Principles

Every action has a cause. Whenever we act, by conscious decision or otherwise, there is some underlying reason to it. Viewed in isolation, it can be difficult to piece together a coherent story and provide an explanation as to why we do what we do. Viewed together, the string of choices we make every day gives us a wider context to understand our own motivations. The underlying motivations which drive our decisions can be called “principles”.

I recently finished a reading of Ray Dalio’s Principles. Ray Dalio was the founder and CEO of Bridgewater Associates for over 40 years, and in that time grew the firm from a one-person operation into one of the largest investment firms in the world. In his book, Dalio covers both his universally applicable life principles, and his work principles, which are well-established as the principles by which his firm operates. While much of his work principles appear more directed at managers, directors and those able to affect and design great change within a company, his life principles resonated strongly with me. It was not necessarily the content of his principles which evoked inspiration – though they were surely sound – but the entire concept of understanding and living by one’s principles. Whether we are aware of them or not, we each have a set of unique principles. These define what we see as good and bad, useful and useless, worthwhile and worthless. By knowing our principles, we should be able to design our lives in almost complete accordance with what we truly want. What is it you want to work for? How do you want to conduct yourself in your relationships, with family, and with friends? What is truly important to you?

To develop an understanding of our principles, we need to be aware of our actions, and rationally consider why it is we do what we do. When you make a decision, ask yourself – what led you to that decision? Have you done similar things in similar situations? If not, why? Each time, catalogue the situation and the response. As this catalogue grows, you can begin to see patterns, and compare similar situations to find a unified solution. From these resolutions comes principles, slowly but surely manifesting a picture of who you actually are. By understanding these pieces, you can determine what choices align with your aspired way of life. A true test of your understanding is to know exactly how you should respond to an imagined situation. This knowledge comes directly from knowledge of our principles, as it is our principles which guide us – even without being aware of them.

Ray Dalio has taken this idea to its extreme, codifying his principles in such a way that he can use computer algorithms to find decisions which align with his principles. This is a profound approach. There are many frequent, inconsequential things which affect our decision making. We can be primed by our environment, fatigued after a day of decision making, susceptible to a host of cognitive biases. Many decisions we make, while seeming right at the time, seem dissonant when viewed from afar. Having a catalogue of principles by which to judge all decisions is the antidote to this decision-making affliction.

Much of determining one’s principles come from introspection. That is, the act of considering one’s own thoughts, actions, feelings, and trying to understand oneself. At least for me, introspection is not a task regularly undertaken. I could provide a litany of excuses for this. There is far too much going on in the outside world, there is a glut of flashing lights and entertainment, tasks which require attention and goals which require outward direction. To take the time on something which has no palpable effect on the world around it seems to run contrary to my own principles. The irony, of course, being that introspection would reveal what my principles actually are – and help decide whether introspection is a task worth undertaking.

There is an Ancient Greek aphorism, inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (of “the Oracle of Delphi” fame), which reads:

Know thyself.

In modern times, one is as likely to come across this phrase in a philosophical textbook as they are in a self-help guidebook. Not to say that’s a bad thing. Socrates famously expounded on the phrase with his own:

The unexamined life is not worth living.

The phrase was apparently uttered by the philosopher in the trial in which we was sentenced to death – consider it a 400 BC “such is life”. How often do we live our lives without reflection, merely moving from act to act without understanding what caused the last? This life of action without reflection and introspection is the unexamined life.

What does it actually mean to “know thyself”? For our purposes, it means to understand what our motivators are, what drives us – what our principles are. Without conscious knowledge of ourselves, we are driven by instinct. Instinct is a great and powerful force in our lives. It often leads us to act in accordance with our principles. However, our minds are easily swayed, and our instincts are far more concerned with being correct in the moment than coherent across our entire human experience. This coherence and internal alignment is the responsibility of our higher selves. Knowing thyself means knowing how to self-correct. It means understanding our motivations and aligning our decisions with them. It means not only knowing our goals, but knowing whether they are goals we should keep. For myself, and for many others, the paths we find ourselves on are not the paths we would choose, were we to look upon ourselves critically. I have both set and achieved goals which were not aligned with my truest intentions, merely because I found myself on that path. It is important for our to know our principles, to know the decisions we have made, and to know the paths we are on. Most importantly, we must reconcile these, to ensure that the lives we are living are the most worthwhile lives.

