Posts Tagged ‘smoking’

One of the reasons that I’ve been a bit quiet here lately is that I had some grand idea forming in my head that I would start a tradition of an annual report on my reboot process by going back and pulling up my initial objectives and examining progress on each one(*).  Well, not only did that stop me cold in my tracks, but I suspect that it would have been about as interesting to read as the phone book.  So I will spare you that.  You may thank me later .

In the process of killing off the annual report idea though, I did keep coming back to what I feel is the single biggest thing that I have learned over the last two years.  It may not sound particularly profound.  I think it may be like some of those Buddhist concepts where  the act of putting the idea into words robs the idea of its power.  But I’m going to try anyway.

The three word summary is in the title of this post:  Enjoy the Process.

And for some reason I feel compelled to break this down by introducing (or possibly recycling) a series of aphorisms.  This may end up being even more self-indulgent than my original idea of an annual report, but hopefully it will at least be a bit entertaining.

Don’t obsess over becoming an expert, enjoy the time spent on the journey.

This is mostly deeply rooted in the Growth vs. Fixed Mindset idea that came as part of my informal teacher training.  One of the most frustrating students I taught last year was convinced that he was a natural expert programmer and did a pretty darn good job in general.  But he kept hitting a wall in his experience and rather than treating that as an opportunity to learn he would just thrash away in frustration.  Some of my greatest triumphs were when I got him to plow through and figure out the solution himself.  I see too much of myself in that behavior, but now I have that very clear image of that student to pull on when I find myself hitting my head against a wall.  I hope I helped him half as much as he helped me.

Treasure feedback from any source as if it is a rare gift.

Because it is.  It is always harder to give feedback than not.  I have a deeply ingrained impulse to take constructive feedback as a negative commentary on my abilities and I believe it still shows on my face, even in very relaxed environments like a yoga studio.  And of course that treats the absolutely wrong feedback loop with people I am trying to learn from.  I think I’m doing better in the moment and hopefully that will continue to improve over time.   Habits aren’t hard to break (says the ex-smoker), you just have to keep trying.  And making sure that I express appreciation after the fact  to the people that teach me things is, I hope, an effective way of counteracting the in the moment reaction that still happens more often than I would like.

Things that are worth mastering are rarely things that can be mastered.

So one had better enjoy the learning process, because there is no end.  I set out to learn to speak Spanish and learned that I haven’t really ‘mastered’ English yet.  I set out to teach computer science to high school students and I’m pretty sure I ended up learning more from them than they did from me.  I could go on ad nauseum with this list, but I’ll spare you for now.

Be wary of spending too much time doing something that you don’t enjoy.

This is often an attempt to attain some grand future goal, like a title at work, a retirement fund or some kind of recognition.  I’ve achieved a bunch of these things, but if I regret anything (and I really try not to have regrets) it’s the hours spent doing things that I really hated to get to goals.  They really aren’t worth that price.  So I am going to try to make sure that whatever I do in the future the day to day work on balance is both fulfilling and enjoyable in and of itself.

Some part of everyday routine basis makes the world better place

This is the one that I struggle with the most.  Is the world a better place because I helped build better technology relatively early on in the PC revolution?  I like to think so, but it’s pretty impossible to prove.  Do some kids have a slightly better outlook on programming and technology because of the time I spent last year volunteering.  I think that’s a much clearer yes, but that was a much larger commitment than I can manage on a regular basis.  Hopefully I will manage to find on the clearly good + clearly sustainable list in the near future as a volunteer activity.  But the thing I am really trying to figure out is how to get my career Venn diagram to include an unambiguous “make the world a better place” component.

Overall, Enjoy the Process really is a pretty good summary of what I’ve learned so far.  With any luck that will include enjoying the process of writing and you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years.

(*)The other reason is that I’ve diving into my start-up project which also involves some writing  and so I am (so far not very successfully)  trying to integrate the reboot writing into my ‘non-work’ time.

If I were to use the words in the title in a sentence, you might expect something like – “The Pirates shot the yoga colony that they found on the beach, guns still smoking they found themselves unable to breath – Karma works fast sometimes.”  Or something equally corny.  Perhaps I’ll try something like that someday if I pursue a career in corny fiction (that’s still a genre right?).  Or maybe not.

But as you may have guessed that’s not really where I’m going with this.  I had more trouble breathing in yoga this morning that I’ve had in months, possibly years.  Now there are quite a few possible explanations for this.  I am doing less Bikram yoga than I have in a while.  The temperature outside is hotter than usual.  I spent some time with Esak Garcia, and he had some interesting things to say about 80/20 breathing – I haven’t tried to apply that to my practice yet, but it may be affecting me subconsciously.

