2014 A Year in Review

In many ways 2014 was one of the best years in recent memory.  I was able to try a lot of new things and accomplish some stuff that I have wanted to do for a while.  Of course it wasn’t all sunshine and candy corn, there were some hard times but I feel like I was able to weather the storm pretty well.  It is easy to focus on the things that have my stress level through the roof right now, but looking back I am worlds better off than I was just 12 months ago.  Last winter I was reeling from the loss of my aunt and a good friend, I was drinking a bit too much, and would spend my nights and weekends just sitting around my apartment killing time.  Now I have a pretty clear head, a successful hobby, I am more active and am generally enjoying myself more than I would have last year.  I think that the trend this year was to try new things and pursue opportunities for self growth, hopefully I can keep that up during 2015.

As with any year my family and friends played a huge role.  I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with people that I care about in 2014 which is part of what made it great.  I had a chance to go on camping trips, and brewery tours, concerts, road trips, and even just hang around at camp with a bunch of my oldest friends.  Camp was a little different this year since some of my family moved back to the northeast and was around more, it had a lot of benefits but having to share more takes some getting used to.  We had a nice little reunion this summer and I got to spend time out on the water and around the campfire with most of the family.  It was pretty heart warming to see my cousin’s 3 year old become fast friends with my 91 year old great uncle.  This November a bunch of us also went up to Montreal to see my other cousin dance with his Swedish ballet company and I finally got a chance to see how good he is at what he does.  I guess the more things that you get to do and the more people you get to spend time with the the better you feel about how you spend your time.

It is very easy to point to the two biggest factors that influenced 2014.  My commitment to being more active and my decision to start doing comedy have both had a very positive influence on the year.  Beyond those there were several smaller decisions that all resulted in good outcomes.  I didn’t have any major life changes that saw me switch jobs or move or anything so that probably helped to keep me on an even keel which gave me the even greater ability and motivation to grow.

Weight has always been an issue for me, but in January and February I started to look at it differently.  I had a lot going on in my life and had a bad case of the winter blues and decided to commit myself to running a 5k and generally being more active.  It took a few months to get around to it, but I did eventually run three 5k races and made running and going to the gym a priority.  I started doing a bit of yoga and worked with an online personal trainer for a bit.  I admittedly have slacked off during the holiday season and feel terrible about it, but am committed to getting back out there soon.  The change has been pretty amazing.  I am down more than 30 pounds since February, I feel healthier and stronger than I did before.  I have made a few changes to my dietary habits and while I still fall off the wagon from time to time I have a better chance of dusting myself off and getting back on.  I joined a CSA this summer and spent all of the warm months feasting on fresh local veggies.

It is not all super dramatic, I sometimes walk around and notice that I have more spring in my step, or that I am bounding up stairs instead of plodding up them.  These little victories give me more hope than the decreasing numbers on a scale.  I have to keep pushing myself to continue on this path, but everyone has been extremely supportive and have given me a lot of motivation.  I would especially like to thank the friends who took the time to run with me at these events, and those who sent me motivation and even tough love.  A few weeks ago I had a friend come up to me out of the blue and simply say that I am looking good which helps motivate me to get out there and to keep up the good work.

Comedy is the other obvious step that I have taken this year.  I took a one day course which pushed me to take a 6 week course which pushed me to start doing open mics and now I am doing actual performances.  I am not looking for my name on the Marquee, but I am definitely proud of the steps that I have taken.  I have been able to put myself out there and validate my ability to make people laugh.  This in turn has given me a boost of confidence which carries over to other parts of my life.  I feel more comfortable communicating and am less afraid of failing, because lets face it once you stand up in front of a group of strangers and make them laugh about your greatest failures it puts everything in perspective.

Along the way I discovered that Vermont has a very vibrant local comedy scene.  I knew that there was an open mic at Nectars when I lived in Burlington, but I didn’t realize how deep it went or how much it is blooming.  I have been fortunate to meet some very good people who have guided me along the way and am glad to be part of the growing scene.  I have a chance to meet people from different walks of life that I probably wouldn’t meet otherwise.  No offence to the 90% of my friends who at one time or another were in pharmacy school, but I was getting sick of hanging out with nerdy middle class white people.  During the 5 years since college I have only made a handful of new friends, mostly because I have kept myself in a bubble and never really tried to meet new people.  In the past 3 months I have had the privilege to meet a diverse bunch of folks and am starting to form some great new friendships.  2015 will hopefully bring more shows, and introduce me to more people, and bring me to the shiny new comedy club being opened in Burlington, I am already excited.

