Ask Steve is a new advice column from Steven Spohn. Drawing from personal experience and years of giving advice, Steve hopes to blend humor, positivity, and heartfelt opinions to guide you through the tough times in life.
Ask Steve a question by clicking here. Check back every week to see if your question was picked!
So, I’m marginally successful with a ton of friends. I’m generally supported and my life is filled with moments where I’m able to bring joy to friends. That said, I’m in a space where I’m feeling… well, done. I’m literally pondering suicide.
To be clear, I haven’t made any plans and I’m not giving anyone my loot. But I’m tired and I’m sad and I can’t shake it. I’m taking antidepressants, I’m talking to a therapist, but I can’t share the hopelessness and fatigue I’m feeling because I know what it will bring. I’m broken and I can’t fix it. I can’t tell anyone, because I’m surrounded by people who depend on me to be strong and supportive.
I’m pulling back from the people I love and the opportunities that define both my career and my role in the lives of others. I just want to sleep. I just want to swallow a bunch of pills and sleep forever. What do I do?
First and foremost, let me reassure you, you’re not alone. I can’t tell you the exact number of people who have told me they have considered suicide over the years, but I can tell you it’s quite a few. I try never to make broad statements such as “all of us have considered suicide, ” but I believe many of us have. The truth is that we all have dark times in our lives where everything feels hopeless like everything is going wrong. Life is fucking hard.
Thanks to being disabled, my teenage years involved your typical bullying and shenanigans with the added bonus of wondering if I would ever find real friends, a job, and someone who would love me romantically. My days were filled with surgical procedures, medical devices, and nurses hovering over me. Privacy and personal space didn’t exist in my world.
This all came to a head one day when I was just 12 years old. I was laying in my hospital bed, staring at the clock on the wall of Children’s ICU, wishing I could reach over and pull the plug on the freshly installed ventilator they had given me just weeks before.
I was in a super dark place with no hope in sight. Things seemed like they would never improve, and any aspirations I had for my future simply vanished like smoke on a foggy day.
Years later, I experienced the very first time my lips pressed against the lips of someone who loved me very much. The kiss was warm and inviting. The entire world fell away in an instant, revealing a brighter future I had forgotten was even a possibility. In that one moment, every single instance of pain I had ever felt suddenly became worthwhile.
I remember the very last time I kissed her before we broke up–caused by things I did, which is still one of the most painful memories I can’t forget.
On yet another day that feeling returned with a different special person in my life. Although it didn’t erase the pain from my past, the new memory gave me an insight into the human experience: I can look back on those memories as a reminder to myself that life is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, peaks and valleys.
I would suspect what you’re going through right now is an emotional valley in your life. Maybe things aren’t engaging you as they once did. Maybe you aren’t quite feeling like your old self. But that doesn’t mean those good feelings won’t return once again.
Now, “it gets better” is a polarizing campaign. Many people love it and use those stories of challenge and triumph as inspiration to keep moving forward. Others find the slogan annoying, condescending, and patronizing because the definition of life getting better is a constantly moving target.
We bombard people who are considering ending their own lives with really strong positive messages that the perfect life is achievable if we just try. But perfection isn’t an achievable status in life. There’ll always be problems. And we will always have to deal with the challenges and obstacles life presents.
So maybe instead of “it gets better” we should shout “the pain is worth the reward.” There’s no way that I can truthfully post to you that life will get better because I have no way of guaranteeing that. What I can tell you is that the pain you’re going through, the feeling of being “done” will change just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow.
Perhaps, the feeling that you’re struggling to conquer is not sadness but an echo of your desire to do more with life. Sometimes, when we feel like we have done it all and seen it all, the best thing to do is switch up your life. They say we change aspirations and focused goals every seven years. Maybe this is your brain’s way of telling you that you’re done doing what you’re doing with your life, and you need a change.
I would ask that you consider taking stock of what you want out of life. Ask yourself what your desires are this very moment in this very day; not the desires of five years ago. Free yourself from the chains of the past. What is it that you would like to be doing with your life and how can you begin chasing the dreams you have today?
You also say that you don’t feel like you can share your burden with your friends. But perhaps that’s not giving your friends enough credit. The people you have in your life are there for a reason. They’ve stuck around and then by your side, so why would we immediately discount their ability to help you through a time in your life when you need them the most?
I encourage you to share your thoughts with your friends. Pick out your closest friend and tell them first. Gauge their reaction. If your friends are understanding of your situation as most friends are, you’ll find the encouragement you’re looking for and maybe the ability to tell others as well.
If you’re someone who gets a lot of your self-worth by being there for others, shutting people out and isolating yourself will only increase the level of your pain. It’s really hard to share our most vulnerable sides with anyone; sometimes especially with those, we love the most.
Recently, a friend of mine went through a very troubled time in their life. They began shutting out their friends, and when I confronted them about it, their answer was, “I was afraid of how my friends would judge me because I couldn’t stand the thought of the people I love the most judging that what I was doing was the wrong thing to do.”
When they finally reached out to their friends they were pleasantly surprised to discover that their friends not only didn’t judge them but were able to help and offer advice as only a close friend can.
Please remember that your friends and loved ones need you. It may not seem like it every day, and they may not show gratitude all the time, but we need each other in this difficult era. On the days that you don’t want to continue living for yourself, keep on living for those who would be utterly changed for the worst without your presence in their lives. Eventually, you’ll stop being “done” and start living for the next passion that lights your life.
