Becoming Besties With Death

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We all have differing relationships with Death. Some have come face to face with it on battlefields, city streets, or ICUs. Some scroll right past it like an advertisement on a social media timeline. Most of us are aware of Death but are afraid to look it in the eye.

It feels odd to say, but Death has become a close friend. I invite Death along with me throughout my happiest moments—in the mornings over coffee, when my son gives me a big hug, seeing my wife’s warm smile, or when I go out for runs. I have gotten to the point where I actually want Death there with me. Don’t worry—it’s not as dark as it sounds.

And it wasn’t always this way. 

I’m pretty sure I was introduced to Death when my grandfather died a week or so before the first day of sixth grade. Despite being raised with the afterlife-believing theology that comes with a religious upbringing, the mystery of Death was suddenly terrifying. No one could tell me precisely what happens the moment after I would take my last breath. The lack of answers kept my breathing shallow and my eyes deeply acquainted with the contours of my bedroom ceiling. Despite this, like most of my fears, I leaned into it—even, for a time, considering becoming a mortician. Eh, too much school. 

After receiving news that my first marriage was going to end, I realized that worst-case scenarios were, in fact, possible. I buried my emotions about the divorce in order to cope. This resulted in me becoming a hypochondriac. I believe that this made my death anxiety resurface. I was certain that every odd physical sensation was a malady that would flip over my mortal hourglass—like such a scene from the Wizard of Oz. I knew that it was only a matter of time before an odd symptom would lead to a doctor’s visit that would then result in bad news.

Then one did. 

A few years into my blissful second marriage, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Despite an early detection that allowed for a virtual cure thanks to one out-patient surgery, I would still have to undergo regular scans to ensure that the cancer had not spread. Every year, I’d get the “all clear,” and go about my life for another 11 months. One month out, when the next scan was scheduled, my emotional burners would ignite beneath my guts. Just as my anxiety would begin to boil, another “all clear” would swiftly cut the burner off once again. 

Then, one Sunday afternoon, I befriended Death. At a playground.  

With the place to ourselves, I chased my three-year-old son up ladders and down slides. Through wood chips and sand. Jumping, running, swinging, and laughing. As he continued to expend his virtually endless energy stores on climbing and sliding, I sauntered over to some nearby swings to take a load off. As I let a tailwind rock me back and forth, I savored the tired sensation of chasing a toddler up and down the grounds. With a joyful sigh, I felt the presence of someone approach and take a seat in the swing next to mine. I didn’t have to look over to see that it was none other than Death. 

Death wasn’t there to take me. No, he was simply there to show me what mattered. 

The silver clouds reflected a handful of straw-like rays to the east. The ecstatic cluck of my son’s laughter echoed off the nearby treeline. The air in my nostrils carried notes of a recent spring rain as it filled my chest and then flowed out again over the top of my graying mustache. For a few moments, the entire world was free of buzzing notifications, jealous gossip, the frantic compulsion to keep up appearances, and gripping one’s own biases like a bull rider behind the gate. As Death rested its bones on the swing beside mine, he wiped away these diversions like blemishes from a lens—if for just a moment.

I know that, somewhere, my mortal hourglass is hissing with the trickle of sand from one chamber to the other. There’s no way to invert such a device, tighten its waist, or thicken the material within. To make matters worse, our petty squabbles, unfounded anxieties, and insincere motivations only work to scoop handfuls of sand out of the top halves of our mortal hourglasses. 

Most of us look to the upper chamber of our hourglass—filled with worry and expectation about what is hiding in the sand. If we’re not gazing at the top of the funnel, we’re frantically sifting through the particulate that has already fallen through to the bottom. We’re desperate to hold good times up to the light or bury the painful particles we unearth. 

Where should we be looking? The only place that matters—where the dust falls.  

As the air kisses the falling grains, this is where our attention should be—hovering between chambers. Only here, with the tremor of the device, can we change its travel through time and space. And while the top of the hourglass contains an unknown matter(s) and the bottom holds inaccessible sand, what falls between the chambers is the golden powder of life. The only time we can observe this golden powder fully illuminated by the setting sun is in free-fall in the waist of the hourglass—after it has left the above chamber of the Future and before it lands in the chamber of the Past in the belly of the vessel. 

You’re not going to die. No, you are currently dying. Like mine, your hourglass is hissing with the falling sands of time. The sand below represents every day given to Death. The sands above contain materials you cannot access. Instead of filling you with dread, this realization should infuse the present with vitality. It should compel you to stop squandering your time on pursuits of hollow vanity, insincere gestures, or needless self-inflicted anxieties. 

Your relationship with Death while alive should not be one of paralysis but instead a motivational friendship. Death doesn’t come around to frighten, but to inspire. Death is not something to run away from, but to run with every mile of your life. In the parlance of the youth of the early 21st century, to invigorate your daily life with clarity, purpose, and richness, Death should be your “bestie.” 

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”

-Seneca

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

-Marcus Aurelius

How to Design Your Inner Role Models

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inner role models
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Are you living up to your potential? 

Before fleshing out article ideas, I like to bounce many of them off of my wife—the Queen of Honest Feedback When Requested. She’s especially honest if you catch her while she’s cooking—that perfect balance of distracted yet receptive.

I looked up to see her closely monitoring some tofu cooking in a skillet on the stove.

“Can I ask you a completely non-rhetorical question?” 

“Sure. What’s up?” 

“Would you say that you’re living up to your potentia—”

“—no.” 

“Wow, you didn’t even have to think about it.” 

As our laughter over her gunslinger-fast response settled, I was relieved to see that (a) my question had landed properly and (b) that this wasn’t a realization that crushed her spirit.

There’s a decent chance that you share my wife’s feelings about living up to your potential—and my own. Am I living up to my potential? Hell no. But, what would help me begin to move in that direction? In my experience, small daily nudges from a role model that understood me. 

External Role Models: The Good and the Bad

If you need a motivational pick-me-up, there are entire industries dedicated to such a service. From cheerleading personal trainers to power thinkers whose wisdom seems to ooze from their lips like honey off toast, the wellsprings of inspiration are brimming with influencers. 

And what can I say—I’ve been known to fanboy. I keep a rotating carousel of influencers in my consumption orbit—each with their “niche-itch” that they scratch. Maybe some — 

  • Beau Miles for exploring physical and mental space
  • Simone Giertz, Tom Sachs, and Van Neistat for resourceful creativity
  • Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton for naturalist running advice
  • Rabbi Nachman of Breslov for spiritual wisdom
  • Augustus Pablo and J Dilla for music production
  • Rabbi Dr. Benjy Epstein for some spiritual mindfulness
  • Ryan Holiday for relevant stoicism
  • Patrick Rhone, Alan Watts, and Ram Dass for contentment philosophy
  • And many others

And while I lean on them for advice during my various pursuits, there are downsides to such role models. 

A. I don’t know them. 

While I would love to be personally mentored by any of these individuals, this is simply out of my grasp. And I wouldn’t want to bug them anyway. 

B. They don’t know me. 

While some of the people have acknowledged my existence via a comment reply or even an email, most of these people don’t know I exist. In fact, several of my role models on this list are…(wait for it)…dead! Like, super dead. Rabbi Nachman has been dead for over 200 years. 

Because I don’t know them, they don’t know me, and some are pushing up daisies, there’s no way they could ever provide guidance tailored to helping me live up to my potential. 

But I do know who knows me. 

Me. 

You probably know you pretty well, too. 

