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Turning 31

What a year! Life just keeps getting better and better.

2013-09-26 Goals for 31 #plans #year

2013-09-26 Goals for 31 #plans #year

I like looking forward by looking back: imagining myself in the future and seeing what changed. Last August, I wrote: “When I look back at this year on the eve of turning 31, I’d like to say…” So here’s how all that worked out.

I’ve learned and shared a lot. This next year will probably be a year of intense learning in terms of life and work and Making Things Happen. As tempting as it always is to go full speed ahead, I think the result will be even better if I slow down and take notes along the way.

I slowed down in terms of work, scaling back my consulting hours to about two days a week and using the freed-up time for reading, cooking, spending time with family, and working on other projects/experiments like Emacs and sketchnoting. That worked out really well.

I’ve gotten very good at making decisions under lots of uncertainty. The outcomes might not always be good, but at least the processes will be well-reasoned and I’ll have notes to help me (and other people) learn more.

I’m comfortable taking on bigger and bigger challenges. I’m comfortable with research and can generally find some background information quickly. I have fun sketching out different scenarios and finding my way. This is working nicely too.

I’ve expanded my freedom and abilities in this 5-year experiment. I’ve focused on building up skills, knowledge, and relationships out of curiosity (“What if?” “How can we make this better?”) instead of fear (“Will I be able to hit the ground running if I decide to go back to the workforce?”). I find creative ways to deal with constraints, and those ideas help others. Writing, drawing, and coding continue to be a large part of my life.

I added a few useful business-related skills and improved a number of my existing skills. Yay! This is definitely fun, and I’m looking forward to figuring out what the next year will bring.

I’ve gotten better at asking questions. This is tough, because I tend to want to dig into things myself, Google+books+experiments give me so much information, and advice can get a little weird if you don’t take it. Maybe if I start asking people questions through this blog, I might elicit interesting perspectives or encourage people to teach something (especially if they don’t have blogs of their own).

Philosophy turned out to be a good addition to the things I’m learning and thinking about. By immersing myself in the conversations of book authors throughout the ages, I can learn from all these very smart people who have thought about things. =)

I live a simple and frugal life. Lifestyle inflation is the enemy. If I can keep my wants and needs the same–-or even reduce them–-then that helps us be even more free.

My base expenses were actually a little bit lower than they were the previous year. Neat! The stock market has been doing pretty well (aside from the current dip), and I’ve been saving most of the income from consulting too. I’m going to figure out dividends next year, so then I’ll be able to move more money from savings into investments.

Where did the year go?

August 2013 Lots of drawing, making sketchnote lessons
September Emacs, writing, sketchnotes, learning tips
October More drawing, reflecting on my experiment
November Google Helpouts, Emacs chats
December Trip to the Philippines!
January Lots of learning tips
February Writing about blogging; making that no-excuses guide to blogging
March Frugal Fire podcast experiment
April More Emacs Chats and Frugal Fire podcasts; Raspberry Pi
May Even more Emacs Chats
June Read Lisp, Tweak Emacs
July Philosophy

So, how am I different from the person I was last year?

  • I’m healthier. I like these new exercise habits (running to build up endurance, the Hacker’s Diet exercise ladder for very gradually building up strength). We’ve been eating even better too.
  • I did a lot of cool front-end work on my consulting engagement. I picked up new skill: Jive app/add-on development. Improved existing skills, too: Javascript, analytics, etc.
  • I spent a lot less time working, networking, and socializing (reduced by 263, 333, and 324 hours respectively!), and more time working on Emacs, gardening, reading, and sleeping. I spent about as much time writing as I did last year. I shifted most of my socialization to Hacklab, since I like the way it fits me.
  • I had good experiments with self-publishing. I published my 2013 collection of sketchnotes, a no-excuses guide to blogging and a beginner’s guide to learning Emacs Lisp. I checked out Createspace for making a print version of my sketchnotes collection, and that actually worked out nicely. I did the Emacs Lisp guide as an e-mail course, too.
  • I drew more. I thought I drew less, but actually, my time records and my files say that I drew a lot more. It just didn’t feel that way because I’ve been writing so many text-based blog posts lately. (Hah! Recency bias.)
  • I learned more about podcasting by doing short series of shows with live sketchnotes, followed up with transcripts (Emacs Chats, Helpers Help Out, Frugal Fire Show). I might not get into it long-term, but it was interesting to try out.
  • I’m more comfortable with talking to people and helping them online. I experimented with the Google Helpouts platform, helping people learn more about note-taking, learning, building on introvert strengths, and Emacs. That worked out well (tons of 5-star reviews!), although I scaled my availability down so that I could focus on other things.
  • I’m more comfortable with philosophy, and with the humanities in general. I’ve been reading a lot lately, and I find philosophy to be useful and interesting. I’m getting better at not worrying about things and at writing about what I’m thinking. Yay!
  • I’m more involved in family life. I spend more time on family-related things, and I’ve been helping W- more too.
  • I’ve learned a little more about gardening. Watering regularly makes a difference, but I’m still constrained by environmental factors.

