Monday, February 28, 2011

Now What?

I recently completed the first draft of my first short story. I don't think it's anywhere near ready to be submitted to potential publishers, but just getting a story down on paper is liberating. Because most of the important plot points have been committed to paper, you don't have to worry about remembering every little potential twist and turn, or every detail that was previously swirling around in your head. When you read what you've written, you have a sense of accomplishment that is difficult to describe.

And yet, you still have a nagging emptiness, the sort of feeling that begs the question, "Is that it?" I have no illusions that the story is in its final format in any respect—far from it. Yet because it is written down, I have lost that compulsion to constantly work on it. Not helping things any is that some of my other side projects are at a "lull" stage at the moment, where I have to wait for stuff to arrive in the mail, or I need to research things further. I find myself asking "now what?" a lot.

I've had this feeling before, usually after winning some kind of award or a sports championship. You're incredibly happy for a while, but at the end of the day, what's really changed? What's the next step? There is a disconnect between completing a pretty big goal of mine and the reward I thought I would feel.

I think this is somewhat attributable to two things:

1) The story isn't as good as I want it to be yet. I realize that it's still a rough draft, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought maybe I'd be the rare person that just could write something down once, never tweak it, and find it to be genius upon further review. Clearly, I'm not that person! Especially given that this is my first stab at fiction in a long, long time, I should have realized that even the greatest geniuses in the world craft and re-work their stories over and over again to achieve a polished, pleasing result. Because I'm not nearly on that level, I have to work even harder to get there.

2) Even though I have achieved a goal, it's not the goal. So I wrote a rough draft. Though it's a pretty big milestone, especially for someone who would've rather played Civ IV than done something productive with his time even six months ago, I'm not at the destination yet. There's still plenty of road in front of me, and that's just on this one project. Multiply this by the many projects I'm taking on in addition to my job, and it's possible that my brain was becoming overloaded. I think this weekend I was starting to get a bit burnt out. In my mind, if it was so much effort to get through a rough draft of a single short story, how could I ever accomplish the goals that I set out? I lost some of my motivation to write, and fell back into my old routine for a couple of days, playing videogames, and generally moping around in a haze while eating junk food and zoning out.

Then, by reliving this old routine again, I remembered how miserable I was in my old routine. At least when I'm writing, no matter how terrible the end-product can be at times, I'm creating something and that makes me happy. Also, every word that I write is a step toward becoming a better writer, which is essential for many of my goals. Even if my readership thinks this post is the worst piece of shit ever, I'm still becoming a better writer because of it.

The bottom line is once you've set goals, don't give up. It's okay to lapse into your old, tired self every now and then to remind you as to why you're making these changes. There will be days when you question whether it's all really worth it. Now I know, sometimes you just have to push through and do something. Hell, when I sat down to write this post just now, after a weekend of doing nothing, there was a moment where I wanted to just keep playing FreeCell and JSettlers. But now that I have these thoughts on paper, I feel much better. Keep moving forward. In the words of Jim Valvano, "Never give up. Don't ever give up."

Questions? Comments? Would you rather hear about the incredibly boring things I did this weekend? E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @djgelner.


 

 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Just Ask

I'm just like everyone else—I have things that I do well, and things that I have to work on. This post is going to deal with something that I could do a little bit better: ask.

I'm bad at asking for stuff. I'm bad at asking for help, I'm bad at asking girls out, I'm even bad at asking for upgrades at hotels and the like. I think it stems from a deep-seeded fear of rejection that exists from my childhood. I always have wanted to please others—I always got good grades, tried to do the best I could in school, and generally do as I was told. This pattern of behavior has rewarded me in school and my young career.

The problem is, it's tough to get what you want when you don't ask for it. What's the worst that could happen when you ask? The person will say "no." For some reason, in my head, it's much worse. Take asking for an upgrade at a hotel. When I go through it in my mind, I ask the clerk sheepishly, "Uh, is there any chance that I could get an upgrade…you know…for…uh…no additional charge?" The clerk then starts laughing and loudly calling me out on it, "HAHAHA—you stupid idiot! Not only can you not get an upgrade, but you don't even get your original room now! Good luck out on the streets! Did I mention that there's going to be a storm tonight, ass?"

I know it's twisted and weird, but this is the scene that goes through my mind. Now, I realize that nothing that bad would actually happen just by asking someone a question, but the point is that when the moment comes, I just clam up and end up frustrated. It happens all the time.

