Emerson Dameron

3 Things To Do When You're Afraid To Ask For Help

Humans are interdependent creatures. Our behavior affects the environment we all share. Even in prison, solitary confinement is the most severe form of punishment.

Too much isolation leads to bad decision-making and bad citizenship. If you cut off your connection with others, it hurts everyone.

You need to emerge from your shell. The good news is that you can do it at your own comfortable pace. If you’re playing piano, you have to learn scales before you play jazz. If you want to create a bond with another person, you can start with a 30-second chat in an elevator.

If you’re afraid to share your emotional pain and ask for help, try a few of these tricks.

Read the rest here.

Anecdote for a Space Invader

Let me tell you about the last time I was in a situation not unlike this one. This is why I’m now carrying my wallet in my front pocket.

I was exploring one of our people’s great cities, a place called Atlanta. A few years earlier, Atlanta had hosted our Olympic Games, celebrating the best in athletic competition between our nations. By this time, this part of Atlanta, near Olympic Park, had gone dangerously to seed. That might give you an idea of how quickly we let some things pass.

I found a free parking space in front of a church. Happy to get something for nothing, I pulled in, got out, and took a jolly walk in the noonday light of our sun.

A man standing nearby saw me getting out and approached. I couldn’t tell his age – whatever it was, he looked rough for it. He asked me for a cigarette.

No. I quit smoking. That’s a nasty habit some of us have, but I kicked it, and I was proud of that.

The man then asked me for money.

I had about two bucks in my wallet, but I didn’t tell him about this. I told him I didn’t have any money.

He pulled out a small gun. He asked, “Now do you have any money?”

Here you go, sir. It’s not much, but it’s all I have. Pleasure doing business with you.

The problem was that this guy had seen me get out of my car. He knew I had an ATM card, which is something we carry that allows us to get more money out of a bank, where we store it for safe keeping. He suggested we go for a ride.

You know how you have complete control of this situation, and you can do whatever you want with me according to your whimsy? I’m not trying to be hostile – that’s just how things are between us right now. This is how things were between this guy from Atlanta and me. So I followed his directions.

I quickly realized that this guy didn’t know exactly where he wanted to go. He led me all around the more seedy areas of Atlanta, at one point making a full square with four turns around the same four blocks, with no result.

It was a painfully awkward situation for me, and I guess he felt it, too. He tried to make small talk. He asked me questions. Where was I from? What did I do? Did I have any family?

There wasn’t much trust between us, I’m afraid, and his anxiety was right on the surface. “You’re lying to me, man,” he said, over and over, in response to all my answers. He seemed convinced that I was either an undercover cop, trolling for sex, or both. He mentioned both of these assumptions in ways that made me even more uneasy.

We pulled into a drive-thru ATM. I told him I had $40 in my bank account, which was about half true – it was closer to $80. I withdrew that and gave it to him. He yelled at the bank teller that he thought she was beautiful.

I thought it was over, but the man had somewhere else he wanted to be then. So our adventure continued.

At this point, my mind was floating far away. I was thinking about ice cream, about warm summer days far away in North Carolina, swimming in a manmade lake near the place where I had lived until I was old enough to fend for myself.

He started asking the same series of getting-to-know-you questions he had asked before. As a token gesture of openness, I removed my sunglasses, as I’m doing now, for you.


“See,” he said, “now the truth is coming out, man.”

We explored Atlanta for another hour or so. I didn’t know what destination he had in mind and he didn’t seem to know where it was. But with his gun, he retained control of the situation.

After a time, it became clear that he was getting almost as frustrated as I was, and, as I mentioned, his emotions were a lot closer to the surface.

You ain’t done nothing for me, man,” he said at one point. I don’t recall the precise context, but when he said that, it pissed me off.

I think I’ve done a lot for you,” I said. “I think I’ve been helpful. I think I’ve been as kind as I can be, considering. Give me some fucking credit, man.” Feeling a lot more calm now, I waited for the bang and for everything to go blank.

You know,” he said, after a moment, “you’re right, man.”

After a bit more chit-chat — he advised me to carry my wallet in my front pocket, not my back, from now on, so it would be less easy to steal — we arrived at the place he wanted to be. He got out and gave me his parting words: “God bless you, man.”

I’m amazed that he let me keep the car.
How To Kill Yourself

My roommate’s white bath towel was soaked in red blood. I’d just tried to kill myself.

I was a freshman in college. I was alone in the suite I shared with three other guys. And I was tired.

Luckily, I was too tired to do the job as I had intended. I had just enough energy to stop the bleeding and clean up most of the mess before the rest of the group returned.

I never told my roommate what had happened. He noticed his towel was missing, and I pretended not to know what had happened to it. It irritated him for awhile and then he forgot about it and got on with his life.

Letting Go

I clung to a set of beliefs about myself, the world, and my place in it that had become painful to maintain. I was stuck in a grey iron rat maze, dragging ideas that prevented me from floating away into freedom.

