Psychology

A Story Of Sluts

A friend of mine recently messaged me for my opinion on a subject she’s (ironically) contributing to a blog about.  She asked me for a male’s opinion on “the difference between a woman who is labeled a slut and a woman who’s comfortable with her sexuality.”  She said I she thought I would be a good person to ask, naturally I’m inclined to agree.  However, I would be lying if I said that I believe I represent the general male population’s opinion on this matter… which is most typically unfortunate.

With that said, I really don’t like the word “slut”.  I don’t use it, and it only ranks a bit lower than the “C-word” used toward women, or the “N-word” used toward African Americans… both of which make me extremely uncomfortable.  I have no business using either of those words, and I don’t think males in general have any business calling anyone a “slut” (though, admittedly, I can type that word, whereas the others I really don’t want to.)  Men who label women as such are usually HUGE hypocrites (for example my post back in August back about the “Downtown Alpha Male”) and are using the term to belittle women for the very thing they celebrate for themselves.  It’s ridiculous and just another example of men historically treating women as possessions.  Basically, “Shame on you if you let too many guys get a ‘piece’ of that which is obviously yours.”

maths_1

About that many I think.

When it comes to sexuality, people get all freaked out about numbers.  Specifically: “How many people have you been with?”   I literally scared off a girl I was actually interested in dating once because of my sexual history, and my “number” isn’t nearly as high as my reputation might suggest.  (Truth be told, I did stop paying attention at some point… so I would have to sit and think about where I’m at now… but I digress…) Regardless there are huge flaws in judgement based on said numbers.  First of all, you’re over-generalizing multiple, specific situations with details that are important.  Second, you’re making broad assumptions based on very little evidence/fact (even if you ask questions.)  And Third, you’ve got no pre-established parameters or reasoning by which to quantify measuring the statistics on which you are basing your judgement.

For instance, what if a specific girl decided she didn’t enjoy vaginal sex?  Technically she may have only been with one or two people in the ten or more years she’s been sexually active.  But, maybe she’s one of the few women that really enjoys anal sex.  Does that count?  Depends on who you ask.  Further, what if instead of anal sex she really, really enjoys giving blowjobs?  She’s had intercourse with two guys, but probably given a hundred times that many blowjobs.  Does that count?  What if she didn’t swallow? Then does it count?  If she gave YOU that blow job, should it add to that number?  Or does it not count because you know you’re better/cleaner than anyone else?

What about women?  If a girl’s sexuality includes women, and she has been with over a hundred women in all sorts of awesomely kinky ways, but has only been with one guy, is she a “slut”?  Or are you just envious of her far supirior ability to woo females?  What about group sex?  Does that count as one encounter?  Or should we count each penetration?  If so, which penetrations?  If we count all of them a girl could rack up double digits in just a few experiences compared to another girl who has had sex hundreds of times but with only nine guys since she became sexually active.  The point is, any “criteria” is flawed to say the least, and depends on the individual and their (very often flawed) beliefs.  There is no correct way to quantify who is or isn’t a “slut” because it’s a highly subjective term (which really shouldn’t even exist.)

However, for the sake of answering theSlutwalk Aims To Raise Awareness Of Sexual Assaults question, I suppose I’ll come up with the most obvious differentiation I can based not on the general actions of said women, but whether or not they are using their brains.  It’s time for a story of sluts.

Subject A is a junior at the University of Washington.  She did her first two years at community college, and is eager to mingle on the university level, but also focused on her future.  She’s always been intelligent, level-headed, good in her studies, has a great attitude, and is a finance major.  Let’s call her “Monroe” (please note that these examples are based on my personal experiences, but NOT any specific people.  I chose that name because I literally don’t know anyone who has it.)

Subject B is a high-dollar, celebrity level escort of roughly the same age as Monroe.  She’s always been blessed with good looks, and she comes from an (unfortunately) typical broken family.  She did the best she could to get through high school, but was forced to go to work to support herself and her younger siblings whom her parents otherwise neglect.  She went to work at a strip club because it was the best money she could find in a tough job market and with no vocational education or schooling.  Through her looks and street smarts, a chance meeting  introduced and groomed her into high dollar escort work through which she was able to become financially independent while providing for her family.  Let’s call her “Chastity“.  

So, I ask you, which of these ladies is more likely to be called a slut?  Seems obvious that would be Chastity.  But let’s continue with our hypotheticals.

girl-silhouette-vector3Monroe is pretty and has had little trouble making friends in class, but her studies keep her from going out too often.  However, she is being courted by various sororities and and is invited to an event known as a “mixer” with an associated frat house.  Though she was never really the party type, she’s excited to “live her life” and decides to go with her new friends.  At the party, she has a great time, and accepts drinks from a succession of very attractive and charming men in the fraternity.  They don’t seem anything like the obnoxious stereotypes she’s heard; these men are intelligent, charming and very nice to her, all while bringing her drinks so she doesn’t even have to leave the dance floor.  One thing leads to another, and she finds herself alone in the room of one of these charming young men… David.. she thinks..  Though she’s not been drugged, she’s already drank more than she should have and makes the poor decision to go along with this young man’s advances (he’s very pretty.)  But when they finish up (or rather when he does… he put a condom on.. she thinks…right?) he makes a remark about how the night is young, and they should rejoin the party.  Thinking they will follow-up later, Monroe agrees as she is hurried out his door.

Chastity:

Meanwhile Chastity is having a good night, there’s a convention in town with a lot of very rich executives looking for company.  She’s decked out in a Gucchi silk chiffon gown and her power heels – Christian Louboutin.  It’s only midnight and she’s looking for her fourth (and probably final) client of the night.  She prefers her regulars – much more comfortable and fun – but scoring four big pays in a night is well worth any initial awkwardness.  The last guy was aggressive and she liked that until he tried to shove himself inside of her bareback.  Fortunately she knows her business and was able slide out of position while giving a coy purr that said “you’re forgetting something big boy…”  he complained but all she had to do was give the serious look and hold it up for him to get the message: “No condom, no more playtime.”  That’s one of the first things you learn as a sex professional; not matter how clean and intelligent they seem, every guy is one shitty decision away from fucking up your life permanently.  The profession is risky as it is, and Chastity is proud of her many negative testings.  She plans to keep it that way.  Finally she spots her next potential… time for him to buy her a drink.

So at this point Chastity is up on numbers for the night (we can pretty much assume she’s up on numbers forever…)  So that would label her the “slut” of the two, right?  I mean, sure Monroe has made an obviously stupid decision, but Chastity has been with three guys and is not done yet.  Let’s see how the night plays out.

