Run! No One’s Stopping You

As my regular readers know, a little over a year ago, I was living in an unheated apartment, concluding my second, insanely frigid winter there. For “employment”, I was languorously managing a couple unpaid enterprises, subsisting on the last bit of dough from a once-plentiful savings account.

My life wasn’t bad in my Brooklyn igloo. I had friends, an amazing girlfriend, enviable relationships with my family, great health. But there were things that seemed like they would never change, and I had the premonition that those things would eventually thwart the natural progression of the other stuff–that not making money and flushing my toilet with collected rainwater would–to a prospective wife, for example–soon transition from quirky to pathetic.

A little over a year later, I have a wife, steady, rewarding employment, a replenished savings account, heat and–check this out–a child on the way! Right?

Things change. 

Here’s the bitch of it all: I was responsible for these changes. Of course, I had amazing collaborators. I may even have had divine intervention. But it’s my experience that divinity needs permission to work its magic. I gave it.

I say none of this to boast. I actually don’t want to take responsibility for any of it. As long as life is more accident than creation–something that happens to me–I’m off the hook. I can stay inert and afraid of the new things that seem like they’ll never change.

Personal responsibility is the greatest gift and burden one can possess. It shows us that we can transcend any situation. It also shows us that all our prisons–however real they seem–are self-made.

Today, consider:

  1. What if you were responsible for your life? You don’t have to believe it. Just consider.
  2. What story would you have to give up if this were true? That your parents, a shit economy, past relationships, poor health, etc. are preventing you from changing.
  3. What would be possible if you were responsible for your life? What unchanging things might you be able to change?
  4. Take one of those unchanging things and take an action to change it (preferably right now).  

Monday Morning Coffee

Monday mornings are not typically my strongest time. Rather than the week occurring as a vast ocean of possibility, it occurs as a barren creek, whose scant water is suffused with obligation and pains-in-the-ass. This perspective usually changes by Tuesday, when I see that no one is forcing me to do anything; that I signed up for all of my supposed burdens; that they’re not in fact burdens at all, but actions inside of a greater commitment; that I do and have created my life. But not Monday. And particularly not Monday morning. That time is reserved for doom.

Rather than jumping into action, I become overwhelmed and jump to have a second cup of coffee, which sends me into a state where I simultaneously do nothing while my caffeine-addled mind scorns my inaction with improved efficiency.

This disempowered state relies on a particular conceit: that who I am is a function of what I do. If I don’t do, I am not (worthy, powerful…alive).

But what if this is a mistaken conceit? What if there were nothing to prove? What if we were inherently valuable–that our existence didn’t hinge our abilities to check items off our Google Tasks widget? How would that free us?

This is not to say things don’t need to get done. When I finish writing this, I have a shitload of things to do. The question is how will we do? Will we do under the lash of obligation, maxing out our willpower to make things happen, doing to prove we are good enough, that we matter, that we exist? Or will action flow from our inherent worth and power–from a place of nowhere to go, nothing to prove? Both work in their own way–one just sounds a bit more enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

Resistance for Breakfast

It’s 6:58am. The sky is turning a lighter shade of gray. My coffee is drained. I’ve made a few trips to my Facebook Comment App page (still haven’t figured out how to properly integrate it). Despite a LinkedIn update being the most interesting thing in my inbox, I’ve checked my email a few times. I’ve stared at my computer screen for an hour. I’ve written almost nothing.

Why can’t this be easier? Didn’t I read my previous posts? There is no time but now. Start living. Share yourself. Inspire people into action. Write.

Then I ask, “What if it’s okay that it’s not easy?” What if the struggle–the blank looks at an empty page, the seeming desert of inspiration, the useless byways to far-flung websites, the accusations that my hyper-affectionate cats are preventing my literary greatness–were, if not essential, not abnormal. What would be possible if resistance wasn’t a problem?

Most of spend our lives looking for the easy way–for the path of no resistance. Perhaps this path exists. I’ve waited 35 years looking for it…maybe 36 will be the easy year. Or maybe if I spent a thousandth of the time acting with resistance as I did looking for ways around it, I’d get done what needed to get done. Maybe working with resistance is the easy way.

