Don’t Work Full Time!

The nine to five doesn’t work. The full time job model that most of the world faces is broken and wrong. From the moment we are born to the time we are christened as adults with our first paycheck we are taught to shut up, sit still, and conform.   We are taught to conform to corporations who employ us, and subversively control us. Enter: the great treachery of capitalism. The lie that in order to be loved, respected, successful, and fulfilled, you must be employed (by another company) full time.  I’m here to teach you all how to avoid falling into that trap, and I’m here to journey with you away from the trap, and into the ocean of possibilities that appear when you take control of your own destiny.

Toward the end of my 4th year of working part time jobs, I got hired as a game-master at a company called “RavenChase Adventures LLC”. This company ran an Escape Room. Players were locked into themed rooms and forced to escape before the hour ran out. Unlike everywhere else I had worked, I wanted to be there. I enjoyed getting to learn from my coworkers. Our boss encouraged us to follow our dreams and take risks. He himself took risks and allowed us to contribute in ways that were meaningful and challenging. He trusted in us to be able to learn, and execute effectively in all capacities. He gave us all a spark of hope.  Hope that maybe we were worth more than $7.25 an hour.

In August of this year, I made an amazing decision to move closer to Rebecca.  I quit my job at the Escape Room and took a full time job at a print/copy company. I made this decision expecting that the affirmation from my family, and my partner’s family, would bring me everlasting joy. I thought doubling or tripling my salary would be worth it. I thought having benefits would make me feel more secure.

Instead it has completely broken me. Each and every day I wake up, I sit in an office, or in a car, and am presented with a day devoid of challenge or excitement.  My coworkers, who are all over 40, have accepted this as their fate. When asked why they continue to work here even though they hate it, they reply with “that’s just how life is” or “because I can’t do anything else”. Envisioning myself in the future saying the same thing to a new recruit makes my stomach lurch. How could ANYONE in their right mind allow themselves to become so dehumanized that they accept this misery SIMPLY because “that’s how life is”?

That’s not “how life is”. Life is vibrant, joyous, creative, beautiful, exciting, surprising, and overwhelmingly fulfilling. Life with a Corporate boot on your neck is hell.  If you want to be happy, and fulfilled, and joyous in life, than you must look away from wealth, and look toward enriching your life through art, music, dance, love, creativity, and helping others.

 So what am I doing about it????

I used to think that because I was raised as a musician, I was destined to be a musician and nothing else. I didn’t think I could paint, take pictures, write, make movies, build houses, or fix cars. The truth is: I can be and do whatever I want. Realizing this is the first step to escaping the degrading mindset of compliance that corporations want from their employees.

I firmly believe that you are what surrounds you. If you watch tv all day, than the sum of your mental capacity is limited by what you watch. If you work around people who are complacent and satisfied with meaningless work, than you will become a zombie like them. If you wish to be an artist, surround yourself with art, and challenge yourself creatively. If you wish to be a carpenter, surround yourself with wood and working tools, even if you don’t know how to use them. If you want to open a business, commune with small business owners and entrepreneurs and you will be more likely to succeed.

In order to break free from corporate complacency, we must first and foremost teach ourselves to learn actively.  We need to start seeking challenges outside of the working world.  Through sharing my learning experiences with you, I hope to inspire you to begin to learn and explore things you never thought you could. In the past three months alone, I have learned the following in a functional capacity, and I wish to share with you how I have been able to do so, while working a full time job.  Please join me on my journey to escape the meaningless life of a corporate employee.

Digital photography editing,
Darkroom Photography,
German,
Ableton Live,
Acrylic and oil painting,
Bamboo flute,
Drywall building,
Demolition,
Meditation,
Yoga,
Acro-yoga,
Writing a blog.

Learning How to Learn

I hope to inspire you and prove that you can do and learn whatever you would like.

