Learn Japanese, My 100th Kanji

The fact that people can communicate in multiple languages has always left me with a sense of awe.  But once I started traveling internationally, I felt quite lazy when I realized how many other people had taken on the huge challenge or learning English as a second language, while I was just sat around butchering it; much less learning any other language. 

To top it off where I’m from (southern US), our culture resists language learning of any kind, and immigrants are expected to “learn the language before they come here.”  Often times these comments go so far as to imply that someone who doesn’t speak perfect English must be unintelligent.  Needless to say I was never a part of this camp, but now that I’ve learned some Japanese I realize just how bright and dedicated a person has to be in order to convey any thought, no matter how small or broken, in another language.

Unfortunately for myself however, I choose the language that interested me most, but was also ranked 5th hardest language to learn for native English speakers.  I would be venturing into a realm where neither letters nor spaces between words existed.  A place where I would have to learn not just another alphabet, but two plus a pictorial one with thousands of unique characters and conjugations. 

And that third one is pretty scary.  Take for instance the word for “today”, “kyou” pronounce “key-yo” and looks like 今日.  You can write this word correctly in 2 different ways, one with kanji as shown, and one with hiragana as such きょう.  In kanji form however, the word is the summation of two separate characters that when used separately sound neither like “key” or “yo” but instead are “ima” 今 and “nichi” 日 (“nichi” can also be pronouced “hee”).  To illustrate, imagine if the word “homeland” when split apart was pronounced “origin place” but was still spelled as “home land.” Yeah, this goal is going to be a hard one, but arn’t they all?

But I’m making progress.  I started getting pretty serious with Rosetta Stone in January of last year, while I prepared for my trip to Tokyo.  I studied using RS and made friends online to practice language exchange as well.  This got my through Tokyo with ease (but wasn’t actually needed to be honest), and after just three months, and armed with a dictonary app on my phone, I was conversing over dinner with a friends cousin who didn’t speak English short of a few words.  Upon returning home however, I promptly abandoned my studies.

Then several months later, I decided to finally tackle what I had been avoiding: kanji, the pictorial alphabet that has thousands of symbols and at least two different ways to read/say each one.  So I bought a book on November 11th, 2013 entitled “Reading Japanese,” and published by Yale back in the 70’s.  Since then every day I’ve been making slow progress through the book, and now, over 3 months later I hit a big milestone.  I can not only fluently read and write both syllabic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) but also 100 kanji! 

As of 3/13/14 I've copied by hand about 168 pages of 546 page text book!

As of 3/13/14 I’ve copied by hand about 168 pages of 546 page text book! Also, if you notice, there’s another goal lurking in the background 😀

Yes, this is only a small, miniscule step in the process.  I have a very long way to go (1900 more to be specific).  But with 100 kanji under my belt, I’m immensely excited, and have a huge boost in confidence that I can actually achieve this goal.  My newly formed routine is practically set in stone at this point.  Every morning I arrive at work an hour early and copy new kanji, example sentences and reading drills.  I haven’t missed a day where I don’t write something or read something in Japanese and as such, I look very forward to it each morning.  I doubt I’d ever be successful if I didn’t.

In the next few weeks I’ll start posting entries of my individual study sessions, realizations, and milestones!  Any motivation or words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated :D.

How To Identify and Remove 3 Types of Toxic People in Life

Define Your Future Today

If you’re a fan of Tim Ferris, then you’ve definitely come across the 80/20 rule.  He didn’t originate it of course, but he applied it to something I hadn’t realized before: that 20% of the people in your life, cause 80% of your unhappiness and stress.  Once I realized this, I took immediate steps to remove them from my life.  Below are some of the types of people I discovered, very slowly, were in fact toxic.  Much of these traits were only obvious to me in hindsight, and I’m positive that as I meet more people, more red flags will go unnoticed for far too long.  But the time spent with those people, good and bad, is gone; it’s a sunk cost.  Having spent a lot of time with them does not justify spending more time with them.  So if any of the below descriptions remind you of someone in your life (no mater how close you may be with them), explore them thoroughly.  Then, when the time comes, be decisive.  Make a commitment to being a better person today. 

