Awareness

A little perspective after a long time

*Note: There are some elements of this entry that some may find disturbing, or possibly even trigger-worthy.  Read (or don’t) with caution if you are the sensitive type.

I know, I know… I’ve been gone a long time.  Life is like that;  It ebbs and flows.  It’s probably a good thing I don’t write professionally (at least not on a creative level) or I would be accused of following after a certain author of thrones.  Anyway, It took a couple years for this cycle to settle, and now that it has… everything is fine.  And that’s it.  Nothing is wrong, and new stuff happens from time to time, but for the most part, I’m just doing my thing; day in and day out. My companions from my previous cycle (and even the “adjustment” period) have almost all fallen away.  Some will come back eventually, and some will not.  But for the time being I have my new cave by the lake, my work in the contrasting enormous palace nearby, my cats, some friends I see every so often (whom, I’m growing a greater appreciation for as others move on) and… me.
It’s not about time any more.  I have time.  I finally caught up on The Walking Dead (holy shit…) and I’ve been addicted to certain mobile games involving hunting small creatures in the real world and fantasies that are final at home.  So time is there… money is still in recovery but improving daily. What I realized is missing (much like in my personal relationships) is passion.  I don’t feel inspired by anything.  The world is beautiful, and I am privy to exceptional sunsets on a daily basis.  These bring me peace, but they do not light a fire.  There is no fire.  I’m not depressed, things are generally good, I’m just… here.  It’s kept me from writing because I need to have something I feel strongly enough to write about.  It’s kept me from photography because I’m still backlogged almost a year (sorry Jess.. I put some more up yesterday but I realize my pace is horrible…) and while I love the photos I put up when I do work on them, it’s honestly a struggle to get myself to sit down and focus on them.

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At least sometimes I look alright doing it…

I know, this is a lot of whining and problems that are really not problems.  A year ago at this time I was trying to figure out if I was going to have a place to live next month, so I understand that I’m not really having real problems.  Ironically, it might be the intense focus that work requires of me that keeps the inspiration from showing up at the end of the day.  Chicken or the egg?  Be that as it may, I am virtually alone and uninspired at the moment, and while I’m making an effort to branch out a bit, it may be some time before life picks back up again.

With that said I want to share a story with you.  This story makes all of the above whining seem even more ridiculous.  The point is not to shock you or make you feel bad, the point is to help people like me, who are really doing pretty okay, keep perspective and be grateful for the blessings they have, even if inspiration feels a little short.  Having time to worry about inspiration or passion IS a blessing in itself.

As mentioned above, I work in a literal mansion.  My boss is such that he parks his seaplane (yes, seaplane) in the back yard, on the very nice lake that is shared among the local (rich) community.  Though it is not the point of this article, I want to make a point of assuring you that my boss is 1. Generally a good man.  2. Gives a GREAT deal of charity and pays a great deal of taxes without complaint.  -and- 3. Does not come from a wealthy family.  He’s built and earned what he has, more than once.

Anyway, as his Executive Assistant (you can call me Alfred) I assist in running his business, finances, calendar, estate, grounds, etc.  So as mentioned I spend the majority of my time in this huge, immaculate home.  Another staff member of ours – let’s call her Jan – comes once a week with an associate of hers to do a full cleaning of the house, laundry, etc. She is originally from Jamaica, in her late-40s, and her and I have a friendly, joking, semi-abusive relationship.  My boss has known her for over a decade (before he even moved into this mansion) and has treated/paid her well consistently.  He is even looking into the best way to provide for her retirement in the future, as she has never had her own means of obtaining one.   Not that she’ll need it anytime soon, because while she’s easygoing and friendly, she’s also tough, I mean really tough.

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Our cleaning lady would kill you son.

I’ve visited Jamaica before via cruise ship.  I know, I know, that’s not the “real” Jamaica. But all you need to do is book an excursion that takes you out of the tourist area and if you’re paying attention you very quickly get an impression of the reality many native Jamaicans face.  While there are most certainly well-developed, colorful, historical towns, hotels, and restaurants, just outside the walls of the tourist area in Falmouth, things get progressively bleaker until the reality of literal poverty is staring you in the face.  They make the best of it; You could see people smiling, laughing, and living, but they have adjusted, or have never know the extent of the comforts and security we have here in the US (despite us needing to be made great… again…)

Jan, and her family are from that kind of life.  She’s happy to be here with her longtime friend, making a life for herself and her daughter here in the US that would be near impossible for the rest of her family back in Jamaica.  She sends them money and support, and shows me pictures of the gatherings she attends when she goes to visit them.  She is especially proud of their Sunday clothes, when they get dressed up for church.

The other day she pulled out her phone and was showing me pictures of her son and some of their extended family still living in Jamaica.  She has never married, and when I asked her if her children were intentional she just smiled at me as if I were Jon Snow and knew nothing.  In this particular photo set though, I commented on her son’s sense of style.  Even by US standards, he was decked out in a dark suit with a light purple tie, matching vest and sunglasses to complete the look.

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That style.

That was when she casually showed me the next picture.  It was of a young boy (I think she said he was thirteen) hanging from a tree by a rope tied around his neck.  Her nephew had decided that his life there wasn’t worth continuing, and… before they took him down, they took photos.  She continued that her son was wearing his best to that boy’s funeral because he had been like a brother, and it was the best way to honor his life.  The whole time she spoke casually and easy about this, as if this were just another part of life like a thunder storm or the flu.  But then, for a lot of people in the world, possibly even the majority, it is.

Many of us in the US live blessed lives.  Absolutely we have poverty, I’ve shared with you before that I was homeless at times growing up and have memories of getting food from the food bank to eat.  But much harder than I ever had it is the racism that is still coming to light, when growing up as a minority here (especially if you’re poor) can be, literally, deadly.  And while a lot of us see it on the news here, and it is wrong anytime, anywhere, in some places it’s so common that it’s not even a headline.

My point is not to say that we don’t need to get better as a culture in the United States (or wherever I end up should Emporer Trump come to power,) because we do.  We have to be better because we have infinitely more opportunity than so many more places in the world.  If there’s anything the human race is good at, it’s squandering its available advantages by focusing on trivial things (like… not feeling inspired…)  But that photo of the boy hanging from a tree, because life was actually very hard there and he couldn’t make it, is something that reminds me of this responsibility.  It gives a lot of perspective to how blessed the majority of us are here and reminds me that, at the very least, first and foremost, I (we) need to do our best to not be a part of the problems in our own culture.

