flirting with nihilism

shouting into the void with questions about 21st century living...

I've fallen in love with bullet journaling. Hard. I sought bullet journaling when I started trying to unplug from screens in order to get my attention back.

Before finally jumping on the hype train, I had looked into bullet journaling a few times over the last couple years. I had been intimidated and discouraged by the beautiful spreads I found during my research. And all I need is a little discourage.

A beautiful crafty bullet journal Photo from the official Bullet Journal website

I recently went to my local public library and picked up The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll, the creator of the bullet journal. I was delighted to see that Carroll keeps his journal minimalist and focuses on functionality rather than aesthetics. After reading Carroll's book, the concept made sense to me. I now steal a few ideas from reddit here and there and change them to fit my needs.

So now I'm a bullet journaling fiend. I've branded myself an evangelist and started spreading the word, like that annoying cousin who suddenly wants to talk to about “the unique opportunity to get in at the ground level and invest in something revolutionary”.

Initially, I was interested in bullet journaling because I wanted to stay organized and productive. Calendars and to-do apps weren't cutting it for me. I imagine one explanation could be that spending too much time in front of screens was zapping my cognition. Another could be the argument that we better retain whatever we write by hand. The bullet journal, like meditating, requires us to slow down and be more intentional, and so in that way, I do consider bullet journaling a practice in mindfulness.

I later realized that the bullet journal is a great way to document things. You know, like what a journal is supposed to do. And so I wonder if I'll ever go back and look at my old journals and entries and reminisce and maybe even marvel at all that I've forgotten.

And so I'm now faced with a new existential regret—I wish I'd been journaling all this time.

I'm not a very sentimental person, and these days I try to look forward rather than backward in time. People's memories are unreliable at best, and specific memories slip away more if we never reflect on them.

I can think of a few specific times in my life I wish I'd been journaling.

Summer camp days

During college, I worked three summers as a counselor at a camp for kids with special needs. My first summer was the summer before my freshman year of college. Each week brought the opportunity to meet kids with a variety of daily challenges, including:

  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Spina bifida
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Sickle cell anemia

Looking back, I can easily recall some important life lessons I learned during my time at camp.

We all want so many of the same things.

I realized that regardless of their challenges, the campers wanted many of the same things that the counselors wanted, most notably to feel acceptance and as if they belong. And then I realized that you can extend that to nearly everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. We're usually better able to accept others when we're able to understand them, so having learned about this shared struggle has gone a long way in developing empathy.

The importance of a good team

So many managers say that their company's greatest asset is its people. When I hear this, I usually roll my eyes because the phrase has become such a cliche. But the saying is in fact true. My last summer at the camp, I was made head counselor, and things ran pretty damn smoothly. I wish I could take all the credit, but the truth is that the directors got incredibly lucky with their hiring that summer. They somehow put together a phenomenal team with unbelievable chemistry.

The teams my previous two summers were good, but the team from that third summer took the prize. Those other counselors made my job ridiculously easy, and that was when I learned that I want to work with the best people whenever I have the opportunity.

The value of shared experience

Soldiers who have fought side by side in the same wars have a bond that needs no explanation. Even if we can't imagine what the two have seen together, we can understand that it's unlike what most of us will ever experience. That's how I feel when I look back at my time at that summer camp. Those counselors and I have a unique shared experience. We have perspectives that don't need to be explained between us. And if another counselor gave a good effort for just one summer, that says a lot about his character.

I wish I'd kept a journal of this time in my life because I know I've forgotten some great stories and funny moments. And I'm sure I could find a few more valuable life lessons if I could flip through the pages again. I also think I could have gotten some great material for a memoir.

College

Ah, college, the greatest four (or seven) years that no one remembers. It's not as if I'm unable to remember my college experience due to a lack of sobriety—I can't remember because it seems so long ago now and my memory has gone down the crapper over the last few years.

College was my first experience away from home...until my stepdad moved to my college town before my sophomore year because he lost his job back home. It was a time in which I was struggling for independence while still holding onto a bit of a safety net. It was an era of increased responsibility, trying to find my future, and getting my heart broken a few times.

I wish I had kept a journal of this time so that I could go back and laugh at myself and what I thought constituted “problems” at the time.

My grief and recovery

My experiences with grief have been documented here and have become the foundation of this blog, so I won't go into too much detail. But I wish I had journaled during this period of my life for a couple reasons.

For one, it could have made things easier for me. Of course, that means that I would have had to find a way to open up, even if only to myself, and be honest with what I was feeling in order to let it flow out. Allowing myself to feel what I was going through was the basis of my struggle, but maybe the process would have been easier if I had already developed a journaling habit. There's no point in wondering too much about “what could have been”, but it is interesting to consider.

I also wonder what other bits of wisdom I let slip into the ether. What else could I learn about my grief if I had some raw text to reflect on? I suppose now I'll never know. I have to stick with the memories I have and see if I can dig up anything new going forward.

My memory sucks now and it's probably not going to get any better. But worst case scenario, at least I now have something else to reference.

