something vicious and very important

07/23/2012 by

“Is there some sort of perversion in what we’re taught, some error that’s vicious and very important?”
– Hank Rearden, Atlas Shrugged

We as a culture, slowly but inexorably, are realizing this a little bit more each day: that the stereotypical American Dream is full of false promise, sprinkled with hints of delusion. The white picket fence, the 2.5 kids, the comfy office with a view – while to want these things is not wrong, it is wrong to assume that they can bring us happiness.

But this is what we were taught. All the little girls got doll houses and dreamed of their wedding dress. All the boys got Matchbox cars and strove for the big time. To think that any of this will bring us happiness is in direct contradiction to what makes us human. To what makes us humane.

The quote above is from Ayn Rand’s greatest novel, Atlas Shrugged, uttered by an industrious industrialist trying to come to terms with what is happening in the world. The meaning of Rand’s quote may be different than what I have interpreted here, but the entire scene recreated for me the delusion that so many of us unwittingly cater to. That I, for years, unwittingly catered to.

Another quote from the same passage – in fact before the above quote – helps elucidate:

“They sit here, waiting for this place to give them meaning, not the other way around.”

No place can give us meaning. Even our interpretation of the concept is likely errant. Obtaining that white picket fence does not spell out happiness. Living in the four-bedroom colonial does not provide freedom. Rather it is the meaning we as individuals give to these places, through experiences, that makes it alight with meaning, with intent. That is why every beginner’s guide to meditation tells you to find a secluded place you can make sacred, that won’t be tampered with by anybody else – including your family.

Because if we take the power into our own hands, if we, as vibrant, willful individuals, give meaning to the places we go through our own conscious direct experience, well then that is an altogether different empowerment. An altogether different freedom.

Advertisements

one-year anniversary – why i quit my job

07/15/2012 by

On June 28, 2011, I walked into my boss’s office, filled with anxiety, the majority of my hairs standing on end. I said, “I think it would be in my best interests, and yours, if I put in my two weeks.”

One year later I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Hoboken, NJ, staring across the Hudson at the glow that is Manhattan.

I do not regret my decision for an instant.

But, if I could do it again, there are definitely things I would do differently.

reading between the lines

For those of you unfamiliar with that situation, here is my [poorly written] post from a year ago explaining it.

The past year, however, is slightly more complex than sitting in coffee shops in and around New York City. More than anything, this has been a year of self-discovery. It has been the kind of year I wish upon all my friends, and my enemies, though it’s not as glorious as I’ve likely made it sound.

This post is here to set the record straight.

By impulsively quitting my job, I was able to take a step back from my life and examine it as an objective observer. I allowed myself to ask the important questions, free of the cloud of responsibility and pressure.

  • What makes me happy?
  • What can I not live my life without?
  • What do I envision as my typical happy week?
  • How can I live my happy week 52 times a year?
  • Why do I associate hypocrisy with screw-top wine bottles?

Above all, I have finally been able to come to terms with my flaws (most of them). This may sound trite, but it is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I was able to embrace them, thereby becoming consciously aware of their presence, thereby minimizing their negative effects on my life. Here are my top flaws I identified:

  • I over-promise and under-deliver
  • I lack discipline
  • I am inconsistent (case and point, this blog)
  • I am easily distracted, primarily on the interwebz
  • I am selfish

On the flip side of this, I have also been able to identify what I believe to be my strong points:

  • I am authentic – I say what I mean and I mean what I say
  • I am driven to produce the best work possible
  • I am always learning
  • Yeah, short list…

All in all, quitting my job was one of the best things I have ever done with my life. But there are some distinct shades of gray to that deed as well.

For those of you looking to quit your job, for those of you looking to start doing work you love, for those of you unsure as to where you want your path to take you, let the juvenile lessons learned by yours truly help you get started on the right foot.

Because I certainly didn’t.

shattering the illusionsi quit my job

The easiest part of quitting our jobs to pursue our passions is the actual quitting. While nerve-wracking at the time, it is overshadowed by an exhilaration that cannot be replicated. For me, this made it an easy choice. But once I came down off that high, I knew it was time to get to work.

