Isolation

I am vaccinated. I got my two shots of Moderna as soon as possible. Part of the reason was for my own safety, but a larger motivation was protecting those around me. Specifically, those closest to me including my parents and some other relatives who are in a higher risk group due to their age.

I also now have antibodies against the COVID vaccine thanks to becoming one of the breakthrough COVID cases towards the end of August. My experience with COVID was very mild which I am thankful for. I also trust the science that says a significant contributor to my easy experience was thanks to being vaccinated.

With COVID comes a mandatory 10-day isolation. Isolation was an interesting time for me. I am a social creature by nature, but also need to recharge frequently which I do that best alone. Therefore, I viewed isolation as an opportunity to relax and recharge, and most importantly, a chance to get healthy and ensure I was fully recovered at the end of my period.

Taking a step back, I didn’t spend much of early COVID times alone; therefore, this was really my first quarantine/isolation. I found it to be a nice retreat. There was no pressure to get out and do anything. And it provided opportunities to play around with hobbies that I rarely find time for.

Though I was missing out on some important events my last day in isolation. I am not sure if the timing or the events played a larger role in getting stir crazy, but it happened.

My takeaway from the experience is that COVID continues to be a concern. Even though my own symptoms were mild that will not be the experience of others vaccinated or not. I passed COVID on to at least one vaccinated person, who in turn passed the virus onto a second. This occurred before I (or either of them) showed any symptom beyond a runny nose. The moment I had a second symptom, I did an at home test which came back positive and started isolating.

My other takeaway is that an annual “self-retreat” can be beneficial. Though I think I will schedule the next one and keep it less than 10 days.

Lying

I recently finished Sam Harris’s long form essay titled, “Lying” and thoroughly enjoyed it. The essay made me think about my tolerance for lying, from others and myself, and what I define as a lie. It has also provided great conversational fodder for my friends and I.

I try not to lie. I typically find it to be not worth the effort. The truth may be harder to vocalize, but it is much simpler in the long run: there is no continued tax on having to remember who you told what to and when. As they say, “the truth shall set you free.”

I also noticed that I tend to hold other people to a lower standard than myself when it comes to lying. I believe this comes from a perceived difference between my standard and the societal standard (I perceive mine as higher). The people closest to me I do expect the truth from, at least to my own standard.

One interesting idea from within the essay is defining a “white lie.” If you tell a version of the truth, but not the complete truth, is it a lie? I think many people classify this under a “white lie”, but I want to draw a distinction. By definition, a white lie must contain a lie, and if everything you say is accurate, then you have not told a white lie.

You could argue that half truths are “lies by omission”, and I see merit in that argument. However, I would argue that intent must plays a role. If your purpose in telling a partial truth is to put an end to the line of discussion and move on, then I would not call that a lie by omission. But if you are intentionally misleading your audience with a partial truth, then that would be a lie by omission.

One test could be to consider what would happen if the person you are speaking to asked you a clarification question. Would your reply continue to mislead, or would you reply with the complete truth, or even a simple, “I would rather not say.”

That last statement was another insight from the essay. Sometimes I feel pressure to take a stance on a matter and what comes out is misleading, possibly intentionally. At the very least it downplays my opinion. I would have been much better off in those scenarios stating, “I would rather not say,” or “is this really the best time to get into this topic?”

Statements such as those that are functional and accurate are underused, and I plan on using them more. My goal going forward is no white lies nor misleading statements.

Pick up a copy of “Lying” and let me know your thoughts.

Finding Nature

To say that I believe one can draw vitality from nature would be a stretch; however, I do feel as if nature can have regenerative effects on us if we let it.

I grew up in the country: wide open spaces were out my front door. Since then, I have lived in progressively larger towns/cities. One silver lining from COVID is that it forced me to get out and find nature in my immediate area.

My solace came in the form of Lake Michigan. Looking out over the water or swimming in it during the warmer months is spectacular. The lake extends beyond the limits of the eye and allows me to forget the high rises and metropolis behind me.

As I type this, I have a view of the Lake. I have been in this apartment for 2 months and it has not gotten old. I frequently find myself taking accidental mental breaks to stare over the water. Even the buildings in my view don’t really deter from the happy effect that the lake provides. (A frequent distraction is the sailboats. Who are these people sailing in the middle of a weekday?!?)