Build Your Own Targets, Then Take Aim

Unless you’re in medical school or are currently on a trajectory to qualify for an Olympic team, most of us don’t know what our “achieved” potential would even look like. This lack of envisioning gives our potential no target. For this reason, it may be helpful to design your own inner role models. 

What is an inner role model? 

An inner role model is simply a characterization of your realized potential. To put it in another way, do you remember when your guidance counselor asked you, “Where would you like to see yourself in five years?” An inner role model is that version of yourself that stuck with your plan. But wait, what’s the plan? 

Extended Metric-Based Goals Suck

This may be a controversial opinion, but goals are overrated. Sure, they’re great for daily to-do lists, but they’re not great for building lasting personal development. What do I mean by this? Let’s explore with a quick example. 

Let’s say you have a goal to lose a certain amount of weight. Good for you! You start up a new diet and exercise program. Before long, you’re seeing the numbers roll back on the scale and your clothes are becoming looser. After months or even years of hard work and dedication, you’ve finally hit your goal weight. Congrats! But now what? 

While you may have chosen a sensible, sustainable route to weight loss, if you achieved your goal with a fad diet and an extreme exercise program, your wins will likely not last. Diets that feel restrictive take the joy out of eating. Extreme exercise can lead to burnout or injury. Metric-based goals have a hard endpoint before we’re forced into maintenance mode, which feels less like remaining svelt more like being chased down the street by your fatter self. 

So, if we’re not chasing a goal, what should we chase? An identity. 

Choose Your New You

In James Clear’s bestselling book Atomic Habits, he discusses how identity change is an incredibly helpful tool for habit change. He uses the example of someone who wants to quit smoking. When offered a cigarette, one could refuse it on the basis that they are trying to stop smoking. This person still sees themself as a smoker. A more powerful mindset is to refuse a cigarette on the grounds that they don’t smoke. This person has chosen to take on a new identity: a non-smoker. Non-smokers, by definition, do not smoke, thus making smoking not an option. 

There’s no goal to pursue— simply the process of choosing a new identity and then becoming acclimated to said identity. These new identities are a part of living up to your potential by being your own inner role model—in their case, the non-smoker. 

Designing Your Various Inner Role Models

If you were to seek out help living up to your full potential, there’s likely no single person that would be equipped to assist with every sphere of development. You are a multi-faceted person and your desired growth likely spans lifestyle categories. You may want to grow professionally, physically, spiritually, artistically, socially, and beyond. Each of these segments of your development would require hiring a different consultant—a different role model. 

For this reason, it is helpful to design an inner role model for each category of development—a different version of you that has reached or is in the process of reaching your potential in one mode of being. 

First, let’s explore where you can begin working towards living up to your potential and then design the inner role model that will help you on your journey toward this new identity. Let’s start with a five-year period.

Where would you like to be in five years? 

  • In what state would you prefer your romantic, parental, familial, or social relationships to be in five years? 
  • What would you like your relationship with physical fitness to look like in five years?
  • What levels of focus and peace would you like to experience in five years? 
  • Where would you like to be spiritually in five years? 
  • Where would you like to be professionally or financially in five years?
  • Etc. 

Now, what kind of person would you have to be to achieve these conditions and maintain them far beyond five years? These are your inner role models. 

Crafting Your Inner Role Models

When crafting your inner role models, it is important to remember that these personas are you. They share your motivations and your fears. Unlike you, though, these are versions of you that have persevered and have achieved the identity as a version of you that lives up to your potential. They are the non-smoker, the caring sister, the artist, the professional, the runner, the architect—while all being you. 

As an example for this piece, I will use an inner role model I have been in the process of developing to help me with my physical fitness and mindfulness movement—Kenny Sandals. 

Naming Your Inner Role Models

While the name you choose for this inner role model for yourself is not incredibly important, a name is a helpful handle to hold onto when you need to consult this identity. I chose “Kenny Sandals” because this role model is a free-spirited runner. Kenny Sandals runs in a natural way, usually in running huarache sandals. The name doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. 

Choose a Sustainable Motivation

Why are you wanting to develop this side of yourself? Your inner role model’s motivation is the continued fuel in their tank. For Kenny Sandals, his motivation is experiencing as many hours of runner’s high as possible. 

While I could have said that Kenny Sandals wants to complete a marathon, this wouldn’t have been the best fuel in his tank. 

  • He may end up taking shortcuts to complete a horrible marathon.
  • He may overtrain and injure himself.
  • He may obsess over metrics and forget to have fun.
  • He may complete the marathon and then completely evaporate. 

However, because his goal is achieving the most amount of runner’s high, this ensures that other conditions must be met. 

  • His form needs to be smooth and prevent injury. 
  • His nutrition needs to support his running.
  • He needs to manage his weight so he can continue to run better.
  • While he will need to push himself to run miles through rough patches and run when he doesn’t feel up to it, he needs to remember to keep a cheerful outlook or the runner’s high may never arrive.

Choose Their Pet Peeves

Your inner role models need to be annoyed by distractions from their motivations. These pet peeves should begin to shape your own behavior. These annoyances act as a pebble in their shoe—forcing them (and you) to course correct when you’re beginning to lose sight of their motivations. Let’s look at Kenny Sandals’ pet peeves. 

  • He doesn’t like losing sleep—preferring sensible bedtimes and sleep-promoting behaviors.
  • He doesn’t like excessive junk food, sugar, or other substances that make running less enjoyable. 
  • He doesn’t like unnatural cushy footwear that messes with his running form and results in sore knees that hinder his ability to run.
  • He doesn’t like dwelling on negativity—instead, using bad experiences as learning tools. 
  • He doesn’t like being cooped up inside and not able to be active.
  • While he likes the occasional brewski (especially after a run), he doesn’t like excessive drinking because of how it impacts later running.
  • Oddly enough, he doesn’t like competition—unless it’s very friendly and lighthearted. He’s already competing with himself as much as it is.
  • He avoids whiners, complainers, and overall negativity wherever he can.

Describe Your Inner Role Models

Your inner role models are your supportive friends. Because they are your friends, you should be able to identify them. This exercise also helps them seem more real to you. 

Take a few moments to write a detailed description of each of your inner role models as you design them. Write what their day looks like, how they behave, what they look like, and how they would respond to certain situations. 

For Example: 

Part myth, part legend, Kenny Sandals is all about LSD—yep, long slow distance. He is a free spirit who loves exploring his world on two barely-sandaled feet. He carries an unflappable smile and doesn’t care what others think about him. He wanders down roads, shoulders, trails, sidewalks, and paths all over town like a grinning quick-footed wizard or gnome—long beard flapping in the breeze, toes exposed to the sky—usually donning a trucker cap, cheap shorts, a random t-shirt, the least amount of footwear. He waves to most people he passes and nobody ever knows where he’s headed. He’ll run the occasional race or pub crawl, but usually just for the sense of community. And you better believe he’s always game for a post-run beer, but he usually has to earn it first.

What Would (Insert Inner Role Model Name Here) Do? 

Now that this inner role model has begun to take shape, it is time to channel them to work towards achieving your potential in their facet of your life. When planning your day, consult your inner role models to see what they would do. Let them guide your daily habits, your diet, your personal interactions, and the like. If you have designed them with the proper motivations and pet peeves, they should guide your day in a sustainable way that meshes with what you truly want out of life. 

Once a month, make a date with your inner role model to make sure you’re living up to their motivations and not the motivations of others—even if those are misguided motivations you find yourself drawn toward—such as unhealthy habits, vanity metrics, acclaim from others, and the like. Make sure you’re not placing pebbles in the shoes of our inner role models and realign your daily activities to scratch their itches.

