In Profile: Jordan Tivers

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 9.31.30 AMEvery conversation with Jordan Tivers is, more or less, an interview.

By this I don’t mean the standard question and answer format, the one-sided focus, nor the intent of either side to either reveal or have something revealed.

What I do mean is that, in any audible moment, Tivers is likely to provide the rare honesty and open-door scrutability usually reserved for interviews.

This profile was constructed over several conversations with Tivers and one focused 40-minute interview, the contents of which are nearly indecipherable as to which format it was produced from. His verbal offerings come agnostic of atmosphere and context.

Tivers is a native of suburban Chicago, a former student in Iowa City and New Orleans, and a former professional in Austin. His relocation to Chicago (“homecoming” as it was put more than once) came after an epiphanic trip back in March and the feeling in his gut that this was where he belonged—amongst family and old friends.

The various things other cities lacked for him—diversity, public transportation, real connection opportunities—were all things he saw in Chicago and has found in his short stint here so far. He lives on the north side, in an open studio apartment designed for his habits and lifestyle.

He describes the Chicago he loves in a hodge-podge manner, bringing people together in a way only few big cities can.

And if there’s something that speaks to Tivers it’s people. He talks about loving the EL; but in strictly people terms. “It has all walks of life on it,” he says, not mentioning the actual utility of it being a mode of transport.

He talks about his love for hip-hop music by talking about the performers who make it. His childhood experiences are wrapped around interactions with family members, with friends, with opponents on the basketball court. The monuments demarcating the world of Jordan Tivers have faces, and hands with fingernails, and hearts.

And so it comes as little surprise that his work is wrapped around the experience of intimately connecting with other people.

It was back in New Orleans he finished graduate school in Social Work and became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). It’s in this field—his field—that he’s prospered, specializing in group therapy and honing a deep understanding in addiction therapies of several kinds.

If you want to see an animated Tivers, his career is one way to bring it about. He can talk about it (“my mecca”) all day. Though he’s not hooked in 24/7—in fact he goes great lengths to keep a balance between his working life and his life life (we’ll get there)—it’s inarguably clear that he’s found a line of profession that provides him avenues for passion and curiosity that seem limitless.

His professional goal is simple: help his patients with self-growth. And yet he’s quick to point out that that’s not the highest priority.

“Work is not my priority,” he says. “My priority is balance. First is that.”

It seems at first blush like this might be a trite selfishness or a paradox until you break it down further. Self-growth is a intensely personal goal. To bring this to a patient is not something unlocked externally. Tivers cannot be a magician with a wand that wills magic to occur. And so the internal journey that Tivers wants to see in his patients must also be a part of him. (One is reminded of Rilke: “the only journey is the one within”).

And so fundamental to Tivers’ success at work is the energy he turns on himself. It’s imperative, then, to understand the journey that has made him himself. And it’s the self-curiosity to continually examine, meditate, and uncover that allows for a deep curiosity in his patients, his friends, and the strangers he meets.

“Being a therapist is the greatest thing in the world,” he says. “When people bring their dark side, it’s an intimate thing and I don’t take that lightly.”

His does not speak lightly of his own dark times in his youth. There was lots of good  he’s quick to mention, but also lots of hardship—most of this due to struggling to understand who he was, or feeling pushed to be something he was not. For years, he was devastatingly hard on himself.

In these reflections, anxiety comes up in several stories; and in more than a dozen costumes. It wasn’t easy to overcome this all, and perhaps he hasn’t. But he’s certainly come a long way. He’s written a lot about these times, even drafting a book about this journey.

Things began to change for him in college. The shift was hard; with fears of losing everything he held to be good. He needed space to find himself.  He lost friends. He gave up a serious relationship. He had to question everything in his life. Those were trying times.

These days, he speaks of mindfulness and buddhism practices. He speaks of emotionality and mental health. He sees when anxiety rears its head and has methods to cope. He wants you to understand how far he’s come—not for his ego, but so you too will not take lightly the honesty he proffers.

