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Lifestyle

What I Learned the Hard Way

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Writing about this idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts. The original prompt was to write about a time when I learned the hard way, but I changed it to what I learned the hard way. While the story surrounding these lessons is wildly interesting and incredible, it’s long, and writing it in a blog post will not do it justice. Plus, I don’t have the writing skills necessary to properly tell that story.

However, the lessons I learned then are potentially some of the most influential I will ever learn in my entire life and I’m going to share some of them here.

This is the post I needed seven years ago. If I knew these lessons, or if I was able to learn them the easy way, then I probably would have saved myself a bunch of suffering.

I’m hoping someone can learn at least one of these lessons the easy way (reading this post) rather than the hard way (through immense suffering). Trust me, its much better to learn things the easy way but I also know that the human-animal can only learn some things the hard way.

Finding words sets us free.

A few years ago I got tangled up with some bad people. During that time I saw myself and others do hideous things. I was manipulated by a sociopath because I wasn’t paying enough attention to see what was right in front of me. I didn’t have a way of conceptualizing what I was doing or what I witnessed because I didn’t have a language for it. On top of that, I was tortured which made everything much harder to articulate.

While that experience was one of the toughest in my life, I never felt more relief than when I was able to find the words, or phrases, to explain what happened to me. I felt like a shattered version of myself and over the following years, everything I explored had the undertones of finding the bits and pieces that could help me process the trauma. Every time I heard, read, or learned something that could help me understand what happened, I felt a little more whole.

Finding the language to capture the experience sets us free from reliving the trauma and starts the healing process. I didn’t know this for years, but I felt it in my body. I never felt more relief than when I was able to find the words, or phrases, to explain what happened to me. I supposed this was one of the ides that I had to learn the hard way.

Turning our experiences to language orders the chaos of our minds, which helps us understand where we are. Our minds occupy territory in space and time, so when we transform the experience to speech we turn a little bit of the unknown into the familiar.

When we experience trauma, the parts of our brain that process speech shut off and we are no longer able to turn our experiences into speech. I’ve written a blog post on The Significance of Speech, which talks about how speech is so powerful from a mythological perspective. But the loss of speech, in this case, comes with the inability to process experience into speech also prevents us from putting the experience in the past.

Practicing my ability to articulate my thoughts through writing via blogging and journaling has given me a greater body knowledge and language to draw from, which aids in the healing process. Honestly, in my experience, it’s been absolutely essential in my healing process.

Understanding, internalizing, and having a vocabulary for ideas like malevolence, betrayal, archetypes, willful blindness, responsibility, sacrifice, suffering, striving, struggle, logos, animus, anima, envy, narcissism, neuroticism, the shadow, circumambulation, atonement, and so many others has been life-changing.

My speculations that this idea was true were verified when I read about many PTSD patients recovering after finding the words to describe their trauma in the fantastic book The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessell van der Kolk, which I highly recommend. I’m also adding that book to my Must-Read Book List when I get the chance.

All relationships are limited and conditional.

The only way to learn this lesson is to believe that relationships are unlimited and unconditional and then push them to their unperceived limits.

A harsh, but enlightening lesson.

After internalizing this, I’ve taken more responsibility for the relationships in my life. I’ve noticed that some people can sense this and are grateful for it (which is nice), and others are oblivious. Either way, it sets me free from the burden of feeling controlled by other people’s thoughts and feelings and empowers me to focus on what I can control. Which is usually a hell of a lot more than I could imagine.

Malevolence is real.

“Man is the cruelest animal.”

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Malevolence is real. There’s darkness in people. Real darkness. It sounds cheesy, but some people really do want to hurt others just for the hell of it, and it’s not a joke. Humans are the only creatures on the planet that can hurt something else just for the sake of harming it. This is because we’re aware of our own mortality and vulnerability, which gives us the ability to exploit it in others.

If we can understand what hurts us, then we know what hurts someone else.

Now I knew this intellectually, but it’s a completely different thing to know this viscerally. When we see the evil of the human heart in an undeniable fashion, it fundamentally changes how we understand the human-animal, how we understand ourselves. It was witnessing despicable actions that presenced me to the darkness.

Understanding the evil in others helps me conceptualize my capacity for destruction and gives me proper fear of and respect for myself. Before I believed that malevolence was real, I never saw the weight of my own actions or the potential damage it could cause. Hell, it frightens me to think of the destruction that I have caused because of my ignorance of this fact.

Our choices seriously matter.

