Existing or Living?

I’m strangling the armrests, trying to focus on the book on my Kindle and not my thoughts.

We’re cruising above the Carolinas, it got a little bumpy, but unexpectedly the plane dove down and to the left, like we were doing a barrel roll. The plane stabilized very quickly, but that feeling of fear stayed with me. I stared out the window, only to see the moonrise looking bloody red. Oh boy.

The moment was fleeting because we landed a hour later; feet on the ground and my stress finally subsided.

I’ve discussed my fear of flying before. It’s not the act of flying that scares me, it’s the “I haven’t lived enough of my life yet so please don’t let me die in a plane crash!”

It’s a fear with no substance, what FDR meant with his “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” line. I’m sitting there freaking myself out for no reason, eventually asking why do I put myself through this.

It’s much easier to be safe and not get on any flights so I can avoid feeling that fear. I can stay home and never experience different places, food, culture, or whatever’s out there, but at least I won't drive myself nuts.

For some, that’s more than enough for a fulfilling life. For me, I’d rather die in a fiery plane crash than exist and never live. I can deal with a couple hours of being fearful towards enjoying a lifetime of memories than miss out.

Most of us have a fear that is debilitating; we'd rather do anything that face it and we're worse off for never taking it on.

I read something amazing once (here’s the link: http://bit.ly/1WLEXwy) about taking that feeling of fear that you have and using it as fuel to live a fulfilling life so if your plane does, God forbid, go down, then you won’t feel bad about it.

Prior to the flight, I was grabbing a bite at a bar, sitting next to this nice woman. We struck up a conversation about what brought us to Costa Rica. She said she took a brave step in her life and traveled alone to a foreign country, which she hitchhiked her way throughout the country to a Nicaraguan beach.

I thought that was amazing, I was very impressed because I’ve always wanted to do that too. She had a great experience and said she can’t wait to do it again.

I told her that I joined friends and enjoyed relaxing at the beach, incredible sunsets, hiking through a rainforest onto a volcano, and conversed in broken Spanish with strangers who had nothing more to offer than a smile, but somehow enjoyed at my attempts to be one of them.

After we landed, I thought about my experiences. Being there in person is something you can never replicate, I would hate to be the one asking how it was instead of knowing first hand. The joys of life will overcome any fear that may hold us back.

I saw the woman before I jumped in my taxi, we exchanged goodbyes and her last parting words were “Live well!”

I smiled and thought, I will.

Empathy for a Broken Heart

“It’s like you don’t care about my feelings.”

“I’m sorry. I do care, but just not in that way you want me to anymore.”

I really felt awful saying that. I was disappointed in how I felt, but you can’t change how you feel about people. I felt her pain though, being heart broken is the worse of all pain because the only cure is the cause.

When we enter a relationship with someone, it’s like a business deal. Two people enter an agreement to share their lives with one another, with the hope that they continually make each other happy for eternity. When one side doesn’t live up to their end, the deal slowly crashes with both parties going their separate ways.

I know a older woman who is madly in love with her husband/business partner. She’s very passionate about love and bringing her best into their relationship, maybe it’s because she’s Spanish so she isn't jaded by love based reality tv or other trivial love topics.

Her husband is nerdy and doesn’t know how to show love because of how he grew up. He went through a horrible divorce that left him alone and broke, until he built a new business empire, so he’s very self reliant and skeptical of people that may love him.

I knew something was wrong because they quietly stopped working together and she stopped posting her wonderful articles online.

She recently came out of seclusion and apologized for not posting lately. She said she was feeling horrible, that life threw her a curve ball, and while she’s in deep pain, she will see where life will take her. Her husband makes no mention of any pain and continues working like nothing is wrong.

Seeing her words was very sad, but brave. It takes a lot of courage to tell the world that you’re not feeling good and only the strongest souls can admit that they’re vulnerable.

I thought about sending her a message, but didn’t want to intrude upon her privacy. I sent a simple message of encouragement and she replied with a smile emoji. When you care about somebody, it’s better to tread lightly and respect their wishes whether they want to be left alone or not.

When I suffered heartbreak, I wanted to be left alone. I surfaced on weekends to drink insanely to numb the pain, then laid in bed all week. People will say get over it, and if we could that second then we would. Eventually the time and space got me over the pain, memories, and regret.

We relearn who we are without that presence that was with us for so long. Words are little relief, but actions reinforce the foundation that you are a capable and great person, regardless of the rejection. Slowly I came out of my zombie persona and got myself in the gym, back being funny in class, then started traveling.

