Crawl or Fly

Time flies when you're having fun, and time crawls when you're not having fun.

Think about how long an hour feels when you're stuck at a desk doing less-than-exciting things, just waiting for the clock to reach the time when you're permitted to do something you love.

It stands to reason that if we could have fun during unenjoyable activities, we'd theoretically be able to fast forward through them.

For example, I'm teaching karate camp this week, which means six hours of the same twenty kids every day, which means I need an endless supply of patience and emotional strength. It would be very easy to wake up miserable every morning, watch the minutes tick by, and only think about how great it's going to feel when the day is over.

But thinking that way actually makes the day feel slower. If I try to make the best of it, the day goes by faster, which makes the experience itself less miserable and—because time flies when you're having fun—it makes 3 PM arrive sooner rather than later.

If I was sitting at a desk all day, I'd want to make it as enjoyable as possible: keep the area clutter-free, buy some decent speakers to listen to music, and maybe add something to my desk that makes me smile when I look at it.

The point is that the quality of our experience during times we don't enjoy is entirely dependent on our ability to make the best of them. So when I wake up in just a few short hours to spend yet another day teaching the same rambunctious kids, I have to decide whether I want to make the day fly or crawl.

It's up to me, and to you.

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Man Down

My band lost its vocalist a couple of weeks ago.

He didn't die or anything; he just quit—somewhat expectedly—for personal reasons.

His departure is kind of a drag because the music we had been covering was selected primarily out of a desire to compliment his vocal style. Now that he's out, we know about twenty songs and have no one to sing them.

Yet, despite the momentary setback, the band is in many ways rejuvenated.

Rather than consider the loss of our vocalist an impediment, the remaining memebrs immediately saw the opportunity to regroup and reframe our vision of the band. Speaking for myself, I had always felt we were pigeonholing ourselves by covering one particular style of music. While the songs were fun to play, I thought we were capable of playing material that better showcased our musicianship and individual tastes. My bandmates agreed. We now have the chance to expand our tonal palette and cover more diverse and interesting music.

We have eliminated the unnecessary. With four members, we had three dedicated guys and one semi-dedicated guy, which meant we were really only operating at 75%. There may be three of us left, but we can now operate at 100%, and the band as a whole will be better for it.

We have been delayed by the experience—we spent three months learning songs we mostly have to throw out now—but it's better that it happened now instead of a year down the road. It's a step back, yes, but it sets us up to take big steps forward.

As always, it's not what happens; it's how you deal with what happens.

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Sitting on the Floor of an Empty Room

I'm spending a few days at my dad's house while he's away on business. I didn't bring very much with me: Mac. iDevices. Kindle. Toothbrush.

As I write this, I'm sitting on the floor of my old living room. I took my desk with me when I moved out.

There's something I love about sitting on the floor of an empty room. Just me, my computer, and a few other possessions. It has a romantic quality to it. I'm alone with only my thoughts.

But at the same time, I'm also in so much company. My thoughts are infinite, and even though they exist only in my head, they never abandon me. I'm not quite as alone as I thought.

Likewise, all that's in front of me is my MacBook Pro, but this 15" screen is a window into the vast expanses of the Internet. I can read about anything, learn about anything. I can listen to music. I can write. What more do I need?

Sitting here on the floor of an empty room reminds me that a lack of physical things does not equate to a lack of meaning. In fact, I'd argue that it augments my awareness, and subsequently, my ability to experience and create meaning. I'm not distracted by stuff, so my thoughts come through much clearer. It's quiet. My perception is heightened. I notice the air and the crickets chirping. I'm more aware of my emotions and why I might be experiencing them.

If I was surrounded and distracted by stuff, there would be no room for all that.

When we remove stuff, we create space, and we become better equipped to fill that space with meaning.

An empty room is, in some ways, the most hospitable.

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A Tale of Two Eating Philosophies

I've been thinking about this food dichotomy:

  1. Eat whatever you want and enjoy it; life is short.
  2. Eat healthy and take care of yourself; live longer.

In general, I tend to fall into the second camp. I want to live a long life, so I love to eat healthy and exercise.

But once in a while — like this weekend — I do enjoy going on a total food bender and indulging in some of my favorite vices.

I had a crazy Saturday. After about four hours of sleep, I drove out to West Hartford Center for a public yoga class with hundreds of other people in the middle of Lasalle Road. Then I had to cut my friend's dad's lawn before making it to Mill Pond Park at 11, where my students were putting on a karate demonstration at the Newington Extravaganza. I got home, showered, changed, and drove to North Branford for my friends' apartment-warming/graduation/birthday party, where I proceeded to eat everything in sight. Burgers, shish kebab, buffalo chicken egg rolls (oh my god), pasta salad, potato salad, cake, cookies, and more. Then I drove to Cheshire to pick up a friend of mine, and we drove to Bridgeport to see Primus at the Gathering of the Vibes festival. I got home around three in the morning and promptly passed out with my clothes still on.

