Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone

Plebe boxing, I remember it like yesterday.

The boxing instructor was also my football coach.  A Spartan-like Marine Corps Major whose only rule (and grading criteria) was if you backed-up, you failed.  The only profound statement former unified heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson ever made was,

“everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” 

In a way, Coach was making it easy – he expected his fighters to meet their adversary and never back down.  Forward – always.  Or as the 5th Marine Regiment moniker proudly proclaims, “Retreat, Hell!”  From fear and challenge I discovered an invaluable life lesson.

When was the last time you really felt scared?  Chances are it was the last time you broke free from your comfort zone.  That safe and overly repetitive process we call our daily routine is in-fact our comfort zone.  Taking a chance, risking embarrassment, or potential failure takes a great act of courage.  Although, not unlike stepping into the boxing ring, these challenges are worth taking if you desire to stretch your potential to the max.

What do you really have to lose?  Well that’s a loaded question.  Your comfort zone is likely tied intimately to the people, places, objects, and habits that are familiar to you.  For some, this can be a good thing.  If your surroundings are helping you achieve your goals, you might have a valid support structure.  However, too often, it is the very comfort zone we have established that has failed to serve our most primal needs.

Bad habits and bad associations can be broken.  True change begins when one’s behavior and thoughts are aligned.  The first challenge is to get into the ring, facing down your enemy.

The best advice I can give you to prepare for this battle: backwards plan.  Here are four easy steps:

  1. Establish your end state goal.
  2. Determine the logical steps one must take to achieve this end.
  3. Lay out reasonable benchmarks for reaching each of these essential progressions.
  4. Finally, stick to it.

Do no back-up.  Consistency is key.  Find ways to reinforce these new positive behaviors and be accountable to the support structure you have in place.

This is not easy stuff.  Much like the boxing ring, you can get knocked down. And getting knocked down hurts.  Sometimes it even leaves scars.  As retired Army General Stanley McCrystal challenged, if you consider yourself a leader, the people you have counted on will you help you out.  Most importantly. if you’re a leader, the people that count on you, need you on your feet.

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. [Bruce Lee]


Vulnerability – An Antidote to Addiction

“I’m truly proud of you Matt – you have a captivating personality and charisma that inspires and touches many, a natural gift and ability, which dependent upon how you choose, you have a nature to lead and inspire others.  Keep it up amigo and continue inspiring others – including myself”

Naval Academy Grad, Naval Officer and friend, Pat Jones

Words like these were so foreign to me.  I had been living for years in the darkness of my own pain and addiction in which compliments did not come often or, if I’m being honest, ever.

I did not understand how someone with such great accomplishments could possibly look up to me for inspiration.

However, this is how my story:

What it was, what happened, and what that narrative is like now.  Take the time to get a little perspective in to my journey, or not, whatever works for you is cool with me.

Well it all started off when I was a baby in 1980 something… Haaa, yeah right, if I started off there we would be reading my autobiography not a blog post.  I’ll spare you the monotonous detail.  It does make sense to mention a few points however, in hopes to add some perspective.  Middle class family, straight A’s, lived for sports, Varsity football as a sophomore,  college scouts, Dad says “no more football son”,  Son says “Well screw you then”, and enter resentment numero uno.

Now, don’t get me wrong there are so many things that added or directed my path but in the mind of a 15 year old my world had most certainly come to an end.  I did everything I could to get out of school early.  A’s meant nothing to me anymore.  I just wanted out.  The direction was gone.

Ah don’t let me forget to mention that during my football days I sustained a pretty substantial injury to my left shoulder.  This one earned me a ride in the ambulance and rushed in to surgery no more than two hours after the incident.  I have to bring this up because this was my intro to the wonderful world of prescription narcotics.

I went on to graduate from high school (barely) leaving all hopes of college in the dust.  Car sales were the life for me.  And, wouldn’t you know it, I was pretty good.  Making far more many than any 19 year old with no financial or budgeting ability ever should.  Guess what I did with all that money?  You’re damn right – I spent it.  BMW, GSXR600, 60 inch flat screen, and the best bro pad one could every wish for. And by bro pad what I really mean is party facility.

Now comes the part that used to be so hard to talk about – my addiction.

