Everything’s amazing, and yet everything’s mundane

Progress is how the miraculous becomes mundane. Many of our ancestors would have given limbs for the privilege of seeing what’s on the other side of our window shades in the sky. Glad all we need is to give up our cynicism about flying.

from a blog post by the inimitable Doc Searls. 

Very often, I forget that if only I stop staring at some screen or book I’m engrossed in & look up, something fascinating is happening all around me. Whether it is people’s conversations, or Nature’s thandava, something always is happening. The mere fact that I can type this on some plastic-y object, & things magically appear on a screen that’s glowing, & with the push of a button, all 12 of my blog readers can see my thoughts – isn’t that miraculous?  

What other miracles have I missed today because I’m so busy pretending to be the center of the universe? What have you missed?

Bonus link: Everything’s amazing, but nobody’s happy

Finding a voice in public

I’ve never forgotten the first time I did it.

I was in in year 3, & apparently the teacher thought me the brightest kid in class. I’d changed schools that year (& had failed in at least two subjects in the previous class, so how that happened remains a mystery to me).

Being the ‘brightest’ automatically meant that you were selected for any competitions – debates, speech contests, sports etc. I was terrible at sports and not much better at anything else, although I loved reading & math.  I got selected for a speech contest. I don’t remember what my subject was. But I do remember standing on a stage that seemed twenty feet above the ground, looking at an ocean of people I did not know, freezing up, forgetting every word of what my mom had helped me prepare & rehearse. The worst part was being booed off the stage by a sea of cruel faces, most of who were just as old as I was.

I remember my fateful decision that day to never, ever get in front of a crowd to speak again.  It has had nearly catastrophic consequences.

Fast forward to the 2000’s. I discovered Toastmasters through a series of co-incidences, found the love of my life who was the daughter of my mentor, gave up Toastmasters for half a decade as life got in the way, rejoined it when I moved countries, & have nearly gotten over the fear of talking to most crowds, however big or small.

Nearly, I said.

I’ve been reading/ listening to a lot of blog posts & podcasts of late, & have been wondering why I’ve not really done things that I’m rather reluctant to do because of those voices in my head.  One of them is doing presentations/ public speaking at work. Talk (pun intended) of coincidences  – an opportunity arose to host the monthly team meeting, & I found myself thinking about a particular podcast, & volunteering when no one else in the room wanted to. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do.

I’m fortunate that I have built some really strong relationships at my workplace. As soon as I told them what foolhardiness I had embarked upon, I had some incredible support from my friends at work. I came up with a few of my own ideas & my colleagues were happy to suggest theirs too. The leaders were also really supportive, despite my reservations about doing this.

One of those podcasters / blog posters that have really kicked my ass into gear has been James Altucher. I messaged James on Twitter, telling him just that.

I was awestruck when James replied back, asking how the event went, & reminding me to breathe from my diaphragm, not my chest! He probably has already forgotten his simple act, but that did incredible things to my confidence when I was beginning to think that I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

The meeting went well, & while I was still nervous & a bit out of sorts, I’ve been getting feedback from a few who attended the meeting about how fresh it was, & that it was the first time they thought it was a worthwhile use of their time. Wow!

And thank you again, James.  I think I’ve found some courage to raise my voice in public again.

Not tongue tied: An elevator experience

What do you do when you get into an elevator at work, & don’t really know who the one other person in there is?

My usual reaction (and one that I’ve been consciously trying to overcome) is to whip out the phone, & stare at the screen (I’ve done it even when I’ve run out of battery).

For the last few weeks, I’ve made a conscious effort to talk, even if it is something mundane like the weather (and the weather has been anything but mundane lately).

Happened again, yesterday.   He was responsive, had no phone in his hand either! We chatted and got out the same floor. 

And only when we parted did I realise that the reason he looked so familiar was because I’d seen his picture so many times. 

I hope to be as calm when conversing with anyone as I was yesterday when chatting away with the CEO.

A good reminder. Again.

I wrote this quote out this morning. A quick check on my favourite quote researcher  and it appears that this quote has been wrongly attributed to several other people, most prominently Maya Angelou. Documentary evidence unearthed by the Quote Investigator identifies Carl W. Bruehner as the originator in 1971.

I also did something quite out of the ordinary for me. I made a few copies of this & shared it with a few senior leaders at work that I was in a meeting with. Who knows what impact it may have? Regardless, I think as a communicator (aren’t we all??), it is important to remember the emotional valence of our words & actions.

 photo posted by Neil (@pointedpen) on

What does “focus” really mean?

I regularly have days that I can’t seem to find focus. 

It is a struggle because my day job requires me to complete certain tasks whether I am focused or not.  

It’s on days like these that motivation levels drop off a cliff. 

It seemed like today was one of those days.  To make things worse, I had a lunch that didn’t do any help for my energy levels.

