Monday, October 29, 2012

My Twenty-Fourth Year . . .

My birthday was a few days ago. I am now officially twenty-four, and while I saw the age-change coming it didn't really move my emotions until the midnight hour struck, officially changing the digits. I'm still very young, but it impresses me that I'm only six years away from being thirty, which from my young person's perspective feels like its practically middle age. I am not distraught at how my life has been spent so far, but I do feel a spurring to hurry up and get on with living a truly good life, as birthdays are a good reminder of how the clock is ticking.

Overall I was very lukewarm this birthday. Truthfully, I didn't even celebrate it, as I still remain largely alone in Texas, no network of people to gather together for a party. The only present I got even was a treatment to a steak dinner, and have to admit that was satisfying enough. I don't miss the presents I used to get from the family I cut off -- geez, almost a two full years now -- because they were so strange in getting me things that were obviously unrelated to my character. I ask for a $15 book and I get a $150 iPod, odd since I'm not a vivid music player. One birthday my only wish was to have a cake decorated like a Jack-o-Lantern, and I got a generic Dairy Queen cake and a cell phone, which was still yet odd since I was so vocal about my hatred of talking on the phone. Hmph.

My lukewarmness is due to my being happy with the material condition of my life, yet unhappy with its spiritual setting. Materialistically I'm pretty well-off: I'm at a decently paying job at a good hotel with good people and bosses; I have my own apartment, which I have been pining for for several years; and I'm able to afford the scant few luxuries I want. On the other hand, I'm still deeply dissatisfied with my career, investing three years and am still on the bottom of the ladder; am not as intellectually cultivated as I want to be, and still suffer loneliness and resentment towards people. But still yet, I've made a lot of psychological progress in tending to some major problem and mitigating others, but I've still got a long ways to go if I want to truly achieve "self-mastery", as I've dubbed 2012 the year of.

Yet, with lots of life still yet to live, it's still not too late to strive for the better within myself, no? This birthday ought to be treated as another opportunity to make new resolutions like that of new year's resolutions. Er, birthday resolutions. I want this year to be so good on a character level that, no matter what the deterioration of the world, I can be authentically happy with and proud of myself by my twenty-fifth year, and make it all escalate from there.

As I said above, my primary dissatisfaction is my career, and that's the one I want to work on the most. No matter what my knowledge of the hardships of this world I am never able to avoid the shock of experiencing it, and the restaurant industry has certainly disappointed me in that regard. While I love my line of work, it's been a harsh blow to walk into restaurants and become one of the establishment's best employees hands down, and to be neglected for promotions, or even outright regularly demoted because the ambition I bring to my starting position locks me into it. They say that dish washing can be a great start to an aspiring chef's career, getting his foot in the door, but that advice is sadly outdated in this day and age where people have childish resistance against hard work and feel entitled to start higher up. Good dishwashers are so rare that coming in such a position with the drive to show your worth might unfortunately keep you trapped in it. If the industry had been more just to me, I would have been doing fine dining cooking by now, but instead I've spent years doing unjustly rewarded work, being given excuses and outright lies, and even demoted half a dozen times because I can't be replaced at my starting position.

My passion for the restaurant industry has waned, and honestly I'm thinking about leaving it outright for a few years. The rubber on my tires is burnt straight to the rim -- how am I still at point A? Given it's relevance to my culinary interests, it might be more beneficial for me to become an apprentice to a butcher, some kind of game hunter, a fish monger, or whatever. I primarily want to deal with protein cooking -- meat, poultry, game -- so while I recognize the need for expertise in plant cookery to become an authentically good chef, the proteins are what I want to learn about first. I trust my current employers to be just to me, but I'm pessimistic about any opportunities coming up for me, as too much lies on me being able to be replaced with two other good dish washers to fill the positions, and for me that's waiting for lightning to strike in the right place or to win the lottery jackpot.

I don't know. Maybe I'd tolerate my restaurant job with greater perseverance if I had a butcher's apprenticeship to spiritually recharge me in the meanwhile, but I'm conflicted. Right now I'll seek out that apprenticeship as a secondary job, and see how it affects my psychology, hopefully for the better. So that's one thing I want accomplished before turning twenty-five: To actually be in some line of work that's actually relevant to my culinary aims, whether it be prep or butchering. The time to move up on the ladder is now.

Though, I have to admit that my greater disappointment is in my intellectual life, as I don't do that much to advance my mind as I used to. The year I dropped out of college was actually my most mentally productive and educational, as losing trust in formal education made me take it seriously and into my own hands, moving me to study so hard for my own benefit I had to sleep from exhaustion, or to do mind-advancing exercises to the point I got a headache. While my current intention is to actually engage in cooking long-term, I still want to be as intelligent and academic about it as possible, and perhaps be a regular author and academic on the side to my chef's career, or heck, maybe I'll end up being a full-blown writer in the end. Whatever the case, learning and mental prowess are a definite must in my line of work: I am by far my happiest and most effective when my mind is happily engaged in what I'm doing. Cooking, to me, cannot simply be a mastery of physical skills and a categorizing of tastes; I have to think about it in some way. I don't plan on doing molecular gastronomy, but I certainly want a deeper knowledge of food beyond "if you do this it'll taste good."

