YOUR VALUES

I once asked a mentor of mine how I could improve my ability to make faster decisions. His response: Get clear about your values, and you’ll always know what to do in every situation.

Turns out, it really is that simple.

A value is defined as, “A person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.”

Your values will direct you, and drive your ambition as you pursue different goals over the course of your life.

Yet, there seems to be some confusion.

I find most people skip over the process completely, thinking they don’t need to define what’s most important to them because they don’t believe it will help, or because they just don’t care.

These same people are slow to make simple decisions, and are completely paralyzed by big decisions, often avoiding them altogether and settling for the random shit that comes their way. They live in a state of fear, scarcity and confusion on a regular basis. Most of the time they’re not doing what they REALLY want to do and it causes massive unhappiness.

Is this you?

Things don’t have to be so difficult. Define your values, then set goals that are in line with them, and you’ll begin to live exactly how you want to live. It takes some planning and forethought, but it’s absolutely worth your time.

I won’t lie. It isn’t always going to be easy. People in your life will push back, and talk shit behind your back. You’ll have days where you’ll be overwhelmed with self-doubt. You WILL make mistakes. You’ll probably lose money. You’ll definitely cry.

As long as you’re alive, you’re going to have problems that need to be solved. But remind yourself that one day you will die, and that day is unknown. How do you really want to spend your time?

If you don’t know where to begin, peep my top 5 values below.

These don’t have to be yours. Do your own thing to make yourself happy. Google ‘Values’ if you need more ideas.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but these are the main things that drive my decisions every single day:

Health

If something will compromise my physical and mental health, I won’t do it. I recognize that if my health is fucked and I don’t have optimal energy and focus every day, I can’t enjoy or appreciate anything else in my life. My health comes before all else.

Love

I also won’t do something if my relationship will be compromised or harmed. I will protect my marriage with everything that I have. I will take out the garbage even if it’s the last thing I feel like doing because I know it will make my wife happy. I take care of myself so I can take care of her.

Discipline

I will do what needs to be done, even if I don’t feel like doing it; exercise, eat vegetables, floss my teeth, walk the dogs, make my bed, etc. I will recognize when I’m being lazy and when I simply need a rest. Being disciplined allows me to have everything I want in life. It doesn’t mean things magically happen while I sit on my ass. It means I work hard and delay instant gratification so I can have what I REALLY want.

Freedom

Discipline and freedom go hand in hand. This means I live debt free. I work for myself so I maintain as much control over my time as possible so I can do the things that make me happy every day. If something compromises my freedom, I don’t do it and I don’t buy it.

Adventure

For me, traveling is not a luxury, it’s a necessity for growth. It’s education. It fulfills my need for uncertainty and adventure. Traveling is stressful, and sometimes downright painful. It’s certainly not as glamorous as Instagram models would like us to believe but it’s also pretty awesome, and I’ll prioritize a plane ticket over material shit any day.

Please understand that chasing happiness isn’t always realistic, perhaps that’s not important to you. Life is filled with pain and stupid shit we don’t always want to do.

I’m fortunate to know what I want, it wasn’t without effort. Becoming clear about your own values isn’t rocket science. I’m not being facetious here. This process takes time, focus, deliberation with your spouse and soul searching. It’s worth it for you to do the work.

If you’re afraid, do it anyway. That’s usually how you know you’re on the right track.

What to do when your daughter wants to be a boy

Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, the daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, made the news yesterday because she got a fucking haircut.

Not just any haircut, she got a short haircut. 

I’m assuming this was important enough to share with the world because said hairstyle makes Shiloh look more like a little boy instead of a girl and this breaks the rules. Speculation about Shiloh abounds throughout media outlets on an almost weekly basis. 

I’ve read everything from people calling her “sick,” to criticizing her parents for leading her down the wrong life path, to calling the allowance of this self-expression child abuse.

Child abuse?

Because a little girl who allegedly feels like she’s a boy got a short haircut and wears androgynous attire, and her parents accept her?

Are you fucking kidding me?

Look, I shouldn’t have to say this, but not everyone believes there is just one path in life. SURPRISE. We’re all individuals. We think, feel, act, and lead different lives. We’re not the same. This absence of similarity should not be condemned, it should be celebrated. 

We’re human beings, and we can’t be forced into boxes with neat labels. 

Maybe Shiloh feels like she’s a boy, and she’ll grow up and get gender reassignment surgery and live life as a man. Maybe she won’t. But it really doesn’t matter, because it’s Shiloh’s life, not yours. 

Rumor has it that Shiloh’s parents support her and allow her to express herself how she feels most comfortable. Imagine that?! Instead of making every little decision for your child, you empower them to make their own unique choices! 

You give them the confidence to voice their questions and concerns. You follow them down their own authentic path, however unfamiliar the route may be to you. 

You trust them, and support them no matter what. 

You love and accept them unconditionally, even when you don’t immediately understand them. You honor them as individuals. You ask them questions, and invite them to open their little hearts to you. You gain their trust, and they tell you everything. For the rest of your life, you have an incredibly strong relationship with your child, built on a foundation of unbreakable trust. 

This might sound unfathomable to helicopter parents who insist on smothering their children and micromanaging every detail of their lives. Parents who would feel like utter failures if their child turned out to be gay or transgender. Instead of embracing something original, they resist accepting it altogether and punish their child for toeing the line. 

These parents prohibit certain behaviors that are not conducive to the child’s assigned gender. They don’t support unconventional decisions about hairstyles, toys, and clothing choices. They are rigid in their mindset about what is feminine and what is masculine, because there couldn’t possibly be any such thing as gender fluidity.

Lack of tolerance doesn’t mean that you’re somehow powerful enough to prevent your child from living their authenticity. 

Shaming, especially anything related to a child’s identity or sexuality, pretty much guarantees you will have a superficial relationship with them- if you even have one at all.  