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This.. should be appreciated.

People like Jan can come here, and work hard, and probably never have a life as decadent as my boss (or possibly even me.)  But because she has an inherently different perspective, and the appreciation for the many things we take for granted (including our way of life itself,) there’s a good chance that she may often be happier than those of us that lose our perspective from time to time.  Happiness is relative.  That’s why people with far more money than a windbag like Trump are secretly (or not so secretly) miserable.  Meanwhile those who give away what little they have beyond their own survival enjoy happiness that eludes the majority of the world.

There’s no recipe for it either. It’s individual… relative. Giving away everything or becoming a monk won’t make everyone happy.  Nor will winning the lottery (as people have demonstrated over and over) or becoming famous.  I believe the secret (even if I’m having trouble with it currently) exists in curbing your expectations and being as grateful as possible for the blessings you have. We deserve the good things that happen to us, on whatever level (so long as you do not intentionally harm somebody for those things.) There is no need for guilt, just gratitude for whatever good things come (as opposed to the trap of being sad about what does not.)

It is an unavoidable truth of this world that some people live through horrible circumstances, and maybe the silver lining (no, I’m not saying it’s ever worth it…  it never is) for those who can overcome those things is the ease with which they appreciate simple things that others might well take for granted.  Everyone has a story, and sometimes by learning about others, it helps you put your own in perspective.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

 

Always Be Honest With Yourself (And Others.)

“To thine own self be true…” – Shakespeare

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” -Freud

“If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule – Never lie to yourself.” – Coelho

This reoccurring theme throughout the ages is simple, but they don’t tell you have fucking difficult it actually is.  I say this with no bitterness as I’ve been focused on keeping myself honest for almost a decade now. Though I feel like I’ve shared a bit of that backstory with you already… for those of you just joining us, long story short, I was a lying, manipulative asshole from my teenage years all the way up past the quarter-century mark of my life.  I paid for it, learned from it and the one shining lesson above all else that I embraced was as stated above: Be honest with yourself first.

At first it was easy.  My lies exposed, my life had shattered and come crumbling down around me.  So many lies over so many years meant I didn’t even actually know who I was.  Through all the attempts to be whatever I thought people wanted me to be, I actually began to buy into my own bullshit.  And so, when said bullshit was cleared away, there was simply nothing.  A husk, an empty shell stripped bare, an empty barrel with any trace of identity laying somewhere in the bottom of it.  The easy part of this phase was that I had nothing to lose.

When you don’t care about anything, there is no reason to lie.

You always know where he's coming from.

You always know where he’s coming from.

So I went on for a while as a non-filtered, brutally honest asshole.  Abrasive, uncaring, broken.  I severed ties with people whom had similar habits in lying that I had.  In fairness I did try to educate them in the futility of that lifestyle, but like any drug it’s an ugly and destructive habit that is not so easily escaped.  But I absolutely could not stand to be around it any more, so I left.  After a while on my own I found those that respected and had the resilience for my abrasive honesty, but only some of them could actually handle it.  The others felt they needed to change me, to fix me.  The truth is I did need fixing, but not the way they thought.  In the end it backfired on them because everything I represented came straight from the source, and when you’re in touch with your core like that – a direct link – nothing gets skewed.

But although that sounds ideal, it was miserable.  Brutal, abrasive honesty with nothing to lose is lonely and broken and mostly incapable of operating in our society.  Eventually I began to value things and people in various ways.  Not (to this day) on an ideal level of love, but they became important nonetheless, and I was able to at least partially convey that to them (admittedly, some attempts went better than others.)  I began to develop a filter.  I still would not lie, and to this day I keep that tenant.  But I began to withhold things for the sake of others, and maybe (without realizing it) for the sake of myself.

Many say that withholding is the same as lying, but I can’t quite get behind that.  It’s situational, it depends on what you withhold from who, and why.  It’s a grey area.  Obviously if you are withholding relevant information from somebody that trusts you, then it is probably as destructive and deceptive as lying.  So yes, in that case it’s along the same lines.  This also includes “protecting” somebody from being hurt when they have every right to the information you have.

On the other hand, withholding information that falls into the lines of gossip about another, or exposes the secrets of somebody that trusts you is a virtuous thing.  You have the information perhaps because you were involved or because they confided in you, but their secret is not yours to tell, even if that means that you must also withhold something about yourself that you might not normally.

But like all grey areas, all of those rationalizations are a delicate balance… sometimes only a step away from falling back into the habits of lying and deceit for the sake of self.  This balance must be carefully maintained, and in every case it must start with you.

Situational... but clever.

Situational… but clever.

It is easy to say “I’m honest with myself, and I’ve proven it so I can relax.”  But that’s a trap, and one I believe I may be falling into.  Don’t get me wrong, I still abhor lying outwardly and choose to be (at times) uncomfortably forthcoming.  But inwardly I think it’s easy to become careless and I might very well be experiencing the results of that.

You see, the key to remember when endeavoring to be honest with yourself is to remember who you are.  But the complicated aspect of that, is that who you are changes. Often. Sometimes gradually, sometimes near-instantly (and with an abundance of cosmic energy if you’re especially cool.)  Being honest with yourself is a constant exercise in checking yourself against who you are, and in order to do that, you have to be ready to consistently accept some really unpleasant truths about yourself.  Then, once you’ve pinpointed where you’re weak and ugly, you have to be willing to accept and then be outwardly honest about those faults through both words and action.  This is the process of improving those things and therefore making yourself a more balanced, ultimately happier person.

On the same turn, you need to be really honest about what you like about yourself and what your strengths are.  You would think this would be easy, but insecurity has a way of diminishing these attributes to you.  It’s a defense mechanism that your mind puts in place when society starts teaching you that it’s bad to be different, or to like certain things depending on who you are, or any of the five billion other idiotic standards society tries to program into you from a young age.

