Personal Post – The Pitfalls of Extreme Ownership.

Taking total responsibility for all facets of your life can lead to great change, but it can also lead to great exhaustion.

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A guide on how not to become the stick on the far right.

Paradigm Shift.

The idea that you have untold potential beneath the surface waiting to be unleashed is enticing. Instead of being stuck with a body, relationship, or job you don’t like, you can accomplish everything you put your mind to. How?

Take complete ownership.

  • You are the reason you are in a job that sucks.
  • You are the reason you don’t have satisfying relationships.
  • You are the reason you haven’t lost weight.

There are no extraneous factors to blame, only yourself. It’s a bit irrational, yes, but this simple mindset was a breath of fresh air to my cognition. I could no longer hide from not living up to my potential because I couldn’t put the onus on something else.

Far from being the typical self-help bullshit, this idea is rooted in self-sacrifice and action. Its advocates do not shy away from reality: it’s going to be hard and challenging. The only way to get through it is by getting better in all facets of your life. It is not without rewards, however, as this self-development proffers to lead to a more meaningful and complete life.

In 2017, I started to really come into contact with the extreme ownership idea. It first started with a resurgence in Stoic philosophy as every podcast or blogger I followed was reading one of the classics by Epictetus, Seneca or Marcus Aurelieus. Then, Jordan Peterson came to rise with his odd mix of Psychoanalytical Archetypes and conservatism imploring everyone to clean their rooms.

Finally, I came into orbit of the Jacko Willick crowd and started to follow him on instagram as he posted daily pictures of his watch when he started his day (plot spoiler: it’s usually 4:30am). Willink’s mantra “Discipline Equals Freedom” encapsulates the promise of taking on more responsibility for your life: If I cultivate discipline today, I can reap possibilities later.

At that point of my life, I wasn’t exactly at a crossroads or experiencing a lack of responsibility. I was entering year two of Physical Therapy school, which is a job and a half in itself, while working out 5 times a week.

But, I also had so much more I wanted to do: read, play music, write more. I decided I was going to give this life a try and see what “extreme ownership” could do for me.

The Smash Success of Total Ownership. 

That Fall (2017), I started to teach myself how to play guitar. Within months, I was posting short clips on instagram with some having over a 1000 views as I played personally meaningful songs like “Blackbird” or “Imagine.” I always wanted to learn to play an instrument, and while I stuck with Viola for a good while, it never came to this amount of fruition. Now I have 25-30 songs memorized.

Then, I started this blog in January 2018. When I was 18, I always wanted to watch the top 100 movies of all-time and write about them. That petered out due to college drinking parties. I would try again a few years later, but after a few posts, I let it all go to crap. I love movies, video games, albums, and books, so I decided to try and read, watch, listen, and play the top 100 things in each category of entertainment.

I’m now sitting on 200+ posts. This blog is purely for me to express and write, but I’ve also had the added benefit of having a few frequent fliers and making friends on wordpress. Where my previous self petered out and wasn’t able to carry through, extreme ownership carried me across the goal line.

When I got into an orthopedic residency for physical therapy, a post-doctoral program that’s a very intense year, I had no doubts I would thrive again. After all, my recent track record showed that I could continue to take on responsibility in all facets of my life and thrive. Why wouldn’t I be able to do this with the next challenge?

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Just ignoring the fires in my life.

The Nightmare.

The first problem was that I wasn’t quite prepared for the commitment I had made; being a resident was like being in PT school WHILE working a full-time job, and my full-time job was no joke. It was quite often where I would have patient contact hours for upwards to 50 hours and then have to spend a good amount of  time outside of work documenting. Being in the small-business arena, I worked more hours with less days off than my counterparts.

On top of this, the residency commitment quickly piled up. While things like discussion board assignments, literature reviews, and lunch and learn web conferences seem small, when you are working from 8 to 7, everything starts adding up to 12 to 14 hour days. Not to mention the weekend courses; god bless you if they were on back to back weekends making for a 19 day sprint.

As this was ramping up, I tried the mind tricks of the past to maintain a hold on the other facets of my life. I made a spreadsheet with all my commitments and would anxiously lament boxes not checked off. I started waking up at 4:30am like my hero Jacko because I needed the extra time in the morning to not only workout, but play guitar, write blog posts, finishing documentation and more before heading to an 11 hour work day.

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Type A on display.

Leaving no facet of my life unchallenged, I went full tilt into saving money. I stored every receipt I spent in the month of September, and calculated my average monthly expenditures in multiple categories. I then set strict limits so I could save the maximal amount of money each month before it was time to pay student loans.

Reading stoic novels, I was hanging on by a thread. While I originally stayed on top of everything, it began to come crashing down. I simply felt miserable, and worse, the tighter the grip the more that got away.

