20 20’s Hindsights

This week will mark the 20th piece that I have written since I started this here blog back in February. In that spirit, I’ve decided to come up with a concept for this one that ties into that number. So here’s what I’ve got. Now that I’m a few years into my thirties, it’s pretty wild to think about how my feelings and philosophies have evolved since I was just a kid trying to figure out how life works. So without further ado, here are 20 lessons I learned in my 20’s in no particular order.

20) Things don’t always happen for a reason

This may fly in the face of your beliefs, and if you are the kind of person that believes that everything does happen for a reason, please don’t take this to mean that I’m saying you’re wrong. I’m only speaking to my experience. Everyone gets thrown countless curveballs over the course of their existence, and oftentimes there may seem to be no rhyme or reason why. What I do believe is not so much that there’s a universal explanation behind those things happening, but that if you respond to those events in a constructive way, life has a way of putting you right where you’re supposed to be, whether that be mentally or physically.

Having said that, sometimes life deals people a particularly shitty hand, and the hills they have to climb to overcome those things may seem more like mountains. That’s why I have to stop short of saying something cheesy like “anything is possible with the right attitude!” because life is a lot more difficult than any dumbass motivational poster with a cat on it can capture.

19) You are the only person who can prioritize your own happiness

Happiness is not a given. If you’re like me and you’ve struggled with depression, you know how exhausting it can be to try to dig yourself out of it. Leaning on people you love is an important part of finding your way. And there’s no doubt that having a strong support system is hugely important. I’m blessed to be able to say unequivocally that I do. But it took me making some extremely difficult decisions and making my happiness a priority to get to a place where being content with my life and my surroundings is at least the baseline that has set me up to be able to move forward. No one else is going to do that for you.

18) No one should be defined by what they do for a living, because nobody is just one thing

I used to work in sports radio in New York. I loved that job. Now I work as a server in a restaurant. I can’t say I love it. But when I talk about what makes me who I am, neither of those things would be one of the first five or six things I would mention. I have occupational goals for myself that I haven’t attained yet. But even if and when I do, it won’t be what defines me. That’s because before I would describe myself by what I do to make money, I’d tell you about the character attributes that make up who I actually am. I’d tell you about how I try to present myself to the world. It’s only as we go further down the list that I’d mention that, oh yeah, I also love writing and broadcasting and that those are things I’m passionate enough about that I hope to be able to monetize them enough that one day I can make a living.

17) Change isn’t always good, but when you decide to make the change yourself it usually is

I absolutely detest the phrase “change is a good thing!” That’s because every one of us has had to endure a change in their life that they didn’t ask for and they didn’t want. But when you decide that you need to make a change for the better, pulling the trigger on those kinds of decisions often lead to the most fulfilling experiences imaginable. Case in point, my decision to leave radio and the only home I’ve ever known to come to Vancouver and start anew. My life is so much better for that decision. It’s changes like that which I decided to make for myself that have always been the ones that have paid dividends.

16) You can’t half-ass love

I’m sure many of us have been in a relationship before that we were in just for the sake of being in a relationship. That has never, and will never be enough to make love work. Hell, I was in a relationship like that for six years at one point. It wasn’t fair to either one of us. All it did was make the heartbreak feel worse when it inevitably ended. If you love someone and want to be with them, you either go all in or you don’t go in at all.

15) Work to live, don’t live to work

This is not to say that having a strong work ethic isn’t important. But no one should have to be in a position where 80 to 90 percent of what their life is made up of is working. There’s an exception to this if you genuinely love what you do. But in those cases, working and living are often more intertwined. For most of us, six or seven-day work weeks are draining and leave you with little or no time to actually experience what life is all about. Even if you have to make room for fun in your schedule by planning it out ahead of time, fucking do it. Because devoting too much of your time to working a job you don’t love is an absolute soul sucker.

14) Mistakes are a part of the process

Hey, guess what? You’re gonna fuck up. A lot. Embrace it and learn from it. What’s the old saying about the definition of insanity? It’s when you keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Try doing things whichever way you see fit. Fail at it. And then try it again a different way.

13) There is no use in trying to curry favor with people who don’t give a shit about you

This could apply to anyone from a boss to a friend. But when people make it abundantly clear that they don’t have your best interests in mind, there is no use in trying to win them over and have them come around. That shit just ain’t gonna happen.

