Turning 28 and Looking Back

Yesterday, there was another candle added to the birthday cake and another year in the books. This past year has been a whirlwind for me. In the last 365 days, I quit my job where I had a successful career going, flew to the other side of the world 3 times, and visited 7 countries.

I am not much for New Year’s resolutions, but, as I turn 28, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve done, what I have learned, and what I am still learning after a big year in my life.

Do what you want to do: When I quit my job to go traveling, I heard a lot of people say, “I wish I could do something like that.” You can. There are a lot of places in life where there are gatekeepers. Traveling proved not to be one of them. I was the biggest gatekeeper between me and my dreams. Quitting your job and traveling may not be what you want to do, but I encourage you to think about what you really want and do it.

Know your limits: If I had waited to have all the money I thought I would want to take my leave and travel, I wouldn’t have done it. Whether it is money, a promotion, or whatever other accomplishment you are waiting for, know what is important to you and don’t make compromises that put your well-being in jeopardy. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant.

Spend time with family: My previous job kept me from a lot of family functions. Check out this article titled, “The Tail End.” Tim Urban explains how when we leave home after high school, we have spent 93% of the time we will ever spend with our parents. It is a sobering, yet helpful reminder to cherish the time we are able to spend with those closest to us, and I am grateful to have been able to spend a lot of time with family this past year.

I like bidets: The worst adjustment to life in the U.S. is the lack of bidets. They are on every toilet in Japan. A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed I liked having water shot where the sun don’t shine. But, now I want to buy a bidet attachment for my toilet. We are way behind the times in the States. The point of this one is, you never know what you might end up liking or what will have a positive impact on your life until you try.

Stop comparing yourself to others: This is increasingly hard while we are all drinking out of the fire hose of social media. Promotions, marriage, kids, vacations. Who cares? Everything happens in due time and everyone’s path is not the same.

Read: “Formal education will make you a living,” Jim Rohn writes, “self-education will make you a fortune.”

Be nice: I can’t underscore this one enough. Once you interact with people who can’t afford shoes, but make an effort to be kind and helpful to you as a stranger visiting their country, you realize that getting pissed off in traffic or because there is a long line at Starbucks is a waste of energy and mental sanity. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be nice.

Do something that scares the shit out of you: To become more confident, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. For example, flying to Southeast Asia with a peanut allergy (Spoiler Alert: I survived, and it wasn’t that big a deal). “Do the thing you fear most,” wrote Mark Twain, “and the death of fear is certain.”

It’s not supposed to be easy: While a lot of this journey has been fun, there have definitely been struggles. Adjusting to life away from the routine of going to work everyday. Filling the void when the excitement of travel comes to an end. There has been a lot of inertia and mental hurdles to overcome in an effort to have a different life than I was living. The rest of the list are some things that I am continuing to learn and work on.

Set goals: If you asked me what my goals in life were a year ago, they were probably fairly short-term and generic. It was not until this year that I really spent time thinking about what I wanted my life to look like (and maybe more importantly, what I DIDN’T want my life to look like). To be honest, I struggled, and continue to struggle, with defining what I want to do. I have found some clarity by asking myself, “what would I do if I couldn’t fail?” Kind of reminds me of the scene in Office Space where they ask each other, “what would you do if you had a million dollars?” But, I felt like this went deeper. Not just having the financial security, but what would you do if you couldn’t fail. No disappointed family. No embarrassment. No feelings of wasted time.

Pursue those goals: Author Matthew Kelly writes, “People overestimate what they can accomplish in a day and underestimate what they can accomplish in a month.” Do something every day. This is something I struggled with when I found myself without the comfortable structure of the work day and going into the office every day. However, any goal worth spending time on requires hard work and the only way I have experienced success in any endeavor is through constant practice.

Write it down: One of the best things I did in my travels was keep notes and write on this blog about what I was doing and what was on my mind. It has been harder to continue upon returning stateside, but it is a joy to look back at my notes or the online journal I kept for myself while traveling.

It’s going to be okay: Over the past year, this lesson has proven itself out time and time again. A few times, I thought I was in an “end of the world,” catastrophe like situation. I never was. Keep your head on a swivel. I comforted myself by asking, “what is the worst thing that could happen?” Usually the answer is not that intimidating. Mark Twain wrote, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

So that’s it for this year. It’s fun taking the trip down the memory lane of this past year, and thinking about the year to come. Maybe a little wiser? Maybe a little better? Maybe another country or two? We will see.

