Looking for balance in life, work, and relationships. #1000 days because the first 365 were pretty easy.
97501 words
@balance_wtf

New Soil

657

Today I had to replant my Pachira Aquatica. I got the tree in November, but during the past couple of weeks the leaves started browning and a few fell off. After a bit of research, I decided that I need to replant it, probably because I overwatered it once, and some of the roots started to rot. It'd die, unless I'd put it in fresh soil, cut the rotten roots. Of course I procrastinated on this, but finally, today I gave my Pachira some fresh, new, beautifully brown soil.

This made me think about replanting in life. Sometimes, we're trying so hard to do something. To grow, to improve. We're reading all the books, trying all the methods, doing all the work. Desperately trying to change. Being mad at ourselves for not being able to change. Or not seeing the effects we want.

Sometimes, we need to replant. Change the soil. Change the environment, the people, the habits, the mindset. A plant with rotten roots won't grow, no matter how much it wants to. Same with humans; in some cases, our current reality may be directly prohibiting us from growing.

Don't be afraid to look for new soil. Let's be grateful there's still some of it left out there.

Flight

656

Continuing on my journey of exploring Hayao Miyazaki's works, I recently watched The Wind Rises, his latest film. It's a first for Miyazaki, in the sense that for the first time he made a movie about a real, historical person.

The main character, Jiro Horikoshi, was a plane designer emerging in the 30s. His greatest design, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero was Japan's most advanced fighter during WWII.

Horikoshi built planes as a way of realizing his greatest dream: the dream of flight, of building beautiful machines. Yet, as we all know, his work essentially became a killing machine.

To me, the film asks a few important questions: What's worth doing? Is every dream worth pursuing? Most importantly: what if evil triumphs over good?

There is no balance without darkness. We cannot escape human nature. Duality, ambivalence, short-sightedness, they are inertly human traits. What one can do, solely, is not deny them; rather, treat as companions of the journey. Look at them closely, see the evil in its purest form. Learn its tricks, methods of spreading through humanity. That way, you will be much better equipped to fight it, to let the good triumph in the end.

Jirô Horikoshi: Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you: But when the leaves hang trembling, The wind is passing through.

Touched

655

Don't know about you, but I like to be touched, moved by something. I enjoy works of art, experiences that make me feel something deep, something real. It feels like I can visit places; far away yet deep inside me. All through a single experience, which often happens without me going outside my house.

During these past twelve months, I noticed one important thing: I'm more inclined to be touched by something when there's margin in my life. In the past, I'd be watching movies, sure. But even the most tearful dramas often wouldn't leave any impression on me. Because there were other things to worry about, other places to be.

But now, when I've built considerable margin, empty space into my life, I feel like everything moves me, everything can make me stop and reflect. Not just works of art in particular, but anything; the trees, the people, the wind. There's a deeper connection with everything, everyone around me. At least, that's how I feel.

Yet another reason to say enough more often.

A life with space to feel is a life worth living.

Labels

654

In a world where culture (and, as a result, society at large) exists to create new needs, not fulfill existing ones, labels have become an ever-present sight.

We use labels to differentiate, but maybe, most importantly, to shape our own identity. All in all, it is much easier to "absorb" a label with its entire baggage, than to individually shape every inch of our identity.

When you say you are a Christian, people immediately attribute certain things to you. Maybe they will view you as a trustworthy, humble, well-meaning person. Or as a blind fanatic without any degree of objectivity and respect for the outside. Same thing when you say you are an atheist; just the other way around.

It worries me that our reliance on labels, which is neatly convenient, ruins the very essence we're pursuing; individualistic expression. If our only way of defining ourselves is by immediate association with somebody else, then our pursuit is a senseless one.

Some people hack their way around this problem by adding exceptions:

I'm a Christian but I respect and appreciate everyone no matter their beliefs but I believe God is our only savior but everybody is different...
I'm an atheist but I respect and appreciate everyone no matter their beliefs but I believe God is a false construct ruining our world but...

Isn't this a beautiful circulos vitiosus? A never ending attempt at explaining a label so intense in its connotation that makes me ask: are the labels even useful in the every-day cognitive process? Seems like they have lost its original purpose, becoming a vehicle of misunderstanding, rather than understanding humans.

Don't label people and do not let be labeled; just say your name and what you're grateful for today.

