Potential

As soon as I put down my computer, turned off the TV show I was watching, and sat with myself and classical music I felt the itch in my fingers–the itch to write. I pulled my computer back out and started. Then, I was fine.

As Steven Pressfield puts it: “What finally convinced me to go ahead was simply that I was so unhappy not going ahead. I was developing symptoms. As soon as I sat down and began, I was okay.”

I’m convinced that there’s always a moment when everything feels impossible. And I’m convinced that it’s fake. Well, not fake, as much as self-fabricated. Each of us has potential beyond what we believe and all it takes is reaching for it, truly reaching. Dreams are waiting above us. Believe in possibility, believe in yourself, and take action.

As I write this, I realize that smarter, older, and wiser people than I have said what I am trying to say much better than I can, so here are some quotes to chew on:

“You are more powerful than you think you are. Act accordingly.”

Seth Godin Source

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Henry David Thoreau in his book, Walden

“FEAR

Resistance feeds on fear. We experience Resistance as fear. But fear of what?

Fear of the consequences of following our heart. Fear of bankruptcy, fear of poverty, fear of insolvency. Fear of groveling when we try to make it on our own, and of groveling when we give up and come crawling back to where we started. Fear of being selfish, of being rotten wives or disloyal husbands; fear of failing to support our families, of sacrificing their dreams for ours. Fear of betraying our race, our ‘hood, our homies. Fear of failure. Fear of being ridiculous. Fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, that we ourselves have worked our butts off for. Fear of launching into the void, of hurtling too far out there; fear of passing some point of no return, beyond which we cannot recant, cannot reverse, cannot rescind, but must live with this cocked-up choice for the rest of our lives. Fear of madness. Fear of insanity. Fear of death. 

These are serious fears. But they’re not the real fear. Not the Master Fear, the Mother of all Fears that’s so close to us that even when we verbalize it we don’t believe it. 

Fear That We Will Succeed. 

That we can access the powers we secretly know we possess. 

That we can become the person we sense in our hearts we truly are. 

This is the most terrifying prospect a human being can face, because it ejects him at one go ( he imagines ) from all the tribal inclusions his psyche is wired for and has been for fifty million years. 

We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know. We pass through a membrane. We become monsters and monstrous. 

We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us. What will become of us? We will lose our friends and family, who will no longer recognize us. We will wind up alone, in the cold void of starry space, with nothing and no one to hold on to. 

Of course this is exactly what happens. But here’s the trick. We wind up in space, but not alone. Instead we are tapped into an unquenchable, undepletable, inexhaustible source of wisdom, consciousness, companionship. Yeah, we lose friends. But we find friends too, in places we never thought to look. And they’re better friends, truer friends. And we’re better and truer to them.

Do you believe me?”

Steven Pressfield in his book, The War Of Art

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”

Les Brown

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Frank Herbert from his book, Dune

“Be 110% in. The worst thing to do it be 50 in 50 out. Be in all the way and commit. If you don’t like something, finish it and then pivot.”

Paraphrased from a friend named Hayley

… 

I could go on but I will leave you with a quote I wrote and some final words.

Minutes become hours.
As the past devours,
The seconds I let slip away.

Away to the breeze,
Lost in the sea.
My seconds have gone.

And yet I wait,
For the grip of the moment,
To tear me from now,
And gift me with a cure,
For my complacency.

All I can say is don’t let the shitstorm of your own inhibitions drag you down. You can beat your fear, you can be the best possible version of yourself. In fact, you already are. Stop procrastinating and just be you.

Today, through the medium of my little sister my step-dad explained to me that perfection is not a standard but a realization. I would add that it is a realization that can be chosen.

A final quote to finish: The Introduction of The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander.

BEN: “Waiter,” I said, in an exuberant mood, “I have a perfect life, but I don’t have a knife.”

I was having breakfast with a friend on one of my periodic visits to London to conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra. I heard giggles behind me and, turning around, caught the eye of a girl of about twelve with a typically English pudding-bowl haircut. We exchanged smiles, and then I went back to my conversation and to my breakfast.

The next day, I passed the young lady again in the breakfast room and stopped to speak with her.

“Good morning. How are you today?”

She drew herself up ever so slightly and, with a tilt to her chin and a sparkle in her eye, answered me.

“Perfect,” she said.

Later, when she was leaving with her parents, I called out mischievously, “Have a perfect day!”

“I will!” she responded, as though it were the easiest, most obvious choice in the world.

And with that, she sailed out into a universe of possibility.”

Doing: Getting Motivated and Making Connections

The last few days I’ve started doing things I’m interested in. It’s crazy what kind of life-shift can come from simply doing instead of not doing. Today I started working on a new startup. Yesterday I started writing a book. I’ve been writing this blog for over two weeks now! Just by dipping my toes into the world of doing I’ve already gotten so inspired and motivated.

I have always waited for inspiration to come to me before starting on a journey to do something hard and only recently have I realized that motivation can’t be borne out of inactivity. Motivation can only come from action. When we choose to act in spite of not being motivated it’s like opening the flood gates to let in the build up of motivation we have. But, not until we act and start doing something towards out goals do doors open up.