Beyond the big ticket items I was able to try or rediscover some other hobbies.  I started online dating and while I didn’t meet “the one” I did get a chance to go out and meet new people.  I got disillusioned and took some time off and probably won’t be renewing my subscription, but just having a motivator that would get me out of the house to give it a shot was worthwhile.  2014 included a marked increase in writing, and the eventual launch of this website. I finally started taking blogging seriously and while I produce some humorous stuff I feel that I am started to produce some solid in depth matieral.  Writing has always been a very cathartic exercise for me, but it has also been hard.  By putting myself on a schedule and giving myself time to formulate ideas I am able to produce solid essays and blog posts on a pretty regular basis.  I also renewed my interest in photography this summer and had a chance to take some great pictures.  I have always been passionate about taking photos, but even though I had the equipment I wasn’t motivated to go out and do it.  Much like running once you start it gets easier when you do it.  I read more during 2014 that I did during 2013, mostly because I made the commitment to do what I enjoy and I enjoy reading.  I read a lot more diverse things and rediscovered my love of the small town library.  I didn’t pursue it like I had in the past where I wanted to compulsively read everything, I just took time for myself and put my nose in a book if I felt like it.  There were plenty of other smaller factors that made 2014 pretty great, but these were the main ones.

As usual I spent most of my free time on the go.  I went to Gatlinburg, Boston, Tampa, Cooperstown, Nantucket, and Montreal on top of numerous trips to Willsboro and Albany.  Each trip gave me the chance to spend time with the people who I care about, many of whom I don’t get to see often enough.  I was also able to have a lot of big and small adventures along the way.  It is pretty amazing that during 2014 I drank world class beer, made new friends, including a wounded a crow at a wildlife rescue, sold mushrooms at a farmers market, saw the world’s number one Elton John impersonator (as voted by Sir Elton himself), ate a grapefruit that I picked off a tree, scattered some ashes, worked 3 jobs at one time, celebrated the shit out of Flag Day, started doing yoga, and standup, and improv, wrote more, ran more, listened to more rap music, and more bluegrass, took some amazing photos, cooked good food, read great books, spent time with family and friends, and did it all without feeling burned out.  I think that 2014 was a year to remember and I wish you all a happy and healthy 2015.

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Unveiling the January Challenge

Recap of December.

Using the December Challenge of reaching out to one person each day I was able to start a few conversations and touch base with people who I haven’t talked to in a while.  I don’t think that it was as successful as the first time I tried it, but I did have some great conversations that I would not have had beforehand so I count it as a success.  I had some issues with timing and responding if they threw the conversation ball back my way, but that was something that I expected.  All in all it was a worthwhile experience and I am glad that I gave it another shot.

And now on to the future.

When designing a challenge it is easy to think about the New Years resolutions that we all make.  I really don’t like resolutions because there is generally not enough planning or follow through.  One of the things that I want to accomplish during 2015 is to reduce the amount of things that I own.  I am not planning on going full minimalist, but after looking back fondly at 2009-2010 where everything I owned fit in the back of my Buick I think it is time to reduce the clutter and get back to the essentials.  As the Fight Club quote goes “The things you own end up owning you” and January is a perfect time to fight back against that.

The Challenge: Get rid of one thing each day.  Donate, throw away, give away, burn, get it out of the house.  For an extra twist if I get anything new that I really want to keep I am going to get rid of 2 old things.

The System: Getting rid of stuff is hard, especially if it has sentimental value, but sometime you just need to take the plunge.  I am not talking about getting rid of cherished possessions, but do you really need the tee shirt from Grand Council 2009 that barely fits anymore, because I really don’t.  Having a system in place to get rid of these things help to make the transition easier.

