Renée Simone, Model: Grounded in Liberian & US Roots and Pursuing Her Now & Future In South Korea

How time has flown by for us. It seems the opportunity for the beauty of human connection across seas, across cultures, across all imaginable divides is boundless at this time and unrestricted and ripe for beautiful consumption– if we so choose to see and embrace it.

I have had the pleasure of connecting with this Renée Simone on Instagram, no less. Renée had messaged (DMed) in asking if she can buy our skincare as we only shipped out of the US (we still only operate e-comm in the US at the moment, unfortunately). She was impressed by ATEM a “skincare” brand’s hard stance on advocating for holistic wellness, which encompasses by definition not just the physical aspects of wellness (skincare, body positivity, fitness, nutrition), but also the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual). That was the beginning of a wonderful &fruitful relationship between myself, founder, and simply, Susan and Renée, model, also simply human. Fast forward, I asked her to work with us on a modelling campaign; she was a fantastic addition and support in our efforts to be more intentional in adding more beauty and more inclusivity in ATEM’s branding DNA– it’s also generally a fantastic thing to work with individuals completely aligned and fixated on the mission.

We continue to DM each other and support one another on social media to this day. Without further ado, I leave you with a conversation between myself and the great, the sweet: Renée:

1. In your words, who are you?
Renée: From a young age, I saw melodies dance around in my head, saw myself performing on stages, and visioned my happiness in a form that was only alive in my daydreams. Today, I am the same girl who has given herself permission to believe that what she saw for herself at that young age of unconstrained bliss and dreams still exists and is very much alive. What I am: Right now, in this moment I just exist. I am. I am a young woman from New Jersey, USA; Influenced by my roots in American and Liberian cultures, I have been nurtured to see the world as a collage filled with all types of picture shades and sizes. I am Renee Simone. 

2. What is it like living in South Korea as a foreigner?…Have all experiences been positive?

Renée: Living in South Korea as a foreigner has been a journey in self-love. I was interested in South Korea before I came to live here so it made me eager to keep learning about Korean language and culture. This curiosity, openness, and desire to culturally assimilate makes certain things easier in adjustment as a foreigner. But it’s not always easy. There are times I feel like I have to have my teacher hat on– needing to politely correct racially/ethnically ignorant comments, looks, or gestures, but I understand that comes with the territory of being and looking different in a country that has been a reflection of homogeneity for decades.

3. Have you always felt safe exploring mental health from childhood?..what were some barriers to entry with disclosing this to your community? Whether it be due to culture or place?

Renée: Somewhere down my childhood, I learned that being a “strong” woman was a great honor. However, in my world, the virtues people praised in the “strong woman” were things like suffering and carrying on dutifully in self-sacrifice for her family, or the collective. I grew up being taught that the strong woman was defined as one who put others first, always. Always, always, others before oneself. With this in mind, I did not feel I had access to the full understanding of mental health nor the freedom in evaluating, validating, and responding to my needs, which is what I needed as an individual and woman. For a long time I separated myself from pursuing the whole of mental health– it was more of something I read about in textbooks, heard from friends, maybe saw in a few good relationships that surrounded me.

4.Describe your wellness regimen.

Renée: I don’t really have a structured regimen per se. What I do to actionably pursue wellness it that I am intentional about adding in more moments to be still and present throughout day, and more yoga. By nature, I am adventurous, and an always on the move type. On my downtime I prefer to indulge in the arts. I know there are days I need needs days off in which I limit my interactions with others and retreat to my inner quiet space. I also work to improve my digestive system by changing up my eating patterns, go to the gym, and read or fall into watching (studying) good dramas or movies. Doing this supports me in re-centering myself so I can then focus on the things I want and enjoy and be grateful for all the people and experiences that come my way. My wellness regimen incorporates the recognition that no matter what direction or speed I’m heading in my life, my self-love plane should always be flying.

5. Wellness and Happiness…do you think they come hand in hand?

Renée: YES. I don’t want a life just filled with happy moments. I want a life filled with happiness. To me, that means respecting and loving myself holistically and spreading that overflowing love to others. 

6. What are some consumer brands with both strong creative vision and positive impact that you admire?

Renée: ATEM, for overall wellbeing, but particularly its advocation for mental health (snaps for you!). Jola House Shop, for transforming the lives of Liberian women through skill development and entrepreneurship opportunities. While creating social change they are also producing culturally fashionable items! 
H&M Conscious Exclusive Campaign 2019 and the fact that it’s a brand that stands by recycling used fabrics. For South Korea, brand inA for encouraging all to ‘Love You as You Are’ through their underwear/clothing collections. 

Edited by Susan Im

Wellness Leadership: Finding Balance When We’re Obsessively Passionate.

I was chatting with a friend who is a CEO in New York, she shared with me, “It’s one thing when you’re starting out, and you’re investing your own time and energy into creating something. But as things start rolling, it becomes another pressure all together once you have angel investors and start hiring a few employees. This whole project is no longer just about ME. Now, other people are depending upon the company surviving. The pressure ramps up. As founders, we get sucked into trying to do a million things at once. And taking care of ourselves often gets cast aside.”

This is a common refrain among entrepreneurs. Out of passion for our vision and a sense of responsibility to our constituents (employees, investors, board members), we place the burden of the world onto our shoulders accept the role of the selfless hero who sacrifices everything for the good of the company.

While this may be a seductive comic-book storyline, this is an immature and, ultimately, short-sighted attitude.

The Wise Builder

Entrepreneurship is the ultimate marathon. When we sign up for this job, we should understand that even in the absolute best of circumstances, we’re signing up for years of intense work and adversity which will require sustained creativity and wise decision making to navigate and survive. It’s not if the storms will come, but rather when the storms will come. 

Whether designing a skyscraper or an enterprise, a wise builder understands these inevitable and impersonal stormy cycles of nature and plans accordingly.

As entrepreneurs, we’re essentially building something from nothing. Or, more accurately, we’re taking a vision in our mind and a passion in our heart and attempting to transmute that into a physical reality.

We dream of building a paradigm-shifting product, satisfying millions of gleeful customers, and ultimately leaving a legacy of positive change on the world. But, it’s important to understand that the source and foundation of our success or failure is essentially within ourselves.

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” – Winston Churchill

If we compulsively stretch ourselves too thin in a desire to fix everything, we quickly lose our mental and emotional balance. Anxiety sabotages focus and pulls us compulsively from task to task, without clear insight as to which tasks are actually productive. We lose sleep and skip the gym. We order convenient, low nutritional food, and neglect our outside relationships. Our emotional juice begins to wane, and we become more reactive to situations. We start getting annoyed with our co-founder and become less available to junior employees. We feel a sense of isolation and loneliness. Simple life activities begin to feel overwhelming. Our mind races, and we feel as if we’re going crazy…..

Here’s a question.

If your mind and emotions are out of balance, what hope is there for anything you create to be balanced, high-quality, and sustainable?

No chance.

What the Pros are Saying

By far the most difficult skill for me to learn as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology. Organizational design, process design, metrics, hiring and firing were all relatively straightforward skills to master compared to keeping my mind in check. –  Ben Horowitz , a16z Blog

If you want to maintain your obsession about what you’re doing, the way to maintain that obsession is to make sure you have an appropriate level of energy over a long period of time…To operate at peak performance, you have to rest. The thing that crushes most athletes at the top of their game is overtraining, not undertraining. I think that’s the same with entrepreneurs. – Brad Feld, TechStars and Foundry Group co-founder

The optimal amount of rest and rejuvenation is highly personal for everyone, but taking time for oneself each day is vital to maintaining sustained energy and drive over the long run. What’s most invigorating for you? Whether it’s yoga, running, rock climbing, or creative writing (or even an afternoon nap), time invested in emotionally rejuvenating activities is a vital component of any business athlete’s holistic working regime.

