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Category Archives: Impressions

A brief mention of two books that I’ve been reading over the month of April. The first is Team of Rivals which is a biography of Abraham Lincoln. The second is Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. These are two American lives that have fascinated me. Two lives destined to belong to the ages. Read More »

It is a lovely Sunday afternoon. The sun is shining and the weather is warm. I’m enjoying the season opener to Grimm. I’m gonna start backtracking through Castle next. A classic chill out Sunday.

Despite all of that I find myself living in anticipation of Monday. There’s work to do on Monday. Lots of work. I can’t help thinking about it.

And so I find myself in a strange limbo. I’m waiting through Sunday. In a restless way. Pacing the room. Distracting myself. Drafting blog posts in my head.

My head, though, is in Monday. Working through items in draft. Planning ahead. Writing paragraphs and emails. Living one step ahead compared to where I need to be today.

I want to get to work. I don’t want to spend time on leisure when I can feel the foreboding sense of all that waits to be done.

I feel like I’m wasting my time in leisure when there is a work do to.

Living in the present would require me to do the opposite. To focus on the joy of today and wait till tomorrow to deal with tomorrows issues.

I’m not sure whether that can ever be done. But I know I would like to get better at it. Any tips?

It still shocks me how little planning I encounter everyday. And how unwilling people are to plan. It’s amazing how people just don’t want to accept that a plan might be necessary. Even when things which are fixed, regular and predictable end up causing chaos.

There is a fiction that a plan has to be a grand thing. It has to be coordinated, canvassed, shared, discussed, launched, focus-grouped, drafted, reviewed, revised, incorporated, updated, seek buy-in, obtain input, circulated in draft, re-revised, perfected, issued, implemented, two-week review, three-week review, one month review, revised, re-revised and so on.

Most frustrating, after going through the months of delay to prepare an exquisite plan, is how rarely the plan is graced with matching action. As if the whole reason to have a plan is to say you have a plan and then do what you intended to do all along anyway. In which case, why waste all that time generating a plan?

And  yes I understand why. Human foibles like wanting approval, wanting public endorsement, wanting to have colleague support, perfectionism, ambition and avarice, loosing sight of the goal, the desire to one-up the other and so on  play a part in causing such behaviour.

But, say that you’re that person who actually wants to achieve what they said they’d do and not just talk impressive sounding horse-shit. How do you go about doing that?

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This post resonated. I know that feeling. Constantly. To overcome my self inflicted injuries is my greatest challenge. Recent events have helped me grow. I’ve learned to accept that I’m not responsible for how my colleagues act or what they say. That I’m not responsible for what my clients do. That, having satisfied myself that I have done my best, there is nothing I can do as to whether other people find that acceptable, desirable or correct.

These lessons have been bitterly earned. They were slow, burning, lessons. Taught with gnawing self-doubt, anxiety, worry, re-examination and second guessing.

I’ve slowly learned to recalibrate my sense of empathy and understanding towards all of those who undertake the great journey of birth-life-death. I’ve learned that this prisoner complex of the inner mind looking at the outer world was our common shared heritage.  That ultimately, we’re all trying to do the best we can with what we think is right.

So when I say I admire this post, you will see where it comes from. It was about everything that I aspire to achieve at this stage in my life.

Despite  that I  couldn’t shake a sense of disquiet. There was something wrong about this post at its heart. Shortly afterwards, I came across this quote:

“To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth… is potentially to have everything…”

– Joan Didion

It clicked with that sense of disquiet.  Ryan is right that we need to overcome our need for social validation. We need to overcome the self-injury we do to ourselves by grounding our sense of self-worth extrinsically.

He is wrong however, to imply that it is easy. The battle with the self is the most challenging struggle that anyone will encounter in their lives. He makes this difficult struggle over the inner nature of ourselves – ground in a thinking feeling social brain locked in a clumsy callous body- sound like an easy easy victory. A matter of re-wiring. A process of mitigation through therapy. I think that’s wrong. How can anyone else (extrinsically) tell you what your intrinsic self-worth is? How can you let them taint that value assessment?

The truth is that this challenge is a sufficient and noble challenge for any life to achieve. However, it is a struggle that we have to take alone. Others can help us struggle, against impulse, instinct and social programming but they will never have a true understanding of that battle.

The metaphor of life as journey is common. When we talk about ‘two paths’ that ‘diverged in a wood’ we know that Frost was talking about the life journey and only incidentally narrating a stroll through the woods.

I have been reflecting on that journey for the last day. And I find myself wondering about the metaphor. I find the metaphor troubling. Troubling because it is too comforting. Life as journey wraps the experience of living in an unsatisfactory cocoon of certainty.

When we think of journeys nowadays, we experience them as they exist now, transformed by the certainties of the modern age. We have certain starting points, fixed end points, mapped roads and ready built airports. We have real-time communications with our destinations. A modern day journey is as adventurous (in the first world) as slicing bread. As a result, they are on average as uniquely unchallenging as journeys have ever been in the history of human travel.

