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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
For a while I have been brewing an idea in my head. First some context.
There is a concept that I figured out about a year and a half ago while on a road trip with one of my best friends. We were driving through south Utah on a winding road, looking down on a valley with cliffs to our right and Zion somewhere off to our left. For those who haven’t been to Utah, I highly recommend it: it’s nuts. Anyway, he and I were talking about our respective battles with depression and how so many people today deal with depression and anxiety. It struck me all of a sudden that people can either be above zero or below zero. This was as far as I got on this realization for a while.
Last summer and fall I studied abroad in New Zealand and for those who don’t know, I struggled with some of my most intense depression while there. If you want to read more about it, check out this post: A Short Biography. Basically, I was deeply questioning who I was and dealing with social anxiety unlike anything I had preciously faced. I was certainly in the negative, way below zero. About half way through my time there I conquered my depression by listening to what it was telling me. I needed to figure out who I was and how to have faith in myself. I needed to love myself. As I figured this out and returned home to my family I felt better than I ever had. I was jumping up and down daily with vast reserves of energy. I had never felt so alive and so excited. At this point I was positive, definitely above zero.
It was then that it all clicked. I realized that people should always be trying to go from negative towards zero or from zero, up. People consistently get knocked down and resilience is the quality that leads people to strive upwards regardless of how many times they have been knocked down. In this way, life is like a rollercoaster. There are lows that come unexpectedly, knocking us down the scale and there are ups that we work hard at. Sometimes there are even lucky breaks, although as the philosopher Seneca said, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” In other words, it is always in our control to work our way upwards, whether it be recovering (negative to zero) or growing (zero up).
Now that I have given some context, I will unveil my idea. I want to start a coaching-esque business to help people recover and grow. Wow, feels good to get that out there. I have always loved talking to people about their dreams, their passions, and who they are. I also love hearing about their challenges, problems, and emotional journeys. I am naturally talented at knowing what someone is feeling and how they can conquer their problems or continue their journeys upwards (I don’t mean to brag or be arrogant, but people have told me this over and over and I believe them). It is something I love to do, honestly. The idea that I could get paid to talk to people about their lives, listen to their ideas, challenges, and dreams, and then give them advice is mind-boggling.
Starting today I will be reaching out to coaches and therapists whose writing I have read. I will begin my journey to create an income stream doing something that I love to do that will support others, myself, and my passions. If you have any advice, let me know. If you or someone you know wants time to talk with me, let me know. I would love to get some practice in!
Email me here: email@example.com
Okay, sweet, let me know what you think.
I never realized how important it is for me to have a creative outlet until yesterday. Or rather, I never saw the true value in having one. Yesterday morning I was really struggling with some personal qualms and I didn’t know who to talk about them with. It’s not that I didn’t have anyone to talk to but I didn’t think anyone would be able to understand where I was coming from. So, I turned to music and wrote a song. As I wrote line after line, my true feelings unravelled in front of me.
Often when I’m writing I don’t know where I will go or what will be said, I just write until I figure out what I am feeling. In the past I have written fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and now music. Music is a different form of expression because it can carry a tune. There is power in choosing to use an Am chord instead of an F major chord. Each chord connotes emotion and when they are woven together with lyrics the potential for emotional impact seems to be innately simpler and easier to connect to than with other forms of writing.
Because I was able to let my feelings out in the form of a song and attach each feeling to chords and to notes, I was able to better understand how I was feeling. If you know me well, you’ll know that if I am almost always listening to music. I take music with me wherever I go. Honestly music is one of my most valuable companions. It supports my wellbeing in life. The music I listen to can affect my mood or help me move through bad times. I have a playlist for when I want to cry that without fail manages to bring tears to my eyes. Some people may be thinking, “Faolan, why would you want to cry?” I have found that when I cry I am able to let go of my sadness and get a better understanding of what I am feeling. Again, music is a connection to a better understanding of myself.
I’m not feeling like writing a super long blog today, so I’ll leave you with a song I wrote a few days ago!
It’s not perfect by any stretch and I’m a bit nervous to share it, but what are blogs for if not being authentic and courageous with who we are?
All the best heading into a new week,
“Most people ebb and flow in torment between the fear of death and the hardship of life; they are unwilling to live, and yet, they do not know how to die. Rehearse death. To say this is to tell [someone] to rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave to fear. He is above, or at any rate, beyond the reach of all political powers.”