Who Packs Your Parachute?

The Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone.  The time of year when many declare their gratitude for the people and things in their lives, on Facebook, over the phone and in person.

As the tryptophan induced slumber and Black Friday deals fade into the hectic Holiday season, I hope that the spirit of giving thanks does not.  Expressing and practicing thankfulness is something anyone is capable of and the results can be very impactful.

A study done by two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of UC, Davis and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, tried to determine the effects of gratitude.  Emmons and McCullough split the subjects into three groups and simply had them write a few sentences each week.

One group was instructed to write about things they were grateful for.  The second group was told to write about all the things that did not go their way and frustrated them.  The final group just wrote about things that affected them (with no focus on good or bad).

After this ten week study, the group that focused on what they were grateful for were more optimistic and had a more positive outlook on their lives.  The surprise finding is that this same group reportedly exercised more and made fewer doctors visits than those who focused on the negatives.

The results make sense; the more you concentrate on what you are grateful for, as opposed to the bad breaks, the easier it is to see the good around you.

Gratitude for those closest to us makes us hopeful and inspires confidence.  But, what about people we deal with every day who are not our closest family and friends?

In this light, I’d like to share the story of Charles Plumb.

Charles Plumb, a former US Navy Pilot during the Vietnam War, flew 75 combat missions before being shot down over enemy lines.  He ejected from his plane and parachuted into enemy hands.  Plumb was held for 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison before escaping and returning home.

One day, Plumb was at a restaurant with his wife when a man approached the table and said, “You’re Plumb!  You flew fighter jets in Vietnam off the carrier Kitty Hawk.  You were shot down!”

Plumb, asked how the man knew that.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.

Plumb discusses this story in lectures across the country.  He tells his audiences that he could not sleep the night after encountering the man in the restaurant.  That night, Plumb imagined what the man looked like in his Navy whites.  He thought about how many times they may have passed each other on the ship without so much as an acknowledgment, since Plumb was a pilot and this man was merely a sailor.

Plumb now asks his audiences, “who packs your parachute?”

Don't forget the people who pack the parachutes in your life.
Don’t forget the people who pack the parachutes in your life.

Life will always make things busy for us.  Life will always make it easier to push forward than to stop and appreciate those around us.  How many times do we fail to say hello, please or thank you?  How many times do we fail to recognize the accomplishments of those around us, especially when those accomplishments allow us to succeed, both personally and professionally?

If we learn anything from Charles Plumb’s story, it is that the power of appreciation shouldn’t be reserved for those close to us or those we perceive as worthy of our acknowledgment.   Gratefulness should be incorporated in our daily lives, at home, in public and at work. 

Let’s focus on thankfulness at work, a place where lack of appreciation is a common complaint. Glassdoor, the online jobs and career website, published their “Employee Appreciation Survey,” of 2,044 users in 2013:

  • 81% of employees say they would work harder when boss shows appreciation
  • 38% of employees say they would work harder when boss is demanding
  • 37% of employees say they would work harder out of fear of losing their job

People are far better motivated by appreciation than by fear.  The crotchety, unappreciative boss, like Bill Lumbergh in Office Space, who only shows up to deliver bad news or tell you when you screwed up, is not effective. 

As Peter Gibbons goes on to explain later in the movie in his meeting with the Bobs, “my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”

It is easy to find shortcomings in our co-workers, bosses, employees, family and friends when life stresses us out and keeps us busy.  It is easy to criticize those around us (or tell them they forgot about the cover sheets on the TPS reports).  It is easy to be blind to all the small contributions made by those around us that lead to our successes in life.

Finding ways to be grateful and positive towards the people you interact with has a favorable impact on the person giving and receiving the appreciation.

Tomorrow, find an opportunity to specifically thank two people throughout your day.  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but don’t just say “thanks,” while hardly breaking eye contact with your phone.  Look the person in the eye and let them feel your appreciation.

