blog.

a letter to myself.

An obnoxious, ear bleeding alarm noise blares off at 5:30am. A teasing game of back and forth is played between the warmth of the blankets, softness of the pillow, and my desire to get up. A side saying “yes”, the other saying “no”. One muscle movement at a time. Both eyes open. One limb after another. A great yawn the size of a black hole that could engulf all of present reality and spit it out into a new dimension. A big stretch. Shortly thereafter, the organism named “Ivan” is up from bed and ready to start the day.

It is a crisp, fall day on October 28, 2028. In the beautiful outskirts, just 30 minutes away from New York City. Or was it Portland, Oregon? Maybe Boston. No it might have been Boulder, Colorado. It was Seattle. No no were we in San Fransisco? Clearly, I cannot remember. I have been blessed with an opportunity to travel and live in countless cities, countries, and continents. Due to this, I have seen a lot but it also makes it difficult to remember all of the spaces I have lived in. Regardless, the spaces that usually host me during my travels are a reasonable distance away from a major city. Somewhere near a mountain or a large body of water.  A simple, minimal space that offers privacy, serenity, and the beauty of living by beautiful nature. But also provides an option for fun, invigorating nights in the city with friends and family. A healthy balance between my introvert and extroverted sides.

The day begins as normal. Wake up at 5:30am, brush my teeth, put gym clothes on, kiss my girlfriend, then head out the door. The first task is to complete my “physical activity of the day”. Each day is assigned an activity such as yoga, running, walking, or weights session. Today, the activity of the day is walking. It is a short 5 minute drive over to my favorite spot to walk in. A 10 mile boardwalk by a large, picturesque bay in a quaint neighborhood. It eerily resembles Island Heights, a boro in Toms River, NJ, which was the location where most of my early thoughts of self discovery, of my life, of my path were formed. The hours spent walking up and down Island Heights were therapeutic sessions. It was transformative. Morning walks are always accompanied by a podcast. A quick summary of the important news of the day is first. Followed by a thought-provoking or creatively inspiring podcast. Usually from the Joe Rogan Experience, the Tim Ferris Show, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, or something completely random. This routine activates and prepares both body and the mind for the day ahead.

Now that the physical activity of the day is out-of-the-way, time for the next important task – writing in my journal. Similar to walking by the water, writing in a journal is also therapeutic in its own regards. It is an opportunity to get in touch with yourself. How are you feeling this morning? Are you energized? Are you excited for the day? Or is there something that is making you nervous? Maybe an important meeting later? Everyday is a new day, with new emotions and thoughts. It is essential to keep track of our daily thoughts. We have to understand how they affect our life. A key part of my writing are my daily mantras. These were developed shortly after being hired as an admissions counselor at Georgian Court University. Life was confusing, stressful, dynamic during those days. But also exciting and fun in many ways. The mantras were a way to live by a certain code of ethics. A list to remind myself – live life the way I want to. Since then, they have been a guideline in my journey as I continue to pave my way through this thing called life.

A normal amount of 1 to 2 hours can be spent writing in my home office. Once complete, I head into my room to shower and get myself ready. Within this time, my girlfriend and I also catch each other up on whatever we have going on today. Listening to her thoughts and plans as I am pulling up my dark, maple shade chinos and buttoning a lightweight J Crew button down shirt. A charcoal gray overcoat and all white Common Projects are the choices for today. She approves of the look as I finish lacing up the sneakers. She always harps on the simplicity, sharpness, and detail oriented attention I place on the articles of clothing being worn for the day. Although, she is no slouch when it comes to personal style. Her style is clean but daring. Most importantly, she is unapologetically herself. It is one of the things I love the most about her. She knows who she is, who she is not, and who she can or cannot be. She constantly strives to be the best she can be in everything she does, everyday. There are many days when she fails, as I do too. But together, we push each other to be the best individuals we can be. Helping us become the best couple we can possibly be.

Shortly after getting dressed, I am out the front door. The drive into the city can sometimes be chaotic but it is a price I am willing to pay. I have spent numerous years during my 20’s living in cities. Yes, those days were certainly lively and fun. But I am in a different stage of my life. When I was 25 years old, I remember certain nights out in bars and clubs when I would randomly think to myself, “I hope I no longer find myself in these places when I am 10 years older”. At 35 years old, I can proudly say to my young self that he can be proud of who I have become. My nights are now spent in more low-key environments. Usually at a friend’s loft for a dinner party, a book release, an art gallery exhibit, or a jazz show. My girlfriend, friends, and I will turn back the hands of time and muster up the energy for a night of bar hopping in the city occasionally. But nowadays, we much prefer eating dinner and having drinks on my balcony overlooking the water. Ironically, that is the exact plan for tonight. But first, work.

