(77) Dream BIG

Dream big. I recall clearly, a former mentor explaining to me that as he saw it, the secret to a happy life was low expectations. He cited psychological research papers that supported his position. The less you expected out of life, the less potential for disappointment. I couldn’t deny that what he was saying was probably true. But I also found it to be among the most sad and abysmal world views I had ever encountered. In the midst of life in 2020, it is easy to lose sight of the reality of existence, but here it is. The life you have is a priceless gift. It is a mathematical miracle that you’re even here. And you are the youngest you will ever be again, right now. Our dreams, I have found, are our life force. They keep us going and pushing forward. They nourish our lives as much as they require us to feed and cultivate them. On the hardest, darkest days of my life, my dreams were all I had. They buoyed me in rough waters, keeping me afloat. I stand by my statement that I haven’t been bored since I was 11 years old. Entirely because there has always been work to be done, and no time to waste. I am constantly hyper-aware of this fact. When you see me and talk to me, know that during our conversation a portion of my brain which I have segmented off is working in the background, fixated on some facet of my aspirations. Your dreams are purpose in its purest form, and they grow in power and stature when they expand to be bigger than just you, and your own base wants and needs. I’ve been told to set the bar low and abandon my ambitions in the name of a safer, more stable life. I get it. But my advice is somewhat different. I say life is brief and precious. All too short and valuable to live in cold and timid retreat. Instead, I say you need to pour gasoline on your passions and light a match. Let them burn inside, powering you forward like a combustion engine. Dream in vivid colors with the volume turned loud and the bass hitting hard in the trunk. Draft your blueprint and work your fingers to the bone to build what you’ve drawn. Stay up late. Wake up early. Make time for what you love. It is “go time” on everything you ever wished you did, on becoming everything you’d ever hoped you’d be. This is your time. On your terms. Today is another chance. And it may never come again. Dream big.

(76) Identity

Identity. In a politically-charged, profoundly polarized society, our citizens are often forced to pick sides. Join the club. Line up with a tribe. To root for a team, root against a team, or nowadays maybe even boycott a team. It is an undeniable fact, that many adults are still figuring out what they’re all about. And that’s OK. Life should be a process of constant self-discovery and introspection. At best, an evolution, forever improving. But deep down, we all know the deal. About what we want. The best self we yearn to be. Our ideals. Our values. What our ideal selves value… Who we are when alone with the mirror’s reflection. What the fifteen-year old you expected from life. This unvarnished, personal truth is impossible to deny. It is our essence. And that is your code. And when you abandon it, you let yourself down. And this is the greatest disappointment of all. In all honesty, we all want to make a buck. To put points on the board. To both play the game and win. But every choice has a cost. Every compromise comes at an expense. And each soul has a price. One paid for with your integrity and with your place on the right or wrong side of history. I admit it is a heavy thought and that the burden of decency is often a substantial weight to bear. So I don’t say this lightly. Who you are when no one is watching–who you wish you could be at your best, is still within reach. But it will take courage and confidence. Faith and fortitude. To stand your ground against the gathering mob. But you’ve got a code etched into your DNA, one with the capacity to change your world. Don’t be scared. Follow the mandate of your heart and its unambiguous directive. And there you will find your true identity.

(75) Labor Day

Labor Day. As a long, hot summer unlike any before it comes to an end, the masked masquerade of barbecues and beach parties marks a national holiday honoring work by offering us rest. So, before burgers and beer, I will drag myself out of bed and do what every other Monday does, set the tone for my life. You see, in a world often characterized by inequity, in an imbalanced society off balance, I endeavor to glamorize the common denominator each of us can embrace if we seek to improve our standing in this life—work ethic. In dark days, I have doubled down on determination, dedication and discipline. During hard times, I have leaned into hard work. Years of routine and rigor have facilitated the cumulative marginal progress I have made. But so much of what brings me back religiously to my regimen is gratitude. And a sobering understanding. There are people in this world who would kill to have what you take for granted, who would give anything to stand in your shoes. It is safe to assume that on all of the rest days and off days and vacation days you rationalize, someone is out there working obsessively with a singular goal in mind—to take your spot. So fix your focus on the work. Not mindless, thankless toil. But instead, working to earn what you want most. Working to keep what you already have. Working as a celebration of life and the opportunity to invest today in the promise of a better tomorrow. Working simply for the profound privilege of work itself. Because busy is a blessing. And to have purpose, is priceless. Every day that we can chase our dream is a holiday. Every chance to do this most valuable work, is labor day.

(74) Believe

Believe. You can’t get anyone to share your vision, unless you can see it with crystal clarity yourself. You can’t get anyone else to believe in your dream unless you first feel it in the fiber of your being. Truth is, there will be days when belief is all you have. Not just in the earliest, most precocious and precarious moments. But even on regular days, deep in the process like today. Many Mondays I’m restless and anxious. Some days doubt creeps in. And sometimes, I have to remind myself to believe. I find myself taking a sort of inventory. Of my resources. Of my mind. Of my values. Of my allies. Of my training. And the sweat equity invested daily. And in that list of largely intangible assets, I source great confidence. And once again, I root my trust in the most fertile earth I’ve ever known—the dirt beneath my own two feet. I put all the hope I could muster in myself. And all the eggs I could gather into a basket I’ve been quietly weaving my entire life. You see, all I’ve ever known is not being good enough today, working to get better. And not being good enough again tomorrow. Over and over and over. Forever. I do my best to do my best. And to practice what I preach. Because practice is what I preach. This is my religion. And from my faith, I have acquired great faith. Without it, I wouldn’t have a chance. Because, after all, if you don’t believe in your dream, why should anyone else? Believe.

(73) Fuel Up

Fuel up. You won’t be motivated every day. Sometimes you will be stuck in a rut and dragging your feet. That’s human nature. Some days the tank is dry and you’re running on “E’. What will keep you in check during those times of waning drive, are your discipline and your sense of responsibility. Believing that what you do and what you expect of yourself, are actually bigger than your own comfort, your own petty wants and needs. Understanding that your routine and regimentation will be as directly related to your success as any innate talent or dumb luck. Trusting in your dedication enough to know that the work will get done, even when you don’t feel like doing it. Whether fired up and excited or tired and discouraged, you won’t miss a beat. You’ve gotta dig deep. And source inspiration from wherever you can find it. Maybe it is a song or a film. Maybe a book or article. An image. A mantra. Perhaps it is a personal slight or conflict. Or maybe you simply manufacture a scenario in your head that pushes you to a place you wouldn’t normally go. Maybe it is a bout with the weights. Maybe an early morning run. In the gym, on your field of play or practice, these opportunities abound. A recent such instance occurred this morning. I was in my basement training legs, like every other Thursday. Arriving at my last set, as is my ritual, I wanted to finish strong. I was alone with no one to impress. I was the only one in the world that knew the workout was even happening. Alone on an island in my mind. My only competition, myself. Deep in the set, nearing the rep number my prior week’s had ended, an inner dialogue involuntarily began. Do I keep going, out into deeper water, into the pain, or do I make it end? And then, suddenly, the gauntlet was thrown down by a voice inside, “Do five more reps or you’ll be a failure in life.” With such blunt and clearly stated stakes, what choice did I have? I did five more reps and nearly collapsed into a puddle on the floor. This was just a snapshot, just a moment, a simple, seemingly trivial instance of a regular man doing more than he thought he could or probably normally would, simply because he challenged himself and demanded more. There are copouts available around the clock, reasonable rationalizations to talk yourself out of all that you need to do to be who you most desire. You’ve gotta turn the volume of those voices down and reject them out of hand. And remember, inspiration is everywhere, waiting to be mined–most especially inside of you. Dig deep. Find it. And fuel up.

(72) Get Back Up

Get back up. One of my primary objectives, is to never fall off. To stay on point and keep myself in check the best I can, day after day. To do what is expected of me, to do the work destiny demands. To foster  slow and deliberate growth, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. But don’t make the mistake of confusing progress with perfection. Triumph is not found in never getting knocked down, but instead, in summoning the will within to rise again. We learn more about victory in loss, we learn how to win when we lose. Truth is, we all fall. We all fail. We all have demons to fight. We sometimes lose our way. But what matters most, is that we don’t quit. Ever. That we trudge forward undeterred. That we proceed determined in the dogged pursuit of our dreams. Despite the often stark daily realities we all may face. Depending on how you’re wired, you live for that challenge. You get off on the doubt and the derision. You like to be underestimated and counted out. It feeds you. It fuels you. In ensures you will keep pushing. Every so often, you will have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and remind yourself—and the world, who the fuck you are. Remember, those with the scabs and scars, with the chipped teeth and grey hairs, with the war stories and worn work boots, are the ones actually in the arena, daring greatly for what they desire. Hitting the turf and eating your pound of dirt comes with the territory. It is part of the gig. Don’t be afraid to fall. Be afraid to live a safe and timid life, never knowing the awesome capacity that lives inside. Believe in your dream. Bleed for your dream. Try hard. Die hard. Reach for the crown you seek. And when you fall, as all heroes invariably do, get back up.

(71) Swing The Hammer

When someone asks me about the state of my aspirations or my progress in a specific endeavor, I’m likely to say, “I’m chipping away at it, one day at a time.” This is how I have always seen my dreams. Like a sculptor, alone in a dark cavern chiseling away at a massive block of granite, slowly bringing to life the vision in my head—one often only I can see. Metaphorically, each day, I’ve been “swinging the hammer”. At the same time, I like the blue collar visuals of it all. The thought that I’d pound away at my objectives until they took the shape I desired. In that scenario, I was the hammer. After all, I’d certainly rather be the hammer than the nail… And old school wisdom suggests that when the only tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer, every challenge in life starts to look an awful lot like a nail. But as I have matured and advanced, that phrase has taken on a deeper, more profound, yet highly practical and pragmatic meaning. And it is one, for me, rooted in humble gratitude. Each day that I open my eyes, and that I am lucky enough to rise… Every day that I am alive and kicking. That I have a dream and the ability to chase it. Every day that I am in the game and have a chance. A chance to do better and to try again, I am blessed. And thankful–to God, to Mother Nature, to Frank and Christine, to have the great fortune to wake up to the dawn of a new morning and swing the hammer.

(70) Find A Way

Find a way. An elemental ingredient of victory is resilience. The most accomplished in our species–the leaders and legends, don’t drift along on the roaring rapids of life unscathed. They are drenched and submerged, tossed and they tumble, their head goes below the surface, they gasp desperately for air. But they keep swimming. They go with the fearsome flow and they find a way to float. When our upstart brand had a door slammed in our face, on the eve of our third anniversary–what was to be our biggest weekend to date, with a sense that things were only going to accelerate from there globally, we had a choice—sink or swim. Extract everything we could from that lost Ohio weekend, reason and practicality be damned. And immediately pivot to taking our entire brand online. Doing whatever we could with what we had. To adapt. To endure. To survive. To advance. To be a steadying force of calm and continuity to people when they need it the most. Daily workouts and interviews on social media. Focusing on creating content and on generating productivity and positivity in dark days. Not because we have all the answers. But because we have none. And because we, just like you, are trying to navigate our way through this. Figuring it out as we go. One day at a time. Isolated. But not alone. Shut in. But not shut down. Once again, we are reminded of our roots–the symbol of our mission. The crown we seek, the cracked crown that flies on our flag, is not one of birthright. It is to be fought for, tooth and nail. In opposition to the tyranny of time and circumstance. Earned defiant to conditions, a war of attrition against destiny. When the chips are down and dark clouds circle above, those who will prove themselves worthy of their most grand ambitions, are the ones most determined to find a way.

(69) Mamba Mentality

Mamba Mentality. The coincidences are uncanny. The timing bizarre. As we prepared to take a leap of faith, to push our brand to the next level and fly across country to the LA Fit Expo, we took into account our destination. A lifetime fascination with basketball and an admiration for the level of dynastic excellence and signature Los Angeles cool, had us create and design as tribute, a purple and gold “LA Lifters” shirt. One that we knew would connect with folks on the same frequency everywhere around the globe, but most specifically those at the Los Angeles Convention Center, literally next door to the Staples Center on Figueroa in Downtown LA. To think we’d be there of all places in the world, with that specific shirt of all designs, on the same weekend the world would lose an icon far before his time, seems surreal. Kobe Bean Bryant hailed from the same region of the nation from where our brand originates. A native of the Philly suburbs, his various life paths quite literally crossed the same ground at the same time as ours, throughout Philadelphia and South Jersey in the 1990s. Regionally, literally from our backyard. Demographically, he is a peer. Personally, we are the exact same age. He too has four daughters and no sons, ranging from college age to babies. As a kid, I too was obsessed with becoming a hoops great. And while he had already accomplished at a young age more than even the most exceptional among us could pray to in a hundred lifetimes, what I had always innately sought to emulate most of Kobe’s traits was his mindset. There is not a day that I am able to rest or relax, as taking my foot off the gas is not a luxury I have yet earned. So I have always been inspired immensely by individuals like Kobe, who with all of the wealth and fame and security for which a person could ever dream, still find it within to constantly drive themselves to new heights. It is a rare inner dialogue. A voice inside that knows who you are and what needs to be done, that only a few interact with and regularly answer. It is the same internal conversation that allows a regular person to transcend their circumstances and to self-actualize themselves, materializing a vision they have crafted in their mind’s eye by sheer force of their will. It is an uncommon enthusiasm for hard work, a relentless push for improvement. A literal love for the extra efforts others shun. A maniacal motivation to make a dream real and then constantly continue to push that bar higher and higher every day… Far past the point of prudence or humility or sound judgment. It is completely unreasonable, but for some of us, having to answer with honesty to that voice in our head and to be accountable to its expectations, is the most sober and dire interaction. I have always felt a kinship with Kobe in that way, as he was the standard bearer for self-motivation. And for that reason, I am thankful that he existed and thrived as an example in my lifetime. But I am grateful to Kobe for a second reason, another maybe even more important legacy. That while I, as I often say, “fight my way home” across the country to Tara and my girls, I am reminded of the tenuous, fragile nature of human life… That in the blink of an eye, it could all be over. It gives you pause, causing you to meditate on all of your most important blessings. To not take for granted the hugs and kisses and “I love yous” of those I hold so dear, as each and every one is precious and could quite possibly be our last. Life is brief and short and random and nothing is ever promised, no matter who you are or what your plans. As I contemplate the tragedy of such a loss, perishing with his dear daughter, I do so with the gravity leading me to profound gratitude. For in his physical passing, his spirit and legend grows in stature. And Kobe lives on as a reminder—of not only the indomitable power of the human will and the pricelessness of work ethic, but of our true priorities in this world and our responsibility to those we love. Obsess over your life’s work, not just because it is who you are, but because of who is watching. In the cool Monday morning air of the day after, to me, this is the new meaning of the Mamba Mentality.

