Social Skills Mailbag #1: Tips Heading Into And Out Of College

Every now and again I still like to visit r/socialskills, the reddit board that made me realize 90 Strangers In 30 Days had potential to be something much larger than just a blog post. I like to give back by helping others with their social skill questions, putting those answers in a mailbag-type format here.


I start University tomorrow. Any tips for putting myself out there? from socialskills

College is indeed a great time to meet a ton of new people, try new things, and bust out of your shell. It took me about my first three years of college to realize this, so the fact that you are thinking about all this ahead of time tells me you will have little problem identifying situations where you can have new experiences and meet new people.

It’s a cliche as it’s totally what your high school guidance counselors tell you, but just get involved. This is easily my biggest regret about college: I hung out with the same small circle of people (many of whom I went to high school with or just happened to live in my dorm) and then three years in I wondered why I hadn’t met all the types of cool and interesting people I had hoped to.

At the university involvement fair, I dismissed many of the clubs and organizations my school offered because I was so focused on what the group seemed to be about on its banner as opposed to what it was really about: the experience of trying something new with new people. The activity itself is just details. Even if something remotely interests you, dive in and just give it a go. The worst case scenario is it just doesn’t click with you, and quitting is generally as easy as joining was. Even then, chances are there were other people who felt similarly about their time in the club or organization. You may not become best friends with these people right then, but you may see them out a bar or in a class one day and will then have that connection of both trying and hating quilting club or whatever.

Like someone else mentioned, classes are also a goldmine for meeting people. Depending on the size of your school and program of study you may end up having a lot of classes with the same people over several years. My senior year I finally figured out I could make friends in my classes simply by asking things like “Do you know anything about this professor?”, and “Are you taking this as an elective or for your major?” on the first day to whoever was seated next to me. Even if it’s not the first day, just striking up conversation about the homework or something going on at your university with the people sitting next to you can lead to hangouts (even if it’s just to study) and friendships outside of class.

Most people entering college are going to have at least a little bit of anxiety being in a new place where they may not know many people (or anyone at all). But more than probably any other time in your life, people are going to be extremely welcoming to you striking up a conversation with them, and most people are just waiting for the other person to make the first move.

Finally, keep in mind too that it’s impossible to predict who are friends will be and how we will meet them. So say yes to every invite that comes your way (within reason), welcome in new people and experiences with an open mind, and you’re guaranteed to blossom a strong social circle made up of interesting people and experiences.

Maybe getting a job is just what i need? from socialskills

Even if it takes you a while to get hired right out of college (been there), there’s other ways you can still get the same social benefits a job offers. Its mileage can vary based on where you live, but I recommend Meetup.com, which has regular meeting groups for different hobbies and interests in your areas. These range from general (20s and 30s groups) to more specific (Boston Terrier owners, video game developers) but are great ways to socialize with new people and often go to places you might not otherwise. Or, you can always start your own group.

If there’s not a big Meetup scene where you live, chances are there’s some sort of local groups you can get involved in, even if it’s just something like a networking group or Toastmasters. While they may not be as flat-out fun as your summer jobs, they’ll still give you good practice socializing and meeting new people (and who knows, maybe could lead to a job). If where you live has its own subreddit, that can be a good place to find or make open-invitation events too. I know people that have also made great friends off Craigslist (not sure what section–strictly platonic?) and I’ve become good friends with baristas just from going to their coffee shop frequently to read and work. None of this might be as glamorous as a new summer job where everyone becomes best friends within a few weeks, but as you get older it unfortunately takes a little more work to meet and befriend new people.

Trouble Making outgoing Friends at big state school from socialskills

I went to a big college too (50,000+ undergrad) and although I was from in-state and knew quite a few people already, I can closely relate to this.

That’s great you’ve worked on your social skills and it sounds like you’ve had some little ‘wins’ already (you get along with new people at parties, the random kiss, etc.). It also sounds to me like you’re doing everything ‘right’ to make new friends in terms of getting involved by joining organizations you’re interested in, participating in study groups, and so on. That’s great you’ve figured that stuff out already as it takes some (myself included) their entire college careers to do so.

My advice to you now would be persistence and patience. The early college ages especially are a confusing time as all the cozy cliques and identities everyone forged in high school are suddenly shaken up. Everyone is now in a new environment where they can seemingly explore and re-invent themselves. But as college goes on human nature starts to kick in and people start to value the stability of seeing the same people more as opposed to the novelty of hanging out with new people all the time. That said, college kids as a whole are still more welcoming and less defensive of their social circles than perhaps any other demographic you’ll encounter in your life.

Most friendships–be it in high school, college, or even as an adult–aren’t necessarily formed because of some deep existential connection you have with the person upon meeting them the first time. They’re formed out of frequency and convenience (like in home room/classes, dorms, clubs/hobbies, etc). Find a group you like with people you enjoy being around (even if they don’t ‘feel’ like friends right away) and just keep going. Chat people up with a genuine interest in them and their lives, be helpful, and find interesting things to do around campus/your city and extend invitations. Sometimes the easiest way to get invited to more things is to invite a few people to a fun idea of your own now and then, even if it’s just bar trivia some random weeknight or bowling or whatever. Keep putting yourself out there, join new groups you find interesting, say yes to invitations even if it’s not something 100% in your comfort zone.

In regards to connecting with people, it sounds like (from everything else you are saying) that making small talk isn’t necessarily the problem–you just haven’t met the right people yet! When you’re trying to develop a social circle in a new place, it can be easy to feel like you’re a failure if you don’t become friends with everyone right away (again, guilty). But there are undoubtedly people at your school who you will have an effortless time clicking with and even feel like they’re old friends within hours of meeting them. And once you meet one of these people, often you’ll meet many of their friends who you will be equally as compatible with.

You’re doing fine and by the end of next year I’m sure you’ll look back at this post and laugh 🙂

Mailbag is an every-sometimes section I write in between more long-form content. Usually I just pluck these from reddit’s r/socialskills board, but if you have a question you’d like my opinion on, shoot me an email at andrew@andrewelsass.com.

Sticky Lips and a Loose Memory: My TEDx Journey

I told myself a few days earlier I was going to treat this like a weightlifting competition.

“None of this really matters in the grand scheme of things. Clear your mind, go out and rip it, then you can forget about it.”

That seemed great in theory, except with weightlifting or other sports you can throw all that nervous energy into the bar/ball/opponent’s face. But when giving a speech there’s no real acceptable outlet to place all that anxiety at once, lest I start screaming at the audience or begin bustling through the talk at breakneck speed. 

My turn finally arrived (after needing the stagehand to convince me that my mic was indeed on) and I walked out on stage. And despite drinking water most of the morning, I began to feel my lips and mouth dry up immediately as I walked to my mark.

“Hope that doesn’t become a problem,” I thought.

Audition #1

One early morning last spring, I zombily relocated my body from bed to couch, and checked Facebook.

There, I saw a post from TEDxMileHigh, the Denver-region organizers of a number of different TEDx1 events. They were accepting applications for speakers, which I assumed required me to submit peer-reviewed research, a boastful investment portfolio, or newspaper clippings about my startup’s IPO. 

But the application seemed simple enough: some standard personal questions, one about what my ‘big idea’ was, another about my public speaking experience.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what I could talk about: 90 Strangers In 30 Days was something that not only had a big impact on my life, but based on the emails I was still receiving long after the fact, clearly had a big impact on a large number of other people, too. Social skills in general are one thing I can talk ad nauseam about, and a rough outline of a potential speech began to form quickly. 

I put it on my to-do-list for that day, submitted the questionnaire, then forgot about it.

First Contact

A week or two later, I received an email from a @tedxmilehigh.com address. Like so many internship and job emails that have tried to let me down soflty over the years, the message began by thanking me for applying. As I began to temper my expectations, I read on, and to my surprise they were instead lifted:

So today was good. #tedtalks #ted #tedex @tedxmilehigh

Una foto publicada por andrewelsass (@slassy) el


The only thing grounding my excitement was the audition date, which gave me just two weeks to write, develop, memorize to some degree, and make slides for an 8.5 minute “sample” of what could become my full speech if accepted (the TED format allows speeches to be up to 18 minutes in length).

Reality not fully set in yet, I pored over my notes from when I read Talk Like TED, watched some TED talks about what makes a good TED Talk, sketched a rough outline, and then a first draft.

My first run-through ran something like 14.5 minutes, included way too many anecdotes exemplifying the same thing, a heavy dose of self-deprecation, and in general wasn’t ordered in any sort of fashion that was going to help me memorize it quickly.

I trimmed heavily from there, and by the time audition day rolled around I had some solid meat on my outline bones, a few slides I thought adhered to TED’s recommendations, and a note sheet with pictures I hoped would help me quickly regain my place if I were to lose it during the audition.