“The judgments you carry yourself, you’re going to put those on other people,” he says. And he says it like a warning.

He’s impossibly energetic, engaging, and enthusiastic about his work—something rarely seen in most young professionals, let alone those who delve into the darker pockets of our society. It’s hard not to imagine him walking down the wide and well-lit hallway of success when it comes to his line of work.


Back to our conversation. Some of the quotable Tivers:

“[calendar] Dates are really important for me.”

“I want to be felt and I want others to be seen.”

“There’s something really beautiful about talking to a stranger. People are missing out on that.”

{On dating apps}: “I get it intellectually….but people do not take many risks now. “We’re robbing ourselves of emotional experiences.”

Some word counts from our 40-mintue interview:

  • Emotionality: 7
  • Authentic: 9
  • Playful: 7
  • Buddhism: 8


There’s another word that comes up more than once that I couldn’t get out of my head. It seemed to fundamental in the whole of the parts we uncovered. That word is contrivance (in its different forms: contrive, contrived, contriving).

This is the villain in Tivers’ world. It’s to be avoided at all costs. It’s this that hurts him most when looking around. Others constructing their own images. Constantly and anxiously tinkering with their own presentation. You find it in the restaurants, the bars, the dating apps, the school hallways of our already damaged youth.

It’s, in short, the opposite of authenticity—his highest value. And it’s high on his mission list to help solve.

This harkens back to the idea of conversations with Tivers being like an interview. In correspondences, we tend to keep ourselves a bit contrived. We reveal what we feel is best; and shutter the doors on some real parts of ourselves we’re not ready to open the window to. We act before allowing any vulnerability. We self-manage rather than self-SCUBA-dive deep.

One wonders how often, if ever, Tivers allows himself to take the easy street of contrived anything. These days, it’s so easy. So much begs us to surrender our true selves for the sweet safety of conformability. If it’s easy to say “always be your true self”, then it can’t be easy to fit in with everyday life as such.

Tivers has managed this in his own ways. He rarely uses apps on his phone. He drinks little. He’s the kind of guy who still asks girls out on dates in person. He doesn’t own a TV, rarely talks about his Netflix queue, and doesn’t talk about new restaurants he just-can’t-wait-to-go-to.

And still it’s worth asking: what does one give up to strive for authenticity? Where is the room for our vulnerable population amongst the electronic walls we put up as we laser-focus on our phones? I have no doubt Tivers has ruminated on these uncertainties. Ask him about it when you see him; he won’t be shy with answers.


There’s a self-examination activity I did a while back. It’s a simple exercise, consisting of just one question. The question is “how do you love?

The answers can be whatever comes to mind. As soon as you answer this once, though, you’re pushed to answer again. And again, and again. You go on naming ways you love for several minutes—or until you run out of ideas.

After everyone’s finished, the idea of the activity is explained a bit further.

Think of how many things you named that were ways of showing love to others; and how many were ways you love yourself.

For most of us, the latter was noticeably less. We tend to think of love as something we give to others, and can unfortunately neglect to provide for ourselves.

I asked Tivers to answer this question for a full 60 seconds, listing as many line items as he could on how he shows love. He listed 14. Everyone single one was internally focused. Ways he showed love in something he did for himself.

His story is one of toiling for years in a deep well of not being himself. Now, he has emerged loving himself; tried and true. It wasn’t easy. It’s never easy.

Self-love is on the path of self-growth—and you’ll certainly find Tivers on it, though it’s hard to know where it’ll eventually take him. Or you. But he’s an open book—ready at any instant to talk or to listen—if you’re willing to come along for the mysterious, wild, and wonderful ride ahead.

In Profile: Mark Moschel

20151106_115240There’s this saying that I’ve seen going around more and more lately. It goes, “people don’t remember what you say or do, they remember how you make them feel”. It’s a fine platitude, but it misses out on something.

