Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What to Do When You Fall Off the Wagon

I know that to a lot of people, it seems like I lead a pretty charmed life.  I work out constantly.  I eat a very good diet.  I am able to work on my various projects all day, basically uninterrupted.  Yet I have one thing that you all should say to me next time you see me…

“Fuck you.”

Truth is, I’m obviously not perfect.  I don’t work out every day.  I sometimes cheat on the old diet.  I still enjoy a drink or five, and I’m not always the most positive guy in the world if you hang out with me, though I think people find me to be entertaining, for one reason or another.

The thing is, at least I realize this and I’m trying to make changes to my life.  It’s never easy: I’m not perfect, and you (probably) aren’t either.  But I realize that there’s a greater ideal to strive for in this existence, and I’ll be goddamned if I don’t try to pursue it while I’m here.

Still, when I try to make changes to my life, there are invariably times when I “fall off the wagon.” We’re all just animals when it comes down to it, and we’re all subject to “being too busy,” or otherwise giving into a moment of weakness when we should otherwise be productive.

Your initial reaction may be to punish yourself for being “weak.”  Fuck that.  You’re just as human as anyone else.  Any kind of a failure shouldn’t be met with wallowing despair, but rather with a newfound determination to make yourself into the person you want to be.  You can’t change the past (unless you’re Superman, in which case I have a few problems that you could help out with), but you can easily chart your path from here on out.  Drop the pity party and look for solutions.

Secondly, set a milestone for the next week that you can maintain, even if it requires a bit (or a lot) of restraint.  Tell yourself, “I’m not going to _________ for the next week.”  It might seem impossible at first, but after a day or two, you’ll be in much better shape than you would’ve been otherwise.

Finally, direct your latent energies toward something worthwhile.  I guess this sort of depends on if you take the “experience life” versus “societal improvement” route.  Far be it from me to dictate whether you should believe in one or the other: I actually think you should strive for both.  But no matter which philosophy you adopt, embrace it and live it.  Want to experience all life has to offer?  Take a trip.  Do something you’re otherwise terrified of doing.  Grow.  Live life.  Want to improve society?  Volunteer.  Work on a project that’s larger than yourself.  Do SOMETHING to advance our species on this planet.

Next time you find yourself eating a sundae or falling off of the path you set, don’t spend the next few days laying in bed, feeling sorry for yourself.  Instead, pull yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game.  And if you skinned your knee, or otherwise think you’re “deeply” hurt?  Rub some fucking dirt in it.  Get back on the horse.  Whatever you do, don’t waste time worrying about or (worse yet) mourning your situation.  There are few things worth worrying about in life—it would be a shame to spend some of your precious time thinking about something that really doesn’t matter.

D.J. Gelner is a writer and entrepreneur in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Are You a Giver or a Taker?

[Ed.’s Note: I’m going to only go with three posts this week—Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I have an exciting new idea for the Tuesday post, but, quite frankly, not enough time to implement it for tomorrow, so hopefully by next Tuesday you’ll be able to see what comes of it.  Enjoy! –D.J.]

I like to boil things down to absolutes on this site.  In that way, it mirrors life quite nicely.  Everything is either good or evil, black or white, with us, or against us.

All kidding aside, there is one area that is actually pretty “zero-sum.”

Are you a net giver?

Or are you a net taker?

Givers think of other people before themselves.  They try to give more to society than they take from it.  Givers are the types of people that bring far more beer to parties than they intend on using, and that are there to bail out their buddies in a pinch.  Givers clean up after themselves, and value not only their own stuff, but that of other people.  But perhaps most importantly, givers help friends and family through tough times with prudent, well-thought-out advice.  Basically, givers want to leave a situation better-off than they entered it. 

Unfortunately, America seems to be on a course toward a society with more takers.  Takers are shitty houseguests that come over, eat all of your shit, and leave.  Oh, they maybe bring a sixer over every now and then, but if they do so, they act like they’ve given you a million dollars, and will loudly proclaim that “they just brought beer over!” for the next month.  Takers are like the aliens in Independence Day, moving from planet-to-planet, strip-mining each stop for all of the resources they can fit in their ships before moving on.  Takers always ask, to quote The Departed, ”What can I use ya’ for?”, using friendship as a springboard to get something out of you that they need, be it business or “borrowing” a lawnmower, or something else entirely.

I’ve always tried to live my life as a giver, though I’m sure I’m oblivious to the ways in which I can be a taker at times.  I suppose the question then becomes “how can I ensure that I’m a net giver as opposed to a taker?”  I think it comes down to several small things.

First, live by the Golden Rule.  I’m not a religious man, but this simple saying transcends religion, an easy phrase that embodies the concept of empathy.  “Do unto others as you would want to be treated.”  It’s not that tough—just do it.

Second, get used to offering things without expecting anything in return.  This is an incredibly foreign concept to a lot of people, but it’s absolutely one that people in America need to get used to.  Are you that guy’s friend because you’re trying to get business from his company, or because you legitimately enjoy his friendship?  Do you bring over food to a party because it’s expected, or because it’s “the right thing to do?”  Stop making a tally of all of the times you’ve done things for others and let go of the “you owe me” mentality.  There’s also a difference between not expecting anything in return and becoming a doormat.  The first is done out of generosity, the second, out of fear.

Finally, go above and beyond the call of duty.  Find ways to provide more value in your current position than you are tasked with doing.  If you find yourself in a position where you don’t regularly find yourself doing so, or have tried to do so only to be met with resistance, it may be time to find a new position.  But more generally, get a little bit more food for a party than you actually think you need.  If someone asks you for a favor, don’t just half-ass it, but think what they might want a step or two down the line.  Really put your all into everything that you do, and you’ll end up contributing more to your friends, family, and society than you take away, and you’ll find that generosity and helping others will get you far more goodwill than the alternative.

D.J. Gelner is a writer and entrepreneur in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Links 7-22-11

This NFL Labor situation is quickly reaching fiasco levels.  I tend to believe the owners on this one; it makes the players seem dumb to argue that the owners tried to "pull a fast one on them" by including new terms in the document without telling anyone what those "new terms" are.  If it happened at all, they're probably minor tweaks to ancillary language, but the NFLPA just has to beat its chest on this one.  ESPN isn't blameless, either--they seem to be making this a much bigger deal than it really is.  Come on, NFLPA, sign the thing and let's have some football.  Enjoy the links!

Proposed CBA Terms.  Speaking of which, SI has broken down the proposed terms for the new CBA in an easy-to-understand, bullet point format. If you have even a casual interest in the business side of sports, it's an entertaining read.  (@CNNSI). 

Why the Lockout is Still Going On.  An excellent analysis from a familiar commentator over at our sister site, Blogmogger. (@Blogmogger).

Are Vegetables and Exercise Causing Childhood Obesity in China?  An interesting article from The Atlantic.  It really makes you think about causation and correlation--is it because the vegetables are stir-fried, or is it because different gut bacteria thrive under different conditions?  Hmm... (@The Atlantic).

Legacy Projects and the Love of True Friends.  Not as corny as the title makes it sound, but it is interesting to see which friends are supportive and which couldn't care less when the cards are on the table.  (@The Art of Nonconformity).

The Best Way to Find Your Vocation.  I think this lines up well with yesterday's article; find something that you feel strongly about or enjoy, and then try to find challenges that interest you within that field.  (@Art of Manliness).

The Price of Integrity: How My Column Cost Me a Job.  I'm a big fan of Justin Adams on, but this article is definitely not St. Louis-specific.  One man's tale of how he maintained his integrity in the face of idiotic pressure from a prospective employer.  (@insideSTL).

D.J. Gelner is a writer and entrepreneur in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What You Were “Meant” to Do

A lot of people talk about their “calling” in life.  Tiger Woods was ostensibly put on this planet to tear through blondes like Hugh Hefner be the best golfer in the world for over a decade.  Warren Buffett was born to make money.  Steve Jobs had something innate inside him that helped revolutionize countless industries, ranging from computers to music to phones.

Each of these people obviously had talent within their chosen field.  Maybe they were actually the most talented people on the planet at their chosen activity.  What people often don’t realize is that the ultra-successful also put in a lot of hard work, are driven to be “the best,” and have the stones to pull it off.

I’m sure there are probably a few things that come easily to you.  You might even consider yourself “a natural” at one or two of them.  But until you make the conscious decision to maximize this potential, you’re wasting your valuable talents.  Did you put in the extra legwork on that side project of yours, or did you choose to play videogames instead?  Do you have the confidence in yourself to keep knocking on doors even when people are telling you to “go to hell,” over and over again?  Do you have that extra charisma or chutzpah to get your foot in the door, where so many others have failed to do so?

I guess what I’m getting at is that there’s not necessarily one thing on this planet that you were “meant” to do.  There are things that you have a natural aptitude for, and things that you probably should never really pursue in a million years.  Even for those activities where you possess some measurable, distinct talent, there are probably a few where you simply don’t have the drive or passion to give it “your all.” If you choose to make one of these activities a career, though you may see some professional success, other areas of your life will be sorely lacking.

What you should do is pick one or two areas where you have some natural ability, work on maximizing that ability, and make that your profession.  I think this is what people are getting at when they say they “love” their job; what they really “love” is the unique set of skills that they bring to their job and enjoy using to solve unique and challenging problems.  If you find yourself in this situation, congratulations, you’ve found what you were “meant” to do, at least in one reality.

What you were “meant” to do doesn’t even have to be a career.  I know plenty of people that have jobs that they find “okay” enough, and allow them to otherwise pursue their passions on the side.  This is totally fine, too.  Generally, these side projects are some kind of “art,” be it purely creative (painting, drawing, etc.) or more functional (elaborate woodworking projects, fixing up antique cars).  What you were meant to do need not be a full-time gig, though, I’m not going to lie, if you can swing it, it’s pretty tough to beat.

But if you find that work is a slog, and it is repeatedly unrewarding or hinders your pursuit of an activity where you think your true talents may lie, it may be time to at least give something else a whirl.  After all, how are you going to know if it's what you're "meant" to do until you give it a good, honest try?

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and former attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Don’t be a Victim (But Don’t be an Asshole, Either)

As I was writing my article Monday, I started thinking more about the power dynamics at play in human relationships.  This doesn’t necessarily mean just romantic relationships, either; it could be the relationship you have with your boss or co-workers, or the relationship you have with friends or siblings.

Also, I realize it’s a bit of a weird topic; “power dynamics” sounds like something you should learn about in physics class, but it’s absolutely essential to understand how these things work if you’re going to be a healthy, well-balanced person.

There are two basic sides to power dynamics in any given relationship.  The first side is the victim mentality.  People that are victims think that their problems are somebody else’s fault.  They are stepped on by others far too easily, and, as a result, feel out of control of their lives.  As a result, they complain about how “their boss,” or “the company” or “their friends” are keeping them down.  What they mean is that they are too scared to put their foot down and try to realize their full potential.  Victims float through life, taking orders from others, but secretly wishing that they could do something about their situation.

On the other side of the coin are domineering assholes, a very technical term that has evolved considerably in scholarship through the ages.  Domineering assholes seek to control every aspect of other peoples’ lives, and want to impose their own will whenever possible.  They crave the feelings of power that comes with telling others what to do and how to do it, and really like exposing the victim qualities of others.

If you’re like me, you probably tend more toward victim behavior in certain situations, while probably coming across as an asshole in others.  In my life, I’ve been searching for the proper balance between these two extremes, and thought that the following pointers might be helpful to others.

Learn how to stick up for yourself by setting boundaries and managing expectations.  This one is obvious, but it can be tough for someone that has been beaten down for so long to fully grasp how they can get their life back.  You don’t need to be tormented by colleagues that demand that you drop everything to help them, especially when you have an upcoming vacation or you just want to be out of the office for a few days.  Let people know early and often that you’re going to be gone.  Let them know you’re happy to try to get projects done before you leave.  And let them know that you’ll be reachable for emergencies via e-mail and/or phone.  Do the same with time away from work—set aside one time at night to check e-mails, and keep the smartphone out of the bedroom.  Unless you’re a doctor or fireman, it’s unlikely that whatever “emergency” comes up is a true emergency, and not just some power-play by a domineering asshole.

Get used to telling people “no.”  Pleasing strangers (wait…that sounded worse than I intended it to…) or others in general can be a dangerous behavior.  Unfortunately, it’s a behavior that is socialized into us by our school system at an early age.  The next time you don’t want to do something, be firm but fair and tell whoever asks you to do it, “no.”  Be ready to say why you don’t want to do it, and also have alternative solutions ready to go. 

Stop blaming others and take responsibility for your actions.  There are very few situations in life where things are entirely out of your hands.  Too many people are too quick to point the finger at others when something doesn’t go their way.  Realize that no matter what it is, you can either wine and moan about things, or you can recognize that there’s a problem and take affirmative steps to fix it.

Don’t demand—suggest persuasively.  There are certain situations where it pays to demand more out of people.  But unless you’re on a sports team or in a military unit, in all likelihood it’s better to suggest and argue your case than to just outright demand something on a non-negotiable basis. You may hear valid reasons for doing something a different way, or you may be able to find otherwise unseen flaws in your logic, but in either case, you’ll learn more by hearing others out than just blindly sticking to a plan for no good reason.  Just remember that when it comes time to make a decision…

Learn how to make decisions swiftly and without drama.  We’ve all been in the situation where we’re in a group of people that want to go to dinner, and someone inevitably asks, “where do you want to go?”  You would think they were asking where people wanted to be buried.  The group becomes paralyzed by fear, and it takes fifteen minutes to sort out an acceptable place.  On the other hand, if you consider the alternatives ahead of time and have a few suggestions at the ready, you can drive the discussion and make a decision that will leave the rest of the group relieved.  This principle doesn’t exclusively apply to dining options; there are plenty of other similar scenarios where people don’t want to be “on the hook” for making decisions with relatively minor consequences.  Once you are willing to accept what little potential fallout there is in these situations, you will be viewed as confident and decisive, and will become someone that people will turn to.

So that’s basically it.  Have any suggestions that I missed?  Let me know in the comments.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and former attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Continue With the Crusade?

Okay, after a couple of successful mailbags, no one has found the time to send in any more questions.  This is fine--if you guys don't want a mailbag, I can totally understand it.  The only problem is that because I'm juggling so many other projects right now, it's very tough to do four full blog posts per week and the links.  

My thought is that it might be easier if I could write some kind of short, weekly feature on Tuesdays, with the "regular posts" going up on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and the links on Friday.  The only problem is, the only regular posts I have thought of so far are pretty research-intensive.  

So, I ask you, dear readers, what kind of semi-quick regular feature do you want to see on Tuesdays?  It could be about the creative process, or more of a niche kind of thing about wine or sports or entertainment or whatever.  Let me know what you would find useful and interesting so that I can provide some value. 

If I don't hear anything back, I'll just take posts down to four per week, with Tuesday being an off-day.  

Let me know what you all think in the comments, or e-mail me at

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and former attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Lot of People Suck

It’s just the truth.  Every day I run into plenty of horrible people.  A lot of them are dissatisfied with their position in life for any number of reasons: they work too hard, they don’t work hard enough, they’re bored at work, they’re in a bad relationship, or they just think that they should have accomplished more with their lives by now.

Consequently, they project their own shitty feelings onto everyone else, in the hopes that making other people miserable or ruining their good time will make them feel better about themselves: if they don’t feel good, why should anyone else, right?  This is unfortunately quickly becoming the norm in the service industry, as too many people have forgotten the simple phrase “service with a smile,” and changed it to, “what the fuck do you want?”

What it really comes down to is that too many people are unhappy with their situations, but too afraid to make meaningful changes in their lives.   As a result, our society suffers the consequences of this backward, fear-driven behavior by having to deal with these sucky people all day long.

“How do you know this, dick?”  Because the same thing happened to me.  I got to a point in my old job where I’d come home and snap at someone or just drink myself stupid because of how bored I was.  Even though I didn’t connect-the-dots for a while (yeah, I’m bright like that), at some point, I realized that my job was making me into an asshole.  I wasn’t taking joy in the things that mattered anymore, instead preferring the self-administered anesthetic of booze and shitty TV to pretty much anything else.

At some point, I realized I was a part of the problem.  You can’t complain about assholes all day and then turn around and engage in the same kinds of asshole-y behavior; that would make you a common bitcher.  Instead, I decided I had to change some things in my life, including my career, if I ever wanted to lead the life that I wanted to lead, and stop being such an asshole all of the time.

Now, I’m not perfect by any stretch.  I still have my sucking moments…wait, that sounded bad…”moments of sucking?”  “Sucky moments?”  “Times where I suck?”  Yeah, let’s go with that one.  I still have some times where I suck, but they’ve become far less frequent now that I’ve started to make some meaningful changes in the way that I do things.

I’ve found that there are two equally valid and effective ways to deal with these people.  The first is using your natural wit to counter any of their clumsy attacks on you.  Many people are far too beaten-down or not mentally agile enough to engage the witicist in verbal sparring, so by using wit to disarm the person in question, you’ll often get them to just quietly do their job for the rest of the transaction.

If you aren’t comfortable engaging in a witty repartee with one of these miserable people, then all you can really do is maintain your calm and kill these people with kindness.  At the end of the day, they’re looking to get a rise out of you, so if you don’t give them the satisfaction of becoming flustered, you frustrate their ultimate purpose.  This isn’t to say that you should be a pushover by any stretch—there are ways to be kind, but firm—but kindness can be equally disarming when used against someone who has really thrown in the towel on their situation in life.

I doubt this will lead to a “great cultural shift” in this country; unfortunately, I think the inertia of our shitty school system and the “dumbing-down” of America in general will have us dealing with shitty people for years to come.  But at some point, if you want to make things better, you have to lead by example.  Sure, there will probably be the same number of horrible drivers and idiots behind the counter that want to make your life a living hell, but all you can do is try not to be an asshole about things yourself, and live the life you want to lead.  Don’t let these people get to you, either: that’s exactly what they want and will make their day.  Instead, use either wit or kindness to expose what a horrible person they’re being, so that they can hopefully take steps to clean-up their own lives.  If you change even one person for the better, you’re helping society as a whole.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and former attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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