Saturday, February 27, 2010

Minor Set Back

Guess I Was Due for the Flu

Well my guess is pretty strong that I won't be making most of the short term goals I set for myself in my last blog post on fixing my life, in large part because I wasn't planning on getting a severe stomach flu, straining all the muscles in my back, and having to go back to an all liquid diet while struggling to sleep 12 hours a day. But these things happen. I only tend to get sick once every couple of years or less, so in that respect I am lucky and this flu bug did only last 24 hours, although the pulled back muscles and some other side effects I still need to deal with.

So that set me back about three days. On the plus side, if there is a silver lining, I dropped 9 lbs, and I'm still 5 down after re-hydrating, so hey, that's something I guess. Didn't really have much in the way of life improvement beyond that, as the illness was brief, but it hammered me. Couldn't read, work, do much of anything at all.

So the next few days will be healing, getting some work done, and hoping the back muscles heal enough so i can get back into the gym. On the plus side, I did finish two books this past week, which definitely falls in line with my goal of wanting to read more again. The first was The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley, which is absolutely fantastic. In fact, there will be more on this in later posts, maybe even a book review of sorts, but since I have so much to catch up on, that will have to wait (as will more blog posts on here) until I'm a little bit more caught up. The basic gist of the book is about studying disasters, panic, and human response to both. It is an extremely interesting work of non-fiction, and very easy to read while dealing with both the science, as well as applying that to real life disasters.

The other is The Modern History of Cannibalism. I don't think that really needs any more description.

Anyhow, healing and on the mend. My personal freelancing and online work is starting to pick up and show some really positive signs, as is the business my brother and I have started. So hopefully our health holds up and we can keep hammering along. Next post will probably be more substantive, but sometimes the most you can do is just heal and keep on going.

Hope everyone else finds themselves in good health. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do Not Be Afraid

Apparently This Is a Centuries Old Problem

This is one of those posts where I'm going to give two fair warnings, although I don't really think neither is probably necessary. A big chunk of this post is somewhat spiritual in nature, so if that's not your cup of tea you might want to skip to another one. Otherwise, here goes. I found out something really interesting today (well technically yesterday since it's 2:34 a.m. - taking a break from work and listening to "Masters of Chant"). The most common command in the Bible has absolutely nothing to do with rules, laws, money, sexual orientation, or even moral teaching as most religions would frame it. The single most common command in Christian scriptures (and it's not even close) is this:

Do not be afraid.

I find that one fact incredibly fascinating, especially since it's been 10 years since my conversion and I'm 99% sure that not once have I heard this fact or heard this in a sermon. I'm allowing the 1% because 10 years is a bloody long time, especially the way I manage to pack things in there. Plus a couple serious head injuries, and you're never quite completely sure again, but I digress...

The immediate reaction of some people I tried to discuss this with was to instantly tie it to faith, and I've often heard the maxim "faith is the opposite of fear," and maybe in a few of the Scriptures this is the context, but I know in many of them that's not the context. Many times these words appear in Biblical stories where God shows up and the person/shepherd/prophet soils themselves from being scared crapless. Then comes the command to not be afraid, and this command is often the very first thing said, even before identification.

This is really interesting to me. How often this command is stated depends on your interpretation. If you're going by exact phrase, about 46 times, but the similar "do not fear" pops up at least another 67 times. Both these numbers are estimates due to differing translations, but if you include other times where not being afraid or being told not to fear is mentioned, the number pops up to around 360 total, and that's based on the Protestant Bible. The Catholic Bible may have more, but I'm not versed enough to know for sure.

Do not fear.

It's a clear cut order, and one that often stands alone in context so it means that and only that. Don't be afraid, don't fear. It really bothers me how often that is brushed over and extrapolated from, because the deep meaning of that, the reflection on the human condition since the beginning of time, is profound and amazing and no one seems to talk about it.

Apparently I'm not the only one who has struggled with falling back to habits of fear and anxiety, it's a century old problem for mankind in general. I wonder how many people desperately needing something when the wander in on a Sunday morning would begin to find their answer in those simple 3 or 4 words.

Regardless of what you do or don't believe, I think the fact that those words are commanded by far and away more than any other in the Bible opens up an intensely interesting discussion on fear, on anxiety, on what that reflection on the human condition and human nature means.

So I've spent a lot of time mulling over that today. In a way it's a far cry from one of my favorite philosophers, Seneca (of the Romans), but in another way the two can definitely be related. There's no way I can properly explain succinctly how cool I find Seneca's philosophy. It's a form of Stoicism, and although I could see a thousand angry comments from this, since I don't have 20 pages to explain it, I'll use the analogy that Vulcans from "Star Trek" would actually very much be a Stoic-esque society.

But many of the quotes of Seneca that speak to me are about understanding that the fear of misfortune undoubtedly will always be worse than the misfortune itself. Basically, a person willing to use logic, look forward, and continue the pursuit of self improvement would never suffer as badly from misfortune as their fear would suggest.