To live our own lives unexamined is to be at the mercy of the tides. We are endlessly presented with decisions to be made, and swayed by whatever whims we are caught up in. Without knowing what guides us, how can we know whether the decisions we have made are the right decisions? And how can we ensure that our futures decisions will be correct? The answers lie within our principles. By examining ourselves and our actions, we can begin to build our own catalogues of who we are as people. These catalogues come to serve as the foundation from which we consciously choose to live our lives. Principles give us clear references points to compare our decisions against. They act as anchors to come back to, when we struggle against the own murky waters of our mind. They are the lighthouses guiding us to shore, navigating us safely through the rocks.

If I knew my principles, I would have a better idea of whether nautical metaphors are really what I should be writing. If you don’t know your own principles, there’s no harm in finding them, and a lot to gain. The time to start knowing thyself is now.

Mind over matter

People have been saying that marathons are difficult. Having recently completed my first, I can say this – they’re not lying.

It would be no great exaggeration to call the Great Ocean Road Marathon the most difficult single thing I’ve done in my life — except for, perhaps, mustering the motivation to finally write this post. As a physical challenge, it exposed all my weaknesses and drove muscles to levels of exertion previously not experienced. The hours that followed were spent with as little movement as possible; the days that followed were spent somewhere between limping and hobbling; the weeks that followed were spent in slow recovery, tired, still affected by the exertion.

Mentally, I faced an internal voice telling me to stop, making excuses, giving myself outs. The concept of “the wall”, which comes up hard and fast against runners at some distance into a run, sought to block not only my physical self, but my mental self. My body could still move, but my mind didn’t want it to.

These challenges to both the physical and mental faculties led to thoughts on the intersection of mind and body, branching into two separate concepts.

First, the influence of the mind on the body – visualisation, positive thinking, and plenty of scientific studies. Clearly, my own strength of will needs some work – I spent 10km of my run complaining inwardly about a foot injury, then the next 10km questioning what absurd decision I’d made to end up here.

Second is the separation of mind and body, and the philosophical thinking behind this separation. While contemporary western thought considers the mind and the body as part of the same whole, the boundaries between these are not always so blurred.

Influence of the mind over the body

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, a widely read book by the much-lauded Daniel Kahneman, the author discusses his research on cognitive biases and heuristics, and explores how our minds work. A perhaps now-famous study discussed in this work is that of visualisation and basketball free throws. In this study, the accuracy of the participants’ free throws was measured before and after the study period. The participants were separated into two groups – one group regularly practised their free throws with a basketball, and the other group only visualised doing so. The results of this study were striking – the increase in throw accuracy between the two groups was almost identical.

This is far from the first time visualisation and sport have been brought together. Many elite athletes use a variety of mental techniques to become the best in their chosen sport. “Mental rehearsal”, as the technique above is sometimes called, has been used to train mind and body to improve in the imagined skill. Other well-known techniques include that of visualising an intended outcome – be it for a race, a competition, a performance, or any other situation. By seeing the intended outcome, and holding that image in one’s mind, the mind subconsciously works towards achieving it. While running the 44km of my marathon, I kept the image of the finish line clearly in mind, and played through exactly what I would do once there. Whether this was enough to overcome the complaints of my weary body, however, is a matter of contention.

Surprisingly – or perhaps unsurprisingly, given this power of our minds over our bodies – the mindset we take towards physical exercise can also influence the effects of that exercise. In another study, a set of maids at a hotel were separated into two trial groups. These maids perform frequent physical activity in the course of their work, from transporting towels and linen, to shifting furniture, and many other instances of manual labour. As such, one would expect the physical conditioning of the maids to improve over time. Members of the first trial group were given no special comments on the beneficial qualities of their work. The second group was told that their work was conducive to losing weight, building muscle, and other positive physical changes. The group who received no comments on the effectiveness of their work on physical conditioning showed minor improvements over the study period. However, the group who were led to perceive their work as beneficial for their body saw results which reflected this perception. By thinking that the work was actually good for them, their work actually was good for them.

Separation of mind and body

Though we rarely consciously acknowledge it, most of us have the concept of a unity between mind and body. We are our mind, we are our body – these are composite parts of the same whole that constitutes “us”. However, the necessity of this connection is not as rigid as one may believe. Some philosophies, both eastern and western, have for thousands of years conceived of ourselves as our mind, with “us” merely inhabiting our body for the course of our earthly lives. This is part of a key concept of Buddhist philosophy – that one should not see body as self, or see ideas as self, or see possession as self.

