Spring is Coming – Get Busy

White spring blossomsSpring is coming, in a few days in fact (this year it is Wednesday, March 20th). Here in Ohio it has seemed pretty cold for the time of year. Admittedly I am a little frustrated that things have been so cold, since I love getting out.

Nonetheless, the weather will be getting better, and the opportunity for outdoor activities will increase. Unfortunately, a lot of people get really excited (and buy all kinds of crazy fitness accessories) during the New Year. In the Northern Hemisphere, this also happens to be a very cold time of the year. Nothing saps your motivation like below freezing temperatures! So, people give up, and their brand new clothes sit in the closet until the next garage sale.

My thought is that a better time to begin an exercise program is the spring.

First, there is the whole spring/renewal connection. Spring is the time that nature renews herself; even animals come out of hibernation as the days get longer.

Second, spring is when the weather gets better. The sun is shining more, and the weather is warmer. It is much easier to get out. There are all kinds of activities available for you: biking, running, hiking, golf, and even more!

So, I suggest making spring 2013 a time to re-boot your exercise and fitness program. Did you abandon your new year’s resolutions? Well, that’s ok, because the spring is here and it’s time to start again. And, if you work hard now, you may fit into your swimsuit too!

“I Don’t Care If I Am Popular”

Pink spring blossomsI hear this a lot from people. They say “I don’t want to be popular” or “I don’t care if I have friends” and so forth. Almost to a tee these statements come from people that want more friends, but just don’t know how to get them. I am not trying to be mean, but a lot of people utter these phrases to convince themselves that the basic human desire to be loved and admired is bunk. Such a phrase is likely a lie because it goes against basic human nature.

I think the better solution would be to learn the skills that make a person popular, rather than swearing off popularity altogether. Teaching kids how to be popular in school, for example, would be more effective than having kids cram down their desires for friends and dates while their feelings of isolation grow.

Unfortunately, popularity has gotten a bad rap, and a lot of “popular” people are really just feared. The bullies and jerks appear popular, but are really secretly hated. Fortunately, reality often catches up, and these losers often fail at life after high school. Some succeed and end up bullying people in the workplace. Again, they are more feared and hated, than popular.

Also, people think to be popular they have to sacrifice their values. That is not true either. Some of the most popular people (like Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, and Jesus) are admired and loved because they stuck to their values. These individuals knew how to stick to their values without being obnoxious about it, something people of all faiths, political positions, etc, should learn.

So, yes, I do care if I am popular. I do like having friends. I do like the benefits of popularity.

A Year Later…

A path leading to a covered bridgeWe haven’t been updating this blog very much, although I still very much believe in the principles that we are about – healthy living, exercising, saving and making money, and keeping a simple and balanced home life.

In 2008, I started to look for “life in my years” but honestly, I wasn’t quite there. In 2012, I am farther along that path. I wake up most days excited about the possibilities. I have “decision latitude” and enjoy my job, family, and have numerous side projects that keep me excited about life, and also making a little money on the side.

Once such project is called The Popular Man. Over the last few years I have literally made a study out of learning what it means to be successful. These days, I mostly read books about Psychology, nutrition, etc, and how this applies to success at work, at home, etc. Honestly, the books I have read, the seminars I have taken, and the time I have spent networking have been much much cheaper than my graduate school and much more rewarding. Such are the lessons we learn in our thirties I guess!

Nobody’s Tool?

What is freedom?

In the past I would have given various definitions, but rarely would they have involved freeing my mind. I used to poke fun at the phrase “free your mind” because it sounded kind of hippieish and a little weird. Plus, the people I know that talk about freedom a lot don’t seem very free themselves, or they tend to like to impose their “freedom” on others so that others are less free.

I have been thinking lately about freedom, and how and why we end up in the systems we live in. Many people play the perpetual victim, and speak of freedom as someone else allowing them to do, or not do, something. But, shouldn’t we actually be questioning the worst limiter of freedom: our own minds, which are often mired in bad systems and patterns??

