General Musings

Strange Surroundings

Jack stopped in his tracks as he accosted his surroundings. There was something strange about this place… something alien. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

The walls were off-white painted brick with signs of aging. The familiar glistening of porcelain and industrial mirrors arranged in a production-line-like array. The steel mesh reinforced opaque windows for natural light. The ever-present sound of trickling water.

Despite all the familiarity, he quickly realised that it wasn’t what was there that had him on edge. It was what wasn’t there. Something was amiss… something important.

The shiny metallic surface, normally so cold and lifeless all of a sudden felt like a long lost sibling. The yearning for their reunion welled up within him. Without it he knew he was an unwelcome visitor in a foreign land.

How did this happen? What was he doing in the female toilets?? Jack turned around and channelled his inner ninja as he snuck out, unseen. That was certainly more than enough misadventure for one day.

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Health and Wellbeing

On the Roll Again

Jack stood naked in the shower as he eyed the cold water tap. Even though he had gotten used to taking cold showers, there was still a moment of pause beforehand to consider the alternative. There was always a reason to opt for the comfort of a nice warm shower instead.

He looked down on his bare chest at the developing material burn marks. It had been a while since he had seen them… in fact, it had been a while since there had been cause for them. It had been three months since he had set foot in the gym, but it wasn’t the return had been the hardest part. It had been the mental battle to get himself there that had been the hardest part.

What would they think? How would he feel? What would be expected of him? But in the end, there were no judging questions. The only person with expectations of him was himself… but the mat would soon sort that out.

He had bumped into his training partner as they crossed each other on the stairs to the change rooms. Louis was a lanky but strong New Zealander who had been doing brazilian jiu jitsu for several years. While nice enough of a guy, he was also a 4-stripe brown belt, which should speak enough about his skill on the mat.

“Hey Jack, it’s good to see you. Where’ve you been?” asked Louis.

“I… I hibernate in summer?” Jack stammered back. Louis laughed. The ice had been broken.

As the class moved from warm-up to drilling and into free-rolling he realised how unfit the summer of inactivity had made him. He would have to work on that. He remembered thinking it would be nice to get a submission on his first day back, but by the time he was one-minute into his first five-minute round his objective had quickly moved to “remember how to defend”. He had forgotten what it had felt like for someone to be lying on top of him.

By the end of the class it had dawned on him that he was back on the long journey of BJJ… and that he was far closer to the start than at the end. But at least he was back on the road. Louis had given him a thumbs-up on the way out of the gym, “Don’t be a stranger, OK?”

Back in his shower cubicle at home Jack clasped both hands behind his neck and looked upward, giving himself a stretch. The developing soreness foretold tomorrow’s pain. He let out a sigh of relief as he reached for the cold water tap and turned it on.

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Faith Journey

Eternal Success Metrics

Jack and Hamus had to think for a while about the last time they had seen each other and caught up. By virtue of deduction (or evidence of early-onset Alzheimer’s), they figured it had been 8 years ago, at their graduation ceremony. The dinner conversation was standard fare for two good friends who hadn’t seen each other in nearly a decade – where they were now and how they got there, how much things have changed (or haven’t).

Jack related his journey from being an engineer to a business owner and his parallel journey to finding God and becoming a part-time pastor. This had come as a surprise to Hamus: “Of all the people I know, you are one of the most logical and rational. I can’t believe you found God.”

Jack wasn’t surprised at the comment – it was one he had heard many times in the last several years. As Hamus reflected on his own life and how he had been feeling in a rut, just doing the same old things, settling into a life that he viewed as helplessly mediocre, Jack couldn’t help but think about how different his life would have been without God in it. Then Hamus said something that struck Jack mid-thought…

“Of all our friends from uni days, you’re probably the most successful…” said Hamus, which wasn’t actually his real name. Back at uni, he had been known by Themistocles, but having worked for several years he had found it easier to just adopt an easier name for everybody to remember (and pronounce). Jack just found it bizarre calling his big Greek friend “Hamus”.

