transparency to life

The 43 books I read in 2019

on Jan 22, 2020

In 2019 I read 43 books. And while this might seem outrageous, my original goal was an audacious 50 books. Either way, I consider it a great personal achievement, bolstering past the 27 books I read in 2018, the 19 in 2017, and a mere handful at best in 2016. Below is the full list along with my reflections of every one of these books, organized into arbitrary categories.

Some fun stats:

  • Of the five works of fiction I read (that’s a lot for me), four were favorites for the year
  • Five books were written by people I know personally
  • A dozen were audiobooks – so about one a month
  • Eleven books were authored by women

Jump to:

Favorites

(click title for full reflection)

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (audiobook version)

If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi, by Neel Patel

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, by David Epstein

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, by Johann Hari

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Venkatesh

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, by Esther Wojcicki (audiobook version)

Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

Athletics

Complete Handbook of Speed Skating, by Dianne Holum

No photo description available.Upon seeing a picture of this book and noticing the author’s name, I had to pick it up, for it was written by the mentor of Eddy Skater, who’s my mentor. The book is a guide to training for Olympic level ice speed skating and unsurprisingly the author is not only the coach of Eric Heiden who’d won an unprecedented five individual gold medals at the 1980 Olympics, but an Olympic medalist herself. This book, despite being published in 1984 when inline skates were damn near impossible to come by, is extremely useful for inline skaters looking to become stronger and faster as it contains a great deal of exercises that are done off skates, as ice time was also hard to come by then. In that light, there’s plenty in this guide on putting together a yearlong training program – with details down to every day – that can apply to any athletic endeavor. At the same time, there’s plenty of skating specific exercises to bolster technique, strength, power, and speed; and some of them are quite challenging. The discussions on training for sprinting and training for endurance are pretty revealing and overall I look forward to incorporating many of the elements from this book, as well as similar ones gleaned from training with Eddy, into my 2020 regimen.

The Art of Falling: Freestyle Slalom Skating, by Naomi Grigg

Image may contain: one or more people, possible text that says 'THE ART OF FALLING FREESTYLE SLALOM SKATING ஸ NAOMI GRIGG'

This book, written by my friend, mentor, and favorite slalom skater, is simply put an amazing resource to understand and excel at not only slalom skating, but every form of skating. Having first read through it four and a half years ago when I properly embarked on my journey of slalom skating, I’m again left feeling invigorated upon rereading it cover to cover as I once more find there’s so much ahead of me to learn, apply, and work on. It’s a good feeling.

In the first portion of the book the author provides baseline information on principles of skating, equipment, and setting yourself up for progress. It’s rather entertaining (perhaps because of the author’s personality) as the author directly addresses things we often get hung upon like what kind of equipment we should use (it matters less than we think), safety (use your brain before blindly using your helmet), and trying to find the best training settings (most top skaters deal with what they got and just skate).

The second portion of the book is a guide to foundational moves with details on how to approach each of them through steps, images, diagrams, and tips. To me this part of the book seemed as confusing as it did helpful as, even with my existing knowledge, I found the steps difficult to understand and there were sometimes discrepancies between the sidedness of the step and what was shown in the diagram or pictures. It’s worth noting though that the author also states that a book isn’t really a good place to *learn* basic moves so perhaps we’re in agreement when I say it’s best to take the great list of moves and find videos to help. That said, the tips and troubleshooting portions of each move are solid and they definitely helped me personally when I was learning.

The third part of the book is pure gold as it dives into rarely considered yet essential principles of skating – especially pivots, style, flow, skills, drills, practice strategies, and competition tips. The big takeaway for me at this point is that I’m amped to rebuild my slalom foundation by consciously reworking every move in the form of pivots as it’ll set me up to learn the higher level moves that I’ve been having trouble with as of late. But regardless of your level, this book will provide you the tools to take your skating up a notch. I highly recommend the physical copy as there’s many pictures and diagrams but if you can’t find it, a digital version can do as the real meat of is in the words.

Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, by Alex Hutchinson (audiobook version)
Image may contain: possible text that says 'NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER FOREWORD BY MALCOLM GLADWELL ALEX HUTCHINSON "This book bookis is AMAZING!" Malcolm Gladwell ENDURE Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance'While we often think of physiology when it comes to athletic performance, this book delves deeply into the mental aspects that are involved. It explores many avenues (including physiological ones) and while they’re disparate and give the book a bit of a hodgepodge feel, each area is interesting in its own right. One avenue looks into how having a lack of memory on how much you’ve done (due to a brain problem in this case) can increase your endurance manyfold. Others explore the impact of diets and technological “innovations”. And then there’s cases of just having someone to compete against, whether it’s breaking their record or pushing past them in the heat of an event. This book focuses a lot on running performance as that’s where most data is, but the implications can apply to any endurance activity. If you’ve ever wondered why your race day performance always seems better than your practice times, you’ll have your answer here.
How Bad Do You Want It?: Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle, by Matt Fitzgerald (audiobook edition)

Image may contain: 1 person, textA friend recommended reading this book prior to competing in the Le Mans 24 Hour skate race which both of us were training and preparing for (the event was unfortunately ultimately shut down by the French government). It proved immensely relevant and helpful in addressing the most important thing missing from my training: the mental aspect. The author dives into a handful of psychological strategies that can help one attain maximum athletic performance and pairs the concepts with inspiring tales of athletes that used the strategy (often unknowingly) to reach new levels. Despite not getting the chance to apply the concepts at my event, it definitely addressed a lot of my pre-race qualms of how I’d handle rolling for longer than I’d ever done so. This book is great, and the only caveat I have is that the author focuses mostly on triathletes and cyclists. It would have been great to see examples from a greater range of physical endeavors.

Changing Expectations In Special Olympics: A Guide to Basic Skill Acquisition, Health and Sport For Individuals with an Intellectual Disability, by Jacques Thibault

Image may contain: one or more peopleThe author, who gave the keynote at Camp SkateIA’s instructor day, has had an illustrious life as a former olympic speed skater, a leader that’s helped bring slews of medals to entire olympic teams through his strategy of “changing expectations”, and most recently raised athletes with intellectual disabilities (ID) to a level that would rival professional athletes. This book centers on the last bit and it’s a revealing one. The author discusses how it is essentially total bullshit that we typically have such small expectations of ID athletes, from their barely competent performance at competitions to the absolutely minimal training time they get. He advocates instead that these athletes not only need to get the same amount of training time as their non-ID counterparts, but require additional focus to fully and substantially develop subskills that serve as building blocks for advancement and success at their sport – which interestingly enough is a big focus of the teaching model for SkateIA instructors. There’s lots more detail to this, including online resources for sport specific strategies and breakdowns that could serve coaches well. It was great reading this piece as it was super eye-opening.

DangerMan’s Paintball Bible: Your Secret Weapon To Dominating Woodsball. It’s The Definitive Woodsball Paintball Manual, by Lars W Hindsley

Image may contain: one or more people, outdoor and textWritten by a friend in the skating community who’s also an avid paintball player, this is a solid guide to understanding the game of paintball and developing proficiency at it. The author focuses primarily on woodsball (including rec ball) while also bringing in a decent bit of hyperball knowledge where relevant and for comparison. The general takeaway is that strategy matters over everything, especially athleticism, and the author delves into tons of application of tactics. Despite not being a paintball player myself, I found the book easy to follow thanks to a friendly and conversational approach along with plenty of diagrams and images. The author does a good job making the material approachable and relevant for beginners as well as more experienced players while avoiding the trap of coming off elitist, which is much appreciated. If you have any interest in paintball, or are curious to understand that there’s so much depth to this game than meets the eye, check out this book. I sure wish it’d been around for the one time I played many years ago as I’m certain my not so good experience would have turned out to be a great one.

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, by David Epstein

Image may contain: ‎one or more people, ‎possible text that says '‎the SPORTS ום GENE แ INSIDE THE SCIENCE OF EXTRAORDINARY ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE SO DAVID EPSTEIN WITH NEW WITH NEW AFTERWORD "FASCINATING." -MALCOLM GLADWELL‎'‎‎This was a fascinating book where a central theme is that the so called 10,000 hour rule is more a myth because its original interpretation is misguided and also because our genes indeed determine our potential range of abilities. Some of the many insights include that some people (including couch potatoes) are simply able to pick up physical arts faster due to genetic factors (and slow picker uppers never become fast), that early specialization in a sport is less likely to lead to success than having diversity across disciplines instead, and that different body types (genetically determined) allow for someone to be better suited for one sport over another if they wish to be at the upper echelon. That said, to be great at a particular sport or physical art, you might be doomed by your genetics, but more likely not, as hard work, training, and practice can get you to a high level of proficiency. Or a lucky stroke of genetics might make the path an easier one. While this book leaves me with many questions regarding my own pursuits in the physical arts, it’s also solidified much of the path I’ve taken thus far.

Race, Politics, History

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard (audiobook version)

No photo description available.Between all the political bickering going on with friends across our country and the vast differences in lifestyles I’ve seen firsthand throughout my travels, I can’t help but think that America is more a conglomerate of different nations patched together than a single unified entity. According to the author, this is rather accurate. He points out that our notion of the country expanding from East to West is misguided and that instead different areas of America – eleven according to the author – developed independently from one another and eventually butted heads. The piece is surprisingly engaging as it starts with chapters on how each “nation” was founded moving on then to the conflicts and compromises that arose over time bringing us to the present day state of affairs. I found it fascinating that the greater NYC area, which the author calls New Netherland, prioritized anything that made for good business, recreating the highly diverse and tolerant culture ever present in Amsterdam at the time. That much of the Deep South was founded on principles of highly authoritarian social structures, which is present in the way religion plays a role in the areas to this very day. And that much of the northeast and beyond, dubbed Yankeedom, as well as the Left Coast (founded by Yankees), are based on Puritan self governing principles that are pushed onto everyone around them (white liberal elites much?). There’s also a rather common theme throughout the American history of white elite men blatantly screwing over everyone else including Native Americans, blacks, women, immigrants, other people of color, and non-elite whites. Although written 8 years ago, this piece is more timely than ever as it’s given me a much better understanding of how our country came to be, and I highly recommend it.

