Good evening, friends and neighbors! I hope everyone had a great New Year, and is ready to get 2019 going…
…because 2019 sure is.
Good evening, friends and neighbors! I hope everyone had a great New Year, and is ready to get 2019 going…
…because 2019 sure is.
Good evening, friends and neighbors. I hope everyone had/is having a splendid holiday season, and are getting everything out of this time of year that you hope to.
Since I’ve grown up, Chanukah has always been just a sort of… thing that was celebrated. Eight days long, and the special stuff really only happens at night. Otherwise, everyone just goes to work or school and life continues.
There aren’t any hilarious or tragicomic movies about trying to get home to light the menorah- that’s what I’m trying to say here. We got some awesome stories about religious freedom, tasty fried foods, and one of my favorite Herschel of Ostropol stories– we’re good with that.
(The less said about “Eight Crazy Nights” the better.)
I suppose that’s something that DOES make Christmas kind of an enjoyable time for me- it’s only one or two days.
This year, Christmas was fantastic.
Emily and I went out for Chinese, then stayed home and did absolutely NOTHING.
Emily’s job was feeling somewhat bumpy at the time. Her first performance review hadn’t been great, and her teaching hours were temporarily cut. The apartment we’d chosen- though convenient for Em’s job- was expensive. We’d picked it out in the same hurry that precipitated the move itself.
We were living off of our dwindling savings and the distant charity of our parents.
On top of all of that, winter was coming. It was going to be a rainy season, in a part of the city we still don’t like hanging around in too much. Not because it’s dangerous or anything- far from it. It’s very… suburban. It reminded us of all the things and places we DIDN’T like spending time in on the East Coast. Strip malls, highways, nothing decent in walking distance, and barely anywhere to walk anyway.
As we were doing laundry, Emily started crying.
She didn’t like this place. This wasn’t working out. She was stressed out and unhappy. She knew I was struggling. She knew I was essentially trying to start my career from scratch, without any of the connections that had helped me previously.
She was scared that I’d given up my dream of Vienna for her, and she couldn’t abide that.
I’ve spoken before about the person I was before culinary school- physically, emotionally, and such.
In short, I really wasn’t a happy guy.
After my first year in culinary school, I had an idea of what this career would demand of me- and I was okay with it.
Matt Back Then was overweight, sad, lonely, and generally felt unloved and unlovable.
So… what the hell, right?
Long work days meant more money for ME.
Never see loved ones? WHAT loved ones- I don’t have a girlfriend, and couldn’t really see a grand future for myself beyond some romantic dreams.
No holidays? Well, I’d call my family, but I figured I’d never have ANYONE to rush home to.
My life was mine and mine alone, and I was going to give it over to baking and the restaurant life- I simply never imagined I’d be sharing it with anything or anyone else, and all my decisions, for better or worse, would be on me to deal with.
Starting off, I didn’t especially have a goal I wanted to bend my career toward either. I knew I wanted to bake, and I wanted to travel and learn. After a few rewatches of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” I figured that Vienna would be an amazing place to live and work for a while.
Vienna- historically famous for being a crossroads of East and West, for music and composers like Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, and for viennoiserie– a specific sort of a pastry work- as well as it’s chocolatiers.
I decided that would be my goal- somehow, someway, I’d live abroad in Vienna for at least a few months, work at a bakery, and learn viennoiserie from the masters.
Humans are not static, though. We change. We evolve and we grow, and our priorities and dreams shift.
I’m sure it sounds inspirational when someone claims to have had the exact same goal in life since they were a child and never wavered. It sounds wonderful… but to me, it’s also very suspicious.
When I was a child, I dreamt of being:
and a few others I’ve probably forgotten.
Life has a way of doing that- it changes your priorities, and your goals can change too.
It’s not weakness of will or character for a person to stop and say, “Why am I still here?”
“Do I still want this?”
“Do I still care?”
It can be hard. It can be terrifying, even- especially if you’ve already invested so much of your life into that thing, or achieving that goal, just to find that- eh… you’re just not feeling it anymore.
Matt Back Then was pleased to work long days, no holidays, sweat his bones out, and come home each night wired out the a** on caffeine and whiskey because what the hell- it was his life.