Fill

653

We created art, culture, to be fulfilled. To fill a void created by the mundane lives we live. To talk about the fears, the hopes, bubbling inside of us. Art can help us let go, confront the hardships, express the sorrows. Cultural trends have helped us fit in, solidify our humanity. Find our tribe.

Lately, it seems, culture has shifted from fulfilling needs to creating needs. These days, trends exist often for a materialistic purpose, to make money. Trends exist for the sake of being trendy, solely. They might make money along the way.

"Art" as a concept has shifted from being a companion of humanity to a vehicle of consumption. We are, truly, wired for more. Since our entire modern culture is built on this notion, breaking away is almost an impossible task.

We need to urgently re-wire our culture. Since we cannot sustainably keep growing forever (at least on this planet), going back to the old model, or finding a new one, is our only solution.

A false being cannot be fulfilled.

Artism

652

Art seems to be underapprieciated these days. Not that there aren't artists creating incredible work; art has fallen down the ladder of social importance.

Was it ever really up there?

To become a master in any field, one must strive to become an artist. Art, the process of creating new from old, is not exclusive to the traditional denotation of "art"; paintings, sculptures, movies, installations. A mathematician can be an artist, too.

Bridging the gap between craftsmanship and artistry is a great and important step for anyone looking to become a master in their craft. Learning the rules, using the tools, all that requires time and hard work.

Anyone can learn the rules, but not everyone can set the rules.

Be the one who sets the rules.

The Wind

651

The wind carries me forward.

Cleans the air, cleans the mind.

I like vast, open, windy spaces. Mountains, valleys. They give me a sense of conjunction. Congruence. These spaces provoke; they show the vastness, the potential, the dangers.

The wind can be dangerous. It can wipe us out. Every force can destroy. No force is worse than dangerous force.

We've learnt how to harness the force. How to draw power from it. Without obstructing, without destroying, living in symbiosis. That makes me proud.

Windy days is when I charge, like a wind turbine. Then that energy stays with me for windless days, which have always been harder.

The wind of change.

What You Know

650

We live in an unequal world, where not everyone has an equal chance. Some people have it easier, some have it harder.

Many of us have privileges; I wrote about them a few times already. But there's another privilege we often forget about: access to knowledge.

In theory, there is universal education. In theory, anyone with access to the Internet can visit any URL out there. In practice, knowledge compounds - the more you read, the more you listen, the better you get. Someone who had access to books as a child, will get (knowledge-wise) far beyond a person who started buying books once they became an adult. By age 30, one will have 25 years of accumulated knowledge, while the other only 10. Sure, knowledge doesn't only come from books, but the rule applies to anything else; online courses, private lessons after school, open lectures at museums.

Once you know where to look for knowledge, and have time and space to discover, the process will be much simpler. It's exponentiation, not addition.

It's important to remember, when talking with people, that they might've not had the same chance as you to discover knowledge from different worlds. Don't be mad when they won't get your point; don't lash out at them if they don't see your connections.

Bridge the gap, don't widen it.

Improvisation

649

We're often afraid of total creative freedom. Most of us, when presented with the opportunity of 'roaming free', default to going by the script, or not going at all.

No matter the type of creative pursuit, going by the book provides us with a shield, gives us protection from possible failure. Minimizes risk. Seemingly, abiding by the rules, even rules set by ourselves, strikes a balance between expression and safety. Nobody wants to trip, especially when others are watching.

Studies have shown that when we're improvising, our pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for executive functions (planning, decision-making), significantly lowers its activity. When we 'roam free', our brain turns off its own control mechanisms.

If we, as humanity, would always be afraid of not going by the book, we'd never get to the point we're in. Copernicus would've never dared to question geocentrism. Da Vinci would've never explored new art ventures. MLK would've never delivered 'I Have A Dream'. (The speech, at least its finale, was improvised on the spot).

Open the floodgates. Flood your mind with novelty.

Dignity

648

Dignity is an interesting concept. It's constituted by our humanity, the simple fact that we are human. It's the right to be respected, valued, for our own sake. To be treated ethically.

One interesting observation I recently encountered talks about how 'group dignity' is a much more fragile concept than 'individual dignity'.

Individual dignity is granted by the fact that we are human. A fact no one can undermine. Group dignity, on the other hand, is granted by social importance. Different social groups are perceived as less/more important, less/more valuable, less/more fragile. Doctors are more respected than street cleaners. Teachers get more credit than store clerks.

