Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Making It . . . Not. Dispelling Success Stereotypes

The most important things in life are not things.

At what point is a person considered successful?
Is success a destination, a process, achievements along the journey of meaning or part of a greater whole? If somebody has made it, is s/he successful, and what exactly does it mean to 'make it' or to succeed?

Is success a destination?

Success Stereotypes

A few years ago, I met with Alice, an enduring friend I got to know back in college. This was several years after we had both graduated, many months since drifting apart.

During this encounter, we took time to catch up and several of our mutual friends, their whereabouts and stations in life inevitably cropped up. "Kez is doing great!" Alice said. "She drives a big car and is married to a rich guy who imports electronics from Dubai." This went on for a while, and I couldn't help noticing the metrics Alice used to determine success.

"Imagine I bumped into Nzioka at Kencom the other day," she carried on. "Jamaa alikuwa ame-beat sio kidogo. He was catching a bus to Community, he is now a Civil Servant working with the Ministry of Health." At this point, I quickly imagined the kind of information she would volunteer about me, to other persons. "Watu wengi wa hizo miaka zetu wako poa lakini. Guys are doing well, you should see the furniture and decor at Mary's place in Kileleshwa. The rent is over 50k..." And she carried on and on.


Looking back at what Alice was saying, I realize that we live in a society that revolves around money - making as much of it as possible and in the shortest time, and then spending it in very visible ways - that would largely be considered successful.

Since we are largely wired to note things suddenly, and therefore overlook the time it takes and the effort that goes into things happening gradually, 'making it' has apparently taken the meaning of living relatively better off in comparison to one's peers. The operative word here is in comparison.

Consumerism has at one time been described as using money that one doesn't have to buy things that one doesn't need, to piss off people that one does not like, people who ironically, do not care about it at all.

For many people, they feel they have achieved something only when and if some money is made.
But is life all about making and spending money?

In the Season 13 episode 03 of South Park titled Margaritaville, Randy Marsh tries to explain the Economic Recession to his son Stan. Watch the clip below:

Highlighting Stan's explanation:
There's a bunch of idiots out there who weren't happy with what they had. They wanted a bigger house and, materialistic things that they didn't even need. People with no money, who got loans to buy frivolous things they had no business buying.
These assholes just blindly started buying any stupid thing that looked appealing because they thought money was endless.

The key driver of this endless spending and showing off is comparing oneself with others.

Unfortunately, despite knowing full well that stereotypes are dangerous, not many people can summon the courage to simply think differently, and thus define their own success by playing their own kind of music.

What Success is Made Of
What constitutes success?

I do not think there is a particular secret to success. Given that success itself means different things to different people in different circumstances,I strongly feel that success is a whole lot of things.

For instance, realizing several short term goals brings with it a feeling of success. Achievement in itself portrays success. Learning something new. Dreaming and having a vision inspires hope. Imagining and coming up with new ways of doing great things makes one feel successful. Creating avenues for and inspiring others to greater attainment and enlightenment is greatly fulfilling.

In line with the foregoing, success and 'making it' (whatever this means) are not only measurable through monetary means. Many elements of success are intangible. The satisfaction and ultimate fulfillment that comes with attainment are inherently of more value than money and material things.

What does success and making it mean to you?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Science of Willpower

I have in recent weeks listened several times, to the following podcast:

It was a most interesting debate about willpower, habits, behavior change, self control, achieving set goals and more. In addition to listening above, you can download the audio (MP3, 24MB) here.

Following are some of the highlights in The Science of Willpower podcast:

12 Ways to Improve Your Willpower and Achieve Your Goals
  • Reflect on What's Important to You
  • Focus on One Resolution at a Time
  • Start Your Day Thinking About Your Big Picture Goals
  • Move From Habit to Conscious Action
  • Embrace Rewards, Eschew Punishment
  • Practice Your Willpower Muscle
  • Stop the Negative Self Talk
  • Lose the Time Expectations
  • Try Meditating
  • Take Your Whole Self, Cravings and All, Along for the Ride
  • Delay Gratification, If Only for 15 Minutes
  • Believe That Change is Possible
Read the above highlights in detail and check out comments on the program's web page on the KQED site.

As January 2014 comes to a close in just over a week's time, I hope the above will help in enhancing your self control, dispensing with entrenched habits and ultimately, achieving your goals.