I’ve preferred to have a boyish appearance since I was three years old. I didn’t have names or labels for my feelings back then, I simply felt more comfortable thinking of myself as a boy. It felt natural. 

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I remember playing catch outside when I was seven years old with my brother one day. It was a hot summer afternoon, so he decided to take his shirt off. I thought that was a fantastic idea, I was also hot, so I took my shirt off too. It made sense. 

My step-mother flew out of the house as soon as she saw be take my shirt off, and shouted at me to put it back on. She explained, “Little girls can’t take their shirts off outside, it’s inappropriate!” 

I didn’t understand, but I shrugged, and put my shirt back on. I realized the people in my life viewed me differently than I saw myself.

The reaction I got that day made me more careful, and I retreated inward. 

Being forced to suppress my true feelings made me distrust adults. They seemed afraid of what I was going to do or say next. On several occasions I was discouraged from wearing “boy clothes,” and I was criticized for even considering it. 

While I didn’t understand why I wanted to look differently than other little girls my age, not having the support of my family made life very difficult. Because they didn’t understand my choices, my family couldn’t support me. I felt alone, and hopeless. 

I became so introverted my stomach hurt whenever I had to be around other kids in school. I had feelings of self-loathing, and I lacked the confidence to engage in basic tasks that involved interacting with other people, so I avoided them. I feared their judgment too much. 

What kind of future was I going to have?

Turns out, a pretty fucking incredible one.

Being an introvert allowed me to use my imagination better than most kids my age because I had so much free time to think by myself. I dreamt up assorted versions of the life I wanted to live, and my ideas were limitless. 

If a negative thought flooded my mind, I simply countered it with an insanely exciting replacement.

When I struggled to love my body, I thought about all of the amazing ways I could display my physical prowess, and strength.

Then I trained myself and won my first bodybuilding competition as a senior in High School. 

When I panicked at the thought of never finding a good paying job because people would judge me based on my ambiguous appearance, I instantly thought of half a dozen business ideas to negate those fears. 

I started my own private fitness business in 2006.

When I feared I would never fall in love, I immediately imagined the most gorgeous woman I could conjure up in my mind. I thought about how much love, and passion we would share. 

Then I married her on top of the Empire State building in 2012.  

Colin Cowie Steph & Lela

Life is what YOU make it. 

There will inevitably be all kinds of different sized hurdles in life that threaten to knock you down, distract you, and prevent you from moving forward, but it’s up to you to blast through that shit like a freight train.  

It’s up to YOU, to recognize your worth.

You can never allow anyone or anything to prevent you from living the life of your dreams. If you succumb to the judgment being thrown at you, it will ultimately become your reality. If you constantly have to ask for permission and approval, you’re doomed to live a life of someone else’s creation. 

I used to care deeply what people thought about me. I feared their criticism, and I desperately tried to conform so they would accept me. I was miserable. Life became my own personal nightmare. As soon as I took ownership of my situation, I was rewarded with exactly what I had always wanted; loyal friendships, love, and respect. 

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” 
― C.G. Jung

As for Shiloh-Jolie Pitt and her short haircut; most of the naysayers out there won’t ever live half the life that Shiloh will, whether she lives it as a man or a woman. Those who spend their finite energy tearing down another human being, especially a child, usually don’t amount to much.  

From this angle, it appears that Shiloh is surrounded by love and support. Her parents aren’t enabling a “mental illness,” they are showing their beloved child kindness and empathy so that she can grow into a confident, capable adult who loves herself. They are doing the right thing.

I only wish half as many parents of LGBT kids could have the support that Shiloh has. I wish that my family would have known how to support me in the same way, but I’m grateful for the love and compassion that they showed me when I was finally ready to tell them who I was. 

 

 

You’re in the wrong locker room

I have always chosen masculine attire, even as a child, because I feel comfortable wearing it. Simple as that. 

I didn’t voluntarily wear dresses as a child, or pink bows in my hair. I would have preferred to wear my dirty converse shoes, and ripped jeans every day of the week if it were up to me. But, that’s not what little girls should look like. Little girls don’t wear cargo pants, or want toy guns for Christmas, and they certainly don’t walk out of the house with unbrushed hair.

I hated having my hair touched. I would cry every time my mom attempted to run a brush through it. I didn’t care what it looked like. I didn’t strive to be pretty. I wanted to build forts in the backyard, and explore the woods next to our house hoping to find a buried treasure, or a dead body like those boys in the movie Stand by Me.

All of this seemed acceptable up until seventh grade. I was entering Junior High. The big leagues. No more ignoring my assigned gender. It was time to acknowledge my femininity so I could be popular and have a boyfriend. So I would be accepted and understood. Respected, even. But that’s not what happened at all. Still transitioning from tomboy status to junior high girl, I found it nearly impossible to fit in.

One day early in the school year after walking into the girls locker room and waiting for gym class to start, a girl approached me and told me I was in the wrong locker room. I was mistaken for a boy too many times to count, and the whispers behind my back bothered me. I was asked on an almost daily basis if I was a girl or a boy. At first I responded politely, so it wouldn’t seem like I was annoyed by the inquisition, but after awhile, my responses grew more hostile and I became defensive and angry. 

The first half of seventh grade was a game of trying to fit in and to look more feminine. I styled my medium length hair as girly as I could. I think I even curled it with a curling iron a few times. I borrowed my mom’s eyeliner and mascara because I had grown so fearful of being mistaken as a boy, I was willing to do anything to avoid that question. It became agonizing to go to school because I knew a confrontation was unavoidable.

I began to feel less and less like myself because I was dressing so differently and pretending to be someone I thought everyone wanted me to be. The makeup wasn’t working, and I was still asked regularly whether I was a girl or a boy.

Then the question escalated to, “are you gay?” 

I was mortified.