Monroe:WK-0612-teenagers0_3127905b

The world is blurring a bit for Monroe.  Drinks keep happening (though it seems like they are
spaced just enough apart to keep her from being sick…) and she’s feeling good.  She lost track of that first guy.. Daniel.. (he was so nice!) but now Michael has been dancing with her and has the prettiest eyes.  She’s afraid she’s going to hit attention overload… never in her life have this many hot guys been this into her.  Michael says he has to tell her something and leads her back to the rooms.  He tells her that his little brother in the frat, James (oh! he was cute!) has had his eye on her all night, but is not very confident.  He says his plan was to bring her back to the room and introduce them so he would talk to her.  But James isn’t here, and Michael tells Monroe that he feels a connection with her… she thinks she feels it too… but that could be the vodka.  There’s been a lot of vodka…  Now Michael is kissing her.. his hands are warm as they make their way down her back.. they feel good but she’s still blurry… “maybe this isn’t a good idea..” she thinks.. but fuck it, it’s not like this is normal for her, let’s have some fun.  Maybe there’s a connection
there…

Chastity:

This guy was tough.  The prostitute stigma was strong with him and he’d really liked her.  Sorry champ, no freebies for being cute.  He kept her for a while, she accepted more than one drink (one is her typical rule before business), but she knew she was still totally in control.  She started to walk away and he’d stopped her, disgruntled, and asked what her time would cost.  He said he wasn’t concerned about the sex, but that’s only because he didn’t know what he was in for.  He agreed to compensate for time – the same price – and dinner was excellent.  He asked if he could call her another night (sorry champ, I said no freebies) and that maybe he could support her in exchange for her allowing him to court her legitimately.  She told him maybe, but she knew it was a no.  He wasn’t the first rich guy to offer this, they all think they are different… better than the other guys.  The truth was she actually preferred the guys who were straight up for the sex… much neater and less work to get around their emotional hangups.  Her magic charmed them for whatever they were looking for, it was her job to steer them to what she was willing to give.  Nobody was going to own her.  If someday she decided she wanted something more, she would bring it up on her terms. But she doubted it would be a client, most of them already had somebody waiting at home anyway.  Chastity was a fantasy, and she was a damn good one, but when business was done she would ae8e1ff54665d9f8ad11f7e16e17275a1lways say goodbye.  By the end of the night he had champagne delivered to his hotel room.  “Nothing is going to happen” he said.  Bullshit.  She could see he was already trying to hide a raging boner.  She unzipped his pants… it took her fourty-five seconds to finish him the first time.

So now the score is two to four in favor of Chastity.  But who is the slut?  The naive college girl making multiple poor decisions?  Or the call girl who is totally in control?  They are both having sex, so how do we judge them?  Let’s wrap this up.          

Monroe:

Naked.  They are just laying there, but at least he didn’t push her back out to the party again. Granted the party is dying down.  It’s… what?  3 AM now?  Where did her friends go anyway?  It’s okay though, despite a whirlwind of a night, Monroe isn’t upset or afraid.  Nobody has been mean to her and sure, they’ve been forward, but she wasn’t forced at all.  They are really hot guys and she enjoyed herself both times.  Both times.. wow.. that wasn’t something she was expecting.  She turned and felt the wet spot on the bed near her groin.. there’s no way that was all her.  “You used a condom… right?” she asked.  “Yeah.. yeah I did.”  he paused “But you know, sometimes they break or something.. so maybe you should get the morning after pill just in case.”  The first twinge of frustration hit Monroe.  She wasn’t stupid, this dude lied to her.  But before she could say anything, he sat up and let out a deep sigh. “Shit… I’ve been stupid…”  At least he admitted it… but he continued “This wasn’t supposed to happen.  I was going to hook you up with my little bro and I got greedy.”  He seemed genuinely remorseful and for a moment Monroe actually started to feel bad.  “I’ll talk to him.” she said before she realized what she was saying.  “Maybe he and I can hang out, bring him out of his shell a little.”  Sure.  What’s the harm in that?  “We can keep this between you and I.” she assured him.  Thier connection was faded now, and she didn’t think she was going to see Michael like this again.  “Alright cool.  You know, you’re a pretty cool girl.  I mean, you’re hot, but you’re also cool.”  He handed her the drink she’d carried in with her “Finish that up and I’ll go grab us some more.”  It was three-quarters full.  “No no, no more for me.” she said.  It was still hitting her and any more would make the world spin out of control.  “Alright.” he said “Just finish that and I’ll get you some water.”  Well fuck it, it’s the last one anyway.  She emptied the cup and laid back down while Michael life for more drinks.  For a little while the world went black.

“Holy shit she’s naked…” a voice whispered.  Shocked to consciousness Monroe scrambled to cover herself.  She looked up to see the shy (but cute!) one… what was his name.. James peering down at her with Michael behind him.  “Wait.. did you?  Did you already fuck her??” James asked.  “No no bro, we were just talking and got into it a little… I just warmed her up man!  Look at her!  She’s in your bed, ready.” Michael said.  His bed.  Shit.  His room?  Thier room.  It was harder to think straight after her nap.  “Look, I’m sorry…” she started to say… she had no intention of hooking up with James tonight, no matter how cute he was.  She started grabbing her clothes and then she heard James say “I can’t do this… she’s not here for me.  She doesn’t even like me!  Why did you bring me up here?  She doesn’t want me, she wants you.  I’ll go find somewhere else to crash.”  Shit.. she’d let herself go with Michael on this poor guy’s bed and now she was going to ruin his confidence.  Michael was looking at her now.  He was pleading with his eyes and motioning at her.  Fuck.  “Hey.. uh.. James!” she said.  She wished she wasn’t so fuzzy… damn you vodka.  She sat up on his bed and motioned next to her.  “Come here, let’s just talk for a little while.”  “Are you going to put your clothes on?” he asked.  What a gentleman! “Do you want me to?” she asked playfully (she was already naked on his bed after all…) “N-No.” he replied. “You look hot like that.”  Well fuck it.  She was already here, might as well be naked.  But she was absolutely not sleeping with James tonight.  No way.  Michael left with a smile on his face and James sat and talked to Monroe for a while.  She got sleepy and they agreed to lay down and “cuddle”.  She was still naked, and before he laid down he was too.  It wasn’t long before she felt him hard behind her.  He started kissing her neck and in her sleepy haze it tingled a bit.  He had been sweet to her and they had talked for nearly half an hour before they laid down… she couldn’t bring herself to reject him now and hurt his feelings.  So when his hand made it’s way between her legs, she allowed it… she was still very wet, though somemaxresdefault of that might not be from her.  Hormones took over and she tried to say something about a condom before he could push his way inside her.  He reached over and grabbed at the nightstand drawer.  Then he was behind her again, and she felt him.  Did he put it on?  It seemed too quick but everything was a blur.  She told him to be gentle, he was and she enjoyed herself despite a bit of soreness.

Morning came with a headache and more soreness.  James was gone.  The room was empty.  Monroe couldn’t believe she’d had such a night.  It was a little exhilarating, but also way out of control.  That wasn’t happening again.  As she made her way down the hallway she passed by some of the brother’s rooms.  She vaguely remembered the faces, but all she got was a few amused smiles.  She looked like hell and had to get back to clean up before class.   After class she went to get the morning after pill.  She felt gross about it, but she knew it was the smart thing to do.  Days passed and nobody called, she didn’t see any of those guys again for a while.  She thought she saw Michael once, but when she went after him he had vanished.  Probably better, what was she going to say?  “So, I fucked one of your frat brothers the other night, then I fucked your little after I fucked you.  Good times right?”  It was tremendously embarrassing and part of her hoped she never saw them again.

