This photo was taken in 2004 on my 22nd Birthday. I was almost 200 LB, the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life.

I felt like complete shit on every level. Not only did I not feel well physically, I was mourning the loss of one of my closest friends who died in a car accident a year prior.

My evenings consisted of getting high and eating copious amounts of food before falling asleep. I was periodically unemployed, and I couldn’t tell you now how I paid the bills most months. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

That saying, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change” couldn’t have been more true for me. Everything in my life needed a complete overhaul.

I remember the exact moment I decided the pity party was over.

A mixture of sadness and hope washed over me, and in that moment, I decided I was done. I got back to the gym, and changed my diet. I stopped smoking pot and cut alcohol out completely. I started reading more books, and thinking about goals for the first time in my life.

I took a year long personal training course at UAA, and began studying for my National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) exam to become a certified personal trainer.

Less than two years later, I competed and won the overall in the 2006 Anchorage Bodybuilding competition, and that same month I started Figarelle’s Fitness LLC.

Now, when my clients tell me they dislike an exercise or they’re struggling with their nutrition, or they feel their fat loss goal is out of reach, I think back to this period in my life when I was so lost.

I know despair. I know the difficult decision to give up a bad habit that provides unbelievable comfort and escape from pain. I know anger and frustration. I know the soul wrenching feeling of losing a loved one. I know paralyzing fear, and crippling anxiety. I know self-doubt. I know what it’s like to be shunned for being different.

I know these feelings and experiences well, I’ve lived with them most of my life.

Instead of running and hiding, I choose to stay and dance. I’d be a liar if I told you it were easy. It’s never fucking easy. It’s always hard, but giving up and settling for less than what I know I deserve is not an option for me.

It shouldn’t be for you either.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that we all possess the power to alter our reality and morph it into anything we want it to be. It starts by making tiny adjustments to your mindset, your belief about yourself. The things you say when you look in the mirror. Who you want to become.

No one can know our pain as intimately as we know it.

Because of that, we are solely responsible for creating the change we say we want. It’s up to us to transform feelings of hopelessness into a powerful vision for the future. It’s up to us to discipline ourselves to do what’s hard instead of always looking for shortcuts or quitting when we get tired.

There is no magic here. It’s as simple as making up your mind to change and then relentlessly pursuing what you want. Dance with your pain, kids.

Make it a beautiful life.