Posts categorized "Absconding"

Chasing dreams (and failing)

Long before YouTube, Facebook, and even before blogging, I dreamed of becoming famous. I remember my 13-year-old self, practicing basketball every day after school inside my grandparent’s barn. My parents taught me that I could become anything I wanted to be with hard work, dedication, and belief in a dream. My dream was to play in the NBA. Basketball ignited me with optimism and passion. It set me on an ambitious course that could not be contained within the limits of my hometown.

Basketball02

Of course I failed. I never played one minute in the NBA and, despite endless hours of blood, sweat, and tears, I was only able to climb as far Division II college ball. By my estimation, at least 5,000 hours of my youth was spent on a basketball court. While my friends were playing video games after school, or partying on Friday nights, I was on the basketball court pushing myself a bit further.

One might say that I wasted my time, but I don’t think so. When I close my eyes, I can still feel the leather roll off my sweaty fingers upon the release of a 3-point shot with perfect form. I will never forget the chills in my spine as I would watch the ball swish through the net. I remember the thrill of bursting onto the court for warm-ups into the roar of an appreciative high school basketball crowd. I remember how ecstatic I felt after every victory and how frustrated I felt after each defeat. Despite the hard times, basketball made me feel fully-alive.

The value of a dream is not the outcome, but the process. Any dream worth chasing is a dream that inspires a better now.

My dream to play in the NBA eventually faded, but I have continued to dream. After finishing university, I decided to write a novel. The writing and editing process took about one year (after work in the evenings and on weekends). It was nothing other than the dream of becoming a famous novelist that pushed me forward, day-after-day. Of course my novel ended up failing commercially, but I look back on the project as a success. The story was based on my life, so the writing process forced me to explain myself from an outsider's perspective. Through this process, I came away understanding myself perhaps only as a writer can. Though I had failed to reach an audience, the outcome left me with no regrets because I had grown.

These days, through the immediacy and accessibility of social media and reality TV, we all want to be famous. Everyone seems to be going viral. I’m embarrassed to admit that sometimes I feel like something is wrong with me because I can’t seem to reach a large audience. I recognize that this is entirely vain, self-centered, and unhealthy…but nonetheless this is how I have felt. I don’t think my feelings are uncommon. We want to be famous, and we want it now!

As a writer and musician, I am grateful that it has become so much easier to reach an audience. But what has web 2.0 done to the process of dreaming, achieving, and creating? When everything is immediately measured in likes and clicks, when everything can be instantly torn apart with cruel, thoughtless, and anonymous comments; then where is the magic in creating and becoming? How much inspiration is sucked into web marketing, social media strategy, and email marketing? How damaging is it that so much time is spent not on creating or becoming, but on looking for quick fame and immediate feedback?

I fear that social media is destroying the inherent value that can be found in the process of creating and becoming. 

I’m old enough to remember life before computers and cell phones. What I remember is that the moment inherently mattered. I remember feeling totally alive in an experience even though my friends did not immediately know what I was thinking or doing. Moments mattered simply because they happened. Experiences were meant to be shared only with the people who were there. Ideas and stories were discussed only with people who might actually relate. Back then, if you attempted to share travel pictures with friends, you were met with either open resistance or polite tolerance for a few minutes. But it felt like our lives mattered even without likes, comments, or shares.

I don’t know whether it is possible to recapture what was lost, but I want to try. For too long, I have foolishly focused too much time, money and energy on trying to make the Abscondo band famous. Now I have stopped all self-promotion and image-crafting. In the past few months, have had wonderful experiences and posted none of it on Facebook. I have written songs meant only for me to play, by myself, in my room. I have started writing a book just for the purpose of forming new thoughts. I'm mountain-biking again. I am studying the Slovak language again. I am focusing on my real life and my real relationships. Life is better.

You don't need an audience to live fully.

What matters is not the image we project, but the inherent value of each experience, each relationship, and each creation. You don’t need an audience for your life to matter. Take your time becoming the best version of you that you can be, and do so without the pressure of success and fame. 

Posted by Mark Manney.

Life is (also) elsewhere

There is a certain attitude among people who live in cities like London, New York, and Paris that they are living "at the center of things". There is an unspoken attitude that the mundane details of their lives are somehow more interesting and important just because they happen to live in a place that "counts".  Their careers are thought to be more important, the neighborhoods they live in somehow mean something significant, their circle of friends and their social activities are thought to be fascinating, and their restaurants are to be raved about as the best in the world. Everything about their lives are assumed to be more evolved and advanced than those of us living in places that are less popular and familiar.