[Editor’s note] While Tired has indicated that they are already in counseling and seeing a therapist. If you’re reading this and this piece resonates with you, please make sure you reach out to a professional. Advice columns are a great resource for finding the first step towards feeling better, but they can never replace the value of therapy sessions.
I often wonder what my mom went through. The sheer terror that must have infected her soul as the doctors told her I wouldn’t live past age two. How it would feel to be told your son won’t survive to see his fifth Birthday. The dread she somehow endured when her only child left the hospital at the age of nine, only to be told that he would be back to die “comfortably” within a matter of months.
On September 15, 2017, despite the doctors warning me annually that my impending doom was just around the corner, I will turn 37 years old.
It’s the ironic part of living with a long-term terminal illness. The elephant in the room, as it were, is that you’re going to die soon, you just don’t know when it will happen. I don’t talk about the fact that I’m terminally ill with my mom or my friends. I’ll have the conversation once with a girlfriend that gets serious but then we also never speak of it again. For those people who are closest to me, the subject of my guaranteed expiration date is nearly taboo.
After all, we’re all going to die one day.
“Why do you think that makes you so damn special?” “Kara” asked, angry, fighting back the tears. “I’m going to die one day. You’re going to die one day. We are all going to die one day. You aren’t special. We all die.”
My girlfriend sobbed into my chest for a good hour. She was mad at the disease, not me. I had just explained that I am considered terminally ill, even if we don’t speak about it. She cried and yelled because the pain inside her soul was too much. Her desire was simply to face the same mortal reality that we all face, knowing that we COULD die any day, BUT the odds are that we will survive the day and live until we are old and gray. What she didn’t want to face was Death already knows my name. She didn’t want to hear that the Grim Reaper will come for me sooner rather than later.
Most of us don’t think about death every day. For a majority of people, it’s a final destination. It’s somewhere that we know we will eventually end up but the journey to get there is really, really long and too many things happen along the way for us to think about our ultimate ending all the time.
Sure, every once in a while when we get a Facebook notification that someone we used to know from high school passed away, we’ll think about death. As you get older, people that you know and love start encountering death more often. You start thinking about what that means and if you have all the preparations made, and maybe you contemplate what you’d like to do with your remaining days. But even then, life gets in the way, and suddenly you’re back to thinking about the deadline that’s looming and the kids that need lunch.
And perhaps that’s what sets people with terminal illnesses apart from the rest. We think about death. Maybe not every day in some dramatic flair–most of us with terminal illnesses are not planning out our funerals or picking out a casket–but it’s there.
Every time I get a cold I think about the way that someone with my disease dies. For most people with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) who are lucky enough to live as long as I have, the end comes in the form of pneumonia or infection. After years of fighting, the body becomes tired. Every time I get a cold I know that I’m rolling the dice. The cold could easily turn into the flu or bronchitis, and that can quickly turn into pneumonia or sepsis. Thanks to diminished lung capacity and a compromised immune system, from the moment I catch a cold, I could be dead within a matter of days.
Sounds morbid. Doesn’t it?
See, I can bear the pain of living this life because I know that when you cut through it all, my struggles are not all that more troublesome than the pain many others feel. My life is no better or worse than the person who loses their parents in an accident before they turn 10 or losing a child at any age or going through a divorce or a number of other fucked up things life has to offer.
I’ve done my fair share of crying, yelling at the gods–old and new, reasoning with death, and ignoring my mortality. Sadly, all the bargaining in the world won’t change reality for me, which is something that I accepted long ago.
I will die sooner than most and most likely from complications of a terrible disease that I didn’t ask for or do anything to deserve. I will die from a disease that I hate. But knowing that I’m going to die far earlier than I would have had I been born without this accursed disease doesn’t cause me the most pain; it’s watching the fear in the eyes of those who love me.
The most vicious part of this illness hasn’t been the genetic mutation itself but how some people choose to react to it. Losing family because they don’t want to remember me getting sicker, losing friends because they can’t imagine watching me die, losing potential love interests because they don’t want to fall in love with someone who will most likely die before they do.
The thing that has always hurt the most is when people choose to walk away because they can’t bear to witness the reality that I face.
For the average American, I’m now at the halfway point. For the average disabled American with SMA, I am far beyond the halfway point. But what the people who walk away don’t understand is that there’s so much more that I want to do in this life. So many things that I’m still trying to accomplish. And although I know I’m running out of time, I’m not done yet.
My then girlfriend wasn’t wrong, you know? We will all die. It’s the only non-negotiable thing in life.
Apologies if you bought that cryogenic pod. Spoiler alert: It won’t save you. Good luck getting a refund.
Like everyone else, birthdays remind me of my mortality even more than usual. I start thinking about those things that are still on my lists. Things I still want to accomplish.
It’s not death but time that is our greatest enemy. Time steals our very existence. Washing us away like sands on the beach. I don’t fear death because I already know that death is coming for me. There’s nothing I can do about it. What I fear is wasting the time that I still have.
Before the last of the sand falls through my hourglass, I want to know that I made the biggest difference I possibly could. I need to know that I didn’t squander any opportunities to make life better for someone else.
Which brings me to what I want from you.
As I mentioned, in a few days I will be turning 37. While neither of us knows if we’ll be around for my 38th birthday, I prefer to operate under the theory that I will not be around. Live for today and all of that T-shirt slogan business stuff.
So, I’m asking you to do two things for me for my birthday:
- Make a list of the top 10 things you still want to do in this life.
And I don’t mean goals such as “Get a kiss from Jessica Alba” or “Have sex with The Rock” — While both of those goals are admirable (and if you manage to do either, please tell me), I’m looking for specific things you can accomplish in the foreseeable future.