I might have been saving money, but I was doing it at the expense of my GI tract:

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The “bomb” part is very real.

While I’ve always been a healthy eater, I was taking more and more liberties with what I was shoving into my gullet. Always being on the run, it was getting harder and harder to meal prep the necessary food, so I started to take short cuts thinking I was doing enough in the gym to get by. This might have been true if it was only a weekly occurrence, but I started doing more and more suspicious behavior. For instance, buying Huger Man microwave meals as another gap stop:

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“Ribbed shaped pattie.” Aka – not a rib.

My goals were cutting each other out at the knees. In an attempt to save money, I was starting to eat crap which affected my workouts which then affected my mood since I was gaining weight which then made me squirrelly with my money. These blog posts, instead of a source of expression, began another thing to check off instead of something to enjoy. I was viewing everything through the paradigm of accomplishment and conquer.

Time became too precious of a commodity with any loss being lamented and ruminated upon. Sleep was beginning to be less important (though I read the book Why We Sleep which quickly changed that one). Moments on ESPN were reflected upon as a waste of time. What I really should be doing, I thought to myself, is learning more songs on the guitar.

I was miserable.

Time to Recharge. 

I’m quite the podcaster (just another one of those things I’m up to). On a particular episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain, they started to discuss the phenomenon they called the “tunnel of scarcity;” how the thing we have the least of becomes the focus of all our attention. While the first part was about how poor people can only think about money, the second was a vignette about how busy people can only think about time.

The story was from a medical student who had entered a residency and was working 80 hours a week. When she came home, she would realize how little free time she had. She tried to maximize it by squeezing out as much out of it as possible. This lead to intense workouts and reading medical journals until she fell asleep.

She decided to let everything else go which led to her slipping up in ways she never thought she would. She was forgetting to pay bills, something she had never done before. Previously she had experienced a battle with anorexia. It was now popping back up again due to her not having time to eat.

What it took for her to realize she needed to change was when she almost forgot to order insulin for a Type I diabetic under her care. With this, she knew her current life was no longer sustainable. She began to take moments just for herself, penciling in moments to do NOTHING. She noticed not only was she happier, she was a better doctor.

It was time for me to change.

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My new alter ego.

The New Plan. 

The first thing I did: throw away that damn spread sheet. Instead of being so damn goal oriented with everything, I decided that some things were meant to be more jovial and free. This blog and playing guitar did not need to be micromanaged. Sure, I needed to find time for them, but I could have discursive jam sessions with myself when needed and didn’t need to meet some predetermined benchmark.

The second was stop eating junk. Instead of going for recycled horse meat, I spent a little bit more money at the grocery store on healthier foods. I bought some supplements. The emergency microwave meals were the more expensive ones, but with more fiber/protein and less salt.

The third was to be more fluid with my sleep. Instead of such strict wake up times, I played around with my waking hour pending how I was feeling. You know those nights where you wake up at 2am and can’t get back to sleep? Instead of soldering on at 4:30am, I reset my alarm clock for something more manageable like 6. The extra hour and half did wonders.

I wish I could tell you that with all these changes I came out more productive than before, but that’s not the case. What I did gain, however, was a fervor for life again.

I looked forward to my hobbies and was okay with protracted time frames (for instance, I’ve been working on this post for a couple months — no biggie). I began to enjoy things just for the activity itself instead of some pressure to meet a self-imposed deadline. Work and residency was still exhausting, but it lacked a certain edge that it did before.

Life became enjoyable again, and when I stepped outside to start a day, I avoided that sense of immense dread that had haunted me for months.

The Final Lesson.

It could be said that when you take on complete ownership, it means that you will do whatever necessary to improve. I might still be living this principle out: I have acknowledged the need to pull back, do less, and enjoy more.

While this answer can be a cop-out and susceptible to rationalization of choices, whatever I was doing before was not sustainable. Now I’m in a spot where I can continue to grow through my challenges professional and not be overwhelmed. In the words of Jordan Peterson, I just might be living on the edge between Chaos and Order, just where I belong.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #21 – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Degrading Capitalism.

I might be in favor of free markets, but damn does this movie show you all the problems with it. 

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American Film Institute’s Ranking: #21/100
Awards: Nominated for 7 winning 2 for Best Supporting Actress and Director.
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

I wish things were simpler.

I’ve been inundated with pro-capitalism news. Steven Pinker has no shortage of statistics showing how global poverty is being eradicated, environmentalism is thriving, and wars are being reduced due to the principles of free markets. It’s a compelling and important message to get out there given how easy it is to be nihilistic in present times; we live in the most abundant times, but feel as if we have nothing.