In fact, these activities can be the key to new insights and dynamic problem-solving. Most artists and musicians will tell you their most creative ideas typically come outside of their structured time for “doing work.” When we diversify our activity, we stimulate our mind and energy in new ways which foster novel connections and innovative ideas.

Wellbeing as an Investment 

Obsessive passion is part of what defines us as entrepreneurs. It’s what makes us crazy enough to think we can change the world. But if this passion for our vision isn’t balanced with a system to sustain and nurture our own wellbeing, then we’re in the fast lane on the highway to burnout and apathy.

Questions to consider:

In what ways do I deplete myself and run myself into the ground?

Where am I running from and where to?

Do I feel a sense of guilt or shame around taking time to invest in myself? Why? Are these beliefs and emotions serving my best interest?

What’s one tangible action I can take this week to invest in my wellbeing?

Taking care of ourselves is not frivolous, nor is it selfish. It’s a fundamental responsibility to ourselves, our company, and everyone we touch. Life is a long game. Wellbeing is the fundamental secret sauce in a successful gameplan and an investment which will pay generous dividends for the rest of your life.

Live well .

By Alex Blanton

Carly Schwartz, Editor – in – Chief of TRIX & Google Insider

Carly Schwartz
Name: Carly Schwartz
Title: Editor in Chief of Google Insider at Google; Editor in Chief and Co-Founder of TRIX Magazine
Based in: San Francisco

Carly’s Career Thus Far: 

I studied journalism at Northwestern University. My first job out of college was San Francisco Magazine, and then I took a break from journalism and I worked on a political campaign for Jerry Brown, he was running for governor in California, and while I was doing that I started blogging for Huffington Post and that turned into a full time job offer for Huffington Post once the campaign ended. So i was at Huffington Post for 5 years, first as a front page editor and then I opened up the San Francisco bureau and ran that for a few years and then I moved back to NY to take on a role on the management team as Deputy National Editor. Then, I decided to take some time off for work and travel for a little bit; I moved first to Mexico City for a microfinance fellowship and I did a lot of writing about sustainability and women in indigenous communities and then from there I moved to Panama where I opened up a journalism program at an eco-village in the jungle and then I ran out of money and needed to go to the dentist so I moved back to San Francisco. I got a job at Google, and I’ve been at Google for the past 2 and a half years, running their internal news platform. And then on the side, I am EIC of a new women’s magazine called TRIX.

——

1. In your words, who are you?

Carly: I’m a writer and a storyteller… I am a world traveler. I am someone who struggled with mental illness, but uses it as a force for good. I am curious, ambitious, spontaneous and openminded.

2. You mentioned on a former Medium post that you were bipolar and were also depressed. Did you share this with your friends, acquaintances, and work colleagues? And if so, for what reason or when?

Carly:  I don’t think I’m bipolar. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I actually just have major depression. For 2 and a half years I thought I was bipolar and I told everyone I was bipolar. I had a manic episode that was induced by severe substance abuse and I’m really open about all of it. I think it’s really important to be open– it’s sort of my life purpose, to break down all the stigmas, so depression, bipolar, addiction, it’s all the same to me it’s all the same class of afflictions and i think it’s really important to talk openly about all of it. 

I didn’t know I had depression until I was 21. 

When did you start taking antidepressants? 

I became suicidal in college and went to a therapist and started taking antidepressants then. First I thought it was generalized anxiety disorder and it sort of morphed into depression. I’ve pretty much been on antidepressants every since. The only time I was off them was when I had the manic episode, so that was kind of scary. 

You have cut off alcohol and drugs to become the best version you can be. What events compelled you to make this leap? 

I was really depressed. I couldn’t get out of bed, except for parties and so I would go on these crazy benders and then I would get in bed for a week and then leave to party again and I just started to feel like my partying was out of control. I realized I hadn’t experienced happiness without the help of drugs and alcohol in a really long time, maybe ever, and I just hit my limit. I told my therapist about all the drugs that I was doing and she suggested that I needed help.

3. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some actions you take to keep yourself well? (please be as specific as possible in what you do!)

Carly: My number one thing that I do is that I’m sober. I am 8 and a half months sober. My mental health would get worse because I had a drug problem and I was using the drug to make myself feel better because I was so depressed. Staying sober has been the primary thing that keeps my mental illness at bay and I haven’t experienced depression at all since I got sober. So long as I can keep drugs and alcohol out of my body, I feel like the best version of myself. So that’s pretty much number one. That’s the number one “wellness” thing that I do.

I try to do yoga at least once a week. I try to walk everywhere so that I’m getting at least some kind of physical activity every day [and I don’t like doing to the gym]– I’ll walk across San Francisco for like 3 and a half miles, you know, that kind of thing.

What else?

I limited myself to one coffee a day because I have bad anxiety too, and other than that, I take my antidepressants religiously, I keep plants in my room, I journal, and I try to meditate, although I’m not very successful with it, and I see my therapist once a week. 

4. Do you use any apps or refer to any websites/blogs/thoughtblogs that you feel have directly impacted your wellbeing?

Carly: No, and I don’t use them deliberately. I think my phone is a deterrent to my wellbeing so I try to use it as little as possible.

5. As a very driven professional, would  “work” tie closely with your idea of your wellness? 

Carly at the launch party of TRIX Magazine

Carly: I spent my entire life defining myself based on my career, and it didn’t work for me. Obviously. I was depressed. I think the moment I stopped defining myself based on my career and started thinking about my job as a means to an end so that I could focus on things I’m really passionate about, that is when I started experiencing happiness and calm in my day to day life. But I think purposeful work is what makes for a satisfactory existence, a rich and fulfilling existence, so I found a lot of purpose in my magazine that I work on outside my day job; it’s a passion project and it’s incredibly fulfilling and feels very meaningful to me and I’ve also found a lot of purpose in the work that I do with mental health organizations and with writing workshops that I facilitate and with work that I do with alcoholism and illness. So none of that is paid work, but that.. is what defines me now.

So you’re meaning to say that Work so long as it’s tied with your purpose and fulfillment, that’s the only time you’ve seen it improve your wellness?

Carly: Yea, when my work feels purposeful, then my wellbeing is good.

6. Wellness and happiness – do you think they come hand in hand?

Carly: I think happiness is a temporary condition and wellness is a permanent condition. I think having a good wellness regimen can lead to moments of extreme happiness; it can be a foundation for happiness to grow from, but happiness is momentary and it’s possible to experience it when you’re not well.

7. When you envision your life of wellness, what does that look like to you if you were to draw yourself and your life out, whether it be from the framing of a regimen or lifestyle?

Carly: I think it would be what I’m already doing plus eating healthier, doing more yoga and meditating everyday. But, I’ve come a long way so I’m okay with not being perfect in this area just yet.

8. What are some companies that are developing smart products with positive impact that you admire? 

Carly: Not really. I think Google does a good job. And this goes against my thing, “I don’t use apps,” but I think Headspace is doing a good job.

[I don’t use it though].

