Five years ago, I sat alone at a Costa Coffee in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport at 3 a.m. drinking coffee out of what could only be described as a bowl with a handle.

It was Christmas Eve, and I was at the tail end of a year-long journey to shoot my film, Raise Up.

But what had recently been the best year of my life, abundantly packed with new experiences in parts of the world I’d never seen, was starting to plummet toward what would be a two-year depression full of doubt, stress, anxiety, and debt as I tried to finish the film.

I was completely out of money, my belongings were in a storage unit in Queens, and I was living in my vacant house back in a North Carolina that had forgotten about me. On top of that, I had a crash-and-burn four-week love affair with a girl who ghosted me and left my ego in shambles.

After a week in Moscow with friends for the Street Workout Superfinal, I had gone to Ukraine to interview someone for the film. I was by myself and spent most of those five days walking around the freezing cold (but beautiful) city of Dnepropetrovsk, listening to The Foreign Exchange’s  Love in Flying Colors and thinking about the girl back home.

I thought I had an opportunity to get my swagger back for the one night I had to go back to Moscow before flying out to New York. There was a girl who had helped manage the Street Workout event that I had been chatting with and we made plans to hang out that night.

She was fun and funny and beautiful, and I knew I would have had one of those memorable nights running around a city on the other side of the world.

But instead, I arrived back to SVO and airport security told me I couldn’t re-enter from Ukraine.

My visa only covered one entry and exit from Russia. I was stuck.

They let me check in, but I had 20 hours to kill and everything was closed but one Costa Coffee. I sat there drinking my bowl of coffee thinking about the girl back home, the girl running around Moscow having a great night, and my family in North Carolina.

Then Elvis’ “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” came on the stereo.

I just sat and stared at the Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the corner.

Earlier that year I had thought I was untouchable — and I probably still feigned it at this point. But I spent the next two to three years losing that feeling of confidence, bouncing around short-term relationships, and trying to figure out how to turn it all around. I went through three vehicles, couldn’t find steady work, and threw out my back multiple times. I felt like every time I’d take a step forward, I’d take two backward.

There wasn’t really a turning point. It was just slow and steady growth — like the building of a foundation.  

I spent time on searching my heart and finding my core values. I read every book I could read and listened to podcasts. I meditated and worked on gratitude. I focused on what narrative I wanted to tell with the movie, instead of worrying what everyone would think.

I starting living for me, instead of living for what people would think of me.

It was still a progress, though, and is still one today. I met my girlfriend Maya during all this, and I’m not quite sure why she didn’t run. But we both were in a place where we were searching for our individual identities, and I think that’s what allowed us to grow closer together.

I continue the practice that I started back then even now, every day. I’m trying to be a better family member and friend to those I love, and I’m trying to be a better version of myself still.

Now that Maya and I have had a daughter, there is a new shift happening and a new motivation for living with my whole heart.

Just five years ago, I was in another place in another world, never thinking that today I’d be watching my beautiful, smart and sassy daughter crawling around her new toys under the Christmas tree, with a woman beside me who continues to make me want to be a better person and shows me I am capable of it, and building my own home back in North Carolina.

People often debate the “true” meaning of Christmas.  

For me, it’s simply about love: love of your fellow humans, love of your family and (perhaps most of all) love of yourself.

Picture via Rain Bennett

Rain Bennett is a two time Emmy-nominated filmmaker, fitness professional, public speaker, and writer. His mission is simple: to help people realize that they too can be great, no matter where they come from or what they start with. It just takes passion, persistence, and a plan.

Bennett directed and produced his first feature length documentary in true indie fashion by traveling the world with only a backpack and a Canon DSLR camera. That film, Raise Up: The World is Our Gym won “Best of the Fest” at the Hip Hop Film Festival NYC and received global distribution through Red Bull Media House. He’s been featured in publications like Men’s Health and Sports Business Global and is a regular contributor to Breaking Muscle. When he’s not making movies or training clients at Sync Studio in Durham, he’s hosting a new webseries called The Perfect Workout Show.