#personal #journaling #bulletjournal #bujo #memories

The concept of identity is a significant struggle for nearly everyone. For most, the struggle has begun by adolescence, when we find ourselves juggling hormones and free thought and free will. This struggle evolves and continues or resurfaces throughout various points of a lifetime: the first time we leave the family nest, the mid-life crisis, and then our turn as empty nesters, just to name a few.

In order to satisfy the search for our own identities, we have to answer numerous questions about ourselves. Questions of ideology, ethics, morality, sexuality and perhaps even gender. We have to consider how we present ourselves, whom we associate with, and how we respond to offenses both direct and indirect. Every bit of nuance goes into defining an identity. Or perhaps I should say identities, as most of us do conduct ourselves differently depending on our audience or company. Most of us do not act the same at work vs. at home or among friends vs. among family. We acknowledge and accept that different scenarios call for different behavior norms. Some would call this being two-faced as if it is merely a character flaw, but I'm sure there is some evolutionary benefit to such behavior. Likability does have its perks, after all.

I try to keep my multiple selves as consistent as possible, but there's no denying that I'm different people in different contexts. My opinions are quite different if a microphone is in my face as opposed to what I will say among trusted friends or under the guise of anonymity or a pseudonym.

Exactly what or how much is crucial to an individual's identity? What is included and packaged into the whole deal? Our awards and accomplishments? Our voting records? Our charitable causes? The lines are not always so clear.

Even corporations struggle with these questions. Should a corporation just operate within the lens of its industry, or is it required to stand for something outside of its core business? Let's be honest and state the obvious—corporations are purely profit-driven. I do not fault them for that. But since the pursuit of profit is the primary identity of a corporation, I'm usually suspicious whenever a corporation champions a cause. However, the courts have ruled that American corporations are people too, so maybe corporations are capable of more empathy than I give credit. What the hell do I know?

Humans had struggled plenty with questions of identity in the analog age. But now they struggle in a new digital frontier that we call the Internet. The Internet started gaining traction with the general public only 30 years or so ago, and we're still adapting to the access that it allows. On one hand, we're still figuring out how much access to give others. On the other hand, we're also figuring out how to handle the access to others that the internet gives us.

Context is sometimes difficult to detect online. And context is an important part of determining which identity to call upon at any moment. It seems that in the online world, you are destined to be all of your selves at once. After all, anyone can learn far too much about you with a couple minutes of Google-fu.

You can't say, “Hey, I said what I said as some idiot on Twitter,” because someone will now pull up your LinkedIn page and argue, “No, you said it as CEO of XYZ Widgets, Inc.! XYZ Widgets is horrible! Burn XYZ Widgets to the ground!”

There is no separation of identities online. Maybe that's not a bad thing. Perhaps over time it will require the masses to be more accepting of details in others' characters. Yeah, Phyllis in accounting writes Bob The Builder erotica fanfiction in her spare time, but she is great at crunching numbers. And if the masses become more accepting, maybe we'll be more willing to analyze certain details of our own character and be more willing to listen to other opinions and perhaps make healthy changes. One can dream.

Silhouette of a man in front of a blue circlePhoto by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

I've made a few attempts to write under pseudonyms over the years, in the hopes that I could be more honest about certain things. In part I felt that I had the opportunity to reveal and develop a part of my identity that had before been withheld. But I was neglecting another part of my identity as I was not expressing myself as...well, myself. Vulnerability under another name just doesn't seem genuinely vulnerable to me.

For some reason, it is important to me that my work have my own name on it. I don't know whether this compulsion is due to ego or insecurity. I know only that it exists. Besides, I'm not clever enough to protect my online identity. I know I could easily be found, so if I'm not prepared to face the consequences in my own name, perhaps I just shouldn't say it. But what about art? I feel as if people should strive to separate the art from the artist and not necessarily judge an individual by his output (and vice versa), but it's pretty obvious in 2019 that not everyone agrees with me.

As a kid, I was afraid of the concept of a “permanent record”. Now, with the internet, the permanent record has arrived. Put it out there, and it's there for all to see. Screenshot or archived. Forever. This makes me think about how I express myself online. Should I chance pushing a few buttons in the hope of making a point or should I play it safe? Should my online self be bolder like the me among friends, or should the me among friends be more like my online self, more carefully considering and weighing my word choices? Which identity needs to better mirror the other, and how much should either identity give in? Which one assimilates into the other? These are tough questions that lead to considerations of authenticity.

After all, if you cater to the crowd too much, people will pick up on it and be turned off. At the same time, it's amazing how offended people can get when you reveal you didn't enjoy their favorite movie. There's a price to pay for honesty, and so there's a price to pay for honest identities.

#personal #identity

I don't consider myself a remarkably intelligent person. I see intelligence as one's ability to figure things out and to solve problems on his own. At best, I might be slightly above average—emphasis on slightly—intelligence, but nothing extraordinary. Perhaps my view of my own intelligence is skewed by my absent-mindedness, which often leads to embarrassment, something I've learned to take in stride. On the other hand, that same view is likely inflated by one's tendency to think himself special. There's a good chance I'm more average than I want to admit.

