The Best Course I Have Ever Taken

I have nearly 250 semester hours of college credits.  And have taken hundreds of hours of post graduate continuing education.  I have spent thousands of dollars on personal development classes from “Productivity gurus” in order to “optimize my psychology.” Hell I even took improv and standup classes so that I could feel like I graduated.  But the most important class that I have ever taken was during my junior year of high school.  And maybe taking that simple after school class was the spark that I needed to set me up for the success that future courses would bring.

My life is busy, it always has been.  I started down my workaholic path early and was always focused on getting things done.  I was an achiever from an early age and always wanted to check all the boxes and get all the awards.  While high school was probably my laziest period it was also one of my busiest.  I would regularly leave the house at 7AM and not get back until almost 9.  I filled my time by being the class president, a member of key club, national honor society, two trivia teams (one for quiz bowl and the other for the enirothon), band, jazz band, marching band, boy scouts, and other clubs that I am sure I forgot, all while being a 2 sport athlete and working on the weekends.  Toss in the fact that I was a teenager trying to have friendships and a fun life and things were very busy.

My father is very good at time management and has a lot of experience trying to keep my chronically late mother on some semblance of a schedule.  He did a great job pushing me to stay on time and fulfill any commitments that I had made, but as a rebellious teenager I wasn’t going to listen to most of his advice.  Luckily I found a mentor who was able to make a mark and get me to live up to my potential.  I was fortunate to have a lot of very good teachers, coaches, and advisers who made a lasting impact, but this one teacher doing an after school class made the biggest difference.

Tom Ciaccio played quarterback at Holy Cross and blew up their record books, played in Europe and signed as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals, but then he got into teaching.  I never had him as a teacher or as a coach, but his name rang out in the halls.  He was just a few years older than we were, and a really nice and friendly guy, with that natural leadership bearing that some people radiate.  He was a local who grew up 1 town over and did something that so few people from that area did, he went found success and then came back home.  He was an inspiration, and he didn’t shy away from the fact that he could use his talents to inspire and motivate others.  So he started an after school class on time management, and for some reason I decided to give it a try.  I remember it costing something around $75 which was a bit of a hardship at the time since I was making $5 per hour under the table washing dishes, but looking back it was the best investment I could have made.

I didn’t save much from High School.  It wasn’t a great time for me and I put it behind me pretty quickly.  But I do really wish that I would have saved the workbook from this class.  I can’t even remember the proper title, but I suppose that the impact is more important than the name.  Things were perfectly geared to get us to understand our own psychology and motivations and were presented at our 10th grade level without feeling like we were being talked down to.  There was a lot of thinkwork that needed to be done at home which was a nice change from the massive amount of essay writing that high school is known for.  He asked a lot of questions that we wouldn’t normally ask ourselves at that time, the type of questions that I am seeing a lot of my friends just start asking 15 years later.  We looked at our priorities and how we sorted our to do lists, while also developing plans to set and reach our goals and strategies to maximize our impact.  In a way it was like a football playbook where he taught us the basics and allowed us to execute and trust our instincts.

At the time I appreciated it, but looking back it is unbelievable how much I got out of that class.  My life is busy to the point of being hectic, but I have put enough systems in place that I am able to handle everything with few problems.  For example last week I worked 5 days (53 hours), spent another 8 hours commuting, performed at an open mic, attended an improv show, did all my laundry, cleaned and vacuumed my whole apartment, went to a brewery, got my car fixed, packed for an 8 day road trip, all while cooking all my own meals, walking at least 5 miles a day, meditating daily, writing a few thousand words, reading parts of 3 different books, keeping in touch with several friends, and living a pretty normal life.  And I was bored.

Maybe it is the fact that I spend most of my time doing things that I enjoy or can at least see direct benefit from, or maybe it is my natural capacity to multitask, or maybe it is the devotion to Tim Ferriss theories, or maybe it is the firm belief in systems and routines, but right now I am more productive than I have ever been.  And I am able to do it all without falling into the business trap where people feel overwhelmed.  I am far from superman, but by prioritizing and executing I am able to get more done with little stress, and it makes my life feel much easier.  I sometimes use the term busy but fulfilled, where there is a lot going on but nothing worth flipping out over.  It is nice going to bed knowing that you accomplished a lot in a day but not having too much to worry about.  It may feel boring from time to time, but I will take bored in place of overwhelmed any day.