I still enjoy going back to the country; for me, there is nothing like a night sky in the middle of nowhere. And while the farm isn’t quite as magical as the center of a National Park, it is close. If I were to define my ideal place it would have water, mountains, and a pristine night sky.

The challenge right now is that I am currently into city life. But one out of three is enough when that one is Lake Michigan.

Guilt Pleasures of Leisure

I have a lot of hobbies; therefore, what I do in my free time ranges. The plethora of interests, as with most facets of life, has good and bad aspects. The positive is that I can usually find a shared interest with anyone I meet. The negative is that I also usually have certain activities that people find questionable.

Examples of my interests:

  • Reading
  • Sports viewing
  • Skiing
  • Sailing
  • Exercise
  • Biking
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Great food and drinks
  • Travel
  • Video Games

And the list goes on. However, when you dig deeper people are usually alarmed by a few things. First, the sheer number. The thought is, “do you ever commit to anything?” Additional negative reactions can and do happen:

  • “Wait, how often do you watch sports?”
  • “How many sports decorations do you need?”
  • “Oh, you read with sports on in the background, but you read _______ (comics and young adult fiction are likely targets here even if they are a small percentage of what I read).”
  • “You read how many books in a year?!? It feels like you are missing life if you read that much.”
  • “You still play video games?”
  • “Are you out every night?”

The last one was more applicable in my youth. But the rest have all been heard in the last year. And this brings me to my thoughts on the day: the guilty pleasure of leisure. I believe that most of us have them, or at least have a few that other people would look down on.

For myself, I might express alarm on how often someone watches TV shows regardless of the type or medium. I do watch some shows, but less than 2 hours per week.

A second area that usually raises my eyebrow is how much time someone spends on social media. And I include in this category documenting their life to later post on social media.

I choose to remind myself that we all have our guilty pleasure. Mine are chosen because I can lose myself in each one. This provides me with rare focus and helps calm my raging mind.

And the distraction is the key for me, as without the distraction my brain is constantly trying to solve problems whether they need addressed or not.

My hope is that we all take a more understanding look at the distractions of those around us. Even if they are a small collection of the Lego Architecture series act as display pieces.

Bad Decisions

Today one of my friends said that I am “prone to bad decisions.” This made me laugh because it has some historical accuracy. However, I pointed out to her that I prefer to think of them as “bold decisions.”

I am going to use a few quotes from Mark Twain, a favorite philosopher of mine:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

“Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.”

Individually, I enjoy both quotes. The former encourages one to chase dreams and face fears. And the latter reminds one that the only way to gain experience is to have experiences!

When one combines the two is where the magic happens. Making those bold decisions seems easier when one reminds themself that the worst outcome is that they will have learned something. Either about oneself or the world around them.

What is not said is the opposite side of the coin. The decision made against the risk leads to ruminating on what if, no experience gained, and no expansion of one’s world. If one frames their thought process like this, the higher risk decision may be to not make that leap.

I am obligated to add that this does not mean one should pursue every whim. I think this needs to be reserved for decisions with purpose. Namely, those involving people and experiences; specifically new experiences with the right people.

Dreams that focus on experiences and people are worth pursuing. Dreams that focus on the material will only lead one to wanting more. I will take a dream of my own to draw the distinction.

I want to buy a sailboat. This is a frivolous expense and one that will continue to cost me money year over year. I know this, and yet I still want one because of what it can provide.

I want to get better at sailing and do this through weekend trips around Lake Michigan. I also want to try living on a sailboat for a prolonged period; possibly averting a rent and/or mortgage in the process. This will force me to further downsize my possessions as well. And last, I want to take friends out on the boat and enjoy their company.

The experiences the boat will provide are more important to me than the thought of being a boat owner itself. That is why I believe it to be a dream worth pursuing and accept the risks along the way.

I encourage everyone to analyze their dreams to ensure they are the right ones, narrow their focus to the top one or two, and then go after them.

Chasing an Endorphin Release

I completed a 10-hour Adventure Race last weekend. Looking back, I am still not sure why I expressed interest to my friends who have been doing these for years. Whatever the reason, they offered, I committed, and we completed. It is done!

The race was 10-hours of continuous movement in the form of either jogging, running, trekking, road biking, mountain biking, or paddling. At the end of the 10-hours, myself and my two friends had each traversed close to 48 miles. And this was without completing the whole course!

