The GRV Method: How to Take Control of What’s Most Important


For years, I’ve struggled with indecision. In the few years after my college graduation, I almost blindly led myself into several irrational career changes as a result of frequent cognitive dissonance. Perhaps some of you have experienced the same kind of problem: You see someone that you respect and admire doing well both professionally and personally. What they’re doing with their life sounds interesting. Immediately, you decide that you’re not doing enough, that you need to do more, that you’re doing something, or some iteration of the three. This is where our problems begin.

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What I’ve learned is that if we don’t first decide what’s important to us right from the very beginning, and figure out how to keep this in mind as we go about making important decisions in our day-to-day, we’ll find ourselves pushed and pulled back and forth into one life decision after another, one thought after another, and never actually get anything done.

This system first began as a tool that I created for some of my students who also struggled with stress and indecisiveness, but quickly turned in to a tool that I began using myself. The moment finally came when I realized that it was time to stop following every single opportunity that came my way. As counterintuitive as it may sound, I had to start saying no to more things. I had get clear about what I needed to get done based on the roles that I already filled in my life. Everyone has long-term goals and plans, but unless we do exceptionally well at what we’re already responsible for, we’ll always be paralyzed by over-analysis. It’s about “taking control of [your] circumstances instead of passively awaiting for them to decide [your] fate.”

The GRV System

For this system, I use a standard dot-grid recycled notebook from Guided, but you can use any notebook or method that you feel most comfortable with.

First begin by dividing up your page into three columns labeled:

Goals Roles Values

Roles

In the “Roles” column, the middle column, begin by listing all of the “roles” that you’ll be in this week. For example, if you’re a computer engineer or an engineer with a company, begin by writing:

  1. Engineer

Continue this until you’ve listed all the roles you’ll be filling this week. Include personal roles like “Girlfriend,” or, “Athlete,” if you have a significant other or play sports on the weekends. Include hobbies, organizations you’re involved with, and anything that requires your time or attention.

  • What if I’m a student? > I always recommend that students list out all of their classes, as well as their student organizations and part-time jobs.
  • What if my job requires several roles? > I’m an educator, so I list out each of my classes and deal with them one at a time. If you’re starting a company by yourself, consider each of the legs of your new venture that require your attention (i.e. marketing, budgeting, etc.)

As for our more long-term hopes and plans, like getting a promotion, backpacking a new country, experiencing something new, starting a business, or buying something nice for yourself, list the goal as a role as well. For example, if you want to backpack a new country, that will take money, time, plane tickets, lodging, and an itinerary. Each of these are tasks that at some point need to be completed, so each week, we’ll consider these individually and determine what next step is necessary. This will ensure that we protect ourselves from the delusion of only thinking about our long-term plans without ever doing anything to actually reach them.

Again, to reiterate, you want to list out all of the roles that you’ll be filling this week as well as any long-term plans that you have in mind. Once this list is complete, you’re done with Step 1.

Goals

This is really where the true effectiveness of this method comes into play. So often, people jump aimlessly into their work-week without any clear, concrete items to get done. Even for people who have jobs that are seemingly menial and soul-sucking, in some capacity, there are always quantifiable things to get done that can yield a huge amount of results, and over time, pay dividends in the form of promotions, pay raises, time off, etc. So, the question remains: “What’s important?”

Imagine that you go to work on Monday and begin the first hour of your day responding to items in your email inbox. Right away, your Monday turned into a series of reactive decisions. The inbox says, “Jump!” …and you jump. Although the items in our inbox may seem urgent, they may not be relevant to the more important things that we want to get done that week. They might not even be that urgent to begin with. If we spend an entire week simply responding to what the day lays out before us, we’re only responding and slavishly awaiting time and the world to determine our circumstances for us. Instead, we want to head into the week knowing exactly what we’re trying to get done that week, why we’re trying to get those particular things done, and we want to set up quantifiable measures to ensure that we actually made the mark at the end of the week. Everything else will be subordinate to those priorities.

The difference between beginning your week without any focused direction and not doing so is something that can only be understood after you’ve tried it. What we want to do for the Goals column is determine the 1-2 (and no more) things that we can do this week that would dramatically improve our position or effectiveness in each of our roles. The age-old acronym SMART becomes most appropriate here, because it is in this column where we are going to consider each role individually and ask ourselves the following questions:

  • What is something specific I can do in this role this week that will help me make the greatest progress towards its fulfillment?
  • How will I measure it to know that I did it or that it’s completed?
  • Is this something that is attainable this week?
  • Is this relevant to my long-term goals?
  • When am I going to block out the time do it? (We’ll address this later)

To give a few examples, for one of my students who told me he was falling behind on one of the units in one of his classes, he told me that the “Archimedes Lever” for that week in that class would be to sit down and re-read the entire chapter slowly, even though the class has already moved on. This is a high-efficiency activity, as it is the one thing that he can do that will produce a huge amount of results for him (catching up back up to the class and saving him many hours of future frustration and misery). For all of you computer engineers, it might be to recode a particular set of code in the software you’re working on that you’ve been putting off. For a person who has just started a business, it might be 100 cold calls (20 a day) in order to make some sales.

