Let’s Talk About Stress, Baby

“Let’s talk about stress, baby. Let’s talk about you and me, let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things stress can bring. Let’s talk aboooouutt stresss.”

 

Alright enough with the funny business, let’s get down to the business of stress. It’s no longer a surprise to anyone that stress has been running rampant across the U.S. and most of the western world. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO), has dubbed stress as the health epidemic of the 21st century; reducing our quality of life and sending many of us to an early grave – not cool. Stress is a broad topic area, so in this post I want to get specific and focus on why stress has become such a big problem today and provide you with a few easy tools and strategies to manage the stress in your life.

 

First, let’s get a baseline understanding of stress because it’s pretty misunderstood…

 

People often refer to “stress” as a terrible thing but stress, in and of itself, is actually not the problem. As a matter of fact, stress is an amazing physiological response that our age-old brains developed to keep us safe.

 

Let’s take a look at what happens to our physical body when we get stressed:

 

When we experience a stressor, the nervous system triggers the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol – these hormones make the heart beat faster and raise blood pressure. As our heart rate increases, our blood vessels dilate which increase the amount of blood that gets pumped to the heart and large muscles. We breathe harder and more rapidly to get more oxygen to the muscles. Our muscles contract to prepare us for an impact and the liver produces more glucose (blood sugar) to give increased energy to support the fight or flight response.

 

When you think about it, the stress response is actually pretty friggin cool. Stress is meant to be an ally – we basically become super-human for a moment to deal with the stressor before our rational brain even fully grasps what is going on – it’s pretty much our spidey sense.  People often say they want to eradicate stress from their lives completely, but the truth is; our ancestors probably wouldn’t have done too well against their predators or hunting prey had it not been for the stress response. Even in many present day contexts, we’d be screwed (or at least at a big disadvantage) without it.

uganda
A perfect example of a time where I was thankful for my body’s natural stress response…

 

So why has stress become such a problem?

 

The issue with stress is more often the lack of recovery from the stress than the stress itself. Back in the day, the way it would go is that once the crisis or stressor passed, your body systems returned to normal. The hunter tracking his prey gets this super-human burst which subsides once the prey has been caught. That same hunter later gets ambushed by a predator and gets that same super-burst to fight or evade the attacker until the threat is gone. In this context, stress was the best thing that could have happened for them.

 

But we don’t really experience stress like this anymore…why?

 

Our brains didn’t get the memo that times have changed… it’s 2019 and in our normal day-to-day we’re no longer evading danger or hunting prey in the present moment…we still do this but in our mind. Our brains have this amazing ability to visualize and rehearse things, which allows us to plan for and imagine a future or reflect on and learn from the past, but it also means that we can re-live or imagine stressful experiences that can haunt us. It’s a brilliant little catch 22: our greatest asset (the mind) can produce the same physiological response to stress based on an imagined event that will likely never happen, or be much less stressful than the idea itself.

 

Take dogs for example. If you were to kick a dog, the dog would quickly learn to avoid you to not get kicked again. He’ll avoid you whenever he sees you, but once you’re out of sight, he’ll rest again. Humans however, will replay a situation, past or future, time and time again reliving it as if it were happening in the present moment – therefore the stress response never subsides and that is why we have CHRONIC stress. Those physiological responses were never meant to be held over an extended period of time, and when they are, they can wear us down physically, mentally and emotionally and lead to a slew of unwanted conditions such as hypertension, headaches, depression, anxiety, weight gain, etc. the list goes on and on and on…gastrointestinal, reproductive, and cardiovascular…oh my…

 

So, what can we do about it? For the rest of the post, my goal is to share some simple yet effective tactics to manage the different types of stress in your life.

Jordan squad 4
Giving a presentation in Amman, Jordan that would be published in Jordanian news. Without these stress management tactics, those pants would have been brown, not blue…

There are a few ways I think about categorizing stress management tactics:

  • Strategies to prepare for stress (preventive)
  • Strategies to deal with stress in the heat of the moment
  • Physically-focused tactics
  • Mentally-focused tactics

 

Note that there are both physical and mental tactics that can be used to prepare for stress, others that can be employed in the heat of the stressful moment, and some which can be used for both. Regardless of your preference, to effectively manage your stress, you will need to incorporate all of these different strategies to some degree.

