I recently spent time in Miami for the wedding of a best friend, Ryan. I love to hang with Ryan and Thelma (his wife) because they’re full of energy, positivity, and see a deep potential in everyone. Spending time with them often brings out the best in one; and this magic happened yet again on their special day.
The wedding was appropriately held at the FIU Nature Preserve that Ryan manages. We, friends and relatives, spent the morning helping to set up the momentous event. Knowing Ryan, this meant hard work, heavy lifting, and of course a lot of fun! We carried many heavy tables, set up all the chairs and table arrangements, and even moved a few large logs for good measure. Some were surprised by the amount of “activity” involved, but it was standard operating procedure for Ryan, Thelma, Samir (a good friend), and I. The cleanup afterwards was much the same.
Ryan and Thelma incredibly but unsurprisingly decided to call off their honeymoon (it was to be a simple trip, but still). They both felt the time was better spent with folks that came down to see them, especially Ryan’s cousin, Jonny, and I.
After we all settled down a bit at Ryan and Thelma’s house, Ryan asked if anyone wanted to do a bike ride since there was still some light out (there really wasn’t much – Ryan just needed a reason for more activity). A bunch of us agreed, including Jonny, who in the thirty or so years of his life, had never learned to ride a bike; we offered to teach him. Out we went, Samir and Jonny on bikes, Ryan and I on skates since we were short on bikes. Ryan and Samir gave Jonny a crash course (literally) in the parking lot for about an hour. Then another hour on the campus nearby. Jonny was getting the hang of it. (Samir and Ryan, however, collided into each other head-on from not paying attention. They were laughing hard as they picked themselves up from the ground).
Back at the house, around 9:30pm, Ryan asked if we’d be interested in doing a hike in the Everglades. Someone suggested that we instead bike along the paved path that cuts across the marsh, doing as much of the 15 miles that we felt comfortable with. Jonny was game – probably amped by the nonchalant attitude that the rest of us shared about doing activity after activity. We picked up a couple more bikes. Five bikes loaded onto an old Honda Accord might be a spectacle to some people. Not us.
It was 11:30pm by the time we arrived at the trailhead. It was dark and even a bit chilly. We had some headlamps and flashlights but eventually turned them off to instead ride by moonlight. The stars were out; alligators were chilling just a few feet off the path. The ride was surreal – as if we were traveling through space and time, floating in the cosmos that some like to call the Everglades. Jonny was doing great and kept insisting that we go on, despite my subtle attempts to persuade him otherwise. We heard him crash a couple of times (but couldn’t see anything in the dark) but Jonny was a real trooper and got back on the bike every time. The ride back proved more surreal – moonlight was gone. Our brains, at full focus, barely made out the road in front. At the same time, we shared deep conversation with one another. Simply amazing!
We completed the full round – 15 miles. It was 3:30am by the time we got back to the house. We were all completely exhausted but in ecstasy. What an amazing day. Yes, this was the same day that Ryan and Thelma got married!
Jonny left for home the next morning. I’m sure something in him changed. To his credit, he threw himself into a circle of people that lived life a little differently; what some would consider extreme or without bounds. And that’s exactly where the magic happens. We don’t like to impose artificial limitations. People like Ryan, Thelma, and I see great potential in all people and in ourselves. Perhaps we come off a bit conceited, judgemental, or reckless with this attitude, but it’s a person’s loss to not strive for that potential. Jonny played it perfectly and it paid off. He learned to ride a bike in two hours time and then went off to do an incredible ride through the Florida Everglades. Maybe it’s not so much magic but just the right attitude and the right crowd to resonate that energy…
Note: Thelma deserves much credit. She was real cool about letting Ryan hang with his buddies for these adventures (she wanted to join us on but decided to take it easy given the recent stress of putting together a wedding, while being seven months pregnant). Amazingly (or rather fitting in my opinion), she and I went indoor rock climbing two days later. It was her idea and she insisted. Thelma totally rocked it!
Washington DC, Montreal, the Catskills, Boston, Brazil, Killington, Boulder, the Adirondacks, Puerto Rico, and Moab. The past year has been filled with new experiences, travels, and adventure. But it was not by accident. It required stepping out of comfort zones and flipping upside-down the very way I approached life.
