New Year, New Me, New Stories to Tell
2018 was a long and difficult year. This is a look at the past year, month by month, detailing how I dropped out of University and eventually found my calling. 3/1/19
Ooh wee, it’s a new year and a new me!
And that is my first official poem of the year.
Man, 2018 was a hurricane. I spent most of it confused, anxious, and angry. I dropped out of University, got engaged, and picked many fights with my inner demons (won some and lost some). Although 2018 was the toughest year I’ve ever endured, I’m extremely thankful for everything that happened to me. I grew both physically and mentally and have set off to carve my own path for the rest of my life.
So, yes, I had a lot of stress and sadness in 2018, but I also invoked more personal development within the year than I had in my entire life. And besides, 2018 wasn’t bad for me; just tough. But now that the year is complete, I can look back on all my hardships and accomplishments with pride.
Here’s my 2018 in a nutshell:
Right at the start of the month, I quit my studies of mathematics at the University of Waterloo after two and a half years. I was only two years away from getting my degree; more than halfway there.
I set off, guns blazing, to write a novel called Nature’s Bounty, which I planned and began writing for the better part of the month. I quickly lost my motivation to write, however. Writing is very difficult, and sometimes isn’t fun, I thought. And I mistakenly used that as a reason to convince myself that writing wasn’t my true vocation.
At the time, I was still infatuated by money and success. I cared way too much about others’ opinions of me. I figured that I had the intelligence and creativity to be an entrepreneur, and entrepreneurs had a lot of money and were viewed highly by society. So, that’s where I shifted my focus.
Despite my ambitions, I needed a consistent stream of income so that I could repay my school loans and, you know, survive. While I was in school, I worked as an HVAC technician on the weekends. So, once I dropped out, I began working full-time at that company with no idea if or when I would go back to school or achieve success as a writer or entrepreneur.
At the start of February, I left my incomplete manuscript, Nature’s Bounty, in the dust. Instead, I opted to try my hand at starting a business, called P.E.N (Personal Erotic Narratives). Yes, you read that right. My idea was to have a team of writers who would write custom erotic stories for clients. They would fill out an order form, informing us of all the details they wanted in their story, and we would write it for them.
To this day, I believe my custom erotic stories business idea was solid. I also believe that I had the talent and ability to execute the idea and see a profit from it. My problem? I lacked the passion.
I wanted to be an entrepreneur for the money and the recognition, not because I had an actual passion for it. Still, I blindly wafted my way through the process of designing a business. If only I knew then that it would be a waste of time…
I’m happy to admit that, in 2018, every aspect of my life was a mess except for my romantic life. At the start of March, I got engaged to the love of my life in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
Yay for a fantastic start to March! But the rest of it was shit.
Throughout the month I was still working on my custom erotic stories business. I designed the website, developed the order form with all the questions my clients would need to answer, solidified a business plan… and distracted myself as much as possible.
A lot of things held me back from completing my entrepreneurial work and starting my business, all of which were my own fault. But the top two were fear of judgement/failure and lack of passion. Because of these fears, I would only work on my business one or two nights a week after work, rather than every night. I would get a little work done on my days off, but not nearly enough. Instead, I filled my time with movies, YouTube videos, video games, and all the other unproductive bullshit that is the art of human escapism.
March is also when my HVAC job got ridiculously busy. I was working 50 or 60-hour weeks regularly, leaving me tired and unable to work as efficiently as I wanted to in the evenings. My fatigue only provided me with another poor excuse to not work on my business. Boo me.
This is where the real downhill slope began.
Those 50 or 60-hour weeks at work didn’t let up. Instead, they just took place outside of my home province. In April, I was gone for almost three weeks working elsewhere in Canada.
Getting to travel for work? All meals, lodging, and travel expenses paid? Sounds great!
Yep, it sounds great on the surface, but being away from my support system (family and fiancée) was the very last thing I needed at that stage in my life. It just gave me yet another excuse to distract myself with bullshit, trivial things.
And this is when I started gambling a lot, too. See, my home in Ontario is quite far from any casino, but when I travelled around for my company the hotel they booked always seemed to be within five minutes of one, no matter where I was. And for anyone who doesn’t know, casinos are a top-notch distraction for anyone looking to run away from problems.
