Redefining Success

Many people, particularly in America, have an exceptionally rigid vision of success. Fast cars, lavish houses, and attractive sex partners dominate our collective image of what it means to succeed in life. Unfortunately, while succeeding at this rigged game may create temporary euphoria and fleeting happiness, it will almost never lead to lasting contentment or inner peace.

This truth has been recognized for centuries by members of both the spiritual and scientific communities. The Old Testament, for example, warns in Ecclesiastes 5:150 that “he who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”

The Dalai Lama makes a similar point. “We have a largely materialistic lifestyle characterized by a materialistic culture. However, this only provides us with temporary, sensory satisfaction, whereas long-term satisfaction is based not on the senses but on the mind.”

In psychology, the concept of the hedonic treadmill explains this process on a biological level. Although humans often seek out excitement and stimulation, our brains prefer to remain in homeostasis, or equilibrium. When we buy shiny new things our brains release a rush of feel-good chemicals. This effect is particularly dramatic if the object of our affection is something we’ve been striving for–that new car we’ve been dreaming about for years or the perfect little home on a tidy cul-de-sac.

However, once the novelty fades our brains quickly kick into gear. Within a short period of time, we begin down-regulating our excitement levels. Inevitably our moods return to precisely where we began and our pocketbooks, and neurotransmitters, are drained. Responding to this emptiness, we soon find some new object to fantasize over and the cycle continues to infinity.

What, then, is a better measure of success? I think the answer lies in the emotions we associate we success. While so many of us are constantly in search of happiness, perhaps instead we should seek out peace. Peace is much more elusive than happiness, and many of us are lucky to experience even a brief moment of authentic peace in our hectic lives. Peace, unlike happiness, is entirely a product of our own minds and can’t be purchased at any store or displayed in an Instagram picture for all to see. It is precisely this quality that makes peace so valuable and yet so rare in modern society.

For me, finding peace has meant embracing my fears and striving to live every moment of my life as actively and authentically as possible. Peace means rejecting social judgments and arbitrary rules and embracing the freedom that comes from forging your own destiny.

Most importantly, peace means letting go. Letting go of expectations, judgments, and comparisons. Rooting out the deeply-seeded insecurities that grow inside all of us and casting them aside. Taking steps, wobbly at first but increasingly sure, towards living the life that resonates deeply with our most important values.

Success is not easy. This is infinitely more true when we achieve it on our own terms rather than those prescribed for us. But each and every one of us have the tools inside of us to carve out this treacherous path, revel in the journey, and achieve deep and lasting inner peace.

Why Self-Respect is Vital to Any Relationship

Relationships are tricky. What may seem like perfectly healthy behavior to one couple may seem ill-adjusted and toxic to another. However, to my mind there is key characteristic that underlies all healthy relationships: respect.

Directed towards your partner, respect promotes open communication, honesty, trust, and sacrifice, all key qualities to lasting happiness. But more importantly, self-respect enables us to enter relationships with those who respect us.

Far too many people enter into relationships for the wrong reasons. For some, a relationship is a way to define, measure, and advance their social status and, by extension, their self-worth. Others desperately yearn for the acceptance of a romantic partner to fill deep-seated fears of rejection or abandonment. It’s no surprise that relationships built on such unstable foundations inevitable come tumbling down like a deck of cards.

Why is self-respect so crucial? Self-respect allows us to enter into relationships on our own terms without sacrificing our identities or values. Often times, a lack of self-worth keeps us tied to partners who do not meet our needs. In the short term they may satisfy some of the anxieties we have about ourselves. But deep down we know something just isn’t right.

The rush of endorphins inevitably fades, and what we find ourselves stranded in unhealthy relationships . As we look around, we find ourselves far from any recognizable landscape of what we wanted for our life. Sadly, many people simply lean into this loss of self, shedding all sense of individuality and defining themselves solely in terms of their relationship.

None of this is to say that inter-dependence, cooperation, or unity are undesirable. In fact, in their purest form these qualities are precisely what makes life matter. However, like many things in life, intention is key.

