Silver Bullets

When are we going to realize that silver bullets just don’t exist?

A day or so ago I was swapping notes with a friend. She recently read a book that seemed to answer most of her biggest questions about life.

What pushes us to think that one book, one incident, one accident, one job, one thing, one person… is the thing that makes and/or breaks us?

Or that will get us over the hump, put us on the road to things getting better, solidify our relationship, etc.?

What is a life lived based on exceptions?

As long as X doesn’t happen, Y isn’t around, or Z isn’t involved, everything will be just fine.

But did we forget that everything is a process? That life is a journey? That it doesn’t get better – or worse – in an instant? Or because of one thing or another?

Sure, there are exceptions. Traumatic and excruciatingly challenging exceptions and that’s not what we’re talking about right now because those aren’t the general rule.

I come back to this book and these answers.

It’s great that the book has seemingly answered all of my friend’s most important questions.

But, from what it sounded like to me, she was looking for very specific answers to questions that this author just happened to articulate in a particular profound way or at a particularly profound time.

My question to her – had she “found the answer(s)” to life’s biggest questions or had she just confirmed the answers she was looking for to these complex questions, now nicely articulated back to her by someone else?

Am I being judgmental in not the most useful of ways?

Maybe we all are subconsciously are searching for someone to tell us answers to our biggest quandaries?

Or perhaps my current thinking suggests I’m no longer as interested in waiting for the message or looking for confirmation / validation in the exceptional external sources… as I am in writing my own script?

“Sustainability”

Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to talk to quite a number of people around New Haven – and beyond – about the topic of “sustainability.”

People sure love to buzz about it.

Sustainability this. Sustainability that.

Both through reading and conversation, it seems like there’s a lot of people out there who seem to feel that “sustainability” is somewhere between a load of BS and something that just can’t really be defined.

But is this any different from anything else that’s hard to define?

As this concept continues to penetrate our mainstream mind and thoughts, it’s only more important that we think – on our own and in groups – about how we define it today with an eye towards something, somewhere further into the future.

That’s why these recent conversations have been so excellent. Conversations with thoughtful people who are also struggling around what “sustainability” is has been great.

Because when one tackles something so large, something that you can come at from so many different angles, a range of perspectives shared between strangers who share a mutual interest in understanding and doing something with this enhanced understanding is invaluable.

It can be through the struggles and through the hard times, where the future is hard to see or know, that can result in the greatest momentum, of growth, and outcomes.

It would be hard for me to put together everything I’ve learned in these past few months right here, right now, and combine that with the amount of thinking I did about this while living in China’s biggest northern city and one of its smaller Southwestern villages over the past decade.

But my answer today, is a lot like answers look on Jeopardy: in question form.

Given the magnitude of the conversation around sustainability, it’s hard to find that an answer that’s one size fits all.

And perhaps that’s the point when we’re thinking about what it means or what it can mean.

So yes, of course, everyone has a different definition.

Which means the real question is: what can and does it mean for us?

And what can we do about it today as we think a bit about tomorrow?

Time for an Honest Conversation with Khan

What if you made somebody’s day just by asking them a question or two?

Khan came to New York 33 years ago.

He’s married.

Now has five kids.

His wife wanted a son.

5th time was a charm.

They live in a 2-bedroom place in Brooklyn.

The kids range from 22-13.

The eldest is studying to be a pharmacist. The second studies criminology. The third is celebrating her 16th birthday. The fourth and fifth (son) are just about a year a part.

The son loves basketball and Michael Jordan. Dad’s not sure where this will all go. But he believes everything will be okay.

Honesty is Khan’s #1 piece of advice to his kids. He believes and tells them that as long as they are honest they will be alright.

Khan makes honest, clean money. It’s important to him.

He thinks New York is a rough place. People are too busy for anything else.

go Go GO.

In the cab. Out the cab. With the coffee. Little more than a hello. Very few people have time for a question, let alone a conversation.

We had a funny moment when I asked him about funny questions that people have asked him.

