If you take nothing else from this post, this entire blog or from me, I urge you to take this one piece of advice and don't ever forget it.
Get out a pen and paper.
Bonus points if it's lined. Ready?
Life circumstances are not life sentences.
A circumstance is a condition, and sometimes when you're suddenly hit with an unfortunate set of your very own, they can quickly morph from being what would normally be a temporary setback into something closely resembling a big, gloomy, threatening cumulonimbus cloud sure to make any respectable weatherman rush to fetch his brightest yellow slicker on the double.
And that's okay.
But what's imperative to keep in mind in the meantime is this: That cloud is not permanent, and neither are your circumstances. Circumstances do not banish you behind bars. They do not render you helpless. And they do not determine the outcome of your life.
You determine the outcome of your life.
With the exception of natural forces & death, circumstances are largely moldable at your will, and you have the ability to alter them at your disposal. The whole “I got a raw deal” excuse is no longer valid. Pack that one up, put it in a nice little box–preferably with polka dots and a pretty pink bow–and then throw that junk right out the window, never to be seen again.
Throw it at your loud, obnoxious neighbor if you want. Smash it over his head and put him in a choke hold until he says uncle. Just do what it takes to rid yourself of that nasty little box–that nasty little mantra–that, when used to justify misery, does nothing but strip you of any feeling of control that you have over your life.
That's simply not true. You may have been dealt a crappy hand of cards, but that doesn't mean you can't bluff your way right into a royal flush.
The reason why I'm telling you all of this is because having this understanding has been the single-handed most important key to my own happiness and ultimate success. True story. I'm going to put my pride on the line here for a moment, and share a little bit about myself, for the sake of illustrating an important point.
If I had long ago accepted the fact that I had simply got a raw deal, then the following facts about me would likely have prevented me from achieving the goals I have reached today:
1. I grew up as an only child with a single mother and no other living relatives.
2. When I was in middle school, we moved from our quaint home that sat alongside a flowing stream, into a two-bedroom, 1978 flat-roofed, gold and off-white aluminum-sided trailer. 8 Mile style. I used to sneak out the back door in the morning, so no one passing by on their way to the bus stop would realize where I lived. Later that year, Craig Arcuri, in a fit of cruel spite, announced to our entire class in a mocking, sing-song voice, the secret I had been so desperately trying to keep.
3. I vividly recall my sheer humiliation of going to the local food market as a little girl and having to pay with food stamps. One of my classmate's parents owned the store, and he would often be working the register. Another time, we had to borrow money from a friend to purchase toilet paper.
4. When I was 14 my dad died.
5. When I was 21 my mother died.
6. I'm indefinitely nomadic, and can boast that I am now the only living Ambirge that I'm aware of.
This isn't about pity parties–that's not what this is about. What this is about is showing you that the cards you've been dealt do not matter. They are irrelevant. What does matter, rather, are the choices you make, and how much guts you've got. Plain and simple.
Despite those particular circumstances, I've gone on to experience tremendous success, both professionally and personally; yet most importantly, I've been successful in terms of feeling genuinely satisfied with the quality of my life. I am able to do what I want, when I want, and how I want.
For me, that often translates into extensive global travel, which I do on a continual, on-going basis, having recently spent the earlier part of the year in Santiago, Chile, and will be departing for Central America this Tuesday.
I plan on discussing my activities and how I accomplish them in more detail in the future, but for now, I'd like to share a few of the key factors that I believe have the greatest impact on my life. I'd also really like to share some Grey Poupon–does anyone have any?
Fair enough, you win.
