Category Archives: Living Excellently

Making life a little more livable.

Dreaming big

You’ve probably been posed the question before. Something a guidance counselor might ask you, and apparently, it’s supposed to tell you what to do with your life:

If you woke up tomorrow and had a billion dollars in your bank account, what would you do everyday? What would you wake up every morning looking forward to?

Your dream might be spending as much time as possible, in any context, with a particular person. Maybe it’s establishing a business, becoming a rock star, saving lives in Africa, competing in an exclusive event, or achieving the best shape of your life.

When you don’t devote the bulk of your time towards earning this income, the whole focus of “what to do” suddenly seems to shift. Unless you are already living your dream, the two (your dream and your current situation) might not coincide. Not to worry, as our options are nearly limitless. We live in an age and world of unfathomable opportunity to do/become pretty much anything.

The question is a hard one to answer. Most of us have become very programmed to earning, earning, and earning some more, and the reasons and driving forces behind the earnings are often forgotten. When asked what we’re saving for, we capriciously throw the label of “the future” on our hardship, and all is well and good. We pain and pain now for a (hopefully) better tomorrow. Unfortunately, tomorrow is often decades away.

Maybe your dream is to own (or at least drive) that gorgeous 1997 Dodge Viper. The blue one with the double white racing stripes. Nothing would make you happier. You finally save up enough money, but suddenly, spending this quantity of cash on your dream just doesn’t seem like a smart investment, and you opt for an 03 Corolla. Oops.

I am also personally guilty of over-saving and not spending money on things that I legitimately want. I’ve wanted to take drum lessons for some time, but always tell myself that I don’t need to spend the money on them. They will always be there in the future if I change my mind, and I can teach myself for now. However, as the years progress, my drumming has not.

Don’t run into the trap of ensuring yourself that the prospect will always be there for the future. Frankly, it won’t. If you really want to do/have something, go do/buy it now, and enjoy its company or the memory for the rest of your life. The longer you put off a dream, the less and less chance you have of acting on it. Don’t trade your entire life for misery and money so that you can spend this huge chunk of savings in the final, weakest years of your life. Do what you feel.

Take some time (it might be very difficult), and think, outside of earning money, what do you really want from the world. Cash, savings, retirement aside, if you could do anything, what would you do? What’s your dream, and what is stopping you from living it?

As a close friend once assured me, “If you follow your heart, you can never be wrong.”

Putting it in perspective

I’m sitting at Gate B43 of Newark Liberty International Airport, and I’ve just been informed that my flight has been delayed. Again. I’ll be lucky to catch my connection in Atlanta and make it to San Diego by nightfall. In situations like these, I’m reminded of a brilliant stand-up bit performed by Louis C.K., the lovable peligroso and star of Lucky Louie, TV’s funniest canned-after-season-one show.

The comic was on an airplane, and laments about the complaining he hears from a fellow patron regarding broken down WiFi, and a 40-minute taxiing affair on the runway. (YouTube link). C.K. gives us all a piece of brilliant advice here: Put it in perspective.

Before the advent of big old jet airliners, you would be lucky to get a spot on a Greyhound and concede the next 3 days to making it from New York to San Francisco. And here’s a man complaining about a 40 minute delay, failing to see the beauty of air travel. Cross country travel is possible in the scope of a few hours. A trip that once took months in a covered wagon (along with disease and other hardship) is now doable in the amount of time it would take to watch 5 episodes of So You Think You Can Dance. The standard cross country trip circa 1846 went a little something like this: Mary gets pregnant, Judah dies of dysentary, Ezekial succumbs to a snake bite, and you are stuck eating squirrels and rabbits for the week. Now you can drink a Woodford Reserve and coke while watching The Hangover and texting fellow flyers. Rather than ask how jaded we are, let us frame it as how lucky and brilliant we are. Using science, mathematics, engineering, and precise logistics and control, we can manipulate 500-ton flying machines, with the ability to mobilize over 1,000 people. We can fly a 747 over 8,800 miles without stopping for gas.

