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How to ask for the life you want.

The Life You Want
Illustration from my book, Every Word You Cannot Say*

This is one of the obvious things that no one ever puts into words:

To get the life you want, you have to ask for it.

You have to consciously know what you want out of life. If you don’t, then what are you doing? Where are you going? Asking, knowing what you want is a boat with a rudder and a sail, and without it, you’re just floating in a raft, waiting for a wave that’ll never come.

Who do you ask?

You ask the world. Loudly or quietly, it doesn’t matter, it just matters that you ask.

This is the really big secret that successful people instinctively know: The world wants to help you. It might not always seem like it, it might seem like there are barriers and challenges at every turn but the truth is, humans are social, pack animals and we instinctively want to help each other get where we want to go.

Your happiness matters to me and we’re in this together, even if the evening news and social media makes it look otherwise.

Ask.

When you tell the casting director down the road that you want to be a star, he won’t give you a role on the spot but he’ll think of you the next time he has an opening. When you tell your writer friend you want to start working on your own novel, they won’t write it for you but maybe they’ll give you some advice and they’ll move you one step closer. When you tell your friend that you’re looking to start a business, they might not be able to help you – at all – but they might know someone who can, and tell them about you.

No single person or act of help is going to carry you the whole way there but asking is your ticket and along the way, many people will stamp it.

Most importantly, you yourself will start looking at your own life through the lens of what you want.

Does this person help me or hinder me?

Does this habit move me closer towards the life I want, or further away?

You can’t just ask for a better life because that’s too vague and the world won’t know how to help you. Better than what? A better job? A better relationship? More work? Less work?

Your request has to be accurate.

“I want this specific kind of job and I want a relationship that gives me the safe space and the freedom to pursue my goals.”

“I want to go overseas more and spend more time in places I’ve never been.”

“I want to finish 12 paintings this year and have a group show.”

This is not magic. You still need to do the work and it might take years. But asking for the right things helps your subconscious understand -why- you have to do the work, and helps you get up every morning and do it (or after the kids have gone to bed, or in-between meetings, or in the back of an Uber).

Ask, each day, and soon your life will begin to answer.

My best,

Iain S. Thomas

Being Distracted Doesn’t Make You Happy, It Just Makes You Distracted

There is nothing easier in the world to distract than a child. A child can be distracted by a shiny object, a sweet, a puppet or more commonly, an iPad or the tablet of your choice.

This seems to be a simple formula for many parents, myself included sometimes – the child has skinned their knee and is upset, or is causing a scene in the restaurant or anything else that is, to be honest, just what children do, and we immediately try to distract them by giving them a toy, making a funny face, or turning on the iPad.

The child is now quiet.

But this is the lesson we are teaching our children when we do this: When you are faced with an uncomfortable emotion, distract yourself.

And so we have been raised, and are raising, generation upon generation of people who choose to distract themselves from their problems instead of dealing with them.

When someone breaks our heart, we have a drink or go shopping.

When we hate our job or school or college, we come home and put Netflix on and begin the endless the scroll through our phone.

When there’s something in your life that you need to fix that you’re just not fixing, you can just book a holiday or start a fight.

I am not against having fun, or relaxing or entertainment.

I am against distraction. Because our problems don’t go away.

They stay there until the day we deal with them. And to keep them at bay, we will have to keep being distracted.

When I’m a good parent, which I try to be as often as I can, and my daughter skins her knee, I sit with her and I say, “That must have really hurt.” and she nods and she cries and she hugs me. We talk about what it felt like and within a minute or two, she feels better, and she carries on running.

Entire industries and technologies are built around the idea that you would rather be distracted than actually deal with any of your problems. So this will be hard but – Look at how you’re feeling today and instead of ignoring it, acknowledge it.

Whatever we feel in our minds and in our bodies is there to tell us something.

Don’t distract yourself.

Listen.

The Gift Of Emotional Agility

If there was one thing that I could get my kids to keep for the rest of their lives, it would be their emotional agility. My daughter can be upset, bawling her eyes out and then out of the blue, suddenly start laughing and giggling at something I’ve said.

You may think she’s been distracted by something, or worse, that what she was feeling wasn’t real, wasn’t as traumatic for her as it would be for someone much older to cry that hard over something important.

