Oh Dear! I Shall Be Too Late!

By Michael Gakuran | | Journal | 27 Comments |

Over the past few months (or perhaps years), I’ve increasingly become aware of my tendency to become fixated on people in other professions. Very often when watching videos (TED talks are great examples), reading books (lately entrepreneurial titles), meeting friends (recently the Tofugu team) and hanging out at networking events (Business in Japan, First Step Up – etc), I find myself drawn into the other person’s world. I find myself utterly captivated by who they are and what they do. What makes them successful in their niche and what gives them their driving force to get up in the morning and go out to do great things.

Why can’t I be like them? I wonder. What I couldn’t do if I had those skills and experience!

And then shortly after the highs gained from the buzz of interaction have lessened, I sink back down to overwhelming reality to ponder my own existence. I feel the same as I did 7 years ago, right on the verge of entering university. The same ideals and lofty aspirations. The same drive to do something great and live life to the fullest. And yet here I am, 7 years later, with a degree and several years work experience, a semi-successful website and a collection of amazing explorations and experiences under my belt. But my direction is still unclear. I turn 27 soon, but I still feel as lost as I did when choosing my A-Levels which, incidentally, were Maths, Physics, Design Technology (Product Design), Philosophy of Religion and General Studies, with a side-order of GCSE Japanese.

“Because I want to keep my options open.” I said.

Everything seemed so much simpler in primary school. I love animals, so it was obvious that I was to become a veterinarian!

white-rabbit

The world is full of such diverse and beautiful things. From one day to the next, my attention flits capriciously between topics and genres, fields and across borders. I want to do this. To pursue that. To conquer those. But I lack the skills or the means and my tendency to empathise with people too much means my attention moves quickly from one thing to the next. But most of all – most painfully and acutely of all – I lack the time.

Oh Time. That abstract concept I tackled in dusty philosophy libraries at university. I’m no closer to mastering it or really understanding it now than I was then, but at least I say say I am able to think about it. Really think about it. Time in a philosophy classroom and time in the real world almost seem to be different entities entirely. In the classroom, a swollen behemoth of a topic, everlasting and infinite. On Sunday night, a mere wisp of a presence simply leaving us wondering where the weekend went. Finite.

So yes, time. I want to do all these things but am forever reminded of my own transience and limited nature. How could I possibly do everything? I couldn’t, surely. To do everything would seemingly necessitate forever to do it. Or could everything be done in a finite amount of time? I digress, and theory does not help us here. Let’s take a look at a real-world example. Just one of the many skills I admire in people and wish I had.

Programming. Oh how I admire engineers and coders who can execute an abstract plan and build a very real product or service. Programming is very much a skill that is within my means of acquiring. I already have the building blocks – a logical mind and attention to detail, as well as the ability to step back and see the whole picture. But the nitty-gritty skills, understanding of technologies and different languages – those elude me. I’ve long used HTML and CSS to build websites, even dipping my hands into PHP from time to time, but to be able to sit down and type a series of characters such that they connect and operate together to do something, well, that’s not in my skill-set yet. I’ve talked to programmers about picking up these skills. I’m looking at several years before I could competently create something using PHP, Javascript or Ruby. That’s not even thinking about stuff like Java and C+. Several years… Like most of us, I don’t have the means to give up my job and focus exclusively on education, so everything has to be done on the side.

So why don’t just do it? you may rightly wonder. Because becoming a programmer and acquiring those skills is not the only thing on my list. Learning the guitar and piano are other goals. Writing a book, shooting a documentary, travelling and exploring abandoned buildings. To start and build a business, understand stocks and investments. To explore the deepest depths of the oceans. That’s all without mentioning other more domestic goals such as getting married and having a family someday, as well as simply just enjoying time spent with family and friends. By devoting my free time to studying programming, I become unable to pursue other goals. Should I give up those other goals? Relegate them to the late years of my life? How should I prioritise all these different impulses inspired by the people I meet and interact with? In turn, how do they prioritise such an enormous amount of things to do with such little time? How do they make these important decisions that ultimately mould them into the individuals they are. That’s perhaps the biggest challenge facing me right now, and I feel a little like Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit.

