Posts Tagged ‘success’

Right Way

2 October 2011


Dear J-

One of those things that they should really mention when traveling is that you need to be flexible as possible. There’s more than one solution to a given problem and being willing to compromise in one place may give you an edge in asking for other things. Tonight we went from Sacramento to Folsom and managed to get lost in the process (new mental note: staying on 80 takes you towards Reno and Roseville, not Folsom, despite whatever Google Maps may try to tell you). We said goodbye to the noisy chaos of two four year olds (two strong-willed four year olds who got along fine except at bedtime) and into the huge expanse of my aunt’s house (I’m hesitant to call it a compound, but it seems just short, despite the two driveways and garages).

The whole time my aunt was at church I felt as though we’d intruded on a life separate from our own, helped inside as they vacuumed frantically in order to let us not wear shoes inside the house, large spaces still managing to feel unfinished despite comfy furniture everywhere. At dinner she described their living situation in Tsingtao: one room for everything, maybe a hundred square feet total. Bed took up roughly half the space, then four small stools and a sewing machine and sink/stove filling the rest. She would sleep in a home-made attic and her brother (my uncle) would head out to a friend’s house to crash so that they all had room. I understand the luxury of being able to devote one small wing to our family — this is nicer than what we had at home and the first night I’m not sleeping on an air mattress, I definitely do appreciate it.

And yet after one hour of walking around outside in the hills above Folsom filled with these jarring custom homes so ready to announce their owners’ arrivals I was ready to cut and run, make use of that flexibility and try to creep out of here while spending the least amount of time possible here. I get it. The schools are great, the land is reasonable, and the weather — this mild fall — makes me remember the times I loved best in Sacramento. This is indeed the good life as measured by any reasonable yardstick and I’m glad that they’ve reached that but it feels so alien at the same time that I can’t help but recoil a bit in fear. This is probably the point where the swing comes back around and I realize in ten years what I should have tonight, but it all feels so odd already.



Three Thoughts

18 January 2011

Dear J-

One of the things I’m trying to implement is the mandatory cooliing-off period for planned purchases. You see something and think it’ll be not only a great deal but useful besides and you force yourself to wait at least overnight before deciding. This doesn’t work too well for places like Craigslist and eBay, where by the time you make up your mind that item may have disappeared but here’s the secret: it doesn’t matter. That particular widget will come back up for sale, and you’ll have proven to yourself that you actually need it as well (or not, as the case may be). I’ve managed to save myself from upscaling DVD players, voice recorders, and more cameras so far this year, which gives you a sense of how deep the sickness runs.

The librarian must be an F.Paul Wilson fan, as the Repairman Jack series keeps making a regular appearance on the local shelves. Having read most of them now with a few gaps here and there that could be filled in via interlibrary loan if I could only remember to set that up, I’m reminded of the X-Files, but on a level I might understand this time. If you remember that show there was the individual plot of the current episode — some strange phenomenon to explore — and an overarching grand Conspiracy with characters such as Cigarette Smoking Man and the Lone Gunmen. I didn’t care for the episodes focused on the Conspiracy, and that’s where the Jack series has gone — he’s become integrated into Wilson’s Secret History of the World which spans much of his works, and the individual novels are suffering for it.

I find myself sore in places I wasn’t yesterday, thanks to the bike, and I know it’s going to take maybe a week to get used to that again, so in the meantime I’m going to have to start leaving earlier to keep from being late. The triumph of the vanpool is also a social one: you don’t want to be the one keeping everyone in one place. Yesterday the refreshment of the ride wore off into the exhaustion of the evening and soon thereafter the crabbiness of the night. figgy and theVet were both getting chippy and Caclifer lent his voice to the fray several times and rather than stay detached I wandered in and threw verbal rocks around randomly, culminating in inexplicable anger at the crying two month old. He doesn’t know better — I do — and considering where we are now versus a year ago I know how lucky we are and yet I keep taking it all for granted. Let the past go and raindrops stay drops without building into a flood.


Day 04: Pole Vault

25 March 2010

Dear J-

Today we all had the opportunity to jump off a log (okay, a utility pole); I was almost more interested in all the safety gear that we got to fit up with, but suffice to say that the challenge demanded, like all our challenges lately, laser-like focus and attention. Between the numerous commands and checks (we are sending people off a utility pole, after all) I didn’t even notice how cold it had gotten until we stopped and went over to the next station (a preview for tomorrow, which I will informally dub “The Intimidator”) to listen to the basic rules. It’s funny; the more we progress through these challenges the more I catch myself thinking I can instead of I can’t.

As this week has passed by the more I appreciate the opportunity to find out more about myself — the way I respond to pressure and challenges and therefore the way the world sees me. First know thyself; isn’t that right? I think I surprised myself most of all when I volunteered to go first up the pole today; if I hadn’t, I’m not sure that I would have had the courage to go up later. Actually, no; scratch that — I would have still done it, but perhaps not for the right reasons that bubbled up inside me and pushed my hand up.