Now, Matt just wants good pay to work a 40 hour week. I want a job that I can feel good about doing, and that will give me time and space to NOT do it, and where I can spend time with like-minded people who don’t wanna just black out each night after work- they go out and live.
I can honestly say I want that now because I know there is someone in my life that loves me.
She wants to see me happy with my work. She wants me to come home alive each night, and wake up next to me each morning.
She wants me to look out for myself, and demand the things I need to make my life and energy worth it.
She makes me want to be a better person than I was.
I have responsibilities and priorities now that I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have.
So yes… plans changed a lot. I have no idea how I’ll get to Vienna, what I need to do to get there, or who I need to talk to. I haven’t forgotten it, nor can I say I’ve given up.
It’s simply not a priority right now.
My priority now is giving Emily and Cleo a life worth living.
It means keeping back enough of myself at work so I still have something to give them when I come home.
In a way, yes- I did drop my dream of getting to Vienna for Emily… for starting a life with her, I had to direct energy from other places in my life.
I’ll tell you this, though- if someone were to take me back in time, and show me every thing and task I’d have to complete to make that dream come true- every letter to write, every hand to shake- and tell me I could have it all, but I’d lose the life I have here with Emily in Oregon, and maybe never have Emily in my life at all?
I’d tell them to f*** off out of my bakery and let me get back to work.
I’ve never exactly done things the easy way anyway.
I’ll get to Vienna somehow.
And Emily is gonna be there with me.
Life is not always an either/or game. You have to make choices, yes-
but if you don’t like the choices offered, no one said you couldn’t create your own.
Good afternoon, friends and neighbors.
I actually have a bit of a commute with my new job- 40 minutes on a bus, that I usually pass by reading one of my growing pile of books.
After yesterday’s blog post, however, I realized I had a few more thoughts on the subject of goals, and specifically the discipline in achieving them.
So let’s give blogging-by-smartphone a try.
Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!
When you’re down as low as you can go, there’s nowhere else to go but up, right?
It’s not that going “up” is never possible EXCEPT when you’re face-down in a gutter- it just becomes the best of very few other options, and less distraction… or that your survival depends on your ability NOT to be distracted.
In the last few months, I went to some REALLY low places in my mind. Not “rock bottom” in any real sense- I still had a home, I still had food, my wife still loves me- but in my mind, none of that made a lick of difference. In some ways, it even made it worse- “Who am I to deserve all this? I’m an idiot, and I’ll lose it all eventually.”
“Why did I get out of bed today?”
“I’m disappointed in myself for going to work.”
“When did I give up dreaming? When did I stop wanting more?”
A job change, a slight mental break, and a new routine later, things are thankfully starting to balance out. My new job has me working evenings, so that means my mornings- and my best energies- can be spent on doing what makes me happy: exercising, reading, cuddling Miss Cleo, and of course, writing.
It’s a new kind of routine, so now is as good a time as any for me to start thinking again-
“I feel more free than I used too… so what am I going to do with it?”
It’s kind of weird for me to actually be writing about goals or goalsetting simply because, while I’ve absolutely HAD goals before… I never really thought of them as “goals,” or at least not structured as such.
I always saw them as “objectives,” or “missions,” or some other semantic dodge to make it feel less “self-help-bookish” and more “I’m doing this thing because I want to do it-”
Goal: Get down to 165 lbs, what I was told is the heaviest I could be in the “healthy range” I could be.
What I Told Myself: “Lose weight because otherwise you’ll die fat, sad, and in pain. 165 lbs sounds about right.”
BECOMING A CHEF
Goal: Graduate culinary school, find a job baking, and eventually become a pastry chef.
What I Told Myself: “I like baking. This is what I’d have to do to make that my job.” *cue years of hard work, saying “yes” or “no” as felt appropriate, and letting things happen.*
Goal: Write a blog, make it popular, and make it a career.
What I Told Myself: “I like writing, and people seem to like to read what I write. I should do that more often. Once a week sounds good… maybe more later.”
Obviously, there was a little more to it than that- finding resources for how to lose weight, for example. Working hard in my vocations, and keep my eye open for opportunities. I never really laid anything out on PAPER though, or really thought “How will this help achieve ___ ends?” I can only imagine what it would be like if I had any kind of plan worked out.