While you are at it, let that person know how much their effort means to you.  Give the barista at Starbucks an “atta-boy” for making a great latte.  Thank an employee or co-worker for something they do everyday that might otherwise go unrecognized.  Thank your boyfriend or girlfriend just for being there for you when you’ve needed them.

This may be a bit uncomfortable at first.  We may find it hard to recognize others because we are envious, or we fear that shining a positive light on others casts a shadow upon us.  We may find it difficult to praise others because we feel that a person “should” be doing something. 

If the challenge is jealousy, you should still give the compliment.  The other person will feel good and hopefully you can find motivation to take the necessary steps towards accomplishing your own goals worthy of acknowledgment.  Even if we feel that a person “should” be doing what we are thanking them for, it builds self-confidence for the person receiving the recognition and when we feel appreciated, we are willing to do more for each other.  While it may seem counter intuitive, the best way to build your own self-esteem is by building up another’s.

On the flip side, many of us have a well conditioned reflex to deflect or brush off any appreciation.  We often feel unworthy of such praise.  When we do not practice being grateful for what we have and focus on the negative, hearing positive feedback feels foreign to us.

Not only is this preventing us from feeling good about our contributions, but it inhibits the person delivering the appreciation from having the experience of brightening someone’s day.  We owe it to ourselves and those around us to remember that we are worthy of praise and gratitude.

So, as the Facebook “Grateful for Us” captions fade into the holiday season, don’t forget to remain thankful to those around you.  Don’t forget to think about what you are grateful for.  And don’t forget who packs your parachute.

Lessons from My Dog, The Stoic Philosopher

My dog, Tara, that my family adopted when I was thirteen, passed away recently.  While her passing hit me more emotionally than I expected, I do not intend for this piece to be a sob story about losing a dog, you can read Marley and Me for that.  When my sadness subsided, I thought about how nice of a life she lived.

When my dog passed, I had been reading a series of essays aptly named, “On the Shortness of Life,” by Seneca the Younger, a Stoic philosopher, born in the year 4 BC.  Now, before you stop reading, I am not about to drone on like that blonde haired prick in Good Will Hunting.  Previously, when someone would bring up philosophy, I would immediately yell, “SOOOCRATES DUDE!” in my best impersonation of Keanu Reeves a la Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Seneca’s writing is very approachable and surprisingly relevant to modern life.  I don’t think Tara dabbled in Stoic philosophy, but reading these essays made me reflect on her short, yet hopefully fulfilling, life and what I can learn from them both.

Don’t get me wrong, laying around while the person who feeds you is at work doesn’t exactly sound riveting or rewarding.  But, Tara really did as she pleased and I would like to think she lived a good life.  She would wake up, eat, pee, poop, chew a good bone, bark at the mailman and enjoy her spot on the carpet where the sunlight came in to keep her warm. 

Dogs don’t have to pay bills or take on anything in the way of responsibility, they just live in the moment.  She wasn’t worried about tomorrow, about meetings or about coffee plans with other dogs she didn’t want to hang out with.  She partook and relished in every activity until she was satisfied and moved on.

Last picture of Tara and me.
Last picture of Tara and me.

In Seneca’s letters to a friend, he laments the way many of us spend our days making ourselves needlessly busy and how this is in stark contrast to truly living our lives.  He notes how so many men spend their lives chasing power, wealth or fame, only to get to the end of their lives and realize they have not truly lived.  How many times do we hear this story when celebrities fall from grace?  And this guy was writing this stuff 2,000 years ago!

“The very pleasures of such men are uneasy and disquieted by alarms of various sorts, and at the very moment of rejoicing the anxious thought comes over them: ‘How long will these things last?’  This feeling has led Kings to weep over the power they possessed, and they have not so much delighted in the greatness of their fortune, as they have viewed with terror the end to which it must some time come.”

– Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,” XVII

I am not pretending that money does not make a big difference in our lives.  However, today, particularly in the U.S., we are pretty high on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  How often do we complain of not having the time we wish we had?  How often do we fill our days with things that really don’t matter or give us any satisfaction?  As Seneca says, “…no one sets a value on time; all use it lavishly as if it costs nothing.” 

