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Circuses, pots, and cathedrals: three key stories

There are three stories I refer to again and again: taking the first circus, making more pots, and building a cathedral. They form part of my approach to life.

Taking the first circus

My parents told the story of the first circus to us when we were growing up. On her blog, she wrote:

It came from an anecdote that my husband and I read in the Readers’ Digest about a little girl in a town soon to be visited by three circuses. Her father explained to her that the family was not financially able to take her to all three circuses and could take her only to one. The first circus would be just a small one, while the third would be the best and biggest, and presumably the most expensive. “I’ll take the first circus,” she said, and so her parents took her to the first. A few months later, when the second circus came, the family’s finances had improved and they were able to take her to the second. And finally, they found that they could afford to get tickets to the third and most expensive circus.

Harvey Chua, I’ll take the first circus

The story of taking the first circus reminds me to take opportunities when they come up. I tend to be conservative and frugal, but I’m also good at figuring out when it’s time to take that leap.

Making more pots

In a previous blog post, I wrote:

There’s a story about a pottery teacher who divided the class into two groups. A student in one group would be graded based on the quality of one pot that they turned in at the end of the semester, while a student in the other group would be graded based on the sheer number of all the pots submitted throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, students in the second group–those measured only on quantity–had produced better pots than those who had focused on quality. In the process of creating a large number of pots, the second group had learned from their mistakes, while the first group had been paralyzed by endless theorizing about what a perfect pot would be.

Me, Of sewing more dresses and making more pots

I use the pot-making story a lot. For example, when I struggled with writing, the pot-making story reminded me to just get something out there. The pot-story reminds me that even mistakes help you move towards mastery.

Building a cathedral

Several builders were on a construction site. A visitor asked the first worker what he was doing. The first builder replied, “I’m laying bricks.” The visitor asked the second, who replied, “I’m building a wall.” The visitor asked the third, who proudly answered, “I’m building a cathedral.”

The cathedral story reminds me of the power of vision. Good vision can turn any work into a joy. The lack of vision can make even the most talented lost.

The story also tells me that vision can be created by anyone. Even though I’m a recent hire, I have a strong vision for what I want to help the company and the world become, and I have a strong vision for myself and who I want to grow into.

Circuses, pots, and cathedrals – shorthand for how I live. What are your key stories?

Thanks to Paul for the nudge to write about this!

Ten years hence

Didith Rodrigo handled some of the classes of the Introduction to Ateneo Culture and Tradition – a frosh orientation thing in my undergrad university. Here’s what she blogged:

One of the activities we ask them to undertake is to envision themselves ten years hence and then plot a course to reach that vision. I read through the assignments. While many students sounded pretty grounded, others, well, let’s just say they need a reality check. Many were aspiring for large houses in exclusive subdivisions, luxury cars, and trips abroad. While there is nothing wrong with these dreams, I wonder whether they seriously contemplated the sort of professions they have to have in order to afford all of these. I also wonder if they asked themselves whether they will be qualified for this profession by the time they are 28.

How do I see myself ten years from now? Who do I want to be at 32 or 33?

Here’s how I want to see myself at 32:

My work engages both my technical and social sides and
helps me grow as a person. I write and speak about technology and how
people can make the most of it. I am just starting out then,
establishing myself in my field, but I show promise.

I set aside at least 20% of my work time for exploring new things and
ideas, like the way Think!Friday is encouraged within IBM and the way
Google has 20% time.

I am in an environment where I meet lots of interesting people and
where I feel safe and energized. If this is not in the Philippines, I
still maintain ties with the Philippines.

I am prepared for the next stage in my life because I have invested
time in finding some things I can do really well and through which I
can create a lot of value for others. I am beginning to prepare for
the other stages in my life by regularly investing money.

I am in a solid, committed relationship which is for mutual joy and
growth. Having met many people both in and out of relationships, I
feel that I might do well in one. (I don’t know exactly how that will
work out just yet.)

Step by step, step by step. Someday I’ll be all that, maybe even by 32.

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Random Japanese sentence: あいつ追いつめられたら何するか分からないぞ。窮鼠猫を噛むってこともあるからな。気を付けるに越したことはない。 I wouldn’t push him too far. You don’t know what he might do. I’d say you can’t be too careful. They say even a doomed mouse will bite a cat if he has no choice. [M]