What Do You Think of Me?

Self promotion is a funny thing. While most of us are dying for attention and recognition for who we are and what we do, when it comes time to actually show who we are and what we do, we demure. We don’t want to be thought boastful or self-important. We want to wait until our work is ready to put ourselves out there.

The truth is we don’t share ourselves because we don’t want to be judged. We don’t want anyone to question our awesomeness, so we keep it to ourselves, pets and small children. We value maintaining a fragile sense of self–one that cannot withstand scrutiny and judgment–more than contributing something meaningful to the world.

In December, my wife and I got married. We had a novel approach to having a wedding and we wanted to share it. The NY Times covered it and it eventually made its way to Huffington Post and Gawker. The latter website deemed it, “The Most Obnoxious, Do-Good Wedding Ever.”  One Huffpo commenter remarked of the wedding,

It was grotesquely obnoxious. It was taking people who feel socially obliged to attend and shoving your pet ideology down their throats. If you think it was affirming, substitute right-wing fanaticism for this left-wing fanaticism.

You know what? Despite this vitriol, my wife and I are okay. We still got married. The people at the wedding still had a great time. We still believe we helped people rethink weddings and marriage.

Our time on earth is too short to withhold ourselves, guarding ourselves from judgment and scrutiny. The world is going to judge you no matter what. Neither you, nor your work are ready for public display. Fuck it. Show us anyway.

What is Your Untended Blog?

Few things are sadder than untended blogs. Unlike unfinished manuscripts stashed in a drawer, the blogger’s defeat is public. You see the transition from inspiration to resignation. You see expanding intervals between posts, and finally one that starts like “sorry I haven’t written here a for a while.” It’s like the last wringing from a towel once loaded with inspiration and possibility.

Of course untended blogs are my thing. For you, it might be an unfinished canvas, screenplay, charity project, business plan, whatever. It’s that thing you started with rocket fuel in your veins and finished with lead in your shoes.

When we start things, we are usually driven by a combination of authentic inspiration and fantasized reward.

Authentic inspiration is about our gifts. I believe writing is the gift I have to give. It’s my calling. It’s an act that’s interchangeable with who I am. If that were the only reason I wrote, I would be in good shape.

Fantasized reward is where I get in trouble. When most of us do things, we fantasize our best-case-rewards. I fantasize my packed book tour appearances. Actors fantasize their acceptance speeches at the Oscars. Entrepreneurs fantasize their IPO. While inevitable, these fantasies are not very helpful; when they are not achieved in what we consider a suitable time-frame, we think ourselves failures. We begin asking ourselves, “Why bother? This isn’t going anywhere anyway.” We either stop writing, painting, networking, meditating, whatever, or do it so joylessly, we question why we started in the first place.

What if we were to do the things we wanted to do because they are extensions of who we are, not because they were the ticket to get to someplace we wanted to be? What if there was no place to get to, no reward to reap, no ceremony to attend? Would you still do this thing? I would. I write when no one is looking. If you are doing something only for the reward, or you don’t have a thing, I suggest finding something.

If you fall into the inspiration-but-stalled-or-stopped camp, consider:

  1. What is that unfinished/untended thing in your life?
  2. What fantasized reward are you holding onto that is stalling or stopping your work? E.g. your book deal, first client, etc.–the external affirmation that this is what you’re supposed to be doing. Note: it’s not your lack of time, money, etc. If you knew you were receiving $1M for doing this thing, you would find a way to do it.
  3. Give up hope for a reward. It’s probably not going to happen anyway (or it won’t be the reward you anticipated).
  4. Take one action now around that thing. Do it because it’s who you are and what you do.

 

Maybe Someday, Somehow, Someone Will Find Your Treasure

I am at the library, finishing a paper on my laptop when a routine Windows Update pops onto my screen. I am hungry, so I decided to load the update, let it install and reboot while I grab something to eat. I get lunch and when I return the screen is blue–known by many as the “blue screen of death.” Everything was gone: my photos, my paper, my music.

