3 Simple Changes to Improve Your Quality of Life

A few years ago, prior to my 26th birthday, I wrote a piece reflecting on twenty six lessons I had learned in my short life, which went on to become one of my most popular posts to date. With just a few more years passing by, quite a lot has happened in my life. I have had the vulnerable opportunity to love. I have lost loved ones, both to death and to pride. I have encouraged many people in my life. I have also probably hurt even more. I have walked away from a job and a career, into the uncertainty of doing something for the greater good that I was passionate about. I have walked up to total strangers and started conversation, some of whom have become important figures in my life today. I have lost friendships, including one friendship I cherished dearly and whose marriage I failed to attend last month. But in the end of all things, I have simply lived life with all its ups and downs, much like all of you.

And for many of us, as much as both web-based and mobile technologies have advanced and grown, we are losing touch with each other at a faster pace than ever before. We are “friends” on Facebook, but for many of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, we barely have a couple friends we could truly call upon in our darkest hour.

I would like to briefly propose 3 simple life changes that I have made in the past 6 months that have greatly improved my quality of everyday life. You don’t necessarily have to follow these changes. For some of you, actually following one (or more) of these changes could be detrimental to your being. Maybe you’ll get something out of them. Maybe even something I didn’t intend to impart or say…

1. Live More Simply; Less Extravagantly.

As I have recently transitioned into the non-profit realm working to help others become as self-sufficient as possible by providing ways to overcome barriers, I’ve been getting to see more poverty than I ever have in my lifetime. That, coupled with the fact that I now make less than an elementary schoolteacher, has forced me into living more simply. It has led me to downsize on possessions, pack lunch every day, cook most evenings through the week, and has even forced me into cancelling numerous services including internet service at home (which has been very refreshing)! Cutting these distractions out of my life, have made substantial impacts. For the past 4 months, I have finished reading a book about every 6 days. ((The last three books I finished were The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky)) As you can see, there is both reading for pleasure as well as for personal enlightenment and growth. I have replaced some costly activities (like going out to restaurants or going to bars or events) with free outdoor activities and sports/gym. By combining that with eating at home and eating clean, I have been getting into the best shape of my life (at 8% body fat). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve scheduled a day out of the weekend to splurge on eating what I want or getting together with friends. This has afforded me very intentional time with close friends that I can look forward to each week. I’ve also been figuring out ways to volunteer and give my time to meet with individuals to counsel and encourage them. By consolidating my possessions and refocusing my time and energies outwardly, it has ironically improved my quality of life in substantial ways. I’m realizing that the older I get, the more I’m certain that at the end of my life, the question will be “How much have you given?” rather than “How much have you gotten?”

2. Make an effort. Connect. Move on.

First of all, be open to love those around you deeply without any hesitation or regard for reciprocation. That being said, once you’ve taken an effort to connect and you’re met with a wall of pessimism or an attitude of apathy, move on. Don’t mull on rejection or get hung up on any one interaction. There are so many people in this world and if they’re close-minded or are guarded off, that’s their loss. Now I know what you’re thinking; there are many sketchy and weird folks out there. But honestly speaking, genuineness is not that hard to pick up on. Also, I’m not talking about the proverbial “Hey, nice to meet you. We should hang out sometime!” If someone says this to you, they’re full of shit or are used to attending too many networking events. I’ve taken a new approach to connecting with folks. Instead of “we should hang out sometime,” throw out a few possible days and times that work, and if they really want to connect with you, I will guarantee that the exchange will lead to a solidified date. In 2012 alone, I’ve reached out by email to numerous folks, and for every 10 individuals that I send out at least five specific days to meet up, I would say that 8 either respond with “sure we’ll definitely meet up” or don’t even respond at all. Again, I’m not saying individuals who do not respond are bad. I understand that some folks are busy. But I also strongly feel that people always do what they want to do. If they really want to meet with you or connect, they will. I’m just saying, no need to waste their time or yours; that time will be better spent elsewhere. Over the past few months I’ve taken steps to focus on more intentional relationships with my close friends as well as those willing to connect and invest time and energy.  For those relationships that did not pan out, I’ve realized that they were simply road signs pointing and leading me to meet individuals I see as worth making a priority in my life. This aligns with the final point…

3. The ones that matter will want to know. The ones that don’t know don’t matter. ((Twist on Dr. Seuss))

One thing I’ve come to understand in the past few months is that people can’t really relate to you if you’re trying so damn hard to put up a facade of invincibility. For the longest time, even amidst going through some tough situations, I’ve always tried so hard to stay calm and collected. I’ve tried to put up the whole “everything is going to be okay” facade. But like that one Jessie J song, “it’s okay not to be okay.” I had a great heart-to-heart late last year with a friend who had the loving heart to call me out on this. She said to me “You know, I think sometimes, more people would be able to relate to you and connect with you if you didn’t hide your struggles or try to keep it all together so much.” She was right. The other thing is that people are fickle. Every individual goes through suffering and hardships that make him or her act out of their element. Recently I’ve literally had individuals that I care about, drop out of my life. While my initial response was anger, I realized that I oftentimes do the very same thing. Furthermore, if you think about it, it’s an understandable human action. I strongly believe that people will come and go in your life. Furthermore, some will even come back into your life after leaving it and it may be even better than it was before. That’s the beauty of life and of human beings. We’re all constantly growing and changing. It’s not fair to hold an image of someone from how they used to be at a specific point in their life. You have no idea what things they were going through. I know I’ve had more than my share of struggles through which I’m sure I’ve made many bad decisions or acted apart from who I was made to be.

