Every day, my inner Molotov cocktail thrower seems determined to make sure my “hopes and dreams” never become a reality. Who are you? Who’s gonna care what you do, or say, or write? You’re wasting your time. You’re a nobody. A loser. Give it up. Go crawl in your hole!
I don’t think of myself as being overly pessimistic, any more than my multiple-x daily mental reboots are Pollyannaish. Certainly, I’m dealing with depression, anxiety and irrational fear. Probably like a lot of people. And so my go-to remedy is…(??) Well, to just as irrationally keep working, writing, making music… trying to get something out there. Every day. Because… well, for no other reason than what else can I do?
Of course, I know it’s a real possibility that some—most?—of the amazing music and writing and art and ways to make the world a better place that’re all shining brightly and swirling around in my head will never see the light of day here on Earth. (SFX: crickets chirping) So…?
How does that make me feel? Well, deflated. Powerless. Invisible. And though that may seem uninspiring, at best, or even fatalistic, I can honestly live with whatever happens. Imagine that! I’m somehow at peace (mostly). I still do care. And yet, deep in my soul, I… kinda… don’t. And in any event, I’m still here. So there must be some reason for all of this! I mean, right??
This is my existential exercise, more or less, every single day before I write even one word. And if it’s a good day, the next thing I’ll do is reassess everything and wrestle with all of my “to do” lists: Is this worth doing? Where do I start? What do I need to re-prioritize in order to make this or that happen? What can I realistically accomplish today? This week? This month? Ever??
This typically then devolves into feeling panicked and overwhelmed. “How does everybody else manage this?” I wonder. My “to-do” lists are so long as it is and yet I keep finding new things to do (and rediscovering old check list items that still seem relevant and worthy of doing someday). God help me! THERE’S JUST SO MUCH I WANNA DO!!
I began sliding down that old familiar embankment this morning, but then I realized HEY! This predicament isn’t necessarily such a bad thing–if I frame it right. I mean, how often have I been told by bosses at my old jobs that my many “to do” lists should be considered “job security”? Well, now I have an equivalent job security, only this time it’s my own “to do” lists involved, which is all stuff I really wanna do! So why am I complaining?? This is awesome!!
All an artist can do is try to stay alive and keep putting work out there, day after day, come hell or high water. Whether anybody sees it or not. Whether you feel like doing it or not. Life will be painful no matter what, so might as well be working on your craft, right? Even when you feel like crap.
To help myself feel less like crap on a regular basis, I’ve rolled up some tips and concepts (and even some secrets!) over the years that work for me. This first baker’s dozen is just for starters. I’ve got many more I’ll post another time. But until then, see if any of these resonate with you…
- Always be open to new information (otherwise known as having a “growth mindset”). When you insist on clinging onto only what you (think you) already know, not only will you never learn anything new, but the world will pass you by and leave you looking like a knucklehead at some point.
The concept of “Climate Change” is a good example. Consider that if practically everybody else you know (and many more you don’t know!) believes climate change is real and happening and f*cking up the future of the planet.. and you don’t, well then maybe you’re just not paying attention to the latest information (“HEY MAN! Your house is on fire!”). Perhaps you need a new information source? And a growth mindset.
It is definitely tough to concede you’ve been wrong, unless you decide to be okay with that. Again, the key is having the right mindset. I used to freak out when, issue by issue in debates with my Millennial sons over the years, I was forced to conclude that just about everything I was taught growing up in the 1960’s was wrong. It’s humbling, to say the least. But it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’d rather be wrong and follow the truth.
- Go anonymous! Wall off and set aside some portion of your life where you can safely express yourself anonymously (like I’m doing right here in this blog and with my music). I’d suggest it’s the only way you can be who you really are and express what you fully believe without being judged, unfriended or fired. At some point, you won’t even self-censor anymore. Because you won’t need to. Because nobody will know it’s you, anyway. And you’ll be able to set your ego aside, as well. Then, from that day forward… you’ll be free!
- Be flexible. Don’t be bullet-headed or otherwise afraid to question yourself, abandon a project, change course mid-stream, stop reading an unfulfilling book… Instead, listen to your internal voice and make adjustments, as necessary! For sure, don’t let momentum bulldoze you into something you don’t want to do; conversely, if the facts on the ground change, be open to embracing unexpected opportunities in the moment. Get good at moving calendar items around and constantly reevaluating and optimizing your time. You don’t have to always think in terms of “yes” or “no” when instead, it can be “now” or “later” – if you allow yourself to be more flexible!