It takes this type of pain to reveal a better version of ourselves, like caterpillar to butterfly. While I can’t message my friend directly; I promise that she'll emerge from the cocoon of heartbreak more radiant than ever and the world will be better for it.

Win By Being You

I got off the train on Tuesday, on my way to a meeting with a potential client and was in a very serious mood. Walked out with my game face on and then I received this message…

“You should smile more when you arrive in Boston.”

I immediately let down my guard and flashed a smile, even cracking up with laughter.

“Tell me you can see me right now?”
“No, but I was on the other train and saw that famous scowl.”

I was confused with what I had to say, what to do, where to go. A message from an old friend was divine intervention, as she was always good at keeping me grounded. With her reminder, I was back at square one, realizing that this was going to be fun, not some life or death meeting.

Sometimes I put too much pressure into situations that I feel will bring some type of value into my life, whether it's a date or a business meeting. It's tough to keep grounded when I'm pressuring myself on being the best version of me, almost like a superhero, trying to save myself from myself.

I forget that we’re supposed to enjoy the journey whether it’s work or play and that everything will always work out in the end.

We enter situations that demand our attention, but it shouldn’t demand that we put aside our identity. Remember the people across from the table are humans too; they like to have fun, laugh, been in trouble, so don’t put them on a pedestal above you because you’re trying to gain something, that’s when you’ll lose.

The situations are only moments in time, they happen, it’s over, then your anxieties subside. I'd look back and wonder why did I become different. If you have to change you're personality to win over anything; a job, deal, partner, etc, then it isn't worth it.

After the text exchange, I took a deep breath and went on my way to the meeting. My game face was now a cheshire cat grin and my muscles relaxed.

Then I met a couple amazing people that were very intelligent in their field of work. It was a great discussion, but importantly because of the laughter and the easiness of our moods. I was me, take it or leave it.

And they took it.

You Can't Bullshit a Bullshitter

One of my favorite lines because it’s true. You can’t outsmart people that’ve been around the block a few times so why waste your time? Just be upfront about what you’re trying to do or if it isn’t working out, then say so.

The best lesson I ever learned was when I was fired from a job back in college. I tried to lie my way out of being responsible for a big mess up, in which my boss had to cover me. He said he would think about my fate, and called me a couple hours later.

He explained that not being truthful is what did me in. I could’ve accept responsibility, respected him and told him the truth, and my job would’ve been safe. Hearing him call me out made me feel two inches tall and I turtled into a shell, knowing I couldn’t BS a bigger BS’er than me and he was right.

“Listen kid, if you ever want to get anywhere in life, just get to the point and don’t insult anyone’s intelligence with the run around. You’ll get more respect for telling the truth than leading people on.”

I would sugar coat things to people because I was afraid of hurting their feelings when my real answer was no, but didn’t know how to tell them. So I’d lie and say I’d think about it, or keep pushing them off until they finally gave up in contacting me.

It’s ok to be afraid of confrontation, which is why a lot of people will shy away from being truthful about things, but in the end, you’re only hurting your character. It comes from lacking the confidence to be truthful to people, it’s like I didn’t want people to dislike me, so I tried to please them by compromising who I am.

I still have to work on it because hurting people isn’t a good feeling. When I start beating around the bush on something, I have to stop and ask myself how mad would I get if I knew they were bs’ing me? So I’ll shoot them straight in the most caring way I can, explaining my reasoning and giving it a soft landing.

Being mindful of it taught me how to figure out people’s BS. Whether it’s social or business, you can see people’s uneasiness when it comes to telling the truth on how they feel. Like my old boss, I encourage people to give it to me straight and not insult my intelligence nor waste my time by beating around the bush.

I was recently talking to someone and knew they had a bit of confrontation issues so when a text arrived, after a night out, saying, “Thanks for being you!”, it was easy for me to read the tea leaves.

I laughed and knew it was the last conversation that we’ll ever have. It was a good run, but no one is worth your time if they’re never going to give you the honesty that you deserve.

My Quest to Save the World

“Why were you so nice to that person?”

A guy excused himself to reach over and grab a napkin off the bar, I apologized, passed him a stack of them, and offered to help if he needed more. My friend was confused that I went out of my way to be helpful.

“Well I could’ve ignored him and let him struggle, but helping him made his night better. Then maybe he’ll remember what I did and do something nice for another stranger”

It was a simple act that I don’t think twice about, but was surprised by my friend’s reaction. I told her that it’s the little acts that set the foundation for something bigger. Vibes are contagious, it’s much better to spread good ones instead of the negative ones.