Revisit Your Inner Role Models

Though remaining tethered to a revolving carousel of inner role models is a great way to start living up to your potential, you may find that your motivations change over time. For this reason, every quarter or six months, reevaluate if your inner role models’ motivations still truly match your own or at are appropriately actionable levels. There’s no shame in adjusting the intensity of your inner role model’s motivations if you’re simply unable to live up to their standards. Still, this should only be done for the sake of creating forward momentum. While motivations may change, make sure that your new motivations aren’t simply surrendering to apathy. 

Inner Role Models Accountability

You may choose to form your inner role models with friends. Sharing your inner role models with friends is a great way to create accountability. In this way, you can check with each other to see how happy or annoyed their inner role models are. 

I’d love to meet your inner role models at ken@thekenlane.com and hear if you’re keeping them happy. Feel free to ask me how Kenny Sandals is doing. 


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Determine How to Spend Time With One Question

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There have never been more ways to spend your time. Even if you have chosen to sit on your duff and watch a screen, the choices are endless.

Do you want to watch Netflix? Hulu? HBO? It seems like we’ll never scratch the surface of even figuring out what show to watch next. 

And that’s just watching TV. If you want to listen to music, read a book, take a class, cook a meal, or anything else—the options aren’t virtually endless, they’re genuinely endless in the span of a single human lifetime. It feels like we’re on a crusade against the word “boredom”—committed to ending its use.

So, how do we determine how to spend our time? 

I had been experiencing this dilemma lately. It would start with something mindless—a YouTube binge, a meme-scroll session, or something else. Then, after a while, my default mode network would flicker slightly and I’d “wake up” to the recurring question:

Is this is what I should be doing? Is this how I should be spending my time?

Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless escape into the world of entertainment with low nutritional value. But like consuming loads of empty calories, I never found myself feeling especially glad that I had done so. 

That’s when I asked myself a question that has become an immensely useful litmus test for gauging whether or not I should doing something: 

How will this activity make me feel after I’ve done it? Will I be glad that I did that? 

I’ve come to personally refer to this sensational-gauge as the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test.

One of the first times I put this litmus test for time consumption to work was while getting back into reading great stories. I’ve been on a John Grisham kick—reading A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row, A Time For Mercy, The Innocent Man, and The Rainmaker all within about the span of two or three months. I not only thoroughly enjoyed the stories but also just the act of reading. 

Setting my phone in the next room and arming myself with my Kindle Paperwhite connected to my public library account, reading became effortless. I turned off all page indicators so I had no idea how far I had left to go. Hours would fly by as I got lost in the texts. I would usually only stop when life’s other obligations would arise or when my reading would take me into the night and I found myself nodding off in the early morning hours.

Usually, when I’d binge a show or fall down an hours-long YouTube wormhole, I would come out the other side exhausted—beat, but with my mind still racing. However, every time I’d close my Kindle after a hearty reading session, I would feel refreshed—almost rested. There would be a genuine feeling of whew—that was great. I’m glad I did that.

Soon after realizing this difference, I became cognizant to gauge how certain activities made me feel—what I call the “subsequent tone” of an event or activity.  The following are a few experiments and their outcomes. 

Music Production

As a musician and a huge fan of the subgenre of Reggae known as “Dub,” within the past few months, I decided to try my hand at producing some Dub recordings of my own. Like reading, I found myself immersing myself in the process of piecing together drum sounds, recording bass lines, experimenting with chord progressions on my midi keyboard, and finding the perfect melodica melodies to tie up every “riddim” like a bow. Once I had recorded all of the instruments, I’d spend hours tweaking the recordings, effects, and molding them to my liking on my dinky laptop. 

I proudly released two of those recordings as singles—accessible to most streaming platforms. You can find them on the platform of your choice on my music page

As I completed the tracks and uploaded them for distribution, never once did I feel like I was wasting my time. Even after exhaustedly re-recording a bassline at 2 AM because the intonation on my bass guitar was off on the original recording, I felt the same sensations—man, I’m glad that I did that. Though I could barely keep my eyes open, I felt full of life. 

Journaling

Rarely do I ever start a journaling session because I have a craving to scribble my thoughts onto a page. I usually do so because I feel like I have so many things on my mind that my own lack of clarity is starting to weigh me down. However, by the time I’ve laid out all of the “paperwork” of my mind onto the table of the page, I can begin to see what I can fix, what I should ignore, and what is holding me back. I start sketching out plans, goals, aspirations, and fixes. Then, closing my journal, I’m hit with the wave of man, I’m glad I did that

Exercise

Rarely do I leave my house in the morning anxious to break a sweat. Whether I’m going out to my deck to jump rope or to walk or run laps around the nearby park, my soft bed still calls out to me. However, after my body has warmed up, my pulse increases, and I hit my stride, I start to feel alive. Heading back inside my house with a sweat-soaked beard and clothes sticking to me, I feel great. The rest of the day seems to go easier because I got my increased pulse and sweat to blow out the morning’s cobwebs. 

Prayer

Like journaling and exercise, I rarely initiate my prayers pumped to be there. It can be an immense slog that requires many mindset and liturgical shifts before finding a groove. In Judaism, we have a concept referred to as “kavannah” — which most translate as “intention” but I prefer Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser’s translation, which I’ve heard is actually more accurate — “alignment.” The moments leading up to my moments of kavannah—my spiritual alignment with my Creator—can feel like a dial-up modem circa 1998 trying to log on to the internet. Like that dial-up modem, there is a lot of internal static, whirling, and sharp creaking—spiritual turbulence that accompanies such ascension. But like flying above the turbulence, there is a moment of soaring above the clouds where the connection is made.

When I have moments of immense kavannah, while it doesn’t feel like I can hear the voice of a Higher Power, it does feel as though Someone has picked up the receiver. Paraphrasing a quote from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l —“This call is being monitored for quality purposes.” 

As much as I may have to wrestle to get myself to get into a place of spiritual alignment, I always walk away from prayer with the feeling in my bones of, “I’m glad I did that.” 

Social Media

Though I stopped using about 97% of all social media years before officially using the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test as a decision-making tool, similar feelings resulted in me deleting my accounts. I can’t think of many if any instances in which I would conclude a social media scrolling session and feel better for having partaken in the social media experience. 

Applying the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test to Activities 

If you’re struggling to determine how you should be spending your limited time on this planet, I would urge you to apply this test to your own actions: after completing an activity, do you feel better having participated in that activity? 

Do you feel elevated or deflated?

Do you feel inspired or simply tired?

Do you feel fulfilled or drained?

Applying the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test to Life

Activities aren’t the only area of life where the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test can be applied. You can also use this test to determine other decisions—career choices, people, what foods to eat, and the like.

Sometimes, making a life-changing decision simply means asking yourself — Is this going to make me feel better or worse when it’s all over?


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Two Ancient Notions That Helped Pull Me From the Depths

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The summer of 2020 was rough for a lot of people…

…for a lot of different reasons. It was rough for me because I was experiencing levels of health anxiety only matched by the week before I received a positive cancer diagnosis in 2017. 

This was different, though.

Was I displaying any physical symptoms? Eh, probably not. Then what was the source of the anxiety? For those who have experienced bouts of anxiety, you know that you don’t need a reason. In fact, most of us pray for a source of our torment so that we can know what the hell to fix. The worst anxiety often makes the least sense. 

