Shadi Mirza

Life

Don't mistake self-love for complacency

Photo by Alan Hurt Jr. on Unsplash

Confidence is sexy. In my last post, I talked about not letting other people control you. Part and parcel of that is not letting them tear you down either. When you act like you're King Shit of Fuck Mountain—and you feel like it, too—you're a walking, talking, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yeah, acting like you're crushing it is the first step toward actually crushing it. But there's a dark side to believing in the positive power of your own bullshit. You're lulled into the false assumption that you have no room for improvement. And that's a different kind of bullshit—the stinky kind.

Take me for example. I'd be lying through my teeth if I said I was perfect. I flip off crappy drivers. I get frustrated easily. I drink so much coffee that my teeth feel like carpet. I'm introverted to a fault. I have trouble slowing down. I really should cut back on all of those things.

Don't get it twisted, though. I'm not here to rain on your safe spaces. Body positivity is a beautiful thing—no one should ever have to live feeling uncomfortable in their own skin. You do you.

But—but—keep an inventory of your faults. Be introspective. I gave you just a snapshot of my faults, and that means I'm ahead of the game. Because I'm aware of my imperfections, and I'm trying to do something about them.

The long and short of it is, nobody's perfect. Be mindful of your faults. Endeavor to work on the things you can fix. Yes, accept the things you can't, but not at the expense of other people. Because if you live for yourself, and only yourself, then, baby, you're a narcissist.

And narcissists are garbage people.

#Psychology #Life #Narcissism

What “The Push” really tells us about human nature

Photo by A. L. on Unsplash

I've talked, briefly, about The Push before. While I was initially mesmerized by the idea that a certain subset of the population can be easily manipulated to commit murder, it's the larger idea of Derren Brown's special on Netflix that has stayed with me:

Often, we readily hand over authorship of our lives.

Road rage: The struggle is real

The epiphany came in traffic. I was trying to merge onto the I-17S, signal on and everything. A dude in a Mustang sped up instead of allowing me over, and, without thinking, I flipped him off.

Now, I preach positivity. If Andrew W.K. started a church, I'd worship at the pews. Road rage isn't a thing I believe in, and, yet, one action by a total stranger sends me into a flurry of obscene gestures.

In other words, I allowed some nameless jerk-off to snatch the pen from my hand and write in the book of my life. And it isn't the first time. Just yesterday, I talked yesterday about how my coworkers' negativity slowly put a damper on my own mood.

Death by a thousand cuts

This is how Derren Brown intended to wear down his mark and coerce him into committing murder: small acts, each sending Brown's victim further and further into a web of lies.

So it is in the real world. When I first started driving, I never would have dreamt of flipping someone off. But with each act of careless driving I endured, my resolve wore down. After many years, the person I swore I'd never be was the person I'd become.

And that's slightly unnerving.

Our lives are our stories. As a writer, the words that spill out from my mind and onto the page aren't immediately perfect. I pause, reread and, most importantly, edit myself. We all could stand to do a little bit of that in life, too.

Take control

Don't let some jerk be your co-author. Pause, take a deep breath and write a way forward that isn't influenced by another person's thoughtlessness. Because that's the kicker: often, the actions that make us angry have no thought or intention behind them.

You can't control what other people do. But you are the captain of your ship. So don't just spin the wheel like a maniac. Take it firmly in your grasp and steer your emotions with intention.

#Life #Self #Psychology

You have eternity to lay in a box. Move around a little.

Yo, bros—it’s me, Death. You might know me as the guy who swoops in after someone wraps their car around a tree. It’s a messy job, but I’m used to it.

More often, I’m the one who creeps up to someone’s hospital bed while their loved ones are saying goodbyes. Dying people look scared because, well, I have no corporeal form. You’d be terrified, too, if some empty-looking black cloak and scythe came floating toward you. Sorry. I can’t help it.

When you die—we all, eventually, shuffle off this mortal coil— you’re going to spend eternity rotting in a box. Worms are going to eat you, and that’s totally gross. Yeah, yeah, I’m told it’s some “circle of life” shit, but I’m Death. I stay in my lane. Let the Other Guy worry about what happens when worms poop.