Next year, I’ll turn 32. (Nice round number!) When I do my annual review then, what would I like to be able to say about life as a 31-year-old?

  • I have excellent health-related habits I have the strength, flexibility, and endurance to do what I want to do.
  • Our home life is wonderful. We enjoy yummy food, good projects, a tidy house, simple lives, great relationships, and other things.
  • I helped my consulting client make successful transitions. Upgrades, training, time away… I did my work well, and they’re in a great position to continue doing awesome things in the future.
  • I’ve broadened my business a little bit more. I might go deeper into writing/drawing/publishing, or I might look into product development. This reduces the risk of being classified as a personal services business, and it may lead to other interesting skills and opportunities. In terms of development, I like web-based stuff more than mobile, so maybe I’ll focus on that.

Life is good. Looking forward to seeing how this year turns out!

Monthly review: July 2014

I wrote that in July, I’d like to:

  • E1: Update the documentation and help out in other ways: Yup! Worked on a video, too. Lots of good stuff.
  • Turn the beginner course into a convenient download: Didn’t happen because I’ve been more focused on philosophy than on Emacs.
  • Plan for project F3: Working on it!
  • Solidify my exercise habit: Running works well as a social activity, and I’ve been making gradual progress through the Hacker’s Diet Exercise Ladder too. Sometimes I skip a day, but most of the time I remember to work on this.

July was a great month for learning about philosophy, design, and other topics. I learned a lot by looking at what other people did and thinking about what resonated with me, and I’m slowly starting to experiment with those ideas at work and in life.

I also decided to help out more at Hacklab. It’s good to take some responsibility for a shared space. I’ve been cooking at the Tuesday open houses, chatting with visitors, and making the kitchen a more pleasant and functional space. (I finally got tired of smelly cloths, so I sewed a new set of dishtowels and made the Hacklab cloths part of my weekly routines.)

In August, I’m probably going to:

  • Work more, since my clients need extra help
  • Work on project F3, too
  • Improve my writing techniques (outlines, snippets, etc.)
  • Celebrate another year, yay!

Here’s what I blogged about in July:

Weekly review: Week ending August 8, 2014

This week was about spending time with W- and J-. W-’s birthday was on Monday, so we had dimsum with the in-laws. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy this week, too. We spent Friday afternoon helping J- shop for clothes, and we had dinner at a Japanese restaurant we hadn’t tried before. Yay lots of time together!

I worked a lot, too. I worked on some nifty prototypes using Javascript, and then I spent some time learning about developing add-ons and apps for Jive. I’m looking forward to doing even more magic with those tools. =)

Next week: more family stuff, a Hacklab members’ meeting, and more work. Whee!

Blog posts

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (23.4h – 13%)
    • Upgrade WordPress
    • Chat with Scott Torrance regarding publishing
    • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Try new features in Dragon Naturally Speaking 13
    • Earn (23.2h – 99% of Business)
    • Build (0.0h – 0% of Business)
    • Connect (0.2h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (16.9h – 10%)
    • Watch Guardians of the Galaxy, yay!
    • Attend Hacklab meeting
    • Work on F3
  • Discretionary – Productive (12.8h – 7%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
      • Chat with masteringemacs
    • Get back into drawing things I’m learning about
    • Writing (4.7h)
      • That moment when time comes together
      • Thinking about leisure activities: noble, advantageous, pleasant
      • Turning 31
      • Writing incomplete thoughts
  • Discretionary – Play (12.1h – 7%)
  • Personal routines (38.3h – 22%)
  • Unpaid work (6.0h – 3%)
  • Sleep (58.6h – 34% – average of 8.4 per day)