What I didn't realize until recently is that I have to take affirmative steps to get rid of this fear, or else it will leave me frustrated and semi-miserable for the rest of my life. I'm trying to take small steps to feel more comfortable asking for stuff. Asking for small things and building from there. I've realized I have to give up my quest to make everyone happy, and not be afraid to be "the difficult guy" every now and then. In reality, it's not even being difficult, it's just knowing what you want, and having the confidence to ask for it.

This goes for any number of fears—it's far better to try to face them head-on as opposed to gritting your teeth and failing to even try to overcome them. At least if you are trying to overcome fears, you're trying to grow and become a better person. When it comes down to it, that's all I'm trying to accomplish right now anyway.

I'll let you all know how it goes. Also, if anybody has any ways to overcome fears of heights and snakes, I'd appreciate it if you leave a comment.

Questions? Comments? Wondering what horrible depths of my crazy mind we'll explore next? E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @djgelner.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Making Stuff Manageable Part 1: Introduction

I don't mean to brag, but a lot of people have asked me how I am able to break down large amounts of information relatively quickly. Yeah, I was always the guy that was able to cram the night before the test and generally do a good job. Go ahead—hate me for it, whydoncha?

At any rate, the first time somebody asked me this, I didn't think anything of it, as I figured they were trying to butter me up for something else. But as more and more people kept asking me about this fairly unique skill, I started to think about the reasons why I was able to do so.

After thinking about it for a while, I determined that it wasn't really correlated with intelligence—I've known extremely intelligent people that work very hard and aren't able to figure things out before a test. Likewise, I've known a few slackers that are able to go into a test with a three-alarm hangover and do extremely well. Though there is probably some measure of natural intelligence involved, I'm not entirely sure it's a driving force except on the extreme fringes (i.e. the supergeniuses or drooling mouth-breathers).

That revelation got me thinking: if intelligence isn't the determining factor, then there must be some process that people develop in order to process information extremely quickly. Because this process is multi-step and way too much for a single post, I've decided to break it down into a series of posts. How many, you ask? I haven't really thought that far ahead, okay! Just bear with me here, and you might even learn something.


The primary rule to remember when trying to make things easier is that not all information is equally useful or valuable. I was a tutor in college, and a peer advisor in law school, and you would not believe some of the questions I got about arcane bits of trivia tangentially related to the topics the kids were studying—horrible questions about minute passages in dissenting opinions, laborious summaries of paragraphs upon paragraphs of minutia about topics that the professor had explicitly stated would not be on the test—it was like some people were deliberately trying to make things harder on themselves. What they hadn't learned at the time (and what I tried to impart to them) was that learning to separate the valuable information from the trivial is the truly important skill. What is unfortunate is that our current broken school system (more on that in a future post) has substituted tests and memorization for teaching kids how to think, so many people haven't been taught how to separate out the valuable from the worthless. Kids just simply aren't learning how to think anymore. I don't know about you, but this is extremely frustrating to me.

What makes it even more maddening is that correcting years of training can take a while. Not necessarily years, but probably months. For a lucky few, it may be weeks or (if you really dedicate yourself to it) days. There will be triumphs and setbacks, but at the end of this series, you will have hopefully learned a valuable skill that will be useful in whatever job you enter. So even though I may hop in and out of the series a bit, have patience and keep up with these posts as they are published. Hopefully I will make it worth your while.

Questions? Comments? Wondering when we get to the good stuff? E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @djgelner.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sometimes You Need a Kick in the Ass

I want to lead off with a quick program note: I'm going to try to publish three articles weekly from now on: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It's an ambitious schedule, but after reading this article, I hope you'll realize where I'm coming from. Enjoy! –D.J.

Any guesses as to what this post is about? I've recently had people tell me that the tone of my blog might be a little too positive. I think the exact wording was, "Man, your blog is so positive. It's like, 'I want what D.J.'s having!'" Well, short of drinking massive amounts of wine, I figured I'd try to balance out the site a bit, so here goes: you're wasting your time!

Dare I say everyone reading this post has some project that is either languishing in their heads, unable to be launched, or on which they have stalled for various reasons. It could be something as small as starting a blog, or something as unimaginable as starting a new company. The important point is that these ideas do no good trapped in your head like prisoners!

