Personal Development

9th September
2011
written by Randy

Over the last two years, I invested a lot of my time and energy in blogging. But not only blogging — it’s been about learning new things, doing new things, and publicly putting my journey on display.

The net result was quite valuable, of course. When I set goals in private, they easily get overlooked, but when I openly, publicly commit to a plan of action in front of an audience of my friends, I don’t like to fail. I don’t want my friends to see me fail.

More than that, however, the blogs have been an outlet for thoughts in my mind when I didn’t have anyone around to talk to. They’ve given me a place to confess weaknesses, to share my excitement, and hopefully to help others learn from my own experiences.

Lately, my life is full and I don’t have the time to write. I have a full-time job that I love — actually, more than full-time. Whereas in other positions, I’ve had so little to do that I could actually crank out a blog post right from the office most days, but now I have a job that I love and I often find myself working non-stop at the office, and then bringing more work home and working all through the night. And this is not because I’m a slave, it’s because I love what I do.

Further, I’ve been finding better friends and spending my time with better people. Whether it’s been my dance partner, or the girl who helped me practice Italian, or great group of people I work with, I’ve been making better relationships and finding less need for a place to share what’s on my mind.

You see, when I first started all this heavy blogging, I was pretty lonely. The closest person in my life had just left me, and left a big hole that I didn’t know how to fill. In the past, I’ve had a tendency to jump quickly from one relationship to the next, which allowed me to hide a lot of things from myself and allowed me to avoid actually facing difficult periods in my life. But this time was different.

When this happened, almost 2 years ago, I didn’t run to a new relationship. Instead, I began focusing on myself. I spent a lot of time alone. I accepted that I had a lot of things to learn and I started down a path toward learning them, and toward improving my life by improving the person that I am.

All of these big things that I’ve been doing? They’re steps in an even bigger plan. Traveling gave me interesting things to talk about, and interesting experiences to remember and to use in my life. Running has given me the mental strength to take on long, difficult, seemingly impossible tasks. Language study has given me a somewhat unique for others to associate with me, as well as an impressive social skill. Dancing has given me confidence and social grace, and the comfort to be a leader. Minimalism has caused me to strip away all the baggage and all the bullshit that’s been with me my whole life. My current level of physical activity has me in the best condition of my life. I look great, I feel great, and I’m a better, more interesting person to be around.

I’d love to continue documenting my journey and sharing it with anyone who’s interested, but I feel like the point is gone. The journey is becoming less interesting — or at least my telling of it. Not to mention the fact that I just don’t have the time any more…

I will most likely keep the Yearlyglot site up. I may continue to add to it from time to time, and I will probably continue to give attention to language learning on a yearly basis. But I think the rest of my online presence is going to begin to fade away… starting with this site.

I appreciate all of you who have read this and followed along on my journey.

18th August
2011
written by Randy

Something strange happened this week.

I returned from New York early Monday morning and went straight to work. Then after work went out for drinks with a friend. All this time, I still had with me my backpack in which I had taken my clothes for the weekend.

But somewhere along the way, I misplaced my bag. Frankly, I just forgot about it. I left it on the bus when I got off. It was only after some time had gone by that I finally realized that I didn’t have it, and I realized that a large portion of the few remaining things I own were probably gone forever.

But the weird thing was that I wasn’t very concerned. I stood on the sidewalk thinking about what I’d be losing — nearly half of my wardrobe along with a few of my other remaining possessions — and the thought of replacing those things didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it kind of excited me!

It’s strange; I’m dangerously close to reaching my goal of owning 100 things or less, yet it seems the less I own, the less I care about the few things I still have. Things are losing all their meaning in my life.

In the end, the bus driver was an extremely nice lady. She stopped the bus at the next block and walked back to me with my bag. But now I’m tempted to just throw all that stuff away…

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11th August
2011
written by Randy

I love it when I learn something that becomes a metaphor for something else. That’s what happened this week at dance class.

I always felt clumsy and uncoordinated on a dance floor, and I thought attending dance classes would teach me the footwork I needed in order to get past that. But I’m finding that the most important thing in dancing isn’t the footwork at all… it’s actually all in the hands.

When the dance goes well, it’s because the lead went well, and when the dance goes badly, it’s because the lead went badly. I could have terrible footwork and no clue about the steps, but if I feel the rhythm and provide a good lead, my partner will dance well. Meanwhile, I could have perfect footwork and amazing steps, but if I give a weak or indecisive lead, my partner will be lost and the dance will fall apart.

As it turns out, this is a huge realization for me. My whole life, I’ve been a believer of such advice as “lead by example” and “don’t be pushy”. I’ve always been the type of person to provide a suggestion and then get out of the way so people can follow it if they want.

And interestingly, this came through in my dance as well. For turns, I would put my hand up and wait for my partner to spin. For changes in step, I would just sort of change and hope she was paying enough attention to notice, and follow. Basically, I was “leading by example” and putting all the responsibility onto the follower to, well, follow. (That’s your role, so do it!)

This week at dance class, I realized what was happening and I changed my style of lead. That is to say, rather than just putting my hand up and waiting for a turn, I figured out how to gently pull my partner into a turning motion, and rather than confusing her when I changed steps, I figured out how to gently push into a direction that tells her the change before I do it.