The most devastating thing lost was my creative writing. There was some pretty hot shit on that hard-drive: short stories, personal essays and poems that were very well received on the university workshop circuit. I would submit them one day. Maybe a literary journal would publish them. Collectors would find these early works and see them as the harbingers of literary genius that they were.

But they were never submitted. They were never read outside a classroom. They died a quiet death that day, only the embers of my professors’ praise to indicate their existence.

Some things survived the crash. I had published some stuff for the school’s literary journal and some freelancing jobs. These were the lone records that I had ever written anything. All of my someday-fantasies of being published in the Paris Review were contrasted with the reality of articles published in Exhibit City News, a rag for the trade show industry that my mom had set me up with. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was something.

I learned several lessons out of this incident:

  1. Back up. Duh.
  2. There is no right time or opportunity to put yourself out there. Many of the things I wanted to submit were waiting for me to revise or make them just right. They were ready. I was just scared that no one outside the workshop table would like them. I regret not sharing. Also, while Exhibit City News an the Columbia Observer aren’t the New Yorker, they were something. They were what was available at the time and they were fine. If I had taken more such opportunities, perhaps my writing would have developed faster and been read more widely. Sometimes we forsake many small opportunities laid at our feet for big ones that never comes.
  3. If something is precious, we must give it away. The only things I wrote that survived were the things that were published. The only surviving photos were the ones I gave to others. Giving things away extends their lives. Holding onto things results in atrophy and decay.
  4. Use a Mac.

Is Your Life An Untested Theory?

Last May I wrote about how I got a job. I did not, however, say what the job was. It was with a company called LifeEdited, which, despite its literary name, involves little writing outside of countless emails and occasional copy-writing. We are constructing a new breed of American home, meant to breed a new way of American life. The first apartments are designed to test the idea that people can have everything they need from a home with a far smaller spatial and ecological footprint. The first unit, a 420 sq ft Soho apartment dubbed LE1, is extremely energy efficient, will have great indoor air quality, will be able to accommodate sit down dinners for 12 and sleep 4.

I don’t want to say I BS’d my way into the job, but I confess that when I pitched myself, I speculated, rather than pointed to, my abilities. They needed a Project Manager. I figured I had done stuff before, I had opened Excel spreadsheets, I wrote lists. How hard could it be?

It was a lot harder than I had anticipated. Turns out people go to school and get degrees for project management. Compounding this difficulty was my near complete oblivion of the design, architecture and construction industries.

My lack of skills weren’t my only problem. I knew I couldn’t do something I wasn’t aligned with philosophically. I was an under-qualified, idealist snob.

But I was undeterred by my handicaps. I needed a job pretty bad. I was getting married, running out of money and pretty done with the getting-by way of life I had been living.

And here was a job that had it all. It involved skills I believed I could possess in less than 6 months. It had a mission that brought all my literary aspirations–brevity, intelligence, purpose–into the design and architectural realms. It paid.

There was also an unanticipated benefit: it signaled a shift in my life from being an ideas-based person into a results-based one. I had always been able to construct ideas, but results–things you could touch or point to–were conspicuously absent.

I love ideas, theories and philosophies. Today, my ability to think surely exceeds my ability to make shit happen. But I now realize that tangible results are important–mostly because it’s where ideas, theories and philosophies are tested. Untested ideas, theories and philosophies are like trying to live in a blueprint rather than a home. A blueprint can look great, but unless it can be built, it’s useless (and yes, I know people don’t use blueprints nowadays).

9 months after starting LifeEdited, we are about to complete our first apartment. I’m really excited. To be a part of it, to convert an idea into a home, to make errors, to correct, to edit, to construct, has been an amazing experience, one that enriches and beefs up my thought life.

With these thoughts in mind, here are some things to consider:

  1. Where in your life do you linger too long in abstraction? Perhaps it relates to dating, your work, a spiritual/religious conviction, etc.
  2. Where are you avoiding testing your theory? In other words, where are you avoiding taking action surrounding your theory–e.g. actually dating, taking action to save the environment, being kind/sacrificing, etc.
  3. Start building. Take one action right now to test your idea, theory or philosophy.

