From my book How to Be Cross Eyed: Thriving Despite Your Physical Imperfection — a mémoire and lifehacking manifesto
Apparently, it’s more common that you’re born with strabismus, I’m a bit of a rare bird in that I was born more or less normal and became cross eyed over time. So I was keenly aware of how people began to treat me a little differently over time.
Like a lot of people, I went through kind of an awkward phase in my teens; playing a lot of video games, failing to ingratiate myself with the cool kids and my face erupted with acne. By my late teens, though I had learned to dress and comport myself with some style, I hit the gym and lifted weights consistently, this was before the age of none-stop social media narcissism and selfies so the photographic evidence of circa 2005 ripped Jonathan is scant. You’ll have to take my word that I was enjoying all the attendant privileges of being a good looking person.
As a young man in my early 20’s I was mostly interested in chasing girls, fast cars, working out at the gym, buying fly clothes at the mall and partying at nightclubs.
I was starting to get cross eyed though, I remember one day one of the sales managers at the car dealership where I was a salesman mentioned it. My sales manager frankly suggested that I try to get it fixed as it might unnerve the potential buyers I would be trying to sell cars to. I went home and Google searched it for the first time which was just confusing and all the surgical solutions were far beyond my financial means.
A few years prior I had read the book How to Make Friends and Influence People, which imparted to me some of what we now call social dynamics skills, that had helped me to get jobs, score digits and dates from cute girls along with making friends with people who were a lot cooler than me. I had the thought that I should read more books like that because if I could really improve my social skills it would make up for the little bit of awkwardness that my crossed eye caused.
And that’s just what I did, I began voraciously consuming books on sales psychology as I was working in 100% commission sales at the time. The strategies I found within them I could apply the very next day at the car lot; I wasn’t getting caught in meta traps or doing a lot of armchair theorizing. I would read about a sales psychology tactic, go out and apply it and if it did not work after honestly trying it, I would throw it out.
At this point in my life, I also found great wisdom in some of the business books (which are really about mindset) written by the man who would surprise nearly everybody by meteorically rising through politics to become the current US President.
If I got really drunk or did ecstasy my crossed eye would get worse, at least according to my friends. Not wanting to look like a freak, I decided to do a sober trip of 30 days, which I recommend to everyone, even if you’re not a raging alcoholic. Really, what do you have to lose?
The first few nights partying sober were a bit awkward but then I found that I could have just as much fun without drinking a drop of alcohol. The longest sober trip I ever did was 6 months in Medellin, Colombia. I would cycle completely off alcohol frequently, which with my lifestyle saved me a lot of money.
Partying sober is actually kind of what enabled me to become one of the most active young socialites in Denver, Colorado; I had something of a Jersey Shore lifestyle, hanging out at nightclubs, bars and lounges 4–5 nights a week. Which I managed to turn into a business eventually.
I wasn’t religious about not drinking, I did it pragmatically, not dogmatically. When opportunity presented itself, I wasn’t a square. Occasionally I would go out with friends, order a bottle of decent vodka and get smashed. One time on a first date with a Russian girl, while drinking Patron and red-bull, I literally caught on fire! You can find that story later in this book…
The infamous pick up artist Roosh V did a podcast entitled The Death of Night Game, that’s worth a listen by at least every single man, about how the culture has shifted around nightlife.
In the 2000’s night game was definitely NOT dead, you could sharpen your social skills by hanging out in nightclubs. The more swanky and exclusive the spot the better the chance I had of making friends with the local celebrities, professional athletes, successful entrepreneurs and of course a lot of attractive young women.
I don’t know if this is still the case though. Last time I was in the US I went to a couple of clubs, which was a total waste of time; they were not exactly teeming with the kinds of people I would like to meet. Here in Europe where I live now, with the exception of one niche I’ve been able to capitalize on, the people you’ll find in nightlife venues are either hookers, gangsters or young college students just getting retarded drunk and smoking their lungs black.
I don’t regret the time and little bit of money I spent partying in nightclubs in my early and mid 20’s, it has ROI’d in social skills developed, peak experiences and the network of friends I built. A lot of people hate on nightclubs or any ostentatious nightlife venue, I always found them to be pretty fun and partying sober almost always proved to be productive.
So you may be thinking…
Ok cool dude. So you liked to party with girls when you were a young man. That doesn’t make you that special or clever…
The point I’m trying to make is that as I grasped that I was going to have to deal with being cross eyed I decided to become what Eric Weinstien would call a “high agency person” who would help themselves; go against the grain, be a bit of a rebel and resist mediocrity.
I decided that I would rather make mistakes than wait for life to happen to me and I certainly did not expect any charity from the world. I also accepted that I would have to be a bit more self-interested than the average person; the average person is quite concerned with not rocking the boat, they are quite concerned with fitting in society, even if it costs them personally. I realized at a young age that I was going to have to be just a little selfish if I did not want to be a total loser.
And this really did work out, I can say now honestly that I’m a person that chooses my problems. So many people in life are constant victims of circumstance but not me, I do have problems but they are almost all problems that I made some very conscious choice to navigate toward.
To quote the fictional gangster Frank Costello
I’m not a product of my environment. My environment is a product of me.
I took a trip to Turkey. I had been living in the very affordable European capital of Sofia, Bulgaria. I had friends there, a flat in a cool part of town, a pretty regular daily and weekly schedule. Along with a favorite cafe, coworking space, restaurant, and nightclub. Life was comfortable.
