Going into the New Year like…

Five days until 2020…

As I was reading through my journal entries from early 2019 it was clear to me that I still face many of the same obstacles today as I did then. I felt demoralized by the fact that, one, I didn’t accomplish everything I originally set out to do, two, I didn’t kick my self-depreciating habits and tendencies and, three, If I’m not able to do what I say I’m gonna do then how can I expect 2020 to be any different?

The more I read the more I doubted myself. Have I not made any progress this year? I mean, surely I have, but there’s so much more to do, so much more to improve on and change.

Do any of you ever feel like that? Like the goals you want to complete, the places you want to travel, the person you want to become is so far out of reach that even achieving some of your goals is insufficient? I know I’m not the only one, but it sure does feel like that at times.

For example, In various entries I wrote about never succumbing to procrastination again. Yet again and again I succumbed. In the beginning of January I wrote, ” What I dislike most are my negative tendencies to procrastinate and consume. They’re behaviours that don’t bring any value to my life. If anything they depreciate and prevent who I am from evolving into a greater me- a better me; Someone who not only recognises their potential, but who acts on it. I want my days to be filled with consistent action. Focused and purposeful action. I don’t want to waste time being an inferior version of myself.”

I swore to resist that ugly-artist characteristic which Marcus Aurelius described in Meditations as, failure to answer the call of your nature.

Aurelius wrote, “At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm? So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?”

Reflecting on 2019

This past year brought me an abundance of happiness and love. I hold onto that gift closely. It also showed me all the areas I excel at and all the areas I need to improve. In a way this year revealed me to myself and for that I’m grateful and humbled alike.

For one, I reconnected with a friend from work who over time completely exceeded my expectations and reminded me how we should neither expect nor doubt. She shared her sorrows, insecurities, and pet-peeves. She shared her experiences, perspectives, and emotions. She gave me companionship, love, and asked for nothing in return though I was always happy to reciprocate.

A large part of this year like every year revolved around family. My sister taught me more about mental fortitude than I care to admit. She taught me about patience, compassion, and unconditional love. My mom demonstrated the virtues of tolerance and empathy. She taught me about forgiveness and the importance of strong roots. My dad practices was he preaches. He taught me consistency, visualisation, and the art of re-framing bad situations into good ones.

Despite feeling under-achieved this year, life isn’t just about success. It’s more so about the setbacks, the challenges, the obstacles we have to overcome. To me, success means nothing if there isn’t a back and forth struggle to get there. If anything I’m aware what I need to work on in 2020 because of my setbacks, not despite them.

Another challenge I faced (still face) this year that I’m committed to working on in 2020 is my depression. I admit calling depression a “challenge” is devious, however I like to think a mental illness is conquerable with the right combination of help. It’s an extremely personal thing and trying to articulate my thoughts about it in a detached way is difficult. My last article, Coming Face to Face with Emotional Pain, was an attempt at both distancing myself and giving the best advice I could to anyone struggling with depression.

What I’ve noticed about depression is how anytime I fight against the grain I usually feel better with time. For example, sometimes I need to force myself to be social because I usually tend to stray away from people, however when I put myself into a social situation I almost always feel better afterwards. The same dynamic applies to getting up in the morning, working, exercising, writing.

There are days and sometimes consecutive days where I just feel burnt out, meaningless, and exhausted. My plan is to prevent my overall “downtime.” The less downtime I have, the happier I am. Going back to the journal entry I shared with you guys above, if I fill my days with consistent, purposeful actions it should reduce my overall symptoms. One thing a psychologist recommended to me was to keep focusing on physical exercise since I love it and it’s proven to be a highly effective anti-depressant. Going to the gym daily will be a core habit that fosters all the benefits and positive characteristics I need and want.

Travel plans and becoming a Portuguese citizen

One of my primary goals for 2019 was to travel to Portugal.

I’m writing this from my home in the Azores which is an autonomous region of Portugal. So did I accomplish it? Well, partly.

Although I really had my eyes on the mainland– specifically Porto. My plan was to get my dual-citizenship, move to Porto, start working at either a hostel or restaurant while continuing to pursue photography and freelance writing.

My plan wasn’t super specific, I’ll be the first to admit it. And maybe that played a role in it not coming to fruition, however the first part, to get my dual-citizenship, was a much more tedious process than I expected it to be. As of today I booked my ticket back to the States where I can get all the necessary documents, stamps, translations and information to further the process along. The first half of 2020 is dedicated to becoming a Portuguese citizen so that when I do travel to Portugal in the second half of the year, I won’t have to worry about renewing my visa, or working under the table.

