(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.
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.
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.
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.