Congratulations On The New Job

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I recently started working for VendAsta. When I told people about accepting their job offer, the immediate response was always some form of congratulations. This was always off putting for me because without context, getting a new job isn’t something that I think should be celebrated.

When someone is forced to take a job because they need the income it’s rarely a cause for celebration. I’m not sure where the joy is in having to spend roughly half of one’s waking hours doing something that they despise or has no meaning. It wouldn’t surprise me if a large portion of family/relationship problems stem from having to work such undesirable jobs. I imagine having to be somewhere you don’t want to be, doing things you don’t want to do could get pretty frustrating. Being in a position where you need the job you are unable to take your frustration out on your boss and coworkers so it probably gets bottled up until you get home.

Sure, this might be overly bleak and not the typical situation but I think it’s pretty common. I’m sure in my lifetime I’ve unthinkingly wished many people congratulations as they entered into similar situations. Maybe working at a crappy job isn’t as bad as I think though. Maybe people can deal with it better than I described. I just think I’d struggle with it. I’m lucky, I’ve enjoyed all the different jobs and coworkers that I’ve had so far (well, except one but that’s a story for another day).

I didn’t have to take a job with VendAsta. I accepted the job because I wanted to work for them. Among other things, they think big, they’re smart, and I get to be surrounded by brilliant people, which allows me to be constantly learning new things. Many people associate “choosing yourself” and “picking yourself” with not working for a company. I think it’s important to remember that while it is sometimes a part of it, that’s not what it’s all about. At its core, I believe it’s about being able live life on your own terms. While there are still a few things in my life that I would change, I feel like I’m on the right path.

I wake up everyday excited and inspired to do the work I get to do. This inspiration and excitement bleeds through into all other parts of my life. It helps make everything I do better. I’m growing every day. I’m lucky. I thank you for all the congratulations and best wishes, but please, before wishing the same to the next person who you hear has a new job, think about it. Do they really want to be congratulated?

Remember The Good Times – Chapter 1

“Karson…,” my dad’s voice trembled from my cell phone. “Hayley, Cayden… and Darren are all dead.” I had never heard him sound like this before. I had never heard anyone sound like this before. “It sounds like it was a double murder suicide.”

The evening of May 28, 2012, I learned that before taking his own life, Darren Wourms had murdered his wife – my 23-year-old cousin, friend, and lifelong inspiration, Hayley – and their two-year-old son, Cayden. He used a .22 caliber rifle.

The rest of the brief telephone conversation escapes me. Every part of my brain was firing out thoughts, like a machine being pushed beyond its limits and about to explode. It didn’t feel like an explosion was imminent though. In fact, I felt nothing at all. I believe the term for this is shock. I remember my dad wishing I didn’t have to be alone. I told him I was ok. I felt hollow and emotionless. I was in some sort of a trance. After putting down my phone I instinctively finished what I was doing before the call, reading issue thirteen of The Amazing Spider-Man.

Next I turned on the television and muted it. The Rite was playing, a movie where a man exorcises demons who have manifested themselves in people. I had already seen it. I stared at it for the next half hour while the haunting music of Timber Timbre played from my laptop. Afterwards, I mindlessly brushed my teeth and went and laid in bed. Well, actually it was a sleeping bag on top of a piece of foam. I was only in this room for just over a month before I would be backpacking through Southeast Asia so I didn’t feel like hauling in a bed. Shortly after laying down I fell apart. I don’t know for how long I sobbed but eventually I regained enough composure to speak.

I called my mom. I don’t remember the conversation but it ended in me saying “I love you.” I called my dad. I don’t remember the conversation but it ended in me saying “I love you.” He was with my nana, I told him to tell her I loved her too. I spoke to my brother, I hope he knew I loved him because for some reason I didn’t say it. I regretted not telling him. It must have been getting late so I just texted my 12 year-old sister that she can always talk to me about anything, even boys.

I opened my text conversation with Hayley on my phone. My last message from her read “Thomas Cook,” an airline she thought might be useful for my upcoming trip to Southeast Asia. I just stared at the screen. Eventually I set my phone down. It would still be awhile before I fell asleep.

My mind continued to wander. I tried to imagine what Hayley’s last thoughts were. I selfishly wondered if I ever crossed her mind. I tried to imagine what my own last thoughts would be, visions of us watching cartoons at my nana’s and eating ice cream at the lake would have to be among them. I wondered if I was as crucial to Hayley’s childhood as she was mine. I was ashamed. The last few years I had taken her for granted and constantly chose other things over her, but we had finally been getting closer again the past couple of months. Now she was gone.

I started to fear someone was going to break into the house and kill me. The sequence painted itself vividly in my imagination; a loud crashing sound at the door, shouting and a few shots fired before my bedroom door was kicked in, a masked man storming into my room and not hesitating when he pointed his gun at me and pulled the trigger. I caught my breath and held it as I heard the door open.

