Know Thyself

Some days, it’s hard to look at yourself for the person you are. We as people are pushed and pulled to our limits, until the person we see in the mirror almost feels like a distortion of who we are. There were times where even I almost lost sight of who I am inside. It took a friend to remind me of my value in this world, and who I am inside.

The more we get caught up in things beyond our control, the harder it can be for us to center ourselves and remember what is good within us. Each one of us has a value to the people whose lives we enrich. It can be hard to remind ourselves of that, but somewhere, whether it’s from a friendly face or from deep in our soul, there’s someone who knows deep down who each of us are inside.

Whenever you feel as if you’re losing touch on what makes you a unique person, take a moment and think of what makes you unique, what makes you a good person. It may sound generic, but it’s truth. The truth tends to be simple when it counts.

Know thyself.

New Year, Small Steps

Here we are in the year 2020. Funny thing is, when people think of the number “2020′, they associate it with 20/20 vision, as in perfect vision. For many, it’s just a funny, meme-worthy coincidence. For many others, it has been a call to make their visions and dreams happen. I fit into the latter category.

The past decade has mostly been missed opportunities and broken dreams for me. A breakup within the first two years, constant struggles with trying to find better employment, all while attempting to accomplish personal creativity goals in my life. It has not been easy at all trying to make my dreams happen, and a lot people can relate. There are so many artists, musicians, and writers trying to make their dreams happen, and it has been an uphill journey for each of us. It is these people that I’ve seen declare 2020 to be the year their visions come to life.

For me, making my vision come to life requires me to come out of my comfort zone. One huge reason my goals haven’t manifested yet is because of fear, both self-imposed and the fears that others, especially family members, have put upon me. So, when December 31, 2019 came down to its last hour, I put my fear aside in the smallest, but most significant way: I got on the dance floor.

It was a small bar & grill in the Bronx community of Throggs Neck, but it was a spot that so many of my friends had recommended to me. And there I was, among a small crowd of faces at a bar, the dance floor almost empty. Suddenly, two women old enough to be my mother invited me to dance with them. I did, and once I started, I didn’t want to stop. Even when my feet were aching, I kept dancing. Almost half an hour after the ball dropped, people started joining me on the dance floor, dancing to everything from Beyonce to Van Halen. I went from being the guy in the lonely seat of the bar to the king of the dance floor for a night. It was my way of doing something new and adventurous for the new year, and it was such a small step.

Sometimes, to make your dreams happen, it takes small steps. Befriending a new face, making a small investment, even adding one new thing to your daily checklist to spice things up. People think it’s all about going to they gym for your New Year’s resolution, but you can do something as simple as looking up stretches on YouTube. If you want to learn how to write a book, read a book on writing, one chapter a day, and bookmark your progress. If you want to learn to play piano, download a piano app onto your phone or tablet and learn the “C” scale. If you want to do something new on a particular Saturday, look up events in your area and pick one. Take small steps to get out of your comfort zone, because small steps lead to giant steps.

As for me, I plan on hitting Chinatown for the Lunar New Year. I’ve never seen a lion dance in person before. Just another small step.

7 Signs That You Might Need A New Job

Jobs are an essential part of our day to day for many of us. While many people have various sources of employment or income, the bulk of us work a standard job under a standard employer for the most part. However, health professionals have voiced their concern that certain factors of our jobs may very well be shortening our lifespan. Whether it’s constant stress, lack of fulfillment, or even financial woes, there are telltale signs that you might need a new job.

1. Frustrating Commutes

The commute is the unofficial beginning of the workday. Way before we clock in, we have to travel to our job. Unfortunately, getting from point A to point B is never as easy as it sounds. On our daily commutes, we deal with traffic, construction delays, bad weather, and so many other variables that can ruin our day before we even get to the job site. And if you rely on public transportation, your commute can be even more frustrating. If your commute is stressing you out every single work day, you might need a job closer to home.

2. Constant On-The-Job Stress

This one should be a given, but so many of us ignore how a stressful job can affect us in the long run. Dealing with anything from horrible bosses and aggravating superiors to unruly consumers on a daily basis can take a huge mental and physical toll on you. I’ve mentioned in the past how stress can affect us physically, but as a quick reminder, stress can manifest itself in us physically in everything from stiff and aching joints to hypertension, which is directly linked to heart disease. As for the mental impact of constant stress, nervous breakdowns and severe burnout are commonly caused by workplace stress. If you have the option or the means, changing your employer or source of employment may be what you need to reverse the damage that stress is doing to you.

 

3. Financial Difficulties

If you’re working long hours for little pay, you may want to reconsider your situation. The reason that so many people have no choice but to work into their older years is because of financial hardship, which usually stems from being caught in a cycle of working long hours for minimal pay. Again, this is stating the obvious, but sometimes, the truth is sitting there in plain sight. The fear of being unemployed leads to millions of people being underemployed; even though they know deep down that their knowledge or experience is worth more, they are made to believe that they have no choice but to settle for less.

