Saturday, December 30, 2017

Small Talk & Social Graces

I am pretty lousy at small talk. I want to have deep interesting conversations about things that move people's souls, captivate their minds and the beauty that moves their heart.... or just really funny stories. Instead I end up asking a bunch of dumb questions about biographical information trying to piece together a mosaic about people without really getting to know who they are beyond the basic details (school, occupation, family structure, etc). I have really enjoyed the Art of Manliness Podcast and saw he had a ton of blog posts too. One entire section was on social graces. Some key excerpts/ideas I found particularly helpful are below:


  • It's not about you. The goal isn't to show off. While it make seem like it will impress people, it will probably just be a turnoff. Most of the time making the other person feel good will make them like you. Just be interested and listen. If you really do want to brag to get someone's attention, get a wingman to do it for you.  
  • Make people feel comfortable. If you can do this, you've accomplished 75% of the heavy lifting. People are naturally skeptical of strangers. Putting them at ease (especially women) is the hardest part when approaching a new person. Don't make them feel like you want something (a date, extracting intel, etc).   
  • Be positive: Commenting on negative events is only going to bring the mood down, especially early on. It's also going to help people to relax and enjoy being around you. Too much negativity and they will want to bolt for the door. 
  • Pay attention to the other person. People too often spend too much time thinking about what they want to say. In addition, pay attention to how the other person thinks about themselves. 
  • Be "generous" in conversation. Compliments go a long way. Also, bite your tongue. Let people meander a little bit. Trying to rush them to be more efficient won't do anything to help them relax and be comfortable and open up.
  • Comment on your surroundings.  This is the easiest way to gin up initial comments. You can also ask how they met the host or about their connection to an event.
  • Be Prepared If you know who you are meeting in advance, go ahead and do a little prep work. Look at Facebook. Think about your past conversations. It's easier to think about how to make the most of time together when you're not under pressure. 
  • Balance is important:  The classic advice to "seem interested in others" can easily devolve into outright interrogation if you just keep asking questions. It's important to also reveal things about yourself to give the other person some content they can ask questions on later in the conversation. 
  • Use the ARE method: The acronym stands for Anchor, Reveal & Encourage. Basically comment on something around you (an anchor), share your [positive] thought on it, and then ask the other person how they feel about it. 
When things get a little more intense:

  • Don't say anything you don't believe just to make a point (this includes things quite similar to it like making assertions where you have no experience or authority). Be genuine. Be authentic.  
  • Don't say anything when you're upset. You will make things worse and regret it later.
  • Kind words are the best response for mean comments directed at you. They will also preserve your reputation rather than injuring it. 
  • Introduce charged topics gradually and gently (I am particularly bad at this. I tend to lob molotov cocktails in conversation). 
  • Decide if it's a discussion or a debate. In a discussion you are trying to figure out the other person's views. You listen. Your mind is open. In a debate you are making an argument. You want to be heard. Very different goals. 
  • Ask "what" vs "why/how" questions. This will elicit details rather than emotional responses. "What make you feel that way?" is much more likely to elicit a clean response versus "How could you feel that way?" 
  • Invisibly meditate. Conversations will get tense. Breathe deeply. Relax. Remember you're engaging with someone you want to maintain a relationship with.  


Closer than I have been

We grow up thinking if we do this or that people will love us: money, muscles, charm, fashion. To some degree this is true. People want to see that a person is capable of accomplishing things. They want to see potential realized. In the context of a relationship there is also some comfort that comes from material security that a mate can provide (my dad strongly encouraged me to get married for this reason). As does the Bible in one of my favorite passages:


Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
10 
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
11 
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
12 
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

But clearly no one is going to fall in love with a resume. We want personality. We want joy. We want anguish. We want some measure of jealously. We want style. We want vibrato. We want loyalty. We want dedication. We want loyalty. We want grit. We want tenderness. We want passion. At least I want those things. 

I have spent the last 15 years of my life or so preparing myself to be a man that someone would love. I think the lack of validation from my dad, my past failures in relationships (and who they ended up with) have also probably left me with this sense that I am not good enough.. yet. So I have been progressively checking off boxes. Slowly meeting the criteria listed on a job description that my ideal mate might pen 

... and if I work hard over the next 18 months I will be there. I will have a respectable nest egg. I will have a few rental properties. I will have two professional designations. I will be in the best shape of my life. I will be reasonably well traveled. I will have a solid body of professional work that should make be solidly employable. I will hopefully be a little more charming, reflective, focused and ready to start a family. 

Despite working hard for all of this for so long. I don't know if I am ready. If I am truly honest, I don't know if this is what I really want. Perhaps I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. 

I still see myself as a wandering vagabond, slowly picking up life lessons and meeting new people as I travel. That's clearly not on my short term agenda and I wonder how I will reconcile my desire for security with my carefree dreams for myself. 

Musical Narratives

"Well, we can talk about whiteness as two different things. There are white people, and then we can talk about whiteness as this structural idea." 

"But when, in mainstream country they're talking about class, it is about, “yeah, but we're making it.” It's a nostalgic feeling about being working class. I'm going to flip my boss off today and ride off to the coast. But there's always a sense of, “tomorrow we'll be back in the grind.” Country music is how we deal with and make peace with the fact of class."

