not just a work bod

There is so much more to life than work. There is so much more to life than looking a certain way and achieving some ideal you aren’t actually happy with. There is so much more, and yet we still get stuck on these basic things of loving ourselves and being content with where we are.

We fundamentally feel empty when we reach grand milestones without the backing of social support. If we aren’t making a difference, if we aren’t paying attention to the people around us, it’s just hard to have any motivation at all. We can strive after money, freedom, success, all of that, but we are nothing if we are alone.

Granted, money, freedom, and success are all nice. But we feel like we are using our money wisely when we can support ourselves and those around us. We feel free when our bonds to others are healthy instead of constricting. We feel successful when we are able to feel secure financially and are connected to others. Sitting alone in a pile of gold has a similar feel to sitting on a pile of rocks alone.

We struggle with motivation at times because we’re often going about it the wrong way. We try to use fear, but fear wears away. We try to use logic, but logic isn’t very inspiring. We try to use self-discipline but that’s something we need to build up over time and for the right reasons.

It’s true, we need money to survive. This shouldn’t be a spot of shame on us. We might not love what we do– that’s okay. If we are miserable, over time we can work to see if there is a better path. It’s easy to fear getting stuck. Midlife crises are unfortunately common. There’s that terrifying idea that we will blink and our life will have passed us by. But if that is your fear, then act. Take charge of your decisions. Whatever you chose in life, chose it willingly. Chose it without regrets. We are forced into all sorts of situations, but we take responsibility for who we are, we are empowered.

Life will be difficult in some way, no matter what. There will always be boring situations. The key to being okay with that is realizing that even the boring moments are moments of our lives. There is a beauty in everywhere if we look for it. There is always something interesting, and when we open our minds to it in the little moments, we can begin to trust oursleves that we’ll find it in the important moments.

thinking about positive affirmations

Here are some positive affirmations I found:

I am a diamond. It is time for me to shine.

My opinion matters.

I am a magnet for love.

Self-love is a natural state of being.

I am loved and I am wanted.

The site I got them off of has a massive list of all sorts of positive affirmations, these are some of the self-love ones. I guess half of me was curious about the process of positive affirmation and the other half was frustrated with myself for procrastinating. However, as I was reading some of these, I began to feel uncomfortable.
“I am a diamond. It is time for me to shine,” doesn’t that sound self-centered? I realized it was aimed at self-love, but it put me off balance. Growing up, I was taught that the highest form of good a human can do is to serve others. Focusing on yourself was a risky path down to the way of being selfish.
Even “I am a magnet for love”, and “I am loved and wanted”, these two involve other people. It’s like game theory, you can’t map everything out on your own because there are other player’s strategies you need to keep in mind. And deep inside of me, it felt wrong.
Not all affirmations make me uncomfortable or angry, but these particular ones did to a certain degree, and I was trying to figure out why. The answer is relatively straight forward: maybe I don’t love myself enough.
But the question goes deeper, because what does it mean to love yourself? Why do simple phrases get under our skin?
When we compliment other people, we say similar sorts of things without thinking, “Oh my goodness, you’re a Queen”, or “You have so much potential, don’t sell yourself short!”. In those situations, it’s usually clear: this individual being someone of worth is independent of everyone else’s worth. Person A is absolutely lovely, kind, intelligent, funny, and they are all of this without making Person B less kind, intelligent, etc. They are two separate people, and we recognize that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.
Something like, “I am a diamond” insinuates that your own life should be valued more than others. But also: does it?
A lot of the value of a diamond comes from the people who value it, who wear it. It’s a symbol of a bond typically. As living human beings, we exist in networks. There are people who value us, who like us near them. Our personalities in some way are the result of the bonds we have with other people.
As for “I am loved”, and “I am wanted”, these things are easy to doubt. By definition, you aren’t the other people around you. How can we ever be sure we are loved and wanted? Most people assume there aren’t psychic connections or body swapping magics we can turn to.
But this also has caveats we overlook. If you love yourself, if you want yourself, then you are loved and wanted. We need other people, but we don’t need the same exact people every day of our lives.
Sure, we have issues. We can be frustrated and wish we were physically different, mentally stronger, more adept, etc. But this doesn’t mean we can’t love ourselves through that. When we love someone, that doesn’t mean we are okay with what the other person does 100% of the time. Sometimes we can really dislike someone, but we fundamentally love them. The same can be true with yourself.
Self-love is more about being comfortable with the decisions you’ve made. It’s about having hope that tomorrow you’ll be better. It’s like any other relationship, you spend special time, you get gifts, you listen, you communicate (via introspection), and so forth. It’s being committed to making the life you live the best it can be.
Saying you are worthy of love doesn’t suddenly make you unworthy of love. Instead, it actually makes us more likely to love others. If you don’t need to spend all of your energy worrying about your image, about feeling shame over your choices, then you can live a better life for both you and those around you. Self-love isn’t being self-centered, it’s about being comfortable enough in your own skin that you can focus on others in the first place.

