Friday, January 31, 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Want And A Need

What I want is not always what I really want.

I forget this a great deal of the time.  You see, I am easily confused by what is near to me or most pressing on my mind at the moment.  I often confuse my own immediate wants and needs with the things that I really want or need - like trying to pull a scab off for relief when what I really need is to let it stay there and heal.

This is more dangerous than I like to let myself believe - giving the reins to my immediate wants is the sort of thing that has gotten me into bad places in the past?  Why is this?  Because I convince myself that what I need, I need now.  And when this happens it has seldom gone as well as I might have hoped for myself.

The key is to understand what I really want.  Or need.

Polling myself on this things is difficult.  I can be a biased respondent.  For example, I could easily convince myself that what I want is to not do what I am doing now.  But given my tendency to act as soon as I think of that, that chain of logic leads me to throwing a letter across someone's desk this morning.  But that is not what I really want - what I really want is an engaging career, which is hardly found by an abrupt change in employment.

Sometimes the confusion of one for the other is relatively harmless.  But sometimes it is not so harmless - sometimes, in fact, such things can be inadvertently life changing.  And the same kind of logic applies - I want this, so I need to do something about this right now.

The true adult - the mature person - is able to wade through all of these wants and needs.  They are able to take each in hand, examine it dispassionately, and make an assessment as to what is truly required in their life.  They seldom make the precipitous decision that cause wild swings in the nature of the existence.  If needed, how do we get there quickly?  If wanted, is it a true want?  I would think that they seldom confuse wants with needs because they are able to look at things as they truly are.

Would that we all had this kind of insight.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On The Rewriting of Opening Sentences

I have rewritten this sentence four times.

Sometimes it is a struggle sitting down with the laptop and writing something - not so much from lacking the thought about which to write but being frightened by what one wants to write.  How can writing be frightening, you might ask.  After all, it is just the placement of words on paper, the arrangement of thoughts in a coherent fashion for the purposes of communication.

But it can be more.  Sometimes, when we least expect it, parts of our innermost lives leak out on the page.

That is not really supposed to happen, of course.  We are supposed to keep our writing at a level that we can control and manipulate, that we manage our thoughts and feelings within the context of walking away from the keyboard and going on to our daily lives - after all, who knows who reads these things.  Certainly we do not want to have potentially embarrassing things outside of our heads.

But there comes the moment where one sits down, starts typing, and then looks at the words on the page and realizes "Is that what I really want to say?"  The finger poises above the "Backspace" button as we look at the words which confess a deep unhappiness or reveal a surprising hatred or speak of an unspoken love or describe something which, if we said out loud, would get us fired or ostracized.

Or free us, maybe.

That is the risk, of course.  That something we write will actually loose the chains of conformity and mediocrity from our souls.  That we will find the courage in that moment to reach down into the recesses where we store such things and bring them out into the light of day.  That we will become that person who burns in our thoughts.

Ray Bradbury said "Let the world burn through you.  Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper."  Yet by this form of self editing the world does not burn through me; instead I blow it out lest the flames reach up and engulf not only the paper, but my life.  For, of course, the difficulty with flame is that once it has been lit it becomes uncontrollable.

And yet...

And yet the lines are there, buried beneath thoughts and good sense and the risk/reward ratio which only the soul believes it knows how to calculate.  They remain there, snug as daffodil bulbs beneath a winter's blanket, waiting for the day when, like the rising of the spring sun, they will be spilled out onto the page.

And then just stand there in glorious black and white as the next sentence is typed.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ice Storm

Cardinals that sang
in warm weather two days gone
now huddle in ice.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Two Men Trying To Live In My Head

There are two men that seem to be trying to live within my shell.

The first fellow is a self confident one.  He seems to have plans and is ready and eager to carry them out.  He seems himself in positive light:  strong, confident, a leader, a swordsman and writer, ready to accomplish whatever he puts his hands to.  He has goals that he is ready to share with you, even if you find them to be two hundred years out of date.  He is bold and daring, paying no heed to those that are naysayers. 

The second fellow is much more quiet - almost invisible.  He seems to be making do with life as it is.  He is much quieter than the other fellow and his goals seem to be non-extant except for a general sense of making it through the day.  He will tell you that after doing the work that needs to be done because this is the work that he has, there is little left for following goals which seem to have no relevance to his actual life.  He theoretically believes he can do things but seems to have a very low threshold for what can be done.

It is not that these two argue so much when they bump into each other in the confines of my head, it is that they are both competing for space at the same time.  It is hard to be self confident and lack self confidence, to have great plans yet feel you cannot carry them out, to want to do great things yet feel as if you have no time to do them.  This leads to a great deal of confusion and even paralysis in dealing with any situation, a sort of back and forth motion as I move to do something in fits and starts before convincing myself it is a pointless pursuit - although I really want to do it.

How do I resolve this?  I am not sure.  I can grasp that at some level the two men cannot ultimately exist together for the simple fact that they will cancel each other out, leaving nothing.  It has to be one or the other:  either boldly facing the sun of achievement or retiring to the shadows of complacency.  These are the options.

Why then do I feel reluctance to face the sun of achievement?  It seems foolish, does it not?  Who likes constantly feeling as if they are trapped or held back, waiting for a day that will never happen?

