This period of social distancing and quarantine has been difficult. One of the good things that has come out of it, however, is that I have had the time to dig in and get to work on my first book that I'll be releasing on August 15th, 2020. The title is Big Picture Living: A Guide to Finding Fulfillment (Even When Everything Sucks), and I cannot wait to share it with you. I've recorded a brief video to tell you all about it and included that below.
Below, I have included the introduction to the book. From now until August 15th, 2020, you can pre-order the book for an automatic 50% discount (applied at checkout) by going to https://shop.selfhimprovement.com.
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Growing up, I had always wanted to move to a city and become part of a thriving arts community. My hometown is tiny– the last time I checked, the population hovered right around 3,000 folks. Cattle vastly outnumbered people. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since cows tend to make for good neighbors, but it’s also not a great thing when you want to be part of a community of open-minded writers.
I, in no way, want to imply that my hometown is illiterate or incapable of engaging in the arts. However, given the area’s culture, the writing community that exists there tends to be somewhat advanced in years and with a religious focus.
Writing about queer people with magic who frequently engaged in battles to the death with nonbinary demigods wasn’t something that had a place in the writing community that was available to me.
I thought I found a promising opportunity when I went to college in Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky. My undergraduate university was one of the smaller schools in the area. However, it still had a student population of about 3,500, making the tiny campus more densely populated than my hometown. The larger Louisville metro area had a population surpassing 1,000,000.
Despite Louisville’s size and greater access to resources, I still had trouble finding the kind of community I wanted. There were writing groups in the area, several of which came with glowing recommendations from my professors. Still, they tended to have a very literary focus and were training grounds for the MFA programs in Kentucky and Indiana. I never found a place in any of these writing groups throughout my time in undergrad. Even the creative writing club that I led didn’t feel like a great fit.
It wasn’t until 2017 that I saw the stars aligning and presenting me with an opportunity to find the community I wanted. Earlier that year, I had quit my office job at a local university and began freelancing full-time. My (now former) partner was looking for a change of pace and had always dreamed of working in screenwriting. In October, I received a job offer with a tech company with the expectation that I would work West Coast business hours. My partner had a friend in Los Angeles who would be moving to a new apartment and was open to having roommates.
At the time, I didn’t think there could have been a more apparent sign from the universe. It was ever so evident that I needed to move to Los Angeles. Surely, in one of the world’s largest cities, I would be able to find the creative community I so desperately desired. I had these charming mental images in my daydreams of sipping cocktails in a stylish cafe overlooking the seaside, chattering away with other young creatives. In these daydreams, we all had a very LA look– somehow, by being in Los Angeles and a part of this community, I saw myself having defined biceps, no wrinkles in my forehead, and a much larger wardrobe budget.
These daydreams were vignettes of the glamorous life I craved.
In November, I packed everything I owned into my tiny sedan, said goodbye to my friends and family, and drove 3,000 miles to LA. I was determined to see my flights of fancy and life-long dreams brought to life, and LA would be the place that I did so.
As is often the case with the over-ambitious endeavors of twenty-two-year-olds, my time in Los Angeles didn’t go as I had planned.
I spent the first month telling myself that I needed to get used to my new routine. I was working remotely for a tech company and still getting comfortable with my new role. I hadn’t anticipated how stressful my job would be or that my living arrangements would necessitate working from a small desk in my poorly lit bedroom. Very quickly, my stress levels rose. I didn’t feel like I could keep up at my job, which gave me a sense of dread and anxiety as soon as my alarm clock went off each morning. On top of that, working from my bedroom meant that between sleeping and working, I spent an average of seventeen or eighteen hours each day within the same four walls. I couldn’t even open my window for fresh air, and since it faced the apartment complex’s courtyard, I didn’t get much sunlight.
I convinced myself that it wasn’t so bad. After all, I was still getting used to my new job, and I clung to the belief that once I adapted to my schedule, my work-based stress would decrease. Then I would have the mental and emotional energy to make the most of my new city after my shift ended.
After my second month on the job, my work stress still hadn’t decreased. I was always on edge, which had the added effect of leading me to notice and criticize everything that my partner did. Perhaps things weren’t as poorly as they felt in the moment, but when looking through a lens of stress, our relationship was rotting before our eyes. He stayed in bed when I started working, which annoyed me because I felt like I had to be quiet when I took phone calls. He didn’t immediately start hunting for a new job and was comfortable draining his savings, which pissed me off. The fact that I would get out of work and still have to do all of the grocery shopping and cooking for the two of us made me resentful.
As time went on and I started to feel the pressure of being the only adult in the relationship, my anxiety levels (which I had thought were already at their max) rose even higher.
