Category Archives: Personal Development

A New Appreciation for the First Half of May

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This year, many of us suddenly found ourselves living our lives at a far slower pace. This period of partial shut down, with more time to just think and observe what is around us has now extended for long enough for us to notice the changing of the seasons.

What began as winter was breathing its dying breaths, still capable of icing over the streets for multiple days at a time, has now continued into the period where spring gives way to summer. Days grew long and warm as evenings became pleasant.

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The slow change of the seasons, the day to day differences and the gradual changes in the colors and energy around us is something we were once deeply connected with. As children, and often also and young adults, we would feel that energy and anticipate the holidays and activities associated with each season with excitement. Somehow, many of us lost that connection in a sea of schedules, deadlines, expectation and chores. Maybe we are doing it to ourselves. After all, over the past century we have managed to make busyness a new symbol of status. Some even argue it is a religion.

Over the past decade, I did not show much appreciation for this time of year. Last year, I made two out of town trips in Late April/ Early May.

This year, travel has not been advised. I have limited myself to short trips, mostly by bicycle.

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There has been more time to simply gaze at the slow progression of Springtime. I found myself, once again, as if reliving a much purer simpler time, anticipating things like the slow growth of the seeds that I planted.

Everything around me is looking livelier and livelier by the day.

The trees,

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Our rivers and streams.

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Our cities and towns.

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Even the turkeys.

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The first half of May is when many of us experience our first truly warm days. It is a period of beginning. It is a period of anticipation. It is a period of planning what’s next. It’s the start of a new job, a new relationship, a new project, forming a new community or even a new life.

It is that time period where the future of any endeavor just lies ahead of us, wide open, still manifesting primarily within our wildest imaginations. There has not been the opportunity for disappointment yet. No mysteries have been revealed. No unexpected limitations have presented themselves. No unforeseen conflicts have emerged. Everything is, if only for a short period of time, the perfection that it can only be within our imaginations.

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Whenever anyone starts anything anew, it is always tempting to warn them of what could potentially go wrong. This is especially true for people we care about, and want to see prepared for life’s challenges.

Who knows what this year will bring. It has already brought us some serious surprises. Last year, many of the plants I had placed outside would be destroyed by a hailstorm towards the end of May.

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It would also destroy the optimism exemplified by the colors of the trees, grass and bushes.

However, observing the first half of May at a slower paces has shown me how beautiful that moment in time, before there is the opportunity to even consider what can go wrong, at the beginning of any experience, truly is. In order to live our best lives, we should savor these moments when they do arise. We should allow ourselves, and those we care about, to live these experiences as the ideal fantasy they are at their onset for as long as possible. There is nothing like looking in front of us and seeing nothing but open highway- metaphorically speaking.

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Flattening the Curve … and My Belly

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For about an hour I had totally forgotten the nightmare that is our current situation. I wasn’t thinking about all the lives at risk, everyone that is losing their jobs and livelihoods, the bars and restaurants all being closed, the businesses in jeopardy and the social isolation. It felt almost like a typical Saturday in the Colorado outdoors.

The trailhead parking lot was full and there were plenty of people sharing the snowshoeing experience.

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It was one of our famed 300 days of sunshine a year, with the March sunshine illuminating a snowy meadow with the mountains in the background.

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Snowshoeing got my heart rate up, and of course, the Huskies of the world were in their element!

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Having company for the adventure made it seem like a standard social weekend activity. There was even a seasonal phenomenon to spark my curiosity about weather and nature.

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It was the second day of Spring, and what we were witnessing was the origins of what some refer to as “mud season”. This term is used most in the mountains as well as in New England, in places where large snowpacks build up over the winter, and sometime between March and May, a prolonged awkward period of muddy melting occurs. It is awkward because it is ideal for neither wintertime activities nor standard hiking. On Saturday, we saw close to an even mix of people walking in snowshoes and people just wearing standard hiking boots. In snowshoes, we had to find a way around some of these areas near trees where muddy bare ground was beginning too appear.

Back in Denver, though, life is far from normal. Neighborhoods that are typically quite active are quiet. The roads are empty in a manner I had previously only seen in disaster films.

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It is hard not to feel guilty at this point in time: almost as if I had been asking for this. For years I had be saying that we need some sort of disruption to remove the aspects of our culture that have caused recent upticks in loneliness, drug abuse, poor health, violence and disengagement. Now we have a disruption that promises to make us all feel even more lonely. Our social lives are now even more dependent on social media, video conferencing and other forms of technology; the very technology that I had previously speculated had worsened the problems of the 2010s.