The only thing I can grasp is that somehow I believe that acting boldly - accepting the role of the self confident self - will result in one of two things:  complete failure (for it is confidence based in my dreams and not in something sturdier) or that it will create issues in the lives of those around me.

To the second point, those around me have adapted to the way I am. To change that abruptly - to change into someone who does not fall back into the shadows or turn aside from goals or is even bold from time to time- is a change to the operating relationship.  That can create issues.

To the first point, this is  the challenge I have faced my whole life:  am I capable?  Can I?  Do I possess the abilities and more importantly the will to do what I set out to do?  Is what I want right?  I am constantly looking for verification from God and others that I am doing the right thing in the right way, sometimes to the point that I will do nothing without that verification.  I lack the confidence that I myself have chosen the correct path - and that I am capable of doing it.

How does this end?  After almost 30 years of fighting, I have to make a choice.  Believe - or not.  Move forward - or retire.  Confess that you believe that you can - or agree that you cannot.

There are two men that seem to be trying to live within my shell.  Ultimately only one of them can.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The No-Man's Land of Mid-life Crisis

A mid-life crisis moment has blown its way in with our recent arctic blast.

It is interesting in that it is not like the sorts that I have had to deal with before. There was really no depression, hardly any anger, and no perceived longings that I was aware of.  Instead, the thing that characterized the whole event was a sense of listlessness.

I had no energy.  I had no direction.  I had seemingly endless options that I could work on, but I felt as if I did not want to make the effort to work on any of them.  Why?  Because none of them seemed to have any meaning or move me in any direction other than the one I am going in.

Maybe the year end meeting at work was a contributor.  Realizing the effort you put in simply  brought you to an almost parity state like last year is not a true motivator - and looking down the road at the coming year and seeing nothing changing seems to eliminate any real sense of next year will be better.

But it is my own personal life as well.  I still continue to struggle with arriving at goals for 2014, now almost a month after the year has begun.  Why?  Because the goals I have written down seem the same as the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that:  things that I want but I have either no ability to accomplish or, if accomplished, have no ability to transform my life.

My life feels more and more that it is being tucked into the fringes, hidden amidst the jungle of the major responsibilities of what I am supposed to do - and even when I come up with the things I would like to do these seem almost immediately overgrown by the reality of a work and a family that has their own set of activities and realities to accomplish.

The issue, of course, is that this is where many people step off the cliff:  hounded by a set of realities they feel they cannot change anything significant about their life and so they "mid-life crisis off", acting foolishly at best and erratically at the worst.  A new car, an expensive something they cannot afford - in the most extreme of cases, a new life.

 None of this comes without a price of course, from ruptured bank accounts to ruptured lives.  But I suppose - based on observation of others - that such things are hardly considerations or, if they are, they are counted as less important than the sensation of being alive.

If I think about it, that is the real point of a mid-life crisis:  it is exorcising the spirit that one has become somehow less than alive, an automaton, a series of tasks and duties with all meaning, all beauty, all passion scrubbed from one's daily existence.  To break free even in random and possibly dangerous directions is be re-injected, even if briefly, with the sensation of a life bursting with excitement and possibilities.

Do I have a solution?  No.  Merely submerging things once again, playing the faithful family hound, is just an adult version of kicking the can down the road.  And I have a shade too much responsibility to do something wildly erratic, as I am too realistic to downplay the real cost of things to others.

Which leaves me where I was Friday:  in a no-man's land wants and desires and needs and realities, staring over the top of the trench to the ground I dare not try to attack - yet desperately need to.


Friday, January 24, 2014

An Unexpected Gift

Today I received an unexpected gift:  A snow day.

Well, it was not completely unexpected.  I had a suspicion this would happen yesterday when they started trumpeting "Blizzard 2014", predicting a "wintry mix" of snow and ice.  And not that much either - which is not really the problem here in New Home.  Here, the problem really is ice - and the fact that people forget how drive when the ice is present, which results in crashes, traffic, and general unpleasantness.

The ante was upped last night as one by one the local school districts began declaring "delays" in opening, foreshadowing the cancellations everyone knew was coming but no-one could actually mention before the ice was on the ground. I had hoped that my employment would have made the same determination as well but they did; the matter was not even mentioned, a perhaps a sort of vain hope that the whole thing would go away.

And then, on arising, comes the glorious text:  "X is closed.  Notify your team".

And now, for the first time in a long time, I have the unexpected pleasure of an unplanned day.

Unplanned?  Yes.  This was a day that was supposed to be spent at work.  Instead, I have been given 10-12 hours to spend any way I choose with no repercussions of something else not getting done.  It is time without guilt.

What is somewhat shocking to me if I think about it is that this is such an anomaly.  I am presented with a short period of time that I can call my own with no prerequisites for use. This is the first time that this has happened in a long time.  Otherwise my time seems to be very carefully allocated and planned, set in stone for me weeks and months before I reach it.

I will enjoy the day,  watching the ice melt under the sun curled up with the luxury of Cafe du Monde coffee late in the day.  I will choose one or two projects that need attention - or maybe not.  Maybe I will just give myself the luxury of reading at home in a comfortable chair with no concern about having to go out.

