Finding Your Flow State

What’s one thing that all professional athletes, musicians, artists, writers, and anyone devoted to their craft have in common? They have all achieved a ‘flow state’, which is difficult to relate to unless you are fully immersed in terms of what you are pursuing and truly enjoy what you are doing. The flow state is elusive for most people because they either haven’t found their passion in life or haven’t put the time in yet to get better through consistent practice or play. The flow state is a higher state of being because for a point in time, your concentration is matched with your intensity producing a beautiful result.

When you can put other thoughts or other concerns out of your mind to focus on your craft regardless of what it is, you are utilizing your full potential and will be able to achieve a better result for yourself. To outside observers, the flow state looks nearly impossible to accomplish but when you are devoted to art, to music, to sports, or to writing, the final result is nearly guaranteed because you have put blood, sweat, and tears to produce something meaningful.

To me, the flow state is the most optimal state of mind that you can be in because it requires you to be at your best and to perform at the highest level. It’s requires being in a state of movement and using your body in some way to produce an action. You are putting your energy, your concentration, and your focus into a singular goal and it’s inspiring to those people who get to benefit in some way from what you were able to produce. It’s better to be a doer than to be an observer but it can inspire others to find their flow state when you see them do theirs and to do it extremely well.

For example, I was at a popular Jazz club in Mexico City recently and the headliner was a talented Danish guitarist along with a group of local musicians backing him up on the saxophone, the drums, and the Jazz bass. Every one of them was talented at what they do and were in sync generating a group kind of ‘flow state’ that is even more powerful. The thing with a good Jazz group is that you start to yourself get into the ‘flow’ of enjoying the music and moving your body to the rhythm as well.

As someone who played trumpet for 11 years straight and enjoyed the feeling of togetherness and comradery that playing in a Jazz Ensemble can bring, it is impressive to see a group working well together and nailing their parts to achieve their flow state together. To play a musical instrumently proficiently on your own is tough enough, but to work together with different musicians to produce a catchy tune without making any mistakes is as near to a modern-day miracle as it can get.

Musicians thrive off the energy and the drive of others as well as professional athletes and even politicians. It is much harder to achieve a flow state on your own in the solitude of one’s house especially if your craft requires some sort of public attention. Writers and artists tend to be more introverted on average and don’t need the attention of others to achieve an individual flow state. However, there’s something to be said for achieving a group flow state when you’re cheering on a ruthless dunk from a professional basketball player or listening intently in an arena to a Presidential candidate’s stump speech.

People want to believe in the achievements of others, and I know that we prefer to lift each other up rather than to tear each other down. While it’s beneficial to take part in watching other people reach and show off their flow state, you should be trying to find yours every day. You will get much more satisfaction out of life when you are in that mode where you are merging with your craft whether that’s art, music, writing, sports, etc. While it’s fun to cheer others on and take part in their joy, you should always be trying to create a little bit of your own.

Intense concentration and effort is not easy to achieve, but it is extremely rewarding to put your worries and anxieties aside to focus on a singular goal that you want to achieve. It may take hours, days, weeks, months, and even years to get to where you want to be but there is joy to be found in putting away all distractions and devoting yourself to a craft that you enjoy and are able to put serious time into. Our individual potential will not be able to be achieved unless we are able to reach a flow state relating to a kind of creative or intuitive pursuit.

Do your best to try different activities out and see what you like. If you find an activity or an interest you enjoy, continue to add more time to it and you should start to see results. Don’t start to look for monetary rewards or personal fame to keep you going with this pursuit but you should be doing it for yourself primarily and for your desire to reach that state of flow where you can fully immerse yourself in the activity whatever it may be.

You should find happiness and joy in what you do and become the best that you can be at it. If you can enjoy the activity, you’ll eventually find your ‘flow’ with it and be able to do it effortlessly. While you will have a lot of frustration and stress with practicing and doing the activity, if you like it and find it worthwhile, you won’t mind the downsides when the upsides can produce such an intense ‘flow’ where you are in the zone and are able to produce a beautiful result that others will appreciate. Being able to inspire others to reach their own ‘flow state’ creates its own ripple effect allowing our society to become more creative, intuitive, and productive as a result.

