The Artist We Slayed

Each of us is born with a gift.  We are all artists capable of creating great works if we nurture our talents.

Painter, writer, sculptor, athlete, musician, actor. Talent alone will only take you so far. You must work your craft relentlessly and never stop improving.

So many of us live a life much like an uncompleted to-do list.  We are always planning, seldom accomplishing.  Why do we give up our pursuit of a plan? It’s painful to not be good at something.  Our minds tell us we will never be good.  We do not want to face criticism. All of these outside influences are not the real problem.

We alone hold the key to the door that impedes our way. Fear breeds more fear and that in turn acts to paralyze us. We keep telling ourselves that it is just not the right time or next week I’ll start, but we are only defeating ourselves.

It is all a form of self-sabotage, just like booze, drugs, meaningless relationships, overeating and anything else we use to fill the void. These detours give us a short burst of pleasure followed by a longer crash because we still have not advanced towards our goals.

I know a lot about being my own worst enemy.  It took me some years to come to terms with this because as you can imagine I have plenty of excuses.  I would keep telling myself and anyone who would listen that it was not my fault, that it was beyond my control.

In truth, I was afraid of working hard towards my real ambitions because they seemed far from ever happening.  Instead, I was content to grab what I could for immediate gratification. This is what I like to call low hanging fruit, it may not be the best but it was temporarily filling.

The artist you slayed long ago can be brought back to life. We all possess the tools necessary to complete the job. It will require a well thought out game plan with a definite beginning and ending. We also have to accept right at the start that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  The closer we get to creating our masterpiece the more life will throw impediments in our way.  

We may never be an artist like Michelangelo, a wordsmith like Hemingway or a filmmaker as great as Akira Kurosawa, but we can create our own art for others to enjoy.

We are all craftsmen for the Lord. He gave us the gifts so that we would use them to emphasize his glory. It is time to leave the nonsense behind and use the talent we have been given to make the world around us a better place.

 

1 Peter 4:10

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

 

Romans 12:6

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are What We Eat

We have all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” The phrase originated in an 1826 manuscript written by a French lawyer by the name of Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.  It read “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

Food is a good thing.  It gives you strength and life.  As a trainer and coach, one of the most common questions I hear is, “How many calories should I eat to lose weight?” Diet companies want you to believe counting calories is the only way to a healthy body. I always get a good laugh when I go out to eat and I see the calorie content on the menu next to the meal.  In my years of experience, I’ve learned that the key to losing weight is eating high-quality nutrient rich food in moderation, combined with exercise and enough sleep.  A healthy body begins in the kitchen and is sculpted in the gym.

“You are what you eat,” also applies to all of the information we take into our minds during a twenty-four hour period.   The things we think about, watch, talk about and listen to are all food for our minds.

Make it a goal to feed your body and your mind things that build you up.  If you ingest negativity, flush it out and move on.  Make changes so that you surround yourself with positivity instead.

Eat food that contributes to your body’s strength and health. The protein, vitamins, and minerals your body needs to function at its peak can all be found in real foods and vegetables. There is no need for expensive powders, supplements or shakes.

Read books that stimulate your mind.  Surround yourself with positive people who encourage you to have strong values.  If you have free time, consider taking free online college courses.  I have had great experiences with free online courses from both Hillsdale College and Dallas Theological Seminary.  There is no need to spend thousands of dollars to learn in today’s world.

It’s also important to have a healthy spiritual life.  After all, our bodies will eventually fail, but through Christ we have eternal life.  I feed my spirit by spending time reading the Bible and time in prayer.  As I’ve increased the quality of the things I’m feeding my mind, body and spirit, my quality of life has improved at the same time.

Matthew 4:4

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you – whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

 

Act Two

Did your life seem to be right on track, and then it ran right off the rails?  Modern life is filled with pitfalls such as divorce, losing your job, sickness and the list goes on. It is filled with distractions that would like nothing more than to keep us from moving toward our goals.  We have to keep moving forward.

Forgiveness is something frequently discussed in terms of the people close to us, but we often forget to forgive the closest person of all: ourselves.

It’s good to look back on your life and acknowledge your past mistakes and learn from them.  It’s also important to forgive yourself for them so that you can move on with your life.

No good comes from putting your life are on pause to live in the past.  We cannot go back and change the things that have happened. What we can do is move on, refusing to repeat the same mistakes.

I can remember the night very vividly, yet it was already almost two years ago.  Fortune Gym, the gym in Hollywood where I had worked for six years, threw my wife and I a going away party.  As I looked around at all the people in attendance, it hit me hard how much I was going to miss them all and how much I was actually going to be missed.

One of the people at the party was a young man I had met at the gym about two years before.  We had chatted briefly and I had taught him a little Jiu Jitsu.  The next time I saw him he told me he had read my book.  He knew someone in the book, so we had a good laugh about it.