 

Let’s start with the physical.

 

I believe that when we are stressed, the first thing we should do is check in with our physical bodies. While stress often stems from the mind, it shows up in a very real way in the physical body and can instantly change our state. Breathing, exercise, sleep and rest, are the first things I look at when I feel that I am in a state of stress.

 

  • Breathing: What is my breathing like? The breath don’t lie! You can’t be calm when your breathing is short and tight, and you can’t be stressed when your breath is slow, calm, and steady. This is why the first thing I do when I feel the onset of stress is check-in with my breath and begin deep breathing. It can instantly change your state in the heat of the moment.
  • Exercise: Have I been exercising? This is another baseline check in my stress diagnostic. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, and improve sleep – all which reduce stress. While regular exercise is critical to build general resilience to stress, a single session is also a really good way to release stress in the heat of the moment by pumping you with endorphins
  • Sleep and Rest: Am I getting adequate sleep and rest? I’m sure we can all remember a time where we were well rested, feeling great and something that would normally bother us became laughable. Alternatively, I’m sure we’ve all experienced a time when we were worn down, and something seemingly meaningless set us off. Trying to manage your stress when you are constantly tired is like treading water with a 100lb backpack on…you’re setting yourself up for failure.

 

I love these physically-focused strategies because they are simple and can be used to change your state in the heat of the moment. They can also be practiced over time to build a strong foundation to help you to deal with future stressors that will inevitably come. That said, while deep breathing might cool you down in the heat of the moment, it doesn’t get to the root cause of the issue and that same event may stress you out the very next day. In these cases, we need to go a bit deeper to resolve the core issue.

 

In these cases, we can look at some of the mentally-focused tactics to deal with some of the repetitive stressors in our lives. This is where it gets interesting…

 

First, consider the question: how much of the stress in your life is caused by external events vs the internal narrative you attach to that event?

 

Think about the biggest stressors in your life at the current moment: Is it school exams? A deadline for work? A big presentation coming up? A tough conversation you need to address?

 

When you really think about it, none of these things are stressful in and of themselves. It’s the stories we attach to it…”What if I fail? Will I get fired? Will people judge me?”  We create these stories in our mind about the event and THAT is what causes the stress response. I hate to tell you but there are other people in the world faced with the same “stressful” situation who aren’t losing any sleep over it because in their mind, they have a positive relationship with the stressor.

 

Consider this: You’ve been doing your breath work, you’ve been exercising regularly, and you are well rested…but the stress has not subsided…

 

You can now explore 3 options that will enable you to manage that stress

 

  • Change or remove the stressor
  • Change your relationship with the stressor
  • Change your relationship with the stressful thoughts and feelings the stressor triggers

 

Let’s take a deeper look into what these mean and provide a bit of guidance into when each strategy might be most appropriate. We can use an example of public speaking to illustrate each strategy.

 

Imagine that you have an important presentation coming up. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work on something you care about. There will be many big names in the audience who have substantial clout in your industry. People are counting on you. You are STRESSSINNN

 

Change or remove the stressor – you could change the stressor by switching the presentation to a phone call or creating a video to convey your message. You could also have someone else on your team present the content instead of you or even cancel the presentation altogether. Doing this would likely alleviate a good bit of the stress coming from the presentation but I don’t think it would really solve the problem. In this case, removing the stressor would probably not be an action aligned with your values. This is something that is important to you and avoiding the situation would only make things more difficult in the long run.

 

Change your relationship with the stressor – This strategy has saved me many times. Our relationships with people, places, and things can often become a source of stress. One need only to change their relationship with the stressor to alleviate the stress. This is best done through cognitive reframing (aka – shifting your perspective). In the case of the presentation – you can start to think of it less about “I have to crush this, the stakes are so high, if I fail all is lost” and more like “I’m so thankful I’m getting this opportunity, I get to share my passion with leaders in the field today, imagine what could happen if I crushed it.” Moving from an “I have to” to an “I get to” mentality can really change your world.

