Flick, flick. Nothing.
The power was out in my apartment. In the middle of June. Awesome.
I walked out the door and down the hall, finally coming across a neighbor on the floor below me.
“Hey man, is your power out too?” I asked.
The neighbor shook his head no and that’s when my mind began to put the pieces together. The piled up mail on the counter. The voicemails on my phone that I hadn’t checked in days. I walked back into the apartment, took a deep breath, and fanned out the mail like a deck of cards. I saw it immediately and my heart plummeted.
It was the shut-off notice from the power company.
I had 30%+ interest rates on two credit cards due to missed payments, dozens of unpaid medical bills, and a cell phone that got shut off every other month or so. The kicker? I had a six-figure income and never missed a payment due to lack of funds in my bank account – I was just simply too disorganized to make my payments on time.
The call center had already closed for the weekend and I walked towards to the car to drive to my girlfriend’s apartment, about 45 minutes away. Feelings of anger, frustration, and disbelief were quickly washed away by a far more powerful, crushing feeling familiar to any person plagued by procrastination: shame.
But as I pulled onto the onramp, a new feeling came over me: resolve. I made a U-turn and went back to my apartment. I sat in the dark for the rest of the weekend and did what I should have done a long time ago.
I faced reality.
Looking at my life today, it’s hard to imagine that the story above happened just barely a year ago. I’m a different person now – I wake up at 6:30 every morning, work out religiously, eat a strict Paleo diet, and have a to-do list that actually gets done. If you’re just joining me here, I own three companies, two of which I ran remotely while living in Buenos Aires for the first half of this year – the third I’ve started in the two months that I’ve been back in the US.
And, yes, my bills are on autopay.
As human beings, we have a tendency to ignore and avoid reality. Because so much of our lives occur within our own minds – thoughts, feelings, dreams, and desires – it is easy to forget that the world exists outside of our own consciousness. Though you hear about their major life events, isn’t it strange to imagine that mundane details of friends’ lives – eating breakfast, watching TV, sleeping – continue to unfold even when you aren’t present to witness them? That each person you know is experiencing the same depth and breadth of life that you are? Can you imagine your parents existing as a young couple before you were born?
Your mind plays this trick on you, instilling a feeling within you that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you are the main character in a story that revolves around you. This phenomenon gives you a sense of purpose, of self-worth, and of control – but it also enforces the illusion that reality does not exist if you do not actively recognize it.
I know that these concepts can feel a bit abstract, but they affect us every day. We avoid going to the doctor when we’re symptomatic because we fear the diagnosis. It feels as though the diagnosis is the point at which the disease or condition becomes reality – when, in fact, it was already there and we were simply unaware of it. I had let my mail pile up on my counter because, if I didn’t open the notices, it felt as though I wasn’t actually behind on my bills.
It’s the same when it comes to apologizing. Admitting fault and saying you’re sorry can be a terrifying thing, but why? Because it feels that the moment you fess up is the moment that you own the offending action. In reality, ‘the universe,’ and the person to whom you’re apologizing, already knows that you’re at fault. The only person in denial about it is you.
When you find yourself plagued with anxiety over an impending situation, ask yourself if the reality is already certain. Worrying, postponing, fearing, or denying reality only extends the delusion – embrace the reality and expend your energy on writing a part of your story that is yet unwritten.
The act of putting off a decision is usually a decision itself. Should you break up with your girlfriend or give it more time? Should you quit your job or stick it out? Putting off the decision is simply a passive decision to stay. No matter how long you wait, a third option will not appear.
Often you’ll find that accepting the reality of a situation is the hardest part, and, once consciously recognized, the path becomes clear. Fully admitting that you hate being an accountant or that you can’t stand law school is the challenge – the decision to move on after that realization comes quite a bit easier. These relatively easy decisions occur when the emotion you’re feeling is congruent with the best course of action.
Our hardest choices – and our most significant growth opportunities – confront us when the ‘right’ decision is at odds with the emotion we’re experiencing. That emotion is usually love, and it powerfully blinds us from the reality of a situation.
When we love our job but the salary just doesn’t pay the bills, we deny the reality of the situation. But our rent will not get cheaper, our hunger less demanding, or our health insurance more affordable as we burrow our heads in the sand. Love, no matter how long you wait, won’t pay your bills. Only money can do that.
Love also can’t hold your hand, walk with you in the park, hug you when you’re sad, keep you warm at night, or cook you dinner on a special day. Only a person – or, more specifically, their actions – can bring these things to fruition. And the hardest relationships to end are those that are rich with love but come up short on action, usually by virtue of distance – sometimes physical, often emotional.
A life is but two things: habit and spontaneity. The former is a function of our unconscious and the latter of our conscious. Habits automate the mundane and prevent our brain from short circuiting under the monumental load of data we encounter every day. Spontaneity introduces variety to our experience, enriching our lives with new and interesting stories to share with our loved ones.
But habits, though automatic, account for 95% of our daily lives. By honestly identifying our habits, we gain the ability to deconstruct and reprogram them. Examine each one and ask yourself if it moves you closer or further away from the goals that you’ve chosen. Discard or modify those that don’t and reinforce those that do.
And as you begin to synchronize yourself with the realities of the world around you, you’ll find that stress, fear, and worry are emotions that more often arise from the denial of reality than the acceptance of it.