Over a two-year, period I trained with him often.  One day I had a talk with him about his line of “work.” He was selling large quantities of pills and marijuana.  I was worried about him because he had not yet been arrested for anything, but he was playing a dangerous game and it was bound to happen.  You commit crimes, you will get caught.

I told him that it may look good and it may seem like easy money, but in the end you will pay the price.  I could see he was unsure of what to do with his life, but I could also see that he took note of the message I was trying to get across.  A few weeks later he had an unrelated legal scare and was facing some serious problems.  The legal problems ended up going away, but I am pretty sure it helped guide him toward making better choices in life.

Although I haven’t seen him since the party, I speak to him about once a month on the phone.  Thanks to social media I can follow the things he is doing with his life. He opened a music studio, started managing talent and even started his own music label.  He got a chance to live his life differently, and he took it.

A second chance is always there if we are willing to sum up the courage it takes to change.  It is never easy giving up what is familiar no matter how wrong it is.

I left Brooklyn, New York and drove to JFK International Airport on a cold November morning.

I parked my car in long term parking and took the train into the terminal. I knew deep inside I was not coming back.  I had two suitcases and a laptop. I knew life was about to change for me, but I had no idea how much.  In that moment, I was just relieved for fresh start.

That was twelve years ago.  I still had many lessons to learn and places to live before I reached where I am today.  I had to learn to forgive myself, to forgive others and to accept God’s forgiveness and plan for my life. Leaving Brooklyn was only the beginning of my second chance.

I have been reading the Gospels this week.  It is clear to me that Jesus took those that were considered broken and gave them new purpose and everlasting life. He even forgave Peter after he denied him in public.  If we know someone who denies Christ, who are we to give up on them when Jesus did not give up?  Who are we to shun away people who may have not done the right thing in the past, if Jesus did not do that? How can we hold our past against ourselves when he does not?

America is the land of second acts, it is still the best place in the world to reinvent yourself.

I am over a decade into my second act, and I am still learning new lessons and moving forward every single day.

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

 

Attract Opportunity

Opportunity. It comes in many shapes and forms, often appearing without warning when we least expect it.  I have had a lot of time to contemplate the topic of opportunity over the last two years. I dug deep into my past in order to better understand the missteps I made, with the intention of using that knowledge to improve.

Two men, both named Jerry, had a big hand in shaping my views during my younger years.  They both left a lasting impression that ultimately impacted my actions.

One was Jerry the Cop.  He was not the kind of law enforcement officer that you would want coming to the rescue.  Jerry and I spent a lot of time hitting nightclubs and bars. He urged me to go into a place radiating confidence.  He taught me to convince myself and everyone else I was “the man.”  His approach worked great for attracting a superficial crowd.  That was what I was looking for at the time, so I embraced it. I was a criminal on the rise, and I wanted to get bigger.

Jerry Z. was the other man instilling life lessons on an impressionable young Kenji.  Imagine that at the age of twenty you are standing in the office of a six-foot-eight-inch Jewish gangster, well known for running with a Colombo crime family crew. In fact, Jerry Z had just stolen a couple hundred million dollars in gas tax from the government, and he was about to take me under his wing.

He is sitting behind the desk schooling me on how to meet guys who can make me the big bucks.  He says, “Listen, kid, you have to relax. Let ‘em come to you. You got to act as if ‘I am the man,’ and you got to plant the Greed Seed.”  He was telling me to keep my mouth shut.  Let people see what I capable of, let them see I am earning, because nobody wants to work with a bust out.

Jerry Z. and Jerry the Cop had that same philosophy about working with others. You let people think they can make cash with you and you let them come to you.  Make them feel like it is their idea.

That worked for me to a point, just as hard work and determination work, but something was missing.

When I moved to Illinois, I was really starting over.I didn’t know anybody. I thought of Jerry Z.  He used to say, “You can drop me in place in the country.  As long as I got a place to hang my hat, I’ll make money.” This time, for me, the money was not the main goal.  I had recently placed my faith in God, and this time, I was building my life on a different foundation.

It hit me one day that yes, hard work is part of what I need to do to realize new opportunities, but I would be selling myself short if that was all I did.  I needed to change the way I approach life. Instead of the old days, where my dark past was an asset, I had to change my character to match my foundation, so that the right opportunities would come.

I had worked for twenty years to have a bad reputation, so I knew I could not expect to build a good one in just a few years.

I needed to surround myself with people who had the type of character I wanted, and those who are successful in the fields I wished to work in.  If I could not physically be around the people who helped me excel in certain areas I was working on, then I could contact them and keep up the friendships. I could also immerse myself in books about other people who had successfully embarked on a similar path.

