The Necessity of Sacrifice

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The Union Army stood three miles from victory.

After killing or wounding a quarter of Robert E. Lee’s troops the previous day, a final charge could have spelled the end of the Civil War. With the Potomac River at their backs, the Confederates braces themselves for a final stand on September 18th, 1862.

All day they waited. Nothing happened.

Outnumbered 3-to-1, Lee’s forces were somehow able to slip across the river and back into Virginia. The war would last another two and a half years.

This wasn’t the first time General George B. McClellan had overestimated his enemy. During his Peninsula Campaign, he regularly reported to Washington that he faced an army of 200,000 Confederates (the actual number was 85,000). Such tendencies grated the nerves of Abraham Lincoln, who once remarked, “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”

Shortly before the Battle of Antietam, the Union general once again dreamed up a superior opponent. Believing the Confederates were three times their actual size, McClellan refused to send reinforcements during several crucial point in the battle. And when the enemy was pinned at the river the following day, he did nothing.

An honest review of McClellan’s failures as General reveals a common problem: He had an extreme fear of sacrifice. Though armed with superior forces, his concerns about losing his men inevitably caused a great deal more to be lost.

Strangely, McClellan’s struggles in this area are not dissimilar to the ones we face on an individual level. To win the battles that emerge in life, we’re often required to harbor an extreme willingness for sacrifice.

This shit goes pretty deep, so bear with me.

You and Your Sub-selves

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To understand the necessity of sacrifice, you must first comprehend the nature of your Self. As I’ve mentioned before, this a very tricky endeavor.

One of the reasons this topic is so confusing is that when you talk about yourself, you’re actually referring to a composite of different people. Think about it this way. Are you the same person around your friends as you are your family? What about your girlfriend? Or your co-workers? Or your pastor? Or your dentist?

Chances are, you behave differently depending on your context. So when are “you” the real you?

Much like an army, your identity is actually composed of a number of different actors. If you’ve ever heard of things like an inner Child, an inner Rebel, or an inner Critic, then you have some idea of how this “person-within-a-person” can function.

If you wanna get picky, you could technically divide these “sub-selves” down to infinity. But instead of getting into all of that, the important point here is that the thing you call you is actually a mixture of a bunch of underlying you’s.

Of course, if you’re composed of things that are underlying, there must exist some higher thing from which your selves originate, right? Indeed, there is some consistent, higher thing to which you can attach your identity: The act of observance. 

While you may act like a hoodlum around your friends and an angel around your in-laws, you are the only thing that is consistently observing yourself within these contexts. From womb to tomb, a constant Watcher lies inside you, forever looking down upon all of his various offshoots.

It’s not hard to see how this idea can be equated with spirituality. Whether through prayer, meditation or auditing, people have shown a remarkable willingness to separate from themselves and appeal to this higher, observant entity. They rely on Its wisdom to lead them through the battle, and eventually, deliver them from the suffering that stems from the greater war.

To whom else does this logic apply? You guessed it! A general. Much like the head of an army, your Higher Self is responsible for evaluating Its forces and directing them toward victory.

Problem is, some of us have shitty Generals.

The Necessity of Sacrifice 

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If you’ve ever studied the Bible, you’ve probably heard a disturbing little tale about a dude named Abraham.

As the story goes, God called on Abraham one day and requested a small favor: He wanted him to murder his son. Abraham’s all like “WTF, God?” But God’s like, “do it or you’ll pay.” So Abraham binds his kid and carries him to the top of a mountain. As he’s about to deliver the killing blow, God comes in at the last minute as is like, “Haha, jk bro. It was all a test.”

One might come away from this story thinking God’s a sick bastard. Regardless, the myth of Abraham and Isaac remains poignant because it speaks to one of the harshest truths about being human: We have to kill the things we love.

To flesh out this idea a little further, let’s return to our metaphor of the General.

During the heat of battle, it is often necessary for a general to send some of his men into certain death. While these sacrifices are painful, they’re a necessary step in preventing the future suffering which would follow a defeat.

And so it is with our sub-selves. To ease emotional conflict, one must be willing to sacrifice various facets of her identity depending on the conditions of the battle. What’s more, the refusal to do so will only allow these turmoils to fester.

For example, consider a woman who discovers her husband has been cheating on her. This woman may take great pride in her marriage. She and her husband may have been high school sweethearts, and they may now have two kids and be active figures in their community.

Yet after accidentally opening some risque texts from another chick one day, she will suddenly be faced with a dilemma: Is this betrayal worth killing herself?

Make no mistake. A divorce would be a death sentence. This woman’s role as a wife forms a very significant portion of her identity, and confronting her husband about his misdeeds would require her to put down that thing she has spend so long growing and nurturing.