We see the faces of those around us and make our judgments, and yet we don’t know the conditions of their hearts. With time and experience, all people grow and change (for better or worse) and it’s important to acknowledge that. The ones that matter will make an effort to be a relevant person in your life. And the ones that don’t know or choose not to care or know don’t matter anyways.

And how do these three points relate? By connecting to others who want to connect to us, we can really know and enhance our own selves. And only by working on ourselves, can we begin to enhance our connectedness to the people around us. 

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Health Care Reform Part 2

A couple years ago, I had shared a few quick thoughts regarding healthcare reform, which ended up stirring up some great discussion in the form of responses. I recently got to hear some great thoughts by a former colleague of mine, who is now working as a Health IT Market Analyst. His role as a healthcare analyst, researcher, writer, and blogger led to some great responsive thoughts. [[You can actually find and follow his blog titled “Health, Wealth, and Happiness” HERE.]] His response spurred me to want to give a quick update on my thoughts on healthcare reform. I was especially encouraged by his willingness to look at various dimensions rather than taking the popular “CNN.com” approach where people are simply saying “SURE i LOVE it that everyone can have healthcare” or “No way! How are we going to pay for this?” I think it is absolutely vital for individuals to take the time to analyze the layers and different aspects/argument prior to making a decision. Please feel free to share thoughts down below!

First, it would make sense to start with the notion that I do believe that a system of payers (i.e. insurance carriers, third-party payers, health plan sponsors, etc.) and providers (i.e. hospitals, physicians, clinics, etc.) does need to be reorganized/revamped. However, from there, as an individual, you first need to explicitly state your belief system on three key points prior to embarking on a restructuring of a payer-provider marketplace, as this would fundamentally alter the approach you would take.

1. Is Healthcare Service a Human Right? I feel that healthcare services are no different than any of the other services available to those in a modern society, and that an individual should have access to these services via a free market. Do I wish we lived in a perfect world where everyone could get their sicknesses and ailments taken care of? Of course. I also wish we lived in a perfect world where peace and no wars existed. A common argument is the question of whether you believe people shouldn’t starve. Of course we wish there was no starvation, but in the society we live in, you aren’t allowed to walk into a grocery store because you’re hungry, and steal a loaf of bread to avoid starvation. You are allowed access to this bread, via a free market where you buy it for a certain amount.

2. Is Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle a Personal Responsibility? I feel that my belief lies in individual liberty and attendant responsibilities. I believe that an individual, not the government, is responsible for maintaining an individual’s health, whether on a prophylactic or remedial basis. I have heard many arguments by various individuals out there who believe that, since humans are inherently undisciplined, lazy, weak, or all of the above, that they cannot be expected to assume responsibility for their lifestyle decisions (i.e. eating habits, exercise, use of drugs, etc.) which in turn leads to bad health, the government should/must step in(note: they also tend to believe remedial healthcare services are a human right).

3. Should Efficient Healthcare Services Delivery come from Free-Market Business or Government Intervention?  Many individuals seem to believe that since healthcare services are a right and that individuals cannot be expected to assume responsibility for themselves and they believe that society can pay this bill, the government should assume greater control over this marketplace. I feel that the government has an important role in regulating this market to ensure that these participants do not actively harm others (i.e. FDA approval of drugs, regulations, etc.), but since healthcare services are not a right and since maintaining one’s health is an individual responsibility, I do not believe that the government as a whole should have any legitimate role in “establishing” a market or “entering” the market as a participant. Again,  please don’t bring up an argument about specific individuals who may not be able to take care of themselves. My line of work is directly linked to efforts to help people become as self-sufficient as possible, by providing them with ways to overcome challenges, whether they are emotional, physical, psychological, or social. I believe this is the work of the community, to be carried out by local enterprises rather than the government. My organization is doing good work on this front. So if you’re going to call me out about not representing the underrepresented, please focus on the actual overarching idea of healthcare reform and the system.

With these three key points addressed, it follows logic that you would hold a stance depending on the belief system you embraced.

