Category Archives: psychology

A Social Contract for 2022 and Beyond

To live in a community, a culture, a society or a nation….

What do we owe one another?

What is our obligation to one another?

How much must we do for the common good rather than pure self-interest?

To what level is it necessary to defer our best judgement to “the group” for a functional society and community to prosper?

The debate about this is likely as old as civilization, it is at least as old as Ancient Greece. The result of these discussions is often referred to as a “social contract.” A Social Contract includes both written and unwritten rules to live by. For example, nearly all places in the world have laws against theft. However, all cultures have unwritten rules around things like acceptable attire, punctuality and relationships. Where I live it is almost rude to show up at a party that starts at 7:00 right at 7. Showing up at 8:30 is normal. But, the same is not true of meetings.

In this time of isolation, it becomes necessary to revisit the social contract.

Recently, those who share my concern about how lonely people have become have taken aim at our culture of rugged individualism. Unfortunately, some manifestations of this criticism have missed the point. Outside of immature insecurities, a person being true to themselves does not prevent them from interacting with others. Our constantly-connected world has increased conformist pressure. This has not lead to better human connections.

Most debates regarding the social contract involve people advocating for less or more of it on two dimensions.

  1. Shared Resources

This is your standard debate between laissez-faire capitalism and those who argue for the redistribution of resources, at one level or another, from the wealthy to the poor. However, it can also take on a non government related form, such as the expected shared resources among certain faith-based groups (ex. tithing) or the way people tend to think more positively about people who give back.

2. Behavioral Expectations

Behavioral expectations can be coded into law but are often enforced through other means. An example of this nearly all people have experienced or observed is a high school group not inviting a person to parties or other social functions based on their preferences and behaviors. Adults do this as well, as it is currently common for people to pressure one another to conform to behaviors deemed consistent with their race, age, gender, political affiliation and line of business.

Many who have become concerned with the negative impacts associated with loneliness have advocated for a stronger social contract. However, the focus has continued to fall narrowly along the lines of the two axes which have been the focus of debate for at least 100 years. Thus far this young century, there has been no shortage of ideas and actions taken to enlarge our social contract on these two axes. Yet, loneliness is even more prevalent than it was in 2000. Sharing resources can only make someone less lonely if they do it through means like sharing a meal together. One person having less and the other having more makes neither of them less lonely if they are still apart. Forcing people to use the same verbiage, wear the same clothes, listen to the same music and frequent the same stores just makes more people boring!

So, what do we owe one another?

Is there a new way to look at the social contract?

Yes, there is. No man is an island, no matter how desperately we want to be one. There is a common prosperity. It is improved whenever people are encouraged, listened to, empathized with and appreciated. It is improved when people are able to be their more authentic self and therefore more productive. It is improved when people share meals, experiences, laughter, dancing and even sadness with one another. It is improved when people have someone to confide in during tough times.

A new social contract requires rethinking power and priorities.

There are a few things we can all agree, universally are harmful and need to be punished, such as murder, theft and blocking traffic. However, we have also often felt the need to “punish” people for things that are not really harmful, like dressing differently or choosing different manners in which to orient their lives. Our predominant work culture has lead to depression among people who are naturally “night owls”. The most recent iteration of this is what we have begun to refer to as “cancel culture”, which has “punished” numerous people for actions that are not actually harmful.

Meanwhile, there are actual harmful behaviors that have historically been ignored that need to be considered when discussing our future social contract. Many people have mistreated their employees, manipulated people or completely disrespected people’s time without suffering any consequences.

So, what do we “owe” each other?

We DO NOT OWE each other…

  • A repression of our authentic selves to avoid making someone uncomfortable
  • Restrictions on behaviors that don’t actually harm anyone
  • Significant amounts of our resources transferred to a central authority

We DO OWE each other…

  • A service each and every one of us can provide for the good of our communities and nations
  • Building communities, being present, listening and understanding, being respectful and encouraging one another
  • A focus on our common humanity and giving all people a fair chance
  • Striving, always, to be better human beings

If we focus on the right axes of our social contract, we can revive our communities and reduce the harmful impacts of isolation WITHOUT sacrificing our freedom. In fact, we will be more free and seeing someone radically different from us will no longer threaten us.

