35 Life Lessons I Learned before Turning 35

Life Lessons by Rob Pollak

1. There’s no cure for a hangover, but good Lo Mein comes damn close.

A drawing by Rob Pollak - How to cure a hangover:  Lo Mein

2. There are three things that are always worth the money: International travel, excellent food, and Blu Rays.

3. When you make a list of thirty-five things, don’t number the items until you’ve finished the whole list. That way, when you’re editing your list and realize number three is stupid, you don’t have to make up some ridiculous lesson to avoid renumbering the whole thing.

4. No matter how much your parents annoy you, piss you off, yell at you, or tell you that you need to wait before hitting your driver (even though the group in front of you is 400 yards away), they do it because they love you and want the best for you. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but it’s true. Take a step back to see things from their perspective. It may help you appreciate why they do all that annoying shit.

5. When you get good service, tip more than expected. The few extra dollars won’t kill you and will mean a lot to the person who provided the excellent service.

6. Stop being scared. If there’s something you want to do but aren’t doing because you’re scared, suck it up and do it. The only things in life to truly fear are (a) stepping in dog shit, and (b) asking the one question that makes a public speaker take back the claim that “there’s no such thing as a dumb question.”

7. When you find a blog you like (like this one) go out of your way to tell the person (genius) that writes it (me) how great (best thing in the entire world) it is. Share the content with your closest friends (the whole world). You may think you’re being stalkerish (you probably are) by reading something that you think isn’t aimed at you (it probably wasn’t). But if someone took the time to create something and put it on the web, it’s because that person is an attention whore (and he will be happy to hear from you regardless of his initial intent). And attention whores crave lots of attention (from anyone). To be helpful, I drafted a template for you in case you decide to follow my advice:

Dear [ROB],
I know we last spoke at Hebrew camp in 1991, but I have been enjoying your blog since we reconnected when you spammed my facebook page. I especially liked your post about when lawyers can go home. You have an excellent command of logic and the handwriting of an armless nine-year-old blind child. I wish there were more people like you in the world. You also look trimmer than you did when you were 13. Well done! How did you manage to trick a beautiful intelligent woman into marrying you? I never would have expected that from you. I remember a time when you refused to play on the skins team in a shirts vs skins basketball game. Boy were you fat. I wish you well in the future. Here’s a few dollars. Buy yourself something nice. I learned about the importance of tipping from your blog.
Love,
[Mom]

8. Don’t believe anything the Mayans say. They keep predicting the end of the world, but they never get it right. I wish they would just go away already.

9. Anything that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler do together is funny. Women are funny. Deal with it old men. Here’s my favorite:

10. Three things that are never worth it: (a) Holding grudges, (b) extended warranties, and (c) super-sizing your meal.

11. Nothing good ever comes from drinking a beverage with an ä in its name.

A drawing by Rob Pollak

12. Don’t be scared to request the vacation time you’re entitled to at work. Other people will tell you the “right way to go about vacation time.” Those people are assholes. If you’re in a job that doesn’t let you go on vacation, that job is stupid and you’ll burn yourself out. Vacation refreshes you to go back and do a good job. At least for the first 3-4 hours after it ends. Then you need another vacation on the books so you have something to look forward to.

13. Coleslaw is disgusting. Mistrust anyone who likes it. Unless it’s vinegar-based and atop a pulled pork sandwich. Then it’s majestic.

14. Be wary of anyone who likes some combination of the following teams: Lakers, Cowboys, Yankees, and Notre Dame.

15. Stop hating the foods you’ve hated since you were a kid. You might surprise yourself and find out that brussel sprouts are really good now. Most restaurants put bacon in them.

16. After two weeks of pure torture, exercise becomes amazing. If you don’t exercise now, commit for two weeks. Suck it up. Force yourself to do it. Whatever it takes. If at the end of two weeks, you don’t feel the pull to keep it up, then you can stop. But after one day of stopping, at least try to force yourself to do another two weeks. Keep repeating this until you realize how amazing you feel. If you don’t feel amazing after three tries, then stop eating all that fast food, idiot.

17. If you want to be a news anchor, realize that you have to spend years and years reporting from the coastline during natural disasters. Ask yourself: is it worth it?

