Self Help

Ok lets face it, my life is kind of a mess right now, and that is saying something since my life is in a perpetually messy state.  The current messiness is one of those dips below the median that really makes you rethink things and I have spent the past several months pondering on a lot of different ways to improve my life.  I know that the rest of this essay may sound like a descent into self help madness and throw around a bunch of buzzwords or phrases, but I have come to some realizations over the past year or two and have finally decided to act on them.

I am heavily committed to self improvement and spend a lot of time reading things that give me insight into the choices that successful people have made.  I love biographies, but memoirs are my favorite type of book because not only do you get the person’s history you get to see how they view the decisions that made them who they are today.  A biographer may guess at a watershed moment in someone’s life where they started executing change and philosophize on the influences that lead to that point, but if the person lived it then they are able to describe the events that caused them to make the change.  This cuts both ways because writing about your own life takes away the lens of objectivity.  People naturally want to brag and over aggrandize their impact, or conversely feel that they are bragging and try to put the emphasis on others.  This inability to see oneself as who they are is part of what makes us complex, and provides a lot of intrigue as a reader.  I love trying to sort through to find out what really happened rather than what the author thinks happened.

One of the common threads in most biographical readings about successful people is their use of failure as a tool.  I love the idea of failing myself to success, mostly because failing is one of the things that I am really good at.  Failing at anything sucks, it is easy to get off track, but those that are successful find a way to pick themselves up and get back on the horse. Finding the bright spots from a failure or a misadventure is proof that life is 90% attitude and 10% aptitude, you could be the best at something but if you aren’t willing to work at it and to overcome setbacks then you aren’t going to get anywhere.

Our society falls victim to the myth of the genius or the natural, and if you aren’t naturally gifted and succeed on the first try then you could never do it.  I was the same way, for many years I thought that I had it made, and all I had to do was make it to the next checkpoint in life and everything would be ok.  I fell victim to this idea that success was guaranteed, in the same way that the big fish in the small pond thinks that he had it made.  I learned the hard way that while things have a tendency to work themselves out in the end, but if you aren’t continuously pushing yourself to be better today than you were yesterday then what is the point.  Easy street sucks, complacency is nothingness, life tastes sweeter when you are spitting blood, whatever you want to call it.  You appreciate things more when you work for them and when you are coasting it is easy to fall off track.

I have always been a bit risk averse.  I may take an unknown path but I like to have as much information to back it up as possible.  This isn’t always a bad thing, the idea of walking a tightrope with a safety net is comforting, but it kept me from making a lot of huge leaps forward, especially in some areas of my life.  It was so easy to say “that girl won’t be interested in me so I won’t ask her out” or “There is no way that I am qualified for that job” since I was afraid of getting rejected.  Sometime last year I decided that I needed to put myself out there and just try, if I got rejected then it was just the cost of doing business.  Shockingly when I tried putting myself out there I didn’t get rejected that often, and when I did it didn’t really hurt.  Instead of tying myself to one idea or person and building that up until it became the only option I tried to fail fast and then try to find a different situation where I could succeed.  In a way it was like I was missing 100% of the shots that I didn’t take, and even when I shot and missed there were plenty of fish in the sea.  This allowed me to not only reach for new opportunities, but it allowed me to explore other options and see what else might be out there.

One of the biggest things that you hear in any type of self help material is that you are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with.  I luckily have a large number of friends that are successful on many levels. But I really decided to evaluate the criteria that I have for spending time with people.  I am a very busy guy and I have a lot going on, why was I wasting time on people who didn’t bring benefits to my life.  In fact I was going out of my way to spend time with people who were actually a drain on my life and took away more than time.  I think that the term “Energy Vampires” is a bit dramatic, but if someone makes you feel bad when you are around them and even makes you feel bad when you think about them then why would you want them in your life?  Just because I have been friends someone for X number of years why should they be allowed to make me feel bad?  I kind of feel like an asshole putting this down in writing, but I have made the decision to walk away from a few long friendships because they no longer bring me benefit.  There was no blow up, or final straw, it is just time for me to go my separate way.  I wish them the best of luck, but I simply don’t have room in my life for them, which is a shame, but it is part of being a grown up.  It makes me think about the people who cut ties and walked away from me and how much I resented that, but I suppose that being uncomfortable is part of the equation.  Having to avoid someone that you have been friends with for 8 years when you live a mile apart in a small town is no easy task, but when you are trying to help yourself you can’t let the people that bring you down into your life.