    - The Racial Dynamics of Hip Hop, The Atlantic July 2014

Well, for a while I'd forgotten my cultural country whiteness. I grew up on 90's country that was filled with many more themes than class. Hard work was certainly a central theme. The importance of sucking it up, putting food on the table, and not getting caught up in flashiness and frivolity. Call it the puritanical work ethic with a little more liquor (and liberties) on the weekend. There was a strong sense of stoicism engrained in our values as well. 

The article overlooks several big themes though which I think are all part of this narrative of rural "cultural whiteness"

  • Loyalty - to family, wife, God, your football team, and country
  • A pure love - some notion that in the midst of all of our flaws and imperfections there is the capacity for a deep, lasting meaningful transcendent connection. Country features mostly male singers so it's a little more sheepish (and clumsy) version of Cinderella. It's the song of the awkward/hurt/broken prince charming. This endearment also extends to children, family, one's local community and in a wistful sense those who share a common vision for America. 
  • Determination -  the ability to suck it up and push through to do what needs to be done. This could be overcoming poverty to build a nice home. It could be struggling through school but still making it. It could be a solider in the military "leaving no one behind." It doesn't really matter 
  • Hard Work - Work for it's own sake is important. It's probably a throwback to simpler times when an agrarian life required this tenacity to survive and a legacy a deep connection to our grandparents (and parents) who lived through and grew up in the depression. This connection to older generations is pretty important and might explain the difference to other demographics which lack this crucial connection. 
  • Working Class - while country singers (whether they did or not) all -identify with a working class family they take pride in these humble origins. This also comes up in how people dress (T-shirt and Jeans), what they drive (inexpensive American cars), and how they spend their money (frugally [this extends to politics too]). This embrace of humble origins is probably rooted in religion - in the same way Jesus came into the world in a manger. This (along with the negative theme of misogynism) is the only one the author of the article above hits on given her stereotypical academic interest in race/class/gender. 
  • Respect - Don't talk back, honor your father and mother, if you are disrespectful to a friend or partner, go back an apologize
  • Care for your Fellow Man - It's just the golden rule. Theft and cheating are not tolerated. People are not to be abused. No cheap shots in a fight and never touch a women. Additionally, while there are plenty of songs about cutting loose and running from the law, having sex down by the river or generally being mischievous, there is still a deep underlying respect for the people involved in this situations. Police are not something to be shot at as they are just doing their job to maintain order. Women while often still seen in some songs as objects of desire are still treated as human beings with feelings. Courtship is through meeting the needs of the woman, not through flashiness or drugs/alcohol. 
  • Love at first sight - there are countless songs about meeting someone, and at first glance 

What I am realizing is that I am growing up in a world where a lot of these values are not acknowledged but I still have these narratives burned into my consciousness. 


"The Defining Decade"

My friend asked me to read a book called "The Defining Decade" and I wanted to record a few insights worth remembering. The general theme seems to be that 20-somethings


  • Low standards enable people to waste the best years of their life. We coax to ourselves with the notion that "this is temporary." This applies acutely to relationships.
  • These half hearted relationships suck up way too much of my time, mental energy and cause me to miss out on the real opportunities. 
  •  There is a narrow window in which to maximize your earning potential and lock in quality mates

Things I want to do this year

Read/write more and spend less time talking to girls I have limited interest in.
Start studying for Level II of the CFA and seriously try to pass in June.
Start operating at my potential at work
Find more balance between what I do at work and outside of work
Love more and be around love more
Be more active
Get more sleep
Be on time
Be more disciplined
Record my thoughts and codify them
Absorb more interesting content

Careers

What has happened to my life?

I feel as though I have unknowingly become the sort of dull, lifeless worker bee I scratched my head at when I was younger. How does this happen? How do we become so myopically focused on our career and a single interest that we lose sight of the wonder and beauty and amazement in the world around us? I live and breathe finance, and would rank myself well against my peers so I don't think I have been a failure. I also know there is a very practical element to work. It provides security for me and a service to the world. It still feels a bit strange though. That by being around a group of people who are all doing the same thing that we engage in this group hypnosis and convince ourselves that this is worth all the time/effort/mental anguish and lost life.


Attachment

I went to hear a visiting Buddhist monk a few weeks ago, and this little moment has stuck out, so I wrote a Haiku about it. Nothing is immune from the intrusions of the modern world or ego...

phone rings, he answers
revealing a nice gold watch
patiently, we wait





Saturday, June 11, 2016

Single after 30

Society has a weird stigma about people doing things by themselves. I think the perception is that the solo person doesn't have any friends, but the fact is I just don't have any single friends that can pack up and do road trips.

So, my choice is pretty simple. Keep doing whatever I want by myself, ask a random girl to join, or wait around for other people to join me. Frankly I'm tired of waiting and I'm tired of lame dates. Time for life on my own terms. I'll get over the quizzical looks and subtle judgements.


Saturday, March 05, 2016

The puritans are dead. They've been replaced by televangelists and yogis. Our political system reflects this. Austere, calculated discipline has been replaced by frothy mouths and boundless emotion. Some of this is good, some bad.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dating after 30

Part of being mature is understanding what you want and having enough self-control to seek it out and ignore things that don't match up with your goals. I have dated a lot of good people, but I have also dated a bunch of people I probably shouldn't have. Several relationships were a complete waste of time. Deep in my core I know exactly what I want and I have probably been a little afraid to seek it out because I know I may not be mature enough for the woman that I wanted -- but I am a lot closer than I have ever been.

