Seed-Planting and Patience in Entrepreneurship

It’s springtime in the northern hemisphere, and thanks to a wondrous alignment of SEO and some actual experiences in my recent entrepreneurial activities, I wanted to share an insight into having patience and playing a slower, longer game in creative enterprise than what’s currently popular.

Spring is a season for preparing the soil and sowing seeds. If you’re still new in your business, the metaphor holds that you’ve got quite some time left before you can start tearing those plants out of the ground. The problem is that too many of us, especially the younger ones, are doing just that, and then complaining that the sprouts do not nourish.

IMG_20120503_125611The Myth of the Quick Buck

People aren’t just going to hand you lots of money just because you’re awesome.

I work in the writing and publishing field, and I’ve learned the hard way that this isn’t a transactional field of service. Sure, you may be tired of hearing that it’s “all about relationships”, but in the pursuit of the quick buck, it’s easy to forget it. It takes time to develop trust with your prospects. This is especially true if your product or service is something that’s a four-or-five figure investment on the part of your clients.

If you’re starting up, I’m sure there’s a temptation to skip over this part and get straight to closing these “whales”, but there isn’t. In publishing and writing especially, this is a gradual process of building trust, rapport, and credibility. The same applies to many other creative fields.

“Without Integrity, Nothing Works” (a.k.a. “Get Your Shit Together”)

est founder Werner Erhard was right on the money. Integrity isn’t morality: it’s the state of being whole and complete. What integrity looks like in an entrepreneurial or freelance context is that you not only have the basic functioning components of your business in place – for example, a website, a business number, a working computer, etc.. – but that you yourself are also keeping up with your health and well-being, your bills, and your commitments.

And how about those bills? Too many of us – and I’m guilty of this as well, so don’t think I’m casting the first stone – go into entrepreneurship because we think it’ll get us that quick buck. I talked about this notion of “burning your boats” in order to “take the Island”.

However, what often happens is that you end up trying to milk money out of your start-up way too quickly. There’s no energetic capital yet, your following is tenuous and not nearly as devoted as you are, and people don’t yet trust you. As such, no cash is flowing in. That’s when the gimmickry comes into play: the “one day special”, the overly high discount on high-value products or services. You compromise your value, and surprise-surprise, no one buys.

Meanwhile, because you quit your job or have no other source of income because that’s how you interpreted “burn the boats”, your bills keep piling up, and so does your desperation to pull something, anything, out of the seedlings you’ve just planted in the ground.

Stop Flailing!

This is why you see many self-employed people occasionally flail about, offering anything and everything to get someone to buy their stuff. But flailing is a huge gumption drain, and you’ll have nothing left before too long to do anything.

This is why I now tell every young person who’s eager to take the leap to take their time. Get that job slinging lattes at Starbucks if you have to, or stay working full-time and devote three hours a night and parts of your weekends to nourish your business. Get your shit together, get your bills paid, and keep some left over to invest in your enterprise. It’ll stop you from flailing about when the floor falls out from under you.

Gary Vaynerchuk says, over and over again, that patience is among the biggest deficits among new entrepreneurs today. This is coming from someone, by the way, who already had experience building businesses and is now one of the more prosperous and influential entrepreneurs around today. In Vaynerchuk’s words, the payoff is coming. “Stop crying, and keep hustling”.

And if that quote’s not enough, if you’re still balking about having to work a j-o-b for a while, consider this rhetorical question from Mr. Les Brown: “do you know the quickest way for you to get back on your feet is to miss two car payments?”

Enjoy the Growing Season

I’ve never farmed, but I know it’s a lot of hard work. You’d never see a farmer plant fall-harvest crops in May and then try to reap them in June, so why would you expect your start-up business to pay your bills right away?sunsetcaledon

Entrepreneurship is among the most exciting, frightening, joy-filled, and heartbreaking things anyone can do, and I’ve only been at it for less than a year, but I’m putting in the work to make sure that my business grows well, even if some of that work involves doing something else to pay my dues.

My enterprise is still growing, and I’ve stopped flailing about trying to harvest what hasn’t yet grown. I am allowing time and attentive care to do their things. Summer sun is coming and I plan on enjoying every day out in the fields, sunny and rainy alike, knowing that the harvest will be bountiful.

Will you do the same?

Freelance Hell: Three Tips To Avoid Burnout

What I want most in the world is to be transparent, everywhere and at all times.

It’s that desire that every creative shares, whether they’re working at their craft for dollars and cents or if they’re creating for creation’s sake: to be seen for who we really are.

The number one reason we don’t share, those of us who are part of that first group, is that we don’t want to get in trouble with our clients. We don’t want to get fired. We don’t want to get a bad reputation in business. We don’t want to lose a referral. We don’t want to offend.