12) Set boundaries

To be honest, this is one that I still haven’t fully learned yet. But I’m working on it. If you feel like people are regularly taking your kindness for granted and walking all over you, it’s likely because to some extent you’re allowing it to happen. Put your foot down when someone crosses the line. It may be uncomfortable, especially when it’s someone you care about who is responsible, but if they care about you, they’ll respect what you’re saying. You don’t have to put up with bullshit just to make it easier for people to like you. Take a stand when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of.

11) Talk less, listen more

When people come to you with a problem, it’s not always advice that they’re looking for. Sometimes we just want to feel like we’re being heard. So many of us keep our feelings bottled up inside because we don’t want to bother anyone else with our bullshit. But I would hope we’ve all had the experience of how liberating it can feel to just say the things we’re thinking out loud to someone who isn’t going to judge or feel it necessary to respond. Oftentimes the response can come off as defensive or just be completely unnecessary. There’s a lot of power that can be derived from simply hearing someone out and validating what they are feeling.

10) Never deny what you’re feeling

Don’t say “I’m fine” if you’re not fine. That isn’t a show of strength. It’s a show of denial, and it’s 100% counterproductive. Communication is everything. There’s also a difference between allowing yourself to feel sad as opposed to wallowing in it. The former is not only acceptable, it’s important. The latter is when it’s time to do something about it.

9) Prioritize self care

This feeds back into what I was talking about with the whole “don’t live to work” message, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to give yourself a break if you need to give your brain a rest. Get outside. See your friends. Be with family. Or if it’s what you really need, just stay inside and do nothing all day. Play video games. Read a book. Listen to music. Some people might refer to some of these things as distractions or a waste of time. But I’d tell you we all need to be distracted from the grind of everyday life from time to time. This shit is exhausting.

8) It’s ok to ask for help

Independence is a wonderful thing. But if everything you do is an independent venture, you’re fucked. We all need to lean on others to keep going sometimes. Surround yourself with the right people, and feed off of each other. Needing help isn’t a sign of being weak. In fact, having the wherewithal to understand that you can’t do it on your own and reaching out to those you trust to help you is an indicator that you’re mentally tough enough to understand that what you’re exposing isn’t your weakness. If anything, all you’re exposing is your humanity.

7) Strive for improvement over perfection

No one and nothing is perfect. So don’t try to make it perfect. Just make it better. Even if you take a step back, understand that’s normal. Progress is never a straight line. There will always be peaks and valleys. Just stay with it and you’ll be fine as long as you’re approach is sound.

6) Romantic relationships won’t “fix” you

If you are self-aware enough and feel like you still have a lot of work to do on yourself, getting into a committed romantic relationship may be the worst thing you can do during that process. Being lonely sucks, but I find that to be much more preferable than heaping your baggage onto another person in hopes that they can help lift you out of your issues. A romantic partner shouldn’t be there to play the role of savior. That’s not a symbiotic relationship, and it can be extremely harmful.

5) Understand that you don’t always understand

Lord knows I’ve faced my share of difficulties throughtout the course of my life, but all things considered, I’ve lived a pretty blessed existence. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around some of the things that those less fortunate than myself have had to endure. That’s one of the reasons why this attitude of “just lift yourself up by your boot straps” that so many people have towards those living in poverty bothers me so much. Compassion runs woefully thin in our modern society. And that’s a goddamn shame. It’s infuriating to people who are struggling to hear condescending advice from people who have absolutely no grasp on what it’s like to be in their position. So to all those who think they have the answers to everyone’s problems, you don’t. So knock that shit off.

4) Comapring yourself to others is useless

This has been a tough one for me. I tried carving out a career for myself at a place where I was surrounded by people way more accomplished than me. Even now, I look at the amazing work being done by some of my friends and former coworkers and it makes me feel inferior by comparison. But I recognize I have to stop that. Everyone is on their own timeline, and just because you may not be where you want to be yet doesn’t mean you won’t get there. The comparison game is not only useless, it’s damaging to your confidence and your overall psyche. Just do you.

3) Never read the comments/replies

I mean, of course I do read them. But I almost always regret it. Social media is a wonderful thing in a lot of ways, but it’s also a cesspool of human misery. I’ve vowed to do my best to never take to heart the thoughts that some anonymous jag has submitted from behind the safety of their keyboard. You know what’s all the rage these days? Rage. And most of it is useless bullshit that you’d be better off not even allowing to enter your mind.