If you subscribe to the belief system that 1) healthcare is a human right, 2) that healthy lifestyles isn’t entirely an individual’s responsibility, and 3) that healthcare delivery should be a government intervention, then the logical payer is the federal government (funded by a discriminatory tax system) and the logical provider is also the federal government or an industry so highly regulated that it becomes highly concentrated into mega-corporations and is, for all intents and purposes, government run.

I believe that the contract for the provision of healthcare services should be negotiated between the individual and his or her provider. The two parties should come to an agreement about who has what responsibilities and what consequences will result for not meeting specified responsibilities(i.e. what happens if the patient becomes obese or the physician makes a diagnostic/treatment error), and then determine specific economic terms(i.e. à la carte fee for service, ongoing membership, etc.). Once this is done, each side can determine what “insurance” vehicle to re-insure its side of the bargain against catastrophic loss. One example would be that the patient could agree to pay 100% of the cost of the membership and require no additional insurance, while the provider could “self-insure” an actuarial suit if the services it planned to provide the “normal” plan member and only re-insure against that patient becoming “abnormal”(i.e. developing cancer or having some genetic disorder arise). One way that might make sense to many of you is the Kaiser Permanente PPO/HMO network model which might be the right commercial model for many markets as well as for many individuals. However, what I am certain of is that a government-run marketplace wouldn’t just be inefficient and ineffective, but also unconstitutional.

Why I Drastically Changed Careers and in the Process Turned Down a Major TV Network Show

In life, now more than ever, there are many discussions about the delicate struggle between working a job that leads to making money and doing what you’re passionate about. In the end, I don’t feel it’s so much about the outcomes, such as getting the perfect job, but the personal growth that can be achieved through times of trials and situations that stretch you. We can welcome difficulties, such as a never-ending job search, knowing that they will provide opportunities to be refined. The times where we’re pressed from all sides will serve to highlight weaknesses in our character, which we can then choose to address and work through. It’s definitely not an easy walk, but a struggle to identify our solid core and hammer out a reconstructed faith. On the other hand, we can choose to overlook these flaws of ours and just move forward. From experience, I find that if I don’t take the step to truly look at myself in the mirror, I will find myself having to go through the same lesson again sometime down the road, until I learn it and it actually does become cemented into my being. Let me take some time to expound upon this.

Writing and music, in that order, are two of my biggest passions in life. You always hear motivational speakers or read quotes about how “if you just do what you love doing, the money will follow.” While I firmly believe this, having parents who have challenged me to logically analyze both risks and rewards has also pushed me to remain even keeled and look at things from multiple perspectives.

I’m fairly certain that you can agree with me that if you ever attempt to do something you love, you will come across obstacles. Oftentimes, there will be many obstacles. I feel that positive outcomes generally result from those individuals who shift their focus from how great these obstacles are to how they react to them. For instance, let’s say you’re hiking in the woods and you’re following a given path and come across an enormous boulder. You stop and gaze at the shear massiveness of this boulder. You use your cognition to come to the conclusion that you couldn’t possibly muster up all the necessary strength in the world to be able to move it. You stop to sit down, pull out your water bottle to take a swig, and attempt to figure out this dilemma. Only two minutes pass and someone walks down that same path, stopping briefly to greet you. He gives the boulder a quick glance, and then proceeds to walk around the boulder kicking aside a few of the branches from the trees that surround the path and thinks nothing more of it.

These very paths we walk along in life will all be different, as will the sizes of the boulders (whether they be external or personal struggles). I think we can all agree upon the fact that life is a struggle and we have to keep pushing forward the best way we know how.  We can take the easy road that requires little push or choose to persevere and push with all of our might when the boulder casts its shadow upon us.  We may fail should we choose the harder road, but at least we can find out who we are, what we are made of, and possibly gain the greatest reward – not the perfect job, but satisfaction from having given it our all.

I recently read a piece in the Harvard Business Review suggesting that the basic principle concerning how you should deal with an uncertain future, is to understand that “every small, smart step you take should leave you alive to take the next step.” The ultimate beauty in this statement is that it probably speaks to each and every one of you in vastly different ways.

Personally speaking, I can pinpoint the exact time and day in December (merely four months ago) at which I took that drastic step. Maybe a breaking point of sorts, but also a kind of stepping out in faith. It was easy to see the blessings and privilege I had of even having a job, but saw the opportunity to step out in faith as something I could survive to take the next step. If I was going to invest 8 hours of my day for my career, it was important to find a way to be passionate about it. I put in my 3-month notice to end my cushy job in healthcare management and change careers. A few weeks ago, I sat down with my father and had a lengthy conversation about all this. One point he made was that it wasn’t necessarily about right or wrong decisions, but that it was vital for me to understand that with every door I chose to go through, others would close. This didn’t mean that a closed door necessarily was a wasted opportunity, but rather that I needed to be ready to be okay with gaining certain opportunities and letting others pass me by. This seemed to go against the grain of our innate humanness in wanting everything, but I realized the wisdom in the idea that all things have a balance. And with this door I closed on my career, I stepped out in faith. With a closed door, many other doors opened and life became a little bit more interesting.