(68) Conviction

Conviction. On the National Holiday that recognizes one of our young country’s national treasures and one of our old planet’s most ardent champions of human rights, we are compelled to reflect. Fifty-two years after an American martyr’s untimely death, Dr. King’s legacy is complex. Not only did he represent mercy, kindness and equality… Love, tolerance and empathy. But indomitable strength. Bravery in the face of fear and wickedness. Hope in dreadfully dark days. And the sort of sincerity of conviction that can enable a mere mortal man to change the course of history. His intentions so pure. His focus so fixed. His commitment so deep. His faith unwavering. His mission so profound, that he would lay down his life today if it meant the oppressed people of our nation—and our world, could one day live free. When I pray at night, it is not for ease or comfort, but for the strength to be the man I was born to be. One who could speak truth to power, putting the least among us first, standing up for what is right, consequences be damned. In the eternal spirit of MLK today we must implode the heavens that when challenge and controversy call our name, as they often do, we can respond with bold belief, with concrete character, with decided determination and principled conviction of the highest order.

(67) The Secret

Everyone wants to know “the secret”. The shortcut to progress. The fast track to your dreams. The cold, sober truth of the matter however, is that there is no magic pill or silver bullet. “The Secret” they seek is found in old-fashioned fundamentals—work ethic, consistency, diligence, determination, dedication, patience, faith. The secret is hammering away every single day with no guarantee of success, chipping away at the massive obstacles that stand in front of us. Being weary and worn down, but never defeated. Taking a beating and bouncing back—resilient and defiant. The secret is believing in yourself, even when you’re the only one who does. The secret is doing the fucking work… For years.

Part of the joy of #TheProgram2020 is to be found in the gift of welcoming new people to the culture that we love. Letting them in, if you will, on “the secret”. Because what we come to realize, is that all of those old-school ideals, that aren’t sexy or flashy, are what the gym teaches and reinforces every day. And that over time, they transform you. From the outside, in. They alter your physiology and your philosophy… Your perspective and your personality. Tempered and hammered into place by our own hand, under pounding pressure and the highest heats, we become steely and unbreakable.

When I encounter someone, who is aware of this knowledge and in the midst of their process, I can’t help but smile and nod. For I know what they’ve been through and what they’re becoming. Among the most rewarding of all life experiences, is the revelation that by your own will and effort you’re creating something from nothing. That through your own internal alchemy, when no one is watching, you are making common organic matter into something priceless. That you’re bringing to life the vision in your head. To actualize your ideal self and move closer to your potential, one painstaking and deliberate step at a time. To understand that the power rests in your hands, and yours alone, to become what you dream… That’s the secret.

(66) The Power Within

The Power Within. As I work behind the scenes to prepare #TheProgram2020 I am compelled to go back to the roots and remember first falling in love with this culture and becoming aware of its awesome power. It was right around this time of year in 1994. I had quit the high school basketball team, and my Pops was picking me up from a local open gym. The Brigantine wind hits differently in December, the gusts off the Atlantic chill your sweat-soaked skin into a deep freeze, right through your hoodie. As was our tradition, we’d swing by the local pharmacy for some snacks and drinks and hoops magazines, maybe the Maxell blank cassettes to make a mixtape. In my surveying the store periodical section, something caught my eye… The January 1995 issue of IronMan magazine with Dorian Yates on the cover. I already had my cement-filled weights and my makeshift bench as the centerpiece of my townhouse bedroom. I had always been “in training”. I took my vitamins every day and said my prayers every night. It was already a part of me. But this was my first bodybuilding magazine. I read it cover to cover. Each time I opened it, from the articles to the supplement ads, I felt I was privy to classified information. Like I was unlocking a treasure trove of knowledge and untapped potential with each page I turned. The secret I was actually uncovering in that priceless five dollar magazine, was my own. That my entire youth, I had been searching for an endeavor to truly love, one that, unlike team sports, was completely dependent on me and me alone, and resources I had in abundance—dedication and determination. In every aspect of my life, I would find myself retiring to the shadows, paying dues in the dark, only to emerge stronger and more formidable. Inside and out, growing beyond the confines of the imagination of my peers. Unshackled by their limits. To this day, I experience this phenomenon. In a dark early morning, in the midst of an every day workout, I am startled by a realization. That in that moment right now, alone in my basement, when no one is watching, I have the capacity inside me to push myself to a place others won’t go. To do what they aren’t willing to do, so I can be what they never can, just as a matter of course. In the pages of that magazine as a sixteen-year-old boy, I discovered destiny. Weaponized potential of an atom-splitting capacity, rested in my hands. Self-actualization for which I had long searched. The sort of control that would touch every corner of my life was nothing to be gained in the external, material world, but was instead, the power within.

(65) Peace

Peace. The holiday season with all of its hustle and bustle, its constantly advancing commercialism and materialism, often prompts personal reflection. I look inside myself and re-order my priorities. Thankful for the tiny yet most important blessings we are most prone to take for granted, I long for simpler times, missing those in my circle now dearly departed, awash in wistful nostalgia. With the stress and struggle of the end of the year, both as a business owner and a provider, I acutely feel the strain, balancing the whimsical joy and heavy burden that weighs upon me. In harder times in my life, I have prayed for peace. Peace on Earth as Christmas pleads, peace in our homes—solidifying our family units as the building blocks of our communities, but most of all, peace within. But to be honest, I have always been torn. For I know that the ease and peace of mind I seek is at odds with the tumultuous seas of my soul that have driven me to this point. Dark skies and deep water, churning inside, the roaring winds of my spirit cresting the crashing waves whose kinetic energy is responsible for the man I am today, and the one I am diligently working to ultimately become. I must find solid footing in the eye of the storm. Standing steady, fixing my gaze on my destination, as a winter tempest stirs inside. Entering the world with the merriment of this festive occasion in our hearts, I beseech you to be kind to your fellow man, empathetic to his plight, humbled by the human condition we share. Let the power of love lead you, transforming with your light the lives of those you encounter… Spreading good will in your words and deeds. But there is too much work to be done to for me to wish you rest. Too much to build to take a break. Too far we’ve traveled to turn back now. In our mission let us find meaning. In our striving, the satisfaction of knowing we will never look on with lukewarm indifference from the sidelines of life. Let calm come over us as we forge our way forward, pure in the potent power of purpose, even if we can never truly know peace.

(64) By The Grace Of God

By the grace of God. An honest moment of introspection illustrates how things have changed. Between the birth of my twin daughters the day before Thanksgiving in 2015, and the birth of the GCode brand in 2017, the holidays have increasingly become more about commerce and commercialism than the younger idealist me would ever abide, or that I am proud to admit. Being fair to myself, this shift is more the result of necessity than choice. Twin birthday presents immediately transition to trying to make Christmas miracles happen, all the while strategically managing an online sales bonanza between Black Hoodie Season, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, determined to deliver value to GCode Nation. In the midst of it all, it is easy to lose sight of reality. Until face to face with it. As is our tradition, this time of year, as a community, we personally take turkeys and food items to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, to benefit the homeless in the place of our brand’s genesis. That annual visit is sobering. A reminder of a valuable life lesson my mother imparted as a boy. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Simply meaning that when observing those down on their luck in a city where luck doesn’t come cheap, that were it not for the love of Frank and Christine, a few good friends, an abnormal ambition holding me accountable and pure dumb luck, one of those subject to pity and in dire need of charity, could easily be me. And I am once again humbled by our common humanity, my empathy placing me in the worn shoes of my fellow traveler. In that moment I understand that were it me or my loved ones in such challenging circumstances, all I could ever ask for is kindness and mercy, and to not be judged. The prayer of thanks in my home is a simple one—a meditation displaying gratitude, counting all of the many blessings we so often take for granted. The roof over our head, the food on our plate, the health of those we love. For we know well, that so many of our brothers and sisters are not so lucky this evening. It is easy to forget, in the middle of the most stressful days, that there are kids going to bed hungry tonight, proud men begging for a chance to work for an honest wage, women unsure of their personal safety and that of their children, good people crippled by the sickness of addiction. And that here I stand, so very blessed in my hardships, lucky to face today’s challenges, to carry today’s weight… To struggle and stress and strive once more. By the grace of God.

(63) The Noise

An unavoidable fact of a life careening toward 2020, is the ubiquity of media forms, droning on in the background of every waking moment of your existence. From network TV and FM radio of the century past, to the robotic appendage of the smart phone, always within fingertip flick, firing apps into synapses at the speed of light. Social platforms marketing to us and gathering and aggregating our data around the clock. I’m neck-deep in it all daily, not above the fray by any means. But I do my best to stay woke. Guarding my mind against the trivial toxicity literally dripping from my phone, electronic pestilent propaganda often purveyed by my “friends.” Well aware that just as I am what I eat, I will become what I consume, if not careful and conscientious. Once again, this necessitates the ordering of priorities, and the understanding that each thought and idea that becomes post and tweet, is an extension of my mind, now living in the external world, forever immortalized as my personal brand. So miss me on the Disney + and the football fight memes and the suicide conspiracies and the rest of the viruses gone viral that are making us so sick. The bullshit distractions poisoning our people. Once again, Black Hoodie Season is here, quite literally a season of our lives. A deadly serious time to do the deliberate work our dreams demand. To be the shining light that quietly leads the way home… The brave voice speaking truth in the wilderness, with a message powerful enough to cut through the noise.

(62) Vision (20/20)

Vision. As the New Year approaches, the numerological significance is not lost on me. 2020, a futuristic year straight out of a science fiction novel from the twentieth century, is also symbolic. 20/20 represents the ideal function of the human eye and perfect visual acuity. From the outset of this GCode experiment and even for many years before it, a point of personal pride, and also that of our collective, was what we believe to be a singular and unique vision. As I’ve defined it, the magic is found in looking to the horizon, in defying what is trendy and trite, in stubbornly doing things your own way, in keeping your internal antenna in the “god frequency” creatively receptive enough to envision things in a manner that has never been seen before. The goal was never to just start a company, but to brick by brick, day by day, build a visionary brand. But the vision that one realizes is the most valuable, is actually not to be found in the cool ideas and dope design, but in the ability to cut through the bullshit and keep an eye on what matters most. Life has a way of swiftly re-ordering your priorities, of humbling you, of bringing you to your knees in prayer… It will mock you in your arrogance for daring to make plans. It will wake you with a drenching splash of the frigid water of awareness, shaking you abruptly from the comforting slumber of complacency. And in a flash, your optics will be crystal clear. From the rare fire of authenticity that burns inside of you to the treasured truth of what you hold most dear, all the things we take for granted are the only things that matter. Focus on what makes you so extraordinarily you, that which you love and cannot live without, and in the calendar-flipping clarity of 2020 let wisdom and gratitude guide your vision.

(61) A Pound of Dirt

A pound of dirt. Old world wisdom says that “you need to eat a pound of dirt before you die.” It implies rather frankly that you can’t overreact to every loss and hardship in life, and instead, you must welcome often unpleasant sacrifice in the name of a greater purpose. You need to be resilient, becoming comfortable getting your hands dirty, your knuckles bloody and your face bruised from time to time. You come to realize, that it is all part of the game. A game that will challenge your grit and resolve, daring you to defy the prolonged pain. Not unlike the timeless lessons imparted in the weight room, you will either adapt to the ever-increasing load and grow stronger, or you will break. If I can be honest, it takes equal parts humility and arrogance to survive. But living your entire life carrying the burden of dreams so big and heavy that most folks can’t relate, eventually changes you as a person. Humbly walking into stores for two-and-a-half years armed with all of the weaponry of an undeniably dope and visionary brand and often being greeted with doubt and disdain hardens a person. Through the frustration, the working class teenage chip on your shoulder that you’ve carried for decades grows bigger. And you realize that this is all part of the test–the complication of the cosmic drama in which you are the hero. That you will prove yourself worthy of the most massive aspirations by working and enduring and grinding through the tough times. That you will convert rejection into rocket fuel that propels you into the stratosphere. That the doubters and haters and non-believers only exist to play their critical role in the stageplay of your life. And that you need them in order to reveal your greatest self, that only their dark energy will allow you to become undeniable… Striving daily against the grain of resistance morphing you from a mere mortal man into a beast that cannot be contained. One who drinks whenever he wants from the golden chalice, because he was never too scared to eat his pound of dirt.

(60) Clean Your Plate

With our third #GROWvember arriving, it is a festive time of year for GCode Nation and the broader iron culture at large. A chance to eat big and lift heavy and celebrate all of the basic beauty that led us to fall in love with the lifestyle in the first place. It is also a time to show gratitude for all the many ways we are so fortunate. My maternal grandmother was among the most kind and loving, wise and intelligent, individuals I’ve ever known. A mother of five and a factory worker, she had a tough upbringing, having lost her father in the Northeastern Pennsylvania mines when she was just a little girl. Among many of the values and virtues she quietly instilled in me through her humble example, was to never waste food. To finish the leftovers. To be thankful for the immense blessing of a hot meal in front of you. And to clean your plate. A cycle of have not, waste not/waste not, want less. It has been shown that Americans squander 20 lbs of food per person, per month, on average. So, by extension, it is safe to say that our trash cans eat better than a massive portion of our planet’s population. And this isn’t just a statement about the poverty of third world nations… There are children in your neighborhood who went to bed hungry tonight. So, in the spirit of #GROWvember, I challenge you to alter your perspectives about food. Eating is not a chore. It is a privilege. Nutrition is not a hobby, but a life-sustaining necessity. Take none of it for granted. And seize the opportunity to feed your body with the fuel it needs… The food you worked so diligently for, spending your hard-earned money to provide. And don’t lose sight of these simple truths. There are skinny dudes in your gym. Folks without adequate food in your own community. Human beings eating out of dumpsters in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. And people around the globe who would literally kill to pick their dinner from the scraps you’ve thrown to the curb. Realize how lucky you truly are to have that meal you don’t particularly want to eat. Count your blessings. And clean your fucking plate.

