Transitional Stagnation

Time really flies when you’re not paying close attention to it. I’ve pulled up the blog in my browser to check when my last entry was and to refresh myself on what I’d written, and I’m surprised to find that the last one was put up all the way back in September, the day right before I started my then-new job. I could have sworn that I’d composed updates during the time in between, but apparently those were private DayOne journal entries I’m thinking of.

Since that last update, things have been moving along in certain areas of life, and completely stagnating in others. Following my change in employment, I took October & November “off” from my various personal projects and dedicated myself specifically to my running and becoming deeply acquainted with my new job. In the recent weeks, my physical status has started to slide backwards on the decline. Winter is generally an unfavorable time of year for me. The drop in temperature and the earlier nights make it easy to rationalize not going on a run. Mentally and emotionally, the focus on family unity that comes with the holidays has historically taken a heavy toll on me. While it hasn’t been as prevalent as in years past, it has been causing me enough discomfort to drive me to use food as a crutch; I’m now fluctuating in a range dangerously close to breaking back up in the 200’s. Couple that with bouts of random back and joint pain (and the resulting recovery periods) from back when I was more actively pushing on the physical front in the fall, and it all adds up to a pretty unpleasant time to be living life in my body.
However, as I wrote to myself earlier in a journal entry, a brand new year is quickly approaching – not just a calendar year, but the marking of another year since birth as well. I’ve only got one more year of life in my 20’s left, and the pressure to progress on the personal roadmap I laid out for myself years ago is really starting to bear down on me. There’s a beginning of a whole new narrative to my life that’s finally within reach, and I’m no longer held back by all the mental-emotional burdens I’ve known all my adult life.
Progress and setbacks all accounted for, things are in an overall good place. I’ve been opening myself back up to my writing, and have started warming up the engines on all my personal development projects. These past couple months pouring all my focus into my job were a nice respite from focusing exclusively on myself. Now that it’s time to get back to work, harder than ever before.

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.

Delineation

Earlier this week, I sat down to write my monthly snapshot in my journal. When I finished and compared it against last month’s snapshot and the blog posts in the time between, I was surprised to find that almost an entire month has gone by since I’ve made an update. Which is something that I’ve long been wanting to change, and now have a pressing need to finally put into action. My last entry touched upon a variety of career related struggles I’m wrestling with:

  • Being 28 and not having a degree or certification
  • Feeling like I’m limited to where I’m at because of how hard it was to find my current job when I was unemployed last year
  • The feelings of self-loathing and resentment I have for “not being able” to improve my financial & professional station
  • The feeling of uselessness from having my most noteworthy professional accomplishments lie so far in the past
  • The obligatory explanation for why and how I write

In distilling that post into concise pieces, it’s easy to see that the common underlying problem has been succumbing to the trappings of “feeling”. Or as a philosophical stoic would call it, “unhelpful perception”.
In my day to day life over the past few years, I’ve reclaimed my sense of self and confidence. As I represent myself here, I haven’t moved very much past the weak and senseless wreck I used to be a few years ago. Initially, it was necessary. It was a way to writing was a theraputic form of self exploration (which happens to be the tag I’ve grouped those past posts under), and it satisfied a craving to know that it was possible in some way for my real thoughts and struggles to be knowable.
But the ultimate goal was to move past it all, and having done so, my personal site should reflect that. I can’t very well claim to be capable at content creation & strategy skills if my personal site is an abject mess using a past self as an excuse.
This week, I’ve been working on establishing a better organizational hierarchy and navigation flow, updating my about page (both here and on various other websites), and planning future content formats. I hold no illusion about being a hard sell at being a 28 year old generalist with no degree, but I’m also once again willing to trust in professional track record with exceeding expectations and earning the respect of all my past employers & partners. It’s time to truly start fearlessly putting it all to work again.

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.

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.

Running

In my adult years, running has become a very integral part of my life. When I engage in conversation with others about my experience with the weight loss journey and the progress I’ve made since my teenage years, it feels as if people are disappointed to hear that the drastic changes I’ve made to my body over the years have been brought about by hours spent jogging the city streets and not the result of some magic pill. These conversations ultimately end with myself on the receiving recognition for what I’ve accomplished and praise for all the work I do presently. It’s then that I start feeling both amazed and amused with myself and my life at present — because I used to hate running.
I’ve been a stocky kid. I maxed out on the scale at the end of my time in high school. At the age of 17, I clocked in at almost 260 lbs in a 5’ 10″ average body frame; in other words, with an alarmingly high volume of body fat who somehow still managed to feel comfortable in his own body.

