What Are You Doing Today?

Maybe the most important thing we do in life is change.

If you are here and not growing, not learning, not transforming the world around you, then what will be left of you when you are gone? Fame, fortune, and history are all eventually washed from the shores of Time. There will be a day when those who seem to have surpassed history–Aristotle, Beethoven, Jesus, for example–when even those names are no longer familiar to anyone’s tongue.

If, in time, Time cleans the slate of all marks, all contribution… then the only time that matters for any of us is Now. The marks we leave on the world may be fleeting in the future but now they matter. Now.

The question you are left with, then, is: What are you doing today?

What are you doing today to matter in your own life?

What are you doing today to matter to somebody, even if that somebody is you?

What are you doing today to make your world a little better?

What are you doing today… that you will remember tomorrow… if you are lucky enough to see it?

Share

Why I Left Social Media Behind

I am dropping off Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, and most other social media platforms.

I know many people will not only relate to my reasons, but they might even applaud my decision (if only silently). I hope this experiment gives you some thought to the impact of social media and what value it brings to your life.

I am calling out Facebook here because it is easier than listing every platform, and it is the one I use most, as well as the biggest, easiest target. Think of “Facebook” as any social media service, though. I am talking about all of them.

Around 2005, I left cable television (hold on–this relates to the social media thing, I promise).

Watching TV stole months from my life. Time slipped away while I sat and watched it go each day. TV became my way of turning my brain off instead of engaging with the world. I found myself sitting to watch a show, and then channel surfing between shows, and then, before I knew it, half a day was gone. I didn’t even watch anything all the way through. That time was wasted. I learned nothing. I thought nothing. I did nothing. I might as well have been nothing, invisible to the world for the time spent staring mindlessly at a screen.

Dropping cable in favor of curated content from the internet or no content at all was a great decision. When I watch TV now, it is only when I actively choose to do so and I am engaged in the content. TV is no longer background noise to all my conversations. Instead, I listen to the person speaking rather than divide my attention between the person and commercials designed to steal my attention.

Facebook has slowly filled the gap cable television left. It has become the thing I do to avoid thinking when I am bored, scrolling mindlessly through my feed.

There are 5 real reasons I use Facebook and other social media and, except for one, they are all reasons I should reconsider…

1. Distribute my blog. This is the main reason I am on social media. Most of my readers find this blog and A Couple Vegans (which I write with Nicole) through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Moving away from social media means damaging my audience size and reach. That is scary. I have built this blog over roughly 10 years to amass around 4,000 subscribers. Admittedly, not much compared to bigger brands or names, but I never chased an audience or marketed this blog. Still, only about 200 readers consistently visit MichaelSalamey.com (maybe the rest are subscribed via email but–how many email subscriptions do you actually read each week?). A Couple Vegans is only a few months old and only has a handful of subscribers itself (about a hundred so far–also with no marketing other than word of mouth).

So… for you 300 or so people consistently visiting my blog(s), you might be the only people I am writing to in the future. Thanks for subscribing, by the way, and for sharing the posts you like. You are my only advertising.

2. I use social media to have meaningless relationships with people I do not want to have actual contact with in real life. That sounds bad but it is not a bad thing. Facebook allows me to exist on the periphery of the lives of people I almost care about… but not enough to actually engage with face-to-face. For someone like me, this is of great benefit.

As a slightly sociopathic but high-functioning ambivert, I am friendly to everybody… but, to be honest, I do not relate to most people. I am not even sure I like most people. In fact, only one or two people have open access to my time. Other than Nicole, nobody hangs out with me regularly.

Socially speaking, maybe that is pathetic. It is not you, though. It’s me.

At the risk of sounding (more) egotistical, perhaps I am that rare thing everyone believes themselves to be, but almost no one is… a man who thinks for himself.

My values, philosophy, beliefs, moral code, and system of ethics rarely integrate with those of others. Actually… never, so far. But I suspect that is why people read my blog–you can expect a unique view of things. In my personal life, I have been told no one can live up to my standards. So maybe it is not that I do not like most people. Maybe it is that I have yet to meet people who are more like me.

Living a life where the common ground I have with most people amounts to polite tolerance of each other, honestly, is lonely for me. I wish I could be dumber or smarter, instead of in this middle ground between average and almost-greatness… floating in some purgatory, unable to feel part of either mass popularity or eccentric genius.

Woe is me. First World problems. The point is, Facebook is a great way for some people to feel involved in the world without actually having to BE involved in the world. That is a mostly good thing but it is something I can use less of.