It might seem disingenuous to tie where I am right now to a single course, but I do believe that it was something that helped to hone my skills and make me look inside myself for the best results.  All these years and classes later I am still grateful that I was able to get that motivation and insight at such an early age.  From a purely return on investment standpoint in both money and time I have reaped the rewards thousands of times over.  And for that I will always be grateful.

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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.

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.

Find Your Tribe

A few days ago I was reading an email with one of those supposed “live your life better” points and I came across an interesting statement, “find your tribe.” They meant it as a go forth and meet new people who like the same thing as you, but instead it got me thinking about the people that I already know.  I get a lot of these emails form various list serves and most of the time they are filled with fluff about how I should meditate, go to the gym for 6 hours every day, drink my coffee at a leisurely pace, and buy whatever product or course they are selling. But every once in a while you come across a gem that makes everything click into place, this was one of those times.

The concept of “tribe” may seem very foreign in our society, but if the nomenclature doesn’t fit then try substituting the word family. Most people have two types of families, the ones that they are born into and the “family” of friends and associates that they choose. I suppose that for me the term tribe works better, since my groups of friends are constantly moving, flowing and evolving like the American Indians of the plains. I suppose that it also works since I am closer to some groups than to others, and form alliances and associations with tribal type bonds. I have a huge tribe full of fraternity brothers, a good sized one full of professional associates, a small but powerful tribe of friends, a group of beer lovers, and lately I have been trying to build a tribe of comedians. The great part about thinking of these groups as tribes is that I can create new groups and connections without having to deal with the messy terminology.

I suppose for those that know me assigning nomenclature to disguise my connections is a bit out of character. I have never gotten into petty terminology of who is a “close friend” or a “best friend” but I have always been pretty clear with how I view people if not how I call them. I like most people work on a tiered system where as I get to meet people and they move through the stage such as acquaintance, associate, friend, and confidant or some such hierarchy. I suppose that the best way to move up this chain is to belong to intersecting groups that I spend my time with. It is a bit like having a Venn diagram of where I spend my time, those in the green area where the yellow and blue circles overlap are my closest friends. No real surprise that my closest friends are beer drinking fraternity brothers who like to laugh at my jokes.

For most of the past decade most of my friends have followed a similar pattern. They were at one point in time in pharmacy school, or dated/lived with/were close to one of my friends. Based on that distinction they were mostly white, middle class, moderate to highly intelligent, internally motivated, and probably a little full of themselves. Having only friends from the same mold is a double edged sword, since you are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with, buy it also limited my scope and made me uncomfortable when I met people who aren’t in that mold.

During the first few years after college I was so caught up in the work too much sleep too little cycle that I never took the time to develop new contacts in my new home towns. I would work 60 or so hours a week then run off to Albany to spend time with my friends or to camp to spend time with my family. While these trips were great release valves and gave some balance to my hectic and stressful life they prevented me from putting down roots. It wasn’t until I moved to Middlebury and got to know a few people and develop a few routines that I was able to expand my circle. Part of that is due to a more forgiving work schedule which allows me to go out and do different things after working a full day, but I think that part of it was because I reached the point that I no longer want to be as much of a nomad. Don’t get me wrong, we always want what you can’t have, and I still long for a life of freedom and a no responsibility, but I know that the best option is for me to settle in and develop a life for myself.

I have always been consumed by my passions. I latch onto something and pour every ounce of energy into in. Over the years most of these passions are solitary endeavors like writing or photography, but the ones that I have picked up recently have been more social ventures. Pursuing craft beer and visiting breweries gives me to opportunity to strike up conversations with interesting people from all over. Sometimes it is making small talk with someone while waiting in line, other times it is being the only one hanging out with the brewer. Since I am a middle of the road beer geek I have a lot more knowledge than the layman but a lot less than the brewers and serious geeks I can walk into every conversation either taking in or imparting knowledge which makes for great discussion and a worthwhile feeling. I pride myself on being a beer geek rather than a beer snob because I enjoy all types of beers and don’t feel the need to look down on others for their lack of knowledge or divergent tastes. I hope that this makes me seem like less of an asshole when referring to hop varietals or using terms like “catty” and “roasty” but then again maybe not. Most of my friends are into beer and we spend a lot of time discussing out of the box beers from far away breweries and bragging about how we have a friend of a friend who is able to ship us some. In the end it makes for interesting conversation and a welcome feel good atmosphere. Even the few beer snobs in our tribe are unobtrusive enough that they don’t put off the rest of us too much.