What if I don’t know what the one thing is? > If you find that you’re having trouble deciding what one thing you could do that week in a particular role, as most people usually do, you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the one thing I’ve been putting off in this role that I really know I need to get done?
  • What is one thing that I know I need to do in this role that I’ve just been afraid of doing?
  • What is the one thing that will grant me the most results and benefits this week?
  • What is the one thing I could do that would make all of my other to-do list items in this role completely irrelevant?
  • What is the one thing that no one is going to tell me to do that I know I should be doing this week in this role?

We want to identify our weakness, shortcomings, and things that we’ve been putting off as well as the steps that will help us make progress towards our long term plans. Again, we want to keep this to a 1-2 item minimum per role in order to maximize our output and ensure that we’re selecting only the high importance, highly effective items. Keep in mind that these are not the only things that you’re doing to do this week, they’re just the high importance items. Once you’re done, you should have a long list of to-do list items, with 1-2 tasks per role. For example, if someone listed four different roles and one long-term plan…

  • Engineer
  • Graduate Student
  • Husband
  • Startup
  • Backpacking Europe

…then they should have anywhere between 5 and 10 items listed this week. The list under Goals should look something like this:

  • Finalize presentation for programming department
  • Debug code for project Y
  • Write research paper outline
  • Surprise my wife with tickets to the symphony on Friday
  • Finalize pitch deck
  • Complete website coding
  • Request time off for backpacking trip

You’ll notice that for this hypothetical list, this person had two tasks listed for Engineer, one for Graduate Student, one for Husband, two for Startup Project, and one for Backpacking Trip. All you need is the 1-2 highest leverage tasks to push your roles and plans forward that week.

Once this list is complete, schedule each of these items into your schedule for the upcoming week. This means that you’ll need to consider how many hours it will take to complete each item, and if you’ll need to split bigger tasks into multiple work sessions. It is crucial that each item gets concretely planned in your schedule, including where you’re going to work on or complete the task. We want to front-load as much decision-making as possible so as to make the week as seamless as possible by limiting unnecessary decision making.

I personally utilize the Calendar app on iPhone and input location reminders to inform me when it’s time to leave. Some people prefer a physical planner. How you do it is not as important as being able to access this calendar frequently so that you can ensure that you’re sticking to the schedule you set for yourself.

Some Rules for Work

Cal Newport has a fantastic book on what he calls Deep Work, in which he profiles highly effective people and their work habits. Deep Work refers to scheduled blocks of undisturbed work. That means that when it’s time to fulfill the first task on your list, in our example, finalizing a presentation for the programming department, once you begin this work you have to setup your work station to minimize as many distractions as possible. Phone and watch should be on “Do Not Disturb,” all social media sites should be closed, people and pets who will distract you need to be out of the room, and all external modes of stimulation (television, YouTube, etc.) should be off. Music works for some people, but you can always test what works for you.

Concentration is not so much a skill as it is a byproduct of the right environment—if we can get the conditions right, we’ll get the work done. Always remember that getting started on a task is the most difficult part, but once we’re moving, we naturally fall into a flow state and the work becomes easy. Getting the conditions right is absolutely crucial.

To-Do Lists

What about small tasks like picking up dry-cleaning, buying groceries, pickup up personal items, etc.? For these kinds of items, I use a simple to-do list on iPhone to compile these tasks in one place. When I complete my GRV on Sundays, I’ll go through the to-do list and consider if I can knock all of the items out in one 2-3 hour block, and if so, I’ll schedule that block into my week around my work. Sometimes, I need to schedule two shorter blocks for to-do list items. What’s key is that we never want to be responsive to items on our to-do list. Everything should be methodical and planned. When we become reactive, we become stressed and frustrated, and neither state is where we get any work done. Save the headaches and decide ahead of time when you can get your to-do list items done.

