Between people dying, hearts breaking, and a million other things which make us physically ill…we’re guaranteed to feel powerful negative emotions at times.
Yesterday, my coach told me, “There’s no system for grief.”
In other words, sometimes we’re sad and we don’t fully know why and there’s no formula to make it go away right now.
We have to just sit in it. And learn from it.
As readers of this blog know, I try to find the lesson in everything I do. After a painful experience, I allow myself to feel my feelings, and then I’ll ask things like:
What was the value in this? What have I learned? How can I use this as an opportunity to grow?
It doesn’t make shitty circumstances and more pleasant. But it is a long-term strategy for drastically improving as a person.
I handle myself with grace and respect when it comes to breakups, tough conversations with friends, and uncomfortable business dealings. I don’t take things personally and I never lose my temper.
How have I gotten so good at these things?
Because I was shit at them in the past.
I’ve tried to shame women into being with me (oh, to be 20). I’ve treated friends like garbage until they did what I wanted (sorry, Phil). And I’ve been stunned and speechless on the phone when a potential client told me “No thanks” (this year lol).
It’s through moments like these—memories that make us cringe—where the real growth happens. If someone doesn’t have any cringy memories, I assume they’re the same person they were in high school.
I treat women with respect because I know from experience how awful it is when I don’t. I’m open and honest with my friends because I’ve seen how sustainable and fulfilling that is over being passive-aggressive. And I’m detached from outcomes in my business because I’ve felt the agony of obsessing over a result and it not going my way.
It sounds David Goggins-y, but we learn from pain. Only if we let ourselves, though. Only if we seek the lessons.
We all want wisdom. But we don’t want the thing that brings us wisdom.
Yesterday, on the CREATE Program calls, we talked about expressing gratitude.
We separated the things we’re grateful for and the people we’re grateful for.
One woman laughed because of how hard it was to not go straight to the people in our lives. It felt counterintuitive. There’s usually a negative connotation in focusing on the stuff we have instead of the relationships we enjoy.
But my prompt was this:
What are the things—both tangible and intangible—you are so incredibly grateful to have in your life?
Awesome answers included:
• “My sobriety” • “How much time I have left on Earth” • “My past—for all its valuable lessons” • “Having a computer which connects me to so many people” • “My growth”
It was difficult to have this conversation without a big dumb smile on my face.
Here’s my answer to the question:
I’m grateful for the infinitely small probability of getting the life I have.
I didn’t choose my parents or my environment. Which means I didn’t choose to not be a Syrian refugee. I didn’t choose to not have a shitty mom. I popped out in a hospital in Virginia Beach in 1994 and they happened to hand me back to two capable, loving adults. Then those adults raised me in middle-class America.
That’s some good shit.
There are so many factors that could’ve drastically altered my life. A few strands of DNA. One of my best friends not attending my high school. A childhood injury.
But so far, everything has happened how it happened and I look how I look and live how I live.
I’m grateful for the brain I was born with. It has given me the skills to connect with others and create a lovely life for myself. It allows me to read and write every day. It keeps me from being mean to people.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the people I’m grateful for. Stay tuned.
(**If you would like to join wholesome conversations like this one, ask me about the CREATE Program!)
For 26 years, I had two limiting beliefs cemented in my mind.
I could never run a business—I’m not business savvy and none of it is common sense to me.
I’m a talker and a thinker, but when it comes down to it I never take action with the things I want to do.
Today, I work 20 hours a week, make more money than I ever have before, have my dream job…and it’s all from taking consistent action and creating my own company.
Okay, that all sounds like a fake entrepreneur’s Instagram ad. I promise I’m not about to pitch my ebook or online course.
My point is: In the last year, I’ve flipped those two “certainties” on their heads.
I created a sustainable business that pays for my life. And the thought of not taking action if I want something feels nauseating. When there’s something I’m interested in that I think would benefit my life, my first thought is: How can I make it work?
To be fair, none of this came from a simple mindset shift or from a single event. This has all been a slow-growing and consistent progression. (Plus several anxiety-riddled months.)
So what can we do with all this? Or did I just want to brag about my life? While it does feel nice (and a bit slimy), I wanted to highlight an unfortunate truth:
We create fixed identities for ourselves by using the past to define us.
We can hear it in our language.
• “I always…” • “I never…” • “I’m not the kind of person who…” • “I tend to…” • “I could never…”
As Steve Chandler says, we mistake habits as traits. Repetitions as characteristics. Because we’ve done something more than once in the past, it’s set in stone that we’ll keep doing it.
I truly “couldn’t” run a business or take consistent action. Until I could.
When we think we can’t do something, we tend to prove ourselves right by not putting in the effort to make it happen. If I’m certain I can’t write a book, I never sit down to start typing. Therefore, my hypothesis gets confirmed.
Many of us have heard the phrase: “People don’t change.”
What fucking nonsense.
People change all the time. Our values, our habits, our goals…The vast majority of us are experiencing a neverending evolution.
Personalities and tendencies are real, but we don’t have to let them pigeonhole us and keep us stuck in the same place.
I’m aware that this blog sounds like a typical self-help book. But if we just take consistent, scary action…we’d be amazed by the ways we prove ourselves wrong.
But this weekend, I threw up from drinking on both Friday and Saturday night.