I could hear the voices of my two roommates and their girlfriends. I exhaled. They had invited me to join them earlier. Usually I’d have accepted but not feeling like being the fifth wheel that night I had declined. I don’t like to imagine getting that phone call with other people around. I heard them talking briefly in the kitchen before they went to their respective beds. Shortly afterwards I heard moaning coming from the end of the hall. It eventually ceased and I fell asleep. I don’t know which happened first.

The next day was surreal.

I got out of bed, cleaned up, and headed into work where I pretended everything was ok. I didn’t want to be a burden or a distraction. I had just graduated from university and was employed as a software engineer summer student. I only had a couple of months to make a good impression so I didn’t want to be the guy who brought all his emotional baggage into the office. I thought I was doing ok but everything came to a halt when news stories of an unnamed double murder-suicide began popping up online.

It didn’t take long before I had six or seven tabs open: The Calgary Herald, CBC, and other local news websites. No names were given out in the stories yet. I clung to some irrational hope that maybe this could all still be someone else. That it had all been one huge mistake and everything was ok. Then slowly images of Hayley, Cayden and Darren from Facebook were becoming attached to the stories. The headline of family murder-suicide published just below. I kept reading those articles over and over again. The rest of the day was a blur.

I broke down again the next day driving to work. The radio caught my attention when the news came on; Darren, Hayley and Cayden was their lead story. After describing the horrific event they quickly jumped to a piece about construction. It was the most jarring experience of my life. There was no moment of silence, no break for me to process what I had just heard, no time to recover. It was just onto the next story. This wasn’t just a headline though, it was my family, my life. How can someone read this aloud and then just start talking about something else?

This tragedy, while significant and life altering to those close to it, it was just another sad news story to everyone else. Just like the countless I’ve heard before and shrugged off with a casual comment like “that’s too bad.” The media needs tragedies like the one I was going through to happen, it’s how they stay in business. The event that was causing me so much pain was just another headline, I was just another individual suffering from something. I began thinking of the changing of headlines as a metaphor that the world wasn’t going to stop for me or my family to deal with this, it is going to keep happening. We are responsible for keeping up.

The night before the phone call I remember standing in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror and thinking I was on top the world. I had finished my last semester at the University of Saskatchewan in April, I was heading to Southeast Asia for two months with my best friend since kindergarten, I had a summer job building iPhone applications and had negotiated to be hired for two months instead of four in order to go on my trip. To top it all off, I was free from my four year relationship with my girlfriend. After the incident I could no longer live with the self-centered, egotistical person that I had become. I needed to change.

Since then I have worked tirelessly to improve myself and find ways to be calmer and more peaceful. I’ve read dozens of books and performed countless exercises, some of them being more effective than others. It’s been difficult for me to get to an accepting and loving state of mind and it has been a daily practice to maintain it. It wasn’t until I was at peace with myself that I could truly start helping others.

Our lives are full of moments. I used to think moments came in different varieties; some joyful and others sad, some we always want to remember, and others we want to forget. However, moments are just moments. We define the emotions we associate with them. To some people this ability comes naturally, to others it’s much harder. I was part of the latter group.

It took a catastrophe in my life to learn ways of thinking that I wish I would’ve learned as a child. They could have saved me from useless arguments, ruining relationships, from giving four years of my life to a degree I wasn’t sure I wanted, spared me from projecting endless amounts of negativity on myself and others. I’ve learned that a catastrophe isn’t necessary to become a happier, stronger, and more compassionate individual. The moment to change your life can be now.

Steve Jobs said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

I now understand this better than I ever thought possible. I didn’t have anyone to trust on my journey. I felt the world had committed the ultimate injustice against our family. I didn’t see how things could be good again. If your faith has been rattled, if you feel lost and have no one to trust, trust me. I’ve been there. I didn’t think I could make it better but I did. Now I can connect the dots.

This is my story of the months that followed the incident, what I think I got right and what I think I got wrong. It’s the story of how I am not only overcoming the darkest time of my life but of how I am using it as motivation and inspiration to be better at everything I do.

I hope it helps you.


It’s not all sad, I promise! Stories of dancing, magical mushrooms, and even climbing an active volcano are still to come!

If you’d like to read more it is available on Amazon as an e-book and a paperback.

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The Christmas Present That Changed My Life

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Do you remember what you got for Christmas when you were three years old? Did it play a critical role in shaping the person you are today? Do you still use it occasionally? My answer to all of these questions is yes.

When I was two years old I received a Michael Jordan basketball net for Christmas. I didn’t open any other gifts that morning. I just threw the foam ball into the net, picked it up, and tried throwing it in again. I did this all morning. My parent’s had to force me to look at my other gifts later. As you might know, I never grew up to be a professional basketball player. It was a different present that shaped the person I am now.

It came in a black box with bright red letters that nearly popped off the face of it. They read Super Nintendo. At least that’s what the box looks like on Google. I was only four, I can’t remember it that vividly! Looking back I’m astonished by the influence it had on me and the many lessons I’ve learned from playing it.