It was great.

If I lived every day like that, I'd probably collapse from exhaustion pretty quickly. But it felt good to burn my candle all the way down for a change. It was a blast, actually.

I think it's the same with eating.

As I sat in a lawn chair at the party, drinking my first rootbeer in probably six years and laboriously trying to digest a double cheeseburger, I remembered that some people eat like this every day. I can't even imagine what that's like, and I have no desire to find out. When I splurge, I always look forward to eating healthy again and to getting back on the path.

So while I choose to eat healthy most of the time in the hopes of living a long and happy life, I have no regrets about eating myself silly this weekend. I was among friends, and we were celebrating. Not just a particular event, but life in general.

And it is short, no matter what we do.

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Three Piles

Scott Berkun with a crucial bit of wisdom:

Here’s an oversimplified theory to play with for today: there are only three piles in life.

  1. Things that are important
  2. Things that are unimportant
  3. Things that are unimportant but distract you from what is important

Most suffering in life comes from #3.

It’s a short article, so you should read the whole thing. Especially the first big paragraph.

In fact, because it’s so succinct, and because I so heartily agree with every word, I’m not even going to offer any further commentary. This article speaks for itself and for everything QLE stands for.

If you’ve already read it, read it again.

Then go have a marvelous weekend.

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Knowing What You Know Now

Every time I go back and visit campus, I find myself thinking that, if offered, I’d probably take my old job back in a second.

That’s weird, because I didn’t enjoy my job. Most of it was soul-crushing cubicle work, and although the pain was lessened by the presence of some wonderful people, it was what inspired me to start a website in the first place.

But things would be different if I came back.

The work would probably be just as tedious, and the office would probably run just as inefficiently, and the people would probably make it just as tolerable as it used to be.

But I would be armed with knowledge I have now — knowledge that I didn’t possess back then. That’s the difference.

All of the old stressors and annoyances and aggravations would cease to exist. Or more accurately, they would cease to affect me. Because how could I possibly allow myself to be affected by things I now know to be trivial?

When I first started the job, I was eager to please, and I was motivated by fear. I wanted to do my job well, and I wanted people to like me, and I was afraid of getting in trouble. As the semesters progressed, I became more comfortable with the job, and I grew more at ease. Less anxious. Less afraid. And yeah, less eager to please.

So now, if I were able to go back, I’d be able to do so knowing there’s no reason to fear payment request forms, or to dread voicemails, or to wear khaki pants.

I know these things because of the time that has passed since I worked there. Compared to what I face now — on my own, blazing my own trail — sitting in cubicle is a cake walk. Looking back, it wasn’t so bad.

Sometimes, you don’t really know what something is until you put some distance between yourself and that something.

Imagine if you could go back to high school knowing what you know now. The experience would be completely different. You’d know that getting a C in AP Biology doesn’t make you a bad person. You’d know that no one cares if you’re in the Honors Society. You’d know that everyone in the hallway is scared shitless and has no idea who they are either.

Of course, we so rarely get the opportunity to go back, knowing what we know now. But we can still take what we know now and apply it to the present and the future.

We can ask ourselves, In a year, will this matter?

In a month?


Is it worth being afraid?

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Rest In Peace, Grammy C

My grandmother died last week. She was 92 and the best grammy her four grandkids could ask for.

As sad as I am over her passing, I’m fortunate to have nothing but wonderful memories of her, and I’m comforted to know that she’s in a much better place than the convalescent home in which she resided for the last ten years of her life.

I’m also reminded of the importance of recognizing that, while the body may die, the spirit lives on forever, and so she’s not gone. Not really.

The pain comes from no longer being able to see someone, to touch and hug them, to talk with them and hear their voice when we’re so used to doing so.

But we are fortunate to be much more than physical bodies.

To be at peace with the passing of a loved one, we must let go of our attachment to their physicality. Death is a natural part of life, and so the loss of the body is inevitable.

If we can let go of the body and preserve the spirit, we will never have trouble finding those whom we’ve lost.

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Using Sundays to Recalculate Your Destination

It's easy to fall victim to the Sunday night blues.

We spend the entire week worrying about things we have to do. We look forward to the weekend, a brief window when we can do the things we want to do. Hence, "working for the weekend".

From this perspective, Sundays are like the calm before the storm — a quiet, lazy day when our brains can't help but accumulate all of our upcoming tasks, to-dos, and obligations.

A few months ago, I wrote about the clean slate Monday theory, which uses the tying up of loose ends and a plan of attack to ensure the week starts on calm, fresh note.

Today, I'm thinking about Sunday as a day for recalibration and course-correction.

