Nothing to be done?

I learned a lot over dinner tonight, some of which was surprising but useful and some of which was a bit disappointing but unsurprising. I also found my reactions to it all interestingly positive; it’s been a while since I’ve heard an implicit “Here’s what’s wrong with you/things” session, and today I felt…okay. Good, even curious. Here were things to be tested, verified and improved. Here was a snapshot of the state of the union, as it was. And I wrote things down so I won’t forget.

Problem: It seems like I haven’t made as much progress as needed in terms of improving my “tone” around my family; extrapolating from feedback, I’m getting the sense that something about my tone with them is often abrasive or aggressive. Similarly, it was noted that my tone sometimes has a “superior” feel to it when explaining/teaching.
Thoughts: This is an interesting one. This particular problem is my greatest recurring one, and I thought I’d actually made some progress on said tone and attitude. Now, I do realize that I can’t discount my progress on the basis of the viewpoint of two people. One issue, though, is that I don’t have a way to tell how much of a problem this is. I didn’t record my voice so I can’t recall the tone; the people providing feedback couldn’t pinpoint exactly what the issue was, only that it had to do with tone. The reason I don’t just disregard this feedback is because I’ve recently become more aware of issues arising from misunderstanding tone. So I’ll be doubly careful when speaking with family, and I’ll work harder to be respectful towards all things.

Problem: This is the first I’ve heard of this, that a parent dislikes my tendency to pursue an issue or topic to completion, my tendency to continuously clarify until an understanding is reached. The question posed here was, “Why not wait until tomorrow? Sometimes keeping at it can make things worse.”
Thoughts: While I use the word “dislikes” in the first sentence above, the more accurate meaning is, “is uncomfortable with”. This was a reminder to me that many people are quite uncomfortable with discomfort, with ideas that they’re not familiar with, with ideas that sound like they might run counter to prevailing thought/wisdom. I also saw that it was less important to my family that a problem be resolved, and more important that they be (mentally) comfortable; at consonance. I see that any further initiatives to help my family will be very incremental, where I’ll likely need to have them experience the benefits of a new thing first. I’m getting the sense that in some cases it won’t be worth the investment of time it takes to pursue an issue; and for those issues that require resolution, I’ll have to do something more ingenious, or at least more palatable. I don’t plan to change my inclination towards clarity and understanding; instead, I’ll exercise more restraint in when I choose to pursue ideas. I’m getting the sense that there are a few lessons here around why I might want to start developing skill in persuasion.

This item doesn’t have to do with me directly, but a situation was being discussed involving fathers with anger issues were negatively affecting their family and how said behavior was outrageous/unreasonable (“不象話”), and despite how “不象話” it was, it was a “沒辦法” situation—translated, “nothing to be done” / “one can’t do anything about it.”And I wondered if maybe, there are actually few true “沒辦法” situations—just people who don’t know what to do with their problems.

As much as I learn about myself and human behavior from my family, I’m again reminded that it may not be the most optimal or supportive environment for pursuing my current endeavors. It’s still a great environment to practice crucial conversations and improving my tone/attitude, and I believe that I’ve been taught some important ideas about responsibility and family, but the difficulty remains in separating true wisdom from untested beliefs—perhaps something that I’ll only learn with experience.

Critical Questions: Helping others

Considering Critical Questions about helping others. Reflection on standing out versus fitting in on the way to success.

What will I do when those around me no longer need (or want) (my/my brand of) help?
– Find others to help? Reevaluate “help” to provide others with what it seems they need?

What do I need (to be & to be capable of) in order to help?
– Expert, skilled, empathetic, willing.

How good do I need to be before I should try to help?
– Depends on the skill and doesn’t always apply. But I prefer being more than less skilled.

What should I do if it is I who no longer feels pulled to help?
– Among other questions, this begs the broad question: why help? Who needs help? How do we know? How do we (try to) ensure that we do more good than harm when we provide help (iatrogenics)? Not that these considerations would always stop us from try to do some good; but not all intervention results in help, regardless of intention.

I suspect that the answers to those questions will help focus my engagements this year. I’ve been beginning to fear that my efforts to help others may have been distracting me from making progress in the areas I need (i.e. career/skill development), regardless of the “good” things that may have happened (UD/UD relationships, friends inspired, opportunities shared, etc).

I wonder if I’m finally at that point where I’m wrestling with choices that those around me don’t understand; in the grand scheme of those who do great work despite their environments, maybe that’s a good thing. “No one ever kicks a dead dog“; “without critics, there is no art“; “You can fit in or stand out. Not both.” So all I know is that I’m onto something that by its nature makes my friends uncomfortable. I’m okay with that; I’ve been wondering, why don’t I know more successful people? Perhaps—probably—because they’ve been doing things that I haven’t. Those things that please everyone are, by definition, average. It follows that I should be doing things that me and most friends haven’t , in order to arrive at places previously uncharted. Being comfortable isn’t a requirement; being able to do try and do things is. Where are those areas where I should take time to help others understand, versus ask for trust? Past behavior and results are no match, it seems, for the predictable suspicions of human psychology.

One year from now, we’ll be a year older. Where do you want to be, and what will you do to get there?

the death of spontaneity

What’s the value of spontaneity?