On my first day of Kindergarten I cried when my mom left me. I begged her to stay. She told me she would come back at recess. She lied! When I found out my teacher shared a love for a Super Nintendo game, Donkey Kong Country, everything turned out to be fine. I would talk about it with her whenever I got the chance.

As I got to be a few years older my best friend Kaleb and I started doing sleepovers. I distinctly remember one night where we stayed up until midnight waiting for my mom to come home from the city. She had picked up a new game that we were both eager to play; a fighting game called Killer Instinct. We only played a couple of rounds that night before going to bed. For months we would take turns in single player mode trying to defeat all the characters in the campaign. We came up with nicknames for different characters and laughed at the special finishing moves of others (Hint: one character in particular had a finishing move that was not appropriate for children our age). I could never press all the buttons fast enough to do it but Kaleb could.

The beginning of my friendship with my now girlfriend Chantel formed around the Super Nintendo. I first saw her at swimming lessons when I was ten. I immediately had a crush on her. I finally gathered the courage to talk to her the last day of that summer but then every summer after I was too shy to approach her again. Her brother and I did share the same group of friends and became close ourselves. One day everything changed when I was hanging with her brother at their cabin and she came storming in demanding help beating a level in Super Mario World. I stepped out of my comfort zone and helped her. We spent many days that summer creating the beginnings of our friendship playing Super Nintendo and listening to music our parent’s didn’t like.

It’s hard for me to imagine that these moments would have been possible if my family never purchased that Super Nintendo in the Christmas of ‘94. I can see now that there are many life lessons that I first learned from playing the Super Nintendo:

Ask for help when you need it
There were a particular set of levels in Donkey Kong Country that were impossible for me to beat; the cart levels. These levels were different from typical ones in that you no longer controlled the movement of your character. You were in a mine cart that was constantly moving and you were responsible for dodging obstacles. It was all about your reflexes which as a child I must not of had. I’d try over and over again to beat it but never could. Eventually I learned to ask my mom for help. If she was having trouble we’d take turns. Eventually we’d beat it.

Deal with frustration
Sometimes my mom wouldn’t help me. I’d have to keep losing on my own. The first way I learnt to deal with this frustration was by throwing the controller. Apparently this wasn’t acceptable behaviour. I went from being frustrated by the game to being frustrated that I couldn’t play it because I was sent to my room. I started to learn I had to remain calm when things went wrong. By being calm I could keep trying. I rarely beat the level when I was frustrated. I acted smarter when I was clear-headed and would overcome the difficult levels.

There is always room for improvement
If you beat all the levels in Donkey Kong Country 2 your file would say that you were only about 30-40% complete. To achieve a perfect score of 102% you had to find all the hidden coins and bonus barrels in every level. You’d have to be meticulous in your exploration to find them all. Sometimes even then it wouldn’t be enough. Sure I could spend endless hours trying to solve it but after a certain point there was a better way.

Find someone who has done what you trying to do and learn what they did
I’d reference Nintendo Power magazine and strategy guides. They showed me the layout of the level and where the secret items were. Then I just had to make my way to them. Sometimes the best path to excellence is finding someone who has accomplished what you’d like to do and learn the steps they took to get there.

People can take away what you have but they can’t take away who you become
One of the most frustrating experiences as a child was turning on the Super Nintendo with Donkey Kong Country 2 in it, going to select my saved game and seeing it was gone. My nearly completed game was now at 0%. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about all the time that was now wasted. Sadness was replaced by rage and I decided I would destroy my little brother for destroying my game. Or maybe I just tattled on him. It doesn’t matter my game was gone. I had to start over or move onto something else. I chose to start over. I played the levels faster than I had previously and I could remember where most of the hidden item were. After a few days I was already back to where I had been previously. I went on to earn that illustrious 102%.

Why I Wear Pink Socks

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If you see me wearing socks, which I’d rather not be, they’re always pink. I could tell you that it’s a great conversation starter, or that it’s hard to be upset if you look down and see neon pink, or even that it simply eliminates one choice I have to make each day. This is all true but these are all reasons I discovered afterwards. The actual reason I started wearing pink socks is simple; they inspire me.

In the early summer of 2012, after my cousin and her son were murdered, I had felt lost. After a bit of grieving I convinced myself that I was going to use this tragedy to drive me, to better myself and those around me. Basically, to be more like her. Easier said than done. To keep me motivated I wanted to have a reminder of her with me at all times. I began brainstorming ways to make this possible. I didn’t come up with pink socks initially, my first solution was a tattoo.

That summer, while backpacking throughout Southeast Asia, I would spend time on various commutes trying to think of the perfect tattoo. I was debating between a melted ice cream cone, two people walking and swinging a child in the middle, or the silhouette of one of her dance pictures. I didn’t end up using any of these, it was a couple months later when I found an idea I loved more than all of them.