Another thing that has been happening to me recently is that potential connections and mentors have been popping up everywhere. There are so many people out there and it just takes being real with them to build a connection. In person I figured this out a few years ago when I was an Orientation Leader. During that summer I had some of the best conversations of my life with random people who I’d never met. I realized that just by being open, honest, and genuinely interested I could make friends much faster. By asking excellent questions I could learn about people faster and better (my personal favorite is: What makes you light up?).

Only today did I realize that this tactic works on social media as well as in the real world. There are so many people on social media who go there to create a surface-level self. People spend time and effort hiding themselves and their true depth. We have been taught to be normal and to conform to what is assumed of us and so we don’t try to be different or stand out. But, the key thing that I never got is that because of all these things, everyone on social media craves genuine connection.

In the past week, I updated my job title on LinkedIn. Some people messaged me short, likely automated messages like “Congratulations, Faolan!” or something like that. Most people might simply dismiss those messages or say a quick thank you. I, on the other hand, spent the time writing out genuine responses and have built multiple new relationships just by doing so.

Another thing: I was scrolling through Youtube and saw a traveling videographer I follow. He posted a new podcast with actual zero. I decided to give it a listen and loved it. He was interviewing a man who is part of the High on Life team (we’ll call him Jerry), which has over a million followers on instagram. Jerry is working on starting up a food instagram/youtube. I follow a great guy named Joshua Weissmann on Youtube and love his videos so I reached out to Jerry on IG and suggested he check out Joshua’s channel. He actually got back to me and thanked me for the recommendation. Then he answered some questions I’ve had about traveling and photography (I was so surprised that he actually reached back out that I didn’t even spend enough time thinking about what I should say that I might have blown it). My convo with him made me realize that so many of the reasons I don’t do things in life is because I assume that they won’t work and so I don’t. The only way that something 100% won’t work, is if you don’t try.

Just by doing and actively trying to make stuff happen, so many totally random other things come up and so many other doors open. So today, I encourage you to just do something, anything that will get you closer to where you want to be and see what happens!

ALSO! To reiterate something I said a few blog posts ago: Everything is possible if you never give up. I’m 100% convinced this is true.

A Taste of Fiction

Twelve

Preface

“Proditor, no!” I scream as he slices the rope attaching me to the mast with his curved sword. The storm winds blow through the air as if to rip reality to shreds. Without the rope I’m immediately blown twenty feet above the deck into the sky. My limbs are flailing in every direction and I have no control. Hail pelts my skin, tearing through my clothes. It’s the worst storm I’ve ever seen and to top it off I have been betrayed. From above the ship I can see my first mate, Proditor, who looks at me with a sadness in his deep brown eyes that doesn’t fit the smile on his weathered, aged face. He gives me a flicker of a wink before wrenching his eyes away from me and at that moment another gust of the hurricane catches me and I’m shoved through space towards the raging sea. 

Why the wink?” I have time to think before my body hits the water with a smash. My head is plunged under the waves and my lunges feel like they’re exploding. Luckily I’ve always been a strong swimmer and I manage to heave myself up above the wild surf. I look around and see a piece of driftwood careening towards me. I push myself back under the water and spin myself upside down just as the log rushes above me on the surface. Acting completely on instinct my limbs wrap themselves around the log in a vice grip. The logs flips and I’m above the water. I cough out the salty water in my lungs and look back towards my ship, The Singing Mermaid, and see a face looking out at me from the captains quarters. It’s her. She’s been there the entire time. Without another moment to think, darkness cascades around me and the world goes black.

Chapter One

“Squawk!” I jolt up, the sound of a bird waking me. My head shoots towards the sky. It feels like my brain has been replaced by a bag of rocks. My skin is on fire and my throat is so incredibly dry. I slowly look around me. I’m on a sandy beach littered with giant tan boulders that stretches in both directions before curving behind the dense tree line of palms and underbrush. The clear, aqua blue ocean waves come in and out washing over my feet and legs that are splayed out in front of me. I put my hand into the white, fine sand and lift some up watching it fall through my fingers. I look to my right and see a giant log lying on the beach. And then like a bolt of lightning it all comes back to me. I was betrayed and she was part of it. My stomach wraps itself in tight pretzels and my throat constricts making the pain of dryness even more intense. I can feel tears coming to my eyes and yet none fall. “I must be incredibly dehydrated. I wonder how long I was out at sea. I can’t believe I’m actually alive. How did I survive?

I take a deep breath and begin to stand only to crumble back to the ground. My legs are too weak. “Figures. I make it this far and yet I can’t even stand.” I lie back and let out a deep sigh. The clouds sail across the blue sky as if taunting me. After everything that has happened I’ve woken up only to die. Then I remember the treasure. I sit up again and reach my fingers down into the leather pouch attached to my belt, hoping beyond belief, that it is still there. “Yes!

The palm-sized vase is shaped intricately, rising from a flat bottom to curve outward into a bulge and then smaller and out again. Its rim splits into twelve petal-shaped lips that curve back under and connect to the side. Its curves entrance me and keep my gaze fixed and yet moving up and down. I can hardly believe that something so beautiful can exist. The vase has a deep green hue with gold specks just under the surface. It holds nothing and yet is all the hope that I have. I make the decision to take my chances and roll slowly onto my back. I hold the vase above me until the sun shines through and blankets my face in green and gold. 

