The Long Road Behind, The Long Road Ahead

The New Year is freshly begun, and that universal milestone has come announced by a new set of goals and challenges. I spent the entirety of 2014 berating myself for not producing more writing output due to that annoying predisposition to debate whether what I’m thinking is even worth taking the time to capture, more so in then having to search for the words to commit them through. Getting overwhelmed by my own thinking and eagerly submitting to my inner-critic have been both obstacle and convenient excuse to getting the work done and the story told. Over the remaining days of the previous year, I started pushing myself to journal more (digitally and on paper) to get retrained with the ability to process and organize thoughts when they’re staring at you straight in the face; preparation for getting back to writing sessions that end with the push of a “publish” button.
Reading back through the archives to refresh my memory on what exactly I’d posted in past entries, I was pleasantly surprised at how not abysmally awful the thoughts I’d captured in text were put together. Though it is embedded throughout repetitive self-critical ruminative loops, there is a pretty accurate record of the journey and the progress I’ve made with myself as a whole. I broke myself down and pulled the pieces apart, severed all of my attachments, committed myself to self-betterment and the quest for knowledge and personal mastery – in effect, I’ve taken a very roundabout way to get to my personal knockoff variant of East Asian philosophy.
Long and arduous as that process has been, it was the easy part. Wiping the slate clean and turning myself into the nothing I felt like was like a very long downhill run – hell on the knees, but ultimately doable, you just have to maintain balance and not trip. But now I’ve reached a seminal turning point along this journey, where the time for reflection and recovery has expired; the challenge has shifted from “not being” and “becoming” towards action. It’s a personal admission and declaration I made a few times last year, but I was still missing the drive to power it with, too comfortable with being that hurt and helpless nobody and too scared of being incapable of becoming anybody else to fully commit to pushing myself further.
But it didn’t stop me from trying — and in my private attempts and subsequent failures to enact change throughout the past year, I found myself met with self-acceptance, patience, and compassion than the usual criticism, resentment, and loathing. After so much time rewiring my thought processes, I finally started lending belief towards the ideals I’ve been telling myself I ascribe to and the person I’ve made my goal to become. So begins 2015, with myself no longer focusing on how far I’ve fallen and why I hate myself, but with the clarity of mind to how it happened, and more importantly, what came from it all.

Affirmations

Email From a Former Employer
 
I was combing through my email archives earlier today, and came upon this old message from my previous employer, who was a long-time VP of account management for North America at Yahoo. Throughout the time I worked for under him, he regularly complimented me on my writing skill. The most honoring piece of feedback he ever gave me was in a face-to-face feedback session, wherein I was told that my writing and materials output was of much better quality and clarity than anything he ever saw in his time at Yahoo.
Back then, my depressed self accepted the praise graciously, but secretly refused to believe it. How could I, a nobody from a lower-middle income class family with a troubled past, produce something on par or better than professional executives with Ivy League accreditations? In the present, I firmly believe that I, nobody from a lower-middle income class family with a troubled past, am capable of producing top-quality work and results; that’s exactly what I’ve done in the stints of my past where I allowed myself to hold that belief.
Depression, awful enough in and of itself, has a tendency to kill self-esteem. Having struggled with both for an entire decade, their effects were still felt long after they’ve been conquered. Emotions aren’t binary, and no longer being depressed does not automatically make you happy. Similarly, refocusing the mind and silencing the oppressive inner critic doesn’t mean make you automatically self-loving and confident. It leaves you feeling as if a blindfold has been removed, allowing you to open your eyes to find yourself stranded in the middle of an empty desert, years in distance away from the last time you believed in yourself but at least capable of being able to make out which direction to head towards.
With all the ways in which the world is capable of making a person feel insignificant, undeserving, and worthless, it’s important to be able to allow yourself to accept the positive affirmations that come your way. A depressed mind will resist them fiercely, and will make very convincing misleading arguments to prove itself right. “That’s what they think, but they don’t know the real me.” “If I’m really that praiseworthy, why doesn’t anyone seem to think so when I need them to?” “What do they know, they’re just saying that to be nice.” And after doing so through a job of getting in the way of itself, the depressed mind will turn on itself, and berate the individual for being depressed and not being able to take control of life. Unchecked, that cycle repeats and spirals, waiting to be broken by the determination to enact change and the courage to think genuinely think positively of oneself.
Be determined. Be courageous. Be nice to yourself – you deserve it.