18. Never set out to make a list of 35 things without thinking it through first. Thirty five is a lot. Even more than you think. By the time you get half way, you’ll probably regret your decision.

19. Have you ever seen a piece of fruit the color of a Maraschino cherry? That’s why you shouldn’t eat them.

20. Have you ever eaten a Maraschino cherry? They’re amazing. Sometimes just trust your instincts even though you know the consequences.

The Maraschino Cherry - Life Lessons by Rob Pollak

21. The Cosby Show holds up better than Seinfeld.

22. Proofread everything on more time than you think you have too.

23. If you do anything because you want other people to think you’re cool, stop doing that thing. That makes you a poser. Do things because you like to do them. That makes you interesting and awesome.

24. Trust your own taste in music, movies, and beer. Even though people will make fun of you for liking 4 non blondes, you still know What’s Up.

25. Resist the urge to Google the answer to every question. Yes, there is an objective answer to the question on Google, but sometimes it’s more fun to just see how it plays out. I know this because I always Google, and everyone hates me.

26. Say “yes” to pretty much any request, especially when it’s something easy like seeing a movie, attending a wedding, or supporting a friend. Your friends will appreciate you, your life experience will increase, and your comfort zone will continue to expand.

27. Make a prank call at least once a year.

A drawing by Rob Pollak

27a.  If you are the recipient of a prank call, laugh it off. No one likes the guy who thinks he’s above a little humor:

28. If a particular food gives you diarrhea, don’t ever eat that food again. No matter how good it tastes (the food, not the diarrhea).

29. Always give directions to those who ask or who look like they might need directions. If you have a few extra minutes, walk them to the destination and pretend you’re a college tour guide.

30. Try meditation. I thought it was stupid for the longest time. It can do amazing things if you give it a chance. If you think it’s stupid, you probably don’t know what it is. It can have nothing to do with religion or spirituality if that’s what you’re scared of.

31. People older than you don’t have it all figured out. They may speak with authority, but they mostly make it up just like you do. Most of them are full of shit. That said, listen to their advice. There’s a lot of wisdom in that shit.

32. The following things are fake: (a) emails from Nigerian princes, (b) the four hour work week, (c) Lance Armstrong, and (d) those funny autocorrects you read about on the internet.

A drawing by Rob Pollak

33. Ignore the instructions on everything except crazy glue, hot sauce, and power tools.

34. If you can run three miles, you can run six miles. You may not think you can, and it may be painful and miserable, but you can 100 percent do it.

35. No matter how wise it seems, don’t trust any advice you get from the Internet.

(Note – This also appears on Elephant Journal.  If you made it all the way down here, you might as well click this link and then follow me on Facebook!)

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Meditation: I Think I’m Doing It Wrong

(This also appears on the Elephant Journal.  Click through if you really love me)

My legs are shaking uncontrollably, but I can’t focus on the discomfort because my mind keeps jumping from topic to topic:

“Shit, I need an accountant to figure out my taxes”
“Wait, where did I park the car?”
“It’s cold out. I don’t want to go back out there”
“I need to write more or I’ll lose all my readers”
“Anna Kendrick is so hot”
“I should write more”
“Why do I suck at finishing things.”
“Breathe in.”
“Ahhhhh. I feel amazing.”
“Shit. I really need to contact that accountant.”
“I suck at this.”
“ARGHHHHHHHHH.”
“I should write a blog post about how I suck at meditation   I can start it by saying, ‘My legs are shaking uncontrollably, but I can’t focus on the discomfort…'”
“Nah.  That’s stupid.”
“Think about your breath, asshole.”

Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize it from my description, but, apparently this is ‘meditation.’

A cartoon chart explaining how to meditate - By Rob Pollak

Just the thought of meditation used to make me vomit, a reaction born out of deep genetic coding.  Imagine for a second that Oprah’s spirit animal married Larry David’s.  Actually, you don’t have to imagine it because those two beings did reproduce, and the result was me.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s a brief profile sketch of my parents:

Mom:  Doesn’t eat gluten or sugar.
Dad:  In recognition of his dedicated patronage, was once gifted a stool from a hot dog joint called “Swanky Franks.”