Interviewed and transcribed by Susan Im

Connect with Carly here

For more news about Trix Magazine, follow them on Instagram here

Struggling with Culture Shock & Life Transitions: Notes From a Student On the Little Things That Helped Her with Feelings of Depression & Anxiety

During all of my five years in college, I had experienced severe depression and anxiety disorders. When I first came abroad to the US, I had to adjust to a completely different culture, language and people. Like many of my international friends, some people might have seen this opportunity as a fun, daring challenge. For me, I ended up finding myself becoming extremely nervous and self-conscious in social settings and becoming very self-critical during this time. Now, I understand better that everyone reacts differently to different situations, and that it’s okay to have suffered, when you experience changes that make you feel like your world’s been turned upside down. Back then, I simply couldn’t accept it and bear with myself. I think the key word that describes my college experience is “self-hatred.” As an undergraduate student, I abhorred how I didn’t have the courage to speak up in classes because I was worried my blue-eyed, blonde-haired classmates would judge me, and how it was so difficult for me to follow through all the academic materials. And this was especially upsetting to me because I had become the complete opposite of who I used to be back home.


In my second, third, and fourth years of school, my feelings of depression took a spiral down. I began to surround myself in self-destructive habits, such as not eating enough, consuming excessive alcohol, isolating myself from other people, and not leaving my room at all. I remember during these times that every part of my life began to suffer; I began to experience a total withdrawal from academics, emotions, relationships, and physical health. I didn’t really speak to my parents about how I was doing because what I was going through could easily be seen as a huge sign of weakness in Korean culture (and appearing competent and self-assured for my parents was everything to me back then!). It felt like I had no one by my side and I had to go through this frightening and devastating ordeal alone. Upon opening up to my school advisor about my struggles (I had to because I needed to explain my absences and my poor performances at that point), I agreed to take counseling sessions.

That’s when things started to turn around, slowly but surely. I started sharing my problems with the counselor, taking prescribed medication and tried my best to act on what he suggested I do. It took a tremendous amount of time for me to be able to say “I kicked depression in the ass, and I actually feel okay now.” I realized that my journey back to a state of wellness wasn’t merely from the meds though nor the counseling sessions. Rather, it was the small actions I decided to take in my daily life that made me feel better, little by little:

Indulging in a book

I found reading very powerful and healing during depression. Not only it offers you much broader perspectives on what life is about and how to come to terms with your emotional distress, it also gives you a chance to focus on something else. Books about depression were good, but funny reads and the ones I’d always wanted to read were just as therapeutic for me.

Cutting off social media

We all need a break from social media at some point or another. During difficult times, I often found myself scrolling through friends’ insta feeds and kept comparing my life to theirs. I couldn’t help but think, “Why can’t I be happy like him?” and “Why can’t I do well in life like her?” These types of toxic thoughts may only make matters worse. Cutting social media off for a while helped me tremendously with focusing on just myself when I needed it the most.

Lunch dates with friends

I certainly didn’t feel like pursuing this at first, but setting up lunch plans with friends helped me substantially with getting through depression. A burden shared is a burden halved, but meeting with friends doesn’t necessarily demand that you have to talk about your situation – it just offers a way to expose yourself to one of your biggest available support groups. Being around my friends regularly and the positive energy I surrounded myself with made me feel better about myself and helped me move forward. I realize I never would have gotten through my problems alone.

Meditating before bed

This is one of the habits I still keep, even after having gotten through the worst part of my depression. Taking the time to calmly collect my thoughts before bed relieved a lot of my anxiety. This with meditation, helped me eventually overcome the panic attacks that would come before and during my sleep. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend downloading a meditation app on your phone, and giving it a go. When you’re feeling restless and drained, introducing enforced peace and serenity into your headspace can help bring closure to a lot of things.

Exercising

Yes, exercising was definitely the last thing I wanted to do, especially when I felt like not doing anything at all, but I always felt much better after dragging myself to the gym and working out. It’s a scientifically proven fact that exercise eases symptoms of depression and anxiety, thanks to our bodies and endorphins. But not only this, I also felt a sense of achievement and motivation, which I couldn’t easily feel at that time from any other activities.

It neither scares me nor worries me like it used to though now, because I know I’ll be able to manage it much better in the future if it does happen again.

-Jamie Oh

Now that I’ve actually experienced it, I really believe depression can happen to anyone, even to the strongest and most will-power driven people we know. Factually, depression is regarded as having a very high relapse rate. It neither scares me nor worries me like it used to though now, because I know I’ll be able to manage it much better in the future if it does happen again. Today, I think we often tend to overlook the importance of mental health and wellness because we’re all so busy and determined to live our lives, and we forget to see what really it matters. I’m here to say that it all does matter; it matters to be aware of your mental health and to give your brain a chance to heal and cool down sometimes.

By Jamie Oh

Edited by Susan Im

Jamie Oh is an alumni of University of Virginia, having completed her studies in Music. Since then, she’s pursued a career in fashion & beauty in New York City, and is a Master’s Degree candidate for Fashion Marketing at LIM College.

Why Wellbeing is the Priority #1 of the Wise

Man reflecting in water

Whether we’re entrepreneurs or we’re simply ambitious in our career, the mantra most of us have absorbed from western culture is “If I work harder, then I’ll be successful. And if I become more successful, then I’ll be happier.” Consciously or subconsciously we believe that somewhere in the future after x, y, and z happens this magical time will exist where we will finally feel secure and fulfilled with our life.

However, upon closer examination, this formula of “deferred wellbeing” is a complete illusion. In fact, it is the formula for a fulfilled life set completely backward.

How many times have we set out with this idea of “If only I get into X school, or if only I can make Y amount of income in a year, then my life will be totally set.” “If I can attract this type of social circle, then I’ll feel ok.” Or, “If I can start a successful company, then I’ll feel secure and satisfied within myself.”

But then we progress in life. Many times we may have accomplished the goal we set to achieve, and yet, once reached, something still feels missing. We pass some major milestone of “success” and feel high for a few days, but then come down only to realize we feel the exact same as we did before.

So we think, “Oh, I guess I need to accomplish this new, bigger goal in order to feel satisfied.” So, in our mind, we move the goalposts of success further ahead, and this cycle of work-goal, work-goal, work-goal repeats itself again and again and again in perpetuity. Thus, we forever find ourselves in an internal state of feeling insufficient and incomplete as we strive towards some goal that’s always out there ahead of us somewhere.

As your friend, I am here to share that as long as you’re putting your wellbeing and happiness on the other side of your success, you’re never going to get there. Because the fundamental problem really has nothing to do with your level of external success, the source of the problem is the feeling of incompleteness itself. It’s that internal sense of “whatever I am right now, it is not enough.”

The fundamental problem really has nothing to do with your level of external success, the source of the problem is the feeling of incompleteness itself.

The root of this incompleteness is your deepest internal core psychological beliefs about yourself. These beliefs are encoded into us as small children through our relationship with our parents and the world around us. When we are young, we believe that our environment is a reflection of the absolute truth of the entire universe, so any words or emotions directed towards us early in life we take to represent the absolute truth about who we are. So for example, if we had a parent who always pointed out our shortcomings or peers who made fun of us, then it’s likely we’ve taken on a negative set of beliefs about our worthiness as a person.

It’s only when we grow and mature that we realize the world is vast and diverse, and that the environment in which we grew up was perhaps not the healthiest or the most enlightened. But despite the higher degree of awareness offered by adulthood, we continue to carry these beliefs that were imprinted in us as children because they are rooted so deeply in the mind. These subconscious mental scripts represent the underlying emotional programming which rule every major decision we make in life. Thus, we go through adulthood with this sense of incompleteness that we attempt to fulfill through external things.