Over the past few months I have been lucky enough to meet a whole bunch of new and interesting people through comedy. I have always been a bit of a loner and putting myself out there is a step WAY outside of my comfort zone. Taking a chance and doing something new like comedy opened me up and allowed me to meet people in a comforting and easy going scene which has really been a blessing. Going from meeting 3 non work related people in the past 5 years to meeting dozens in the span of a few months is a big step. Simply making new acquaintances and starting the getting to know you process is a welcome step. Hopefully as I continue my journey through comedy I will continue to meet new people from all different backgrounds and walks of life and the tribe will keep on growing.

One of my favorite movies is SLC Punk. In part of the opening act they introduce a character named John the Mod who “moves between the tribes.” Set in Salt Lake City in 1985 the movie focuses on the rigidly defined class structure of the underground, mods, punks, heavy metal guys, new agers, the like. And though this brightly colored hierarchy never resembled my life, the sense of moving between groups and acting as an ambassador always appealed to me. As tied as I may be to a few groups I take pride in the fact that I am not a one trick pony solely locked into working with one set of people. Being able to move between groups and spend time with different sets allows me to maximize my time and keeps me from getting bored. Maybe because I have a unique appearance and a booming voice but people tend to remember me and readily seek me out, which in turns brings me into their group and allows me to form even more new connections.

The past year or so has been focused on personal growth and trying new things. Through that process I have been impressed with my ability to switch between personas. It isn’t a psychopathic thing, but embracing who I am when surrounded by different groups. I guess it is part of my development of a stage persona that is an amplification of myself. I have been able to work on making that mental switch in the same way my professional pharmacy attitude used to come on whenever I put on my labcoat. This grasp of self awareness and knowledge of who I am supposed to be when is different settings is something that develops with time and is something I keep striving to get better. As great as the idea of “just being yourself” is it doesn’t work for all situations.

This essay has turned longer than I anticipated, and I think that I could probably keep going. The net effect is that I am pretty happy at where my tribes have taken me and I am looking to find other tribes and to grow as a person. I like finding new outlets and pursuing new passions and meeting others who share some of those passions. I look forward to expanding these groups and having them overlap, as far as I am concerned the more I hear “So how do you know Owen?” the better.

I’m Funny How? Funny Like I’m a Clown, I Amuse You? I Make You Laugh?

This Post was originally Published on October 27th, 2014

For my entire life people have said that I am funny, and nearly every time Joe Pesci’s “Funny How? monologue from Goodfellas plays in my head.  I have always been a bit of a class clown and learned early in life that making people laugh was a great defense mechanism.  I was picked on a lot when I was younger and I developed a self deprecating style that allowed me to get laughs first and take the wind out of the sails of any bully.  While I love making people laugh I thought that my quick quips and bouts of wit were just inside jokes that could never expand beyond people who knew me.  I had a professor in college who kept pushing me to do standup, he stated that all humor is situational and standup is about making a story that allows the audience to envision the scenario.  I thought he was full of shit and that I could never be funny in the real world until I started hearing people repeat my jokes and get laughs from strangers.  At that point in time I decided to hell with it, I might as well give it a try.  I took a 3 hour comedy class in May and followed it up with a 6 week course that culminates in my first performance tomorrow.

I think that standup is one of the hardest things that I have done in a while.  It is terrifying to put yourself out there and do a monologue while at the same time convincing the audience to see through your eyes.  I have watched a few comedians over the years and always thought to myself “I can totally do that” but the reality is standing up there and laying it all on the line is super challenging.  Writing hasn’t been a problem for me because I am a bit of a lightning rod and experience a lot of crazy things.  I also am a pretty good storyteller and know how to explain things to people who were not there in a context that they can understand.  I think that the biggest challenge is editing.  The things that run through your head may sound downright HILARIOUS, but the minute you open your mouth they bomb.  I also have problems with compliments, so it is hard for me to deal with people giving me praise.  This kind of makes me sound like I am either depressed or have an inflated ego, but it is not because I am beat down or because I am faking humble, it is because I am always striving to be better.