Mom:  Believes in and is devoted to a higher being.
Dad:  Calls me immediately after natural disasters and mass shootings to remind me that they “explicitly prove the non-existence of god.”  Also frequently quotes Christopher Hitchens.

Mom:  Calls everything good that happens “a sign.”
Dad:  Doesn’t think anything good ever happens.

Mom:  Trusts that when God closes a door, he opens a window.
Dad:  Closes the door himself, then checks the lock fifteen times – just to make sure –  before he can go to bed.

Mom:  Is an artist.
Dad:  Thought the movie the Artist could have used a few more words.

Mom:  Sent me on a yoga retreat for my birthday last year
Dad:  Calls me “yoga boy” in a mocking tone.

What does this have to do with meditation?  Well, to this point, not much.  But maybe it helps to explain where I’m coming from and why I have so resisted meditation.

To me, meditation doesn’t represent a time to contemplate and cleanse the mind.  Rather, it represents a choice between (a) facing the judgment of my father and (b) immediately turning into my mother.  Yes, that’s an irrational and self-created decision.  But it’s one that paralyzes me and has led me to recruit an army of therapists who will now be able to drive Jaguars for years to come.

How I meditate - a cartoon drawing by Rob Pollak

But let me back up.

I was first introduced to meditation during yoga classes when teachers would discuss the benefits and invite the class to join a guided practice.  Upon hearing the word – that terrifying, icky word – a flood of anxiety rushed through me.  “Ew!  Meditation.  Bleck.  No thank you.  Ercnhr.  I’d rather not.”  A moment later, the teacher would instruct us to close our eyes and to start paying attention to the breath.  I would comply while patiently waiting for the meditation to start, so I could internally criticize the stupidity of it.

As I waited – eyes closed and mind focused on the breath – I’d start to calm down while I imagined the judgment I would unleash when the meditation started.

You know, meditation, right?  Contemplating your existence while subconsciously being forced to join a cult.

There would be gongs and Buddhists, incense and butterflies, spiritual awakenings and a mass Ebay sale of my favorite technological gadgets.  It starts with one meditation, then before you know it.  Boom. I’m in Tibet eating meals of broth after a quick prayer only to  resurface a few years later on the  front page New York Times, where there’d be an article about either (a) my peaceful protest to save the birch tree, or (b) a mass cult suicide commemorating the latest last day of the Mayan calendar.

That’s what I would think about while I waited for the teacher to begin the meditation.  All the while preparing to pounce with an air of judgmental superiority once we started.

But a funny thing happened.  It never started.  Not once.  The teachers would just ramble on about how we were supposed to focus on our breath.  So I would do it.  Eventually, for like one-tenth of a second, the craziness would be gone.  I’d be thinking about only my breath, and it would actually feel nice.

And just as I was on the verge of connecting with myself, the teacher would snatch me away from my mind and start class.  For the next hour, I had no choice but to think about my breath because if I did otherwise, I would fall down, hurt myself, and probably die.  At the end of class, when my mind slowly returned to thinking about all the nuisances and annoyances in my life, I’d feel more calm about them because I’d had a brief respite during class.

My mind was blown when I recently stumbled upon an article explaining meditation, which basically boils meditation down to focusing on the breath and trying to clear your mind.  In other words, sort of, kind of, exactly what I had been doing.

After an initial panic, I realized that I still regular binge eat gluten and sugar and I only check the lock on the door 10 times before going to sleep.  Meditation hadn’t led to all the things I feared, it just made me feel a little bit better.

And that’s one of the unspoken secrets about yoga and meditation   No one can tell you when you’re ready to try it, but eventually you figure it out on your own.

At first, you think that everyone else has it figured out, that you’re the only fuck up who can’t get his mind quiet when he closes his eyes.  Perhaps that’s true in Tibet.  But at your yoga studio, in your apartment, in your mind, it’s probably not.

We’re all head cases in our own way.  I know because one time I opened my eyes (my dad side) and looked around the room and I made accidental eye contact with three other people doing the same thing.  We all quickly shut our eyes and pretended it didn’t happen.  But it happened.