Essentially, everything we do in life is done towards this pursuit of fulfillment. If we go to the bar we’re seeking one type of fulfillment. If we’re striving towards a promotion, we’re seeking another type of fulfillment. If we’re going on a date, going to the gym, or even if we’re starting a company, we’re doing so because we believe it will lead us to a more fulfilled and pleasant future. It’s not that pursuing things in life is bad, in fact, it’s completely necessary. It’s just that when we pursue things with compulsiveness rather than with consciousness, it leads to suffering and dissatisfaction.

The Wise Man / Wise Woman’s Approach

I invite you to consider a more direct route. If your ultimate goal in life is to feel fulfilled, peaceful, and joyful, then focusing on it directly is the only approach that actually works because our sense of fulfillment, or lack thereof, is an internal process. So it’s time to examine your core beliefs and your lifestyle choices related to health and wellbeing with AT LEAST as much involvement and urgency as your devoting to building your business or career.

Because, for me, it’s not that being peaceful and fulfilled is our only goal in life or even the highest, but rather it’s recognizing that a state of inner pleasantness, confidence, and balance is actually the most fundamental foundation to living effectively. Only in a state of pleasantness and vibrant energy are you your most creative, dynamic, and resilient. It’s wellbeing which LEADS to true success, not the other way around.

Think about a particular week when you were naturally happy and energized. Whatever challenges came your way, dealing with them felt quite effortless. You were persuasive and influential in your interactions with people. Your friends, employees, and even strangers responded to you with more engagement and interest and treated you with greater respect. Many of us have had experiences like this for a few days or even a few weeks where we felt totally in flow, but there is a problem. We don’t know how to sustain it once it’s going or how to regenerate it once it’s gone.

It’s wellbeing which LEADS to true success, not the other way around.

How much more productive, effective, and joyful could you be in life if you could turn this flow state into a daily reality?

The scientific literature now supports our anecdotal experience in a major way. Only in a state of pleasantness and ease do we have our full cognitive capability. Research has also found that just 25% of professional success is determined by IQ, while 75% is determined by one’s optimism levels, social support, and the ability to experience stress as a challenge rather than a threat. Research from Harvard (see TED) also reveals that people are 31% more productive and 37% better at sales when they are happy, and company revenues can improve by as much as 50% when employees are happy.

Imagine if you could be 30% more productive and successful this year simply by taking care of your inner wellbeing. Imagine those gains compounded over 5 years or 10 years. This shift would completely rewrite your destiny.

A New Life Formula

I invite you to consider a new formula for your wellbeing.

Old formula:

  1. Work long hours with great tension and stress
  2. Achieve arbitrary “success” benchmarks
  3. Hypothetical happiness is dangled in front of you set at some point in the future, but you never seem able to get there

New Formula:

  1. Internal wellbeing and health is #1 Priority
  2. Live and work with joy, wisdom, and creativity
  3. Feel sustained fulfillment internally, and generate increased positive and meaningful impact on the world externally

So how we go about designing a life around the New Formula?

You may be expecting a Buzzfeed-like “Top 5 Quick Tips for Happiness,” but the reality is that lasting significant self-transformation requires a certain depth of introspection, motivation, and effort. In fact, it takes tremendous courage because traversing the fires of facing oneself is terrifying, and yet, this fire represents the ultimate portal to our liberation. I promise you this journey of self-knowledge is the most worthwhile journey you will ever make in life by a million miles. In reality, it’s the only journey you can ever make, and while there are no quick fixes, there are simple practices and mindsets you can build into your life, regardless of your present circumstances, that will assuredly manifest steady transformation over time.

From Silicon Valley to the Amazon to India

A bit about my story.

My career began working at startups in New York and then at LinkedIn in Silicon Valley. External success always came somewhat naturally, but internally I had struggled with depression, anxiety, and deep insecurity since adolescence. My inner suffering reached a certain excruciating crescendo in my early 20s despite my “successful” surroundings, and so I bid farewell the gourmet cafeterias and lush beanbag chairs of Silicon Valley and embarked into the mysterious and expansive jungles of my inner nature endeavoring to find healing and to understand the fundamental truths about life.

This journey of self-exploration took me around the world to many mystical locales including the Amazon Rainforest where I trained with traditional shamans and to India where I formally trained with a guru in meditation and yoga in a tradition that’s over 5,000 years old. This journey has borne for me the inner fruits of joy, peacefulness, and contentment while simultaneously making me orders of magnitude more effective in my external pursuits.

In an effort to give back to the world from which I come, I’m now distilling the tools, technologies, and insights learned on my journey into a language and framework that’s relevant and applicable to people living the demanding and oftentimes grueling lifestyle of the modern entrepreneur or busy professional.

As I mentioned, there is no Buzzfeed Top 5 for self-transformation, but there are simple practices and aspects of awareness we can adopt regardless of our life situation that will begin to open the portals of higher possibilities. Over the next several weeks, I will share in-depth on just what these practices are and how to apply them. You can follow along on my blog by subscribing to my Empowered Human newsletter, and I’ll also be sharing much of it here on LinkedIn as well.

A Simple Way to Start Your Evolution

Gratitude is an immensely powerful tool that can be leveraged to radically transform one’s experience of life. As we’ve established, the source of suffering in our life is this deeply ingrained sense of incompleteness. By consciously reorienting our attention towards what we have, rather than towards what we lack, over time we can manifest a powerful sense of abundance, ease, and joy within ourselves.

A simple practice: Start each day by sending a note of gratitude or thanks to someone in your world. It could be someone on your work team, a mentor, a boss, a junior employee, a college friend, your old soccer coach, whomever. The key is consciously deciding that sending out a message of gratitude is the very first thing that happens when you turn on your electronics in the morning. Think about a project at work that went really well, or someone who gave a really persuasive presentation, a friend who was with you through trying times, or a family member who could use your support. Get creative!

This simple practice will do several things for you:

  1. You’ll start your day with a sense of appreciation. Instead of being consumed with the thought stream of the many problems to be solved that day, your focus, at least for a few minutes, will be on something and someone you’re grateful for. This can set a buoyant tone for your entire morning.
  2. You’ll connect more deeply with the people presently in your life, and you’ll reconnect with people who had an impact on your life years ago. You’ll give these people a delightful and unexpected gift of gratitude which is a great joy in and of itself. You likely will also find that the more you support others from a place of gratitude, the more, in turn, you will feel supported and connected yourself. 
  3. As this becomes a regular practice, you’ll naturally begin to look for things to be grateful for throughout the day. Day by day your mind will reorient itself away from only seeing the problems in situations, to seeing the enduring beauty that is always present.

This is an extremely simple practice, but it can bear formidable fruit. Let me know how it works for you!

Alex Blanton

Linkedin

Photos provided by Louis Solywoda

Travel Beauty Essentials

With the vacation season approaching, I’m sure a lot of you are planning that perfect summer getaway. Today, I’m going to share some of my favorite beauty essentials that must be included in your packing list. Pay attention because these products will not only save you space in your bag, but also keep your skin fresh as a daisy each day during your trip!

Soothing your skin

Traveling often involves long flights, jet lags, early mornings and restless nights. Also, if you’re like me and have pretty sensitive skin, it’s most likely that you will be prone to breakouts as well, because of the changes in your environment. This is exactly why I always make sure to bring moisture-packed products that will soothe my skin and restore healthy complexion.