We seem to have an illusion that everything requires lots of money and time to get started.  If you want to learn guitar, you are put off by the exuberant prices of the instruments, and extra equipment you think you need, and the high cost of lessons.  When I was considering learning darkroom photography, I was faced with the prospect of learning the chemistry and concepts that I had never come across.  I remember reading articles about darkroom that were full of words like “stops” and “fixer” and “emulsion” and thinking “how will I ever learn ANYTHING if I can’t even understand the language being used???”

How did I overcome the problems that faced me when I was trying to learn darkroom photography? I created a well defined goal. 

Day 1-2     I knew I wanted to do film.  My dad had an old film camera that no one was using, and I’ve always loved the way film grain makes a photo look.  I’m also a huge DIY fan, and I knew I wanted to eliminate anyone else touching my art.  The goal was:  I want to be able to take, develop, and print my own pictures from start to finish with the least outsourcing possible.  From there, I read everything I could on each step of the process.  Having that well defined goal illuminated those steps. 

Taking Pictures.

Developing Film.

Printing/enlarging photographs.

Day 3-10 After I had figured out WHAT I wanted to learn, I needed to invest in my own learning, so I bought a camera and an enlarger and paper and film and all of the equipment necessary.  I purchased everything on craigslist, or borrowed it from family and friends, keeping the cost to an absolute minimum.  Even if I didn’t have EVERYTHING in perfect working order, it didn’t matter.  BECAUSE I had invested in my OWN LEARNING and not hesitated once I had a defined goal, I couldn’t turn back!  I improvised a missing foot on my enlarging easel.  I used the wrong size film tray, and used paper fixer for both Film and Paper, etc.

This is key.  Investing in your own learning.  We are wired not to invest in something unless we know we will succeed.  If you TAKE that initial risk, you are much more likely to follow through to the end.

Nike’s motto of “just do it” rings very true to me.  If you just do something without thinking of whether or not you will succeed, you are bound to learn.  If you hesitate at the beginning of an endeavor, you will hesitate at each step on the journey.  Your hesitation can happen before you define your goal, but once you have positively defined your goal, simply do the next thing.

Day 11-28 After I had gotten all my equipment, I took two or three rolls worth of pictures.  I knew I wasn’t ready to begin developing yet, as I was still learning how the chemicals worked, and how to block light out of my tiny apartment bathroom.  I had to prove that I was learning at least a little, right?  If I was to continue down this path I needed to know that I wasn’t just taking blank pictures.  I sent off a couple of the rolls I had exposed to a company in California to develop, and print, and send back to me!

By doing this I AFFIRMED my learning.  I accomplished part of my goal, and outsourced for the rest, to prove to myself that I had progressed in the right direction if only a little.  This gave me the courage and inspiration to continue my journey.  By affirming this to myself, and rewarding myself for investing in my own learning, I re-lit the fire that had sparked my initial interest.  Half of the pictures were terrible, but they were better than not taking any!

After that, it was just a matter of following through with researching and executing the necessary steps to achieve the other two steps.  Once I had gotten the basic process down, I could begin really diving deeper into each aspect of darkroom photography without any fear of failure or consequence.  I feel fully equipped and confidant that I can create my own pictures from start to finish!  All in less than a month!

The key to being able to do anything you want, is to set a goal, invest in your own learning, and affirming your progress.  Map out the things you need to ensure that you are learning the subject, not just repeating processes.  Following orders isn’t fun, and neither is following step by step instructions.  Learning dynamically like this leads to better retention and builds confidence.  Go learn something new!

The Cat and the Rain

A cat realizes its raining and thinks, “It’s raining, better go find somewhere cozy to snuggle up for the night and enjoy the sound of droplets hitting the ground”.  The human realizes its raining, and muses, “I wonder how this is happening?  I wonder if I could make rain and sell it?  How can I recreate this?”.  The cat spends the whole night cuddled up inside his cozy kitty-cubby, while the human, stands and studies in the rain, and catches a cold.