As such, while I'm twenty-four I would again like to recapture that fervent self-improvement streak I had going on when I freshly dropped out of college. The reason why it didn't last in the first place is because I had some majorly bad people in my life at the time, and it eventually took most and then all of my attention away from my self-advancement because I had to dedicate these last few years to solving those petty problems. My grandmother, for instance, did not agree with me that studying at home was in any way beneficial, and literally could not fathom why I would want to do it, so for years she frequently took to purposely interrupting and distracting me, to the point it became mentally impossible to get any work done.

All those years spent solving those problems has obliterated any good habits I had established. At one point I studied so rigorously that I almost literally had a physical craving to do it, as my brain enjoyed the intense stimulation; all the interruptions has made it hard to open up a book now. But tsk! I've got to man up and get on with it, as my trust shall not be earned back to the educational establishment, especially after putting me over $4,000 in debt without $4,000 of value added into my life.

I talk about personal studies and self-improvement a lot without making good on it, I know, but I'm not giving up on it since I've seen how happy I've been in my most mentally strenuous times. My ideals intimidate me since I recognize that my goals entail working myself to exhaustion regularly multiple times a week, solely through exertion of the mind. Trust me, you wake up feeling different and extra-good about life when the night prior you were thinking so hard at a subject that you got a headache. It may not sound pleasant, but the mental and character growth that occurs overnight as a result sure is.

So another thing I'd like to obtain by my twenty-fifth year is to be very, very consistent on how rigorously I mentally apply myself. I may never been a formal student again, but I want it to be a regular in my life to open a book and take notes on it, and even set up study assignments around it. More mental potency lends itself to more competence in the career realm, which opens the door to more achievement and consequently happiness; I'm not talking about "Ivory tower" learning that turns one into an armchair intellectual, here. Still more, in addition to the formal studying, I also want to be more consistent in mentally applying myself for growth outside of that realm, such as by developing an innate ability to navigate by refusing to use a GPS, becoming fluent in math by forgoing the calculator, and so on. It goes without saying that mental powers are my highest value. I just enjoy life so much better with a broader and deeper mind. How could physical pleasures with mindless prerequisites compare?  

I could go on about focuses, but really I think these are the only two fundamental realms worth worrying about, gateways to all the other good things to life. For example, intensive personal self-improvement ought to lead into career advancement, because after all I'll be more competent and capable of more, and career advancement will lead to more money and better finances, and so on. No need to elaborate how these roots will lead to a trunk with many branches of flowers.

While this may sound like a separate focus, I think this will also lead to me coming closer, if not all the way towards how I envision an ideal self. Not hold back, I desire to become an utterly spectacular man, highly competent, intelligent, emotionally moving and persuasive, and lovably benevolent, capable of leading and influencing people . . . only I don't think that needs to be a direct aim, in total. I just need to focus on the ingredients of how to fully develop myself for my best happiest. To become my most intelligent and competent, I must study and rigorously apply my mind to tasks. To become benevolent and lovable, I have to get over my bitter history and master treating people well and respectfully with near-perfect consistency. To be persuasive, I have to be meticulous and thoughtful in my opinions, unafraid to share them, and assertive in not backing down unless I'm convinced to another opinion. All separate and distinct goals that ultimately tie into becoming my absolute best self. Tend to the individual smaller traits of your being, and the whole of your character will take care of itself.

As for people-related goals, I don't know what to do. I know I've complained about my loneliness an awful lot, but it seems like there's little I can do about it except make sure I'm maintaining a likable being and that I seize opportunity. The people around me just seem like we wouldn't be able to establish the deep, meaningful relationships I'd want. In other words, I'm not surrounded by the people with the same values as I, or the deep dedication to any shared pursuits. There is an Objectivist group I could drive to and perhaps meet such people there, but work largely prohibits me from being able to attend, so my ability to go will always be rare. Oh well: Focus on my self-realization, enjoy myself how I can with others, and never neglect an opportunity. A good enough formula, for now.

The first steps to take are to tend to my concentration, start opening some books and take on mind-improvement goals, and call some places for apprenticeships. While I could plan it more deeply, I've learned not to worry about it: As you successfully establish a habit and master it, you become more efficient and productive, which increases the capacity to do more and creates the urge to do so. I'll branch out accordingly.

Whatever happens, I intend not to waste my life. The good thing about other people is having them commit the mistakes so you can take the lesson without paying the price. I've seen what shocking misery and internal horror it leads to throughout a lifetime to engage in idle habits and petty anxiety, and how maintaining those motions can destroy a whole lifetime. Remembering those people sure straightens me up.  

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