Ex. “Lose 5lbs” “Call Jen at least once a month” “Write 5000 words on my next novel.”
- Promise me you will do your best to begin tackling that list and then ASK TWO friends to write their list and promise you the same thing.
Share this post on Facebook. Twitter, Tumblr, or MySpace. Tag people on this post. Email them a link. Text a gif of a kitten with this post to a friend, or your enemy. I don’t care. How ever you choose to involve other people in your life, just ask them to do this one little favor for you and me.
You don’t have to make your list public. You don’t have to share your list with your spouse, your doctor, your psychologist, Aunt Gertrude, your dog or anyone else. What you want to do with your life and your list is your business. If you want to show it to me, I would be honored. But simply telling me in a comment or private message that you made your list is the best thing I could ever ask for after my 37th time around the sun.
Whether we know each other well or you just stumbled across this post, I want you to know that I care about you and that’s why making this list will make me happy. I believe that we should all care about each other and want the best for one another; it’s what makes us human. What makes facing death bearable, whether you have a terminal illness or not, is using the time you have to live and help others. Your gift to me is taking another step towards happiness for yourself.
Make your list. Grab happiness. Achieve everything you possibly can as soon as you can. Trust me when I say, time is running out.
Emotional, yet great read.
I’ve only recently “discovered” you on Twitter, and I’m continually amazed at your positivity, which is infectious. I admire your outlook on life and I hope you keep proving them wrong.
I am a very recent friend. I have tough days that are brightened by reading your posts. Recently began working on some of my list. I have never been able to drive because of a genetic condition. Today I assembled my new ebike. It may not be a car, but it’s as close as I can get. I will think of you as I ride. It took me years to get around to doing this. I am working on changing careers. Another thing on my list. Hang in there. I respect your courage and will honor your wish by fulfilling more of my own.
Happy birthday xx.
You are a very special man. I am so touched by your story thank you so much for sharing. I will start my list tonight and share with you when I have completed your birthday wish. The best of Birthdays to you I wish you more time
to bring your wisdom to more of us.
On a family trip abroad a few years ago my mother became seriously ill and probably should’ve died. One day she was fine and the next we had no idea whether she’d be alive when we went back to the hospital to visit. It was a reminder that life is fragile and we are promised nothing. It’s a good philosophy to live by. Thanks for sharing this!
Can someone “Have sex with The Rock” my number 11? Not me… #AskingForAFriend
I’ll make my list, it’s a wonderful idea. Thank you 🙂
Hey thanks for sharing. I’m really glad that you’re still kicking! I can’t imagine the bullshit that you’ve been through and the constant worry that you’ve got to live with. Even with relatively minor health scares that I’ve had, I know how bad it can throw you for a loop. I hope you continue to defy the odds man. Peace.
Thank you for this most beautiful, inspirational piece. A very Happy Birthday and many more! You remind me so much of my beloved sister, Ellen, who, as you are, was simply extraordinary. I will make my list and follow your prescription!
I made my list
Inspiring YES! Consider it done Steven! Wishing YOU Happiness as You have given me Words to live by now. I have a chronic illness which I have lived for almost 44 years now defying the odds. I have often spoken of a list but only partially completed it. For YOU I will complete my list and pass these words of strength and wisdom along! On another note, my Dear Husband had passed suddenly the last year, he was my Best Friend and helped me to live a happy life after a 23 year marriage failed because of my 1st husbands I believe could not handle my complications from my illness causing partial blindness which ended my career prematurely. When he passed I wondered how I could go on without him. But he like you was a very upbeat realistic thinker who I know how what he would be saying to me every day, You can do this Linda I know you can. So for You and for him, I will make you both proud of me. Thank You and Happy Birthday Steven!
You’re an incredible person, Steve. I’m always inspired by your words, wisdom, and your ability to stay positive. Your posts have often made me smile or chuckle during times that I didn’t know I needed it. Thank you for being you and opening your life up to us.
My mother-in-law (born—1930) was diagnosed with a then inoperable heart defect. Her parents were told she would not reach her 5th birthday. She was the 5th of 5 children and the whole family helped her in living the best she could, fighting that spectre of death daily. After reaching her 10th birthday, she continued to enjoy her life with lots of rest periods at home and regular activities at church and school. (Surgery was developed around 1960 to correct this still-present defect, but her body had compensated and shifted basic functions for so long that surgeons wouldn’t consider it.) When she reached adulthood, she was advised never to have children—she had 6. Kathleen lived her life like every day could be her last. She never let anything go till tomorrow what she could finish immediately, and NEVER let the day end with anger or hurt feelings. She died at age 55, cheating death for 50 years, living to see 4 grandchildren, and never was there a life better lived. For those who live with the looming shadow of death, thank you for sharing your story, your anger, fear, tears, and wishes, for you know what most of us deny—Tomorrow is promised to no one.
LISTS. Yes. Took my grown sons to Japan last year because I didn’t want “Aw damn— I’ve never been to Japan” to be my dying thought.
I’ve made a list. Thank you for being so inspiring.
And an early Happy Birthday!
I’m on it. Thanks.
Thanks Steve, I started making my list a long time ago. The funny thing is when you are being told you might die, you are so busy trying to live, you don’t think about dying, but then when you get a grace period to live, you start thinking about dying again. The story of my life. I think it is so with all of us, it becomes a coping reflex. By the way I’ve tried to do all my dying in Japan for the past forty years. It was the very first thing on my bucket list, “to go to Japan and live there”. I achieved it and so much more. See you somewhere next year.