I'm more confident when it comes to gauging my wisdom. If I can be completely honest, I do consider myself fairly wise. I define wisdom as one's ability to learn from his own experiences as well as the experiences of others. The greatest gift from my most painful experiences has been the lessons. The accompanying pain is a reminder of what I've overcome, of all the monsters I've killed, and also a reminder not to repeat certain actions, whether those actions are my own or someone else's. The real torture comes when one doesn't learn and instead keeps making the same mistakes again and again.

I'll use some examples below to explain my definitions of intelligence and wisdom:

The intelligent man knows immediately by logic that sticking his fork in a light socket is a bad idea. He knows that electricity + metal = bad time.

The wise man remembers the last time he stuck his fork in the light socket—or maybe that time he saw his drunk uncle do it—so he avoids the temptation in the future.

The man who is neither intelligent nor wise keeps sticking his fork in the light socket, every time amazed that he receives a little shock. He may become bitter and say that the world is conspiring against him without ever asking if he could do anything differently to improve his stock in the world.

While I'm not the most educated, I'm educated enough to be effective, and I'm able to continue my own education by fueling my own curiosity for $1.50 in late charges at the public library. I used to think that acquiring more intelligence, wisdom, and education would lead to some form of enlightenment. But as I get older and gain in these areas in my own way, I realize just how ignorant I am. And I feel as if I know even less as I learn more. Whenever I peel back one layer of this onion we call Life, I find another waiting.

In some ways, I'm a fundamentalist. I mean that when I want to dig into a subject, I want to learn its fundamentals. The basics. Once I've done so, it informs how I view the more complex issues. It's like if you were wondering why your partner has trust issues and is emotionally unstable, only to discover that the person you love was abused and emotionally manipulated often as a child and never found a way to process these traumas. You'd have discovered your partner's fundamental challenges while also realizing that your complaints are only the top layer of the onion that is your relationship.

I also couldn't help questioning my own knowledge once I learned that, on the whole, people's memories are not that great. That's one reason I hope never to serve on a jury unless there is clear evidence, such as video, confirming or denying the allegations and charges. In my personal interactions, when someone tells me a story, there's a voice in the back of my mind saying, Remember, this is this person's version of the story. This little reminders helps me avoid getting too emotionally invested in the drama, so I'm better able to keep a clear head, which allows me to give better quality advice to someone in distress.

If I accept that people have horrible memories and perceptions of specific events, then I have to accept that the same most likely applies to me. This is an uncomfortable thought because it can strip away the narratives we've used to explain ourselves and to mold our identities. What if everything we've experienced is not as we've perceived? That sounds like a formula for an existential crisis.

A woman wearing a shirt in a bathtub looking depresed Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash

The more I learn the histories and intricacies of topics like laws, governments, and societies, the more I realize that I don't have the answers. I just consider myself lucky to live among flawed systems like America's rather than flawed systems like Venezuela's or North Korea's, among others.

Though I feel I know next to nothing, I still have my opinions, some of which I'm quite passionate about. But I've experienced enough to know that I may be only one piece of information or perspective away from changing my opinions. And so, I've basically accepted that all my thoughts I hold close and dear may be completely wrong.

We owe so much of what we enjoy on a daily basis to science. It has shaped our world and lifted us out of some dark eras. We can be comfortable in science's claims due to rigorous processes such as the scientific method and extensive peer review. Science will admit it was wrong once it has seen enough evidence to change its tune. Science knows it's not perfect.

If science can be so humble, why can't I?

As I said before, I once thought that acquiring more knowledge in all its forms would bring about certain comforts. But it's been my experience that more knowledge brings uncertainty. I want to fully understand everything I run across, but I simply do not have the time, and so no matter how much knowledge I ultimately attain, I will still die a very ignorant man.

Lately, LinkedIn has become a cesspool of feel-good and positive thinking posts that nauseate me. However, I did see a certain quote recently that feels appropriate for this post. The contents were a simple formula:

Arrogance = ignorance + conviction

I may be incredibly ignorant, but I'm wise enough not to be arrogant.

#personal #knowledge #intelligence #wisdom #ignorance

We have all at some point said those words: I don't have time. We usually say them after we've revealed a desire to do something different, such as exercise, learn a new language, or try our hand at standup comedy. I often said the phrase after I talked about wanting to write again.

When you say I don't have time for something in your personal life, most people will never challenge you. They'll nod their heads and give the sympathy you seek and then you both continue eating your third helping of chocolate chip cookie sundae and complain that you can't lose weight. But it's not your fault because you don't eat unhealthy—your mother had thyroid issues, so you should get yours checked. But you never do it. You don't have time, after all.

Are you seeing a pattern?

I finally got to the point where not only was I tired of not writing, but I was tired of listening to myself complain about not accomplishing a personal goal. I challenged myself to find the time, requiring me to assume that I did in fact have such time.

I analyzed my typical day and my routine and habits and realized that I was sleeping through my writing time, so I started waking up earlier. Until just a few months ago, I'd stay in bed until the last possible moment before getting ready for work, so I worked to change a 34-year-old habit.

