Being Mediocre: Unwarranted Advice on how to Deal With It.

Being Mediocre: Unwarranted Advice on how to Deal With It.

Being mediocre kinda sucks. It kinda sucks. Being mediocre is a feeling that is such a cup of barely under room temperature water that it lacks the cajones to really suck. And that ironically, can really, really suck. We normally don’t care if we’re mediocre at something. For instance: why is being mediocre at cooking bad? I managed to not poison anybody today. Awesome. According to whatever the law about regression to the mean is called, the average human is exactly that: average.

But man, it sucks to be mediocre sometimes. In a lot of ways, it’s worse than being bad at something. Bad is something that has a feeling to it, an emotion to it. Something to grasp. Mediocre is a forgettable bowl of mush.

Being Mediocre at What we Love.

Like I said, most of the time being a mediocre sack of flesh and hair doesn’t bother me. I strive to be an average joe most of the time. Who wants to stand out? Blegh. But when it comes to hobbies, you know, the things we actually care about: Man it’s a gut punch to be the median. You might have read (probably not) that I enjoy playing basketball. In fact, playing ball was one of the few things that kept me sane while I was working and studying in Asia. But the fact of the matter is that I am the most unspectacular player you’ll ever see. In fact, I blend into the game half the time like a ghost. (Not according to my girlfriend of course, who is convinced I could play in the NBA. Love you, sweetie.)

I wasn’t always a slice of milk toast with water though. I used to royally suck at basketball. And when I say I sucked, I mean so hilariously bad, friends would avoid me as a teammate. I was also the level of suckitude that I didn’t realize just how bad I was. I tried to join the basketball team in middle school and failed. (I forgot my doctor’s release, but I assure you I would’ve been cut before I crossed the halfcourt mark.)

I may have played basketball for the better part of 15 years, but up until my senior year of high school, I never learned to shoot. Let me rephrase: I never took the time to learn how to shoot. And that’s when my journey to middling began.

Journey to the Center of the Bell Curve

Going into college, I was still determined to play basketball in college. (No I didn’t think I could play for the National Champion D2 Bellarmine Knights. Even I wasn’t that naive. #SwordsUpBU ⚔️ ) But I thought, “Hey, maybe I could play club ball?” So every morning, I was getting up at 6:00 a.m. to do drills, lift weights, and then more drills. (My arms felt like lead weights.) Then I would do classes, work, study, and go back to the gym at 6:00 p.m. to play at any open courts until 10:00 before heading home to start all over.

Yes, I showered you nosy bastard.

And in the first few months, I was doing that, I saw tremendous gains. I wasn’t blowing the court away by any means, but people were willing to pass me the ball. Heck, there were times when I was actively helping the team win. That freshman year, I improved by such leaps and bounds that I was able to go back home and beat some of the people who would laugh openly when I guarded them.

Author’s Note: Please remember I said only some. This isn’t some Disney movie where the guy from back to the future comes down from heaven and I’m suddenly Jason Williams.

This, of course, was an example of the 80/20 rule where 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of the effort. The biggest strides come from the first few steps. (Side note, my team in the University Rec League came in the last place that season.)

While I’d certainly climbed from the depths of the sewers, I still had a long way to go. The tryouts for the basketball club went better than I could have honestly hoped. I made it past the first round of cuts but was never seriously considered.

Regardless, my love for the game continued my journey.

Sophomore year was more of the same playing, practicing, and not lifting anymore. I basically gave up on lifting weights due to a combination of my own self-doubt, and a very depressed-feeling state of mind after dealing with the death of my uncle and grandfather in the past year. *See note at the end.

I played more and more and more basketball, but I noticed that I wasn’t really improving anymore. At least, not in the leaps and the bounds that I used to. I discovered that improving wasn’t exponential, but rather it was logarithmic. (God damn it John Napier, the originator of geometric and arithmetic sequencing.)

Going Home While in Hong Kong

Yes, I’m talking about Hong Kong again. It was kind of a big deal in my growth as a person. Anyways, My Junior year I went to Hong Kong at Lingnan University. It was a great time and a transformative experience, yadda, yadda, yadda. What matters besides my #humblebrag was that I was suddenly good at basketball. See? We’ve moved on to #notatallhumblebragbutjustabragbrag.