Our choices matter and we never get away with anything. We can act as if there is no such thing as good and evil, but that will destroy our lives. The choices we make ripple out in ways that we can hardly imagine.

This means our bad actions infinitely propagate throughout the world, but it also means that our good actions do too.

Everything we do starts to take on a different vibe when we think about how it will ripple off into society. What we choose to do in the present affects us in ten minutes, in ten months, in ten years, and the actions of all of those versions of us will affect other people in ways that we can’t even imagine.

When I see my actions as trivial and inconsequential, it’s easy to do the things that benefit me at the moment, but rarely do those actions benefit me in the medium to long term. When I see how much my choices matter, there’s a real pressure to get my act together.

Ignorance does not protect us from the consequences.

Ignorance does not protect us from unfavorable situations. Again, this is something that I knew intellectually, but haven’t internalized. I would have tried harder to learn more from my experiences that I did. We aren’t spared from consequences just because we didn’t know that our actions weren’t sufficient.

Children often use this excuse of ignorance to get out of anything. In my experience, teenagers often use this as their go-to excuse for not getting something done or acting appropriately. It’s always something like “I didn’t know, therefore I should be spared,” but this type of thinking isn’t cooperative with how the world works.

Just because I didn’t understand the importance of integrating the shadow, doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for the destruction it was causing.

Not knowing doesn’t protect us from the consequences, it only blinds us to them.

This is why I place such a heavy emphasis on learning efficiently. Learning as much as we can is a matter of survival. We need it to understand the consequences and act in our favor.

People will unintentionally drag you down.

“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

When drifting gets seriously out of control, people can drag others into their entropic vortex. The problem with this is that the original drifter, the person who started the vortex, may not know that they’re leading others atray.

People may not know if they’re leading you down a terrible path.

I discovered this to be true under the assumption that one should always trust family. I didn’t realize that sometimes, they don’t know when they’re wrong. Sometimes malevolence isn’t part of the picture and the destruction is simply a result of foolishness and aversion of responsibility.

People may believe what they are doing is right, but it is up to us to know what is best for ourselves.


I spent years trying to piece these ideas together and even more time letting my ignorance run rampant. To some people, these ideas may seem obvious and if they are, then I challenge you to know them viscerally. To others, these lessons aren’t true and to those people, I say enjoy the life you have and prepare yourself because the flood is coming. Nonetheless, I learned them all the hard way. I suggest that you don’t.

I hope this post helps someone learn something without having to endure extreme circumstances, but perhaps the people who need to learn these lessons the most will only do so through our mother tongue, suffering.

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Lifestyle Productivity

What I Learned from Writing My Goals Down in the Morning (The 5 Minute Journal)

“Man has it all in his hands, and it all slips through his fingers from sheer cowardice.” 

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime & Punishment)

Reflective Experiments

So for the last 5 months, I’ve been doing this thing called The 5 Minute Journal. I originally heard about this idea from Tim Ferriss (as with so many other things), but it’s a popular practice that millions of people are already doing. I figured I can try it for 30 days (because anyone can try anything for 30 days), and I haven’t stopped since.

I’ve found it to be extremely beneficial to my performance as well as my mental health.

The 5 Minute Journal is pretty simple.

In the morning I fill out the following:

I am grateful for…

What would make today great?

Daily Affirmation. I am…

______________

and in the evening I answer these questions:

3 amazing things that happened today…

  • 1….
  • 2…
  • 3…

How could I have made today even better?

______________

and that’s it!

It’s not that invasive and I’ve integrated it into my day so I don’t need to expend much effort to write. I created a notebook in OneNote and synced all my devices on it so I can easily access my journal whenever I need it.

My 5 Minute Journal in OneNote

There are physical 5-minute journals that people can purchase, but I like my digital journal for convenience reasons. Also, OneNote is free.

I also included it on my Streaks app, so I have additional reminders and incentives to keep it up. I highly recommend this app too. You can customize your own habits and it’s so fun to see my patterns.

Streaks on iOS

When I first started the 5MJ, it felt really lame, awkward, and artificial, but over time I learned what things worked for me and what things didn’t.

I (stole from Tim Ferriss) try to use 1 ground rule for my journal just to keep it effective and not feel so dull. I cannot repeat what I am grateful for within 3 days of each other. This prevents me from saying “I am grateful for my dogs” every day even though it’s so true and I’m tempted to write it every morning. I can leave room for gratitude in other things. There have been days when I’ve had to dig deep for gratitude and I find beauty in places that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

When I started it, I literally wrote down my to-do list in the “What would make today great?” section and felt like my days weren’t great until I finished my to-do list.