But sometimes, for an artist, expression needs to come before those considerations. And I must express my present truth, even if it gets me in trouble, because I will have a complete mental breakdown if I don’t get this out, and then I won’t be any good for anyone.

Outside of titles and roles, who I really am is someone who is overwhelmed most days, and have been not for simply days or weeks, but months. Months now. I am in Freelance Hell, and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

What is Freelance Hell? Simply, it’s when a self-employed individual has too much work than they can handle, too much work that ONLY they can handle, and not enough money coming in to pay their bills.

Getting out of here is simple, though certainly not easy: I need to finish what I agreed to finish. That’s part of what makes it hell. There is no quick fix: because there’s no liquid money floating around my account, I can’t pay someone to help me out of it. The only way out is to work what I’ve got.

As a cautionary tale, however, I share with you the three decisions I made that led here, and offer you three tips that I strongly suggest you follow if you’re to avoid your own personal Freelance Hell.

1. Underpricing My Services

Fish are mostly unaware of the water in which they swim. Similarly, many new freelances are blind to the true value of their services. I was no different in the beginning, and as a result, I priced myself as much as 50% below the market worth of my ghostwriting and editing services, according to the Writer’s Market Guide of the year. I employed “Wal-Mart” thinking in my pricing: I needed clients fast and decided to beat my competitors on price, rather than quality.

As such, rather than taking on one or two higher paying clients, I took on multiple lower paying ones.

What I didn’t count on was the labour-intensive nature of the work I was hired to do. This is why freelances charge the equivalent of a monthly salary of a 9 to 5 professional job: they’re often devoting the same types of hours in a given week to fulfilling one project as they would if they were driving into an office gig from Monday to Friday. In ghostwriting especially, the time pressure can impact the quality and timeliness of the work involved. And when I took on multiple such projects, the time requirements multiplied.

By underpricing myself, I’ve essentially turned myself into a slave to my one-on-one clients, who expect – and rightly deserve – top quality work, on time, and in full.

TIP#1: CHARGE YOUR WORTH.

Re-read the last three words. Burn them into your unconscious. Surrender to it, no matter what anyone else says.

Price yourself according to your worth and needs. Refer to indexes like the Writer’s Market (available in most bookstores in the Reference section) to find out what the average price for your service is currently, and decide where you stand in relation to the average. Understand what your monthly expenses are, and factor them into your price, plus an extra amount for profit so you’re not just “getting by”.

Afterwards, stick to your guns. Don’t be afraid to turn down leads who balk at your price: if they don’t see the value, then you don’t want to work with them anyway, because their doubts will dog your process at every step until completion.

2. No Alternate Source of Consistent Income

The reason I needed clients quickly was that I decided to, as Tony Robbins put it, “burn the boats”: I quit my day job to take the leap into full-time ghostwriting and editing. I did not save up much of an emergency fund, and as such, I had to get work fast.

Because I was running against the clock, it simply increased the pressure on me to find new work. That caused me to take on more for less.

TIP#2: DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!

I cannot stress this enough. If you do need the time freed up to do quality work, go work part-time somewhere, and do this before the work piles up to such a degree that you won’t have the hours free to work part-time. It will relieve the pressure, even if it’s minimum wage: at least you’ll have something coming in.

And I get it: right now, there’s some poor schmuck reading this who’s no longer content to be an drone for some shitty company, and all he or she wants to do is follow bliss towards this lifestyle.

Worse than being a 9 to 5 drone is no longer loving what you do some days because you’re not able to pay your electric bill with it. Meditate on that for a moment.

Stay where you are, take on one client, and devote 2-4 hours outside of your day job to give them the best possible work that you can muster. Then, if you love what you do and got great reviews from your early clients, keep working until you’ve replaced all of your office wages with freelance wages. Then, and only then, do you leave your job.

3. Lack of Clarity and Patience

Before making this leap into full-time freelancing, I did not develop a business plan. I did not assess my needs and wants. I didn’t even test it out on one project to see if it was something I truly wanted to do. Instead, I just went for it. The result…well, you get the picture.

In truth, I’ve discovered, in actually doing it, that as a full-time, singular profession, book ghostwriting is not for me. Editing isn’t even completely for me, though there are aspects about it I love. What I love about my field is making the connections, helping other writers and editors find work. I love developing ideas and building a team to fulfill on a project. I love coaching authors to succeed. I love the creative and people aspect of writing and publishing, not the labour. Whatever that work is worth, I will gladly accept those dollars and cents.