Yet if she’s not willing to sacrifice this part of herself, she will suffer “God’s” judgement through permanent damage to her self-esteem. And this effect would bleed into all of the other areas of her life. As such, sacrificing her sub-self as a wife is a necessary step to avoid the punishment that would befall her entire army.

In order to make these sacrifices, one must turn to a General who is not afraid of them.

The Power of Vulnerability

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After McLellan’s demotion, the Union eventually turned to Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.

Early in the war, Grant had gained fame for his victory at Fort Donnelson, after which his superiors accused him of “neglect and inefficiency” for attacking without their permission. Meanwhile, Sherman became known for his March to the Sea, which saw his men destroy the homes and supplies of damn near every Confederate City they encountered.

“War is cruelty,” Sherman once remarked, “the crueler it is the sooner it will be over.”

Their willingness to engage in bloody conflicts caused many to refer to Grant and Sherman as “butcher” generals. However, their tactics were effective. A little over a year after the two gained power, the Civil War came to a conclusion.

Easing the conflicts that emerge in our own lives often requires us to act with similar aggression as Grant and Sherman. This practice is what’s called vulnerability, and the attitude can be one of the most empowering qualities a person can have.

When you are vulnerable, you make the conscious choice not to hide your thoughts and feelings. This process can be downright painful, because it requires you to offer up various parts of yourself for slaughter.

For instance, telling your boss that he’s asking too much from you at work could potentially cause you to lose your role as an employee. However, you’ll need to surrender this sub-self if you want to end the suffering that comes with your work-related stress.

Many times, you’ll find this attitude is highly rewarding.

It might be surprising to learn that your boss values your honesty; or that people don’t judge you when you’re new at the gym; or that the world doesn’t end when you ask out that chick you like.

But like McClellan, we often avoid battles that could easily be won out of an irrational fear of sacrifice. And when this response goes unchecked, it will sometimes cause us to twiddle our thumbs while the enemy retreats behind the Potomac.

By fostering a willingness for sacrifice, we are able to step above the confines of our monkey brains and do what makes Him happy.

It’s cruel. It’s weird. It’s nonsensical. But it’s all we’ve got.

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In Defense of the Crazy Person

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“Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”

While country legend Steve Earle has since walked back on the above quote, it contains a popular sentiment among songwriters: Townes Van Zandt was one of the greatest to ever do it.

With lyrics that combine witty, homespun platitudes with masterful prose, Van Zandt has influenced nearly every figure in the Folk/ Americana scene since his debut.  His work has graced the top of Billboard’s Top 100, and has been featured on acclaimed TV shows like True Detective, Breaking Bad and Deadwood.

In spite of this status as one of music’s all time greats, Townes spent the majority of his life in utter squalor.

One can’t blame his upbringing. With nearly perfect SAT scores and a wealthy heritage, Townes’ parents groomed him to be a lawyer or senator. Yet as he aged, Van Zandt began to suffer mental breakdowns, after which doctors diagnosed him as a manic depressive.

Unable to fit in anywhere else in the world, Townes turned to music. His songwriting prowess was soon noticed, and after moving to Nashville, Van Zandt secured a record deal and released a series of albums in the early-70s.

Though these records contain some of the greatest songwriting ever recorded, the rest of Townes’ career fell victim to his mental illness.

Living in cheap hotels and backwoods cabins, Townes’ performances were limited to small dive bars. He became a raging alcoholic by the mid-1970s, often having to quit midway through a show because he was too drunk.

Confined to a wheelchair by the 1990s, Townes died on a friends couch at the age of 52.

Though many hold Townes as the quintessential example of a tortured artist, his genius spurs another uncomfortable question: How could a person so keenly aware of the human condition also be so terrible at navigating it?

Townes is far from the only genius to be plagued by mental health issues. In fact, it seems as though a high proportion of the world’s most innovative minds are also batshit crazy.

While it’s dangerous to romanticize mental health issues, there’s evidence suggesting “crazy” people may actually be more in tune with reality than we’d like admit.

The Denial of Death

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In his Pulitzer-prize winning book The Denial of Death, anthropologist Earnest Becker proposes that everything in human life stems from the desire to conceal death. And I’m serious. Everything. 

Technology, architecture, religion, art, morality, politics – society at large is designed to protect us from the uncomfortable truth that we’re gonna die.

The reasoning behind this idea is two-fold. First there’s good ole Darwinism, which posits that the genes best-suited for survival will be the ones passed on to future generations. As such, the material that makes us “us” will invariably be inclined to avoid death. It’s in our DNA.