This attitude is not only held by inhabitants of major cities, but unfortunately it is also shared by most of us who have chosen to live elsewhere. We actually, deep down, believe the lie that our lives are less significant because we aren't walking streets that are routinely shown in the movies. I suppose TV and films promote this narrative, as most of them take place in one of these major cities. Also, our friends who move away often return only to make us feel insignificant by bragging about their fabulous and glamorous lives elsewhere. Everywhere we turn, this attitude is reinforced. 

I used to be quite the offender. When I lived in Seattle, I was insufferable. When I would travel back to my hometown (or when I would go anywhere else in the world really) I was never shy about informing people about how wonderful and perfect things were in Seattle. I felt as though I was living somewhere that "counted"...as though my adopted Seattle opinions and values were cool, correct, and indisputable...as though our food was better...our coffee was better...our people were more educated...and of course I was superior because I happened to have a rented apartment (and a boring job) there.

So is it true? Is a walk down a beautiful street in Trieste, Italy somehow less interesting or important than a walk down 5th Avenue? Is a beautiful apartment in Ljubljana, Slovenia somehow less beautiful than an over-priced, smaller one in the center of London? Is a walk with a lover in a neighborhood park any less romantic than a long taxi ride and a walk in Central Park? Is a wonderful meal in Miskolc, Hungary less tasty than an average one in Paris, France? Is an 80-hour workweek in NYC truly superior than a 4-hour workweek in Kosice, Slovakia? Everything is relative.

Nobody is to blame because we all live in a bubble that is created by our community, our profession, our circle of friends, and even by the entertainment and content we consume. Life can be beautiful in wonderful in NYC, London, and Paris...but it can also be beautiful and full of endless possibilities in Madison, Wisconsin or Kosice, Slovakia.

Your life has value when you have found a place that feels like home and when your days are filled with the balance that works for you. Life is beautiful when it is filled with love, with joy, with ideas, desires, adventures, successes, and failures. Life is exciting when it is filled with the growth of new experiences, interesting tastes, new sounds, challenging ideas, and open or honest relationships. Life has meaning when you create something that is truly yours. Life is filled with contentment when you earn enough money to stop worrying and start living. All of this is possible, wherever you happen to live.

My point is that it isn't where you live that defines you and gives your life value, it is how you live. Life is (also) elsewhere.

Posted by Mark Manney.

The great revolution

The great revolution will come when people simply decide to do exactly what they want to do.

We are told that we are free.  Yet, from the youngest age, we are forced into educational institutions that are designed only to produce obedient behaviors and conformist thinking.  It isn't that we aren't hungry to learn by nature, but true learning isn't something that flows from being locked-up in some institution from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day of our precious, young lives.  This educational system takes away our passions and our individuality in order to prepare us for an adult life that is even worse.  But alternate educational models are emerging.  I will be exploring everything as my daughter starts school in a few years.

When we finally survive our school years, we stare into the abyss of a job market that should terrify anyone.  If young people do find a job, it certainly pays too little.  What today's jobs ask of us is nothing short of everything.  We waste all of our days doing everything but what we would choose to do if we were free.  We work because we are scared.  In return, we are paid just enough (maybe) to find a place to live, buy food, and transportation.  Oh, and then we can try to enjoy some leisure activities with whatever energy we are left with after a work week that leaves us depleted physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  All the while, we worry about debt, health care, our children's education, and so much more.  It would be silly for me to argue any further about how shitty the job market is.  In Europe, in particular, massive numbers of young people are choosing not to work normal jobs because they are refusing to accept it.

For those of us who do accept it, this is how we live.  Days drag on like years while the years somehow fly by.  We desperately find ways to cope with an entire reality that is, by any measure, unacceptable.  We are screaming inside as our hopes and dreams are lost.  When we walk the path we were told to aspire to, we are stripped of all that is good and beautiful as the true potential within each of us fades away and ultimately dies.  This is the path we are directed toward.  This is what the corporate-controlled world wants for us because it is good business for them.  I want you to know that all of it is entirely unnecessary.  There is a different way.

For most of my life, I walked this conventional path as well as anyone.  At age 30, I left it forever.  I won the battle with my inner-voices of fear.  I started doing what I wanted to do.  I want everyone to know that you, yourself, can start a revolution by doing nothing other than by doing what you want to do.  This revolution doesn't happen overnight, but it can happen if you shift your thinking and change the path you're on.

I know that you have interests and you have some sort of skills and talents.  So you have value.  When you find a way to get paid for what you are good at, you will earn a better living than by doing only what you are told to do.  Ultimately, you will end up making more income than you do today by working only a few hours a day.  Anyone can do this.  I highly recommend reading the 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.  I began living this way years before the book came out, but his entire approach and philosophy puts all of this into focus.  It will change your life.

