For the past week, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my past and my actions, or lack thereof. I’ve been digging inside my soul, turning over every stone, to learn more about who I am today. Suddenly, I realized something and caught myself saying “used to” a lot. Now, those words can be used for the purposes of motivation, but I began to discover that those words were robbing me blind from any possible growth.

Without going into “my story”, all you need to know is that I lost my job in March 2017 and have been struggling to have a steady career since. What’s more, upon digging around, I’ve really been “lost” for quite sometime before that but used losing my job as the reason.

You see, when life began to not go exactly as I planned, I lost faith in myself. Once I lost faith in myself, I began to lose friends, relationships, material things, and stopped loving myself. The cornerstone of this is because I was never honest with myself; and this is was a shocking discovery.

When I started losing weight way back in 2013, I did it primarily change my physical appearance. Sure, there were some mental things that got worked on along the way, but that was never my drive. My drive was for external purposes; I thought I’d have more friends if I looked better, I’d have better relationships, and other people would be attracted to me. When this ultimately failed to come to fruition after years of hard work, I lost my drive.

Over the course of time, I began beating myself up mentally time and time again. And this is when “used to” crept back into my life. I began telling myself, “I used to weigh less. I used to work out more. I used to get compliments. I used to be able to fit into that shirt. I used to fit into size 34 jeans. I used to…” I never really thought how much damage that negative self talk would do. But as the self talk grew stronger, my life continued to spiral. “I used to enjoy work more” robbed me of the possibility that I could enjoy work again. As I continued struggling to find work, I’d catch myself saying:

  • I used to have a nice car.
  • I used to have bikes.
  • I used to have nice clothes.
  • I used to be able to go out to lunch.
  • I used to have my own place to live.
  • I used to to be quicker at programming.
  • I used to pick up learning new things quicker.
  • I used to be “happier.”
  • I used to be “healthier.”

All of that self talk caught me in a mental trap of not seeing the beauty in the present or the possibilities of the future. Instead, despite consciously wanting to improve my life, unconsciously I was still living in this imaginary world where I thought I was “happy.” What I realize now, is that despite having made a radical physical change years before, I never really gave the world my authentic self because I was afraid. That lead to a disconnect between me and the world.

While thinking about how I can change “used to” and begin writing & thinking in the positive, I caught myself trying to beat myself up again. I’d say, “I’m going to be healthier again.” I almost did a double take as I couldn’t believe how easy it was for me to unconsciously slip in that comparison. So, I chopped of the word “again” and simply made it, “I’m going to be healthier.” But, we can take that one step even further by declaring who I want to be, but in the present tense: “I am healthy.” Ahhhh, so much better just saying that, free of self-judgement. When you start telling yourself that you are something, you become it! Go ahead: I am a walker. I am a runner. I am a biker. I learn quickly.

One thing I’d also like to share… that’s how “used to” can put a strain on any type of relationship or attempt to form a new relationship. When I discovered this, my mind was blown. I recalled how often I’d tell friends, “Oh, I used to have my own place.” or “Aw man, I used to have a nicer car.” For some reason at the time, I felt like that was necessary for me to tell whoever I was speaking with. Now, reflecting back, I ask myself, “What kind of response was I really expecting?” Because the only response I received was either an awkward silence or an “I’m sorry…” which just makes it seem like I’m asking for pity. And maybe, unconsciously at the time, I was creating my own pity party. Actually, reflecting back… I most definitely was.

So, as I wrap up this article, I realize that I have further work to do on myself and I must continue to love myself and stop beating myself up. However, I will continue to dig deep and ask myself the tough questions and I encourage you to do so as well. While digging around, be incredibly careful to leave all self-judgement out as you consciously discover what you may have unconsciously been doing.

On a final note… remember to also…


Treat Yo Self

Donna & Tom from Parks and Recreation

I’m beginning to learn that I need to trust myself more.

