Protein Bars, Hot Yoga and Other Sweaty Things

We are intelligent, but easily fooled. We oscillate between fastidious participation in fads, and ironic disengagement from them. We are seduced by words like protein, paleo and Cross-Fit. We find these compulsions sexy, and therefore, worth our time / financial investment. Without thinking, we become tantalized by messaging. In falsely presuming that the advertised ingredient will better our lives, we succumb to consumerist urges- buying not one but two of the thing believed to transform our otherwise humdrum day-to-days.

While there is significant appeal in such teasers, the thing-in and of itself-is unlikely to wield any grand transformation of self. Just as purchasing a gym membership doesn’t guarantee a better bod, buying nice things doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll look or feel any better than you did before. In fact, I’d wager a guess that you’ve never felt sexier than when you changed straight into sweatpants, after a day spent solely in skinny jeans. My point is that things aren’t always as they seem, so pay attention to the nuances. Some will be carefully disguised, but with proper investigation, the subtleties will become easier to distinguish.

The person you are on paper should sound good. After all, when you’ve run low on books, your life’s story is one you should feel compelled to read. But who you are on paper-the boxes you check, the qualifications you list- will only ever be so impressive. The people who know you best will always be capable of deciphering the myth behind each bullet point on your resume. Make it a point to transform your life’s nouns into verbs. Only through the manifestation of doing and acting will your life take on any real meaning.

Think about things, long and hard, but then act upon those things. Don’t be afraid that you are anywhere other than where you’re supposed to be. On the whole, we are a friendly bunch (I believe this), but we tend to be strangely competitive against one another. Many would argue that competition is healthy- it keeps us on our toes. I get that. But I also find that the more concerned we are with comparisons, the more likely we are to render ourselves (or others) inadequate.

The more focus paid to others around us, the less likely we are to observe our own growth. So fixated we are on the uncontrollable, we feel disempowered when things do not go our way. This creates an unwelcome cycle of envy and distrust. Rather than obsess over perceived inequities, best we opt for being grateful.

What Taekwondo Taught Me About Hard Work

I’ll give you a hint: perseverance.

I never knew how tempting it was to give up, until I worked really hard. Throughout the last few months, graduate school has forcibly escorted me through some emotional times. And by some, I mean several. By several, I mean on the daily. You get the idea.

At some point along the way, my thoughts on school began to shift. The feeling in me changed from initial excitement to having been accepted into the program, to disappointment at having been subjected to it. The long hours, the infrequent breaks, the constant, never-ending stream of studying which awaited my every waking moment. It’s been, to put it mildly, unreal.

I feel like normal stress-the good, or at least tolerable kind-allows some space for head clearing.  Normal stress feels like a pain in the ass-like the guest who continues to hang out at your house despite everyone else having gone home and you suddenly find yourself cleaning, not because you’re bothered by the mess, but because you’d rather do anything than continue to entertain this person. But the thing with normal stress is that it gets tired of being the bad guy. Normal stress takes breaks every once in a while, because even normal stress has to pee.

Last semester’s stress was not normal. It did not pause to clear its throat, use the loo, or get a breath of fresh air. Instead, it rather torturously demanded a sort of super-human attention. It was not just your needy girlfriend; it was her psychotic, insecure, calls you at the same time she’s ringing your doorbell evil twin. The stress demanded all of my focus, and wasn’t satisfied until I said, “Okay, you win. I will no longer sleep.”

The semester asked for everything I’ve got, and then some. It beat me down repeatedly, and each time I’d regain my footing, it would knock me down again. Without my knowing, it had me sign on the dotted line of a document which read: “Gone is your life.” Any attempt at establishing a sense of normalcy or routine outside of school was useless and foolhardy. No matter how I tried to pretend I had a control on things, my emotion-laden sleeves were quick to reveal otherwise.

As you can imagine, this kind of stress poses several complications. From the mental toll-sleep-deprived feelings of powerlessness-to the physical-weight gained or lost, new blemishes popping up every which way-last semester’s stress was a new and twisted type of fucked up. Pardon my language. I’m not offended by that word. Unrelenting in its demands, school requested that life, as I once knew it, disappear completely.

