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.