My daily routine started to revolve around my stress entirely. I woke up stressed about the workday ahead of me. On my lunch breaks and after work, I dwelled on the fact that I wanted to decompress but didn’t feel like I could. At night, I’d go to bed anxious that I would have to repeat the cycle the next day.
In a matter of weeks, my focus had gone from finding a glamorous creative group to merely surviving, and then from surviving to resenting every aspect of my life.
Without realizing it, I had internalized the idea that my very identity was rooted in being stressed and anxious. No longer was finding a creative community a focus. Making it through the day without having a breakdown was a much bigger priority. It was also a goal that I failed quite frequently. Outbursts of anger, crying, and trying my damnedest to isolate were daily occurrences. I no longer felt my usual optimism or ease; I didn’t like the person I was becoming in Los Angeles.
Occasionally, there were moments in which I had the clarity to recognize that something needed to change. I would brainstorm solutions to my problems. I was in the apartment too much and felt like my environment contributed to my stress, so I looked into co-working spaces. They were out of my budget. I wanted a change of scenery and some fresh air so, I would drive to Abbot Kinney or Malibu on the weekends. Each trip reminded me that I was burning what little spare income I had and that I was the only income-earner in my partnership. I had a small nest egg in my savings that I had inherited from my great aunt, so I looked into buying a house outside of LA-proper. I had enough money to make a down payment on a single-wide mobile home in Cathedral City (an idea which my partner shot down because it would have meant a two-hour commute for him into Los Angeles if he ever got a job).
For every potential positive, I found a dozen negatives. I had completely given up on finding my creative community.
My stress, anxiety, and growing pessimism left me defeated. I knew that I had to do something differently, but had accepted that I couldn’t and that my only option was to trudge through it until something changed. Rather than actively pursuing the life I had dreamt of, I passively accepted that my life sucked.
I didn’t realize how melancholy I had become until one sunny Friday afternoon when I left my apartment to take my lunch break at the historic Farmer’s Market at the Grove.
The food that I ate was probably decent, but that day it was tasteless. The air was warm, and the skies were blue and pristine, but I remember being annoyed that my sunglasses didn’t entirely block out the light from overhead. In a blur, I ate my food and promptly started to walk back to my apartment to get online for the job that I hated.
Standing on the curb and waiting for the light to change, I watched cars race by. Drivers were adamant about closing any gaps between them and the vehicle in front of them as quickly as possible. I chuckled to myself as a thought crossed my mind– if I just took one short step off the sidewalk, some pompous LA jerk would be pissed off because he’d have to take his Range Rover to the shop to have a body-sized dent popped out of his hood and perhaps have a cracked windshield replaced.
At that moment, it felt like the best idea I had had for my entire stay in Los Angeles. All I had to do was take a single step, and I would be free from the constant sense of dread that I had come to associate with being alive. One teeny tiny step, and it would be over. I’d even get a sense of revenge on the city that had taken my joy because I’d die knowing that I was responsible for a significant traffic jam and had damaged some jerk’s SUV that cost more than my childhood home.
The more I rationalized taking that step off the curb, the higher the sense of relief and excitement that I felt. I braced myself and took a deep breath.
But then, as fate would have it, the light changed. Traffic stopped, and I corralled into the crosswalk alongside the other pedestrians that needed to walk home. Disappointed that I had lost my opportunity, I made my way back to my apartment and got to work.
It wasn’t until the next morning that it dawned on me that my bright spot had been a moment in which I seriously considered suicide. Once it dawned on me that that’s what I had been doing, I grew terrified that it had been such a promising, alleviating feeling. I burst into tears, troubled, and disappointed in myself that I had fallen so far.
Concerned but not fully understanding what I was going through, my partner suggested that we get out of the apartment for the weekend and go to Laguna Beach. I agreed, and we got in the car. We stayed at a budget hotel near the ocean, and the next morning as the sun rose, we made our way down onto the beach.
There are very few sights as breathtakingly beautiful as looking up the coastline with your toes in the Pacific’s chilly waters. A short distance from the beach, dolphins were splashing in the waves. Children ran and played in the sand behind me.
Consciously, I wanted to enjoy it. I tried to take in the moment of beauty and be happy. But all I could think about was driving back into Los Angeles at the end of the day and going back to the life that nearly drove me to commit suicide.
For the first and only time in my life, I bawled in public. I sat down on the beach and wept into my hands, not caring about the sand making its way into my shorts. Nor did I care about the scared school children watching me, my partner’s concerned second-hand embarrassment, or the waves progressively inching closer to where I was sitting. It had finally happened. I had reached my breaking point.