I didn’t want to drag those beliefs anymore. I didn’t want to live the life that they prescribed. And I didn’t know how to sort them out, work through them, and get beyond them. I tried to kill myself because it seemed like the easiest way to be free.

It was a terrible failure of imagination. I was so tired that I had lost the energy to daydream. I didn’t have the strength to release my grip and drop the bag of heavy and obsolete ideas. I didn’t know how to let go. I would have preferred to snuff out my entire existence than to rethink my beliefs. Fortunately, I ended up with a little more time.

I sometimes imagine what things would be like had I succeeded in my attempt. Most of my friends at the time would have been irritated for awhile and then forgotten and gotten on with their lives. My wife, and all of the people in my life now, never would have met me. My family would have been devastated and likely would have never recovered. I would have taken the pain from the person I was then and inflicted it on them, and they would have been stuck with that person forever.

Now, I let go of those daydreams. I return to this moment and show up for it. Because that’s all that matters, and that’s all I can reasonably expect of myself.

The person I was then had enough room and time to fade away on his own. That pain has now dissolved into history. No one has to deal with it now.

The Acceptance Gap

It is easy to get stuck in the valley between realizing something is true and accepting it as true in this moment. I spend a lot of my time in the acceptance gap.

If I realize something is true about myself and I don’t like it, I can put myself at liberty to set about changing it. This may take some time and some doing, but it won’t take forever and it can be done.

But I’m not free to change anything until I accept it. If I realize some negative thing is true and then I deny it and run away from it, that thing will follow me and manifest itself wherever I go.

If I start a meditation practice and realize it’s difficult, but I cling to the belief that it ought to be easy, I may hurry along to yoga, or drugs, or an all-blueberry diet, or some new form of practice or exploration. But, at some point, my familiar difficulties will arise again. I will find myself with another opportunity to accept them, to know, to feel, and to accept that this practice is difficult. Then, I will have the power to move into the difficulty, to sit with it, to understand it for what it is, to transcend and include it, and to move on to the next thing, giving the pain of that moment time and space to dissolve.

How to Kill Yourself

If you are actively considering suicide right now, get help. Help is available for you.

If you are contemplating the impulse to kill yourself, appreciate that it comes from the seed of a positive intention. It is possible that you don’t want to kill yourself physically, or to end the existence of your form. You may sense that you aren’t finished yet and there’s more to be done. It is possible that you are ready to release old ideas and an old idea of self that no longer serves you.

This is a difficult thing. It’s remarkable that you have the courage to acknowledge it, in a spirit of honesty, in its full complexity and horror. There’s honor and nobility in this strength. You deserve the safety to take on this challenge with your full faculties and fortitude.

Seek safety.

When you are safe, you won’t need to run away from this idea, this impulse. Move steadily and deliberately toward it. Move into it. Sit with it. See it as it is. Know it as your call to accept what is, and, from there, to seek the highest forms of freedom and peace with the universe.

In that acceptance, find the strength to let go, to release the bag. You’ll find that you don’t need wings or a parachute. You need only space, time, and maybe a glass of water. Sometimes a glass of water helps, especially when you’re in a position to appreciate it.

How To Be Less Terrible

No one is perfect. And no one is irredeemable. Not even you.

Granted, you’re pretty far gone. You’re close to the line. But even you can improve. Maybe. Slightly.

Slow and incremental improvement is the most we can ask for, and we’re talking about small-ass increments. This may be beyond your capabilities, but you may as well give it a swing. At least it will keep you busy and distract you from doing any more damage.

Before you change for the better, you must accept that this is where you are. This is who you are. And it’s not good.

Buckle up, friend, because you are about to confront yourself, in all your miserable glory.

It’s about to get real. However, it won’t be real fun. Because it won’t be fun.

Here are four steps to help you get started on your journey toward being a slightly less terrible person.

Take a Fearless Personal Inventory and Realize That You Are Terrible

Up to this point, introspection has not been your friend. You have no idea how terribly you come off in the eyes of others. You drink, you hide, and you put on an act, all in a silly quest to insulate yourself in layers of nonsense. Your absence of self-awareness has been keeping you from breaking down in tears as you soil your pants on the subway.

Now it is time to take a good, hard look at yourself. It is time to realize that all the things you like about yourself are cruel and hilarious lies, and all the things you were suspicious might be problems for you are much more odious than you could have anticipated, worse than you had the capacity to realize.

This is going to make you sick. Physically ill. So take a few days off work, forget about those long-suffering souls you consider your friends — they will appreciate not having to think about you for a few days — and put a nice, large bucket next to your bed.

When you’ve done all this, breathe. Breathe slowly, into your belly. Let go of your ego. Observe your thoughts as if they are bubbles rising through the water. And take a good, hard look at yourself, deep inside. Ask yourself,“What went wrong?”

