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I don't mean this in an egotistical way, but I don't really think of myself as a regular guy. I suppose I could have been, and I still could if I wanted to get less attention, but I am seriously uncomfortable with 'normal' so I've gone out of my way to be other than regular. Sometimes that means 'excellent' and sometimes it means 'just weird'. And I'm certainly not perfect.
My Childhood in a Nutshell
I grew up in the Middle East, which gave me some exposure to life outside the States, but I went to an American school and never learned Arabic or got very immersed in the culture. I moved to the US in fifth grade and went to a very prestigious college prep school. Despite my outstanding academics and loads of extracurriculars, I never thought I was capable of much and was depressed much of the time. Friends and family urged me to see a professional, but I refused. Instead, I taught myself how to self-motivate and alter the way I thought and saw the world. I read a lot of books trying to get out of my dark patch, but the one that really made the difference for me, and turned me onto the lifestyle of Buddhism, was The Art of Happiness.
This was also when I discovered my love of writing. I spent classes working on sci-fi novels instead of doing my work, and seemed to have quite a knack for putting words together. I love telling stories and know I want to be a professional writer.
During high school, I also earned my Eagle Scout rank and my pilot's license, both acquired after much struggle and frustration. As a pilot, I learned the importance of decision-making, proper mental preparation, and how to ignore emotions like fear, discomfort, and fatigue to get through emergencies. As an Eagle Scout, I learned how to organize other people (the secret is to provide donuts), and stand up to authority when I knew I was right: my scoutmaster had a grudge against me and refused to approve my project.
The Best Years of My Life Weren't
College was only slightly less of a struggle than high school. I had burned out from academics and was accustomed to effortless A's, so I wasn't as diligent as I should have been, and had a pretty rough time. I was woefully unprepared for the intensity of college social life, and became part of a rather volatile group of friends. I was so tangled up in these and my girlfriends that I pretty much lost my connection to who I was; I stopped reading and writing, stopped martial arts, didn't exercise, sleep, or eat well. Pretty much the only thing I continued to do with any regularity was play music (badly).
In junior year, I finally got fed up with myself and my habit of trying to please others at my own expense. I stopped hanging out with my old friends, and I decided to just do what I wanted. I got myself a guitar teacher and played music like my life depended on becoming Eric Clapton. My girlfriend got jealous of my music, and I finally extricated myself from a mutually destructive relationship, which taught me a lot about self-respect.
Starting Down the Path of the Warrior
Summer of that year, I decided to go to Jordan to study Arabic, but spent more time playing with poor Palestinian and Iraqi refugee children than I did studying. That came about via a mystical run-in with a Belgian-rock-star-turned-jazz-playing-Buddhist in the middle of the Jordanian desert; kind of a life-altering meeting. He taught me how to play from the heart, and introduced me to the Family Health Center, where I volunteered to work with the kids. That whole summer taught me how to follow opportunities without fear or hesitation.
During senior year, I committed to taking advantage of my last year and actually enjoy it, which I did by reviving some of my old friendships on my own terms, joining clubs that I liked, and starting a study of martial arts again. It was during senior year that I became interested in elite fitness; being in the kind of shape that really unlocked the fullest human potential, rather than simply being fit enough to get by. This interest bled over into nutrition as well, so after months of putting it off, I started learning how to do handstand pushups and eating more vegetables.
Despite my unconcern for academics, I graduated with good grades and a better idea of what I didn't want to do (what I'd studied) than what I did. Riding the high of finishing college, I overworked myself that summer, and after a difficult three months as a counselor, a painful three weeks with my girlfriend's family that ended in a breakup, and a wearing trip to Switzerland to attend my sister's graduation, I found myself at home with no prospects and a new awareness of how much I still had to learn. I had managed to break free of the pressure to conform in college, but the real world felt totally overwhelming, and I lost a lot of the confidence I'd learned in the last two years.
Charting a Path
I read a few thought-provoking books, and knew what I wanted to grow up to be, but I had very little idea of how to get there. I struggled through a number of interviews and job applications, found myself overqualified for the jobs that would hire me and lacking in experience for the jobs that would make better use of my skills and education.
I spent most of that time reworking my beliefs and trying to learn the skills and habits that would help me become independent. At the time, it seemed like it was just too much trouble to fight the tide of mediocrity, and that if I were to be happy, I should just follow the rules on how things like jobs and relationships worked. I went out for regular jobs, pandering to my potential employers. I dove into the well-meaning but seedy world of pick-up (now called dating coaching) and had some interactions I am not proud of, thinking that I'd just have to accept that this was the reality of relationships. I tried very hard to give up my old beliefs about the world and myself, and while I put on a convincing act, I was terribly uncomfortable dating girls I had only just met and applying for jobs that required me to wear dress shirts.
To deal with my frustration, I threw myself into my training in a drive to become a super-athlete (somewhat motivated by desperation at that point). As a result, I got myself hired at my gym. I discovered very quickly how much difficulty I have following directions. I was always questioning my instructions and responsibilities, so while I was fairly good at teaching athletic skills, I was not the best employee. At first, I was pretty hard on myself for causing all this trouble, but after accepting that I might actually have some good ideas of my own, I recently decided to leave and pursue a more self-directed coaching situation.
About the time this blog started gaining momentum, I accepted that I'd have to be true to myself if I were to be happy, even if it made life slightly more difficult for me. With the help of some very wise mentors I had the good fortune to meet, I came to believe that living by my own standards was a viable and realistic way to get by in life. I stopped chasing women and found a beautiful girl I was so in awe of I was initially afraid of her (a good sign that you think someone is awesome). And I made a commitment to myself and my future being something other than normal and regular, a commitment that has proven both frightening (I will probably never have the security of a 'real job') and exhilarating (I will live by my own standards).
The process of reworking my life to be more in-line with my old aspirations of being a writer has been more of a return to myself than moving to something new. I had to learn what I didn't want to be in order to figure out what I did want to be, but really my life up to this point has been about finally having the courage to commit to myself, instead of constantly trying other peoples' ways of living.