Let Loss Propel You Forward

In our lives, we experience love and loss – it’s inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is the growth that can come from even the worst of times. It isn’t about suppressing our emotions when something unexpected happens, it’s about leaning into those emotions and using the momentum to find ways to learn and grow from the loss. I’ve recently experienced loss, and I thought I would share what I’ve had to go through to become a better person because of it.

My JBL Bluetooth speaker is gone.
It wasn’t by my choice, although I suppose my choices led up to the moment it was taken from me.
And now I can’t get over this feeling of loss…
Of despair…
Of regret…
Sure, I could’ve left it locked away in the trunk of my car, but a speaker with that depth of sound quality deserves to be free, to experience the world as it was meant to be experienced.
It deserved to left on top of my car to experience the feeling of wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the rain.
Something that beautiful should never be locked away.
You were small, but your sound… your sound was enough to fill a room.
And you played it all without question… because music was your life.
I want to hear you sing again.
To tell jokes again.
Hell, I want you to turn off on your own when I need you during a presentation again – you had a real habit of doing that.
But you can’t.
I just… I just want to feel your cylindrical  shape in my hand again.
I want to be in one end of my house with you in the other, singing away, making it feel like you’re right beside me.
I want to see “JBL Flip 2” appear on my list of Bluetooth options and know that my Macbook will connect to you since you’re within range.
You were unlike any Bluetooth speaker I had ever owned, because I had never owned another Bluetooth speaker.
You were the one – it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But you were taken.
Stolen.
Who knows where you are now, or if you’ll even get this, but I miss you.
I stopped listening to music altogether.
When I hear other speakers, they just make me think about what we had, and I weep.
Dad says I’ll be okay.
He says you were “just a speaker.”
To some, sure.
But to me, you were more than “just a speaker.”
You were a part of my life.
And you know you never forget your first.
It’ll take time.
I’m not ready to get out there and try other speakers, so I just ordered a cheap Chinese replacement.
My mail order speaker should be arriving soon, but it won’t be the same.
I hope I’ll learn to listen again – and soon.
Listen, I know I’m better because of you and I should focus on that.
What you taught me in all of those audiobooks and podcasts… you’ve made me grow.
I learned so goddamn much from you, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
You’ll live on through me.
And together, with my new Chinese partner, our story will be told, and the world will be better because you were in it.

I’ll make sure of it.

How We Can Learn from Our Evolution

Have you ever read a book, watched a TED Talk, or heard a quote that made you take a step back and ponder the meaning of your existence? Check out this excerpt from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“The evolution of animals to get to where they are on the food chain took hundreds of millions of years constantly checking and balancing so that one species wasn’t dominant. Humans jumped from the middle to the top in such a short time, ecosystems didn’t get much of a chance to evolve along with them. Moreover, humans also failed to adjust. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savanna, we are full of fear and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes have resulted from this overhasty jump…”

If you’ve ever wondered why humans can be such dicks, it’s because we haven’t had time to mature yet! As a species, we’re still in the snapping bra straps, giving Indian rug burns, harassing people for being overweight phase of life while we’re at home worrying we’re not good enough, insecure about our own status as the cool kid. Still, that’s no excuse for the way we’ve been acting lately. We’re at the top of the food chain, and unless Earth is invaded by the Yautja species from the Predator movies, that’s never going to change… unless we decide to dethrone ourselves.

“Tolerance is not a trait of sapiens. In modern days, as simple a difference as skin color, dialect, and religion has been enough to prompt one group of sapiens to set about and destroy another group.”

Whoa.

We’re so worried about losing our spot as the coolest kid in class, we kill people who are different than us because they’re “threatening us.” It’s not politics, religion, or skin color that cause violent conflicts, these are surface issues. Deep down, it’s our evolutionary software telling us that everyone unlike us is trying to murder us.

The good news is that we reached the top of the food chain, not because we made weapons and killed all of the other predators, but because we developed a brain that allows us to learn from our mistakes and plan for the future, and we also learned to work as a team to overcome obstacles. Our physical adaptations worked against us so hard, that the only ways to adapt was using our brains to learn and plan and teamwork. Think about it:

· We have no fur to protect us from the cold

· We’re slower than most of our predators

· We can climb trees, but we’re not exactly great at it

· Our nails and teeth are barely butter-knife-sharp

· Our children aren’t self-sufficient until they’re basically teenagers, sometimes later

So how do we overcome our self-destructive behaviors?

