The Greatest Secret of Success: You Get What You Give

13 Mar reap what you sow, karma

“You cannot receive what you don’t give. Outflow determines inflow.”
– Eckhart Tolle

About a month ago, I lost my job completely out of the blue. I was given no explanation, and no warning – my employee evaluation two weeks prior had been exemplary.

Truth be told however, I had been yearning for an escape. Hollow days were dripping into shadowy weeks and months of numbness. Where was the time going? It was as though I were holding myself prisoner, tethered to a paycheque and petrified of change.

Although my escape arrived unannounced in a guise I wouldn’t have invited, it arrived nonetheless. For the three weeks following, I dedicated an immense and relentless effort to my job hunt. During those first weeks, motivated by a sense of barely-suppressed panic, I crafted an impeccable resume and arsenal of cover letters. I built a portfolio website, updated my art blog, re-vamped my LinkedIn profile, and applied to over 100 jobs.

What were the results?

Well, I was invited to one interview, didn’t get the job, and then…zilch.

Like any sane person, I allowed myself several days of wallowing in self-pity, googling ex-boyfriends (my advice: don’t do this), critically analyzing my past failures, and second-guessing all of my life choices.

Then, I re-doubled my efforts in a different way. I sent out another fifteen custom-tailored resumes, to select positions that I knew I could bring passion to. Re-discovering the joy of creativity, I began practicing the piano again and writing creatively. Inspired, I launched this blog. Freelance opportunities began to twig my attention, and I posted an advertisement offering piano lessons. Thinking about all the great people I had worked with in the past, I began writing recommendations for these connections on LinkedIn. Old acquaintances who had reached out to me over the past 6 months (lost to the haze of drone drudgery) I re-connected with, sharing coffees and real conversations. I began to enjoy my freedom.

It was then that the magic began to happen. In the course of one week, the following things occurred:

1. An old friend got in touch and invited me to become a part-time curator for their online gallery.
2. An acquaintance reached out to me, looking for some marketing help at his company.
3. An artist I used to work with presented me with an entrepreneurial opportunity.
4. Another artist I used to work with met me for coffee, and I learned that his wife works in exactly the industry I’d like to get into. He offered to set up a meeting with her.
5. An artist whose work I had critiqued in a positive light years ago on my art blog reached out to me to express his gratitude for my article, and to suggest that we collaborate.
6. I began receiving responses to my ad for piano lessons.

For the most part, these results were far removed from direct “job hunting” efforts that I had made, which is not to say they were unrelated. To the contrary, it really is strange, beautiful, and nonsensical the way in which the universe feeds back you the energy that you have contributed. But the fact is that it does, which is why it is so important to just DO SOMETHING if you want something to happen. Do something, ANYTHING, related to what you want. Think about it, read about it, practice it, and most of all talk about it. By doing so, you accomplish several things:

1. You alert your own subconscious mind to the fact that you want to be/do/have this thing.
2. You alert your network to the fact that you want to be/do/have this thing. Another lovely little truth about life is that most people want to help you succeed because it will make them feel good.
3. You begin to transform yourself into somebody who is capable of being/having/doing this thing, becoming conscious of opportunities and confident in your own ability to grasp them
4. You build momentum. The more you have the more you get, and vice versa. It starts slow, but increases exponentially, so the important part is just to start.

For good measure, because quotes are great, I’m going to end with another one:

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
– Lao Tzu

Ps. If you’re also tackling a job hunt, I’d highly recommend checking out this blog for some advice.


Growing Pains for Grownups: Getting Through the Night

11 Mar

“However long the night, the dawn will break.”
– African proverb

Nobody enjoys growing pains. They creep up on you when you least expect them, just before sleep should be arriving at the end of a long day. The backs of your knees begin to feel strained then sore, and suddenly you can’t even remember a time when they didn’t ache like all hell. You can’t imagine how it would feel not to be in pain, and no change or movement will relieve you. You simply have to bear it. Lie there, squeeze your eyes shut, and rail against life, but know all along that just as suddenly as it began, it will end. And you’ll be taller.