The second reason is that we humans inhabit a world of objects and symbols.

Though we’re confined to physical bodies, our brains can also remember the past and project the future. This grants us a “symbolic” self. And since we know the physical self is gonna die, Becker argues that the object of a person’s life is to prolong the survival of the symbolic self. This quest becomes what he labels an “immortality project.”

People seek this immortality in a myriad of ways. Whether it’s having children, stamping their name on buildings, or subscribing to a religion in which they’re told they will live forever – all immortality projects are designed to convince the symbolic self that it will survive its physical death.

Furthermore, clashes between immortality projects are the source of all societal conflict. Indeed, religion and politics prove to be such testy subjects because they are key features of a person’s symbolic self. When someone challenge these notions, he can literally be viewed as a threat to survival.

If you take Becker’s work at face value, it’s easy to see how mental illness can be a rational response to the world around us.

When You Can’t Deny

Imagine a radioactive toxin is accidentally released on your town. Afterwards, doctors tell you the effects from this exposure are most certainly going to kill you and everyone you know. However, they’re not sure if it will happen today or in 50 years. How would you feel?

This scenario is the premise behind Dan Delilo’s postmodern masterpiece White Noise. The irony behind it is simple: Life is like a toxin that will eventually kill everyone.

The characters in White Noise all go crazy after their exposure to the Airborne Toxic Event. And likewise, many people go crazy after being exposed to the conditions of life.

Indeed, people suffering from depression/anxiety may actually be more in tune with the nature of reality. For instance, depressed people have been shown to have a more accurate idea about their importance, sense of control and general capabilities than their happier counterparts.

What’s the reasoning behind this depressive realism? It’s easy to understand under Becker’s framework.

Namely, depressed people are merely realizing the doomed nature of their Immortality Projects.  Whether you’re a failed artist, a war veteran, or a parent who’s lost a child, any disruption to your symbolic self’s sense of immortality will expose it to the horror of its inevitable death. In turn, your mental framework will be one which centers around  hopelessness and despair.

Likewise, Becker proposes that other mental illnesses are related to the breakdown of an Immortality Project.

For instance, schizophrenics attribute the voices they hear in their heads to an outside party. In turn, they lose their sense of a symbolic self, and their Immortality Projects are rendered useless. Such a degradation once again exposes to the schizophrenic to death, which often leads to him hearing voices that tell him to harm himself.

Likewise, clinical narcissists are unable to fulfill their Immortality Projects in the outside world. Therefore, they create an interior framework in which the world centers around them. While this behavior is toxic to everyone around them, the narcissist’s self-centered worldview is a necessary survival mechanism.

The same reasoning can be applied to a host of other mental illnesses. Yet the important point here is that these maladies may actually be attached to a more accurate realization of the world.

Such an etiology would both explain why so many mental illnesses are co-concurrent, and why a high proportion of the world’s great minds are batshit crazy.

Staying Sane

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I know that I’m painting a pretty bleak picture here. And indeed, Becker doesn’t offer any real solutions the problem of our doomed Immortality Projects. Perhaps there are none.

Yet even though “crazy” people may actually be seeing the world more clearly, that’s not to say one should romanticize such illnesses.

First, this reasoning fails to take into account the chemical side of the equation. After all, biological processes do affect our mental framework; doctors speculate that people who have issues regulating chemicals like serotonin and dopamine are particularly prone to mood disorders (though the evidence for this theory is controversial). Such maladies can be treated with things like medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, so one shouldn’t succumb to depressive realism without considering the effects of brain chemistry.

Second, mental illness also brings about cognitive biases of its own. For instance, some mental issues lead to what’s called “all-or-nothing” thinking, which causes a person to view situations as either completely good or completely bad.

Yet when you look a little closer, you can see the nature of things isn’t so sharply-defined.

If you’ve ever played with a puppy, scuba-dived in the Bahamas, or went drinking with a group of life-long friends, you know there are certain experiences that are irreplaceable. The problem of our doomed Immortality Projects steals nothing from these moments. And since our lives are but a mere composite of moments, they cannot be completely bad.

Thus, it is possible for one to remain sane while recognizing the absurdity of the world. People do it every day.  However, to chalk up the worldview of “crazy” people to chemical imbalances or poor perspective ignores the very real existential plight they are facing.

There’s a reason so many of the world’s great minds are also batshit crazy. Perhaps the only difference between a visionary like Townes Van Zandt and your average, run-of-the mill drifter is dumb luck.

So have some sympathy for the crazy person. She’s may not be as loopy as you think.