Values

While the system that I just detailed is in itself enough to get anyone on the right track in their job, their personal projects, or their schoolwork, what I’ve learned is that there is a large component missing: things for ourselves. While the GRV method is intended to help us be more effective at the roles that we fill each week, it’s equally (arguably more important), to do things for ourselves. A friend of mine once reminded me in the middle of a personal crisis that people needed me and counted on me and unless I was feeling my best, there’s no way I could be the best for other people. While we may shy away from it, our mood and overall sense of well-being is the most crucial part of being effective and moving towards our more long-term goals.

You may notice that the GRV method is extremely tactical and keeps us thinking about the immediate tasks to get done, but what about the more long-term goals that we have? What if you want to backpack Europe for an extended amount of time? What if you want to get a promotion? What if you want to read a certain book? What if you’re trying to lose weight? These are all important items that enable us to operate at our absolute best, and unless we’re consistently working at these things, or as Stephen Covey would call, Sharpening the Saw, we’ll never operate at our fullest capacity no matter how much preparation and planning we do.

In the values column, this is where we’ll consider what James Altucher calls The Daily Practice. In this column, we’ll consider four domains that we’ll address every single day and every week in order to keep us operating at and feeling our best:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual

I personally use the app Productive to set daily reminders to fulfill. One I complete the simple task for each domain each day, I swipe the item off the list and the app automatically builds a visual series of links. Each day that I complete each component of the daily practice, the app shows me a longer and longer unbroken chain. The research of Jane McGonical has showed that when we tap into game mechanics to get things done, our brain is more incentivized to keep up with habits for longer periods of time. For more on this idea, which could be an entire post in itself, check out her book SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver, and More Resilient.

Physical

It is undeniable that our health should always be one of our greatest priorities. We need to ensure that we’re eating well, that we’re constantly moving, and that we’re taking care of our health. For the Physical domain, consider something you can do every day or a few days a week to address your health. The key is to keep it extremely simple. Here are some ideas:

  • Walk three times per week
  • Go to the gym three times per week
  • Don’t eat fast food

Mental

The quality of our ideas, problem solving, creativity, and work depend entirely on the quality of the inputs that we arrange for ourselves. Warren Buffet is voracious reader and claims to spend almost 80% of his time reading. This means that the world’s most successful investor spends only 20% of his time actually engaged with investing. Again, the quality of inputs directly effects the quality of outputs. Each day, we want to do something for our mind that will promote creativity, higher-levels of thinking, and better problem solving. Here are some ideas:

  • Reading 30 minutes every day
  • Write down 10 ideas a day – I got this from James Altucher, who says that coming up with ten ideas a day about anything can do remarkable things for your brain

Emotional

As I briefly mentioned before, our mood is the context in which we operate. Simply put: Good mood means productivity and bad moods mean regression. Think about the things that you enjoy doing and that generate the greatest amount of happiness in your life — if you can do at least one of these things every single day, you’ll feel the effects immediately. Oftentimes, our mood also has to do with the things that we don’t do, for example, staying away from toxic people, refraining from participating in things we don’t enjoy, and refraining from saying yes to obligations we know we don’t really want to participate in. Here are some ideas:

  • Play with and take the dogs for a walk
  • Don’t hangout out at bars
  • Stay away from a particular person or group of people
  • Work on your favorite hobby, something non-work related
  • Learn a new skill
  • Take a course online out of sheer interest

Spiritual

For both religious individuals and non-religion individuals alike, it’s crucial to take some time each day to focus on personal well-being in the spiritual sense. For religious individuals, this may mean praying daily or studying and reflecting on religious canonical texts. For non-religious individuals, this may mean some sort of regular practice or discipline that adds a sense of spirituality to your life. As a catch-all, and something I recommend to both religious and non-religious people alike, meditation practice (like Vipassana) can provide immense benefits for health and overall well-being, particularly in aiding with anxiety, stress, depression, blood pressure, and cognitive function. For a deeper look into the idea of spirituality from a secular perspective, see Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris.

In the most objective sense, a spiritual practice can be as simple as a consistent effort to become more aware of negative emotions and thoughts when they happen, and do our best to distance ourselves from them. It’s important to try to notice the recurring thoughts in our head and continually ask ourselves, “Do I want to be thinking or feeling this right now?”

“Love of bustle is not industry.” – Seneca

It seems today that whenever you ask someone how they’ve been, you’re likely to hear people talking about just how “busy” they are. Being busy is an indicator that someone is not in control of the circumstances in their lives. What I hope you will remember, and what I hope this tool will help you to remember, is that being busy all time simply for the sake of being busy is not any kind of industriousness at all. Simply running around and filling our time with things to feel that we’re doing something can actually be an illusion of progress. Tools like the one I created can help you to bypass this delusion and hopefully get on the right track with the things that are most important in your life. Anxiety and stress occur when we’re neglecting our mood and when we haven’t gotten clear about the things we need to get done. Tools like the GRV can help get those ideas our of your head, onto paper, and into a system that serves you each week. It’s designed to guarantee that you’re not reacting each week and is designed to keep you honest and accountable. I can only hope that you will adopt this method, make it your own, and watch your life come together.

