In my thirty-eight years on this planet, I have changed. I have matured. Shifted my priorities. Came to understand loss and witness selflessness. I evolved as a person, from a selfish, dream-obsessed kid to a driven, goal-oriented man who prays each night to be worthy of his family. But as much as I have grown through the years, my core has remained intact. My essence as a person endured, because it was built solid from day one.

Among the many priceless jewels Frank and Christine bestowed upon me, one of the most important was the gift of self-love. Even though I intuitively knew how much work laid before me, I never believed that I wasn’t good enough or wasn’t capable, or that I should change myself to fits anyone else’s standard. In a world so bent on breaking your spirit and shitting on your aspirations, forming you to the mold of the status quo, I always believed I had something special to share. And was always dead-seriously intent on doing so.

When I hear parents derided for building their kids up, and chastised for telling them they can “be anything”, I shake my head and give thanks for how I was raised. We live in a cold society that is often negative and unforgiving in how it nurtures our kids in their formative years. Better, it seems, to destroy their confidence and run them into the ground, than to instill them with the self-assuredness it takes to achieve beyond the boundaries of the norm. Lower your expectations for life and you’re less likely to be disappointed, they teach. The studies back it up, we’re told. That’s just the way it is, says their dogma. Fuck that.

From the first day I can remember, my folks supported me and fanned the flame within my soul. They believed in me, my abilities and my destiny, before even I could. I stand here right now, because of them. There was only one caveat built into their loving encouragement, and it was unavoidable—everything I got, I would have to earn.

My path wasn’t one of self-discovery, but instead self-actualization. Slowly becoming what I wanted to be, by my own hand. Taking interests and turning them into burning passions. Taking hobbies and turning them into lifelong vocations. Taking gifts and skills and turning them into a career. I was becoming… Becoming better. Becoming bigger. Becoming more. I was building on a foundation.

This deliberate, individual growth was at the heart of bodybuilding, and is a major reason I fell so deeply in love with the pursuit. I wasn’t starting from scratch… I was amplifying and strengthening what was already there. One rep, set, workout, meal, shake, at a time. Constantly getting incrementally better. Throwing small change into my existential piggy bank every day, knowing that one day I could amass a fortune.

What was there underneath it all, hasn’t wavered much with time, as is fundamentally my way. I have fought to keep it real and remain authentic… True to my roots, my ambitions, myself. Against the tide of popular opinion, the onslaught of circumstance or the trendy shit with which so many become enamored. Remaining relevant with my finger on the pulse and my antenna in the ether of the god frequency, without ever selling out or selling my soul.

I look at pics of myself as a kid. The hat on my head to the kicks on my feet, the knowing grin on my face… From head to toe, I was simply drawing my own blueprint. One that I follow to this day. In thought and deed, in word and expression. Finding my own way. A product of the process and a prophet for progress. Truly a work in progress, with so much work left to do. The same dude on a lifelong grind… Determined to leave an indelible mark. Since day one.