The Chaco’s told me everything…
It the summer before my first college semester, I was 18 years old and about as dumb and naive as they come. Full of excitement, vigor and dreams I walked across campus to my appointment for a career planning meeting. The appointment was with my college counselor and we were looking into possible career paths. My counselor Dave, was in his early 40’s, had dark Spanish features, with curly mid length black hair with some strands of gray. He had an athletic build (a runner and bicyclist) and wore those hippie Chaco sandals (sometimes referred to as lesbian sandals) along with a pair of worn blue jeans. He sat in his chair with an ease about him, his legs crossed in a relaxed manner fully displaying his green and black Chaco sandals.
Typical college counselor.
Dave spoke in a soft voice but in a manner that was very direct. He talked about the importance of choosing a major early, picking a career choice that is right for you and other college counselor stuff.
The words he was saying were encouraging and positive but his body language and sub communications revealed his was thinking something else. He spoke to me in manner that made me feel uneasy. It was as if he knew something I did not and was not going to tell me. I could tell something was off, but being 18 years old I thought he was just being weird.
Dave pulled out a folder which had a series of handouts with a series of bar graphs showing the average salary of various professions. His goal was to help us pick a career path and then build an academic schedule that was in alignment with that career.
Simple enough right?
Of the many career options one stuck out to me; ENGINEER. With a starting salary of $65,000!!! (I was making about 7.25/hr at the time) Given my interest in science, engineering was a no brainer for me.
Dave and I continued to talk and we hammered out the rest of the details. With a set career path, academic schedule and the next four years of my life planned out, I felt at ease.
Four years later, I graduated (somehow) and set out to get a job in the sciences or engineering. One thing college did not prepare me for was the housing market/job market collapse of 2008. Being a spring 2009 Grad, I was completely f**cked.
After applying at over 100 different positions and not hearing a peep back from anyone, my first professional “This F***ing Sucks” moment happened. I moved back in with my parents and the I quickly realized, that my dreams were not turning out the way I had imagined.
It was at this moment I came to the conclusion that my college education was completely worthless and that Dave (college counselor) knew this as well.
On a positive note, I learned a lot about the word “Recession“.
Has your life turned out as you had imagined?
I pushed through the grind, hustled, took crappy jobs and eventually…. I got the engineering job I was hoping for. I could finally relax and spend the rest of my life working until age 65. Buy a house, have 2.5 kids and get a dog.
Life was complete, right….
I started working and eventually got into the 9to5 routine. Like many people I became a zombie. Not like the one you see in the Walking Dead, but just as boring. I would spend days staring at the wall in my cube taking absolutely no action to make my situation better. Some mornings I would not even remember my 45 minute drive to work.
How the hell can you spend nearly an hour doing something and then have no memory of what you just did?
The days dragged on and the years flew by and I slipped deeper and deeper into unconsciousness. Seriously, I do not remember much from age 23-25. Those years are completely lost for me.
I wasn’t miserable, but I also wasn’t happy. I was comfortable.
Why you are Disappointed with your life???
Pushing through resistance and comfort
We get comfortable even in crappy situations because modern adults are amazing rationalizers.
When we rationalize we create success barriers for ourselves. Can you think of a person why is incredible at finding every reason not to take action and make their life better? Do they plan on doing everything “later” or “tomorrow”? Do they see all of the negatives and none of the positives? Maybe they wish they were living in a different time “when things were more simple”?
One of the reasons for this, is that comfort creates complacency. Our brains our wired to keep us safe and be completely afraid of the unknown. We can make all sorts of evolutionary reasons for this, but that is for another post.
It is really easy to stay with the devil we know and extremely hard to get out of a comfortable situation.
When we are in a comfortable situation (most westerners are) you have to continuously put pressure on ourselves to do the things we must in order to improve our life situation. Push through the resistance that comfort creates. It is necessary to build a strong willpower. (Read more about resistance in Steven Pressfield’s book the War of Art)
Should you be afraid of the unknown?
Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen if I take action and do (fill in the blank)? Keep asking yourself this question. If you don’t find anything that you are really afraid of then keep moving on.
Most people get stuck in comfort and never grow out of it. Look at most people who have been working for 10+ years. Do they look like someone you want emulate? What do you think will happen if you continue to live your life in the same fashion that they do?
How to Fix your life
If you have found the motivation to start working on yourself, then the real work has just begun. I am going to talk about five different areas that are all interconnected and build upon each other. They should be viewed as whole and not separate parts.
Just a warning…This may get a little “hippie-woo-woo”. I had to put on my grass skirt and walk around barefoot in order to write some of this stuff.
The First Fix: Realize you are responsible for your own happiness.
Do you find yourself getting mad at the TV when your favorite sports team loses or the current Bachelor contestant is a bitch? How about when the guy rolling your burrito at doesn’t do a good job sealing it and your hands get messy? Are you pissed?
The problems with this way of living:
- You are always at the mercy of your environment, you are never in control.
- You are the one who is being acted upon.