The False Dreamer

False Dreamers are a lot like alcohol.  Each time to you get together, they build your confidence, make a lot of promises for tomorrow, and justify the inaction of yesterday as not the right time.  You feel great when you’re together, and as a result, you get together almost daily.  But somehow, none of those promises come true.  None of the feats attempted.  None of the plans planned, much less executed.  There’s always an excuse for doing it later.  They’ll always convince you that you simply can’t start until months into the future, just long enough for you to forget.  Once you’ve forgotten, or just before, you’ll be set down another path of false hope, and the cycle continues.  Until you wake up one day an alcoholic; drinking the same thing every day, riding the high that ‘someday’ you will be better. 

Removing a False Dreamer

The easiest way of course is to be upfront and honest.  Break off ties with them when you realize what they are doing.  If you need a bit of a push, let them do it for you.  Decide what your goal is, let them boost your confidence and raise a toast, but don’t drink to it.  Instead, right then and there, start writing down what you will do today and tomorrow.  Maybe pull out your phone and sign up for a gym membership, or apply to that culinary program on the spot.  They’ll applaud you, all the way until it’s time to go.  The first time you try to go to the gym or study instead of going out to dinner/getting drinks/party/just hangout there will be resistance, expect it.  They’ll tell you that you can do it tomorrow, or next week.  This is the hardest part.  This is when you decide to be better.  And the next time will be harder, and harder. Until finally, you have to be straight forward and honest with them.  You’re going to be better, and stop talking about being better.

The Alternative to the False Dreamer

There are real dreamers out there.  When you find one, you’ll notice the difference.  You’ll gather and talk about being better, but instead of raising a toast they pull out a journal to write down steps to take.  The next few days they aren’t available, because they are taking the most immediate steps possible.  They may not succeed.  In fact, there are many failures along the way.  But their biggest differentiator is that they try.  They continue to strive.

The Villainizer

The Villainizer will build you up by tearing down everyone else.  Rather than work on improving your flaws or shortcoming, they are masters at shifting the blame to anyone else involved, no matter how far removed from the situation they may be.  It is the professors whose at fault for your failed exam, the doctor for your bad eating habits, and your boss for your car trouble.  You’ll leave their company feeling much better about yourself, without having to waste time putting effort into actually becoming better.  Rather than work to the top, they dig out the ground all around their feet, in order to create the illusion of being on top.  Once you step back, you’ll realize that they’ve only succeeded in isolating the two of you from reality, carving out your very own island.

Removing the Villainizer

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Removing a Villainizer will be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done in your life.  At one time, you basked in the euphoria that was shifting blame, but during that time they were collecting all of your fears, self-doubt, and the parts of you and your life that made you self-conscious.  Each one will come back to you in a flurry of rage and tears.  There’s no way around it, you’ll have to face all of them, and in doing so, you will already be a better person.  These are things you should have dealt with at the time, but they were swept under the rug.  My advice is that you be direct.  Make known of your intention to leave the island that you helped create, and never look back.  Don’t read the text messages, don’t listen to the voicemails, and don’t read the Facebook chats.  Practice ignoring them first, then slowly block the channels abused most.   Understand that you are now the villain in their eyes, as well as anyone else that may actually be good for you.  Be open with those people around you about whats going on, and let them know that they may be confronted by them in the aftermath.  Your spouse, your friends, or anyone else may be pulled in.  This will be hard.  But it will be worth it.

The Alternative to a Villainizer

The alternative is someone who helps you face your shortcomings head on, in the moment and honestly.  They would rather risk your relationship, than see you blinded by shifted blame and false encouragement.  Rather than feel great after being together, you may feel frustrated.  Growing pangs can be frustrating.  Of course, if you’re always being criticized, that’s a problem as well.  What you’re looking for is someone who encourages you to try, and then helps you to try better when you fail.   

The Habitual Victim

The Habitual Victim will build you up, by tearing themselves down.  You’ll leave much of your gatherings with a subtle sense of guilt and pity.  They will always go with you part of the way, wanting you both to be better, only to fall behind, having tripped and sprained their ankle.  Then they guilt and beg you to come back and help them.  They hold you back, under the guise of pushing you forward.  They’ll initiate something with you, and always seemingly fail just before they actually start.  You’ll continue forward but your guilt slows you to a crawl.  You don’t want to leave them behind, so you comfort them.  You slow down.  And eventually, you stop moving forward all together.

