I’m a New Yorker at heart.
I grew up on Long Island with two amazing, extremely successful parents. I’ve lived in NYC for 10 years and counting, including 4 years at NYU studying business. New York is work, career, finance, and money epitomized. Living here, you’re constantly pushed to be “on” 24/7; hustling and grinding, as if climbing an endless career ladder is the sole purpose in life.
That’s the impression you get, at least.
Conversations over cocktails start and end with work. First dates naturally gravitate towards it. And that’s fine. That grind can be thrilling and oh-so-fulfilling. Especially working in fitness, where I get to connect, motivate, help people directly, and (…hopefully) make a positive impact.
I’m an entrepreneur first-and-foremost, and you see all of that with what I’ve built at LEAN IT UP — career and ambition are extremely important.
But they’re not the only things.
In 2015 I spontaneously decided to make a massive change. I moved to Paris—the mecca of cuisine and gastronomy—for a year to go to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. And somewhere along the way, between the incredible people I met from all around the world; the European laissez-faire attitude towards work; THE FOOD AND VINO; the seductive, intoxicating culture, women, and history; the adrenaline rush you get from working in a professional kitchen; and the fact that everyone is miraculously outside on a terrace eating/drinking at 3PM, I realized that I had to re-engineer my own life back in the US.
My priorities. My focus. My personal balance.
Working to live; not living to work.
Some people are completely happy grinding away endlessly. But I’m not. And by putting that in perspective and taking a step back, I’ve learned a few things about what truly does bring me happiness.
As Kid Cudi so eloquently put it, we’re all on the pursuit of happiness. Everyone has their individual ways to get there. For me, these are the biggies. Some of which I’ve been doing for a while, some I’m still learning to do better.
Life’s about the journey. Here’s my happiness 8-pack, in no particular order.
1. Always plan something to look forward to.
There was a Dutch study released in 2010 that showed our largest boost in happiness comes during the time leading up to a big vacation.
You’re happiest during the anticipation phase — not on the vacation itself.
And 1000% not after, when you’re in that chasm of post-vaca depression.
Coincidentally (or maybe not), there’s also a Dutch word for that phenomenon: voorpret, which literally translates to “pre-fun.”
That’s not to say your time sprawling out on a beach or rendezvousing through a monkey-infested jungle won’t be incredible. It will be. But I make it a mission to always have something big on my calendar that lights me up.
And it doesn’t have to be something monumental like a jaunt off to the other side of the world. Go micro. Things like weddings and bachelor(ette) parties (but hopefully not 10), concerts, baseball games, cooking classes, food festivals, weekend hiking trips, Tough Mudders, or something as mundane as brunch with friends all work swimmingly.
Whatever it is. Get in the habit of stuffing your calendar with things you actually want to do.
2. Travel profusely.
Planning aside, I’m a travel junkie.
I have life ADD. I feel most ALIVE when I’m on the move, jet-setting worldwide. I love the adrenaline rush that comes from being immersed in a random culture and forcing myself to swallow the language, cuisine, people, drinks, partying, scenery, and cultural nuances.
Call it wonder. Wanderlust. Discovery. Fernweh. The Anthony Bourdain effect. I call it living in the purest form imaginable.
Airdropping yourself somewhere new—disoriented, without a map or bearings—puts things into perspective. It immediately takes you out of your comfort zone and washes away the self-inflicted stress caused by, like, missing a few workouts, eating gluten, finishing your latest TV show on Netflix, or not getting a text back.
Instead, I’m hyper-focused on my most basic primal needs — finding the best spot to grab a local beer and a killer burger (or whatever the local cuisine is).
3. Do you.
Stop. Caring. About. What. Other. People. Think. Of. You.
Be yourself and let your personality explode, and don’t apologize for it. You’ll naturally attract the kind of people you want to be around. And if you’re not their brand of champagne, so be it, it’s their loss.
Nobody thinks about you as much as you do, other than maybe your mom.
That’s not to say people don’t care about you—they genuinely do—but they’re impressed by the big picture. The way you made them feel, your energy, your attitude, your health. Not the last #foodporn picture you posted on Instagram, the dumb shirt you wore on a date 3 weeks and 4 days ago, and definitely not the .753 pounds you gained over vacation.
People literally spend milliseconds thinking about the trivial things we spend days obsessing over.
I asked Jeff Nalin, Psy. D., for his thoughts on what creates happiness:
“Having insights into our own emotional material is very important, however, the thing that propels our sense of self forward is sharing those insights with people in an authentic and genuine way.
When people do that…they’re showing the world who they are and taking those reactions as information to move the development of our identity forward. This is how you develop the sense of being comfortable in your own skin. This is what reduces anxiety. This is what lifts depression. All by enabling you to feel competent in the world.”
Do you, cultivate your identity, shake off the negatives, and get excited about sharing your lovely self with the world.
4. Find your anchor.
“I’m up at 4 am everyday to work[out] extremely hard BEFORE I go into work, not because I’m bat shit crazy, but because I know my competitors are not paying that price and sacrificing to that degree – and that will always give me the edge and anchor for an opportunity for success.
I encourage you to find the thing that gives you the edge over everyone else around you. Once you find it, let it be your anchor.” — The Rock
Have an anchor, aka your personal competitive advantage.
For Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, that’s lifting. There are thousands of good-looking, talented actors in Hollywood. But someone who’s charismatic, good-looking, and is built like a tank?
It’s not there.
