Conduct Your Life With Exuberance

Imagine being 80 years old with more energy and life than you had in your 40s, 30s, and even your 20s…

Seem impossible? Meet Benjamin Zander, the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, who will have you second-guessing your perception of age and energy from the moment you meet him. At the end of April, I will be hosting the Akron Symphony Orchestra’s annual charity gala, and one of the auction prizes is a visit to Zander’s home in Cambridge, a trip up the Charles River in his pontoon boat, and VIP treatment at a Boston Philharmonic concert. Since I was already in Boston to perform comedy, I decided to reach out to see if I could arrange a meeting.

The moment he swung open his front door, I knew I was in for a treat: “THERE YOU ARE!” he exclaimed in his sing-song British accent, arms joyously in the air as he wrapped me in a warm embrace. It was as though he was reuniting with a long-lost friend, and I went from being nervous to meet the world-renowned conductor, to feeling like we had known each other for years.

As we spoke with one another, his eyes sparkled, reminiscent of Sir Ian McKellen’s as Gandalf at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, and he smiled from ear-to-ear and nodded along as he listened to me talk about why I’m passionate about bringing more laughter to the world. Unsurprisingly, he shared my value of humor as he spoke about the fun he and his musicians have during orchestra rehearsals.

“Having fun at rehearsals is so important, even though the symphony is supposed to be serious,” he shared. “The world is much better off with more laughter.”

Though I only spent about ten minutes with the incredibly busy conductor, it felt as though time stood still, and we connected on much a deeper level. The zeal with which he approaches others is evident in his TED Talk, which I HIGHLY recommend watching – even if you’re not into classical music – because his message transcends music:

“I have a definition of success. For me, it’s very simple – it’s not about wealth, fame, and power – it’s about how many shining eyes I have around me… It really makes a difference what we say – the words that come out of our mouth.”

He goes on to quote an Auschwitz survivor:

“I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.” 

When I reach 80, I can only hope to have half of the spirit that Zander has, but he left me with powerful questions to ask myself: do you leave people with shining eyes? Are they happier and filled with more energy that they were when you met them? How can you leave every interaction inspiring others to live with energy and exuberance?

Ask yourself these questions every day and find that life becomes a little happier, more exciting, and  more fulfilling.

Check out Benjamin Zander’s TED Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion#t-1197578

Check out The Art of Possibility, the transformative book he wrote with his wife: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Possibility-Transforming-Professional-Personal/dp/0142001104/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+art+of+possibility&qid=1555090828&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Humor and Grief: Putting the ‘FUN’ in Funerals

When a close relative of yours gets murdered, it shakes the foundation of your existence; it can send you on a downward spiral of depression, dependency, and regret. One of the toughest moments of my life was learning of the passing of my aunt, Kristie, at the hands of her own daughter – my cousin Taylor. I was lying in bed around 7 AM after a late night of shock and questioning reality – we had already known Kristie had been killed, but when we went to bed, we didn’t know the culprit – when my dad burst into my room with hate in his voice, declaring, “Taylor did it.”

My first thought was, “Christmas is going to be awkward this year.” I stopped myself from laughing: “This isn’t the time to make jokes.” The next few weeks were miserable – every day we learned more and more gruesome details about the murder. If you were to drive by our house, it would’ve been the one with the black cloud hovering above it. You always hear people say things like, “That kind of stuff happens on the news, it doesn’t happen to us,” so none of us really knew how to cope. We spend a lot of time together, consoling and comforting one another. In college at the time, I confronted my vulnerability by skipping two straight weeks of class – the only percentage I got was the .09 I blew into a breathalyzer. Needless to say, none of the family could find a way out of the black hole we were stuck in… until the funeral. That’s when I finally gave in to the humor of the whole situation.

During the eulogy, the minister said, “This is a celebration of life!” I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “celebration,” I think “party,” and not one person was partying. Besides, if you were to invite me to a party, then inform me it’s at a church, everyone would be crying, and the DJ would be bagpipes, I’d politely decline. And one more thing: he called it a “celebration of life…” with a dead body in the middle of the room – you couldn’t get more contradictory. That’s like having an open bar at a sobriety party. I had to laugh – and the moment I did, it was like a weight was lifted off of my chest. I began to notice even more incongruities: the first three letters in ‘funeral’ are ‘F-U-N,’ Kristie found joy in the happiness of others and, ironically enough, EVERYONE THERE WAS CRYING, and a stranger no one there had ever met sobbed uncontrollably into the microphone for five minutes, blubbering on about how he wished more people had known Kristie, while we wondered who the hell knew who that guy was.

