Remember that old Planet Fitness commercial with the big guy who repeats, “I pick things up and put them down?” Well that’s me, only not with weights, but with everything I do.
As a writer, I am told, “Find your niche and stick to it.” If I want to make any type of living off my writing, I am supposed to be an “expert” at something and write content in that area. Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t I be that way?
I love too many things to pick just one or two. I have always been that way. A jack of all trades, master of none type of guy. I have a gift/curse that allows me to be “naturally” good at most everything I try, which creates motivation enough to stick to something for a little while, while it is fun.
Then I reach a point that it isn’t as fun anymore, because it takes real dedication and time to get to the next level. That’s when something else will pique my interest and surprise surprise, I’m good enough at it to want to do that instead.
Some activities that I’ve done include:
writing, rapping, painting, crafting, cooking, gaming, Tae Kwon Do, boxing, power lifting, calisthenics, poetry, running, gymnastics, etymology, English composition, teaching, dog training, food critic, movie critic, relationship advisor, motivational speaking, plumbing, electronic technician, chauffeur, customer service, waiting tables, light construction, hiking, camping, survivalist, archery, how to bulk on a budget, protein powder reviewer, dress nice on a budget, yoga, mediation, etc.
The list goes on.
I loved every moment I spent pursuing these momentary passions, and I learned so much doing them, but inevitably, they all came to an end. Some were picked up again, and some lasted longer than others, like rapping, which I did almost daily for 10-15 years. Poetry was sporadic, but something I still do, and writing motivation comes and goes, though I am currently on a hot streak of daily writing with this blog. I stay in relatively good shape, though I don’t hit the weights nearly as hard as I used to. I got my degree in English Composition, and I teach at Umass Boston, but that is coming to an end because there aren’t enough classes available next semester for me to teach any, being lower on the seniority totem pole.
Either way, I don’t know what I can write about to build an audience big enough to allow me to write as a profession. I have a vast amount of knowledge through life experiences, but I haven’t the slightest clue how to create a niche with it, nor do I really want to.
I never want to become something I’m not just to make money. I never want to be locked into something I no longer enjoy. Being a niche writer is putting me in a box, and that’s something that I cannot do. To quote Roy from Shanghai Noon,
“I am like a wild horse, you can’t tame me. You put the oats in the pen though and i’ll come in for a nibble every day, but if you ever shut that gate, i’ll jump the fence and you’ll never see me again.”
Today is a very special day for me. I have reached 10,000 words of my memoir. It was my first goal, and milestone when writing this book. I feel like I have accomplished a great task and even though I have tens of thousands of words left to write, I am proud.
Like a house is built one brick at a time, a book is written one word at a time. Just keep writing!
I have been trying new diets for the better part of a decade now and I’ve been toying with the idea of going keto. It seems to be all the rage right now.
When I first started paying attention to my food, it was a mess. I wanted to gain weight, being a life long skinny man
Yes, that’s a baby swan.
So, I only focused on the calories. I didn’t care how I got them, just as long as I kept shoveling food into my face. At one point, I was eating 4000 calories a day.
These became my portion sizes, every day. I was eating full meals, every 2 hours.
But I grew into a 205 lb beast!
I got big, and strong, but also slow, tired, and not as little around the middle. I could bench 315, squat 320, and dead lift 405! Not record breaking numbers, but for the kid who could barely bench the bar when he started, it was like climbing Everest!
However, I couldn’t maintain the caloric intake after the military, because food wasn’t free anymore. Because of my metabolism, I quickly lost size. I shredded up, which was nice, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I lost all of mys strength.
Back down at 170
I started paying more attention to my diet. I cut out sugar, almost entirely. No more soda. I tried to eat vegan, vegetarian, and even a very short attempt at carnivore. I just didn’t feel great on those diets. I’ve lost even more weight, now back to my original 165 lbs, but with a much more solid frame. Recently, I’ve got the kick to try Keto. I’ve been hearing so much about it and decided that I’d give it a shot. I like trying new diets, and if worse comes to worst, I’ll just shovel pasta in my gullet and balloon back up!
If you’re like me, you might feel like you lack imagination. Which is strange because as a child, I had the wildest imagination. Somehow, over the years, it began to fade. I became more literal and logical. These are great qualities to have, especially in this world that we live in, but let’s be honest, the outside-the-box thinkers are just as necessary. It takes imagination to dream and wonder “what if?” Then it takes the logical mind to bring dreams into reality. I used to think that I had to choose between the two ways of thinking, but I now believe it is possible to be both.