Or perhaps more usefully, I will try to find ways to make days like this more common.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Finding Clarity

How do I maintain periods of clarity?

It happened to me yesterday.  The moment of clarity which I had yesterday was wiped out by 4:00 PM.  I could feel it happen:  one event occurred, one text diverted my mind, and suddenly I was trapped right back where I was before I left on Friday.

This bothers me greatly.  I desperately need those times of clarity, those deep thoughts which allow me to actually gain some perspective on where I am in my life and what I need to do to move forward.  Instead they seem to get subsumed and then buried in the simple reality of my day to day life.

So how can I preserve this clarity in the face of a work, home and family life which is constantly in motion?

1)  Read - I have emphasized this in the past, but I need to set aside time to read - and not the five to ten minute slices I seem to allow myself but a minimum of 30 minutes a day.  And it needs to be uninterrupted time, not punctuated by conversations or emergencies.

2)  Focus - I tend to want to know everything that goes on.  It is the unfortunate outcome of being blindsided more than once - I want to know what is coming before it hits me.  But the realities are that I cannot know everything nor is everything relevant to me.  I need to focus on what is truly important and pay attention to that.

3)  Think - Again, this is something that I need to set time aside to do:  to think, to write, to ponder, to make conclusions and ask questions.  Without questions there is no clarity.

4) Concentrate on Higher Things - I allow myself to get bogged down in the minutiae of the day and what I am doing at the moment.  This means that the real work of life - thinking, making connections, improving - is always being overrun by the trivial.  I may have to do ordinary things, but I need to ensure my mind is not focused there.

One thing is certain:  without more of these moments of clarity I will continue to flounder.  For my own mental wellness and continual advancement, I need to make opportunities for myself to do the hard but necessary work of self improvement

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

32,000

I had an epiphany this morning.

During this most recent trip I read one of the books I procured for myself for Christmas, Mastery by Robert Greene.  I had enjoyed Mr. Greene's previous works - The 33 Strategies of War  and The 48 Laws of Power because he has the ability to take biographies and stories from all over the world an use them to demonstrate the points he was making.

As I worked through the book one of the points that kept coming up was time:  time spent on the skill or skills that the individuals profiled in the book were trying to master.  The number he used was 10,000 hours - very similar to the 10,000 hours concept introduced by Malcolm Gladwell in his books Outliers.  10,000 for the beginning of mastery, up to 20,000 for a true master of the subject.

After I finished the book something nagged at my mind last night, something that I could not turn away from in my head.  I tried by writing out whatever was in my head before I went to bed but nothing; I went to bed with the same nagging feeling.  I awoke and the thought appeared in my head:  time.

I did some rough calculations:  if one spends 2000 hours a year at work (40 hours a week for 50 weeks), then the average to gain "mastery" of the job one is doing should be about 5 years.  I did some quick calculations:  I have 32,000 hours in my industry, 25,333 of those in my current area, and 22,500 of those in a managerial role.

It hit me.  I feel like I have mastered nothing.

That is a great deal of time to spend doing anything.  To subconsciously - and now consciously - grasp that this actually amounts to nothing, that I am doing the same sort of tasks I did at 5,000 hours for essentially the same rate and in the same atmosphere tells me one of three things:
1)  I have not been doing the right things.
2)  I have not done them in the right industry.
3)  I have wasted my time.

This bears every sign of a wasted effort.

Now it makes sense.  My dissatisfaction goes far beyond the narrow bounds of who I report to or what I am working on at the moment.  It reaches to the very core of the thing we call accomplishment:  hours and hours - years and years- spent to remain in a holding pattern instead of moving forward.

What am I to do?  I am not clear on this yet.  Waste no more time is the obvious outcome - but if one is not to waste it, what does one need to spend it on?  And can the time I have already spent be redeemed in some fashion?

I am not sure of the implications but I am sure of one thing:  I cannot - and will not - waste what years I have left on pursuit of mastery in an area or subject that simply cannot be mastered -or in one where such mastery is not recognized and rewarded.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Two Sides

It is interesting to me how a single situation can be seen two completely different ways.

On the one side is the individual that lives in the situation, that is forced to work in it.  From their point of view, little is able to be accomplished: management is controlling and does not allow anything of consequence to be undertaken or performed without some level of approval and oversight.  That which is accomplished goes unnoticed; that which fails seems mercilessly thrown back as proof that nothing can be done correctly.

On the other side is the individual who is in the same situation.  From their standpoint much can be accomplished; that which is not officially proscribed is allowed.  Initiative is rewarded in this world and in fact the expectation is that initiative is expected.  Outside of a narrow band of items limitations do not exist - and in fact, this person is surprised at the reluctance of so many to take some sort of action.

So here is the question:  who is correct?

This revolves around the question of limitations and control:  what are the actual limitations, what are the actual controls, and who is subject to them.

Do we create an environment where creativity and action are encouraged.  Or do we create an environment where control is the most critical aspect and changes - unless properly submitted and approved - are frowned upon?  The atmosphere resulting from this basic standard is what comes to permeate whatever organization it is involved in.

