How Your Ideal Day Can Make You Happy… Forever

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Remember my obsession with book summaries? I breeze through multiple books a week now. That’s how I found this summary of Joe Sweeney’s “Moving the Needle”. The book itself seems to be typical self-development fare, but one piece of actionable advice stuck. I’ve been thinking about it all week. Soon, you will too.

Early in the book, Sweeney calls on us to embrace personal clarity. I know that’s classic self-help bullshit, but hear me out. First, get quiet. Turn your music off, put the phone away, and picture your ideal day. This isn’t my idea. This is in the book. Think about what activities you’d include in your day. Is your family in there? Is work involved, or is your ideal day work-free? What about your leisure activities? Does your ideal day involve reading? Netflix? Eating at a nice restaurant? Write that shit down NOW. No excuses. This is literally an exercise that will improve the rest of your life. Write down every detail; morning, noon, night. When you’re ready, meet me back here. These words aren’t going anywhere. Don’t scroll ahead. Go and write. See ya in five.

*****

What you wrote down is what you live for. It’s why you work so hard. It’s what you strive for, and it’s what you should do with your free time for the rest of your life.

*****

Fuck, I struggled with that realization. My list was surprisingly close to A Normal Life. I actually included work in my ideal day. I believed my ideal day should involve making a little money. I also included cooking. In my ideal day, I saw myself shopping for ingredients and whipping up a shared meal with friends. I saw myself drinking a few bottles of craft beer, and surprisingly, NOT some hoity-toity $400 wine. Oh, and here’s the good part: Wait until you see what WASN’T included.

I did NOT include any PlayStation or TV time. I did NOT include anything with a romantic partner. I did NOT include spending money on new gadgets or toys. I did NOT include expensive travel to exotic locations. What the fuck, right? Aren’t those the kinds of experiences we work and strive for? Am I just thinking small?

Or did I just finally figure out what I actually need to be happy?

*****

Obviously, needs change and so do the things that bring us joy. I recommend this clarity exercise at least once every few months.

For now, I’m making direct changes in my life based on my results. I’ve realized my video game habit is just a way to kill time and the Time:Happiness ratio isn’t worth the investment. I’ve also stopped pursuing Romance for now. I may also continue donating my Travel opportunities to people who need them. I’ve given away two flights in the past year, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out yet. And somehow, knowing all this makes me feel… lighter.

Heck, it’s almost like figuring out what you truly want in life makes it all easier.

Imagine that.

It’s Time to Stop Joking About Being Shitty

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New Year’s 2007 was rock bottom for me. I’m not exaggerating. I somehow passed out in a crack house after consuming WAY more tequila than any 18-year-old should, and the night ended with me projectile vomiting all over the front porch as my friends left disgustedly. I slept on a mattress on the floor, and over half the people there were high on something, super racist, or both. My only saving grace were two friends I had there who remain my friends to this day. Without them dragging my hungover ass to Denny’s the next day, and eventually disassociating us from the denizens of said crack house, I’m not sure where I’d be right now. It was a pretty fucked up time in my life, but what happened next was worse. For years after that, I wore that night as a badge of honour.

Let me explain: 19-year-old me was a piece of shit too. By then, I’d already developed an alcohol problem that I still wrestle with today. At wild parties, I’d often talk about New Year’s 2007 to garner approval from the “cool kids”. I was somehow content in my shittiness, and used it as a social poker chip in conversations to go all-in. “Oh, you think you had a wild night? LET ME FUCKING TELL YOU A STORY…” It was gross, immature, and shameful – my most pathetic attempt at trying to earn the approval of others. I even thought that was what they wanted to hear. Every time I told that story, people would smirk, ask questions, laugh… How was 19-year-old me to know I was being a dumb brat? Not only was I perpetuating toxic behaviour; I was indirectly telling other people I approved of it! Well, no more. I’m putting my foot down, and you should too. Here’s why.