Due to it being April in Denver and snow still being a thing, my girlfriend and I dodged an incoming storm by staying in a nearby hotel the night before. My audition time the next day was mid-morning at a fancy downtown coworking space.

When we arrived, lingering around were a number of my fellow auditioners: a calm, stoic looking lady that undoubtedly was a professor in some field I never had to take a class in; a pacing, middle-aged man nervously fiddling with his iPad; and a guy closer to my age wearing headphones. I guessed he was auditioning for a performance role, as he would occasionally bust out a badass dance move that made me question my own audition approach (“maybe I should dance…”).

Then there was me, bouncing like a pogo stick over by the complimentary coffee and danishes.

I was ready: I held a focus group with friends a few days before; I had scribbled “I will give a TEDx Talk” over 100+ times in my journal the past few weeks; and even meditated daily by a nearby creek (not kidding), envisioning myself onstage at Denver’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House, thunderous applause creating cracks in the building’s foundation as I walked off, the people demanding an encore performance of my speech…everything I thought I was supposed to do, really. This audition was mine.

Finally, I was called into a small room at the end of the hall. To demonstrate that I wasn’t a fraud in regard to my topic, I introduced myself to the three panelists waiting inside and made small talk about the crazy weather. Then, the clock started.

I felt that rush of hyper-aware yet simultaneous calm focus that only public speaking, weightlifting competitions, and marching band (shut up) has given me, and finished a little faster than I had practiced, right around eight minutes. They thanked me, I thanked them, and I left the room content.

I told myself since I had prepared and performed the best I thought I possibly could, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t make it. But that turned out to be a lie, as two days later I received an email saying I wasn’t a fit for their 2016 program. The bit in there about being just one of 40 to audition out of over 600 applicants only made me feel slightly less mopey, but I couldn’t help but mope nonetheless.

I comforted myself that night with Chinese food and playoff hockey. Then, in a day or two, I forgot about it.  

A Second (And Third) Chance

Flash forward six weeks later. Somewhere on my hard drive, I stumbled across my speech notes, and I got curious.

After some quick searching, I found out there were TEDxColorado Springs (where I live) and TEDxDayton (where I’m from) events, and that both just happened to be accepting applications at that very moment.

I had done all that work to iron out my idea and memorize eight minutes worth of speech; why let that all go to waste?

The application questions for both were similar to the one for Denver, except Colorado Springs also wanted me to submit along a video of me performing my speech.

Dayton liked my application and invited me to come audition, however it wasn’t possible for me to travel there on short notice, so they said I could also send in a video audition.

As I learned, every TEDx event likes to do their audition process a little different. Colorado Springs capped their videos at 8.5 minutes while Dayton’s was somewhere in the 4-5 minute range. Feeling only slightly overwhelmed, I worked up until the deadline for both, creating two new versions of the speech (neither of which I had completely memorized by the time I went to film).

Ready to get it over with, I recorded both back-to-back in one take each while balancing my phone on a ladder, then submitted them to the appropriate parties. 

A few days later I received another email with the familiar line thanking me for auditioning, but then also an again-surprising second line inviting me to formally audition for TEDxColorado Springs. The audition would be in just 10 days, and this time they wanted to see a “full” version of the speech, up to 18 minutes in length.

Not wanting to add in new parts that I didn’t have solidly memorized, I went in and delivered basically the same speech I had delivered in my Denver audition and in my video. The setting was similar (a co-working space), but this time I was auditioning for something like 7-10 people that covered the complete gamut of human emotion (minus crying) while I auditioned: two women I thought might have been statues if I hadn’t greeted them when I walked in, a few more-thoughtful looking listeners, and an extremely comforting man on my right that was nodding along with everything I said (and that even chuckled at my dumb jokes).

The panel then asked me a few follow-up questions during which I demonstrated that I had used up all my capacity for eloquence and conciseness during the actual audition. I was complimented on my shoes on the way out by my new head-nodding fan (which I took as either a good sign or as that guy’s way of letting me down softly), and forgot about it.

But I couldn’t for long this time.

Meeting My Fellow TEDdys 

Later that same evening, I received a call from one of the friendlier women in the room saying they would love to have me in their program this year.

A few weeks later we had our first official TEDx meeting, held at a local art gallery. While there, I got to meet my fellow speakers: clothing company president Jan Erickson; graphic designer Jenny Schnell; stage actor and director Jesse Wilson; life coach Jill Davis; world champion Paralympic discus thrower Kevin Broussard; social entrepreneur Kevin White; digital marketing consultant Lauren Hug; and social scientist Mary Boardman.  

For the first time since I was next to the breakdancer and the college professor in the TEDxMileHigh holding area, I started to question my credentials and place at the event. These were all extremely brilliant and accomplished individuals with letters after their names and medals with their names on them. I on the other hand, wrote about 900-words that a bunch of redditors clicked an up arrow on over three years ago.

But after everyone had given a short preview of their talk and received a cool plaque, the time came to mingle, and something happened that would become a reoccurring theme of sorts: people (including my fellow presenters) kept coming up to me saying things like “I wish my nephew/daughter/students could hear your speech”, and “I hope you know that your message is an important one.” I hadn’t really heard praise about 90 Strangers like this in-person before, and it felt good.

plaques

While there, I also met the speech coach that was assigned to me: Ed.

Ed was a fast-talking Long Islander that had countless years of public speaking during his time as a high-ranking official in the Navy. He was also, as I pegged him quickly, an extrovert.

Given the topic of my speech, I wasn’t sure how this relationship was going to work. How could this guy who probably had countless crucial conversations and tense, fate-of-the-world-in-balance negotiations aboard nuclear submarines possibly relate to my message and help me amplify it?

But I decided to trust the assignment, and sent Ed my transcript to look over. A day or two later, I received an email from him full of great feedback on my speech. Maybe extroverts were able to articulate and relate to #socialskillsprobs more than I gave them credit for.

From there, we were mostly left up to our own devices. Ed and I decided to meet bi-weekly when we could, up until a small group rehearsal that was scheduled in August.

These first practices mostly took place in an empty conference room at Ed’s office. There I would run through the entire 14-some minute speech two or three times, Ed fervently scrambling notes on my transcript as I did, feeding me my lines when I would blank on them (which happened often). Several times he recruited his co-workers (one who was a former TV writer) to come listen and offer their feedback, too.

At the mid-August feedback session, we gave a run through of our entire speech in front of our fellow speakers, their coaches, a few past speakers, and some of the event organizers.

Running the show was a consultant that had everyone write their feedback on different slips of scrap paper. On one piece we were to write warm fuzzies (e.g., “I love how you wander around every inch of allotted space while you speak”). On the other, we wrote “critique” that was stated in the form of a question (e.g., “What if you didn’t make all those corny jokes?”). After everyone read their feedback to us, we took home the pieces of paper so that we could later sort through and decide which ones were helpful and discard the ones that were not.

August came and went, and the actual event still seemed impossibly far away. But as the leaves changed, so too did the tone of my voice when I would tell people “oh, it’s not until November 5th” to “it’s on NOVEMBER 5th”, as in less than a month away.

The Struggle Was Real(ly Just Three Things)

My one-to-two week breaks from practicing began to dwindle into just a few days off here and there, and Thursdays at lunch or in the evening became regular practice time with Ed. Tweaks were constantly being made and while I could see improvement every time we met, I would still have bouts of frustration with three things in particular:

1. Memorization: No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to surpass the 95% memorized mark. There were a few spots I would struggle to remember consistently, and during practice these would turn into long pauses and stares at coach Ed.

All I would need is a single word to prompt me into remembering where I left off, but nonetheless it was frustrating. Closer to the event date, our full run-through practices turned into running the same section of speech over and over, sometimes five or six times in a row and drilling down on every phrase and every sentence.

2. Inflection: Many schools of public-speaking thought highly discourage memorizing your speech word-for-word, instead encouraging you to have a set opening, interchangeable ‘body parts’ that can be arranged in the moment as nededed, and then a set closing.

But as a writer, I carry the burden of obsessing over syntax and thus want to say things exactly as I wrote them down. That’s not such a bad thing because I’m far from being a good off-the-cuff speaker, but a consequence of it is that it can make what I am saying sound overly-memorized and monotonous. During parts where I frequently went on autopilot and my emotion would flatline, I’d try my damndest to inject more inflection and enthusiasm. But while in my head I sounded like Mickey Mouse on crack, to Ed it still sounded like Eeyore on downers. Chalk it up to being a ‘chill’ guy I suppose.