My cozy office is located a few minutes from downtown. In a lively area full of art, energy, and hipsters carrying around green monster kale shakes. When I am asked about what I do nowadays, I simply give a brief overview of the project which is attracting all of my attention currently. Through the years, I have continued to explore my passions and interests. Which allowed me to have a foot in various fields. Working alongside different people in the fields of style, writing, design, tech, etc. After investments and stocks, my main source of income today is writing. I am now working on my second book. One year after releasing my first, a New York Times Best Seller. Somehow, I have managed to create a career in which I was paid for my thoughts and not for the amount of hours I spent at work. During this time, e-mails are answered, phone calls are made, conversations are had, meetings are completed.

On a typical day, I will leave the office anytime between 4 to 6pm. Sometimes I will stay much later and other times leave early. It all depends on the amount of work there is to do in that specific instance. Every day is a new day. Today, I close up at 4:30pm. I decide to stop at my coffee shop before going home. Here365 at 365 Washington St., 20 minutes outside of the city. It is a sunny but cold fall day so naturally, the space is vibrant. People from various ethnicities and backgrounds are gathered in one space. All sharing a moment in time when they are all together at this exact moment. A moment that is likely to never occur again in the future. This idea does not even cross the minds of those occupying the space. Many are immersed in their conversations about their day. Some blinded and distracted by the love they currently feel for their significant other, sitting directly across. Others are buried in the mount of work preventing them from calling it and going home. Everybody is here for a reason. We, at Here365, are here to enhance your experience in our space regardless of what brought you here right now.

The coffee shop is not too spacious but not too cramped, just the right size. Shades of the Earth dominate the color palette. It is colorful but easy on the eyes. The aesthetic is minimal, meaningful, and intentional but also daring. There is a rustic feeling that emanates from the furniture, art work, and overall design of the space. The soft music being played in the background is eclectic. However, hearing some Red Garland, Bon Iver, Sam Smith, Vance Joy, Daniel Caesar, and The Internet is almost a guaranteed possibility. From 6am to 9pm on every weekday, the shop is inhabited by people craving for coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and bubble tea. Some people come here for the morning yoga sessions. Others use the space to finish work projects or for impersonal meetings. Everyday Friday starting from 6pm, the weekend crowd begins to come around. During the weekend evening hours, alcohol is served at the bar. The shop transitions from a social work place to a social evening gathering. There are groups playing jenga and other board games. Some gather by the bar, like a herd of animals replenishing themselves by a watering hole in the middle of a desert. Often, there are spoken word, poetry, or jazz artists performing for a crowd in an intimate setting. The space does not simply serve one specific function. It can be whatever one desires it to be. Anybody can stop by in the morning for a cup of coffee on the way to work. Then, return for lunch with a client to meet about a possible business opportunity. Finally, come back later at night to let loose and grab some drinks with friends. It is more than a coffee shop. Coffee is just one aspect that is available for patrons. Here365 is designed to be a space where social groups can gather, to create one big community formed and supported by smaller communities.

It is normal to find myself and my girlfriend entertaining our friends and family at Here365 on any given night. Those nights are extremely special. I hold these conversations, debates, and moments we share together close to my heart. But tonight is different. The location for tonight’s gathering is on my 2nd floor balcony, another open but intimate space. There are no barriers blocking the view from the balcony to the nearby large body of water. The warmth radiating from the outdoor heater creates a cozy feeling when contrasted against the cool breeze of the wind. Each and every sunset is breathtaking to say the least. Moments full of quiet optimism for the future, gratitude for the present, and a belief in living a meaningful life always manages to overtake us when watching the sun setting in the distance.

Life is simply a collection of moments. Some are positive. Many are negative. Few are life changing. Regardless, the moments we spend while maneuvering our way through life all add up. Our identities are shaped by them. Luckily, I have learned to live within each moment. To make the best out of anything. What happens is not important – the key is in the way we react to what happens. Control the things you can control.

 

Best,

Ivan

 

 

 

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the observer and the participant.