So what’s the point?  Why put so much effort into checking yourself when you could just act naturally and let that be who you are?  Well, as I’ve been finding out through a number of difficult situations lately, if you don’t pay attention to who you are and what you’re about right now. You fall into the trap of personal rationalization.  Instead of rationalizing your thoughts or actions outwardly, you do it inwardly and in regards to who you actually are.  So you create this ideal image of who you are in your mind without the gut check.  Instead of paying attention to how you feel about a particular situation or action you take, you create a persona and begin to check yourself against that as if it’s who you are.  This is the lie, and one that many people intentionally fall into.

fine,honest,hurt,life,quotes,sad-cda72d0c8b592856321a43478cf8d32f_hBut the problem with believing your own persona, is that who you really are deep down doesn’t go away.  If you’re really, really lucky it might adapt itself to your persona, but the vast majority of the time, it will instead sabotage it. If you don’t face it, the person you really are will sabotage you.  Have you seen when seemingly powerful people have massive breakdowns?  What about celebrities that have it all and then abruptly crack or even die?  This list of causes is endless: Drugs, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, or general crazed, reckless behavior but it all comes down to the fact that those suffering in those cases were lying to themselves.  About who they were, where they were weak, how they felt or what they needed help with.  Celebrities are extreme cases because they live in extreme circumstances, but none of us (not even me) are immune.

So, for your sake, take some time to get to know you.  Explore how you feel about things, people and the world completely separate of what anyone else thinks is best for you.  Once you’ve done that, make sure you keep doing that as you change and grow and feel differently about things.  Don’t lose touch with who you are and absolutely do not fall into the trap of rationalizing who you are – to yourself first – and then to anyone else.  There is no rationalizing who and what you are at your core, you simply are. Though it takes some balance to know what to allow to the surface for others to see, you must accept yourself within raw and unfiltered.  When you have a foundation of honesty such as that, it is both liberating and empowering.  You know who you are, and nobody can take that from you.

What Exactly Is It About #911 You Plan To #NeverForget?

This is not a happy, fluffy post. This is not a thoughtful and peaceful post. This post will piss some of you off. In fact, I might even lose a couple friends over this, but that’s okay because if I do, fundamentally we wouldn’t have worked out anyway. But if you do plan to run off at some point, I ask that in the name of whatever our relationship up to this point has meant, you finish reading because I can’t promise all of this will come out coherently and in the order I intend, and maybe something, at some point will resonate with you a little. Maybe.

So today is the anniversary of a tragic natural disaster. Yep. Natural. I say this because you, and all those around you, are the single worst disaster that nature has ever come up with. Worse than earthquakes, category five hurricanes and the black plague put together. Your kind has murdered more life on this planet than any other force. Period.

lets-stop-destroying-our-mother-earthWhat’s worse is that your general level of accountability (as a species) for being said disaster is proportionately microscopic compared to the damage you’ve done and continue to do. Now I say “you” because I’m talking to you. But I’m not excluding myself. I do plenty of things on a daily basis that cause harm to my environment and the living things around me. Some of it is necessary for my own continued survival (such as cooking food and destroying living bacteria) and some of it is not (such as producing waste from my consumption that ultimately damages the environment.) So I’m no innocent, at all, in fact I’m the first to tell many people close to me that I’m a relatively evil creature. But at least I know it.

What prompted me to write this… what grates at me like an itch I just had to scratch is the sheer amount of pompous mindlessness and ridiculous American elitism that stems from the anniversary of this disaster. The divide that is celebrated by people that weren’t even born or able to comprehend what was happening when this happened by using trendy hashtags.

Never forget? Never forget what!? That your brother’s, uncle’s dog was friends with somebody who knew somebody that died that day? And because of that you feel cool wearing your patriotic colors, openly hating on billions of people, and tossing up hashtags on social media so people can see how like Captain America you are? This shit is the problem. If that’s you, you’re part of the problem, and you will play a part in CREATING more of these disasters. And it’s not even your fault if you’re that young, because you’ve been taught that by those around you who validate themselves and whatever they feel (fear, hate, pride, whatever…) about this disaster by spouting off bullshit regarding the evil people in whatever flavor of the week it is.

On this day fourteen years ago, some ignorant, extremist humans that falsely represented a particular religion gave a huge amount of other ignorant humans what they falsely feel is justification to hate an entire culture. That is what happened, and that is only what happened. Everything else was done by those who had nothing to do with the original actions.   Countless more terror and harm was caused by those claiming to be the good guys… to help, by bringing forth divine retribution for these horrible actions no matter the cost. They all succeeded. Those evil men on that plane succeeded and continue to because you people want an excuse to hate, and by god it’s your right as an American to take it. Further, your own people have used that same rationale against you to repress you and further their own agendas. How easily you are manipulated by hate and fear.

The faces of duty.

The faces of duty.

Now that I’m sure you’re suitably pissed off at how ignorant I am, or how narrow-minded I am being, let me clarify a few things. This is not about the soldiers. Soldiers sign up to do a job, a necessary job, and they follow orders. Without them, legions of evil and murderous people from all over the world, both within and outside our country would indeed invade and subjugate, murder or otherwise destroy us. Soldiers have to exist because hateful, animalistic humans exist and societies need to protect themselves from them. It’s a dirty job and they have to do it, end of story. I understand that, I support that, and I support them regardless of the many ridiculous and evil decisions their associates and superiors may make at times. And I know that many of them suffered themselves as a result of this tragedy and the decisions made as a result of it.

I am also most certainly not speaking of the actual victims of this tragedy. Not just those that lost somebody dear to them in the attack, or the live witnesses, or the brave responders, but those whose families suffered as a result of the circumstances that have followed. There are very few things more dangerous than a scared, cornered animal, and that’s how 9/11 made a lot of people, possibly most of our country, feel. Thus prompting them to do some very stupid, hateful things to very innocent people.

Most importantly, I am absolutely not speaking to the little girl who is probably not even Muslim, but looks like she could be and has her head covered in a similar manner. Today perhaps more likely than any other day this year, she might be struck in the head by a rock, brick or bottle thrown by somebody who thinks it’s okay to #NeverForget that he hates people, even though he lives thousands of miles away from what happened. In truth, both of those people are victims, one who has been taught to hate by the rallying call of “Merica’!” and the other, an innocent who is afraid that people will think that she is like the evil men on those planes when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Pass it down to the next generation...