Sunday morning wasn’t a typical hangover. It was one of those mornings where one lies in bed like a vegetable and reconsiders their life decisions.
It was in that moment of disgust I decided to seriously cut down on my drinking.
I certainly don’t feel like an alcoholic, but my issue is that when I do drink, I drink like I’m still 20 years old.
I’m a 27-year-old man who doesn’t drink often and who takes good care of his body. Meaning, when I drink like I’m in college again, my body rejects it like poison (which it technically is). That’s not super sustainable.
I don’t find myself to be some high-performing productivity God.
But I do manage my time well and seem to get everything that I want to get done, done. Always productive; never busy.
People often say to me, “I’m sure you’re so busy…” But that’s not true. To me, busy implies a sense of being out of control—too many things to do and barely enough time to do them.
I have a ton of free time because I make sure that I do. I spend time with my friends and family. I take at least one trip each month. I play chess every day. I get plenty of sleep. (*The caveat here is that I’m 27, single, and I don’t have children.)
This is all on purpose. Whenever I feel any of these things begin to slip, I know it’s time to readjust my work and task load.
So today I thought I’d give a peek behind the curtain and run through an average workday for me. I hope it’s not as boring as I imagine it will be.
I turn my SleepCycle alarm off. My phone is on airplane mode from the night before and I can’t take it off until I finish my morning routine.
I put my glasses on, make my bed, and go out to the kitchen to drink my fluids. In the fridge are my water bottles, ice-cold from the night before.
If I worked out the day prior, I chug a bottle of Athletic Greens. Then I drink half of my Nalgene of regular water.
I do this before any caffeine to make sure the first thing I do each day is hydrate after 8-10 hours of no water. Then I make a cup of coffee, usually Bulletproof.
6-8am: Morning routine.
I bring my coffee into my office, turn the lights and my computer on, and scratch off the day before on my giant wall calendar. Then I begin the morning routine I’ve basically had for the last two years.
Look at my Google Calendar and block out my day in my notebook.
I was meeting one of my good friends in real life for the first time. (2021, am I right?)
For years, I’ve been one of those folks who says, “New York is a great place to visit, but I could never live there.” That weekend proved me wrong. And now, when my current lease is up in October, I’ll be moving there.
1) The opportunity.
In 24 hours in NYC, I…
• scheduled two coaching sessions with strangers (one of whom became a client) • played chess hustlers in Washington Square Park • saw Seth Meyers walking with his son (his calves are tremendous) • declined cocaine from the CFO of a major magazine company • bowled with one of my new best buds • ate mushroom chocolate in the apartment of someone I had only met that night
All that to say…there’s plenty to do.
After connecting and setting up my second coaching session, I thought, Wow, my business would thrive here.
Everyone in NYC is pursuing something. They’re looking to create exciting and rewarding lives. My kind of people.
They also probably have money. After three minutes of research, I can confidently confirm the expensive stereotype of New York City.
Aside from the professional aspects, I saw more culture and diversity in two hours than I have in any of my previous travels or books read.
People of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Any type of cuisine. Parents yelling at their children in languages I’ve never heard. I have no idea what country that mom was from but holy fuck was she giving it to that kid.
On top of that, there are a zillion comedy clubs and venues to drop into for a night of entertainment.
Being hosted by an actual New Yorker made all this more enjoyable. I wasn’t a tourist traveling with other tourists. I was immersed.
2) The adventure.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sticking around one’s hometown. I’ve been in Maryland practically my whole life.
But there are certain things we can only achieve by exploring somewhere else—away from the comfort of what we’re familiar with.
We learn what we’re made of. We learn how to make friends and build a community from scratch. We experience a different way of being.
I learned more about myself in my one year in Germany than I did in the previous 20 in the states.
It’s also hard to deny the comparison game. We see friends moving to cool cities or foreign countries and it can feel like we’re doing something wrong by staying put. I’ve certainly felt this.
Anyway, I’ve been down to try out a new place for years, but never felt I had the life skills or stability to make it happen the way I wanted.
I thought about moving a few years ago. But, working in a restaurant, I didn’t want to move to Colorado just to work at a different restaurant. I wanted things to change internally first. (Not judging anyone who has done this. It’s just not what I wanted to do.)
Now, I have a career I’m skilled in and proud of that I can take anywhere. I have a good friend I can be neighbors with in Brooklyn. And most importantly, I know what my values are and I know how to take good care of my physical and mental health.
3) It scares me.
I’m also actually NOT ready. And that’s the point.
Walking around the city, I was in awe. It was like I was in a museum, staring at the buildings and the crowds of people.
I was also anxious.
Everywhere I went, I felt like I was going to be late for something. It was exhilarating. I both loved and resented the fast-paced nature of the city. Stillness didn’t seem to be the prevailing vibe. It was unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me…and I loved that.
Even after I got home from that weekend, I could feel the go-getter nature still pulsating through my veins. I wanted to work. I wanted to do things.
Every single morning in 2021, I’ve written the affirmation: “I love doing scary things.”
One of the biggest areas of growth I’ve experienced this year has been pursuing things that terrify me. I fucking went for it.
I started a business with no Plan B. I flew to another country to pursue a relationship. I put myself out there in ways I couldn’t comprehend two years ago.
In other words, I’ve leveled up tremendously. The only way to level up is to do scary things until they aren’t scary anymore. Then there’s a new level of scary things. And so on.