3. Slides: I had a few slide ideas I thought would be pretty cool if I could them pull off well. But I also received a lot of feedback along the lines of “you convey your message so well, you probably don’t really need slides”. And so, I put off doing these pretty much as long as I could. 

After a few rounds of feedback, I had slides remaining that I felt happy enough with, but by then the event was just a week or two out and I had to memorize a whole new non-verbal element of my speech: timing my slides to my speaking. Also, one of the organizations I requested permission from to use their logo denied me about a week out, sending me scrambling to try and cover up the hole they left.

The event date continued to creep closer, and as people would ask me how I was feeling, my stock answer became a half-joke/half-truth that “my biggest concern is what to wear so I guess that’s a good sign!” or a more deadpan “It’s like trying to memorize a really long song.”

Memorize This

The Saturday prior to the big day, we had a full dress rehearsal at the actual event venue, Stargazers Theatre. I had been to Stargazers once before for a small concert, but actually being on stage made the venue feel more cavernous than intimate. After being given some details about what the actual event day was going to be like, speaker Jesse led us all in a goofy ‘get loose’ warm up, and then it was time do a full run-through of the show.

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Out of nine speakers, I was penciled in for fifth (despite my low .OBP and never really being much of a power hitter).

My memorization was now up to about 97% in most of my run-throughs. To get that last three ticks, I tried everything from just saying my speech over and over as I was driving around town, to listening to a recording of myself while washing dishes or eating lunch.

What helped the most was using sort of mnemonic memory devices with certain parts of the speech. For instance, near the end of my talk I say this sentence:

More ridiculous perhaps is not that social skills aren’t taught, but is that they can be taught easily and at minimal cost.

I associated the word cost with a Target logo in my head (Target is a store which sells things that all have a cost), which reminded me of my next paragraph:

While talking to random people in the stationary aisle at Target like I did for my experiment might have limited “real world” utility, if you can muster up the courage to just do as much as say ‘Hi, how are you?’ or anything else to a stranger 90 times in a month, I can guarantee that next networking event or party is going to feel a lot less scary, and a lot more fun. Moreover, this idea is infinitely scalable–for someone that’s an even harder case than I was they could simply do 30 Strangers In 30 Days, or while not as catchy, Make Good Eye Contact with 30 People In 30 Days, then build from there.

I associated the word build with a staircase, symbolic for the idea of self-improvement, which reminded me to say:

Over the course of those years as my social skills improved

And so on. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably try memorizing the entire speech using this method from the moment I started practicing it.

So I went on to the roar of the three volunteers in the crowd at this practice rehearsal, and…crushed it. 100% memorized, feeling completely in control of every body movement and inflection of my voice, and I even got laughs in parts of the speech I wasn’t expecting to.

The countdown was now at under seven days, and from day one when we met as a group back in July, we were warned not to practice during this week. So what did I decide to do? Practice once more of course, a run-through the Thursday before the show for some friends that weren’t going to be able to make it to the event.

There, the wave of confidence I was riding came crashing down. In front of my friends I blanked on parts that weren’t in the 3% I hadn’t had completely memorized before, flip-flopped the order of others, and skipped a good 30-45 seconds of the middle. Not practicing didn’t feel like an option after that, and Friday was spent frantically trying to ‘map’ those parts of the speech that I had glossed over deeper into my consciousness.

Despite worrying that I had peaked too early and needed another four months of prep to get back to proper speech form, Saturday came. I felt one part kid-on-Christmas-morning, one part disbelief that the day was actually here, and one big part shit-my-pants-nervous.

I showed up at the theatre and we went through the same ‘be silly’ warm up (which I highly recommend before giving speeches, going into a job interview, in the dentist’s office, anywhere) and then it was showtime.

“Dude, you gotta breathe.”

Backstage, it was interesting to see people’s different preparation methods: some preferred to zone out with headphones in; others chose to pace outside; and some just preferred to chat casually with everyone around them like it was no big deal. In order to prove to myself that I did have this thing memorized, I chose to go in a small hallway and say my speech quietly to a wall at about 2x normal speed.

And then, after a brief application of makeup (though I’m told I can’t call it makeup because it was just powder), I waited. Backstage we had access to anything we could possibly need just short of a bowl of only-red M&M’s. As other speakers went on, I passed the time mostly by trying to decide if I was actually hungry or if my nerves were making my stomach eat itself. After about the first three speakers went on, I settled on something small to eat and began to go into hardcore preparation mode.

I went to scribble a few positive affirmations in my journal, and it was this moment I realized how much trouble I was having trying to calm myself down. If at my Denver audition I was a pogo stick, here I was a runaway jackhammer.

I tried listening to music, breathing deeply, getting fresh air, saying positive affirmations aloud, pooping, and repeating the few trouble parts of the speech to again convince myself that I knew them. Yet when it came time to get mic’d up while the speaker before me was giving his talk, the audio guy took one look at me and said “dude, you gotta breathe.”

By now, I had probably run through this speech (late additions such as my intro notwithstanding) somewhere in the ballpark of 100 times. I walked out, felt my throat and lips turn to desert, did my opening gimmick, and muscle memory took over.

Talk: Why don't we teach social skills

At this point it was kind of an out-of-body experience in the way that on one side of my brain, I had my internal teleprompter running through the speech:

Say this…do this with your hands…pause and smile so they know I am joking…

And then a sort of self-observing (and judgemental) third eye on the other side:

This is *actually* going ok…it’s really not as dark as I expected in here…they’re laughing at *that* part?…you hit your slides early jackass, just go back and keep talking…

I don’t have much more to say about what being on stage was like, because honestly, other than trying to pick out different people at the front tables to talk “to”, then realizing I was doing that maybe a little too much, then trying to talk more to the back of the house, I don’t remember much else.

I sailed through the parts I was struggling with easily, and once I hit the homestretch my inner monologue began celebrating too early, and I ended up skipping a small joke about my days as a video game message board vet. I realized this right away, but couldn’t invent a good way to loop it back in naturally, so I chose to just wrap up the speech as intended.

And as I did, the first thing I felt when I walked on stage came back to haunt me–while trying to slow down and e n u n c i a t e my closing for e m p h a s i s, my dry lips started to stick my teeth. I fought through, prayed there wouldn’t be a close up on my face at that point in the final video, waited for applause, resisted the temptation to bow or curtsy, and walked back off.

I high-fived the next speaker (the amazing Mary Boardman), was de-mic’ed, and slam dunked draft 11 of my transcript in a trashcan.

Back in the speaker room, I was greeted with congratulations (in my head that was short for “congratulations, it’s over!”) and was interviewed by the event videographers. I was told they wanted to do this right after so they could capture the speakers’ “euphoria” fresh off the stage, but I think what my interview captured were pattering nerves and a brain trying to calibrate back to normalcy.

I rambled off some answers, forgetting that I should be looking at the interviewer and not deer-in-headlights into the lens, and then I was officially off the hook of having to speak eloquently.

Ed came and congratulated me, and I watched the rest of the speakers from the upper deck of the venue, head mostly slumped on my girlfriend’s shoulder out of exhaustion and relief.

I felt a kind of eery weightlessness, eight months of stress freed from the back of my head where it had balled up and made a nice little home for itself. A few strangers congratulated me and told me that they agreed with my message and that their niece/son/coworkers needed to hear it, and after some celebratory meatballs and a beer at the afterparty, I went home.

And then I kinda forgot about it.

The Snarky Aftermath

In the weeks that followed I struggled to answer the “how did it go?” question.

In situations where I needed to answer concisely, I decided that, “It went like something that I practiced over 100 times was mostly supposed to,” would sound snarky at best despite its earnestness, and instead settled for, “Well, no one booed or threw anything at me so I guess that’s good.”

While those answers were technically true, it’s more accurate to say that I had trouble coming up with words to describe this thing I did in which every word was scripted.

Speaking at a TEDx event was something I put on my bucket list that I never expected to accomplish or even consider trying for until I was a mid-thirty something and had written a few more books, was more ‘established’, and opened a chain of drive thru-barbershops. Although I know this is a bad line of thinking, it was sort of this pinnacle on a pedestal I felt I would reach when I had ‘arrived’ and made significant contributions to some hyper-niche field, or maybe one of my #ideaaday-s that I post on Twitter would catch on and I’d get to explain how my inspiration was equal parts grogginess, coffee, and needing to scribble something in my journal so I could get on with my day.

Unexpectedly, the TEDx opportunity came before any of that. 

Now that I’ve gone ‘public’ (in a way more than just a blog or reddit post) with it and shared my feelings and experiences with the state of social skills in society, part of me feels satisfied. But another feels like I have a small obligation to continue to help others become socially stronger. 