I need to remember a famous quote by Steve Jobs, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” I’m learning that life wants to give us our bliss, but only if we believe in ourselves.

I know what my passion is, but life will always present you with obstacles and temptations. There have been times that I put my passion aside for more money, which ultimately led to me being unhappy and feeling empty.

I know, money is an important thing in life. But when did it become more important than being happy? When did the status quo become “Go to a job you hate for 40+ hours a week and find a sliver of time to do something you enjoy for a couple hours.”? At what point does it take for us to realize that our lives are precious, sometimes cut too short, that we’re willing to spend most of our lives being unhappy? Why is it crazy to believe that you can have both?

I’ve rolled the dice more than a few times in order to follow my passion. I’ve worked at start-ups. I’ve moved to new cities without visiting them. I’ve been called crazy yet smart. Immature yet brave. Extroverted yet quiet. Depressed yet optimistic. Confident yet self-conscious. A risk-taker yet cautious. They’re all true, yet none define me.

Rolling the dice has come with costs. Naturally there have been times that things didn’t work out. I’m 33 and have lost pretty much everything I’ve owned and have been on the brink of being homeless three times. I’ve had two cars repossessed. I’ve been through some dark, depressed episodes.

Yet, once I brush myself off and reflect, I cannot help but smile and laugh as I review what I’ve learned, the experience that I’ve gained, and the new tools I can now equip myself with.

Even with all the negatives, I have no regrets. I feel fulfillment in knowing that I at least tried.

I have no idea where life is taking me right now. I’ve joined SchoolStacks, a small startup with an amazing mission. Broadly speaking, we’re working to improve the education system by bridging the gap between K-12 schools and third-party systems to provide a more individualized, integrated education.

I stumbled upon this opportunity and I’m in love. I feel it in my bones, a passion that hasn’t been ignited in quite some time.

The journey to this moment has been arduous. Since April 2017 I’ve been unemployed and scraped through five months of unemployment by working with a few clients through my own business. Without finding much luck in Florida, I took up a friend’s offer and moved to Virginia. I picked up a job rather quickly, but immediately found myself unhappy with the position. I tried sticking it out, but was let go in a couple months as they could tell I wasn’t happy.

I didn’t even recognize myself at that point. I didn’t know when it would end and began believing it wouldn’t. I started to doubt myself.

Then one day I woke up, both physically and mentally, with the “Damn it AJ, let’s DO THIS!” attitude.

That’s when things changed in my favor. I thought I had trusted myself before. I thought I gave it my all before. Like in The Dark Knight Rises when Selina/Catwoman tells Batman, “You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.” Batman replies, “Not everything. Not yet.” I realized that I truly haven’t given my life, my fight for following my passion, everything. Not yet. It’s easy to fool ourselves.

Today I look back and have connected the dots. The journey was life telling me to refocus on my passion and believe the rest will follow. The journey taught me more about perseverance, resilience, and my gut instincts. The journey has brought my passion back from the dark shadows.

It’s now that I’ve learned that when we know where our passion lies, make a firm commitment to our passion that will brook no compromise, put the full force of our energy behind our passion, and begin living into this passion that we’ll find that life opens to us. Life wants us to live our passion.

Find your passion. Take your journey. Trust yourself.

Since I was 13, I never took a class for programming and very few books peaked my interest. What I do know is this: Given a goal, I believe I’ll figure it out. Sometimes the first round of code won’t look pretty, but it works. As I’ve continued to learn more, I would refactor code to make it cleaner, easier to understand, and more efficient.

Sometimes you may have no idea what you’re diving into, but you have a choice: do you take on the challenge and figure it out or do you miss out on an opportunity to learn something new?

Taking on the challenge diving head first is scary, but it can lead to so many things: Perhaps you’ll learn something new about yourself, good or bad. Perhaps you’re going to figure it out quicker than you thought.

