2012: Eurisk

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Photo credit: John A. Ryan (flickr: insightimaging)

As I’ve said before, I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.

If you’re going to reform your life, don’t wait until Jan 1 to do it.  People do, and they wonder why they fail year after year.

But in the spirit of looking forward on the next 12 months, I want to share my theme for 2012.

While not quite a goal, it’s a philosophy I want to adopt that encompasses a lot of the work I do on my goals this year.  I tried to find a single word to encapsulate the idea, but as one doesn’t exist, I had to make it up: eurisk.

Allow me to explain.

I got the idea from the word stress.

When people talk about stress, they’re usually talking about a bad thing– the stress of an upcoming violin recital, the stress of parents divorcing.  Psychologists, clever folks that they are, realized this one word stress actually meant two pretty separate things:

  1. Stress that causes us achieve things or perform well, called eustress (or “good stress”)
  2. Stress that doesn’t cause any good things, called distress (or “bad stress”)

When you think about your performance tomorrow and your palms start sweating and you want to throw up, that’s your body diverting what resources it can in the effort to make sure you don’t miss a beat.  And guess what– you’ll practice really hard and then at the concert, you’ll rip out a beautiful Bach partita with ear-melting arpeggios Read More

[How-to] On Learning to Unicycle

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Photo credit: Stefano Corso (flickr: pensiero)

This is an essay on learning how to unicycle.  It’s more philosophy than how-to guide, so be forewarned/get excited.

(i) A Thousand Falls

The simplest advice I can give to learn how to ride a unicycle is this: fall off a unicycle a thousand times.

Of course, there’s a bit more technique to it, but this is the gist.  Fall off, get on, try again.  Repeat ten-hundred times.

I, like most people I know, learned how to ride a bike at a very young age.  And although I don’t remember the specifics, I’d imagine I fell off hundreds of times before I got it quite right.  That’s quite a few skinned knees.  Yet I have zero recollection of it.

But that’s the nature of kids, isn’t it?  They dive in with confidence and just keep trying.  Setbacks fade fast.

I think we forget that as we grow older.  No longer do we forget failure with such alacrity.  We’re a little less bold in how we approach our endeavors.  But I accidentally found a blast from that past, and it has one wheel and a seat.  Never since childhood have I failed so frequently at something and kept going.

And never has it felt so great to finally learn!  Finally being able to balance is great, but even the process leading up to it is exciting.  Your progress isn’t linear, so the entire process is you improving slowly, but also in leaps in bounds.  You’ll spend a few hours of unicycling time going just inches before bailing.  Then you’ll upgrade to feet.  Later, you’ll clear ten feet.  And a few days after that, a hundred.  And then you’ve got it.  At some point, you just stop falling off.  Crap, it feels wonderful.

(ii) Blue-Collar Failures

One thing that stuck out to me about falling off a unicycle was that it was a pretty objective measure of failure.

And we don’t have that a lot.  Or at least, I don’t.

In a lot of projects I work on, motivated waxes and wanes; excitement fades away, and perfectly good ideas are never brought to glorious execution.  It’s easy to rationalize these abandoned dreams.  Failure becomes less tangible.  It looks less like defeat and more like procrastination.  It’s not a knock-out blow to the head; it’s a dull sense of regret and a light flurry of rationalized excuses. Read More

Merry Christmas! Here’s my Bucket List!

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After receiving numerous requests to post my own bucket list on the blog, I’ve done just so here.  Check it out.  The number 1 item is “Shave my face with a whaling harpoon”

Are You a Student at The Finishing School?

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Photo credit: Terence Tam (flickr: ttstam)

I told the story earlier of one of the best summers of my life. It was that awesome because I (somewhat inadvertently) followed three simple steps.

  1. Make a list of your life goals
  2. Circle the ones you could start working on tomorrow
  3. Start tonight

“Starting tomorrow” is the enemy. It was the whole reason I hadn’t started in decades. Years of starting to train for a marathon tomorrow meant never starting to train for a marathon.

I didn’t want to go for a run that night, but I had to start. So instead, I e-mailed my friends who had run marathons: “What’s the shortest training program you know of for first-time marathoners?” I didn’t want to be a chronic distance runner; I wanted to check an item off of a list.

The winner was an 18-week program from an old professor of mine. I went online to look at the date of the NYC marathon, and counted back 17 weeks, 5 days to figure out when I’d have to run my first training run.

Tomorrow.

At least the universe was conspiring with me (albeit in an uncomfortably overt way). Starting is half the battle, and I won half the battle right there. I got up and ran five kilometers. Four and a half months later, I went to NYC to run forty-two kilometers. Read More

The Question That Started It All

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Photo credit: Renata Virzintaite (flickr: renatala)

Here’s a question worth asking yourself:

If you never had to work another day in your life, and money was no object, what would you do?

I heard that question senior year of college. I put the book I was reading down and glanced blankly at the ceiling. That night I gave my imagination 10 million dollars, 80 years, and made the list. Though it was phrased differently, I realized I had essentially created a list of life goals.

The first funny realization I had about my list was that despite the prompt, most things on the list didn’t require a million dollars to start doing– not even close.

  • Run the NYC marathon
  • Learn Krav Maga
  • Publish a book

To be fair, some things would have required some extra capital.

  • Go shark fishing in Africa
  • Be a researcher in Antarctica for a few months
  • Become a BASE jumper

A few months after making my list, I found myself with roughly six weeks of free time. After wasting two days refreshing facebook and reading useless blogs, I found the folded-up piece of paper with the list, circled the ones I could start doing tomorrow, and went to it.

Each week for the rest of the summer, I rock climbed twice, ran three times in training for the NYC marathon, and took four Krav Maga lessons. I read every day. My personal training in life goals accomplishment required very little money at all (the Krav gym gave me a massive discount), but I was filling my schedule with the things I would freely choose to do had I infinite resources.

That was one of the best summers of my life. It was refreshing and optimistic. I know why– it’s because I did those things which built me up, which gave me energy– the things I deemed more worth doing than anything else. The lessons I took from that summer ended up shaping the next year of my life, and giving me an idea that I believe should have existed long ago (that will be covered soon).

Twelve months later, I realize I have started taking my goals in life seriously. And I’m trying to help others do the same. To those ends, I’ve created this blog.

I don’t know exactly what I will post here, but I promise to put my best foot forward. If you want to join me, write down your list– call it your bucket list, your bohemian millionaire list, your bargain with death, I don’t care– but write it down and read on. Everything in the world will conspire to raze the dreams you don’t take seriously. But put your foot in the door. Make the list and make a brief commitment– make it right now, because it’s time to start taking your dreams very seriously.