Admittedly, this may sound like grandiose spiritual posturing. However, and perhaps fortunately, we are not required to take a leap of faith to uncover certain modes of thought stemming from this concept, which we can use to improve our lives.

In the twilight years of his life, the Indian spiritual master Sai Baba was shackled with a frail, aging body. When asked by his followers how he could continue to live unaffected through what was perceived to be unbearable pain, he responded thus: “Pain is a natural phenomenon. Suffering is a choice.” In this way, Sai Baba expressed the disconnect between the mind and the body. His body had deteriorated and was experiencing pain. This pain, however, was natural, expected, a consequence of having a material body at all. However, this was all that the pain was. Sai Baba’s mind was unaffected by the pain of his body, since he chose not to be affected by it. Such a strong detachment from bodily pain was made possible by years of meditation and other practices, yet to some extent is something we can keep in mind with our own experiences.

Sai Baba’s response is similar to thinking found in Stoic philosophy. As Epictetus wrote, “it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed. You must believe that you are being harmed.” These occurrences, being hit or insulted, are for the most part outside of our control. Similar to Sai Baba’s pain, we cannot control whether we are afflicted by them or not. However, if we choose, we can be mere observers to our pain. Our conditioning causes us to react instinctively to many stimuli. However, through practice and conditioning of our own, we are able to overcome these responses.

The mind and the body are, in some interpretations more than others, what define our existence. Hence it’s no surprise there exists a wealth of thought and literature on both topics — elite athlete training, scientific studies, philosophical beliefs and even core religious tenets centre on how the mind and body are connected and affect us. From such diverse sources, we can find guidance in how to improve ourselves and how to live more fulfilled lives.

A journey of a thousand miles – and other wisdom of the Dao

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

This is the perhaps most enduring line of the Tao Te Ching – a work written by Lao Tzu which itself is still read and studied today, over 2,500 years since its composition. This line sits halfway through the 64th verse of an 81 verse collection, the foundation of all Daoist philosophy.

My introduction to the Tao Te Ching came from Dr Wayne Dyer, through his book completely seriously entitled Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life – bear with me on this one. As is tradition, Dr Dyer presents his own version of the Tao Te Ching, in his case by studying a wide corpus of translations and compiling selected verses. Untraditionally, each verse is followed by an essay on the preceding teachings. Purportedly, the author spent several days meditating on each lesson of the Dao, attempting to live the Way of the Eternal Dao. This process included walks along the beach, incense, and (among other things) gazing upon a portrait of Lao Tzu, in an attempt to Change His Thoughts, and Change His Life. If you’re willing to put aside judgement and be comfortable with some life-changing suggestions one reviewer described as “a bit pollyanna”, it’s a worthwhile read.

One translation of the 64th verse of the Tao Te Ching, as presented by Dr Dyer, reads as follows.

What is at rest is easily managed. What is not yet manifest is easy to prevent. The brittle is easily shattered. The small is easily scattered. Act before things exist. Manage them before there is disorder. Remember, a tree that fills a man’s embrace grows from a seedling. A tower nine storeys high starts with one brick. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Act, and destroy it. Grasp it, and lose it. A sage does not act, and so is not defeated. He does not grasp, and therefore does not lose. People usually fail when they are on the verge of success, so give as much care at the end as at the beginning. Then there will be no failure. The sage does not treasure what is difficult to obtain. He does not collect precious things. He learns not to hold onto ideas. He helps the Ten Thousand Things find their own nature, but does not venture to lead them by the nose.

Even by the standards of the Tao Te Ching, this is a particularly insightful and instructive verse. In part, this is due to how immediately accessible much of the verse is, if not its entirety. There are lessons we can carry with us from these words. What follows is only one interpretation of the many-faceted Dao.

 

A tree that fills a man’s embrace grows from a seedling.

A tower nine storeys high starts with one brick.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Having recently ventured to the Grampians National Park and climbed atop many peaks and mountains, I was humbled by the scale of it all. There were many mountaintops and rolling valleys, many trees and forests, and a great many boulders designed almost perfectly for climbing upon and meditating. Yet there was a time where there was nothing. Before the trees, there were but seedlings, and before the mountains were sweeping plains. Over thousands of years the land has been formed and reformed, with changes never perceptible yet never ceasing. If mountains could grow from flat earth and forests from a single seedling, is there any limit to the heights to which we could rise? What does this say about the lives we could build?