Permission for Ambition

So far, July hasn’t been a very good month in regard to physical activity and the ongoing weight loss project. Two weeks ago, I was incapacitated by prolonged TI band soreness. This week, it’s been the same with my calves. Pushing myself past the comfort of my running routines and embarking on muscle toning and growth exercises is shaping out to be just as physically painful and inconvenient as I expected it would be, but having started now there’s no choice but to see it through and keep pushing forward.
With all this downtime, I’ve been using the time of my day normally reserved for exercise to do some reflection and introspection — it’s been a good while since I’ve taken a personal “snapshot” for myself. Yesterday, I took the day off from work as I couldn’t even make it down the steps of the apartment complex with all the pain firing through my leg muscles. When I told my roommate that I’d be staying home and handed off the keys to the car so he could drive himself to work, he asked off-handedly if I had PTO to use for the day. I reactively laughed at the notion, since my primary source of income is still my temporary contract position doing admin work for a major bank and as a temp, I (and the majority of my co-workers) don’t get most of the benefits that come with a permanent full-time job.
As I spent the day at home putting my time to use towards my personal projects, I was surprised with how pleasant a mood I found myself in throughout the day on a weekday. When my mind wandered towards work, I realized that my elevated mood was a result of not being stuck in an enclosed room doing glorified data entry using outdated technology for a full eight hour shift. After posting that link to the article on LifeHacker about not needing permission to pursue one’s dreams, I started assessing myself through the lens of that piece of advice. One year ago, I was very happy to finally find a replacement source of income after that stint of unplanned unemployment. In the time since then, as I’ve recorded in previous entries throughout that time, I’ve been going paycheck to paycheck and barely keeping afloat financially. I’ve held in with the position in the hopes of having it turn to a full-time permanent position, but in the recent months it’s become clear that a secure long-term position is highly unlikely. Though I’ve considered searching for another job multiple times in the past year, I’ve been largely dissuaded by the memory of how difficult and time-consuming it was to find my current position. I’ve been intimidated and held back by my own fears and doubts, and over time I’ve sold myself a false sense of helplessness. Every day that I go in to work, I resent myself for allowing myself to have to spend my days doing something I dislike, doing unchallenging and mind-numbingly droll routine work instead of being part of meaningful projects that make the most of my capabilities. In focusing on the last year’s memories of stress and hardship, I’ve been betraying the true self that I’ve been so focused on embodying. Ignoring the relentless determination and ambition that fueled my great accomplishments of my early 20’s and acknowledging only my shortcomings and deficiencies.
The interconnected nature of the present day job market also adds to the pressure and doubt. The fields and positions that I’d be suited for lay largely unattainable; most require a college degree I don’t possess. Those that prioritize hands-on experience over academic accreditation I lack quantifiable recent demonstration of. In turn, the pressure has been placed on self-study in technological disciplines, honing my writing skills, and building a portfolio of work. In my head, this blog being only one Google search away from a prospective employer, the only out from my current predicament has seemed to wait until I can do x to do y in order to be able to do z and prove I’m capable of doing what I can. Save the money to buy the server space & domain to build the custom site and train up to being the writer the content to create a reader-base and prove to the world and myself that I’m capable of doing things I’ve already done. I’ve become so convinced that this difficult solution is the only one, completely ignoring that once upon a 2007, I coordinated multiple marketing campaigns with a globally distributed team promoting established Japanese music artists in overseas territories using an HP desktop equipped with Microsoft Office 2007 and a Nokia 6682 candybar phone. Now I have a powerhouse of a mobile office — MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad — yet all I do is update database tables using a dated terminal emulator and a proprietary webapp that requires Internet Explorer 8 to use.
After all the effort I’ve put towards matters of personal development over the recent past, I finally deem myself at a place where I can lay claim to self-actualization. In turn, being limited by such a myopic fear-based perception makes me a hypocrite. For the longest time, I was a self-doubting wreck mired in deep depression. I started publishing my experiences with it not just as a means to work through the issues, but also to openly explore and explain myself to the world. To be completely upfront with my challenges and lowly beginnings of the new story I intended to take on in life. My writing output has not kept pace with the internal change, and now I feel just as removed from the weak self-doubting wreck I was a year ago as I did from this better version of myself throughout the past decade. I don’t mean to abandon writing on those matters since I still cling to the hope that someone in a similar situation may find them to be of help in some way, but I also can’t continue to let cleaning up after the lesser past self of recent years keep dissuading me from seeking out opportunity.