Growth Through Fear

Prompt: What makes me uniquely me, and why?

Life is nothing without struggle. It is only through struggle and failure that we can experience growth. This hard truth can be quite uncomforting in times of crisis, but as I reflect on my life I have come to realize that my personality, my drive, my soul, all come from adversity.

For as long as I can remember I have been praised for my intellect. As I’ve discussed before, much of my confidence as a child and young adult derived from my ability to succeed academically. My acumen and reason, however, were often overshadowed by cynicism and blind arrogance. I failed to recognize the validity of perspectives different from my own and was shackled to rigid definitions of both intelligence and success.

However, this version of myself was not set up for success. I had limited people skills and even worse coping skills. When failure inevitably struck, particularly through my rejection from Stanford University as a senior in high school, my entire world-view came crashing down.

Now, ten years removed from high school and peak-pompousness, I value my flexibility, creativity of thought, and ability to shift perspective as much as, if not more than, my intellect. By embracing this openness I am able to forge connections between vastly different subject matters. I am also much more adept at social interactions. Which is to say I no longer have panic attacks at the thought of having to make eye-contact with a cashier.

Recently, I have embraced yet another face of my personality. Fear and anxiety have held me back time and time again throughout my life. Fear of failure. Fear of abandonment. And ultimately, fear of rejection. Fear leads us to leave comfortable lives, free from growth and challenge. Fear is the mind-killer.

In the past few weeks, I have come to embrace fear. I still feel fear, often intensely, every day. But I have changed my reaction. Now, I get up close and personal with every fear that is holding me back. Examine them. Explore them. And eventually, I realize a simple truth: there is nothing to fear.

I have experienced failure, bounced back, and thrived. I have been abandoned, left alone to survive, and I have succeeded. And I have been rejected many times in many ways. And yet here I am. Even a fear of death is meaningless, as we are all mortal and must leave this earth eventually.

Embracing this freedom leads to authenticity, authenticity to power, and power to success. This freedom is me. And I am ready for anything.

What’s Wrong with Society?

Self Reflection Challenge Day 4

Prompt: What is wrong with society, and what would I fix if I was in charge?

People are what’s wrong with society.

The 1980’s, and its legacy of greed and vanity, have produced an American populace with misplaced values, apathy, and overwhelming selfishness. Social media platforms have only polished the mirror of self-absorption. These observations are quite obvious to most, or at least to those capable of reflective consideration. But the real question still remains: how do we use these observations to fix society?

Some would turn immediately to the government. Society would undoubtedly be better off if the government paid better care to those struggling the most. Crime would go down. Violence would go down. Health and fitness would go up.

But this solution ignores a harsh reality: our government is elected by the American people. And tragically, most Americans simply do not care about other people.

Liberals care about people in the abstract. But must on the left, particularly in urban areas, ignore the suffering all around them. Sure they may contribute money to a progressive campaign or share a post about whatever Twitter is mad about this week. Come election time, some may even volunteer at phone banks.

But how many of them make any true sacrifice to help the needy? Every day, millions of homeless Americans are ignored by city-goers awkwardly finding any reason to avoid eye contact.

Conservatives are no better. Though much more likely to help out a downtrodden neighbor, most conservatives simply don’t give an ounce of hog shit about people who don’t look and think like they do. Immigrants are a drain on the economy, not fellow humans in need. Muslims are anti-Christian terrorists rather than brothers and sisters in faith. Minorities are just getting what’s coming to them.

America, it seems, needs a reckoning. And in my opinion, that will only come if those who actually do care stand up and make their voices heard. Run for office. Write articles or make videos. Have difficult conversations. Share your love, your kindness, and your spirit. And encourage your neighbor to do so too. We must each take ownership of the world we live in. Until we do, society will continue to suffer.

Self Reflection Challenge Day 3

Prompt: What are your political views and why?

My political views, like many other things about me, are all over the spectrum.