In the face of tragedy was the moment I realized the power laughter has over our fears, stress, and sadness. But it shouldn’t come as such a shock: science has known this for some time now

A study from the University of Berkeley, bereaved widows and widowers able to laugh about their loss were observed to be happier, better equipped to deal with distress, and better socially adapted.

A study done at Kent State and reported in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care revealed that humor was present in 85 percent of 132 observed nurse based visits. Amazingly, they found that 70 percent of the humor was initiated by the patient.

Humor provides us with relief, not by washing away bad feelings, but by activating them, along with positive ones, so that we can enjoy a complex emotional experience. Tragic circumstances are an effective breeding ground for humor because they provide the same release as horror movies, allowing the participants to confront their emotions head-on.       –Scott Weems (author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why)

How have you used humor in the face of tragedy? How have you helped others experiencing tragedy, trauma, or even just a bad day smile?

Each of us has had a “Christmas is going to be awkward this year,” lean into it and let yourself laugh.

 

I Was Going to Post to My Blog, But…

…There’s a cat on my lap, and when there’s a cat on my lap, nothing gets done.

It’s not that like the cat pins me down and forbids me from typing, I just choose not to work when there’s a cat on my lap.

Then I blame it on the cat.

It’s definitely the cat’s fault that I didn’t type my 1,000 words today.

It’s not like I can type over him.

Every time I try to type, he attacks my fingers.

I’ve had to delete and re-type this line seven times for that reason.

There’s nothing I can do about this cat on my lap.

This is all on the cat.

I couldn’t go to the comedy show because of the cat.

I know I said I was going to come, and I know you were counting on me to perform, but when I sat down for seven seconds to check my email on my way out the door, guess what happened?

Cat. Lap.

And you can’t stand when there’s a cat on your lap because he needs to be pet.

Calm down! I know I ruined your show, and I’m sorry

I get that you’re mad. – I’d be mad too – but you didn’t have a cat on your lap.

If you did, that means you’d probably be at my house, which means you wouldn’t have gone to the show either, which means you have no room to talk.

And I couldn’t even answer the emails anyway!

There was a cat on my lap.

The cat found the cursor on my computer screen and I discovered that I’m distracted by cats chasing computer cursors.

I know there was a deadline, but I have a disease where I physically cannot focus on sending emails when there’s a cat on my lap.

It isn’t diagnosed.

I don’t have a doctor’s note.

Because I couldn’t get to the doctor’s office, since there was a cat on my lap, but that proves that it’s a real thing.

And it’s why I’m just now sending a time-sensitive email, three days too late.

Again, not my fault.

Blame Wright Catterson.

That’s not my cat’s name.

Or maybe it is.

I never asked.

I just gave him an arbitrary name without asking him what his actual name is.

I’ve actually been wanting to adopt a cat for forever because I have an overwhelming mice infestation, but I never got around to it.

There was a cat on my lap.

When there’s a cat on your lap, it makes it hard to adopt a cat in the first place.

Especially a cat who would rather chase a computer mouse instead of actual mice.

YOU try to get a cat when there’s a cat on your lap being hilarious.

You can’t, so as a result, you get mice.

This is how the world works when you have a cat on your lap.

Wait a minute…

If I need to get a cat, then how is there even a cat on my lap in the first place?

There is no cat.

…I don’t have a cat.

I’ve never even owned a cat.

I’m not even sure how to pronounce “cat.”

The only reason I know how to spell it is because Microsoft Word didn’t give it the red underline.

The only reason I know that cats even exist is from cat videos on Facebook.

Which means, it was never the cat at all… it was me the whole time.

What a twist!

But wait a minute… that means…

I was the one attacking my own fingers.

I wasn’t petting a cat, I was petting myself

I was the one spending hours chasing the cursor.

I’m the one named Wright Catterson!

IT WAS ME THE WHOLE TIME!

And I was making excuses instead of doing what I needed to do to get what I want!

Oh man, what a waste of three months.

…And I blamed it all on that stupid cat that I made up…

That means I have reframe this with some new self-talk:

“What do I want?

What does it look like?

What am I telling myself that’s stopping me?

How is it stopping me?