(59) Live By The Code

Live By The Code. The tagline of our brand since day one, its prominence in our rhetoric begs some explanation. To “live by the code” could mean so many things to different people, but here’s my take. “The Code” is the path less traveled. It is personal principles, ethics and standards that one internalizes, etched through repetition into the firmament of your being. It is the high road… A higher calling. It is choosing what is right over what is convenient. Doing what is difficult out of duty. It is the hard work in the shadows. It is that extra effort when no one else is watching. It is the bravery to stand alone… To be unpopular. To dare to lead when everyone else follows. It is to be kind and decent and to side with the underdog. It is unreasonable, stubborn faith in your own vision. Confidence in yourself in the face of doubters and critics. The fundamental belief that within you is the capacity to do great things, if you’re willing to go to uncommon lengths to illuminate such a reality. The truth is, “The Code” is that inner voice. The one who knows you best and urges you on. The inner dialogue that demands more, because it is well aware of all that is possible. It is your “better angels”, your best self. And to “live by the code” is to answer its siren call every day, defiant in the face of apathy and pettiness, negativity and laziness, and all of the other poison that kills the most beautiful dreams. Never forget, you are a role model. Every day you struggle and strive and impose your will on your circumstances, you provide hope. You are a beacon of light in dark, treacherous seas, for so many lost souls adrift. There is an awesome responsibility inherent to simply being you. And instead of crumbling under that weight, or wilting under that pressure, you embrace it. Knowing full well that your lone route to greatness, can only be navigated by the mandate of your heart. The internal roadmap, leading you to live by the code.

(58) Endure

Endure. In a recent SquadKast conversation about what it takes to win life’s figurative race, I mused metaphorically that a Lamborghini is not intended to accumulate 200,000 miles. It is designed to be driven fast for short durations, to be gorgeous and stand out from the crowd. It is a marvel of engineering, but one with sensitive and exotic parts, and expensive upkeep. In many ways, we human machines are no different. We have our own inherent structural strengths and weaknesses. Some are built for high performance, others for the long haul. Some are light on their feet, seeming to float on the air with each stride, gliding through life. Others struggle for every last inch they’re able to plod in the right direction. At many points in my days, I have stoked the coal in my soul, fanning the fire I need to push my engine forward. Literally attempting to will myself to a better life, into a space I have conceived in my mind’s eye. This sort of transformative force takes a toll. As we are not meant to run so hot for so long. I do my best to keep this in mind. And not unlike a sprinter attempting to run a marathon, I measure my steps, conscious of my breathing, mindful of moderating my pace. In order to win, I know I have to go all out and all in, digging deep in the dark recesses of my being–beyond caution and discomfort, while still having enough left in the tank to reach the finish line. It is a precarious balance to be struck, playing chicken with the charging freight train of mortality. I must burn this fuel into a raging inferno, containing that explosive energy within, all without bursting into flames myself. This is my personal challenge, a solemn prayer emanating into the ether, laced in the smoldering black smoke of ambition–to channel this spark in my core, not to explode, but to endure.

(57) Pieces of Me

Pieces of me. A particularly profound, and well-traveled social media meme I recently encountered made an impression on me, personally, especially considering the timing. The graphic depicts the silhouette of a father handing his son, quite literally, a cube-shaped piece of himself. Helping his child move closer to completion while creating gaps within his own person. Emptying parts of himself so his son could be full. In its simplicity, it was profound. For me specifically, because I have been on both sides. On what is hard to imagine could be the tenth anniversary of my dear father’s passing, I am compelled to reflect on all he gave of himself to give me a shot. He passed down knowledge and a love of learning and took the time to discuss the widest range of topics with me in detail for thirty-one years. He instilled care and concern for the underdog–to be the one to speak for the voiceless, in the face of fear and the brutality of a bully or the gathering mob. He gave me the audacity of independence, and an understanding that the path to greatness can be lonely. He taught me to pay dues, to learn to love practice and training and all of the hard stuff that many shun or avoid, because there is endless joy and pride to be found in building yourself up, doing the work your dreams demand. There is meaning and purpose to be found in that pursuit of self-actualization every day, of the sort that many people live their whole lives and never find. He gave me true friendship. And unconditional love. And an understanding that a tough guy can also be the first to show affection. He also sacrificed so much of his peace of mind in order to ensure I had everything I needed. From an education to a roof over my head, food on my plate and new shoes on my feet. He gave everything, so I could have it all. And when he finally felt I had solid footing and could find my own way, he left me. With the tool box he had been filling since 1978. As warm tears stream down my cheeks, I think of the dark still of an early Monday morning. My mind already racing, butterflies in my stomach as I enter a new week of continuing challenges and endless possibility. Attempting to figure it all out, committed to drawing closer to the success and fulfillment he had imagined for his son. Determined to make sure my daughters are cared for, in the same manner he once provided for me. Feeling the toll of this awesome responsibility, I pray for the strength to carry that weight. To grow stronger underneath it, refusing to buckle or cave. Elementally, I know that I am a piece of him, like a new tree that grows from the leaves, limbs and seeds of a mighty elder, before it falls. One with gaps filled with the chunks of his being that he donated, so I could be whole. And like my father before me, I am determined to give it all away to my girls. To impart wisdom and determination, tenacity and heart, so that they too can one day fight to be their greatest selves. Fortified in their father’s undying love, bold in his belief in them. Full of a fire that fills their soul, a flame that rages eternally, fueled by burning pieces of me.

(56) Holidaze

Holidaze. As the East Coast climate cools and the leaves change, it is in our nature to relax. From Halloween to New Year’s Eve and everything in between, the cupcakes and cocktails… Pastries, parties and pumpkin spice paraphernalia. It is natural to let your guard down and get distracted, mixed up in a maze of matching flannel. But you’ve gotta fight that urge. A chill in the air doesn’t earn you the right to chill. Instead, while everyone else is kicking back, this is our chance to kick everything into high gear. While the rich dude in the house on the hill sleeps in his warm bed with his belly full, the hungry wolves take their opportunity to strike. With seventy-nine days remaining in the calendar year, a decision must be made. Do you submit to the leisurely lull of the season? Or do you double down on your dreams, while those ahead of you are enjoying days off? With our young, ambitious brand, there is no physical office or regular business hours, and in this way, we are not limited by the constraints of convention. We do not have the luxury of leisure. The only resources we have in abundance are enthusiasm and effort, and we work from the moment we wake. A cold, hard truth that you come to understand, living your life hustling against the grain, is that holidays are earned. You’ve got no right to vacations or villas with a view of a verdant valley. And your people will eat only as well as you are willing to struggle and sacrifice and do what the next man is not. Let the remaining twelve weeks of 2019 serve as a referendum on our grind. Use these precious moments to improve your life, inching closer daily to making your visions real. Fuck the lie you’ve been sold by those who don’t want you on their level. The biggest dreams don’t allow for days off. Don’t get caught up in the holidaze.

(55) Where The Buck Stops

Where the buck stops. Life is rarely fair. Often folks who deserve better, never get a shot. Circumstances can often bully people and bulldoze dreams, even before they have a chance to take root. Life can be hard. The world, cold. Humans, mean. In many cases, for all of us, simply surviving is an accomplishment. Compared to the realities of so many, I have, in a million ways, been lucky. Blessed beyond words with love and prospects for the future. Confident in my unique ability to do special things, if I am willing to do the work required. But with this understanding, comes great responsibility. And a stark, profound truth. The buck stops with me. I own my destiny. And the outcomes of my endeavors. I will win and work harder. I will lose and learn and try again. I will fight through my many flaws and frustrations to face rejection and come back with a vengeance. Because that’s all I know… Because that’s all I can do. And in owning my effort, I take hold of what I can control. Ultimately the onus is on me to do whatever it takes, and sacrifice whatever I must, and the blame solely rests with me, when I come up short. I am the architect of my own life, and alone at fault, when greatness eludes me. That’s the gig. That’s the job I signed up for. That’s the opportunity I prayed for through tears, and worked for through exhaustion, in the darkest moments of my life’s bleakest nights. They say heavy is the head that wears the crown… I wouldn’t know. The only crown I wear is one woven of the grey hairs of stress and the neck veins of strain, earned through years of defiance and struggle, under the weight of expectation. Bracing myself against the tumultuous tempests of life. Digging in to stand strong, the back stop barricade where the buck stops.

(54) Worthy

Worthy. Each early morning my mission is simple, my intentions pure. I enter into the new day with an understanding and a solemn pledge. I am aware of how blessed I am. I am cognizant of the daunting challenges that await. I carry with me the expectations of a great many, not the least of which are my own—contents combustible under the unyielding pressure of decades. I feel it most on Monday. A nervous energy. Excitement. Enthusiasm. I bottle it all up and it simmers just beneath the surface. Equal parts anxiety and the explosive potential of a pipe bomb, as I prepare to attack and fight my way through the next week. My best way to manage this manic emotional madness without becoming overwhelmed is to move slowly and deliberately, to breathe and remain calm, to sweat and strain in training. And then to organize my thoughts and execute. I don’t lay in bed on Monday morning, struggling to find my “why”. The motivations are myriad. The responsibilities mountainous. The tasks many. But above all, what truly drives me are the few people in my tightest circles, those who have shone light in the darkness of my days. My trusted colleagues. My beloved parents. My oldest friends. My beautiful woman. My precious daughters. It is for them that I navigate through the stirring tempest in my soul. Material wealth and peace of mind I’ve found equally elusive. Time, a fleeting apparition evaporating into the ether, never to be captured or held. All that we truly have, is this moment right now. The dream that smokes and smolders within. A daring reach for destiny’s brass ring. And an opportunity to stand defiant against the odds, choosing to shoulder the crushing weight of possibility that has pancaked many men more mighty than me. And instead, improbably, somehow summoning the will within to rise. Proving to my maker, to my muse, to my mission, to Monday, to myself, that I am, in fact, worthy.

(53) KING

King. “The crown you seek can be yours, but you’re going to have to bleed for it.” Admittedly, it was audacious… A working class brand from Jersey choosing a crown as its brand iconography. Not much of a departure from the same audacity that inspired a working class kid from Jersey without a pot to piss in to tattoo a crown on his shoulder a couple of decades earlier. The crown, at its essence, represents possibility, and the inherent daring necessary to believe in a dream beyond the confines of your circumstances. It also represents an idea… That conquests of massive magnitude often occur under the radar and off the grid, without glamor and often with much discomfort and sacrifice, the result of what I recently read described as the daily “aggregation of marginal gains”. Tiny, humble victories and minuscule improvements and those little extra efforts that seem not worthy of your time, all piled up on top of one another, sometimes for months, years and even decades. A habit I have attempted to engrain in my being is to never blow off what is inconvenient or seemingly inconsequential when it comes to executing my plan, but instead, to do whatever it takes. Because, in fact, in its totality, it all matters. To never allow myself to be too good, or too busy or too tired. Because it has become clear that all of those “little something extras” add up over time, and just might make up the razor-thin margin between domination and disappointment. I had a revelation recently, in an instance of routinely trekking that extra mile in the midst of my grind. One I made note to share, when while hammering away at a task not all that noteworthy, I saw a glimmer of light, of the sort that could precede a blinding breakthrough. Through the clouds, the truth became clear… All the little, seemingly insignificant details no one considers and the countless, thankless efforts that no one else cares to make, will one day make you KING.

(52) Labor Day

Labor Day. As a kid I had a t-shirt I wore playing ball. The words printed on it spoke to me on a deeply profound level, the sentiment staying with me my entire life. It read “Somewhere, someone is working harder than you. And when you meet them, they will beat you.” The paranoia that some random, phantom, faceless adversary was out there in the world, toiling in obscurity while I was resting, always haunted me. It was a constant source of motivation–the impetus to pay dues, and was largely an imagined, contrived scenario. To protect and fight and die for what I wanted so badly, for fear that one day someone hungrier and better prepared would come and take it from me. The truth is, that kid with the otherworldly work ethic lived in the inner-space inside of me–he was the ideal version of myself, the elusive best me I could ever be. All my life, I have chased him relentlessly. All my life, I have come up short. So as Labor Day approaches, and I attempt to orchestrate a working weekend getaway with my kids and my muse, I struggle. I fight to figure out how to maximize every opportunity to live up to the mandates and demands of my dreams every single day, all the while still doing my duty as a Dad. I admit, it isn’t easy to justify any respite, knowing how far I still need to go. I see social media documenting the galivanting of friends and their families, endless vacations and nights-on-the-town, and I marvel. So much revelry and relaxation. So much downtime and quality time and me-time recharging the batteries. Disney and day trips. Cruises and holidays. To none of which, can I relate. Never have I wanted my goals to come easily. I wanted to earn it all the hard way. I wanted to deserve every inch I managed to climb on this journey. Even if it meant tearing myself to shreds in that process. So that one day I could be worthy. Holding my breath for so long, hoping one day I would deserve the luxury to breathe. On this path I have sacrificed every semblance of peace of mind to get a piece of mine. Celebrating the work of each moment, laboring every day to one day earn my Labor Day.

(51) Smash Everything

Smash Everything. With an undertaking as daunting as the launch of the GCode brand, a process of years, unrelenting and enduring, a daily endeavor of great magnitude, much is required of an individual. You will be tested, you will be tired, you will sacrifice greatly. In many ways, you will be pushed to your limits. Often you will feel as if you’re struggling to barely survive. And if contemplated with too long a view, with a gaze that looks weeks and months and years down the road, it can become overwhelming. Especially when taken in the context of every day life in the real world and what comes with being accountable to, and responsible for, so many. As I’ve said before, I have found solid footing in the present. I have gained balance in reducing each objective to its simplest terms and attacking and tackling it accordingly. It is from this mode of thinking and methodology, that I arrived at a crude mantra, one admittedly lacking the poetry I typically prefer. It is bold and it is blunt and it is all about business. “Smash Everything”. Each day will have challenges and obstacles, tasks and trials and tribulations, and hiding within the work of each, will be opportunity. A chance to dominate this moment, to manipulate negatives to produce positives, to approach the dirty work and afterthoughts often taken lightly by the competition with sober seriousness, and crush them. And to take all of these seemingly insignificant victories of otherwise ordinary days, and stack them up, one on top of another. Until before you stands a massive edifice, one no one ever was willing to take the time to build. I find myself regularly at industry functions—expos and demos and soirées. Navigating a sea of embroidered tight polo shirts, snarky cynicism and entitlement born of successes past. I look into eyes and I know intuitively that we are not the same. This isn’t just a gig. I’m not just happy to be here. I am fighting for my life and for the lives of those I love, every fucking day. Those are the stakes. And I refuse to take any moment or opportunity in that process for granted. So forgive me if I seem overly focused or lost in my thoughts, to me this is not a game. I’m here to make the most of every day, to maximize the opportunities others took lightly, to pour my heart and soul into paying the dues I am so lucky to pay… Decidedly determined in my daily intent to smash everything.