Speaking of Failures

Art of Manliness – How to Fail and Live to Talk About It

Here are a number of reasons why you should consider throwing conventional wisdom out the window and talk about your failures, setbacks, and liabilities:

  • Talking about your failures can benefit others
    You weren’t the first to suffer a setback, and you won’t be the last. By talking about it openly, you will help others who come after you to adjust and cope.
  • Rewards come to those who are different
    As Seth Godin would say, it’s the purple cow who gets all the recognition. No one is interested in plain old boring black and white cows. Talking openly about your own failures and setbacks is still novel enough that it may differentiate you from the pack.
  • Talking about your failures can serve as good therapy
    A lot of people who do share their failures with others (rather than keeping them bottled up inside) say it lifts a burden off their shoulders. They feel more free to be themselves because they don’t have to live in fear of their “secret” getting out. And that, in turn, can help you thrive in your career in many ways.

A fantastic read on AoM on an idea that I wholeheartedly support – we’re moving past the ideal false image demanded by “personal branding”.

Emergence

As the month of May comes to its close, I can’t help but find myself drawing comparisons from my state in life then to how it is now. One year ago, I’d built up my credit and saved enough money to cut the final remaining links to my old life and move out of the family home, but found myself struggling with unemployment, lapsed bills, and persistent car trouble. In addition to addressing those obstacles, I was heavily preoccupied with the internal ones that I’ve written so much on throughout past entries. I’d decided that with the move, I’d officially end my social isolation and start testing out my reformed “self” in trying to reintegrate with my old life while still pushing in a new direction. In the process, there’s been a strong shift from spending all my time thinking things through towards enacting action.
Though there have been a few false starts and stumbles along the way, putting my idealized self into practice keeps becoming less and less difficult with every passing day. Everything that used to weigh on me and hold me back are no longer impassable obstacles. All the things I felt were missing from myself and how I experienced life have been put back in their rightful place. The goals and dreams that had started to feel like impossible lofty aspirations are now like projects waiting to be mapped out and strategically driven to completion. With the two I’ve been most focused on lately, I’ve been doing well at consistently losing weight over the past couple weeks, and on matters of the journey of self-rediscovery itself, it’s becoming a lot easier to identify and articulate what it was I had to process. Once you’re out of the chaos, it’s a lot easier to see the forest for the trees.
One year later, and I’m back in full form for the first time in the better part of a decade, ready to seriously outdo my old accomplishments. I’ve been keeping pace with my recently identified to-do’s, and waging a relentless assault on myself in the campaign for perpetual improvement. Life has fully regained it’s vivacity, flow, and meaning for me. It’s like waking up from a very long bad dream, finally back in actual full control of myself and my direction in life.
It’s going to be a summer of massive change and improvement on all personal fronts this year. I look forward to seeing myself on the other side of it.