3. I stalk people and popular news stories. The same curiosity that drives people to the zoo drives me to keep up on news and social circles. We visit the zoo expecting to see elephants in their natural habitat, but instead see morbidly depressed animals slowly pacing or pooping. Part of us yearns to hear the elephant’s trumpet or watch a lion charge across the plains. Similarly, Facebook delivers less on its promise and more on the mundanity of our lives.

Social media updates are about what someone ate, aspirational quotes the posters have never incorporated into their lives, open displays of the obscure relationship some people have with their faith and binge-drinking. People check-in from whenever they are standing in line, or spout the bizarrely irrational political or dogmatic views they have. Some people insist on sharing their ignorance with the world. It’s confounding, but I am also probably one of them.

Still, I am too often disappointed when I see someone’s Facebook feed. I liked them before knowing their goofball endorsements of products or illogical values. It was better when I could assume they were, on most levels, rational.

4. To learn about local events. Social media is helpful for this. Nicole and I do a lot of cool things because of events posted on Facebook. Another plus of leaving it behind, though, is I might save money by not knowing about most events.

5. I use social media to pass time and avoid human interaction. It is easier–preferable, even–to avoid engaging strangers while standing in line or waiting for food. Instead, I can pretend that scanning short, mostly irrelevant articles or updates is extraordinarily important right at that moment. While waiting to have my groceries scanned, I stare at my phone like I am reading my secret agent mission dossier or studying up on quantum physics. I’m actually just looking at Caturday memes.

We like to think that “catching up on Facebook” is the same as “catching up with friends” but it is not the same. I must have an investment in someone’s life to “catch up” on their life. People share superficial thoughts, vague requests for prayers about problems I don’t understand for people I do not know (I love the term for this: “Vaguebooking”). We share memes and sensationalized news stories. That is not catching up with friends. That is walking through conversations at a dinner party… except without dinner or a party, or anywhere to go.

 

What will I do when I am bored now?

Those 5 things are not contributing enough to me, so I am leaving social media behind. My phrasing is important, by the way. I did not say “I am leaving social media”. I am saying, “I am leaving social media behind.” I am moving on, not away. I am going to find something better. However, I do not know what that is yet, exactly.

I guess I will write, think, speak to people, and read more books. Maybe I will just be present, observing and appreciating the world around me. Maybe I will engage my creative side and take time to daydream. Whatever I do to fill the time Facebook sucked away, I doubt I will look back and think, “I wish I spent less time enjoying the breeze on my face and more time staring at my phone, scrolling through dumb articles and avoiding my life.”

That being said, this is still an experiment. I am not deleting my accounts. I might change my mind on all of this, or I might want to try again with a different approach. What I plan to do is log out of my accounts and uninstall the apps from my phone.

That means my blog will still post on my social media streams for now, but nothing else will, and I won’t be sharing my posts on my personal Facebook feed, where most people see them.

Some people actually might miss me on social media. Well, at least I like to think that, but I suspect most people will never know I left. It’s like quietly slipping away from a party. Maybe one or two people will notice they have not seen me in a while, but they will move on in a few minutes.

The fact is, I am not as important as I like to think I am.

If you want to know what I am up to or how I am doing, though, then you will have to do something scary. You will have to choose if you want me in your life, how much time you would like me to spend there, and then connect with me directly. I might reject you. You might reject me. Or we might build a real, legitimate friendship in the real world. I know. Scary, right?

There are some apps I am keeping, at least for now. I will stay on WhatsApp because I can create specific social circles with people I care about (like my brothers and parents) where we can have conversations in small groups that matter, where every word counts. I am keeping Hangouts for texting–again, direct one-to-one conversations, and I plan to stay on other direct message platforms like GroupMe and Slack.

Of course, you will be able to text me, instant message me on Hangouts, email me (MichaelSalamey@gmail.com) or reach me through one of my blogs.

Honestly, you probably won’t know I’m gone, but if you miss me, don’t be a stranger… or at least no stranger than me. Hopefully, not seeing me on Facebook will help you wonder what I am up to, and what you could be up to if you were not on Facebook.

Good luck either way. Maybe I’ll see you later… in the real world!

Share

I Quit

“I can’t quit smoking. I’ve been doing it my whole life.” I have heard this excuse more than once. You can quit.

I am in my forties and I quit things all the time. I would even say I am a professional quitter, and maybe you should be, too.

Quitters get a bad rap but knowing when to say no is a value. Over the last two decades, I have quit eating meat and dairy, I quit believing I need 10 hours of sleep every night, I quit living in Michigan, I quit owning a TV, I quit playing video games, I quit a bad job, I quit believing what I could not prove or deduce logically, I quit some friends, I quit swearing (I keep quitting swearing–it’s tougher than I thought), and I quit living in debt, among many other things.