Anyway, at some point in the future—I don’t do spoiler alerts, so I’m not going to tell you when—your body is going to give out on you.

Why not, I don’t know, enjoy it a little?

Take the stairs. Marvel at how your knees are able to propel you up multiple flights without sounding like a rusty door. They will sound like that when you’re older, and you may end up needing a walker, which is gonna suck.

Run a marathon. Bask in the sense of accomplishment you feel at being able to go 26.2 miles without sputtering like a lawnmower motor. Then, eat a breakfast greasy enough to stop your heart. 

See the world. Do you know how small and cramped a pine box is? It’s like a Hong Kong apartment, but for your dead body. Only you don’t pay the rent—your loved ones do. Suckers. There’s so much cool stuff to do and see in places that aren’t your hometown.

So get out there, big boy, and live each day to the fullest because you never know when you’re going to see me.

#Inspiration #Life #Self #Motivation

Or “Why I ate the rotten fish”

Hongeo

People should not be protected from the world. It cripples them.” ― Josephine Humphreys, Rich in Love

While teaching English in South Korea, I watched an episode of Bizarre Foods. Andrew Zimmern, the show’s host, visited the country and sampled a lot of the same foods I’d been enjoying.

One dish that stuck out to me was hongeo.

I’d never heard of it. Basically, skate (a kind of ray fish) is stuck in a basket with some straw and left to rot. The skate pees through its skin, so the ammonia from the uric acid allows the fish to ferment instead of spoiling. 

After broaching the subject with my wife’s co-teacher, he mentioned there was a restaurant specializing in hongeo right in our small farming village. We went there that same night. 

Imagine the dirtiest port-a-potty you can think of. Now, picture putting it in your mouth. That’s what hongeo tastes and smells like.

As we were eating, my co-teacher explained that hongeo is a “nostalgia food” enjoyed by older Koreans who grew up in a time when you ate whatever fish washed up on the shore. 

I choked it all down and withheld the urge to vomit. Did I smell like urine for the remainder of the night? Yes. Was my wife so repulsed that she insisted I sleep in the other room? Naturally. 

But, knowing all this, I’d still do it all over again.

Often, we shield ourselves from uncomfortable experiences. But in doing so, we miss the chance to connect with the world around us. Worse, we fail to grow as individuals and professionals. 

Sometimes, you have to eat the hongeo.

#Korea #Food #Life #PersonalGrowth

Because what is it they do exactly?

If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “Oh, you’re an English major—you must be really good with punctuation and stuff,” I’d be up to my elbows in Venti Iced Soy Lattes. But give me that same amount any time someone made the assumption that I must write well because, gosh, I’m a copywriter, and I could retire early. Here’s the thing that bugs me about that:

As a copywriter, my currency isn’t words, it’s ideas.

Yeah, I know how to craft sentences that grab you by the eyeballs. They’re also grammatically correct 99% of the time (copyeditors, I love you). Anyone can write well, though. Heck, there are brand managers on my team who can put together a mean sentence. My bread and butter—the reason I get paid—is this innate ability to take the same idea and present it 100 different ways.

More than someone who plies words for a living, I am a creative. And this is my life.

8:30 AM (ish)

I roll into the office shortly after dropping my daughter off at her Montessori school—unless traffic on the AZ-51 is garbage (which it usually is). Then it’s like 8:40. The very first thing I do, before I even lay a hand on my laptop, is brew up a cup of coffee.

Listen, I’m sure there are people who can write volumes without letting a drop of magic bean water pass their lips. But I don’t know them personally, so they may as well be dead to me. And don’t come at me with that weak-ass powdered creamer action. I like my cup of joe how I like my magic. Black.  Anyway, coffee on my desk, I can finally get to work.

8:45 AM

You know what? Java has a tendency to shoot right through you. So I hit the head to do what I need to do, obsess over my Medium stats page and see how many bots followed me on Twitter. Because why celebrate having more than 200 followers when you can gnash your fingernails worrying how many of them are Russian propaganda accounts?