However, our efforts were enough to earn 3rd in the Coed Premier Division. A standard place for them (the top 2 teams are on another level), and I called it a win for my first Adventure Race.

The question that is on my mind today is, “why did I do this?” I have never been one to get into the long endurance races. I have done some 5k’s and a Warrior Dash (maybe 2), but to go from those, which are completed in under an hour, to this…what was I thinking?

The only answer I can come up with is, “to see if I could.” There is something about extreme effort that fascinates most of humanity. Even if an individual does not complete the effort him or herself, it is probable that in their life they have revered a top athlete. And I am no different.

What is even more curious is how quickly the hardship and pain fade from memory, at least as a concern. My personal timeline was something like:

  • 1.5 hours left in the race: Miserable and rehabbing myself with my friends help to ensure I finished.
  • Post-race: Slightly euphoric that we completed. Box checked, on to the next thing (never again).
  • 2 hours later: Speculating what I would have to do differently if I were to try something like this again, or often.
  • Drive home the next day: Considering who I know in my home city who might be crazy enough to do this.
  • 2 days later: Feeling out one of my friends if he would ever be interested.

In short, it was a rapid progression from “never again” to, “maybe a 4- or 5-hour next time.”

I believe that from an evolutionary timeline, we are still relatively recently removed from the life of a hunter/gatherer (< 15,000 years). That lifestyle necessitated movement, endurance, and physical trials. Therefore, our mind appreciates physical exertion. In fact, the chemicals released from such efforts are our own reward system.

(This thinking is highly influenced by my current read, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.)

One endorphin high completed. Probably the largest hit since I hiked Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands right before the pandemic hit in March 2020. Time to find the next!

Curse of Unresolved Issues

I have recently been contemplating the things that we humans let slide. These could be things that a person does, says, or an unfinished conversation.

To a certain extent it is on each of us to accept the other for who they are. But the question I am pondering is, “at what cost?” If an issue is degrading the quality of one’s own life, then one must address it, right? Otherwise, you are accepting an inferior life.

Of course, in addressing the concern you must be ready to face the consequences. And that is probably what gives most of us pause and forces us to continue a suboptimal life.

Is it fear that holds us back? I can’t imagine what else it could be. Fear of the unknown. Fear of a potential loss. Fear of vulnerability. Or simply some combination thereof.

Of course, there is also the route of not addressing the issue (or issues) by removing that other individual from your life. That will resolve the issue without addressing it, but then you must accept the loss of that person.

This is on my mind as a failure to address issues early-on contributed to the end of my last relationship. And now I am reflecting on what I could do differently next time.

My only answer is to address the issues early since I refuse to accept the suboptimal life. If needed, I can face the fears by writing them out ahead of time. I am sure once I see them in black and white, the consequences of addressing an issue are acceptable compared to the alternative.

Back to this thing we call life!

Travel Reflections

I was fortunate enough last weekend to catch up with a good friend, his wife, and newborn along with another friend who lives in that area. What follows are a few of my musings from that time.

First off, I personally have some conversational awkwardness. While this is always true to a certain extent, it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Mainly in that my nervous loquaciousness is bursting loose after about a year of hibernation. I have noticed this in interactions with other friends around where I live, but it really came out over the weekend.

Thankfully, after a solid 24 hours of hanging out, we all calmed down some. I say “we” as this awkwardness was not contained to only myself, though it manifested slightly differently for all of us.

Another note is that there is significant travel demand pent up amongst myself and others like me who have friends and family scattered everywhere. We all want to go fun places and see new things, maybe revisit a favorite locale, but at the same time we also need to go see this person who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Accomplishing every trip that we want to do is not feasible. All we can do is prioritize in 2021 and punt the rest to 2022 and beyond. Even if all restrictions are lifted by the end of 2021, I expect the pent-up travel demand to extend into 2023 as we all play catch up.

Plus, there is nothing like telling all people, “you can’t do this” to enflame a desire to want to do exactly that. It will be interesting to see how long high travel demand lasts, or if it falls off. I know for my parents, their sense of urgency around trips they want to do has increased from COVID lockdown.

And last, humans are infinitely adaptable. It took a little time for me to get used to grabbing a mask before I left the house, but I adapted. Now I am working my way into a new norm. Namely that I grab the mask, but don’t put it on upon leaving the house as walking outdoors when fully vaccinated has been deemed acceptable.

