I know I sure have …
In this episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, I’m not talking about being trapped in a Memory Palace or anything about memory techniques.
I’m talking about how memory can hold you back and keep you down. Like when it leads to avoiding doing new things because someone you know frowned upon it. Or you hold on to a unwanted behaviour because you can’t shake the memories surrounding how you learned it.
A myriad of consequences result. These include avoiding new experiences. Treating others poorly because your parents burned certain responses in your mind. Repeating destructive behaviors. Yes, memory can be a terrible jailor.
The Good News Is That There Are Ways To Break Free
In case you’re foggy on what I’m getting at, let me tell you a story about a friend of mine. Sadly, he died a few years ago from cancer.
And I miss him. He had a fierce personality, incredible intelligence and acidic wit that that burned impressions into your mind.
Although the cancer killed him, these aspects of his personality went untouched until almost the end. The disease got into his brain and then the friend I had known for so long was suddenly no more. It is a strange thing to wait for a body to die after the person him or herself is already gone.
“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero
But that’s the power of memory.
Because even though my friend was gone, one thing stuck with me. It shaped my behavior, and although “prison” is perhaps too strong a word, these remembered things helped me act as my own jailor.
During my friend’s long and valiant period of chemotherapy, I had finished a research and teaching grant in Film Studies. I had moved back to Canada from Germany and had no idea and struggled with finding a new teaching gig.
I had three promising interviews at universities, and was almost hired at one of them. But when that didn’t pan out, I was lost. I didn’t know what to do.
Even through all his pain and suffering, my friend held fast to his conviction that I was a teacher. We’d gotten our BA degrees together. I had watched him go through law school and start a practice as he watched me soar to the heights of a PhD and major research grant.
And although I couldn’t offer a solution for his cancer, he tried to help me during his darkest days. Together, we came up together with the idea of getting a teaching certificate for high school. I rejected it the second I said it, but he encouraged it.
More than encourage it, it sometimes seemed that he lived through my experiences. We talked so much and had been so close for so many years that it was often as if I was not acting alone. So as I accepted the idea and made preparations for going back to school, it became more about him than me.
If You Have To Lower Your Standards, You’re In The Wrong Place
Eating on the remaining funds from my research grant while housesitting to get by, I volunteered in local high schools.
Not because I wanted to volunteer, but because you need to teach under observation on a voluntary basis in a high school to apply for a teaching certificate in Canada. Even though I had taught at universities for years, I still needed to get the proper letters of recommendation from high school level teachers. Otherwise, I could not apply for the education program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. These were strange experiences because I was expected to treat the young students far below their obvious abilities.
Whereas I had been used to challenging university students to stretch beyond their comfort zones, I was now expected to spoon feed Victorian era education to young people living in the age of the Internet. It was a false portrait of how I understand the world, but I still worked at painting myself into it.
In case you’ve never been, it’s at the top of a large hill, surrounded by the beautiful mountains of British Columbia where I’m from. The buses huff and puff to reach the top and every trip feels like a cross-country adventure.
And it was a painful place to visit. I had no office, no classroom to teach in and no classroom to learn in.
“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen,
few in pursuit of the goal.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
I made the journey many times to submit registration papers and pay registration fees. I often spoke with my friend on the phone during these trips. Each time our discussions reinforced the importance of me being a teacher come hell or highwater. The more voluntary teaching while eating rice and tuna and being stressed out over every dime wore me down, the weaker my conviction grew.
And because money was running out, I started seeking a job. Any job. Because I had worked as a store detective as one of my ways to pay for university the first time around, that’s the route I went. But I couldn’t get anything better than a uniformed security guard position.
There’s nothing wrong with being a security guard. But having stood at the podiums of major universities to lecture in front of hundreds of students, monitoring the behaviors of thousands of shoppers in Metrotown mall …
“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves.
But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still,
small voice says to us, something is out of tune.”
– Carl Jung
Even with Jung’s wisdom in tow, it felt like a step down in the world.
And I must admit that I was ashamed as I stood in front of a mirror wearing the ill-fitting white shirt, black dress pants with the ridiculous stripe down the side and pseudo-military shoes. Which is why I tossed the uniform into a clothing donation bin on the way to my first day at work.
Of course, I realized that tossing the uniform was illegal to let a uniform of authority out of my possession like that and the property wasn’t mine to dispose. But the story of how I got the uniform back out of the donation bin and in the hands of the employer is a story for another day.
As is the story of eventually drumming up some cash doing magic on the streets and convincing Haydee Windey to hire me at ELIT after applying three times. She’s the one who gave me the keys to her school, an office to write in and students to teach memory techniques as part of their literary education and ultimately the Magnetic Memory Method. It was for these students that I wrote everything down in what would become the first book in the Magnetic Memory Method Series.
But again, a story for another time.
“Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.”