But I did find something that turned it all around—two ancient notions that have been helping people like me for thousands of years. But these require additional context.

Anxiety is a lying snake.

Impending doom continued to swirl around my perception of how I was doing inside. These feelings were briefly alleviated by trips to my doctor. He would immediately tell me that nothing was wrong. In fact, that I was in better health than I had been since my teenage years. I would ride this high of relief for a few weeks only for the feelings of anxiety and dread to slither back into my life. 

My health anxiety would crack fever pitches just before surveillance appointments—routine follow-up scans with my urologist following my cancer treatment in 2017. This bubbling dread leading up to scans is what is known as “scanxiety” in the cancer community. 

He’d usually just walk into the examination room, tell me how the scans showed nothing abnormal, and remind me that I hadn’t displayed any signs of cancer in several years. 

A few months later, the dread would reappear—like Ol’ Pap Finn back in town, looking for his Huckleberry to knock around. Rinse and repeat.

But that was all about to change.

One morning in early spring 2021, the dread slithered up my spine and sat atop my shoulder as I examined my appearance in the bathroom mirror. With it’s split tongue tickling every consonant, it whispered—

“You’re going to die soon.” 

Taking a deep breath and realizing it was [only] the anxiety talking—something meditation had made me hip to—I let a deep exhale flap my lips in cheeky facetious exasperation as I let out my reply.

Well, if that’s the case, I better make this summer count,” chuckling to myself, scoffing off the serpent’s lies as I dried my hands and walked out of the bathroom. 

I didn’t know it at the time but something shifted inside. That serpent, who thrived on my fear and dread, was defanged. 

Did I truly believe that I was going to die soon? No—it was just another lie my mind was trying to get me to believe. 

But I started living as though it were true

  • I made an extra effort to spend time with people I cared about —sometimes seeking out old friends who had slipped through life’s cracks.
  • I became more conscious of what foods, habits, and activities made me feel my best and made a point to fill my life with them.
  • I sought out moments of peace. 
  • I made conscious efforts to be more present in everything I did—especially while spending time with loved ones. 
  • And yes, this was around the time I quit social media—an activity I’ve mostly replaced with more pleasure-reading than I had done in my entire life. Thanks, John Grisham.

With these activities and the mental residue that accompanied them, my dread was rendered powerless. The whispered lies grew increasingly faint and manageable. Ease and contentment snuck their way back into my life reminiscent of childhood.

There’s no doubt that these activities aided in managing my mood and anxiety levels. Still, I attribute much of this relief to the combination of two philosophical pillars of Stoicism I had learned about years prior but had begun inadvertently practicing—amor fati and memento mori. 

Amor Fati

We have little control over what happens to us in life. And how boring would life be if we could? Without a little uncertainty, you may not have ever met your spouse or discovered your passion. 

Amori fati literally means a love of one’s fate—whatever that happens to be. Even if it sucks. Because ultimately it will teach you something or play a role in helping you become the person you were meant to be just as it had up to this point. Fighting fate is a losing battle, so you might as well fall in love with it. 

Memento Mori

Speaking of fate, you’re going to die. 

“Yeah, but not for a while.” 

Says who? You could die in a few months. Next week. Tomorrow. 

Instead of letting this idea burden your thoughts, use it to bring clarity to your life. When tomorrow is not promised, this notion should make your next meal delicious, every sunset spectacular, and moments with those close to you an extravagant privilege. The governor just gave you a stay of execution—what are you going to do with it before he changes his mind?

Memento mori means “remembrance of death” — which is actually a remembrance of life. 

Death is inevitable and thus a silly fear. The true fear is never having truly lived.

Still, it is important to remember that yes, you’re going to die. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Simply make sure you’re squeezing the juice out of life and not leaving any meat on the bone. 

These notions may not click for you or change your life right now or even in the near future. That’s ok. But they’re planted. If you’re like me, your subconscious may need to chew on them for a few years before they “turn on.” My prayer is that one day, your mind finds use for them when you most need them.

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5 Reasons Why I Left Social Media (and 4 Things to Consider)

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My jar ain’t big enough. 

There’s a classic story told by Stephen Covey in his book First Things First entitled “The Big Rocks of Life.” In this story, a person speaking to a class of business students uses a gallon-sized jar to symbolize their schedule. He also uses various items to represent time on their calendar.

  • He first placed several fist-sized rocks in the jar till they reached the lip. He asked the class if the jar was full, to which they said yes. 
  • He then dumped in as much gravel as he could into the jar, shaking the jar, causing the gravel to fill the space between the rocks. He asked them again if it was full, to which they replied yes. 
  • He then poured in as much sand as he could into the jar — again, shaking it until it settled around the rocks. He asked the class if it was full. They said yes. 
  • He then poured as much water as he could into the jar. He didn’t even have to shake the jar to get it to settle. This time he agreed that it was, in fact, full. 

He asked if anyone understood the point of this illustration. 

“…no matter how full your schedule is,” one student shouted from the back, “if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!” 

“‘No,’ the speaker replied, ‘that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”’

As a husband, family man, employee, and just a human being in need of routine maintenance, I’ve come to realize that my jar is only so big. The more I’ve tried to cram into it, the more my big rocks have remained teetering above the lip—if not rolling out and landing on my foot with a thud. 

It’s for this reason that I was forced to take careful note of how I spent my time and compare that to how I wanted to spend it — as well as optimizing my own mental and emotional bandwidth.

Upon analyzing how I not only spent my time but also my mental energy, the total impact of social media seemed to clog up inordinate amounts of my attention and energy. Discovering this was akin to finding a minimized web browser loaded to the hilt with active tabs. 

So, what did I do? Over the past 2 years, I closed those mental tabs. I started by shutting down my personal Facebook account, then Instagram, and just a few weeks back — Twitter.

The following are a number of reasons why I quit using 98% of the social media platforms I had previously utilized, how I feel now, and four items to consider for those contemplating making the leap from the social media train.

Reason #1. I’m no match for the machine.

“Why do you make such a big deal out of social media? Why can’t you just treat it like a nice little escape and stash it the rest of the time?” 

Man, I wish I were one of those social media users who could just take a peek every Sunday afternoon for 10 minutes and then stow it away — not just physically but also mentally. But I’m not. 

I’m not sure why but whenever I use social media, my mind gives it permission to run in the background like a memory-hungry computer application. I find myself thinking about it and checking it as though I’d invested my life savings on a single tumultuous stock.

“I wonder if anyone has interacted with my post.”

“I wonder what so-and-so said about xyz.”

“I’m bored but I know where to get a dopamine bump…”

“Why did I automatically type in ‘twitter.com’ once I opened that web browser?” 

And was I ever fulfilled in my checking? Hmm…not really. 

Anytime I took the plunge down any feed, it felt like opening my own refrigerator in hopes that someone else had stocked it with ice-cold Hefeweizen and disembodied thumbs up. Ok, that last part sounded a little weird

I’m a simple dude. I’m no match for Silicon Valley’s algorithm-driven “advertainment” spoon perched atop the cigarette lighter of my own insecurities. As long as I’m logged on, they got me.

Reason #2. Acquaintances don’t matter. Like, at all. 

Some relationships are worthy of your attention and they should be preserved at all cost. Others should be allowed to wither, die, and decompose in order to nurture new and existing relationships.

If you asked me 15 years ago to describe my present self, such a reckless shot in the dark would have been investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. While many aspects of my personality and interests have remained consistent over the years, much about me has also changed. And with these changes comes a shift in those who matter most to me. 