The hardest part, by far, has been the financial strain from not having that nice regular paycheck. I went from a bi-weekly paycheck with a coveted comma to a bi-weekly paycheck that rarely rose above $400.

In light of this, my #1 piece of advice is this:

1. Have some money put away before you quit your job

I altered my lifestyle but, granted, it didn’t keep me from experiencing life. I was still able to go skydiving for the first time, whitewater raft the fifth most dangerous rafting river in the world, and have my first Central American adventure in Nicaragua. But once those adventures were over, the reality of my financial situation set in and I’ve been severely restricted in what I have been able to do since then.

If you have no problem living the lifestyle of the starving artist – constantly – then this does not apply to you. To everyone else, I recommend having a little cushion before you go Bohemian.

My second lesson is this:

2. Know what you want

This sounds simple, but it’s harder than we realize. When I quit my job I knew I wanted to be a novelist. That was good direction, but the more I learned the more I realized the difficulties involved with going the straight novel route. A novel is not written in a month, unless you’re Stephen King. That first novel, especially – Carrie was denied a number of times before he got it published. So I needed other income streams in the meantime, and I needed to improve my writing tenfold before I put anything as substantial as a novel on the market that wouldn’t get torn apart and push a potential audience away.

So I made it my primary goal – and it still is to this day – to always improve my writing. To always experiment with different styles, with different voices, with different structures. That being said, my third lesson is this:

3. Never be stagnant

In December and January I experienced a period of overwhelming stagnation, resulting in my first – and hopefully last – anxiety attack. I was barely writing and had let life get in the way of my creative endeavors. In order to achieve any kind of growth as human beings, we must always be learning, always seeking knowledge. If we feel stagnant in our job, it’s likely because we feel we aren’t learning anything new, that we aren’t growing.

If we want this to change, we have two options: 1.) We can wait for an opportunity to come along and seize it, or 2.) We can create the opportunity ourselves. Robert Greene’s The 50th Law has a very motivating chapter on how to do the latter of these two. He titles it “Turn Shit Into Sugar.”

final reflection

Ultimately, as I said earlier, I would not change what I did one year ago for anything.

  • I experienced more rapid personal growth than I had in the past eight years
  • I am a better writer than I was 365 days ago, although there is still quite a ways to go
  • I have become more aware of those important questions
  • I am happier
  • And, of course, as my best friend so poignantly told me, for the first time in seven years I finally lived up to the title of this blog

Now if that isn’t worth impulsively quitting one’s job and living in poverty for the next year, I don’t know what is.

top 5 books of 2012 – first edition

07/11/2012 by

Last December I posted my first Top 10 Books list. Nearly instantaneously I received heaps of praise on my choices and my startlingly revealing criticism and insight. The post received in-depth coverage in The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, and I was interviewed on Good Morning America and The View.

Oprah even called back in December and said she was sorry she had waylaid her book club, due the poignancy of my analyses. “Jeff,” she said, “I just talked with my people and we’ve decided that, because we don’t want to miss another opportunity like this, we’re going to launch a digital book club next year.” I said, “Cool Opey, hit me up when you do.”

She hit me up.

Thus, without further ado, and among much clamoring from the masses – and Opey – I present to you the “Top 5 Books of 2012 – First Edition.” These are the top five books from among the books I’ve read over the past six months. Expect another five this coming December!

top 5 books of 2012 – first edition

5. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

catching fire suzanne collinsGenre: Fiction

I tend to stay away from wildly popular books published in today’s day and age. My thought is that a book is like a fine wine – it tastes better after other people have told me how it’s supposed to taste. Unless of course it’s Vladimir Nabokov – that shit is torture no matter what day and age you read it.

With the second book in Suzanne Collins’ now world-famous Hunger Games series, I thought it would be impossible for her to write a second book that was as good as the first.

I was completely wrong.