After a long workweek, I tend to let myself go on the weekend. I shut my brain off and indulge in a whole lot of bass playing, Archer watching, and self-indulging. As last month shows, my dietary restrictions tend to become a bit more lax. This rest period is crucial, because it allows my brain and body to get back to neutral. It's OK to do nothing once in a while.

They say a plane is off course 90% of the time. That means it constantly needs to course-correct if it's going to get to its destination.

Similarly, as the week goes on, we tend to get off-course. Our focus tends to atrophy. The closer the weekend gets, the harder it is to think about the things we have to do. By the time Friday rolls around, we're ready to cut loose a bit.

And we do. Shutting down our brains for a day or two is a good thing. Enjoy it. But it's equally important to take the time to prepare for the week ahead. That's how I treat Sundays: as a chance to recalibrate and refocus. I clean, put laundry away, refine my to-do list, and think about what I'm going to do this week to work to where I want to be.

Instead of being sad that tomorrow's Monday, I relish the opportunity to remind myself of who I want to be. I remember what I want to achieve, and spend at least a few moments on Sunday to bring that back into focus.

Sunday could be the start to — ugh — yet another week, or it could be the start to a week that brings us a little closer to where and who we want to be.

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Breakdowns, Floods, & How to Turn a Disaster into an Adventure

Over the weekend, I helped my friend Rich move into his new apartment. Everything went smoothly until our U-Haul broke down on I-95 South. It would be almost three hours until we made it to our destination.

As we stood there, watching the cars pass quickly and the minutes pass slowly, I was reminded of another inconvenient situation years earlier.

Back in May 2010, I flew to Nashville to study with Victor Wooten at his Music Theory camp. Victor’s campground, Wooten Woods, is located in Only, TN, about an hour west of Nashville off of I-90. Coincidentally, this also happened to be the same weekend of the Nashville flood.

The rain began pouring down Friday night, and we woke up to a small river running through the center of the camp. As the morning wore on, the rain increased, and the river quickly grew into a strong current, only passable with a four-wheel drive vehicle. It soon became clear that we needed to evacuate, but the road leading into camp had already been washed away, so rescue teams couldn’t get to us. We decided to head out on foot. Eventually, we were ferried out by boat a handful at a time. Once we made it back to I-90, the sheriff drove us to a nearby community center, where the Red Cross gave us food and clean clothes. We finally made it back to Victor’s house, where we learned and played music all night and the following day, as well as got to see some historic musical relics.

Throughout the whole ordeal, not a single person ever complained, and everyone’s spirits remained high. What amazed me most, though, was Victor’s leadership and attitude during the flood. Despite the fact that his camp was literally being destroyed by torrential rains, he never made a negative comment, never expressed a degree of disappointment.

I remember him telling me, “The way I see it, this is actually kind of fun! As long as no one’s in danger, it’s all a big adventure.”

Those words have stuck with me ever since, and I was reminded of them while standing on the side of the highway for three hours this weekend. Things happen, and we can’t do anything about it. We couldn’t prevent our U-Haul from breaking down any more than we could prevent Nashville from flooding.

The only thing we can control is what we make of the situation.

Of course, that weekend in Nashville was one of the best weekends of my life. Who else can say they’ve been to Victor Wooten’s house?! As we joked to each other, “Plenty of people can say they’ve been to Wooten Woods, but not many can say they’ve escaped from it!”

It’s easy to let crappy situations drag us down. What’s much more rewarding is trying to make the best of them. The crappy-ness isn’t going to last forever, and when it’s all over, you’ll probably have one hell of a story to tell.

When faced with forces we can’t control, sometimes all it takes is a small change in perspective to turn a disaster into an adventure.

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Unemployment Opportunities

According to the Associated Press, half of new grads are jobless or underemployed:

“I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

Initially hopeful that his college education would create opportunities, Bledsoe languished for three months before finally taking a job as a barista, a position he has held for the last two years. In the beginning he sent three or four resumes day. But, Bledsoe said, employers questioned his lack of experience or the practical worth of his major. Now he sends a resume once every two weeks or so.

Bledsoe, currently making just above minimum wage, says he got financial help from his parents to help pay off student loans. He is now mulling whether to go to graduate school, seeing few other options to advance his career. “There is not much out there, it seems,” he said.

(Via NPR)

Yep. Regardless of whom you feel compelled to blame, the economy is down. I know nothing of economics, so I’ll just state that as known and leave it at that.

Here’s J. D. Bentley in his essay, “A Touch of a Revolution”:

I’ve been appre­ci­at­ing the light­ness of being slave to no one. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found that free­dom is the qual­ity to be most con­sid­ered as I make deci­sions. The free­dom to do what I want, when I want, with whom I want, where I want is of para­mount importance.

My life is dri­ven by the desire to find the under­ly­ing prin­ci­ples that fuel the great­est ideal and then to apply those prin­ci­ples so that I might one day achieve that ideal.

