So a new year just started, and it’s a good chance to take inventory of where things are at in life.
If your life is picture perfect, then stop reading here (cause no one needs to hear about explosions and carnage if they are staring at a pretty sunset), but this is for my fellow brethren out there that are either
a) smelling gas
b) in the middle of an explosion all around them
c) are sitting in the uncomfortable aftermath, after the explosion.
Anyone that knows me, knows I love a good metaphor for an analogy, so I’ll give you a quick run through here and translate what I mean.
For me, from 2015 to many, many years prior, many in which I accomplished a lot, I knew something just felt off.
But I was engrossed in the circles that I was going in, and I didn’t know how to change it. Like the smell of gas, and the feeling that something was off, I couldn’t quite pin point the cause, and didn’t know where it was coming from. I was chalk full of busyness, and didn’t really know where to start to look or address it. So I just avoided it.
2016 was the year that the smell of gas turned into a full blown explosion and I sat amongst it, barely hanging on as everything around me, including myself, flew miles into the sky before crashing down hard and violently.
2017 was the quiet after the explosion. A quiet I had been longing for, for years. But it was uncomfortable, painful, a deafening silence. It was also the only place that I really could start to see some of the answers that the chaos of my life that I created, never really afforded me.
But it was lonely, it was hard, and some days I wondered if I was better off just staying in the days prior to the explosion, because sitting amidst the carnage of your life, staring at it and reflecting upon it, is a place that is as fun as a prison, except you’ve built the walls and the bars and written your own sentence to serve.
But it is the only place to truly start making changes.
2018 was when things started to clear. When I had the strength again to pick up a broom and started to sweep away the rubble.
With a clear mind, and a clearer understanding of myself and the world around me, I started to have space to build a foundation of who I wanted to be as a person, and how I wanted to operate in the world around me. Like an apple tree that was filled with apples, and had been shaken to the core, those few that were left through the violent shaking, were the clarity of who mattered in my life. They were the who and what to invest my time and energy in moving forward, a clarity not often afforded amidst the chaos.
I woke up New Years Day 2019 with a bang- a really big business opportunity on my computer and an email from one of my most fave humans, a relationship I was truly worried I fucked up after the bomb, messaging me to let me know that we were cool. Letting me know he was going through his own bomb himself which was why he had disappeared. (Right … that world outside our own little bubble).
So with that all being said, in the spirit of reflection and all the good things that a new year brings, here are some learnings and observations, from someone that’s quite a few steps into that journey, if you’re smelling the gas, in the middle of the explosion, or sitting in the silent aftermath.
LESSON 1: LISTEN AND ACKNOWLEDGE THAT LITTLE VOICE THAT TELLS YOU LIFE ISN’T LOOKING THE WAY THAT YOU WANT IT TO
I have kept a journal since I was 10. For the record, at about the age of 11, I started questioning the meaning of life, so shit got deep real fast. That being said, it actually makes me sad when I read my journal from about my mid 20’s to my mid 30’s.
I was just in a constant state of inner turmoil, which for the most part, I couldn’t even really put a name to, but it was just page after page, of just feeling unhappy and not knowing what I needed to do to change it. The cast of characters and situations changed, but the common thread was a deep unhappiness. I knew I wanted to change it, I just didn’t know how.
LESSON 2: HAVE THE COURAGE TO CHANGE THINGS (YOU WILL NEVER REGRET IT)
I could call it bravery, or just having had enough, but I think the changing point for all of us happens when the monster that we fear on the other side of shaking our lives up, becomes less scary than the one that is in front of us.
I could talk about how shitty some of the people I had surrounded myself with at that point were, but another thing I have learned is that who we are and where we are at, is reflected in those who are around us. And its important to acknowledge our role in that.
I felt like shit about myself, and it was reflected in people who I hung out with, who also deep down didn’t feel good about themselves. They bullied me, talked tons of shit behind my back as I stood there unknowingly, affecting other relationships I had with people in a way I didn’t understand. People who stole from my business…I could go on, but I won’t. It was the climax of many years of feeling like shit about myself and it was reflected in the life that I had created around me, that I take full responsibility for.
To change things, you need to remove yourself from a situation to get perspective.
For me, this came when I took a trip to Thailand for the first time in the end of 2015 to visit a friend from Canada. After visiting her, I serendipitously closed my eyes, pointed at an island and landed in Ko Samui at a fitness camp, and for the first time in over a decade, I just felt happy.
I knew from that point, I could not go back to where I had been and who I had been around, and no matter what would happen, I needed to change my life.
So I promptly closed a profitable business, and sold my house for a loss and went from being financially very good to med school debt (without the med school degree) in the course of about 6 months. I braced for the explosion that followed all of those decisions, which swiftly and violently came, in some ways even worse than I had anticipated. One at some points I didn’t think I would survive.
And for the record: best (and hardest) fucking thing I have ever done.
LESSON 3: PUTTING YOURSELF FIRST (AND NOT HAVING ANY GUILT)
In this day and age where social media has displayed the inherent narcissism of the human race, ironically, many of us, struggle with putting ourselves first.
There are many reasons for this: perhaps you were socialized from when you were a kid to be kind and nice to everyone, and feel some kind of validation in doing so. Some of us grew up in situations where because of circumstance, we end up worrying and caring for those around us, and never really learn to take care of ourselves. For others of us, there is a form of narcissism in the kick it gives us to do something nice for someone and the reward it gives us in being deemed “a good person.” A hallowed checkmark that makes us feel special and better than everyone else if you will.
I have sat on a million airplanes, and like everyone else, have tuned out when the stewardess starts to talk about putting on your own gas mask first before you can put on anyone else’s around you.