While I have preserved many important relationships and even fostered new ones, I likely could not tell you which members of my graduating class from high school are still capable of fogging a mirror. 

And if that sounds harsh, it’s really not. Why? Well, the reality is that those people don’t matter. To me — I mean. They don’t matter to me. My daily life. And they don’t have to. Why? Because I probably don’t matter to them. And that’s fine. 

According to acclaimed anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the cognitive limit of the human brain to adequately maintain social relationships is about up to 150 people. Called “Dunbar’s Number,” 150 relationships is where we, as a species, max out — or as he put it, “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

I’m not precisely sure why, but learning about Dunbar’s Number brought me immense comfort — as though someone relieved a pressure valve so as to say, “no, you’re not crazy. You’re just not built for this.”

In addition to not being able to maintain healthy relationships with so many people, I always feel my own sense of self begin to erode when held up to the scrutiny of the masses rather than how I perceive myself. I found myself attempting to impress people far outside my 150 relationships. Even worse, I was failing to impress the only person worthy of impressing — me. 

Over the years, I found that social media kept me beholden to a particular group of people — most of whom were acquaintances, lapsed friendships, or distant relatives. Though I initially tried to fashion the online version of myself to be consistent with reality, the continued preservation of that antiquated version of me started to hold me back from progressing into my perpetually changing, authentic self. Even worse, this avatar I constructed had deviated so much from whom I wanted to be now that I grew to question my own identity. 

Does my Instagram or Twitter self symbolize who I am or vice versa? Do I even know who I am anymore? 

The more I would strive to construct a social media manifestation of myself, the less I felt I knew about who I was. I feel that this was partially because I was aiming to impress or at least preserve a consistent image for those who matter very little to me now. Social media kept me believing that, like a company, I was a brand. But I am not a brand. I am a living organism — terms and conditions subject to change, some restrictions apply. See me for details.

Reason #3. Half-baked thoughts don’t need a venue

When I left Twitter, I saved all of my tweets. Looking back at them is, well, embarrassing. While I stand by much of the things I said, there are several examples of instances where posting a half-baked thought was likely not warranted. 

Why do we feel ok about saying things on our social media feeds that we would never utter in public? Social media accounts are virtual jumbotrons, yet little responsibility or consideration is made for quality assurance. We belch randomness into a box that then clogs the minds of anyone unfortunate to have it illuminate their face. 

Don’t get me wrong — I’m going to continue belching my nonsense into blog articles, essays, and even books for the rest of my life — but I’ll at least give you, the audience, the decency of mulling the contents over before hitting the “publish” button. 

Reason #4. Having my impulses continually prodded was exhausting. 

Now that I’ve covered how the social media version of myself was likely a confused, exaggerated, and vain attempt at presenting an interesting fellow to the world, the following statement is likely not very controversial — most information acquired via social media is…well, off

To keep people scrolling, the competition for eyeballs is fierce. The more outrageous the content, the more irresistible it is to consume. To maximize engagement, content creators frequently tap into our base impulses — fear, anxiety, outrage, sex, excitement, inclusion, insecurity — generally speaking, FOMO —  the fear of missing out

Reason #5. I discovered that I really don’t want to be famous. 

I don’t know if I’m just getting older but the idea of becoming famous sounds 10,000% more terrible than it used to than when I was younger. 

I used to imagine that being well known for something would make me feel more whole — that the idea of being recognized for a talent or accomplishment would be a delightful sensation. As a writer and a musician, attaining notoriety just seemed like something I should seek…right?

Then, something happened: I received acclaim from people I did not know…and I did not know how to handle it. 

In that moment, I discovered that I’m really not good at receiving praise or compliments. When I receive a glowing review, I experience sensations of what some call “imposter syndrome” — doubting that I am deserving of whatever praise is being showered upon me. I clam up and feel like saying, “Listen, you’ve got the wrong guy.” 

Imagine that you’ve been told you’ve definitely just won a Nobel Prize, but that your entire acceptance speech was just you murmuring, “I’m almost certain this is intended for someone with my same name. Have you confirmed our birth dates, social security numbers, fingerprints, and dental records?” 

A big reason why I was so active on social media before was the vain pursuit of some form of notoriety for a creative thought or idea. The moment I received a bit of it, my pupils dilated like a fugitive caught in a searchlight, and I dove into the safe embrace of obscurity. 

So, why do I still make art? Why do I write, record, or publish? Why do I make stuff? Well, mostly because I enjoy every step of the craft — of the process of sculpting an idea into a consumable piece for someone to enjoy. But when it comes to impressing anyone, the only person I work to impress these days is myself. 

And though I still scurry from the limelight, I am still filled with immense warmth whenever I discover that anything I’ve done or created has genuinely helped another person. The difference between this sensation and fame-seeking is that the created thing did the heavy lifting, not so much me as a person. In fact, the piece of my writing of which I am proudest — one that was published in a highly syndicated publication and that I’ve heard has touched many people deeply — was published anonymously. And I love that — it’s my little secret with anyone who has ever read it. And you’re just going to have to hope you come across it one day.

A Few Things to Consider Upon Leaving Social Media 

If you, like I was, are feeling overwhelmed by the size, speed, and recklessness of social media and feel like leaping off of this runaway train, there are a few new concepts to consider. 

A. You need to have replacement activity ready to go. 

For most social media users, scrolling timelines and newsfeeds is not something one blocks off an afternoon to accomplish. This activity is typically the sand and water in your metaphorical jar of time — slipping between the spaces in other activities. 

Because of this, if you disconnect yourself from social media access, you may feel a twitch — sometimes an actual physical sensation — to reach for your phone’s social media applications or to navigate to a particular website to bridge activities. Standing in line at the store, sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, or waiting for leftovers to heat up — these are all twitch-inducers. For this reason, it’s important to look at how you will replace social media even before you ever do. 

My favorite social media replacements include: 

  • Reading books — digital or physical. My favorite device these days is my Kindle Paperwhite. It is a blissful escape from my phone or computer. It’s waterproof, contains my entire digital library, can receive articles I’ve previously sent to it, and has a battery that lasts for weeks on end. When I’m out and about, I can pick up reading a book or article right where I left off with the Kindle app. Also, did you know you can connect your Kindle account to your public library account and check out books digitally? And of course, there are always, you know, physical books as well. 
  • Journaling. Think of journaling like updating your social media feeds without ever hitting the “publish” button. It’s actually even better because you can also say everything you’d never say to your “friends” and followers. And with a digital journal, this feels damn-near like social media. Personally, I prefer an app-based service called Daybook that I can write to from my phone or computer, but any password-protected note-taking app will more than suffice.
  • Educational apps. Right now, I’m trying to learning Spanish with Duolingo so I can better communicate with my Hispanic neighbors. Mi objetivo es cambiar cervezas por lecciones de español … y amistad.
  • Arranging physical hangouts with friends. Increased vaccinations mean we no longer have any excuse not to hang out. If you have time to scroll a timeline or update a profile, you have time to arrange an in-person hangout — no phones allowed…unless you’re showing each other pictures of babies, dogs, or cats.
  • My favorite — consciously doing nothing. When was the last time you had a few minutes to kill and you didn’t fill them with anything? The next time you feel the twitch of boredom approaching, just place your hands in your lap and do nothing. Maybe close your eyes and feel your breath enter and exit your nostrils. Think about the wonderful people in your life. Daydream about an upcoming event you’re looking forward to. Listen to the birds or watch the way sunlight reflects off leaves. Simply observe the present moment. It’s just about the most underrated activity. 

