(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.
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.
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.
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.