One of these doors seemed quite enticing. I was in direct contact and correspondence with a major TV network for a potential spot on a major singing competition to air this year. Never have I been more torn in juxtaposing my passion with my vocation. There were so many pros and cons to weigh that the weight literally could be felt both on my shoulders and on my mind. Falling asleep became an impossible task. I spoke with mentors, professionals, close friends, and even advocates in the industry. And of course other fears arose especially since the question of profitability arises in both music and literary arts. Will you be able to make a living? Will you be able to pay your bills? Will you be able to provide for a family? Will the road you take truly satisfy you? Will you be able to stave off the temptations and challenges? Both thoughts and questions were never-ending.

I went through the challenging process of asking myself what was important to me and what kinds of things I wanted to do in my every day life. Where did I see myself down the road? Did money or fame really matter to me? The biggest aspect of my thought process came down to whether I was going to live for myself or live for others. I’d be lying if I said I solely live for others all the time, but I also know that a large part of my life story, and who I am today, is by grace. Oftentimes, the greatest reward in writing out my thoughts is that I find joy when others can connect in some way. It doesn’t have to be completely, but maybe even in just a phrase or a thought or a small set of words. I think that in this case, the difficulty of stepping out in faith seems to be something that we as individuals can connect with. But I think what I’m trying to do is emphasize the faith, no matter the outcome. Because we’re not omnipotent. Nobody can foresee the future. And one thing I’ll guarantee you is that things will never go the way we plan.

I made a decision to pass on one door and proceed through another. I decided to go ahead and attempt to do something where I could live each and every day connecting with others and attempting to push myself to be compassionate toward others. All this also had to have an element of continuing to cultivate my craft. No matter what my “job title” would be, I knew that I would be spending a small part of each day continuing to work at my craft, in not only writing and in music, but in connecting with other individuals I came across in life. After all, through the very passions I have for writing and music, I have been afforded the privilege of connecting with others.

Just this week, I officially began my new position with a top non-profit organization working in business development and media for social enterprise, which is something I have wanted to do for quite some time. While many might turn their attention to the fact that I may have potentially turned down a once-in-a-life music opportunity that could have come with a lot of exposure, I look past whether I made the right or wrong decision, instead to my thankful heart and the perspective I still hold of all that is good in my life and of all the wonderful people in it. Life isn’t perfect nor is it easy, but my joy isn’t found in circumstances, but rather in my personal faith in God. Again, I understand that it can be a difficult thing to step out in faith if your happiness is tied to circumstances, but sometimes its easy to step out in faith when your joy looks past those circumstances. For me, there is no looking back. I absolutely believe that there will be even greater opportunities. Not only will I be doing work focusing on others in something I’m passionate about, I’ll still have the opportunity to make music and write. This isn’t an autobiography. I’m fairly certain my life is only getting started.

If you are still reading this, I appreciate your time and willingness to let me be vulnerable in sharing my thoughts with you and updating you on my personal life. My challenge to you is this:  Do not let your life slip away because of your fears. We need to believe in something beyond outcomes. That being said, it’s also important to firmly connect what you’re passionate about with what truly matters to you and brings you true joy. I feel that connecting as human beings in this lifetime is one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given. As cliché as this will sound, it makes you even richer than even the winners of the recent mega-millions jackpot. After all, winning a lottery doesn’t always mean an easy life moving forward. Take the time to connect with those around you. Use your vocation to do it, and use your passions to do it. Setting outcomes aside, keep faith as you do these things and most importantly, give it your all. 

Valentine’s Day 2012: Why I Don’t Deserve Her

It’s Valentine’s Day 2012. While I feel that my maturity, at least as it relates to relationships, is growing with each passing February 14th, I came to a pretty poignant realization in the past few months: I don’t deserve her.

Who is ‘her’, you ask? Gentlemen, ‘her’ is the typical female friend in your life. Yea, that one that you are not dating. The one you enjoy companionship with. The one you enjoy texting when you’re feeling lonely or wanting to converse with the opposite sex. The one you’ll meet up with from time to time. The one you flirt with for the thrill of it. It may not even be one, it might be many. Sadly, whether we’ll admit it or not, it’s the one we’re “dating” but without any of the commitment.

I am selfish. I guess I always knew that. I could twist this around in so many ways saying that it’s just human nature and that I’m just doing my best, but all that would simply be efforts to bullshit my way out of admitting that I don’t deserve her.

Since I am still young, I feel that I am not ready to throw aside the things I want to do in my life. If I were to enter into a relationship, I’m sure that I would love deeply and would probably allow it to become a higher priority than what might be best for me in my singleness. But because of these various deliberations and logic, I have probably misled many wonderful females I have had the pleasure of coming across in my life.