What’s something new I can do?

What’s 1 action I can take to move me closer to what I want?

Now go do it, Wright Catterson!”

Do the same thing when you have a “cat” on your lap.

Because excuses don’t exist.

…And neither does my cat.

 

Comedy Creates Connection

Comedy: it’s more than just making people laugh – there are real life lessons that can be learned, and I just learned an important one this past weekend that I felt compelled to share: it doesn’t matter how funny you are, if you don’t make a connection with your audience (your customers), they can’t be invested in you.

I learned this the hard (fun) way this past weekend.

Last Friday and Saturday, I was hosting a comedy show featuring a musical comedian at a comedy club in Akron. As the host, it’s my job to set the tone for the show, so I had spent the week at open mics both working on my material and riffing with audiences. Then Friday night came around… I was instructed by the club owner to promote upcoming shows, so that’s how I kicked off the show.
“Give it up for yourselves for coming out!”
They cheer.
“Now, coming up next week is Jim Florentine from VH1’s That Metal Show! The following week is Dave Landau who has been a special guest on The Bob and Tom Show! Anyone here listed to Bob and Tom?”
Crickets.
“Well you should. They’re hilarious.”
Crickets.
Side note: I don’t even listen to Bob and Tom.
That was me trying to force a connection, but still not listening to the crowd. That’s not how you connect with people.
Now what? Do I stand up here and keep trying crowd work? I’m 0 for 1, that can only mean it’s going to get worse. I know! I’ll perform my set for them.
Before the show I went through all of my jokes and decided on the ones that would tie into the narrative of humans being too comfortable with the status quo to make meaningful change. For example, we call a peanut a nut when it’s actually a legume, Gettysburg will never be a progressive town because they can’t stop reminiscing over the glory days – you know, The Civil War – and the Cleveland Indians calling themselves Indians when their logo is clearly Native American – two distinct races.
It turns out the audience wasn’t there to laugh at thought-provoking humor. The headlining comedian used crude acoustic parodies of well-known songs, including Christmas carols, and the audience ate it up. I couldn’t believe it! What was I doing wrong??
“But I do smart comedy!” I reasoned to myself, “I challenge the status quo!”
If you went to see Bruce Springsteen in concert, but a world yo-yo champion was his opening act, you’d be like, “I’m not here to see this guy walk the dog, I want to hear about the glory days.”
So sure, I got some laughs, including one big laugh at my Indians joke (appropriate since the team was in the playoffs at the time), but I never fully connected with the people in the room, and it was a little disheartening to begin the show on a dud.

I approached one of the other, more experienced comedians for pointers on how to more effectively open a show and get the audience riled up.
“Ask if anyone has a Birthday or anniversary and comment on that… and listen for the blender at the bar. Someone always orders a frozen margarita during the opening act. Commenting on that always gets a laugh.”
Noted.
Back on stage again: “Anyone celebrating anything?”
No one. Oh, great. Time to go into my routine – surely the first audience just didn’t get it and the second audience would be much better.
Nope.
Again, I got some laughs, but I was missing that ever-important connection… then the blender went off.
“If anyone needs a root canal, they’re doing them for cheap at the bar.”
Everyone laughed!
“This place has it all: comedy, cocktails, and clean teeth!”
Another laugh.
This was it! Time to ride the momentum train into the rest of my set!
“Did you realize human beings are the only animal to drink the milk of another animal?”
Just as quickly as I got them back, I lost them again, and it deflated me. What was happening?
Lightbulb: I wasn’t listening to them! They came to hear jokes about balls, and here I am telling them about the potential of Gettysburg before the Civil War.
Connection begins when you listen, and I forgot this vital rule of human interaction because I was so focused on getting laughs, rather than working together with the room to create an experience.
The first show the next night got off to a promising start – there was a Birthday and it was at a front table full of women – perfect – they’re probably wasted and I can have some fun at their expense.
“Do any pre-gaming at the Red Fox next door?”
They didn’t, so I asked what they were drinking.
“Vodka cranberries!”
“Ah, the vodka cranberry: the vodka cranberry of cocktails.”
I’m not proud to admit that that got a much bigger laugh than I expected, but hey, a laugh’s a laugh, right?
“Pam’s drinking beer!” Another woman at the table chimed in.
“I like beer,” Pam added. The second she said that, the next few words slipped out of my mouth and into an abyss of silence:
“So does Brett Cavanaugh.”
I didn’t read the room… this was a conservative audience, and that could be construed as a liberal joke.
That wasn’t my intention at all, but it’s how the audience read the joke, and just like that, I lost them. The rest of the set went okay, but I never felt a true connection with the people in the room.

