Monday, September 23, 2013

Ayn and Nora: Perspective is at the Root of All Decisions

On a sick day, I usually turn to reruns of The Price is Right but this time I settled for a documentary of Ayn Rand (The Sense of Life, 1998). About this time last year, I read Atlas Shrugged, and it stuck with me because the philosophies on servitude and oppression of talent felt evident in my ill-fitting job at the time. I only got through the first hour of the documentary, realizing that the internet might have more engaging (or at least the possibility of unbiased) content of this interesting lady.

I was not disappointed.

After sifting through scores of articles on how she might have had a psychological or mental disorder, I found the story of reuniting with her youngest sister, Nora, to be the most intriguing. After 35 years of no communication, Nora came to visit Ayn in Manhattan. She didn't like America because of the overabundance of choice (known today as decision fatigue), the conveniences of our technology, and a much more tacit issue of having one’s dreams (i.e. freedom) at arm’s length versus in one’s head, where it can remain glamorized and untouched by the burdens of reality.  

This might take a few minutes...
Before reading this article, I wasn't sure why anyone would not like it here. When I was in college, I met a couple of Russian girls my age that definitely preferred to live in their old home versus Maryland. They couldn't quite articulate the issue, and I dismissed it as an offhand comment.* However, the insight of the sisters’ reunion made the stark difference of how we value human relationships and time spent on any given activity. Not that all relationships in America are shallow, but with the heavy emphasis on networking, Facebook friend numbers and general screen time, we spend surprisingly little face time with our friends and family. American culture, with its conveniences and technology, is set up to enable workaholism, consumerism, and indulgence of all waking hours into anything we like. It’s wonderful, but not for everyone.

"To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering." 
- Friedrich Nietzsche

As for achieving one’s dreams or adhering to an archetypal purpose, I’m conflicted because there are a lot of individuals who are satisfied with their current lives and don’t require freedom to fulfill their self-actualization. 
Livin' the dream.
The flavor of American Dream that entails of leading a fuller, richer life may not appeal to such people. There will also be those who are driven, who will do the work and find the place they need to be. For those in between – who are not satisfied with their current position and don’t have the drive for doing something about it – this is a case of clashing or unknown values, which requires some psychological or spiritual digging and a different perspective for resolution.

*The majority of folks who've come here from another country are overwhelmingly positive about being here. Some quotes:
"You know, the best part about being in America is ordering food through the window of your car and being able to eat it inside the car!" 
"I've waited 25 years in order to ride a big roller coaster like this. We don't have them at home."
"You can work hard and move up. Or be lazy and not make money." 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Two Brush Surprise

I have two toothbrushes - one for my teeth, and one for cleaning jewelry and other things that require small bristles (hair clippers, fingernails, etc.). Of course since they are the exact same model, there's a chance for mix up, which happened yesterday. 

Eeeny meeny...

After I re-brushed my teeth with the correct toothbrush (I was afraid I made my teeth dirtier using the 'designated cleaning brush,' ironically), I laughed at myself.

It triggered an old memory where my sis and I incessantly giggled while my grandma brushed her hair at our dresser. 
She finally asked, "What is it?"
"That's the brush we use on the cat HAHAHAHA!!" 
Of course the brush was an old hairbrush we used on ourselves at some point, but was innocuously laying out next to the mirror among jewelry and socks.

This indicates either that history is doomed to repeat, or that I should store 'tools' in a way that makes them obvious they aren't to be used for hygiene. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Putting Your Work in the River of the Universe

This time last year, I changed jobs in my field. I was excited to have new work and a new crowd, but a few months in the initial energy dissipated and I decided my dream was to leave the organization completely to pursue a creative field. I also decided to give myself five years to pull together a strategy and implement it.
The biggest (or most pressing issue) was that I couldn't find any good resources on how to make this transition. At the time, I was signed up for an online entrepreneurial organization that provided interviews of people who ‘made it’ as specialists in their field, and who made enough money to support themselves. Others in the group were somewhere on the path, figuring out how to act normally in a crowd or how to get feedback on their business ideas. I was somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and honestly looking for a way to replace my income stream with something else.