Before I begin, I want to state that I love my current job. I have a lot of freedom and flexibility, and I enjoy teaching. However, one system that I have been questioning lately is working for somebody else. From a young age through college, and into the world of work (whether this is the Academy, the corporate world, or at non-profits) we are conditioned to work for somebody else. The American dream is usually presented as getting a degree, working for somebody else, getting an occasional raise or bonus, and climbing up the ladder, so you can buy nice things. Even as a child, our career choices tend to fall within the same framework: we “dream” of working for someone else. Most people complain about this system, but still continually buy into it, even if it is physically and mentally killing them. Lately I have realized this system is very limiting, and the answer is not complaining about the system, or shifting around in the system (“same crap, different toilet” syndrome) but rather leaving the system and starting a new one. Let me explain why I question the current “work” system most of us fall into:

1. Working for someone else means that your best time and ideas benefit someone else – For some reason, very few people realize that by working for another person or organization, we basically hand over our time and ideas so someone else can get more money and influence, while we struggle to make ends meet. This happens in the corporate world, non-profits, and the Academy. If you are lucky (and this is a big “if”), the organization you work for won’t get rid of you or cut off your pension when times get lean. One of the issues I had with college0 was that my college was basically using graduate students (who I often found to be more talented teachers than full professors) as slave labor. Their time, talent, and ideas were barely benefiting them, yet many people were willing to put up with the abuse. It took me a few years being in that system to finally realize I couldn’t stand working in such a ridiculous and dysfunctional system. It is just as bad in the corporate world too, with people giving all they have, while the company benefits, and they get denied raises.

2. Your degree may or may not actually help you – I used to believe that to get ahead you had to go to college. I still believe this, but with serious reservations. I value my college education, but many days I question whether the amount of money I put into it (including student loan debt) is actually worth the return. My colleges were laughing at me all the way to the bank. My BA is in psychology and my Master’s is in religion. Both degrees pretty much leave me in limbo. The BA doesn’t qualify me to do anything related to Psychology, and the Master’s in Religion pretty much qualifies me to barely make ends meet for the rest of my life (whether I choose to teach, be an adjunct professor, etc). Yes, I chose these degrees, and yes, other people choose degrees that are marketable, but the system is broken in the sense that I was never told what life is like after college for people with my degrees. And why would colleges be honest? If they were honest, the few English poetry majors that are actually making decent money teaching English poetry (the tenured professors), would be out of a job. It is just not in the college’s best interest to be honest with its young and idealistic students. So, basically I no longer believe having a college degree=success. I think the person him/herself determines success.

3. By working for someone else you are making trade-offs – Many people dislike their bosses and employing company or organization, yet they remain in this system for the stability. This could be a regular salary, health insurance, etc. Others remain out of habit. Others don’t realize there is a way out. There is a way out, and it is called starting your own business, organization, or non-profit. The government makes this difficult (regulations tend to favor companies, especially big ones, that are already in business and can influence regulations), but it can be done. The question, however, is this: can you handle the risk? Doing your own thing requires trading stability for risk, but also trading resentment and monotony for happiness and autonomy. As I have gotten older, I have decided that the risk is worth it.

4. Isn’t working about sacrifice and heartache?? – “Work sucks.” I hear this all the time. If it is so bad, then why in the world would a person get up every morning and devote 40-60 hours of his week to such an endeavor? If you are doing this, stop for a second, and ask why any happy and free human being would do such a thing? Why does it have to be this way? Can’t you see yourself waking up every morning and loving your job? Why can’t every workday be exciting and full of possibilities? Many readers may scoff at this, but does it really take that much to be happy and fulfilled? I know people that are photographers, freelance writers, and handymen that love their jobs. We are taught to settle. We are taught to remain in limiting systems and jobs in which we are asked to do more, for less money and less freedom. We accept that micromanaging bosses and wasting away mindlessly in a cubicle are laws of nature. We are taught that we are victims, and that the only way out is retirement. Not true. You could leave today! You could leave right this very moment. I am not saying that is a good idea without planning, but you could do it right now.

Now, let me ask my readers, have you ever complained about your job or job system (job system= being in the corporate, Academic, or non-profit “worlds”)? Most of us have. Now, let me ask: how many of you have ever questioned the system itself? How many of you have actually looked into exiting the system? Unfortunately, studies show that once humans commit to something, it is hard for us to leave it. If we have gotten a degree, or given 5 years to a job, many people will stay simply because of past commitment. However, who says that spending 5 years working for a job means that you have to live miserably for the next 20 years? If the “system” sucks, then start your own system!