Unfortunately, they haunted her anyway.  First in the burning sensation when she peed three days later, and then with discharge and something worse than cramps.  Her doctor told her she a combination of a UTI and Gonorrhea.  She was lucky it wasn’t herpes or HIV.  Those assholes!!  But it didn’t stop there, she finally ran into her new friends from the sorority that had been courting her.  They hadn’t contacted her since, but she approached them and was met with awkward looks.  They knew.  In fact, they told her “everybody” knew.  She was the slut that banged three frat boys in one night.  Those guys were 361298283-sad-alone-crying-girl-on-bedhigh-fiving and telling everyone that came to their house how they passed her from brother to brother.  The girls told her they couldn’t have her in their sorority, it wouldn’t look good to have such an openly slutty girl associated with them.  Monroe was understandably livid at the boys, but she
was more upset with herself.  She was depressed for a while and kept to herself and her studies.  Eventually though, she started to feel normal again.  Fuck what those people thought.  She didn’t want anything to do with greek life anyway.

I would like to say that was the end with a lesson learned, for some people it is… but months later she was invited to another party at a different house.  A friend of hers in statistics that was very smart and very handsome invited her along.  Some more alcohol, and some very pretty boys happened.  They had heard about her from some friends of theirs in another frat house.  But that’s another story.   

Chastity:

He had asked her to stay the night.  She usually didn’t but he offered extra.  Money talks.  He wouldn’t try to fuck her again, she’d worn him out and she knew it.  Sometimes it was nice to not rush off, and the sheets at this hotel were to die for.  She woke up to an empty bed and an elaborate gourmet breakfast.  He’d left his number on a card on the tray.  Very cute.  But she knew the game.  He wanted her because he couldn’t have her.  Prostitutes are looked down at because the perception is that anyone can have them.  But a high-class escort knows how to turn that around.  They got what she was willing to give, on her terms, and nothing more.  No matter how they tried.  She sometimes had referrals or friends of previous clients who would tell her that somebody had fallen in love with her or that they would treat her like a queen forever.  But Chastity was her own queen, and she liked it that way.  She gazed out the marble atrium with it’s floor to ceiling windows on the 72nd floor as she ate breakfast and smiled.  Not a bad life.

When she had more than enough money to do so, Chastity enrolled in college.  She required no loans and saw some of her regulars as time allowed for spending money.  She avoided frat parties and that sort of life because she had zero patience for the ridiculous attempts those young boys made to get in her pants.  She tried it once, and all they did was attempt to feed her alcohol and get her alone.  One guy even tried to guilt-trip her into sleeping with his “little bro” who was shy with women.  Please.  One look at the shy boy and she knew that he knew exactly what he was after.  He was no stranger.  Howsport many stupid girls had fallen for that?  After that she kept to her studies and went downtown when she wanted to have fun.  Her company was classy and on her terms, just as she liked it.  

Chastity graduated with a Masters in Business Management and a minor in Accounting.  She went on to become a highly sought after business consultant and developed a reputation for being a no-nonsense problem solver for many fortune five-hundred companies.  She eventually hired an assistant, a cute college dropout who desperately needed a job and had a background in finance to help her manage her accounts.  She was very bright, and had a pretty good attitude, but you could tell she’d been through some things… she was a little rough around the edges.  Chastity hoped she could help her rise above it as she had not so long ago.  But that’s another story.

So what’s the point of these long, drawn out stories?  Well, for one thing, apparently I like to write semi-fiction.  But  the other thing is that either of these girls fit classic examples of “sluts”.  They are both rather extreme cases, but it brings us back to the question my friend asked me: What is “the difference between a woman who is labeled a slut and a woman who’s comfortable with her sexuality.”  The actual answer is: not a damn thing. (Because it depends on the subjective veiwpoint of the person labeling them.)  But again, since we’re making an attempt to differentiate anyway, the difference is based on the choices that are made, the process, and the results.

A woman like Chastity can sleep with literally hundreds of men, in control and smart about every encounter.  Meanwhile a woman like Monroe can sleep with three in one night, out of control and making bad choices.  If somebody put a gun to my head and said “label one a slut or you die”, I would have to go with Monroe.  She made poor decisions, and allowed people who’s sole purpose was to have their with her do so without asserting herself.   That said I would not fault her, or anyone, personally as I know that some frat houses are a well oiled machines (as I tried to illustrate) designed to take advantage of naive women. But the fact remains that I have personally watched a situation like this happen in a far less understandable way than Monroe’s, with a girl who was not nearly as naive, and that sort of blatant bad decision making and irresponsibility qualifies somebody as “sluttier” in my mind than a woman who has intelligently and cleanly slept with many men.

In closing I want to reiterate what I said in the first place though.  The word “slut” is a ridiculous double-standard. The question put to me was specifically in regards to women, so I focused on that angle, but the majority of the time, that word is simply a tool used by men (like those frat guys) to shame women that they previously had no qualms about trying to get with.  It’s just another representation of the still-present archaic societal misogyny that would be better off killed with fire and forgotten forever.

 

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The Value Of Time

When I begin this it was 11:47 PM Friday night and a hot cup of coffee sat in front of me.  I made the mistake of leaning back and dozed away close to ninety minutes.  Later, despite my best efforts, about halfway through writing this (I’ve update this intro,) I closed my eyes again and woke up to four AM.  It is now Tuesday…  As you can see the juggling act of my recent routine has been challenging.  My social life is picking up, many exciting plans have been made, and a number of friends from the past are resurfacing in my life.  On top of that, when I *do* get time at home to work on my (recently resurfaced) photography, play some video games, clean, or write… a log overdue blog post, my body immediately decides to instead use that time to shut down the moment I relax (as it did once again the last few nights…)

Generally speaking this is not a complaint.  The things that are occupying my time are all blessings, and very few professional situations in my recent past have been as respectful of my time as the one I have now.  However, this instantly falling asleep business is troublesome.  I have to watch my willpower, especially on days I run or work out (I’ve returned to consistency there as well) or reclining for a moment will lead to waking up several hours later with nothing to be done beyond returning to bed.  This and my extremely heavy calendar have had me thinking a lot about time.

quote-time-does-not-exist-we-invented-it-albert-einstein-85-7-0763

That took me three paragraphs to explain….

You’re fortunate, actually, that I ended up passing out, because what I had originally written here was a bunch of sleepy, semi-scientific and philosophical muttering about how time doesn’t actually exist and blah blah blah…  Instead I’m going to focus on the point:  No matter who you are, or where you come from, time is one of the most important concepts in your life.  Young or old, rich or poor, there is nothing we take for granted more than the ever-fleeting instrument we use to measure change, and we often forget that sometimes change doesn’t follow the routine, and your time might be up at any… time.

With that in mind, and as an Executive / Personal Assistant, the importance of prioritizing and managing my professional and personal time is absolutely key.  Professionally, I can compartmentalize and prioritize the large chunk of that time over my personal time. That’s the easy part.  But it’s not that simple either, because if I do that consistently as I have in the past, I will lose the balance that is kept in check by my social life and pursuing my own interests.  If said balance is lost, discontentment and eventual misery follow.  Fortunately in my my current position, my Executive is pretty respectful of my time and the stress level is relatively low.  This allows me the freedom to maintain that balance and pursue my interests… even if it’s a little slow and I have to fight to stay awake.  Admittedly my current (grown-up) priority of sleep probably isn’t helping, but I like to think I’m healthier and happier overall as a result.

