Dress Shirts

After nearly 18 months of t-shirts in this world of Working From Home (or Sleeping At Work), I tried on a formal shirt today. It fit, somewhat too snugly in some places, and just right in others.  Walked out into the living room, & was immediately greeted with “Nice, where are you going?”

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Not a bad view, on our evening walk at the local beach.

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Everyone has opinions. They’re based on experiences, biases, partial information, total bullshit, etc etc.  By themselves, they generally cause little harm to the collective. Until of course, they’re brought together under conditions of duress. Like after a few drinks. Or sometimes, a workshop.

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I had several strokes of good fortune today. People came to my rescue in ways I hadn’t expected. Others pointed out my ‘super-power’ and how they wished they had it. It allowed me to slow down and think about the things that make it seem easy, but are actually a few micro-skills I learnt over time working seamlessly and at great pace without me even thinking about them. James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, helped me frame this better as a habit – a sequence of behaviours that is automatic. ‘A’ urged me to talk about this in one of the sessions I organise. The procrastinator in me screamed out “NO”.

Freedoms and Gratitude

Some clouds have a darker side to them but like much of the country now, there is light in sight. Including at our household, where all members aged  15+ are now vaccinated.



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A friend and colleague shared a 2002 HBR article today titled Make Your Values Mean Something. Among other things, it made me reflect on how scarce authentic appreciation of a fellow human for their efforts appears to be in the work world.  The larger corporates I’ve come across seem to mandate that people thank each other, even a target to meet. There’s often an inability to acknowledge by the powers that be (who likely have never used it themselves) that the systems ostensibly designed to keep this thanking business together are so full of friction that few use it, leading to more mandates. The loopy loop goes on.

Upon reflection, I have found it easier to say something in a meeting than to do it in writing. I’ve also let the memory of the best thank you exercise we did together as a team fall into the recesses of my mind.  It was a simple exercise: pick any one person in the team that you were thankful to for something they did for you, and tell it to them in writing. Everyone got multiple mails. Everyone without exception, expressed how valued, even loved, they felt to read the words from their colleagues _____. The feeling of being on top of the world despite being in the thick of the lockdown lasted weeks.

Why don’t we do it more often? Why do I not do it more often?

Acknowledging Tensions



The earthy red on the boat stands out – almost as much as the piers next to it.

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I’ve always wondered if everyone has a desire to be doing impactful or at least useful work. Over the course of many hundreds of conversations, I have come to believe that it is true, perhaps with my biased sample. It’s also becoming apparent to me in those conversations that the effort involved in such meaningful work throws some people off to the point where they much rather keep their “work” work separate from the impactful work they do, inspiring as it is.

Perhaps applicable only in my present context: What I’ve been learning from these conversations, particularly in the last couple of weeks, is that the people who are able to recognise and acknowledge the environment in which they find themselves in, seem more able to continue feeling excited and enthusiastic despite the challenges of their environment. Why might that be?

Trades and Habits

So this replaces our daily walk – moving a ton of soil across into the garden beds will let me sleep well tonight 🙂 My enterprising wife traded this for a 6-pack of beer for the lads who hauled it over to our driveway from some worksite.

Coincidentally, my friend LR shared a link to “One red paperclip” – a series of 14 trades by Canadian blogger Kyle MacDonald to get himself a two-story farmhouse!

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Last night, I was transported into a blissful world listening to some great music so I totally forgot to do the vocal exercises. Woke up this morning, and got that out of the way for today. It was more useful doing the warm-up exercises for the speaking I did the rest of the day.

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A hard copy of James Clear’s book Atomic Habits arrived today. I’m looking forward to reading this and adapting my experiment where it makes sense now, and build a series of experiments for after.

Pelicans, Hannibal, and Resume Writing

Perfect end to the weekend walk. The pelicans flying right over the single mangrove (apparently a halophyte – salt resistant plant) just as I took this picture, were like us, heading home.



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I had watched Hannibal in early 2000’s, a few months after its release, and absolutely adored Anthony Hopkins’s terrifying portrayal of the cannibalistic serial killer. I discovered that my wife hadn’t actually seen, so we watched it again last night. She now knows my reference to “Hello, Clarice”.

