Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Take it from me: money isn't everything

I met Greg Lukas when he serendipitously waltzed into Crossfit Pittsburgh with his lovely lady Natasha.  I connected with Greg's energy immediately, and his unique story and outlook on life inspired me to dig a little deeper.  Here's what I found out...

First things first...tell these lovely people what you do for a living.

I build people. It sounds funny, but that is ultimately what I do.  I build teams around the strengths and talents of those people I work with.  It’s a “human element” job really. Specifically, I currently work for The Medicines Company, which is headquartered in Parsippany NJ.  It’s a small bio-tech company dedicated to healthcare solutions in acute care hospitals globally.  I started with them
just as they formed their commercial structure about 12 years ago.  Currently, I am responsible for the performance and development of the commercial operations team in the northeast.  Sounds like you were a man with a plan.
Lots of people have asked me what path I took to get where I am.  And the answer is very simple: I didn’t have a path.  At all.  Zero. No plan what so ever.  I like to say that “I bounced off the walls of life and ended up here”.  I’m sure that is disconcerting for some people and the go-getters will say I’m a fool or at best lucky to have made it this far. That’s ok with me. 

I have learned that nothing replaces hard work. Nothing.  If you want to be successful, you must be willing to work.  That’s it.  You don’t need to have a dream job In fact, you won’t have one at first, and you may never have what you think is a dream job.  You don’t have to have a plan.  Just get in the ‘game’ and work hard.  If you are going to work at a car wash, be the best.  Do extra.  Be the difference.  It doesn’t matter what you do, but do it with passion, pride, and hard work… you’ll be successful.

You travel a lot.  How do you manage to stay in shape on the road? 

I travel WOD (workout of the day) in the sport of Crossfit.  I have been an athlete for most of my life and realized in my late 30’s that “sports” that peaked my interest and challenged me physically were harder to find.  Crossfit answered that need.  At first it was difficult to get involved because I was only training a few times a month, and Crossfit demands more time to really be effective.  So I was talked into trying to drop in to different Crossfit gyms (boxes) while I traveled during the week.  
I dropped into Brazen Athletics, which is just outside Parsippany NJ, and I was hooked.  I was 41 years old and had found an entire community that understood my passion for competition and wanted to see me get better. In 2012 I set a personal goal of getting to 100 different Crossfit boxes and ended up turning it into a book project by spring of that year. Along the way a few magazines picked up on the story and wrote some articles on my project and soon after I was dubbed the “Crossfit Traveler”.  Now the name has stuck and the project has extended to photographing all types of Crossfit athletes.  I currently get in about 2-3 “travel WODs” each week.   

Tell me more about the book.

The book idea is going slow I’m not a natural writer, so getting my thoughts down on paper is difficult.  I've had so many great experiences over the last year and a half that it’s hard to string them together.  I think that I will focus mostly on the people I’ve met and the photos I’ve taken.  That will hopefully capture my message.  Between the unlikely start to Rob Orlando’s Crossfit Strongman story, or the rise of Syn Martinez’s Afrobrutality apparel line out of Crossfit Harlem, or the growth of vendors now drawn to the market, there are so many changes and so many great individuals to talk about…now just to get pen to paper.

Do you have any tricks for eating healthy on the road?  

So… truth be told, I don't eat Paleo (the popular Crossfit diet), and I don’t get too crazy with my diet.  The good news is that I eat relatively healthy anyways.  I don’t have a terrible sweet tooth, I don’t crave fried foods, and I do attempt to take in a lot of protein and green leafy veggies.  The best advice I can give for eating healthy when traveling is to carry healthy protein bars or snacks like nuts, trail mix, etc. to hold you over until you can get to a solid meal.  Luckily for me, my job requires lunch and dinner meetings frequently, so I get the chance to eat well most of my days on the road.

What are some commonalities across Crossfit gyms that you've visited? 

It's difficult to explain the depth of the Crossfit culture to someone who hasn’t
L-->R Author, Greg, Tim Talti (trainer @ CFGP),
and Ron Yellin (owner @ CFGP)

experienced it.  Imagine a group of your best friends whom you haven’t seen in several years - let’s say old high school friends.  Now, imagine that you have thousands of them, and they are spread out across the world in different Crossfit boxes.  Each time you walk into a new box you are welcomed and included directly into that “family”.  It’s really like nothing I’ve ever seen or felt before.  I’ve had people take me to dinner, invite to stay at their house, take me out in their city, introduce me to their families, and even drive me 50 miles back to my hotel instead of making me wait for a cab. 

