About Your Coach

One of my favorite quotes is by The Greatest of All Time, The Champ, Muhammad Ali:

"Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win..."

     It resonated with me when I was seriously depressed a few months before grad school started. I felt like I had lost everything, but at the same time felt like I had everything to gain; an unknown future of possibilities. I’d been to the bottom, so no matter how hard things got, I’d be able to overcome. 

     This quote was particularly impactful during another low point in my life when a professor of mine told me, in a moment of great vulnerability, on my part, to “never forget how you feel right now”. These quotes tell me that since I’ve been to the bottom, and remembered what that felt like, I could use that as motivation to keep me from getting back there. And it was a large part of motivating me to get from grad school to where I am now. This is that story.

In the fall of 2013 I had graduated from my Masters in Clinical Mental Health and took the first (and in hindsight, maybe the only) job I could.

     I was working in Emergency Services for a Community Service Board. Basically I covered 4 counties, going from hospitals, to schools, to police stations and/or the jails doing screenings and assessments. I was charged with seeing clients that were in “crisis”; meaning they were suffering from some form of psychosis or they were a danger to themselves, or someone else (suicidal or homicidal). On the surface it was a great job, getting to see the 1% of the country's population that no one else would see. But as with most things, the “system” would appear time and again to enable or undermine the work I was doing. However, the skills I would learn have continually served me well: developing the skills to think on your feet in a shit show has come in handy.

In early 2015 I was even more committed to starting my journey to open a gym as the first step toward bridging therapy and exercise.

     Around the time of my birthday Zach Even-Esh announced 2 events. The STRONG Life seminar and his USC cert, with guest Travis Mash. I knew I had to be at both, and that year it was my wife’s and my own gift to myself. In the Spring I traveled from Roanoke Va to New Jersey after getting off work on a friday. Crashed in a hotel, only to get up a few hours later to attend the first event. It was a 4 hour event. That’s it. Once it was done I told Z I’d see him in NC in a few months and got in the car to drive all the way back home. I was on fire the whole drive, with ideas and a new sense of possibility. Once the cert came around finances were not much better but I knew this was my way out of the churn and burn model of community mental health. To put it in perspective, we were so broke it was cheaper to drive back home between days then get a hotel. I remember us all being at dinner after the first day and I inhaled my food and said I had to head home because I had a drive ahead of me. Zach looked at me like I had 2 heads “You’re driving all the way back to VA?” 

     Needless to say those 2 days taught me so much about coaching, but the most important lesson was to continue to learn and grow. They laid the foundation for me and I had to keep building.

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Shortly after the Cert, the work in mental health dried up, as it does in the summers and my wife and I were even more broke.

     I told her it was time to make some changes and use this cert I had to start coaching. Fast forward to a month before we got married, I was coaching classes at my buddy’s gym. A month after I was married I moved my classes to a rock climbing gym; I coached free classes for them in exchange for rent. For a year I was grinding: up at 3:30am to coach at 5am and 6am, work out, head into my 9-5, home by six to eat and bed by 7:30 to do it all again. On the weekends, my wife worked 12 hour shifts, so I would work on the gym business for 12 hours straight (fasting + coffee + nootropics). 

     In a year I had things under control enough to launch a podcast. We were the first podcast for mental health professionals and still the only podcast geared to community mental health workers.

     A year later, I found a loophole in the counseling field and I opened my private practice, making real money for my time. A year after that I went part time at my 9-5 because the businesses were doing well enough. A year later, we were pregnant, I quit my job completely and went all in. 3 businesses, a marriage, a podcast and a pregnant wife. I had places to be and things to do and I wanted to all set up nicely for when my son arrived. Nailed it just in time...

Back in 2017 I wrote a quick article on Exercise and Mental Health.

     Little did I know that, it was that article that would launch me into the status of “expert”. A few weeks after writing it for the Mash Elite Performance blog I was in North Carolina for a day trip with my wife to attend a seminar with Chris Mason and Travis. They were talking about longevity and the importance of exercise and nutrition for that goal. At closing, Travis realized they had some time left over. He looked at me and said “Gabriel, come up here and talk to everyone about exercise and their mental health”. Outside of school projects, I’d never talked in front of anyone before, especially not in front of people that I didn’t know! Needless to say, I took a deep breath, agreed (like I had a choice), and waxed on our mental health as it pertains to logengity. To my surprise, I crushed it. To our collective surprise everyone was very interested in this topic and I was heavily encouraged by Mash to pursue this...here we are.

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6 months before my son was to be born I began studying for the NCMHCE (big test to become a Licensed counselor).

     I studied daily, had a coach, and was ready to go, we were both confident I’d knock it out of the park. But my wife had some pregnancy complications and landed us in the hospital for a week. It stalled all my progress but we also left the hospital with a time bomb: “She could go into labor as soon as you get in the car, or at week 40. Who knows?!” Obviously this left me in a spot where I didn’t know when to take the test. Do I wait? Do I go now while the coast seems clear? 

     Needless to say I decided to overprep and wait until my son was born...maybe a good idea…? He landed in the NICU for over 2 weeks, again stalling my studying. After a month and a half at home and refreshing my studying I took the test. Exhausted. Sleep deprived. Emotionally spent. And less than hopeful. I failed it by 9 points...3 questions to be exact. I took 2 months off for the Holiday and hit it hard after the new year.

I took it for a second time in April of 2019 and killed it.

     It was one of those times where you know you’re good at your job, but circumstances dictate otherwise. But still you’ve worked so damn hard to get to this point (3 years of seeing clients, supervisions, groups, not including you entire grad school) and you’re finally vindicated. The ultimate irony was I’d already started my private practice and the “LPC” title was little more than a formality and “permission” from the counseling board that I didn’t need a supervisor anymore. Nonetheless, I did what I’d set out to do almost a decade prior.

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     Prior to starting my private practice “ADHD Counseling in the Roanoke Valley” I learned much about the ADHD brain, how we operate, and our “super powers”. I’ve always loved superheroes, the movies, tv shows, cartoons, graphic novels and comic books. So it was obvious to draw the parallels to my ADHDers and Superman (check it out here). 

     And it was more obvious to sneak a superhero nod in my son’s name...still proud my wife loved the names before she realized it; our little Calvin Lucas.

Above is this list of cool things I’ve done: accomplishments, accolades, goals achieved.

     Some a decade in the making. You work and you work and you finally get it. It’s pride and a vindication that you were right and you proved all others wrong. Then you have a child and they all pale in comparison. I’m most proud of my son. From NICU baby, to growing off the charts in all measures, to learning how to move (I’m a coach at heart), and to his first words. Working my ass off for all those years so I can juggle a few part time businesses, and raise him full time is simply the best...how cliched. 

In one final reflection, one of the craziest things that has been happening lately to me hearing my name on random podcasts from people I follow but don’t know.

     It’s always in the context of being this expert on exercise and mental health. I’m always shocked that people see me in this light because basically, I just read a bunch of research papers and know this stuff. I just saw these two fields fit together, not unlike when you’re completing a puzzle. I don’t regard myself as THE excerpt, I have just read a lot. And you can’t be an expert if you look to someone else for information and guidance. So, to the man that literally wrote the book: Dr. John Ratey: I’m good being second best.

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