Then, something like The Grapes of Wrath comes along and shows you that all that cheery news has a darkside. There are real people this system grinds up. It makes us lose our humanity. It changes our relationships with each other.

By no means have I flipped to some socialistic view. Hell, if we followed the Joad family for a little longer, the post-WWII years would have lifted many out of this meager existence. However, it has made me rethink what we need to do to minimize the negative effects.

Continue reading “Top 100 Movie Review: #21 – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)”

Top 100 Movie Review: #39 – Dr. Zhivago (1965)

Everything’s Perfect Except the Ending.

A romance epic that’s damn good. 

doctorzhivago1965bq525lb.jpgAmerican Film Institute’s Ranking: #39/100
Awards: Nominated for 10 winning 5 losing out to The Sound of Music for the big ones.
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

I watched this movie over the course of three mornings. It became a mini ritual: waking up early, brewing some coffee, and watching this epic unfold as the sun came up. I didn’t expect to come out the other side with such affection. Like any good film, it has a little bit of everything. The historical context might be a little whitewashed, but the characters and scenery make up for some of the more superficial aspects.

Continue reading “Top 100 Movie Review: #39 – Dr. Zhivago (1965)”

Top 100 Movie Review: #62 – Tootsie (1982)

This Movie Makes Me Uncomfortable.

I laughed but there was plenty to make me squirm. 

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American Film Institute’s Ranking: #62/100
Awards: Nominated for ten Academy Awards only winning one for Best Supporting Actress.
My Rating: StarStar

I rarely go social justice warrior, but something in this film made the progressive side of my values light up. Sure, some snide things were said in Some Like it Hot, another classic Hollywood film centered on cross dressing, but that film gets a pass for being from such a distant era. There is no way it should be more cognitive of possible offenses than Tootsie with its 1982 release date.

Well, get ready to cringe.

I laughed enough to enjoy the film (that classic gender confusion humor y’all), but there were three things that made me take pause:  the destruction the main character caused, the attempted rape scene, and how the best woman ended up being a man.

Continue reading “Top 100 Movie Review: #62 – Tootsie (1982)”

Top 100 PS1 Review: #60 – Suikoden (1996)

Simple and Perfect.

Perfectly charming — no frills required.

Suikoden psone title screenApe’s Ranking: #60/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

How pure!

Suikoden harkens back to a time when characters and charm were more important than a silly sandbox game with a thousand permutations. An early scene puts the main characters around the dinner table with an impactful guitar solo that sets the mood for the rest of the game:

While the story might be pretty standard fair, the game boasts 108 characters for you to recruit for your rebellion army. Each one is unique in their own way and mostly avoids the pitfall of Chrono Cross where no one matters. Home base isn’t a static structure but rather a thriving community. This game builds a sense of connection with the world; you can’t wait to return home to see what your friends are up to.  Continue reading “Top 100 PS1 Review: #60 – Suikoden (1996)”

Top 100 Non-Fiction Book Review: Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville (1835-1840)

Awfully Boring.

Damn this book is boring.

democracy-in-america-96The Greatest Book’s Ranking: #4/100
My Rating: Star

Sweet Jesus.

A book written in the 1800s on civics might be fundamental to the profession but it only worked as NyQuil for me. After a long day of work, comparing the responsibilities of the county judges in America to Britain and France wasn’t enough to overcome my quickly rising melatonin levels.

Now its supporters will say there are timeless nuggets found within that are crucial to our understanding of the present. I’d say please give me those in a bulleted list format. Reading through chapters such as “Life in the Township” and “Other Powers Given to American Judges” is a reminder that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword as this book quickly disemboweled me spiritually.

Continue reading “Top 100 Non-Fiction Book Review: Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville (1835-1840)”

Top 100 Movie Review: #71 – Forrest Gump (1994)

Cartoon Whimsical Bullshit.

Trying to defend just one of the messages in Forrest Gump would be a Herculean task, but trying to defend them all is impossible. 

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American Film Institutes Ranking: #71/100
Awards: Nominated for thirteen winning Best Director, Actor, and Picture.
My Rating: None.

I’ve never given a film no stars before.

I tried to do this top 100 thing in high school since I had too much free time. Back in 2005, I felt like the whole fabric of this movie was just nostalgia. I despised it: all the quotable lines rested on a bedrock of a greatest hits album, and everything else that happened was just fluff. After this last viewing, I’ve hardened my stance.

Reviewing the top moments in history and music for baby boomers to relive their fleeting lives is at least a palatable and a harmless goal. What I missed then was the multiple layers of incoherent moralizing wrapped in the cream puff of pastiche.

Continue reading “Top 100 Movie Review: #71 – Forrest Gump (1994)”