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, by Kurt Andersen (audiobook version)

Image may contain: textThis piece had originally caught my attention a couple of years ago but I’d decided against reading it at the time because it seemed like it was just another piece hastily released to exploit our curiosity to understand how we got into the current societal and political circumstances of today. However, upon meeting the author at an artists’ retreat in Italy, I learned that the piece had been in the works long prior to the presidential election cycle, so I decided to check it out. This piece is very long and detailed, perhaps more repetitive than what I’d prefer, but I really appreciate the sheer amount of data the author presents to make his case. His case is that we Americans are prone to integrating fantasy into the core of our lives and we have been throughout the history of our nation. The author delves into story after story including our obsession with religious institutions (and literal interpretations of the Bible), theme parks (and how our cities and towns have become more like them), immersion events like war reenactments and Burning Man, our obsession with guns (along with the fantasy of the good guy with the gun), conspiracy theories, and the concept of “fake news”. He shows that the wacky world we Americans have found ourselves today isn’t something new, but a consistent theme that’s only gotten become more apparent and strengthened by our current media systems (very similar to the arguments made in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” which I’d read previously). While I found the piece to be extremely enlightening, I felt the author could have done more to show that much of the power of fantasy was exacerbated by individuals that exploited others for their own personal gain. Conversely, I would have liked to see additional explanation or theory to explain how social psychology played a role in our vulnerability towards fantasy. That said, this piece has really helped bring to focus certain notions I’ve noticed about our country: Like why non-Americans find American culture so fascinating. And that the very American mindset of freedom, liberty, and achieving any dream is a double edged sword with a dark side that we’re all guilty of. The audiobook version is read by the author so if you’re more a podcast person, I do recommend checking out that version.

Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime, by Ron Stallworth

Image may contain: possible text that says 'BLACK KLANSMAN - SOON BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE RON STALLWORTH'This book was recommended to me upon discussing the movie that it’s based on, and I sure hope the movie is better than book. This is a quick and engaging read, but it’s not particularly well written. There’s a lot of repetition and the author missed opportunities for analysis and parallels to the current state of affairs. That said, I do believe this is a worthwhile read. I found it really illuminating to learn about the history of the structure and motives of the KKK as well as its societal implications. It’s especially worth noting that it seems that this version of the KKK (late 70s) is just a handful of disorganized men but they do a good job expanding their influence through clever use of engaging the media. That parallels well with today, where many of the hate groups, which are small and not something to be scared of, are gaining a great deal of influence and power through our media’s desire to blow things out of proportion, and furthermore get pushed along by social media.

If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi, by Neel Patel

No photo description available.This is a stunning collection of short stories where most of the characters are first generation Indian Americans often of Gujarati heritage, like myself, straddling the line of traditional eastern values and expectations of parents with the western world they’re born into. The author strives to blow past the stereotypes that we are all simply hard working, obedient, non-sexual beings while simultaneously submersing us in taboo areas of sex, drugs, mental health, love, homosexuality, interracial relationships, divorce, not being a doctor/engineer, and singlehood. While all the stories are fiction, the “world” of each story could downright be taken out of any of the lives of the many Gujarati Indian Americans across the country today. I almost wonder whether others would get the detailed references but I really appreciate them as I would an inside joke, and it makes the stories feel all the more personal to me. I love that the author gives plenty of attention to women and gays, and also dives into areas of classism and racism. Regardless of your background, this book will tug at your emotions. If your background is similar to the author’s and my own, it’ll feel so real and personal. If you’re a first generation American coming from a traditional family, you’ll see so many parallels to your own challenges. And if you’re none of the above, it’ll be a severely eye opening look into a world we live in that many people just don’t understand. This is a quick read and so captivating that I finished it in a day. Go check it out!

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman

Image may contain: stripesThis book ought to be required reading for every person that consumes information through any sort of visual media, including social media and television. So in essence, everyone. The author discusses how the information we consume is greatly affected by the nature of the media it flows through including, oral, written, auditory, and visual forms – with a latter biasing our information to that which is more amusing, entertaining, and full of showmanship – regardless of the wholesomeness of the information. I’m sure many of you are nodding your heads with agreement upon looking at the shit show that’s become of our social media and news sources. But here’s the kicker: this book was written in 1985, and was targeted at television. The problems of visual media have been around a long time and if the author were alive today, he’d probably have an aneurism at how his arguments proved truer than he ever would have imagined. This book left a huge impression regarding how I consume information as I now check myself on whether I’m actually learning something (as opposed to having the illusion that I am) and whether the piece reeks of entertainment (hint: it likely always does). The solution of course is to move away from the fragmented, short form, and short sighted forms of information that move us from one disconnected story of the week/day/minute to another, and instead move towards long form information. Something that really astounded me was that the public debates Lincoln had with his adversaries were an all day affair, with one candidate having three hours to present points, the other another three hours, and then an hour each for rebuttals – and this wasn’t even at the presidential race level. I can’t imagine having that level of attention today, but I think it’s essential for the sanity of our society and ourselves that we move towards longer and deeper forms of information consumption. In essence this book is a testament to my own project to have books be my primary source of information. Perhaps you’re not ready for such an audacious goal, but you can start with one shorter book, and now you know just which one to choose.

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Venkatesh

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, possible text that says 'NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "Riveting. Willlam Grimet, The New York 7imes GANG LEADER FOR A DAY A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets SUDHIR VENKATESH Porewerd by Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of FREAKONOMICS'This book is super informative, engaging, and well written. The author, a South Asian, recounts his time as a graduate student of sociology and haphazardly deciding to walk into the Chicago projects to do some research, eventually becoming friends with a gang leader. Over the course of years, the author spends much of his time in this environment and learns about the lives, community, and unusual political dynamics within the public housing. The author does a great job illuminating a world that few see or can understand, and it becomes clear that the people living here are simply human beings trying to make ends meet while being in an inescapable situation that’s the result of systematic racism built into our society and government. Things that we might consider illegal (selling crack), immoral (prostitution), or corrupt (paying off government officials) are part of the daily existence, and it’s hard to blame people for resorting to these methods of madness just so they can simply exist. This book was written over a decade ago of events occurring 30 years ago, but it’s more than relevant today. Go read this book and good luck putting it down.

Mind and Self

What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude and Environmental Conditioning will Renew our Lost Evolutionary Strength, by Scott Carney

Image may contain: one or more people, possible text that says 'HOW FREEZING WATER, EXTREME ALTITUDE, AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONING WILL WILL RENEW OUR LOST EVOLUTIONARY STRENGTH WHAT DOESN'T KILL US SCOTT CARNEY FOREWORD BY WIM HOF'I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. The essence of it is that we’re pansies about the cold much because we live in a modern world where we move from one climate controlled environment to another, with minimal exposure to the real elements. The author argues that our bodies are evolutionarily designed to handle cold conditions and by letting this capability go unused, we’re developing health problems (much in the way we’ve developed autoimmune diseases by living in a sterile world). But through cold weather training, we can reactivate these systems and live a more vital life, and one where we don’t feel the pain of cold. The author himself was a skeptic of this movement and originally explored this world to debunk it, and instead became a convert. On a more personal level, this book not only confirms my own theories towards cold weather training (for years I’ve skated year round regardless of temperature and always “underdressed” to force my body to get used to it), but suggests that I can go way further. Perhaps it’s just a placebo effect, but I’ve come to embrace the cold since I began reading this book – from walking outside a minute without a shirt in NYC to going for a swim in the Miami ocean (I never swim because I get too cold), and I’m finding myself enjoying it and hardly feeling the cold. Don’t be surprised if you see me forego the shirt in general regardless of temperature 🙂 Thanks Trish for recommending this book!

Freedom from the Known, by Jiddu Krishnamurti

Image may contain: one or more people, possible text that says 'Krishnamurti Freedom From FromThe Known'I became aware of this Indian philosopher when, in another book, he was quoted: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Seemed like my kind of thing, and this book very much is. The author argues that we seek a freedom from conflict in the mind by following the external: like society’s rules, religion, schools of thought, and drugs; yet this freedom can only come from within ourselves as we must be our own teacher and our own disciple. There’s a lot of interesting angles he approaches, and they’re all interrelated. For example: that we often don’t actually have relationships with people, but instead with our images of them. And that a lot of the conflict in the mind comes from it “living” in the past or future, when we’re only really capable of living in the present. This is a very welcome read as I’ve already been in the midst of considering these principles throughout my daily life, and the book showed that I’m still very much in conflict in my mind.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Miguel Ruiz

No photo description available.This book is short yet full of terrific perspective about the external forces (primarily perceived forces of society) that cause us to make choices to live a certain manner that ultimate restricts us. I like that the author is direct about the matter – saying that we are domesticated (a theme that fits well with my own take of the world). He proposes four specific “agreements”, pacts we make with ourselves, which can help us mitigate and even eliminate the impact of these external forces and instead allow us to live vital, open, and effective lives. The insights go beyond these four agreements and at points I had to put down the book and think about the implications of them on my own life. It was terrifying in one way and freeing in another to see aspects of my life arc through these new lenses. This is an awesome read and I highly recommend it.