Stay Quiet

Leave the rest of us out of this.

This inquiry may go on for quite some time. Years, even. It may take you a long time to tally up all the things about you that suck, and it will likely take you even longer to be honest with yourself and accept how awful your behavior, character, and ketosis stench have been.

As you work through this process, shut up. Seriously. Shut up. Don’t open your mouth again, for any reason, until further notice.

In the beginning of this inquiry, as you begin to get real about your many flaws, you may be impressed with yourself. Realize that this will not impress others, as this is basic stuff they all got hashed out many, many years ago, probably in high school. No one wants to hear about your pedestrian journey of personal growth — it took you an unconscionably long time to start getting your life sorted, but that’s depressing, not interesting.

Above all else, please, please spare us your worthless and ridiculous advice. If you think you’ve gained any wisdom, you have truly learned nothing.

Keep Moving

There’s no point in apologizing for all the many heinous things you’ve done. It’s too late to undo the damage, and no one will accept your apology. Just hearing from you again will further wound and enrage.

Your regret is your own problem, not anyone else’s. To expect forgiveness, or even to want it, reminds us that you are still a selfish creep, deep down.

The best you can do for yourself and for others is to walk away from the smoldering wreckage, never reach out again to the people you have wronged, alienated, and skeeved out, and try not to repeat your mistakes. You probably will. But try not to.

Begin Again

We are all newbies now. As soon as we get the hang of something, the rules change. Currents shift. Software updates. Everyone else grows up while you retain the emotional maturity of a nine-year-old in stained sweatpants.

Adopt a beginner’s mind. Surrender your ego. Surrender your silly dreams of personal progress. The most you can ask for is an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a new social circle you haven’t yet burned with your selfish, thoughtless, imbecilic clownery.

Give it all up. Let all your dreams die screaming. For your new self to be born, your old self must die. And that’s what your old self deserves.

As your sad and ridiculous self-image is crushed under reality’s cruel heel, the world blooms with the vengeful joy of schadenfreude.

It’s going to hurt. It’s supposed to. Suck it up. Start over from absolute zero.

Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

Someone else will gladly do it for you.

God Won't Do Your Homework

As I kid, I loved to bounce around the room listening to records. I loved to learn. Or, at least, I loved the idea of knowing things.

What’s French For “Failure?”

I heard someone speaking French and decided I wanted to learn to speak it myself. So I got my hands on some French lessons on vinyl. I listened to them as I bounced around the room, throwing a Nerf ball against the wall and thinking about a million other things at once.

I had always done well enough in school just by showing up, staying quiet, and being patient. I thought that’s how this sort of thing worked. I didn’t realize that, in order to learn French, I needed to practice speaking it. I expected to learn French by osmosis.

After a few hours, I got bored. I moved on to a bag of gummy snacks, an imaginary basketball game, or some other diversion. And I still can’t speak more than a few essential words of French. I failed to learn French by osmosis.

A Tiger In My Tank, Chasing Its Tail

It’s Friday evening, at the end of a boring and brutal work week. This is my time. I’ve got a reservation for 90 minutes in a sensory deprivation tank.

I’m anticipating a peak experience. I expect to achieve enlightenment and return home with at least one million-dollar idea, probably two.

As I ease into the salty sludge, I begin to meditate. As I float, I notice my heartbeat, drumming fast and hard. I notice my breath. I notice my thoughts. Those thoughts are relentless.

I go deep into my boredom and neurosis. I confront my inner asshole. It’s not pleasant.

Under certain circumstances, my brain functions as a perfectly engineered torture device, designed to inflict excruciating pain.

The inner bully takes over. It lets me know that I have no friends because I don’t deserve affection or trust. I have accomplished nothing noteworthy in my creative pursuits because I am a dull and lazy coward. I will never have even a dozen-dollar idea. I forked over $40 to drift in this dark, silent tank, and for what? I am a ridiculous, narcissistic cretin. I deserve to suffer.

There is nothing for me to do but give up. So I do. I give up on improving myself, or having a creative epiphany, or even relaxing. I simply move on to the next moment. I resolve to show up for the next moment and do my best in that moment. I give up on everything else.

The One Big Idea That Explains It All — It’s the Last Thing You Expected!

I’ve traveled. I’ve gone into hiding. I nearly drank myself to death. I smoked 5-MeO-DMT, saw spinning lollipops and cresting rainbow waves of sheet music, and encountered a toad who spoke in non sequitur and refused to give me straight answers. I’ve meditated for hours and days at a time. All this time, I would’ve done anything to achieve my one big breakthrough into pure truth, freedom, and peace with the universe.

Eventually, I found it.

When the big breakthrough realization arrived, I realized it was something I had already realized long ago. It wasn’t an epiphany; it was a reminder.

It reminded me that this is all there is. This is all we get. And our only job is to take it and like it. Or, if we can’t manage that, to take it and love it.