But I finally get it and listened, and started applying it to my own life.
This year has been an exercise in saving myself first before trying to save the world. I have learned to be selfish, I have learned to say no, I’ve learned to put up boundaries that hurt people’s feelings. And I’ve learned to not care if I’ve pissed off anyone in doing so.
And for the first time I feel truly free. And I’ve become a better person and a better friend because of it.
Because what’s the point of saving the world, if you haven’t deemed yourself worthy enough of saving yourself.
LESSON 4: BEING WILLING TO SIT IN SILENCE (IT SUCKS/IF IT WAS EASY EVERYONE WOULD DO IT)
One thing that I have become extremely in tune with over the last few years is how, especially in Western society, we are so prone to numb our unhappiness and traumas.
With alcohol. With relationships. With money. With children. With academic success. With drama. With sex. With judging others. With being intensely focused on climbing some kind of a ladder to somewhere.
Heroin addicts get a bad rap in our society, yet really they are just doing what most of us are doing, except their chosen method is visibly destroying themselves.
The irony being, that most of us are doing the same thing in a different way: Numbing our pain so we don’t have to deal with whatever has caused it.
Why do we do this? Because the idea of dealing with pain is very fucking scary and most of us don’t even know how to start climbing that mountain and what and where it could lead to.
And so we don’t, because the devil we know, is less scary than the one we don’t. And plus, we get pats on the back for accomplishments, a sense of security in relationships, and our pleasure receptacles satisfied on a night when we’re out having an epic night drunk or having amazing sex.
So we are distracted for a moment, but it all leads back to the same empty place.
Make no mistake about it, because of consciously dumping my own numbing methods, 2017 was the worst and the best year of my life.
The worst because silence is painful.
Self reflection is painful.
Diving into the wounds of your past and the trainwreck of your life that you’ve created is painful.
Taking responsibility for your actions, and the hurt you’ve caused other people and not blaming anyone else is painful.
I could go on. But you get the picture. It’s not nice. But as someone that’s come out on the other side, like anyone that’s got up and gone to a training session they really didn’t want to go to, I feel grateful and amazing for having put myself through the suffering.
Best of all, the biggest gift I’ve gotten out of it is clarity.
A powerful lesson being: you truly don’t know what you want, until you know and faced who you truly are.
And you don’t truly know who you are until you take the time to slow down and really listen and stare into and accept the most vulnerable parts of yourself. The good and the bad. As fucking uncomfortable and overwhelming as it all can be.
LESSON 5: NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN KNOWING YOUR OWN WORTH
And I’m not talking about crushing the game of social media likes.
Our world is such an interesting paradox. At first glance, our world looks like a place that fucking loves itself. All you need to do is pick up your phone, download Instagram, and scroll through a feed of people trying to prove to everyone how great their life is. We are all guilty of it. As humans we are incredibly narcissistic and insecure, and we only need to check out the monetary value of companies such as Snapchat and Instagram to prove the point.
Yet, most of us truly struggle with knowing our own worth.
I have an exercise I’ve invented where I literally just pour love on myself mentally in the morning as I am lying in bed when I wake up. It helps, as I think our own mental health is something that we need to exercise daily and keep up like our own physical health. (If you’ve read this far, congrats, you’ve learned an embarrassing new fact about Ciara that you can make fun of me for in person the next time we meet).
That being said, through my life I’ve sat in and observed many different realms.
Ivy League schools, professional soccer teams, travelling through different countries, sitting in my own hometown. People with money. People without. Older people, younger people. Guys, girls. People that are single, people with families. Different cultures and continents.
They are different places, yet all realms are the same: we are all guilty of searching for worth through things to fill the lack that many of us feel about ourselves.
There are many places we search for that worth: For some it is the job, the bank account, for others how hot and the number of people they have slept with. Others find worth in their family, or their career accomplishments. Others choose the physical and find worth in their body fat level or the team that they are on. It is a monster that is found in many different forms, wrapped in the paper of many different realms.
The shitty thing about getting our worth this way, is that it will never be enough.
The chase is exhausting. I know this because I’ve spent a good part of my life operating this way. Ironic to put all this work into running after self worth when I’ve realized after this journey, that it’s simple when you’ve exercised the muscle of self-worth through casting away the numbing and getting to the bottom of yourself.
You don’t need a fat bank account, or a hot partner, or a great job, or playing on amazing teams or getting a million likes on social media.
You don’t need to put effort into any of that anymore. Life is still hard and still challenging, and there are days I feel like shit.
But man is life so much less complicated and energy consuming when you feel good about yourself. There is so much more space to feel grateful about what you have and who you are, when you are not chasing your worth through artificial means every day.
I’m more than 2000 words deep here, and I realize there is so much more I could say. But I’ll end with a little bit of encouragement to those of you out there that are feeling on the inside like something is a little bit off.
I’m not going to sit here and say that getting to the bottom of that unsettling feeling is going to be easy. But what I will say, is that truly taking some time to investigate it, that it is something you’re never going to regret (although there will be many shitty days).
If life has exploded, hang in there, take things day by day, I promise it is going to get better. You are brave for going there and there is much good stuff to come even if you can’t see it right now.
And if you are post explosion, sitting in the silence, seeing the carnage everywhere, and not sure you can take any more self-reflection, keep leaning in, the good part is right around the corner.
Heading into 2019, I finally feel peace and for the first time I can truly say I feel good about all parts of myself and from that good inward place, the outward things really feel like they are starting to flow.
More importantly, at the end of the day, inner peace and feeling good about myself are the only kinds of accomplishments that I’ve ever truly sought, and were worth every bit of the bad that I had to go through to get there, and the foundation in which I only ever want to build on, moving forward.