Zen in the Martial Arts, by Joe Hyams

Image may contain: possible text that says 'ZEN IN THE MARTIAL ARTS BYJOE'This is a great quick read and one I’d first read many years ago as a young adult when I’d gotten back into the martial arts. The author captures insightful anecdotes and stories from martial arts masters he trained under, including Bruce Lee. These lessons are awesomely practical because they apply not only to martial arts, but to all sorts of life circumstances. I own a physical copy, given to me by a friend, so hit me up if you’d like to borrow it.

Ego Is the Enemy, by Ryan Holiday (audiobook version)

Image may contain: textWe all got ego and at some point in our lives, or more likely many points, it has kept us from being our very best selves. This book consists mostly of stories of individuals with ego, and those that have transcended ego, to illustrate the impact it has on our own happiness and success. The author delves into his own stories as well. I found the piece to be especially relevant to today’s world, where we’re so keen to push forth our own specialness despite the obvious and not so obvious repercussions. It’s also been really insightful for me as I’ve worked for many years to address my own presence of ego, and continue to do so still.

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, by Pico Iyer

No photo description available.This is a super short read, but offers some thoughts on the experience in a mode of nothingness, something quite rare in our always-on modern world. He shares stories of some specific individuals that have chosen this mode and the different ways they go about it – from the extreme of isolated zen monasteries in the mountains to simply alone time during a drive. One interesting point shows how those most infused in our tech heavy world tend ones proactively creating “sabbaths” to disconnect from it.

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon

Image may contain: possible text that says 'HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR LIFE? CLAYTON M. CHRISTENSEN JAMES ALLWORTH KAREN DILLON'I found the title of this book a bit unusual, as the content is so much more. The authors discuss strategies and anecdotes to living a meaningful life and given that the authors come from the business world, they offer many interesting and well fitting parallels and stories between that world and that which pertains to our lives. One major area covered includes principles for creating a career that brings purpose, balance, and meaning. Another area explored values to forming intimate relationships and raising children, which I found very well stated. The last section was on living a life of integrity. Overall this book is well organized, easy to read, and full of interesting insights that one can immediately apply to their own lives.

Who Are You, Really?: The Surprising Puzzle of Personality, by Brian R. Little
Image may contain: possible text that says 'WHO SURPRISING PERSONALITY R.'This is a short book that appears to be based on a TED talk, and to be honest, the TED talk probably would have sufficed for the content presented. The author discusses that our personality is formed not only from nature (which he bases on openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and nurture (our societal forces and opportunities), but also the “projects” that we pursue. These projects can represent nearly anything including paid work, finding a mate, cooking a meal, or going on a trip. In essence, the author argues that who we are doesn’t determine what projects we pursue, but that the projects we pursue determine who we are, even overriding our nature and nurture.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön

No photo description available.This is a relatively short read that has a handful of useful insights, but overall falls pretty flat. The whole thing could be summarized as “when things fall apart, run towards instead of away”. The author speaks in very abstract terms and jumps between concepts, anecdotes, stories, and her own experiences. This would normally be fine, except there appears to be little connection between these parts and it often comes off as incoherent rambling. As mentioned, there are some good insights hidden within the text, but they barely receive any attention, elaboration, or concrete examples. As I was mostly through this book and still bewildered about what the author was getting at, I decided to look her up. Turns out she’s one of these American born white women that fell into the hippie Eastern mysticism craze common in the Bay Area (she did study at UC Berkeley), went off to find her South Asian guru, got herself a new Eastern name, and now speaks in riddles. If there’s any familiarity to her style, it’s that of the white people that like leading yoga classes while thoroughly mispronouncing foreign words and concepts and giving the impression that they’re some sort of sacred vessel here to enlighten us. That said, if you’re one of those froo froo hippie types (nothing against them, as I have many friends that are), you might enjoy this work and find it useful. But as someone that comes from an Eastern culture and prefers something more down to Earth and concrete, it wasn’t a well suited read for me.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

Image may contain: cloud and textWritten by perhaps the world’s most famous tidy upper, this short piece offers us the strategies and philosophies to cleaning up our homes. The core of the book drives home two strategies – disposing possessions and creating a place for remaining possessions – and the author argues that doing these two things correctly will void the need for any other strategy. She goes into meticulous detail on how these two strategies must be applied (and the magic is in these details) and warns against sophisticated storage systems as they don’t actually address the root problem of having too much stuff. The real gem of this book though is not the strategies, but the philosophies within the details and the bigger picture, as they not only have a spiritual feel, but are also practical. For example, the author says that one needs to hold each item when sorting and ask whether the item brings them joy, and use that as the primary metric for deciding whether to keep something. Conversely, the author points out that the process of decluttering brings one insights into their true interests and desires. There’s so much more than this but I won’t spoil the surprises. Definitely check out this book.

Society

Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters, by Anne Kreamer

Image may contain: one or more people and textI had the awesome opportunity to meet the author at an artists’ retreat in Italy and decided to pick up her book to explore the biases, within society and myself, regarding expectations of women’s appearance. A few things became very apparent to me: that women start to go gray much earlier than I expected (usually in their 30s and sometimes even in their 20s), and that nearly every woman colors their hair (a process that’s expensive in time and money). The piece is pretty riveting as the author presents an honest and vulnerable look at her own process of stopping to color her hair, and weaves in tons of personal firsthand research – from experiments in online dating to visiting appearance consultants for professional makeovers. It’s a rather brave story because although it seems like a piece that’d be relevant with the surge of women’s power pieces going strong today, the book was released over ten years ago and accounted for events happening in years prior. This work is full of surprises as it reveals that having gray hair as a woman appears to be considered attractive to men but also a detriment within the domain of many careers choices. I also found it fascinating that the author shares the great deal of the insecurity she felt about herself and the process, which is in stark contrast to the confident and accomplished woman that I met – complete with a shock of gray hair. Perhaps it was the process she went though. Either way, this book has changed the way I look at gray, and I highly recommend it.

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

Image may contain: textI read this novel back in high school, but remember little of it. Reading it again I can see why as I was much too naive to understand the unsavory themes that the story dives into. The novel centers on a two twin siblings and events that transpired during two particular time periods in India. The novel feels almost like a mystery as the author jumps back and forth between these two time periods setting the stage and slowly revealing pieces of the puzzle. Throughout the story we’re exposed to themes of colonialism, racism, mixed races, classism, domestic abuse, child molestation, classism, politics, family image, and love. What I especially like is that this piece is written in a way that mimics the stream of consciousness of a child – interpreting happenings and even language in an ultra creative and often silly seeming manner.

The Outsourced Self: What Happens When We Pay Others to Live Our Lives for Us, by Arlie Russell Hochschild

No photo description available.This was a cool read that delved into the a number of ways that we now “outsource” rather intimate aspects of our lives. The areas includes dating (now online and with with online dating coaches), wedding planning, raising kids, and parental caregiving, to name a few. While I expected the author to come off judgmental towards these trends, she was actually very objective about the tradeoffs that we experience, and that we do live in a new reality these days. I was especially stirred by her two chapters on surrogate mother businesses run in India (with “clients” worldwide) as the author devoted not only a chapter for the outsourcer’s perspective, but one for that of the surrogates. There’s some room for critique though. For one, some of the chapters seem more about rich people problems which I have little sympathy for, though the author does do a good job exploring the impact on the not so rich people outsourced to deal with problems. And secondly, the author attempts to weave together her disparate chapters with a personal story of her aunt who needs taking care of, but this insertion seems rather forced and I feel it weakens her piece. Overall though, the research is deep, the material is fantastic, and the book is well worth a read.

The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek (audiobook version)

No photo description available.This author has played a role in my holding onto my spirit while navigating the dispiriting world of work through his books and talks, so I was excited to see another piece from him. Here, the author discusses strategies concerning work, projects, interpersonal relationships, and everything in between through the lens of whether we’re playing as if it is a finite “game” or an infinite one. He defines the former as something with fixed rules, knowns, and a defined ending (much like all sports), while the latter is full of unknowns, potential chaos, and has no defined ending. The author states that we often mistakenly apply a finite mindset to the infinite nature of the work world and while this often produces short term benefits, it doesn’t bode well for the long run. What I especially appreciate is that he calls out the bullshit where most companies claim to be infinitely minded (“serve the health of our customers” in the case of a convenience store chain) while pursuing actions that contradict the very value (selling cigarettes and saying they’re “evaluating” things when being called out). The author also points out how such finite thinking leads to something he calls “ethical fading”, where values and ethics slide down a slippery slope because of the arrangement of incentives – something I believe most people have experienced working for any kind of organization. I found it interesting that a lot of the companies that were shown to have issues with finite thinking were affected by their shareholders and the short sighted stock system. This piece overall is great and engaging and I recommend it to everyone looking to regain some spirit in their work. And I’d consider this required reading for anyone that runs any type of organization. The audiobook version is read by the author so it’s worth considering that version.

When Strangers Meet: How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You, by Kio Stark

Image may contain: one or more people, possible text that says 'KIO STARK WHEN STRANGERS MEET How People You Don't Know Can Transform You TED'This is a fun little read about the magic that’s possible when you’re willing to pierce through the wall of anonymity, especially the sort that exists in a place like New York City. In addition to enjoyable tales, the author provides a bunch of practical tips to help one engage with strangers. For a super shy person such as myself, it’s definitely a different manner of thinking and one that I expect to take me on new adventures, in both the mental and physical worlds.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari (audiobook version)

Image may contain: textThis is a substantial book and one that seems to be making rounds recently, but I have mixed feelings about it. The author does a great job explaining principles of evolution and the scientific process by which we can decipher our history, and in an easy to understand manner. He also proposes all sorts of interesting philosophical discussion and ideas about aspects of our human history and humanity’s future. On the split side, many of his claims are misguided, according to research in the field I’ve worked with or done firsthand myself. For example, the author claims that much of humanity’s uniqueness and adeptness at cooperating at large scales stems from our ability to hold and believe in shared imagined concepts (like laws and political beliefs). While there’s some truth to this, it misses the next level of explanation which is that our real unique ability is to enforce (through threat of force) sets of shared rules (which can take the form of imagined concepts) and that’s what ultimately promotes cooperation at scale. This goes double for the author’s huge chapter on religious belief, where he argues that the beliefs themselves are what created the power of religions. This was specifically my research area and the work I did shows that humans evolved religious concepts as part of a larger in-group out-group dynamic, and these concepts were later hijacked by those in power (those with threat of force) in order to promote their agendas. That said, this was still an enjoyable and well written read and I recommend it. Just take all the claims with a grain of salt.