Just a little over a month ago, I began to read books again. Like page turning, hold in my hand, use a book mark, type of books. I have grown to dislike reading, mostly because I have a huge love for movies. However, it is the media that I consume that I believe killed my own imagination. Movies and games are amazing, but they do the creativity part for you. You don’t have to picture anything. However, those mediums do still keep your logical brain challenged. In movies, you might be trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, or analyzing the message of the movie, or something. In video games, especially in the ones that I enjoy, there is a strategic element that challenges me to figure out how to best my opponent. Thus, the logical brain has been strengthening over the years.
Reading books was a challenge for myself, mostly because I enjoy writing and all writers that I know or follow say, “Reading and writing go hand in hand. To be a better writer, one must read.” Honestly, I didn’t want to believe it, but I have decided that I would give it a shot. I didn’t realize the impact that reading would have on my imagination. At first, it was so difficult to even picture what was happening on the page that I was reading. Words were just words to me. I read them, but I wasn’t being whisked away by them, and I stayed in the reality of the situation. That is, sitting there, staring at a page, reading words. However, after a few days, maybe a week of continuous reading (just 25 pages a day), I began imagining small details. Not entire scenes, or the the whole story, but little things, like the description of a characters neck tie, or, while reading a detailed description of a room, I could imagine just the chair. It was small, but it was a start, like I was flicking the imagination switch back on and impulses were starting to connect.
After a month of reading daily, I can now imagine whole scenes. I still have work to do to keep me in the story, but I can see steady growth in my imagination. It has given me more motivation to read because I am seeing tangible results, which pleases my logical brain =] I have been writing daily too, and I am starting to add more details to it as I go and revise.
So there you have it. Just read books. Something that many still do, but also something that is increasingly becoming a digital task. Spend some time, everyday, just 25 pages, and read a real, page turning, physical book, and I guarantee that your imagination will improve.
We all have things that we wish to improve in our lives. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming. However, what’s the old saying? “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” To think about the amount of work required to build a while city is daunting, but to think about laying one brick? That’s a task anyone can do. So that bring us to the first step.
1: Don’t overthink it.
Life is long. Unless you get hit by a bus something, expect to be here for 80-100 years! There is plenty of time to change, so just relax a little. Do the best you can, and don’t stress.
2: Start small.
Pick a task. Just one thing that you would like to change about your life. For me, it was making my bed, everyday. I heard it from Jordan Peterson, but other people have claimed to have said it as well, but making your bed everyday will make a positive difference in your life. What it does, besides make your room look much cleaner, is reinforce your ability to make change. It might be small, and seem silly, but I’ve become proud that I make my bed every day. I never did growing up. I always thought, “What’s the point? I’m just going to lay in it again tonight and mess it up.” So I didn’t care. Now, I don’t feel right until it is made. It has become habit. But most importantly, It has strengthened my belief in myself that I can make a change in my own life and follow through. It’s a great baby step to self improvement.
3: Don’t overload.
Once you make that first change, you might find yourself, as I did, wanting to make 100 more. The most important thing is to be consistent with your new changes. If you take on a new task, but you slack on the old one, then you weren’t ready to add more to your plate. After I began making my bed everyday for the first week, I decided that I was going to go for a run every morning. After a few days, I was so focused on the run and making it routine that I began leaving the house without making my bed, saying, “I’ll do it when I get home.” Well, after a few days, I would get home, too tired and wanted to just relax for a few minutes first. You can guess where this leads. I stopped making my bed in the morning. So, I scaled back, and focused on the bed making again, and less on the run. It took about a month of making my bed, every single day, before I was able to do it without thinking, and then I could use my conscious mind to focus on a new task. The key is, don’t start something new until what you are focused on becomes habit, second nature. When your unconscious mind is making the bed, then your conscious mind can go for a run, or whatever else you are planning.
4: Don’t worry about “One-Upping” yourself.