Knowing that humanity is the greatest risk to humanity’s success is a great place to start. Whether it’s violence, greed, or a basic “I’m-better-than-you” mentality, these behaviors are a result of our hardwired insecurity. To overcome them, just like we overcame predators and unfriendly climates, we need to take full advantage of our evolutionary adaptations:

1. Learn from mistakes and plan for a better future

2. Work as a team to overcome obstacles

Though our insecurities lead to the differences dividing us, it’s these different perspectives, life experiences, and talents working in unison toward a common vision that will better our planet, better each other, and better our species as a whole.

IF WE CONTINUE ON THE “I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG” PATH, HUMANS ARE GOING TO KEEP FEELING THREATENED, AND WHEN HUMANS FEEL THREATENED, WE KILL EVERYTHING.

That’s just stating a historical fact.

Let’s learn from our past, imagine a better future, and work together right now to start making that happen because there’s no reason to feel insecure; we’re the cool kids around here and we aren’t moving down the food chain anytime soon.

Nothing is Good or Bad

Pop quiz: label the following situations as either good or bad:

-A car accident
-A wedding between 2 people deeply in love with each other
-The Great Depression
-Winning the lottery
-A job promotion
-Death of a loved one
-The company you work for is downsizing
-A customer screams in your face about how poorly you’re doing your job
-You run into a long lost friend
-Someone spills hot coffee on your lap
-You buy a new car
-Smoking a cigarette after quitting for a year
-The Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl
-A sunny, 80-degree day with a slight breeze
-ISIS
-A baby’s first steps
-The car in the previously mentioned accident has 4 murderers inside and it crashes into a giant propane tank outside of a convention center hosting a murderer’s convention, and everybody dies in the ensuing explosion
-You’re confronted with a pop quiz when all you want to do is read a blog

No matter who you are, when you labeled the previous situations, you probably had a pretty good idea of what you would consider bad and what you would consider good. I’m also willing to bet that not everyone would agree on each one of these. A Pittsburgh Steelers fan may label a Browns Super Bowl victory as bad (and, let’s face it, would probably would label “death of a loved one” as good), a Buddhist monk may label the mass-murderer-massacre as bad, or you may love the burning sensation of scalding hot coffee on your crotch. The point I am trying to make is succinctly quoted by one of the most respected and brilliant minds throughout history, the Bard himself: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

“But I just got laid off from my job, that’s obviously a bad thing!”

I’m very sorry about your job, but let me reiterate: THERE IS NOTHING EITHER GOOD OR BAD, BUT THINKING MAKES IT SO. I know this is a difficult concept to entertain because we are raised and educated in a world where everything is either good or bad, but this is a linear way of thinking in a world where we are able to think without constraints. Ultimately, the determination of what is good and what is bad is subjective, proving that there is no consensus on what is truly good and what is truly bad. I could walk outside right now and say, “I love this crisp weather. Being able to see my own breath is hella cool,” while the person next to me says, “This weather is miserable… and also did you just say ‘hella cool?’” By attaching a good or bad label to something external, even though we’re both looking at the same thing, the experience we get from it is going to be completely different. Once we slap the almighty “good” or “bad” label onto something, our internal filters will only allow us to see the things that fall in line with that label. So He-Who-Hates-the-Cold, no matter what happens, will only find the things that make him miserable when it comes to winter. Whether he knows it or not, his labeling ensures his negative experience of winter. Meanwhile, He-Who-Loves-The-Cold will miss out on the negative and, thus, miss out on an opportunity to learn and grow. Labeling something as either X or Y causes us to miss out on all of the other letters of the alphabet.

“So if I don’t label things as good or bad, then what do I do? How will I live? Things have to be classified as something, otherwise what is there to live for?”