Pass it down to the next generation…

The people I’m speaking to are those who perpetuate this hate and teach it to those who know no different. I’m speaking to those who make this tragedy so much more important than so many other tragedies because, let’s face it, it’s popular and of course “oh my god how dare this happen here! In the promised land of America instead of some other part of the world where it’s much more common… and still happening.” The irony, of course being that the men on those planes were also taught to hate, that’s what got them on those planes to begin with, the rallying cry was (falsely) for “Allah” instead of “Merica’ ” but in truth the difference ends there and the people here who are filled with that hate for them are far closer to the men on those planes than the little girl who looks like she could be, and isn’t.

That’s right, some of you that are far removed from this disaster but still use #911 to #NeverForget and promote mindless patriotism are dangerously close to the thinking of the men who caused this tragedy. It doesn’t end there, because that same hate is rampant towards everything that you believe is against you, your people, or your god. And when it comes down to that, there is very little difference. Because I’ve seen beneath your cool, civilized exterior, and I know what you would do to some of the people you are afraid of if you thought you could get away with it. Maybe you’ve risen above generalizing a primarily peaceful religion as full of terrorists. Maybe your flavor of hate is against black people, white people, gay people, straight people, female people, male people, little people or big people. But no matter your flavor, the moment you hate any particular group of people for simply being what they are, especially if it’s because you believe your god says you should, you are resonating with the men who caused and participated in the tragedy fourteen years ago.
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Speaking of your god… Like many ideal concepts, religion can be a wonderful and amazing thing full of light. But let’s face it, humans suck at ideal concepts. For every one person who understands and does it right, there will be two more manipulative or just plain ignorant fucks who will twist it to their own flawed vision. Because of this, they fail. They fail the people who rely on them, and they fail the people outside of them. Instead of light, they breed hate. Instead of enlightenment, they breed ignorance. Instead of truth, they breed deceit and manipulation. This is not the fault of any god, this is the fault of ignorant people who are given free will and fail at it. It leaves the people who do it right outnumbered and powerless. Those people, who instinctively understand the true purpose of religion is to lift people, all people, up and try to bring them together are left struggling to not drown in the sea of those vying for power and pushing their (in)human agendas.   That, my friends is exactly what caused this natural, human disaster fourteen years ago. And by the way, this wasn’t even close to the first time slaughter and senseless death has occurred in the name of religion… but of course you already know that. Where are those hashtags? I guess it’s not trendy or American enough.

So you won’t find me posting pictures of the twin towers, or firefighters that may or may not have even been there (but it’s a cool dramatic photo anyway.) And you won’t find me using #911 (seriously how confusing is that?!) or #NeverForget past this case because I wasn’t anywhere near the disaster and it’s had very little effect on my day-to-day life outside of giving some of the asshats that used to run my country the liberty to make bad decisions. I’m not going to tell you to #NeverForget what happened fourteen years ago today, because if you care that much you should be paying attention to this shit every day. And it’s not about reminding others to not forget, it’s about reminding yourself.
quote-we-should-never-forget-that-god-granted-us-the-power-to-reason-so-that-we-would-do-his-barack-obama-109-58-14
As I said above, I’m not trying to play holier than thou. I’ll be the first to admit there is an evil thing inside of me. It hates, it wants to hurt/kill people it thinks are wrong and it is lazy, apathetic and unmotivated when it comes to helping the community as a whole. But my saving grace is that I know better, and I try to do the three things I would ask any of you to do: Be aware, control it, and try to be a better person.

You want something to #NeverForget?

#NeverForget that to some people you are only a couple of steps away from being the men on that plane.
#NeverForget that hate and ignorance caused this and it continues to cause countless deaths and tragedies every day. #NeverForget that just because we live in a country that spends more on defense then the next sixteen countries on the list combined, we are not any more special than the people who do not, and who suffer tragedies like this yearly, monthly, weekly or daily.
#NeverForget that instead of posting empty, inspiring images and hashtagging them all over social media, you could be looking within yourself and tending to that part of you that is afraid of something different.
#NeverForget that when your fear produces hate as a reflex, you can fight that, and think, and do the one thing that humans are capable of that sets them apart from the animals they also recklessly destroy.
#NeverForget that you can reason past your emotions and knee-jerk reactions in order to try to be a better person. #NeverForget that you can support victims of tragedies and disasters quietly and consistently in your own way without needing an event to spur you to action. And…
#NeverForget that the first and most important step to solving any problem is being aware that you might be a part of it, and if so doing your best to minimize that.

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An Elaboration On Love

Almost nine years now I’ve been single. This has not been due to lack of interest by outside parties, just not the proper alignment. As I’ve said previously I am fortunate to know some absolutely amazing and incredible people. Just not the right person for what it must be. You see, for all my lack of emotion and self-centeredness, I still believe in some level of magic.   I’ve elaborated in the past about “it” and the magic that was, but I want to share about the magic that can be, that will be. Because if it doesn’t, it may not happen at all (which would… complicate things considering my eventual desire for children.)

It is said that when you are dying your whole life flashes before your eyes. You become distant and the world around you happens in slow motion as your brain processes (possibly for the last time) the events that led you to this point and made up your life. Depending on who you ask or what you believe, this is simply your brain going into emergency mode and firing on every channel it can in a panic before it shuts down forever. Others will say it’s a much more pleasant experience, that you’re recapping your life and experiences to this point before moving on to the next inevitable and unstoppable phase of your existence. To me, love is a little bit like the latter.

That moment...

That moment…

I believe that when you find the right person, the one who aligns with you in the right ways in both perfection and imperfection and is as drawn to you as you are to them, a moment will happen (perhaps many, but at least the first, pivotal one.) This moment will feel a lot like the second explanation of the moments before death above: Everything that was your life up to that point will converge into a singular moment and purpose, and from that singularity something new will be born, like a Phoenix burning to ashes and arising new… reborn.

It could be a small gesture, even a shared look, or it could be a dramatic and well orchestrated event, but that moment will come when you know that it’s time, and that you’ve found what you have both been looking for. You’ll know that everything leading up to this moment has passed, and something new is beginning, something that is powerful, hopeful and made up of the best of two individuals. Something that includes all that led them to this point: friends, family and experiences and uses that foundation to become something even greater, something that shatters limits and boundaries, something infinite. I believe that is power of love and that is the feeling that comes from it and fills the two souls that partake of it. Most importantly, I believe it exists.