First and foremost, I believe in the value, dignity, and importance of human life. No, that does not mean I am pro-life. As someone familiar with the human nervous system, I do not believe that a fetus possess brain functioning sufficient to qualify it as a human life.

It does mean, however, that I am a pacifist. I do not believe in violence except where there truly is no other option. As reported by the New York Times, there were at least 108 million casualties of war in the 21st century. That number represents almost one-third of the current population of the United States. It is impossible to fathom the collective trauma that our world has endured as a result of these losses. I am by no means an expert in foreign policy, but as a principle I believe that violence should only be used in the rarest and most dire of circumstances.

For this same reason, I am a strong supporter of sweeping police reform. A just government should not rule by intimidation or threat of force. Poor people, and especially minorities, have come to be viewed as less than human. How many times a day do we walk by a homeless person in the street and avert our eyes? Or even worse, call the police? There is a fundamental lack of empathy in our nation. This phenomenon has many causes, including the ever-expanding presence and importance of social media in our society. But at least part of the issue is how we treat the poor, the downtrodden, and yes, the criminals, in our society. Our government should work to build up and inspire its citizenry, to provide its people with the resources needed to flourish. Compassion, empathy, and passion are the answer. Cruelty, violence, and control are not.

I also believe that billionaires, millionaires, and probably the upper-middle class should be paying more in taxes. Our corporate overlords, and the managerial class eagerly riding their coattails to scoop up the crumbs, rely on the American people and its institutions to accumulate their wealth. Without our laws, government, and infrastructure, corporations could not function. Without our citizens and the government education they receive, corporations would not have workers. It is inexcusable and frankly shameful that there are people in our nation who are homeless or saddled with medical debt while the 1%, and especially the .001%, lead lives of the utmost frivolity and luxury.

But Kyle, what about all of the hard work that corporate executives, lawyers, and upper managers put in to achieve their wealth? Shouldn’t they be rewarded? My answer is a simple and resounding no.

For starters, we must ask: should we actually be valuing the work being performed by these people as much as we do? By and large, the most highly paid positions in our economy serve only to increase corporate wealth and do not provide true and meaningful value to the average American. Is Bobby from Sparks, NV really better off because Brad from NYC is getting paid $100k a year to come up with a new marketing campaign for cellulite-masking yoga leggings? By increasing taxes high earners, our country can realign our priorities and incentivize the workforce to pursue jobs that are both truly productive to our nation as well as personally satisfying.

Finally, I believe in the value of personal freedom and autonomy. Although the last section likely painted me as strongly pro-government, I am actually much more of a libertarian when it comes to social matters. I support the legalization or decriminalization of most, if not all drugs. As we have seen, inserting the government into this matter has lead to an explosion in cartel violence but has not created a meaningful reduction in drug use.

I also believe that the government should not be giving out welfare and other forms of “free money” out as much as it currently does. Much better, in my mind, would be a system of work programs similar to what existed as part of the New Deal. We should not be fostering dependence on the government and its money. Instead, we should be investing in our people, providing them with tools to grow and thrive.

Although my political views do not neatly align with one party or another, they do share a common thread. Our government should serve the people, inspire them, and promote their path to self-actualization. We should prioritize peace and stability over dividends and stock prices. And most importantly, we should unite as one until such goals are achieved.

Self Reflection Challenge Day 2

Prompt: What are my religious views and why?

About twenty years ago, my brothers and I attended a vacation bible school at a local church. Neither of my parents were particularly religious. My mom certainly insisted that she believed in God, but at least at that time in my life she was far from a practicing Christian. My dad was often hostile to religion and religious types, but he certainly had a deep appreciation for the lessons of obedience and unquestioning loyalty pervasive in Christian doctrine at the time.

Even at that young age, I had a deep skepticism of religion in general and Christianity.

“Mom, how do we know any of this actually happened?”

“Because sweetie, the Bible says so.”

“But how do we know the Bible is real?”

“Because the Bible is the word of God.”

