3 Tips for Staying Sane

The world buzzes around us. Traffic, chatting, digital media, and there’s always something that has to be done RIGHT NOW. If you’re single, you probably have a full-time job and an active social life. If you have a family, you’re usually busy working and dealing with family things. There’s very little downtime, and if you are lucky enough to have two hours to yourself, you either catch up on something or are too exhausted to enjoy it.

So, what can we do? How do we balance a busy lifestyle with inner peace and happiness?

Game organization

3. Stay Organized. Have you misplaced your phone or keys lately? What about left home without something important. Don’t worry, we’ve all done it. The trick is to stay organized and have a place for everything. If you have a purse or bag, place it in the same spot every day when you get home. Use hooks or baskets for keys, phones, wallets, etc. to ensure they are always where you left them. To help with memory and to-do lists, set calendar reminders, and send yourself emails and texts (my favorite).

Keeping things clean also helps more than you realize. I use chores as a way to stay active while working at the computer. For example, write for 45 minutes, then get up and vacuum. Proofread for 30 minutes, then do some laundry. I always straighten things up as part of my nightly routine, too. Waking up to chaos can ruin a potentially good day. Tip: If you have kids, encourage them to do the same. This helps them learn good habits and reduces your to-do list.

Ocean City, MD

2. Find ways to relax. Not everyone has time to regularly soak in a bubble bath or attend an hour-long yoga class. But you have to take a break. Hobbies are a great way to relax and do something you enjoy. However, they should not be stressful or feel like work. They should serve as a reprieve from the daily grind and make you happy. If you’re hobby starts to cause you stress, it may be time to try something else.

And to those who enjoy a drink or beer at the end of the week; there’s no shame in that (wink). Sometimes that’s the only thing you have the energy to do. Tip: Some things I do are: painting, reading, watching my favorite shows and movies, turning everything off and enjoying silence, and listening to music.

Nashville Comic Con 2014

1. Have fun. The most important tip I have, and I cannot stress it enough. We all need fun, and little things can give us great pleasure. It’s easy to say, “I don’t have time for fun.” Bull stuffings. You have an hour to not work or stroll through social media feeds for personal fun.

Some things I do include going to concerts and movies, taking little trips, visiting my favorite places around town, chatting with friends, running out in the rain, and trying new things. It’s a proven fact laughter reduces stress, releases endorphins, and works the abdominal muscles. Some doctors even say it’s equivalent to a mild workout!

Honorable mention (and often the hardest thing to do): Don’t be afraid to say No. If someone asks you to hang out, and you’re tired, take a rain check. If you want to spend an afternoon on the couch instead of visiting family, do it. We often worry too much what people will think, when at the end of the day, we have to answer to ourselves. They may be disappointed or irritated, but they’ll get over it. And if not, you’re probably better off without them.

Let us know how you stay sane in the comments section! We love to try new things too!

Please keep in mind what works for me may not work for you, but if you think about it, I’m sure you can find your own ways to stay sane.

The Best Revenge is Living Well: Changing your Course

“The best revenge is living well”

I never understood that phrase until very recently. I always thought I did but in the spirit of my “let it go” 2015 mentality I thought I’d share how I came to realize what this really means.  I apologize for the length of this post but most of us can relate and this is the last, final release of this whole thing!

In November 2012 I left a job with government I had been in for 9 years. It was my first full-time position and though the pay was low I often convinced myself it was worth it due to the laid back atmosphere and a lot of the personalities there. I met some of the most interesting people working there. When I first started right out of college it seemed like a great place. Chances for growth, good benefits, and caring leadership. Over the years there was a subtle, then a not-so-subtle shift. The pay stayed low and with the increase in benefits prices (benefits that started to get worse) I actually netted less in 2012 than I did in 2011. But from when I started in 2003-about 2010 it felt mostly ok. We liked to complain about processes and personalities, and we could goof off a bit (paperwad wars that lasted a few weeks) but overall it was just work that could be done then left at the office.

Sometime in 2009-2010 things really started to change. The leadership had a shakeup and new people came in. One of my friends actually became a second-in-charge, and there was talk that even I’d get to move up. I’d already gone from entry level, to mid-level, to project management and committee chair so it felt like things were proceeding ok.

My last year there all my illusions were suddenly and violently ripped apart and reality became clear. I was named “co-head” of a new department. I was kept at my previous salary despite essentially managing other employees and still chairing and budgeting for my committee. I considered it ok, it was still a move up and into better things. Then came the yearly evaluations. The other co-head and I were asked to provide these for our direct reports. I wrote honest but well-tempered evaluations, pointing out where things could be improved but always measured this by how what could be considered “defects” were often bonuses. Yes some of us took extra time to perform a task others might do in a fraction of the time, but the end result of that individual’s work was often subtly far superior due to her training, experience, and natural eye. Yes some of us might take some time to have non-sequiturs and discuss movies, video games, or kung fu for a few minutes but that kind of atmosphere is the reason we were considered to be the “best” department to be around by visitors. We were all friendly and morale was high, even when hitting roadblock after roadblock in our work.