Sometimes that ache isn’t just in the back of your knees. It can also be found in the pit of your stomach, or within your ribcage, in the place where your heart would be if it hadn’t shrunk into a pitiable knot of pain. Longing is the worst ache of them all. The process of getting longer entails that every fibre of your body is stretched, tensed to the extreme, to the point you fear you may not have the grit to handle it, and snapping almost sounds more reasonable. But still you’re reaching. Reaching from the inside for something that might be so far away that you can no longer tell which direction it went. So you stretch in every direction possible, because you don’t want to believe that it could just disappear. Finally, drained and exhausted, your hollow body can reach no longer, but you realize that the ache in your chest may be the re-emergence of that blood-pumping muscle, beating in an effort to spread life back through your veins.

Sitting up and opening your eyes, you are blinded by sunlight. Somehow, you’ve managed to survive through the night, and the morning has arrived. When you stand, you notice that the world has changed a little, and nothing looks quite the same. You are a bigger person now, even a half-millimetre can do that to you. The nightmare of last night, the sore body and all-consuming darkness, are over for now. Experimenting with your new, longer legs, your first few steps may be a bit wobbly. But in the end, it is better to suffer growing pains and a few wobbly steps than to remain forever a child, unable to see above the table.

An Apology

9 Mar

“Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time – just like it does for you and me.”
– Sara Paddison

Few actions possess a greater power to heal than a sincere and timely apology. However as paradoxical as it may sound, an apology can also be a profoundly selfish thing.

When one has wronged another, there are two immediate options for the perpetrator: to apologize and move on, or to move on without apology. If the latter option is selected, then both the perpetrator and the victim move on with their lives separately. After a period of time, the victim’s past becomes the past, and he leaves it safely behind. His wound heals, and eventually he can take with him the lessons learned from the pain while leaving the pain itself behind. Yet when the perpetrator moves on, he unwittingly takes with him the burden of guilt, which grows heavier over time. This guilt can become so crushing that eventually the carrier is driven to reach out again to the individual he has wronged with an apology that is no longer welcome. In this situation, the motivation underlying the apology is selfish in nature, as it serves to release the guilt of the perpetrator while re-opening the receiver’s healed wound.

Years ago, a man I had been dating dumped me in a Facebook message, in which he explained that learning I was a virgin had “changed” things for him. This in itself would have been offensive and hurtful, but what made it unbearable was that a long and (to me) meaningful friendship had preceded our budding relationship. Yet it was as though to him I were a book he had tired of reading, or had peeked ahead in and disliked what he saw. He simply shut me and put me down, with no conversation, no consideration. I was an object that needed to be cleared from his life because I didn’t serve the purpose he had intended for me.

For months I was enraged and deeply hurt, it took me a long time to heal. But heal I did, to the point where I saw that things couldn’t have worked out in a better way. I realized that I could never have developed a meaningful relationship with somebody who perceives others as objects that can be picked up or put down at his convenience. That person is far too dangerous.

The most healing revelation I had was that, by behaving in the brutally honest, selfish, and hurtful way that he did, this man had inadvertently ensured my recovery. If he hadn’t been so cruel, my sadness would have outweighed my anger, and instead of believing I had dodged a bullet I would have instead been overcome with loss and regret, unable to fully heal. It was this realization that allowed me to forgive and release him, and to finally move on without anger or sadness.

One day, several years after the fact, I woke up to find another Facebook message from him. It regaled me with regrets and apologies. I didn’t know quite how to feel or respond, but it occurred to me that this Facebook message was really no different from the last one he sent me. Neither one was really for or about me. I did not need this apology – it had no place in my life anymore, and I probably would have been happier without it. The apology was for him. To allow him relieve the burden of guilt that he had taken with him. In so doing, he unwittingly forced upon me again the weight of the past and the memory of old pain. As such, his apology was profoundly selfish. Of course, he does not realize this, and in all likelihood he genuinely believes that by apologizing he has done right by me. Which is okay, because with or without the apology he has my forgiveness, and I suppose that now he has his own as well.

How to Approach Women: Ten Things You Need to Know About Doing it Right

9 Mar

1. It is 100% A-OK to boldly approach a girl you have never met before, so long as it IS NOT cock-first on the dancefloor. It’s a given, but based upon the number of violations perpetrated regularly at bars everywhere, I felt this needed to be addressed immediately for the benefit of those misguided souls who missed the universal memo.

