I HAD ALMOST GIVEN UP. I could not get out of bed. I was ready to throw in the towel…my workouts were nonexistent. I had started over many times in my life, but this time was very very different. Sometimes out of our moments of greatest uncertainty and doubt, comes our greatest, yet simplest moment of clarity. Here’s where my story began…
I was born in the hot July summer of 1977 in Atlanta, GA. Although I lived there until age 9, it was upon moving to a small town a few hours outside of there that my most significant memories take shape…
I always knew I was different, but was never quite sure why I didn’t fit in. I was always rather shy and introverted, much happier playing by myself than participating in group activities with the other kids. I was small, long thin arms and legs, but not particularly tall. In fact, I was so small in comparison with the other boys in school that my parents decided to have me repeat 1st grade, to perhaps give me a chance to “catch up”. I remember the bullying and name calling quite well. I got made fun of for being skinny, for being quiet, for being “different”. This is where I believe my body dysmorphia began. I saw myself as the “skinny, awkward kid”, who was different and sad inside but not understanding why.
You see, our identities and associations start to shape in these critical early years. Our belief systems about ourselves and others also start developing. I began to identify myself as being only my physical body. I remember looking in the mirror and hating my appearance. I remember wearing sweat pants under my jeans in elementary school to make my legs look bigger. Taking my shirt off at the pool was off limits. I had the opposite problem of most people. I couldn’t gain any weight and I nearly ate my family out of house and home! The problem here is that there is little sympathy for those of us with this challenge, they say “oh poor you, I wish I had your problems”. It’s the same feeling and damage to self-esteem as people who are overweight and develop a negative and unhealthy body image.
By the time I reached about 12 or 13, I realized that I wanted to change my body. I remember asking for a weight set for Christmas. I started working out in the upstairs bonus room of our house, pressing out sets on the bench-press, and curling endless reps with the dumbbells. I started to be a little more conscious of my eating and diet, even to the later point of becoming a bit obsessive… As the weeks turned into months, I began to see changes in my body, most notably my chest getting bigger and even getting biceps muscles. I was proud, but I wanted more. During my last year of middle school, I decided to join the local gym. A friend who was a year older and in high school recruited me to come and we became workout partners, pushing each other and meeting every day after school. While the other boys were at football practice, I was in the gym lifting, running, (I even did step aerobics), and learning as much as I could from the older guys.
Around age 15, I started buying and reading fitness magazines, books and articles. Anything I could find on how to gain muscle. There was one magazine in particular that I read quite often called Exercise for Men Only magazine. I remember looking at the guys in there saying to myself, “one day I want to be in this magazine”.
By the time I was a freshman in college, I had gained a good 30 lbs. or so throughout my high school years, but I still felt small and saw that skinny kid when I looked in the mirror. It’s funny how we see ourselves, often vastly different than most other people see us, we truly are our worst critics at times. It was in college, at Mercer University, smack dab in the geographical center of Georgia, that I began to struggle with that menacing question, “what do I want to do with my life”? I agonized over this question my entire freshman year, switching from a pre-med mindset, to totally clueless about what I wanted. When it came down to having to make a decision out of necessity (which would end up being a recurring theme in my life), I decided to hell with it, “I’m majoring in Business Administration because it’s practical and I DO know that one day I want my own business”.
I should mention, that throughout all of the changes in both geography and careers in my life, I always stayed focused on working out and trying to eat healthy. Fitness has always been that one consistent thing that I always had to lean on, that thing that got me through when nothing else seemed to make sense.
It was May of 2008 when I joined my family on vacation in Anna Maria Island on the west coast of Florida. I’ve been going there with my family for years, and it always brought me clarity to get away and experience a quieter pace. I had gotten so caught up in the noise in my head, and focused on what once was, that I was missing what was manifesting all around me.
One night during that vacation, we made the family voyage up to the local Wal-Mart for some things, and I decided to browse the magazine section for some beach reading materials. Something familiar caught my eye and I looked down to see my old favorite publication, Exercise for Men Only! I hadn’t seen that in years, had forgotten all about it! In the middle of the magazine there was an ad to submit photos and a brief essay to be considered for their “Mr. Exercise” contest. I was in shape, but not good enough to be featured in a magazine spread. I didn’t care, I thought, at best, this will give me a good goal to help keep me motivated to train harder. That next day, I put my sister to work snapping photos of me frolicking in my speedo on the beach. I mailed everything off and honestly forgot about it over the next few weeks.
About the time I had forgotten about the whole thing, I got an email from the assistant to the editor briefly stating that the team had selected me as the winner, on the condition that I could get myself really good and cut up. Here was the catch, they needed me to be ready in just over 4 weeks! I couldn’t believe, first that they had picked me, and second, that I had to be photoshoot ready in 4 weeks! I had never done a photoshoot or anything like it.
One day during my 4 weeks of doing 2 workouts per day, I stopped in the middle of a set of dumbbell presses and a chill came over my body. It was one of those moments of familiarity, like, “I’ve been here before” or something. I then remembered a day when I was 15. I remembered back to a summer day at the pool ready an issue of EMO thinking to myself that one day I would be in that magazine. It was in that moment I realized I was about to fulfill that dream, nearly 15 years later. You can see that very article here in the press section of my website here.
