Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Opportunity of a Lifetime

Our dreams hold more resilience than we believe.

We face forks in the road. We take detours. We doubt, question and wonder if our time will ever come.

I remember sitting alone in a radio studio at 4 a.m. in November 2018, blasting Halsey’s “Without Me” while fighting to stay awake, simply pressing a few buttons every hour to keep the radio show on the air.

The gap between reality and my own dreams was more like a crater. An insurmountable challenge that, with the deck so heavily stacked against me, I feared I could never overcome.

But I just kept on believing. With no path to follow, no five-step plan to adhere to, I created my own roadmap. I continued speaking my dreams into existence. Every decision was meticulously calculated, with every connection I made appearing to paint me as a much bigger deal than the job title described.

I certainly veered from the path at times. I wonder now if I strayed to better prepare myself for failure, for the inevitable moment I’d one day look back upon my pie-in-the-sky dream and laugh at the notion that the goal was attainable, or if I even truly wanted it in the first place.

But like many of life’s greatest pleasures, my big break emerged unexpectedly. The opportunity of a lifetime seemingly fell into my lap.

It seemed like it at the time, but looking back now, that moment didn’t occur by random chance. It was the culmination of years of hard work and determination, of sacrifice and attention-to-detail, of kindness and empathy.

I took the opportunity and ran with it, attacking it with passion and vigor like I do with so many aspects of my life.

And this morning, now that my first documentary sits out there for the public to consume, I can proudly say I’ve achieved my own dreams.

I’ve always maintained that I’m at my best when I’m creating something for the outside world to laud or criticize. Something that makes people think or feel, or compels them to take some action that will make the world a better place.

That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

And I will continue doing that for the remainder of my precious time in this world.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Looking Back and Looking Forward

It’s an hour before midnight on a brisk Saturday evening in February. Downtown Boston’s residential streets often welcome imbibed wanderers, but tonight feels noticeably different - a bit eerie. A few packs of straggling twenty-somethings yell something at one another. An older man drives by, hurling an insult toward a young woman in our own group.

Unfortunately, better judgement has mandated I retire early for the night, along with my best friend and his girlfriend. The two of them battling colds, and myself fighting the insomnia inherent to late-night escapades and having just flown across international waters, we decide it best to head home.

Seated in the back right corner of the Uber we’ve just tumbled into, I mull over the thought which repeatedly surfaces whenever I find myself in a position far from my normal day-to-day existence: If someone had told me that, three years ago to this day, I’d be where I am in at this very moment, how would I have reacted?

I breach the subject with my traveling companions, who entertain my wandering mind as I list the experiences of my previous three years in a 30-second span. 

“If someone had guaranteed me that three years ago, I’d be traversing the suburbs of Boston with my best friend (why does he live in Boston?) and his girlfriend (who?) after I’ve just been in Europe, a trip inspired by seeing my favorite artist perform (Halsey, who is that?), and, on top of that, the next day I’d return to Connecticut (when did I move there?) to resume my job as a podcast producer (what actually is a podcast, and what’s a producer?)” I say.

My friends briefly acknowledge my point about the odd ways in which the world operates, but silence soon fills the car once again.

For the rest of the night and my bus ride home the following day, I remain entranced by the thought of the unpredictable nature of progress and how, even though it’s paramount to dedicate our energy to the power of the present moment, it’s also quite the exercise to inwardly reminisce and assess whether the status quo resemble the dreams we once laid out for ourselves in adolescence.

And just three weeks later, I again find myself asking that same question. Except this time, my answer feels a lot less personal.

If you had told me -- or anyone -- three years ago, let alone three weeks ago, that the state government, at President Trump’s initial urging, is forbidding me from leaving my home for any purpose other than what is subjectively deemed “essential?”, what would I have said? And that a deadly virus from China has sparked worldwide fear, caused a global economic collapse, shut down my beloved sports leagues, closed most public areas and most importantly, claimed innocent lives? And that this government-mandated self-isolation period, at its worst, could extend deep into the summer, and maybe even beyond?

If my college history professor had told me all of this in 2017, I would have stopped him at the moment he said Donald Trump still ran the country. 

And three years from now, considering the historic and unprecedented nature of the current state of affairs, I can’t help but wonder how we’ll collectively remember this moment. As a flash in the pan that left destruction in its wake surely, but actually dissipated faster than the experts predicted? Or, will those of us lucky enough to survive the pandemic, recall a four, five, six (or more) months-long shutdown of life’s most precious human experiences?

However the history books remember this moment, I’m confident in assuming we’ll emerge from this crisis as better participants in American society.  