I also realized I couldn't write because I spent too much time distracted. For me, my laptop is great for producing writing but not great for creating writing. It's too easy to get distracted by a computer. Open one browser window for “research” and next thing you know you're five hours into a random YouTube video marathon. Modern cell phones are equally distracting as you have all of the digital world at your fingertips, and I hate writing on a cell phone anyway, so it hardly helps my cause. We're hearing more and more that we should stop using screens just before bed, so writing on a laptop or cell phone while winding down for the night seems like a bad idea. That's where the ol' trusty pen and notebook come in handy.

Fun fact: Pen and paper also help with reducing screentime in general. They really are wonderful contraptions.

Most recently I had the ephiphany that I could write during my lunch breaks. I also realized that I had more time to write if I cut out playing video games. It's amazing how much time you can find when you want to find it. Maybe you are one of those rare cases who truly does not have the time. Only you can determine that. On the other hand, maybe you need to work on your communication and negotiation skills in order to give yourself the opportunity. Identify your priority and ask what it would take to get it.

Even when you do find extra time, there comes a limit. For instance, I know I can't write for eight hours a day unless I quit my day job, and considering my day job pays better than the $0 my writing nets me, that ain't happening any time soon. Yet I wonder where else we can find extra time when we challenge ourselves to find it rather than accept that it doesn't exist.

#personal #timemanagement #writing #prioritizing

I'm usually happy to save money, but September 14 was a bit of a sad day for me, as it signified the end of my subscription to The Economist. A few months ago, I'd decided I needed to keep up with what's going on in the world. I'd already taken a chance on The Washington Post during a particular promotion, but the publication has always felt biased on one end of the political spectrum. And the same felt true of The New York Times, so I wasn't sure of where else to go.

I'm not foolish enough to believe that I don't have my own biases, but I do try to challenge my biases once I am aware of them. Doing so seems to me to be the best strategy for finding objective truth or something like it. After a bit of research, I settled on The Economist because, with its concise yet informative articles, the publication seemed to be the most nearly center source of news. I hoped that a smaller word count would mean fewer opportunities for fluff and ideological fodder. And I can't say that my expectations weren't met. That's not why I cancelled. I started considering it because I simply did not have time to read one edition before next week's edition came in.

A couple months ago, I made the decision to consciously unplug. I started by deleting my mainstream social media accounts—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—and disabled most notifications on my phone. I worked on clearing a path to reading and writing on a regular basis. I eventually got into bullet journaling. These small changes gradually helped me to reach my goal. And so here I am now, enlightened and wiser and better than everyone else. Err, I mean, better than I was before.

Man standing on a mountain giving two thumbs up It's so much easier to look down on others from the comfort of my own soapbox – Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

As I unplugged, I fell out of touch with the news of the world. I tuned out of the culture wars. I forgot about President What'shisface and whatever the hell he's up to these days, though I admit that I got pulled in by all the impeachment talk. But I had to push it all away again. I'm curious and concerned, but at the same time, daily updates aren't going to do me any good.

And so I now find myself not wanting to keep up with the news.

For me, unplugging is about enabling me to focus on the things that truly matter. And for the most part, the happenings of the world don't matter all that much. Some would point a finger at me and say I can have such an attitude due to certain social statuses and identities. Perhaps others don't have the luxury of dismissiveness. I ultimately can't pretend to understand the challenges of another, but I'm also not going to pretend I need to stay wired to every worldly event or that every such event affects my day-to-day. My doing so would be disingenuous and would enable my own anxiety and mental unrest.

It took me over 30 years to realize that I needed to stop looking outwardly so much. The true progress has come from looking inwardly. By stopping worrying about the world at large, I'm able to focus on more immediate matters—my family, my job, my habits and hobbies, my mental health.

In summary, my world > the world. My life has become exponentially better as I have focused on myself in aspects both flattering and unflattering—my needs, my wants, my actions and responsibilities, my efforts.

It's tempting to focus on what others are doing because it's so easy. We physically see things from a first-person perspective, so looking outwardly comes naturally. And observing ourselves is not a mindless activity. It requires intention and effort.

Self-centered has a negative connotation, so I prefer to refer to worrying about myself as being self-concerned. You may think that the slight distinction is a practice in semantics and ultimately dumb, but one of my old counselors loved it, so I'm clinging to it.

At the end of the day, so many of us get worked up over events we'll never understand and may never be affected by. National and international news are easy to get sucked into because they're grand in scale. But many of us would be better served if we first aimed smaller, starting with ourselves and gradually expanding our scope as we've improved ourselves and our immediate surroundings. Somehow, the Millennial Generation, my generation, got this simple formula backwards. We have been so worried about righting the world that we forgot to right ourselves first. We grew up thinking we know what's best for others when we don't even know what's best for the person we see in the mirror every morning.

I've put a lot of work into myself, and while I'll never be perfect, I'm ready to move on to new challenges. It's time to expand the circle of responsibility to include more of those around me, to allow for more of a community. At the rate I'm going, I'll be ready for national issues by the time I'm 145 years old.

