Part 3 of this series left off with Marley and I making a decision that we’d move to the sunny beaches of Florida to escape the (perceived) prison of Illinois. I didn’t, however, have much of a plan in place… so let’s pick things back up around there….
I was 27, working at a high-end seafood restaurant outside Chicago, and my life looked quite a bit like this:
Wake up hungover around 11. Eat and walk Marley. Pack my bag. Go to the gym. Drink a shake. Go to work. Get off work. Eat. Walk Marley. Head to the bar or party at my house. Repeat.
Days off work (I worked Tues-Sat) would consist of lazy lounging with Marley, hitting the pool (in the summer), and basics like grocery shopping.
I’ve always had a pretty solid, muscular frame – and I put on muscle/weight easily when I lift weights. Even during the most self-destructive years in my 20’s, I still hit the gym (weights) at least 3-4x/wk.
I ate like shit, drank, smoked, stayed up until dawn, and pretty much everything else I could do to be unhealthy… but I didn’t miss “arm day” at the gym and still had some serious guns. (To go with my growing midsection…)
It was that same time, around 2007, that I got serious about lifting weights and getting “ripped”. Enough so that I started eating “better” some of the time, drinking “less”, smoking “less”, and working out more. I started reading muscle & fitness magazines and made friends with a personal trainer at the local gym. That seemed like a job I could do – which would get me out of the bars/restaurants and force me into being healthier.
You see, I’ve never enjoyed lifting weights. I did it so that I could have big muscles. (Because I was into intimidating people and girls liked muscles…) I hated practice when I was playing sports – but I had to do it in order to play the games. I’ve always loathed running.
So, all these little “improvements” to my lifestyle were against heavy resistance. I didn’t want to eat healthier; I didn’t want to work out, I didn’t want to stop drinking or smoking or staying up late. These were all things I (gradually) forced myself to do or tricked myself into one way or another. (More on this later…)
This was it. The new life plan. I’d get a personal training certification (I got two – ACE & NASM) and become a trainer. I studied the material, took the tests, and passed. I was a “trainer”. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any confidence, coaching skills, empathy, or anything else necessary to actually help people. I was completely averse to sales (which you must do as a personal trainer at a gym) and hated everything about my new “career”, again.
What should I do now?
Well, I narrowed it down between two options:
1) Go to the University of South Florida in Tampa and begin a Master’s program in Exercise Science, with the ultimate goal of working as a professional or collegiate sports trainer or strength coach. Bonus – this would fulfill my goal of moving to the beach.
2) Go to the University of Denver and begin a Master’s program in International Relations, with the ultimate goal of “righting” the wrongs I saw in the world. Not Florida, but an acceptable escape as I’d heard good things about Denver and the weather isn’t as harsh as Chicago.
How to make such a huge life decision?
I flipped a coin.
Well, to be fair, I flipped a coin six times. If a decision was important, it always warranted a “best of 7” coin flip. A single one-off flip just wouldn’t do such a major life decision justice.
With a 4-2 coin decision, I was off to the University of South Florida as a graduate student. Marley and I left Chicago in the spring of 2008 and I achieved my goal of living near the beach.
Because my undergrad degree wasn’t in something related to my Master’s program, I had to knock out some pre-requisite courses at the local community college first. While I was successful in doing that, with solid grades, I struggled to find stable work – or a stable life. All my unhealthy habits followed me – and some even amplified… although I was still always coming home after work. (Thanks, Marley.)
By the fall, the economic crisis/collapse of 2008 was starting to kick off – and tourism tanked. Like most businesses in Florida, my place of employment tanked along with it… and closed.
More proof that I was a failure. That I screw everything up. That I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy. I’ll never amount to anything. I suck at life, etc… etc…
I spent an entire night sitting on the edge of the pier in Clearwater Beach during a vicious thunderstorm debating jumping off and giving up. I really wanted to, but I couldn’t bring myself to crush my parents, or to abandon my responsibility with Michael or leave Marley without his best friend.
I reluctantly came back from the edge, tucked my tail between my legs, withdrew from USF, and made plans to move back to Illinois.
My friend Al offered to let Marley and I move into his condo – and I temporarily went back to my service industry job.
I found a mostly online-based Master’s program that was comparable to the one I wanted to do at USF, so that became plan B. I chose the accelerated track, and within a year (of spending about 6 hours/day or more doing school work) – I had a Master’s degree in Exercise Science & Health Promotion.
Rather ironic since there wasn’t much healthy about my life….
Sure, I knew how to design training programs at a pretty high level. I started to incorporate a bit of organic food into my diet. I drank a little bit less than I always had. I cut back on smoking, sometimes. Overall – I was still living a very self-destructive, unsatisfied, directionless life.
I got a job at a local super gym (pools, courts, weights, etc… etc…) and hated it. I’d lost the desire to work with athletes – mainly due to the horrible pay, hours, travel, relocation, etc… involved in that industry. Tending bar and serving was still my main source of income – I just had more fancy letters (and more debt) after my name now.
Al, who Marley and I were living with upon my return from Florida, allowed me to turn his garage into a little gym. I quit my job(s), maxed out my credit card (again) buying equipment, and started to build a personal training business out of Al’s garage in Warrenville, Illinois. I put ads on Craigslist and fliers up at the local Whole Foods.
Somehow, I was able to get this off the ground a little bit and scrape by.
I was training clients – but wasn’t living a healthy life. I was telling them one thing and doing something completely different. This hypocrisy led to even more self-loathing, self-judgment, and despair. That’s when I found Paul Chek.
He had written an article about the 50-something ingredients in a Burger King milkshake. “What is all this shit?! This is why we’re all fat and sick! This is poison! Why is this crap in our food?!”
Who is this guy?
I was picking up what he was laying down. This reminded me of the revelations almost a decade prior that the history we learn in school is propaganda, bought and paid for, lies, and that the emperor wears no clothes.
Could this be true about the diet, nutrition, fitness, health, etc… industry as well?
Could it be true that starving myself (and my clients) and eating an uber strict diet (which I hated) of broccoli, kale, chicken breasts, brown rice, and oatmeal wasn’t, in fact, the way to ultimate health?!
I bought Paul’s book (which is still the #1 book I recommend to people starting out on this journey) How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy. I dove into it. It all made sense. Organic food, grass-fed/pastured animals, soil science (no nutrients in the soil = no nutrients in the food), stress, circadian rhythms/sleep, gut infections & parasites, appropriate types of training for each individual – all of these concepts were new to me, and the all made sense!
I signed up for the CHEK Institute’s Holistic Lifestyle Coach Level 1 training and anxiously awaited the long weekend intensive. I’d been warned that the teacher for my course was “a weirdo”, but that I’d enjoy it and get a lot out of it. That was an understatement across the board.
My “weird” teacher was JP Sears (yes, “Ultra Spiritual” JP) – who ended up becoming a good friend, mentor, and coach for the first half of what has turned out to be a transformational decade.
I came home from that weekend on fire and rambling to anyone who would listen about the damaging effects of chemicals in our food, the destruction of the soil due to our industrial farming practices, the superiority of grass-fed and pastured animal food vs. conventional, and that our emotions/thoughts can (and do) impact our physical health.
I started practicing yoga to balance out my weight training. I started meditating (kind of, rarely, once in a while).
I bought some spiritual books by Eckhart Tolle and learned how to spiritually bypass every emotion and thought like a pro. (That’s not the point of Tolle’s work… but that’s where I was/what I was ready for)
Learning all of this dirt about the conventional dietary/exercise/fitness/health wisdom reminded me of when I figured out the world was run by criminals, war-mongers, con men, and thieves.
And just like had happened with political and cultural activism, people didn’t care nearly as much as I wanted them to. This was discouraging and caused me to hide my own passion, almost ashamed to be the “health guy” among my peers. I continued to feel like I didn’t belong, anywhere.
I kept chugging along, however… and after a few years, I’d built a (somewhat) steady business of personal training clients, local classes & workshops, and nutrition/health coaching clients. I spent 6 months of my life building everything I knew into an online course, and it was awesome. I was so proud of it, and I was sure that a ton of people would buy it, learn from it, and change their lives.
I’d forgotten one minor detail.
I had no idea how to sell anything, promote myself, and knew literally nothing about online/digital marketing.
I ended up making about 9 cents for every hour I worked on creating that program. (I did the math while crying one night.)
Gradually, my clients got more complex – and I decided to go through the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition (FDN) certification program, which would allow me to use functional lab testing in my practice. I’d heard Reed Davis, the founder of FDN, on podcasts, summits, and other interviews over the years – and really enjoyed his approach, the information he shared, and I wanted to be able to do what he did.
So, I once again loaded up the credit card, signed up, and put it on faith that it would somehow pay off at some point. I think I even pre-sold some coaching packages a few months in advance or something. I’d started to get a little clever about how to make things happen…
I crushed the FDN program, spending hours every day on the videos, lab breakdowns, case studies, and other trainings we needed to do. This is also when I got to know Sean Croxton (founder of Underground Wellness, and the first one to do big online summits in the health world) and learn a little bit about online marketing.
I decided that I wanted to create an entirely online business and move out of the country – probably to Costa Rica or Belize. Somewhere cheap, tropical, on the beach, with abundant mangoes and sleepy sloths in the trees. Somewhere away from everything I loathed about American society/culture. Somewhere free of worry, money problems, stress, winter, and everything else I wanted to run away from.
Even as I went further down the health rabbit hole professionally, I still struggled to give up my old lifestyle. I was still drinking (although I’d quit for longer periods of time), smoking (same), staying up until all hours of the night, and eating unhealthy food (although less often). I hated myself for it, but couldn’t change.
I was on the “right” track, and making slow progress – despite incredible resistance and professional level self-sabotage.
Something had to give. Years were flying by, nothing was really changing. I was still depressed, unhappy with life, felt terrible most of the time, and still encountered bouts of severe/suicidal depression.
I was failing at creating a business that allowed for location independence. I was failing at eating, moving, and living like I wanted to be. I was constantly battling against myself to make tiny bits of progress in the direction I thought I wanted to be going.
I went out to San Diego to attend a high-level professional training for a few days on the topic of gut health/healing taught by Emma Lane. It was right on the beach – and I fell in love with the area. It was September 2013 and I said “within one year, I’m going to live on the beach in California.”
How that was going to happen… I had no idea. But I threw it out there anyways – perhaps someone was listening?