Your next task doesn’t have to be “bigger” than the last. I made my bed. Then I ran. Then I focused on not biting my nails, which in comparison to exercising, seems minute. However, biting my nails had been a lifelong struggle, and now, I can’t picture myself even doing it! After the nail biting was resolved, I implemented writing into my morning routing, then reading. That’s where I’m at now, making sure I read every morning. I’m about to finish my 2nd book, and it has been about 3 weeks since I’ve been reading every day. It will soon be a habit (it takes about a month to form a new habit) and then I’ll figure out the next thing.
5: Don’t give up!
You only fail if you give up entirely. If you have a set back, don’t get discouraged. Take it as a sign that you either overloaded, or perhaps it was just a really busy day. That’s ok, just pick it up again tomorrow. This same advice is given to smokers, alcoholics, and addicts. If you relapse, don’t just throw caution to the wind and say, “well I already failed, so I might as well just keep doing it.” No. You had a step back, now keep moving forward! Since the weather has got considerably colder here in Massachusetts, I’ve missed out on some runs. I didn’t want to stop exercising, but I know myself and the cold weather is not my friend. I hate it. So, I just swapped out the running with other forms of exercise. I use the same time block, but now I’ve been working on doing as many push ups as I can in a row without rest. That way, I still get some cardio, and it is fun to see how far I can go. I started by doing 40, which I found pretty good considering how long it has been since I’ve done push ups, and by the time I hit 35, those last 5 were a struggle. Now, I’m up to 75 in a row!
6: Have fun!
Don’t let the changes become work. Find a way to make it fun. For example, when I quit biting my nails, I went out and bought a manicure set for myself. Giving myself a manicure isn’t exactly a trip to 6 flags, but I did find enjoyment out of watching some YouTube videos and trying to learn something new. It was also something to do with my hands while I watched TV. Overall, it was better than biting my nails and then feeling bad about it once I realized that I had chewed half of my fingers to the bone, and then continue to do the rest, consciously aware that I am doing it and hating that I can’t stop. Just try to find a way to make the changes a little more enjoyable than not doing them.
Anyone can make a difference in their own lives, and the fact is that it will carry over into the lives of those around you. Once I began this journey of self improvement, other people have noticed that my mood is better, and my confidence is too. It has a way of brightening the day of those around you and even making some of them want to make improvements to their own lives. Just follow these steps, and remember, start small! The formula is:
It was a night to remember. I had spent New Years Even with my new wife and beautiful daughter. We drank champagne, sparkling cider for the little one, and ate junk food, while we watched the ball drop on TV to count down the new year.
3…2….1.. Happy New Year!
We cheered and raised our glasses, smiling, laughing, and sharing our resolutions. I had just been promoted recently to an E3 in the Navy, which I couldn’t believe seeing as though I had just been promoted to E2 two months prior, after graduating from boot camp. My Navy career was off to a great start, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Let me go back a little bit. I never planned on joining the military, in fact, I was dead set against it. I was going to be a big rap star. That was plan A. I always joked and said, “Joining the military would be my plan Z.”
After a failed attempt at a rap career. After the 3 years of being homeless. After the drug overdose, I decided that maybe plan Z was looking like a good idea. I was living in California, if you could call it living, and I called my dad up and told him that I wanted to join the Navy, and asked if I could stay with him until I left for boot camp. He agreed so long as I was serious.
It took a year to get in. The military was flooded with people, and were actually looking to downsize. During that year, I was spending all of my time working at Walgreens, and seeing my girlfriend and her daughter. The day finally came that I left for boot camp, in July of 2010. I came home in October and proposed to my lady.
We went out to a fancy engagement dinner
We got married in December. I was a whole new man. I gained some weight and muscle back. The Navy dentists fixed my teeth. I got a hair cut and clean shave. I got my confidence back, and I was dead set on being a squared away sailor, possibly for life.
My phone vibrated, I never had the sound on, and it was Mark. He called to say that he was outside. I checked the time. 3:00 AM. I had dozed off for a few hours while waiting to be picked up. I kissed my wife goodbye and left.
Mark and I were in the same duty section. Our base in Connecticut was on whats called “Christmas stand down,” and we were allowed to take 1 week of leave, either the week before Christmas, where we’d have to return to base on Christmas day, or the week after Christmas, having to return by New Years day. Mark and I both got the second week off, and he had a car on base, and happened to be from Massachusetts as well, so was kind enough to give me a ride to see my family and bring me back to base.