The sun was beaming down on me. The coolness of the wind created a balance with the heat from the sun . It was as perfect of a day as there could be. The Tim Ferris Show podcast was playing from my phone as I was navigating my way through the back roads of Southern New Jersey, with the windows down of course. Samin Nosrat was his guest. She is an accomplished writer, chef, and teacher who has been recognized for her books and shows. The conversation touched on many topics such as her love for food, her early beginnings, her successes, her failures, her transition from a chef into being a writer and then a tv producer, etc. One specific point during their conversation resonated with me. It was early in the talk when Samin alluded to an instagram post she recently saw and expressed her need to share it. It was a quote by Marco Pierre White. I had no idea who this man was. She refered to him as a bad boy, celebrity chef with a tortured soul. Somewhat similar to the recently deceased Anthony Bourdain. Marco is known as one of the most famous chefs in history. The quote on the instagram post read,

“I believe there’s really two species of human beings. The first species is the most common, there’s more of them. They are individuals, who like we all, are born into a certain world and they become a product of that world. They absorb that environment they are born into, they become an extension of it, they become part of it… The rarer species, in my opinion, is the individual who has been damaged as a child. They have suffered misfortune and great tragedy. This doesn’t mean that they are better people, it just means they have suffered… And very few individuals suffer that tragedy. But what happens…is an invisible shell covers you. It protects you, so you don’t absorb the world you’re brought into, you don’t become part of that world… you observe that world”.

– Marco Pierre White

In the pause after she finished reading, I felt something. It felt like somebody ripped the emotion I have been feeling for years out of me, translated it, and molded it into a clear, simple statement that made it easier for others to understand. Flashback memories of my teenage years and early adulthood quickly made me nostalgic. These memories always bring a mix of joy and sadness. Joy because I am grateful to even have these experiences to reminisce on. Many are stupid, immature, and reckless but still fun regardless. Sadness because I know I was not completely myself during those years.

As far back as I can remember, I have seen myself more as an observer to life instead of a participator. I was not aware of it then of course. I was young. After years of deep reflection and analysis, I have realized two factors that contributed to this. First was the way in which I was raised. I was born in Baguio City, Philippines on August 25, 1993. My family and I moved to New Jersey when I was about ten years old. If you could not guess, the Filipino culture is completely different from American culture. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum. American children are raised to express themselves. They are encouraged to form their own opinion, to be outgoing, to be expressive, to be fearless. On the other hand, Filipino children are expected to follow their parent’s beliefs – throughout childhood, the teen years, and even adulthood. We are not taught to form our own opinions. We are taught to only speak when we are spoken to. We are expected to uphold our parent’s images to the highest standards. We were not encouraged to be fearless. We were conditioned to play it safe. Do not take any risks. Follow your parent’s lead – do what they do, say what they say, act the way they act. Do that so you can please your parents and everything will be fine. These societal accepted values combined with a Catholic school, authoritarian educational environment did not provide the social skills necessary to make a seemless adjustment into American society.

Migrating to this new country (the second factor) flipped my world upside down. The feeling of confusion hit me as soon as I stepped off the airplane. I looked around and everything was brand new. The airport floor was so clean and shiny (I landed in the Newark, NJ airport so that is saying a lot). It seemed like there was an unlimited number of food and other items for sale. The bustle of people all around me was intimidating. The fast paced American lifestyle devoured me within twenty minutes of being on U.S. soil. My first day of fourth grade was even worse. How my parents got me to leave their side, walk onto the bus, sit through the ride to school, and make it into the classroom without breaking down into a full-blown panic attack is unexplainable now. I cannot even fathom how I managed to make it through. Lost and scared are the only words that come to mind when I think about my first few days, weeks, and months here. There were times when I would lay in bed late at night, crying because the thought of going to school the next day terrified me. I do need to mention, the feeling of fear was not caused by the other kids at school. Everyone was actually kind to me. They would attempt to include me in activities and conversations. Luckily, language was not a barrier and I was even able to find some kids to hang around with. However, the search for an identity quickly began. It would take numerous years before I could feel comfortable in my own skin.

I have never suffered great tragedy in my life. However, personal experiences caused me to form a protective shell around myself. There were times when a glimpse of my true self would peak out but those were rare occasions. A majority of my adolescent days were spent following the crowd. At the time, it felt like I was doing what I wanted to do but it was not the case. I looked for people who I thought were “cool” and “popular”. I would attach myself to them. Then, infiltrate their friend group, copy the things they were doing, and hope I would be viewed as one of them. Even when I was able to enter their friend group, I would have nothing to offer. There were days when I would be surrounded by other kids and I would struggle to formulate sentences. There were too many instances when I would sit in somebody’s house after school, with friends, and just listen to everyone else’s conversations. In my head, I was having fun because I was just happy to be included. I was the friend who was nice and not too weird….enough to be able to hang around the group.