The path to better employment starts with knowing your worth. If you have a creative talent, tend to it and nurture it, and create a business from it.  If you have years of experience in a field that makes you qualified for something better, advertise it to a better employer. Don’t box yourself into a job that doesn’t pay you what you’re worth.

4. Less Quality Time

If you barely have time to yourself outside of work, it may be time to switch to a new job. Jobs shouldn’t take us away from our families, friends, or hobbies.  If our world solely revolves around work, it becomes redundant; working to live, living to work.  We as people were built for more than just clocking in and clocking out. We shouldn’t have to solely rely on our vacation time to pursue our own interests, and our days off shouldn’t only be sick days. So if you’re finding that your job is leaving you less and less time for self-care, it’s time to move on.

5. Poor Benefits

Speaking of sick days and vacation time, if you’re not getting benefits such as sick time or vacation days, it’s time to go. In fact, even if you’ do receive such benefits, if you’re discouraged from using them, then it’s time to get a new job. Rest is essential to productivity, and if you’re not getting the proper rest, then it’s time to get a new employer.

Also, if your employer doesn’t offer quality health benefits that don’t eat up half your paycheck, then it’s time to go. A quality health plan, including vision and dental, shouldn’t cost more than you can afford, and a quality employer will know this.

As for retirement plans, a good employer will have good retirement options, but you should always consider meeting a trustworthy financial adviser.

6. Unethical Behavior

If your job is rife with business practices that are unlawful and unethical, yet you feel as if your back is against the wall, then it is time to move forward. While whistleblowing is usually advised, you should do so when you’re at a safe distance from the employer who is in question.  Merely having your name attached to the organization can have negative effects, so give yourself a fresh start, whether you take action or not.

7. Unfulfillment 

Most importantly, if your job doesn’t leave you with a sense of fulfillment, then it’s time to move on.  No job should feel mundane or pointless, and no job should make you feel as if you’re wasting your talents. Find something that you love and do it for a living. It won’t be easy at first, but the people I tend to see enjoying their jobs are either self-employed or doing what they love for an employer who appreciates them.  So take a chance and turn  your passion into a career, no matter how long it takes.

Beach Therapy

In my stress relief practices, one of the major things I recommend is to take a trip for yourself, no matter how near or far. This summer, I had made a promise to myself that before the end of August, I’d take a trip to Orchard Beach in The Bronx. Sure enough, Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, I was able to keep that promise.

After taking care of a few personal tasks in the early part of that Saturday, I made my way to the Bx12 local, the main bus line to take to Orchard Beach in the summer. After Labor Day weekend, the bus lines to that beach are discontinued until Memorial Day the following year, so it was my last opportunity to get there this year. Thankfully, I made it to the bus with plenty of time to spare.

The bus ride was unusually dreamlike, with little to no traffic, which is unusual for a holiday weekend. The feeling of pulling up to the beach entrance was a feeling of joy and relief, making it there with 3 hours until closing. I walked through the paved path through the trees, and when I saw the spread of the beach, it was as if I had found a paradise a stone’s throw from the city.

After grabbing a hot dog and a bottled water, I started my walk along the paved path beside the beach, admiring the view of the Long Island Sound as it stretched toward the ocean. I couldn’t help but snap picture after picture of the seagulls as they flew over my head. The further I walked, the less crowded the beach became.

Soon, I found myself compelled to walk on the sand, keeping my sneakers on, and walking as carefully as possible to reduce how much sand could seep into my shoes. It felt good to walk on the beach, feeling the coolness of the wind on my face, the smell of the salt water. I ended up walking so far down the beach, I had made it to the edge.

This was my first time climbing the rocks at the edge of Orchard Beach. I could see the yachts and other boats sailing down the ocean water, the jet skis zooming towards the land. The calm ripple of the ocean waves were so calming, I had to close my eyes and listen. When I slowly opened my eyes, I couldn’t help but look into the distance to my left. I saw two small islands, the Twin Islands, out in the distance. I had to get a closer look.

I found a small, sandy path just beyond the end of the paved walkway, and as I walked that path, I could see a small group of people along the rocky edge. A lone fisherman, a father and son fishing together, two men drinking beers and laughing, and a woman looking off in the distance. Just past the lone fisherman, I could see the Twin Islands perfectly. It was the first time in my life I had seen them. So many people have been to this beach, but so few of them have ever heard of the Twin Islands, let alone seen them. As I snapped pictures, the lone fisherman gave me a thumbs up. Funny thing is, I didn’t notice until days later as I showed my pictures to my co-workers.