Basically, I learned how to be a leader.

It’s weird to think of this being such a revelation at 35 years old, but I suppose it’s better late than never. Our partners want to be led; they need a gentle push to tell them which direction to go. Indecisiveness breaks the step, so don’t go there until you’re sure. Leading by example is hard to follow. It’s dancing, but it’s also life. That’s cool.

8th August
2011
written by Randy

There’s something energizing about reaching the half-way point. This really stood out to me yesterday morning as I decided to challenge myself to 13 miles — 3 more than my previous longest run.

The first two miles were easy, but the next four started to feel like drudgery. It sucks when you’re going and going and you’re not even half-way yet. But then it happened.

I hadn’t yet turned the corner, but I looked at my watch and saw that I had gone 6.32 miles. For all practical purposes, that was half-way. And when I looked up, there was the sign for the street where I would turn.

My body was already tired and in pain, but suddenly I felt energetic again. After that, every step put me closer to home.

And now, with both knees in pain and my achilles tendon inflamed, soreness in places I didn’t know I had muscles, in spite of the fatigue of three months of torturous training, I’m feeling energized again by the realization that I’ve reached half way: yesterday, I ran a half-marathon.

There were no crowds cheering. There was no finish line. I didn’t get any congratulations. But silently and alone, I reached a huge milestone: the half-way point. This thing is no longer the impossible. And from here out, every step gets me closer to home.

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21st July
2011
written by Randy

An interesting thing about wanting to dance is, every time I mention it my guy friends make jokes or mock me, but my female friends all say they’re excited or jealous, or encourage me in some way. Whenever I’ve mentioned to a girl that I want to take dance lessons, I almost always get the same response: “Oh, that sounds fun. Let me know if you need a partner!”

So, in spite of the fact that I’m single, I have no need to ever dance alone. And in fact, it actually made the decision a bit more difficult because I had to choose! In the end the decision was easy; I chose a friend who is close to my height, and with whom I am not afraid to make a fool of myself.

Using Craigslist, I found a really nice dance instructor here in Chicago, and have committed to Wednesday evening lessons. I’m paying for several sessions in advance, to make sure that I don’t back out, get lazy, or change my mind. But I don’t see that happening, because….

It’s fun! It’s awesome, actually. The first lesson was just a really basic introduction, and it was only for half an hour, but I knew already that I loved it! We learned the basic steps for salsa and swing, and found ourselves smiling and laughing. A lot.

Also, I’ve heard countless people compare dancing to sex in some way, but I really never could have imagined just how sexy it really is! Looking into someone’s eyes as you move your bodies together, in rhythm, wow!

This may turn out to be my favorite of all the things I’ll do this year…

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1st July
2011
written by Randy

In recent days, I’ve spent time with several friends who I hadn’t seen in the last month or two, and something cool happened: they’ve noticed and commented on several changes in me.

What stands out most is that everyone who sees me lately is commenting on the fact that I look thinner. And I should! I’m down almost 8 pounds, partly due to changes in diet but certainly it’s mostly from running. (On my last 6-mile run, my Garmin watch tells me I burned 1067 calories!)

But it’s not only that I look different! One good friend commented on how slowly and casually I walk through the city now, reminding me of how I used to speed walk, darting between people everywhere I went. I credit my new relaxed pace to my time in Italy. I still remember the day I arrived home, and how fast everything felt. I feel better without the stress.

Another remarkable experience is the looks on people’s faces when they see my empty bedroom. Those who know me well can remember how I spent every spare moment at my desk, behind a computer. Now, I don’t even have a desk! There really is almost nothing left, and that changes the way people interact with me in this space… for the positive!

Not only do I feel like a new person, but others can see that energy. I’m getting older (this year I’ll be 36!) but I feel younger every day. I’m possibly more active than I’ve ever been. I’m seeing more and doing more than I’ve ever done. And most importantly, I’m doing it all for me, not to impress anyone else, which is ironically the thing that impresses everyone else.

17th June
2011
written by Randy

The rise of minimalism is a good thing, I think, because it challenges the identity that has been foisted on us — that of the consumer. Buying less is good. Thinking more about what we own is good. Being more responsible inhabitant of our planet is good.

But there comes a point where minimalism becomes a religion, a mantra, an ideology that trumps practicality. Two weeks ago, I set out to begin defining that limit — at least for myself — by wearing the same clothes every day. I wanted to see just how little I really needed.

It began with my trip to Houston for minimalist weekend, but I decided not to stop at two days (actually three), and instead to try to do a whole month.

I made it two weeks before I had to quit.

At first, it was exciting, and throughout the first week, I mostly felt liberated by the lack of materialism. My life consisted of two outfits: my clothes, and my running outfit. And the only other possessions I interacted with were my iPhone, my MacBook Pro, my toothbrush and my towel.

Surprisingly, the lack of other possessions never bothered me. In spite of the fact that I have very few things left, I’ve realized these last two weeks that I can be happy with even less!