– Coco Chanel
When my application to the education program at Simon Fraser was rejected, I was completely lost. Because I couldn’t get into the program, I couldn’t get a student loan. Without a student loan, I wouldn’t be able to survive much longer and I couldn’t housesit forever. No one would make me go live on the streets, but the pressure from all sides made it feel like I was going in that direction.
And I had my bipolar disorder on top of that to deal with too. The doctor I found refused to give me my medication for longer than 30 days so he could monitor my moods and I had no time to find another one. It had already taken long enough to find this one, Plus, this doctor was … Well, that again is a story for another day.
But my friend did not let me give up. He convinced me to appeal the university’s decision. This meant more painful trips to the campus for meetings and forms and registration fees.
And it was during this time that I started teaching at ELIT. As an after school program that fills in the gaps left by the school system, it was a blessing. I admired the place, its students and the parents who want their kids to have a better chance.
But I was still pushing for a place in the Education program at Simon Fraser University.
And my friend’s belief that I could get into the education program if I fought for it proved true. But after Haydee allowed me to teach at ELIT the way I wanted to teach …
“I don’t often veer away from a big melodic song with big
words for big stadiums.”
– Robbie Williams
I couldn’t stomach the idea of offering students anything less than the teaching I’m capable of giving. Of course, Haydee was nervous at first when she saw me writing terms like “architectonic tautology” on the whiteboards of her classrooms. But I proved that the students were up to my university-level challenges time after time.
And yet I still went ahead with the Education program. I braced myself for the classes I was about to attend that would teach me how to teach according to grade levels decided upon by the government.
Then, one morning on my way to ELIT and six weeks before the education program would begin, I got the call. My friend had died.
Years later, I still mourn his passing. But I never mourn the fact that I betrayed his final wish for my future.
For six weeks, my stomach churned every day at the future before me. I went up and down that hill to get textbooks and study for my courses in advance. It all felt wrong.
Yet the memory of all those conversations with my friend held fast. And the idea that teaching high school now would prepare the stage for a victorious re-entry to university teaching years later echoed in my ears.
But the logic was false. Why suffer now and take part in an education system I know in my heart is broken so that I could enjoy my earlier career later? It made no sense.
And yet, on the first day of classes, I found myself on the bus winding up the hill, imprisoned by the ghost of all those discussions with my friend.
“The only person who is educated is the one who
has learned how to learn and change.”
– Carl Rogers
But even though I went up the campus, I didn’t go to that first class. I didn’t even leave the bus bay. With tears burning in my eyes and the feeling that there must be a better way to find my place in the world I got off one bus and stepped onto another and headed back into the city.
Just as I had dumped the security guard uniform in the donation bin, I left the wishes of another person behind on the bus bay at Simon Fraser University. I left the future and unhappy identity it would have created behind. And I’d like to think that I honored my friend by doing my own thing instead of his.
And because I freed myself from the memory of those conversations with my friend and the conviction he had about my teaching high school, I’ve since educated more people in a few short years than I could have during an entire career as a high school teacher. More than 51,000 people have read a book or taken a Magnetic Memory Method course. It
And with nearly a million podcast downloads, half a million YouTube views and hundreds of comments and reviews, I think it’s fair to say that I made the right decision.
“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a
thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
– Harriet Tubman
The other route would have delivered me into Slave’s Luck, defined as making it into a career you wind up hating. In some cases, people hate that career before they even start preparing for it. In others, they start hating it as part of the journey to qualification. In every case, there’s no point in going through such a long journey only to wind up wearing golden handcuffs.
So what ghosts and memories are powering your behaviors against your own wishes and desires? Take a moment to think about what advices, words of wisdom or the wishes of others might be holding you down.
And then write down what you really want from your life. If you had no pressure from family or friends and had all the resources needed to be fully you and play out your wildest and most fulfilling dreams, what would those be?
For me it was always to write books and correspond with my readers. I remember in grade 8 reading Ray Bradbury talking about all the mail he received and how he answered every letter. I thought then as I think now that this exactly what I want to do.
“Writing in a journal … offers a place where you can hold a deliberate,
thoughtful conversation with yourself.”
– Robin S. Sharma
But before I got there, I had to go through the exercise of writing down what my true dreams are every day.
And so that’s what I want you to do. And do it every day for at least 90 days.
If you can’t do that, then you know what you’ve chosen isn’t really your dream. No amount of knowledge or use of memory techniques is ever going to change that fact.
So as you write every day, refine your dream and your vision of what you want to do. Sooner or later you’ll find what you really want, that thing you can describe again and again for at least 90 days.
And as you do so, your unconscious mind will start finding opportunities to get you what you want. I’m convinced of it, but you need to try for yourself in order to be sure. You don’t have to take my word for it, but I’m confident that it will be one of the most rewarding experiments you’ll ever make.
And it’ll be totally unforgettable too.
So let me know how you fare and until next time, keep Magnetic.