Two of my friends and their baby, a third friend, and myself grabbed lunch. We chose to sit indoors to avoid the sun on a hot day, and that was an acceptable choice to all of us as we are vaccinated. This is something that none of us would have done back in early April. Yet here we are in mid-May enjoying each other’s company in a familiar environment.

Those moments stand out from this trip. Now I can’t wait for my next trip and see how life has changed in another month.

Escaping Puritan Roots

I remember a book I read for a college elective that discussed how the various waves of English migration to the United States helped shape the culture and norms of regions in America. Basically, when the wealthy landowners had stability in England, the working-class protestants came to America and settled in the north. And when the working-classes gained power in England, the wealthy Catholic landowners came and settled in the south.

The topic was fascinating but not particularly useful in my chosen major. However, I did gain a takeaway that continues to provide me with context on my own heritage. For example, most of my ancestors fall into the “working-class puritans” who settled in the northern states during the 1800’s. They were predominately Welsh/Irish on the paternal side and English/German on the maternal.

There are two stereotypical attributes of these ancestors that I internally rebel against today. First, the idea that hard work is one of the noblest pursuits. I don’t believe this to be true.

Hard work is certainly worthy of respect. However, I think that with some ingenuity, focus, and yes, appropriate hard work, one can set themselves up with sufficient income to not have to grind out 60+ hour weeks to make a living. Especially in the information age!

In addition, hard work alone is not enough. It needs to be focused work on the items that are most effective in accomplishing your goals, and the work must be completed as efficiently as possible. Accomplishing your goals in the minimum amount of time should be the goal. If you complete everything in under a 20-hour week, more power to you!

Again, practically I know this to be true. I have seen it proven in case studies and by testing in my own life. Yet I still struggle with stopping when I reach a defined goal: my natural inclination is to keep doing something, and I must consciously question the value of what I am doing to get myself to stop.

The second stereotypical attribute is the view of sex: namely that it is something for a husband and wife, never to be discussed, and certainly don’t mention enjoying it (else you might be mistaken for a witch). My own beliefs are not that, but there is enough of that structure engrained in me that I am not going to elaborate further here.

And that is what I mean about escaping puritanism. I know that there are healthier ways of viewing and approaching life, but it takes reflection and vigilance to escape the unconscious biases I have on these facets of life and exercise anything close to free will.

Stoicism & EQ

I have been learning about stoicism from William B. Irvine’s lessons on the mindfulness app, Waking Up. The other day I was listening to a lesson that talked about the parts of the brain and how they evolved. It dove into this because part of stoicism, and mindfulness in general, is about working through the first two parts of your brain commonly called the “lizard brain” and “mammal brain” and getting to the “human brain” which allows for rational thinking.

For those of you not familiar with these terms, the lizard brain encompasses the brainstem, cerebellum, and hypothalamus. This is our most basic functions including the fight or flight instinct.

Next up is the mammal brain which includes the limbic system and hippocampus. These parts of the brain include memories, communication, and emotions.

Finally, we have the human part, the cerebral cortex, which governs our rational thought and higher reasoning.

Because the brain evolved with humanity, the older parts are what all new inputs go through first. Which means whenever anything happens to us, we first decide to fight or flight, then we have an emotional response, and then we can think clearly.

(At this point, I find myself questioning whether I am more in awe of the brain itself, or the evolution of the brain. Regardless, sublime.)

Back to the lesson from Dr. Irvine. He discussed how our goal as humans should be to acknowledge that each part has its own role and limits. We shouldn’t make large decisions without consulting all three. Therefore, you must ensure your thought process gets past emotions and engages the rational part of the mind.

Around this point, I started thinking about my study of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), primarily through the work of Dr. Travis Bradberry. And the connections between stoicism, mindfulness, and EQ began to appear.

  • All are about managing your thoughts and emotions
  • They all acknowledge the different parts of the thought process and recognize that each has merits
  • The goal is not to only use one, but rather draw from each where appropriate
  • They all embrace reflecting on one’s actions to improve in the future

I think we all owe ourselves a higher degree of self-awareness; therefore, I would challenge anyone reading this to dig a little deeper into whichever methodology speaks to you.

And if you have tried studying one of these and failed, that is perfectly fine. I think it took me two reads of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to put anything into action, and my first attempt at a meditation habit was a failure. And who is to say whether stoicism will have a lasting impact on me?

The point is, that something will eventually click, and you will be better off for it. Good luck!

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