One more show, one more chance.
“Anyone celebrating anything?”
“17th anniversary!”
“17! Give em a round of applause, everyone!” Applause break.
“I can’t make it past two years, but I just got into a relationship. If I’m lucky, in 17 years we’ll be catching a show at this comedy club together too.”
That got a laugh – off to a good start. After some riffing that included the rest of the crowd, it was time to go into my set, which I updated to be a little more off-color.

“When I was a kid, I used to get picked on for my last name. I resisted it because no one wants to be known as the horny kid when they’re ten. It’s a hard reputation to shake off.”
Starting the set with this was the first step to audience connection – it’s what they wanted – but when I felt myself beginning to lose that connection, like when I began a new joke on the absurdities of Tinder, I listened and recreated that connection. “Anyone in here on Tinder?” No one made a sound.
“Next joke.” Everyone laughed, including me. That’s what a real connection feels like.
Although it wasn’t my best set, the key is that I maintained that connection and got some good laughs, keeping the audience invested all the way through my ten minutes of time onstage.
The headliner approached me after I got off stage, “Great set, man. This is going to be a good show.”
If you want to get what you want, you have to look at it from the other person’s perspective and ask yourself, “What is it they want?” first. It took me three shows to remember this, but once I did, it led to me performing the best 10 minutes of comedy in my life, opening up for a national headliner in front of 100 people the next night.

By investing our energy into seeing the world through the eyes of others, we create connection, and once that connection is created, others will be more invested in us.

2017 Lesson 2: Expand Your Horizons

2017 was an incredibly rewarding year. Why? I decided to go outside of my comfort zone on several occasions, and man am I glad I did. The one thing I did that really stretched me was a cross-country road trip from Cleveland to Boise and back. Driving cross-country was something I’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to because:
· “I don’t have the money”
· “I don’t have the time”
· “Where would I stay?”
· “I don’t know anyone”
· “I don’t know if my car can make it”
One day in March, I decided to say, “Fuck those fears. I’m doing this.” I reached out to several human resources associations, chambers of commerce, young professionals groups, leadership conferences, and nonprofits about speaking at upcoming events, not sure whether or not they’d throw my email in the SPAM folder or actually listen to what I had to say. Thankfully, out of the nearly 100 emails I sent, I got a few responses, but none of them could afford to cover my full travel expenses. Sure, I was offered a few hundred dollars, but driving over 4,000 miles was going to cost quite a bit of coin. Gas, lodging, tolls, and food on top of my usual bills without really getting a paycheck over two weeks was going to set me back financially, and though I was hesitant, I decided I would figure it out.

Holy shit am I glad I did.

Instead of focusing on why I wouldn’t be able to afford the time on the road, I shifted my focus to what I could do to make it happen and how rewarding of a trip it would be. I ended up booking three speaking engagements (Twin Falls, ID, Emmett, ID, and St. Louis, MO), none of whom could cover my expenses, but dammit I was going to get this done. As far as lodging, I ended up meeting some cool people online via CouchSurfing, a social networking community of people sharing their couches in exchange for meeting new people and hearing their stories – something I really value. My 2010 Honda Accord, Rachaeloaoeoioe (Pronounced “Rachel.” All of the extra vowels are silent), was exchanged for a brand new 2016 Accord, Schoaoeoioeron (Pronounced “Sharon.” Again, all of the extra vowels are silent), at only a small increase in my monthly car payment – definitely manageable. Now that I had destinations, knew where I was going to stay, with people I knew (through the internet), in a car I trusted not to explode on me, it was time to go.

