Motivation

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Don’t Peak in High School


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Don’t Peak in High School

by RJ Harrigan

You know the guy. Every time you see him, he works how awesome he was at football in high school into the conversation. Don’t get me wrong, if you were awesome at football in high school, by all means talk about it from time to time, but I’m talking about the guys who are defined by it. They want to relive their glory days because back then, they were somebody, and now, they feel just like everyone else. Working a menial job, paying bills, and wondering if this is really it.

I was that guy. I didn’t play football, but I lived with a different identity. I was the “back flip” kid. I was essentially a ghost otherwise. Barely anyone knew my name but if you said, “The kid who does backflips off the wall,” then they’d know.

 I won’t lie, I enjoyed the attention. I loved hearing, “Yo, do a backflip! Everyone watch, this kid can do a backflip!” It meant, for those few seconds, they saw me. I was somebody. Backflip kid.

 However, after high school, you run into people you went to school with and literally every single one of them would ask, “Do you still do backflips?” It’s completely understandable, but at the time, being young and aspiring to become a rapper, I got annoyed and made people feel dumb for even asking. I was reinventing myself as the pot smoking, wannabe-thug rapping bad ass.

I received even more attention for my music than I did for the flips. I loved it. It lasted a few years, and then it all ended. If you’ve read my book or had a conversation with me, you know that I developed a problem and hit rock bottom before I put the mic down and joined the military.

That was my new peak. Being a rapper. I let it define me, and I felt like such a failure. I didn’t get the same type of recognition in the military, so all I talked about was my “glory” days of being a rapper and people giving me drugs and partying with me. I talked about the places I’ve been to and the shit that I’ve witnessed that always got a reaction from people. That was my “cool” thing.

It didn’t dawn on me until after the military, during college, I took American Sign Language. My teacher, a wonderful woman, was born deaf and didn’t allow us to have a translator during class. We had to communicate by basic signing and body language. It was a transformative experience and on a side note, I highly encourage everyone to learn some sign language (at the very least, the alphabet).

The part that made me realize that I was living in the past was during the first or second week of class. We were sitting in a circle and we each had to introduce ourselves and tell the class something we enjoy doing. I was all ready to spell my name and try to communicate that I am a rapper/poet. However, somebody that went before me said they were into poetry. Our teacher said that she doesn’t like poetry because she doesn’t get it. There is a rhythm to poetry that we “hear” even when we read it that she isn’t privy to. The same goes for rap music, and most music. She likes very loud, bass-y music that she can feel, but lyrics don’t mean a thing.

I was stunned. I didn’t want to say that I was a rapper anymore, and it was almost my turn to sign. In that moment I thought, “Who am I without music?”

When it got to me, I just said I like hiking, which is true, but it was just the first thing that popped in my head.

For weeks, maybe months after, I was having an existential crisis. I kept asking myself, “Who am I?” I realized that I hadn’t been doing music for a while at that point, but I still defined myself as a musician. I wasn’t in the military any longer, so I couldn’t identify as that either. I guess I was a college kid? I didn’t like that identity. I began a long, arduous journey of self-reflection and I came to the conclusion that I defined myself by what happened to me, not by who I wanted to be.

I happened to be poor growing up. I identified as that, even though I was no longer poor. I got noticed for my backflips, so I wore that mask, and I allowed other people to dictate when I did them, just for a small cheer. My friends got into hip hop, and we wrote dumb little rhymes in our notebooks, then I got noticed for mine, so I went down that path full force, just for some praise.

I joined the military for me. I wanted to better my life, and I recognized that I was deep down the wrong path. I did it for me, and yet, I never identified with it. It’s like, I could only identify with what the world put on me, but when I made a choice for me, it was just “something I did.”

I had to change the way I thought about things. I needed to learn to like me for me. To provide my own source of happiness from within. To be proud of myself for doing what I WANTED TO DO, especially when it ended up being a good choice. I completely deconstructed my belief system and tore it to rubble. Then, brick by brick, I built (am still building) the identity that I want to be defined as. I choose. Now, I am a writer and a motivator. I am a gamer. I am health conscious. I am a man. I am honest. I have integrity. I am responsible, and I am self-aware, with the ability to change my life as I see fit. These are some of the qualities that I am right now, and I will always be changing and growing. I refuse to be the guy who peaked in high school.