(50) Obsession

Obsession. I will readily admit that I’ve never been all that good at finding balance in my life. In the back of my mind, there has always been a voice. Taunting me. Encouraging me. Antagonizing me. Questioning my heart. The voice has taken on many personifications—both heroes and villains. My father. My peers. My critics. My rivals. Sometimes an imaginary foil, somewhere off in the distance outworking me or doubting my desire. An internal motivational tool I’ve often used was to concoct a scenario or imagine an offense, and fixate on it. To dwell on perceived doubt or derision, magnifying it in my mind, using it as fuel to drive me forward. A cursory psych analysis would likely reveal plainly, that much of this inner voice has merely been a manifestation of my own inner conflict—fear and insecurity, pain and potential, defiance and disappointment, bottled up into a bubbling bad bitches brew in the pit of my being, ready to explode. As a 41 year old man, I think back to my adolescence, my teens, my formative years, my twenties and thirties, and I come to a stark realization. Though blessed in countless ways, I’ve never known satisfaction. I’ve never been content. I’ve never rested easily or known peace. Inside myself, I’ve been at war. Engaged in the fight of my life, a struggle, I’ve come to understand, that is entirely alien to most. Carrying across my back daily the most daunting dreams and the fates and expectations of a growing village. In moments of quiet and reflection, there has always been that inner voice, one so acutely aware of the work that needed to be done and the craft that required my attention, so rest has never come easily. The fact is, that I’d much rather be tired, or spread thin, or miss a social engagement, than let myself down. I’d much rather cherish the internal glow of accomplishment than trade temporary comfort for the dank damper of not having done the work needed to raise the stakes and standards of my life. That voice calls me. In the wee hours it beckons. It urges me forward, that extra step in the cold darkness of a late night. It drags me from a warm bed. It haunts my scattered thoughts. It is the most constant and consistent aspect of my personality since I was a child, that persistent determination that will not relent. It is my best friend. My best self. The voice inside whose hunger to prove and earn and create will never subside, what an outsider might call my obsession.

(49) Legacy

Legacy. How will they remember us? What you realize, the deeper you get into uncommon pursuits, is how few people are able to wrap their minds around what it is, truly, that you’re doing. “The working man is sucker,” I was told recently second-hand. Tough to swallow for a man whose precious six year old daughter recently wrote on a Father’s Day Tribute, that his superpower was “working”. The idea being that you devote so much of yourself to a task, for so long, whether that be working for yourself or for others, working away your prime, only to die anyway. No different than a surfer who lives in a van by the beach or a Tibetan monk or a Saudi prince. We will all one day meet our maker. Having recently read and then re-read Philip Knight’s memoirs about the tumultuous journey of building Nike from nothing, he too reflects on our compulsion with work, referring to a particularly poetic Bible verse, “Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” So much of my life is tied up in toil, spinning and weaving and grinding away my days. But in this process, for me, there is purpose. In this struggling and striving is meaning. And in many ways too, my legacy. The joke in my house with my beloved girls, when asked what days Daddy works, the answer is “every day.” In that devotion is sacrifice, not just my own, but more importantly, theirs. So I do not take my work lightly. And I seek to impart to them lessons that will help them later on in life—lessons of faith, of focus, of determination, of self-actualization. And in choosing vocation over vacations, in giving up peace of mind in pursuit of a daring dream, I can instill in them the audacity to believe that their life need not be ordinary. Or lived to the standards of their boss or their neighbor. But instead to the mandates of their own heart. And that whatever their calling, there will be more inherent joy than “job” in each day. Many more pious than me will speak of “duty”… A higher responsibility to family and friends and God and country. Lost on them is an understanding I came to long ago. That my greatest chance to serve them all is by painstakingly building myself into the best me I can be. And in that daily work, illuminate for them a finer reality. When it is all said and done, let that be my legacy.

(48) Miracle

Miracle. Today is already miraculous. The magic of life woke me from my slumber. I rallied myself from the dreamy safety of a warm bed in the still moments after dawn. Taking in a moment to appreciate the woman I love and my trusted ten pound best friend, both resting but inches away in tranquil bliss. I dress and emerge from my room, glancing in the direction of my daughters’ bedrooms, the few moments of daylight quiet and peace they will permit—their beautiful, blooming kinetic energy at this early moment paused and on angelic recharge. I mix a beverage that I once dreamt up, temporarily numb to the almost incomprehensible fact that said product actually exists in the world. I drink deeply. The smell and taste alone an experience that emboldens my spirit, invigorating me as it enters my bloodstream. I walk into the dark of my basement and turn on the light. Here for the next hour, I will vigorously practice my discipline, again paying daily homage to the iron for all it has given to me. The day to follow will surely include stress and setbacks, pressure and impatience, frustration and anxiety, not uncommon not only to massive undertakings of great consequence, but adult life in the real world, especially as a parent. My life is not perfect, and certainly, neither am I. But I’d be a fool to not see all of the inherent blessings so easily missed in these seemingly minor morning moments. Built into it all is the enduring promise of purpose. The glorious meaning to be mined from the pursuit of a lifetime. I refuse to lose sight of the undeniable truth that having a reason to rise to the occasion—to meet the rising sun, is anything short of a miracle.

(47) Own It

Own it. Your destiny is in your hands. The realist in me understands the precious value of timing and the pricelessness of luck and good fortune. I believe in God. I endeavor to live a life in keeping with good karma and the Eastern concept of the oneness of all the Universe. But I alone, am the architect of my life. I will be a product of my efforts and my decisions and my thoughts and my gestures. And in this understanding, I find great strength. A recent mantra of mine, one I’m happy to share, is about the business of building this movement. I tell myself “The GCode brand will be as big and successful as I am willing to work.” I have reflected on these words at great length and chiseled them into the firmament of my soul. There is so much empowerment in those words. So much affirmation. And at the same time, it is a dare. Not unlike my dear father, calling me out in my youth, fanning the flame of ambition with a simple challenge of my work ethic. “How bad do you want it?” With each new morning I must meditate on my mantra and ask myself this simple question, nearly three decades old. Armed with the knowledge that on the other side of the answer lives the life of my dreams. So as we embark on a new week with all of its inherent opportunity to seize and obstacles to clear, we must ask ourselves, what are we willing to do in order to make our most cherished dreams real? In our sincere response to this query our destiny awaits. Own it.

(46) One Better

One better. So much of life is a mind game. Since I was a kid, an internal mechanism I’d use to push myself was in how I’d count. Doing drills for basketball later became sets and reps in the gym. Whatever was my goal in that specific moment, the challenge became to make one more shot or run one more sprint or to do one more rep than that. And in my head—that little something extra, would be the new standard. The thought being that the additional little effort, a distance to which the next man wasn’t inclined to go, would become normal to me. And that all of those little efforts over time, would tip the scales in my favor. It was what I had conditioned myself to expect. That philosophy ended up spilling over into every other aspect of my life. With GCode, for every advantage we might lack compared to the competition, we would double down on everything we could do better than them. And then commit ourselves to making up the resources gap with effort. Giving of ourselves beyond the boundaries where others care to give, or give a fuck to care. That’s an identifying characteristic with which I want GCode Nutrition to be associated—effort. What is now our second annual #40Daysx40Nights was born of that same desire. To hold ourselves accountable and push our limits as matter of course, an Aristotelian ideal where excellence becomes habit. Where daily dominance becomes ordinary. So when our 40×40 came to a close, I made sure to get up early the next morning for cardio, paying homage to the iron before heading out to further the agenda of the brand with a public event I had orchestrated last minute. Because rest is not yet a luxury I can afford and days off are never an option when your dreams are this big. Because the standard operating procedure of each regular day is to always do one better.

(45) A Game of Inches

A game of inches. Glory isn’t found flourishing out in the open, growing in the daylight, in the broad expanse of a green pasture. It is tucked away in the dark places, in the nooks and crannies of life, where few ever care or dare to look. Because the truth of the matter, is that our existence isn’t a series of cataclysmic occurrences, but instead the stringing together of often unspectacular days, of patterns of bred behaviors, of the repeating doldrums of the daily grind. Our lives are made of up of tiny tiles eventually forming a massive mosaic. Each so small, alone they seem insignificant. But I know better, and my knowledge, if I’m entirely honest, is born of fear. Fear of not giving my all, of not sweating the small stuff, of not sweating enough in my pursuits. Of not doing whatever the fuck it takes to gather up all the inches no one else cared to collect. The 14,965 days I’ve been blessed to open my eyes, are each representative of an inch crawled forward, against the grain of rugged terrain. Often dragging myself on bloody knees. A young lifetime of days, each day a lifetime. From dawn to dusk, from morning to midnight. The seasons of our life. All in a day. Each day a series of minuscule moments. Each minute made up of the ground you either gave up or gained. The minutiae of matter that mattered most all along. The difference between a life lost and immortality won isn’t a matter of miles, but a game of inches.

(44) Invest Wisely

Nothing new. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen someone borrow an idea, or steal a style, or ride a wave started by the little upstart startup, underground underdog out of Jersey, as I recently told a Invest wisely. No matter where you find yourself in the class warfare of the social strata, your resources will undoubtedly be limited. Even if you have more money than an oil tycoon or Egyptian pharaoh, you still will only have so many hours in the day, so much attention to pay. So your time, your focus, your passion must be seen for what they are—valuable investments. Either in your dreams, or those of another. Properly spent or pissed away. Productive or destructive. My friend Brandon Lilly recently shared an inspired thought, that each aspect of your day is a reduction or an improvement, a “+1 or -1”. A circumstance that either furthers your progress or sets you back. It articulates well, what I’ve always known intuitively. A defense mechanism I have used to protect myself and my goals, since I was a kid–and all the more so, the deeper I’ve submerged myself in this all-consuming GCode vocation, is to step back and to look at each challenge and opportunity in its simplest terms. Making my ambitions less daunting by reducing them to their bare root essence, and then addressing each micro-mission in its moment, independent of the macro-mountainside before me. You see, taking over the world in twenty years can be an overwhelming thought, especially for a father of four with bills to pay today. So better instead, to invest in being my best right here and now. With each word written, email sent, concept articulated, idea executed. Each workout trained, each meal eaten. Each interaction with family, each gesture of love. There is opportunity for progress. There is potential for investment. As is always the case in times of mourning, we are able to reflect on the transient fragility of life. Having just lost a dear family pet, one of unique personality, pure soul and idyllic innocence, it is difficult to not recognize that our days on this spinning orb are with each day, increasingly finite. Gratitude brings with it an inherent understanding of value, of the worth of things too often taken for granted. Today is a priceless resource. One not to be passed by casually or spent frivolously. If we can train ourselves to understand the cost of time wasted, the possibility of explosive growth in each opportunity bested, we will never again see the present moment the same. We will realize the magnificent power that rests in the palm of our hand, the currency of a formidable fortune as yet unknown. And promise ourselves to invest wisely.

(43) Nothing New

Nothing new. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen someone borrow an idea, or steal a style, or ride a wave started by the little upstart startup, underground underdog out of Jersey, as I recently told a buddy, “I’d have so many nickels.” That kind of stuff used to really bother me, but as I’ve grown and matured, I’ve come to a revelation. With leading, comes the responsibility that others will follow. With blazing a new trail, comes the reality that you have now provided a path of footprints. Always take it as an honor and a privilege, a flattering compliment. Proof that you’re tuned to the right frequency. Besides, nothing is new. We all gain our inspiration from somewhere. The only way to continue the cycle and remedy redundancy, is to keep doing dope shit. Be too busy looking forward, cultivating the next concept, to worry about the imitations of old. After all, this perspective, this vision, this culture, is not a passing fancy or fading fad, it is the lifestyle of a lifetime. Of desire. And dedication. And defiance. And determination. By design. For decades. Consistent and constant. Hammered into place through hard times, clung to for dear life through dark days, an alchemy of blood and sweat, tears and iron. All to find ourselves in a place we’ve never been before. But somehow, through it all, it’s nothing new.

(42) Consistency

Consistency. Life experience teaches that the best method to become unstoppable, is to never stop. In every instance in my life that I found myself in a deficit or in the back of the pack, there was only one path forward that ever made any sense. To come up with a plan, and gain ground on whoever was in front of me, by outworking them. To slowly and methodically hammer away at my dream in silence, in the shadows, allowing passion to power my process. I’ve long said that with enough practice and enthusiasm, you can become a master at anything. If you are able to work and remain positive and excited when others would throw in the towel… If you can stay hungry while the lead dogs sleep comfortably with their bellies full, you become a dangerous man. You see, there will always be people ahead of you in your chosen field, more accomplished and established. But human nature dictates that with success comes contentment, getting fat on the spoils of victory. When I would identify those in the seats I coveted, I could look them in the eye and I’d know. I’d know whether they’d go to the brink for their dream, if they’d tear themselves to shreds to make it real. That they’d eventually burn out or give up or rest on their laurels, and that all the while, I told myself, I’d be in the darkness working. And when they least expect it, long after they’d forgotten about me or written me off, I would strike. I would make my move and pass them. And never look back. And it wouldn’t be a mere product of God-given talent or dumb luck, but instead the compounding interest of commitment. Of a life dedicated to the determined dirty work a dream demands… It is not sexy or flashy, it is not loud or bold. Here, there’s no glamour or glittering gold. But the distance between who you are and who you always knew you could be, can be found in the daily grind of consistency.

(41) Outsiders

Outsiders. Don’t ever make the mistake of confusing your popularity with your influence. Often respect and fear are intertwined. Respect for your potential. Fear that it could be brought to fruition. Positive energies are often greeted with more contempt than their darker opposites. History teaches, they will often throw flowers at your feet and crown your head as they anoint it with oils, for preaching division and negativity. But talk about love and unity and they will strike you dead where you stand. Remember, it is not our place to play by the rules and follow the accepted norms. It is to reject the status quo and live to a new standard we establish for ourselves. A higher purpose requires setting the bar higher to which we aspire. If they don’t understand your vision yet, take solace in knowing one day they will see it in crystal clear high def. Stick to your guns. Create fire. And treat people right. Every day. Knowing in time you will become undeniable. And if the invite to the gala ball never comes, that’s OK too. We will build our palace outside the city gates. Not subject to their laws, doing it our way… The only way we can. The way only we can. Proud to be the outsiders.

(40) Sweat Equity

Sweat equity. Growing up, I was lucky to always have what I needed. But there were many times that I didn’t have what I wanted, and for that fact, I am all the more fortunate. That deficit between where I was and where I wanted to be, was never a powerball ticket or rich relative away. The distance between reality and possibility, was sweat equity. In my mind, in my heart and soul, I was always wealthy in every way that mattered, regardless of my bank account. And the intellectual property between my ears, was often all that I owned. But I always loved the fact that the only thing spanning the gap from my current circumstances to my dreams was me… And my willingness to work. There are many rich kids in this world. And plenty of folks who have either hit the lottery or have been a lottery pick since birth. But visionaries. Especially those willing to toil and trudge forward during dark times with no guarantee of success… Those cats ain’t growing on trees. Remember that. When you’re fighting to keep the lights on, and it is a struggle to squint hard enough to see any light at the end of the tunnel, your only course of action, is to believe in yourself. Invest in yourself. Bet on yourself. Dedicate your precious hours to your dream. And accrue the most valuable currency of all—sweat equity.