Hamus’ words echoed in Jack’s mind throughout their dinner and well after they had both parted ways. He certainly didn’t feel that he had reached any notable level of success, though, perhaps it was more a statement about how average Hamus felt his other uni friends’ lives were. For Jack though, it made him reflect on what it meant to be successful in God’s eyes.

For the second time in as many weeks, he found himself using his devotional journal:

———
I wonder what people prayed for throughout history? I bet whatever it was would reflect their desires borne from what society at the time deemed as successful. Society and the world constantly define and redefine success for us – it wasn’t always fame and fortune. Or was it? I don’t know.

But what is success in God’s eyes? Success in God’s eyes is fulfilling His purpose for our lives. Divining what exactly that purpose is should be a life-long journey of extrospection (looking outwards… up, specifically). Where we run into difficulty is when we find out that His will for us isn’t the same as our will for us. And when that difference is allowed to go on unresolved, we are disappointed and unsatisfied.

Why is it that when we hear that God wants the best for us, that we already seem to think we know what ‘the best for us’ is and that God should provide that for us? Our prayers reflect it on a daily basis. Yet even a cursory glance at Scripture would suggest otherwise: “As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:2 NIV)

It is so hard for most of us to accept that God’s perspective is eternal and that our worldly desires are just a distraction to the main event. I’m just feeling more grateful than usual today that in this world of ever-changing expectations we can worship and serve an ever-unchanging God.

What success metrics do I measure my life against? Those that the world defines? Or those that God defines? I can only do my best and pray that it’s the latter.
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General Musings

Achievement Junky

The alarm on his phone started ringing as Jack lay lifeless on his bed, his iPad perched conveniently on his chest. His eyes darted to his phone lying beside him. He swiped to deactivate the alarm as his eyes darted back to his iPad’s screen.

Though he had been debating with himself long and hard as to whether to stay or go, he had known for at least the last fifteen minutes what his eventual answer would be. He had lost his inner battle… again. He stared at the animations of his creatures battling to level up and let his mind wander.

The reality was that Jack was an acheivement junky. It could have been his upbringing in a family where nothing was quite as good as it could have been – an A should have been an A+, and an A+ was ‘okay’. It could have been the culture all around him where other people’s successes were put on a pedastal or on their Facebook wall. Whatever it was, he needed to achieve. Yet, like any other junky, he needed his fix. He needed to acheive right now.

Jack’s weakness had always been games. He had played games since he was young, his first game, on a laptop that his father had brought back from work had been Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of Lounge Lizards. For the record: he had been totally oblivious to the adult-rated material in the game at the time. His interest would later turn to the likes of Star Control and Star Control 2, Warcraft and its sequels, text-based MUDs and more recently, anything related to Blizzard.

But Jack’s interest in gaming had only begun to reach arguably unhealthy levels in recent years as the gaming industry began rolling out psychological manna-from-heaven in the form of achievements. The little in-game micro-goals that steered you towards a certain objective to earn a star, or a badge, or extra gems. And it had suckered him in good… because it catered to the basic human need that had been exacerbated by upbringing and culture: the desire for a feeling of accomplishment. Seemingly it didn’t matter how arbitary of superficial that accomplishment was. In his current game of choice, Summoners Wars, his goal was to collect strong monsters and level them up. To what end? Jack hadn’t bothered to ask that question yet.

Naturally this made it difficult for any meaningful, real-life achievement to be made over time. The delayed gratification required to learn a physical skill, say, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or to learn a new language, while immensely more useful, by virtue of being real, corporeal skills, was just so distant to be inconceivable by him. In the mental battle of willpower the immediate satisfaction of levelling an imaginary monster stood as a Goliath against the ten years it would take to get a black belt in BJJ. Goliath had been winning that daily battle for the last two months.

