5 Ways to Kickstart 2013

Yes, I’m sixteen days late, but I’ll say it anyway: Happy New Year!

Having rung in 2013 with the flu, I needed some time to get my head straight. Now  that I’m back to good health (minus the annoying throat-clearing, anyway), I’m ready to share a bit of wisdom with you. Here are five ways to kick this year off.

1. Get pumped. Just as life can’t survive on this planet without the sun’s energy, neither can you meet your goals without a well-powered body. Feeling sluggish? Analyze your diet, sleep habits, and overall health. Iron deficiency, for example, can thwart even sincerest of plans, and so can five hours of sleep each night. To get the best out of yourself, make sure you’ve got all the energy you need. That reminds me: I need to make a trip to GNC, stat.

2. Try new things. I’ve wanted to learn to play bass guitar for years, and I finally got my wish over the holidays. Sure, I’ve spent a lot more money than I thought I would on my hobby, but I’m loving that I have a new outlet through which to express myself. I’m challenging my brain and my body. Now if I can just get my fingers coordinated, I’ll really be making beautiful music.

3. Connect. What is life without relationships? Not much, I’d say. We need other people. This year, strengthen connections with the people around you. Call a relative you haven’t spoken to in years. Make small talk with an elderly person at the bus stop–you’d be surprised at how happy he or she will be to talk to you. And know when you need to break connections, too. People who abuse, denigrate, or drain you aren’t worth keeping around.

4. Get real. Few people like to admit when they’re wrong or when they need to change something about themselves. Imagine how confident you’ll feel, though, when you learn to be honest about your shortcomings, to be real about your not-so-good points. Spending too much money? Have a bad habit of  committing to something before you’ve thought it through? Admit it. When you do so, you gain the power to change yourself. You want that kind of power.

5. Express yourself. You’re unique. No one can express you other than, well, you. So raise your voice. Express the complex, intriguing person you are through your style, your words, your art, your music, your rhythm. You can never be anyone else, so why not let who you are shine through?

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Discipline + Drive

You can be smart. You can be talented. But if you don’t have the drive or the discipline, you won’t go very far. Having drive means that you’re motivated to act. You feel compelled from within to pursue your goals and dreams. Discipline takes that motivation a step further: You know that the work will be difficult, and you’re willing to push through it. You’re willing to make sacrifices–less sleep, less fun, less comfort–to get where you really want to be.

Growth begins when we step outside of familiar comforts and thrust ourselves into the vast unknown, into the dark mystery of what could be. And to stay afloat in this new territory, we need to be driven and disciplined. Natural ability is not enough. A folder full of contacts is not enough, nor is a head full of dreams. To be powerful, to be great on your own terms, is to be disciplined and driven.

Skills are only part of the equation. Motivate yourself, then control yourself. That’s how you become victorious.

30 Days of Personal Growth, Day 10: 8 Secrets of Success

If you’ve never been to TED.com, you’ve been missing out. The site features enlightening and inspiring talks from a variety of professionals, including scientists, teachers, and authors. Today’s wisdom comes from Richard St. John, a self-described average guy who found success on his own terms. Check out his short talk on success, then browse the rest of TED for more great videos!

30 Days of Personal Growth, Day 7: Be Proud of Yourself

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.-Jane Austen

Pride gets a bad rap. We’re taught that it comes before a fall. We’re taught that if we think highly of ourselves, we run the risk of appearing arrogant, selfish, and immature. Some even encourage self-deprecation as a sign of humility. And I used to take those thoughts very, very seriously.

Recently, however, I’ve realized that pride is not necessarily a bad word. If I set a goal and work through the sometimes tedious steps to get there, I have every right to feel proud of myself for doing so. For example, I’m proud of myself for not only starting this blog but writing posts frequently. Why should I deflect from my personal sense of triumph?

The issue isn’t with pride itself: It’s with how you express it. Taking pride in yourself does not mean exalting yourself above others, waiting for others to recognize you, or rambling on about how awesome you are all the time. It’s not about being full of yourself at others’ expense. Feeling personal pride does not make you a better person, nor does it exempt you from life’s difficulties, but it does help you take reasonable credit for the hard work you’ve done. There’s nothing wrong with saying:

“I did a pretty good job.”

“I’m proud of myself for ___.”

“I worked really hard on ____ and I deserve to congratulate myself.”

Taking pride in yourself and feeling proud of what you’ve accomplished is healthy. When you recognize and congratulate yourself for accomplishing personal goals, you strengthen your sense of self-efficacy, the belief in your own competence. Rethink the ancient aphorisms and old wives’ sayings you’ve heard about pride and give yourself credit where it’s due to you. You deserve it!

Rejected? The World Still Turns

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We all want to be accepted. So when we get a “No, not at this time,” it never feels good.

But rejection allows for reflection. It allows us to ask ourselves what we can learn from this experience, what we can do differently next time. When we don’t get what we want, we can recalibrate our desires to match reality. Even when you don’t get the goods, the world still turns.