As I made my way back to the main entrance, I looked up, and I could see a small rainbow peeking through the clouds. I looked around, and no one else noticed it but me. It was a solitary and special moment as I made my long trek back to the bus, a way to end my trip that I can never forget.

Sitting on the bus as I made my way back to the hectic mayhem of the city, one repeating thought dwelled in my mind: It’s amazing what beauty awaits us if we’re willing to push further beyond the roads paved for us.

Your Life, Your Goals, Your Time

On April 29th, one of my favorite directors, John Singleton, passed away after suffering a stroke the week prior. At the age of 24, he was the youngest director and the first Black American director nominated for an Academy Award for his now-classic directoral debut, Boyz N Da Hood (1991).  The next 27 years of his life, he spent help pave the way for Black filmmakers with directoral efforts such as Poetic JusticeHigher LearningRosewood, the 2000 reboot of ShaftBaby Boy, and other movies, not to mention his efforts as an executive producer of projects such as Hustle & FlowBlack Snake Moan, and the FX television series, Snowfall. All before his death at 51.

A month prior, Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Nipsey Hussle was tragically murdered in front of one of his privately-owned retail stores. He had built his musical career with a series of mixtapes, one of them an infamous mixtape that he charged $200 per unit that generated waves of hype. He had done so much independently, by the time Atlantic Records approached him for a record deal, he had the option to refuse and stay independent. Instead, he agreed to a distribution deal that gave him complete creative control. He was also an avid business entrepreneur, opening stores in his own community, and a vocal supporter of the STEM program, in efforts to bring science, technology and mathematics courses to underserved communities. He had done more by the age of 33 than most people do by the age of 60.

Why do I bring up these two tragic deaths of men who have lived extraordinary lives?  Because there are so many of us approaching these ages who have not taken the opportunity to live out our dreams.  We are constrained by work, among other circumstances, and have put our own dreams on the back burner for the sake of our day-to-day. It has brought so many of us to the point of saying “I can’t do it” when we revisit our old dreams. Some of us say that we’re too old for one dream or another, others look at the financial side of things, the cost seemingly outweighing the reward. But for your own sake, don’t give up on your dreams.

If you believe you’re too old for a certain dream, there are people out there in their 40’s taking their first martial arts class, people in their 50’s taking their first art classes, even an 80-year-old grandmother in Japan who moonlights as a DJ after taking DJ-ing classes.  If you believe that money is an issue, there are people building careers as percussionists with nothing but wooden boxes or plastic buckets. And don’t assume you need the most expensive equipment to make your dream happpen. Affordable alternatives are always being made available; all you have to do is Google the right term and click on the right site. And if you believe you don’t have the time to pursue your goals, all you need is at least 10 to 20 minutes a day to make it happen, just enough time to make gradual process.

Don’t let your goals wither up and fade away. Use the time in your life to make a difference for yourself. You’ll thank yourself in the long run for not giving up.

A Quick MLK Reminder

On this Martin Luther King Day, most of us are celebrating an extended weekend. More important than the weekend is the reason today is a holiday. Today, we remember a champion of the Civil Rights Movemen, a leader who fought against segregation and bigotry. We’ve come a long way since his time, but the battle is far from over. Let us remember the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the leadership of other champions during the Civil Rights Movement.

Balancing My Diet

(Personal note: I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. Between work, life changes, and friends getting married, I rarely had a moment to sit down and give you an update. I’m glad to be back on here, and I hope to keep this blog updated on a regular basis.  –D.T.)

In the past few weeks, I made small changes to my daily diet to reflect my renewed insight to health, especially after recovering from a shoulder/chest injury. (How did I end up injuring my shoulder and chest? Well, I learned the hard way not to do hindu pushups and overhead presses on the same day.) In the world of exercise and fitness, everyone is trying to follow one diet trend or another. Either they’re following the Paleo Diet, going vegan, or some other fad like eating 30 bananas a day. To be honest, recovering from an injury taught me something important: balanced nutrition is essential.

During my recovery process, I made a quick hospital trip to get examined. I had my blood pressure taken, and, to my shock, I was at 161/110. Thinking that it was because of my sodium intake (in spite of getting a decent amount of fruit in my diet and drinking water regularly), I made the resolution to go vegan. For 3 days, I kept my diet strictly plant-based, and in 3 days, I dropped from 289 lbs to 280lbs. That may sound good, but I was becoming easily irritable, and developing a case of insomnia on top of that. Also, my lack of protein was making it harder for my body to repair itself. The rapid weight loss wasn’t worth it.