Enough about my slow-progressing interests though, that’s only one important aspect of where my important time is spent and for the majority of my readers it probably doesn’t apply.  What should, and does apply for all of us though is in regards to our social time.  As I fight to maintain the balance I’ve elaborated above, I find that literally minutes of my time can be the difference between accomplishing something I wanted today, or not.  The easiest way to be most efficient with that would be to lock myself up in my cave of an apartment and just spend days or weeks (when not working) getting shit done.  Writing, processing photos, cleaning house, gym / running, and taking breaks to get into my sorely neglected MMO would all fall directly into place.  I have done that, and I like doing that, but no man is an island (as they say) and I admit that I get a greater sense of personal satisfaction from my interactions with friends, new and old.

Friendship-Sayings

The Philosopher

Friendship and social life are complicated though.  For one, they can (certainly not always) get financially expensive.  But more importantly different levels of friendship require different levels of time investment.  Key here is that we all have to remember that this is a two-way street.  You know how invaluable your time is to you, so you have to assume it is just as invaluable to whomever is with you.  And they are choosing to spend that time with you.  That’s the core of what that phrase means; to spend time, because that time cannot be repaid.  Ideally, time spent should be an investment from which both parties receive something greater than the time invested. But sometimes (often) we suck at that because we don’t think about the value of everyone’s time.  It takes a level of awareness to think “Hey, this super busy person who could be doing any number of things right now is choosing to engage me instead.”

With all that said, it’s exhausting to even think about being aware of every waking moment of your life.  It is also not reasonable or even healthy to do so.  Relaxation is also time well spent, and if your brain is completely engaged at all times, you are not going to be able to relax.  As with all things there has to be a balance and I think with a few guidelines you can find that balance:

1. Recognize and appreciate time spent on/with you.  Don’t question whether or not you are “worth it” to them, that is their decision.  As long as you want it, accept it and appreciate it.  I think people can subconsciously tell when they are appreciated and you’ll find that your interactions are generally more positive as a result.

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In that moment, she realized the time had been wasted…

2. Only spend personal time on people when you want to.  Ideally the people you spend time with should help, relax, or somehow enrich your life while you do the same for them.  This isn’t just about romantic situations either, I’ve had a couple cups of coffee with old friends recently that were extremely worthwhile.  If you walk away from the interaction with a good memory, a revelation, feeling rejuvenated, or wearing a smile, I say that’s time well spent.

The flip-side of that is spending time with people because they tried to make you feel guilty, or you feel some level of obligation to them… and that should be avoided.  Perhaps if they have done you important favors in the past, you owe it to them to show up and repay the favor, but consolidate that to whatever is needed to appropriately repay them and then get out.  Beyond repayment of a personal debt, don’t let the issues of others cause you to spend time you don’t have or don’t want to give on them.  Doing so will only make you resent them and damage your existing relationship.  Just as people can sense when they are appreciated, often they can sense when they are not wanted.  Do yourself and them a favor, and be strong enough to say no when you don’t want to spend your valuable time.    

3. Minimize your professional time spent on someplace that tears you down or makes you feel “stuck”.  I realize (and have first-hand experience) that sometimes we have to do whatever we can to get by.  But that needs to be as temporary as possible.  My recent stint as an Uber driver was actually really fun at times, but on a deeper level it was having a profound effect on my general state of mind, my confidence, and my attitude.  The only thing that kept me hopeful was the search and development of new opportunities.  So, if you’re doing what you have to do, don’t quit the search for something better, even if takes months or years.

As far as the people go, work is obviously a little different, you’re investing time for money and sometimes people come with it, but you can minimize the time spent with them to whatever is absolutely necessary.

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Some of my “Me Time”

4. When planning your time, be certain to allow “me time”.  I said above that no person is an island.  Well the opposite is true too.  Even the most extroverted person needs time to themselves.  Hopefully you have people with whom you can pursue your mutual interests, but even if that’s the case, you will want time to yourself to think about how it benefits you in the long-term.  Your plan, your goals, your dreams.  Take time to put everything you are doing and want to do in perspective and make them happen.  Even those who are married or in a serious long-term relationship need time to themselves to process and figure everything out as individuals.  Once that’s in perspective, it’s much easier to share those things with our friends and family.

The point of all this is, nothing in this world is more valuable than the moments we are given.  It is up to us to make the most of those moments… actually it’s up to us to simply make those moments.  But it doesn’t need to be a constant labor, it’s more a matter of reminding yourself periodically to appreciate the time that others spend on you, and in turn make sure the people you’re spending your time on are worth it (including, of course, yourself!)  By doing this you can moderate/filter your busy life and make the most your moments.

 

You don’t know who you are

You will never completely know or understand who you are. There’s a whole unknown you floating in your subconscious that only shows itself through dreams and surreal moments when you act in ways you thought you never would or could.  In some ways it represents your potential and depending on how you develop yourself that potential could be amazing, but it could also be disastrous.  Sigmund Freud would probably say that trying to get to know yourself on this level is trying to get more in touch with your Id and Super-Ego at the same time.

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“There are no mistakes.”

It’s a bit ironic actually, because the Ego (the moderator between those two) can be such a robust and confident thing when it really has no right to be.  The truth is we spend the majority of our lives trying to figure ourselves out (and that’s okay!)  I should actually say that the smart folks spend their days trying to better figure themselves out.  Unfortunately far too many people are busy looking outward than inward.  So they define things (especially the shitty stuff) by what their environment and those that inhabit it have shown them, instead of trying to figure out what they’re doing in that environment to begin with.

Don’t misunderstand me, I realize that people are often born into very unfortunate environments and circumstances.  As I’ve illustrated in previous posts, my own circumstances weren’t exactly roses and rainbows.  Some people don’t get to learn about themselves. It’s Maslow’s pyramid and they don’t make it past the first level.

An old friend of mine and I were discussing Maslow’s pyramid the other day and it both complimented and derailed what I intended to write about.  For those of you uninitiated, the essential idea is that human needs and progression happen on five levels.  The base of this pyramid are basic needs: food, water, sleep, sex (though.. I believe this transcends a bit… let’s call it “reproduction”,) oxygen, etc.

Once you’ve got your basic needs covered,the next level involved safety on every level.  Protection from the elements, security in your job/income/lifestyle, and basic personal safety.  All the things that lay the foundation for some level of confidence in your life.  But once you get all that figured out, you get to start on the advanced stuff.

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“Shit.. was that level 1 or level 3?”

Level three of Maslow’s pyramid consists of social developmental needs. This fuels the desire for popularity in high school and then evolves into being accepted and respected by your peers at work while simultaneously developing friendship, intimacy (there’s that sex again!), affection and, of course, love in your personal life.  Each step of this pyramid can be a life-long endeavor for many individuals, but I would wager that a very large percentage get stuck here (including, it seems, me.)

The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to achieve any of these levels in any sort of traditional manner to begin work on the next level.  Hell, I’m relatively sure you don’t even have to make it halfway.  As long as you have a basic understanding of achievement on any given level, you can probably grasp the next level as well.  But that’s dangerous, because the point of the pyramid is to illustrated how to form a solid foundation for each level and building on an unfinished foundation can (obviously) end up in disaster.

But let’s say you jump to the next level and go for the really advanced stuff. Level four of Maslow’s pyramid is all about going from being accepted, to leading and transcending the pack.  Achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others are the needs this level presents.  By this time, you’ve figured out how to play the game of life, and now you need to do better than just play well, you need to excel at it.