  • Make a list of the things that you want to get rid of: You know that box that has been in your closet since you moved in, or the old pants that you are keeping just in case you lose a few pounds, or the piece of kitchen equipment that you couldn’t live without but have only used twice, why not get rid of these.
  • The 100 days rule: Anything that I have not used within 100 days is part of the conversation.  If it is something that I have used within the past year then it probably makes sense to keep it, but if not then it is fair game.  If there is something that I haven’t used in a while but I see benefit to then I won’t feel guilty about keeping it, but it is important to have that conversation and evaluate rather than just blindly chucking things.
  • Define what “one thing” means to you: You could technically get rid of one sock each day, but that will defeat the purpose of this challenge.  I personally am going to group things by type, one day I am going to get rid of socks, then next old shirts, the next my collection of old bookbags.  If I get rid of 15 socks it will count as 1 thing, as will 5 tee shirts and 2 dress shirts.  You can divide it in any way that you want, but just make a commitment to getting rid of stuff.
  • Figure out what to do with things:There are many avenues to getting rid of stuff.  I personally like to repurpose and give them to people who would use them better than I would.  I would prefer to give them to people who I know, but Goodwill is an appropriate alternative.  The key is making sure that they actually go, not just storing the box of stuff to go to Goodwill indefinitely until you forget about it.  Selling on craigslist is another alternative, but because of the time delay it may not go on that same day.  I plan to set a limit on things that I am going to sell, if they don’t sell by date X then I am going to donate them instead.
  • Celebrate the things that you are getting rid of: I plan on taking a picture of everything that I get rid of during the next month and then flipping through to create a visual representation of the amount of space I have opened up and the amount of meaningless stuff that I don’t have to take with me next time I move.

I will never be able to live a minimalist lifestyle, probably because all those years in boy scouts have left me too paranoid about being prepared.  By February 1st I will hopefully be one step closer.  At some point in our lives we move from having “stuff” to having “things” with tend to have greater value.  I started making that transition a few years ago and have changed around my wardrobe, furniture, and even the mementos that are worthwhile to keep.  Making this step and getting rid of more “stuff” will help to ease that transition and make sure that I only keep things that are important, even if they no longer fit in the back of a Buick.

Creatonism

The other day I was talking with a friend who I haven’t seen in a while and the topic of creativity came up.  He was surprised that I started doing stand up because typically the profession of pharmacy stamps the creativity out of you.  I have to agree with that sentiment.  Before I went to pharmacy school I have a lot of passions, I could play instruments, write songs, take great photographs and had entrepreneurial ambitions.  While this may have just been the exuberance of youth, I felt destined to do things and make things.  By the time I finished by 2nd year I wasn’t interested in anything besides pharmacy and beer.  I would joke that I used to have interests, but once you learn to spell hydrochlorothiazide you don’t have room in your brain for anything else.  Luckily I stopped with that negative train of thought and moved past my mental limitations and started creating again.

While I think that the term “Creator” is a bit of a grandiose title, I will use it liberally throughout this post, remember all it means is someone who makes something new or improves something to make it better.

We as a society often confuse the idea of creativity with the idea of artsy.  You can be a creator without living in a commune or being the “starving artist” that we all picture.  Having these constructs of who is or isn’t creative is a way of keeping our own creativity at bay by effectively tricking ourselves into believing that “I’m not one of THOSE people so why try?”  Creativity isn’t limited to art, or music, it permeates everything in our lives.  In reality being creative expands beyond the stereotypes.  That businessman who started a company, he is a creator.  The mechanic who figured out how a slight tweak made his hot rod go faster, he is a creator.  The chef who found a new way to present something or a new taste pairing (perhaps placing an egg on top of a bacon cheeseburger), he is a creator.  The mom or dad who makes up a bedtime story, creators.  The scientist who worked on a new drug or test or way to solve a problem, guess what he is a creator too.  In fact there are very few people in the world who can make it through the day without creating something either for themselves or for someone else.

Most people tend to get so caught up in the grandiose creations that they let their own little creations fall through the cracks.  Most bridges are marvelous works of engineering that require huge amounts of effort from the designers to the builders, but if the guy working in the plant that makes the rivets doesn’t do his job creating the smallest pieces for the project then it is all for nothing.  Creations big and small fill our world, and while the people behind the ideas are rarely applauded, think about the passion that it took to invent or improve the things in our everyday life.  Nobody will ever recognize the greatness of the guy who invented the stapler, but imagine how much work and effort went into making the first one and then improving on it over the years, and how much easier our lives are because of this seemingly simple creation.

