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.

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?

 

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Story time:

For exactly two months now (since January 1st), I have been striving to cut refined sugar and processed foods out of my diet completely. This decision came about for a number of reasons: discomfort with my body; concerns about my health and fitness (the amount of sugar I was regularly consuming was DEFINITELY not good for me, and I felt that my body wasn’t healthy enough for me to exercise the way I wanted to); OD’ing on a jam-filled Christmas bread that I felt like I could. not. stop. eating… You get the idea.

For years before then I had struggled with what I ultimately recognized as a sugar addiction. I would come home from high school, make a pan full of Pillsbury cookies, and devour them all by myself. I regularly ate multiple times the amount of sweets as my friends, and at social events where sweets were present, the sugar was all I could focus on. I would be talking to a group of friends, and in the back of my head all I could think about would be how soon I could make a socially acceptable excuse to cruise by the snack table again and grab three more cupcakes.

The need for sugar was constantly on my mind. It swarmed in my brain like bees around honey, and it seemed like I would never make it stop.

The funny thing is, it took me a long time to realize that these behaviors were abnormal. Somehow I never became overweight, and so I didn’t face the horrible stigma of people telling me to “put down the cake.” My affinity (or obsession) for sugar was seen as an endearing or amusing personality trait by most of my friends, who knew me as someone who loved to decorate cupcakes, baked amazing gingerbread cookies for everyone at Christmas, and would drop everything to go spend the afternoon with friends at Sweet Frog.

The fact of my addiction didn’t really sink in until I left for college. When I traveled to Chile in the summer after my freshman year, for the first time I experienced not having sugar. The host family I lived with very rarely ate sweets, and my withdrawals and cravings became so bad that I would spend afternoons (when I could have been exploring! when I could have been learning Spanish!) Googling pictures of cookies and ice cream and fantasizing about what I would eat first when I arrived back in America. At some points I even snuck into the kitchen to take mini-cartons of chocolate milk from the refrigerator and drink them guiltily in my room. I knew I had a problem, but I felt like I couldn’t stop.

Later I wised up, and I realized that I had to make some changes to my lifestyle. The change certainly did not come quickly. During one of my first sugar “interventions” during which I stripped my apartment of all things refined and fructose-filled, I got so desperate on the eve of exam week that I drove to the grocery store at 10:00 PM, bought Cocoa Krispies, came back to the apartment and ate the whole box, along with a nearly-full carton of orange juice. Sitting there afterwards with blood pounding in my ears and my stomach stretched fit to burst, I knew that this wasn’t funny and it wasn’t cute; it was painful.

That was a year and a half ago. Since then I’ve been trying in various ways to limit my sugar intake. I’ve learned to cook healthy and (mostly) good-tasting meals, stopped buying processed foods and snacks, and learned to sub out unhealthy foods for better versions (like dark chocolate–before I couldn’t stand it; now, the darker, the better). But always, I stopped just short of eliminating sugar completely. It seemed too much a part of me to give up. What about those adorable gingerbread cookies at Christmas? What about Girl Scout cookie season, or sharing ice cream with friends on hot summer afternoons?… I wasn’t ready to give up those parts of my life, so I continued to indulge in sugary treats whenever a special occasion (or something I convinced myself was a “special occasion”) came up. And every time that I happened, I would binge. I ate way more sugar than I needed or intended to, and that set me off on a chain of bingeing that lasted for days.

So, to circle back to the beginning of this post, at the end of 2016 (and after the aforementioned jam-filled-Christmas-bread incident) I decided, finally, that I needed to really make a change. I realized that as long as I was eating sugar, I would always want more. The way my brain is on sugar, “moderation” is a no-man’s land; it’s all or nothing. If I wanted to win the battle I’d been waging with my addiction, I had to choose “nothing.”

Ultimately the decision came down to a desire for health and self-ownership. When I binged on sugar, I felt horrible for days afterwards, not just mentally but physically: Yes, there was some of the guilt and anxiety that many health bloggers connect with thinking about certain foods as “bad” or “off-limits,” but the real problem was that when I had stuffed myself full of sugar, I felt like a heavy blanket was weighing me down; I couldn’t run as fast as I wanted to, or jump as high, or even move as much in general without having to catch my breath. I felt like I was chained inside my own body, by my own decisions. And when the voice of sugar was constantly in my head, always telling me to seek it out, I could hardly focus on anything except for how soon I could get the next treat. How much brain space, I wondered, did I waste on sugar, when I could have spent it on any number of other things–on creating art or writing, on getting to know people, on just taking in the little details of the life going on all around me?