Learning philosophy at the right time

When I took the required philosophy courses in university, I was too young for it. We all were, I think — inarticulate adolescents with little life experience. Perhaps a brilliant teacher would have been able to teach it anyway, and perhaps for some of my classmates our teachers were brilliant. I struggled with the courses, though. The topics seemed abstract and impractical. We read Plato’s Republic and were quizzed on his ideal society. We read the Nichomachean Ethics and differentiated among types of friendship. We read Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on totalitarianism and discussed terror. But nothing really made an impact on my everyday life, aside from the unexpected oddness of being comfortable with–even finding a sort of joy in–the hopelessness and despair described by Sartre when it seemed, based on how we were taught and how my classmates responded, that I should have had more philosophical discomfort with the concept.

Hence the young man is not a fit student of Moral Philosophy, for he has no experience in the actions of life, while all that is said presupposes and is concerned with these: and in the next place, since he is apt to follow the impulses of his passions, he will hear as though he heard not, and to no profit, the end in view being practice and not mere knowledge.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics (Book 1 – 1095a)

The normal course of events, perhaps, might be that I’d revisit these topics later in life. Much later, the way people conscious of mortality tend to think about life. I think this 5-year experiment of mine nudged me to think about the best use of time, and from there to wonder about Aristotle’s recommendation of the contemplative life. Time and patience

I’m not quite at the point of understanding Heidegger and similar thinkers. I don’t need to get there, I think, in order to get some benefit from applying philosophy to life. I want to train my mind to see clearly, want the right things, not want the wrong things, act on these right judgments, and be able to explain what I’m learning to myself and to others. Starting this early makes sense, because then I can avoid bad habits (or unlearn them before they get ingrained) and enjoy the benefits for longer.

Keep on as you have begun, and make all possible haste, so that you may have longer enjoyment of an improved mind, one that is at peace with itself. Doubtless you will derive enjoyment during the time when you are improving your mind and setting it at peace with itself; but quite different is the pleasure which comes from contemplation when one’s mind is so cleansed from every stain that it shines.

Seneca, Epistles, Letter 4

In a later letter, Seneca also tells us that we don’t have to put this kind of thinking off until we are comfortably settled. This reminds me of how people set these constantly moving goalposts for themselves (“I just need to make $XXX,000″ – and then higher, and higher), and why it made sense to me to risk jumping earlier rather than later. We’ll see how this works out.

Study cannot be helpful unless you take pains to live simply; and living simply is voluntary poverty. Away, then, with all excuses like: “I have not yet enough; when I have gained the desired amount, then I shall devote myself wholly to philosophy.” And yet this ideal, which you are putting off and placing second to other interests, should be secured first of all; you should begin with it. You retort: “I wish to acquire something to live on.” Yes, but learn while you are acquiring it; for if anything forbids you to live nobly, nothing forbids you to die nobly.

Seneca, Epistles, Letter 17

Now is a good time, I think. I can train my thinking and inspire my writing with classic, clear texts, and I can work on learning things that are common to more people than my other niche interests are.

Thinking about leisure activities: noble, advantageous, pleasant

As an experiment (and because the timing works), I have a three-month break coming up. It’ll be quite a different experience from the 1-month breaks I’ve been taking so far, probably as different as the way that having an entire weekday to yourself is different from squeezing your activities into an evening. So I have a few questions to think about:

  • How can I make the most of that time?
  • With the answers to that question in mind, how can I make the most of the weekdays I have until then? How do those activities compare with working a little more from August to September?
  • Considering the most likely situations, how would I like to adjust my work/discretionary-time balance?

It got me thinking about what I actually do during my leisure time, and why. Oddly enough, despite the ability to spend lots of time reading and writing, I still end up writing at roughly the same rate I did back when I was working full-time. Some days the words flow freely and I queue up a few posts, other days I’m casting about for ideas. My reading has shifted a little, and for the better (I think). I doubt I’d have had the patience to read philosophy and reflect on it slowly back when I read in the evenings and the occasional weekend.

