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.

Face your fears.

Would you like to know a simple way to get over your fears?

Each and every fear that you have right now will be completely obliterated by adhering to the following suggestion:

Meet your fears head-on. Do not run from them, face them. 

Every fear that you have today will be destroyed as soon as you do that which you are afraid to do. 

People often think the word “courageous” is synonymous with “fearless.” It’s not.

Courageous people feel the fear and do it anyway. 

I have a book of personal fears that are disguised as goals. How do I know they’re fears? Because they’re on a fucking list. If they weren’t fears, they would be done by now, they wouldn’t be staring back at me in the taunting way that they do each time I open the orange notebook where I keep them. 

Make a list of all of the things you’re afraid of, then choose 5 of those fears and write them on a separate sheet of paper. After each fear, list out action plans for how you can face each fear, right now. Then get to work confronting those fears.

Writing your fears down will make you more aware of them, and it will put you in a better position of understanding them and yourself. Your fears can be great motivators of action. And action is the spice of life. 

One of my favorite books is The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It discusses the disease of resistance and the crippling affect of procrastination. My favorite quote from the book is, “Fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.”

 IMG_2477I use that quote to guide me in my daily life. If I feel resistance or fear towards something, I know that the only way I can dissolve that negative emotion is to go towards the fear and by doing so, I will conquer it.

Running from fear is like running from a relentless, wild animal. No matter how fast you run, the fear animal will continue to chase you for the rest of your life. Unless you have really good cardio, I recommend stopping in your tracks right now and introducing yourself to your fear. Then meeting that bitch head-on.

You will be absolutely amazed how quickly your life changes. 

 

 

Confidence boosting 101.

** WARNING: The following are my personal experiences, and in no way am I suggesting that anyone follow in my footsteps **

I was a painfully shy kid with low self-esteem, and social situations made me incredibly uncomfortable. I was also picked on a lot. I got bullied for two reasons: My last name is weird and difficult to pronounce (Fig-A-rel-EE), and I was (and still am) androgynous in appearance.

This harassment happened throughout elementary school, most of 7th grade and parts of 9th grade. It’s something I haven’t had to deal with since then because I learned how to stand my ground and I have become much more confident.

Here are 10 unorthodox ways that I built my self-confidence: 

1) I hid from the bullies and used my time to figure shit out. I analyzed every scenario, post-bullying and asked myself if what I was being made fun of for was actually true and then I would come up with a more sophisticated way to avoid the bullies or correct whatever I was getting made fun of for. This was good for me because it forced me to use my brain to solve a problem. I analyzed the spectrum of emotions that I regularly experienced; fear, loneliness, and anger, and I would play out hypothetical scenarios in my mind in order to improve my future interactions with said bullies. 

2) I owned the things I was getting made fun of for. My last name was something I couldn’t change, and I knew that it was unique. I eventually embraced my originality. I wasn’t a “Smith” or a “Jones,” I was a motherfucking “FIGARELLE.” Being different can be scary and lonely when you’re young, but you eventually figure out that being like everyone else sucks and that if you want to make it big in this world you need to stand out from the crowd.

Also, much like Eminem did in the movie 8 Mile, when I got called “gay,” or repeatedly told that I “looked like a boy,” I would make fun of it along with the bullies. Remember when Em mocked his whiteness on stage during the rap battles? I did that with my gayness. People are left with no ammunition when you agree with them and laugh, too. Plus, they think you’re crazy and this always works in your favor.

3) I took a more assertive stance and became a proficient trash talker. Getting bullied? Give it back to them! I used to get teased terribly by a group of girls in 7th grade. So, I shit talked them right back. One time I started telling a girl off, and before I knew what had come out of my mouth, she smacked me in the back of the head while I was sitting at the lunch table with all of my friends. After that altercation, I didn’t have any more trouble with that particular girl. I think she was surprised by my nerve to stand up to her.

4) I improved myself physically. Those 7th grade bitches tormented me everyday during basketball tryouts. No amount of tattling on them to the coach did a bit of good. Then I made the varsity basketball team and left their asses back on JV. Guess who became my new little group of ass-kissing friends after that? I also started working out in a gym and building up my physical strength. As I became stronger, my nearly nonexistent self-esteem began to see the light of day. I made mean looking faces in the mirror and started rehearsing lines like, “Don’t fuck with me,” and “What’s that bitch?!” Following by a violent, spinning karate move some guy at the gym showed me.