This just added to my stress and didn’t help all that much. I noticed that my best days were the days that I created or learned something new. Usually, the 3rd spot doesn’t really matter too much. Today, I try to make sure at least one of the things in that the “What would make today great?” section is “Learn something new” or “Create something new” because that makes life worth it.

The see the Daily Affirmation as a beautiful opportunity to tell me whatever I need to hear most. Most of the time, I wrote down statements that I didn’t necessarily believe but wanted to be true.

A few examples of those statements were:

I am an inevitable success.

I am capable.

I am doing good work.

I am in control of where my life goes.

I am spending my time well.

I noticed that in the morning I usually didn’t believe it, but as I went about my day, I would find examples that supported the affirmations.

Hacking confirmation bias to benefit my mental health. Check ✔

Telling myself something in the morning somehow makes my subconscious look for proof of it in my everyday life. I’m sure this rings true for all the negative things we say about ourselves as well.

Another noteworthy lesson, and probably the most important lesson, I’ve learned from practicing the 5MJ is being able to accomplish the things we set out to do is a skill that needs to be practiced and maintained.

When I first started doing the journal, I wrote down the things that would make today great at the start of the day and be devastated to discover that my days ended up being something entirely different. It’s upsetting to know that the whole day was wasted, in the sense that I couldn’t live the life I wanted to, but it was a great lesson to learn.

I saw that if I could lose track of this day, I could easily lose track of much more time, especially if I’m not tracking it. I realized that this is what happened to me in high school and in college. I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of living that I forget my intentions that I originally go in with. I was upset that I lost a day, but then I realized that there are people who do this for decades of their lives. That’s an excruciating realization. Losing track of our intentions is the fastest way to build a life we hate or at least a life that doesn’t feel worth it.

The evidence was all around me, but it wasn’t clear until I started seeing the patterns externalized in my journal. Now, after paying much attention to carrying out my intentions, I’ve developed a relationship with myself in which I can trust my “busy monkey mind” to still carry out the intentions my best self wants.

Sometimes I’ll go through the day feeling like I haven’t done the things I intended to do, but when I look at my journal, I realized that I did and that’s a pleasant surprise. The peace of mind that this provides me is invaluable, but I didn’t start noticing this until a few months into the journaling. There were definitely enough bad days where I believed for a short while that I always subconsciously destroyed my intentions unless I really really really tried not to.

The last lesson I’ll mention is that it’s worthwhile to write down my seemingly trivial thoughts because reflecting on them is fun. It’s cool to see a tiny snapshot of the past, what’s going on inside my head, and what I felt was worth remembering for that day. A lot of beautiful moments happen during the bad days, and this journal gives me an opportunity to see and relive them when they would have otherwise been forgotten.

I think everyone should start journaling. It’s one of the most invaluable things I have ever done for myself and I know everyone could benefit from it. I think the longer I stick with it, the more value it’s going to give me in the future. If the 5MJ doesn’t fit your style, I recommend just free writing for 5 minutes.

Start writing down your thoughts and intentions. Write anything. Stick with it for a while. Receive benefits.

You give what you get, but maybe even more with journaling.

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Lifestyle

How I Found My Way Back

“But a man soon discovers that everything depends upon his being useful, not in his own opinion, but in the opinion of others; and so he tries his best to make that favorable impression upon the world, to which he attaches such a high value.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

Writing about this idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts that I found while reading Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans, which is on my Must Read Book List. I love the open endedness of this prompt because it allows me to take this wherever I want. This post is going to be more personal than my other posts, but I think the lessons are solid and should be shared.

So if I’m going to write about how I found my way back, then I need to write about where I was and how I got lost in the first place.

A few days ago, I was cleaning out some old drawers in my childhood room that haven’t been opened for years. I found a little certificate that said “Congratulations on reading 143 books in one year!”

I was immediately thrown back to my childhood. Images of little Chris just reading like mad. I remember my mom bringing me to the library every week with a laundry basket that we would fill up with books. I loved reading so much, but somewhere between kindergarten and senior year, I lost it. I actually hated it. I hated it so much that I would do anything to avoid reading. I carried this with me to college and I even majored in engineering just so I could read the minimum number of books to get a degree. (That wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big one).

Flashforward to today. I love reading again. I read every day and it’s always the highlight of my day. Part of my personality is creating my own version of whatever I’m consuming and now I read so much that I want to write a book of my own one day. Actually multiple books! Now, I have a blog and I’m taking steps every single day to make my books a reality.