During my evaluation (I was one of the first to be evaluated in my group) I was told I received one of the very few (I’d heard less than 5 out of 100 but that could’ve been untrue) perfect scores and was told by the big boss “we can’t do what we do here without you.” When I inquired whether I would qualify for any kind of extra compensation based on my performance I was told “you aren’t qualified.” This despite money spent in this organization on PC replacements every two years, iPads for directors, and catered food for some ivory tower departments.

When the rest of the team was evaluated I discovered that many of my comments were edited and only the negative focused on. It turned out, according to the bosses, people were wasting time (and cruelly told they wouldn’t be replaced when they left) or talking too much. Parts of what was intended was taken out of context and used against them.

I felt awful that something I said could have been used this way. That I should’ve been more careful. And that I’d been used as an unwitting spy against my colleagues. I fired off an email the following day to the staff involved and the leadership saying as much. I received a minimal response, but at least one employee did get his evaluation amended.

This is what I felt like they made me do…

It was at this point that I went from being so valuable “they couldn’t do what they do without me” to being a pariah. Simply by speaking out against what I saw was an injustice I wasn’t included in meetings. Duties shifted to the other co-head (who was far more “compliant”) and any talk of my performance (which was universally regarded as exemplary) resulting in further advancement silenced.

More importantly the management had proven themselves to be willing to do anything, sell anyone out, and use anyone in order to get the side of the story they wanted. There were people they didn’t like and they used others to hurt them.

Given that environment I started looking for a new job.   A friend of a friend turned me on to a startup department in a private company. It wasn’t in my field but given the chance to move up and out I interviewed. I liked what the manager had to say about being involved from the ground up and teamwork and when I got the call I was being offered the position I took it. This surprised essentially everyone I knew as we all assumed we’d be in our familiar “ruts” forever.

I turned in my two weeks’ notice and not one person in management seemed to care. They seemed only to care if I agreed to stay in my current job at my current salary (doing supervisor work for 26k pretax yes 26k after NINE years of perfect evals and TWO promotions…). So I turned in my two weeks and got ready to leave.

Even in my last two weeks I spent full days finishing an exhibit I was working on to make sure it was done in time for a media event planned for the political boss of my organization (which entirely by consequence was held on my last day). I finished it just in time and one of my best friends managed to get food and the press there for the guests (it was for veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.) I was even to say a few words to the crowd about the importance of this display.

Before I got up to talk my organization boss stood up and made some comments. One of which announced it was my last day and added, “well money talks.” After everything that had happened that comment was shocking to me. Everything I’d done, almost anonymously there, all the extra time I put in, all the hard work I’d done right up until the end was put into the light that I’d left them because I was unappreciative of them. Given the audience I ignored his jibe and stuck to my comments about how important the exhibit was (one of the veterans highlighted called it “the best day of his life”). And with that I left that place.

This is tempting…but rarely fulfilling.

 

The new job was strange. My new manager made it clear we all are needed to follow the same procedures and made us feel appreciated for doing good work. In my off time I built a database for fun. Word about it apparently got out and other department managers came by to see it saying “I’ve heard you did something cool.” In less than two years I was given the opportunity to move into supervisory and leadership roles twice. I wasn’t the only one. Other great performers were also given their due. And every step of the way our sacrifices and good work weren’t just appreciated but often we were given kudos publicly so others could see what the team could do and their morale increased as well. I’d never been in a place like this. It’s not perfect but a good manager goes a long way. Someone who is there to teach you, assist you, and defend you rather than steal your ideas and throw you under a fleet of buses.

So back to “the best revenge is living well.” I’ve heard that phrase my entire life but always misunderstood it. To me it meant that you can get revenge on those who have wronged you by living well and doing so to show them how well you’ve done; to really rub it in that you’ve succeeded and you no longer need their approval or assistance. How wrong-headed that kind of thinking is…by being spiteful you are validating that they still have sway over you.  The best revenge is living well because once you get to the “living well” part you no longer care about the wrongs done to you. They don’t have any meaning. I have no desire to go back to my old job and rub my success in their faces (clearly as I haven’t named anyone in this narrative) it’s enough just to be satisfied.

Recently another friend left and she confirmed that all the anger and sadness she felt working there essentially evaporated upon leaving.