When I got in the car, he had the windows open, and was pounding back an energy drink. I told him that I was exhausted and going to sleep, but to wake me up if he needed me to take over. We pulled away from the house, and once we hit the main street, he turned the music back on and blared some high energy, rock n roll. I have no idea how I managed to fall asleep.
I woke when the windshield shattered, and the second I opened my eyes, I felt a quick sting in my right eye, and then blackness. A piece of the glass cut my cornea. I had no time to think about that. My immediate instincts said to get out of the car. I heard Mark grunting in agony, trying hard not to scream. I tried to open the door. It wouldn’t budge. The windows were still open, so I jumped out of my window and ran over to Mark’s side and helped him get out of his. We moved quickly through the snow towards the road. It was pitch black, not a street light in sight.
Once we were far enough away from the car, Mark collapsed. He had shattered both of his feet. I’m amazed that he was able to walk on them at all before that. Adrenaline is one helluva drug. He realized the pain suddenly and the screams began getting louder. I had my cellphone in the pocket of my pea coat, Navy issued, and called 911.
“911 what’s your emergency?”
“We need an ambulance, we were just in a car accident.”
“How many people are with you?”
“Just me and my friend. Just two.”
“Was there any other cars involved in the accident?”
“No, we hit a tree.”
“Where is your location?”
“I…I don’t know.” I began to look around for any indication of where we were. “I can’t see any signs. It’s pitch black. We were coming from Massachusetts towards Connecticut. I… Mark.. Do you know where we are?” He was screaming and couldn’t hear me. “Mark!”
“Sir… Sir” The woman on the phone tried to get my attention.
“I don’t know where we are.”
“Sir, we have you on GPS, an ambulance is on the way.”
After we hung up, I ran over to Mark, and I crouched near him. I didn’t know what his injuries were so I just kept telling him to stay awake and keep his eyes closed. He apologized over and over. I kept telling him it was okay, and I repeatedly said that I can’t see out of my right eye. We spoke in circles between repeating our injuries and apologizing until the ambulance arrived. The moment I saw the flashing lights, I collapsed in the snow and just laid there. They took us on two stretchers. I can’t remember if we were in the same ambulance or if there were two. I just remember flashes from that point. They spoke some medical jargon, while asking me questions. They took out scissors and began to cut my pea coat.
“No, I can take it off.”
“Sir, we need you to sit still.”
“No, this is part of my uniform, it’s expensive.”
“Sir, they’ll give you another one.”
“No they won’t. It’s expensive.”
They cut it off anyway. They also cut off my clothes.
I saw Mark only for a brief second when we arrived at the hospital in Rhode Island. They carted him off in one direction and me in another. I was in some sort of lobby area, when a nurse approached me and asked if there was anyone they should call. I, for the first time, got to say,
“Call my wife.”
I quickly realized how panicked she would be if the nurse called her and left a message saying that I was in an accident and in the hospital so I asked if I could be the one to speak with her. I left a message, saying I didn’t make it back to base, and that I’m in the hospital in Rhode Island but that I’m alright.
I remember waking up in the hospital bed, in a room, feeling exhausted but the drugs kept the pain at bay. My wife showed up, it was an hour drive, and she looked shocked to see me in such a vulnerable state. My dad showed up shortly after too.
The doctors said that I had a concussion, a fractured sternum, and a corneal abrasion. A few months of medicated drops in my eye and my vision returned. Mark wasn’t as lucky. He spent several days in the hospital getting his feet operated on. It took months to recover enough to return to duty. He eventually got back on track, and as far as I know he’d still in the Navy.
I appeared alright sooner, but as I went back to work, I had pains in my back. I couldn’t stand or sit for too long without being in unbearable back pain. I couldn’t pass my fitness tests. I looked fine on the surface, but my lower back was definitely not. It took many tests and attempts, but due to my injury and the fact that the Navy was looking to downsize, they decided that I was no longer worth the investment, and they let me go. I received an honorable discharge, and my GI bill. They thanked me for my service and that was it. Plan Z failed.
I didn’t know what to do. I decided to roll into college, not for the education, but because the GI bill would pay my rent so long as I was a full time student. So, two weeks a civilian, and I was taking a full course load while reexamining my life and direction. It took a long time to figure out what I would do next. Years of classes and degrees and I finally decided that I would take the firefighters exam.
I know what you’re thinking. “How could you be a firefighter but not a sailor? What about your back?”