The best part, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, is that I feel connected to who I authentically am and an inner peace that could not be found anywhere else. The ability to exercise my highest faculties and dedicate my will and time to projects that reflect the parts of me that I make me proud is, for lack of a better term, God’s work.

This doesn’t just stop with writing. This also goes for making music! I used to make music every single day. Every chance I had to strum my guitar I would take. I completely identified with it, but somewhere in college I lost that too. I felt like making music was taking me away from the things I “should” be doing and that the talents and passion for music was a distraction and a burden to wrestle with. I felt guilty making music and wrong for wanting to make it a huge part of my life. But today, I am back. I make more music than ever and it sounds way better too! Now, I put most of my stuff on my YouTube channel!

I lost myself. I lost who I was. I rejected who I wanted to be.

I took a step back. I found him again. I love this person and can see what he has to bring to the table.

I had to take a step back for about a year to sift through and separate the wheat from the chaff. I had to accept that there are ways of being and knowledge I couldn’t ignore.

I lost my way because I was tired of doing “what was right” and I wanted to do “whatever I wanted.” My dumbass at the time couldn’t even clearly articulate what it was that I wanted.

I ignored the knowledge of good and evil. I completely subscribed to nihilism and hedonism. (While they are formidable philosophies, they are not comprehensive enough to lead a healthy life). I had my head so far up my ass I couldn’t recognize sunlight.

But then, I saw how it affected the people who looked up to me. I saw my students started thinking along the same lines as me. I saw the ones who look up to me copy what I said and did and how much damage they would create with those ways of thinking. It was disheartening, but it didn’t really get to me until I saw it in my sister. I saw how much she was copying what I did and how I think, and it scared the living daylights out of me. All the damage she created for herself (while less than the damage I caused) casted a bright light on the weight of my actions. I saw an iota of the impact that we have and how we truly cannot image the actual effects of our actions. I saw that everything I did mattered because they affect everyone else around me. My sins were not kept in a vacuum, but were observed, studied, and duplicated by others around me.

The heartbreak when I see my loved ones destroy the beauty of life shows me how it really does start with myself. As Schopenhauer said, people either act through traditions, customs, or imitation. If I don’t pay attention to my own actions and walk a path that I could be proud of, then the people who look up to me that I care will not either. The path I walk will be the path of others, but more importantly, I will be the path of others that I care for.

People don’t pay enough attention to how they act because we think that our actions only affect ourselves, but there’s a huge domino effect at play. I found my way back because I saw that we are all connected and took responsibility for it. Everything all of us does all the time matters because we affect other people.

Categories
Lifestyle

Recall the Kindness of Strangers

“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.”

― Buddha Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni

This idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts. I found her list way before I started my blog, but I saved them for later for reasons that I do not have the vocabulary to express. I guess my best attempt would be to say that I followed my inclinations, God told me to, or the transcendence revealed itself to me in keeping the list. Part of me knew I was going to want to reference it later, and here we are.

I love the idea of prompts. I used to hate them, but over the past year I’ve learned the tremendous value in meditating on one idea for a while and writing it down.

I used to think this prompt was extra difficult because at the time when I found Cheryl Strayed’s prompt list, I could not think of scenario in which I can recall The Kindness of Strangers. Perhaps I was too cynical, but after reflecting upon the idea now, I have no trouble recalling an instance in which strangers were kind. Ha.

When I first found the prompt, I was wrestling with the idea that people could be kind, but that kindness was expensive in both energy and attention. So if people didn’t have to be kind, then they won’t. I foolishly concluded that kindness was a difficult and high achievement only to be obtained through righteous action and intense dedication. This was a issue because I believed that most people won’t voluntarily push themselves in this way and thus are not capable of kindness. This kind of thinking not only made it difficult to answer the prompt, but hung a slightly dark filter over my life.

So as a fun challenge to myself (and as a way to repent for my sins, so to speak), I’m going to recall a moment in which the kindness of strangers was obvious, but it will have to be during the time when I thought people were incapable of genuine kindness.


Before COVID-19 I was an event bag EMT, meaning I was the medical personnel on scene for various public or private events. I operated from my BLS (Basic Life Support) bag and would help patients in whatever limited way I could.