Three years from now, if you can guarantee me that the lessons learned from this situation will improve us all as individuals, that the remaining years of our own existences will be filled with communal love, appreciation for one another, support for small, local businesses everywhere, a newfound respect for getting outside and interacting with the random people we pass on the street, then, and only then, would I argue a crisis like this, despite its massive tolls taken on every aspect of our lives, could maybe, possibly, pose some positive consequences.

In the meantime, I urge you to take the time to appreciate how far you’ve come, what you’ve persevered through in the past, what you’re persevering through right now, and where you hope to find yourself in three years. Even though it may not presently feel like it, that day will come sooner than you think.

The unacknowledged byproduct of tragedy is change. Rather than dwell on the overwhelming amount of negatives circulating, let’s instead focus on the positive and imagine the countless ways humanity will improve in direct response to this crisis.

Because three years from now, the world has the potential to be a much better place.

Let’s not waste the opportunity.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

13 Ways to Beat the Coronavirus

I’m the biggest opponent of the “I don’t have time” excuse. I firmly believe that if we truly want to do something, then we’ll make time for it. 

No excuses now.

Per the latest recommendations from all of the major health organizations, the exponential spread of COVID-19 largely restricts us to the four walls of our homes. For the foreseeable future, and for the safety of the American population, we must stay inside and remain socially distant.

These will be challenging times. For a foreign, unknown force to suddenly strip the human existence of its most precious moments, feelings of helplessness will inevitably set in.

It’s safe to say we all now  -- in some capacity -- possess more free time on our hands than in our previous pandemic-stricken lives. And as my elders frequently tell me, challenge creates opportunity.

Rather than sink deeper into the couch watching Netflix, we can combat the coronavirus instead by focusing on self-improvement.

Here’s 13 ways we all can do that, and from the comfort of our own homes: 

1. Get informed: Whether it’s the local or national newspaper, these publications are providing the latest facts emerging during this pandemic. Sign up for an online subscription or a physical copy, both of which often come at a discounted price. Watch the local news. Listen to podcasts. It’s so important to stay informed as this unprecedented situation is rapidly changing by the day.

2. Read books: Set aside time to read every day, at least 30 minutes per sitting. You know that book on your shelf you’ve always told yourself you wanted to read someday? Someday has arrived. And as an alternative, Kindle books provide you with endless options and audiobooks also allow you to listen while performing another activity.

3. Watch educational documentaries: We’re all signed up for some sort of streaming service nowadays, all of which provide a vast catalog of children’s movies, horror films, comedies, chick flicks and more. But there’s also a bunch of documentaries, often shorter in nature, that teach you about myriad subjects you’re curious about. Ask a friend to watch the documentary on his/her own time as well, and then discuss at a later time.

4. Phone-a-friend: Text messages won’t get the job done for this indefinite amount of time. We need to hear the voices of our loved ones. Set aside time every day to call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Even better, check in on family members to see how they’re coping during these troubling times.

5. FaceTime meals: Want to get lunch with a friend? Well, it could be difficult considering so many of our favorite hangouts are closing down. Instead, set aside a time for a FaceTime lunch with a buddy. Simpy prepare your own meal and connect for a conversation with one another like you normally would at the burger joint down the street.

6. Write letters: Dust off that old quill, get some stamps and write letters to your friends and family sprawled all throughout the country! Get creative.

7. Exercise: With gyms closing down and our freedom-of-movement severely limited, it’s vitally important we stay active. If you’re working from home, take 15 minutes (or more) to get outside and stretch your legs, and do so several times a day. With spring around the corner, the “it’s too cold” excuse won’t fly. Plus, the sun provides essential vitamins we can’t receive by simply swallowing a pill. And for those seeking more intense exercise, the human body can do amazing things on its own: push-ups, sit-ups, planks, squats, lunges, to name a few. 

8. Stretch: Not many people take time each day to stretch, but now we have some time on our hands. Hold poses to stretch out your hamstrings, quads, lower back, calves -- really anything that can be stretched. This will help us all prevent the aches and injuries that often stop us from moving in the first place.

9. Spring cleaning: Everyone’s favorite activity! While you’re busy disinfecting all surfaces, take the time to dust the TV stand, vacuum up all the crud behind the refrigerator. Clean out your medicine cabinets and rid your food pantry of those expired cans of diced tomatoes. Revisit your closet and consider donating clothing to the less-fortunate. Free yourself from the material possessions that don’t add value to your life anymore. Digitize anything that can be digitized -- photos, important personal and work documents, whatever you can think of. Less is more.

10. Donate: If you’re healthy and/or financially able to do so, find a way to donate your time or money to help others. Consider running errands for those completely bound to their homes. Conduct research on charitable causes and donate funds to help American citizens receive the proper treatment.

11. Learn an instrument: On a similar note, dust off that old guitar you said you wanted to learn how to play. Find instructional YouTube videos to teach you the basics. Just don’t annoy the neighbors.