If you’ve read this book or are interested in the topic of human history, I highly recommend the book written by my research professors: Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe: Human Evolution, Behavior, History, and Your Future, by Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza. And yes, it does include some of my research work.

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, by Mark Manson (audiobook version)

Image may contain: possible text that says 'AUTHOR OF THE #1 NATIONAL ESTSELLER THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F+CK EVERY THING IS CKED A BOOK ABOUT HOPE MARK MANSON'Riding off the coattails of the ever popular “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, this book looks into the supposed grim seeming world we’re living in today. The author discusses the paradox of how there’s a general sense of anxiety permeating society despite the fact that things are materially better than ever before. He delves into plenty of psychological research and philosophy to illustrate that we’re often chasing the wrong things to ease our anxiety, and that there’s certain aspects of our humanity we must understand and accept in order to escape this everything is fucked mindset. This piece is as entertaining as it is informative and as with the author’s previous book, I recommend the audiobook version and it is delightfully read by the author himself.

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, by Steve Silberman (audiobook version)

Image may contain: textThis was a very long book but covered a great deal more than I expected. There’s so much to autism in form, history, and misconception and the author does a great job exploring each of these areas. One point is that autism takes many form (best described as a multidimensional spectrum), and while those with autism deal with many challenges (e.g. overstimulation), many also exhibit some pretty stunning capabilities (e.g. in technical fields like engineering). Something unexpected is the author’s deep dive on the history of treatment (especially mistreatment) of those with mental challenges, and how autistic individuals have been unfortunately and callously intertwined with those that exhibited mental or physiological conditions. That part seemed overdone to me but overall the information in book is solid.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam M. Grant (audiobook version)

Image may contain: textAlthough, the title of this book is inaccurate and the splattering of info makes it hard to get a solid structure for this piece, the content presented is marvelous. The author does a good job finding various patterns that show how one can indeed make an impact on the world. He presents all sorts of examples including the women’s suffrage movement, the success of Warby Parker, the failure of the Segway, and the takedown of a Serbian dictator. Through these stories are interesting and surprising patterns and insights like how risk takers are less likely to be succeed in a new endeavor than the risk averse, how procrastination aids the creative process, and how pitching your flaws is more likely to get a sell.

Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, by Catherine Shanahan

Image may contain: textI’ve read a good fifteen or so books over the years on the topic of food, nutrition, and the science, history, and poltiics behind it. This book was great in that it was consistent with the primary pattern I’ve found in these books on food (healthfulness is inversely proportional to the level of processing the “food” has undergone). Better yet, the author, a biochemist and unorthodox doctor, offered many new insights in concert with the theme. She argues and provides research supporting the highly detrimental effects of two items in our food world: one being the obvious culprit of sugar and the other being vegetable oil, a much less obvious one that appears to be in pretty much everything. And central to her concept of a healthful diet are four pillars that appear to be present in many traditional diets: fresh food, fermented and sprouted food, organ meats (and eggs), and meat cooked on the bone, and reasons for why each provides such health benefits. The content of this book is great, and even includes some interesting chapters on creating healthy children. Overall the book does feel long and repetitive at times, so something to keep in mind.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (audiobook version)

No photo description available.This might be one of the most insightful pieces I’ve picked up. The author talks about a general property that some things may have , “antifragility”, which is something that not only survives a stressful environment, but thrives and benefits from it. These “things” could be literally anything, like ideas, systems (natural and manmade), and even romantic relationships. Concordantly, the author applies his principles across utterly different domains, including financial strategy, maintaining good health, the restaurant industry, and a very astute explanation for organisms evolving the ability to die. What I especially like about the author is that he freely speaks what he thinks (he does argue that one should speak no differently between being sober and having two glasses of wine – something I agree with) so he’s slamming people left and right, most notably the so called intellectuals across academia, business, and politics which he sees more as bureaucrats and double speakers. I have to admit though that it does seem a bit much, as the author often sounds like he’s butthurt and defensive – quite a shame as his totally insights stand on their own. That said, the ratio of insight to ranting is pretty good, and substantially better than another book I’ve read from the author, “Skin in the Game”. Check out this book and you will never see the world the same!

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Image may contain: one or more people and textAn incredible novel set in a not so distant future Thailand and one that can’t quite be classified as it has elements of extrapolative fiction, science fiction, and dystopian future. The author did a terrific job with not only the world in which the story exists, but especially so with character development, with a focus on moral ambiguity so you don’t quite know who to root for or against. If you’re on the empathetic side, as I am, be warned that you’ll have your emotions tugged in all sorts of places because you’ll really feel for the characters and their difficult circumstances. Although the book was written ten years ago, it has a lot of relevance today in the areas of genetic engineering, global politics and trade, race relations, and corporate influence. And I imagine it’ll play a greater relevance as our real world future unfolds. Thanks Stephen for recommending this book!

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, by Johann Hari

Image may contain: possible text that says 'NEW 1ORE TIMES RESTSELLIN ING ALITHOR OF CHASING THE SCREAM JOHANN HARI LOST CONNECTIONS UNCOVERING THE REAL CAUSES OF DEPRESSION AND THE UNEXPECTED SOLUTIONS'The author argues that depression (and the anxiety that often accompanies it) stems rarely from biological causes which is the narrative that our medical industry pushes, but instead mostly from societal factors, primarily losing connections with people, work, and values. He goes through specific factors that influence someone becoming depressed and how the way we live in our modern society pushes this likelihood. There’s some surprising insights, like how ubiquitous advertising affects us from a young age to how technology is not so much a cause of people losing connections, but a symptom of it instead. The implications reach beyond our individual approach to address depression, and indicate that there’s something very insidious in our modern social lives that we need to take heed to. I highly recommend this book and digital versions are available for dirt cheap ($2 eBook, $7.50 audio book).

How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, by Esther Wojcicki (audiobook version)

Image may contain: possible text that says 'HOW TO RAISE SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE Simple Lessons for Radical Results Esther Wojcicki'This is a terrific piece that simply put, brushes aside the all too common helicopter parenting trend that’s produced a generation that hardly seems to be able to do anything for themselves, and instead focuses on creating an environment that helps children and teenagers develop into stunningly independent and capable individuals. The author is the mother of three of the world’s most accomplished women: the head of YouTube, the founder of 23andMe, and a professor of pediatrics. I began reading this book with a bit of skepticism as oftentimes success is simply masked privilege but it turns out the author herself lived a very challenging early life in a downright authoritarian household as the daughter of traditional immigrant parents that had to work hard to make ends meet – something I can very much relate to. The author discusses her framework which consists of five components: trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness (TRICK), and supports them with tons of stories and anecdotes from her own childhood, the raising of her kids, and the thousands of high school students she taught and mentored over the years. The essential principle is creating a structure for young individuals to do things on their own and often fail, but still have support throughout the process. Some of my favorite examples include letting kids decorate their own rooms (along with the outlandish style they’d have to live with for years), debating whether and how to go about including a difficult topic in a school newspaper (along with the implications it has on various individuals and themselves), and being included in the family vacation planning (with zero complaints that they’re bored come vacation time). There’s also plenty of critique of our current world which forces young individuals to adopt a mindset of always being perfect and at the top while continuously testing them, instead of permitting mistakes that one can learn from, get feedback on, and grow. I wholeheartedly agree with all this given what I’ve experienced in my own life (sadly feeling the need to be perfect) and find myself instead using “TRICK” principles more so these days and expect to down the line. This book is as engaging as it is practical as it’s chock full of interesting and personal stories, many imparting their point in an entertaining manner. I highly recommend it to anyone that has kids, is considering having kids, or is working with young individuals.

Relationships

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, by Gary Chapman

Image may contain: possible text that says 'NEW NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER THE five LOVE LANGUAGES How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate INCLUDES THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES PERSONAL SSESSMENT TOOL GARY CHAPMAN'I’ve read many articles that referred to the five love languages – Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch – and knowing about them has helped immensely to address misunderstandings in relationships, whether my own or others’. The central premise, in the articles and the book, is that most of us express and prefer to receive love primarily in one or two of these languages and we often blunder by not hitting the right one(s) for our partner. That said, the original book is well worth a read on its own. The author covers each of the love languages in detail and provides a ton of examples from his work as a counselor,. The writing and narrative is very engaging and personal. This book caters specifically to those in existing romantic relationships, but the principles can easily be applied to those that are dating, to introspection of past relationships, and also to expression and expectation of love with friends and children. It’s worth noting that there’s religious undertones to the writing but in my opinion it’s more related to the author’s background in community, and does not come off preachy at all – I found it rather personable.

What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, by John M. Gottman (audiobook version)

Image may contain: possible text that says 'What Makes Love Last? how to build trust and avoid betrayal SECRETS ROM THE LOVE LAB John Gottman Ph.D.. and Nan Silver'I’ve encountered this author’s research work in many other books I’d read and thought it was about time I took a firsthand look at his writing. The author states that the core of good relationships is trust more than anything else. In addition to his famous work on the concept of “bidding” – where a relationship’s health can be determined by how a whether someone responds to their partner’s bids for attention positively, negatively, or neutrally – the author delves into a number of other areas including blocks to making good relationships great, salvaging damaged relationships, and determining when it’s time to call it quits. Although this book focuses solely on romantic relationships, I believe many of his principles apply to friendships as well. A great book and I highly recommend the print version as there’s a lot of reference material and lists and stuff that’s not really easy to refer back to with the audiobook version.