So I did what I’d not done in a long time. Took my laptop & notebook, walked outside the building I normally work in, & sat outside. Took a deep breath. Actually, quite a few. Took in the view. Of people smoking in a corner, chatting away over coffee. Eating solitary late lunches, hunched over their phones. The weather looking ominous, the dark clouds gathering to drop their heavy load any minute now. 

And in the next 30 minutes, I got done the three crucial things I was unable to focus on since the morning. 

Leo Babauta had a blog post a while ago on this subject a few months a year ago. About Finding Focus.  If you’d rather not click that link, here’s a summary:

Now sit there with your task. Dive in. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
You’ll have the urge to go check something. That’s a nice urge — just watch it and smile. Don’t act on the urge. Just smile. Now go back to what you chose to do.
Do it for 10 minutes, however long you feel is pushing the boundaries of what’s comfortable for a little bit.
Then give yourself a nice reward: …
Now go back.
Repeat. With a smile.

 It worked.

Revival: My recollection of the year gone by since the last active post.

It began with a long-awaited holiday. Going away from life as usual. Seeing family. Meeting friends, at least the ones interested enough to catch up for a coffee.  Lots of dental visits. And little, if any, “online” activities. And a conscious choice to not post anything for a while. 

That “while” has turned out to be a year. A whole year. 

In the meanwhile, not posting as much meant I had the time to pursue other things I wished I had the time for. 

Calligraphy. Using the traditional dip pen & ink kind. After a bit of mucking around with various styles, I chose to go with copperplate calligraphy. Bought a few nibs. Brought out the fountain pen inks that I’d never used in a while. Quickly realized I had an awful lot to learn. How to hold the penholder. That nibs are called pens. The right way to draw guide lines. Or where to find & print them. Angles, ovals, flourishes, majuscules, base lines & headerlines.  Learning to make sense of the jargon. 
And more importantly, where to look for help. Iampeth (that site is under renewal right now). Zanerian. A whole host of penmen (and women) around the world who were as fascinated with the simple art of writing letters using, not a keyboard, but an old-fashioned pen. A whole host of brilliantly talented people who make their own pens & penholders. Even a TEDx talk devoted to calligraphy!  I’ve made some progress on this, & have begun using Instagram to hold myself to account, writing a quote a day for practice (and to lurk around those other awesome inspirational penmen around the world for eg Dr. Joe Vitolo, the insanely talented Schin Loong & the very generous Leenah

Python. Not the snake. The programming language.  A couple of reference books to teach myself basic stuff. Install. Search for help. Write some basic programs. And how to learn code the hard way.  
R. Not the letter, but the Statistical programming language. Again, not big progress but enough to understand the language.  This book has been my reference.

Helped write a training handbook for Tableau users.

Physical activity. Simply walking around the block. Walking longer distances to & from public transport. Short & long bushwalks. Never boring when the kids are with me, and great practice of motivating very tired young legs. 

Time with the kids. Amazing how quickly they grow up. Stellar how they bond when I have undisturbed time with them. Quantity is important, & “total attention” is the quality. Both are crucial, imho. 

Lots of reading. That addiction didn’t really go away. Began with one published in 1940, called “How to read a book” by Mortimer Adler. The most useful so far: How to fail at almost everything and still win big by Scott Adams. Fiction:  So Long See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. Reference (mostly unsuccessful attempts at disciplined effort): Norman Lewis’ Word Power Made Easy. Incessant references to Reddit & my Feedly subscriptions (not sure how I can share that OPML link). 

Gazillion music videos on YouTube. Favorite subscription find so far – Josh Turner, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, & Candy Rat Records. Shout out to the World Music subreddit. Beth Hart. I probably have a whole post devoted to the process of discovering music this year. Maybe I will. A fantastic performance by L Subramaniam, Jean Luc Ponty & Billy Cobham from a while ago. 

I even watched a movie with my wife. Lunch Box. Probably a few others without me really noticing, which is a very common occurrence since I don’t really care for them. 

Podcasts, starting just a few weeks ago. A friend commented “Welcome to 2007” when I said I’d finally got a few subscriptions. Thanks to Ken Black who blogs at 3danim8, I decided to listen to this podcast interview with Slomo by Rich Roll. James Altucher, the idea machine, has my vote for his no-nonsense, sometimes quite brusque interviews that are always fantastic value for time invested. I am hooked on the weekly releases of Serial.

Work kept me preoccupied & out of trouble most days. Appreciation of the beauty of nature along my daily journey helps keeps my sanity. As does the daily practice of meditation, which of late has taken the form of my daily habit of writing quotes in a calligraphic hand. 

This post began with me tearing the last few strands of my hair off my balding pate, wondering how on earth was I going to rekindle my blog with. I think I’ve done enough for a first sitting. Hopefully, I will have more to share in the days ahead. 

If you really took the time to read this far, thank you.