This is the next level for me. Leaving my home and going to a scary, unfamiliar place.
Until I was about 23 years old, I’m pretty sure I was a compulsive liar.
I lied about: my sex life, my skills, and stories which may or may not have happened to me. The goal was to create a Dillan who was way cooler, more impressive, and more capable than the Dillan I was.
Not only was I keeping reality away from my friends and family. I was also muddying my own lens of the world around me. I began believing the lies I was telling.
I also trusted people less. If I wasn’t being honest, how easy was it for others to be dishonest too?
Studies show that people who are carrying a gun suspect way more people to also be carrying a gun. So too with lying.
One of the heaviest burdens a liar carries is having to remember all that they said.
In my junior year of college, I got caught in a lie. I told one person something that contradicted what I told another person. The memory still makes me cringe. I felt like a child who got caught lying about stealing a cookie.
After that moment of disgust, I set out to intentionally break my habit of lying. It was fucking hard and took me about three years.
Even to an honest person, setting out to not tell a single lie is quite the challenge. It’s almost ingrained in our culture to spare the feelings of others and tell white lies to be polite.
I just finished a book—Lying by Sam Harris—which debunks every reasonable-sounding argument for telling a lie.
My two biggest takeaways are:
1) Lying erodes trust in the people we care about (both consciously and unconsciously).
I have a friend who’s one of the kindest and most compassionate people I’ve ever known. But one time, we were hanging out and someone texted her seeing what she was up to.
Not wanting this person to know she was choosing other friends over her, my friend lied. She said she was just chilling for the night to get ready for an early morning.
We laughed it off, but I remember thinking, Has she ever done this to me?
Now I’ve seen that she’s willing to lie to a friend. Whether we like it or not, I’ll never trust her 100% when I invite her to something and she says she can’t go.
2) Fake praise or encouragement is not kind; it’s disrespectful. It wastes a person’s time and morphs their grip on reality.
False encouragement is a kind of theft: It steals time, energy, and motivation that a person could put toward some other purpose.
Sam Harris, Lying
This has to do with short-term vs. long-term thinking.
If we give open and honest feedback (with grace and permission, of course), in the short term we may risk hurting a person’s feelings.
But in the long term, we accomplish a number of things. We…
• become a trusted confidante • genuinely help this person improve • cultivate a deeper relationship with this person
Giving and handling feedback well is its own separate conversation. But when I create something, I don’t want people to tell me why it’s awesome. That may feel good for four seconds, but what I really want is to build something valuable.
As uncomfortable as it can be, I can only accomplish that by having people I trust point out my blind spots and mistakes.
An essay is always improved after a round of edits.
On the other hand, if I’ve only been told that my thing is perfect…when I share it with the world and no one likes it, I’m left confused and heartbroken.
We can avoid that by simply being honest.
Where do you tell lies—even white lies?
How difficult would it be to not tell a single lie for the next seven days? I encourage you to try it. It’s more liberating than you may think.
Aside from Sundays and the occasional vacation, I’ve written in this blog every morning for two years.
I plan on continuing for several decades, maybe even forever.
The thought of having a 50-year archive of my thoughts, challenges, and stories is captivating to me. Writing these posts has been wildly therapeutic and sharpening. And the fact that people seem to enjoy some of them…it’s an honor.
I’ll never charge a dime for this blog. I write blogs because I thoroughly love to.
In late September, I called my six-year sober friend.
When I told him I was doing Sober October, he responded, “Me too!”
I’ve always commended his ability to be social, go to bars, and dance…all without the liquid courage of alcohol. I’m an extroverted guy but I doubt I’d be the same chipper dude at a bar in Brooklyn at 2am if I were sober.
He asked me why I do it. Why do I take months off of drinking if it’s not a problem in my life?
The answer is simple: There’s a part of me that enjoys partying and occasionally doing less-than-healthy things. So long as that doesn’t get in the way of my work, my health, or my relationships, then I’m good. But a few times each year, I take a month off to remind myself that I don’t rely on alcohol to be fun, funny, or social.
This was the best month yet.
It only took about a week for me to forget I was doing any sort of “challenge.” It helps that I’m not close friends with any avid drinkers.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from this past month. None of them may surprise you…
1) It’s SO much easier to get good sleep without alcohol in our systems.
Not drinking tends to mean not staying up late or doing other drugs. But even if we go to bed at a reasonable hour, a tiny amount of alcohol in our blood can greatly diminish sleep quality.
I use the app SleepCycle to track my sleep data and this was my best month in four years.
Here are some specs from a random Thursday in October:
That’s good shit.
2) NOT waking up with any sort of hangover is the 8th Wonder of the World.
Tied to #1.
I’ve done many drugs in my life—both legal and not. Let me tell you about my favorite one.
The most effective and sustainable drug on the planet is being clean, well-rested, well-nourished, and energized.
A night of cocaine may have made me better at talking about myself for a few hours in the past. But a stable and healthy body has allowed me to compound my efforts, build a profitable business from scratch, and get in pretty damn good shape.
If I had one drug to choose from, I choose that any day of the week.
There wasn’t one morning this past month where I wasn’t ready to attack the day. Even if I was a bit tired or sick, not being wildly dehydrated and groggy made me feel like I could experience the full scope of my day.
3) Conversation is the most important thing.