I won’t bore you with the moment-by-moment details of the trip, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I:
· Met new people and made new friends in Iowa City, Boulder, Twin Falls, Boise, St. Louis, and Indianapolis.
· Learned all kinds of new things from someone who travels to Jordan to teach English as a second language, an opera singer who would rather be the roots of the tree than the leaves (a valuable lesson), a psychology major who left the comfort of her 9-5 to open a hostel and meet travelers from around the world, a financial planner focused on expanding his network and providing support to entrepreneurs and “gamechangers” in Boise, a teacher with a new perspective on how to look at problem students, and a dude who really loves craft beer.
· Meditated miles away from other humans beneath a sky filled with stars in the deafening silence of the mountains of Idaho, and had a serendipitous shooting star experience confirming to myself spiritually that I was in the right place at the right time.
· Witnessed an event so funny and out-of-the-ordinary, it immediately inspired me to write a comedy sketch about it, did, and ended up shooting and releasing it last month: https://youtu.be/T9iJ-yMaIBs
· Gained an appreciation for how infinite life and the universe is and how insignificant our problems really are while driving through the sheer vastness of the mountains, plains, and desert of Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, and Kansas.
· Booked a fully paid presentation based off of my presentation in Twin Falls and ensured a second trip cross-country next May.

…All of this because I chose to expand my horizons. The next time I start feeling fear when it comes to doing something new and risky, I’ll always remember what I felt before taking this trip. Now, the fears seem so insignificant compared to what I gained from choosing to expand my horizons. Because I made that choice, I expanded myself as a person when it comes to confidence, spirituality, and emotional strength, in ways I couldn’t imagine beforehand.

What risks are you afraid of taking? Is there something you want to do this year that you’ve been hesitant about? Take it from me, it’s way more worth it to say, “Fuck those fears, I’m doing this,” and then focus on what you can do to make it happen instead of what’s stopping you from doing it.

2018 Prediction #2: There won’t be a Babe 3

Sorry, Babe fans, but it’s been 20 years since Babe: Pig in the City and the demand just isn’t there. Sure there are underground cults worshipping the first two films and hoping that one day a reboot will resurface, but that little pig just doesn’t have the drawing power of a Jurassic Park, Star Wars, or – oh, for fuck’s sake – ANOTHER TRANSFORMERS MOVIE!?
Anyway, I’d bet all of my bacon that Babe isn’t making the comeback we all hoped. Sorry to smoke your sausage.

A Weekend State of Mind

TGIF, am I right?

There are 52 weekends in a year, which means there are 104 weekend days. Each week, many people wake up on Friday, anticipating the “freedom” and fun a couple of days off may bring, and go to sleep Sunday, dreading going to work the next five days. That means 261 days a year (including holidays and 1 week of vacation: around 240) are devoted to looking forward to the other 125 or so. To me, this sounds back-ass-wards: why does it make any sense to spend 2/3 of your already way-too-short life focusing on the other 1/3? Remember that scene in Jumanji where elephants and rhinos charge down main street, crushing everything in their path? What if you were in that car that got smashed? You never know when an elephant is going to crush you while you sit at a red light, so my recommendation is to live each moment like it is the weekend. Now don’t go out and start doing shots of Fireball – I don’t mean party like it’s the weekend, I mean carry a weekend state of mind:

  • No matter what day of the week, find something to look forward to each day, whether it’s learning something new in a meeting, building a relationship with a coworker or client, or taking steps closer to achieving a goal.
  • Be in the present moment, not worrying, stressing, or dreading about the endless stack of work in your inbox. When you’re enjoying a game night with friends on Friday, or you’re reuniting with college friends on Saturday, chances are, you’re not worrying about work on Monday. Set weekly and daily goals that engage you and work on completing them, one task at a time. The closer you get to completing them, your brain releases dopamine, the same feel-good reward chemical you get when you’re laughing with your friends at karaoke night.
  • Reward yourself with each goal you complete during the workday.
  • Rephrase “I have to go to work” to “I get to go to work.” This minor change will evoke completely different imagined scenarios in your head. Not everyone has the chance to get a paycheck every week, so keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to be grateful as you move through each day at the office, and take a moment to yourself to let how incredibly lucky you are sink in.
  • Create themed days at the office that break up the routine and keep things fresh. Here are a few ideas:
    • Memorable Meeting Monday: The purpose of this half-hour meeting isn’t to talk about work, it’s to do a short, off-the-cuff table topics exercise so you can learn more about your coworkers with randomly selected prompts from a “topic master.” “Tell us about your most recent vacation or a vacation you’re looking forward to going on,” “What’s a memorable family tradition you have for (insert upcoming holiday here)?” “If you could have any superpower, what would it be and what would you do with it?”
    • Taco Tuesday. Duh.
    • Winning Wednesday: The most important aspect of our workday is the people with whom we work. Go out of your way to have at least six positive interactions with coworkers: learn something new about someone, compliment someone on their attitude, work, or appearance, use any spare time to work together with someone and help them to complete a task they’ve been struggling with, do a small kind deed for someone like getting an extra cup of coffee, offering to make copies for them, or buy someone’s lunch. Make sure you do these on your own, without waiting for someone to ask you. (Also, chances are, Whiskey Wednesday isn’t going to fly with HR).
    • Thankful Thursday: Have a gratitude board where everyone can see it, and write down at least one thing you’re grateful for, not necessarily about work. Also, go out of your way to call a client, write an email to a coworker, or tell them in person why you’re grateful for them and what they do.
    • Each Friday, have a different themed dress-up or dress-down day. From onesies, to cowboys, to the roaring 20s; get creative. At the end of each Friday, get together as a team to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and set goals for the upcoming week.

