Insights To Help Guide In The New Year

In all of my social network profiles I used to describe myself as “a dreamer, a dabbler and an urban wanderer,” and for the most part, that is how I’ve lived my life. For 2012, I’ve decided to change it to read, “aiming for a more purposeful future,” and that’s how I plan to start 2012. For the past month or so I’ve come to realize that I’m not getting younger, my path still seemed aimless and if I really want to change my current financial and professional situation and anything else in my life, I really need to start to focus. To do this, I realize a few things need to be done.

The End Of The Dreamer And Wanderer:

It’s time for me to let go of my whimsical flights of fancy. They just aren’t going to happen. The very core of my being just won’t let them come true. Through high school and college I had thoughts of being a cartoonist, a writer and doing something in the performance arts. Heck two years ago, I was playing around with the idea of being a stand up comic. Unfortunately, the facts are dead set against me doing any of these things.

The last time I seriously put any effort into my cartooning skills was in high school. I even had an opportunity to pursue this goal by preparing a portfolio to seek admittance to a college that would aid in this. But of course because of my lazy care-free attitude I only made a half-hearted attempt and I was immediately discouraged when I realized the amount of work that it would entail to set up this portfolio. I didn’t want to put that much effort into it. Instead, I rationalized that I prefer to do my artwork for the love of it and if I detested the amount of effort it took to set up a portfolio I would most likely loath a profession in cartooning and that career would only kill my love for drawing. To this day I only doodle every so often.

My college years were the only times I really worked on my creative writing. The only type of writing I do now is what you see in this blog. It was hard work trying to come up with stuff from my head. I was also overly-critical with myself and it was a lot more stressful than fun. On top of that, I was enrolled into CSTEP, which mandated I take a Science as my major. I had applied to both this program and HEOP (HEOP doesn’t have the same restrictions as CSTEP). Both of these programs were designed to give those less fortunate an academic and financial safety net of sorts. Unfortunately for me, because of the status of my high school as a Regents school and my B+ average, I was deemed overqualified for HEOP but just right for CSTEP. Also, that same year of my enrollment, Governor Pataki, had cut the funding of CSTEP. This made CSTEP into more of a tutoring program and I was to fend for myself with financial issues. I decided to stick with CSTEP despite all this. I thought, it couldn’t hurt for me to have a safety net if ever I felt overwhelmed with academics (this decision highlights my conservative nature and will only foreshadow things to come). Of all the Sciences in my school (Manhattanville College by the way), Sociology seemed to be the only one that really appealed to me. I didn’t like Math past Calculus. Though I was fast becoming a tech geek (I had just acquired my first PC the year before), whenever I thought of Computer Science I thought of coders and the IT department. I just didn’t see myself as someone that would spend all day staring at code scrolling down my monitor or as someone that would troubleshoot other people’s computer and network issues all day (ah the folly of youth). I was never good in Biology or Chemistry in high school so that was definitely out. The Psychology program also didn’t appeal to me; hence,  Sociology was it. At first I was content with my decision. Sociology didn’t really teach me anything I didn’t already know (The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer, gentrification, globalization and the exploitation of third-world countries, etc), but it did give me fancier collegiate ways of expressing my views. Then I started taking my electives.

The more I took Fine Arts classes, or English literature or Dance and Theatre classes the less fun Sociology became to me. I realized that I didn’t come to college for the same reasons as most people. I wanted to go to college for Higher Learning not for career-development ( I saw myself as a modern-day Renaissance man). I wanted to take more classes in writing, drawing and acting but my my Sociology classes kept getting in the way. Looking back at it now, I realize I should’ve just left the CSTEP program. It wasn’t doing me any favors. Thanks to the rigorous curriculum at Xavier High School, I never needed tutoring. College wasn’t that challenging to me. But I didn’t leave CSTEP because I saw it as insurance and it gave me ease of mind. Of course, the irony is, that in the end of it all, I burnt out and dropped out of college anyway. Without financial assistance I had to work part-time when I wasn’t taking any classes. Because I liked my electives more than my core classes I kept stretching them out, which led to an extra year in College. The mental idea of my huge building debt and reluctance to figure out my thesis eventually overwhelmed me. Also I had another rationalization that made dropping out an easier decision for me.

I mentioned earlier that I saw college as an opportunity for Higher Learning and not career-development. I also saw it as an opportunity to find true love. I was very idealistic and romantacised everything (even more than now. I have become, or would like to think that I have become, more realistic and cynical in my 30s). Xavier High School was an all-boys Jesuit private school so, on the one hand, it prepared me well for academia but I was very much inexperienced with the fairer sex. Since girls weren’t around my school I didn’t go out of my way to pursue them. I was much too shy and in my head for that kind of effort during my early teens. Being in a co-ed environment in college immediately demystified my awe of females and though I was more mature than my earlier high school years, I was still an infant when it came to relationships. That and having a campus population of less than 2,000 you would think this quest of true love would be mere folly; however, this was definitely a goal that I put my entire being into and without any reservations or inhibitions and by my sophomore year I met and later fell in love with Claudia.