This so-called dysfunctional relationship actually isn’t so rare when I look around at many around  me. We, as men, need to step up as gentlemen and stop treating these females as placeholders. While it may deceptively seem like both parties are benefiting from this convenient “friendship” of sorts, I’d have to sadly admit that we’re just blind. We’re just feeding a relationship that in essence benefits us, and we don’t even care about the long-term repercussions. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the following statement from one of my male friends: “yo, we’re just friends” or “dude, she’s like a sister to me.” I know that I’ve been guilty of saying this in response to passing inquiries as well.

So why is there a dire need for this so-called “wake-up call”? Because the risk lies in not just a convenient relationship with your “just friend” but rather in her heart and the vulnerability that encases it.

I know so many females with wonderful hearts. These very same women are expecting males around them to make the first move and as these very same women grow older, they’re bound to weigh the actions of their male friends when all these men are doing are feeding their own egos.

We, as gentlemen, need to stop feeding our own egos and stop passively advocating these single women to waste their time on us if we’re not romantically interested. That being said, if you are really interested in your female friend, stop being a coward and pursue her. Otherwise, end the quasi-friendship and MAN up. I’ll guarantee you that even though you are “just friends” when you end this, it will feel like a deep breakup. And even more so if you really care for the girl. Either way, taking this step is definitely a difficult one, but it is a step that needs to be taken.

It’s a sad realization i’ve come to, but it is one that reminds me that I’m a broken guy in need of a lot of Grace and though I fail, I’m growing and becoming a better human being. In carrying on these so-called quasi-relationships, I haven’t just been stealing her time and attention, I’ve been stealing the love and emotional intimacy that she should be reserving for her future love interest. And this is why I don’t deserve her.

On Self Promotion: I can bench 475 lbs now?!?

Self Promotion

If you are reading this, you’ve given into a technique of shameless self-promotion, and while you probably could have easily ignored this post and written it off as self-adulation, you are hopefully intrigued enough to hear out what I have to say. Self promotion is a topic that I feel like everyone will be able to relate to in some form or other. It’s also something one definitely needs, but needs to be careful how to go about doing it.

Sadly, I should admit up front that I cannot bench 475 nor will I probably ever. Not that you probably couldn’t already figure that out by taking a look at me… Anyhow, I recently found myself re-thinking this idea of self-promotion.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been made aware of a few novel truths about myself. First, a close co-worker of mine stated that one of my strengths was that I am “creative.” I can only recall being called creative only once in my life and that was that time in 2nd grade when we had an old substitute teacher and I proceeded to quietly pass a note around the room that read: ‘Drop your textbook on the floor at 1PM.’ Pretty soon, every kid in class was watching the seconds tick off from 12:59 and as that clock hand hit that magic number, I was elated at the magnificently loud sound of textbooks hitting the floor coupled with the sheer magnitude of the substitute teacher’s frightening scream. My trip to the principal’s office was so worth it, and my ego grew just a little bit as I sat there being told that my actions were absolutely unacceptable, yet absolutely creative for someone my age. My luck since then, is a whole other story.

Being that this is the only time I can remember being called creative, I asked my co-worker to expound upon her statement. And then I realized that she was speaking about this dogmatic thinking that individuals in various careers are either creative or critical. I would imagine that most in my field of academia, sciences, and healthcare lean toward the critical side. Anyhow, it seems that those who surround me at work are individuals who have used their critical thinking skills to get to where they are. PhDs, MDs, PharmDs, RNs, you name it. I suppose these individuals don’t really need to self-promote since they have this “badge” of self-promotion right next to their names. So we come back to this concept of self-promotion. I have always heard that if you are in a creative field or working in something like music, you need to self promote to develop a following for your creative work. Of course there is a clear line between self-promotion and self-adulation. Self-adulation is technically defined as the “excessive admiration of one self.” That definition alone makes me cringe. Self-promotion should be an art of spreading ideas, concepts, and one’s own vision.

This past weekend, I was in NYC for a wedding, and I was talking to a good buddy of mine from college. While he is currently pursuing his degree at a prestigious law school, he is one of the most creative guys I know. And so when I made a coy suggestion that he use YouTube to get his humorous ideas out to the public, he replied to me “No way, I don’t ever want to self promote myself like that. It’s just not something I would do.” I understood his sentiments, but my heart sank because as a musician, one of the main avenues of building up a following of listeners has been to use YouTube. And this got me thinking. I’ve just been doing what others are doing, by setting up Twitters, YouTubes, and even Facebook Pages, but then why was I feeling so guilty? I put myself into other people’s shoes, and was horrified at this prospect that they might just see this as some sort of insecurity or self-boasting. Furthermore, I could just hear the thoughts going through people’s minds: “Who does he think he is?” coupled with the harmless-yet-malicious ‘eye-rolling’.