I understand everything you said, because I’m there. My heart failed about five years ago. Spent several months in the hospital. Doctors tell me to take it *real* easy now. Don’t work, don’t push yourself, avoid stress. I take a cocktail of medications that made my grandparent’s meds look like aspirin. I need a heart transplant, but the odds are stacked against me. Every year that I survive is a good one. And so on.
I know what death feels like. It’s cold, and lonely. But once you’ve been there. you *know* waht death is. You stop being afraid. Fear of death vanishes. You become accustomed to it being just around the corner (maybe not this corner, or the next, but some corner, and soon). In fact, a lot of the things you were afraid of? They stop bothering you, too.
I’m told I’m stubborn and tenacious. I love life. It’s tough sometimes, but I hang on to it just the same. I’m an atheist, and I know that this is the only life I have, and some I’m going to hang on to it as long as I can.
I suppose I wrote this to let you know that there are people like me that walk a similar road, and understand. Keep fighting and keep strong.
Making my list now. A little sobering that it’s difficult to write 10 things, knowing I want them to be 10 things I’m brave/willing enough to stick to. But obviously inspired by your words. Thank you to the moon and back for taking the time to share. xx
Beautifully written! Such an inspiration. First thing on my list: wish a friend named Steve a very Happy Belated Birthday!! I’m going to finish that list and spread that message to others!! Thank you Steve!
I wrote my list – my 37th Birthday is in 2 days. I hope I can accomplish my list but if not now I know what I want to shoot for!
What a thoughtful piece. Thank you for sharing and BTW I asked two others to do the same.
You are awesome. This is a great read and you are a great guy. I think pretty often about death and you have really changed my overall perspective on how to deal with it. Seriously: thank you. Just add to your list one more thing done really well: make better other people lives. Cheers from Italy bro! Love you!
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Ask Steve is a new advice column from Steven Spohn. Drawing from personal experience and years of giving advice, Steve hopes to blend humor, positivity, and heartfelt opinions to guide you through the tough times in life.
Ask Steve a question by clicking here. Check back every week to see if your question was picked!
I’ve been close to my friend “Grace” since early elementary school over 35 years ago. We did everything together from double dating to clubs to vacations. I felt like we were inseparable. There was rarely a week when we didn’t do something.
About six months ago I noticed that it was becoming more difficult to get together. I figured our lives were just getting busier as happens when you get older. We kept in touch on Facebook but our schedules never seemed to match.
Last week, we agreed to go catch dinner and catch up. She never showed up. She hasn’t called, texted, or messaged me about missing the dinner. It’s like it never happened.
I know she’s been going through some things, but I’m so hurt that someone I care about that much would completely blow me off without so much as an apology. Should I forgive “Grace”?
Hi Lucky Ducky,
The difficulty of this situation comes down to the value you place on your friendship with Grace. Not as it was; as it is this very second. Ask yourself: Do I miss the friend who has been in my life for the last year? Or do I miss the old Grace?
We’ll get to that in a second, but either way, you may want to at least have a conversation. Yes. It will be an awkward conversation. But sometimes confrontation can lead to better understanding.
Maybe something happened between the two of you that you aren’t aware of. You mentioned that Grace has “been going through some things” – What if those things are causing her to pull away from everybody, not just you? It’s a good policy to always assume people are dealing with the battles in their lives as best they can. Sometimes that involves shutting down and pushing people away who cause us to see ourselves in a way that makes us uncomfortable. Or because we’re afraid of judgment from the people we care about the most.
A simple message might be all you need to determine if your friendship can be saved: “Hey Grace, I miss hanging out like we used to… It really hurt my feelings when you didn’t show up for dinner. Did I do something to make you upset?”
By doing this, you’re putting the ball in her court and forcing her to decide what happens next. If she answers, you’ll get an apology or an excuse.
If you get a sincere apology, it will open the door to continue the conversation that will put you back on the road to a solid friendship. I’d suggest letting her take the lead. She’s going through some things and might need some space. Or she might have needed to be reminded that you are there for her, no matter what.
If you get an excuse, it’s safe to assume that something has happened which may have put your relationship with Grace beyond repair, at least temporarily. With no apology, an empty apology, or an obvious excuse, you have a solid indication that she doesn’t value you the way that a good friend should.
To continue to hold onto someone who puts such a little value on your time is not healthy, mentally or emotionally. You could still have a conversation, but there’s a good chance you’ll be putting her in a corner and she may lash out at you. Even worse, you could be enabling the cycle to continue. I know it’s difficult but if you get an excuse, it’s time to reassess the situation.
During our lives, people will come and go. Science says that we change friends, on average, every seven years. Furthermore, we will be in different groups of friends multiple times throughout our lives. While there are several reasons your group of friends will change, the most likely reason is that you yourself are changing.
Because our life experiences make us who we are and as we continually experience more life has to offer, we’re bound to change who we are. After all, we don’t hit 21 and put our personalities on lockdown. Suffice it to say you might not feel like you’ve changed, but you’re not the same person at 24, 34, or 44.
Those cherished memories you have of you and Grace together are echoes of people who don’t exist anymore. You are not the same person that you were in those memories, neither is she. As cliché as it is, life is the thing that happens while we’re not looking. Your ambitions change. What you find humorous changes. How you mesh with other people changes.
And while those versions of yourselves may have been as compatible as peanut butter and jelly, the newer versions of who you both are may be closer to peanut butter and an aardvark.
Ask yourself: Is it fair to be pouring all of that energy into a person who isn’t putting the same amount of effort into you?