What it misses, I believe, is those rare times you’re given a nugget of truth or beauty. When you meet someone who genuinely offers wisdom, you tend to remember it. This is particularly true of one certain branch of wisdom—practical wisdom.

One example is upon hearing a particular method or trick that’s told to make your life better—we find ourselves remembering these.  We’re always looking for the nearest road to improvement.

After talking with Mark Moschel one retains more than a few tidbits of what was said, and remembers them precisely.

Moschel is currently the CTO of Chicago’s Factor 75 and describes himself as an Entrepreneur and Writer, though he’s quick to point out that labels aren’t exactly his thing. “We’re all just trying to figure out who we are,” he says. In his case, he’ll have to pick from where to hang off a dozen different branches if he needed one specific label.

It’s perhaps his fixation upon non-fixation that allows for a great breadth of practical wisdom. In one conversation, he can talk about techniques for jumping higher, or talk about artificial intelligence with enough forward-thinking to make your head spin.

This idea of practical wisdom seems to permeate around him, always. It’s not a true intelligence for it requires deeper thinking and inquiry into truth. And it’s not spirituality, because it has to be grounded somewhere and on something.

Interviewing Moschel one is struck by how much he knows—and how little he allows himself to be content to know. It’s curiosity that drives him, almost for the sake of remaining curious. There’s no endgame in sight, he says.

We first meet on a Sunday at Lovely, a cafe in Chicago’s Wicker Park. He’s upbeat—chipper in basketball shorts and a light black sweater. Moschel’s sad we can’t sit outside, but we find a table and he immediately pulls out a notebook. He’ll be taking notes on our conversation, and one imagines he does this with most of his coffee shops chats. He is, after all, a learner.

In addition to his pursuits above, Moschel runs the local “biohacking” organization in Chicago. Each month, he gathers a group together to listen to speakers, debate new ideas, and test out recent innovations in the area. For those not in the know, biohacking is the idea of optimizing the natural state of your body for peak performance. It is, if one needed to pinpoint it, the nucleus of Moschel’s life.

In one way or another, most of our conversations come back to something in the biohacking world. Whether it’s habit formation, healthy eating, or being curious about your own self—we find ourselves hovering around this sun every few minutes.

I ask how he got to be this way. That opens a can of worms. We’ll get there.

First, let’s understand Moschel himself. He’s short and pale, and well-built and energetic. His dress is more set for a pick-up basketball game than a restaurant. He consistently carries a backpack with him with his computer, a notebook half filled in, and probably a book or two (he’s always reading something).

Moschel grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, a pocket of comfort that tends to breed conformity. For a few years, he followed a familiar line—school in Champaign, work at Accenture out of it. All was set for the easy road upward.

But there were things along the way that deviated him from this path. He read Seneca and thought hard on stoicism. He found out he had an irregular heartbeat—a pure inefficiency at the heart (excuse the pun) of himself. He witnessed a classmate dying in Champaign right in front of him. “Another reminder that life is short,” he says of that episode.

And soon enough, he was learning from his older brother about the world that computer programming opens and expanding on what he learned with his CS degree. He made a plan to formalize his learnings, quit Accenture, and get into programming. He did this—taking a week’s vacation to work around the clock learning how to program and then took a short trip by himself to Portland, Maine to close off the corporate consulting chapter of his life.

In the transition, he found himself drawn not just to the programming ecosystem, but also to the larger entrepreneurial one tied into it. If he had this gift of creation in the digital age, why not use it for his own ideas?

And ideas he’s had. Moschel talks about the idea phase of his thinking and its not hard to imagine it being near limitless. It’s the execution—the shutting down of any future ideas for the moment and the silencing of the all-too-distracting internal brain that plagues him sometimes.

I talk to him about his internal brain. He speaks of it in broad, people terms. We’re a distracted group, he says. We’re bogged down in these distractions and our day-to-day of really not accomplishing much. This is one of the sadnesses he sees in humanity.