The fall of that year I was back home for Thanksgiving. I was rummaging through some of my belongings that were collecting dust in my dad’s basement. I wasn’t really looking for anything, just reminiscing of times past. There was a roughly 3′ x 3′ paper star hanging on the wall on which various friends, teachers and family had written congratulation messages on the day of my high school graduation. I was reading some of the messages, a few funny messages stood out amongst the typical good luck in the future. I came across a chain of bubbly written letters in the middle that read “Remember the good times…” followed by Hayley’s signature. She signed her name with a heart attached to the front of the “H.” My eyes had welled with tears as I finally knew what my tattoo would be.

My tattoo is all black ink, so while getting it I was thinking about colours. Hayley LOVED the colour pink. I couldn’t think of a way to incorporate it into the tattoo so I had to come up with something else. Clothing. Pink shirts or pants would be too visible to wear everyday, whereas underwear would not be visible enough. Socks on the other hand would be perfect. I ordered six pairs of ankle socks, and one pair of knee highs from American Apparel when I got home.

My tattoo and socks are little reminders of Hayley that help me every day. Help me to focus on solutions when problems arise, to always find something to be grateful for no matter how negative a situation feels, and to always try to improve the lives of those around me. I don’t know if you’ll remember me, but I bet you’ll remember my pink socks. Hopefully they’ll help you smile too.

Take Your Turn

The Your Turn Challenge was a 7-day blogging challenge inspired by the Your Turn book by Seth Godin. The Challenge ran from Jan 19 – 25, 2015. I was a proud participant. Tumblr even had trouble handling all the submissions! Since I’m not sure if all of mine got through I decided I would post them all together here. Most of them are shorter posts so feel free to let me know what you think of any or all of them! (Note: some of the edits were made in the submission form so you may find some minor typos :) )

Day 1: Why are you doing the Your Turn Challenge?

With the ringing of a shotgun blast the lives of my cousin and her son came to an end.

More than two years later Hayley still inspires me every day. She would make a plan and execute it without hesitation. She wouldn’t complain when obstacles arose, she faced them with with joy and enthusiasm. Everywhere she went she found ways to improve the community around her. You couldn’t help but feel good in her presence.

For many months I tried to walk in her shoes. They were too big in places and too small in others. The laces always came undone and they’d leave blisters on the bottom of my feet. I came to realize I can’t wear her shoes, they don’t fit. To make the world better I have to do it my own way, by leveraging what I love to do not what I think I should love to do. I can’t change it in the same ways she did but that doesn’t mean I can’t make it a better place.

Whether through our action or inaction, we are always shaping the world around us. Every second we can choose whether to contribute to it positively or negatively. Hayley always chose positively and now so do I.

By making life better for those around me, it’s easier for them to make life better for those around them and so on. I want to be an endless supply of tiny, positive ripples. Eventually they’ll become waves.

Day 2: Tell us about something that’s important to you.

Stories.

We are a planet of storytellers.

The story of Karson Braaten isn’t written by just me, but also by anyone I’ve ever interacted with. My best friends story of me will be differ from my mother’s story of me. My story of myself is much longer than your story of me would be. Someone’s opinion of me depends on what stories of me they’ve heard and their interpretation of those stories. I can do my best promote how I want the world to view me but how I’m actually viewed is outside of my control.

We do control the stories we tell about other people. If a company or a person does something we view as wrong, we can spread the word to others. One “unimportant” customer’s story could eventually spread to very powerful customers or reach critical mass and cripple one’s business or reputation. Never underestimate the reach of a story told by one individual. Technology has made stories far easier to spread. By sharing or not sharing we determine the reach and impact a story has.

Be careful though, stories are always missing pieces. A complete story can never be told, there is always more backstory. There is a cause for every cause.

We can control the effect a story has on us. It is our individual reaction and interpretation of a story that changes our emotions, not the story itself. When you feel down and out, you have been telling yourself a story that led you to feel that way. How can you change the story to uplift you?

Life is ultimately an infinite collection of short stories and we’re all the authors and the audience. We choose the stories we consume and the effect they have on us. Focus on stories that bring good to you, and those you care for. Don’t let the others bog you down. You have the power of choice.

Choose carefully.

Day 3: Tell us about something that you think should be improved.

We throwaway too much food. When I was a child at dinner if I were full and there was still food left on my plate my parent’s would tell me to finish it. “It would be a shame to throw it out because there are starving children in Africa that would love to be able to eat so well.” This logic never sat right with me.

It doesn’t make a difference to a child in Africa whether I finish my meal or not. There are people struggling to find food everywhere, including most of the communities we live in, while in our homes and restaurants we continue to throw out what we don’t eat. Overeating to ensure no food goes wasted doesn’t help. Finding something to do with the food we don’t eat so it doesn’t go to waste would. There has to be a better way to dispose of our food.

Day 4: Teach us something that you do well.

I don’t let myself feel stuck. I switch tasks if my progress on something comes to a halt. If I find myself stuck on the next thing I’ll take a break for a quick burst of physical activity. A few minutes of walking, jumping jacks or squats for example. Most breakthroughs I have come after or during physical activity of some sort.

I get unstuck mentally by being unstuck physically.

