Well, that was weird. Since when did ‘so how are you doing?’ turn into a bit of a cry and a hug? I hope that doesn’t happen all the time, as everyone in Australia is exceptionally friendly and will ask how are ya! as soon as look at you. Although perhaps I could use it to my advantage – turns on the waterworks, lean in for a hug, steal their wallet.
The thing was, I was as surprised as the huggee. You see, nothing untoward actually happened. We were talking about work and I had my doubts about a task that had been set for me – my emotions ran at about one hundred miles an hour but eventually they settled, I understood the basics and then got down to it. I then had a chat about the approach with my manager and friend. In relaying that I needed to watch just how much work I became engrossed in and prefacing the importance of my mental health, the bastard then asked me if I was all right. I mean, who does that?! Asking about my welfare like that!
As ever, it’s all about the positives. I realised that whilst making great progress in self-belief, making time for myself and reading more than I had in years in the last few months, I hadn’t tested myself yet for fear of breaking – well, at least work wise. In my mind, this is the equivalent of giving up alcohol and claiming everything is fine to your friends whilst handcuffing yourself to the radiator so you never leave the house. Whilst the fear of breaking is strong, I have to build on my achievements, embrace a little danger now and then. Risk a little, essentially. Being entirely open with my friend in talking about my fears will help immensely – no one can help you if they don’t know what’s wrong, or at least where you’re coming from. Sometimes, like today, nothing was wrong at all . . . and then someone asks at the wrong time and boom! Waterworks, hugging . . . shopping!
Monopoly Pic from my own set - I don't own the company and am not affiliated with them at all, and they've sent me to jail a few times it has to be said.
It’s with some self-determination that I wrestled through Emerson’s Self-Reliance. I usually give books a fifty to a hundred-page snuff test to decipher whether the punishment is worthy. The problem is Emerson’s essay measures only twenty-one pages, but Keerrriiiist he can belabour a point.
In a nutshell, don’t go searching all over the world for answers when you’re right there in front of you. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself: you have the power to make your own answers. Do not lean (too much) on others: exercise self-trust, toss the laws, books, idolatries and customs out of the window. Insist on yourself; never imitate.
There, seems quite reasonable, doesn’t it? Some lines did pique my interest more than others ‘travel for art, study and benevolence . . . he who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry (i.e. searches for something he doesn’t already possess), travels away from himself. He carries ruins to ruins.’ This reminds me of the maxim that travellers are always searching for something or running away from something, and both appear equally valid and I’m undoubtedly culpable too.
When I think of travel I always think of landscapes, and perhaps this comes from my roots in the Welsh countryside. Mountains and lakes are art created over millennia, shaped and conjured by the weather, touching my very soul. I imagine someone would feel the same gazing at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Van Gough’s wheat fields, which although compelling are bound to look no different in the seasons or passage of day. On the other hand, landscapes continually transform in the light and over time. Undoubtedly, I’ll end up an oil painter like my Grandad on a verdant outcrop in my older days, marvelling at the gigantic bloody maelstrom barrelling towards me and reckoning my metal easel and umbrella weren’t the best of ideas.
To give context to Self-Reliance, I think a fair amount of Ralf Waldo Emerson’s tome was also dedicated to throwing off the shackles of imperialism, of letting of go of the past to create a new future. In this case, one of a proud America that can stand on its own two feet. For Emerson, with god shining a light, albeit shining a light from within to fire your soul and self-belief. To leave on a quote from the great man as I head out for a walk, I think there is rarely better advice given than ‘live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air’. And paint no matter what, regardless of the thunderstorms you’re enduring.
As an addendum, this week is particularly poignant: an attack by a lunatic in Melbourne killing the owner of a restaurant (Pellegrini's) I’ve enjoyed for years, a lovely old Italian always quick to greet his loyal customers; a friend of the family passed away, a long term mate of my fathers from the Army and the first to ever encourage me to write based on some wholly unflattering and uncomplimentary letters about the French (I was a teenager on an a torrid exchange trip, to be fair!); and lastly as Remembrance Day approaches, to my dear Grandad, a war-hero, and my Grandmother, part of the incredible Women’s Land Army, as well as wonderful parents and grandparents. You are missed.