In fact, I actively look for things to quit. The older I grow, the more I realize how precious my time is and how important it is to say “No” to some things. For me, quitting something that is no longer contributing to my life, health, or prosperity opens doors to let me start new adventures, learn new things, and to create space for more of the actually important things.

It is a simple equation: the more things I give up, the more freedom I gain.

My next mission is to quit being overweight. After I went vegan, I dropped 50 pounds in a year but have hovered between 20-30 pounds over my ideal weight ever since. Like most people, I live a VERY sedentary lifestyle, sitting at a computer or in front of a screen the majority of almost every day. That is what I have to quit. I am not sure how I am going to do it but I have already taken some steps… literally. About 10,000 of them, actually, on most days. That means I quit waking up at 7 and now wake up at 5:30 each morning, which also means I had to quit griping to myself about waking up at 5:30 and begin embracing it. So I did. Now I wake up at 5:15 most days, fifteen minutes before the alarm clock, and I step (figuratively and literally) into my day!

Anyway, you can quit almost anything. Don’t tell me you can’t. Or better yet, tell me you can’t. Tell me you can’t keep smoking, can’t keep being unhealthy, can’t keep staying up too late or going to bed so early, tell me you can’t keep working a job you don’t like, or you can’t keep losing time with your loved ones. Tell me you can’t do the things that are holding you back anymore.

It turns out saying no is sometimes more powerful than saying yes. After all, that’s quitter talk… and we need more of it.

 

Share

The Difference Between Right and Wrong

I share a life-lesson each weekday. Today’s lesson is how to tell if you are doing right or wrong things in your life, how to tell if what you are doing is good.

*********

I am lucky enough to have people look up to me for advice and answers (which means I was unlucky enough to have gained wisdom through many bad choices and have made enough mistakes to warrant giving advice).

A question I have been asked many times is a variation of, “How do I know if I am a good person? How can I tell if I am making the right choices or the wrong ones?”

I have never felt satisfied enough with an answer to pretend there is an absolute correct response to those types of questions. Of course, in the broadest, universal sense, there is no right or wrong, or good or bad. There is not even life and death (because matter can neither be created nor destroyed). There is only Order and Entropy. So, bringing it back down to socially navigating the world, here is what I have so far, and how I generally answer when I hear a question like that:

 

RIGHT: contributes value to your life without taking value from someone else’s. Doing what is right contributes to, grows, or enhances your happiness and self-esteem without hurting or taking away happiness or self-esteem from you or others. Drinking alcohol is an easy example. I am ambivalent about alcohol but I recognize some people enjoy a drink. I see no problem with that, until you enjoy a drink so much you keep drinking until you reach a point where you rob others of the value you contribute to their lives. In other words, if you drink so much you are damaging your health or the relationship you have with someone you care about, then you have a problem. You are no longer doing right by you or anyone else.

WRONG: Hurting yourself or others intentionally or through willful ignorance. Pretending there is no problem by consciously avoiding it or refusing to admit it… is a problem. The only wrong or bad there is in the universe is that which takes away from life, happiness, or self-esteem. The only time it is permissible to intentionally hurt another (person, animal, bug, tree, whatever) is in the act of self-defense, meaning when a rational value of yours is in danger of being removed (such as your life, property, or self-esteem).

 

In other words, if what you are doing or saying does not contribute to your life, make your life better, improve you as a person, or protect you from harm, then you probably shouldn’t be doing or saying it. Instead, ask what you can do or say instead that makes you proud to be living and drives you toward your happiness.

 

 

 

Share

A Buddhist Monk Walks Into A Bar…

Each weekday I share a life-lesson learned. Here is today’s lesson…

*********

I heard James Altucher share a version of this anecdote on his Question of the Day podcast with Stephen Dubner. I am paraphrasing and I don’t know if this is something James heard or made up, but here goes…

When a Buddhist Monk walks through a town, he notices everything. And when he leaves, the town remains untouched.

When you are in the heat of an argument or dealing with a tough situation, think about this. The “town” is the emotions involved (yours and theirs) and your consciousness (or “ego” or “brain”, if you prefer) is the monk.

Take notice of all the emotions and feelings. Acknowledge them, but leave them untouched. When you finally walk away, you will find the town is fine, and you were not a reckless vandal who rampaged through it. You are fine, too.

Have a nice walk.