Maybe what I need, he thought, is a shift in perception. Maybe my real-life achievements need to be smaller and more attainable instead of so big-picture: i.e. go to class instead of sitting in bed playing a game. Perhaps, his train of thought continued, the solution is to blog about it to get the issue out of my brain and onto an open, web-wide forum!

“Yes! That’s a good idea,” Jack exclaimed out loud to nobody in particular, “I’ll get to that right after I get to this next level…” he trailed off as he directed his little monsters to their next objective.

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Personal Finance

Rich Dad, Crazy Dad

Jack was struggling. It had been a long and arduous mental journey but he wanted to press on, he was, after all, nearly three quarters of the way to the finish line. He flicked through the remaining pages of the book and compared it visually to the pages he had already read. It was a trick that usually encouraged him mentally to press on, but this time it didn’t work. This time he had to throw the towel in. He was done.

Second Chance by Robert T. Kiyosaki… Jack gave a mental scoff as he took one final look of the cover before putting it down, he had given him many more second chances than he probably should have over the years. But this time he was seriously asking the question: had his rich dad finally gone crazy?

Jack owned nearly 300 books spread over two modern (read: IKEA-constructed) bookshelves that flanked his home-office workstation. He counted 10 of those books belonging to the Rich Dad series. He recalled with nostalgia the way that the first book, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money – That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!, had changed the course of his life. It had been one of those books that subtly changed his perspective, but in doing so, also impacted and informed every financial decision he had made since. Needless to say, he held Robert, his rich dad, in very high regard.

The first book had such a profound impact on his life that four of the ten books he owned in the series were pocket-sized versions of that first book, which he kept handy for when anybody asked him what they should read if they wanted to learn about wealth creation. Over the last 14 years he had only been asked that question twice.

So it wasn’t easy for Jack to put down Robert’s latest offering. As he found a place to put the book on his shelf he tried to rationalise why Second Chance had been such a let down. It wasn’t so much the question-and-answer style of writing. It wasn’t that there was a clear lack of new useful material on financial literacy and philosophy, either (arguably, the new material had slowed to a trickle after his second book, Cashflow Quadrant). This was it: it had felt like someone who had, over the years, created a platform from which to educate and influence, and then had begun to abuse that authority. It felt like a 400-page rant from an old, crazy man on a street corner. And in that moment of realisation, Jack couldn’t help but feel sad and disappointed.

Could he afford, emotionally, to give his rich dad another second chance? he wondered. And then he realised that… in a way, Robert would always be his rich dad, and he knew in his heart of hearts that he would always be drawn to the next purple covered, gold-emblazoned book to come out in the Rich Dad series. Robert had, over the years, become part of the family, after all.

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General Musings

Echolocation

Bruce: Just like a…
Lucius Fox: Submarine, Mr. Wayne. Like a submarine.
– The Dark Knight (2008)

*click* *click* *click*… Jack stumbled around with his arms flailing in all directions as he made irregular clicking sounds with his tongue. “Like licking peanut butter off the top of your mouth,” was how it was described. Jack wasn’t sure if was doing it right.

*click* *click* *click* *THUMP*… Jack stumbled back and rubbed his nose. Mental note: that’s the sound of a click’s echo off a solid door. He would have to remember that one for next time. He was pretty sure at that point that he wasn’t doing it quite right.

He had just listened to the latest episode of the new Invisibilia podcast, “Batman”, about blind people using echolocation to “see”. He thought it would simply be remiss of him not to give it a go. He had been under no illusion that he would be able to actually do it, but the meta-discussion about the effect that other people’s expectations had on you had been insightful enough for him to honour the podcast by giving it a hearty, albeit ill-fated, try.

As it turned out, it was just like that time he listened to a podcast about juggling. He couldn’t do that one either, at least not on his first try (maybe he needed to listen to that podcast about persistence and mastery, again). Though, he definitely remembered juggling being less painful.

REFERENCES:
Invisibilia Podcast – Batman
BBC News – Human Echolocation

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