They say nice guys finish last, but I dare you to try the alternative. Arrogant, manipulative, and selfish got me to a lot of places in life, but when I looked back, there were a lot of burned bridges. People that I couldn’t reach out to when things eventually went south, strangers could feel the chill I'd give off when meeting me.

People always remember the bad, the pain. They may forgive, but never forget. They know who will help them instead of who suck them of their energy.

I could continue to take advantage of people, but who would want to do me a favor if I needed it? Overcharge people for business, but they’ll never come back. You get the point.

It took a while, but I started with little things, like the napkin situations, and grew from there. I surrounded myself with people that held me to a higher standard, which made me hold myself to the same standards.

My character mattered, the impression I left upon people mattered, I realized that more people are out there to help you than not. The good that you put out there journeys across the world then comes back to you.

When you encounter people with those negative attitudes, killing them with kindness is the ultimate weapon. I know it takes a lot to hold back from taking them down a couple notches, but it's never worth stooping to their level. The negativity ends with you because the world has enough anger and indifference going around, why add to it?

So when someone asks, why are you so nice to people? Tell them you’re saving the world one person at a time.

Diversify Your Happiness

If you ever listen to financial news, you’ll hear experts talking about having a diversified portfolio. That means that you should invest in a variety of industries, in case if one industry isn’t doing well, then another one that is doing well will offset the losses.

In life, having a wide portfolio of self-building activities and behaviors will strengthen our happiness, especially when one activity isn’t going as well. Sticking with too few choices will lead to inaction, which will keep us stagnant and unhappy.

Over the last few months, I’ve worked very hard to expand on finding out what makes me happy. Before that, I battled ruts where I felt bored, depressed, and lazy. Once you’re in those ruts, it becomes very easy to sink into a deeper hole.

I never worked on diversifying my sources of happiness. I contained myself to experiences that weren't very inspiring. Being limited led to a downward spiral; talking down to myself, giving up on finding stuff to do, which made me want to stay in bed because I couldn’t do wrong there.

I realized I didn’t have to live like this. I started by diversifying my thoughts and words. Instead of talking down, I talked myself up. I used words like “excellent, wonderful, fantastic” instead of plain “good” when people asked how I was doing.

Instead of beating myself up for not getting enough work done, I told myself, no big deal, we’ve done a ton today, there’s always tomorrow. That lessened the pressure, so instead of worrying about achieving a certain amount of stuff, my mind was flowing.

I needed to expand the elements of what being happy is. There are deeper feelings of what happiness can be to people. It’s getting to a higher level, where you find the joy in everything, not only when good things happen to you.

Take stock of what and who you have that will stir the of overwhelming feeling of gratitude. With the happiness and confidence you’ve given yourself, spread it to others you encounter. Sharing your time to lift others will reveal their feelings of appreciation, which will strengthen and reinforce your well-being.

Diversify your activities. I’ve always been a big reader, but I was reading too many business books that were similar, so I wasn’t enjoying it as much. I mixed it up a bit; reading biographies and stories based on real events. It was a more enjoyable experience and opened me up to learning about how different people define their own happiness after struggles. That’s one example; you can cook different cuisines, do different workouts, etc.

“Well what happens if you fall back on being bored or unhappy?”

That’s the point of diversification!

We got hit by the blizzard over the weekend so activities were limited. Most places were shut down, so it gave me an opportunity to do two things I really enjoy but don’t do often; walk around in the snow and take pictures of the city. The roads were shut down so it provided some cool and exciting shots, plus met some cool people that were doing the same thing. So much for boredom.

As for going back to being unhappy, I know the happier person is infinitely greater, looser and more productive than the upset and non-existent person I spent a lot of time being. It’s a feeling that I would never want to go back to. What's the point of being alive when you’re wasting the one life you’re given?

Having financial variety may help you on the road to riches, but spending time on expanding your means of happiness will lead to a lifetime of prosperity.

The Secrets of Success

Who defines success? Sorry, what defines success? Anyone can define success, it means a million different things to the same amount of people. For some of us, the meaning of success changes as circumstances in our lives do; age, abilities, etc.

As an impressionable youngster, I thought success meant living like a rock star. I was influenced by it’s glamor in movies and shows, and thought I should’ve been on the show Entourage because that’s what success looked like.

I’d bury myself in what I thought was real “success”; late night parties, buying ridiculous things, but figured out quickly that acting like I was immune from the rules of life only left me with nobody and nothing very fast.