You’ve probably done the same thing, albeit in less dramatic ways. It’s most insidious in self-deprecating humour – [Why go to the gym when I have ice cream? LOL. #iloveicecream #fatforever] – and a lot of us are guilty of it. When we joke about our terrible habits, we’re actually seeking approval for our idiocy and choosing not to change. We know what we’re doing is unhealthy, yet we continue to brag about it. Why? Why do we come back after a weekend bender and give our coworkers a tally of how much we drank? Why do some meat eaters joke about “never touching a vegetable”? Why are we proud of being so unsustainably busy that our health suffers? WHY DO WE CELEBRATE BEING BROKE?!?

This attitude makes us poorer. If we don’t hear enough positive influences, we accept shittiness as the norm. If Tom, Dick and Harry make $4,000/month and blow it all on booze and cocaine, only to roll in all fucked up on a Monday to high-five each other, THEY’LL NEVER BREAK OUT OF THAT CYCLE. Be the person who brags about good shit, like “I worked out this morning and I feel great” or “my savings rate this year is through the roof”! Sure, you might not make Tom too happy, but who cares? You can choose to recognize your bad habits and change into the beacon of health, wealth and intelligence YOU KNOW YOU CAN BE… or you can just keep joking about your low bank balance, get a few chuckles, and stay poor forever.

A weird thing happens when you start being vocal about healthy habits instead of joking about shitty ones. The people around you don’t want to be left in the dust and adopt healthy habits too! My friend C texted me: “You also have inspired me to get healthy.” J messaged me also: “I think I’m gonna see if I can just get up earlier and walk to work the scenic route”. Oh, and remember Mike, the dude with the ridiculous car? HE TRADED IT IN FOR SOMETHING WITH TWICE AS MUCH FUEL EFFICIENCY AND HALVED HIS MONTHLY PAYMENTS. And thanks to A’s frugal eating habits, I’VE now adopted a mostly vegetarian diet and am losing weight so fast, it’ll only take me a month to hit my goal weight! (More on that soon.)

Comedy is tragedy plus time. Do you really want to be tragic FOREVER, just for a laugh? Didn’t think so. Stop joking about being shitty. Let’s boost each other up and conquer the fucking world. It’s all uphill from here.

All My Failures Weren’t Failures At All

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It all started when I noticed the performers weren’t getting ID’d.

I was at a bar on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive and I was 18, desperate to drink with my 19-year-old friends. We were all out on the town to support my friend M as he did standup comedy. He wasn’t very good yet, but showbiz kids stick together. I ordered an appy and settled in.

Every night featured about seven performers. Pretty much all of them were terrible. They were the entertainment for the night though, so the bar treated them with respect. There were occasional free drinks, and I guess they gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed they were all 19+. I wanted in on that. I waved the emcee over.

“Hey, can I sign up for next week?”

“Uh, have you done this before?”

“No, but I’m pretty sure I can do what they’re doing.”

“Do you have any material?”

“No, not yet, but I’ll come up with something.”

After ten minutes of needling, he reluctantly gave me a slot. I’d invite my friends too, I thought to myself. They’ve been laughing at my dumb jokes for years. I walked home that night performing for an imaginary crowd. Surely, I was hilarious. This wasn’t even about the drinking anymore. When I was 18, I was about 80% hubris.

*****

I’ll spare you my jokes.

I was 18 at the time, and thought I was WAY funnier than I was. At best, my comedy stylings could be described as “bad”, and at worst, “probably somewhat racist against Koreans”. I was just another terrible performer. I got my drinks though, and I even went up four more times that summer and recycled the same shitty material for new crowds. Only once did I get great laughs. All the other times, I bombed hard. I gave it up, of course, but something started that summer. I learned the confidence I needed to go up in front of strangers and actually speak! Not just that, but FAILING my comedy show so many times made me realize the worst I could do was just piss people off for 10 minutes, and they’d forget all about me afterward. I was putting myself out there, and it was up to them whether they liked me or not. If they did, they’d pay attention – great! – and if they didn’t, they’d just ignore me, and that was fine. The end result was the same: I GOT MY DRINKS!

Even better than that was suddenly losing my fear of public speaking. I’ve now been invited to photo clubs, high schools, and industry events like 20Summit to speak about entrepreneurship and photography. I accept whenever I can. Because my business sense is better than my comedy, I’ve yet to have a bad experience. My failure at comedy led to success as a public speaker!

