Stuff

Last winter, I instituted a room by room cleaning project. I emptied closets and cupboards. Nothing was untouched. Nothing uncleaned. I got rid of boxes of stuff. 

In Brad Warner’s fantastic book, Sit Down and Shut Up, he writes this about things:

Every object you acquire comes with a certain degree of responsibility for that object. Most of us don’t realize this, which is why we treat the stuff we own so incredibly badly.  You need to take care of these things. When you don’t, you cause yourself and others a heap of trouble.

The only way to really be happy is when you desire as little as possible.

I keenly felt the burden of things during my clean out, but since then, I’ve continued to acquire. I was unable to give it up then, but I’m coming around. I just bought a new computer and deliberately let go of some files. I purchased Spotify and stopped buying music. I’m thinking of dissolving my CD collection. 

Technology helps as certain technologies go away like VCRs and DVD players, those relics left behind lose their meaning. Streaming services mean you no longer have to own your movies or your music and thus the burden of caring for it.

It’s sometimes noted with a sneer by older generations that millennials don’t want to own things like cars. I think owning things comes with a certain complexity that this generation has decided to avoid. I think we need to, perhaps, applaud that thinking and re-examine our own.

Bulletproof

It’s been a year of change at my job, and at some point, one of our executives came by and told me that the door was open if I needed a dose of radical honesty. I appreciated that and indicated as much. “You strike me as the kind of person that empties your bucket for other people.”

Yes. I. Do.

If you project enough concern for others, eventually people will feel confident that your well of goodwill is an underground spring that never runs dry.

Mine does, but I don’t often show it.

As an introvert, I fill myself with alone time. When the bucket is running really dry, I hole up in my house like a shut in. I paint. I fix things. I wear giant headphones. I fill my day with tasks. I cross things off my many lists. I’m short with those close to me since those begging for my energy are not around. I hate this, but it passes.

I envy those who seem to have a bottomless well; although, I imagine they’re needful as well. We all are. 

The advantage of being a student for life

I began my graduate work a few weeks after receiving my undergraduate degree. I knew I didn’t want to leave school, and I kind of never have. You shouldn’t either.

Here’s why.

I work in technology. Everything changes all the time. Being ok with being a student turned out to be a huge advantage, and it will continue to be as the world of work changes in nearly every field.

Those who learn will flourish

Tom Peters recently noted on Kara Swisher’s Recode: Decode podcast that the ability to be dedicated to reeducation will allow you to flourish in a time of change:  

I believe that the 40-year-old who is totally dedicated to reeducation every single day of the year is gonna make it and is gonna flourish. I think that they are going to flourish by being a value to some customer set, for God’s sakes.

It’s not new. It is not new. My wife and I have a sub-zero refrigerator and the compressor went out. The guy came to fix it. I chat with everybody. Here’s a guy who I would guess is 40, 45 years old. He has a little utility company that helps do appliances, six people. He had just gotten back from a two-week training course that he had paid for out of his own pocket on the Internet of Things. You know, when refrigerators start ordering your stuff for you.

I think he’s gonna survive, and I think he’s gonna thrive. I think there’s a good chance that his six-person company will be a 16-person company. I am incredibly optimistic about people like that.

This is an era of rapid change, and Swisher’s podcasts have focused heavily on the world of work. Peters contends that being dedicated to reeducation means survival. It sounds drastic, but is it? 

How many things have changed in your job since you started 5 years ago, 10? If you just started, what do you think your occupation will look like in 5 years, 10?

Different? Yes. Radically different. Very possible.

Online or in class

My degrees are in English, but a good chunk of my work is in print and web design. To bolster my career, I earned a design certificate from The Pennsylvania College of Art and Design about a decade ago. I’ve taken classes there ever since for both professional development and for personal growth.

I also use Lynda.com, Skillshare.com, and Coursera.org for access to specialty courses, world class instructors, and general training.  They’re great resources and very affordable. Lynda and Skillshare have low introductory offers. Some Coursera courses are available to audit for free. 

Classes can also bring about interesting changes in perspective that enrich your life outside work. I’ve written about a Buddhism and Psychology Class that helped me think differently about the world of stuff. 

In some ways, it’s never been a better time to need a constant education because the resources are available and plentiful. Choose carefully. Get recommendations from others, and fire up that web browser or get thee to a classroom. You’ll be glad you did.

My completed courses at Coursera.org. I’ve used this site for both professional and personal development. 

Eye of the Beholder

Here is something that happened to me just recently but has reoccurred throughout my design career. The things I care about. The things I think are cool or good or difficult or clever are not always what others think are cool, good, difficult, or clever.

