The More Things Change …

For a little while in high school I totally got the coffee bug. Over winter break in my senior year there was this girl I was dating and we would occasionally meet at a coffee shop.

Most of the time I sat there sipping on my coffee (until it was lukewarm, then drinking it WAY too fast) and making things out of those little stirry-stick things – whatever they’re called. Which may actually just be stir-sticks. Anyway the point is that the reason I was there was to see her (and make things out of sticks) and not really to drink coffee.

But it totally seemed like what I was supposed to be doing. I mean, everyone else was drinking coffee and jumping off bridges, so why not me? OK well the bridge part may have been an exaggeration, but you know how peer pressure is. You start thinking that if you don’t do something everyone else is you’re not being … right. You’re wrong. You’re broken.

So I would drink the coffee after adding a lot of milk and sugar, I would sit there chatting with this girl I was infatuated with, and I would make little houses and forts and crazy contraptions with what I shall henceforth call stirry-sticks.

Occasionally I’d end up feeling butterflies in my stomach or just overall nervous. After a while it was more of a place thing – it was a question of “OK I’ve crossed the threshold into the coffee shop so … I can’t really NOT order coffee.

Sometimes I’d get this thought like I shouldn’t actually be drinking coffee, but then I’d feel kinda awkward and just order it. Baristas can be intimidating.

A few years later when I was in college I started smoking for much the same reason – I was a theater major living in Manhattan in the late 90’s … it might have actually felt ILLEGAL to not smoke. Plus I thought it was the “mysterious and cool yet emotionally complex” thing to do. My lungs thought it was really stupid but I didn’t listen to them for a while.

In the mid 2000’s I went to a great business school and got my MBA. I got a good job at a good company, and I worked in corporate America for 5 years alternating almost every month between “I ❤ my job!” and “SO UNFULFILLED!”

But that’s what I was supposed to be doing, right? Drinking the coffee! Doing big work for a big company and making big money! … well ok maybe replace the latter big with  “moderately proportionate to my experience level”. And yet every now and then I had a moment of clarity just like at the coffee shop, but then the barista would look at me funny and I’d just go back to work and pretend I hadn’t thought anything at all.

And then after a few years something snapped and I decided to act on my gut feeling that I didn’t really want to order that cappuccino. I just wanted a water, thank you. Maybe a beer.

So here I am, living my dream instead of someone else’s, trying to realize a vision I started piecing together almost a decade ago. I have full and complete control of my life and all the ups and downs in it. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think “Holy crap. Really? This is my life? I’m not dreaming?”

But you know what? When I walk into a coffee shop I still order a cappuccino. Small. Regular milk. Even if I really don’t need the caffeine or want a coffee.

Baristas can be intimidating.

The Right Time

It can be difficult sometimes to know when you should leave a job or a situation in life.

A friend recently asked me what he should do about his job. It pays well and the hours are great, but he’s not interested or engaged.

This friend (let’s call him Joe) had been running a startup mastermind group and had been working to leverage his passion and skill in teaching to create a sustainable income.

After a few months he just couldn’t make it work to pay the bills. Next thing you know he’s working a sales job and he’s put his dreams on hold.

But after a few months the routine is getting old. The initial interest in his new job (like any honeymoon phase) is waning and he finds himself wondering whether to stay or go.

“If I leave”, Joe starts, “I can go back to doing what I love. What brings me alive. I’m not sure on the details of what it would be but I know it would feel better than this.”

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Climbing Mountains

One of the challenges I find myself faced with a lot is an inability to recognize and appreciate my successes. I mean, I know they happened, but I find myself already focusing on the next challenge without taking a moment to appreciate overcoming the last one.

Sometimes it seems like before I’ve even reached the summit of one mountain I’m planning the ascent of another.

Problem is, always focusing on the next thing may keep you occupied but it doesn’t necessarily keep you happy.

It’s kind of like Ferris Bueller says: “Life happens fast. If you don’t slow down and look around once in a while you might just miss it.”

Taking the time to appreciate our successes is one of those things that can easily seem useless but is VITAL to our happiness. Like a parent taking some time for themselves or a couple taking the time to go on an actual date after they’ve been together for a while.

It feels unnecessary and frivolous, but in reality it gives us a chance to recharge and refocus.

Think of an athlete or anyone at the gym. You can’t just keep working out all day every day because your muscles need a chance to recover – to get ready for the next round.

In “Startup Life” Brad Feld and his wife Amy talk about the importance of taking an unplugged vacation together on a regular basis.

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