Suddenly, I was a hell of a good ballplayer on the court. I was faster, had better instincts, and found more open shots on the court. I wasn’t just one of the better players on the court in Hong Kong. I was one of the best. Now, there were, of course, times where guys would show up in their school jerseys and just absolutely reck my shit like Vikings pillaging the British Isles. But by and large, when I was playing ball, my teammates looked to me.

It was fucking intoxicating. I felt like I was the baddest mother fucker on the court when I was there. I felt galvanized to really show what I was capable of doing on the court. I was calling plays, attacking with ferocity, talking trash (in broken Cantonese that my teammates told me to say) the whole shebang. I thought that the good times would never end. And then they ended spectacularly.

When I said my (then) goodbyes to Hong Kong and returned to America, I decided to go play some ball with the new freshman. And holy fuck I was brought back to earth. Some 6’8″ looking freshman looking mother fucker proceeded to posterize me like he was Shaq and I was Chris Dudley. I didn’t throw the ball at him, but he sure threw his balls in my face with that dunk.Image result for shaq chris dudley dunk

Imagine my face being about a foot lower and you get the idea.

I was reminded that there would be some things that I would never be able to change. I’m not gonna grow 8 inches and be 6’8″. Mostly because I’m actually 5’10”. What can I say? I’m a guy and lie about my height. But, also because that’s just fucking life. There are some barriers that have a glass ceiling that’s so fucking thick, it stretches for miles into the sky.

Fuck You, Glass Ceiling

I’d keep going into my journey of basketball in college, but you both get the idea and are most likely tired of that particular story. So I’ll skip ahead to nowadays. Since then I’ve got a job, quit, got another job, quit that one, moved to Hong Kong, quit the job in Hong Kong, moved back to America, and am currently working again. That whole time my basketball playing has fluctuated, but two things have not. My skills, and my love for the game. It’s true that I’m not really getting any better at it, but I’m also not getting any worse. Barring finding the shoes of His Airness Michael Jordan, or tearing my ACL, PCL, MCL, and XCL, I’ve pretty much leveled off.

But I’ll never stop trying to get better.

What I’ve learned is that effort doesn’t always beat natural talent. But it sure helps. The only way I got better, was by putting in lots of effort. And the only way I’ll keep getting better is by putting in the effort. Results are the result of the amount of talent you have multiplied by the amount of effort you are giving. So you could have 100 whole talent, but only give 10% of your effort. That means when someone who has 20 talent shows up and gives it 100%, hell maybe even 150%, that super talented person is gonna get super embarrassed. Because effort is a skill too.

Some people just can’t give that much effort into something. It’s not that they don’t love the thing they’re doing, don’t have that sense of urgency, etc. They haven’t learned about what effort takes. To be able to really put in a good effort, you need to know desperation. You gotta know what getting punched in the mouth feels like. You gotta be able to keep a level head while your vision is going dizzy and all you taste is that bitter, metallic blood pooling in your mouth. Some people are naturals at giving effort. Others aren’t.

Those kids who did well in school but burned out in college?

Natural thinker, unnatural effort givers.

That girl who could run like a gazelle high on meth being chased by a coked-up cheetah?

Yeah, she lost her scholarship because she didn’t train seriously and didn’t care about her diet.

Effort takes practice. Effort takes mental strength. ‘Effort’ is that secret super juice that helps you look up at that glass ceiling and claw through it. It’s up to you to decide when your hands get so bloody, so fucking cut up they look like ground beef, and so sore that you give up. But here’s the thing about clawing your way through a glass ceiling: When you stop clawing, you won’t fall all the way down. It’s so jagged, so shaped around your body that you’re stuck there. Stuck for the whole world to see.

A god damn monument of how effort is what makes mediocre amazing.

*(I was never and have never been diagnosed with depression and in no way am suggesting that I was clinically depressed. However, if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal thoughts please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)

Yes, Writer’s Block is Real. So What?

