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.

How I Didn't Crush It

I  don’t know how to “crush it!”

howididntcrushitI’m not Gary Vaynerchuk. I’m a recovering alcoholic, so wine was a net loss for me. 

I’m not Tony Robbins. When I walk on hot coals, I tend to get burned. When I shoot for the moon, I tend to end up floating around in space for a long time.

I’m not a superstar, a unicorn, a guru, or even much of a go-getter. 

I’m well acquainted with bitter loss and with snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Sometimes I get up, dust myself off, and make it as far as the sidewalk. But I am also in the habit of ruminating over my failures.

Although I’ve never crushed it, it hasn’t been for lack of trying. I despise bosses and slaving away for causes I don’t believe in. I’ve attempted to take the wheel of my own ship and become the captain of my own destiny.

I heeded all the advice. I didn’t listen to naysayers, or anyone else, assuming my friends and family envied my rebellious spirit and would try to hold me back out of spite. 

Instead, I listened to some douches on the internet, whom I assumed had my best interests at heart. I jotted down lessons from their success stories, copied their repeatable formulas, and applied them to my own life. I burned the boats and didn’t look back, even when I needed a fire to cook food or keep warm.

In the process, I made some discoveries. Some of this might help you. I don’t know.

Sometimes, it is a good idea to listen to friends and family, even when they say things that don’t sound supportive. Sometimes, when they try to hold you back, they are trying to protect you from humiliating yourself, or they don’t want you to end up asking them for money.

By cultivating the habit of not listening to people who care for you, you might be closing yourself off from the people who could actually use your help. You don’t live in a vacuum. If you shut out the world and spend all your time looking inside yourself for your million-dollar idea, you may find yourself with your head wedged in your ass. Sometimes I’ve needed the Jaws of Life for this.

This happened to me. My ambitions weren’t even that grand. I didn’t sacrifice everything for my art or bring my wacky idea for an app in front of Mark Zuckerberg. I only wanted to make it as a full-time freelancer.

The main thing I learned is that poverty sucks. I learned how many days I could go without eating before I started hallucinating. I learned that it’s easier to start bullying yourself than it is to stop. I was never all that concerned with money until I didn’t have any.

I learned that, by failing to save any money and racking up significant debt, I was really upsetting my wife. I learned that I wasn’t the only person who cared whether I succeeded or failed — my wife cared, too, a lot. 

She didn’t care because she liked me, although I assume that she does. She cared because my terrible decisions hurt her materially, too. She saw something I didn’t see — sometimes the costs of pursuing a dream outweigh the benefits. Sometimes you aren’t the only one who needed those boats to get home. Sometimes you have to be an adult because the world can’t support another spoiled, deluded child.

I do think she believes in me. Sometimes, I even believe in myself. I believe in myself enough to make things easier on myself, not harder. I have enough confidence in my dreams to pursue them without putting our well-being at risk.

As my attempt at a freelance career came to an end, I had three options. I could find a regular job with regular hours and regular benefits, one that would support me and my wife. I could give up, move into my mom’s basement in the Chicago suburbs, and lick my wounds for a long time. Or I could hurl myself from the tallest building I could find. 

At one point, I came close to executing on the third option. Had I done that, it wouldn’t have been a setback I could have leveraged to my advantage or spun to make myself look like a winner. There was nothing romantic about that feeling. It was freezing cold. I was completely alone.. One sunny day in May, I came very, very close to crushing myself.

As I peered over the edge, it occurred to me that I had a lot to lose. I had people who loved me. I had ideas worth pursuing. I just couldn’t live the life of a compulsive gambler. This constant state of fear and scarcity was not helping me.

Although I failed to crush it, I learned that I have my own skillset. I am patient, persistent, and realistic, almost to a fault. I plan for the worst. I harbor no illusions about my own significance in the world. When things go well, I don’t take it as a sign that things will always go well. I can sit steady in the saddle and not be shocked when things go badly — it’s never a surprise. It isn’t the same skillset that Gary Vee has, but it has its advantages.

It is easier to dream with a roof over your head. When you’ve suffered, you appreciate relative comfort. There’s nothing wrong with grinding it out in a bad day job if you use your relative comfort to support creatively and spiritually fulfilling activities in your off-hours.

I now have a day job that I don’t much enjoy, but is usually preferable to a dry-dive from the US Bank tower. It gives me security and resources to invest in writing, podcasting, spiritual exploration, and the other things that make me happy to be alive.