Brazil – this is where it starts. I made almost no plans for this trip. I’d be there with friends from my capoeira academy and would go along with whatever they did. I’d for long wanted to become comfortable with personal travel and experiencing things by just going with it. Until then, I’d been an intrepid planner and became easily unnerved when plans weren’t in detail or when they became unravelled. This trip was just what I needed. On the way there, I missed a connecting flight after landing in Sao Paulo and had rearrange my pickup (this required figuring out a complicated phone system by asking around for help in Portuguese). Upon meeting my friends in Bahia, they asked if I was interested in a capoeira workshop that night. Of course. They then said that its location was a little sketchy and that locals told them “don’t get shot” (it turned out fine). The rest of my time there required handling such uncertainties, especially given the nature of ‘Bahia time’, where things move at a relaxed pace.
Boston – my bus lands an hour or two late. I’d miss the first group roller blading event. A past me would have been upset at ruined plans. But hey, the weather was beautiful and there was a new city waiting to be explored on skates. I dropped off my bag with the event hotel concierge and made my own skating “event”. The ad-hoc planning was rather appropriate. I’d purchased my bus tickets just two days earlier (despite “planning” to attend this event well ahead of then) and would not figure out where I’d be sleeping until that night. There is a method to this madness – I call it just-in-time planning. There’s two parts: have a rough sense of options ahead of time and act on them at nearly the last possible moment. For example, I knew that I could reach Boston by train, bus, or car and didn’t really worry about which until the trip neared. Likewise, I figured I’d be able to stay with some skater friend (I’m fortunate to have many) who has extra space or a patch of floor, or at worst I’d just sleep outside. I asked around and it worked out. Better yet: the good skater friends I stayed with became great skater friends.
New York – this flexibility and spontaneity spreads into my typical weeks, making them not so typical. I used to be a real stickler about making my usual weekly events, like the groups skates or martial arts class. Doing so paid off handsomely with my skills flourishing but this limited new experiences. Another flip: I began to miss usual events to explore new activities, new places, new friendships, and often all of the above, and learned a great deal about life and myself. I still really hate to miss a capoeira class here and there, but I know it’s for opportunities of great personal growth in self and open mindedness.
Each experience lends to build future experiences. Saying yes to one thing that is out of one’s comfort zone makes it easier to say yes to other things. Knowing that you can splice together a plan at the last second removes worries about how things are turning out and lets you enjoy each moment at the moment. Flexibility leads to profound experiences as unexpected details fill themselves in.
P.S. I really missed writing these posts. I hope my absence in writing is understandable. It means a lot to me when friends tell me that they liked my last post or ask when they’ll see the next one. Life’s been full of surprises lately – I hope to have some more writings for you soon 😉
It’s around 10pm on a Tuesday night and I’m out roller blading in northern Manhattan. I’m climbing up a hill and my friend is about 200 feet in front of me. Thinking to myself, “I can beat him to the top of the hill”, I pump my legs harder and accelerate up the hill. I reach to where my friend is and continue pushing it. But I’m unable to take up the lead – we remain side by side. Ten seconds pass and we both start laughing. He’s pushing his legs to maintain my pace. And I bet his legs are burning and aching as much as mine are. As we reach the top (I won’t say who got there first), our legs are on fire and we’re gasping for air. But we both have big smiles on our faces…
We live in a competitive world. In order to be successful or survive, we must be able to compete well against others. We’ve been told stuff like this our whole lives and it makes me hate the idea of competition. Yet I thoroughly enjoy being a a competitive person. Is this a paradox? I think not. Competition has the potential to bring out the best in us or the worst in us.
Is there something inherently good or bad about wanting to be better than everyone else? I believe it can go either way. Consider this parable: There is a line drawn on a piece on paper. How would you make it shorter? The obvious answer is to cut the line, to erase part of it. A more interesting answer is to draw another line next to it – one that is longer. So does your being better than another result from some loss to them? Or a gain in your part? Or both? I feel any instance where there is a loss represents the dark side of competition. Unfortunately, this common in many settings. For example, the only way to be promoted or keep your job at some workplaces is to break down others. It’s really a waste of human productivity yet a game some of us are forced to play.
There’s much to like when the game entails no loss. If one person is inspired to be better at something to pass the level of another person, that’s great. Even better is when that other person reciprocates. It can be a virtuous cycle of betterment. This is precisely the case in the skating story above. My friend and I are stronger skaters because we constantly push each other. I’ve experienced the same in indoor rock climbing, where my friends and I challenge each other to increasingly difficult climbs – by first doing it ourselves! The same healthy competition can do wonders in workplaces and allow people to do amazing work. Taken a few magnitudes larger, companies can “compete” to out-innovate each other. Everyone wins.
So let’s let competition inspire – it makes us all better. And not let competition conspire – it’s bad news for everyone, even the “winners”.