 

So yes, it feels weird at first, but say positive affirmations about yourself. Understand why you’re feeling uncomfortable, and why you’re saying it in the first place.

the shift

I’ve been moving slowly but surely, and my mind is slugging down to the absolute minimum rate necessary for survival. Before this semester started, I was aiming for great things, extra miles, the beyond-part of above and beyond. At this point, I’m celebrating if I can get by.

And that’s a shift. A significant one.

I can’t pretend like I’m put together, I don’t have the energy anymore. But the more time goes on, the more I’m disillusioned with the whole idea of “put together” in the first place. If my body is a machine, it’s still running. I’m still breathing, eating, walking around. Consider language! The complexity of it, how even amazing animals like dolphins are significantly limited in their communication. And yet we have that, most of us without effort. Most of us are ‘put together’ in most ways already.

For the rest of our existence, life is variable.

You can try to make plans, but they are fundamental guesses you throw at an unknown that might bend in unexpected ways. We put in the effort anyway, and we should, but why is it a mark against us when the universe doesn’t conform to our tiny, limited view?

The race of life isn’t so much a race as a bucket full of marbles being dumped with a lattice of shoots catching them on their way down.

Do the best you can, but comfort yourself with that same thought: you are doing the best you can. And if you aren’t, re-evaluate yourself. There might be something else going on, and that’s to be expected.

Life is hard, but we keep going anyways, embracing the absurdity and reveling in existence for its own sake.

don’t feel bad about feeling bad

Chet Baker singing “I Fall In Love Too Easily” is one of the smoothest, purest, and delightful experiences I have ever had in my life. Good music is just something that makes me happy, and I think it’s a fair assumption to say other people typically feel the same. There’s just something beautiful about when a song hits you “right in the feels”.

But as magical as songs can be, real life seems to match it with ugly construction sounds. There are moments when we are socially suave, where we fit, and there are also moments that are painfully awkward. We realize things are a balance of the good and bad, but it doesn’t make the bad feel less horrid.

Here’s a fun little challenge: don’t feel bad about feeling bad. When we start pathologizing our own emotions, it can lead us down tricky roads. Maybe your mental state is unhealthy and should be treated, but even if you think you can diagnose something on your own, don’t treat it on your own.

It often comes down to, if you need help, get help. If you are unsure, ask. Even the rarest conditions, the ones where truly no one feels and experiences the same thing as you, have some semblance to something else.

This applies broadly to mental health, of course, but also to the little things, and for the people who think there’s completely fine. If you feel something, you feel it for a reason. It may be irrational, it may be nonsensical, but it’s how you feel. Emotions change and will change, but often the hard part is allowing yourself to feel the way you do, and subsequently forgiving yourself. Feelings do not equal actions. They are related, but they are still separable.

Your actions are your own. If you know something is wrong, if you know that you’re in a tempting place, physically get yourself out of the situation. Take a walk. Listen to some good music.

When we feel emotions, they can take us over. We can feel so engrossed in our own experiences that we forget we’ve felt other things. But we have, and we will.

the dumbest saying

There’s a phrase, “Failure isn’t an option”. This is one of the most frightful outlooks to have. It encourages a sort of rampant perfectionism: either you win or you fail completely and you’ve destroyed this whole thing.

What human never fails? It aims high, yes, but it also punishes whoever doesn’t reach a ridiculously high standard. We should all do our best, but the fact is, sometimes that best isn’t good enough to reach our goal. This runs counter to how people want to tell the tale, “Work hard and you’ll get there!”.

Not to be macabre, but effort can be useless if you don’t wield it effectively. For example, it doesn’t matter how many hours you play chess if you only play with three-year-olds. You’re not going to become a grandmaster chess player unless you’re also three and there happens to be a grandmaster chess player for three-year-olds.

Even if you set apart the time to work on something, and you put your heart and soul into it, people can still critique it. Furthermore, they can be right.