As you begin to free-up more time and grow your income, you start to rediscover the person you are.  The goal isn't leisure.  The purpose is not to sit on some beach forever (only until you are bored).  As you discover your freedom, you do more of what excites you.  What do you so badly want to to do or to become?  It will haunt you until you do it...so just get it over with.   Turn your dreams and fantasies into realities.  If you like the reality, hold onto it.  Otherwise move on.  But if you don't experience something you badly want, you will never grow beyond that dream.  Experience is the process of becoming more than you are today.

Why do we keep waiting for a revolution when it is right there within our reach?   We have the power.  We have laptops, we have smart phones, and we have infinite imagination.  While your personal revolution can start tomorrow (as it did for me at age 30), the real break-through will happen when we collectively realize our power to live as we want to.  We don't need to drive to work at some corporation to earn a living.  I have spent the past 10 years inventing a system that will revolutionize the way we live and work.  I am starting the process of raising funding and bringing-in the right partners to build what will become an alternate economy on-line.  Opposite of today's corporate economy, this will be a people economy -- where we are everything we need.  

This system will connect people based what we want.  It is a more efficient form of capitalism whereby we quickly and easily meet all the right people to exchange with and work with just as we also meet all the right people to help us fulfill our hopes, dreams, and fantasies.  I know it will work and I know it is the ultimate purpose of my life to launch this revolution.  

Who am I to attempt this?  I am a musician, writer, entrepreneur, an expert in sales, and so much more.  All of these aspects of my being will continue as I also move in the direction of making this idea a reality.  I want everyone to live as I have over these past years, but even better.  This system will revolutionize the world because, finally, we can be everything we need.  We don't need to fight anyone to win this revolution, we just need to do what we want to do.  Anything worth doing also involves connecting with others.  So we need a better system to connect us with the right people.

So this is my big, revolutionary idea that I will move forward with as fast as possible.  But, in truth, there's no reason to wait for the revolution.  Work hard doing what you are good at (or want to become good at) and find people who will pay you for it.  Do it on your terms.  Work the hours you want to.  Or find a job and work from home (3 hours a day not 9).  Or travel the world and find odd jobs along the way.  There are options.

All of us are free, so why do we continue listening to the echos of teachers, parents, friends, bosses, or the pundits on TV.  Why watch films that steal our imagination by presenting a false picture of normalcy?  Reality is, indeed, what we make of it.  We are free to do what we want with our time, our relationships, our thoughts, our words, our art, and our experiences.  Hard work is necessary and good, but we have to direct that hard work toward something we want.  This is the great revolution.  It will change everything as today's institutions begin crumbling.  

I am surrounded by youth.  In my 4-year-old daughter, I see the potential of life before it gets muted by self-serving institutional agendas.  What if this unique happiness, passion, and desire to learn...what if it could be nurtured and developed properly?  What could she become after the revolution?

  Ella

Also, as I spend time with the guys in my band and many other 20-somethings, I clearly see their value and potential.  Yet I see many young people working in jobs that require none of their best skills or talents.  Worse yet, many young people are choosing a life of dependency or poverty.  It doesn't have to be this way.  

We can believe in ourselves, take our freedom, and with everything we are...just do what we want.  Imagine.

Posted by Mark Manney.

Slovakia: a romantic country ruled by love

When I left the United States years ago, what I so anxiously left behind is a country that seemed too powerful, too impersonal, too cold and too harsh.  I followed nothing more than a feeling -- a feeling that, while I tried to ignore for many years, only continued to grow inside me.

People often ask me why I would leave Seattle to live in Slovakia.  People also ask me what the hell "Abscondo" means!  There is a single answer to both questions: To abscond means "to run away, taking something or someone with you".  So I absconded from the United States to Slovakia - a romantic country ruled by love. 

This life-changing decision to make a life in Slovakia was also the start of the Abscondo project.  At first Abscondo was just a blog; a place to share my personal search for life-meaning and authenticity.  Eventually I started to write songs.  Those songs eventually begged to be recorded and performed.  But, all the while, Abscondo remained a set of ideas and philosophies.  It has always been about something!  Most of all, it has been about love.

Life in Slovakia can sometimes be a real pain-in-the-ass.  But, perhaps its most redeeming quality is that love really matters here.  To a Slovak woman, love is simply everything.  Her first thought in the morning: love.  The cause of her smile or frown as she walks down the street: love.  The reason she stays glued to her phone all day: love.  A Slovak woman feels as deeply as any woman can feel.  Her happiness, her frustration, her bliss, her jealousy, her laugh, her cry -- it is all amplified to a degree that cannot be understood by the outside world.  She is this way for the simple reason that love is everything to her. 