I don’t think the time will come when I watch a plane take flight, and fail to marvel at its ability to lift up hundreds of people, 7 miles into the air, and land on an extended driveway in another part of the world. What was once science-ficiton and resulted in the ridicule of geniuses is now humdrum, everyday travel. You can get from London to Sydney in 21 hours. Austrlaia was once dubbed the Antipodes, referring to a place that is the polar oppositie point to an origin (the British Isles), and a current project, LAPCAT is trying to trim the flight down to 2 hours.

Next time you get hung up on checked baggage fees and shitty peanuts, take a deep breath, and realize exactly what’s happening. Enjoy this sunset taken from seat 14A.

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Just say thanks

giftYou are at someone’s house for the first time. They offer you the customary drink or beer, and there is nothing you would love more. But for some reason, our neural circuitry sees no greater offense than being the slightest bit imposing, and all we can muster in the moment is “No, thanks, I’m fine.” Or maybe a good friend treats you to something like a round of drinks, or dinner, unexpectedly. Whether it’s the desire to appear financially sound, the feeling of inferiority, or just the fact that you don’t want gratitude hanging over your head, the offer is rejected a number of times. Roman Senator Tacitus reminds us, “Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit, because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.”

And in the end, these rejections make no sense. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I offered something to someone, expecting nothing in return?” You will probably find that the offer is made when you legitimately and wholeheartedly want the person to have this gift. There might even be a feeling of hurt if your offer is rejected. In many other cultures, rejecting these offers is considered offensive. More often than not, accepting someone else’s offer of something free is not imposing in the least. Just say thanks.

I have two experiences that stand out in my mind where I listened to this advice. In May of this year, during my last days in Australia, I was craving some Tom Yum soup, but didn’t think it worth it to spend $8AU ($6US) for just a bowl of soup. When traveling on an extreme budget, you want to maximize your calorie to dollar ratio. Soup is not the money move, albeit delicious. I started conversation with a crazy Hungarian man named Béla outside the restaurant, mostly regarding his time on offshore oil rigs, and love of hallucinogens. At the end of our conversation, he offered me the money to buy the soup. When I first saw him, I questioned whether this man slept indoors. He said he lived in a one room apartment in the shady part of town with his dog, Oy. At first, I thought accepting his gift would have been morally wrong. “Who really needs it more?” I asked myself. After he said, “I want you to have this more than me,” I realized it was sincere, so I accepted his gift, and enjoyed the soup, appreciating his selflessness with every bite. His one piece of advice on life: Be yourself.

Just this week, I was at a local gas station at ~9 PM, and was talking with the attendant. It sure beats waiting next to each other in silence as the tank fills. While his English was far from perfect (he’s Indian), we were able to have a conversation about Indian food. “Japati and egg for you. Inside. Bery good. Bery bery good,” he said. At first, the red flags went up. Am I really going to have a late dinner of some stranger’s Indian food inside of a gas station? After some quick thinking about it, the answer was simple: “How could I shun the opportunity of free delicious home-cooked Indian food?” He heated up the TupperWare in the microwave for me, and I had a delicious Indian snack, right there in the cluttered gas station office. It was delicious, and Jiam was nothing but friendly. We had pleasant conversation in between his servicing of the gas-thirsty cars. I offered to help pump it, but he said I wasn’t allowed. Oh well. In the end, making a little bit of conversation blossomed into a delicious meal, and a new friend. At the end of the encounter, we were both happier than we had been before.

So, next time somebody makes an offer to treat you to something, don’t worry about being imposing. Accept the gift with grace, and just say thanks.

Speed Reading

I’ll have to call upon a much better author and hacker of life than myself for this post. Tim Ferriss is an entrepreneur, internet celebrity, professor, lecturer, tango champion, etc. It’s hard to keep up with his latest ventures, but luckily, he keeps the world filled in via an incredibly informative (and often times useful) blog.