Being broken, I could no longer sustain the facade that I was going to tough it out or that I was willing to keep doing everything I could to make life in Los Angeles work. I had to come face to face with the fact that I had two realistic options: accept failure and move back home or accept utter defeat and come to terms with the fact that being suicidal was my new normal.
Thankfully, I chose the prior. I’ll spare you the intimate details of the next month. I’ll sum them up as follows:
I cried (a lot). I felt embarrassed and tried to hide the fact that I was moving back to Kentucky to live with my parents. I took a single day off from work to once again pack everything I could fit into my sedan and drive back to Kentucky. I humbled myself and moved back into my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house.
In the months that followed, I started taking antidepressants and exercising regularly to deal with my stress. I broke up with my partner, ending a four-year relationship. I had candid conversations with my manager about the anxiety I felt and the kinds of changes I hoped to make in my work life.
Most importantly, I healed. Healing was not an easy process at all. I had to get very real with myself and experience some incredibly raw emotions. I had to reconcile that I had nearly taken my own life and that I had buried my pain so deeply that I didn’t even notice my progression toward suicidal ideation. Each morning, I’d pour myself a coffee before work and sit on the back patio with my journal, writing down and confessing things to myself that I had sworn I’d always keep hidden and never acknowledge. This went on for about nine months before I finally started to feel like myself again.
With the utmost sincerity, I hope that as you’re reading this, you’re not at the place that I was when I wanted to take my own life. I would not wish that feeling upon anybody. I also write this hoping that you can use the principles I discuss as a preventative measure and don’t have to rely upon them as tools for healing from the deep place of hurt that I experienced.
My healing process was complicated, but coming out on the other side of it, I acquired some wisdom and practical knowledge that I think will benefit anyone– regardless of where you’re currently at emotionally, mentally, financially, physically, or spiritually.
That’s why I’m writing this book today. My process of coming back from the lowest point of my life gave me a sense of perspective. I was able to see the missteps I had taken and, more importantly, I saw how to warn others about the same failures. Actively reflecting on the healing process in my journal has allowed me to develop a system for:
Collectively, I call this process Big Picture Living. As I have refined and practiced Big Picture Living in my own life, I’ve managed to use it to my advantage. Since then, I’ve started Self-Himprovement (www.selfhimprovement.com), a publication and project which brings me the utmost joy. At the time of writing this, I increased my annual income by $30,000, bought my first house, adopted the two goofiest (and best) dogs in the world, and have developed healthier relationships with my friends and family. I’ve learned to see myself as a leader and as someone who can meaningfully contribute to those around him. I’ve started to enjoy my job. I have my anxiety under control.
Big Picture Living is about strengthening your sense of insight to better live in harmony with what you value. When you actively practice Big Picture Living, you will:
When I realized that I had formulated a methodology for clarifying my values and effectively using them as guideposts throughout the other areas of my life, I knew that I had to write it down. This process has been insanely impactful in my own life; the more time I spend practicing and applying these principles, the more I observe their effects, which makes me all the more enthusiastic about sharing them. It’s like that feeling you get when you’ve just read an excellent book or binge-watched something on television, and you need someone else to read it or watch it and share in your excitement.
In the first two sections of this book, we’ll take a look at insight and shame. These two principles are at the heart of Big Picture Living. Having a solid understanding of both is crucial for ensuring that you have the self-determination and awareness needed to live out your values. Insight allows us to better understand our emotions, actions, and habits. Shame awareness and resilience is what enables us to break free from of our most painful patterns.
In the third section of this book, we’ll talk about identifying and embodying your values and answering essential questions about what that means to you. What brings you the most joy? How can your personal fulfillment enrich the other areas of your life? How can you have a positive impact on the world around you? What is your purpose?
Finally, we’ll conclude with a brief section that looks at what you can anticipate as you embrace Big Picture Living, as well as ways in which you can further enhance your progress and accelerate your growth. Whether you want to start your own business, write your first book, get your dream job, or just feel a little bit happier each day, this book’s final section will help to point you in the right direction.
Throughout the book, there will be a few brief exercises and suggestions. These are activities that I’ve taken directly from my own experiences and fleshed out so that you can take them, modify them, and grow from them in the same way that I did. Consider these exercises to be a sort of homework or extra practice that breaks up the reading, similar to how a life coach would ask you to give certain things a try between coaching sessions.
I hope that by the time you’re finished reading this book, you’ll be fired up about your life. Regardless of what may be going wrong or is less than ideal right now, you will understand how precious your existence is. You will realize how important you are and how much you can contribute to those around you. You’ll have a better understanding of your value system and be able to live according to it.
That is Big Picture Living.
He/ Him/ His pronouns. Blake is a writer, gym addict, dog dad, researcher, and general life enthusiast. He's passionate about helping others reach their goals and live happier, more fulfilling lives.
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