Failure is a natural part of life. Everyone fails, and I mean every single person who has ever existed. If failure isn’t an option, neither is success, because the choice doesn’t exist. Sometimes people mess up. Sometimes people are mean and selfish. Sometimes people try their best and it doesn’t get them where they want to be.

The key factor in this is the fact that: just because you fail doesn’t mean you won’t succeed again. We can learn from everything, and not taking the risk in the first place makes us miserable people. Sometimes we need to feel sad and confused because the circumstances are sad and confusing. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to be a bundle of joy and happiness, but it also isn’t guaranteed to be a horrible soggy mess of a day either.

Failure is always an option, but so is Success.

And in most situations? Those labels aren’t effective shows of what you’ve gained from the situation. Things are as they are. We mostly struggle in some parts and do well in others, but it’s a mixed, patchwork of results. That’s okay. Patchwork is what makes us real, live humans with purpose and meaning.

delays and de-lazy

I apologize for the delay in posts, I had a draft that I forgot to publish two days ago. That in and of itself is a bit symbolic for how my head has been. I’m lucky enough to be so supported by a good circle of family and friends, but my mind has been struggling to focus. The issue is that I have a significant amount of work that I need to do.

So here is my advice on the topic: get back up. Even if you’re late responding to an email, respond. Even if you’re late to class, still show up. If you made mistakes, if you couldn’t get the things done you wanted to, jump back in. Do what you can.

“Do what you can”, is incredibly vague. I realize that. Some things we can physically do, but we really shouldn’t or we’ll screw ourselves over in the future. In the most technical semantic sense, you probably could kill someone (it’s what you can do), but that doesn’t mean you should.

When I mutter to myself, “Do what you can”, I’m referring to those specific tasks on my to-do list. Aim for accomplishing as much as the list as possible, and by the end of the day, try to be okay with the fact you only were able to accomplish half.

Some days we are more productive than others. I’m beginning to learn this, although the trick is learning how to be consistently on top of your productivity game.

Some of those tricks include sleeping well, eating well, and staying consistent with your schedule. You can live a fun, novel, and flexible life while still going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 7am. You can enjoy the deliciousness of a good meal while remaining relatively healthy.

Structure isn’t the enemy. When it comes to being free to live your life, there is a certain level of limitation that actually serves us. Limiting our intake of alcohol, decadent food, media, etc., are all ways that improve our ability to be happy and available to do many things.

The issue with structure is that it’s sometimes difficult to implement in our own lives. Sleeping in feels great, even if it ruins the rest of your day.

Furthermore, there are some mistakes we can’t avoid making. Sometimes you forget to publish your post, for example, and there comes a shame because you failed yourself. We wake up late. We miss important emails. The random errors of life will always complicate things.

But so what if it’s difficult? Everything is difficult. The choice is what kind of problems we face for the outcome we want. Again, if you miss the email, respond anyways. If you make a mistake, try to fix it. Misery is comfortable at times, so make yourself uncomfortable.

scrabble and ‘stupid’ strategies

The fascinating part of playing Scrabble or its knock-off Words with Friends (which, for the record, is one of the dumbest names I’ve heard in my life for a game), is that it stretches you. It stretches you linguistically, of course. But it also stretches you emotionally. For example, take the situation in which a friend puts down a word as ridiculous as “Moxa” or “Qat”, and after angry googling it, you have to admit that yes, obscure plant names are acceptable words.

Then come words like ‘Egress’ doesn’t tend to come up in conversation but you’re 94% sure it’s a real word (here’s a link to the definition in case you’ve forgotten it). Or something like, “Moraie” which definitely isn’t a word, but it feels like it could be. For those putting it down, it feels like it should be.

Yet, that’s the tricky part. A game like scrabble pushes you. We all like to think of ourselves as at least reasonably knowledgeable. Yet, staring down at, A, E, A, A, I, O, and M, words seem to disappear. I tend to go the wild luck route, where you physically move the tiles around in a blind hope that a 27-point word will magically pop out.

But what I want to talk about is how you feel when that magic word doesn’t pop out. I want to talk about that moment when you realize, “Oh, I don’t know as much as I thought I did”.

Because it does hurt, in some strange way. It can feel demeaning because, sure, you can drop words like, “pecuniary” and “hamartia“, on the occasion, but those particular words don’t help you at this moment. For all of your expertise, you can’t fulfill the goal you’re striving for, and end up putting, “so” down.