It took him a little bit, I actually thought he was moving on from the question.

But then he told me about a time seven years ago when he used to drive the evening shift – which he doesn’t do anymore – and a couple asked whether or not they could have sex in his cab.

“Does this look like a hotel to you?” he asked me with a nervous smile.

“Wow.

“Any other questions?” I wondered aloud

He explained he was already embarrassed and too embarrassed to recount other stories.

After a little small talk we arrived at our destination.

Khan got out of the cab, looked me in the eye while he shook my hand, and thanked me for a good conversation.

People don’t have time for conversations these days, I guess.

But I learned a lot about humility, family togetherness (I can only imagine what it must be like to live with 7 people in a 2-room apartment), patience, hard work, honesty, and an ability to go with the flow.

What if you made time for a short conversation with a stranger? Surely you could find some topic of mutual interest.

What if you made somebody’s day just by asking them a question or two?

And what if one of those questions also made yours?

So, about those crates. Also, Socrates

notebook_2014_writing

2014 has been the most uncertain, hardest, intense, and illuminating year of my life. And with a few hours to go, we’re not even done with it yet 😉

I have grown in ways I could not otherwise have imagined or anticipated.

And it’s been the best year of my life.

Some people live their entire lives, never having the opportunity to know themselves.

I felt like I’ve had a pretty good understanding of myself, for awhile.

But the past 19 months, and particularly these last 12 have enabled me to see much more of myself.

I was looking at a lot of surface stuff for far too long. Taking stock in what I thought I saw, rather than what was behind all of that. And asking and answering questions that didn’t matter.

It wasn’t until I started to give myself time and space to think, that I started making progress. And it wasn’t until I started to focus my writing, daily, that the speed at which I progressed increased multi-fold.

When I was in high school, this thing called the internet was all the rage. Thanks to email and AOL IM, my sister and I inadvertently produced more than our fair share of busy signals for people calling our house.

At the time I also started to write on a BBS/message board (hosted by the Section 2 Harrier site, created and moderated by a nice guy named Jon Broderick) that kept (and continues to keep – go Jon!) all cross country / track and field fans in our corner of New York State apprised of important news. It was also a very cool forum where some decided to talk trash. I took it as an opportunity to share ideas and reflect on things I was seeing, and I was exposed to a new way of developing meaningful relationships.

I have given credit for awhile now to email, instant messaging, and the section 2 harrier message board for helping me to develop my writing voice at that time.

The hours I poured into emails and online conversations enabled me to develop my identity and to engage in meaningful conversation with others.

Writing was my outlet to the world.

I finished out high school with a healthy understanding of myself, ready to move forward.

And I continued writing in the early days of college.

Until I slowly turned my priorities elsewhere.

Though a move back to America last year (May 2013) was a natural segue* into a return to regular writing dates. From the beginning, I came down with a serious case of “writer’s block” or was giving into my perfectionist tendencies in those early days back in America.

Maybe I should have accounted for that after a decade away of sharing writing like this with others?

It was then I realized I needed a new space to find my voice. Here, a new blog, seemed a worthy spot to do so.

Not long after my irregular blogging began, during my time at the East-West Center‘s Asia Pacific Leadership Program (APLP) in Honolulu to close out 2013, we all had to put together a portfolio, a collection of mostly written reflections – thoughts about the past, present, and future. It was time to make something with a real timeline, deadline, and commitment. 4 months and 100 pages later, I was working off a bit of momentum.

But 2013 ended and 2014 began in the midst of uncertainty. Uncertainty doesn’t need to be a negative thing, and hindsight is 20/20, but much of my problem was my choosing fear over love.

Sure, it was masked by “uncertainty.” But I was still a bit uneasy about my identity. I was trying to please someone I loved, but how could I please her without communicating, without pleasing myself, and by not even being me – that guy she loved. I was going about it in all the wrong ways.

I knew there was a problem. Actually, I was drowning, but it looked like I was a pretty good swimmer.

I was doing my best to figure “it” out. And I was failing, miserably.