What I’m clear on now is that I would prefer personal rather than paid blogging and creative writing. Now my mission, rather than simply finishing what I’ve started, is to disentangle and liberate my writing from the awful, heavy responsibility of paying my bills. If I write a bestselling book that sells millions of copies, so be it.

By mid-2016, my goal is to return to the creative writing that I started with, the creative writing that I miss so dearly.

TIP #3: GET CLEAR ON WHAT YOU WANT.

Are you sure you want to make a living doing this thing that you love? Are you sure you want to evolve your hobby into a profession? If so, create a business plan. Talk to people who know this arena better than you do if you’re not sure. Find other freelance professionals who have made it and interview them, find out how their journeys have been.

And get really clear: what do you value? Do you want easy money? If so, freelancing is not the way to go. Are you more motivated to get away from a shitty job rather than moving towards freelancing? If so, reconsider taking the leap until you can truly become “pro” freelance and not “anti” job.

You don’t need to become a saint or attain nirvana before you make your move, but before you burn your boats, you should put a little thought into whether or not this is an island worth taking.

Follow Tip 3, and you’ll avoid Freelance Hell altogether.

Do not mistake what I am saying, boys and girls. I am responsible for my choices that led me here. I’m not blaming any external seminar, motivational video, coach, or other source for my decision to “follow my bliss”. Nor am I blaming myself too much, either, however: we’ve got too many mixed messages out there for creatives that love to tell them to take the leap, but say precious little about what happens afterwards. Use both your heart and your brain when mapping out a creative living.

And if you’re already in Freelance Hell, seeing yourself in what I’ve described, you have my empathy. Feel free to reach out to me at jaberdeen@rogers.com with your story. Let’s support each other, because the way out of hell is one step, one day, at a time. I know I will get out of here, and that you will, too.

And on that note, I must go back to work.

Why I’ll (Likely) Never Go Full Tinfoil Hat

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Two months into 2016, and I’m experiencing a spiritual awakening, more intense and subtle than any other growth spurt in my life.

Tracking my old journal and blog entries going back numerous years, I see that “ambling up the mountainside”, an image I’ve used in the past to describe my personal development, is a very apt description. Growth manifests for me in rapid and powerful bursts, like the stages of a moonshot rocket dropping away in quick succession. The past nine years has been such a trajectory, one that’s taken a sharper, upward angle in the past six months alone.

For the past month, I’ve been attuned to energies. Rather than just an intellectual concept, or a nice insight that makes me look good with the in-crowd at personal development cocktail parties, I’m experiencing the vibrational reality of my world. Like older Han Solo, I can declare of these direct experiences, “it’s real, all of it.”

So why haven’t I shed my store-bought clothes for a hemp-rope toga, changed my name to Jody “Togananda” Aberdeen, and started walking barefoot around the suburban wilderness, shaking a tambourine and proclaiming to anyone who would listen the evils of the Illuminati and its control over the weather?

I’m not saying that Togananda won’t ever become a real thing – look through the archives of this blog alone, and you’ll see skepticism about a lot of things I’ve since embraced – but there’s something just plain…well, inauthentic about going full tinfoil hat simply because I’m excited about a new experience without knowing what it is.

When confronted by a challenge to one’s existing definitions of reality, it’s important to test them yourself, and to do so according to one’s own standards of satisfaction, before embracing it

Historian James Burke once said, maybe overly broadly, of Aristotle that “if you rejected one bit of Aristotle, you rejected it all, because his was a package deal”. I feel a similar sentiment with this idea of holistic knowledge. If you accept a new paradigm as true, you must also accept it within the context of what we already know to be true. That means using your left brain, logic, your rational faculties, maybe even your identity and ego.

In short, if your stated aim is total knowledge, then you can’t completely throw out what you already know simply because something new presents itself.

Energy healing, for example, may supplant cognitive therapy in a few individual cases. Those people may get the breakthroughs they need from a Reiki session, or a guided meditation.

However, that doesn’t mean that we take an activist stand against psychotherapy, because that modality undoubtedly helps millions of people around the world every day.

Similarly, I’m pretty well versed on conspiracy theories of the day – 9/11, UFO coverups, chemtrails, the Lunar Landing one which, frankly, annoys the crap out of me to no end, etc.. – and I definitely don’t doubt that there are hidden, shadowy forces at play in the ruling courts and boardrooms of the planet today.

However, I’ve also stood in line at the MTO to get my plate stickers renewed, went through a divorce proceeding that took years, and even worked for a government agency and watched the molasses-like funding approval process for non-profits in action (which could just as easily be spelled “inaction”).

I find it hard to believe, from a common sense standpoint alone, that the same type of institutional government that takes six months to fill a pothole can somehow employ millions of people to pull off a wide-scale conspiracy without a single credible leak making the evening news.