Fear, Goal-Setting, and Incremental Learning Theory

Photo by Arnold Exconde

Most people have trouble believing me when I tell them that I didn’t actually read a book cover-to-cover until sometime during college. This used to be something that I was deeply ashamed of because I once falsely believed that my ability to read was commensurate with my level of intelligence. Conversely, the hidden lesson of these kinds of painful experiences have the potential to reveal an immense amount of insight into our lives. Today, I am an avid reader with an extensive library spanning a wide range of topics. In fact, some of the most frequent questions I get from students and readers are about books. Today, I spend a large majority of my time reading. I even credit most of my personal growth as a person to the insights I’ve gained from reading books through a constant application of the ideas I’ve collected from them. If you had told me twenty years ago that I would one day be an avid reader as an adult, I never would have believed you. Today, it’s a way of life.

Read more

External vs. Internal Standards of Happiness

Photo by Zachary Young

What I’ve noticed most in both myself and other young professionals is our obsession with this thing called “happiness.” Due to the largely convoluted system that educated us for almost two decades, we’ve been conditioned to think that happiness and success are arrival points that come to us only after the fulfillment of certain prerequisites. We’re taught that learning, studying, and achieving certain compliance requirements are the items necessary for experiencing this happiness and success. This unintentional conditioning continues for years and gradually becomes embedded into nearly every aspect of our lives, often to our own dismay. While I don’t discredit the value of hard work or the school system altogether, what I do disagree with is hard work towards things that are entirely unimportant to us from the start. It seems absurd at face value to strive tirelessly to meet standards of society that are in reality wholly disconnected with our intuitive desire for self-realization and self-expression. Most have had the confidence and the foresight to study what they love to do in college and end up working in careers that they enjoy. Others, succumbing to external pressures from parents, friends, and counselors who have misaligned incentives, end up working in careers that they know they do not enjoy, but unfortunately cannot escape due to the pressures associated with identity and fear.

Read more

An Ode to Noise

This article was originally featured on the El Paso Herald-Post.


I first started playing drums sometime right after my 6th birthday. My dad, after months of being constantly begged, finally decided to buy me my first pair of drumsticks from a local pawn shop.

From that day on, everything in the house became some kind of percussion instrument. I remember drumming on every hard surface I could find, experimenting with timbres and textures, somehow managing to land free lessons with a kid who lived across the street and played on the drumline where I eventually went to high school.

I learned the correct way to hold the sticks, how to think about rhythm and sticking patterns, and even how to do some of the flashy stick tricks I’d use much later on in my playing career.

When I first wanted to join the school band in 6th grade, my teachers were amazed that I knew so much without any formal instruction. I eventually went on to study music for my undergraduate degree, perform with world-renowned musicians, play under the batons of some of the most respected conductors in our day, and eventually earn a living through teaching music full-time.

But of course, any parent who has had a child who played a musical instrument knows that all of this comes with a great cost: lots and lots of noise.

Read more

The Guide for the Financially Perplexed

In 2015, Forbes published an article online outlining what they called 7 Frightening Millennial Money Trends. In in, they detailed some surprising realities, including:

  • Almost half of all millennials are not saving for retirement
  • The millennial generation has a much larger delinquency rate on bills than any other generation
  • Since 2008, student loan debt has risen 84%

The greater and more frightening reality, in my observation, is that these trends don’t only describe the millennial generation. Financial problems like lack of a retirement nest egg, delinquency on bills, and massive students debts are all problems shared by a vast majority of people in the United States. An APA survey in 2014 showed that 72% of individuals living in the United States state that money is among the top stressors in their lives. My question is: Where did all of this come from?

Being close to the millennial generation myself, I first faced the reality of the consequences of poor financial habits after graduating from college. While still in school, I had the opportunity of meeting people from all different majors and backgrounds through my involvement with various student organizations. What I found most startling was how many of my friends had squandered away their earnings and savings potential in the few years following graduation. It seemed that very few of them, despite their apparent aptitude, had figured out how to plan for retirement, invest and save strategically, or determine if a purchase was a smart one or not. I recall one of my personal financial advisors telling me how much of a shame it was that so many people in their early twenties were making such respectable incomes, yet losing it all as a result of poor financial decision making.