Finding Your Perfect Match: 8 Keys to Finding Lasting Love Through True Compatibility, by Pepper Schwartz

Image may contain: possible text that says 'Features the Duet Total Compatibility System used by more than three million people Finding Your Perfect Match 8 keys to finding lasting love through true compatibility Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D. Relationship advisor for perfectmateh.com'This was recommended to me by a friend and given that I’ve been in the midst of assembling a concrete set of principles that make for a good relationship, romantic and otherwise, it was right up my alley. The author discusses 8 particular personal characteristics and how combinations of them help determine romantic compatibility with another individual, much like in a Myers-Briggs fashion. The author does a great job breaking down these characteristics and demonstrating how they impact a relationship. However, I don’t buy the author’s claim that four of these traits ought to be more similar between two people while the other four need to be more different. Even the author appears to contradict herself as she explains exceptions in all of these cases. That said if you follow the details and ignore this glaring high level error, the information pretty solid.

Worlds Beyond

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, by Robert M. Pirsig

Image may contain: textThis American classic is essentially two books – one about a father and son motorcycle trip across parts of America, the other about philosophy – and they’re weaved together through the application of philosophical concepts to modern culture and maintaining motorcycles, and also a curious mystery involving the author’s past. The portion about the trip reads like an enjoyable novel despite that it consists of accounts of fact, and the portion regarding the author’s past is gripping. The philosophical portions however seemed rather heavy handed and tough to read when discussing abstract concepts. But perhaps it’s just over my head and something I’ll come to understand when I reread the book in a future life. All that said, the real gem in this book for me was the concrete application of philosophical concepts. The author does an exceptional job defining the concepts and using them to slice our world via insightful lenses and explores areas I’ve given much thought to myself. Like what drives motivation when working on a project. Or what makes something more like art with its romance and beauty versus something more akin to science with its logic and organization.And of course there’s the greater societal implications regarding these philosophies. Overall this was an exceptional read and I highly recommend it.

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Image may contain: possible text that says 'INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE Life of Pi NOVEL WINNER $0 OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE Yann Martel'This work of fiction is wonderful. Not only is it engaging, but it really makes you believe something absurd. The bulk of the story involves a boy castaway on a lifeboat with a tiger as his “companion”. In this regard it’s quite reminiscent of “The Martian” (the book and not the dumbed down movie) where the main character must come up with clever solutions to survive seemingly impossible circumstances. An unexpected gem in this book involves philosophy about religion, society, and one’s own behavior, with much of it captured in the first part of the book. There’s also quite a bit of interesting discussion on animal behavior which I really enjoyed. It’s worth noting that this work is written mostly in first person, something that makes a huge difference to me as I find third person fiction – with dialogues of multiple characters – difficult to follow. Go read this book. You’ll love it!

Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

Image may contain: textThis brief novel is a collection of wonderful short stories, each a few pages long, that explore various worlds where time operates in different ways and the stunning manners in which people operate under such circumstances. In one story, time repeats over and over again. In another, time moves slower for those at altitude but not so for those that aren’t. The stories are predicated on fictional dreams being had by Einstein as he was working out his theory of relativity in 1905. I really enjoyed each story, and often had to pause for minutes or even hours in between them to grasp the universe, happenings, and implications of each one. Well worth a read.

 

Friendship

on Apr 13, 2019

Happy Spring everyone! I don’t know about you, but winter is always tough for me, and was especially so this year. New York was particularly dreary and rainy this time around and my recent move to Queens left me more isolated than I’d been used to. But I think there’s more than that. At this particular point in my life arc, and perhaps the arc of our society, I’ve been feeling a lack of true friendship, and it’s a feeling that’s persisted a while. I’ve been digging at why that could be, and a few of the usual suspects come up. People go through phases – they get boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands/wives, kids, careers – and their priorities change. This is especially common at my age, and it’s a pretty frequent complaint that it’s hard to make or have time for friends in your 30s. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, but a few things do warrant concern, especially with existing friendships that don’t feel the same anymore. Sometimes we don’t sit down and have the conversation about how priorities have changed, and we hold off on setting new boundaries and expectations. And even when we do set those expectations, they aren’t always respected, so the friendship becomes a one-way street that’s convenient for one party while leaving the other longing. The friend says that they’re “busy” and still care, but “busy” is just another way of saying they care about other things more than they do about you. Truth is revealed in action, not words, even if the person actually believes the words they speak.

I also began thinking, “What actually creates the deep connection in a quality friendship?” A book I’d read on depression pointed out that an essential part of our existence stems from shared experiences with other human beings. I think with friendships, an important aspect is that the experiences are “challenging”; perhaps physically (climbing a mountain together) or mentally (creating an art installation on a tight deadline). Another part is whether the partner is someone who is “emotionally available”. When a friend offers this, they become a go-to person who’s there to be your sounding board, to hear you out, to give you perspective, to be the reliable one, and to smack you when you’re in a dumb mindset. They create an environment where you can be vulnerable, be honest, be able to release emotions trapped inside, and be yourself. There’s a sense of trust underlying these two parts, and it takes a lot to build a foundation like that. (As an aside, romantic partners can totally fulfill all this and count as quality friends, but because such relationships have their own complexities, I find it helpful to have additional quality friends in life for perspective, especially when it comes to discussing challenges involved inside a romantic relationship.) So why is this so difficult? There are a lot of factors, but three specific areas come to mind right now: showing face, technology, and work.

Showing face – We want to appear a certain way to other human beings, which in turn prevents us from being our real selves and limits the depth of our interactions. We’ve become so sensitive to appearing sensitive to others that we’ve lost the ability to actually be sensitive. By being careful not to offend other people, we’re no longer honest with them. And by trying to always look like our lives are wonderful and everything is happy-go-lucky, we no longer have the space to be vulnerable. There’s more to say here that I haven’t thought through yet, but it’s definitely related to the next two parts.

Technology often gets the blame in creating social problems. After all, it’s these damn phones with the texting and social media that are keeping us from having deeper interactions with others, right? But I think it might be the other way around: that people already have this void, and they’re using the quick hits from this technology to fill it. The use of digital communication in this way is more a symptom rather than the problem itself. Besides, technology is simply a tool without any inherent sense of goodness or badness, and any tool can be used to enhance life or to degrade it. I’ve seen so many instances of digital communication tech help fill people’s souls. For example, I often see immigrants video chatting with relatives on the other side of the world, and they have the biggest, most genuine smiles on their faces. And I personally love using social media to get a bird’s eye, big picture view of the life arcs and trials and tribulations of the many people I’ve met over the years. The big difference with these cases is that technology is being used to ADD a social experience where one did not exist or wasn’t otherwise possible, while a lot of the downsides of digital comm tech happen when one substitutes or REPLACES an “analog” experience with a “digital” one, which often results in less quality interaction. That said, technology makers do need to accept some responsibility for damaging personal relationships, because the makers intentionally bias these things to steal our attention in every way possible. On our end, we need to be mindful about using technology and setting boundaries. In 2008, when I purchased the first Android phone, I set a clear cut rule that it was never to come out of my pocket while I was hanging with other people in real life, except for when it would enhance the immediate social experience. I also keep notifications to a minimum and keep my device on silent most of the time. The tools are there, but we need to use our brains with them and not let them replace our brains.

Work – Another factor to consider is the encroachment of the work world into into our personal world, particularly in corporate type settings, beyond the 24/7 emails. If you’ve worked at such an organization, you’ve more than likely taken part in a team building event. Perhaps a trivia night or drinks with the coworkers or some food thing. These things are getting more and more common. And It’s essentially an exploitation of our desire to meld with our tribe. After all, for most of human history, we operated as tribes and worked alongside the people we lived with and shared friendship with. Our brains are evolved for this environment and companies are taking advantage of this to foster a false sense of being part of something bigger, despite the fact that they can just dismantle your “tribe” in a heartbeat or fire you with no notice. Now you might say, “So what? There’s nothing wrong with being on friendly terms with people at work.” There are a few problems here. First is that it’s extremely challenging to develop an intimate friendship – with honesty and vulnerability – with coworkers when there’s a need to simultaneously “be professional”. Second, work often pressures you to take part in these social events, and abstaining puts a red flag on you as being someone who’s not a team player, leading to career damaging consequences. And third, you’re spending social energy (and a lot of it to maintain something that’s clearly not genuine) leaving less for real friendship. We need more people to stand against this bullshit. I often turn down taking part in such activities when a work client offers, and I’m honest that I’d rather spend the time with my friends or other pursuits. I understand that I’m in a privileged position by being a freelancer with highly regarded work, and even then it’s not easy. That said, it is possible to forge friendships through work, especially if there exists a less hierarchical and more free flow structure. Still it’s important that we understand that forcing “friendship” in a professional setting does in fact negatively affect one’s real friendships.

Perhaps this sounds a bit depressing, or that I’m off on a rant (I won’t argue against this), but I do have some inspiring things to say. At the start of this year, I set an intention to focus on quality friendships. This wasn’t a simple thing and has some very challenging aspects. The first thing I did was continue to prune out lower quality friendships, either by breaking off ties with certain people, by setting explicit boundaries regarding my interaction with them, or foregoing social events that were unlikely to create that deep shared experience. All this was especially difficult because some friendships were formerly quality ones, and it’s hard to let go and not succumb to the temptation of a quick hit of interaction with them, knowing that it won’t produce the deeper connection anymore. This step is important though because it creates space and energy to give to higher quality friendships, and you need every resource to do so given the challenge of creating new friendships in light of what I’ve said above. But I began reaching out more to friends that showed the seed of quality, even if they lived far away. And I created or took up opportunities to speak with them more, see them as frequently as possible, be more vulnerable with them, and offer my own self in whatever ways they needed. I want to tell you about some of these people.