But just try telling that to a True Believer.boycotteverything

The people who go Full Tinfoil Hat find some type of deep connection to something just outside of our accepted reality, which is fine, but they lose it when they throw out their own reason and common sense, which in turn causes them to throw out other things that they already know to work.

Why they do this is simple: the false belief somehow connected with them on a deep personal level, and they hinged their reputations and entire worldviews on it, as part of their own version of everyone’s desire to find meaning in the inherently meaningless lives we all lead. That’s why, having accepted the initial data, they then shut the door on further updates to that same information, even if the updates show that the original data was false. This makes them virtually no different in their thinking to religious fundamentalists.

We can’t completely abandon reason in the domains of life where reason works. Science, and the scientific method, may be reaching its limits in terms of what it can do for us, and it’s true that it was never designed to teach us spiritual principles. It was designed for the empirical world, and in that capacity, it has manifested wonders. It’s our own irrational economic and cultural behaviours that have created the environmental and social messes we now find ourselves in, not science itself.

All of this is a digression, in any case. Speaking personally, I will never abandon reason, but I won’t be dominated by it, either. It’s possible to have multiple conflicting realities overlapping. That’s not a failure of intellect: that is life. It’s simply a matter of integrating them into a worldview that works.

For this reason, I will never be fully “woo woo” spiritual, nor will I be a staunch rationalist skeptic. The clincher for any paradigm shift will always be, for me, direct experience of that new paradigm: that’s how I know energetic healing is real, that the Universe responds to intentions and aligned actions; that medicines and therapies and meditation all work to heal us.

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten a strong impression that my mission in life is to help birth the next great ideas that will transform the world and speed along this evolutionary shift that’s happening. That means remaining credible, looking at the Shift the way those who haven’t done any of this work will see it.

This is something that I’ve done naturally, which devotees to movements I’ve dabbled in have mistaken as a lack of commitment to the cause. That’s not what it is. Rather, it’s a commitment to a larger mission of reconciling the old and new, and making the paradox work for us.

Because, in the final analysis, if our commitment is to total awareness and knowledge, then it’s a package deal: we use all of our faculties, or none at all.

(Plus, tinfoil is expensive in large quantities, anyway).

2016: Function and Thrive

For 2016, I see seven visions, and from 2015, I’m carrying over three lessons, all about self-care.

New Year’s resolutions and goals are all well and good. Recapitulations of the past year, also not bad, though a little boring to read if you’re not personally involved in them.  Sometimes, though, there’s no need for expository, or explanation. The answer to the question of “how” to get any goal is simple: make a plan, then work the plan. This entry is about neither: the planning and work will happen offline, out of sight, unless I choose to share them.

No, for now, this is simply what I see, and what the achy, vulnerable feeling inside my chest tells me is the point on the horizon I need to tread towards next. The resources to manifest these visions – financial, infrastructural, creative, and human – will all appear only as a consequence of planning the work behind the vision well, and then working it with integrity.

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Seven visions, to whit, for 2016, either achieved or in progress by this day a year from now:

  • Moving back to the Greater Hamilton Area
  • To rescue and adopt a canine companion for Bella
  • A nutritious diet that is consistent with compassion for animals
  • A completed second fiction novel
  • A thriving, profitable referral network (Menagerie, which you’ll be hearing more about soon…)
  • A work-life context that balances service with the personal space I need to function and thrive.
  • A week long trip away to Paris

The three lessons in self-care that I’m bringing with me from 2015 are:

Mental Self-Care:  Late in the fall, I got depressed and moody for absolutely no reason. I hid it well….for a while, but when it grew in intensity and started to impact my work and relationships with other people – and when nothing in my immediate circumstances could explain why – I went to my doctor. Symptoms of a mood disorder, he told me. I’m awaiting the appointment for my psych referral, and in the meantime, I have sat with counselors and have brought back strategies that have helped me stay chill in the past. I meditate daily once again, I journal, I practice gratitude. Some days, the symptoms return, despite these efforts, and it’s just a matter of riding them out. Embracing my introversion and keeping to myself has proven effective (even if it’s made me slightly unpopular). Until I get a formal medical diagnosis, I’m drawing no other conclusions, just that this is a thing I now have to monitor, on par with my weight, diet, and exercise.

I have supported mental health initiatives such as Bell’s “Let’s Talk” to take the stigma out of mental illness through public conversation, and now that I may have one myself – indeed, it’s possible I’ve had this for a long time, but didn’t recognize it for what it was – I will walk my own talk and share in the hopes of helping others coming to the same realization. That starts, I suppose, with this open disclosure.