Now, at this point I have sufficiently explained my thoughts on this program. If the point is unclear, please refer back to paragraphs 1-6. Reading all of this might beg the question, “But, why? Why put yourself through something so awful, when the outcome of such an experience offers no guarantees?” These would be fair ponderings, and if you were beside me asking such things aloud, I would willfully shake your hand. But the truth is, I don’t have an easy or ready-made answer.

When I begin formulating the “why” in my head, my mind is led in many directions. Why have I ever done anything difficult in my life? Why have I intentionally inflicted suffering upon myself, and what good-if any-came from the experience? I could argue that I’m going through all of this pain and anguish for the good of the people. That I’m suffering to single-handedly improve the state of healthcare in this country. But if I were to proclaim as much, I would surely hope to be challenged, because this reasoning isn’t consistent with the overall truth. All of our life’s actions should take into account the bigger picture, but it is not solely for bigger picture fulfillment that we endure the tough stuff. Sometimes, it’s the very act of overcoming our own modest barriers that provide us with a feeling of purpose and accomplishment.

Although I have come close a number of times, I have yet to quit. My refusal to quit can be assessed from multiple angles, but I’m going to credit a piece of my past in order to shed light on the subject at hand. I’d like to introduce you to Master Yong Sue Rho. Master Rho deserves a bit of praise for his commitment to teaching me life principles long before I could understand what these things meant.

In my former life, Master Rho taught me taekwondo. Besides schooling me in blocks and punches, he taught me a great deal about perseverance. As I bumbled my way through Korean counts of 1-10, and roundhouse-kicked my way up the colored belt chain of command, I learned about patience and hard work. I learned that in order to advance to black belt status, I would have to first acquaint myself with the rainbow (namely yellow, blue and red colored belts).

I haven’t always been good at respecting the rungs of hierarchy, but as a ten-year-old tot practicing tae kwon do, I had no choice but to respect the rules as they were. It was a time in my life, much like school is now, that required I no longer attempt to set my own rules. Martial arts, like graduate school, operates under the assumption that personal sacrifice is the only way towards advancement. Skillfully crafting ways to achieve a life balance is admirable, but in this instance, unlikely to be successful.

While I am beginning to come to terms with this sacrifice, the time trade-off will remain a struggle until the day I graduate. If and when that day comes, I hope to feel stronger and more disciplined than I did a year ago. And one year before that. This program has taught me that while personal boundaries are comforting, it’s not until those boundaries are pushed poked and prodded that a sense of reward is felt.

The bottom line: Hang tight during the hard stuff, in order to see it through. Remember Master Rho’s philosophy, and know that giving up won’t earn you the black belt. Your best bet in times of struggle is to do one thing, and one thing well: persevere.

How to Achieve Life Fulfillment with Ten Simple Steps and a One Time Only Fee of $9.99

Ten Steps to Fewer Steps

Ever wondered how to put less effort into everything you do?

Follow these Ten Simple Steps to reduce the steps you take in your life by up to 50%. Once you’ve read through these ten simple steps, you will be THREE steps closer to living the life you’ve always dreamed of.

Confused? Don’t be. There is no time like now to start over.

Step #1: Set a low bar.

People may encourage you to set a high bar. They (bosses, mothers, distant relatives) may even demand such. What I’m suggesting is that you advocate for the exact opposite. Tell everyone you know that you refuse to surrender to their societal norms, and introduce them to the low bar that is your new normal. While they may appear puzzled at first, you will convince them by being unwaveringly consistent. Insist that they accept your poor taste and subpar standards. Before long, they will come around to the idea that a low bar is, in fact, better than no bar at all.

Step #2: Do more with less.

Ever come across scintillating snapshots of people having what appears to be so much fun? If you’ve ever come across such photos and thought to yourself “If only this could be me!” I challenge you to think again. Why? Because the pictures are entirely contrived. How do I know? Simple.  According to highly reputable studies, “No one does anything worthwhile anymore. Ever.” (True Story, 2015). Remind yourself that anything resembling cool is actually a superficial sort of construction, staged merely to stroke someone’s swaggering, social media-reinforced ego. When you find yourself bemoaning your unremarkable existence, remind yourself that at least your mediocrity is authentic. You are the average real deal.

