To Be Alone with Your Thoughts

To be alone with your thoughts is at once a state of great freedom and insidious terror.

The imagination is an entity of creativity, of wonder and what-ifs, of potentials and possibilities. The mind is an entity of knowledge, of fact and logic and practicality. I envision the imagination like a mist surrounding the mind. Sometimes it serves as a cloud, lifting the mind up to new heights. Sometimes it becomes a fog so thick that the mind disappears entirely.

When presented with real solitude, the imagination runs wild. Little effort is required to push it out the door and into a world of endless thoughts and ideas. The imagination takes the mind by the hand and whisks it away like leaves on a blustery day. Or a sign in a hurricane.

Where the two wind up, however, is not so easily guaranteed.

My imagination often leads me to places of inspiration and optimism, but just as frequently to places of fear and despair. It collects all the loose thoughts floating around in my head and synthesizes new creatures, some delightful and some frightening. It creates scenarios, dozens of hypotheticals, none of which may be true, but all of which seem absolute. And because this alchemy takes place only within the confines of my mind, while I lie idle on the couch, there is no escaping it. There is nowhere to run. There is only wondering and waiting.

Our minds are the one thing over which we have complete control, and yet they often seem to be the most difficult thing to control.

For this conundrum, I have no solution... other than practice. We must not fear our imaginations or the places they may take us. Rather, we must remember that these destinations—for the moment—exist only in our minds.

We may not be able to control the possible futures our imaginations present to us. But we can still choose to act—to get off the couch—and determine whether these visions become reality.

The Fromagerie

As previously stated, I keep a small circle of close friends. I don't talk to strangers, and I have no interest in small talk. I am loyal to those who are closest to me.

Still, I often wonder if that's the best practice.

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I had lunch with my undergraduate advisor (still my advisor in many ways) and a mutual friend of ours at a fromagerie and bistro.

As we ate and discussed the ins and outs of English professorship, I noticed a waitress, whose beauty I found so astounding that I found it difficult to concentrate on anything else. My company, being older, wiser, and always eager to help me find love in unexpected places, encouraged me to strike up a conversation with her. I obviously demurred, finding it preferable to hide behind my cheeseburger.

Of course, after we parted ways, I realized there was no way I could not talk to her and still live with myself, so I went back inside.

I told the waitress behind the counter that one of her coworkers was wearing a gray, v-neck sweater and inquired about her name. She poked her head around the corner and confirmed my beloved's identity. I asked if I could talk to her for a moment and was told I could find her upstairs at the bar.


The bar was crowded, despite being near closing time. I found her washing a dish (let's say), quite magnificently. I only had a minute to survey the scene and plan my approach before she whipped around and appeared right in front of me, taller than I'd realized.

I greeted her warmly and introduced myself before asking if she'd like to have dinner somewhere, sometime.

I don't know if women rehearse their reaction to these sorts of inquiries, but she seemed genuinely taken aback and managed to find the words explaining she had just broken up with her boyfriend days earlier.


I offered my condolences and asked how she was doing, to which she responded, "Not good."

They had been together for a year, and I explained that my last relationship, despite being equally "brief," had also had the depth of one lasting several times that. She seemed consoled by it, and then proceeded to thank me for my invitation because—even though she had to reject me—it was exactly what she needed to hear on this particular day. I said I was happy to help, and perhaps another time would suit us better.

After I left her, I realized I could not in good conscious leave without providing my contact information. I tore a page out of my Field Notes and scrawled the following note:

Pretty Lady Whose Name I Will Not Disclose on This Blog,

It was wonderful to meet you. I hope you feel better soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Andrew Marvin

(555) 555-5555

(In case you could ever use an extra friend.)

I slipped the note to the waitress behind the counter, giving her explicit instructions that it was for its intended recipient only, and she promised to deliver it promptly. I thanked her, said "Happy Thanksgiving!", and left.

I share this story because I'm beginning to think action is preferable to passivity when it comes to relationships. I have no desire to befriend every person I meet or clutter my life with acquaintances, but I also can never be sure whether that person over there might be one who changes my life.

I like to think we each have several people walking the earth who possess the capacity to turn us into the best version of ourself. Maybe we won't meet the one who does until five years from now. Maybe we'll meet them tomorrow. Or maybe we already have.

But it can't hurt to say hello.

The Next Era

All of a sudden, my August has exploded with busyness.