You’ll live better without this classification system. Another side effect of thinking in terms of good and bad is the fact that it brings pain into our lives. (Disclaimer: from this point forward, I will be putting quotes around the words “good” and “bad.”) At the end of every day, I used to pray and thank God for letting me have a “good” day. If I didn’t have a “good” day, I would skip that part of my prayer. To label something as good is to admit that there is a possible opposite, or a “bad,” and that if things can’t be labeled as “good,” then they’re “bad.” Because there’s a “bad” on the flip-side of the “good,” we live with a constant underlying fear of when the “good” goes away and the “bad” comes back. Because the laws of the universe state that like will always attract like, living in a state of fearing the “bad” grows that fear, and when we make choices in a state of fear, we create more of exactly what it is that we fear: the “bad.”

“So THAT’S why I lost my job. When I got promoted, it was good, but being so worried about losing money – or the bad – actually made me lose my job. How could I be so stupid??”

Actually, no. You didn’t lose your job because you were worried about the “bad.” You probably didn’t have any control over the fact that you lost your job, but the label you attach to it does affect what happens next.

“I want what happens next to be good- er- …well, you know what I mean. How do I stop labeling so I can do that?”

Even if we stop doing something, say a bad habit, it will always come back unless it is replaced by something else. Nothing is “good” or “bad,” but everything has, within it, an underlying good, or an opportunity, if you are looking for it. EVERYTHING. If something is labeled as “good” or “bad,” we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow from it because we’ve already determined what that thing means to us. Subsequently, we resist the chance for growth. For example, with the Ferguson, Missouri incident, it is glaringly obvious who has labeled the outcome as “good” or “bad” because of their actions. Angry tweets, looting, protesting, arguing, etc. are the result of labels being attached to an external incident that we don’t have any control over. Because of this, many opportunities for growth are being missed and events like this will continue to occur. I realized the power of the underlying good when my aunt was murdered. It was easy to label the situation as “bad,” because a life was tragically lost. But I didn’t like the emotions that my labeling created, so I learned to see things differently. By looking for the opportunity to grow, I began to grasp the power of laughter. Because I chose to see a tragic situation, not in terms of black and white, but in terms of how I could improve myself in response to the situation, I began a journey into a career in comedy and as a writer. Without that powerful realization, you wouldn’t be reading this and I would probably be complaining on social networks along with everyone else.

It’s time to make a difference and this message must be spread. If we are to improve as a society, we must change our perspective first. Human beings aren’t made to think in terms of either or, we’re made to expand ourselves through critical thinking. By searching for the underlying good in every situation, our brains will filter out everything that won’t contribute to our growth, rather than everything that supports our “good” or “bad” labeling. Any time you hear yourself labeling something as “good” or “bad,” remember: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Happy Thanksgiving

The Myth of the Pursuit of Happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Declaration of Independence lately, and what really grinds my gears is the misinterpretation of what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the pursuit of happiness.” They key word there is “pursuit.” When we think of pursuit, we tend to picture a coyote strapping himself to the back of an ACME rocket and hurtling at hundreds of miles an hour into a solid painting of a desert backdrop. Have you ever read Shakespeare and thought, “This is supposed to be a classic, but I can’t understand a damn thing anyone is saying!”? 400 years ago, the English language wasn’t the same vernacular we use today, so there’s a bit of a barrier. If I were to go into a nursing home with a megaphone and tell everyone to get “turnt up,” any number of things could happen, but chances are, their version of “turnt up” has to do with adjusting the volume knob of the color television set. Believe it or not, the Declaration of Independence isn’t a big deal anymore, probably because things that are over 240 years old tend to go out of style. Like the powdered wig I wore on a blind date (Helpful hint: girls like updated wardrobes). “Pursuit” is one of those words that has multiple definitions and the emphasis has shifted from one definition to another over time. The definition of pursuit that Tom was referring to had nothing to do with chasing after something. He was referring more to definition number three instead of definitions number one or two on dictionary.com:

noun
1. the act of pursuing :
in pursuit of the fox.
2. an effort to secure or attain; quest:
the pursuit of happiness.
3. any occupation, pastime, or the like, in which a person is engaged regularly or customarily:
literary pursuits.

While, yes, we are trying to secure happiness, the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence refers more to the occupation or the creation of happiness. Where we misinterpret the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness” is in assuming that happiness is something that can be chased after and attained by completing a goal, having possessions, or seeing that the girl you’re going on a blind date with is also wearing a powdered wig. But what happens when these things are taken away? What happens when we don’t reach a goal? We lose out on that happiness. That’s not authentic happiness. Pursuing happiness is creating happiness from within. Even if we don’t complete our goals, get lots of money and possessions, or have a romantic relationship, we still maintain that joy inside of us because we’ve made the decision to create it for ourselves.