This is only one example, but I’ve failed at stuff a LOT. I once tried screenwriting. That led to film school, and I don’t even work on film sets anymore. I once tried drumming for a band. Over a decade later, I still struggle with a proper paradiddle. I once tried community theatre. The group imploded after only two productions. I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I’ve tried, and I learned a fuckton. Nowadays, I don’t see all those as failures anymore. Rather, they’re all TEMPORARY SUCCESSES that inform my CURRENT GOALS.

Screenwriting taught me how to take a written idea and translate it visually. Drumming for a band taught me how to work and collaborate creatively in a group dynamic. Community theatre taught me how to market my art locally, and how to drum up business for something that people don’t even need. IT WAS ALL USEFUL.

There’s something I want you to take from all this: Try – and fail – often. Seriously. Fail all the fucking time. Fail so spectacularly that insurance companies get involved. Fail, then fail again, then fail again. Try everything you’ve ever wanted to do. Don’t give a shit if you fail. I can guarantee you you’ll learn SOMETHING from it, and it WILL inform your future success. You’re not even failing. You’re taking small, measurable steps toward your next success. The modern day master is a jack of all trades. Anything more complicated can be looked up on YouTube. Hell, I’m trying to be a personal finance blogger. Have you seen how much fucking debt I’m in?!?

What have you always been afraid of trying/failing? Tell us in the comments.

This is Why Every Job Has a Shitty Part

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My job’s pretty great. It wasn’t long ago I was shooting with swimsuit models and crisscrossing the globe on multi-thousand dollar contracts. That lifestyle doesn’t work so great for me anymore (and this is why), but I had a good thing going. It was easy for others to be envious. They didn’t see all the hard work below the surface.

Yes, I’d shoot world-class conferences and their eventual afterparties, but they never saw me cabbing to a backup site in a faraway hotel at 2 in the morning when I needed to be up again to shoot at 6. Yes, I photographed models, but people never saw me working with an awkward 14-year-old model who seemed like she was forced into it by her mother. Yes, I shot extravagant weddings that I adored, but no one saw me editing for 15-hour days for full weeks at a time. I went kinda batshit. I once went so insane I’d edit for 15 minutes, THEN JOG AROUND THE FUCKING BLOCK before I could edit another 15 minutes! I was twitching like a meth addict. It was fucking hell. And you know what?

It was still a great job.

Like mopping at my liquor store, I found it far too easy to complain about shitty tasks. It wasn’t until speaking to people like my programmer roommate or film industry friends that I realized I was being a baby about it.

“Oh, you spend 15 hours a day editing in a warm room where you can sneak a beer anytime you want? Life must be SO HARD.”

“You don’t have a boss and get final say on your images? Try having to communicate with six other people working on the same project, and making that project WORK. Fuck off.”

I’m paraphrasing, but the sentiment is genuine. The shitty parts of my job were negligible to other people. To them, I was already living the dream, and here’s why: I GOT SO USED TO ALL THE DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF MY JOB, I SIMPLY CHOSE THE LEAST ENJOYABLE PARTS OF IT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT. I had a great job all along!

No one’s denying there are parts of your job that suck. It just helps to have perspective from people who have it worse off than you. I hated mopping. Tell that to a janitor. He hates cleaning urinals. Tell that to a sanitation engineer at a wastewater treatment plant. She hates unclogging pipes in literal human waste. Tell that to a “manual scavenger” in India with no protective gear. YOUR JOB DOESN’T SUCK. YOU’RE JUST SO USED TO HOW CUSHY IT IS, IT’S MADE YOU A WUSS.

Surely, maintaining your composure as a customer asks for EVEN MORE extra olives on their sandwich isn’t cause for hara-kiri, and overtime on Christmas might actually be okay once you account for stat pay. If you’re in North America and working for above minimum wage, you actually have it pretty good. What’s shitty to you is a dream to someone else! Even my friends who work in the Downtown Eastside do so as a passion project, and THEY HAVE THE CHOICE TO LEAVE.