Only looking forward to around 125 days a year seems absurd and self-defeatist to me. When I was in school, I found myself moping around at the thought of having to go back the next day, and I missed out on opportunities to enjoy the experience. Since then, I’ve carried a weekend state of mind, no matter how many cold emails I have to draft, presentation proposals I have to draft, and videos I have to edit. Any and every experience can be fulfilling and fun, and if you’re going to spend 40 hours somewhere, you might as well create that in every moment. However, if you’re looking forward to the future, you’re missing out on the present, and robbing yourself of the opportunity to be engaged and enjoy the moment you’re in.

 

I’m Not White & Neither Are You: A Piece on Self-Identity

My name is David Horning, I’m not white, and neither are you. If you’re black, well, you’re not black either. Are you Latino? Sorry, but that means nothing. In fact, without man-made labels, race wouldn’t exist, there’d just be people who are easier to find in the dark than others. How you identify yourself and others determines your experience.

One thing is true about everyone who reads this: you are you and you’re the only one who is.

Your identity is never attached to a race, religion, ideology, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; your identity is whatever you choose it to be. Unfortunately, we get shoehorned into categories, and, since we live in a world that categorizes pretty much everything, we confine ourselves to these categories. Our brains are constantly working in an “If that, then what else?” manner, so when we look at our skin color, we confine ourselves within preconceived notions about what it means to be white, black, Latino, Asian, Greek, Inuit, Viking, etc. The same goes with the other classifications within which we identify ourselves.

Grab your water wings and get ready to jump off the diving board.

Sure, David Horning might be my name, but I didn’t choose it. If I could choose my name it would be something awesome like Birmingham Steele. Actually, scratch that; I like a little variety in my life. If I could choose my name, I would pick a different one whenever I feel like it. As some of my friends know, I have gone by several different aliases, demanding they refer to me as something other than David H, David, or David Horning in their contact lists. My given name may be David Horning, but one day I could be Daddy Long Legs, The Monitor, Distinguish’d English Gentleman, Bee Stings, Sticky Pants, or any number of things. Actually, I’m not David Horning, I just am.

The point is: your name and identity were chosen for you, but you don’t have to live your life within the confines of these parameters.

Why?

There have been billions of people with light or dark skin, but only one you.

There have been billions of males and females, but only one you.

There have been billions of rich and poor people, but only one you.

There have been billions of homosexuals and heterosexuals, but only one you.

There are 26 letters in the alphabet, but only one u.

Embrace these facts fact and allow your deepest desires, character traits, and interests shine through like only you can do.

I challenge you to think about who you really are by pondering the concept of consciousness.

What is consciousness and how the hell did your consciousness become attached to your body? No one can know for sure, but what we do know for sure is that our bodies are limited while consciousness isn’t. You have the freedom to think anything you want. You have the freedom to be whoever you want to be. You have the freedom to interact with others any way you want. What makes it difficult to fathom the infiniteness of who we are is who we’ve been told we are, which is limited and limiting. From the moment we’re born, we start being told who we are: a boy, David, white, Republican, Catholic, middle class, straight, part German and Italian, right-brained, a chip off the ol’ block, an only child (for the first nine years of my life, at least), etc. When we spend our entire lives hearing these things, they become true to us and we accept them as who we are which buries our authentic, unadulterated, uncensored selves under layer after layer of identities. If someone comes up to you and asserts that you’re an architect when you’re a musician, you’d probably think, “What gives you the right to tell me what I am?” This is what happens to us when we’re young, but we’re too young to question these identities forced upon us from the outside, so we accept them and they become who we are.