Physical Self-Care:  I’m now 45 pounds over my optimal weight, according to my last physical at the start of September. What started out as foot pain from wearing bad slippers and shoes led to me stopping going to the gym on a regular basis. It happened so fast that I didn’t even see it. With better shoes and a new gym membership that lets me exercise 24/7, I will be making regular workouts a priority on par with client work.

Creative Self-Care: I am now five years overdue on “Overlife”. The book’s undergone so many revisions and reboots that every time I work on it, a part of me is waiting for that reset button to click off yet again. This time, I have the elements in place, but I’m noticing that I am out of practice with my artistry, and there is a spillover effect into my ghostwriting and editing. Similar to my physical health, I let a small week-long lapse from my story turn into a months-long absence. Moving forward, I am making time in my regular schedule for storytelling.

2015 was supposed to have been my year. It did not disappoint, but it was just the beginning. There’s so much more to come in 2016.  Even so, the whole point of celebrating this arbitrary holiday, for many people, is the reminder that we start again, no matter where we are, no matter how final our circumstances may be. If you’re around to witness the holiday, it’s not the end.  If you haven’t gotten or created everything you wanted to get or create, it’s not the end. If you screwed up somehow in 2015, it’s not the end.  As the saying goes, “every saint has a past; every sinner a future”. As long as there is life, there is possibility, and thus, always another turn at the game.

Remember that today and tomorrow, when, from all of our different walks of life, we all start again.

janus

Stardust

There was once a wild thing that was lost….

I last saw him in the fall, some early blazing sunset of crimson when my legs still carried the skin memory of classroom carpets and little plastic trucks.  The world was much more magical then.  There was a magic in the uncertainty of not knowing what was so, or how things worked.  Without answers, all questioners are left to create.

Notice that I said “create”, not “hypothesize”, for hypothesis is the offspring of science, and science is about finding answers. Nor is that to make science wrong and magic right. Science carries its wonder in the form of the answers; magic in its wondering questions. Two different flavours, depending on your appetite.

And magical thinking…it’s an eternal preserve of youth, of those wild creatures we used to have and be before we civilized ourselves with adulthood, and set aside our childish things.

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The trigger for this latest ramble? I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” in all of its glorious melody. And I found I had to switch my entire way of being to get into it, to pick a time and a place when I knew I would have no other distractions. The short attention spans and busy times of adulthood have a cost in our appreciation of formidable language. At best, we can skip off the surface like a fast-moving schooner or a hapless meteorite, but by gods, once you’ve broken through, the letters and images and feelings just flow around you like an ocean of warm honey.

If you haven’t read “Stardust”, do so, and I won’t spoil anything major, but the notion, just the whole premise of the back of the book, stirs old feelings. A star falls from the sky, and a young man embarks on a journey to retrieve it for his young lover. But to get it, Tristan must cross into the land of Faerie, a parallel world where the star is a beautiful woman, now separated from her thousands of brothers and sisters who wander the night for eternity.

Yvaine, the Star, can never go back to them – “stars fall. They don’t go back up again”, she remarks – and so no matter the outcome, she is assured to live forever on Earth in the Faerie world, looking up from great distances. Tristan, for his part, leaves behind his family – a father, mother, and sister – who love him dearly, and whom he loves in return, but not as much as the adventure on the other side of the wall.

It’s a world of transfiguration and magical objects, of sky galleons and unicorns, nothing in and of itself unique to Gaiman by any stretch, nor is it simply the meter and flourish of his words that’s gripped me. Too much analysis becomes dissection, and kills the thing it aims to study in the process. This is the sum total process of the experience that I’m talking about.

flammarion

That experience took me somewhere beyond the book and the story, to something close to infant memory. I remember a thick quilt of deep blue, like twilight sky, painted with big yellow stars and crescent moons with smiling, sleepy faces on them.  And I remember as a child being taken out at night to look up at whatever faint stars managed to pierce the light shield of our cities. I remember not being sure of what they were, but looking at them and thinking about the images on the quilt.

Not long after – maybe a little too early – my mom, who worked as a library clerk, brought home a kid’s book on space. I learned that science had found the stars to be giant burning balls of hydrogen that were billions of miles away, and that they were, in fact, not “diamonds in the sky’, but more massive than hundreds of Earths put together. This, I learned, was what the stars really were. Armed with this knowledge, I shared with my classmates, only to be ridiculed. “That’s dumb,” said one kid named Ryan. “Stars are pieces of planets. My dad told me so!”

And I never forgot that, because it meant I was so much smarter than that kid. I had read the book!  I knew what he didn’t, thanks to my Mom. In the time afterwards, anytime I’d see that quilt, I’d notice the smiling star-faces and crescent moons, and the pleasant, comfortable feeling that came from seeing those familiar forms, and then remember “Oh, that’s not what stars actually are”, and the feeling would go away. An early victim of the Curse of Knowledge.