2) Strive to do things that scare you

Facing down fear is an oppprtunity for growth. There are things that I strive to do with my life that scare the shit out of me. But that’s part of the reason I want to do them. I remember how nervous I was about hosting a three-hour talk show on the radio. But that experience is on a short list of the cooler things I’ve ever done in my life. In fact, when I think about what scares me, most of that fear comes from the worry that I will invest my time and energy into something and put myself out there only for the people in my audience to hate it. But there’s also an inevitability that not everyone is going to like everything I do. Embrace the fear. Many times it helps you rise to the occasion.

1) Maintaining a positive mindset is as rewarding as it is difficult

Oh boy. After all that talk about not wanting to be cheesy, I’m ending on a note that could be on one of those cat posters. Oops. But this one is just too true not to include. Let me make this clear. When you’re depressed, it’s very easy to succumb to negative thoughts. All you have to do is nothing. Feelings of sadness are intrusive, and can take over a depressed mind with ease.

Recognizing the need for change and then enacting that change are two separate steps in the path out of that cycle. The first one is easy. The second step is anything but. But with a change in mindset and the help of others, you can get to a place where you find yourself on the other side of that negativity, and you’ll likely find yourself in a place where life is actually easier to live. Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean everything will always be peaches and cream. There isn’t a permanent fix for depression. But that’s why I used the word maintaining a positive mindset. Just like any piece of machinery, our brains need maintenance from time to time. So be kind to yourself.

When I was at my deepest depths, I was the one who treated myself the worst. In my own mind, there were times I felt I was worthless and that my life was hard because that’s what I deserved. That’s a dangerous way to think. It wasn’t easy to reverse that mental pattern, and it took some massive change, but coming out on the other side of it has allowed me to frame things in a more positive perspective. That doesn’t mean I’m free from the struggles that dealing with depression entails, but I am better equipped to deal with them now than I have ever been before.

I’ve still got a lot to learn. At 33, I’m a young man with so much still left to experience and grow from. Even though my 20’s weren’t necessarily the best years of my life like many people seem to think of them as, they sure did teach me a lot about how life works. I hope none of what I wrote here comes off as preachy, because that certainly wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to share some thoughts about how growing up has informed my perspective.

If anything I’ve said here strikes a chord with you, I’d love to hear from you about your experiences. Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @MaxMadeATweet. I hope you’ll be back next week when I will likely go back to writing about something a little less weighty. Until then, take care of yourselves.

When Everything Is Controversial, We All Lose

I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when society has felt more divided. We play the “both sides” game with seemingly every topic that enters into our consciousness. This debate club approach to public discourse isn’t completely without benefit, because in theory, it’s a good thing to engage and listen to people who have different perspectives than you. But in practice, there is no denying that the way we talk to each other about sensitive issues has resulted in a lot of vitriol.

The thing that really bugs me about this is that not every subject we discuss this way should be treated as debatable. When I tell you that 2+2=4, there’s no reasonable human being that would come back at me with, “Well actually, 2+2=Tangerine.” Obviously, sociopolitical issues are never as cut and dry as an arithmetic problem, but we’ve been pitted against one another to such a degree, that it feels like we’ve lost the ability to agree on ANYTHING. And lemme tell ya folks, that’s a big problem.

The best example I can think of to illustrate this is the “controversy” surrounding climate change. Let’s start with a basic, indisputable fact. At least 97% of scientists agree that warming trends in climate are real and increasingly dangerous, and that human activity is the leading contributor to that trend. It takes a pretty convincing argument to get 97% of any group of people to agree on anything. Yet somehow, instead of saying “Ok, this is a problem. How do we address it?” we can’t seem to get past the first part – the acceptance of the problem.

The arguments supporting the idea that decades of peer-reviewed science are either wrong or made-up range from questionable to laughable. My favorite is the one where the position is that scientists are getting paid to manipulate their research into supporting the “climate change agenda.” If it were true that the science community could be paid off, best believe that wealthy oil companies and the like would have been making it rain in nerd town for years now.