I start to speak and my voice cracks from not being used and from dehydration but I manage to say “Oh, Deae Pelagi, who holds the power to destroy and create life, gift me. I will do what I must, so please, please gift me.” Prayer is my only option. I must beg to the Goddess of Waves. I repeat the phrase over and over again until all that comes from my parched mouth is the croak of two words, “gift life.” When I can’t speak anymore I will her to help me, repeating my plea in my heart and mind. Nothing. My life flashes in front of me and I think of home, the beautiful hills for miles and miles that carry the burdens of the common folk. Farms all around and the ocean; that wonderful sea that has always been my destiny. My thoughts drift further away and I am taken back to the days of my youth. 

Even when I was very young I would spend my days and nights sitting by the water, swimming with the otters, learning my way around the rocks. I lived for the ocean, for the power and freedom of the waves, and as far as I knew the ocean was there for me, too. Life was mesmerizing. How many things live in the sea that we can’t see in front of us, what has fallen to the depths beyond. I always wanted to be on the sea and on my fourteenth birthday I was finally given a chance. My uncle invited me to join his fishing crew as a crew-boy.

I was a natural immediately, the boat felt like an extension of my body. Ropes would tie in my hands without me knowing how. The wheel in my hands was like an extension of my body. My thoughts become the ship’s thoughts; we were one. And the people: the people around me were family. Every time you’re on a boat only the life around you matters. That’s how I learned to trust my crew like my family. Every person was there for me and I was there for them.

Suddenly reality snaps back and I am once again lying on the beach. “Trust. What a fickle thing. Trust got me here and nothing else.” Bitterness floods through my veins and takes over my heart as I think again of the woman who I loved more than life itself in the window.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a ship on the horizon in the distance. “Maybe they will find me,” I think, knowing that the chances are slim. I close my eyes and let the darkness of sleep envelope me.

Chapter Two

“Roll.” A stern voice trails down to my ears from above as my eyes flicker open.

“Roll.” The voice is getting louder.

“Roll.” I hear the clatter of dice landing on stone, then nothing. A few seconds go by and an agonized scream splits the silence before dying down and becoming a gurgle. My stomach feels sick, flipping over and over, not from the rocking of the boat but from the thought that later that scream could be mine. I have heard of this ship and once again I curse myself for my horrible luck. “It would have been better to die on that island than to be here.” It is dark around me but I know where I am. I’m in the brig, the cell below deck. I recognize the horrible stench of human excitement and blood caked on the walls from my years at sea in the emperor’s army. 

I feel my way around, touching the slime of mold and rot with my fingers and pulling them back. The smell is horrible, I can hardly breathe. I roll over and my hand slams into metal object in front of me. I curiously feel around in the dark and identify it as a canteen. “Ah, water. Thank Pelagi.” I pull the cup to my mouth and greedily drink the water. I reach down again towards where I found the water and find a rusty tray with a small bit of bread and salted beef. I stuff the food down and curl into a ball on the ground as I wait for my fate. The lulling slosh of the water against the outside of the ship continues monotonously, drowning out my thoughts and calming me down. Before I know it I slip into a light sleep.

I wake up before long to the rocking and the familiar stench of this atrocity called a boat. I still hear the sounds of dice from above me. “How is it that I ended up on this ship of all ships. Why must I roll for my fate like so many who have come before?” I sit up and stare out of the cell at the flicker of the torch that hangs at the end of the corridor. The torch is new. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not. The torch seems to know that it is needed and shines its glow, bringing a needed respite from the murky darkness. Beyond the torch I can just make out the shape of stairs leading up to the deck. Barrels seem to take up most of the space down here and yet a mysterious feeling of an immeasurable void nearby still lingers in my gut. I hear footsteps making their way towards me and I continue to stare at the light, my only hope.

The door hinges squeak and a scratchy voice comes from above. “Oy, get up.” I slowly stand and lean against the grate in front of me, which I find to be unlocked. “Come with me,” the voice continues. I make my way to the door that now stands open as the man reaches the bottom the stairs. He has scraggly brown hair and the body of a lean bear, hardly concealed beneath classic sailor’s garb of dark pants, a dirty collared shirt, and a leather jerkin. He grabs my arm and tugs me up the stairs. The food did a good job restoring a bit of my strength but I still feel immeasurably weak. As we reach the top of the stairs and open the trapdoor above, the light of the sun blinds me and I squint. We step onto the deck and I look around to see the ocean surrounding me. A light of hope flickers in my heart as I feel the familiar breeze of the sea.

“Come, Ferrara.”

“I am coming,” I hear coming from my own mouth. “How does he know my name,” I think to myself. We make our way to the upper cabin and the man pushed me through a great pair of double doors. Inside the room is a big marble table that dominates the space and a rickety wooden chair right in front of me.

Before I can think about anything or take anything else in a coaxing voice says “Sit.” I do so.