Hell no, I’m not gay! I frantically looked for someone of the opposite sex who I might be able to use as a buffer. If I had a boyfriend, the invasive questions would surely end. Everyone would know that I was a girl, and I would be considered normal. This was the perfect plan! I began my search for a boyfriend.

The only problem was, I wasn’t attracted to boys. I liked hanging out with my guy friends, but that’s where it ended. I had no interest in dating boys. Or holding hands with them. Or kissing them. 

Nevertheless, I dropped my masculine demeanor as fast as I could and found a boyfriend. I had no idea how to have a boyfriend. Probably because I was in seventh grade and shouldn’t know such things, but also because “girlfriend” was such an unnatural role for me to play.

My favorite thing to do was to go skateboarding. So, I dated a guy who also liked skateboarding. He sucked. I was better at it than him, and it was uncomfortable to hang out and skate together because I had to downplay my abilities to appear more feminine. You certainly don’t want to be better at skateboarding than your goddamned boyfriend! He didn’t last long, because I loved skateboarding more than having a poorly skilled fake boyfriend with bad acne.

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I soon realized this boyfriend business wasn’t working for me. Not only was it uncomfortable and unnatural feeling, it was just plain boring. I had various crushes on the girls in my class and these faux boyfriends were taking up too much of my time.

I have been attracted to the same sex for as long as I can remember. I’ve had crushes on almost every one of my female teachers, starting with my pre-school teacher when I was five years old. Mrs. Swan was so hot. Probably still is. 

The only reason I stayed in school was because of the girls, honestly. I could hardly contain myself most days. I pined for the girls I had crushes on and would watch in horror as they dated some of the dorky assholes in our grade.

The greatest torment was a school dance. Watching a girl that you have feelings for dance with a guy the way you want to be dancing with her, is heartbreaking. But, there was nothing that I could do but stand by and watch a life I wanted to live pass me by. 

On the weekends, I dressed how I felt most comfortable- a ball cap, jeans, and a t-shirt. I skateboarded with my best friend, and dropped the bogus persona I had to entertain the other five days of the week. I got two full days to be myself before I had to go back to being what I thought everyone else wanted me to be.

As the year wore on, I found it more and more difficult to keep this girly charade going any longer. During the three weeks of Christmas break I got used to just being myself. It was too difficult to come back to school and pretend. I felt like I needed to wipe the slate clean and start over. 

One day after gym class while we were all sitting around in the locker room waiting for the bell to ring, I put my hat on. This was strictly forbidden in the hallways and classrooms, so I knew my time was limited, but I needed to feel normal- even if it was just for a couple of minutes. As I sat there, a few of my friends commented on how “hot” I looked, and how they wished I was a guy so we could date. I couldn’t believe the response I was getting. The bell rang, and I took my hat off so I wouldn’t get in trouble in the hallway.

I felt very different after that. I was no longer interested in looking feminine just to gain everyone else’s acceptance. I realized people wanted authenticity, even if at first my appearance was confusing to them. 

I was focused now on being myself, and earning a few more flirty interactions with some of my girl friends. My confidence was restored after that day, and I never went back to the makeup or hair curling. While the questions about whether I was a girl or a boy didn’t stop, I was now more emotionally equipped to handle them. I felt good about myself for the first time all year, and I wasn’t going to let that go for anything.

I learned that if I was going to dress like a boy, then I would have to be ready to field questions and stand up for myself. I went on to finish seventh grade feeling confident and more sure of myself than ever before.

I could breathe for the first time in a long time. 

Life: Is it passing you by?

Remember when you were a kid and you would fantasize about what life would be like when you grew up?

You played.

You ran.

You let your mind wander without restriction.

When I was a kid, I dreamed about living in a huge mansion on the beach and driving a convertible. I was going to go skydiving and bungee jumping and see the world. I wanted to be an astronaut, a veterinarian, and a published author simultaneously.

When I was in 1st grade, I decided I would become a Scuba diver one day. There was a large blue poster on the wall in our classroom that featured all of the underwater creatures of the sea like whales and octopus. I didn’t want to settle for only seeing photos of them on a wall, I wanted to experience them in real life.

IMG_6620I couldn’t wait to wake up on Saturday to watch cartoons because I loved immersing myself in the story. It helped me sort through the details of my own life somehow.

I would lock myself in my room and tirelessly draw pictures of anything that popped into my mind. I would erase and redraw the nose of a character 6 times until it was perfect. I never watched the clock.

I’d crank my music up and put on lip syncing shows in front of the mirror when no one was home. I’d learn every lyric to my favorite song and sing it over and over as loud as I could.

One time I pitched a tent in my bedroom and moved everything inside of it, including my mattresses and clock radio. My mom was pissed and kind of creeped out, but I thought it was the greatest thing ever.

I plastered every inch of my walls with photos from magazines and fantasized about what life would be like to be a famous musician like the ones on my walls.

I talked on the phone with my friends for hours about nothing. But it was everything to me.

I cried freely. I would look at myself in the mirror. As soon as I got upset about something worth bawling about I would run to the bathroom and watch myself unravel. Ugly, twisted mouth, wet face, red eyes and furrowed brow staring back at me like a pissed off newborn baby. I would become mesmerized by my own miserable reflection. After a few minutes I’d wipe my tears and go back to my room, basking in the relief of cathartic release.

I didn’t consider time passing. I didn’t care about it.

In fact, most days seemed to drag on. Life felt like it would last an eternity and I figured I would have all the time in the world to build my mansion on the beach and learn to Scuba dive. I only focused on the fun aspects of life back then like most kids do, I assume. I didn’t worry myself with the logistics of what it entailed to achieve my dreams.

For the last 10 years I’ve really noticed the swiftness of time passing. Some nights when I’m getting ready for bed I feel like I just got up to start the day. I can’t believe how fast the day slips away.

I used to have the mindset that all that mattered was money and my material shit. I didn’t understand or appreciate the value of time.