Trump, and the Subtleties of Not Giving a Fuck

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If you’re just reading this after waking up from a coma, let me first congratulate for stumbling on my humble, little blog. Your priorities are solid. Next, I would ask that you take a seat, cause I have a piece of news that’s a bit of doozy.

Take a deep breath. I’m gonna say it quickly:

Donald Trump is the president of the United States.

Shh, shh. It’s okay. If you’re wondering how this happened, most of us are still doing the same.

But from where we’re sitting, Trump’s been in office for about two months now. During that time, he’s launched a slew of national protests and established himself as the least popular president to in the quickest amount of time.

In these next four years, you’re going to hear story after story about Trump’s various Tweets and misdoings. But as you go about reorganizing your life, it’s important for you to understand what exactly caused him to rise in first place.

Xenophobia, racism and populism have all been cited as explanations for Trump’s ascent to power. While these reasons contain a kernel of truth, much of Trump’s rise can actually be attributed to a subtlety important philosophy he displayed throughout his campaign:

Namely, Donald Trump did not give a fuck.

During his candidacy, Trump showed that he did not give two hoots about the established political order. Talk about your dick in a national debate? Fuck it. Ban an entire religion from entering the country? Why the fuck not.

Say what you will about The Donald. But despite the pundits predicting his downfall every step of the way, Trump kept marching to his own, heinous little beat. And you’ve gotta admit – before you thought he could win, some teenie part of you thought it was entertaining.

As a matter of fact, this “no fucks given” mentality is actually one of the most liberating qualities a person can have, which is largely what drew people to Trump. Yet this state of “not giving a fuck” becomes dangerous when it’s channeled toward the wrong means.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

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Before we return to Trump, it’s helpful to understand why not giving a fuck is a trait that’s so important.

One of my favorite bloggers, Mark Manson, recently released a book on the topic called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Despite the gimmicky title, the work contains some pretty profound insights into the liberation that comes with the “no fucks given” mentality. Here’s a brief summary of Manson’s argument:

Throughout our lives, an endless amount of forces are competing for our fucks. We give a fuck about our education. We give a fuck about our careers. We give a fuck about our reputation, our family, our political parties and whether or not the barista spelled our name correctly on our caramel venti mocha.

Obviously, some of these things are pretty fuck-worthy. Yet when we dole out our fucks too liberally, that’s when life fucks us.

The examples of this trend abound, but an easy one can be seen in a guy who struggles with this ladies. This dude gives a lot of fucks about his loneliness. But when the opportunity to speak to someone he finds attractive presents itself, he’ll usually stare at the floor and go buy another drink. After too any of these encounters, he’ll start complaining about how women can’t see the value in “nice guy” and wallow in self pity.

This guy gives too many fucks. He’s not willing to risk the inevitable awkwardness and rejection that comes with dating, but he still feels like he’s entitled to a vibrant love life.

On the contrary, a person with a healthy attitude doesn’t give a fuck about rejection or loneliness. He has higher priorities like his career, his hobbies, his family and friends. As a result, he feels no fear in communicating his interest with women, and in turn, he will have more success in the dating game.

In this example, it’s the man’s lack of fucks that makes the difference. And so it is with most of life’s challenges.

Wanna quit your job and start a business? You have to not give a fuck. Wanna end a relationship with a toxic family member? You have to not give a fuck. Wanna run for president when people think you’re a joke? Well, you get the point…

Every choice you make requires you to surrender something. And in order to make the proper sacrifices, you have to quit giving a fuck about potential losses. Because when you give a fuck about everything, you feel entitled to a cozy, problem-free existence. But sorry y’all; that world doesn’t exist.

As we get older, the people we used to worry about impressing begin to move away and die, and we come to realize this truth. But a barrier exists within American culture that is preventing people from achieving this state, and Trump capitalized on it…

The 21st-Century American Shame

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In many cases, shame is the mechanism that causes us to give a fuck. For instance, the man who suffers from Nice Guy sydrome is ashamed to communicate sexual interest, and this causes him to struggle with the ladies.

Yet not all forms of shame are bad. Sometimes you experience an uncomfortable, but tolerable, feeling when you do something that makes people judge you negatively – like farting in public. This feeling is called external shame, and it prevents us from acting like (and using our) assholes around each other.

On the other hand, there’s internal shame, which is way more insidious.

Internal shame is a constant sense of being undesirable. It usually stems from childhood experiences during which a person is repeatedly and relentlessly shamed for her behavior. As a result, she will feel the need to please some arbitrary judge throughout her adulthood, which can result in depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

Due to changing economic conditions, I propose that a sense of internal shame has festered within the American populace. This may seem like a stretch, but hear me out.