 

The Importance of Being Right

When I was 14 I had a huge crush on Michelle Pockock. She was 5’8″, had black hair down to her butt, dark, button eyes and a small mouth with thick braces. At the time, I had no experience with women and was pretty much a nonentity in my high school’s social hierarchy. Despite these handicaps, I managed to invite Michelle back to my house one afternoon. I got her into my bedroom. I remember sitting there at the edge of my bed, talking about nothing. It was the perfect setup for a makeout session. And yet…I did nothing. I did not kiss her, touch her or even hint at the depths of my passions.

Later, she joined the debate team right after I did. You could say she followed me. We had many the overnight trips that lent themselves to secreting away. Michelle and I did none of that. Perhaps frustrated by my lack of initiative, she ended up hooking up with this short, pudgy-faced douche named Kirk–a Junior who boasted that he plucked her virginity to anyone who cared to listen.

Sure, I was clueless in a way common to 14 year-olds (though this cluelessness had a long half-life). Perhaps Michelle didn’t actually like me and that’s why we never hooked up. But I believe there was another phenomenon at play; a phenomenon that thwarts plans and intentions to the present day. I was being right. In this case, I was right that she was not interested in me. Had I not been so certain about my unattractiveness, had I entertained the possibility that she liked me–a possibility affirmed by countless actions on her part–I would have made at least one move. Sure, I might have been wrong. I might have made an ass out of myself. But I wouldn’t have wondered what would have been.

I’m happy to report that I’ve come a long way in the last 21 years with my relationships to women. Though far from completely evolved in this area, I acknowledge a few possible reasons why, for instance, my wife finds me attractive.

Nonetheless, there are many areas where I cling to my righteousness. In fact, wherever I feel stuck or disempowered, wherever I fail to take action, wherever I suffer, somewhere underneath it is the determination to be right: I am being right that something is not possible; I am being right that a situation is untenable; I am being right that a person can’t change–a particularly malevolent influence when that person is me.

What if we could all be a little easier with our relation to being right? What if we could accept that all of our knowledge, the basis of righteousness, is inherently limited, and therefore an unreliable barometer for what is and is not possible? Often, this new relation doesn’t even necessitate action on our part, just a willingness to entertain possibilities outside the scope of our knowledge.

In the spirit of not being right, here are few things to think about today:

  1. Name an area where you are suffering or lack power.
  2. What do you know about this area that keeps you from taking action or finding peace?
  3. What would be possible if you were wrong about what you know?
  4. Practice being wrong. Take one action that corresponds with your newfound wrongness. Step outside the boundaries of your knowledge.

 

 

Stop Waiting for Things to Get Better

My total income last year could purchase a late-90’s Chrysler Sebring convertible.  I tempered this lamentable situation with the certainty that financial providence was right around the corner.  My well-thought-out plan was that Oprah would read my blog and say, “holy shit, how did the world ever exist without David’s prophetic prose?  Get him a book deal and TV show stat.”  Money problem solved.

Perhaps Ms. Winfrey has read my blog and is conferring with her people about how to present her generous support.  Or perhaps I am completely deluded.

Most of us have difficulty owning the results in our lives.  We see the unhealthy relationships, crappy jobs and flabby bodies, and recognize they’re problematic.  But we are certain that something is going to change real soon (read:  Oprah’s intervention).  That dude/chick from OK Cupid with the picture of him/her with his/her dog is going to be our soulmate.  We’re going to leave our job and start an organic cupcake shop.  We are going to get a PX90 Workout System, cut out carbs and be totally lean and ripped by summer.

But what happens?  The date was annoying and couldn’t stop talking about his/her dog.  We made elaborate business plans that collect dust because things got so busy at our jobs.  PX90 and no-carbs are trumped by “Breaking Bad” episodes and organic cupcakes.

The reasons we don’t change are:

  1. We are deluded about who we are and where we are at.  We have distorted views of ourselves and the facts of our lives.  It’s impossible to map a journey before setting one’s bearings.
  2. We believe the problem is out there—that it’s about finding the right person, the right business opportunity, the right workout system and diet, the right whatever. But the problem is never out there, later.  It’s right here, now, and it’s us.  And unless we change now, nothing else will.