As a result, I have decided I need to do seriously date and seek it out. I am going to take a more rapid fire approach and see what sticks. One of my friends went on over 100 dates before he found his fiancĂ©e, and I have read some more stories of others doing the same. This is the approach I think I'm going to take rather than letting fate and destiny throw me what they will. What is your quantity of people that you can encounter on online dating apps it's silly not to see what's out there. 

The dating pool here is pretty slim, but as long as I'm here I should still look. If I run out of potential dates and then it's probably time to move on, but I am a long way from that. With that said, I have gone on a few boring dates over the past week, and most of that is my fault. I have been a boring date and haven't really uncovered the people I have been with.

There are two things that are important when it comes to starting a relationship (after some basic level of attraction). Compatibility and common long-term goals. I spend most of my time on first dates on the latter, which prevents me from getting to know people on a deeper level - they can become very
impersonal encounters. Realistically, I should spend more time getting to know people and less on "interviewing." They probably put off potential people I could date. Essentially they have the potential to preclude a second date. I have probably taken this approach because I am afraid of falling for someone who doesn't have similar goals which would lead to a potential "heartbreak," but this potential pain is probably less of a problem than going on a bunch of lame first dates. I need to just be a lot more relaxed and open on my first dates and not worry about the future. My list of questions is relatively short anyway so I could literally just ask them in rapid fire succession after hanging out a few times. 

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Finding my place

For something so precious, time is very easy to squander -- particularly when one is comfortable. It is easy to float through life as if it's a lazy river -- sipping on cocktails and enjoying cocktails and warm water. I am becoming lazy. I am drifting.

What I just wrote feels too harsh though I half believe it. I was about to pen my resolve to forge goals for the coming years, but at my innermost core I know what I do will be ultimately meaningless. Nothing I ever do will if viewed with a broad and long term perspective will ever be of any significance. If I think so, I always remind myself to name the last 5 Nobel peace prize winners or the last super bowl QB or the 5th richest man in the world. No one remembers.... and who can blame them.   

I struggle with the tension between enjoying what I have, being content, and the desire to push myself to do more. To make the most of the time I have while on earth. The tension between knowing that my life and what I have done will fall away like leaves in the fall and knowing that progress does make life better. I can't deny that we are better for cures to diseases, medicine that relieves plan, tools to help us communicate, warm, safe homes. 

I suppose what I am denying is the significance of the individual in the modern world. Humanity is too large and expansive for any one man to be credited with pushing the entire species forward.

I guess it's similar to something that happened to me late yesterday evening after work...

I saw a man pushing a pickup into a gas station uphill. He could move it but he couldn't get it over the small curb so that it would be able to roll to the pump. Given I was only a few yards away, I tried to back up so that I could avoid having his truck roll back into my car since we were on a hill. As I moved in reverse, the car behind me wouldn't back up even as I tapped my brake lights in his face and repeatedly inched closer towards the front bumper of car. He wouldn't budge and looked at me in a somewhat annoyed manner. I was very irritated at his apparent incompetence but there was little I could do. I was stuck between a car that could potentially roll into mine and a car that wouldn't move. Since there was little else I could do to avoid an accident, I hopped out of my car. We pushed and were still unable to get it over the hump. The guy behind me just sat there and watched.  Anyway, as the two of us continued to push without any success, two passengers from the car behind me eventually hopped out and helped us push it into the fuel station. 

Humanity is often like that -- people you don't know and sometimes don't like push it forward... sometimes just because they have to in order to get where they are going. We are all better for it.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Acceptance

My mood has gotten a lot better since I changed my outlook from preparing for a big journey to actually making sure I enjoy the time between now and then. Work has gotten a lot better too and I actually enjoy what I am doing there (searching for other jobs also offered some perspective and generated a lot gratitude - I realized how boring my job really could be). However, for whatever reason, I keep ignoring (or at least failing to put effort into) the things that make life worth living: meaningful relationships and some sort of activity that betters the world or is a source of deep passion. I am just drifting along in some sort of moderately pleasurable, well-insulated, bourgeois lifestyle.

Usually I write because I am at a breaking point, but now I am writing because I know I can do more. Days are slipping by. I guess it's just a function of where I am at in my life. People my age have routines, and the opportunities that used to trickle into my life (and helped to keep it interesting)  on a regular basis in college and when I was just wandering around are going to require more work at this stage of life. I also have less free time which means the time I used to spend wandering and discovering and having things fall into my lap needs to be substituted with hard working seeking out interesting things. It's also a function of the fact that I have thoroughly explored and experienced the area where I live. There are only so many things a person can do until they must either move or be content with the annual cycle of festivals, events, parties and seasonal changes. As much as I like novelty and new experiences, I need to accept the reality that there is a certain repetitiveness to stationary life and that if I want the stability and benefits that come from this. This also goes for friends. Rather than lamenting that my friends are growing up, moving and other things, I just need to accept that social networks are always in transition and that this is another area I need to work to maintain. I also need to accept that I am different than most people I meet in this city and that I am at a bit of a statistical disadvantage if I want to meet people like myself. I have friends that commute to cities a few hours away just to see their childhood friends on the weekend. I could consider doing the same in Charleston or in Charlotte if I really wanted the variety. I could also consider moving in the next year or two if I find that I simply have a shortage of people I want to hang out with.