Regard­ing free­dom, the two great­est prin­ci­ples are these:

  1. Want nothing.
  2. Owe no one.


Do not misconstrue “freedom” as “sitting around playing video games and having no responsibilities”. I define “freedom” as having the ability and the opportunity to do great work — the work I feel is important, not the work society tells me is important.

It seems to me that despite the state of the job market, there is an intense silver lining here for us twenty-somethings.

While the economy is down, the Internet is thriving. Never before has it been so easy to create something on the Web. A blog, a website, a portfolio, anything. While the economy languishes, technology advances.

A down economy means that conventional jobs are hard to come by. Why should we struggle and compete to squeeze ourselves into the few remaining boxes in which society demands we live?

Why not create our own boxes?

What if, years from now, the history books read that my generation beat the recession with creativity and passion? With vision, care, and the tenets of entrepreneurship?

The older generations have never had available to them the technology that currently resides at our fingertips. It’s no one’s fault, but we cannot expect them to be able to comprehend the technology or how we wish to leverage it. The iPhones, and iPads, and computers — these are the devices of our generation. While our parents now exist alongside our technology, the majority lack the immersion afforded to us by growing up with it, rather than before it.

I can think of no better time to think and live outside the box. To build my own box. I have no desire to fight for a job I don’t really want, especially when such a job might as well be a unicorn.

What would happen if we saw unemployment not as misfortune, but as opportunity?

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An Alternative to More

Seth Godin:

If your happiness is based on always getting a little more than you've got...

then you've handed control over your happiness to the gatekeepers, built a system that doesn't scale and prevented yourself from the brave work that leads to a quantum leap.

This article is one of my favorites, and it's something that resonates with me as I try to transition from full-time student to someone who works for a living.

Attaching your happiness to the notion of "more" is dangerous. There will always be more, and so you're attaching your happiness to something that's ultimately unattainable. Subsequently, happiness itself becomes unattainable.

There are ways to combat this attachment to more, and it's something I focus on here and in life. Minimalism is one way. To be able to identify what is enough, and then to be happy with it, is a valuable skill that must be constantly practiced.

Perspective is another. To realize what is and what is not important, and to be able to recognize who and what deserves your time.

Inner peace is another. To be so aware of who you are, and to love that person so unconditionally, that you have no fears, worries, wants, or desires, and you are content with You.


Their rules, their increments, and you are always on a treadmill, unhappy today, imagining that the answer lies just over the next hill...

All the data shows us that the people on that hill are just as frustrated as the people on your hill.

When I peer into the box that society wants me to crawl into, this is all I see. A smothering, unsatisfying existence, where happiness is always a little further ahead and just out of reach. The thought of living in that box makes me uneasy.

Luckily, there's hope:

An alternative is to be happy wherever you are, with whatever you've got, but always hungry for the thrill of creating art, of being missed if you're gone and most of all, doing important work.

There is an alternative. I know there is an alternative because there are people living the alternative.

Fortunately, the thrill of creating art and doing important work are what help me be happy where I am. Unfortunately, I've yet to determine how to make a living while doing it.

Richard J. Anderson had a great post on this topic a few weeks ago:

I like technology, writing, music, art, and variety. I like having clearly defined goals I can check off a list when they’re done. I like knowing that what’s done really is done, and I don’t have to fix it unless I made a mistake. Where do any of these things intersect, and do they intersect in a place that also provides enough money to live on while I focus on what truly matters to me?

These are the questions I'm asking myself, too. I love to read and write. How can I make a living doing these things?

I'm not sure yet.

But, the answer is out there, and I have faith that it will reveal itself.

The trick is to not give up on looking for it.

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The Beauty of Being Wrong

The fact that I’m doing yoga at 7 AM every morning still blows my mind.

It’s been two weeks since I became an early riser, and I love it just as much as I did on day one. The quiet solitude of the morning, the sense of having so much more time, the increased exposure to sunlight… All so wonderful.

But, for all its awesomeness, this change has created something of a splinter in the back of my mind.

The Stubborn Night Owl

You see, for years I was convinced of my own superiority as a night owl. It appealed to my introverted nature, and I liked the rebelliousness of staying up and sleeping late. I associated early rising with convention. Getting up at 8 AM, driving to a cubicle, sitting there all day, and then driving home exhausted and horrified at having to do it all over again tomorrow — it seemed like no way I’d ever want to live. If it works for you great, but I knew it wasn’t for me.

It still isn’t, at least when it comes to the sitting-in-a-cubicle-all day part. But fortunately, I’ve avoided — by both choice and design — that sort of existence.

Instead, I get up with the sun, practice yoga, make tea, read, and then write and make things. It’s a routine with which I’ve quickly become obsessed.