With that said, it’s a great idea to bring sheet masks with you, especially the ones that soothe and moisturize, just like Real Nature Aloe Face Mask by The Face Shop. Simply leave this essence-drenched mask on for a few minutes before you go to bed, and you are guaranteed to wake up in the morning with a fresh complexion. Glow Recipe’s Avocado Melt Sleeping Mask, which is one of my all-time favorites, is also an excellent addition to your bedtime skincare routine while traveling. This leave-on natural sleeping mask, while extremely moisturizing, has firming effects as well. Think about what it could do for the bags under your eyes! The avocado fruit, avocado extract, avocado oil, and avocado butter in the product are rich in oleic and linoleic acid, which will rejuvenate and nourish your skin during your beauty sleep. For the body, I like to tag Kiehl’s Creme de Corps along to use after my shower. This body lotion is made for extremely dry and flaky skin, and it does an amazing job at keeping the skin hydrated with its rich texture and key ingredients such as beta-carotene, cocoa butter and squalane. The best part is that it comes in a variety of sizes, including 2.5 oz., which is a perfect size to throw into your makeup pouch.

Travel Beauty Essentials

One of my must-have products for my trips is the Less is More P.Oil Cut Pact from Code Glokolo. I found this gem during my trip to Korea earlier this year and have been obsessing over it ever since. This powder foundation, also used as a loose finishing powder, controls excess oil and sebum upon application. This comes in very handy during travelling, as you can pat it onto your T-zone or cheeks during your flight, which is almost always destined to leave your skin oily. The product’s compact size makes it convenient to carry around with you and use it whenever needed during daily activities throughout the day.

Milk Makeup’s Blur Stick should definitely be on your packing list, too. This primer smoothes out your skin’s impurities as if you used a “face filter,” but what makes it so ideal for travelling is the fact that it’s an actual stick! With the Blur Stick travelling with you, you don’t ever have to worry about spilling your primer in your bag. No spills, no mess!

Finally, if you are bound to stay out in the sun quite often during your trip, try Avène’s Mineral Fluid. Recommended to me by a dermatologist, this sunscreen is made for sensitive skin. While the texture of this product is watery, it provides your skin with very high protection against UVA light (50 SPF), which can cause sunburn and wrinkles. Also, because this sunscreen is super light, you can wear it all day long without that uncomfortable feeling.

With these products in your makeup pouch, you’re always guaranteed to have a good time, wherever you are!

Nick Kohler, N2N, DJ

Name: Nick Kohler
Role: DJ/Music Producer
Name of Company: N2N
Based in: San Francisco
Age: 26
NYU: 2011 - 2015
2014: Started producing music as N2N
2015- 2016: Youtube, Content Rights Department
Launch platform for his music: Soundcloud

I met Nick prior to him being the full time artist and music producer that he is now. We met on the streets of Shanghai as kids, having both decided to take part in a study abroad program made available to us at the university we attended. That’s also where I befriended Alex, his friend, who’ll later come up in Nick’s story as an important character. More known by his stage name, N2N, Nick has amassed a rolodex of years and experiences that led him to being the plant loving, funk music producing – DJ extraordinaire that he is today, with an exciting summer season ahead

Upcoming shows: 

May 25: Elements Lakewood Music & Arts Festival - Lakewood, Pennyslvania - Buy tickets here
June 8; Redisco at The Public Works SF - 161 Erie St. - Buy tickets here
June 15: Stayin Alive - Seattle, Washington - Buy tickets here
August: Burning Man

One common thread that’s left an indelible mark on Nick and continues to impact his work and life is his journey with mental health. As a thriving artist and human, Nick has become a passionate advocate of mental health over the past couple years (read his full story here). Together, we have an honest chat and break down some prevalent issues pertaining to mental health – around the world, in the community at large, in his personal life and in the artists’ realm.


Walk me through your wellness journey

Nick: I’ve been doing yoga since I was 15, for almost 12 years now. I also ran cross country in high school. When the first bout of really intense depression kicked in in 2011 (my freshman year of college), music and friendship was a lot of the why of what pulled me out of it, but exercise kept me out of it, specifically spending time with my yoga practice and developing it over the years.

A lot of the mindfulness kind of disappeared in LA, and I got sucked back into bad habits, not eating enough, and doing way too many drugs. Part of the work I did on myself in SF when I wasn’t in a good place were implementing to immediate changes to my lifestyle: I stopped eating meat, and committed to a consistent yoga routine weekly, and I do this now still, if not biweekly. I also started running almost every day a week (6 days a week) and I meditate every morning and filled my room with plants. And this system developed slowly over months. I could feel doing these routines every day was good for me, good for my mental and physical health, whether it was talking to plants or doing yoga.

Mental Acknowledgements: “Every single day I know I’m doing something that’s beneficial to me”

and part of that includes maintaining some sort of emotional stability and getting back into the actionable things I know for certain will make me feel better and make me happy when I’m in a rut. There is something a lot of people miss about having depression though: it’s that the getting out of bed part is impossible. It’s fucking impossible. You’re so low and you know that yoga.. running.. is good for you, but the problem is you can’t fucking move. I know I’m starting to feel better on my own when I am better able to get into that routine and it comes steadily, sometimes slowly. There’s sometimes triggers, and I expect the things that will happen. It’s 3 days of good, then down down down, then back up.

What is a topic or issue in wellness you see to be the biggest distinction or concern or buzz in the producing and music industry?

Nick: I think that (and this is a generalization) from my experience, I’ve observed a pattern of producers being pretty extreme introverts. I mean you’re working by yourself, year round, alone most of the time. It’s also something that most people here are most comfortable with. They’d rather be in their room by themselves making music instead of interacting with a bunch of coworkers and sure they want to be famous but a lot of these people aren’t prepared for this success, the limelight. From going from their bedrooms producing music to having their photos taken everywhere and performing in front of 100000+ people. It’s a sudden change, and you’re suddenly having to be on all the time. At a certain point, you might cease feeling like a human being and start feeling like a commodity and for an introverted person [at least for me] that is a fucking nightmare. What happens then is that you see these music producers who start making it begin to slip down the slope of substances to cope with this kind of thing they can’t avoid.

So you see them start with alcoholism to cocaine abuse to heroin. And it’s not uncommon here. I know a few people hooked on heroin. I think the demands of the music industry are overwhelming for people who might… not be built to take it a lot of the time.

Another thing that I see becoming more of an issue recently is a more recent strain of imposter syndrome dilemma emerging amongst creatives.

Creativity is an expression of yourself. It’s not reasonable for an artist to compare their work and self expression to another’s because it’s just so different, but that’s what we end up doing, and social media, and digital media and content platforms exacerbate that and encourage us to. In today’s landscape when so many people want to be producers and DJs, and there are many that think the success in it lies on 90% image and 10% music, it’s easy to get lost in what other people are doing and how they’re making it while surfing these platforms. And this goes back to my concerns about social media. I think negative comparisons are amplified in artists as social media encourages you to compare your insides to someone’s outsides (someone’s display of themselves on IG). And that fucks with you.

You’ve become more vocal about your stance on mental health and wellbeing on your artist platforms, was there a particular moment that compelled you to start doing so despite it being as well I’m sure part of some natural progression?