This second book set a new standard for the series, pulling the reader along with each cliffhanger so that we continually say, “Just one more chapter…” An intriguing aspect of Collins’ dramatis personae is her central character’s simultaneous likability and, well, hate-ability. Katniss was a selfish bitch who can’t see past her own petty desires and frustrations. Granted, she is continually put in extremely harrowing situations, and who knows how the rest of us would act when faced with the political tumult and life-threatening dilemmas she finds herself continually embroiled in.

You can read this book in just a few hours and it will be a few hours well-spent, carried along by an original and compelling storyline and by a cast of secondary characters with their own colorful backgrounds and personalities.

My only regret with reading this book is that I then read Mockingjay.

4. Tortilla Flat – John Steinbeck

tortilla flat john steinbeckGenre: Literature

Favorite line: “…while her knees, her hands, and her lips did penance for an old sin, her modest and provocative eyes, flashing under drawn lashes, laid the foundation for a new one.”

Tortilla Flat is likely one of the funniest books I have ever read, portraying a group of drunk 1920s paisanos (a mix of Spanish, Mexican, Indian and Caucasian bloods) on the coast of California in a similar light with King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The characters want nothing more than a carefree existence, which they find through their best friend Danny, a roof over their heads, and lots and lots of wine.

The “adventures” of Danny and his Knights are not what your modern-day novelist would call adventures, but I think that is what elevates Steinbeck’s originality. Their selfishness is their primary motivator, coupled closely with a strong desire for wine, although they are continually able to justify and rationalize their immorality in incredibly humorous ways.

I won’t lie, if you have never drank wine out of a fruit jar, you will have a burning desire to do so at about page 115. DK “Coach” put it well in his review: “No one’s going to make this part of a college reading list. But there is something wholy American about John Steinbeck.”

3. The Burning Land – Bernard Cornwell

the burning land bernard cornwellGenre: Historical Fiction

Favorite line: “For a moment everything is as you imagined it, then it changes, and the details stand out so stark. Details of irrelevant things. Perhaps it is the knowledge that these small things may be the last you will ever see in this life that makes them so memorable.”

Uhtred Uhtredson, the central character of this series, is somewhat akin to Katniss from The Hunger Games. Caught unwillingly in extremely stressful situations, he is quick to anger and tends to let his emotions rule him. However, he differs from Katniss in that he wants nothing more out of life than to fuck and fight. The only thing that keeps him in check, besides his love for his wife, is his oath to Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, and the ruler who in the ninth century laid the foundation for what we now know as modern England.

But Uhtred, after a life-altering event, decides to go Viking in this fifth volume of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles. Uhtred, to clarify, was born a Saxon, raised a Dane (when the Vikings took him captive), and is sworn by oath to serve Alfred, a Saxon king. His loyalties are continually tested between the established Saxons and invading Danes, most notably in The Burning Land.

My favorite aspect of Cornwell’s novels is his startlingly accurate portrayal of battle. Reminiscent of Red Badge of Courage in its fog-of-war mentality, Cornwell instills details in all the right places, never being too descriptive and never glazing over too much. His balance of detail and action is impeccable. The favorite line above is from the beginning of the climactic battle that defines the fate of Uhtred in The Burning Land.

2. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

life of pi yann martelGenre: Fiction

Favorite line: “You might think I lost all hope at that point. I did. And as a result I perked up and felt much better.”

One of the most well-written and effectively structured books I’ve ever read. Brilliant without being lofty, Life of Pi, using prose as the carving knife, cuts away at the stigma surrounding the all-important questions of life, primarily centered around the veracity of religion and the struggle for meaning in a world of seemingly meaningless trials – at least they seem meaningless when you’re stuck at sea for close to a year – alone.

One would think that a story about a boy surviving on his own in a lifeboat lost at sea would get boring at some point. Not so with Life of Pi. Yann Martel did an incredible job keeping the reader hooked and interested where other writers might lose the reader to monotony and dolorous humor. Granted, it helps when he throws a hyena, an orangutan and an enormous Bengal tiger into the same lifeboat.

My only beef with this wonderful novel is the disconnect between the first part, which dealt solely with the protagonist’s quandary regarding religion – he develops keen interests and loves for Christianity, Islam and Hinduism – and the second part which dealt solely with him being lost at sea. There was very little connection between the two – they could have been two different novellas and no one would have noticed. In the second half, the protagonist only mentions religion and God a few times, whereas the entire first third of the book dealt with the existence of God (or gods). I kept waiting for a tie-in that never surfaced.

