Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Absolute Beginner

I recently accomplished one of my fitness goals which I had entertained over the past few years. I completed a full century cycling event. I had contemplated riding the 100-mile course in the past but never committed to doing it. Last month, I procured a road bicycle with intentions to dare greatly and participate in the century ride before summer's end. I was all excited about taking on the challenge of the century ride, with exception of one inconvenient detail.

I purchased the road bike and all the necessary accessories, including cycling shoes, cleats, and Shimano SPD-SL bike pedals. Nearly all of my bicycling experience in my life has been with the traditional flat-surfaced pedals, and I had never used the cleats-and-snap-in-pedal system before. I immediately realized that I had committed to cycling 100 miles with foreign pedal system which I had no experience with. Scary thoughts of falling while mounting and dismounting from my bicycle in middle of congested traffic filled my mind. Here I was, with plenty of experience cycling, but an absolute beginner with these fancy, efficiency-enhancing clipless pedal systems.

So I did what absolute beginners do. I embraced the unsexy parts of the clipless pedal experience. I took my new bike to a nearby playground and practiced mounting and dismounting from my pedals. I spent several half-hour sessions taking the Karate Kid approach to mastering a simple task: clip in, clip out. There were no exhilarating recreational rides through the neighborhood or picturesque tour through the wine country. While youthful skateboarders were busting out nifty aerobatic moves in one corner of the playground, I was riding in circles in another area, learning how to safely ride my new bicycle. I felt like a complete neophyte, but adopting a beginner's mind helped me embrace the new exercises.

After I became comfortable with the new pedal system, I started regular riding sessions and hill climbing exercises. I gained confidence riding safely through my neighborhood. There were apprehensions racing through my head right before the century event, but I reached into the mental and physical repetitions that I gained from practice sessions. I wasn't going to set any world records for a fastest course time, but I was determined to complete the event. I finished my first century ride without any incident.

Starting new endeavors can seem daunting and scary. There's always a possibility of failure or messing up. I may fall off my road bike and suffer scrapes and bruises. I may play wrong notes or miss a cue when performing new songs live. I may mistype a line of Javascript code and spend hours trying to figure out why things aren't working out as I had hoped. But the rewards of daring greatly and accomplishing my goals outweigh the unknown and the scary. And approaching these goals with a beginner's mind and embracing the unglamorous work, make these experiences rewarding.

Gaining new experiences also open the doors to new possibilities and attainable challenges. Participating in multi-day distance rides, like Seattle To Portland (STP) or Cycle Oregon, may be within reach in upcoming years. In meantime, I will continue to challenge myself: I'm participating in another century ride in five weeks' time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Adversity: A Gift, Not A Curse

My recent staycation began on a dubious note. Embracing the first day of a work-free liberation, I opened my refrigerator to grab ingredients for making a hearty, celebratory breakfast. Instead of the familiar chill inside the big box, I was greeted with a stale, warm air. There were no noise from the appliance. My refrigerator had died.

I called the rental agency and reported the broken appliance. I was told that it would be two days before they could send someone to replace the refrigerator with a new unit. Despite my inquiries, they were unable to schedule the replacement any sooner.

I immediately let the adversity go. There are things that I can control and things that are out of my control. A new refrigerator in two days' time was the best that the rental agency could do. But I was curious about how I would have responded fifteen years ago. The younger, impatient, and angry me would have immediately adopted a "victim" mentality, and would have raised a shitstorm of epic proportions. I would have demanded that the rental agency reimburse me for 2/31th of the rent or help defray the cost of spoiled food in my refrigerator and freezer. I would have taken to the Internets to blog about the cruel injustice of the whole situation, and lamented that this was unacceptable--especially with technical exams scheduled the following day! I would have demanded justice--how dare my refrigerator die during the first day of my vacation?