So I have gone as far as to say that Slovakia is ruled by love.  What matters most here are the passions between two people.  And when feelings of love become a central life focus, relationships become exciting but also sometimes explosive and unstable.  This, too, is an accepted part of the Slovak culture.  Men here are spoiled by the sheer loveliness of Slovak women; but perhaps it is also true that we have to try to live up to great, sometimes demanding expectations of love.  No matter, watching so many couples kissing in the park...so many couples holding hands walking down the street...this tells me that men here seem perfectly cut out for it.

Life is filled with so many fulfilling and worthwhile dimensions.  Nature begs us to seek knowledge, adventures, and experiences.  We learn to master new skills.  We seek success, wealth, or fame.  We build homes, we buy prized possessions.  We obsess over fashion, films, or music.  We make plans, we get married, we have children.  But none of it means anything without love.  No idea, no philosophy, no goal, no plan, and no dream is worth a damn if love is not at the center of your life!  

I want to celebrate that kind of love.  I know that kind of love because this is exactly what is between my wife and me.  Her love changed my life at such a young age and ultimately led me down this strange and unusal path so many years later.  I'm grateful for each moment with her and our love continues to grow and evolve in directions that are astonishing.  

I also want to celebrate Slovakia -- the romantic country ruled by love.  Abscondo will celebrate and explore exactly that in our music, words, and emotions.

Posted by Mark Manney.

The Empire of Fake

I spent the whole last week visiting family in Wisconsin.  While I have valued the time with my parents and brother, a week in Wisconsin is a vivid reminder of all the reasons I left this Empire of Fake.

In the past week, there were a few moments of peace and simplicity; writing a song sitting in a sunny field, jogging through the corn fields, eating corn on the cobb at a small-town festival.  Those were moments of escape into something that felt more human.  During the rest of my stay, I have felt forced into a form of cloudy non-existence.  I have slept-walked through a branded system of emptiness, thoughtlessness, and of compliance.  My frustration, my disgust, my entire way of thinking is something that is completely foreign in this land of sheep-walkers.  This Empire of Fake is ruled by a form fascism that is designed to destroy our humanity and make us as fake as the system itself.

In this Empire of Fake, all thought has been washed away with sugary soda, diet soda, or watery beer.  Feeling has been choked by moist, fruit-flavored muffins and expensive cheeseburgers.  Experiences have been replaced by brands which tower high above us on enormous signs by sprawling parking lots.  These familiar brands offer us something to do, promise us new feelings, laughter, or memories.  But even these memories are not real because they are not our own.  Fake memories have been implanted into us through obnoxious, persistent advertising.  So we throw what dollars we have left at this black hole of commercialism as though we are trying to plug a damn that is leaking nothing short of our humanity.  All the while, we feel nothing.  We get dumber, fatter, poorer, and older.  In this Empire of Fake, we teach our children nothing because we have no wisdom to offer.

I say "we" because, even though I have escaped this horrible place in my life, I have been unable to escape it while I am here.  I'm spending the weekend in Wisconsin Dells with family.  "The Dells" is touted as the "Waterpark capital of the world" and is Wisconsin's best attempt at a resort town.  I'm sitting on the balcony of an expensive hotel and am looking down on an endless parking lot.  It is an unusually warm, summery day in early September...but we spent the morning in an indoor waterpark because all of the outdoor "activities" are "closed".  But are they closed?  Could we not walk by the lake?  Could we not float down the river in an inner-tube?  Sure we could, but that's not why we have come here.  Realness would feel too strange, too foreign, too impossible to even suggest.  The truth is that we ought not have driven two hours, spent hundreds of dollars, packed our luggage and cars for this.  For what?

This morning was spent at an indoor water park so loud that we had to shout just to communicate.  We floated around a fake "lazy river" with fake rocks meant to look like the real rocks on the real river not far away outside.  There was no sunshine, there were no smells, no birds chirping, no wind blowing through the trees, and no crickets.  Unlike a real river, however, there were lifeguards at each turn.  It was nearly as safe as doing nothing at all.  Interestingly, there is a real river that runs right by my parents house.  Yet everyone insisted that we come here.

The Wisconsin Dells is all about fake.  Theme restaurants, theme parks, even the stone at the entrance of this hotel is plastic.  My 6-year-old nephew pointed this out.  Maybe he thought it was cool.  Fake is cool.  Real is boring.  Except that it isn't.  I want that which is real.  I wish I had the skill or the courage to lead others toward that which is real.

 But here, in this Empire of Fake, it is clear that I am one of a few.  We cannot voice a perspective strong enough to compete with the fake.  We cannot bring back to life people that have been lost to illusions, to toxic pills, to toxic food, and to toxic entertainment.  Synthetic has defeated real.  It is a population that is simply gone, and unfortunately I must leave if I wish to escape it.

Posted by Mark Manney.