By the way, the phrase has seemingly been associated with “the Silence of the Lambs”, but it was never actually used in it. It’s known as the Mandela Effect –  a situation in which a large mass of people believes that an event occurred when it did not.

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I had learnt a few tricks in PowerPoint (this guy’s PPT YouTube channel has a ridiculously high value-to-time ratio) during a long overdue break a few months ago. I practiced those tricks to build my version of the Business Model You Canvas – a personal take on the Strategyzer Business Model Canvas. It was all high level bullet points, so it does not pass muster as a traditional resume.

Stacking skills is something I find compounds value, so today I tried to  use the Marcus Aurelius linguistic trick to think about my work self. I invested a lot of time today borrowing ideas, crafting my short summary, editing, rewriting…. and eventually giving up! The struggle tells me I need a lot of time on this, and very likely some help too. I don’t have a need immediately to have a resume ready, and therefore this is the best time to invest in creating one.

 

 

Systems Renovation Recap

Introduction

I’m now a fifth of the way – 20 days – into my 100 days experiment to renovate my habits/ system. It’s a good time to take stock, course-correct, examine challenges, celebrate (even/ especially) the small wins, and synthesize the learnings thus far.

Spencerian Calligraphy:

Much energy was invested in the garden today, with all the walking done behind a lawn-mower and whipper-snipper.  I managed to get some Spencerian exercises in before, luckily – the vibration of the machines leaves my arm rather sore for a while, making writing painful or sometimes impossible for a while.



Besides today’s exercises, this week I managed to work on letters J, K done twice, LM, and practiced ovals  mid-week.

Walk Every Day:

Making the time to walk for an hour or more is easier when I have an accountability buddy – my wife. We’ve done this every day now, and the pictures I take on these walks are helping jog my memory. The walks also are our time to ourselves to hold each other the space – to connect, to vent, and to verbalise our emotions of the day.

Today’s walk, while in the garden, was a long one and I did not think of taking a photo before and after the work was done.

Vocal learning:

This changed from once a a week to everyday, after a colleague explicitly said that there’s no excuse if it only takes 5 minutes to do a reading exercise. I have recorded every day this week a minute or more of my voice, reading aloud a poem or a blog post.

Write 100 words here every day:

While I struggled in the first few days for ideas or to hit the word count, I don’t have that trouble now. If anything, I am editing as I type, and that takes from the flow of simply pouring out first and then editing.

What I’ve learned (again!)

  1. I have to **make** the time. There’s always something pressing or urgent – for someone else! Making the time is the same as prioritising myself, a little bit of self-care.
  2. Related, but different. There is ALWAYS time. This week I put a 15-minute limit on the browser on my phone. It brought my average daily phone usage time from 2.5 hours to less than an hour, much of that reduced time being YouTube music videos.
  3. Language matters. How I describe the day changes the way I see the day. Thinking in the third person, like Marcus Aurelius’s linguistic trick, helps get through the inevitable mental block that builds up over time.
  4. Calligraphy is incredibly relaxing for me. It’s not a revenue-earning skill I am building as much as a mental-health routine. It also very clearly forces me to deal with my need for perfection – however good the letters look, a closer examination tells me I have MILES to go before the letter is symmetrical or aligned or shaded.
  5. After  a week of recording my voice, I can feel why I have to do at least a few of the warm-up exercises if I’m going to do this in the night, feeling tired. I’m going to try recording in the morning.
  6. For the first time in a while, I’ve continued watching the lectures of a course on Blockchain that I’m doing every morning. I’ve progressed to making notes, and truly attempting to understand the implications of this fast-changing technology.
  7. Writing every night in my journal is forcing me to deal with the emotional weight and worries of the day, take it out of my mind and turn them into words that I can then go back to read later. More often than not, the worries have dissolved in the night, or at the very least, my subconscious mind has figured out a way of tackling the problem in a far easier or novel way than I could have come up.

To the next three weeks:

There will be changes to the routine, chosen or forced. Aim to continue the streak of doing things I’ve set out to do, one day at a time. And don’t worry about adapting them as I find useful. This is not a challenge as much as it is an experiment.

And remember that it’s the small changes, done every day, that will compound to set big things in motion.