Our Journey

The second half of November is an interesting time of year. In some ways it’s reminiscent of moments like seeing the team behind by 14 points in a football game fumble the ball away with five and a half minutes left. There are six weeks left in the year, but the final result is starting to feel settled. The rest of the year will be consumed by Thanksgiving, the Christmas season and wrapping the year up.

Luckily, the first fifteen days in November produced enough nice days for a few good bike rides around the area.

Other than that, there hasn’t been too much travel since the end of a major trip two months ago.

It’s mostly just been trips to routine types of places in the area as life had me focusing on other aspects of the human journey.

For most people, two months without “considerable travel” would be quite normal. Beyond those that are far more content with routine than I am, some people have recently written some thought provoking rebukes to the increasing importance we have placed on travel. However, after COVID-19 forced many people to spend far more time at home than they are accustomed to, it is hard not to get the itch to travel more, even after a relatively active summer.

I want to travel everywhere except two places.

I generally try to avoid being negative or controversial on this blog. Perhaps I’ve taken this too far. True, the vast majority of us are experiencing some form of fatigue related to people we know who repeatedly rant about the same things and are always trying to stir up a debate. However, that does not mean the rest of us need to be voiceless. I don’t believe the solutions to the problems we are currently experiencing will come from the places where they were created. Therefore, I have no desire to visit Washington D.C. or Silicon Valley at this point in time.

As we start the long process of winding down 2021 with holidays, family time and reflection, a better approach to pondering where we are and where we are going involves understanding and respecting nuance, while also embracing a common humanity. As is the case with nearly every other period in human history, there are cultural developments that I find encouraging and others I feel we need a course correction on. As should also always be the case, some people will agree with me and others will disagree.

I’ll break down my thoughts on where we are all headed into three categories.

  • Awareness and focus on mental health, and a greater acceptance of those who are struggling with mental health issues.
  • More people, especially younger generations being interested in entrepreneurship or similar paths and questioning the rigid 9-to-5 work culture of the 20th century.
  • A greater interest in self care and spending time in nature.
  • Consciousness: People wanting to be more conscious of the decisions they are making. Over three dozen people have told me “doing nothing is still a choice” this year.
  • Often underreported continued global progress on issues like diseases, extreme poverty and literacy.
  • We still continue to move more stuff online, in a world that desperately needs more community and “in real life” experiences.
  • “Safteyism”: How it has created unnecessary bureaucracy and limitations. How it has taken away resiliency, especially in children and created a fragile culture.
  • The politicization of everything. Can’t someone just go to the Chick-Fil-A with their trans friend without pissing everybody off?
  • Identity politics: It’s great that we are acknowledging how people’s experiences differ based on race, gender, etc. but there is SO MUCH MORE to who a person is and we need to stop reducing people to these surface level aspects of themselves.
  • For some reason we are still getting more obese.
  • Now, inflation.
  • Oh, and what’s with all the auto-tuner?

This has got to go already

  • The entire job search process. Seriously, with all of our machine learning and AI, we can’t make this process less time consuming and frustrating? Also, why can’t we make career transitions less daunting?
  • The default assumption that answering all questions and solving all issues begins with a web search at the computer. We humans need to solve issues together.
  • Conformity of all kinds and the limitations we place on ourselves. Who we can and can’t have friendships, emotional connections, experiences and relationships with. Rules about what activities are done at certain times, how we can and can’t dress, etc. I’ve come to realize that they are all based on insecurity and are all limiting the human experience.

As the sun sets on 2021 and each of our individual outcomes for the year become settled, I dream of what 2022, 2028 and 2035 will be like. It is my hope that we move in a direction that provides for more genuine expressions of self and away from the divisiveness, limitations, loneliness, fear and insecurity present in our more disturbing trends.

There is far more nuance than most people want to admit. Entities, from the internet, to social media, our education and financial systems and religion have had both positive and negative impacts. The key is to take these things and use them for positive purposes. Unfortunately for those who want a simple solution (usually based in Washington DC or Silicon Valley), the way we improve the outcomes for humanity is from the ground-up. It’s the sum of all of our individual efforts and something we can all vastly improve if we do what lights us up and reflects our authentic selves in our day to day lives.