1. It’s not fair to you. Especially when you could be using that energy to find new friends, the kind of people that mesh with who you are now.
2. In some situations, it’s better to cherish the memory of a loved one as they were rather than force a friendship and breed resentment.
If you’re like me when it comes to friendships–and I think you are–you’ll do anything to make a friend happy. You want to figure out how to save the friendship and it is noble that you’re even willing to consider forgiving her for ditching you without a call. But the only thing that you can be sure of is that your friendship with Grace in its current form is not benefiting either one of you in the way that a friendship should be.
You deserve better.
Right now you’re paying a high price to remain friends with her and you’re paying in pain. You’ll have to judge for yourself at what point the cost of struggling to maintain that friendship is higher than the value she is giving you.
Friendships are worth fighting for, but you have to know at what point you have fought long and hard enough. It sounds to me like you’ve tried as hard as you can.
There are so many people in this world who can and will love you for the kind of person you are, rather than who you used to be. Walking away will hurt, even if it is only temporary. But I promise you, you’ll be so much happier pouring your life’s energy into someone who will not only appreciate the value of your friendship but reciprocate it in return.
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Ask Steve is a new advice column from Steven Spohn. Drawing from personal experience and years of giving advice, Steve hopes to blend humor, positivity, and heartfelt opinions to guide you through the tough times in your life. You can ask Steve a question here. Check back every week for a new topic.
I’m glad you’re going to start doing this. You always seem to have your life together. I wish I could be more like you. How do you go about deciding to do these things? What makes you post positive things and want to help people?
The world hasn’t been so good to me lately. I’ve thought about quitting my job, and I don’t feel like I’m going in the right direction. What should I do?
Scared in NY
Hi Scared in NY,
Having your life together is all a matter of perspective. While I might seem to have my life together, I assure you it’s mostly an elaborate contraption of smoke and mirrors, mostly held together by chicken wire and old Pizza Hut containers.
There’s never really a point where we, as human beings, are completely satisfied. That’s why bumper sticker companies make millions off of “life is greener on the other side” slogans. Take money, for example; some people think money buys happiness. I’ve got friends who make $250,000 a year, and they aren’t always happy. I have other friends who make less than $20,000, and they aren’t necessarily happy either. Some others believe it’s love, career, family, possessions, achievements, and/or academic accolades that make you “truly happy.”
So, how do you find what’s actually responsible for happiness?
Trick question; it’s different for everybody. The first step is to find True North for you. For me, it’s helping people. You can see it threaded in everything you’ll ever find about me on Google, by asking my friends, and even nine out of 10 of my worst enemies. Except for George, that guy is a jackass.
True North is often referred to by many different names, but overall it’s a matter of finding what virtue is highest on your scale, what motivates you, what lights the fires of your passions and allows you to burn the brightest you possibly can. It’s that feeling deep down inside your very soul that screams out what you want to be doing with your life. For some, it could be earning money, raising a family, serving their country, inventing things, or even just helping people. How you go about following that magical, imaginary compass is what we call the path of your life.
No two people will end up on exactly the same path. However, multiple people can have the same True North. These are the people who fancy similar dreams and have similar values as you. They are the members of your tribe. They are the ones who will support you and make you feel like your life is coming together. Once you find people who are either on similar journeys or simply supporters who believe in your direction, it’ll be easier to stay focused following your path because the people around you will be cheering you on every step of the way.
While you may feel like you want to be me, I assure you, you don’t. I have difficulties and struggles just like anyone else. That’s what makes being human so amazing. We all have our own triumphs and obstacles. Each of our struggles are justified, valid, and just as important as everyone else’s. That’s why it’s important to focus on the obstacles life has given you, not somebody else.
That popular movie star you idolize and wish that you could be? They may feel completely alone. They might not have anyone they can trust. They may question everyone’s motives because they have no idea who is actually in it to be their friend, and who wants to be riding their coattails.
The guy who has a loving family, 2.5 kids and the white picket fence you wish you could have? He could be in debt up to his eyeballs because his wife cheated on him last year and took their savings to an island off the coast of Mexico. That woman who got the promotion you wanted and just posted the celebration photos on Facebook? What if I told you a few minutes ago she was crying in the bathroom because she couldn’t stop thinking about her mother who recently passed away from cancer and that promotion was the one thing holding her together?
Would you still be envious of them? Would you still feel jealous? Would you still want to trade your life for theirs if you had to take good things AND the bad?
Each and every one of us has a collection of demons hidden just beneath the surface of our lives. Sometimes you fight the demons and win. Sometimes, you decide to put on the Hallmark Channel and cuddle together for a while. And, yes, sometimes the demons will win a battle. It happens to all of us. You’re not alone.
What I found after many years of soul-searching was that following my True North helps me sleep at night. It also helps me be content with the battle against the demons I choose. If there is one secret I wish someone had told me when I was younger is that you choose your demons in life by making choices along the way. But in the same way that you choose your demons, you can choose how to fight them. Make them battle on your terms.
If your job or relationships or hobbies aren’t giving you a feeling of satisfaction or fulfillment you deserve, then you need to start planning your next move.
Take a moment to reflect on your life and locate the memories of times when you felt the most happiness. I mean, like, rolling around naked in a pile of thousand dollar bills happy.
It’ll take some time to dig down and take inventory of your life. But when you do find those precious moments, you’ll find a common thread between them all. That thread is your True North.
Now that you’ve made a drinking game out of how many times I just said True North, and you’ve begun to figure out what that means to you. Congratulations! If you manage to figure out even an inkling of what it is you’d like to do with your life, you’re ahead of a lot of us. Even if you don’t exactly know what it is you want to do or what exactly will make you happy, at least heading in the general direction of what makes you less miserable is a good place to begin.
