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Sunday, October 24, 2010

UnIntuitive Survival vs Guaranteed Failure

As absurd as it may sound put like that, I think most people, given the choice, will choose guaranteed failure over unintuitive survival. Let me explain. When faced with difficulties, oftentimes we tend to walk out if staying doesn't guarantee success. Why? Obvious. We know what to expect if we walk away (nothing?) but not if we stay. Will we achieve our goal? How will we feel if, after all the battles, we fail? Epically? Sometimes that risk is too big to take (if other people's well-being are at stake for example!). But sometimes it isn't (if it's just me). Sometimes it's just us looking at it from the wrong angle.

Disclaimer: I don't think whatever I write is "ultimately" true. It's MY truth and MY view of things. Everyone's welcome to disagree.

When life feels too hard to handle, I've learned that the solution is often counter-intuitive. Unless of course we're talking about philosophical questions that have no answer by definition. In the case of most personal/work-related problems, here's what I've found:

If the reflex was to think about it night and day and let it bring me down, then often, I found the solution to be to stop thinking about it. To occupy the mind with other, more productive mental activities like learning something or creating. Sometimes we try too hard to do everything at all times. Just relax and take Train's advice:



If the reflex was to ignore it and not deal with it, the answer for me was to think about it more. To bring the problem closer. To think about it in new, different ways. To try to identify WHAT it is that I did not see about the problem that makes the problem seem unsolvable. Can't solve a problem if you don't know what the problem is exactly! Once the problem is identified, solutions usually become easier to find :)

If the reflex was to give up, then most of the time, I end up realizing that there is in fact a solution if I can just get myself past the initial urge to walk away instead of learning to deal with it positively. Finding opportunity in difficulties is what it's all about. Who knows what serendipitous discovery we might come across?

Success cannot be guaranteed, but failure can (if I say I can't do it). Are our fears of failure worth walking away for? For me, at least, it isn't. Life is a risk, might as well go all in on what you believe in. But then again, that might just be me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Vindicated.

It was not easy to write this. I hesitated because it's a very personal, delicate post we're talking about here. But I felt that maybe someone might find it helpful. If so, then it will have been worth publishing. Worth publishing the blog about the time I felt like a victim.



Some time in May, I was having small talk with someone. Partly through the conversation, I noticed my interlocutor's eyes fixed several inches below my chin. I felt uncomfortable. Disrespected. Violated. That conversation haunted me for the next months to come.

As soon as I got away from him, I broke down and cried. I was angry, disgusted and I hated him. For the weeks and months to follow, I avoided him. Every time someone mentioned his name, I gritted my teeth and tried to breathe. I was allergic to his very existence. Every time I talked about it I couldn't hold back tears. I was frustrated. No one saw, so no one did anything about it. I wanted someone to do something about it, I wanted justice. This wasn't fair. Perverted minds should not be left to ruin the lives of people around them.

We're now in October and just last week, as I talked about it to a friend, I cried again. I decided that this frustration was eating me up for way too long, I had to put an end to it. I realized that, if I wanted someone to do something about it, that someone could be me. So I messaged the perpetrator and arranged for a meeting. I wanted to talk to him about what happened, let him know how it feels, and maybe have his version of facts.

I went in the coffee shop with hate. I calmed myself down and tried to get to know him for a bit. He was only an acquaintance and I wasn't sure what reaction to expect from him. I felt that a bit of conversation might make it easier for both of us. I quickly understood that this guy had serious problems with any sort of interpersonal skill, even more so when conversing with the opposite sex. According to his version of facts, he doesn't even remember the conversation and was not staring at my chest, but staring blankly as we do when we're thinking.

I told him my version, every part of it. What he did that day, how it made me feel, the tears, the frustration, the hate, everything. Going in, I wasn't sure whether his act was intentional or not. If it was, I wanted him to hear first hand how it felt to be on the other side of the situation. I wanted to vindicate myself. I was hoping that my account of things would at least encourage him to rethink over his way of treating girls. Maybe it would avoid another girl from going through the same thing in the future.

I was right. Our conversation ended on a positive note. He is now looking to improve his interpersonal skills and I'm sure he will succeed. I wish him the best in his efforts to do so. Mohandas Gandhi said that "You must be the change you wish to see in the world". Many people want to change the world. Few actually do anything about it. Even fewer are willing to change themselves. And for this, I'm very glad that this person has acknowledged the need for him to change.

I was also right thinking that confronting him with it would help me get over it. In one conversation, I've let go of the hatred, the frustration and the feeling of being a victim. I walked out of the coffee shop feeling free, relieved and exhausted.