My girlfriend and I have been talking about our future—cohabitation, procreation, other -tions.  These are real world plans; ones that require more than dreams for realizing.  You can’t buy diapers with delusion.

Our future will not happen if I wait for Oprah to call.  Our future, if we get this far, will feature two babies, one baby-sized and another 6’3”/170 pounds.

If I want a future where I might be able to take care of someone other than myself, I had to get real.

The first thing I recognized is that I need paid work.  I’ve recognized this for a while , but recognizing and doing are vastly different things.  Until I have a job, my realization is an abstraction—devoid of meaning or reality.

Based on some coaching I received, I was asked, “What is missing, the presence of which would make a difference in this situation?”

What was missing for me was humility.  I wasn’t humble enough to say that I needed and wanted work; I wasn’t humble enough to say I didn’t know what kind of work I wanted; I wasn’t humble enough to say that my resume is pretty shitty for most jobs.

I also saw boldness was missing.  Boldness meant being willing to do whatever was necessary to get a job. It’s a tough market.  I suspect few would say, “Let’s hire that timid guy.  He’s really going to be an asset.”

Out of the “what’s missing,” I generated actions that corresponded with them.  What I came up with was a letter sent to around 100 contacts.  Here it is:

Subject:  Request for Help

Dear Friends,

A few years ago, I had an unexpected, middle-of-the-night move (aka breakup).  At that moment, I needed my friends’ help more than ever, so I spammed you, requesting shelter.  You answered that request with love and generosity, landing me a great place within 12 hours of making it.  Few things are as sublime as genuine dependence.  Having no shame in asking for what you need.

Today, I find myself at a similar crossroads.

I need and want work.  I’ve been plugging along with Lucid [an event I produce] and my blog for a while now, and will continue to do so.  But frankly, I don’t make enough money to support myself, much less the family that’s in my future.  I’m also eager to show up someplace where it’s more than me making the breaks–where I can contribute to a large team.

So I’m making a request:  If any of you have ideas or leads for jobs, I want to hear them.

What I’m looking for:  I’m open.  I see my chief competencies as communication (written and spoken) and relationship forging and maintaining.  I do event stuff obviously, but my main joy is working with people.  I believe these qualities would lend themselves to writing, sales, marketing, HR, PR or advertising positions.

Just as important as what I will do is where.  I want to be in a dynamic, progressive, conscious/non-evil environment (i.e. no big pharma).  I’m open to big and small organizations alike–from Google to start-ups. Regular work is preferred to freelance, though I’m open to the latter.  Some areas I’ve been considering are tech, marketing/branding firms/shops, food (e.g. Whole Foods), conferences/events and media; but again, I’m open to suggestions.

My corporate resume is thin, but I’m not afraid to start at the beginning.  I’m happy to prove myself (a well-placed character reference is always appreciated if you’re inclined to do so).

I will reach out to you personally, but I want to first cast a wide net.  If you have any suggestions or are willing to lend your insights, please let me know.  I look forward to spam-free communication meeting.

Until then, with great appreciation,

David

The response was amazing.  Within five days, I am contemplating two very attractive job possibilities, not to mention several others.  But none of this would have happened if I had continued to wait for something outside myself to remedy the situation or delude myself to think that things were going to get better.  Who I was being—unrealistic, complacent, timid—would not propel me to the next level.  I had to be something else if I wanted something else.

With this in mind, here are some things to try out:

  1. Name one area of your life you are hoping will get better.
  2. Get honest about what will most likely happen in that area. For example, if you’ve been underemployed your whole adult life, you will probably continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  It’s not guaranteed, but it’s likely.
  3. What is missing, the presence of which would make a difference in this situation? For me, it was humility and boldness.  Other examples include trusting, open, honest, generous, playful, etc.
  4. Name an action that corresponds with the “what’s missing.” For example, my email represented both humility and boldness.
  5. Take that action now. Like, really.

[I’m still looking for dating and relationship questions.  Please email them to me df at davidfriedlander dot com.  All correspondences are confidential.  Thanks.]

Seeing What is Possible, Dealing with Reality

Emily Dickinson: Possibility/Bedroom Dweller.