A few months ago, I wrote about speed-reading after picking up (and reading too, look at me!) Anthony Robbins’ book. The central tenet being that the quicker you can read, the more you can consume. And more is better! I am not a fast or even avid reader, for years treating books as taking me away from doing things. But I was thirsty for knowledge! I figured quicker reading would help, and so off I set. As instructed by Anthony I timed my reading of a page. It was about 250-260 words per minute. Adopting different techniques this increased to 300 quite quickly. Well, I’m happy to say that many months on, this has changed significantly to . . . 240 words per minute. Gah! What the hell happened? I’ve literally retarded!
Well, I changed my view of reading. Instead of being something I consume guiltily as I hasten on to something else, I realised that since I love writing, reading is effectively study. Additionally, it’s extremely relaxing. As per my last post, snuggling up on the couch with a book in the sunshine with a cup of tea and a biscuit will be my first request before facing the firing squad. Well, second request. First request will be ‘can I have the guns please?’
The method that we use to consume knowledge now seems as important as the skill itself, and how quickly we can attain it. And why not? This enables you to move onto the next life-changing kernel of understanding, after all. Whilst acquiring knowledge certainly isn’t to be poo-pooed, for me re-discovering that I thoroughly enjoyed reading a good book and not labouring through one for speed’s sake meant a great deal. I plod through at a comfortable pace, a little above the average of 200 words per minute, but well below the 700 or even 1000 words per minute of the top 0.5% of society. And you know what? I’m fine with that.
On the other side of the fence to constant and quicker achievement is mindfulness, of being present in the moment and enjoying it for what it is. If the subject is of particular interest or there is some beautiful wordplay which has captured my eye, I’ll slow down, re-read it once or twice, and perhaps deliberate on the finer points. I may stare out of the window and let it swirl in my mind like rustling autumnal leaves caught in the wind, then ease my way back to the book to continue. Probably putting the kettle on in the process (not literally, obviously). It may not be speedy reading, but it’s immensely pleasurable.
Speed Reading Test
If you’re interested though, you can take a free speed-reading test at Readingsoft where it not only measures your speed (I hit 324 per minute when going as quick as I could) but also your comprehension – mine was 72%, giving myself the grace of selecting one wrong button like a real doofus! But the point for me is that speed-reading wasn’t in any way enjoyable. Like going for a walk on a cool summer’s night or quaffing a delectable cup of tea, the enjoyment is entirely removed if I speed walk right through nature, face-palming grannies out of the path, or try to gulp down some steaming hot tea, inevitably boiling my tonsils and then nose hairs as it sputters straight out again. And perhaps that’s entirely the point: ratchet up the speed if needs must, take your time when you can.
Note: I have no affiliation to Readingsoft
Sundays are amazing. This Sunday, like the last one, and the one before that, the sun is peeking through the clouds, there’s a light, fresh wind blowing, and my comfortable couch makes an excellent place for languishing with a book. I think I enjoy Sundays as much as tea and a biscuit, which is a special love indeed. Wallowing in all of the above feels like some kind of gluttonous ecstasy that should carry some kind of x-rating. I feel like a particularly smiley hippo, albeit one that can make tea. And likes biscuits.
The book in question is Tim’s Four-Hour Work Week, the emphasis being on effectiveness and efficiency to free-up time so that you can . . . do whatever you consider will make you happy. I don’t think there is a person alive that could disagree with that, and billions of dead that wouldn’t either. Go read this book, it’s excellent! Hidden within the pages there is a little gift, an unexpected present, which reminds me of my friends going through a little hardship: friends being made redundant from their jobs; others wishing they were made redundant – sorry chaps, you’ll have to come in tomorrow!; and another making their long-term cheating husbands redundant (divorce, not death by the way, although it's America so who knows eh?!). The gift is nothing more than a simple poem dedicated to how we live our lives, and in essence how we make use of our time. Time is the key, and I feel more now than ever that I’m in a mental-space where I can appreciate it. It’s fucking wonderful place to be, like drinking tea with a biscuit on a couch reading a book in the sunshine on a Sunday.
Have you ever watched kids
On a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain
Slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?
You better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.
Do you run through each day
On the fly?
When you ask: How are you?
Do you hear the reply?
When the day is done,
do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores
Running through your head?
You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.
Ever told your child,
We’ll do it tomorrow?
And in your haste,
Not see their sorrow?
Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die
Cause you never had time
To call and say, “Hi”?
You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.
When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift thrown away.
Life is not a race.
Do take it slower.
Hear the music
Before the song is over.
I’ve just spent the last two hours on the couch reading a book in the sunshine with two cups of tea for company. This is my study time. How wonderful is that?