I’ve said it before but we all can find ourselves in poisonous and negative relationships. They might be coworkers, friends, or relationships but by getting out of them and finding your own way you can take your revenge better than any desk-flipping, profanity-laced tell-off might. Anger takes effort and energy. By moving on and living well you do them the worst damage: you forget about them. And with this post, and my realization of what “the best revenge is living well” I’m forgetting that place forever. It’s just a thing that happened now to get me here.

So here’s to living well in the new year!

Had to use this one!  There’s a little of the Unforgiven in all of us…it’s just best not to unleash the Interrogator Chaplains every time.

Life Lessons from Video Games: Every Day Video Game Influences

LifeLessonsHeader

Video gaming has affected modern culture in strange ways. Many of the more recent ways spring from online/multiplayer culture, but surprisingly the games I grew up with, the ones from the 80s and 90s, have had a lingering effect. Things I do day-to-day still show the touch of the 8-32 bit era and just recently I thought to document the weird game references I do in everyday life and here are just the top ones…I’m sure everyone does something like this…

5.) Korobeiniki: I’ve found this to be more common than I realized. As someone with an advanced degree in OCDs and organization I’ve found that organizing anything, desk drawers, folders, shelves, U-Hauls, is always accompanied by this song playing in my head, and occasionally I hum it aloud. I never even played much Tetris because of how messing up lines made my OCDs want to eat my brain but I attached this song indelibly to putting things in order, in nice right angles, NEAT UND TIDY!

4.) Null sweat, chummer: Yes, yes I know Shadowrun was a pen-and-paper RPG before it was ported to the Sega Genesis and turned into an action/adventure masterpiece in 16-bit glory…but I never knew that in the 90s. I knew Shadowrun as a cool used cartridge I got with a very interesting futuristic landscape and creative lingo. Every now and then instead of the usual “No problem,” “sure,” or “My pleasure,” “Null Sweat, Chummer” pops out, much to the bewilderment (usually) of the person receiving this statement. I think if I ever say this to a girl and she responds “Keep running in the shadows” I’ll probably propose…

You say sure thing…he says “Null Sweat, Chummer”

3.) At Doom’s Gate: I spent more time running down the hallways of Doom than I spent in school I think. It’s a rare game I could put on godmode and not get bored. Thirty days in a row… To this day moving swiftly down hallways, corridors, or even through crowded mall makes this music pop into my head. Given how much time I spent blasting hellspawn in that game I wonder if I should fear for the crowd…

2.) Test Your Might/Flawless Victory/Fatality: Mortal Kombat…it briefly held our attention by being more cartoonishly bloody than contemporary games. Even beyond that it started its own mythos…you could find secret characters, see secret things, and half the rumors about it weren’t true. The fighting parlance of the game though far out-lasted the novelty of ripping people’s spinal columns out. I use the above three phrases a LOT in day-to-day life. “Test you Might,” any time I have anything to do really (not just breaking big blocks of steel, rubies, or diamonds). “Flawless Victory” is usually reserved for a better-than-expected result, with “Fatality” brought in when that result ended in total ownage.

1.) HADOUKEN: I use this ALL the time. It’s sad. I use it when I throw clothes across the room. I use it when I toss my phone on the desk. I use it when I drop a dish in the sink. I have no idea why but anything leaving my hand at any moment and any speed equals HADOUKEN to me. It’s probably from the ridiculous spamming of that move that came with playing any version of Street Fighter II… If I ever do figure out how to throw a fireball (I’ve tried moving down, then slightly down forward, then forward and yelling it…it didn’t work) the world would be in big trouble (see my comments on crowds in the “Doom Music” section above….).

 

Passion: Use It or Lose It

passion-stephsmiles

A few years ago, a colleague posted a Facebook status that stuck with me: How much is your employer paying you to ignore your dreams?

I remember thinking how fortunate I was to love what I do. I am grateful to have a job in my field doing something I love. It took a lot of work, though.

I’ve been criticized most of my life for not falling into line, not striving to make a ton of money, or getting into a more in-demand field. Sure, I could have managed a chain of stores or majored in another subject, but I didn’t. I majored in a language I love to do the only job I envisioned doing the rest of my life. My passion for reading and language mean more to me than any salary. I can work 50-60 hours a week, barely sleep, and fight migraines because I love what I do. It’s worth it.

True happiness, not just contentment, stems from passion. If you’re not passionate, then you just go through the motions, looking back 20 years later asking what the #$#@? Where has my life gone? Ignoring your passions makes you hollow. You become numb and have difficulty finding happiness in anything – especially yourself.

Passion is something you must exercise. And those who have it, show it. You see it in their work, attitude, physical appearance, and general happiness. The ones who love what they do radiate enthusiasm and inspire others to do the same.

So what do you to do ensure your practicing your passions?

