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Archive for August, 2010

Goals

I like goals, as it helps give directions to my life. When I was younger, I had goals like becoming a good basketball player, being able to draw a manga, or read X number of books. When I was older, there were goals like being able to express myself through guitar/saxophone, doing X amount of exercise per week, or being able to read fiction in Japanese.

Where do those goals come from? A lot of them involve being competent enough to impress people, which in turn will help me feel better about myself. Some goals might help me feel better about myself directly (e.g. having read certain kind of books) as they align my actions to some identities I like.

I don’t know how many of my goals are due to intrinsic vs extrinsic motives. I think a lot are extrinsic. Playing video games or watching movies are enjoyable in themselves as far as I recall. These activities don’t require much effort, and in the case of games give clear feedback, but the satisfaction they bring seems to be short-lived. Drawing and playing guitar are fun to some extent. But to get better requires hard work and discipline. And at some point, the question arises as whether it’s worth to commit the time and what do I ultimately want to get out from them. The same goes for learning a new language or other goals that require deliberate practice and commitment.

Young people can dream big, as they have time on their side. The range of possibility get narrower as one grows older. People might discover that what they want to do are not worth doing or less important than they initially thought. Or they might not have the time or energy to do them.

I like goals, but still not sure how to choose them. What kind of person do I want to become? What activities do I enjoy and can bring me satisfaction? In what area do I have a comparative advantage (or does it matter)? I crave to have a single-minded focus in something (or do I really want a more balanced lifestyle?). That something won’t appear itself. The strategy I’ll run with for now is to set a few specific goals and see if any of them stick.

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Examine life

Socrates once said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m not sure if I agree with it. But I think examining life helps us to grow and improve. So in the coming weeks, I plan to go through the entries in my old blog and see how my thoughts have evolved. Have I grown? If not, why? How do I want to move forward?

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A good article by David Foster Wallace on being great and the sacrifices it entails (via Alex). The original source has more.

Excerpts:

If you’ve played tennis at least a little, you probably have some idea how hard a game is to play really well. I submit to you that you really have no idea at all. I know I didn’t. And television doesn’t really allow you to appreciate what real top-level players can do — how hard they’re actually hitting the ball, and with what control and tactical imagination and artistry. I got to watch Michael Joyce practice several times right up close, like six feet and a chain-link fence away. This is a man who, at full run, can hit a fast-moving tennis ball into a one-foot square area seventy-eight feet away over a net, hard. He can do this something like more than 90 percent of the time. And this is the world’s seventy-ninth-best player, one who has to play the Montreal qualies.

*****

It’s not just the athletic artistry that compels interest in tennis at the professional level. It’s also what this level requires — what it’s taken for the one-hundredth-ranked player in the world to get there, what it takes to stay, what it would take to rise even higher against other men who’ve paid the same price number one hundred has paid.

Americans revere athletic excellence, competitive success, and it’s more than lip service we pay; we vote with our wallets. We’ll pay large sums to watch a truly great athlete; we’ll reward him with celebrity and adulation and will even go so far as to buy products and services he endorses.

But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up close and personal” profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus 37. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small.

…….

Whether or not he ends up in the top ten and a name anybody will know, Michael Joyce will remain a paradox. The restrictions on his life have been, in my opinion, grotesque; and in certain ways Joyce himself is a grotesque. But the radical compression of his attention and sense of himself have allowed him to become a transcendent practitioner of an art — something few of us get to be. They’ve allowed him to visit and test parts of his psychic reserves most of us do not even know for sure we have (courage, playing with violent nausea, not choking, et cetera).

Joyce is, in other words, a complete man, though in a grotesquely limited way. But he wants more. He wants to be the best, to have his name known, to hold professional trophies over his head as he patiently turns in all four directions for the media. He wants this and will pay to have it — to pursue it, let it define him — and will pay up with the regretless cheer of a man for whom issues of choice became irrelevant a long time ago. Already, for Joyce, at twenty-two, it’s too late for anything else; he’s invested too much, is in too deep. I think he’s both lucky and unlucky. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well.

Sacrifice is probably not the right word, as people who truly enjoy something do not think of it as sacrifice. But there are still trade-offs.
I’m still struggling to figure out what kind of life I want to live. Life can not be planned, but what I do everyday will affect where I end up in 10 years’ time. Do I want to be really good at what I do? Do I want a more balanced life, and if yes, what kind? Asking these kinds of questions suggests that I’m not  on the greatness track, but having a sense of where I want to end up matters.

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Long overdue break

It’s been a while since I took a break. I’ve been working for most of 2010, including weekends. When I take leaves, I tend to travel. So it’s rather refreshing, or at least different, to have yesterday and today off didn’t trying to be productive.

What I did so far:

Read blogs, watched youtube videos on Michael Jordan, Kobe, and Tyson after reading some athlete interviews, watched clubbing videos from different countries, reflected on work, played basketball, cut hair, bought NY travel guide (my next destination), posted photos on facebook and tried to catch up with friends, checked my corporate mails, and started a blog.

A break without doing much doesn’t make me feel good. In some way I want to be productive and do something meaningful. It is the mindset, that there is no need to rush, that there is more time left, that is refreshing.

I want to cultivate this “abundant” mindset. I tend to think there’s not enough time to do everything I want to do, that there’s no time to waste if I want to be good and to achieve what I want. But that mindset could be counterproductive.

It’s more about the quality of time that matters. Our perception of time changes depending on how we engage and enjoy the activity. There is a fine balance between being focused and feeling busy without achieving much. I need to do more of the first and cut the latter.

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Blogging is hard

This is probably not the best way to start a blog, but it is how I feel when I face the blank blog. I used to blog. Back then words seem to come to me pretty easily and I just have to write down what I feel or think. Now it seems harder.

It is hard to start something new. When I start a new activity that I want to maintain, be it learning how to draw, play music, or blog, I tend to have some unrealistic ideals in mind. I want to blog in a way that helps achieve the purposes I want and makes me look good.

As I write this post, writing seems to become easier. Of course easier does not mean better. It could just mean I lower my standard. It is hard to say whether a blank page is better or a page filled with crap. Is bad writing worse than no writing? I guess it depends on what I want to achieve.

One problem is I haven’t had a good idea of what I want to write about. Is it for myself (as in the “About” page), or to impress someone else (whether they be friends, friends’ friends, or unknown causal browsers) or to make some people happier? What do I want to signal here?

To sum up this incoherent post, blogging is hard because I don’t know what I want to achieve, except that I want this blog to be good,  to reflect well on me, to learn something and make my life better in some way.

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