All we have to do is show up, pay attention, and care for one another.

And that has to be its own reward. It doesn’t come with bonus features, free ebooks, or follow-up emails.

We don’t learn French by osmosis. We learn it by practicing. We don’t come up with million-selling hits by mainlining drugs or depriving ourselves of our senses. We do it by writing a dozen-seller, revising the first draft, and doing the work.

Showing up is the hard part. Confronting the ego, preconceptions, and resistance is hell on earth. It’s boring and humiliating and it never gets easier. But if we can do that, cut through the crap, and show up every day, we’re the way. If we can learn to hear through the chatter and listen to our instincts, the rest of it is relatively easy.

The universe loves me, in its own weird, passive-aggressive way. It will take care for me. But it won’t do my homework. I have to show up, sit down, put pen to paper, and practice.

4 Signs Your Loved One May Be Hiding Depression (and What You Can Do to Help)

Is someone you love stuck in a funk, or suffering from a more serious and dangerous emotional pain? If they were, would you know?

Hi. I have crippling depression. It may not be obvious, but if you observe carefully, you may notice that something seems off.

I’m not a therapist — I can barely keep a cactus alive — but I know some of the common tricks that people like me use to mask our emotions. Depression flattens the personality, and depressed folks tend to have a lot in common. If you notice these behaviors in someone you care for, it may be time to check in and see if something is wrong.

They drop out of the conversation

I signed out of Facebook five years ago and never came back.

When I vanished from Facebook, I lost touch with dozens of friends, acquaintances, and people I met once at a bar in 2008. A lot of my closer friends and relatives lost track of my activities. A lot of them didn’t know I got married three years ago, or that I almost died in 2014 and stopped drinking so I wouldn’t. They still don’t, because I’ve made no effort to reach out to them. Most of them probably just stopped thinking about me.

Long before I quit, I had begun to view my friendships as a meaningless collection of trading cards. Looking at other people’s highlight reels made me feel worse about my own unedited raw feed and how dark it had gotten.

This wasn’t an indictment of my friends, or friendship, or Facebook. It was my own frustration with myself. I knew I was headed for a breakdown, and I preferred to have it alone.

If someone close to you cancels accounts, or stop responding to your texts and emails, it may be a sign that they’re in anguish. When I shuffled off Facebook, a few people reached out to me through more traditional channels. Those people mean more to me than even the cutest emoji.

They get attached to inanimate objects

One day at work, when I was angry and depressed, I bought a sandwich and a bag of Greek tzatziki chips. I wolfed down the sandwich and threw away the bag it came in. An hour later, I realized I had thrown away my chips by accident. And I wept for those chips, which went to the landfill without accomplishing their one mission, to be eaten. Those chips suffered for nothing.

Of course, those chips didn’t suffer at all. But they never threatened or hurt me, the way that humans sometimes do. And I felt so cut off from the rest of my species that I invested all my sympathy in a bag full of starch, salt, and chemicals.

Getting attached to a disposable object is sad, but it’s safe.

When someone takes on light hoarding tendencies, it’s a glaring sign that they are failing to connect with people and are clinging to the things they feel are within their control. Appreciate the depth of feeling that is still there, beneath the frustration and sadness. Say something kind, with that appreciation in mind.

They sigh and roll their eyes

My dad was a quiet, dry person who often behaved as if irritated, pissed off, and too hip for the room. He put up with my endless questions while signaling that his patience was wearing thin, exhaling and rolling his eyes toward the sky.

I do this now. I do it when my resources are taxed to their limit and I don’t feel up to the day-to-day challenges of life and human interaction. Part of me hopes some supernatural force or coincidence will take mercy on me and rescue me from all this.

When I sigh and roll my eyes, I’m not thinking about how I could improve my lot or connect with others. I’m not confronting my problems or dealing with them productively. I’m giving up. I’m hoping this will all go away.

If your loved one acts aloof, superior, or over it all, they may be lonesome and in pain. Don’t take an eye-roll as an insult. If the eye-roller is someone for whom you care, be patient, take their ‘tude in stride, and ask “why” to see if it cracks the ice.

They seem to be sick all the time

In my drinking days, I assumed I was almost always tired because I was almost always hungover. Imagine my disappointment when I stopped drinking and still felt sick all the time.

When I’m in a deep bout of depression, I feel groggy and tired. I have no appetite, or I always seem to be dehydrated. I don’t want to do anything but sleep, or lie in bed and read articles. My head hurts. My lungs are sore. My symptoms don’t correlate with any particular illness. It’s a general malaise that never seems to go away.

If someone cancel a few appointments because of some mysterious illness that never seems to let up, asking a few pointed questions may be the caring thing to do. Ask why they haven’t been to the doctor. When they go to the doctor and discover that they are okay, let them know that, if they want to get a check up from the neck up, they have your support.