“But how do we know that? Couldn’t it just be made up?”

I never received a satisfactory answer. And so, I floated through that bible camp, suspicious of the teachings but happy enough to pelt my younger brothers with Jesus-endorsed water balloons in between recitations of the Ten Commandments.

Flash forward about eight years. By this time in my life, I had become positively anti-religion. As a curious often-depressed teenager growing up in a deeply unhappy conservative family, I dismissed the entire notion of religion as insanity.

For some context, I grew up smack dab in the middle of the Bush-era, when the religious right was at the peak of its power. Christianity at that time stood in stark contrast to all that I valued. Where I sought knowledge through science and discovery pastors loudly dismissed climate change as a hoax and stem cells as the devil’s work. Where I sought the love and compassion that was missing from my life, Christians brought all of God’s might to bear against the freedom and happiness of Muslims, Christians, atheists, and liberals. Where I sought honesty, sincerity, and truth, I was greeted with hollow hypocrisy and empty pretense.

To exacerbate matters, I was deeply and fundamentally unhappy with my existence and identity at that moment in time. Although I excelled academically, I was a constant source of scorn and disappointment to my father. Constantly berated, belittled, and beaten down, my only escape was often in school work. My self-esteem was rock-bottom, which made it difficult to make friends. This lack of companionship further fueled my bitterness and hostility creating a never-ending cycle of loneliness. I saw the negative in everything I encountered in the world and couldn’t help but ask a simple question. If God exists, why does he allow such suffering into the world?

As I entered college and began to experience freedom and happiness for the first time since I was a young child, my attitude towards religion began to soften. Confronted with my own mortality, I attempted to reconcile my firmly held belief in science with the potential for an afterlife. I sought out logical proofs of God’s existence, but was once again left as unsatisfied as a Mormon housewife after her weekly love-making session. And yet a part of me began to recognize that perhaps not everything in the world can be reduced to logic. Wisdom, love, fulfillment . . . none of the things could be modeled mathematically and yet all play a vital role in the human experience.

Next came law school. Spiritual concerns took a back seat as I came closer and closer to securing a job in Big Law and a six-figure salary. Success, or at least my conception of it at the time, was finally within my grasp. My arrogance reached its peak and I devolved into my worst habits. I didn’t take my studies seriously, overly-confident after years of coasting through school with a bare minimum of effort. And then, I crashed and burned.

First came the grades. I didn’t fail, but I certainly didn’t meet the expectations of excellence that I set for myself. I began questioning my own intelligence and quickly spiraled into a loop of anxiety. As my anxiety took over, my procrastination only expanded. My entire identity had been constructed around my intelligence and academic success. If I didn’t have that anymore, then what did I have?

Unsurprisingly, my crippling anxiety and lack of preparation manifested in my inability to get a Big Law position that I had so desperately craved. For the next two years, I spent most of my time locked away inside of my apartment on the Upper West Side. Surrounded by people on every side, I felt both suffocated and utterly alone. I was a failure, and no matter how hard I tried to shake that notion, it was engrained deep inside of me like the splinter in my buttocks after I talked back to Papa as a child.

After graduating, I returned home to California. After procrastinating for months, studying for two weeks, and then passing the bar exam, I managed to land my first job as a lawyer. I worked remotely for a law firm making decent money, but soon my insecurities and anxieties once again caught up with me. I desperately sought validation through toxic relationships which ultimately weighed me down like a fat kid in a row boat.

Soon, I was unable to even muster enough strength to get out of bed. I slept upwards of 16-hours a day, sinking into the warm numbness of my bed to escape reality. By September, I was fired.

Over the next couple of months, I mustered what energy I could to apply for new jobs. But like a fisherman without bate , the bites didn’t come. My alcohol and marijuana use, already elevated, reached new highs as my motivation plummeted. My situation seemed inescapable. I felt doomed to a miserable existence, uncapable of love, attention, or praise.