Take a moment and look a the things that you do each day and compare them to all the things that other people can’t do.  I found that as I tried to transition back into the world outside of pharmacy school cooking was a good way to expand my creative abilities and reasonable track my progress.  5 years ago I could barely cook anything except for rice and sandwiches and the idea of making homemade stuffing, pork loin, sauteed greens and squash on a random Wednesday night would be unfathomable, yet that is what I made for dinner yesterday.  By starting slowly and getting more inventive I moved from heating up microwaveable dinners, to those frozen bags of bachelor chow, into making real elaborate self prepared dinners.  The best part is that by adding things to my repertoire piece by piece I was able to get to a point that doing things that looks challenging can be broken up into a series of small components that I have already mastered.  I may not be a Michelin rated chef, I happy embrace my ability to create tasty food with minimal effort any time that I want to.

In a similar way I have found that creativity breeds creativity.  I suppose this is another example of inertia, if you have forward momentum in an area you tend to keep going.  When I started doing comedy I thought that it would be a fun excursion into the world of stand up, but then I started being exposed to new aspects of the field.  I have been captivated by improv and the idea of Moth style storytelling, and am interested in exploring other ways of making people laugh like sketch comedy or humorous writing.  Just 3 months ago these thoughts wouldn’t have crossed my mind, and now they are things that excitedly keep me up at night.  This is why people become serial entrepreneurs, once you get over the initial apprehension of trying something new it becomes addicting and you keep pushing forward to search out new opportunities to express yourself.  I suppose that along the same vein a big portion of being creative is learning from your failures and having the persistence to try again.

The key to being a creator is to have passion.  If you care about something, anything, you will do your best to make it better.  But passion is also an example of inertia, where taking the first step is always the hardest.  After school I was searching to find a grand hobby or something to define myself, but I was discouraged because I didn’t click with the many things that I tried.  I would give something a shot and when I got discouraged that I wasn’t passionate about painting or playing the guitar, or any of the other artsy things I tried I would give up and go read.  I eventually realized how passionate I was about books, and started noticing how passionate I was about beer and cooking, and by realizing the things that I cared about I was able to focus my passion toward even more new things.  Hell last year I would have scoffed at the idea that I would become a stand up comic, running my own blog, and training for a 6 mile adventure race in January, I still sometimes have to pinch myself to believe it.

In the end we create things to fill the time, or to fill vacancies in the world, or simply to fill the holes in our soul.  Being creative isn’t a gift from god, or a chosen vocation, it is something that each and every one of us does every day.  The key is recognizing the things that you create, appreciating them, and striving to create more things.  It’s not like you can win the creativity battle, but as long as you try then there is nobody that can stop you.  I encourage you to go out and make something, or write something, or cook something, or simply make someone laugh, and appreciate your accomplishment.  Because when you do you will be come a creator, and by making that first step you have no idea where it will take you.

I’m an Inspiration?

A few weeks ago several of my friends gathered in a place that we have been many times before, but this time it was different, the topic of conversation shifted.  All of a sudden the conversation was about me and what I have done recently, and it was strange.  Three separate people, each of whom I have known for more than 10 years came up and told me that they were proud of me and that they were inspired by the steps that I have over the past few years.

This is a big change for me, when I was in college I almost intentionally set the bar low so that I would not disappoint.  If people have low expectations it is very easy to shine.  I found out along the way that this was a double edged sword and left a negative impression on those that I didn’t shine around and I gradually stopped using that as a crutch.  This makes it sound like there was a light bulb moment that switched things around, but in reality it was a gradual change that occurred over a long period of time and was not tied to one decision.  With all lasting change it was a series of little decisions that gradually built up over time, or to use a phrase it was eating the elephant one bite at a time.

I read a lot about productivity and learning.  I am fascinated by life hacks and strategies like the 80/20 principal but with any change it is difficult to me from the contemplative phase to the action phase.  It is a lot of fun to read these blogs and books, and it provides the kind of discussion fodder that makes you feel like the smartest person in the room, but spending your time gaining more and more of this knowledge rather than enacting change creates a productivity paradox.  The challenge comes in putting these productivity ideas into practice, which if you start small and set reasonable goals it is easy enough.