But I really couldn't get angry at the situation. The timing was perfect for the appliance to die. Normally I take vacations in New York City in early August, but this year I staycationed. I felt grateful that I didn't come home from an East Coast trip and discovered that my entire apartment stunk like rotten foodstuff. Also the refrigerator died on my day off, not on a day that I was supposed to be at work--I didn't have to take additional time off work to receive the replacement appliance. Thankfully, the day I discovered the broken refrigerator and the day of replacement sandwiched my exam-taking day. If anything, the death of the kitchen appliance was timed conveniently. Plus I used this unexpected equipment malfunction to visit an amazing sandwich shop in my neighborhood.

There were minor inconveniences involved, including throwing out 80 percent of the contents and buying a portable ice chest and a bag of ice to Noah's Ark the important stuff. But the equipment malfunction gave me an opportunity to declutter. For years, I've kept stuff in the freezer and refrigerator for "just in case" purposes. Five year-old red lentils, falafel mix from 2011, and packages of konjac with unknown expiration dates all took residence in the nether depths of my refrigerator. They were banished during decluttering. Getting rid of stale shit felt so good!

I also took advantage of the refrigerator swap-a-roo to eradicate the dirt and grime from the wall and floor sections that were inaccessible when the refrigerator was in place. It felt great having the appliance installers compliment me on how clean the refrigerator area in the kitchen was. After the new appliance was installed, having a sparse, minimalist refrigerator contents feels refreshing. And my nearly-empty freezer now has room for ice cube trays--I rediscovered the joys of having glasses of ice cold water and spirits on the rocks. Ah, simple pleasures!

I've learned to embrace adversity as a challenge and springboard for opportunities. Many of these unexpected events are "First World Problems," and they are not end of my world. Didn't get the job I've applied for at work--a chance to be on a great team? I build and strengthen relationships, and seek collaboration opportunities with those awesome people. A close friend leaving town and moving back east? I discover the incredible joys and energy of New York City (a turn of events which led me to meet my awesome friend Jackie several years later: Jackie introduced me to the works of great thinkers and action heroes, which led to both of us attending World Domination Summit for the first time last month). Isn't it funny how everything turns out?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I Did It My Way

Some of the most memorable birthdays I've experienced in my lifetime include being treated to a delicious home-cooked dinner courtesy of a close friend, being surprised by my then-bandmates with an unexpected party, and jaunting through the vibrant New York City. I also remember making my first-ever start at third base in youth baseball during the championship season, in a game we won 8-7. I received game ball from the coach after being involved in couple of rare fielding plays--making putouts in a 2-5 pickoff play and a 1-5 double play off the opposition's failed squeeze bunt attempt. Last week I've added another chapter to the memorable birthday experiences.

I spent the day taking and successfully passing two examinations that were needed to pass the CompTIA A+ certification. Yes, I voluntarily spent my vacation day taking public transit to and from the I.T. testing center out in the suburbs. Instead of the expected day of relaxation and leisure, I willingly strained my brain cells and focused on earning the certification that I had started studying for nearly nine months ago. They payoff was the culmination of spending many weekends and weeknights embracing the unsexy work--reading the 1500-page study tome over many study sessions, taking practice exams, and forcing myself to study on those days when I felt unmotivated. It was all for a certification that is not even required for my current work (although possessing an A+ certification will help in my future job opportunities should I continue a career in I.T. field support). But in the end, I did it. And I did it my way.

Last month's World Domination Summit imparted couple of important lessons. Pamela Slim, during "The Art of Taking Action" workshop, stressed the importance of setting deadlines for goals. Milestones need to have dates attached to them. After the Summit, I spent an evening strategizing about my learning and study goals, and focused on establishing reasonable, attainable, and realistic deadlines for my study endeavors. I wanted to finally take the A+ certification exams after nine months of on- and off- studying spurts. I set a deadline for "taking the A+ certification tests by end of the month." Since my birthday is on the first day of August, I thought it would be appropriate if I challenged myself to take and pass the tests on my birthday. Hence I spent my birthday rocking the suburban I.T. testing center.

