Of Times, Eyes and Seasons

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Life – and time – have a penchant for throwing up surprises, ones which are sometimes welcome, but (perhaps more often than not?) unwelcome. Never more obvious is this than in the passage of time as measured by times, seasons and the lives of others. Somehow life in the moment, in the here and now – never seems to move at pace; only with the benefit of hindsight does the amount of time that has elapsed become obvious.

This, the apparent disconnect between time in the moment and time as Time, was brought home to me this week thanks to a chance conversation with my cousin V. Out and about for a quick lunch time walk to clear my head, stretch my legs and get some fresh air, I run into him on the corner of Market and Hadden Streets. As we have a quick chat, he mentions that it is his daughter’s birthday tomorrow – her fifth.  I distinctly remember being at her first birthday, seemingly only a couple of years ago. How four years have gone by so quickly beggars belief in my mind.

It is now just over two years since H passed. The keenness of loss has been medicated by the time which has passed since then, which I suppose is  a  good thing. The new normal is more and more embedded, with occasional triggers like remembering one of her favourite songs – When I look into Your Holiness  – being the things which jolt one back to the reality of loss. With all that, and the song, came memories of children’s Sunday school and growing up at Chapel in the early 90’s.

One of the more interesting things I read this week was Anne’s musing about spiders; which reminded me that I am due a free eye test; yet another reminder of the passage of time, and in my case how dependent on my glasses I am to function in the real world. On the odd occasion my glasses fall off the cabinet next to my bed, I struggle to find them, such is the state of my eyes these days.

The nip in the air is another telling indicator of the passage of time. It was spring not too long ago, then summer, and now we stand on the cusp of autumn. It is not heaters-blazing-with-multiple-duvets weather yet but it doesn’t feel like there is much between this and that. Word around town is that this year’s winter is likely to be harsher than the last. For now, it is dry, cold and sunny. That, I can deal with.

#61 – The February Wrap – Of Life, and Steady Habits

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What has quickly become apparent – as this year of living earnestly evolves – is that far from being the wild, giddy, excited life I half expected when my thoughts began to initially crystallise, it is one that is lived in increments; steady habits being the under-girding behaviours which hold everything together. That sense – of slow, steady if ponderous, progress – is one that has been consistently underlined and reinforced all year; by the book I am currently reading (Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life),  the ongoing series at Passion City on Habits and various conversations, the last of which occurred over the weekend with the older guy friend/ mentor O.  The general gist of the book and the series is that change is only possible if there is an overarching vision of the future that frames the daily actions that we take, providing an incentive that keeps us plugging away at them.

Discipline without direction equals drudgery, Whitney says; Giglio’s line is that who we become is all about the habits that we create and the habits that we curate.

I made steady progress in January but fell off the wagon massively in February, distracted by pressures at work and all. March though is an opportunity to get back on track, repeat the February habit as well as the March one and take it from there. Roll on the steady habits, shall we say?

Currently Listening to: When the Rain Comes – Third Day (from the 2003 Grammy Award winning album Come Together)

#6 – Of Faith and Metaphors

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Yesterday was a seventh consecutive day of having managed to start my day with a time of quiet contemplation using the devotional I’ve chosen to use for the year. The reading, from 1 Corinthians 9:27 with its imagery of war with the body got me thinking of all the other metaphors faith (at least in the Christian sense) is described by.  A few readily came to mind; an athlete, a soldier, a farmer and a steward of resources. I suspect there are more, if one chose to delve deeper, but all these seemed to support the narrative of focus and discipline on one hand, and reward on the other.

#Focus then…

On Language, and Aspiration

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In the opening chapter of his autobiography, Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez explores his introduction to the English language, and the strain his commitment to mastering it places on his relationship with his parents. Being Mexican immigrants to America in the 1970’s, their primary language of intimacy and engagement is Spanish, their efforts in English being halting and deeply accented, even though his mother is an excellent speller of words. The emotion most stirred in those early days – when he as the up and coming scholarship boy gets to be out and about with them – is one of embarrassment and perhaps frustration at their limitations. For him, as with most people looking to escape the limitations of a certain kind of background, aspiration is a keen motivator, one that drives him to seek to immerse himself in knowledge and books, and take up the manners, airs and graces of the class and culture he looks up to.