- Someone is playing the game and it isn’t you.
- This is life on the sidelines as a spectator (not a player).
Where did you go wrong?
Drawing your state (emotional set point) from your external circumstances is a lose-lose scenario. In order to fix this, you must learn to generate state from within yourself.
No one is going to make you happy unless you start consciously doing this. If “state” is simply a measure of your personal happiness, does it make any sense at all to have your current environment dictate how happy you can be? No effin way.
Realize you can be happy doing anything. This is not a reason to stay in a shitty situation but know that you are responsible for your own happiness.
When you understand this, it will hit you like a ton of bricks. Check out How to Start a Gratitude Journal for more info.
This one is a game changer.
The Second Fix: Let Go of your Ego
The biggest mistake I have ever made with my ego, is thinking I do not have one. Egos are for assholes, or so I thought.
Exercise: A quick test to see if you have an ego:
Ask yourself: “Do I ever compare myself to others?”
If the answer is yes, then you have an ego.
It’s not your fault, we live in a magic pill society where It’s all about ego enhancement. Pretty much from the time you could speak, your ego was being constructed. It was impossible to avoid.
Your ego, is your costume you wear. It’s not really you. You created it by finding what separates you from everyone else and then focusing on those differences. It is based on external factors you can’t control.
The Ego is:
- Logical evidence about you and why you can feel confident. It is a RESULTS base identity. Example: I made 100,000 dollars last year, therefore I am successful and can feel happy for myself.
- People’s opinions about you. Example: My friends think I am good looking.
- Rationalizations about you. Example: My friends think I am good looking and I made 100,000 last year, therefore I am attractive.
- Comparisons you make. Example: I made more money than my best friend last year.
- Based on differences and separateness. Example: What separates me from everyone else is my looks, money and my car.
Your ego by nature is false. It’s never as accurate as you think. It’s a fake construct that you made.
How does the ego form and where does is come from?
As a kid you always had self-esteem. Seriously look at any kid. Most of them live life completely care free, with no perception of the judgment and separateness that plagues modern adults. Kids stay this way, until they get wounded by someone’s judgment, negative perception or insult, which wounds them deeply.
The ego quickly steps in and fills the holes of self esteem (more to come on self esteem).
To fill in those wounds, your subconscious created the pillars of your ego so that you can still feel confident. However the foundation is shaky.
Quick ego story: I had a teacher at Dinosaur camp (no i’m not kidding) when I was about 7 years old who freaked out on our class because a few boys were being talkative. She screamed at the top of her lungs in a very violent manner “Shut Up!!!!!! and STOP TALKING”. For whatever this is an incredibly vivid memory for me and it wounded me. As a result I started mumbling my words and still carry a lot of tension in my upper chest and throat.
Reflective Exercise: Take 5 minutes and think of the nasty things people said to you when you were a kid. Think of everything negative you said to other kids growing up.
How to get rid of the ego:
Do things that connect you to common humanity. Volunteer, spend time with kids or people less fortunate than you. Any opportunity you have to put yourself out there, you should. Meditation and journaling are also huge here. They allow you to pause and reflect on what is going on in your life. You are able to see patterns and if you are in the cause or effect.
Also check out Bioenergetics by Elliott Hulse. This can be a really useful tool for removing some of the physical elements of the ego.
The Third Fix: Get Centered and start living in the present moment.
Do you find yourself thinking about the future or past? Do you worry about your actions that happened in the past that have absolutely no bearing on your circumstance today? How about that voice in your head (the one that tells you, you are an idiot when you mess up)?
How intense is the internal chatter?
Learn to stop it.
One of the most powerful things I have ever done for myself was start a meditation practice. It is absolutely essential on this journey. In a world where everyone is relying on external stimulation to feel anything. You should learn how to live in the present moment, turn off the internal chatter and feel happy just because you want to.
Imagine being able to enjoy a few minutes with yourself, without the constant stimulation of your iPhone/android.
Take 5-15 minutes every day and remove any external input. Go into your body and focus on your breath.
Don’t seek happiness in the future. Happiness is in the now.
The Fourth Fix: Get back your self esteem
Self-esteem is a hard concept to describe, mostly because it is indescribable. Self-esteem is about common humanity. It is based on the concept of oneness.
- You are born with it and have it as a child. Example: Look at any kid frolicking around. Have you ever seen someone more carefree?
- It’s indescribable (you can’t explain it)
- It’s Built through the ACTIONS (not Results) that you take. Example: You decide to take action and learn how to be a more effective communicator. You commit and learn the new skill until you are proficient. The act of taking action creates more self-esteem, not the result of your actions.
- It’s self-sustaining and grows every time you challenge yourself. Example: writing this blog causes me to challenge myself to create better content, describe my ideas with added clarity and learn from the mistakes I make.
- It’s Based on common humanity and oneness. Example: You take action and decide to approach a hard to handle situation with a loved one from their side of the argument. Doing so creates a better connection and opens up other channels of communication.