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Motivation

Grab The Wheel


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Grab The Wheel
By RJ Harrigan

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Let’s start with a few truths:

1: You have no control over where, when, or to whom you were born.

2: You don’t have the mental capacity to take control of your life as a child.

3: Some things are just NOT YOUR FAULT.

Now, what does that mean?

If you have no control over your past, and if you aren’t to blame for your upbringing, then what is in your control?

That’s right, NOW. Right now. Your life, your choices, and everything you do despite your circumstances is all in your control.

You have to look at two truths. The first being, what should be, and then the other truth is the harsh reality of what is.

For example. You should be allowed to dress however you want. You should be judged by your character and not by your appearance. You should be treated as an equal member of society regardless of apparel. Sure, I agree with that. However, the harsh reality is that you can’t in most cases. If you want to work in a corporate setting, you have to dress the part. If you want to dress like a street kid (which is how I was, 90’s baggy-to-the-ankles jeans), then you are going to be followed in the convenient store. You’re going to be profiled by the police. You are going to be assumed a lower member of society.

YOU HAVE A CHOICE. You can stick your middle finger to the man and keep it real, wear whatever you want, and for some of you, that will work. For most, probably not. The other choice is that you can dress for success and remove one obstacle from your journey, because let’s face it, you’ll have plenty of those on the way as it is.

You can blame your circumstances on your past, on your poverty, on your race, on your gender, etc. You can point the finger in so many directions, and EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, you are relinquishing control of your own life. Why would you want to do that? Do you want society to dictate your short comings? Do you want society to tell you that you are disadvantaged? Do you want pity, or do you want glory?

The two truths apply here. It isn’t fair that you are disadvantaged because of your living situation, or your race, or your gender, or whatever, and I AGREE! It shouldn’t be that way. But, what is the harsh reality? You are judged. You are disadvantaged. You were born into a shitty situation. That’s just what it is, and no amount of Facebook statuses or supportive profile pictures are going to help you out.

What can you do?

Well, the first step is to OWN IT! Take full responsibility. That’s right. Take the “blame” for things that aren’t your fault. Why on earth would you do that? Because, it puts you in the driver seat. It gives you the power!

Owning your life is the first step to changing it. I was born to a single mother who had no guidance and made terrible financial decisions, which meant we lived poor and moved around a lot. I didn’t have many friends, I had zero confidence, and I grew to repeat the cycle of barely getting by because that’s what I saw. You know what I did once I was on my own? I blamed my mother for everything she did that disadvantaged me. I blamed her for her bad decisions, which I wasn’t wrong about, but I used that as an excuse to not make my own life better. I basically convinced myself that my mother was broken, and therefore I was broken.

My friends were the same way. They had broken households, and they had no idea how to get out of it and blamed the world for their situations.

I let this be my narrative for too long.

Finally, I realized that my upbringing doesn’t have to define my future. I took ownership of my past. I admitted to myself that it wasn’t my fault for how I was raised, but it is 100% my fault how I chose to live. Living in housing projects wasn’t my choice, but the friends I associated with was. Even though I was too young to make good life decisions, that only allows me to forgive myself for my choices, not deflect responsibility.

I chose to break the law. I chose to skip school. I chose not to pay attention and learn. I chose to smoke. I chose to drink. I chose to have sex. I chose to rebel. I chose to refuse to live by my father’s rules when I moved in with him at 17, and then I chose to live on the street instead of giving in. I chose to pursue a rap career, and I chose not to invest back in the business. I chose to party instead. I chose to go out to California with no plan. I chose not to work hard when I got there. I chose to take pills that led to my overdose. I chose to make a change in my life right then and there. Then I chose to call my dad, come home, and join the Navy. I made all of those decisions, but I only took credit for the last few that were good decisions.

Nothing is going to get better until you accept FULL responsibility for your actions, past and present. You must forgive yourself for the past decisions you’ve made that were during the times you didn’t have control over your life. You must forgive yourself, but you CAN NOT EXCUSE yourself. You just do your best from now on. You get in the driver’s seat, you grab the wheel, and you steer yourself to the life that YOU choose. It isn’t easy, and the road may be long and windy, but would you rather sit back seat to someone else’s adventure?