Regardless, this is a book for readers of all types and levels.

1. Rosie – Anne Lamott

rosie anne lamottGenre: Fiction

Favorite line: “She panicked frequently at how quickly the time flew and yet how every day loomed before her like a dragon, waiting to be slain.”

This is the first Anne Lamott book I’ve read. As soon as I finished  I berated myself for not having read her sooner.

I never thought I would read about the “growing pains of motherhood” and decide it was one of the best books I have ever read. Anne Lamott shattered that illusion with Rosie, a story about an alcoholic widowed mother trying to raise her daughter Rosie and find meaning in her own life in the process.

Comprised of a small but effective cast of characters, Rosie reveals life truths we all know but refuse to acknowledge regarding self-respect, self-deceit, fear and love. It’s a little darker in that most of it is told from the point of view of the weak-spirited alcoholic mother who just can’t seem to kick the addiction, but I think that was kind of the point. This book is about real life, and what many children go through when they have alcoholic parents.

Rosie is the epitome of Lamott’s attention to being conscious. And not simply the consciousness we all experience in mundane living, but a consciousness akin to satori, or Buddhist enlightenment. She is aware. The pictures Lamott paints are vivid and descriptive, revealing details of life I would never have thought to even notice. Her depiction of her two protagonists, Rosie and Elizabeth, cuts to the core of what it means to be human, battered by our own worst enemy: our mind.

This may not be a book for everyone – there is no action, nay there is barely even a plot. But it is wonderfully written and very insightful. We can all discover something about ourselves by reading Rosie.

top 5 books – second edition

The second edition will be revealed in December after I get back from my round-the-world smartphone tour, where I will travel around the world and, instead of signing books, seeing as I have nothing in print, I will sign people’s smartphones, tablets and laptops. This is a real thing.

motivational mondays – running barefoot

06/25/2012 by

When was the last time you felt free? I mean really free. Also known as:

  • Unshackled
  • Careless
  • Unlimited
  • Unrestrained
  • Full of love
  • Happy
  • Ain’t nobody gonna get you down

The more people I meet, I discover that most have a difficult time truly feeling freedom. Whether it’s financial, mental, spiritual or geographical. We struggle with this concept because it feels like there is always something to attend to. Always something that needs our eyes, our words or our hands.

So how can we feel free when our realistic mind tells us we are anything but?

While I could quote The Eagles and their wonderful analogy of chains and keys, I prefer to give a more actionable agenda for starters. So if it’s been a while since you felt that invigorating pseudo-emotion I’ve dubbed freedom, try my Miracle Formula: Run Barefoot.

run barefootrunning barefoot, forefoot strike, running technique, barefoot

Yes, I said it: Run. Barefoot.

Not sure how? Fear not!

Here’s my patented Step-by-Step Guide to Awesomeness™ to walk you through it:

Step 1: Find the nearest open field, free of prickers, devoid of goose poop and chock-full of judgment.*

Step 2: Kick off those Nike Frees, those Saucony Kinvaras or those Converse (for you garage band heroes and hipsters).

Step 3:  Run as fast as you fucking can!

*Step 4 (recommended): Ignore judgment.

Sound crazy? It’s not. I promise you, you’ll feel like a kid again, wild and free.

That feeling may last only a while, but that’s OK. It’s not a form of escapism, as its effects are prolonged in ways you may  not even realize. I guarantee that so long as you don’t step on any fecal matter or prickly weeds, you will feel more free. And if you do step on either of those things, or something else even more ghastly, I think you’ll find a way to laugh it off (but bring a towel, cell phone and first aid kit just in case).

top 10 benefits of running barefoot

Here’s a list for you lazy headline scanners.