How you want to phrase these questions depends on the nature of your relationship. (You might not want to be as blunt as my friends and I are with each other. We’re jerks.)

Spot the high-functioning depressive

Most of my giveaway gestures and behaviors are hardly unique to me. I share them here in hopes that, if you notice them in people you care about, you will know something is up and possibly step in.

When you do, don’t expect gratitude, at least not right away. Depression is rage turned against the self. It takes complex forms and includes elaborate defense self-preservation mechanisms. If you start asking questions about it, some of that rage may come your way. It’s not about you, so don’t take it personally.

If you approach a depressed person with compassion and generosity, you are a hero, whether that person likes it or not. Sometimes a chip in the ice is all it takes for a heart to begin to thaw.

Just because we’re shutting out the world doesn’t mean we’ll be okay alone. It usually means the opposite. If you can sense when to reach out to quiet people when they can’t ask for help, you can provide a minor miracle.

Why I Meditate Every Day (Even Though I Suck At It)

Mindfulness meditation is an essential tool in any entrepreneurial skillset, the ultimate habit of highly effective hustlers, and a crucial facet of any decent personal brand. To unlock our full potential, all we have to do is squeeze in 30 minutes of breathing between cryrotherapy and p90x. We take our seats, we automate our social media marketing, and we gain complete control of our thoughts and emotions, forever.

Through mindfulness meditation, we’ll learn that compassion for the entire human race is the ultimate competitive advantage. Once we’ve dominated our own hearts and minds and made them our bitches, we can start controlling the attention of those around us, as well.

If you’re already practicing meditation and you’re doing it correctly, you know the feelings of equanimity, well-being, and superiority it brings. If you’re not meditating yet, or you’re afraid you’re screwing it up, keep reading.

The Truth About Meditation Practice

You’re still here, which means you’re not 100% balls-out confident that meditation is changing the game, taking it to the next level, or crushing it for you. That’s okay. Neither am I.

Even if meditation could rein in our egos and emotions and give us superpowers, anyone who’s meditating for personal gain, or with an end objective in mind, is missing the point.

We drive ourselves crazy with thoughts, desires, and attachments. Not just the ones that distract us or divert us from our goals, but the goals themselves. The pain comes not from the way things are, but from the idea that things should be different.

We will never be able to fix this. The point of mindfulness practice is simply to notice it. There can be great power and relief in that noticing, but, again, that’s beside the point. The point is simply the noticing itself.

Meditation doesn’t stop negative thinking — it exposes it. It doesn’t come with valuable stock options, but it may give us the insight to see how much of our pain comes from ego, ambition, and status anxiety.

Sigmund Freud said that “the only thing about masturbation to be ashamed of is doing it badly.”

This is not true of meditation. There’s no need to be ashamed of doing it badly. If we’re doing it badly, we’re right on schedule. The point of the practice is not to improve. The point is the practice itself.

The Practice

The bad news about meditation is that it’s a pain in the ass. The good news is that it’s simple. Just separate your direct experience from everything else.

Take a seat, either in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion. Close your eyes or let them droop at half-mast. And gradually turn your attention to your breathing. Give the breath your full awareness.

When I do this, the first thing I notice is that my mind is firing all sorts of thoughts at me, including mundane worries, petty jealousies, thousand-dollar business plans, and some truly dark and batshit stuff. When this happens, I acknowledge it. I say to myself, “thinking,” or I visualize a bubble floating up through clear water. And I bring my attention back to the breath. I continue until I’ve utterly lost my mind or my ten-minute timer goes off.

If you do this and you believe, straight away, that you’re not thinking, you may be so used to thinking that you’re thinking you’re not thinking. If you think you’re kicking ass at this right away, that’s a good sign you’re afraid to do it badly. Do it badly.

Great! Now repeat this practice every day until you’ve released any expectation that you will ever master it. 90% of success is showing up, and meditation is the art of showing up.

Why I Meditate Every Day, Even Though I Suck at It

I have dabbled in mindfulness meditation on and off for much of my life. In 2012, I began to experience crippling panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. Thanks to an unorthodox therapist, I discovered the shamatha practice (akin to what is typically known as mindfulness meditation) and began to meditate in earnest.

I’ve been doing it for awhile, and I am still a basket case, tortured by rumination, grasping, and self-aggrandizement.

The only difference is that I’m a lot more comfortable with that now.

I’ve learned some humility. I’ve learned to regard my thoughts and emotions with healthy skepticism and to take a second to breathe before I lean on my car horn, snap at my wife, or walk out on a job or a friendship. Sometimes I will do those things anyway, but that’s how it goes. I have had fleeting moments of experiencing the world beyond selfishness and judgment.

I am a sloppy sack of feelings, organs, and outmoded instincts, and I’m okay with that. When I try to fix myself, I’m wasting everyone’s time.The objective is to show up. The goal is to eliminate the need for a goal.