Believe me, I have a (relatively) stressful job that (sometimes) requires long hours, and for which I'm generally on-call. Do you see me sitting around, watching Jeopardy!, sipping on wine? Well, I guess I am doing that too…but regardless, I'm also working on writing blog posts and editing some of my stories, damn it! It's not all bread and roses. You have to prioritize. I get it, sometimes you just want to chill out and watch some TV, or go out and get totally bombed with your buddies. This is fine—in moderation, of course. Sometimes, if you're in a creative field, this can even be productive; I've had some of my better ideas while sitting around, shooting the shit with friends over a few beers. However, if you engage in these activities and neglect your productive projects entirely, you'll never get anywhere!

"But D.J., it's just so damned easy to get comfortable and put off those projects for another day. Won't they be there twenty, thirty years down the road?" Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? The point is, if you have a job yet want to accomplish non-work related projects, you have to be willing to dedicate a majority of your non-sleeping free time to them. Anything less gives you zero room to complain about "how will I find the time?" You make it, buddy.

"But D.J., how do I find a 'kick in the ass?'" Other than insulting a surly-looking stranger that is much larger than you? You find out what can get you to work harder. Mark Sisson has some ideas over at his excellent blog. Or, you read about people that inspire you. Or, if you need a "kick in the ass," you have a significant other/friend/relative tell you how worthless you are for not working on your project. In short, you use whatever you respond to best as motivation. I liken it to how a catcher handles a pitcher during a mound conference—they either know to tell the guy how worthless he is and how everyone is just killing the ball right now, or they know that they need to build up their confidence. Only you know how to best motivate yourself. I can't tell you that. So, either tap into the power of "flow," read some inspirational stories, and remind yourself of how you can change the world, or have someone tear you down and tell you that you're a waste of a human, play-acting at getting things done while the world passes you by. Either way, just get started!

Questions? Comments? Enjoy the "edgier" tone to this article? E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter @djgelner.

 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Like Wine

Not every post for this blog has to be about improving some facet of your life. It is, after all, my blog, goddamn it. So I'm going to let you in on a little secret—I like wine.

In college, I used to think that wine was for snobby grad students and for trying to impress the ladies on dates. Though I didn't do too much of the latter, I did eventually become the former. Not that I even embraced my destiny at that point—it took a trip out to Napa for me to realize that wine is actually kind of awesome. Ever since that trip three years ago, I've been trying to learn more about wine, and trying to cut away at the traditional image of the wine snob.

What are my favorite wines, you may ask? I liken it to beer drinking in college. As a Dartmouth man, I was "raised" on the sweet, sweet nectar of the gods that is Keystone Light, and find myself able to drink Key Light and its cousins from different manufacturers like water. Likewise, because my formative experience with wine was out in Napa, I like big, bold, flavorful Cabernets that happen to also be smooth, without any of the acidic aftertaste. I also like nice, light Pinot Noirs, spicy Malbecs, and for whites, I enjoy nice, toasty, vanilla Chardonnays and the odd citrusy Sauvignon Blanc. I know, very original. The thing is, I do enjoy other varietals, but on a bottle-by-bottle basis. Some of the wines made in Augusta, Missouri are actually quite delicious, though they tend to be of the "Chardonnel" and "Norton" varietals. And Viogniers from Virginia can actually be quite good on a date—they are somewhat sweet, yet pair well with fish and poultry.

A lot of people are intimidated by wine because they are haunted by the memory of some snob making them feel like an idiot at some point. A little-known secret is that these snobs usually have no idea what the fuck they're talking about. They have the worst kind of herd mentality, liking a certain type of wine only because it's the "in" thing. Don't worry about them. For more guidance, see rule #4. Just drink whatever tastes good to you. If you don't want to learn any more about wine, drink what you like most. If you do want to learn more about wine, I've been researching it quite a bit and would be happy to oblige with more posts on the topic.

Questions? Comments? Had no idea I was such a wino? E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com.
Follow me on Twitter @djgelner.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Failure “Is” An Option?

During every test flight, the Wright brothers brought not only their plane, but also plenty of materials to repair any damage that was done from the inevitable crashes that would occur.

Wayne Gretzky is famously credited with the quote, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." His career shooting percentage: 17.57%.

In explaining some of my ideas to people recently, and in talking to others about problem areas in their own projects, the topic of "failure" has come up pretty frequently. "What if you fail?" "What if nobody _________?" "What if my dream doesn't pan out and I have to give it up?" "Am I already a failure?"

My answer to these people: the only way to truly fail is by not doing anything in the first place.