Note: This strategy may not be very effective in the case of a stressor such as a toxic relationship. In that case, changing or removing the stressor may be a better strategy and one that is more aligned with your values.

 

Change your relationship with the stressful thoughts and feelings the stressor triggers: Finally, you can change your relationship with the stress response itself. When you get on that stage and your heart starts pumping and your breathing speeds up, rather than think “omg I must be nervous” you can remember “Wow, my body is preparing me for this challenge, I am getting more oxygen to my brain to lock in and focus…let’s f***in go!” Learning to recognize this physiological response as an ally rather than an indicator of anxiety will enable you to embrace it and use it to your advantage rather than try to get rid of it to no success.

 

So there you have it  – my perspective on stress management 101 – it’s done wonders for me. I hope you now understand that stress can be your ally, it’s when it becomes chronic that it turns into a problem. You have the tools, now it’s time to put it into practice.

 

Thanks for checking out this post. If you thought it was helpful, consider sharing it via Facebook or LinkedIn

 

Cheers!

Matt

Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance

matt smiling

What’s up folks,

 

It’s been just over a month since transitioning back to the U.S. after 6 months of working and traveling through South America. It’s been quite an interesting transition to say the least. Since I’ve returned, I’ve experienced a fair share of highs and lows, all of which have been good tests for me. There are a few things which I have learned through this transition that I’d like to share over the next couple of weeks. The first, being the most prevalent for me at the moment:

 

Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance

 

Boy oh boy – talk about a lifestyle shift. For the last 6 months, I had encountered new people, places, and experiences around every corner. Each day came with a new and exciting mission – explore nature, look within, face fears, challenge myself, connect with a stranger, etc. I was free. On my own. Doing what I wanted, when I wanted it and not having to answer to anyone…

 

Coming off of this exciting year, I was initially very eager to return home and put all of the learnings and experiences I had accumulated into practice. Once I arrived however, I quickly realized that not everything would be as I had initially envisioned. In an instant, my circumstance did a 180. I went from:

  • Summer sun and beautiful beaches to rain, snow, and cold
  • Complete autonomy to living back at my parents’ house for the first time in 8 years
  • Novelty in everything I did to returning back to my quiet hometown of ~20 years where everything feels the same
  • Being of service to incredible people every day to spending a majority of my time alone in an office, working remotely

 

Ram Das describes this test well “If you think you are so enlightened, go home and spend a week with your parents” He goes on to explain how the more shared past there is in a relationship, the easier it is to slip back into old habits and patterns – reliving the past .

 

So, It wasn’t long before I found myself in a bit of a funk. I was off, my mood wasn’t the same, and I wasn’t really engaging in life the same way. I began to blame my circumstance for my lack of mojo.

  • “I can’t thrive here”
  • “Winter sucks, I’m definitely a summer person”
  • “My parents are smothering me”

 

I was allowing myself to become a victim of circumstance and it wasn’t until I was with my mother, venting about how “unfortunate” my situation was, that I finally realized what I was doing. As I was speaking, my mom listened patiently. When I finished, she simply looked at me and asked “Is this how you coach others?” ….OUCH…but true. As her comment sunk in, I was able to put enough distance between me and my thoughts to observe for the first time how soft and victimized I was allowing myself to be.

 

The fact of the matter is that happiness isn’t dependent on circumstance. We all know people who can make the best situations miserable, and others who can take a miserable situation and turn it into a positive experience. What is comes down to is focus and expectation.

 

Focus. In any circumstance, we choose what we will focus on. For instance, if you set a new year’s resolution and falter on it, will you focus on the fact that you failed and give up? Or will you focus on how that moment of weakness made you feel and use it to strengthen your resolve as you move forward? <– same situation, but the direction of focus yields very different outcomes. “There is no good or bad but thinking makes it so” – Shakespeare

 

Expectation. Nothing can kill joy like unmet expectations. We have expectations that people will behave in a certain way and when they don’t, we get sad or angry. We have expectations of what our lives should be and if we aren’t meeting those expectations, we feel unworthy. We have expectations for the outcome of our actions and if those expectations aren’t met, we become frustrated. It’s good to have goals, but dwelling on unmet expectations won’t lead you anywhere productive. Instead, we must tune into the present moment, and understand that everything in this moment is as it should be. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take responsibility to change a less-than-optimal situation, but never forget that the future is created in the present moment. Each moment comes with a set of choices that will either move you closer or further from your end goal. Stop resisting your current situation and start making the right choices each moment.