What about once you achieve success? What do you do with it? How do you build upon it? I think the latter two questions really trip people up.

I’ve watched the merits of success tear families and friends apart. An addiction to the riches that success brings can become enslaving. It’s the “disease of more”; the facets that made you successful are replaced by the need for more money, more attention, or more toys. Once achieving a level, there’s no going back and if there is, then you’ll be left behind for someone who can deliver them to a higher place.

Success isn’t spoiling those around you with the fruits of your labor, it’s building upon the foundation that got you to that point. It’s strengthening the ties among the people you love, it isn’t to be used as a measure of status against other people who don’t care about you. You try to keep up with the Jones’ and you’ll end up trying to keep up with your sanity.

As I said, success can be defined by anyone’s attempt at achieving it. It’s my friend recovering from a car accident to regain her beautiful spirit, it’s saying I love you for the first time to someone and then hearing it back, or coming home to that caring wife and kids who know that you’re their hero. Don’t let anyone dictate to you what your meaning of success is.

I have a friend, who up until recently, lived a challenging life. He came from an abusive household, wife was a cheat, while he tried his hardest to please, which caused his two kids to stop talking to him and put him in heavy debt. Throughout all this, he kept his head up, hoping for better days.

Like success, you’re not defined by your failures, when it all subsided, he was there, ready to start over.

He started by fixing his relationship with his kids, he paid off debts by selling his home and settled the divorce to rid him of any negative influences, he became more involved in his community; reconnecting with old friends, while making new ones, including a nice woman, whom he now calls his girlfriend.

I told him how impressed and happy I was for him to be living a successful life. He said that he always lived one.

“Before, I had little goals that I would achieve, which I knew was helping me get to where I am now, although everything around me was crazy. The bigger problems resulted because I didn’t know how to manage them, so working on small successes helped me work my way up.”

He’s proof that success starts small, can be found even in the harshest of environments and that it can be achieved at any age, he found it at 59 years old.

People want to know what’s the secret to success and I usually tell them this; success only comes from within, it’s wealth that you can’t hold in your hand, but in your heart.

Life Lessons Through a Chance Friendship

You never know who’s going to appear in your life, but whoever does, it’s always for a lasting reason. My friend Mike proved to be one of those people that enter your life by chance, just when you need it most, and change it for the better.

We met by circumstance, his boss was fired and he took over as a maintenance manager of a nursing home, while I needed a job during school. The options were either maintenance or desk work; I figured I might as well learn to be handy.

At first, I thought he was a goofball, who acted like a tough guy and he thought I was some know it all city punk, who was the owner’s kid. As I learned, we had similar personalities and interests (he was 27, I was 20), but also shared a similar issue; we struggled with self-confidence.

He had big dreams, but didn’t know how to get there. I saw what success looked like in family members and felt less than because I didn’t know how to get to their level. We carried large chips on our shoulders and took it as a mentality to always bring out the best in ourselves since no one else would.

Since I wasn’t much of a handyman, I would paint, while Mike would fix everything wrong with the place. The guy had the energy of five workers, desperate to prove himself to management. As the facility improved, management took notice and rewarded Mike with raises, but also more intense projects because he had proven himself, which is all he ever wanted in life.

“This is just a stepping stone, if I keep this up, I can move to corporate or a state position and inspect facilities across the country.”

One day he asked me to help him with mechanical stuff, which I was hesitant to do because I didn’t know how to. He said what I’ll teach you now, you can keep forever. Little did I know, he wasn’t talking about screwdrivers, plumbing, or wiring. It was the lessons of patience, responsibility, to believe in myself and my abilities to achieve success.

We spoke on the morning of my college graduation. He called to congratulate me and I thanked him for being a big brother and that this wouldn’t be the end of our friendship, but only the beginning since we had some dreams to accomplish.

It took a while because we lost touch for almost nine years until a couple months ago, as we reconnected through Facebook. We spoke as if the time never passed, joking and still talking like it was us against the world. We discussed our struggles over the years and how we managed to get past them. It may have taken a long time to reconnect, but we always knew we would.

The last thing he said was that he was proud of me. I replied that without him in my life, there’d be nothing to be proud of.

On Friday I read that he was gone. No goodbye this time, no thoughts of seeing each other again, no more youthful talks of having “mansions and Mercedes”. I thought of his wife and son, heartbroken.

As I write this, I remember how unsure everything was in my life before meeting him. I couldn’t trust anyone to look out for me because I was always let down.