Acquiring my dual-citizenship is also part of a larger goal. Being a Portuguese citizen will allow me to travel through Europe with freedom of movement. By no means am I in a rush to see all of Europe, but with a Portuguese passport I’ll have the ability to travel as I please without worrying about a return date. Eventually when the time is right, I can branch out and immerse myself in new cultures.

Welcoming 2020 with open arms

While writing this blog post I realised I left out a fundamental part. Every new year– actually every day– theres an opportunity to improve yourself. Not by achieving personal goals, but by helping those in need. A simple act of kindness to a friend, loved one or random stranger has an impact we can’t quite quantify. Sometimes the greatest reward has nothing to do with how much you achieve, rather how much of yourself you give.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service others.

Looking back at what I wrote in the beginning, I really should not be demoralized or feel under-achieved. I think part of the problem is that I try to measure my self-worth with achievements. At the end of the day the only thing that truly matters are my good deeds, how I communicate and care for others, the love and support I give. This is the true measure of self and happiness.

To those of you still reading, I thank you. Give more than you have to give this year. Try when you don’t want to try. Think of what a gift it is to be alive. It’ll be a year to remember.

Coming Face to Face with Emotional Pain

How do we heal (and ultimately grow) from the emotional pain in our lives?

Emotional and psychological pain is as much part of the human condition as happiness and glee. Life is the great tragedy haven’t you heard? And on the tail end of that tragedy a person must come to terms with the pain they suffer, or suffer further still, holding onto past events.

Nobody (but a poet) ever said, ‘I wish I could feel this pain for the rest of my years’ and yet the sad reality for many people is that they carry emotional trauma with them late into life. With what we currently know about mental well-being, in addition to all the literature on self-development, spirituality and philosophy, you would think there would be enough helpful/practical information to prevent pain all together, but needless to say there isn’t.

I wish tragedy was something we could fully recover from, but the truth is we’ll never again be the person we were before the series of unfortunate events unfolded. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing as long as we eventually come face to face with our pain instead of masking our pain.

Coming face to face with emotional pain isn’t easy. Confrontation is what we try to avoid by drinking alcohol, taking drugs, gambling, compulsive behaviours around food, technology/media, sex, and other stimuli. We glutton in pleasure to avoid feeling our pain. This is what I call masking emotional pain. Instead of feeling what we truly feel, we distract ourselves with a temporary sense of satisfaction in order to trick ourselves into believing that everything is ok when, infact, everything is not.

If you think about it, masking emotional pain is a natural defensive mechanism the self-preserving psyche uses to minimalize pain. However, what ends up happening is that our actions become habits and what started out as just one or two beers becomes beer after beer, cigarette after cigarette until our whole life-style is based around consumption for pleasure and or numbness. We all have our specific crutch we use to relieve the stress in our lives. Your job is to identify it and observe your behaviour around it.

Identifying your crutch shouldn’t be a difficult process. It helps to imagine yourself from a third-person perspective. If you could watch yourself from a birds-eye view, would you be happy based on how you deal with emotional pain, stress, problems in your life? Have you adopted a negative habit(s) to cope with these problems? What are they? Write them down.

Habits are difficult to kick which is why when trying to change them we should focus on one at a time. If we overwhelm ourselves by trying to kick two or three simultaneously, it’s likely that we’ll relapse and have to start our progress over. For the best result, focus on the one habit that you feel consumes most of your time and energy, that’s most detrimental to your well-being. It’s more than likely that once you change your worst habit the others will whither and auto-correct themselves.

The solution you came here for

Practicing new and healthy habits is going to allow us to better cope with emotional pain. It does not fix or make disappear the emotional trauma. Instead, we work through the trauma by confronting it and experiencing it directly, without a substance or dopamine-dependent behaviour to alleviate it in any way. An impactful life-style change is not a miracle drug, it is a commitment to self-empowerment and responsibility.

It seems counter-intuitive to bring emotional pain to the surface of your conscious awareness when it’s easier to just numb yourself, but how long can you go being unhappy? Happiness is the essence we’re discussing here and allowing your internal pain to surface is a sign you’re ready to begin healing.

Healing from emotional pain demands a life-long dedication to three things: problem solving, the truth and well-being. Anything that subtracts away from finding a solution to understanding why we feel the way we feel, and psychological/emotional stability must be identified and cut out of our lives immediately.