My 3-month tourist VISA was almost expired, I could fly back to the equally comfortable Valencia, Spain or hop on a northbound bus to the equally affordable Belgrade or I could get outside my geographic comfort zone and visit a country I’d never been to, Turkey.
Doing my research everything I read led me to believe that Turkey would be the most challenging choice…
- The cost of living there was quite a bit more expensive.
- English is a lot less common in Turkey. It’s a place where you really will run into language barriers.
- I’d spent a few days in Bosnia once upon a time but this would be my first time in an increasingly theocratic and authoritarian Muslim country.
- Its conservative religious culture would no doubt put a damper on my hedonistic dating life.
- At this time the President of Turkey was making all these crazy public statements basically threatening war with the rest of Europe. So there was a real chance of geopolitical fireworks during my visit.
- The wifi was a lot slower and less reliable.
- At least in Istanbul, the local Turks are pretty standoffish. Quite the opposite of many of the places I have visited where it seemed everyone wanted to practice their English and make friends with me because I was an exotic foreigner from the glamorous USA which they had only ever seen on the silver screen. I’m not sure if this is because of the terrorism Istanbul has endured for so long or simply part of its population of 18 million people that creates that impersonal, big city vibe.
Turkey did prove to be challenging mostly in the ways I expected during my stay and charming in some unexpected ways.
While I was arguing with lying taxi drivers trying to rip me off, thinking how much I would rather be back in my geographic comfort zone, I would console myself with the fact that I had indeed chosen my problems and challenges. And I had not chosen them flippantly, I had made high agency decisions to go with the least comfortable option. I was the one who chose a destination on a map, bought the ticket and took the ride.
You may be like…
OK, I get it. Help yourself. Choose your problems. Cool mindset dude. How is that done practically?
I’ve traveled to +25 different countries and during that time I’ve developed two rules for both avoiding and dealing with disaster while traveling abroad: They are…
1. Be assertive persistently
2. Ask for help
Be assertive persistently
As opposed to being agreeable by default, be disagreeable by default.
Traveling to dodgy countries where there are deeply ingrained cottage industries taking advantage of foreigners you develop a little bit of healthy paranoia. You develop good instincts, listen to cognitive dissonance and grow to become quite attentive to internal alarm bells.
If something doesn’t seem quite right; say NO, ask WHY, call a friend, stay put, walk away, put your wallet back in your pocket or put your clothes back on.
Once in Greece, I needed to buy a bus ticket, since it’s such a backward country you can’t just buy it online or at the bus station, you need to pay cash at a little travel agency. The next day upon arriving at the bus station the young girl working the front desk informed me that the travel agency had not reserved a spot on the bus for me, even though I had a ticket. I would need to come back the next day.
I responded assertively without blowing up:
No. I have a ticket. I paid for it. I would like to leave Greece today.
She responded that I was out of luck. I looked around the little office of the bus station and spotted a smart looking young man. It sounds a little sexist but one thing you learn traveling the world is that smart looking young guys consistently can speak decent English and competently solve problems that their female counterparts are unable to handle.
I showed him my ticket and explained that I needed to leave Greece today, I suggested he call the travel agency or the boss to get it sorted out, and offered to wait while he made some calls. About 15 minutes later, he informed me that miraculously they had found a seat for me on the bus.
Like Neo bending the spoon in the Oracle’s apartment, you’ll be amazed at how reality can be bent to your desire by just asking persistently.
Ask for help
We are a social species; thus our evolutionary psychology commands us to help others who are in need. At the same time, our culture encourages self-sufficiency and independence, it’s thought of as shameful to ask for help (especially for men). This is a part of cultural programming that you need to get over! Get in the habit of asking people for help, you’ll be amazed at what people (especially total strangers) will do for you when you just ask…
There has to be something you can do to help me…?
My train had arrived in a grungy Hungarian train station; I was quite frazzled and hungry after a long day of travel as I disembarked the train and went looking for something to eat. As I was eating my salad in the McDonald’s (the only place open at the hour), I realized that I did not have my backpack on me. I looked around the McDonald’s and asked the employees who indicated that I wasn’t wearing a backpack when I came in. I concluded that I must have left my backpack on the train.
I was really screwed if I’d lost that backpack; it contained my laptop, my passport, my money, my smart drugs, etc.
I went back to the train station, my modus operandi would be to ask every person I could for help. Which I did, they spoke little to no English and more or less informed me that there was no lost and found and that the security office was now closed. One guy let me back onto the train to search for it, which was fruitless. After about a half-hour of searching, in a state of despair, I walked back out of the train station, I would spend the little money I had on me to get to a hostel, get some sleep and then call the American embassy in the morning, but something stopped me in my tracks.
I turned around and began knocking on or trying to open every door I could in the train station, I asked one more very bored looking railway employee about security and he pointed me toward a door that I thought I had already tried.
It turned out to be open. I tried to explain using gestures and very simplified English to the two bored, tired-looking old women there that I had lost my backpack. One of them responded positively and got up to check in the back. To my immense relief, she returned with my backpack!
Amazingly nothing was stolen or missing from it. The value of my backpack and its contents was likely at least several months worth of salary of whoever cleaned the trains after the passengers in that godforsaken train station. Yet (lucky me!) they decided to just turn it into security.
Traveling you are reminded sporadically of the goodness of people. If you resolve to help yourself, you’ll be astounded at how others will support your cause.
- Be high agency; it’s tremendously empowering to choose your problems. Don’t let problems choose you.
- Travel teaches you to be assertive persistently and ask for help.