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]

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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.

Fatty to Fifty: The Path to 50 Miles

This is a brief tale of why the hell I decided to run 50 miles.  Yeah, in one day.  With my feet.

Running 50 miles for me was/is a journey and to understand how/why I decided to do something so irrational, we need to rewind a bit.

FAT SHAMING

By early 2010 I had lived in Baltimore City for nearly 3 years and had never had the need to see a personal physician.  However, a bad cold forced me to google ‘family doctor: Baltimore, MD’ and I found Vincenzo Grippo, MD.  During my first physical with my new eastern European Doctor, I had a very simple interaction – he diagnosed my illness and prescribed meducation.  He then glanced at my charts and asked me a series of questions:
‘Mr. Gowen do you smoke?’
Occasionally.
‘Mr. Gowen do you drink?’
Yes, socially (that’s an aggressive socially between you and me).
‘Mr. Gowen do you exercise?’
When I can (never)
‘Mr. Gowen how old are you?’
25
‘Mr. Gowen you are kind of fat.  A young guy like you should be more healthy.  You need to exercise, ok?’

And there it was – my new eastern European  Doctor, who I had just met, told me I was fat.  It wasn’t great to hear, but the reality was accurate – I was fat.  I had seen pictures of myself over the last year and thought ‘man, those cameras make me look puffy.’  Turns out it wasn’t the camera but the amount of things I was shoving into my face while doing little to no exercise.  I mean, I was working for a food distributor and part of the job is tasting the food, and tasting the food, and tasting the food (French fries are so damn delicious but do we need to try all 30 kinds Jon?).  As I left the exam room that day I caught a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror and immediately made a decision to change my lifestyle forever.

So what was I going to do to get in shape? Well anyone that knows my family knows that running is a way of life.  Both of my parents are accomplished ultrarunners and distance-running evets have been part of my life since I was a kid in the mid-90’s.  So, diet and running, the answers to my problems.

RUNNING
Lets be honest, running isn’t that much fun especially at the beginning.  Starting out I could only make it to Henderson’s Wharf (about .5 miles) from my house in Fells Point before I had to stop and rest.  Along my waterfront runs I would pick a lamppost just a little farther away each day to run to started setting daily and weekly mileage goal.  Pretty soon I was skipping happy hour to get my runs in (ok, just going to the bar a little later) and was knocking out 5-6 miles pretty easily.

DIET
The act of alone running didn’t get me to my goals –  it was a combo of diet and exercise (imagine that!).  Around this same point in time I came across an article on Deadspin.com written by Drew Magary about his recent battle with weight gain.

If anyone needs motivation to make a diet change in your life, give that a read.  The style of humor and personal humiliation resonated with me and maybe it will with you too. Really its just basic stuff.  Instead of chips –  yogurt.  Instead of french fries – grapes.  Instead of a sandwich – salad.  It wasn’t hard and by October 2010 I ran my first half marathon and my second came soon thereafter.

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Blog proof that Pat Jones ran a half marathon more than once.  Richmond, 2010

50 MILES?

Fast forward to 2014.

My running had progressed. I was coming off a good year in 2013, running my first marathon in October in a respectable 3:20. I began to realize something about running: it made me feel good. The physical act of running certainly didn’t, but the sense of accomplishment that came with achieving goals gave me an undeniable rush. I had completed my goal of running a marathon, so that was next?

SIDEBAR: In November of 1996 my dad competed in a little race called the John F. Kennedy Memorial 50 Mile Race, or JFK. Turns out JFK this is America’s oldest and largest ultramarathon, dating back to 1963. Since then he has finished JFK 16 times and my mom has 7 finishes under her belt.  JFK is held annually the Saturday before Thanksgiving and has been a large part of my family’s fall tradition for two decades now.  It’s a pretty great event.