Step #3: Downsize, two steps at a time.

The final trick to succeeding in life with fewer steps is to downsize your belongings. In this step, I’m suggesting you go above and beyond your seasonal spring-clean. With step #3, I’m asking that you take everything you own, and place it into a pile in the center of your living room (office/bedroom will also suffice). Once your belongings are assembled, begin removing things from the pile, one at a time, until you are left with only three things. Use these three things to help guide you in figuring out life steps 4-10.

Now, wondering what to do with the rest of your things? If unbroken and/or tolerably useable, consider donating the remainder of your items to your neighbor (or any person who has not yet gotten a hold of these simple life steps). At this point, it’s likely that such a person still believes that things-big, small, shiny and dull-are the key to happiness. Exploit this person’s knowledge deficit by gifting him/her your “treasures” (read: junk), pat yourself on the back and take a deep breath. You have started anew.

UP NEXT: For a small, one-time payment of $4.99, you can gain immediate online access to my new book, “Five Ways To Become Rich and Skinny Overnight By Eating Only Cookie Dough Scented Scones.”

 

 

Trying to find meaning? Perhaps try harder, or not at all.

Meaning is not something that you can search for. It’s not a player of hide and seek, disguised under wraps somewhere, waiting to be unturned. It is not a location or an unmarked corner of the globe. It will not greet you as you disembark from a plane in a city four thousand miles away, or appear miraculously as you engage in something new. Meaning is not derived from singular events, and no matter how you may wish it so, meaning is not located behind door number two.

If we accept this as fact, and determine that meaning cannot be “discovered” like an island or a treasure map, we are left to wonder whether “searching” for meaning is, itself, a futile endeavor. Whether it is a waste of precious time to look for something that can’t actually be found. It’s a question certainly worth asking, for if we consider our greatest pursuit in life to be that of chasing an unanswerable question, we might conclude it wise to change course. However, abandoning our forever quest—”quitting” our mission in life—would be an uncomfortable and difficult task.

It would be unlike me to give up so easily on a journey that I, myself, have put a great deal of time and energy into understanding. While my school of thought around meaning and purpose has shifted, I have done anything but give up. I ask the same questions I always have (how can I best live a meaningful life?), but pursue the “answers” differently. I have loosened the reigns, and relinquished control. Instead of searching for meaning and waiting for epiphanies, I patiently accept that the whole story—from front to back—cannot be accurately interpreted through the reading of a few select chapters.

Like any good novel, the point of a book isn’t necessarily grasped by reading until the final word. Often, it’s only through time and reflection that we come to derive any meaning at all from a story. This does not mean that the story is unhelpful or ineffective in its presentation—to the contrary, it suggests that the story provided us with an unparalleled sense of depth and richness. The kind of richness that tastes delicious as it’s consumed, and requires time to fully digest.

I do not pretend to have all the answers, nor am I an expert on Understanding Life. I can only offer ideas for things I feel and know to be true. From my personal experience, I have come to recognize that meaning is derived from my commitments to people, places and things around me. This is vague, certainly, but intentionally so. Meaning, as I’ve come to understand, is multi-faceted, dynamic, evolving and strange. It is not squarely defined, nor can it be taught by way of bullet point-type advice. It is an open door, not a locked secret. “Finding” meaning is good, honest work, and such work requires patience and time.

Just Another Fork In The Road

 

Two paths diverged in the woods. Luckily, I showed up early, and was able to walk down both. 

 

Finding Your Path 

 

Each day, we blindly follow through with familiar routines. We approach daily tasks and chores with an unquestioned obedience. We, the programmed collective, do as we’re told; all the more often, we simply do as we know.

We repeat familiar tasks tirelessly, and lay our heads down on fresh pillows after exhausting days. It’s only when we uproot ourselves from such familiar scenes that we discover life’s alternatives. That other ways of living are not only possible, but also plentiful.

The question is, where do you start? How do you even begin the process of choosing which kind of life you want to live? What kind of person you want to be? With any number of options available, the process of narrowing them down can feel overwhelming. But have no fear: you got this.