All popular ideas are wrong

Popular ideas are only useful if you want only to be normal.  If you want only to live an average life, conventional wisdom is all you need.  If you want an exceptional life, you need to innovate and think differently.

Back when I graduated from Business School and went to work in the corporate world, I was young enough, foolish enough, and brainwashed enough to live according to all of the popular ideas.  I hated the 9 to 5 but thought it was inevitable.  I watched TV at night.  I had no real hobbies.  As painful and unnatural as it was for me, I tried so hard to fit-in.  I tried to believe what I was told and any deviation of thought or action only went so far as being still appropriate.  I failed on that path.

Somehow radical ideas never leave me alone.  The problem I've always had is that, when an idea makes sense, when it is true, or when it works to achieve a desired result; I would always toss out what was popular in order to embrace what was better.    

 I'm not just talking about political ideas or opinions.  I'm talking about ideas for life.  I know that it is supposed to be cool not to care about money, but I think that's foolish.  Everybody knows that life is hard when you're worried about money.  Furthermore, lack of resources is the most common obstacle that intelligent, brilliant people have in reaching their fullest potential.

I've done Sales for a living for my whole career.  I sell very expensive software solutions to large corporations.  But I don't sell in the way that everybody else sells.  Over the years, I came up with a specific process that allows me to get 10X the result of my colleagues in something like 2 hours per day.  In the early days, I even told my colleagues about it.  But they didn't do it because my approach wasn't normal.  So I just shut up about it and did it my way.  Then, during the other 6 hours of the workday, I would sit in my corporate prison and browse the web.

In 2005 I decided that I could no longer tolerate wasting my days in the cube.  I told my boss I would be working remotely and that, if he didn't agree, we could part ways.  Oh, and by "working remotely" I mean moving from Seattle to Slovakia.  My boss agreed because they needed to continue getting the results I was getting.  Huge life lesson: deliver value to people and they will pay you even as you get what you want out of the situation.

It isn't unusual to dream of traveling the world or living abroad.  To do it, most people teach languages, work in bars or restaurants, and do whatever it takes to scrape by because it is normal to believe that this is the trade-off one must make.  That's one way to do it and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.  But there are others ways.  Other people believe that they have to first have a million dollars in the savings account before they can take such a risk (in other words, they never do it at all).  What I figured out is that all I needed was a modest amount in savings (a year's income) and, more importantly, cash-flow.  

Cash-flow is what made it possible for me to live for a month in Cannes, Barcelona, and Paris.  I've travelled to dozens of European countries, and gone back to the US at least once a year.  More importantly; rather than wasting my time in the cube and in the commute, I've spent 8 years with enough free time to chase my passions.  When I moved to Europe, I had never written a song, had never performed live...actually I wasn't a musician.  What made all of it possible was the unconventional, highly-effective approach I took to my career.

Aside from traveling, writing, and recording and performing music, I've met so many amazing people.  I get to spend each day with my wife, we own a home in Europe, and now we are proud parents of a 3-year-old daughter.

But actually there's nothing special or unique about me.  Anything you want can be done.  But you have to let go of popular ideas.  Popular ideas about health will make you sick.  Popular ideas about nutrition will make you fat.  Popular ideas about marriage will bore you to the point of divorce.  Popular ideas about art will make you boring.  Popular ideas about work will make you a miserable slave.  

Anybody can have or do whatever they want in life.  But you're not going to do it with popular ideas.  There are other ideas -- better ideas that are more effective and more true -- which I want to start to start sharing with you in an honest, open way.   Whenever I find the time, I will get very specific and post ideas that I know will help you.

Posted by Mark Manney.

Working from Home

What most people want, more than anything else, is just to be able to do what they want to do.  For most of us, this is the ultimate goal in life.  Going to work is usually the opposite of this.

Time spent at work is time that you are owned by an employer.  Your employer defines your goals and tasks, sets your schedule, and tells you how to behave.  What motivates you at work is mostly fear.  Your alarm clock rings on time because you worry about whether you will lose your job.  At the end of the day, you are afraid to leave the office and go home before your boss does.  Indeed, the primary motivator at work is not the desire to accomplish a goal; rather, it is fear of perception, fear of failure, and fear of consequence.

I have been working from home now for almost 8 years.  Being physically away from the office means that my work behavior is driven less by fear and more by a desire to efficiently achieve results.  My strategies and tactics have become more rational, more effective, and far more efficient.  What I used to do in 8-9 hours I have learned to accomplish in 3-5.  More importantly, the value I create for my employer with these 3-5 hours per day far exceeds that of my colleagues in the office.