One is Trish Alexander, who runs the Skate Instructors Association. In addition to working closely with her on projects to improve the skating world, I’ve come to enjoy who she is as a person, and who I am around her. It became clear to me that creating more space for a friendship with Trish would be worthwhile because she’d often call me regarding skate teaching logistics, but would always begin first by asking how I was doing, and she meant it. Beyond phone calls, I’ve already had the chance to spend time with Trish three times in 2019, despite the fact that we live on opposite sides of the country. While each of these instances was related to a skating event, they’re events we each consciously made the effort to attend (and at least in part for me because I’d get to spend more time with her), and we created space or time to hang with each other – whether it was choosing to share a meal together when we could have done so with 100 other skaters, or by going on leisurely dog walks because we arranged buffer days around the events. I’m sure the shared experience (and challenges) of running skate instructor certifications together helps a lot to create a bond, but it’s doubly so because we’re each keen on personal growth in a way that produces emotional availability that we then share with each other.

Uncoincidentally, Trish wasn’t the only remote friend I’d already seen three times this year. Last week my skating brother from Atlanta, Parker (a.k.a. Trenter), and his girlfriend, Susan, came to visit me. I’d been hesitant because of their timing as it was right after I’d already skipped doing work for my main client for a week, but I thought, “Fuck it, this is more important to me”. I sent an email to my client being straight up as to why I’d be unavailable a few more days and the main boss said, “Friends are good :)” – I was glad he understood and that I had taken the honest approach. I had an awesome five days hanging with Parker and Susan. We spent the days skating and taking classes in dance and acroyoga, and nights practicing what we learned from class (in my living room while in our underwear) and sharing intimate conversation. It’s really something to let oneself be vulnerable and share things about your life that you’ve never shared with others before. Having Parker and Susan over was the best early birthday present I could have received!

I’m practicing being more open, honest, and vulnerable beyond just these friends. It’s definitely an uneasy feeling especially when that level of trust or intimacy hasn’t been developed, but it also works wonders to create the trust and intimacy. Conversely it’s a good way to gauge whether someone is capable of providing a deep connection, and if not, I can make the conscious choice to limit the extent of my interaction with them. But for those who respond in kind, it’s an incredibly uplifting feeling, and I’ve already found a few special souls.

Look into your own friendships. Are they giving you a sense of deep connection? Do they fill your soul? Are you finding opportunities to be open, honest, vulnerable, and yourself? Are you creating and sharing intense experiences? Or are you putting time towards superficial relationships? On the flip side, are you offering the best of yourself to a few special human beings around you? True companionship costs time, energy, and conscientiousness, but in the end it’s more priceless than anything else in life.

Creating Requires Fertile Land and Burning Down the Forest

on Jan 1, 2019

Frame from video captured in Glacier National Park, August 2013

Frame from video captured in Glacier National Park, August 2013

2019 marks the year where I CREATE. Specifically, I intend to create a stronger physical self, create refined and apprehensible ideas, create community, and create friendship.

Like planting a tree, creating something can’t happen in a vacuum or on barren land. It requires not only fertile ground but also space to grow. A brambly forest leaves little resource for new roots to take hold. And a cluttered life makes for an infertile one. 2018 was a difficult year for me because upon realizing this, I essentially burned down the forest, removing, often painfully, that which hindered my ability to create.

I burned down the excuses where I told myself that I was getting weak and tired because of some life crap or another. I burned down my consumption of negativity, which is most prevalent in news and social media. I burned down connections and digital contact with “friends” because they had become one way relationships that gave back none of the energy I put in, or a shallow and pitiful replacement for human interaction. I ended 2018 feeling empty, because all that was left were the smoldering ashes of the burned down forest that was my life. But that empty and fertile canvas is exactly what’s necessary for me to create.

Necessary but not sufficient. I also need sunlight and rain and symbiotic wildlife. To create a stronger physical self: it means setting aside regular time to do things like learn new skating moves, take parkour classes, and keep my body moving. To create refined and apprehensible ideas, it means putting the pen down to paper to write and rewrite in order to distill the jumble of thoughts in my head, while pollinating my mind through long form writing (I expect to read 50 books this year). To create community, it means sharing my skills and abilities with others, whether I’m teaching them something new or working with them to complement their needs in their own community building projects. And to create friendship, it means reaching out to those that value a symbiotic relationship, being vulnerable and empathetic with them, and immersing ourselves in amazing shared experiences.

We each have our journey in life, but I feel creating is the most satisfying experience one can have. But we’re not always ready for it. I surely wasn’t a year ago and pursued conscious action to get myself there. It was scary, uncomfortable, and painful, but I knew it was worth it. So go create! And if you’re not there yet, start burning down that bramble!

Choices

on Apr 13, 2018

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I think a lot about the choices we make in life, and I’d say the most important choices are where we put our time and energy. Work, play, family, community; we choose how to engage with each and how much. Many friends think that my choices in these areas are unusual because I left a supposed dream job at Google so I could spend a lot more time with wheels on my feet. But I think this trend is one that’s growing and in the two years since I made the choice, I’ve come to understand how to construct a practical life that’s full of passion and good work. Here’s a few thoughts.

Our generation has this notion that we ought to pursue our passions, which I think is amazing. But we also have this notion that we ought to be paid for it, and I think this is misguided in most instances, and for three main reasons. First, work is called “work” for a reason, and someone is paying you to do it because they either don’t want to do it (because it’s hard or boring or unpleasant), or they’re incapable of doing it (because they don’t have the expertise). Second, our human psychology is really geared to keep intrinsic and extrinsic motivations separate, and introducing the latter often extinguishes the former. For example, people that enjoy producing artwork often lose their inspiration when they try to make money from it. Third, our society is set up such that many of the things that people are passionate about don’t easily bring in income, which has been the case for many arts for millenia. There’s always exceptions, and I know a few fortunate people in this position, but it’s rare and these individuals have somehow avoided the pitfalls above, either through carefulness or luck.

As you might have noticed, I have a great passion for skating and put a lot of energy into my art. This includes organizing social skate events, teaching classes, mentoring other skaters, connecting and mediating different skating communities, performing on stage and on screen, participating on committees, developing informational content, promoting skating through social media, practicing and competing in multiple skating disciplines, and of course living on my skates as I fly through the city as part of my daily life. I can’t tell you how exhausting it is to do all of this, but it’s sure as hell worth it because I love skating and the community behind it. And I believe it’s some of the most meaningful stuff I do. That said, I make next to no income from skating, and I intend to keep it that way. Because if making money from it were to become a priority, then that’ll draw my energy away from the joy of skating itself.

Many people have asked me how I’m supporting myself financially. Given that I’ve been writing software code for half my life (I learned when I was sixteen), the fact that there’s a high demand for this type of work, and that it’s something I do enjoy and take pride in, that’s what I do for the paycheck. But I do it on my terms. I own my own business, work on a freelance basis, and have an agency (10x Management) that finds me potential clients. The first thing I did upon making this choice was turn down a lot of potential jobs because they didn’t fit my philosophy or lifestyle. They wanted too many hours and that would impede on my life. Or the work didn’t seem ethically responsible enough for my standards. I lived off savings for the time being and this was fine because I was in a privileged position to be comfortable living frugally and not have other humans dependent upon me. And I continued to expand my software engineering skills during that time. But over the last 9 months, my choice to not compromise paid off. I currently have two clients that I’m proud to work for. One of them does work to help non-profits better manage their finances, and many of these non-profits help promote sports activities to kids in underserved neighborhoods. The other client is a non-profit itself in the space of social good. I work the hours and days that I want and get paid only for the work I do. And while it’s a lot of work and responsibility to balance my work expectations, it’s totally worth it for the life I have. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have the freedom to prioritize time to take care of myself, quality time with my family and friends, and my pursuits in skating and beyond.

I understand that I come a from a place of privilege. I was raised in a household where my parents put a priority on maximizing opportunity. There was care and financial backing to ensure that I got a great education and had exposure to the greater world from travel to having a computer in the house when I was young to sports classes. And while my parents were reserved about my pursuit of the physical arts (as it might undermine doing homework), they still paid for my karate classes and many pairs of skates.

Many people are not so fortunate and they spend a lot of their time trying to make enough of a living to support their family, or are busy taking care of loved ones that need their help. I have all the respect in the world for these people and hold nothing against them for doing what they need to do to have a basic and comfortable life. But I know many of you have the choice to make for a better world. So I ask you this: Are you conscious of the choices you’re making in your life and their implications to yourself and others? Does the work you do ultimately help people or does it harm people? Are you just going through the motions and chasing the corporate ladder because you think that’s what you’re “supposed” to do? Are you afraid of taking the risk to do something less conventional because of what others will think of you?

I think these questions are more relevant today than ever in human history. For one, a lot of the problems of today’s world stem from the disconnect between our actions and their implications. We spend many hours at soulless corporations to the detriment of our health and familytime. Our paychecks in turn come indirectly from those exploited on the other side of the world, or even our own communities. We invest our money in large banks that care only for the bottom line. And yet we have so much opportunity to make for better lives because it’s easier than ever to connect with like-minded others and build something together.

We each get one life and it’s never too late to go after the things that you think really matter. And it doesn’t matter how small you start, as long as it’s a concrete action. Like I said, some of the most important work I do doesn’t bring in money, but it makes the world a happier place. And conversely, the work that does bring me money also contributes to the human community at some level, instead of padding the wallet of some suit driving a Mercedes.