This was the beginning of the biggest argument Rebecca and I have had so far.  While our banter was sporting and silly, the problem at hand held heavy significance to me.  Why do humans do so much to change the world around us, instead of just enjoying the things mother nature has given freely?  Why do we feel driven to create things to keep us entertained, when we could entertain ourselves with the simple pleasures of the earth?  What causes humans to be so destructive, in the name of progress, and distracted in the name of boredom?

Our argument started with a simple question: are humans more intelligent than animals?  My answer was a resounding no!  Rebecca, astounded, pointed out the achievements humans have made over millennia to improve their living circumstances and the general longevity of the species.  I argued that humans (stupidly) spent so much energy on trying to progress that they have forgotten to simply sit and enjoy the sunset. *I* think humans are smarter ONLY because we believe we are smarter.  We can only be intelligent if we contrast our intelligence to that of other humans.  (I’ll fight you tooth and nail on this.  SUE ME!)

Whether we are more intelligent than other animals is unimportant to me.  What IS important is that humans don’t take a moment to enjoy, rather than to improve.  I’ve found, especially in the past few months, that it has become increasingly hard for me to sit still without looking at my phone, or reading a book, or watching the news.  I seek to find some answers or some new step-by-step happiness guide.  We crave answers, rather than embracing mystery.  The happiest moments in my life are the ones experienced unhindered by the need to conquer or solve.  On top of a mountain basking in a sunrise on a cool morning is true bliss.   Uninterrupted communion with nature, and family are the pinnacle of ecstatic pleasure.

Humans also tend to overcompensate for their problems.  Shoes are a perfect example.  One day, a cave-man stepped on a thorn.  He first yelped in pain, and then he thought, “I could make something to cover my foot with when I go hunting that way I don’t have to worry about thorns stabbing my feet.”  His invention caught on.  At first he only wore his shoes when he was hunting in the woods.  He then began to wear his shoes while he was around the cave, because sometimes his cave-wife (or husband) was clumsy and sometimes dropped spiky rocks on the floor.  Eventually, our cave-man wore his shoes all day, keeping them on from the moment he woke up, to the moment he went to sleep, even when it wasn’t necessary.

There are current scientific studies that overwhelmingly prove the positive health benefits of “grounding”.  Grounding is the simple, (but apparently controversial?), act of taking ones shoes off, and standing on the earth.  Getting some grass between your toes and dirt under your feet is proving to be one of the most overwhelmingly powerful ways to overcome minor depression.  We have created shoes for work, shoes for playing golf, shoes for walking, shoes for hiking, shoes for walking to the bathroom from the bedroom, and in consequence, we have lost touch with the ground beneath us (pun intended?).

The next time you see a beautiful flower, don’t pick it, just let it sit there and do its thing.  When you’re with your loved ones, don’t pull out your phone and hope to find spiritual or human connection through its 8 inch screen.  Reach out and hug your family and friends and dogs and cats.  I don’t intend to try to convince you that shoes are destroying humanity.  I’m also not arguing that humans are inherently stupid.  I only hope that you’ll be inspired to look at the rain, and just let it fall.

How We Spend Our Days

Hello, all!

Right now, I’m still in Costa Rica, finishing up the last week and a half of my international student teaching experience. The experience has been great so far, and I’m so grateful to have had the chance to learn firsthand about the education system in another part of the world. I’ve worked on my Spanish (and nonverbal communication–very important when you’re frantic and can’t remember the word for “bathroom”), made some new friends, and made quite a few embarrassing but valuable mistakes.

But there’s one challenge about being here that I didn’t expect.

Because my responsibilities here are much less here than they were in the States, I suddenly have way too much free time!

I know… Not a bad problem to have, right?

It felt great for the first week to come home from school and just relax–worry about nothing, work on nothing… Just chill out and veg on the sofa with iPhone in hand. I didn’t pack any books–my usual go-to when I have free time–so I spent most of my time reading random Internet articles or browsing social media. But after a few days of this, the life of lethargy really started to wear on me. I realized that mindlessly scrolling through Facebook wasn’t bringing me any kind of fulfillment; in fact, it was leaving me tired and grumpy, leading me into the trap of lifestyle comparison that social media so enticingly offers, and overall, making me feel dissatisfied and unhappy.

