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Welcome to Your Daily Admonition

ad·mon·ish

ədˈmäniSH/

verb

1. reprimand someone firmly

2. advise or urge someone earnestly

3. warn someone of something to be avoided

At first, I was planning on naming this blog “Your Daily Encouragement”.  Think about that word—encouragement—for a moment. The root word is courage, which is something we all need in greater supply. But an encouragement is most often thought of these days as someone patting you on the back and saying, “Way to go!” or, “Keep up the good work!”

But I didn’t start this blog to tell internet strangers that they’re doing great and to keep on keeping on. There’s enough of that on the world wide web as it is, most of it quite nice but utterly ineffective. However, neither is it my goal to tell you that you suck and your life is a fucking mess, because there’s also more than enough of that on the internet, and it’s equally fruitless.

Instead, what you will find on this blog will be meant to kick you in the ass, to rattle you out of complacency, and to inspire within you the necessary boldness to start doing whatever it is you’ve been putting off—in short, to admonish you. 

This blog is designed to be your quick daily reminder (and my own, to be honest) that regardless of your particular situation, there are areas of your life—perhaps your physical and mental health, your finances, your shortcomings, your passions, etc—that you can and should improve. Almost every goal you currently have is slowly but surely becoming one of two things: something you will have done by your life’s end, or something you will wish you’d done. It’s up to you.

No really, it’s up to you.

The four questions

A couple of years ago, I went to my doctor for a yearly physical. This was at the height of my drug use, so needless to say, I wasn’t in very good shape—physically, mentally, or emotionally. During the exam, I told the doctor that I’d been very depressed lately and wondered if I should seek professional help or some kind of medication.

He then told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “You know, I see lots of young people like yourself who are struggling with similar issues, and I always ask them the same four questions about their lives.”

Here are the questions he asked me:

  1. Are you exercising on a daily or at least regular basis?
  2. Are you eating an (at least somewhat) healthy/balanced diet?
  3. Are you getting good, regular sleep?
  4. Are you moderating your use of drugs and alcohol?

After I had (rather sheepishly) said ‘no’ to all of these, he told me, “Anytime someone answers ‘yes’ to three or four of those questions, I advise them to explore options for treating their depression…. but almost none of the 18-25 year-olds answer ‘yes’ to even one or two.”

Now the argument can obviously be made that those suffering from chronic depression are very unlikely to be doing any of those four things precisely because they are depressed, and that’s a fair point. However, it seems equally plausible that lack of exercise, a poor diet, insufficient/sporadic sleep, and drug & alcohol abuse will almost certainly cause depression in those who would otherwise be quite content with their lives.

Something I learned in rehab is that more and more people in the medical profession are realizing that if someone is abusing drugs and alcohol, it’s nearly impossible to accurately diagnose them with a mental disorder. I was convinced I was bipolar before I got sober. It made total sense at the time; I checked all the boxes. However, I was completely ignoring the fact that turbulent and unpredictable mood swings and heavy cocaine use go together, as the philosopher Gump would put it, “like peas and carrots.”

I suppose my point is this: if you are suffering from depression, if you are as mired in that thick, suffocating fog of apathy and dread as I once was, try your absolute damnedest to get to a point in your life where you can answer ‘yes’ to at least two of the questions above, and see if you don’t feel a bit better…. or maybe just not quite as bad. Then try for three, and then four. Will it be easy? No. I’m still working on the diet part, and my sweet tooth is fighting me every step of the way. But no one said it was going to be easy, or that it’s supposed to be.

But I’ll tell you what I do know: it’s easier than wanting to die. It’s a hell of a lot easier than waking up every day and having your first thought be, “Well, fuck—I’m still here.”

Wouldn’t anything, no matter how challenging, be easier than that?

Lessons from “A Knight’s Tale”

“A Knight’s Tale” is one of those movies that’s fairly middle-of-the-road from a purely technical and objective point of view, but off the charts in terms of pure entertainment value.

I rewatched it for the upteenth time recently, and one line in particular struck me, when the protagonist William first gets the idea to compete in jousting tournaments despite being a commoner. His friends immediately discourage him because, as he isn’t of noble birth, he would be severely punished if his status as a pauper were discovered. William, however, cannot be deterred, preferring to risk being found out rather than live out his entire life in poverty, barely scraping by. He asks his companions, “How did the nobles become noble anyway? They took it, at the tip of a sword. I’ll do it with a lance… a man can change his stars, and I won’t spend the rest of my life as nothing.”

To me, this attitude epitomizes the difference between people who are born disadvantaged and stay that way, and people who rise above their own circumstances and make something of themselves. Don’t ask for permission to be great. Don’t wait until society says it’s okay for you to succeed. If you’re born into a world that doesn’t think you’re worthy of your dreams, for whatever reason, that’s not cause to give up and settle for what they think you deserve; it’s an opportunity to prove them wrong. And yes, it will be hard. You’ll have to keep your head in the game, think one step ahead of others, show up early and stay late, metaphorically speaking. You’ll have to put in the hard work in situations where others are simply allowed to coast or ride on someone else’s coat-tails. It’s important to understand that, during this long and arduous process, you will almost certainly become bitter if you don’t actively work to avoid doing so. But don’t ever doubt that (a) you can, as William asserted, change your stars and live a life far better than society thinks you’re worthy of, and (b) upon achieving your dreams, you will, in fact, be far happier than those who were simply handed everything you spent countless hours earning.