He hadn't even touched me. Yet, you can see how devastating the effects already were. I can't even imagine how much worse I would have felt if he had done more than just stare. If you've ever felt victimized (or know someone who has) and are not over it, I sincerely wish you to find the strength to do something about it.

I was told that it was a brave thing to do. But most importantly, it helped me put this chapter behind me. And I just hoped it might help someone else do so too, whatever it is that they're struggling with. So if you know anyone who could benefit from this, please feel free to pass along.


Sherry-Lynn

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Another Wagon and a Stranger



Photo credit: Ryan Doherty (c) 2010. Taken at NASA.



Oct 7 2010 (This is gonna be a rather long post. Today was quite interesting)

The Wagon
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Continuing from my previous post "A train of change", today I added a wagon to the train.

My manager walked in asking me if I had some time to talk. He wanted to know if I was up for a challenge. At that point, my mind went "oh oh that's gonna be a lot of work, but it's a challenge!! take! take!".

He compared the project with another one that I've just been assigned. He said the one right now is like a 1m swimming pool, and the next one is the deep sea, and possibly some alligators left in it (they killed most of them already). I asked if it was okay if I take more time than others to complete it and he said yes. "So what could make me 'drown' then?" I asked. He replied nothing. I wondered why he was asking me then. He explained that sometimes people are scared of complicated projects, even if there is support. I accepted the challenge.

AssertFalse(Me == not scared);

The truth is that I'm very scared of this project. For the past month, a lot of the time, I've struggled to understand the system, to know where to look for things, just to fix small bugs. I haven't even started the 1m deep swimming pool type project yet. It's definitely not gonna be easy, sometimes overwhelming and most of the time crazy debugging. But I came here to earn my confidence as a programmer and the only way to do that is to tackle valuable projects asap. Usually we do that 6 months in, but why not try 2? I like skipping steps. It drives me nuts but the survival skills developed are invaluable. I went ahead and jumped, trusting that my patience, perseverance and preparedness will catch me before I hit the ground. If I don't trust myself, who will?

Off we go to a demanding workload! And if I do hit the ground, the momentum will be so high that I'm likely to just bounce back off :) Aah it's great to be an optimist.


The Stranger
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After waiting 30 mins for the bus, I finally climb on a jam-packed vehicle. Standing, I resume my reading. TTC has been the opportunity for me to catch up on reading. I was on the second chapter of The Left Hand of Darkness.

I was barely a few minutes into my reading when someone commented about another book by the same author. I looked up to face a skinny sixty year old man who looked very interested in my book. At first I hesitated before engaging into the conversation. I had never left work so late and I've encountered many a creeper in this city. I smiled and said a friend of mine recommended it.

The young man who had been sitting right next to us looked up and asked what the book was about. Soon, the three of us were having a conversation about sci-fi, about award-winning books, and movies. The ride to the subway station seemed much shorter than usual.

We kept talking and sat together in the TTC wagon, still talking. The old man was quite an interesting character. He told us that he obtained a degree in theatre before. And then one day, he was introduced to the digital world via programmable stage lights. His fascination brought him so far as to become a prominent professional at the aerospace research centre at the University of Toronto. I was amazed by his story. I always thought that switching from a technical career to anything else was relatively easy while the opposite was very unlikely. Yet, in front of me, I had living proof that one's passion and eagerness to learn is the only thing that matters to success.

People like him are inspiring because they do not care how hard people THINK it is. They probably don't even KNOW how hard people think it is. All they know is their passion. Many a times the goal isn't clear either. But they keep searching and picking up as much as they can in their quest to mastering their field of interest. Nothing and no one can ever stop them. Not money, not family, not anything. It's a true calling that cannot be ignored to them. Realizing one's dream is never an easy path to choose. The result, however, rewards everyone. For great things are only born of passionate hands, and great ideas generated from passionate minds.

I am a girl with more than one goal. In fact, these are only two of my goals. I have many many others, not less ambitious, but we'll save that for some other time. The point is, I hope and wish that each and every one of you find this THING that you resonate with, that you could spend your life on. When you do (or if you have) then I hope you'll have the guts to go for it and see your projects through. And if you do have the guts to go for it, I hope you're ready for a rocky ride and enjoy each and every bump. Bruises are cool to show off ;)

If your goal is crazy, just remember that...

Before 1870: People thought talking to someone and hearing them talk back without them being in the same room was an odd idea. Then Graham Bell invented the telephone.

Before late 1990s: The idea of sending messages and data to the other end of the globe within seconds was unrealistic, when snail mail took weeks. Then came the internet.

Before 1969: The moon was still mere material for empty promises. Then Neil Armstrong and his buddies landed on the moon.

