How to Beat the Culture of Misery

beat misery

Last summer, my cousins and I went paintballing. While gearing up, I talked to a guy named Nipon. Nipon worked at the arena. He passed me my gun and told me that life is a game and for a while he seemed to be winning.

When he was 8, Nipon wanted a cricket bat. He got a job delivering newspapers and within a year  he had the money. When he was 12, he wanted to beat his friends on the math test. He studied. He aced it.

At 17, he wanted success. He enrolled in an engineering program. By 21, he was working for a tech company and earning more than his parents’ friends. He was wearing better clothes, eating expensive food. His house was huge.

This time, he wasn’t sure if he had gotten what he wanted.

His job was paying for a lavish life, but he was at a computer for 70 hours a week. When he got home, he was too tired to do anything but sleep. He missed the sun. He told his friends he was thinking of quitting. They told him not to be ridiculous.

Nipon stayed at his job. It made him miserable. Thinking as an engineer, he realized his life had entered a positive feedback loop. The more misery he put in, the more miserable he became. More and more. And it wasn’t going to slow down any time soon.

There was no choice. He had to go.

Today, he’s 35 and making a fraction of what he used to. He works at a paintball arena because he loves games. He’s one of the happiest guys I’ve met. He had a life full of negativity and he ended it. He started a new life. He responded to his situation by doing.

Respond by doing.

I don’t usually get life lessons when I go paintballing. But this one I’ll remember.

Rather than throwing tears and angry words at the issue, he approached the problem head on.

He quit.

When ending something that’s a constant in daily life, there comes the daunting task of starting anew.

In Nipon’s case, the feeling of being a beginner again was liberating. He traveled the world, met new people and started really living. During this period, he regained a connection with his inner child and his love for games. He fell in love with paintball and opened a paintball business and started a team in India – his home country.

At 35, he’s achieved what he wanted 18 years ago. He is successful – he’s happy.

There’s no need to succumb to negativity. Actions and words will be criticized. There’s no changing that. Everyone’s a critic, but you don’t have to be. Respond to criticism and negativity with positivity. Respond by doing.

There may be a culture of negativity and we may be negative beings by nature, but the human spirit is larger than that. We’re beings capable of responding with action to words. You have the courage, you just need to act on it.

Take a leap of faith and be happy you did.

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Image source Flickr.

How I Became Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

how being comfortable uncomfortable

If I could sit down in front of a TV and watch the life I lived three years ago, it would be like watching a foreign movie about an unrecognizable stranger. If I hadn’t taken a leap of faith into the dark this past year, I may still be stuck acting in played out scenes.

Three years ago, I was entering my first year of college. My love life was non-existent; as it had been since the day I was born. My parents were still doing my laundry, paying for my gas, paying for all of my bills, and feeding me hand to mouth. They took any and all responsibility away from me. Although college life was meant to be my gateway to independence, I hadn’t actually walked through that gateway.

It was a life I was used to. I was comfortable. I was babied. I never had to lift a finger and I had no intention of doing so. This way of living worked for a large majority of my life. I didn’t have to try to get through high school. My friends were always there. I had known them for years so I knew I could trust them. There were no surprises.

It wasn’t until I entered college that change became necessary.

I went into college with the same lazy mindset I had in high school. I wouldn’t have to try and  everything would work itself out without any effort on my end. It worked for me before, right?

I failed most of my classes in my first three years in college. I couldn’t bear to study because it made me uncomfortable, and I was too afraid to try because trying mean that I might fail. My parents were still taking care of everything for me from keeping me fed to paying my bills to doing my laundry.

My friends from high school eventually drifted away and I was left without much of a social life. Making new friends was difficult and uncomfortable–it took too much work–so I didn’t do it.

Things began to take a turn for the better during my fourth year in college. A dear person to me asked me if I was proud of whom I had become. I reflexively answered yes. However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to question myself. I had never thought about it before.

Then I realized what the problem was: I never thought about anything. I was living life on autopilot instead of actually living it. I merely went through motions that I was used to. There were no signs of any growth or progress.

Most importantly, I wasn’t even planning on trying to change.

I decided to overcome the fear that held me back. I studied a little bit a day and slowly increase the amount of time spent with my books. I made an effort to be more open and friendly not only in school, but in daily life. I took the initiative to meet people. I accepted invitations to go out. I began to help around the house, and began to start paying for everything on my own.

It was uncomfortable breaking away from the mold I comfortably sat in for years, but the farther away I drifted from the person I used to be, the happier I became.

I learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

I continued to branch out further from my comfort zone and received numerous job interviews, scored various jobs, made new friends and helped my parents out.