When I read these essays, I think about all the time I have let slip by with mindless Internet surfing, keeping up-to-date on past peers’ whereabouts on Facebook, going to events I don’t really want to go to, working a job that was burning me out…  Any of this sound familiar?  Seneca explains that this need to fill our time with busyness cuts the time we truly live short:

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.  Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to all the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”

– Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,” I

Seneca observes how cheap we are with our money and yet wasteful with our finite resource of time.

When I started working, I enjoyed keeping myself busy, avoiding downtime.  It just seemed like what I was supposed to do.  I never thought about the experiences themselves as a sacrifice of time. 

Many of those gatherings led to great memories with great friends, and I do not regret any of them for a second.  However, I now wonder if I was keeping myself busy to avoid thinking about my goals and how my time was being spent trying to achieve them.

As I got older and work continued to take more of a toll, I found myself indulging in the lazy couch day more than my younger self would have ever been satisfied with.  As I wrote in my post on meditation, I did not spend this time indulging in deep thought, reading or any type of self-improvement.  My lazy days were not mindful, they were mindless, spent reading every article published about the Yankees, surfing Facebook and zoning out watching TV. Seneca touched on this too:

“Even the leisure of some men is engrossed; in their villa or on their couch, in the midst of solitude, although they have withdrawn from all others, they are themselves the source of their own worry; we should say that these are living, not in leisure, but in busy idleness.”

– Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,” XII

I feel like this dude was writing to me from Rome, two thousand years ago. 

The Stoic Philosopher’s believe that the only endeavors worth pursuing are those that improve yourself and benefit the greater good.  While Seneca would love to have everyone spend their time studying philosophy, I don’t think we need to go that far.

I do believe that we all need to create some time in our lives to evaluate our goals and priorities in life. If you do not create the time to really think about what is important to you, no one will. 

There are no guidance counselors in life, unlike High School and College, it is up to you to set goals and live the life you want to live.  When we have a clear goal in mind, it is easier to cut out the daily activities and minutiae that distract us from achieving them.

“All postponement of something they hope for seems long to them.  Yet the time which they enjoy is short and swift, and it is made much shorter by their own fault.

– Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,” XVI

The message Seneca is sending is clear, we need to do a better job of appreciating the moment and not always looking forward to tomorrow.  

Tara never worried about the next day, never worried about keeping herself busy so she didn’t have to deal with her feelings.  She loved chewing on bones and running back and forth with the neighbors’ dog on the other side of the fence.  She enjoyed the present, never rushing from one thing to the next.  I’d like to think that, had she realized death was approaching her, she had gotten the most out of life and enjoyed it the best a dog can.

Tara hated that cone, made it hard to catch Frisbees.
Tara hated that cone, made it hard to catch Frisbees.

Over the last month of traveling, without my usual distractions, I have been able to think about my past and present in a peaceful and reflective way that I was not able to while working.  When you just go-go-go, it is hard to take the time to think about what you really want out of life, what you are working so hard for and why you keep yourself so busy.  Seneca writes:

“…those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear for the future, have a life that is very brief and troubled; when they have reached the end of it, the poor wretches perceive too late that for such a long while they have been busied in doing nothing.”

– Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,” XVI

Work is hard, for many it consumes around 50-60 hours per week (even more given the time needed to get ready, commute and check our email at 9PM.  Out of 168 hours a week, that’s about one-third our time.  In 2013, Gallup reported the average American gets about 7 hours of sleep a night, that comes to 49 hours a week.  So, we spend roughly 109 hours a week working and sleeping, that leaves us 59 hours to “do what we want.”

I don’t know about you, but when I think about my life, I do not feel like I have that much free time.  So, where does all my free time go?

Of course, there are the basic chores and items that modern life requires us to deal with.  However, I know I am guilty of noticing it is 5PM and saying “I have 2 hours to KILL before dinner at 7.”

Hours to kill.  After reflecting on “The Shortness of Life,” it is hard to imagine wanting to “kill” any time.  And this is the time I spent all week at work looking forward to!

Time is so valuable, and yet, it is something that is easy for all of us to take for granted when we are young, healthy and feel like we have so much to look forward to:

“Present time is very brief, so brief, indeed, that to some there seems to be none; for it is always in motion, it ever flows and hurries on; it ceases to be before it has come, and can no more brook delay than the firmament or the stars, whose ever unresting movement never lets them abide in the same track.”

– Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,” X

Remember those 109 hours we spend every week working and sleeping?  We need to keep up that pace until we are 65, probably longer now a days.  Our only source of relief being our weekends and 2-3 weeks of vacation (if we are lucky) a year.

Seneca criticizes those who claim they are offsetting “leisure” and time for themselves until they are in their fifties and sixties, which was pretty old in the 40’s (not 1940’s, but 0040’s AD).  We work so hard through the prime years of our life with the expectation that we may be able to enjoy our latter years when living is not as easy.

Seneca’s disdain for delaying life for retirement, extends to the “P” word, procrastination.  I am guilty of being a master procrastinator.  I have always thought I have plenty of time to chase my dreams and live the kind of life I want, when the time is right.

I am beginning to realize that life is not going to slow down to make it easy for me to change.  The time for change is never going to be “right.”  If you know what is important to you, you have to make time, not excuses, and make it happen.

“The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes to-day. You dispose of that which lies in the hands of Fortune, you let go that which lies in your own. Whither do you look? At what goal do you aim? All things that are still to come lie in uncertainty; live straightway!.”

– Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,” IX

This idea has stood the test of time.  1,700 years later, Benjamin Franklin echoed Seneca’s sentiment, “do not put off until tomorrow what can be done today.”  When I reread that passage, it seems so obvious, yet something that many of us, myself included, continue to struggle with.

Tara did not wait until she turned 10 to chase Frisbees up and down the backyard.  She ran after them the moment she was strong enough to run.  She attacked life, not the other way around.

We often don’t appreciate how good something is until it is taken from us.  While Tara did not have the foresight of getting old to let her enjoy the moments she had, we as human beings do. 

From now on, I will do my best to remain mindful, observe the past, appreciate the present and remember that the future is not guaranteed.  I will try to live offensively, and tackle life as Tara would tackle her chew toys.  Living life defensively, on terms you don’t set for yourself, is unquestionably easier.  However, when you are reminded that the future is promised to no one, would you rather finish living the way you want to or worry that you missed something?

Don’t Find Your Passion, Be Passionate

“Finding your passion” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot.  We often seek this magical passion like we’re Nicholas Cage in National Treasure; searching for years until we realize it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for.  Chasing your passion, allows us to make excuses, letting the end justify the means.

We all have that friend who complains about their job or current situation, and when you ask them, “why are you still doing it?” they respond with, “so I can work on my … (insert book, movie, other career, schooling, etc..).  They schlep through the weeks, months and sometimes years, waiting for the weekend, because they are chasing something greater.

What happens when you put your blinders on and exclusively focus on finding this buried treasure we label passion?

I think you end up missing out on the beauty of the journey and perhaps new routes and detours you did not expect.  When all you do is look towards the future or the end of the day on Friday, we miss out on something we can never get back, the present.

I think we should focus less on finding our passion and focus more on being passionate about the things we do and opportunities we get in life.

In my life as a restaurant manager, I saw a lot of people, of various ages and backgrounds apply for a job and be very upfront about it not being their end goal in life.  I usually respected those people who had an end game in mind and something they were working towards.  We all need to make money and it’s refreshing to have a member of the team have goals beyond the restaurant.

When I would interview anyone for a job, whether it be a college kid looking for a job as a host (like me), someone looking to make a career change on their own volition, or someone who lost their last job, I cared a lot less about how much they knew about seating rotation or actually waiting tables.  What I did care about, was hearing how passionate they were about other things in their life.  I hoped that this passion and energy would translate to effort in the workplace.

A lot of times, this was a successful strategy.  Often I could sense some surprise when an interview for a serving position consisted of questions like: How do you get along with your siblings? What do you really love doing outside of work?  What was the last job you had or project you worked on where you really got in the zone and lost track of time?

I wish I could say I came up with this idea all on my own, but credit must go to Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group (think Shake Shack, along with many other successful restaurants).  In his book, “Setting the Table,” Meyer explains that technical competency and specialization comprise 49% of the ideal employee.  The other 51% should be the intangible, emotional qualities you want in an employee: Optimism, thirst for learning, work ethic and integrity, to name a few.

