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?

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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!

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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.

 

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Why Do You Want To Succeed?

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This house sits across the waterway in front of the trail surrounding our apartment building. We live in luxury apartments on Tampa Bay but they are decidedly less luxurious than the mansions lining the other side of the channel.

Check it out. There is a white sand beach behind that house, with several beach chairs, hammocks, a jungle gym for kids, trampoline, spacious upper deck and huge lanai for those few rainy days. The house is surrounded by palm trees and sitting right on the gulf–that’s a saltwater channel. This is the house you dream of owning while putting yourself through college.

The thing is, I don’t know who owns it. I have never seen anybody there. Its own private beach built for parties and family gatherings or just for lounging after a long day, to my knowledge, has never been used.

I walk by that house and its many neighboring mansions at least twice a day, at varying times. For almost six months now, as I pass my apartment neighbors along the walking trail on our side of the channel, I see the mansions lining the other side every day.

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And yet… I have never seen anyone outside on that side of the channel. Not once. Nobody lounging in the yard, nobody barbecuing on their huge deck, nobody sunning by their boat docks, nobody swimming in their infinity pools in front of the bay.

20160305_070417My theory about that is simple. The people who own those mansions never have time to enjoy their house with private beach or huge double decks because those people are too busy working to pay for the home and car and lifestyle.

The point is, in our cultural addiction for succeeding (whatever that means), how often do we stop to ask, “Why do I want to succeed? What does success look like, to me? How will I know when I am there?”

We are steeped in a constant pressure cooker to buy more things, own bigger things, make more money, have a nicer car, hang out with more important people… to the point where success has become the means and the end in itself…a never ending cycle.

The problem, then, is if you succeed… then what?

Why own a house you never see? Why have a private beach if you never get to lay in the hammock at the water? Why own a luxury car if you will never have the spare time to read the manual and find out what makes it luxurious?

Success is important. Don’t get me wrong. Evolution demands that we, as a species, continue to improve, and grow, and prosper. It is our nature, literally in our genes. However, it does not matter how rich you become, or how famous, or how talented, if you have no idea what to do with your money, or popularity, or skills, once you attain them.

If you have no purpose, having more success won’t help.

Or, put another way, regardless of how old or successful you are… what do you want to be when you grow up?

Be that. The house, money, and car won’t make a difference… unless you wanted to be a big empty house when you grow up.

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Principles Instead of Goals

One of my goals this year is to do away with goals.

I have been wondering about the effectiveness of goal-setting for some time and it is hard for me to accept that setting goals is not worthwhile. Yet… in a world of constant fluctuation, I find goals to be merely placeholders instead of targets.

When you set a goal, one of two things happens. You achieve it or you don’t. If you don’t, typically, you just move the goal. Many people set a goal of “lose weight” at the beginning of the year, for example. Many people do not achieve their goal or, if they do, they quickly slide back. For those that do not reach the goal, they move the goal. “I’ll try again next year,” or, “I’ll just try to lose 10 pounds by March instead of 20.”

The same thing applies to business goals. Sales teams try to hit their target–sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. If they do, the target gets set higher–it moves. If they don’t, the date to reach the target is adjusted–the goal still moves.

The point of a goal is to inspire people to do better but I think there is a better way to do that. Rather than living for goals, live by principles.

Principles work differently. If I live by the principles of eating healthy and staying active, then I probably will never have to worry about reaching a weight goal. If my organization lives by the principle of “deliver amazing service for a fair price” then the sales will take care of themselves.

Wherever I see a goal now, I am going to look at the underlying principle that is supposed to be driving it and examine why the principle is not being lived up to rather than why the goal is not being met.

I think if we identify the correct principles, we will never have to waste our time or energy on chasing goals and targets.

Goals are a finish line at the end of a race. Principles are what make you want to run in the first place.

Principles over Goals.

 

 

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Winter In Paradise

I share a life-lesson learned every weekday. Today’s lesson is about living where you love to live.

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December 7 , Tampa

 

This picture is from December 7th, 2015. Nicole and I were at Clearwater Beach in Florida, enjoying the sun and sand. We weren’t on vacation. We live in Tampa Bay.

For most of my adult life, I have lived in places like Michigan and Indiana, where cold weather encompasses nearly 8 months of the year. We moved to Tampa at the beginning of 2015. This is our first full winter in Florida, and I have to tell you… I should have done it sooner.

I never liked winter. Sure, the leaves are pretty in the Fall, for a week, and then I am ready for Summer again. I always figured the trade-offs for living in Grand Rapids and Detroit were mostly worth it (MUCH better vegan food, more art and culture, nothing in the water wants to eat you, etc.). I was wrong.

Looking at a tent full of Christmas Trees for sale next to a bunch of palm trees is both jarring and satisfying.  Having one wardrobe is great. Being able to be physically active all year round is great. Maybe most of all, having weekly moments of zen while sitting on white sand or paddling blue surf is great.

I lived up north for the last 23 years. The only thing I wish I had done differently is move south sooner. The ironic part is, it was not my idea. In fact, I resisted it. I wanted to move to Portland or Chicago, and I am sure I would have been happy in either of those places, but only for a third of the year.