You are correct for thinking that. My back is still in pain, though over the years I’ve managed to find ways to bring it down. So long as I stay light weight (I was power lifting in the military and got myself up to 205 lbs. I’m 160 now) and stay flexible. I stretch daily, and I keep my core strong. So long as I eat good and avoid foods that cause inflammation. My back pain is manageable. I’ve completely changed my life, mostly for the better, although when I slack and eat too much junk or miss too much exercise, my back reminds me that I’m not as healthy as I think sometimes. The doctors said that I will probably have worse pain in my 50’s and 60’s so I’m trying to get in the fire department. Kick ass for as long as I can, and get a decent pension.
I took the test this past March, the physical exam in the summer, and I am currently in the waiting part of the process for a job opening. Wish me luck!
You never know where life will take you and how your whole future can change in the matter of seconds. How one car ride can decide your fate.
“Maybe I’m just like my mother. She’s never satisfied.”
I’ve been told that I’m extremely stubborn. I guess it’s true. It isn’t that I refuse to do what other’s want. Actually, I’ve got an uncontrollable need to please people. Let me explain.
If we were to hang out, and I wanted to go to the movies, but you wanted to go do something else, I’d happily decide to do whatever you wanted to do. The same goes for dinner. That’s why I feel like Ryan Gosling in “The Notebook” when asking my daughter and wife what they want for dinner.
I wouldn’t care if it were my birthday, in fact, as a child, I’ve given up birthday presents so that my brother could open up a gift too, because I felt bad that I was receiving toys and he wasn’t. Material possessions don’t mean much to me.
However, when it comes to something that I supposedly “have” to do, that’s where my stubborn self comes alive. I am a human being, equal to all other human beings around me. I don’t care if you’re the pope, king, president, or homeless; we all breathe the same air, and bleed the same blood. Therefore, no man or woman shall have domain over me. See, in the previous scenarios, I concede to other’s desires, but it is still my choice in the matter. When I am told, “You have to do this, or else.” Then my freedom of choice is being challenged, and I will usually go with the “or else” option.
I don’t know what it is. There is this feeling, deep in the pit of my stomach that just won’t allow me to give in to the power of someone else, unless it will harm an innocent person. For example, the time I walked in on a robbery, I was surprised to learn in that moment that I didn’t fear death. I was more disappointed that I was bested, like losing a game of chess. I was outnumbered, and unarmed, but my mind was still looking for a last ditch effort to fight. However, I was not alone. There were 10 innocent lives behind me, and one wrong move could have put them in danger, and so I decided to do nothing. It is a moment that I will wrestle with for the rest of my life as to whether or not that was the best course of action, even though we all ended up walking away unharmed (relatively, one guy did get pistol whipped when they first arrived), I also wonder, what if they weren’t going to let us live? And I did nothing. But I digress.
When I was in the military, where you have absolutely no rights. I still somehow maintained some respect. When I would get yelled at by a superior, and if I didn’t deserve it (sometimes I made mistakes, in which case I accepted the verbal lashing), but when they were just being jerks because of my rank, I always stood up for myself. I’d usually say something like, “Look, I know you outrank me, and I know how this works, so I will do whatever you’re asking me to do, but you don’t have to yell at me, just tell me what needs to get done and I’ll do it.” And to my surprise, and if we were alone, it worked. Only if they had fellow superiors around them would they dig their heels in and act worse, but I completely understand that.
I’ve learned to praise publicly, criticize in private. So, later, when I felt disrespected, I would bite my tongue, and find them later, alone, and talk to them about it. Again, it usually worked. Most of the time, they’d make a conscious effort to speak to me better. Now, when I say better, I don’t mean that they’d not make commands. They still outrank me, and it is still the military. I mean the added nonsense. The name calling, or family insults. So, instead of, “Harrigan, go fucking clean that mess over there you inbred piece of shit!” They would begin to say, “Harrigan, I need that mess cleaned.” and I’d say, “Roger that” and get to it.
Moving on, when it comes to jobs, outside of the military, I understand that I have a boss and my position in the company. However, like the military, I won’t be told what to do. When I worked at Walgreens, before the Navy, I had tickets to a Celtics game. I told my boss, a month in advance, that I would need that day off because of the game. He said it shouldn’t be a problem. The day before, near the end of my shift, he approached me and said,
“I couldn’t find anyone to cover your shift, so you have to come in tomorrow.”