I’m over 200 pages in to Tim Ferriss’ excellent and yet simple Four-Hour Work Week. I wouldn’t say it’s unputdownable, but there are some real nuggets in there about effectiveness and efficiency, and Tim is, well, an absolute beast and a bit of a legend. There are tasks in there for the reader to do, some of which I do and some I don’t, but I am making notes and will revisit as I go. The main take-outs:
The Strategy - Pareto's Law & Parkinson's Law
Review tasks with two focus points: Pareto’s 80/20 to prioritise work knowing that 80% of the outputs come from 20% of the inputs, and Parkison’s Law to crunch the task down to complete right before I post. As an example, I have 48 mins left for this blog. I need to keep my focus and not be distracted by my Argentinean housemates’ girly screams whilst chatting to her friends. Shit. Concentrate, man!
Here are some classics, some of which I perform already such as turning off work notification sounds or email ‘message’ pop-ups, but the ones I like include:
Outsourcing - Your Own Virtual Assistant!
Outsource opportunities using Virtual Assistants e.g. what are the key messages within a book would be an interesting one! Tim references researching a specific price for flights or product abroad or whatever. I like it but unsure what I can use it for at present. I will need to spend more time cogitating on it when I go for my daily strolls. Will keep you posted as I progress through Tim’s book.
Back to the Plan
Two weeks ago I made a plan around identifying the things I enjoyed and prioritising them. After a week spending more time reading than I have in months, taking photos without being on holiday (the two are associated hand in hand for me), I’m thoroughly enjoying myself and feel more relaxed. My plan is shown below and I’ve printed it out on a table so that I could physically mark something off which is quite satisfying and I can see the progress. It’s not fancy, but nor does it have to be.
The keen eyed will notice something that I’ve realised too . . . what happened to my goal? I’ve actually got no closer to combining my photos, travels and mental health passions. So, although I’m enjoying myself and feel like I’m progressing, and I’m certainly learning, are my tactical tasks helping to achieve my strategic goal? Nope! Time to tweak the plan!
P.S. In the interest of transparency, I spent thirty-five minutes on a draft of the above, and another ten minutes reviewing. Twice. Then another twenty minutes posting and editing. Not exactly Parkinson’s Law in full effect - don’t hate me, Tim!
My friend comparing organisations to rivers raised an introspective brow, but it took it’s time. It was one of those moments where your ears agreed and the head nodded to indicate it was all on board with the analogy too, but the forward motion woke the brain up from its slumber – dreaming of running through fields made of biscuits, probably. Quickly the mouth was thrown into action ‘erm . . . how?’
I wanted to be on-board, that’s the thing. I wanted to nod earnestly like a sagistic Rabbi, agreeing that the crop-rotations in Southern Armenia would indeed cast a macro-economic shadow over the entire region. Or something. Working in corporate offices usually opens you up to these lines every day, most of which wash over you but seem reasonable enough at the time.
- ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’ someone will spout, to which my brain has scampered into action, like a dozing mouse pumped full of enough adrenaline to start a fight with a buffalo.
- ‘You mean the box looks nice and glossy and the chocolates appear different, but are generally bland and the best ones are stolen first leaving only bloody coffee, and everyone knows I hate coffee, so I then mistakenly go for caramel which is actually coffee and half spit the thing out because it’s bitter and stinks, and then I have to wash my mouth out and get a toothbrush or trowel to scrape the taste off . . . is that what you mean?’
Indubitably, it is not quite what they mean. So, eyes agog and ears agog as well because they didn’t want to feel left out, I let my friend continue.
‘Well you can’t hold back the river. No matter how you try, that river will just keep flowing. Sometimes you float along with it, sometimes you can rally against it, but the river will keep flowing on regardless. The best you can do is go along with it, floating with it, and occasionally try to guide it or divert it assist what you think is important, but ultimately the river will keep on flowing’.
So there you go. Although . . . you can, with some artistic license, say that about pretty much anything. Life is like toilet paper: at the start it seems so long like you’ll never reach the end, full of strength and optimism, and as the day rolls on by the paper lessens and lessens, and with barely a whimper, you’re left with nothing but your pants down your ankles, with fond memories of when you had lots and lots of paper, and now you’re begging for just one more. And no one gives a sheet.
Still, organisations - just like a river.