People are not, generally speaking, stupid.  They respond to inputs.  And if the inputs are "Try something without permission and get dinged" or "Decisions may only be made by a chosen few" they come to internalize that.  This may not be true for everyone - certain individuals have a degree of initiative that may not be allowed to the entire organization.  But the reality is that for most, such things are not tried because the underlying rule is that without taking all the appropriate steps and getting all the appropriate buy in, there will be nothing allowed.  The only surprising thing at that point is that often the people in charge are stunned that no-one will take initiative. 

How is this combated?  There are only two options.  One is for a true internal look at the soul of the organization and what it has come to practice (and by practicing, demonstrates its beliefs) about ideas, change and initiative - and make changes.  The other choice is for those that wish to do such things to look elsewhere. 

For without changing the real nature of control, all the lip service to "We wish people were more self motivated" will drift into the wind of the organizational reality

Monday, January 20, 2014

January?

Watching blue white skies
belies that winter chill is
one cold front away.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Christian Gimmickry

One of the goals on this year's list - in fact, one of my recurring goals - is to have a better relationship with God and be a more authentic Christian.  This has always been something of struggle for me - I can do some of the outward motions but am I really growing as a Christian?  Am I truly growing in my relationship, becoming a better Christian?

One of my resolutions to find a better way is to read Christian biographies.  Not a bad thought, right?  Look at the historical figures of the past who made the lives count for Christ both to be encouraged by their example as well as to find out what they did so that I can add it to my life.

Currently I am reading George Muller of Bristol:  His Life of Prayer and Faith by A. T. Pierson.  It chronicles the life of George Muller, a German who emigrated to England in the early to mid 19th Century and was renown for a series of orphanages he opened which he operated completely by prayer and dependence on God, besides becoming a Christian speaker and founding an bible institute.  Mr. Muller was known as a man of deep prayer, who prayed before any decision.  He never once asked for any donations to support any of the operations publicly; instead, he prayed and God supplied.

As I have been reading through this book I find the places that I highlighted or underlined last time as important points or things that I should remember.  "Ah"  I say, "this is what I need to do: pray as he did, read the Bible on his knees as he did, spend x amount of hours a day with God."

And then last night I realized I have missed the whole point.

I am looking for Christian Gimmickry like the world looks for to solve any issue.  "What can I do to get the same results?" I ask, when that is not the question to ask at all.  The reality is that these men and women performed these actions as an outgrowth of their relationship to God, not as a means to get to that relationship.  It was their focus on God and their dependence on Him that led them to taking the actions that they did - not that those got them to God, but that those were impressed on their hearts by God to help them get closer to God and be more effective in their ministry.

Does that mean such actions should not be undertaken?  Of course not - there is great benefit in any spiritual discipline.  But what it does mean is that the focus of my effort needs to be not specifically on any action but on the development of my own relationship with God through prayer and reading His word - just as all of those whom I read of did. It only through this that the relationship can be developed, and through the relationship being developed the ability to listen developed, and through the ability to listen being developed the discovery of those actions which will help me become a more effective servant of God - not a practitioner of gimmicks.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Now?

This week as I was surfing around the industry papers I found a reference to a company which had purchase the rights to the product that the company I was employed with was working when I got laid off and ended up in New Home.  It seems that one of the products we had in-house has been put through another round of testing and has been found to have a significant impact on the life of cancer patients - so significant, in fact, that they stopped the trial early.

Of course one is gratified when any advance is made and cancer and, since I still know some of the people who work there, I am happy for them.  But then the question crept into my head:  " Why Now?"

Why now?  Why not 5 years ago, when the layoffs happened (actually 5 years ago next week)?  Especially given the issues that I am having now, why could not the trial have been effective then?  So much would be different.

To be fair, when I say this I have to admit that I am biased.  I am seeing everything through the lens of  a single point of dis-satisfaction - perhaps the only point of dis-satisfaction - my job.  It ignores all of the good - and there has been good, so much of it that it has impacted every member of this household with the opportunities that have been afforded, the friends made, the activities undertaken.  In so many ways we have done so much differently - and hopefully for the better - since the move.

And the job?  I have to believe that if all else has gone as well as it did, the job will work itself out in some form or fashion as well.  The answer is here somewhere - I just have to find it.

So I managed to accept (perhaps not as gracefully as I should have) the success of my former product and company.  In fact, there is some joy to be taken in that in some small way, I may have contributed to a product that could help the lives of others.

All that and iaijutsu and Highland Athletics.  Life is pretty good.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

When To Go

How do you know when it is time to move on?

I was discussing this last night in the context of the situations of employees that I have dealt with last night.  I believe (and maintain) that it is the job of managers to ensure that those who work for them develop themselves to the fullest, even if it is not at the current place of employment.  All jobs, like food, have expiration dates:  those who are aware understand what those are and help others to see them.  But what happens when you are the one involved in the discussion, not someone else?

It is interesting because there is a direct comparison with marriage in this case - another relationship where we can spend our whole lives but where many end up feeling that is time to move on before the "death do us part"  stage.  And yet there are cases of marriages lasting 60 years.  Obviously there is not a complete comparison - there is seldom romance about a job and children are (usually) not involved - but many people go in thinking one thing and leave before they thought they would thinking something else.  Are there any signs or things that can be bridged?