Beyond the 90 Strangers in 30 Days guidebook I am currently pitching, I’m not exactly sure yet how I might do that. I’ve thought about doing an online course, Skype coaching, a YouTube channel, or even getting a master’s in developmental psychology.

Whatever it ends up being, I like to think I possessed the drive to do all of this someday anyway without needing the affirmation of a few hundred people at Stargazers to know who I am and what I am about. But even though I pride myself on my stubborn independence, I’m not ashamed to admit that…I did.

Now that I reached that pedestal that TED was sitting on in my mind, I can now look behind it and see that if nothing else, it was just a gatekeeper to the climb and real work that lies behind it.

Instead of being the landing strip I thought it would be, TEDx was instead the launching pad.

And I’ll never forget it.

Photography by Jay Billups

42 Things I Learned From 21 Books In 2016

Check out my lists from 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Idea originally inspired by this list of Julien Smith’s. 

Another year, another bunch of books read. I try to read at least 20 every year and to make some of those fiction. I’m much better at doing the former than the latter.

And like I do every December, I like to skim through my notes and list out my favorite two passages or things I’ve learned from each book I read.

Text in quotes is taken straight from the author:


On Writing Well by William Zinsser

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1. “Still, plain talk will not be easily achieved in corporate America. Too much vanity is on the line. Managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind.

Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too arrogant, or too dumb, or too lazy to organize his thoughts.

Remember that what you write is often the only chance you’ll get to present yourself to someone whose business or money or good will you need. If what you write is ornate, or pompous, or fuzzy, that’s how you’ll be perceived. The reader has no other choice.”

2.Nowhere else in nonfiction [than in travel writing] do writers use such syrupy words and groaning platitudes.

Adjectives you would squirm to use in conversation–‘wondrous’, ‘dappled’, ‘roseate’, ‘fabled’, ‘scudding’–are common currency. Half the sights seen in a day’s sightseeing are quaint, especially windmills and covered bridges; they are certified for quaintness.

Towns situated in hills (or foothills) are nestled–I hardly ever read about an unnestled town in the hills–and the countryside is dotted with byways, preferably half forgotten. In Europe you awake to the clip-clop of horse-drawn wagons along a history-haunted river; you seem to hear the scratch of a quill pen…. [and] chimneytops sing their immemorial song of welcome.”


A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson

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3. “It is no accident that the first highways in America were called parkways.

That’s what they were envisioned to be: parks you could drive through.”

4. “I still quite often go for walks on the trail near my home, especially if I am stuck on something I am working on. Most of the time I am sunk in thought, but at some point on each walk there comes a moment when I look up and notice, with a kind of first-time astonishment, the amazing complex delicacy of the woods, the casual ease with which elemental things come together to form a composition that is—whatever the season, wherever I put my besotted gaze—perfect.

Not just very fine or splendid, but perfect, unimprovable. You don’t have to walk miles up mountains to achieve this, don’t have to plod through blizzards, slip sputtering in mud, wade chest-deep through water, hike day after day to the edge of your limits—but believe me, it helps.”


The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

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5. “Being an executive does not require very developed frontal lobes, but rather a combination of charisma, a capacity to sustain boredom, and the ability to shallowly perform on harrying schedules.”
6. “[Philip] Tetlock studied the business of political and economic “experts.” He asked various specialists to judge the likelihood of a number of political, economic, and military events occurring within a specified time frame (about five years ahead). The outcomes represented a total number of around twenty-seven thousand predictions, involving close to three hundred specialists. Economists represented about a quarter of his sample.

The study revealed that experts’ error rates were clearly many times what they had estimated. His study exposed an expert problem: there was no difference in results whether one had a PhD or an undergraduate degree. Well-published professors had no advantage over journalists. The only regularity Tetlock found was the negative effect of reputation on prediction: those who had a big reputation were worse predictors than those who had none.”


How Soccer Explains The World by Franklin Foer

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7. “As everyone knows, Italian men are the most foppish representatives of their sex on the planet. They smear on substantial quantities of hair care products and expend considerable mental energies color-coordinating socks with belts.

Because of their dandyism, the world has Vespa, Prada, and Renzo Piano. With such theological devotion to aesthetic pleasure, it is truly perplexing that their national style of soccer should be so devoid of this quality.”

8. “As the Protestants celebrate a goal, they’re egged on by the team captain, a long-haired Italian called Lorenzo Amoruso, who has the look of a 1980s male model. Flailing his arms, he urges them to sing their anti-Catholic songs louder. The irony is obvious: Amoruso is a Catholic.

For that matter, so are most of the Rangers players. Since the late nineties, Rangers routinely field nearly as many Catholics as Celtic. Their players come from Georgia, Argentina, Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Holland, because money can buy no better ones. Championships mean more than religious purity.”


The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley

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9. “Rainbows do not exist without an observer and there are as many rainbows created by as many people looking in the right conditions, each one subtly different. The reason for this is that rainbows are formed in an exact position relative to each observer and they have a precise shape.

Whenever our shadow is shorter than we are tall, we can say with certainty that the sun is higher than 45 degrees. Therefore if our shadow is shorter than we are tall, we will never see a rainbow.”

10. “The easiest method for finding the North Star is by finding the easy-to-identify group of seven stars known as the Big Dipper to Americans and the Saucepan to many others.

Next you find the “pointer” stars—these are the two stars that a liquid would run off if you tipped up your “saucepan” by its handle. The North Star will always be five times the distance between these two pointers in the direction that they point (up away from the pan). True north lies directly under this star.”


The Wander Society by Keri Smith

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11. “When we constantly fill up all our “empty” time with stimulation in the form of electronic devices, games, and distractions, our brains become disengaged and the thinking process is effectively halted.

We never get to hear our own inner voice—we don’t develop a relationship with ourselves and our minds. We don’t get to know who we are because we’re not listening.”

12. Per·e·gri·nate (verb): travel or wander around from place to place.

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson

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13. “The desire for more positive experience itself is a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”
14. “The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement.

People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great—they are mediocre, they are average—and that they could be so much better.”


Born For This By Chris Guillebeau

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15. “A few tips on figuring out which real world problems you can solve, and how:

1. Solving problems of daily life is usually the easiest and most successful approach

2. Solving specific, measurable problems is much better than attempting to create huge behavior change

3. To avoid getting off track, always ask, ‘Why should people care about this?'”

16. “In Alexandria, VA, a personal finance advisory company has an unconventional sabbatical practice of its own. The Motley Fool, which has around 300 employees, sends one of them on a “mandatory vacation” every month. In keeping with the company’s culture, it’s called a “Fool’s Errand”, and each month the lucky employee is chosen by lottery (with long-term workers receiving multiple entries based on their number of years service).

The winner gets two weeks off and $1,000 to spend however they like, but there’s one strict rule: the employee must leave immediately and have no contact with the office while gone. Winners are also encouraged to do something that contributes to the Motley Fool’s overall mission (“to help the world invest better”), but aside from not checking work email or phoning into conference calls, there’s no restriction on what people can do.”


The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

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17. “It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction, for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention and consequently his life, without recourse to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial.

The right condition for him is that in which his work is not only convenient but unavoidable.”

18. “I have been corrupted as much as anyone else by the vast number of menial services which our society has grown to expect and depend on. We should do for ourselves or let the machines do for us, the glorious technology that is supposed to be the new light of the world. We are like a man who has bought a great amount of equipment for a camping trip, who has the canoe and the tent and the fishing lines and the axe and the guns, the mackinaw and the blankets, but who now, when all the preparations and the provisions are piled expertly together, is suddenly too timid to set out on the journey but remains where he was yesterday and the day before and the day before that, looking suspiciously through the white lace curtains at the clear sky he distrusts.

Our great technology is a God-given chance for adventure and for progress which we are afraid to attempt. Our ideas and our ideals remain exactly what they were and where they were three centuries ago. No. I beg your pardon. It is no longer safe for a man to even declare them!”


Stand And Deliver by The Dale Carnegie Institute

standanddeliver

19. “For a speaker, sincerity is the wild card that trumps everything else. Deep, genuine sincerity is the first characteristic of all credible presenters. No audience can deny the truth of emotions that you feel at a deep level, nor would any audience care to deny them.

On the contrary, they want to feel what you’re sincerely feeling. They want to share the experiences of your life for the few moments that you’re standing before them.”

20. “Magic Formula (best for short, motivational talks):

1. Share a vivid, personal experience that’s relevant to the action you ultimately want your listeners to take. This should be a story that led to a positive change in your life. This will take the most time.

2. Call directly on the audience to take that single, well-defined action. Make it seem easy. This should take you only 2 minutes to explain.

3. Clearly and convincingly describe the benefit that listeners will get by taking the action. This will take the least time; as little as one second.”