Where he comes in is a chance to rectify this. With proper habits and strategies, he knows he can help people dull this inner friction. But it’ll take time.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Humanistic optimization is an odd goal for some. For one, it’s hard to track. When does one hit peak? Do we have an objective way to begin to solve that? Does one want to hit peak creativity? Peak management? And what is lost when one does? Is peak creativity a footbridge to insanity? It’s not hard to imagine the questions expanding infinitely.

The other issue I’ve heard is that optimization can seem, well, un-human. “To err is human,” right? And what if we work toward no errors? Toward perfection.20151106_115311

Moschel isn’t sure he believes in perfection, but there’s always room to move toward it.

With talks of Artificial Intelligence becoming more populated these days, it’s not hard to make a cranial connection. Robots, running off the perfected lines of programming created by people like Moschel are said to be the closest approximation of “perfect” in our world today. Are we moving toward a more robotic versions of ourselves? Less prone to perceived weaknesses—lapses in judgement, feelings, etc…

Moschel is an interesting case here. He works on machines. He loves technology and sees it as an avenue to helping the mass of people not achieving their best selves. So it fits into his goal mentioned above—helping us silence our distracting brain.

So, what’s your favorite part of being a human? I ask him point blank.

He swerves around the question. “You mean, what’s my favorite part of being alive,” he asks.

“No,” I say. “Not really,” but he answers anyway.

HIs answer to that is related to our utter insignificance. He talks about the timeline of the Earth. About the billions currently populating this planet. The billions more to come. The other planets out there. We mean so little, he proclaims.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Later we discuss work and to-do lists. Moschel is never specific with his issues. He doesn’t burden you with his own tribulations. The whole “misery loves company” idea is lost on him, it seems. Why talk about troubles? What good does that do? It’s logic that tells us none.

And it’s logic that makes the world go around. Moschel is one of the few people you see that can quickly take a fact and implement it into his life. It comes and goes with little emotion—all in the name of living better, according to a set of objective logic.

Clarity. Clarity, he says, is his greatest motivator. Knowing precisely what one hopes to achieve. Of course, this is the always challenge—to have it and to hold it.

_ _ _ _ _ _

At our last meeting, Mark spends time preparing for a month of writing challenges. He’s had articles half-started and is having trouble completing them. In his own words, this is due to the wonderful distraction that is research and the wanting to jump into a newer, more timely or exciting article. He too, like all of us, reaches for the bright shiny thing sometimes.

At our first meeting at Lovely, he is breaking down a habit system for his writing challenge. He’ll write for 7 minutes each day. The key, we brainstorm, is approaching this as a sort of automatic writing—a technique where one just puts words to paper, no matter if they’re relevant or not.

To aid in this 7-minute daily challenge, he works on a reward and consequence system. If he doesn’t do this goal, there must be some negative repercussion or enforcement. What that is he’s not sure about. He likes working out. He eats well. He wants to volunteer. He can spare a bit of money and anything more than a bit is excessive.

He decides after  a while on a negative. He’ll hold himself accountable to this throughout the month.

Before the end of the day he’s set up a calendar to “X” out each day that he completes his 7 minutes. This is a habit-building process he’s used for years (some know it as the “Seinfeld” hack, named after the famed comedian). He shares it with me. “Accountability is vital,” he says.

There’s little doubt in my mind that he’ll complete his challenge and output for writing this month. If he doesn’t, I imagine it’ll be because he got too busy. Too distracted, perhaps, with newer and more enticing enterprises.

That’s perhaps the divide we find. We’re all subject to this push and pull, between our commitments and our instincts. For most, we let this pass by, accomplishing some things and talking ourselves out of the importance of those that fall by the wayside. After all, there’s a new Netflix show just out and football to watch. Furniture magazines to sift through and daydream on. (So we beat on, boats against the current)

I like to imagine Mark in this battleground, fully equipped with the best armory on the commitment side. Hacks and tools and manipulations and a whipsmart intelligence. Will he win the war? It depends on how you look at it. The war itself might just be a series of battles, strung out over days and months amounting to a lifetime.