I really dig this, and agree with it. This is one of those things where understanding it in your mind and translating that to your instincts and habits can be two different things, but really, this truth is part of the reason that fear and doubt can be so insidious.

I've been homeless more than once. Now I was fortunate from the standpoint that there were safety nets in place for me of a sort all but one time, and that one time I still had a p.o.s. laptop so I knew I could eventually work my way back as long as no one stole it. But the point is, how many people worrying about money now are in actual danger of being homeless? As in $0, nowhere to sleep, no way to get to people who would help you out, no direction, owning what you have on you and that's it?

Bouncing back is never easy, but it is possible, and you know what? It really isn't that hard to scrape together $5 to eat at Taco Bell if you have to. When you have to find a warm place to sleep, you'll be amazed at what you find when your mind is completely focused on that one task. There's so much fear, but once I was there at the worst of my fears, I still ate, I still found places to sleep, and with a little work and a little luck (and the two of those almost always go hand in hand) things picked back up.

And reflecting on it, things were NEVER as bad as I feared they would be, even when they were at their worst. Funny thing: the prospect of being homeless doesn't scare me one bit. I've been there, done that, and gotten through. If somehow it happens again (and I don't think it ever will now, but once again, life is strange so who knows), what of it? The reality for me wasn't as bad as the fear.

Now part of the trick to fixing my life is reinforcing that in other areas of my life. Don't be afraid. Be not afraid. Well, it's easier said than done, but it's something I need to challenge head on. That's it for this post, although I'll end with a few of my favorite quotes attributed to Seneca, and one from Michael Jordan. It should be pretty obvious who said what.

"Sometimes even to live is a great act of courage."
"He who is brave is free."
"The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity."
"Courage leads to heaven, fear to death."
"True happiness enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future."

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." MJ

Monday, February 22, 2010

Self Improvement: Little Victories Matter

Changing Life Daily

My first blog post on taking responsibility and fixing my life went over pretty well. Did receive a couple of concerned phone calls, which is very touching, but these problems were years in the making - not a sudden outburst. If anything, overall I'm actually feeling really good about 2010 to this point and about the strides I'm beginning to make in getting to where I want to be. Monday was a very good day, and while the blog post I'm going to write sharing my large list of approximately 120 goals for 2010 will have to wait for a few days based on schedule, time constraints, etc. I did want to share a little bit about today and a small amount about what has happened already, what the short term goals are, etc.

Well Friday was pretty good, too. I told my brother that one of the most frustrating aspects of being where I am now in life is falling back to the old fears and anxieties that come up every time I think about talking to someone I don't know, approaching random people to chat, and especially so with females. This goes back to issues from my youth, in which I was painfully shy up until, well about half way through age 19. This fear and anxiety frustrates me the most, because it's not like I don't know that all the senseless fears about socializing are just that - I've been a very outgoing extrovert and also know how well people respond to a genuine extrovert. So how am I back to this point?

Well Friday I had to walk through a lot of piled up snow to get to Barnes and Noble and buy some books on how to use Microsoft Power Point 2007 for a freelance writing contract I have now. Once in the store, I decided to take an hour off from life and just enjoy myself. It was warm, I had gotten one heck of a workout just to get to the store, and there were some books I wanted to skim, including the revised version of Timothy Ferriss's The 4 Hour Work Week, which I'm a huge fan of. So I found a copy, read through a lot of the new material, and decided to force myself to work through the fear of talking to random strangers by refusing to leave until I struck up a conversation with three people.

After putting the book back, the first person I ran into was a very pretty young lady about my age whose name turns out is Christy, and she was looking at one of my favorite books. Perfect. I didn't even need to come up with an ice breaker beyond "hello," and Christy was actually really nice, we ended up chatting for about 20 minutes. This should be something simple to do, and at one time in my life it was, but now for where I am and for overcoming old fears, it was a really perfect set up. Admittedly, I didn't talk to two other people, but I figured 20 minutes was plenty, and that was a great way to end on a high note. Another small step to returning to the person I want to be.

Once in a while, taking a step to change your life actually turns out to be nice and easy. Today I worked. A lot. Friday was the first day I felt normal since the massive dental surgery, and my production has been fantastic since then. With the 3 month fever gone from the infected wisdom teeth, I also feel a lot less miserable and a lot more like myself. But to Monday. Gabe got great news that he was accepted into college. It's not either of his top 2 choices, but now he knows no matter how the rest pans out, he'll be able to continue on to achieving his life long dream of going to and graduating from college. He has his safety net. I took 4 hours off work in the afternoon to hang with my brother and one of my best friends, and that night we celebrated by going to IHOP (one of Gabe's favorite places).

