A Blog about Career Changes, Madness, and My Awful Brain

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lies. And a quest to be honest.

I know, it's been a while since I have made an entry, but I've been busy. Okay, no, that's not true at all. I haven't been busy, I've just been lazy. A lie then...and oh, how easy it comes.....

Which is actually what I wanted to write about today. Truth, lies and everything in between.

I hope that in these entries, you've gotten a sense of how sincere and truthful I'm trying to be. I've told you all some pretty personal stuff...and kiddies, every word that I write (barring satire and exaggeration, perhaps) has been true. True as I see it, true as I can be. You see, I'm on a bit of a quest...a quest to be an honest person. Honest to myself, honest to other, honest to the world....and it hasn't always been easy.

So am I telling you that I used to be a liar? A dishonest rogue, perhaps? Well....yes and no. I don't think I'm that more dishonest than the rest of you, but I have found that I have a disturbing tendency to twist the truth, and I'm not proud of it. So now you're probably curious....how do I lie? Why do I lie? Some of you who know me personally, are probably wondering if I've ever lied to you.

Well, let me break down the most common situations. And while I'm sharing them with you, I want you to ask yourself if maybe you have been dishonest in similar ways.

1)I lie to make myself look better. This is probably the most pride damaging way I lie. Maybe I add twelve pounds when you ask me how much I can bench. Maybe I tell you I got a higher mark or make more money than I do. Realistically, I don't do this that often...I used to when I was younger, but not so much anymore.

2) I lie so you will like me. In some cases, I might agree with your opinion, even if I disagree with it. I'll pretend that I don't find a certain political or religious idea reprehensible so that you won't be offended. I might even pretend I like a movie or TV show.

3)I lie to stay out of trouble. Granted, I don't usually do this...whenever I don't take responsibility for a mistake, I usually get crushing guilt, so I almost always admit when I make mistakes. The fact that I don't lie very often about mistakes got me in trouble a lot at my last job, so I did finally start practicing lies by omission just to survive. Which actually got me into trouble a couple of time because my boss literally checked every little thing I did.

4)I lie to get something I want. This, I expect, is a pretty common reason to lie. Many of us might call it "stretching the truth", but you stretch that fucker enough, it's an outright goddamn lie. This is the kind of lie you tell at a job interview when they ask you for your strengths and weaknesses. It's the kind of lie you tell the store when you are returning something you broke, but swear it came like that out of the box. It's all the dead grandmas' funerals you had to go to when you really just wanted a day off or an extension on your paper. Me...well, I've taken many a sick day when I haven't really been sick.

5)I lie to cover up weakness. Oh, my job is going alright. Oh, he didn't hurt my feeling at all. Oh, everything is great at home.

6)I lie to make people comfortable. The white lie....who doesn't do it, right? When you tell a kid he sounds great playing the flute, when it's just about the worst thing you've ever heard. When you tell a friend you love their new girlfriend or boyfriend, even though they are the biggest douches you've ever met.

Do you lie for any of these reasons? I'm sure you do. We all do, to some extent. If anyone tells you otherwise, or claims not too, you better damn well watch your back.

Many times, we lie because we have to. It's survival at a very basic level.

The problem is that if you lie a lot, you start believing your own lies. In many ways, I feel that that's a big reason that my life has gone off the rails. God, you have no idea how often I've lied about my education or career. Lied about liking what I do. Lied about how my success made me feel. Lied about who I am and what my strength are. Lied about who I am as a person.

And I'll be damned, I started to believe my own shit. And even when I didn't believe my own shit, I felt like I was compromising my own principles...well, whatever principles I had. Not always mind you....if I'm gonna be honest here, I'll come out and tell you that I have told plenty of lies with no hesitation or guilt. But the more I lied, the smaller I became as a person. The smaller I felt. I think that if you're lying about things that matter to you, opinions you hold, and feelings you have, your really betraying who YOU are. Moreover, I really believe that people can pick up on it. People can sense that you are not an honest person, even if they can't point out a single lie you are telling.

So I decided that I was going to change. This blog was an attempt at being honest, and I'm telling you (cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye) that so far, I haven't told a single lie. Although I hold to the right to embellish a story to make it interesting, I want to stay true to the spirit of truth (ha...the "spirit of truth"...if that's not a suspicious statement I don't know what is). But that's not good enough...I want to be more honest in real life too.

