There are few great Levellers in this world (Mark Chadwick maybe?) but a benchmark that cuts through race, religion or gender are nominally death and taxes. After a week in Japan, I’d probably add to that how you eat a bowl of udon noodles in broth. I’m a delicate petal of an eater, tiptoeing around the fact I may hurt the food’s feelings as I eat it, but even when the most-lovely of lovelies arrives at a bowl of udon noodles things become quickly unstuck. Add a dash of chile and some kind of mystical root, and then its on! Slurps, noodle-sucking, sniffles, deep breaths, loud exhales, sweat beading on the brow, the occasional burp, the dish has it all! Empress or cobbler are undone by noodle soup!
Less class-uniting is the okonomiyaki, a sensational crepe/noodle extravaganza formed on a hot plate. They even give you a little trowel to plough into it. Last night I used said trowel, neatly quartering the round mess and halving again once I’d transported it onto my plate. I then tuck into it using chopsticks, munching bitesize. I’m not bad with chopsticks, so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. Getting distracted with some baseball, I carried out my little process, and got to the last morsel to notice some instructions on eating okonomiyaki in what passes as a guide for gaijin. Turns out you’re supposed to use the trowel for shovel the food into you, and what made it worse was the chef had handed me this bloody thing at the start of the meal, at which I simply tossed it aside and became engrossed in a game in which I don’t understand. Useless, bloody useless!
I’ve had a wonderful few days though, enjoying Tokyo, the shrines of Kyoto and seeing a man get arrested for flying his drone (not me, hasten to add). I’ve trundled down the coast to the quite incredible Hiroshima, and am still staggered at the number and ages of schoolchildren that diligently ploughed through hours-worth of extremely graphic and tear-jerking testimonials. What I didn’t see though was any acknowledgement of how it got to that stage i.e. why were a-bombs dropped at all? Far less political though, and about one million percent enjoyable, was the retreat of Miyajima. An island about half an hour south of Hiroshima, the village was a lovely break from the hustle of the big cities. Well it was at about 11pm and 5am when I was out taking photos and being attacked by mosquitoes anyway.
What has bowled me over though this week is not only the dedication and inventiveness of the engineering of the country (I listed on a bullet-train ride – that’s another marvel! – all the well-known Japanese technology or engineering companies – its ridiculous!) but the sheer calmness of the people. Whether squeezing onto a train in Tokyo, caught in traffic with some idiot has parked across the road, the Japanese are unflappable. No tooting of horns, no ‘oiii, wanker!’ when shoved on the underground: they are immensely respectful, quiet, gracious, friendly and calm. And why not when your toilet seats are electronically warmed and with a touch of a button you have a gentle spray of warm water cleaning your bum. It’s the future, I tell you, especially if you’ve just had a spicy udon soup.
Japanese Tech and Engineering Companies - Toyota, Subaru, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki, Mazda, Hino, Yamaha, Mitsubishi, Lexus, Nissan, Daihatsu, Sanyo, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Matsui, Olympus, Nikon, Canon, Sharp, Kodak for gods sake, Hitachi, Fuji, Fujitsu ... all from this country of 140m people? Don’t forget Nintendo, Sega, Bridgestone and Yokohama Tyres!
Family holidays are wonderful: the warm glow of beaming faces, eyes full of love and unbridled affection for your long-missed kindred. Those golden moments blessed in a tight embrace. This is your family; this is where you belong. The seemingly endless travelling in trains, planes and cars have been worth every hour, every minute and every dollar to reach them. At long last, you are home. Your soul is at peace. This euphoria lasts about twenty minutes.
Then comes the pep-talk that you, now an elder, need to have with the rest of your family, usually amidst doing something inane like shopping where you can send soldiers off for supplies to get one-on-one time. This holiday shall be different, you declare. Not like the time you were 'lost' in a department store and not like the time there was a screaming match culminating in wishes of death and abandonment of homes because someone was a particularly mouthy six-year-old. Oh no, you insist, this time it will be fine. Absolutely fine. Fine. You reiterate the mantra to yourself at the check-out. It’ll be fine. 'I'll grab those mentos and some coke though' you inner self asserts, 'they could take my head clean off' . But it’ll be fine.
The country of my upbringing is a place made of pure solace: the very trees and grass are hewn from it. And yet it’s from these very homes in this verdant paradise that we huddle in sitting rooms, looking out onto a vast world through the television, a distant land of natural disasters and another American gun-violence day – a constant fixture in a broken society. Cameras pan to strewn bullets on boulevards cordoned off by police tape. Neighbours gush to the journalists of ‘often quiet man with access to an arsenal of weapons.’ Your family exchange horrified gasps, again, where gun violence has, again, extinguished the lives of innocent people. Again. The same questions arise – ‘Why?’. ‘Why would someone do this? How could it get so bad?’ And there you sit on the corner, munching on your muller-rice, thinking, ‘I wonder if it was the 11th or 12th time he was asked that morning, why he don’t you kids yet?’