In his most enduring line, Lao Tzu tells us of both what can be achieved and the means by which we can achieve it. In each of our lives are towers we wish to build. I’ve written about a few of mine before – a consistent meditation practice, an Olympic dream, this very blog. For others it is a fulfilling career, mastery of a language, a family. Viewed in their completion, these towers seem far to great to ever scale, let alone build. Yet all around us we see the manifestation of things which seemed impossible. Literal towers define a city’s skyline, each tower built brick by brick. In national parks reside thousands of trees which form the canopy above, yet each of these began life smaller than the blades of grass underfoot. Every journey of a thousand miles began from no journey at all. In this 64th verse of the Tao Te Ching, we come to realise the heights of what we achieve.

There is a way in which we can build our towers and complete our journeys. Slowly, one brick at a time, step by single step. All we need do is what is small. By taking small steps, we not only achieve our goals, but we achieve them without noticing resistance. Just like the tree which grows from a seedling, we are always growing. Yet just like the tree, our growth is not always perceptible. What is one step along a journey of thousands? Other than the first, nothing is special about the step itself, nor is any day more defining for a tree than any other. We must still take each step, and still grow each day, until one day, we look back on the many miles we have travelled, and look down upon the great heights which we have grown.

 

Act before things exist.

Reading this line, I am reminded of The Art of Learning, an autobiographical account of former child chess prodigy and tàijíquán world champion Josh Waitzkin. In learning tàijíquán, Josh studied texts on this Chinese martial art to more fully understand both its martial and spiritual facets. In one section of his book, he recalls the following precept: “When the opponent moves, I move first”. As is a hallmark of Chinese philosophies, this precept appears at first paradoxical. At the very least, to suggest that one moves before their opponent, after the opponent has already moved, suggests a poor understanding of causality and continuity. Yet the deeper meaning of this precept suggests a reversal of how martial artists conventionally approach their combat. Instead of acting reactively, after their opponent moves, one can act proactively. This action is not mere prophylaxis – that is, taking proactive action to prevent the opponent from moving first. We are instead guided to control the entire flow of an engagement. What Josh came to learn from these words was to control the fight entirely, by making the opponent move in the way he wanted, to understand the opponent, to know what the opponent would do next – because he was the one controlling each movement. When the opponent moves, one who understands this precept would know exactly when and where. When the opponents moves, I move first.

While it is difficult to imagine Lao Tzu as a fighting man, there are parallels we can draw between his 64th verse and the precept taught in texts on tàijíquán. For one to act before a thing exists, we must know the thing. We must understand how things come into this world, what has come before them, and what will come afterwards. Lao Tzu’s image of a journey of a thousand steps reminds us that all things begin small, and that the only way things ever progress is by infinitesimal steps. In advising us to act before things exist, he reminds us that before things are even small, they are in a state of non-existence. By acting before things are manifest, they are easy to prevent.

This is wisdom we can apply to our own actions in our own lives. On a simple level, we see the benefit of preventative action. The effort in rebuilding a damaged relationship far exceeds the effort in maintaining a healthy relationship, through frequent and open communication. Our relationships are made easier by addressing and discussing issues before they arise. At work, we have many opportunities to see into the future and foresee problems which may occur. By sweeping aside the problem – such as a bug to deal with when you finally get the time (spoiler: you won’t), or a point of confusion with a client who you hope will figure it out themselves (spoiler: they won’t) – we only forestall and exacerbate an eventual disaster.

The aphorism an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure rings true (even accounting for the conversion from imperial). Lao Tzu presents us with something more than mere aphorism. For us to act before something exists, we must know the thing. An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, yet we must know what it is we are preventing. We must exercise our foresight and be aware of all things which have come before, and hence all things which are to come, if we are to live well, in accordance with the Dao.

 

Lao Tzu offers us many things, even now, thousands of years after his time. Start small, build upon each brick and each step, be aware of what has come before and what is to come. Act while things are manageable, before they become too difficult to sway from their own inexorable journey of a thousand miles. While an oil painting of a Chinese philosopher may not take pride of place on your desk at work, the wisdom of the Dao is easily transportable.