After ZenGeek's money episode, with no returns coming in from my big boy job applications, I decided to pick up more hours at karate. The next day (naturally), I got an email asking if I'd like to interview for an adjunct position at a community college. I interviewed yesterday, and now I'm going to be teaching English composition in the fall. Out of nowhere!

I'm excited about the job. I love talking about writing, and the additional income stream will be a welcome relief. But I also feel heavier, weighed down with the added responsibility. On the ride home alone I thought of eight different tasks to add to my to-do list.

My work experience has fluctuated over the years. I've worked two jobs—9 AM to 3 PM and 4 PM to 9 PM—and been utterly exhausted, but financially stable. I've also worked very little, far from what could even be considered part-time, and had lots of time to do what I love and be financially stressed out all the time.

The key, of course, is balance. Having nothing to do but record podcasts, jam with your bandmates, write blog posts, and do yoga and karate is great, but it's not the most lucrative lifestyle. On the other hand, working two jobs while trying to find time to fit in the things that make you happy isn't the most relaxing way to live.

But I shall persevere.

Life is comprised of different eras. Being a kid leads to high school, which leads to college, which leads to grad school, which leads to (in my case) wandering, which leads to employment. Each of these eras brings with it new people, places, and experiences, all of which are part of the overall journey.

Whenever we transition to a new era, things can seem overwhelming. This is because of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. Things are different than they were before. We're surrounded by strangers, we don't know where we are, and we might be doing something we've never done before. It's scary. But with time, we settle into the next era, and it becomes the new normal.

Since finishing graduate school, the path before me has been cloudy and uncertain. Every day was plagued by a small, but persistent, voice asking, what are you going to do next? I didn't have an answer for a long time, so having some structure with this new job will be a positive change. I don't know how it will go or what it will lead to. I don't know who I'm going to meet or what I'm going to learn.

I do know that QLE will continue unabated, and I do know that whatever happens will work out for the best. One way or another. As always.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Saying Yes to Scary Things

My advisor emailed me to ask if I'd like to give a guest lecture on Middle English lyrics to his Medieval Literature classes in the fall.


Being asked to do something like that is of course an honor and privilege, but it also couldn't be more frightening. Despite the fact that I've written over 20,000 words on the Middle English lyric, in some ways I don't think I could feel less qualified.

But how can I say no to such an opportunity?

Imagine if your favorite musician of all time asked you to join him onstage and jam in concert. Personally, would I vomit? Yes. But you can't say no to that! That's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Saying no may immediately take care of my anxiety and nervousness, but I can only imagine how I would feel afterward, knowing the opportunity is gone forever.

I'm not saying giving a lecture on Middle English lyric poetry is like jamming with Nathan Watts or Victor Wooten, but there's something important about saying yes to scary things.

Merlin Mann guested on Episode 001 of the CMD+SPACE Podcast this week, and it's a fantastic interview that goes deep into the story behind Merlin's online endeavors. While listening to the episode, I was reminded of his Inbox Zero mission statement:

Make the time to be scared of more interesting things.

And that's what it's all about. Giving a lecture is scary. Starting a podcast is scary. Building a website and putting your writing out there is scary. Trying to make a living without a "real job" is scary.

But these are the things that I want to be scared about.

I want to be good enough that my advisor asks me to speak to his class. I want to do podcasts that people love. I want to write things that help them and help me. Being scared of these things sounds infinitely better than being stressed out over a big meeting or a crazed supervisor.

The work I love is unconventional. It's not safe. It's not guaranteed to succeed. It's scary.

But that's what makes it interesting. And that's why I say yes to it.

Have a glorious weekend!

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

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?

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Movin' Out

My internet colleague and cohost, Richard J. Anderson, on The Big Move:

Once again, I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want. I certainly don’t want ten times more of what I have now. For God’s sake, I am ready, at least, to be scared shitless and stop doing what I am expected to do, and go do something new and different.

I moved out of my dad’s house this weekend.

I’ve been writing this website for eleven months, and I’ve always neglected mentioning that I lived at home, primarily out of shame. Not that I don’t love my parents — of course I do — but no twenty-five-year-old wants to admit he lives in his parents’ basement, no matter how nice a basement it is. (And mine was really nice.)

I graduated from college in 2009 and then immediately went to grad school. Because I was still a student and living on a paltry graduate intern salary, I moved back home. The initial plan was that I’d move out six months after graduation, but because my thesis is taking for-freaking-ever, those lines got blurred. Eventually, my dad and I agreed that June 1 would be the deadline.