But the limit of one outfit was too much. By day 10, I was uncomfortable, and by day 12 it was making me unhappy. What began as freedom had become a prison.

Knowing that I only had the one outfit, I worried tremendously about how everything would affect my clothes. I didn’t want to do things that would cause me to sweat. I was paranoid any time I was near something that could stain. I was trapped in the smell of clothes damp from the rain. Washing every night and ironing every morning quickly grew tedious.

It’s possible that my lifestyle isn’t a good fit for the one dress protest or the uniform project. Or maybe such things are just better suited to women. I suppose I’m probably not qualified to make any guesses about why it works for other people; what I know is that it doesn’t work for me.

I’ve learned that I have room in my life for even less than I have now, but that there is a lower limit on clothing and having only one outfit is definitely crossing that limit.

3rd June
2011
written by Randy

Last night this came to my attention. Kristy Powell is wearing just one outfit for an entire year… and to get attention and support, she’s asking others to join her for one month (a year would be a long commitment), starting today.

As you know, minimalist weekend is tomorrow, but my flight to Houston leaves tonight after work so my minimalist weekend actually began today, the moment I walked out the door.

I’m going to be wearing only one outfit for the next three days anyway… so what’s stopping me from doing it for the rest of the month, and joining Kristy in her One Dress Protest?

I can’t guarantee that I’ll make it for the entire 30 days, but I’m going to give it a try. At the very least, it will be an opportunity to learn more about what I really use, what I really need, and exactly how much I can live without, on my way to owning 100 things or less.

17th May
2011
written by Randy

In the spirit of the minimalism challenge I’ve taken on this year, I’m really excited about the idea of the Minimalist Weekend… mostly because this is the perfect excuse for me to test out an experiment I’ve been wanting to do: travel with no luggage whatsoever.

So when the weekend of June 4-5 arrives, I’m going to fly to Houston and visit my friend Tanisha, who I met in Bologna during my trip to Italy this January, and when I go, I will not take any luggage whatsoever.

I’m really looking forward to this, because it will give me an extreme “test run” for my theories about future travels!

But what are you going to do? This weekend is for everyone… you don’t even have to be a minimalist! In fact, if you’re not currently a minimalist, but you’ve been curious about it, this is an excellent opportunity for you to give it a try for 48 hours and see what you think.

And if you are a minimalist, there’s really no excuse for you not participating. So get creative! Do something interesting. Make a few waves.

Here are some ideas for things you could do:

  • Don’t turn on your television or computer for the whole weekend.
  • Use only one plate, one fork, one knife, and one glass, and one frying pan.
  • Spend the weekend boxing up all the things you no longer use.
  • Give up the car. Walk or bike everywhere.
  • Ditch all the contents of your pockets and spend an entire weekend with only a bank card, an ID, and a house key.

Try something new. Push your boundaries. For 48 hours, test how much you can do without. I’ve even heard rumor of one person who might try to spend the entire weekend homeless!

What will you do?

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3rd April
2011
written by Randy

The hot new fad is minimalism. It seems like everywhere I go, I’m meeting minimalists and talking about minimalism. It’s like a club, where people sit around quoting other people.

It’s become like a religion. A lifestyle choice so sacred that the world gets shaken up when a beloved minimalist blogger does an about face and says “fuck minimalism.”

But underneath it all — underneath the surface of practicality and frugality, after the acceptance of fitting into a group, beneath the glamour of elitism, beneath the obsession with counting possessions — there’s a truth to which most minimalists still seem blissfully ignorant…

Minimalism is bullshit.

That’s right. It’s a joke. A lie. It’s a load of crap.

Minimalism is a cargo cult. It’s literally someone taking something away from you and then making you pay them to give it back. Minimalism is bottled water.

You see, most minimalists decide to become minimalists to get unstressed, or to declutter, or to reduce debt. Most of them eventually want to travel. They want to see the world.

But you know what’s waiting out there for them when they finally do travel? What’s waiting out there is a world filled with minimalists. The rest of the world is all minimalists.

Think about that. There are approximately 7 billion people walking the face of this earth. Out of those people, approximately 400 million live in North America. A quick bit of math reveals that almost 95% of the world are already minimalists. Only they don’t call it minimalism, they just call it life.

People in Italy, Poland, Korea, Thailand… people in the rest of the world are online right now, seeing this wave of minimalist blogs swallow the internet, and they’re hating us. And rightly so! Who the fuck are we to wear some big badge of accomplishment for catching up to what everyone else already does, and has always done?

Minimalism isn’t a lifestyle. It isn’t a growing experience. And it damn sure isn’t a religion. Minimalism is nothing more than a correction: it’s a path to the solution for a problem we Americans created for ourselves.

Don’t stop. It needs to be done. Keep throwing out all that clutter. Keep reducing your wardrobe. Don’t stop donating books. Don’t stop selling the things you’re not using. It’s good that you’re doing it. It’s necessary.

But don’t think you’re special. You’re not special. Minimalism isn’t special. It’s not a badge, and it doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Minimalists are just Charlton Heston, unaware that the Planet of the Apes isn’t some other world, it’s earth, and in spite of what they may think, it is they who have been acting strange.

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