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Right now many of us are searching for meaning. What was humanity meant to learn from this? Many of my extroverted friends tell me that being forced to stay home gave them a greater appreciation for simple social interactions such as just having a drink with a friend or having people over for dinner. Some of my more introverted friends are indicating that we are being told we need to slow down a bit. I hear from a lot of sources the idea that we are “out of balance”, with respect to lifestyles and nature.

Some responses are definitely people confirming their previously held beliefs and biases. The spread of the virus is evidence that most problems transcend our national borders, making them useless. Yet, it also demonstrates the need for stronger borders and tighter immigration controls. It’s gonna make us both rediscover our appreciation for face-to-face interaction while also making us question whether we need to meet in person for half the stuff we do. It’s telling us to get out in nature more but also making us use technology more.

I am guilty of this as well. After going on two mid-afternoon bike rides last week, I told people that the lesson from this work from home period is that we need to remove the assumption that people need to be available and at their desks for 40-50 daylight hours per week. This is a belief I have held for seven years now. I’d even be willing to trade three months of being stuck inside for the removal of this assumption from our work lives going forward. Now is the time, however, to observe things with an open mind, and develop new insights.

Speculating that there could be some good that comes of all this is an understandable manner in which many are coping with this horrible turn of events. After all, many accept that the “Black Plague” made the Renaissance possible. As we all sequester ourselves, brace for the worst and have our lives severely disrupted, we should also take back some power over our lives and prepare to build a better future. For me, it will be a waste if the only lesson I get from this is another confirmation of something I realized nearly a decade ago.

Two Powder Days at Aspen Snowmass

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It was quite possibly the best circumstance to make my first trip to Aspen Snowmass, the only ski resort in Colorado with a vertical rise of over 4,000 feet! In almost any circumstance, skiing two weekdays in the middle of February at one of the top ski resorts in the world is a truly incredible experience! On top of that, I got to ski Snowmass with something like half a foot of fresh powder each day!

There are some drawbacks to skiing during a snowstorm. There is less visibility. Wind and snow hit you in the face on both the lift ride up and while skiing down the mountain.

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There is a place at the top of Elk Camp where there are typically iconic views of the Maroon Bells, the most photographed place in all of Colorado. There are even binoculars set up at the top of the chairlift. I’ll have to gaze at these mountains another time.

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Also, some of the higher lifts at the ski resort were periodically closed due to wind and visibility.

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When they were open, the conditions were less than ideal.

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Also, when part of a ski resort is closed, some of the other lifts can generate unexpectedly long lines. The lines were by no means long compared to what can be seen on weekends at the ski resorts along I-70 close to Denver, particularly Breckenridge and Keystone. For Aspen standards, though, this a long line.

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Several people I talked to on the lift indicated that they do not encounter too many people from Denver. Maybe that is why the lift lines were mostly short to non-existent.

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Snowmass has two base areas, the Base Village and the Village Mall.

Both places have restaurants, shops, lift ticket windows and access to bus service.

The resort pays homage to wildlife, both past and present. Somewhere near Snowmass, discoveries of Ice Age era bones were made.

The Town Park bus terminal in Snowmass Village is not only a place to catch one of the shuttle busses to the ski lift, but also a mini-museum, with information about all sorts of interesting discoveries made in the area.

On the resort, at Elk Camp, the Wapiti Wildlife Center includes exhibits about the wildlife that currently inhabit the area. Apparently temperatures exceeding 78°F (24°C) can kill alpine marmots, and squirrels can gather 16,000 pine cones in a year.

Apen itself is a very expensive town.

So, we ended up staying in Basalt, a town a little less than 20 minutes down the river from Aspen.

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Basalt is a beautiful town of just over 4,000 people, with an active tourism industry of its own (fishing, mountain biking, and people who stay here to ski in Aspen), some really good restaurants and regular bus service to both Aspen and Glenwood Springs.

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When conditions get rough, particularly if it is windy, I often head for the trees.

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Tree skiing is among my favorite ski experiences and at Snowmass, with fresh snow both days, I got some of the best tree skiing of my life! While turning through the trees on this lightly packed snow, I felt like I was doing exactly what I came to Aspen to do! There were several runs we did a whole bunch of times, and we ended up spending most of our time in only a few areas of the mountain.