It was a benevolent and mutually agreed upon deadline. My parents wanted me to leave the nest and spread my wings, and I wanted to not live in my parents’ basement anymore. So it’s a good thing. Kind of scary. But a good thing.

Living at home is a double-edged sword. It’s very comfortable; food, shelter, love… Everything is provided for you. But because of this comfort, complacency inevitably follows. There’s no sense of urgency when you live at home. Sure, you know you need to move out and do something with your life, but there’s no one threatening to break down your door if you don’t. You’re safe. Protected.

And why shouldn’t you be? That’s what home is. But while home is a wonderful thing, it’s not the best environment for getting to where you want to be.

Sometimes the fire under one’s ass is best lit by fear.

While I was living in my parents’ basement, I found it very hard to be productive. I got my blog posts written, but did little else in the way of creating. I certainly couldn’t work on my thesis. I was home. I was comfy. Too comfy. There’s my couch, and my computer, and my books, and my television, and my basses. I can’t do work right now. No way. I’ll do work later.

I was trapped in this vicious cycle of comfortable complacency, and it depressed the shit out of me.

And so begins Phase One of starting my life as independent.

I’m staying with a good friend for the summer. The bed is loud. The birds are loud. The sun is bright in the morning. It’s not my house.

But it’s a start.

It’s a start because, now that I’m out of the house — scared, vulnerable, uncomfortable — there’s a sense of urgency. This is the real deal.

I’m out from under my parents’ roof. I’m exposed to the elements. It’s up to me to decide what I’m going to do today to get to where I want to be.

It’s survive or die.

And I’m not going to die.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Get It Checked Out. You'll Feel Better.

When I was little, I was a bit of a hypochondriac. This was in part due to the fact that my parents allowed me to buy a book called The World’s Deadliest Animals, or something to that effect.

This book featured not only illustrations of some of the scariest animals on Earth, but also detailed explanations of the symptoms one would experience during a fatal encounter.

I was particularly terrified of the funnel-web spider, whose bite first causes aches and pains, and you start to sweat. Then, according to my research, you turn blue and froth at the mouth before dying a mere two hours later.

This information was, of course, very damaging to my childhood psyche, as I assumed any ache or pain was the beginning of the end.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to outgrow my propensity for self-diagnosis, although it does manage to creep up from time to time.

Most recently, I had a dime-sized bump under my left arm that had suddenly become irritated and sore after weeks without complaint.

It took me a week to call my doctor and have him take a look at it, but the effect it had on me during that time was severely debilitating. With each day it didn’t go away on its own, my imagination would cause me to grow more and more paranoid. Sometimes I’d be able to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, but the voice in the back of my head would always come back sooner or later, asking what if it is a big deal?! My mood eventually became completely depressed. The worry was always there, like a splinter in my mind. Any time I found myself in a good mood, it would sneak up and dash it from me.

A week later, my doctor told me it was an infected hair follicle and could likely be treated with antibiotics. All that worrying for nothing.

The point is, sometimes our imaginations get the best of us, which disrupts our inner peace. Sometimes, it’s best to trust an expert, rather than allow your mind to conjure up any number of worst case scenarios.

If there’s an easy solution to your worry, don’t put it off. Make the call. Then, it’ll be over, and you’ll have peace of mind.

Life is too short to live in fear.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Inbox Terrors: How to Stop Being Scared of Email

Right now, I’m carrying around a considerable amount of anxiety because of email.

Which is ridiculous.

You see, I’m waiting for three emails of relative importance. One is feedback on an article I wrote. Another is about guesting on a reputable podcast (not mine). And the third is about possibly meeting up to play music with some people I’ve never met before.


Of course, being scared of email is completely irrational, but the fear is real nonetheless. It’s a fear of the unknown. I have no idea and even less control over what the other person might say.

“This is literally the worst thing you’ve ever written.”

“You’re way too dumb to be on this podcast.”

“You suck at playing bass, even though I’ve never heard or seen you play, but I’m sure that’s what I’ll say once I do. How’s tomorrow at 8?”

The likelihood of any of these responses actually happening is slim to none.


No, they won’t.

But suppose they did. What would happen?


I’m sitting here at my desk, as I do, reading and/or writing and/or perusing the interwebs, when suddenly my email goes ding! [Seriously, it just did. Holy crap.]

I open my email, click the unread message, and BOOM — it literally leaps off the screen and starts screaming at me like I’m the worst person in the world.

Or so it seems.

But when I’m done reading it, what has actually happened?


I’m still sitting here at my desk. The sun is still shining. Everything is as it was moments before.