Conclusion: work harder to create the life you want while accepting the life that has emerged from the decisions you have made.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Self worth

"The inherent worth and dignity of every person"

This is the first of the seven Unitarian Universalist principles. I don't even know if I hold this to be true for myself. Worth must be earned. I am always critical of what I do and what I am failing at

What do I hang mine on? My appearance, my income, MY INTELLIGENCE, being entertaining/sense of humor, my athletic ability to some degree, my tastes/preferences, the quality of my ambitions.

There is a very good chance I end up as a sad, wrinkled, mentally dull old man.

I don't have inherent self worth outside of what I have done. I need to think about this for a while.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Productivty Apps

"How do you $pend your time"

I've had that post it on my monitor at work for a while. I realized around that time I was pissing it away like a nouveau riche millionaire. Though none of us really have time to piss away. Around that time I also had a conversation with a friend about something called the passion planner which is a detailed day planner, with to do checklists and built in goal setting. Two areas where I needed a lot of work. Today I discovered that there have been quite a few apps coming out to help with this as well and probably are a better way for me to stay organized. 

Areas where I need help
  • Personal relationship management
  • Time tracking
  • Goal setting
I have actually found technology to help with all of these areas:

Keeping in touch
There are plenty of robust services to help with this, but I just needed a  simple app to do the basic. Keep good records, set reminders and keep it all in one place. Contacts Journal does just that. 

Time Tracking
I realized I have been drifting aimlessly since I set my next big goal a few years away (bike trip through Europe, Middle East and Asia - something like this). I have just been pissing away my time in the interim as I save/plan for this big trip. That's been a terrible mistake. I need to make a vow to myself to never live for anything in the future. Anyway, I found an app/website/desktop service Toggl, that works exactly like a stopwatch lap function. You just type in the activity and hit start. Anytime you switch what you're doing it records it. I have also tried building a little one page thing in excel that I have been using at work where I allot my time in 30 minute increments and then also have space for other things I want to keep an account of (Gratitude, personal and work to do's, what I learned today and a space for meeting notes). In this process I realized that how I hoped to spend my time is quite different than how I actually spend it. I also found another time tracking app that lets you estimate how long you thought a task would take and how long it actually took. I have realized I do a terrible job estimating how long some things will actually take to do.      

Goal Setting
I found a wonderful blog post that reviews several nice apps for setting goals. I settled on Habit Calendar, which is a very simple and straight forward app that asks you to list your habits. In the short run I am more interested in creating habits that reflect my goals/values. Right now they are writing more, reading more and connecting with friends. The underlying goals are to stimulate my mind (the book selections dive into my values/goals and are designed to help me lay out a vision for myself - my book for January is a good example), connect with people that I love and care about who stimulate my mind, and being less critical, which is probably my biggest flaw. Two of these are carry over resolutions from 2014 that I wasn't able to carry out without more of a system in place. I am hoping that these system can help me to get more focused on what I want to do.   



Friday, January 02, 2015

Communication

I just realize it's not my job to maintain contact with my parents grandparents and other family members. If they sit around waiting for me to call, that's their own problem. I'd like to receive calls too sometimes or have them visit. There's no need to stress myself out about not calling enough or having any guilt about it. I just need to call when I feel like I need  to talk. That's it 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Looking backward, Looking forward

'For last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice.'
-T.S. Eliot

For the past two years I have led the annual fire communion at my church. It's an annual ritual we created to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next. In the first part we write out our regrets/losses/failures for the past year on little slips of paper and burn them. In the second part, we light a candle for what we hope to do in the upcoming year. I do my best to draw out these emotions and lay out some ways of setting goals and achieving them.

Below is an outline of the homily for that service that I wanted to share.

It begins with a brief history lesson....

A Two Faced God
January was made for New Year's reflections and goals. Originally the calendar was based on lunar cycles and the first month was actually March, to coincide logically with spring. However, as subsequent Romans sought to improve both the accuracy and consistency of our calendar, they increased the number of months from 10 to 12 and changed the order. January eventually became the first month. January was named for the god Janus, the two faced man with one face looking to the past and the other to the future. This is the perfect metaphor for why we are here today: to look at the last year and decide what we could do differently in the new year. 

To symbolize these decisions, we will burn our regrets on small slips of paper and light candles for what we hope to accomplish in the year ahead. 


Detroit Real Estate
I looked at the ashes from all the papers to throw them in the trash where they belong and couldn't help but be frozen on three little words that remained: "Detroit Real Estate"

I don't know the story tied to this tightly held memory, but intuition tells me it was either a family home or an investment gone awry. Someone had struggled long and hard to preserve this far away box, but there is no amount of wishing, hoping or worrying that is going to make it any better. What will be will be. There is a very real chance that home may end up like that little piece of charred paper, but hopefully that unnamed soul will sleep a little easier tonight as they loosened their grip on preservation and accepted a bitter reality.   


Regrets, I've had a few

    In the same way, it is our time for our somber reflection. It is time to clear the temple of the mind. It is time for emotional reconciliation. In our busy lives we often fail to take time needed to process these events and today we do it together. 