Day 5: What advice would you give for getting unstuck?

A few tactics to try when you are stuck:

Try something else for a bit then come back to the project you are stuck on. Don’t dwell on being stuck, that only makes it worse. Finish some easier tasks and use that momentum to help complete the task you were currently stuck on.

Perform a quick burst of physical activity. Go for a walk, or squats, or jumping jacks, anything to get your heart beat up a bit. Exercise releases a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). It makes us feel good! Get unstuck mentally by being unstuck physically.

Those will usually do the trick. Still feel stuck? Here are a couple more tricks:

Talk to someone. No one beside you? I bet your phone is. Make a call. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a couple of years. Explain your problem, sometimes just talking it out to someone allows you to find the solution or another avenue to pursue. Or you could just catch up the person… Surprise your brain. It likes surprises.

Get outside your comfort zone. The best way I know is to do something uncommon. Go ask for 10% off of your next coffee order. Call someone random and ask them on a date. Go ask a random person on a date. The last thing on your mind will be what you feel stuck on.

Do something you enjoy. Sometimes you just need to take a break. Play some video games, watch a television show you enjoy, just get your mind off it for a bit.

Try not to stay stuck on one thing for too long, there is so much good you could be doing elsewhere.

Day 6: Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself.

I’m surprised by how long it has taken me in the past to realize I was in a bad situation and even more surprised by how long it takes me to get out of it.

I deny that little voice in my head telling me I need to make a change; that a person or a job isn’t good for me. Just like an early morning alarm, I hit snooze and do all I can to ignore it.

I start to convince myself that it isn’t so bad and things will get better. The way I think I should be treated begins to degrade. I start to become numb to the situation. Things don’t get better, I just think they are better because I think less of myself. One more day, one more chance, one more pay cheque. Escape is always just one more thing away.

There are about as many reasons for a person becoming successful as there are successful people but I think one thing they have in common is they listen to their gut and let it drive them despite what other people think.

I’m trying to listen better. What I can start doing one day from now, I can start now.

Day 7: What are you taking with you from this Challenge?

I came into this challenge hoping to help people. I wanted exposure. I wanted people to feel compelled to read what I wrote. I wanted someone to tell me I helped make their day better. I didn’t really get these things. I’ve realized I didn’t work towards them though. Instead I found I was working to help myself.

When it comes to finishing something I go around in circles. The last 10-20% of a project usually takes longer for me than the first 80-90%. I want to find that “missing piece” that makes something perfect in my eyes. I’m like a blindfolded child swinging at a piñata on their birthday. A project will always have a spot that can be improved.

I’m proud to be a part of a community of people who took their turn. Who made a commitment to shipping every day. Going forward I’m going to continue to focus on publishing. Sometimes good enough can be great.

I’m proud to have taken my turn.

I Was Crazy

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It was a cold January evening and I was pulled over an hour outside of Edmonton trying to sleep. I woke up shivering and started the car so I could warm up. The frost that had crept across the windshield slowly began to recede. The green light emanating from the centre console read 2:30 am. I looked down at my phone and re-read the last message I received from my now ex-girlfriend, “I hate you.”

Things had gone well up until the last day of our first mini-vacation together. We drove to Edmonton Thursday, I had taken Friday off work and booked a hotel for three nights. We spent Friday afternoon shopping and went to our first NHL game in the evening. On Saturday we were supposed to go to the World Waterpark but she didn’t feel like it. I came back from a mid afternoon walk and she was gone. I texted her asking where she was, a few minutes later she replied that she was outside. I met her downstairs and she seemed distant and agitated. Mood swings were common with her. She was bipolar and off her medication but since she was usually fine around me so I thought I must be helping. As you might have guessed, I was wrong.

When we got back up into the hotel room she began packing her bags. I asked her what was up and she said she was leaving and would stay with a friend, she’d find a ride home and that she didn’t want to see me anymore. I had become too crazy for her.

I spent the rest of the day in the room watching television, reading and hoping she’d come back. Once 10:30 pm rolled around it became apparent that wouldn’t be happening. I didn’t feel like sleeping in the room where I had just been dumped. I texted her asking if she actually needed a ride and she said no and that she hated me. I was surprised by an additional $20 charge at checkout, she had charged a few drinks to the room before leaving.

I didn’t drive far before I was too tired to continue, I pulled over and tried to sleep. In the morning she began texting me again. She wanted a ride. I drove back into Edmonton to the hotel where she stayed with other friends then drove my ex-girlfriend back to Saskatoon.

I was crazy.

People familiar with the situation would tell you she was the crazy one but I still believe her point was valid. Going into the relationship, I was living a lifestyle that made me feel invincible. I ate well, got plenty of sleep and exercised regularly. I thought I could handle anything. Unknowingly to me at the time, trying to keep us together took time away from my daily rituals. The most detrimental of which was giving up sleep. I had only averaged 1-2 hours of sleep per weeknight since getting involved with her. She was currently unemployed and partied or stayed up late most evenings so I would keep my ringer on and be sure to answer any 1-3 am messages and then go out and meet her. If I was lucky I’d go to bed by 6 am and head into work at 8. It wasn’t until months after everything ended that I was able to acknowledge how much my mind and body had degraded over the span of our relationship.