 

 

I’ve been thinking about this concept for a while now. A few months ago, when I thought about how I spent my time, and why I never seemed to have time for all the interesting projects I wanted to do and new skills I wanted to learn, I realized that I was throwing away many hours of my life on what I call low-grade pleasures. These are anything we do to make us happier that ultimately leave us feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. My low-grade pleasures included mindlessly browsing social media, eating an excess of junk food, or anything involving sitting around on my bum instead of getting up and doing something… In sum, waiting for the world to entertain, excite, or stimulate me, instead of going out and seeking positive engagement myself.

There’s a great quote in this vein by Annie Dillard, in her beloved book The Writing Life:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Essentially, there is no time that we can “waste” without it diminishing the overall quality of our lives, because it isn’t our great achievements or picture-perfect moments that define us. Rather, it’s our small, everyday choices that make up the bulk of our lives.

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau makes the point even more arrestingly. He claims that men and women too often waste their time in useless pursuits–

“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

Powerful words.

Low-grade pleasures aren’t problematic in and of themselves. There’s nothing shameful about eating a cookie or going on Facebook. But the problem is that these quick-fixes are easy and habit-forming, and they aren’t ultimately fixes at all. Too often, they give us a quick burst of entertainment only to shortly leave us frustrated and emptier than ever, without fixing the root cause of our dissatisfaction. And when we reach for those same fruitless stimuli over and over, it’s easy to feel trapped in those same few coping methods. We turn into little lab rats, pressing the same button over and over to fix our problem without really getting anywhere, and we forget how to pursue something that will give us true fulfillment.

After hitting a low point of frustration and ennui a few days into my vegetation experiment, I realized that I had to make a change. For the rest of my time here, I decided to consciously pursue some things that I identified as higher-grade pleasures.

By my definition, a high-grade pleasure is anything that brings you joy, or more simply, anything that helps you to grow. Of course, exactly what this looks like will vary from person to person. For me, high-grade pleasures include spending time with people whose company I really love; dancing and otherwise moving my body, especially outdoors; reading a really good book; cooking; being creative in some way, especially by writing or painting… The list could go on for miles. The common threads among these activities are that 1) they require some kind of effort or planning, and 2) they always leave me feeling better by the end than when I started. I learn something or grow in some positive way whenever I do these activities. Although it can sometimes be difficult to get started, they ultimately make me a better, and happier, person.

Since I’m currently living in a rental house in another country, my options were somewhat limited as to what I could pursue. I decided to use the unlimited potential of the Internet to my advantage as I found a better way to spend my time. Over the past two weeks, here’s what I’ve stumbled upon:

  1. I’m learning to code.

Learning to read and write code is something that I’ve had bouncing around the back of my mind for months now, but this is the first time I’ve sat down and actually worked to do it. I discovered Codecademy, a free online resource that uses hands-on techniques to teach you the basics of HTML and CSS. For a total computer newbie like me, this is an awesome free opportunity!

2. I’ve improved my creative writing skills.

I love to write, but the biggest challenge for me is always getting started. I frequently feel like I want to write something, but I don’t have any particularly compelling story ideas in my head. If you face a similar problem, there are lots of websites that can spur your creative thinking, like this fun (and free) online plot generator. But I have found that the most meaningful source of inspiration for me has been my own past.