A Reed family holiday looms.
A book titled ‘Regrets of the Dying’ doesn’t immediately lend itself to rib-busting tummy tickles. Actively hunting down such a book in fact tends to elicit some concern amongst friends. It is though not only uplifting, but if anything, its life-affirming. I’m on the right path. During a turbulent week at work, this is always a welcome sign indeed.
As with every large corporate, the company I work for are going through a sizeable re-structure, probably their biggest in their history. After years of build-build-build, they’re digitising and automating, cutting the number of services on offer, and therefore cutting the staff that support those services. It’s a large-scale process improvement initiative effectively, one that most would agree is overdue. There is always though a ‘however . . .’, as most restructures are like radical weight-loss schemes: “I shall shed ten kilos this week by cutting off this leg that I barely use!”
Although the upper-tiers of management are endeavouring to approach it the best they can, the business analyst in me looks at why we have arrived at such drastic measures in the first place. Process improvement is part of every business. When you neglect it for a long time, then drastic course directs are necessary. Whilst we may focus that the current captains of the ship are trying to steer us in the right direction, where was the stewardship when we were sailing down crapshoot creek in the first place? Didn’t anyone see that we were developing product after product with little gain, with some platforms costings hundreds of thousands of dollars per month with literally no revenue. I mean, none. Zip. For years. And so how much trust do you put in the people that steered you into a warzone to then clamber out of it, sacrificing a few to save weight?
The other side of this is the demise of the collective. We all know that over the two years, up to eight thousand people will lose their jobs. In the days of unions, announcements like this would lead to forty thousand people telling the bosses to shove their jobs up their arse, and seeing the share price tank as no one turns up for work. In the days of individualism and the demise of unions, we watch on, hoping that personally we’ll be safe, whilst friends are walked out of the building.
Whilst I may reflect on the regrets of the dying over the coming week, it’s sometimes easy to forget the regrets of the living. If redundancies are instead viewed as opportunities to try something new, it opens up the world for you to find something that truly inspires. Having ‘the end of life' a guide can help. To quote from Bonnie Ware’s lovely book on palliative care, her patient John declares, ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard . . . what a stupid fool I was . . . the chase for more, and the need to be recognised by our achievements and belongings, can hinder us from the real things, like time with those we love, time doing things we love ourselves.’
I think Rhianna said it best when she said, ‘work, work, work!’ Little did I know what a scholarly sage this scorching songstress turned out to be, with a week dominated by my day job. How awful! But to quote James Allen, ‘tempest-tossed souls, wherever you may be, under whatever conditions you may live, know this: In the ocean of life the isles of blessedness are smiling and the sunny shore of your ideal awaits your coming. Keep your hands firmly upon the helm of thought’. A sunny shore you say? I’m coming, wait for meeeeee!!
Amongst the work is the preparation for the reward: another jaunt overseas to two new countries, Norway and Japan, and with the bonus of spending time with my family on a foreign holiday. A good deal of me is looking forward to travelling through a smorgasbord of Scandinavian delights: it’s enthralling fjords; vast open landscape filled with fresh air and greenery; mesmeric railways journeys; a culture advanced by technology and forward-thinking. On the other hand, I’ll be with my family. I love them dearly, but after two or three days they’ll absolutely get on my tits. As all families should, I suppose.
As for Japan, I’ve only heard wonderful things. I have read and consumed a travel book to brace myself, and then promptly forgot every single word of it, which is a shame. I would love to consume knowledge on the flight over, but since I fully intend to be drug addled out of my mind for the entire journey, it makes reading difficult. Or doing anything quite difficult. Working is right out! I’ve actually just googled Rhianna’s ode to the joy of work, and found that there are actually other lyrics than the three words I know. And it’s apparently a love-song. Who knew?!
Travelling apps: Maps.me for free downloaded maps of countries (great off-line); GPSMyCity for self-guided walking tours (keeps crashing); relevant DJI Apps for my drone; Framelapse for time-lapse work; and of course a few books should I find myself in a tight spot. Recently downloaded: Marcus Aurelias’ Meditations; and Regrets of the Dying by Bonnie Ware, a palliative nurse. Really hoping some of those regrets don’t include a tour of whaling countries and family holidays.