This is something we decided on halfway through the first day. We had come to Aspen for an experience, one that we were already having. Why be so obsessed with finding it again and again just to check off some kind of mental list or fulfill some idea put into our heads about what we are supposed to do at a place like this? Snowmass is a huge resort, and Aspen has three other ski areas. It is impossible to do it all! That’s kind of the point. People who live here need variety.

Time rushed Americans often get too obsessed with lists and agendas while traveling. Obsession with some kind of mission has the potential to diminish the experience we originally came for. Sometimes, we need to lighten up. Be present. Forget what we are planning to do next and enjoy what we are doing now. Go into the kids area despite being adults.

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On this short trip to Aspen, I put into practice how to overcome the tyranny of expectations and get the most out of my travel experiences. I encourage anyone who is reading this to do the same.

 

Waiting for the Ski Lift

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Remember the first time? Perhaps you were a young kid, or perhaps you were a teenager first learning how to ski or snowboard. Already uncomfortable, taking part in an activity that is kind of dangerous. This chair is coming around to lift you to the top of the mountain, or at least quite a bit higher. Will you push forward at the right time? Will your transition onto the chair be smooth? What about getting off the chair when the ride is done?

As an experienced skier, taking on some of Copper Mountain’s more challenging terrain, I take for granted the ease at which I hop on and off of ski lifts.

However, that wasn’t always so. I recall my first day skiing, when I was 14, how I felt as I gradually moved up in line to, for the first time in my life, allow a pulley-based mechanical device to lift me up in the air while I was wearing skis. Right in front of me was a prime example of the rewards the come from overcoming anxiety, pushing through discomfort and opening ourselves to new experiences. Winter would not be nearly as enjoyable without this temporarily stressful experience.

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Life is full of things we anticipate, get anxious or even fearful about, but chose to push through in order to expand our horizons. These events could be as trivial as trying a new food, or changing in a gym locker room alone for the first time (as a child). They can be as major as a first date, job interviews, or starting a business. In all cases, we start out anxious or afraid, or, at the very least, highly uncomfortable. We emerge on the other side a more capable human being. If we continue to take part in the activity, like riding the ski lift, what was once a source of terror becomes something we are comfortable with and do with ease.

In a lot of these situations, there is some degree of flexibility with regards to the timing at which we overcome our nerves. A high schooler can loose their nerve and decide to wait another day or two to ask out the classmate they have a crush on. An aspiring musician at an open mic night can elect to let a few people go before them. Someone feeling anxious about boarding a ski lift cannot slow down the inevitable. The chairs are going to come, one by one, picking up people. The line will move as the anxious new skier inevitably reaches boarding position. The clock is ticking!

The course of life will bring more significant situations that require overcoming our nerves; marriage, children, business decisions that affect many, as well as the many times we need to assert ourselves or allow ourselves to be vulnerable. As I face a situation of my own that’s making me nervous, it helps to have a reminder, here on the slopes, of a time I overcame my nerves and created something beautiful.

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Leaving it in the 2010s

12 Things I’m Letting go of for a New Decade

Note: This is the first entry in a three part series about the dawn of a new decade. These entries are not about travel or destinations, but about life’s journey during a period of reflection.

1. Worrying about how people are perceiving me

If anything, this is a sign of maturity. High Schoolers are constantly worried about how they’re being judged by their peers, often based on things like fashion and entertainment. Maturity means first understanding that differences with respect to these surface level preferences are not that important. Next comes eliminating the fear of what is different with respect to more significant things like values and lifestyle.

The next step in the process involves managing the reactions of others. Many have not, and some never will, reach a point where they no longer fear those that are significantly different from them. Ironcially, it is often the people who go around claiming to be “accepting” or “open-minded”, and constantly contrast themselves with the xenophobes of the world that are least capable of dealing with those who see the world in fundamentally different matter. The truth is that a person’s reaction to someone else, or someone else’s ideas, is often more a reflection of themselves than the person they are responding to.

2. Guilt about anything that isn’t specifically my fault

It’s great to care, and it is great to want to help. But, feeling guilty about it and letting it get in the way of life’s other pursuits is a complete waste of time.

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3. Underestimating my value

Low self-esteem is so rampant in our culture that those with a healthy sense of self worth are often perceived as arrogant or full of themselves. Sure, there are people out there that are too full of themselves. Those are the people who will honestly defend holding others to a double standard, or showboat about skills they do not actually have. Still, many more are unnecessarily humble and don’t understand their true value, due to some combination of societal conditioning or having struggled in the past. Many struggles in life, including jobs and relationships are not the fault of the specific people involved. Rather, they are just the wrong fit.