One specific memory is ingrained in my head. There was a girl who lived down the block from my house. She had long, dark hair and her eyes were ocean blue. Whenever I looked at her lips, I would imagine how they would feel against mine. She was beautiful. But I never took the chance to tell her. I had a friend who was good-looking, intelligent, and well-known around school. There was a streak of months when he would come over my house after school. He would ride his bike over and convince me to go to this girl’s house. The three of us spent those days inside her garage. I would be on my bike while the two of them made out with each other. Yup…..I sat there watching and hanging around until their mouths were too tired to continue. Again, just satisfied to be included.

I often felt like I was never fully present in most of my adolescent days. My body was in the room but my mind was focused on other things. I would observe my friends and others. Taking notes on their mannerisms. Maybe if I say the same joke or laugh the same way, I would also be liked. Maybe I will just hang around here because being part of the group is good enough for me. I was living inside of my head. Too worried to say something that will make people question me. Too concerned about doing something that would cause myself embarrassment. Too scared to fail in front of other people. The anxiousness halted my opinions from leaving the tip of my tongue. If you had asked me to describe my personality, I would have no idea where to begin. My personality and self-image were dependent on the people I was surrounded by. This continued on throughout high school and early parts of college.

Today, I feel comfortable in my own skin. I am confident in myself and in my abilities. No longer scared to sound stupid. No longer too worried about embarrassing myself. Failure? I am still working on that. But I am much much better at letting things go. It took years to get to this point in my life. A lot of self-reflection was needed. Numerous miles have been walked at Island Heights, my favorite place by the water near home. Hours and hours of podcasts and interviews have been listened to (if anyone would like any podcasts recommendations, I got you). Yoga and meditation have immensely improved all aspects of my life. Other than feeling physically great, the inner peace I feel today is undoubtedly a direct effect of my mindfulness practice. I have also surrounded myself with good people. The community I have built helps me feel comfortable. I can be myself around them. It is a constant process to maintain my community. I am always making sure that I spend time and energy with people who are good for me. Always keeping a distance from anybody who does not offer anything to help me become the best version of myself. I would rather be by myself than be with anybody who will jeopardize my inner peace.

Most importantly, I have been kinder to myself. My parents are extremely loving and caring. I cannot be any more grateful for being blessed with them. As a child in the Philippines, their love and affection was overt and direct. Growing up in the U.S., their expression of love and care was shown mostly through indirect ways. Hugs and kisses came by less often. The times I heard “good job” and “I’m proud of you” decreased. Those turned into “make sure you do better”, “why didn’t you get an A?”, or “look at what his son or her daughter is doing”. I did not directly hear “I love you” often at home. It was difficult to adjust to a new lifestyle, while growing up as a teenager, without receiving emotional support at home. But I do not blame my parents. They have worked so hard to provide for me. I did not have everything I wanted but I had everything I needed. My parents worked and did their best to provide. They were busy trying to keep the family afloat. I was too immature to process my emotions and convey exactly what I needed. They are just like me, learning and adjusting as we go through life. However, I became my harshest critic due to the lack of emotional interaction between my parents and I. You could not say anything fucked up about me that I had not already thought about. Those thoughts became beliefs. A monumental amount of pressure was placed on my shoulders. Years later, I no longer carry that pressure at twenty-five years old. I am still my worst critic but I am also my best supporter. I always expect the best out of myself but I have a clear understanding that I am human. I will not be perfect. But I can work to be the best version of myself everyday. If the effort is there, I am happy. My effort is the only thing I can control.

The transition to becoming a participant in life is not easy to say the least. But it is worth the agony, the loneliness, and the time. It allows you to be present in the moment. You do not have to always think about the future. Gratitude for the present enhances every experience you have. Simply feeling the cold breeze brush against your face can provide an extreme amount of joy. It can help you feel at home. There is always going to be another house, another city, another country we can live in. Being a participant opens you up to the environment you are currently in. All of a sudden, there are more places to visit in your town. There are more people to spend quality time with. You suddenly have a few favorite spots you constantly return to. The town you reside in now feels like a true home. It brings more appreciation for life, especially for the smaller things. The things that get lost within the rush of daily life. Being a participant enables you to completely absorb the words you are hearing from the person in front of you. You are better able to be empathetic. With the ability to listen and to understand others, you can have an enlightening conversation without the need to say much at all. The inner peace it brings helps you feel comfortable being your true self. Regardless if you are surrounded by family, friends, or strangers. The fear that you are missing out on something else is not there because you are fully engaged with the world in front of you. The world that is happening right now.