Well, I've had the opportunity to be completely, heart-breakingly honest in the last couple of months. Those of you on my facebook know that I joined toastmasters a while back, and have given two speeches. One of those speeches, my first, was the "Ice Breaker". Oh, how sweet the opportunity to impress people....my greatest weakness, by biggest temptation. I had five to seven minutes to tell people who I am, where I come from, and what I do. I didn't have to lie, of course, but I could use the truth as I saw it to really impress some people I barely knew. Or I could have given them a boring overview of my life, not letting them know the real Dan...again, not a lie, but not REAL either.

But I didn't do either of those things. I said fuck it, I'm gonna give these people a taste of the truth. In short, I did something I never would have done a couple of years ago. I showed them who I was...I let them see the good side of me, and I showed them my flaws. By the end of it, there were tears in the crowd. At the end, I almost cried myself. I spit the freakin' truth, and I can't believe the response I got.

I can't share that speech with you, although I wish I could. The reason is because I didn't write it down....well, not beyond a couple of phrases and a general outline. When you tell the truth, when it comes from inside you, you don't have to refer to notes. You don't have anything to keep track of. You know your story; you stand up, and you tell it.

My second speech, in some ways, was even better. If you read my entry "The Voice in Your Head is an Asshole", then you basically read my speech. It didn't have the emotional aspect of my Ice Breaker, but the audience really enjoyed it. They related to it. And I realized how important, how powerful being sincere, and honest, can be.

Now, I'm starting to feel like I'm bragging, so I'm going to stop right here. I do, however, want to encourage you to start being a little more honest, if you can. Hell, I bet most of you are still more honest than I am....I'm a recovering lie-aholic. Still, give it a shot.

Also, if your wondering, the job I interviewed for (that I referred to in my last entry)...well, I didn't get it. Ha...maybe I was a little too honest, who knows.....but I did get some good feedback from my interviewers, and they assured me they went with another candidate because he was very experienced. They said I had a great interview and are keeping my resume on file. Here's to hoping they were honest.......

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I am an Imposter.

You ever feel like all of your accomplishments have been due more to good luck and trying hard, then skill? Ever feel like you are a fake, and that you don't deserve the success you have? Are you ever afraid that the Incompetence Police are going to come and get you, and expose you for the fraud that you are?

Well, I do....all the fucking time.

"Oh god, Dan. Not another neurosis on top of the long list you already have."

Fuck off. I can't help I'm crazy.

Seriously, in a lot of ways, being unemployed has been a blessing to me. Depressingly, it's because a lot of the time I feel like it's where I, a person who has tricked people into thinking he's smart and skilled, belong. For once, I don't have to feel like I'm having to work hard to put up the pretense of being a good worker, a smart guy, a guy who "can do this". When I have a job or school, I feel like it's all a big charade, and I feel like at any moment some little kid is going to point up at me and say, "That guy isn't wearing any clothes".

I don't mean that literally. I'm way past the phase where I used to expose myself to families in the park. What I mean is I feel like an imposter, and I feel like I'm just biding my time until I get exposed as a charlatan.

In many ways, this is the hardest post I've ever written. For one, instead of pretending I've got my crap together despite my past, I'm coming out and TELLING you I'm an imposter. I'm not as smart as you think I am. I'm not a good scientist. I don't really have any original ideas. I'm just a guy who has managed to trick every person he's met (okay, not every person..some of you know I'm full of shit) that I know what I'm talking about.

But that's not really true, is it?

I have enough intellectual reasoning abilities that I can recognize that my problem is a distortion in my mental processes. I have enough experience with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that I realize that maybe I AM successful for reasons besides good luck and manipulation, and that what I think is truth, is nothing but a distortion.

Yep, kiddies...there is a name for what I have. And if there is a name for what you have, then chances are that there are a lot of people who also have what you have. Hell, maybe even one or two of you, who I always assumed are successful and have your stuff together.

It's called Imposter Syndrome. Here is the wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome (hey, I learned how to link properly..cool huh?)

And I quote:

"The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It is not an officially recognized psychological disorder, but has been the subject of numerous books and articles by psychologists and educators. The term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978.[1]

Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

The impostor syndrome, in which competent people find it impossible to believe in their own competence, can be viewed as complementary to the Dunning–Kruger effect, in which incompetent people find it impossible to believe in their own incompetence."