Emily Dickinson wrote the famous verse, “I dwell in possibility.”  Unlike the famous poetess, many of us dwell in limitation, using the past as our main referent for the future—i.e. because we’ve have never done it in the past, it will not happen in the future.

Possibility on the other hand allows for unprecedented realities.  Something that has never happened can happen simply because it’s possible.  We might not know how it will happen, but when we acknowledge the possibility, we are more likely to take the action corresponding to realizing that possibility.

For example, if we think being physically fit is impossible, based on the fact we’ve been unhealthy our whole lives, we won’t do the things necessary to be fit.  Conversely, if we believe being fit is possible, even if we don’t know how, we can figure out ways to realize that objective.

There is a dark-side of possibility however.  It’s what I call “the narcosis of possibility.” The easiest place to see this is at 12:15AM after a few vodka-sodas.  You invent a possibility, like starting a business.  You can’t wait to start making it happen.  The dude on the next bar-stool is going to design your logo.  Any-fucking-thing is possible!

You wake up the next day with a vague recollection of what was so great about your idea.  You try to muster the enthusiasm of the night before but are preoccupied by thoughts of coffee, eggs and Law and Order reruns.  You think of your lack of business skill, money, etc.  Fuck it.  It wasn’t that good an idea anyway.  Reality trumps drunken possibility once again.

This phenomenon is not limited to buzzed brainstorming.  Many sober minds have conjured great ideas that do not withstand reality.  We get psyched about a project, relationship, fitness plan, etc., but we fail to deal with things as they are in reality.  We don’t acknowledge our level of business training, our emotional maturity (or lack thereof), our state of health, etc.  Instead of developing these things, we become overwhelmed by the gap between possibility and reality, often doing nothing.  There are others who use willpower and force to bridge that gap—these people can make things happen, but generally at the expense of their health and happiness.

Sometimes we can’t admit that just because something is possible, it doesn’t mean we should do it.

Other times we create a possibility aware of the realities we’re dealing with.  It’s something we’ve considered well.  We have an idea and plan to carry it out.  But once the plan is in motion, we don’t ask ourselves often enough, “Is this working?”

Lest I be too abstract, I’m writing about myself.  I started this blog 6 months ago based on the possibility of writing for a living.  This idea was pure, uncut possibility.  According to the past, I had no reason to believe I would make it happen.

I love the writing part and the feedback I’m recieving.  I love processing my life and helping others process theirs.  But I haven’t been dealing with a couple nagging realities:  I don’t love not making money or working in isolation.  I’ve been trying to will these things out of my reality, but I can’t seem to do it.

Sure, it’s entirely possible I can make money if I refine my plan. I could find more ways to engage people.  I actively do both these things.

But the truth is I’m not dealing with reality.  I want to be better at working alone.  I want to be more of a self-starter.  I want to be one of these people—who seem so numerous on the internet—who through pluck and Twitter, amass great followers and fortunes.  But in reality I am not these things—at least not right now.

I have to assess where I’m at, based not on the narcotic effect of possibility, but on the sober truth of reality.  From there, I can create a new possibility.

The new possibility I’ve created is to continue to develop my writing, but with more human contact and steadier income.  There’s an ancient tradition I am going to employ to remedy this situation.  It’s called a job.

Maybe if Emily Dickinson took a similar approach, she would have left her bedroom.

It’s important to note that deviating from an original possibility is not killing it.  In fact, sticking to the original plan would kill it.  My new possibility affords me self-expression through writing, supported by the stability and relationship building of a job.

Here are some things to consider for yourself:

  1. What possibility in your life is being thwarted by reality? In other words, name a dream—one you may or may not be taking action on.  Within that dream, what realities are compromising your ability to take action or enjoy acting?  For example, you want to date, but don’t do so because you have trouble being open with potential partners.
  2. What new possibility could you create if you dealt with reality as it presently exists? Using the above example, based on your lack of skill, you could create the new possibility of being supported, getting a dating coach or asking someone who is romantically fulfilled to find out what he or she does.
  3. Take one action that based on this new possibility right now.