What do you do from here?
You start chasing that feeling. Chase it like your life depends on it because it does. While that sounds incredibly obvious and probably not worth the amount of money you paid to read this post, many people get caught up in planning, dreaming, wishing, and hoping that their dreams will come true. But they never actually make moves to start making those dreams come true.
Don’t allow yourself to fall into those traps. Life is all about momentum. By taking even the smallest of actions today, you’ll make taking a bigger action much easier tomorrow.
If you want to be more positive, you can start doing that by making it your mission to compliment one person in your life, every day. Bump that number up as the weeks go on. Be sincere. Never fake. Always grateful and humble. Make others feel good, and that’s bound to help you feel good about yourself.
Most importantly, ignore misinformation and negative advice from people who don’t have your best interests at heart. You’ll read “gurus” who will tell you things like:
Fake it until you make it!
Keep going, happiness will come!
You’ll never get anywhere if you quit now!
It’s all bullshit. 100%. Total. Bullshit.
Your feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and even unhappiness are completely valid. If you aren’t happy where you are in life, there’s no reason not to change.
A wise person once said, “change will not occur until the pain of not changing outweighs the pain of staying the same” — You’ve already identified that you need to change. You’re in pain. The only way to stop that pain is to make adjustments in your life.
If you’re unhappy, you have to do something about it. While there will be plenty of people to help you along the way, no one person is going to come along and solve all of your problems for you. You still have to do the hard work yourself. It’s intimidating and scary, but you’ll thank yourself in the end.
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You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. A leopard can’t change its spots. Once a thief, always a thief. These old clichés teach us that you are who you are. There’s no changing that. And while there are many things that are not a choice such as the natural color of your hair, how tall you are, or your sexual orientation, that’s not true for who you are.
When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a chef. The idea of coming up with flavorful food combinations thrilled me. One day, I added maple syrup to chocolate milk and concluded I was a genius. I was going to be the Michelangelo of the food world. But the victims of that bathroom-visit-inducing concoction, like my poor mother, can tell you just how much of a food genius I was not.
Everyone I’ve ever met has changed who they want to be. Some, multiple times. What and who we want to be when we grow up is as fluid as water. Changing directions over time, like a stream running in different directions.
There’s also a direct correlation between events in your past and the personality traits that you exhibit today. Taking away specific, critical events in your past would have a dramatic effect on who you are. Not only changing your goals but who you are as a person.
Psychologists suggest the idea of “self” is an illusion. While it’s true we have natural born talents and aptitude, what really makes you YOU are the memories you have collected along on the way. Therefore, if who you are is simply based on the experiences you’ve had and memories you possess, the only thing stopping you from beginning a new life is you.
If you’re not happy with who you are, you can change your personality. You can change your life. You don’t have to continue things the way that they are. It’s a choice. You just have to know where to begin.
1. Change is Painful
There’s a reason those clichés above have lasted through the centuries. We don’t like to be wrong. Studies have shown that we are likely to go out of our way to continue believing what we’ve already declared to be true, even when shown evidence to the contrary.
The same goes for your personality. You’ve grown accustomed to being the way that you are, and even if you feel miserable and you know the only way to feel happiness is to change who you are, you’re likely to avoid changing. Because to change would mean admitting something deep inside of you is wrong. And that hurts. A lot.
Your first step to changing who you are is to admit that something’s wrong. If you aren’t happy on the inside and you continue doing what you’re doing, well, it’d be like running into a closed-door over and over again, wondering why you can’t get into your house.
2. Start Small but Start Immediately
Once you’ve made the decision that change is really necessary, start right away. As humans, we have this awful habit of waiting to make changes until artificially invented milestones.
January 1 I’m going to start that diet! I’m going to start going to the gym on Monday! I’m going to start that novel on the weekend when I have time. I’ll get to practice right after I take Jill antiquing; she’s been wanting this adorable boudoir that will look perfect in her third bedroom…
Want to hear a secret?
January 1 doesn’t mean anything. Monday is meaningless. You don’t need to wait for the weekend. And quite frankly, screw Jill. What has she done for you lately? And let’s be honest, that boudoir is horrible, and it would look better in your guest room anyway.
Small changes now can lead to significant changes over time if you start applying them right away. Just like a snowball rolling down a hill, momentum is everything.
If you’re tired of being negative, try not complaining for a day, for a week, or at all. If you’re trying not to be so snarky, limit the amount of comments you make out loud and then start quieting them in your mind. If you want to be more productive, try starting a project today, not next week or whenever Jill has time. You are the arbiter of your success.
Regardless of what part of your personality or your life you want to change, start out small and go from there. Don’t wait for the big changes. One tiny victory each day means your life is already changing.
3. Expect Sabotage and Resistance
Last year, I decided I wanted to be more positive. The negativity in my life had gotten to the point that it was painfully obvious, no matter how much I enjoyed being sarcastic or bad mouthing someone who had done me wrong, it wasn’t making me feel good on the inside to be so negative. I was getting stress headaches, my hair was turning gray, and I often felt stomach pain after incidents of conflict. The negativity was quite literally killing me. So I stopped. Just stopped.
Doing so was an abrupt change. I stopped participating in negative conversations. I ignored people who were shit talking other people. When someone would call me to talk badly about someone else, I’d simply decline to participate in the conversation, redirecting to something more positive and fun.