The Top 10 Benefits of Running Barefoot:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Improved happiness
  • Better proprioception
  • Increased kinesthetic intellegence
  • Tougher feet
  • A well-turned calf, as they say
  • Decreased asshole-ness
  • Increased open-mindedness
  • Clearer thinking via that translucent cloud of endorphins
  • Less care about judgment, for you’ve just done something totally ridiculous and awesome

But lo, beware! Those nearest to you may be in danger! For when you finish your barefoot run, you may feel an unrestrainable urge to do any one of the following:

  • Pat the nearest dog on the head
  • Bear-hug the nearest stranger
  • Give a cash amount to the nearest homeless person
  • Punch the nearest KKK member in the face
  • Start doing work you love, for you will now realize you can

I’ve now been actively running barefoot for the past two years. Thus, I understand that eventually you’ll find that that open field just isn’t enough. You’ll want a larger challenge, a wider landscape. You’ll start hitting the pavement barefoot, you’ll realize what it is to fly, and then you’ll want more. I remember one of the first times I went on a barefoot run – about a half-mile in I just started laughing, so full of joy was I.

warnings for new barefoot runners

If you do decide to initiate yourself into the world of barefoot running, especially on pavement, I highly recommend not heel-striking. Information is abound on the interwebz on how to properly run barefoot, but here are a few key pointers for those too lazy or too time-constrained to look it up:

  • Land with your midfoot or forefoot, NOT your heel!
  • Shorten your stride – do not overextend (this is good advice to the shod runner as well – your knees will thank me when you’re 70)
  • Keep your arms at 90° angles, pumping forward and back, not twisting around your torso
  • Relax and enjoy the ride

I don’t want to discuss the mechanics of “minimalist” running too much. That will be saved for another blog post.

Do you have any experience running barefoot? Please share in the comments section!

the luckiest cowboy

05/24/2012 by

“I’m the luckiest cowboy ever.” Truer words are rarely spoken.funny cowboy

Not a cowboy? Not a problem. Insert [woman] or [man] or [girl] or [boy] in its place and you’d still be spot on.

We get so caught up in the melodrama of daily life, in all the petty ups and downs, it’s like riding an emotional roller coaster.

And we never look out to see the view.

the lessons of skidboot

The whole world can learn powerful lessons from said cowboy, David Hartwig, and his dog Skidboot.

If you’re too lazy to watch the video (your loss), the one-liner that inspired this blog post was when David said, “Life is too precious to be upset.”

how to appreciate life

Think about it this way: in all the history of the world, in all the people that have ever breathed a breath on this earth, those of us alive right now make up the most minute percentage. Sounds obvious, but that’s the point. It’s so obvious how appreciative we should be for the simple fact that we’re breathing breath, and that’s likely why we miss it. The things that are right in front of us are sometimes the hardest to see.

For all those that came before, here are some things they can no longer do (that you can do):

  • Laugh at a joke
  • Smell a rose
  • See mountains
  • Build a snowman
  • Watch a solar eclipse
  • Feel the rain on their skin
  • Smell the rain
  • Dream
  • Listen to music
  • Orgasm

The simple pleasures in life are too often overlooked, even by those hypocrites who host blogs telling you to notice them.

And the simple pleasures are not the nice things you buy at IKEA or Amazon or the car dealership. David appears to be a minimalist at heart, when he says, “He’s brought more joy into my life and lots of people’s lives, than all kinds of TV and fine cars and motor boats.”

Less stuff = more clarity about what matters = living a more meaningful life.

But the cowboy knows he hasn’t figured it all out. However, he’s content with that because he found love. Even if it was for a soulless canine 🙂

And David leaves us with his final words of wisdom: “The theme is the question, not the answer.”

Think about it.

Then punch yourself in the face.

running and intuition

05/18/2012 by

Running is like sex. If it doesn’t happen at least once a week, we feel like something is missing. Sunday comes around, we look back on the week and think, “Shit, what did I forget to do…?”

There’s a certain mental calm that takes over in the latter half of a good session (now we’re onto running here, people). Fatigue takes over and it’s all you can do to maintain proper form. And when this happens, when your lungs feel ready to burst and your legs feel like they have ankle weights wrapped around them, something strange happens.