Any of the above may be the reason or a contributing factor, but I’m convinced that the main issue is Pirates.  We went to see Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzanze last night and as is unfortunately all too common when attending live theater we were blasted with mass amounts of extremely noxious perfume and cologne.  And perfume and cologne failing to cover up stale cigarette fumes.  I really think that poisons my system enough that I’m working at a measurably reduced lung capacity for at least the next day.

In any case, it also makes me reflect on how lucky I am that I managed to quit smoking (12.5 years ago now) so that every day isn’t a bad breathing day like this for me.  And wondering if this is some kind of Karmic retribution for the amount of second hand smoke and stale cigarette odor that I inflicted on others when I smoked.  If so – I’m sorry.  Please stop it.  I like breathing.  And if you have to smoke and walk back into the theater, please don’t try to cover it by spraying obnoxious scents all over yourself.  It doesn’t help.  Thank you for bearing with my rant.  The end.

But whatever.  I was definitely walking the line that could land me in front of the yoga studio pulling at a locked door.I was running a bit late to make it to yoga this morning.  For no particular reason.  I had done some speed reading and Spanish studying and was catching up on email and just lost track of time.  But whatever, I was definitely walking the line that I might end up in front of the yoga studio pulling at a locked door.  So it’s not like I hyperventilated or anything.  But I was definitely and obviously a visible ball of stress when I walked in the door.  And I had forgotten my yoga mat.  You know, one of those things that is pretty essential for the yoga practice.  Fortunately I had just forgotten it in the car and was actually early enough to run back before the door was locked.

But of course the point is not that I spaced out and had a close call in making it to yoga this morning.  At just about every level I realize that missing a particular yoga class is in no way going to affect the scheme of things in my life or in the lives of others.  Really.  I mean that.  But my fight or flight mechanisms definitely kicked in an didn’t stop until I was sitting on the mat in the studio.  This is definitely not an optimal way to live life.  And not only does it take some time off my life every time this happens, but those around me have to deal with the crazy person who is not quite hyperventilating for no apparent reason.

This isn’t a new thing, of course.  But my hope was that after a decent part of a year without exercising that particular set of muscles they would atrophy and fall away.  I guess that does make me an eternal optimist.  Since that didn’t happen it’s probably time to check in on that particular aspect of my life.

I think that one of the reasons that this particular reaction is so ingrained is that it actually worked for me in my early days as a software engineer in a naturally high stress job.  Here’s how it went.  Something would happen at work that blocked progress and caused stress.  This could be anything from finding a nasty bug to get a crushing flame mail from a highly placed moron elsewhere in the company.  I would grab one of the other guys that I worked with that smoked (or chewed) and we’d head out for a cigarette (or two).  That would bring the stress level down to a low roar, I would have the opportunity to talk through the issue with someone I trusted (after all as a smoker, you trust all other smokers, right?) and then I’d use the combination of the slightly dulled stress reaction and the nicotine buzz to power through the next couple of hours, no matter what time of day or night it was.

Now of course I have no desire to start smoking again and honestly there are so many things wrong with that picture at so many levels that I bring it up only as a way of digging into why I react the way I do now.  I believe there are some things about that scenario that can be useful without dragging in nasty smelly habits.  For instance, one of the aspects of smoking that I have seen batted around in a number of places is that for people who for whatever reason aren’t great breathers, smoking helps them remember to draw deep breaths.  So figuring out a way to naturally breathe deeply when something unexpected and possibly stress inducing happens is probably a good lesson to take away.  I spent a considerable number of years sparring (as in kung fu fighting) and while I was never great, I learned in that context to breath rather than hyperventilate or hold my breath when someone came at me with fists and feet.  So I can certainly do this in non-smoking situations, again the key here is to generalize a recognized ‘cure’ so that I do it naturally in all situations.

Another lesson to learn from my early pattern is that talking through a stressful issue with a trusted friend is often the best way to deal with it.  And you don’t have to go outside or down to the garage to have that kind of talk (if you don’t need to light up a cigarette).

The final aspect of that situation was the ability to channel the stress energy into constructive work.  I did a lot of constructive work in those days.  I can’t quite figure out how to translate that into my current healthier lifestyle.  Perhaps yoga and other things will help me have better energy and be more productive in general?  Any thoughts?

In any case, I’m going to try to change my default setting to mellow but dangerous, so watch out world!