Language, particularly where there is one which dominates the economic, political and cultural landscape in a given society, is often the most visible marker of class, and the ‘easiest’ target for those who would aspire to those heights. There is a sense in which English – for now at least until China takes over the world – remains such a language for many people around the world. This was brought home to me quite forcibly by the gaggle of people I met at my water survival course a week ago. In spite of our varying nations of origin, Nigeria (in my case), Spain, France and the token Englishman, fluency in English – at least to such an extent where one could understand and be understood – was clearly a highly prized asset.

Beyond fluency, accents also serve as differentiators, often because we as people thin-slice others, drawing inferences from our first impressions a significant proportion of which is influenced by how they sound. As an example, more often than not if presented with a Glaswegian accent, my first instinct would be to ensure my wallet is well tucked away out of sight. Received pronunciation portrays an element of class and polish,  English spoken with a South Texas drawl immediately makes me think of a gun-slinging, cowboy boot wearing, oil patch veteran. On the other hand, if Barry Glendenning were female, his accent would have me hot under the collar. Clearly different strokes for different folks. In fact, one of the more interesting telephone interviews I have had was for a job in Newcastle a few years ago, ending with the interviewer asking me what part of the world I was from because he couldn’t place my (edited, and some would say contrived) accent.

I suspect that our Nigerian OAPs are on to something here, given how contrived their accents allegedly are. Given their need to differentiate themselves from what is a crowded market place, perhaps selling an aspirational accent to us is merely one more trick in their toolboxes…

About Town – Conversations, Nandos and Catching Up on Reading

Somehow last Friday, I found myself at Nandos. Somehow doesn’t quite tell the full story given it had more than a hint of conscious effort to it, and my history with the darned place. I suspect it had more to do with a sense of longing than anything else seeing as the last time I was here was in early July. Then, the closest thing to the distinctly autumnal chill I now felt was the distant memory of spring’s tail as she ambled past, urged on by our nearly – but not quite summery  – summer.  I managed to score my regular table, number 11, proceeding to order the self-same meal I have ordered on each of the 100 + times since May 2012 that I’ve been here – half a chicken in lemon and herb, and a mixed leaf salad.

Extra hot sauce and cutlery in hand, I managed to navigate the maze of tables and chairs to my seat before that odd feeling of being watched compelled me to look up, upon which I caught the eye of an old friend I hadn’t seen since his short sojourn in Norway back in 2010. Dropping all, I made my way to the table he was sat at, where his wife and children were digging into a bowl of olives waiting for their own order.We shared a chest bump, to the consternation of more than a few onlookers.

This man! You still dey do this your Voltron moves abi? It was a reference to my gift of invisibility. Enquiries with more than a few mutual friends had failed to turn up my current whereabouts. In my defense, the one friend who might have known was offshore, and had been for the better part of three weeks already. We made small talk – interspersed with regular rather loud handshakes – during which it transpired he had been in town for a couple of weeks already, holidaying with his family, taking the opportunity to escape from the bedlam that is Nigeria, most especially the old motherlode I used to work at. In the space of five minutes or so, I’d caught up on a lot – a steady stream of exits form the old mother lode, which expatriate was back in the country as a contract consultant and what high flier had earned a move to Houston, and of course the developing Ebola story.

The Scottish referendum – I am as yet still undecided – came up too. In theory, I’m in favour of a ‘Yes’ vote, but neither argument has been put forward particularly compellingly enough to me so far. His take was a cautionary tale – based on his experience of Norway – about high taxes, and the North Sea oil numbers which depending on who you talk to might not be so secure after all. That the SNP which has made a big song and dance of protecting the NHS actually has underfunded it, or so the fact checkers say, hardly builds any confidence me that they’ve got a clue. All done and dusted, we swap phone numbers with a promise to catch up properly before he heads off to Nigeria, leaving me to reflect on my way home on just how small margins of coincidence can be. Nandos does have a reputation for being the defacto Nigerian embassy in Aberdeen, at least so says Tolu Ogunlesi. One suspects he should know, even though some would disagree.