- Keep tabs on your time. On the flipside of loosening up your calendar to be able to be more flexible, I highly recommend keeping track of things you’re doing and have done.
Tonight, for instance, I had to erase off of my calendar a recurring item to take a walk this afternoon. Why? Because I didn’t get to take a walk. And so now, I can accurately look back and see that I walked only three of five days this week. And on Tuesday, I had lunch with my client’s COO and my new “boss.” And that I invoiced a client to be paid next week. And did an Insanity workout three days out of three. And got a haircut (so I’ll need to schedule another one in five weeks). And swopped out my razor blade (I do it every 11 days)… It’s almost as good as a diary or journal, and really keeps me in the loop and accountable to myself.
- Seek balance. It’s one of the most important concepts I know of. When you’re out of balance in any way, you’re an accident waiting to happen. Nothing feels quite right because you’re off center. But when you can have just enough of what you really need and not too much of everything else, you will feel at one with the universe.
- Capture your thoughts. Write ‘em down (on a Post-it, a napkin, a piece of scrap paper, whatever you can find!), record a voice memo, send yourself a text, whatever it takes. ASAP! When you put off capturing a thought, you risk forgetting a seed of a really great idea that you may savor someday.
More than once, I’ve awakened from a dream just enough to say to myself “Wow! That was a great idea (or tune or word play)” and believe it to be so strong and memorable that I couldn’t possibly forget it. So I’d roll over, go back to dreamland, and guess what? Damned if I didn’t forget it by the time I woke back up! Poof! Gone without a trace. Sure was great, but no recollection at all. Don’t let this happen to you!
Capturing your thoughts is also a good way to declutter your mind, as opposed to having a lot of half-baked bytes or musical notes bouncing around in your head, distracting you from being fully in the moment.
- Live fully in the moment. If you think that being glued to a smartphone or multi-tasking is better, I wholeheartedly disagree. It may be necessary sometimes (for instance, you shouldn’t ignore an urgent need or text), but it’s far more enjoyable to live and love and experience life, as deeply as is humanly possible, as a fully engaged participant in the present. Which also means, you need to let go of the past.
Revisiting memories of significant people and experiences can be a beautiful thing. But most of what is passed is pure fiction anyway, a dreamy re-creation of our story-telling minds with narratives that continuously shift and evolve to reframe our historical failings and cast ourselves in an ever better light over time. So just let go of it. And don’t worry, fond memories will always be there when you want them.
Interestingly, both Buddha and Jesus spoke of the importance of living life in the moment. You don’t need to be religious to take in the significance of that. Some call it “mindfulness,” that is, being fully alive, unhindered by distractions; in communion with each other and the cosmos. We need to get out of our own way to enjoy completeness now, and in every “now” to come. And so I would posit that Heaven isn’t something to look forward to, but rather is already here and now if we will just allow it.
Dwelling on a future yet to come can provide us with inspiration, motivation and hopefulness; but it can just as much bring with it worry and anxiety, not to mention cause us to miss out on at least some of the beauty and awe of life in the present. Besides, time passes much too quickly as it is. Why rush it?
- Take care of yourself. At least for the time that we still inhabit our physical bodies (or “temples” as they’ve rightly been called), I highly recommend eating well and regularly working out. Nobody is gonna do it for you, so you need to take charge yourself and be disciplined.
Being out of shape drags you down at best, and will eventually bring on a lot of health issues that will make you old before you know it. Good health not only helps you live longer, it helps you live better. For some reason, that’s an important point that a lot of people somehow miss.
Although it seems counterintuitive, a vigorous workout actually gives you a net energy gain to help you do all the many things you undoubtably have on your “to do” lists. As for my favorite workouts, my wife and I like to frequently hike in the mountains near our home, we walk a couple miles in our neighborhood just about every day, I use a standing desk, never take elevators, and I do Insanity 3x a week. People often tell me I look 10-20 years younger than I am. Which is great, because I’m not ready to be old yet!
More suggestions: Eat smaller meals, drink water instead of pop or milk, cut out in-between-meal snacks, don’t eat at night, eat a lot less meat, pay a little more for better quality food (e.g., cage-free eggs, hormone-free milk, organically-farmed, local/less commercial sourcing, no preservatives, etc.); and work with your doctor to reduce or ideally eliminate prescription meds (there’s usually a healthier way to, for example, lower blood pressure or cholesterol).