 

From protest to everyday action

on Jan 23, 2017

When our community embodies freedom of expression, inclusiveness of all people, and diversity of perspectives, it'd be a hard fight to take that away from us.

When our community embodies freedom of expression, inclusiveness of all people, and diversity of perspectives, it’d be a hard fight to take that away from us.

We’re at the crossroads for our communities, country, and even the world, especially in the area of civil rights. We’re outraged at the potential for our government to rip apart our rights and consequently destroy our lives and the lives of those we hold dear. I feel you in your outrage and am proud to see so many friends recently go out to exercise our right to protest. And it’s incredible to see the energy behind it. But where do we go from here? Through direct action on an everyday basis in ways that employ our principles of democracy in four areas: representatives, media, social norms, and community.

There is precedent for this line of thought. I recently spoke with an acquaintance, a black man on the older side who’d been very involved in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. He even stood not far behind Dr. Martin Luther King during the famous “I have a dream” speech. I asked him for his advice on how to best create a productive movement. He said that protests and marches are very good at calling attention to a problem. And that once the attention and energy is there, further protests do little and can even weaken a movement. He noted that the areas in which we need to act next and directly toward include elected representatives and media, which unsurprisingly are areas where we have much to protest about. Additionally, research in evolutionary psychology and group dynamics, a field I worked in formally, shows that proactively establishing good social norms and building our communities are effective ways to prevent forces like the government from disrupting our rights, and they enrich our lives in the process.

I think we’ve done a great job calling attention to the problems, and any further protest would sound a lot like the unproductive complaining often found on social media. So here’s some concrete action we can take going forward:

1: Get represented by our representatives
How many of you know who your political representatives are and in what areas they hold influence in? I’m just as guilty as you are if you don’t know. But you can look them up and contact them. Show up to their town halls. Tell them about the things that matter to you. Tell them about the bills you’d like for them to support or reject. It’s their job to listen to us, and we can’t blame them for coming to us once every four years when we only actively interact with them on election day.

2: Restore news in our news media
We might complain that the media is biased or inaccurate or not reporting relevant news, but media companies are business and business has not been good to them with the rise of the internet. We used to pay for news and journalism and now we have an expectation that it should be free. So is it surprising that we get what we pay for? Can we blame them for harnessing junk news or the loudmouths that get them ratings and readership? We need to support good journalism and the dying local press, including in financial ways. We need to directly contact media companies about stories we think ought to be covered or feel were glossed over. We need to share good journalism the drives at the complexity and nuances of a given issue, instead of reposting pieces that play on “us vs them” or appeal solely to produce an emotional response.

3: Establish good social norms
Social norms play a strong role in our day to day lives and our ability to wield (or be wielded by) political power. If we make it normal and ever present through everyday actions that we respect the rights of a woman and exert consequences on those that behave otherwise, then it’ll be very difficult for any political entity to change that. On the flip side, if we regularly stand on the sidelines as a complainer, despite having good intentions, it’ll be easy for insidious forces to divide us and push their rules on us. So for whatever rights you consider important, make it clear through regular action. Express yourself creatively on the streets. Speak well of friends that come from different races, places, religions, sexual orientations, and perspectives. And act boldly but kindly when someone tries to step on that.

4: Build our communities
I’m a boots on a ground and practical type of person, so while I keep an eye on activity going on with the faraway government, I’m more interested in what’s going on in front of me in my communities. This is where day-to-day life is most visible and where we have direct control and impact. What are you building and contributing towards each week? Are you sharing an art with friends? Are you teaching something valuable to others? Are you putting your time and money towards something you’re proud to be a part of? Not everyone has the privilege to contribute in every way, but those that can do more ought to because we’re all in this together.

With regard to the latter two, I feel fortunate to be part of communities that exemplify these principles, especially the skating community. We are humans from different backgrounds and places. We respect one another and express ourselves in creative and diverse ways. We don’t just look after each other; we stand up for one another when someone acts unfairly. With that in mind, I remain optimistic that we can embrace these ideals in our everyday lives. The inertia and drive is here. Now it’s time to act.

What’s now

on Jan 4, 2017

It's your life. What are you choosing to do with it?

It’s your life. What are you choosing to do with it?

Six years ago today, I embarked upon a new phase in life as a software engineer at Google, my first full-time professional job. In my time there I worked hard (but not too much), learned a ton (and in more ways than I ever expected), and set up a great foundation for my life. 8 months ago, I left the company. Although working there was as good as it gets for a corporate job, it still meant putting my efforts towards other people’s dreams. I was ready to place all my energy behind my own passions, and privileged enough to be in a position to do so. At the time of this shift, everyone asked me “what’s next?” and I told them that I didn’t have an answer for them yet. I didn’t expect to know what was next, but I knew that it would become very obvious if I pursued my passions in earnest, while meticulously being mindful of the latitude of my skills and how they can be applied to give people something of value. I set a goal to figure out what’s next by the end of that summer, and make it “what’s now”.

I set off on planes, trains, busses, road trips, and of course my skates. My travels during the summer took me to Virginia, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Ohio, San Francisco, Nebraska, Chicago, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Burning Man, and back home to New York many times. I spent time training in various disciplines of skating, from practices, attending workshops, and receiving a certification. I competed at many events. I became an ambassador for the art of skating and took the time to show off its beauty in real life and through social media. I brought my skating to the performance arts side, starring in a music video, performing at a roller rink, and getting an extra role for a TV show. I was recognized by and received assistance from multiple skate equipment companies.

While it was a busy summer with regards to travel and events, it wasn’t so busy overall and intentionally so. I incorporated a lot of downtime and buffer time to slow down my life. This was necessary as part of a great reset, and to give my mind the opportunity to sift through possibilities. I made time to take care of myself, see friends, and expose myself to different communities. By the end of the summer, points of clarity emerged. I sought to live a modest and flexible lifestyle involving plenty of travel and physical arts. While this lifestyle isn’t compatible with working at a corporation, it does fit well with the growing “gig economy”. And outside of the physical arts, I still enjoyed coding and creating software, so I had options. A plan emerged to blend my passions and expertises.

Since September, I’ve been hard at work making a new life behind the scenes. I founded my own company, Kinetic Expression LLC, to represent my work in the realms of professional skating and software engineering. For the former, it means more on the performance arts and teaching sides. For the latter, the first big project is a software app that serves as a learning platform for physical arts, including skating, personal training, dance, and basically everything else. This particular idea was conceived during a car ride with some amazing skater friends, and after months of developing it as a one-man team, I’m proud to say that it’s about ready for beta release. On the gig side, I’ve also joined the ranks of 10x Management, which is a company that matches high-end freelance tech workers to short term software jobs.

It’s always scary to make a big change in life and especially so when you don’t know what’s next. But the gap time is necessary to explore and figure out what you want, what you can offer, and the opportunities that fit in between. Had I jumped into another role right away, there’s no way I would be in this remarkable place right now. I’m excited for what’s to come. And I’m excited for what’s now.

Replace resolutions with OKRs for a solid 2017

on Dec 26, 2016

Becoming a better version of yourself isn't easy and often feels like going up a hill. But with a few good techniques, what feels like a climb could be a stroll.

Becoming a better version of yourself isn’t easy and often feels like going up a hill. But with a few good techniques, what feels like a climb could be a stroll.

It’s almost a new year and like many of you, I’m setting resolutions to make for a better 2017. While it’s great to have audacious goals, it’s often difficult to follow through on them because some life changes require quite a bit of effort. But there’s a few tools that can make building new habits a lot more effective. One of my favorites is structuring resolutions as objectives and key-results (OKRs).

OKRs are a pretty effective and useful tool to help reach goals in work environments. The concept was invented at Intel and popularized at Google, and I used them extensively when working at the latter. They’re also effective for personal life goals. Here’s how they work: You have a general list of goals you’d like to achieve. These are the “objectives” and they more or less summarize what you’d like to achieve. We’re already good at making these since many new year’s resolutions are just a list of objectives (e.g. Eat healthy, get exercise). What’s missing though is the real important part: “key-results”, which are concrete, actionable, and measurable bits that accompany each objective. These are the specific items you focus on to reach that goal. So for the “get exercise” objective, we might have the key results: “Run at a moderate pace for 30 minutes 3 times a week” and “Do 100 pushups a day”. If you can make them as concrete as possible, you’ll know exactly what you need to do, and whether you’ve done it.

The process of writing out OKRs isn’t always easy, and that’s because it forces you to figure out how you’re going to go about doing what’s necessary to achieve your goal. Conversely, writing out OKRs can also help you figure out what exactly it is that you really want to achieve. So instead of writing out objectives and then key-results to follow, you can write out a bunch of key-results (assuming you know a bunch of concrete actions you’d like to take), see what themes they share, and come up with an objective that unifies them. Or do a mix and match to improve the existing objective or to combine a couple of weak objectives into a strong one. So in the “get exercise” example above, we might decide to instead call it “Become strong like a gladiator”. Doesn’t that sound a lot more inspiring?

Looking for another example? Here’s one of my objectives with key-results:
Establish a healthy relationship with media consumption and stimulation
– Read three books a month – at least 30 pages before going to bed and 10 when waking up, 5 days a week
– Read five quality articles a day – maintain a running list to read
– Watch one TED talk a day – maintain a running list, and watch during work breaks or meals
– Consume Facebook only during work breaks, and minimize overall consumption
– Avoid looking at junk media, and consume a quality piece (article, book, TED) instead
– Meditate for 20 minutes 5 days a week (e.g. during work breaks)
– Keep phone away from self when engaged in another activity – e.g. off nightstand when sleeping and away from desk when working

Now get to making for a solid 2017!