What’s given me pause, though, is the fact that I was so wrong about night owlism. Actually, no; I wasn’t wrong about night owlism so much as I was wrong about being an early riser.

I still think being a night owl is great, and people who prefer that lifestyle should continue to live it as long as it helps them grow and do what they want to do.

Unfortunately, staying up late and sleeping in every morning was paralyzing me. My creativity and productivity stagnated. I was stuck in an incredibly depressing rut, and the only way out was to make a drastic life change: to start getting up early.

I see now just how wonderful being an early riser can be. It’s not painful at all — provided you’re getting your required amount of sleep — and it opens up a whole new world you may have forgotten existed. I certainly did. It truly is life-changing.

Of course, one could easily reverse my story and get the same benefits. Someone who is forced to rise early every morning and go to a job they hate and come home exhausted could, in theory, quit, start their own business, and sleep until mid-morning before doing the work they love all day and late into the night.

It works both ways, and I make no claims that one is better than the other. The best one is the one that works for you.

But, back to my splinter.

What Do I Know?

The feeling I’m experiencing now is that I was wrong.

Wrong in the sense of thinking one way was better than the other, and wrong in thinking I could never become an early riser. Ever. I never wanted to, never thought it would be good for me, never even entertained the idea.

I was a proud night owl. Stubbornly proud.

And yet, here I am.

And so I find myself thinking, “If I was wrong about that, I might be wrong about other things too. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Maybe minimalism isn’t healthy?

Maybe politics are important?

Maybe sports do have value?

Maybe being an introvert isn’t better?

These are scary thoughts, because my identity is ingrained in these possibly incorrect notions. If I’m wrong about them, then part of my identity is lost and/or needs to be rebuilt.

Being wrong is scary.

But, like anything, the solution lies in perspective.

First off, people grow and change. This is for the better. I might be telling my kids someday, when they’re groaning and hiding under the covers at 10 o’clock in the morning, how I used to love to sleep in when I was younger, until it stopped working for me. And that’s the thing:

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. If it’s not, change it.

Minimalism works for me. Being apathetic about sports works for me. These things, at the very least, do me no harm.

I thought being a night owl was working for me, and for a long time, it was. But, then it stopped. When my life changed — when theses and job hunts and apartments and writing and responsibilities became the focus — I needed to change too. Staying up late was not helping me write my thesis or become any more of an adult. I was stuck. I wasn’t growing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of staying up late. But, I was wrong to think I could keep doing it and still get to where I wanted to be. I couldn’t. So, I had to reevaluate and change my habits.

Not a Thing

There’s a deeper aspect to being wrong as well, one that I wrote about long ago. It’s the know-nothing principle.

The know-nothing principle is a solution to the fear of being wrong. The fear of being wrong grows out of being so attached to your ideas that you become unreceptive to new information, which might contradict or disprove your ideas.

“I am a night owl, and it works for me” was my idea. I knew night owlism was better. I shunned the notion of early rising out of fear that it might in fact be superior to my idea. I did not assume the know-nothing principle when it came to sleep schedules. As such, I was unable to see the benefits of an idea different from my own, and in turn it took me a long time to realize that my stubborn adherence to my own idea was causing me to stagnate.

It was only when I stopped being closed off, when I became open to the idea of early rising that I was able to adopt it and change for the better.

By being open to alternative ideas, by thinking of them not as wrong, but merely as different, and by being willing to try them, we free ourselves from being prisoners of our own ways of thinking.

And so, this experience of being “wrong” does not fill me with the fear that I might be wrong about everything. Rather, being wrong is humbling. It’s a reminder that I know nothing. I had forgotten that, and so I had become attached to my ideas. And of course, I was hurt when life reminded me that my idea wasn’t the only way.

The past two weeks have reminded me of the importance of an open mind. An open mind frees you from the fear of being wrong. You don’t have to cling to one idea or another, and you don’t have to jump to defend it from anyone who thinks differently than you.

As Socrates said:

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.

I thought I knew something about sleep schedules. But, it turns out I don’t know the first thing about them. And that makes me smile.

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Easter Casualities

Well, after seven healthy days in a row, I crashed and burned in a fiery explosion of Easter entrées, desserts, and candy. Pants were stretched, stomachs were tested, and abdominal muscles were forced to retreat from the Easter bunny’s onslaught.

But, that’s alright.

The important thing to remember about diverting from habits is that it’s very easy to go back to them.

All you have to do is step back on the path.

I could allow myself to feel guilty and depressed about the eight straight hours of sweets and treats, but what good is that going to do?

One bad meal isn’t as bad as one bad day, and one bad day isn’t as bad as one bad week. Rather, one bad meal is a mere bump in the road. When you look at the big picture, the healthy days still greatly outnumber the unhealthy days.

At the same time, one must be mindful. One bite doesn’t mean the whole day is shot. You can’t allow one mistake to become two, or three, or seven.