B. You’re going to be seen as a weirdo. 

Are you going to miss out on some stuff by leaving social media? Eh, that depends. While you may miss out on a joke here and there or some breaking news as it unfolds, if there’s something you were meant to see or know, you will eventually. I personally found, though I did miss out on all kinds of information about aquaintances, news that mattered about people that matter to me eventually trickled into my orbit. I’ve yet to miss a substantial event or bit of news due to my absence from social media platforms. 

“Oh, I forgot — you’re not on social media” is something I hear on a regular basis whenever news of friends is discussed, but guess what? It’s discussed in person eventually — only I get to hear it in person for the first time rather than chew on a regurgitated version of it like everyone else who is living through the reruns. This leads to the next item…

C. You’ll find that in-person conversation is night-and-day better. 

One of the areas of my life that has improved immensely since leaving social media is one you wouldn’t imagine — socializing. Why? Because as briefly mentioned before — regurgitating timelines in person is about as agonizing as discussing the weather. 

“Hey, I saw that picture of your kid that you posted. He’s getting big.” 

“He sure is. Hey, I’m glad to see that your mom is doing better.” 

“Thanks, she’s just had — ”

“ — hip surgery. Yeah, I saw that. You know, I’m going in for —”

“ — knee surgery, yeah, I saw that you posted about that. Let me know if you’ll be well enough to go to that —”

“—weekend street fair? Yeah, I saw that you discussed wanting to get a group of friends together to go to that. I know that Rick can’t go because he’s —”

“—moving to Canada. You saw that post, too? Sheesh, I mean, it’s cool that he scored that new—”

“—job with the solar panel technology firm. You saw post that, too?” 

If you’ve had a conversation with a friend who is also in your social media sphere, you know that this conversation isn’t that exaggerated, but is as equally soul-crushing.  

D. You’re going to feel great no longer being a product. 

Social media would have us all believe that we’re their target demographic. We’re not — or else they’d call us “members.” What do they call us? Users. Social media is not designed to connect long-lost friends, help maintain relationships or people explore new interests. It is a funnel used by advertisers to bypass our gag reflex. It uses psychological manipulation at every turn to get you to scroll, to react, to doubt yourself, and to believe that you need to buy more stuff. It’s not an accident that your timeline is referred to as your “feed.”

Believe it or not, there are ways to be just as informed and connected as those on social media — become a member instead of a user. Seek out products and services not funded by advertisers. While this means that you may have to start paying for certain things, you’ll find that paid memberships lack much of the addictiveness and psychological manipulation of ad-driven content. Because of this, you’ll also find that once you become a member and begin paying for services you once received for free, you’ll likely spend less because your experiences are much less controlled by advertisers. 

My challenge to you is not to terminate all of your social media accounts, but simply to gauge your dependence on them and how they actually make you feel. Maybe it’s time for a break…before you break.


Your Clothing Code: A Guide to Owning Only Your Favorite Clothes

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“I don’t own a lot of clothes now, but all the clothes I do own are my favorite clothes.”

-Joshua Fields Milburn, The Minimalists

This piece is not necessarily about Minimalism, but about simplifying one area of life that most of us think we don’t think about while subconsciously obsessing over and spending too much time and money—clothes

“I don’t have anything to wear.” 

How many times have you peered into your closet—possibly at a metal rod as long as your height, completely covered in clothes…and don’t feel like wearing any of them? 

Wouldn’t it be nice if every single item in your closet was your favorite version of that thing? Just imagine—no more settling for your second, third, fourth, or even fifth favorite version of that item of clothing.

This is totally possible. How? By creating your clothing code. 

In this piece, we’re going to examine 

(a) what the heck is a clothing code

(b) why you should have one

(c) what it should contain

(d) how to make your own, 

and as a bonus, I’ll show you my own clothing code. 

So, let’s get started. 

What is a clothing code? 

A clothing code (more specifically, your clothing code) is a personal guide to only possessing and obtaining clothing items that most consistently conform to your personal preferences and needs. Your clothing code is your personal best practices guide to increasing the likelihood of only wearing your favorite clothes every single day.

Why is a clothing code necessary?

Life is too short to wear anything other than your favorite clothes. Your clothing code is designed to guard your time, money, preferences, closet space, and, yes, your mental health. All items in your wardrobe should abide by your clothing code’s specifications to ensure the highest quality of life possible. Your clothing code is designed to eliminate those “I have nothing to wear” moments and provide a clear guide regarding what item or outfit suits which situations.  

How to Create Your Clothing Code

Determining Your Criteria

To create your clothing code, you must possess a clear understanding of your clothing preferences and needs. To do this, you must carefully analyze your existing favorite clothing items—not to determine which you prefer, but why. Doing so is incredibly simple.

Step 1: Go to your closet, dresser, wardrobe, etc. 

Step 2: Find your very favorite single items of clothing for each seasonal weather condition by temperature (in Fahrenheit, that’s 0-to-30s, the 40s-60s, 70s-90s, etc.) and application (indoor work, outdoor work, casual, dress-casual, formal, exercise, outdoor leisure, etc.). 

Step 3: Write down each item, leaving about a paragraph’s worth of space beneath each item in your physical or digital document. 

Step 4: Document in detail what physical qualities you like the most about these items —things like cut, texture, weight, flexibility, color, style, comfort, etc. 

With this list, you now possess the start of your own personal clothing code. This code will help you to maintain and obtain clothing items that will only be your favorite. 

How to Flesh Out Your Code

Even more than listing out what clothes you should possess or obtain, your clothing code should state which of your favorite qualities each should have and which qualities would be deal-breakers. Specify fabric types, design cuts, social setting applications, or even environmental sustainability. 

A clothing code is not a uniform shopping list for your personal army, but rather your path to only owning clothing that fits your body but also your character. Because tastes change, only mention specifications of the items, not the items themselves. 

Must-Have/Be & Cannot Have/Be

Per each style of item, provide must-haves and cannot-haves. If you’re tired of buttons coming loose from pants, perhaps your pants must have rivet buttons. If you’re an advocate for animal welfare, perhaps items cannot incorporate genuine leathers. If you’re tired of uncomfortable shoes, perhaps all shoes must be of a certain comfort level. All of these criteria should abide by what you like most and least about clothing items. 

Conditions of Replacement, Updating, or Duplicates

Within your clothing code, decide upon and document the conditions for which an item may be replaced, updated, or duplicates are justified. 

  • A hole in the knee or toe of a more formal pair of pants or shoes may necessitate a replacement version. A similar hole may be perfectly tolerable or mendable in a more casual or utilitarian piece of clothing. 
  • Before buying an upgraded version, carefully assess your present version of said item’s function and if this adequately meets your current needs.
  • Before purchasing additional versions of a favorite item, consider how many (if any) duplicate versions are necessary and when. Ten pairs of an undergarment may be justified, but four jackets of the same warmth or protection level may not be.  

Setting these criteria will ensure that you’re not prematurely buying unnecessary replacements, upgrades, or duplicates of still usable items. 

Where to Keep Your Clothing Code

Even if you choose to physically write down your clothing code, it’s not a bad idea to also create a digital, amendable version of it somewhere that is very accessible. Consider keeping your clothing code within a note-taking application on your mobile device for ease of reference. Resist the urge to make any amendments to your clothing code that may adversely impact your willingness to don an item. After all, this code is meant to keep all of your clothes your favorites. 