12. Home brewing: There’s a reason liquor stores are staying afloat during this time. But have you ever wanted to brew your own beer or make your own wine? There’s a bunch of easy-to-use home brewing kits out there. The fermentation process takes time (which you have), but a few homemade 8.0 % ABV New England IPAs sounds like a tasty way to live out the quarantine.

And you can roast your own coffee beans instead, but that’s less fun.

13: Meditation: Don’t roll your eyes. This practice is crucial. We must take time for ourselves and focus on our breath and innermost thoughts. Negativity and pessimism swirl around us from all angles, and it’s so important to temporarily deprive ourselves of those thoughts. Plus, it’s totally free. Find a cushion to sit on and simply inhale and exhale deeply to calm the thought waves of the mind.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Some Words to My 2010 Self

What specific career or personal advice would you give your younger self on Jan. 1, 2010 and why?

You know those summer training sessions, after-school workouts and evening basketball practices you go to? Those ones you dread because your teammates and coaches relentlessly make fun of you at any chance they get? And how you occasionally concoct elaborate excuses to miss them just so you can spare yourself some dignity?

Keep going. 

Put on a smile. Pretend it’s all right -- that you’re just laughing along with everyone else. Keep showing up and trying to outwork the person next to you.

It’s the only thing that will support you through some incredibly challenging times over the next 10 years.

It will get you through your education at the college you’ll dislike attending. It will provide you extracurricular opportunities, internships and future jobs that you’ve never even envisioned having at this point in your life. It will give you some funds to play around with, as you’ll take on a job in college that will protect you from the allure of blowing money on Friday and Saturday nights trying to impress people you won’t really care for. And it will push you through the overwhelming sadness you’ll feel when you finally set out on your own after college.

You’ll become numb to the cruelties of the world. This will happen because a breakup will leave you emotionally paralyzed for months, and you won’t seek out another relationship for years because you’ll never forget how challenging it was to dig yourself out of it. A few years before that, one of your best friends will tragically lose her life, leaving you to question the ephemerality that defines all of mankind. Friends won’t prove to be as loyal as you are, and it will frustrate you. But you’ll keep showing up for people all the time, even if they don’t do the same for you. Because of all you’ll go through, you’ll understand life is short. That even if it makes people feel uncomfortable, you’ll need to constantly tell your friends how much you love and appreciate them because you never know when they could be taken away from you. 

But despite all of this, know that at the end of this decade, you’ll be extremely proud of who you are. You’ll have a job at a really good company where you make podcasts for a living (what’s a podcast?’). You’ll vibe with a good group of friends, some buddies you like hanging with and others who make you an even better version of yourself. You won’t have to worry too much about money because your parents are raising you to appreciate the value of a dollar and to always find the best deal. And most importantly, you’ll have a unique outlook on life, choosing to embrace positivity and love in a world that’s constantly preaching the opposite. You’ll call yourself a minimalist, which you’ve never heard of, and will be damn proud to live more with less. And you’ll be in really good physical shape because of your transformed diet, affinity for walking everywhere, and that one thing which has always fueled you.

Just keep your head down and don’t worry about what other people think. If there’s one thing you’ll ever need to understand, it’s that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Time I Met the President

One of the first pieces of advice given to me when I first started out in the corporate world was to try to meet as many people as I could.

I work for a global superpower in the media industry, a multi-billion dollar corporation led by tireless workaholics who make far-reaching decisions about every nanosecond of programming across television, radio and the worldwide web. The suits calling the shots are some of the wealthiest in the business, and the individuals holding the microphones wield some of the most powerful voices in our respective industry.

But believe it or not, they’re no different from you and me. No amount of dollars or influence can change the fact that they too were twentysomethings once upon a time.

And you’d be shocked at how willing these people are to help us.

Over my first year-and-change in the corporate world, I’ve met with vice presidents of differing entities and executive producers of award-winning TV shows. I’ve sipped sangria at a wedding party with my idol, one of the most well-known and respected names in the business.

But today, I walked through the double-doors and sat in the chair across from the president of the entire company.  For 25 minutes, one of the most powerful men in the media world spoke with me like we were buddies chatting it up at the coffee shop.

Like I always do when people are so gracious to give me their time, I peppered the president with questions. I wanted to know about leadership strategies, his daily habits and routines, the mantras he lives by, his mindset at 22 years old and how he manages to distance himself from the around-the-clock fires that need extinguishing.

On my way out, he stopped to commend me for actually reaching out to his secretary to set up a meeting with him. He’s laid out the offer to virtually the entire company’s 7,000+ employees, but people rarely take him up on it.

Sure, the meeting took place 50 days after I first inquired about it, but that’s the price we have to pay to speak with people like that. We just have to be persistent and do whatever we can to make it work.