So your big idea didn't pan out exactly as you intended. You likely learned several excellent lessons along the way, met some key people, or otherwise found a new perspective on life. I know that doesn't necessarily pay the bills or feed the family, but it's damned important to moving in a direction where you can live the life you want to live. So you didn't become a world-class chef/chess grandmaster/big-firm attorney. It can be tougher with dreams like becoming a professional athlete or a Broadway star, which may have somewhat finite shelf lives. You never know though—look at that guy from The Rookie, or Jon Hamm—things can have a funny way of working out if you can find a way to persist long enough, knocking on the right doors.

If circumstances outside of your control dictate that you have to abruptly give up your dream and go in a different direction, it doesn't have to be permanent! Try to live within your means, saving a good portion of your money, gathering more "dry powder" for when the next opportunity presents itself; for your next flash of genius that might be "The Big Idea." Put those skills that you developed pursuing your own dream to good use. Don't think of it as a failure—it's a setback. You can always overcome setbacks, but the finality that "failure" implies can act as a black hole, sucking out all of the creativity, passion, and drive that made you "you" in the first place.

No matter what, after one of these setbacks, do not wallow in your own self-pity for an extended period of time. Don't pull the "woe is me" act—you'll annoy your friends and family, and become a useless lump of crap ("ULOC"), which is the worst thing in the world to be. Instead, think of other potential avenues to explore. What was it that you liked about your previous dream? For example, if you wanted to be a movie star, did you want it because of your passion for the craft of acting or because you craved fame? If it's for the acting, there are plenty of community productions in which you could become involved that should satisfy that itch, while allowing you to have a "day" job to support yourself or your family. If it's for the fame, well, in the age of the internet, there are plenty of ways to get famous. Consider putting up a lot of funny shorts on YouTube in your spare time, or become a prolific twitterer. Either way, you'd be moving toward that aspect of your goal. Boil down your previous goal to the part that you value most, and try to capture that in some aspect of your life. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This isn't to say that you should settle—that's a completely different concept. This is about pursuing your dreams in a different manner while saving up for the next opportunity. Five years from now, your life could be completely different, and the pressures of a significant other, kids, or whatever could re-arrange your values to the point where your dream is simply not feasible for an extended period. You aren't necessarily settling, and you should certainly stay connected to your dream in some way, so that you can pick it up again if the opportunity presents itself. Goals shift. People change. The important thing is that you keep firing shots at the net like Gretzky. Well, not literally, unless you're aiming to be an NHL player, but you get the idea. Keep pushing and pursuing your dream however you can given your circumstances. Hey, you never know where it might lead you. You might even be able to surpass the achievements of a couple of bike mechanics who never gave up on their dreams.

Questions? Comments? E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter at @djgelner.


 


 

 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life is Short

I'm 27 years old now. It wasn't so long ago that I was giving some of my buddies in law school shit because they were "old men" at 25. These past five years have absolutely flown by. Now I find myself trying to justify why 28 will still be considered "mid-twenties."

One common reply that I've heard from people when explaining my new philosophy is that "life is short." I agree wholeheartedly—part of what ignited this self-examination was not only a dissatisfaction of where my life was, but also where it was headed. I was worried that I'd wake up one day at forty (or older) with a litany of regrets regarding missed opportunities.

We have no idea when we'll be hit by a bus or find ourselves faced with a major illness. I used to have a lot of anxiety regarding death—it was the only thing that seemed absolute and permanent. Even worse, I have little or no control over the ultimate result. This used to freak me out quite a bit.

Then I realized—because there's nothing I can do about it, why worry about it? I could either worry, be miserable, and wait for the inevitable, or I could take some affirmative steps to make sure that I spend the time I do have doing whatever I want to do, including improving the world in some meaningful fashion. Additionally, if you don't enjoy doing something, life is too short to "grit your teeth" and try to make it through. If you are miserable doing something, it is unlikely to change going forward, unless you have reason to believe that further down the line, things will get better in a meaningful way.

Absent that reason, though, you need to take control of your own life and sculpt a life that will make you happy. Happiness, love, family, friendship—these are the things you should be trying to maximize, because time is the only finite resource we have. Not green pieces of paper, not hours spent working, not some ethereal "prestige." Focus on the important stuff. Life is short. Act accordingly.

Questions? Comments? E-mail D.J. at djssuperblog@gmail.com.