1)  Inability to Grow:  This is the one that immediately jumps out at me.  It is time to go from a job when there is no ability to grow further in your position.  One can only perform the same tasks with little difference from year to year before inertia begins to set in.  The same can be said of failed marriages:  How often have we heard from separating couples "We were no longer growing in our relationship"?

2)  Inability to Move Past Emotions:  Bad things happen at work:  careers are stymied based on incorrect assumptions, decisions affecting individuals are made without consulting them which turn out to be unsuccessful, bosses play favorites.  Some are able to take this in and move on; others cling to the past as evidence of how things will go in the future.  When this sort of bitter clinging becomes endemic in an individual, it is probably time for them to move on - much like in a failing marriage where one individual cannot get beyond the feelings of bitterness and anger that them have.  For at that point no matter what changes are made, it is likely that it will not be seen as enough.

3)  Inability to Imagine a Different Future:  When an individual can no longer see that they place they are at has a path forward  - perhaps not specifically to them but to the organization as a whole - they have one of two choices:  remain knowing that things have little chance of changing or move on.  If they become trapped in their vision of the future, they quite often will begin to act as if their contributions make no difference - and why would you, when your actions make no impact on the ultimate outcome of things.  Again, as in work, as in marriage:  people stop caring when they believe that their efforts are (and will always be) unrecognized and what they have now is what they will have forever.

Why are these indicators that one should move on?  Because extrapolated to their logical conclusion, one finds an individual who is trapped where they are with no hope of moving forward, no hope of a different outcome, and a hard core of anger or resentment that tinges their every day interactions. 

The odd thing is that when these are not dealt with they can become a self fulfilling prophecy:  the one who is not growing and exudes hard feelings, trapped in a narrative of what they feel likely to happen, is often the the individual who is seen as the most expendable when a change needs to be made.

So the question is not really how we should guide others to this realization.  The question is, how do we guide ourselves?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Test Preparation

We are so very close to the menkyo test for Iaijutsu.

A menkyo, for those who do not know, is the certificate presented by a sensei which says that a student has a certain level of knowledge and could (potentially) teach.   There are three levels, each of advancing difficulty.

The test is in April.  It includes a paper, terminology, basic memorized knowledge, tameshigiri (test cutting), open hand, and sword.

I was reflecting last night as I drove home from class that this is something that has been as long and intense as any college degree.  A B.A. is 120 hours of education; an M.A. is 30-40 hours beyond that.  By the time I test, I will have well over 200 hours into this (over four years).

I am still worried, of course:  my open hand is still not what it needs to be and my I have the tendency to freeze up when I forget things.  But of all the things I have worked on, this is one of the longest sustained efforts I have made.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I have a picture of finishing the test and holding the certificate.  It is visualization of course, something I am not always convinced works, but it helps to see that picture and feel myself holding it in my hand.

It is the almost completion of any objective that can be the most difficult period of all.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

External Limitations

I have come to realize that not of my limitations come immediately from myself.  Some of my limitations come from the environment in which I work and live.

Example:  No matter how much I intend to develop myself at my current line of work (until it is not my current line of work) the fact remains that there are simply not enough of us to do all the work.  What does this mean? I can think of all the improvement projects and self development in the world but it will never escape the fact that when push comes to shove, work needs to get done - and in a small department, the likelihood is that more often than not, there will be "regular" work to do.

What is the implication of this?  Pretty simple:  either the place that I work (wherever that is) needs to invest in the resources to make the improvements possible or I need  to find such a place.  It is clear, but that does not make it simple, of course.

I am debating how much of this I need to bring to the attention of those with the power.  Because this becomes the second issue:  my willingness to speak to this truth.  As I have alluded to multiple times before, I am a somewhat reluctant spokesman for myself - I become more concerned that people like me and feel good about me than I actually speak up for myself, even if it is the truth.

But there is the second reality of course:  the reality I that I do nothing and I say nothing and 12 months from now I am here - again. 

"Lost time is never found again" said Benjamin Franklin.  I cannot - and will not - lose another year.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mastery

"To stick to a thing until you are master, is a test of intellectual discipline and power." - Orison Swett Marden

How often do I undertake things with the thought of mastering them?  This is something that seems to keep resounding from my reading of An Iron Will by Orison Swett Marden.  The book, in case you have never heard of it (or the author), is a 19th century inspirational work about the power of the will, how it matters, and how important it is to adopt one.

But back to mastery.  How often do I undertake things with the thought of mastering them?  How much do any of us, if I desire to spread the pain a bit?  I think the reality is most people -certainly myself - undertake things unthinkingly without the first of thought of coming to master them.  We dally with a multiplicity of thing like a dilettante rather than take the time to actual master what we do.

The interesting thing is that our society values mastery but in very odd ways.  We recognize Olympic athletes yet we have built an entire industry on "Online Gaming" where people spend the same amount of time and effort mastering that which does not exist as for that the does.  We say that we value the level of craftsmanship and performance that comes with anything built by one who has spent the long hours mastering a skill or item, yet would rather spend our money on the cheap and pleasing. We claim that we want our personnel to master what they do, but we refuse to pay the wages for what a mastery of that skill would look like.

