I was supposed to get ready for a fitness competition, but I was going to have to figure out how to get the money together to register, and then find a flight and a place to stay. So I told my dad I wasn’t going to compete because I didn’t have the means to do it. What he told me was, “Just start doing it. Start training. Buy the ticket. Book the hotel. And then slowly but surely, you’ll get it done.”

A lot of times, you overthink the result and you don’t start walking down the road to begin the journey. Even with my clothing line, I spent a lot of time thinking up the perfect set of circumstances, and then I realized what I was doing. So I just picked a date and said, “That’s when I’ll launch,” and worked backward from there.

I have friends in fitness who buy all the supplements, get the perfect meal plan and then leave it on the shelf. Just go in the gym, and even if you do 20 minutes, it’s still something.

24Life: Best advice you can give someone who’s starting out—especially in the face of a lot of “helpful” voices?

CM: At the end of the day, as long as you’re happy and you’re not harming anybody, just do what makes you happy. A lot of people don’t do that because they’re worried about the naysayers or the “haters,” and those are the people who wish they did what you do.

Follow Christopher Matthews and CAM Theory on Instagram @k1lla__cam and @camtheory, and on Facebook @christopher.matthews.54772 and @CamTheoryApparel.

Editor’s note: Want to just get started? Try this workout inspired by Christopher Matthews on 24GO.