Here’s a situation I’ve experienced quite a few times:
- I come up with some cool idea or approach to solve a problem
- I tell someone about it
- That person tells me that I ought to patent it and/or make money off of it
It kills me when this happens.
First, this perspective directs the motivation from intrinsic to extrinsic. I came up with the idea because I thought it would be cool if it existed. The mere fruition of the idea would make me very happy. It’s not about the money or the credit. It’s about solving some issue to make my or other people’s lives better.
Second, we put too much importance on “protecting” our ideas. Honestly, it’s unlikely that someone will steal your idea. There’s an enormous amount of work that goes into turning an idea into reality.
“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison
If someone does happen to do all the work of following through on your idea, then they probably deserve to reap the benefits.
Third, ideas don’t really belong to anyone. They simply arise in the process of creativity, which builds upon ideas that others have come up with.
Fourth, ideas become more useful when they’re allowed to mingle with other ideas, especially from different minds. Something idealistic might turn into something practical. Or perhaps an approach to one problem will solve another problem.
The bottom line:
- Ideas are cheap
- Execution is expensive
- Ideas multiply in effectiveness when they’re shared
- All of the above are required to get something valuable
As for my situation, it’s clear that I need to be even more open with my ideas. So that’s exactly what I’m doing. Check out my new project at http://ideas.sonicans.net where I’ll be sharing all sorts of ideas. Some will be ones I have or intend to follow through on. But this won’t be the case for most of them. So if you see something you like or find interesting, feel free to take the idea. To share and discuss it. To remix it. To bring it to life. I hope the world will be better off for it.
An article regarding time dilation states that the phenomenon is actually an illusion of memory. That moments seems longer based on the number of things we remember from it. While the article discusses experiences of fear, I’ll often experience time dilation when I have a lot of different things going on throughout the week, as well as a lot of different things going in in my head. By the time the next week rolls around, the previous week seems like it was ages ago and that I’d grown so much since then. Those weeks certainly feel very productive and satisfying. And yet it all happened in a mere seven days. Could this be a way to enhance our lives? To make life more rich and full? To get the most out of our time alive? Wouldn’t life be better?
We’re actually very good at ‘getting used to things’. Our minds are built to see things in a relative, or comparative, manner rather than on an absolute scale. Our bodies and behaviors also adjust and can change their set-point (much like setting a thermostat) and redefine comfort zones. We’re often not aware of how strongly this works because it takes time, and sometimes a lot of it. Likewise, gradual changes work better than drastic ones since it’s easier and quicker for us to adapt to smaller changes. You can leverage this to reach goals or take comfort in knowing that some challenge will become easier.
So suppose you wanted to eat better. Well if you typically ate processed food and moved on to real food, your body is gonna put up resistance to the change. But only at first. Over time, your mind and your body (including your taste buds) will make the adjustment. At some point, you’ll actually really enjoy your new diet and will become disgusted with process food (this has happened to me and others I know).
There are a couple of things to consider. One is to take things gradually. This limits the mental and physical resistance you’d have to deal with. The other thing is to keep all this in mind and have a proper attitude. Accept that things will take time so you have to keep at it. That things may be uncomfortable but they’ll get easier. Remember that this is progress to reach an respectable goal. And take comfort in knowing you’ll adjust to the new changes and they’ll become your new ‘normal’.
These general concepts apply everywhere, from work to physical training to any sort of learning.
1 – Show Up Consistently
Obviously nothing happens if you don’t put the hours in. Less obvious is that you must be a regular. There is a strong correlation between one’s ability in something and the amount of time put into it. Every session adds up, positively for every one you attend an negatively for every one you miss (and more than doubly so for consecutive attended or missed sessions).
2 – Be Conscious in Every Session
Just passively showing up typically brings about slow progress at best. The time put in must be quality time. By constantly and actively evaluating what you do, you find weaknesses and can work on correcting them (this is reminiscent of the scientific process).
It’s all too easy to find an excuse to not do something productive. I suggest reversing the excuse so that you make an excuse to do the productive thing. Even better if you can use the same excuse:
“My muscles are sore today – I’ll skip my training session today”
“My muscles are sore today – I should go to my training session to loosen them up”
You can also reverse the excuse when approaching new endeavors and trying new things:
Instead of letting an excuse hold you back:
I can’t do _____ because
- I’m not strong enough
- I’m not flexible enough
- I’m not experienced enough
Use the excuse as a reason to go for it:
I should do _____ because
- It will make me stronger
- It will make me more flexible
- It will give me experience
What reverse excuses do you use?