I hate looking at my screen while I type. It’s so weird to say (or in this case type out) but I feel like I slow down tremendously when I look at the screen. So what I’ll do to speed up the process is I’ll look away from the screen. And when I say that I’ll look away from the screen, what I really mean is that I’ll put my head down on the desk and close my eyes. It’s weird I know. But for some reason, the ideas and words are able to freely flow from my brain to my fingertips this way.

 

In fact, let’s do a quick assessment of looking versus not looking at the screen. I’ll type all the letters in the alphabet and time myself. Alright, let’s do this.

Looking at the screen:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. 0 mistakes, 6.94 seconds.

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog 1 mistake, 5.84 seconds. (I forgot the period.)

The thing is that I don’t mind making a few more mistakes if it means it feels easier to be typing things out. It’ is like I can circumnavigate that micro-block going on in my head if I just don’t look at the screen. I mean, I’m supposed to edit my work after I’ve typed it out anyways right? First Year College students look on in shock at the idea of actually editing their writing.

 

But then that gets into that thing we always hear about: Writer’s Block. Soooo many times I’ll read a Medium article, or a podcast saying “Writer’s Block isn’t real! It’s Writer’s fearrrrrr.” Because that’s totally different and you aren’t just being a pedantic little contrarian chasing a headline. Let’s be real here people, writer’s block is one hundred percent a real thing. 100%.

 

Saying that something that blocks your progress in writing a piece isn’t writer’s block would be like saying somebody tipping a shot in basketball isn’t a block because it’s only deflected that shot.

Get that weak stuff outta here.gif

Clearly, that isn’t a blocked shot, if it was a blocked shot he’d have been using a shooting motion, not going for a layup. (Why yes layups are shots and I’m being pedantic.)

Writers’ block is a real thing, and it’s important to admit that we get blocked by our own minds. Sometimes it’s just looking at the words that send you into a tizzy and you can’t write a damn thing to save your life. Other times it could be that you just can’t get into that writing state of mind. Or maybe you wrote something that bothers you. Or you’re bothered by something you read earlier today. Or whatever. Because, a lot of the time, you’re really just scared of what you’re writing.

Quit being scared of writing. (Gee thanks, I’m cured.)

See, that’s what happens to a lot of people who say that they “aren’t writers”: they’re really scared about writing. And that happens to people who enjoy writing as well. I have to look up, around, down, wherever the words ain’t. Then I’ll look back at what I just wrote. And that works for me.

Find out how you can beat your fear of writing. Most people I tutored in writing were afraid of the beginning, middle, and end. And that’s not a shot at them, it just means they didn’t know where to start, where to go, and how to finish. The process was terrifying. They knew they wanted to say something they just didn’t know how to say it. So I taught them the power of outlining their writing.

Then there were people who were afraid of sounding dumb. So I told them they needed to just write their stupid words down. Then we erased the stupid bits and put more smarterer words in the dumb places. And look at that, they’re writing machines now. Not saying those machines are gonna make the next War and Peace, but hey, they’re writing.

The hardest part about fighting your fear of writing is admitting what makes you afraid of writing. That requires honesty, and we as people suck at being honest with ourselves. Self-delusional gits. Grow the fuck up and have a heart-to-heart with yourself. It’s alright to be afraid. It’s not alright to let your fear control you like that. So just, be honest. Are you afraid that what you write isn’t very good? Are you traumatized by the memory of a particularly nasty book report? Maybe, you’re afraid that nobody cares about what you’ve got to say, and you put all that effort in for nothing? Okay, I might have been hardcore projecting on that one.

Because I am afraid. I’m afraid that my writing is nothing worth reading. I’m afraid that my attempts at humor wind up being cringey and annoying. But here I am, writing these words onto my own personal blog. I’m putting it all out there for people like you to read because if I don’t, I’ll let that fear swallow me hole. And fuck that.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Running

Let’s Talk About Running

Do yourself a favor after you go read this. Go for a run. Don’t track your distance. Don’t do calculations on how fast you ran. Don’t worry about those stats. Just run. Run for no other purpose than to isolate yourself from the rest of the world. Run so that you can give yourself the chance to metaphorically run from your problems. Just run.