We’ve been conditioned by society to believe that we’ll “be happy when…” This pisses me off, which isn’t very happy of me, but this idea is wrong in two key ways. First things first: this statement is an admission to ourselves that we’re not happy now. Hypothetically, if you have the choice to be happy or not, what would you choose? Now realistically, if you have the choice to be happy or not, what would you choose? Here’s the thing: we have that choice. We make the decision to be happy. We may think that external events dictate whether we should be happy or not, but the decision comes from within. Yes, it is normal to feel emotions other than happiness, but when we make the decision to pursue (read: create) happiness now, bringing happiness to our experiences instead of trying to extract happiness from them becomes automatic. To exude happiness not only makes our experience of the world a much more positive one, it also enhances the experience of those around us. The other major flaw of the “I’ll be happy when…” premise is that once we achieve that goal, purchase that Maserati, or start dating the person we’ve been after, we begin wanting more. It’s human nature. Once we achieve that goal, we want to do more, once we buy that car, we want something else, and once we start dating, we grow, change, and start looking for more in the relationship. Therefore, we may feel “happiness” at first, but once we set our sights on something else, “we’ll be happy when…” again. It becomes an endless cycle and we keep chasing, and chasing, and chasing, and chasing, and…

Happiness is our natural state of being, but it’s hidden by layer upon layer of conditioning. Chasing after happiness is like those people we hear about in the news who sell priceless antiques worth millions at a garage sale to make a few bucks. We have all of the happiness we need inside of us already, but we distract ourselves by looking elsewhere to be happy. If we believe that pursuing happiness “out there” will actually bring us happiness, we’ve just signed our lives away to a fictitious concept and the thing we’re after becomes impossible to reach. We become Sisyphus and are stuck rolling a boulder up a hill for eternity. The purpose of life is to create for ourselves, not chase after something that is impossible to catch. Pursue happiness the way it is meant to be pursued: create it from within and get off the back of that ACME rocket – those things never work right anyway.

They Live in Paradise…

“They live in paradise, I wonder if they’ll ever know it.” When Hindu guru Muktananda visited the United States for the first time, he noticed everyone rushing around the airport, in such a hurry that no one was taking the time to take it all in and really enjoy it. Our buddy Mookie came from a monastic lifestyle in India, where he had no running water, no electricity, and very basic food. He was astonished, not at the well-lit, well-furnished, shiny airport with dozens of choices of food and drink, but at the way people seemed to not be appreciating any of it. Many of us live our lives this way and we fail to appreciate and be grateful for the fact that the world is the best it has ever been. We don’t have to worry about our villages being pillaged on a daily basis, we aren’t executed for looking at a white woman wrong, and smallpox doesn’t wipe out populations anymore. There’s now 1 car for every 2 drivers, 1 out of 2 children go on to post-high school education, technology is helping us become more efficient, people have more rights in more places, and acceptance is being brought to the forefront of social issues. Yet, the number of cases of depression is the highest it has ever been and the median onset age of depression is now 14.5 years old, down from 29.5 just fifty years ago.