New York Jets - can't wait meme

#personal #mindfulness #news #unplugging

When we sit around and think about our own versions of lives well-lived, we most likely envision ourselves elderly and passing away peacefully in our sleep. There's something about leaving this world as an octogenerian that adds a layer of accomplishment to our struggle. I'm guilty of this romanticization on a couple fronts. When I hear that someone over the age of 80 has taken his last breath, I usually respond with something along the lines of That's a good run. Also, when I think of my own end, I hope I will have made the eight-decade club, though the odds may not be ever in my favor based on my family history.


I'm not sure how many of us think about what all goes into aging. The last few years of my own life have been a beginner's courses in getting old. Turning 30 hurt way more than I could ever have imagined. Aches started popping up for no reason. My energy level hit rock bottom. My memory went down the crapper hard. Though part of the pain of that time can be attributed to specific events and situations in my personal life, I'm sure there's a physical culprit to blame as well, as one's metabolism drops when he's exiting his 20's. What else naturally begins to slip so early in life?

I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to work out with my employer's personal trainer. A few weeks after my employment began, I finally took advantage of the perk and joined some of my colleagues to sweat it out on a Wednesday afternoon. It was obvious early into the workout that I had been aging passively. I'm not sure exactly how long I participated in the workout—maybe 15 minutes, maybe 20—before the trainer made me stop and collect myself. As I lay on my back with my ankles resting on an exercise ball, I found myself thinking, So this is it. This is how the Batman dies.

Silhouette of a Lego Batman Photo credit: Unsplash.com

The trainer, I suppose having learned that humiliated clients are bad for business, checked on me every so often and offered words of encouragement. “This isn't your last time,” he said. “This is your wakeup call. Now you know where you're starting from” 10-4, Captain. I hear you loud and clear. Message received.

“We do this for our kids. We want to be around for them.” Those words hit close to home. I don't want to just be around. I want to have utility. I want to be an active participant in their lives and their futures. And my own future, especially once the kids have begun to chase their own dreams and have left me behind.

After a co-worker drove me back to the office and I emptied the contents of my stomach in the parking garage—not my proudest moment, but fortunately, not my worst moment either—I realized that aging with any form of grace takes a lot of work. For most of us, aging well will have to be an intentional practice.

I've had to miss a couple workouts since that embarrassing first flight in which I crashed and burned, but I try to go back every Wednesday. In addition, I've finally taken my doctor's advice and started going for 30-minute walks most evenings. After only a couple of months, I can feel a difference and even see the difference when I step on the scale most mornings. Now that I've built some momentum, I have to be sure to keep it going, because as I've recently been reminded, simply moving in the right direction—both figuratively and literally—can be the greatest challenge.

Though I've accepted that I will die someday, that doesn't mean I don't fear the inevitability. But in some ways I'm equally afraid of getting old and living old. Regardless of my exercise habits, my physical abilities are doomed to lessen. Cognition will suffer a similar fate. My dopamine system will whither away. Alzheimer's and dementia are possibilities equally as frightening as cancer. Even if I have a long run in life, there's no guarantee that it'll be a good run.

I recently read an article arguing that 75 is the optimal lifespan, and though I'm sure I'll attempt to preserve myself long past my age of usefulness, I can't say I disagree with the sentiment. Though it's natural to want to stay on this ride we call Life for as long as possible, seating is limited, and so we all have to hop onto the red line to Mortality Village at some point in order to make room for the new participants.

As I get older, I try to hang onto my youthful curiosity and the punk-rock essence of teenage angst. I'm someone who has always been fueled by the flames of discontent, so I constantly fear that compliance is a sign of submission brought on by Father Time.

I fear the prospect of living in a world that has passed me by and left me behind. A world in which technology now appears closer to magic. One in which customs and norms make me feel like a foreigner in a new land. I also acknowledge that lack of acceptance makes certain situations harder than they need to be, and I have a feeling that this is an applicable situation.

But when you get down to it, it is what it is. The Cycle of Life started long before I came to the party, and it will carry on long after I've called it a night and gone somewhere quieter and more peaceful. It seems that lately the Universe is doing all it can to make it clear that it doesn't care what I think or hope. The Universe is a power that can't stop, won't stop.

This may sound like nihilism poking its head around. But I make a point not to fully embrace nihilism—I only flirt with it. These feelings are simply an attempt at acceptance, the domino that must fall before one can adapt strategies that work out better for everyone involved and affected.

Author's Note: The title of this post was taken from the song Some Days by Ira Wolf.

#pesonal #health #aging #selfcare

Though I'm too lazy to look up the data to support my claim, I'd wager that it's natural for people to desire to be seen as the Good Guy rather than the Bad Guy. Sure, maybe we enjoyed playing the Bad Guy role at the playground as we forcechoked our friends in our best Darth Vader impressions. Or maybe we watched the world burn as we played our own version of The Joker. But when it comes to real life, most of us want to be the Good Guy. The Hero. We want to be Luke Skywalker or Batman, at least until we get older and wiser and realize that the Caped Crusader might not be completely good himself.