The performance aspect of standup is going to be a challenge.  I am relatively comfortable doing presentations to small groups in a professional capacity, but standing in front of a dark room full of strangers is completely different.  I have a decent stage presence, and while I may be uncomfortable I don’t feel that it will be super noticeable.  This is not a huge thing for me, I don’t feel like I will have a panic attack or anything, but it is something that I know I am facing and will be able to overcome.  Timing and delivery are learned art forms and I am sure that I can perfect them as long as I start doing shows regularly but I feel that my pace is pretty much where I want it to be.  I have also been having time management issues, something that I timed at 6 minutes may run at 4 or 8 and not planning the set appropriately can cause time overages or underages.  These are all things that I can overcome with time and experience.

I don’t normally watch or listen to comedy that often because I am afraid of absorbing other people’s jokes and turning them into my own, which is a bad habit and can make you look bad to other comedians.  I have been watching the people at these shows with a more critical eye than I would in the past.  It is great to get the laughs, but as an added benefit I am able to see what people do that is good or bad and try to learn from them.  I love watching Louis CK or Katt Williams and try to emulate some of the things done by the masters, but I also enjoy watching these comics who are closer to my level and learning from their mistakes.  By putting a critical eye on the 2 shows that I have seen in the past week I feel much more comfortable and willing to give standup a go.  As a side note I saw my first improv show and am kind of in awe.  I really enjoyed the quickness and spontaneity but am absolutely terrible at voices and characters so I don’t know how well I would do.  Maybe that will be something that I can try in a few months.

Standup has been a really fun experience for me and I look forward to making it my new passion project over the next few months.  I have found that I am much more comfortable speaking to groups and despite the added work stress of the past few weeks I feel that I have been able to see growth on the professional side.  It is also a great stress reducer to get into a room with some very funny people each week, turn off your phone, and just laugh.  The old cliche is that laughter is the best medicine, and sometimes cliches are true, that being said if you have Ebola then please get real medicine.  Breaking into the scene is hard since everybody already knows each other and I am not really good with new people, but I feel that once I get out there I can start making the necessary connections.  I have already had the privilege of getting to know a few people and make a few friends, hopefully the growth will be exponential.

So now the time has come.  In a few short hours I will be up on the stage at a creperie performing to a crowd of strangers.  It feels a bit like the moments before a fight, I have worked hard and know what I am capable of, the key is taking all that training and translating it into results.  This has been a pretty great journey for me and I am glad that I gave it a shot.  Worst case scenario I suck.  I think that heading up to Burlington for shows and open mics will give me a chance to get out of the house this winter and help bring some levity into my life.  No matter what I proved to myself that I really am funny, not contextually funny, not inside joke funny, or even internet LOLz funny, just plain funny.  And as Artie Lange says, “The only people who get laid less than funny fat guys are serious fat guys.”

Embrace the Fear

This Post was originally published on October 18th, 2014

For most of my life I have been afraid, not just afraid, but terrified.  I know that may seem incongruous, but it is true.  I am afraid of falling, and dying alone, and the things that lurk in the darkest corners of my imagination, and failure, and bears.  I have nightmares almost every night about one of those things, but the thing that I am most afraid of is missing out on the fun or interesting things going on around me.  Yes folks, I the Reverend Doctor Owen E. Foley, duly sworn Notary Public in the great state of Vermont suffer from the terminal disease known as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).

Man has always been fascinated by what he cannot have, and plagued by regrets of things that he could have had if only the circumstances had been handled differently.  It is no big shock that Moses and god discussed coveting on Mount Sinai millennia ago..  Our generation is no different, in fact we are probably worse than people before us.  We live in an interconnected world where we are constantly being bombarded with all the GREAT or AMAZING things that everybody around us is doing.  This creates a major inferiority complex where we look at our “mundane” or “boring” life and fail to see the adventure, just the drudgery that we have become used to.  There is always excitement or adventure in new things or experiences, but that shine quickly fades as you become used to it.  Through working out standup routines I have found that what is new and terrifying the first time you perform it becomes old hat by the 3rd time, and you need to strive to keep the excitement level up since you are probably dealing with a new audience each time.