In that respect, 2021 has mostly been a disappointment. Hopefully we can overcome the fear to obtain a better future. I’m starting today by more and more living and speaking my authentic truth.

Ride the Rockies Day 4: Telluride to Ridgeway

It was after the challenging third day of the ride that my legs started to feel like bricks. On one hand, I felt somewhat relieved that the day 4 ride was only 40 miles with only one climb, up Dallas Divide. However, as I ate my breakfast, casually in Telluride (as the shorter ride meant I was in no hurry), my legs certainly felt like they would rather just sit.

It always feels strange to me to begin a day with a downhill. After the four mile spur out of Telluride, the highway turned downhill for nearly 20 miles.

A good portion of the ride traversed through areas with red rocks, something that always seems to appear and disappear somewhat haphazardly whenever traveling around western North America.

Turning up highway 62 meant, once again, pedaling uphill, exactly the opposite of what my body had been desiring to do.

As is typically the case on multi-day trips, after a few miles of pedaling, I felt way better than I thought I would. That heavy brick-like feeling in my legs kind of melted away as my body adjusted to the fact that it was once again being asked to pedal up a hill.

The ride to the top of Dallas Divide turned out to be more than worth it.

For some reason, it was on this day I also decided to become obsessed with the tradition of holding up my bicycle.

This also turned out to be one of the most scenic parts of the ride – a reward for the multi-day effort.

The instinct to give my body a rest when my legs felt like bricks could not have been more wrong! Luckily, I knew all along not to think about things from the narrow, or short-term, perspective of only considering the exhaustion I was feeling at the time. Sometimes what we think we want in the moment is not the path to get us to what we really want.

The instinct to pursue the momentary, fleeting desire seems to be heavily impacting some areas of our culture today. Many people at some point in their lives have had the unfortunate experiencing of feeling like part of an “out group”, whether it be not fitting in with the popular group in school or feeling like some part of their identity is rejected by mainstream societal standards. The answer to all of these situations is for each person to assert their individuality. Then, as a whole, we become more comfortable with what is different and more accepting of people who look, act, and orient their lives in a manner that is not what we are accustomed to seeing.

Like the instinct to stop riding after an exhausting day, feeling left out leads to the instinct to satisfy the immediate need to feel validation and belonging. This often leads people to look for a new group identity rather than assert their individual one. As would have been the case had I gave into my immediate instinct and skipped this ride, focusing on the immediate needs filled by establishing a new group identity does not lead to the most favorable outcome. It either leads to just switching who the “in” and “out” groups are (not getting to the root of the problem) or more mental energy spent lamenting about being in the “out” group.

For reasons I do not understand, this is the portion of the ride where things started to get emotional.

I arrived at the second, and final, aid station of the day, with pretty much the same mountain scenery in the background. A van was playing music, first Rocky Mountain High, then more recent songs like Party in the USA came on. These particular songs probably would not have made me emotional had it not been for the fact that I had not listened to too much music on the first few days of the ride.

The thoughts about the current state of the world and how to make the best choices for long-term satisfaction suddenly shifted to more spiritual thoughts. Phrases including “love in infinite” and “there is enough compassion for everyone” popped into my head and lingered. Descending 2,000 feet (600 m) from Dallas Divide to Ridgeway I felt prepared to embrace every other human being I encountered, regardless of their flaws.

It was the easiest day of the trip, but the consequence of a mostly downhill day is a return to the heat.

With the campgrounds in a hot dusty fairgrounds where some participants needed to go down to the river to get away from their overheated tents, I was more than happy to have opted to pay for the hotel package, even if it meant taking a shuttle to Ouray.

The Great Divergence

When the first pandemic in over 100 years disrupted our lives, forcing many of us to stay home and stay apart from one another, I instantly became consumed with what life would be like when the pandemic comes to an end. Will this event cause us to re-think the way we are all living our lives? Or will we go back to our old ways once the danger of spreading a potentially deadly virus subsides? Will the changes associated with this once in a lifetime event be for the better or for the worse?

This summer, after a little over a year, we will finally get the opportunity to start seeing what this post-pandemic world will look like.