(39) Be Your Own Hero

On what is an unofficial American holiday, I set aside time to watch some of the best athletes on the planet put it all on the line in the name of their lifelong aspirations. Fighting for their goals on the largest stage imaginable. It was also a perfect excuse to lock the doors, draw the shades and fire up the snacks, spending quality time with those I love. But before the family celebration of Super Bowl Sunday and the pure joy that comes along with all of it, I had to make time for my dreams and my priorities. I learned long ago, that we all have our golden rings to chase, we all have our championship games… Many of which happen when no one is watching. So before kickoff today, I made time for #TheProgram and ten sets with Tara in the squat rack. As the Arnold approaches and the two year anniversary of our upstart, underdog brand looms, I pulled the laptop out and made time to write these words for you. Why? Because those squats and this brand and these words are more important to me, and a select few of you, than the big game in Atlanta. And as I have said many times, Giselle’s husband wasn’t setting aside time this week, missing practice, to watch me work. So why in the world would I sacrifice any of my precious hours on his behalf, not paying the dues my dream demands? At the end of the day, don’t forget that your matinees idols and Instagram icons are just flesh and blood dudes like you. And if they are capable of uncommon greatness, most certainly, so are you. The days of living vicariously through other men and wearing their family names on your back have come and gone. Instead, let’s dedicate our passion and pride and precious power to becoming our own heroes.

(38) Never Give Up

Never give up. There are no days off as a father. Or as the founder of this humble but ambitious brand. Days off and vacations are things I gave up, so I didn’t have to give up on my dreams. Of late, I’ve given up a full nights sleep, buying new Jordans, eating out, any peace of mind whatsoever, all in the name of a greater purpose. I’ve begun to analyze and shed that which I don’t truly need. My priorities have shifted. My goals have come into tighter focus. And things that once seemed so important are now to me simply that—things. Immaterial material goods. Disposable shit from which I’d opt to abstain so that those under my care needn’t go without. Another thing I gave up in the process of my daily process, were days off from training. We used to joke and say A.B.T. aka “Always Be Training” but now I live it every day. Monday through Sunday you will find me in my temple, paying homage and tribute to that which built me. As I see it, days off and free time are luxuries to be earned, and I’ve got much work left to do in every aspect of my life. When my day comes, I’d rather be guilty of doing too much than not enough. I’d prefer to make the most extreme effort than to sell myself short in the name of moderation. As my old friend used to say, instead of running between the raindrops, I’d prefer to rust. When he’d say that shit, I felt like I was the only one in the world who truly understood, in the depths of my being. When we use the phrase “Built From The Ground Up” we mean having our face in the dirt every fuckin day, fighting to defy the odds and create something legendary from the most inauspicious beginnings—a special sort of alchemy that turns the ordinary into the priceless. Laying in place with precision and care each brick, one at a time. To have the bricks one needs to build a timeless structure will take sacrifice. But there are few things I wouldn’t give up, just to make sure I never give up.

(37) The Grind

The grind. I didn’t always have a strategy. I didn’t necessarily have a game plan or a business plan or a backup plan. But I had the grind. I didn’t always have a girl, or a friend to confide in, or a seat at the cool table. But I had the grind. I didn’t always have a dime in my bank account, or my bills paid, or a crib of my own. But I had the grind. I don’t always have a good night’s sleep. Or peace of mind. Or a sunny disposition. But I have the grind. Sometimes I’m sad. Some days I’m afraid. I don’t always have my confidence or any certainty or security. But I’ve always had the grind. My religion. The place where I put my belief during my darkest days, is a deep well within myself. In the quiet solitude of paying the dues alone few are willing to pay… In the pure purpose of thankless toil. In chasing a vision that lives in vivid colors only in my mind. In the hope to be found in the head down, hoodie up, hard work of one more day, on the grind. The cure for my ails, the antidote to my ills, the solution to my problems, has always been the same… The faint glimmer of faith at the far end of the tunnel, as my train charges forward in the dark. The confidence to know you will one day bask in the warmth of the light, I will only find in the shine of the grind.

(36) Resonable Doubt

Reasonable doubt. I’ve long stated that doubt is the companion of the most ambitious among us. It is an unavoidable consequence of a life lived in pursuit of something greater. It isn’t that your heroes and idols don’t deal with doubt and criticism and uncertainty. They wrestle with these foes daily. But instead of letting the derision of skeptics or the voices of fear inside their own heads stop them, they push forward, brushing past the bad energy undeterred. In my day I have trained myself to convert the raw emotions and anxiety of a life on the edge, into fuel… Premium gasoline to power my drive. But in the midst of it all, I have learned to differentiate between the reasonable and the irrational. The mind is a complex web of chemicals and impulses, firing synapses and electrical charges, capable of quite literally changing the course of human history—of creating art and invention from nothingness. It is a wondrous, powerful machine. But left unchecked, untrained, unnurtured, it can run amok. And in equal capacity to build, it too can destroy. We must be mindful of our self-talk—the internal messages with which we communicate with ourselves. We must remain our most staunch advocate, our most loyal ally, our biggest fan… The cool head with measured perspective upon whose good judgement we can rely. In a life generally absent of leisure or relaxation, I have found refuge in the recesses of my mind. In the vacation of a single breath, I clear my head, order my thoughts and focus. I am grateful. I am inspired. I am anchored in the present moment. And I am kind to myself. After all, it can be a cold, unforgiving world out there. The best defense is to turn yourself into a fucking tank. But that barreling, bulletproof brick shithouse can’t constitute only your external shell. Your mind too, must be a steel trap. A well-oiled mechanism capable of both great sensitivity and shrewd analysis… Equal parts caring and calculation. Cool, calm and collected enough to cut through the bullshit. Hopeful. Optimistic. Positive and resistant to panic. Peaceful, even in the furious frenzy of the most stressful days. Capable of envisioning the limitless potential that lives on the other side of this struggle and strain, beyond a reasonable doubt.

(35) Responsibility

Responsibility. At the end of a long day, I often find refuge in my exhaustion. Phone charging out of reach. Mind and body spent. I collapse into my bed, embracing the euphoria of fatigue. Knowing full well that in just a few short hours, the alarm clock will sing my theme song, if my restless mind doesn’t wake me first. When Tara first met me, she said she envisioned me opening my eyes in the morning and a wave of ideas flooding my head. She was right. And the same is still true. But those creative impulses at forty, as opposed to twenty, are now crowded by the concerns of running a burgeoning business and my obligation to feed and properly provide for a family. But I remain grateful in those moments of stress streaming into my conscious mind. As I navigate a dark house, headed to the basement for iron therapy, I seek to wash away that “cortisol bath”, order my thoughts and focus on my fire. For I know that in the pain, is my purpose. And in such profound purpose is the meaning of my life. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Strong becomes the back that carries the weight. Life will bring its demands with force, straight to our face. And as the word clearly states, our responsibility is to respond to the best of our ability. You are the protagonist of this story. The hero of your own epic tale. And you grow in stature and power and ardent resolve by embracing the burden that bears down upon you. So take it all on, the pressure, the struggle, the crushing heft of high expectations, and be accountable to your destiny. Greatness lives inside of you… If you dare to fight for it. If you can weather the storm. After all, being bold and courageous is your responsibility.

(34) History Remembers

History remembers. Before I close my eyes at night, I take a moment for gratitude, counting my blessings, focusing my mind on my priorities and taking stock. This is not a new practice, as this nightly meditation and affirmation has been commonplace for me since I was a boy. The subject matter of my prayers has certainly shifted over the years, however. I no longer pray for success. I simply ask for the strength to be the man I was born to be. I do not request lighter loads, just broader shoulders and a stronger back to carry the heaviest of life’s weights. I ask to be a better man and to better serve the world. And if I am completely honest, I pray to be worthy–of my aspirations, of my dreams, but above all, worthy of my daughters and my wife. I simply want them to be proud of me. With experience I have discovered that status or wealth or influence, are factors, in the big picture, that are ultimately dwarfed by character. Will they be proud, not of what I have or I’ve given them or what I’ve accomplished, but instead of the person I am and the values I have consistently instilled? And even more, did I live what I preached? This is the baggage I bring to the symbolic ceremony of signing the social contract. As a father. A husband. A leader. A man. In 2018, I feel manhood is under assault, in large part by other men. Toddler souls filling a void of rejection and insecurity with overcompensation. So desperately needing love, they cannot show affection. So profoundly in need of acceptance, they are intolerant. So frightened, they seek to intimidate. So scared of being a loser, they must always line up with those in power. So fragile, they are incapable of showing mercy to the vulnerable, for fear they will be seen as weak themselves. I often contemplate life in the 1960s, and how just a decade or so before my birth, people literally laid their lives on the line in the name of justice and equality. And how only fifty or so years later, in the cold retrospect of a half century, right and wrong are so obvious and indisputable. Having always been “one of the good ones” I hope I would’ve had the courage to stand with the oppressed in the darkest days. In that same way, I know my conduct and judgement in these tumultuous times will one day need to stand up to the hindsight analysis of my four girls, who will question what the “code” really was in which I believed. I may be able to wax poetic about tough choices and lesser evils, scamming the whole world. I could weave a tale that spins alternative facts and fake news into a tapestry you’d find appealing, so much so that the truth you might forget. But history will always remember where I stood… And so will those four beautiful girls.

(33) Time Marches On

Time marches on. I’ve long said that time is our most valuable resource. That you can earn spent money back, but time that is gone, is gone forever. It is the great equalizer—with no concern for class or race or creed. It rolls forward, unstoppable. Bulldozing everything in its wake. I contemplate this brutal truth on the ninth anniversary of the passing of my father. My best friend, who my brother Sko once referred to as a “rock of a man”. I can remember the paralyzing numbness of the initial news. The immediate responsibility I took on to not let my little family fall to pieces. And a phenomenon I can’t quite articulate other than to call it “an infusion”. I have come to understand that energy is infinite—it does not dissipate or die, but goes on forever, taking new forms. And when I lost my father in the physical realm, I gained a new strength, of the sort I had only encountered before in my interactions with him. A sort of hardy constitution that refused to bow or break when days were dark. Tough as nails, but the first to love and display affection. He was complicated and flawed and self-destructive, but he was a lion of a man. He was my father, my motivator who lit the fuse, my trusted counsel, the seed from which I grew. And his spirit rages inside of me every day. As I helped my muse manage the mayhem of a brisk Autumn weekday morning getting the girls ready for school, I realize that a day will come when these beautiful babies won’t be so dependent on their Daddy. That time will whip through our lives like the cold wind on a sunny October Friday. And sooner than I’d like to admit, they will grow strong and stubborn and passionate, with dreams all their own. And one day, long from now, I pray, they will think fondly and lovingly of their father, who gave so much of himself, so they could have a chance to be great… Just as his dear Pops did before him. This is the whirling cycle of life, in the midst of which we are all so blessed to spin our precious days away. Learn to truly appreciate it all, as time marches on.

(32) Believe That

Believe that. As a monumental moment has arrived in the young history of our brand, with us bringing a first-of-its-kind innovation to the marketplace, I was asked by a friend and a distinguished member of the GCode family, “How’s it feel to see your dreams come alive?” And the answer, while incredible and nerve-racking and exhilarating, was also that, I had no time to smell the roses, pat myself on the back or to rest on my laurels. With the dedication and determination of some of my closest friends, by the skin of our teeth, we were able to execute the highly unlikely. And from the moment this vision became real, and since before we shared this creation with you, we have been under the gun. As you see, I’m no company founder parking my Lamborghini at the private airstrip for a social media meme. I’m a dude who put his life on the line to try to chase the impossible, with only the help of a few trusted cohorts and the grace of God to thank. I’m a Dad with his non-verbal daughter at the emergency room at 3:00 AM barely able to breathe with a respiratory infection. I’m a business owner figuring out how to get his bills paid and make sure his family is fed and clothed. I’m a husband struggling to prove his life mate right for believing in him. I’m a friend desperate to be successful in order to validate the life choices of his brethren who believed. I’m a kid from nothing willing to bleed and suffer to be something his family can be proud of. In the still moments of a late night, as I stare at the ceiling trying to order the complex, complicated cryptogram in my mind, I find solace in a simple truth. I have successfully survived today. And inherent to that survival, is victory. And for a second, I can breathe. Never lose sight of the fact that every day you live up to your responsibilities, every day your people eat, every day you keep a roof over your head, every day you invest time and effort in your dream and keep its pulse beating, you are a fucking champion. It is easy to forget in the struggle and stress of each day, but it is so very true. Believe that.

(31) The Village

The Village. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I’ve long dreamt of extracting and building and refining what I have within, so I might one day be the child who raises up my people. What I’ve witnessed firsthand, however, is that it takes the care, concern and contribution of a great many to make a dream real. Truth is, the self-made man is a myth, and as much as I am a work in progress, product of the process of determined self-actualization, I am proof of this false premise. Anyone who really knows me, understands that below the surface is a sensitive artist, a lonely only child, who is terrified of letting his loved ones, as well as himself, down. Tara and Sko and Dirt will tell you that I spend an inordinate and impractical amount of time contemplating how what I’m doing or thinking or not doing or thinking, is impacting others. And how the more I’m paying attention to one thing, the less I’m focusing on another. Spreading myself thin, well aware that something or someone will always suffer neglect that I struggle to reconcile or abide. It ties me in knots. Because I care. Because I want it so bad. Because it all matters. Because you matter. And I don’t want to let you down. Sometimes I wish I knew the freedom of not giving a fuck, but I just don’t have it in me to be so casual. In the midst of facilitating what we refer to as “Phase Two” of the GCode era, we have endured much stress and many sleepless nights. White knuckles and cold sweats. And through it all, the beacon in the storm was you. You see, as we’ve endured and grown and gained momentum, it was you who was in the trenches, in the street, fighting the good fight on our behalf. It was the barber from Pennsylvania putting in the good word, a Jersey gymnastics coach lobbying on our behalf, schoolteachers educating their kids with our principles, a roughneck crew from Toledo spreading the gospel in the wilderness… Allies and advocates all, who believed from the jump, and transmitted their faith in us to the masses within their spheres of influence. As we struggle and strain up this mountainside, we know that on that arduous ascent, we are not alone. Harnessed to the unyielding stone face by the hopes and hard work of a great many, we climb, one defiant, deliberate step at a time. Knowing that when we one day reach the apex, we will not stand by ourselves. On the mountaintop with pride will reside the village.