“Ferrara, we meet again.” A voice full of confidence and as smooth as soft butter sneaks its way into my ears. Only now do I see a man with messy blond hair and a smile that most would think to be genuine standing to the side of the room. I remember this man all too well from years ago. His head cocks at me and his familiar knowing half-smile takes over his face

“Curio, it’s been a while. I never thought it would be you commanding this rotting log,” I say. A deep chortle comes from his bearded throat and takes over the room.

“I am indeed the captain here, Ferrara. With the new role come new opportunities.” A fleck of rage shows on his face for a moment and then is gone. “It’s been what, five years since your little stunt at the Battle of Whale Point?”

I think back to that day when everything changed and shove the memory out of my mind–I can’t stand to think of her after all. “I hear we’re to roll some dice,” I manage to force out, changing the subject. Worry begins to creep through my bones again.

“Right to the point, then? Aye, Ferrara, that we are. Well, not me that is, only you will be rolling today.” He takes out a crimson velvet pouch and opens it. Six dice fall from the bag and clatter onto the stone table. One, two, three, four, five, six. Every side represented.

“Only the king of dice could roll like that,” I say to him in my most mocking voice. “I still remember the day like it was yesterday. The last king escaped his fate after only twelve years of service. How long have the Gods been forcing you to roll these dice now, Curio? Horribly unlucky for you to roll something so dreadful as to be cursed for eternity. How does it feel to watch the world pass by day after day, only being able to play this one game?”

He looks back at me, his eyes darkening into daggers. I pushed him too far. I hear the one accursed word, “roll.” With his word comes a deep release and I feel my hand reaching forward to grab the dice. I can’t stop my body from moving. The terror spreads through my whole body and I realize that I am shivering. I look down to the dice in front of me and let out a deep breath.

I pick them up with a sweep of my hand, shake them in my hands, and then let them go. The dice jump and bounce across the table. A two on the first die. And then another one on the second. The others become still and before me are six dice: Two, two, two, two, two, two. I look at my future and wonder what the dice mean. 

Curio lies a massive, old, tattered book in front of me with a crisp thud: “Open it. Find your roll. Then read.” I scour the pages until I see my roll. I look up and meet Curio’s stark, piercing, gray-gold eyes. He’s shocked, frustrated, and perhaps grateful. 

I look back down at the book and read out loud: “Theoi: the roll of all twos, totaling twelve. There are twelve months in the year and there are twelve Gods. The Gods have blessed you with one year. This year is your one chance. In the next twelve months you must find what your heart most desires. Learn to conquer your fears and you will be free but let it overwhelm you and you will die. You are blessed and cursed.” I’m shuddering as I read. It’s as if every word I speak sets in stone my destiny. Waves of energy flow through my body, warming me and returning my strength. I continue to read “If you have courage and you persist, The Gods will grace you with your power, unlike all others. They will walk with you on this journey and await you on the other side. Theoi is one of the most powerful rolls: you have been graced by The Gods above.”

I look up again and my gaze meets his. He is smiling in amazement now, all previous vehemence gone from his eyes. “You’re still one of the luckiest bastards I know.” He lets out a sigh, and says “you’re free of us now, do as you wish. Go outside and follow the desire of the Gods.” I make my way out of the big wooden doors, still in shock that I am alive. The wind has picked up and it whips my hair across my face. Towering waves are swarming the sea. I look out across the gray skies towards the land in the distance. As the truth settles in, a shock wave explodes from the boat, rippling in every direction. The sea is suddenly calm. The clouds clear and the sun peeks out from behind the clouds. I turn to the sky and know that I have been saved.

“Thank you, Goddess of the Sea. Thank you, Pelagi.”

… To be continued

Every Person Has a Path

“There exists in the world a single path along which no one can walk except you: wither does it lead? Do not ask, go along with it.”
– Nietzsche

Nietzsche is one of my favorite philosophers and doers, and simultaneously one of the most dangerous for me. When I read his writing and think his thoughts I am both the most inspired and the most depressed version of me possible. His ideals bring out in me a visceral reaction to truth that nothing else comes close to. I am shaken me to my very core–I know that I must do as he did… Yet when I hear his story, I am so sad for him, the world, and, honestly, for myself that my heart breaks. I completely agree with the quote above. Every single human has a unique purpose on earth. Every human is unique and our power as a race lies in expressing and enacting that uniqueness.

The biggest problem in our world is conformity (or one of them). People are driven by the wrong motivators all the time. People do things because they think others want them to, because it’s cool, or because they simply are feigning stupidity in fear of standing out. People are constantly striving to be normal, to fit in, and to not draw too much attention to themselves. The general population shuns the heretics, chases them down, ridicules them, and challenges their ideals at every turn… Until finally the “heretic” is actually proven correct and their ideas become the new norm. Nothing is every set in stone and nothing is ever known to be correct or incorrect: things change (in fact, it’s the only certainty besides death).

So what does this mean? The need for resilience of ideals in life is more important than ever. If each person is different and has a unique value to add, then each person will assuredly be ridiculed for their beliefs somewhere along the way. Today, in a world full of conformity of the masses, the vast majority of people look to the few “proven heretics” to show them the path forward. It has never been easier to compare one’s self to what the most “successful” people look like. We are constantly exposed to “perfection” or rather what society has defined as perfection on social media and throughout our daily lives. We’re barraged and bombarded by it. Each person’s uniqueness is being stomped out by the society we live in and it’s harder than ever to confront this. 