When I encounter setbacks, I tend to take them quite badly. Disappointment hurts. It will never be easy or fun, I’ll never escape negativity for good, and taking a spill will always hurt.

After I fall down and realize my bones aren’t broken, I regroup and get up, because I remember the joy pursuing my dream brings.

We are not the sum of our experiences, but of how we react to them. Many of my experiences have been painful, and most of my reactions have been even worse: counterproductive, juvenile, and sometimes self-destructive. 

I pissed away most of my 10,000 hours on lashing out and feeling sorry for myself, but I always allow myself to started over from scratch. There’s freedom in that. When I’ve had a chance to grieve my losses for however long that takes, I always ask myself two questions. What can I learn about this? What is funny about this? From there, I begin anew.

When you fall apart, you have the freedom to reassemble the pieces of your life in a whole new form. Sometimes giving up is for the best. Just don’t give up for good.

I am not by any means crushing it. But I am not being crushed, either.

10 Things You Must Do When Making a To-Do List

The first thing on your to-do list should be making a to-do list.

A handy to-do list can help you get organized, separate important tasks from trivial distractions, and give you more time at the end of your day to read advice on time management. Here are ten simple steps to get you started.

1. Think Big

Your dreams should be so big that they require their own plane tickets. You should be able to make the floorboards creak with your mind. Think so big that you rip your pants. If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. If you don’t care enough about it to put it on your to-do list, you probably don’t deserve to have it.

In the planning stages, it’s important to go buck-wild. Promise yourself the moon with stars sprinkled on top. Make a list of the twenty things you most want out of life, and then add twenty more things. Don’t forget to add all the things you should do, such as flossing your cat, along with the things you don’t really enjoy but want to be seen doing, such as complementing other people’s children. Put it all in there.

Make your to-do list a living document, and keep giving yourself new things to do until all of it is done.

How to make a to-do list2. Get Going

Now you’re off to the races! You have a whole lot of work ahead of you, and it’s important to not get overwhelmed. Start with the first, most important thing, say, getting your shoes tied. Hey, that was easy! Now you’re laced up and on your way out the door. The world better watch out, because you’ve got big plans. You’ve got such big plans that it’s hard to keep track of them, but fortunately you’ve got a to-do list.

3. Determine What Really Matters

Painstaking prioritization is one of the best alternatives to doing things.

Before you move on to tackle item number two on your list, take stock of your priorities. You can’t do everything at once because you’re not a machine(Robots don’t get adult acne). You’re a person with a to-do list, and one of the things on your to-do list is to practice mindfulness. So be mindful of what really matters to you.

Of all the tasks you’ve set out to complete, which do you need to do? Which do you want to do? Which best exemplify who you are as a person and what’s in your heart of hearts? Rearrange the list like a symphony to harmonize with a mindful awareness of your priorities. Now lay it over a disco beat and get pumped.

4. Procrastinate

It’s been a week since you started on item number two and things aren’t going too well. You bought the Lego set. You read the instructions and you put a few pieces together, but the project has been sitting on the kitchen table for days, and you’ve been eating in front of the television to avoid looking at it.

You tried meditation, which wasn’t very productive at all — you probably weren’t doing it correctly. You took some vitamin supplements to boost your energy and you ended up with less money and more colorful urine. You’ve been lazy and useless, and you haven’t even been able to enjoy it.

You notice that your shoe has come untied, and you have no idea what to do about it.

5. Sabotage Yourself

If you were being brutally honest with yourself, you would admit that you’re half-assing it because the idea of pouring your soul into a project and failing scares you more than the idea of not doing it at all. If you never write your first book, no one will ever read it or love it, but at least you won’t have to deal with one-star reviews from idiots. “Let’s not and say we did,” is what the kids say, and the kids are the best judge of anything. You cross item two off the list, confident that you could have done a hell of a job at it had it been worth your time and trouble.

6. Fail Completely and Bitterly

What started as a low murmur of self-doubt now crescendos into a chorus of self-loathing. You’ll never get through your to-do list because you’re not smart or tough enough to finish your chores, honor your commitments to yourself, or obtain the things you want in life. You are, simply put, weak.

Most of us feel this way sometimes, because, except for a few CEOs and celebrities, we all suck and should probably give up. Your life isn’t worth much if you can’t compete with the guy who came up with Snapchat.

7. Give Up

Now you are free to fall apart. You are at liberty to do all of the things that would have previously brought you shame. Now, you are fish and shame is the water in which you swim.