After shooting for EMO I quickly got an agent out in California, and started a career as a commercial fitness and physique model. When I was on that beach in Anna Maria Island with my sister, I also decided that I was going to fulfill my lifelong dream of living at the beach. I remember growing up in Georgia, landlocked, dreaming of a life of palm trees and seashells. Shortly after that trip, I got a call from an old college friend living in Miami Beach. I told her my story and she said, “Why don’t you come down to Miami for a while and clear your head? I’ve got a spare bedroom with an air mattress and it’s yours if you want to come for a while”. Within weeks, I packed up my car with what I could fit in there and made the 10 hour drive to Miami.
Throughout the years after moving to Miami, I worked several jobs. I modeled, I did the bartending thing, and I did the other thing you do in South Beach, I became a personal trainer and a group fitness instructor. In Miami, which, in my opinion, truly has some of the most beautiful people in the world, there’s one flawless body and pretty face after another. I suppose it might not be an ideal place for someone who is insecure or has body image or dysmorphia, but for me, it was therapeutic to just dive right into the shark tank and deal with it. Sure, there’s an added pressure there, but if you use it correctly, it can be a powerful catalyst for staying health focused.
Over the next few years, I worked hard in health and fitness, training, teaching, learning, getting more and more certifications, and also doing commercial fitness and physique modeling on the side. I also fell in love and for a while, everything was good. As I started working with various clients, they began to come to me for advice on certain areas of their lives, some fitness related, some not. For some clients, I became trainer and therapist, for some, it was trainer and stylist, or referring them to the best this person or that person. I was like their therapist, coach, trainer, stylist, and match-maker all rolled into one! It was around this time that I had my first ideas to sort of combine them all together into some sort of consulting or coaching business.
As I began to start the early foundation of this business, I realized that I still had changes to make in my life, however, if there was one thing I knew how to do, it was to start over and reinvent myself… but, I didn’t really reinvent myself all those times I was starting over. I didn’t realize it until much later in life, but these were all necessary steps, growing experiences, challenges, and opportunities to learn more about myself that would ultimately lead me to where I am today. Our mistakes can be our most valuable learning tools if we handle them correctly. Now, every time I feel like I’ve hit a dead end, or I’m feeling like I made a wrong turn or mistake, I get really excited. Why? Because I know I’m about to have a break-through. I’m about to have another opportunity to make the right turn after eliminating the path of the wrong turn. This is the beauty of life. We can always start over. I’m not advocating just consistently making changes and stopping and starting out of boredom or confusion. You have to be somewhat strategic about it, and you also have to be paying enough attention to realize when your window of opportunity to take action arrives –stay with me, there’s a huge point to me telling all of this. I became so involved in building my business and helping other people, I hardly made it to the gym anymore. I had to stop teaching my classes and seeing many of my health and fitness clients due to my crazy schedule.
All I wanted to do on my days off, which were never consistent, was not get dressed and stay in bed all day. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. I was depressed. In my opinion, this type of depression, the kind that slowly takes shape, the kind that sneaks in, the kind that feeds off of past failures and mistakes, the kind that is hard to pinpoint, this is the worst kind of depression. Often it is when those on the outside take notice and step in that our attention gets drawn to it –and that’s exactly what happened. My boss at work and my family stepped in. I was lucky that I had people around me that cared and wanted to help. I went to see a therapist. I said to him, “I don’t want to be on the planet anymore if this is how I’m going to be here. I can’t get out of bed. I’m not fulfilling my life’s purpose and I don’t want to just exist anymore going through the motions”. You see, in order to help other people get strong, you have to make sure you are taking care of YOU, first. This is the only way, and for me, this was a hard lesson to learn.
So here’s my point in sharing all of this with you. If you’ve read this far, chances are there is a part of you or someone close to you that you have known, that has struggled with some of these issues. Not feeling fulfilled is an epidemic problem for many many people. It is well camouflaged with busy schedules, focusing on errands and getting the kids to here and there, and going on auto-pilot. Robot mode. It is my belief that we live in a country the majority of people have just gone on auto-pilot.
They checked out to be able to check in every day. They’ve lost sight of their physical health and bodies, and they are totally removed from making crucial mind/body connections. So how did I go from there to here? How do you turn this all around? The simple answer is that I was ready to change it and turn it around. I had had enough. I was done pleasing everyone but myself, I was done blaming everything and everyone, I let go of my excuses, and I took ownership of all of it. I knew that if I didn’t want to exist like that anymore, that the only way out of there was to go up. To rise above it all. To decide that I was in fact going to be happy. I decided that I would heal my body and start working out intuitively and caringly. I would rid my life of toxic relationships and toxic people. I decided that I would be content to be single for a while so I could work on me. I decided that when I was stronger, healthy again, happy, and had shifted my focus to gratitude, that I would take all of my experiences, all of my training and knowledge, the spiritual, emotional, and physical journey that I was about to take, that once I was able, I would help other people who were ready to take responsibility for making lasting changes in their lives.
The life that we all want, the happiness, the health, the wealth, the love… we all want it –all of that stuff, comes through our own deliberate will and creation. It is deciding who and what and where will be in our lives. It’s not because some people are just lucky or born into better families or had unfair advantages. We are all given the same amount of the most valuable currency in life, and that is time.
No matter who you are, where you are, whether you wake up in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan or you wake up in a village in Ethiopia, we all have the same 24 hours each day. And we all, every day, have choices. We stay or we go. We choose to keep going or we choose to give up. We decide it’s going to be a good day or a bad day. Every day that goes by that you are not living your best life, that you are not experiencing joy, abundance, health, happiness, and fulfilling your life’s purpose, is a day that you are not reaping the benefits of your 24 hours of currency. It’s a day that you will never ever get back, and it’s a day that may never come again. Change it. Do it. Discover it. Love it. Your life – LOVE IT.