After getting over the uncomfortable part of change, everything else naturally fell into place.

If I had let the fear of change prevent me from breaking out of my mold, I wouldn’t have made any progress. I wouldn’t have grown. I would’ve been comfortable, but I wouldn’t have been happy.

Now I’m on the path I wanted for myself. Sometimes it takes a little self-awareness, and sometimes a reminder from a friend helps because I can’t always do everything on my own.

Although failure is inevitable, I’ve learned that life often works mysteriously and without concrete answers.

I know that whether I succeed or fail, I’ll at least be content with myself knowing that, despite everything, I tried.

What else could we ask for?

You Should Be Less Focused

be less focused

When I was younger, I would stare at the night sky. I’d stand on tippy toes and reach up. I would try to catch stars.

When I was seven, my parents bought me a telescope. I was ecstatic. I’d look through the telescope and they were right in my face. The lens’s focus brought the stars within reach. Seven-year-old me learned something that day–a focused perspective produces great beauty.

But it doesn’t produce the stars. I still couldn’t catch them.  Eventually I had to step away from the telescope and go to bed. You can miss out on a lot when you’re focusing on one target. It’s good to step away and reflect.

Turn off your laser focus every now and then.

There are so many articles about being more focused, more productive and more proactive. Such focus becomes unhealthy. You burn yourself out, you lose focus on the other important things in life and you forget to enjoy life.

I’m in college now and haven’t looked through a telescope in years.  Instead of catching stars, I’m trying to catch other things–grades, internships, a job. Whenever I feel stuck, I walk away. Give my brain time to wander.

I do nothing—kinda.

I listen to music, close my eyes, meditate. I let my mind run around aimlessly. It’s lovely. It’s important to give your mind a moment to relax, without the need to react to any stimuli.

Make Room for Things to Happen

Doing nothing allows you to exist as a human being. You stop being a person on a mission, focused on the end goal, and you enjoy where you are at that moment.

Solutions come to me when I’m not consciously looking for them. These ideas are always there. They just need some space to come to the surface. Doing nothing allows me to acknowledge all the dimensions of my reality.  It allows me to appreciate things I didn’t notice before. It’s like what Diane Ackerman said:

 “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”

Focus is good. But it’s like a pair of sunglasses: put them on and take them off as needed. There will be moments when you can turn on your focus, moments when it’s necessary to turn it off.

Appreciate the beauty that exists outside your telescope. There’s plenty to appreciate through the lens. But remember to take a break now and again to look around.

You may catch a few stars.

From College to Post-Grad: How to Fill the In-Between

mind the gap college

Where do you imagine yourself to be in five years?

Back in college, I would’ve said “living in New York City, studying to become a  physician assistant” or “working with a non-profit abroad.” In reality, at 23, I’m a recent graduate with two-bachelor’s degrees, working part-time at a medical office and living with my parents.

I hit a stand still six months after graduation and came across the concept of “minding the gap” coined by  Brené Brown. The gap refers to “the space between where we’re actually standing and where we want to be.”

While evaluating where I stood, I panicked. “This isn’t where I want to be. Shouldn’t I have it all figured out by now?”

I felt behind and frustrated. I was knee-deep in the gap with little direction and endless questions racing through my mind.

Am I competitive enough for grad programs? Am I making the right choices? Why am I not on track with my plan? Do things ever go as planned? What am I doing with my life?

Since I was young, I knew I wanted to work in the healthcare field, but I began to question that after graduating.

In college, I traveled abroad twice to Honduras to volunteer with Global Brigades and discovered I had a passion for global health work. I helped build public health projects for families living in under-resourced communities, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience–but I was unsure of whether it was something I could pursue a career in.

I soon applied for a fellowship that would give me the chance to work with non-profits and health organizations in the U.S. and abroad. But there were still dozens of doubts floating around. I eventually became consumed by endless what ifs and worries that I felt stagnant.

I didn’t receive an offer for the fellowship, but instead of seeing the rejection letter as an opportunity to learn and grow, I just saw it as another failure.

The doubts only got worse.

Bridging the Gap

A few months later after the rejection, in a moment of nostalgia, I opened up the journal I had kept during my time in Honduras and a particular entry caught my eye.

Sometimes in our efforts to want to do so much, we can easily lose sight of how impacting small deeds are. Instead of changing the world, sometimes we can only touch the lives of others on a smaller scale; but that itself is an accomplishment, still something to celebrate.

As a result of our work, Fabricio will grow up with things that many others in his community don’t have access to or the resources to have. Because of our work, his  quality of life will improve-even if just a little bit.