2. If you are approaching her, she already knows you are interested. This is okay! While it may feel slightly awkward to know that your cards are on the table, it’s far less awkward than someone who is clearly hitting on you trying to pretend like they aren’t. You want her to know you’re interested. If she’s interested, she’ll flirt right back. On the flip side, if she isn’t interested, she will make it clear. In sales, they say that the second-best answer is “no”, and this applies in the dating world because you’re doing each other a favour by being honest and allowing the other person to move on to the next.

3. A whistle, moan, groan, or grunt, in any combination, is just not going to work. However a genuine smile will, especially if it’s accompanied by something like, “Hey, I think you’re really beautiful. My name is [Brad Pitt], what’s yours?” Truly, the key is to be either genuine or unique with your approach. It doesn’t really matter what you say, it can be a sincere, non-creepy complement, a banal question, a comment on something happening around you. Just speak up and once you do…

4. She is hoping that you come armed with some conversation ideas. We don’t care how lame they are. Just have something to say after the initial introduction is over. All the typical questions work, including: “What are you drinking? Have you been here before? Are you from Toronto? How is your night going? What do you do? Etc. Etc. Etc.”

5. Commenting on body parts will make her feel uncomfortable, even if your intentions are pure. This is the only restrictive amendment to sections 3 and 4. Maybe you approached her because of dat sweet a$$, but don’t go and admit it to her!

6. Just buy the damned drink. Of course it is justifiably upsetting and downright maddening when some girl accepts a drink from you, only to disappear 0.1 seconds later. But those girls suck, we didn’t like her anyways, and you just spent $7 dodging a bullet. Any girl worth her knickers will politely decline a drink from a guy she isn’t interested in. And the fact is, if a girl is interested in you, she will want to know you are into her also. By investing that $7 and the extra time that you will assumedly be sharing drinks together, you show her that you aren’t just killing time. You are also acting like a gentleman, and making her feel like a lady, the benefits of which are outlined in section 10.

7. Give it one more try. You headed to the washroom, she got railroaded by eight drunk girlfriends, or one of you got swept off in an exodus of drunk people heading to the dancefloor for Gangnam Style. Whatever the reason, if you lost her and you liked her, get out there and find her again!

8. Ask her out already. On an ACTUAL date, not a bro-pub night with nine other dudes. You should do this either when you reach the bottom of your drinks or the end of the night, depending on how your conversations are rolling and if you must attend to attention-hungry friends. Tell her you would like to take her out for dinner, ask for her number, put it in your phone, and call her the next day. Yes, I said call, not text. But don’t worry, when she fails to pick up because her mind is busy being blown by the phenomenon of a twenty-first century man actually dialing a strange girl’s number and calling it, then you can send a follow-up text with details for the date.

9. If it doesn’t work, don’t sweat it. It doesn’t mean your approach was lame or your conversation was boring or that you aren’t a sexy, charming dude. It just means the chemistry wasn’t right, the pieces didn’t quite fit, [insert more annoying but truthful clichés]. It could mean she is sort of ambiguously kind-of dating someone, or that she’s deeply involved in a hopelessly unrequited romance, or that she just lost her job and is off her game. It may help to remember that girls get rejected too, all the time. But keep that chiseled chin up and keep trying because I can tell you that most single women are hoping to be approached by that clever, brave, genuine, and handsome fellow who will buy them a drink and call with a real voice on the phone afterwards.

10. The bottom line: Ladies want a man. Be the pursuer, buy the drink, keep her engaged, and ask her out. If you’ve got a chance, this is the way to maximize it. If you act like a man, you’ll attract someone that acts like a lady, who will love you for your manliness and will eventually want to express her appreciation to you in very unladylike ways.

Silent Loves

8 Mar

“Let us risk remembering that we never stop silently loving those we once loved out loud.” – Oriah Mountain Dreamer

This statement is at once tragic, beautiful, and full of hope. It seems impossible that love could just dissolve over time or distance, once it has been felt deeply. We share words, kisses, hugs, thoughts, laughs, and memories, learn their habits, decode their moods, and synchronize to their rhythms. These experiences aren’t disposable, and human beings are not one-dimensional chalk boards that can simply be erased and re-tooled after the equation has been solved. Our thoughts, feelings, and experiences register physically on our faces, in our posture, in the structure of our brains and the tone of our voices. We are dynamic and flexible compositions created piece upon piece, sculpted by experience.