 

 

Share

Don’t Count Your Blessings

I share a life-lesson each weekday. It helps me make sure every day counts. Hopefully, it helps you, too. Here is today’s lesson…

*********

I make enough money to afford a nice apartment on Tampa Bay. I do not live in a place where I wonder where the next meal is coming from or where there are boys holding machine guns on street corners. I have access to clean water. I drive a decent car. I have very little debt and a job I enjoy. I am fairly good-looking and I have friends and family who care about me. I can go on but you get the point. On whole, life is pretty good for me.

There are times, though, when I forget all those things, or they do not matter in the moment. Like when I stub my toe. All those wonderful things briefly go out the window and I think only of the pain in my foot feel anger because of my clumsiness.

Or when my cat barfs on the carpet in the middle of the night. I forget how lucky I am and become irrationally mad at the cat for bringing some sort of injustice to my life. Or when something legitimately disturbing happens like a job loss or the death of a friend or the end of a relationship–all these problems pale by comparison to the challenges faced every day by other people with less fortunate circumstances (think children in third world countries, slaves, or prisoners of war–they wish they had something as easy to handle as a broken heart).

“Count your blessings” I am told, is sage advice. When we feel life is unfair, this adage reminds us to take stock of all the things we have going for us and be grateful.

I am not a fan of that advice, though. The problem is, when I feel frustrated or angry and I pause to “count my blessings”–sure, I recognize I live a charmed life–but counting my blessings makes me feel like an ingrate at that moment. I do not want to feel petty or ungrateful on top of feeling mad or irritated.

“Count your blessings” might be fine advice when things are going well but when you are feeling hurt or slighted, counting your blessings can make you feel worse. 

I will try these three alternatives instead:

     1.  Recognize and embrace change. “Life is fleeting” is also sage advice. That means nothing good lasts forever but it also means nothing bad lasts forever. Accept the situation for what it is and accept it is not the permanent way of things.

     2.  Feel it. Maybe the thing that bothers me most about the idea of counting your blessings is that it invalidates your feelings. I don’t know about you, but I can not keep my emotions buried. I can turn the volume on them down but if I try to ignore them altogether it just creates a ticking time bomb. Those emotions will explode out of me at some point and it won’t be pretty. Instead, I want to feel angry when I feel angry. I want to dive into it, let it simmer, and acknowledge that it is how I feel in that moment. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry, hurt, or frustrated with the world. It is just how you feel in the moment (see point one–the moment will be gone soon enough). I should make a caveat here that you feeling angry is not license to exercise your feelings upon others. Feel angry. Don’t act angry.

     3.  Be willing to move on. Building off the first two points–things change and it is okay to feel feelings–I must also recognize the choice is mine to let go of those feelings when I am ready. For me, that usually does not take long because I am willing to let go and move on. Maybe not in that moment but I am willing to be moved, to change, to alter course. I do not like feeling angry, guilty, petty, sad, depressed, etc. I know, though, that I will feel those things at times. I do not, however, have to let them take the wheel and steer my life. That is up to me. I can give them control for a few minutes while I coast along, but I know, like juvenile drivers, they will crash us if I don’t take the wheel back. It is okay to let them practice driving so they learn to act responsibly but I am the only one licensed to behind the wheel. They can back-seat drive all they want.

 

To my knowledge, there is no cure for the injustices of life, no matter how great or small. Counting your blessings while dealing with one of those injustices, though, might only make you feel worse. Instead, recognize things change, your feelings are your feelings, and be willing to move on.

If you still want to count your blessings, go ahead, but maybe wait until you feel blessed to do so.

 

Share

Extra Durable

I look back every day and figure out what lesson I learned from that day. Then I share that lesson with you. Here is today’s.

*****

Practicing martial arts showed me the value of bruises (mostly to my ego) and what they can teach us, but there is another element to our lives that shows we are stronger than we think.

I bet the major problems you are dealing with in life right now are the toughest problems you have ever faced. I say that confidently because it is a matter of logic. The toughest problems you faced five years ago you have already learned how to conquer. If they show up again, you know what to do. You have been there before and won (and hopefully learned something from it).

The big problems you are facing now are new and tougher than anything you faced before because you already learned the skills to beat small problems.

This tells me something about the bio-mechanical machinery we call our bodies and brains. It is durable, really durable. No matter what life has thrown at you so far, you have either beat it or figured out how to live with it and move forward. Chances are, no matter what problems are coming your way, you will also come out on top.

If I were a problem, would I want to go up against a professional fighter with a zero-loss record? Would I, as a major problem, be eager to pit myself against someone with so much grit and courage that nothing–nothing so far–has been able to stop them or keep them down? I wouldn’t. If I was a sensible problem, I would run like hell from you. (Of course, most problems are not sensible but that is okay, you still stand undefeated even when problems have played dirty.)

