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SERENDIPITY | SH*T CHARLIE DOES: COLD SHOWERS

Courtesy of Charlie Liao

I started cold showering over the summer. Did I do it to seem suave and perpetuate my image as an interesting business person? Perhaps. However, this habit was not premeditated.

Why did I start cold showering? What drove this suburban-raised college student that has probably never faced hardship in his entire life to endure freezing water in a 6-by-4 foot space meant to be a place of vulnerability and safety? Well, I spent my summer in New York City, living in the pristine and jet-black building that is 95 Wall Street. The apartment complex was built specifically to house single young urban professionals as well as the occasional power couple. Unfortunately for me, I did not reap the benefits of living alone in a luxurious apartment with a free gym. Instead, I spent my summer with three other Cornellian males living in these apartments designed for one. Aside from the occasionally atrocious bathroom, the literal island of take-out food trash located conveniently in the center of our summer universe and the persistently clogged bathroom and kitchen sink, the housing situation wasn’t as bad as I first thought. That is, until the water suddenly turned cold.

During my sophomore year, I stopped sleeping properly because of functional necessity. How else could I catch up to the rest of Cornell after transferring in? Eventually, this need declined drastically, but the sleepless habits persisted. Currently, regardless of how busy I am, I still find myself up between the hours of 1am and 4am. And so, I always showered last because I usually slept last. Even the few times I tried to shower earlier, this one kid I lived with seemed to be out to get me every single time. For instance, one night when I gathered my towel, soap and other necessary items to begin my nighttime routine (significantly earlier than usual), the kid I had referred to earlier made this inexplicable mad dash to the sole bathroom in the apartment. He consequently remained in there for an hour and a half. I maintain the theory that he fell asleep on the toilet, but who really knows?

I’m digressing here, so let’s refocus. At the beginning of July, the water started turning cold. None of my roommates really noticed — I’m assuming that they still had access to warm and hot water throughout the day because they used the water first. Even I, while burning the midnight oil, barely noticed the change; initially, the water only transitioned from hot to lukewarm. To adapt, I just took quicker and earlier showers. However, disaster struck on July 6th; after a grueling day of work combined with an unsuccessful session on the elliptical, I stepped into the shower and wearily turned the shower knob all the way to the left, hoping for a blast of warmth. The ensuing events should not be attempted at home without the supervision of trained professionals:

00:00:00: I turned the knob.

00:00:05: The water was rumbling somewhere in the pipes behind the wall. I looked up expectantly at the shower head, ready to be engulfed in liquid goodness.

00:00:30: The water sputtered out of the head — it was a little cold. Probably still warming up, I thought.

00:00:45: The water came out in a sheet of icy terror.

00:01:02: I yelled (out of shock) at the top of my lungs and started flailing.

00:01:03: I fell while flailing, knocking the shower curtain out of the stall and splattering water across the whole closet-sized bathroom.

00:01:20: I madly scrambled out of the shower to avoid the freezing water. I slipped a second time on the way out, hitting the side of my head against the base of the sink.

00:01:30: I sat in a corner and curled up into a dripping wet ball, cradling my head and trying to ignore the blinding pain.

00:03:00: I stood up and faced my foe.

At this point in the process, 3 minutes had elapsed and I was in that angry phase where I wanted to get revenge on my shower, but was unsure of how to do it because showers are not sentient beings. I briefly contemplated punching the showerhead, but my rational side took over and reminded me that this would do nothing but harm my fists and incur pecuniary penalty for me and my roommates.

A few minutes later (mind you, the shower was still running), the pain had subsided and I figured that the water was now warm. I reached my hand out to test it and recoiled. Still cold? How is this possible? Moreover, how could this happen to me? I began mentally cursing out everything that could be the cause for such misfortune. F**k the municipality, f**k the apartment building, f**k my roommates, f**k my sleep schedule, f**k the police, f**k the water, f**k New York, f**k Congress, f**k Mother Nature, and f**k my f***king showerhead! I temporarily became embarrassed when I realized that there were people in the world facing more severe issues, such as the lack of water. Then, my anger took precedence and I genuinely believed my shower crisis was more pressing than the U.S. election, ISIS  and Chinese pollution combined into one gestalt entity.

