Embracing Your Inner Raccoon (Or: The Problem With Pandas)

Embracing Your Inner Raccoon (Or: The Problem With Pandas)

I love pandas as much as you do.Ā 

They’re adorable. Just look at this little bastard.

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AĀ Giant Panda in captivity. Also me at the club after a few drinks.

But be honest with yourself.

Aside from theĀ awws and oos thatĀ their derpy demeanours provoke, they’re not all that impressive.

Even if we weren’t destroying their habitats, pandas aren’t exactly the poster bears of survival:

Can you really argue with me?
This is a GIF so you can’t hear the ferocious sound of the baby panda sneezing.

Still, we love them.

We ignore the sad reality that these animalsĀ have become prisoners of their own fate.

For the most part.

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Some pandas can be pretty clever. #NotAllPandas via CBC News

In captivity, where we usually see them in GIFs and YouTube videos, panda life is synonymous with a lot of eating, sleeping and repeating the last two things.

It looks like a pretty dope life, aside from the whole “being endangered” thing.

In fact, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably forgotten that pandas areĀ technically a kind of bear.

It’s hard to believe “panda startled by sneeze” is related to “grizzly that ripped Leonardo Dicaprio’s faceĀ off”.

To me, pandas are a reminder that destiny is a depressing concept.

Raccoons, on the other hand…

Raccoonsā€”or “trash pandas”Ā as they’re unaffectionately calledā€”are on the other end of the spectrum of survivability. They’re the entrepreneurs of the animal kingdom.

We don’t like them because they’re the very thing that pandas aren’t:

They’reĀ resourceful and relentless.

In fact, raccoons are one of a few animals that constantlyĀ forceĀ us to adapt toĀ them.

Raccoon vs. Raccoon-Proof Bin. Spoiler alert:Ā Bin winsā€”but not without a fight.

Raccoons give zero f*cks.

They get into our garbage bins, break into our home, and even open our jarsĀ (something many humans struggle with).

Plus they’ll eat pretty much anything.

“Cat food? This is raccoon food now! Snee snee snee!”

YourĀ Panda vs. Raccoon Instinct

I think everyone’s got a panda instinct and a raccoon instinct. Kind of like “fight or flight”, but more like “can or can’t”.

When you do something new, something that forces you to learn from scratch, your initial reaction might be, “I can’t do that.” And I think that’s perfectly normal.

When I was learning how to write and no one read my shit, when I was learning how to dance and tripped over my own feet, when I was learning Tae Kwon Do and couldn’t kick over my head, when I was learning how to build my first ecommerce site and it looked likeĀ šŸ’©, I remember giving up countless times. I remember thinking these things were beyond me. I remember believing I wasĀ a panda.

I’m not afraid to tell you I’ve thrown my hands up and said, “Screw this” a **lot**Ā in my life. Sometimes I really meant it and that was that.

But every time I couldn’t quite commit to the idea of defeat, something else happened: I became okay at those things.

WhenĀ we’re faced with something so far away from what we’re used toā€”a new job, an unfamiliar problem, a foreign skillā€”we sometimes mistake a learning curve for an inability to adapt.

We grossly underestimate our inner raccoons.

Our panda instinct tells us we are what we are because it’s easier than going off-script and trying to be more. But when you fight past that doubt, you draw out your inner raccoon.

And we’ve all got a little raccoon in usā€”the proof is all the times you’ve been forced to be resourceful:

  • When your back is against the wall
  • When your job is on the line
  • When you need the money
  • When you’re facing a deadline
  • When someone is shoving the end of a broom into the make-shift home you’ve chewed into the ceiling

That’s when we shift our perspective.We shed the panda mindset and adopt the raccoon’s:

  • “I don’t know” becomes “I don’t know yet.”
  • “I can’t do that” becomes “I’ll figure it out.”
  • “Am I allowed to do that?” becomes “Let them stop me.
  • “What if…?” becomes “Screw it.”

Resourcefulness seems like a respectable trait on paper. But it’s messy.

It’s desperate. It’s hungry. It’s ungraceful. It’s obsessive. It’s a shit storm of trial and error. And it can be a bit of an asshole.

It’s sidestepping the red tapeā€”sometimes real and oftentimes imaginedā€”and doing what you need to do, ignoring what the world thinks about it. It’s Googling what you don’t know. It’s drawing on other people as a resource. It’s making time when you don’t have it. It’s trekking through the “grey”.

But above all, it’s sticking with your problems.

None of this guarantees success, butĀ it does ensure that you look everywhere for itā€”outside of your comfort zone and beyond the cards you’re holding.

Like them or hate them, unlike pandas, raccoons embody our better instincts.

