A gift

Wanted to share this story I came across today, a dialogue between a passenger and his taxi driver:

“Have you ever thought of writing down your life story?”

“I will never do that.”

“Why not? You’ve been a part of history. You’ve experienced things that most people wouldn’t even dream of. It’s incredible what you’ve been through.”

“Yes, I know. But I prefer to share my stories as gifts.”

“What do you mean?”

“Here we’ve been driving in this car since I picked you up at the airport. We just met. I sized you up, I judged your character. For that, you earned some of my stories. But only some of them. If you were someone else, you might have earned other stories. Or, perhaps, you would have earned none, and we would be driving here, in silence and indifferent to each other. So this combination of stories is my gift to you, and you alone.”

“But then no one will ever know all of your stories – not even your friends or family.”

“Exactly. All of my stories will eventually be told, but to different people, and none of them will know who the other people are, or what stories they each know. So when the time comes for me to die – and may that day come soon – hundreds of people will have received these stories as gifts from me. But my entire life story? That will remain a gift I keep for myself.”

Source: cowbird.com, A gift I keep for myself, by Andy Carvin · 229 words

When people share a piece of their life story, it’s a gift.


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The trap of the abstract: happiness

A note on happiness, goals, and imagination

They say that the happiest people are the people who set concrete, achievable, and measurable goals, and then make sure to input their time and achieve their goals. Yet when you ask people what they want in life, many say “I just want to be happy.” It’s like asking a kid “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and they say “I want to be a grown up.” Sure, happiness is an achievement, just as making it to an ripe age is an achievement (though less impressive in modern days than small-pox times).

Of course, often people say “I want to be happy” because going into a long list of their real goals is a revealing and intimate exercise not suitable for casual conversation. It requires brutal honesty about our desires and hopes and opens us for judgment. But other times people say “I want to be happy” as a cop-out answer that describes an ideal without going into detail about the work that will take to get to it.

I’ve often heard people applaud the visionaries who are abstract thinkers and can see the big picture — we tend to think of these people as leaders and inspiring figures. I’ve often heard engineers and other technical people be stereotyped for people who get stuck on the details and lose sight of what matters. I’m not sure that either of these perspectives are particularly true. I think I’ll erase these two polar opposites from my vocabulary, and instead say: “Have you identified a goal? Do you have realistic steps to achieve those goals?”

Goals can sometimes be narrow, in the sense of a very strict applications for inventions and lack of flexibility. Thus, goals should be mixed with a healthy dose of imagination — “Do you have imagination so that you think about goals relative to context as opposed to defined tasks? Do you have imagination so that what you achieve, what you create, what you make can have broader application? Do you socialize with people and enthusiastically share your ideas so that others may be inspired and find solutions to their goals, perhaps through a similar approach or application of your ideas?”

Let goals be the physical form of imagination and hope — that is happiness.


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Women pin, men bolt?

90% of Pinterest users are female. Doesn’t that just scream “Interesting… this begs for a response.”

So, response?

“Would you use a pin to attach your TV to the wall? Clearly not, and that’s the idea behind BO.LT, a site built to save and share web pages —- forever.” ~Mashable

Introducing… Bolt, Pinterest for men.

Kidding! “At first glance, BO.LT looks a lot like Pinterest — it’s got the photo eye candy, but it’s made for providing easy access to written content on the web. Think of it as a grown-up and glammed-up version of discussion site Reddit, where users post links to stories they’ve seen and liked online. When you “bolt” a page, it is stored on the company’s servers, so that even if the page is later taken down from a site, you still have it.” (Mashable put it so well)

My friend YS cheekily pointed out that “It must have been hard to think of a more manly implement for attaching something to a wall without getting into innuendo (e.g. screw, nail).” Thanks, YS, for your observation. =)

Bolt is a lovely word, and the elephant logo is adorable. I’m going to give it a try.

(Bolt is currently invite only, so let me know if you want an invite).

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The Internet is a bottom-less pit

Billions of pieces of new content created every minute, every hour, every day*. Without noticing, I’ve bookmarked no less than 5 infographics on Pinterest that visually showcase the giant wormhole that is the Internet (I have 9 infographics pins). This thing is growing like a tumor. Nothing wrong with that, but our time isn’t growing — we’re still merely human with 24 hours a day, 60 minutes an hour. Much of which just trickles away as we look at cute pictures of puppies, kittens and bunnies and browse humorous status updates.

It used to be that a few years of schooling and you’d have all the basic knowledge you needed to function in society. Now we get Ph. D.s, we’ve specialized and we still have barely scratched the surface of knowledge. Logic seems to dictate then that secondary school education has got to cover more in order for college to cover more, in order for us to understand these complex topics enough to advance research in them.**

How we consume information has got to change, how we process information, how we think. We have to ruthlessly say “No, I will not read this, not look at this, not think about this”, in order to read, look at, and think about the things that are deemed more relevant at the moment.

This is a little bit of a conundrum, because I blog, and obviously I want people to read what I write, yet I am just a little speck of dust in the vast expanse of the Internet. Oh, but I would have been one in almost 7 billion anyway, even without the Internet.

*This exact n varies by source and by definition of content, but for a sense of scale: In 2009, over 2 billion photos were uploaded to Facebook per month. By 2010, 100 million photos were uploaded every day, or 3 billion a month. In 2012, more than 250 million photos are uploaded in a day, and almost 300 billion e-mails are sent per day.
**The business of making money, however, does not have a perfect correlation with more schooling. This has and will always be true, and people will continue to find ways to make a living regardless of education. Education, however, remains a way for people to become more skilled and productive citizens and to find stable and strong ways of making a living.

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Not too much and not too little

It used to be “Work hard, and you will succeed!”, but we now live in an extremely fascinating time of the 80/20 principle, of “Don’t work hard, work smart”, of being results oriented and focused on outcome. The rules of the game have changed, and I both adore and abhor these new rules.

I love the idea of being more efficient, of not doing work for the sake of being busy or face-time, but of being productive and creating progress. Get work done and move on to other things. But I abhor the idea of being only results oriented, and taking short-cuts and getting ahead by exploiting loopholes, by completing only what is superficially necessary without any depth. It’s not about checking of a list; substance matters.

It feels like there are two sides of this coin, and that neither extreme is where I want to be. The real question is how to balance the two, between going the extra mile to WOW and knowing when good enough is enough. Art isn’t beautiful because it was completed in as short a time as possible, and it isn’t beautiful just because it used twice the amount of paint and took twice as long to dry. Art is beautiful independent of the effort that went into it, but rather when it is complete — when it expresses an idea, captures something that is true, and awakens something in the viewer. Some tasks aren’t defined by how much or how little effort went in, but simply by when the story has been told. The job has been completed.

The main idea of getting things done then, is knowing when the overall goals have been properly expressed. What are we trying to do here?

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What are the components of a story?  Two people dissect the story:


The clues to a great story

by Andrew Stanton of Toy Story, WALL-E

(or watch it on the TED website, or read transcript here)


The secret structure of great talks

by Nancy Duarte, comparing speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Steve Jobs

(or watch it on the TED website)

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“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
~Maya Angelou

I know why the caged bird sings
by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

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