If watching the first two seasons of Mindhunter has taught me anything, it's that everyone has the capacity to view himself as the Good Guy, especially if we think of our lives as stories.

Few of us enjoy the prospect of being a Villain, but I think most of us look at the Hero/Villain situation in a lens far too black and white. We don't have to be either/or. We can be both in different situations and contexts, and sometimes it's actually necessary to be a Villain.

Sometimes being the Villain to one party allows you to be the Hero to another. Christian Laettner knew this to be true. During his four years at Duke, the center-power forward was no stranger to getting under opponents' skin, often resulting in fisticuffs.

Two boxers Christian Laettner vs. Aminu Timberlake, March 28, 1992 – Photo credit: Wikimedia.org

If Laettner wasn't on your team, you had plenty of reason to hate him, because he'd most likely humbled your team if their paths ever crossed. But even Laettner's teammates had reason to hate him, as he was known to antagonize and bully them in his own way, which made him a momentary Villain. But Laettner again became their Hero after he'd helped them to elevate to their next level. The Cameron Crazies always saw Laettner as a Hero, as he led his team to four straight NCAA Final Four appearances, twice walking away with the NCAA championship.

Perhaps most of us cling to a no-Villain mentality because it's simply easier. The challenge in embracing our own Villain is that we are then burdened with the responsibility of determining whether we are being the Villain at the right time to the right people. Sometime it's obvious. For instance, who doesn't want to be seen as the Villain by his competition in the professional world? But what if you finally step up to that certain family member who consistently oversteps the boundaries you've asked him or her to respect on numerous occasions? When you do so, you run the risk of being branded a Villain. But should you really care if you're being your own Hero for once? After all, you can't really control whether someone else labels you the Bad Guy or the Villain. Sometimes the other person's rigid rules and opinions doom you to such a designation.

Maybe that's the point Luke Skywalker was trying to make when he was explaining to Rey why he'd given up on his Jedi ideology. (But who really knows with that mess of a movie).

I can understand why someone would seek never to be the Villain. It's not always a fun role to play. But sometimes by refusing to do so, we run the risk of becoming our own Villain as we put ourselves on the backburner. And there are few things worse than being your own Villain.

#personal

I'm a bit of a recovered nice guy. At first glance, nice guy doesn't sound so bad. What can be wrong about being nice, right? But it helps if you say nice guy the way you'd say it if you used air quotations when saying it to your friend.

Like this: “Nice guy”.

Do you get it now? Some people prefer to say nice guy™. There are a number of ways to differentiate, but they all mean the same thing, regardless of which you prefer and utilize.

The second most popular definition of nice guy on Urban Dictionary defines the term as follows:

The first being a guy who is genuinely kind and caring. He is polite to everyone regardless of sex, age or race. He has no ulterior motive, i.e. he is not nice to get a reward, he behaves as such because it's human decency.

The second kind of nice guy is the one who has ulterior motives. He believes that because he behaves in a certain way the world owes him for his actions. He doesn't make it clear what he desires from the beginning and becomes angry when he doesn't get what he wants.

A nice guy may at times appear to be kind and generous and selfless, but he ultimately falls just short because he lacks one crucial agreement: sincerity. He doesn't perform nice acts because he believes them the thing to do; he performs them because he hopes to get something in return. The nice guy expects others to be mind readers and thinks that he'll have his favors returned even though he's failed to articulate his needs and wants. Eventually, he becomes resentful and creates a victim narrative to communicate just how he's repeatedly been taken advantage of as he wallows in his own misery and pity.

Contrary to what the name may lead one to believe, the nice guy is not all that pleasant to be around.

For a significant portion of my life, I exhibited shades of this behavior. Fortunately, I never reached incel status and I never bought a fedora.

Guy in fedora with a vape pen

Still, I never felt a need to communicate my expectations. I'd given so much of myself, so I expected others to do the same. The truth is that I didn't speak up because I didn't know how to ask for things. Or I was afraid of the rejection that I may have experienced if I had made genuine requests. It's ridiculous the lengths we can go to in order to avoid putting ourselves out there. People can't say no if you never ask, right?

On the flipside, it's not hard to see why some people can fall into this trap of supposed virtuous selflessness. It seems as if the call to sacrifice is everywhere.

Sacrifice for work. Why give your employer 8 hours a day when you give 12 or 16? And why stop at Monday through Friday? What about weekends?

Sacrifice for your family. Your dreams are dead. Give up on accomplishing anything purely for yourself.

Sacrifice for everyone else around you.

Give and give and give and give and put others before yourself because it's the right thing to do. To some, that sounds so lovely. But to me, it sounds like a formula for a hard and heavy burnout. And I don't want any part of that.

Nah, fam. Homey don't play that no more.

The unfortunate truth is that I'm human. There's a whole lotta good and a whole lotta ugly that comes with that. And part of the ugly is that I'm a bit selfish. I have things that I want purely for myself. Things that, quite frankly, I really do not want to compromise.