I’m lucky to have friends who are way more intelligent and creative than I am.
The cool thing is, I get to talk to them regularly. They inspire me. They make me laugh hysterically. They challenge me to level up.
When I visited one of my best friends in Philadelphia last month, the vast majority of our time was spent sitting or walking and having deep and curious conversations.
Aside from the occasional coffee or tea, it was just our own sober thoughts and questions. That’s connection.
In a friend or a potential partner, I ask myself:
Can I sit down with this person and have a three-hour, totally sober, fun and fruitful conversation?
If the answer is no—i.e. if it feels like other substances or activities are necessary for us to connect—then I’ll never truly feel connected to that person.
In other words, I connect with others through conversation: opening up about ideas and emotions and making each other laugh.
I still haven’t had any alcohol since Sober October ended. I’m not craving it at all and to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it until I sat down to write this blog.
That makes me feel good.
I would never tell anyone how to live their life, but I can say this for sure:
The more we can learn to genuinely enjoy our sober minds and surroundings, the more rewarding and sustainable our lives will be.
(*I hope that made sense and I hope that doesn’t sound insensitive to anyone struggling with addiction.)
If you haven’t read parts one and two of my journey to Vancouver Island, go do that first. It’ll help me sleep at night.
Today, I’ll wrap up the story and share the insights I gained from my 16-hour travel day.
Flight 2.5: Montreal to Toronto
After missing my first flight ever, I plopped down at the gate and waited for my new flight to Toronto. I had an hour and 15 minutes until it boarded, which felt like heroin.
It feels strange to write this now, but at that time I felt truly depressed. I felt it all in my face and chest. This was my deepest, darkest fear and it had actualized.
But over the course of that hour, I quickly calmed my nerves by meditating over two facts:
1) There was literally nothing else I could’ve done to avoid missing my flight.
I got unlucky. The delay. The jammed luggage door. The random COVID test.
Perhaps Usain Bolt would’ve caught up to the gate in time. But for me, there was no glaring instance of stupidity that kept me off that plane.
Shit just happens. Sometimes everything goes our way. Something it feels like the cards are stacked against us. Usually it’s something in between those two.
This stoic concept of what I can control vs. what I can’t arrived quickly to me. It’s a habit I’ve built over the years. But the second fact which took over my entire body was this.
2) My life is pretty damn good.
Let me explain.
I was sitting in that chair legitimately feeling the highest levels of anguish and heartache I’ve felt in years. After about 40 minutes of reflection, I thought, Holy shit dude. If THIS is what causes these emotions for you…that’s proof your life is amazing.
For most, what unravels these formidable feelings are things like…
• losing a loved one • feeling lost in life • having clinical depression
For me, it was adding five hours to my day and having to get on one extra plane as I headed to an unbelievably gorgeous island with unbelievably gorgeous people.
Some people really have it rough, eh?
A wave of light and gratitude swept over me. My sadness was gone. My frustration was gone. I got on my flight, joked around with the flight attendants, and headed to Toronto.
Flight 3: Toronto to Vancouver
I got an A&W burger and a rootbeer float.
I called my friend and told her about my trail of tears.
The plane boarded and we took off for a five-hour flight to Vancouver.
Flight 4: Vancouver to Vancouver Island
There was another delay and for the second time that day, I was sure I would miss my next flight.
Please no…I’m so close.
I could see the island. The last flight would be 11 minutes long.
When we finally docked, most of us jogged off the plane. Just outside the gate, there was a man yelling, “To Vancouver Island?” My ears perked up.
“Yes sir,” I exclaimed.
“Right down there to C53,” he said confidently.
I put my hand on his cheek and said, “Thank you, my Guardian Angel.”
Well, I wanted to do that but I didn’t want to miss my flight. I followed his directions and speed-walked to C53.
I made it to the gate to find a young couple showing their boarding passes also out of breath. It was the last gate open in the entire airport. The plane was waiting for us because they knew several passengers were coming from my Toronto flight.
I walked directly up the steps to the tiny plane, sat in my seat, and texted my friend:
“It’s done. I’m on the last plane. Justin Trudeau can’t kill me. He forgot I bleed red white and blue.”
The flight took exactly 11 minutes. It was the most turbulence I’ve ever experienced on a plane. And I couldn’t have cared less.
We landed, I thanked the flight attendants profusely for waiting for us, and I walked out.
“Dillan,” I heard.
My friend was waiting outside the terminal for me. I dropped my luggage and melted into her arms.
This was my first time meeting her in real life. She was smaller than I pictured and smelled just as good as I had imagined.
Also, people have been asking me where Vancouver Island is.
We left off at me getting on my first flight to Montreal. I walked onto the plane dripping with sweat and shame.
Flight 2: Montreal to Vancouver
Montreal is just north of New York state. The flight there from DC only takes an hour and a half.
We flew there on the smallest plane I’ve ever been on, besides when I went skydiving. I was half-expecting the pilot to say, “Good morning passengers! Thank you for attending my very first flight. I’ve never done this before and I’m excited to try. Luckily, no one will notice if this Fiat of an airplane goes missing. Message your loved ones and then put your phones on airplane mode. Seatbelts on please.”
Despite that, we made it over the Canadian border with few casualties. I even had the fortune of having an empty seat next to me—the poor man’s first class.