How to Apply Your Clothing Code

Once you’ve formulated your clothing code, the easiest place to apply it is within your own closet. Pull everything out and pile it on your bed or a clean space on the floor. Armed with your clothing code, take each item in hand and assess if it meets the code. If it doesn’t, this likely means your willingness to wear this item has waned or will wane in the future, making it safe to discard most appropriately. 

How to Handle Clothing Discard Remorse

Getting rid of items that do not meet your personal criteria can be difficult. You may be holding onto certain items simply out of nostalgia, sentimentality, or because it reminds you of a goal you once had (i.e., clothes you hoped to fit into one day). It can feel like a waste to get rid of perfectly good clothes. There are, however, a few ways to manage such emotions. 

  • Thought 1. Try to recall the last time you wore this item. It was likely quite a while ago, or else it would have met the criteria of your clothing code. 
  • Thought 2. Consider the people who would enthusiastically don the item the very next day. It would serve them more than this item has likely served you.
  • Thought 3. Remember that this item is probably diluting your wardrobe and keeping you that much further away from only possessing your very favorite clothes.
  • Thought 4. Discarding gifts can be fraught with emotional hardship. However, remember that discarding or donating a gift does not mean you do not value the thought process and effort behind the giver’s intent. Simply treat the gift with the same emotion as though you were given the wrong size. If the item does not meet your clothing code’s criteria, it isn’t the right “size” for you in other ways but does not subtract from the giver’s generosity. 

Isn’t this a little obsessive? 

Some of you may be thinking that the idea of constructing a clothing code may be a little weird or too detail-oriented. In all honesty, it’s not very common and downright bizarre. However, I feel it is quite necessary. Why? Because I only want to possess my very favorite clothing items. This seems simple enough, but because I live in the United States — a country whose fashion industry spends over $20 billion a year on advertising apparel to us, most of which none of us need or end up liking in the long run — I feel that guarding my attention while preserving my closet is important. And if that means spending 20-30 minutes putting together a clothing code in order to do that, I feel like that is a small price to pay.  

Bonus: My Own Clothing Code

The following is my own clothing code. It is not to be duplicated unless, for some odd reason, you were tasked with portraying my appearance at a costume party or something as equally bizarre. 

Ken Lane’s Clothing Code

Overview

For the gist of my clothing code, the majority of my clothes fit the following attributes: 

  • Practical: All clothing items must be of practical use that can suit a very wide variety of social, formal, and weather implications. 
  • Timeless: All clothing items must, for the most part, not reflect time-sensitive fashions. The designs of the shirts, pants, shoes, hats, and the like should aim to exist in virtually every decade and, at the same time, no decade.
  • Comfortable: Most every item of clothing should remain on a level of comfort deemed “nappable” — that is, capable of achieving comfortable sleep without having to remove any item, outside of temperature variation. This means that they should allow for a full range of motion, ventilation, and be of a texture that is soft to the touch. This commonly means a preference for bamboo or cotton fibers. Also, no item of clothing should constrain the body, such as overly tight items or belts. Suspenders should always be substituted for belts for this reason.
  • Sturdy: Button-down shirts and pants should favor an industrial or outdoors level of sturdiness. This means a preference for work shirts/pants or outdoors shirts/pants over dress shirts/pants while maintaining comfort. 
  • Vegan: Though not a vegan in my diet, I do not believe any animal should be harmed for my clothing or accessories — especially not when polyurethane (PU) leather has become on par with genuine leather in terms of quality and realism
  • Replaceable: The model/product numbers of preferred clothing items should be saved on a log sheet so that replacement versions can be ordered in the event of unmendable wear
  • Exceptions to all the above

Formalwear is the sole exception to clothing code policies in the rest of this document. Formalwear allows for various levels of discomfort but is typically allocated to one black suit or any required formal clothing  (i.e. tuxedo, etc.)

Pants

  • No jeans
  • Work pants or lightweight straight-leg twill pants 
  • Must have steel clasps or rivet buttons
  • Belt loops should be positioned at around 2, 5, 7, and 10 o’clock to support suspender clasps 
  • Black or grey in color
  • Held up by belt-loop-hooking X-style suspenders

Shirts

  • Darker long-sleeve button-down workshirt for cooler climates
  • Vented lightweight and light-colored hiking/fishing shirt for warmer climates
  • T-shirts —preferably soft with few to no graphics
  • Dress shirts — Standard dress shirts with soft, wrinkle-resistant material, white, off-white, or grey

Shoes

  • With the exception of inclement weather boots, all shoes must be barefoot-style in construction (zero-drop heel, wide toe box, no cushioning, rollable sole)
  • One pair for formal and dress-casual occasions (black vegan leather)
  • One pair for leisure and exercise (no color constraints)
  • Older retired exercise pair for yard work
  • One pair for aquatic activities
  • House slippers and sandals optional

Formalwear

  • For weddings, funerals, religious services, and job interviews, you have one black suit, belt, white shirt, and black tie
  • Will eventually incorporate suspenders into suit pants

Undergarments

  • All undergarments must be majority bamboo fiber
  • Black or dark color

Headwear

  • Daily-use casual hats should be correctly sized and of a timeless fashion — preferably a canvas button-top gatsby cap
  • Exercise or outdoor caps should follow their specific function (shade, breathability, warmth, etc.)

Coats & Jackets

  • Large coat for extended periods in freezing temperatures
  • Insulated jacket for temperatures from freezing to 50s (F)
  • Uninsulated jacket for temperatures from the 40s to low 60s (F) 
  • 2-3 hooded sweatshirts for outdoor exercises in temperatures from freezing to 50s (F)

Exercise wear

  • 4 polyester, moisture-wicking t-shirts (no color specifications)
  • 4 pairs of athletic shorts

Conditions for Replacing, Upgrading, or Duplicates

  • Of all damaged, worn, or stained pants or shirts, the best two may be kept for messier work or lengthy outdoor activities — all others damaged outerwear is to be discarded
  • Athletic/leisure shoes may only be replaced when the intended function is compromised
  • Any damaged or visually worn formalwear that cannot be mended may be replaced
  • Upgrades are only justified when multiple replacements have failed or worn in specific places fortified within upgraded versions (i.e. for work pants that wear in a specific pocket, an upgraded model may be sought)
  • Approved duplications to maintain wardrobe: 6 pairs of pants, 6 longsleeved shirts, 6 t-shirts, 10 pairs of underwear, 10 pairs of socks — only to be replaced upon unmendable wear

A Great Little Life

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The other day, after my mother had watched our son while my wife and I ran some errands, she offered to help me pick up my beloved beater car, which had been in the shop for repairs. As I backed her car out of my driveway, she let out a positive sigh from the passenger seat as her eyes fell on our “new” house — a 2 bedroom red brick house built in the ‘60s — our “weigh station” on our road to homeownership.

“What a great little house,” she tacked to the end of her sigh. 

“I know. I like it.” 

“And a great little family.” 

“I like them, too.” 

After a few beats, she turned to look at me as I drove her car down my street. 

“You seem to just have a great little life.” 

“I like to think so.” 

Most people want to live a great big life — whatever that means. 

Not me. 

Don’t get me wrong — I like that great part. But making it “big”? Big already comes with living.
It’s hard to define the what and why of “big.” 

What does it mean to live a big life? 

Does that mean to accomplish monumental feats—whatever the hell “monumental” means? To make lots of money and earn prestige or status? To be famous? 

Why would someone want to live a big life?

Does this mean that the status and the money earned can grant you the freedom to do what you want? To live lavishly wherever you’d like? 