Nick: Somebody reached out to me privately who said my music had been a major part of him overcoming his depression; at the time his dad was in a hospital recovering from something and he told me that that they had actually bonded over one of my sets during that time. Hearing this person be brave enough to open up to someone he didn’t know talking about something that was really vulnerable for him at the time and saying that something [my music] had this positive impact on his life made me see that I’ve experienced situations like that too; it helped me see that if i can use whatever platform I have for anything, I want it to be for something uplifting, and I since felt empowered to do the same thing this incredibly brave person did. Because I  have experienced the lows, that side of things; depressed, suicidal.. I can be open about it, and uplift another in the process, that is a good thing. I have no reason to hide it.

Have you ever sought out therapy? Is so why? If not, why not?

I’ve been to therapy. I was hospitalized twice. Once in New York, and once in Tennessee after my first year of college. The one in Tennessee was for a longer period of time– part of the stay included daily therapy in group sessions and individual therapy. Once I was released, I was part of an outpatient program for a couple weeks, but I missed having the individual one-on-one time, because I still had a lot things to unpack from my childhood, a lot of trauma that I really had to come to terms with. So when I was in Nashville before I came back to NY, I went to a therapist in NYU– it was accessible to me because I was in the school program. After this whole spell, recently I decided to seek out a therapist and start going back. Therapy is a beautiful, healthy thing to pursue and I feel everyone should feel empowered to speak freely whether it be with a friend, therapist, with your plants, or anything and allow themselves to feel comfortable about speaking and expressing how they are at any given day.

Aside: One’s wellness is not a line that just goes consistently up or consistently down. It looks more like a pattern of zig zags. Kind of like when you’re looking at the lifecycle of a certain company’s stock prices. And that understanding should not surprise.

What do you think about the lowering threshold to getting prescriptions to medication , particularly antidepressants, through the tidal rise of “diagnostic” apps and physicians being made available through digital interfaces and eschewing physical face to face interaction?

Nick: I think that’s a horrible idea. To be able to get prescriptions just over an app. No matter what you’re dealing with, getting prescription drugs over [just] an app I think is a bad thing, whatever it is. You can’t fuck with them. They’re not a laughing matter, and it’s important to have some kind of face to face conversation because antidepressants will change your mind, which is what makes up your life. They will literally change the way your brain functions, and that’s dangerous. I think being able to speak with someone on an app is awesome, but I’m against getting prescriptions from that interaction alone. You need help, here’s some therapy, and apps and telephone therapy is a great way to facilitate a portion of that, but not with administering something that will alter the way your brain functions.

What are 3 actionable things, whether it be diet based or mental, emotional, or spiritual that you do every day or week to maintain and stay well that you could share with readers?

Nick:

1. Sometimes when you’re feeling low, putting a bandaid on it for the short term with the intention of working on it in the long term is O.K. because sometimes you just really need that day to be whatever you are and whatever you’re feeling.

2. This will change your life: Fill your room with plants. I spend 15 hours a day in there producing music.

3. Plan your day with a pre-meditated act of self love that will make you excited to wake up. If you’re into coffee, buy a coffee maker that has an automatic start, put it next to your bed, set your coffee maker up to start at a certain time– that’s me. Every single day at 7:21am it starts going off and wakes me up. I wake up to a cup of fresh, hot coffee and I read my book for 40 minutes before I go run. I think a lot of people can replicate this and it makes me happy everyday and I start my day in a good headspace because I am loving my morning.

Some extras…

4. Regular exercise is huge

5. GO VEGAN! (This is a personal hack)

Where ought wellness be?

Nick: Wellness ought to be a personalized plant. A lot of words like that, words that act as cultural buzzwords are very powerful, but they mean a lot of different things to a lot of people, and people conceptualize these words in a way different from another. Wellness for me is the same thing. How I describe wellness is that it’s like a personal plant for my own mental health– a customized syllabus that’s personal to me. Your diet plans and your class schedules, they’re personal to you, so wellness should be that way to you too, shouldn’t it? Mine involves books, running, and the timed coffee. It’s really tapping into what makes your heart, soul, mind, and body feel better. I don’t think there’s any other way to define it.

By Susan Im

Photos by Nick Kohler

Read on here for a look up close at his wellness and music artistry story and witness his incredible journey in becoming an artist starting from childhood years, struggling with depression, the things that keep him, and all things exciting on how he’s made it as N2N.

Follow N2N on Facebook or Instagram for upcoming events, news, and music releases.

N2N on finding yourself and keeping to purpose, an empowered story of searching for identity in the pursuit of one’s health and fulfillment

N2N, Nick Kohler performance

On A Life-long Romance with Music

You pursued a music career immediately upon graduation, and were interacting with music well before. Walk me through the process of taking a leap to being a full time DJ and music producer from the beginning and how you’ve sustained in the early years.

Nick: I learned how to play and started taking guitar lessons in my freshman year of high school maybe when I was 14.. Maybe to pick up girls? I wasn’t on the football team and was in love with music and there was something about sound that really drew me.

The first records I had was when I was 7; my dad got me Play by Moby and You’ve Come A Long Way by Fatboy Slim and it was my first exposure to electronic music and I fucking loved it– would jump on the trampoline and jump around listening to the music. That’s really how my love affair with electronic music started.

Started writing my own songs (at age 15) and just started doing chords and writing on top of them and I slowly started teaching myself piano. I was probably terrible, but it was a building block for the more that is now.

I wrote into college.

2011

My freshman year of college, I decided to marry my love for electronic music and my hobby of making music and started the long journey of teaching myself electronic music. And I was terrible, really horrible for a long time, probably for 5 years, but it was something I really wanted to work on.

I started playing shows that freshman year of college, got kicked off my first show after the first 3 songs (January 2012). Then had another performance lined up 4 days later that was the closing set of a Wednesday night party, a popping party since closed down and based in the West Village. My set would run from 3 – 4:30 AM , and I played this set for 2-3 months all the while running to my music class at NYU at 9:30AM on the Thursday. That’s how I started to practice and get better. A tip for getting field practice and getting better is to do sets late, because by that time people are so drunk and are already having fun, and so it buys you the flexibility in practice.

By March 2012, my sophomore year of NYU,  I got invited to play at the Winter Music Conference in Miami , and played at a rooftop party of it with The Knocks. I played the party with them; that was my first taste of the DJ life in Miami and I went way overboard. I was 19– a completely immature kid coming out of NYU and from a conservative family in Tennessee. I drank way too much, did drugs, and blacked out half the time during the trip. It wasn’t a wake up call for me. I was a teenager then, exposed to this VIP lifestyle that I had no business being involved with. Along this time I was still producing music, getting rejected left and right for songs I wrote and it was all bad, but I kept working on it.

2012

The summer after freshman year in college I had my first mental breakdown and was suicidal. I took a hiatus that year.

I came back to school my sophomore year and I realized my best friend from childhood, Alex, was coming to NYU and it was a huge boost for me to have a friend I’ve known for life, 26 years, be around and be a pillar of support to me. During this time, I had come to realize that despite being on this crazy rollercoaster I was still passionate about getting better as a music producer. These two moments helped kickstart the healing of wounds and experiences that were so traumatic for me the past summer.

Alex was coincidently also making music at SMU, the school he attended prior to NYU, and we decided to DJ together. We dj-ed a lot of fraternity parties around New York. It was a way to bond as friends and to continue the healing process doing something next to someone who I trusted and doing something I loved. By then I’d taken a step back from doing more prominent shows.
I think in the spring semester of my sophomore year, we contacted some more promoters and we slowly started getting involved in the more crazy shows again… and got a bit too involved with the substances again. I partied too much and I know what my limits are now and I know to balance it.