Life is an experience – nothing more and nothing less. We tend to over complicate it. Instead, we just need to participate and live it.

 

Yours Truly,

Ivan

 

image courtesy of www.instagram.com/__nitch/

progress.

 

My life is in a very positive space right now. Perhaps the best it has been in a while or maybe ever. I cannot remember a time when I have felt this good – mentally, physically, and spiritually.

I do not have everything I would like to have. I do not have my own apartment. I am still making just enough to survive every month and still have some fun. I do not have a six-pack. I still cannot run or jump because of my torn Achilles. I do not have a girlfriend. I have not been romantically involved with a woman in a long time. I have an idea of the life I want to build but I do not have a clue to how I will get there. Regardless, I am happy with where I am in life right now.

Living at home gives me an opportunity to spend time with my parents. As I get older, they are also aging. I am simply trying my best to enjoy this time I have with them. I still feel like their son but we have also developed a friendship. It feels freeing to have the chance to be open with your parents. We talk about anything and everything. From our family history, to our jobs, to me getting super drunk last night and needing to sleep all day today. My job is not something I would like to do for the rest of my life but for the time being, it is exactly where I need to be. It allows me to travel without spending my own money. It allows me to make enough to pay my bills, my student loans, and still have fun while putting a little bit of money away every month. It is also fulfilling in a way. The daily interaction I engage in with students and parents helps me feel like I am doing something positive for the world.

Yes, I am single and the single life often has pockets of loneliness. However, I am single! There are a lot of pros that come with it. There are times when I feel insecure about the fact that I am single. For some reason, I have this idea in my head that I should be picking up numbers and going on dates every weekend. A thought pops into my head as another weekend approaches, “I wonder if this will be the weekend when I will hookup with a girl”. I have not been romantically involved with a girl in a while. Is it strictly due to circumstance or is it partly my own choice too? It is probably a little of both. Nevertheless, I know I want something worthwhile and lasting. I do not want a one night stand. I can no longer waste my time or energy. I do not want something that will temporarily fill a void for one night. I want something to invest in. If it means that I have to be patient, then I do not have any other choice. All I know is when I see an opportunity, I am ready for it.

A six-pack has been my goal since I was fifteen years old. I have been chasing this goal for over ten years now. I still do not have one but I feel great about my body. It is not where I would like it to be but I feel strong, limber, and lean. Plus, I look great in my clothes. Tearing my Achilles might have been one of the greatest blessings I have had. The process of recovering from this injury has taught me how to stop relying on running to remain in good shape. I have learned different methods to staying lean while building muscle and strength. My knowledge about fitness and health has expanded greatly. I am not sure if I would have ever learned about intermittent fasting, ketosis, calisthenics, or yoga if I had not injured myself. I would probably still be playing basketball every weekend. Nothing against basketball, I love it, but I just feel like I had come to a standstill. Thankfully, I was forced to make a change. If you are not making the changes you should be, I truly believe that the universe will choose to make that decision for you. You will be given an important choice to keep doing the same thing you have been doing or to take a new route.

Most importantly, this is the best I have felt spiritually. It feels like nothing can disrupt my inner peace and calm. There are things that happen everyday and I am forced to decide if they will affect me negatively. Luckily, I have built enough strength and knowledge about myself to stop myself from falling into the trap. Whenever these circumstances arise, I rely on my daily mantras to get me back on track. Everyday is a battle but I am equipped to go into war. It took a long time to learn how to arm myself with the necessary weapons in order to make it out of the battle. The daily work I invested in myself is definitely worth it and I can see it all paying off.

Now is not the time to stop or slow down. I need to keep going. Now is the time to continue investing in myself. I try to keep this in mind, “grind in your twenties and build in your thirties”. I am trying my best to stay true to this mantra daily. As I continue to try to be the best version of myself everyday, the closer I will get to the life I want to build. There is a lot more to improve on. I will be implementing something new to my life – controlling my alcohol consumption during the weekend. I do not have a drinking problem (I know I know, that is what everybody says but no I am serious). I have a, “I am very disciplined during the week so when the weekend comes, I let loose but it hurts me because my body literally needs the rest of the weekend to recover so I do not do anything else but sleep” problem. I also know I have to separate myself from people who I have outgrown. I have to be more wise about how I am spending my time. Time is the greatest currency in the world. It sounds fucked up but I know who deserves my time and who does not. I will track how these changes affect my daily life. For now, I need to keep going. I am responsible for my choices. I am responsible for my life.