Yep, sounds like me, except that I had problems actually identifying any "proofs of success". But then I tried to penetrate that haze of distortion and...well...the truth is, until recently, I have had a lot of successes. Top marks in University. A master's degree. Two (and soon to be three) pretty well received papers. Success at most of the jobs I've held. It was also pointed out to me by my amazing fiancee that I do have several talents and other successes (brains out of the gutter, I think she meant things like my speech at toastmasters and writing this blog). Yeah, well....most of the time, I barely see these things as accomplishments. And this blog...hell, who isn't writing a blog these days....a monkey could write a better blog than I. Fucking monkey would probably make less mistakes with "your" and "you're" than I do.

Still (according to wikipedia), it's an extremely common phenomena, especially in academics and in graduate students. I don't doubt that....I've detected similar feelings in ither grad students when I was in school. In fact, it's a fairly common condition in general: http://www.inc.com/magazine/20060901/handson-leadership.html

"Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds; other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like fakes at one time or another. "Some people, the more successful they become, the more they feel like frauds," says Valerie Young, who leads workshops and professional development programs on the subject. "They feel as though they're fooling people. There's a dissonance between self-image and external reality.""

So what's got me thinking about imposter syndrome and beating myself up for being a fraud. Well, in truth, I have a job interview. I wasn't going to say anything, because a lot of my friends and relatives read this blog and I didn't want anybody hassling me to see how I did. The job that I wrote about in my last blog....well, I applied for it, and I got an interview. I've been doing a bunch of research on the company, spoke to people who know about the company, and have been getting helpful information about interviewing from my family. However, although I have what the company needs on paper (resume, school, etc), I feel, even without detailed information about the job, completely unable to do the work. I'm an imposter. I'm a shitty writer. I have no critical thinking skills. I'm only good at taking simple instructions. Negotiating policy? WHAT THE FUCK MAKES ME THINK I COULD DO THAT. I can trick them with my resume. Maybe I can trick them at the job interview. I can maybe string 'em along for 3 or 4 month. Ultimately, they will see me for who I really am, and I'll be unemployed again, except this time not comfortable sucking on the government tit.

Is that true? I don't know any more. In a lot of ways, I've felt like in the last job I had, I was finally revealed for the imposter I am. I don't know if I could handle going through that again.

You know what though? Fuck it. I'm going to give it a try. I'm going to do my damnedest to convince those people that I can do the job. I'm going to do my damndest to do the job if they hire me. What else can I do?

So what about you, kiddies? Ever feel like imposters? Ever feel like people might find out that you aren't the great worker, student, or person you make yourself out to be? Leave your comments here...and take solace that you aren't alone. Also, take solace that you haven't just exposed yourself to all your friends and family on your crappy blog like I have!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scientists: Can I make as much as the Janitor?

Every time I do a job search, I become more and more convinced that science work really was a bad career choice. Okay, I've gone on about this before, I know, but seriously folks, this is getting ridiculous.

My brother sent me a link not too long ago to a job that is asking for someone with some science knowledge, but which is not a job in science. It's more of a policy position, where the "scientist" on staff will be consulting on matters that require science know how. It's actually a great position, requires only a bachelor's degree, and seems to be an entry level job in that summer students are encouraged to apply. It also pays seven thousand more per year than my last job, which required a masters degree and a lot more experience. Keep in mind that I had to haggle in order to get a higher salary, and they wanted to pay me about 4000 less than least amount that I would settle for.

Let me put it in perspective. I used to work near a University, but not for the University itself. My wage was comparable (and maybe even higher in some cases) to what a lab technician would make at the University. The last time I checked (in preparation for this blog), a painter working for the university makes $500 to $1500 more a month than I was making. The groundsworkers were making almost exactly the same, and required only a Grade 12 education and about 3 years of experience. Electricians, plumbers, and other tradespeople made close to double what I did.