One day, I was an EMT for a motocross racing competition. It was one of my first events and I was nervous so I constantly ran through potential injuries and how to treat them in my head. The racetrack wasn’t that organized, so I had trouble finding the lady I needed to report to. After about 30 minutes of aimlessly wandering around, I encountered a lady who was frantically running around moving from one unfinished task to the next. I forgot her name, but for the sake of the story we’ll call her Peggy. She ended up being “in charge” of coordinating the competition.

I could tell she didn’t feel like he had an iota of control over anything. People who move quick and frantically do so because they typically feel out of control and beholden to everything and everybody around them. It’s subconscious and not something I would typically fault anyone for, but I like to keep that in mind when I’m helping patients in an emergency situation. I keep calm and try to make my movements as intentional and slow as possible without compromising the situation. It helps the patient feel like I have the situation under control, even if I don’t. Anyways, I digress.

She saw my uniform and instantly dropped what she was doing, ran up to me and asked “Are you my EMT?” I say yes and she gives me the biggest hug ever and quickly introduces me to everyone involved with the race competition for the day. Everyone was extremely nice to me. One lady offered me drinks and another gentleman offered to carry my bag and brought me a chair. Another lady even thanked me for my service; I said thank you, but I really I wanted to say that people should save those for the ones who actually put themselves in danger. It’s easier to just accept the gratitude in situations like these.

Talk about an overload of kindness. These people didn’t have to do any of that. But those aren’t the acts of kindness that make me remember this particular memory.

During the briefing, Peggy tells me that the day should be pretty easy, unless I see her running and screaming for an EMT. I was hoping it would be a smooth day and I could get paid just watching the races with my VIP treatment. Then, she asked me if I’ve ever driven a stick shift ATV. I kind of knew how to drive one, my friend and I drove a stick shift ATV one weekend in high school and I did alright. I let her know my experience and she seemed excited. I guess most EMTs who came through there didn’t know how to drive one, which makes a lot of sense. Peggy said that the EMTs get their own ATV so we can ride out to downed racers on the course.

For the first few hours the day was relaxed as I could wish for, I have never been to a racetrack like this so I had a good time watching the races and recording the racers start their vehicles. There was a point when I honestly forgot I was the EMT on duty, but then I see her.

Peggy running full speed towards me, screaming “I NEED AN EMT!” My little fantasy shatters and I suddenly remember, “I’m at work. Someone needs help.” I instantly start recalling potential injuries and treatments, grab my bag, and hoped on the ATV. Turning the key took a couple tries, but I got the ATV started and drove it over to the cash site. Not gonna lie, I felt like a real badass riding the ATV with my BLS bag going to help someone.

The patient ended up being a man in his mid-fifties who broke his collarbone. I handled that situation and after I send him to the hospital, I had to go back to the racetrack to bring my ATV back to the starting line where I was originally posted.

I hopped the fence of the racetrack, got back on the ATV, but this time I couldn’t get it to start.

I kept turning the key in the ignition and after a few tries, it broke in the ignition!

This ATV was not going anywhere. It was in the middle of racetrack and I had to get it out of the way for the next race. I really didn’t want to be the reason why we fall behind schedule. So I got behind the ATV and started pushing. This thing was heavy and I had to push it up a few hills to get it back to the starting line. I got it up the first one, but the second one was another story.

I’m halfway up the second hill and my arms give in, the ATV starts sliding back down, and I’m facing the reality that I’m going to have to work even harder to make this happen. At this point, I’m extremely embarrassed. I’m in the center of the arena and everyone is watching me having a really tough time. I remember wishing I could just be relieved of this problem.

Suddenly, some guy jumps the fence and rushes to help me push the ATV up. Both of us together get it over the hill and back to the starting line. As we were pushing, we exchange glances and I could tell he saw the appreciation in my eyes. I would not have been able to do that without him, and he knew that.

That man was kind. He saw me struggle, and he would not let me needlessly struggle alone. He lent a hand not to demonstrate power or moral superiority, he lend it because he was kind and reflecting back on that reminds me that strangers can be kind if we let them. Perhaps strangers have to capacity to act as the saving hand of God if they are called. People may not typically voluntarily push themselves to reach demanding and difficult standards, but sometimes they do, and when they do we ought to pause and reflect at the awe of the miracle this person chose to create.


The terrible part of all of this is that it didn’t take place long before I found the prompt list. This guy saved my ass and chose to create a miracle right before my eyes, but I could not see it because of my bias and unfounded belief that people didn’t have it in them to be kind.

The world I know is bigger than the world I can see. Intellectually, I know the world is more than what I can perceive, but it is truly breathtaking to see it actualized in my life.