Change

“I haven’t got the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.”

David Sedaris, one of America’s pre-eminent humor writers

Yesterday America underwent a change in administrations. The day was calmer and smoother than I expected, though about as I hoped. I scheduled an important phone call for the afternoon that in the act of scheduling I was thinking, “there is a better than 25% chance I will want to reschedule this or need to do some serious meditation to get my head right prior.”

But the change of administration happened in a traditional ceremony. People seemed happy; a leader spoke about a brighter future and acknowledged that the task list to get there will be a monumental lift. I also felt President Biden did a reasonable job of attempting to reach out to all Americans.

However, we cannot forget what the past four years have taught us. There is a large percentage of Americans who are disenfranchised with the attempts of our government to do their job. And who can fault these tired Americans when what is frequently seen is a machine that is:

  • Fueled by money first, will of people second
  • Lies are tolerated, sometimes rewarded
  • Bickering between parties is the norm, bipartisanship the exception
  • One branch of government literally can’t do a primary part of their job by passing a budget, let alone balance it (reference this article)

So, who am I talking about in the quote that opened this post? It must be to all of us. We need to learn how to talk to someone with opposing views. Or start by simply listening. We need to not accept leadership who lies and fails at their job. We need to demand a higher standard from our government, and ourselves. And it would be nice if our elected leaders could lead by example.

And we need to have hope. Hope is what allows us to believe a more perfect world is possible. Hope moves us out of fear of the unknown. Hope gives us the courage to make the changes needed to build a better future.

We, the people are capable of change if we open ourselves up.

Favorite Reads of 2020

Reading has long been a part of my life. I typically go through over 50 books in a year between fiction and non. I decided to take some time today to reflect on a few of my 2020 favorites as I am already into my 2021 queue. Maybe someone will find a new book to pick up for themselves.

Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What Is Sacred – Mark Nepo

If I would have read the jacket before picking this book up, I would have been less surprised at the course it took, but I also might have gotten less out of it.  The book was a reflective piece for the author, and at the same time takes the reader on a journey of reflection through meditation, journal prompts, and questions for the dinner table.

The God’s Eye View – Barry Eisler

I came across one of Barry Eisler’s books through a Kindle first read, and read practically everything he had written in 2019. This was a standalone book that I enjoyed and finished this year. If you like espionage thrillers, I would check out his John Rain series as well as this book.

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living AND How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

The principles still apply after almost a century. There is a reason these have stood the test of time. I mentioned both these in previous posts here and here.

No Surrender: A Father, a Son, and an Extraordinary Act of Heroism That Continues to Live on Today – Christopher Edmonds

This book was given to me by my uncle and discusses one man’s journey to learn more about his father, a WWII veteran. The stories he collects along the way and the people he meets are moving and fascinating. It banished any question as to why Americans called them “The Greatest Generation.”

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels – Jon Meachum

The author walks you through times of great turmoil in the history of America. It was a good reminder during these insane times that we have gone through of periods of extreme division and controversy previously. And that we have the capability to get through this one as well and come out a stronger nation.

Have a Little Faith: a True Story – Mitch Albom

I am not religious, so when my parents gave me this book, I was skeptical. However, my girlfriend got excited having read the author’s previous work, Tuesdays with Morrie, grabbed it, and finished it before I could start. With that endorsement, I picked it up next, and once I started reading, I could not put it down either. The stories shared by the author are beautiful examples of humanity that pull at the heart.

The 4-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss

This seemed to be an appropriate book to start 2020 given that I had just launched myself on a sabbatical. Almost a year later, the book still plays through my mind. And once I find a venture of my own, I will dive right back into this book for the roadmap to help me create the life I want.

The complete Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

I have read them all previously but decided another good way to start a sabbatical was to re-read them all. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres and these are some of the best. If you have been putting off reading these books for whatever reason. Stop and give them a try.

Finding your One Thing

I previously read the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I know that I got some takeaways out of it; however, since I cannot recall them, it seems likely they did not stick. But I have started listening to his new podcast which has reminded me of the premise.

I then compare his principles to my own life which is all over the place. This should not be a surprise if you have read several my posts: my interests are wide, and my curiosity constantly adds to the list. I sometimes question if it is a genuine interest in all these things that keeps me going, or a lack of ability to commit to any one item.

Which brings me back to my current book, The One Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. I am enjoying this book just as I recall enjoying Mr. McKeown’s. The book has examples of famously successful people who block out time every day for their one thing: Stephen King, Ernest Hemmingway, and Jerry Seinfeld all come to my mind for writing, writing, and writing jokes. To add one of my own, Michael Jordan.