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Maslow’s pyramid for the modern age.

Should you manage to develop yourself to the point of excelling at life in terms of what you want to achieve and what you want your peers to recognize about you, you’re ready for the supposed pinnacle of the pyramid: Total self-actualization. Now we’re getting into super-human territory that involves setting world records, becoming billionaires, scaling Mt. Everest, or becoming the President. Fortunately for a fair percentage of the people who are trying to fulfill this need also realize this potential by helping others find their way up the pyramid.  On the flip-side though, this is where the world’s absolute worst humans do the worst damage.

The point of that quick overview though was to illustrate a point: you’ll never reach total self-actualization because you will never completely know and understand yourself.  Even if you somehow thought you did, you can’t, because it’s fluid.  That’s actually one of the great joys of life.  One of the greatest strengths of humanity is it’s fluidity and adaptability.  Some very smart, very enlightened people close to me struggle with this a lot and admittedly I do as well because it’s frankly exhausting if you don’t step back to recognize it for what it really is: growth.  Not only is it growth, but it’s advanced growth that only a certain percentage of people in the world have the luxury of knowing.

It’s a given that people reach the fifth level of Maslow’s pyramid all the time, but as I

ct-sarah-palin-endorses-donald-trump-video-20160120

Oh…

mentioned earlier, a lot of those people left an essential level undeveloped… some skipped it entirely and paid for it.  They are easy to see, the people who seem to have everything, experienced so much, but are still miserable.  They act out, break down, and sometimes die far too early and sometimes by their own hand.

The point in all this psycho-babble is that I’ve realized that the biggest mistake we can make is attempting to rush through or force our personal development.  We seek to master our environment and to balance that out we must seek to master ourselves.  But both are fluid and can never really be mastered, so we have to realize that it’s enough to continue learning, continue developing and build our foundations strong on each level so we have a solid base when we someday reach the top of our own personal pyramid.

You don’t know who you are, and you never will, but the point is continuing to get to know yourself.  When you do, you get to the fun part: Being pleasantly surprised and amazed at what you can do… and then being able to live happily with it.

 

You Don’t Have To “Follow Your Dreams”

“What do you want to do?”  “What do you want to be?”  “What’s your passion?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What do you dream of being?”

Rich.  And Happy.  With Kids.

Oh, you want to know how?  Well fuck off, I don’t know.  Except I do, and that is: whatever I can do that will get me there while keeping me happy, letting me live my life, and allowing me to keep my dignity intact/stay true to myself.

I suppose that’s awfully specific for somebody that doesn’t know, but as a thirty-six year old single male that achieved “full yuppie”, and then spent months unemployed until just recently, I’ve had a lot of experience and a fair amount of time to mull this over.  What I figured out is that all those questions above seem encouraging and productive, but they can, in fact, be exactly the opposite.  They can demotivate and even create insecurity where there doesn’t need to be any.

Napping Guy Disappointed Girl

Obviously they had different priorities…

The thing is, some people have dreams when they are little, but as we grow, we change and (hopefully) so do our priorities.  When we’re kids, a lot of us really hate taking naps.  Sleep is so boring!  But years later, as an adult, nap time is a close second (and let’s face it, depending on the person, it’s possibly not second) to the horizontal mambo.  We grow, we learn, priorities change, and so does what we dream of.

When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a fighter pilot so badly that I studied different aircraft, their capabilities, their combat roles, and even the engines that powered them and who made them.  I thought the SR-71 Blackbird was the coolest thing in the world.  I grew up, took the ASVAB, aced it, and made the Marines love me (yes, I know I should’ve talked to the Air Force first, but that Staff Sergeant talked a good game.)  They told me I could take my pick of assignments between the AV-8B Harrier II (the jet that can take off vertically and hover) or the F-18 Hornet (The fastest and most maneuverable mainstream fighter the US produced at the time.) I was sold on the F-18 and made a soft commitment to enlist   I trained with Staff Sergeant Johnson to prepare for boot camp while learning more and more about the program.  It would entail military “basic” school, the Naval Academy, and then Flight School specializing (in my case) in fixed-wing aviation.  The long and the short of this was a minimum of a fourteen year commitment once I signed on the dotted line.  And when that day came, my eighteen-year-old self thought about my friends, my girlfriend, and the person I thought I would become, and I walked away (Sorry Staff Sergeant Johnson.)  Once I got realistic about my childhood dream, I didn’t want it any more, and that as okay.

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Most dreams seem to involve mountains and sunsets…

But especially in recent years, society has moved to this obsession with goals/dreams.  People who don’t have a specific one are in danger of being labeled as unfocused, distracted, lacking direction, drifters, or any number of relatively negative terms.  This, in turn, can make people who don’t really have a specific dream feel insecure about the lack of that dream.  They can begin to think there might be something wrong with them and feel like they need to invent a “passion” to define themselves.  This can have the opposite effect, and lead to an abundance of wasted time pretending to care about something that is ultimately unfulfilling.  Such a situation is much more common that we might think and can easily lead to a number of psychological issues.  Ironically, inventing your passion is a very effective way of stifling a real passion you may not know you have yet.

For instance, I remember looking at characters in movies that weren’t the good or bad guy, but were the “right-hand man” and thinking “That would be neat… I could totally be THAT guy rather than the main good/bad guy.”  It wasn’t a dream, it was just a respect for that sort of person that I identified with passively. A couple of decades later that’s the majority of my recent professional experience.  Even better is that I (generally) like it and have made as much, or more than most of the people I know who are “following their passions”.  I never thought to myself  “Someday I’m going to be this awesome Executive Assistant!” but by being open to it and accepting the natural evolution of my career in that direction, I realized that I was, in fact, actualizing something I had passively envisioned more than a few times.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on people who have and follow their dreams.  I have a ton of respect for them.  Many of my very close friends have pursued their dreams and passions and are reaping the rewards of their dedication over the years.  They worked hard, put in their time, (most) suffered to some degree, and are rewarded by the option of doing what they always wanted to do.  But that’s not everyone, and more importantly it doesn’t have to be everyone.  We have to dispel the idea that dreams = life success.  They can most certainly create motivation to succeed, but they are not a requirement.  There are a number of other ways to motivate yourself.

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And that’s OKAY!

Achievement and/or success often breeds motivation, and sometimes it takes a whole lot of trying things and failing to find it.  Further, you may very well find that what you succeed at is something you never even considered before.  That’s where business roles that I call “tool” types come from.  They aren’t what you typically think of when you dream of what you want to become.  Therefore they often aren’t “visionaries” or well-known business leaders.  But instead of having their own dream, they enable/assist the dreamers in order to grow and take their visions to whole new levels.

Maybe you never dreamed of being an accountant, but you find you’re naturally good at it, and it rewards you well leading to job satisfaction and general financial success.  That process can make people pretty happy.  The same can be said for what I do as an Executive Assistant.  I get to live vicariously through extremely successful CEOs, Inventors, Celebrities and other notable dreamers.  I am compensated well and often enjoy a number of (expensive) fringe benefits without the drawbacks of being imbalanced as said visionaries often are (out of necessity really.) I stay balanced and I help to balance them, leading to a great deal of personal and job satisfaction.