Image reference: https://worthyblog.com/work-harder-on-yourself-rather-than-on-your-work/
We’ve been asking the wrong question. All this time, we’ve been asking the wrong damn question. How about that? To quote my new found literary friend and logotherapy pioneer Viktor Frankl “long ago we passed the stage of asking what was the meaning of life, a naive query which understands life as the attaining of some aim through the active creation of something of value.” And no, this doesn’t mean attainment of Chanel and Louis Vuitton logos, much to my girlfriend’s chagrin. We’re talking about logos as in meaning. Everyone has always wanted to know the meaning of life without realising they didn’t actually want to know that at all. The real question is what is the meaning of your life?
Everyone is constantly looking for their ultimate why, which can take a lifetime. Yours. The answer is one that you already possess, which is whatever makes you curious, passionate, excited, love and feel loved. How do you know what excites you now will excite you tomorrow? You don’t, that’s the point. It’s the search. Stop looking for the meaning of life, look for the meaning of now, in this period of your life. To paraphrase John F Kennedy, ask not what life can do for you, but what you can do for life.
'Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and fulfil the tasks it constantly sets for each individual'. For Viktor and his compatriots in the concentration camps, life had one thing to offer them at that point in time: suffering. Viktor understood that eventually it would pass, but his why endured – to postulate his theory on logotherapy. Those that endure great suffering, they survive because of a why, a why that is as individualistic as a snowflake. Find your why in this period of your life. To quote Nietzsche, ‘he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.’ Logotherapy’s categorical imperative is to ‘live as if you were living already for second time, and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now’. The benefit of hindsight. Tim Ferriss, Adrianna Huffington, Viktor and others all extoll the same mindset: picture your deathbed or the writing of your own eulogy. What do you want it to say?
Americans have a firm belief that anyone can be President of the United State of America - I mean fu**, look at the current guy . . . if he can, right? It’s a wonderful ideology, yet if you reviewed the last six Presidents, you’re trawling back to Ronald Reagan in 1981. Australia, well, we do things differently down here. Not only do we believe that everyone should have a shot at the title, but we’re doggedly trawling the population for a leader - in May we shall have another election, and are in course to appoint our seventh Prime Minister in nine years. Seventh!!!
Australia is laughably easy to govern. We’re a passenger country, sitting on the banana boat enjoying the ride and hoping not to be thrown about wildly whilst the crazy bastards driving swish left and right arguing the course. Is that a ramp ahead? Smile like you’re enjoying yourself . . . and brace! But still, we’re just happy to be invited. We have some introspection for burgeoning racism, immigration and climate change, but nothing unsolvable.
After reading Scott Pape’s Barefoot Investor and Tony Robbin’s The Money Game, I took the plunge to invest in some ETF’s and Index Trackers. The idea is that you continually input into trackers over time off-setting the occasional blips. Yup, that’s right, sell all your shares, because me investing is a sure-fire way of the entire market collapsing. You think I jest? I bought my first shares in July and August 2008. That . . . that didn’t go well for me or anyone else on Planet Earth. For reference, the shares for you to get out of whilst you still can are the Vanguard US Total Market Shares Index ETF, the Vanguard MSCI World ex-Australia and the Argo LIC that invest in Australia’s top 100 companies. The last is a little bit of a gamble but we’ll see!
After finishing Adrianna Huffington’s Thrive, I’m currently re-reading the excellent I, Partridge and the stark Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a psychologist and Holocaust survivor. Sweet Jesus, man’s inhumanity to man is astonishing. Will leave you with this from Adrianna, one of the many excellent and inspiring excerpts from an absolute litany of wonderful quotations.
There’s nothing like getting rejected from a free MBA course, losing out on a housing bargain and being told you have terminal insomnia to really set the week on fire. My MBA rejection, they said kindly, was due to over-qualification, recommending the $10k USD Executive MBA instead. However, for two thousand dollars less you can go to an accredited university. Still, the Smartl.ly MBA remains one of my better learning experiences – well paced, well written, light-hearted and they even squeeze in some Dad jokes. Anyone can apply for the Free MBA though (closing May 10th), so go for it! And if you get in, let me know how you went!
I’ve watched a few wonderful videos this week, one of which is the constantly nervous Elon Musk introducing Tesla’s robotaxi fleet. The talk presumably took place in secluded convent, as the crowd uttered not a single ‘that is freaking amazing!’. Or the audience were bound and gagged. For Elon Musk’s apparent craziness illustrated by the media, the guy remains a virtuoso and incredible visionary. Turning your own Tesla into a robotic taxi money-making machine whilst you sleep, super crazy good! Says the man who doesn’t own a car. . .
For inspiring stories, you’d be hard pressed to Kekenya’s Dream, an inspirational and quite simply delightful TED talk on a Masai’s girl educational odyssey. If you believe in education, empowering women and making a difference, you can donate for this great cause on her website here.
