By: Michael Beiter
Today at 4:06 pm I will have completed my 30th trip around the sun.
I came into this world via cesarian and the first person to hold me was my now deceased dad.
His dying has changed me to the core and at almost 2 years removed it remains the hardest thing I have ever been through.
Second is losing my job.
Third is ending a long relationship.
If you're reading this you are doing so because you support the fourth hardest thing I've ever done: built a business.
If you look up the most stressful events humans can go through each of the above ranks in the top 10. I experienced each in a 5 year stretch to conclude my 20's. I refer to the end of that period of my life as my trying twenties. It seemed like every day there was a new trial that required discipline, resilience, and straight up crippling feelings to get through.
But here I am, one step further into my 30's and I'm still standing.
In many respects I am thriving.
I have a steady girlfriend who is easily my better half.
My business has matured and has been steadily growing since its start.
I have my health.
Finances are not a worry.
I have leisure time out the wazoo to exercise, eat, sleep, read, write, and game.
Last year I had four weeks of no work. The coming year I have six scheduled.
There is a verifiable army supporting me. From family to friends and clients, I have no shortage of people I can lean on if I need to.
And my dog is something awesome.
But, I still struggle with an inner life that seems out of my control. No matter how much I study, practice, and do the things I can't seem to feel the contentment I desire. Thankfully my work and exercising improve my mood monumentally.
Old worries and anxieties have been replaced with newer, seemingly bigger ones. I didn't even know what existential dread was until 2020. Now I know that not only have I had it, but it peaks its head out often. Fear of the unknown and death are present and crippling.
Some great works of philosophers from the past help to ease the concern. Their wise words from roughly 2000 years ago strike me as impossibly accurate to the conditions of the 21st century. I suppose that's why they are 'timeless.'
Epictetus wrote 'The Art of Living' and that and Johan Hari's 'Lost Connections' are the best books I read this year.
The first is an exposure to Stoic philosophy.
The second is a bombshell of a book that unravels two stories I've been told about depression and anxiety since I was seven. One, that it is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Two, that it is biologically determined.
My heart raced as I read Johan's evidence for dismantling these arguments the first time. I have literally lived for 24 years with the belief that I was angry and emotional as a child because my brain had a disorder. It didn't matter if I came to not believe that because Mom, Dad, and their family members had the same woes. Therefore I was biologically meant to struggle with the same.
Pardon my language, but what a crock of shit. Both are little more than write offs to send those struggling to the pharmacy for drugs that most likely will have little to no effect.
Instead of teaching people to accurately name their emotions and feelings and instructing them to do things to handle them in a healthy way we diagnose them and send them on their way. What was one hundred years ago described as melancholy or a normal aspect of human life is now pathologized and drugged. This is one more instance of Western medicine being more concerned with profit margins than patient care. Thanks capitalism.
Learning this has been both further depressing and empowering. Depressing in the sense that my supportive network didn't dare question the doctors prognosis or try and teach me skills like exercise, meditation, or talk therapy to improve me. They settled for the common narratives and drugging.
Empowering in that the feelings I've battled with are normal conditions of human experience and result more from losing connections to things like nature, meaningful work, social circles, and the like than the two twin theories of 'here's the issue, you can do nothing about it but take this pill.'
The lessons from Epictetus' school of Stoicism talk about many of the same struggles and how to fight against them far before modern pharmacology existed. And that is also reassuring because his suggestion is for action that leads to skills. Fundamentally this is the same thing we teach you at Pillar about how to manage your fitness and nutrition.
My 30th trip around the sun was full of the things I love. My people, my work, my rest, my reading. It was also full of discoveries equally unsettling and enlightening.
A psychologist I read a lot of this year, Martin Seligman, founded positive psychology. With it he aimed to shift the focus from the constantly negative focus of anxieties, depressions, and childhood traumas of psychology to more positive aims that help people live well. One of his largest contributions is again, the ability to learn a skill (a constant in our work) of optimistic thinking.
2020 was a difficult year for many. But I'm building my skill of optimism rather than fueling pessimism.
I read daily. Fifty some books on the year. Some new, some rereads.
I wrote and filled 3 journals 70 pages long front and back.
Two friends and clients that have been supporting me for years started making money teaching the skills we instill at Pillar.
Covid 19, while being an international pandemic, affected my life and work little. The people in my world it did affect learned of their own antifragility by way of being forced to work and work out in new ways with different circumstances. The ability to work remotely and for me to service them is almost entirely a result of technological advancement - a marvel of the times we live. By working and exercising in different ways, mostly on their own people learned they have much more self efficacy than they thought before. The outstanding scientific ability of our time produced a vaccination within 8 months of outbreak - lightning fast.
2020 was good. 30 was too.
Here's to another trip around that big star and more life.