Bliss supersedes the misery.

no mind

How often do we find ourselves governed by the mental chatter abound in our brains? How often do we lose perspective because our emotional status is based upon the last imaginary scene we staged? Our minds have a terrible tendency to distract us from everything the world has to offer. It keeps us from doing our best work. And from fighting our best samurai sword fights.

How many times have you been reading a book and gotten halfway down the page, only to realize you have no idea what you  just read? Or driven a car some place and not remembered anything about the car ride?

This is sad. Running makes me less sad. Here’s why:

I did a four-miler last Monday. Not crazy high mileage, but for getting back onto the running scene I was content with it. But the last half mile I hit a wall (see second paragraph above).

When this happens, a meditative exercise I try to do is to eliminate thought. Because at this point my mind is my arch enemy. It will tell me that it’s not a big deal if I stop. I mean come on, you did 3.5 miles already! That’s pretty good, right? No one’s watching . . . no one will judge . . . you can walk the rest of the way as your cool down and save some time . . . better to start sweating like a beast now than right when you walk into your house . . . you’ll do better tomorrow . . . you already ran some miles this week! What’s the big deal?

Hence, the elimination of thought. And funny things happen when your mind stills and your body is worn out. When you hit what you imagine is rock bottom.

intuition

That last half mile gave me some of my best ideas for my current project. By focusing on not focusing on anything, I’m focusing on one thing. Silence. And silence is a beautiful thing.

Because what you hear in the silence, what crops up in the void, is unfettered and uncorrupted. It’s intuition.

Nobody talks about intuition in the real world. On the job, it’s hard to tell your boss you should do something based on a hunch. They want statistics. They want the ROI. They want to be reassured that they’re not paying you for just having fun. Great Scott! Never that!

The theory of intuition is not new. It’s been embodied in the third eye, in various forms of God, in a (supposed) small deposit of metal at the tip of a man’s nose. The only trouble is so few people spend time developing this intuition. Instead of getting down to the bare bones of what makes us human, we immerse ourselves in pleasant distractions, in browsing our Facebook feeds, in watching the Kardashians, in Modern Warfare 3. We set ourselves within walls of vinyl and atop finished wooden floorboards and think ourselves wise. We cease experiencing lives for ourselves, letting the mental chatter rage on unchecked.

Running, and many other forms of exercise, can help us re-establish that connection with our intuition. Can help us to slow our minds and take a look around.

And in a world gone so awry, the last thing we want to do is lose perspective.

motivational mondays – how bad do you want it?

05/07/2012 by

Life is a series of ebbs and flows. When tides rise, they fall somewhere else. When tides fall . . . well, you get it.

It can be easy to become complacent with our lot in life. Too easy, it seems, to simply roll with the tide. We get up. We go to work. We come home. We pursue pleasant distractions that enliven or deaden us (sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference). We go to sleep.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Push that button, flick that switch, and we’re in cruise control. Doing the same thing interminably, hovering in second gear, barely aware of the tide or potential eddies we get stuck in.

paddle hard

Enough with the analogies. Time for jeffspeak:

Life’s fucking hard. Plain and simple. If it’s not hard, we’re not doing something right. “…that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

I’ve fallen into the complacency trap so many times I’m embarrassed to even try counting. I don’t feel like doing or learning anything and the last thing I want to do is become self-motivated. I succumb to the overwhelming influence of Steven Pressfield’s Resistance.

Life’s constant challenges can continually confound us. But somehow, some way, we have to find a way to crawl out of these slumps. Sometimes it’s our own indomitable will (of which I tend to sorely lack). Sometimes it’s someone else telling us to wake the hell up. And sometimes it’s the offhand comment, the chance-read web article, seeing someone do something selfless, a good book, or any number of minute instances of incidental inspiration. Any number of things can pull us out of that swirling eddy and toss us back on the path we know to be right and true.

One of my mentors continually tells me that one of the only things worth living for is seeking constant improvement of yourself. Seek knowledge, seek health, seek humility, seek open-mindedness, seek love. Find answers. Find more questions. Continue improving.