Ah the old third paragraph, the time where I write about an interesting story where something related to the post topic occurred to me, fear not faithful fans I will not disappoint.  A few years ago my friends rented a house with brothers from all the eastern regional chapters in Atlantic City for founders day weekend and I was invited to join.  I knew it would be a good weekend, but it would cost me about $150 for fees, and gas, and probably a lot of extra cash for gambling.  On top of that I did not have an active passport so I am not sure if I would be able to leave the states and get into New Jersey.  I instead decided to take pass and work a my normal Saturday shift at Eckerd.  Almost a decade later I still regret missing out on that trip.  There were stories about toilet paper football, and hookups, and coffee made with Jack Daniels instead of water, and a giant pole that was stolen from the roadside, and even a pile of “human excrement” on the basement floor that cost them the deposit.  All I got was $88 pre tax and a boring weekend alone at my apartment.

I would like to clarify that FOMO is not always a bad thing.  There are few motivating factors as effective as missing out on something and trying to redeem yourself.  I can personally tie several road trips and fun adventures to trying to “redeem” myself over the skipped AC trip.  Sometimes missing out can be the kick in the ass that you need to get yourself moving on something even better.  The problem lies when your sole motivating factor is that you don’t want to miss out on anything, because lets face it there is only so much that you can do, trying to go beyond that will just lead to disaster.

I have found that the biggest key is identifying what really matters.  In the pharmacy world we are trained to be omnipotent and multitask to no end.  This is not field specific because we live in a world where everyone is on multiple screens and our lives are filled with digital clutter of all kinds.  Every productivity “expert” lobbies for doing one thing to increase your productivity or focus, but it is so easy to get caught up in the search for productivity that you never actually take action.  You become so focused on the overwhelming amount of ways to get yourself out on whatever situation that you are stuck in, that you are so afraid to choose one and make the commitment, thereby missing out on the options provided via other options.  The basics never change, you want to make enough money to live a good life, you want to surround yourself with good people, and you want to feel fulfilled.  No amount of productivity advice or life hacks will get you there, you need to know what you want and reach for it.

I have recently begun reevaluating my priorities.  I found that my work too much, sleep too little, try to miss nothing schedule had lead me to the point of burnout.  Although I have basically been walking the burnout line for the past 10 years I still recognize when I was getting too close to the edge.  This summer I took some time for myself, and I am so glad that I did.  I started working out more, and traveling for things that really mattered instead of just trying to fill the time.  I found myself splitting time between multiple things but not being obligated to try everything and be everywhere at once.  This was most likely the best summer of my life, and I was able to do it while working 50 hours a week and being on the go every weekend.

A few weeks ago I had a major victory.  I left a bottle share where I would have had some new and interesting beers that I probably will never have again in exchange for watching American Dad reruns and falling asleep early, and it was totally worth it.  I woke up clear eyed and sober and ran a 5k, and what is more important I didn’t regret my decision for a second.  While this represents a big win, it isn’t the end.  We are hardwired to want what we do not have, and that hunger is a great motivational tool, but we have to pick and choose what is really worth it.

You can’t pick your fears, or else every white girl would be afraid of gluten.  The best that you can do is embrace the ones that you have and try to overcome them.  I will probably always be afraid of missing experiences, but the key is being content with the experiences that you choose.  Life is full of decisions, and sometimes you have to choose the responsible decision over the fun one or the boring decision over the flashy one, and I am okay with that.  The night is dark and full of terrors, but at least I feel comfortable facing my fear of missing out because there will always be plenty of other things to keep me up at night.

The Birth of Introspection

This Post was originally published on April 21st, 2014

Last month when I was on vacation I discussed writing with an old friend.  I don’t think that this guy has a Facebook, and if he does he is then we aren’t friends.  He mentioned that he has read some of my work and that he enjoyed the introspection that I had put into it.  This is great because first of all I have always craved his approval and secondly it means that someone is benefiting from these ramblings beyond my computer screen.  This got me thinking about the growth that I have made over the past few years and how much better I understand the world around me, and the world between my own ears.

We all start as children blissfully unaware of the world around us.  As we grow up we gradually become aware of more of the things that are going on.  Our view grows from just knowing that we exist to include our family, friends, community, and eventually we get the idea that we are not the center of the universe, just one thread in a rich tapestry of life.  I was lucky enough that my family encouraged growth and awareness through experience.  I was pretty well traveled and through books was able to be exposed to several different world views and see things through the eyes of others.  By the time I was in high school I was able to grasp some of the complexities of life around me, not to say I was some type of savant and I certainly didn’t understand everything, but I did have a decent grasp on reality and my place in the world for a music obsessed lonely teenager.