 

Yours Truly,

Ivan

more than one love.

Love – there is more than one type. There is romantic love, which is the most popular. It is the one we all seem to focus on. But there is also self-love. Then, the love you feel when you simply care about someone else’s well-being. We will call it, caring love.

My younger self ignored the two underrated types of love and only focused on the mainstream favorite, romantic love. I have been chasing it as far back as I could remember. There was the girl who lived in my apartment complex when I first moved to America. I was infatuated. First it was a crush, which lead to imagining different scenarios with her in my head. It was very innocent but it never lead to anything. I was too scared to tell her how I really felt. Plus, I could not even have imagined how I would tell her (early beginnings of my fear of rejection). Then, the daughter of my parent’s friends. This is when the touching started……and by that I mean holding hands. We would turn off the lights in the basement and hold hands under the throw pillows while we watched movies with other kids around. She used to rub her thumb across my knuckles while our hands gripped each other tightly. It was soothing. She was my first kiss. A quick five second kiss in a room in her basement before I walked up the stairs, out the front door, and home with my parents. The kiss drove me insane. It was the only thing I could think of for a while. Next was my first relationship. Everything was new and explosive since the very beginning. We guided each other through learning the human anatomy. Through her, I learned that touching certain areas of the body could cause different, unexplainable, and intense feelings. She showed me what it felt like to be touched. After her, was my first real relationship. She taught me a ton of essential lessons. She opened my mind to new experiences, new emotions, a different way to see the world. The relationship was dynamic, even dangerous at times. Essentially, she acted somewhat similar to a guide. Somebody who accompanied me on a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual journey. Similar to most journeys, ours also came to an end. Then, there is the one who hurt me the most. Our time together was brief. She was exciting and unpredictable. She was the girl I wanted but the universe kept placing road blocks to impede my path towards hers. In retrospect, the road blocks were more like signs to warn me off. But I did not care because I wanted her. Even when we were together, the universe kept throwing signs at me. I still do not know if I chose to ignore them or if I just did not notice them at all. It was probably the first though. Do not get me wrong, the story is not all one-sided. I was not perfect. I might not have been a great boyfriend at all. I probably turned out to be someone different from what she expected. I can admit to my wrongs and shortcomings. Nevertheless, she eventually decided to move on shortly after we became official.

These women all played essential roles in my journey and I do not have any regrets. However, chasing the romantic type of love through different stages of my life allowed me to put up a wall to ignore the other two types of love. It provided a distraction. It was not until after I felt the feeling of being broken by someone for the first time, did I decide to truly explore self-love and caring love. It felt like I hit rock bottom, or at least close to it. I was never diagnosed with depression. But if I could imagine what depression would feel like, I would guess it feels like what I was feeling then. The break up was not the only factor that contributed to what might have been the darkest time of my life so far. The post-college-graduation-pressure was also heavy on my shoulders. It was one year after graduation and I could only think about the future. Where is my life heading? What career should I pursue? I cannot even provide another example. Those negative ideas are so far removed from my current thought process that I cannot even relate to my thought process then. Anyway, the societal pressure to move out of my parent’s home, a torn left Achilles heel injury, a realization that my friend group is steadily shrinking, and the frustration of paying off my damn student loans were also contributors. There was nowhere else to go but up. My focus shifted away from romantic love and towards self love and caring love.

How do you love yourself? I would answer that by saying, you love yourself by taking care of yourself. Take care of the needs of your mind, body, and spirit. This process is self-care. Self-care? Guys are not supposed to be sensitive to their emotional and spiritual needs. Any guy who is in touch with both is not masculine enough. If this is not the perspective 75% of our society has on self-care, please feel free to correct me . I never expected self-care to affect my life. I was certainly not taught how to “self-care” by my parents, my teachers, or my friends. The gym and basketball were my only outlets when I was younger. The process of learning how to “self-care” required experimentation and patience. The willingness to try new things or things I am fearful of, needed to be developed. A person cannot know their true self if they claim “I do not like _____” but have never experienced or tried _____. It ultimately prevents you from learning more about yourself. The willingness to scrutinize your own ideas and thoughts needs to be present too. Is the way I am thinking about this certain topic beneficial for me or is it hurting me in the long run? What is the reasoning behind my opinion on this other topic? Do I believe this because I truly believe so or is it simply because it is the popular opinion? You must be able to let go of your old ideologies and be open to new ideas. It does not mean you are always wrong but you must give yourself an opportunity to admit that you are wrong when you are. Self examination and questioning is an essential part of self care. It is much more than just working out, wirting in your journal, or face masks.

