January 2021 Status Update: 2020, How’d I do?

This last year has been a crazy year. I’ve had to make major life decisions that have affected my trajectory for the near future. No easy calls but hopefully decisions that lead to a better tomorrow.

A New Year, an improved me

Since I can remember, I have always tried to draft resolutions for the new year. In High School, they were typically one goal and it wasn’t until college that I started adding multiple. Years of failed attempts left me upset, until I took the SMART method from my studies and applied it to my resolutions. Even then, this was far from perfect. In 2019, I went a step further and implemented what I called a “tangible” goal to help measure my success. SMART covers the how, but it doesn’t necessarily cover the why. This year, I want to take time to look back on my 2019 goals that I carried over to 2020. And more than simply focus on what I didn’t do, I want to take the time to focus on my successes.

Language

German and French were the two languages I wanted to add to my language toolbelt. My main motivation is I’d like to spend more time in both countries and not feel like a tourist. Since I’ve already lived in Germany, my main focus for the last couple years was German. In that time, I’ve watched my first German TV show and as of late December, have completely finished the German language tree on Duolingo. That doesn’t mean I’m done with German but it does mean that I now have a foundational base and can begin moving on towards quantifying my language expertise. As a chronic dabbler, I have a bad habit of simply dipping my toes in the water without ever getting wet, so this is beyond exciting. So my Language goal for German? Has been met!

Because I’ve finished German on Duolingo, this shifts my priority to French. French I find extremely difficult to pick up. I’ve been learning it sporadically over the last couple years and while I have some idea of the language, it is elementary at best. Over the next year, it is my hope to build a base much as I did for my German. Luckily, I enjoy learning languages, so it’ll be fun to see how far I go.

For 2021, my stretch language goals are to learn Latin and eventually Japanese. Japanese is completely unnecessary, but it’d be fun to know the basics should I ever travel there. Since for the most part I spend 10 to 15 minutes everyday on Duolingo, I’m not too worried about meeting these goals to some extent.

My overall tangible goal for the year is to take an aptitude test to know where I stand.

Coding

Perhaps the most exciting development, I have wanted to code for the longest time dating back to when I did Lego robotics as a Cub Scout. A missed Summer camp, dropping out of Computer Science II in High School, and a couple decades have finally brought me the furthest I’ve ever been. Online coursework through Codecademy and I finally have a base. Python, SQL, and JavaScript are the 3 languages I’ve started with and I’m actually having fun. For 125 days I learned Python and I hope to get back on the horse after taking a couple months to relax. If I can get 8 months of coding in, then the year subscription will have been worth it. With that said, coding has been a resounding success in my book!

Three coding specific goals for this year: finish my Computer Science coursework and get a certificate, then finish my course in SQL and “How to build a video game with JavaScript”. I had two main childhood dreams: catch all the Pokémon (which I did this year) and make a video game. So all in all, not too shabby for the year.

Painting Drawing Art

I did not get into painting this year! The plan was to originally sign up for art classes and then bam, the plague rolled into town. That said, I did adjust the goal to broaden the scope. The only reason I want to paint is because I’ve heard it is very therapeutic. I’ve since adjusting my goal to include penciling and doodling. To that extent, I’ve succeeded as I bought markers and spend about 5 minutes from time to time drawing lines and circles on a paper. It’s fun, easy, and relaxing.

This year, I want to focus on penciling as that’s the easiest as far as getting started. The plan is to take all my old homework notebooks that I just have sitting around and convert them into my personal art sketchbooks. I’ve subscribed to Skillshare, so a class is literally a click away. I remember being quite good at drawing as a child, so I’d ideally like to recapture some of that childhood spark.

2021, one new goal

Yes, 2020 had other goals that I never met, like camping and running a half marathon (albeit the half marathon can be forgiven) as well as cooking. Looking back, this were just taking a shot in the dark. If I exercise, I exercise but forcing myself to run was too much to ask. Gone are my cross country days and while I eventually want to tackle the half marathon beast, it’ll come when everything else falls into place. Camping is great in theory but in practice it was too difficult to get out given my anxiety. I thought camping would help with my anxiety, but it is clear now that I have to work on my anxiety first before camping can become remotely possible. Cooking is another marathon situation. I have no urgency to cook and while ideally I’ll get into it as a hobby sooner or later, having it as a resolution adds more stress than joy. If I cook a meal every once in a blue moon, I am ok with that. That aside, my new goal for 2021 is…

Music!

I am a nut for all things that can improve cognitive function. My two goals are to learn piano and eventually the violin. My brother bought an electric keyboard a while back and never played. Growing up we had a grand piano that I would play around with until one day we didn’t. So now, I’m going to right a childhood wrong and learn to play without an instructor because online tutorials are actually quite good! Violin I will most likely need someone to teach me but piano has thousands of tutorials and offers the least resistance to learning. It’ll be tough but if it can make me smarter, then it’s worth it.