Overnight my mantra changed for the better. That company decided to support a different charity over ours? Oh well. At least people are being helped! So-and-so didn’t want to hang out with me this week. Well, it’s probably nothing to do with me. Maybe they just need some space. I’ll ask again next week!
I continued this change as hard as I could and in as many situations as I could.
“If this is how you’re going to be now, it’s going to impact our friendship,” one of my friends threatened. “You have to vent frustration. You can’t just bottle it up; it’s not healthy. We have to be able to talk like we always have.”
A year later, we’re still friends. I had changed the dynamic of how our relationship worked. But the friendship continued on all the same.
You see, part of the difficulty of changing your personality is that the people around you will feel it too. Who you are when they’re around will change. Who they are around you will change. And as we already discussed, people don’t like change.
Expect resistance when you start changing your personality or your life, especially if it’s pulling away from a negative habit. Trust your gut. Remember there’s a reason you wanted this change.
Don’t like watching put-down comedy shows anymore? Don’t watch them. Find another common ground.
Don’t like watching raunchy movies anymore? Fill the time with an action flick. Maybe a documentary or even a romance.
Just because you’ve always done something doesn’t mean you need to continue doing it.
Your friends might grumble about it for a while. They may resist and try to push you back to who you were. Stay strong. Your real friends will applaud your efforts to become the best version of yourself.
4. Being Selfish is Okay
In order to make life altering choices, you’re going to have to be okay with being selfish. Your friends liked who you were. They enjoyed doing the things that you have always done. You have to ask yourself: Is practicing self-care really selfish?
I don’t think it is. But for the sake of argument let’s say taking care of yourself is selfish.
No one is going to blame you for taking care of yourself first once in a while. There’s a big difference between being a narcissist, someone who only thinks about themselves, and someone who’s trying to make themselves a better person.
If you can get a really great job in a different town, your local friends will miss you, but ultimately they’ll understand that you need to seize this opportunity for a great job halfway across the country. Your friends might not want to stop playing games with you every Friday night, but if that’s the only day that the course you need to complete your degree is available, or class you need to take your interest from a hobby to a career, or or or … your friends will understand.
It’s great to be someone who is willing to give the shirt off your back to help your fellow human. However, you have to own a shirt first in order to give it away. Don’t think of taking care of yourself as selfish; think of self-care as a future investment on your ability to help people in the future.
5. Happiness is a Choice
Sounds like something you’d hear on the Hallmark movie channel. If this were a video instead of an article, I would cut to a montage of 43 different characters saying this exact line. The thing is IT’S TRUE.
Happiness is as much a choice as your favorite brand of ice cream. Whether your philosophy on life is that we’re all given the hand we’re dealt, and that’s that, or if you believe we make our destiny through the choices we make in life, you can choose to be happy.
Maybe God didn’t make you a basketball star. Mother nature didn’t make you fast enough to be a triathlete. Buddha didn’t grace you with charisma. Tom Cruise didn’t visit your fifth-grade pizza party.
You can blame your problems on anything you want, but the truth of the matter is that they’re still your problems to deal with, no matter who caused them. You can choose to be happy, or you can let yourself be miserable.
Personally, even though I’ve put a curse on Tom Cruise for blowing off my pizza party invitation, I choose to be happy with my life and make as many changes as I can to make it the best life possible.
All you have to do is start toning down the negativity in your mind.
That doesn’t mean you’re never going to get angry. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re never going to feel depressed or be upset. But you can choose to pull yourself out of those negative places.
The next time you’re feeling down or upset, when the world seems like it doesn’t make any sense and life is unfair, think about your happiest memories. Remember the times when life was good, and you were eating your favorite dessert. Smile. Take a deep breath. Keep moving forward.
6. Care Less
If you follow all of the advice in this article, you’re still going to fail sometimes. You will relapse into your old ways. You might ignore the advice entirely. Someone else might do better than you.
Take that little monster inside your head that’s gloating at your failure, jealous of somebody else, envious of your second cousin twice removed, put it into a tiny imaginary jar, slam it into a tiny imaginary cannon, and fire that sumabitch into the sun.
Or use a real cannon. I don’t run your life.
There are going to be so many times where you doubt yourself as you try to change into what you want to be. You’re going to be upset that you don’t have enough followers. Your platform isn’t big enough. There’s no way you can lose enough weight. Tom Cruise still isn’t answering your party invitations.
Listen, you’re only in competition with one person: your former self. As long as you’re doing better, whether that means you’re a better person, smarter, faster, healthier, or just plain old more confident, than your former self… You’re winning.
Care less about the things beyond your control. Care less about what other people are doing. Care less about what other people think about what YOU’RE doing.
In the end, the only person that you need to impress is yourself. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll be able to become the person you truly want to be.
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Shortly after writing Your Last Good Day, a friend of mine offered to recommend me to the selection committee for a TEDx talk. I was honored she would be willing to vouch for me, but I wasn’t sure I was ready.
TED Talks are, as they like to say, ideas worth spreading and a worldwide phenomenon. You’ve probably seen the informational, inspirational and/or motivational videos of your favorite speakers talking at a TED event. TEDx is an offshoot of the main stage, held sporadically and in various locations throughout the year.
I gathered all my courage and submitted my proposal: A month later, much to my surprise and delight, I made it through to the second round. Out of 10,000 submissions, a few dozen finalists were selected and I was one of them. I did it! I was on my way to being a Ted speaker. All I had to do was record a video of the speech and be one of the chosen ones.
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“You’re going to die soon anyway,” said my high school guidance counselor.