In today’s economy, it is illogical for people to hate business. Instead they should love business. I understand their dislike of big business that conspires with the government to run the little guys out of business and devalue the average worker, but in this era we need more competition, from the good guys, not less competition, so that our only options end up being to work for the unwieldy and uncaring big businesses, universities, and non-profits. This is why one dream of mine is to help schools pair with local entrepreneurs to teach a younger generation how to start and run their own businesses. Whether school systems, which generally encourage conformity and dependence, would ever encourage this, I don’t know.

At age 33, feeling more independent and confident than ever, I question the system. I now dream of being in charge, being the boss, not of other people per se, but of my own destiny. I don’t want to work for someone else or another organization anymore. I may not get rich (I actually believe I will), but at the very least I will be doing what I love, and enjoying my autonomy. Even though I do love my current teaching job, I don’t see myself being there forever. I went to a fundraiser a few months ago, and the teachers and principals were talking about how many sacrifices they have made over the years. The people we were honoring at the event, who donated thousands of dollars to help our schools, owned their own businesses or organizations and were using their extra money and influence to give back to others. I decided I would dream to be like them, not the people who after 30 years were still scraping to get by and scanning their mind for reasons just to get up in the morning. At that moment, I decided I wouldn’t be anybody’s tool, except perhaps, my own.

How to Start the Day Right

On ChurchYear. Net’s new subsite, ChurchYear.Net Basic, I have added a prayer for the day. Every morning, I try to start the day off in the right mindset, and prayer always helps with this. Individuals from other traditions, or those who are not believers, can meditate or just do some relaxation techniques to get a similar mental effect. Most Christians tend to prayer the Our Father Prayer, while Catholics use that, and the Hail Mary Prayer. Of course, Catholics are also allowed to make up prayers as well.

It is interesting that science has recognized the benefit of prayer to calm people, and even though it is disputed, some studies even suggest that prayer for another person across great distances benefits people. If true, this shows that there is some sort of nonlocal reality out there, that many of us consider to be part of what we now call the spiritual realm.

Is High GPA A Predictor of Success?

No. According to research carried out by Thomas Harrell of Stanford (as referenced in Never Eat Alone), the GPA of MBAs had no bearing on success. So what predicted success?

Verbal Fluency. Those who could use language successfully with others (i.e. they would not only make conversation with everyone, but they would also do it well).

I won’t offer too much commentary, except to say that rarely in college or grad school did I think about anything but my academic standing. Now, at 32, I am starting to focus on things like communication, speaking, success, etc, whereas in my 20s, I just kind of assumed with a high GPA and a Master’s degree employers would be throwing themselves at me (I am exaggerating of course, but I really didn’t give much thought to the importance of interpersonal skills in getting ahead). Fortunately I was born with good people skills, but honing them lately has been paying off like crazy, even if it is changing my desired career trajectory!

All Generalizations Are Lies?

…Do you believe that? It’s a lie, you know. Everything we’re going to tell you here is a lie. All generalizations are lies. Since we have no claim on truth or accuracy, we will be lying to you consistently throughout this seminar. There are only two differences between us and other teachers: One is that we announce at the beginning of our seminars that everything we say will be a lie, and other teachers do not. Most of them believe their lies. They don’t realize that they are made up. The other difference is that most of our lies will work out really well if you act as if they are true.

From Frogs Into Princes, by Richard Bandler and John Grinder

I realize Neuro Linguistic Programming has its detractors, but I have to admit I love reading about it and applying it.

It’s About the Inside, Not the Outside

I have been reading a lot about Neurolinguistic Programming lately. In fact, I absolutely love the subject. Some of the insights are changing the way I view life. Among other books, I have been reading Get the Life You Want, by Richard Bandler.

NLP has changed my view on the causes of my emotions. I used to think the world outside determined my view of life. If I got angry, or discouraged, or whatever, it was because stimulus A or B, in the outside world, made me that way. I also viewed my lack of opportunities the same way. If I wasn’t successful, it was either the government’s fault, corporate America, etc. I even blamed my graduate school for my lack of opportunities. However, I missed one key factor in all of this: me. (I should note I still don’t trust the government, the Academy, or big business; however I no longer believe they have any noticeable effect on my future).