Time for another quote. There’s a wonderful one by Flannery O’Connor that I love to apply to writing:

“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

In writer’s terms, anybody who has survived her childhood has enough material to write on for the rest of her days. Childhood memories are a goldmine of meaningful experiences and vivid sensory detail. Think back: What did you do when you went to your grandmother’s house when you were a kid? What did your third grade classroom look like? What did you want to be when you grew up, and why? Immerse yourself as deeply as you can in your memories, and then write whatever you see, hear, taste, touch, smell…

Writing like this can go a long way toward improving your skill as a writer, and it is also a deeply valuable way to reflect on your life. If you had a mostly happy childhood, you will be filled with warm fuzzies as you relive almost-forgotten experiences. If your childhood was difficult, this reflective writing can be a form of therapy. Sometimes getting out old emotions on paper can help us to understand and make peace with them.

3. I’m learning critical lessons about Peace Education.

I’m a middle school Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, and I LOVE connecting the curriculum to life and values outside of the world of the classroom. That’s why I was thrilled to find this free online course on peace education from Teachers Without Borders. Peace education is a pedagogical theory that rests on the idea that education is the best tool for building a more peaceful, just society. It is built on the thought of influential educators like Paulo Freire, John Dewey, and Maria Montessori, among others, and its main approaches include reflection, open-ended dialogue, and collaborative, real-world problem solving. I have learned so much from this course so far, and I know its lessons will be interwoven in my instruction as I start my first year of teaching in the fall.

If you’re an educator and social justice advocate, I highly recommend this course!! You can read as much (or as little) of the course material as you like, and everything I’ve read so far has been valuable for both my personal and professional growth.

Bonus: Teachers Without Borders also offers free courses on girls’ education, emergency education, STEM education, and more… Check out the TWB Initiatives website to see all they have to offer!

4. I meal planned for our two-week summer backpacking trip.

I actually started meal-planning for our August trip way back in January (because when I get excited about things, I am a zealous over-planner…), but the menu has undergone some serious revisions since then. This may seem like a hyper-focus on unimportant details, but if you have ever backpacked before, you probably know that food go a long way in making or breaking a trip. Getting tired of your food (or worse, getting physically sick) = less desire to eat = less energy for your body, which quickly turns an invigorating hike into a long, tiring slog. Having this free time allowed me to read lots of articles from handy websites like Backpacker.com, as well as forums where seasoned backpackers discussed their best meal-planning strategies. Now I am much better informed about how to create a menu that is as interesting, nutritious, and lightweight as possible for our 14-day ramble through the woods.

5. I learned to play Solitaire!

Okay, so this one might not be *quite* as useful as my other pursuits so far… But it was fun! 🙂 One of the few sources of entertainment that I thought to bring with me on this trip was a deck of cards. Unfortunately none of my roommates are big fans of card games, so with the help of the trusty-dusty Internet I learned how to play this fun, challenging game all by myself… (Which, as an introvert, I LOVE.)

I now whip out my cards any time I don’t have quite enough brainpower to focus on Codecademy or my Peace Education course but I still want to be mentally stimulated, or whenever I want to do something active with my hands. Plus, playing Solitaire with real, physical cards gives me a pleasing feeling of simplicity and nostalgia, and it earns me at least an extra ten points on my never-ending quest toward Official Grandma Status. (Other OGS point-earners include: Baking oatmeal raisin cookies, learning to knit, going to bed by 9pm.)

These are just a few things I have spent my time on lately. Since making the switch from low-grade pleasures to more productive and interesting activities, I’ve noticed a significant increase in my creativity, motivation, and overall contentment. (And in case you didn’t notice–everything I did was completely free! YAY for frugality.)

Of course, if you’re looking to use your time more valuably, your choices don’t have to mirror mine–the key is to find something that matters to you.

One last thing I want to say before I go. I discovered these activities because I had too much time on my hands, but I know this is a far cry from the reality for most people (and for me, most of the time.) Instead of having a surplus of free time, most likely you feel like you don’t have enough.

