Don't Go Out Like a Candle

Final stretch of 2018. There is just over a month left in this year. The holidays can be a very stressful time for all of us--if we are not prepared. I’m gonna be real with all of you. This message is for me as much as it is for you. For the final months of 2018, make the choice to end this year with a bang. Don't go out like a candle.

First, a quick story. My first semester at Columbia University was very challenging. I was a freshman at a prestigious university, adjusting to my first college football season and taking 17 credits. All of a sudden, I had to take a bus every day to our practice facility that was about 30 minutes away. I had practice, lifting, offensive meetings, runningback meetings, film meetings, 2 work study jobs, and of course, classes. Thrust into this situation, I felt the only logical response at the time was to meticulously schedule every day to stay on top of everything. The result was a 3.45 GPA for my first semester. Fast forward to Spring--life became much easier. I only took 13 credits, I didn't have all of these obligations (with the exception of Spring football, which only lasted a little over a month), and guess what? I did mediocre, at best. 2.75 GPA. I learned a lot from that experience. That was one of the first times I realized that life is longer than a semester. It never relents. Things never slow down.

I was reminded of this one night last year as I remembered struggling to sleep for the first time in a long time. I stayed up late watching Punisher on Netflix as a rebellion. It was a rebellion to returning to work, to trying to pursue my passion of changing others' lives through my side business (at the time), coaching, our podcasts, and every other project I was working on, to lifting and cardio, my current experiment and all of the obligations that came with it, the upcoming group challenges, the book club I was running...you get the point. I did my best to slow my thoughts down and center myself as I prayed and tried to calm down. I eventually passed out, and I woke up tired the next day. Luckily, along with this tiredness came a clarity that I had not had in months.

The end of the year can be extremely overwhelming. There are so many stressors--at work, many companies work on a calendar fiscal year, so the end of the year is crunch time for delivering that sales number, closing on all ongoing sales and projects you have going, and evaluating your performance with your superiors. Along with work stressors come the social stressors of the holidays. Travel. Parties. Family obligations. And there are always at least one or two conflicts (or more) with family and friends that we are working through. But there is hope. If you are feeling stressed, try to examine where it is coming from. I will venture to guess that a lot of it may be accompanied by resentment.

We resent that our lives are so complicated. We long for simpler times. It's much easier to stay in our comfort zones. I used to eat to feel good. "Oh! That looks delicious," I would think to myself as I stuffed my face with pastries and junk food whenever I wanted. I used to just show up at work, do what needed to be done and no more. I would watch TV and have lazy Sundays, order out pizza and think nothing of it. No children meant all the free time to do anything I wanted, which a lot of the time meant nothing significant or fulfilling. I would skip workouts and train only when it was convenient. The problem with this, is that I looked and felt like crap. I didn't have as many responsibilities, but I also didn't get to experience the massive growth that came with those responsibilities. 

I am writing this today to light a fire under your bottom. We all need to immediately take our thoughts captive,  let go of that resentment and turn to gratitude. I am grateful that I can wake up at 4am and work on my personal development. I am grateful for 2 beautiful boys who are as different as the day is from the night, and who present all types of challenges for me to work through and find solutions. I am grateful for all of the responsibilities I have at home, because it means I am helping my wife and making her life easier. I am grateful for my love and my best friend, Maura. I am grateful for the daily events that require me to use patience and tact, so that I always act in a way that displays my most virtuous self, as opposed to my weakest and worst self. I am grateful for a body that can walk, run, lift, row, and a million other things, and I will express my gratitude by challenging this body week in and week out. I am grateful for the challenges I have had in the past several years that have led to some of the most profound and rewarding epiphanies in my life, and for finally accepting my purpose. I am grateful for all of the opportunities to help others--the direct messages, questions, texts and phone calls I get every single day--because this means that I have something that others can benefit from. When you break that down, it really doesn't get much better than that! I can have direct impact on others' lives because of my God given talents, and the same goes for you. Lastly, I am grateful for every single challenge and challenging character that comes into my life, because it is another opportunity to prove to myself how strong I really am.

What do we do in light of these realizations? What are the specific instructions? Well, there are none. Time is going to continue to pass and you may not make it to see tomorrow. There will continue to be pitfalls, challenges, and setbacks. Our old mistresses--laziness, apathy, conformity, procrastination, and all of the negative emotions--will ALWAYS call to us. Like the Sirens singing to Odysseus and his crew in an attempt to lure them into crashing their ship against the rocky coast, they will try to get you off your game and turn away from intentional living. All we can do is consistently check ourselves and take inventory of the types of thoughts we allow into our mind. We can't do this life thing halfheartedly. Not even during the holidays—especially not during the holidays. We must be disciplined in our habits. As Epictetus said, "Since habit is such a powerful influence, and we're used to pursuing our impulses to gain and avoid outside our own choice, we should set a contrary habit against that, and where appearances are really slippery, use the counterforce of our training."

Here is my call to action to myself and everyone reading this. I do not want to complicate our lives any more than they already are. However, if we want to go out with a bang and set ourselves up for an awesome 2019, let's focus on two things these next two months. The first one is perfectly summarized by Seneca:

"Let us prepare our minds as if we'd come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life's books each day. Life's greatest flaw is that it's always imperfect, and a certain portion of it is postponed. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time."

There are a lot of goals that will take time to complete, and we must live with that. At the same time, there are things that need to be done every day. These things are in our control, and we should get them done with haste. Let's embrace the process. Let's embrace the minutiae and the errands. Let's embrace adulting. And at the end of every day, let's write down at least one thing we are specifically grateful for that day, as well as one important task we brought to completion that day. Let's try to move our focus away from external events that happened that day (such as, “I got a raise”, or “the weather was nice”) and towards internal events (such as, “I was challenged at work when we had a holiday party and I stuck to the plan”). Write down your wins in a journal, or use the "Joy Jar" like we do. Every time you experience something that brings you joy, write it down on a small piece of paper, fold it and place it in the joy jar. On New Year’s Eve, open it and read all of your notes for the year. No matter how bad you think that year was, your joy jar will help remind you otherwise.

Let's go out with a bang.

Danny Vega