There are countless roles that can lead to professional success as an “enabler” or “tool”.  So I’m not saying don’t dream, I’m just saying that if you don’t have a specific dream, don’t stress it.  Provide for yourself (and those you need to provide for) and take pride in that accomplishment.  Just keep trying to improve yourself.  Try things, fail (more than) a few times if you need to, and focus on what you want for yourself.  You don’t have to have a direction  as long as you keep yourself moving forward in some way.  Keep making your own path, cutting through the jungle of life and you might just find that you look up and discover something that you or nobody else had thought of yet. Accidents like that have made a lot of people both rich and happy.

 

Philosophy of Moderation – Part 3: Sleep

So this year I made “goals” instead of “resolutions” because for some reason it’s gotten to the point that resolutions are synonymous with failure.  (I’m watching the population of my gym closely, it has already declined some since the year turned.)  Among my goals for this year was to make sleep a priority.  Not just any sleep, decent sleep, like several sleep cycles (which adds up to 7.5 hours with another 15 min added to wind down and actually fall asleep.)  Previously I had shot for six a night and often missed the mark, which really added up by the end of the week in terms of my energy level, mood and ability to stay awake in what are sometimes relatively boring meetings (which is an unfortunate necessity.)

Now I know some of you hard-core folk are out there doing what you do, pounding Monster energy drinks and sleeping three hours a night with the mantra of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!!”

Well, if you’re doing that solely on principle, then fuck off.  You’re wrong.

I guess you won't sleep when you're... undead?

I guess you won’t sleep when you’re… undead?

I’m not going to go into the endless amount of science that says a good amount of sleep benefits you in nearly every way possible.  Nine out of ten doctors don’t do it for me either.  Doctors of what? For all we know they all have their PhD’s in English Composition (god knows we all know I don’t.. but I digress…)  What I WILL tell you is that I’ve been there, done that.  I’ve never taken hard drugs, but I’ve skimmed the surface by taking enough ephedrine and caffeine to keep me awake for three days straight until my body was literally trying to shut itself down while I was standing up at work.  I continue to use obscene amounts of coffee to make up for the hours lost hooking up on a work night, or simply playing an MMO until my eyes threatened to bleed and the sun was rising.  But just because we’re badass and can do that, doesn’t mean we should do that.  It comes down to quality of life and when it comes to living, if you believe quantity is more important than quality, I think you’re doing it wrong.

Now let’s back up a little and clarify something.  I know life happens.  I know sometimes you have to do what you have to do by working several jobs, overnight, military or caring for a newborn that doesn’t give a rat’s ass that you have to go to work tomorrow.  All those are situational life happenings that are important and can’t be helped.  I would never condemn somebody that is sacrificing for the sake of promoting themselves or those close them.  That’s life, shit happens, we do our best.  I get that.  I’m talking about those (like me) who intentionally and through lack of discipline put themselves in a position to lose what is essentially as important to your health and longevity as breathing, eating or drinking water.  Just like those things, if you don’t sleep for a certain amount of time, you’ll actually die.  

Handy infographic.

Handy infographic.

When you get less sleep over time, you are damaging yourself.   Most importantly, you are actually damaging your brain. It literally kills brain cells.  The good news is your brain can heal itself to some degree, the bad news is with prolonged regular damage, there’s gonna be some lasting effects.  That’s assuming you don’t kill yourself (like I almost did) by falling asleep on the road or doing something else equally stupid.  And the icing on the cake (all of this was recently confirmed): premature aging (especially skin), stupidity (literally), decreased sex drive and (that’s right) weight gain.   Add that to the overall dramatically increased chance of death (especially through cardiovascular issues) and all of a sudden those couple extra hours of MMO don’t seem so life-changing.  I love food, video games, women, sex, alcohol and what have you, and there’s nothing with losing a couple hours form time to time to partake in all these awesome things life has to offer.  Life is about experience, so live it!  But for the love of god when it’s just another night in your everyday life, needlessly throwing away your body’s ability to fix itself from all the awesome damaging experiences is just plain stupid.  Don’t be stupid, too many humans already are.

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Every other animal in the world understands. Also.. baby kitten.

So then what did this goal do for me thus far?  Well, the other day I was in a six hour meeting at work to go over systems and processes and otherwise boring shit that’s essential but not boobs and explosions.  You know what?  I had a pretty good time.  Since I was well rested, I was not only not fighting dozing (which honestly sucks because you know you’re missing everything..), but I was witty enough to banter about what we were talking about and make it more fun.  Yep, sleeping made work more fun.  On top of that, my morning coffee works much better, because instead of compensating, it’s just boosting.  When it wore off, I didn’t crash, I was good.  Here’s the kicker though and it’s something I hadn’t thought about: dreams.  See before I would occasionally have a dream or two, but most times I just assumed I forgot them when I woke up.  Now I think that I just wasn’t having them.  My brain just wasn’t making it to whatever process that caused them.  Now granted I’ve been having more “Walking Dead” style dreams than anything else (hurry back!!) But even that isn’t really unpleasant because my brain has dug up all kinds of random crap I haven’t even thought about in years and it’s pretty entertaining.  I dream literally every night.  Other than reoccurring nightmares, I think most people would choose to dream rather than not… ever.   Beyond all that, I’m generally more level-headed and patient despite going through a fairly strange and isolated time in my life, so I would say this particular goal has especially good timing.  Oh, and getting enough sleep regularly also has the benefit of making it much  easier to get through days you don’t happen to get enough sleep because you’re busy being a rock star.

Having a rockstar night every night has killed or damaged many a rock star.  So, like all things, be a rockstar (or MMO badass) in moderation and get some sleep!!

Work / Life (Im)Balance

I’ve struggled with the concept of a good work/life balance for many years now.  I’ve always been a very firm believer in the line between personal life and what we do for work.  As the saying goes, we “work to live”, not “live to work.”  But then there’s the other philosophy that says if you love what you do, then it won’t feel like work.  To this day I struggle with where the right balance is, and what sort of lifestyle is worth the work you put in.  Can you really love what you do so much that it doesn’t feel like work?  (Especially when you’re as inherantly lazy as I am?)

As an Executive Assistant (what I do when I’m not writing long-winded blogs) my hours can be fairly erratic.  When I was serving my last Chairman I was salary (the norm for this sort of position) which made the extended hours a bit upsetting at times.  Now, I’m hourly (no overtime pay but still a step up…) and my current CEO demands (as nicely as possible) I put extra time in.  This last week especially I’ve had a lot on my plate and found myself taking it home.  Great for my paycheck, but not so great for having any downtime.  Downtime and decompression time are very important to me to the point I often take extended lunches to remove my brain and start on my blogs.  But when you find yourself struggling to get enough sleep and having little “you” time, at what point do you decide if it’s worth it or not?  There’s no real standard, and I’m NOT complaining about where I am in life, but I do seek the balance for the sake of myself and my employer as I believe many people do.

