NEW MILFORD, N.J. — Every day begins the same way for New Milford native Rafael Garay.
He wakes up at 4 a.m. and writes down three things he's grateful for. They could be anything: his family, his job or the simple luxury of a hot shower.
It's a ritual he discovered several years ago after deciding to leave the path that carried him all the way through the justice system.
The 34-year-old, says gratitude is the first step to maximizing potential — and the early-morning ritual of giving thanks has helped to bring Garay more success and happiness than he ever could've imagined.
"I think anything is possible," said Garay of Bloomfield, who is approaching his fourth year working at the world's largest recruiting agency in the world.
"I've proven it to myself and I've reinvented myself time and time again. If I can inspire one person, then my journey is all the more worth it."
Garay was 22 when he realized he wanted to turn his life around. For six years, he had been stuck in a vicious cycle of depression and anger, which he says only pushed him into getting into more trouble with the law.
"I pictured myself alone and without a family," he said. "I had these dreams my family didn't want me around, and that feeling is what really made me change.
"Then I started associating that feeling with the worst thing that could happen — and that was to lose my family."
Garay managed to land a job at Massage Envy in Closter in his 20s, and finally felt he had it all figured out.
In his seventh year in 2012, the laws changed and all massage therapists were required to become licensed. His record came back to haunt him, though, and kept him from becoming certified under the Board of Nursing, and Garay had no choice but to leave.
"Being a massage therapist was my skill, and when you think about any other job after working in therapy, there's nothing that translates over to," Garay said.
"I didn't know what to do."
All he knew was that he had to keep going. He had to make it and not for anyone but himself.
Garay realized that would be the perfect time to go after what he really wanted. So with nothing to lose, he put on a suit, compiled a resume and set out to become a businessman in New York City.
"I started from zero — from scratch," he said. "It was a tough time in my life."
He went to nearly 30 interviews every day, and each one turned him down.
"They told me I seemed like a bright person but that I had no skills to work there," he said. "They said they couldn't hire me, and I heard hat time and time again."
Garay kept pushing until one day, a small recruiting firm in Manhattan took a chance on him in 2013. He says he wasn't even sure what it was but at least he found a job, and he was going to make the best of it.
No, Garay was going to be the best.
"It's hard when you don't have skills but I had a lot of go in me." he said. "A lot of fire in my belly. Even throughout my career as a massage therapist I was always driven by being the best at what I did.
"I knew if I lost that job, I'd have nothing."
He began reading about what successful people did, from what they at for breakfast to what they did when they got home from work. Although each athlete, playwright and anyone he read about was different from the other, he found the common thread and began emulated them.
And so, Garay was the first one in the office in the morning and the last one out at night. His days began at 4 a.m., with writing, meditation, exercise and reading.
He worked hard at self improvement and keeping a positive mind frame.
"You can’t have negative thoughts and gratitude exist in the same space," Garay said. "You can’t let negativity get inside your head because it’ll just keep running its course."
At work, he made the most of every last minute — cold-calling companies and proving himself over and over again.
Later that year, Garay ended up getting a job offer from one company where he'd filled several jobs. He began freelancing for them and again had to prove that he could make it as a full time employee.
First one in, last one out. That's how it went for months.
Pretty soon, he was hired full-time and later promoted ahead of people who had more advanced degrees and experience.
Garay is now one of the top recruiters in the company and is in charge of an entire division.
"My success is mind-boggling," said Garay, who is set to marry the woman of his dreams.
"I'm not an uber rich person and I'm not anyone famous, but I know eventually I'll get there because I go hard at life every day.
"I live my life in gratitude.
"I go in and I do the best I know I can do — and that's how I live my life."