That said, it’s not like I NEVER thought about what I wanted in life or how to get it.
Ultimately, doing what you want is just fine. Living your life and accomplish your goals is great- but eventually, it’ll feel empty. You can rule the world- but that means you need to think about the world, and what you can give back.
In the manifesto, Guillebeau also linked to an interesting Goals Brainstorming exercise and workbook by Paul Myers, also available for free. It’s a pretty extensive exercise, and if you sit down and just decide to knock it out, it’ll probably take you a couple hours to do completely.
It’s absolutely worth the time though- consider it an investment in yourself. When was the last time you did that?
The beauty of the exercise is that it asks you first to visualize what your ideal life would be like- in gratuitous detail. Do you work? Doing what? Where do you live? How do you spend your day? What do you do with your downtime? And so on and so on…
Then it makes you write down what you have going for you now– and not just material and financial matters, though those are absolutely included. It makes you write down all of your skills and interests- ANYTHING you have knowledge in. All the people that you know, what they do, and if they can help you (seriously, I’d forgotten how many friends I actually have until I did this exercise.) Then with all of this in mind, you pull apart the elements of what you want:
What do you actually NEED to make this happen?
What steps do you need to take?
Is this something you actually want? Or is it a symbol of something else?
The last time I sat down and did it, I was living in New Jersey, burning myself out in the medical field and culinary school. I was miserable in life, and felt rudderless.
After the exercise, I made a few VERY strong insights about myself:
1. I already had everything I needed to do what I wanted.
2. I had people around that would help me if I needed it.
3. I needed to start making MYSELF more of a priority than I had.
Soon after, I decided to start up the original Black Hat Bakery. I started to lose weight, get healthier, and save money.
Seriously, give this a shot. You’re worth it.
While you’re at it, I strongly recommend Chris’s books as well:
The $100 Startup : This is the first book of his I picked up, shortly before being fired for the first time. It inspired me to relaunch as The Black Hat Baker here in Portland, and to try actually making a living out of this crazy thing I love.
Born For This: Even if entrepreneurship isn’t for you (and it’s not for everyone!) that’s no reason you can’t have a life you love AND work for someone else. This book describes how you can mold your life and work to be something that excites you, rather than exhausts you.
Side Hustle- From Idea to Income in 27 Days: His most recent book, and one I’m currently reading. Because there’s nothing wrong with figuring out how to earn a little scratch on the side.
That’s all from me for now- I’ve got a worksheet to do, a beer to drink, and some emails to write.
What do you think? Are you gonna give this a try?
What kind of goals do you want to reach?
A few months back, I decided that I needed a goal. Work had become mundane, home life and exercise had become a routine, and even the joy I generally took from writing had become somewhat stagnant.
I needed something to look forward to- something I’d have to train up and prepare for.
I chose a 5K trailrunning race, up a mountain that I had only ever really used the paved paths on.
This is how I got up a mountain, down said mountain, and where my mind went on the way.
The first time was in Philadelphia- a country and several years back. I ran the Ugly Sweater run with my sisters through Fairmont Park. It was really my first test of my fitness since I had decided I needed to lose weight- that I wasn’t happy being overweight and in constant pain, and that I needed to outrun a family history that promised diabetes, obesity, and disease of the heart and lungs.
I certainly didn’t make the run easy on myself- it was going to be cross-country, but on mostly flat terrain. I wore a light, woven kilt, a t-shirt, the requisite ugly sweater (mine said “Happy Elfin Holiday”) and my denim jacket. The morning of the race, it was 1 degree F. Oops.
Better borrow a scarf from my sister.
Back in the main starting area, people are starting to file in behind me. They’ve laid out free granola bars, bananas, bottled water, and Gatorade for all the participants, and a merch tent is selling Koozies, hoodies, shirts, and more. Off to one side is a bizarre little bus-like vehicle that, at first, I think is the beer cart getting set up for those who apparently need a beer at 9:30 AM. As I get closer, I read the signs and see that it is something FAR more important- the coffee cart.
As Scott preps for a rush of runners craving caffeine, Cleann and I chat about her story.
“There’s a blog on our website, but people never seemed to care much for it. I just stopped updating it after a while- but when I started taking pictures and telling people about us and the cart, they were MUCH more interested.”