The point is, people holding the positions we covet are all generally good people who remember once being in our shoes. They remember the times that someone helped them out or gave them advice when they needed it most. It’s a beautiful cycle, one that clearly not enough of us take advantage of.

So I implore you to take a chance. If you’re an aspiring heart surgeon, track down the e-mail of one of the best in the world and try to set up a Skype call. If a simple “no” or no response is the worst thing that can happen, I see no reason to not shoot your shot.

You may tell yourself you aren’t worth their time. But if you just take the leap, you’d be pleasantly surprised by the number of people who want to help you.

I know I have been. And isn’t that the kind of feel-good story we all need right now?


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

One Heartbreaking Moment That Changed My Perspective

At this stage in our lives riddled with unanswered questions and unmet fears, the best way to help yourself is by helping others.

That’s why I’ve signed up for a mentoring program at my local elementary school. Over the next few months I’ll serve as a mentor and more importantly, a friend to an underprivileged student. One day per week, I’ll lend my time and ears to a 3rd grade boy who fails to receive the attention he deserves at home.

I met with my new buddy for the first time yesterday. We spoke for an hour about his hobbies and interests. He’s pretty normal -- he loves playing video games and watching movies. We bonded over our shared admiration for the Harry Potter series. All the talk of ghouls and goblins from that conversation inspired me to ask him what his trick-or-treating plans were for Halloween next week.

Avoiding eye contact, he looked down and said he hoped his uncle would take him, but that he wasn’t counting on it. I asked why his 22-year-old brother wouldn’t take him, and he said the brother was content staying upstairs playing video games all night.

I was dumbfounded. Trick-or-treating is practically a First Amendment right. I imagine the solid majority of us never had to worry about having someone to take us out for a few hours so we could kindly ask neighbors to spare a miniature Hershey bar for our little pumpkin baskets.

His response made me appreciate what I have and where I come from -- something none of us do enough. And as I’ve learned, one’s quality of life skyrockets once he/she learns how to live in a state of eternal gratitude.

The best way to find that gratitude is to learn how the other side lives. The underprivileged. The undernourished. The unappreciated. The unwanted.

Do that, and I promise your perspective will change. Once that happens, you’ll recognize how lucky you are to have the life you do.

“The struggle ends where the gratitude begins.” -- Neale Donald Walsch.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

You Don't Need a Fancy Title to be a Leader

Here’s what I’ve learned from my brief time in the adult corporate world:

The number of zeros on a paycheck stub corresponds directly to the amount of respect your subordinates should give you. A fancier and more descriptive job title equates to more money, power and influence. Therefore, we must treat a person with those credentials like some deified creature we need to thank our lucky stars for allowing us mortals to grace his or her presence on a daily basis. After all, they’ve earned such a status, so they’re the real leaders. Not us; we’re just the ants toiling about in the farm, secretly waiting for the Queen Bee to come give us the nod of approval.

And that’s just not a sound business model.

Anyone can demonstrate leadership skills. There’s no age, years of experience or job title that serves as the definitive threshold between leader and subordinate.

There’s this notion that just because one does his/her job the way one is supposed to, that no credit should be received and no praise given. If you’re just meeting expectations, then obviously you shouldn’t let anyone know how much you appreciate someone, right?

For this very reason, a dearth of essential skills plagues our “leaders” in the workplace, government, school systems, and more. If our leaders aren’t, well, leading, then we must take it upon ourselves to pick up the slack.

At this stage in our lives, many of us find ourselves stationed on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder and in one of the lower tiers of the socioeconomic food pyramid. But that doesn’t mean our voices can’t carry a significant weight. Quite often, poor cultures are established from the top-down, but nothing should stop us from trying to fix them from the ground-up.

So the next time someone steps up to the plate and helps you out with that project you’re working on, let that person know how much you appreciate the assistance. Psychologists study positive reinforcement for a reason. That reason being, IT WORKS. So no matter how big or small the task, even if it’s what’s expected of that person, the power of a “Great job, I really appreciate your help on this,” goes a long way.

And if you consistently dole out that praise, you’ll see a ripple effect across your sphere of influence. Positive reinforcement encourages us to practice behaviors that will earn a similar reward, therefore you’ll constantly have people doing what they’re supposed to, which increases productivity and makes everyone happier. People will then be inspired to go above and beyond because they know a token of appreciation awaits them at the end of the tunnel. In due time, this feeling will circulate and everyone will feel empowered to constantly lift people up, rather than let so many great efforts go completely unnoticed.

And that, my twentysomethings, is how you can play a role in creating a culture that our “leaders” too often fail to build themselves. A culture that will foster your growth and development and make you the best version of the person you're trying to become.