(30) You Are More

You are more. You’re more than your job. More than your present social class. More than the circumstances into which you were born. You are more than your worst decision and your biggest mistake… More than your regrets and the toughest beating that you ever took. You’re more than any degree on your wall. More than your biggest trophy. More than the accomplishments and accolades of your best day to date. You are more than any title or stereotype. More than the regard of your loved ones or the derision of your harshest critics. In a world of eight billion, you’re one of one. The genuine article. The only of your kind. The last of a dying breed. The first of your prototype, and when they built you, they broke the mold. Do away with the baggage of the past. Cast aside that unnecessary weight and refuse to allow it to slow you down one minute more. You have no laurels upon which to rest, and rest is a luxury you cannot yet afford. Your failures. Your victories. All past. All prologue. All irrelevant. You are no longer who you were ten years ago, ten months ago, ten days ago. All there is, all you have, is right here. Right now. The vision. The work. The gift of the present… The present of endless possibility. What you will do now will determine your future. What you believe is what you will become. In owning this moment, in all its chaotic splendor and explosive potential, you are powerful beyond your wildest imagination. The opportunity is here to be what you’ve dreamed. To define yourself. To live life on your terms. The day is here. The time is now. And you are more.

(29) Bet On Yourself

Bet on yourself. The cold truth is, at various points in our lives, we each must make a decision. Do we allow our future to be dictated by others, our course to be charted by the will of the winds, or do we bet on ourselves? Such a dilemma is not always so easy to solve when face to face with the practicalities of life in the real world–a riddle riddled with responsibilities not so simply resolved. I have been there. As a matter of fact, that is where I stand right now. At a precarious precipice. On the brink of opportunity with no ceiling, my innate instincts always hyper-aware of the lack of safety net below. But I’ve always known, that for a common man of modest means and uncommon dreams to ever transcend his assigned seat in the social order, he would have to grow oblivious to oblivion. The Summer of 2018 saw me coming face to face with my fears and my fire. My faults and my flaws and my fortitude. All as it relates to my future. At a fork in a road that many wiser and more successful have faced, I went straight. I put my faith forward and doubled down on the only commodity upon which I’ve ever truly put stock. Myself. As the stakes are raised, I brought to the table the only resource I own in abundance, all that I am, my entire capacity within. And under the nervous gaze of all who love me, of all who ever cared… The watchful eye of those who support me and all of those for whom I care, I pushed it all to the center. In this temporary, solitary existence we are blessed with on this planet, nothing but death is guaranteed. Every time we leave the house, our fortune is a roll of the dice, our destiny tip-toes gingerly on a razor’s edge. Our lives are precious and limited. Bold blazes burning brightly but so briefly, illuminating the dark void of the universe. Better to dare greatly while you still can. Better to bet on yourself.

(28) No Big Deal

No big deal. Part of my parenting process is the use of a simple phrase to provide measured perspective in instances that one of my daughters overreacts to a negative turn of events, melting down disproportionately. “No big deal”, is uttered quite often in my house, to a hysterical three to five year old child. Unfortunately, we don’t ever truly outgrow that propensity for dramatic, over-the-top response. And while first things should come first and few of us have the luxury to take lightly important matters in our lives, as my Pops used to say, most of our issues are “not the atom bomb”. Everything seems so hyper-consequential—paying bills and piling up material goods and managing the typical stresses of life in the real world, until shit gets real. You think you have problems, until you encounter someone you know who is really going through it. Their child or spouse is ill. Their parent died. Their loved one is struggling with crippling addiction. You witness this from the outside, and like a backhand blast upside your mug, perspective straightens your ass out, properly ordering your priorities. A statement I use to stay centered and focused on what is truly of the greatest import in my life is a simple one… “All the things we take for granted are the only things that matter.” Your health and that of those you love… The roof over your head…The food on your plate. The things that seem like “givens” until fate takes them away. Survive enough shit and you grow wise. You come to realize that nothing is the “end of the world” other than the end of the world. And in finding our gratitude and cherishing the small blessings of each day we are lucky enough to breathe again, we come to the understanding that so much of what we tie ourselves in knots over, in the grand scheme of things, is no big deal.

(27) One Dat At A Time

‘One day at a time’. We program ourselves, those most goal-oriented among us, to keep our eyes on the prize. To delay the momentary gratification of today in the name of the ultimate satisfaction of tomorrow. Hood up and head down, we push toward the horizon. That’s just how we’re wired. But what I’ve learned over time, is that the victories of three years from now are won in the conquest of today. Next months’ bills are paid with the work done now. The most daunting physical endeavor is inched toward incrementally through this early morning’s workout. Everest is climbed one deliberate step at a time. But move too far back for perspective, and it all becomes overwhelming—your goals and aspirations, your responsibilities and duties, life itself. It all seems huge and impossible and impractical. Weighing down upon us like a cargo van on our chest, it becomes hard to breathe. Which is why I made a promise to myself to be present in the now. To conquer today. To seize the day. To dominate the small tasks in front of me. And to gather my strength by letting go—of worthless worry, of stagnating stress, of the fears and fruitless fret that flood an unfocused mind. I am instead committed to winning what I can control—this momentous moment in all of its quiet magnitude, where the man and the mind inside presently reside. Generating the momentum my dream demands, meditating on cranking the gears of destiny’s machine the only way I’ve ever known… One day at a time.

(26) Blank Pages

Blank pages. Some days, I gaze in a trance, mesmerized by the blinking black cursor. A white page stares back at me, defiant. The whiteness of the blank canvas before me, simultaneously represents two polar opposite states of being… Vast emptiness. Nothingness. The lack of accomplishment. The pressure that comes with knowing nothing has been done, when so much needs doing. At the same time, the white page symbolizes infinite possibility. Unlimited potential. The chance to do something that has never been done before. In theory, every time I sit down to write words on a page, the opportunity exists—though admittedly highly unlikely, to craft the greatest story ever told. To pen words designed to pierce the hearts of all who read them and set their soul ablaze, like an ink-soaked arrow lit on fire and shot with precision accuracy and serious intent. This writing process is not unlike the potential inherent to the rise of each morning sun. When your eyes open, you fade-in from black, and today’s film begins in vivid color and surround sound. You are, at the same time, the hero of this tale and the author writing each word of the story. The future–whether grand or bland, rests solely in your hand. Self-determination is real. And the outcome you seek will often be determined by how determined you truly are. Our days are malleable lumps of clay, waiting to be molded by the skilled hands of a creator. Our epic story begging to be crafted with care, word by profound word, one at a time, filling with inextinguishable fire life’s blank pages.

(25) What Do You Think?

What do you think? It is said, that what comes to being in the physical world, is first born in the abstract recesses of the human mind. Put simply, thoughts become things. Ideas become outcomes. Mantras manifest. As such, of all life’s battles, of all rugged terrain to be conquered, none might be as daunting, as winning the turf war going on in the space between your own two ears. No conquest could be of greater import. The ability to control your impulses, to quell panic under pressure, to properly manage stress, to remain positive and optimistic when dark clouds circle above, is quite literally the ability to create your own reality. We are luminous beings, bone and sinew sewn together with magic and music. At one at once with the sun, moon and stars and with every living thing that walks, crawls, swims or flies… What came before and what will one day follow. Infinite energy cascading off the cliff at the edge of the galaxy. A stream of stars and electron charges disintegrating into the black abyss, like a comet’s tail. What we send out into this vast Universe—like moisture evaporating into the clouds, will one day pour back down upon us. What we believe in the depths of our being, in the core fibers of our soul, will take root within and grow. Maybe we weren’t a mistake. Maybe we’re not a cosmic accident. But instead were put here, at this exact time in human history, for an express purpose. And that our destiny is not to be fulfilled for vanity or our own petty wants and needs, but instead is a higher calling of the highest order. Perhaps we are the noble warriors. Perhaps we are the conquering kings. Perhaps we are the heroes who win in the end. What do you think?

(24) You Never Know

You never know. From the outside, you can’t really tell. With the external trappings of fame and success… The accolades, the regard, the material wealth, the opportunities, it is difficult for folks like you and I to imagine how those with so much could be so profoundly unhappy. Authors and actors and chefs and designers alike, seemingly living the dream—a charmed life free of much of the stress and worry so many of us carry every day, it is hard to understand. But nonetheless it happens, where someone with so much acts in opposition to the most basic of human instincts—self-preservation. And in an instance of despair and distress, they take their own life. I look back on moments in my development, where those who I felt had so much going for them—so many advantages and positive attributes, yet they simply couldn’t find the light they sought in life’s often dark corridor, or when they did see the light at the end of the tunnel, they realized all too late, that it was an oncoming freight train. In the spirit of never taking things for granted, I remind myself—in the form of imploring you, to never assume too much about your fellow traveler. It is often the strong ones who need a helping hand. It can be the stoic ones who could use a shoulder to cry on. It is the tough guys who really just wish they had a friend who cared. Many people who seem to have it all figured out, are silently struggling more than they might ever let on. Ours is a glorious and wondrous existence with boundless potential, but we can easily become overwhelmed simply in the process of living up to it all every day. Be a trusted ally to a brother in need, simply by reaching out and checking in. A twenty second text message or a quick phone call at the end of a long day, could quite literally be a matter of life and death. You just never know.

(23) Heavy

Heavy. Much of the currency in which we trade involves the laws of gravity being proven again and again, bearing down upon our mortal frames, being tested by loads of cold iron pressing down with unforgiving heft. But I’d argue that the heaviest weight I’ve ever known, is that of expectation. Most of which I’ve placed upon myself, by choice. But also by birthright—an inheritance of my own birth and that, later on, of my children. The beautiful burden I bear is that of legacy. Carrying forward my late father’s and building one of my own. This sizable weight is one that many often don’t hoist by choice. But I’ve always wanted it… Wanted to represent my family name with honor. Wanted to do my folks proud. Wanted to make the memory of my father before me eternal in the hearts and minds of all that I’d encounter. Wanted to do my daughters proud in a manner that could live beyond my days on this Earth. That, over time, became my every day challenge. Years back, I reached a point in my development where I could no longer justify using the rhetoric of war when writing about the gym. Knowing that my peers gave life and limb for my freedoms, made the tough talk of “battles” related to working out seem cheap and silly. In the same way, at a certain point I realized that my beloved gym was as much a vacation as it was a vocation. And the weights, compared to true matters of life and death, were not all that weighty. The responsibility of building something that lasts—a life as a monument of grand consequence, one that pays homage to the past and endures with looming stature into a limitless future… That can be a lot for a regular man to shoulder. As another Father’s Day comes and goes, I am reminded again of my life’s charge—of my responsibility to history, to my father, to these little girls. I embrace the glorious struggle and strain to come, for I know it is my life’s calling. And like always, I am well aware that the most dramatic strength and growth to be gained will be unearthed when the weight gets really heavy.

(22) The Thin Line

The thin line. There’s a thin line that separate genius from madness. Love from hate. Beauty from vanity. Righteousness from hypocrisy. Lust from disgust. That which motivates us most, pushes right up against our deepest fears. The places where we are weak or vulnerable are often on the outer edges of our most dominating strengths—that devastating upper cut we throw, leaving us the most open to getting knocked out cold. Our confidence remedies our insecurities. Our knowledge illuminates how ignorant we truly are. We must toe that line daily. We struggle with every fiber, down to our core, to maintain balance. A razor wire we walk so gingerly, perched high above the concrete circus floor. But beneath us, there is no safety net. Only oblivion. And a crowd gawking in anticipation. So we keep our head up, our gaze straight, our steps sure, our breathing steady. And we move forward. If only an inch at a time, we proceed. Thin lines abound, like spider webs. Both intricate and simple, both delicate and strong…. Thin lines within us. Thin lines under our feet. We navigate this precarious path above their heads, because there is no alternative. We know the greatness we seek is just a hair beyond the confines of the most mundane and ordinary existence. On the other side–of stress, of pain, of loss, destiny awaits. So we take another deep breath, calm our nerves and gather ourselves, a collection of thin lines and thick skin, walking the tight rope of life.

(21) The New Standard

The new standard. The social media society in which we exist paints a perfectportrait of an ideal life. Carefully curated pictures, meticulously mediated messages. Things of more import than thoughts. Images of greater value than ideas. I’d be lying were I to claim that I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me… I am an extension of my parents, the living legacy of my father, the primary role model for my children, a reflection of my spouse, the figurehead for my burgeoning company–and I have strived to lead by positive example since adolescence. But I am so very far from perfect. In every aspect of my life, I need dire improvement. From parenthood to professionalism, time management to organization. Food as fuel to physical prowess… I could do a lot better. I’m a product of the process, and as a work in progress have much work to do to progress as I desire. And it is in this unyielding pursuit of a better me, that I scrape closer to unearthing my own inner greatness every day. What I’ve realized, is that how I can best motivate and inspire my peers, is not by furthering a flawless fallacy, but instead to keep it real, and reveal the blemishes and bruises visible on my visage once you’re allowed to see under the veil. As the self-anointed patron saint of never giving up, I hope to demonstrate daily that there is glory to be found on the grind and strength that results from struggle without cease. Life can be hard, but it is in facing the challenges of each day head-on, that we become harder. In resisting the resistance of circumstance with defiance and dignity that we may redefine excellence, with our own words, one our own terms, in our own times, establishing for all who dream of a better life, a new standard.

(20) Unreasonable

Unreasonable. So many of our attitudes are adopted. Adaptations born out of a desire to survive—to avoid discomfort and inconvenience at all costs. To prevent conflict. To avoid confrontation. To be free of controversy. To properly align ourselves with the powerful, to stand in a straight line—lined up with the agenda of those in authority. Play it safe. Save face. Find a safe space. Stay in the right lane, assured to arrive safely at the destination of your destiny—an inevitable death unavoidable by pharaohs and philosopher kings alike, since multicellular organisms first oozed out of a swamp in the motherland at humanity’s dawn. Tiptoe through the tulips and run between the raindrops for all of your days avoiding bruise and blemish and broken bone… Only to die anyway. What I’ve realized over time, is that so much of our common sense shackles us to a common existence–our practical realism, practically cementing a very practical reality. To be extraordinary, we must, by definition, do more than the ordinary, making those extra efforts as a matter of course. I remind myself of this fact in instances of decision, often opting to go straight when the fork in the road presents itself. Common sense becomes the common course of action, because that is what the masses typically choose. What we must train ourselves to do is to overcome our conditioning in order to overcome our circumstances. I choose to make the attempts from which wise men often run… I opt to take the chances at which more conservative types shudder… I yearn to get my hands dirty in a way the beautiful people find themselves too prim and proper to ever dare deign. Life, as I see it, is far too short to wrestle with the regret of having the more lazy and timid voices in your head rule the day. Let me be the dude who did the things in pursuit of his dream that most were not willing. Let me be the one bold and and brave enough to be unreasonable.