I’m not dead.

If an alien were to look down from space into my house and see me sitting here, there would be no discernible difference between what it saw before the email and what it saw after the email.

Email can’t hurt you. People can’t eat you.

And if the email does contain bad news, well, I’ll survive. I’ll work through it. What I won’t do is let it paralyze or defeat me. The worst part about reading a scary email is reading it; it’s probably not as bad as you thought, and if it is, it only gets better from there.

So be brave. Don’t fear the ding!

Because there are far more important things to be scared of than email.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The Quick and Easy Path

Luke: Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: No, no. No. Quicker. Easier. More seductive.

What is easy isn’t always what’s right.

What is easy isn’t always what’s best.

Cupcakes are easy. They are seductive. Taking one out of its wrapper is quick and painless. The payoff is immediate. It’s sweet and delicious.

Eating healthy is hard. We’re surrounded by junk food everywhere we go. Cooking healthy food takes time and effort. It’s a pain in the ass.

Lying in bed is easy. It’s tempting, safe, and comforting. Nothing can hurt you there, under the covers.

Push-ups are hard. They aren’t fun. They hurt. Going to the gym is hard. It hurts. It takes consistent time and effort before you ever see any rewards.

Doing what you’re told is easy. Stay in the box. Keep your head down. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Be average.

Making something is hard. Creating something out of nothing is hard. Especially when there may be little in the way of tangible rewards.

We must be mindful of the choices placed before us.

Eating junk food is easy.

Not working out is easy.

Following the paths of convention is easy.

But is it what’s right?

Is it what’s best?

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

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.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Also, you should follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

A Prisoner of the Past

Crave translates into slave
John Roderick

When we lose something wonderful, we experience a natural desire to get that thing back — to get back to the way things were.

This desire arises out of attachment to that thing. When we lose something wonderful, we lose a part of ourselves. Part of our identity was defined by that thing, and so part of our identity must be rebuilt.

Rebuilding can be exceptionally difficult and painful, especially when we convince ourselves that the only way to rebuild is to recover the thing that was lost.

Unfortunately, the loss of the thing is often permanent, which only augments our desire to recover it. The permanence of the loss is directly proportional to our desire to get the thing back. When someone dies, we really wish we could see them again. When someone goes away for a weekend, it’s not a big deal because we know they’ll be back in no time.

The more we allow ourselves to believe that recovering the lost thing is possible, the longer it takes to rebuild, and the longer it takes to be whole again.

Too often, getting back to the thing is impossible. When that is the case, the only way to rebuild is to release our attachment to the thing. Cherish the thing, certainly, but do not try to get back to it. That is, do not allow your happiness and your identity to be dependent on the recovery of a thing that is lost forever. Preserve the memory of the thing, but do not allow yourself to become enslaved by the notion that you can go back to the way things were.

We cannot move forward if we insist on remaining a prisoner of the past. We cannot rebuild by rewinding, only by looking — and moving — ahead.

The best way out is always through.
Robert Frost

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below! Also, you should follow me on Twitter.

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.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below! Also, you should follow me on Twitter.

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?”

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below! Also, you should follow me on Twitter.

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.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below! Also, you should follow me on Twitter.

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.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below! Also, you should follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The Influence of Unicorns

Randy Murray offers some tough love about the influence of unicorns:

You may feel that you deserve that terrific job, starring role, the recognition of your greatness, but no one is going to hand it to you. You have to ask for it. You have to work for it, earn it. You may have to recruit all of your friends and family and everyone you know to get you in front of the right person. Your simple virtues won’t lead them to you to lay their head in your lap and surrender.

Getting It Wrong the First Time

In elementary school, all of my teachers seemed to have the same poster, detailing the Ten Rules of the Classroom. I only remember the first two: “Follow directions the first time given” and “Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself”. Being the little nerd that I was, I was pretty good at following rules, but I always prided myself on that first one. I was damn good at following directions the first time given, mostly because I hated getting in trouble. I still am, and I still do.

Sixteen years of martial arts training has further taught me the importance of following directions, or more accurately, the value of precision and attention to detail. I frequently tell my students that an attention to detail is what separates an average martial artist from a great one. You need to know if that’s supposed to be a back punch or a thrust punch. You need to know how your weight should be distributed in a certain stance. You need to know what part of your foot you’re using to kick the imaginary bad guy in the face. These things matter. It’s the difference between an effective kick and broken toes.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to contribute a guest post to another website, the author of which I respect very much. I was thrilled and grateful. I labored over my article — writing, reading, rewriting, rereading — wanting, as I always do, to get it right the first time.