JFK 50 finish with my Dad, November 2014
At this point I had found myself spending the past few years of JFK Saturdays ‘pacing’ my dad along the 26 mile section of race still with no desire to complete the race on my own (‘pacing’ is just running along with a competing runner to help them stay motivated and on pace to the finish). However, 2014 was going to be my father’s 15th JFK which would put him in the 750 mile club (50 miles x 15 years, you can do the math) which is a hell of an achievement.

For my old man, his running had recently been plagued by personal health issues and I knew that if I ever wanted to run JFK and finish alongside my father, this would be the year to do it.

SOOO, fast forward to November 22, 2014 at 7:00am in Boonsboro, MD yours truly crosses the start line in the cold (I mean really fucking cold) with my mom, sister, and pregnant wife cheering me on. The race climbs quickly to the Appalachian trail and 14 miles later descends to the C&O Canal where you get the pleasure of running 26.4 miles along the flat and seemingly endless towpath. About 8 miles before the finish the race moves to the road, winding past farms and fields until eventually ending in Williamsport, MD. I won’t bore you with the details of the day, but I will say two things: 1) It was not easy. It was actually really, really hard and I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to quit at times. It’s a long, agonizing struggle to get your body to keep moving for 50 miles and the pain starts to take a toll. 2) I will never forget it.

I shared a ‘passing of the JFK torch’ moment with my dad on the towpath section (he started the race at 5am instead of 7 so he was ahead from the beginning). I had the Gowen-family cheering section at the aid stations motivating me to the finish. And I spent hours alone on the trail wondering why I had decided to attempt this shit.

Seriously, somewhere past 35 miles going to the DMV sounds enticing.  However, NOTHING in the world has given me the feeling of accomplishment like cresting the hill on Clifton Drive in Williamsport and seeing that finish line.

I had really fucking done it – I ran 50 miles.

I ended up finishing 155 place out of 906 starters in 8 hours and 45 minutes. Now if you’re still reading I need to wrap this up somehow so…… what did I learn from all this? Well, as cliché as this is (and its really cliché but that’s why I’m a sales rep not a writer) running 50 miles taught me that through setting goals, anything is possible (if you read Greg’s post last week about powerlifting you’d see a very similar theme. Wonder why we are friends?). When people hear I ran 50 miles (maybe even you right now), they most often react with ‘you’re crazy, I could never do that’. Well, the crazy part may be partially true but the reality is that most of you/them could, it’s just about motivation and what goals you set out to achieve. Running taught me that goals are a huge driver for my personality and in turn goal setting has helped me succeed in my work and personal life as well.

So here I am in December of 2016 as the proud expectant dad of a second child and reveling in the glory of my 3rd JFK 50 finish 3 weeks ago. Do I love running now? Short answer: no. But it changed my life and there’s nothing else in the world I’d rather be doing on the Saturday before Thanksgiving than slogging through the woods of Washington county chasing another JFK finish line.

The image of the blog is the 2016 JFK finish.  It was sleeting with temperatures in the 30s.  I’m just that tough.

Living Single Part 2: Seeking Solace in Solitude

Living Single is a 4-part series outlining my encounters and revelations as a newly-single, aspiring Renaissance Nerd.  If you missed the first post, check it out by clicking here.

Single Living is a dark, scary place.

For extroverts, solitude can be terrifying.  We are a needy bunch, often relying on the company and approval of others for personal fulfillment (ask me how I know).  Alternatively, introverts may savor alone-time, but fail to utilize the opportunity for reflection and self-improvement, often finding themselves squandering months or years of their lives in a lateral pattern.

A common intersection between both personality types is our collective struggle to take advantage of isolation as an opportunity for reflection and enhancement. The path to loving oneself requires utilization of this valuable time to identify personal flaws, set life goals, and address general areas of personal development that are essential to being comfortable in your own skin.  Six months ago:

I hated being alone.  

I hated being newly single in my early 30’s.

Most of my closest friends were chugging along on Breeder Boulevard (Breeder: my pejorative term for those choosing to live the “normal” life and settling down, getting married, and procreating), and I no longer had the luxury of leaning on others to fill every free moment of my time. I had reached a fork in my road, and was faced with the decision to simply skim along life’s waters, or to carve an entirely new path, exploiting my free time to focus on cultivating my inner Renaissance Nerd.  