But if you’re stressed and always crunched for time, I think the idea of pursuing high-grade pleasures rather than lower-grade ones is more important than ever. If you have such limited time, you want to use it in the best way you can. When I was at my busiest and most overwhelmed during college, I frequently found myself trying to escape by surfing social media or excessively eating foods that I knew were bad for me. Instead of making me feel better, this just left me feeling guilty, frustrated, and more stressed than ever. But when I made the extra effort to do something I knew was valuable, it always brought great returns. It put me in a better frame of mind to do the other “stuff” I had to do, and it enhanced my overall mental health. I think it can do the same for you, whether you have free time for daaaaaays or just a few minutes.

Okay… That’s all I have to say for now. Thanks for reading!

How do you like to spend your free time?

 

The Choice You Don’t Have

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The question that Rebecca asked me while we were trapped in the woods for two days is still resonating in my head. “What is something that you’re proud of?” It’s a simple question, but one that was very very hard for me to answer. I found it so difficult to name any achievement that I felt proud of. It wasn’t that I hadn’t accomplished anything worth mentioning; I could have talked about the music I’ve written, or the comic book I’ve been working on. One thing was common in all of the things that came to mind, however. None of them ever felt completed. I have a confession to make: I’ve never beaten a video game. As a matter of fact, I cant truly name anything that I have TRULY completed. I’ll begin to write a song and once I feel it is satisfactory I save a recording of it and move on to the next one KNOWING that I could have added more reverb. I’ve begun writing my first blog post at least 15 times. Habitually, I begin working on a project, or creating something, until I am satisfied with the mediocrity of it, or become bored or frustrated and move on. Enter two day backpacking trip.

Two and a half weeks ago, Rebecca and I were discussing possible destinations for our two week trip this summer. We had some good ideas, but for some reason, none of them felt right. The idea of hiking part of the Appalachian trail felt perfect. I wanted something that would challenge our relationship, and Rebecca had expressed interest in trying to hike on the AT but didn’t want to do it alone. It seemed like something that was achievable and not too expensive. It also fit well with our timeline! The next morning we were already discussing gear with an employee at Walkabout Outfitters in Richmond. I knew that if we wanted to hike for two weeks on the Appalachian trail we would need some practice, so we decided to go on our first hike as soon as we could. We had two weeks exactly to buy, plan, and prepare everything. Rebecca planned out food, I took care of logistics, and somehow we made it to Reed’s Gap, VA.

We donned our Osprey Atmos 65 AG packs, skeptically extended our walking poles, and trod giddily up the dirt path into the unknown. About fifteen minutes in, I was overwhelmed with excitement. My eyes were darting everywhere, looking at the trees, the plants, the rocks. There was an overwhelming sense of excitement, joy, and fear (admittedly we are both a little afraid of the dark). My brain was going wild with ADHD moments. It continued like this for the next thirty minutes until we arrived at our first camp site. Then I turned into my father.

When I was little one of the things that bothered me about my father was how organized he was. He made sure, ESPECIALLY during camping trips, that everything was in order WEEKS ahead of time. He made sure to pack, and re-pack over and over again, and take a log of every bit of gear he had. When he arrived at our designated camping area, he wouldn’t waste a second getting everything set up perfectly. The tent had to be up before dark with the sleeping bags unfurled and ready to be occupied, the foodstuffs had to be safely stored away, our lights had to be correctly mounted on trees nearby, and any loose objects such as pots, pans, knives, blankets, and chairs put in their place. When we arrived at our first campsite, I immediately made sure the tent was up as soon as possible with the sleeping bags unfurled and ready to be occupied, hung a lamp light perfectly illuminating the campfire area, organized my backpack and cooking items neatly, stored away our foodstuffs, and scrutinized every single detail about the order in which I would execute the night’s tasks. If you don’t know, ADHD doesn’t lend itself to organized behavior, but somehow, I turned into my father that night.