 

For me, I was focusing on the thought that I was “stuck back home with my parents” (outcome: frustration) rather than focusing on the fact that I have an amazing family who welcomed me back home with open arms while I prepare for my next move (outcome: gratitude). I had the expectation that my lifestyle back in the US would be the same as my lifestyle in South America, though rationally, I knew this phase would be a necessary step to continue moving forward.

 

Since that realization, I have been actively letting go of expectations and shifting my focus from the things that are “missing” in my current circumstance to view each moment as an opportunity to challenge myself, apply all of the things I’ve learned, and grow. The difference has been a gamechanger. Thanks for the reminder, Mom.

 

Long Story Short: “Don’t seek happiness. If you seek it, you won’t find it because seeking is the antithesis of happiness” Eckhart Tolle

 

 

Thanks for stopping by. Stay classy 🙂

 

 

Matt

What I learned from my own “Heart Attack”

RMD cheese

What’s up beautiful people.

 

I am finally back to blogging after taking off for the last month and back on U.S. soil after the last 6.5 months. Needless to say, I have a lotttt to write about. To spare you the trauma of reading everything in one post, I’ll be sharing learnings and insights from my journey in bits and pieces over the next several weeks.

 

As a brief overview for those who may not have been following – I just recently returned to the U.S. after a sabbatical that I took with my company, Deloitte Consulting. Long story short, my journey ended up taking a few unexpected (but amazing) twists and turns which ultimately led me to Florianopolis, Brazil, to work with an organization called Rosemary Dream. I came to Rosemary Dream to serve as a life coach and facilitator for their flagship empowerment program called “Heart Attack.” The name may elicit a bit of a visceral reaction when you first read it but that is exactly the point…

 

We often hear stories of individuals who had a catastrophic event or near death experience in their life that forever changes them. The stories often follow a similar pattern:

 

  • There was a normal life before the event
  • Then the event happens and they have a realization of what is truly important to them
  • They move into the next phase of their life with a new vision and a sense of appreciation and wonder
  • They often look back and recall the challenging situation as “the best thing that ever happened to me”

 

These stories are usually both inspiring and enlightening and I love reading them, but what about those of us who haven’t had an experience like that? And why must we wait until something so dramatic happens before we wake up, realize what is truly important, and take responsibility for our lives?

 

This is why the Heart Attack program exists, the creators wanted to develop a program that yields the same beneficial effects of a near death experience, without having to nearly experience death.

 

I came to Rosemary Dream expecting to help coach the Heart Attack program, offer as much value as possible given my background, and leave with fond memories of the people and the program. Never did I expect to be transformed in the way that I was…

 

Today, I sit here a better man:

 

  • Physically: I feel stronger than I ever have in my entire life
  • Mentally: I feel clear, focused, and motivated to crush my new goals
  • Emotionally: I feel liberated and healed with an improved ability and confidence to handle any situation that comes my way
  • Spiritually: My heart is full. I feel more grateful than I ever have, I feel happier than I have ever been, and there is more love and richness in my life than I have ever experienced

 

I’ll eventually post about some specifics from the program but for the remainder of this post, I want to share 3 key learnings from my experience in Heart Attack. While these may not seem like net-new insights (and while I already rationally understood these points to be true), Heart Attack allowed me to experience them directly and to solidify the learnings deep inside of my heart and mind.