From observing how people behaved during the pandemic, and how people are acting as it comes to an end, there appears to be several points of divergence.

Back to what we had before or on to something new?

It would be hard to think of a more obvious area of post-pandemic divergence than this one. There is nothing I want more than to return to the activities many of us were denied for a little over a year. But, do we need to return to everything about the world in 2019? Some employers are already asking their employees to commute to the office five days a week once again. This, despite numerous studies showing people are actually more productive working from home.

The same can be said for many other aspects of how we live our lives. There is the instinct to return to “normal”. There is also the instinct to find a way to take the lessons learned from this experience and create something better. However, there also appears to be a current of fear, as many of us started living a different life during the pandemic. Now have to merge that version of ourselves and our “normal” lives.

A new power structure

Disruptive events stir the pot. They mix things up. There are winners and losers. An aspect of this appears to be luck. During the pandemic, people in “essential services” and in jobs that could be done remotely mostly did well while those in industries like travel and tourism got hurt pretty bad.

The post-pandemic world will come with a completely different set of changes that will stir the pot once again. Some people and groups will come out of it significantly more powerful and influential, while others will be significantly less so. A question for all of us is, are we ready to adjust the way we do things to fit into this new world?

A new found appreciation

The Best Views of New York’s Skyline

One of the first things I remember hearing about after the onset of the pandemic was the New York Times opinion piece where columnist Roger Cohen forgave the City of New York for everything that he had been annoyed about. It appeared as if the pandemic had given him a new found appreciation for the city, leading him to focus less on the petty annoyances covered in the article, from rats to traffic and bad odor, and more on what he loves about the city- it’s liveliness.

Can we say the same thing for the people and places that meant a lot to us in our lives? When the pandemic struck, did we contact the people we wish we could still see? Or did we yell at strangers for their views or behavior as we were all fearful?

While I wish to never return to wearing masks and social distancing, I hope to retain my appreciation for less active days, one-on-one experiences as opposed to large groups, and people who’s jobs are important but often under appreciated. There is the instinct to discard everything that happened in an effort to simply forget this horrible period of time. However, there is also the instinct to remember being without the people and places we love and continue to appreciate them.

Freedom or Avoiding Risk

I often hear people talk about the lack of a standard flu season this past winter, due to our mask wearing and social distancing. Some are even talking about adapting mask wearing every winter going forward.

The main question is, what risk avoidance methods are worth it. For the past 16 months, it feels as if Americans have abandoned our traditional concern for freedom and skepticism about mandates that curtail it. There is a divergence here between the desire to return to our orientation toward freedom, removing some of the extra layers of control adapted during the pandemic and fear of the virus or what is coming next after all the crazy events of 2020.

Do we know it all?

The pandemic was not the only event to rock the world in the last year. We live in a divisive time. There are the obvious divisions out there, between political parties, ideologies and priorities. However, if we dig deeper within these divisions, another one emerges. This perhaps even deeper division is between curiosity and believing we know it all already. I have observed this division in nearly every highly intellectual setting I have entered, from graduate school to TED talks.

Are we there to learn or advocate for a cause we’ve already adapted? With everything we recently experienced and the ongoing issues of loneliness, lack of fulfillment, high asset prices, etc. both instincts will still be there.

The battle within

As is the case with any historical event or set of historical events, some people will come out better for it and others will not. It is my belief that, based on these divergences, some people (those that worked on improving themselves, are curious and ready to adjust to a new reality) are in for a better decade than others.

However, that is also far too simplistic. The divergence in attitude described here is not just from person to person, but it is within each of us individually as well. Nobody is completely only on one side of each of the divergences described in this article. So, in the end, the way this decade will turn out is not about what people or groups of people adapt certain attitudes. It will probably be about which of these competing energies emerge more prevalently and where.

What I Want From My Summer 2021

I am not sure how to describe the emotional feeling of coming out of one of the toughest winters we’ve ever experienced.

When the third wave of the coronavirus brought on new restrictions last November I knew this would be some sort of “winter of despair” as we waited for the vaccines to be produced and distributed. I managed to maintain some level of sanity by skiing and going all in on a new initiative.