I found his post on speed reading to be quite intriguing, so I tried the prescribed protocol, and have seen significant improvements in my own reading speed. I’m currently working on The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, a 700 page epic in which she lays the groundwork of an interesting philosophy she calls objectivism. More on that in a future post.

Give the speed reading instructions a dry run, and don’t worry if your comprehension is lacking. The more you train your eyes and brain to operate in this manner, the easier comprehension will become. When you are speed reading for comprehension later on, you can adjust speeds accordingly. I’ve turned this once intimidating philosophical tome into a manageable effort, without sacrificing recall or “the joy of reading.”

Among the comments left on Tim’s post is one regarding a deaf speed reader who managed to consistently outperform his classmates. When prodded for an answer as to what made him such a fast reader, he wrote down (being unable to speak) “Do you mean to tell me that people who can hear actually sound out the words in their heads when they’re reading?”

It’s incredibly fascinating that someone would find pronouncing the words in our heads so unfathomable. But try reading without actually saying the words in your head. When you see “carrot” on the page, use the shape/image of the word and relate that to an orange crunchy vegetable, rather than adding the extra step of saying the word carrot in your head. It’s confusing and queer at first, but is a necessity in reaching the upper echelon of reading speeds.

Enjoy Tim’s post, your speed reading ventures, and have a lovely evening.

Unemployed? (Part 3 of X)

IEYou’re on the internet right now. But even when you are done reading this article, and leave the house to get out and do something, you are still on the internet. And you will be. Until the end of time. Steps we take in the outside world are more easily forgotten than our online footprints. You might be able to get away with murder out there, but make one post somewhere online, create a FaceBook account, or join a club, and chances are, you will leave an indelible scratch on the infinite sphere of cyberspace.

It’s a double-edged sword. It presents an opportunity to bolster ourselves by developing a strong and reputable online presence, but is also a chance for a prospective employer to google “Your Name” and see nothing but pictures of you, eyes half-closed, red cup in one hand, joint in the other. What impression do you want to make?

6. Develop your Web Presence

There are numerous simple ways to flush the colon of the internet and wash away those embarrassing references. Once we’ve cut the crap, we can fortify our diet with a few online resources that are well-respected.

Step 1: Delete worthless social networking tools, and privatize ones that you find valuable.

I recently purged a stagnant MySpace account that was littered with spammed comments, stupid pictures, and nothing of worth. Unfortunately, a googling of “Brian Radvansky” will turn up myspace.com/radvansky as the NUMBER ONE hit. I’m not sure if this will disappear in its own in time. Talk about an indelible mark. I have only been working at doing this for a week, so hopefully in time, MySpace will find itself on page 13 or worse of the Google search. My FaceBook is also pretty high on the list, but only friends whom I approve can see what lies beneath. The only thing you’ll find here is a few random friends. Nothing to be afraid of.

Step 2: Get LinkedIn.

LinkedIn claims to be the world’s largest business network. Many employers will search here for job candidates, so it behooves you to have some kind of presence established here. It also returns pretty high on Google, so a polished page here is something you’ll want others to see. Sign up, throw on a polished resume, your education and past work experience, and make connections with friends, classmates, and colleagues both past and present. Once you start building a network, you will be that much more established in the realm of the internet.

Step 3: Start Twittering.

I had sworn against Twitter when there was “Breaking News” on CNN that Twitter was down. I thought to myself “has the world really come to this?” I’ve since conceded defeat and realized that yes, the world has come to that. It’s a valuable tool to speak your mind, promote what you are working on, and connect with other internet users, both friends and beyond. Like LinkedIn, it also returns high on Google searches, and can push other crap down the list.

Step 4: Start a blog.