I had a short layover before my flight to Vancouver, which I thought was lovely. But as time ticked on my anxiety came pouring back in. I forgot about customs. I forgot about delays. I soon welcomed a three-hour layover.
We landed in Montreal and to my horror, the plane just sat there.
Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes…
The captain came on and spoke for about 60 seconds, first in English and then in French. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say I didn’t catch a single word of what was said.
Neither did the other passengers. I looked around and saw confused and frustrated faces. A coup was boiling. I faced the woman in the row across and we exchanged glances. Our energy was: If I attempt to overthrow this plane do you have my back? I absolutely did.
It was at this time I was certain I would miss my next flight. Then again, my anxiety was certain of that when I got out of bed at 5 in the morning.
We finally got off the tarmac and docked. They said the bag I had to check in DC would be coming up the mini-elevator just outside. I walked off the plane and stood in the cluster of 15 others waiting for their bags.
The tension was palpable. I wasn’t the only one who had a quick connecting flight to catch. It was kind of a bonding experience. I would’ve loved to start an army with those folks.
An agent came up to the metal elevator and tried to pull the door open. Nothing.
I wanted to offer to help since I’m so incredibly strong and healthy and handsome. But I was in the back of the crowd.
I heard three more yanks of the door handle and felt the tension grow even stronger. This dude couldn’t open the gate.
He walked away and passengers began trying to open it themselves. After a minute, he returned with one of the flight attendants. She pushed some buttons but nothing was happening. I considered leaving my bag and spending a week on the island without clothes. I’m a minimalist anyway.
After 15 minutes, they finally managed to open the elevator and basically chucked our luggage at us. We were all grateful for this. I said, “Thanks guys,” and for the first time in my life…I began sprinting in an airport.
I’ve wondered for years how unprepared a person has to be to jolt through a terminal. I’ll never judge another person ever again.
I made it through the mile-long labyrinth following the “Connections” signs. They might as well have said, “Lol fuck you Dillan welcome to Canada.”
Thank you. Thank you, Montreal.
I sped through customs which I’m sure looked sketchy as hell. The first two machines wouldn’t read my passport so I had the kind woman help me out. I said, “Sorry, I’m going to miss my flight.”
She looked at me with a face that said: Oh, you’re the one who has a flight to catch. We’ve never had one of those.
I made it through, constantly checking my watch. My flight had boarded already and was taking off in ten minutes.
I passed each airport boss like a video game and was walking down a long corridor toward what would end up being my final foe.
She was checking passports and having all the other frantic passengers move to the right. When she pointed me toward the left I was confused.
“You’ve been randomly selected to take a COVID test, sir.”
I’ve been heartbroken before in my life. I’ve been betrayed. But this…
I have no idea what my face looked like but for the first time in my life, I turned into that entitled customer.
“Miss, I totally understand, and I’m so sorry, but is there any way I can not take this? I’m going to miss my flight. Like, if I take this test I will miss my flight.”
She told me rules are rules and offered to help me sign into the portal to take my test. I pushed the iPad’s buttons passive-aggressively as if doing so would foster sympathy. Yes I DO fucking live in Annapolis. No I DON’T know the Canadian area code of where I’m staying.Fuck you Canada!
I got to the doctor and asked her to shove those q-tips up my nose as quickly as she could. I thanked her and bolted out of the facility.
I can’t remember the last time I sprinted as fast as I could in a non-exercise or sports context. My footsteps and breathing were so loud people were getting out of my way 30 feet ahead. I dropped my boarding passes. I dropped my neck pillow twice.
I was a mess.
My gate was at the very edge of the terminal. Gate 8. I saw the sign for it. I was cramping up. Just keep running. You’re right there.
My flight departed at 2:15. It was 2:15 on the dot.
As I ran up to the gate, I heard, “To Vancouver?”
“Yes,” I exhaled…
“You’re too late,” she replied.
There it was. My deepest fear realized. All that stress and work and sweat. I had failed the mission.
She said, “Did you want to get to Vancouver Island tonight?” It took every ounce of my being to not respond, “Yeah, that’s actually why I booked my flight for today.”
But all that came out was a deflated and defeated “…Yes please.”
I hunched over the desk. I felt lost. I had lost. She got me a new flight to Toronto, then to Vancouver, and then to the island. It added five hours to my day.
“Thanks, Carol,” I whimpered as I read her nametag. “You’re welcome,” she responded, business as usual. “Sorry you missed your flight.”
“Me too,” I said.
As I began walking to my new gate, I looked out the window and saw the plane I was supposed to be on edge away to take off.
I moped my way to a seat, updated my friend who was picking me up on the island, and played a game of online chess.
Stay tuned for part three, where I’ll stop complaining and dive into the lessons and insights I’ve gained from this day.
I just had a week of vacation in Vancouver Island. The purpose of the trip was to visit friends and embrace the most gorgeous spectacles of nature I’ve ever seen.
It was tough to get totally excited for all this though because big travel makes me intensely anxious.
My deepest fears are that I’ll miss a flight, have to pay hundreds of dollars, and realize that I’m simply too stupid to be left to my own devices.
But I followed Canada’s tedious criteria for entering their country, prepped days before, and hoped for the best. I had three flights taking me to Vancouver Island. Here’s how they went.
Flight 1: Washington, DC to Montreal
I got up at 5:30am and my roommate kindly drove me to the airport three hours before my flight.
