I live a life of compromise.
Hah. How’s that for controversial post openings? If there’s one thing that I’ve been able to remember from my 4 years studying engineering in university (the rest is, well, completely useless) is that life is just a series of tradeoffs and compromises: more efficiency, but more cost; more reliability, less speed; better performance, more time lost to practice.
In an ideal world, you’ve have you cake, eat it too, and sell the rest at a profit. Sadly, we seldom face decisions where each option is mutually exclusive. Making a decision almost always involves choosing something at the expense of something else.
So really, the question is not whether there is compromise in our lives but whether the gains we get in our daily choices are worth the compromise.
One thing that I always find a poor tradeoff is preparation time. Often in work, and sometimes in other activities I’m involved in, I find it so easy to excuse skipping time spent preparing myself for something — whether it is a presentation or a performance — so that I have the time to run after more ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ matters, then get an average result as expected. Maybe a ‘good’ one on a ‘good’ day.
Each time I do, though, I feel like I lose a small battle in the pursuit of excellence. That little vague feeling where you feel like something’s died in you, and you’ve lost a little of the shine that you used to have.
Every time I procrastinate and end up using a pre-built series of wordy, boring Powerpoint slides when I have a presentation to do (as opposed to all that I’ve learned about presentation design and delivery). Every time I play in church or a performance not having had a proper practice or preparation time. Every time I wing it when speaking in public.
In times like these, just good enough… isn’t good enough at all. Once I settle for just getting by, I suck. I find myself sucking more and more nowadays, and I’m still trying to take careful stock of what is worth giving myself to and what isn’t, because it seems like I’m losing the ability to tell. It took a friend (well, actually a few of them) to point things out about the importance of preparation that got me thinking about what I’ve started to take for granted.
Personal goal: less compromise, less suck.
It seems like I’m stuck in some zero-sum game with what I am able to do and what I’m not. Back when I was a student, I could play the piano far better than now (which wasn’t much anyway). When I consider what little remains of my ability, I wonder where the rest of it has gone to.
I’ve exchanged some of it for a job, and money to get by. Sometimes, it’s scary to wonder whether it’s all worth it in the end; you win some, you lose some.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot
I wonder, when the Great Auditor finally gets to my account… will I be in the red or the black?
It’s all too easy to be trapped in the daily cycle of to-do lists that are never finished, and the constant longing to do something ‘better’ with time. A quick scan of the bookstore shelves on time management will hit you with far too many ways squeeze more out of your 24 hours, delegate in all directions, prioritize your daily whatnots, be more efficient, slow down, speed up, blue-sky, come down to earth, comp-[it goes on]
We overestimate what we can achieve in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of doing stuff, but not doing stuff that matters. Plan by outcomes, not by activities. The question to ask is not what do I have to do this week, but what do I want to accomplish this week? This month? This year?
Very rarely we’ll be able to check off everything we want to do in a day; but if we take look at our annual/long-term plan, see if that’s really the best that can be done in a year. It’s amazing what a bit of discipline and commitment will enable us to do.
I don’t pretend to claim these ideas as my own, so read the article for more (this is just 1 of 25, remember?).
Trust me, you can afford the time for it.
Looks like Gmail has finally implemented design themes. I expected them to implement something like that eventually, but I was still surprised when I logged in today and found OMGTHECOLOURSMYEYESAREBLINDEDYAY. Most of them look good, though I wish I had a bit more control over the colours; I’m sure that we’ll get that option sooner or later (knowing Google, a button to take over the world will likely appear before you know it).
Most of the Internet (and many investors too) already sings Google’s praises while dancing around its giant shining statue, so I won’t add to the chorus. I’ll divert slightly to a small, minor, little, teeny-weeny, trivial peeve of mine.
I HATE THE INTERNET.
Okay, maybe I came on a little strong with that.
I STILL HATE THE INTERNET.
Ha, you say. I’m writing this on a blog on the Internet, bobbing around happily after Gmail — an Internet email service — announced bright colours and cutesy images as a feature (refer to Exhibit #1: Ninjas! above*) and still maintaining a mildly smelly and annoying presence on it, you say. Ah, hypocrisy – you have been well missed.
You got me, then. My peeve isn’t really with the Internet but rather with the way it’s encouraged people to simply plonk their opinions on the table whenever they see fit (… like this blog, for example. *nervous cough*). Those of you who have been on an Internet forum would be familiar with how no matter what topic, time, group or alignment, there will always, always, always be a jerk there. Or at least a few of them. Comment wars, flames and lots of verbal mud-slinging is bound to happen over sometimes awfully trivial topics. Same thing goes for Youtube, where I remember a simple thing as a video of Lincoln Brewster doing a solo during a worship session was enough to get people flaming each other over whether his skills were “used for God” or that he was showing off, and this and that.