Is it wrong to not master everything we put our hand to?  Of course not.  Experimenting is the great spice of life - without experimenting in different things, I would never have discover many of the activities that I enjoy today.  We need to look to different areas, to try, to explore, to find things that are worthy of our time.

But once we find such things we need to make a commitment to them not just to continue to play in the shallows of the knowledge, but to go deeper.  It is like swimming:  as a child it is wonderful to paddle our way in the shallows but as an adult such paddling looks ludicrous and is counterproductive to actually swimming anyway. 

And such commitment - this mastery - is one that requires of us to do a number of things:

1)  Focus:  Our focus narrows as we continue to learn and practice one things.

2)  Effort:  The amount of effort required to master something is always greater than the effort to just participate in it.

3)  Intellectual Engagement:  As we seek to master something, we will find that our minds become consumed by it.  It haunts our waking thoughts.  It is applied in every situation.

4)  Discipline: To become a master of anything is to stick to it until it is mastered.  To do this correctly it requires a significant application of discipline, to the task of getting the thing done until it is done.

Focus, Effort, Intellectual Engagement, Discipline - are these not things that make for better people, better lives and better societies? 

The benefits of mastery are there - the question is, are we - am I - willing to pay the price?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Wild Temperatures

Freezing on Monday,
And now warm rain fills the streets:
Can this be Winter?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Just ________

Driving home yesterday in what was the worst traffic we have had to date this year I began to get frustrated - frustrated with my life, frustrated with my situation, frustrated with my ability to move any part of my life forward  "How am I going to accomplish anything trapped in this car as I go back and forth?"  I bewailed.  "How am I going to do anything of value where I am now?"

And then the answer came back to me "Just Do It."  Yes, just like that "Just Do It" from Nike.

Just do it.  Just do what you need and intend to do.  No excuses.  No reasons not to.   Just start.  Even if you make an inch of progress, just do it.

This thought permeated my brain all the way back to my house.  No more obstacles can be used as reasons that I cannot do a thing.  I simply need to be about it.

This led directly back to my goals that I have been  haphazardly working on over the last two weeks. I thought I had them nailed down but found that there was little enthusiasm for me to move forward on them.  So I changed them.

It is a subtle change.  Instead of saying "I need to participate in 5 runs at less than 8 minute miles and improve my Highland Athletic personal records" I changed it to "Just lose weight" with four supporting items:  Lose sugar (really need to do this), lose weight, run 5 races with less than 8 minute miles, and improve my Highland Athletic personal records"

Or writing.  I changed it from the vague listing I had of all the different things I was working on to "Just Write":  Blogs, Book. 

As I did this, I found that the unanticipated benefit was that I was defining things in terms of action verbs:  Just Write, Just Lose Weight, Just Speak, Just Pray.  And action is precisely what I need to be taking.

Do I believe this is the panacea to all my goal setting woes and lack of achievement?  Not at all.  Words without deeds accomplish precisely nothing.  But for the first time since I started working on the goals for this year I actually felt a slight degree of anticipation and ownership, of having something that I can work towards and make progress on.

It is easy.  Just _________.


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

1000 Cut Drill

Last night we did the Thousand Cut Drill.

The Thousand Cut Drill, for those who have never been exposed, is simply that:  1,000 cuts.  The cuts can be of any variety - we tended to do overhand  and one handed kiroroshi but anything can be done. 

Not so bad, you might think.  After all, the bokuto weighs what - 3 lbs?  5 lbs?  You might find yourself a little sore but that is probably it.  And then you start.

If you are on the middle it is the most intense:  one kirioroshi, 180 degree turn, one kirioroshi.  This is one cut of 50 (i.e. 100 cuts).  If you are on the outer edge, you cut kirioroshi each time the center person turns to you.  This is 50 cuts.  If you rotate through the cycle you will have done 100 cuts.

The first end is not too bad:  you cut and raise overhead back to jodon.  Watch the person in the middle, try to time your cut to theirs.  Remember to breath out when you cut.  You find yourself anticipating their cut.  Slow down, match their speed.

Then you move to the middle.  Starting out is okay; we have done this before.  As you go you notice that your foot is as straight as it should be; try to correct that.  Your cuts are not as straight up and down either.  Work on that.  And then you notice that intersection of your arms and shoulders is beginning tighten up, even to hurt.  Your pace is slowly down while the count still goes on:  "Forty one, Forty two".  By the time you reach 50 your arms are shouting that you should be done.

And then you go to the other side.  Fifty cuts again.  Your right hand is starting to hurt from holding the tsuba in nigiri no kata - as if your were twisting a towel.  As a result your cuts are not s straight as they should be.  Sensei calls out to work on the grip.  You try to comply but know you do not have it right.

Finally you finish.  Move off to the side to rest while others go.  Make the count for them.  And then enter the cycle again.  Your muscles are more sore this time, the foot even a little more off, the cuts not nearly as straight.  You are a little slower.  But you get through.

Next rotation:  right hand only, 25 cuts.  Part of the difficulty is finding where to hold the bokuto so you can cut - you have to move your grip up.  The count goes as your blade seems to make wider and wider circles.