My tangible for the year is to take a month course and do exactly what the teacher says. I want to simply have fun and find the joy in playing an instrument, which I’m sure I can do.

Epilogue

A new year, fewer goals. 4 in total. gone are the days of exercise resolutions and resolutions I don’t need. This year is a focus on what I enjoy and developing skills that I can carry out of my twenties. It’s a year of change and solidifying who I am and where I want to go. I am ready to move past 2020 and into a new year, so here’s to hoping 2021 is better!

November 2020 update: Winter Cometh

What a time to be alive. Rain has come and the months grow darker. November is the passageway from Autumn to Winter.

October

As part of my effort to expand the blog, October was dedicated to quite the treat. For the last month I wrote a short story a week, each around a different horror theme. Week one was “Hades” which focused on my limited knowledge of Greek Mythology. Week two was “The Church” which focused on an old, long forgotten church in the English countryside. Week three took us to “The Manor“. Set in Ireland and loosely inspired by Bly Manor (which I was watching at the time) I experimented with emphasizing room locations to add character. And for Week four we had “The Mirror” where I mixed mental health with horror. All were fun to write and “The Mirror” ended up being quite popular and one of my favorite short stories I’ve written thus far.

The future of October

As part of my general overhaul of this blog, I plan on making October an official spooky series month and in particular, dedicated to writing short stories. I already have a couple ideas for improvements for next year, such as making the short stories two-parters with cliffhangers and more engagement events focused around Twitter and Facebook.

Engagement

The last six months you may have seen quite a few changes from creating a Facebook page to an updated bio and contact page. Of the changes I’ve made thus far, the status updates have been my favorite. As far as major updates this month, I am pouring effort into Twitter. The goal ultimately being to draw in readers from platforms other than the WordPress reader. Ideally I would have liked to hire help for engagement but as it stands, it’s a job I can do and just means I’ll be extra tired.

On the blog itself, I’m trying to figure out the formula for encouraging people to comment and have fun with the blog outside of simply reading it. So far, I’ve simply been liking and commenting as best I can; I enjoy engagement and am hopeful that the blog will one day reach a level where readers will engage with one another.

Patreon and Ko-Fi

Slowly but surely I am getting better at navigating Patreon. I’ve received some feedback and made changes accordingly. The biggest change is updating the Patreon page itself with the newest posts. This, I have to do manually but it creates a better overall experience for both those who follow through the blog and those who are searching through Patreon. As of now the rewards are basic but the plan is to eventually have Patreon exclusive rewards that make each tier feel meaningful. This might be a free copy of a book (if I ever finish one), early access to a podcast (should I ever create one) and prints of artwork (yes, I want to eventually learn to paint and draw). I might fiddle around with Patreon exclusive writing down the road but since I am only one man, it would be nigh impossible to justify the time commitment at the moment. If you’re curious to see what the page looks like, you can check it out here. I’m proud of the changes and if you have any feedback, don’t forget my contact page is fully operational! Every message sent should get seen by me.

Artwork

With writing, blogging was started as a way to get practice communicating. Eight years later and I think I’ve gotten the hang of this whole “communication” thing. As I’ve begun beefing up my media presence and focused on marketing my content, I’ve begun to wonder if now would be a good time to expand once more. It’s hard for people to read articles from beginning to end. A painting or drawing is instant. You see color or the pencil lines, notice detail or minimalism, and make a judgement within seconds. I want to do it as I’ve heard it’s beneficial for mental but I’m also curious if that might be the missing ingredient for getting more people interested in my work.

The future of Series on the blog

Series are here to stay! Previously, I was going to designate April as Sustainability month on the blog but after this last month have decided to focus on poetry. I was also thinking of doing a hybrid poetry/sustainability month but have ultimately scrapped the idea. The reasoning behind this is simply my greatest strength is poetry. A lot of people follow the blog for poetry and I realized that I can write the occasional sustainability article to raise attention to the cause. Plan on Earth Day and my short stories to cover most of my thoughts on sustainability. The big cause and the month that will be article heavy is May, where I will once more be covering mental health.

The blog originally started with a lot of self-help articles as I shared my advice that evolved from my application of business concepts in the real world. In 2018 I took that a step further and dedicated an entire month to the topic of mental health, a series that was meant to be a one off where I built up the courage to talk about my Father’s alcoholism and how it affected me. Last year, I wrote a couple articles in a mad scramble to express the importance of mental health. Over the last 6 months (or however long it’s been) I’ve focused the content I produce so there will be no more mad scrambles (yay). Since I’ve already talked about my deepest troubles, that frees up quite a bit to simply have fun with the series, much along the strand of what you saw in 2019. I already have a couple ideas drafted so we’ll see what comes.