So, give up. Quit your humiliating dead-end job. Drink until your sweat eats through paint. Toast dumpster bagels over a trash can fire. Life is suffering, as the Buddhists say, and the path through suffering is greased with Everclear.

Keep sinking until you break through the bottom and land in the abandoned basement. Rediscover shame as the last few people who love you have to come in and clean up your mess.

How to make a to-do list8. Revise Your To-Do List

Start with one basic thing, like tying your shoes. Do that one basic thing every day.

Do something that seems simple to some people but that you find challenging, like, oh, feeding yourself. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but I once spent 72 hours curled up in my bed, had a pizza delivered, and could not eat the pizza because of anxiety. If I had just eaten one piece of pepperoni, I probably would have felt better and that would have been progress. Start with one pepperoni.

Do that one basic thing until it becomes a habit. Then, and only then, consider adding a second basic thing to your to-do list. Add new basic things as you can handle them, and no sooner. Get in the practice of building habits for their own sake.

9. Get Bored

Soon enough, you will feel better. You’ll get a boost in morale from all of that successful pepperoni-eating and shoe-tying. As you reassemble the fragments of your shattered life, you have some time to rest and reflect, and that rest, more than anything else, is helping a lot.

Now you wonder what you’re missing, out there in the dangerous and exciting world. You feel ready to go out and conquer it, or at least go on a crazy and colorful adventure. You are, simply put, bored. And you fear that all of this rest is making you rusty. There is so much you are capable of, so many goals you want to pursue.

So you start making a list…

10. Repeat

Now you are right back where you started. Progress!

As you can see, a to-do list doesn’t have to be simply an inventory of tedious tasks. A good to-do list is a recipe for adventure and delight, along with harrowing terror. When you get good at making to-do lists, you will get used to the insane mood swings that come with them. Start making your to-do list today, and don’t be surprised if you learn a lot about yourself in the process.

If you wind up exhausted and humiliated, you may find that you prefer using a productivity app.

A Late Adopter's Audition for the Anti-Self-Help Bandwagon

Most of us could use some wise advice. Most of us distrust forced positivity and new age pabulum. Thus we see the rise of the anti-self-help guru, a writer who gets to have it both ways and be raw without sacrificing authority. The ASHG gives you the whole truth, not just the good parts. When they reassure you that things can be better, you trust them, because you know that they have suffered.

Penelope Trunk worked this angle for awhile before she got too depressing to really qualify. James Altucher has been doing it brilliantly for years and has spawned conspicuous imitators. Mark Manson is the hot ASHG of the moment.

Since it seems like a good way to make a quick buck, I decided I’d try my hand at it. Let’s see how it goes.

Fuck you.

Okay! I think I might be phoning it in here. There’s no way it could be this easy. Let’s try putting a little bit more of my own flavor into it. The secret sauce that only I can add is the flavor the readers will savor.

4, 3, 2…

ashgI have some good news and bad news. The good news is that the bad things you think about yourself and the bad things other people say about you aren’t accurate. The bad news is that the truth is way worse. It’s worse than you can imagine, because you aren’t smart or creative enough to really visualize how bad it is.

People are afraid to tell you this because they want to be nice, but there’s not much to like or trust about you. Fortunately, there’s not much reason to think about you in the first place, since you are, in truth, a boring and forgettable mediocrity.

There is a voice in your head telling you not to take risks and to avoid putting yourself out there or asking the world for what you need. Listen to this voice. It is smarter than you, and it is trying to protect you from humiliating yourself.

You don’t have any special skills. You are too weak and lazy to put in the required 10,000 Hours To Mastery. Don’t sweat it too hard. Someone else will take care of whatever needs to be done, and that person is more qualified and competent to do it.

The most useful thing you can do is to get out of the way.

Doesn’t that feel good? This worked out pretty well for you, when you think about it. You’re getting off relatively easy. Now you don’t have to do anything. You’re off the hook. You can relax. You can call in sick and stay home. You can go back to doing what you normally do, which is to take up space, behave awkwardly and without charm, and die by installments.

You can make those checks out to “Emerson Dameron.”

People Who Need People

As a condition of employment, I took a creepy personality profile that revealed I am more “people-oriented” and care more about building rapport and being liked than I would like to. If any suggestion can provoke the sort of rage that that one has, and does, in me, it’s a strong indication that there may be some truth to it.

cherry-150077_640I may as well admit that I have always wanted to be liked. There are some people who truly do not care what others think of them, and those people are known as “sociopaths.” As much as American culture may reward and romanticize sociopathy, it simply isn’t available to all of us. Like many, many other people, I am driven to bond, to amuse, and to keep the peace. Perhaps if I liked myself a bit more, I wouldn’t hope for someone else to come along and make up the deficit. I’ll let you know if that happens.