Writing everyday has helped me in becoming more self-aware. It does not matter if it is one paragraph or five pages, the practice of writing thoughts on paper allows me to be objective and step outside of my head. Although I try to everyday, there are days when I will not write in my journal. Some days are just busier than others and that is alright. The next time I find the space to do so, whenever that is, I just hop back on it without talking down on myself for missing yesterday. Being kinder to myself was one of the biggest changes I have made too. We all have things we want to do and sometimes those things are not done. We all fail at certain moments. We will never be perfect and it is important to recognize that. Sometimes we expect ourselves to almost act like a machine. Wake up, be happy, go to work, get everything done, go home, remain happy, work out, complete personal projects, go to bed, then repeat it all again the next day while remaining happy. Humans are fickle. We are dynamic. It is not natural for us to constantly follow a routine. We must actually put effort into maintaining our daily routines. Sometimes, we do break away. Sometimes, we will unconsciously behave differently. We will make a choice that does not match our aspirations. We will feel emotions that we know we do not want to feel. Once you can accept the idea of being human, it is much easier to be kind to yourself. It is alright to stray away.

Daily written mantras have also been key in my transformation. I try my best to continuously live in accordance to these. I even got a tattoo of one of my mantras! I am not sure how the psychology works (I would love to learn how if anyone out there knows) but writing and repeating these statements has ingrained a step by step guide to how I want to live my life inside my consciousness. The mantras have made it easier to catch myself whenever I am thinking negatively, being judgemental, over thinking, etc. Once I recognize that I have strayed away from my path, I simply attempt to guide myself back by repeating a mantra.

Self love is an everyday process composed of various factors. Each factor could be different for each individual. Different things work for different people. There is not one set way to practice self-care. You will only discover what works for you by simply trying it. We are human and we will never be perfect. But the daily act of working towards the best possible version of yourself is definitely worth it.

Throughout the past year or so, I have also been molding a community around myself. It feels like for the longest time, I have been searching for a group of people who I could call my community. I have jumped around from one friend group to another. I have also tried going into my shell, cutting off communication from anyone who knew me. At that time, I was riddled with anxiety and insecurities. Am I saying the right thing? Am I acting cool enough? Is he/she having fun with me? Right now is the most comfortable I have felt with the people I have in my life. It began with solidifying my relationship with my brothers and parents. Our relationship has always been solid but I made it a point to strengthen it even more. Countless hours were spent with the little brothers. We truly act like friends to each other. We could talk about any topic, nothing is off the table. We can be serious, we can roast each other, or we can be goof balls and spend all day laughing. We could start off talking about girls, then go into sports, and somehow lead to talking about people’s ability to be self-aware. Then find our way back to figuring out who is the ugliest out of us three.

As I am getting older, I am also witnessing the effects of aging on my parents. It has allowed me to see them as more than just my parents. They are regular humans, like me, who also get older as the years move on. They have experiences that have shaped their lives. They have ideas and opinions that they cling onto. One day, it clicked….I should really get to know them even better. We share meals together and I can enjoy just watching them interact with each other. I definitely picked up a few lessons from watching a couple who have been together for more than twenty years. One favorite is sitting with my mom as she is eating on the dining table and allowing her to just talk openly. I will sit there and listen, allowing her to share her stories and go off on her tangents (she loves talking). My dad would butt in from the couch and give his two cents every few minutes.

The discomfort I felt around my friends was caused by more than anxiety and insecurity. I was living inside of my head. It felt like I was holding onto expectations of how we should interact with each other, what topics we should talk about, or the things we should be doing. What is this “should” business? What exactly “should” we be doing? Who knows. I am not sure why I had all of these expectations. I had cemented this idea inside my head of what I wanted my friend group to look, behave, and talk like. If someone did not fit into this idea, he/she must not be the person I want to be around. Yea……I dropped this ideology and it has been one of the best things I have let go of. I did, and continuously attempt to, let go of expectations. It was an extremely slow process but I learned to accept people for who they are. Be thankful for who someone is at that exact moment I am with them. Learn more about them instead of judging them for what they are not. Look at someone for who they are and just accept it. This has helped me tremendously in current interactions with my friends. I feel so much more comfortable. Instead of constantly worrying, I just feel gratitude. I am able to appreciate the conversations and the time we spend with each other. I realized I had good people around, I was simply blind to it because I was always looking for something that is more than what is in front of me at the moment.  The practice of dropping old ideologies and adopting new ones has allowed me to focus on the caring type of love. I am now able to fully embrace and show gratitude towards my parents, brothers, and friends. I express how much I appreciate my time with them without worrying about their reaction or the outcome. I will reach out first. I will respond to their text messages. I will share a thought that comes to mind without fear of being judged or ridiculed. The ability to ignore the outcome and allow myself to express myself is a foreign feeling but it has been liberating. The freedom allows me to say “I appreciate you” without expecting them to say the same to me. I can simply love.