I'm not knocking tradespeople or saying they should get paid less. Tradespeople deserve every penny that they get. They are worth the money they are paid. I'm simply saying that doing a biology degree is a terrible choice, if you want to get paid a decent wage and want to have a normal, good life. Even high paying science jobs (professors, industry scientists) are not worth it when you consider the huge time investments involved. Maybe if you have the passion, it may be worth it, but even the most passionate of people will get tired of eating Ramen noodles and living in dank apartments eventually. I wouldn't be suprised that most people, even with passion, end up doing what I'm doing....going into a career that maybe uses a bit of their science knowledge, but in a completely different field. Whether it's teaching, policy, or administration....eventually, you gotta get out of the lab if you want any type of stability.

That's why I'm hoping that I get the job I applied for. In truth, the decent pay I would get is just a perk. What I really want to do is develop experience and skills that are valuable (in an economic and social sense) to society. Because the skills I have obviously aren't. No matter how much politicians or industry tell us that society needs more scientists, don't listen to them. They are full of shit...if they cared, they would be paying us better, and funding us better. What they are doing is performing a calling song to patsies. Get out. Get out while you still can. Maybe if the number of biologists radically declines, they will realize how important research is. Ha! Don't hold your breath.

I know I'm done with it. Hey, painting sounds fun.

Friday, April 8, 2011

You're impotent. Mostly. Well, part of you is.

In the last entry, I wrote about how you, the "voice" reading this, is a complete asshole, and was getting in your way.

Today, I also want to talk about how impotent it is too.

Let me give you a list of all the things I did today.

-I spent my entire morning networking and calling people who could help me get a job
-I spent an hour running on the treadmill, and an hour doing ab excercises.
-I wrote 5 cover letters and sent them, along with my resume, to businesses I am interested in working for.
-I only spent 5 minutes of facebook and useless surfing.
-I cleaned the entire house, did the dishes, and cooked a nice, healthy supper.

Actually, let me be clear. These are the things I would have done if the little voice in my head had absolutely any control over how I spent my day. Shoulda, woulda, coulda......

And here is the point...the little voice in my head is absolutely useless in making me do anything. No matter how much I want to do, the fact is, I don't usually do things until I either have to, or until I actually want to.

So not only does it LIE to me "Dan, nobody really likes you, they just think you are a clown", it's also shitty at getting me to do unpleasant things. "Dan, you need write your cover letter...now...why are you so lazy".

Instead, my brain does what it wants (surf the internet!)...and then the asshole voice just justifies my laziness "Oh yeah...I deserve a break.". Great job, Dan's voice.

"But Dan, it's just because you have no willpower. I did all of that and more today."

Welll...number one, I hate you and hope you get rickets. Number two, BULLSHIT. The big news concerning willpower is that, in human beings and animals alike, willpower is a limited resource. I give you this NY Times article that gives a brief review


"The brain’s store of willpower is depleted when people control their thoughts, feelings or impulses, or when they modify their behavior in pursuit of goals. Psychologist Roy Baumeister and others have found that people who successfully accomplish one task requiring self-control are less persistent on a second, seemingly unrelated task.

In one pioneering study, some people were asked to eat radishes while others received freshly baked chocolate chip cookies before trying to solve an impossible puzzle. The radish-eaters abandoned the puzzle in eight minutes on average, working less than half as long as people who got cookies or those who were excused from eating radishes. Similarly, people who were asked to circle every “e” on a page of text then showed less persistence in watching a video of an unchanging table and wall.

Other activities that deplete willpower include resisting food or drink, suppressing emotional responses, restraining aggressive or sexual impulses, taking exams and trying to impress someone. Task persistence is also reduced when people are stressed or tired from exertion or lack of sleep."

Happens in dogs too: http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/dogs-offer-clues-to-self-control-10928/

"But according to newly published research, the same mechanism that regulates human self-control also operates in canines.

The study, in the journal Psychological Science, confirms the notion that self-control is a limited resource, one that can and does get depleted. It also suggests this is not “a uniquely human process.”

A University of Kentucky research team led by psychologist Holly Miller conducted two experiments with groups of canines, observing how much persistence they exhibited when given a task. The first experiment featured 13 dogs (two Belgian Tervurens, four Australian shepherds, a Hungarian Vizsla and four mutts) who had been trained to sit and stay at their owners’ command."

So basically, if you got a lot done, it's because you WANTED to. Now go choke on a wad of your crumpled up To Do list, keener.

Alright, so what does this mean for the rest of us low willpower ants? Well, ladies and gents, it basically means that we can't conciously control what we do...not by beating ourselves up or trying to motivate ourselves with fake buzz words and platitudes. So basically, we're fucked, right?