Don’t stagnate yourself. Go run.

I was in a really bad place when I was a freshman and sophomore in college. I felt isolated. I didn’t have many friends. I was really bad at relationships. In less than 12 months I lost my uncle and then my grandfather to cancer between my freshman and sophomore years. I had no idea what to do with myself. I thought about transferring. I wanted to drop out. I wanted to just not be where I was. It was depressing.*

I pretty much stopped doing all the things I liked. I wasn’t involving myself with my fraternity. I stopped working out and gained about 20 pounds of pure unadulterated fat. I just sat in my room staring at the screen waiting for the heat death of the universe. And it wasn’t coming fast enough. Then I decided to change things.**

How I Started Running

I had gotten off the phone with my mom after a pretty therapeutic conversation. We’d talked about how things were at home. Talked about how we missed each other. Joked about getting fat. I mentioned how I wasn’t really lifting weights anymore but hated how my body felt. (BTW my mom used to be a bodybuilder because she’s a badass like that.) She suggested that I go and play some basketball like I had been.

It’d been almost two months since I’d played my beloved sport. And in addition to being pretty sucky at it, I got really winded. I was huffing and puffing like The Little Engine that Absolutely Could Not. I thought to myself “God I need to run more.” And that’s when it hit me. I needed to go for a run. The next day I took my first of many runs. I was slow, ran out of breath, and didn’t go very far. But I felt like the heavens had opened up above me.

From there, running became my primary method of exercise besides basketball. If I wanted to work out, I played ball, ran outside, or ran on the treadmill. I wasn’t about to let myself sink again. Because that’s the thing about life: You have to keep moving. It’s that weird superfluid that acts like a solid until you stop moving. So you have to keep moving, keep running, sprinting like a madman (or madwoman or whatever) and not get held down. Bad metaphor aside, I was literally running away from my problems, but in a healthy way.

Run or fucking sink people.

Just Fucking Run

I was running away from the unhealthy mindset and habits that I’d formed. I was running towards what I wanted to achieve, and who I wanted to be. And man it fucking worked. My junior year and my senior semester of college were 10000x more enjoyable on a day to day basis. I felt less stressed, classes came easier, I was feeling confident. And in the words of Mr. Gump: I was RUN-NING!

I can feel that Gump.

Fast forward to today, and running has become a preferred hobby of mine. I just finished my first race of the season, which was the Holi 5K. (My beard still might have some pink in it.) When I’m out running, I can reach a state of zen while still fighting to achieve something. I can chill while I listen to some Bill Simmons Podcast, rock out to some metal, or skip the earbuds and just fucking run.

That’s the beautiful thing about running. You don’t have to go and get any special equipment. There’s no signup page, no test you gotta do, no purchases you have to make. (Although I do suggest you make sure you’ve got a good set of shoes.) All you need to do is look forward, and get moving.

So if you feel like you’ve gotten stuck, like there is nothing you can do, go out for a run. You aren’t going to be running away from your problems. You’re going to start running towards your goals. So if you’re going to take anything from what I’m trying to tell you, it’s quite simple.

GO FOR A FUCKING RUN

It’s amazing what a good running session can do for you and your mental headspace. You’re there, chugging along thinking “I hate my life, I hate my life, I hate my life, I hate my life, I hate my life.” And you probably are. Legs on fire, heart beating like a double bass drum in One by Metallica, man it sucks.

But then… it stops sucking. (Title of your sex tape.) It might be later on in that run, might be a dozen runs later, or a dozen, dozen runs later. It starts to be therapy. Slapping those miles underneath you. You hit that new wall. A wall you climb over and start running on air.

It’s tempting to quit. Tempting to stop it and just give up. But don’t. Fucking run for your life. Run like it’s the last thing you’ll ever be able to do. Because once you start running, it’s gonna be hard to stop. And you’ll wonder why you’d ever want to stop.

