4-hour Networking

I’m back from my first official business trip and I’ve decided that I like flying.

It’s not just the travel itself that I mean here, but specifically flying, because it’s such an interesting way to meet different people that you wouldn’t otherwise!

You’re forced to sit next to a probably random person or two for a long period of time. You’re both in the aircraft for a very specific reason. You have so many potential conversation starting points. It’s a great chance to meet interesting people and learn more about how they see the world.

The other big benefit I see to flying is that in case you don’t feel like getting to know the people around you, or said neighbors are grouchy/tired/angry, you get time to focus on anything you want to.

You could read that book you’ve been meaning to start/finish. You could draft out those plans for world/universe domination that you’ve been too “busy” to start. Meditate. Dive into Magic: The Gathering strategy. Whatever you want to do, with most regular distractions minimized.

What a fun situation!

snippets of February

Declining invitations, regrettably, to fun things not planned in advance, because in the choice between being busy and being remarkable I’m not in a position where I can let myself just be busy anymore. Busy or remarkable? Fit in or stand out? Being able to live a rich or even a good life certainly won’t happen by itself. So I thank my friends gratefully for thinking of me, and trust that all will be reconciled after I feel comfortable enough with my situation to make time for catching up.

Running to prepare for upcoming races; running, because we can; and running some more until it gets hard to breathe, reminding myself that growth comes only at the edge of resistance.

Doing the P90X3 workout routine with a few others: partly for fun, partly to test its effects, and partly to make up for not having weekly Krav Maga workouts. So far The Challenge—with continuous reps of pull-ups and push-ups—has been the toughest single workout for me.

Renewing the meditation habit, bringing myself from restless mind back to practiced focus.

Helping provide a mock interview for a friend, and as a result becoming more cognizant of the importance of having a well-organized and thoroughly-rehearsed narrative.

Refocusing over President’s Day weekend and making actual headway on priority research.

Starting to learn, think and practice copywriting. I’m enjoying seeing the connections among some excellent books: Art of Explanation, Made To Stick, Copywriter’s Handbook and POP!

Watched first-ever Superbowl and understood more than I expected thanks to my Rutgers University education.

Following a February gratitude challenge and sending daily emails to future 2014 of the many things for which I’m thankful.

Performed Lion and Dragon Dances with the temporarily reunited BCS team, complete with familiar performance preparations and familiar routines. Sometime during the day, between observing our team and later watching CCCNJ’s performance at the OCA dinner, I realized that our team had stopped growing, perhaps a while ago. I don’t feel good thinking about it. But it’s not surprising either. How could we continue to improve our craft if we never (no longer?) review our performances, if we’d settled for “good enough” a long time ago to be able to perform as we did over the last decade, and most importantly if most of us are no longer even regularly involved? Maybe I will take up Sifu on his offer to teach the new kids for a day, if only to do what little I can to start them on a path of improvement.

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.

snippets of December

The Finisher’s Formula: more ideas that are already changing life. What fascinating things.

Less email-checking, article-reading, book reading, and even time on the computer than probably any other month this year. I’m beginning to see now how what goes into the mind remains there for a while.

Practicing design thinking at Launch! Collaborative Design Day with a few good friends, being reminded again that presentation can be as important as content.

Finally learning more of what I should’ve been at work. The boot camp sessions will continue until I know enough.

Running the 2013 Big Chill. And after, running more often, running harder, maybe even running better. Good metaphors.

Hard sparring sessions that remind me how easy of a life we have, how far there is to grow, and make me consider where the cutoff point should be set.

The woody scent of incense and the sense of solemnity it evokes when visiting a monastery from long ago.

Gifts for little cousins. Gift boxes (and gifts) for friends. White Elephant exchanges.

Catching up with not-the-usual friends. Eggnog fest with new ones. A low-budget, high-fun city adventure with soup dumplings and bubble tea galore—a great yearly tradition if I’ve ever seen one.

Even some board games, which were mostly unplanned but fun.