Yet, hearing an Avicii song on Spotify a week ago made me emotional in a way I find hard to describe. The lyrics reminded me of the beauty life has the potential to be if only we were to stop wasting time on that which is meaningless, without soul, and all those unnecessary sources of distraction and stress.

Once upon a younger year
When all our shadows disappeared
The animals inside came out to play
Went face to face with all our fears
Learned our lessons through the tears
Made memories we knew would never fade

Almost instantly, likely due to the combination of the music and warmer weather, a different setting entered my mind. It was not of a real place, but of a place that is not completely out of the realm of possibilities.

It was a place with beautiful sandy beaches, DJs and dancing, where people were truly present. People laughed. They cried. They interacted with each other. It wasn’t without conflict, but it was without all of the conflicts that many of us have been so preoccupied by over the past several years.

Maybe this sudden burst of imagination is just the result of what people this year are referring to as “Zoom Fatigue“, or simply too much time spent alone, indoors in front of a screen. Maybe it’s just me idiotically longing for a younger year where I can make memories that will last a lifetime. Or maybe it is secretly what we are all longing for after a year of restrictions, fear and isolation.

As the weather continues to warm up and many of the activities we have been denied for a little over a year now return, what I want from this summer is close to the exact opposite of what most of the past year was.

I want to get out from behind a computer (or phone) screen and connect with the world.

I want to explore places, beautiful places, either with the windows down or on a bicycle, where I can smell the trees and feel the air flow.

I want to gather with people, both familiar and unfamiliar, listen, laugh, talk, be heard, smile, try new things and make memories.

I want to feel truly alive and witness others feeling truly alive.

I want to dance, not as if nobody is watching me, but like it doesn’t matter who is watching me. After all, it doesn’t. All that matters is that the people dancing poorly are enjoying themselves more than the people laughing at them.

I want to throw away all that made us distrust one another, socially distance and hide our true selves, both from others and from ourselves.

I want to silence the voices telling me I need to change or hide parts of who I am.

I want to stop holding back.

I want the feeling of smiling at a stranger and SEEING THEM SMILE BACK.

And, this time, after the events of 2020 exasperated the problems of distrust, division, isolation, excessive screen time and victimhood mentality that were already present in our culture, I want to appreciate what is in front of me. I want to take this extended year of excessive restrictions as a lesson for us all to live in the here and now and stop focusing so much on the negative sides of things.

One thing I feel a lot of us, myself included, failed to appreciate before it was gone, is community. I imagine today that nearly all people have experienced life both with and without community. School naturally becomes a community and we have all lived through this pandemic.

When we did have community:

Could we have perhaps spent a little too much time focused on that one person in our social circle that we don’t particularly vibe with?

Did we possibly lament, too often, the times when we had to compromise on what we wanted to do because most other people in the group had different preferences?

Could too much thought have gone into that one conversation topic we were sick of hearing?

Were we too focused on what makes us different from those around us, and how our unique perspective needed to be appreciated more?

I know I feel I had made those mistakes. The past year has certainly reminded me, and hopefully others that it is better to have a community with the above frustrations than none at all. It feels like enough people feel that loneliness has become a major problem that some form of community will be built in the aftermath of this year of isolation.

Hopefully our favorite activities and freedoms come back soon. Hopefully, we also improve our communities.

When we do so, and start having the moments that make life truly worthwhile, the ones we will never forget, let’s truly immerse ourselves in those experiences.

Here’s to a better summer and a post-pandemic life with more of what makes life worthwile.

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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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.

 

Off-Seasons and Wanderlust

We dream of adventures in far away places. The majesty of watching the sun set over an endless ocean from a tucked away campground.

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Of endless forests, whose trees stretch endlessly up towards the heavens…

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Of the quiet lake tucked away in the mountains…

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The wide open rugged terrain of Earth’s most pristine mountain ranges…

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Adventures on both land and water…

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And, in my case, the continuous smell of fresh air from the comfort of a bicycle seat!

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Sometimes, however, life, as in some combination of events both major and minor, forces our attention elsewhere. By elsewhere, I mean to other aspects of our lives.