In almost all of my work as personal strategist, the first thing I teach people is personal finance. As this is the single-greatest stressor in most people’s lives, I find that if this area can be put under control, many other “problems” we think we have naturally dissipate. For most of my clients, it’s hard to see five to ten years down the road when they don’t know how they’re going to pay all of their bills this year. In those first years after graduating, I spent almost two years studying the best financial books, interviewing the best financial advisors I could find, studying investment strategy, and at one point almost decided to make a career move into financial consulting.

The truth is, we shouldn’t have so many financial problems. What I’ve learned is that a majority of our financial problems stem from a few key areas:

  1. There is no true financial education in school
  2. Most of us lack an awareness of our spending habits
  3. We think that money is far more complicated than it really is

After several conversations with friends and clients, I’ve decided to put this post together for anyone who has ever stressed about money. These ideas are a summation of everything I’ve learned, applied, and taught to clients in the past three years. This strategy is simple, but is nonetheless the result of many hours of study and interviews and has proven to be effective in many of my clients and, not to mention, myself included. It has undertones of Benjamin Graham, Daniel Solin, Warren Buffett, and Dave Ramsey. All in all, this is something that I hope everyone takes for themselves, develops, and executes. Money shouldn’t be the greatest stressor in our lives. The fact that it is is just an indicator of far greater problems in our society. On the contrary, money should be a tool to get us what and where we want. Bearing this in mind, remember that the longer that we defer making serious financial decisions, the far greater our problems become down the road. At the end I’ll also include a reading list of some of the most important books that I’ve learned from for all of you overachievers who want to go learn more about portfolio theory or basic economics. I would love to hear back about questions and points of clarification. This is for all of you, and if there’s anything I can add, please do let me know.

Read more

Our Ethics and Global Warming

The National Wildlife Foundation estimates that the United States is the second largest global contributor of carbon emissions, though only comprising a mere 4.4% of the global population. It seems that the apparent dangers of rising sea levels, devastating coastal floods, damaging wildfires, destructive hurricanes, and increasingly threatening heat waves somehow all seem to fall short in providing the necessary motivation needed for a global coalition on energy reform. The international conversation on global warming can at times seem discouragingly pessimistic. While the scientific community shares the consensus that global warming is indeed a critical global issue, it seems that the movement for an international communal effort has only begun to gain momentum. Meanwhile, newer green technologies are continually competing in broad markets against other long established companies and products. Even worse, unequal tax burdens for existing energy companies, as well as a failure of the market to value green energies to begin with, are only some of the contributing factors that are slowing the global green energy movement.

The reasoning behind the argument against energy reform stems from two basic beliefs: first, that the science is wrong. Surprisingly, there is still a large population of people who either deny the implications of rising carbon emissions or deny the scientific community’s findings altogether. Second, the more pragmatic critics note that while it may indeed be in our best interest to accelerate the transition to more efficient sources of energy, the reality of capitalistic interests, insufficient technologies, and unscalable initiatives seem to be the unsurmountable challenges that many are not yet willing to face.

Considering that the effects of carbon emissions are affecting the planet, this brings up an unavoidable question: Are we humans the only ones who are suffering from this global phenomenon? The International Union for the Conservation of Energy estimates that nearly 21,000 species of animal life are at risk of extinction due to rising CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere. While this number does not include plant life, with such a huge proportion of the natural kingdom in such alarming danger, the question must be asked: Do we have an ethical duty not only to ourselves, but also to the other species of life on this planet to do something about our carbon emissions?

In light of these considerations, many countries are making strides in addressing these issues. On January 1st, 2017, The Costa Rican Electricity Institute reported that 98.2% of the country’s electricity generated in 2016 was created by renewable energy sources. Costa Rica’s eclectic mix of efforts include hydro, geothermal, wind, solar, and biomass energy sources. Even with such great efforts, Costa Rica currently ranks 42nd in the 2016 Energy Trilemma Index, a study that ranks countries in three domains: Energy Security, Energy Equity, and Environmental Sustainability. Countries leading the globe in renewable sources of energy include Denmark, Switzerland, and Sweden, each scoring a perfect A in each of the domains, per the 2016 index. The United States came in 14th place with the weakest domain being Environmental Sustainability, which the council defines as, “…the achievement of supply- and demand-side energy efficiencies and development of energy supply from renewable and other low carbon sources.”