Disadvantages

We’re going to the dictionary for this one:

Disadvantage, /disədˈvan(t)ij/, noun

“an unfavorable circumstance or condition that reduces the chances of success or effectiveness”

The thing about disadvantages that seems to elude many people these days is that they’re natural. They will inevitably occur wherever life itself occurs. In nearly every competition which has ever taken place, there has been a favorite and an underdog. And make no mistake, simply being alive and keeping oneself that way is a competition in and of itself. If you also wish (as most of us do) to find love, personal fulfillment, and material success, well…. boy howdy, you’ve already entered yourself into one hell of a difficult contest, whether you realize it or not. In this contest, as in all others in which you may find yourself, you will have a number of factors which play to your favor and others which will work against you. Some of these are fickle and will come and go, such as the state of the housing market if you’re a real estate agent. Some are constant and will stay with you your whole life, such as a physical disability. Regardless, we all know that life isn’t fair; it can’t be. To deny this or to believe it can be changed is, in no uncertain terms, to practice a most serious form of self-deception. 

Let’s look back to the definition again. A disadvantage is something that “reduces the chances of success”. It is not something that makes success impossible or, in some cases, even improbable. If your disadvantage causes your chance of success to drop from 70% to 55%, it is still more likely than not that you’ll be successful! In the same way, if your disadvantage means you have a 10% chance of success, whereas someone without your disadvantage has a 25% chance, you are both still likely to fail. 

Essentially, the message I’m trying to convey is this: being at a disadvantage is not a reason to abandon hope, or an excuse to give up before you even start. If it irks you to hear that, if you think your particular case is different, check yourself. Why? Because underdogs win all the time, when they (a) work their ass off in training, and (b) play their fucking heart out when game day arrives. And sure, sometimes their victory is due in part to the superior team having an off-day; but if you’re that underdogif you’re at a disadvantageyou still need to show up prepared and ready for a battle on that fateful day when your opponent’s luck finally runs out. Every minute you spend bemoaning the obstacles in your path and complaining that others won’t lift a finger to make your game more fair, is precious time that ought to be spent on development and strategy that could—no, not could, willone day make your opponent’s advantage count for nothing.

 

Earn your fun

For the last month, I’ve been on short-term disability because of an injury at work. For the first few days, being off work and avoiding any physical activity that could aggravate my injury was a nice bit of relaxation. Within a week, however, I was starting to go stir-crazy. Two major parts of my routine—going to work and spending time in the gym—had suddenly disappeared.

 

I typically start my shift at 5:00am, and after just a week, I’ve found myself sleeping past 9:00 every morning. I’m not getting exercise, at least not the kind of strenuous exercise to which my body has become accustomed. I’m wasting hours a day on Netflix and Youtube. I’m eating like crap. And I’m getting paid to do it.

The point is, I’ve found myself doing what most people wish they could do: sleep in every day, watch TV, eat junk food, avoid exercise, and still get a check in the mailbox every other Friday, and I’m not enjoying any of it. I feel like a lazy, unmotivated piece of shit, because deep down I know that’s exactly what I’ve let myself change back into in less than a month’s time. When I was getting up early, busting my ass at work for eight hours, and then hitting the gym until I was drenched in sweat, everything I did to relax and unwind afterward felt deserved. I didn’t feel guilty about watching a movie on Netflix while having a dish of ice cream, because I knew I had earned it. So that’s my admonition for you today: earn your fun. If you don’t, your brain will know it deep down. If you take shortcuts and put fun before your responsibilities and your long-term goals, you won’t truly be able to enjoy itself. Some people think having a “cheat day” is a diet is a good idea, others don’t. But I think we can all agree that the whole idea of a cheat day is defeated if it’s not accompanied by six “non-cheat days”.

Pick your battles

There’s an elderly gentleman I know who was in the music business in the ’60s and ’70s, particularly jazz. He’s a dear friend of mine, and we enjoy many conversations about a wide variety of topics. At 80 years old, he has a lot of life experience and wisdom that a 24 year-old like myself does not. And he hates rap music. Doesn’t even think it qualifies as music, actually. I strongly disagree with him. There are two things I could do about this:

1) View his hatred of rap music as some kind of personal affront to my music tastes, a barrier that prevents this man and myself from having a true friendship, an incorrect opinion from which I must dissuade him, or

2) Say to myself, “Although I don’t agree with him, that’s a fairly common opinion of rap music among elderly people, and I seriously doubt there’s anything I could do or say to change his mind. Honestly, if I didn’t anticipate him having such a belief about hip-hop, I’d be a bit of a moron, wouldn’t I?”