Motivation, Musings, News and Updates

New Year’s Resolution


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This year I am going to finish my memoir and hopefully get it published!

I also want to get more viewers to my site, especially participants that will submit writing to me for my “What’s Your Story?” section.

Most importantly, I want to be happy and as stress free as possible. I put in some serious work in 2018 to lower my stress and I made it a good portion of the year being happy, but the last month started taking its toll on me and I can feel myself slipping backwards. I am fully aware of it and doing what I can to prevent myself from taking too many steps back. Sometimes a step back is necessary to move ahead, so I’m going to chalk it up to that and keep it moving.

Writing has been my outlet that has saved me from breaking. I always feel better, calmer, lighter, after writing. It feels so good to put my laptop screen down, signifying that I’m done for the moment, and knowing that I am one step closer to finishing this book. I can’t express the joy I feel in being proud of myself. It isn’t a feeling I’m familiar with. I’ve always downplayed my achievements because they weren’t things I cared about, just what I thought I should do. Writing this book is something I care about, and every day that I write, I still can’t believe that I’m actually doing it. If I can, anyone can, a tired cliche that I loathe myself for saying, but (again at the risk of sounding cliche) it is true. Ask anyone who knows me personally and they’ll tell you, I had the potential, but not the drive. But here I am, new year, 52,000 words deep in this memoir. I can’t be stopped and I can’t wait for you all to read it when it is done!

Happy New Year!

2019’s mantra is “Keep it light, Dutch. Keep it light.”

Motivation, News and Updates

The First Draft is Done


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Today is a very special day. I have finished my first draft of my memoir. It is just a skeletal outline of the whole story, but it give me a framework to work with. I have just over 50,000 words and 157 pages.

I have been taking notes along the way and already have at least another 30,000 words to add. So, I am a little ways away from being completely done, and like my professor told me in college, “When it comes to writing, nothing is ever done, just due.”

I can’t even begin to express how happy I feel about this. I never thought that I would actually do it. I have been talking about writing this memoir for a decade but didn’t sit down to do the important part…writing.

The only thing that kick started it was my final project for my master’s degree. I didn’t want to write a thesis paper, so I asked if I could do something more creative. They green lit the idea to write a sample of my memoir, then a 10 page paper “justifying” it. I had an adviser, Askold, that guided me through the process and read my work along the way, but most importantly, he gave me deadlines to adhere to.

After I finished the requirement for the project, I passed it in and received my passing grade, only to tuck away the memoir and not look at it again for almost a year.

I made a promise to myself that since I spent my twenties focusing on physical growth (I was skinny growing up so I hit the gym and kitchen hard), I would spend my thirties on intellectual growth. That meant more reading and writing. I wasn’t keeping that promise to myself until a few months ago when I read this quote that said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who can not.” That hit me hard for some reason.

I made a new morning routine that I still stick to. I wake up early everyday, and the first thing I do is make coffee and sit down at my computer and work on my memoir. I don’t have a word count that I must hit, but I average about 1000 words daily. Then, I read 25 pages of a book. Then, I write a blog post. That’s the routine and it has changed my world!

50,000 words, four 300-500 page books read in a just a few months. I can’t wait to see where I am in a few more.

News and Updates

100 Pages


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I have officially passed the 100 page mark for my memoir. I never would have dreamed that I would find the discipline to sit down and write this book. I had the idea nearly a decade ago, and I wrote a few pages here and there, but I have made it my goal to sit down and finish this project once and for all!

I am thankful to my friends that have been helping me along with encouragement and feedback. I can’t even describe in words how much it means to me.

The more I write, the more I believe I am a writer. I have fallen back in love with my passion and I hope you all enjoy it when it is finished!

100 pages and counting!

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Motivation

How to Get Back on The Horse


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“If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.”

That was my motto for many years. If I was great at something, I showed off. If I sucked, I pretended it sucked and that I wasn’t to be bother with whatever it was. Loser mentality. However, I’ve grown into a person who admits failure, and that is something that I’m proud of.