If you know where you want to live, go. Don’t wait to live there–waiting is the enemy of success. Living is about living, not waiting to live.

 

 

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Practice Makes… More Practice

On weekdays, I share a lesson learned in life. Today’s lesson is about consistency…

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I was re-reading last Thursday’s post, “A Buddhist Monk Walks Into a Bar…” and I realized later that very day I completely bombed at taking my advice. Like total, miserable, utter failure. Rather than dispassionately observe my emotions and move on, I blew my top when I come home to find our new puppy had gone number two, rolled in it, traipsed it around the house, and buried his toys in it.

Ugh. Bad Puppy Daddy!

Once I regained my composure and reflected on the event, I realized how, well… ashamed I am of my behavior there. Of course, the puppy was just being a puppy, doing what puppies do. Yet, I handed over complete control of my life and emotions to the equivalent of a mildly retarded toddler. It is a bit embarrassing to share about it, actually.

The lesson, I could say, is to remember to practice what I preach, but there is more to it than that. I do practice what I preach. However, I do not practice what I preach all the time. After writing a lesson every day for nearly two years, I can not remember to apply every lesson every day. Besides, no doubt some of my lessons conflict with each other because… human.

The real lesson today, I think, is to remember we have access to every lesson we have learned at any time and if we just stop for one second and think, “Where have I seen this before?”, I bet we can remember a life-lesson that applies.

Or, put another way, practice does not make perfect. Emotions, situations, and circumstances remove “perfect” by default. Practice only generates more practice.

Never stop practicing. It’s the only sure way to become better.

 

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A Buddhist Monk Walks Into A Bar…

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

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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.

 

 

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Driving Zen

Each day I think about a life lesson I have learned and share it with you, in case you don’t have any of your own every day…

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My drive to work is about an hour and twenty minutes through rush-hour traffic almost the entire way. There is this one period, though, where I take a little-used section of freeway for seven minutes.

It is the best part of my morning most days. As I come up over the bridge from the bumper-to-bumper navigation war, I can see Tampa Bay below and the sun just popping up over the horizon. The salty morning air has not been overcome by industry and car exhaust yet, the breeze is light. Since there is almost never more than 4 to 6 other cars on this stretch of road with me, I pause my podcasts and drop all the windows and just enjoy the morning cruise for that seven minutes. It is truly a moment of bliss.

Except…

Except the last few weeks, for some reason, the traffic has picked up considerably on my morning moment of zen. There is so much traffic I am no longer able to use cruise control and move at 70 mph down that stretch of road any longer. It is not yet as stressful as the bumper-to-bumper traffic but it is easily three times as busy as it was just a couple months ago.

I am not sure if the traffic increase is seasonal (school’s back in), or due to construction re-routing, or just from more and more people moving to the area–probably a little of each of those–but I know one thing:

Sadly, nothing lasts forever.

I don’t want to end today’s lesson on a depressing note, so I will point out the obviously positive spin on this story, as well.

Happily, nothing lasts forever.

Not even bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. The way work is done is transforming. Companies are increasingly becoming aware that where and when work happens no longer matters, creating shifts and flexibility in traffic patterns. Driverless cars are on the way. Public transportation is on the rise, as is healthy transportation such as bicycling and walking where it makes sense. Technology is catching up too–use of roundabouts and other traffic managing systems are helping relieve the stress and stupidity of driving.

Those are all great things… and the sooner they arrive and proliferate, the better.

 

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Drop Your Pants!

Each day I look back and figure out what lesson I learned. Then, because I am slightly crazy, I broadcast it to the world via this blog.

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I like to experiment. That has led me to embrace some seemingly silly things that have had profound effects, and I am adding another one to the list: giving up my belt.

I have been belt free for a couple weeks now, actually, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to stick (I’m still not sure but I figure I can’t ignore it here since I write about my other experiments).

It turns out not wearing a belt might have some interesting effects, mostly for men. Belts tighten around the waist and constrict the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve (yeah, I had to look that up, too–it’s a real thing). For some people, wearing a belt each day can actually cause permanent nerve damage.

I don’t have lateral femor-whatever nerve damage I am aware of. I am giving up my belt because it is one less thing I have to think about each day. I don’t have to pick what belt to wear and I don’t have to loop it through my pants or wrestle with how tight to cinch it today. It probably saves me no more than 10 seconds each day, but times seven, that is 1 minute and 10 seconds per week for the remainder of my life. If I live another 50 years (to a conservative 92 years old)… I just gave myself an additional 50.6 hours (or a little more than 2 days) of productive time for living!

The only practical reason for wearing a belt at all is to keep my pants up but I can not remember the last time my pants actually fell down and my belt saved the day. I think I would rather take my chances and have an extra 2 days of life.

Just in case, though, I tossed a belt into my work bag (but I haven’t needed it yet!).

All in all, I have to say… I think I feel a little more comfortable and a little more vulnerable (naked even) without it, but only when I notice it is not there. Funnily enough, no one else seems to have noticed it isn’t there either, which tells me I worried too much about the fashionability of my belts–apparently nobody cares.

Going belt free is working for me. What can you give up to make your life just 10 seconds easier each day, for an extra few days of living?

 

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