The Air Canada agent was noticeably kind and great at her job. We started joking and laughing with each other. Then the balloon popped.
She was scanning my documents and sadly said, “Oh no…Mr. Taylor…”
My heart sunk. Was I being arrested? Did I forget about a felony I repressed from college?
I was half-expecting her to say: “Mr. Taylor, I’m so sorry but it says here you’re simply too stupid to be left to your own devices. We’re going to have to provide you a chaperone until you land on the island.” That actually would’ve relieved my stress.
Instead, she told me my COVID-19 test wasn’t going to be accepted in Canada. Those Communists! I remembered the testers from two days prior who said my rapid test was fine for travel. My brain went all Karen and I wanted to write a strongly-worded email.
Pretending to keep my cool, I asked, “What are my options?”
She told me there was a rapid-PCR testing site two terminals away. She also told me the test cost $275.
I speed-walked with my head down, ready to pay a quarter of my rent for a stupid test I already got. When I got to the other terminal, a clerk told me the test site opened in about 40 minutes.
This is why we come to the airport early, I thought.
I sat out front, waited for them to open, and compulsively played online chess to pass the time.
When they did, I paid a million dollars or however much it cost, got my test, and they told me I would get my results in about 40 minutes. I wanted to ask, “Can you ‘science’ it extra hard to speed up the process?” Instead, I reopened my Chess.com app and continued playing.
They called my name 45 minutes later. The sheet said: “Dillan R Taylor: Negative.” I thought, Yeah, that sounds about right.
By the time I speed-walked back to the lovely Air Canada agent, I was coated in sweat. The airport was freezing and I disrobed down to my v-neck.
She gave me my boarding passes and I headed to security. The dude took my ID and the first pass, looked at me confused, and said, “This isn’t you, dude.” I thought of the ‘You’re not that guy, pal’ video.
Hilarious, I thought. But he handed me my pass and it was someone else’s name. Fuck!
I jogged back to the check-in and got in the back of a much longer line than before. I finally understood why people on viral videos acted so entitled while traveling. That shit was stressful and it felt like the world was against me. If only the folks in line knew what I was going through.
I made it back to the sweet woman who was ruining my life and she apologized and gave me the correct boarding pass.
I told the TSA agent I was in fact that guy, pal. He didn’t laugh at my joke and I took my shoes off to prep for security. At this point, a body cavity search didn’t feel implausible. Have your way with me, Reagan International.
Check-in: done. Security: done. Bathroom: done.
I made it to my gate with 12 minutes left until boarding.
At least the worst was over…he typed foreshadowing part two of this story.
By no means am I an expert in content creation. But I’ve made this blog, YouTube videos, and podcasts and have released them out into the world.
Whenever people tell me they’re thinking about creating something like this, I give them the same advice: do it.
That’s because they have no reason not to. Let me explain.
When I prepped all my audio equipment to record my first podcast in 2018, I was terrified. People are going to make fun of me. They won’t take me seriously. They’ll play my content for their friends and have a cringe-fest.
These emotions were even stronger when I started making videos. I was afraid I’d come off as a poser—someone going for something and it just not working.
However, with both of these ventures, I realized a refreshing truth:
No one gives a shit.
It turns out, people I went to high school with were NOT lining up in my comment sections to bash me. There was no one there.
When we start a creative pursuit, aside from a few supportive friends or family members (shoutout Grace and Aunt Pam!)…no one is interested. There are two main reasons for this:
We aren’t that good yet.
Building trust (i.e. interest) takes time.
Attention is a valuable resource. How easy is it for us to click out of something if it isn’t lighting us up?
I’ll occasionally go back and read my earlier blogs. I’m stunned anyone ever read one in its entirety. The question for any piece of content is: Why am I sticking around? What do I get out of this?
We need to agree that something brings us value if we’re going to continue coming back to it. I won’t subscribe to a YouTube channel unless I’ve watched at least 10 videos and loved them all.
So what can we do with this truth that nobody really cares about what we’re doing in the beginning? Simple…
We experiment. We have fun. We try things because we have nothing to lose.
Two years ago, I would write about habits, politics, and finance. I was throwing things at the wall and seeing what stuck. What did I enjoy writing about? What did people engage with?
I wrote blogs I disagree with now. Some blogs even make me cringe. But here’s the kicker.
I didn’t lose any readers…because I didn’t have any readers.
I remember being hesitant to do a podcast where I shared some political opinions. “I don’t want to be divisive,” I said. Then I remember there was no one to divide. I doubt I would’ve had much impact on the three people who listened to that episode.
When there’s no one there to disappoint, it can be a difficult time…or it can be an empowering one. It’s an opportunity to develop our skills, find our voice, and just have fun trying shit.
To anyone thinking about creating content of any sort, my loving advice is:
Just start. You have nothing to lose. No one cares (yet).
Whenever we want to do something cool or useful—travel to a new country, create a business or a piece of content, or have a difficult conversation with someone…
We come up with aggravatingly reasonable justifications to not do that thing.
It’s not in the budget. I don’t know how. The timing isn’t right.
But the timing will never be right.
I look to my mom’s advice on not being ready to have kids. She says…
“I hear so many young people say, ‘Ugh, I absolutely can’t have a kid right now. I can barely take care of myself…’ I said the same thing when I was 29. I was a waitress who partied all the time. But you figure it out. You just do. You have no choice. I had my son and was like…Oh, well, this little boy is my life now. I finished school and started my career. I did all the things I was sure I wasn’t ‘ready’ for.”