Stop complaining. Love your job. Difficulty doesn’t suck, it helps you grow.

THE ONLY REASON YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT YOUR JOB AT ALL IS BECAUSE YOU HAVE IT SO GOOD, YOU FEEL THE NEED TO FIND SOMETHING NEGATIVE ABOUT IT.

Prove me wrong. Go ahead and tell us why your job sucks in the comments.

Prepare for Failure

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As you may recall, I set myself a few goals last month… They didn’t go well.

Am I disheartened? Yeah, a little. Did I fail? Some might say so. Am I giving up? NOT A FUCKING CHANCE, and here’s why.

Using lessons I learned from Jason Bell’s excellent ebook “Agile Timelord”, I now see setbacks as opportunities to reevaluate goals, and I always strive to keep them malleable enough to be achievable. After all, as long as progress is being made, I’m winning. I know setbacks are inevitable, and as long as they don’t derail the spirit of my goals, I can live with them. You kinda have to! You don’t quit an entire diet just because you had a moment of weakness and annihilated 30 McNuggets while drunk. You have to keep going so you don’t die the NEXT time you eat 30 McNuggets while drunk! Discipline can waver. Goals, and the habits that come with them, SHOULD be forever.

I fell short in my goals this month by not reaching 10 alcohol-free days, and not exercising every two days. I found I often liked to have at least one beer after a long workday, but I really don’t have a good excuse for the exercise. I’m just lazy, I guess. The reasoning behind 10 alcohol-free days was I wanted to cut my alcohol expenses down by a third. Seeing as how I somehow spent $1,120.27 on booze in January, I started getting more strict with my alcohol spending. I opened up my September expenses and tallied up the wobbly pops: $571.86. It’s still far more than any reasonable person should spend on alcohol – $19.06/day! – but the point is I’m trying, and I’m actually seeing progress. I can do better, and I will not be derailed. With my exercise, I still strive for one workout every two days, but one workout every three days is also acceptable in a pinch. In my mind, working out every three days allows me to maintain my fitness. Working out every two days is when I’m actually increasing it.

What I’m trying to say is self-development should be flexible. It should be fun, and you should allow for occasional “failures”. The point is to make a habit of continuous progress in a way that’s sustainable. I realized not being able to have even ONE beer after a long workday was making me less happy, so I’ve changed that goal for now. I’m now trying to simply decrease my alcohol consumption by a third, which was the point of the goal anyway. As for my fitness, ANY working out is better than what I was doing before. I kept within the spirit of my goals, even though I needed to reword and rework them! You can set big goals, but it’s more important to make continuous self-improvement a habit. Changing small habits and maintaining them over a lifetime is where real gains are made.

TLDR: Make your goals and habits sustainable, and reevaluate them when needed. It’s one thing to create a sustainable habit for the rest of your life with some flexibility built in. It’s entirely different to set goals so rigid and impossible that it lowers your quality of life and burns you out in three months.

What do you think? Am I off the mark? Am I simply going too easy on myself? Comment below.

I’m A Generosity Addict and That’s Not Okay

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I can’t remember which I bought first for her: the PS3 or the PS2.

This was years ago with our friend J. She was an avid gamer, and I was still riding the high of a successful wedding season, so I was feeling generous. I was like an Asian Oprah. (“YOU GET A PLAYSTATION, YOU GET A PLAYSTATION, YOU GET A PLAYSTATION!”) Seriously, I think I’ve gifted six or seven PlayStation consoles to my friends now. I seem to go apeshit every Christmas and it always seems like a good idea at the time, so I do it every year. Well, J dated one of my other friends and we lost her in the breakup. We haven’t seen her in months now, and that investment in our friendship is gone. In the end, the gifts I bought her were just Stuff, and therein lies the problem.