I wanted you all to know that (I got this, I’m ok, It’s not that bad, I’m only drinking, It’s just pain pills) I’m normal.  In all reality I was killing myself on a daily basis.  My disease (and yes folks it is a disease, just ask the doc, Okay) took me to a place that I wish upon no one.  Don’t get me twisted, I had some good times in the beginning.  Riding around in the GTI jamming to Sublime with the roof open at a buck twenty, but being progressive; that is my disease of  course.

12 years later, I became a homeless heroin addict living out of my car in Baltimore City.

Enter spiritual dude, I have no idea what his name was, where I met him, how long ago it really was, but I do remember what he said to me:

“Why is it so hard to surrender when you have nothing left to defend?”  

BANGER!  Finally, something that made sense to me.  I guess I was just done.  At that point I completely understood that there was no beating this thing.  I am NOT normal.  I do have a problem.  I need help.  I cannot do this alone.  Most importantly, I’m ok with it. For years I tried to fit in, tried to show “you” that I was ok, or put on a front that a pill junky isn’t as bad as a heroin addict (same damn thing BTW).  Finally, after years, I was ok with being vulnerable.  If your childhood was anything like mine then you’ll know that just wasn’t allowed in the house growing up.

So that’s what it was like.

What happened next?  Wait for it……. Wait for it…….

Surrender.  That’s what happened.  I finally got honest with myself and everyone around me.  I looked to the people that have come before me for advices and guidance.  Finally realizing that my strength comes from being vulnerable.  I could go in to more specifics for you, but really, that’s a whole other post.

Part of that surrender was to go into a long term, 1 year, treatment facility (Helping Up Mission).  Something that I was never willing to do in the past because remember, I got this.  Without a doubt that place saved my life.  They taught me how to live without the use of drugs and alcohol.  They taught me the value of surrounding myself with likeminded people. They gave me the foundation to be a successful, productive member of society.

What it’s like now?

Life is good.  By good I mean blessed.

I am truly grateful for what I have. “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough”. Oprah.  Honestly I feel like I have more than I deserve.  I still struggle with the “less than” attitude, but hey I’m working on it.  At the end of my ripping and running I found that I had $40k in medical bills, no license (they take that if you run from the police btw), no car, no job, prohibited from leaving Maryland, and no one that wanted to be around me or in my life.

Today – it is not like that.

Medical bills have been paid, the State of Maryland decided to give me my license back (questionable) and they even let me leave the state, now having two stamps on my passport.  With the license came the car. Love my job, and wouldn’t you know it I even got someone to say “I do”.  That my friends would mean that she’s bat shit crazy but that’s just what I need.  Seriously though her strength and support for my recovery is a huge part of what makes me who I am today.  This time last year we bought our first home together.  As my friend Rick would say “I’m finally adulting”.

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Me and my beautiful wife Misha

During my process of recovery I found that I still have a drive for athletics and in fact my life wasn’t over.  I picked up running.  Odd because I really just liked picking things up and putting them down but I found that it was a new kind of challenge.  For some reason I thought it was a good idea to sign up for a marathon just 8 months after my running journey began, and yes, I finished it.  Since then I have completed 3 marathons, 12 half marathons, 3 Ragnar’s (if you don’t know what that is Google it) and a few Mudder/Spartan races.  The running stories, yeah a whole other post. Oh and I say none of this to brag, but only to show that if I can do it, than anyone can.  Sometimes we just need to get vulnerable and ask for help.

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RAGNAR, DC 2015 – post race/200 miles, 36 hour relay

That job I spoke of that I love so much is with the Helping Up Mission as their Education and Workforce Development Manager.  This wasn’t my first job after graduating from the program however. I started out with MRIGlobalSearch an executive search firm.  Head hunter basically.  My group had a specialization in Engineering for Plastics Manufacturing.  Working with companies to help fill roles in engineering from hands on engineers to the heads of the department or division.  This opportunity taught me all about business, talent management, organization structure and so much more, giving me the skills needed to return to the mission and help them build and develop a program internally to help our clients obtain gainful employment. Talk about going full circle.

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First day back at Helping Up Mission


In September of 2016 I was humbled in my celebration of 4 years of continued sobriety.

That’s right folks, even a junky like me can learn to stay clean and find a new way to live.  Who knows what the future will bring, but I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to it.  If I keep my recovery first, continue doing the things that helped me get to where I am today, then all will be well.