Removing the Habitual Victim

 Removing an Habitual Victim is much easier than removing a Villainizer.  What you’ll deal with most is guilt.  Don’t let this guilt become anger, subsequently cause you to lash out.  Afterwards, you’ll find yourself justifying further that the HV truly is a victim, and your guilt will be increased even further.  The steps are simple, be direct.  But again, if you need to ease into it, give them the chance once more to come with you, but when they fall prey to some self-imposed failure, keep going.  Don’t stop because they didn’t get accepted to the program also; don’t stop because they got injured and couldn’t train for the race with you; don’t stop because their distant relatives-friend-spouse passed away, and they need you to cancel your first solo trip abroad to be comfort them.  You have your own fears to overcome, and theirs shouldn’t increase the height to your own hurdles.  Keep moving forward.  Keep being better.

The Alternative to the Habitual Victim

The person you want to find instead is someone with their own goals, their own motivation, and their own fears.  People who go with you part of the way, before taking their own path for a while.  Someone who encourages you with tales of their own success and failures (which should always include work arounds to eventual success).  This person won’t hold your hand, and won’t expect you to hold theirs.  They will make you better by showing you that they themselves can be better (not be confused with being better than you).  The only guilt you’ll encounter with these types of people stem from the feeling that you may not be trying hard enough.  It should be small, and just enough to push you just a little more in the right direction, and not a demoralizer.  The right person won’t make you feel like a failure, but won’t stand idle and wait for you to get up either.

Summary

Please keep in mind that, as with all lists of this nature, these are generalizations.  People are very complicated, but are brains want to tack on stereotypes to make them simpler.  You may have people in your life that are a mix of the generalizations above.  The whole point of this article is to help you pinpoint the people in your life that are keeping you from becoming better than you are now.  Keeping them around is much easier, and obviously much more comfortable.  If one or more of these people turn out to be a family member,  stepping away from them is going to be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done.  There will be tears, heartache, and a lot of other emotions.  And years from now, you will consider coming back, to try and mend those burnt bridges.  But when you arrive, and look across to the other side, you’ll see very quickly why you left.   I’ve stood there before, and every so often I visit that spot to remind myself of how far I’ve come, and far I can go. How far I will go.

A Different Kind of Motivational Music

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I love motivation-porn.  Give me 100 pictures of something epic (mountain peak, ocean, etc) with a bolded font overlaid on each one and I’ll consume them faster than I normally read anything.  And it’s probably because of this rapid consumption that none of them truly stick with me.  Sure I’ll get that surge of inspiration, but like any other junkie, I immediately just start looking for my next fix.  The next one liner that will make me feel invincible!

But there are a few ‘one liners’ that do stick with me, and they didn’t come wrapped up in a thick black border or on top of an Instagram photo.  No, these come from some new-to-me songs that have become cherished favorites, songs that on first listen don’t sound like your typical source of motivation, and defintily not the kind for prepping to run in a 5K.  So I thought I’d share them with you, sans the Instagram photos.  Warning, you won’t find anything below that will get you pumped for your fastest run, but hopefully these will help you get up and decide a run today is worth it!

“I guess you are afraid of what everyone is made of”
      –St. Vincent, The Apocalypse Song

It should be noted that this song is actually not motivational at all.  In fact, it’s pretty widely understood that this song is about sex.  But hey, what’s wrong with distorting a little bit of art to get what you want out of it?  This line resonates with me because I’ve recently become much more aware of the fear that shadows so many peoples’ actions, including my own

Until recently I hadn’t noticed just how ubiquitous these fears are: the fear of failure, the fear of what awaits outside the comfort zone, and the fear that something will change.  No one admits to these fears at first.  But they’re there, that’s why they decided to change their major again, or to buy new shoes instead of the passport they’ve been meaning to get, or that their’s no point in networking with people.  But the fear of change, that’s the hardest one to overcome.  It’s the one that fuels the excuse generator and churns out disgusting muck such as “what’s the point?” or “definitly someday!”  These are the excuses that bubble up just before success, just as it peaks over the horizon and the only action needed is one of initiation, but then convince you to back down. On the surface, you turn away because you’ve rationalized its futility, ironically telling yourself that “‘nothing will change either way,” but in reality, you’re backing down because you fear that this little bit of success will change something.  And it will; it will show you what you’re made of.