I admit that, in my case, this business of wanting to be liked can get a tad ridiculous. Even as I believe that there is no “self” to transcend, I wonder if my self is adequate, and if I am transcending it correctly. When I look for this self, it is nowhere to be found. But I still sometimes indulge the thought of, if not transcending it, then perhaps trading it in for a better model.

The unfortunate thing about wanting to be liked is that it by necessity requires being more trusting than is sometimes wise. If you want people to like you, your trust will be burned by those people who do not care one way other the other. And you may become bitter, or at least hypervigilant about avoiding further abuse of your trust.

I admit that I harbor some anger toward certain people whom I believe have violated my trust. A very small part of me wants to lash out and hurt someone else in turn. A much, much larger part of me really, really does not want to do that. That much larger part keeps the smaller, angrier part in check by repressing it, which adds to its sense of resentment. Eventually, predictably, I lash out about some inconsequential thing and wound (or more likely simply confuse) some poor soul who had nothing to do with any of this.

The way out of this is to feel that rage fully, as it arises. Pay attention to those sensations as they bubble up and pass away. These are merely thoughts. They need not be woven into some grand and silly narrative about some fictitious person called you and some other bit-player who slighted you in some way. The story is fiction, and neither character is particularly convincing. And that angry cluster of energy will dissipate, given room, for that is what clusters of energy do.

This is not some keen strategy for getting more out of life. It is a simple acceptance of the way things are. At the same time, though, if you’re anything like me, you may find it much easier to build genuine rapport, and avoid being manipulated, if you’re not behaving like a repressed, passive-aggressive basket case.

We try to win over others in the interest of our survival and flourishing. We preceive it as an existential threat when we fear we may be expelled from the tribe. But the tribe is full of people who are just as nutty as we are. That fear is not something to embrace or something to fear itself — it is merely there to be felt. Feeling bonded to others leads to frustration and anger. Feel that, too, fully. And then, for a moment, you may see beyond our day-to-day status angst and kabuki theater and catch a glimpse of our real and fundamental connection.

A Digression on Dreams

I forget most of my dreams, and that’s a shame. Whether or not they’re transmissions from a collective unconscious or simply the brain taking out the garbage, dreams can be at least as much fun as the movies, since they’re at least one less degree of separation away from experience.

I am running around in an MC Escher house. I take an ambitious jump. I wake up in the hospital.

dreamIn my most common recurring dream, I am back in college and near the end of the semester. I realize that I have one class that I have almost entirely forgotten to attend, and the final exam is imminent. I have heard that this motif is rather common and that it indicates that there is something going on in the dreamer’s waking life at that time that warrants closer attention. Maybe something is going wrong behind the scenes. Maybe there’s an opportunity that the dreamer is at risk of passing up.

I am walking through a gentrified neighborhood in a whipping wind. A detached ambulance door flies past, almost hitting me. A calm kid in sunglasses hops on it and rides it like a surfboard.

Lately, I have cultivated the habit of writing down what I remember from my dreams. (I recommend Jeremy Taylor’s book Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill for practical advice on how to do this along with broader observations on why it might be useful.) It only works if I do it within five minutes of waking up. If I think a dream is so awesome that there’s no way I will forget it in the shower, it will be gone by the time I reach for a towel.

A guy takes my picture. I blink. The guy is now out of film.

Few things are as difficult as describing one’s own dreams, and few things are less interesting to listen to. But we spend about a third of our lives asleep. We may as well get something out of it.

Brief Interview With a Scientologist

In 2009, I wrote a few bits and pieces for a now-defunct comedy and entertainment site. I pitched the idea of interviewing a practicing Scientologist, which they loved. Instead of the cringe-comic piece I had in mind, I ended up getting into a respectful email exchange with a guy who dabbled in Dianetics and got out. I was intrigued by the idea of focusing on someone who briefly joined a group with such a toxic reputation and left with no obvious trauma or hard feelings.

The editors never responded to the finished submission. That’s okay.