And that’s cultivated The Rock—the brand, the action hero—beyond the WWE and landed him high-profile leading roles that are exclusively available to him (including The Fast and the Furious, the greatest action movie series of my generation).
He created that competitive advantage for himself.
For me, fitness and nutrition are also that anchor. My body is a lifelong art project. It’s constant WIP. And the reality is, I’ll never get to my destination. Ever. There is no destination, other than the arbitrary one you construct in your brain.
And that’s why it’s all about the journey. The climb. The ascension. It’s about progress and consistent improvement—day-in and day-out—and honestly putting everything into my workouts when that’s the focus.
Doing that grounds me and gives me a competitive advantage. A mental and physical edge. At least in my head, and that translates directly into self-confidence.
5. Always be hungry to learn.
There’s no excuse to stop learning.
One of my favorite things about living in Paris was the language and cultural barrier. I moved there and went to a French school knowing zero French. And after 10 months, it was still so bad that the dudes at Starbucks started speaking English before I could finish saying un americano glacé, s’il vous plaît.
But I got by rather swimmingly, even in the moments when the chefs would scream at you in an indecipherable language, throw knives, and assume you understood. Nod, say oui chef, get your shit together, and figure it out.
And I understand the language so much better now because of it.
That also goes for cultural norms, like never drinking red wine before white (always go light → dark); not tipping; and the fact that all of Paris leaves and takes the month of August off.
If you didn’t know, now you know.
The same thing happened when I dropped myself solo in Cape Town for a week (obviously without doing any research), rented a car, hopped in, and realized the wheel and roads were both on the flip side.
Most terrifying drive to a hotel ever. But I didn’t die. And I meandered through the most gorgeous backdrop I’ve ever seen.
Point is, those situations take you out of your comfort zone and constantly push your mental boundaries. Your brain is always engaged — and it never enters auto-pilot, zombie mode. And you learn as you go.
You don’t need to travel exotically, go to grad school, or spend any money to learn something new.
- Duolingo gamifies language-learning and it’s completely gratis.
- Coursera let’s you take classes from Stanford, John’s Hopkins, Yale, Brown, UPenn, and a ton of other elite schools for free. Udemy and Khan Academy are stellar, too.
I taught myself how to build a website and all aspects of an online business from scratch, without any experience or cash, using Google, YouTube, and a handful of books.
Be resourceful. Free information is everywhere.
6. Design your life.
Back in my NYU days I chased money. Billions. And so I set a goal of becoming a billionaire by 30.
Lofty ambition, but ambition nonetheless. That seemed cool and sensible, especially because I was surrounded by friends and classmates that’ll likely become the CEOs of world-changing start-ups and investors managing hedge funds with 8-9-10 zeros attached.
But somewhere in my 20’s my priorities completely flipped. Money’s cool, but chasing it first at the expense of everything else is soul-sucking.
Let me be clear — money is important.
Traveling gets expensive and I appreciate good food and vino. Plus I love to look good (it’s a 50/50 split between getting dressed up and Nike workout swag, I’m a man of extremes). But as long as I can comfortably facilitate that, support my future family, pay the rent without stressing, and not worry about adding guac at Chipotle or going broke at Whole Foods, I’m good.
And if I make more of it along the way by working hard my way, that’s delicious funfetti icing on top.
But it’s not my #1. Or #2. Or #3.
What does make me happy and what’s always stuck with me? Memories. Experiences. Family. Relationships. Travel. Food. Good whiskey. Giving back and helping people. The Panthers winning football games. Vibrant health and upgrading my body. Avocados.
Right now, that all translates to one key asset — freedom. And that’s where lifestyle design comes in.
Call it minimalist living or the Tim Ferris effect, but for me it’s the ability to do what I want, when I want, how I want. And that’s precisely how I set up Lean It UP and the other businesses I think about. I’m the boss and I report to myself. I hold myself accountable and I’m responsible for my own discipline. I can work from anywhere I want in the world.
But I’m not stuck at a corporate 9-to-5, limited to 3 weeks of vacation time, or confined to a life that anyone else prescribes for me.
I travel on a whim. I work when I travel. And sometimes I don’t. But that’s my call. And it’s business as usual.
That’s my current formula. And I’m sure it’ll look completely different in 5 years when my priorities change. But the key point holds: you’re the architect of your own life, design it the way you want it to look.
On your own terms, noone else’s.
Happiness is ephemeral. It comes, goes, and undulates up and down. We all have lows and moments that we’re suffocated by negative thoughts.
But if you can learn to recognize those moments—the ones where you overthink and doubt yourself to death—and counteract them with something productive before you fall into a depressive abyss, it’ll go a LONG way towards preserving your mental sanity.
For me, my most serene moments are the ones when I’m completely disconnected from my phone and social media.
Hiking and walking in natural environments physically changes our brains, decreases negative thoughts, and re-wires it to be happier.
If you’re stressed or drowning in a spiral of negative thoughts (aka rumination), drop your phone and go for a walk. NO INSTAGRAM. AND YES, I KNOW IT’S HARD TO GO COOL PLACES AND NOT SHOW PEOPLE.
But you can do it. Wander. Get lost. You’ll shoot yourself up with happiness and come back refreshed and refocused.
And if a zen nature excursion isn’t your first choice, go pound a weight-lifting session, get your yoga on, meditate, play a sport, cook, read, or crush an adult coloring book. Find something that distracts you and pulls you out of your own head.
Think of it as an IV of instant happiness. BOOM.