“Damn you always treat me like a mountain, stranger.
Though I have never seen your shadows or fading lights.
I’m just a rock that you’ll be picking up through all your ages,
Always believing there’s a canyon for every blind…”
      -The Tallest Man on Earth, Bright Lanterns

Much like all of his songs, Bright Lanterns requires several plays to get everything out of it.  This song paints its own epic picture of the cycle that is mountain becoming a mole hill.  The protagonist essentially wakes up, having forgotten that his previous challenge/mountain has led him the current one.  He is unaware that this mountain, like the others, will also be climbed, becoming nothing more than another rock below his feet.  “A vision of a mountain you say? So where did it go?” illustrates that the last challenge is effectively non-existent, especially compared to this one.  It’s much more complex than that, and told beautifully, but my motivation comes from the mountain in this song.

Having taken it a bit literally, I always picture a never ending mountain with a series of plateaus looking like a stairway for a giant.  The next plateau being so high up, that it appears to be its own separate mountain peak, but once you summit, you find yourself faced with yet another.  What truly motivates me about this are the camps that I imagine at each plateau.  A large field filled with tents, and houses, where others have settled in.  This is where people build their comfort zones, staking their claim in a splendid meadow with a glorious view to remind them of how far they’ve climbed.  From here, they too can see the top of the next mountain, and convince themselves there is nothing beyond it, so “what’s the point,” of climbing further.  When I hear this song, I imagine myself standing at the base of the next ‘mountain,’ bags packed and ready to go.  I’ve left a lot of friends in their respective plateaus, but I’m really excited about the fiends I’ll make further up.

What songs/movies/art gets you going?  Are you tired of the meadow you’ve chosen?  Of find yourself turning a blind eye to what you could be?

Managing My Impatience: Waiting for My Trip Around the World

I am not a patient person.  While I say this with confidence, I certainly don’t say it with pride.  It has cost me on numerous occasions money, sleep, and of probably a measurable amount of sanity.  Thus, I’ve developed a few coping mechanisms to alleviate the pressure brought on by the seemingly impossible wait.  The most effective method I’ve found thus far is to litter the time between now and then with buildup events.  Basically, I try to find as many things as possible to keep my mind off of what I’m really excited for, while making sure they are relevant to the whatever event I’m obsessing about.  The specific event this time is one I’ve been dreaming of for years, and actively working towards for one: the day that I start using my first Round the World (RTW) ticket. 

I’ll link to a future post that goes more in depth soon, but basically I managed to secure enough points for a $12,000 RTW flight for my wife and me for only $3,500.  The only problem is that we have to wait for her to earn her sabbatical, which won’t come until March/April of 2015.  Luckily you can buy your ticket up to 11months in advance, and leave the dates open up to 12 months from departure.  Unluckily, 2 years seems like an eternity to someone with the patience of a 9 year old.

So I’ve decided to kill several birds with a couple of stones.  I need to keep my mind focused on something else, in order to not lose it entirely.  I need to prepare for the end half of my trip which will be a solo voyage for at least a month (my wife will return to work while I continue solo).  And it has become evident that I have put on quite a bit of weight, and need to get physically prepared for such a journey.  So last night, despite all the well-crafted excuses my brain generated, I purchased a few increasingly major commitments.  I’ve made an internal (and financial pledge) to the next 6 months that will test me in several ways… ok mostly physically.

Commitment 1: From today, I now only have 5.3 weeks to prepare for the Atlanta Color Vibe 5k run! I generally don’t enjoy running, but I’ve always wanted to see what the Indian Holi Day is like, so I’m absolutely stoked for preparing for something so fun and moderately intensive. Getting ready for this 5K should be relatively easy, but afterward, I’ll only have 8 additional weeks to prepare for my next challenge.

3 Miles of Color!

Commitment 2: The Ridiculous Obstacle Course 5K (ROC Race).  This 3 mile run will be complete with a ropes course, swinging balls of doom, and much more.  I can’t to finally see just how hard those Japanese game show contestants really have it! After that, things get serious, and I will only have another 5 weeks to prepare.