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Why You Should Learn to Cook in Your 20’s

You’ve got the good job. You live in a nice apartment. You are able to move out of your parents’ house. You’re lucky enough to consider yourself to be pretty independent and self-sufficient in your 20’s, which isn’t so easy to come by these days. However, have you learned how to cook? Can you feed yourself without needing to go to a restaurant or to order from Domino’s?

I consider that being able to learn how to cook is one of the most important skills any young adult should have a good proficiency in by the time they turn 30. You don’t need to be on the level of Anthony Bourdain or Emeril Lagasse but you should be able to know a decent amount of recipes and be able to cook yourself a couple of homemade meals each week. There are a number of good reasons as to why it’s important to learn how to cook in your 20’s and I’ll cover a few of them in this post.

1.) You’ll save money.

Regardless of where you’re living in the world, it’s often the case that buying groceries from the local market or supermarket and cooking meals for yourself will be less expensive than going out to eat for lunch or dinner or even both meals. The costs really add up after a while from eating out all of the time or from ordering a lot of meals to be delivered to your door. In your 20’s, many people are trying to save up money for graduate school, or to buy a car or to lease an apartment so if you’re able to buy food for yourself and then cook it, you’re way ahead of the game and you’ll probably save a good amount of money each month. Any kind of savings that you can create in your 20’s will make a sizable impact down the road and cooking your own meals is one of the best ways to have a positive impact on your personal budget each month.

2.) It’s healthier for you.

Let’s be honest: ordering out or eating out at a restaurant are not the healthiest options to do repeatedly. While there are healthy options out there, they are usually the exception and not the rule. Eating a takeout pizza with extra cheese from Domino’s is simply not as preparing a fresh salad from scratch for your dinner. Unless you go to a higher-end restaurant, a lot of restaurants these days use a lot of sugar, salt, or other preservatives that can lead you to put on some extra weight if you’re not careful. Knowing how to cook forces you to create your own daily diet without having any outside influence. You’ll be more responsible for your intake of different foods and learning how to properly balance your diet with fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, meats, etc. This is a skill that is better to be learned in your 20’s so that it can be a healthy habit that can stay with you for the rest of your life. You’re making a conscious choice every time you prepare and cook your own food and that’s a great skill to have.

3.) You’ll become more independent and self-reliant.

Being comfortable with your cooking skills and knowing that you’ll never go hungry or rely on others to cook your food is a great thing for your self-esteem. The confidence that you’ll gain as you get better at cooking is something that can transfer over to your parts of your life. It’s a skill that you can share with other people whether it’s your friends, your parents or other members of your family. A lot of your 20’s is learning how to function as an individual who is independent from other people and one of the best ways to do that is to learn how to cook a good meal. It may take time and a lot of effort but the rewards will be ever present throughout your life. You can make other people in your life happier and healthier by cooking for them and they’ll appreciate the fact that you can take care of yourself in the kitchen.

4.) It’s easier now than ever.

With modern technology like the stove, the gas oven, and the many utensils and kitchenware you can buy for pretty cheap, learning how to cook is easier now than ever. In addition, any aspiring cook has the entirety of the Internet at their disposal. Whether it’s learning the basics for the first time or trying out a new recipe, there is a limitless amount of information out there that can help you achieve your cooking goals. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube that can walk you through a recipe step by step and there are thousands of unique recipes that you can look up on a moment’s notice through Google that can make cooking more fun and creative.

Centuries ago, cooking food was much more of a daily ordeal with the average meal taking a full day to prepare but due to the advent of modern technology, it really is easier now than ever. For example, I learned of a website recently called Blue Apron, which actually delivers all of the fresh ingredients for the different recipes you want to make without you leaving your apartment or house to scavenge for the ingredients at the local market. There are also a number of companies out there such as Whole Foods that can deliver all of your groceries to your door making it even easier and more cost effective to cook your own meals.

5.) It makes you more creative.

With thousands of recipes to choose from and with different ingredients to mix and match with your favorite foods, cooking is really an art just like painting or music. You can experiment as much as you want and really tailor your meal to your own preferences. When you order food at a restaurant, it’s really up to the chef’s own taste on how he puts your meal together. When you cook for yourself, you’re giving back control to yourself. You can work with your hands and you can slice and dice as you please.