It is actually pretty funny because if you talk to “communication experts” (really?), they say that the magic number is to self-promote 20% of the time. They will tell you that self-promotion is NOT an instinctive behavior, but rather an art form that requires refinement through trial-and-error. It is deemed an “important skill to master” which makes sense since nobody likes someone who brags all the time. I don’t know about you, but we live in some tricky times. We live in the United States where you are supposed to be bold and chase your dreams. A perfect picture of this is when you see athletes in jubilation when they reach their title aspirations. Yet we are touched by humbleness and humility. We do indeed live in a digital age where self-promotion has become so accessible and personal branding is considered a skill set.

Online self-promotion is even more complicated because it begins as a one-sided discussion of sorts. For instance, this blog… I throw myself out there, attempting to stand out amongst the masses, drawing attention to a glimpse into my thoughts and ideas. But in doing so, I’ve learned a pretty important lesson. No amount of writing skills or expertise can be crafted into entries that serve as a personal statement of who I truly am. I need to cultivate conversations/discussions and develop relationships through interactions and engaging with my would-be readers.

I recently met up with a friend I had not seen in maybe 6 years. We had kept in touch through online means over the years, and it was wonderful catching up. It is interesting though, because at one point in the conversation, he said to me “You know, it’s funny because in person, you’re very different than how I imagined you to be now.” I understood that it is quite easy for a person like him who does not interact with me every day, to draw conclusions and assume certain things about me (both good and bad), since they have but only certain mediums from which to draw these conclusions. Which brings us full circle to the medium of how one projects oneself. While we cannot control how others will perceive us, there is definitely merit in not only being transparent in my writing but also being intentional and authentic in the relationships I cultivate. Basically, self-promotion doesn’t end with the delivery of a message. You must maintain relationships.

I am indeed thankful that I have been blessed with the opportunity to cultivate relationships with others in person, but I was quite taken aback because I realized that oftentimes when people write about their own thoughts and feelings, it is usually so much easier to write about just the positives and exaggerate successes and strengths. Instead, the focus should be on a set vision and ideas. But I truly do believe that if you have your own vision and set of ideas and carry yourself both confidently and authentically, people will either love you or hate you for it. It has been said that the main rule of self-promotion is to “be the best version of yourself.”

I feel that conversing with individuals in person is a much easier medium than online to talk about feelings or personal struggles and/or faults. In some ways, I think it has been quite freeing and cathartic these past few months to write more from a combination of my heart and my ideas, mixing into it a sense of vulnerability (as seen in my previous entry about loneliness). (Shameless self-promotion within a written piece about self-promotion. Yes, this is what they call ultimate irony.) It is a personal challenge of mine to attempt to approach writing in this way… to approach it with both humility and authenticity.

So, one positive way of looking at self-promotion is the investment of one’s own time into a conversation which in turn will inspire hope, thought, or action in the other individual, and then in turn that individual will pass this along. In ironic fashion, the best self-promotion is the promotion done by others, not by self. Of course, it is important to note that this description is of my own sense of self-promotion and what it should be. So following in that line of thinking, I feel that the take-home point is that if everyone is a self-proclaimed expert and there is no shortage of hyperbole in everyday conversations, then the individual who represents their own self but also at the same time exercises both a sense of transparency and also a balance of authenticity and humility will be most respected.

A Loneliness Observed

Photo Commissioned for this entry {www.annyphotography.com}

This concept of loneliness has been pervading my personal thoughts over the past few months. Let’s address something first. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Why write about loneliness? Simply put, loneliness is something that no one wants to admit they are going through let alone want to talk about. Furthermore, it is also something that no individual is immune to. But I think it makes sense to step out in faith and admit it; talk about it. While I had previously written about loneliness in the context of relationships, I didn’t quite know how to go about beginning to write about my own loneliness. But I did once hear that writing was an antidote for loneliness. So the most logical step was to just simply put pen to paper and begin.

When loneliness clouds your vision, it becomes the only thing you can see and understand. Following its due progression, it’s naturally the only thing that you can think about. It won’t necessarily make you (as the writer) an expert on anyone else’s loneliness (e.g. the reader), but since much of what surrounds loneliness is made up of similar elements, the writer/reader juxtaposition is a deeper relationship. In the end, a writer will write to tell others what they themselves see; what they themselves feel. And regardless of whether or not the reader can relate, in the end, writing will potentially be a way for an individual to escape from the labyrinth within his or her mind. And in some magical eureka moment, the reader may just come across an arrangement of words that just might define their own experience, and point them toward some sort of window through which his or her own perspective might change. For better or worse.