While picking a battle with science may be dumb and silly, it still isn’t the most disheartening category of angry debate that we have. The Trump era in politics has introduced a concept that many of us had never heard of before, but now has become a common term in our vernacular. I’m referring to the idea of gaslighting. The basic premise is that one side of a debate encourages the other to ignore evidence that supports their argument even if it’s in plain sight. In other words – specifically the words of the President himself – “What you’re seeing…is not what’s happening.”

This is literally the tactic taken by conspiracy theorists. It’s enraging, but the scary part is, it’s effective. Being told over and over again that you can’t trust your own eyes and ears can make you feel like a crazy person. You might even find yourself acquiescing to ideas that you vehemently disagree with just because it’s easier than trying to argue with someone who’s not operating on the same playing field as you.

The best way to deal with someone engaging you in this way is to shut the conversation down, because they don’t actually have any interest in hearing what you have to say. Their goal is not to have a discussion, it’s to WIN the discussion. The problem is that nowadays this method is being used frequently by people with massive platforms. You have no choice but to take them seriously, because their captive audiences certainly will. Whether we’re talking about Donald Trump or someone like Tucker Carlson, just shrugging them off somehow isn’t good enough.

We can have substantive, thoughtful arguments about the best way forward for healthcare or taxation or immigration. But if we can’t agree that putting babies in cages is royally fucked up, how are we supposed to move any conversation forward? How can we address the best way to fix the tax bracket if your opinion is that poor people are poor because they’re lazy and they deserve it? It’s like being handed a giant turd along with some eggs and flour and being asked to make carrot cake out of it.

It would take an entire thesis paper to address the multitude of reasons explaining how we got here, but there is one thing that seems to be a given. Media, in all its forms, is broken. And honestly, I’m not even sure it can be fixed. There’s so much money invested in the success of 24-hour cable news networks that cater their programming more to supporting confirmation bias of their viewers than delivering nuts and bolts news coverage. That’s a big issue no matter which side of the political aisle you subscribe to.

There may be no better indicator that the media is not prepared to handle a figure like Donald Trump in the White House than seeing well-respected news publications having such a hard time labeling the things he says and does for what they are. What I mean by this is that when the President calls for an outright ban of Muslims entering the country, or refers to a group of neo-Nazis as “very fine people” while framing Mexicans as criminals and rapists, that kind of talk is not racially charged. It doesn’t have racial undertones. It’s fucking RACIST. But instead, they’ll continue to handle him with kid gloves, even though he should have lost the benefit of that doubt before he ever even took the oath of office.

The rise of social media has unleashed this Pandora’s box where everyone has been handed a platform. This is conflicting for me, because my platform (small though it may be) can be largely contributed to my presence on social media. That’s especially true at this stage of my career where I’m no longer affiliated with a large media conglomerate. I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t be reading this right now if it weren’t a link you could click on someone’s Facebook or Twitter page.

The problem is that it takes no effort at all for some jabroni to hop in your mentions and start spitting venom at you. And that shit is wack. I don’t know about you, but as much as I love and appreciate every message of support and encouragement I get online, it’s the shit-posters that stick with me the longest. That might just be a flaw in my personality, but I hate it, and there are times it makes me not want to be online at all.

So I’ll finish by saying this. I’m sure there are things I’ve written here that are going to piss some people off. And that’s a shame, because the reasons I have for being so opposed to much of what’s going on in politics these days doesn’t really stem from the fact that I am left-leaning. I am, but it’s not because I’m a policy wonk who disagrees with all conservative ideology at face value. Honestly, that couldn’t be further from the truth. My issue is that in coordination with the M.O. of the current administration, society itself seems to be getting more cruel, less compassionate and increasingly morally bankrupt. At the very least our exposure to these moral failings is at an all-time high.

Ultimately, what I’m proposing is that we all try to focus our frustrations in the right direction. It’s so strange to me how successful those at the top have been at convincing us that our struggles are being caused by our fellow citizens who are struggling just as much as us, if not worse. Lost your job? I bet you it’s because that immigrant took it. Can’t afford to pay your bills? Well, we would have given you a break on your taxes, but we can’t afford to do that AND provide welfare to your neighbor. Don’t feel safe? You shouldn’t. Something something RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM.

As George Carlin once said: “It’s all bullshit, folks. And it’s bad for ya.” For all of this talk about how “the elites are out of control,” as long as we continue to fight with each other about everything under the sun, we’re giving them exactly what they want.