01. On Resolutions

journey-of-a-thousand-miles

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As has been the case with every year since I can remember, I rang the new year in at church, taking the opportunity to reflect on 2016 and my plans for 2017 as the year turned.

As part of preparing for that, I took time out to reflect on where I was on achieving the wider goals that underpin the seven focus areas I have identified as part of my Life Plan. It is fair to say that it makes for gory reading, the details of which I’ll have to spare you. The cliff notes version is that, like everyone else, there are a few areas where I am pretty much where I want to be (Causes & Charity, Work & Career), a few where I have put in a decent shift (Financial, Physical & Health, People and Social) and a couple where I’ve gone backwards since the end of 2015 (Spiritual, Personal & Mental Development).

Rather than make a big song and dance about resolutions for this new year, I decided to go for a number of priorities which will guide my life and activities in 2017:

  1. S: Growing the relationship, with a formal decision on marrying the hopeful outcome
  2. Writing: Daily on here as guided by life and any of a number of prompts I follow and weekly at A Bloke’s Life.
  3. Online Radio (Radio 31): Supporting a relaunch of the Behind the Music show I was part of last year and also the launch of L’s new one, In Conversation.
  4. Church Community: Progressing the set up of a space for the young, single blokes at the church I currently serve on and prioritising monthly meetups with the two young chaps I met up with on and off through 2016
  5. Music: Learn to play the guitar and volunteering for the Christmas Carol Mass choir for 2017. I’m also minded to get more involved with one of the less traditional vocal ensembles in my local community. Not firmed this one up yet though.
  6. Diet and Exercise: Eat LCHF, complete the MapMyRun 10k training program and run an actual 10k race.
  7. Learning: About AI, neural networks and potential engineering applications, particularly in my field (Corrosion & Materials)

It is shaping up to be a critical year already. Hopefully I devise a means for regularly checking in and staying accountable to these commitments.

Times, Seasons and A Hundred Juggled Things..

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It feels like a trick of time, a sleight of hand drawn from the very top tier of a Houdini play book, but the facts – borne out by the calendar I have open in front of me, and the worn pages in the notebook I bought a couple of months ago – tell a different story; a record, as stark as it is of just how much time has passed in 2016 already.

Back when I set out to reflect on 2015 and how it had panned out (read intense, difficult but largely fulfilling), all I had in front of me was the crowded centre court of Union Square. This time, as I consider the year so far, the view is decidedly more upscale; framed by the vintage red brick buildings and the tops of trees in rude health of this corner of South Harrow.

No matter how many times and in how many ways I slice and dice the year so far, two things end up standing out as leitmotifs – constant change and steady habits. Change, even if constant, is not necessarily a negative thing – and there is an argument that done right it can be a trigger for creative disruption – but my sentiment, one I have voiced in several work contexts is that change for the sake of it serves no real purpose. But then change, thinking differently and continuous improvement are the new buzz words in the current climate; I suspect that is what I have to accept as the new normal.

Where constant change has been a force of disruption, steady habits have been the glue that has held, tenuously at times,the myriad of juggled, jumbled things together. A few of these – like my morning pit stop at church for an hour of contemplative prayer followed by fifteen to twenty minutes of (expensive) Starbucks time in which I plan my day before heading into the bedlam of work – have been intentional, but the most important ones I am finding have somehow evolved organically. An amble about the city centre at lunch time is one of those, started off first because I needed to escape the smell of food at lunch time in my (reorganised) office but then very quickly proving beneficial; the fresh cold air and brisk walking helping to clear my head before the second half of work.

Running and Reading, my two go to activities for de-stressing, have taken a big hit this year. 90 pages of Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life and a further 100 of The Night Manager are about the sum of my real reading this year; piss poor given the grand worldview altering reading I had planned for this year. The mitigation though is that thanks to Pocket I’ve done a lot more web based long form reading, gobbling up everything from my perennial favourites Zadie Smith, Teju Cole, Adam Gopnik, Malcolm Gladwell and the Modern Love series at the New York Times. The less said about running the better I suspect, given all I have managed all year is a single run. My one attempt to salve my conscience through all of this has been to keep my gym membership running. Something about the finality of defeat inherent in cancelling it holds me back a little bit but given how little utilisation I have managed over the past year, I suspect even that might not be enough to save it from the chop in this era of focus on marginal gains and cost efficiency.