Not so fast. In my (VERY) limited experience, there are a couple of ways that we can get ourselves to do those things....they work for me, anyhow. Before I give you my paltry advice, I'm going to go ahead and admit that I am awful at getting myself to do things I don't want to do. For example, I don't have a job, and there are a lot of things that I need to do. Look for work. Apply for work. Talk to people. If I'm lucky, I can force myself to do each of those things once a day (who am I kidding...once a month, lol).

Furthermore, just like our brains can do awesome things when our little voice gets out of the way, it can also do awful things (voice or no voice). Mine, in particular, is really bad at dealing with job related activities. I expect it's got a lot to do with my horrible experience at my last job. Even though I think I'm over that noise, and my voice tells me it's in the past, my brain doesn't necessarily accept it. Think about it....animals don't have that little voice. Yet, somehow, they learn to stay away from food that makes them sick, or learn that touching that electric fence is a bad idea.

A mouse tortured by a researcher in an electrified maze doesn't think to himself, "Oh dear me...that fence has a current running through it. I sure would like a spot of cheese, but that dastardly fence is wicked. I shall stay away from the cheese...you shall burn me twice, wicked fence, but not thrice!" I suspect human beings are somewhat the same...it doesn't matter what I (the voice) wants, my brain is smarter than me and it keeps me away from things that hurt. For me, jobs hurt.

So am I doomed to be penniless and living on the street as a hobo? Yes. Wait, no. Like I said, there are some ways to get things done. I'm no psychologist, so take my post with a grain of salt, but I think there are three ways to get things done.

1)Force yourself until it becomes a habit. Habits are powerful things...I know this. I go to the gym almost everyday now, and when I don't, I feel like something is missing. You've got a limited number of willpower points, its true, but if you use your daily allotment to force yourself to do ONE thing a day, you might be able to make it a habit. Make it a habit, and it no longer takes willpower.

2)Make yourself WANT to do it. This is much harder, and I have trouble with it, but I have had limited success. This is what I did with Toastmasters. I didn't really WANT to go, but I made myself do it just once, and promised myself I would do what it took to enjoy it. I introduced myself and was very friendly....I felt so welcome, I WANTED to go to the next meeting. I gave a good talk once, and I was hooked. Hooked on something I used to be afraid of. I also have some success with this when it comes to doing dishes. I HATE doing dishes, but I just picture how awesome it feels to have a clean kitchen....and it makes me WANT to do dishes. Not because I like doing dishes, but because I like a clean kitchen.

3)Give yourself no other options. This is what I usually rely on. It's what we do when we procrastinate. By the end, we have no other choice but to finish something. This only works when the alternative is worse than the task itself. Sorry, but it's not going to work if you tell yourself to finish by this date...or else. Or else what? The "or else" matters. I'm going to do my taxes by this day or I'm going to go to jail. Now that's motivation. I'm going to write this paper or I'm failing this class. If you care, that will do it. I'm going to go to the gym today or...uh...I will be forced to sit here comfortably and watch tv. Not so much...

So the voice in your head (basically, YOU) is an asshole AND is impotent? Yep, tough to swallow huh? Just remember, underneath that criticizing little tyrant who is always trying to make you do stuff, is a big ball of awesome. The real you...the part of you that feels and thinks and IS, is great....you just gotta cut out the yappy middleman and motivate it in other ways besides beatiing yourself up.

And when you learn how, let me know. My voice is the biggest asshole I know

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Voice in your head is an asshole.

If I had a dime for every time someone told me I thought too much, I would be rich enough that I wouldn't need a new job.

The idea that one could think "too much" always sort of stumped me. How does one think too much? Thinking is something I've always just done....that voice inside of me has always seemed to keep yammering on, always passing judgement, always egging me on. The voice in my head...I always identified it as ME. If I'm not thinking, if I'm not forming words and images in my brain, then I wouldn't be ME, would I.

After all, think about it. Who are YOU at the moment? As you are reading these words, who is doing the reading? Is it a little voice in your head? Or are these words I write going straight into the processor in your brain and bypassing the conscious part of your brain? Ha...maybe it's a bit of both...maybe you were just reading before you got to this paragraph, and then I made you conscious of the YOU in your head, and now your more concious of reading.