What’s next

on May 13, 2016

Move swiftly and boldly towards what's next.

Many people are asking me “what’s next?” in my life and the answer is that there isn’t a clear, cut and dry answer YET. I just left what’s arguably the world’s best company to work for after an amazing five years where I learned a ton and made proud contributions that improved people’s lives in broad ways. But I’m in a very different place than where I was five years ago. I’ve developed a strong set of skills, not just professionally but also in the physical arts. And although I was very well taken care of while working for a corporation, it meant bringing to life someone else’s dreams. I’m happy for the person I’ve become thanks to those opportunities. And now it’s time to apply this new self to my own passions.

The place I’m at right now is in some ways similar to where I was the year before I started working at Google. 2010 was full of uncertainty but diligent exploration and discovery. I was at some crossroads in life and decided to take my time to be smart about what I was doing next. At the time, my plans for med school had fallen through and although I was doing astounding research in human evolution, I didn’t see a solid future from it. After much introspection, reading, writing, and experimenting, I established that the “mindful application of technology” was core to what I cared for, and I worked my way into the then rocketing software industry.

Today I’m at the crossroads again, and it’s time for another round of concentrated exploration and discovery. It’s a lot different this time around though. Instead of looking to break into something new, I’m doubling down in areas where I’ve found great passion, like the physical arts  and especially skating. There’s a handful of recent trends that I find particularly noteworthy:

  • Many people are into or getting into fitness and wellness.
  • Technology is becoming involved in these fields and in health care too.
  • The office job world has changed – more demanding with the rise of fast-paced, competitive startups, and less stable with increasing work becoming automated or replaced by machines.

I’m spending this summer doing three things: The first is to figure out some “pieces” that would help me make the most of potential opportunities between my passions and these trends in fitness, wellness, and tech. Like six years ago, that involves a lot of reading, writing, research, trying out things, and slowing down life so I can actually reflect. The second thing is to follow through and develop myself. While the concrete aspects of that are yet to be determined, there’s one area that stands out: becoming a face of the physical arts world as a world class roller blader. And to get myself there, I’m traveling all over the country, teaching workshops, developing my skills in different skate disciplines, and advocating the art of skating. The third thing is to get a feel for the sort of of lifestyle I’d like to live down the road. I’ve done the 9 to 5, salaried employee thing and pushed it to its limits. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I’m incredibly curious to know whether there’s another manner that’s a better fit for me. Being in charge of my own day-to-day and week-to-week life will give me a good sense of my entrepreneurial desire and range, and opens the possibilities of starting my own business or doing contract work for when it comes time to pay bills.

It might seem ironic, but I expect to work harder in the coming months than I have during the last five years where I had a full time job. I wouldn’t have it any other way though, cause this time it’s for me and not anyone else.

What does it mean to “save the world”?

on Mar 26, 2014

Almost always, “save the world” initiatives are aimed somewhere far from the developed world. Whatever you want to call it: the third world, or some developing nation; we regard it as THE area that needs saving: warring factions in Syria, censorship in China, extortion in Mexico, hunger in Ghana, rape in India, and corruption in Russia. These are real and serious problems in the world and we’re right to seek ways to improve the greater good of people there.

But the developed world is full of many of its own problems, often orthogonal to those of the less developed world:

  • Diabetes and cancer are the diseases of developed world, and throw us into an inefficient healthcare system that’s incentivised to be expensive and bankrupt patients.
  • Our food system isn’t helping – the most convenient and least expensive food tends to very processed. Moreover, information on healthful eating is muddled by vested interests.
  • Many people find themselves in unnatural settings for daily work, where they spend most of their waking hours: long and stressful commutes, uninspiring work, hierarchical and restrictive work structures that cause the same angst and disorders as hierarchical regimes, and a lack of sunlight, fresh air, and movement. This “life” causes many physical and mental ailments including obesity and a widespread reduction in well being.
  • A consumerist mindset occupies our minds, ceaselessly telling us we need more to be happy, adding clutter to our lives and waste in our landfills.
  • We find ourselves endlessly busy and distant (physically and mentally) from things that bring true happiness: sleep, family, friends, love, community, and general relaxing and reflection.

The crux of this is that people in the developed world might not be very happy in their day to day lives. By some measures we might be less happy than those living in the developing world

These problems are nothing compared to warfare and hunger, but it’s critical that we make strides to address these issues. For one, most of world is becoming more developed. They crave to be more modern. They want to be more technologically advanced and be a part of the greater world economy. They want success and prosperity and growth. And they rightfully should. But as the developing world inherits our advancement, they inherit our problems. And these would be new problems for them – the next five billion – and big problems for the planet as a whole. So if we’re to “save the world”, let’s go after the problems in front of us, and not just the ones half a world away.



My background

Human social and societal behavior

  • A strong personal and professional research interest
  • I’ve worked with faculty at Stony Brook University in developing a theory of evolution of religion, which reached into in-group / out-group behavior and a theory of culture. While this work is yet to be published, it is referenced in the book “Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe: Human Evolution, Behavior, History, and Your Future”.
  • I was a teaching assistant for the undergraduate and graduate (classroom and online) course on Social Coercion Theory

Physical fitness

  • I’m a former practitioner of Kyokushin karate and served as an instructor for 5 years
  • I presently practice capoeira, an afro-brazilian martial art and have done so for the past 7 years
  • I’m an avid roller blader, as a daily commuter and as a safety marshall (5 years) for the inline skating community
  • I enjoy many outdoor activities including hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and skiing

Healthcare

  • I’ve volunteered at St. Francis and Bellevue Hospitals
  • I was trained and certified as a NYS EMT and briefly volunteered with the Glen Oaks Volunteer Ambulance Corps
  • I was a pre-med student in a college and applied to medical schools, but decided against the career

Food

  • A strong personal interest and I do a lot of reading, research, and personal experimenting

Making Magic Happen

on Feb 3, 2013

I recently spent time in Miami for the wedding of a best friend, Ryan. I love to hang with Ryan and Thelma (his wife) because they’re full of energy, positivity, and see a deep potential in everyone. Spending time with them often brings out the best in one; and this magic happened yet again on their special day.

The wedding was appropriately held at the FIU Nature Preserve that Ryan manages. We, friends and relatives, spent the morning helping to set up the momentous event. Knowing Ryan, this meant hard work, heavy lifting, and of course a lot of fun! We carried many heavy tables, set up all the chairs and table arrangements, and even moved a few large logs for good measure. Some were surprised by the amount of “activity” involved, but it was standard operating procedure for Ryan, Thelma, Samir (a good friend), and I. The cleanup afterwards was much the same.

Ryan and Thelma incredibly but unsurprisingly decided to call off their honeymoon (it was to be a simple trip, but still). They both felt the time was better spent with folks that came down to see them, especially Ryan’s cousin, Jonny, and I.

After we all settled down a bit at Ryan and Thelma’s house, Ryan asked if anyone wanted to do a bike ride since there was still some light out (there really wasn’t much – Ryan just needed a reason for more activity). A bunch of us agreed, including Jonny, who in the thirty or so years of his life, had never learned to ride a bike; we offered to teach him. Out we went, Samir and Jonny on bikes, Ryan and I on skates since we were short on bikes. Ryan and Samir gave Jonny a crash course (literally) in the parking lot for about an hour. Then another hour on the campus nearby. Jonny was getting the hang of it. (Samir and Ryan, however, collided into each other head-on from not paying attention. They were laughing hard as they picked themselves up from the ground).

Back at the house, around 9:30pm, Ryan asked if we’d be interested in doing a hike in the Everglades. Someone suggested that we instead bike along the paved path that cuts across the marsh, doing as much of the 15 miles that we felt comfortable with. Jonny was game – probably amped by the nonchalant attitude that the rest of us shared about doing activity after activity. We picked up a couple more bikes. Five bikes loaded onto an old Honda Accord might be a spectacle to some people. Not us.

It was 11:30pm by the time we arrived at the trailhead. It was dark and even a bit chilly. We had some headlamps and flashlights but eventually turned them off to instead ride by moonlight. The stars were out; alligators were chilling just a few feet off the path. The ride was surreal – as if we were traveling through space and time, floating in the cosmos that some like to call the Everglades. Jonny was doing great and kept insisting that we go on, despite my subtle attempts to persuade him otherwise. We heard him crash a couple of times (but couldn’t see anything in the dark) but Jonny was a real trooper and got back on the bike every time. The ride back proved more surreal – moonlight was gone. Our brains, at full focus, barely made out the road in front. At the same time, we shared deep conversation with one another. Simply amazing!

We completed the full round – 15 miles. It was 3:30am by the time we got back to the house. We were all completely exhausted but in ecstasy. What an amazing day. Yes, this was the same day that Ryan and Thelma got married!

Jonny left for home the next morning. I’m sure something in him changed. To his credit, he threw himself into a circle of people that lived life a little differently; what some would consider extreme or without bounds. And that’s exactly where the magic happens. We don’t like to impose artificial limitations. People like Ryan, Thelma, and I see great potential in all people and in ourselves. Perhaps we come off a bit conceited, judgemental, or reckless with this attitude, but it’s a person’s loss to not strive for that potential. Jonny played it perfectly and it paid off. He learned to ride a bike in two hours time and then went off to do an incredible ride through the Florida Everglades. Maybe it’s not so much magic but just the right attitude and the right crowd to resonate that energy…


Note: Thelma deserves much credit. She was real cool about letting Ryan hang with his buddies for these adventures (she wanted to join us on but decided to take it easy given the recent stress of putting together a wedding, while being seven months pregnant). Amazingly (or rather fitting in my opinion), she and I went indoor rock climbing two days later. It was her idea and she insisted. Thelma totally rocked it!