Side projects are a happier thing to dwell on. I am at Day 90 of my #100DaysofBeing, a far less mentally tasking writing and picture taking project which I have prioritised over being here as I decide what direction to take this space in. It does mean that NaPoWriMo is in doubt for this year, but given I still haven’t identified a theme that might not be such a bad thing. Elsewhere I have been given the opportunity by the remarkably persistent @1Life_Saved to pretend to be profound on (online) Radio. Our show, Behind the Music, is a chilled, informal conversation centred around music which I think is cool. I might be biased but by all means give the archives a listen as well as any of the other shows the radio station broadcasts.

the3six5NG, our crowdsourced diary effort from three years ago is actively being resurrected. My friend C says, she’ll believe me when she sees it live. I can’t really blame her for the lack of faith given the number of false starts since then. I must say I have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm with which previous participants have embraced the chance to contribute again. Give the archives a whirl and if it’s your kind of thing, do email us about picking up a slot from the first of June. For more background, digest this.

All told, it’s been a challenging but productive year so far. I suppose that is what this whole adulting business is all about – engaging life head on rather than skirting the skirmishes and looking to live to fight another day. What I can’t shake is the lingering sense of a change looming; a sense of an ending if you like.

#QuietlyConfident

Day 18 – Find Your N.U.T.s

Day 18 of the Better Man in 30 days challenge – Find Your N.U.T.s

Your Non-negotiable, Unalterable Terms that is. For me these are inextricably linked to the Core Values from Day 1– Faith, Family, Continuous Improvement, Mentoring and Health. Soooo, here goes:order:

  1. Living out a real world faith – continuously seeking ways to translate the undergirding principles of love and consideration for others, and social justice – will be the single most important thing that will guide my relationships with others;
  2. I will honour my daily spiritual practice and journaling;
  3. My family, and adequately fulfilling the various roles I play in it – Son,Brother, (future) Husband and Father – will always take precedence over other considerations;
  4. I will schedule regular (monthly at least) time to go through plan-do-review cycles for each of my core connections and the roles I play in them – friends and family, professional and within the wider civil/social context;
  5. I will take care of my body – eating well and exercising.

The End of the Beginning

MURCHISON-02

When I first came here, it was not love at first sight. There was no instant click, no immediate sense of belonging; only a sense of tentativeness.The call that set it all off had come out of the blue one Tuesday afternoon, from a Manager I didn’t work for directly. My first response was to email the guy I actually did work for – he took a day and a half to get back to me – by which time the moving train had gathered speed. After less than three months back at the mother lode, following a six month stint sequestered in a client office,  I was on the move again.

There was the small matter of a mini interview to navigate before all that -which I managed alright at. And then there was the settling in, to a different, less organised way of working, and new people to meet on both sides of the fence.

That little exchange at the start of everything would end up setting the tone for everything other thing that would happen over the course of the next three years (and counting) – the sense of being kept at arms length, doing my own thing as long as the coffers at the mother lode kept swelling due to my endeavours.

There have been good memories – the banter which went a tad too far more often than not, the introduction to G&Ts (the gentleman’s brew), team lunches and the three or four truly great work mates I made. There were near escapes too – Azerbaijan came calling, as did Nigeria (a few times). By and large one survived, and dare I say left an impact – delivering  on the job under pressure at times in a way that drew grudging respect from more than a few people.

For the last time today, the taps were turned off on the little corner of the North Sea I have been the resident rustgeek for. I never forged the sort of bond with M as I did with UX5 from a few years ago, nevertheless there is the sense of loss and beyond that the question of what the next big challenge will be.

It certainly is not the end, more like the end of the beginning as Churchill once famously said, but for me it feels only natural to pause and ponder what the next move will be. There are a number of design sized gaps in my resume which this natural juncture feels like a good time to begin to seek ways to plug.

The ideal next role? London or it’s environs, focused on subsea and pipelines and with loads of ‘core’ corrosion and materials content. The last five years have been spent largely in an Inspection and Asset Integrity role to the detriment of the more technical, M&C skill areas .

What is not in doubt is the certainty of uncertainty. The next move will not be sudden – there is yet some life left in the old dog that is M. And wherever one ends up, there will be new memories.

The life plan…

Distilled into three main components:

  1. Be the best husband, father, brother, son and friend I can be;
  2. Excel in (Corrosion, Materials and Welding) Engineering;
  3. Live in, and contribute to life in, a great church and a great city.

Not quite as simple as it sounds, but tiny first steps are all that count, no?

Certainly Uncertain….

A few days ago, mid way through a telephone conversation with one of the lads I used to work with in my UX5 days, the delectable lass who joined a few months before I was due to leave overheard our conversation and asked to speak with me.