When you take positive action in your own life, your self-esteem increases. You quit identifying with the result of your action and just decide to feel good, because you did your part by taking action. It is how you generate state from within yourself and stop relying on others to feel good.
How do I create more Self Esteem?
Once again…Self-esteem is only built through YOUR actions. You create greater self-esteem by pushing yourself and challenging yourself and messing up. You learn from those mistakes and move on. You become better, more grounded and solid as a person. You are no longer a little whipping boy/girl.
Focusing on taking ACTION and developing self esteem, forces you to stop pondering about the RESULTS of your life.
Whenever you make a decision, ask yourself “Is this connecting me to my self-esteem or distracting me from it?” . If it’s distancing it from you, don’t do it. Don’t compromise yourself.
Become centered in who you are.
The Fifth Fix: Start walking your path, not the one chosen by your parents or society
Are you on your path? Have you found where your passion and purpose lies? Or have you ever considered it?
Contrary to popular 1950’s social conditioning, you do not have to just work to collect a paycheck. You can find things that excite you and make life worth living. Even if you do live the 9to5 lifestyle, you can still find a deeper meaning and connection to the people around you and your environment.
One of my favorite exercises for finding your passions is the Steve Pavlina find your life purpose exercise.
Exercise (from Steve Pavlina):
- Take out a blank sheet of paper or open up a word processor where you can type (I prefer the latter because it’s faster).
- Write at the top, “What is my true purpose in life?”
- Write an answer (any answer) that pops into your head. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. A short phrase is fine.
- Repeat step 3 until you write the answer that makes you cry. This is your purpose
After completing it, go back in a week and start from where you left it. Continue until you get there. It took me about 4 sessions and a month to really focus in on what I wanted to do. I’ll give you a hint it involves this blog :)
Here is a sample from my first attempt:
Once you find your path and purpose, if it is not in alignment with what you are currently doing, that’s ok. You’ll want to start making life decisions which are in alignment with what you really value. There is no need to burn the boats and the supplies, especially when you are finding your way.
Are you sticking to your path?
One way to determine if you are on your path, is to use Positive and negative emotions as your guide.
Simple enough, right?
Negative emotions-are an indicator of something wrong or that you may not be on your path.
- When you are starting out, you will have many negative emotions which will try to stop you from making your life better. Some call these success barriers or personal roadblocks.
- Find the emotional anchors to the negative emotions and become conscious of them. Once you become aware of the negativity, you can cut it quicker and quicker. Once you are aware of them, you can knock them out.
- Example: You have a strong negative emotional reaction towards going to your job in the morning. This means something in your life is out of alignment, with what you really want.
Positive Emotions-are an indicator that you are on the correct path.
- Are an indicator that you are moving towards what you want
- Whenever you do something that gets moves you further on your path, naturally you will feel good.
- Example: You start a coaching gig on the side, which reconnects you to the energy of children and you feel good because you are being proactive in your free time.
This is the juice of life.
Revisiting the Phases… for a Successful Person
A common theme I see with many people in the self-development community is they get to a point where their motivational seesaw tips. See The “No more, Never Again” phase above. This is the point where you get so much motivational leverage that the thought of staying the same is so painful that you absolutely must make changes in your life.
Using that emotional and motivational leverage most self development gurus begin their path of mastery. Once you cross this bridge there is no turning back.
As you continue your path you’ll find out soon that it is not all sunshine and rainbows. In fact the shit hits the fan pretty quick.
At the beginning when I was going through this, I could not relate with anyone anymore. I felt like I was on an island. Movies, TV, books, people and normal conversation were so bland to me. When I was not challenging myself and walking my path, I could not just chill out and enjoy the company of the people in my life who matter most. This is one of the major draw backs to The “Break Down of Everything you believe to be true” Phase. It really is a breakdown of your ego and former self. Quite frankly it sucks.
My advise… keep pushing through, challenging yourself and take a break every once in a while. You do not have to be hardcore hyper ADD like me. Your friends and family will enjoy your company much more.
Light at the end of the tunnel
In a society where absolutely no one has patience and we want everything right now, personal development takes time. Removing the layers of social conditioning and your ego usually takes years (depending on the person). This is one of the reasons that most people stop improving themselves and stay in The “Comfort” phase.
I’m still not there.
What I find is that every day i’m getting .001% better. Every day I get a little less needy, my ego shrinks more, I get more centered, more relaxed, more Zen, more confident, more centered in Self Esteem and the internal chatter gets turned down a bit. (These concepts really clicked for me after reading Spiritual Enlightenment)
Focus on taking action and becoming process oriented. If you are focused on the results of your efforts, you will never get there.
Wrapping things up
If you are stuck, unhappy or just want more out of life, there is still hope.
Understand, that you are responsible for all of the actions you take. Figure out your purpose and start making life changes that are in alignment with that purpose.
Believe in yourself, even if a man in Chaco’s does not.
Holy Crap…. Almost 3,000 words
Reward yourself by listening to One of my Favorite Songs from the 90’s which has absolutely nothing to do with this post.