I do not have a girlfriend right now and I have not been romantically involved with anyone for a little over one year. Life has not presented a new romantic love yet and I am not in a rush to find one. But life has allowed me to discover somebody else. I have discovered myself. I have discovered my community. I have discovered a different way to love.

How do you practice self-love? Do you find yourself using somebody as an emotional crutch? Have you felt the different types of love in your life too? I would love to know.

 

Yours truly,

Ivan

 

flashback fridays – portland, maine.

Portland, Maine was a spontaneous trip. I am still not sure what convinced me to drive seven hours from New Jersey to Portland by myself and stay at an air bnb for five days.

It was March 2018. Travel season just ended and we were gearing up for the enrollment period (I am an admissions counselor for a small, private university). I was beginning to find my confidence and thinking more positively again. It felt like I was beginning to shed off the weight I have been carrying after going through a break up. I needed something, just anything different. So I went to Maine.

The air bnb was hosted by a couple, Jess and Chris. I never met Chris. Jess was the only one I communicated with. Regardless, they were great hosts. I definitely recommend staying at their humble abode on Preble St. in South Portland. It was a small studio on the third floor of an apartment building. The space was cozy, neat, interesting, and minimal. The first thing I noticed was the drapey tapestry separating the space in between the doorway and the main room. It had a cool pattern. Walking through it kind of gave me a feeling of leaving the outside world and entering a totally different space. A space where you can be yourself, where you can be comfortable, a place where you can rest. It might have been my second favorite detail about the studio. By far, the best thing about the studio was the balcony. The first thing I did after waking up on my first morning was walk out to the balcony. The cold air quickly hit me but the chill felt amazing. It was a calm morning. The only sound I focused on were the waves crashing onto the beach down the street from the studio. It was the only important thing at that moment.

Five days, alone, and in a new environment. This was a dream come true. I spent my days walking, visiting thrift stores, visiting interesting spaces, eating whatever I wanted, and gazing out onto the Atlantic Ocean from Maine’s beautiful coastline. The thrift stores in Portland were different from what I was used to. Two specifically stood out from the rest – Portland Trading Company and Portland Flea for All. Portland Trading Company was not actually a thrift store. It was a goods store owned by a tall, sharply dressed black male. He was an outgoing, interesting fellow. He seemed to have a story for everything. The space was in the basement level of a building, with a trendy retail store right above it. The merchandise was made from good quality materials. It was easy to tell these products were made with care and attention to detail. Clothes, books, journals, pens, shaving products, and many more items were for sale. I left with three journals and a sew on patch (I always try to support local, individually owned businesses). Portland Flea For All was a much bigger space. It literally had anything you could think of. Want a new, old couch? It was there. Need an obnoxiously big mirror? Buy one there. Need some fishing poles? There. Are you looking for a large, terrifying, crying baby mask? Yup you know where to go. The number of items in this place was almost overwhelming. I was amazed at the owner’s ability to shop for that many things. The idea that all of those items came from different people from different places and each had a different story of how it arrived there, was also something special. Side note, I specifically remember a sign on the window before I walked in. It read something like “the owner is the daughter of an immigrant”. Very cool sign. I walked away with a new, old dark olive green patagonia fleece jacket. I wonder who wore this before me? what was he/she like? what was his/her story?

The Maine coastline is indescribable. Specifically, Two Light State Park and Fort Williams Park. Looking out into the ocean felt like looking out into forever. The sound of the crashing waves was hypnotizing. I only felt calmness at this moment. The only thing on my mind was gratefulness for being given the opportunity to even enjoy a moment like this one. It helped me remember, there is more to this life than what I have at home.

I am not sure why but I walked away from this trip less broken than when I started. I was reminded that it is okay to be alone. I was reminded that it is a big world and I am not even close to seeing everything it has to offer. There is a whole world out there for me to explore. This was the beginning of a change in the tides. Nothing extraordinary actually happened during this trip but it will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

Yours Truly,

Ivan.