Quitting sugar was therefore a much bigger decision than wanting to lose weight or even wanting to be healthier; it was about wanting to have a better-quality life. Sugar was dulling my tongue, numbing my brain, and weighing down my limbs, but I wanted to experience life with all of my senses unchained.

And for the past two months… Honestly, it’s been great. The change came slowly and the improvements weren’t as dramatic for me as some people have reported (my skin didn’t miraculously clear up, I didn’t suddenly get a superhuman burst of afternoon energy, etc). This was disappointing for me at first, because I was excited about experiencing the kind of sweeping changes that other people had raved about on their blogs. But after about five weeks I realized that the biggest change in my life wasn’t some amazing feeling of a high; it was the absence of the once-frequent lows.

No longer did I overdose on sugar late at night and wake up the next day feeling sluggish and bloated; I rolled out of bed every morning feeling reasonably well-rested and ready to start the day. As I ate a little less and exercised a little more, I began to feel like I could do all of the hiking, swimming, and running that I wanted to do, and I enjoyed it a lot more. I didn’t experience the thrills of bingeing on sugar followed by the awful feelings of regret, anxiety, and self-loathing, which meant that I spent a lot less energy worrying about my body and a lot less time feeling miserable. My mood and my ability to concentrate both went up. And I wasn’t tortured anymore by feelings of missing out. Whereas my sugar-addled brain would have screamed at me to swallow a whole box of Girl Scout cookies, I passed an offer of Thin Mints the other day without thinking twice. It was awesome.

Put another way, it was freedom.

Unfortunately, that streak was interrupted last night. I’m currently student teaching, and I’ve been planning an activity for my 120+ students that involves cookies, so for the past week I’ve been coming home after school and mixing up six huge batches of chocolate chip cookie dough to freeze. Yesterday I was in the kitchen from 2:30 until 9:00, assembly-lining trays of frozen cookie dough lumps into the oven, putting out the finished cookies to cool, and then breaking those up and putting them in plastic bags. (Side note: I am never, ever doing this again. Ever.) It was the first time I had made anything “unhealthy” in the kitchen in months, and when the first fragrant, golden batch came out of the oven… Well…

I decided–despite my resolution to the contrary–that one bite of sugar couldn’t hurt.

And once I had eaten that first cookie, I downed six more before you could say “inflammation.”

(These were not small cookies.)

Despite my progress, despite my two months of being in control of my body and feeling like I didn’t need sugar at all, immediately once I got a taste of it again I felt like I had to have more. I probably ate way more than that before it was all said and done–I don’t really remember. The weird thing is, although the first bite tasted incredible, after the first two or so I felt like I couldn’t really taste them anymore. I just needed them in my mouth, needed that sheer animal feeling of stuffing them down, whether I was really enjoying it or not.

Later that night the familiar sugar headache was back, along with the dull achy feeling that my limbs and my senses were restrained. This morning (despite a full night’s sleep) I woke up feeling horrible and tired, and during the five hours between breakfast and lunch (which usually pass by without a problem) I was craving snacks like crazy. I even snuck some miniature candy bars, just to get another sugar hit. I ate them secretly and way too quickly, and even now, as I write this, I want more.

It’s that same old pattern, over and over again: Overeating. Regretting. Feeling lousy. Eating in secret. Always hiding, always ashamed, always harming my mind and my body, never free to do what I really want to do, which is just live.

So, here we go. I took a step back, but this isn’t the end. Falling back into my old habits has just made me realize how much better my life is without them; now I’m going forward to get back to a place where I don’t need sugar anymore, where I can enjoy the awesome feeling of truly being free again. It’s a tough road for anyone with any kind of addiction to follow, but I know that it’s worth it.

One day I’ll be able to run, and travel, and spend time with my loved ones without the need for sugar distracting me or holding me back.

 

And that is the sweetest feeling of all.