Don’t allow one step off the path to become an excuse for tumbling off a cliff.

Rather, when you’re stuffed with truffles, or high from caramels, or laden with cheesecake, take pleasure in the realization that you brought this on yourself. If you can choose to step off the path, you can just as easily choose to step back on. Right now.

Sometimes you have to utterly destroy yourself to remember just how much control you have.

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How to Take a Massive Brain Dump

Your brain is like your body’s inbox.

Every time we think of an idea, or are given a to-do, or come across something we want to remember, it goes directly to the brain. Like an inbox, though, it’s possible for the brain to get overloaded.

When we fail to process our desk’s inbox, more and more things accumulate until the inbox is overflowing. This inundation creates both physical and mental clutter. Our desk is literally buried under paperwork, which in turn makes us feel stressed and claustrophobic.

Our minds work the same way. Like an inbox, our minds contain a finite amount of space. When too many things build up, the result is chaos.

An item placed in an inbox will remain there until it is acted on by an individual. Likewise, a thought in our mind will remain there until we either forget it or act on it. Since forgetting things is usually bad, we struggle to retain as much as we can.

When our lives get busy, we find our minds overflowing with thoughts, ideas, and to-dos. Left unprocessed, these thoughts bounce around in our heads, usually crashing into other thoughts and making us feel stressed and overwhelmed. If you’ve ever felt like your head was going to explode thinking of all the things you need to do, then you know what I’m talking about.

The solution is what David Allen calls a “mental sweep”, otherwise known as a brain dump.

The idea is to get all of your thoughts and to-dos out of your head and down on paper. The process is simple: write down every single thing you can think of that is competing for your attention. And I mean everything, no matter how big or how small:

Return library book.
Send thank you cards.
Pay auto-loan.
Email Auntie Sally.
Do laundry.
Buy deodorant.
Finish thesis.
Research carry pen.
Buy Mother’s Day present.
Finish transferring DVDs.
Move tax return to savings account.
Investigate adjunct jobs.
Finalize Manference XIII.
Process email.
Make dinner plans with Keith.
Email Kevin and Caitlin about November.
Reschedule doctor’s appointment.

And so on. Write until you can’t think of anything else. You want your mind to feel clean and empty when you’re done.

None of these tasks are that big of a deal, but storing all of them in your head at once is a recipe for a mental breakdown. The fact that you haven’t captured these thoughts on paper means your mind is constantly working to remember them. “Oh, I forgot I need to do this… Which reminds me I need to do that… And I still haven’t done this… And I need to do this, that, and the other thing… AHHH!”

Writing everything down in one big list frees your mind from having to remember it all. Even if your list turns out to be three pages long, it’s OK. It’s better to have everything in visual form because it allows you to keep things in perspective. OK, this is everything I need to do. When it’s all bouncing around in your head, you can’t get a sense of the big picture. You’re missing the forest for the trees.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I always try to sit down and do a mental sweep. I empty out every thought, idea, and to-do and put it down on paper. Then my mind is free and calm because I don’t have to worry about remembering everything. It’s all right there on the page, and I feel better. Instead of struggling to keep my brain from exploding, I can focus my energy on actually getting things done and crossing items off the list.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with things to do, I strongly encourage you to do a mental sweep. Dump your brain out on paper. You’ll feel much better.

If you’d like more, check out Merlin’s post on the subject.

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"All Knowledge Is in the Air"

Below is a passage from Victor Wooten’s novel, The Music Lesson. I’ve written about this book before. It’s full of wisdom not just about music, but about life in general.

This is another one of my favorite passages. It’s a monologue spoken by Michael, the novel’s enigmatic teacher. I was going to write something about it, but in rereading the chapter, I decided it’s better to let the words stand on their own.

“Like this smoke, knowledge is in the air. All the knowledge that ever existed, or ever will exist, is here already: right here, right now. If you can tune in to the correct frequency you can pick up any information you want. We think the brain creates knowledge, but I am here to tell you that the brain creates nothing. The brain receives, or more accurately, it discovers. It would be a miracle in and of itself to think that everything in this world came from the brain, a jelly-like mass the size of a grapefruit. The brain can receive information and then use it. But create it? No!”


“Music comes out of a radio, but is Music inside the box? No! Music is in the air. The radio has the ability to tune in to the proper frequency and pick up whatever Music it wants, but it does not create it.

“Imagine if the radio could open up and play all Music at once. The result would be chaos. Unless it’s ‘tuned in’ to what we want it to receive, it’s not really working at all. Many people lose control in Life by doing exactly that. They open up to the ‘All,’ without the proper control necessary to assimilate all the information. The result, unless prepared, is chaos. Remember, all knowledge is in the air, and since you breathe in this air, all knowledge is also in you.”