And then, on Christmas Eve, I almost killed myself. If I had access to a gun at that time, I’m sure I would have. But then, at my lowest point, I decided to surrender. I prayed to God for the first time in my adult life. I asked for guidance, for light, and for purpose. Suddenly, miraculously, the storm passed. I gathered myself, went to our family get-together, and resolved to make changes in my life.

Since that moment of despair and enlightenment, I have experienced tremendous personal growth. I have reconnected with my passion for service and have found a career to match that passion. I have made time for the loved ones in my life who had supported me for so long but who I had neglected like a frat bro ignores the burning sensation when he pees. Most importantly, I have found humility, and through that humility I have reconnected with my inner strength and discovered true self-love and confidence.

I am still not a Christian, nor do I expect I ever will be. But I do believe that Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and other world religions have much to offer us and recognize the power in connection, kindness, and hope. I see the world though a new perspective, and though I occasionally stumble, I remain committed to no longer allowing fear and anxiety control my life. For that, I have God to thank.

Mistaken Identity

White. Male. 27 years-old. 6’3″, 205.3 pounds. Lawyer. Liberal. Racist. Wild Card. Conformist. High-achiever. Pothead. Socially awkward. Arrogant.

All of these labels have been applied to me at some point in my life, either by myself or by others. It is in our nature as human beings, and particularly as Americans, to apply labels to everything we encounter. And yet, how much do these neat categories fail to capture? When does data ignore reality? And why does it matter?

According to Psychology Today, our personal identities are formed in three steps: discovering our potential, choosing a purpose, and finding opportunities to exercise that potential and purpose. However, many of us have identifies that have nothing to do with either our purpose or potential.

As a white male in 21st century, and particularly as a member of the professional sphere, I am frequently reminded that I am in fact the worst. Apparently, there is a surplus of my kind, and the world would really be better off without us. According to Samantha Bee, we have ruined America. And apparently, we’re angry at the world for yanking away our privilege.

And yet, despite my identity as a “white male,” neither my race nor my sex have anything to do with my inner potential or my purpose on this planet. In fact, most of what makes me who I am cannot be captured in a data point, or ten, or even a thousand.

My potential doesn’t come from the melanin (or lack thereof) in my epidermis, but from the collective moments of learning, growth and exploration that have shaped my perspective. Similarly, my purpose on this earth has little to do with my . . . Italian sausage.

Then why do so many of today’s liberals (including our professors, reporters, and activists) insist on laying so much blame at the feet of a faceless horde of white males?

Part of it is the simplicity. Narratives, particularly those designed for mass consumption, often forgo nuance and complexity for the sake of clicks. This has never been more true than in the social media when earnest communication has been sacrificed in favor of the convenience and accessibility of #trendyhashtags. Thus, it is easier for a journalist to follow the trend of white male bashing than it is to delve into the many sociological ills facing our nation.

Another aspect is familiarity. At the highest levels of society, most white men do tend to have an abundance of privilege. However, the vast majority of their privilege comes from growing up in stable and economically prosperous households. Of course, these metrics are inextricably linked to race. But it is the economic indicators that I believe truly matter. I for one would rather be born the daughter of an African-American CEO than the son of a white meth-addict, and I believe that most Americans would reach the same conclusion. By using white male privilege as a shorthand for economic and societal privilege, we fail to recognize the true issues causing the disparities we see today.

More cynically, 21st century yuppies use white-privilege as a boogeyman to justify their participation in, and propagation of, an economic system that degrades and commodifies the American populace.

While I was a law student at Columbia, a near totality of the student population held political views accurately described as far-left. Yet I can count on one hand the number of classmates I know who went on to pursue careers in the public sphere. The vast majority of my classmates ended up at one law firm or another, making well upwards of $100k/year to sell their talents to the highest corporate bidder.