And that’s a wrap. November will be a relatively quite month as I take a breather and organize my social media. As always, thanks for reading and expect a post most likely last week of November! If you have suggestions, always feel free to reach out!

vulnerability: What remains unseen

“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.” – Brene Brown


This month will either break or make me. In my never ending quest to step outside my comfort zone, this might be my greatest challenge yet. The goal with this series is to one, reduce the stigma around mental health and two, create an opportunity for myself to talk openly. Every week will get a little deeper and like Neo, once I climb down the rabbit hole there’s no clawing my way out. Luckily, I’m an expert communicator nowadays, so people no longer run away in horror when they see me (yay).

How am I qualified?

Some might argue I am not [no one has argued that but it sounds poetic so I’m leaving it in.] Some might say I’ve gone mad, however, nay says I. Why? Because over the last five years I have diligently studied every technique I could find for mental wellness. Hell, I chose my major (Business Management) just so I could learn how to develop meaningful relationships in my life. And I did. I came, I conquered and I destroyed. The unintended consequence of my actions is when I open up now, it’s hard to believe how I possibly could relate. Little known fact is I spent the first two years of College in a counselors office and the year after taking antidepressants. I am imperfect and so is everyone else.

Why Write about this?

The first reason is that I am in a position to. I have spent years developing my writing talent so that I would have a voice and with that voice, the power to speak when others might not.

We as a society run from our emotions. We are scared shitless and we choke on our own pain. This is not unique and our pain begins to manifest into unhealthy behavior and habits. We look at Facebook and begin to loathe our own lives even if they’re going well. We see a Snap and feel as though we’re missing out. We write inspirational posts just for the sake of being noticed, feeling heard, and getting likes. And we are miserable.

We as a society hate vulnerability. And not so much being vulnerable but the risk that we might be misunderstood. Vulnerability itself is beautiful and to be heard? Even more so.  To be vulnerable is to be human, so why have we designed society around developing personas?

For Society to Succeed, Men must be vulnerable.

I could be wrong, however, I’m willing to take this risk; I think society would be better if men knew how to express themselves. And while I can’t speak for women, I think most of you would agree. All too often I see men being real dicks (pun almost not intended). And instead of pointing the finger, I think the real question we should be asking is “why?” My working theory is because men aren’t taught to manage their emotions, those emotions begin to manage them. Early on in life it might not be as noticeable, however, over time the issue compounds. And we as people, have emotions that are stronger than others. When we’re sad we cry and if we can’t cry, we get angry. What are men told from an early age? That we can’t cry! And with anger, comes aggression. Anger is only ever healthy if properly managed. Channeled well, anger becomes passion, determination, and immense focus. Handled improperly? You get men who can’t take no for an answer.  And when this happens, the more we push, the more we are pushed back. While not impossible to break through, it’s easier if men are taught that we are imperfect from the start. That we will have our ups and downs, and it’s not so much about weathering the storm as it is to feel the rain and hear the thunder.

And if you’re curious as to why there is an emphasis on men, here it is. While women are imperfect (just like men), my observation has been that women seem to be better equipped to form support groups and networks that encourage openness. Men, however, do the opposite. Instead of open up, we distract ourselves. We grunt at the T.V. when watching football and we drink beer in a feeble attempt to self medicate. When we are backed into a corner we kick and scream rather than let ourselves be vulnerable; we want to be loved yet we don’t know how.

Why are we afraid?

Next week, I will be talking about my struggle with chronic depression. In most situations, people wouldn’t know how to react. Why? Because it’s not something we’re taught. Instead of a hug, most of the time a reveal such as mine would be met with awkward silence. And worst case? Your friends who you thought you could trust, decide they don’t need the added stress and decide to leave. That is why we don’t talk and feel the need to say “I’m fine” rather than “I’m not ok and that’s ok.”

We fear one day if we reveal who we really are, people will not see beauty but rather destruction. And to an extent, those fears are justified. Emotions are messy and if not handled properly, they can cause more harm than they can ever do good. And that is why we need to practice. To tell others how we really feel rather than how we want them to think we feel. If we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we risk losing everything that makes life worth living.

How does this feel?

The simple act of writing without limits feels wonderful. Yes, I have my filters, however, they’ve been refined to the point where I can weave stories with the snap of my finger. Instead of watching my story unfold, I can tell how my story will unfold. I am in full control. That’s the thing. We create our own reality, for better or worse. For me, it’s been the drive to be better and that started with a blog post five years ago. It was an act as simple as sharing my love of poetry over on IGN. I chuckle now, but it was a big deal at the time.

What does it mean to be Vulnerable?