Tanner Banks TheyCallMeJamsy 5K Run
Me after the best damn run of my life. PR of 24:16

Fun fact, after I wrote this article, I won third place in a local 5K and ran a PR of 24:16. Woot.
*(I was never and have never been diagnosed with depression and in no way am suggesting that I was clinically depressed. However, if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal thoughts please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)

** Like I said, I was never clinically diagnosed with depression and in no way am saying you can just decide to be happy. It was a process of putting myself in a better position and trying to make healthier decisions for my body and mind.

10 Things to Know Before Studying in Hong Kong – American Edition

Studying abroad in Hong-Kong is a wonderful opportunity. In fact, it was so nice for me I came back a second time, and then the 3rd time. And now I kind of just live and work here. Know this: you’ll never have all the answers, and there will always be surprises, but it’s good to at least have some helpful hints and tips. So here are 10 of those. Hints and tips that is. I  don’t know if all ten will be surprises to you.

#1: Leave Your Preconceived Notions Behind

Hong-Kong is a wonderful, confounding, and mystical place. It’s a 100% Asian, but you’d be surprised by how westernized a lot of the city/special administrative region is. You’re going to see a lot of traditional Buddhist temples right next to places like a Gucci store or the Mac Depot. That’s just the way it is the year. A beautiful dichotomy of different worlds mixed and mashed together. They may seem obtuse to one another, but these parts of Hong Kong are like puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly despite being from different puzzles. So whatever you think you’re going to experience try not to bet on it too hard. You’ll experience way more than that.

14666128_1323563694335222_2483251747580772197_n

#2 Get out of your dorm room (Also applies to regular college)

This is a problem that I had when I first came to Hong Kong. I stayed in my room too much. Thankfully, I was able to break out of my shell and go do a lot of really cool and fun things. You need to do this for yourself more than anything because life is an adventure. And in Hong Kong, there is adventure aplenty. Be your own challenge. You could live in Hong-Kong for 100 years and you would maybe get to half of the things there are to do in this wonderful city. Staying cooped up in your room is going to be the biggest mistake you can possibly make and on Kong. Make sure that you are taking advantage of every single moment that you get to spend here. Yes, your education is important. Which is why you need to educate yourself by getting out and actually experience this different culture.

#3 Travel

Do yourself a favor, and get out of the city as much as you can. Because the islands are bitchin’. And so is the hiking. And the beaches. And the cheap airfare. You can travel to Taiwan for the long weekends for less than 600. (Or 2 weeks in Japan for 2000 like my friend Brandon did in the middle of the school year.)

And you know what? You can do a lot of great traveling without going on the airplane too! The outer parts of Hong Kong is a veritable treasure trove of interesting places to see and visit. I’ll give you a very short list:

Hong Kong temple

So yeah, go places. And eat food there.

#4 Sample the Food

Eating in Hong-Kong is a privilege that you don’t get anywhere else. In fact, Hong-Kong has the most Michelin star restaurants per capita in the world. That might not sound like much to the non-foodies, but it is indicative of the fact that the food in Hong-Kong
is mostly stellar. Whether you want Western comfort food, European gourmet, authentic South/South East Asian dishes, or you just want to sample a little of everything… Hong Kong has you covered. Except for pizza. I say this on behalf of everybody who has
ever had an honest to goodness decent pizza. You will never find it good pizza in Hong-Kong the way you would find a good pizza pretty my journey where else. The travesty of pizza here is nothing short of an abomination. (Update: Pizza Box is ok.)

But if you can survive without pizza you’ll be fine. Because the food in Hong Kong is seriously delicious. Just where I live in Hung Hom, There are about two dozen restaurants that I absolutely adore. And that doesn’t include the dozens of other restaurants within walking distance that I still need to try. You will never have to worry about going hungry in Hong-Kong. The portions are big. The prices are small. And the taste is to die for. Again, except for pizza because it just tastes like death. (Except for Pizza Box).

Hong Kong Food

#5 Get an Octopus Card

Seriously. You have no idea how bloody useful this thing is. You literally need it to go anywhere around Hong-Kong. Unless you want to spend more and buy every individual ticket for every specific location you’re ever going to go while taking their train system. Or if you just want to pay exact change every time you go on the bus. Because they don’t give change.

Image result for octopus card
Octopus Cards: Don’t leave home without it!