Live Real Mindfulness By Sucking Every Day

My daily to-do list is simple enough. Show up. Be human. Be a small, flawed person who forgot to rehearse, but show up anyway.

There is no guaranteed ROI. As I’ve learned to acknowledge that the stories I tell about myself are fiction, I’ve noticed that that my life does not fit into a clean narrative arc, which precludes “improvement.”

I just show up for this moment. And the next.

Whatever happens, we’ll be there to witness it. Whatever happens next, we’ll witness that, too, in a new way. We’ll be a part of the poetry, paradox, and change.

I gave up drinking when my pancreas exploded.

After a two-week bender, I spent a day with a knifing pain in my gut, vomiting so hard that I ripped my gastrointestinal tract. My mom gave me a ride to the emergency room, and I spent a week in the hospital. A doctor told me that if I kept drinking, I would die.

And I had to think about it for a second.

If you’re not blacked out, is life worth remembering? Would I rather live in sober mediocrity for four more decades or be a kickass rock star for four more months?

The first few months of sobriety are dangerous and challenging, and the first ten years aren’t much easier.

When I was drinking, my life was a mess, but I didn’t have to find things to do on St. Patrick’s Day.

I thought sobriety would be a fresh, clear-eyed start, but sometimes it feels more like an endless homework assignment. There’s a reason you don’t see long lines or velvet ropes in front of AA meetings.

I don’t want to strap on those rose-colored goggles again, but I’m not doing anyone any favors if I lie and pretend that alcoholism didn’t have its advantages. I don’t remember much from that era, but a few things stand out.

Read the rest Be Yourself. Or here’s an expanded version on Vox.

How to Get a Life When You Hate Your Job

Over a sad desk lunch at work, you surf the internet. You come upon another article about another twenty-something overachiever who built a seven-figure startup in six months with nothing more than “a laptop and a dream.” You remind yourself that, on the internet, no one can feel you punch.

You check your social media accounts. These people are your friends, you think, and they will probably have more in common with you. You are greeted with soft-focus vacation photos on Instagram and smarmy career porn on LinkedIn. Your mom just posted a link on Facebook, and it’s that same story about the smug, punchable 20-something wunderkind from before. “Why couldn’t my child be more like that handsome entrepreneur?” your mom wonders, in your imagination.

Meanwhile, you have been stuck in the same cubicle at the same humiliating dead-end job for as long as you can remember. You’ve had a stealth job hunt going for six months, but you’ve already used all your sick days to sneak out for interviews. You plan to spend your next birthday in a lifeless office, doing work you don’t enjoy, to meet goals you don’t understand, on behalf of people who don’t respect you.

I can’t say I have risen above this situation, but I know what it’s like to be in it. Worse still, I know what it’s like to identify with it. That is the killer.

I’ve learned that life doesn’t have to suck, even when work does. Here are a few ideas that may help you handle a dead-end job and still be an interesting person.

So What Do You Do?”

Strangers will never stop ask you, “So what do you do?” If you hate your job, there is no answer for this that will sound cool. You can stammer and B.S., or you can tell the truth and seethe through gritted teeth. You can take a personal branding workshop, craft the perfect elevator pitch, and try to keep a straight face as you introduce yourself as a Guiding Light and Nascent Virtuoso.

We are not the sum of our experiences, but what we make of them. And everyone, from our families to our coworkers to LinkedIn spammers, encourages us to take our professional titles personally.

There’s a difference between what we do for a living and what we do to feel alive. The more you resent your job, the further that see-saw is out of balance.

Don’t worry about answering questions like, “What do you do?” Start asking yourself questions like, “What do you value?”

If you value creative expression, block off your own time to write, paint, or podcast. If you want to be rich, work hard, save, and invest. If you want respect, start with your own.

Time Flies When You’re Old As Hell

I’m staring down the barrel of my 40th birthday.

After some early successes, my career as a professional writer flatlined in my mid-30s. I obsessively Google writers, comedians, and entertainers I admire, and I find that almost all of them were experiencing crazy success by the time they were my age. I often feel that I missed all my chances and that all my proudest moments are behind me.

I repress that rage and put up a tight, icy front to impress the boss. That always makes me feel even worse.

So I do this instead…

I visualize what I will look like in ten more years if these shadows remain unchanged. I feel, smell, and taste the stinging regret. I bathe in it. And that gets me focused.

When I was younger, I never thought I would run out of time. Now I know that, if I don’t align my actions with my values while I have the chance, I may miss that chance forever.

The things I love now have a fresh sense of urgency. I know, now more than ever, how important it is to put in a little effort, every day, toward a larger goal.

Ten years from now, I may not be happy, but I won’t let anyone say I didn’t work hard. If I can tolerate showing up at my job every day to keep my lights on, I can stand to put in some extra effort on nights and weekends to keep my soul awake.

Who Are You To Complain?