At the end of the day, it’s far easier to share another NYT opinion article about how angry white men and Herr Trump are ruining America than it is to forgo a comfortable salary and all of the Instagram-worthy moments it can finance. Meanwhile, corporate big-wigs continue to exploit the American workforce. American city-dwellers, and particularly liberal, urban professionals, are complicit in this exploitation. And though they loudly proclaim their support for social justice causes, they don’t think twice about trading their soul for that sweet corporate cash.

What, then, is the takeaway from all of this? First, I believe that the division and identify politics plaguing society have exposed a great need for independent reporting and media. Similarly, the two-party system serves only to distract the masses from the corruption and dysfunction plaguing our governmental institutions.

It’s time for Americans to retake control of the nation. Instead of getting engulfed in tribal warfare, we need to recognize all that we have in common. Black, brown, white, or green, unless you are a member of the corporate elite the simple truth is that the government is not working in your favor. Our society needs to change at a fundamental level, and it won’t be accomplished by throwing around liberal buzzwords (sorry for mansplaining).

How then do we solve this problem? To me, the answer is simple. We need to start caring. Decades of bickering, hostility, and ineptitude have conditioned us into a state of acquiescence. Career politicians run our cities, states, and the nation at large because few have the passion or audacity to rock the boat. It’s time to break convention. It’s time for ordinary members of society to run for political office and to have their voices heard. It’s time to stop allowing society to label, sort, and deploy us like pawns on a chessboard. It’s time to rock the boat.

Self Reflection Challenge Day 1

Prompt: What are my core values and why?

Most of my problems, both physical and mental, have come from having a core as weak as Biden’s knees after smelling the sweet scent of lavender in an intern’s hair.

Your core provides balance and stability. It centers and grounds you. And most importantly, it allows you to move forward. Yet for most of my adult life, I have been as wobbly as a hammock on Jefferey Epstein’s sex submarine (google it).

Over the past year, and especially since lockdown, I have worked on building up both my physical and spiritual core. Yoga has been an excellent tool for both.

As I have journeyed inward, some truths have emerged from the ether. What do I value? I value my family and I value the countless sacrifices they have been made to put me in the position I am in today.

I also value truth. The search for knowledge, and more importantly for wisdom. The alignment of intention and action. The harmony between body and mind. The connection between self and others.

And finally, I value sincerity. Perhaps sincerity is just a flavor of truth, but if so it would be the proverbial Mango White Claw. I value the feeling of looking into the eyes of another and, even if just for a moment, stepping into their shoes. I value all that hides beneath the surface, past the trendy Instagram posts and social posturing. Raw, pure, human connection without any of the bullshit, guilt, or pretense. This is what I value.

Unfortunately, nowadays sincerity seems to be valued about as much as my Grandma’s collection of Disney VHS tapes. I cautiously hope that other Americans will have used this time of isolation to engage in similar introspection so that we may collectively grow as a nation. Regardless, I’ll keep doing my part and I hope you will join me.

Self-Reflection Challenge Intro

I am a writer.

The lawyer in me wants to dismiss this as nonsense. I haven’t written anything of substance in at least six months, and what little I have written has only ever been seen by geriatric judges and over-worked lawyers.

But the yogi in me rebels. I may not write formally, but I do flex my creative muscles. I ad-lib jokes all day. I dream up entire worlds in my mind, scenarios both foreign and familiar. I make business and career plans that burn out with every joint. Though I may not put finger to (likely greasy) keyboard , I certainly have the talent necessary to do so.

Even more fundamentally, I know there exists a simple truth: I already am all that I desire to be. I am a writer, I am capable, I am motivated. The simplicity of this statement belies both its power and its Because once we recognize this truth, we realize that the only thing standing between our dreams and our reality is our selves.

And so, it’s time for intention to meet reality. Every day for the next month I will craft a response to a different self-reflection prompt. By the end, I hope to achieve several things: increased self-awareness, mental clarity, discipline, and inspiration. I also hope that forcing myself to write this blog will spur me to move on to more sophisticated writing projects, such as analysis pieces and maybe even a screenplay. Worst case scenario I spend one hour less a day raging at n00bs on Among Us.