I know it, you know it, Tibet knows it, and my mom probably heard about it from god.

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The 9 Rules Every Yoga Teacher Should Follow

The 9 rules every yoga teacher should follow by Rob Pollak - Tips for yoga teachers and instructors

Nine simple things that every yoga teacher can do to make class a little bit more awesome.

Rule 1: Pay Attention to me!

Most yoga teachers really like yoga and also happen to be very good at it. These traits, however, do not mean that I’m taking your class to watch you be awesome. If that’s what I was seeking, I’d flip on your youtube channel. Please don’t forget the real, live, disgustingly sweaty people right there behind you. So, goddamnit, pay attention to us!

The best teachers strike a balance between showing off their mad skills and watching students struggle to get the little things right. They use their strength and ability to demonstrate or highlight certain aspects of a pose rather than to show off a one-handed side crow headstand that they’ve been working on in their Super-level 8 goddess class.

If I leave class thinking, “Wow, that teacher was sooo good at yoga,” then something went horribly wrong. I should walk by the treadmills on my way out of the gym thinking, “Wow, I am freaking awesome at yoga. Suck it, runners!”

A Yoga drawing by rob pollak - 9 rules every yoga teacher should follow

Rule 2: Introduce yourself to your students:

Loyal readers of mine will remember that I’m working on introducing myself. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t introduce yourself to me first.

All it takes is a one second conversation in which the teacher comes over and says, “Hey, I’m [insert hippie name]. Have you done yoga before? Any questions? Namaste, bro.” Boom – Instant openness and camaraderie.

However, since we’re preaching mindfulness here, just remember to be mindful of your junk:

Rules every yoga teacher should follow - Rule 2 Introduce yourself.  Tips for yoga teachers by Rob Pollak

3. Ignore Anything You Weren’t Supposed to See.

Look, things happen in yoga classes. Like the time I saw the entire left ball of the guy practicing next to me. Or how every time I jump from a standing fold into a push up, my shirt flies up a little bit, exposing the lower portion of my back (aka the upper portion of my ass). Look, I realize that the teacher is going to see everything that’s going on down there. Maybe he or she will even give it a once or twice over to size me up. Totally cool. There’s just no need to draw attention to the fact that I’ve got a little hair down there. Or that my love handles make twisting poses slightly more difficult.

How about we just agree to keep a few things between us?

In other words, maybe the moment my naked back and partially naked ass are exposed is not the best time for you to do that adjustment. You know the one. It’s when you grab my hips and pull them back or rest your hand on the sweaty small of my back and push with all your might. Yeah, save that for my first down dog. Just before the sweating starts.

I suspect we’ll both be happy with that agreement.

Tips for yoga teachers - Ignore anything you shouldn't see - a drawing by Rob Pollak

4. If you’re gonna Om, Om loudly.

At first, I admittedly did not like chanting “om.” Now, I can tolerate it. Maybe sometimes it’s kind of nice. Oh whatever. You caught me. I like it. So what. This isn’t the place for judgment.

Listen up, teachers: If you’re going to start with an Om, then do so with gusto-mmmm. Trust me, the class will follow your lead. But if you are timid and mousy with your om, then guess what? Your class will be quiet and timid and self-conscious when they holla’ back.

Also — and this is admittedly quite selfish of me — I’m 100 percent tone-deaf, so if you say it loud and say it proud, then I can join in without others noticing that I am the discordant MF’er ruining spiritual bliss.

Tips for yoga teachers - don't acknowledge tone deaf people during Om.  A drawing by Rob Pollak

5. Remember my name and use it.

We’ve already agreed that introductions are key. Well, that’s the easy part. The hard part is remembering those names and then using them throughout class. A deftly timed “Nice job, Bikram,” or “Sweet crow, Baba,” or “Pull your hips back, Tara” really pulls those people into the class.

But surprisingly, even when the teacher refers to someone else by name, I find that I try harder.

I’m all, “I want that too.” “Hey look at me!” “Don’t you think my crow is good?” “I’m trying so hard over here, you guys!”