You can even use it when you are at stores like Circle K and 7-Eleven! You literally need it to go anywhere around Hong-Kong. And sometimes it’s even mandatory for certain objects. For instance, I literally could not use my University’s laundromat until I got an Octopus Card. It’s not fun washing your clothes in the sink. Then, when I wanted to buy a drink from the vending machine, I was out of luck! No change accepted… So get a damn Octopus Card.

#6 Don’t bring warm clothes.

This is more of a suggestion for people who were not born in the South. Yes, unless you enjoy boiling yourself alive in 90゚ &  90% humidity, you should probably pack cool clothing. You have to remember that this place is considered tropical. You can literally go to the rainforest. So leave your big puffy coat at home and bring shorts. Because you might look on fleek, but having a heat stroke is most assuredly not on fleek. (I apologize to my English Professor Dr. Picken for the repeat usage of the term “on fleek”)

#7 The Workload will be Different (Easier)

Listen, I won’t bullshit you: Classes in Hong Kong are 10 times easier than in America. When I studied at Lingnan, I was amazed by how easy everything was. Also, every student I spoke to from the States agrees that the workload is much lighter than in the States. THAT BEING SAID: Make sure you understand the syllabus in your classes before you go and skip your classes (more than you already do). Typically, 60% or more of your grade will exclusively be from your midterm and end term exams. Sometimes even more. Unless the transfer credits count toward your GPA (meaning they don’t transfer on a pass/fail basis), you can skip almost every class and still pass with enough studying before the exam. (Not saying I advocate that, or even did it myself, but I’d be remiss to not say it how it is.) Anywhere between 10-30% then comes from projects that pop up, but they’re 99% of the time a group project. Attendance is rarely mandatory and rarely counts for more than 10%. But again: CHECK YOUR SYLLABUS. TALK TO LOCALS FIRST.

Speaking of which:

#8 You are a Guest of Hong Kong. Act like it.

Be aware that you live in their home, and you are a guest. It’s ok if you don’t know everything right off the bat, but make sure you put in the effort. Understand what is and is not considered appropriate. Just because you’re being respectful doesn’t mean that you’re bowing to somebody else’s ideas. Learn from them, and don’t assume you know anywhere near as much as they do. (The fact I need to say this is ridiculous but whatever.) You may have learned it, but remember. They’ve lived it.

#9 Talk to People

I don’t care how much you hate talking to people. You will experience a kind of loneliness that you had never experienced before. Period. Being in Hong Kong by yourself is terrifying. You’re on the other end of the world almost 10,000 miles away from the nearest person who knows you in all likelihood. You need to talk to people, you need to make friends. Your friends from back home are exactly that, back home. They are not gonna come and visit. You have the ultimate opportunity to make friends around the world. People I got to talk to every day came from all stretches of the world. Finland, Mexico, Japan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe. Friendships that shaped my time here, and molded me into a more global thinker. You are in an International city like no other. Go out and make some friends. Because those people are just like you. Scared, alone, and looking to get drunk. So go get drunk with them.

#10 Where the party is at

If you want to know where all the awesome bars are, just remember these 3 letters. LKF, Otherwise known as Lan Kwai Fong. This place is 100% party central in the HK. You will see more drinking, deviance, and awkward grinding here then you have anywhere else in the world. And if you think you can find a more happening party place I will literally fight you. And then I’ll probably go to that place because it sounds awesome if it can out party LKF. But until you show me that place you need to remember that if you wanna go out and party you go to LKF. Fastest way there is going to be taking the MTR (train system) and getting off at Central Station. Take exit D2 out of the train station.

Bonus Tip: Know your MTR Map

This one is pretty simple. The MTR is how you demarcate locations the easiest in Hong Kong. The stops cover pretty much every area of interest in Hong Kong within a reasonable distance. If you want to get somewhere, but don’t know how to get there, ask what station it’s at. And if you’re lost, just ask for the nearest MTR station! They’re never far away, and they are constantly running. (Except for when they aren’t running after about 12:30 a.m. Then you need to wait until about 6:00 a.m.

 

Image result for mtr map