So what the hell am I getting at...why all the confusing ME and YOU talk? Get to the point Dan.

Well, the point is that I've been coming to realize just how right everybody is. I've started learning a lot about thought and the processes involved in reason and emotion, and I have been studying up on psychology and even neurobiology in my free time. Okay, mostly Discovery The Brain, Scientific American the Brain, and Psychology Today (as well as a variety of on line articles). Not exactly high brow stuff, but I eat the shit up nonetheless. And it's been absolutely fascinating.

One idea in particular struck me, and it struck me hard: The idea that I am NOT the voice in my head, and that the Voice in my head is not necessarily my friend. Alright, maybe the rest of you made this amazing breakthrough when you were seven...who knows...but it pretty much blew me away. In fact, that may very well have been the point some of you have been making when you tell me I think too much. One of my biggest problems in my life is that I've always let the voice (ME) do the talking, and I've actually believed what ME has been telling me for most of my life.

Again, Dan...get to the fucking point. Your entry is nonsense.

Okay, to help you understand what I'm getting at, we are going to do a little experiment. Trust me, it will be fun.

The first thing you are going to do is put your hand in the air in front of you. No, seriously..do it. Put it up in front of you. Got it in front of you? Good. Now close your hand into a fist. Now open it back up. Easy, right?

Cool. Now here is what I want you to do. Put your hand into the air again, and close it into a fist again. Now what I want you to do is get the voice in your head...that voice that you are probably convinced is you, to tell yourself that you CANNOT OPEN THE FIST. Go ahead...keep saying it in your head. "I can not open my fist. My fist is closed, and I am unable to open it."

Really try to believe it. Try to believe as hard as you can that you can not open your fist. The voice is telling you. "I can not open my fist".

Now open your goddamned fist while the bastard in your head is telling you can't.

What the hell? It opened! Well, of course it did. Because the ME in your head doesn't really control you. Think about all the times that voice told you that you couldn't do something. The times it told you that you aren't smart enough to pass that class. The times it told you that you shouldn't bother going to the gym because you'll never lose weight. The times it told you that you are never going to find someone special in your life, that you will always be too shy, that you will never be able to be the person you want to be.

Well, that voice is full of shit. Not only will it lie to you, it will get in the way every time you have to do something important.

Why does an basketball player choke on the most important shot of the night? Why does a person who knows a subject in and out forget everything when they are put in the spotlight? It's because, even though the brain knows what it has to do, the little voice gets in the way and screws with your brain signals. In truth, sometimes "conciousness" is a burden. When you drive your car, or vacuum your carpet, your body knows what it's doing. While your doing it, the ME in your brain is distracted by other thoughts (what should I make for supper today), so your brain just takes care of your actions. But when things are on the line, that ME gets a little narcisstic, and starts chirping away at you.

"Okay Shaq. No, grab the ball that way....okay, put your arms here and then use that angle to...wait...a little to the left....right...perfect..okay..left arm on the side..right arm behind the ball...just enough force...don't over do it Shaq...here we go. FUCK I MISSED AGAIN. Damn it, I got twenty shots in a row at practice without thinking. Now I'm going to go home to my multimillion dollar home and 3 model girlfriends as a loser. Damn"

Just like Shaq, I think too much. Hmmm.....heh....well, maybe not just like Shaq.

However, I've come to understand that I am more than just that voice, and that in a lot of ways, I am a lot more awesome when I can get it to shut up. It's the reason why I can write a blog entry in about fifteen minutes, and it takes me an hour to write a sentence in a job cover letter. It's the reason that when I get in front of a group and give a talk for fun, the words just flow out of me and I don't have to think about what I'm saying, but when someone asks me an easy question in an important job interview, I choke. It's the reason I can read a book extremely fast and absorb it well, but when I tell myself to concentrate and ME pays attention, nothing sticks.

What about you? What does the voice in your head tell you? Does it ever get in your way?

The point is, the voice in your head lies, distracts, and can otherwise lead you astray. Oh, it has some good points too...it can sometimes tell you how awesome you are, it allows you to plan ahead, and it keeps you safe. It has many evolutionary benefits, which is why we developed it in the first place. But it sure has it's drawback. When was the last time your dog scolded himself for eating too much, or thought his trick was stupid when he performed it in front of a crowd? When was the last time your cat choked when it...uh...had to do something douchebaggy that cats do?