One answer I’ve heard has to do with the possibility of things that could happen when you don’t plan anything, when you don’t “have an agenda.”

(When I write “agenda”, I mean the idea of intending something for something; having a vision or plan, however literal, written or not, detailed or not.)

This is a topic that strikes some chords with me. My life experiences in the past two decades have been a not so grand experiment with spontaneity—namely, too much of it and not enough planning in any areas that mattered.

But after a somewhat different year in 2013, in which I experimented with setting goals, taking on ambitions, and making plans, I learned the value of deliberation and being deliberate. And life changed when I realized that I could influence the outcomes of my life by planning the processes.

What’s the value in including more spontaneity when it seems to me that I get a greater consistent return by doing some planning?

So if I’ve thought about some topics of discussion that I’d like to go over in a conversation, does that limit the possibilities of what could happen in conversation? I don’t think so; I don’t see how any intent of mine limits the potential choices that someone else makes. In an appropriate situation, I may broach a topic; if we continue discussing it, cool; if the topics end up changing, no problem. I don’t know that spontaneity has been removed; subjects I hope to discuss are just those. Maybe I wouldn’t be super happy if I couldn’t get to some of them, but it’s not a major problem by any measure.

I realize I don’t exactly have a cohesive, persuasive argument here. I just felt the desire to write about this idea that’s become integrated into my worldview.

While I see value in spontaneity, I see more value in an appropriate amount of structure. I’ve hardly planned my life down to the seconds.

I’m bothered because I attribute so many of the great things that’ve happened in the last year due to the work that went into planning.

In relationships with others, I’m bothered because yes, I did spend time planning for conversation to various degrees (for those who’d like to know, at no point did I have a conversation guide; when I write “plan”, I’m talking about at most a bullet point list of items I’d hoped to discuss), with no maliciousness / negativity / ill will / ill intent towards anyone, and the results have been deeper friendships, greater bonds, and…better relationships.

I’m unsettled in a number of ways, or maybe it’s just one?

I think the internal conflict here is the desire for someone, especially the gf, to understand, contrasting with a newer part of me that is unapologetically but respectfully firm in the results life has shown.

There’s still room for spontaneity. I haven’t yet gotten to the point of squeezing out any occasions for serendipity. But I don’t see the great benefit in allowing for huge amounts of spontaneity—or as I’m seeing it now, aimlessness. Planning has allowed me to benefit from what I put into it. Spontaneity, by nature fickle, can result in so many things, most of all just nothing.

Look where 24 years of spontaneity have gotten me. Look where 1 year of planning has gotten me.

Is it surprising that I’m on the path that’s treated me better by far?

be the dumbest person in the room

I’m beginning to wonder if my recent trend towards enrolling others and enabling through invitation might be a bad thing for a few reasons. For one, I realize that not everyone does things better with others/friends. I’m considering messaging friends who I usually invite to these things—group runs, study sessions, etc—mentioning that I’m basically “unsubscribing” them from future notices. Maybe I should send out a short informal questionnaire to friends to ask what kind of messages they’d actually like to get from me, with topics like “workout invites”, “interesting articles”, etc.

A bigger concern of mine is if I’ve unknowingly been putting myself in groups where I’m further along than most of my friends (not that this is a huge list), and the effect that has on my ego and drive; the idea here is that I’m sure what I need in all aspects of my life is putting myself into situations where I’m the dumbest, least skilled and least capable person in the room, so that I can actually see progress in those areas of my life where I think I need to grow.

I’m basically already this way at work hahaha; thank goodness at long last I’ve been making headway there. Design Gym was good for this as well.


2013 in a nutshell

2013 began with a bunch of ideas that first got into my head sometime in 2012, ideas having to do with doing more and better, about the responsibility of doing great work, about making art, and in general about being deliberate about using the time we have left. Basically, it was a bunch of ideas about how to be awesome(r), and that was in large part what I needed.

Truth be told, near the end of 2013, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to approach the task of doing a 2013 review—not because I didn’t have anything to show for it, but because I didn’t quite know where to start choosing from the small ways that life has been moving in a better direction. But done is better than perfect, especially in this case, especially with revisions to be made to 2014 plans; so I’m going to list out some items and call it an abbreviated summary.

How was 2013 different from previous years?

  • Greatest structure
  • Most deliberate
  • Most attention given to future and career
  • Most experimentation
  • Most relationships strengthened
  • Most ideas remembered
  • Most time spent plotting Universe Domination
  • Most time spent doing non-eating things in NYC
  • Most money spent on LEGO
  • Most thorough room cleaning was begun

For balance, here are a bunch of not-so-greats, in no particular order:

  • Most money spent on LEGO
  • Room cleaning wasn’t finished before end of year
  • Little quantifiable progress made on relationship with significant other, in comparison with relationships developed with other friends
  • Not enough improvement in current job

I’m most proud of what I think has been shifts in mindset: being more deliberate about life and goals, being more mindful of my thoughts and emotions, being more ambitious, and an overall greater focus—focus on a vision of a Better Me that hasn’t ever been so clear or compelling.

Good show, good show. And the next one’s even better!