When you’re old enough, you can either come to the realization that you can change your identity to better fit your unique consciousness, or you can live according to the expectations of others who aren’t you.

When you do the latter, your inner you is constantly trying to alert you that you’re doing life wrong:

When you’re bored at work.

When you’re offended by the opinions of others.

When you feel insignificant next to others.

These feelings are just your inner consciousness alerting you that it’s time to give up the façade you’ve built for yourself and be you. Unfortunately, your identity tells you that it’s the job’s fault you’re bored, the other person’s fault you’re offended, and the fault of your circumstances when you feel small next to someone else. In reality, this externalizing is just your identity’s way of protecting itself from you realizing you can shatter it and embrace your true self.

The identities that are created for us are what limit us and those around us by creating conflicts based on these imagined classifications. Our identity is infinite. To deny this, is to create inner-conflict, which often leads to external conflict. Don’t be who others expect you to be unless you want to live in constant conflict with yourself and others.

There is only one you. There has never been another you. There will never be another you. Why limit yourself into limiting categories determined by others?

This doesn’t mean that I want you to fill in the “African-American” bubble on a survey if you look like me. This does mean that I want you to get in touch with the real you. Strip away the labels, categories, classifications, and limits you’ve been given. If you were given a blank slate, what would you do? Who would you be? How would it feel to express your creativity without fearing the opinions of others? How would it feel to love everyone regardless of who they are or what they do? How would it feel to wake up every day inspired to work on something that engages and excites you? Strip away everything you know and be you.* Create your self-identity based on who you are, not based on who others tell you you are.

I create characters, get on stage, and do silly things because that’s who I am.

Chatham Adams

You’re not white, and neither am I; you’re you. You’re the only one who is lucky enough to be you, so embrace yourself and let the real you shine through to others.

 

 

*People are still made uncomfortable by nudity, so I don’t recommend literally stripping. Especially in public.

 

Now That’s What I Call Everything

NOW

NOW. Is that what I call music or is it the word my parents would use emphatically so I would get off my ass and do something? Now is both and it’s so much more. Now is so much more than three letters or the title of a never-ending music compilation that started in the 90s. Now is like pi: infinite and ever changing. Now is everything. Now is all we have. If you want to make a change, the best time to do it is always now. Life is just an infinite series of nows. Now was yesterday’s tomorrow. Now is tomorrow’s yesterday. Now is when I am writing this blog. Now is when you’ll be reading it. My initial subconscious response to, “I need to write a new blog post,” was, “Just do it tomorrow!” which is silly considering it will never be tomorrow, but it will always be now. If I had a dollar for every time I put something off until tomorrow and didn’t end up doing it at all, I’d be wearing a smoking jacket in an expensive, wood-paneled study, swirling a 21-year old single malt around a snifter, and dictating every word of this blog to my loyal manservant Javier. I don’t know any Javiers, which means there’s no reward for putting off taking action. Other than our thoughts, the most powerful tool we have is right now. This very moment, you, me, the lady next to me drinking a peppermint hot chocolate, the president of the United States, the homeless guy begging for change next to the 50th Street 1 Train station, Elon Musk, and the inmate on death row have the same opportunity: to make the most of now. The biggest obstacles to making the most of now are yesterday and tomorrow; past and future; what happened and what could happen.

Out of the Now and Into the Past and Future

       Time is such an abstract concept that don’t even try to wrap my head around it. What I know about for sure is the power of right here, right now. To dwell on past or future is to cost ourselves the opportunity of the present. When I was in Tennessee last week, I met a very pretty girl at a restaurant. We had a fun, lengthy conversation about food and bourbon (two of my favorite things), said our goodbyes, and parted ways. The entire time, a little voice in the back of my head was whispering, “Ask her for her number,” but every time, I responded, “There’s no way she’s going to give it to you – you’re only here for two days.” The next night, fate decided I should have a second chance, so she came running across the room at a random bar, hugged me, and struck up a conversation. Here was my train of thought:

“Dude, get her number!”

“What if she says no? Besides, you’re leaving after your presentation tomorrow anyway. There won’t be an opportunity to hang out.”

She went back to her friends and we continued on with our nights, but as I put on my jacket to leave, she came back and asked what I was doing the next day. She was giving me every opportunity to get her number, but my head was too in the future to notice:

“It’s getting late and I’ll be so tired tomorrow morning if I stick around. Plus, she probably doesn’t even like you.”