Sometimes situations with a larger impact than a single scrabble game give us that same moment of reflection. You feel like you know everything around it, but you can’t fully grasp it, the thing people are expecting of you. Someone asks a good question, and you want to be able to respond. But you can’t, because you don’t know the answer.

When we can, we should do as much research as we can. We should ask around for advice before making big decisions. We should get as much of an idea about a thing before jumping into the midst of it. But in some instances, there’s just so much we can’t understand until we do it for ourselves. Take picking what college to go to. College is an incredibly, ridiculously expensive investment, and the experience for each student can vary widely. The programs, classes, professors, extracurriculars, transportation, lifestyle, atmosphere, and student/school fit, all of these and more are factors in a decision like that.

Furthermore, college is a new mandated norm– what about those who 1. can’t afford college and/or 2. aren’t fit for the academically-minded track?

The more we look at decisions, the more complicated the situation tends to get. Research can help supplement, but there is too much to boil down and be able to quantify. The decisions we make can feel like Scrabble with too many vowels. Sometimes we really do end up mixing things together and hoping the right answer to peak out at us. There doesn’t seem to be anything else we can do in those situations.

But here is also where we can be comforted. Everyone struggles. Not knowing is part of being human. We do what we can, and “what we can” isn’t always the height of brilliance. Sometimes we guess and try things out until it works. That’s not an idiotic strategy, because, with decisions under ignorance, we are limited in what we know. We make educated guesses where we can. We have to try something out to learn from it.

the ability of responsibility

My spring break was nice, but deep in my heart I had zero intention of updating the blog over it, and so I didn’t. I’ve been having a little revolution inside of me, perhaps for the past year, that keeps poking out from time to time. The revolution is simple: I’m going to do what I want, and I’m going to own it.

As a young adult in an environment of uncertainty, anger, and fear, it’s easy to shut down. The world seems too much, so why deal with it? It’s the strain of defense that drives people into obsessions with TV shows and celebrities or leads people to dive headfirst into their job and ignore the rest. With our growing understanding of how psychology works, there’s plenty of ways to make compromises.

It is here that another person might begin a rant against “snowflakes” and argue about the nonsensical nature of safe spaces and so forth. I will not, partly because I’m a liberal snowflake myself, but also because the issue isn’t that people need to just “suck it up”. Frankly, ignoring emotions and stonewalling communications leads to serious mental health issues and broken relationships. Mental illness is rising in prevalence, partly due to social media that brings in a ridiculously high level of standard to compare oneself to.  We face problems in a new age, and we need to adapt to them.

Yes, our families, friends, environment, these all mess us up. No matter how wonderful the circumstances are, there are always problems. One of the strongest things we can do is realize that we are flawed. Things out of our control have brought a flurry of issues to each of us. However, those issues do not define us. As little or at great as we can, we can make a difference in our lives. There are things out of our control, but there are also things that are in our control.

Hopefully, my advice feels bipartisan: what makes the difference is taking responsibility. This is in both our accomplishments and our failures because we each have both. That rude comment? That was your fault. That awesome shot? That was your practice. That missed assignment? That was your decision. That fulfilling relationship? You are a part of making that relationship what it is.

We cannot assume others have the same capabilities as us. Some demons are bigger through another’s eyes. If someone is struggling, it doesn’t matter if you don’t see it as a big deal. It is to them. The same is true for our accomplishments. If you think you are a horrible person who has done nothing right, you’re wrong. Everyone has done a good deed, made someone happy, made this world a better place in at least one small, important way.

If you have made a mistake, congratulations! You are a human being. Maybe you were awkward. Maybe you were mean. Maybe you were even cruel. If you ignore the flaw, it won’t go away. Instead, we have to deal with it. We have to look it straight in its face and try to get up the courage to ask why it’s there in the first place.

Taking responsibility is hard, and sometimes it’s difficult to see where the line is between your fault and external events. However, whatever small part of the issue was yours, own it. If you did a tiny corner in a beautiful mural, that is your corner. We can often live our lives passing on the blame and recognition because we don’t want the responsibility of our actions, but it matters. You’re doing your best, recognize it in all its glory.

attention, talking, and time

Talking to people is important. That might seem like a no-brainer, but the number one way to make yourself miserable is to shut yourself off. The stresses from social anxiety, for example, may make talking to people seem absolutely impossible, but it doesn’t matter if it’s awkward. Humans are awkward, we misunderstand each other all the time.