Then the left hand.  This was the worst of all as you very seldom use your left arm for cuts.  you should practice more often, apparently - they are wild, your pace is slow, the bokuto seems completely unbalanced in your hand, to the point you are worried it will slip out.

Next rotation:  the subarito, the heavier practice blade.  Only 10 round (20 cuts) this time:  the weight seems heavier because it is, but after the debacle of the left hand it seems better if for no other reason than you have your form back.

Finally to triangle drill, a six cut drill in which you make a triangle:  suheigiri cut right, flip the blade over into wakinokimae, cut up on a diagonal right to left shoulder in yokokesa-giri then rotate the blade around your head to cut back right to left in kesa giri.  Flip the blade behind you right in wakinokimae, suhei giri cut left, cut up on a diagonal left to right should in reverse yokokesa giri, then rotate the blade around your head to cut back left to right in kesa giri.  Flip the blade back into wakinokimae.  This is one set. 

You start off well but find that your timing is slightly off from your counter.  You try to match up with him but then find you are cheating your cuts.  All the time as you go your muscles are getting more tired, your cuts a little less precise, your timing a little more off.

And then it happens.

Tired and behind and perhaps in desperation you start making your cuts bigger, more flowing.  Your hips are moving more as you reach into the cuts and then fall back into them.  Your timing seems to have suddenly taken care of itself as you move with your counter almost in unison  In the midst of screaming muscles and imprecise cuts you find the unity of motion the true practitioner always seeks:  your body is moving with blade but you are not thinking about the body or the blade.  You are merely thinking about the next cut. 

For one brief instant four hundred years of swordsmen cut with you in unison.

Sensei calls for a stop.  Final count:  1050 cuts.  More than last year and now we have a target for the following year.

You are exhausted.  Your biceps and shoulders are notifying you that they may consider taking the day off.  Your sweat is mingled with the smell of everyone else as they fold up their hakama until next week.

But in your mind as you fumble with your keys in the car door, you do not remember the pain of the preceding 900 cuts.  You remember the last 100, when your body flowed.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Traction On The Year II: Work

Yesterday was a lost cause at work.

As usual I came in with the best of intentions:  work on things, be productive.  What I found by the end of the day was that I was feeling distracted and unproductive.  Fine. This has happened multiple times of course; to improve I need to understand exactly what went wrong.

1)  Goals:  Yes, I know.  I have sort of beat this into the ground.  But I still have to be honest in that I do not really have any goals for work.  I can come up with a plethora of reasons why such goals are very difficult to generate at work (which they are), but in point of fact I do not have any.   Why does this matter at all?  Because without goals for work I find myself drifting from emergency to emergency or item to item without any drive as to how things will fit into the larger picture - or in my case, how I get up or get out.

2)  Focus:  I am a social creature.  I am also someone who does not deal well with repetitive tasks or boredom.  Thus, when I have to do much of what I have to do my mind tends to wander:  I get pulled into the conversations of others or "suddenly" have to find out information about this or that.  Part of this is a diversion on my own part to keep myself from doing that which is not interesting or informative, the other is an admission that my job is not challenging me at the highest levels.  While I feel trapped by my inability to change my current position, this does nothing to enhance my efforts and ability to get out of that position.

3)  Talk:  As I mentioned above I am a social creature.  As such, I like to talk.  I enjoy speaking with others (well, at least some others).  It is very helpful to my line of work; however, I find that I have the tendency to like to talk. A lot.  About things we have already discussed.  I took a quick mental note yesterday as I left concerning the amount of time I spent talking and was amazed (not in a good way).  What I found was I have the tendency to rehash and smoulder rather than actively work at getting things done.

The underlying problem here is that none of these failings move me any closer to finding something I really want to do.  They just act as a mitigation to a situation that I do not particularly care for.  I need to realize that these are symptoms of a larger problem - and then move on to address the larger problem.

Otherwise, I will find that this year looks remarkably like the one just past.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Traction On The Year

I am trying to get some traction on the year.

Doing vacation at the end of the year this year was confusing to me.  1 day on, 2 days off, 2 days on, 2 days off, 2 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 2 days off.  And suddenly the first week of the New Year has flown by.

I was lamenting to Snowflake that this whole chain of events bothered me.  There was not really a sense of being away from work or being with my family, more of a series of weird days off that weren't quite sick days (so I did not feel like I could truly "loaf about" and rest) nor were the truly vacation days (so I did not feel the urge to do something "fun").  The change from old to New Year was especially troublesome as well:  I left work with one set of problems, had a day off, and suddenly it is a New Year and I have the same set of problems.  There was no separation, no sense of having reached the end of something and beginning of something else.

And that, I said to Snowflake, impacted getting my goals out the door.  Because I am almost obsessive about the concepts of endings and beginnings.

I remember in college when I would go away and it would get to be time to move back, I would have a careful ritual where by I would slowly begin the process of packing things up to get ready to go.  My things would go into a smaller and smaller pile and become more and more organized until by the end I had my bed, a change of clothes, and maybe one or two things on the desk for use.  Even in living here before everyone else arrived I found that I reverted to that same behavior:  as the time came to move to the house, the items got more and more compact until there were none.