The ‘culture’ of Crossfit is unique and those gyms that get it right build amazing businesses.  In my experience, I have noted several common traits of Crossfitters:
- There are no egos (just try to walk into a box and think you are going to be the fittest on earth…ha!). 
- People want to include you and want you to improve. 
- They are friendly and giving of their time, advice, ear, etc.

What's your definition of success and how has it changed over time?

This is an awesome question!  What is success?  The way I see it we’ve been duped a little.  I grew up in a slightly below middle class family with a mom who insisted on a strong educational foundation.  We moved to a small town in Connecticut where I feel I grew up like the majority of other kids in America.  

I want to spill the beans on something...We are groomed to reach a false end.  It starts with a strong push to excel in school so we have good grades.  Good grades gets us into a good college.  We work your asses off in college because we are going to need to find a good job. You get a good job and bust your hump so you can make good money.  Then you work for a promotion so we can afford a house, and then 2 cars, and then a boat, and then vacations… and somewhere in there we throw in a spouse and the list goes on and on until, one day, after we are there, we wake up and realize that all the stress and sacrifice to get the “American dream” left us without a climax.

Now this all sounds pessimistic, I know.  But let me ask you:  How much is enough?  Ask yourself, at what point would you no longer worry about money? $500k a year? $1m a year?, what’s the number (and everyone has one)? Let’s just get crazy and say I were to guarantee you $50 million a year for life.  Now…what do you want to do?!?!?  And if you say something remotely close to what you are currently doing, then I believe you are on the path to success.  I grew up thinking that a good job, a house, and the ‘toys’, etc. equaled success. Essentially my accumulation of money equaled success.  I can promise you it doesn't work lik that.  I make more money than I ever thought I could.  I have all the toys I could ask for (boat, jet skis, golf cart, etc.) and my house is awesome, but I don’t get any satisfaction from those things.  Feeling ‘successful’ for me is now centered around giving.  And the only role for money is if I can find a worthy cause or person that I can give it away to.  Crossfit has such a strong element of giving back that it is a perfect outlet for me to really explore being ‘successful’.

I also realize that these things are easy for me to say when I already have a certain level of financial security.  My travel WODs and the book project costs money, and I am fortunate to have the means to pursue those.  For that, I am very grateful.  I am the first to admit there needs to be some basic amount of money included with my definition of being ‘successful’; but I think you will learn pretty quickly that more money is not the answer.  Having purpose and mastery will create self-worth and feeling included in a culture will add context to your life.  Whether it’s your family, your job, or, in my case, Crossfit, having something in your life that challenges your limits and pushes your development is critical to being successful.

Which of Sweat and Butter's five health components do you consider the most important: diet, movement, stress, sleep, or relationships?

All 5 of these components are so critical to someone’s overall health, so it’s tough to select the ‘most important’.  The balance within each of these and between each of these is incredibly important to a healthy life. Without one, the others would surely be affected.  I will speak to my strengths and weaknesses.   I would rate movement and relationships (including community) higher priorities. Relationships can be a huge source of happiness if you surround yourself by trustworthy, caring, and committed individuals.  Happiness is the key to health.  On the other hand, I would say that diet, stress, and sleep are lower priorities, but that is probably why I’m typing this while being hungry, tired, and anxious about my work load…

Addendum: Last question.  What are three books that you recommend to our readers?

Man's Search for Meaning,The Giving Tree, and The Art of Happiness.  Definitely.

You can contact Greg at if you are interested in hearing more about his projects and philosophy on life.

Nathan Riley is a 2014 MD candidate at Temple University School of Medicine.  He writes about food, movement, sleep, relationships, and stress in order to bridge the gap between his patients and evolutionary theory and clinical evidence. You call follow him on Twitter @BeyondtheMD.  He can be reached at  You can also connect with him on Google+.

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1 comment :

  1. I really enjoyed your blog post as I've never felt I've found the career path I was supposed to. It gives hard workers like me hope to have a little faith that it will work out.


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