The next day we awoke and began our journey. We needed to walk approximately 7 miles to the next campsite, and we felt great. My mind was entirely overwhelmed that day. Rebecca even mentioned that I seemed unusually distant. Part of it had to do with my difficulty multitasking but even more had to do with the almost constant spiritual epiphanies I was having. Most of my time hiking was spent in deep contemplative thought. My feet, legs, and arms were moving as if I had no control, almost separating my consciousness from my body. I wasn’t looking at the path in front of me, but at an image of my entire life, my purpose. The duality between the monotony of the walking, and the variety and beauty of the scenery was profound, and thought provoking. Even our conversation was philosophical, peppered with questions of reality, life, death, and self worth. Aching and tired, we finally made it to the top of Three Ridges Mountain and decided to make camp. We needed a nap, so we set up our hammocks and while Rebecca slept, I thought. There was a particular question on my mind. “Thomas, what’s something you’re proud of?” Rebecca was reaching out to me, trying to pull me closer, and trying to close this invisible gap between us.

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After a while nap time was over, and we decided to make a fire. I sat and stared at the fire, while Rebecca sat and stared at me, wondering why I wasn’t talking, wishing I would snap out of it. We discussed my greatest fears, and my current mental dilemma. Nothing helped. Hearing her voice has never failed to comfort me, but not this time. The beautiful sunset before us was drowned out by this emotional turmoil that had built up inside of me. Just before we went to sleep, I managed to snap out of it, and I wept with happiness. I was ecstatic to be able to break through the emotional wall in my head and see the face of my closest friend. Finally I had a sense of relief. My mental paralysis had dissipated, and I was happy again. Finally, I could sleep.

The next day was different. I woke up, feeling challenged and weak. My body was sore from the previous days walking, and we still had a long way to go. Just as we buckled into our (fantastic and perfect) packs, a thru-hiker named Brian passed us by. We caught up with him at the nearby vista, and he shared with us the story of his travels. He looked confused, a little scared, and extremely tired. He looked and talked almost like he was trying to ignore something important. We met up with him a few more times, each time getting a better sense of what the thru-hiking was doing to him and for him. The last time we saw him he asked if I was having fun, and I said I was having a great time. He responded, “Me too! … in some sort of… strange way….” I understood exactly what he meant.

Finally, our journey was almost over, and Rebecca and I were excited again. We found a large cliff face, took in the awe-inspiring view, stopped to eat an invigorating meal, and plodded along happily to the end. Wait, what? I actually finished something! At first I was ecstatic and proud. It was satisfying to have completed the entire fifteen miles, and I was happy to have recovered my emotions. We said our goodbyes and drove home (we won’t see each other for another five weeks!!!!) and immediately I wanted to turn around and do it again. I wasn’t finished.

I lost something on those mountains. So did Brian. I could see in Brian’s eyes that he felt the same way I did. Dazed, without any other choice but to continue on, but undoubtedly happy to keep going. I lost my sense of control on that mountain. All of that writhing back and forth in my head, that relentless dialogue of self-searching, was a desperate attempt at control. The mountain tore away my free will. It told me that I had no choice but to face the trail. It buffered me with wind. It unapologetically dazzled me with its beauty. It tested my mental constitution, and even my relationship. And I loved it.

Right before a difficult climb, Rebecca asked whether I wanted to continue or rest for a moment, and I jokingly responded, “There’s no choice like the one you don’t have!” No sentence could better encompass what that hike meant to me. I had no other choice but to keep walking, no choice but to face the fearful thoughts I had, no choice but to overcome my self-doubt and defeat the trail. Thanks to this lack of options, I finally perfected something. I had something to be proud of!

Something still feels wrong, though. I never really did get the mental closure I was looking for, and I believe the answers I’m looking for are in those mountains. So in a way, I still feel as though I haven’t completed anything. These mountains tease me with the promise of a task completed, and a challenging one at that. The Appalachian Trail and I have unfinished business, and in “some sort of strange way” I love it.

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The answer to Rebecca’s question is this: I am proud that we are both somehow okay after a physical and mental fist fight with a mountain. I’m proud that I can be proud of this accomplishment, even though it doesn’t feel perfected. And I am proud that I can’t wait for round two.