Whether you realize it or not, you understand what it means to be tough and extra durable.

You are a survivor until the end… so don’t sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff. Just keep moving forward–nothing can stop you.

Share

These Are The Most Important Things In The World

Know your priorities.

*****

Here are four things I never worry about:

1. What might happen to me after I die.

2. Why Lime-flavored candy does not taste anything like a lime.

3. How molecules feel about global warming.

4. When the word “boogie” will make a comeback.

I am not saying none of those things are important. I am just saying they are not important to me. Now here are 4 things that are more important than nearly anything else to me (in order of importance):

1. Philosophy. Without philosophy, I have no sense of values, ethics, moral character, or what it actually means to be human. In other words, without knowing how to think, I am of no value to myself or anyone else. This is paramount in my life–it is, to me, the essential element of being alive, of living.

2. Physical Health. After learning to be human, the next most important thing to me is to protect and value my life as a human. Understanding that my body is a bioelectrical machine means understanding it requires care and maintenance like any machine. If I am neglectful of that, I can not enjoy my life fully and, worse, I rob others of theirs by forcing them to have to care for me and worry about me.

3. Family. If know I am a decent human being and I have taken care of myself, then I know I can take care of Family and be of value to others. “Family”, to me, is not just people with the same bloodline. My family are the very close circle of people who contribute value to me, align with my goals, challenge my shortcomings, and make me want to be a better person according to my ethics and standards. My family, bloodline or not, are the people I know I can trust with the most important thing I have… my life.

4. Freedom. Once Philosophy, Physical Health, and Family are taken care of, I can turn my attention to personal freedom. Who owns my life? If it is not me, then am I okay with whoever is behind the wheel, making decisions on my behalf over the relationships, finances, and beliefs in my life? More importantly, why is it not me in any of those areas?

 

Knowing my priorities are important. These are always my priorities, by the way. I never “finish” one. They are all in flux, progressing at different speeds at different times. The point is these are the things I worry about before all else.

If I am strong in these four areas, then maybe I can start worrying why turtles try to cross highways. Don’t they know how slow they are?!?

 

Share

Are Your Weekends Getting Better?

The only way I know to improve is to assess, then practice, then assess, then practice.

*****

“How did we do today?” I asked Nicole as we settled in for the evening and reviewed our Sunday. “Was it relaxing?”

I don’t know about you but our weekends seem packed with shopping, chores, and tasks (groceries, cleaning, laundry, clothes shopping, grabbing food on the go, etc.). By the time Sunday night rolls around, we are ready to start our weekend! The problem, of course, is even when we plan relaxing things (like catching a movie or going to the beach), they turn into another task on the checklist. Even our relaxing becomes a chore.

We have been working to break that cycle, trying things like moving some of our weekend chores to weeknights (which packs weeknights but frees up swaths of time on the weekends–it’s a work in progress). The idea is to actually have freedom to do things we truly love on the weekends–like nap, paddleboard, and spend a day at the beach rather than a couple hours.

The biggest challenge is to protect the newly opened time. When I create space, I tend to fill it, but that is not the point of having time off together. The point is to finish the day with more energy than we started with while enjoying being together.

We assess our day now, reflecting on what worked and what we can do better next time. Often, it is as simple as, “We probably should have skipped the last two stores we visited and just bought those things from Amazon.” It is surprising how draining a day can become when you overextend just a little.

Nicole thought about it. “Yes,” she said. “Today was a really good day.”

 

Share

Who Is Working Against You?

Today’s Lesson: Not everyone likes you.

*****

I love this quip from Sam Harris. In an interview with Dan Carlin, he said, “There are forces aimed at your life that you are not aware of.”

He was referring to terrorists, I think, but I love the quote without context. No matter how much integrity you have or how well you conduct yourself, there will be people who work against you–sometimes in your face, sometimes behind the scenes. Even Gandhi had enemies he was unaware of (and was ultimately shot and killed by one).

My theory is since some people will hate or resent me no matter what I do, I might as well continue learning and growing and becoming a better person according to my standards instead of somebody else’s. I obviously can not live up to everyone else’s standards (since there are as many standards as people) and no matter which person’s I chose, there would still be forces working silently against me.

Therefore, the only expectations I should try to live up to… are mine.

(I should make a quick point here: living up to my standards does not mean I should accept myself as I am and to hell with everyone else–they just have to deal with it. My standards, like me, should always be evolving as I learn, grow, and adapt to the world I create and contribute to.)

 

Share