“Umm, I told you that I had tickets to the Celtics a month ago. Why would you even schedule me to work that shift?”
“That’s usually the shift you work. It isn’t my responsibility to find someone to cover your shift, it’s yours. You didn’t find someone to cover your shift, so you have to work. Plain and simple.”
“No, you said that you were going to find someone to cover my shift. If you told me to find someone, I would have. You said that it shouldn’t be a problem. I already bought the tickets.”
“You’re scheduled to work tomorrow, if you don’t come in, then you’re a no call no show and you’ll be fired.”
The next day, I went to the game. I was fired. I regret nothing.
Shortly after, I left for boot camp and my life has been exponentially better since. I might not have had the guts to go to boot camp if I still had that job. The lack of options played a pivotal role in my motivation.
Perhaps these are just examples of me being a stubborn brat. I don’t know. What I do know is that when it feels like someone is flexing power of me, I don’t budge. When I was a teen, and wrestled with my friends, they’d have to literally choke me unconscious for me to stop. I would rather be put out than to give in to someone saying, “You give up?” while they clamp down on my neck. However, that same will is what drives me to succeed. It is the reason that I was able to stop drinking without help. Once I realized that people around me saw me as the “sure thing” when they wanted a drinking buddy, I decided that I wasn’t going to be their sure thing any more. In a weird way, it felt like a power they held over me. All they had to do was say something like, “Who wants a beer? Harrigan, I know you want one” as they’d toss me a can. Like they are the gracious beer kings throwing a bone to the lowly peasant. Not I. The moment I had that realization, I cracked open that last beer and just stared at it. I watched it for probably an hour before standing up, putting on my jacket, and leaving the party. I said, “I gotta go.” And I haven’t looked back. Those friends faded from my life, with no ill feelings, I still value them and wish them well, but I started walking a different path that they just wouldn’t fully understand without walking it with me. I still don’t drink, but because I choose not to. If I drink again someday, It will be because I choose to, not because I feel I have to.
That stubborn will is what made me go back as an adult to the Tae Kwon Do school I had quit as a teenager. I had always regretted not getting my black belt and it haunted me that I gave up on something I loved. I felt like the people in my past who said I wouldn’t amount to anything were right. So, during one of the hardest semesters of my life, taking 4 classes, 3 of them being at the graduate level, I decided to go back to Tae Kwon Do. Same school, same teacher. And you know what?
That same stubbornness has driven me to achieve my bachelor’s and master’s degree. I thought of all the teachers I’ve had that didn’t think I would do anything. I thought of the few that believed in me. I push myself hard because I never want to be “less than.” I’ve lived too long in my life believing that I was nothing. A nobody. Because of my past, because of my financial status growing up, and because of circumstances that were out of my control, I felt like a complete waste of human life. I would never show that on the outside. Nope. I doubled down. I trained hard. I practiced everything that I did, whether it was athletics, video games, or rapping; anything that I could compete in with my peers, I became the best or the top contender. I would not let someone say that they are better than me at anything. I will not be looked down at. And when I am on top, I will not look down at anyone else. I demand eye level contact, and I promise the same.
I know that there is always someone better at something. I have grown to understand that I don’t need to be the best at anything to be treated equally. I used to believe in my youth, that those at the top had the privilege to look down at those below, because they’ve earned it, but I now understand that there is no top. There is no below. There is one level that we all exist on, and only when zooming in real close, on specific subjects, does one appear to have elevation. But we appear higher and lower depending on what we are looking at. I might be “better” at athletics, but my brother can draw like you wouldn’t believe. Michael Jordan is arguably the best basketball player of all time, but I wonder how well he can write a poem? Or if he sews? Does he bake? Or fix cars? Possibly, but the point is, there is something Michael Jordan isn’t “The Michael Jordan” of.
This expands my understanding of equality. And it strengthens my stubbornness ten-fold. If you dare look down at me, or demand something from me, while we stand on the same ground, breathe the same air, bleed the same blood, then you better believe that I stand firm, like a mountain
People always say, “Just be yourself” as if it is a positive message. Don’t get me wrong, the intention is good, but really what they should be saying is, “Be who you want to be”
If I were to be myself, then I’d be a bad person. I have a good heart, but my mind has been warped by my childhood. To be blunt, I’ve seen some shit. Those experience have shaped my thoughts, and my tolerance for wrong doing is pretty high. It took work, and continues to take work, to strive to be a better person. How do I do it? I try to be more like people that I want to be like.