3 Life Lessons from a WebDev Conference

Growing up, I wanted to make robots. I drew pictures of blocky, 90’s looking robots, full of rectangles and youthful dreams. I saved every last cardboard box for my creations, even signed up the local hairdresser to my monthly machine magazine. As it turned out, magazine writing was far too ambitious a goal for even the pluckiest 10 year old, and the obsession with robots didn’t last into high school.

special brewjust for youIn adolescence, I turned my gaze towards game design and development. Later, after a few weeks of science camp in high school, I decided to become a particle physicist.

After all these best-laid plans, I somehow landed the role of web developer – at least, that’s what it says on my card.

A few weeks ago, I attended 3 web development conferences. Beneath the lectures, the workshops, and the esoteric technical details, I learnt 3 major life lessons.

Creating is more rewarding than passively experiencing.

The most rewarding experiences for me during the week of conferences were not of listening to lectures and enjoying the show. Instead, it was the time spent behind-the-scenes, volunteering and keeping the event running. To whatever limited extent I could, I was helping to create this event.

“Rewarding” is not the same as “pleasurable”. In measure of worldly pleasures, listening to a clever talk ranks higher than making sure the drinks fridge is stocked. Replacing bin liners isn’t quite on the same level as relaxing in a beanbag on the auditorium floor. Yet we are often led astray in seeking pleasurable activities. The gratification provided by these activities is almost always fleeting, and requires continually chasing after more to maintain the same level of satisfaction. Consider eating a delicious meal. The sensory pleasure is surely immense throughout each course. Yet, once the last bite of dessert is complete, what remains? To quote the great Daoist thinker Laozi, “pleasures and delicacy can only attract passers-by to stay temporarily”. The pleasure received from such an experience cannot be carried with you, and we are left with another hole to fill.

Rewarding activities, on the other hand, provide benefit beyond the tangible and sensory. This benefit becomes part of ourselves, and remains after the activity has passed. The time spent practising an instrument may, for some, be a pleasurable experience. Yet the reason most musicians undertake hours of practise is to better themselves and their art. Performing great works is a pleasurable act, and it is the long hours and difficult road to reach that point which allows for that reward. There are thousands, millions of stories already written – yet a writer does not content themselves with simply reading, but instead writes. The reward is not in the practise itself, nor the act of writing, but in how it changes the actor.

Being part of a team which created an event, attended internationally by hundreds, was truly rewarding. For my own part, being up on stage as MC had a powerful effect on me – though some could argue this was more a matter of feeding my ego and desire for the stage than is was any altruistic and wholesome endeavour. Were I to have spent a week simply absorbing the talks and enjoying the spectacle, the event would have less relevance to me now than it does otherwise.

As with everything there is a balance to be struck. Most of us cannot give up fine dining, entertainment, music, or any other of these worldly pleasures. What we can do, however, it to spend some time, any time, creating rewarding experiences for ourselves, to create works of art, to create powerful movements, and to create better versions of ourselves.

Find role models, and talk with them.

I’ve always been a very singular person – not yearning for or requiring much from others. While I’ve known some great people, for most my life there’s not been one who I could point to and say, “yes, they’re my role model, I want to learn from this person and reach their heights” (the exception, of course, being my boy Justin Vernon, light of my life).

However, to try progressing anywhere in life without the help of others is to handicap yourself. “Soft skills” such as communication and the ability to ask questions are more relevant than ever to succeed in the workplace and to succeed in life. For conferences, a large part of the benefit lies in the people you talk with. As a veteran conference-attender, internationally distinguished academic and colleague of mine has said, “conferences are 20% listening to talks, 80% talking with people over drinks”. Networking is not my strongest suit, though it’s something I make efforts to improve upon. A networking endeavour from the conference led me to late-night dumplings and drinks with a team from Sydney – and though I’ve no plans to relocate anytime soon, having such contacts is always beneficial.

On the first day of the conference, there was a speaker who I was particularly impressed by. They were obviously knowledgable and successful, and spoke on the intersections of language, culture, and team-building, all of which are of interest to me. For one of the first times in my life, I was compelled to meet this person who I had only known from afar. Mustering some courage (and a friend who already knew the speaker), I struck up a conversation at a post-conference event. My inexperience was apparent, however, as I had no insightful questions to ask, nor a real objective in mind. What I gained from the conversation was not a deeper understanding of the speaker’s interests. What I gained was an understanding of my own lack of understanding, and a readiness to learn.