My mom obviously doesn’t advocate for shitty parents. She’s commenting on our human ability to adapt and figure things out, especially for the hard stuff.
I don’t want to have a child today or this year. But if I did, I wouldn’t just throw it in the dumpster. I’d do everything I could to make it work! I’d change my budget, adjust my values, and make new decisions for the long term.
Having a baby is a huge example, but we can apply this truth to anything else.
In starting a business or an organization, say, we may feel unqualified to do so. But when we just do it and create clients, customers, and members…we become qualified through practice. Again, we figure it out.
I didn’t know how to run a blog when I started this one two years ago. I had a clunky Squarespace website that was difficult to maneuver around. My writing was meh.
But after posting every day since then, I’ve developed a rhythm and an audience for my ideas. It feels like second nature at this point. Again…I figured it out.
My mom was absolutely not ready to have me at 29. Now I’m about to be 29.
She’s still alive. I’m still alive. So her not being ready was a reasonable fear-based illusion.
The answer: I am both an expert and have no idea what I’m doing. It just depends on who we ask.
Last week, I was playing and tutoring my younger brother and cousin. We were playing online on a Zoom call.
They’re both newer at the game and aren’t too familiar with fundamental chess tactics and strategies. They were mostly winging it. It was a bloodbath.
As I was mopping the floor with them, I would explain why I was doing what I was doing. Each move I made, each idea I had…I would articulate it.
My cousin said, “How are you able to think so many moves ahead?”
This is one of the most common questions people ask about chess. The answer is: I’m not. It’s just pattern recognition. In some way, shape, or form, I’ve seen that series of moves before. It simply comes with practice.
But what struck me as I was giving two teenagers an instructive beating was something my entrepreneur friend told me last year: Everyone is an expert to someone.
They were listening to me as if I were a Grandmaster. When really, I’m not that good at chess. Again, it depends on who we ask.
Last month, I played a couple chess hustlers in Washington Square Park in NYC. I won a game, felt enlightened, and then played a Master. Him playing me was as easy as me playing my younger relatives. Easier, actually. He didn’t even have to think.
The same is true for any skill. It doesn’t take long for us to get into the top percentile. Understanding the basics puts us miles above someone who has never taken the first step.
I started playing chess because it was something I could do with my friend over quarantine. Like many, my interest became an obsession after watching Queen’s Gambit in the winter.
But I’ve only been playing consistently for about nine months…and I’m in the 96th percentile of chess players.
Of course, the road to 97th, 98th, and so on will be quite the battle. But I show this to emphasize the power of two things: starting and consistency.
It’s easy to compare ourselves to people who have started and have been doing a thing consistently. But that just means if we start and do that thing consistently we’ll be in a much better spot.
Nine months ago, I could’ve compared myself to players at my level now (and I did). But I just focused on what I was doing that day or that week and tried to inch my way forward.
“After one jiujitsu class, you’re better than 99% of people who’ve never taken one.”
Start. Then get a little better each week. It won’t take long to become an ‘expert.’
But never forget that you also have no idea what you’re doing.
I just finished Douglas Murray’s book The Madness of Crowds. Here’s my review.
It’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read.
I’m not a super political person, but whenever people ask me where I stand politically (which is an impossibly loaded question), I say:
“My dad thinks I’m a Communist and my friends think I’m a Trump supporter.” (Neither are true.)
I have a lot of problems with ‘the Left’: social justice warriors, woke culture, etc. Despite being well-intentioned and fighting for seemingly just causes…I find most of what the loudest voices are doing and saying are in fact shoving us backward, not progressing us forward.
Unfortunately, many of the books or videos I’ve seen with this same opinion have the vibe of: Leftists and liberals are brats and snowflakes and here’s more detail on how stupid they are.
“Murray is basically saying ‘Look at this insanity. This is going too far. And here are strange and startling examples why.'”
Douglas gives us an articulate, elegant, and well-sourced reminder that the social issues we’re facing today are complex and incomplete. The rules are not yet solidified or agreed upon, yet the mobs on Twitter and on college campuses are acting as if these rules should be common sense at this point.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who believes in social equality and liberty, but who doesn’t think shaming, canceling, or silencing is the best way to achieve that.
People did shitty things and it felt as though life was happening to me, not for me. I blamed others—or, even more vaguely, “society”—for my shortcomings.
It couldn’t have possibly been my lack of work ethic or my non-existent skills. No, clearly the universe was out to get me.
A big part of changing those thoughts was actually brought on by starting this blog.
For two and a half years, I’ve been typing my thoughts out every morning at this desk. The big fear I had when starting was that I would quickly run out of things to write about. I mean, a fresh blog every day? How interesting do I think my life is?
It turns out, our lives are quite fascinating…if we allow them to be. It’s a choice.
We can choose to go through our days as curious observers. I call this the Researcher Mindset. In other words:
Every single conversation, event, or mishap has value. There’s a lesson in everything. If there isn’t, that’s only because we’ve chosen not to look for it.
I’m not a “Everything happens for a reason” guy. I think things just happen…and we have the awesome power to derive meaning and wisdom from those things.
Let’s go through two examples—one small-stakes and one high-stakes.