Now, I only focus on time.

I value it more than I value money. I won’t spend my time with people who drain my energy and waste my time. I’ll pay more for something if it saves me time to do so, and I’ll say “no” to things I don’t want to do. I’m always considering time now, everyday. I guard it.

Everyday that goes by is another day closer to the end of my life.

Our culture struggles with the concept of death, and I’ve found that it’s difficult for people to talk about it. They want to deny that it will happen, so they remain terrified of it. I made peace with death many years ago and when I did, I vowed to spend my time in ways that make me happy.

That’s my rule.

I started my business so I could control my time instead of some asshole controlling it for me. I wanted my wife to join my business so we could spend more time together. I wanted my mom to quit the corporate job she despised so she could travel and spend as much time with her grandkids as she wants.

Time is passing right now as you’re sitting here reading this.

Are you happy?

Could things be better?

What areas of your life do you feel you need to improve?

What the fuck are you doing about it?

Do you make excuses for WHY you can’t make a change?

Stop doing that. Seriously. Instead of finding obstacles to set up in your own way, find ways to knock them down and get moving in the direction you really want to go.

What excites you today like the things that used to excite you as a child?

Ponder some of that for awhile, and make a plan. Then get to work.

Time is passing. What are you going to do with it?

 

 

 

 

 

Falling Down

When I was in 6th grade I babysat for these kids who didn’t have a TV, they just had books for “entertainment.” I despised babysitting them because I really liked watching TV and it was super boring at their house. One night after I had put the kids to bed, I found a Disney magazine on the table and while I desperately thumbed through it, searching for something interesting to take my mind off of the depressing fact that there was no TV in the house, I came across an article about the professional skateboarder, Willy Santos. 

His cool demeanor and baggy jeans really inspired me to reinvent myself at 11 years old. I vowed to find the baggiest pants I could get my hands on and wear the shit out of them. Then I vowed to become a skateboarder because I thought it seemed really rebellious and I wanted to impress girls. 

I had these black and blue checkered pants that were like weird pajama bottoms, but they were regular pants. I took scissors to them the next day and turned them into baggy “skateboarder” shorts. Then I froze my ass off waiting for the bus to take me to school. It was still winter and I was hellbent on looking cool. 

Shortly thereafter I purchased my first skateboard and no material thing before or since has ever meant so much to me. From the wheels to the grip tape, I was head over heels in love. I also had no real clue what to do with it, so I bought “How to Skateboard” VHS tapes (this was the 90’s) and taught myself how to ollie and kick flip. 

If you’ve ever ridden a skateboard, you know how difficult it is to maintain your balance and not crack your skull open. The majority of scars on my body are from skateboarding falls.

One night I was skateboarding home with my best friend in the pouring rain, we were skating fast because we were awesome. All of a sudden the wet pavement decided to humble me, and I flew off of my board and splattered my shit all over the unforgiving street. The wind was knocked out of me and I struggled to catch my breath, plus I could feel blood trickling down my elbow and I was in ice cream headache kind of pain. I got up and hobbled the rest of the way home. 

41111_1522626258329_2091815_nAnother time I was skating in the same area and fell off my board and landed straight on my head for absolutely no apparent reason. I was too cool for a helmet back then. 

One day while skateboarding at the mall, my pedaling foot slipped, I lost my balance and the foot that was on the board kept going. The momentum of the board moving forward put me into the “splits” position and drug my back leg across the pavement, grating my knee like cheddar cheese.

I would oftentimes find empty parking lots to practice in so I was free to look like an idiot in private. One such parking lot practice session resulted in experiencing my first “popsicle.” This is when you pop the board up for a trick and the board doesn’t spin like it’s supposed to (because you suck), and instead it stays upright. Meanwhile, your legs are spread and gravity is bringing you right down on it in the most perfect timing possible, and the result is you looking like a human popsicle with your skateboard lodged in your crotch. You don’t know pain until you’ve got a skateboard jammed up your ass. I crumpled to the ground and rocked back and forth for a good 20 minutes until I dragging myself home, feeling mildly defeated. 

Most times I would fall again on the same elbow or knee before the previous injuries had time to heal, so my body was usually covered in scabs.

I remember once after a fall where my elbow flesh had been severely removed, I went to the movies and as I dropped down in the theater seat, my left elbow hit the armrest and removed the scab that had formed from the previous week’s wreck. The arm of my sweatshirt proceeded to fill with blood for two hours because I was too embarrassed to get up and clean it up the bathroom. I didn’t want anyone to know about my falling problems. Plus, I thought “what would Willy Santos do?” Fuck it. 

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What did I learn from all of this? 

I learned how to fall and then get back up and keep going. In fact, one of the first videos I ever watched about skateboarding taught me how to fall “correctly.” Literally the first half of the video was about falling down and how important it is to learn that first before any fancy tricks. There is a way to do it so your brain is prepared and you can brace for impact. The trouble is you have to keep falling to learn how to fall less and become better at staying on your board.

I don’t fall anymore.

I can’t remember the last time I had a scab on my body. There’s something really empowering about seeing crusted blood and puss on your skin as the result of doing something badass. Scabs = learning. I wanted to ride my skateboard so bad that I gratefully collected scabs. Bring on the scabs! Day after day I would fall down and get back up. I would glance at the injured body part post-fall, and then skate on without a second thought.

Now I google every ache and pain and, and buy bandaids and Neosporin. As soon as I get a hangnail, you better believe I’m putting a bandaid on that shit. 

What does all of this mean?

It means I’ve grown complacent and negative experiences have instilled a little fear in me. That’s what I think it means anyway, you can interpret in anyway you like. I feel like there should never be a reason to stop falling down. 

What is the point of living if you’re going to stop trying new things? You have to fall to learn and grow. Maybe you don’t have to fall off of a skateboard, but you have to make mistakes in some way. You have to feel uncomfortable and feel pain. And that’s a very good thing. 