Aristotle writes in the Nichomachean Ethics on the topic of why we choose what we choose:

But that [virtue and vice] are concerned with the same things might become manifest to us also from these considerations: there being three objects of choice and three of avoidance–the noble, the advantageous, and the pleasant together with their three contraries, the shameful, the harmful, and the painful–in all these the good person is apt to be correct, the bad person to err, but especially as regards pleasure. (1104b30)

It might be useful, then, to reflect on these leisure activities and figure out how they stack up against Aristotle’s objects, along with some notes on how adding more time to these activities makes sense. This will help me make a decision about the months leading up to November, and for after the break (depending on how things turn out).

Legend:

  • T: Well-served by additional time
  • N: Noble
  • A: Advantageous
  • P: Pleasant
T N A P Activity and notes
T N A P Work so that I can develop my skills and reputation, help people out, make a difference, and enjoy excellence; More time = better skills, more help, more appreciation
T N A P Write or draw what I’m learning so that I can understand, remember, and share; More time = more application and sharing, and better skills too
T N A ? Spend time with people (online/offline) so that I can appreciate other people’s interestingness; More time = more opportunities to get to know people
T N A Copy, review, and apply my notes so that I can learn more; More time = deeper understanding and application, more connections among ideas
T A P Tidy up, take care of chores/errands, and cook so that we have a smoothly running household and so that W- feels wonderful; More time = cleaner and smoother-running household, but possibly diminishing returns
T A P Learn Latin so that I can read and enjoy older works, and so that I can enjoy learning; More time = more practice, but constrained by memory
T A P Learn Japanese so that I can enjoy listening to anime/podcasts and reading tech news/blogs; More time = more practice, but constrained by memory
T A P Bike so that I can exercise, get somewhere, and save money; More time = more explorations
T A ? Go to meetups and talks so that I can learn and meet people; More time = more knowledge and connections
T A ? Build simple furniture or fix things around the house so that I can make/repair things that suit us (haven’t done this in a few years, but worth revisiting); More time = better DIY skills
T A ? Work on Emacs so that I can learn more, customize it better, and help others learn; More time = more knowledge and resources
T A Finish projects so that I can reduce mental clutter; More time = more stuff done
? N A P Exercise so that I can become healthier; More time = fitter, but constrained by gradual training program
? N A Read nonfiction books so that I can recognize and articulate ideas, and so that it prompts thinking / writing. More time = more reading, but application may be better
? A P Have a massage so that I can learn more about my muscles; More time = more relaxed and more aware
? A P Draw what I’m watching or reading so that I can practise drawing people and so that I get more out of the movie; More time = better drawing skills
? A ? Read social media updates and interact with people online so that I can maintain connections and learn from people’s lives; More time = more interaction
? A Read and write e-mail so that I can help or learn from more people; More time = prompter replies
? A Balance my books and plan my finances so that I can make better decisions; More time = better prepared, but possibly diminishing returns
? A Sew so that I can make or fix things suited for us; More time = projects, better attention to detail, improved skills
? A Research and buy things to improve our quality of life; More time = wider awareness and better decisions
? P Play with the cats so that I can be amused and so that I can appreciate them; More time = happier cats
? P Garden so that I can slow down and enjoy watching things grow; More time = more attention, but limited by knowledge and conditions
N A P Cook at Hacklab so that I can connect with people and learn new recipes; More time = more elaborate or consistent meals, but limited by frequency
N A Simplify our things so that I can practise detachment and resourcefulness; More time = simpler life
A P Read blogs so that I can get a sense of other people’s lives and challenges; More time = greater awareness and possible interactions
A Do paperwork and plan ahead so that we can minimize risks; More time = better organization, but diminishing returns
P Watch movies so that I can spend time with W-, accumulate more in-jokes, and enjoy other people’s work; More time = more shared experiences
P Watch amusing videos and read fiction/blogs/analyses online so that I can appreciate other people’s brilliance; More time = more pleasure and appreciation, but limited value
P Play video games so that I can appreciate other people’s brilliance and enjoy figuring things out; More time = more pleasure and appreciation, but limited value
P Sleep so that I am well-rested; More time = an excess of sleep

Hmm. Tabulating and sorting it like this is actually pretty useful. I can see why work is so tempting for me, despite the opportunity to do other things. It is an opportunity to work towards and practise nobility/excellence through work; it is advantageous in terms of resources and reputation, which contributes to safety; and it’s pleasant, especially when I get a chance to do some rapid-prototyping magic or some custom analytics.