This episode happened to cross my mind today and, out of curiosity, I Googled Gandalf Parker, the thoughtful gentleman who shared his Scientology experience with me years ago. Obviously, he won’t be able to read this now, but I decided to finally publish it as a modest tribute. The original text is below, minus one bad one-liner. RIP, ‘Dalf.

church_of_scientology_building_in_los_angeles_fountain_avenueHis actual, Christian name is “Gandalf.” He’s an inquisitive dude. He’s practiced with Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and neo-pagans. He knows a lot about the LDS, Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, Zen and science. And, while he was serving on a military base in California, an attractive woman convinced him to dabble in Scientology.

I took her picture,” he says. “When I looked at it later, it did not strike me as being more than average. A Scientologist, in person or on film, seems to be more than they are in still photos.”

Like most people who try Scientology, Gandalf never swabbed the deck for the Sea Org. He “took a couple of the cheaper courses and moved on,” including the introductory Communications Course, “which was excellent. I had taken some in high school and community college, but none compared to theirs. Prior to taking it, I was a geek who couldn’t speak to women, and definitely not in public. After taking their course, I had no trouble in either.”

Soon afterward, he left the fold. “I had what I needed. The next courses were great things. Getting off drugs and alcohol, fighting peer pressure, clearing blocks to your goals. But they were more expensive and, at the time, I didn’t feel I had much need for those. But I do feel that I received far more full life benefits than I expected in direct return for the money I paid.”

Like the majority of fledgling Scientologists (at least 62%, according to the most virulent anti-Scientology sites), Gandalf hung out and got out. He remembers Scientology as a functional self-help club, especially as compared to, say, the Baptists.

There was no group singing, reading, or chanting. No repetitious standing and sitting or kneeling,” he recalls. “No push to come up and declare your allegiance. Compared to other religious practices I’d have to say its rather boring.”

So why the hate?

Scientology,” says ‘Dalf, “seems to draw many detractors who seem to just want to be detractors. Some have personal experiences. But most of the ones I talk to have never even met a Scientologist and have no wish to. They come armed with things they have heard… I’ve met people over the years who have tried to force-feed me their version of the truths about Scientology in ways which were clearly similar to what they feel they are condemning.”

You Are Not Happy

If you wonder how many LA Rams fans can fit into a Red Line Metro car, the answer is “a lot of them.”

hsy-_los_angeles_metro_7th_street-metro_center_blue_line_platformI am thinking about a particular situation and those thoughts are agitating me. The frustration bubbles and boils into rage. I angrily pace up and down the Metro platform, balling and unballing my fist.

A concerned Metro employee approaches me with her palms facing outward. She asks me if everything is okay. I tell her that, yeah, everything is okay. She cautions me not to pace in the grey area as it is dangerously close to the tracks.

I have a sordid history of self-destructive candor and professional self-sabotage. To avoid that, I will not get too granular about the situation that upset me today. But I have now made a record of my experience of feeling upset, and I have thus achieved my purpose in writing this. This is how it happened. Noted and recorded.

This post is not written with any particular care or flair. I have not rewritten it for clarity or peppered it with jokes. It is not Optimized for Search Engines, and if it gets a lot of clicks or goes viral, I will be quite surprised.

I am writing this to remind myself that I find it useful to remind myself of my experiences.

A few years ago, I was drinking quite heavily. I was radiating nineteen kinds of pain and I thought that drinking consistently was giving me a few hours a day of numb comfort and relative freedom. I’ve written elsewhere about how that ended and how I began to dig myself out, for those of you playing along at home.

bluerosesOne night, in a bleary stupor, I scrawled out a note to myself, by hand, on a piece of lined notebook paper. “YOU ARE NOT HAPPY.” Whenever I am tempted to have a drink, I recall that note.

If you are currently happy, this isn’t about you. It probably isn’t about you anyway. But in case you are not happy, I will tell you what has worked for me.

Create something to honor your experience. Write a note to yourself, or record a song or a video. It does not matter how bad it is. Memorialize this unhappy moment.

I believe that suffering comes from wanting our moments to be different from what they are. If a person in solitary confinement inside a supermax prison can make peace with that experience, I believe that person is better off than a teenaged celebrity with millions of dollars and Scarface-sized piles of cocaine who nonetheless manages to be miserable.

Perhaps creating projects to honor our angst takes us further away from appreciating our moments for what they are. I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. Your mileage may vary considerably, as mine does.

I do know that I will look back on this and recall that I had a rough morning. Perhaps, recollected in tranquility with the cool clarity of hindsight, I will better understand why. I will reflect on the decisions I made that helped me improve my situation. I will hold myself accountable to my experience. That, to me, matters.