And we’re almost at the end of the 2013! The plot thickens and the planning continues.

Five Contemplations Before Meals

During the vegetarian lunch at our visit to Chuang Yen Monastery this past Sunday, we noticed these five items posted in the cafeteria:

  1. I contemplate how much positive potential I have accumulated in order to receive this food.
  2. I contemplate my own practice, and only if there are no defects do I deserve these offerings.
  3. I contemplate my mind, cautiously guarding it from wrongdoing, greed, and other defilements.
  4. I contemplate this food, treating it as wondrous medicine to nourish my body.
  5. I contemplate the aim of buddhahood, accepting and consuming this food, in order to accomplish it.

As mindful as I’ve been aiming to be these last few months, I realized that more often than not, when eating, I’m not entirely present—when eating, I’m usually thinking about other things. So before I began to eat that lunch, I contemplated, and as I ate, I paid attention to the food, and surprised me to really notice the food that I was eating, chewing, and really tasting.

These five contemplations were one of several items that I felt like I learned from the visit to the monastery.

Learning Tai Chi

Trying a Tai Chi class for the first time was interesting.

The instructor’s first direction to the class was for everyone to begin practice, which led to everyone launching into what they knew of the 60 movement basic form that is taught to beginners. As it was my first class, I waited for further instruction, which came in the form of a different instructor leading me through the first few movements of the form. Eventually the main instructor stopped by and taught me a different section of the form that I could focus on, and incrementally worked on this through the remainder of the class.

Various thoughts & observations from the 1-hour class:

  • The first instructor who taught me spoke about various things, most of which I don’t think I quite understood. I’m not yet sure if my lack of understanding was due to my lack of experience or due to the teacher’s explanation.
  • The class was made up of varying ages, genders and ethnicity, which was cool to see.
  • No context was set before we dived into the form immediately. This was interesting, as I’m wondering if this is like learning to see the trees before the forest.
  • Imitating body movements did not seem overly difficult; the challenge seemed to be understanding the underlying weight distribution, posture, and transitions from movement to movement.
  • One of my goals going into this intro session was to be as fully and completely present as possible so that I could absorb as much as possible. I’ve been keeping the ideas from Art of Learning loosely in mind throughout all learning endeavors since I finished the book.
  • I don’t know what the correct sequence of movements in the form is supposed to look like; I’ll ask about this next time.
  • I’m wondering what future classes will be like. I suspect that I’ll have to continue being as present as possible, and supplement my learnings in class with not just additional practice—which I would expect—but also by asking questions and structuring my own learning.
  • I admit looking forward to learning and improving the rest of the form, which may take quite a while depending on when I can decide to commit to a series of classes.

Interested in learning Tai Chi over the weekend in NYC? Let me know!

Dale Carnegie

I was pretty impressed by Dale Carnegie’s service: earlier today I had been browsing their website earlier today to see if I could find more information about one of their courses (How to Be A Confident Public Speaker). In order to download a free PDF with public speaking tips, I had to enter some personal information. Less than an hour later, I’d received a phone call from a representative from Dale Carnegie training, calling to thank me for visiting their site and checking to make sure that I had found everything I needed. He ended up helping me to register for the class.


Snippets of October

I began listening to Pema Chödrön’s Don‘t Bite The Hook again today, because I realized that at some point in the last month or so I had stopped consciously noticing emotions as they arose, and the realization that I’ve become less mindful bothers me.

I’ve been telling myself that I would begin meditating for each morning after waking up, starting as soon as possible; so, it begins tomorrow morning, if I can get up when my alarm goes off.

During recent dinner with another couple, I noticed how we chatted and the topics we chatted about, and wondered if being a better friend means sometimes leading people to ideas that makes them uncomfortable.

I think about last weekend’s incredibly interesting Design Gym Weekend Workout, and every time I can’t help but be struck by how throughout the entire weekend, never did I get the sense that any of my fellow “designer thinkers” ever doubted their own ability to solve the problems presented to us. I did hear some people express doubts over skills like drawing, but I was impressed by how as a whole the group seemed to have high self-efficacy. It was the kind of environment that has a good mix of inspiration and difficulty, setting the stage for learning to occur.