By 1999, two years into our relationship, the only thing I was sure of was that I wanted Claudia as my wife. I proposed, she accepted and with that out of the way I resolved myself to leave college and enter the workforce to help support our future. I’ve done a series of jobs in all that time and everywhere I’ve gone people kept telling me that I should pursue IT work. I’m always talking about tech and helping people with issues with their computers. There were even times when I made a better diagnostic of system issues than the IT department in some places where I’ve worked (not often, but enough that it only cemented in everyone’s mind but my own that IT was the line of work I should be pursuing). Every time that has been mentioned I would bring up my same old arguments about how I just can’t see myself doing the same thing over and over again trouble shooting computers all day (never mind that I was saying this as I was busy helping someone do exactly that). All this time, I kept having circular arguments about how I don’t want to do a boring job but something that would seem new and fresh all the time and yet I don’t want to do a job in something that I love because that would make me not love that thing anymore. It made no sense obviously but when you’re young and idealistic its hard for you to hear your elders sometimes (they just don’t get it, right?). It’s taken all this time for me to see what a non-argument that was.

As time went by I’ve come to realize that all the jobs I’ve done have been repetitive and while I’m doing them I didn’t seem to mind their repetitive nature. When I did, I would find other ways to distract myself. I was so relieved when I became aware of podcasts in 2006. They really helped my mundane life go by.

For a good number of years, Claudia worked at our old Alma Mater and whenever I visited I would be revisited by my past regret of not graduating. I even tried to go back in 2006 but finances made me drop out again. I kept using my responsibilities of being a husband and provider as my crutch and excuse for why I was feeling unfulfilled. I would always lament that I never  had the opportunities that would be needed to pursue my creative dreams.

Also all those years (1995-2009) in the suburbs (or as one my of my new favorite shows calls it, Suburgatory), I felt a lack of something. A need to funnel my energy or creative force (whatever you want to call it) into something. But I didn’t see an outlet for that in suburbia. Then I started blogging and eventually podcasting and those things did help to alleviate some of that frustration. As I was doing these new hobbies I did fantasize of becoming an Internet personality but as we all know that is a long shot and of course requires an amount of energy and determination that I don’t have in me. I did it for the fun of it and whenever I felt like doing it. Whenever it felt hard or difficult to blog or podcast I would just take time off from it. No one gets famous or successful, as far as I know, with that formula.

So anyway, my hobbies helped alleviate some of my dissatisfaction with my lot in life but every now and then I would feel resentful with the world, that it would let a dreamer like myself just whittle away little by little and not be given an opportunity to achieve their goals. I would feel this way even knowing that I still wasn’t sure what it is I wanted to do. I kept dithering between the idea of cartooning or writing or acting but not put any energy into either. Then I had the best opportunity I would ever get.

This past January, I was laid off from my office job with the Passport Agency. In some ways I was relieved because this meant I no longer had 4 hour round trip commutes from Brooklyn to Norwalk, CT. I could finally catch up with my sleep (I was averaging about 4-5 hours of sleep a night). Also, since I was collecting unemployment, this was a good opportunity to pursue one of my dreams. I had plenty of free time to either start writing seriously, go out and look for auditions or start drawing. Instead, I kept hesitating between all three and put more effort into looking for work. Again I opted for the safe choice. I knew that our current economic situation was a bad one and it was getting harder and harder for unemployed people to find jobs. There were even news stories earlier in 2011 about how employers were opting for hiring people away from other companies rather than hiring an unemployed person who was obviously quite available. That little seed of knowledge rooted into my mind and I kept pursuing work more than deciding on which dream to strive for. When I wasn’t applying for jobs I would spend my nights at comedy shows and laughing it up.

Around this time I even dreamed of possibly pursuing a job in audio recording when I went to an open house at The Institute of Audio Research. I sincerely believed that I was ready to learn what it took to become an audio technician and maybe do a radio show or work at Audible.com or something like that. I even started interning at Keith and The Girl. I had free time (obviously) and on top of working for one of my favorite podcasts I thought that I would glean some insight on how to be successful in this area of audio production. I did actually glean some wisdom but it didn’t register until recently.

So eight months go by, my unemployment ran out and in all that time I only manage to seize a retail job where I currently work. I think I’ve reached my bottom or low point in life. And yet I don’t feel as anxious or as uneasy about my life as I used to be when I was working and living in suburbia. At my current job, in between my retail work, I help my associates troubleshoot their Android phones or tell them about some new gadget I read about and they keep telling me that I should be doing something better with myself and definitely in IT work. Finally, I’m starting to agree with those sentiments.