Below are five essential principles that I have discovered during my “alone-time”:

  1. Work Your Ass Off

My apologies Tim Ferriss, but the 4-Hour Workweek just isn’t for me (quite yet…).  Working your ass off provides a plethora of benefits to goal-oriented singles. Focusing on your work not only fills time in your day, but has the added benefit of career enhancement, sense of accomplishment, and MAKING MONEY, which is an essential factor to a successful life.  The key to managing this goal is that you work hard while maintaining a healthy work/life balance during your journey.  Additionally, making money is KEY, but keep it in perspective and don’t let the Green own you…. Remember that whole thing about stuffing a camel through the eye of a needle? (that was a Bible reference heathens…)

  1. Stop Being a Fatso
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Typical Wal~Mart

Holy f*ck.  Body Shaming Alert. Someone call the PC Police.

Listen – I’m a big dude.  

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life.  If you are able to live a happy life with a spare tire around your midsection, more power to you.  However, if most of us are honest with ourselves, losing weight must be among our highest priorities in seeking positive physical and mental health.  We are a culture of fatsos, sheltered by social media warriors and political correctness.  Hit the brakes, remove the Twinkie from your gullet, and start working on a plan to address the elephant in the room. Being in shape feels good, looks good, and is more attractive to the opposite sex.  Oh, and as a bonus, you will actually live longer!

  1. Dump The Drinks

Here’s a factoid:  alcohol (in volume) is a DEPRESSANT… as in, it DEPRESSES you.  

Sure, it feels good to drink away your sorrows, opens up your vibrant personality, etc… But overall, it is unhealthy and contains all kinds of calories that you do not need right now while focusing on your physical and mental health.  

Looking for a compromise?  

Contain your drinking to once per week, typically Friday or Saturday night.  Try it out.  You can do it.  I’m willing to bet that after a few months, you will thank me for the pointer.  Freeing yourself from booze is rewarding, and will help you to focus on accomplishing your goals on a much more rapid trajectory.  I promise.

  1. Stop Giving a Shit What People Think

This concept is more challenging for some than others.  For me, this step (more like “leap”) was huge factor in my personal growth.  Just. Be. You.  

To aid with this exercise, pick up a copy of “Code of the Extraordinary Mind” by Vishen Lakhiani.  In this New York Times Bestseller, the author discusses “Brules” (Bullshit Rules) of life, and how to free oneself from falling into a pattern of complacency and conforming to the norm.  

There is only one “you”, and nobody knows “you” better than YOU.  Stop being a vanilla pile of mush.

Just. Be. You. 

  1. Stop Playing in the Dark

6 months in to this exercise and I have learned to love and cherish “alone-time”.

There will be lows.  There will be highs.

But… Stay the course, you’ve got this!

Work on a strategy that utilizes your moments of solitude for reflection and personal advancement, and implement the strategy to improve your life.  You do not (I repeat DO NOT) need anyone else in your life to “complete you”.  Only when you are capable of total fulfillment on your own should you consider bringing someone else into your crazy life. Chill out on dating and focus on you.

fun

F*ck.  Yes.

Our time here is short.  Stop playing (with yourself) in the dark.  There is a giant world around you waiting to be conquered.  Soak up some books.  Listen to music which inspires you.  Step out of your comfort zone and try new and exciting things. Live out the life of a “Renaissance” man/woman.  

Continuously set new goals and chase them CONSTANTLY.

Once you find the light, others will find you…

When you think all is forsaken
Listen to me now (all is not forsaken)
You need never feel broken again
Sometimes darkness can show you the light

Next in our 4 part series of Living Single – Getting Your Shit Straight.  

Stay tuned!

 

Cheers,

Rick

The Great Offense of Mastery

The need to develop mastery is buried deep within the human spirit.  It creeps up in our myths, movies, songs, and dreams.  Even though we often can not express why, we feel something intensely satisfying about the idea of ‘leveling up’ – progressing through stages from Padawan to Jedi Master.