In college something changed, I regressed gradually at first but as the pressure mounted I became an animal, I suppose as a type of defense mechanism.  I reverted to a macho mindset that I was going to be a tough guy, a real man of action instead of just a pussy thinking all the time.  For a long period the main things in my life were boxing, eating, and getting drunk, literally the eat, drink, fight survival responses of a wounded animal.  I couldn’t understand emotions, I oscillated between terribly sad and irrationally angry. Everyone kept telling me to be happy, but I don’t think that I would recognize happiness if it jumped up and hit me in the face, but then again hitting me in the face would probably just make me angry.  Obviously this is a bit hyperbole, but the fact is that just 5 years ago I was a very different person, and frankly I was not someone who I would currently want to spend time with.  So what was the turning point?  What was the catalyst that promoted the burst of self awareness and started this change toward enlightenment?  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Yes that bothersome little book that ACPHS forced us to read for Healthcare and Human Values changed my life.  I have never been a fan of classic literature, but for some reason I was able to understand and digest this book like no other.  Maybe it was because my 23 year old sensibilities were on par with 18 year old Mary Shelley in 1816.  I remember sitting in the back of our 20 person class, head down, hat on, hood up, hung over and hearing someone stumble through a poorly prepared answer to a homework that I didn’t bother to complete and just having the light bulb go on.  With my head still down I dissected the entire book during a few minute talk that clearly answered the question asked as well as tied in themes flowing within the book and connected them to modern society and science.  When I finished I looked up to the entire class staring intently at me seemingly shocked that the drunk guy who skipped all other classes actually had a brain and knew how to apply it, and the professor who I had for several classes as a freshman smiling because after a long hiatus I was back.

It wasn’t an overnight transformation, but after that one experience I was able to muster the courage to start thinking big picture again.  I set myself a goal that when I was on rotations I would use the time for my benefit and ask the deepest questions and find the right answers that would straighten my life out.  I was going to figure out finances and professionalism while regaining the love of travel and exploration that had laid dormant during my booze soaked college years.  I set a very ambitious goal of having my whole life figured out by the time that I crossed the stage with my diploma.  Needless to say I failed.

I felt, and still feel, that the best way to grow was to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  I tried to do that personally and professionally as much as possible during rotations.  I was able to grow a ton and move toward the type of self actualized life that I dreamed about.  I set about to acquire data, reading books, blogs, and watching deep thinking media instead of the terrible action movies that I adore so much.  I also set about trying to ask myself the deep questions about myself, and predictably I didn’t like the answers.  I decided that since I didn’t like the answers the best thing to do is to play the odds and keep asking questions, eventually things should work out.  Wrong.  Long after graduation had come and gone I was still searching for the answers that suited my needs under the guise of being a thinker.  Little did I know that the funk I had put myself in thinking about issues without acting on them was worse than the blind actions and ignorance that I was running from.

Life is all about balance and trying to strike that perfect chord where everything works in harmony just for a split second.  I obviously haven’t found it yet, but over the past 5 years I have swung to both extremes and am searching for the elusive middle ground.  I will keep making mistakes, and will bounce back and forth as life goes on, but at least I know that there is no such thing as a magic bullet.  No one amazing event will ever make you happy for ever and ever, no one terrible event will ruin your entire life.  My path to introspection isn’t complete, it never will be complete because I have a whole lot of exploring left to do.  We have never been promised happiness, so I suppose that the pursuit will have to do.

 

Death Before Decaf

This Post was originally published on April 9th, 2014

Disclaimer: Heavy religious material beyond this point, it may piss you off but these are my beliefs and the story behind what I do.  You may not agree with me, but please agree that we can have a conversation about our differences not a shouting match.  I am not and would never try to force my beliefs on you, this is just a statement of my position and an explanation into my thought process.

Every year I have three spring rituals.  First I freeze my balls off and wait diligently for it to warm up, secondly I send my mother tulips on her birthday, and lastly I give something up for Lent.  Why Lent you ask?  Maybe it is because from time to time I like the feeling that there is something bigger out there. This year  I decided to give up caffeine for Lent, something that I really regret at this point.