While you may struggle at first with getting the recipes down to a science, you’ll keep getting better and better the more you practice and that’s what makes it so fun. Even if you burn the chicken or undercook the spaghetti, you can learn from your mistakes and know what to do better the next time. Cooking is a skill that really utilizes both your mind and your body. While it takes a lot of effort and time to master, the results are often delicious.

Put away the Chinese takeout menu, and put that apron on. It’s time to take these reasons into consideration as you begin your cooking career. Even if you’re a single guy or gal living in the heart of the city with restaurants abound, you should still give yourself the joy of cooking. You’ll thank yourself later when you have a wife or children to cook for at home and you can put together a meal that’s more than just scrambled eggs or spaghetti. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make myself dinner.

El Clasico Paisa

A packed stadium filled with 40,000+ screaming and diehard fans imbued with a fiery passion that is seldom seen in most sporting events around the world. No, my friends, this is a special event and one that deserves the rare title of a ‘clasico’ or classic in English. However, this isn’t your ordinary clasico or derby. This isn’t Manchester United v. Manchester City or FC Barcelona v. Real Madrid. This is the Medellin derby or ‘El Clasico Paisa’, an affair that has been raging for almost seventy years. They share the same stadium and play in the same national league. Their fans come from the same city and live in the same neighborhoods.

However, when it’s ‘clasico day’ in Medellin, the differences between the two local teams could not be starker. It’s blue and red v. green and white, history / traditions v. championship / past glories. This rivalry is more than just about football. It’s about your allegiance to a team, to its’ players, to its’ customs, and to its’ culture. ‘El Clasico Paisa’ is the long-standing rivalry between the teams of Independiente Medellin and Atletico Nacional. It’s the most important derby in all of Colombia and all of South America from its’ prior reputation.

Its’ one of the biggest rivalries in all of FIFA and I was lucky enough to witness this ‘clasico’ this past Sunday. Bragging rights are on the line whenever these two teams face off. They face each other a couple of times per season in the ‘Liga Aguila’, Colombia’s national league, because they are usually both very successful and find themselves ranked in the Categoria Primera A. Having won multiple championships in the past and most recently the famed ‘Copa Libertadores’ which is the South American edition of the UEFA Champions League, Atletico Nacional are the favorites of Colombian football these days.

Having watched a few of Nacional’s matches and having been a fan of their players and their uniforms, I learned about the upcoming derby about a week before kickoff time. Unfortunately, I did not strike when the iron was hot so I left my chances of getting a ticket up until the day of the match. Luckily, in Colombia, you can scalp tickets up until a few hours from local sellers at the Stadium. While the prices are marked up a bit, I found the one I haggled for to be fair and decided to go through with my purchase. During my time of living in Colombia, I wanted to make sure that I got to see a few matches especially given how huge the sport is here in South America.

The vibe and atmosphere in the Atanasio Girardot stadium before kickoff was simply electric and you could feel the sheer energy pulsating throughout the crowd. It was so filled to capacity that it was standing room only for the entire match. Luckily, I had a good vantage point of the entire field from about five rows up in the upper deck and was located near the exit in case the fans near me got out of control. From the opening minute to the last whistle blown, Fans on both sides chanted their teams’ songs, unfurled huge banners of support, waved flags, and cheered their heroes on until their voices were hoarse.

Despite being a supporter of Atletico Nacional, the ticket I bought last minute from a street vendor was located in the heart of the Independiente Medellin section. While I was uncomfortable with this arrangement at first given that I wanted Nacional to win the ‘clasico’, I have to give credit to the Medellin fans that were outnumbered by a count of 2:1 inside the stadium. They were loud, confident, and didn’t give into doubt or disappointment even when Nacional scored upon their team around the 65th minute making it an eventual 1-0 Nacional victory.

Win or loss, Independiente Medellin fans are still behind their players 100%. This loyalty to the team goes back over a hundred years when they were founded in 1912. While they have history on their side, Medellin does not have the more recent success or amount of championships that Atletico Nacional has accumulated in recent years. With the recent victory over Independiente del Valle in the 2016 Copa Libertadores, Atletico Nacional is the team to beat in the Liga Aguila in Colombia. Historically, in the ‘El Clasico Paisa’, Atletico Nacional has played Independiente Medellin 291 times with Nacional winning 119 matches to Medellin’s 92 matches.

