(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.