I came across this quote in the book I am reading (The Blight of Muirwood) and legit jumped because of the profound and simple truth I believe it carries. So many people shun death, seemingly immune to the fear it can illicit in many of us. Over and over again I have seen signs that accepting death is the first step to truly living.
In a podcast recently (the better human project ep 64), Dan Freed was being interviewed. He told a story about conquering his irrational fears of death. He said that he would swim in the ocean at night, swimming perpendicular to the shore. I don’t know if you have ever been to the ocean at night, but it has a way of showing you just how how powerful it is. The ocean at night is overwhelming, mysterious, unreadable, and dangerous. It’s scary. He would feel the fear creeping into him, but he would keep swimming. One night he swam so far he could no longer hear or see the shore. He learned how to ignore the voice in his head that told him he would die. He conquered the fear of death by acknowledging it and having courage anyway.
Another example comes from the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#ck, Mark Manson. At the end of the book he is standing on a huge cliff in South Africa, Cape Town I think. He walks out to the edge of the cliff, slowly and surely, and his fears begin to overwhelm him. Every step closer to the edge he takes, his fears are elevated to higher dimensions until he is right at the edge. As he looks down, his terror in the face of death is overwhelming and yet he persists. He stares death in the face and beats it, by acknowledging it and moving forward anyway.
We will all die. This fact is really the only thing we know for sure. People may not like it, I’m sure not a fan of the concept, but it will happen. However, out of this realization comes the opportunity to truly live, to truly embrace life for all that it is worth. Without rehearsing death, as Wheeler puts it, we are constantly shrinking in the face of its vast and indomitable existence. In short, without accepting death and having courage in spite of it, we will live our lives never truly having lived at all (I feel like I am quoting something but I can’t place it. If anyone knows, let me know).
Every morning Steve Jobs would stand in front of his mirror and ask himself if he were to die tomorrow, would he be happy with what he was doing in life. Every day he chose to live in the presence of death, letting its existence empower him to live actively and urgently. We should all feel a little bit more urgent, not anxious, but steadfast in our goals. In addition to this, Jobs was able to better understand his level of satisfaction with his actions because when he veered off course he would know right away. He had a corrective mechanism installed in his life, powered by death.
There is certainly wisdom to be drawn from the question: What would I do if I were to die tomorrow? However, an often overlooked question, in my opinion, is: What if everyone else were to die tomorrow? This question, since I thought of it, has allowed me to be more present in conversations, exude more compassion for people, and truly listen with care and affection. Every moment matters. The questions, in conjunction, can lead us to a life lived more fully, both for ourselves and for others.
My greatest fear in life is to be on my deathbed wishing that I had engaged more in my life. I fear living a half-life. I fear that I will not use the agency I know I have to do what I long to do. In recognizing and respecting death, one can move beyond this fear and live a life otherwise impossible. I am not sure how to “rehearse death” but I will do my best to acknowledge its existence with the hope to live more fully, knowing full well that life can end out of nowhere.
PS. I had a magnificent conversation with a friend of mine after posting my previous blog and we came to the conclusion together that I am not opposed to living for the sake of being happy. I am opposed to living for the sake of surface level happiness. In my mind, happiness is low level and joy is more pure and better quality, but these are only my definitions (semantics). I never would tell someone that they have no right to feel joy, or even happiness. Pursue joy, pursue real love and have fun. Be warned of filling your life with surface level happiness though. Real happiness is found through hard work and comes in the form of joy.
I said that I was going to write about passions and stuff today but I’m going to put it off until another day because I have other pressing thoughts to write about. This blog post is a brain dump. It doesn’t totally make sense to me, so it might not make sense to you. That being said, I would absolutely love any and all thoughts/feedback/disagreements/frustrations. I want to hear from you!
Many people seem to think that happiness, as in the lack of suffering, is the goal in life. People constantly are aiming at what makes them happy. I have a big issue with this. Happiness is unsustainable as an outcome and is impossible to have as a life goal/purpose.
Happiness is not an end, but a choice. I am convinced that we cannot do anything to bring us happiness consistently and sustainably except to choose to be happy. Buying a new car might make me happy for now, but in a year, probably not. Being married might be the best thing for me now but in ten years, it could be the most painful. Happiness/the avoidance of pain is not a good goal. Everyone feels pain. Part of being human is suffering. There is no way to escape it, so don’t chase happiness highs. If you think that you’re happy all the time, you’re lying to yourself about some big things. Ironically, if your goal is to be happy all the time, you will become sad, because it is truly impossible to always be happy.