This is, perhaps, the least pragmatic and realistic of my beliefs, but I know it exists simply because I can comprehend it… I can actually feel it as I imagine the possible scenarios in the future with the one whom I will share such things. To be sure, this person does not yet have a face, and the circumstances would vary greatly depending on their life and experiences that led them to this point, but all those details will simply feed into the next step.

35 years later, still taking adorable selfies.

35 years later, still taking adorable selfies.

It is this love, this power, that I believe fuels those who pull off the true long-term relationships. I speak of the adorable people that have grown old together over fifty years and celebrate their anniversaries as if no time has passed at all. I speak of the families that are tested, encountering great hardships and pulling together to come out stronger in the end. I speak of the undying, unyielding light that outshines the great darkness this world and it’s people can bring to bear. I speak of perfection and light born from not from desperation, compromise, impatience or mistakes… I speak of something right, that is the product of two imperfect beings that have found something perfect for them both through their bond. It is never the absence of doubt, fear or despair, but the strength to conquer them. All of those things and more are love and it’s power.

Additionally, I know and believe that “love” comes in many forms among many people. I would wager to say that just as there are many shades of any color, love also occurs in a spectrum that is infinitely larger than that. It is not for me (or anyone) to say what you love or that your love is true or not. It is not for me (or anyone) to say that any love is right or wrong, real or not. I speak of a specific love, one that I am familiar with and believe in. But I will never tell somebody that they are not in love with their life, their pets, their religion or even their money. Perhaps I could argue that love of some things has much more obvious drawbacks than others, but that is a discussion for another post, another time, and to be honest I’m not certain that at it’s core I could effectively argue with any real love, no matter how I perceived it.

0610087d21f25e9b18b7b784f8b59a97More realistically speaking, I also know that such love can exist and then, over time perhaps, diminish. I don’t think it is destroyed, but I would say it is possible for it to become buried under the many things in this life that can get in the way of it. When this happens it does not mean that it never existed, or even that it ceased to exist now, but whether or not it can be dug up and saved is solely at the discretion of those experiencing it. It’s easy to take the stance of “It wasn’t real if it doesn’t last.” But I don’t think that’s true, it’s more likely that it’s simply locked away, or that it has changed into something else. I suppose my point is, though I spoke ideally above in an enduring and everlasting love, I am also hesitant to discount love (including my own) that has reached those heights and, for better or worse, changed into something else. Perhaps due to timing, circumstances or one or both of those involved not being ready, just because it would ideally last forever, doesn’t mean it has to. It also doesn’t mean it was any less real.

But in the meantime, as with most things in this life, I think we need to shoot for the ideal, to believe in it. I don’t think there is any less ideal or less powerful concept than the belief in love and all that comes with it. I know it exists, I know it is out there somewhere and even if it takes another decade or more to find it, when that moment comes, I know it will be worth it.

Ramadan Retrospective 2015

I know some of you are just waiting for one of my edgier or “NSFW” posts, and I’ve been keeping ideas that come to me written down, but timing and proximity are important so you’ll have to stay tuned a bit longer.

Ramadan this year was a whole different animal… specifically a nocturnal one.  It’s a bit ironic that during the longest days of the year possible (we crossed the summer solstice) my schedule took place primarily at night.   Prior to Ramadan beginning this year I was discussing it with a friend of mine and she suggested I swap day and night (Fast at night instead.)  Though I gave it consideration, I decided that it undermined the definition of Ramadan if I wasn’t doing it in unison with the billions of participants worldwide – meaning if I took it upon myself to swap the time-frames, I was no longer practicing anything that resembled “Ramadan” fasting and was instead simply observing a personal fast with similar rules.  It did occur to me that my original purpose – to support one of my best friends in her fast – might be better served if I swapped my fast because we’re in opposite time zones, but in the end I decided I should stick to the structure that everyone else followed regardless of advantageous personal circumstances.

Oh sweet face-stuffing...

Oh sweet face-stuffing…

Though it was almost definitely much easier than those with a day job, this year provided some unique challenges and taught me a few things.  The days were right about sixteen hours long, meaning I was only really sleeping through between one-third and half of the fast.  The first part (just after a hyper hydrating and face-stuffing breakfast) was the easy part, but I noticed that as time went on I would get hungrier, faster.  It got to the point that ninety minutes after stuffing myself I would be hungry again and over fourteen hours would remain before I had the chance to address that.  For whatever reason that hadn’t happened as much for me in previous years, so I can only theorize that my body schedule had something to do with it.

The one downside to sleeping the latter third of the fast, is how you feel when you wake up at hour sixteen.  If you think getting out of bed in the morning is rough now, try doing that when your body is in emergency conservation mode due to lack of food or water.  The first issue is that actually regaining consciousness is harder… I slept past my “end fast” alarm on several occasions, causing me to continue fasting even longer, which then continues to amply the effects of the fast (as specified in my previous post when I went nearly twenty hours.  It did not go well.)  The second issue is that even when you wake up, you pretty much feel like you’ve been run over by a truck.  It’s actually pretty similar to moderate hangover as both of these states are caused by your brain being dehydrated.  Waking up is hard, staying awake is harder.  Fighting that desire to fall back over and not feel like crap any more is tough, especially when even sitting up takes a monumental amount of effort.  You’re weak, you have no energy and you’re trying to tell your body to wake up when all it wants to do is shut down to conserve your energy.  But eventually the promise of cool, refreshing water will give you the strength to fight the amplified gravity and draw you out to the kitchen where you can chug your bodyweight in the clear, clean nectar of the clouds.  Except you can’t, because if you do you’ll be sick.  You have to go slow, very slow, and work your way up to food, coffee or whatever else you need.  But once you get past that barrier, you’re newly-nourished body will feel great, right?  Well…

This is not a motivated face.

This is not a motivated face.

This is another part that was new to me this year.  You see, normally you go to work just after beginning your fast.  This means you start strong and deteriorate throughout the day.  Then you break your fast at night, and usually go to bed pretty early to recover and wake up early to eat before you resume your fast.  But this year my opposite schedule meant I went to work after breaking my fast.  In theory this would work well since I can eat/drink while I’m at work (the fact I’m driving actually kinda made it essential.)  But in reality I encountered a new issue: post-fast lethargy.  You see, after sixteen or more hours without food or water, your body doesn’t simply wake up and return to peak condition because you finally gave in to it’s demands.  It needs time to recover and rebuild with the resources you provided.  Normally you break your fast and head to bed so it can make you ready for the next day, but now I broke my fast and tried to work while my body was trying to rebuild.  The result was a constant battle to escape weariness, sluggishness and a mental fog.  Only a considerable amount of coffee allowed me to eventually pull free of it, but my prep time before work increased dramatically and sometimes included additional short naps (voluntary or otherwise.)

