Can’t think of a pun to use for the title of today’s entry, ominous sign (Edit – came up with one!). In the interest of full-disclosure, and in the interest of artificially inflating my word count, I need to confess that I’m not in a very good mood right now. Just a general feeling of annoyance, primarily from the fact that I’ve been running behind all day, lost my temper a couple of times already, and generally feel like I’ve squandered the day. Ironically this comes a day after I wrote a piece about how impactful scheduling has been on my life. Well I didn’t write a schedule today, and look what happened! Maybe I’m just proving my point. Actually, thinking back now, I woke up, because I went to bed a little late since I was talking on the phone with a friend. Maybe I can and should attribute the poor first half of my day to that phone call. Does anyone care? I’m sorry you had to read that.
Today’s topic is pretty similar to yesterday’s. One thing I’m noticing with these prompts is that they are all kind of clustered together, which does kind of make sense. As I had came up with one topic, I quickly follow with tangental ones that appear next in order. So if you don’t like the subject matter for one day, maybe skip the next 2-3 entries just to make sure you don’t catch any of the residual.
Self-improvement for me has been an area of focus for the last several years. And it bleeds into the idea of lifestyle design, and time allocation, two other topics I like to think about. This probably was covered in my 1 hour autobiography, but I’ll cover it quickly here for all my new readers (and just as an fyi, readership is BOOMING.). I was solely focused on my professional career for over a decade, did ok with it, but more or less ignored everything outside of work. Had a professional hiccup that gave me the opportunity to reprioritize and work on some of the gaps.
I’m trying to think of a driving the wrong way analogy for this. Bear with me. I was in a car, on the highway, driving as fast as I could towards wealth accumulation and respect from society via status. There were many opportunities for me to pull off for attractions – putting time into relationships, taking care of my health, thinking about some of the bigger philosophical or spiritual questions – but I kept going. After all, my priority was to get to wealth as quickly as possible, and any slight detour would detract from that goal. As I past the opportunities for investing in myself, I sank further and further, digging myself into a hole. I never made the necessary investments in these areas, so naturally they were deficiencies. When I finally did stop on the road to professional and financial glory, I had made pretty good progress. And this wasn’t for nothing, it afforded me the opportunity to take time to take stock of everything else. But unsurprisingly, everything else was a mess. That analogy actually wasn’t that bad! I’m not sure if it was an analogy or a metaphor actually, I better check that quickly before I get flamed. I think it’s an analogy, final answer.
Just one more point on this before we get back into the present. I had an underlying philosophy with regards to my priorities in the past. It wasn’t completely a ghost ship. My belief was work as hard and as quickly as possible on achieving your financial goals. Achieve financial independence which should buy your time back, and then fix everything else. Instead of expending energy on the other, and in hindsight way more important, aspects of your life as you go, deal with then when you’re done with work. I would not advocate for approach in hindsight! Why? Because you are digging yourself into a deeper hole each day you don’t address your deficiencies. And you’re not going to enjoy the journey nearly as much as you would have had you been solid across all areas. This goes back to another topic I’ve written about here. Nothing happens when you achieve the goal, outside of another goal being generated. My approach had some embedded assumptions on me having to cross the financial finish line first before starting work in any other areas. That was flawed, and arguably if I worked on some of the other things while on the path to professional and financial success, I may have gotten there even faster!
But through no deliberate or conscious decision of my own, I was forced off the road just before I reached my final destination. And since I was so deeply broken on the personal side, my ego prevented me from asking for help from my professional network to get back on the horse. And the ironic part is, my ego which prevented me from going back to work right away is what gave me the time and chance to focus on fixing my deficiencies which ultimately led to me getting better control of my ego! It’s ironic because I kind of reached to this place despite my best efforts, not because of them.