Olympic Weightlifting by Greg Everett

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21. “Proper [squat] depth is full depth; full depth means full depth. That is, full depth is not breaking parallel, nor is it breaking parallel—it is squatting to the lowest possible position without surgical alteration of body parts while maintaining correct posture.

To simplify, we want to close the knee joint maximally while maintaining upright posture and a correctly arched back.”

22. “Part of the myth that weightlifting stunts growth can be attributed to flawed logic, similar to that which persists with regard to gymnastics. Because elite gymnastics and weightlifters in lighter weight classes tend to be smaller in stature, many people assume that their training has limited their growth.

This is a classic logical fallacy—post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). In other words, because following sport training these athletes remain short, it is assumed that this training was causative of the athletes’ stature. This chronology however, in no way demonstrates causation.”


God’s Debris by Scott Adams

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23. “If the penny’s consciousness were like human consciousness, it would analyze the situation and conclude that it had free will.

When it wanted to come up heads, and heads was the result, the penny would confirm its belief in its power to choose. When it came up tails instead, it would blame its own lack of commitment, or assume God had a hand in it.”

24. “Conversation is more than the sum of the words. It is also a way of signaling the importance of another person by showing your willingness to give that person your rarest resource: time. It is a way of conveying respect.

Conversation reminds us that we are part of a greater whole, connected in some way that transcends duty or bloodline or commerce. Conversation can be many things, but it can never be useless.”


The Martian by Andy Weir

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25. Despite the fact that we haven’t been there (on foot), most of Mars’ major topographical features have already been named, and many as long ago as the late 1800s.
26. ASCII can be used to communicate in a pinch when space and time are at a premium.

The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

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27. “By using this principle you can make contents looks far more exciting:

Hang heavy items on the left side of the closet and light items on the right. Heavy items include those with length, those made from heavier material, and those that are dark in color. As you move toward the right side of the closet, the length of the clothing grows shorter, the material thinner and the color lighter.”

28. “Attachment to the past and fears concerning the future not only govern the way you select the things you own but also represent the criteria by which you make choices in every aspect of your life, including your relationships with people and your job.”

The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday

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29. “Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens—at that exposing moment—the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?”
30. “There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”

The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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31. Dentuso is Spanish slang for something with big, ugly teeth (like a shark).
32. “But he liked to think about all things that he was involved in and since there was nothing to read and he did not have a radio, he thought much and he kept on thinking about sin. You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?”

Take Your Eye Off The Puck by Greg Wyshynski

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33. “At the 2013 Sloan Sports Conference, authors Eric Tulsky, Geoffrey Detweiler, Robert Spencer, and Corey Sznajder presented evidence that showed carrying the puck over the blue line generated roughly twice as many scoring chances as dumping and chasing it.”
34. “Buffalo Sabres general manager George “Punch” Imlach was ticked off about how tedious the [draft] process was, so he decided to cast one of most hilarious protest votes in pro sports history. In the 11th round, with the 183rd pick, Imlach selected Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas in the “Japanese league”.

Technology being what it was in 1974, there weren’t many ways for the NHL to check the credential on this “star center”, according to Imlach. The league rubber-stamped it; rival NHL general managers immediately wondered who this mysterious rookie was.

Weeks later, Imlach came clean. There were no Tokyo Katanas–“Katana” being Japanese for “sabre”–and there was no Taro Tsujimoto. Imlach was exasperated by the length of the draft and decided to have a laugh at the its expense. So he made up the pick and submitted it.”


Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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35. Puss in Boots was a European fairy tale character around long before Shrek 2.
36. [Wikipedia]: “The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames.

By June the stench from the river had become so bad that business in Parliament was affected, and the curtains on the river side of the building were soaked in lime chloride to overcome the smell. The measure was not successful, and discussions were held about possibly moving the business of government to Oxford or St Albans.”


Beginning Songwriting by Andrea Stolpe

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37. “There is one chord in a major key that doesn’t sound particularly happy or sad, but more suspicious, confusing, or even simply ‘wrong’.

This is the diminished triad that results by playing a triad starting on the 7 of the C major scale, the B. When we stack the B, D, and F, we call it a B diminished chord, or Bdim for short.”

38. “Crumpled Paper Songwriting Activity: Have each songwriter take out a piece of paper. On the paper, everyone writes something they deeply want to tell someone, but are afraid to. Crumple up the paper, and throw it in the middle of the room.

After everyone has contributed a paper ball, have the songwriters each choose a crumpled paper and unfold it. Each songwriter will write a song based on the idea they chose, perhaps even using the language on the paper as the actual chorus section of the song. Have everyone perform their songs next time the group meets.”


Antarctica by Claire Keegan

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39. Fred and Rosemary West were English serial killers that buried at least 12 victims in their garden and cellar in the 1980s and 1990s without their neighbors knowing.
40. “The air spiked her lungs. Clouds smashed into each other in the sky. She hung her head back to look at them. She wished the world could turn into a fabulous, outrageous red to match her mood.”

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett

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41. No matter what version of this story I read, I will always picture Scrooge as Michael Caine and every one else as Muppets. 
42. “Was he not enjoying the solitude he had sought his entire life? He was, and that was the bitter realization. For he was so competent, so driven, so independent that, in a temporal sense, he had never really needed anyone. This ability was now his cruse, for he craved a friend in his final hours.

His earthly assets, all of them, were down in the street in the counting-house, measured in ounces and pounds, and by morning, he would have lost his grasp on them. He did not even have a will, having been dissatisfied with simply giving his hard-earned estate to one who had not worked for it. He yearned for someone to tell him his life had been successful, to affirm that the single turn he had gotten upon earth had been well spent.”


What was your favorite passage from a book you read in 2016?

The Sincerest High

It’s the sincerest high,
Just that—saying ‘hi’.
Over and over,
Countless times in a night.

Many of these people I will never see again,
But I know left my energy and impression with them.
Our buzz shall be amplified by our emotions;
The other way around seems broken.

As I bounce around the floors
My hellos open new doors.
Momentum builds,
This must be what it’s like to have social skills.

It’s something that feels so damn right
Something that used to keep me up at night,
Rolling may be associated with MDMA
But to me it’s not having to think about what to say.

Alcohol and drugs can be a boost or a crutch
But being able to achieve this state without either is a must,
For the most beautiful feelings
Come from this energy, come from belonging.

Journal entry from January 2014, written after a party.

365 Days of Being Grateful

As a kid, my least favorite thing about Thanksgiving was when some cheeseball would inevitably suggest that we go around the table and say one thing we were grateful for. I loathed having to take part in such a campy exercise, and I’d usually resort to my fail-safe answer of ‘modern technology’. 

Ironically, I now force myself to do that very eyeroll-inducing thing three times every morning.

Gratitude is one of the latest self-help trends. Being grateful supposedly improves your self-esteem, mental strength, relationships, productivity, helps you sleep better, and even keeps you from getting sick.  

Basically, if you believe everything you read, being grateful makes you superhuman. 

Despite many of these claims being backed by science, I was skeptical. Even though I was only a sporadic journaler two winters ago (compared to now), I was hesitant to add in yet another supposed-life boosting habit to my daily routine. 

Then, the subject of being grateful daily popped up on an episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast (I can’t remember specifically which one, though he talks about it again in this episode). What he calls “five-minute journaling” was part of his own morning routine, which even spawned a similarly-named product.

Since following the advice in Ferriss’ first book changed the course of my life, in February 2015 I decided to give being grateful every day a try. In addition to just seeing what all the fuss was about, I used it as a way to also “trick” myself into journaling more regularly. Writing three things in my life that made me happy everyday seemed like a manageable minimum daily “standard” to meet, and if I did feel the need to vomit my soul onto the pages, I was already in position to do that, too.

Even after I began, I wasn’t convinced I would be able to sustain the habit for long–how many different things could I possibly be grateful for?

I get asked this a lot when I talk journaling with people. While at first I tried to avoid repeating things, eventually I gave myself permission to be grateful again for something I had already listed before. For instance, I couldn’t help but laugh at how many times I was grateful that I “caught up on sleep last night” or “let myself sleep in” when I flipped through the previous years’ pages.

What also surprised me was that it was never really difficult at all, and that I have more to be grateful for than I could have ever imagined beforehand. Some were esoteric and sappy; others were trivial and minute, but I can’t recall ever being unable to come up with three things. Soon, the habit became an unconscious one that I have stuck with for over a year now.

I’m not going to say that expressing gratitude has outright made me an overall happier person (and certainly not made my sleep better), but I don’t think pausing every morning to write down three good things in my life has ever started my day off on a bad note. Instead, my brain feels primed to look for more good things to be happy about during the rest of the day.