The intersections we’re at are always coming and going. There’s no such thing, in this life, as a street with all green lights. For Moschel, this means always looking further down the road at new optimizations. When we hit a red light, how do we not slow to a standstill? How do we swing momentum in our own favor? And what of our emotions—occasionally running those red lights or wild left turns out of the right lane. To what do we owe our randomness—even as we seek perfection?

Moschel summed up this overlap himself, almost happenstancely. “Humans are crazy machines,” he says. “We’re hilarious.”

For all our faults, we may just be the best of all possible scenarios after all. That is, until we’re not. And we’ll wait for the providers of those brilliant, new practical wisdoms to show us the way.

October Monthly Challenges

August & September are in need of reflections. I’ll soon do that.

My goals for October:

  1. Finish final draft of Travel eBook [DONE — Current in Editing]
  2. Build out personal “best of” longform article reading list (long blogpost) [DONE — read here!]
  3. 10 minutes of morning meditation & 10 minutes of evening [Completed 50% of mornings and 57% of nights]

Letter On A Lifestyle Change

Dear X,

I’m sitting in Montreal right now – heading toward New York and it strikes me this might be my last nomadic travel for some time. Nomadic being in the sense that I am traveling between two places, neither of which is my home. After New York, I’ll be going to Chicago where I’ll stay for some time — punctuated, perhaps, by vacations away from there but always, at least while I have my job, to return.

In some way, this is the last leg of a lifestyle i’ve had for half of a decade. No home, no direction to one, No same bed in same neighborhood to burrow back after the hard times. The road became a friend, a confidant, and somehow a singular place to be.

Those were the scenes in my life these last years. Always changing — transitions of airports and packed bags. Goodbye waves and hello hugs. A coffee shop where no one knows my name or my story.

What lies ahead in this new life? I have no idea, but it’s worth thinking about, And this is my method. It comes to you because in some way I’ve always felt you were a champion, one of the greatest, of that old life and my hope is that I’m not letting you down. or letting down myself.

What you should know is that I’m more nervous than ever. Anxiety was always a cool distance away from me, but now I can feel it. The unknown. The hypotheticals that spin around and create worlds that will never exist, but who is to know that now.

It is, however, in this feeling that I’ve found excitement too. And strength. Kerouac, if I remember correctly, in the opening of The Subterraneans called this his “nervous orientation”.

And what that’s predicated upon is a newness.

It used to be that traveling gave me a newness, that before each flight I felt a nervousness. A new place. A new office. A new life I could set up if I was staying for some time. In some places, a new language and culture and parks to walk in on afternoons I wanted to step away from the computer.

But that stopped. Somewhere I grew comfortable in the unknown, content in moving from place to place, almost bored in some moments. What I certainly felt also was some loneliness and the long-termness of that often was hard to handle. I’m an extrovert in so many ways, and, though I’ve grown to love some introversive parts of myself, I crave others to be with, talk with, sleep with.

I had some of this everywhere I went, but it was never a guarantee. Always a question mark. For years, I saw the question mark as my embodiment. I lived it. It’s answer became my intention. Now, I am not so sure it is the symbol of ME, though I do not know what it is. So the question mark exists — but as a pre-front to the mission.

What’s coming next is exciting, both in its asking (professional work) and the opportunity of something drastic and new. Sitting down. Settling for a moment. Catching my breath and become a citizen of a place. I have no insight into how long that will last — or even how long I hope it does — but it’s an opportunity for newness and uniqueness, and those have always been my battle cry of life.

Somewhere, on some soft winter day, when the winds are staining me with cold, I know that travel bug will creep in. I know it’ll sit in the knots of my stomach, clawing at its sides, telling me to find the nearest highway and just go. The thoughts of freedom, when you don’t think you have it, are infinite and large. Powerful beyond any means, I imagine. It’s why so many billions of people have dreamt that dream. I will never claim to know that battle they fight, but I too seek freedom in my own way.