The key to staying strong, focused, and confident after rejection? Remember your value. No one can take that away from you, no matter how many times you get a “No.” So keep moving, dreaming, pushing. Don’t wonder what’s wrong with you: You’re fine. Just figure out what’s next.

Ask Right Now: The Power of Opening Your Mouth

She should ask her doctor why her co-pay is so high.

My 3-year-old nephew has not yet learned to bite his tongue. When he’s try to “drive” his big plastic police car across my bed and I’m in the way, he will shout “Move over!” a million times in the same tone. When we took him to a Mexican restaurant, the hungry fella matter-of-factly requested rice and eggs, period. And he got it.

Adults, in contrast, tend to be more lax about obtaining their specific desires. We want time off or better customer service at Ulta or more time to pay our Verizon Wireless bill (they’re great!), but we bite our tongues because we think it’s just not worth the trouble. We’re afraid of rejection, or we may even think we have no right to ask.

But no matter how disillusioned you are with the cliche about closed mouths, most of the time, we don’t get what we want because we don’t ask. It’s as simple as that.

Every human being–from the fun-loving toddler to the hardworking grownup–has a right to speak up. It’s highly unlikely that someone other than the associate at McDonald’s will ask you, specifically, what it is you want. During a recent doctor’s visit, for example, my physician insisted everything was hunky-dory, but I wasn’t convinced. When I asked her to check again, she realized I was correct. If I had just taken her word for it, I wouldn’t be on the road to answers right now.

The next time you want something–a few days off from work, a closer examination when the doctor insists you’re fine, more beans in your Chipotle burrito bowl–say so. Even if you don’t get the results you were looking for, your confidence in your own voice will increase. You don’t have a right to get everything you ask for, but you do have a right to open your mouth.

Parents: Life’s Sneaky Dreamkillers

Don't be fooled: Her mother may someday tell her she'll never be the first woman to sing "Run the World (Girls)" on a space shuttle.

As he accepted a BET Honors award for his storied filmmaking career, Spike Lee spoke one of the truest, saddest, most poignant statements ever.

“It has been my observation,” he said, “that parents kill more dreams than anybody.”

I shook my head and clapped in furious agreement. Yes, Mr. Lee. You don’t have to wait for your 11th-grade chemistry teacher to tell you “you’re smart, but you don’t have the logic to the complete the labs.” Sure, she can shatter your dreams of attending Johns Hopkins Medical School–rendering all your hours of studying the MCAT guide and college biology textbooks over summer vacation futile–but your hopes can crumble much earlier. The blow needn’t come from strangers tossing your resume or disgruntled online commenters with their drawers in a wad about their own deferred aspirations.

Undoubtedly, the jab that smacks your dreams to the mat can come from your parents, the people who gave you your chromosomes, the people you’d expect would offer you the most encouragement and support. Shameful.

Now, I must admit I’m coming from a slightly different angle here. Except for the stint in sixth-grade erotica, My parents always encouraged me to pursue the career that would fulfill me. At 11, it was medicine. I promised my mother I would become a doctor, and though that pubescent hope is still possible–Me, Ph.D sounds pretty good–I will most likely never be a physician. Now, thankfully, that is okay with me. It wasn’t when Ms. Chemistry Dreamkiller so smilingly offered me her .02 about my scientific aptitude, but today, I’m comfortable with being a patient. At least I can win trivia games with my knowledge of the periodic table.

[Which is the only other element besides mercury that is a liquid at room temperature? Bromine!!]

Some parents, though, really do kill their kids’ dreams, either by telling them, flat-out, that they’ll never get into college, Hollywood, or anywhere else, or indirectly leading their starry-eyed offspring to another vocation. You’ve probably seen the completely sane dance moms on TLC.

I understand how big dreams can sound to practical folks. I still get the courtesy nods–“Oh, ok, that’s good,” with the patronizing smile–when I tell some people my dream is to write for a magazine in NYC. I can’t be upset though, because that’s the same nod that I, admittedly, give to 35-year-old aspiring rappers. Some dreams just seem to farfetched for others to grasp, including parents. Parents are people, and people are judgmental.

But what good would come of us if no one dreamed of anything even remotely spectacular? We wouldn’t have half the amenities–shoot, even pants with zippers–if someone hadn’t dreamed sideways. And if the encouragement to dream big begins anywhere, it should begin at home and then in school, the two places children spend most of their time.

The world is going to give children enough heat. That’s why parents should instill genuine confidence in their children, confidence that compels youngsters to think boldly yet prudently. Kids should always get a healthy dose of realism and flexibility: Telling a child she’s a lazy bum is no better than telling her she’s the smartest kid in the world, as both statements leave no room for variation. But for the most part, parents or guardians should be the child’s first cheerleaders, even if the aspiration really is off the charts.

Without wild dreams–and someone to believe in them–Spike Lee, Steve Jobs, Oprah, and many, many more people would just be (or have been) regular old folks taking up seats on the Metro.