We spent most of sophomore year doing that and making trance-y progressive house music. It was fine. I was getting better at it. Taking all sorts of music theory classes that were really helpful with my composition.

2013

The fall of junior year in college, Alex and I started studying in China (and that’s where we all met). Through meeting some local promoters, we started playing shows there too. On September 26, 2013 we got asked to play a show with Cassius (pioneers in French house) who is OG homies with Daft Punk, Justice… Cassius was playing at Arkham (a Shanghai club) and that show was the moment I really fell in love with house music. That was the first time I ever DJed authentic, real house music. I played trance music for the rest of junior year, but knew house was where I wanted to be. In 2014, my senior year, I decided to start my own project, and from fall to spring 2015, I was working independently on producing more tropical and melodic remixes.

2015

In April 2015, I did a remix of Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson, a tropical music sound and the song went viral, getting half a million plays on Soundcloud’s promotional page. That was the moment I thought, “I could keep doing things like this.”

In June of 2015, I had graduated NYU and was living in Brazil. I had the a cappella for The Jackson 5’s ABC, and decided to make a remix of it. I didn’t have any hardware, and I made the remix with just my computer and a little Bluetooth. When I got back to the states I uploaded it and 3 weeks later I was contacted by Universal Records in the summer of 2015. They said, “you don’t have permission to do this, but we like it and we’ll sign this,” and it was released after some edits were made under the label in January, 2016.

2015

At the end of August, I decided to drive across the country with my dad to Burning Man– I was asked play at an art car, and I had no idea what that meant then. Going to burning man was that one experience that opened my eyes and changed my life, and it was exactly where I thought I needed to be. The sets i played and put up is why I am where I am today.

How the Burning Man thing came about:

I was in LA playing a show with a friend of mine, but then I took the train up to Davis to see another friend of men that I’ve been working on music with. Then we went down to SF and went to a pool party and I tweeted that I was at this pool party. A fan of mine tweeted back saying he was at the party too; his camp had an art car and asked if I’d play. I had no idea what that meant, but I went. It was the night I was supposed to play that night.. when I drove into Burning Man; I didn’t know that Burning Man kind of works on its own schedule and that time doesn’t really exist. Maybe 2 minutes before they left with their art car, I arrived at the camp, got on the car, and DJed my first sunrise set, which was 4.5 hours. Halfway through my set my dad and my stepmom showed up and they saw part of that set live which was amazing. It was the last set they’ve seen of mine which was unfortunate of mine unfortunately. It was a spur of the moment decision to put the Sunrise Set online, and then obviously it kind of you know, shit hit the fan. All of a sudden people were discovering me and asking me to perform because of that set.

2016

On Finding Your Own Voice

Moving to the production side of things, in 2016 I started writing my first single, and collaborated with a Korean singer named Yarros. We set about writing a song that spoke to a bunch of socio-cultural issues: domestic violence and LGBTQ– it was called Mistress. The song’s a story about a woman who runs away from her abusive husband with her mistress.

And how did that go?

It was amazing.

We finished that song in March, 2016 and we had no success, nobody wanted to sign it, and it kind of sat on the shelf into the summer, and this got me discouraged. In August, my old agent reached out to this old label called Audiophile and they immediately said “yes, we’re interested”. Eventually, they had Kyle Watson do the remix for it and 9 months after we had written it, the music went on the radio, and that gave me a boost. However the downside of the success of Mistress’ remix was that it temporarily led me to a creative path that I didn’t want. Discouraged and then having the remix of my song succeed resulted in the thought, “Oh wow, Nick, you need to make more songs like that because it did well,”  which didn’t bode well for my long term happiness, thinking I had to make music I didn’t want to make in order to succeed. And I wasn’t happy, and again, doing too much drugs.

2017

Much of the first part of 2017 was struggling with finding myself in my creativity and finding my own unique path for it.

I wanted to do house music and was conflicted with how to carve a niche with my passion for music and my identity as an artist without copying people I looked up to already.

In August 2017, I played a show in San Francisco with a friend, Victorian, who was in a set called FDVM and that show unlocked the puzzle of what I should have been doing creatively as myself, Nick. The response was so positive, and my path kind of opened up for me, it was funky, groovy, uplifting house music. The coming into myself and through the music I love continued on at Burning Man that year, and that’s how I’ve stayed with my music and my style since. It was the first time I authentically, and with full ownership told the story that I wanted to tell, and I felt. That I made an impact, a mark.

How does it feel to feeling the click, that match in feeling convicted in what you’re meant to do and having the audience/market/universe respond positively to it? Not a lot of people have that, some get that as young as their middle school years and some get that really late into their lives.

Nick: Finding the click that makes you go is great, but it’s important for me specifically to be aware that a lot of the music I love making is not necessarily going to make me successful, so the question for me is to figure out, “how do you balance that?”

What happened to Nick after is a series of up and towns, both as an artist and personally, although those two descriptors come very much intertwined when speaking to the essence of Nick. There were times he was not producing music he felt he identified with, and in tandem to that, he also wasn’t happy and doing too much drugs. He was in a relationship too and it was struggling; he wasn’t able to be a good partner and they ended up breaking up in November 2017. 2018, Nick worked hard on pursuing a lot of self-growth and identifying the things that would keep him sustainably well, both in practice and in mind and body.


2018 was filled with a lot of self-growth work. I confronted the fact that I had a lot of things I needed to work on and a lot of habits I needed to kick internally and physically.

Simultaneously, I worked on honing this new value I found and click in identity and purpose found, I now knew what kind of music I wanted to create, so I’m thinking, how do I go about creating it?

2018

Things kept going up from there, his Burning Man set for that year was run by Billboard. While he was heartbroken and staying on a friends couch, Nick would think up the Location Remix (check it out on Soundcloud or Spotify), which went viral and was signed by Atlantic, go on to release another single in April of 2018, and release his first original track that was reflective of the funky, house music he loved in July of 2018. Burning Man, August of 2018 became what was probably Nick’s biggest set, and he’s continued to thrive as an artist since. It’s been an upward and good living for Nick with the continuous support of music, his lifestyle, and his community via BangOn NYC and Burning Man.

Why do you think you’ve been able to experience success as a performer?

Nick: I love telling stories. I love being part of the journey of others connecting with music they didn’t expect they’d connect with. I take a lot of pride and joy in that. Now I’m making funky house music. And also making pop music that might be more Spotify community friendly. It’s a work of balance, trying to create good music that marries the funky, groovy, fun music I love to create and the sounds that are relatable enough so that they welcome a larger swathe of people.

Neurotransmitters #1: Gamma-Aminobutyric Acids

What is GABA?

GABA, shorthand for Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid or γ-aminobutyric acid is a neurotransmitter (something that helps enable communication in the brain– important).

It’s classified as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which alludes to its calming effects on an overstimulated brain.

At lower, insufficient levels, you can experience migraines and insomnia, and in the presence of a serious GABA deficiency: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and epilepsy.

Suffice it to say, GABA is a major neurotransmitter to know in order to help you understand how to be optimally relaxed and well.

A sufficient level of GABA is crucial for your wellbeing as it promotes the following functions:

Movement

Posture

Regulating Anxiety, by slowing down our reaction to stress

Motor Control

Vision

Reduced blood pressure

While it does facilitate great motor movement, for our intents we’re going to talk about how it helps helps people regulate anxiety.