For me, I believe that you have to be willing to fake it until you make it. One of my favorite books, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, has really reinforced my idea that the obstacles can lead to big outcomes.

My Dilemma

Never memorize something that you can look up.

Over my career, I’ve relied on figuring things out and, to be humble, have become pretty darn good as an ASP.NET C# Developer. I jumped into C# without learning some of the basics; I had no idea what object orientated programming (OOP) meant or the different design patterns. I just knew one thing: I believed that I’d figure it out by “hacking” my way through, using Google, Stack Overflow, and examples on GitHub.

I also learned something along the way. In my opinion, you can only really memorize so much. I’ll admit, sometimes I forget how to something simple in JavaScript and I’ll have to do a quick search and then it all comes flooding back in. Even Albert Einstein said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” Think about this for a second. Back then, there wasn’t a concept of the “internet” or Google for that matter. I think we can all agree on one thing: Albert Einstein was incredibly intelligent, but he also knew that “imagination is more important than knowledge.

There have been times, especially during interviews, that I’ve been asked to define a technical term and my mind would be blank. I often ask myself, “Is it really that important that I know the definition or that I know how to do it?”

A Couple Takeaways

You have to be comfortable with making a mistake along the way. When I started working for one company, I made a mistake and deleted a database table. My mentor and supervisor looked at me and said, “Well, at least I know you’re working!” Once again, I’ll reference Albert Einstein who said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

You have to believe in yourself and your previous abilities that you can do it. Take the obstacle, the path less traveled, and in the end you’ll at least get some personal growth.

People can be really smart or have skills that are directly applicable, but if they don’t really believe in it, then they are not going to really work hard.

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, via Entrepreneur

Finally, remember…

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

I was talking with a few friends and somehow ended up talking about commencement speeches.

Without a doubt, Steve Jobs is my favorite and has impacted me the most.

I love my Android phone and Windows computer, and have no hate for Apple, but Steve was truly a visionary. Here’s what really hits home with me:

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

The above really connects with me, especially as I’ve gotten older.  I’ve begun to learn what really gets me going in the morning, what I love doing, and am passionate about. I love being a web developer, but I also love being more involved with the business end and working with clients, sales teams, and other developers. I don’t like being the coder in the corner.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust the dots will somehow connect in your future.

I’ve always been known in my family as the one to “roll the dice” and sometimes I’ve been extremely lucky and other times not so much. Right now, I’m unemployed but have a consulting gig going on, but it’s still a very tough time. However, unfortunately, I’ve been in tougher times. The quote above reminds me that I can’t try and figure out how everything works or the lessons you’re learning while looking forward, but once things get better, I can look behind and connect the dots and learn.

Next up for me is Ellen Degeneres.

Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.

I’ll never be able to compare her experience growing up as a lesbian vs me growing up gay, but she stuck to her guns and didn’t change. I never graduated from UF and generally didn’t like college in general. I know for some careers, you need to graduate, but I just never felt like I was truly getting anything out of it besides the whole “student experience.” I mostly did it because it’s what my family wanted me to do. However, while a junior at UF I was offered a position with a startup called Mobile Campus and I learned more about business, marketing, web development, and more in just a few months than I had years in college. So I dropped out.

Next up is Jim Carrey.

I’ve loved Jim Carrey the comedian. As a kid, I loved The Mask and Ace Ventura. However, I never expected the advice he gave:

Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it.

So those are the commencement speeches that I enjoy and have impacted my life the most. Are there any speeches in general (TED Talks, whatever) that you like? If so, post them below!

Developing new, healthy habits can be hard. For those going through recovery, it’s critically important to understand how habits are formed and how you can build new ones. It may seem strange for people with an addictive personality to have difficulty creating healthy habits, but they’re different as, quite often, healthy habits won’t have the immediate “high” one might have experiences during their addiction. Even though exercise has been shown to help the recovery process by sending out similar “happy” chemicals to the brain, it can take time to develop that exercise habit.