Before late 1800s, no sound was ever recorded!

Every great thing (many of which we take for granted now) were, at some point, considered unreachable, crazy goals. Then someone made them happen. Someone crazy, like us :)

Happy Mid-week!

Sherry

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rise Again

Oct 5 2010
"Our greatest strength lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall" - Confucius



I wake up to the sound of raindrops busily flooding the pavements. It's almost sunset. I frantically rub the sides of my arms, feeling cold. I try to find a comfy and warm position in vain. My eyes finally squint open. It's not very bright but my eyes still want to shy away from the light. The back of my eyes feel sore and as I sit up, a familiar throbbing headache makes itself noticed. I press my icy fingers to my forehead for a few seconds, feeling the heat transfer. It momentarily soothes me, but I know it won't last.

I finally drag myself off the couch and pour myself a glass of water. My throat is somewhat sore. The water helps, but its temperature sends chills down my spine. All I want to do is crawl under warm blankets and just hibernate until the weather gets pretty again. I pause for a minute, staring blankly at the water droplets dripping from the roof of a nearby house. I try to catch up with my feelings for a moment and realize that I'm calm. I'm not jovial just yet, but I don't feel like crying either. The drowsiness from my headache and the hurting eye balls are the only remnants of my earlier distress. I sigh.

Things around me look the same but they have definitely felt different lately. There is no way to go back to those bright sunny days so dauntingly engraved in our memories. Some things just don't happen again. But I suppose that some things do, and when they do, they come back even better than we remember them. We think that day will come. There will be a day when things will not be as crazy, when we will finally have summer on any winter day. We will walk to another city, wishing upon trains passing under the bridge. We will be light and carefree again.

My heavy steps climb up to my bedroom, where I quickly snuggle under the cold sheets. The temperature has dropped rapidly and the heating is not on yet. I rub the balls of my feet against the mattress, trying to warm it up before lying down. I pick up the Alchemist, wriggle into a comfortable position, and start from the first chapter.

Every now and then, everyone needs to take some time off the world, retreat into their favourite place with some sort of alchemist as their only companion. After crouching up and holding our heads between our elbows, trying to avoid the nasty shots, we need to open up to the world again, but little by little. Isn't it easier to first open up at our own pace to an imaginary, unknown and non-judgmental alchemist (or its author for that matter)?

I, on my part, feel inclined to believe that the universe will conspire to help us realize our respective personal legends. Together we can do anything. Some might say I'm a dreamer. But one without dreams is one without goals, and that would be sad. There is no charm in believing the best things in life are behind us =)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Narrative writing after a few years..

It's been a while since I wrote anything narrative so please bear with me... In this piece I'm trying to create the atmosphere more than creating a story. I know, I know. I'm over the teen years. But hey, I was always good at the depressing stuff back in the days.

The person described here could be anyone who has ever had a frustrating moment in their life and had the courage to let it go. In case you were wondering, no it's not autobiographical. I'm happy, thank you. But I guess in some other frustrating time, it could have been me. Anyways. Here it is.

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Oct 4, 2010 | Untitled (suggestions?)
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I hold you tight to hug you goodbye, and I'm sure it helps but I don't feel like it does right now. This familiar sinking feeling anchors itself in my brain. You're gone. I feel my cheeks getting wet from top to bottom, I sense my knees getting weak, it's about to come. It's time.

The calm around me is in disturbing contrast with the frustrations churning inside. I glare at my still surroundings, half-wishing something would burst into flames. Then I let go of my body. I let myself sink into the sofa, staring blankly at the ceiling. Spider webs swaying hauntingly above my head in the brightly lit room add to my stress. I turn away.

Now facing the dust-covered window sill with chipping paint, I try to concentrate on the street outside. It's a quiet Sunday morning and a few people walk past intermittently. I watch them go about their business. I see two faces light up as two friends randomly bump into each other at the corner. They hug and catch up. A young healthy-looking woman swiftly jogs by, ipod in hand. She makes running seem so easy. I never could run... I wonder what kind of music she's listening right now. If it were me, I'd be listening to "Counting Airplanes" by Train, I think to myself. I sing the lyrics to in my head: "I don't wanna be some average anybody" and a hint of a smile makes its way across my face.

I keep watching the city slowly wake up to this wonderful day. After a while, I can't help but let the calm from the outside seep into my subconsciousness. I don't realize that at this very moment, I'm not angry anymore. I curl myself up into a ball as my cheeks dry and let myself drift asleep as the sun shines its brightest. Soon, the area would get busy with people catching up over Sunday brunch or lunch. But I would miss it this time. I would sleep through the afternoon, having let go of the frustrations that kept me restless.