Near the end of April, I officially abandoned my custom erotic stories business (two projects now in the graveyard) and focused on becoming----fucking wait for it----a professional poker player.
Off to Calgary for a week, then back home for four days. Off to Vancouver for two weeks, then back home for four days. That was my fucking May. I just got engaged two months ago, for Christ’s sake, but I’m off working ten hours a day, six days a week in Vancouver, B.C. because I need the money to pay off my $20,000 school debt.
But did I save the money I made? Heck no! I went and gambled with it after work almost every night I could. I played blackjack and poker, mainly, and when I couldn’t go to a casino (or when I got back to my hotel after a casino), you bet your ass I played online, too.
And I chalked that behaviour up to the idea that I would one day play poker professionally and make millions.
Professional poker is a real career. It is. I won’t lie. Many people succeed at earning a sizeable living playing poker. However, most people who try, don’t.
And, for everyone who plays poker, whether successful or not, the game is extraordinarily stressful. You can put $500 into a pot with pocket aces and lose it because the other guy got lucky. Done. And you’re supposed to still be happy with yourself because “you made the right decision in the long-term.” Well, fuck the long-term! I just lost $500!
There’s also a lot of stress that comes along with having a volatile stream of income. With poker, some weeks you might make $5,000. Others, you might lose $5,000. In fact, you can be the best player in the world and still lose week after week for months at a time, just because of the element of luck involved.
For those who can deal with that kind of stress (hint: very few people), maybe playing poker is a good career option. Majority of people can’t deal with that stress, though. It’s important to recognize stress as a stopping factor when pursuing a career. Unfortunately, it took me a while to realize that.
It’s well-worth mentioning too, that on all these trips, my company gives “meal allowances.” $10 for breakfast, $15 for lunch, and $35 for dinner. So how well do you think I ate with that money? My brain was all fucked up. Man, I thought becoming a professional poker player was a good idea. I routinely suffered from insomnia because I didn’t want to fall asleep for fear of losing free time before having to go to work again the next day.
Yeah, needless to say, I ate like shit. In fact, I gained almost 25 pounds from January to October in 2018.
I should also mention that, although I was pursing poker at the time, I constantly doubted whether I was making the right decision with my life choices. That alone gave me immense anxiety. In fact, my self-doubt was a common theme for most of the year, as I hopped from activity to activity trying to figure everything out.
May was a tough month; a month that I ended off by zooming down a Vancouver highway in my work van going 140 kph and crying, screaming at myself to change my ways.
In June, I was a growing ball of anger and anxiety. I was getting tired of being away from home for three weeks of every month, so I began intensely resenting my job. Plus, I was beginning to see the destructive behaviour of pursing professional poker as a career and gambling all the time. Because of that, I began intensely resenting myself.
Still, I saw the ability to make a living from playing a card game as my end goal; my saving grace. So, I pushed on with the rampant gambling and trying to deal with (unsuccessfully) all the stresses that came with it.
My birthday is on the 29th of June. I’m so incredibly fortunate that I had my fiancée by my side, doing everything in her power to make sure I had a fantastic day, because without her, I wouldn’t have.
A birthday is a day used to celebrate someone’s existence. It’s a sort of “cool that you’re here” celebration. At the time, though, I didn’t understand my own existence. I felt that I was making terrible mistakes in my existence. So, I didn’t feel like it was a thing to be celebrated; I just felt lost and fraudulent.
Yeah, it’s dark right now, but the story gets happier, I promise----just keep reading!
July was the first time I made an (effective) active effort to turn my downhill march into an uphill climb.
I started looking into topics like self-awareness, fears, and happiness. I consumed content from successful, “happy” people, desperate to turn my life around and start developing a better mindset. It was in July that I began dissociating happiness from money and success. I realized that chasing money was a frivolous task that would only lead to a feeling of emptiness later in life.
I also realized that happiness isn’t achieved from the result of a difficult task, but the gradual completion of the task itself. That is, so long as the task is meaningful to the person completing it. The process of doing a four-year mathematics degree in University wasn’t meaningful to me because I didn’t look forward to the opportunities the degree would lead to. Same with the process of starting a business. I didn’t truly care about the business I was starting; I just wanted to do it for the money, so the task wasn’t important.