Such a beautiful and profound concept.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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The Essential Lesson About Expectations

Expectation is the root of all heartache.
William Shakespeare

My dad has always taught me the importance of managing expectations. Allowing them to get out of control almost guarantees disappointment, while keeping them low increases the chances of being pleasantly surprised.

But what exactly is an expectation?

An expectation is an attachment to an outcome.

Let’s say you get a tip from a friend about a job he or she thinks you would be perfect for. They tell you all about it and encourage you to apply. They’ll put in a good word for you. It sounds great. The pay would be better. It would be a field you’re interested in. You could use the money to get out of your crappy apartment and pay down some of your student loans. Things would get better. All in all, it sounds like a big upgrade. It’s going to be awesome.

Until you don’t get the job.

This thought process is indicative of out-of-control expectations. When you allow yourself to get overly excited about something that is not yet a sure thing, your brain begins to act as if that thing is already true. When the thing doesn’t come true, it can be devastating.

Attachments to outcomes are no less dangerous than attachments to things. Suppose you get a brand new toy, whatever that means for you. A new car, gadget, instrument, doesn’t matter. You love that thing, and it brings you joy. You don’t want to imagine life without that thing. So if — and when — it breaks, you experience pain and loss.

The same can be said of attachments to people. Boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives are wonderful things, but when their bodies are no longer there — either by choice or by death — the pain can be excruciating.

This pain happens because we have attached a part of ourselves to that thing or person. Our identity is in part defined by our relationship to it, him, or her.

“I am the owner of that car.”

“I am John’s girlfriend.”

“I am Jane’s husband.”

When the car or John or Jane are no longer there, that part of our identity disappears with them, and that void hurts. A lot.

Obviously we can’t force ourselves to stop enjoying things or loving people, so the solution lies in establishing one’s identity independent of external entities.

“With or without this thing/person, I am still me.”

When your sense of identity is unwavering, you don’t feel disappointment when you don’t get the job. Rather, you feel content in knowing that you were OK before the job, and you will be OK without the job.

Of course we feel sadness over the loss of loved ones, whatever the reason. Relationships are an essential fiber of our humanity, and losing them hurts like hell. But perspective and identity must be maintained. In the case of the girlfriend: you were OK before her, and you will be OK after her — even if you don’t think you can be.

When someone dies, our pain is corporeal. We ache over being unable to see the person, or hear their voice, or feel their arms around us. But we may take comfort in knowing that they’re still there, even though their body isn’t.

In all of these cases — the lost job, the broken object, the missing person — we were expecting the thing to be there. When it isn’t, our expectations are not met, and we hurt.

We must learn to let go of our expectations of outcomes, things, and people. In doing so, we free ourselves from our attachment to them. This is not to say we should go through life as emotionless robots, but rather that we must know who we are — with and without these things. Our identities must not depend on the presence or ownership of external entities.

We must truly know ourselves so that we may live independently of the things over which we have no control.

Self-control, then, is the key. You have true control over almost nothing and no one in this world. The only thing you can control is your mind and how it deals with what happens to you. Remove expectations, and you remove the chains of attachment.

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About the Tree in Your Face

Sometimes, you have to move on to the next thing to fully understand the last thing.

It’s not until you get to college that you realize how silly high school was.

It’s not until you get to graduate school that you realize how good college life was.

It’s not until you become an adult that you realize how easy it was being a student.

Of course, it wasn’t silly or easy back then. At the time, my life did depend on that science project. And that term paper. And that final exam. Even now, it seems like my life depends on my thesis. But in a year, when I’m worried about something entirely different, I’ll look back and wish the biggest thing on my mind was a fifty-page paper about Middle English lyric poetry.

They call it “missing the forest for the trees”. If there’s a huge tree right in front of you, you can’t see past it. You can’t see all of the other trees around and beyond it. You have to take a step back to see the forest, to see the big picture. Sometimes you have to take several steps.

It’s hard to see something for what it truly is when your nose is pressed against it.

But, a forest is easily identified from 10,000 feet.

When faced with a tree, always ask yourself, “Will this matter a year from now?”

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My Student Loans Are Hilarious

I sat down with my mom the other night to discuss my student loans. Before that conversation, I knew I had students loans, but I didn't know exactly how many student loans we were talking about, and how much money those loans entailed.

I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I owe the government an absurd amount of money for my little ol' bachelor's degree. A degree that — so far — has yielded me little in the way of riches.

I don't regret my undergraduate education — not for one second. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Still, being faced with a huge amount of debt isn't exactly great news.

But, it does make me laugh.

That's right. I laugh in the face of my (let's call it) $50,000 debt.

At this point in my life, I can't even imagine what $50,000 looks like. It's not even a real number. It's not like I went to the bank and they gave me a truckload of cash, which I brought to college and handed over to the Admissions Office. I've never even seen $1,000 in real life, let alone the $50,000 for which I'm supposedly responsible. They're fifty thousand imaginary dollars, which floated invisibly through the air, landed safely... somewhere, and persuaded someone to give me an education.