The theme of running into old acquaintances continues over the weekend. Sorting out my groceries at my local ASDA after my Saturday morning gym session, and the movies to go see Into the Storm, I run into another old chum – this time an old school mate from Nigeria. He wants to chat a bit more and offer commiserations, aisles at the mall chock full of people are hardly the place for that, and I am neither keen nor remotely interested in being dragged all the way back so I speed him up and move on with a promise of a phone call to catch up properly.

By the time I am headed home, my weekend has pretty much ended. All that is left is for me to settle in with my copy of Gay Talese’s Frank Sinatra Has A Cold, and while away what is left of the Saturday. By and large, it is pretty much back to regular programming at mine, not quite perfect but an ever more stable, new normal.

5 Tests of Compatibility

From my current read, Ben Young and Dr Sam Adams’ book – The One: A Realistic Guide to Choosing Your Soul Mate.

  1. Is there chemistry? Are you sexually/ physically attracted to your partner?
  2. Is your relationship natural? Do things flow naturally or are you spending a lot more time resolving issues than demonstrating a natural fit?
  3. Would this be a good friend? If the chemistry was removed, is it someone you’d want to be with, whose company you enjoy?
  4. Can you accept his or her personality as is? Could you spend the rest of your life with the person as they are?
  5. Would you want your kids to be like him or her? Could you envision a future in which your children turn out like him or her?

Oh and to pass the test, it must be ‘Yes’, 100%…

Small Change #1 – Drink Up

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From the 52 Small Changes Book:

Water is the driving force of nature

– Leonardo Da Vinci

Or as Fela once famously sang, water no get enemy. 

Up until a month ago, Cokes were my default drink, in all its forms – diet, regular, zero and a few non conventional forms too [mixed with all sorts of other liquids], which is why this first small chnage will need some serious getting used to.

The Plan

  1. Replace coffees with green tea. Target is to scale back to one morning coffee each day at most.

  2. Buy a 1L stainless steel water bottle and keep it topped up at my desk through work.

  3. Straight off the bat, upon waking up, I will down a cup of water to kick start my day.

Simples 🙂

Currently listening to: You Are – Colton Dixon

#FabReads – How Will You Measure Your Life – Clay Christensen

In his 2012 book, How Will You measure Your Life, Clay M Christensen attempts to analyse three key life pursuits from the perspective of the theories he teaches to his MBA students at Harvard Business School, looking to extract ideas which when applied to life will ensure that the outcomes we get are aligned with the outcomes we say we want. The three areas he concentrates on are Career, Relationships and the very aptly captioned ‘Staying Out of Prison’. A few highlights:

Career

Christensen describes the way to finding happiness as:

In order to really find happiness, you need to continue looking for opportunities that you believe are meaningful, in which you will be able to learn new things, to succeed and be given more and more responsibility to shoulder.

The process of finding these rewarding opportunities, the theory suggests, involves continuously evaluating the outcomes from a deliberate  strategy against one from an emergent  strategy. [Deliberate strategies are designed to achieve anticipated outcomes. Emergent strategies on the other hand evolve from having to optimise around opportunities and threats we can’t (or haven’t) anticipated. More information here]

Three key components to achieving this goals are identified as:

  1. Identify Your Priorities: Money often is the default metric, but it can be misleading. Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation sheds some more light on the difference between hygiene factors and motivational factors.
  2. Find the balance between deliberate and emergent strategies: The key issue is finding the balance between calculation and serendipity form the looks of it.  Honda’s entry into the US motorbike market is highlighted as a classic example of how an emergent strategy can trump a deliberate one. Finding the balance though can be difficult, hence the use of a discovery based planning process to assess the relative chance of success of a deliberate strategy versus an emergent one.
  3. Execute the strategy: The distinction between merely paying lip service to a strategy and actually implementing one is made time and time again. And it is in how we allocate our resources that our true strategy is shown. Strategy is not what you say it is, it is how you allocate your resources – time, money and energy – through your hundreds of everyday decisions. Our lives are modelled as businesses – family, career, relationships etc – each requiring an investment of our resources. This is complicated by the time frames over which pay offs occur, and we are often tempted to focus on initiatives which deliver value rather over the long term.
Key Quotes:

If the decisions you make about where you invest your blood, sweat and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person

 

Relationships

The premise here is that the greatest and longest lasting sources of happiness or sadness in our lives will come from our relationships and connections. The business theory applied here is Bhide‘s good capital and bad capital framework which simply stated is that in the initial phase of building investors should be patient for growth and impatient for profit, i.e. find a small to medium scale strategy that works, and only then begin to address the up-scaling issues.

Key points:

  1. Time scales are of importance: There is a risk in trying to sequence life. By the time we need a harvest, we may not have one!
  2. The job-to-be-done theory: The causal mechanism of every purchase of a good or service is that we have a job that needs doing, and the service fills the role. The big question for our relationships then should be what ‘job’ are we being hired for in each of our relationships. On a relational level, the key to happiness is counterintuitive; the path to happiness is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to. And in sacrificing for something worthwhile, you deeply strengthen your commitment to it.
  3. Building Capability: Three components to capability – resources, processes and priorities. 
    • Resources are the what of value creation, ie the raw materials that we turn into value
    • Processes are the how, ie how we turn resources into value
    • Priorities are the why, ie our decision matrices, culture etc.

More:

Money Quote (For finding a spouse):

The path to happiness is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to.

Staying out of jail – the ethics question

A great summary of the marginal thinking trap’s over at the HBR.

Money Quote:

The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts

– CS lewis

Finally, On Purpose

Three components of purpose.

  • A likeness (the target destination, anticipated personality traits hoping to be built),
  • A commitment
  • Metrics for measuring progress towards attaining the likeness

His talk at TEDxBoston on YouTube, and a great precis at the Harvard Business Review website.

 

J. Winterson: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal

WHEN MY MOTHER was angry with me, which was often, she said, ‘The Devil led us to the wrong crib’

So begins Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography, a meditation of sorts on growing up adopted and the descent into dystopia that was her childhood; spent growing up in a Pentecostal home being groomed to be a missionary. It is a childhood that is quintessentially evangelical, replete with very regular church meetings, Biblical literalism, corporeal punishment and a feening for the apocalyptic dawn of the next world to the detriment of the enjoyment of this one. Looming large in that phase of growing up is the image of her adoptive mother, a controlling creature, intensely fundamentalist and addicted to her cigarettes, who both in her quiet moments and in her moments of rage ruled the roost,with the young Jeanette and her adoptive father as collateral damage.  Being adopted, and the uncertainties this brings to family relations is a recurring motif in the book, and her successful search to find her birth mother takes us through an emotional wringer.

A few choice quotes:

On the waves of Pakistani immigration to the North West of England:

Then, as now, nobody talked about the legacy of Empire. Britain had colonised, owned, occupied or interfered with half the world. We had carved up some countries and created others. When some of the world we had made by force wanted something in return, we were outraged.

On forgiveness:

Happy endings are only a pause. There are three kinds of big endings: Revenge. Tragedy. Forgiveness. Revenge and Tragedy often happen together. Forgiveness redeems the past. Forgiveness unblocks the future.

On writing:

It took me a long time to realise that there are two kinds of writing; the one you write and the one that writes you. The one that writes you is dangerous. You go where you don’t want to go. You look where you don’t want to look.

In the end, she evolves into perhaps the antithesis of an evangelical missionary – she falls in love with a woman –  which prompts the statement from her mother which becomes the title of the book.

Listen to the Radio Open Source interview here.