And lastly, to complete my educational week, terminal insomnia. Not as bad as it sounds! Simply that the last few hours of my sleep are disturbed. Getting to sleep? No problem. Staying asleep? Different battle. If you suffer from insomnia and looking for some remedies, my doctor recommended this site. In addition to these tips, I’ve started a little drumming in my sleep thanks to the madness of this man. Despite my doctor (and girlfriend) remaining unconvinced – and hovering a finger over the speed-dial for the lunatic asylum – I can see sense in it. And since it costs nothing, am giving it a crack!
I’ve been thinking a little this week about the end of days. Not in a jump in front of traffic way, but more holistically. It’s hard not to, really: the excellent Scott Pape’s Bearfoot Investor is extremely open about preparing for retirement and death; Arianna Huffington’s Thrive starts off with eulogies; and then of course the final episode in the Avengers saga is upon us. Nail-biter!
None of this is any source of anxiety or fear. I mean, it’s a damn shame that Avengers has to end – I’m not made of stone, after all!! As for life itself, it cannot go on forever. For me, this brings not distress but peace and perspective. The corporate ladder glitters less: increase in pay, responsibility or pressure don’t run in harmony with, well, harmony. To draw from Thrive, eulogies don’t mention the implementation of a project on-time or that budget you managed successfully. In the grand scheme, no one cares about that rubbish.
The things that count are improving life for those around you, touching hearts, souls and minds, making other lives better. Some do it naturally, others wish to embark on such journeys after achieving a certain stratum - social/power/wealth standing – or never. The key perhaps is determining how much is enough? Contentment, satisfaction, unbridled delight, whatever your attainment goals. Overt concern with the have not’s blind you from what you already have.
My friend Adrianna’s book (we’re amigos now, although she actually doesn't know this yet) is packed full of quotations which I adore, just like the wonderful one from Wumen Huikai, the Chinese Zen master. He sounds like Yoda. Although it's good, it has a long way to beat . . .
Image Reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjznkomjVWs
P.S. Go see 'Avengers: Endgame', it's wonderful!
‘Assets, my love of my life, are on the left of the equation’
‘Uh huh’ responded the love of my life, perusing the breakfast menu
‘And Liabilities and Equity, well, they appear on the right’
‘I think I’ll grab a skinny latte, tea for you?’
‘. . . and despite them appearing on the opposite side of the equation, both have debits on the left, and credits on the right’ I persisted, proudly
‘I might grab the Bircher muesli, although I had that last week. It really didn’t fill me up’
‘ . . . now although you increase debits on the left, for liabilities and equity, they increase on the credit side. Same with Revenues, but Expenses are treated like assets and increase with debits’
‘Oh, only one week to go for Avengers! You excited?’
‘Am I ever! I hope everyone dies!’
‘You’re such an idiot’
An lo, Richard presented his findings on Accounting Fundamentals to the Treasury, confirming his status as more of a liability than an asset. The course on the free MBA from Smart.ly seemed perfectly reasonable, if not challenging – although I can generally save money, my brain refuses to let anything in associated with debits and credits. Balance sheets are my trigger-point for narcolepsy. Note that I said narcolepsy not necrophilia, completely different conversational rabbit holes which can only end badly. Walking into a bank when they’re explaining your financials and you claiming that balance sheets are your trigger-point for necrophilia will have you arrested.
In talking with MBA holders, the jury seems to be out on their worth: some have used the skills, others claim it’s a total waste of time and money. The network of who you meet seems to be the key. And what’s the best network in the world? Social, either BookFace or LinkedIn. Let’s see how Smart.ly does (I have no affiliation).
Have a wonderful Easter, here are some pictures of animals at Zoos. No Easter bunnies, though.
Since January, hot cross buns and I have become great friends, and who doesn’t love hot buns? Hearing people say, ‘Oh Easter, hot cross buns!’ is akin to someone treating themselves to a ‘self-indulgent spa’ on their birthday when you’ve been wallowing in a hot-tub naked without a care in the world for four months. Yes, some bits have shrivelled smaller than before, which I thought was technically impossible, but you can’t have everything.
I’ve had wonderfully productive few days – starting an on-line MBA at Smart.ly (dubious, but will keep you posted!), submitting a manuscript to publishers, Spanish, swimming, tennis and reading - but the most fun I had was spending a day at Melbourne Zoo taking photographs which you can check out on Instagram @richardmreed. Speaking of which, if you don’t follow her already, check out my friend @Josie.Doodles. For all those self-doubters, her doodles hit right in the blood pump. Have a wonderful week and whether through massages, spa, hot buns or a cuppa, be kind to yourself.
What have I been reading? The whimsical and funny The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi, and Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto. Next up, The Barefoot Investor!
Writing and writing...