Ten minutes elapsed, and I managed to calm down enough to stand up. Should I still shower? I asked myself. For a brief moment, I considered drying off the little water that still remained on my body so that I could go to sleep (still dirty). This idea became more and more attractive in my mind, as if I were watching an iron nail pull slowly into the point of origination of a powerful magnetic field. I picked up my towel and started drying myself off. Whelp, there’s always tomorrow. Then, I stopped. Hang on. Giving up? Really? An irrational thought crossed my mind; how could I endure actual hardship if I couldn’t get into a cold shower? In that very moment, the thought of simply standing under a stream of water seemed like the most basic and elemental action a human being could possibly do. I dropped the towel. It was time to prove a point.

It took me a few more minutes to actually execute my plans, but I eventually decided to step completely under the flow of water instead of easing into it. My immediate reaction was to shiver uncontrollably for a few seconds (if you’ve ever used a urinal, it was similar to those shivers but on a larger and more sustained scale) and do this strange shower dance that I don’t think I could replicate (even at gunpoint). My breathing slowed and deepened, I felt completely uncomfortable the entire time, and my conscious was dominated by the phrase “wow isn’t it a little nippy in this here shower.” When I stepped out, I felt like a new man. Ignoring the fact that I was then comparing myself to the Sean Connery James Bond, the experience was revolutionary. The instant contrast between freezing water and warm apartment air brought forth a relaxing full-body feeling I could not verbalize. My senses felt sharpened and I felt more alive than I had ever been before at 3 AM in the morning.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with my business column. To this I say, cold showers have everything to do with business. Being the tryhard that I am, I immediately drew parallels between the shower and ambition. Everyone wants to be clean, and there are two ways to do it. You can either shower warmly and feel fantastic during the process, but feel cold and empty after stepping out… or you can shower in the cold, endure the temporary pain and suffering, and emerge into a euphoric state unreplicable by any other process in human existence (there are also numerous health benefits attached to low-temperature showers). Eventually, this process becomes habitual, and you no longer think about the discomfort. In fact, the cold shower becomes second nature. There’s just a sense of romanticism that arises from showing cold while contemplating life goals, plans and meaning.

Unfortunately, like with reality, slipping out of the “hardworking mentality” — in this case the cold shower —makes it difficult to return. When I got to campus for semester, I fell ill and had to cease my cold showers. I told myself that I would only temporarily discontinue the habit and return to it as soon as my coughing subsided. This did not happen seamlessly. Even as the fever disappeared and only minimal residual coughing remained, I kept telling myself that warm showers were fine. Then, when the coughing disappeared entirely, I kept showering with heat and steam. In order to return to my habit, it took several days of turning the shower to the coldest temperature and standing just outside the stream, staring into the freezing possibility and contemplating my next steps.

What is the lesson to be learned? Well, I’m advocating that everyone should try to make themselves uncomfortable or try something completely and positively new. Of course, getting into the mindset of open mindedly pushing through the uncomfortable moments in your life is crucial. It doesn’t matter how you achieve this way of living (cold showers aren’t for everyone), but if you are to ever get to where you want to be, it doesn’t hurt to start building the correct habits now. College is the one place where we get to experiment what techniques work best for us with the fewest repercussions in case we fail in the process. The self-help book The Power of Habit explains that we have so-called “keystone” habits. These are habits that, when changed or created, cause a ripple effect into the rest of our lives. They influence us to become better holistically. Exercise, for example, is a keystone habit. The ability to maintain a rigid schedule for exercise also means the ability to generate discipline. The ability to generate discipline then carries over into other tasks as well. Showering cold is not a keystone change for everyone, but the explanation for why I do what I do is also similar to the logic that can be used to breakdown other more influential habits.

I think for me, showering cold has made me think a lot about the difficulty of certain tasks. I’ve started analyzing a lot of my work with this very question: how hard can it be? Fortunately, for most items, the answer is not that hard. This kind of thinking has enabled me to procrastinate less, feel less overwhelmed and ultimately feel more empowered. It lets me chip away at timelines that I once thought were relatively insurmountable. After all, it all comes back to the thought I had when my shower betrayed my trust. If I can’t do this simple task, how can I do anything else?

This message is endorsed by Julian Moraes, Louis Liu, Sophia Deng and Any Important Historical Figure Before the Existence of Water Heating.

1 comment

  • practically like the author is now 3 for 3 on good articles 🙂

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