I realized, especially this year, that the thing that successful artists all have in common with one another that I don’t, is a single-minded ambitious-driven focus that also requires a huge level of selfishness and self-preservation in order to achieve their goals. I remember hearing somewhere about a comic asking Seinfeld for some advice about being successful. I’m paraphrasing but basically Seinfeld asked the comic what did he want to achieve and the comic replied he wanted to be successful and have a stable relationship. Seinfeld’s advice was that he first had to work on being successful and once he achieved that level of success he can then work on getting a relationship. That’s why a lot of these successful types are either single, divorced or in short-term relationships. You can’t aim for both with the same amount of fervor.

In the beginning of my adult life I pursued a relationship and found one with Claudia. Everything outside of that was secondary. I built a long steady foundation that was planted in July 30, 1999. There is no way I can put off my relationship and just focus on me and my whimsies with that single-minded focus and not risk what I’ve built with Claudia in all those years. I value my marriage too much to endanger it in such a way. I rather work in my current retail job and maintain our financial stability while helping Claudia pursues her Masters in Interior Design. When she’s done with that she’ll be able to command an even better salary than with just her BFA and I can then pursue something more reasonable like schooling in IT work (heck, I may actually be able to start on that this year  as well).

Fact is, most jobs are repetitive and mundane and I haven’t died of boredom yet. I do in fact love tech, have an affinity and patience to deal and troubleshoot tech. So why not finally make a living doing that. Also, the fact that I had an opportunity to pursue my dreams and I opted for any job and spending my free time time indulging in entertainment attests to my character.

As much as I’ve dreamed about acting and and drawing I spent most of my energy consuming those areas of entertainment rather than working in them. Even though, most of my time interning with Keith and The Girl involved stuffing merchandise in envelopes for shipment I did notice the amount of work and effort that went to create their daily shows. They spent so much time prepping for that days show. While they were doing that they were also discussing future plans and projects that would come out many months later. After the show was done, they weren’t. They would then edit the show for posting. Maybe talk to the guest some more before they left the studio. They would still be working on the show after I would finish my duties and leave in the early evening. They were career-driven and that’s why their show is such a hit. I never put that much effort into any of my podcast episodes.

Assessing all this, it’s clear to me now that my days of dreaming and wandering are over. I now know what I want to do with my life and it doesn’t involve a career in cartooning or writing or performance art. I may still do some of those things as hobbies but for now I must really push myself towards a career in tech which is not only more feasible and financially stable but also something that I’ll enjoy. I do love tinkering with tech after all.

Restrain And Focus The Dabbler:

I pretty much broke this down in the last paragraph. I like to dabble with stuff. I played with HTML when I was creating my websites for my podcasts and self-hosted blog. I installed Ubuntu on my old PC and played around with that for a bit. I even jail broke my iPhone a few times to get some customizations that I wanted to try out. Now instead of dabbling to and fro I’m going to try to focus that energy into my future career goal and learn what I need to learn to work in the field of system admin and/or IT.

Improve My Health Lifestyle:

I’ve decided to cut dairy from my diet. This decision has more to do with selfish self-preservation reasons than some sense of a higher moral ground. Dairy makes me more mucousy which makes my throat have more phlegm and my nose have more congestion. This extra level of mucous in my throat and nose also makes me more sensitive to my allergies and probably more prone to the throat infection I get every year or so. By switching to Soy milk I hope this will clear my throat and nasal passages and make me healthier overall.

I also want to make a concerted effort to eat more vegetables and less processed foods. I even bought a new George Foreman Grill and rice cooker so I can spend less money on take-out and deliveries and make more of my own food to eat at home or bring to work. So far I’ve been semi-successful in this but I’ve cheated a few times already.

The last and hardest thing for me to do regarding my health is get back to exercising. This mainly has to do with my irregular sleep pattern. That old 2hr one-way commute really did a number on me and I’ve yet been able to regress to my old early-bird morning self. I mainly work the night shift at my retail job so the best time for me to exercise would be the morning. But since I keep waking up with just enough time to get my stuff ready and to run for my work shift, exercise has been nonexistent. The past few weeks I’ve been stocking up on whey proteins and other supplements to help with a workout regimen so here’s hoping I nip this issue in the bud sometime soon.

In Summary:

This last month has brought with it a lot of insight and reflection which will hopefully steer me to a more purposeful future. Of course to err is to be human and I’m sure I’ll have my share of stumbles but I think I’m finally seeing things a lot clearer than I ever have before. Here’s to a productive 2012.

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4 thoughts on “Insights To Help Guide In The New Year

  1. Wow Julio, that’s awesome stuff! It takes a lot of time and energy and planning to change the direction your life is taking, and it sounds like you’re making a start. Good for you!

    • Thanks. It’s about time I made a conscious decision about where I want my life to go vs. just going with the flow of it. It’s pretty exciting. Glad to read the situation in Newcastle has improved from its previous earthquake tragedy 🙂

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