4. Not believing in myself

Even worse than settling for less is not even trying!

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5. The easy way

This was discussed in a previous blog. Many of life’s choices involve a path that is easier vs. a path that is more challenging. The more challenging path is almost always the one that leads to a better long-term result. Taking the easy way means avoiding those difficult conversations that need to be had, finding a short cut to get something done rather than learning a new skill, and sticking to the same places and activities without expanding one’s comfort zone.

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6. Waiting for that perfect timing

This is a big one, especially with respect to major life moves such as marriage, children, getting another degree or starting a new business. At any moment in time, there is always something wrong with the specific situation: “The Economy is a little shaky.” “After I get this promotion.” “I need to lose 10 pounds.” And, the list goes on. The idea that some better moment in time is gonna come along can be crippling. In most situations, there’s no time like the present.

7. Indecisiveness

This is the era of analysis paralysis and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). With more access to information that ever before, it is difficult to make a choice or commit to anything. The idea that something better will come along is not only out there, but it is now on everyone’s social media feeds. The same way waiting for the perfect time to do something will results in it never getting done, always waiting around for what is prefect will result in, well, a lot of waiting.

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8. Those that have treated me unfairly

There were plenty of those this decade. Those experiences are now all over and cannot be changed. It is impossible to get the proper closure to every situation in life. Time to focus on the future.

9. My past mistakes

There were also plenty of these in the 2010s. They also can’t be changed. Some of them can be atoned for, others, well, unfortunately never will. All that can be done is to let them go, and focus on the future (as well as the present).

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10. Picking up my phone without a specific reason

It’s time to do things intentionally. Phones will always be there, to alert their holders to life’s important developments. Everything else can wait. Seriously, despite being less than average – this is still too much time!

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11. Putting things off

Obviously, there are times when something comes up and cannot be dealt with right away. However, when there is time and something needs to get done, well, it should get done.

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12. Blaming others

This has been a horrible practice for many years. When there is always someone or something to blame, the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong does not need to be dealt with. Unfortunately, blame also comes at the cost of growth opportunities. It is also, like the other items on this list, as symptom of one of the things that holds us back the most … fear.

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New Season, New Resort

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Winter in Colorado is off to a solid start. Several major snowstorms have brought significant snowfall to the Colorado mountains. Also, unlike in recent winters, all parts of the state have received their fair share of snow. The mountains across the state are reporting snowpacks slightly above the long term average.

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Winter Park is one of the few ski resorts relatively close to Denver that I had never been to before. The primary reason for this is that since moving to Colorado, I had stuck with the Epic Pass, which includes Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail. That set of top-notch resorts within a two hour drive is tough to pass up. However, some of us were ready to try something new and decided to go with the Ikon Pass this year.

Winter Park is about the same distance from Denver as Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone. The road there, though, is one of the windiest roads I have ever been on.

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With an earlier exit off Interstate 70, this place may be easier to get to on days when there is heavy skier traffic. However, with all the curves going up and over Berthoud Pass, this trip could be more challenging in inclement weather. This particular trip was made five days after the most recent snowfall, and the roads were still slick.

The start of any season requires some adjustment. Having not skied in almost nine months, putting on my ski boots felt kind of hard. It really feels easy. However, the first few times in any season, it feels like I am shoving my feet into the boots and using up a significant amount of energy in my leg muscles.

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Winter Park felt similar to Colorado’s other top notch resorts. On measures such as vertical rise, skiable area and number of runs, it is quite comparable to Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. It also seems to have the same general mix of groomed runs, bumps, glades and bowls.

I appreciate the inclusion of the blue-black designation for runs where the difficulty level is somewhere in-between a typical intermediate (blue) and advanced (black) run. Everywhere I have been in Colorado, it has felt like there are plenty of runs needing this designation.

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I also love it anytime slopes are given names related to gambling.

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Those who ski Winter Park a lot tell me that no visit to Winter Park is complete without a visit to the Mary Jane area.

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This area cover about 1/3 of the resort, and has some of the more challenging terrain. Trestle is one of the steepest trails in Colorado.

It’s easy to feel lame on a run like this (unless you are an expert). While on the run, I felt like I was taking it very slowly and making wide cuts across the mountain. By the end, it felt great to know I had made it down such as steep slope in the trees. It is important to bask in our accomplishments, at least for a little bit.