With that new information in mind, I knew I needed to find the task that was meaningful to me. Even though I had been playing poker for four months at that point, I still wasn’t sure that poker was my “vocation.”
Plus, I had a long way to go before fixing all my major problems. I hated my job, I had crippling social anxiety, and I was battling gambling addiction. I questioned my commitment to poker and whether pursuing it was a good idea. I hated myself for not being able to identify my passion and for being so easily distracted by gambling, video games, movies, and the like.
But I learned that happiness is intrinsic and not based on material gain or the opinions of others, so that was a fantastic start.
I liked August.
For the first time since March in 2018, my work slowed down to a normal 40 hours a week, and I was only gone for ten days of the whole month, not the usual twenty.
I trucked on with my poker, but I got to approach it with a not perfect, but better mindset. I decided to organize my gambling a little better so that I had more control over the money I was spending. I implemented stop-losses, weekly budgets, and began going to the casino less and less.
At the same time, I explored other career avenues. I thought about board game or puzzle design, and I reconsidered both writing and entrepreneurship. And although I stuck with poker, I wanted to do more with it than just play the game. So, I launched a poker blog called Degen Central. There, I posted my weekly results and wrote articles about my journey. I’ve since stopped writing for the blog (I’ve stopped gambling), but the website will still be up for a bit if you want to look for it.
Although I wasn’t making any extra money from the blog, I didn’t want to in the first place. The blog was just an avenue for me to exercise my writing skills (something I’ve always had talent for), and it felt like I was a achieving a little more alongside studying the game of poker.
In August, I also reapplied to University, this time for a Bachelor of English. As I write this, I’ve already been accepted to York University, and I’m waiting to hear back from Ryerson University, and the University of Toronto.
Here, poker started losing its appeal for me.
I continued to consume content from motivational speakers and entrepreneurs. As a result, I believed more and more that pursuing poker was unhealthy for my financial well-being, mental health, and personal relationships. However, I didn’t jump ship from poker because I didn’t have another island to swim to. I wasn’t enthused about any other career prospect----my poker dream still ran the show. So, I decided to give it one last push. I would study and play my heart out to see if I could really get something going in terms of making money.
Funny enough, casinos in general began to lose their appeal. When I made the push to stop playing blackjack so much on work trips in July, it was immensely difficult (and often unsuccessful). I still had the urge to go back and blow $200 a night. Now, I didn’t feel the urge as much anymore. I accepted that playing anything other than poker was a waste of my time and my money. I restricted myself to only playing low-stakes, online poker for the purposes of learning.
This process, I deemed as dissociating my gambling urges from my poker playing.
In September, I solidified my commitment to poker, knowing I would be okay with finding a new avenue to pursue if I wasn’t successful. I learned how to focus more easily, and I gradually stopped hating myself for my past decisions and shortcomings.
I was ecstatic to see that I was improving for the better. I was able to overcome many of the major mental sources of anxiety in my life.
I was fixing myself, one small and difficult step at a time.
October was both my worst, and then best month of 2018.
I gave up poker in October after suffering through some of the worst luck I had ever experienced playing the game. It seemed that no matter how much I studied and how many good decisions I made, I would still lose money. I screamed, punched things, cursed at God (even though I wasn’t religious), and cursed at myself.
But I’m working hard! I’m dedicating my free time to learning this game! I deserve to be successful!
At first, I tried constantly telling myself that my poker decisions would pay off in the long-term, and that I just had to push through the losses until I saw profit again.
And I was right. It just wasn’t the right thing for me to do.
Why? Because October was when I realized that poker is a volatile, stressful career; a career that would be way too destructive for me to pursue, even if I was successful with it. I just realized that there was no way for me to extract true happiness from playing poker for a living, no matter how successful I became.
My first golden decision: giving up poker as a career goal.
October is where I got smart, but November is where I got really smart.
At the start of November, I once again found myself with no clear goal to work towards. I was still working long weeks as an HVAC technician and I knew I was heading back to school in September 2019, but I knew nothing else.
Here’s where I made my second golden decision: limiting my work hours to free up time to pursue my personal goals.