So this begs the question: is there a way we can quit relying on outside sources and incidental inspiration and find a way to continuously do work we love?

seek self-discipline

This, I believe, is the hardest of all the things we seek, and is the ultimate answer to that question.

For three years I showed up every day to a 9-5 job, shirt tucked in, tie in a half-windsor with a smile painted on my face. For three years I cashed a decent paycheck twice a month, then wasted it on alcohol and entertainment. For three years I kept telling myself I would become a full-time writer some day. But I lacked the one thing that would enable me to do it: self-discipline.

Is self-discipline showing up every day to a job we aren’t passionate about? Is self-discipline doing work we don’t love for a cause we don’t buy into? For some, maybe – especially if you have others to support. But for me, in my position – and I know for many people who read this – no, that is not self-discipline. Subjugating dreams with job security because the former is too difficult is not self-discipline. It’s an excuse. And I did it for years.

Self-discipline is overriding those doubts. Is taking risks in the pursuit of passion, of dreams. Is not listening to that devil on our shoulder telling us we’re not good enough.

Self-discipline is dedicating our precious time to pursuing the life we want to live.

And the one question you really have to ask yourself is this: how bad do you want it?

the minimalists were here

05/03/2012 by
Minimalist meetup in Cleveland

Josh and Ryan talking to 30 Clevelanders about minimalism – sorry about the glare!

Last night Cleveland was visited by two intriguing men. They spoke to a room of 30 open-minded people at Deagan’s in Lakewood, telling their stories and answering questions about how to live a minimalist lifestyle. They told us how they quit their six-figure jobs and got rid of all their stuff, effectively becoming the nationally renown minimalists they are today. Bear in mind the over-simplification for the sake of brevity.

But really, that’s not what they’re about. It’s not about living with less stuff. That’s the path. It’s about living a more fulfilling, meaningful life, about being happier and being able to assess the true value of things. It’s about sifting through all the shit to find the gold that lies beneath.

They call themselves The Minimalists, and they just might be onto something.

what is minimalism?

Minimalism does require some explaining for the uninitiated, considering the term has only been around for roughly 100 years. In the overall scheme of language, this is a very young word. The term has been used to describe a bevy of concepts, from art to design to architecture, and to (most recently) minimalist running. So what is it that The Minimalists do differently?

Simply: they’re redefining the word. If Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for their definition of minimalism yet, they will soon.

Minimalism, so much as Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, our Minimalists, define it, is living a more meaningful life with less stuff. It’s trimming the fat. It’s separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s learning to find the true value of things.

my dabble with minimalism

I like to think I have always been a minimalist at heart, so when I stumbled upon Josh and Ryan’s page via a Zen Habits guest blog post, I was hooked. Since I was 16 I pictured for myself a Bohemian lifestyle filled with one-room flats devoid of furniture, living on a beach in Southern California, and spurts of time where I lived out of my car. My life has included none of these things, but my journey is filled with its own shades of gray that, I think, still allow me to guiltlessly dub myself minimalist. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t cite my two initial sources of inspiration for this lifestyle: Buddhism and Tyler Durden.

My view on life has ever been shaped by eastern philosophy when I first discovered Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths. It was one of those things that as soon as you hear it, you simply know it’s right. The first two noble truths are: “Life means suffering; The origin of suffering is attachment.” Now the Buddhists mean more than just attachment to material possessions, but for me it was a start. It almost immediately instilled into me an abhorrence of too many physical possessions.

Fight Club bore similar themes to eastern philosophy with a distinct Western slant – that slant being a bunch of dudes beating the crap out of each other in a basement. What Jersey shore bodybuilder wouldn’t appreciate that? But everything that Fight Club is for me is epitomized by Tyler Durden’s one-liner.

what minimalism really does

Me and the Minimalists

left to right – me, Josh, Ryan

Meeting Josh and Ryan at the Cleveland meetup, it’s easy to see why they’ve been so successful. They’re genuine. And they’re just nice guys. This may sound like an understatement, but it’s one of the best compliments one can really receive.