Below are two charts that compare the median income, housing prices and costs of tuition between 1971 and 2014 (all numbers are in 2014 dollars, and the housing prices are listed at 60% of the median for young men and 80% of the median for young families).

Young Men (25-34)

Income

House Price

Down Payment

Monthly PITI

Pct. of Income to PITI

Cost Of Tuition

1971

$44,646

$86,000

$17,200

$655

17.6%

$8,000

2014

$36,097

$170,000

$34,000

$950

31.6%

$23,500

Young Families (25-34)

Income

House Price

Down Payment

Monthly PITI

Pct. of Income to PITI

Cost Of Tuition

1971

$53,522

$115,000

$23,000

$875

19.6%

$16,000

2014

$53,477

$227,000

$45,400

$1,267

28.4%

$47,000

As you can see, in a period of over 50 years, income has decreased for single men and remained stagnant for young families. Meanwhile, housing costs have doubled while tuition has tripled.

With a greater portion of people’s money being spent on tuition and mortgages – vacations, cars and other luxuries are less affordable. As a result, many in our generation cannot live up to the standards on which they were raised, which leads to an increased feeling of internal shame.

For a culture that worships material wealth and achievement, these developments are costly. Indeed, a shocking 2015 study showed that white Americans in the Rust Belt are beginning to die at an earlier rate (the only country in the developed world to experience such a trend). Is it any coincidence that these same areas are overrun with heroin, meth and alcoholism?

No. The meaning people once derived from their lives is disappearing. We cannot achieve the lifestyle we were raised to believe was valuable, and as a result, we do not feel valuable.

Enter: Donald Trump.

The 2016 Campaign

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In psychology, a phenomenon known as transference occurs when a person projects her emotions onto an unrelated party. If you’ve ever avoided dating someone because s/he reminds you of an ex, you’ve experienced this feeling to an extent.

With leadership roles, people tend to gravitate toward figures onto whom they can project their desire to escape fear. For instance, if the pilot of your aircraft suddenly suffers a heart attack, you’re desperately going to want to find a leader in the cabin who can land the plane safely.

As I explained in the last section, the central problem of our generation is the failure to reap the fruits of a growing economy. This trend leaves people ashamed. And as shown by the developments of 2016, voters are seeking to transfer that shame onto a leader whom they view as having defeated such a limitation.

In other words, people wanted someone who doesn’t give a fuck. And in the last election, they were a lot of them.

During the 2016 campaign, “outsider” candidates dominated. Of the nearly 62 million votes cast in the primaries, Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders won 56.6% of them. These guys had virtually no support from their respective establishments. Sanders was an independent; Cruz was hated by every member of his party; and Trump was a fucking celebrity.

Yet these candidates were able to break the historical mold and win a substantial majority of the vote. Why? Because they didn’t have to give a fuck.

With no “higher-ups” to please, the outsiders of 2016 did not have to tamper their rhetoric. This allowed Sanders to castigate the billionaire class (who help fund most campaigns) and Trump to talk about his dick on national television.

Meanwhile, candidates like Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio had to “give a fuck” about the standards of their party. They were more ashamed to speak non-formally on the campaign trail, which led to the inoffensive, “please-everyone” rhetoric voters are used to hearing (seriously: remember when Mitt Romney’s 47% remark was enough to doom him  five years ago)?

With a sense of internal shame festering within them, people were no longer comforted by this manufactured formality. So, they chose to turn to leaders who did not display any.

Aaaaaand.. then we got Agent Orange.

This trend wasn’t just confined to America. In 2016, the Philippines elected the Hitler-esque Duterte, and Britain voted to leave the European Union. Both of these movements rode the backs of shameless leaders who were “telling-it-like-it-is.”

So, if this state of not-giving-a-fuck is such a good thing, why is it being trumpeted by demagogues?

When Not Giving A Fuck Goes Wrong

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There’s a bit of a misunderstanding when it comes to not giving a fuck. Namely, it’s not actually possible.

Behind every action lies an intention. Even if you’re on the block, with two glocks, screaming fuck the world like Tupac, you’re still giving a fuck about not giving a fuck. Thus, it’s impossible not to care about anything.

So, to determine where a person is allocating his fucks, the best place to look his actions. And in Trump’s case, his actions show that the prime source of his fuck-channeling is his himself.

Many have labelled Trump a narcissist. People who suffer from this disorder think that the world centers around them; others are merely tools with which the narcissist can fulfill his emotional needs.

When you look closely, you can see that Trump’s prime motivator is attention. So far in his life, Trump has posed as a publicist to spread stories about who he’s dating. He’s thrown his name on buildings, steaks, board games and vodka. He’s undermined Muslims, immigrants and women to construct a voter base. And in all of these actions, Donald Trump has been the prime beneficiary.