So what allows us to put up with these negative situations and coward away from the changes that need to happen? Why do we ignore that little voice in our head that is trying to lead us away from insanity? I have a few reasons:

Change is scary

Change can be scary. I have to give up everything I’ve worked for and start from square one. All my accomplishments have been for not. What if I fail or make things worse? I may not be happy now, but at least I’m not completely miserable. Change introduces uncertainty which leads to doubt and excuses. The doubt in myself eventually projects itself onto others.

People will judge me

I begin to imagine people’s reactions to my decision. They will think I’m a failure and be embarrassed by me. The important people in my life will abandon me. I’m scared to tell anyone that something is wrong. Fear and doubt manifest in my brain and instead of dealing with the stress of changing I instead start to tell myself things will get better.

Things will get better

If I keep being selfless, kind, and supportive towards someone I like eventually they will like me back or if I keep pouring everything I can into my job eventually I’ll enjoy it, or get more respect from my boss, or get paid better, etc. Eventually I’ll be treated better. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Instead I start growing numb to the situation. What I think I deserve for myself begins to degrade. With my lower expectations I start to trick myself into thinking that things are getting better.

Things are getting better

I’m sure you’ve lied to yourself about this too. The tricky part is when we start to believe our lies. When I was waking up in the middle of the night to deliver booze to my girlfriend I believed it was ok. I thought it was a small price to pay for having someone so wonderful in my life. I believed she was good for me. I told myself over and over again that it was ok and that I could handle it. I choked out the voice in my head telling me I need to change.

Why you need to change

The time, energy and money you are focusing on a bad situation or person could be used on something or someone positive. Looking back, I don’t mind that I spent just over a grand on a weekend only to be dumped but I’ll often think of the fun I could have had with my real friends had I chose to spend it with them instead. That thought never crossed my mind at the time. When we are transfixed on a negative situation we fail to see and create opportunities for ourselves.

I would grow spiteful. I would waste energy on complaining about the situation instead of trying to find ways to change it. It would become the reason for all my problems, when in truth it was I who was the cause of my problems. I was giving it the power to hold me back.

If you don’t make the change for yourself, often someone else will. When you feel like you don’t belong in a situation, you will naturally become disconnected. People will start to notice. If they have the power they may remove you from the situation themselves. This is actually a good thing because you are free from it but now you have to deal with the rejection. It is easier to leave on your own accord. I’ve learnt this lesson many times. Don’t let other people write your script for you.

Doubt and fear is what keep us from making changes. The only way to conquer it is through doing. We have to discover that the consequences of our actions often aren’t as bad as we imagine them to be.

The easiest way to make big changes in our life is to start with small changes within ourselves. By working every day to better ourselves, changes will start to become less daunting, natural even. Opportunities find their way to me when I am mindful of my physical and mental health every day. When you do this eventually you will begin to seize opportunities but be careful not to give up too much of what got you there. Once that happens everything can unravel. You can become crazy too.

Busses and Boxes

My friends and I had been in Vietnam for just over a week. We had spent the previous three and a half hours in a state of claustrophobia in the back of a bus not made to accommodate westerners. The overhead shelves kept us from being able to sit up straight and the seats in front of us prevented our legs from being extended. Without air conditioning the bus was hot and muggy, I couldn’t tell if the beads of water forming on my skin were from my body or someone else’s. The window lacked a curtain so there was nothing to prevent the sun’s heat from being amplified on us. We were like sardines packed into a can then set out to roast in the desert sun.

Air never tasted so fresh as it did when I got off that bus. We transferred onto a sleeper bus. As the name suggests, it is a bus that you are meant to sleep on while you travel overnight from one city to another. The seats are different than that of a normal bus. Imagine the seat of your car if you set it on the ground, you sit with your butt level with your legs which are extended in front of you. The back of the chair would recline just passed forty five degrees. Not an ideal sleeping position but far better than what a standard bus provides.

I was now seated comfortably and snacking on a small strawberry ice cream cup that I purchased while we transferred. A Belgium man across the isle was talking loudly to his friends. I wasn’t sure if I was annoyed by him or not. I settled on the former after ten minutes of being unable to block his voice out so I could read. Frustrated, I pulled out my laptop, put in my headphones, and began watching The Purple Rose of Cairo. The bus departed, people began to quiet down and settle in. It was almost peaceful. But it wouldn’t last.

I noticed one of the staff rather inconspicuously escorting another man to the back of the bus. I didn’t think much of this until a short time after when we came to a stop and the cops walked in. They were apparently looking for someone. The staff were of no help to the officers and they left empty handed. Judging by the staff’s behaviour the man hiding in the back was wanted for something. I wasn’t sure what but the events that followed gave me a pretty good idea.