People like hearing about coffee, we agree- but they like hearing about people more, and they LOVE a good story. We part, agreeing to follow each other on social media.
The lineup is starting. I look at my hands holding the coupon book, free t-shirt, and stuff I’d been handed since registering. No way in hell am I carrying all this, and I brought nothing to carry it in anyway. After a little inventive wrangling, I tie it all up in my neon hoodie (yes, I’m cold, but I’ll warm up on the run.) After a little more wrangling and attempted ties, I notice others are stashing their bags in the crooks of trees or under bushes. Well, if they’re comfortable with it….
I tie my hoodie and its tiny treasure trove to the branches of a nearby tree, like a weird offering to Odin. If the Norns decide it’s worth taking… realistically, I’ll be more pissed about losing the hoodie.
Anyway, it’s time to line up.
I am F***ING. COLD.
The race starts ridiculously early, and in Fairmont Park, the sun isn’t even up yet. My sisters and I meet under the registration table where we are given our tags, “Ugly Sweater Run” backpacks, a handful of swag, and a plug for Save the Children- the worldwide charity that part of our registration costs go toward. I’m pounding down mediocre hot chocolate and jogging in place- everyone else is in heavy coats for the moment, or leggings. Lauren and Steph are a bit more bundled, but we all huddle out of the wind. As we stick together against the cold stone of a staircase, groups of runners start clumping together- they’ve been doing these and other runs together for a while.
In a way, I envy them. Ever since I started, running for me was a solitary activity. I ran specifically FOR the quiet time- the energy of motion, and the chance to be alone with my thoughts for as long as the track/my legs could hold out. While being part of a community of runners would be fantastic, I don’t think I’d ever want to actually run as a group. Still, it’d be nice to have a group of friends to talk about it with though. Maybe someday…
A dull loudspeaker announcement… it’s time to line up. Steph, Lauren, and I hop in place- everyone agrees to go at their own pace, and we’ll meet up at the end.
The race began on a downhill. A goddamned DOWNHILL.
We tear off on a short, paved uphill stretch to get over a small rise, before a sharp right turn takes us through the dirt and on to a long-bomb, downhill paved run straight past the first reservoir.
I’d been running on this mountain ever since we moved into the area- almost always on the same, paved path, but it followed the mountain: uphill all the way to top, when one normally has the most energy, then the long downhill run when gravity helps your tired muscles and all you need to do is keep your feet.
The race is starting out downhill though… and paved. This might be problematic. I hadn’t prepared for this.
Halfway through, I know that I’m not making my average pace. The long downhill led to a flat run around one of the reservoirs, and then a lap around the lowest ones- the reservoirs I do laps around at the end of my ordinary runs.
The lined path has sharp corners and switchbacks- baffling any momentum a runner might pick up by forcing them to stop on a dime and change direction. With half my energy burnt up on the downhill, and essentially having to start from a standstill after a hairpin turn, I recognize where in the course we are… and that we are making for the top, in the mud.
Roots. A few small rises, and the frozen ground warming under wave-after-wave of pounding sneakers and the rising sun make the going a challenge, but not impossible. I’d been running almost entirely through the flat streets of my neighborhood in Egg Harbor City, NJ. There was rarely a space- or need- to run over dirt, and the flatness of the Pinelands made elevation changes non-existent.
No matter, though- my main speed came from the need to keep warm. My bare legs, though still chilly, were being warmed by rushing blood. Some people are slowing down- others are walking. I manage to outpace a few- I’m sure that if I slow down, sweat will make me freeze.
“Run for warmth,” I think. “Run for your life.”
Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” is blasting in my headphones. Goddammit, I’m TRYING.
I’ve been reduced to walking, more like a dogged hike. The uphill dirt path is rendered to cold mud by the recent rains- absorbing all the energy from my footfalls, and giving little support underneath except what I can gain in traction. I remember my hikes as a Scout- “when going uphill, stay on your toes. Lean in to the hillside. Make it a controlled fall, and keep your legs pushing BACK, rather than DOWN.”
A few guys who had passed me earlier are walking too- stretching or breathing out stitches. It’s too cold to make out if anyone is really sweating, but their breathing is heavy enough. The sun is fully up, and I’m starting to feel hot.