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Springtime can actually be that time of year for a lot of people. The most common activities people take part in tend to either be winter activities, such as skiing, or summer activities that require consistent relatively pleasant weather. Springtime can be pleasant, but can also produce weather that is quite volatile.

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Our most precious resources can be crudely generalized as time and money. It has often been said that a person’s values and priorities can be revealed not through their words, but their actions, in the form of how they chose to spend their time and money. Travel, at lest the kind of travel featured in blogs, magazines, and on TV shows, tends to be quite exhaustive of both time and money.

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While there are people who value travel and people who don’t, even amongst people who value travel, there are times when these resources simply have to go elsewhere. I am in the midst of one of those time periods, where the large sums of money, and the large blocks of time just need to be used in other capacities.

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Fortunately, not all experiences require large sums of money and large amounts of time. While not everybody is lucky enough to live within a 45 minute bike ride of a place that can feel majestic on a warm spring day.

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There is something picturesque about everyone’s home town.

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Wherever you live, there is something to be admired, there is an experience to savor and a scene to soak in, at the right time, from the right vantage point, so long as we all stay mindful.

My “offseason” consisted of activities that are less exhaustive of both time and money.

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Some were bike rides to nearby places that had become so familiar, their beauty had become almost lost. Two years ago I had said that no matter how many times I ride the route 36 bike trail between Denver and Boulder, I would always stop at the Davidson Mesa overlook, even if I am not in need of rest. I broke that policy last week, which would later serve to me as a reminder that the familiar does not cease to be wonderful!

Others were trips to state parks within 60 miles, an hour’s drive or a three hour bike ride, of Denver.

On a day with unpleasant weather, I checked out the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Museum of Nature and Science, technically walking distance from my home.

Nicer days brought me to places like the Cheyenne Botanical Gardens…

Or even just to my own back yard to plant a garden.

All, this, along with the other random activities I took part in around town

was certainly not enough to fend off the wanderlust, the ever present desire to get out and, see more places, witness more events, and travel somewhere new. However, an off-season, a change of pace of sorts, from time to time, might not necessarily be a bad thing.

According to Tony Robbins, there are six basic human needs.

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Travel is a great way to meet some of these needs, particularly variety, growth, and connection to nature. However, with the exception of the few people who travel for a living happily, some of us need to stick closer to home to meet the rest.

In particular, I can see how consistently being in a different place can actually be a hindrance, or an additional challenge, when it comes to making an nourishing friendships.

As well as growing professionally.

And, well, when it comes to developing a career (if travel itself is not the career that is), accomplishing something.

I can’t say I welcomed this season of my life, needing to direct my energies towards pursuits that feel less exciting and unique, and more like everyday life. However, after a couple of months, I now see why it is periodically necessary. The wanderlust isn’t gone. On the contrary, it probably gets worse every day. However, life is about balance, and when we get out of balance, bad things can occur. Just because I feel like far too many people have settled for the mundane, and less than I feel they are worth, does not mean it isn’t possible to fall out of balance in the other direction.

The Benefits of Being a World Traveler

IMG_1998 (1)I usually don’t like posting photos taken from an airplane. Especially ones where the wing of the airplane is clearly showing, like this one …

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The situation was just too good! The flight path, which varies from flight to flight based on upper level winds, happened to track right over Iceland. At a time of year when days are only around five hours long across much of Iceland, and less than 1-in-5 days feature clear skies, it is impossible to overestimate how fortunate of a circumstance this was: To fly over the volcanically influenced terrain at the onset of winter, seeing it in all its glory from above in broad daylight like this.

I couldn’t help but reflect on my experience there, less than two years ago, hiking on the glaciers, standing next to all the waterfalls, and seeing the northern lights.

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As I had noted then, Iceland seems to be becoming a more popular destination for American tourists. However, according to a recent study, it does not crack the top 20 countries visited by Americans (based on data from 2015). Number 7 on that list is Germany, where my flight originated, where I had spent the prior evening, in Munich.

This was the second time Munich happened to be my final destination on a longer trip to Europe. This is an interesting coincidence as Munich somehow seems to feel closer to home than most other European cities I visit.

For example, nearly every other European city I visit has a significant number of really narrow streets, like these streets in Stockholm…

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Munich, by comparison, feels wide open.