So, let’s go into how you can transform your habits and actually make them stick.

Recognize your old identity

Recognizing who you are now is critically important. Something I’ve learned before starting to form any new habit is to first be grateful for who I am today, even if it’s not who I want to be. As a person in recovery, I’m grateful that my body has learned to survive under incredibly stressful conditions. If I think about it, I’m amazed that I’m alive today considering all the drugs I’ve put into my body. The fact is that your old identity will always be a part of who you are, and you can choose to either hide it or use it to empower yourself. So, take some time and think about who you are, what you’ve accomplished, the storms you’ve embraced, and be grateful that you’re now at a place where you can take on something new and grow.

Think about your new identity

Really spend some time and envision who you want to be, what your new identity will be. To make habits really stick, you need to start believing new things about yourself. Think about the goal you have in mind and then think about the type of person who obtains that goal. This can be hard, but try and think of the identity with the smallest, most viable first step. For example, let’s say your goal is to lose weight. Great! However, as many of us know, that goal may fizzle out (which is why I’m also a fan of battle plans). Think about a person who is fit and what they do, in the smallest measurable way possible. That person probably does something active everyday, it may not be “balls to the wall” crossfit style workouts, but they’re hardly sedentary. So, a small win for your new identity would be to become the type of person who simply moves more every day.

Tie your new habit to something you already do consistently

So, you have your identity in mind… now it’s time for action. Tie your identity to something you already do everyday.  Think about your typical day and things you consistently do without fail. Try and find a place within the parameters of what already works for you. The easiest thing you do without fail is waking up. Can you carve out some time for your new habit shortly after waking up? Remember, you only need to start small, so if your identity is someone who moves more every day, you could wake up and do some pushups, go for a walk, or any other exercise. Think about other possibilities like brushing your teeth, leaving work, going to bed, etc. For example, before going to bed I like to meditate even if it’s meditating while in bed (thank you Headspace). When I wake up, I always do some type of exercise/stretch/mobility workout or go for a bike ride.

Create a routine that supports the new habit

Now that you’ve figured out “where” you can support your new habit, it’s time to create a routine that supports it. When I first started working out several years ago, it was incredibly hard to go to the gym in the mornings. However, once I tied my “exercise habit” to waking up and then set aside my workout clothes and made my workout drink the night before, I almost felt compelled to go since I already set myself up. Nowadays, my car will typically always have a set of workout clothes and my swimsuit, just so that I have little reason to workout after work. The point is that preparation is key.

Reward yourself

Part of any new routine is treating yourself appropriately. This is something I’ve fallen for a couple times, I have a great week of adopting a new habit and I’d end up eating bad food or too much food as that was my “reward” but it was/is counterproductive to my identity. Pick something that is meaningful to you and incorporate it into your post-routine. It sounds silly, but for me I used to jump straight to the computer when I woke up. So, my “reward” now after waking up and exercising is simply getting on the computer and checking in on last night’s TV, my email, or brainstorming new Active For Recovery ideas.

Keep trying.

Defeat is not the worst of failures

Inevitably life will through you some curve balls here and there. But the key thing to remember is that you’re trying to change your life for the better. Don’t how long it takes you to adopt a new habit to others, as everyone is different and this is your change. The only person you’re trying to be better than is your previous self, nobody else. You may have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but that’s not always in the case depending on the complexity of the habit. In fact, University College London conducted a study and discovered that some habits may take up to 66 days! This is why it’s important to start small. Starting a small habit that gradually takes you to your new identity will most likely pay off better than trying to start with huge changes. So, with that said, when you do fall off the wagon it’s important to get back on without thinking of yourself as a failure. You are, like many others and myself, a continual work in progress towards improving yourself… even if it’s just 1% everyday.

I’ll end this with what I feel is an appropriate quote from Theodore Roosevelt called The Man In The Arena which is an excerpt from his speech “Citizenship In A Republic”:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.