When is the last time you put yourself in a situation where you learned something new? Ask yourself that question right now. If the answer is “not in a long time,” then I DARE you to make a decision that will challenge you to grow and learn in some way. Today.

 

 

 

 

Do more. Brag more. Inspire everyone.

Why don’t you BRAG more? 

I am inspired by people who do BIG things and live life on their own terms. We all are, that’s why we admire historical figures like Einstein, Edison and Ghandi. We quote those people because they were (and still are) so fucking amazing and their amazingness has stood the test of time. 

We admire sports figures and celebrities for their entertainment and their art. Their self-expression is revered. They courageously share their talents with us.

But what about YOU?

Why aren’t you saying things that are quotable?

Why aren’t you doing more awesome shit and telling us about it?

Are you afraid that people will think you’re vain or too into yourself if you do those things?

I think humility is an essential character trait in a human being and it certainly has it’s place, but don’t let it overshadow the bold and daring things you want to do before you die. Stop being so modest. Stop holding back.

Show us what is possible. Be an example and an inspiration to the rest of us.

Be that person who always does what they’re scared to do in pursuit of growth and happiness. Pave a new path. One we’ve never been down before. Don’t leave it to other people to “shine,” while you sit on the sidelines and watch THEM. Fuck that.

Make everyone watch YOU. Loudly and proudly, sing your song, dance your dance, and share your gifts. This world needs you.

Why I love to fail.

The first time I read the words, “fail more,” in a business book, I almost threw it across the room. I knew nothing about business when I started my own, and I was desperate. At the time, I was in the vulnerable position of deciding whether or not to quit my predictably dreadful job or start my own company. Reading those words in that book was both confusing and disappointing.

How the hell could failure be the key to success? It took some time to figure that out.

Think back to when you learned how to ride a bike. You probably fell off a lot. You crashed. You failed. But you got back on the bike and figured it out, right? Lots of failure took place before your first successful ride. When you’re young, failure is unavoidable because your brain is still developing and you’re constantly learning new things. Life is stimulating! You can’t hide from growth, it envelopes you completely in all of it’s excitement and uncertainty.

Failure = Improvement.

The problem is that when we get older, we hide from failure. Once we’ve mastered bike riding, graduated from whatever, gotten married, and started our careers- we avoid making mistakes as much as possible because now we have to armor our fragile egos.

Fucking up makes us look bad, which inevitably makes us feel bad. So, we learn to avoid doing anything new because we don’t want to feel a negative emotion. Nothing annoys me more than hearing an adult say that they “gave up” on something because they didn’t immediately get the results they thought they deserved after trying something ONE TIME.

Seriously?

You had to EARN your first stable bike ride.

Remember those skinned knees, bloody palms filled with gravel, and tears streaming down your face? Over and over again you felt pain and then got back up on that bike to experience it again. You were actually excited about this process, and you eventually learned how to NOT fall anymore because you fell so fucking much. Your little brain was consistently fed all kinds of useful information every time you swerved, caught yourself, crashed, and carried on.

I’m 32 years old and my plan for the rest of my life is to be a child AND a scientist. A childish scientist. To be filled with curiosity and explore new things that interest me, probing everything objectively. The world will be my science lab and I will experiment, everyday. 

Right now, I’m learning how to play the drums. I’ve longed for a drum kit since I first saw a photo of one in a JC Penney Christmas catalog when was 4 years old. I finally got one this week, and you know what? I suck. When I finished setting everything up, I was dumbfounded. I sat down on the throne to “play,” and I started having second thoughts about this gigantic musical instrument taking up a third of my living room. But, after I gently pushed the self-doubt from my mind, I realized that I would figure it out along the way.

IMG_9008I’m willing to be terrible for as long as it takes for me to become great.

This process requires patience and a positive mindset. It also requires a nearly impossible reversion to the clean slate of a kid’s brain. I’m willing to work hard without harshly judging myself along the way, remaining only critical when necessary for improvement and growth.

I will cultivate the ability to detach from preconceived notions. I know that I need to earn my skills by toiling away with the fundamentals, and humbly turning my mistakes into valuable lessons. This means no negative self-talk and no throwing the drumsticks across the room when I can’t figure something out. I won’t be that child.

Will I fail? Everyday, I hope. If I’m not making mistakes then I’m not challenging myself enough to become the best drummer I know I can ultimately become.

It’s difficult to seek out original experiences as an adult. You have to actively hunt them down and remain courageous throughout the entire process of countless failures and a few successes. You have to be open to feeling negative emotions that you can look forward to detaching from as you continue evolving. You can transcend those feelings with practice, and through meditation and visualization. You will completely change your mindset as you begin to think differently about the challenges you encounter on a daily basis and the ones you actively seek out for personal growth. Instead of being jealous of other’s talents and comparing yourself to them, you will see them as role models and mentors. Those who are more experienced than us are proof that what we want CAN be attained. Learn to emulate their skills.

Much like you did when you were young, you must jump into the abyss without knowing what the outcome will be. Embrace the mystery of a new endeavor. Gratefully accept that you will suck for awhile, and find solace in the fact that with consistency, self-trust, and an overall love for the journey, you will one day become a master. It’s time to fail more.

 

 

I’m alive, now what?

Have you ever had a near death experience?

I have.

In January, 2002 I rolled my truck off of an overpass while driving southbound on the Seward highway before the Dowling road exit. I can’t remember what was on the agenda for the night. It was late. It was one of those rare occasions when I was sober. I just had a new speaker system installed in my truck THAT DAY. I couldn’t have been happier. Two, 10 inch subwoofers sat enclosed in a box that took up the whole backseat of my extended cab pickup truck. The bass was booming and life was good.