You cannot expect someone to give you all the answers – especially when you give them none of the questions. What makes someone a role model to you? Just asking yourself this question and understanding your answer is a useful place to start. If you’re looking for direction in your own life or work, try to learn about and learn from the journeys of others. Be aware of what it is you’re trying to learn, what parts of life you’re trying to understand, and what facets of your role model you aspire to emulate. Once you know this, finding the right words for the right questions becomes easier.

I’ve still yet to find a role model or mentor. However, there’s no shortage of places to begin looking. An easy place for anyone to start is in the books they’ve read, or the art they enjoy. If someone has written a book which captivated you for hours and taught you many things, reach out to them. If someone has painted a work of art which has left an impression, reach out to the artist. For me, next time I talk with a role model, I’ll know what to say.

What you do for work doesn’t have to be your life – and that’s okay.

Up on stage at the conferences were career web developers and programmers, leaders in their fields. People working at Microsoft, Facebook, Google. Some talks were about cutting-edge technologies, others were about problems overcome in the line of work, others still on the blending of art, language, culture with the technical field.  With enough work, anyone could learn what they’ve learnt and do what they do. What cannot be copied, however, is their unmitigated passion for their field.

I’ll use the specific example of programming and web development, though it’s a concept that can be applied across many disciplines. There are two “accepted” pathways of making it into the industry. First is the traditional tertiary-based pathway. This means completing a degree in computer science, taking on a few internships, and coming out with a recognised qualification. My particle physics degree doesn’t quite make the cut as recognised currency.

The second “right” way to break into the industry is to spend all your time coding, become part of the community and community projects, and make your name known.

In either case, the motivation is the same – a strong passion for programming and a commitment to the field. This passion is evidenced by the years spent on formal education, or the hours of free time spent on personal programming projects and community work. People who make it into the field live and breathe it. Programming is not just a career, it’s a calling, it extends beyond the boundaries of the working day. Every person I spoke to had their own personal projects in programming. The end of the working day merely means more time for more programming, now as a hobby and creative endeavour free from limitations.

As someone who more-or-less stumbled into this field, I feel like somewhat of an outsider looking in. The talks and workshops presented during the week did not inspire me to head home and launch into a new project. What I did realise, however, was that my job does not define my life, my interests and my hobbies. Only a fortunate (or unfortunate) few of us will ever spend a career in a single field. Fewer still in a single job. The constant within our lives is not where we go to work or even what it is we do, but the person that we bring each day along with us. If we are dedicated to becoming the best versions of ourselves, then it is this which matters more than what we do for work.


Several weeks have passed since the closing talks of the conference. In a few weeks more, I may remember the titles of some talks, a few insights here and there. Yet in months time, what will remain will be these 3 life lessons, which I learnt at a webdev conference.

Quarterly report

The Easter long weekend has passed, as has the first quarter of the year. It seems a good time to pause and reflect on goals, self-development, and where we go from here.

Fencing: still going strong, four weeks into a five week introductory course. I’d prided myself on my “undefeated record” for the first three weeks of classes. Unfortunately I could only delude myself so long, following the fourth week using real equipment and real scoring devices, in which I lost every bout. No matter, this is just another opportunity for growth (quite a large amount, mirroring the margins by which I consecutively lost). The plan is to “continue fencing” after the conclusion of this course, though the term “plan” is used quite loosely.

Marathon: I’m definitely aware that there’s a schedule to follow. Whether it’s a schedule I abide by is another question – to which the answer is an emphatic no. In coming weeks, this is one thing which will require vigilance, lest I become stranded halfway down the Great Ocean Road during a 42km run. I bought some trendy (read: geeky) running sunglasses and visor, so at least I’ll look the part.

Music production: unlike marathon training, this self-development project has yet to have a schedule assigned it. In my current life setup, this more-or-less means that I’ve spent more-or-less no time on it (less, not more).

Piano: progress is slow but steady, managing some scheduled practice most week nights. Next up (to spare myself and my family from indefinite repetition of the same few scales and same three pieces) is my piano exam, coming some time in June.

Audiobooks: having worked through Seneca’s Moral Epistles, we move from 1st century (AD) stoicism in Rome to 5th century (BC) taoism in China, with a reading of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching. Very insightful, though it is a work which requires definite effort from the reader to gain full value from. It’s something for which I would like to spend the effort.

Gym: does writing this make me seem like the kind of person who spends all their time at the gym? In any case, I recently started reading a workout book by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which I received as a half-joke half-serious Christmas present a few years ago. As it turns out, Arnie is quite the knowledgable person on things fitness, though it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. He details a few workout plans, one of which I’ve begun today (spoiler: it’s tiring).