Choosing happiness now will not make you happy later. Suffering now, might lead to happiness later… but, it might not. We never know what will make us happy in the long run, so it is not a valid way to make decisions. Happiness should not play a role in any choice humans make. Again, happiness should not play a role in any decision. How then might we make decisions if not by choosing to chase happiness?
I believe in excitement. When people are excited, they are alive, their eyes are lit up, and they are struggling towards something. Excitement is fun, it’s energizing, and it’s healthy. Excitement is my north star in life. I firmly believe that excitement leads to fulfillment and to a life well-lived. Don’t get me wrong here, though: what we are excited about won’t be easy and it will suck sometimes. Starting a company is exciting to me. Writing a book is exciting. Are those things easy? By no means! Those things are going to cause me pain, I’m going to suffer and face challenges, and I’m going to be unhappy sometimes but it’s worth it, because I’m excited about them.
Again, do not chase happiness for it cannot be caught. Happiness is not a commodity that can be bought and kept. It is not an end goal. Happiness is a choice we make, it is a mindset we intentionally adopt. Instead, do something meaningful to you, follow your excitement. Follow what you’re afraid of doing because often when we face our fears we find the most excitement. Choose fulfillment over happiness.
Disclaimer: This is written as an exploratory, devil’s advocate type piece in which I am trying to figure out what I believe. If what I’m saying makes you upset, please talk about it with me! I’m ignorant in many fields, especially history and economics. I am by no means an expert in the following. I want to learn and grow and figure out the truth.
Okay, so, Social Entrepreneurship. I am in Bolgantanga, Ghana this summer working with a company that is connecting weavers in poor, rural villages with the US market. The goal is to alleviate poverty and raise these weavers’ standards of living. For years now social entrepreneurship has been my guiding light. It is the only thing I believe can save the world because it is inherently compassionate and generous. It requires empathy.
I can’t get into the details about my work here because it is proprietary. That being said, during my time, my perspective has changed about the effectiveness of “social entrepreneurship” and the companies that claim to be socially oriented. Let me lay out a hypothetical that I’ve been having.
First let me give an example of what many would call a social enterprise. Let’s say a startup wants to help people in rural Vietnam learn how to sell their bracelets to people in Europe for 5x what they can sell them for in Vietnam. Let’s say they go to Vietnam, build a team, train the artisans, and send the first shipment to their US office. Maybe they can work with 50 bracelet makers and can pay them each 10 dollars more than they could make otherwise. Now these 50 people can eat three meals per day. In 10 years maybe they can feed 1,000 people. This is good, yes? These people are social entrepreneurs because they’re helping raise the artisans out of poverty. Maybe. Maybe not.
On the other side of the coin, let’s take something that many think of as atrocious and awful: outsourcing in unfair work conditions. Let’s think back to the growth of China. Years ago they were a developing country, they didn’t have many factories, and they had a weak economy. Today, they are one of the biggest power in the world. What happened to bring them there? The answer is interesting. In my opinion one of the biggest factors is that richer countries, like the US, funneled money into their factories. Let’s take the famous example of Apple and it’s suppliers. Apple’s supplier in China had to install nets outside their buildings because people hated working there so much they tried to kill themselves. This is bad, right? The answer is not as obvious as I once thought.
Let’s try to think about these two situations objectively. The social enterprise is small and their impact is limited. Apple is huge and its impact is gigantic and fast. We don’t know what the working conditions are for the social enterprise, but I know for a fact that they’re probably not great. The people are still in poverty and there are still injustices, as much as we might like to believe the opposite. We know the working conditions for Apple’s supplier are horrible and it’s truly awful that people could be inspired to commit suicide.
But let’s think about the overall impact of both situations. The social enterprise will take years and years to do anything of real substance. Their impact will likely be small and within a certain area of the world. Apple, on the other hand, can shift whole percentage points of a country’s entire GDP with a wave of its hand. Apple can lift entire countries out of poverty and change the lives of millions of people. Even though the pain of working in horrible factories is bad, hateful even, did it not lead to the growth of China? Is Vietnam not following the same path?
Did we ourselves, as the US, not do the same thing. Think about The Great Depression. Americans endured horrible, horrible working conditions but on the other side was growth. Humans are meant to endure pain, to be resilient, and to grow. The more pain we can survive the faster we can grow and evolve. So really, who deserves to be called a social enterprise?