I was in the left lane on the highway traveling at 50mph, well under the posted speed limit of 65mph. I remember looking at the speedometer. It was dark, cold and black ice covered the road. There was a car in the righthand lane that suddenly swerved into my lane and I overcorrected, trying to avoid a collision with the car. As soon as I jerked the truck to the left, I lost control. The truck fishtailed all over the icy highway. I closed my eyes and held on as I lost control. I hit something, and all I heard was glass breaking and metal crunching. I kept thinking about all of the other cars on the road and I hoped I hadn’t caused anyone else to wreck.

I felt tiny pieces of glass shatter across my face. My new subwoofer box repeatedly hit me in the back of the head as my truck flipped over. I felt the powerful restraint of my seatbelt across my chest as I went upside down, then right side up. Over and over again. I wondered when it would end.

Suddenly, the truck stopped and it landed right side up. Everything was silent. I opened my eyes and saw that I had rolled down a hill and landed in Campbell creek. My window was smashed, so I crawled out of it as fast as I could because neither of the doors would open. It was dark, but I could see that everything that had been in my truck; CD’s, my cell phone, the hat that I was wearing on my head, were all about 10 feet from me. Stunned, I surveyed the damage and wondered how the hell I was going to drive out of this ravine. I didn’t realize that the truck was totaled and that it would later take a tow truck over an hour to pull it out.

I looked up on the overpass above me and heard a lady crying, she yelled down and asked if I was alright. I looked around once more and realized that I was alive and everything was okay. I waved to her. She was on her cell phone with the police, reporting the accident and in between sobs I could hear her explaining the insanity she had just witnessed. A man ran down the hill, wide-eyed, and asked if I was okay. I nodded. He told me that he had never seen anything like that before. I figured it must have been quite a sight. I almost wished I would have seen it from an onlookers perspective.

Scenarios ran through my mind for months after the accident.

What if I had been drinking?

What if I had killed someone?

What if I had been killed?

But I was sober. No one was hurt. And I was alive.

Alive.

My invincibility was astounding. This was one of those life lessons where you know the universe is getting fed up with your bullshit and that your 9 lives are just about up. You’re so shaken to the core that you realize it’s probably time to wake up and make some changes. I wish I could say that I completely turned my life around after this day, but I didn’t. It would later take a tragedy to make me to change my life. I’ll save that story for a future post.

The accident got my attention. 

I figured I must be destined for something great in this life if I lived to tell the story about how I hit a guard rail on an icy 2-lane highway and rolled my truck down a 20 foot hill. If I would have traveled a few more feet before hitting the rail I wouldn’t have rolled down a hill. I would have flown off of the overpass. Maybe I would have landed right side up, maybe I would have landed upside down. I think about that a lot. Just a few more feet and things might have been different.

I joke about being invincible, but I was young and back then I was convinced that nothing could hurt me. I’m thankful for that accident because it was a lesson that taught me to start paying attention. Start caring more.

WAKE UP, ASSHOLE.

As they say, ignorance is bliss.

Before the accident I never thought about death, which meant that I never knew the vibrancy of life. I went through the motions, but I had no plans or goals. I didn’t care about my future. I didn’t care about much at all. I never had any money. I was rarely sober because I preferred to be numb. I couldn’t figure out how to have a healthy, normal relationship- probably because I was always numb. I felt like life was more of a struggle than it was sometime worth.

Experiencing the vibrancy of life.
Experiencing the vibrancy of life at the top of the Empire State Building, 2012.

After the accident and other subsequent events that permanently altered my life, I started thinking more about death for the first time ever. The more I focused on the inevitable reality that one day I would no longer be on this earth, I began to actually LIVE.

I had all of these things I wanted to do “someday” but they weren’t getting done. I decided to change that. I began to focus more on my health and competitive bodybuilding. I started my company, Figarelle’s Fitness, so I could help others change their lives with fitness. I got out of debt. I traveled abroad. I married the love of my life, and I continue to work hard everyday towards goals that inspire me.

Death is inevitable. Millions of people die everyday. If you’re scared of death, perhaps you need to begin to live right now. Today. Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone and gives you butterflies. Dare yourself to do something that you think is impossible. Prove yourself wrong. Stop numbing yourself. Make a list of things you’re grateful for and read it in the morning and again at night. Shut off the TV. Make plans. Travel. Spend more time with people you love. Get away from people who are toxic and bring you down. Quit your job if you despise it.

Feel the vibrancy of life, even if you have to remind yourself of the inevitability of death in order to do so.

And always wear your seatbelt.

Stop suffocating your dreams, they want to breathe!

It’s 9:37am and today has been a pretty perfect day, so far.

I woke up at 5:30am this morning. My quality of sleep was great, so there was no problem waking up that early. I finished my daily writing practice in 45 minutes, then I sat for 17 minutes of mindfulness meditation. I went for a 3 mile run with my wife Lela, and then we came home and had breakfast together. Now she’s getting ready to head out to train clients, and I’ll be able to relax and enjoy alone time. Maybe listen to some Jazz, or read a book. Jazz is my new favorite thing, by the way.

Some of the things on my list above may not seem like anyone’s “perfect” day.

Who wants to wake up at 5:30am and write a bunch of rambling nonsense for 45 minutes? Who wants to go outside when the temperature hasn’t even reached a respectable 50 degrees at 8am, and run 3 miles? Who wants to sit for 17 minutes with their eyes closed and desperately try not to think?

Yet, all of the above is MY formula for a successful day. We all have a certain amount of things in our control, and how we spend our time is one of them. I didn’t used to be like this.

I also wasn’t very happy.

Or successful.

So what changed?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. Whenever I was challenged with that annoying question that adults ask when they can’t think of anything else to say to a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d reply, “I want to be an Author.” The response that I’d get was confusing to me- a half smile, a head nod and a change of subject. I’m not sure if this was because no one I told this to actually knew what books or authors were, or if they were unimpressed with my life ambition.