So the next time you feel like you’re being a panda about a problem, take a step back and ask yourself:

“What would a raccoon do?”

The answer is: Whatever it has to.

Note: No pandas were harmed in the writing of this piece. Not even emotionally. Because pandas can’t read. Besides, they’re technicallyĀ not on the endangered species list anymore, so they’re safe to use as a rhetorical prop hereĀ šŸ¼.

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Choosing 100: Confessions of a Recovering Underachiever

FeaturedChoosing 100: Confessions of a Recovering Underachiever

When I was in high school, I had this gym teacher.

He was a real hard-assā€”the kind of guy who would make you do 4 laps around the school in the middle of winter if you were even 2 minutes late to his class.

One day, we were all in the weight room doing what people do in weight rooms (for me: standing around and talking, mostly).

Without explaining why, ourĀ teacher decided to call each of us up one at aĀ time and ask us what grade we wanted to get in his class, jottingĀ down each person’s answer.

“80…90…85…93…”

Each student would walk up, say his answer, and then go back to doing his thing.

My turn came and I wentĀ up.

“What grade do you want to get in this class?” he asked without looking up from his clipboard.

Now, before we continue, let me say that during the tail end of my high school years I wasn’t exactly a model student: skipping class, getting high at lunch, coastingĀ through math on copied answers, and landing myself in the occasional troubleā€”just so you fully understand the seriousness of my answer.

“100?” I shrugged.

“Everyone. Come here,” he said. A circle formed.

“This is what everyone should be aiming for.Ā Why would you only want 80 or 90 percent of anything? Braveen is the only one who said 100. ” He looked at me and nodded and dismissed us all.

Have you ever felt 25 people rolling their eyes at you?

“Fuck you, Braveen,” said one of my classmates who knew I was full of shit.

I was. I didn’t care what grade I got in P.E.

In fact, when it came to grades, I was pretty comfortable with mediocrityā€”70%Ā is a glass that’s more than half full, at least by my standards back then.

But what I didn’t realize was that this attitude wouldĀ hold me back in the one thingĀ I did care about:

Writing and putting my ideas out there.

When it came to that, I did it every chance I got because, to me, it was fun flexing my imagination and having an audience.

It was fun spending a month writing whole 60-minute comedies, bringing them to a stage, hearing people laugh, penning poems, performing sketches, coming up with jokes and spinning works of fiction.

But I had a line I wouldn’t cross: on the other side of it was caring andĀ trying.

The thing about underachieving is it feels great to do well when it isn’t your goal. But by contrast, it feelsĀ terrible to fall short after trying to do your best.

That’s why we sometimes choose 80 or 90 instead of 100. We’ll lower the bar so ourĀ goals are achievable, even if it means deliberatelyĀ denying ourselves a better outcome.

If you achieve it, you feel good. If you exceed it, you feel great (for about 5 seconds if you’re an underachiever, then you realize:Ā Oh shit, I have to do this again?).

But if you fall short, well, you’re a failure and why the hell did you even bother?

It’s a paradox that plagues me and many people. It’s much easier to choose to play aĀ game you know you can win, even when the prizes aren’t the ones you want.

So when it came time to decide what I was going to do with my life, I was thiscloseĀ to committing toĀ a career as a teacher despite dreams of being a real writer: the kind whose soul’s purpose is to leave a bunch of words in his wake.

For some reason, being a teacher seemedĀ safer and more realistic. Writing could beĀ aĀ hobby, I thought.

Even if IĀ managed to navigate around all the broken dreams a career like this attracts, I had been convinced the pay wasn’t worth it. Plus, I didn’t see many bylines like “Braveen Kumar” in the things I readĀ back then.

I’d probably be an unhappy teacher right now, if it wasn’t forĀ a teacher who showed me the paths I could take and all the jobs I could reasonably get as a writer, mostly in marketing and journalism.

Because of her, I chose 100 and IĀ made up my mind:

I was going toĀ become theĀ bestĀ writer I could be.

By my own estimates (and other peoples’)Ā I thought I’d beĀ writing shit no one would read for $30-something-thousand a year at 20-something years-old.

It didn’t help that when I shared my ambitions with most people, they’d react with basically the in-person equivalent of a lowercase “lol”.

But at least I was directing all my efforts at something I could get behind:

  • I started a satirical blog where I would publish a piece of creative writing every week and jokes every day, whether they were funny or they flopped.
  • I took on any writing-related job that came up: resumes, essays, press releases, website copy, consulting, blog posts, grad school applications, and favours for friends, helping out on their projects.
  • I consumed everything I could that would help me improve my craft.
  • I pitched and wrote for whatever publications would accept my work.

In the process, I got a lot of invaluable real-world feedbackā€”good, bad, and weirdā€”from the total strangers who read my stuff:

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Thanks, Mike šŸ™šŸ¾
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This one is my favourite.