Most people walk around in their own bubble of interests. Most people are not designers. If you work with a team, what matters to any particular member of the team is what that person is interested in.  It may take you 15 minutes to put together that flyer, but if that flyer is promoting this team member’s project, then that is all that matters.

My advice to you is to treat everyone’s project like it’s important. Don’t down play any work you do. Don’t sell yourself short because you thought it was easy. Put your best work forward always even if it isn’t what you consider challenging or especially interested. You’re helping to interpret and sell their dream, and that’s important. Always. That’s challenging. Always. Even if you did it before.

For the hard and interesting stuff, keep a side hustle. Find a way to fit in the work that you really want to do, the work that challenges you, the work you find interesting or cool, the work that makes you feel like a pro. You also need to please yourself, and the tough stuff will do that. Make sure you fit it in even if it doesn’t pay the bills because it will feed your soul.

Old Clothes and Their Essence

I recently completed Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Professor Robert Wright on Coursera.org. In the supplemental material, one of the video lecturers was one between Wright and Paul Bloom on Bloom’s book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like.

In it, Bloom talked about the essence of things. From a review of the book: “What matters most is not the world as it appears to our senses. Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think the thing is.” Bloom argues that at the root of pleasure is our reading (or misreading) of the essence of something rather than the facts presented to our senses. 

Like Wright, Bloom traces the origin of essence to natural selection. “We have evolved essentialism to help us make sense of the world, but now that we have it. It pushes our desires in directions that have nothing to do with survival and reproduction.”

Bloom argues that we endow everything including people and items with an essence that gives them a value. This is why a tape measured owned by JFK has more value than the humbleness of the object would suggest. It’s value is inherent in who owned it. It’s essence.

Essence works both ways. Bloom argues that clothing and other items owned by regular people have less value. They are herein tainted by being used.

I think Bloom’s argument is a intriguing one, and I find a lot to relate to. I’ve noticed that used items have far less market value when buying clothing at thrift stores and on eBay. Clothing of all types goes for a fraction of its retail value. Even unique pieces can usually be found with enough patience, and their value as determined by the market is far under retail. If you’re concerned about essence, then, by all means, buy things that have never been used. If you’re not, just wash them, and they’ll be yours.

 

 

Coaching from a Spouse

Despite sharing the same rank for a season, my husband is a better tennis player than I am. He played sports in high school. I did not. We both work hard on our games, but I think he has the edge. He’s a wonderful student of the game. He watches videos. He reads books.

So when I decided to put much more effort into my game, I had to decide to give up on that ego and take his instruction. He’s not one to compliment anyone, and I’m historically someone who needs a little encouragement. I had to put that aside, and I did. I’ve been working on growing as a person, and taking advice and criticism is a big part of that growth. It’s not personal. Keep repeating that. It’s true.

Part of my commitment to getting a better game is just playing more matches. There is always a flutter of nervousness for me in a match. Always. I thought playing more could take that edge off, and it has. I committed to three teams and a night class this winter, and in retrospect, that was probably a lot. I struggled mightily on one team in particular, and Jeff asked to come watch.

My partner and I won, but it was kind of ugly. Afterwards, Jeff had an hour discourse on what I did wrong. One of the last things he said was, “your knees weren’t bent. You weren’t ready to move. In fact, no one on that court was ready to move. If you just do that, you’ll be better than 90% of the people out there.”

A lot of what he said clicked, but the knee bend stuck like a barnacle. Playing with your quads engaged will leave you with burning outer thighs, so I upped my yoga practice to compensate. The knee bend and ready position has the side benefit of giving me something to focus on.  The improved concentration has also helped my game.

Sometimes we overlook the expertise of those close to us. We shouldn’t. It’s wonderful to have a personal coach and hitting partner with the kind of availability only a pro could dream about. As my game gets better, I’ve given back in the form of suggested drills and my own observations. We were 2-2 for the fall season, which isn’t too shabby. I see more great play in our future.

How’s the Spanish Going?

Back in July, I wrote a post about learning Spanish. You may be wondering, is that still a thing? Sure is. Since that time, I’m nearly through Duolingo and half way through the beginning course on Babbel.

What did I learn? I learned that I have to be patient with myself. Very patient. 95% of my life is in English. Writing in English is a large part of my income. Given my beginner level, I have yet to secure a teacher to practice production, listening, and speaking. I’ll do so when I have finished with the Babbel course. I fit my lessons in throughout the week, but they still make up a small portion of what I’m reading and learning. Therefore, I forget. Frequently. All the time. I still may not know the word for rain, and I learned it weeks ago.

As the lessons build, I find myself doing each one twice. Some concepts still evade me like numbers and any words involving snow or cold weather. Indirect objects may require me to do a lesson three times to get my head around it.