I digress. Cracking my knuckles, I place my fingers on the home row of my keyboard and wait for the magic to happen.

9:00 AM

But, first, I pause for a stand-up meeting. It’s a well-known fact that the only thing better than getting projects out the door is talking about which projects you’re trying to get out the door.

9:10 AM

Phew. Let’s do this. No matter what I’m writing—an email, banner ad or Facebook post, among other things—it all starts with the headline. So I write a metric ton of those. 

I spend maybe three or four hours writing headlines, with full awareness that the majority are destined for the garbage bin. Why? Because writing complete trash is the only way you arrive at gold. You can see the final headlines out there on the web if your Google-Fu is strong enough. 

But writing many iterations of the same headline isn’t just part of my creative team’s process. It’s critical for another reason:

Often, the headline is my only shot at grabbing your attention.

Now, don’t take this to mean that the body of any marketing piece is an afterthought. It’s just that if I don’t put in the work to hook you on the front end, why bother with the rest?

11:00 AM

Well, that’s lunch. (Hey, I get up at 5 AM to exercise. Don’t judge me.) How’d my latest story on Medium do? Oh, man, double-digit views! Internet fame and fortune, here I come. Should I start locking my posts now? My next story’s going viral—I just know it.

11:30 AM

Yawn. What time is it? Lord knows I’m not writing any more words unless I get another cup of coffee. 

11:35 AM

When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back. What’s another word for “budget?” How many times can I get away with using “tuition” in the same paragraph? What would our legal department say about this? Maybe if I just stare at the computer screen long enough, I can crank out another 30 headlines.

1:05 PM

There is absolutely no way I’m cranking out another 30 of these. I’ve said everything that can be said. Out of the last 40 I sent my Associate Creative Director, maybe five were “working.”

Am I a fraud? 

Have I reached my creative peak? Is there nowhere I can go with my ideas but down into the dank pit of human misery and suffering that is, shudder, agency work? Should I pimp myself out on Fiverr like the copywriting equivalent of a dime-store streetwalker? No. I can do this.

2:26 PM

After another cup of coffee, I’ll be able to do this. Damn it, who drank the last of the coffee?

3:30 PM

You know, the funny thing about 3:30 is that it’s way closer to 5 PM than it is noon. So, when you think about it, the day is pretty much over. God, why does Apple Music insist on cramming genres I don’t like down my throat?

4:05 PM

Just how do you become an “influencer” on LinkedIn? Maybe if I just pretend I’m a hiring manager, I can write a bunch of inspirational stories about choosing the guy who didn’t have the best resumé, but showed a lot of pluck. 

Or, like, I’ll just write a couple of hundred words a day about how modern hiring practices are broken. Because, darn it, we can’t expect job candidates to pepper their applications with keywords. Not that complaining will help anyone get around modern hiring practices—but it sure will make people feel good.

Oh, snap, five more people followed me on Medium. How many of them are Russian bots? Is that even a thing?

5:00 PM

Whoop, whoop. The little hand says it’s time to rock and roll. Peace out, suckers.

#work #life #writing

They go beyond the fact that friendship is magic

Pinkie Pie

Few things on the internet have made me genuinely angry. I consider myself inoculated from the tsunami of vitriol and self-righteousness found on sites like Twitter, Reddit and Quora.

But, every now and then, someone comes along and says something so crazy that I have to take a siesta from the computer. This Quora question is one of them:

I caught my 14 year old [sic] son watching My Little Pony. What should I do?

Oh my God, man. Uncovering all the underlying assumptions in that question would be like peeling back the layers of an onion. And I’m not going down that rabbit hole. Instead, I’ll offer a very simple suggestion—one favored by the kind of person who takes an interest in the things their child likes:

Watch it with him.

As the parent of a five-year-old girl, I’ve had the good fortune to be introduced to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. These are some of the show’s qualities, which I honed in on as a totally woke 36-year old human male:

  • Strong female characters
  • Humor that’s aimed just as much at adults as it is their children
  • Narratives emphasizing friendship over cattiness
  • Catchy songs

Heaven forbid a teenage boy be exposed to those things. Parents really must be pining for the days when cartoons aimed at boys simply glorified war and served as long advertisements for toy lines.