It’s what I like about Pat’s approach:  this blog is about becoming a better person.  It’s about solving specific problems by combining expertise across diverse fields.  It’s about achieving mastery, a dying art in a modern world that celebrates shallow engagement.

In many ways, “expert” has become a dirty word.  Technology, globalization, and W.E.I.R.D (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic) culture have all worked to flatten the distinction between expert opinion and common knowledge:

  • The internet has lowered the bar of entry for the global conversation on complex issues (issues most of the people arguing don’t understand).
  • The rapid growth of the world’s population and the expanding horizons of the STEM fields forces some academics to become increasingly specialized in order to stand out, the lay person getting farther and farther from understanding as the ivory tower gets taller and taller.
  • Ideas of egalitarianism that simmered during the early Enlightenment exploded into public life during the American and French Revolutions and spread like a virus, adapting to each new intellectual trend: Romanticism, Marxism, Postmodernism, and their modern counterparts.  If everyone is ‘equal,’ people who are kinder, more charismatic, wealthier, or more skilled are viewed with either awe or skepticism.

These thoughts are so deeply embedded into the fabric of our lives that  we rarely notice them.  When an elite basketball player sets an NBA record, commentators talk about how he was “born with a jump shot.”  When a skilled woman (or man) gets a coveted position before people with seniority, the grumbling inevitably begins: “Who did they f*ck (or f*ck over) to get that job?”  During a recent exchange, someone tossed in this particular gem:

“Well you have evidence, I have evidence.  Who’s to say mine or yours is more accurate?  Study bias is rampant online.”

Most incredibly, no one else on his side of the argument seemed to see a problem with this! 

On a practical level, anyone who is willing to do deep work, to dig into a task until they are unmistakably, undeniably better at it than their peers, should be encouraged.  The global challenges of today will be solved by the hard work of master craftsmen, thinkers, and communicators – not by retweets and hashtag activism.

On a personal level, though, are you content being another ‘Like’ on the Facebook wall of someone else’s life?  The things that require discipline and self-control, the ones that develop mastery, are the ones that bring us the most satisfaction and last the longest.  That may mean different things to different people:  crafting a masterful work of music, closing all the loopholes in a legal document, really listening to your kids or spouse when they come to you with a problem (against every instinct to run away or just-fix-it-now).

Whatever it is – GO FOR IT.  Grind through the challenges and ‘level up’ in life until you can only faintly remember the old you.  Most importantly, encourage others to do the same.  Do not be the one who tells others they’re doomed to fail in order to feel better about your own struggles – be a Renaissance Nerd.

From the Tennis Court to the Platform – A Pursuit of Strength

This is not my thing.

I only write in order to educate my clients and the public about a topic that I find to be imperatively important in the real estate world.  I do not enjoy talking about myself – especially a weak ass tennis player former self.  But alas, my good friend Pat asked me to contribute to his blog.  Pat is literally the type of guy to book a last minute flight from California to Atlanta to come see a friend in competition – this is the least I could do.

A little background:  I am 32 years old, a husband, and a father to 3 beautiful children.  I own a real estate brokerage and a real estate investment firm.  I grew up in an upper middle class household and had an awesome childhood.  My parents have always been supportive and I was never really in a position to ‘want’ for anything.  There is a recent conception that this style of ‘easy’ or ‘privileged’ upbringing creates weak humans.  The belief that we must go through a form of extreme hardship to really test yourself or that you need a heroic story of rising through adversity to become a strong and successful person.   In my case, a good family with good role models and decent education is what I received.  I think I turned out alright…always improving…but pretty good.