Time went on and my goals changed.

In the back of my mind I still had that urge to be a writer, it never left me. Yet I did absolutely NOTHING about it. It’s funny how we delude ourselves into thinking that we have a lot of time to get things done. We squander time and tell ourselves that we’ll “start tomorrow,” or when the circumstances are “perfect.” It’s like living with a pathological liar, and that liar is your own brain.

Sticky notes on the wall above my desk. This is my way of checking in with myself and staying honest. If I'm afraid to do something, I ask myself what I have to lose. Usually, it's the only question I have to ask when faced with fear. I also ask myself if what I'm doing at that moment is making me happy. If not, I stop doing it immediately.
Two sticky notes on the wall above my desk. This is my way of checking in with myself and staying honest. If I’m afraid to do something, I ask myself what I have to lose. Usually, it’s the only question I have to ask when faced with fear. I also ask myself if what I’m doing at that moment is making me happy. If not, I stop doing it immediately.

Our lies lead us down confusing, windy paths paved with bullshit. Maybe we spend time and money doing things we don’t actually want to be doing. Maybe we give away our souls to someone else who doesn’t treat us so great, but we’re too stupid and scared to leave the relationship. Perhaps we have crappy friends who drag us down. Then we try to impress them with idiotic, desperate behavior so we can be accepted by them. We’re now lying to everyone else in addition to ourselves. Life sucks, but we don’t change a thing.

WHY?!

Aren’t humans supposed to be the smartest beings walking the earth? We’re near the top of the food chain and we can’t even see when we’re in an abusive relationship, or a dead end job and then leave the toxicity behind? It makes me wonder how we even evolved to this point.

I’m 32 years old and I’ve wanted to be an author since I was in second grade.

But, I’m JUST NOW starting to write on a regular basis. Well, since September of this year to be exact. It’s taken me 24 years to get my shit together and follow a dream only I could see.

Do you know why it’s taken me so long?

Because no one got excited about my dream for me. The response to “I want to be an author” did not elicit the same response as “I want to be a doctor.” I might as well have just responded that I wanted to become a janitor (no offense to janitors) when someone asked what I wanted to be. People weren’t impressed or excited for me, so I dropped my dream.

There were other reasons, too. I was lazy and my brain lied to me. I wasted a lot of time doing things that didn’t make me happy. I worked job after job that left me questioning my mental health. I involved myself in relationships that left me feeling the same way. I asked myself if it would ever get better. Then I did nothing to change my circumstances. “Stay safe,” I’d tell myself. “Don’t try to change. What will people think of you?”

There’s a problem with dreams that take up space in your head for years on end. They don’t go away. You can try to smother them with adult responsibilities and emotionally damaging experiences, but they will stay. The dreams will scratch and whine in the back of your head like a neglected animal, starved and covered in it’s own shit. Reminding you every now and then that it’s STILL HERE. Don’t you dare fucking forget about me! The trouble with this is that it means you have to fight to shut that voice down, and that means life remains a constant battle.

You have choices. You can continue to ignore the voice, it will weaken as you get older and you become more inauthentic. That’s hopeful. You might be able to continue covering up the nagging with all of your fake bullshit. But there will be an inevitable manifestation of physical and emotional pain that no doctor will be able to figure out. Life will be nothing more than a passing of days.

Or you can pay your dreams a visit and begin to nourish them. Invite them back into your life and change your routine to accommodate their bloom. Hold them and rock them like little babies. These are your fucking dreams, after all. YOURS. No one else can judge your dream or tell you that they’re not right. You get to decide that. Make a list of dreams or a create a Bucket List and get to work. Make the list, then immediately make plans to knock a few things off the list. Keep doing things that make you feel happy and alive!

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Today I consider myself very successful. I didn’t know what that meant when I was younger. I define my success by being able to do whatever I want, when I want and this doesn’t mean that you have to be a millionaire.

I’m married to the woman of my dreams who supports all of my crazy ideas. I run a business that I built from nothing, and I get to help people everyday. I spend my morning doing things that bring me happiness and help me to be more productive, thus making me a better spouse and entrepreneur. I get to travel. I have a cool dog that teaches me new things on a regular basis. And I have people around me who I WANT around me, not just assholes who I have to tolerate. I feel free.

I have decided to embrace my childhood dreams and I encourage you to do the same. Things seem to always come full circle, don’t they? Why do we resist that? Humans can be so dumb sometimes.

Everyone is searching for the magic pill or the new gadget that will turn their lives all around and make everything better. Life doesn’t work that way. Everything you need to make changes is already inside of you.

YOU just have to dig it out and bring the good stuff to fruition.

How the hell do you meditate?

In 2004 I was unemployed and desperately trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was 22 years old. I lived in a crappy one bedroom apartment that I despised. My upstairs neighbors played their music too loud and had sex every night at midnight, waking me up with the sound of their bed slamming against the wall.

My neighbor across the hall was a lady with two kids who spent most of her day screaming at them, and chain smoking outside in the front of the building. My truck got towed from the parking lot one day. Another day the complex across the street from my apartment was engulfed in flames. In the spring, my living room flooded with melted snow comprised of dog feces and urine.

This was not my dream life.

One day, I picked up a book from the used bookstore (because I couldn’t afford full priced books) on the subject of meditation. I’d heard that it was good for relaxation and focus and I thought maybe it could help me get my shit together. I tried one of the meditations in the book- something about visualizing that your leg was blue and really cold, and then it was red and really hot. It was too weird for me. Needless to say, I never picked the book back up again. I thought, if this is what meditation is all about, I can’t do it.

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I never forgot about meditation. As time went on, I knew that I would one day figure out how to make it work for me. In 2011, I went to an IDEA World Fitness conference in Los Angeles and signed up for a ‘Mindfulness Meditation’ course. The course was about two hours long and we discussed meditation and then actually meditated for 30 minutes. That’s a long time to sit with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing in a room full of people.