Say it with me: STUFF. IS. MEANINGLESS.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you already know that, but my generosity addiction didn’t end there. It extended into my dating life too! I once blew $200 on a first date with someone I didn’t even know! WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH ME? Was I compensating? Probably. WHY DO I ASSOCIATE LITERALLY SACRIFICING MONEY WITH SHOWING AFFECTION OR FRIENDSHIP TO PEOPLE? Well, I’m not opening that door here, but I know some of you reading this know exactly what I’m talking about. Do you buy too many toys for your kid, thinking more action figures directly translate into showing them love? Have you ever bought an expensive concert ticket for a date when you know they’re not even a fan? Do you break the bank for your extended family when, deep down, you know all they really want is to spend more time with you? STOP SUBSTITUTING STUFF FOR ACTUAL LOVE.

For those of you who don’t obsessively read self-development articles, here’s a goddamn truth bomb: People accept love in different ways, and 9 times out of 10, buying them Stuff is the absolute worst way to go about it.

If you’re the type to be overly generous in a way that costs you money, seriously reevaluate how you give to the people you love. Stuff is meaningless. Be generous with your time instead, and spend that time with your friends, family, and romantic partners. Save your money.

They’ll remember the time you watched their favourite movie with them. No one remembers who bought the fucking TV.

Do The Thing You Hate Most

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Six years ago, I was a little shit. I know I’m still impetuous and entitled now, but you should’ve seen me when I was 22. I was no-fucks-given personified.

My photography business was doing well. I was already shooting for thousands on good days, hundreds on bad days, and I was working part-time on film sets. I knew I had a solid skill set, and I never saw myself settling down for a Normal Job. My rule back then was “I don’t get out of bed for less than $200”. That’s not my motto anymore, but it summed up how I felt at the time. I thought I was too good for regular employment, whatever that was. I was THAT millennial.

Things changed in 2010. I realized my income, as decent as it was, couldn’t keep up with my uncontrollable spending. NBC had just let me go after the Olympics wrapped up, and I found myself without a day job and paying real bills for the first time. I applied at a liquor store because I liked fancy wine, and they hired me. Suddenly, the entitled millennial found himself working for $10/hour when he was used to billing $2,000/day, and to top it all off, it was Real Work. Mopping, taking out the garbage, cleaning windows, stocking shelves, unloading orders… all that shit. I hated it.

Mopping 8,600 square feet every day was what I hated most. I couldn’t see the point in it. Why not mop every SECOND day? Maybe every third day? No one’s actively shitting on the floor, so why did it need to be pristine? I still did it though. Not with enthusiasm, mind you, but I did it. I’m glad I did too. In retrospect, it wasn’t a big deal at all, but it’s paid off in unexpected ways.

After I retired for two years, I wanted to get back into casual liquor store shifts. I missed talking about wine, and I also needed to actually go outside once in a while. I remembered the mopping, and dreaded it. So goddamn stupid, right? I hated mopping. Then, the big day arrived: I had to fucking mop.

I dragged my sorry ass to the back and got the bucket. I poured in the Mr. Clean and whispered obscenities as I did it. I wheeled everything out to the front, and slapped the mop down. I was gonna get this motherfucker clean, but I wasn’t gonna like it. It’d take forever, I thought.

I was done in 15 minutes.

*****

I’m telling you this story not because I became some sort of Mop Wizard™, but because I truly believe attitude is everything. Simply acclimating yourself to an unpleasant situation somehow makes future unpleasant situations less shitty. My current store is about 3,500 square feet, HALF the area as my old store, and mopping it is a breeze! For one, I’m used to mopping now, and two, it’s 50% less work! Because I was used to how bad something COULD be, an average unpleasant task was now nothing! Experience at something makes future situations easier!

This applies to basically everything. Hate cleaning your apartment? Do it all the fucking time, and cleaning the house you buy 15 years from now will be easier because of it. Hate budgeting? The more you do it, the more likely it is you stop overspending because you’re so aware of it, you don’t want to put in the extra work to add it all up. Pretty much always, the stuff you HATE doing is stuff that NEEDS to be done. This goes back to personal development too. Just the fact you’re doing SOMETHING often means you’re making progress, and progress is happiness!

Whatever you hate doing is what you need to make the most progress on. Willingly allow yourself some difficulty in life. The more difficulty you let in now, the easier the rest of your life becomes. For all you nerds out there, think of life as an RPG. Experience is key.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got 3,500 square feet to mop. See you all in 15 minutes.