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Part of the reason Munich feels familiar to me is because, for several years, I lived in the State of Wisconsin. With an estimated 42.6% of the population having German heritage, Wisconsin has its fair share of bars and restaurants that are decorated almost exactly like this one.

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Places like the Essen Haus, have a similar layout. The serving staff dress in similar Bavarian style attire, and serve similar food and beer.

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By the way, the food at Augustiner, walking distance from Munich’s Central Station, was fantastic!

After visiting several countries, and flying over one that I had visited quite recently, I was headed home, to an America that is, based on the perspective of being abroad for a while, in a confusing place.

According to a recent article, while Americans are the 2nd most well-traveled country in the world, only 36% of Americans hold a valid passport. This is possibly the source of one stereotype about Americans, that we generally don’t travel outside of our country.

The numbers here tell a different story, one that matches what I have observed, interacting with other Americans.

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There are people here who are interested in traveling to different countries. They often plan a lot of trips to may different foreign lands. There are also a lot of people that aren’t. As, we are a vast Country. Most people can experience almost anything they would want to experience without having to leave the U.S.

We are a well traveled country, partially by virtue of being wealthy. A significant amount of that travel manifests as travel within our Nation. Travel abroad is mostly done by roughly 10% of the population with genuine personal or business interests in other places.

I in no way intend to shame anyone for not wanting to travel to other countries. That is their choice (or limitation, as some people do not have the time or money to fly to another continent). Truly secure people validate their choices in life, not by diminishing those who chose differently. They validate their choices with confidence in the benefits of those choice.

That validation, for me, can be best demonstrated in a recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine, titled “Don’t Let You Butt Dominate Your Brain“. Traveling to other places is one of several ways we remind ourselves one of the most important things we need to remember, as we take on whatever endeavors we take on in life.

Our way of doing things is not the only way things can be done.

Other cultures have other ways of doing things. We may conclude that our current culture is the best fit for us. However, just because something we observe is different does not necessarily mean it is “wrong”. In fact….

Assuming someone is wrong because they do something differently invariantly comes across as condescending.

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I generally try to keep anything political off of this blog. This is not a politics blog. I don’t see the world as currently in need of another person chiming in with their opinions about the news, at least not in America. However, going out and seeing other cultures made me reflect one something that feels like a real shortcoming in our current political situation.

The way our political system is currently set up seems to encourage us Americans to see a false dichotomy, a false choice between two ways of thinking, both of which have serious flaws.

On one side, there is a group of people who believe America can do no wrong. On this extreme, any criticism of our country is done out of hate, and there is absolutely nothing that can ever be learned from other cultures.

On the other side, a group of people that sees our country as deeply flawed. This group appears not to acknowledge what is good about America. They long for us to be like some other country, and when our culture and history is discussed, the response is usually something like “meh”, or worse.

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I can’t get down with either extreme, and it is my sincere belief that most Americans also find themselves somewhere in between these two maddening extremes. I sometimes think of countries in a similar way I would think of any other entity; a group, a person, a sports team, etc. I think of anyone that has a healthy sense of self. They believe that they are great, and do great things for the world. That does not mean they are not always looking for ways to improve, ways to be better. It also does not mean there is no room for some friendly criticism when it is warranted.

Traveling in general, particularly to other cultures, can be a powerful reminder that there is no one correct way to go about our lives. It also exposes people to new ideas. I believe everyone needs experiences like this, in order to stay open and avoid becoming too set in their ways. However, that does not necessarily have to be world travel- for everyone.

Five Years in Denver

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A personal narrative..

I cannot believe it has been five years since I moved to Denver, and I cannot believe that 2017 is already half over. I’d say “time flies”, but that is kind of a cliché. Time does not really “fly”, or even go by rapidly. It just appears as such when we think about time in larger chunks. In the past five years, I can think of plenty of Tuesday afternoons where it certainly did not feel as if time were “flying” by.

Okay, enough random psychological ramblings. However, I do want to point out that unlike most social media content these days, I do plan to be forthcoming with my own weaknesses and struggles. Hopefully that is refreshing.