Being in charge of your own day requires a lot of discipline.  If you are trying to lose weight or get in shape, it means being internally-motivated enough to work hard and eat well.  If you're trying to learn how to play an instrument, it means making the personal decision to work hard over the course of years.  If you are trying to become a top-performing sales rep, it means having the internal discipline to make the calls and do the presentations.  External fear (from bosses, colleagues, or from a general sense of social pressure) is not really the force that will help you become the person you dream of becoming.  Yet most of us are stuck in the employment trap because we see few alternatives.

I remember my first week, working from home, as an expat.  My life prior to that moment had been spent trying to figure out how to make my escape.  Perhaps, until that point, I had never fully taken responsibility for what would be required of me post-escape.  Until then it was enough to go to work, play the game, and then hold onto a lot of excuses for why my dreams were on hold.  Ironically, my first week of freedom also came with a huge burden.  I realized that what was to happen in my life from that point forward was now up to me.

Working from home is the first step toward designing the life that you want.  While your choice of careers becomes more limited, the options available to you in life become endless.  You can decide how much time you spend working.  You decide how to approach your work for maximum results in minimal time.  You decide how much time to spend with your loved ones.  You decide how much time to dedicate to building your skills or practicing your hobbies.  You decide whether you want to be at home or even working remotely while traveling.  You decide when you want to go to the gym or to the cafe.  Without the commute, waking up to an alarm clock becomes a distant memory.  Working from home, so much of your fear is lifted and you are able to slowly transform yourself into the person you want to be.

On the flip-side, what you give up are the relationships you once had at work.  Working from home, you will no longer have any desire to engage in the usual office gossip.  This is not how you will chose to spend your time now that you have the option.  Besides, you will no longer think in the same way as your colleagues.  It is important to be aware of this try to expand your non-work related social network. 

Becoming an expat was a great opportunity for me to begin working from home.  But even if you don't want to relocate, I would highly recommend finding a job for a company that isn't based in your town.  Better yet, start a business and forget about jobs altogether.  Either way, plan your escape carefully and make sure it is sustainable at least over the short-term.

The picture below is the technology I needed, in 2005, to make my escape.  I didn't bring much with me to Europe, but one whole suitcase was filled with gadgets: a VoIP phone plan with a US and UK phone number from Lingo, a laptop, a scanner, and a printer (purchased locally of course).  If you position yourself properly politically, most people will have no idea that anything has changed.  This is one path toward FREEDOM!

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Posted by Mark Manney.

We are expats, travelers, and other misfits

It was October, 2011.  I hadn’t performed live for well over a year, and it was something I was deeply missing.  Having no band at the time, I spent a few months practicing my solo acoustic set and managed to book a gig in a café in Kosice.

Days before the gig, I came down with a severe cold.  The show should have been cancelled, but I was so excited and determined to get out there and perform again that I went ahead with it.  My vocal performance was truly terrible that evening…so awful that I drove away the 10 or so customers in the place.  Still I kept singing.

Toward the end of the performance, a group of 8 or 9 came in off the street and enthusiastically sat down at the table in front of me.  They seemed pleased as I went into a Bright Eyes cover and a few of them actually started to sing along to a song that I had assumed nobody in Slovakia knew.  Who were these people? 

Later they told me that they were a group of foreign students from Israel, the US, and the UK.  I talked with them and thanked them for coming, but I probably wasn’t as friendly as I should have been.

7 months later, Abscondo was a full band and we had our debut concert in Kosice.  At this concert was this same group of foreign students.  Despite my unimpressive solo performance, they came back for more!  And what did I do? I managed to offend and alienate a few of them by making a comment about religion between songs.  They actually told me that my comment bothered them.  Not great of me.  I failed to understand and respect my audience.  I alienated and divided them rather than bringing them together.

Looking back, I now realize is that this is my audience and these are my people.  We are all Abscondo.

Several months ago I met a lovely young lady who is an English teacher in Slovakia.  She was so enthusiastic about our music that she had the idea to arrange an “English night” at a local bar with Abscondo as the entertainment.  I realize now that she had hoped not just to see us perform, but to attract all of the expats, travelers, and other English-speaking misfits in the local area.  She wanted to meet these people and belong with these people.  I guess she understood our audience better than I did…up until now.

During our “English night” concert, I found out that it was also her birthday.  How absolutely flattering it was (and honoured we felt) that she was such a fan that she wanted us to perform at her birthday party!  She invited all of her friends.  While the club was small and the performance space less than ideal, I remember this as one of our best performances.  The energy was magical, the small audience was completely engaged, and everybody felt connected to the experience.  This is what a rock concert is all about.  We all shared the same feelings and we discussed the same ideas after the show.  We all wanted the same things in life and we understood each other.

You are my audience and you are the Abscondo band audience.  We are expats, travelers, foreign students, and other English-speaking misfits around the world. 

You are the people I will write for, podcast for, communicate with, think about, and perform for.  Whether on trains or planes, you are the people I end up talking with.  You are the people I understand and you understand me.  You are my people.