I’ll take a little life over a big life. 

What does it mean to live a little life? 

Living little means a simpler existence.
Fewer plates to spin.
Fewer people to impress.
Less to lose.
Shorter heights from which to fall.
Less time worrying about things that, in the end, don’t really matter. 

Why would someone want to live a little life?

The motivations of others aren’t as regularly called into question.
Your belongings are few and simple but aren’t intended to impress strangers and acquaintances.
 You have fewer, but higher quality friends. 

Where does greatness come into play? 

I don’t want only a little life, but rather a great little life.
Accomplishing what I want to accomplish — never only what is expected of me.
Perpetually sharpening myself — as a husband, father, friend, mensch, and artist.
Enjoying a higher quality of time with the people that matter the most to me. 

It is my prayer that when the wrinkled fingers of my exceedingly aged hand turn the pages of personal photo albums — drawing out memories from the deepest recesses of my hopefully-still-accessible memory — that upon closing the book, I can happily sigh — just as my mom did in the car that day — and say to myself, 

“I sure have lived a great little life.”


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The Broken Autopilot

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Let me know if this sounds familiar:

You’ve been actively doing something — work, a chore, making dinner — and now you’re done. For a moment, the drive of your mind peters out like a small plane engine that has just stalled. The momentum of that task, much like a spinning propeller in front of your face, suddenly flutters and stops with a clunk. What once was the sound of a some-odd-stroke engine buzzing through the skies has been replaced with whistling wind as you begin to feel the loss of altitude in your guts. 

Left with nothing that needs to be immediately done, the need to be mentally stimulated begins to bounce around inside your head like ballpoint pens and paper coffee cups in a now-dropping cockpit. Rather than clutching the headliner of the cockpit in anticipation of impact, you’ve remembered that you have a default safety mechanism for aimless thought — a shining screen.

As soon as you’ve booted up that screen — whether it’s a phone screen, tablet, or television — you can feel your pulse begin to normalize and your palms begin to dry. The engine of your attention turns back over, the propeller sputters to life, and you begin to regain lost altitude. Whoa, that was close. 

After a time, though you’re relieved that you’re not likely to plummet to the earth, you wake up from behind the controls. The auto-pilot had taken over and you’re now headed in the opposite direction. You’ve been down the rabbit hole of social media vanity metrics, social comparison, paparazzi voyeurism, and sensationalist news for a while and are now even further from your destination. Due to your original panic, you left control of your attention to the auto-pilot. Once control was happily handed off, it took you further away from your destination of contentment than had you made an emergency landing once you lost engine power. 

Here’s the interesting thing about where the airplane analogy differs from your attention: there’s not actually any ground below. You could kill the engine, prop your feet up on the instrument panel, and lean back with your fingers gently interlocked behind your closed eyes, and never actually hit anything. The Cessna of your attention span will simply continue to fall toward…nothing — like a flight simulator whose developers forgot to write the code for mountains, oceans, trees, or even firm land.

The plane of our focus will stall out every day, likely hundreds of times a day. And that’s ok. Why? Because there’s no ground beneath that plane.

But if there’s no ground, what’s down there? 

The present moment — that’s all. And it’s really quite nice. And it’s especially nicer than an auto-pilot that is specifically designed to take us away from actually living.


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Living 25 Minutes at a Time

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A little news before we begin: For those of you who prefer to listen rather than read, I’ve started recording audio versions of my articles going forward and reaching back. Also, look for “TheKenLane.com” on your favorite podcast player to subscribe. Thanks! – Ken


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When was the last time you needed to keep your focus on a particular task for more than 30 minutes? 

Sounds agonizing, right? Even as you read this sentence, your mind is likely conjuring up what you could be doing at the same time or what you need to do later. Most of us can’t even enjoy a favorite television show or movie on the couch without also scrolling through social media, news, or emails from a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Multitasking, or rather the illusion of it, has trained our brains to constantly seek up-to-the-second stimulation.

But what if you were told you’d be free to multitask to your heart’s content in return for just 25 minutes of focus? Everyone’s got 25 minutes, right?

Why is 25 minutes such an effective length of time for focus?

My fascination with 25-minute spans of focus started with the Pomodoro Technique—a strategy for productivity that could be explained to a 2nd grader. It goes like this:

Focus on a performing single task with intense concentration for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes in which you can do whatever you want. After you’ve completed four 25-minute concentration sessions, you take a 15-minute break. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 15 off. Rinse and repeat.

But this piece isn’t about the Pomodoro Technique—I’ve already written about that. What I’m talking about now is the beauty, the simplicity, the elegance, the congeniality of 25 minutes.

We can stand almost anything for 25 minutes.

25 minutes is the maximum amount of time most can focus without approaching the red-line of brain sizzle or scroll-twitch. It’s also just enough time to feel like we’ve accomplished, well, anything. Though we can put dents in a task after 10 or even 5 minutes, 25 minutes is the amount of time that most begin to feel the momentum of our focus and actions. Even if we struggle to initiate an arduous task, after 25 minutes, the sediment in our once-murky waters of focus will begin to settle and we’ll gain immense clarity not possible after a mere 5 or 10 minutes.

Also, when 25 minutes is presented with the promise of 5 or more minutes of aimless reprieve, focus comes easier. Don’t worry—in 25 minutes, you can be back to watching cat videos and checking your social media feeds. Is any reward more appealing than guilt-free time-wasting?

Most things can be segmented into 25-minute blocks.

After a few weeks of using the Pomodoro Technique during my workday, I began to notice how so many of my other daily activities could be segmented into 25-minute blocks. In fact, for most tasks, 25 minutes became their optimum time for focus.

  • 25-minute journaling sessions
  • 25-minute meditations sittings
  • 25-minute workouts
  • 25-minute prayer times
  • 25-minute book-reading periods

Despite all of these being daily habits that I cherish, I’ll admit it — there are times when I don’t want to do them. Maybe I don’t want to sit still that long for meditation or work myself into a panting, sweaty mess with a jump rope. It’s days these that I tell myself, “You don’t have to enjoy this today. All you have to do is put in the 25 minutes. That’s it.” And it doesn’t even have to be the best 25 minutes as long as it’s 25 minutes.

And I remember after all— it’s just 25 minutes.


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Free eBook Download—The Cosmic Mulligan: And Other Ideas on Living a Skosh More Intentionally

Reading Time: 2 minutes


“We write the books we need.”
Unknown

The Cosmic Mulligan is a collection of essays I wrote between May of 2019 and January 2021 on the subject of living with intention—happening to life rather than life happening to you. I didn’t write these chapters because I am an expert on intentional living. On the contrary, I wrote the contents of this book after both researching and soul-searching to scrape together the wisdom I did not possess.

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How to Upload MOBI or PDF Files to Your Kindle Via Email

  • A PDF will work, but you’ll prefer the MOBI file
  • Right-click or hold down the link to download the MOBI or PDF file to your computer or device.
  • Navigate to Amazon, login, and click this Manage Your Content and Devices link
  • Click “Preferences” in the upper middle section between “Devices” and “Privacy Settings”
  • Once on the “Preferences” page, scroll down and click on “Personal Document Settings”
  • Here, you will see “@kindle.com” email addresses for your Kindle-enabled devices. Copy the one corresponding to the device you wish to use.
  • Compose a new email to that address, attaching the downloaded MOBI or PDF files to the email, and send.
  • Open your Kindle device or Kindle app to check to see if the files are there. If they aren’t, you may need to wait a bit while they load.

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