Finally, reading back through old entries helps me revisit times in my life just as if I had written detailed entries about the day’s activities. Seeing that I was grateful for X on a particular day triggers all sorts of great memories from that day that weren’t explicitly written down (similar to what the 1 Second Everyday app does).

For those that are still a little confused at what their own gratitude journal could look like, I wanted to share some (ok, many) entries of my own from my first year of “appreciation training”. I certainly don’t intend for anyone to read all or even most of these since it is such a large (and personal) list, but I wanted to include as many examples as possible to demonstrate the scope of just how many different things there are to be grateful about. Omitted are many of the duplicate entries (such as the many pertaining to sleep) and ones that make zero sense out of context.

I tried to organize them into different categories, but many of these distinctions are muddled and overlapping. Either way, most of them are as raw as they were when I initially wrote them and are representative of some of my best days, along with some of my worst.

And if the words ‘self-affirmation’ make you dry-heave, now would be the time to click away (or avoid reading the last section).

From Feb. 10, 2015-Feb. 10, 2016 I was grateful for:

META AND THE ESOTERIC

2/10/15: That I am trying this five minute journal thing.
5/12/15: The fact that the world is only imperfect relative to a perfect image that doesn’t exist (Owen Cook quote, not my own)
7/02/15: For everything I am and have, here and now, at 8:40AM MST on July 2nd, 2015 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States, North America, Earth.
7/17/15: That I am finally truly grasping (I think) the concept of impermanence.
10/07/15: Those ‘where the fuck am I’ moments in life, like I had most of yesterday, but especially at happy hour at that table with people from all around the world

THE LITTLE THINGS

2/11/15: Living in a city where I know what is going on and where the places “to be” are
2/11/15: That I can go from listening to sports talk to Sinatra to standup in 20 minutes
2/25/15: My apartment and the pink sunrises I get to see in the morning while I write
3/17/15: That people loan me books
3/27/15: Folk punk
4/01/15: That I seemingly won’t ever get sick of eggs
4/05/15: ER Doctors
4/07/15: Getting out of bed early and getting shit done
4/10/15: Casual Fridays (what every day should be!)
4/30/15: My work laptop, despite its flaws
4/30/15: This journal, regardless of its origin
5/08/15: The rain (except when it congeals into slush that slides into my trunk when I open it)
5/18/15: Music I can listen to for 10+ years and not get tired of (Streetlight)
5/22/15: Four-day workweeks/holiday weekends
5/28/15: Days with few meetings.
6/03/15: Fat, thick, nasty, house basslines.
6/05/15: Taco nights
6/12/15: Cool, rainy mornings
6/12/15: Casual Fridays
6/12/15: Busy weekends
6/13/15: That I love something as much as I do music
6/19/15: The new meditation ideas I learned in Be Here Now
6/23/15: People like Ralph Smart
6/31/15: New music from great bands
6/31/15: Living in a country where women’s sports are celebrated (comparatively)
7/07/15: The amount of amazing road trips I’ve had in my lifetime
7/09/15: That I plan on getting my hair cut today
7/10/15: reddit and all it has taught me
7/10/15: Fridays
8/01/15: That the US’ domestic soccer league is such a great thing to attend
8/04/15: MC Lars being such a down to earth person and inspiration
8/04/15: That August is going to be a great month
8/07/15: That so many people I talk to have some sort of ‘tie’ to Panama
8/11/15: My laid back work environment and no boss this week
8/21/15: That creative genius is so easy to share via the internet
8/21/15: Long lunch breaks and visit to the library
9/04/15: That there’s still places like high country Colorado that still exist relatively undisturbed (all things considered)
9/06/15: That my car has seemingly gotten me all the way home without issue
9/12/15: For the awesome backyard I had to play in when I was younger, and that I have to sit and reflect on in and now.
9/12/15: Getting to experience cool, Ohio fall mornings for the first time in years, where you wake up and the windows are open and your hands feel borderline icy inside the house, but you’d much rather just throw a hoodie on than shut the windows.
9/12/15: Getting to watch Ohio State football with my family again.
9/13/15: Facetime and all the other technology we have today to stay in touch with friends, family, and SOs
9/14/15: The abundance of places like coffee shops that provide solitude, a cheap enjoyable beverage, and a place to be productive
9/14/15: Ohio in the fall
9/14/15: That I paid off my credit card in full yesterday
9/16/15: That there is a place 5 minutes from my parents’ where I can do Olympic lifting
9/29/15: Modern technology and how it can assist in travel
9/30/15: The advent of things like AirBnb that which have made comfortable (and sometimes stylish) travel so affordable
10/01/15: This childhood home I got to grow up in and still visit, particularly how it feels in the fall and winter
10/03/15: Ohio State football and the community that comes along with it
10/03/15: EPL being the adult version of Saturday morning cartoons
10/09/15: Not being deported
10/09/15: How similar hostel life is to college dorms
10/13/15: That everyone here vibrates with a similar “energy”
10/16/15: That my biggest concerns of late are things like “should I go snorkelling or swim in the pool”, “there’s so much glare on my computer screen” and “I hope my girlfriend I talk with and receive adoration from every day doesn’t lose interest in me in < 3 months”
10/20/15: That I am 3/3 with hostels so far, with no horror stories to speak of
10/21/15: That the U.S. isn’t the only country whose kids get to enjoy the benefits of marching band
10/22/15: That something like getting to go over the portfolios of other freelancers and take notes makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning
10/22/15: You know what? I am grateful that the WiFi has been out the past 18 hours or so at the hostel…it has allowed me to see that it really was affecting my mood
10/25/15: This hostel I am at where everything is close, I have met some awesome people, and I don’t feel overly stimulated or pressured to constantly be doing something…and the free coffee
10/26/15: That I’m on a schedule where I can stay up late talking to my girlfriend and then sleep in as needed without consequence, because I can always work more later in the day.
11/02/15: You know what? I’m grateful that sport serves as a connection to home for me here
11/03/15: That I realized yesterday why (part of the reason) I love travel, sports, and people is that I love being around people and events that exude pride about where they are from. I suppose this goes along with being attracted to presence.
11/06/15: The lows before the highs
11/8/15: That my screen is only damaged in the top right corner and not the whole thing.
11/09/15: The energy of cafes/delis/eateries near campuses no matter where in the world you are
AirBnB and the brilliant minds behind it. Along with that,simple quiet rooms, any bed above a twin, and laundry machines
11/16/15: Uber
11/18/15: That Medellin has built itself into what it i today after its past
11/18/15: That not everywhere in Latin America has to be balls hot/humid all the time
11/18/15: Awesome blog post comments from older people telling me I’m on the right path with how I am living my life
11/20/15: That meeting interesting people is and probably always will be as easy as checking into a hostel
11/23/15: Families that enjoy taking in students from all around the world
11/24/15: The view I have from my host family’s balcony that keeps distracting me from my journal
11/25/15: People like Casey Neistat that re-assure me that it’s ok to love work and be happiest when I am working
11/29/15: That I just had a steak as big as my foot and about as thick as a brick with two drinks for $13.
12/09/15: Facetime
12/10/15: Spontaneous invitations–I feel like those are rare in the States
12/10/15: That in Colombia you just pick your city based on what season you want to feel
12/19/15: That I am about to get another stamp in my passport
12/21/15: That you can cook eggs in the microwave
12/27/15: Panamanian hotel breakfasts and their, at-minimum, three types of meat
12/27/15: Things like Facetime, Maps.me, and Uber that have made this trip 1000x easier
12/28/15: That there are now a small number of non-U.S. cities I feel comfortable navigating by the back of my hand.
12/29/15: That I am going to work out today
12/29/15: That I am going to trim my beard today
12/29/15: That I might not leave the hotel today
12/30/15: That WiFi at this hostel or coffee shop didn’t work and I am able to slow down and just journal instead
12/30/15: That I am going to go to an old book museum!
12/30/15: That I have so many things to be grateful for
1/09/16: The Way of Life app which I think will increase my daily habits even more in 2016 (excited to see the data)
1/14/16: All the creators and inventors that have come before me and made this such a great time be alive in history
1/21/16: That I get to touch a barbell today
1/23/16: That hopefully before I die we will have self-driving cars for mass use
2/05/16: Your Import Car Dr. and their awesome service
2/01/16: Even though it has no bearing on me as a freelancer…snow days!
2/06/16: That my car problem was cheap compared to what it could have been
2/08/16: Coffee.
2/10/16: That I have no obligations or plans to day until 7:30PM

FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND RELATIONSHIPS

2/12/15: Being able to talk about sports with people from any corner of the world
2/19/15: Having a good relationship with my parents
2/19/15: Having friends that text me random questions
2/25/15: Friends I see only a few times this year but always hit it off with when I do
3/4/15: Dating someone I feel like I don’t have to impress with extravagant nights out
3/6/15: Having a friend I can talk to that instantly makes everything better
3/18/15: Parents that are accepting of my future travel lifestyle
3/22/15: Friendship that lead to random nights like last night
3/24/15: That I have random people ask me to look at their writing
3/25/15: I know people who have travelled that can give me backpack recommendations
3/25/15: That I have a knowledgeable and (seemingly friendly) CPA
3/26/15: My siblings
3/27/15: That people reach out to me for advice
4/10/15: My siblings
4/13/15: That my parents have become so supportive of my plan to travel
4/28/15: That I can argue with my brother and it not be a big deal.
4/28/15: Friends sending me old funny pictures
5/1/15: My friends
5/1/15: Nights like tonight where I have four things going on to choose from
5/10/15: Having a friend like Daniel that puts my little “problems” into perspective
5/11/15: My mom!
5/21/15: I have friends that want to share their writing with me
5/26/15: The opportunity to go to places like Portland and meet my friend’s friends
5/31/15: I have someone to be neurotic about
5/31/15: She is not my world and I have so much else going on in my life
6/1/15: Friends like Alicia
6/2/15: Elaine and our conversations and memories
6/5/15: Time spent with Elena
6/7/15: That I can make friends anywhere I go
6/13/15: That what I think are big problems in my head sound ridiculous when I say them to Elaine or Christina
6/15/15: That all my parents and siblings are still in my life
6/19/15: That I care so much (about the right people)
6/19/15: Getting to witness and be in my good friend’s wedding
6/30/15: Ben and I’s early morning phone calls
6/30/15: That I have friends like Ashley that can just drop in to talk about feelings and stuff
6/30/15: Early morning texts from friends
7/1/15: That I have friends to watch soccer with
7/1/15: That friends want me to look over their resumes
7/7/15: The look on a woman’s face when you tell them that you love them for the first time
7/8/15: That saying and hearing “I love you” for the first time is something that only happens a handful of times in one’s life
7/17/15: That in relationships I am an accountable person
7/29/15: That I can emotionally vomit to my girlfriend and it’s no big deal
9/5/15: That I have places across the country to stay with people and witness different lifestyles and ways of living (making me grateful of my own)
9/6/15: That after I stay with people or do things with them I get texts afterwards saying it was good to see me, etc.
9/8/15: Despite small annoyances, getting to live/belong to a such a sane and together family, one I am never really hesitant about introducing people to
9/9/15: That my parents both work two jobs…I guess I didn’t realize this in those exact words
9/11/15: That I can dip my feet back into the waters of weed/booze now and again (just to say I visit) and not drown.
9/17/15: That I have an awesome brother and sister-in-law with an awesome house to stay in and have a good time with others
9/18/15: Elena arrives tonight! And that this week has gone so fast and that we’ve had contact every day!
9/18/15: I get to sleep with my girlfriend in my childhood home tonight in my arms.
9/19/15: That saying bye in the airport was so hard
9/19/15: But that we are (I think) going about this whole thing rationally and maturely
9/20/15: That I’m not embarrassed in any way to take people to my home or introduce them to my family
9/24/15: That the amount of people I know that want to see me feels like a burden #firstworldproblems
9/25/15: That I know so many people still in the amazing city of Columbus
9/26/15: That my parents are getting their passport applications turned in today
10/1/15: That even though it’s gotten me behind on some work, that I am taking the time to try and sit/hang out with mom and dad.
10/3/15: That I get along with Ben’s friends
10/4/15: Really, the support from 99% of the people in my life regarding this trip
10/4/15: That my biggest “nitpick” about my family is that their energy/optimism level isn’t the same as mine, which is silly since not everyone can be like that.
10/4/15: That my girlfriend and I are equally sentimental to each other and equally committed in making this work. And that moments and what made us ‘us’ is as equally as important to her as it is me.
10/8/15: Friendly people in hostels that, whether they are doing it consciously or not, take me under their wing to a degree
10/8/15: That I have someone I am loyal to.
10/9/15: That feeling of knowing someone your whole life when really it’s been 24 hours
10/27/15: That there are people like Frank in the world where my brain actually feels alive after talking to
10/28/15: That the world is a small enough place that I spent the morning talking to the man in the bunk next to me who lives a mile away from where I did in Colorado Springs
11/2/15: That my girlfriend says sentences like “that’s why I had to stop playing Pokemon”
11/5/15: That I have friends that text me like I’m not 2000 miles away, but still hanging out with them every night.
11/11/15: Erin’s coming today!
11/12/15: That my sister and I have become closer
11/17/15: All the amazing characters I have met on this trip that may have sent me messages on Facebook or connected with me in some way
11/20/15: New friends that feel like old friends
12/6/15: That I have friends to share both my niche and major sports interests with
12/6/15: That I know people all over the world
12/6/15: The beauty and serendipity of fleeting human interaction–just how quickly most people enter and exit your life. I like the lack of attachment associated I guess? But then it just goes to make those fleeting instances into something more that much more special
12/10/15: That my family has so many Christmas traditions
12/14/15: That, as the Argentine girl volunteering at the hostel put it, travel is the best school.
12/18/15: All the great people I have met in Colombia
12/29/15: That I am going to see my family in <72 hours
1/8/16: That I love my family and I am always welcomed home indefinitely (within reason)
1/9/16: That I have so many friends I don’t skip a beat with and that I have to reminisce about the past with
1/15/16: That I have met–and allowed someone to remain in my life that makes me so incredibly happy
1/15/16: That the wait is over
1/19/16: That we decided to try long distance
1/19/16: That is wasn’t that hard all things considered
1/22/16: That I know so many great people here that it’d be a chore to catch with them all quickly
1/26/16: I have someone to be goofy with in the morning
1/31/16: That I get to live and further share my life with such an amazing person that I love so much
2/9/16: I get to live with and somewhat take care of a cat.
2/10/16: I know so many interesting people and places that would make good stories

OPPORTUNITIES

2/10/15: Getting to work for a big time client that I think can take me places
2/12/15: The amount of freelance work I have to do
5/4/15: That my job has enough variety to have me be cranky about not being able to get into a groove (sometimes)
5/6/15: That my biggest complaint about my job is that I have too many meetings
5/27/15: That my freelance clients have been imposing deadlines on me, making me a much more efficient writer
5/29/15: That I get to go to South Dakota
6/6/15: Getting to work international sporting events (World Archery Youth Championships in Yankton, SD) and interact with people all over the world.
6/10/15: That I have the challenge of managing someone
6/28/15: That I’m about to jump out of a plane
6/29/15: That I said ‘fuck it’ and went skydiving
7/1/15: When the muse visits
7/7/15: The investments my employer makes in me
7/23/25: That I get to go to a float tank for my birthday present!
7/30/15: That I get to go to Seattle!
8/5/15: Every freelance assignment I get
9/12/15: That I get to live under the roof of my adoring parents, rent free, for this period of time and that I am seeing them more now than if I were to come home for the holidays like I had been doing.
11/8/15: That I was able to end up yesterday in some place that I am knowledgeable about and is safe.
11/18/15: Living with a 60 (?) year old German-speaking Colombian woman in her beautiful apartment that she mops for seemingly four hours a day while listening to meditation music
11/19/15: How cheap travel is if I weren’t doing the Spanish schools
11/22/15: That today I am moving into a scary experience yet one that will be great for me
11/26/15: That, including work-to-be-done, I am something like $50 away from reaching my goal of quadrupling my income for the year.
12/13/15: That I have a life where I can just be like “ehhhh I think I’ll go to Curacao for a week”
12/16/15: The awesome people and places I keep encountering through AirBnb.
12/18/15: That I have the dilemma of taking more regular work for slightly less money
12/20/15: That Medellin/Colombia spoiled me
1/3/16: For the adventure behind.
1/3/16: For the adventure ahead.
1/8/16: That more and more my life is shifting toward just being filled with what I want to do, when I want to do it.
1/12/16: I am getting to experience cozy, snowy days inside my childhood home again
1/18/16: Freelance life and that this is exactly how I like to work and start my day
1/28/16: This period in my life and the the uncertainty before me
2/2/16: Freelancer life
2/10/16: That I live someplace that people want to visit
2/13/16: That COS (Even if it’s just COS) is exposing me to new things like kava