And personally, it was a great night for me and an example of how self improvement comes with a lot of little victories that even the people around you might not begin to realize are happening. Going with the self confidence, the socializing comfortably, and the getting over the instinctual fear of talking to the opposite sex (and once again I can not stress how much this old anxiety really ticks me off and even embarrasses me). Eating out with my friends felt like it used to. I had no physical anxiety at all, cracked jokes half way across the room with the waiter, and kept throwing out jokes and jests until the pretty waitress was cracking up. Eye contact, smiling, laughing, and I felt relaxed. I finally felt relaxed!

Some of the old fears and anxieties had gotten so bad over the past year I actually had some panic attacks in crowded public places, which even at my most nervous/least self confident had NEVER happened before until the past year. So being relaxed and happy and joking wasn't a small victory for me by any stretch, even if I'm re-claiming ground within myself I had owned years ago.

Changing my life to get to where I want to be means making daily life changes. One thing that encourages me is that humans are (science even says) habitual creatures. This is why things seem to come "naturally" for some people while for whatever reason it's next to impossible for someone else. If I work daily on a conscious level to overcome fear, doubt, frustration, and anxiety then eventually the positive opposite of those like confidence, self esteem, faith, and happiness will become habits, and then become subconscious habits. In the same way a long spiral can turn your mind and body against you, the same concept can be used to your advantage to turn things around.

I know from experience how much my entire attitude or emotional make up can change simply by making a daily conscious decision to look at the silver lining, regardless of circumstance. Self improvement is like personal growth: it has to be a conscious choice, especially once you've fallen off the path for quite some time.

There have been some good things going on in other areas, too. I have landed some major freelance writing contracts, and am in great shape for the next 2 or possibly even 3 months. In fact, there's a chance that from March to May I'll make nearly 70% of what I did all of 2009 combined. I've also paid of some of my short term "floating debts." I use this term to refer to non monthly debts that I had for short term reasons. I reimbursed my brother for groceries for when I was really suffering with the wisdom teeth recovery, as well as for the medications. I re-paid Gabe who loaned me an emergency $60 at the beginning of the month when a student loan company screwed with my checking account right before rent was due. Half of my wisdom tooth surgery is paid for, with the other half on monthly payment plans, and the gym membership is covered for another month. Not bad.

Oh yeah, Truth Exposed Publishing, LLC is about 2 months ahead of schedule, and Jon and I are watching the passive income increase something like 200-300% a week. The pure numbers still aren't much, but based on how AdSense, search engine rankings and indexing, and other online stuff generally works, we're way ahead of schedule and it's really a great sign for later this year when enough time has passed to see the full effect of our early work this year.

My own passive income is growing about 20% this month above normal, which definitely adds to the confidence in my ability, but even better is I had one of those "A-HA!" moments that really changes the game. Enough so that by my 30th Birthday this year I'm hoping to be at the point where I don't have to freelance write at all any more if I don't want to because my passive income will be enough to pay all the bills and then some. In January that was a dream. Now it looks like a very achievable goal.

Speaking of which, some very short term goals for the next 2 weeks for me, so things I want to do or want done by March 9th:

  • Pay off all "floating debts." Right now, that would be a $75 donation promised to Coe, about $150 I owe lawyers for drawing up the LLC papers, and the hardest of all, $600 I still owe Mike from when he basically made sure I got to Austin to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime, something I still greatly indebted to him for.
  • Pay off my lowest balance credit card. That one would be at $350 right now.
  • After spending this week getting back up to speed in the gym, I want to bike a marathon distance a day, so 26.2 miles a day on the exercise bike, 5-6 days a week (it varies how often we make it to the gym). And yes, I did get this idea from The Biggest Loser. While workouts have gone extremely well, I need some big time goals to really push me, and that one certainly counts. Especially since I bike the steep hills program on the exercise bikes.
  • Start 20 conversations with strangers I meet while out and about...which will force me to also go get out and about.
  • Write 2 chapters of a book for my sister.
  • Send 4 letters (old fashioned, snail mail) to various friends and family, especially thanking them for the good they've done for me in my life.
  • Write more freelance articles in these next 2 weeks than I did in the first 6 weeks of the year combined. This might actually be necessary to make the financial goals mentioned earlier.
  • Get some plastic bins to act as dressers. I'm really tired of living out of suitcases.
  • Take some personal time for myself daily.
  • Read 2 books I haven't read yet, or started reading yet.
There are others, as many of my goals are long term but require daily or weekly work, but this is a pretty ambitious list as it is. I had no illusions. Even though I've been to the "promised land" before, I know that fixing my life, much less changing my life, is not going to be an overnight thing, and it's not going to be easy.

But I feel good. Recently I've been joking a lot more, smiling and laughing like I used to. The confidence is beginning to ebb back, and I'm finding it easier and easier to concentrate on the silver lining again. Some of the fire is back, and the fight in me is definitely back. Not sure that part ever left, but it might have been getting stomped down on the ground for a couple years. At least it's standing again.

Sometimes self improvement is great, and sometimes the process sucks, but my goals are clearly set, and I'm not afraid of a lot of 18 hour days to get there. Thanks for the kind words and the support everyone, and I hope ya'll are having a good night and peaceful dreams.