Cutting Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life down to an even smaller version of an already short read, you’re wasting your life on meaningless pursuits and will die unhappy having not lived a moment . . . “unless you click here right now, click here, come on click-click-click!!” he didn’t say. Well, ok, there’s a bit more to it than that, but not a lot. Time, as I’ve said previously is possibly the most important thing we possess, and we squander it often. But how is it best spent? Well, lucky for you, Seneca has the answer!
Spending your life in drunkenness and debauchery, being waited on hand-and-foot . . . isn’t the answer. I know, gutting, right? Seneca believes this would simply reduce your will and wit to actually live. This would be cataclysmic to some of my friends: as it’s their dream to have their every whim satisfied by some subservient. But getting back on course, Seneca persists that man must balance seeking constant achievement vs leisure activities, otherwise a life spent saving for retirement (or that special day) is a life wasted. Seneca’s isn’t exactly embracing carpe diem, but he’s rallying against the day that never comes*. I had read somewhere along the line, and this may be from another etch of memory, that Seneca would yearly take a sabbatical and live and as a pauper for a few days, to reassess his life, undoubtedly guarding against indulgences whilst also re-validating his perspective.
The life of a sage, leaning on the shoulders of Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, Aristotle and Theophrastus, Socrates, Epicurus, Carneades, Stoics and Cynics, is a worthwhile life indeed . . . according to Seneca anyway, which seems a little self-serving. Admittedly I barely know much more than a few names in the above, but the tenet of Seneca’s argument is that you should learn from others that have spent their lives pondering some of the infinite questions on life that flit through your mind. I have to admit a certain priggishness when it comes to reading novels, which leans on the basic foundations of the above: if an author is still revered decades and even centuries after their death, that has got to be worth some of my time! Cervantes and Dostoyevsky, I doff my cap.
So in my mind a balance must be reached, for what good is all the learning if you don’t put it into practice? Whilst reading of and in itself is leisurely, especially a non-fiction book like Don Quixote, to learn and lean on the shoulders of giants likes Plato pays no dividends if you’re not living what you’ve learnt. That way, to leave with a quote from the great man, "life is long enough...if the whole of it is well invested"
*Metallica - in my head, you’re killing it right now
Tim Ferriss, what an absolutely fascinating human being. I’ve listened to his podcasts for years and have started reading Four-Hour Work Week. I wrote several months ago about using curiosity to find help find your passions, but Tim paints a different picture, suggesting that excitement is the key. I love this. What excites you? What a wonderful question. I get really excited about landscapes, about travel, photography, about engaging human beings (to learn from and help develop them) and about starting new ventures. I love comedy and stories, the personal tales that bind us together, I love film and stories of motivation that drive people to unspeakable achievements . . . well, unspeakable, but then talk about them, so . . . ahem, onwards! I also love technology and how it betters us as human beings. However, here is where the analysis has to start. Let’s work backwards.
I love technology but to a limited degree. I like a good laptop for my writing and picture editing, a drone for fun and picture taking, and a good camera to pursue my hobbies. I don’t have the passion to delve deep into development code or wire up my house to automatically turn the lights on and off. I don’t have a smartwatch and don’t give a shit about the latest smartphone releases. Indeed, I use my phone to write, read and take photos (again, photography). Phone calls and text messages are usually related to work or conversing with the same four or five people. So, do I really love technology or do I just get a small buzz out of the little things I have? Probably the latter. Let’s move on.
Film, comedy and stories. I have tried writing some scripts and enjoyed it but it is a hard graft when writing multiple characters alone. So that goes on the back-burner (I have a friend that has shown some interest in writing together, but it can wait). I love the escapism of films and the plot turns, admiring the writing and style (again, the writing). Comedy is a constant though. I watch and study comedians: the timing; the loops; the observation; the absurdity; the anger and frustration; the situations to induce a full belly-laugh. Let’s keep going.
Which leaves travel and photography. I almost become sad when seeing something spectacular and not having a camera to capture that instant forever. But am I good at photography? Probably not. I do receive compliments from friends but am I making the best out of it that I could? No. As too with language. I enjoy writing, I enjoy the art and dedication needed to weave a well-crafted sentence, but would I enjoy it so much if I were to receive a deadline every week to complete a task on a given subject with the conclusion already provided regardless of the narrative? Absolutely not. I write because I enjoy it, no more. I believe the same with travel because it is exciting. When travelling for a year I was exhausted after 6 months. Ten years later when travelling for 4 months, I was exhausted after 3. Can I travel all the time? No, I don’t think so. Doing it sporadically is what makes it special.