At times, I involuntarily recall bonds that expired years ago with an almost physical impact. When you love someone, a small part of yourself melds to the other person, forming intimately to their every detail and idiosyncrasy. Upon losing them, it feels as though this piece of you has been torn away with them, leaving a gaping hole that scabs over and eventually heals. Yet in moments of recall, I am inclined to believe that this piece never actually separates from you or from them. That the two of you still remain bonded, by this one small part, continuing to feel the lingering shape of each other long after you’ve parted ways.

There is another trusty old adage, that “time heals all wounds,” and it is in this seeming contradiction that beauty is to be found. For while the love itself may not dissolve, the immense pain associated with the grief of losing that love does recede over time. The memories lose their sharp edges, and the love can be recalled for the joy that it brought along with the pain. It is this type of love, which has been lost and then reclaimed through the ordeal of recovery, that makes us strong, wise, and compassionate. It is a beautiful thing to move forward with a silent and not altogether pain-free appreciation for the haunted collection of your pieces that have melded to somebody else.

“Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.

At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.” – Justin Fox

On Overcoming a Quarter-Life Crisis

8 Mar

At twenty-four years old, all of my friends are fairly young things. Yet one by one, we are encountering the relatively new phenomenon of the quarter-life crisis.

Twenty or thirty years ago, when our parents were in our shoes, this didn’t happen. To their eyes, the world was stretched wide open and bright, with only the blue sky and the hazy horizon as their limit. The opportunities felt boundless, there was no rush, and the world was their oyster.

Ours is a Peter Pan generation shotgunning towards maturity at the rate of turtles stampeding through peanut butter, however ironically we have never been better-informed of our own limitations, comparative failures, and the inexorable dwindle of time. Grass-is-greener mediums such as Facebook, Linkedin, Tumblr, and Twitter reveal to us with painful clarity the lives we could be leading and the things we should be doing. Our motivation withers as we, in the most vicarious fashion, passively experience all the things we haven’t experienced.

The great tragedy is that, no matter what truly great things we may be doing, it won’t feel like enough because we can’t be backpacking through Europe, curating at a downtown gallery, graduating law school, and volunteering in Africa ALL AT ONCE. It’s impossible. We have to choose just one or two and do them the best that we can with as much passion as we can muster.

A close friend of mine lives in a lovely downtown apartment with two kittens and a wonderful, hilarious French boyfriend that she met while travelling throughout Europe. She also happens to be one of the smartest, most gorgeous, and most talented women I have ever known. Last week, she shocked me by announcing that she needed a “life rebirth”. Unimpressed with her life and herself, feeling like she was behind, afraid of her future, she decided it was time to make changes.

“But, what do you mean, a life rebirth? How are you rebirthing?”

“Well, every day when I get up, I am going to floss my teeth.”

Here I will guiltily admit that flossing is something I only do during the week preceding and following a dentist’s appointment. Outside of that time frame, I forget, don’t have time, and frankly just don’t want to deal with my gums feeling all swollen and distracting for the day. But I’ll be damned if I haven’t flossed every day since that conversation. And you know why?

Because it’s a small step that renders noticeable progress. Day one you bleed, day two you bleed less, day three no blood! Success! It is also a small step towards something more distant in the future, that will one day matter, A LOT. A step towards having my teeth forty years from now, and a step away from future root canals. A step towards happiness and away from misery. Sometimes the only thing we can do is take a small step, but with enough small steps you can cross a desert.

My friend has also begun budgeting her money and her calories.  I on the other hand am going to continue inhaling entire bags of chips, but have begun cleaning my apartment every week, getting out of bed before nine, meditating every afternoon, and creating something each day. Momentum begins slowly and steadily, building up into an unstoppable force.

For me, it starts with flossing my teeth each morning.

Ps. If you’re experiencing your own quarter-life crisis, pop over to this blog for some sweet and amusing reassurances that you aren’t the only one!

Meditate Every Day

8 Mar

An old Zen adage gives the following advice:

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”

The only way I ever initially followed this advice was when I literally forced myself to do it, as work, for money.