Josh and Ryan have spent the past 16 months of their lives helping people. They don’t just endure the drudgery of work every day, concerned with making more money, getting that promotion or just getting the job done. Every post resonates with sincerity and strikes home to much of their 100,000 monthly viewership. I am incredibly grateful for getting the chance to listen to them talk and to have gotten some face time with each of them. They are on a 33 City Meetup Tour, so if you find yourself in one of the remaining cities they have left on their journey, go. Listen. Learn.

Minimalism isn’t the answer – it’s a solution. As Josh and Ryan continually say, it provides a means of achieving happiness and meaningful living, those two things of which so many of us find ourselves bereft.

If you haven’t heard of them or read any of their material, here are some articles that might help get you started:

On behalf of Cleveland, thank you Josh and Ryan for your knowledge and wisdom so generously bestowed.

kid, you’ll move mountains

05/02/2012 by

oh the places you'll goDreams are a precarious thing. Prone to change, prone to falter, they can just as easily consume you as they can evade your grasp.

I’ve learned much about the pursuit of dreams these past 10 months – fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not sure which. As a friend of mine would say, “It’s not all kittens and butterflies.”

The intricacies of writing appear boundless, and my dreams seem to ride their own see-saw. One day inspired and the words flow effortlessly. The next day discouraged on a whim. When 1 hour = approx. 300 words, and the average short story ranges between 2,000 – 4,000 words . . . well, you get the picture. And that doesn’t even touch upon the rewrite, which takes longer.

This is not a craft for the weak-willed. Although I’m not sure any craft is, if one seeks to master it. Kittens and butterflies, certainly not.

But we’re just getting started. And in the words of Eli Young, keep on dreamin, even if it breaks your heart.

The submissions begin this week.

The need for motivation, self-discipline and perseverance – that lingers.

it’s the principle

04/06/2012 by

Think of the last time you got mad.

Got it in your head?

Tell yourself why you were mad.

Now ask yourself, “Was it worth it?”

Now ask yourself, “Really . . . was it worth it?”

I posted the other week about how I got angry at a coworker. In that time I’ve watched other people get angry and, as an objective observer, I can see the triviality of, well, of simply getting angry. Not to say they were wrong in the principle, mind you. But this has nothing to do with principle.

societal pressures

We feel a need to be angry because society tells us we should be. Our teachers, our parents, books and television have instilled in us what we dub “values” or “a code of honor” that we think must be correct. We get angry at something and then hide behind principle. We think we understand what’s right and what’s wrong.

When someone invades our privacy, we should feel violated. When someone shoulder bumps us in the hallway, we should feel indignant. When someone goes too slow on the highway (60 in a 60), we feel a personal affront to our character. We may say that we shouldn’t get mad at things like this, but as Seth Godin so aptly states, “We say we’d like people to think first and act later, but we get cut off in traffic and all bets are off.”

Seem out of whack? It isn’t. You do it. I do it, too (although I like to imagine I don’t get as angry as most people, but who knows?).

The interesting aspect of these societal pressures, and one of the only things that can get people to understand this concept, is one simple fact: if we were raised somewhere else, in a different time or by different people, our values would be very different.

Not an original thought, but one people understand on a mere intellectual level, not an intuitive one. Someone raised in Tehran does not have the same values as someone raised in Moscow. Someone raised in the 50s does not have the same values as someone raised in the 60s. You don’t have the same values as someone raised across the street from you.

We can escape these societal pressures if we make a conscientious effort day in and day out, moment to conscious moment. But it’s hard. Very hard. And maybe, for some people, it’s not worth it. And that’s OK.

Is it worth it for you?

Understand: we can control our reactions to outward stimuli. Only it’s not as simple as reading this blog post, agreeing with the principle of it, and moving on. (see above regarding effort)

there is a reason

There is a reason that person goes so slow on the highway. And it may not be as vindictive as you imagine.

There is a reason that person shoulder bumped you in the hallway. And it may not be that they are an asshole.

There is a reason that person invaded your privacy. And it may not have been with malicious intent.

There is a reason for everything everyone does, and failure to feel empathy for other people’s stories will result in the downfall of the individual.

And ultimately – and I do not make this claim lightly – of civilization.