We’ve all seen them, the people who are amazing and never fall. Well guess what? That’s BS. They fail, all the time, but they, like I used to, don’t admit it. When you see a photo on Instagram and you think, “Wow, why can’t I look that perfect?” What you don’t see is the 100 photos that got deleted, or the number of filters put on it, or even some Photo Shopping that happened.

When you see a video of someone doing some crazy stunt, a flip or trick, they’ve got hours and hours of footage of them falling, failing, and trying again. You just see the final product.

Even your favorite TV show or movie has an outtake reel.

The point is, no matter what you’re trying to be better at, the road to success is built on failed attempts. I’m not perfect at any of the things I preach. My diet slips now and then, and I’ve gone on a 3-day Chinese food bender. I’ve skipped workouts, and I’ve even missed some writing days. It happens, and that’s okay.

Don’t let your idea of perfection ruin your attempt. Be proud of your failures, because that’s what makes your story great! Nobody wants to read about someone who was born amazing and never lost. We all love a good comeback tale. I learned that lesson early. My brother was the “screw up” and I was mommy’s perfect little angel.

I couldn’t understand why, even though I was the “favorite” child, did my brother get all the attention. He got unbelievable praise for basic stuff. Like if he didn’t misbehave in public, he’d get candy or a compliment. I behaved all the time, but nobody rewarded it. It was expected of me. I got good grades, and my brother didn’t do his work. If he ever did, he was showered with love. It wasn’t until I fell off my pedestal that I got attention, but negative attention. When you do the right thing all the time, people notice when you don’t. When you do the wrong thing all the time, people notice when you do the right thing. It’s a strange dynamic that we all tend to do. We grow accustomed to people’s behaviors and expectations form.

After a while of doing bad things, it wasn’t shocking to my family any longer. I was expected to be rebellious. Then, whenever I did something right, I got that praise I longed for. I learned that people love to see you fall from grace and come back up. They will criticize you the whole way down, but, depending on how far you fall of course, they will build you back up too. There’s no hope for Cosby or Weinstein, but we’ve seen many celebrities fall down and come back. Robert Downey Jr. Brittany Speares, Mike Tyson, etc. Their failures give them character, and it makes them interesting. Yours do too! Embrace them. Yes, people will judge you, and that is why we hide, but I’m telling you, they will forget and/or move on and suddenly you will be revered for overcoming your failure.

So make mistakes, fall off that horse, but don’t destroy the evidence of trying, embrace the error, learn from it, get back on that horse and maybe fail a little less next time. Repeat and before you know it, you’ve succeeded at whatever you were trying to accomplish, and ready to fail at something new!

 

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Motivation

Quotes I Adore


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“A wise man has something to say, A fool has to say something”

“Don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.”

“A single raindrop feels no responsibility for the flood.”

“Remember, you’re just a walk on part in everyone else’s play.”

“Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped.”

“Pay no attention to what the critics say; no statue has ever been erected to a critic.”

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”

“When you start yelling, you lost the fight.”

“What we think, we become.”

I love quotes like these. They help me ground myself when I am off balance.

 

Musings

Diligent Dilettante


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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.

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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.”

 

News and Updates

10,000 Words


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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!

 

Musings

Vietnam Trip


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I’m currently writing the section of my memoir about my trip to Vietnam back in the summer of 2005. It’s a strange experience looking at the old pictures that I have locked away. I want to share some of them with you.

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Check out this view!

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Wait guys, I come in peace!

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Why am I looking satisfied like, “Hmm, this is a nice rock.”

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That money exchange rate though…

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Check them Jesus sandals! Also, our dumb prison poses

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Had to take a picture with these two. No clue what’s the deal with that unfinished wooden structure behind us though.

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Ok, so this was actually in the Hong Kong airport on our way TO Vietnam, but I just thought it would be a good one to share because it is important to laugh at yourself!

 

Overall, I had the best time ever, I can’t even describe what it did for my perspective in life. I only knew my small chunk of the world in Massachusetts and our way of life there. It is amazing how different life is on the other side of the world, and also how similar we all are in other ways. If you ever get the chance to travel, do it. Those memories and lessons are irreplaceable. I recommend Vietnam to everyone because I had an absolute blast! Thanks for reading