    Here are some common sources of discontent. Which have you been most affected by?

    • Conflicts: with our children, siblings, parents, friends and business partners. 
    • Death: the loss of these people in our lives. Perhaps it was a job, or a bad investment or a pet. 
    • Illness: Have you had to battle a difficult disease or support a friend or family with one?
    • Failure: Did you fail to accomplish a goal this year due to lack of preparation or effort?

    So we ask ourselves what have we done or what has happened that we wish hadn't happened? What part of reality are we still clinging to that is far from what we want? What are our hidden scars? Our ''Detroit Real Estate?"


    Friendly Fire 


    Or, perhaps it's just a self defeating, repetitive thinking. Hugh Prather in Notes to Myself has a wonderful quote on this topic:   Often my surroundings and situations can feel boring, but it is not the world that I have grown tired of, it  is my tired, stale, repetitive thinking that I loathe. 


    What thoughts or habits fail to serve a purpose?
      
    We all have our own unique, and sadly predictable cycle of negative thoughts that we play on repeat until something snaps us out of it. Sometimes these thoughts just suck the life out of our situations, sometimes it is self sabotage, emotional friendly-fire.  

    We have to identify them and actively stop the repetition. It could be through mindfulness, meditation, prayer, literally pinching yourself or removing yourself from people, places and things that initiate these negative thoughts. It may require us to find new friends, exploring new ideas whether they be film, art music or places, to get more sleep, more exercise, or a better diet.


    It addition to cycles of negative thoughts it is also easy to wallow in self-pity and miss the world around us. I am reminded of a poem by Rumi about a lover who can't see the beautiful world around him because he is caught up in longing desire. 

    Come to the garden in Spring

    There's wine and sweethearts
    In the pomegranate blossoms
    If you come, these will not matter.
    If you do not come, these will not matter


    In many ways this is process is like a crucible. In the same way that metal is heated to burn away impurities, we too bring our troubles and lay them down and burn them away.  We will be making space in our minds and lives for other things


    Looking Forward
    As a part of the fire communion we will all have the opportunity to light a candle for the things we hope to accomplish later this year. – a simple light guiding our path. I hope to lay out several ways of illuminating the path of success. I want to offer several techniques I have used and some I have researched to help with actually implementing the resolutions we make for ourselves. 

    But first I want to share a few quotes about new year's resolutions. Think about how you view the annual tradition: 
    • Many people look forward to the new year for a new start on old habits.  ~Author Unknown

    • A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.  ~Author Unknown
    I also want to share a few common goals. Here is a list from USA.gov
    • Lose Weight
    • Volunteer to Help Others
    • Quit Smoking
    • Get a Better Education
    • Get a Better Job
    • Save Money
    • Get Fit
    • Eat Healthy Food
    • Manage Stress
    • Manage Debt
    • Take a Trip
    • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
    This is mostly a list of Puritanical, self-imposed restrictions. They aren't fun. While they will still be useful and necessary for some, perhaps we can do more. Here is another author's humorous take on "30 resolutions for those who can't think for themselves" I have taken a few.

    • Put your phone away at dinner
    • Laugh more. That means: socialize more often, drink more, have long lazy brunches, throw parties, host wine infused game nights. Be spontaneous… Upgrade your friends if necessary.
    • Don’t just rely on the gym. Remember that feeling of playing a competitive sport as a kid, when you’re on the field, and not thinking about anything else. Most of us have forgotten what that feels like. So join a team or find someone to play tennis with. “A guy came up to me at the gym and asked me what event I was training so hard for. Life, buddy.”
    While this were a little more entertaining, I am sure that many of you view the concept of New Year's resolutions as pointless. Perhaps laughable? a waste of time? If so, I would like to challenge you to think about them differently. To view them (on Jan 1 and more importantly throughout the year) as a reflection of your own values and as an integral part of your own growth. It's a chance to work towards what we want. It's just a reminder, and a good time for it since we are usually not working and stuck indoors.

    My goal today is to get you excited about life and its possibilities. This isn't a season to impose puritanical self restraint, it's a season to open yourself to what you can be and imagine how much you can grow over the next 12 months. It's a time to dream. I simply want to pollinate your mind with ideas and hopefully spark a few small changes.

    First, there is nothing wrong with seeking your own happiness. In fact, I don't think we'd want to be in a world where those around us aren't happy. It's essential. Which brings me to a very important thought:

    If losing weight isn't something you want to do, don't impose it on yourself.

    Here, a quote from Tolstoy is useful:

    "Changes in life must come from a conscience that cannot bear it any other way, not mental resolution to try a new form of life" 

    But that's for one type of change. Those which are causing us harm and we want to stop. There is another, more important aspect that we should focus on: 

    "WHAT IS ALIVE IN YOU?" What brings you joy, what makes you feel. Focus on that for a moment

    This is why we are here today.

    FINDING A GOAL

    Again focus on the phrase, "What is alive in you?" The goal is to uncover things that you believe in and that excite you. 

    Obvious choices: focus on your long term dreams. Pick something on your bucket list. What have you wanted to do since you were a child?  Note that there is nothing wrong with doing something for yourself. Life was meant to be savored and appreciated. I don't think any of us would want to be in a world where we didn't have the opportunity to pursue out our deepest hopes. 