(I assure you, the things we feel as children are as real as the things we feel as adults. They may not make sense to grownups, they may have absolutely no basis in reality at all. They may be silly, like a broken hot dog (a classic) or appear as petty, insignificant things.

When someone breaks your heart, where is the blood? When someone close to you dies, where is the wound in your skin?)

The things our children feel are valid and yet, their troubles seem to pass over them like the wind over a river.

This is because our children know something we don’t or rather, something we have forgotten. They know instinctively that they only need to feel what they feel, while they feel it, and then they can let it go.

The rest of us learn over time that in order to appear consistent, to have our feelings considered valid, we must hold onto them. We must go on a journey and show progress. We must hit milestones. We do not allow ourselves the luxury of emotional agility. We must suffer through, or else we would appear crazy to the outside world.

And yet, I cannot help asking myself who the crazy ones are in this situation.

Today, I hope you remember that part of you that as a child, instinctively knew what to hold onto, and what to let go of.

 

I Forgive You

Everyone talks about self-love but no one ever wants to talk about self-forgiveness. But this is how all love begins, by realizing that you and the person you’re in love with are human, make mistakes, and still deserved to love and be loved. So when the person you’re talking about loving is -you- you need to be vulnerable and you need to forgive yourself. For what? Well, all of it. The truth is we all hold ourselves to a higher standard than we’d ever hold anyone else to.

You need to forgive yourself for not always being the person you want to be. You need to forgive yourself for messing up that interview all those years ago, for screwing up that opportunity you were given, for the relationship that somehow got away from you.

You can’t even have a conversation about self-love, or growing into who you’re supposed to be while you’re still holding onto all this stuff. If you’re still in that failed relationship, that moment when things went wrong, if you’re still going over what you should’ve said, and still blaming yourself and kicking yourself for the thing you did say, then you are not having the conversation you should be having with yourself. This is how the first few words of it go:

“I forgive you. I forgive you for being human. I forgive you for needing help. I forgive you for not always being 100%. I forgive you for not being perfect at your job and for not being further than you wanted to be. I forgive you for feeling insecure about whether or not you ever “make it” – and even if you don’t, even if your entire life is one big colossal failure, I forgive you for that. I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you.

And now you can say, “I love you.”

 

How Instagram And Facebook Have Destroyed The Creative Middle Class

There’s a lot of noise about net neutrality but it’s worth defining what net neutrality is, and why we’ve already lost it. One of the big fears around an internet that isn’t neutral is that companies and Internet Service Providers would be able to create internet fast lanes and so by definition internet slow lanes. This would mean that Disney or Nike or any big company could pay for their website to load faster and be easier to access than your local mom and pop shop or other smaller entity.

This idea is offensive to many people and many people rightfully protest legislation designed to strip net neutrality because intrinsically we all understand that the internet was designed to be a democracy of ideas — a place where your ideas could grow and thrive based on how good they were, on how much they resonated with the rest of the world, regardless of where you, or they, were.

The internet is meant to be the consciousness of civilization, where we collectively come together to debate and discuss our ideas regardless of where they come from.

But our democracy of ideas has been undermined by big tech. Opaque, unknowable algorithms determines what we discuss, what we see and when we see it. This is old news to a lot of people but there are still people who stop me at this point in the conversation to get clarity so I’ll say it as simply as possible:

In order to get you to spend more time looking at your phone, social media platforms, including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and others have created a system, an algorithm, that only shows you content that it believes will make you more addicted to (“engaged with”) the experience.

Your experience — or your Facebook feed as an example — is heavily guarded and platforms charge an exorbitant premium to access it, which is often too much for small time artists, bands and other independent creators. If the algorithm that Facebook uses believes that you are more likely to keep looking at your phone if it shows you a video of a dog barking at a roomba, it will show you that instead of the update from the childhood friend you haven’t spoken to in a long time. If it believes that you will spend more time looking at your phone it if it shows you a shocking but completely untrue video about how all the food you eat is synthetic and unhealthy, it will show you that instead of the details of the gig your local band is playing.

Currently my Facebook feed consists of one or two of the same updates from the same friends I’ve interacted with regularly, and every third post is a sponsored post from someone trying desperately to sell me life insurance, a smart air conditioner or a book on how to make a living selling things online.

I do not see anything from The Oatmeal, Post Secret or anything from any of the numerous bands, creators or artists I follow, with the rare exception of when one of them gives Mark Zuckerberg another few hundred dollars so that they can actually reach the people who have liked their pages, who have indicated to the platform, “I would like to know when these people create new work.”