Me as I looked/weighed in 2006-2007
Me, as I looked as a teenager

As I started transitioning into my early adulthood years, I decided to start taking a stronger proactive stance on my health & appearance, and set out to “get in shape”. After sufficient progress, I got complacent at just above the 200lb mark. Over time, I eventually started putting the weight back on. In 2011, I started pushing myself to get onboard the fitness train and fully commit. My initial efforts weren’t so great:
Screen-Shot-2012-08-20-at-11.36.30-PM.png
Average pace of 15 minutes per mile. Rough.

And I paid for them in pain, on multiple levels:
blisters.JPG
EVERY run resulted in new blisters in new places.

 
These days, I’m able to do much better as a runner.
Running Log - Middle School Track
After hiking up and down Cowles Moutain, I decided to swing by the old middle school and run the old “one mile” track. I never finished a mile in under 13 minutes back then.

I have a 5.3 mile route that I run at least 3 times a week, and I’m working on putting together a data capture system so that I can start aggressively applying quantified-self principles and adopt a structured training plan with a system in place to track and measure progress. I’ve also started doing more weight/endurance training to encourage muscle growth, since straight cardio isn’t cutting it on it’s own anymore. In that respect, I’m dealing with basic weight lifting all of the annoyances of building up stamina and hardiness that I encountered when I started running. As soon as I break under 190, I’m going to start experimenting with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as well. I really want to be in prime condition to complete a 10K, at the very least. If I have my way, I’d be interested in testing my merit against the challenge of a half-marathon in the not so distant future.
That’s the story of how I went from being the 250lb teenager who couldn’t run more than 800 ft. without getting a gnarly side-stitch and could barely squeeze in a mile in under 15 minutes that HATED running to an adult in his late 20’s whom, despite having a long-sustained (and resented) smoking habit and still being of a heavier body weight, has developed a deep and real fondness for it. And if I could do it, it’d take a set of really special circumstances for anyone else to not be able to do the same.

Reorientation

In one of last month’s entries, I expressed a feeling of the burden of having to “clean up” after myself. Finding a starting point for that effort has been a troublesome process. In the time so far, I’ve used what little time I’ve been able to allot to my writings trying to think of what to write next to move the process along, each day passing filled with unsatisfactory ideas. Invariably, I lose patience, and shift my focus to jumping haplessly across all the various other things I’m currently working on. Of all my projects, the two that I feel carry the most importance are my weight-loss progress and the development of my writing abilities. Since they’ve become so deeply intertwined, a lack of progress with one can drastically affect the other.
As I’ve been mulling the problem over in my head, one detracting factor I identified for myself is my detachment from the larger narrative that I’m currently working with. There’s been so much that’s happened even the last year alone that I’ve forgotten a lot of what it was that I wrote. Over the past couple hours, I’ve spent my evening re-reading all of my previous entries, both published and privately archived, to fully reacquaint myself with the story of me that my younger past selves have established so far. They’ve proven to be a very helpful read. After spending so much time honing my skill at the art of detachment over the recent years, I’ve been living in a state of suppression wherein my past has been treated as a set of foreign memories that I have collected in my brain as opposed to my own actual life story. It’s been very helpful in affording me the distance & emotional divestment to process and resolve all of my past unresolved issues, but it’s also made it hard to lay claim to my “self” if my self perception is so myopically focused on the constant transitional nature of life.
Having all the outstanding matters I’ve written about in the recent past fresh in mind, it requires very little effort on my part to figure out my next steps. The more I lower my guard against myself and begin to embrace my past and my life as my own, the more I find myself reconnecting with that “flow” whose constant presence I’ve missed. Those times where I manage to find it via a “runner’s high” is probably a good reason why I’ve come to enjoy running so much. Similarly, I recently read about a study linking emotions to decision-making, and am open to the idea that all the effort I exerted in such strenuous emotional repression may have been a strong cause behind all of the analysis paralysis I’ve struggled with.
If I were faced with the dreaded “tell me about yourself” interview question just mere weeks ago, I would have been unable to provide a satisfactory response. I wouldn’t have known where to begin; for so long, my story has been focused on recovering from a mental-emotional crisis, trying to rediscover the better parts of myself while wrestling with a transient-near-nihilistic outlook on life. I became the weakness and lamentations so thoroughly that I forgot all about my past strengths and accomplishments. Now, I’d be able to effectively communicate my story, as it stands so far. It’s not yet reached the point where it gets really good yet, but I can at least now see myself moving steadily in the proper direction.