    More generally, I think things can be broken up into several main categories (physiology, peace & spiritual engagement, meaningful relationships, learning, variety and caring for others). Try to find something in the area you would benefit the most from. 
    • Physiology - improve diet sensibly (eliminate soda for instance), get more sleep, exercise at least three times a week, get a comprehensive physical. Pick a physical challenge (run a marathon, hike a mountain, do something big) and stretch yourself. Make it fun: bike around a new city, join a sports team, try something new like yoga
    • Seek peace and spiritual engagement: Come to church more. Perhaps you need to be less materialistic. Get rid of junk you don't need, stop buying more of it, and donate everything to goodwill or friends who might appreciate it. Get rid of people in your life that just suck up time and energy to make room for something else. Keep a gratitude journal and build appreciation for what you have 
    • Meaningful relationships: Build human connections. Life is a centrifuge. Marriage, babies, new jobs, and divorce all seem to be acting against close friendships. Our world is not stationary. We have to work much more than prior generations to keep our relationships intact and to keep people in our lives. Join a circle supper, start a dinner party with your friends, start a poker night, or a pickup sports  team. You'll meet similarly minded people in the process. start a regular dinner party. Try to make 2-3 new close friends and make an effort to connect with them on a regular basis. Write more letters to your friends. Put your phone away at dinner. Come to church more. 
    • Stimulate your mind: Try to take a religious education class, join the UU book club, join a local club: there are clubs in Columbia for film, photography, gardening, poetry,  political discussion, biking, vegan eating. Pick 10 interesting books you want to read, sign up for a free online course with one of the world's best universities on EdX, try to watch one TED talk per week, sign up for a twitter account and be the curator of your own information from anyone you want in the world. 
    • Break the monotony: Create some intentional changes in your life. Grab a copy of the Free Times every Wednesday and check out the 8 days a week section, go to one of our many concert venues (NBT, Music Farm, Conundrum, UU coffeehouse). Take a roadtrip once a month.  
    • Care for others: Identify an organization you would like to be a part of, call them, and figure out how you can help at least once a month. Epworth, harvest hope, meals on wheels, a suicide hotline, a bicycle co-operative. 

    Executing on the Goal

    Once you have found something you believe in, here are some helpful tips to help you achieve them:

    • Be OK with baby steps
    • Don't try to stop doing things. Make new habits
    • Break it into pieces (30 day challenges)
    • Use the power of writing
    • Make it measurable:
    • Have a general plan 

    More detailed advice:
    • Plan – lay out the steps you need and put in the necessary infrastructure to make this happen, for him it was a website. It also caused him to look at the concrete . To focus on the physical limitations that were keeping his ideas from becoming a reality.
    • Create rules, guidelines and measure progress – This gives you a way to objectively measure the benefits of the change. Set out a list of what you will and will not do during the experiment. Also, most importantly, set an end date. Open ended projects seem impossible because they likely are.
    • Jump  In – just do it (stop the paralysis by analysis). Make a decision and follow through. I remember when I wanted to run a marathon. I realized the training program was actually more difficult than actually running the marathon and that was what was keeping me from doing it. In March of last year I saw a flyer for the Columbia marathon. I walked over to the hotel where registration was and paid my registration fee. I was in. I didn't set any speed records, but I finished. Sometimes one just has to:

    Just Do It
    The most effective for me was to break up the new years resolutions and tackle them individually. One was to watch a TED Talk everyday  (I would highly recommend this idea) and in the process of doing that I encountered a talk that really reinforced and clarified this idea. One talk suggested that people should assign goals for 30 days at time. The speaker suggested that this was just about the right amount of time to break an old habit or form a new one. He had some quite creative and difficult ones such as writing a novel in 30 days or biking to work every day for a month. 
    Some of the biggest benefits are:
    • Life is more memorable. These challenges mark time very well.
    • Increased self-confidence. You begin to believe in your own abilities
    • More open to new experiences/challenges.  
    The biggest realization was that small changes can add up to big differences. Giving up meat was a good example of this. While calling myself a vegetarian was a big leap and not something I was sure I was ready for, it was quite easy to not eat meat for one month. Ultimately these short term acts of will help to create a larger impact as they are much more likely to alter behavior for years instead of days. It's also a good way to convince myself to do something. I think I often feel the pressure to either give up things forever or not bother at all. This "test drive" tends to be much easier to accomplish. 

    I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend last week about fasting. He said he actually went 10 days without food and probably could have gone longer had he promised himself beforehand. HOWEVER had he promised to go much longer, he likely would not have been able to convince himself to start at all. A short term goal helped to initiate action.  

    Write it Out
    A final, and crucially important aspect to this was to write down my goals. Sometimes I feel like writing is like a magic wand. It's easy to throw and bounce around ideas in my head, but writing does several things. It forces one to refine his thinking. 

    It's also very easy to lie to delude ourselves. Writing has a way of forcing us to be slightly more honest and reflective about who we are. It's easy to have conflicting or half baked ideas bouncing around in our brains but that will become painfully obvious as we put pencil to paper.  

    Writing also frees up our working memory to pursue novel or complex solutions. Our working memory only has space for about 7 numbers and this simply isn't enough to solve many of the problems we face on a daily basis. Writing also has a way of drawing out what is sometimes difficult to express. This is often the most essential part of working through problems. Writing also preserves our thought so we can easily add to them later without having to resolve the problem. It also allows for us to measure growth over time and see if we have lived up to our own expectations. 