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The entire experience served as a reminder of something I had realized years ago. Many of life’s choices follow the same general theme. There is a path we can take that is familiar, comfortable and easy. It’s avoiding our problems, not having that difficult conversation with a colleague, not sharing our opinions when they differ from the group, avoiding rejection and just turning on the television.

Then there is the other path. The one that requires effort, overcoming fears and facing discomfort. It is trying something new, learning something new, facing fears and taking the effort to arrange experiences to share with others. It is the path that will lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling life. It’s a challenge to consistently follow the higher effort and higher reward path when we often crave the easy and comfortable. So, it felt great to realize that I was on this general path when I went through the discomfort of putting on ski boots and then again when traversing one of Colorado’s steepest tree runs.

It is hard to make a comparison between Winter Park and some of the other ski ares relatively close to Denver on a Thursday just before Christmas. Some people say that one of the advantages to Winter Park is that it is relatively less crowded. Judging this would require coming here on a busy weekend day. Overall, though, it feels good to have tried a new place and pushed my limits so early in the season.

When Questions Lead to More Questions

I boarded a train downtown.

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I was on it for about half an hour.

I stepped off the train in a place called Olde Town Arvada.

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As soon as I got off the train I felt this pleasant feeling of comfortable familiarity. Colorado does not have too many places like this: Suburbs with centralized downtown areas full of shops, restaraunts and bars centered around a train station. Yet, this is all over Long Island. In fact it is all over the entire New York metropolitan area.

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So, why did I feel so content to have entered an environment that felt so familiar, even if it was nearly 2,000 miles away from where I grew up?

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Questions that burn in my head often don’t go away until I have found a sufficient answer. A couple days later, I looked into why this feeling of familiarity was such a positive emotion. Apparently, there is something called the mere exposure effect, where people tend to rate more positively what they have already been exposed to, or become familiar with.

I wondered then….

Is this the same mechanism behind nostalgia?

Does finding joy in familiarity prevent us from being as open as we could be? And, is it holding us back from moving forward with our lives and culture?

Also, what is the nature of nostalgia? Do we tend to get nostalgic for a specific time in our lives? Or do we tend to get nostalgic for whatever time in our lives felt we felt a certain way?

Nostalgia has intrigued me quite a bit lately. I feel like I just reached the age where people around me are expecting me to take part in it. The problem is, I am not really that interested. I’m more interested in thinking about the future.

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Anecdotal evidence seems to point towards a cycle of nostalgia that revives time periods roughly 25 years before the present day; shows, movies and even music samples that appeal to middle aged adults with spending power reminiscing about their formative years.

In the late 80s/ early 90s, there was The Wonder Years, set in the 1960s. At the turn of the century, it was That 70s Show. 1980s nostalgia has been everywhere for some time.

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Now, the nostalgia cycle is turning to the 1990s, an era I rememberer but don’t feel too terribly attached to. I liked Seinfeld. Nirvana and Soudgarden were good bands. However, I also remember the mediocre (shows, bands and cultural developments I won’t specify as I don’t intend to throw shade right now).

Those who have studied nostalgia indicate that it is both a way to cope with things like loss, fear and disappointment, as well as a yearning for some kind of an ideal state. But…

Is this a good thing? Or are these idealized versions of periods in the past preventing us from recognizing the current period for what it is and making the most of it?

Are coping mechanisms a good thing? Or do they prevent us from actually processing what is leading to the negative emotions we are experiencing?

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Likewise, I have heard a lot recently about embracing the unfamiliar. In my little corner of Millennial Denver culture, being open to new ideas and jumping into the unknown is consistently glorified as an almost God-like way of life.

Is there a limit? Is there an evolutionary reason for us to seek that which is familiar?

Open mindedness, taken to an extreme, can lead to analysis paralysis. This is prevalent everywhere, as the amount of information input by our brains exceeds our natural decision-making capacity.

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What do we do now? Also, how did an impromptu trip to an inner-ring suburb lead me to so many questions? Then questions on top of questions?

It feels like I just lived out a quintessential example of over-thinking and analysis paralysis. It is easy for inquisitive minds to get into a rabbit hole where questions lead to more questions nearly indefinitely.

When I shut my mind off and take the experience, what I realize is that I am not as different from everybody else as I had believed. When broken down to its root cause, the psychological mechanism that causes so many people to idealize the past is the same one that gave me that positive vibe upon entering Olde Town Arvada.

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Just because I don’t have any interest in binge-watching Friends episodes doesn’t mean I am not trying to cope with life’s disappointments and find that elusive feeling that all is good and will continue to be good for the foreseeable future.