Executive Assistant Life

Executive Assistant Life

So what’s the solution?  It’s said that you have to work hard and put in your time in order to improve your lifestyle and make money. But is the money worth it if you don’t have time to enjoy it?  I know that I’m not willing to give up my lifestyle at this point, and I want to build on it, so the most logical conclusion is to keep my nose to the grindstone, kick ass, work the long hours and reap the rewards….eventually.  But I’ve always believed it’s a mistake to put your happiness into a far off goal or dream.  It must be a balancing act that involves working toward your eventual dream (I’m not even sure I have one…) while taking the time and providing yourself with the experiences that make your life worth living now.  Regardless of how much you work, you have to be happy!  Sometimes that means pulling yourself away from the grindstone and investing time in you or those you love.  If only it were as easy for us to be as happy at work as many company founders want us to be!  But you can’t blame them for not understanding why you aren’t.   

I’ve spent years working for company founders now.  One thing many of them don’t understand, and that you may not realize is that it is psychologically extremely difficult (if not impossible) for you to have the same level of connection / ownership to the company that they do.  You may care deeply about your company, you may even “love your job”, but the person who brought that idea into the world built it out of their experiences, thoughts, beliefs, feelings and even some of their imbalances that you will never have.  It is an extension of them, and therefore when they are investing time in the company, they feel fulfilled in a way you essentially can’t because they are actually investing time in themselves.  It’s not impossible to try and mimic this mindset, but when you go home and open that laptop at night, neglecting personal time to catch up on your e-mails, it simply won’t feel the same to you, because for them, even if they would rather be doing something else, catching up on those e-mails IS personal time.

So, assuming you don’t want to give up your lifestyle and become a wanderer, your options boil down to four or five situations:

If you can't stay rich on that, you made some bad choices.

If you can’t stay rich on that, you made some bad choices.

1.  You win the powerball or get rich quick somehow.  Come find me so I can help you think of awesome ways to both manage and make the most of the money while using it to perpetuate your own happiness and that of others.  Thank you and your welcome!

2. Start your own business.  This is the only way to experience the “founder” level of ownership and satisfaction in your work. However, the founders that I speak of and who are employing you have already “made it” to some extent, and thus are in the phase where they can actually enjoy it on some level because they (obviously) have employees and income.  I never said they didn’t earn it (in most cases anyway) by working harder, smarter or both.  In the beginning and even well into the green (profit,) owning your own business can come with huge levels of stress that can make that personal connection to your company very difficult to handle.  There is a reason many of the very successful founders and CEOs you hear of are often quirky, odd, eccentric or sometimes straight-up batshit insane.  They have to be in order to be obsessed enough with themselves and their company to push it to astronomical levels.

3. Do something easy that you “love”.  When we’re teens and young adults we often joke about doing what we perceive as super fun to get paid for.  Acting, starting a band or writing a best selling book (or god forbid.. being a reality show “star”.) Obviously, some people really do achieve this, but it’s not easy at all and often requires a lot of sacrifice.  For instance: a lot of late teens/early twenties (especially but not exclusively guys) joke about doing porn because who doesn’t want to get paid to have sex!?  But naturally the industry often doesn’t live up to the fantasy image in some people’s head.  Beyond that, many quickly find that once they are forced to do whatever hobby/activity they really enjoy casually under “professional” guidelines/circumstances (another example: Video Game Tester,) it loses it’s fun pretty fast.  A few weeks later it’s no longer a dream career, it’s just another job that’s making you not want to have sex or play video games on your own time any more.  That said, some types people are cut out for those respective industries and it doesn’t ruin it for them (usually because they can drastically differentiate the two in their head,) But either way,  work is still very much work and for those average people it will put a damper on their outside life too.  So, while “doing what you love” is a great idea, it’s harder than it sounds, takes a lot more work than one would think and is usually tough to find/break into.  Even after you get there, it is impossible to know if it will be as fulfilling as you hope. That said, for some people it IS worth it, IF you can really make it.

Literal.

Literal.

4. Set a goal to become something difficult that you “love”.  This falls a little in line with starting your own business in that it really can pay off the way you hope it will, but you will have to go through hell and high water to get there (and I mean years of it.)  As an example I have several friends who grew up wanting to be veterinarians.  I’m happy to report I personally watched some of these people become the 1% of 1% of 1% or something like that.  They achieved their “dream” to some extent.  I say it like that because some didn’t end up doing what they envisioned themselves doing, some fell massively into debt and the others that really made it did so by sacrificing years of their time working and studying (long AFTER the hell that is Vet School) at really odd hours under immense amounts of stress and pressure to finally, finally emerge somewhere close to where they wanted to be.  The reward is that yeah, they are most often better off financially and more fulfilled than your average Walgreen’s clerk.  But it’s still work, and sometimes they get up in the morning (12:01 AM) and don’t want to do it,  but they still have to.  I should also point out that some of these people end up owning their own business.  So, essentially a different path to option 2.  That said though, if you can make the investment early on, this is arguably the best, most consistent outcome beyond the powerball option.

5. The rest of us.  Circumstances happened, and we’re not where we wanted to be or thought we would be by now.  Hell, some of us didn’t even know where we wanted to be and still don’t know where we’re going.  But we’re still adults, and we haven’t given up and become vagrants just yet, so work happens and bills gotta get paid.  This brings me back to the importance of enjoying your life along the way.  Because with this option, if you don’t, you’re probably miserable.  The work/life balance in this situation is essential because you don’t have the ownership and you don’t have the long-term dream that you achieved.  You are working to live.  That’s really okay so long as you don’t lose sight of why.  The balance isn’t always about a set amount of hours, it’s about whether or not your work allows you to do what you enjoy.  That means both the time, and the resources to be happy in your life outside of work.  It doesn’t have to be everything you dreamed just yet, it just has to be enough to have fun, be happy, and make progress.  So working those extra hours is totally worth it if it makes you feel better about your work and gives you the extra funds to treat yourself and/or those important to you.  But if you feel like a slave to your job and go home miserable only to crash and repeat the next day; get out.  No amount of money will save you from that, and the more you make, the more of that scarce life they will ask for.

Don't be THOSE guys.

Don’t be THOSE guys.

This brings me to a few guidelines for maintaining that balance (be realistic):

1. Don’t be afraid to say no.  Draw your lines, draw your boundaries and don’t back down from them.  Do NOT allow a job to corner you into making compromises that will make you miserable.

2. Know what you are worth and ask for it.  If you research and feel you deserve a specific wage, ask for it.  If they won’t work with you to at least make a plan to get there, move on.  The same goes for benefits you need for you and your family.  Often these are arguably more important than base wage.

3. Ask for the time you want in advance. Know what you are willing to give and not to give and barter that time as needed to be certain you have the time that is most important to you.  This can be a specific schedule or specific days.

4. Along with number one, be honest and communicate about all the above needs.  If you aren’t seeing what you want, give your employer a chance to accommodate you before you just get fed up and leave.  It looks better on both parties even if something can’t be worked out.

5. Have a contingency plan.  We’d all like to be “lifers” with a great company, but shit happens, and it happens fast.  Make sure that you have the cards up your sleeve to be willing to walk away from the table if you need to.  Feeling trapped in a job you don’t want to be in is a very quick way to demoralize yourself.

Finally (and yeah.. this post got long…)

6. Make sure whatever you are doing for work leaves room for you to BE HAPPY about your life outside of work.  This means having time to have a life outside of work, having enough money to enjoy your life outside of work and having a job that doesn’t make you feel bad about you your life inside or outside of work.  The work/life balance isn’t about a specific number of hours per week or a wage you make, it’s about how it enables you to live, and how happy you can be in the process.