I became one of you when I fell in love with my wife, who is from Slovakia, all the way back in high school.  I travelled to Europe that first summer after high school and it changed me forever.  This experience, combined with my deep love for her, would mean that I would never again see the world as a “normal American” does. 

I had changed.  I remember having difficulty making friends in University.  I found the conversations and the interests of “normal Americans” uninteresting.  I didn’t understand the way they thought.  Then I met a group of international students.  For one beautiful year in Colorado Springs, my wife and I hung out with and partied with Magnus from Sweden, Enrique from Costa Rico, Kenai and Lukai from Thailand, Hedotoshi from Japan, and Natasha from Russia.  We went clubbing in Denver.  We went white-water rafting.  We hung out every weekend.  We helped each other.  We were true friends and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.  I realized that I had much more in common with this group of “internationally-minded” people than I had with “normal Americans”.  This is where I belonged.

What was obvious to me then, and what I still believe to this day, is that there is a relatively large group of people around the world who...because of our international relationships and rich experiences with travel and different cultures...we no longer fit into our own cultures.  We no longer think that the traditions, beliefs, cuisine, and customs of their own cultures are “inevitable”.  We understand that everything we think, do, and believe is a choice.  We live where we choose to.  We do for a living whatever we want to.  We eat whatever we enjoy.  We seek freedom, beauty, and experience.

My life is a clear example of this.  7 years ago I moved from Seattle to Slovakia.  I have not only made it work here, I have thrived here.  I have lived for short times in Cannes, Paris, and Barcelona.  I’ve travelled extensively around Europe.  During this time I started writing music, recording, and put together what I believe is a world-class rock band with an original sound.  Sometimes I eat Slovak food, but most of the time I eat (and cook) Thai, sushi, or Indian food.  I work the hours that I want to at home and communicate with colleagues who live in the UK and Canada.  I travel the world on business and earn a good living.  I have lived here with no material possessions for a few years and then later my wife and I purchased and finished a nice flat.  I have lived here for many years without children and now have a beautiful 3-year-old girl.  I have had good friends from the US and also have been very fortunate to know so many smart, interesting, and talented Slovaks.  Today I feel more integrated into Slovakia than I ever have been.  Yet I will never belong.  But I will never belong anywhere else either.  I know I’m not alone in this feeling.  I know there are people all around the world who feel exactly like me and I know that we are large in numbers.

We do try to get together.  We join Facebook groups.  We occasionally go to meet-ups.  But, in truth, we are quite disconnected.  Sometimes we feel lonely.  We feel like we don’t fit anywhere and probably never will.  This is what I would like to try to change.

I want Abscondo to become a movement for expats, travellers, and other misfits.  I want to perform for this audience in major cities around Europe.  I want to know you.  I want to make all of us feel more connected and I want us to feel that we are part of a growing, thriving community.  Ours are the values are most relevant in 2013 and it is we who will invent the future.

We need to connect.  We need to share ideas.  We need to help each other and rely on each other.  Yes, alone we are strong, smart, interesting, and experienced.  But together our potential is unlimited and we are unstoppable.

Going forward, the Abscondo project will be all about expats, travellers, foreign students, and other misfits.  If this is you, then the songs we are recording now are for you and I can’t wait to share them with you.  The lyrics are about your life, your feelings, your frustrations, and your victories.  I will immediately begin to organize concerts for you and your friends in Budapest, Prague, Krakow, Vienna, and eventually around Europe. 

This blog, the podcast, and everything I do will be for you.  You are my audience.  To “abscond” means to run away, often taking something or someone with you.  That’s exactly what this project has always been about, but I never fully realized it until now.

We are Abscondo.  We are expats, travelers, foreign students, English-speakers, and other misfits around the world.       

Posted by Mark Manney.

The downside

Over these past few years, the ideas discussed on this blog and on the podcast about absconding and authentic living have been at least somewhat consistent.  But these past few weeks, I've been visiting my family in the US and it occurred to me that I might have overlooked something quite important.

The overwhelming majority of people don't want to live a more authentic life.  They don't want to fully express and fully realize their uniqueness as individuals.  The fact is, we are more than just individuals...we are all members of various groups.  We are citizens of a country, members of a family, employees of a company, and residents of a community.  Conformity and belonging have very real advantages.  Expressing authenticity can sometimes be problematic because then it becomes difficult for a community of conformists to accept you. 