My job was draining me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yeah, it was allowing me to save up money for my second go at University (and without the gambling, I was really saving money), but it paid close to minimum wage.
I discussed back in July that I finally dissociated money from happiness. An idea closely related to this is the concept of “scarcity.” Many successful people preach that it’s crucial to embrace scarcity. It’s okay to live poorly for years while you develop the skills required to allow you to excel later in life.
If I limited my work hours, I would have less money. But so fucking what?
I’ll take another loan for school. I’ll stop gambling away half my paycheck and spending the other half on eating out. I’ll live scarcely now because my time is more valuable than the pittance I would make working 60-hour weeks at that job for the next ten months.
Now, I only work on weekends, leaving me a free week to sculpt in whatever way I pleased. How would I sculpt it? Well, that’s my third and final golden decision: write.
But you already tried that!
Yeah, and when I looked back and analyzed why I stopped, I identified several faulty pieces of logic that pushed me away. First, I was too concerned with comparing myself to other writers. Back in January, I was still incredibly worried about how other people viewed me. So, I compared myself to writers who were better than me and quickly became discouraged; I wanted to stop writing because of it.
Second, I thought my vocation, my “calling,” was something I would jump out of bed for every morning and work fervently at all day until I went to bed again. The moment the work became “hard,” I stopped pushing to write the book, interpreting the difficulty as a sign that writing as a career wasn’t meant for me.
Third, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the book itself, Nature’s Bounty. The premise is fantastic, but I just didn’t spend enough time developing it in the planning stage before I started writing. I was fresh out of University and too excited to plan a good book----I just wanted to get going.
But here’s the thing----Err, here are the three things:
1. Only my own opinion of myself matters.
2. All great things in life require a tremendous amount of hard work, even our “vocations.”
3. Books can be revised at any stage. If I’m not happy with the plot, I can stop and go back and change it.
It took me most of 2018 to learn those things, which I needed to inherently believe before deciding to make writing my career. But, in November, once I believed them, I chose to pursue writing and haven’t looked back since.
For the first time in a few years, I spent a month in comfort and clarity. Gambling is gone, writing is in, and I’ve learned more about myself and the way my mind works in 2018 than I have in my entire life.
In December, I vowed to slowly incorporate good habits into my life that would eventually craft a happy, productive lifestyle. I would wake up early in the morning, exercise, eat healthy, and read for an hour a day. Then, I would spend the rest of the day writing, moving step by step in the direction of becoming an author.
In December I wrote a flash-fiction story, two short stories, and spent three weeks outlining my debut psychological thriller novel, The Injection Game. As I write this, I’m already 10,000 words into the first draft, and I’m elated about it.
My life has meaning; it has direction. I have goals, both short-term and long-term, that I’m incredibly proud of. I’m losing weight (from 215lb. to 204lb. in December), I’m waking up earlier, and most importantly, I’m smiling more.
And still, my mental transformation is far from complete. Improving oneself is a continual process, one which I’ll be participating in until I die. The same could be said for every worthwhile goal in life, though. It’s not about running a single marathon because, remember, the process is where the happiness is derived. So, find a way to extend the process to cover your entire lifespan. Work on being the best runner you can be and run as many marathons as you desire.
I’m in a much better place now than I’ve ever been in my life, especially in contrast to most of 2018. But that’s the thing: it took me almost a full year of pain, sadness, and suffering just to get a few important values through my thick skull. But I’m so glad I went through it, because I’m set for the rest of my life.
And if I can do it in eleven months, well, then I challenge you to do it in ten.
Find your vocation, make time for it, and don’t settle for anything less. Embrace scarcity. Stop caring about anyone’s opinion other than your own. Choose your habits, make sure you’re clear on the reason why you want to develop them, and start adding them to your own life.
And most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to feel scared, or sad, or worthless, or angry. Don’t avoid these negative emotions, because they’re inevitable, especially during a worthwhile journey. Just worry about how you’ll use them as motivation to keep pushing yourself to become smarter and stronger every day.
Holy crap that was a long post. But I guess 2018 was a long year, so it makes sense. Happy New Year and thank you for reading about my journey last year. Hopefully you can make use of my examples and advice and do something, no matter how small at first, to make your life better. Here’s to 2019!