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My Family (Sara, Me, Magnus & Donovan, Palmer) – August 2016

This brings me to the topic Pat asked me to focus on in this blog:  power lifting.  In general, as a kid, I was always pretty small.  I was a wrestler up until 10th grade and at 16 years old I only weighed 135lbs.  I was never the strongest kid on the mat and I never took the weight room seriously.  I was a technique wrestler who had decent hips and body control. At some point in my adolescence I stumbled onto a tennis court. I wasn’t great, but I think the little bit of athletic ability I had lent itself to being better than most kids in the area. It doesn’t hurt our high school was literally called “Cornfield High” and 95% of the kids wouldn’t be caught dead on the tennis court unless it was to chug a Budweiser before the football game.  Needless to say, I was decent at tennis.  I also didn’t take tennis that seriously.  To me, high school was all about parties and girls.

After high school, I pretty much thought my “athletic career” was over. The closest thing to a sport was golf and I played golf as an excuse to drink beer. I was totally OK with that. College at this point had me focused on the next step in my life; making money. I worked full time and went to school full time. I was mediocre at both. I carried a B average through college, had a good time and was ready to start “real life.” I tried my hand at a few corporate jobs in sales, HR and customer service. I was utterly uninspired. Shortly thereafter I got into real estate. I found a couple great young mentors to take me under their wing and I was off and running. I started reading, like legitimately reading books that no one told me I had to read. It was crazy. I started thinking bigger and started to look at aspects of my life that I was neglecting and suddenly I realized that at 21 years old I had a “dad bod” before that was even a thing. My wife (yes I was married at 21) was going to a local gym and seemed to love it.  I was skeptical, so I asked my gigantic friend Randy what I should do at the gym.  He pretty much said use some machines and do some cardio.  So that’s what I did, I went in, jogged (it might be a soft J, not sure) and then I’d do some convoluted circuit on the machines, do some pull ups, dips and some “ab work.” Then suddenly I noticed my arms getting all swole, I could do 30 pull ups and weighted dips were a breeze. So, I started getting more confident. I noticed 3 dudes who were ALWAYS there when I was there and they worked out together.  They were not the strongest gym bros who came in with their Timberlands and tank tops, but they were clearly bigger and stronger than I was but still approachable.  So I used my ridiculously charismatic charm to get permission to lift with them. The one dude, Jason, could hack squat every single plate in the gym. I got stronger just loading the damn machine for him. We did squats, leg extensions, leg curls, hammer curls, seated curls, standing curls, curls on the floor, curls in the squat rack…oh…and calf raises. Typical bro workout and I loved it. I started seeing more weights on the bar and I started noticing a difference in my body. I was hooked.

Then I moved.

I moved back to rural Carroll County and didn’t have my gym bros anymore. I went through a couple years of P90x and a few other home workouts.  Oh, and Pat Jones said “I bet you can’t run a half marathon.”  So, I fucking did it.  That was stupid.

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Pat & I after the Baltimore Half – October 2010

Then finally one of my real estate mentors, Nick told me about CrossFit and that he wanted to try it. We did some research and there was NO way we were in shape enough to go to a scary Crossfit gym where these jacked dudes did muscle ups and chicks wore sports bras to jump rope really fast. So we did the next best thing, we did the CrossFit workouts in a Golds Gym. The people there thought we were on drugs. We had stations set up and would do the sprints on the treadmill. Looking back, it was really fucking stupid. But we finally felt like we were ready to go to a real CrossFit Gym. At this time, I was probably around 220lbs and squatting maybe high 200s, benching mid 200s, deadlifting mid 3s and surprisingly overhead pressing 185lbs.  So, I wasn’t weak, but I clearly wasn’t that impressively strong either.

I remember being so freaking nervous before our first day at Crossfit Retribution.  The owner, Beau Bryant was cool, supportive and an effective coach.  I was always really good at WODs (Workout of the Days) that involved row sprints and anything heavy.  It also became apparent that I was adding strength quickly on Beau’s plan.  I was quickly pulling mid 4s, benching close to 300, pressing 200, and cleaning 300lbs.  But, I still looked like a ogre when asked to run 300 meters.  After about a year of CrossFit, sometime in 2013, Beau politely told me to go to the back room (Westminster Strength & Conditioning.)  And this was the just the beginning.

