Impermanence, change, losses

Impermanence is, to me, what makes life thrilling and worth living.  Knowing that things constantly change means that there is a possibility that today will be a great day filled with wonder and great surprises.  And since things will change no matter what, we might as well use this to create opportunities for a brighter future and to improve everyone’s lives.  Impermanence is a great thing.  But, it is this impermanence that also brings losses into our lives as it makes way for new things, and coping with these losses is perhaps the most difficult thing for me to do.

There is a big part of me that is driven to understand the what, the how, the why and then to try to control it, try to make everything predictable, manageable, manipulable.  The engineer and consultant in me just wants to be able to design a future, cut out the painful parts, sprinkle in a little bit of more happiness each day, put it to production (an optimized production, of course) and then see it flawlessly come to life.  Yet life has a funny way of reminding me constantly that things will continue to change whether I like it or not and that I should not think of the future as something known or predictable.
The main problem I have is losing a strong connection with someone.  My feelings towards people change as our relationship evolves, or dissolves, without any conscious effort on my behalf.  Similarly, people’s opinions about me, and their feelings toward me will inevitably change over time, for the better or worse.  Trying to somehow predict how someone will feel about me, or overly trying to make them think about me or feel about me in a certain way will only result in pain and a quicker deterioration in our relationship.
As people move on with their lives, either physically or emotionally, I must adjust to accept the reality of the moment.  I shall always cherish the bond we have or used to share and take this new reality as a potentially temporary situation that will in the future reverse.  Distance and time help clear up our thoughts and bring to life the true feelings we have, sometimes even bringing people back to your life with an even stronger connection.  But if that’s not the case, and the change is permanent, I must accept that new reality and be grateful for the great memories of what used to be.
 
I must focus on the present moment and what life is bringing to it right now, and make the best of it.  I need to leave the things that are out of my control at ease, let them get sorted out, and trust that anything that is missing to complete a chapter in my life story will come at just the appropriate time and place.  I should now focus my attention on cultivating what is appropriate at this time.  One step at a time. 

Looking for a Mentor

My obsession with self-improvement leads me to reading a great books that inspire me to do something fantastic, motivate me to change my habits to better ones, or develop myself in completely different ways.  The only problem I have found is a lack of conversation about it.  I find it uniquely stimulating to share my thoughts and ideas about something I have learned, so that I can solidify my understanding of them and/or gain a new perspective.  However, it seems to me that self-improvement is not towards the top of the list of topics people talk about.  Same as with investments or finances, and many times relationships, I have encountered that many people tend to shy away from talking about important matters and instead focus on small talk about the weather, a new piece of technology, or the next vacation they will take.  Although I believe these are all fair topics of conversation, I have been yearning for the kind of conversation I rarely experience, from which I leave feeling empowered and with a thrilling sensation that I have found out about something that will help me improve my life and the life of those around me.

This lead me to continue pondering about the options I have.  Thankfully, we are blessed with living in the information age, in which most of the information you want to know about is just a few clicks away.  You can purchase great books in less than a minute, and have it delivered to your eReader or any other electronic device almost immediately.  You can also access fantastic online resources and learn just about any topic.  The two things that I lack from this approach, however, are direction and the opportunity for conversation.  A lack of these two makes the process of improving my life less efficient, hence why I decided to find mentors to help me.  Here is what I want to get out of my mentor or mentors.

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.
– John Crosby

Direction

I could try to learn everything there is to know about calculus on my own (with all its derivatives and integrals), or I could choose to go to school instead and have a professor guide me through a curriculum of what he or she thinks is more appropriate for me to learn.  If I choose the right place to study for my purposes, the assumption is that the latter would yield me much better results in a much shorter period of time.  The guidance and mentorship of a professor would help solidify the right knowledge and help me apply it in the context of what matters to me.  This is the kind of direction I am seeking in a mentor.  Someone who can see where I am coming from, where I want to get to, and help me set a direction to close the gap.  This is what I refer to when asking for direction from a mentor.

Conversation

I learn the best, and I assume most people do as well, when I have a chance to bounce my thoughts around with someone knowledgable responding to them and challenging them.  When I started learning Japanese in college I quickly realized that memorizing words before the quizzes was VERY challenging for me.  I would sit and read the list over and over, write the words over and over, and try to memorize them.  Inevitably, there would always be at least one word during the quiz that I would forget.  After a couple of weeks, however, I studied for one quiz with one of my classmates, and we quizzed each other out loud.  We also attempted to use the new words in the sentence structures we had learned, and that’s when it hit me, this wasn’t so difficult after all!  I realized that the easiest way for me to learn new vocabulary was to actually put it in context of conversation and actually attempt to use/understand it.  Having someone there to listen to me say my newly formed thoughts/sentences and respond to them solidified for me the knowledge I had just acquired.  It also gave me the opportunity to learn alternative ways of thinking about the new concepts I was learning from my classmate.  Now, if this approach was so effective to learn while in school, why am I not using it to learn about important life topics such as finances, spirituality and life in general?  It doesn’t sound like something wise.