Nobody has to react a certain way. Granted we will all face pain (something author Rick Hanson, in Buddha’s Brain, calls ” first darts”), but how we react to, and deal with that pain, depends on how we respond internally. Hanson mentions that we often throw “second darts” at ourselves, self-inflicted pain that is caused by continually reliving past pain, or, in some cases, inventing pain (for example, when there is no actual pain involved, like when we enter a messy room and explode on our kids for making it that way). In other words, our response to just about anything is really an internal issue, not an external one. It is easy to say “I have to be angry, because look at how I have been treated,” but do we really have to be anything?

This is why you can line 100 people up, and an annoying guy can walk up to them, and 40 will get angry, 50 will remain calm, and 10 will just laugh it off and maybe even make friends with the guy. This is very good news really. It means that the big, bad evil world out there doesn’t control us. We can change our perceptions and change our life. Related to this, one maxim I now live by is “there is no failure, just feedback.” Think about it. Successful people take failure, learn from it, and get back up. They may “fail” multiple times, but they know that by coupling determination with a desire to learn from mistakes, they will be successful eventually. People who view their mistakes as “failures” rarely learn, and are so drowned in self-pity that it creates a downward spiral of even more failure. I used to feel this way, and was kind of proud of how “beaten down” by the system I could be.

Again, this is great news. The power to succeed is inside, not outside. It is great news because I can’t control outside forces. If I believe I am a victim (as many in education want us to believe), then I’ll be a victim. Do you know how many times in grad school I was told how awesome it was to be a victim (even if they preferred terms like “oppressed”). Sadly, for many years I pretty much agreed with them and took jobs that didn’t pay me enough, etc. The funny thing is that the tenured professors who told us how great it was to be victims were making great money and living in the best neighborhoods with great security systems.

I am not saying it is easy to feel a different way than you are used to. Most of us have spent a lot of time feeling ways that don’t work for us (if your head is sore from beating it against the same brick wall, it might be an indication an approach isn’t working!). We have literally built careers and lives based on fear, anxiety, etc.  I now believe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Berries and Parkinson’s

I just read about an interesting study that shows that eating berries can reduce your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Berries are very high in antioxidants, plant pigments, etc, and are very healthy foods. Coffee also lowers the risk. Apparently the solution to prevent Parkinson’s is to go to a Panera, and enjoy a Wild Berry Smoothie and a coffee. I actually did that last week.

A Worldview Guided By Thought

I feel, therefore I think

Pardon my paraphrase of Descartes’ famous realization. Basically, it means we feel a certain way and that, in turn, influences our thinking.

This mentality pervades contemporary American folk philosophy. It leads to such statements as “I have depressed feelings, therefore my life is not worth living” or “I feel unlucky, therefore I know nothing ever works out for me.” I saw it back when I used to teach. “Mr. so-and-so gave me a bad grade (i.e. I felt unworthy), therefore he hates me.”

Such a line of reasoning encourages helplessness and victimization. Feelings, which are by their very nature irrational (I don’t mean expressing feelings, which is rational and good, but that we can’t help how we feel) control our rational side. Consequently, people are held captive by forces ultimately beyond their control and trying to take control often comes in the form of holding in feelings, only to have them explode later.

This is not a way to form a worldview, but it forms more of them than you may think. Take these statements: “A woman hurt me once, therefore I will never trust women” or “I felt mistreated by religion, therefore religion is unequivocally a terrible force for evil.” These are just a few examples.

I think, therefore I feel

In my opinion, this is the far better philosophy. It recognizes that feelings emerge from an intentionally cultivated worldview (or one our parent’s cultivated for us). This kind of thinking is found in phrases like “I know that tragedy is temporary, therefore I’ll bounce back when I’m ready” or “I am an attractive person, therefore I feel confident that one bout of “bad luck” doesn’t hinder me.”

In both cases, a proper way of thinking, leads to positive and genuinely realistic feelings. It allows them to be guided by a rational (I don’t mean coldly rational here), thoughtful, and affirming worldview instead of one created haphazardly from a slew of discrete feelings. It allows for resilience in not only individual lives, but also the world. And, this philosophy allows for change, a difficult one for sure, but at least it’s possible. It’s preferable to succumbing to the fate of feelings.