Shortly after transitioning to purely strength training, our gym organized a small local powerlifting meet in October 2013.  It was my first taste of competition. I weighed in around 255lbs and performed well.  The competition was a “Starting Strength” competition including the squat, strict press, and deadlift.  I totaled 1290 lbs. and took first place in the heavyweights.  I have always been very aware that I was a big fish in a little pond.  Our gym has some strong ass people, but there are freaks in this world and I wasn’t delusional about my numbers.

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Big Mike Jenkins at my first power lifting meet – October 2013

I continued to train and compete. I entered another local meet in a different federation that was a typical squat, bench, deadlift comp.  I totaled around 1400 lbs.  Then I wanted to test myself in a bigger, sanctioned competition.  So, in 2015, I entered the USAPL Equinox Open in the 120kg class. I had some bad ass competition including a dude who was going to pull in the mid 600’s which was still otherworldly to me. I ended up missing my 3rd attempt on bench and had to bump my 3rd attempt DL to hit my goal of 1500 and also to be able to snag 2nd place. I found a place in my mind I had never been before. A place of determination that I didn’t even know existed. I pulled 567 and took silver with a 1504 total. Now I was hooked on competition. In the fall of 2015, we had a few of our strong ladies from W&SC training for USAPL Nationals. Comparatively to these girls, I was inconsistent at best. I had excuses for everything. I was fat because that made me strong, I was inconsistent because I had a young child and 2 businesses. I had many conversations with people about how our National level lifters had more time than me etc. I just wasn’t mentally able to commit to taking it to the next level.

Then October came. I made the drive up to Scranton to watch our girls lift at Nationals. The moment I walked into the warm up room the air was thick with chalk and testosterone. The strongest people in the country all in this one hotel conference room. The staging area was littered with Instagram lifting celebrities like Chad Wesley Smith, Jesse Norris, Kim Walford, Layne Norton, LS MClain, Bryce Lewis, Jordan Feigenbaum…all the lifters I followed and tried to emulate.  Our girls did amazing and I had an amazing experience.

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Kim Walford and I at some shitty pub in Scranton

Shortly after that, I had a conversation with Beau about how I don’t have the ability to be at the same level and that training and commitment that going to nationals requires. Oddly enough, he agreed with me. He pretty much said, “Yeah, you’re a busy guy.” I’m still not sure if he was serious or if he knew subconsciously it would eat me up. Then I realized that one of my strongest abilities in business is to set and achieve goals through leverage and time blocking. If I wanted to go to Nationals…I could do it. I would just have to plan and set my goals accordingly. To go to nationals, I had to qualify and the new qualifying totals were just announced. For me to qualify in the 120 class, I’d need almost a 1600lb total. OR I could lose 30lbs of fat and qualify with a 1444 total. I chose to get skinny. So the first step was to get my food in control. I hired a girl to prep my food in accordance to Beau’s macro suggestions. I shed my weight right on pace. It was awesome. I felt better, looked better and was getting strong AF. A few weeks before my qualifying meet, The Equinox Open, my training went to shit. No idea why. All my lifts lost 30-60lbs and instead of shooting for mid 1500’s I was beginning to question if I could even hit the 1444 required to qualify for nationals.

Long story short, we made a plan on what numbers added up to exactly 1444 and we executed perfectly. I took 3rd place at Equinox and was headed to Atlanta for Nationals.

I trained my damn ass off and ate prepared meals 5 times a day for an entire year with this crazy goal. I woke up at 4:30, 3 days a week and lifted for 2-3 hours per session. Over the course of the training year, I missed only 3 training sessions. I skipped happy hours, skipped cookies and cupcakes, and even resisted pizza (most of the time).  The weeks leading up to USAPL Nationals were full of anticipation, excitement, and anxiety.  I just wanted to get to the big show.  Thankfully, I had the pleasure of watching all my fellow team mates crush it before I hit the platform.  When my time came, the copious amounts of pre-workout and anxiety caused me to lose focus on nearly everything.  My first squat attempt was a blur, the 2nd ended with me accidentally dumping the weight – potentially merit for disqualification.  Thankfully, USAPL was forgiving and allowed me to continue.  I amazingly recovered and hit my 3rd attempt.  I finished going 6/9 on the day and a 1500lb total.