Even a “whoa, looking a little sweaty, Rob” wins me over. Or, if you want to ignore rule 3, I’ll even take an “I can see a little bit of your ass crack, Rob. Pull up your pants, you disgusting slob.”

Tips for yoga teachers - Remember my name and I'm yours forever - a drawing by Rob Pollak

6. Go easy on the Rumi, okay?

Oh wow, you studied at an Ashram in India! And then you memorized all of Rumi’s quotes? You don’t say! That’s amazing!!! Sincerely.

But you know who doesn’t even know what an Ashram is? Guess who never took English 101 in college and doesn’t understand “quotes”? Oh yeah, that’s right! This guy.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up on Rumi altogether. What it means is that you should feel free to explain things to me. Even the stuff that seem painfully obvious. Because when you say a quote and then say, “well that speaks for itself,” what I’m thinking is “No. That doesn’t speak for itself. I hate this stupid class. I don’t get it. Wah wah wah poor me.”

While I’m thinking that, I’m sitting there nodding my head pretending to look like I have the slightest clue what you’re saying. Then I start thinking, “Damn, I bet she smoked a tonnnnn of a pot in college. That’s so hot.”

Tips for yoga instructors - keep the lessons simple, especially the rumi. A drawing by Rob Pollak

7. Come On, Speak English.

For the first three months I practiced yoga, I mistakenly thought every Sanskrit word meant Savasana. For any non-yoga people reading this, Savasana is a made up word that literally translates to “lie on the floor while thinking about everything you were supposed to do today but didn’t.”

Yoga teachers of America, you know how to fix that problem? Just speak English. We all understand English (except the Latvian woman who sometimes comes to that Vinyasa flow class on Wednesdays), so everyone will be on the same page when you say “Do crow.”

An added benefit: You may avoid that tattoo in Sanskrit. The one you think means, “Peaceful Warrior” but actually means, “judgmental douchebag” Oops!

Tip number 7 for yoga teachers, sanskrit cartoon by rob pollak

8. Be Considerate of Your Diverse Class When Giving Instructions.

So what if your class is usually all hot limber women? I’m here now, and I’d like to feel welcome, too! In order to make everyone feel at home, yoga teachers should give instructions that are mindful of the entirety of the class, not its largest component.

So no more “put this block under your bra strap,” or “you should feel a good stretch in your vagina.”

The bra strap is not an okay reference point - Rules for yoga teachers - a drawing by Rob Pollak

9. Make Class Fun!

This goes without saying, but if I’m having fun, I’m not thinking about how much I hate the teacher for all of the horrible painful things she’s making me do. So make it fun.

One incredibly easy way to make yoga more fun is by sharing this post with everyone you’ve ever met. And then following this blog at www.robpollak.com or on facebook.

The nine rules for yoga teachers - rule 9 make class fun - a drawing by Rob Pollak

(Selfish note:  This also appears at Elephant Journal:  Click the link so they will give me money)

9 Things I Learned from My First Year of Yoga

For the first 33 years of my life, I steadfastly refused to try yoga.  At first, it was because I refused to try anything that fell under the umbrella of general health or fitness.  Thankfully that phase of my life ended after my first 29 years.  Then, I had an enlightenment and realized that I’d probably die soon if I didn’t start exercising.  I didn’t realize this horrifying fact from any article or person, but I think that as a 30 year old I just realized that I wasn’t filled with the youthful exuberance that had fueled marathon sessions of watching Real World marathons on MTV.

My impending death got me off the couch, but I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.  I started running because I was deathly afraid of embarrassing myself at the gym.  Years of inactivity meant that I had no idea what to do.  I was fat-ish, weak, lazy, and sweat like . . . hmmm.  I tried to come up with a good analogy here, but I’ve never seen anything else in the world that sweats as furiously and vigorously as I do, so let’s just agree that I sweat a lot.