I explained to her that I had to drive an hour for my presentation the next morning, but she gave me another opportunity: “I’m off work tomorrow, maybe I’ll come watch you perform.”

In case you lost track, she had given me at least four opportunities to get her phone number, including the previous night. At this point, I had to ask her, right?

“That’s a long drive just to see me present. Plus, it’s early in the morning and I’m leaving right from there to go back to Ohio.”

Facepalm.

If I had a dollar for every time I have facepalmed myself while thinking about this exchange, I’d be wearing an invisibility cloak and hunting endangered lions on the plains of Africa while dictating every word of this blog via cranial implant to my loyal manservant Javier. I don’t know any Javiers, so it’s obvious that kicking myself over past events isn’t exactly moving me toward lavish, morally questionable safaris. In that moment, I was subconsciously basing my decision not to get her number on past situations where I had failed to get phone numbers and had my ego bruised, and also on a potential future situation that wasn’t guaranteed to happen. How could I know whether or not she’d give me her number? Instead of being in the now and listening to what my subconscious was telling me to do, I was stuck thinking about what could happen instead of what was actually happening. We became Facebook friends (a consolation prize), hugged, and parted ways. Instead of taking control, I shifted my consciousness out of the moment and put control over the situation into her hands. As I left, I remember thinking to myself, “I hope she comes tomorrow.” She didn’t, and it was because I chose to live in the past and future instead of living in the moment. Was she really trying to give me a cue to get her number? I can never know for sure, but I do know I can learn from this and stop facepalming myself when I think about it.

Stop Facepalming Yourself

       Fun fact about facepalms: if done properly, they hurt. Facepalming is painfully metaphorical for what happens when we live in the “what-ifs” of the past and future. When I think “What if?” in regards to this phone number situation, I imagine all the fun I could’ve had with a pretty cool girl, thus leading me to another mental facepalm:

“David, you’re so stupid. You should’ve asked for her number and invited her to your presentation. It could’ve been so fun! Instead you had to be a big IDIOT and leave!”

When I talk to myself using this tone, it doesn’t exactly generate any warm, fuzzy feelings. What this self-talk is actually doing is taking me out of the moment – the same thing that happened at the bar. When we spend now dwelling on past what-ifs, shouldas, and could’ve-beens, and future what-ifs, that-won’t-works, and I-can’ts, we take our attention away from the what-can-I-do-nows. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the past or future as long as it’s working in your favor now. Past events are opportunities to learn from and positive possible future events act as goals. Right now is an opportunity, but so are past events and future goals.

The past is just a series of former nows that we can use to learn from in

The present. Because decisions we made in past nows have led to now, that can only mean what we do now creates

The future. Just like now was yesterday’s future, tomorrow’s future is also going to be now. Yet another opportunity.

Take what you learned from past nows, do something now, and in future nows, learn from what you do with your current now and keep taking action. The next time I’m faced with a situation like I was in Knoxville, I’m going to re-direct my thoughts to the opportunity of now and do something about it. No more facepalms. Just NOWs.

What About Now?

       The next time you feel angry, sad, stressed, tired, self-conscious, nervous, etc., check your thoughts. Chances are they’re focused on the past or future and not the opportunity you have available to you now. Try it the next time you’re stuck in traffic and thinking about your boss yelling at you for being late or all of the things you could be doing, realize you’re missing out on now. The next time you’re about to give a big presentation and thinking about forgetting parts, getting laughed at, or failing to make the impact you want on your audience, realize you’re missing out on now. The next time you have an opportunity to ask someone out on a date, but you’re thinking about how they might say no and looking foolish, realize you’re missing out on now. Catch these thoughts and say, “Yeah, but what can I do now? How can I make now the best now until the next now?” Isn’t it silly to think, “I can’t wait until the next time I’m bored, pissed off, or way too nervous to do something,”? By leaving the now we make these outcomes inevitable. What do you have? All that exists in your life right now. Now ask, “How can I transform now into what I want?”

If I had a dollar for every time a past now led up to my present now, I would have the exact dollar amount I do right now, sitting in a Starbucks typing on my Macbook about my hypothetical manservant Javier while the song “This Moment” by Janine and the Mixtape coincidentally plays over the speakers (Seriously. You can’t write this stuff. Okay universe, I’m listening). This is my now. How can I make it the best now until the next now?