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3rd Squat Attempt 540lbs – October 2016

I learned a lot in Atlanta.

I learned that I’m not invincible in competition and not impervious to nerves.  Overall, Atlanta was amazing. I lifted on the same platform as my lifting idols and can now say that I’m in the top 10% of USAPL lifters in my weight class.   I will be back and I’m after a 1600lb total.

A good friend once told me, “happiness = progression.”  Powerlifting is one of the purest and simplest ways to see progression.  You can see progression over years, months and even days, and it’s an easy formula:

Get your ass in the gym.  Put more weight on the bar.  Don’t be a pussy.

fPat & I after all my lifts were done

Living Single Part I – Swiping for Love In All The Wrong Places

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

-Whitney Houston – Songstress/ Former Cocaine User

*Did I really just start my first blog post ever by citing a Whitney Houston song? Ugh.  Whatever.  Michael Masser and Linda Creed wrote it… You get the point… Thanks Wikipedia….


Living Single?  Me too. 

This year commenced with my personal life rapidly spiraling out of control.  After 5 years of marriage, my relationship was crumbling, divorce was impending, and I found myself trying understand how I had reached this point while simultaneously attempting to grasp the idiosyncrasies of single life in a very different world.

Dating? Terrifying. Tinder, Match, POF, Bumble, OKCupid, eHarmony, DateACougar…..

What. The. Hell.

Having found myself unexpectedly single in my early 30’s, I was clueless to this new world of web-based dating services that my single friends were raving about.  Dating sites have taken over the web.  According to Pew Research, use of online dating sites or mobile apps by young adults has TRIPLED since 2013.

So why “swipe” to find love?

Simple – I didn’t love myself.  Actually, I didn’t really even like myself… and there are many of you living every day in the same state of mind.  Whether you are a seasoned, professional dater, or have found yourself newly single like yours truly, our culture has gravitated towards a mind frame that relies on EVERYTHING/EVERYONE but ourselves for happiness and contentment.  In this 4-part series, I will be discussing the methods that I have used to find personal prosperity, and how I plan on using these newly unlocked achievements to re-enter the dating scene with a whole new perspective.

Put down the mobile device, and step AWAY from Tinder….

Step 1: Delete the dating apps.  Seriously.  Hold your finger on the app until it wobbles, and then push the “x” button.  I know that window shopping and empty flings are fun, and that acquiring “matches” are great for the ego, but we have work to do, and dating apps are taking up precious time that we will need to focus on energizing our own mind and soul.  Don’t worry, they will still be in the app store when you are ready.

Step 2: Seeking Solace in Solitude.  Learn to live happy completely alone.  Find time for personal reflection, identifying personal flaws, focusing on health/fitness, setting new goals, and stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things.

Step 3: Getting Your Shit Straight: Time to man-up and become an adult. When we reach this step, we will work on organizing and implementing the goals that we have set during our “alone time” to establish accountability. Some of these measures will include mapping out our goals, making a budget, keeping a schedule/calendar, and working on our career.  Organization and success result in happiness (and chicks dig dudes that have their shit together).

Step 4: Showtime! Once life is in order and we have discovered a new control and cognizance of ourselves, it’s finally time to test the waters and reemerge into the dating scene.  *Please note, this very important step can pop up unexpectedly and time is of the essence, so it’s time to get to work!

I am living out this 4-step plan as I scribble out this first post (lurking somewhere between getting my shit straight and showtime….).  I can happily report so far that I have reached an almost euphoric state of happiness for the first time in 32 years. Stop relationship-hopping and searching for happiness and love in all the wrong places, because

Learning to love yourself, It is the greatest love of all.

Cheers.

Sources:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/5-facts-about-online-dating/