They have ended in a draw 80 times total. Interestingly enough, the Copa Colombia has been played 16 times between both teams with Medellin having an advantage in this category with seven wins to Nacional’s five wins. Part of what makes this ‘clasico’ special is that both teams have a history that goes back almost seventy years. They are two of the most prominent and well-known football clubs in Colombia with a rivalry that is unmatched in South America.

Having been to football matches in both Germany and Turkey where the atmosphere was enjoyable, seeing a match here in Medellin was on another level. The passion of the fans was the craziest I have ever seen and they truly live through their team’s successes and failures. Unfortunately, certain fans take the results of the ‘clasico’ matches too seriously and there have been a few sad deaths and injuries that have taken place.

Luckily, both sides were not too hostile to each other during the most recent ‘clasico’ that I attended. They were shouts, curses, and a few bad fingers raised towards either side but nothing that escalated into all-out brawling and hooliganism. I had never seen that large of a police force at a football match before but the local police take it very seriously given what’s occurred in the past. There were also riot police present in full tactical gear but I don’t believe any tear gas was fired and everybody went home safely including myself after the match had concluded.

While I was happy that Atletico Nacional won 1-0, I had bonded during the match with the Medellin fans and enjoyed cheering, chanting, and jumping up and down with them. They are a passionate lot and they are all diehard fans. I hope to attend another ‘clasico’ soon where I can wear my green and white jersey and cheer on my Nacional in their fan section. When you’re in the opposing team’s fan section and your wearing the other team’s colors, it’s always a bad idea and trouble may find you whether you like it or not. Before the ‘clasico’, I was smart enough to wear a neutral grey shirt and jeans because I wasn’t sure in which section of the stadium my seat would be. It is a very lucky thing indeed that I didn’t wear my Nacional jersey in the Medellin fan section or otherwise I might not be writing this blog post about the ‘clasico’ today.

All kidding aside, while the football match wasn’t the best or most exciting I’ve ever seen played before, the atmosphere was incredible and it was the most-lively match from the fans’ perspective that I’ve ever witnessed. It truly was a sight to behold with both sides yelling, screaming, jumping, and dancing in the hopes that their team might end up on the winning side. I can understand now why South America is such a football hub. It is the number one sport and sometimes the only sport that matters to its’ fans. If you’re ever in Colombia or specifically in Medellin, I suggest you buy a ticket and go see ‘El Clasico Paisa.’ I promise that you won’t regret this amazing experience but make sure to wear neutral clothes because you never know which fan section you’ll be seated in.

For The Love of The Game

Atletico Nacional
Atletico Nacional: Copa de Libertadores Champions. I can truly say that I’m jumping on the winning bandwagon with this team from Medellin.

One of the best things about living in a foreign country is exploring and becoming immersed in the local sports scene. When you’re living outside the U.S., a different kind of football takes precedence over all of the sports combined. Football, in most countries, is the national sport and one in which kids from an early age learn to play and master over the years. Whether its’ a city street, a dirt field, or turf glass, football is an adaptable sport to any kind of climate which is why its’ such a famed world sport.

Before I started my travels, I looked upon football (soccer) as not that exciting and didn’t understand why it was so beloved. I didn’t like how there wasn’t that much scoring and didn’t appreciate how much skill and technique is needed in order to be successful. Football is like a fine wine that you grow to appreciate the more you learn about it. It’s a unique sport that caters both to the individual and the team too. You can play it anywhere and with anyone. Now, that I’m in my mid-20’s, I can say with a growing confidence how much I appreciate the ‘beautiful game for what it is.

The more I have traveled, the more I have witnessed the absolute love and passion that football fans have for their teams. Growing up in New York, I was a big fan of the New York Yankees and the New York Jets but it doesn’t really compare to the fanatics and supporters who back their football clubs up whether they win or lose. When I lived in Istanbul, Turkey, I saw this passion firsthand as celebrations or riots would occur whether or not the three big teams of Galatasaray, Besiktas, and Fenerbahce would win or lose. Fans of any of these local teams would light flares in the stadiums, parade through the streets, and fill the local bars up to capacity. There are few things in life that get people as emotional as the result of a football match. You have to be careful if you catch yourself in the wrong part of the city if you have your favorite team’s jersey on but they don’t support that team in that neighborhood.