    Self Actualization
    We all like to dream. Dreaming is easy. It's easy to have a vision of ourselves that is at odds with reality. The difficult part is identifying what makes us excited about life and then setting the things in place to make that happen. I hope each of you can take a few small steps towards making that happen. 

    Wednesday, December 24, 2014

    Appreciating what I have

    "Changes in life must come from a conscience that cannot bear it any other way, not mental resolution to try a new form of life"
    -Leo Tolstoy

    "I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community... I'm in this really lucky position, where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I feel like I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life," 
    -Mark Zuckerberg on why he wears the same outfit every day

    I have been focused on decluttering my life for the past month or two. The obvious manifestation of this has been getting more organized and getting rid of unnecessary possessions which have led to piles of things I've sent to Salvation Army, but it's also played out in how I use my time and focus my energy. I like being around people and as a result I'd invited in a lot of people who weren't helping me grow and were leading to frustration and anxiety. I deleted numbers and unfollowed people on social networks and I breathe a lot easier. In the same way that it's now easier to find something to wear, my relationships are also better.  

    I appreciate what I have more.  I actually iron my clothes. I EVEN USE STARCH! They are placed neatly in drawers. My friends now receive letters and I try to call/visit more. 

    I made the comment to my friend at work that I was trying to be a minimalist and favor quality over quantity and he said 'Oh, like the opposite of your dating life" with a wry grin. It was true. That's cleaned up too. 

    It's been kind of strange for me though. I walk in to my house and it's all just open and clean and clutter free. I change into some comfortable sweat pants and just enjoy the space. I think having lots of unorganized crap in a room promotes lots of disorganized thoughts. Every drawer I opened was a reminded I needed to do or read. Now everything is neatly laid out and I know where it is.  I also don't have an overwhelming desire to always be doing something. I enjoy what I have and that's at least temporarily satisfying. 

    The oddest thing happened the other night as a result of this. I was going to go make myself work out and run some errands and instead I just let myself rest, and I had the most amazing sleep and the happiest dreams. I have been riding myself too hard and searching to hard and only after creating a nice quiet simple place have I been able to see that I have been mentally/emotionally/physically running around like a squirrel in traffic. 

    Perhaps it's also because I just turned 30. I feel like this is the year I transition to manhood (whatever that means). I am setting aside so many things from my youth lately. I don't know what this means, but my thoughts do feel like they are solidifying and that also means I am getting mentally closer to a stable longer relationship. I have always been so reluctant to date (but always wanting to) because I didn't know where I was going to be or what I was going to be like in 5 years. I still don't know but I don't suspect it will be terribly different from what I am now. In the past I have also just been willing to take whatever I can get and now I feel like I am more discriminating about what I want. I am tired of pointless relationships. 

    I think this goes back to one sentence I saw in an article on decluttering/minimalism. One of the authors said do not buy anything that does not "spark joy." I think it's a good universal rule for things beyond household possessions. I think the lesson is slowing permeating.   

    Saturday, November 29, 2014

    Demarcation

    I am far too discriminating to be this easy-going when it comes to dating. I have a very clear picture of what I want, I know the type of person I can attract, and yet I continually waste energy on fruitless relationships. This is a poor use of my time, my mental and emotional energy, and my money. I would be better served by staying at home and reading or writing than going on meaningless dates. Alternately, I could invest his time in the friends and quality relationships that I too often neglect. Tonight was a good lesson in what not to do, and I should learn from my mistakes.

    Wednesday, September 17, 2014

    Reality just rang the doorbell and came with a delivery

    The slow march of Death has a way of quietly advancing under the surface and then popping up after it  has made huge advances. My dad has been slowly getting worse over the past few months and between the chemo, radiation and tumors he is a wilted version of the man he was earlier this year. He’s lost all of his hair, his face is swollen, and his legs are thin. This week he had unexplained swelling in his face which has turned the bags under his eyes into fluid filled sacs like some sort of bubble eyed goldfish. He’s feeling ill all over, and the fact that he’s been confined indoors for the past few months (from a lack of balance and doctor’s orders to avoid the sun) is taking its toll on his spirit. He’s starting to suffer.

    Until a week or two ago I have been able to find comfort in the fact that in spite of his appearance he was in good spirits and not in a lot of pain. While I knew things were advancing internally, I have carried around the feeling that things might have been stable and we might have a plateau for a few months. I didn’t feel too bad about the situation because it hadn’t gotten ugly. I could live in the moment and not worry what was around the corner. Well that moment is here.

    I want to blame the medicine for his recent problems but the oncologist thinks it is probably related to his tumor. I don’t really know what’s going on, but at this point everything seems pointless and I just want my father to have dignity as he slips away and experience as little pain as possible. This process doesn’t seem helpful and whatever time they may be giving him, they are taking back from him with all of the doctor’s visits.