SELF

2/10/15: Loving who I see in the mirror each morning
3/15/15: How I can think I am socially hopeless not even a week ago and now feel close to my socially strongest
3/20/15: My openness to new music
3/20/15: Even though I go through periods where I have trouble staying with it, my overall persistence with meditation
3/23/15: That I don’t settle
3/24/15: That I put pressure on myself to be better
3/27/15: That I am not that jealous a person anymore (at least compared to who I used to be)
3/29/15: Realizing I need to cut out alcohol and certain groups of people
4/1/15: That I was just like “Ima write a poem” and then I did
4/8/15: My ability to be alone.
4/15/15: My resilience, even when I try and convince myself I am not.
4/17/15: That I question my value and place in the world
4/20/15: My life as it is now.
4/20/15: Being grateful for #1
4/20/15: That I pursue what I love most.
4/29/15: My body
4/29/15: My mind
4/29/15: My spirit
4/30/15: How much I’ve grown
5/1/15: That I have become self-aware enough to know to “reset” my brain (sleep, meditation, cutting out distractions)
5/4/15: That (I think) I am learning to do less, or at least put less pressure on myself to do more
5/5/15: That I feel like I am leveling up
5/7/15: My kickass morning routine
5/7/15: That I think I have finally eradicated a large portion of the jealousy I used to carry with me…some that mindset, some because I’m so happy with who I’ve become
5/14/15: My life
5/14/15: My energy
5/14/15: The fact that I will be ok, always
5/18/15: My strength to overcome negative emotions and thought patterns
5/29/15: That when I really like someone I put a lot of effort into dates
5/30/15: That I have someone I care for enough to worry about a couple of sentences I sent in a conversation over three hours ago
5/30/15: ^^That I’ll get over this, too.
5/31/15: I seek knowledge about my neurosis and how to overcome them
6/2/15: How diverse and well-rounded my life is
6/2/15: How fast I can bounce back from a “down day” and get the “spark” back
6/3/15: For my gumption/balls/idiocy to do what many talk about and never do and buy the ticket.
6/8/15: My analysis and self-reflection, even if it drives me batshit a lot of the time.
6/10/15: My height
6/18/15: The progress I have made with meditation
6/18/15: That people want me to do writing for them.
6/22/15: That I am starting to focus on doing less
6/25/15: Everything in my life
7/14/15: This moment in time where I have a guaranteed source of income, a solidified social circle, comfortable dwelling, and love.
7/15/15: That I am taking a step many only dream about
7/15/15: That it’s not easy to do (meaning I have had a good time here)
7/15/15: That I am able to recognize when it is time for me to go
7/22/15: That I’m not dreading turning 27 soon
7/22/15: That putting in my five weeks has started to make me look (even more) at what I value most
7/28/15: That leaving is hard, not easy
7/28/15: That I know how to pick myself up and feel better in just a few a days
7/28/15: That I have ties in both the MLS and Olympic worlds
8/10/15: That I find it relatively easy to get rid of my belongings
8/11/15: That I am a hopeless romantic
8/14/15: That I am a happy person overall
8/15/15: That I feel minorly obsessed with learning Spanish
8/17/15: That my childhood self would be proud of me
8/17/15: Who I’ve become and who I will be
8/28/15: MY LAST DAY AT USADA
8/28/15: That I don’t have to sit in a cube for at least a while
9/5/15: That I feel like I can help and inspire people
9/5/15: That I basically view my life as one big video game map to explore with a shit ton of NPCs to interact with
9/6/15: That I am not shy about eating or exploring places by myself
9/11/15: That I can see how I have grown every time I come back to this town
9/12/15: The heightened awareness and vivid clarity I gain from just 11 minutes of sitting, especially considering I still have many things to “learn” about meditation
9/14/15: That I’m not old enough yet where 3 beers gives me a *complete* hangover
9/17/15: That I will continue to pay off my credit card every month in full form here on out
9/18/15: That I am not going to get my haircut this week, as I feel like I lean on it too much as a way to draw satisfaction from an external source
9/18/15: That all things considered (and barring financial catastrophe) I am in a good spot
9/18/15: That I haven’t stressed hardly at all over my texts like the last 36 hours or so…hopefully this anxiety will just be another one of those things I’ll look back on and laugh about in the future.
9/19/15: That I am starting to get into a frugal mindset
9/20/15: That I enjoy reading classics
9/24/15: That I am a seeker: for what I love to do, where I love to be, and for someone great to love that is good for me.
9/24/15; How comfortable and confident I feel in (most) bar settings
9/28/15: The ability to think rationally (or what I think is) about short versus long term gratification
10/6/15: That I am somewhat wildly uncomfortable now, in that my tongue feels tied and my ears plugged whenever I try and talk to someone
10/6/15: That I made this happen…from daydreams in a cubicle to actually buying the ticket to eating steak for breakfast.
10/8/15: That I am ok with not vibing with everyone.
10/17/15: Fuck it, that I am going to change the world
10/20/15: I am going to throw myself into learning Spanish at all costs
10/21/15: That I am meeting more people at this hostel now and that really my social skills are to the point where most people I vibe with I will find, I moreso just need to relax and do me as opposed to exerting any sort of actual effort.
10/22/15: That I enjoy/don’t mind cooking for myself
10/25/15: That whenever I seemingly have (unwarranted) doubts about relationship things, a slew of tests or other forms of contact ease my worries (though even when there’s periods of times where there aren’t those types of things I feel more at ease)
10/27/15: That I am going to have a lifetime full of interesting stories and experiences–I have too much momentum and a taste for it now.
10/30/15: That every older person I meet (and I guess all ages) speaks with admiration about what I’m doing. I know it was just a decision, and I know it was a very good one for me to make, but it’s a little nice to have affirmation and support from strangers.
10/30/15: That my “low” moments don’t seem to last that long/I know ways to generally pull myself out
10/30/15: That I have something like writing I can always turn to when I’m say, happy, in need of a distraction, etc.
10/30/15: That I can’t imagine not writing now that I have begun
10/31/15: That even when I think my social skills have faded, I can switch back on and feel so damn comfortable in skin with complete strangers
11/1/15: That I am unashamedly independent and there are others like me
11/1/15: That all things considered, my Spanish is improving and at times it’s ‘unconscious’
11/2/15: That I get to tell people I am a writer
11/4/15: That I read things like The Zahir that tell me exactly what I need to hear right now in terms of letting go of the past, if you tell a story a certain way about the past you haven’t moved on, or if you say it another way then it’s like you’re talking about a different person, which shows you have moved on immensely.
11/10/15: Meeting a fellow digital nomad re-confirmed again everything I was reading/telling people last week
11/11/15: That I don’t feel good when I don’t work out
11/19/15: The amount of personal work I am getting done and how hard it is for me to tear myself away, the point where it makes me late for things
11/21/15: How easy it is for me via technology to “surround” myself with the voices and work of highly creative and inspirational people.
11/21/15: That I am in the midst of one of the most creative and productive times of my life at the moment.
11/24/15: That I have to try and start thinking in Spanish before I am even remotely awake
11/29/15: That everything will be ok work-wise and that I am crazy enough to take the leaps of faith I have taken in my life.
12/1/15: That I self-examine often why the fuck I drink. More and more I question it’s place in my life and I bet it will have an increasingly smaller place in my life as I get older.
12/2/15: That last night I am pretty sure I had my first dream sequence in Spanish.
12/3/15: That I am me.
12/11/15: That I made the choice to do this–all of this. Freelancing, quitting, travel…everything.
12/13/15: My propensity to seek out and try new things
12/13/15: That I am living my dream
12/14/15: How much I enjoy reading and doing my annual books post
12/20/15: That I can recognize (usually, I think) when I am just being hangry/annoyed by stupid shit like a sick guy on the plane touching my shit, taking my seat, and a rude customs agent
12/21/15: That I know what my mission: To help other people live better lives through writing
12/23/15: That I know when I go back I will be building myself on top of a stronger foundation
1/3/16: That I did this
1/8/16: That I do like cooking for other people now and again and that I can just look at a recipe and “go for it”
1/9/16: That I started meditating that autumn afternoon 3+ years ago
1/9/16: How overall I am pleased with myself and life situation at the moment
1/11/16: That I went ahead and shared my 2015/16 review post on FB even though it makes me feel like a narcissistic douchecanoe.
1/22/16: My life, always, but especially these days
1/23/16: That I can express my frustration at situation and not at people
1/27/16: That it’s my half birthday, I guess?
1/27/16: That the first 2.5 years I lived here I put myself out there or at least put myself in the right groups
1/28/16: That I overanalyze as opposed to underanalyze
2/11/16: A simple diet (and fast metabolism) that lets me snack seemingly all day with little consequence to my appearance
2/12/16: How energized I feel socially by having so much time to recharge and not be around people I don’t want to be around all day.
2/13/16: Fuck it, that I like cats and like caring for them

What are you grateful for today?