This is by no means harder than dealing with your slowly-deteriorating condition throughout a normal workday, but it is an interesting byproduct that I’d never encountered before (bedtimes had to be pretty structured to wake up in time for the brutally early breakfast.)

Finally, this year moreso than any previous years I was alone in my fasting.  Though it’s nobody’s fault, I did not make it to my Muslim friend’s house for Iftar (he invited me several times, just didn’t work out.)  My best friend is on another continent and there were no curious supporters trying it out this round.  This year I even lacked a workplace full of curious people to relate my experience to.  However, with all that said, where last year I questioned the process, positivity and relevance of my fasting, this year there were no questions.  I did it and when it was done, I was a little sad to let the routine go.  If anything, perhaps because of the ease of my schedule, it didn’t seem like quite enough.  I even found it easier than normal to find some local homeless folk to feed in order to make up my time at MAU.  This year, everything happened in stride on my terms, so it was much simpler to work around it.  The result was that it seemed it was over as quickly as it started.  All the normal symptoms were there, but because it was all on my terms, the invasiveness was minimal.

Eid is the holiday after Ramadan that marks the end of fasting.

Eid is the holiday after Ramadan that marks the end of fasting.

Perhaps on some level my convenient situation was “cheating”, and perhaps my experience wasn’t as profound as a result.  But I am reminded of what Leslie would tell me about how in the middle-east, shops change hours, employers grant earlier shifts and mid-day time off and the entire culture shifts to accommodate Ramadan… or rather the shift is built-in to their predominantly Muslim culture.  So from a certain point of view, you could say that my experience this year was closer to that sort of experience (situational support as opposed to community support but similar result.)  On the other hand, I’ve also heard of Muslim folk who place little importance on Ramadan and simply go through the motions because they feel they have to.  They cheat the fast and take the situation very lightly.  I don’t participate because I have to, but I still want to be mindful of the experience as opposed to simply fasting because I have for the past few years.  But then again, if that were the case I probably wouldn’t be writing about it.

It is safe to say that this year was highly unique.  I don’t believe next year will be anything like this one was.  There will be new situations, new challenges and I might even look back and wish the subsequent years were as simple as this one has been.  If nothing else I’m glad I did it and glad I understand as much as I do about it.

Eid Mubarak.

Of Laziness, Fasting, Discipline and Trying to Learn From It All

The alarm shot through my instantly-forgotten dream like a blazing torch of sound; shattering my warm, comfortable darkness to reveal the last bit of daylight fading into evening outside.  Last I knew it had been mid-afternoon as the storms outside had gently drawn me off to dreamland.  My bed is entirely too comfortable,  and it was not necessarily time to wake up, but it was time to break my fast and I had learned a week prior that extending the fast beyond the long, sixteen-hour summer days was a very bad idea.

Migraines apparently also make you into a telepathic skeleton.

Migraines apparently also make you into a telepathic skeleton.

After returning from MAU, I had passed out without resetting my alarms and had woken up at 11AM the following day.  The issue was, I hadn’t eaten anything since the airport in Atlanta the previous evening and had only had coffee and ginger ale to drink on the flight home.  So now, a little over twelve hours after my last calorie of any sort, I had roughly ten more hours to go.  In situations like this, it might be considered appropriate to break your fast.  I had just come back from traveling and I realize now that fasting for so long could actually harm me.  But at the time I didn’t know that, and I’m nothing if not stubborn, so I pressed on through the day and felt relatively good… until around hour 19.  After that my condition had rapidly declined into near-uselessness: basically zero energy, fighting nausea despite a very empty stomach and the feeling that a white-hot metal rod was being driven into my brain from the back of my head (I was really worried this was going to trigger a migraine as it was a similar feeling, but fortunately it subsided.)  Thankfully all it took was proper hydration / nourishment and a nap to get me feeling right again, but the experience taught me that after twenty-four hours or so without food and water (especially), I would be basically useless.  It also taught me the importance of my regiment – even if I wasn’t hungry or meant to sleep through breakfast (around five AM during Ramadan), waking up to drink a couple glasses of water before returning to bed was a minimum requirement.

So the other day I had awoken to my “water” alarm and for a few moments after drinking it, I considered staying awake and getting a jump-start on my driving for the evening.  I’ve found myself wasting more and more time on distractions recently before heading out to drive.  It’s silly too, because I actually enjoy myself the majority of the time I spend driving.  On a few recent days it’s taken a bad mood and improved it.  But getting to the point I’m ready to drive I’ve been so, so lazy. It’s easy to blame Ramadan and the extended effects of fasting, but I honestly feel like that’s a weak cop-out in my case.  Mind you this isn’t anything too new, I’ve always been relatively lazy by nature, especially when I’m overly comfortable.  But right now I shouldn’t be.  Needless to say, that day I went back to bed until my second alarm sounded a couple hours later.

My extended time out of a “real” job combined with my laziness has taken it’s toll on my plans.  Yes, I’ve got the freedom I wanted in spades, but as is always the case when things are out of balance, the price I pay is heavy.  My goals this year were to: 1. Sleep seven and a half hours of sleep per night more often than not.  2. Save enough money to visit my best friend in Japan.  And, 3. Save enough money to purchase a pro-level full-frame camera as to further my photography.  In all three, a little over half-way through the year, I have failed.

Delayed, but not forgotten!

Delayed, but not forgotten!

In fairness I had the savings for Japan ready for the right ticket, and had I purchased it and kept on as I was, It’s highly possible I could’ve worked out the camera before the end of the year.  But then I was put in a position to make a decision about my future and how I wanted to live my life, so I made the only choice I thought I could, and it cost me those goals.  For now.  Uber is paying the bills but I’ve been too relaxed about my diligence and thus my savings have been slowly dwindling to nothing.  Now, my efforts with Uber must be more focused if I am to maintain my life at it’s current level, meanwhile my job search should intensify so I can get myself back to the income I am used to and begin working on my goals and plans.