Ultimately it just looked like I was a problem that needed fixing, not there was a problem that we needed to fix.

It takes two to tango, but I’m not sure either of us really knew how, we didn’t really practice, and we had no teacher. I felt very alone. Maybe she did too?

I tried to reach out. But my message must not have gotten through to her. And her messages? Well, I wasn’t getting them either.

Missed messages like ships passing in the night?

I knew I couldn’t solve old problems in the same ways  and I thought I was doing everything that I could. But it wasn’t working so I had to keep trying.

I was lost, but I found trust in my notebook and bic pen. It went far beyond my regular note-taking, by taking notes of deeper thoughts and feelings and fleshing them out until I could better understand whatever was on my mind.

Writing was no longer an outlet to the world, but an inroad into my soul.

Have you visited lately? It’s a pretty deep place.

Terrible one-lines aside, these deep conversations that extended into the depths of my soul, mediated through writing, have been a significant reason why I’ve had an incredible year.

I’m sure it’s not for everyone. And it won’t necessarily help you in the same way it helped me. But at a time when I needed greater clarity, it was the writing that was there for me.

No person, no matter how close they were to me – my parents, my sister, my closest friends – could help me. This one I had to start on my own before I could get back to a place of confidence, a place of greater understanding, a place where I had regained my identity.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to hold yourself back. It harder to realize that you are usually the one doing the holding.

Whether it’s beliefs, behaviors, or certain actions that are self-limiting, we can do a number on ourselves often thinking that if external circumstances would change, things would be better.

How might you make a difference in the lives of those that matter to you by starting with yourself?

When will you set aside some time for a constructive and thoughtful conversation with yourself? Find that time and space to work out your thoughts? To rediscover – perhaps even discover – things about yourself you haven’t seen in awhile (or have never seen)?

What questions are important to think through? What questions should you be asking of yourself? What suggestions might be made?

Be the sounding board that you need the most. But remember, it will only work if you choose to be honest, to lay it all out there, and to lead with love, not fear.

When it comes to the things (or thing) that matters most right now to me, I’m certainly not out of the woods.

But these days I know myself more than ever before.

And, as a result, I’m much better prepared to deal with the uncertainty.

So, goodbye 2014. Thank you for being so good to me.

And 2015, I’m eager to see where we go together.

—–

*So, when segway came up as a misspelled word, I did a little investigating on how to write the word that I know to indicate something related to a transition. Apparently this word is an Italian derivative and thought pronounced “segway” is written “segue.” You can take a look here to see what some have to say about this.

Today’s photo comes from my personal collection – the notebook and the pen that started it all this year.

This notebook actually dates back to my first year at college. I gave up notebooks in favor of recycling wasted computer paper from the libraries to make homemade “notebooks.”

I thought it was about time to make sure this one went to good use. It served me well in the early writing days this year – from ideas to The Oliver Chronicles and beyond.

Why Are We Friends?

You’re so weird. And I’m so glad we’re friends.

Do you have at least one person in your life that is so different from you, you can hardly believe you are friends? How did you meet them? What have they meant to you through the course of your relationship? How and why have you stayed friends? What do they mean to you today?

And what do you mean to them?

Answering a Question with a Question

question_brandon_kauffman

This past week, we had an enjoyable session with Professor Mikinari Higano on active learning. You might surmise from the title of this post that his class focused on questions.

Professor Higano is the founder and director of the Business Leadership Program at Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan. I love that when he’s not focused on the leadership art of asking questions he plays tennis, cooks Italian food, and travels around Europe.

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of questions. A previous version of myself liked to say things like, “questions are more important than answers.” And with all the conversation these days about the importance of questions, I’ve needed to re-examine how I view, think about, and formulate questions.