And not a dramatic diary to the world. Don’t complain that so-and-so won’t sleep with you, or reveal your sadistic desires. Just find something you are passionate about and write about it. Just write. Sites like WordPress and Blogger offer a slew of templates and all the tools you need to get going. Post your poetry, or songs you’ve written, or your study on capitalism. Anything you want the world to see. If nothing else, it will give you a “personality,” something to let people “see” you before they know you. You are no longer a random user, you’ve got a face, thoughts, and a platform to express them. Decide if you want to write for yourself, for friends, for a niche group, or for the masses, and work on developing relevant content from there. If you build it, they will come.

I personally have just started taking these steps, and as I learn about more valuable vehicles for coming across as an upstanding citizen of the internet, I’ll be sure to share.

7. Travel

There is an enormous world out there, and we’ve got a pretty limited amount of time to see as much as we desire. If you are not answering to full-time job, then you’ve got one enormous string that’s not attached. Have a significant other? Bring ’em with. You will learn more about the world, and more about yourself. Instead of thinking “this is how this it’s done,” you’ll realize “this is how it’s done in my country, or my state.” Expand your world view! Learn about a new culture, a new language, and new customs. Come home with amazing stories of jams you worked yourself out of, exciting people, natural wonders, and lessons that became elucidated through introspection. You will learn to be resourceful, and make the most you can with what you’ve got.

The three necessities to make something happen are a) the time, b) the means (often money), and c) the desire. You’ve probably got the time RIGHT NOW, the desire, well, that’s up to you. Let’s talk about the money. If you are willing to live meagerly, and be creative, there are many options out there to make it happen on the cheap.

Student loans holding you down? Well pay them off and make some money while exploring abroad. The US State Department has recently published an unofficial guide to teaching English in Korea, a place where it is among the most lucrative. Korean food is delicious, and the people I’ve met from Korea have been nothing but friendly and accommodating. You can also obtain a TEFL/ESL Certificate in Europe, and work your way around the continent. Dave’s ESL Cafe is a great resource for all things ESL. The pay won’t be as high, but if you are enterprising and teach some private lessons on the side, you can certainly come out on top. I sat in with a TEFL lesson that my friend gave in Spain. We got taken out to a Hard Rock Cafe in Barcelona, and chatted over a beer and burgers with a Spanish CEO. And he picked up the bill.

Australia also has a (relatively) booming economy. If you are under 30 years old, you can pick up a Working Holiday Visa and work your way around the continent picking fruit, sailing, surfing, mining, bartending, etc. You can rent short-term apartments, meet lots of Germans, and learn the joy of a can of tuna over ramen noodles. The ones with the Korean writing are the most delicious. Having done this myself, I will discuss Australia travel as well as USA and world travel in future posts.

You’ve got enough to work with for now. Godspeed.

Unemployed? (Part 2 of X)

Yesterday we talked about different artistic outlets to utilize enormous newfound chunks of time in your life. Today we’ll discuss some more ways to improve life without a steady income.

2. Read voraciously.

You knew this one was coming. There is an unfathomable wealth of knowledge in print and online to enrich, or at least entertain your brain. Before I make any specific recommendations, I’d say to focus on books that will make you think in a different way; books that will somehow advance your life. This does not limit you to non-fiction, as protagonists (and antagonists) in novels can inspire us, and help us access untapped emotions that we don’t normally encounter in the real world. Your friends usually aren’t finding dead bodies or solving murders while avenging the unjust death of loved ones. So read a book.

That being said, I’d recommend working on at least one non-fiction book at any given time. History books lay the groundwork and explanations of why we are where we are today. Read about marketing and figure out how to get yourself out to the masses. Inspirational tomes can help you appreciate and make the most of each day. You can also learn exciting new skills from books, like web design, foreign languages, or cooking.