Not familiar with it?:

You might have heard of GABA being marketed by brands in the ingestible and supplements space. Interestingly, live to date, there is insufficient data supporting any claim that GABA supplements are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and have an affect on your brain and on your GABA level. Please also note that manufacturers are not required to provide evidence supporting the efficacy of their products as long as they make no claims with regard to potential benefits in relation to specific diseases or conditions.
Ahem.

There are however, some easy dietary hacks that can help increase and support the maintenance of healthy GABA levels in your body. You can incorporate household diet staples such as green tea, black tea, & oolong tea, kefir, and yogurt into your diet. For the more devoted, here are some additional plants or minerals to consider adding to your diet to affect and raise your GABA level:

  • Valerian (hello, “Valerian root”! The flower or the flower based extract is cited in numerous homeopathic remedies; also used most notably to help with insomnia)
  • Magnesium (tofu, spinach, almond, avocado, dark chocolate, bananas)
  • Ginseng
  • Chamomile
  • Skullcap (a flowering plant in the mint family; also present in First Milk, our face mask – Scutellaria Baicalensis Root Extract)
  • Passionflower
  • Ashwagandha
  • Tempeh

While there are inherited disorders that result in an imbalance in GABA for some, lifestyle is most certainly a major influencer on the brain levels of GABA in most.

So as important as going on Web MD or going to your physician, examine yourself and your lifestyle. You’ll be able to make some immediate adjustments there if you feel an imbalance in mood.

By Susan Im

Men, Mindfulness, & Meditation: Observing the Rising Trend in Men & Self-Care


Once upon a time, there were advertisement billboards, enlarged reflections of assumed masculine stereotypes. These advertisements usually revolved around women, sports, and drinking excess amounts of alcohol. To broadcast male actions as anything else was likely subject to questioning one’s sexual orientation.

Not much has changed.

Credit: Getty Images

However, there has been an gradual shift over the last two years concerning the way men take care of themselves. This “shift” could be representative of the digital era we live in, or it could be social media’s allowance of self-expression. Regardless, more men are stepping forward to publically share their involvement in spa days, morning meditation, and nightly tea before bed.

I’m skeptical. I can’t define this as a new phenomenon. I can’t imagine self care to be something that men willingly divulged in, only 2017 years later. But I can find solace in knowing that men are better than the dirty shirt-wearing, BBQ wing-eating, beer-slamming degenerates media companies slate them to be.

Still, I am skeptical.

After spending an hour on Instagram’s ‘Explore Page,’ viewing shirtless men drinking sponsored teas while kneeling on a yoga mat, I knew it was time to find answers for myself–starting with the community I called my own.

I decided to sit down with *Tony, a male friend from college who currently plays professional basketball in another country. Tony is also someone who has always openly practiced self-care tactics. I wanted to learn if male-initiated self-care practices are the real deal, or just another social media-influenced scam.


“I was lucky enough to be raised by my grandmother and my mom at separate points in my life who consistently practiced self care. They’d do their nails, their hair, face masks, buy new clothes, meditate, and burn incense or candles. My dad taught me how to get away and meditate through a workout or listening to music. He also included incense in his meditation, so naturally I learned to do the same.”

1. How do you define meditation? Do you believe there are multiple ways to define meditation?

T: I define meditation as little as one minute or longer to reflect upon yourself. How I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. If there’s something bothering me in any form, this is my moment to identify it and recognize it, rather than run from it. I may not have the answer for it right away, but meditation allows me to adapt accordingly.

Credit: Instagram/ @loudawg_

2. Do you openly speak about your self-care practices? Do you feel that there are gender roles placed around self care? Would you consider the connotation to be positive or negative?

T: I do. I’ve always felt as if there are gender roles placed on certain self care, but I’ve never really cared for. For example, for men it’s mainly seemed as if the only self care we can practice is through sports, drinking, or any other kind of hobby that’ll take your brain off things.

Now my self care routine involves a haircut, working out, consistently meditating, cleaning the house, burning sage/incense/candles, face masks, even getting a manicure or pedicure if needed. I never hesitated to be this way because in my eyes I was always taking care of myself and that’s all that mattered.

I remember in college I’d consistently post snap stories of me ending nights making tea, listening to soothing music and lighting candles. And that was for me, it was my way of settling down at the end of the day and taking time for myself. People knew I lived with another guy, but no one really judged me for it.

3. More men and speaking out about the ways they invest into themselves, through self-care practices. Do you think this is a shift // movement, or are men becoming more comfortable speaking about this topic? If the latter, what do you think serves as inspiration for men to speak about this?

T: I believe men are becoming more comfortable speaking about this topic, and honestly the biggest influence is social media. It’s allowed men and women to show men it’s cool to take care of yourself. Life is hard, and in this era a lot of people take to various forms of social media to relate to one another, whether we admit that or not.

Credit: Youtube / www.youtube.com/chrisellelim

4. How do the (three) groups of people respond to your views surrounding self care:

– Parents

– Gender you’re attracted to

– Friends

Do responses from these groups differ? If so, why do you think that is?

T: My parents both encourage my self meditation and are very happy I practice. My girlfriend encourages my self mediation and actually aids me in my practice by giving me new ones, or helps improve old ones. But she’s proud of me for it, and that makes me happy. My friends were all hesitant at first. To them, it seemed more “feminine.” They’d talk privately with me about it (self care) at first, but very rarely in the open or amongst peers. Once they realized I’m the same person, regardless and I’m just as driven (if not more) to accomplish my goals and I’m happy, they started to do little things to practice themselves.

The responses certainly differ only because my friends who are predominantly male, were taught to be a man is to be tough and act like nothing phases you. But no one is that tough. People have emotions as we get older I believe we all go through things that teach us it’s okay to have emotions as long as we channel them properly.

5. Any brands // companies // products // people // media you recommend to help with self-care acceptance?

T: I don’t know of any brands or anything that can help you with self care acceptance. All it takes is yourself to be okay with how it is you want to practice.

6. What role does social media play with this topic? Can we (partly) blame social media, or is social media just another platform for people to over-express their opinions?

T: As I stated before social media plays a huge role in my eyes for self care. There’s literally people who become famous by showing you face masks and all kinds of wild self-care practices. But at the end of the day most of these people become social media famous because in the general public’s eye “they got it figured out.” The downfall of this is that kids and adults often seem to miss the principle of the matter and would rather flash fake results. Either that, or the influencers are fake themselves–thus, spreading weak content. So there is a fine line.

7. What can we do TODAY to remove given stigmas?

T: Today, we can continue to be confident in ourselves and inspire each other. Let it be known, it is unfair to throw your baggage around on anyone simply because you don’t take care of yourself. Someone’s mindfulness and happiness lies in our hands, not others. However, it is also important to remember to be sympathetic and understanding of those who were not taught to take care of themselves. We should choose to help guide if possible, but that journey is most-fulfilled when it’s done on your own.


Learning Tony’s perspective concerning self-care practices was not only uplifting and refreshing, but realistic. Though we both share the same idea about social media’s influence on our overall health, I too am confident in believing that everything we do should be reflective of ourselves and not fragments we see of someone else’s life.

While there are men in the world who watch sports and eat messy BBQ wings, those same men may be also participants in face masks and pedicures. It’s not a new idea, it’s an evolved perspective. But it is 2019, and it’s time to to think differently, interact more efficiently, and live outside of our comfort zone. If you don’t know how, maybe this is the time to get off the internet and meet someone face-to-face–over a cup of tea.

*Name of participant changed in this article for privacy

By Carly Quellman