The most important thing to remember is that every person who is in the spotlight once wasn’t. Every person who we look up to once was where we are now or lower. There is nothing better about them, different about them, or foreign. They are us. The only difference is that these people didn’t quail in the face of their dreams and the constant comparisons of society. These people started, committed, and never quit. If you put in the work to make your dreams come true, it’s impossible to fail because the simple act of pursuing one’s dreams is what life is all about, and in my opinion, the only measure for success. Without the pursuit though, without the resilience and courage, life is nothing… Without heart, life slowly withers away into stagnation. 

So! Chase after you dreams and be you. Be unique. Don’t compare yourself to those around you. Walk your own path and don’t worry about where’s it taking you, just enjoy the journey.

Oh AND! So many famous philosophers found nature. So many of the best thinkers took walks on their own through the woods, impressing on themselves the majesty of the reality that constantly surrounds us. The beauty of all that is good can be found in the simple act of stepping into nature, trust me.

Peace out. Go outside,
Fao

My Domino Effect

Everyone has a first domino for success. There’s always something that leads to everything else falling into place. For some it may be working out, yoga, eating well, seeing friends, meditating, etc. This simple action has vast ripple effects across the board of one’s life. My first domino is getting up early.

When I get up early everything else feels easy. I love to be awake before everything else in the quiet of the morning. I love to dance around my house on tiptoes trying not to wake anyone up while I listen to my morning hype music. I love having space and quiet to meditate first thing. I love making breakfast alone in the kitchen. I love running right after I meditate and seeing the sunrise. Everything just clicks when I wake up early. And yet…

I struggle with more than anything else to wake up early. Two nights ago I stayed up until 6:15 am and the following night until 3:30. This is abnormally bad for me (I was playing Civilization V. Fantastic game). Anyway, this seriously messes up my next day in every conceivable way. I sleep through the daylight, which is a powerful conduit of happiness for me in the form of vitamin D. I’m out of sync with the rest of world and have trouble deciding how to fill my time. I eat late in the day and end up snacking all night. I’m tired all day and have no energy. It’s brutal!

What I’m getting at is that there is a clear path forward for me to be successful that I’ve know about for a while now but I haven’t managed to do it yet. I’m not sure what’s stopping me. Sometimes my environment and the people around me stay up late and I feel that I need to. Sometimes I’m just busy and lose track of time. However, as I write this I remember something one of my friends and I talked about once. We both agreed that sometimes we stay up late to procrastinate the next day because we don’t want to do whatever we have to do.

Figuring this out doesn’t make me happy. It’s like a monkey wrench has been thrown into my life. If I don’t want to live out tomorrow, what’s wrong? How can I change my own mindset or my situation to be excited for my next day? These are the questions I need to answer. If you have any tips, shoot them my way. Also, just to be clear, I’m not depressed or anything and I don’t hate my life by any means. I love what I do most of the time, but sometimes it’s just all out of wack. I especially feel this way at Santa Clara.

Okay okay, done for the day. I feel like it might seem like I’m complaining but I’m not tying to do. I wrote to figure out how I feel and now this blog is my outlet (oops).

– Embrace, Engage, Enjoy –

Showing Up in The Arena – Why Only Authentically Directed Action Matters

I wrote this a while ago but I’m feeling it again today so here ya go. Also, for those of you who don’t know, I ran track in high school. Hurdles were my thing 👍🏼 (Also, I have no idea how to fix the formatting issues below, I’ll try again mañana.) Enjoy!

The gunshot goes off. My fingers lift from the squishy, rough, maroon surface as the muscles in my legs contract propelling me forward. The nerves that had haunted me for the last hour are gone all at once. My left foot hits the ground for the first time and I feel my spikes dig into the track, lifting me – I am light as a feather. My right foot hits the ground in rhythm. Within seconds the first hurdle is in front of me, waiting. I feel my left leg constrict. My foot comes up. The tendons in my thigh are rippling and my heel sails smoothly over the top. My back leg folds to my side at a ninety degree angle and follows me over the hurdle. My head remains level. My form is impeccable. Boom, boom, boom. Each hurdle is gone in an instant, followed by the next. Boom. The last straightaway stretches in front of me and the final hurdle is gone. I can tell it will be my best time yet. I surge forward and throw myself over the finish line. As I stumble forward towards the time booth I already know it. I see the times – short 0.04 seconds. I was the MVP in only my junior year, I practiced harder and longer than anyone, I put in the time, sold my soul to the sport and it was over just like that. I left my heart on the field and I lost. Since that day, I lost the will to fight for what I love. Since that day, I have been sitting on the sidelines.

I had missed the next level of competition by a measly .04 seconds. Corrupting thoughts started rushing through my head: “If my best isn’t good enough, then why try at all?”

Fast forward to my senior year. I’m the team captain – people are looking to me for support, for inspiration, for someone to push them to their limits. It’s the first meet of the year. As I step onto the track, I feel my will to win slip away. It’s an oddly warm day for spring in Massachusetts. It’s the first meet of the year. I’m feeling loose, lethargic, and my body unwilling. 