Yes, everyone has their own opinions, but the Internet has given everyone a reason to hide behind their computer screens and anonymously shove/plant/slam/throw their point of view (which is apparently the only “right view”, mind you) into other people’s faces without so much as a thought about the other person.
So really, the point of all this is:
1) I still hate the Internet, and I’m being hypocritical about it.
2) Use bright shiny colours and cute Japanese cartoon figures in Gmail for super happy joy love world of peace.
* The only thing that could possibly surpass ninjas on Gmail is super-deformed zombies on Gmail. Bring out the cartoon brains.
The Corporation just notified me of the impending reduction of my EPF contribution from 11% to 8% come January ’09. In addition to being pleasantly surprised that they’d bother to send me the email (with the form included too!), I thought this issue would make a nice extension to my previous post on the subject of short-sightedness.
I’m inclined to avoid posting a rant about the Government — I’d like my posts to go beyond the usual collection of criticisms about suits, policies and people — so here’s my summarized reaction:
Well, of course I know why — it’s an economic stimulus package, because when people spend more, the economy gets a booster strapped to its back and switch flips on. That’s not what I’m asking about; my question is why of all times and situations the government could work so efficiently, it does so with this in particular and oh-so-quickly.
The sharp ones among you will already point out that money’s involved. Of course, how silly of me to forget the three things that will make things happen in Malaysia: money, people dying tragically, and phonecam videos on the Internet (VK Lingam: “It could have been me, maybe it was me, let’s find out after the commercials!”).
I feel that it’s overall just shortsighted. Long-term, yes — people spending more, higher consumer confidence (isn’t that a nice deceptive phrase?) and money changing hands benefits our economy. We Asians, however, are 100% tried-and-true, proven, signed, sealed and delivered, short-sighted people. We see money, we spend. We go for a variety of foreign investments* in exotic places like Europe (Gucci, Vincci, Prada), East Asia (Sony, Nintendo, Samsung) and America (Apple, Starbucks) often without thought about our personal financial situation.
3% isn’t a lot. At least for the lower-income contributors. The thing is, not everyone has had the priviledge of being taught about good money management, or even a simple thing like how your EPF really works to your advantage when you’re old and grey (at 55… heh. A retirement age post for another day). You free up a couple of ringgit now and they will spend. But how many of those people really know how the bit here and the bit there will end up compounding to the time when they actually need that money? The children automatically taking care of their parents are no longer here.
One thing notable about the way that I find myself or the people around me doing things is how we usually end up being at either extreme of the scale of short- or long-sightedness. I don’t mean the physical vision aspect, but one where we are able to look at both the short and long term with equal, or at least acceptable, consideration.
Some people would be the “pioneering visionary” type, where they have idea after idea coming but either don’t care or are simply uninformed about the execution of their plans and the people who have to work drive the ideas. The others — and these are usually the majority — are those whose actions are for the short-term, reactionary and sometimes urgent; these people often working without any inkling of the big picture or, sadly, a couldn’t-care-less attitude about how their work fits into the big picture.
You might, on occasion, hear of people talking about tactics (short-term, present) and strategy (long-term, future) and how they might apply to, say, business and marketing. Sure, it’s also covered a lot in organizational behaviour and other topics you might cover in business school.
The interesting thing is how people end up looking to you if you consider their actions, thoughts and plans with this in mind. For example:
1. Evaluate yourself — are you the kind who thinks for the moment, finding people who talk about long-term and “big picture” annoying? Or are you one of the dreamers/visionaries and find people who bring up details nitpickers and obstacles to your ideas? I hardly think that many can deftly switch between the two at will, but hey — I’m no psychologist.
2. Pick a person, and pick a focus area — easiest example: finances. Is the person a live-for-the-moment sort, or are they always putting purchases (or non-purchases) into perspective?
3. Now, does this person behave completely the opposite in another area?
4. How do you feel about their behaviour when compared to your method of thinking?
I think there are some people who are fully capable of being at both extremes in different situations, but finding someone who is a good balance of both within the same topic or area is a rare find.
Overheard from the cubicle opposite me:
“Hope is not a strategy; when it comes to hardware, prayer is also not a strategy.”
Makes good business sense, but then again… religion never made any business sense (and any religious stuff that did make business sense… never really was religion in the first place).
More interestingly, if you’ve ever had to install Windows on your PC before you have a small glimpse of what it’s like having to wrestle inanimate piece of hardware to get stuff installed and running. There’s this particular demo server that we have that we’d almost swear was possessed. You’d set it up perfectly fine, and the next day when you need it to boot up it won’t work. Try a couple of times and nothing changes, but walk away for lunch and *ding*, it works fine after that. It’s as if it has a mind of its own.