(For those of you that have not watched the documentary The Last Dance, do it. You will see Michael’s single-minded focus to basketball that he transitioned it to baseball, and then flipped it back to basketball. I would go on to say he approached most of his life with that focus.)

I am trying to put the principles of The One Thing into practice. However, it is challenging given that I have not found that one thing. My long-term goals have allowed me to drill down to the ONE Thing for now, but the connection is too tenuous to feel the power of the principles discussed.

I suppose if these concepts were easy, everyone would be doing it. If anyone reading this happens to have found their ONE Thing. I am envious, yet I congratulate you. Hopefully, I will join you in the next few months.

Reflecting on January 6th, 2021

I follow US politics closely, so I feel an obligation to try and capture a few of my thoughts and feelings about the events of last Wednesday.

I watched the coverage on both CNN and Fox. The contrast in reporting shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone.

  • One station had audio of the protest/riot/insurrection playing in the background and video of the Capitol windows being broken playing every few minutes. President Trump’s speech and subsequent tweets were being flashed on the banner.
  • The other station’s primary video sans audio was wide angle of the protest in front of the Capitol, or with reporters amongst the protestors moving out in the streets. The banner mentioned his recorded tweet asking people to “go home now.” A video of the Capitol being broken into was shown after watching for 20 or so minutes.

A protest where the sitting US President, his son, and his attorney spoke at: turned violent, destroyed federal property, and resulted in death. That same US President was initially pleased.

As I wrote that, a sense of horror settled over me. But not surprise.

I realized the next day that I wasn’t shocked by the events. The US Capitol being stormed for the first time since the War of 1812 was horrendous, but it was not unimaginable given the track the US has been on for the last six months. President Trump was never going to go quietly into the night.

Now I tap into that boundless American attribute, hope. Hope that we can find unity as individuals, neighbors, and Americans. Hope that our Republican leaders got a wake-up call and take some action out of these events. Hope that our Democratic leaders don’t run off and act without engaging Republicans AND getting their support as that will only widen the divide.

I hope to see something amazing in the next 100 days because it will take a shift from conservative countrywomen and countrymen and patience from their liberal counterparts to find a way to bring us back. Barring an indictment in NY, I believe the best way to prevent a Trump 2024 ticket is to stop it in the primaries, and that starts now.

Review: Dune

Dune (Dune, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had heard of Dune for years, but never put it on my “to read” list. It finally got added thanks to Tim Ferriss’s 5 bullet Fridays and I owe him a thanks.

The combination of sci-fi, conplex politics, a desert world, and a “messiah” type was spectacularly done. Part of me wants to say that the messiah is an overdone theme, but I don’t think it detracted. Rather I think Paul’s transition from a hero to something else…potentially an anti-hero or even a despot kept me engaged.

I think the uncertain future even Paul sees plays a large role in my own enjoyment. There is so much potential for the remaining series, and I am curious if it lives up to my hopes.

View all my reviews

Resolutions

I have never put much stock into making resolutions. I usually think of some desire that falls into the typical categories: health, money, or embracing a hobby (new or old), and say “yeah, maybe that.” Unsurprisingly, these resolutions rarely come to pass.

My lack of effort on a new year’s resolution is paradoxical with my own emphasis on goal setting. For example, I set weekly goals as part of my journal, and I frequently review my ten personal and ten professional goals that are long term. I put focus on all of these.

This year, I have set aside some time this week to do Tim Ferriss’s “Year in Review” for 2020. If anything, substantial comes of that, I might share it here. But for those of you interested in setting traditional resolutions, I will offer some advice.

First, make sure your resolutions are written SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, & Time-bound). I am going to assume that many of these are for the whole year, so the next step will be to break those down into leading actions you can take in smaller time blocks.

Let us take a typical goal: lose 20 lbs. in 2021. Great, it is specific (20), measurable (get a starting weight), attainable (assuming this does not put you below a healthy weight), relevant (assuming you want the result), and time-bound (this year). Now the sub-goals for leading actions.

These can be for a smaller time, maybe one month, and they must be LEADING activities that can be actively measured every day or week. Stepping on a scale is a lag measurement of effort already put forth, so it is better to focus on leading activities. For example, target an exercise, step count, or other activity-based measurement and another, consumption-based goal such as calories, eliminating sweets, minimizing eating out, etc.