The exercise we went through with Professor Higano was smack in the middle of where the simple meets the complex. Basically, think of a question. A problematic question, that is. I urge you to try based on the same criteria we were given:

(1) It must directly affect you (e.g., problems that bother your friend only, no matter how serious they may be, are not appropriate for our purpose);

(2) You must be seeking a solution to the problem immediately (e.g., if you are looking to find a solution over a span of a year or longer, that problem wouldn’t be appropriate);

(3) You must feel comfortable sharing and discussing the problem with the other members (e.g., “having a hard time to find a good date” may be a serious problem and you might be seeking an immediate solution, but if you feel uncomfortable discussing such a topic with peers and teachers, that’s not appropriate);

(4) The problem’s solution must be within a reasonable reach; that is, the problem must not be too grandiose or big in scale (e.g., don’t say you’re looking for a solution to change a country or other similarly great problems of the world);

(5) At the same time, the problem must be complex enough so that you do not see an obvious solution (e.g., problems such as “I’m having a hard time to get out of the bed in the morning” or “I always find myself procrastinating while I’m at work” have obvious solutions and therefore, they are not appropriate); and

(6) Do not try to come up with “interesting” or “funny” problems. In fact, humorous problems discussing which makes it hard for the seminar attendants to keep straight faces have nothing but negative effects on the class.

Given the array of conditions noted above, you might as well wonder what problem is appropriate; nonetheless, most if not all people who are living serious lives do have lots of problems that are highly appropriate to bring. Such problems involve a number of stakeholders with various, maybe mutually contradictory interests (e.g., a solution may satisfy Person A, but it will upset Person B, etc.), and therefore, you are struggling to disentangle the problem and find the best solution.

If any of you are not sure if the problem you’re going to bring is proper or not, even after you read carefully my instructions and check your problem, you are welcome to ask me. It is important because the performance of the sessions, especially in the earlier phases, is affected by the properness of the problem.

—–

I will likely share with you the question I chose in a future post, but, for the moment, really, take a moment and think about yours.

—–

When we arrived in class, armed with our questions, only two of us actually had the chance to participate this time around. Going through the process, led by our table’s emerging expert facilitators, Anusha and Promotosh, we spent 50 minutes each to dissect the problem of two classmates.

I had two main takeaways:

The first – while I love asking questions, it can be hard to only ask questions in response to anything anyone says. Now, the problem presenters (as they were called) could share insight with us based on the questions we asked them, but the rest of us participants were required to use questions to move the discussion along.

And you know what? There was an interesting energy around the discussion that I had not quite considered before. Many people like to tell it how it is: to share their knowledge, their perspective, to give advice. And what if we did all that, by communicating this knowledge, perspective, or advice via a question?

The second – the first problem presenter lamented her lack of participation. She found it challenging to speak up, to ask questions, to be an active part of conversations, especially in larger groups. And she wanted to explore why.

Now, in the second session, I think her question was probably the most important question of the entire 50 minute discussion. While I can’t remember the exact question now, I do remember how I felt when she asked and the conversation shifted.

And now that we have the takeaways, where is the action involved?

1 – next time you are in a conversation, what would it be like to reformulate a follow-up comment into a follow-up question?

2 – in a small to larger group setting, by always keeping your questions inside, might you be depriving others the opportunity of hearing a conversation-altering question?

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In searching images based on “answer a questions with a question”, I didn’t come up with much that struck me on Google images. Further exploring through a “question design” query, I made my way to something designed by Brandon Kauffman here on logogala.com. It looks like Brandon has more of his updated work on his self-addressed site here.

Same Same, but Different

Same_Same_but_Different

Having broken the Facebook routine once it was blocked in China, more time in America has further piqued my interest in how communication plays out on other platforms, such as Twitter. After reading, “Why Twitter’s new Conversations view is a big deal and why it matters for its IPO” by Om Malik, one question came to the surface:

As we become more interconnected, and express ourselves in a more similar way, what does this mean for our differences as people, cultures, and communities?

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I found the image above on Fontspring.com through a google image search for “same different”.

I also really liked the image below. Same Same but Different is an exhibition collective comprised of Brooklyn artists Jay Gaskill, Fabian G. Tabibian, and Amanda Valdez. Learn more on their Tumblr or their official website.

Same_Same_but_Different_design