We have banished the uncertainties that made a journey akin to life. We have not (alas) banished the uncertainties of life.

If life is a journey, then that journey must now be understood by parable. Travel has always historically been capricious and changeable. The closest parable to that journey that I can find is the Israelites wondering through the desert for forty years in search of the promised land.

A journey where you are alienated from everything left behind, the present is the hostile ever present risks of being stuck in a desert, have only the vaguest idea of where you are going, are seduced into worshipping false gods and where death heralds the entry into the promised land is a profoundly honest reflection of the true nature of life’s journey.

I have spoken many thoughts, heard many words, and shared many perceptions in the last month. People talking about people. People talking about their colleagues, friends, lovers and spouses. People talking about the most important relationships of their lives, sometimes going through their most important moments.

Throughout these shared moments, one constant theme I keep finding is how important context tends to be. A person experiencing a rough moment at work, going through a stressed time at home, finds that their relationship with their significant other suddenly is broken. Not because the relationship is flawed but because the significant other has just been fired, has a difficult emotional challenge at home or  cannot cope with another challenge in their lives.

And yet it is the relationship that cracks. Lives radically changed – maybe for a time even shattered – by a perfect storm of circumstance.

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I used to find it perplexing that people become so agitated when other people behaved like human beings. Haven’t we learned that this is what people are like? If we all know that this is what people are like, why do we still react so strongly when people behave like people?

Life is about how you see yourself. How you see yourself defines what you will do, what you might try and what you will never do. At the moment at least. How you see yourself can change. Its flexibility is its biggest freedom and biggest curse.

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All blogs are equal; some blogs are more equal than others. These are my 10 favourite smart blogs:

  1. Seth’s Blog – Seth Godin is marketing whiz, ideas factory and book producing machine. He also has an eye-popping way of looking at the world with a fresh perspective. The blog is a distillation of ideas on what it means to do meaningful work in the modern world. You should expect your worldview to get challenged once a week at least.
  2. Marginal Revolution – This is a financial / economics blog on the face of it. With occasional digressions into books, cinema, and the strangeness of people. I also wonder if Tyler Cowen, its most prolific blogger, ever sleeps.
  3. Zen Habits – The king blog of taking life easy, working towards your goals and keeping it all balanced. Focused on the more human side of getting things done like motivation, procrastination and being realistic.
  4. The Browser – A little while back all the hype about Web 2.0 was about the culture of curation. The art of picking has reached a zenith in the Browser. Selecting, clipping, great quotes from all over the internet and flagging up dozens of fascinating articles a day. This is the ultimate source of interesting.
  5. Overcoming Bias – Blog by economist Robin Hansen about why we behave the way we do, see the things the way we do and what it all means when we do it. Hansen has a fascinating paradigm of how people behave and he applies it to a wide variety of situations. I struggle with many of his categorisations (near / far events; forager / farmer societies) but each post has an uncanny way of highlighting something peculiar about human behaviour.
  6. Barking Up the Wrong Tree – This blog exploded out of nowhere in 2009 into a firm favourite.  Another curation done right triumph. Eric Barker picks out interesting articles from the realms of psychology that reveal odd things about human nature. Like the fact that escalators make us better people (going up makes us more elevated in our behaviour). It’s endless recollection of how statistically strange people are is oddly comforting.
  7. Swiss Ramble – If you like football and you’re curious about the big picture then Swiss Ramble is a blog made in heaven. You might presume that a blog dedicated to the accounts of football clubs might be a tad dry. You would be wrong. Once you see a spreadsheet put into context by the shared ups and downs of a team and its fans, you’ll know why this is such compelling reading. A lot about why the game is the way it is becomes crystal clear when seen through this perspective.
  8. You Are Not So Smart – An attack on the common misconceptions we have about human nature and why they’re wrong, such as why we all have lists of movies we ‘intend’ to see but never get around to watching them. Insightful because you can spot yourself running into the same traps many of the time.
  9. Get Rich Slowly – There are two types of smart. There is gee whiz ‘oh my’ smart, and there is long term careful  smart. GRS is all about long term careful smart financial planning. I take a lot of my ideas on managing money and dealing with money from there including how to save sensibly for goals that you want to hit without spending too much on mindless consumerism.
  10. Steve Pavlina – Steve Pavlina is the ultimate source of lifestyle experimentation on the internet. If something sounds (sort of) reasonable and can be tried for 30 days he’s probably been there and got a write up about it. Prior experiments include things like polyphasic sleep (sleeping for 30 minutes only 4 times a day) which sound genuinely bonkers when you first hear about it and almost plausible after you’ve finished reading his posts.

I’m always on the lookout for more to add to the list: any recommendations?

In any issue where there is scope for disagreement there are only two people who you should challenge. The first is anyone who champions a view you agree with. The second is anyone who advocates a view you might agree with. Every other view is irrelevant.

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