So, yeah. Trump’s probably a narcissist. He’s very good at not giving a fuck about the things that don’t suit his purpose, but the only purpose he is trying to serve is the promotion of himself..

In spite of these motivations, I don’t necessarily buy into the narrative that Trump poses a critical threat to America. Other developed countries have elected egomaniacs, and they’re only slightly worse for the wear.

Instead, I think the best response to Trump is to question what he, and we, are giving a fuck about.

Namely, we should ask ourselves if our dislike of Trump stems from a desire to have everyone else share our worldview, or if we dislike him because we care about the people his actions might hurt. The former reason is narcissistic; the latter is important.

So, perhaps we stop quit giving a fuck about where Kellyanne Conway is kneeling, and start giving a fuck about how medicaid cuts are going to affect the impoverished. Perhaps we should quit caring about Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, and begin caring about how tax breaks will continue to widen the income inequality that has been killing middle America.

The fucks that we give define us. It’s subtle, but opposition to Trump can be as self-serving as the methods he used to gain power. Half of America is watching the lives they once knew crumble. While voting for Trump ran against their best-interests, the action is motivated by a real life-or-death struggle.

So maybe we should stop giving a fuck about the trivial games of the politicians, and start giving a fuck about them.

The Dangers of Dreaming

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You see it written on the social media bios of millennials everywhere:

I have wanderlust.

The phrase has become pretty ubiquitous lately. And it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea, in and of itself. It signals an “intense desire to travel.” And since extended traveling has been shown to improve things like openness, extroversion and emotional stability, you can’t really fault someone for liking it.

But for many people, traveling is not just something they like. They have to lust for it. It’s like the idea becomes Christian Grey. They want it to pin them up against the wall, douse their back in candlewax and call them a filthy slut.

And in essence, that’s what having “wanderlust” can do to your self-esteem.

Riddle me this: If your desire to travel is so strong that you’re literally lusting for it, then what stops you from doing it? Sure. There are plenty of excuses: You’ve got a family! You’ve got friends! You have a job! You’re in school!

But sorry, y’all. If you’re not preparing for a lifestyle that centers around traveling, you don’t actually have an “intense desire to travel.” You have an intense desire to dream.

You see, “Wanderlust” suffers the same problem as many of our dreams: They come from a good place, but many tend to fall in love with the image more than the practice.

It’s hard to blame people for this problem. Between the various Disney movies, advertisements, and national mythoses, we’ve all kinda grown up with the belief that our lives should be really special and awesome. Yet this narrative is pretty un-realistic, and if you fall for it too hard, it can become toxic.

While a little “dreaming” is okay every now and then, the act comes with an inherent problem. What’s more, falling victim to this flaw can take away the control you need in life.

The Utility of Dreams

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The biggest problem with dreams is that they cause you to flee from the world in which you actually live. In that sense, they’re useful – because sometimes the world kinda sucks.

Thomas Hobbes famously speculated that the base state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”Before the rise of societies, our neighbors could club us on the head at any moment and steal all of our food without much consequence.

To flee from this ugliness, Hobbes postulated that a “social contract” emerged in which humans submit themselves to a higher power ( i.e. the law) to maintain civility.

But this contract seems pretty arbitrary in its nature. After all, the same force that caused our ancestors to steal from each other – self-preservation – is still pretty much the basis of our behavior. Yet we construct a system that conceals this ugliness from being displayed in the open, and it helps make our world a little better.

Our dreams serve a similar purpose.

It’s not fun to think that our lives will consist of 45 years and a cubicle, or that the person we’re marrying could turn into a deadbeat alcoholic. So we submit to a dream. In our mind’s eye, we’re on track for a fulfilling, purposeful career with a loving spouse and a big home with a white picket fence.

These visions provide us hope, allowing us to forget that we live in a cruel, uncertain world that could come crashing down on us at any moment.  Yet our dreams are merely projections of the mind; we don’t have a goddamned clue if they’re true or not until after we’ve experienced them.

That’s not to say that dreaming is bad. It’s just that too much dreaming much comes with a big problem…

“Dreaming” is often a form of low self-esteem

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In many big cities, there are agents whose jobs are to “discover” young talent, guarantee them fame, then get them to pay a large upfront fee for their services. Hucksters like these make a living from exploiting people’s dreams, and the best way to avoid them is to start with the premise that your life is okay as it is.

This trait is what we call self-acceptance, and it is a key component of self-esteem.  Yet “dreaming” inherently undermines your ability to accept yourself, because it causes you to reject your current identity.