The day I ended my vegan streak, the first thing I ate was a lean beef burger. I could feel the pain in my aching muscles melting away, as if that beef was the missing link from my recovery. Within 3 days, I put on 3 pounds, moving up to 283 lbs. Deciding to balance my plant-based nutrition with a small amount of animal-based protein (mostly chicken or fish), I kept a steady routine of eating at least 2 bananas and a salad (with a small cheat food like oatmeal cookies) during the day, and at night after work, indulging in a salad with a meat of my choice. By the end of one week, I had dropped 1 pound to 282 lbs. Keeping the regimen up, I dropped another pound, and as of today, I weigh 281 lbs, 8 pounds lighter than I was 3 weeks ago, and only 1 pound heavier than when I ended my vegan period. Keep in mind, this is combined with a steady exercise regimen that includes boxing, kickboxing, bodyweight exercises, stretching, and moderate resistance training.

With all the fancy gimmicks out there and people punishing themselves by denying themselves their favorite foods, the best way to eat is just by getting more fruits and vegetables in their diet, not forsaking pizza and burgers completely, but balancing their intake. In fact, the more I got into eating salad and fruits on a daily basis, the less I needed to eat pizza or burgers on a regular basis. And on that occasional cheat day, make sure you eat some fruit to keep your system craving healthy food. My last cheat day before my most recent weighing, I indulged in Taco Bell and Little Caesar’s pizza. I still ate a banana after my indulgence, and it kept me from getting too hooked on junk food. And I still managed to keep my weight going down.

So in the end, you don’t need gimmick diets to lose weight. Get plenty of fruits and vegetables along with a bit of protein, and you’ll be just fine. 😉

(End note: Btw, if you’re wondering why my blood pressure was so high that day, it was an effect of my body recovering from the chest/shoulder injury. Once I recovered, my BP dropped down to a healthier rate. 🙂 )

Going Semi-Vegan

As of today, it’s been 10 days since I’ve gone semi-vegan. It’s rare to hear someone refer themselves as semi-vegan, because in this day and age, either a person is vegan or they’re not. I use the term semi-vegan because while my diet is mostly plant-based, I’ll allow myself some leeway with animal-based proteins. I estimate that my plant-to-animal ratio is about 9 to 1. That way, I can stay committed to eating fruits, vegetables, and legumes without kicking myself when I eat something like fish or eggs on rare occasions.

My primary protein comes mostly from kidney beans, which I’ve developed a great fondness for. Along with being a great source of protein and fiber, they’re able to fill you up without weighing you down. My favorite method of preparing kidney beans is to simmer them in tomato sauce, then mix them with my favorite veggie pasta. The pasta itself is a rotini made from pureed broccoli and zucchini. It hits the spot every time.

I’ve found that since I had drastically decreased my intake of red meat in favor of legumes and vegetables, my health has improved greatly in only over a week. When I weighed myself four days in, my weight had dropped 3 pounds, from 285 to 282. When I weighed myself today, I dropped another 3 pounds, from 282 to 279. I had lost 6 pounds in 10 days. This is because of a combination of my diet changes, combined with my increased frequency of exercising. I went from relying only on strength training to combining strength training, core workouts, and cardio in the form of kickboxing. I’m recovering a lot faster from my workouts, facing less fatigue, and getting more rest at night. I can honestly say it’s a direct result of my increased consumption of plant-based foods.

After this test run, I’m definitely staying the course. This won’t be a seasonal “beach body” thing like most people adopt. This is a lifestyle change. I’ve felt stronger and healthier in one week than I have the past two years. While I doubt I’ll ever be 100% vegan, I’m happy with the diet and lifestyle changes I’ve made so far. After losing 6 pounds in 10 days naturally, I know I’m on the right track.

Don’t Be Discouraged

Do you have someone in your life who’s a constant naysayer? Someone who shoots your dreams down whenever you share them? I’ve had quite a few people like that in my life, especially in my family.  When I had dreams of becoming a radio DJ, they were shot down. When I wanted to be a professional photographer, they shot those dreams down too.  I remember when I first started writing rap lyrics in high school. My mom went through my stuff and found them.  My father crumpled up and threw out the pieces of paper right before my eyes. Lately, my older cousin had been the cause of my self-doubt, shooting down whatever plans I have for myself in the future. Funny, he tells me “don’t sell yourself short”, but that’s all he ever does.

I watched a clip from The Pursuit of Happyness yesterday that made me think of all the people who have tried to crush my dreams or stand in my way. It was the scene where Will and Jaden were talking about Jaden wanting to be a basketball player. Will starts to tell Jaden that it’s a silly dream, but stops short when he realizes that he had been told the same thing all his life. Then he proceeds to tell Jaden not to let anybody crush his dreams, to go for it, no matter what they say. This spoke to me.

It hurts when the people you grew up with, people in your own family, crush your dreams, thinking they know what’s best for you. I’ve gotten more support and encouragement from people who weren’t related to me by blood than I ever did from my own family. Sometimes, you have to be your own motivator, your own cheerleader.  You have to push on when those close to you call you a fool, even though you know what you’re doing. Believe in yourself, even if the rest of the world doesn’t believe in you.