All of the awkward conversations you’ve had are still conversations, and even if it seems like you’ll never get better, it’s the first necessary step. Even if a relationship doesn’t work out, the experience is important. If a happy memory is special, what is about it that makes it so important? Feelings are fleeting, and we need all of them. Happy memories are special partly because we like being happy. However, all the rest of our emotions can define a moment and also make it important. The sad moments, these also are integral to who we are.

As radical as it may seem, ordinary moments can also be special. If you consider how we experience time, you might realize that our attention drastically changes how we feel. “A watched pot never boils”, because by staring at something and waiting, it feels longer. “Time flies when you’re having fun” because when we don’t pay attention to it, we don’t mind how fast life is going. If we want to live a full life, that means paying attention. It means being mindful of how we live our lives and living it with purpose. Even the most nihilistic people can find a reason to live and have a beautiful life. If you feel the universe doesn’t give you a purpose, then you’re free to make one up. By being physically a part of this world, we are necessarily a part of it, so go be awkward and exist to the best of your ability.

 

 

dear person who doesn’t know what they’re doing with their life,

No one knows what they’re doing. Through experience, asking around a lot, failing repeatedly, and being lucky, some people learn how to do some things. Maybe people get to the point where they can develop an achievable grand goal. For the most part, we’re guessing. We’re taking risks and hoping that our past experience is enough to base the future off of. Perhaps there are individuals out there, hiding under rocks and behind fake plants who genuinely know what they want to do, love it when they get there, and keep doing it for their whole life. What’s important to realize is that most people don’t fall into that category.

Consider how many atoms there are. Now consider how many electrons there now. Now think about quarks, leptons, antiquarks, antileptons, and realize that we are incapable of grasping how many atoms there were; how could you physically grasp how many quarks there are? It’s beyond us, we have no frame of reference to understand how tiny and numerous elementary particles of atoms are. Here’s the important question: does it matter? Functionally, no. It didn’t matter that Anaximander and rest of the ancient Greek philosophers didn’t know what elementary particles were, they still were made of them. They still lived full lives, had a great impact on the world, and got the chance to share some really interesting perspectives with those around them. We don’t need to understand every facet of the world to live a good life in it. We couldn’t physically do it, and it would be a waste of time even if we did.

Why don’t we see our lives in this way? There are so many factors milling about, forming our existence. We can’t know what is ahead of us. The unknown will never go away. Being afraid of the unknown is irrational because we can’t know the nature of it. Living in fear will make us less effective at everything else, and that’s still assuming fear makes us more prepared. Maybe it makes sense if you’re wandering around in neolithic times, worried about a tiger pouncing on you. In the modern world, it’s largely a stumbling block. If you’re afraid of getting fired, you being afraid won’t make being fired any less difficult to find another job after. There’s a potential that the fear might make the failure more easy to deal with at the moment, but dealing with problems effectively doesn’t require it. We will always be unprepared for something, and that’s part of life, not necessarily a stamp of shame.

At the same time, even if we know our fears are irrational, it doesn’t mean we stop feeling them. Getting angry at ourselves because it’s irrational or pretending like it doesn’t matter doesn’t address the problem. We get angry. We become anxious and stressed. We can be incredible balls of negative energy when we feel like it. The trick is to ask ourselves why we feel the way we do, to understand why we’ve gotten ourselves worked up. If it’s something we can fix, then we should try to fix it. If it’s something we can’t, we have to learn to let go. Neither of those things is easy. Learning to deal with our emotions is something that will take a long while because they are integral to who we are. It’s something we work on, little by little, doing what we can where we can.

We don’t know what we’re doing, but what is easier to answer is, what are we doing right now? We can start with realizing that we are breathing. Then we can realize what position our body is in. Then slowly, we can work our way out to the room we’re in, the time of day, and start to consider things that are broader. What are your typical activities? What are you currently accomplishing where you are, in your job or education or in whatever your present situation is? Those are practical things, graspable things. That is what you are doing with your life, regardless of your past and your future plans. When it comes to the future, it’s a matter of looking for opportunities to the best of your ability, to try and take them when they come your way. Maybe you’ll eventually be able to start planning for a big goal, but the priority is in the present. Do what you can. Focus on what you can accomplish right now. If you take opportunities that you end up hating, then learn from it and try something else. We are limited in many ways, but if you assume the doors are locked, you’ll never find the one that isn’t.

Dear person reading this, I don’t know what you will do with your life, and you don’t either. However, what you do is up to you. The unknown is scary, but it could also be wonderful, and at the very least, parts of it will be boring. Focus on now, and keep going, because the other options are miserable and frankly, dull.