The announcer calls the next races: “Girls’ 100, Boys’ 100, Girls’ 100 hurdles, Boys’ 110 hurdles.” ‘Ah, 110. My race,’ I think. I force my body off the crash pad it was lounging on. I meander towards the beginning of the straightaway. I’m not nervous. I’ve run this race hundreds of times before, the competition sucks today, it’s already in the bag. A yawn escapes my mouth as I turn my dreary eyes to the blocks on the starting line. I don’t feel the normal pre-race excitement itching at my skin. I put this out of my mind and take a few tentative leaps into the air, pulling my legs towards my chest and then shooting them back toward the ground. My fingers find the ground as my spikes settle into the blocks they know so well and I shoot forward on my test run. My left leg tenses, my foot comes upwards, and my thigh muscles shiver. My left leg slips over the top with only centimeters to spare.

SLAM. My back foot catches on the hurdle and I’m sprawled on the ground. I feel worms gnawing on my stomach with emarassment and my left arm aches where I caught my fall. I slowly get up  – “It was just a practice run” I tell myself. I return to the starting line.

The moment has come for the race to begin. I lock myself into the starting position: My feet in the blocks, my hands straight and perpendicular to the ground. My whole body is tight, like a pressed spring. The gunshot goes off and I feel the familiar flying sensation take hold of my body. I’m blasting forward towards the first hurdle. 

Step, step, step, step, jump. I’m soaring forward, but something is off. My brain is fuzzy. I’m not focused. My left leg clears the hurdle, my right leg follows. SLAM! Again, I’m on the ground. My brain is working hard. A few things pop up in quick succession: I can’t win in such a short race; I messed up the same exact way as before; I have to keep going because my dignity won’t stand for quitting. I get up and take off again. Boom. The next hurdle is cleared in a gust of wind. I see the third hurdle in front of me and feel my left leg clear the top, just scraping over. I’m jumping up instead of forward. I realize my mistake before I feel it – in hurdling, jumping up instead of forward is the worst thing one can – SLAM, and I’m on the ground completely numb. My body – numb. My emotions – numb. I step off the track, watching my competitors fly forwards and I walk towards my team, suddenly silent.

One teammate comes to me. “Faolan,” he bemoans, “I think your arm is broken.” I look down for the first time and notice that I’m holding my left arm limply with my right, cradling it. The pain then shoots into my body from where it had been hiding and I look again down at my arm. I give it a shake to see if it will listen to me – no response. Retreating back inside myself, I feel shame, I feel the repercussions of my laziness surfacing, I feel like a failure. Tears drip down my face. I’m done with track forever and I finished my career with a lethargic, lazy race

I’m a junior in college now. This evening, as I watched Brene Brown’s face flicker onto the wall from my projector I knew that I had to step back into the ring. In my life, success has been ubiquitous and for that I am lucky. However, my ubiquitous successes have not been deep, nor ressonant, nor empowering. Since the beginning I have achieved everything that I have set out to do. The secret to my successes: only do the things that I knew I could win at. Throughout my life I have known what I alone am best at. I know my strengths and weaknesses.

Recently, two of my best friends told me my strengths and weaknesses. They found that my biggest weaknesses stem directly from overdoing my strengths. For example, I love to push myself to be my best, but I tend to also push the people I love to do the same, which is not always correct. Tonight I realized another strength-borne weakness: Because I think I know what I can win at, I only strive towards that which is safe. I never try for things that could lead to failure or pain. As soon as I fail, I give up, never to do that activity with my full effort again.

Theodore Roosevelt said: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

My fingers buzz. Time has caught up to me. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” I hear the phrase run through my mind over and over again. I think back to my junior year of high school when I gave my all to the arena of track, to the last time I gave my all to an arena. When I lost as a junior by .04 seconds, I stopped striving. The following year, I broke my arm because my heart wasn’t in it. I lost once and that was enough.

Since my fall, I’ve done my share of battles – I fought through application essays, journeys around the globe, and rejections – and I’ve won. I have victoried and I have lost. I have fought, but I have not been in my arena… and it clicks.

Suddenly there is clarity. I always wondered why my successes don’t resonate, why I expect them, and why I can be so unfulfilled when my life is so full. The answer materializes with a great WHUMP as it settles into my very being – My victories are empty because they are not mine. I have fought, but I have not fought for myself. I have won, but I have not battled for my own life, for my own causes. I have fought because fighting is expected and I have won because that is what I do, but I am unfulfilled because I do not fight for what I believe in, because I have not been in my arena. Today I vow to step into the arena – I will challenge my fears once more and regardless of the hurdles that appear on the way, I will run forward, with the full strength of my heart behind me and inside me.

Learning From Mistakes/Failures

The fastest way to learn is to mess something up and then figure out why it didn’t work. In fact, some of my biggest moments of growth have come from making mistakes. Today I’m going to tell a few stories of things that I’ve messed up and what I learned from them so that you can avoid making the same mistakes.