In this corporate, branded, personalized world, few people would openly admit that they are conformists.   Americans, for example, like to think of themselves as a culture of individualists.  This is true to the extent that Americans would rather do things for themselves than ask for help or work together.  But, when you consider ways of thinking, ideas, values, and beliefs, Americans are very conformist.  For the most part, people think and act in ways consistent with their culture, community, and groups.  People define themselves as members of a certain demographic, supporters of a specific political or religious movement, as fans of a specific type of content, or as residents of a specific neighborhood.  People define themselves by their career, level of education, the way they dress, or the car they drive.  None of this has anything to do with authentic living.  None of this has anything to do with fully expressing the unique genetic mutations we all are.  These are only ways of describing how you choose to conform. 

For most of my life, I have had deep problems with conformity and belonging.  But there are times when I look at how most people seem so good at belonging, how they seem to perfectly fit their positions in life, and sometimes I question my ideas about seeking and expressing uniqueness.  On the surface, everything seems easy when you fit-in.  People know exactly what to expect from you and they pretty much get it.  Most of us, from the earliest age, just want to be popular.  We just want to belong.

Perhaps if you are good at belonging and if you find it natural and easy, then this is the life path for you.  Who am I to say that you'd be happier, that your life would be richer, that you would realize the purpose and meaning of your life if you were to begin seeking a more authentic life?  This is not for me to say because maybe I'm different from you.

In my life, I have always found it possible, but extremely difficult, to belong.  I certainly know how to fit-in.  I absolutely believe in being appropriate in a setting or situation.  But, when I have any real choice  in the matter (my free time, etc.), I'd much rather be real, honest, and authentic.  Because I find it so difficult and unpleasant to be fake and conform, I'd just rather be myself to the extent that it is allowed.  If I'm judged harshly, shunned by a group, or lose a friend just for being myself and living according to what my experience and intuition tells me is right...then this is a price I'm willing to pay for the happiness and meaning I've found on this path of unique experience and self-discovery. But maybe you don't find it difficult to fit-in.  Maybe you get great joy from belonging, from being popular, and from being accepted by the the larger community. 

Everything I do as Abscondo is talking to just one part of you.  Maybe that part only exists in some of you or maybe everyone feels like I do to some extent...I don't know.  But I'm talking to that part of you that finds it hard to belong to a world that sometimes seems insane.  My thoughts and ideas have to do with that part of your soul that screams out in situations in which you are stifled by the crowd, limited by your family, judged by your friends, and questioned by society in general.  If this is how you sometimes feel, then I think you'll find some of what I'm saying interesting.

Posted by Mark Manney.

To Be Radical

What does it mean to be "radical" in 2012?  What can be done or said that in any way shakes up the status quo?  What can be considered new, thought-provoking, or life-transforming in an era where it is cool to be apathetic, cool to be insensitive and uncaring, and uncool to care about traditions or customs.  This is an era in which we are tolerant and appropriate to the point that everything is relative and nothing real can be said about anything.

We shut off thought and feeling as we accept a normal that offers nothing satisfying beyond the surface of things.  This surface society is producing only surface content.  Perfected imagery is offered instead of perfected ideas or deep truths in our video content.  Pitch-corrected vocals and computer-generated sounds are offered instead of heartfelt lyrics and unforgettable melodies in our music.  "Realistic" video games have replaced true adventure.  iPhones and Androids have replaced intellectual conversation. 

The way we dress has become far more important than anything we have to say.  The content of our character is overlooked as we attempt to categorize each other by our demographics, our ideologies, our age, our style, our neighborhoods, our cars, and our tastes.  While it is true that all of these things say something about us, what has become lost entirely is the "us" part of the equation.  Nobody sees each other as anything other than a projection of what they want to see, as defined by the norms and conventions of this surface society.

We have come to accept this surface society to the extreme and drastic extent that our feelings have become something irrelevant and inexpressible in the public realm.  Yet we are, after all, still human beings and so we fail, day after day, to shut off those feelings.  Oh we try, with our legal and illegal drugs, with our shopping, with our shallow content, with our meaningless sex, and with our meaningless drama in our meaningless relationships.  But every now and then a real, authentic feeling creeps up to the surface just to the point that it scares us.  Feelings...feelings that every human being has had throughout our ancient history...these simple feelings make us believe there is something wrong with us.  So we diagnose and treat these feelings as though they are diseases.

But there are still a few of us who actually allow ourselves to be human, to have real feelings, to have real ideas.  We know what it means to feel ourselves floating away from the normalcy that surrounds us.  It requires strength and courage to allow yourself to be different from the norm....to be radical!  To do this is to abscond

The abscondo philosophy has to do with encouraging people to be sensitive to themselves and others, to have and express real ideas that mean something, and to find the courage to float away from the normalcy of this surface society in order to find your authentic self.

What is radical in 2012 is to be sensitive and to have ideas.  What is radical in 2012 is to be authentic!  To seek a meaningful existence is the most radical thing that can be done in a surface society.

Posted by Mark Manney.