When I entered the room I was full of energy. Excited, intrigued, and ready to learn. My sights were set on being a graphic artist. Particularly someone who designed the background art for video games or an animated series, perhaps.
We were going to discuss college, my future, and the endless possibilities that lie before me.
The day was like a beautiful flower garden, vibrant and full of life.
“College is expensive,” said the counselor beginning his speech. “It’s not going to be very accessible. There’ll be tons of obstacles in your way. And let’s face it, you have more than one terminal illness. You’ve probably got a few years left. Why would you want to do that to yourself?”
“But I still have things I want to do.” My jaw dropping off my face.
“I understand, but you’re going to die soon anyway. Why not go home, have some fun, and enjoy the time you have left,” he said “reassuring” me of my future. The speech continued on for what felt like hours.
Wonderful post. Thank you for reminding us that we are all in control of our own destinies, no matter the obstacles!
I saw you on Chuck Wendig’s blog (great post, btw) but man, this was the one I needed to read right now. Thank you. Also! I dig your site title (An Unorindarily Extraordinary Ride). I’ve been working lately on rebuilding myself after letting the naysayers get to me, and I remember that I used to be much better at keeping a “Your life is an adventure!” attitude than I have been for a while now. I’ve been getting a little better about it, everyday, but still a lot to do. Thanks again for this post.
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34 days ago, I lost the ability to drive my wheelchair and with it… my independence.
You see, my disease, SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), is deteriorating my muscles at a very slow pace. Over time, my abilities are being torn away due to the atrophy that sets in from not using groups of muscles. The same thing would happen to you if you were to stay in bed for months or years without moving. Astronauts experience some of what SMA does to the body after being in space for long periods of time where you don’t have to fight gravity to lift your body weight.
Basically, if you don’t use your muscles, you lose them. Keep that in mind the next time you decide to skip out on leg day at the gym.
John Green captured the disturbing truth of living with a progressive disease in The Fault in Our Stars. The main protagonist, Hazel, riffs about life “There’s no way of knowing that your last good day is Your Last Good Day. At the time, it is just another good day.”
Your Last Good Day is a day like any other day. The limitations in your life have stayed the same for some time. There’s nothing different about that particular day. Until all of a sudden, like a dump truck crashing through your front door, everything changes in an instant.
I want to go out and audition for musicals and plays and pursue the passion that I have for acting.
I want to begin streaming and making more and more friends on the internet, all while having the confidence to show my face and voice while doing it.
I want to become an amazing role model with my little brother and show him how to love people unconditionally and without any barriers.
I promise that I will begin starting my attempts to accomplish these three things. I will not let you down.
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Every story since the beginning of time has been written by a carefully designed formula. Three acts form the roadmap to pull your heartstrings in a manner which would rival the most expert harp player.
Act one is the setup. This is the part where the story is set up, all the foreshadows are laid out, all of the things that are meant to trigger in your mind later on as important because you saw them somewhere in the beginning of the story are subtly woven.
Act two is what I like to think of as the false ending. Everything looks like it’s going to come out perfectly just as you believe it should, but then something terrible goes wrong and the protagonist is thrown off course in what looks to be an unfixable situation.
Act three, or the magical fix, continues the streak of bad luck or bad choices for the protagonist(s) up until the middle of the act, at which point one of the characters has a great epiphany about what they truly desire or a miracle solution that was right in front of them the whole time that they didn’t see suddenly appears. The world is saved, the murderer is caught, or the girl falls for the magnanimous gesture, some larger-than-life, last-ditch, sure-fire event that wins the day.
That is the magic formula. It’s a tried-and-true formula for every story or movie ever made. It’s been proven by science and experience that human beings want to end on a good note. You see life is usually like this: Things start out really well and eventually something goes wrong, it always does, it is inevitable, but in real life that’s often where the story ends. There is no supporting cast that helps you see the light, fix your problems, or shows you the roadmap to what you wanted all along, even if it was right in front of you on the first page. (more…)
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I hated English class. In fact, I hated it so much that I skipped my first 28 days of English my senior year of high school. The maximum time you can miss is 29 days, one more and I wouldn’t graduate. From that point forward I never missed another English class. I read every required piece of literature; I thought it was a punishment worse than death. I graduated with 100% in English that year, but I still hated it. What’s the point in reading a book when you can just wait to see the movie?
On a warm summer day years later, I went looking for some information on playing video games with a disability. Having a form of muscular dystrophy, my disease advanced to the point where I was no longer able to play the way everyone else could. I found one site, ablegamers.com–a nonprofit group that helps people with disabilities get back into playing video games after traumatic injuries from war or overcoming terminal illnesses–which gave exactly the kind of information I was looking for.
It was quite a find, but there was a problem.
From experience, I knew one of the posts on the site was wrong. So, I commented correcting the author. Later that day, I received an e-mail from the site owner thanking me for my contribution with a quote from a user who was to be able to play for the first time using that information.
I was hooked and I didn’t even know it. (more…)
Wow, just wow. Your post is so empowering. I saw your tweet from Boogie2988. Awesome stuff man. Keep up the great work. You gained a follower on twitter, listener, and friend. Aloha!
I feel the same way as Tired on a disturbingly regular and frequent basis. I too take anti-depressants and go to therapy. I have only one friend I can talk to, but I get the feeling she doesn’t desire to be as close to me as I would like to be with her. My autism makes it hard for me to socialize. My physical handicaps make it hard for me to be active and join in events where I can meet people. I often wish I could just go on to heaven already. But somehow I continue to push through. I heard once years ago that the definition of failure is when you don’t try at all. That saying motivates me to keep trying.