  1. I went camping with some friends one time and we ended up coming back in the middle of the night because we decided we’d rather sleep in beds than tents (go figure). When we got back we were all so tired we went straight inside to bed. The next morning I went out to my car to bring everything inside and was carrying my two backpacks, my tea mug, and my shoes (I had flip flops on). I put everything in my car, carefully putting my shoes on top to put inside after my backpacks and mug, and then casually drove away. I had driven for about 15 minutes when I realized my mistake… too late, they were gone. From this experience I learned to always be conscientious when exhausted and make sure to double check everything (this is especially relevant when traveling long distances because jet lag is a real thing and I don’t sleep well on planes. In addition to the exhaustion, I’m carrying all of my most important things on my person, so checking is key).

  2. Sometime last year I was looking at Robinhood (an investing app) for fun and trying to figure out what would do well in the upcoming months. I came up with some “good” ideas (guesses) and then decided to invest a few hundred dollars. In the next few days my stocks tanked and I lost about 50 dollars. It was at this point that I realized I actually needed the money for buying food and paying bills, so I took the money out: Down 50 bucks, just like that. From this I realized that I should only ever invest money that I don’t need and once money is invested, it’s gone. It’s good to invest money with the perspective that it will never get taken out, forever. If money can grow in perpetuity, then one can live off of the dividends, but if one is messing with their money all the time, then it will undoubtedly shrink. Don’t invest unless it’s excess and once it’s in, leave it.

  3. I got a free three month trial to Barrons a while ago and read articles often for the first month or so. As time went by I got busier and stopped reading the news as much. So, when the time came around for my subscription to renew, I had totally forgotten. I ended up paying about 60 dollars for a subscription I wasn’t even using. Now, this taught me a few things. First of all, I had done this before with other companies and called their support to ask for my money back. Every company I called had obliged and paid me back (this is a lesson: when you want something from a company, ask. Most will do their best to support their customers). However, Barrons did no such thing. I called them and they refused. This made me upset, especially because cancelling their subscription is so challenging (you have to call during business hours… I’m a young person, so this is hard. Most companies will let you just click a button). Anyway, I’m never going to use Barrons again after that experience. I learned to always put the customer first as a company and to stay on top of my own personal subscriptions.

To wrap up, I feel stupid for making mistakes in my life sometimes or in the cases that I hurt others, I feel actively mournful, however I don’t regret my mistakes. Without making them, I would still be stuck as how I was before. Making mistakes isn’t inherently bad, and unless they cause irreversible harm, they are simply learning opportunities. I was talking with my best friend Dylan once about this concept and said: “There is no success or failure. There is only learning and learning.” It’s crucial to realize that it’s okay to mess up and to fail as long as it helps you grow and be a better version of yourself.

Failing frequently,
Faolan

Budget For College Grads and Student Loans

Hi everyone! So today I decided to do something a bit different. I’m going to give you a video I made explaining my budgeting and student loan tool (a spreadsheet). It’s not perfect and there is lots of room to improve, so let me know if you have any suggestions. If something in the video doesn’t make sense or if you want any additional features, again, please (!) let me know! I want to make this tool better and I have a lot of fun playing with it, so any ideas are welcome. Without further ado, the video:

Here is the link. CLICK HERE To use it for yourself, export it to your own google drive or export it as an excel file (I haven’t tried excel but it should work ????).

As mentioned, let me know if you have any questions.

Peace,
Faolan

A Peek Into My Ghanaian Life

Apologies for the delay! The internet wasn’t working last night.

Today has been the first day that I have felt energized and normal since coming to Ghana. For some reason (perhaps the food, jet lag, lack of a sleep schedule, or not enough exercise) I have been very tired and constantly drained.

This morning I woke up to my boss, Oliver knocking on my door and interrupting a rather ridiculous dream. I was dreaming about an old cabin. I was climbing up the wall of the cabin using the ceiling rafters to get to the attic space for some reason. It was at this point I noticed a cute girl looking at me quizzically. Fast forward a bit through murky recollections of dreams and she was holding a withered and decomposing head by its hair like in the third Pirates of the Caribbean Movie. It was at that moment that I was woken up and in the utmost state of confusion. Why would she have a dried up old head and why am I awake. Needless to say I didn’t expect this to be a strong start to my day, but as I got up, forced my way into the perpetually cold shower and rinsed off I felt energized.

I was in quite a weird mood throughout the day, cracking jokes, coming up with crazy (and quite good) ideas, and enjoying every moment. We went to the field this morning to visit some weavers at their village. When we got there I was still punch drunk and half asleep, but I did my best to pretend at confident alertness. There were maybe 15 women sitting on the ground as they weaved the beginnings of the baskets we had ordered from them. Their children wandered around them, crying, whining, and more than anything else staring at Andrea and me constantly. My only goal in life was to make them smile and I did everything I knew how to do towards my goal. I played peek-a-boo, I fist bumped them and exploded it, and I even climbed up on a big boulder with them, but all to no avail (the boulder thing got a kick out of the weavers though. They like when I climb things).