It doesn’t have to be the entirety of a person, nor does it have to be a real one. I see qualities in characters that I admire. It can be a phrase, a look, a walk, a tone, or a genuine sincerity. My self had always been shy, meek, not confident, ashamed, angry, wanting to lash out at others for a life I couldn’t understand. I hated myself, every fiber of my being.
It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned how to work on me. I started small, with one new quality that I wanted to have. It started with the word “well.”
I worked at Walgreens, in the photo department, and I rarely spoke to customers. This was before the electronic kiosks and digital printers, so I was developing the film in this closet of a “dark room” we had. It only had space for my head and arms to fit, the rest of my body stood outside of it. I remember reading a quote somewhere that said something along of lines of, “When I ask ‘how are you?’ and you say “good” I cringe. Superman does good, you are well.”
I thought about that for days. Then I looked up the use of the word “well,” and sure enough, when asking someone “How are you?” it is in reference to health. So, back in the day, people would respond with how they are feeling, their overall health being well. Responding with “Good” would be appropriate if I were asking you which team you were on in the battle between Good and Evil. Obviously, things change over time and “Good” is a completely acceptable answer today, but I wanted to be different.
Whenever I would have to fill in for a cashier, I would practice on the customers. I slipped many times and said, “Good” but I kept my eye on the prize. Eventually, it became habit, and “well” was my automatic response. I couldn’t believe how many people noticed. Most people didn’t, or didn’t acknowledge it, but many people did. They’d say, “You don’t hear that often, it is usually just ‘good.'”
I would give them a brief explanation of what I learned about “How are you” meaning your health, and some would say that they’d like to practice that response too. I felt genuinely uplifted every time after one of these short exchanges. That was something new about me that I liked. It was one of the only things I liked about myself at that time. But it was something to build off of.
That was nearly a decade ago, and I have been adding new qualities that I want to my character ever since. Today, I am a person that I like being. I have learned to love the things that I can’t change, like some of my physical features, but I’ve become in control of the things that I can. Every day I practice being a better version of me. I’m not perfect, and I’ll never be perfect, but I strive for it each day.
I am not the same person I was 10 years ago, and I’ll be damned if I am the same person 10 years from now. Being yourself is stagnant. We should be in a constant state of growth. Sometimes that means taking a step back to move forward. Like a tree shedding its leaves in the winter so that it can bloom in the spring.
So, the next time someone tells you to just be yourself, call them a hater and shine right passed them! You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
I enjoy the hot water even more now that I know it will end with ice. The moment after I finish washing up, I take a few minutes to just let the water warm every part of my body and head before I take a few deep breaths and crank the spigot to as cold as it can get without turning off.
That first second literally takes your breath away.
I tense up, letting the ice cold water soak my hair. It takes every bit of will that I have, but I manage to calm myself and relax, turning my face up into the rushing falls, and slowly rotate, making sure every part of me has to suffer a few seconds.
When I finally turn the spigot off, I always shout out loud. Either, “Woo!” like Rick Flair, or “Damn that feels good!” And you know what? It really does. My body tingles, and some parts are almost numb. I warm up much quicker than if I step out of a hot shower into the room temperature. But, most of all, I feel mentally stronger.
It takes a certain mind set to endure. It takes a stronger one to endure when there is an easy way out. I don’t have to turn the faucet to cold, but I do, after every shower, no matter what.
This tactic is something that I’ve picked up from listening to some bad ass people speak on Joe Rogan’s Podcast. I decided to give it a try and I tell you what, it makes a huge difference in my life. I have been able to keep myself going when I normally would give up, and ice cold showers are one of the main reasons why I can do it.
Give it a try, the next time you are in the shower, finish it on cold and see how long you can endure. Each time that I do it, I can do it a little bit longer than before. Also, after it’s over, I’m smiling because I made it through and uplifted that I can do it. It’s a natural pick-me-up. Let me know if you do this or if you try it and how it goes!
“I’m fine.” The man said in response whenever he was asked how he’s doing. That’s a typical exchange among most people around here. He never assumed that anybody actually cared how he’s doing, and to be honest, he didn’t care how they were either. He was too tired to care. Barely 9 AM and he’s already on his third cup of coffee. Anything to get through the day, so he can get home and relax.