I am not particularly religious, but I do feel like I am significantly more religious that I was back when I started taking Lent seriously a few years ago.  For some reason about 7 or 8 years ago I decided to revamp my Lenten tradition that I used to take seriously as a kid, no meat on Friday and giving up something important.  I though that it would at least give me a reason to try something different and at worst I would kick a bad habit along the way.  That first year I gave up muffins, the delicious breakfast treat that I love so much. Miraculously I was able to make it through on will power alone, often wandering through the bakery aisle looking longingly at the delicious muffiney goodness presented before me.  After Easter found that once I had lived a few weeks without any muffins in my life I really didn’t have many cravings.  To this day I occasionally go for a muffin or two, but generally don’t find them very appealing, in fact I now mostly shy away from any breakfast baked good.  This was a good lesson, and something that I saw reflected in the things that I gave up over subsequent years.  I wound up giving this a try by giving up energy drinks, bacon, canned or bottled beer, meat, and a few other things that were obviously less memorable (since I cant remember them for the life of me).  Meat was tough, but the others were actually easier than giving up muffins was that first year.

Every catholic I know approaches Lent differently.  Many don’t observe it at all, something that I fully understand.  Growing up catholic but losing touch with that faith is a trademark of my generation.  We lived through the decline of catholic schools, the closure of churches due to not enough priests, and the molestation scandals. It is not surprising that people refer to themselves as lapsed or former Catholics, so I am impressed by the people who actually carry on the traditions that they grew up with.  I have one friend who gives up ice cream every year. It is his tradition, but functionally what kind of ice cream cravings do you get during March in upstate New York? It feels funny to kind of judge this guy, who by the way goes to church almost every week?  Especially since excluding a handful of weddings, funerals, baptisms or holiday masses I haven’t been to church in the past 10 years.  Does my greater commitment 40 days a year make me a better catholic than his greater commitment on Sundays?  Who knows.

My generation has a level of religious freedom that our forefathers could only dream of.  We live in a time where you don’t have to cross the ocean and climb the Himalayas to find Buddhist or Indian philosophies, all you need to do is perform a Google search.  We even have the freedom to have no religion at all.  Probably half of the people I know would classify themselves as atheists or at least agnostics.  While I understand the tendency to revolt against typical theistic though patterns I am kind of baffled because there is so much in this world that we cannot explain.  Not to say that I am going to trust the biblical story word for word, in fact I really dont even think I believe in Jesus.  There is so much out there is it truly impractical to believe in something that we cannot put our finger on?  I have seen some strange things over the years, I feel like my life has been touched in some pretty strange ways that have helped point me in the right direction.  I personally feel better by believing that this was part of some grand plan with a million moving parts rather than just the chance happening of luck.  We are constantly striving to prove or disprove the existence of God but why are we wasting our time.  Science can shine light on a lot of things, but who says that science and God are separate?  Maybe they work together for our betterment, I am just glad that we have the self awareness and the higher thought processes in place that allow us to even have this question, a question that raises great conversation and debate.  A goldfish doesn’t know that we exist in form, but to him we are a god who exists to provide him food and by not being able to think about self subsistence he is unable to evolve, maybe having dissenting voices provides a path to push us forward.

I understand not knowing what Lent is, or not being Catholic and not trying it, or being Catholic but not making it part of your tradition, but I cant deal with people who look down on those with faith.  I know that we live in a world where the Westboro Baptist Church types or even normal everyday Christians are stuffing their view or religion down our throats, but whatever religious beliefs they have are their right to have.  I have one Facebook friend who rips people daily for believing in God, that is his right under free speech, but it is basically the same as the Westboro guys preaching to others against their will.  He has the right to believe or not believe whatever he will , and the right to say it, but starting my day off with hate was part of the reason that I blocked him from showing up in my news feed.  People have a right to believe whatever they choose, simply because you dont feel the same way is not an indictment of their beliefs.  Repeatedly telling them how wrong they are just draws a line in the sand and is never going to win them over.

Now back to the point that I stared off making.  I gave up caffeine for Lent this year.  I don’t often drink coffee, but when I do it is always a pleasure.  With the schedule that I have been working lately I really could use some caffeine to keep me motivated, in fact I have decided that after Easter I am going to drink at least one cup of coffee (or a demitasse of espresso) each day.  I do often eat chocolate, which was my main factor in giving up caffeine.  From chocolate milk to every protein bar ever created, to those god damned Cadbury mini eggs, I basically ate chocolate each day.  The cravings have not yet subsisted, but I think that maybe doing this will cause me to reduce my chocolate intake after this is done, but not chocolate milk, that shit is delicious.