    I don’t really know what I am feeling right now.  Looking back on my life I am a little resentful for the lack of relationship I have had with my father and how I haven’t had the chance to do the types of things that other guys do to connect with each other – hunting, fishing, hiking, and all of the things fathers and sons should do with each other. I feel like I haven’t been able to bond with as many guys because of it. He’s also been harsh and critical and now those traits live in me. But there is nothing that can be done about that, much like his smoking. What is done is done. It must be accepted. There is no point or benefit from dwelling on that. However, I am annoyed he hasn’t been more open while he still has the chance. I guess I have expected him to crack open, bear his soul and say all sorts of things he’s never said to me. I have wanted him to acknowledge what’s happened, and maybe his regrets if he has any. Just to hear he wanted things to be differently than they were would be nice. I don’t mind we are broken, flawed people but I do what to be able to know the soul of my father. He’s been too guarded. I don’t know how to crack the stone shell he has around his feelings.

    I also feel like I am too young to lose a parent. I feel like I am slowly becoming some sort of orphan. It’s a strange feeling of being exposed to the world. I’ve always viewed my parents as sort of a front line defense for whatever problems the world throws at me. The image of a strong, protective father is now just a memory from my childhood. While we haven’t had the rosiest relationship, I knew they were there if I needed them. That counts for a lot. I know mom is still here, but I do feel like I am facing some sort of nakedness or vulnerability. The kid in me still feels like I should have a daddy, and I probably won’t next year barring a miracle.  

    Tuesday, September 16, 2014

    Failure to Launch

    “A good friend is cheaper than therapy”
    -Author Unknown

    When I reviewed my list of principles and New Year's Resolutions, the one line that made my heart happy was "build a network of solid friends." So far, I have utterly failed at this goal for the year. I haven’t been consistent at all. I need to stop hanging out with girls as much and invest that time in to building deep relationships with people I connect with on an emotional and spiritual level. I need to work more on building deep connections with friends & family and less seeking romance. Ironically as a result of investing all of my time looking for companionship that I have actually sacrificed (or at least ignored) the most obvious source for company: good friends.

    I also haven't done a lot of planning around this goal and as a result, my progress here has suffered. Below are the easy things I should be doing that I have dropped the ball on:
    • Get out of the house. I spend a lot of time online after work, especially now that I have let my gym membership lapse. In the past two months I have done an ok job of getting out of the house more, but during my last relationship I didn’t do a lot. I let myself fall into a small little world.
    • Attending interesting lectures/events/groups (USC lectures/presentations, visiting new churches, scheduling visits with friends, going to new fitness clubs, keeping my discussion group going). If I am going to something I find interesting, chances are other people there will also have similar interests. These events are also generally good places to go to break the monotony of life and learn something new.
    • Be a better friend:
      •  Scheduling lunch/dinner/drinks with people I already know and find interesting. The hard part (making a connection) is already done. Just build on what’s there
      • Sending notes/cards/gifts to friends to check in on them and to see how their lives are going. I don’t do a good job of letting people know I care and some might even think I don’t.
      • Encourage existing friends. Am I helping them to live up to their potential or just using them as a way to entertain myself or fend off lonliness.
      • Don’t hog the conversation. I have a tendency to talk too much and not listen. I am depriving myself of learning anything new and being the type of company I wouldn’t want around.
      • Care about people more than ideas. Sometimes I will place “being right” over the people in my life. Usually this is over a personal disagreement, but sometimes I allow it to happen over dumb things like political views.
    • Be more open to the people I meet each day. Smile & strike up a conversation. In these instances I also need to be less confrontational. Just nod my head and smile.  





    Sunday, September 07, 2014

    Hostility steals clairity

    "Judgmentalism is almost always controlled by outside factors. When we become judgmental, we are often controlled by the very groups we fight. Outside enemies control our agenda. We can't leave them alone. They determine our thinking in that we must rail against them. We become far more able to tell others what we are against, rather than what we are for. We may feel pushed around and our paranoid defensiveness my snarl with yet another rebuke of something. We must condemn. Thus, we are not free to initiate, share or offer our perspective. We are compulsively driven to conquer anything that does not look like us."

    -Terry Cooper, Making Judgments Without Being Judgmental


    Tuesday, September 02, 2014

    I am too disagreeable. I need to be less argumentative/confrontational especially when:

    1) meeting new people
    2) it's a small issues
    3) dealing with authority figures and other people who have the capacity to make life difficult

    People open up more, like you more and feel like they are being heard when you agree with them, or at a minimum express how someone could hold a similar opinion. I read something today that basically said that no one thinks they are wrong. While sort of obvious, I always expect people to change their minds when confronted with better ideas. Most people aren't like that -- they have egos they like to defend. Challenging ideas means challenging them personally. This is unfortunate, but I think it's generally true. I need to wise up to the realities of personality.

    Monday, September 01, 2014

    The trouble with wandering (intellectually and physically) is that few people will be able to understand/relate to the journey and the unique combination of ideas that shape ones mind and views on reality. I have friends but they won't fully grasp my situation on my problems that they aren't struggling with the same concepts (religious, psychological, existential). I guess what I am saying is that independence in someways breeds a peculiar form of loneliness - that's what I can't ever seem to shake. My searching brings me joy, but in many ways separates me from the people that I want to be close to. I often feel like my interests are viewed as strange or unnecessary, which only makes me feel like a loner despite my steady supply of company.

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    I have been running with sharp objects
    in my mind
    unintentional injury;

    set them down
    and go run and play

    Not as simple as dry erase markers
    but the same as forgiveness