Another reason why I wanted to take the certification exam on my birthday was that I wanted to brush off the dirt off my shoulders and make the liberation symbolic. In the past, I had taken and failed several technical exams which were deemed mandatory by my work (I eventually passed those tests but the experience of failing these tests several times brought on feelings of shame and failure). For several years, there have been nagging doubts about whether I was qualified or competent enough to pass technical examinations, and having failed couple of examinations did not help. So there had been the nagging voice of doubt that suggested I was a fraud and an impostor; that I was a "pretend I.T. technician." There were also some biters and haters at work who feel that I'm just a hack. Having a certification that demonstrates mastery of my daily work makes a good retort to the naysayers.

Of course, there will be naysayers who will counter that I earned a "baseline" or "entry-level" certification exam which tests knowledge that everyone should already know in the workplace. But those same naysayers are the ones who--after I obtain advanced certifications in the future--will counter with, "If you have higher certifications, why are you still working at this job?" Haters gonna hate no matter what--they will always discover some angle to nag and gripe about. I prefer to focus my energy and gratitude towards my supporters--the folks in my MasterMind group, the kindred spirits whom I had crossed paths with at the Summit, action-oriented friends, and creative peers--who have shown support for my achieving milestones.

And what do meeting milestone deadlines and feeling the intoxicating success of accomplishments create? They beget more time-based accountability goals for milestones. During August, I will cycle my first century event (100 miles) and launch a new website. There are more milestones to be reached and mountains to climb. It's time to embrace even more unsexy grunt work and learn from them.

That's right, it's a beautiful thing, man!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Chasing Amygdala Away

Recently I attended friends' wedding on a hot summer evening and was nearly overwhelmed by nervousness and fear. My lizard brain decided to attend the wedding as an uninvited guest of mine, and it had the potential of diminishing my appreciation of my friends' special day.

The wedding took place at end of a very hot week. I was preoccupied with staying comfortable during the event, so I wore a plebeian-yet-presentable short sleeve buttoned shirts and slim slacks. I arrived early at the wedding and saw that a good amount of people were dressed up. Many men were adorned in sharp dress shirts and summer suits: they looked like Duchess catalog models! I suddenly felt out of place, like a dump truck at a fancy auto show. While everyone was dressed to the nines, it seemed, I was only dressed to the fives.

The amygdala then kicked in. All of sudden I was flooded with worries. My good friends whom I had expected to show up at the wedding were nowhere in sight. I would be attending a wedding without the comforts of familiar faces to talk with. My wrapping skills on the wedding gift were atrocious, and the wrapping paper that I used wasn't fancy enough. People would stare at me all evening long for being grossly under-dressed for the occasion. I took a seat out in the courtyard, clutched my iPhone, and tried to lose myself in trivial web surfing while waiting for the ceremony to start.

After few minutes, though, I realized that I was letting my lizard brain take over what seemed like a foreign and unfamiliar situation. I thought about how I had spent two weekends prior at the World Domination Summit, where nearly 3000 people showed up, dared greatly in company of strangers, and made human connections throughout the weekend. Some of the attendees whom I had met during the event knew not a single soul before making a long-distance trek to the summit. Had I not learned from that experience? I boldly pried my eyes away from the day's baseball scores and purposefully turned off my phone. I slid the mobile device into my pocket, where it remained the entire evening.

I focused on my surroundings--the verdant courtyard of the wedding space, the warm, basking light of early summer evening, and the thought about the soon-to-be-newlyweds. The lizard brain was about to be tamed. A group of guests who were seated nearby introduced themselves to me, and conversations ensued afterward. There were talks about great nearby eateries, our jobs (one of the fellow guests turned out to be a customer at my work), and travels. Other guests who were also casually dressed started arriving. My good friends, who were elegant in their attires, arrived nearly fashionably late. The lizard brain went into hiding the rest of the evening.

Identifying times when I allow the amygdala to take over and taking bold steps to stop the lizard brain in its tracks will become more natural with practice. Being myself allowed me to belong--the lizard brain wanted me to fit in. Once I had chased away the counter mind and the arena of fear, I was able to be present and enjoy the evening.