Our bus came to a sudden stop. One of the doors on the side of the bus opened and a staff member began moving luggage from under the bus into the bathroom. I had no idea what was going on. I wasn’t alone, looking around most people were exchanging confused looks. We all watched in awe as more and more of our luggage got piled into the bus. It didn’t take long before it was falling into the isle like a closet door being opened after the mess of an entire room had been shoved into it.

A few pick up trucks quickly pulled up beside us. A couple of men jumped out of each of them and quickly began transferring boxes from the back of the truck into the newly emptied space underneath the bus. Box after box after box. It only took a few minutes before the men were racing away in their trucks and we were back on the road. The realization of what was going on dawned on me as fast as the trucks sped away; we were transporting drugs.

I remember staring out the window and thinking I can’t believe this is happening. I was nervous for a bit. I assumed as passengers we’d be fine if the bus was caught but I couldn’t be sure, the drug laws there were wonky. I had heard most drug crimes could be punishable by death and the trial didn’t have to be in English. After fretting over this for a bit I reminded myself there was nothing I could do about it. I fell asleep shortly after. We arrived in Nha Trang around 5 am, got our stuff and continued on our journey.

I don’t know what became of the boxes under the bus.

Deciding To Try

state-of-depression
I didn’t want to do anything.

I cleaned my room. Well, I shoved most of my things into the closet. Out of sight out of mind right? I still didn’t feel better. I didn’t want to clean the kitchen because I didn’t make the mess. It would’ve taken me ten minutes, I could’ve listen to a podcast or a book and enjoyed it. I understand this but I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to edit anything. I didn’t want to call GoDaddy support. I didn’t want to live in the house that I do or write from a bed or the kitchen table. I knew I could do things to start feeling better but I didn’t want to.

Sometimes the hardest part about getting out of a certain state of mind is deciding to try. It’s never impossible. I, and probably you, just give up too easily (or don’t even try in the first place!). What’s the quickest fix to a bad mood? A quick jolt of exercise! Control your emotions with motion.

Start simple. Sit or stand up straight, take ten deep breaths. Didn’t work? Try twenty jump squats. Didn’t work? Try twenty jumping jacks. Didn’t work? Try twenty pushups. Didn’t work? Start again with jump squats and repeat. Eventually you’ll feel better or pass out, maybe even die. At least it will have worked!

Simpler yet, try writing “I fucking kick-ass” 42 times or repeat it in your head. Why 42? It’s the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Counting will also steal brain power from feeling negative.

I find that the more random the thing you try, the more positive the outcome. Just keep trying things, don’t stop until you feel better. Don’t keep inflicting pain upon yourself.

The other day I ate what tasted like mouldy cheese mixed with baby vomit out of a container labeled “Plain Greek Yogurt.” Will I do that again? Of course not! When I go the theatre and end up hating the movie would I go see it again another day? Never! It wouldn’t feel good to do these things again. So why do we allow ourselves to feel bad by revisiting moments in our past that we regret? Or things right now that we might be missing out on? Or something in the future that hasn’t even happened yet! Most people will do some form of this everyday. I know I’m susceptible to it, are you?

Try things to get out of a bad state of mind and don’t give up until you are. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have no control over you emotions, you can have complete control. Like a child learning to walk, you might stumble around, lose your balance, maybe even fall over. Stand back up and try again. Eventually those wobbly steps turn into steady strides and before you know it you’re across the room and in your mother’s loving arms.

I forced myself to start writing. It was awful. I hated every minute of it, until eventually I didn’t.

I didn’t want to do anything but, fortunately, I did anyway.

Story and a Song

My eyes were beginning to feel sore from reading on an iPad Mini with a non retina display. I was finishing a chapter of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird when my phone began vibrating on my bedside table. I laid the iPad against my chest and turned my head in the direction of the buzzing. On the screen was the name of my brother, Klarke Braaten, and a goofy picture of him and his friend from high school.

I worry something tragic has happened when I receive unexpected phone calls from family and friends.

“Want to do me a favour?” he asks after I answer the call.

I ask him what it is. Chances are I could have agreed to but you never know what a favour may entail. What if he wanted me to drink toilet water? I wouldn’t want to do that for him.

“Give me a ride to school?”

He left a short while ago in his car like every morning so I couldn’t think of why else he would need a ride. His demeanour didn’t seem to indicate that he had just got in a car crash. I asked him what was up. He explains that he had taken his car in to get work done and was relying on the shop to provide him with a ride but there was no one available. I said I would meet him in 10 at a gas station across the street from where he was. I set my phone back down, placed the iPad beside me and rolled out of bed. I got dressed and was out the door.

Earlier I had received a text from my dad saying it was 8 degrees back home. Despite Saskatoon always being colder I was hoping it would feel similar here. The wind was chilly but bearable in my two jackets. I walked slowly to my car. I have to walk carefully because my Uggs provide little (no) grip but I wear them anyways because most days I can’t be bothered to put socks on.