Errr...Maybe Allen is hollow inside? ^.^;;

Errr…Maybe Allen is hollow inside? ^.^;;

Philosophy of Moderation – Part 2: Emotional

I am admittedly not so qualified to write this entry.  If I had named it “mental” and gone on about self-discipline and such then perhaps I would have a bit more merit.  However, as you saw in my last post, I have to write about what I’m feeling, and this is a good time to talk about emotional moderation, when it’s needed, and when maybe it isn’t.

A few posts back I talked about about what it is to be happy.  I struggle with that a bit as my natural state is to be quite neutral/cold.  On the plus side, I typically don’t get bent out of shape or overly depressed about a lot of things (there are, however, specific things, such as last week’s rape article…)  On the downside, getting me overly excited about any specific concept is tough.  I’m set at a certain level of “happy” that is very moderate.  Though my level is probably lower than your average well-adjusted “happy” person, for most people being set at a certain level of “happiness” is not a new concept.

Hedonic-Treadmill

A bit oversimplified but you get the idea.

The Hedonic Treadmill is the concept that humans tend to return to a specific level of happiness despite major events or life changes (be they positive or negative.)  In essence it compares our emotional state to walking on a treadmill, in which we simply need to keep walking (living) at a comfortable, indefinite pace in order to stay in place (so essentially our “natural” state of happiness.)  When something awesome happens, the treadmill turns up allowing you to run and gain more (happiness), faster.  But inevitably (psychologically) you’ll get tired and have to take it back down to your natural pace.  Likewise when something terrible happens, the treadmill slows to a crawl, slowing your progress and setting you back until you regain your energy, allowing you to return to normal pace.  Another (perhaps less confusing) way to look at it is like a thermostat, your normal happiness is set at a certain level.  The outside world might make you warmer or colder for a while, but inevitably your thermostat will bring you back to the temperature you are naturally set at.

The case is often made with lottery winners and those with near unthinkable amounts of money to the average person.  We always think “Man!  If I had that kind of money I would always be happy!”  But the truth is, those that do have that sort of money are no happier than you are most days.  People adapt to basically anything (good or bad,) and no matter what we have, we always want more (especially if we think we can’t have it…) Some of us are better at it than others, so it may happen faster for some, but inevitably everyone returns to that set point.  Be it Lottery, New Car, Sex, Marriage, Children, Car Accidents, Losing Your Job, Divorce and even a death in the family, life events can extend for months or even years, but your base happiness with eventually attempt to return to a certain level of happiness regardless.

Sometimes "Happy Work" means going to the beach in your suit...

Sometimes “Happy Work” means going to the beach in your suit…

Initially this idea was a little disturbing to me.  To say that no matter what happens we’re always going to achieve the same general level of happiness makes it sound like striving for anything is pointless.  But fortunately it actually gives us a purpose:  Find a way to raise your treadmill/thermostat/hedonic set point.  It sounds simple but naturally it’s more difficult than simply making yourself happy.  You have to figure out what moves you, and what you can consistently to do to make yourself happier than you are now.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s (obviously) happy work.

But there’s a flip side:  depression.  Depression (in this case) is basically the state in which perpetual negative circumstances / state of mind keep you from returning to your normal happiness setting.  This can be any number of consistent negative influences: abusive relationships (usually family or spouse), imprisonment, consistent anxiety, chronic illness and drug/alcohol abuse are fairly common examples.  Something key to note here is that this doesn’t mean the depressed person is “broken”, simply that a consistent negative stimuli is acting as a barrier to keep them from returning to their set point of happiness.  Unfortunately it’s probably possible that an extended duration of some of these could even lower the setting on somebody’s hedonic treadmill.  But the good news is, in most cases studies show that once the negative situation is removed/resolved, the majority of those experiencing this depression bounced back to their hedonic set point.

So, how do we turn up our happiness setting?  Nobody knows for sure.  To some extent it will vary depending on the individual.  Most recent research points to some fifty percent of our happiness/hedonic set point being determined by genetics.  Personally, I’m not willing to allow some unseen statistic (whether factual or not) to control how I feel, so I’m not going to think about the half that I supposedly can’t control.  Instead I’ll focus on what I can.  A pretty interesting study by psychologists Headey and Wearing (1989) suggested that our position on the spectrum of the stable personality traitsneuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience (wiki links for you psych majors that want to dive in…) accounts for how we experience and perceive life events, and therefore indirectly contributes to our happiness levels (Elaborated via handy wiki-table:)

Neuroticism Extraversion Openness to experience
Anxiety Warmth Fantasy
Hostility Gregariousness Aesthetics
Depression Assertiveness Feelings
Self-consciousness Activity Actions
Impulsiveness Excitement/Sensation Seeking Ideas
Vulnerability to Stress Positive Emotion Values

The goal is minimizing your neuroticism category, while trying to increase your extraversion and openness to experience.  This somewhat supports my longstanding philosophy that experiences are the key to being happy (over material gains… more on this in a few.)  Don’t let the term “extraversion” mislead you though, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be happy, as you can see under that category many of those aspects are present in many an introvert.

wjn-1So WHAT experiences then?  There is no clear answer due to individual reactions to individual experiences.  What should be noted though is that your hedonic set point is, in fact, chemical.  As such experiences that bring temporary satisfaction through chemical interaction (such as drug/alcohol use) can have the reverse affect over time requiring more of said substance to even maintain your hedonic set point. Instead research indicates that maintaining a positive outlook / attitude, adaptability and altruism (due to the personal satisfaction reward) are the keys to staying on the positive side of your hedonic set point.  As a result, reinforcing or strengthening those aspects of yourself should theoretically allow you raise your base happiness.  This might help explain why those with a great deal of those with an abundance of money who appear relaxed and/or good natured are known to be highly involved and give a great deal to charity, whereas others who are equally endowed on a material level but less giving often appear more uptight, irritated or generally disagreeable.

So, long story short:  We all have a pre-set level of happiness we return to.  We should endeavor to live in order to raise that setting for ourselves and those around us.  Money is fine, but it is best used as a key to happy experiences and to help others be happier.  This, in turn, will raise our happiness.  There will be setbacks, but we are, in fact programmed to return to our hedonic set point and as such, no matter what happens, we always have a chance to make more happiness so long as we can get past any circumstances keeping us from that point.

That's a lot of experiences... just sayin'..

That’s a lot of experiences… just sayin’..

On a personal level, as stated above I am an experience seeker.  I seek those moments of bliss and euphoria (note: NOT drug related in any way… though maybe occasionally some scotch or vodka.)  But it is not so much the moment itself that contributes to my hedonic set point, but rather the positive memory of the moment that gets better and better as time goes on.  Though extremely selfish, I am also fairly altruistic towards the people I believe are worthy of it.  Going back to the title (though I haven’t said much of it thus far) I remain at a very moderate emotional state, which allows me to be objective in situations where other’s emotions may get the best of them.  However, that leaves me more vulnerable to falling into negativity, and if I do not properly moderate those feelings, they can hold me back from the experiences that would help me feel better in the first place.  All that said, who doesn’t want to be happier?  I think anyone who tells themselves that is lying.  Maybe when it comes to being happy, the philosophy of moderation should instead be the philosophy of abundance.

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