So really, if technology stuff in our lives could think and had wills of their own, would that be a good or bad thing? That question will remain unsolved until we develop the first sentient computer.
In the meantime, I’m just happy I don’t have to justify to my laptop why I spend awful amounts of time on Youtube.
I believe that as a whole, life isn’t permanently changed by the One Time Where Something Happened And I Was Never The Same Again moment. To me, it’s the total effect of daily, small choices. Little ideas that you pick up on, small decisions that you make, tiny “aha!” moments that somehow prod you towards a certain direction. It’s like you’re at the wheel, and you get to where you’re going by making minute adjustments — not a single big 180.
Sure, if you’re spending your days waking up in a pool of your vomit as you pee the rest of the alcohol out of your bloodstream and through your pants, you definitely need a 180. For the other 99.99% of the time though, the 180 isn’t going to come. There won’t be a totally awesome moment where you find yourself broken down, on the floor weeping and swearing to change Whatever so that you’ll be a Better Person overall. Even if it does happen, but the change doesn’t happen there — only the decision to change; the real stuff happens only through small, minor decisions made over time.
Small corrections, little adjustments. But with consistency.
The times when I find myself seeking That Big Moment, I never change; I never develop. It’s like I’m in a state of limbo, waiting for that spark to ignite Something in me to cause Something to happen. It never does.
The times when I realize that every change ripples down over time, it puts a different radio station on in my head. When I realize that I’ve learned Something, no matter how small, and just working it in to my M.O. is all that I need — without worry about how big an effect it will have on my development.
Those are the awesome moments — finding an idea that just changes a mental preset that I’ve always had, or an inspiration for an idea that’s just small enough to do. Who knows what will change in the future?
I read another great idea today: How To Be Creative. Someone ordinary with an extraordinary idea, summarizing his life’s learning (so far) into 26 lessons. It seems like just another article, with another generic application. But I’ve learned not to underestimate the power of a single thought that breaks a mindset.
From the article: #7. Keep your day job. It’s just a simple statement (you can read the article’s explanation on your own), but one that has really taken on my problem with balancing what I have to do with what I want to do. In short: there will always be a divide; accept it.
I won’t write about what I’ve learned from it, simply because we all learn and apply different things from what comes before us. The lesson for me is not whether this is a “life-changing” event or even its eventual significance, but what I’m able to apply personally, and what I’m able to change now, no matter how small it is.
And one day when I look back, it will be “OMG my life was TOTALLY changed by this one event, but it was actually over years, time, pain and actually made up of small ideas that all came together.” No big testimony, no flashy story – just time.
Richard Branson put it aptly as the title of his book: “Screw it, let’s do it.”
Let’s think about the effects later.
Since last year I’ve been having pain in my right wrist, quite obviously from computer use. I’ve tried to reduce it by shifting a lot of my dominant hand activity (eating, using the mouse, picking up stuff, etc) to my left hand but it hasn’t really helped much. Of course, it does mean that my efforts to train ambidexterity a long time ago paid off, but the whole OWPAIN or muscle soreness really had me worried.
Anyway, The Company™ brought in a physiotherapist from Pantai Hospital to give a talk on ergonomics and computer-related injury. It seems that there’s a lot, lot more to fix in my posture to help reduce further injury and muscle pain.
As with most health talks, I couldn’t help notice that I was also one of very few young people attending. Kinda sad to watch helplessly as my generation collectively flips off health and long-term personal planning*.
More importantly, though, I talked to the guy after the session asking about my wrist. He said I have some injury related to an extensor-something, which is something like the cable that pulls up a crane (the example he used). The cause, according to him, was from twisting my hand to the side when I use the mouse for extended periods. I think the fact that I play keyboards and the drums in my spare time also contributed to aggravating the injury.
Remedies? He gave me a few tips, including regular ice-packs applied to the wrist to reduce the swelling, and better positioning of my hand. He mentioned that it can be rehabilitated, so I’m doing what I can. I even blew 40 bucks on a mouse wrist support, which ordinarily would seem like a nutty idea, but when you have OWPAIN in your dominant hand it starts to put some things into perspective. (No, I don’t have any new revelations about the fate of humanity.)
I haven’t seen felt any improvement yet, but I do remember him saying that repetitive strain injuries take some time to heal, even if they’re not serious. For now, just gotta keep the ice packs going and sit properly. *sigh*
* If not for my OWWRISTPAIN, I would have skipped the health talk too. Ah, the wonders of hypocrisy.