This is a question I have found myself asking. This article has taken months of planning and reflection. And unlike most, I’ve been dreading hitting publish. There always seems to be more to refine, more left to write, and words that simply don’t sound right. The closer I get to finishing, the further away I feel. And I think that encompasses vulnerability best. It’s not so much the act of sharing as it is the fear that my words will be ill received. We can plan for all the possibilities in the world, however we won’t know until we choose to speak up. These articles are not what I would call “safe”. If I’m wrong, the greater the fall and the fear that there will be no one to extend a hand when I hit the bottom. However, these fears are ill-founded. The best moments of my life have been when I’ve chosen to allow myself to be vulnerable. I thought I would lose everything, however, it was in these moments that I could grow and allow myself to feel. As difficult as it is, would you rather be able to say in the end “I’m glad I said” or “I never got the chance to say”…


Thanks for reading! This was an extremely difficult article to write. Next week is the tipping point for this month. The content will delve into my mind and the vulnerability discussed in this article will be ever present. Be prepared and while the topics in the next few weeks will be handled with grace as always, they might make some uncomfortable. Feel free to discuss in the comments; I read each and every comment and always love hearing from you!

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9 months of meditation: Has it been worth it?

The short answer, yes. The long answer, also yes, but longer. So full disclaimer; as much as i’d like to say I’ve meditated every day as I set out to do, I haven’t. In my defense however, progress is not a straight line. When you attempt a new habit, you will have your ups and downs but the idea is to stick with it until you set a new bar for yourself. without further ado let’s start with the most important question.

Why Meditate?

Let me set the scene. I had just come back from Germany, awaiting my kingdom upon my triumph return home. I had my head held high and was ready to seize the world. But as life would have it, my kingdom had turned to ash. My hero’s welcome was using all my available energy to put out fires and keep ships from sinking. In the first time in years, my journal failed me. You know things are bad when Mike Cole is carrying around a stress-ball at every waking moment. All my systems were collapsing and even my books couldn’t save me this time around. But if you know me, I carry on to the bitter end. So I rebuilt my old systems.

I started with 5 minutes a day and went from there. It was hard at first but got easier over time. When I was able to do 5 minutes on a consistent basis, I bumped it to 10, which I think is the perfect amount. But once again, why would you want to meditate? Couldn’t those precious minutes be put towards something more valuable? Well…

Imagine you have anxiety. Scratch that, don’t imagine; everyone has anxiety. What if I told you your deepest fears could melt away and that your clouded mind could become clear? Well, that’s meditation in a nutshell. The hard part is sitting down and making it a priority. As I’ve deemed it, meditation is kind of like hitting the reset button. Done right, it’ll clear the clutter and allow you to focus. Meditation in the morning can set your day up for success.

What is meditation?

Before I started, I looked up different techniques online. I couldn’t find a proper explanation and this frustrated me. Some people go to the extreme for meditation and when they try to explain the experience, it comes off as gibberish. If you look up mindfulness, you’ll get close but still it reads more like a self-help book more than anything else. So what I did, is simply combine the pieces I liked and then simply started meditating. After a few times, I got a feel for the experience and refined it to what is a mix between the spiritual and the mindfulness techniques your friendly neighborhood psychologist would tell you about.

My Techniques

So the idea behind meditation is not necessarily letting go of the negative thoughts inside your head but rather acknowledging them and moving forward. What most don’t realize however, is meditation is not simply an emptying of the mind, it’s a process of clarifying thoughts, much in the way we feel refreshed after sleeping. A good thought can branch out much like a tree and instead of trying to focus on nothingness, simply follow the thought and the thoughts thereafter. Think of yourself as a leaf flowing down a river, perhaps imagine a gentle breeze with branches gently swaying in the wind. A leaf in a river simply is and does not work against the current.

That’s only the first half. The second half is focusing on your body. It can be as simple as breathing to start but eventually you’ll want to focus on nerves. Find the tension in your body and simply be aware, massage, wiggle your fingers, pay attention to dexterity, etc. If you’re uncomfortable, adjust yourself. Listen to the wind blow, the sound of your breath, the gentle trickle of water from a fountain.

There are few ways to do meditation wrong. However, if you want more guidance, here’s a few suggestions. Buy a sleeping mask. If you find yourself reaching for your phone, this will prevent that. It will also block out light and should you open your eyes you will simply see darkness. If you have raw emotion and simply can’t get comfortable, let your meditation posture reflect that. Try leaving one hand open and clenching a fist. The open hand should relax and the clenched fist should control. Over time you’ll most likely end up with both hands open, pressed together in the center.

If you’re looking for a spiritual aspect to meditation but don’t want to turn into a monk, try going into meditation as your time to connect with nature. Sit outside under a tree or leave a window open. Simply learn to appreciate the present moment.


Thanks for reading! It’s been a while since I’ve done a self-improvement article and it feels great. I hope you find the advice helpful and feel free to share and comment below. If you have your own technique or a personal story, I’d love to hear it!