While an all-or-nothing approach seems to be a looming inevitability, the global leaders in sustainability seem to have already come to the realization that the longer we wait for a global coalition, the greater the danger we are in. Countries like Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, and Costa Rica seem to be hinting to the world that we have more control over our future than we might think. Indeed, this is the mentality that we as Americans should keep as we make decisions that affect lives other than our own. Websites like carbonfund.org suggest ways in which individuals can reduce their own carbon footprint, including ideas for our driving habits, traveling, home ownership, and even weddings. Surprisingly, a 2005 study completed at the University of Chicago discovered that switching to a battery-powered vehicle, like a Toyota Prius, saves, on average, roughly 1 ton of carbon dioxide per driver each year. The study also showed that switching to a plant-based diet saves, on average, 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, a much more inexpensive and healthy option than switching vehicles.

The quality of our lives in the future depends entirely on the decisions that we each individually make today. Perhaps the longer that we wait for an international consensus on global warming before acting, the greater and greater our future challenges may become. The choices we make about what we put into our bodies each day, the kinds of companies that we choose to buy from, and the way that we choose to live our lives as conscious consumers all do indeed affect other conscious, living beings. As we have seen, a little change can go a very long way. I am always disinclined to end essays with quotes, but I am strongly reminded of the anthropologist Margaret Mead who said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The time has come for us to shift the conversation from disappointingly delayed global efforts to the kinds of things we can each do in our own lives to contribute to the greater good. It us up to us to lay down a brighter future for those who will inherit this planet after us.

The Rise and Fall of the Artistic Experience, and What We Can Do About It

This piece was originally featured on The El Paso Herald Post.

IMG_2156

I was at an art gallery recently, an event put together by a new friend of mine who is serving as the director of cultural affairs and interim director of the art museum in El Paso, Texas. In a very genuine attempt to combat what I believe to be art’s greatest foe, my friend organized event that was based off of Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory, and actually featured original prints and polaroids of the famed Warhol. The event was complete with a DJ who was spinning on vinyl, a cash bar, and a very diverse crowd that brought people from all different ways of life.

It was an eventful evening, and a very successful attempt to bring the El Paso community together in a way the El Paso community might not have seen before. In a very special way, my friend was inviting the El Paso community to see art in a different way, a way that isn’t commonly understood or accepted, a way that most think can’t exist.

While looking at one of Warhol’s prints, a member of the very flamboyant line of Queen Elizabeths, I overheard a conversation between a couple about their thoughts on Warhol. Now, I’m no stranger to prints, nor am I a stranger to art in any capacity. I have studied music since I was six-years-old, gotten my degree in music and education before my 22nd birthday, been great friends of incredible artists, and consulted for musicians, artists, bands, and creatives from all avenues. Personally, I can honestly say that I understand art in a way that is very unique to me, a way that no one could probably understand no matter how much I tried to write it out or explain it in detail.

The couple was going back and forth about how Warhol was pretentious, about how he was no one special, and how his techniques are not very impressive when you think about the overall development of art over time. Of course, everyone is entitled to opinion, but when people begin referring to those who have been dead longer than I have been alive with such overambitious adjectives like “pretentious,” I think it’s time for us to stop and have a good look at what we’re really doing here.

Read more

A Time to Reinvent Yourself: Forging Your Own Opportunities (and Never Needing a Résumé Again)

photo-1429051883746-afd9d56fbdaf

I had a conversation with a close friend of mine recently about the advice we wish we had gotten earlier on in life. On the drive home, I began seriously considering what this advice could have been.

When I ask this question to people I interview, (what advice do you wish you had gotten earlier in life?) I’m met with an unbelievably vast array of answers, many of which are seldom in unison with one another. My study of logic has led me to believe that this might just mean that there really is no such thing as that magic advice. There really aren’t any words you could get, “earlier on.” The truth is, whatever advice we get today is the only advice we can act on. Perhaps if we only worked more diligently at putting it to use, we wouldn’t be having so many conversations about, “What if?”

One of the most popular questions I get from readers, usually those who are about to graduate from college, is any variation of, “It’s time to start looking for a job. What do I do?”

Read more

The Art of Not Knowing What to Do Next: A Guide for College Graduates

photo-1434210330765-8a00109fc773

I’ll never forget the one morning in May of 2013 when I had the ineffable experience of walking across a stage to receive a cardboard folder from a woman whom I had met only once before. Truthfully, it was altogether an anticlimactic and inefficacious experience, like being hysterically drunk and making memories with your closest friends, only to wake up with an atrocious hangover the next morning. According to my friends and family, this was one of the most important mornings of my then 21-year-old life. To me, it was an ironic commencement of what would soon become the dawdle of adulthood.

When I first graduated from college, everyone stormed me with the question of, “So what’s next?” Truthfully, I knew in my mind what it is that I wanted to do, but I had nothing concretely arranged yet. It was like being helplessly suspended over the jaws of reality while trying to hold on to hope as tightly as I could.