1. Discover it. What fulfills you? Try different things and move on if you don’t feel completely attached to it. Once you find it, you’ll know. You’ll crave it. You’ll need it, and if you don’t have it, you’ll feel incomplete.

2. Make time for it. If you truly love it, you will never be too busy for it. If you don’t practice it, it lingers in the back of your mind – nagging at you. My peeps are great examples of this tip because they have full-time jobs, relationships, and families, but still live their passions. One illustrates. One teaches hot yoga. Another plays guitar. Another plays video games. And they do these things almost every day.

3. Stand up for it. Who cares what <fill in the blank> thinks? It doesn’t matter if they criticize it. You are responsible for finding your own happiness, not theirs. And if they really love you, they should see how important it is to you.

4. Never settle. This is the most dangerous action we can take. Settling can lead to regret and doubt. To our knowledge, we only live once so make the best of it. Find your path and follow it, even if it’s exhausting. Once you get there, you’ll be glad you kept going.

5. Remember your dreams. Life gets in the way of almost everything. Deal with it. Don’t stop believing in yourself and your dreams. If you find another passion and drop another one, that’s okay. If you have several, work them all in. Strive to do what you love and never give up.

Here are some of my favorite people who live their passions!

Bucket List Publications

Cinemassacre/AVGN

Geek and Sundry

Life Lessons Learned from Video Games 1: Found Food is Good For You!

Like most of the American generation born between 1975-1985, I grew up in the golden age of video games.  Starting with an Atari 400, moving to an Atari 800XL, an NES, and finally settling with Sega consoles throughout much of the 90s, I became a “gamer” at an early age and remain one to this day.  Recently elitists and exclusionists have hijacked that term, but to me a “gamer” is still just someone who enjoys playing games.  Any games from the board variety, to the cellphone kind, to the newest console release.  Whether they play once a month or 24/7, whether they’re hardcore MMORPGrs with hundreds of hours logged or they just play the Sims on their PC, it’s the pure enjoyment of playing a game that makes one a gamer.  Not how high they’re ranked, how many accessories you own, or how many noobs you’ve pwned.  At it’s heart, gaming is just entertainment; it’s not life or death.  So to all my generation who live and breathe by their gear, their rankings, or their e-reputations … seriously … it’s just a game. Kick back and have some fun.

During my long gaming history I have learned a lot of lessons, lessons that apply to both the real world and the virtual world.  Real world lessons aren’t always apparent, and the games that teach them can sometimes be surprising.  Virtual lessons are more about the peculiarities of the gaming world, ways you learn to interact with a world of invisible walls and filled with store clerks who never leave their desks and repeat the same two lines over and over for all eternity.

Since this is the first post of this type, I thought I’d keep it light and start with a virtual world lesson:

If You Are Ever Injured, Seek Out Turkeys, Apples, Pizzas, Pork Chops, and Sodas Hidden in your Environment … and EAT Them Instantly!

I know what everyone’s thinking … eating found food doesn’t sound like a good idea but, trust me, I spent a lot of time playing Castlevania, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Streets of Rage 2 & 3, and Final Fight.  Found food will help you immeasurably.  A turkey found in a garbage can you’ve just smashed into a fading, dented version of  itself after breaking heads all over Metro City or a roast uncovered after you’ve whipped some brick walls of a Transylvania castle into rubble will save your life!  This is one of those lessons I’ve always questioned as I’ve played games, but it shows up again and again.  I can’t imagine grabbing food out of the trash or a crumbling castle being good for one’s constitution, but don’t take my word for it; ask Simon, Donatello, or Axel…it’ll bring you back from near death.

Castlevania Meat
There’s the delicious, life-saving food item…found by smashing open the walls of a musty evil castle…
TMNT Food
Ever been near-death beating up weird spider-things and guys with chainsaws in a warehouse? Look around and see if there’s a pizza floating in the air on a blue square! A WHOLE pizza too. Those are the best ones….
Streets of Rage 2 Apple
Taken some hits pummeling street trash through blue back alleys and baseball fields? Luckily there’s an apple hidden in a roadside sign. That’ll give you the boost you need!  Eat the apple, Axel…EAT IT!
Streets of Rage 2 Turkey
And if you’re in REAL trouble knock over the random trashcan and you may discover a fully-cooked turkey dinner complete with platter!

Now, obviously, game programmers and designers probably got a little sick of using medical kits and vague red crosses as health power ups.  It still seems strange that food as a medical restorative was and still is so popular.  In the amazing fantasy world of video games it’s one of those things we just take for granted.  But who says it can’t be applied to real life?  I say we all give  it a try.

So lesson learned.  Next time you feel life slipping away and the world (or a gang of thugs) is beating you down, break open a nearby sign, rock, garbage can, or potted plant and eat the tasty contents revealed.  Instantly.  And watch the profound impact on your health!