This man was me. A lifeless zombie, going through the motions, like so many others that I know. It’s too easy to fall into this mode of “wake up, work, eat, home, Netflix, bed.” However, I noticed that on the days that I wasn’t as tired, or perhaps I was a little extra productive and felt great, when people asked me how I’m doing, I’d respond with, “Wonderful! Thank you, how are you?” and many times, people would be taken off guard. They’d double take a look at me and some would even comment on how nice it is to hear such a response. I’d feel even better after the exchange.
I learned to give 3 syllable responses in the military. There was a First Class Petty Officer on my base. I can’t recall his last name, but we just called him ET1, which was his job (Electronic Technician) and Rank (Petty Officer First Class). Whenever anyone would ask him, “How are you ET1?” he’d always, without fail, respond loud and proud, “BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!” It made everyone around him smile. I’ll never forget that. I don’t have the oomph to shout that, yet. But I do try to say things like, ‘Wonderful,’ ‘Excellent,’ or ‘Fantastic!’
So, why don’t I say these things every time? I have noticed that on days that I’m tired, I fail at being the person I want to be. There’s a quote, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” I couldn’t tell you who said it originally because I heard it from a guy on a podcast, citing another guy who read it somewhere. The point is, whomever said it, said it right!
I began to take notice of the days that I didn’t get enough sleep, or didn’t get GOOD sleep. The next day was a struggle, every time. I didn’t want to do anything, and even worse, I would make poor decisions when eating. Whatever was quick and tasty. I had no desire to cook, and I wanted something bursting with sugary flavor, anything to bring a little joy to the day. After eating crap, a short burst of energy is followed by a crash, and even more exhaustion, demanding another cup of coffee. After work, I’d go home, and kick up my feet, put the TV on and say, “I’ll hit the gym tomorrow.”
Over the years, I’ve learned that my Holy Trinity is Sleep, Diet, Exercise. In that order. I’ve had some days that I’ve forced myself to go to the gym even when I was tired, and it feels a little better than days that I skip, but I’d still be in a depressive fog. Even if I ate clean all day, if I was tired, it felt like work, and I just wanted to hurry up and get to the part of the day where I was just mindlessly watching TV or playing a video game.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing with watching TV or playing games, I love both of these activities. It is the mind set while doing them that I’m attacking. On days that I am well rested, eating good, and working out, whether at the gym, outdoors on warm days, or at home doing calisthenics, I feel like I earned the reward of TV or games.
Here’s what I’ve managed to do for my own schedule and what I HIGHLY recommend for everyone. Go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier. I used to say things like, “I can’t sleep at night,” or “I’m a night owl.” Whatever the reason, I wanted to use the time at night for myself and to wind down after a long day. I’d stay up until 2-3 AM and wake up exhausted all week, and sleep in a little bit on the weekends.
Now, I’m in bed between 10-11, closer to 10:30 most days, 6-7 days a week. I wake up at 5:30 on the days that I have to teach at 8 and 6:30 on the days that I don’t. I’m working my way down to being in bed between 9-10 and getting up between 4:30-5:00. For now, I still get great sleep, between 7-8 hours, and when I wake up in the morning, my new routine is coffee while I work on the fiction story I’m writing, then I read about 25 pages of a book, and then I write a blog post for my site.
I started by just fixing my sleep schedule. Baby steps. I woke up at 5:30 and had coffee, and I’d surf the web on my phone or just sit and relax and enjoy the quiet. Once I got used to it, I began writing in the morning. I felt so great and proud of myself, and that carried through my day. I couldn’t wait to wake up the next morning and write some more.
After a week of doing that, I decided to add the reading to my morning routine as well. A few days of doing both, and now I’m blogging too. I think that when I am able to get up even earlier, I’m going to add another thing to my mornings. I’m trading my exhausted evening TV time for some morning, productive, feel-great-about-me time!
Sleep is the most important factor in the Holy Trinity. If you want to get your life together, or improve how you feel on a daily basis, then I recommend you work on your sleep, diet, and exercise routine. Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to take on all 3. Just start with fixing your sleep schedule. Go to bed early, and wake up early. Just start there, and slowly add one more improvement when you feel you are ready to take it on!