You start by making mistakes. You pursue your passions with a reckless obsession, and you don’t give up until you’ve failed. Twice. Maybe even a few times. You become a master of your own universe, and you begin each day by staring yourself in the mirror, proclaiming, “I’m a superstar!And you remind yourself that it’s not just your mom who thinks so.

You spend sufficient time learning what doesn’t work for you-what feels forced, unnatural, or coerced- and you cross those things/people/places/jobs off the list. You trust in your gut, and your gut guides you.

Over time, you begin to develop a groove. You find yourself naturally drifting in a particular direction, signaling that your focus is being born. Sometimes, the current of mental adjustment is slow, causing what can feel like a meandering way forward. Other times, though, the current pulls you hard and fast in a specific direction. If this pull is consistent and strong, allow yourself to surrender to its pulls. This is your instinct guiding you in the right direction for you.

 

Simply Speaking

 

Yes You Can

 

You should be a yes person. You should try things, repeatedly, and note down your reactions. Put yourself in sweaty, trying environments-soak in the sticky tub of discomfort-and struggle. Once you’ve successfully pushed your own boundaries, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Perhaps even shout, “Holy shit! Yes!” at the tippy top of your lungs, just because you can. Feel proud that your ordinary self (Mistress of Mediocre; Captain of Clumsy) survived the seemingly impossible.

 

Like So

 

I keep returning back to the Fijian proverb: “Life is like this: Sometimes sun, sometimes rain.” The saying is so true; it hurts. Power exists within succinct dichotomies, which suggest that the world’s blessed wonders and horrific hellholes can often be understood in astonishingly simple ways. One day might be terrific while the next day is terrible. The trick to tackling life is to stay afloat. Even if all you’ve got is a dollar store life raft. As they say, “Make the most of what you’ve got.”

The Power of Choice

When one is still, one may think.

 Not even on vacation do we allow our minds to sit still. To catch up with the current moment, and take in the now. With next steps and future plans lingering overhead, we dilute the quality of the present with anticipation over that which remains to be seen.

We live in a society whereby the legal system is designed to protect us from ourselves, and school teaches us to unlearn. We are uninspired by traditional curriculum, yet we remain sponges to/of the system. We remember to memorize, but forget to create.

As we get older, we shift nearer to the center. What feels like a gravitational pull is really just the status quo, graciously leaving its doors open for the predictable and bored to stroll right through, sit down, and stay awhile.

Like a 24/7 gas station, the convenience is quite something. The set-up is perfect, with brightly lit lights, an abundant supply of drinkable tap water, and every kind of snack you can imagine to power you through your decidedly dreary days.

Despite the gloominess, we continue to cement ourselves to this kind of life. We do what we’re told, and pursue careers that seem impressive (or make us sound smart), but are devoid of meaning. Our titles are significant, but our person is not.

It’s a cycle many of us are familiar with. We tell ourselves it could be worse, so we keep on pushing through. We’re entertained during miserable workdays by instant messaging with friends, or checking and refreshing news feeds. We live vicariously through the online other.

Our behavior is not scripted, although it often feels so. Depending on our actions, we’re able to liberate or confine. We make choices constantly, each minute of the day. The majority of these are negligible, and we worry not in considering whether that decision might impact our future.

The more serious choices require our undivided attention.  These big and bad ones have the power to determine the course of our lives. Or so we’d like to think. We sweat over these, and are kept awake at night by the unknowing.  We cling desperately to the illusion that such things are black and white, and consequently ask ourselves, “Which choice is the right one?”

Distrusting of our own selves, we refuse to face these decisions alone. We consult the help of others-friends, family, and the occasional stranger. Some of us may even seek guidance from a professional, a Certified Decision-Maker.

We must remember that as life is dynamic, so are we. Merely mortals, we’re intimately acquainted with both mistake and error. What seemed like a good idea at the time may prove horribly wrong. Plans can backfire, and your entire life’s road map could be forcibly rewritten. What then?