(19) Never Forget

Never forget. The loftier your ambitions, the bigger your goals, the further off on the horizon your dream, the louder the voices. The naysayers. The critics. The cynics. On the sideline of life’s marathon sneering and jeering as you often crawl an inch at a time with your face in the dirt, determined to keep moving forward at all costs. They mock your seemingly futile efforts, as pointless. Because, they don’t know what you know. They haven’t lived in your head all this time. They don’t understand the pain and the sacrifice. They haven’t fought the daily doubt. They haven’t wrestled with existential crises and meditated on their purpose on this planet since they were children. They haven’t lived on the margins, in the lonely shadows, preparing in solitude, paying dues each day surrounded by skeptics and cold souls, shrouding the smoldering flame that burns within. They haven’t protected their dreams for decades, dialing in their vision daily, refining their craft. But you have. So keep that in mind, when times are tough and the cacophony of criticism cascades down upon you. Know in your heart that a day ofreckoning approaches. Where the fair-weather friends become fans and followers. Where the snakes in the grass slither on their belly to your side, warming themselves in the rays of your sun. One day soon the non-believers will see the light. The detractors will be converted. And what you’ve always known in your heart to be true about yourself and your destiny will manifest. Irrefutable and undeniable. Make no mistake, those who once rejected you, will one day come to for validation. Keep striving. Keep believing. Keep grinding. Your time is coming. Never forget.

(18) The Gospel of “Just Wait”

The gospel of “just wait”. There has always been a phrase in the back of my mind, one I could go to, to find solace and strength in times of turmoil or disappointment. A “good word”, that was actually a bisyllabic internal utterance… Something of a mantra. When I’d observe those more advanced than myself in my various endeavors, and I’d assess the sincerity of their commitment, I’d say to myself two simple words… “Just wait”. I knew inside of me was a burning desire, a bubbling cauldron of a pressure cooker. A singular vision and an uncommon confidence rarely found within the circumstances I was confined. I was aware that there were those more naturally inclined, those more traditionally “gifted”. But I knew what those phenoms didn’t have, was my heart. I knew deep within, I wanted it more. And that the flames of that “want” burned so hot, they would endure. You see I knew, eventually, those ahead of me, would give up, or burn out, or get lazy. And that during the times that backs were being patted, and laurels rested upon—the spoils of their many victories spoiling in the sun, I would be in the shadows working, dreaming, preparing for my shot. And one day, when no one was looking, or paying attention, I would pass them… And never look back. Like a violent storm that materializes seemingly out of nowhere to level structures and uproot trees–the sky a billowy black blanket of clouds, lightning strikes. In what appears to the unsuspecting like the blink of an eye, the landscape is altered in a manner so profound that it can never be the same. That storm brews inside of you, too. And a change is going to come when they least expect it. Just wait.

(17) The Chase

The chase. Hunger, of the sort that burns in the pit of a person, I have long posited, is a gift from on high. It is an ambitious urge that cannot be satisfied by common means. A hunger to prove yourself to yourself—to the world, to destiny. To affirm ourselves worthy of the gifts of life and liberty, of self-determination. Such hunger is an honor to harbor within, for its yearning is the compulsion that can pull a common man from the dark daily doldrums into the glowing rays of a life less ordinary. It is not unlike our mammalian cousins, hunting not because they are “savage” but instead because it is their only means to survive. That lonely wolf on the mountainside chases its next meal, driven instinctively by the sensory recollection of scent and sound, and the satiated sensation of a full belly. For those wolves among us, stalking in the shadows, searching for our next opportunity to eat, we do not forget that smell, we do not dismiss that feeling. It is programmed into our very being, etched onto our genetic code. Make no mistake, we will go to the ends of the Earth for this vision. We will stop at nothing for this dream. For we know our true nature and what is necessary to push humanity forward. Some live for the glory and comfort of the feast. Others among us are born for the chase.

(16) Resist

Resist. I don’t believe audacity is learned. For some, I think it is simply engrained in the very fiber of who we are. Code written into our DNA, if you will. I’ve never been one for authority, never one to bow to titles. Just as I must earn my respect every day, I’ve felt the same for those in seats of power. Don’t tell me how great you are, show me. Don’t throw around your status, instead display true humility in your willingness to work. Don’t bully the weak and wield force carelessly, but be strong in your mercy and kindness. It is easy to follow. It takes nothing extraordinary to blend in. It is safe in the anonymous consensus of the forming mob. But there is no glory to be found there. When I pray, I ask for the strength to be the man I was born to be. For the courage to be unpopular. For the fortitude to do the right thing, even when inconvenient. For the wisdom and love to be a better father. For the discipline and integrity to be a worthy role model. The truth is, some of us simply were not meant to go with the flow. Not born to kiss ass with feigned interest and fake smiles. Not flexible enough to contort ourselves into the box the world built at birth for our burial. Instead we are to rebel against the establishment, defiantly holding our ground, holding fast to our ideals. Fighting fiercely for all of our days, in pursuit of a crown that was never supposed to be ours. Our character swells under that strain. Our identity comes into sharpest focus in that struggle. Know that you are valuable… That your life has meaning… That greatness resides within you. So that when the weight of oppression is the heaviest, and the winds of fortune blow the coldest, you will remember your purpose on this planet. Resist.

(15) The Only Way We Know How

The only way we know how. Nostalgia is a powerful force in my life. I’ve long believed that every epic hero needs an origin tale–the back story that illuminates why you are, who you are. For that very reason, I try my best to take mental notes, to gather photos and mementos, to document my travels up life’s winding mountainside gravel road. Because it all matters. We did not wake up this morning a self-made, finished, polished automaton of self-actualized virtue. We are works in progress, products of the process, the sum parts of a vast many people and places, wins and losses, broken dreams and hopes held onto for dear life. The self-awareness to recognize all that was responsible for molding you, most often manifests itself in gratitude. As such, as the one year anniversary of our humble but ambitious movement came to a close at the end of March, we were compelled to go home. Back to the Brigantine Fitness Center, where a sixteenth birthday present from a mother to a son, literally changed the trajectory of my life. Where I found myself–finding myself many late nights, early mornings and countless afternoons, at times when many friends had no direction. Where I built myself up, day after day, more deeply coming to realize that the world can eventually be gained by simply putting one grain of sand in your pocket at a time. So when I hear of old machines or tattered flooring, dust or rust, and the wear-and-tear of a life well-lived and dues paid daily, all I see is beauty. This past Saturday, I went home to pay homage. To break a sweat and break bread with my brethren. To breathe the salt air with the salt of the earth. And to give thanks. To get under the crushing weight of a loaded barbell. And to stand up to it defiantly. As this place has taught me to do, again and again, for decades. To rise when the weight of the world presses down upon us… The only way we know how.

(14) The Hour Of Power

The hour of power. Society has convinced you that ideal conditions are required in order to make the progress your dream demands. An open schedule, ample free time, sizable financial resources, a full night’s sleep. Bullshit. Perhaps we have been sold that bill of goods by those seated on the mountaintop as a means of discouraging the rest of us from climbing. I will tell you this, that I know in my soul to be true—every real person who ever accomplished anything great had to do so against resistance, resistant to derision, most often despite their circumstances. They had to make time, they had to find a way, they used what they had. Instead of focusing on all I didn’t have in the pursuit of my dreams, I’ve always used the things I lacked as fuel, and made the best of that which I did have in abundance. Hunger. Enthusiasm. Self-confidence. Originality. Experience. I’ve channeled these assets into doing the work I determined necessary in making the progress I desire. And I make the time. As I have said countless times by now, as much as a reminder to myself as any sort of directive for my audience, there are 168 hours in a week. For that which is truly important, you will find the time. If you can dedicate one hour per day to your dream on a religious zealotry-consistent basis, you can truly reach astounding heights. Because after all, the little things—the small investments, add up over time. An hour of power every day becomes thirty hours in a month—more than a full day or ¾ of a full-time work week invested in just one month. In a year it equals more than 15 full days or 9 traditional work weeks—all to a single objective. Imagine what could be possible. One of my “Revolution Resolutions” for 2018 was to be better to myself. And one way I have always been able to ensure my own happiness, well-being, and fulfillment, has been to spend time wisely and regularly working on my craft and making incremental advancements toward a better life. So if it is twenty minutes I can find to grip the iron and let its transformational energy course through my veins… Or fifteen minutes to sit my daughter on my lap to read a story… Or a quiet late night hour to weave together words to share with my brethren, it is precious time well spent. After all, time is the most valuable commodity we have in this singular, fleeting life. There is priceless power to be found in just one hour. And you, your dreams, your life, are worth that investment. Instead of making excuses, make the time. So much of our potential can be unlocked in a simple hour of power.

(13) In The Dark

In the dark. I can trace back so much of the man I am today, to a warm Spring day in 1990. After school at St. Philip’s, I walked three blocks from my apartment building to the 42nd St basketball courts on the south end of Brigantine. I met up with members of the diverse cultural gumbo that comprised my peer group—dudes of every walk of life, background, race and age, and we played all day long. There was something about that day, and my twelve-year-old state of mind, but it was as if a switch was flipped. That one perfect Spring day, friends came and went, games began and ended, daylight faded and the lights came on. And I remained. Until eventually, my Pops came for the second time to drag me off the courts at the urging of my mother, to find me working on my game with the lights off. As I convinced him to give me another ten minutes to shoot, he had a revelation, one of the sort that I’m sure brought him joy… One that his son was having at the same time. That in the still darkness of a Jersey Shore late night in early May, a boy was finding his purpose in this world–tapping into his passion and finding an uncharted territory within himself. The epiphany of that moment resonates to this day and transcends a mere game… That the growth and progress we fight for, comes without fanfare. Our passions bloom in private. And that the work that is required to differentiate us has little inherent glamour. But do not make the mistake of believing that in this labor, there is no love. For it is in finding ourselves that we find joy. It is in making the efforts others shun, that we create our fullest self. And there is no greater glory than grinding each day to unlock the uncommon greatness that hides deep inside. There are no red carpets or flashing lights here… No selfies or sellout crowds. Only a beating heart, hard work and the boundless hope that can be found in the shadowy recesses, where no one cares to look or pay attention. Make no mistake, what will one day bring the average man into the blinding light, always happens in the dark.

(12) One Year

One year. It is truly remarkable all that can transpire in such a short period of time. Seasons change and change and change again–ice can thaw and melt for flowers to bloom, just to die an icy death once more. A child can be conceived, born and crawl among us for three months. And a squad of outsiders and underdogs can chip away at a vision relentlessly enough to go from a provocative notion seemingly dropping from the sky, to a mature movement that has carved out space in the fertile hearts and minds of its true believers. Looking back 365 days, I remember the earliest moments… A sleepless, white-knuckled, stomach-knotted free fall of faith that landed me directly into a cramped economy seat hurtling through space toward Columbus, Ohio. A very familiar place for me, this time of year. But not this time… No, this moment was so very different. Met eyeball to eyeball with a put-up or shut-up scenario that I had secretly worked for and prayed for in the long shadows of countless late nights for years, it would’ve been so easy to play it safe. I had every reasonable excuse in the world to back out and back down. And instead, I decided to meet this moment head on, quite literally pushing my entire life to the center of the table. Because there was this voice in the back of my head, one that has spoken to me since childhood. One that urged me on and breathed life into every crazy dream I’ve ever dared to conjure. One that has given voice to every defiant word of ambition and inspiration I have bled onto paper, to share with you, for years. And I knew deep down, in places folks don’t openly talk about at parties, that if I had let this opportunity slip away and not pursued this endeavor with all my heart, I would not earn the right to write these words right now. And that I would be letting myself down, and that voice in my head, and every one of you to whom I had ever dared preach, in a way a guy like me could never abide. I sought to be living proof. And though I’m still neck-deep in this fight, struggling daily to build something real that can endure, I took that leap 52 weeks ago, in many ways, for you. To prove to you that it was possible. That one of your dreams that seems so far off in the distance—that you safely hide inside, could truly be one more attempt or sustained effort or daring declaration of self-confidence away from a breakthrough. The sort of catastrophic crack in the walls that bind you, that you could never be contained again. It all begins with a decision. It all lives within you. Everything in your reality could be altered, lives changed forever, and history could be made… A lot can happen in just one year.

(11) Stay Woke

Stay woke. It has been said that many people die young, but aren’t buried until they’re old. A lot of that early demise is, to me, simply rooted in a numbness that overcomes us with time. Part of that detachment can be found in the blinding blur of the days as they pass by, morning after night, year after year, as if we are mere passengers on an NJ Transit train–one headed at a breakneck clip through the pitch-black tunnel of life. Our faith tenuously rooted in the hope that there might be light at the other end. The doldrums of every day place us in a state simultaneously both intense and relaxed, as if hypnotized with clenched fists. Many of us are so asleep at the wheel we lose the inclination to give a fuck anymore, often about many of the most important things. We care less. Not because we’re careless, but because we’re tired. We feel less. Not because we have no feelings, but because that emotional baggage can often be the heaviest to hoist. It isn’t just that we grow numb, but shortsighted as the days pile up. The further something exists from our front porch, the seemingly less important. If it doesn’t impact us and those in our immediate inner circle today, right here and now, it may as well have never happened. And that detachment is dangerous. The more isolated and sheltered we become, the more cold of heart. The less engaged we become with matters of consequence, the older our tastes, the duller our blades, the more quickly we fade into irrelevance. Calloused, not unlike your rugged hands, from the wear and tear of life… Tougher, but less sensitive in order to survive. There are people in this world who profit on your indifference. Those who will seize on your lack of awareness and exploit you. And make no mistake, your apathy could rob you of all that you hold dear. The best defense against the snakes and charlatans seeking to lead you astray? Read. Watch the news. Listen to current music. Discuss important things. Stay intellectually engaged. Remain skeptical of the agenda of those in power or positions of influence, always. Keep your edge. But never lose your optimism, and hold fast to your faith in your fellow man. Lift your head from the fog of reality TV, Facebook fake news, Netflix and fuck, and the Food Network. And when they try to catch you sleeping, send them back to the hole from which they crawled. I implore you, my brethren, to stay woke.