One of the J-s in my life once told me that when he came to the States, he was determined to make a change: new school, new country, new faces, no intimidation. Back at his old school, he said, he was pretty shy and retiring, so he forced himself to be completely the opposite: it wasn’t comfortable or easy, but he’s made himself into the hilarious, crass person he is today — and a great friend to know, by the way — and we’re all better for it. One of the equations that’s popped up in the past few days is that because resistance to change is always greater than zero, you have to overcome that resistance with the product of three factors: dissatisfaction (with the status quo), vision (a compelling vision is much easier to follow), and first steps (you won’t get anywhere by standing still). Make that your lesson for the day: what have you done lately that you’re not happy with?


Day 03: Mistakes Happen

24 March 2010

Dear J-

We spent much of the day failing at our assigned tasks and consequently learning quite a bit; there’s nothing like a little mistake to make you re-examine why you’re doing something, and why besides. After all, most of what you learn from success is how it feels, not necessarily what you did right to get there. First, though, a word on what we did: the first part was passing our team through a web obstacle; the second, we went around a playground balance course with tightwires and balance beams. More time outside, and therefore more fun, right?

Inside class we ran a blind maze — the instructors laid out a grid and controlled our movements by buzzing us out when we stepped on the incorrect square (they had secret maps laid out to show safe paths). Therefore it was an exercise in trial and error; if anyone says that they never learned from their mistakes, either they’re perfect or a liar. I will say that the key mistake we made was in communication; the surprising result that made the maze simple could have been uncovered by keeping everyone informed.

Outside class we ran the activites above — passing the team through the web was simple so long as you kept your wits about you and tried not to spoil the soup with too many cooks. But it was the playground maze that taught us the deepest lesson today; it’s okay to fail. Ultimately, we didn’t fail the assigned task, but we did have to reset early on, which caused us to refocus our energy as a team, rather than a collection of individuals wending their way through an agility course; suddenly it was less about getting through and more about getting them through. It’s a subtle lesson, but one worth making explicit: success depends on the entire group’s focus.


Double Flight

21 March 2009

Dear J-

When we were little my brother and I used to put together LEGO planes — pretty simple affairs, really, a 2×12 beam serving as the body, the one propeller we had to spare on the front of the lucky party’s plane, tail stabilizer consisting of a 2×4 plate on the back with a 2×2 plate jammed in sideways, and, depending on the historical re-enactment we were going for that day, anywhere from one to three wings (2×8 plates forming the left and right wings, 1×1 blocks as needed to support).  Our triplanes were especially fragile and, in the absence of glue and structural design calculations, ended up making some kind of spectacular mess underfoot (LEGO pieces are surprisingly sharp).


I always thought it remarkable (at the time, aggravating to no end) that he always had an answer for the things I thought were upgrades.  I’d pull out a 2×14 beam for the fuselage, but that made me a bigger target.  I’d strap on jet engines, but then my wings would burn off.  I’d add a fourth wing, but then I became top-heavy and unstable, crashing even faster.  Somewhere between first and fourth grade, I reasoned, they taught you all these aeronautical design criteria, and the wisdom to deploy it as needed.

I still have every confidence in him, my quick-witted brother.  It’s impossible for me to see him without some measure of awe, for all he’s done, for all he’ll do.  It’s not just understanding that low-level monks need a steady stream of giant ants to be open-hand slapped (he may have put me up to picking that character class, but he didn’t have to keep that monk alive), or standing up to university computer lab administrators (demonstrating the easy touch used to move the avatar in Ultima IV); it’s the synthesis of experience and knowledge that’ll keep him successful in all he puts his mind to.


Define Success

26 October 2008

Dear J-

There are those people who are refreshed and recharged by their vacation times, ready to tackle all sorts of obstacles and challenges at work.  Then there’s me, hoping that the days off didn’t hurt my memory of the password I use to log in.  The days are now conspiring against me, too; it’s dark so early now that I’m having to use lights for the ride to and from the vanpool.  Time moves at a blur, speeding up, asking me to carve a pumpkin before Friday’s Halloween.

As I get older, I get more set in my ways.  Things must be just so.  Routines, paramount; this past week and a half has been a lesson in rolling with new things, agreeing and deciding on the fly.  More than idle fears about being locked out of the system, it’s losing that freedom and going back to a daily schedule — production, numbers, bring this down, bring that up, let’s see some paper fly — that bothers me the most.  I’ve had a taste.  It’s exhausting, but I think I can make it work.

I finished the Chronicles of Prydain series (Lloyd Alexander) a couple of weeks ago, and the book that won the Newbery, The High King, strikes me as one of those retroactive Oscar votes — Scorsese winning for The Departed instead of Goodfellas, for instance — as the preceding Taran Wanderer is by far the strongest of the lot.  Suffice it to say that losing your goal isn’t the end of the story; choosing to re-aim doesn’t mean that all is lost.  Success is a relative term, and you choose its definition, no one else does.