In university, I decided that it was time to overcome some body image issues by modelling for life drawing classes at the school. It was awkward, intimidating, and uncomfortable in every sense of the word – at first. Turns out it was one of the best experiences of my life, and I still do it today from time to time, and not because of the money (though that ain’t bad). If you’re curious to learn about this experience, and what I learned from it, read on:

The Sitter

Everything in the room looks golden. It suddenly becomes apparent to her that time, contrary to what she has always believed, is not linear. There is something about the atmosphere and this particular experience which crystallizes the realization, and she wonders if those watching her can see it somehow register in her frozen face. It is partially the strange combination of silence and music, the clinking of paintbrushes on glass palettes and the roughness of brushes on canvas which evoke it. Wisps of Belle and Sebastian are occasionally audible from the back of the room, a flute or violin strain fleetingly meshed with a whimsical voice. It is the light and the colour in the room, the chaotic messiness but ultimate serenity of a studio. There is something harmonious in how it all looks and moves, like the visual equivalent of music, composing what could be considered a work of art in itself. Mostly though, it is the stillness transposed against so much movement that sharpens and transforms her perception of time.

She is practicing a type of stillness that is rarely attempted, and as rarely reflected upon. Most people would think that her stillness is nothing next to her nakedness – they imagine that the fear of exposure, judgment, or discomfort would be too all-consuming to ignore. But none of these exist while she is immobile. Instead, she feels as though she is a pool of water, completely transparent and in that instant perfectly still, although the balance is fragile and temporary. And in this moment, she is entirely transparent, for it is perhaps the only moment in which she does not feel a need to do or be anything more than she is. While she sits here, nude and still, she feels as though people look upon her somewhat as they would a tree. A tree has no purpose but to exist, no need to do anything other than be, and is appreciated by all for this simple existence. She wonders why it is that people, for the most part, cannot feel and are not perceived this way. Of course, the fragile peace and openness that she feels so naturally in this instant, pretending to be a tree or a water-pool, will vanish at the end of the session. She will return, as others do, to needing to say, wanting to do, and trying to be something more than herself, to legitimize appreciation of her own rarely-simple existence.

Stillness remains the most significant aspect of sitting, for while the body is held consistently still the mind provides an entirely new experience. It is a pity that the majority of people will never know what it feels like to be perfectly still for any stretch of time that is longer than natural. In pretending to be so, most will forget their toes or their mouths, and quietly sabotage the effort without even realizing it. But she is utterly exposed, and must remain frozen down to the flicker of an eyelid. Any movement will be noted and resented, so she must forget her own body.

She always begins by staring at the back of the room, and concentrating upon something. Once it was a tree outside the window, another time it was a postcard, and once it was a fascinatingly-shaped explosion of paint on the concrete floor. This is when time begins to slip – it becomes as difficult for her to remain aware of her thoughts as it is to remain unaware of her body. Sometimes, in the midst of floating passively on a stream of thought, she abruptly wakes from her trance with no notion of how long has just passed. When this happens, she often cannot remember where her thoughts had been lingering or why she had felt so comfortable there. Other times, she is painfully aware of every passing second and has to sustain herself by methodically counting backwards from two hundred, or by trying to remember the names of all the people she has ever known. These painful seconds go on and on forever, maybe because there is a cramp in her leg or her cheek is itching, and stillness feels like insanity. Her only consolation during these unbearable moments is the knowledge that she must sooner or later slip again from this state of unnaturally sharpened consciousness into the comfortable rhythm of daydream where she witnesses everything and nothing at once. She is an object but a subject, she sees but doesn’t watch, is present and absent in these three hours-cum-eternity.

The painters study her, moving closer or further, measuring this or that with a squinted eye and a pencil tilted just so. Sometimes they just approach her and stare, memorizing every colour and line, immersed in the complexity of the body. She is reminded of dancers by the way that they move. It is as though they have been accidentally caught up in a choreography they aren’t aware of, unknowingly fabricating an aesthetic experience that exists beyond the canvas. Again, it is peaceful for her, and she thinks that she might like to spend the rest of her life sitting here in this chair, absorbed in the insubstantial and involuntary meanderings of her mind. Briefly she wonders if she has been sitting here forever, or if the entirety of her life has just occurred within her mind during the past hour. Strangely, the idea does not disturb her in the least. But of course this thought slips, and she is lost, and she begins counting backwards from two hundred.

The Sitter

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