Pieces are amiss, but all is not lost. We must learn to discover our own resilience. Believe in individual successes as much as personal failings. If we allow ourselves to forgive one “wrong” road traveled, we might feel permitted to try again.  Perhaps this time down a road less conspicuous, and filled with greater reward.

The road is everything and anything. It’s a series of unsuccessful jobs, or a stable, life-long career. It’s a failed marriage, or a reunion with an old flame. It’s the question of to do, or not to do. To be, or not to be.

Our society discourages taking risks, and this is a grave mistake. Whether we choose to pursue a conventional life or not is irrelevant. What matters is the intention behind our choices, and whether or not our life carries meaning and purpose.

Be curious, intentional, forgiving and flawed. In doing so, life will pleasantly surprise.

Twenty-Something and Counting

Twenty-seven years old. What do I have to show for myself?

I’ve past the quarter century mark. Survived the illusory quarter-life crisis by pretending I didn’t have one. Note: I did. I’ve become more expressive. When given the choice, I opt for enthusiastic words over exclamation points. “I’ve matured in profound ways,” says my ego on a good day.

I find myself in awe of the last seven years. What a wild ride it’s been. My life narrative feels non-linear, but maybe that’s because my head’s still stuck in the clouds. Epic gains, monumental losses, stagnant lulls, chapters of triumph, pages of blunder, and a cacophony of related melodrama. Hot damn. Who’s navigating this ship?

I appreciate twenty year old me. I’m sure she was nice and had interesting things to say on uninteresting occasions. But ultimately, I’m glad I’m no longer her. The last several years have taught me some important things. You, too? No kidding.

I’ve developed a stronger identity. I voice opinions with greater conviction and lesser apology. With each day, I grow fonder of my strangeness. I am no longer freaked out by my quirks. In fact, I’m starting to find them pardonable. On some days, they’re downright cute.

I’m learning to be as understanding of myself as I am of others. I’ve taken classes in street smarts, and I’m a certified, aspiring intellectual. I’ve fallen in love with communication. Verbal, non-verbal, visual. Whatever you fancy, I’m all ears and eyes.

I’m a goddamn superstar. No, not true. I’m actually just a jokester.

Strictly speaking, I don’t find the human exterior all that compelling.  It’s the inner sanctum (noun: a sacred space) that really gets to me. Only through this raw under-layer can real meaning be found. Which reminds me: Don’t fear what’s deep. If you must, fear what’s real.

After nearly a decade of twenty-something confusions and convulsions, my quest for knowledge remains intact. It’s fully, wholly insatiable. The way in which I acquire insight, though, has changed. I no longer obsess over the road less travelled. I approach the ordinary with solace, rather than contempt. I’m also more scrupulous with syntax.

Before I shut down this grandiloquent ramble, I would like to conclude with a thought. Choice. If my twenties have taught me anything, it’s that it’s okay to choose. The idea that “anything is possible” can be inspiring, and I would argue that young people should pay homage to this ideal while their minds are still fresh and malleable. But after a bit of soul-searching and mental meandering, the appropriate course of action is simple: act. Waiting in limbo on the periphery of the world will inevitably disappoint. Do you see a path? Take it. You’ll be glad you did.

Thank you for passing along this article. It made me want to write. 

The Wisdom of Hindsight & Other Wise Things

I used to think 20-20 meant perfect vision. That is, until I discovered hindsight.

Equipped with a clear and sharp focus, hindsight is the wisest, and most evolved of all the visionary senses. With a microscopic accuracy, it detects flaws and understands nuance in a complicated and honest way. It notices, with tremendous sincerity, how the finer details contributed to the larger whole. Hindsight paves the way for thorough inspection, and allows for an opportunity to reflect. This type of reflection-which can be all powerful, and a deliverer of harsh truths- is made possible through a lapse in time and established physical space. Combined, these elements help to bring about complete (or in less “successful” processes, partial) mental clarity.

If you knew now, what you knew then, would you have done things differently? A realist might scoff at the question, dismissing it as trivial, and useless in application. But, if we allow ourselves to indulge in a bit of existential thought, could it be a mistake to dismiss the past as the past, simply because it’s behind us?