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What if stars were people? An absurd question, but in Faerie they are and, thus, valid to ask. On this side of Wall, the town in the ordinary world that borders the other land, they’re just elements, no spirits, no consciousness. In the real world – our world – everything is just something that happens, with no meaning or significance. A star falls out of the sky and it’s just a rock smoldering inside a crater, if it even makes it to earth.

Faerie is where so many of our wild selves went, one day, long ago, the parts of us that came up with their own answers to our questions about what the world was. The parts of us that invented the universe in our own image.

One night, when we were all too young, not long after fact replaced story, they stole out of our homes, like jealous and heartbroken cats that run away after the arrival of a new baby. They crept through the village, past the guards, and bolted through the hole in the wall into the wild, leaving us to discover their departure only too late, to wonder at their adventures and worry about their survival. And we’re left to wonder about it for so long afterwards, well into the conventional drab routine of adulthood. That may be an accidental reason why so many of “Stardust”s pages just sigh with longing.

But what a wild thing I used to have, and be, that primal quality of a five year old living his life in ignorance, coloring his pages with crayons and getting lost in his own limbic imaginings.  And after all these long years of adulthood concerns, of money and entrepreneurship, of services to render and bills to pay, I had wondered where he had gone.

“Stardust” helped me see that that part of me is still alive and well, roving out there in the forests, the mountains, and the skies of that other world, of Faerie.

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The Fall Equilibrium

Since I’ve started getting things in my life in order, I’ve had very little I’ve wanted to write about.  Ideas, for sure, but the motivation isn’t there.

The discovery: my historical motivation to write was catharsis, rooted in the dysfunctions of my life. Either that, or I’ve been getting lazy, plain and simple.  For the sake of writing this latest rant, let’s assume it’s the first one.

fomo

Reviewing some of the entries of months and years past, I see how just how much of my own motivation was rooted in angst, FOMO (fear of missing out), regrets at actually missing out, recrimination, or just some kind of unpleasantness.  Then I chose to take the Landmark Forum and continued, without any major break, in that personal development and training for nearly two years.

Now, as start my first big pause in this education, I find myself so well versed in the tools of clear thinking, becoming present, and creating from nothing, that my regrets and recriminations don’t motivate me like they used to.

All of that sure sounds very good, but it comes with a cost: my historical sources of motivation to write are now depleted. It’s gotten to the point that even indulging in topics like my divorce, the trips I didn’t get to take in my twenties, the debts, the missed goals, lackluster health…none of it gets me down or angry like it used to.  I’m not quite bulletproof – just catch me when I’m tired or overworked and I’ll flirt with going to the Dark Place – but I re-center myself very quickly.

For the first time in my adult life, I am at peace, and I have nothing to say.  Or is that in and of itself a story?

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The other part of it is my audience.  I want the people in my life, in whatever close or faraway orbits they may have, to know me, to see what’s actually happening in my life, not because of vanity or Facebook celebrity, but because it’s easier.  I like the idea of being myself with everyone that I run into, and the practicalities of daily living make this an option that I can’t always choose.

But who cares?  Right?  I mean that in the most literal sense: who cares what’s happening with me?  Who’s interested?  And if no one’s interested, why write?  Why share?

Maybe that’s why lately I’ve spent my time pontificating on issues of the day or big ideas. There are always plenty of those to be bandied about.

Again, it’s not for lack of challenges, I still have plenty of those.  It’s just that the drama around solving them is mostly gone.  There’s an ease in doing what needs to be done.  Ghostwriting wasn’t proving to be a business I was enjoying, so I rejigged my services to focus on editing, with “content creation” being an additional charge, and now it’s off to get new clients.

I’m 25 pounds overweight according to my recent checkup and it’s now simply making more time for cardio at the gym and slashing sugar from my diet. Even when I do freak out about overlapping deadlines that I didn’t plan properly, I know that it’s because I didn’t plan properly, or didn’t work the plan, so I just…well, stop doing that and finish what needs to get done.

Everything’s just so functional, and whatever isn’t working as well as I’d like is in the process of starting to work.

What do you write about when your life is good?

Maybe this is why so many of the self-help gurus write and re-write the same platitudes, over and over again in different forms, what Chip and Dan Heath call”semantic stretch”, the overuse and subsequent exhaustion of a term or expression (such as “awesome”).  The constant recycling of words like “possibility” or “extraordinary” or “amazing” dilutes and devalues the significance of the words with each use, until eventually, they’re just empty slogans at best, neither stirring the hearts and minds of the listener nor invoking any feeling in the speaker.  That’s not the kind of writer I want to be.

balls

In “Garden State”, there’s a friend of Zach Braff’s protagonist who secured a patent for silent Velcro when he was still in high school.  The residuals from the patent made him a multi-millionaire, and by the time we find him in the film, he spends his days living in a big empty mansion, doing mostly nothing.