Often, we would hire the 51% applicant and have the confidence that we could teach them the tools to be successful hosts, servers, bussers or bartenders.  Most of the time, this strategy worked out great, these were the employees who showed up early, really studied the menu, went the extra mile and genuinely cared for the guests and their needs (as a restaurant manager, re-reading that line makes my heart jump for joy!)

Sometimes people can fool you.  I have been in the shoes of Mr. Farkus, who told George Constanza in his interview to be a bra salesman, “You seem to have a great passion for brassieres,” following his fabricated tale about his first encounter with a bra in his friends bathroom at age 14.  You can fake passion in one interview, but sooner or later, your true colors show.  This employee is the one that ended up being late, making careless mistakes, receiving complaints about their attitude, never putting in the requisite work to be a good employee or getting fired for “feeling the material” of the CEO while waiting for the elevator.

It would be very frustrating to try and get through to those employees; it’s hard to teach someone to care, to be passionate.

Some days are harder than others, but, if you are going to spend 10+ hours a day anywhere, you may as well make the best of it.  For the most part, you are not obligated to work at any particular place.  You choose to be there and it reflects on you and your character how tenacious you are about being successful. 

Similarly, there are some things in life that you “have to do.”  Since these are necessary tasks, why not choose to have a good attitude about it?  Why not choose to be passionate about the things you do in your life.  You, and only you, can choose the effort level put forth on daily endeavors.  Whether or not people around you notice, this is not about outward appearances, it is about living a meaningful and fulfilling life for YOURSELF.  In my opinion, it is these people who are passionate about their work, their families, the people they surround themselves with and even the things they would rather put off until tomorrow, who are infectious, successful and others want to be around.

I recognize “being passionate” is easier said than done.  If it were easy, everyone would be passionate about going to the dentist, cleaning their dogs poop off the carpet, getting to the gym, and so on.  Being passionate is not something you are born with, it is something we all need to work on and practice.  And, like anything worth practicing, it requires discipline to improve.  Being passionate is not something we should be “when we feel like it,” it should be something we commit to every day, in every situation.

Passions can be fleeting.  We live in a day where many people change careers and many people do not work for the same company or in the same line of work their whole lives.  Check out this TED Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sZdcB6bjI8 ) by Emilie Wapnick.  In summary, she talks about people who have a variety of interests and do not settle on one career or passion for their whole life like many of our parents, grandparents and even ourselves have been encouraged.  She labels these folks, “multipotentialites.” 

I love the idea of being able to blend experiences and various passions together.  I believe these opportunities can come to us at any time, especially times we do not expect them to.  It is this reason why I encourage you to be passionate about everything you do.  You never know when that experience, mentor or fork in the road of life will present itself to you, so you have to keep your eyes open and always put your best foot forward.

I genuinely admire people who have always known they wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor or a chef or a *insert profession here* since childhood.  I encourage those who know their calling to keep doing what they are doing and enjoy and embrace every peak and valley that comes along on that journey.  It is just as important to be passionate about your life’s work as it is if that work is constantly evolving.  But, if that day comes when the passion runs out, don’t be afraid to passionately seek another.

For many others, I think we are lucky to be able to change focuses and follow different passions throughout our lives.  At 27, I have already spent 7 years working on one path and now I am excited about working towards the next.  I do not believe the job I started when I was 20 would have turned into the passion I have for developing employees, helping people and being a leader had I not tried to be the very best host I could be when I first started in the restaurant.

Just remember, whether you are working your way through school, working because it is the only field you have known, working to support your family or working so you can chase your dream of singing, filming, writing or drawing, that work is part of your story. 

Are you ok with half-assing a part of the story of your life?  Are you ok with missing out on opportunities because you “know” where you want to end up?  Are you ok with playing it safe?  Are you ok with selling yourself short?

I hope not.

Next week, I am going to post a piece about some things I am doing to practice living this passionate life I am talking about.  If anyone has any practices or experiences that have helped them or just want tell me about an “unconventional” combination of passions, please drop me a line in the comments below!

Expose Yourself

Last week, I published my first blog post.  I had actually written the material a week before and spent the seven days leading up to posting the piece editing, critiquing and having some self-doubt about sharing my feelings with the world.

I experienced some negative self-talk that I am sure is not unique…

“Why does anyone care what I have to say?”

“Who would actually want to read this?”

“What if people don’t like it?”