MGTOW: Men Going Their Own Way

I was reading through the archive over at artofmanliness.com, and read about the MGTOW philosophy, which promotes the idea that “…because society no longer respects and honors masculinity, men should no longer strive to meet the traditional markers of manhood.” At first, I seemed like something I could get behind — the idea that standards of manliness could be reinterpreted for today’s modern world and place importance on the individual, prioritizing self-actualization and enjoyment of life above the expectation of building a career to provide for a family.
Yet, the more I looked into it, the more I found myself in disagreement with it. The message of self-sufficiency and independence is delivered through the derisive focus on on the difference between men and women and the promotion of generalizing stereotypes. It’s neo-misogyny under the guise of self-empowerment, dishonest and ungentlemanly in it’s nature. MGTOW is what happens when a philosophical men’s movement takes a wrong turn for the worst.

Unafraid

I compare myself to where I was just a year ago, and even already that person I was then feels like an entire lifetime ago. Around this time last year, I was just starting a new temp job with at a corporate office site for Union Bank, finally having found a new primary source of income after a rough unplanned two-month period of unemployment. I’d been so confident in my skill set and prior professional accomplishments that I didn’t anticipate finding a new job would be so hard a challenge. It was an enthusiastic hubris that made me blind to the reality that there are people with degrees (in some cases, even more than one) that have been struggling with long-term unemployment. In the months that followed, I juggled the intitial steps in beginning to realize my idealized self and the perpetual financial hardships that came from backlogged bills and unending auto repairs.
Throughout that time, counterproductive to my personal development goals, I grew weak in a new capacity. I subscribed to the “thankful to have a job” mentality, but also to the “beggars can’t be choosers” frame of mind that accompanies scarcity. I worked so hard at abandoning old unhelpful perceptions and self-imposed limitations, and adopted an entirely new set without noticing.
Now, after so much time working on rebuilding and reprogramming my self-perception and world outlook, I have an immense appetite for action and change. That unwavering self-confidence that once had me working 16 hour work days to coordinate an international ticket sale for a Japanese event promotional campaign is back under my command. The worst thing that can happen in life is for it to come to its end, and it’s a fate that we all share. Since the greatest our greatest shared fear is our common inevitability, why be afraid of anything that lies in between then and the present?
I’ve pushed aside pursuit of my passions to accommodate necessary practicality in life, and in continuing to do so contradict the persona I aspire to lay claim to. I see myself as capable, intelligent, and involved, and unafraid, and I need my reality to reflect it accordingly. Effective change requires a solid plan:

  • Aggressively assault the personal writing and weight loss projects I’ve already got running on this site.
  • Engage in meaningful work: to stretch the old marketing muscles, I’ve recently started working on helping a close friend develop her brand/business plan for a catering business she’s aiming to establish.
  • Find a new day job. I appreciate that my current one allows me to pay the bills, but the work I do is routine, meaningless, and fails to utilize my true potential, all without the benefit of development opportunities in new areas or career advancement.

Inner Calm in Ancient Disasters

When I set off on my inward journey to untangle all the inner chaos I was struggling with over the past few years, I went through the process largely unassisted after I decided to try to stand on my own and without my weekly psychological therapy sessions. Like most messes, the biggest hurdle was that I didn’t know where to begin. Once I managed to get started with the aid of my therapist, I felt an innate need see the rest through on my own. I’m a strong-minded individualist introvert, and I wanted, needed, to find my truer self without any external input.
Admittedly, I did experiment with the idea of reading some books on self-help and personal development, but I quickly found myself put off by the saccharine and almost dismissive they all seem to be. Live in the now, choose to be happy, forgive and forget, let the past stay in the past, move on, love yourself. I recognized that the ideas and attitudes that inspire those tropes were in line with how I would ideally view the world, but simply adopting a happier outlook couldn’t be the solution. I’d been avoiding accepting and facing my burdens through anger and repression, and doing the same thing under the guise of flippant positivity was a thought I wouldn’t even entertain. Though a strong and positive-minded mental state was what I desired, it needed to be a strongly affirmed philosophy I arrived at, not merely a pair of rose-tinted glasses to throw on. Yet that seems to be the popular prescription for such issues. Let it go, pain is an illusion. A poetic outlook that I knew had merit, but no reason to actually believe myself.
After my initial few months of the ascetic life — one where I my social interactions were limited to my co-workers at the office and my roommate — I had a night where I was in the mood to take in a good documentary to learn something new and get some visual eye candy to go with the information. I browsed the Netflix library, and came across Prehistoric Disasters, a series of hour-long episodes that review the history of Earth since its formation. I strongly encourage everyone to watch it, but for the sake of context, I’ll take my best stab at a brief summarization of it as a whole:

After the Big Bang, in the vastness of open space, two planet-sized rocks happened to be in the the right place and the right time to crash into each other. Not only that, they did it at just the right velocity that the two fused into one planet (Earth), and the resulting debris coalesced into the moon.
For a good long while after the collision, Earth burned red hot. Water formed from the gasses released by the burning and comets crashing into the planet, and Earth eventually iced over. As the ice started to melt, the biological and chemical reactions in the water served as the medium through which complex life would emerge from — the primordial soup. Plant and animal life flourished on planet, until super-massive volcanic eruptions wiped out most of existence. From the surviving species evolved the dinosaurs we all grow up knowing, which ruled the plant until the great asteroid strike that paved the way for life as we know it today.

On a general level, it was well presented and strongly supported scientific theory. On a deeper level, it sparked a massive philosophical shift for me. To accept that this world has come to be as a result of a chain of extremely serendipitous events considering the infinite scale of the cosmos renders me one of rare self-aware life forms in existence. Simply “being” is to have won the universe’s lottery multiple times over.
Seeing myself as an extension of extreme cosmic coincidence made everything else I’ve been through seem utterly trivial. Life is nothing more than a beautiful accident, and everything I’d endured had been the price I paid for the freedom I deeply desired. In the transition to adulthood, I lost my sense of oneness and greater scope of self-perception. I stopped seeing myself as a capable self-aware individual, and instead saw an embodiment of a failure to meet expectations, both of others of my own, across various aspects of life (social, professional, vocational, familial, romantic). Being so poignantly reminded of how infinitesimal and transient our lives are in relation to existence as a whole (in addition to being alone in my day to day life) pushed me outside of myself in every sense save the literal one, providing a long-sought feeling of freedom and catharsis. Everything that weighed on me started to feel more irrelevant with every passing day. All the good and the bad memories of the life I once knew became more like stories I experienced. My past is an immutable personal history, but it doesn’t need to be the foundation of my personal story.
In the two years since that night, I’ve been working relentlessly to cultivate and explore that mental outlook. As a result I now find myself once again in possession of self-trust and confidence strong enough to keep doubt from impeding action, and with a new emotional mastery to prevent the universe from making me its bitch. I ripped away every aspect of myself, afraid that at the end of the process all I’d be left with was a weak and defeated coward at my inner core. Instead, I found that unrelenting drive and guarded passion that <a href="http://thechexican.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/marketing/“>once afforded me massive accomplishments. 
Much better and more useful than a “positive attitude”.


tl;dr

Always mind how much external projections influence you. Social mores, constructs, and traditions are easy avenues for the social environment to impose itself on you. People will expect the best of you, and rare are those who are sufficiently receptive to discussing your shortcomings – people tend to overly avoid uncomfortable discussion. Turning a positivity-laden cheek isn’t a universal solution.
If you lose sight of yourself, start looking at the most basic level: as a self-aware being whose entire universe is a result of chance beating out near-infinite odds. Everything else is abstraction, and there’s as much wrong with abstaining from it as there is with participating in it. Do whatever it takes to give yourself the space, be it physical, mental, spiritual, and/or emotional, to stand on your own as your truest self in pursuit of your truest passions and ideas.
Pay your dues to the universe by not being a dick. Question everything and everyone including yourself, but make sure you don’t grow to distrust yourself. Spend every moment of every day working towards making tomorrow’s version of yourself better than today’s.