It's really quite silly.

In some ways, the fact that I've never come in physical contact with these fifty thousand dollars detaches me from the emotional burden of paying them back.

Imagine you were carrying a $100 bill around in your wallet, and when you went to reach for it, the money was gone. That experience would hurt because you were physically attached to the money. You used to be able to see it, feel it, and you knew it was there. And now it's gone. You feel bad about it because you miss that hundred dollar bill! You miss it a lot.

But how can you miss something that was never physically there to begin with? I feel no sense of ownership over these fifty thousand dollars. Clearly, they belong to someone else, and I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow them for several years. I don't feel the sense of loss that I would feel if someone took $100 out of my pocket.

Now, you could argue that paying for something you can't see hurts. You can rationalize spending $20 on a DVD because, when you hand the clerk a twenty-dollar bill, they hand you a movie in exchange. That's fair.

But in reality, paying for college is no different. You're paying for an experience. It's like coughing up $50 for a concert ticket. You're not really taking anything home with you, but you are getting a whole lot of memories, and you're coming out a different person on the other side.

While $50,00 is an obscene and unfathomable amount of money, I'm not sure I can — nor would I want to — put a price on my college experience. Sure, you can put a price on classes, housing, and meal plans, but you can't put a price on the experience.

My student debt isn't going anywhere. All I can do is keep it in perspective. It'll all get paid off eventually. What's the worst that could happen? No one has ever been executed for having student loans.

Do I owe the government more money than I ever thought possible? Yes.

Is it ridiculous? Yes.

Can I change it? Not really.

So is it worth getting worked up over? No.

Are most people in the same situation? Yes.

Am I going to pay it off little by little, like everyone else? Yup.

When I'm told I have to pay back fifty thousand imaginary dollars because someone somewhere decided that's how much an education costs, I just shrug and say, "Well, that's unfortunate, but alright."

I'm thousands of dollars in debt; all I can do is laugh about it.

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You're Not Going to Die

The problem with being really close to finishing your thesis is that it comes with many increasingly persistent questions:

“What are you going to do now?”

“What jobs have you applied to?”

“Are you aware of how many thousands of dollars in student debt you’re responsible for?”

“How are you going to afford rent?”

“Do you have a plan?”

All of which translate to:

When are you going to hurry up and be the adult the world expects you to be?

Seven years ago, when I declared English as my major, I saw these questions off in the distance, prowling the horizon. I’ll be the first to admit I still don’t know the answers to them. And while that’s a serious cause for concern for what seems like pretty much everyone in my life, it is in the face of these questions that I find myself decidedly unafraid.

And why shouldn’t I be?

I’ve already spent enough time wallowing in self-pity, fear, and doubt over who I am and what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. I’ve already panicked over my student loans. I’ve already looked at how expensive apartments are. I’ve already seen how few jobs there are, and even fewer that appeal to me. I’ve already imagined life on my own, out there in the dark, scary real world.

And I’ve made peace with all of it.

This is not to say I do not recognize the necessity of income, housing, and food. I can’t live without these things. I don’t even need my two English degrees to tell me that.

I recognize that I cannot sit passively by and expect to be handed a job and an apartment. I recognize that I will need to work hard to achieve these things, and that I am solely responsible for them.

But why make myself sick over it?

I’m not going to die.

There are people far dumber than me (and you) who are doing just fine.

These are the facts.

I do not presume the transition to adulthood will be an easy one. Indeed, it hasn’t been so far. But, I believe the best way to make that transition is with the proper perspective — one that enables you to walk into the unknown calm, collected, and confident.

Even if you have no idea what you want to do…

No matter how many thousands of dollars you owe the government…

Even if you’re not sure who you are…

You’re not going to die.

You will answer these questions in due time.

Always ask yourself: what’s the worst thing that could happen? Chances are it’s not that bad.

I’m sure many will mistake my equanimity for naiveté, laziness, and apathy. This is fine. Most people are more concerned with the lives of others than with their own.

But in truth, beneath my foolish calm is a sense of great excitement. Because I can’t wait to be on my own. To come home to my own apartment. To cook my own food. To start my own career, and to find out what that ends up being. It’s not a question of “Are these things going to happen?” Of course they are; it’s a matter of when.

I’m excited to start my own life. In thirty years, I’ll be telling my kids, “I know it’s scary. But, what’s the worst that could happen? You’re not going to die.”

That’s going to be a good day.

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The amount of drama in your life is inversely proportional to your ability to handle that drama.

React poorly to it, and it will follow you everywhere.

Deal with it, and it will eventually subside.

Refuse to acknowledge it, and it will never find you in the first place.

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