I suppose it would help to explain how I came to this place of self-contemplation which exists alongside loneliness. It has been an interesting first quarter of 2011. Aside from work, many new opportunities related to music have been popping up. I have had the pleasure of doing a bit of traveling and meeting many new individuals. While this has been wonderful on so many levels, being constantly on the move coupled with new faces in unfamiliar surroundings has left me quite lonely. It’s almost like you’re surrounded by air, not water, but you’re still drowning. You’re drowning in this realization that all the discussions and interactions, aren’t really satisfying this thirst you have for true fellowship or connectedness. I’m not exactly stating that you go straight from a sense of loneliness to self-contemplation and then you’re done. For me, the past few months has culminated in a self-contemplation of sorts consisting of many stages. It isn’t an unfamiliar concept that we live in an era of surface relationships and interactions that stem across various avenues, such as texting, instant messaging, and email. This loss of personal connectedness is quite worrisome.

On the other hand, it seems that these types of connections are quite ubiquitous and it may just be that this is the inevitable direction that personal relationships are steering toward. My cries for society to do better with connectedness will probably go unheard. Simply put, you could presume that society is driven by something that waits for nothing: time. Society will defend itself by saying that time waits for no one and we need to get on with life, since life is so transient. But then there is an irony in that. Because life is transient, should you stop to smell the roses? Or are the roses really not worth missing out on that next platform we’re chasing. But then when life is through, will we have found ourselves running in circles, with an odd realization that we’ve simply tired ourselves out and fallen out of the hamster wheel?

One example of a transitional relationship between loneliness and connectedness is seen in the process of the grieving that takes place with the passing of a loved one. When someone we know loses someone they love, we want to acknowledge their pain so much… almost as if to know it as our very own. We go through the motions. We offer up our shoulder to cry on. We even offer our awkward platitudes. Maybe send some flowers (which in proper Dostoevsky-like form, will wither away much like all living things). And then a strange thing happens. Time plays its cards and we move on, leaving them to mourn on their own. We don’t do this in carelessness but rather because we understand society’s own defense that grief is a lonely and personal place. Nothing we say or do will really matter. It’s all part of a process.

I can’t help but think of one of the most poignant books I’ve ever read, “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. In the book, Lewis wrote about his experience with grief after the death of his wife, who succumbed to cancer. He didn’t write about his wife’s sickness but rather about his own thoughts within his mind. You are able to see “through the progression of the book”, the stages of his coming back to the world. In devouring his thoughts, one key element still stands out: I feel that the loneliness (expressing the pain of being alone) and solitude (expressing the glory of being alone) found in his experience with death and grief, was a secluded privilege of sorts.

And while calling it a privilege would almost seem counterintuitive, I really do believe loneliness is but a stage that is inevitably necessary for true growth. Of course, growth results from the self-contemplation that exists alongside loneliness. These days, it’s almost a recurring theme I hear from friends and family, who assume that since I’m quite extrovert, I must be having the time of my life being able to meet new people and see new sights. But I feel that my life experiences have instilled in me this desire and need for deeper connections with individuals, and in just making do with interactions that side on superficiality, externality, and brevity, it is leaving me almost depressed and quite lonely. I’m also not trying to say that every person I meet, I would expect to connect with on a deeper level, but I do feel that if the majority of the relationships that surround me are on a surface level, then it is likened to my being alone in a jail cell. Call me crazy for making this comparison, but at least in a jail cell, you can only but be yourself, whereas on the other hand, you are expected to go through the motions that all those around you are going through.

I honestly struggle with this idea of differentiating between certain relationships with certain people. You cannot connect on a deeper level with every individual, but I refuse to accept that and will damn well try, even if it means I’ll fall and get hurt. It goes back to vulnerability, which again I previously discussed as it relates to relationships. Those who make themselves vulnerable enough will either hurt lot or experience one of the key joys of life- to love and be loved in return. This isn’t limited to romantic relationships.

It’s also frustrating to know that as I come across more unique individuals and as I experience more unique situations in life, … it becomes harder and harder to relate to everyone on every thing. Now I do think it’s important to point out that the “quick fix” of reaching out to someone because they are lonely isn’t necessarily the best answer either. It really is acceptable to feel loneliness.

In the end, we’re not meant to be solitary creatures. But there is a sense of irony in that I feel that some solitude is indeed a necessity. You will either understand the difference between loneliness and solitude or believe it is the very same thing. But if you see loneliness as the “poverty of self” and solitude as the “richness of self“, then you’ll see that loneliness is almost a fear of living. But I suppose it makes more sense knowing what my loneliness points to. Singer/songwriter Brooke Fraser reiterates one of Lewis’ points in her song “C.S. Lewis Song” where she writes: “If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy, I can only conclude that I was not made for here.” For me, loneliness points toward finding hope in something beyond my own self. It points to an inevitable stumbling; maybe even a fall. But you pick yourself back up, and start living.