I’ll never forget when thousands of Fenerbahce fans would crowd the streets of Kadikoy to celebrate their win over Besiktas. They sang team songs, lit flares up, and you could barely move through the streets. I, as a disgruntled Besiktas fan, realized just how outnumbered I was so I was forced to hide my dismay after the team had lost in a crushing defeat. There were also happier teams as an adopted Besiktas fan back in 2012 when I was studying abroad in Istanbul at the time. I remember counting down to the start of my first Besiktas match with thousands of other supporters as we jumped up and down to sing songs in support of our boys in black and white.

It’s truly a special experience when you go to a sporting event in a foreign country. I tend to find that football matches like the ones I experienced in Turkey had very passionate fans that made quite an event out of each and every game. While sporting events in the U.S. are quite fun and enjoyable in their own right, they are much more reserved than what I’ve seen from my experiences in Turkey and Colombia. A recent sports triumph that happened here in Medellin has helped make that even more true in my opinion.

Last Wednesday night, the popular and beloved Atletico Nacional team of Medellin triumphed over the Independiente del Valle FC of Quito, Ecuador to win the famed Copa de Libertadores trophy. For those of you who don’t know, the Copa de Libertadores is the South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League where the best teams of the continent from Argentina to Paraguay battle it out over the course of many months to decide which team is the best in all of South America. It’s an intense tournament with a lot of talented teams. There are a lot of matches to play and a lot of travel involved. Its’ so difficult to win this championship that only two teams from Colombia have ever emerged victorious.

Atletico Nacional won the first championship for a Colombian club, in 1989, and Once Caldas of Manizales earned the second championship more recently in 2004. You could argue, in fact, that the Copa de Libertadores is more competitive than the UEFA Champions League of Europe given that twenty-five different teams from South America have won the title making it a more balanced and fair. There are heavyweight teams like Boca Juniors of Argentina and Santos of Brazil but there have been many underdogs who have emerged victorious in their quest of the trophy over the Copa’s history of competition.

I was lucky enough to be at a bar on the recent night when Atletico Nacional won their 2nd Copa de Libertadores title in their team history. It took them 27 years to become champions of South American club football and the excitement was palpable. A new and younger generation of devoted fans has emerged here in Medellin, and has never tasted a Copa win before. The city was on edge before the match but there was a sense of destiny with fans of all ages and backgrounds sporting the green and white of Atletico Nacional.

Taxis were hoisting the team’s flag all over the city, vendors were selling jerseys everywhere, and bars were decorating their establishments with green and white balloons. If you were a recent visitor to Medellin, you would think that there is only one football team in the city, and not two (Independiente Medellin is the other football team here with red and blue colors.) It was a special setup for a memorable match. Atletico Nacional had tied Independiente del Valle in Quito with a score of 1-1 so all they needed to do was come out with a simple victory at home now.

Due to an early and beautiful goal by forward Miguel Borja, the apprehension quickly turned to celebration for fans of Atletico Nacional all around the world. Fans still had to draw their breath after another 90 minutes of tension but Atletico Nacional were poised and determined to come out on top as champions. Atletico Nacional were victorious at 1-0 and when the final whistle blew, all of Medellin erupted in cheers, dancing, singing, and drinking.

Never in my life had I seen a city so joyous in the aftermath of victory. Cars were honking, fireworks were exploding all over, and huge crowds had formed in the streets to celebrate. Luckily, everything was peaceful here in Medellin during the night. Avenida 70, where a lot of bars and clubs were located, were so crowded that it took me an hour to get home because taxis couldn’t get through the streets. It was a wild and uproarious night and one that won’t soon be forgotten in the Colombian sports history books.

As a foreigner living here, it was pretty amazing to see the passion and the joy on the faces of the fans. If I had to compare it to a U.S. sports celebration, it would most closely resemble the Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series after an 86-year drought. The celebrations here were that intense and extensive. The school where I’m teaching here in Medellin opened its doors a few hours later than normal so that students could get some rest (or the teachers themselves.) In Turkey and now Colombia, I’ve seen the love that millions of people have for the real football. It is truly ‘the beautiful game.’