Identity is a tricky concept, but it can be said to consist of two parts: the external and the internal.

Your external identity is what’s imposed upon on you by the environment. It includes things like your job title, your skin color, your nationality, etc. Conversely, your internal identity is how you perceive yourself in relation to these traits.

A person with healthy self-esteem has a consistent internal/external narrative. She’s honest about her emotions. She’s comfortable with her circumstances. She appreciates  the people around her, and she’s not ashamed of her heritage. Basically, she has no shame about her position in life.

On the other hand, a “dreamer” is constantly  rejecting her external identity.

She’s the person who always wants a better job, cooler friends, bigger boobs and a different city.  Her entire self-concept is geared to reject the environment by which it’s shaped. Thus, she never really accepts herself, and consequently, has low self-esteem.

This reasoning goes against most of what we’re taught to believe. After all,  life’s about achieving that Next Big Thing, right? If we’re content with the way things are, what incentive do we have to change?

Here’s the solution to this dilemma…

Dream About What You’re Doing

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The main difference between a dream and a goal is action.

When you act, you bring the features from your internal identity out into the external world. This process of bringing your “Inner Self” out is what I call integration, and it’s the main premise of my upcoming book (stay tuned).

But for now, let’s say you’re dreaming about moving to New York. There are tangible steps you can take which would bring you closer to that goal. For instance, you could save $200  every paycheck for your flight. You could begin contacting people within your network who live in the city. You could apply to jobs, apartment complexes, and clubs to join right now.

Yet if you avoid taking these steps, the idea of “moving to New York” is merely a dream. You probably don’t even want to do it. Instead, the idea of escape is what’s attracting you, and that’s an indication of low self-esteem.

In a culture that worships material wealth and achievement, embracing an ordinary life can seem blasphemous. Yet the truth is that most of us are going to be “average” in the long run. That’s like, how math works.

So instead of striving to escape our positions, sometimes the best path forward is to find contentment in the mundane.  The novelist David Foster Wallace sums up the idea beautifully in the following quote:

“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer.”

In the absurdity of existence, there’s something courageous about a person who can spend his entire life doing dull, thankless tasks. Perhaps these people are the real heroes – not the ones who blind fate deems beautiful, rich, or intelligent.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive for greatness. It’s just that if you have big goals, you should be doing something in your daily life to bring you closer to them.

Because at the end of the day, you are what you do. Thus, loving your actions – both the routine and transcendental – is a feat of self-compassion.

 It won’t all be glorious. But when your glory comes from within, your dreams will become a part of the reality in which you reside.

Getting to the Root of Anxiety

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You’ve been dreading the confrontation for weeks.

You and your girls booked a trip to Cabo, which will require you to take a week off from work. But your boss is one of those old school, “don’t-call-in-unless-your-dead” types, and you know he’s going to throw a fit at your request.

Alas, the deadline to put in your two-week notice has arrived, and it’s now or never.

You down a Red Bull in the car and pump yourself up to some Beyonce. Your mind is set; as soon as you enter the office, you’re going to tell him what’s up. But as you walk towards the door, your pulse begins to pound, and all of the worst-case scenarios start running through your head.

What will he say? Will he hold a grudge against you? Will your coworkers be mad? Will you lose your job?

As you round the corner, you see him seated at his desk with his sergeant-like posture.

“Good morning, Johnson,” he barks.

“Morning sir,” you gulp.

Your heart drops. Before you know it you’ve reached your cubicle, and suddenly the prospect of canceling your reservations seems easier.

This, my friends, is anxiety. We all know the feeling. And it kinda sucks.

We experience this fear in a variety of situations. Whether it’s a difficult confrontation, a first date, a job interview or an important test, many aspects of our lives provide us this type of stress.

Sometimes the feeling is useful. When we’ve got a lot on the line, an emotional kick in the ass is often what we need to get up and going.

But on the other hand, this feeling can also sap our very enjoyment of life.

For instance, imagine being so afraid of contracting a disease that you constantly wash your hands until they bleed. Or that the sound of the letter “B” inspires so much fear that you feel you must tap your head 50 times to cancel it out.

You see, the exact mechanism that prevents you from confronting your boss is also the conduit for such dysfunctional behavior.

While you may not need to count every ceiling tile before leaving your house right now, there are probably some issues in your own life tied to that little anxiety demon.

Luckily, a little tinkering with your thoughts can help you recognize the irrationality of this feeling, which will lead you toward a better life.

Why do we feel anxiety?

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Anxiety is defined as a “fear or nervousness about something that might happen.”

Whether it’s the butterflies you feel before a first date or the dread that accompanies OCD, all forms of anxiety stem from an emotion attached to an expectation.