Meditation: keeping at it. To the extent that I’ve been (mostly) consistently taking my daily 10 minutes of meditation, it has been a good habit. There are extensions which can be made to the mindfulness practice, such as longer meditation sessions, mindful walking, and a whole host of others which I have yet to discover or implement.

Blogging: this is my second ‘fortnightly-instead-of-weekly’ post, but I’ll take my victories where I can get them. I’m still here, after all (and after all these weeks), so for now at least I’m still moving forward.

I recently obtained a day/week-planner diary, which I am in awe of how useful it seems and the (in)finite possibilities presented within. One such possibility is in utilising the hour-by-hour layout for weekdays, allowing one to put aside time for whatever they choose. For me, perhaps scheduling in time to write for this blog would be a wise decision. I’ve much to write (and much more to write in this post), now just need to find the time to write it. This, of course, is true for all my endeavours. My next endeavour, however, is to sleep (having once again left the task of writing a blog post until the 11th hour).

Talk to you soon.


Author’s note: I’ve had another post on-the-go for two weeks now, yet have not quite put together the time to string it together. It’s my first “try-hard kind-of real blog” post. Maybe I’ll even add images.

On sacrifice

“You can have anything in life, if you will sacrifice everything else for it.”

Life is about sacrifice. At some point we all realise this. We only have so many dollars to spend, so much income to throw away before the present becomes difficult and the future becomes less certain. With vain pleasures and fleeting romance we sacrifice what is yet to come, to satisfy our impulses at cost of what will never be. Do we live a spartan existence for the hope of creating more auspicious days ahead? Every choice we make is a sacrifice, though often we do not know it.

Some sacrifice a night out for the dream of a house, saving every dollar to live The Great Australian Dream. Others sacrifice the dream of ever owning a house for the taste of smashed avo on toast (I’m looking at you, millennials).

Yet, these material concerns are far from our greatest sacrifices.

There are only so many hours in a day.

What we choose to do with our time makes us who we are. What we spend our money on are our possessions. What we spend our time on are our lives. Whatever we decide to do with our time, it comes at the cost of whatever else we could do. Want to be a basketball player? Great. Want to join the softball team? Sorry, can’t, got basketball practice.

How much time do we have?

A mere mortal like myself has need of eight hours sleep (as should most well-adjusted, normally functioning members of society thank you very much). With commute, a nine to five in the city daily costs us eleven hours. Just like this, time has a habit of getting away from us. That we spend it correctly is key to living your best life.

With what mean remaining time allotted to me, I spend it at the gym, in meditation, on writing, on learning, on fencing, on my family, on my friends, on relationships.

 

You can be anything in life, if you sacrifice being anything else.

Can one become a master in any subject they choose? Yes. But cannot become a master in every subject.

For myself, I wish to be an Olympic fencer, a blogger, a business professional, a good son, a dependable partner, a music producer, a world traveller, a home owner, a multilinguist, a marathon runner, one who lives a healthy life. Clearly, the combination of all these seems untenable. Something will have to give. Just to get to this point, how much will we have to sacrifice? And after we have done that, how much more will have to sacrifice of what is left?


Author’s note: internet infographics tell me the optimal blog post should be around 1600 words, or 7 minutes. I’m not quite willing to sacrifice my sleep to achieve that tonight. Instead, I’ll sacrifice the quest for blog-post perfection, just this once. We’re all learning, after all.

En garde

I recently took my first fencing class.

It was all I’d hoped it would be.

It has been a while since I’ve taken part in something purposefully competitive. Years of competition tennis, swimming carvinals and debating teams during my formative years, (and, perhaps, my existence as middle child) have engendered me with more than a dash of a competitive streak. I had too many successes as a youth, and not enough failures.

Nowadays, I’ve got this idea that if there’s something I want to do, I can do it, I could best anyone if I worked for it. That’s how I ended up in this fencing situation after all, so it can’t be that bad a trait.

We learnt the steps, forwards and back, the lunge, attack, counter-attack, parry 4, reposte. It’s starting to seem all familiar. Tomorrow, I’ll do some training on my own. Not yet with swords and masks (for even I am not overconfident enough to presume readiness for that on my own), but with my own two feet.

If you see a straight white line on the ground, think of me, moving back, forth along it. Step forward, step forward, step back. On my way.