In whatever I end up doing in life, I should never stop pushing myself to do work that fulfills me and that makes a positive impact. There’s more to life than simply keeping a 9 to 5. And I’m committed to pursuing work that I love, no matter how long it takes.

In order to mind the gap, Brown says “we don’t have to be perfect, just engaged and committed to aligning values with action.”

I realized I wasn’t taking any action.

 Practice Your Values

After realizing this, I consciously made an effort to practice my values daily. I took more initiative at my job as a physical therapist aide and learned to work well under pressure, whether it was managing four patients with therapy exercises or folding towels.

Patients were viewed as opportunities for me to work on becoming a more active listener and strangers were opportunities to practice smiling and being kind–even if it meant just saying “thank you.”

I began volunteering and interning more and took on a greater roles like becoming a coordinator of a team at my internship. I actively found channels to push myself out of my comfort zone.  That was the only way I could grow.

From practicing my values daily, I changed my perspective.

Now, 24, and over a year since my graduation, I still have much to figure out, but I know I’m taking steps toward my goals. I’m finishing pre-reqs to apply to graduate school, am re-applying to the fellowship, and am further finding ways to grow and gain more experience.

Minding Your Gap

We’re constantly confronted with ideas of who and where we’re supposed to be after graduation.

It’s important to remember that who you are and who you aspire to be can only be defined by yourself.

It’s essential to our success to take the time to recognize who we are as individuals, evaluate where we’re standing, and ensure that we’re taking steps to pursue meaningful work that fulfills us.

Instead of allowing fear and uncertainty to direct your life trajectory, embrace them as motivators to help you reach your goals.

You may not have your entire life planned out and there will be times when you forget to practice your values, but choose to forgive yourself. Be confident knowing that you’re going to make the right choices to get to where you aspire to be.

Take the actions you need to take to fill the gap between who you are and who you want to be.

logo50Notes: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We   Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.

Why Having Side Projects Is More Important Than a Job

side-projects-more-important-than-jobs

“Where do you work?” I get asked this way more than I’d like.  This conversation starter is tough for me to answer because I’m still figuring out my career. What if we asked each other about what we’re working on instead?

It’s a question with real potential.

The Catch-22 of Job Hunting

Figuring out my strengths and skills always seemed like a Catch-22. The job hunt left me stuck and uninspired; it has been hard to figure out where to go and when to quit side jobs that didn’t fulfill me. I’ve often thought, “There has got to be a way out of this cycle. I need to figure out how to move forward.”

There are plenty of interesting people doing great work. How did they end up there? I set my morning alarm an hour earlier and researched the trendsetters, the men and women making things happen in their fields. After several months, I noticed they all shared one habit.

The Distinguishing Habit

All of the people who are doing great work have side projects. Projects they pursue without a boss telling them what to do. Projects they plunge into during their spare time–nights, weekends, lunch breaks. They pursue these projects because they want to test their limits. Because they enjoy their work.

For photographers, a side project might explore an extreme sport. For entrepreneurs, it may be a short-term project to solve a local water issue. In the case of French style blogger, Garance Doré, her popular blog blossomed when she paired her illustration work with her writing and photography.

They all do these projects simple because they want to.

Why Side Projects are Important

A New York based graphic designer and entrepreneur, Tina Roth Eisenberg, is known as the “queen of accidental businesses.” She has a history of taking trivial ideas and starting side projects that turn into businesses. She runs a successful blog and temporary tattoo company, organizes a global breakfast lecture series, and manages a lovely co-working space.

She is a strong advocate for side projects. In an interview, she said:

“Believe in side projects…I would never hire anyone who doesn’t have side projects. To me, that shows that someone has ideas, self-initiative, and can make things happen.”

It hit me. I needed to prove to myself that I had good ideas and could make things happen. I took on my first side project: developing my online presence. No one told me to do it and no one cared. It didn’t matter. As a writer, I knew that I needed to get comfortable with publishing my interests and work. I paid better attention to the feedback I got from my writing workshops. I got to know myself better. That’s the beauty of a side project.

After nine months, I saw a change in how I spoke, wrote, and presented myself. I was clearer, more direct. I was authentic. I was me.

Opportunities for Self-Invention

Best-selling author and artist, Austin Kleon, emphasizes in his book ,“Show Your Work,” that through opening up about our side projects and creative processes we generate opportunities to self-invent. These opportunities help us move our lives forward.

In times of uncertainty, give yourself some space and a window of time for self-exploration.

Work on something you care about. Share it with the next person you meet! You may be surprised by what it sparks.

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