So the solution boils down to a word that has an undeservingly negative context: Discipline.  More specifically, self discipline.  Since we were children we’re taught to dislike this concept; discipline is what happens to you when you do something bad.  But that’s not actually what the concept is.  Discipline is an investment you are making now so that you can continue to develop and accomplish things through proper actions.  It is this accomplishment that ultimately makes us happy, wether it be professional, personal, mental or even sexual, when you feel like you’ve done something, and done it well you are naturally a happier person.  It is this very concept that allows people to maintain their balance properly and be both happy and productive (so long as you balance it out with appropriate rest.)   When you’re naturally inclined to be lazy like me, self-discipline is what keeps you from swinging too far to the rest side, thus diminishing your accomplishments as I have more recently.

"A healthy ego is nothing but a sense of self-worth and identity."

“A healthy ego is nothing but a sense of self-worth and identity.”

A lack of accomplishment has a major effect on your ego, and if not corrected can send you into a downward spiral of even less accomplishment and more negativity.  I’ve noticed for instance that I haven’t been nearly as social or proactive in any sort of dating recently because somewhere deep down I don’t feel like I have the means to properly “court” somebody – this is a direct result of a lack of accomplishment affecting my ego.  The answer, of course, is to be more self-disciplined, therefore increasing my productivity, reinforcing my (healthy) ego and ultimately giving me more access to the resources that allow me to operate how I’d like to.

It’s fine line, balancing this freedom to do what I want, when I want, with the structure I require to keep myself productive.  Since I’ve been paying attention to my own issues, I’ve already begun to make changes in my schedule and mentality – allowing more time for Uber at high volume times and pushing myself when I know I’m distracting myself or being overly lazy.  I’ve already began to see improvement as well and with Ramadan ending this week, whatever excuse I feel I might have will be gone.  My freedom allows me to customize my schedule, and that should make me more productive but that requires that I reprogram some of my lazier, more wasteful habits.  That’s much easier said than done, but if I can pull it off, I can probably at least still accomplish the seven and half hours of sleep goal while keeping the rest of the balance in check.
Stay tuned!

Martial Arts University 2015 – Afterthoughts

First, this post is far longer than average, and I’ve already trimmed a bit, so bear with the novel and I hope the content keeps you entertained.  Second, I’m going to admit right away that I will have trouble writing as candidly here as I have for most entries. This is primarily because I realize that a fair amount of my audience from Facebook is comprised of students (and at least one Master) who are members of Martial Arts World. However, I am nothing if not honest and I do not wish or expect my opinions to be shared by them. In truth, anything that could be perceived as negative at any point in this post is a result of my own issues and not necessarily the fault of MAW or those who operate their schools.

The beginning of a long post, and more than just a hobby.

The beginning of a long post, and more than just a hobby.

With that disclaimer said, this was probably the best Martial Arts University thus far. Generally speaking the attitude and experiences were very positive. Grandmaster has greatly refined his speaking and philosophy to a level that is much easier for his students of all levels to digest. Meanwhile the team of Masters and CEOs that lead the week-long event appeared unified and supportive of one-another (for the most part…) Having been away for a time now, I found myself approaching the same questions with new answers and some level of uncertainty. I think the best approach in attempting to explain this to you is to quote some of said philosophy and comment on it so you have an understanding of the sort of discussions that go on both internally and externally.

“Discover who you really are. What do you do? What do you want to do?”

This is, and always has been difficult for me. At any given point what I want to do changes. I want to write, so right now I am writing. Am I a writer? Sure. But it is certainly not anything close to the majority of what I do.   I am also a Photographer, Graphic Designer, Executive Consultant, Mentor, Uber Driver, Assistant, Teacher and Martial Artist.

These are all things I want to do… sometimes. But some aren’t feasible as a career, some aren’t something I want very often and some, frankly, I’m just not good enough at. So then I’m left with the question of how to define myself. Which leads me to…

“Your habits make up who you are.”

 Well… shit. I don’t have the best habits, but I like them. What are my habits anyway? I try to write here at least once a week on average (months of hiatus notwithstanding… I DID say “try”) I take tons of photos on my iPhone and contrary to popular belief they are not all selfies and food porn… I currently drive much of the night and sleep much of the day (granted Ramadan facilitates that) and when not fasting I make it a point to do something physical (be it Running, Lifting or Martial Arts class) every other day. Meanwhile the search for ideal steady employment continues.

But that in itself is an entirely different question: Is what you do for work who you are? Some people say yes, others absolutely refuse to let their work define them. I’m not sure where I fall on that spectrum, except that I must find my work fulfilling or I will get bored easily. There must also be a good work/life balance. Many at the executive level preach more of a work/life synergy, but most of the people who do so successfully are the founders of the company to whom their work is more or less a part of them, even a hobby, so to them it will never feel the same as it does to any other employee who is there out of some level of necessity.

“Successful people often set their goals by their talents.”

Sometimes

Sometimes “mediocre” looks kinda cool though.

Well then what are my talents? I write this blog, but does that make me a good writer? (If we’re talking about editing, I think not, but perhaps content sometimes…) I’m a mediocre Martial Artist on the physical side. My photography skill is good, but unpracticed and still developing and my photo-manipulation work is meticulous but much slower than some of the pros I’ve seen.

My real talents are a bit more intangible: I’m highly adaptable, versatile and capable of adopting new concepts to a functional degree in a very short time. I have high mechanical reasoning ability that allows me to recognize systems (including people) and figure out how they work and what I need to do in order to alter them (as in repair or modify… or destroy in some cases.) This makes me relatively good at tech work, assistant work or anything involving multiple tasks over multiple disciplines. Basically I’m pretty good at finding the button and pushing it, wherever it may be.

But how does that translate to goal-setting? It means I can pretty much set my goals to do anything and everything and eventually reach them. It also means I will probably take a fair bit longer to do so and never quite to the level of somebody with a natural focused talent in any particular area. But with no clear talents, I suppose it is up to me to decide what to shift my energy towards and what goals to create.

“Positive goals with clear deadlines create purpose.”

Remember this?

Remember this?