I plugged my phone into the car stereo and put on Silversun Pickup’s sophomore album Swoon. I turned on my wipers, it was warm enough that the non-winter washer fluid wasn’t frozen. I decided I would take the slightly longer route as opposed to making an illegal left turn.

I recognized the man wearing the Kansas City Chiefs hoody standing at the corner of the intersection as my brother. I pulled into the gas station, put the car in park, turned the music down a tad, made sure the seat was all the way back and waited as he walked across the front of the vehicle and hopped in. It was a quiet drive.

He mentioned that a song that played was from a sports video game but he wasn’t sure which one. We use to be able to place most songs from EA games but now he plays too many and I don’t play enough of them to keep track.

We arrived at his school a short time later. He thanked me for the ride and I told him it wasn’t a problem. I turn the music back up as he closes the passenger door.

I spent most of the drive home contemplating picking up a cup of coffee but I decide I’d make my own.

Deck Wrecking Kitty

I grew up in Abbey, a rural community with a population that doesn’t reach triple digits. My parents still live there. I was speaking on the phone with my mom this morning. Eventually the conversation led to her wondering why a particular video game (a Christmas gift) on Amazon was so expensive. I took a look. They were sold out and displaying more expensive listings from other sellers. I told her it would the normal price in stores which doesn’t do her much good. I had sealed my fate, I would be going Christmas shopping.

The first store I went to didn’t have it. I asked my mom if she could call the nearby Walmart and see if it was in stock. Walmart tends to have everything. In the meantime I went and picked up groceries. I was making greek chicken that evening.

I felt my phone vibrate twice in my pocket as I was checking out. The message from my mom read “computer says no but guy I talked to said yes!? Let me know when you get it please.”

The guy was probably right. Everyone says not to believe everything you read on the Internet.

When I got to Walmart there was one copy left on the shelf. It was my lucky day. I grabbed it and went to the checkout. The man at the till was a stubby, younger looking man. His face spotted with patches of thin, blond facial hair. His smile revealed his mostly crooked teeth. He appeared more enthusiastic than most checkout operators.

“I just need the key to unlock this.” He says grabbing the game with one hand and fumbling around in his pocket with the other.

Just then I heard a girl’s voice from behind me, “Almost left with this.”

She extends her hand toward the guy behind the till and drops it into his, then walks away. Good timing I thought to myself. He pops the plastic casing off the game and scans it.

“I’m almost done too.” he tells me. “I’ll be going home to play with my kitty and rebuild my Magic The Gathering decks.”

This comment catches me off guard. I crack a smile and tell him that sounds like fun. I’m being nice. My brain is thinking “Wow. Walmart worker. Kitty lover. Magic The Gathering player. Probably no friends. This poor guy.”

“I just bought a bunch of new cards. The last time I tried rebuilding my decks with so many new cards it didn’t go well. I ended up just throwing it together last minute then got destroyed.” I can’t help but notice the joy in his voice.

“My kitty doesn’t help me either. She is always messing them up.” I’m amused that he uses the word kitty. “Just when I think I have a deck figured out she comes and wrecks it.”

He hands me the bag. I’m not sure how to conclude the conversation. “Good luck with your deck” I tell him as I begin to walk away. He thanks me and wishes me a good day.

Afterwards I felt guilty for judging him. Who was I to think my hobbies are any better than his? Or maybe I envied his lack of shame in discussing them with a complete stranger. All I knew for sure was I felt disappointed that my immediate reaction wasn’t to be happy for him.

Judgement often leads to suffering. It expresses dissatisfaction for the way things are. It adds unnecessary negativity to our lives which often leads us to bring down those who are arounds us. Judging focuses our energy on what is wrong and not how we can fix it. It slowly chokes contentment out of us and replaces it with jealousy, greed and envy. The energy that could be used to improve other peoples lives is instead being used to worsen them.

Judging is a behaviour that is deeply engrained in our society. Avoiding it is hard. Heck, before I could blink my brain thought a guy was a loser because he liked his kitty and a trading card game. The key to minimizing the judging of others is acceptance.

See the situation for what it is and accept it. Don’t apply any negativity to it. It is what it is. Try to catch yourself when you are judging someone. Accept that you did and try to move on. The sooner you can stop dwelling on it the better.

Try giving the person a story for his actions. Maybe the person who cut you off in traffic was just found out their nephew passed away? Just got fired? Most of the time people who inconvenience us aren’t trying to be an asshole. Coming up with a story for an individual takes your mind away from thinking spitefully. Accept the story you create and move on.

The trick is to accept the situation as quickly as possible and minimize the amount of negativity you generate. Afterwards you can evaluate if there is anything you can do to change it. Use your energy for action, not inaction.

Maybe you roll your eyes as you read this. There was a time when I would have. I would have blasted it. This author is a fucking idiot with his head in the clouds. I sometimes struggle to write it myself. There’s still a little part of me that tells me this is all nonsense. But then I remember that it works. It makes my day better all the time. Maybe it’ll help make your day better too. Who knows?

All I know is I’m going to read comic books after publishing this. Try not to judge me.