If you’re reading this, it means you have an internet connection, which means you life in comfort and prosperity relative to many people on earth. Some people have families to feed and debts to pay and can’t even find jobs they hate. Look at you and your lack of gratitude.

You can’t appreciate how good your life is, which means that you are weak, which means that you deserve to feel bad. There — that should make you feel better!

This vicious cycle of rumination runs through my mind dozens of times a day. There’s no correct way to feel about your life. You are human, and that means you are going to be ungrateful and self-pitying some of the time. Adding more layers of shame and guilt isn’t going to help.

Complain all you want. Your job sucks. You get no respect. No one appreciates your true talents and desires. Waaah! Feel it fully. Let it pass. It will pass.

When it does, ask that feeling what it wants from you. Anger is often there to mask fear. Beneath fear, there is hope, the seed of a positive intention. Nurture that seed, and you will discover the work that matters to you, whether or not some jerkoff gives you money to do it.

Don’t Get Bored With Life

When we’re not a work, we’re usually recovering from work. We’re eating or drinking too much, watching too much TV, or otherwise numbing ourselves to the frustrations created by work.

Your boss isn’t supposed to be your buddy. It is in his best interests to suck you dry. It is your responsibility to create a life that will balance out work. It may be wise to start crafting an exit strategy. But you probably don’t need to quit or do anything too extreme.

Time isn’t just money. Time is life. If you identify with your job so closely that it dictates how you feel about your whole life, getting a sexier job title may not help you. You may need to reexamine your values, starting at the core, and take back what time is still yours. You can start by taking back one hour every day.

Here’s what I do. I write ten ideas a day. I write 750 words a day. I write pieces like this in hopes of connecting with others who feel the way I do. Any sort of action puts rumination and negative self-talk in check. It’s a daily process, like taking a shower. I take solace in doing.

Take an hour a day to disengage from work and electronic devices and do something that makes you proud of yourself and happy to be alive, whatever that might be. Take that one hour a day and make it sacred. No matter how awful your job is, they can’t take that hour from you. Make the most of that hour that you possibly can. If for no other reason, do it out of spite.

Get Mad, and Get to Work

That smug young entrepreneur is in the news because his success is unusual. Most of us don’t get paid to do the work we love. As a former tech reporter, I can promise you that we don’t know that kid’s whole story. He may be cooking the books and sitting on a little Enron. His cocaine abuse may leave him unable to satisfy his 19-year-old Lithuanian model girlfriend. None of this matters to you.

Never in human history has there been so much work to be done. Not all of it is lucrative. If you’re not right for your job, or you’re stuck in a job that’s wrong for you, you’re probably angry.

That’s good. Use that. Feel it fully, and let it galvanize you to take back enough of your time to get to work on the work that matters. It may open opportunities to do more important work, or it may not. Either way, you will discover that a good hustle is its own reward.

be-a-self-worth-promoting

You are a star. You have a vision, a calling, and a keen sense of smell. You have important things to say, you know exactly how to phrase them, and your spelling is pretty good. The world has a job opening for a Creative Genius, and you can expect your offer letter by today’s close of business.

I used to feel this way, and I let my feelings get the best of me for far too long.

be-a-self-worth-promotingAfter some early success as a radio host and writer, I fizzled. I slumped into a life of mediocrity and boredom. It took me a long time to grasp that my problem was my ego, and that my ego would need to die for my soul to live again.

When I was young, I was lonely, and I thought being creative might be a way out. So I wrote stories, played music, drew comics, and volunteered at a radio station.

In a way, I was correct.

It’s hard to describe the all-consuming thrill I felt the first time I spoke into a live microphone at age sixteen. For years, I had pretended to be a DJ and put on shows for an audience of stuffed animals.

Maybe a dozen-or-so people were listening, but the feeling of sending my voice out into the atmosphere gave me an intoxicating rush of power. I was speaking to people — lots of people — without my usual stammering anxiety.

I was hooked.

The first few times I wrote for publication, I got a similar rush. As a kid, my favorite toy was a typewriter. I devoured whatever reading material I could find, from encyclopedias to magazines to the fine print on food labels. Being a real, published writer — someone who told the stories that lit up imaginations — made me feel like a god. I got a few record reviews published in local zines and I felt like Hunter Thompson. I wanted to feel this awesome forever.

Radio and writing enriched every aspect of my life. I didn’t just feel less alone; I was less alone.

People want to be friends with people who do things. It was a lot easier to make friends when I had creative projects that could make introductions on my behalf. Because these radio stations and magazines had established audiences in specific areas, I found myself much more in-demand than I had been when I was a quiet daydreamer with bad eye contact.

My problem was that, for someone with grinding depression and rock-bottom self-esteem, I had a hell of an ego. I wanted my work to speak for itself, on my terms. The world owed me a living, and if it didn’t pay up, I would take it to court. I thought it was cool to alienate and antagonize strangers and to pose as much tougher and more cynical than I was. (To be fair, it was the ‘90s.)