That would take us to a few years ago when I went all in on fixing all the other parts of my life which I had been ignoring. In terms of deciding what parts needed fixing, I just read self-help. I liked the health quadrant model which I think is pretty common – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. I was not great across the board, so started methodically building out plans, followed by habits, then routines to get myself in a better place. This is where I will give myself a little bit of credit – the planning and self-discipline worked, but now I’m wondering if it worked a little too well? I will cover this after I briefly go through what I ended up doing in each of these areas in case it’s useful reference. In general. there was a lot of trial and error, which applies across the board. If I could impart one piece of advice it would be don’t waste time looking for the optimal answer, just start. Doing something that’s 50% right for a few months is way better than not doing anything during that period of time while you look for 90%.
- Physical – I focused on my diet first. Got very interested in juicing, and was making vegetable smoothies for a while which caused me to lose weight. I liked that since I looked better physically which prompted me to get back in the gym. I was terrified so I worked out with a trainer for almost a year, which was a luxury, but not at all necessary in hindsight. More recently I have cut back significantly on drinking and put an emphasis on getting 8 hours of sleep a night. I think I’m where I need to be physically now, and am more or less in maintenance mode. These behaviors have been encoded in my routine.
- Mentally – I was very scatter-brained, which was not helped by some long standing bad habits. And I was really being pushed around by a deep desire to prove myself, and express my individuality although I may not have realized it at the time. I started to see some of these shortcomings by reading, that was the gateway here. I say this unironically, but I had no idea how useful reading could be. I was introduced to the lives of others, who surprisingly to me, had experienced many of the same issues I had. On one hand this hurt me because I am and was not unique, but exposure to their experiences was incredibly useful. I remember one to the first books that I read that affected me was The Autobiography of Malcom X, and specifically how he was able to completely turn his life around. Once I knew it was possible, and knew there were resources available, I was off.
- Emotional – I have made some progress, but still feel like this is my weakest quadrant. I see that most of my emotional issues come from childhood, and questions about racial and cultural identity. They are deep-seated. Spending time around my family and taking the time to study my own patterns and the triggers that bring out emotion in me has been really useful. And I do feel like progress has been made, but I still lose control from time to time. And when I lose control it triggers shame and guilt, sadness, etc. So I can spiral. I have to be extremely cognizant of what my emotional state is, and feel like this is going to be a life-long pursuit. Which is true of all of these, but especially here since this one is toughest for me.
- Spirituality – Made good progress here as well. In the past I never really thought about spirituality – what life was all about, how to pick what to focus on, death, etc. I was brought up in a religious tradition which I deeply resented. Why? Because it was so different than mainstream culture, I didn’t understand the language, etc. But my parents never helped me think through the bigger, important questions. Our religion in hindsight was really just our culture and common rituals, they wanted to be around their ethnic group. Once I started reading philosophy, it opened my eyes to things I had never thought about, what’s it all about basically. And I’ve worked through these questions and enjoyed doing it! I am getting closer to not only setting my principles, but actually following through with them understanding the sacrifices. Not fearing death, for me or those around me. Generally I feel less scared.
I’ve also improved in other areas. Got my teeth straightened, forced myself to learn new things, etc. I’ve put in the work! But now I’m kind of at the point where I do all these things because they are part of my routine under the general guise of self-improvement. And to be clear, I don’t think I am close to where I want to be, or even for a much more enlightened person, I don’t think you should ever just say you’re good with where you are and stop. Maybe a better way of putting it is you can never be stationary – you are either improving or declining, and obviously given those two choices you know where you want to be. But I also don’t want to fall into the trap I was in on the highway analogy. That is to say, I suspend everything else while focusing on this priority, putting a completely unrealistic expectation on the result or output. I think I can take the work I’ve already put in which translates into my current position, acknowledge that I still have a long way to go, and then get back to some of my other goals too.
Like what you might ask? Here are some preliminary ideas.
- Getting more involved with my local community. How can I make the city I live in better?
- Relationships – friends and family. I am still really poor here.
- Professional life – A fair self-critique is that I am way too self-involved (30 hours of writing about myself? Jesus). I want to work on something to distract me from me, to get back into my peer group, and to earn a little too.
To wrap things up, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can be both! 55 Minutes. 2005