 

Monday, February 7, 2011

How to Write Your Life Plan

In an earlier post, I wrote about my Thanksgiving Moment of Clarity (TMOC), where I decided I had to make some major life changes. I was fairly unhappy for where my life was headed if I stayed on my current course, but before Thanksgiving, I had no idea how to change things. What the hell could I possibly do, especially with how busy I was at the time? I came up with the idea of writing out a Life Plan. I'm waiting for the skeptics to come out on this one.

"OK, D.J., what hokey book that you read told you to do this?" Honestly, it didn't come from a book. I just thought it sounded like the right thing to do to get the ball rolling. Maybe it's a function of my dad planning out all of our family trips on detailed itineraries when I was a kid, but there was some connection there between writing the words on the page and making the ideas seem more "real."

"That's great and all, but between the job and my friends and family, I don't have enough time to think through all of the potential things I want to do." Of course not—if you would have sat me down at the end of Thanksgiving weekend and asked me to write one out, I would have been completely at a loss. However, in the month-and-a-half after that, I somehow went from clueless to confident enough to write it down. It's a multi-step process, for sure. Here are some steps that should get you writing your Life Plan in a month or two, give or take.

1) Start writing good ideas down as they come to you. These can be business ideas, or things that you see on TV or out and about that you want to try as hobbies. They can be ideas for creative works, be they photos, screenplays, movies, books you want to write, or whatever. The beauty of this one is that modern cell phone technology should make it easy to jot things down in a smart phone. If you don't have a smart phone, or want to make sure your ideas aren't stolen, carry around one of those little 60-sheet mini notebooks and a pen (it's really not that difficult). As I said above, writing it down makes it more real. It will also build confidence in your writing ability and make writing ideas down habitual.

2) Identify and Pay Attention to Experiences and Hobbies that Make You Happy. This should be fairly easy, but if it's not, see my previous post. Write these down, too, as it will identify what you should really be working toward.

3) Start Reading Books and Blogs on Topics that Interest You. Hopefully this is one such blog! If not, I won't hold it against you. One excellent book, mentioned before on this blog, is The Four-Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferriss, and its accompanying blog. No, I am not being paid by Tim in any way, nor are our sites related by any affiliate relationship. My life was quite simply transformed by reading the book, and I am trying to proselytize people to its cause as much as possible. Even if the stuff about streamlining and outsourcing at work doesn't apply to you, the section on creating side-ventures is eye-opening, and almost a mini-MBA for those interested in such things. It's just one humble writer's opinion. The books certainly don't have to be related to business—the important thing is that you learn about topics that interest you, and try to start developing an expertise in an area that you find enjoyable.

4) Identify What You are Dissatisfied with in Your Current Life (and Write These Things Down). Think of it as a modern airing of grievances. If you're totally content and happy, congratulations and feel free to skip this step. Most people, though, write a Life Plan because they are dissatisfied with some area of their life and want to make affirmative changes. I spent roughly three pages on things that I wanted to change in my life (Yeah, I was pretty fucked up). This is somewhat different than…

5) Identify Reasons Why You Want These Things to Change. This is different from why you are dissatisfied. This gets more to your goals for the future, and where you see yourself one, two, five, ten years down the road if you don't make any changes. It can be as simple as "I've identified the direction that my life is going, and I don't like it." You could also write down something like "I want to have a family and I don't see myself getting there as my life currently stands," or "this is a dead-end job and I don't want it anymore." What you need here is a justification for the changes you want to make so that your future self can read it, reflect on it, and (hopefully) agree with it. In short, it decreases future self-doubt.

6) Write Down Your Goals For One, Two, and Five Years Down the Road

Again, these could be anything. Financial goals, professional goals, goals from hobbies, romantic goals. Just write down things that you want to accomplish in the next one, two, and five years. Why these intervals? One year should be fairly easy. Two years should tell you if you're on the right track. Anything more than five years is too inherently unpredictable to be useful, though don't be afraid to have a "very long-term goals" section. Don't be afraid to think big—one of my "very long-term goals" is "own an NFL franchise." Odds are that I'll never reach it, but it gives me a target to shoot for while I'm trying to accomplish all of the other, closer goals. Such grandiose goals also have the unintended effect of making what you thought of as "hugely insurmountable goals" seem far more manageable. One thing I cannot stress enough: If you don't reach all of your goals in the allotted time, you are NOT a failure! So you didn't hit all of your goals, or even most of them. If you can tick off even one or two of them, that's one or two goals that you otherwise weren't going to accomplish without the Plan!