“Glad I ditched the hoodie” I mutter, rolling the sleeves of my running shirt up. We’ve gotten to the flat moutain-top park.
Oh god, they’re making us use the STAIRS?!
Pink Floyd gives way to Springsteen. “Baby, we were born to ruuuuuuuuun!”
8 minute, 14 second mile- that’s my pace as I barrel down the long stretch to the finish line. I’ve long since stopped feeling cold- the layers of t-shirt and sweater actually feel unbearable as I emerge from the trees into the sunny clearing.
My sisters are nowhere in sight, so after walking out any cramps my legs may have, I grab the phone in my pocket to text them- let them know I’m at the finish line, ask where they are, maybe brag a little bit. I wind up reading instead.
“Matt, are you at the finish line yet?”
“Someone’s hurt, around mile 2. I think she sprained her ankle.”
“Find a medic, there’s no one on the trail and we can’t move her.”A medic is leaning against his ambulance. A quick rundown, and he’s grabbed his bag, heading back the way I came. My sisters cross the finish line, jogging slowly- one of the runner’s friends caught up and agreed to stay with her when they said they’d texted me for help, and would try to run ahead to find a medic or me, whoever they got to first.
The medic gets to the injured woman quickly and patches her up. My sisters and I grab a beer in the sun. It’s been an exhausting morning.
8 minute, 46 second mile as I come down the mountain- appropriately now set to “Mountain Song” by Jane’s Addiction as I cross the finish line.
I’m bitterly disappointed. 8:30 min/mi had been my target pace, and if I had trained properly, maybe I wouldn’t have wound up slogging up some of the trails.
At the bottom, the volunteers are laying out MORE water and granola bars. One of them grins at me- I’m one of the first group to make it over the line.
“How’d you do, man?”
“Ugh… not so great. 30 seconds behind my goal pace.”
“Aww, don’t sweat it, dude! The rain made the whole place muddy. You sign up next year, I bet the weather will be better. Get some record action going, brother! Here, have a snack!”As I stretch and walk off the race, I happen to look at the tree. My hoodie is still hanging up where it was. No one touched it- just like they didn’t touch anyone else’s. There is a community here- an understanding.
The beer tent is set up, but I skip it- I can’t stand IPAs. As more people come across the line, a few wave and smile at me.
“Dude, how’d the kilt treat you?! I saw you have some really good leg motion on the uphills- I gotta think about that!”
“Hey man, how’d you do? That mud was a killer- I was trying to keep pace with you, but DAMN!”
I walk around and watch friends catch up. Pizza arrives, Scott and Cleann are busy. I don’t win the raffle, but I DO treat myself to a new running tee and a laser-engraved steel coaster. There’s an afterparty that night at a local brewery, but for now I’m fine just walking home.
At home, Emily is awake. She asks how the run was, and if I want to go shopping with her later- she’s had a lazy morning and wanted to slip off somewhere and write.
I’ll join up with her later. My hoodie gets hung up, my clothes in a laundry bin. The tag goes on a pegboard with the one from the Ugly Sweater run.
Well, that was interesting. Just like last time.
I got up before my 5 am alarm clock again the other day- thanks mostly to my cat. It’s a little hard to sleep through eight pounds of furry, purring lump flopping itself on to your chest- even if your alarm isn’t supposed to go off for another half-hour.
Ugh… fine. Covers off. Slippers and house hoodie on because the heater has yet to kick on. I use my phone and watch as a flashlight to find my glasses- Emily doesn’t have to be up for a few hours yet. Best not to wake her.
Shuffling through the dark apartment on the way to a lightswitch, I almost trip over Cleo twice. She’s weaving in and out of my legs and purring- thrilled as all get out that I’m awake to feed her, even before I fix my own breakfast.
“Yes, cat, I’m coming.”
“Yes cat, you’re getting fed.”
“Jesus Christ, you act like we never feed you. Keep your fur on.”
As I tip out half a can of weirdly uniform, monochromatic glop that claims to be turkey with sweet potatoes and gravy into her bowl, watch her take a few sniffs and walk away, I reach over and shut my alarm off.
“This is my life.”
Yes, yes it really is. I asked for it to be this way.