Writing and drawing are less clear and more self-directed. But they are useful techniques for working towards nobility; they are advantageous both in terms of the content and the skills I develop; and both the process and the results of figuring things out are pleasant. If I spend more time and attention on these things, I can improve my ability to observe and articulate. It may take me years to get the hang of these skills, but they are good to develop.

I can develop both writing and drawing in the afternoons and evenings, but I do notice a difference in attention. I usually watch movies in the evening as a way of spending time with W-. This is okay for slow and light writing, but does not lend itself well to study, deep reflection, or application. When I worked full-time, I generally wrote in the evenings (sometimes before dinner, sometimes shortly after) or on one of the weekend afternoons. I like writing on weekday afternoons, now. I like the pace. Would I pick that over consulting? Yes, actually, depending on what kinds of tasks I’d work on. I can put off writing when there are important and time-sensitive tasks to be done, but writing is also important to me long-term, and I’m willing to take on a little risk in order to experiment with it.

Hmm. If I do two to three days of work a week–maybe even four–from now to October, while leaving at least one full day for writing, that’s probably good. I can front-load the writing, since that’s important to me. If I feel it could use more time, I might adjust what I work on. I’ll spend the usual time cooking and taking care of house-things, although I might spend a little more time during the week to cook fresh dinners. I can use the three-month break to experiment with more writing and drawing. In the meantime, I can avoid getting used to the additional income by stashing it all in a safety net, opportunity fund, or similar budget. If we keep our lifestyle the same, it’s easy to evaluate work for its own sake.

Are there some smaller-value activities that I should spend more time on instead of reading, writing, and drawing? Spending time with people is nice, but it can be a little iffy in terms of energy, so I might take the occasional opportunity and use the rest of the time on other things. I can review my notes instead of reading lots of new books, and use those notes for material for blog posts and experiments. When I find myself looking for non-writing activities, this table might be handy to review.

Let’s see how this works out.

Writing incomplete thoughts

Writing helps me make myself. In a quiet, considered moment, I can think through things and figure out how I’d like to respond or act. Most of the time, I don’t end up referring to my old blog posts; writing is itself enough to help. Sometimes I do link back so that I can trace the development of a thought, build on what I’ve written, or share that moment in time with someone else who’s figuring out similar things.

Sometimes I have all these little thoughts that don’t quite gel into a single post. I’m still attached to the idea of having some kind of question, some kind of realization, or at least a little progress in a post. Sometimes I have two or more threads and I feel there’s some kind of connection between them, but I can’t quite articulate it coherently. I’m getting better at writing regardless, but I keep the notes until they make a little more sense. I’ve been saving those snippets in an ever-growing outline, but maybe I should just post things. After all, present-Sacha has found the time machine of a blog archive to be unexpectedly interesting reading, so maybe future-Sacha will be able to make sense of all this. As Steve Jobs said (in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford), “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Today I thought about chronos and kairos, clock-time and personal-time. I thought about Aristotle’s golden means and the vices that my nature tends towards. I thought about our almost-daily habit of watching movies borrowed from the library, and what we did before this became our routine; and similarly, what were those long-ago weekends like? Maybe I should write more about everyday life so that future-Sacha can see the changes.

Here is what our lives are like at the moment. Mondays and Wednesdays are quiet days at home. I skim a stack of books, taking notes on a few. Because my consulting client needs a little extra help, I usually interrupt my reading and writing with an hour or two of work, responding to e-mail and dealing with quick, important requests. Tuesdays and Thursdays are more focused on consulting. On Tuesday evenings, I go to Hacklab to cook and hang out. Fridays I go out, meet friends, and experiment with a change of scene. On either Saturday or Sunday, we do laundry, groceries, cooking, and chores; the other weekend day is for outside errands or other forms of relaxation, although sometimes W- uses it to catch up on work.

I spend a lot more time reading and writing than I did when I worked full-time. (From about 5 hours a week to about 19 hours!) I enjoy it immensely. I’m beginning to feel more of a sense of the authors I encounter through their works, both ancient and modern; their voices, their ideas, the conversations that thread their way through the books I read.

There’s always that need to combine learning, doing, and sharing. Book-learning isn’t enough; I have to try things in real life. Doing something is good, but sharing what I’m learning from it is even better. My writing this year is a lot more self-focused than it was last year, but in the grand scheme of things, a little exploration should be all right. (Who knows, it might even be useful.)