Monday, January 13, 2014

It Takes Time

UPDATE: I started working on this post a fortnight ago and mistakenly clicked on publish before importing my finished draft, which I have since lost.
Fortunately, while reading this past weekend, I came across a post that says exactly what I intended to communicate.

* * * 

We live in a world of instant coffee, instant gratification, even drugs that allegedly have instant effects.
Is this the reason we are no longer keen on letting things grow organically. Are we now done with letting nature take its course?

In my time, I know of no good thing that happens instantly.

It irks me when people imagine someone like Floyd Mayweather makes millions in just minutes, without taking into account just how much time it has taken to train, work long hours, endure pain and practise unrelentingly. It takes that much to perfect his punches.

The same goes for every admirable achievement you see out there. There is much more that went into the formation of almost everything, regardless of the fact that you only suddenly noticed it happen.

In Gradually and then Suddenly, Seth Godin tells of how things don't happen suddenly. We only notice suddenly. Too bad we only focus on the 'suddenly' part, and thereby miss out on the 'gradually' part that we can actually do something about.

Take time. You may as well enjoy the journey, not just reaching your destination.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Modern Love and Other Interactions in 2014

"We can never bring it about that we require nothing outside ourselves to preserve our being, nor that we live without having dealings with things outside us." 
- Benedict Spinoza, in Ethics.

Prior to writing this post, I've had to listen to this podcast on Modern Love [mp3], read the short story 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' by Flannery O'Connor, read about losing yourself in a relationship in this 'Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness' cautionary tale and made a searching and fearless moral inventory of my interactions with those who I've so far had any sort of affection for.

That said, today's post is simply an amalgamation of varying viewpoints, highlights and personal thoughts about this most interesting of human interactions - love.

A Love Most Interesting.

First of all, a question: Can love be endless?
I bet you'd also want to find out how a man can spend over a decade in love with a woman who doesn't exist. Even more interesting, what would you consider the worst first date of all time? Well, check out this podcast on Modern Love to find out.

Relationships with Others

Almost 4 years ago, I came across a document that profoundly challenged my views in regard to how we should relate with others. In our continued search for meaning, satisfaction and fulfillment which goes way beyond transient happiness, relationships are crucial.

Life is more fulfilling when one genuinely cares for others. Interestingly, a lack of true friends always becomes a very big crisis later on in life. Needless to say, human beings become depressed when they are alone for far too long.
It is partly thanks to the foregoing that inasmuch as I revel in my own company, I remain cognizant to the glaring fact that there is both a need and place for other people in my life. Interactions therefore, are necessary in life.

In 2014, my long-planned journey of touching countless lives, albeit one life at a time through my writing, begins in earnest. Every time I speak about things I am passionate about, I get to realize just how much there is to say and even more important, just how much more there is to learn.
Just like Flannery O'Connor, I now realize that it is by telling stories that I can best communicate. She says:
“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.”
Flannery O'Connor
When we carefully examine how we live with others, it becomes apparent that there are many DOs and DONTs that govern how we relate be it with family, friends, colleagues at home or at school, acquaintances or total strangers. Whatever the interaction, some mutual respect and basic etiquette are always a good start to sustain any useful discourse.

Should this not be forthcoming from any or both parties, there would be no sustained dialogue or any communication at all. No meaningful interaction can then occur.
Doing the right thing is just one tenet of managing to live with others in harmony, and only then can one find true fulfillment in a world filled with others whose way or viewing things may be profoundly different. That is where virtue comes in. As Benedict Spinoza writes in Ethics:
"...the very foundation of virtue is this very striving to preserve one's own being, and that happiness consists in a man's being able to preserve his being. Again, it follows that we can never bring it about that we require nothing outside ourselves to preserve our being, nor that we live without having dealings with things outside us...There are, therefore, many things outside us which are useful to us, and on that account to be sought."
All in all, it is only by abandoning a foolish quest for the ephemeral rewards of happiness, wealth and power that you can begin to look for your true calling on this earth.
What it is that you will be seeking in 2014?

* * * * *

One Month Later...

I end this post by looking back at a day that was "touched by love." On December 7, 2013, "the harmony of love met with the melody of life to create a beautiful love song."

Exactly one month ago, I joined family, friends and well-wishers in celebration of Winni and George's wedding. It was a most colorful day, and my best wishes invariably remain with them even as they ended 2013 by beginning a new life together, a new family and all the good things that await them on their best days ahead. Together.

In sum, 2013 was a very good year.
It was the end of something. It was the beginning of everything.


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