I like endings.  I like beginnings.  I like the the sense of timing and space that they bring.  That is why I like having a New Year's Day to have new goals for.  There is a sense in which I can say "I am done with the past; here is the future."  But to do this, of course, you need to actually have an ending and a beginning, not just a day sandwiched between two significant events to make the transition.

Christmas, I believe, falls on a Thursday this year, which means that the possibility exists that I can get 12 days of vacation for the cost of 5.  I will make a serious attempt to reserve that vacation for the end of the year:  not just because I need the time off, but because I need the space and sense of ending that such time brings.

Friday, January 03, 2014

A Season to Change

Every year about this time I get the urge to look for a new position.  It has become as regular as clockwork at this point:  I work on my annual review, I look around at my job, and I say to myself "I really need to find something else".  This year has already been more challenging than others simply from the fact that I only took New Year's Day off:  thus, the things I was working on last year became the things I came in to work on this year.

It is somewhat different this year though, in the sense that I would actually like to make a change, not just talk about it.  Looking at my review, realizing that I have been almost five years at the same position with little movement and no potential for anything new or any movement is enough to make one think (once again) that there needs to be a change.  But this time I really need to make one.

But how do I go about doing this?  This is the thing that I need to wrap my arms around.  The "old" way of doing things - get a resume, search online, apply - has not worked out for me as I might have hoped.  Yes, I understand that there are extenuating circumstances and yes, I understand I am out of state for 49 states, but the results have been negligible.  

Am I barking up the wrong tree in believing that I can only do what I do in the industry I am doing it in?  Two days ago I would have said no, but I have data suggesting that this is not the case either.  People are doing it.

No, the problem seems to come down to something more basic and personal:  it is me.

I am not hungry enough for the change.  I am not willing to pay the price necessary to bring it about.  I say I want change but I hardly put in the effort to make it happen.  The result?  Every year about this time, I go through the same thought process. 

How can I change this to move it from the intellectual and theoretical to the actual?  This is the part that constantly eludes me.  I need to find the motivation from somewhere other than the usual places to make it happen - and then take the steps to accomplish it.

Because if I am truly honest, everyone around me really is moving on and doing something with their lives.  It is time for me to do likewise.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

God as Goal

I was challenged last night by the fact that in my proposed 2014 goals, I seem to have left God out.

This bothered me when I sat down and thought about it for a bit.  Here I am, someone who is proclaiming that I am a Christian and that God is central to my life - yet my goals concerning Him are always mushy and ill-defined at best.  That struck me as odd, because the rest of the goals in my life for any given year are much more solid and well defined - and, if I were honest, looked forward to with more anticipation.

It is a repeat offense for the problem that I have had in my daily life, trying to fit everything in and then trying to place God in the cracks and crevices on the side in other words where He fits, not where He should fit.  I like to pretend that I am doing otherwise, but the ugly truth is not that God is first but that He is more often the thing that I have good intentions about but seldom move forward with.

This needs to change - not only for myself and for the example that I need to provide to my family but to a world where increasingly Christianity is known more by the stereotypes and bad information than by the actual example of knowing a Christian.

How to implement this?  I realized as I sat last night that I start by making God one of many goals.  What would happen if I reversed this process, if I started from making God the first goal and then worked my way backward from there.  What might this look like?  How do I fit God in
 - in private worship?
 - in public worship?
 - in daily prayer?
 - in service at my church?
 - in service to my community?

In answering the questions and then implementing them, I would begin to make God first in my life.

And the other things?  This is the difficult part for me.  It would become the process I had previously practiced with God:  putting things into the cracks.  Looking at the things that were previously on the list and admitting that some of them were not going to be accomplished - and being okay with that.

The entire process is a reverse to my typical way of thinking about goals and something that I am struggling my way through.  But in considering it I am left with a question, a question that has been at the back of my mind for four years (since we moved):  am I growing in my faith or failing in it?   And if I am failing in it, what practical steps am I willing to take to reverse that situation?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

An Open Letter to 2014

Dear 2014:

Well, I see you have come.  Welcome.  We have managed to arrange some sun and blue skies for your arrival today, which I hope make the day go a little better for you.

Let us start with the point that you are an anticipated arrival.  People throughout the world - even here - have been looking forward to your arrival.  Some have been looking for weeks, some perhaps for months - while others just realized that Christmas went by and something else was following close on.

Why?  For some it is that this year has been a year the likes of which they are simply ready for it to be over.  For others, they are ready for you not so much because last year was bad but because they want to make a new start.  And for a third group last year was a great year for which they want to do even better.

You are a rarity for the human experience:  you arrive as a harbinger of hope.  You are both a known and unknown entity:  known because we know precisely how long you are, unknown because what you bring in that period is shrouded in mystery.  We tend to associate the new and unknown with better, even though we we instinctively know better that such is not always the case.

For myself, I have been deeply looking forward to your arrival - not just because the sense of hope you bring but because I have much to do with you this year.  Every year I get a little bit better at figuring out what I need to pack inside of you, of what I want to see at the end of you.    You offer the ability to live another year, to achieve more, to make more of an impact.

Welcome to you.  I think we are going to have a productive and good time together.

Sincerely,

Toirdhealbheach Beucail