Eventually I was satisfied and sent it off. I was proud of what I had written and excited to share it with others. I got a response back a little while later with his feedback, and my heart sank a little.

I got it wrong.

I opened the email, and I winced as my eyes glossed over a few critical phrases. Nothing mean, of course, but what I had written wasn’t what he was looking for. I had missed the point, even though I didn’t quite understand how.

After a moment, I realized that the way I reacted to this criticism was crucial. I could have been argumentative. I could have been defensive. No one likes to be criticized, and I knew my piece was good.

But I also knew that taking this feedback graciously was the only way to get better. Not only would it make my article better, but it would make me a better writer. My piece was, for all intents and purposes, well-written. It just wasn’t what he was looking for. I hadn’t followed directions. And not intentionally, either.

I wrote back with some questions, explaining what I was struggling with and emphasizing that I wanted to try again. I wanted to get it right. He sent me back an additional explanation, and it completely elucidated what I had missed. Now, I understood. It felt good, as it always does, to struggle with something and have it finally click.

At the bottom of his email, he wrote something that surprised me. He thanked me for working with him on the article, and he said, “This is the work that writers do.”

That really stuck with me. It was a great lesson on working to deliver what the client wants, even if that means rewriting the entire thing, which I did. A lot of writing is rewriting. It was a valuable lesson in following directions. I’m grateful for the criticism and the experience. Sometimes getting it right the second time teaches us more than getting it right the first time. I ended up writing twice as much, but that’s a good thing. Writers write. The more the better.

Beating the Sunday Night Blues

There’s this thing called the Sunday Night Blues, which is loosely defined as “a bad mood caused by Monday’s imminence”. The weekend magic is over, and a new workweek is only a few hours’ sleep away. Back to reality. Back to the grind. Case of the Mondays. Clichés abound.

It’s a total drag, but lately my Sunday Night Blues has been replaced with a profound sense of inner peace. A feeling of contentment, and maybe even excitement. This hasn’t exactly been a conscious decision, so I took the long way home to try and figure out what causes my Sunday night mood to vary so drastically.

On this particular Sunday, the answer was confidence.

A lack of confidence often causes Imperfect peace. When we don’t feel confident about something, we fear it. Public speaking. Math tests. Competition. When we do feel confident, much of that fear subsides.

Confidence begets inner peace.

It seems to me that there are three areas in which we must feel confident if we are to avoid the Sunday Night Blues:

  1. Confidence about the past, which means not having regrets or second-guessing the decisions that have led to this moment.
  2. Confidence about the future, which is tricky because the future is largely unknown. Even if we have plans for the future, life can alter them without warning, and that could result in tremendous disappointment. The confidence here comes less from correctly predicting the future and more from being in a state of mind capable of handing whatever the future holds.
  3. Confidence about yourself, here in the present moment. To me, self-confidence refers to a complete love of who you are. Not just a celebration of your strengths, but also an acknowledgement of your flaws and an optimism about their improvement. Pride for the current version of yourself, but also excitement for the iterations of tomorrow and beyond.

The crux of all this, of course, is that the only difference between having or avoiding the Sunday Night Blues is our perspective. The past, future, and present are the same either way. They cannot be altered. What can be altered is the mind: how you think of and perceive your past, future, and present self.

Invariably, this peace is fleeting. I often go to bed feeling content only to wake up miserable at the sound of my alarm clock. But the pursuit of inner peace is a constant, never ending process. The slightest interruption threatens to take it away from us, and so we must work to maintain it.

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about what inner peace is, why it’s so hard to attain, and how we can experience it more often.

What Should You Do If Someone Puts a Gun to Your Head?

Justin Freeman’s very detailed advice on what you should do if someone puts a gun to your head, including robbery, hostage, and kidnapping scenarios:

No two gunpoint situations are alike, and they will all be very dynamic situations. My advice is to remain calm, be as compliant as you can, be aware of your surroundings, and do what you need to in order to survive. But the obvious best case scenario is keeping yourself out of the situation that put you on the business end of a firearm.

Via Ben Brooks

Regarding Your Quest for Passivity

Chris Guillebeau wants to teach you how to put off making decisions about your life:

Always remember: there’s plenty of time. No one ever dies young or unprepared. Ignore the 1,440 minutes available to you today, the changing of the seasons, the nagging sense that you could have done something more if you had made the effort. Don’t worry about the days flying by that you’ll never see again.