Mentors come in all different shapes and forms, or so they say, and some of the most important advice I have received has been given to me over a casual meal or while chatting on the phone.  I have been lucky to find a few great mentors at different times in my life and am now looking forward to find one more (or a few) to fill in the gaps that I am currently experiencing.  Most of the mentors I have had, however, have been there for me without me having to go and find them.  I simply met them at my workplace, at school, or through a friend.  I never had to go out of my way to find a mentor, the relationships just grew organically.  So I am left to wonder, how do you go and find a mentor when you need it?  There’s only so much Oprah I can watch/read, and doing so only gives me the advice I seek, not the advice I may need and don’t know I need.

What do you think about the importance of mentors?  Where do you find mentors?  How have you found your mentors?

Lessons from 2010 and a few quotes to keep in mind

Last year, I wrote a rather lengthy post which I just re-read, and although I appreciate it very much because it brought alive some old memories with its prose, I will refrain from duplicating the effort by doing the same this year.  Instead, I want to take a few minutes to reflect upon some of the lessons 2010 offered me that I would like to remember throughout the year:

  1. Treasure friendships.  It is friends that give us the strength to continue moving forward when things get difficult.
  2. If it matters to you, give it your best.  No one will ever care for what you ‘could have’ done or achieved, but rather for what you actually did.  Make sure you have no regrets.
  3. When it is time, simply let go.  Sometimes we focus on not failing or try to hold on to someone/something and don’t realize that it’s hurting us more than it’s worth.
  4. Learn from others, but don’t blindly believe everything they say.  There are many wise people out there who can give you well-intended advice, but it’s not necessarily the best advice.  They can only see the world through their own eyes.  Learn from their perspective, but don’t get lost in someone else’s world.
  5. Follow your own advice. We often have great advice for our friends but are unable to follow our own advice when we need it the most.  Be honest with yourself.
  6. Keep a healthy body and mind.  Your body is the instrument you have to make a difference in this world, make sure it is in good shape to allow you to achieve your dreams. Meditate, eat well and exercise.
  7. Be optimistic and keep happiness simple.  It’s the only sustainable way to work and achieve your goals while continue to be happy and healthy.
  8. Be grateful for what you have. It will allow you to focus on the right things in life.
  9. Keep your goals in mind. Luck really is when opportunity meets preparation.  Make sure you are ready, or working towards being ready, for when the opportunity arises.
  10. Take a real interest in others. You will become a better person, and make the world a better place, if you genuinely care for others.

There have been many other lessons and great things I have come across this year, and I would like to finish off by sharing some quotes that I would want to read again in the near future.

“Don’t take yourself too seriously, no one else does”
– Regina Brett

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t – you’re right.”
– Henry Ford

笑う門には福来る
(Good fortune and happiness will come to the home of those who smile.)
– Japanese Proverb

“How people treat you is their karma, how you react is yours.”
– Wayne Dyer

“It is the simple things done over long periods of time that will give permanent and constant results.”
– T. Harv Eker

“Find what you’re going to be famous for. That’s not to say you should ignore your weaknesses. But make sure your strengths are aligned with what you want to be famous for – what your legacy will be.”

And, just to keep it real: “When you are complaining, you become a living, breathing “crap magnet.””
– T. Harv Eker

I hope this is a good summary of things I want to keep in mind in 2011.  I have many goals, but mostly I want to make sure I am on my path to do greater things each day.  The specific ways in which I will achieve this remain unknown, but I will let life surprise me with opportunities.  I will work on getting myself ready for when the opportunity arises.

Important Lessons I learned at MIT

Although my MIT education was full of a very diverse set of experiences, I wouldn’t say that everything I did was amazing or fantastic, or that I couldn’t have been successful without having learned certain things.  However, there are a few particular things I learned at MIT, inside and outside of the classroom, that have served me well and will hopefully continue to do so after graduation.  At least, I think that they will.  Here are a few of them:

1) There’s usually a lot more to a problem that can be initially appreciated. This is a lesson I learned inside and out of the classroom.  The thought that I understood all there was to a problem was one of the easiest way for me to fail.  Always keeping my mind open to other possibilities was one of the most important things I learned in college.

2) One of the biggest mistakes we make is to not make the most out of the resources we have. This was something difficult for me to learn.  I used to believe that there was some sort of value in being able to say “I did all this by myself,” but really, no one cares.  At the end of the day what matters is what has been achieved.  If you learned how to use Maxwell equations by yourself and someone else did it in half the time by going to office hours, there’s really nothing for you to be proud of, you should have made better use of the teaching assistants yourself.  Don’t get me wrong, I still think there is great value in doing things yourself, but only if that will allow you to acquire skills that you wouldn’t obtain otherwise.