I’m frequently reminded of what a commendation it is that I got my college degree so quickly. To put things into perspective, I was only 21-years-old when I signed my first real adult work contract to become a teacher. People often assume that I’m some sort of whiz who had the ability to beat the seemingly impossible feat of finishing college in four years instead of five, which to me seems like a no-brainer, but I also understand that things just aren’t as simple for some people. If I had to be most truthful, though, the only reason I finished so quickly is because I just couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Being in college is like playing house for years. It’s an innocent and convoluted game that seems to never end. The feeble efforts we make in college and the illusory strides we think we are making are mere impressions that are not quite coterminous with the challenges of our real lives that are to come after college, especially for those of us who choose to pursue what some people might call a, “real career.” It’s a place where you can party recklessly on weekdays and show up to exams hungover, get A’s on just a few moments of work, and build relationships with the right people who can scoot you to the front of the line when you need it. It’s also rather exhausting to keep up with all of the titles and accolades we rack up which we’ll immediately forget and dispose of the minute we leave the grounds of the university and embark on the journey of being a contributing member of society. We get to play pretend and imagine that we have it all figured out for just a second, while we guiltily defer any thought of post-graduation plans for next week, a time that never seems to come until you have a diploma in hand and no idea what to do with it.

I didn’t really begin to panic about my future until I had the opportunity of meeting one of my biggest heroes for the first time during my junior year. In a short conversation that I had with him, he joyfully reminded me that everything I was learning in school would immediately become obsolete the minute I exited the university doors and that even if I had gone to a top tier university, no institution is adequately prepared to ready me for the challenges that await me in the real world to begin with. I found it most amusing that he called it the “real world,” as if what I was currently navigating through was a fake one, a substitute for real living.

But this ceased to dishearten me, because somehow we all manage to figure it out. Just when we least expect for anything good to happen, someone throws us an opportunity and out of our insane duty to fear, we take it. It seems like we always have a plan for next month, but as we all know, nothing ever goes according to plan. Perhaps it’s the mere act of organizing and being proactive that becomes so therapeutic to us that we feel better if we just wash our cars, even though we know there’s a storm coming.

I’ve watched peers, former students, and even my own teachers change dramatically in these times that I like to call the “in-betweens.” College, in its own special, tortuous way, is just another in-between. I frequently joke with friends that if I didn’t want to be a teacher I would have skipped out on the whole college charade altogether. I would have just dove right into whatever else it was that I wanted to do, probably one of the crazy ideas I think up in the shower, or the deranged plans that I construct in conversation with my girlfriend. College was yet another in-between for me when I got to pretend that I knew exactly who it was who I wanted to be, only to meet an entirely new version of myself in the years after graduating. Of course, it wasn’t the college experience itself that changed me, it was the month and a half when I was with a degree and unemployed with no plan that truly taught me about life.

Of course, I am no stranger to the fact that being unemployed with a degree is a first-world problem, and that I probably sound like a capricious ass-hole for highlighting on the fact that I was only unemployed for a month and a half before I got my first opportunity that I could take seriously. The point I’m trying to make here, however, is that it wasn’t the degree or the college experience that changed me, it was the time in between it all. It was the fear and the insecurity of not knowing what was to come next, and not knowing what I would do if in fact nothing came at all.

On the day that I am writing this, it is the first official day of summer, and that means that all over the country there are hundreds of thousands of former college students with degrees in hand who are all experiencing what might be the first real in-between in their lives. A good friend of mine just finished spending six months studying for a major professional school test only to figure out that he wants to “do his master’s.” I’m not saying that graduate school is wrong or that we should stray away from higher education in any way, but what I am saying is that everything in our lives is fleeting and everything which we now consider to be stable can easily go just as easily as it came. More importantly, who we are during our in-betweens is where the true test of our lives awaits. Everyone is brilliant and thoughtful in times of security, but what about when we have nothing to grasp on to? What then?

They say that the only two certain occurrences in our lives are death and taxes, but if we really thought about it, in-betweens are equally as certain. After all, at this very moment, you’re already in between two major occurrences in your life. Perhaps you’re in between relationships or you’re in between jobs. You might be in between places to live, with one lease expiring and another soon to begin. Maybe you’re a lucky college student with a degree in hand, but unfortunately no job. The in-betweens are certain to always occur, and how we deal with them is how the quality of our lives will be defined.