By the time I had been out of college for a few years, my creative efforts hit diminishing returns, hard. Print media and radio were laid waste by the rise of the internet. It became much easier to put my words and my voice out there and much, much less likely that my work would gain any sort of an audience. I still had my old swagger, but I wasn’t doing good work or connecting with anyone new. I was an aging hipster running out of things to say.

It was fun while it lasted. Going through a period of arrogant self-indulgence helps you get to know yourself, which is more difficult than it sounds. If you haven’t given free rein to your creative vision, I recommend it. (You don’t need to share the results.)

Once you’ve gotten to know yourself and get comfortable expressing yourself, you may find that you’re still not quite satisfied. A few people praise your work because they know you and like you and want to feel good. But most people don’t really get it, and you’re not getting out of it what you put into it. You’re not living up to your potential. Even you are losing interest.

I’ve been through this several times. I’ve lost jobs because I alienated the people who supported my work and found that it couldn’t survive without their help. I’ve gone through years of alcoholism, extreme depression, and writer’s block. I’ve given up, started over from scratch, and given up again.

My problem, as I see it now, was that I got pretty good at expressing myself but never really learned how to communicate.

If you’re stuck in a rut, or you’ve got something to say but are afraid to clear your throat, this may help. Here’s how I healed my bruised ego, extracted my head from my ass, and gathered the courage to get back to work I cared about.

Harness the Power of Selfishness

It takes courage and creativity to be true to yourself. But it takes even more to pay attention, solve problems, and be true to others as well. You probably aren’t a genius, but you are smart enough to make yourself useful.

Fortunately, you have an ego, and you can be its master, not its slave. You can harness your desire to be a star and use it to help others. Like everyone else, you need attention. And if you strive to be the sort of person who deserves positive attention, you can make the day a bit brighter for everyone. Demote your ego from the C-suite and put it to work for you.

The Bad Idea That’s Killing Your Creativity

demote-your-egoGrowing up in the ‘90s, I dreaded being a “sellout.” I was terrified that making a living would mean sacrificing my integrity and becoming part of the problem.

As it turns out, there is no separation of church and state between art and commerce. Yes, some people make music or movies just to make money, but that doesn’t mean that people with genuine passion should have to go broke. If you have something important to say that can help people, learn how to say it where those people can hear it. That’s what account executives call a “win-win.”

Read books and blogs about marketing, activism, and social influence, and think about how you can express your ideas in ways that will resonate with others. The giants of advertising have a lot to teach about human nature. Instead of exploiting people’s weaknesses, you can empathize and do work that’s relevant. Expressing yourself is a lot more rewarding if someone else is paying attention, and it’s a lot more rewarding if someone is learning something from you.

I found that my experience as a storyteller came in handy in helping nonprofit organizations and mission-oriented startups with branding and promotions. My time as a DJ and comedian enabled me to communicate with other people suffering through addiction and depression. And my writing skills could help people understand urgent problems.

Yes, there is plenty of noise in the new media landscape. There are a lot of people talking. Most of them will run out of breath. If your signal is strong, your purpose is clear, and you know how to connect with the people who need you, you will find the strength to keep doing the work.

Don’t Learn From Your Mistakes. Do This Instead.

When I was young, I wanted to be a star because I was lonely. I didn’t get all the attention I wanted, and I felt even worse. I gave up. Then I sobered up, thought about what happened, and noticed that everyone else was lonely, too. With that, I wanted to be creative again. So far, this go-round has been a lot more rewarding.

Every day, do something to expand your capacity for empathy. Talk to someone who’s going through a rough time, or read the life story of someone who made it through a struggle. Don’t give advice. Don’t force your way into someone else’s story. Pay attention to the pictures, sounds, and feelings they describe. That’s what your art can be about.

Discover what you can learn from someone else’s struggles. At the least, you won’t have to make that person’s mistakes yourself. You can start my avoiding my mistakes. I already made them, and they weren’t that interesting the first time.

To be fully human, you have to care for people other than yourself. Not because you think they deserve it. Just because they are lonesome and suffering, and there may be small ways you can use your art to help.

As a keen observer, you can notice how other people are screwing up and suffering. As a creator, you can speak to that pain in a way that is inclusive, empathetic, and honest.

If you feel driven to create, there is probably an audience out there for your creation. Everyone with courage has something to teach. Hone your skills and supply the humanity that other humans demand. There will always be room for more art, and human connection is not a zero-sum game.

How To Define Creative Success

Life is an awkward mess of small talk and social status games. Meanwhile, we long for the sorts of crazy-meaningful connections that artists know how to create. If ad wizards can convince people to buy things they don’t need, there’s no reason you can’t use the same tools to make people feel less alone.

Salesmen get a bad rap because so many products aren’t worth buying. Promote yourself, and develop a self worth promoting.

Create to connect.