1) A potential client says No to my business proposal.
No matter how smoothly the process goes up until the sales conversation, I have no control over how a person reacts when I say the dollar amount.
I’ve said a number and had people calmly say, “Oh, that’s it? Cool!” And I’ve said that same number and seen people baffled and think I’m joking.
People have ghosted me, dodged my messages because the money aspect scared them away, and flat-out asked to end communication with me. Needless to say, for a person running a business and trying to help people, this can be wildly frustrating.
This is NOT a post trying to convince someone to get vaccinated. It’s a blog about humility.
How it started
A few months ago, I had a warm debate with a friend about the COVID vaccine. I found her arguments to be shaky and without much reassuring evidence to support them.
But it wasn’t what we were arguing about that struck me. It was the level of certainty she had about her opinions while clearly being nothing close to an expert herself.
Certainty that the counter-evidence was likely bullshit. Certainty that the 1% of medical doctors against vaccines are in the right. Certainty that the virus is being propped up so the government and big pharma may gain control over citizens.
In general, I’m less interested in what a person thinks and care way more about how they think.
The conversation with my friend eventually fizzled out, but I couldn’t help but think: Have you had this debate with any real medical experts?
This was my first dose of humility…because I hadn’t spoken to anyone in that field either. So I decided to change that.
I’m lucky to have friends and folks in my life who are either medical doctors or are surrounded by them. I reached out to each of them and asked for their expert opinions in a neutral way.
I didn’t state my thoughts and then ask for validation. I simply said: “I’m trying to get a clearer picture here. As a medical professional, would you be willing to share your thoughts on the COVID vaccine?”
Every single doctor I reached out to sent me paragraphs in response.
Here are the notable takeaways:
• “I’m extremely confident in my ability to read and dissect medical literature surrounding this topic. I think a lot of people who “do their own research” don’t know the first thing about how to conduct, analyze, or determine the relevancy of medical studies. A Google search is not even remotely the same thing.”
• “One of the reasons mankind is still alive is the existence of vaccines. Polio, Measles, Mumps, Varicella, Meningitis, Influenza, and more…would ravage us if we didn’t have vaccines. I think people have become more skeptical in the world today compared to 20 years ago about nearly everything and essentially with this first new vaccine coming in that time, it’s a perfect target for controversy.”
• “As far as reasons I support it? It’s literally the answer to this problem we are all dealing with. It is safe, it’s well researched, the studies are all massively in favor of it, and it’s the fastest and likely the only way to go back to our normal lives.”
• “After these years of education and practical training, I think vaccines are one those things that have received unnecessary negativity towards.”
• “I know there are people who can’t get it, and that is okay. I also know that people who chose not to get it aren’t necessarily selfish people, they are normally just extremely uninformed or misinformed. Everybody acts in a way that they think is best. But just because you think you’re right, doesn’t mean you are. And in this case, it is causing harm to other people. It’s everyone else’s job to protect those of us who are more vulnerable. It’s part of our societal duties.”
• “I understand people want to be wary about side effects which is absolutely fine, but everything we do in medicine is evidence-based practice. We all take the Hippocratic Oath and essentially we try to do no harm while doing what is right for patients.”
• “I would understand the resistance to the vaccine if there was legitimate cause for concern, but there isn’t. Every single time I see a new BS conspiracy theory pop up, I take a week or two to look at the research and listen to the various experts that I know personally or follow on various forms of media. Without fail, every concern has been comprehensively debunked.”
• “It baffles and frustrates me that people are so resistant to entertaining the possibility that they may be wrong. It’s led to so much vaccine resistance and done so much harm. It’s the reason we are still in this mess, the reason the delta variant is such a problem, and the reason so many people are dying unnecessarily.”
What to do with all this?
To be clear, if any of these doctors said something like: “I actually warn people against the vaccine because of x, y, and z…” I would’ve included that too.
These just happen to be all the major points made by the five people I reached out to. I’m also aware that five people isn’t a great sample size.
The point of all of this is highlighted in the first takeaway I listed: I don’t have the slightest clue of how to read and dissect medical studies. Likewise, my friends who think they can in a matter of minutes seem foolish to me.
I think in the world of the internet—where we can find anyone articulating any opinion—it behooves us to practice more humility.
When did experts become morons? Corruption is real and people make mistakes, yes. But what allows someone to feel certain they know more than someone who’s been studying that thing for decades?
We’re experiencing a strange death of expertise.
Which makes me eternally grateful to have people in my life I can turn to who know way more than I do.
If I were thinking of getting spinal surgery, and I had a friend—who’s a server in a restaurant, say—tell me they actually did some research and thought I shouldn’t because it could damage my vertebrae…my response would be: “What the fuck do you know about spinal surgery??”
Vaccines and spinal surgeries are obviously different things in scope and scale. But what I’m trying to hammer home is the ridiculous nature of listening to people who certainly don’t know what they’re talking about.
This goes for my friends who are for the vaccines as well.
1) I don’t know shit. Neither do most of us…so we should turn to the people who do know shit before cementing our own ideas.
2) Skepticism is healthy, but the point of expertise is to have people we can trust to take care of the wildly complex things which keep our lives going.
3) The next time we feel certain about an opinion, we must ask: How much time have I spent challenging this opinion?Who can I talk to in order to challenge these thoughts?