The main actors in this feeling are the tiny, almond-shaped thingy’s in your brain called the amygdala. These little guys trigger your body’s fight or flight response, a survival mechanism that allows you to quickly react to situations you perceive as life-threatening.

Thus, anxiety serves as a form of self-defense.

When you sense a threat, like a stranger following you down a dark alley, anxiety tells you to either run away or start recalling that karate class you took in second grade.

More subtly, this feeling also works to defend the idea of yourself.

For instance, you might consider yourself to be an incredible musician (in spite of the fact that you’ve never booked a gig). When someone questions your life’s direction, you could “fight” this threat by calling him an idiot, or”fly” from your doubts by numbing them with drugs or alcohol.

Either way, both of these responses are designed to protect your ego’s survival.

Again, sometimes this feeling is useful. If you imagine yourself to be a future attorney, failing the LSAT’s poses a pretty severe threat to that idea. Thus, you might “fight” your anxiety by viciously studying every night.

But when we turn to maladaptive behaviors to cope with these fears, anxiety can ruin our whole fucking lives.

Consider the unemployed dude who still lives with his parents. This man’s actually using a pretty effective coping mechanism for his anxiety. After all, if no one rejects him in the outside world, it’s easy to defend the idea that he is a cool, unique person.

But becoming too comfortable with this response might eventually cause him to shoot up an elementary school. You see, the “flight” behaviors are equally good at alleviating anxiety in the moment, but in the long run they kinda suck.

Yet when you’ve gotten used to hiding your whole life, mustering the courage to face your fears is often the most difficult step.

That’s why it’s important to understand the following: All of your fears are completely baseless.

Why your fears are bullshit

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The above chart gives the most succinct representation I know of why all fear is complete bullshit.

In every single situation you are ever going to face, two possibilities exist: you can control the outcome or you can’t. Given this, why are you worried about either?

Sure. Sometimes we face scenarios where a lot is at stake.

If the LSATs are coming up, you really, really need to do well on them to justify your $30,000 of  debt, right?

But even this situation falls into the domain of can or can’t-controlledness.

For off, your debt is a sunk cost. That money is gone forever. Second, if your career depends on a good grade, then you need to allocate the appropriate amount of time towards studying. If you can’t do that, then the situation is beyond your control. It’s that simple. Worrying about it won’t change a damn thing.

What’s more, even when shit does hit the fan, our bodies are actually really good at adapting to it.

In 1978, a group of researchers made the startling discovery that paralysis victims enjoy their day-to-day lives as much as recent lottery winners. That’s right. People who have suffered life-debilitating injuries experience the same amount of happiness as those who have seen their hopes and dreams come true.

 No matter what happens to us, we’re endowed with a strong propensity to eventually return to our baseline level of well being.

This fact might seem sobering, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

At the core of everything, we are beings of the present moment. Though the mind can project itself into a hypothetical future and replay what it’s already experienced, it forever remains locked in the now.

So what use does it have in becoming attached to that which is beyond its control? Whether you become a celebrity or a homeless person, you’re always going to be right here.

So get used to it, man. And quit taking things so seriously.

How to be afraid anyway

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Now that you know all of your fears are baseless, it’s time to go conquer the world right?

Not so fast, hombre.

Even with this divine knowledge, you will never escape the fact that you’re human. We have a certain name for people who don’t feel emotions: sociopaths.

So the trick isn’t to stop being afraid. The trick is to acknowledge your fears and keep acting anyway.

After college, I chose to start a freelancing career from scratch while traveling around the world. Obviously, this decision came with its fair share of doubt and anxiety.

But each time I would experience these feelings, I simply tried to acknowledge they were occurring and continue emailing my next client. And whaddyaknow, six months later things have gone just fine.

If you need to conquer your own anxiety, one great way to start is by taking small steps.

It could be something as simple as saying “hi” to a stranger each morning. Or driving to the gym three days this week – anything puts the current you in front of that which it has been avoiding.

By doing so, you acknowledge the presence of your fears then tell them to “fuck off” with your actions. And with each confrontation, you slowly begin to how irrational they were in the first place. This discovery is the catalyst for future action and the recipe for taking control of your life.

Because at the end of the day, anxiety is a primal fear whose sole purpose is to keep us alive.

But I’ve got bad news, gang: We’re all dying anyway.

With each moment, we retreat from our former selves into an unknown future that eventually comes to a permanent stop. Thus, our task is not to flee from the inevitable. It’s to embrace the fact, then discover ways to die a little better.

 So relax. Take a deep breath. And tell your bosses’ bitch ass that you’re going to Cabo.