It’s Australia Day, huzzaahhh!!! Australians like nothing better than a paid-day off work, especially if it’s summer, occurs during the Australian Open Tennis on Melbourne’s doorstep and falls favourably to make a long weekend. Since I work a nine-day fortnight anyway, this makes it an extra-long weekend. Double huzzaahhh!!!
Yesterday I spent a glorious sunshine-filled day pottering around wineries with my girlfriend and friends, eating my bodyweight in cheese platters. During the week the mercury skyrocketed to 41C/105F degrees, causing friends in wintery London to jealously wish me a slow and painful death without realising no one leaves the house in that temperature. Then again, they probably don’t either after imbibing 67 units of alcohol a week during the festive season, which launches Dry-January efforts nationwide viewed in the same light as rescuing orphans from minefields. That doesn’t seem fair - what if the orphans were carrying kittens as well? Or had leprosy? Leprosytic kittens! One argument goes that it's so depressing during the winter months, what options are there but to assuage your aching soul than through alcohol? Sweet Jesus! What next, crying because it’s drizzling? Bouts of farting because it’s a bit windy? Alcoholics anonymous are around if you need it.
In the last year I try to dedicate my weekends to relaxing and being more present with the people I love, and mentally it’s been a lifesaver. I never make new year’s resolutions, but instead make plans and review regularly. Making one plan for the entire year seems to lack ambition. So, here’s a 2019 update on my to-do lists I published three months ago:
Well done Osaka! Come on, Nadal!
According to the New York Times, American adults watch five hours and four minutes of television per day. That’s THIRTY-FIVE hours a week, a whole working week purely watching television. I’m not saying you can’t learn anything from television, but holy fudge!! I enjoy the odd film, but staggered just how much people can imbibe. Trivial Pursuit’s Entertainment section is my black hole of Calcutta, a prison of nothingness! The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Peaky Blinders, Seinfeld, Game of Thrones, The Wire, Lost, 24, Law and Order, Dexter, ER, Grey’s Anatomy (jeez we’re going back!), Breaking Bad . . . you name a show over the last twenty years, and I probably didn’t see it!
For those that want a break from the talkies for a while, here’s a link of favourite resources I use to grab free books. Yup, free. Costs you nothing. Rub shoulders with Ernest Hemmingway, Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Socrates (not the Brazilian footballer, although he has a costly autoiography), Seneca, Marcus Aurelius . . . the collective knowledge, stories and lessons from the last two thousand years at your finger-tips!
If you can I would heartily endorse your local library, you can even borrow real life books from them - remember those papery things that you hold in your hand and turn pages and everything?! You can even borrow books online from libraries too. Admittedly, “hey kids, let’s check out what’s going on in the library!” isn’t a phrase you hear that often. Perhaps it just needs a bit of marketing.
If you want possession of an e-book for your very self because possession is everything, check out a few of the links below. Happy reading!
BFG Poster - Hopefully Roald Dahl and Disney won't mind me borrowing their image
Oh Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you beguiling bastard. The author, Robert Pirsig, gave warning when treading into the philosophical allegories of this book that it was not going to be comfortable. Bob is indeed a man of his word. It was like picking up dog poop: you know it has to be done, but it just doesn’t feel right. Unless of course I’ve stumbled upon your hobby, then ignore that. And wash your hands. Perhaps your hobby would look less suspicious if you even owned a dog?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not that content sifting through self-rhetoric, or dog-poop, and also not at ease with researching dialectics and Sophism. I can just about use Microsoft Word. I get the attainment of quality, of self-reliance, of reason and logic, of duty towards self, but a hundred pages trim would have done the volume no harm. Then again, this is a modern classic, selling millions, and Robert achieved worldwide fame for his honesty and intelligence, weaving three separate stories in their own right into an excellent tome . . . so really, what the hell do I know? Thankfully, 121 publishers rejected the volume before Robert found success. So, really, what the hell do we know?
There are a couple of lines though that made me put down the book and gaze out the window, mouthing to no one in particular ‘Yeahhhh!! And another thing. . .’ like some kind of lunatic. To quote "You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun will rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because the dogmas or goals are in doubt."
Essentially, the more fervour someone has and indignant they become, the more they’re trying to protect against any consideration of an alternative which is probably equally valid. Just ask any football team chanting ‘we’re by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen!’ every weekend.
Whilst there is, I think, an immense amount of Robert himself in the book, and despite being sometimes a long affair, it is an exceptional read. And the afterword is heart wrenching. But I’ll end this week on an up-note with a lovely whimsical quotation from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Remember to be kind to yourself and others.
‘How can happiness be defined? How can goodness be defined? Happiness and good are not objective terms. We cannot deal with them scientifically. And since they’re not objective then they just exist in your mind. So, if you want to be happy, just change your mind’
Music reference now it's in my head!
Am finding Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a moribund affair, I must confess. Interesting, but stagnant. I have never invested hours ruminating on the definition of ‘quality’ before, and indeed will never again. It’s of no surprise the author had a mental breakdown, and is actually relating an autobiography of sorts as he rides across America. It’s the minor nuances that plough on for pages that wear you out. As Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘crikey, he does go on a bit!’
It has though given my mind plenty of time to canter away to more interesting things, one of which was leadership discussed by hard-ass Navy Seal in the Tim Ferris and Jocko Willinck podcast. There were two key leadership skills according to Jocko: detachment and feedback. Incidentally, if you listen to the podcast, there is always an extended delay whenever the colossus Jocko answers a question, which makes Tim extremely uncomfortable – proper schadenfreude stuff!
Detachment comes in the form of stepping outside of yourself to review the situation more dispassionately. I love the idea of this, and it’s perhaps the slow inhale of breath and giving himself more time that Jacko is inherently practicing during the podcast. Take time to gather your thoughts, rid yourself of emotion, think before you speak. In a combat zone I guess this could be best summed up by the excellent Kipling ‘if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs’, potentially saving your own life as well as others. Thankfully corporate offices are a little less exacting. For example, it’s been several weeks since a public execution was required for double-booking a meeting room.
Secondly Jocko thinks leaders constantly seek feedback and are always very ready to receive it, analysing, assessing and implementing. Simply, they listen and act accordingly. Despite the ardent beliefs of my girlfriend (hey darling!), I prefer to listen more than talk. As a leader, you can do one of two things: speak first, resulting in immediately coercing others to drive a general consensus; or speak last, letting others drive that general consensus. I use both, depending on what outcome I’m trying to achieve. An even better balance would be to perhaps split the topic at hand, asking different team members on sperate aspects so as not to pollute opinion. But that’s all very, erm, zen. The debate though would undoubtedly be of the highest quality.
Writing and writing...