Man, it feels good to say that out loud (or to type it in a blog). It's honest. It's sincere. It's real and it's true.

I've found that by identifying and communicating what I want, I'm much more likely to get what I want and need. And if I have those wants and needs fulfilled, it's much easier to give back to others. I'm able to give more when I'm confident that I'm going to receive something important to me.

These acknowledgments have been a big part of my recent habit developments. In order to get certain time blocks for journaling or my afternoon walks, I've had to be a champion for my selfishness. It doesn't sound glorious and it doesn't paint me as some selfless saint, but it's a lot better than sitting around unhappy saying that I don't have time for myself.

However, I can't discount the value of time management for these situations. You can't say you don't have time to take care of yourself when you waste every second of free time mindlessly browsing social media on your phone. That part of the responsibility falls solely on you, and that's a practice in putting your money where your mouth is.

So what should you be more selfish about?

#personal #selfishness #niceguy

Over the last few months, I've been trying to get back in touch with my creative side, which has proven to be more difficult to navigate than one might expect. For instance, I'm not sure what I should reasonably expect from myself. These days I'm closer to 40 than 14. I don't have the free time I once had, and now I have far more responsibility (career, family, self care and maintenance) than I could ever have imagined as a kid.

I haven't truly exercised my creativity muscle in years, so I can't hope to suddenly be flooded with fresh ideas and obsessive passions. With time and practice, I know I can build that muscle to something much stronger than it is now.

However, there is work to be done in order to allow for creativity.

Cut out distractions

So many of us are addicted to screens. It's hardly a secret. We use screens at work in the form of computer monitors or laptop screens. We're addicted to our phones, in no small part due to social media. I literally don't know how I would get around without my phone, as I'm directionally challenged and therefore dependent on my phone's GPS feature. (Sure, I could buy a standalone GPS, but as long as I keep reception, I have an always up-to-date system that can suggest alternate routes dependent on traffic. I'm not voluntarily giving up that kind of convenience.) And then at home, we have a TV in every room and our own computer screens waiting for us (or we just keep using our phones). How much time do we spend outside the glass of black mirrors?

I hope I'm not coming across as overly preachy, because I get it. I really do. I'm guilty as well. It's so easy to fall in love with screens because they're getaways, readily available and eager and willing to take us somewhere more interesting or better. At least that's how I see it because I know that's what a computer monitor meant to me when my family got its first computer back in 1998. But we've now reached a point where everyone and everything are online and quite frankly, most of what you see isn't worth your time.

A couple of blog posts by Mark Manson inspired me to disable notifications and to delete certain apps from my phone. I can still access my social media from my mobile browser, but in this age of uber-convenience, you might be surprised how much one extra step can dissuade you.

Carving a path to inspiration

I'm spending more time thinking about whether certain behaviors or actions contribute to my goals. This may mean altering certain habits that aren't necessarily negative or harmful.

For instance, I love podcasts. Depending on the specific program, a podcast can be informative or entertaining. Either way they definitely make my daily commute easier to manage. Unfortunately, I've yet to find too many podcasts that inspire creativity in me.

When I used to write on a regular basis, I always found music to be my primary influence. The tunes in my head did more to open my mind or move my hand to pen and paper than any text ever did. Maybe it's just that I got the right dopamine hit from music because for me music was always the perfect drug.

So basically, I've started sacrificing podcasts for music and even audiobooks. It's not that podcasts are bad. I still plan on listening from time to time, but I don't think they need to be my primary form of audio consumption. Music triggers the right synapses, and audiobooks give me the opportunity to get more “read”. Sorry, podcasts — it's not you, it's me.

Journaling as a rough draft

Technology makes us more productive, but does that mean it makes us more creative? You've probably already figured out that my answer is going to be Not necessarily. Technology can make people more creative because of the ease at which something can be created, or its ability to give better accessibility to people with disabilities. But some of us fall into the trap of thinking we have to write on a laptop because we can type much faster than we can write by hand. But fast isn't always the same thing as being creative.

As Chuck Palahniuk argued during his interview on the Joe Rogan Experience, punching in words on a computer isn't writing; that's typing. Palahniuk revealed that he does all of his actual writing and creating in a notebook. He argued that a notebook gave more flexibility than a computer because he could make notes in the margins and draw arrows and other symbols however he wanted with ease.

Listening to Palaniuk's interview inspired me to start journaling. I bought two journals—one for my everyday tasks and ideas, to carry with me everywhere, and one for diary-type entries at the end of the day.

In my portable journal, I keep a daily schedule/to-do list, drafts for blog posts, random lists like a record of my morning weigh-ins and bands I want to check out, and whatever else I may want to document. My journal is messy and not as organized as I'd like. At one point, this was a big reason why I tried to do everything electronically, as things are definitely more flexible and easier to organize electronically. But I've now chosen to embrace the chaos, for I know it's part of the journey. As I journal more, I'll figure things out and learn how to better organize my sections, but I'll never get there if I don't just start doing.