If you’re ever gone on a the ride at the amusement park that takes you up really high and unexpectedly drops you at freefall speed, then you already know everything you need to know about life. In-betweens are like those few seconds when the machine stops traveling up and you have fractions of a second to grasp your neighbor’s hand and inhale for the scream that’s about to ensue as you plummet back down to where you started. It’s in those short fractions of a second that define everything. As in life, it’s what we do with the fractions of our lives when we’re in between the rise up and what’s to come after it when we get to decide who we want to be. You are either stuck in a purgatorial period of precariousness and are about to suffer the worst pain of your life, or you get to experience the greatest thrill you’ve ever known.

When I was experiencing my own in between period in the weeks between graduating and finding a job, I had frequent conversations with mentors and close friends. I spent lots of time conversing over strong beverages and reveling in the moment, sometimes embracing the unavoidable reality that I actually didn’t know what was to come next, an experience we can all relate to when we’ve found ourselves saying, “Fuck it.”

It was during these conversations when I noticed a lot about myself. Sometimes, I would shoot down ideas for no apparent reason at all. Other times, I would find myself being overly critical of myself without any rational thinking behind it. I also learned that while I am often the most optimistic person I know, sometimes I can be the most doubtful. Ultimately, after the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds of drinks, we would start to talk about the things that truly mattered, the things that no one talks about in the office or at dinner parties. These conversations consisted of questioning life and our own purposes, and I reflected deeply on who it was who I wanted to be, not only after the in-between was over, but in the time that was to follow. After all, in-betweens are only temporary, and at some point, we’ll have something else to grab on to.

I had many conversations with many people, conversations that always returned to the question of, “What am I going to do with my life?” While I never really got any answers out of these dialogues, when I think back to these conversations, I find that what I’m most grateful for are not the laughs and the great stories I heard and told, but simply that I even had someone with me to begin with. As it turned out, all of these people who I valued so much during my in-betweens, the people who I chose to make important to me in my most vulnerable days, turned out to be the ones who helped me to find the next thing to hold on to, thus ending my in-between period of uncertainty.

Still today, while my life and plans change faster than I care to admit, it’s not the books and the grades and the GPA that make life make sense, it’s the people who I share my most greatest growing pains with, something I think we’re all afraid to do if we would just be honest with ourselves. I’ve learned more about who I am through watching my girlfriend laugh at my jokes, or through seeing my family’s reaction to my bewildering uncertainty about my post-graduation plans. Sure, I’ve spent countless hours diligently studying investing, networking strategies, or how to plan effectively, but what has shaped me the most is how I got through my most vulnerable in-betweens of not knowing, and instead, just being human with other humans.

Today, while many in-betweens loom about in the near future for me, I can’t help but be eager for all of the many sit downs with friends and mentors that I’ll have, for long nights of beer tabs over conversations about how to solve the world’s greatest problems, or for sometimes saying, “Fuck it.” Ultimately, all opportunities are given to us by people, and only people. All success begins with someone saying, “Okay, let’s try it.” The ironic thing, however, is that while we know that what truly matters most in life is people around us, they are the frequently the first who we turn away from during our in-betweens, probably because we’re too ashamed to admit that we’re experiencing an in-between, despite the fact that they are as universal as death and taxes.

Looking back, I’m going to be forever grateful for turning straight to the people I cared about most when I had no idea what to do with my life. Considering that I’m always going through some sort of in-between at all times of my life, perhaps I should consider making people a bigger part of my life to begin with, not just when I’m vulnerable. Maybe when all is said and done, we can all put down our barriers and openly talk about how we’re all just making it up as we go along. Maybe it’ll be just a little bit easier to be in-between.

Roby Quintela on How to Pursue Your Happiness and Live Like a Warrior

10561648_10204304017791252_8782242990061672664_n

Someone once told me that when a person gives you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.

Advice is about as disposable as fast food. It’s everywhere. We get it from books, friends, family, mentors, and teachers. We get it all the time. We hear it, smile and consider how enlightening the words are, and then go on with our lives, failing to make any change or improvement for ourselves.

Conversely, when we give advice to others, we too are talking to ourselves in the past. We are telling our former self that we should have done something differently or seen things from a different point of view. Truth be told, if we actually had the opportunity to go back and do something again, knowing what we know now, we would be willing to take our own advice in a heartbeat.

But if we know that our advice is useful, and that it is actionable enough even for ourselves, why on earth do we ignore sound advice when it is given to us?

If you’ve ever had a conversation with a person whose received a “time-stamp” on their own mortality, as my good friend Roby Quintela would refer to it as, you learn a few things.

Recently, I had the opportunity of having a conversation with Roby about his fight against Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, among other things.

In our conversation, there were a few key points that really struck me. In my mind, they are advisable points which I myself hope to pay more attention to.

If his advice is good enough for him, it’s definitely good enough for me.

Read more