This results in under-appreciated groups feeling side-lined, left out. That lack of perceived dignity shows up in unionizing efforts, protests, disobedience etc. If you're a politician, and you want your opponent to loose, all you have to do is portray them as someone who is degrading a key part of their electorate. Trick number one in every populist's handbook.

As an individual, it's important to separate these two. Group identity is not equal to your individual identity. Both are important, both need to be respected, but they are not the same thing.

You => Group. Not the other way around.

Feelings-Based

647

Yesterday, I participated in a CreativeMornings event with Jason Fried, the founder and CEO of Basecamp.

There was one thing that caught my attention in particular: someone asked Jason if they have goals, as a company, do they use OKRs, KPIs, etc. Jason replied: no, we've never had that. We are a feelings-based company. Whenever we feel like something is right, we do it. When feel it's wrong, we don't. That's all.

Wow. That's a heck of an approach. This got me thinking: how often are we not listening to our feelings, when we should be? Especially in the realm of work.

Truth is, goals, OKRs, KPIs cannot possibly reflect us, our work, holistically, truthfully. They are synthetic metrics, numbers designed for comparison, not realism. The only true metric of your work is how you feel about your work.

All the rest is just noise.

Clubhouse

646

So there is this trendy new social media app called Clubhouse. Instead of being based on text, images and video, like most social networks before, it's centered on audio. You can join "rooms", where you can talk with people, like on a big group call.

The concept itself is quite good. I like audio. Heck, I've been hosting and producing podcasts for two years now. I also love the casual chats we're having with friends on our private Discord server. Video is good for more "official" stuff, but nothing beats audio-based communication for on-the-go random encounters.

The execution, is, well, interesting. While the app is designed and built quite well, the content on there is not very good. Because anyone can talk about anything, anytime, the quality of Clubhouse conversations is not high at all. Every room I've popped into so far featured an incredibly unproductive, uninteresting, and, frankly, boring conversation. Even when I participated in rooms with people I generally like listening to, it was meh at most. (Sorry Jason Fried).

We are already over-connected. We don't need another global platform multiplying our connections by a large number. Want to talk with friends? Open a Discord server. Want to listen to interesting public individuals? There are thousands of webinars happening all the time. When you keep stuff private, you're rich. When everything is public, there's not much of you left - you're poor.

Probably going to close my Clubhouse account in the next few weeks.

Endings

645

Daft Punk announced their split after 28 years of working together.

What a bummer. I've been waiting for a new Daft Punk album for so long. And all I got after all this waiting was an eight minute video telling me they've ceased working together. Sad.

But another part of me is kind of proud. Proud that they were bold and transparent enough to end things officially and gracefully. Instead of keeping the thing semi-dead, they decided: it's better to end.

It's hard for us to let go of things. It's hard to say goodbye. Especially when we've put a lot of work into something. Putting an official end to something requires more work than letting it linger on. But it frees us, lets us move on, and gives the "thing" proper respect.

Sure, the endings will be bittersweet, but at least they won't be tasteless.

Untethered

644

A month ago I said goodbye to my smartphone. It was one of the best decisions I made in a while.

During this past month I:

  • Read five and a half books
  • Watched four movies and one four-part documentary
  • Spent 30% more time with family
  • 20% more time with friends
  • 90% less time on social media

Getting rid of my smartphone has made me feel untethered, in a way. I am free from the constant demands of being always connected, always online. When I go on a walk now, I don't listen to podcasts. I listen to the birds, the trees. I listen to myself. When I'm hanging out with friends/family, I don't pull out my phone when I'm bored. I can't. I'm always present. Or, when I'm traveling by public transit, I'm reading books, because that's the only option.

I consider myself a technologist all the way. Technology can be amazing. But, when technology is always with us, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. A life without a smartphone is a life in the present, with margin, without noise.

Everybody should do this. We already know that it is possible to live happy lives, do great things, without everyone having a supercomputer in their pocket at all times.

Maybe it's worth coming back to those times.

Compassion

643

Don't know if it's just me, but I think we're forgetting about compassion.

A while ago I wrote about reciprocity. Compassion, a similar concept, is about "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it". So it's about helping other people, helping with their distress.

It's hard to help without ego, but there's no place for ego in compassion. It needs to be real, honest, to exist. It can't be polluted with ego, because then it stops being compassion - it turns into using others.

Too much compassion can bury someone, sure.

Too little compassion will bury us all.