I've tried a diary-like journal practice before, but it didn't stick. I recently realized it's because I was using the journal as a historical document, simply making note of the day's events. This was a mistake because my life is pretty routine and is actually quite boring. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Boring = no drama, so boring is not a bad thing in this context.)

This time around I decided to try something different and instead of documenting the day's events, I decided to write about the day's theme. This method lends itself to more emotional or philosophical writing and is for me a much more rewarding experience, which is why I think I've been able to maintain the practice for the last few weeks. I now see this journal practice as something reflective and meditative, and my day isn't complete until I've made my entry. It's now part of my routine that I don't want to let go.

Dare to try something different.

Maybe the methods I've just summarized don't work for you. That's fine; I'm merely sharing what's worked for me in the hope that someone may see something he likes and steal it for himself. I hope only that you find a way to be honest with yourself and to implement methods that truly work and not simply methods that work for others.

#personal

It was lunchtime on November 28 before I realized the significance of the date. The revelation was discovered due to an innocent conversation with a co-worker. Details about certain family history were questioned. I considered my answer, did some quick math, and then realized what would have been obvious and dreaded by most in my situation: It was the seventh anniversary of my mother's death.

Anniversaries of deaths are a strange thing for me. I often forget about them until some well-meaning individual reaches out to me to say that she's thinking about me. I'll ask myself why this person's so concerned before realizing it's the anniversary of someone's last day on this earth. And then I feel bad for not recognizing the date earlier. It's not as if I don't remember because I don't care. In some way, it's quite the opposite. I tend not to dwell on such anniversaries because I miss my deceased loved ones every day. In that sense, the anniversary truly is just another day.

The last few years have been riddled with loss. The loss of individuals. Relationships. My former self (This loss was probably the least obvious and the hardest to recognize and accept). And so the last few years have certainly had their share of pain, as I'm sure almost anyone could understand. There has been a lot to process. There were many lessons that needed to be learned, and some took years to unravel and dissect. But here I am, seven years later, sure of my new truths and realities, and also, in a strange way, I now find myself thankful for the whole experience.

Let me clarify—that does not mean that I'm happy about the losses themselves. My recent past and path are not something for which I would volunteer, nor are they something I'd wish upon another individual, even my worst enemy, if such a person existed. But regardless of what I may want or wish for in this life, certain things happened. And so the last few years of my life can be summarized as follows:

You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.

Though I'm no fan of platitudes, when I find a quote full of wisdom, I have to give it the credit it deserves. Thanks, Brian Tracy, whoever you are.

Over the last few years, I've come to learn that finding lessons in painful experience is one of the better ways in which an individual can heal and grow. The process is not easy. Nor is it pleasant. It takes a lot of self-examination. A lot of self-exploration. A lot of self-critiquing. And maybe even a lot of tears. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that one will find answers or come out better on the other side, but I'd say it's fairly certain what lies ahead if one does not try: a lifetime of personal torture, victimhood, and misery.

In order to get to a better place, I had to learn how to put myself first. “Self-centered” isn't the right term, as it makes one sound selfish. It's a practice I prefer to call being “self-concerned”. I usually roll my eyes at such linguistic nuances, but this is one that I feel accurately communicates a certain necessity. The process of becoming better through painful experience will most likely require you to take timeouts from other people and their problems and concerns. It's about effectively putting yourself first so that you can eventually give your best self to others.

Obviously my own losses have created a great deal of pain. But I'm now at a point where I can appreciate the positive things they've given me. For one, my experience has given me a greater capacity for empathy, as I'm better able to understand what others may be feeling when they're experiencing losses of their own. I've learned to better appreciate meaningful relationships and the exchanges they allow me to have. And I'm also able to appreciate the fleeting precious moments in life that were once so easy to take for granted. Finally—and perhaps most importantly—the lessons from my pain have allowed me to feel more useful to others. Because of my experience, I have something more to offer during moments of stress or chaos, and I have to recognize and accept that there was only one way I was able to get to this point. And that way was by moving through the pain instead of trying to avoid and deny it. The peace I now feel seems to have come almost overnight, but I know all too well that it's the product of years of work, which is the reality of almost every overnight success.

This past Thanksgiving I caught myself asking what I was truly thankful for. And I didn't want to say the typical platitudes: my family, my friends, my job, though I am thankful for what I have in each of those categories, and I am in fact thankful for so much more. But on this day in this moment, I found myself considering who I had become and considering how I had become this version of myself that I've become quite fond of. This person began to form and materialize because of events that started over seven years ago, when I first heard that my mother had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. And so, when I think about it like that, I'm thankful for the pain associated with the losses. It's only through the pain that I have been able to learn and become something better than I once was.

Since I began this journey, I stumbled across a quote that has stuck with me and shaped how I see personal tragedy:

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

It feels good to know that I can confidently say that while I definitely know pain, I do not suffer, and I refuse to do so. What I once saw as a burden, I now see as a teacher and a facilitator of betterment.

Meme of the Titanic sinking

Adversity is the best teacher, after all. Malcolm Gladwell said it, so it's gotta be true.

#personal #grief

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