With that in mind, here’s my message for you today: pick your battles wisely. If you ever find yourself talking to someone with an opinion which differs from yours, first ask yourself if it’s important enough to debate them on the subject. In other words, as the adage goes, “Is this the hill I want to die on?” Many times, if you’re honest with yourself, it won’t be. And if it is (such as a belief which is discriminatory or bigoted), then ask yourself, “Is it even feasible to change their mind?” In the case of my friend who disdains rap, he’s 80 for god’s sake! I can handle myself in a spirited debate, but I’d have to be fucking delusional to think I could convince an old codger to suddenly alter his decades-old perception of a thing like rap! If you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I think it certainly goes without saying that you can’t teach an old man new music. 

More importantly, as I said before, this is a very wise and experienced fellow. There’s much I can learn from him. And even though our viewpoints don’t always look like a pair of synchronized swimmers in the Olympics, they don’t have to. We don’t have to see eye to eye about every single subject to get along with each other. If you or I were to cut ties with anyone who believed certain things we don’t believe, we would quickly find ourselves with nobody to spend time with. So if a friend does, says, or thinks something that you don’t particularly care for, think carefully about whether or not it’s worth it to try and change their mind. You may find yourself wasting precious time and losing a potentially beneficial friendship as your reward.

Punching in

I used to work seven days a week between two jobs. Work was my whole life. I woke up every morning, went to work, came home afterwards, and drank heavily until I fell asleep. And even though I was making reasonably good money, this was easily the least productive period of my life in terms of personal growth. A workaholic and alcoholic, I was going nowhere in a hurry—my hobbies had fallen by the wayside, my social life had all but disappeared, and I was more stressed and depressed than ever. The reason for this was simple: I was living under the very incorrect assumption that once I punched out and headed home, my work for the day was done. With that in mind, here’s your admonition for today: Don’t ever confuse making money with making progress.

Never forget that the reason we go to work is not to achieve personal growth, but to enable us to take the necessary steps toward it. We need money to feed ourselves, pay rent, put gas in the car, etc. But all of these things are simply the foundation required to build something of our lives. Money itself is a tool, not a result. It’s true that some people earn a living doing what they love, but these people comprise a relatively small percentage of the population. Obviously, that’s a fantastic goal to strive toward, but it’s sure as hell not going to fall into your lap.

The real work is not what you do to put money in the bank. The real work begins when your shift ends and you punch out. Hit the gym on your way home. Learn a new skill. Read books on things you’re interested in; if you can’t think of any topics which you’d like to read about, that’s exactly the problem you need to address. Spend quality time with the people you care about. And if you’re gravely unhappy at your place of employment, don’t resign yourself to it. Spend your free time thinking long and hard about things you’d like to do for work instead. Eliminate the things that aren’t feasible, take what’s left, and start working toward it, however slowly, in your free time.

Song of the day

Life Pro Tips (reverse psychology edition)

I’ve often found that it’s just as useful to know what produces terrible results as it is to know what yields positive ones. If we’re aware of which streets are full of potholes, so to speak, we’ll have a much better shot at finding a smooth road. So here’s my admonition for today: If you want to be angry, distrustful, and bitter for the rest of your natural life, all you’ve gotta do is follow these simple tips. Buckle up your sarcasm seat-belts!

  1. Always maintain a laser-like focus on what should and should not be. Honestly, who cares about what actually is? That’s boring. In any situation, what you really ought to focus on is how it should be. How are other people being unfair? Where are they slacking? What are they getting away with that they shouldn’t be? If you rationally and calmly assess a situation, it may lead you to an uncomfortable realization: namely, that even if others aren’t doing the right thing, you still can. Uggh, fuck that. If, however, you keep yourself focused on everything that’s going wrong, it’ll be downright impossible for you to recognize when things go your way, to appreciate the ways in which you’re more fortunate than others, or to have a healthy perspective on life in general! Best of all, you won’t ever have to take personal responsibility for your own actions until everyone else does so first. Score!
  2. Hold others to standards that you yourself often fail to meet. Not only will this reinforce a deep sense of unhappiness and disappointment within yourself, it will also cause friends and strangers alike to increasingly avoid you, until there’s finally no one left who puts up with your bullshit double standards. Cool bonus!
  3. Beat yourself up over mistakes you’ve made in the past.  They say you can’t focus on your future if you’re always looking to your past, but I’ll bet you can be the one who finally proves them all wrong! Keep hoping that one thing all those years ago had gone differently. Keep wondering why you turned left instead of right that fateful afternoon. Remember, you won’t be able to maintain your misery without first maintaining your self-loathing! You got this!
  4. Refuse to forgive others. Forgiveness is for pussies, am I right? Maybe if you keep concentrating on all the times you were wronged (being extra careful to ignore any potential fault of your own in such situations), your life will suddenly become fantastic! Sure, countless other people have shared their experiences of forgiving those who mistreated them—not for the others person’s benefit, but rather for their own—and sure, they’ll almost invariably tell you that it finally gave them the peace which had eluded them for so long. But what do they know? Your situation is different.

So what are you waiting for?! A whole new (or perhaps just enhanced) world of resentment and disillusionment is out there waiting for you! Accept nothing less than perfection from others and yourself; it truly is the best method for getting pissed off… and staying that way forever!

Song of the day