A recurring topic as of late has been the observation expressed by a few that I don’t seem to express my emotions. I’m amused to hear this because it seems to me that my default state tends to be happy/humorous and that I’m more often smiling than not; of course, since I can’t see myself subjectively, it’s possible that I’m entirely incorrect. Or it could also be, as I suspect, that what my friends really mean is that they don’t (often) see me express emotions that they are used to seeing or used to expressing themselves. The ideas of anger and patience are in my mind, and I wonder how practicing patience of the Buddhist sort (see Don‘t Bite The Hook) affects my current friendships and the way others relate to me. When most—maybe all—of my friends express their own unfiltered, genuine and full range of emotions, positive or negative, restorative or destructive, do I risk alienating myself when I choose to engage my emotions differently? Is the problem one of perception, in which the resolution is merely to lead my friends to understand the way I’ve been learning to handle emotions? Our environments and surroundings, as I’ve been hearing over and over, plays such a part in shaping us, and so when my friends spend time with those who express emotions in similar ways, their own beliefs are reinforced and I end up standing out more. What’s the cost; and should I care?

ideas at 25

Back from packed day in NYC celebrating my post-birthday.

– Afternoon tea at Alice’s Teacup
– Traipse around Central Park
– Short visit to Museum of Natural History
– Dinner at Fishtag
– Dessert in Chinatown area

The day as a whole was great and one of the most fun events in recent memory.

I noticed several interesting things that I wanted to jot down before I forget:

One person can change the direction of ideas. Before one guest’s arrival, there’d been little talk of drinking/partying, but after, that became a common theme.

When bringing together several differing groups of friends, seating arrangements seem to have a direct influence on the flow of conversation. It seems to me that next time when introducing differing groups of friends, I’ll influence seating so that those more comfortable with their familiar group will sit closer, but with the people more suited to bridging the group gaps sitting closer to the other groups so as to increase the chances of cross-group discussion and interaction.

I’m reminded that when trying to understand another person’s motivations and aspirations, observing their actions often reveals more truth than discussing those subjects directly.

Observations: Starbucks NJ-17S

Some thoughts about a few things I noticed about the men’s bathroom in the standalone Starbucks on NJ-17S:

  • Give guests a way to tell when bathroom is occupied: How useful it would be to have a lock that displays a red/green “Occupied/Empty” label, similar to the ones in airplanes. Since this particular Starbucks has doors with handles with built-in “push” locks (I don’t yet know the technical name for this kind of handle or lock), the labelled lock mechanism might be separate and also would require the user to touch another thing, which is notable because I’d personally want to touch as few things as possible within the bathroom. I’d prefer to replace the current handle with a single mechanism that incorporates a handle, lock and also the occupied/empty sign; I imagine this has to have been tackled by some designer somewhere. This is the biggest item that I thought could improve the Starbucks experience for all guests because it would eliminate the knock-on-door ritual that restroom-waiters do.
  • Standardizing the touch-free environment: While I quite like the motion-activated energy-efficient hand drier in the bathroom, I think the bathroom could also use a motion-activated toilet, motion-activated faucet, and motion-activated soap dispenser, all of which are currently manually activated. The point of this would again be to minimize the amount of things that a (theoretically) germ-laden user would have to actually touch.
  • Motion-activated lighting is pretty cool as it saves users from activating/deactivating the light, and saves employees time from having to remember to turn on/off the light.
  • General question: I wonder why there’s a rectangular metal plate attached to the bottom of the (wooden) door both on the inside and outside. From the outside, it makes sense because one could use their foot against that plate to push the door open, but once on the inside the user has to pull the handle to open the door. I wonder if the inside plate is just to provide some kind of protection against the doorstop attached to the inside wall of the bathroom; if so, why wouldn’t a smaller piece of metal suffice?