Ah, my eternal weakness: “What do you want?” That’s why we set goals right? To achieve what we want?   Well as I said in my “Who Am I Anyway” section; I don’t know, I just want to “make it”. My only dream is that of the iconic “Christian Grey” style setting in which I stand at the top of a tower in a lavish marble-clad setting overlooking the city below me through floor to ceiling windows. There I watch the sun setting and smile because I finally made it.   But I don’t know what “it” is, and I don’t know how to get it, so there’s a small chance that will never happen simply because I can’t even decide what direction I want to go in to get there.

And then there’s the issue of family. Since I was a boy I’ve wanted children. I don’t know if it’s a biological thing or if I just like myself so much I want to make clones, but part of me feels that a happy family/children is one of the greatest legacies we can leave behind when we depart this world. However, trying to balance this dream with the one above will require a delicate balance, as I said, I want my children happy. Of course I have to find the right person to make those children with first, and almost nine years later the search continues.

“Without goals you have no reason to wake up early.”

 These days I don’t really…

“The moment we commit to a huge goal is the moment we invite obstacles into our life.”

This scares me less than anything else that was said, but I found it pretty profound. It’s just a really good way of saying once you’ve chosen your path, it’s going to be blocked in places and we have to work our way around in order to continue. I don’t mind the work as long as I can find the motivation.

“How can you lead others if you can’t lead yourself?”

50 Shades of Green at MAU.

50 Shades of Green at MAU.

About that motivation, the truth is I don’t much care about being the leader. Except that it drives me absolutely bonkers when the person who is supposed to be the leader is completely inept in some form. It usually boils down to either leadership skill or specific skills toward the task at hand, but I expect both from the person I choose to follow. When it’s obvious to me that I can do better, I feel motivated to either remove said leader, enable a replacement to somebody more qualified, or move on to somewhere that I feel is better suited for me.

More and more I’ve felt like perhaps despite my hesitance I am meant to lead in some capacity. I don’t fear it, I’ve been advising people for a long time, I just don’t care about the spotlight. Recognition among my peers is enough for me. But if I am to lead I need to figure out where I’m leading to, where I want to lead to, and to believe it’s best for everyone involved.

 “You cannot live for even four seconds without hope.”

While I understand that this is probably not meant to be literal, I believe I’m the exception. I have very long periods of simply existing. In fact, I find that hope is a dangerous thing because it is when that hope is combined with expectation that breeds disappointment. On the other hand, to walk without hope is to walk in darkness, so it is indeed necessary for happiness. But life doesn’t always have to be happy (certainly ideally so,) sometimes it’s okay for it to be grey for a while.

“If water stays in one place for too long, it becomes stagnant.”

Sometimes the flow is looks very still, but it is still moving.

Sometimes the flow looks very still, but it is still moving.

In context he meant that you must keep growing, learning and innovating to be successful in your life. But part of me also wants to relate this to “You’ve gotta keep moving.” Though I’ve traveled much in my time and lived in many places, where I sit now I the longest I’ve stayed still since I was a boy in the Seattle area. Obviously much has changed while I’ve remained here, but I have to admit a part of me was excited to move on to a new place again.

On the other hand though, remaining in one place, having a “base” is the best way to establish roots and relationships. Granted, as I will comment on later, I may not be great at forming long-lasting relationships on any level regardless of my location.

Closing and my MAU Insanity: Among them but not one of them.

 There’s a lot more than above, but this is enough for one post. The final admittance/revelation is that every year that I go to this thing, about halfway through it drives me a little insane. What I mean is that something in my normally composed self goes off-kilter and it throws me for a very odd, often negative loop. The all too familiar feeling of separation that I struggle with takes hold and despite being surrounded by hundreds of people, I feel alone. These camps almost always take place over the full moon cycle, so that’s one explanation as the full moon has been known to… unbalance me a bit (among other things.)

Another more obvious reason is that until this year I’ve always had the role of Grandmaster’s Assistant, which is much like I wrote above; among the students at camp, but separated because my focus is Grandmaster. There is both security and isolation in this position, and it is possible previous years have simply imprinted this mentality on this particular event. Further, the stress level for anyone who takes serving Grandmaster seriously has been quite high historically. It seems this year we saw a slightly more balanced, kinder grandmaster than in previous years, but this may also be because I was not directly involved with him this round.

Balance Pieces

Balance Pieces

With all that said, there is some evidence to support that this isn’t all in my head. With the exception of the Masters and some of the CEOs who are more familiar with me, the other students, (including those I was close to from my home school) for the most part regard me at a distance. There are exceptions of course, especially from a particularly outgoing school from the west coast, but in general it indeed feels like I am seen as not another student, but something else. Respected for the most part, but separated.

For instance, there was an abundance of photos taken, selfies, group pictures, and celebrations throughout camp and after testing on the final day. But never was I approached to be a part of these groups. I was not excluded purposefully (this is not a rant!) but more it was as if I was invisible. Sometimes I was of course, serving one of the Masters as I did required that I slip away at times, but other times I simply went about my business and was paid no mind. Again, this may simply be a matter of that being how it’s always been. As Grandmaster’s Assistant, even when I received my own Black Belt certificate two years ago, I had perhaps twenty minutes for pictures with a few close friends before I had to vanish.

The offset of this is that I have the honor of spending a great deal of time with Grandmaster and the Masters of my organization to the point I can speak my opinion over meals and discussions and be regarded with consideration and respect (that’s not to say other students wouldn’t, they simply have far less opportunity.) So that is, in effect, my “group of friends” as a substitute for the ones that pay me little attention since I stopped actively working for Martial Arts World.

Stay tuned!

Stay tuned!

Admittedly, my training has been sparse over the last eighteen months or so because I have little reinforcement from anyone other than my master. My peers that I trained with over the years have either left the organization or simply don’t much care when I try to motivate them to take class with me. Though I appreciate the training, a huge draw of martial arts has always been the people, and when you don’t have those people to train beside, or motivate you, motivating yourself becomes more difficult.

Fortunately this camp has renewed my resolve a bit, and renewed my selfishness. I have never needed people before and I don’t need them now. My plan is to train, refresh and test for the rank of instructor next year. When I do, I want to be qualified to do so in my own mind, meaning that even if my technique is not perfect, I know my philosophy, physical curriculum and the physics behind it well enough to pass it along. I will do it, and not for anyone but my master(s) and for myself. Hopefully along the way, new connections might form and I may not feel so isolated among my peers. If not, I’m pretty used to being different, and I’ll just have to take pride in that as well.  I can, and I will.