3 Miles of Awesome!

Commitment 3: It hasn’t been accepted yet, but if all goes well I’ve appllied up for a 12 day Alaskan glacier expedition

12 EPIC days!

 That’s right, I’ve submitted my application for my very first NOLS course, and a big part of me is scared to death!  They don’t tell you in advance about the current availability however, so I’m not 100% sure if it will be Alaska yet, since I’ve also selected a 14 day Rocky Mountain expedition as a backup.  In my current state, I’m definitely not ready to hike 50-100 miles into the mountains, or live on a glacier, so the two previous 5K runs will be used as check points to gauge my improvement between now and then.  What I’m most excited about however is applying what I learn at NOLS to the RTW trip.  Since I plan to explore Japan (or some part of Asia) for at least a month solo, I need to be open to the idea of camping alone if I intend to stretch my dollars out as far as possible.

So there you have it. Rather than spend more money of eating out, I’ve dedicated ~200$ of next months budget to commitments that will serve a variety of purposes, but ultimatly distract me whilst I await the best trip in the world. The next 6 months should be so much fun that my RTW trip (hopefully) won’t feel so far away. Plus I’m definitly going to Dragon*Con in August so, I’m pretty much occupied until September.  As for what I will do next… we’ll just have to wait and see :D!

You Don’t Have Any Problems.

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I’m a consultant.  Basically, I work with clients to make their work easier.  It’s pretty technical, but at a high level I simply solve problems.  Except in consulting, you’re not allowed to use the word ‘problem.’

Each firm has its preference.  Some prefer ‘opportunities for improvement’ others sub-out the word with ‘challenge.’  It sounds corny, but you will be corrected each time you slip up and say the p-word, until you find yourself auto-correcting new hires.  And the strange thing is, after a couple of years this language-washing begins to seep in and change the way you look at the world outside of work.

So when I came across one of today’s top post over at /r/meditation, I was surprised to find a new way of looking at defining problems.  /u/thebeachboys posted an interesting quote, which surmises that problems in fact do not exist.  Allegedly, there is only reality and our expectations of it.  What we perceive as a ‘problem’ is merely a moment when the two contradict one another.  For example: I may say that a dead car battery is a problem, but according to this quote it’s merely a contradiction between my expectation (to go to work) and reality (I can’t leave the house).

What a soothing thought.  I enjoyed this quote because it always helps to identify ways to step back, and see that while something could be a source of stress, it doesn’t have to be.  Instead the consultant in me starts to identify paths that will sync back up reality with our expectations.  Luckily, I’ve gotten a lot of practice doing this for others, which makes doing it for myself a little easier.  But despite this advantage, I am neither immune to problems, nor the stress that follows suit. 

One thing that I find in my work is that every client thinks their challenges are unique and unsolvable (this is why consultants are hired after all).  But after a few years, usually the only thing unique about them is the arrangement; I’ve likely solved all the individual pieces several times before.  So you can imagine my surprise when encounter my own challenges, but low and behold insist to myself that they too are unique and unsolvable. 

My biggest challenge right now?  I want to travel.  I don’t want to take a vacation.  I mean I want to travel for months at a time.  I want to climb mountains, to sleep in huts, to speak new languages, to eat food that scares me, to set my destination with whim and circumstance rather than compass and PTO days.  I want to have so many stories to tell that my kids and grandkids hear new ones every day.  I also want children, and to offer them opportunity and stability.  Things I never got.  So I went to school, got a great job, and then got a better one.  And now my reality is one of stability and comfort, despite my wanderlust– despite my expectations of how my life should be.

So when I found myself using the excuse of ‘uniqueness’ to justify its inability to be solved, I was reminded of the clients I’ve helped throughout the years.  I was reminded that if it were anyone else giving me this excuse, I’d be able to see through it and identify a path that syncs up the two as best as possible.  So I’ve started taking steps to break free of my excuses, (the CST challenge being the first big one) and see the opportunity behind them.  I’ve yet to really solve it, but I’m getting there.  For now I’m saving, and will soon have enough to cash in my RTW ticket next year that will give me a taste of the reality I expect for myself.  For now I’ll practice patience, excuse control, and budgeting. And more importantly, I’ll stop letting this (and other ‘problems’) become a source of stress.

What challenges are you trying to solve right now?  If ‘none’ is your answer, then you likely still consider them to be problems, and they’re only weighing you down.  Get rid of them.