In my next entry, I want to talk about this concept a little further. Specifically, I want to address the reverse situation, where the voice is telling you to do something, but your brain doesn't want to do it. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Accept your Freedom. Or don't.

"Your lucky you live in Canada. Back in Chile, most people don't even get one chance to have a career, let alone get the chance to go back to school or change their career halfway through their life".

About 4 months ago, my father came to visit me in the city and said those (approximate) words to me while we were eating out at a restaurant. I was discussing some of the same things I shared with you in my previous posts, and during the conversation, my dad was quite concerned that I was no longer interested in pursuing a career in the field I had chosen. To be honest with you, when he smacked me with the reality of the situation of people in Chile, and in most parts of the world, I saw red.

The truth is, my dad and I have never had a great relationship. I love the guy, faults and all, but (at least on my side) I've always felt tension when I'm around him and I'm hypersensitive to any sort of perceived criticism coming from him. There is a lot of baggage where my dad is concerned, and I tend to over-react no matter how innocuous or salient a point he has just made. I'll give you a couple of example to illustrate this...the asterisk denote what I'm thinking.

Dad: Can you pass the hot sauce?

Dad: That's a nice shirt. You wear a lot of shirts with writing on them.

Dad: How's your mom doing?

You get the point. So when he said what he said it made me really angry. I pretty much felt like he was calling me a spoiled brat who was being coddled by society. Okay, I know it's stupid...I know intellectually that he was doing no such thing, and that the remark was not intended as criticism. Maybe. However, I've been thinking a lot lately about that very topic, and about the freedom we have to make life affirming (or destroying?) decisions that in other countries are almost inconceivable. The fact is, in other countries, if you don't work, you don't eat. For an overwhelming majority of the people in the third world, finishing ANY schooling is a major opportunity. Right now, I'm giving money so that a poor kid in Thailand has a chance to go to freakin' ELEMENTARY school so he can learn to read. University in his future? Maybe, but doubtful. Will he ever be sitting at home, unemployed, blogging about what he may or may not do as a future career? Pretty fucking unlikely.

For the longest time after my dad made that comment to me, I felt pretty guilty about what I'm doing. We do have a lot of freedom here that I wouldn't have in another country. Not only that, but there are people living HERE who don't even have that sort of freedom. Mom and dads who have to work to feed their family. Sons and daughters who have to take care of their elderly parents. There are also a lot of people with crushing debts or mortgage payments who can't even consider being without a job. People who would lose their houses or possessions if they didn't use their entire paycheck every month. I had so much damn guilt, that I almost considered just sucking up my feelings of unhappiness and apathy, and give up on trying to change my life.

And that's when I realized something.

The only freedom you have is the freedom you accept. We ALL have an unprecedented amount of freedom in this country when we are born. Some of us picked the wrong parents, so we start with major handicaps, but we can still make choices in how we live our lives. You, me, all of us have the freedom to pursue our dreams, to live the lives we want. Nothing is guaranteed and nothing is easy, but nobody said it would be. Every day you get to choose between freedom and commitment, living a flexible life or living a life of stability. For all our freedom, we do the same things human have always done....settle on a piece of land, have children, work, eat, die. In that respect, even though we have more freedom that people in the third world, we choose to do the same things they do anyways.

Well, I haven't. I don't have a house or car payments or kids. I've never really wanted or cared for these things. I don't give a shit about having nice stuff. Being stuck in a job I hated so that I could afford a house I didn't want, and fill it with shit I don't need, frankly terrifies the hell out of me. I may be behind "materially", but that's the price I payed for freedom. So while I sympathize with the people who feel "stuck", I won't take responsibility for it. I'm not going to feel guilty for it.

As to feeling guilty for people in other countries who don't get the opportunities I do..well, what's the point. The fact is, I feel that every human being on Earth should be able to live in an eudaimonic paradise (Star Trek anyone?). But until that happens, I'm going to accept the freedoms I'm offered. You should to. If your life is horrible, if you gave up the dreams that kept your soul alive, for fucks sakes, do something about it! You only get one life, live it the best way you can. If that means sacrificing some of your stuff or security, is that so bad?

Oh yeah, one more thing. If you think that this Dan doth protest too much, screw off. What are you, my dad?