Years ago, my math-savvy friend Michael told me that one of the consequences of applying the Nash Equilibrium to economics was that economic competition stopped altogether.

In Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” (the book, not the movie), Johnny Rico is dropped on a planet that’s only evolved the most basic lifeforms – grasses and mosses, mostly – because of low levels of radiation that would have otherwise caused evolution.  The planet’s growth was “literally retarded”, according to Rico’s description, in the absence of widespread cell death and mutations.

At the end of the film “Maverick”, Bret Maverick leaves a bag with half of his hard-won poker money near his tub in the spa, far away from his gun, knowing that Mrs. Bransford would come to steal it.  The reason? He was excited at the thought of winning it all back again.

In “Babylon 5”, it’s revealed that the ancient race colloquially known as “the Shadows” would go to the worlds of younger, evolving races and cause strife and war.  They described it like “knocking over an anthill”, solely done to spur on evolution, as most of their hapless victims would rebuild stronger than before.

All of these share a common thread: how we react to balance. It seems that the successful attainment of one’s goals brings two results: a blissed-out and resilient mental stillness and satisfaction with life coupled with a lack of creative drive to do more.

Maybe this is why some rich people keep seeking to add more millions to their fortunes, or why Bohemian artists who struggle to pay bills or eat actual meals somehow become prolific with their works, but never get ahead.

fruit-ladder

Creativity comes from struggle, not necessarily suffering – which can be distinct from struggle – but definitely from not having all one’s needs met.  The rich and successful seem to intuitively understand this, which is why they know the thing to do upon achieving anything is to set a higher goal than the last one.  Poor broke-ass buggers like me, meanwhile, do the opposite: when we reach equilibrium, we then find ways to sabotage what we’ve already achieved – missing a bill payment, procrastinating until the last minute, getting lazy – so that we can experience that sense of drive and purpose all over again.

And as much as I am enjoying my current respite, it may soon be time to step things up, to start trying for something again.  I only nominally care about achievement or status at this point: my creative destiny may depend on knocking myself out of equilibrium again and getting into struggle mode.  The last time I was striving for something, it was to find a new home to live in with my rescue dog Bella, about a year ago.  I haven’t had any new or grand challenges since.

This time, like last time, when I do knock everything out of balance, I’ll aim to fall upwards.  At least then I won’t only be doing it for the story that would follow.

How I Solved My FOMO with the Multiverse

What makes for a full summer?

Canadians have maybe three to four months’ worth of warm, summer-like weather for the most part.  What that creates in some of us is a quiet awareness in the background of our daily experience that borders on anxiety.  It goes something like this: let us take in the pool, the patio, the cottage, and the sun while we can, for tomorrow we freeze.

That would explain the sudden spike in FOMO during the warmer months.

As I write this sentence, I’m sitting at my dining room table as Labour Day afternoon gives way to Labour Day evening.  A towel has been wrapped around my waist for the past hour, having gotten out of the complex swimming pool just in time to grab a cold beer and barbecue some sirloin and sliced zucchini.  Outside, a warm and heavy breeze is blowing through the trees while I wait for the lifeguard to return from dinner break and re-open the pool for what I suspect will be the last time this season.  Afterwards, I’m contemplating a walk over to Dairy Queen with my dog and sitting under the old tree overlooking a nearby park as the sun comes down.  Maybe with a good book.

Labour Day 2015 had a lot of things happening in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area.  Other options I could have taken today include:

– Taken the train to Fan Expo and gotten my nerd-on with thousands of other Toronto-area geeks clamouring down the parking garage entrance to the Metro Convention Centre.
– Taken the train to the Canadian National Exhibition (a.k.a the CNE or “The Ex” for you non-Toronto folk) and risked my life by riding hastily assembled rollercoasters and eating delicious fried foods.
– Hung out anywhere near the lakeshore to watch the Air Show.
– Gone to see the Jays play.
– Headed down the road to Hamilton to watch the Ti-Cats play in the Labour Day special with my Hamilton crew.
– Probably at least two dozen other things happening in the area within an hour’s drive.

I did none of those things.  Instead, I stayed home in glorious A/C, editing and writing for my clients and cleaning up a bit.  And feeling a bit guilty for not making the most out of the last “official” day of summer in the process, especially after my Facebook and Instagram feeds exploded with pics of people enjoying all of those things.  That’s what the FOMO does.