I am a very goal oriented person and find it natural to work toward anything that I put my mind to.  Even though I might be moving at a glacial pace and may blow whatever predicted timeline out of the water I am always focused on trying to complete the goal.  Along the way I have I have found that many of my goals are unattainable, but if I can make some progress then I count it as a victory.  You can set a goal that you are going to go HAM and run 5 miles a day 6 days a week, but by the end of the first week you will probably be burnt out and won’t proceed.  Running one day a week is a start, just slogging one mile through the snow is a better option than sitting on the couch, and who knows maybe next time you can go 1.1 miles?

Want to inspire people, try new things.  Most people want to try new things, but for many reasons they don’t.  I am unwilling to call them excuses but people have things in their lives and deep set psychological beliefs that keep them from taking the first step on any project.  “I don’t have time” or “I don’t know anything about that” are the most common, but people basically people are waiting for the perfect situation to fall into their laps.  I sometimes feel the same way, but I have been able to confront the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect time or situation, you just need to make do with what you have.  Starting a project or adventure makes you that much better at it than 99.9% of the people in the world.  Whenever you tackle something new there a very steep learning curve and once you make it through the initial phases you start getting comfortable which makes you look even more competent.

I am not great at anything, but I am average at a lot of things, and being average is underrated.  When I was in high school I could play any instrument that I put my hands on, not well, but I could at least eek out a few notes and within a few hours of practice I could sound reasonably competent.  I was never an expert, but that was not what I aspired to be, I preferred to be a generalist.  The same guiding principals have carried through my life and my career.  At one time this spring I was working full time at the long term care pharmacy, covering evenings at the hospital pharmacy, while also working per diem at Rite Aid and at an independent.  I routinely worked 6 or 7 days in a row in 3 fields of pharmacy, on 5 computer systems, within 4 different pharmacy cultures, which is more variance than most pharmacists have in their entire career.  By being a generalist I am able to be competent at many aspects of whatever I do but don’t handcuff myself to one field.  Don’t get me wrong the world needs specialists, but the best fit for me is to be a generalist who can provide a blanket coverage that allows me to tackle many things at the same time.

The biggest thing that I have done is being open about the things that I am trying.  It seems simple, and it is, but most people don’t open the dialogue about what they are doing.  Whatever you do can be awesome, but because it is what you do all the time it seems mundane.  A few years ago I drove from Vermont to Tennessee for our annual ski weekend in Gatlinburg, yes I know its nuts.  This was the 3rd time that I had gone and I enjoyed the weekend, but after spending all that time driving down route 81 the trip had kind of lost it’s sparkle.  When I was talking to a friend I just passed it off like it was another part of my boring life, but luckily for me he called me out on my false modesty and made sure that I took the time to appreciate the adventure in my life.  We are raised not to brag and not to self promote, selling yourself is considered slimy, but how else can we let people know about our triumphs.  It feels unnatural, but you need to put yourself out there in order for others to recognize who you are and what you are capable.  False modesty is one of the worst things that you can do, celebrate yourself because nobody else will.  I don’t mean to make you all into braggarts, and I find that I liberally pepper stories of successes with the many stories of failure that I have endured in order to maintain an even keel.  It is probably easy for you to say that you are not an open person like I am or that you are scared of putting yourself out there, but if you stay inside your comfort zone you don’t have the motivation to change.  Every time I get in front of a crowd, or write and essay, or talk to a stranger I am absolutely terrified.  I am afraid of failure, but I know that even if I fail I can recognize what I did wrong and learn from it.  I am afraid of insulting people or pushing them away, but I realize that losing people is part of life.  I am am afraid of over sharing and exposing myself to ridicule and embarrassment, but I know that there is a difference between vulnerability and weakness and the benefits are greater than the risks.  As FDR once said there is nothing to fear except fear itself… that and bears, you should be afraid of bears.

I am not an inspiration.  I am just a ruggedly handsome flannel clad bearded man who likes to try new things and looks at the world through a bit of a cracked lens.  I take a lot of inspiration from the people around me, especially the people who push me to be better than I am.  You can become my inspiration all you have to do is set a goal and push yourself.  We all have that list of things that we want to do or try, now seems like a perfect time to start.  Go for a run, take a class, go to an open mic, cook something that you have never made, build something, do something new, and then be proud and tell the world about it.  The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so close your computer, get off the couch, and take that step.