I knew I wanted to write about this adventure and change in my life, but when the words were on the page in front of me, I got some stage fright about sharing it.  Luckily, I had an experience that helped me realize opening up and exposing myself to some vulnerability was exactly what I needed to do.

On my third day in Japan, I ventured to an Onsen in Hakone.  Onsen is a spa that pumps water from natural hot springs up to a variety of pools.  Each pool has different temperatures and legend has it, the water from the hot spring has mystical healing powers.  Magic powers or not, it is a pretty relaxing experience that I definitely recommend.

Onsen is not a run of the mill spa you might find in the States.  Yes, the pools are jacuzzi like, some with jets and some without, there is a locker room, there is a sauna, however, the spa is split by gender and bathing suits or clothing of any kind is prohibited in the pool area.  Side note, if you want to check out an Onsen, most of them do not allow people with tattoos in.  Definitely check TripAdvisor or some other website before going or you might have to deal with the Yakuza!  Back to the story; yes Grandma, you read that correct, butt naked spa time.

To be honest, I was a little weary of just strolling around a spa in my birthday suit.  However, after the first couple minutes, and the requisite sit-down-shower you have to take before going in the pools, I realized I was more comfortable in my own skin than I thought while getting undressed in the locker room.

I am not writing this to tell you about my au natural experience, as lovely as it was.  As I soaked in the water, sweated in the sauna and relaxed surrounded by nature and more uncircumcised penises than I care to recall, I found myself thinking about why people, myself included, are so afraid of exposing themselves.

When I say, “expose themselves,” I do not mean exclusively in the bare skin way you might be thinking.  Why are many of us afraid to expose who we really are, how we feel and the things that matter most to us.  In a time when we are all so connected with social media and technology, it seems like we are more afraid to show our real selves or do the things that we really want to out of fear.

We have all heard the old saying, “don’t just talk the talk,” and I don’t mean as much to our peers as I do to ourselves.  In different ways, there are things we all want to do in life that we are afraid to take that first step towards.  So what do we do?  We make excuses about not having the time or that people don’t care what we have to say or what we do, so we never break the boundaries that make us feel safe.  It is easier to let our dreams remain just that, dreams.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who do bare themselves (pun intended) to the world and are unashamed to scream about their passions from the top of mountains or on Facebook.  There are times when I see friends who post their art, music, deep thoughts and even dreams on social media or blogs. 

Are these people special?  Are they super heroes? 

No and no.  Everyone starts somewhere and everything starts with a first step.  If we are so afraid of failure or rejection, we will never overcome the inertia to do anything exceptional.

These people who create, these people who are unashamed to share the story that only they can tell or start the business that only they can start, these are the people who inspire me and give me the confidence to put my words out there.

We all have our own story to tell or service only we can provide.  Whether it is writing, painting, singing, coding, programming, engineering, starting a business or anything in between; we all have a unique voice that we owe ourselves and the world to share.  No one is going to do it for you.  It is really up to you.

I know it can be daunting.  Whether your hand is over your mouse waiting to click “post” on your blog or your hand is covering your genitals before entering a nude spa, it is scary to click “publish” or jump in the pool.

Usually, the thing we fear most is the thing we need to do most.  The first step is always the toughest.  For me, now that I have taken this first step, I can’t wait to write and share more with you.  I can only hope that by sharing my experiences, someone will gain the confidence to start their own project, adventure or maybe finally get the nerve to confront their boss about what is bothering them or ask for that raise they so deserve.

No one is going to get the ball rolling for you.  Don’t put it off for later or the “perfect time,” because you know what?  There is no such thing as the perfect time; you could always be a better writer, a better painter, make your website look cooler and so on.  We all need to start somewhere.  Whether that first step is your first post, sharing your first drawing or contacting your first potential client.  The perfect time is right now.  Go out and make it happen.  I believe in you.

I am no expert, but I promise you, once you take that first step and expose yourself, it is quite a rush and you will want more of it.  I might even hit another Onsen next week.

What is it that you want to create?  Is there a project that you have always wanted to take on?  Is there something you have worked on that you have not shared yet but want to?  Or, maybe you are a badass and have already putting your work and yourself out there.  Let me know in the comments section, I would love to hear about it!

Get going and good luck!