7) Research and Write Down the Affirmative Steps You Will Take to Reach These Goals. It could be something like getting involved in online dating, or starting a side business, or writing that book you've always wanted to write, or quitting your job. Think long and hard about what steps you will need to take, and research them appropriately. Want to write a book, but have no idea where to start? There are hundreds of blogs out there about getting representation, putting together a query letter, and submitting to publishers. Here is one. Here's another. It doesn't have to be writing a book, but my point is there is plenty of readily-available, free information out there from knowledgeable people. You just have to put down the remote for a second and run a focused search for it. Once you've identified the steps you need to take, write them down. From there, you'll need to…

8) Create a Formal Timeline for Implementing Changes

This is where you merge the goals that you set out above with the steps you're going to take to get to those goals. Realistically plan out how long it's going to take you to reach each goal. For example, if one of your goals is saving up for a trip to visit the pyramids in Egypt (not right now, hopefully), do the math and realistically determine how long it's going to take you. Similarly, if you're writing a book, don't necessarily assume that it will be accepted on the first go-around. Plan for re-writes, contingencies, and just plain bad luck. Also, plan for good luck. I would like to expand on this more, but right now, I can't. Just trust me when I say that good luck can have an equally interesting impact. Finally…

9) Pull It All Together In a Persuasive Document

Write the Life Plan as if your greatest detractor will be reading it. You're aiming to convince them not necessarily that you're 100% right, but rather that you've put some time and thought into this, and they should be able to understand where you're coming from. Not that you should show this to negative people by any stretch. No, it's for when you most doubt the choices that you've made. Believe me, you're going to second-guess some of your choices, especially if they involve major life decisions. Go ahead and write a little note to yourself at the end of it reminding you how good visualizing yourself going through this plan felt. A lot of times, things can happen that make us feel overly comfortable in our day-to-day lives, even if those same lives make you feel lousy. Remember why you wanted to change in the first place! If not, it's incredibly easy to fall back into bad habits.

It's okay if your Life Plan changes. I wrote mine back in early January, and a lot has changed since then. To be honest, I wish I could just publish mine as a post, but for various reasons that will become apparent later, I can't do so right now. I will as soon as I can, I promise. Just trust me when I say it's okay to deviate from your plan somewhat. I'm already changing some things that will leave me a month "behind" in some regards, but far ahead in others. Just remember, your life plan is not meant to control every aspect of your life, but it is meant to give you some guidance to get you where you want to be. Once you have a path in front of you, it's much, much easier to take steps in the right direction.

Questions? Comments? Wondering why I can't publish my own Life Plan yet? E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com.


 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to Find New Hobbies

There are plenty of people out there that want to make significant changes in their lives, but don't know where to start. In one of my previous posts, I asked you guys to think about your hobbies, what you're really passionate about, and think of how you can turn that into something greater and, potentially, monetize it. One of the most common refrains that I hear when I tell people this is, "what if I don't have any hobbies?" Some people just sit around all day, watching TV or IMing others after (or during!) work, and then turn around and wonder why they don't have any hobbies.

The answer is that instead of bullshitting over IM, you should use the internet or family and friends as a resource to find potential new hobbies.

There are tons of potential hobbies out there. In fact, since I decided to make major changes in my Thanksgiving Moment of Clarity (TMOC, from now on), I have taken on the following endeavors:

-Started this blog

-Started researching a new non-fiction book

-Started putting together ideas for a new novel

-Started writing two screenplays (see a pattern?)

-Resumed reading for pleasure

-Started discussing two new business ventures with others, one of which actually appears to be viable

-Wrote a transformative Life Plan, to give me a kick in the ass

-Have gotten into wine tasting in a meaningful way, including reading advanced books on the topic

These are just the hobbies that I currently have time for! You'll notice that I don't have TV, video games, or "surfing the internet" on there. I still do these things, but now I consider them time sinks instead of productive endeavors. Though I still enjoy these activities, I recognize that each hour spent with them detracts from what I am ultimately trying to accomplish, and the life I am attempting to construct.

Here are some other hobbies that I want to take up when I have a little more free time:

-Master Spanish

-Learn another language enough to be conversationally fluent (preferably Mandarin)

-Become a proficient surfer

-Join one group that meets on a weekly or semi-weekly basis that enjoys one of my other hobbies

-Become proficient enough at dancing that I don't make a total ass out of myself

-Learn basic culinary techniques without going to culinary school

-Learn to paint

-Start a podcast

-Learn how to ride a bike again (I know—long story for another post)

As you can see, I've created quite the list. But how did I come up with these hobbies and the goals associated with them? By and large, I tried something that exposed me to each of these. I was exposed to wine tasting on a trip out to Napa in 2007; since then I have become much more interested in wine, but without the snobbery that often accompanies it. I always enjoyed reading for pleasure throughout college and law school, but since I started working in a job that requires inordinate amounts of reading daily, that fell by the wayside. During a recent vacation, though, I re-discovered my love for reading, and not a moment too soon, as the book I was reading at the time, Tim Ferriss' The Four-Hour Workweek, has rapidly ascended to the number 1 spot on my "Favorite Books" list. I always piddled around with a blog on the side, but I was afraid of publicly attributing my material to myself for fear of potential professional repercussions. You know what? Now I don't care—writing is an intensely personal endeavor, so not everyone is going to be a fan, but the only people I have denigrated have been public figures that have brought it upon themselves. I realized I had nothing to be afraid of from a professional standpoint, so fuck it. I write what I write.

However, this was not enough, as I sat on some of these hobbies for years without any meaningful progress, as I wallowed away, watching TV and playing video games for a quick fix of fun. The TMOC brought everything into perspective, and got me working on many of these projects. Why is this the case? I was surrounded by family and friends that were home for the holidays and knew who I was. I realized that I wanted to be the person I was around them all of the time, which was slowly slipping away from me. So I resolved to change that. What it boils down to is exposing yourself in a meaningful way to people that love, admire, or otherwise respect you, and ask them for not only what they think you would enjoy, but also what they enjoy, and why. Even this is not enough, as you have to be willing to try some of their recommendations before dismissing them out of hand.

If you're truly alone, and have no one else with whom to speak, reach out to an on-line community that has some commonality with what you want to do. "Isn't this hypocritical? You chastise people for fucking around on the internet all day in one breath, then say they're valuable in the next!" There's a difference—a lot of times, people bullshit with each other on facebook, or IM, or some message board. What I am talking about is for people that have no other choice but to ask around on an online community to determine what they can do for hobbies, not necessarily by any fault of their own. One is a waste of time, the other is out of necessity.

Feel free to let me know any success stories in the comments—I'd be happy to hear if anyone else thinks this is sound advice or not.

Questions? Comments? Off-the-wall hobbies that others would potentially consider? E-mail D.J. at djssuperblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How to Have Fun Again

I think I may have laid things on a little heavy at the start of this thing. So let's talk about a little bit of a lighter subject—fun!

Why do we work five days a week? For most of us, it's so that we can have money to do fun things on the days we get off, right? I mean, there's the small matter of paying the rent and eating, but other than the essentials, hopefully there's a little bit of cash left over to do the things you want to do.

For me, working long hours, a lot of times I just want to chill out, play with my dog Sully, and relax. These are all certainly fun, but a lot of times I feel like I can get stuck in a "fun rut." You know what I mean—you watch the same episode of Seinfeld over and over again while playing the same tower defense game on your computer for the eightieth time, trying to get just a few more points than your high score. In other words, "living the dream." It gets old after a while. Is this really what life is about?

How can you get out of these fun ruts? In short, be open to and have as many new experiences as possible. This can be difficult for someone who is naturally introverted, like myself. Oftentimes, it is much, much easier to just stay at home and watch more shitty TV, and avoid the (in my mind) potentially embarrassing experience of meeting new people. What if they think I'm an idiot (I am)? What if they don't laugh at my jokes (people often don't)?

One of the things that has been deeply ingrained in my mind since I was young is a fear of failure. But it is difficult to learn and grow without failure. Lately, I've been working on taking more chances. Not of the Ben Roethlisberger variety ("Why do I need that helmet? It makes me look like an asshole. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm heading over to that bar and then I'm going to relax in my hotel room. The TV's broken, though—better call someone to fix it…"), but rather intelligent risks that are meant to improve my life. It can be tough at times, but the payoff can be worth it. Failures make ultimate success much sweeter. You have to be willing to risk a little bit if you want to hit it big, and this includes having fun.

We'll see how it goes—I'll keep you all posted.

Questions? Comments? Wondering why I'm still typing this from my couch and not out at some wine festival somewhere? E-mail me at djssuperblog@gmail.com.