But while every character in the Mane 6—including Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy—is cool in their own right, the dopest is probably Pinkie Pie. Here’s what she can teach us:

1. Partying is a lifestyle.

I’m not talking about the do-football-field-length-lines-of-coke and drink-until-you-puke kinds of partying. Pinkie Pie embodies partying as a mindset. Smile, laugh and, yes, break out into song every now and again. Life’s too short to be a sad sack, and Pinkie Pie’s there to remind us not to go around being a colossal buzzkill.

2. Baked goods make the world a better place.

For several months, I made it my mission to bake cookies on Sunday and bring them to work the following day. People would stop by my desk just to see what new and exciting creation I had made to share with the team. It even came up in my annual review.

People love sugar. It may be bad for your teeth, but it’s a morale booster. And believe people who refuse freshly baked treats on principle kind of suck.

3. Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

Call it her own version of a Swiss army knife, a deus ex machina for a lazy writers’ room, or what-have-you, but Pinkie Pie’s party cannon, which shows up throughout the series—as well as the movie—is a metaphor for the importance of keeping a well-stocked toolbox.

4. Your fears can’t control you.

Pinkie Pie literally laughs in the face of danger. It’s refreshing not just to see a female character overcome obstacles through sheer pluck, but a show that wants to teach boys and girls that the things you’re afraid of only have the power you give them.

#parenting #fatherhood #life

Why dish out emotion like some spoiled rich kid when you can ration it like a miser?

Did you wake up this morning in your heated house, eat breakfast in your cushy flannel pajamas and think to yourself, Damn, my life is really freaking amazing?

Nah, you probably grumbled about the cold, cursed about how high up the cereal is in the cupboard and pined for the days when food scientists will be able to engineer corn flakes that stay crisp in milk.

That homeless dude begging for change near the freeway on-ramp during your morning commute? You didn’t touch the void for a moment and imagine an alternate reality where you were in his shoes. The thought didn’t even cross your mind. What really ground your gears was the car that cut in front of you without signaling.

Totally not a pyramid scheme If you spent even a month in college, you’ve probably heard of Mazlo’s hierarchy of needs.

Basically, Mazlo theorized that a person had to take care of their physiological needs (food, clothing and shelter) before they could worry about safety (a steady job, among other things). If you believe Lazlo, a romantic relationship is nigh impossible without first addressing the bottom two tiers of the pyramid. But it’s not hard to imagine a homeless person having a low sense of self-worth.

In essence, you can’t magically get to the top. You have to work your way up.

When the bottom drops out For many of us, the most essential of human needs — the bottom of Lazlo’s pyramid — are little more than an afterthought. All our emotional energy is expended on stuff that matters less:

  • The barista who made you repeat your order at the drive-thru
  • Shitty drivers
  • The fact that Hulu’s servers are down, again

Be like Scrooge Pretend your fucks are a massive vault filled with gold coins. Yeah, you could build a diving board and jump right into that filthy lucre, but life isn’t like the cartoons. That shit would hurt.

No, you should stand there and admire those riches. Be a miser. Ration your emotional energy and spend it on the things that actually matter — like being a great parent, creating killer art or running a marathon —the long-term pursuits that make life worth living.

Also, appreciate what you have. Life’s too short to worry about soggy cereal, the patch of dirt on your lawn where grass refuses to grow or how boring the latest season of Grace & Frankie was. None of that crap is worth getting emotional over.

Maybe it’s the wine talking Or perhaps I’m just more woke than I’ve ever been in my entire life, or something. But I’m tired of being apathetic when I should be empathetic, and vice versa.

Maybe you’re in the same boat. If so, I challenge you to prioritize what you give a fuck about. Because who honestly cares if the dude at Sonic forgot to put the cherry in your Cherry Limeade, again.

No, I’m not bitter. This is the start of a new chapter for me.

#Psychology #Life #SelfImprovement #Inspiration #LifeLessons