The main key to understand about self help books is that they are not written to help others, they are solely to help the author rationalize their decisions under the guise of being selfless.  Maybe this essay is the same way.  I am a better person today than I was a few years ago, and I will be better tomorrow than I am today.  I hope that I can help others to flip that switch and take an interest in self improvement and maybe someone can learn from my mistakes.  The buzzwords may sound cliche, but sometimes the cliches are right, so you might as well take a shot at it, since you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.

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Too Much Time On My Hands

Tell someone that you are on vacation and they get jealous.  Tell them that you got laid off and they feel empathetic.  Tell them that you are starting a new job and they are hopeful.  Tell them that you are taking some time off and they tend to either write you off as lazy or applaud you for knowing your limits.  I have worked a lot over the past 5 years, routinely juggling 2-3 jobs, bringing in massive amounts of paid and unpaid overtime, and continuously living on the edge of burnout.  One of the hardest things that I have done since graduating college was taking the past 9 days off.

I am a workaholic, I embrace that.  It is no surprise that after quitting my 3rd job last summer I jumped into comedy with both feet and almost treat it like another part time job.  I like being busy and having structure to my life, and work provides that.  My life is a demonstration of inertia, when I am in motion nothing can stop me, but the minute I stop then it all goes to shit.  I am also very focused on my financial goals (code for greedy) and since I don’t mind working to meet or exceed those goals.  For a long time I really didn’t have much going on in my life so if I could work an extra shift, or a side job then I would be a waste of space, so why not put in the time and bank the cash.  This lead me to working 1000 hours of paid overtime in my first 3 years as a pharmacist, and spending a huge amount of time exceeding my scheduled hours or working from home on things for the LTC Pharmacy.

I will admit that having those first few days off were a huge blessing.  I was able to sleep a bit and get out to do some comedy and then take care of things on my to do list.  After about 5 days I actually cleared off most of the things that I had planned to do over the entire 2 weeks.  I suppose that being being goal oriented and productive can be a double edged sword.  I may have a bit of PTSD and am still waiting for the other shoe to drop.  When I decided to head to Albany a day early to just hang out and all my friends were busy I found that I resented them for having other things going on, which isn’t fair to anybody.  I guess that I should have come up with a better plan for this time instead of trying to play it by ear.

One of the hardest things about having free time is confronting the things that you have been putting off.  There are always things in our lives that we don’t like or that are too hard to deal with at the time and it is easy to put them on the back burner and forget about them.  I found long ago that the worst part about asking tough questions is getting tough answers. We spend most of our lives thinking that we are too busy to confront the things that we don’t like about ourselves.  When that business excuse is pried away it is a pretty harsh awakening and all of a sudden other excuses start to pop up.  I have been trying to whack a mole those excuses down so that I can get some tangible benefit out of this time, except for cooking up a freezer full of future meals and depleting my whiskey collection I haven’t had much success.

I have made some progress while trying to find some peace and getting in touch with myself.  I am not a very emotional person, but I have been trying to get into my own head and heart to find out what things matter to me and why.  This afternoon I parked outside the condemned wreck of 100 Holland Ave, the house that I lived in for 4 years during college.  Holland Ave will always be a very important place for me because it was the setting for several years that helped to form me into the person that I am today.  While sitting there in the sunlight on this beautiful day I was hit with a profound sadness for a time that I miss that will never happen again.  Instead of brushing it off like I normally would I took a moment to embrace the sadness and really feel it, and it was a pretty awesome event.  After a few minutes I was able to rationalize that I wasn’t sad that these times didn’t last, or for a house that is falling apart, but for the relationships that place symbolizes.  I was sad for all the friends that I have grown apart from, or those that have passed away, or those who I don’t see often enough.  I was sad for the naivety of the person who I used to be, and for the dreams of who I would become that haven’t come to fruition, and for all the mistakes that I have made along the way.  I was nostalgic for a simpler time that was never as simple as I remember it to be, and I was sad that it took me so long to really feel things so vividly.  It was a pretty amazing moment that I don’t know I would have embraced the same way if I was rushing back home to get my life in order before having to work tomorrow.