I’ve decided to make a few recommendations in case you are stumped. And regarding the price of books…goto the library or find a cozy chair in Barnes & Noble until they kick you out. If your morals are lacking, buy a book, read it very gently, then return it for another one. I’m still waiting till the people at the check-out desk to say “This isn’t a library, Mr. Radvansky.”

specconThe Spectrum of Consciousness by Ken Wilber. Can and will change the way you think about the universe. It is incredibly esoteric, and not meant to be read in 10-minute stints before bed. If you are very open-minded, and feel like tackling concepts like non-duality and the illusions of space and time, give it a go.

48lawThe 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. Speaks for itself. It is an entertaining and well-researched guide on gaining, maintaining, and exercising power over those around you. Each of the 48 laws is explained, and then affirmed using interesting and worthwhile historical anecdotes. Easy to tackle, one law at a time.

3muskThe Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. A true tale of 17th century adventure. It will remind you of the joys of swordplay, blind love, corrupt clergy, and just how vile a woman can be. If you like drinking large quantities of wine and brotherhood, look no further.

delayDelaying the Real World by Colleen Kinder. A practical and inspiring guide for living an exciting life immediately after graduating college. She discusses the reasons not to sell out to a job you won’t thoroughly enjoy, as there are a number of exciting, non-traditional jobs out there that you will enjoy. Can definitely change your outlook on “the next step.”

3a. Get in Shape

A worthless excuse (as all excuses are) for not exercising is lack of time. So now that you’ve got the time, get out there and do it. Forget about joining a gym for $30-$100/month , go outside and run. Find a tree you can do pull-ups on. Push-ups and sit-ups are free. Learn some yoga online, or just perform stretches you remember from high-school gym class. It’s also a great time to take up a new sport or activity. Dust off the tennis racquets and work on your forehand. Hit the basketball court before it gets too cold. And then when it does, hit the court with that nasty old Champion sweatshirt that can only be worn while exercising, and no one has to look at you for more than an hour. The great Stephen Baldwin is quoted: “There are all kind of theories about heart rate…but you know what? Just get your ass moving. That’s going to get you in shape.” Beautiful.

On top of the physical benefits, nothing can shake up your day and clear up your mind quite like running yourself into the ground for a half-hour. If you are too tired to breathe, you are probably too tired to think. Just where you want to be.

3b. Cook and Eat Healthy Meals

A recipe for ANYTHING is available online. Ethnic cuisine, vegetarian meals, and steak and potatoes recipes are all out there for you. Learn what allspice is made of. Steam your asparagus to keep the nutrients inside. Everyone has got to eat, you might as well enjoy making the food, eating something delicious, and having the piece of mind knowing that it’s good for you. Start Here for a healthy, delicious meal that requires only one pot and is quick and easy to clean up.

4. Volunteer

A perfect way to give back that is easily accessible in almost every community. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a volunteer group that you sign up for. Help someone in you neighborhood learn English. Go pick up trash on the beach or at a local soccer field. Along with those, there are a number of organizations out there that will happily place you in volunteer positions. Whether you are doing it to make the world a better place, for the ego boost and ability to tell people you are making the world a better place, to get some fresh air, or to network, there is no wrong reason to volunteer.

5. Teach Yourself a Pertinent (and Marketable) Skill

A good friend of mine was frustrated with a job, so he quit, got a bunch of books on web design, and recently developed Avaya.com. He devoted every day to learning how to design web sites, something he had a thorough interest in. Despite graduating with a Geology degree, he works full-time for a multi-million dollar web design firm. With the enormous amount of free information available online, you have no excuse not to teach yourself how to do something new.

Check out some podcasts. Coffee Break Spanish has an excellent podcast that will give you a rudimentary understanding of the language. iTunes has these podcasts for a plethora of languages. Learn the finer points of PhotoShop and turn your good photographs into masterpieces. Learn some Excel programs so when that promising job post says “Experience in Excel a must,” you’ve got the experience. Practice speed reading or card counting.

Check out some free online college courses so that you can obtain some of the knowledge that comes with advanced degrees without paying for them. Learn before you earn.

That’s enough for today. Tomorrow in the unemployment series, we’ll focus on two opposite ends of the spectrum: developing an internet presence, and traveling.