5) I hung out with delinquents. When I was in 8th grade, I smoked pot for the first time out of a TreeTop apple juice can with a bunch of older kids who worked at the movie theater I hung out at. I instantly felt cooler even though I didn’t actually get high. Just being “accepted” by these rebellious kids helped boost my self-confidence. I’m not saying go out and become a druggie in order to get people to like you, but I am saying DON’T BE SCARED OF LIFE. Whatever that means to you. For me, it meant smoking pot out of juice cans at the mall when I was 13. See, rebellious people tend not to be afraid of things. They say “fuck it” more than those who are afraid to go against the status quo. I learned early on that I would never fit in with people who were scared of trying new things.

6) I became a delinquent. Getting arrested, handcuffed and gently shoved into the back of a cop car will help you learn how to talk to cops. Normal people are afraid of the police and will do whatever it takes to avoid any altercation with them. I am not normal. Also, the back of a police car is really uncomfortable.

Authority figures have always fascinated me, and I took great pleasure as a teenager in testing the boundaries and breaking rules to see how many things I could get away with and what the consequences would be. I’ve had countless altercations with cops, mall security guards, principals and other authority figures in my life. Being confronted by someone who can potentially throw you in jail (I’ve never been to jail, by the way), will force you to face your fears and help you become more assertive.

7) I talked to everyone. Every weekend, I used to ask homeless people to buy me beer when I was too young to buy it myself. It takes a lot of guts to walk up to a random guy sleeping on the street, and ask him to buy booze for you and your friends. But I wanted to get drunk, so I learned how to ask for what I wanted. Sometimes it’s as easy as that. This also helped me face rejection. Sometimes the homeless people would take our money and our beer. And sometimes they would refuse to buy for us. We never gave up because that would mean no Friday night buzz. I wasn’t prepared to accept defeat, so I continued asking different homeless people to help us. If you’re easily discouraged by rejection, you won’t get far in life. Learning how to talk to adults- drunk and sober, helped me to fine-tune my communication skills and boost my self-confidence. 

8) I ran away from home. I always seemed to be grounded when I was a kid. Like, all the time. I couldn’t use the phone, ride my skateboard, or see my friends for weeks on end. One day I got fed up and I decided to run away. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time just to see what it was like. An experiment. It sounded fun, so I snuck the phone into my bedroom and called my best friend to see if she’d like to run away with me that day. She agreed to join me. I wrote a note to my mom and climbed out of my bedroom window. I needed to explore the world and I knew my mom would never let me “go camping” for three days during a school week. I had no intentions of ever hurting my family or anyone else during this time. I simply wanted to be free and do whatever I wanted.

Running away from home taught me a few important things; self-reliance, not to be afraid of the streets, and that it’s cold in the woods at night without a sleeping bag or tent.

9) I practiced doing whatever I wanted. I took my high school girlfriend to our senior prom. I wore a tux, and she wore a dress because that was my vision. That’s what we wanted to do. I’m sure people whispered behind our backs, but who cares? When you know what you want and you’re bold enough to go after it, everyone stands back and lets you be. If you live your life always afraid of what everyone else will think of you, then remember that you are the one who has put yourself in that prison.

10) I competed in Bodybuilding shows. The first time I saw a bodybuilder in a magazine I didn’t believe it was a real human. The guy had legs that were bigger than my entire body. I was so intrigued by this abnormally large person that I thought it would be interesting to see how far I could take my body with weightlifting. Because I was a slacker for most of high school and didn’t play many sports, I decided to train for the Miss East bodybuilding competition my senior year. I won the show and went on to compete for the next 9 years. 

5854_1190323950979_1121092_nPrancing around in a tiny bikini and putting yourself out there for the world to judge your body on a stage is pretty scary. All of the preceding events in my life that challenged me to face my fears also prepared me to be on that stage.  

Some of these may sound like asinine examples of how to build your confidence, but they are things that I experienced in my life that helped me become more self-assured and comfortable with myself. They were fun, and I have a lot of great memories because of my willingness to go out on a limb and do things that most people thought were dangerous and downright stupid.

Sometimes those are the things you have to do in life. The crazy shit that challenges you is also what changes 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.