And if you struggle with low energy? I used to feel like taking a nap around 3 or 4 PM most days. Couldn’t concentrate. Could barely keep my eyes open. And I tried all sorts of things to boost my energy, but either they didn’t work or got me too wired instead (which I also hate). So, I kept researching and asking around and trying things. Until…
FINALLY, I found the answer for me: DHEA, baby! It’s my “Underdog Super Energy Pill.” I take one 25 mg. tablet at breakfast, and another 25 mg. tablet with lunch. And I have good, clean (i.e., non-jittery, steady, clear-headed) energy all day long until I go to sleep at night! It’s truly amazing stuff and at the dosage I take, it has zero known side effects at all. I take that back. There is one thing you should know. Because of the way DHEA works, it will definitely make you horny (here’s why). The question is, can you (and your partner!) live with that?
- Appreciate everything in your life. Take stock of your many blessings and be immensely grateful for them. Chances are, you have everything you really need.
If you have food and shelter and clothing, don’t ever take any of this for granted. An unbelievable number of people (just like you) don’t even have these basics covered.
If you have love in your life, treasure it more than anything else! Give it back tenfold!
If you have meaningful work, thank your lucky stars every day and night. You can make wonderful contributions to the world with your efforts! Far too many slave their lives away at jobs they can’t stand, that demoralize and rob them of their time, and in the end don’t add value to the world in any significant way other than selfish material gain.
If you have your health, stay in shape so you can serve others. Slow it down. Smell the flowers. Be amazed. Hang out with good people. Be the change you want to see in the world. Quit social media. Take a hike in the woods.
Write off your perceived shortcomings. If you lack anything, try to be patient and stay positive; and remember that whatever your circumstances, this is all temporary anyway. Stay focused on joyful thoughts despite the worst that the world dishes out. And you will rise above it.
- Stay focused. Don’t let your mind wander in unproductive or unhealthy directions. For instance, it really doesn’t do you any good to compare yourself to anyone else. Others will always appear better or worse off than you on any given day: they’ll seem smarter, richer, better looking, more talented, more liked… and whatever the case, all it will do is make you feel like crap. So the best thing, then, is don’t think about things like that.
Don’t dwell on other people and what they have going. Or not going. Everybody has their day in the sun. Be at peace with that. Focus on who you are, and what you are trying to do and be and create. And celebrate everyone’s victories in this life. We know how hard they are to come by.
- Communicate well. Know your audience and what you want to say. Choose your words thoughtfully, speak slowly and enunciate. Pause often to breathe, to listen, and to keep your conversation fluid. Be a great writer, too. Take the time to re-read (and correct!) your emails, texts and reader comments before hitting send. Do these things and not only will more people enjoy it more whenever you reach out and communicate, they might even assume that you’re a lot smarter than you really are.
- Encourage others! There is nothing I enjoy more than when I can give someone a shot of self-confidence with a shout out, a compliment, a pat on the back, a “like” or a “follow” when it’s deserved, a recommendation, or a helpful tip. I can’t tell you how much of a boost it is whenever somebody even just says a few nice words about my work. It’s like a flood of adrenaline that stays with me sometimes for days on end. I practically float on air. Do this for others as often as you can. But make it real. Not just flattery. Looking for the best in others will make it easy to genuinely encourage them.
- Laugh! Sometimes I’ve gone for days (weeks?) without having a good laugh. But then when I finally busted a gut, it felt so amazingly good! Medical studies back up the claim that laughter is good medicine, and it doesn’t require a trip to the doctor or a copay, either. So you might as well take advantage of it-and as often as possible. It’s difficult enough living in these anxious times and trying to keep it together. Indeed, sometimes all you can do is laugh!
And since you’re still reading along, one final thought or “tip” that comes to mind is, “Be the last one standing.” However bad things get, try to remember that tough times always pass. And that if you can just power through it all, another minute here and the next minute there, and hang in there long enough, you will weather any storm. And eventually, you’ll come to realize that, yes indeed, you’re still standing! Congratulations. You win!
I’ve asked myself (over and over again, in fact) why do I write this blog? And who am I writing it for (besides me, of course)? Is there really a you “out there”? Do I have an audience that reads these words? (Haha: for an awesome study of the modern psyche and the concept of having an “audience,” I highly recommend “The Movie Hero”)!
In the end, of course, audiences aren’t what matters. Only the love between us. Till next time–TDOE!