A SUMMER OF MISSED OPPORTUNITIES?

Back last winter, when my head was filled with possibilities of instant riches and massive immediate success, I pictured that this summer would have been THE season in which I would have waves of ridiculous wealth coming in with little to no work (or at least work that felt like “work”).

And to be sure, I came pretty damn close, drawing in an abundance of work and money…but it was all massively time consuming.  I had to evolve a level of personal organization that was beyond what I wanted to have, and what the ended up looking like was Jody at his laptop for most of his day and evening.

The impact was that I essentially became a hermit, and I got so busy that I missed out on two great times with my friends: my Fraternity chapter’s weekend retreat at an amazing cottage in Huntsville; and my buddy Marc’s 30th birthday in Toronto.

At times like these, the FOMO flares up, and its unanswerable question lingers in my mind: am I making the most of the summer?   This question isn’t the question, though: it’s the lead-in to the bigger question: am I making the most of my life?

Enter Walter Bishop

With the free time I did have during late nights or lazy weekend mornings, I got into the ABC show “Fringe” via Netflix. My housemate Dani said that her previous housemate had described the show as “drugs”, and I can see why. I was enthralled, especially with the second season’s storyline involving an alternate universe overlapping ours in which the 9/11 attacks took place only in Washington, leaving the Twin Towers standing; zeppelins regularly dock at the Empire State Building’s observation deck; and personal computing is so advanced that there hasn’t been a ballpoint pen made for decades.  I was hooked.

The multiverse, however, is certainly not a new concept to me.  The whole premise of my novel “Convergence” is built on the possibilities of overlapping alternate realities created by our choices.  But the multiverse is definitely taking off in popular culture.  There’s even a whole New Age practice called quantum jumping, in which you can psychically “connect” with your alternate in a parallel universe who has everything that you want and whose knowledge and skills you can access, sort of like a certain Jet Li movie, but without any killing.

But if every choice generates its own universe, as spiritual thinkers and cutting-edge astrophysicists alike argue is the case, then there’s absolutely no need for FOMO.  There is no missing out.

Everything All The Time

Think about it.  FOMO, by its very nature, implies that our choices are necessary limits to the full experience of life. But within a multiverse perspective, it’s impossible NOT to experience everything fully, because the alternate versions of ourselves, when viewed as a collective being, are doing that all the time.

Okay, Mr. Smartypants, I’m sure you’re thinking, then maybe this little version of me isn’t so happy with the prospect of not having taken that trip to Paris.  I could give a crap about what the Alternate Me has done about it. What about the individual in this universe?

Frankly, the individual in this universe can chill the fuck out.

Choice is a privilege that many people don’t have.  I think on a certain level, we’re all aware of this, which is why we are so preoccupied with screwing it up. We value choice as a precious resource. However, there is no screwing it up.  Every possibility gets fulfilled in the multiverse theory.  More than that, there are now ways emerging in advanced spiritual practice – I’m sure theoretical physics will catch up to this as well – that claim to allow you to shift your experience into a universe that you actually want to experience.

And here’s the kicker: if such practices work, be they science or pseudoscience-based, we’ll never know, because they involve shifting the reality around us, the water in which we swim.  Any experimentation to verify a shift into a new universe would have to take place outside linear time, a capability that we are still thousands of years away from having.

Quantum jumping seems to be the closest to communicating with the alternate universes, though from what little I know of it, it seems to be that you only get little snippets of the alternate you’s insights, not the full enchilada of his or her experience.

Still, simply the knowledge that there is, somewhere out there in the firmament, a reality in which you did take that trip to Laos, or didn’t screw it up with that girl, or stayed in that job…that knowledge should bring you comfort.  And if it’s not enough, it should at least show you the importance of self-exploration, for that appears to be the access to experiencing the other “yous”.

Once, my favourite author since childhood, Whitley Strieber, had asked in meditation to see different worlds. You can peruse his life’s work at his website for a more vivid picture of what that looks like. The Coles Notes version: he got to experience, in deep meditation and dreaming, what it would be like to be another version of him living in versions of Earth much different than this one. If it worked for him, why not for me?  For you?

If anything, both FOMO and the possibility of the multiverse in which all choices get made should give us pause to appreciate the present.

And what about the last of summer? In recent years, I’ve found autumn to be something of a relief, not just from heat, but from pressure: namely, the FOMO. When the hot sunny days are here, unique opportunities for a full experience of life present themselves, especially in a city where those opportunities only have a life span of a third of a year.

Now that we’re in the last of these hot days, when some sanity and productivity returns to the population’s sensibilities, the feeling will fade. Soon, sitting insife to do my life’s work won’t seem an imposition to the temporary delights of Now lurking outside my door.