Even though I am going back to work in a week or so I feel different that I have in quite a while.  There is no master plan, there is no ultimate goal, I am at a career crossroads where I can either embrace the retail lifestyle or use this job as a stopgap until I strive to find something else above and beyond.  I am taking my 6th job in 5 years (technically the same as my 3rd job, but it feels distinctly different), and I have nothing to  fall back on.  I have a lot to think about in the future and a lot of things to question over the next year or two.  Even though I have no clear course I don’t feel rudderless or lost, I simply feel that I am biding time to make the right choices.  I feel that I am dictated not by one factor, but have a number of things that I need to take into consideration.  I do miss the simplicity of being motivated solely by greed or compulsive workaholism, but it is nice having other things play a role in whatever decisions I make.  It is also nice to see things as temporary, every job I took I told myself that I would be in that job for the rest of my career, but after 5 jobs I realize that you need to find something that works for you now and just take things as they come.

Life is about self growth and trying to be better tomorrow than you are today, or at least that is the lie I tell to people in my online dating profile.  Making enough little changes can add up to a series of big changes that can alter the course of your life.  I find that I keep hacking away at any goal I can get there.  While this time off has been tough it has presented me with several goals that I want to address and things I want to change, if not now then eventually.  I am going to spend the next few days making positive changes to my life and setting myself up for success in the future.  I may not be able to be my normal efficient self, but maybe I can take some time and embrace that things that provide the most benefit in my life.  I suppose that there are worse things than having too much time on my hands.

March Challenge Recap

I am sorry that I have delayed this for so long, but it has been a pretty hectic week.  Without further delay here is the recap of my March Challenge and insight into what I am trying for April.

The March Challenge was to do yoga every day.  It seemed like a very simple and straightforward task, but I feel like I didn’t do it justice.  I did perform at least a few yoga moves each day, but I didn’t get as into it as I would have liked.

For the first few weeks I would wake up early and do a few progressions or try a new lesson from yogaglo.com.  I really enjoyed it and feel like it was great motivation to get up early and greet the day (salute the sun even).  When I left on vacation I was thrown for a bit of a loop because my schedule changed and I wasn’t in the same routine.  I also think that I was self conscious about doing yoga around my friends, which is weird because they have all seen me in much more compromising positions.  I still did a few poses but it wasn’t as effective.  Once I got home I tried to get back into my morning routine, but I just couldn’t do it.  In the end I wound up doing really well for the first few weeks but phoning it in for the rest of the month.  I am kind of disappointed in myself.

As I transition back to a job in retail I am anticipating a lot of pain, especially in my feet, legs, and back.  I hope that setting up a quick and easy yoga and stretching routine for each morning will help me to reduce that pain.  I also plan on developing a more in depth routine for my days off.  I will be starting couch25k again next week so stretching will become mandatory, and yoga is a great way to stretch.  I hope that eventually I can overcome my self consciousness and actually try a yoga class.

April Challenge

Even though I haven’t written about it I have been doing this month’s challenge since the 1st.  In an attempt to better regulate my food intake and add some structure to my time off I have renewed my focus on meal planning.

The Challenge: Plan all meals in advance.

  • Why: I find myself on my days off making decisions on the fly.  While I love living without that structure I recognize that those freeform days always lead me to astray in the past.  It is great to occasionally play a day by ear, but if when I do it frequently I become a little off kilter.
  • The Benefits: I love goals and schedules and having things set up helps to keep me on track.  When I have days off I tend to fall into a type of vacation mode where I think that I can eat anything that I want which obviously doesn’t help with my diet.  Hopefully by planning all my meals in advance I can save money and help stick to a healthier diet.
  • The System: The system is pretty straightforward, just write things down.  I recently bought a bunch of white boards that I use to track the food in my fridge and freezers so that things don’t go to waste.  Each Sunday I use one of them to map out my week and adjust it as the week progresses.  Simply having an idea of what I am going to eat each day takes a number of decisions off my mind.  It also helps to record what I have eaten for the day, I have been using MyFitnessPal.com for a few months now and have found it to be very beneficial.  I also have started storing my leftovers, which is a new thing for me.  I bought a chest freezer and have been making pre packaged meals that I can bring to work, which further eliminates decisions.

Meal planning has always been a big weakness for me and I hope to improve on it.  Even if I change the plan as I go along it is nice to actually have a plan to start with.  I hope that this challenge will keep things moving in the right direction and help to regiment my days and get some results.