What is paradise? A yacht with an exotic parrot, sun tanned ladies and decanters of the finest scotch? A private jet with caviar, cashmere sweaters, and Bono? To one person those things might seem like paradise. To someone who hates boats and will never forgive Bono for siding with John Kerry in 2004, that might seem like a nightmare. The answer: paradise is whatever you make of it. Whether you live a life of diamond-encrusted jackets and constant visits to the beach, or you prefer microwave popcorn for dinner with a Netflix rerun of House of Cards, paradise can be anything. Disclaimer: I’m not saying “Hey, you should make microwave popcorn dinners and watch threesomes with the future president for six hours every night,” I’m saying, “Make the best of every moment, no matter what it is.” Even if you’re getting murdered and you let out a, “Lovely weather we’re having,” rather than an, “AAAAHHHHH!!! Don’t’ kill me!!!” the assailant will be thrown off by your unpredictable attitude, thereby leaving him vulnerable; all because you chose to make the best of the situation. If you’re bored, annoyed, angry, stressed, neutral, constipated, upside down on a jungle gym and panicking because you’re unable to figure out how to get yourself back on your feet – it doesn’t matter – always ask yourself a few simple questions. Is what I’m doing going to get me closer to my paradise? Is what I’m saying going to help or hurt my cause? Do I have anything in my teeth? If I were to make the most out of this situation, would it look like what I’m doing it right now? If in ten years, I were to be that perfect me on that yacht with a scotch in one hand, and a beautiful blue marlin in the other hand, would I look back at this moment and say, “Throwing that brick through that trashy skank’s windshield helped me get here.”? Chances are, probably not, because no matter how trashy the skank, truly happy people don’t hurl bricks through windshields. That’s not paradise. Just imagine enjoying life all the time. You don’t have to get pissed when someone talks about you, when the waiter brings the wrong type of pasta, or when the Patriots lose. In fact be the opposite. Even if the service is shitty, if you’re a good sport about it, your server will make sure to focus on you if you’re the nice table rather than the “table with the heinous bitch.” Although getting angry seems like the right thing to do at the time, those are your outdated evolutionary instincts telling you to fight or flight, and they have no idea what they’re talking about. They don’t have to worry about saber-toothed tigers anymore, so they take increased offense to the asshole who just made eye contact with you instead. Ignore them, because that bouncer in the corner will drag you out of that bar by your neck if you if you don’t. And believe me – no one likes to end the story about their night with, “Yeah, and then Jeff got kicked out of the bar so we left.” Thanks, Jeff. If we face a situation with a positive outlook, our brains actually become more creative than if we insist that being buried alive has ruined our night by panicking. When I say “make the best out of every situation,” I mean, “make the BEST out of every situation.”

A good situation to apply this principle to is work. We’ve all worked jobs we don’t like, but if you approach work with a positive attitude and a smile on your face, you have to have a better day than if you’re thinking, “I hate my job, I don’t want to be here, kill me.” Our brains act on what we tell them to act on, so if all we think about is how bored we are, we have no choice to be bored because we’re looking for the reasons to be bored. We’re willingly making ourselves bored and then we complain about it! There are always positive sides to everything, if we look for those rather than the negatives, we’ll find more reasons to be positive. All it takes is a simple shift in thinking. Even if you’re forced to sit through a boring presentation at work, with a different perspective you can even get something out of diversity day. A boring guest speaker can go from being a boring guest speaker to an opportunity to learn how to not give a presentation with a simple shift in thinking. It’s much easier to handle life’s punches when you can find the positives because, again, our brains act on what we tell them to act on. If you keep looking for the positive, it will become easier and easier to find it, even in the most trying of situations.

We can create our own paradise right now because all we have is right now. If we spend our days waiting for our paradise, then I hope you like waiting, because if we see it as always being in the future, there it shall remain. But if we decide to make the most out of our present, our paradise can begin right now. Who in their right mind doesn’t want that?

You Are the Writer of Your Own Life

Breaking News: You Have Been Given Full Creative Control Over Your Life!

As someone who received a Bachelor’s Degree in political science and wanted to pursue a dream in comedy writing, I had to train myself on how to write scripts – screenplays, TV scripts, sketches, etc. As I researched and wrote, I realized that the characters I was writing were rather robotic and way too similar too each other. So I began reading books on psychology and why people do the things that they do. What I discovered is that there are undeniable parallels between writing a strong script and life itself. As a writer, I have the ability to create characters and put them in situations where they must grow and achieve what they want in order to tell a well-rounded story. I have full creative control over what they say, do, and think. When I really analyzed this, I realized that I also have control over what I say, do, and think. In fact, all of us do. We’re the writer in charge of our own lives. We decide the ending and what it’s going to take to get there. So get ready to pick up a pen and start brainstorming because you have been given full creative control over the script that is your life. You know the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Well, figuratively speaking, that little stick of ink (or feather quill – which is what I hope you’re imagining), is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. We have full control over whether the protagonist, you and me, saves the kingdom, wins the championship, falls in love, learns and grows, and has a happy ending. Or do we write a flat script with a stagnant protagonist that no audience would pay a penny to see produced? In this piece, I take five of the steps for writing a good script and turn them into five steps for writing a great life for ourselves. We have full creative control over our lives, so why would we choose to write anything other than the best? I’m going to show you how to write the life that you want:

1.) Research

As a writer, you don’t just begin writing a script without learning how to write a script. If you write a screenplay with no structure, it’s going to suck no matter how good the idea was. Life is the same way: if you don’t know how to live before you live, your life is going to suck, no matter how good your ideas are. This means learning about ourselves, including our psychology (our thoughts, conditioning, and emotions), our bodies (nutrition and exercise), our spirituality (meditation and prayer), and interpersonal relationships. If we don’t, we go through life letting our thoughts run on autopilot and we fall victim to our emotions, our bodies weaken and break down and we fall victim to sickness and fatigue, we fail to maintain meaningful relationships without conflict and we become spiteful and untrusting of others, and we never discover ourselves and our callings. There are thousands of books, documentaries, and online articles available that cover all of this thoroughly so this vital information for our everyday lives is very easy to access. Instead of “researching” Mila Kunis’ relationship with Ashton Kutcher, who is rumored to be in the new Star Wars movie, or a video of a toddler hugging a chicken, why not research ourselves? You wouldn’t trash your new car if you plan on driving it for the next ten years. You’re going to be together with yourself every day for the rest of your life, it’s probably a good idea to figure out how to make things run as smoothly as possible. I wouldn’t write a script about a congressman without doing research on how being a congressman works. You shouldn’t write your script without doing research on living a life worth living either.

2.) Brainstorm

This is my favorite stage of writing. It’s when I unleash my creativity without censoring myself or worrying how everything will work. I simply let loose. It’s when I’m in touch with myself most and I value that time because I know many people who don’t know who they truly are. Sometimes hours fly by without me even realizing until they’re long gone. Conversely, sometimes I worry about how I’m going to do something for so long that I miss the opportunity altogether. We all do this. How am I going to pay the bills? How am I going to find the time? How am I going to make a career doing that? All of the “hows” do nothing but create self-doubt and disrupt the creative process in your brain. I have to turn off the WiFi in my apartment when I write so I don’t distract myself on Buzzfeed or Facebook because it takes another half hour to get back into a creative flow. The same goes for stopping to ask ourselves “How?” It halts our creativity dead in its tracks. There is a place for “How” later in the process, but asking it while brainstorming will stop ourselves from considering all possibilities. Worrying about what might not work makes figuring out what will much more difficult because our focus is diverted from what we want to what we don’t want. If I write a screenplay about a character with super powers and spend too much time worrying about how realistic it is, I’ll never consider introducing a pond with radioactive waste that he swam in as a kid. All thoughts need to be considered because you never know which ones will end up growing legs (which is what happens when you swim in a pond with radioactive waste). As humans, we have a gift of creativity that no other creature has, so why do we stop ourselves from using it by worrying about something that hasn’t even happened yet?

3.) Create your character

There is an ongoing debate between writers about whether character or conflict is more important. The truth is that there should be no debate – character and conflict work in unison with one another. Without character, there is no conflict, and without conflict, we have no character. They’re two sides of the same pillow. Characters create and respond to conflict and their results come directly from their choices. If an external conflict arises – a tornado, an affair, or a murder – how the character chooses to respond determines the outcome of the story. Even if the character isn’t directly responsible for this conflict, how he responds to it defines him as a character. If the character creates the conflict himself, it is up to him to grow and overcome what he did. If the character spends his time relying on other characters and fails to resolve the conflict himself, he fails to show any growth and the writer has failed to create a true protagonist. You’ll never see a Jason Statham movie where the supporting characters kick the bad guys’ asses while he does nothing. No one would turn that script into anything more than tinder for a fire. The same goes with your life: if you let everyone else fight your battles, you fail to grow and your life becomes tinder for a fire since everyone else is living it for you. Create a dynamic character for yourself and grow to overcome conflict to reach your happy ending.