It has been a joy to struggle through loneliness and learn to embrace the solitude, and allow it to serve as a catalyst to really think about and challenge my own mindset. A mindset that holds within it what it is that I strive for and live for, each and every day. It isn’t about the status of my job or a chosen career. It isn’t about nice cars, fancy things, nice homes or any other measures of wealth. It isn’t about how many people you know or how popular you are or how many people are enamored with you. Instead, I feel that it’s probably got to do a little something with the relationships I am cultivating through love. I’m not saying its easy. People by nature have conflicting hearts that oftentimes deceive and so in turn, conflict is inevitable. We won’t be able to love all the time, but like many things in life, the effort we put in will most likely define us. And so, contrary to what society tells you, it’s okay to be alone. Because loneliness is a privilege. In loneliness and in solitude, we proclaim the depths of our love. It is a privilege that indeed has no place for society.

…chasing dreams on the bend/left with nothing in the end/trying to fill the void/left destroyed/you know, this unhappiness inside fosters a hunger for the sky.-Jae Jin (lyrics from an upcoming EP track)

Writing Songs Between the Lines

As a musician, writing songs is such a beautiful and wonderful thing, yet painstakingly difficult. Over the last decade, I’ve filled pages upon pages with songs, or rather words resembling an order that may or may not be able to be set to a melody. Some pages have but a few words. Some pages, you can see the words getting smaller and smaller, the closer and closer I get to the bottom of the page… trying to squeeze out every last ounce of what is on my mind. Songwriting is indeed a craft. It’s not just something that you do, like breathing. Very rarely does it come to you in some dream. You work at it, like every other thing in life worth putting effort into. I’ve found that my songs touch upon the human condition… this experience or experiences of trying to understand oneself within a specific social or personal setting. And to go even further, theorizing that the one thing we all have in common, is searching out our purpose… relating ourselves to the environment we exist in… seeking out understanding and our influence in this very environment around us. And then, I suppose, that I hope that when people hear my songs or read my lyrics, they’ll be able feel certain emotions or find their own selves in the very line of words I’ve purposefully put together.

I am happy and excited to announce, that in just a few short weeks, I will be releasing my very first single from my EP album. While I have had the pleasure of releasing some songs in collaboration with other musicians and producers, this is the very first song that I am truly able to call my very own. The lyrics come from my heart and soul and the melodies sung are in my own unique style. It is my hope that when the beats, melodies, instruments, and the singing of the words are stripped away, all these things combined will have expressed enough to evoke some sort of feeling or emotion in the individual listening to the song. I am also excited that many, including those I know and those I do not know, will be able to get a sense of what my music is about and will be about. Of course, my songwriting on this particular song is not a final product of who I am, as there is still growth to undertake and molding to undergo, into who I have been made to become.

In this day and age, it seems like a lot of people are caught up on the word “happiness” and what it entails or how it relates to one’s life. I feel that a lot of my songwriting focuses not on “being happy” or “being depressed” but rather on the ups and downs of blessings and joy. I recall a discussion I had about a year ago with a few musician friends in New York City about music. I brought up Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell as a few of my favorite and most influential songwriters. At that time, I had recently read an interesting article in Rolling Stone magazine in which Bob Dylan spoke about “happiness” being a “yuppie word.” To him, he felt that what really mattered was being “blessed or unblessed.” I think that this struck really deeply in my mind.

Eudaimonia is the Greek word that is translated as “happiness” and in its most classical Greek sense, doesn’t even really take much resemblance to what many of us call “happiness” in today’s day and age. The word doesn’t  point to a subjective emotional state, but rather an objective state of being… a state of being that includes living well and doing well (integrity and good prosperity). Many of us believe that happiness consists of being free to do, come, and go as we please. In the end, I feel that many of us are so excited and proud to talk about how “self-aware” we are, but let’s be honest… the only things we are truly cognizant of is our moods(states of mind). Many of us know how we feel at any given moment, but know little else about  ourselves. That’s not to say that this lack of true self-awareness is a negative thing. It just supports the idea that in times when we are in a bad mood, or feel tired or frustrated or unsatisfied, there’s something else, beyond our own selves. And that is perfectly okay.

Some of us may need to move beyond seeking after our own satisfaction, instead attempting a sincere and committed pursuance of balancing living and doing well with certain disciplines… and that may or may not include spirituality or faith for some of you. Speaking for myself, much of my own thoughts and feelings have been defined by my faith and I feel that song-writing has included its joys on one hand, and its painstaking difficulties on the other. To me, it is both a humbling and astonishing concept to be able to use the words and thoughts and emotions of my own life, to be able to evoke and ignite a whole other set of words, thoughts, and emotions in another individual. And to do this through something as universal and expressive as music, only magnifies this.

“To me, the only way songwriting works is if you write the truth. It’s the only way it works, period. Where I’m going as a writer, what I’m looking for is an expansion of the truth, finding out more truth – especially about me. It’s easier to write about me, because I know where I am. As a younger man, it was easy to get to my truth: I was a simple man, having fun. As you get older it gets more complicated – but it’s also about opening up a lot more places. After all, that’s where the deeper truth resides.” -Pat Green

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