transparency to life

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!

Saying ‘Yes’ and Unlocking New Worlds

on Nov 18, 2012

Washington DC, Montreal, the Catskills, Boston, Brazil, Killington, Boulder, the Adirondacks, Puerto Rico, and Moab. The past year has been filled with new experiences, travels, and adventure. But it was not by accident. It required stepping out of comfort zones and flipping upside-down the very way I approached life.

Brazil – this is where it starts. I made almost no plans for this trip. I’d be there with friends from my capoeira academy and would go along with whatever they did. I’d for long wanted to become comfortable with personal travel and experiencing things by just going with it. Until then, I’d been an intrepid planner and became easily unnerved when plans weren’t in detail or when they became unravelled. This trip was just what I needed. On the way there, I missed a connecting flight after landing in Sao Paulo and had rearrange my pickup (this required figuring out a complicated phone system by asking around for help in Portuguese). Upon meeting my friends in Bahia, they asked if I was interested in a capoeira workshop that night. Of course. They then said that its location was a little sketchy and that locals told them “don’t get shot” (it turned out fine). The rest of my time there required handling such uncertainties, especially given the nature of ‘Bahia time’, where things move at a relaxed pace.

Boston – my bus lands an hour or two late. I’d miss the first group roller blading event. A past me would have been upset at ruined plans. But hey, the weather was beautiful and there was a new city waiting to be explored on skates. I dropped off my bag with the event hotel concierge and made my own skating “event”. The ad-hoc planning was rather appropriate. I’d purchased my bus tickets just two days earlier (despite “planning” to attend this event well ahead of then) and would not figure out where I’d be sleeping until that night. There is a method to this madness – I call it just-in-time planning. There’s two parts: have a rough sense of options ahead of time and act on them at nearly the last possible moment. For example, I knew that I could reach Boston by train, bus, or car and didn’t really worry about which until the trip neared. Likewise, I figured I’d be able to stay with some skater friend (I’m fortunate to have many) who has extra space or a patch of floor, or at worst I’d just sleep outside. I asked around and it worked out. Better yet: the good skater friends I stayed with became great skater friends.

New York – this flexibility and spontaneity spreads into my typical weeks, making them not so typical. I used to be a real stickler about making my usual weekly events, like the groups skates or martial arts class. Doing so paid off handsomely with my skills flourishing but this limited new experiences. Another flip: I began to miss usual events to explore new activities, new places, new friendships, and often all of the above, and learned a great deal about life and myself. I still really hate to miss a capoeira class here and there, but I know it’s for opportunities of great personal growth in self and open mindedness.

Each experience lends to build future experiences. Saying yes to one thing that is out of one’s comfort zone makes it easier to say yes to other things. Knowing that you can splice together a plan at the last second removes worries about how things are turning out and lets you enjoy each moment at the moment. Flexibility leads to profound experiences as unexpected details fill themselves in.


P.S. I really missed writing these posts. I hope my absence in writing is understandable. It means a lot to me when friends tell me that they liked my last post or ask when they’ll see the next one. Life’s been full of surprises lately – I hope to have some more writings for you soon 😉

Healthy Competition

on May 13, 2012

It’s around 10pm on a Tuesday night and I’m out roller blading in northern Manhattan. I’m climbing up a hill and my friend is about 200 feet in front of me. Thinking to myself, “I can beat him to the top of the hill”, I pump my legs harder and accelerate up the hill. I reach to where my friend is and continue pushing it. But I’m unable to take up the lead – we remain side by side. Ten seconds pass and we both start laughing. He’s pushing his legs to maintain my pace. And I bet his legs are burning and aching as much as mine are. As we reach the top (I won’t say who got there first), our legs are on fire and we’re gasping for air. But we both have big smiles on our faces…

We live in a competitive world. In order to be successful or survive, we must be able to compete well against others. We’ve been told stuff like this our whole lives and it makes me hate the idea of competition. Yet I thoroughly enjoy being a a competitive person. Is this a paradox? I think not. Competition has the potential to bring out the best in us or the worst in us.

Is there something inherently good or bad about wanting to be better than everyone else? I believe it can go either way. Consider this parable: There is a line drawn on a piece on paper. How would you make it shorter? The obvious answer is to cut the line, to erase part of it. A more interesting answer is to draw another line next to it – one that is longer. So does your being better than another result from some loss to them? Or a gain in your part? Or both? I feel any instance where there is a loss represents the dark side of competition. Unfortunately, this common in many settings. For example, the only way to be promoted or keep your job at some workplaces is to break down others. It’s really a waste of human productivity yet a game some of us are forced to play.

There’s much to like when the game entails no loss. If one person is inspired to be better at something to pass the level of another person, that’s great. Even better is when that other person reciprocates. It can be a virtuous cycle of betterment. This is precisely the case in the skating story above. My friend and I are stronger skaters because we constantly push each other. I’ve experienced the same in indoor rock climbing, where my friends and I challenge each other to increasingly difficult climbs – by first doing it ourselves! The same healthy competition can do wonders in workplaces and allow people to do amazing work. Taken a few magnitudes larger, companies can “compete” to out-innovate each other. Everyone wins.

So let’s let competition inspire – it makes us all better. And not let competition conspire – it’s bad news for everyone, even the “winners”.

What’s an idea worth?

on May 8, 2012

Here’s a situation I’ve experienced quite a few times:

  1. I come up with some cool idea or approach to solve a problem
  2. I tell someone about it
  3. That person tells me that I ought to patent it and/or make money off of it

It kills me when this happens.

First, this perspective directs the motivation from intrinsic to extrinsic. I came up with the idea because I thought it would be cool if it existed. The mere fruition of the idea would make me very happy. It’s not about the money or the credit. It’s about solving some issue to make my or other people’s lives better.

Second, we put too much importance on “protecting” our ideas. Honestly, it’s unlikely that someone will steal your idea. There’s an enormous amount of work that goes into turning an idea into reality.

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison

If someone does happen to do all the work of following through on your idea, then they probably deserve to reap the benefits.

Third, ideas don’t really belong to anyone. They simply arise in the process of creativity, which builds upon ideas that others have come up with.

Fourth, ideas become more useful when they’re allowed to mingle with other ideas, especially from different minds. Something idealistic might turn into something practical. Or perhaps an approach to one problem will solve another problem.

The bottom line:

  • Ideas are cheap
  • Execution is expensive
  • Ideas multiply in effectiveness when they’re shared
  • All of the above are required to get something valuable

As for my situation, it’s clear that I need to be even more open with my ideas. So that’s exactly what I’m doing. Check out my new project at http://ideas.sonicans.net where I’ll be sharing all sorts of ideas. Some will be ones I have or intend to follow through on. But this won’t be the case for most of them. So if you see something you like or find interesting, feel free to take the idea. To share and discuss it. To remix it. To bring it to life. I hope the world will be better off for it.