At first, I was a timid runner.  I’d hide out on the treadmills in the back corner of the gym.  I’d run a quarter mile then walk a quarter mile.  I’d set my speed to 4.6 so I could dust the 94 year old woman on the treadmill next to me.  But over time, my confidence grew and I started to fancy myself a runner.  It defined me to some extent, and it made me look incredibly cool:

runpicbrooklyn

Over time, running morphed into a more general sense of fitness.  I even lifted weights a couple of times.  Periodically, I’d walk past the room with the people doing yoga – mostly women, mostly wearing lululemon, mostly incredibly limber.  On one hand, I was skeptical and judgmental.  I mean, come on, they were lying on the floor half the time.  The other half, I’d peer in and they’d basically be standing still.  It looked like a joke.  On the other hand, they were basically jacked.  It wasn’t for me, though, I couldn’t even touch my toes.

Another year passed, and then one day just before my 34th birthday a muscle in my back popped.  Exploded would be a more apt description actually.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was literally paralyzed for years and years.  When I saw the doctor a few days later, he said that the injury was because my core wasn’t strong enough and that I should try yoga.  I laughed.  Yeah, okay bro.  Have you seen me?  I’m a runner:

nyc2

The next week, I begrudgingly went to yoga class.  Immediate obsession.  Here are ten things I learned from my year of yoga:

1.  Yoga is really really hard

When you walk past a room full of people and they’re sitting around gently reaching their outstretched arms to one side or the other, it looks really easy.  But when I tried it, I was sweating before the class even started.  (I know that’s not saying much, but if you don’t like Bikram Yoga, then you really should never attend a class with me.  I’m essentially an oversized space heater).  A year in, I continue to find every class I attend constantly challenging to me.  My arms burn when the class is over.  Sitting is hard.  Standing is hard. Balancing is hard.  Relaxing is hard.  Yoga makes everything f*$king hard.

2.  But yoga is also really really easy

Because no matter how many classes I’ve taken, no teacher ever pushes you beyond your limit.  If you feel tired, they tell you how to rest.  If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you take a break.  If you can’t touch your toes, you don’t have to.  Just get as close as you can.  If you can’t balance on your head, don’t even try until you’re ready.  Despite what it looks like from the outside, it’s a very inviting environment, and being cool with what you’ve got makes it much easier and less intimidating than it initially seems.

3.  The “spiritual” BS is kind of nice.

At first, I loathed all the omms or taking an inventory of my inner self.  I was Mr. Cynical about getting in touch with my mind.  Then one day I realized it wasn’t so bad.  I was more confident.  I felt taller.  So a little spirituality won’t kill you, and you might just end up liking it.

4.  There’s a class for everyone, you just have to find it.

I’ve taken a lot of classes.  If you hate a teacher though, you don’t have to go back.  There’s something for everyone.  And even though I’ve gotten to a point where I’m okay with a little of the spiritual BS, it’s still not my favorite, so I’ve clung to teachers that were more dude-centric and allow for a little more normalcy in the class.  My current favorite is YoJo with Anne’s old trainer, Jessa (her website is under construction, I think).  I like it so much, I made a video about it:

5.  No one really cares what you do.

Maybe everyone is looking at me all the time and judging me for the sweat dripping from my face onto the communal mat that I put back on the shelf after class.  Maybe they laugh when I fall down.  Maybe they are disgusted when a little bit of my ass hangs out when I do a forward fold.  Maybe they avoid danger zones.  But if they do, I’m not aware of it.  Hell, the instructors sometimes even do something I wouldn’t even do – they put their hand on my sopping sweaty shirt to make an adjustment during class.  Sure, they immediately regret doing so, but it’s the thought that counts.

6.  If you work at it, you can do cool stuff.

Now, I can totally do a handstand.  Suck it, haters.

7.  You start to get muscles in weird places.

For me, it’s been my arms and my abs.  Who knew?

8.  It made me more comfortable in my own skin.

I’m not even embarrassed to post a picture like this on the internet even though it totally tells the world that I don’t have the same full head of hair that I did back in college:

532121_10151401595953906_1858262285_n

That’s kind of yoga that I’m doing there, right?

9.  It focused me in other areas of my life.

I used to be bad at finishing things I started.  Now, after a year of yoga, I’m much better at it.  Just this post for example, I wanted to do this all day, and now I’m getting it done.  I mean, it did start as a list of 20 things I learned this year.  But whatever.  It’s also taught me that we are constantly evolving and that you need to take the good with the bad.