The Ambirge Un-Holy Grail of Kicking Ass–
1. Don't be afraid to spend money.
This might seem counterintuitive, but here's the deal: Money exists for a reason. You have it so you can exchange it for something of value to you. If you don't exchange it, i.e. spend it, you don't get the value that it's worth. I'm not talking about material items, at the moment, but would encourage you to think of spending money in terms of an investment in yourself–you are essentially buying yourself experience.For example, whenever I purchase a plane ticket, I am overwhelmed with a sense of satisfaction. Because I value the experience I garner while living in other countries, I don't hesitate to forfeit x amount of dollars for a plane ticket. Even if it means that I won't be able to afford a new winter coat for myself. Oftentimes, people tend to be gun-shy; they save and save and save for a rainy day…and they miss out on life in the meantime. I'm not saying it's not good to save, but it's also good to do things that will inspire you.
On a separate but related note, stop for a minute and remind yourself what money actually is: A small little piece of paper. Every small little piece of paper is the same as every other small little piece of paper. There's no inherent value in them; we assign value to them. If you can start to think of money for what it actually is, it's easier not to let it have as much power over you. That said, these small little pieces of paper come and they go. It's what money does. It comes, and it goes. If you allocate it to one place, and you're short at the moment…don't even worry about it. It'll be back.
2. Don't be afraid of risk.
This seems obvious, but because it tends to be a recurring theme in the sense that, despite the fact that most people agree they should take more risk, they still don't. And they need to. Risk is the only thing that's saving you from a boring, uneventful life of wanting to stab yourself in the eye with a sharp object every morning. Be grateful for it. Embrace it. Play with it. Flirt with it. Give it a knowing look. Tickle it, by golly, if that's your thing. Let it lead you to places you could have never imagined. Without risk, we would all be doomed. With risk, we allow ourselves a world of possibility.Whenever I'm scared to take a risk, I ask myself two questions: “What's the worst that could happen?” and “If the worst did happen, would it be the end of the world?” More often than not, the answer is no. Knowing that the worst case scenario isn't really that bad helps me to make the decision to move forward in a snap. And, as you might have guessed, my worst case scenario oftentimes involves images of eating out of trash compactors while donning a Nascar hat and seriously pondering whether or not the dog's breath next to me smells better than my own. All in all, not so bad! (I mean that. Don't forget circumstances are temporary.)
3. Know what you want. Write it down.
This doesn't make you a geek, this makes you infinitely more ahead of the game than most. Once you know what you want, the rest is easy. Anytime a new opportunity presents itself, you say yes if it helps further you along the path to reaching your goal, and you say no if it doesn't. There is no gray area. Yes if it does, no if it doesn't. Period. Watch how quickly your life comes into focus.This also serves the secondary purpose of helping you narrow down and fine tune what it is, exactly, you do want–you'll discover that if you have difficulty saying no to unrelated opportunities, then you probably didn't want it as much as you initially thought.
4. Don't label yourself.
Do not put yourself in any boxes, and do not fall into the common trap of thinking that you have to be either this or that. Why? Because you can be both. Hell, you can be all. You can explore multiple career options, if that's where you're at in life. You can explore various interests. You can like red wine one day and white wine the next. You can be intelligent and still care about your looks, and vice versa. Or the complete opposite. You can decide something one day, and then later change your mind. Avoid limiting yourself to one thing, just because you worry that you'll appear flighty and off-center if you don't. You won't. If anything, you'd be wiser. Not to mention regret free.
5. Stop taking yourself so seriously.
We go through life stressing ourselves out about the impact of this decision versus that decision and this path versus that path, etc. etc. etc. We literally self-impose medical conditions because we worry so much. Stop worrying. Stop feeling like everything is this big, serious ordeal and, if you mess it up, all hell is going to break loose. The only thing that might break loose is your mom, but I've already talked about her here. The truth is that nothing is as big of a deal as it seems. Learn to think of life like a game. One big, giant experiment. When it comes down to it, that's all it is anyway…so instead of stressing over whether the chemicals will mix and blow up, be content to just sit back and let things jive–you might end up with a new miracle drug.
In closing, as my ridiculously wise world-traveling friend Karol says, “You don't need anybody's support to make things happen. You just do them.”
Oh, and one last thing?
Two points for me for actually using the word “cumulonimbus” outside of third-grade science class.