3) Overcommitting is the easiest way to do a mediocre job at many things, and not feel good about your work, VERY often. After a good semester in college, I had this overcommitting syndrome, or however you may want to call it, and I tended to want to take on the world all by myself. I would want to do sports for 10+ hours a week, and work for another 10+ hours, while simultaneously undertaking a courseload that was expected to consume 60+ hours of my week.  I would then end up doing a mediocre job at everything, and up until today I feel bad about some of the decisions I made.  The only thing that I’m glad about is that I learned from those experiences.  I learned to do as much as I can do and feel proud of, but no more than that. If I can take on 5 things and be proud of none of them, I would rather do 1 to 3 and feel proud of everything I do.

4) There’s MUCH more to life than our surroundings. This is probably one of the most important lessons I learned.  Most of us tend to live in a bubble, in which we only think in terms of what is immediately around us.  It only takes a shift in our mindset to realize that those tormenting problems we have, the ones that consume our life and energy, are silly tiny details we have chosen to focus on and don’t compare to the blessings we have received in this life.  A simple trip somewhere else, or conversations with people outside the environment we are surrounded by, are usually enough to make me realize this truth. 99% of the time we take ourselves too seriously, and think that our problems are bigger than they truly are.  We need to relax, chill.

5) Balance can be tricky, and I’m not just talking about work-life balance. Many problems I encountered with regards to bringing balance to my life were not related to work.  I actually had more issues making time for myself, rather than committing all of my time for extracurriculars, academics, and friends.  I realized that having some time to unwind, clear up my thoughts, and simply reflect about life, was one of the most important things I learned to do during the past 4 years.

6) Most, if not all, of our limitations are self-imposed. Over and over I found myself making excuses as to why I didn’t achieve something, or performed at a certain level, just to find out later on that my excuses were vague, empty and meaningless.  There was someone out there facing worst circumstances and still pulling off the results I didn’t.  This taught me to re-evaluate myself, my actions, and thoughts.  Once I started removing obstacles from my head, just like magic they disappeared from my life.

Although there are many other things I have learned, this is the first installment of things that came to my mind as the most salient lessons I have learned.  I hope you enjoyed them.  If you happen to have any reaction, comment, idea, thought, etc.  please leave a comment.

Thank you, Omar

Don’t Blame, Fix the Problem

A few weeks ago I was reading a very interesting article about a pharmaceutical plant that was awarded the 2009 Facility of the Year Overall Award by the Pharmaceutical Engineering Magazine.  The impressive thing about this plant was that it was built in a constrained area within a dense city, and the project was finished before the scheduled deadline, within budget, and with no major complications!  The planning and execution for this plant to be built was worthy of praise, and as such, it was being featured in the magazine.  Although many factors contributed to this successful project, there was a very particular philosophy that the managers maintained, “No blame, fix the problem.”  If there is a problem, look for a solution rather than finding someone to blame for it.  Applying this philosophy to our life problems would allow you to improve things, see the silver lining in a situation, rather than get stuck in a cycle of negativity.

Although many factors contributed to this successful project, there was a very particular philosophy that the managers maintained, “No blame, fix the problem.”  If there is a problem, look for a solution rather than finding someone to blame for it.  Applying this philosophy to our life problems would allow you to improve things, see the silver lining in a situation, rather than get stuck in a cycle of negativity.

Although many would hear this and immediately agree that it’s a good philosophy to follow, very few have the courage to apply this to their own lives on a constant basis.  Why do I say courage?

Each time we are faced with a difficult situation, we have two ways to look at it.  We can try to avoid it or dissociate ourselves from the situation, or we can fix the problem.  Sometimes we just disregard it as non-important in our efforts to keep ourselves from facing the problem at all.  Will this get you anywhere?  Say you had money problems, which is a very common problem these days, what do you do?

We can blame the economy, God, Obama or even Bush, or many others for our money issues, but the fact is that blaming them solves absolutely none of your problems.  This approach can make you feel better temporarily, but it hinders your creativity and will stop you from finding a good, tangible solution to your problem. Instead of blaming, focus your energy on fixing the problem, something that will be to your benefit.

What decision do you usually make?  Are you the person that somehow is pulling through challenges, doing everything you can to keep moving forward, or are you the one that falls into the trap of blaming, mentioning how life is not fair at every step?  If this person is you, write down on a piece of paper the benefits & harm you are causing for yourself because of your mindset.  I’m sure you will soon find out something to improve, a problem to fix.

Don’t blame anyone for the problems you find that need to be fixed, whatever it is, just find a solution.  Focusing your energies on solving problems will lead you to have a more fulfilling life because, in the end, no one feels genuinely better after complaining about an issue.  Having fixed the problem, however, will help you move on with your life to bigger and better things.  Would you postpone that simply to complain?

Be conscious of your daily actions, study what things you do out of habit.