And, for us, our friendship. Well I hope it doesn’t ruin me for you. Hope it doesn’t scatter my image if that image was a traveler, a nomad, a do-it-by-his-own terms kind of guy. I don’t know what the image you have of me is and that’s a good thing — we should be allowed to construct others in the image we hope, so long as our expectations that they too are their own construct are not limited — but I hope it persists to be positive and inspiring. I hope there is still love for me in my pursuits and encouragement and not an end or destruction. I do not think there will be but it is with words I can extol my desires.

And so that it shall be. Gone, for now, are the days of reeling around Brooklyn or Buenos Aires, or reeling around at all. I am committed to finding happiness in this stage of my life, as I will with all future stages. And in the change, I’ll find both good and bad. I know this ahead of time, but keeping this intelligence on an even keel will be a battle. And when that travel bug runs itself up into my mind, I’ll do my best to remember that my previous lifestyle, too, had its good and bad.

What I’m certain to never forget is simple, however: you and the other friends I’ve been allowed into the hearts of along the traveling way, were always the best of the whole damn thing.

With admiration, always —

Eric Grant

July {reflection}

Mid-Year Reflections

July was an “off” month on challenges. I determined this back in my January planning phases — as a way to assess the larger goals of my yearlong project and perhaps set a stronger course going forward for the second half of 2015 based on what I learned in the first.

I’ve done so and with August beginning have changed my approach on goal-setting, in hopes of the self-systemization ideal that I started the year with. Here are some of the changes I’ve made:

Non-Categorization of Goals

I started the year with three categories of goals: Health, Writing, and Lifestyle. This categorization was meant to keep goals varied and expansive. The idea being that if I could succeed in goals across this spectrum, I could build a system or framework that would work on goals in any category. Doing all health or all writing might pigeon-hole me into successfully mastering one corner of my life but nothing bigger.

I don’t think I was wrong in this approach but it had the effect that I was actively trying to avoid. I got stuck in these categories and nothing else. Goal-setting was restricted and habits didn’t overlap as much as they could have. As I learned in April where I turned technology off at night which gave me time to roll out my muscular frame, goals that help one another succeed are ultimately beneficial.

So there won’t be categories going forward. I’ll just set goals on things I’d like to improve on my own life and work on the set-up of the goals so that are not in opposition, but rather in harmony with one another.

Focus On The Means, Not The End

The set up on previous months could aptly be described as this: figure it out. I’d set a lofty goal of something I’d like to accomplish and left myself completely open on how to actually do it. Months that had missed goals could really point back to this as a reason for failure. I didn’t focus on the means as much as the end and a month isn’t a long time for standard methods of discovery like trial and error.

Instead, new goals will focus on the how (or the means), and leave the larger ends unto themselves. If they’re hit, great, but their magnitude won’t be the only measure of success.

Instead, I’ll focus on repeatable smaller tasks which can build habits and create positive change. The actualization of these smaller tasks and habits will be the success factors, not an arbitrary degree to which a larger goal is achieved.

Carryover Goals

Many of the goals I’ve set in previous months were aimed at things I actively wanted to change about myself. Some were challenges to exceed my own expectations, but others were aimed at better living (as I saw it). I found myself in my “off” month of July wanting to continue some of these. Of course, I could do so — but giving it the guise of a challenge made it so much more imperative to my day-to-day.

So, starting in August, I’ll have at least one carryover goal each month. This is a goal I’ve done in the past that will be repeated with the hopes of building long(er) term character change. My hope is that some goals will be carryovers for multiple months and morph themselves into fully formed habits through that process. But that’s to be seen!

A New Theory of Distraction

““At painful times, when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction,” the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, in 1839. Those were the days. Browning is still right, of course: ask any reader of Wikipedia or Urban Dictionary.”

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