Let the light shine through



The sun was up much before I was this morning (nothing new, of course). What I did notice as I walked out was the translucent leaves and the drops of water on them and the amazing color combinations as a new leaf sprung forth from the vine. The leaves simply let the light shine through.

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So much of my effort over the last few months has been on keeping the inspiration spark alive for everyone else around me. Almost everyone I have spoken to this week has framed the problems we individually see using the same phrases of exhaustion, ennui, distrust, and a lack of leadership. It is easy to feel at home with this view, and that’s exactly when I remember Eddie Jaku’s  talk about happiness being a choice.

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In the midst of the exhaustion though, I’m grateful for a conversation I had with a colleague who reached out to me today, and I spoke to for the first time. He is deaf, and yet is an accomplished percussionist. His enthusiasm to share with me his idea was infectious. I will help him craft his inspiring story in a few weeks, and that is inspiration enough for me.

I crafted a note today that I am pleased with; the ideas flowed as soon as I let my brain wander; and the result was well received by the few people I shared it with.

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Rejection, Language, and Gratitude

A storm just passed through, and the lightworks were awesome! We might be able to sneak in a walk before the next one hits.



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Jia Jiang’s TEDx video on rejection has had over 4 million views. The point he makes about seeking out rejection so it no longer has power over him is powerful and yet, terrifying. Come to think of it though, most of my every day interactions, including the ones I had today are an invitation to rejection. But there are so many other things that I don’t do for fear of rejection. An universal problem?

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Lera Boroditsky’s talk on How Language Shapes the Way We Think was a serendipitous recommendation this morning too, after a discussion yesterday during our team’s learning hour.  Her examples of language shapes time and how it’s perceived (the Australian Aboriginal Community in a different coordinate space), number words that allow technological innovations that open up the world of mathematics, early effects (color identification is different), broad effects (gender nouns in German vs Spanish), weighty effects (how blame is allocated in different languages) provoked me into thinking about the unexamined language I use everyday.

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I’m also grateful to several people who reached out today to share their worry and that they trusted me enough to share them with me, even if all I could be was a patient ear. Also to the person who wanted to say the work I’ve been doing in organising the weekly talks at work for telling me how much they valued it: it gave me a boost in my flailing enthusiasm in coordinating more of them.

 

Is Anything Worth Maximising?

Again I managed to get out during a break in the rain for a brisk walk. Lots to be grateful for today, including many conversations that pushed my thinking into clarity or clarification territory.



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This morning, I spent time listening to this persuasive talk by Joe Edelman, about

how metrics affect the structure of organizations and societies, how they change the economy, how we’re doing them wrong, and how we could do them right.

In my current work context – as I suspect is the case with most organisations – I see little hope for this argument to progress through the bureaucracy that measures itself through the metrics it measures. The solutions that Edelman offers also appeals to me, because the potential to disrupt large, tone-deaf organisations is right there for the taking IF done well. The question is, can it be done well?

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A 2005 short paper titled Triple Entry Accounting predates Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin paper from 2008, and makes the case for a melded approach by using a digitally signed receipt to create a bullet-proof accounting systems for aggressive uses and users.

Happiness is a choice

The wet weather broke for a bit this afternoon and gave us a chance for a long walk.



I could have frame this picture better: the pelicans in the background and the rippling reflection of the boat in the foreground as the wind gently blew over the surface created a beautiful visual that this picture will not show.

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Eddie Jaku, the self-professed “Happiest Man in the World”, died today, aged 101. His simple promise to himself after surviving the Holocaust and having his first child “..to be happy, smile, be polite, helpful, and kind” is the kind of system I aspire to for myself. It’s his reminder that happiness is a choice that I needed to hear again today.

I have seen the very worst in mankind, the horrors of the death camps, the Nazi efforts to exterminate my life, and the lives of all my people. But now I consider myself the happiest man on Earth. Through all my years I have learnt this: life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful … happiness is something we can choose. It is up to you.

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On a day like today, cloudy within and without, watching Jaku’s message again was a simple yet powerful reminder to count my blessings.

I’m grateful that I have people around me that I can talk to about how I feel without judgement. That I have good health. That I have a a choice to be happy despite everything else going on around me.