My first five years in Colorado can be thought of as anywhere from a complete success to a total failure depending on how it is looked upon. By the traditional definition of “success”, I guess I am mostly successful. I make good money, live in a good place, and am healthy. By a more modern, and more millennial version of “success”, I’m kind of a failure. This is because I am haven’t gotten to the point where I am using my strengths to impact the world in a positive and meaningful way. I hope my writing encourages others to believe in themselves, find adventure and live better lives. However, life on an average day feels pretty empty. What I do to earn a living is quite insignificant, and has been for almost the entire five years I have been living here.

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When I first moved to Denver, I attempted to recreate what I had in Chicago, particularly the social situation, which I really enjoyed.

This proved challenging for three reasons…

  1. You cannot recreate the past. There will always be something different. Denver is a different place than Chicago, with different people, who have different priorities and expectations. It’s also a different time, and a different phase of life.
  2. Call me spoiled, but this was the first time in my life I have ever had to really try to meet new people. In Chicago, I worked with a ton of fun people around the same age as me. Before that I was in Graduate School, College, High School, etc. People were always right there.
  3. I was not at my best when I moved, due to a really disappointing work situation. Making friends is a bit harder when you’re not in a great place spiritually.

My first year or so here I probably spiraled out of control more than I realized at the time.

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I quit my job out of frustration, and became disenchanted with the working world, a feeling that mostly persists today. Maybe it was my own experiences, the move to Colorado, or even that December 21, 2012 stuff (not scientific, but who knows). I just started getting this feeling that the 9-to-5 lifestyle, the one I had lived for five years in Chicago happily, was outdated, and that there was more to life than corporate structures, office politics, and spending eight hours a day in front of a computer.

I adapted. In place of the late night parties came outdoor activities for all seasons, travel and adventure. The past five years have been more adventurous than I had ever imagined. I ski better than I ever thought I would. I took part in the long distance bike rides I had always dreamed about, and traveled to some remote places!

Day-to-day life, though, remained a challenge. Finding a new job ended up being challenging. Being “rejected” time and time again took its toll on my sense of self-worth, and confidence. I spent a lot of time inside my own head, oscillating back and forth between blaming society’s outdated structure, and blaming myself for my own misfortunes in this department.

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These misfortunes continued. The job I eventually found went relatively well at first, but took a turn for the worse when I asked to report to quite possibly the most selfish and judgmental person I had ever met. I’d be hard pressed to find a stronger de-motivator, at work, than having a boss that makes everything about himself. I got out of that situation, but still haven’t found something that gets me excited to get out of bed in the morning.

I put myself out there, and, through various means, met a lot of people, some of them really good people that I have come to really enjoy hanging out with.

 

However, due to some combination of different social styles in Colorado, being a little bit older, and how the digital age has impacted society as a whole, I never reached the status, socially, that I had in my life’s previous “chapters”. People observing my life would probably think I have done extremely well in this category. However, I do have a yearning, at times, for more social activities and more meaningful connections.

This is related to quite possibly my biggest struggle of all … “adulthood”. Where does my life go from here? This is the fear that keeps me up at night, as the average life of a full-fledged adult (as opposed to an “emerging adult” which generally refers to the late teens and 20-something lifestyle), as I observe it, to be honest, doesn’t interest me. I just feel like life, just being alive and human on planet Earth, is a blessing in many ways. With so many amazing places, and so many amazing people, I don’t want to spend my life keeping up with TV show characters, and working extra to accumulate money so I can remodel my kitchen (you know, because those cabinets look so 1980s) and spend weekends at shopping malls accumulating more material possessions.

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This is probably the best reason to be in Colorado. This state feels like it was designed for people who feel exactly the way I feel about life.

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Which is the main reason that, despite the previously mentioned struggles and knowing that there are other places with better career prospects, I really hope to make my life work here in Colorado. While I cannot describe my first five years in Colorado as a complete “success”, I am happy with a lot of what I have done, and feel good about recent personal growth. Life is a journey, with many chapters, plots and sub-plots, destinations, and, unfortunately, also some detours. Finding your true purpose, the role you were meant to play in 21st Century society, is not a trivial endeavor. It can be quite challenging, and can take many years. It feels worthwhile though, and almost necessary for a life that is truly fulfilling.