Confessions of a Stick Figure

I have gained some weight. Finally.

stickfigureportraitI’ve always skewed scrawny. When I was in junior high, my mom left a large tin on my dresser filled with Honey Buns, Zingers and Little Debbies. She hoped that I would bulk enough to intimidate the kid from fifth period that had kicked me in the shins. It didn’t take. All the way from kindergarten through graduation, I was a nervous dancing skeleton with a shaggy mop on top. I had a body like a Lincoln Log. I could live off sour cream, pie and McDonald’s and gain no weight.

If you struggle to say slim, I sympathize, but I can’t say I empathize. That is, I do not have your problem. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a jacked-up relationship with food. If you’ve heard of “eating your feelings,” I do the opposite of that.

I have a quick metabolism and get seasick when I’m anxious. Much of the time, I don’t have much of an appetite, particularly in stressful situations. Having no desire to eat and taking no pleasure in food — or living off of hard-boiled eggs and energy bars just to get through the day without hallucinating — is often the first sign that things aren’t going well in my job or my life.

In college, I spent a couple of years on psychoactive medications, one of which led me to resemble a Ziplock bag full of water. I switched that one up, and went straight back to my usual praying-mantis physique. Around the same time, I started drinking a bit much, and sometimes went to bed without dinner because I simply forgot to eat it.

I’ve never had much of a palate or an appetite. In my frequent spells of stomach-growling poverty, I can survive for months off rice and lima beans and not particularly resent it. My veins are unusually obvious, and, after a time, I’ll start to look like a bunch of snakes feeding on a corpse. But look at the money I save.

Once, as I waited to cross a street, an SUV full of ball-capped frat boys pulled up. One guy leaned out, looked at me, and seemed lost in thought for a second. As they peeled out, he yelled, “STICKMAN!” That was the best insult he could come up with on the fly.

Recently, I’ve started exercising and meditating again. I’ve balanced my diet. I’ve cut out booze, gotten more sleep, and generally behaved more like an adult than I had previously imagined possible. And, at last, I’m starting to put some meat on my structure. I’ve gained confidence. I’ve noticed people checking me out without visibly wondering if there’s some sort of hotline they should call.

I am finally beginning to reflect on my issues with nourishment. When I sense that I am in a bad situation and I have resigned myself to misery, sometimes I don’t want to do anything that might make me feel better. This happens a lot in ill-suited jobs. If I am convinced that I am not going to breathe easy again until this nonsense is behind me, I put off basic self-care and go whole hog on unhappiness in a quest to build all the character I can. If I resent the days and the hours, I deprive myself of the moments as well, and the delicious snacks that sometimes go with them.

Sometimes I need to get over myself and have a sandwich. Some people die for flags, but no one respects a dude who resembles a flagpole.

Clock-Watching and Waiting for the Androids

Perhaps your job does not require or inspire you to channel your creative energy or flex your creative muscles. Maybe a typical work-week will pass with neither brainstorming nor spitballing taking place. It is possible that your dress code precludes wearing any of the six thinking hats. You may find yourself actively discouraged from becoming a leader, an outlier, or a linchpin. You may want to Steal Like an Artist, or even use the bathroom like an artist, and find that this approach does not fly.

EDblog_sadrobotEven in the age of outsourcing, there remain plenty of jobs that revolve around functioning as much as possible like a finely tuned, precisely programmed, good little robot.

Sometimes it’s not easy to know when you are expected to serve such a function. If your boss uses the word “autonomy” a lot, or describes himself as definitely not a micromanager, that may be a tipoff.

To such bosses, mentorship means creating obedient clones of themselves. Which sounds rather appealing. Soon enough, intelligent AI may allow them to execute on this strategy and succeed beyond their wildest current expectations.

For you, that’s not great news. It could be worse. But do not forget that, as you post low-effort content to reddit, function at a minimally competent level and pace your breathing to the tick-ticking wall clock, you aren’t just sweating out the 9–5. You are waiting to be replaced by someone equally competent but more desperate, and eventually by an actual robot. A robot that has not yet been programmed to stick up for itself.

If your job does not require you to pump, test, and take joy in your creative muscles, find some other way to do it. Do not let them atrophy. It’s a cliche that you need to do what you love and to have hobbies and a life, but it’s important to execute on this strategy if you do not want to become a cliche. You will need those muscles sooner than you probably expect, and you could probably use them right now.

The bad news about being a robot at work is that it is a draining and frustrating way to work, to live, and to be. It will not last forever. It may be over a lot sooner than you expect. That’s the other bad news about it.