 

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Some people were actually nice.

With a lotĀ to gain AND lose, I just did a bunch of things. I didn’t know how much effort it would take, so I gave it everything.

And then something happened.

I hit 100ā€”at least relative to my low expectations.

I got my first job out of college as a “content marketer” (basically what writers call themselves these days to get better pay). I was getting a steady paycheque to do my favourite things: come up with ideas and write them into being.

A year and a half later, I landed the best job I could hope to get at a great company. I’d brokenĀ 100 when I only expected 70.

This sounds great. It was. It is. But for the first time in years, I didn’t have a concrete goal anymore.

My “why?” had become “what now?”

I still felt the rumblings of my old hungerā€”to be a real writerā€”but I didn’t need to feed it anymore. It was already well-fed, decently paid, and couldn’t complain about its commute.

But here’s the thing: It’s never good when your soulĀ lingers too long in “liminal space”ā€”the place of uncertainty that exists between answers.

Ambition without a personally meaningful direction eventually hollows you out and becomes restlessness and depression.

Despite everything, I was still afraidĀ of failure and the helplessness it creates, still afraid of success and the expectations it creates.

Looking back over the years, I can see how bit-by-bit I shrugged off my dreams in favour of a safer path: a career in marketing.

Without realizing it, I went back to choosing 70.

My old ambition gathered dust. I told myself that I’d outgrown it, that most writers eventually do. But I still lugged it around. every. single. day.

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This is what writing looks like when your heart isn’t in it.

When you deny yourself something that is so central to your identity, it changes you. In choosing 70%, I also became 70% of who I really was.

I didn’t realize this until recently when I forced myself to write this.

For two weeks, I sat down after work to at least stare at this page for an hour or two, no matter how exhausted I was.

For two weeks, I wrote and edited for freeā€”for me.

And for two weeks, I feltĀ more productive, happier, and more like myself because caring about somethingā€”really giving a shitā€”is contagious and will infect every part of your life.

So, here’s the thing I’ve grown to accept:

Ambition isĀ the purpose woven into the very fabric of your lifeĀ and it tends to ask a lotĀ of you. Some people can ignore it and live happy lives. But the bigger it is, the louder it gets.

It’s better to embraceĀ it.

That’s why I finally published this: the first piece I’ve really cared to write in a very long time.

And it feels good.

Not because I think you’ll like it, but because nobody told me to do it and because I really tried.

So going back to my old gym teacherĀ (how the hell did we get here?), I think he had a point. Kind of.

I still don’t give a shit about P.E, but this?

One hundred fucking percent.Ā 

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How Religion Helps Me Understand “Mindfulness” (As an Atheist)

How Religion Helps Me Understand “Mindfulness” (As an Atheist)

I may be a badĀ hindu in many waysā€”a hindDON’T, if you willā€”but I do appreciate the symbolism and the stories of the religion I grew up in.

So if an atheist is allowed a favourite god, mine would be Ganesh.

And not just because heā€™s a quarterĀ elephant with 4 arms. Or because heā€™s literally part of the Marvel comics universe (not joking, look it up).Ā 

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Marvel movie adaptation starring Ron Perlman as Ganesh. No? Okay, another Spiderman reboot then.

What I like is that he’s considered the remover of obstacles and the god of wisdom.

And like most Hindu gods (and Power Rangers), Ganesh also has a dedicated “vehicle” or animal mountā€”in his case, a mouse.

I know what youā€™re thinking: *Someone* drew the shortest straw. Especially when some of the other gods roll through on tigers and lions.

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Shotgun! Oh…wait…

But I like to think thisĀ mouse represents those pesky, destructive thoughtsā€”thoughts like envy, fear, anger, regret, “what if” and ā€œnever willā€ā€”that nibble holes in our happiness.

These unproductive thoughts enjoy biting at our heels and have the potential to become bigger obstacles than anything in front of us. Ā But Ganesh, with the weight of his wisdom (his body too; he’s not the slimmest god), knows he’s bigger than the mouse ā€”these thoughts.

Iā€™m still not sure what ā€œmindfulnessā€ means, or why it seems to be theĀ cure-all for everything today, but I think this at least makes a good metaphor, a powerful reminder, that our own bodies are bigger than our thoughts.

It’s not only what you do to take care of your body, but how much time you spend taking care of your mind and cultivating good mental habitsā€”something I’m trying to focus on as my life gets more hectic.

If we pay attention to ourselvesā€”if we learn to step outside of our minds and put our foot down whenever we feel the need to stray toward negative thoughtsā€”we can stop ourselves from being controlled by our thoughts, from letting them take a piece of our peace of mind.