I set out multiple fishnets to figure out a path. I informally interviewed five well respected engineers at work on how they managed their careers. Consistently, their response was that they just said yes to whatever came along, which sometimes took them out of their ‘comfort zone.’ They iterated that this was the key to their success. I was happy to find consistency, but I had no idea what the heck they meant without some specifics or context. People tend to learn a lot when they are out of their comfort zone, but that doesn't mean that they become excellent at anything. When I was a technical trainer, which had nothing to do with my engineering degree, I was probably a “B-rated” trainer, as I had no formal grooming, nor did I really care about getting more polished as a speaker, or spent my free time learning how to use the software better.

I also asked people in the entrepreneur forums how they transitioned careers. I got one lonely half-response from a woman who served as a diplomat and is now selling Chinese tea. I asked her all sorts of questions about how she was able to find the opportunities for tea, and how she managed her money situation. She was obviously happy about her business, but I wanted to know how she discovered her calling, and what triggered the switch. As it turns out, people don’t necessarily want to get into these types of details about their lives. Besides the tea seller, I exhausted several other outlets, including a lot of internet research.  I wasn't looking to copy a specific road map, but I couldn't see my own path based on information that only scratched the surface. I wanted to understand everything about the emotional roller coaster of “making it”, as well as any monetary changes. I didn't want to go back to a chaotic financial place.

But at the core of this research, from all of these attempts, I was looking for permission to let my creative work into the world. I wanted my paintings and writing to be “good enough” to exist beyond the safe walls of our home. It’s an incredibly scary world out there, especially after watching the constant tearing down of celebrities and artists on the internet or in the news.  I haven’t put in the 10,000 hours into any one thing (maybe sleeping), and so I don’t necessarily consider myself qualified enough to join the race of fantastic painters and story tellers.

However, the vision and the drive are still there. I have always been able to see a distant light on the horizon of doing something great, of contributing something great in the world.

This past week, I submitted a painting* I’d been working on in my oils class to the media contest at work. It took all the guts I had, because I've committed over a decade of time to studying and applying engineering, efficiency, and data management. I finally let my work “into the river.” I have no idea what will happen, but after submission, I experienced an incredible peace. How funny that I need to prove something like this to myself – even when there’s nothing at stake.

In fact, I’m inspired to do another portrait, maybe this time using an original photo versus copyrighted material.

One day at a time…

*I wouldn't feel right posting a picture of the painting here, as it would invoke copyright infringement. The original picture is Sakuran II by Zemotion, found here.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Synergy of Lifestuffs

Every so often, I troll through my old journals. The journey usually ends up with a self awareness that is either: hilarious, impressive, or circular. Today I found a particular entry from this day in 2005 which hit at least two of the three marks:

Sweet Frog: Perfection in a cup
Most Perfect

The most perfect dinner is family and friends, salad, soup, three different breads, five different spreads, sweet tea, flavorful meat (maybe gravy), two vegetables (one of them green beans), wine, water with bubbles in ice, and dark chocolate with strawberries and whip cream. 

The most perfect boyfriend is one who considers you, the future, how he presents himself, and his family. He balances work and play, and shares all of his interests and friends with you. He likes animals, and makes you laugh. Every once in a while, he'll make you his favorite omelette recipe and help you move apartments.

The most perfect game allows you to be active - a test of skill, strength, and agility. It is one where players wholeheartedly put their energies into, and it's not so much about the winning so much as having the guts to be the winner.

The most perfect sleep is one waking up refreshed. Going to sleep is as easy as smiling at a happy thought, and dreams are saturated with color and funny memories. Waking up is a quiet experience, and the refreshed feeling stays with you all day.

These things are still perfect against the vista of time, even the part about green beans.