(82) Endure

Endure. It is no exaggeration that life is a distance race. It is a battle of wills against time and fate. It can be both treacherous and triumphant. Daunting and daring if you can stay focused amid the dull droning doldrums of the daily grind. But even in the midst of the mundane monotony, it is magnificent. A precious, fragile, fleeting gift. And though an almost mathematically impossible blessing that any of us survived the birth canal to spin on a rock in outer space, dancing among the stars, life can be hard. And none of the greatest conquests or loftiest goals come easy… Truth is, they’re not supposed to. If you told me at 12 or 22 or 32 where I’d be at 42, I never would’ve believed it. But that’s sort of the idea—that life twists and turns, and you evolve and adapt. You hold your ground on the tough days, you eat your pound of dirt, gritting your gritty teeth into a smile. There were many days that, unbeknownst to anyone, I was emotionally limping, barely getting by. But in that struggle, you eventually find meaning. And in simply surviving, there is victory. Glory in merely living to fight another day. A mantra of mine, one that keeps me pushing on the especially gray, dark days, is this: “Over time, destiny bends to the will of the determined man.” I believe those words to be true, with all of my being… That within each of us, our wildest dreams are alive, waiting to breathe air in the light. But the variable no one accounts for is time. It will require patience and persistence. Boundless enthusiasm and unbridled energy. And it just might take years… Decades, even. And you must resign yourself to that fact. For your dream to not be a phase or passing fancy, but the journey of an entire lifetime. The difference between those who make it and those who don’t comes down to an internal existential decision—a refusal to relent. Stay on your track and keep pushing, no matter what. There’s no telling how far you might go, how long this road will be or where it might lead… When destiny will call your name. But you’ll never know if you give up now. How far are you willing to go? What will you endure?

(81) A Kid From Scranton

A kid from Scranton. I am forever thankful for my humble roots. When it comes to hunger and ambition, they serve as endless fuel. In terms of empathy and understanding the human condition, they impart priceless perspective. Leaving you more hesitant to judge the plight of another, because you know that everything in life comes down to choices. Finding the courage to choose the bench press over the bar stool. Choosing a book over a beer. Choosing a beer over a bag of dope. Keeping your shit tight enough to walk the straight and narrow, coloring your life between the lines because you know the cost of letting the pen bleed out into the margins. Too many good folks walked off that cliff, too many souls lost out on the edges, their lives falling in between the cracks. When you come from Camden or Piscataway, Toledo or Akron, Queens or Staten Island, Wilmington or Northeast Philly, you’re able to know the honor in an honest day’s work. Finding meaning in getting the bills paid. Discovering the triumph in ensuring your kids get fed tonight. None of that is ever lost on you. You must earn what you eat and it ain’t supposed to be easy. You must struggle and risk every day, to create a life beyond the confines of your circumstances. And you love that fight. Thankful for every opportunity to scrap—taking lumps and trading blows. Over time, you realize that’s what you were born to do. To live your life as an example. To lead those who have lost their way, to be a role model for those too timid to believe, those without the luxury of hope. Sometimes a hero must emerge from obscure humility to defy the odds. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be you, to change their stars and change the world. Take it from me striving to do the same, a kid from Scranton.

(80) Religion

Religion. When we first conceived of Black Hoodie Season, it was simply taking a very Jersey phrase and branding it. A colloquialism that a certain few understood, an observation about a ubiquitous Northeastern working class fashion staple, and formalizing it. It was clever. To put the figurative text on a literal sweatshirt. It was a concept that became a brand identifier. But it has always been so much more that that. For all of its rugged seriousness and menacing mystery, in those three words, I have found great meaning. The garment, became a security blanket. And the “season” became my entire life. Rare is there a day, while either training or making moves out in the world, that those words aren’t on my chest… That those black blinders aren’t pulled over my head… That I don’t put the brand we’ve built on my back. Woven into this fabric are our ideals. Baked into these words is an idea. That no dream is too big if you believe. And that blind faith can be set on fire, when a man is willing to work when no one is watching. That fundamental thought has fueled me through many dark and cold nights, when hope was hard to come by and hunger was the only asset I had in abundance—warming me from within, in a manner no external coat ever could. What a cynic might see as a marketing gimmick, is actually a philosophy for life. Words printed on a shirt, that became my religion.

(79) Shock The World

Shock the world. This is for the underdogs, the underestimated, the slept on. The ones who have lost more than they’ve won. Who have grown thick necks straining under the yoke of oppression. Those who have found strength in the struggle and hope in heartache. Know that in your status off the grid and under the radar, you are dangerous. Like the unknown artist working on his masterpiece, under a canvas shroud, progress is made. In the shadows, where no one bothers to look, you practice, you pay dues, you learn, you grow. Life, for all its fleeting moments and frequent frantic flashes, is a distance race. And the front runners cannot hold their lead forever. Slowly, from the back of the pack, you will gain momentum. You pick up your pace, inches and fractions of seconds at a time. You catch your stride, a gait unfamiliar to most, but one you have perfected in your years of training. The leaders, comfortable in their certainty are human beings just like you. They will grow comfortable with their lead and throw it in cruise control. And just when they feel their victory is a foregone conclusion, like lightning at midnight on the plains, you will strike. Unaware of your presence, you make your move. Caught off guard, you pass them. And never look back. And the gold the whole world covets, belongs to you. Believe in your heart, that all of your work, all of your time, all you have invested, is building toward your moment, this moment. And it draws near. When the chips are down and all hope is lost, is exactly the day for which you were born. When no one sees you coming, you will rise. And shock the world.

(78) The Shadow Knows

The shadow knows. I’ve spent a greater portion of my adult life attempting to maintain my integrity and to reinforce the values that I value most. Empathy. Generosity. Knowledge and understanding. Balancing strength and mercy. But one finds in their travels, that the feeble of spirit often mistake kindness for weakness. Many lemmings pointing fingers at sheep. Many lambs claiming to be King of the Jungle. So over time, I’ve found more and more that I’ve compartmentalized myself. Building a firewall to protect the most flammable parts of my being from the inferno that rages deep within. I’ve fed that fire for years, while going about my everyday life as a Dad and generally decent citizen. But nobody hears the voices in my head. No one knows the inner dialogue. They don’t know the kid who used to create conflicts playing ball to motivate himself. Who’d fabricate slights and disrespect in his mind in order to push himself harder. I swear to God that I don’t hold grudges, but I do remember. Or at very least, G Diesel does. You see, whether it is Batman or the Black Mamba, every man needs their shadow self to do the dirt and deal with the dirty work that life dishes out. One that allows them to continue to carry the burden of decency in an often cold and mean world. There will unavoidably be instances in every person’s life of heartache and heartbreak, stress and struggle, confrontation and controversy. Like everyone, I’ve had my fair share, but what has defined me is my ability to convert these dark energies into rocket fuel to power my machine, pushing me further into the stratosphere than I might otherwise reach. So I welcome those challenges, because I know they make me better. I welcome doubt and deceit and instances of true colors being shown. Because I do take them personally, storing them away for a rainy day, a shovel of coal for when the fire fights to burn white hot. Understand, this isn’t about you. It is about me. And your role in me becoming the best I could ever be. Whether you’re on the train or on the track, on my boot or on my back, only time will tell. But the shadow knows.

(77) Dream Big

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

(76) Identity

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