You might argue that this is how advertising has always worked — I would argue that there is a marked and clear difference between a multinational insurance company that I’ve never heard of intruding into my online experience and the girl I saw playing a solo acoustic set at the bar I was at last week, and that it is unethical and immoral and willfully ignorant at best to equate the two.

I would further argue Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the other social media platforms are the world’s worst communication platforms disguised as the best.

They are tools that literally only work if you pay them to work and they have become so dominant, such monopolies over our universal digital experience that you have no choice but to engage with them.

You might think that you would be willing to pay to grow an audience for your online presence and then stop once you’ve reached whatever you would consider a critical mass — but that’s not how these platforms work — even after you have a large audience, Facebook and others will charge you to reach even a small fraction of them.

What I’m desperately trying to say is Net Neutrality is already over and we have already lost because, for most of us, the internet simple does not exist anymore.

When was the last time you visited a blog? A forum? A webpage? Unless something exists on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr or Twitter, it doesn’t exist. We don’t browse. We flit from silo to silo, from platform to platform and we only see what these platforms want us to see and what big companies pay for us to see.

Net neutrality is lost if your local independent business, the comic shop down the road, the small used bookstore, can’t be seen unless they pay.

Net neutrality is lost if it means that a rich kid with wealthy parents can afford to get their art shown to everyone across the world and you can’t, regardless of how good your work is.

Net neutrality is lost if big tech companies hide us from each other and charge us to see each other.

This was a war that we didn’t know was being waged and no one was aware of losing. It was a war between big tech and small time webcomic artists, stand-up comedians and insta-poets. They had billions of dollars on their side and the smartest, most well-paid people in the history of our civilization, hell bent on two things — getting a few more dollars out of that art student, creative mom or the guy who draws on his lunch break at Burger King, and getting you to stare at your phone for a few more seconds.

I understand that art and culture have never been fair, that there have always been gatekeepers to audiences but the internet was an accomplishment of our collective humanity, paid for with tax dollars, that for the first time in our history leveled that playing field and without so much as a whimper, we have let it go. It has been taken from us in the middle of the night and we have woken up blind.

Yes, there are many reasons to be angry at social media platforms currently, they have undermined democracy, made people angrier across the world by showing us the worst sides of each other, told us that we would be more connected while making us feel more isolated, created a cultural depression where we constantly feel like we are not doing as well as we should but even though you are already aware of these things, and some web comic about dogs by the guy who lives in the apartment next door doesn’t seem important, I would argue that it is.

Art and culture are important. Our ability to express ourselves and see ourselves in the work of others is important. Feeling like we are part of something bigger, something human is important and art and culture give us that.

The internet was meant to be a communal, shared museum, a place to celebrate the sum total of human intelligence and our creative spirit.

For many people who don’t have access to the kind of money, education or the connections you need to make it in contemporary society, art was a way out. If you were good enough, if you could summon something beautiful out of the void and share it with the world, no matter where you were from the Philippines to Africa to Louisiana, you could find a small audience that would love and respect your work and who knows, they might even pay you for it.

That way out doesn’t exist anymore. It lasted for about ten years and now it’s over and if you didn’t make it through, tough luck. So I’m angry about all this and I’m angry because no one really understands or knows that this has happened and I’m angry because there are young creative people who don’t even know they’ve been robbed. All they know is they’re taking the advice of older creative people like me of, “Just do what you do every day,” and they’re failing. They’re looking at their websites and no one’s visiting them, they’re looking at the amount of people who are engaging with their work on Instagram or Facebook, and it doesn’t look like they’re reaching anyone.

So they tell themselves the only story that makes sense: I am not good enough.

Instead of the truth: You have been robbed. Something has been taken from you that you didn’t even know you had.

The next Pablo Picasso or Maya Angelo has given up because no one is responding to their work and even though there are many who would say that shouldn’t matter, that you should simply ignore what people say about your work or who interacts with you — that’s not how art works if you actually want to make a living from it. You have to have moments in your career when you check to see if what you do is working and resonating with people.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others have stolen something priceless from us and it’s time to regulate them, break them up through legislation if needed, and get rid of the algorithms that are destroying the very fabric of our society.

The internet doesn’t belong to these people. It belongs to you and me.

It’s time to take it back.