I came home determined to begin a regular practice of meditation. I felt confident with what I had learned at the conference and I started sitting for 10 minutes at a time, building up to 15 minutes once per day, in the morning.

One important thing to remember about meditation is to not judge it. Whatever happens, just let it happen. It’s your unique experience. Don’t get frustrated if your brain fills up with crazy thoughts, just let them flow. If you choose to become self-critical and fight the incoming thoughts, then your meditation will not bring relief, it will only bring more stress.

Over the weekend I was in Oklahoma supporting a client in her first physique competition. On Saturday, my wife Lela and I were sitting by our hotel pool with our feet in the water just talking and enjoying the sun. A guy in his early 60’s was swimming laps in the pool for about 15 minutes, and when he was done, he walked over to where we were sitting and struck up a conversation about my tattoos. Every now and then a stranger will comment on my ink, but I rarely get people who walk up and ask what each of my tattoos means and I why I got them. All of my tattoos have a reason for their existence, so I was happy to share their stories.

The guy then asked if we knew anything about meditation, and I told him that we meditate for 16 minutes 3-5 times per week in the morning. I think this caught him by surprise. I’m pretty sure that he was stereotyping me BECAUSE of my tattoos. He probably thought I was an ex-con out on probation who was lost in the world, wandering around aimlessly- just waiting for him to tell me about meditation and SAVE ME.

He then asked what I feel when I meditate.

I told him that it really depended on the day and what was going on in my mind and body. For example, I just got over a chest cold and trying to sit while your sinuses are filling up with mucous and suffocating you is very difficult. My mental state wasn’t nearly as sharp as it is when I’m in good health. I don’t focus much on what’s going on with my body when I feel good. I simply focus on my breathing and clearing my thoughts.

If you're looking for a book on meditation, this is one that I recommend.
If you’re looking for a book on meditation, this is one that I recommend.

During some meditation sessions I plan out my whole day in 16 minutes. That’s actually the opposite of what I want to be doing during mindfulness meditation, but it’s helpful nonetheless. Sometimes I’m able to sit with a clear head and very focused breathing and I become euphoric and relaxed, like I’m stoned. My body is detached (I don’t feel it), and I get a nice little head rush. This is what I strive for during every meditation session, but it’s not always possible.

The guy continued to ask about my meditation experiences. “What does it do for you in your life?” I told him that I feel less stressed out on a daily basis. I have zero anxiety, even during a chaotic week if I can meditate at least 3 times. If you’ve ever had chronic anxiety, you know how debilitating it is. Or maybe you don’t even realize how much it’s taxing your nervous system. Ever wonder why you’re always so tired? Check your mental state throughout the day. Anxiety, fear, anger, passive aggressiveness, and a host of other unmanaged emotions will suck your energy all day long no matter how much sleep you get or how much caffeine you pour down your throat.

Meditation brings me back to a balanced state. I feel more in touch with my own thoughts, and I feel that I’m able to focus. This helps me make better decisions and approach situations calmly. My job requires me to “take care of” a lot of other people, and sometimes that means that my own needs get shoved aside. This happens a lot in life. We push our basic needs aside for a bunch of other people’s wants. Our heads get all fucked up and then we are in a catastrophic state of being and we can’t get out of it. We self medicate with drugs and alcohol and we lose our drive for what we truly want in life. Meditation can revive you and change your life.

Here’s what I do when I meditate: I always meditate in the morning after a cup of coffee. I toss a couch pillow on the floor, lock the dog in another room so I’m not distracted by his constant scratching of his various itchy body parts, shut off all the lights, and then I light two candles. The candles have no purpose because I can’t see them while meditating. My eyes are closed. I don’t care, I light them anyway.  I put my iPhone in airplane mode so no one can bother me, and I set the timer on it for 16 minutes. I sit however I feel most comfortable, which for me is with legs crossed, chest and head up, and hands on my knees. It takes me approximately two minutes to get myself in the zone, sometimes longer depending on the day.

I inhale normally and count “one.” On the exhale I count “two.” This continues until I hit ten breaths, then I start counting all over again. My goal is to keep my mind clear of thoughts (at this point, nearly impossible for me), and focus solely on those breaths. Sometimes they are deep breaths and sometimes they’re more shallow. I assess each ten breath cycle and take this opportunity to “check in” with myself. If my breathing is shallow and tense, I ask myself why? What the hell is causing me to shudder while breathing? Then I work on fixing it during the meditation, and sometimes throughout the rest of my day.

Meditation sets me up for a happier, more productive day.

Possible complications: Some people get anxiety while meditating. This seems strange considering you’re doing it to prevent or decrease anxiety, but it’s very common. If you have a difficult time sitting for 5 minutes without talking or moving then you need meditation more than you realize. There are different ways you can sit, and various things you can do in order to make your meditation your own. Read books and articles online. Practice different techniques. Most importantly, don’t give up just because it doesn’t go the way you think it should the first time you do it. It’s taken me longer than I’d hoped to reap the benefits of meditation. I didn’t really get much out of it at first. I was determined to make it work for me and I knew that with patience, I would reap many benefits. Like anything else, consistency is key. Keep doing it.

I asked the guy who approached us at the pool what meditation does for him. He explained that members of his immediate family all suffered from severe depression, and he did not. He also said that he attributes his good health to the fact that he keeps his mind clear and healthy. He hadn’t been sick or in a hospital in years, and he didn’t take any medications. I firmly believe that all of these things are benefits of regular meditation, too.

Meditation has helped me through a lot of stressful situations. It has given me the confidence and courage to pursue activities that scare me. It allows me time to visualize outcomes and solve problems. Some days it gives me complete space from my thoughts, which brings relief.

Don’t underestimate the power of sitting down, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. This seemingly passive activity will completely change your life. And it will help you get your shit together.