When you create a character, you have to start in the present. Where is the character when your story begins? What is he doing with his life? How does he view the world? Everything that has led up to right now has shaped these things. In writing terms, these past events make up the backstory. Every character comes equipped with a backstory, but what determines a dynamic character is what he does with it. You and I both have our own conditioning, or backstories, and they shape every facet of our current predicaments – our thoughts, ideas, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and actions – all are based on our backstories. How a character recounts his past determines the course of action he will take in the present. Bruce Wayne watched his parents get murdered, so he vowed to wipe crime from the streets of Gotham so others wouldn’t have to share the same fate. He easily could’ve been traumatized and remained reclusive inside Wayne Manor, but then no one would tell the story of Bruce Wayne. Just like Master Wayne (Michael Caine accent), how we recount our past determines how we approach the present. If we’re paralyzed by the negative things that have happened, we fail to grow and we never become a strong character, ruining any chance of writing a compelling story for ourselves. Molding our own character means being fully self-aware and it sometimes takes being brutally honest with yourself, but this honestly will create a much more dynamic character in the long run.

Strong characters compel us as an audience, because they eventually overcome a limiting belief set by their backstory. We’re sucked into the story because we too want to overcome the limiting beliefs set by our own backstories, and we do it vicariously through the main character. The protagonist is never able to overcome conflict until he overcomes a limiting belief and acquires the necessary tools to become victorious. That’s exactly what our character must do to strike down the conflicts and obstacles that arise in our own lives. If we overcome a limiting belief set by our backstory, and grow to overcome our obstacles, we have created a compelling character that will achieve what we want.

4.) Outline

Outlining is one of the most important stages of writing your story. It is used to write screenplays, sketches, novels, plays, articles, and college research papers. I had a political science professor spend an entire week lecturing about outlining for an 80-page research paper that I wrote. Without that outline, I would still be in college trying to figure out how to write page after page on sex offenders and the rate of repeat offenses. Outlining gives structure to our writing and allows us to lay out our thoughts in a way that’s easily accessible and customizable. If I get off track when I’m writing, which I often do, I simply refer to the outline to get back on task. Just like outlining in writing is essential to create a successful piece, outlining in life, or setting goals, is necessary to create a successful story for yourself. In a study of Harvard MBA graduates, 84% had no specific goals, 13% had goals but didn’t write them down, and 3% had clearly written goals. In ten years, the 13% were earning twice as much as those without goals, and the 3% were earning ten times as much as the other 97% of graduates on average. Although this is simply a snapshot, it has become clear to me why the top 1% earn so much more than the other 99 – they have an outline for their lives. Try writing a screenplay with no outline or story board. Chances are, you’ll give up because there’s no structure and nothing to put you back on track, making the process frustratingly impossible. As you write, sometimes the outline will change and improve the screenplay. As you live life, sometimes your goals will change and improve your life as you grow. Sometimes something better than you planned will come along, but since outlines can be easily customized, we can make room for these unexpected surprises that can occur taking our screenplays from good to great. Remember as you write your life “a failure to plan is a plan to fail.” So outline, outline, outline!

5.) Write and rewrite

No one writes a perfect script the first time, but we have to write that first draft to see what needs to be improved and better understand how and where to make those improvements for the next draft. Sometimes you write a bad script, but as the jokes fall flat during the table read and no one laughs, you know what parts need strengthened or removed altogether. There’s nothing worse than hearing crickets when your script is being read aloud as joke after joke bombs, but once you get past that initial discomfort and all of the thoughts saying, “You’re terrible! It’s best to just give up!” you’re going to write a better script. You never learn to keep your eye on the ball if you don’t strike out first. The most successful people see adversity as a stepping-stone rather than a brick wall. Leading positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar states that it’s better to face difficulties and drawbacks early so that we’re better prepared to deal with the inevitable obstacles that will arise in our lives. There are even companies who train their new hires to fail so that they can choose to think dynamically and overcome their failures to succeed better at their new jobs. When crisis eventually rears its ugly head, these employees are ready to meet them head-on. If we meet adversity by curling up into a ball and giving up, we never learn what it takes to overcome it. In fact, we have a terrible habit of using the experience of one failure to expect failure in all other facets of our lives, a paralyzing choice that is anything but true. Yes, failing is uncomfortable, but we’ll never write our story to its fullest potential if we crumple it up and throw it away after the first draft. So instead of meeting failure with submission, meet it with the enthusiasm to write draft after draft until you tell the compelling story that you’re meant to tell. So pick up your feather pen, dip it into your ink well, and get writing without worrying about the first draft being great, because as long as you keep writing, it eventually will be.

Please comment – I would love to hear your POV!