 

  1. There is a direct correlation between challenges/adversity and personal growth/proud moments. It’s interesting – as human beings, we often try to avoid challenging situations or things that scare the absolute shit out of us. We work hard to bring comfort to our lives; just look at 90% of commercials and consumer products, they are all about making life easier – free of challenging situations and void of “bad” emotions. The paradox is that growth and fulfillment doesn’t happen when we stay inside our comfort zones.  Take a moment to think about the things in your life that you are most proud of or recall your biggest accomplishments. I would bet money that the things that come to mind were very challenging for you or scared the shit out of you when you first faced them. Knowing this – WHY IS IT THAT WE STILL AVOID THESE CHALLENGING SITUATIONS WHEN THEY COME?! WHY IS IT THAT WHEN WE FACE ADVERSITY OR WHEN THINGS DON’T GO OUR WAY, WE BECOME IRRATIBLE, SAD, ANGRY, INSECURE, ETC.?!? It’s crazy how the mind works…

 

During this program I was pushed to my limits – I took a silent fast for 4 days and 3 nights in complete isolation with no food or water, I sat hunched over in a Temescal (sweat lodge) for 3 hours where individuals scream, cry, and pee themselves due to the intensity, I partook in Amazonian medicine ceremonies and ran barefoot on the beach as fast as I could for 2.5 hours straight. Earlier in the program, there were many times where in the midst of the experience, I found myself thinking “this sucks” or wishing it would be over soon. This all changed however, when during one particularly tough experience I recalled one of my favorite Bible verses from the book of James. It reads – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face challenges/trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. In that moment everything clicked, I realized that instead of resisting, I should be grateful for the difficulties and embrace them, knowing that they are building my perseverance and strengthening me. From that moment on, during the most difficult times, I found myself with my head to the sky, saying “thank you” and feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to grow.

 

In Heart Attack, when things get intense, rather than back off, we press in. When people hit their breaking point and lash out in anger or break down and weep, we don’t try to “fix” or soften the situation, we embrace it with a “this is amazing” and press in a bit more, trusting that the experience is making us stronger in the long run. At Rosemary, we understand that resistance is the way.

 

So in your life, when you start to feel that fear, that insecurity, or that frustration, that’s a good sign. Step into it, don’t try to avoid it or soften it. Always remember… No pressure, no diamonds 🙂

 

 

 

2. It’s vulnerability, not openness, that truly connects people and breaks barriers. I consider myself a pretty open person and I never mind sharing personal things about myself. In fact, I often use this as a way to connect with others, I’ll share something personal and it makes that person feel safe with me and builds trust. What I realized during my time at Rosemary is that while I would share things that were personal, I rarely shared things that truly made me feel vulnerable. For example, my life story contains a past that was full of trouble and anger. When I share that, people will often say, “wow thanks for sharing that” or “you were brave to share that with the group”  but the truth is, this is wrong. It’s easy for me to be open about those things because they are behind me – I can confidently talk about those experiences because I know that today, I am a totally different person. The result of this openness tends to be a more one-sided connection, where the person I shared with would feel more connected with me than I would with them because while I was being open, I was not being vulnerable.

 

 

But then I had an experience that changed all of that…

 

When I got to Rosemary, the two men I worked most closely with were absolute STUDS. Now, I’m blessed that all of my guy friends are studs but these guys were next level. Tall, athletic, handsome, long hair flowing in the wind, model looking faces and ON TOP of all of that, they were brilliant at what they did – smart, well spoken, caring, and decisive. Alpha’s in every way.

 

When I first started working with them, I knew I loved them, but there was a barrier between us. As I was looking into what this barrier was, I realized it was my own insecurities. I’ve always been pretty confident, but I realized that part of my confidence was propped up on an identity I had built for myself around being “smart”, “athletic”, etc. and when I was faced with these two studs, that identity crumbled underneath my feet and I was left feeling low, questioning my value. (I will definitely be writing an entire post about this experience but for now, all you need to know is that’s how I was feeling.)

 

During the Heart Attack program, we had an activity that was all about breaking personal barriers and facing challenging situations. During this activity, I sat in the center of the circle, looked these two studs in the face, and in front of everyone, got as real as I possibly could have. I talked about my own insecurities around my physical appearance and described how I focused on other things to compensate for those insecurities, I told them that while I loved them, I had experienced thoughts about not wanting to continue to work with them out of fear of being lost in their shadow. I pretty much expressed every challenging thought that went through my head as a result of being around them.