There you go. Make the main goal SMART, and give it a couple smaller, leading goals that are also SMART. Celebrate achieving those leading goals to keep the momentum going and see the results at Year End! Happy New Year all!

Grateful

2020 has been challenging for most of humanity in many ways thanks to the global pandemic. It has not gone the way that I wanted it to, but at the end of the day, I like to think that I have more things to be grateful for than not. And I try to find the positives in the few true tragedies in my life. A partial list for myself follows.

I am grateful for…

• a lack of regret from quitting my job and going on sabbatical
• being in great health
• spending 3 months skiing in Park City along with forays to CO and CA
• the amount of time I got to spend with my family
• being able to help my parents with planting, harvest, and cleanup from the derecho that hit their farm in august
• completing a move to Chicago in the middle of a pandemic
• a high probability that there will be #46 in January
• being COVID free (so far)
• the 93 wonderful years that my Grandma spent on this earth and the moments I spent with her, even if she was one of the victims of COVID

2020 wasn’t perfect, but that list is cause for celebration. Expressing gratitude is something we should all do as the year ends if for no other reason than we could all use the dopamine dump. Happy New Year to all!

Chess

I have always been terrible at chess. For whatever reason, I have a block against planning out moves and anticipating my opponent’s responses which is needed to achieve success in this grand strategic game. Therefore, I have made it a goal to improve my game.

I mostly do puzzles within the Chess app that are frequently centered on the endgame. If nothing else, these help me to plan a few moves ahead and visualize how the game might progress. After almost a year of messing around within the app, I am better, but not as advanced as I would like.

I wonder what my block is against anticipating the next five or more moves. I imagine that a lack of patience is part of the issue. I am a typical member of modern society that wants immediate feedback, and within the app I can get that by trying a move. This leads me to trying a good move, without planning out the next five moves to see if it is the best.

I continue with this app as I think it helps in developing strategy and patience. I already view strategic thinking as one of my strengths, but there is always room to grow. And putting effort into a strength typically yields higher dividends then the same effort into a weakness.

Worry & Stress

I recently finished reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to Stop Worrying & Start Living” the recommended way, each chapter twice before the next. I do believe that helped various principles sink in more than others, but I still found myself going into the “golden book” to right this review.

First, it is fascinating to me that worry and stress were known to be such significant causes of physical health issues over a hundred years ago, and stress and worry induced ailments are still so prevalent today. I believe all of us should be educated on this concern and how to control worry and stress as we enter adulthood. Maybe that did not happen as we now have better drugs to help people cope? (That might be my own cynicism on the prevalence of a pharmaceutical solution in America.)

So many of the principles can help one with worry. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Live in “day-tight compartments”
  • The steps for facing trouble – What is the worst? Accept that worst. Try to improve on that worst.
  • Don’t fuss about trifles
  • Don’t worry about the past
  • Never try to get even with your enemies (or don’t even have any enemies)
  • Try to profit from your losses
  • Create happiness for others
  • Put enthusiasm into your work

And a few of my own, exercise and get lost in a good fiction book. There were references to those in the text, but they weren’t the express principles outlined. If you have never read the book, pick up a copy. It still applies 75+ years after written.

Coding: A necessary modern skill?

I decided I should start learning to code again towards the end of part one of my sabbatical, skiing in Park City. I had dabbled into coding in high school, which was enough to pique my interest to the point where my initial major at Iowa State University was Computer Engineering.

I had some programming as a part of an introductory course in my first semester which I enjoyed well enough. Then I had my first com sci programming class in semester two which did not go well; I found nothing engaging about learning to code in a lecture hall in the morning and left computer engineering.

My next time coding was using VBA to manage the backend of our Access based programs that ran the production schedule at work. The combination of practical application, having to learn the language on the fly based on what previous people did (with no comments), and making slight tweaks to improve and add performance refreshed my interest. However, I did not do anything further for years.

Fast forward to a sabbatical and an uncertain future career. I figured, why not pick-up coding again and see what happens? After some research, I chose the app Mimo. The free version was enough for me to decide to invest in a one-year membership to the pro version. I expect I will have consumed their entire content by the time that one-year is up.

I have learned the basics of HTML, JS, & CSS and am about to dive into Python. Mimo has proven effective in learning the basics, but one must step outside the planned courses to find your own personal application. And that is where I am today: working on building a website from scratch.

Will any new career opportunities come to me from this dabble into coding? I have not decided yet, which means it is still possible. If nothing else, I have learned a new skill that will continue to have potential applications for years to come.

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