Am I discouraged? No. I know I’m making progress because everything I learn was literally something I did not know the day before. Language learning is a heavy lift. I knew that before I started. Finally, it’s not a competition. There is no prize for finishing first or being perfect. The prize is in taking my time seriously and making progress, albeit slow, on a long term goal.

Evol rules my world

Since I previously posted about food, let me spend a few minutes talking about a food I really like, evol.

I work 30 minutes from my home, and the distance makes it impossible to go home for lunch. I don’t want to spend too much on food, and the options near my workplace are limited. I also am sometimes limited on time for lunch, and I rarely cook dinner so have few leftovers. What to do? Frozen dinners.

evol frozen dinners
evol has a lot of vegetarian options include two versions of ravioli.

evol frozen dinners have points
Save the points on the box for cool tshirts and goodies. What a great branding idea.

Hey, I know it sounds awful, but they’ve come a long way. When I first started eating frozen food, the pre-made dinner options were pretty awful – high in calories and fat. Since that time, they’ve come a long way. The brand I especially like is evol. They have a variety of vegetarian options that I dress up with low calorie goodies like hot sauce, fresh tomatoes, and green peppers. They are relatively low in calories with each dinner clocking in under 400 calories. The lasagna and mac and cheese are higher, so consult the box.

Finally, they have an evol community option. Each box contains points printed on the box. Collect the points, and you can send your points in for cool t-shirts and other neat stuff. It’s great branding, and the community gear options are very nice.

#recommended

evol hoodie
I traded in 200 box points for this awesome hoodie. Even more great branding. Now I’m wearing their brand.

Weight Loss Technology

I have two dogs, Pom and Baby Cow. Pom’s entire life is moved by food. He’ll do anything for it. It makes him exceedingly easy to train. Baby Cow likes attention. She likes food alright, but it doesn’t move her world. I am much more Baby Cow than Pom.

However, one curious thing about my relationship with food that is probably not unique: for every decade I’m on this earth, I can eat less food.  If I ate the same way I did when I was 20, then I’d be overweight now. My metabolism seems to change every few years now, and I’ve used the Lose It App to banish stray pounds over the years. Try it. It’s easy.

Lose It has a vast encyclopedia of foods. Punch in your current height, age, and weight and what you would like to weigh. Finally, give it a goal. I want to weigh X in 3 months. It gives you a calorie budget, and you punch in everything you eat every day. It gives you encouragement along the way. It’s discrete, positive, and super easy to use. Plus, it’s free. If you need more details, access to data, and meal plans, you can buy a premium plan.

Eat frozen dinners for a work-day lunch like I do? Scan the barcode. Lose it has you covered. You need to do a bit of calculating with fresh foods, but it is very easy to do. Build in a little margin every day, and you’ll reach your goals in no time.

Keep Growing

Recently, I had a tennis friend fix something for me that I had been struggling with for years. (Keep that left arm up when you’re serving. It helps you sight the ball.) I’m sure someone else had given me the same advice, but I didn’t hear it. When I was ready to hear it, it stuck.

This is how I felt after completing Lighting for Photographers at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCAD). The basic concepts of photography finally came together and made sense in my mind. The class was twice a week for five weeks with an audience of five and one professional instructor, Ole Hongvanthong, of PhotoOle.

Ole graciously allowed us to use all his lighting equipment for the entire class, and now I have a firm idea of what I want to buy and full-on camera envy. That 5D Mark III will be mine someday! Every class was experiential. We learned by doing. When I lined up my photos from the first class to last, it was obvious that the lessons had been absorbed.

For the final night of class, we were invited to hear Ole speak to the League of Women Voters at the Candy Factory in Lancaster. More lessons. He was asked about removing scars in the final image and noted that he tells clients to embrace their imperfections because it makes them who they are. He talked about his own camera envy for a Canon Rebel owned by his cousin, and that she ended up giving him the camera and even named his business for him.

Ole Hongvanthong speaks at The Candy Factory, August 10, 2017. Photo by Justin Zook.

Finally, I couldn’t end this post without talking about the people. Justin was a passionate landscape photographer and the cousin of a good friend of mine. Mary Ellen was a reporter with LNP who was frequently tasked with taking her own photos. She was looking to improve. Rick was a former stay at home dad and teacher who once ran his own photography business. He was the most natural teacher of the group and was hoping to become an art instructor again now that his children were grown. I hope he does. At 19, Cameron was the baby of the group. She had started freelancing taking photos for friends and had some mad Photoshop skills. Her mom accompanied her to every class because she had seizures regularly and could not drive. She was a sweet and wonderful human.

This class ended but another one will begin shortly. Provided I can secure some equipment, there are two I am considering for the fall.

Get yourself out there and learn something new!