I needed to change my life by doing new and different activities. If I kept doing what I always did, then the results would ultimately be the same, as the old saying goes.  We are what we think about and do on a daily basis. I needed to change up my familiar daily patterns and be prepared when the right opportunity came into my life.

I began dedicating time every day to reading the Bible and at least one other book that I could learn something from. I love reading, but I can also admit that I had become lazy, reading only fun books for entertainment.

Regardless of your beliefs, the Bible is full of wisdom and important life lessons.

I also kept focused on my health. If you exercise and feel good, everyone can see. With a healthy body and mind, you are ready for anything that comes your way.

James 2:18

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

 

Iron Sharpens Iron

This past weekend was great. I put in a lot of time editing my second book. On Sunday evening my wife and I enjoyed catching up with some good friends over dinner.  It’s always fun for me to sit down and catch up with Andrew and Frank.  Both have similar backgrounds to me.  They both also spent much of their lives in organized crime, and they also both made the choice to leave that life. Andrew, like me, operated in Brooklyn.  We knew many of the same people and ran the same streets.  Frank was born into a life of organized crime in Chicago.  

We sat around the table and told stories from the old days.  We laughed and talked about our struggles and the things we can never quite talk about in the same way with those who do not share the same experiences. It got me thinking about this question: what exactly separates us from everyone else?

I often get messages from people who say I took the easy way out. They are trying to make me feel bad that I walked away from the life I used to know.  I used to get angry or try to defend myself.  Now, I just feel sorry for them.  They have their moral compass completely out of whack.

Frank, Andrew and I took the hard way.  It would have been easy to continue on doing the things we knew how to do best, until we sat in some cell getting a bed and three squares a day.  I say hard, not because I am complaining, but because in doing things this way, we all had to go back and work on the things that we skipped over in the past.  We had to learn a different way of life.

The three of us faced similar incidents after making the decision to change our lives. Each of us had plans derailed by our past.  We all know that we can only blame ourselves. Yes, it did not feel good, but that is life, so we just move on.

Andrew leaned back in his chair and said, “Bro I really like my job, if I’da known about this, I woulda been doin’ it all along.”

This made me think about my life and how much I enjoy it.  In fact, it is so different now that the old me could not ever have imagined an outcome like my life today.

Frank was talking about the things he has recently accomplished and the many plans and goals he still has.

There was a brief silence when we mentioned some of those we knew who are still in the life or those that have passed on.

Each of us learned that if we expect a different outcome we not only have to change our actions, but we must change ourselves.  Life is not fair or easy.  Obstacles come up when you least expect them.  Still, we have to keep driving forward even when we don’t feel like it.  We can’t revert to our old ways.

I got a message over the weekend from a friend in Los Angeles.  He had gotten a job he had been working toward for years.  I have written about this friend in the past.  He overcame drugs and gang life, focusing instead on his education and making a life for himself and his family.  He kicked his drug habit on his own cold turkey.  He walked away from life with the gang and has not looked back.  He has been working and going to school for the past eight years.

Today he is married with a child and he is enjoying his first trip to Disneyland. He will be starting school in two weeks for his next step up the career ladder. Even when we reach a goal, it is not time to relax, its time to refocus and aim higher.

One thing is certain in life: you will fall, you will make mistakes.  I made a lot of them. It is up to you to get up and keep going.  When I left the life of organized crime in 2005, I had no real skills.  I had never had a real job.  All of my mentors in life had been criminals.  I spent time searching my soul and trying to figure out what I would do.  One thing I knew for sure: that was I was never going back to my old ways.

Since then, I have had both good times and bad. I have learned many lessons.  I know now what is really important in life, and it has no bearing on how much money you put in your pocket.

I write a lot about my friends in this blog.  That’s because my friends inspire me.  They push me to be a better person, a better athlete, a better husband, a better Christian.  I encourage you to surround yourself with people who work hard.  People you admire.  People who bring out the best in you.  I am thankful every day for the many good friends and new mentors God has blessed me with.

Proverbs 27:17

Iron sharpens iron; so one man sharpens another.

Galatians 6:2

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Matthew 12:33

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.

Does Complaining Make life Better?

I have made an effort to stop complaining in the past year. I never liked to complain in public, but  I would complain to those closest to me.  It is a terrible thing to do to anyone.  Complaining drives people away and only serves to solidify the thing you are complaining about in your life.  

Complaining is a disease.  I’ve heard it said that what you think about on a daily basis is what you become.  Dwelling on something bad only causes it to become a bigger part of your life.  It gives power to the negative instead of to the positive.

The gym is where I interact with a diverse group of people. I can look back over the years, and thanks to social media, I can see where most of the people I have trained with at different points in my life have ended up.

For the most part, the guys who never spent time complaining at the gym, they just showed up, trained hard and even took extra time to practice after the rest of the team had finished, have gone on to accomplish big things in life.  One such person that comes to mind is a lawyer in Orange County.