We finished our meeting and moved to leave when a woman came up to Andrea and gave her a sort of awkward hug. Andrea and I exchanged clueless glances and then she realized that the woman wanted her water bottle but wouldn’t ask. Andrea gave it to the woman who brought it over to the dried grains the children were eating and poured it into their bowls before taking a big drink as we drove away. I was again rather brought back to earth by the simple things that I take for granted every day. To yearn for water is something wholly unknown to me and I don’t know if I will ever understand the feeling. Sure I’ve been hiking with my best friend Owen and we’ve left our water at home like dummies but I’ve never truly been without water. It’s something so simple and ordinary to me yet so needed and special to these villagers on the outskirts of Bolga.

In the book, Dune, by Frank Herbert, there is a desert planet called Arrakis. On the planet, water is the most precious thing and it is conserved in every way possible… Except, the rich have gardens with excesses of water just to gawk at. In our world, there is a similar pattern. Today, I was creating a budget tool on excel for myself to plan my income and expenses after I graduate from college (if you want to know more, lmk. I am SO excited about it and could talk your ear off for ages. Also, if you want help budgeting, let me know!). Anyway, while creating it, I included an automated taxation row that would take off a percentage based on my annual income. In doing so, I found that there is only a 2% increase in income tax above $82,501/year all the way until 157k. I’m sure that I’m out of my depth of knowledge here, but I think that it makes more sense to tax not in brackets but exponentially, depending on where one lives, the cost of living, and how much they make. We have the technology to program an automated tax that is personalized to each citizen of the US and yet our government is run by old people who might not even think about this (I’m being a naive and grumpy young person on purpose here FYI).

The point is, the rich still get richer as they always have throughout history. There have always been class divides and there has always been poverty. To add on to yesterday’s post, anyone reading this post has a responsibility to do with our lives what we can to help others. Privilege demands responsibility. Optimistically, we must do what we can. Realistically, I’m not sure how to escape the comforting desire to have a nice life with a comfy bed and cool headphones. I have been wondering what sacrifices are worth it and which are too much. I don’t know. I’m sure that trial and error will provide some answers.

Peace be with you,
Faolan

Losing Innocence in Return for Wisdom

I’m going to keep today’s blog nice and short because I don’t have internet connection and I’m writing it on my phone.

I started and finished reading Walden on Wheels today, a book by Ken Ilgunas. It is about a young man and his life. He writes about his undergraduate career, his following three years, and his graduate career. However, there is a theme to his book: debt. The whole novel is centered around escaping his student loans. His goal expands into a much bigger journey than he was originally imagining–into one of frugality, adventure, ingenuity, and the courage to be different and to face his fears. I was enthralled the entire time and couldn’t put the book down except to gush about it for half an hour to Andrea, my friend and co-worker in Bolga. I am struck by the book. I think it has changed my life.

Before I left for Bolga, my best friend at school, Seamus, gave me the book and said I should read it. It was one of those books that sat on my shelf watching me day after day. Finally I picked it up and burned through it in one go. Thank goodness I did.

It was as if a weight lifted off of my shoulders and a voice whispered to me, “Faolan, get your shit together, buck up, and be you.” The voice was a bit more gentle and coercive but the message came through regardless. In his life, Ken experienced so much and learned from all kinds of people. He met ex-convicts, murderers, those who lived happily off the land, alcoholics, college students, etc. He fully immersed himself in life for better or for worse. His role model, as might be assumed from the title of the book, was Thoreau (spelling his name always is a challenge for me). One of Thoreau’s most famous quotes is about going to the woods so as to live and not come back at the end of his life to see he never lived at all. He wanted to “suck the marrow out of life.” Today, many of us have similar aspirations and yet we don’t step into the life of our dreams, we wait insisting that it’s too dangerous, too hard, or simply impossible. I’ve decided that what we do is not as important as doing anything at all. If you have a dream, why wouldn’t you do it?

If you have a dream, let me know and I will support you however I can, I promise.

On another note, I’ve been realizing how unbelievably and naively fortunate I am. I don’t know how it has taken so long for me to notice the truth staring at me. I am easily one of the most innocently (to an extent) ignorant people. All people are ignorant in certain subjects and I don’t claim to be in all of them, but certain things simply live outside my realm of consciousness. I have always known that there are “starving children in Africa,” but being here in its presence is vastly different. However, that’s not even what is shocking to me. I realized while reading WoW that I have no idea what many people, perhaps even the majority of people, go through in their lives. My life has been so extraordinary (and I mean that word in its truest essence) sheltered. My family has not always had abundance financially and my parents certainly did have an abundance of issues to pass down to me, but compared to so many others, I am so fortunate.

I’m not sure how to use this information yet, but it honestly is revolting and sickening to realize. When I think about the opportunities I have been afforded and the life I have lived I can’t help but think of the things I have given a half-hearted effort to, the hours I’ve wasted playing video games, and the jobs I have turned down because I don’t want them. I think that, more than anything else, I am obligated to do the most that I can with my life simply because I have the chance to, while others do not. What going all in looks like for me, I’m not sure, but I do know that it’s going to be a fun, exhilarating, challenging journey and it all starts with starting and believing. Believe in yourself and everything else will fall into place.

All the best to you on this Tuesday in July. I hope that you are secure in food, excited to wake up, and grateful to have what you have.

-peace-

Faolan