What if a focus on the past is precisely what’s needed to process the present? To live purposefully, and with intention, one must know what came before today. Today is merely the product of a thousand yesterday’s, and while the past can’t be rewritten, per se, delving into the deep end of our former selves could be valuable. In fact, I suggest that in doing so, one could bring forth the greatest transformation the mind has ever known.

So, what exactly would take place? Well, beats me. I can’t answer that question any more than you can. But, since I’ve never been one to pass up a brainstorm, I’m down to wage some guesses.

A type of meta-understanding might occur. Our acquaintance with the past would seamlessly coincide with our present familiarity, which would provide us with the most holistic, comprehensive, assessment of our selves. This assessment-unbiased by the constraints of time, and unaffected by place/space –would spark the transformation of our better selves.

Now, I don’t believe we should revert to our old ways, and spend too much time thinking of what once was. This is just food for thought. So, you know…chew on it.

NYC vs. ME

You want to know what my beef is? My beef is this:

It’s the L train. It’s the packed hipster masses. It’s the crowds. It’s not a hop in my step, it’s a limp. It’s never walking in a straight line. It’s like one big perpetual zig-zag. A careful crisscross of everyday obstructions. Of scaffolding, new and old. Of people, new and old. Of heels and luggage and cones and pot holes and grates and strollers and shopping bags and wheelchairs. It’s a cough on the train followed by a nose wipe and a snotty hand placed on the railing above. It’s an elbow in your face and a knee in your ass. It’s a conglomeration-a herd of cattle-that amasses at the bottom of the Union Square stairwell and ascends, step by step, in a disheveled but collective unison. 

It’s every man for himself. Except if an elderly, disabled or pregnant person is nearby. In such instances, everyone’s on their best behavior. But when those folks aren’t present, shit can get crazy. Everything and everyone is fair game. Feisty aggressors become pushers and shovers. These people are not assholes. Nope, not in this bio-dome. These people are fittest, and as such, will survive the beast that harbors us. The meek, though…the meek get nowhere. These guys are swallowed up whole by the pushers, and left to rot. Or forced to fall behind and, consequently, arrive tardy to their brunch date.

It’s the demanding, hyperactive surge of the senses. Where your mind and body are always alert, and perpetually on. But actually, it’s the contradictions which cause me the greatest unease. Like the queue of impatient, expensive spandex-clad whom wait outside their local, donation-based yoga studio. Or the parade of homeless adults, picnicking in the park with beer. With so much grandness, and so much contradiction, it’s no wonder the city makes me feel totally, wholeheartedly, insane. 

It’s a city where not everyone is rude. In fact, many people are quite nice! The problem lies in the size. It’s a number’s game, and there’s too many goddamned people on too small a fucking island.

A guy asked me on the subway why I was talking to myself. He found it “weird.” I told him that I found his scarf made of cat weird, but hadn’t thought to tell him so. He continued to press me on the issue and finally I relented. “You want to know why I talk to myself?”

“You see” I say, calmly, to Guy and his boisterous shadow, “I talk to myself because I fear that if I talk to others, to the masses, my words will not form. The timidity, which presupposes all consonants, will suffocate under the weight of each impending vowel. Unsurprisingly, it will be this very act that culminates in one fantastic vocal forfeit. Unsure of my own voice, and distrusting of my own vernacular, I’ll become capable of only garble. Intelligible by none other than babies, themselves.”

He looked at me, face void of expression but eyes filled with light. “Interesting,” he says, tears forming beneath his eyelids. 

Guy isn’t the only one who finds me…how do I put this? A little off. 

A friend of mine questions why I videotape myself all the time. He mistakenly assumes that the creativity behind each video is a result of the city’s inspiration  And honestly, he’s wrong. I want to tell him that I think he misunderstands. That my inspiration for ‘home video’ derives not from the city and its fantastic claims at fueling curiosity. In fact, hell no! These cinematographic performances are merely naked depictions of my wit’s end.

Rather than punish the city for its constant torment, I have chosen to fight back with an even greater malice. The videos, in their own way, are attempts to sequester what would otherwise be an impulsive and violent reaction. They’re my very own way of saying, “Hey, New York! Go fuck yourself!”