I remember the day he first walked into the gym I was at.  At that point he was overweight.  I was paired up with him during practice, and to be truthful, my inner dialogue of complaints started in my head.  He is not in shape…. he is not going to stick with this… why am I stuck working with him?  He proved me wrong, and I am ashamed of the way I judged him.  He lost weight, he got in shape and he became a friend.  The last I heard he was still training Jiu Jitsu, moved up to a purple belt and became very successful in his law office.

I can think of many others over the years who have come across my path for periods of time and moved on to accomplish big things.  Why were these people able to overcome obstacles that to others, like me, appeared to block their path in life?

Combat sports teach those who participate that it is up to the individual to do what it takes to achieve goals.  If you want to succeed, quitting is not an option.   If you give it your all and fall short, you must come back again and keep working hard.

I have other friends I have known for years and years who I cannot speak to for more than a couple of minutes before they start in with the complaints about life and its unfairness.  It is hard for me to speak to them for long because of their bad attitudes.  They have never understood that their problems stem from within. They do not want to hear it and they just keep on blaming everything else – circumstances, people, bad luck, the weather – anything at all except themselves.

 They do not realize that they have to go straight to the source and tackle that problem head on.  The solution is within you.

When I feel myself start to voice a complaint I stop myself both vocally and mentally because I know it is a waste of valuable time that I could instead use to solve my problem.

I can see why people fall into the trap, and when I watch it happen I wish I could help them.  Most are so caught up in their own perceived misery that they cannot accept any solution.  They never realize they alone hold the key to their happiness.

I enjoy doing many things in my life that most people would consider work.  I go to bed early so that I can wake up early so I can enjoy walking my dogs each morning.  I like to eat the right foods so I feel good and get the most out of what I put in my body.  That, in turn, makes me want to push myself in the gym because that also makes me feel better.  Being in shape and strong makes boxing, kickboxing, and Jiu Jitsu fun.

Life is hard.  A big part of it is adjusting to changes, challenging ourselves, finishing what we start and knowing that in the end, hard diligent work pays off.  Complaining will only work against each of those tasks.

I am reading a book at the moment in which the author points out that we all have access to the greatest mentors from history, and we can sit down with them on a daily basis.  He is referring to the Bible, and that is the truth. Each time I spend time reading in the Bible I find a new lesson to apply to my daily life, and the lesson to stop complaining came directly from there.

Philippians 2:14

Do all things without grumbling or complaining.

Ephesians 4:29

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

 

Pursuing Your Passion

Years ago I wrote a book and I sold the movie rights to FOX studios.  They wanted a screenplay written. I had never given much serious thought to writing a screenplay for the big screen or the small screen.  After writing a book and being approached about a screenplay, I thought, “Hey, that’s what I want to be in life – a screenwriter!”

They asked me to write it with an Academy Award winning writer.  The writer invited me to lunch at their home.  It was an informal lunch eaten around the pool with the producer of the project and myself.  I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn from successful Hollywood individuals, so I thought the best course of action was for me to keep my mouth shut and take it all in.

I learned the writer, like me, had never gone to school for writing.  I learned the producer had built up an international production company in Scandinavia and sold it for a huge profit, then moved to Hollywood and started a new company in a new country.  Instead of retiring, he started over and continued to work hard.

During my time working with both of them, I was given a crash course in writing for a studio.  It was like a private lesson in screenwriting.  Looking back now I can see that I was already losing interest in writing for Hollywood, the more I learned about the business.  What I thought I had wanted, I was realizing was not my passion.

Even though I was unsure about my next steps in life, I learned valuable lessons and kept pushing forward.   In the end, my show was not picked up by Fox, but I learned enough to write my own western screenplay and sold that to History Channel.

Through my contacts on that project, I was able to secure a writing/consulting job for a movie production company in Stockholm, Sweden.  I grew up immensely while going through this Hollywood period of my writing career. The screenwriting work was a chance for me to work with people from all walks of life.

People like to talk about overnight success.  I learned that successful writers toil away for years before they get an opportunity to shine, and even then, they may end up losing it all.

Projects will come and go, but the people you work with along the way are important, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.  Work hard on every project, big or small, and always go above and beyond.

We each have our own paths with unique wants and needs.  If we follow someone else’s path we may have limited success, but it is fleeting.  We are all on our own journey, and as long as you keep learning from every opportunity and developing your skills, no project is a failure.

Opportunities often come in life when we least expect it, and they often come from unexpected people or places.  Work hard, keep a positive attitude, treat everyone with respect and pursue the passions that God has put in you – and you too will fulfill your purpose in life, even if you aren’t sure what it is right now.

Philippians 2:3

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

Ecclesiastes 3:1

   There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: