This Post Brought to You By the Crazy Guy at Starbucks

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It’s a summer day and it’s hot outside. Earth shattering newsworthy fact, sure, but I never tend to realize how hot it can get in the inland Southern California town where I work. On a typical weekday I don’t leave my office. I normally just bring a sandwich and eat at my desk or stand in the kitchen rabbiting a ranch doused salad.

But today I decided to try something different. I’ve been struggling lately to find time to write, so today I decided to bring my laptop to work, so that at lunch I could escape to a local Starbucks and get some work done.

So there I’m driving, pull neatly into the little parking lot meant for patrons of the Starbucks, sandwich shop, or dry cleaner of the little mini complex. The A/C in my car isn’t superb, so I tend to leave my windows rolled all the way down as often as I can. I surprisingly couldn’t find a spot right in front to the coffee shop, so I switched my clunker into reverse and looked over my shoulder as I began to roll backwards.

“HEY WATCH OUT!” shouted a toothless man as loudly as possible. I slammed my breaks un-dramatically, as even a squirrel could have stopped my 0.5 mph pace. I turned my head even further and saw a truck was pulling out of their spot at the moment that I was backing up. Probably 15 feet away.

“WELL PULL FORWARD AND GIVE HIM SOME ROOM!!” he shouted, this time with a healthy dash of anger. Baffled at the frantic urgency of the stranger, I turned to see the truck had an extraordinary amount of space without my moving. However I was being screamed at in front of the lunch goers chillin’ in front of Starbucks and the sandwich shop, so in my frazzled state I tried to shift gears and move forward ever-so-awkwardly.

I realized the truck was already gone by the time I began to pull forward, and heard the angry man walk by my window muttering under his breath profanities sprinkled with “dumb” and “girl.”

I shook my head, backed up again, and parked in the spot I had planned to before the public humiliation.  I had three bags with me, my purse, lunch bag and laptop case, and climbed out of my car with as much dignity as I could muster. As coolly and confidently as I could, I walked up to the complex and smiled at each stranger staring me down…or up…or whatever.

I know I wasn’t wrong. But damn that was embarrassing! I’m sitting in the coffee shop wondering why the guy had to make such a scene about it. Was he trying to protect me? The truck? Assert authority? Who knows, but I’m admittedly rattled.

SO MUCH SO THAT I’M STILL TALKING ABOUT IT. I came here to write and thanks to the grizzly old alcoholic, I’m rattled and distracted from the task I set out to accomplish.

But such is life isn’t it? Why is it the very moment that we set our eyes on something, almost instantaneously there is a brand new obstacle flung in our face to try and beat us back into mediocrity. Or distract us, humiliate us, cause us to change course.

Well public humiliation or no, I saw something pretty incredible. Here a fitting hackneyed phrase comes to mind, something to the air of “The biggest hill comes right before your biggest success.” Yeah something like that. But I must be on the right track. If the oddities of the earth are trying so hard to distract me, what awesomeness are they afraid I’m close to accomplishing?

Don’t get distracted today. You have a goal and you have a mission. It’s summertime, there’s crazies about, there might be good TV on later. There will always be distractions, but try and make some time today to take one step closer to whatever it is that will make your life amazing and far above the status quo. You never know, your big break might be just right around the corner.

Breaking: You CAN Learn From TV

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“Commercial again?!” I shouted at my television. “What did she do!?” I nearly flung my bowl of soup on the ceiling I was so excited. My fiancé, surprised at my out-of-character reaction, laughed and sat aback widening his eyes so as to say, “Daaaaamn girl!” I collected myself, my soup and what was left of my sanity, and returned to my Monday night post-work couch lounging.

What can I say, I love The Biggest Loser. I was pretty late to the game, which is great because now I have season after season of ready to watch reality just waiting for me to hit play on my Hulu Plus. Yes, there are plenty of ways that we can pick it apart, in that weight loss doesn’t happen for normal people in a vacuum like that, perhaps let them call their kids once in a while, whatever. Overall I like the mega-show.

What I like about it is learning about a very serious condition and seeing real results of progress. How these individuals became morbidly obese range from abuse, depression, and eating disorders, but are often combinations of those and more. I like seeing them get better and work through their issues.

I also like how they know what their goal is and work their asses off to get to it. They certainly would love to win the “quarterrrr of a miiiiiillion dollars” as Allison Sweeny says so Days-of-Our-Lives dramatically. But the real goal is to get better and lose weight. To get healthy. Many of them have serious life threatening conditions, or one is right around the corner, and in this show Jello, Jenny-O Turkey, and the other pretty crappy sponsors are actually putting their money into a decent cause.

For the contestants, it’s plain and obvious they need help. They need to make a change with regard to their physical wellbeing in order to live healthier lives and avoid a premature death.

What about the rest of us? Shifting from physical wellbeing to psychological or emotional, how can we measure how well we are doing? Almost fortunately, when your body is sick and overweight, you can see it and so can everyone else. It’s clear what you need to do.

But when it comes to our inside-our-brain lives, when do we know that we need help? That we need to make a change to get back on track to live healthier, happier lives? Where is the stress-o-meter that clearly conveys to you and the world, “Woah there, Skip. It’s time to take a vacation and calm the fuck down for a week.”

Unfortunately we are left to our own abilities of discernment. What sucks about that is we are likely the worst judges at figuring out when enough is enough and we need to take a little break and work on ourselves. While I certainly mean this in a professional sense, I mean it in just about every other emotional & psychological sense as well.

It’s very challenging in our current American environment to listen to what your psyche is telling you it needs. It’s a busy world out there. Messages about work hard, play hard swirl around us; put in your 40+ hour week, then you deserve to party your weekend away because you deserve to have fun!  Or, I think my favorite one I read recently is, “Don’t listen to your heart, listen to God.” Really? Don’t listen to the inner cries of your soul? There’s no possible way THAT could be listening to God?

All around us there are reasons, easy escapes, even religious commands to silence your inner voice and run to the distractions that circle us. And it is those very distractions that could perhaps be strangling the passions and loves that we left long ago when we let our dreams die and went to college instead.

I was listening to a radio show yesterday as I was, albeit begrudgingly, driving to work on an early Monday morning. It was all about self-employment, my favorite topic, and the host quoted Jon Acuff. It went something like, “Finding your dream job is less about discovering what you love, but about recovering a love you forgot.”

How nice that it rhymes. But he’s right! In the daily grind, the struggle we all have to toil the earth, it is less about the quest of finding that brand new talent that you never imagined you were great at. Rather, it’s that little thing that you loved to do as a kid, ran to in order to survive high school, or did in your free time when the baby was asleep. And when we ignore those things that truly make us happy in the name of being normal, a working professional, or a social butterfly, we can be hurting ourselves and not even know it.

We don’t really know when our psyche is sick, but we know when we are sick and tired. We don’t know which day we will crack, but we see it on the news all the time as we read stories of people who finally do. Every single day is critical in my opinion, every breath we take is precious. Why do we allow ourselves to ignore our inner selves and the real desires we have to fully live?

I tell you, the people who lose 200+ pounds really seem to understand the value of a full life. They can SEE how their lives have been transformed once they start making decisions to be their best selves. I think we need to have the same urgency to get and stay healthy. Our goal may not be a fat stack of cash sponsored by Extra Sugar Free gum, but living the life you were meant to live seems seems like as good a prize as any.

How To Make Sure Future-You Is Proud Of Today-You

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“Why wasn’t this done on Friday?! This could have been done on Friday!” he said to me in a loud voice filled with frustration and fury.

I purposely allowed a 5 second pause, then calmly responded, “I would be happy to help figure this out and look into it.  As you know I was off on Friday, and we gave this to Kathy and Jake. This wasn’t my project….”

Cutting me off, “Joni, everything is your project!”

I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Realizing the absurdity of what he just said, he laughed a little too…but then got right back to business explaining how very true that statement is. Everything IS my project at work. So I have to laugh every now and then or I’d flip out and be found somewhere downtown wearing my pants as a hat.

My personal life sometimes looks very similar to this. I don’t know about you, but the person who sat in my office yelling at me has a twin cousin very much alive inside my head. This drill sergeant manages the Joni Command Center, following up with all of my extra-professional projects. She sounds very similar:

“Joni! This was supposed to be finished a week ago! What happened?!” her voice shrill and panicked, often in the wee hours of the morning.

“Look, I needed a break. It was a grueling week and I just needed the mornings to sleep in last week.”

“That’s no excuse! There are never any excuses to give up on anything!”

No I fortunately do not battle with multiple personalities nor any other psychological or hallucinogenic disease. But I am pretty strict with myself and set a lot of goals. I wonder why I am this way…

I think part of the reason is that I’ve lived long enough to look back and see what I have and haven’t accomplished. I’ll think things like, “If I had started practicing German every day like I said I would when I got back from Germany 2 summers ago, I could probably be pretty good by now.” Well I haven’t. And thinking about it that way makes me want to call in dead and spend a month playing catch up.

But that also inspires and excites me. If I got started on this project and chipped away at it, little by little, every day? Hot damn I would have SO much accomplished a year from now!

I think it’s kind of like compound interest. The earlier you get things started, the greater your return will be because you invested early. For example, if I had $1,000 when I was 20 and shoved it under my pillow, what would I have today, 9 years later? $1,000, which is actually less than the $1,000 I had 9 years ago because of inflation hovering around 2-3% in that time period.

If I had gotten my head out of my ass and invested that in even a crappy mutual fund of 5%, thank you compound interest I’d have $1,551.33 today. Feel free to check my math, but regardless of if your answer is different, it’s going to be more money than if I hadn’t invested in anything.

And that’s the point. It’s important to invest in yourself, and to invest early. I don’t know, I look around and I see so much wasted talent. Strong, creative, intelligent people who will tell me of their dreams and aspirations, and then nothing will come of it. It has bothered me over the past few years, but there’s nothing I can really do about it but be encouraging when it’s appropriate. Which is why I’m here.

Life is going to happen to all of us, but there has to be some kind of a drill sergeant in all of us to get things done and make sure we understand our responsibility. Sometimes being the only person responsible for living your life in a way worth writing a book about can be scary. But shit, that’s why we can laugh at the whole situation sometimes and realize we are human. Some days we will make great progress, some days you’ll just sit and stare at your computer and not type a single word.

At least we are trying – if you’re not, start! Invest in yourself. Give yourself a little kick in the ass if needed. Do you want to look back in 10 years and realize that your dream of, whatever it is, never happened? Or would you rather look back and laugh with the drill sergeant, admiring the work you two have accomplished. You’ll tease her for being such an ass some days but grateful that she was because now, future you, can enjoy the benefits of all that hard work.

I want to look back that way. Some days feel like just another day, but God what a great day to be alive and able to do whatever we want. Today, just like any day, is the first day to making our crazy childhood dreams come true. Let’s take this day and go GET IT!

Why We Should Eat Elephants

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In moving forward in any large, giant endeavor, I’d say the hardest thing to do is avoid becoming overwhelmed. I mean, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. But sometimes you take a step back and look at that elephant in dismay and realize…that fucker is huge!

I took a step back a week ago and saw 3 elephants in front of me. My dream of becoming a self-employed writer, paying off student loans/saving to buy a house, and planning a wedding/getting married. Those 3 monsters are sitting in front of me, and I’ve decided to eat them all at the same time. Taking a look at all of them, I was left debilitated and overwhelmed. What do you do when you feel like you have taken on too much?

I go online shopping. And that’s the worst, as it effectively makes sure that none of those things make any progress. But it wasn’t my fault! It was the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, who can get work done when that is going on?! And football season is coming, I had to stock up on some gear!

Ok fine, I lose. I’ve wasted a week and didn’t do anything productive because I got scared and overwhelmed, which is frankly embarrassing. But there’s nothing to be scared of, I’m the one that decided to do these things. Plus they are all super awesome, why would I hold myself back? Well no more, I’m hungry and I’m going to eat these elephants. It’s a weird analogy especially because I’m a vegetarian, but it works for me alright?

Dumb analogies aside, I can put a stamp on today and be proud of it. I sat down and wrote something. Which is a practice I, WE, need to do everyday. Just a little progress every single day and we will make our goals happen, and our dreams realities.

I’ll be back to take another bite tomorrow.