 

The result was profound. First, it was extremely liberating to express how I felt to these guys, and expressing it in front of a larger group was even more empowering because there was nothing left that I was trying to hide – while these thoughts/insecurities never plagued me, they did exist and I judged myself for having them, never wanting anyone to know these thoughts crept into my “strong, positive mind.” Second, and more importantly, was what this vulnerability did for my relationship with stud 1 and stud 2. The next day I had conversations with each of them to talk about what had transpired the previous night. With all of the cards out on the table, both sides felt a much stronger and deeper connection with each other. The studs also shared some of the same insecurities they were feeling when I first came into Rosemary (like I said, the mind can be a real b**ch sometimes). This vulnerability bred a new level of trust and openness in the relationship and I am happy to say that very specifically, from that moment on, our friendship turned into more of a brotherhood that I share with only a few select people.

 

From there I was sold, I saw the value in this real vulnerability and wanted to continue to test it out. I wrote letters to two of my best friends from home – our relationships were seemingly fine, but there were small little things in my mind that I felt were holding us back from going a bit deeper with each other – and expressed everything that was on my mind, raw, with no sugar coating. Their responses were absolutely incredible and again, from the moment I received their responses, I felt instantly more connected to my friends of 10+ years that I had never experienced before. It was real and pure and has already yielded such amazing results for us.

 

So the takeaway? There is a difference between being open and being vulnerable – true vulnerability can make your heart beat 5x faster and instill a bit of nausea in you before you express it – when you start to feel that, it means you are moving in the right direction. Just like with challenging situations, this is where the real growth happens, step into it and I guarantee you will love the results (note that in some extreme situations you can experience a vulnerability hangover and find yourself thinking “why on earth did I just share that I feel so weak” – keep in mind that’s just the ego doing its work and know that the truth will set you free.)

 

 

3. The only way to truly catalyze transformation in someone is through unconditional love. My third and final point is a little bit esoteric and hard to capture in specific words/examples but it is the most important point that I can make. The Heart Attack program is an immersive 30 day program packed with sessions and experiences to spark empowerment and transformation in the lives of the participants. My team poured time and energy into developing impeccable content and memorable experiences for the participants. What I came to realize however, was that while the sessions had great information, they were not the gamechanger. The gamechanger was the way this content was delivered – with love in our hearts and deep care and commitment towards each participant. Remember, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. We showed up each day with unconditional love for each participant and poured that love into them day-in and day-out, no matter what.

 

 

When we had our end-of-program feedback session, the was a common thread in all of the comments from the participants was around how we treated them. They mayyybe remembered 30% of the content that they learned over the last month, but that will eventually fade too – what they will never forget however, is how much love and belief we had in them to actually spark change – because as my girl Maya Angelou says… People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

 

As I thought more about this, I realized this was the case for me when I came out of the dark ages – I attribute that transformation not to all of the words that people told me about changing my behavior, I attribute that to the unconditional love and belief that I felt from my family. This point was signed, sealed, and delivered during my last couple of days at Rosemary Dream where I experienced an outpouring of love and appreciation from the Rosemary team that I had never felt before and one that I will never forget. At Rosemary, that same love is so embedded in the culture and is clear in everything they do; from cooking you a meal, to sharing a conversation, to giving you a compliment in the morning, you can feel the love in all of it and the only word I can use to describe it is PURE.

 

So here I sit, after my own Heart Attack experience. Everything feels different. I clear understand the things that I want to bring into my life, I understand my gifts and my voice and am ready to bring them to others with a lot of love, I feel an amazing sense of reverence for this thing called life and no matter what happens to me, I can sit back and be grateful, and THAT my friends… is truly a blessing.

 

To close out this post I want to leave you with one final quote that I hope you never forget “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love” – Mother Teresa

 

So, less show and more soul – we have a lot of love to share 🙂

 

LOVE YOU FAM! ❤

Matt

 

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Step outside of your “bubble” to change your perspective…especially when traveling

DR kids

Some readers may see this as a rant but I hope it’s not interpreted as such – I’m not in the business of telling anyone how to live their lives, I am just sharing what has made a big difference in mine.