Unemployed? (Part 1 of X)

GD fullOR “What to do right now?”

This series of posts is intended mostly for the 10%+ of people (myself included) who aren’t working full-time. However, anyone with an ounce of free time can draw something valuable from what I’ve got to share. The “blessing” of being unemployed is the enormous block of free time that now appears in your life; it is how you decide to use it that will label this time as a gift or a curse. So, whether self-employed, by-the-man-employed, unemployed, or independently wealthy, read on and enrich your life.

The August 2009 Report released by the bureau of labor statistics puts the current unemployment rate at 9.7%. With a a U.S. work force of roughly 140 million, 13.5 million people are willing, able, and searching. I would bet that a large chunk of these 13.5 million are banging their heads against the wall, wasting daylight on CareerBuilder, HotJobs, etc. Job Searching can become a full-time job without pay, fulfillment, or enjoyment. At least you can do it in your underwear and have a beer while you’re at it. After a fruitless couple hours, perhaps you’ll head to the TV, hear more doom and gloom about the current and future state of the economy/job market. Misery.

So, before relegating life to staring at a depressing monster.com search and CNBC squawking in the background, here are some suggestions for using this valuable opportunity, and doing the things you always wanted to do but never got around to.

1. Channel free time into creative outlets

Writing: Dip the brush into your soul and create something. Writing, whether creative fiction, freelancing articles, or journaling your thoughts and ideas is a skill that can be applied to almost anything in life. You will become better at expressing exactly what you are thinking, and by taking pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you will have something concrete to show for it. Enter a writing contest. Many free contests offer winners thousands of dollars for a winning essay. Create a fictitious world of lechery and deceit. Take a walk to a place where you can find a stranger, and create a shady past and unscrupulous desires for Stanger X. Have fun with it. If you carry a book/journal with you, those amazing ideas won’t flutter away by the time you get home. Your brilliant thoughts will be immortalized.

Music: Perhaps you own or can borrow an instrument. If not, go buy a harmonica for $10. There are enough resources online to establish a basal level of proficiency on an instrument (except accordion, which is damn near impossible). Don’t just play songs, write them. Create. If you already can play guitar, get better at it. Learn a new genre. Add some Flamenco to your death metal repertoire. Give lessons in your area and earn a buck.

WIth the popularity of MacBooks, GarageBand has become a more and more popular platform for messing around and creating both live instrument and electronic masterpieces. While our fathers might prefer to read an instruction book or buy the manual, we are of the generation that will tinker and fail and learn how to harness the power of software. Between the help file and an hour or two of seeing what works, you will have music. GarageBand is pretty powerful for a included program, and might inspire you to become the next Moby. Here’s a clip that I made while fighting a bout of insomnia. You can do anything from recording one track of singer/songwriter material to producing a symphonic 16-track masterpiece.

Craft: Take up crochet or knitting. Devote yourself to a particular project, learn from your mistakes, and you’ll be putting hats and sweaters together in no time. These can be sold for a modest income, or given to friends and family. Force your boyfriend to wear that hideous sweater, he has no choice. You made it. It will stimulate your brain, and after some experimentation, yield a finished product with both intrinsic and extrinsic value.

Visual Art: Though it is not my forte, painting and drawing fill lots of time, give you a finished project, and might even generate income. Now you have the time to focus, devote yourself to art, and create. Hone your digital photography, or grab that 35mm out of the closet and get back to basics. Remember the anticipation of seeing your developed pictures? Decorate your living space with this art. It is yours. Like anything in life, the more you practice and give birth to works of art, no matter how big or small, you will get a little better. Practice will not make you perfect, but will show guaranteed improvement over time.

The last thing I will say regarding art as a creative outlet is that all of these activities cost little to nothing. If you are enterprising enough, you can make money with them too.

Stay tuned, as tomorrow I’ll address a way to use your time that will undoubtedly make your life better.