And so, whirlwind conclusion time:
Since actions speak louder than words, I will search for some medium-level photography courses, some English writing courses and place an advert for free advice on interviews, development and leadership. None of the above I feel I will pursue individually as a career apart from that in leadership and developing others. But combining them all? Yes, it can be done. I could relate stories of my travels, showcasing my photography to illustrate them and write about them in the context of learning, development and leadership. Standing up in front of an audience of 200 and exposing myself (steady) in terms of vulnerability of what I’ve learnt in terms of my limits and mental health, making terrible jokes and relating good stories? That scares the shit out of me if I’m honest, which is why I think I should do it.
Occasionally in life, events occur that question integrity. For anyone in a public standing or governmental role, your integrity is your livelihood . . . unless you’re a politician, then it’s everyone else’s integrity that needs to be tweeted about but yours. Other times, when your own integrity is questioned, especially by someone else, well . . . I’ve found that absolutely damning.
For me integrity is everything: it decides your brand; how you live life; and how you treat others. For someone to query that is to question your moral fibre, your decency as a trustworthy human being. I have a fantastic book on quotations and so I went searching, and surprised that I didn’t find anything positive – all seemed to cater for those walking away from morals and integrity instead of embracing them indefatigably. It seems that the more people there are the more the moral waters can be muddied, to quote Aldous Huxley ‘the quality of moral behaviour varies in inverse ratio to the number of human beings involved’. That’s the definition of mob rule, right there. If one person thinks something outlandish then you can sit them on a stool and throw slippers at them, but the more people agree with it, the more people believe in it, and you’re soon running out stools and slippers. Before you know if you’ve started a cult, and together people start to summon the bravery to perform outstanding acts of butchery and barbarity on their fellow inhabitants of this fair earth. Either that or they open up a slipper store.
Morals also change with circumstance. What may be abhorrent now can change pretty quickly given some dire straits. Whilst many would never countenance stealing, I don’t think I’ve met a single person alive that hasn’t picked an apple or orange from a tree they don’t own or eaten a grape from a supermarket. There are levels, I would surmise, that people are happy with – especially if they can get away with it. At the other extreme, if you think you’d never kill someone, just be thankful you’ve never been put in the situation where you had to. For mothers and fathers out there, many wouldn’t hesitate wiping out anyone from the face of the earth in favour of their own child when put to the sword. This then paints an entirely different picture, and to quote Erica Jong (it’s a good quotation book, what can I tell you!), ‘morals are like roads through the alps: they make these hairpin turns all the time’. So do our morals unravel like a spool of cotton with the slightest pressure or outside exertion? Well that’s up to you: whilst your morals tell you what’s right and wrong, your integrity is whether you stick to it.
One of the many things my parents taught me was compassion. This mostly dealt with compassion for others with the assumption that I would have compassion for myself – an incorrect supposition it turned out! But I’ve gradually gotten there and am trying to be easier on myself. But the compassion for others still remains, yet sometimes that compassion is undeserved.
As I meet more people around the world, extending my networks of friends, I meet a lot of people with conviction. Sometimes it’s conviction that is short term like travelling to Macchu Picchu for example, sometimes longer term such as walking the length of the earth or cycling the Pan-American, other times its writing a book or starting a business, but the essence is that you do what you’ll say you’ll do. You decide you want to achieve something and you do it. Compassion comes into play when unforeseen circumstances prevent the immediate completion of the task at hand, but one way or another, if someone says they’re going to do something, I expect it to be done. Increasingly though, this doesn’t happen. For your mental health, this can only be detrimental.
The task at hand doesn’t have to be as inspirational as climbing Everest, completing a four-minute mile or being a millionaire by the time you’re thirty years old <Ed – are you pretending you’re less than thirty now?>, yet even something as simple as dieting or exercise people still find excuses for. I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the . . . conviction. If you want to be healthier and lose weight, change your diet and go for a walk on occasion. That’s all you need to do – this is even more prevalent given that once again Steptember is upon us. If you want to learn another language then you have to study, if you want to write you have to start writing. Just don’t make excuses. There are back problems and foot problems and hatred of a salad problems that cause people to step back and choose an easier path. And I think that’s the true nature of it. It is easier to make excuses than have the will power and conviction to see your goals become reality.
Don’t make excuses for yourself, start making things happen for yourself.
Writing and writing...