Then Mike appeared and took the time to believe in me, to make sure I was learning something because he was that kid that no one looked after either. He may have never believed me, but without the life lessons he taught me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

He is gone, but his influence will stay forever in those that encountered him.

Mike, thank you and rest easy my friend.

How Will You Find "The One"?

It’s a different world for us single people than it was prior to the digital revolution. With so many options at our disposal, if can’t find what we want, then in a few taps and swipes we will.

What about some of us that are old school in our dating ways? We’re screwed.

I’m kidding, we’re not screwed, it’s that we need to adapt because the old methods of meeting people are changing. Less bars and more digital and different social settings, like volunteering or hobby meetups.

Older friends see the current dating environment and they think it’s incredible. Why bother to settle down when there are plenty of fish in the sea that you can find on Plenty of Fish?

I was a bit intimidated, maybe it’s the vast amount of options. I mean, if I’m going to date every girl I meet on an app, then I’m going to be a very poor man plus it's too much to keep up with.

It’s changed the dynamics between men and women too. My beautiful and smart friend was lamenting that it’s been tough to find a good guy because they don’t put in the work anymore.

I felt her sentiment, but it’s not easy for guys either. Women are a guessing game; like guys, they may want to settle, but there’s no rush to.

I think much of it stems from not knowing what you want. The more you date, the more you learn about what you want, so when a great person, like myself 😉, is in front of you, you may take advantage.

But if you’re unsure, it's ok to be conflicted because you can learn more about them and keep an eye open for someone better out there. I get it, I've been there as well.

What happens if you do meet the right person? I’ll tell friends to play it cool; give it a couple days to reach out, be curious, but don’t show too much interest, drag out the process for as long as you can until one gives up and throws their feelings in the ring.

My friend's response; “Let’s break it down to the brass tacks. I don’t play the game, I put my cards out there and that’s it. So now I have to change my game and it’s back to the dog chasing the cat.” She wasn't impressed with my advice to say the least.

That’s the world around us, it sucks, but you got to let go of your reluctance and dive in. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll meet a nice girl (or guy), who shares the same dating mentality, through an app of course.

Start Small to Make It a Big Year

As we end another year and head into the promise of a new one, it’s a great time to reflect on where we’ve been.

Looking back, my 2015 resolutions involved improving my self-esteem and taking on fears. I think I did a good job; I learned to not beat myself up for making mistakes, flew a few times (fear of flying) and moved from my hometown.

Did you have realistic ideas heading into 2015 that you could accomplish? As we know, most people make foolish resolutions to improve in an impossible capacity, which leads them to failure within the first month of the new year.

“I’m going to run a marathon! Although I never ran a day in my life.”
“New year, new me; no more junk food!”

Forget about these grand plans that will only lead you to disappointment and start small in 2016. People make resolutions to transform the outside on their bodies, but completely neglect what matters; your mind and spirit. The real beauty of working within is that it’ll translate to the outside and will radiate to the world around you.

Work on small habits that will turn into a routine and will translate into a rewarding lifestyle. Wake up every day with an "attitude of gratitude", a mindset of believing in yourself, removing regret for the past and worry for the future, and know that great things are waiting for you.

The universe reminds us to practice these habits every day, I’ve watched the miracles of loved ones having children and suffered the pain of losing people that meant the world to me. The fact that we woke up this morning to celebrate another day of being on this Earth is a blessing, be thankful for it.

Here are some small resolutions that I practice to build upon the foundations of gratitude, self belief, and being present:

- Take responsibility for what my life is. Instead of blaming people or things outside my control, I removed those negative influences from my life. Amazing how easy life is with fewer distractions in it.

- When I was unhealthy, I started with a 10 minute walk every day then increased the intensity, before I knew it, I was back doing 5Ks.

- I would start a complex diet, which I would resent then quit. Instead I ate less, substituted easy things such as water with lemon for my sweet tooth, then I lost 15 pounds. Starting these intense diets after years of eating what you want is a recipe for failure.

- Communication. Whenever I feel like a relationship is in trouble, I'll talk about it to get on the same page, whether it's business or family/friends. Don't be afraid of differences, respect them. As I wrote before, I learned to shut up and listen instead of talking over people and always being right.

- Feeling stuck. I knew writing was a passion, so I decided to do it more. It was fulfilling and it eventually became what you're reading now. Finding a passion will give you hope towards self-discovery, where you’re happiness is based on what you love.

This was a year of ups and downs for most of us, but know that we’re still standing because of our strength and no one can take that away from us.

I wish you all the best for 2016, it will be a wonderful year because we’re all a part of it.