 

Yesterday was Sunday in Quito, Ecuador. As a pretty religious country, all of the mom n’ pop cafe’s were closed, so I headed to a more commercial spot in the center of town for breakfast. This place was full of travelers and expats which I could easily pick up on from the looks and language of the patrons. As I was eating and FaceTiming my sister, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. When I turned around I saw an adorable little girl but as my concentration focused in on her, my heart started to break – this girl could not have been more than 4 years old but her clothes were tattered, her face was splotched with dirt, and I could easily see the white crust that comes after tears have been streaming down a face. She put out her hand for some money which I gladly gave her. We chatted for a moment, I introduced her to my little sister (via FaceTime) and she went on her way.  What really struck me though, was what happened after she left… as I watched her walk away, I noticed almost 90% of the other patrons turn their backs or plug in their headphones in anticipation of this girl walking up to them so that they wouldn’t have to acknowledge her or face the reality of the situation.

 

In a similar vein, I’m currently taking a break from the hostel life of shared dorms and bathrooms and booked a couple of nights at the JW Marriott (I’ll discuss the irony of that in a bit…) where I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon. This hotel seems to be isolated from the reality that exists just outside of its doors where the employees guard against locals coming onto the property to solicit patrons with gum/water or window-washing/shoe-shining services. Now, I understand that Marriott is branded on customer experience and as a business, I get why they feel the need to “protect” guests from this type of encounter but my personal opinion is that experiences like this, while at times can be jarring, shouldn’t anger us as guests, they should open our eyes to show how good we have it… after all, this is the first place I’ve been able to actually flush my shitty toilet paper rather than throw it in the garbage…

 

One thing I’ve become tuned into over the last few years is that many people within or above our tax bracket, when traveling to under-resourced countries, do it purely for themselves. They want to see the sights and want to eat and drink like kings and queens for a fraction of the price. While they may venture far from their home country, they tend to keep themselves insulated by going to the western spots (hotels, bars, restaurants) and put a layer between themselves and the locals of the countries that they visit. The result is that they come back with some fun stories and cool experiences but no shift in perspective and no understanding of what life is truly like in that country. When I’ve asked how the trips were, the conversations seem to revolve around all of the cool things they did “WE ATE LIKE KINGS!” “WE DID THE COOLEST SHIT” etc. It’s been much less common for me to hear “the trip was amazing, it turned my world upside down and made me so grateful for what I have” or “The people were so incredible and taught me so much about love, life, and joy”

 

Why is this important?

 

Like I said – this isn’t meant to be a rant or me calling people out because they aren’t “traveling the right way.” No, I’m not here to critique travel plans – in fact… this line of thought spans far beyond traveling (I’m just using travel as a way to highlight my point).

 

The main point is that when you are only focused on yourself, and never venture out of your “bubble” it’s easy to lose perspective. You begin to think that your problems are the biggest and most important problems in the world and you miss the crucial lessons that you can learn from others living in different situations.

 

  • “I’m so pissed. School only just started and I already have so much homework I had to miss Sunday Funday”
  • “I can’t believe my ex is already dating someone else…”
  • “I get that we don’t really talk anymore but why would they have to go and unfollow me on Instagram?”
  • “My job literally sucks, I hate my boss so much”

 

Yeah, don’t get me wrong, these situations are less than optimal but to get hung up on them, let them fester, and waste energy thinking about them is such a shame.

 

When you find opportunities to “burst your bubble” and truly experience other environments – those problems that once seemed so huge start to dissolve. If you really open your heart and mind to what’s out there, everything begin to change: your perspective, your motives, everything…

 

For me personally, traveling has been one of the most effective ways to venture out of my bubble and continues to transform me every day.