Even back then, in those early days of 2008, I was the bloke with a 5 year rolling plan complete with milestones, leading and lagging indicators and a roadmap. Her question had an air of inevitability to it; it had to do with the current iteration of the plan. Sadly, I could not give her the reassurances she was seeking – namely that the plan was still on track, and that an invite – amongst other things – would be winging it’s way to her Nigerian post box in the not too distant future.

The one thing I could not have factored into those – admittedly bullish plans – was the uncertainty around a few of the critical outcomes on which the plan flew or sank. I couldn’t have known that what looked like a door temptingly left ajar was in fact a door on its way to slamming shut with my finger stuck between it and the door frame; or that what felt like nirvana two years later would spontaneously combust over one big thing.  The uncertainties have not somehow dissolved into thin air with time. Au contraire, they in all probability have somehow become greater. More important because the outcomes are now more critical than before, and also because the interdependencies are even more convoluted.

In an ideal world, I suppose one would be able to tell with a reasonable amount of certainty what certain outcomes would be, without having to resort to Bayesian techniques, or applying the relational equivalent of hit and hope. Or maybe,  like my mother insists, I am simply over thinking it – micromanaging my outcomes so much that I end up not doing anything or losing the sense of adventure and unpredictability that not having all those backup plans brings.

Or maybe not…..

Bitter-sweet

I have spent the last few days offsite attending the SPE’s Oilfield Corrosion Conference in Aberdeen. When the email invite first came through, I knew I had to be part of it. The one main gripe I have about my job is the lack of real technical content in it on an ongoing basis. I tend to get sucked into the fire fighting, reactive mode that prevents me from applying my specialist Corrosion & Materials engineering knowledge.

It was good to see what my peers (if I can call them that seeing they are so far ahead of me technically 🙂 ) are up to, put faces to names I’d heard of in the past and catch up/ socialise with a few old friends. There was also the awkward moment where I ran into the Corrosion Manager at the firm I turned down after what seemed like a good interview just over a year ago. If I had to summarise my learnings I would pick a number of points viz:

  • There is a lot of work going on in the Academia and consulting which doesn’t get through to the industry quickly enough
  • The day to day operations support integrity engineer role is not one I want to remain in for very long and as a corollary to both these points,
  • The PhD in Materials & Welding needs to get back on the agenda ASAP.

On a sightly less happy note, I got a message about one of the (Nigerian) lads at work getting fired. Truth is he’s had issues for quite a while now which the boss had put up with quite a bit, but it still rankles that he was cut off. I do not have all the facts, but I suppose in a sense it’s also a failure of the mentorship and people’s development system. It must be quite a burden when the boss, especially in a close knit group like mine, has to take a decision to let go of someone.

In other news, I am off to Nigeria in eight days. There’s the small matter of my baby sister’s wedding, as well as the niece  I am yet to see and a few loose financial ends to tie up. The step sister and the rest of the family have had drifted apart majorly over the years, and one of my objectives this trip is to try to seek her out and reconnect. Family is too precious to cut off permanently.

2012 in Twelve Things

In what is going to be a first for me, I will cross over into the new year aboard an airplane, albeit one headed homeward. It certainly is a far cry from how 2011 started, but perhaps this unconventional start will afford  me the chance to pause and ponder a few days early, and agree on 12 things for 2012 all aligned with my seven priorities for life. Here goes:

  1. Develop a daily practice of meditation, prayer and journaling:  Taking time out to examine life, capture things as they happen and improve daily has to be a key component of my daily routine going forward. The seven priorities are great on paper, but unless progress on the continuum towards achieving them is measured and recorded, I suspect the end of the year will come, and I will still be where I am as of today, stuck in a rut. Target: 4 of 5 days a week of reading the identified text in the Our Daily Bread app.
  2. Lose 20kg: I am overweight – no amount of faffing around can gloss over that simple fact. I tried for a month, before slipping back into my my routine of Nandos, large potions and baguettes at work. Losing weight has to be a focus in 2012, the target is to lose 20kg for a return to c. 80kg weight and a healthy BMI. Target: Walk to and from work daily, take 2 days in the week to eat only fruits (seedless grapes, bananas and apples only), stay off coffee, eat half of what I would normally eat.
  3. Read (and review) 25 books in 2012.
  4. Call parents and siblings once a week: Quick phone call to Dad/Mum every two weeks; hopefully I can catch the siblings weekly for a quick chat.
  5. Save £1,000 a month: The YE spend data for 2011 was abysmal. For a net (ex. taxes) increase in pay of c. 600 pounds, I ended up doubling my expenditure versus 2010. Some of it was unavoidable  – the house move in late 2010, increased bills and rents hit for the full year 2011 versus the one quarter in 2010, but large swathes of cash remained unaccounted for. The plan is to move 1,000 each month from my net pay prior to any expenses coming through, as well as refuse to get involved in providing soft loans to the lads.
  6. Get chartered engineer status:  I didn’t make a lot of progress professionally in 2011. There were no conferences attended or certifications gained. This is a focus area for 2012 – I am looking to get at least one of either the C.Eng designation or complete my NACE certifications before YE 2012.
  7. Get a driver’s license: I have had a provisional drivers license for over a year already. The focus in 2012 will be to use the 1st quarter to write and pass the theory test, and the summer months to practice for and pass the practical test for a full drivers’ license. Given my traumatic car crash from 2008, and the fact that I haven ‘t driven since then, I suspect this will not be a trivial pursuit.
  8. Resolve long term settlement options: 2012 will be crucial for me as I decide where I will lay down my long term routes. TheBZ would be a good place, but the increasingly louder anti-immigrant rhetoric is a niggling issue at the bottom of my mind. Canada seems to be a longer term option – one that I will explore to a greater extent in 2012.
  9. Resolve my dating and meeting issues: I am at a stage where I can truly say that I have let got of my EJ issues. Having said that there remain pockets of memories I need to ditch finally. The target through 2012 is to bring myself to the place where I can truly say I have forgotten and moved on, a position where I am free in my head to meet and date again. 2012 in this regards has to be the year of de-cluttering.
  10. Complete FAN integration: Given my constant moaning about how mind numbingly boring the little city I live in is, that I am not taking advantage of what opportunities there are to meet people is a shame. Through 2012, the intention is to reconnect with the Youth and Singles group at church once a month.
  11. Re-engage with FOL service: My service in the group I work with in church was shocking in 2011. Granted, part of it was a busier, less controlled work load, but my worldview issues also contributed in no small measure. The plan in 2012 is to reconnect and reengage with the group, and be useful once again.
  12. Find a mentor: I’m looking to get more intentionality in life, a mentor would definitely help for the accountability bits here.

Seven Priorities for Life

I spent the weekend going through Michael Hyatt‘s cute little e-book Creating Your Personal Life Plan.  In no particular order, below are the things I feel need to be priorities going forward:

  1. God: World-view, faith, God and how these interact in defining a moral compass for me is a crucial part of my developing fully into the sort of bloke I need to become. It is time for me to start engaging my various proclivities which are preventing me from gaining the clarity of thought and direction that I need.
  2. Health: Whilst I have not had any major health scares, truth is I am overweight by some. A few years ago, I had blood pressures that were way out of the ‘safe’ and ‘normal’ zone [Thankfully, I passed my last offshore medical in flying colours]. Keeping fit, counting calories and staying health has to be one of my priorities going forward.
  3. Family: Whilst I remain single at the moment, deep in my heart is a longing to meet someone, find love and raise a family together. Two dimensions stand out here – finding the one and being the sort of bloke she’d want to be with. These both have to be priorities going forward – engaging the ‘knowledgable others’ in my circle and being open enough to solicit, accept and implement honest feedback where it is offered on areas where personal improvement is required.
  4. Personal Development: Learning continuously, and always reviewing where I am versus where I should be has to be a key component of my life. Big things are expected of me, and getting those done depends on continuously improving and finding the over arching knowledge and foresight required to grow into those big roles. This will have two facets: Career, in which I develop into a globally recognised Corrosion/Materials/Integrity Engineer, and personally where I progress and develop my public speaking, and writing skills.
  5. Friends: Given the large number of acquaintances I have, the few real friends I have (and I would count O & I as the two stand out ones at the moment) who time and time again have proven they are worth their weight in gold, and more, deserve some reciprocal attention. They are going to have to be priorities going forward – they’ve earned it!
  6. Finances: Finances are a key part of fulfilling the responsibilities that I will have as a Father, Husband, Son and social justice campaigner. Learning how to manage and grow my money is a critical part of the me I will become.
  7. Service: One more priority is taking all the gifts and blessings that I have been given and pouring them all out in service to others. The details of this are not exactly clear at the moment – especially considering the significant evolution my world view is going through at the moment – but finding the time and the place to make a difference for others ‘less blessed’ as to be a priority going forward.