(10) Toxic

Toxic. Among the most dangerous forces in all the world is the lazy, resigned inaction of apathy. In doing nothing we must expect less. You throw your hands up and surrender whatever last shreds of dignity and will you once clung to so dearly. “That’s just the way it is. It is out of my control.” Repeat that enough and you come to believe it. But we cannot deny the obvious. Effects have causes. The powder keg of our population is not prone to spontaneous combustion. So when I hear people speak of “evil” as if it is a random phenomenon occurring out of nowhere, I am sickened by the depths of their apathy. When I see things go so awry, I need to know why. Why matters. With a world in crisis and a nation torn apart–its fabric in bold red, white and blue tatters, I want to know why, and what I can do, in my own small way, to help. So much of what ails us, I feel, is rooted in a very basic emotion—fear. We are afraid of change. Afraid of that which is different. Afraid of loneliness. Afraid of our lack of control. And being afraid all the time has a way of making a person angry. Being so scared and pissed all time makes us vulnerable. Weak to the will of those seeking to manipulate and control us based on our fragile emotional state. We are angry, afraid and alone. And struggling to project strength and act hard all the time isn’t easy. Wearing that brave mask can be exhausting. The pictures of your weaponry arsenal or memes of lions feasting on their bloody prey on the plains of Sub-Saharan Africa all start to feel hollow. Your worldview becomes increasingly cynical and negative. Darkness begins to infest your interactions with others, in real life and online. Until you find yourself spewing poison into the collective reservoir from which we all drink. And then we wonder why we’re all so sick. The symptoms of the illness that ails us are everywhere, and easy to identify. The cure, I’m less sure. But it is probably rooted in a fundamental value for human life, a basic respect for your fellow man. One we lost sight of at some point, playing John Wayne on the internet. Maybe we try being decent for once, because the other strategy is clearly not working. The truth is, that tough guy shit is toxic. In fact, it is killing us slowly, if not in semi-automatic bursts that take out a dozen of us in a blink.

(9) Create

Create. One of the most basic of human compulsions is the desire to make something new. The existence of all living things is predicated on an innate, instinctive yearning to make more living things. Any understanding of a benevolent God infers intelligent design, and more often than not, a divine deity who crafted us in his or her own likeness. But beyond people producing and reproducing new people or gods reaching down from Mt. Olympus to form mortals from crude materials, it is in our makeup to make. As I sit here and choose each of these words carefully, I am stringing together phrases and sentences that may have—in this order and sequence, never before been written down in the entirety of human history. The desire to do so, for me, is very special. And very powerful. I cherish that ability. And I do not take it lightly. For just as with my mind I am creating literature, with my will I am creating myself. The lightning bolt that doubles as the crack in the weathered crown comprising the GCode logo, is not merely a cool graphical element. It represents the strike of inspiration. One we all know well. Among life’s greatest of sensations, where in the dark doldrums of the daily grind, we are struck from out of nowhere with an idea. An electrically charged impulse that causes the tiny hairs on the back of your neck to stand up. It is at this moment that we are called to be great—we are called to create, often in a way we never before believed or intended. We owe it to destiny to answer this call. The closest a man will ever come to being a supreme being, transcending the flesh and bone of mortality, is to be found in the undertaking that finds him making something out of nothing… Willing to form and fruition that which did not exist before. Write a book by first writing a single profound word. Paint a picture first by simply striking the canvas with a single stroke of your brush. Build your ideal physique by first gripping the iron with true intent. It is natural to make things better. It is in your nature to make new things. Your life is your masterpiece, work on it. Be inspired today. Create.

(8) Takes One To Know One

Takes one to know one. Over the years, I’ve come to a sobering realization about human nature… That no one knows how they will react in a situation, until they are actually presented with those circumstances in real life. The tough talk and declarative statements, I’ve heard them all. And instead of being enthralled by the masculine bravado of such saber-rattling, I’m typically left disappointed. Because I understand the source of such empty rhetoric. It is the product of a sheltered life, where at no point was a person faced with the prospects of backing up their bullshit. I’ve heard about “hardening up” as a method of enduring in this world, and I know it to be sage advice. Life can be arduous and unforgiving. You’ve gotta have “thick skin” as my folks would say. To stand up to the wear and tear of the grind, I’ve found one foolproof tactic—to turn myself into a motherfucking tank. That said, I think all the hard talk is usually overcompensation. As I’ve found that the tough people who have lasted through the tough times generally have been rubbed raw by life to the point that they are more sensitive to the plights, perils and pitfalls of their neighbor. As a kid, I was a judgmental asshole, pontificating from atop my high horse. But the reason for this high and mighty attitude is now so clear—I was a child who hadn’t yet experienced shit. But once I came to know loss and pain and disappointment, my perspective was altered. It is that war-worn wisdom that allows you to see the world through the eyes of another, realizing how we are all flawed and fragile, even the fighters. There were moments in my life where I was barely getting by–when it was an accomplishment just to get out of bed in the morning, when I was emotionally limping through the day, unbeknownst to just about everyone that surrounded me. But through that quiet struggle, I became strong. Not only of body and in my mentality, but in my soul. That life experience bred mercy and empathy and understanding. Strength that many “tough guys” have yet to gain, but survivors know well… And it takes one to know one.

(7) Be ANTI

As I recently apologized to my brother Dirt Malone for declining a social engagement, he responded brilliantly by stating, “You’re not anti-social… You’re just ANTI.” I moved out into the downtown Los Angeles night alone, opting for squats and IHOP over sushi and cocktails., and I laughed. He was right. As much as any opportunity came my way because of what I did or who I was, a critical ingredient in my recipe for life, was all that I purposefully wasn’t adding to my pot. It can be a spicy, and piping hot gumbo for some to swallow. But that’s OK. I strive to remain current and relevant with my finger on the pulse, without succumbing to trends and fads. I seek to remain an individual with my own perspective and tastes in a world that demands conformity and uniformity and squeezing your own unique size and shape into the cramped confines of a pre-fabricated box. I believe that when we follow, we surrender a part of ourselves to the will of the mob or the whim of the man in charge. And I have been resisting that submission my whole life. A man’s moments in this mortal realm are fleeting and few, he must spend them wisely on that which will be worthy in the long rearview-mirror-gaze of history. And those retrospective moments of pride rarely reside in shuffling along like sheep. Often in discovering who you are and sharpening your internal focus to envision who you want to be, you must define yourself by that which you could never abide becoming. To reach a level of comfort not only with all that you are, but what you are not–that is true freedom. To be exceptional without seeking to be accepted. To be seen without being a part of the scene. To be heard without blending in with the herd. It’s true, everything I’m not made me everything I am. Anti-social. Anti-establishment. Anti-authoritarian. The antithesis of all that is cliched and expected… The antidote for the plague of mediocrity. Or maybe, we don’t have to explain ourselves at all. Like Dirt said, just be ANTI.

(6) If Only We Cared

If only we cared so much about things that mattered. If you’ve paid attention to anything I’ve written n the past few years, you know how fond I’ve become of the phrase “Kill Your Idols”. To me, all that ever really was, was a provocative way of beseeching folks to re-order their priorities. My walls as a child were literally covered with my athletic heroes. I still hold on to the old Champion jerseys and baseball cards of my youth. They are all critical in my development, and dear to me. Both in terms of nostalgia and relevant sources of current inspiration, The Archives have an impact. But the further and further I traveled away from emulating Jordan and Bird, and to merely being a common “fan”, the less and less of a place of prominence Sportscenter could play in my life, the less the allure. I had my own plans. And sports were only a small part of it all. These pastimes that we use to pass the time, are mere entertainment—no more or less significant than a show you enjoy, or a film, or a song, or a hamburger. Public events packaged to entice us into watching corporate advertisements. Not to be a buzzkill, as sports have always been an important part of my life, and it is an enjoyable and generally harmless diversion from the stresses of every day in the real world. But it is not worth crying over, or fighting over, or hurting someone over, or humiliating yourself over, or embarrassing your kids over… Tom Brady wouldn’t do any of that for us. I remind myself to pour more of my available energy into the game in which I’m actually, actively participating—the one I play each day I’m lucky enough to open my eyes. The rest, after all, is just make believe. To be honest, there’s a lot of really consequential things happening all around us every day. A nation at odds. A world in chaos. Your children growing. Your loved ones aging. Your dream ripening rapidly on a vine, hanging heavy just over your head, begging to be picked. The sweet nectar of which we might taste, some day soon… If only we cared so much about the things that mattered.

(5) Never Forget

Never forget. Caught up in the rat race, the paper chase, the regimented routine of the daily grind, it is easy to lose sight. With the seeming weight of the world bearing down on your mortal frame, often it can be hard to expand your lungs enough to breathe, to clear your head and to order your mind. You don’t pat yourself on the back, or powder your own nuts. You simply do the job that the day demands. And you have no laurels upon which you’d care to rest. In the midst of it all, you forget. Forget about the dues paid, the lessons learned, the scars earned, the opponents bested, the conquests of yore. The prior lives. The old friends. The losses endured. The triumphs… All that you are. All that you did over the many years to build your rep. It all seems like preface and prologue of an irrelevant past that matters not to someone so driven… Driven to build an unimaginable future through the white-knuckled dirty work of today. But it all matters. Likely more than you know, as each of these instances was instrumental in building the man you are today. Each of these tiny investments laid a slab of stone into the mountainous foundation upon which you now stand, arriving in this moment, right here and now. When I lay in bed at night and stare at the ceiling, I count my blessings. And I have learned over the years to keep my prayers simple. I pray to be worthy of my daughters and my wife. And I humbly ask to be the best me that I can possibly be. Blind to the possibility that, maybe my best could be the best there ever was. Though I’m just another face in a crowd of eight billion, I’m doing all I can to never forget.

(4) The Last Thing

“That’s the last thing in the world I feel like doing right now.” These were the defeatist words I uttered to my better half recently in a moment of mortal weakness. The curtain pulled down by fatigue, I was not keeping up appearances. It was a very human occurrence. And though an honest depiction of my mindset in that instance, as those words escaped my lips, I immediately felt great shame. For there was an undeniable, sobering truth on the business end of the negative rhetoric leaking from my face hole. If ever I was to truly be who I claimed I was, there was a fact that was unavoidable. The difference-maker for a guy like me, is that when encountered by the last thing I feel like doing on planet Earth, I’m the guy that actually does that thing. Not because of any esteemed character or noteworthy work ethic or otherworldly virtue… But because, in fact, I have no other choice. It’s my only chance. The boxes in which life places us endure for a reason, their walls often seemingly impenetrable. Class and circumstance, capital and connections–our access to a better life is not always equal. What can bridge the gap and make up the difference in talent and opportunity is effort. Not simply “trying hard”. But doing what is difficult, especially when inconvenient. Going the extra mile, even when no one is watching. Paying dues diligently, particularly when everyone else thinks you’re wasting your time. Doing literally the last thing in the world you feel like doing right now, simply because that is what you do. Because you know in your heart that the last thing you feel like doing, may very well be exactly what needs to be done. And maybe you’ll be the only one willing to do it.

(3) MLK

On this January day, some fifty years after his assassination, I’d prefer to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in a manner somewhat unconventional. To think that a man at my age, 39 years old, could create a timeless and enduring legacy, gives me pause. It makes me examine his motivations, as they might compare to my own, and it serves as a reminder. Dr. King did not live his life in the pursuit of material wealth. Instead, his selfless mission was the equality of all men—for our nation to live up in actual action to the true promise of its word. His life was lived in service to others… His life was lived in honor of principles and ideals… His life was lived in courageous defiance to corruption and injustice. Remember, there is safety to be found in the homogenous anonymity of the gathering mob. There is prosperity to be found in lining up your value system with that of those in power. But there is no glory there. In the times of my life that I have felt the most pride and the greatest sense of accomplishment, it was when I was seeking to achieve greatness–not in the interest of my own petty wants and needs, but with the lofty but attainable ambition of in my own small way, making the world a better place. To tap into this essence of sincere, altruistic, empathy… To hold yourself to a standard of purity of purpose that puts your brother in need–the least among us, first, is to live in his spirit. As I see it, Dr. King’s message was not one of humility. But of bold bravery. To have the audacity to believe that one man, driven by virtue, could change the course of human history by adhering to a dogged dogma of love, selflessness and moral rectitude, is not the thought of a timid soul… It is the burning ambition of a visionary leader–one who could not enjoy the longevity of old age, for his sights were set on a promised land off in a distance that only he could see… One ready to lay down his life to realize a dream. I pray each night to have such courage of conviction, for the content of my character to be worthy of such a king.

(2) The “Fuck It” Effect

A brief self-analysis quickly indicates that I’m not the type to take shit lightly. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, hauled around a heavy chip on my shoulder, and if not careful, I can easily overthink the simplest situation, turning speed bumps into skyscrapers in my mind. At a certain point, in order to facilitate the progress I seek, I must deafen the better angels in my head, put my trust in my ability to figure shit out and step off the ledge. It doesn’t come naturally for me, but I have found “fuck it” to be among my greatest mantras. A leap of fuck it-powered faith has served me well, many times over the years. My father before me had much more “fuck it” engrained in his DNA. So often, in moments of anxiety, I call upon his wisdom, the memory of his gravelly voice grounding me and giving me strength. Doubt is a shadowy apparition in the dark internal recesses of every great man’s head. I have found that it is not your ability to eliminate doubt, but instead to manage it, that will ultimately translate to your success. I have combatted doubt over the years, the best way I know how. With preparation. With practice. With confidence born of experience. With an abiding conviction that I am on a righteous path. Wiser folks than me have given the sage advice to keep up appearances in a manner that sets the table for your eventual successes. “Fake it, til you make it”, they say. And even as a lifelong practitioner of “keeping it real”, I must whole-heartedly agree. But my best advice would probably be slightly different. The critics jeering from the sidelines of life will always be there to concur with the voices of self-doubt that linger in your mind. It is up to you to silence them. It is up to you to summon the courage to urge yourself forward into the disorienting darkness of the unknown night. It is up to you to say “fuck it” and make them believe.

(1) Hard to Earn

They don’t erect statues to just anyone. Most often, those who are to be remembered forever are already hardened by the process of growing worthy of an immortality etched into stone. You must arrive at destiny’s door prepared for a fight. Come to your dream with only sincerity of soul and purity of heart, with calloused hands ready for work. When I took the dogleg left beginning this leg of this dogged pursuit, I held my breath, closed my eyes and turned the wheel. I steered this vessel due North and moved in the direction of my desired destination, knowing well who else was aboard the boat. I thought only of the potential–the manifestation of years of work and preparation, the unlimited possibility of it all. I did not spend time contemplating the rollercoaster of emotions, the restless sleep, the sleepless nights, the friction with friends… I already knew these stresses well. And would rather deal with the doubt and anxiety of audacious efforts than live a safe and anonymous existence that squanders my gifts. Fuck that. This is what I wanted. What I worked for. What I prayed for in the dark of another late night hustle. As the old adage goes, I do not ask for a lighter load, but for broader shoulders. Let me carry the crushing heft of an improbable dream. Let me internalize the fear and hopes of all that I love. Let me be a beacon in life’s midnight for those lost at sea. Ease and comfort are not yet luxuries I have earned, so instead let my neck grow strong under the heavy weight of a war-worn crown. One I wrestled from the vice grip of circumstance, while the rightful heirs and noblemen slept cozily in their warm beds.