 

Through my job I’ve had the opportunity to work in countries like Bosnia, Jordan, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Nicaragua, and Ecuador – countries with people clearly living in a different reality than what I am used to back in the United States. In these countries I’ve worked with organizations who serve groups that are severely under resourced and/or oppressed. Working with these organizations and interacting directly with the people they serve, I’ve heard stories and had encounters that I will never forget. Stories of female genital mutilation, extreme poverty, lack of medical care, and strict oppression from both family members and governments. I’ve also seen the flip side, of people who don’t seem to have much but were so happy and grateful and willing to share what they do have. I’ve been blessed to share meals with and stay in the homes of these people and connect with them – and what I learned is that we are no different – we’re all made up of the same material, we all want love, and we all end up in the same place… the only difference are the environments that we happened to be born into. Each interaction has changed me for the better, they made me more empathetic, more curious, more grateful for what I have, more focused on others rather than myself – and I feel fortunate to have the people and opportunities in my life to expose me to the world outside of my bubble.

What’s your point?

 

With the recent news of Mac Miller’s death, which came way too soon, I’ve been thinking about other news of stars such as Avicii, Heath Ledger, and in some cases personal friends – passing at such young ages from drug overdoses and/or suicides when they seemed to have a golden road in front of them.

 

NOW DON’T GET IT TWISTED. I wouldn’t dare try to undermine what they may have been going through – I didn’t know them and I would never be so pompous to speak as if I knew the depths of their pain.

 

What I can speak on however, is my own personal experience. There was a time for me where I was so wrapped up in my bubble. I’d be concerned with how I came across to others, or if a certain girl was into me, or if I acted as cool as possible in a social situation – I just wanted to be accepted and be what I felt other people expected me to be. I’d compare myself to others in via channels like social media and would get down on myself. I was working hard but would see these people who already had the things that I wanted (both tangible and intangible things) and it would make me feel like I wasn’t good enough to earn them. My inputs weren’t immediately leading to the outcomes that I expected and so I began to question myself and my value. I would party hard and drink / do drugs to experience that peace and happiness for just a moment, while feeling like absolute shit (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) the next day because I knew it wasn’t real. My mind even went as far as fantasizing about what would happen if I died and if people would finally start to appreciate what I had to offer once I was gone. It was a dark place that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone and in fact this is the first time that I’ve ever put this out there to the public.

 

But, I was blessed with opportunities to burst that bubble that I was living in which was slowly destroying my spirit and once I started to break down those walls, those concerns stopped looking so ominous and took a back seat. I started to realize what I had and became grateful and joyful.  The questions I asked myself changed from “why don’t I have this yet?” to questions like, “how can I better serve others?” or “how can I make good use of my gifts to show my gratitude?”

 

Once my perspective shifted, so did everything else in my life. The crazy thing is that at first, my perspective was the only thing that changed. I wasn’t doing anything different, I just saw my life through a new pair of eyes until overtime it started to manifest into the physical indicators and now I don’t think you have to look too far to see how grateful I am for all that I have and how full of love and happiness my life has become.

 

This is certainly not just the case for me. At the beginning of my sabbatical I met an awesome dude in Peru who was from the states. He shared with me his story of transformation. He had hated his life – he felt empty and depressed like he couldn’t escape his situation – Peru was his last option, he had heard that it was a place for spiritual healing and decided that it was either going to change him or he was going to take his own life. I was floored by his story because the man I met was happy, in love, and radiated positive energy – in our conversations I learned so much from him about life, gratitude, and what truly matters. I would have never expected that he came from a place of so much pain and hopelessness and his transformation was all sparked from a simple shift in perspective.

 

These stories make me wonder how experiences like this may impact others who are in dark places and are turning to negative outlets as a way to escape them.

 

I’m not suggesting that everyone should give up everything they have and travel the world or become Mother Teresa. I certainly haven’t. In fact, as I mentioned, I am writing this post from the JW Marriott after doing my fair share of epic shit. I believe that we should all be able to eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy the fruits of our labor – guilt free :).

 

That said, I also believe that if we are not growing, we are dying, and if we really want to grow and evolve our perspective, we must find ways to pepper in experiences that take us out of our bubble and help us see the bigger picture – after all, we are all connected. Change your perspective and you will change your life.

 

Bless Up !

 

Matt

 

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