It starts with you. Don’t take the easy way out and spend your life side-lining confrontation, feeling sorry for yourself, and avoiding personal transformation. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask what type of person you want to be. You know you’re strong inside, you’ve been through so much. Now pull through and realise It yourself.

Remembering Quito, Ecuador: Essential Questions on Travel and Purpose

I forget her name- that German girl I met at the Blue Youth Hostel in Quito, Ecuador. She spoke excellent Spanish and English. She held herself with a confident presence. She told me she found herself in Cali: the salsa capital of Colombia.

Some of the most interesting conversations happen in hostels with people who’s names you never acquire either because you never asked, which is a shame, or due to the sheer numbers of travelers you come across while hostel hopping.

This German girl stayed months in Cali, Colombia learning to Salsa. The only reason she was in Ecuador was to get more time on her visa so she could return to Cali and continue dancing. She spoke about Cali as if it were imbued with magic. It was the best place in the world.

I could feel how passionate she was about Salsa by the way she searched for adequate words to describe her emotions. She said it was the first time in her 20 something years that she felt like she belonged. It was her genuine calling.

The energy she felt dancing was cathartic. When she salsa’d she never felt more beautiful or free. That was the most important thing to her- to feel free to be herself.

-So there we were at three o’clock in the morning outside of a nightclub in centro Quito, ears buzzing, stomach growling for something other than cerveza-

She told me something I’ll never forget. It’s something I look back on from time to time because It made me question myself and my reason for traveling.

She said,

“Everyone is either looking for something or trying to run away from something.

What are you searching for?

What are you attempting to escape?

Why are you here, Ryan?”

I took a few seconds to think. A few seconds went by.  I couldn’t come up with a definitive answer.

I deflected the question back to her.

She tells me she’s on a search for meaning and passion outside of her normal, everyday routine. She found Salsa and that’s what she needed, it was that thing missing from her life.

People travel in either search of, or escape from something . Sometimes it’s both, but it’s important to find out what those things are so you can come to terms with them.

It’s been well over five months since Ecuador and still that conversation stays with me. I’ve had alot of time to think about what I should’ve said to her that night.

To start I should’ve said I was there to meet her. I was there to partake in that exact conversation with her in order to start questioning my reasons for traveling in the first place.

I mean, Initially I went to South America on a mutually shared whim to see a new and exciting part of the world. I had goals to learn the language, history, art, and the customs of the people. I wanted to be fully immerse myself to get a good idea of the culture.

I wanted to accomplish these tasks, but why?

Replaying in my mind: You have to ask yourself, what are you searching for and what is it in your life that youre trying to avoid or don’t want to deal with?

These are personal questions. They’re difficult to answer because they require deep digging.

Traveling for me has always been about expressing my curiosity for the world and about confronting myself.

I seek to express myself and meet people who change the way I look at the world. I desire change and that’s what travel does for me. I’m more observant and aware of not only the external environment, but the internal landscape in which everything is perceived and interpreted.

If I could go back and tell that German girl- I really wish I could remember her name right now- I would say I’m seeking expression, to expand who I am.

I learned a lot about myself on this trip to South America. I know it’s cliche to say it was life changing but it’s true, It really was in ways I’m probably not even aware of yet. Every time I’ve ventured outside of my known surroundings, my comfort zone, my home, I learn an incredible amount about myself and the world around me.

The morning after our conversation, I left Quito to go to Latacunga, Ecuador. I wished her farewell and good luck on her travels. I hope she found her way back to Cali, back to where she felt wholesome.

I won’t forget what she told me. I can’t.

When I plan for my next trip I know her words will appear before me guiding my reason and intent. With that said I extend her words to you, dear reader.

Everyone is either looking for something or trying to escape something.

What are you searching for?

What are you attempting to escape?

Why are you here?

What Matters Most When Achieving Personal Goals?

IMG_0302I wanted to write about what it really means to achieve personal goals because I think we sometimes loose sight of what’s really important. I was talking to a friend the other day about how people are so achievement oriented that they value the end result more than the process leading up to it.

This reminded me of  how the same ideology is applied to the accumulation  of material things in western society. We are tricked into thinking that more things equals more happiness and therefore higher quality of life. As we know though, placing our sense of worth in material objects only leads to frustration and a false sense of self curated by the ego.

Continue reading “What Matters Most When Achieving Personal Goals?”