In the same way that chasing short-term happiness is an issue, chasing short-term alleviation of poverty might be as well. Who’s to say what companies deserve the title of social enterprise? Overall, I’m pretty confused right now about what I should be doing and how I can make an impact. What I do now is that all people struggle and all people have pain. Some people hunger for dinner, others hunger for love, still others long for easy outs. Life is not easy. To do something great for the world, it takes sacrifice and it takes pain. Humanity today is deeply uncomfortable with these concepts. We must learn to challenge our beliefs of what is correct and of where we are aiming to go.
In the US pain is hidden. In developing countries it’s in your face. In the US we pretend that we are great, we pretend that we are fair and that people are happy. Think about mental health, though. Is mental health not simply a manifestation of the desire to block out pain and suffering. We must acknowledge the truth and embrace the pain. We must make sacrifices for the future of our world.
I will be blogging every day for the next foreseeable future. I’m not sure what about. The goal is for me to write, write, write. I have always been inspired by Thoreau’s journaling practices but I get bored journaling because I like to talk about my ideas. So, I realized that blogging as a journal is going to be a two birds, one stone kind of thing. My long term goal is to be a writer of books–actual, factual paper books–that people actually read. It’s really hard to pull a book out of thin air, trust me, I’ve tried. So I’m hoping that by journal-blogging I’m going to be able to build enough material about who knows what to write a book! So here we go, day one. If you enjoy any of my blogs, please, please, please consider subscribing via email on the right –>
Recently I have been reading fantasy books by a man named Jeff Wheeler. I discovered him on the kindle store recommended section and I absolutely fell in love with his writing. In the last two weeks I have read nine of his books and I’m still going strong. In one of his worlds there is a form of magic. In this world certain people are “fountain blessed,” which means that they have special powers like foresight or shapeshifting. These powers are not always useable and have to be charged up, essentially. In one of the books, Wheeler writes “To know your power, you must know your passion. Is there something you have always been fond of? Some work that isn’t a chore or a trouble?” This is something that I have thought about a lot, but in terms of what is called “flow state.”
Flow state is described by Wikipedia as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” In the book, the main character’s source of energy is strategizing. When he is young, he builds elaborate domino patterns and towers to knock down. As he grows from a boy to a man, his activities change. When he is older he figures out how to win battles or outsmart people. We all have things that we lose track of time doing, things that light us up. For me, these things are writing, playing music (specifically writing songs), playing magic, hiking, running (if I’m in shape, otherwise it’s the worst), and long + interesting conversations. However, I would not call binging 5 hours of Brooklyn Nine-Nine flow state even though I lose track of time doing it. To be in flow state one must be challenged and enjoying that challenge.
In the book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#ck, author Mark Manson stresses the importance of struggling towards something. He says that we all have pain in our life, it’s inevitable. The point, therefore, is not to escape pain or struggle but to feel those things for a purpose. Playing guitar is painful, it hurts your fingers. Running is painful, it is taxing and difficult. Magic is an extremely challenging game and requires struggling and thinking deeply. Interesting conversations require being open and listening. Are you seeing a pattern? Things that inspire flow state in us are not easy. To repeat for emphasis: True flow state can only be achieved when one is challenged by the activity but enjoys the challenge. In my mind, the ideal life would be when one is constantly challenged and solving fun problems and enjoying every minute of it (spoiler alert: I’m pretty sure that this is mostly impossible. Nevertheless, something to strive for).
So, what’s the point of me talking about flow states? Basically, our flow states fill us up with power, like in the book. I use the word power intentionally instead of something like energy. Energy comes from things like sleeping, eating well, exercise, etc. Power is something that imbues us with the ability to manifest our talents and skills in the world. It is what lets us work long hours at something challenging. By doing what we’re passionate about, we gain the ability to do the hard work to achieve our goals and to live for a purpose. Without making time or without access to our passions, we become dejected, bored, and depressed. I have been there. Often I forget about the activities that fill me up and don’t do them. These times in my life are always my lowest points. When I’m these periods I have an even harder time remembering to do what I love so I realized that I have to do what I love and what fills me up every day. I have to make time, intentionally, for these things or else I won’t do them.
Once we start doing what fills us up consistently then we gain the ability to manifest our dreams in the world. This is when the game changes from filling one’s self up to emptying one’s self out. Tomorrow I will write about how we can use our power to actually create in the world. I will also differentiate between doing something because we love it and doing something because that something is who we are and it is how we live.
Looking forward to tomorrow!
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PPS. I’m curious about what some of your passions are. What puts you in flow state? Let me know below!