“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”

As this is a journal entry, I shan’t include something as formal as a structured argument or conclusion. That’s what a journal is for! A splash of thoughts relayed from pen to paper, or in this age, from keys that go click-clack to a hard glass surface in front of me. But what a joy! To be able to share with potentially millions of people at the click of a button. Not that I’m so vain to think that such an entry would be read by such a magnitude of people!

And so time goes on. While the number of possible directions I could take in my life keep increasing, the time to do so keeps decreasing. I must find a way of focussing my efforts and defining my truest and most fundamental goals to pursue. I fear that if I do not make the right choices, I shall run out of time and come to regret my decisions.

Should anyone be reading, let me ask you to ponder this: With so many potential avenues open to you, what methods have you used to eliminate and organise them so that you can focus on the things that matter the most to you?

27 comments on “Oh Dear! I Shall Be Too Late!
  1. Rebeca says:

    STORY OF MY LIFE!!!! I’m always finding things that I want to master. But what it comes down to it, really is passion and priority. What are you most passionate about? Pick 2-3 things and do them first. Focus completely on them and put the rest on hold. Give yourself a deadline for mastering (or at getting to a certain level) of the 2-3 things you’ve picked.

    So, say, give yourself 2 years to fully master the guitar and programming. Then 2 years to master the piano and start a business. Then focus 2 years on writing a book and learning stocks. And then finally 2 more years on shooting a documentary and exploring abandoned buildings. So that in 10 years you will be “that guy” that has it all accomplished.

    It’s really the only way to do it. The key to doing anything well is doing it often. And there is no way to do things often if you spend 30 minutes a day here, 30 minutes there, etc. Focus on spending 2 years on 2 things and in 10 years you will have truly mastered the things you most want in life.

    It feels pretty painful to “give up” things that you want to do, but it’s important to focus and prioritize on a few things at a time to truly master them.

    • Jeff says:

      Do you think you can really “master” anything in just two years?

      I’d totally agree that you need to focus on something consistently to master it well. That seems like sound advice.

      However, “mastery” is a lifelong process. If you spend two years trying to “master” something and then just move on to the next after the two years have elapsed, you will certainly have gained something… but you may end up with that same-old, jack-of-all-trades feeling, time and time again.

      On the other hand, why not just allocate a set number of hours each week towards pursuing the things you’d like to improve at? If you want to learn a programming language, spend an hour a day. If you want to learn the guitar or piano, spend another hour a day on these things. That’s still just two hours a day. If you have a day job that restricts your time and energy during the week, spend 30 minutes each weekday on each interest, and then 3-4 hours on the weekends.

      Maybe you can’t do it all, but for people who have multiple interests, restricting yourself to one thing for a couple of years may result in even greater frustration than spreading yourself too thin.

  2. Durf says:

    I’m 42 years old now and I’m still not entirely sure what I want to be when I grow up.

    I think we live in an age when it isn’t such a rigorous requirement to get on a career track early on and stay on it until mastery and wealth come years later. It’s possible to dabble, to explore possibilities, to take sidetracks from time to time and still end up somewhere good. This isn’t what everyone does, of course—there are driven people who push themselves much farther down a certain path than the meanderers, attaining money or influence or expertise going beyond what others get.

    But frankly, if you haven’t shown up as one of those driven people by age 27 (much less 42), it isn’t likely you’re going to be able to force that lesson on yourself at this date. This isn’t a bad thing.

    If you find yourself bothered by having a multitude of interests and no drive/time to dedicate yourself to just one of them for a lifetime, get your mind off of the lifetime timeframe. Focus on just one thing for a month, or a week, to see where it takes you.

  3. Lessa says:

    I’ve been meaning to comment but hospital work just keeps killing me.

    I think everyone (or most) feels that way at some point in their lives. i’m only two years older than you, and I’ve always had this dream/goal to be a doctor so, a lot of people think I’m one of the few who’s got it all figured out. 3 years in pre-med, 4years med, 1yr intern, and now on my final yr of residency. And the craziness doesn’t end. There’s still 2-3 more years of fellowship then that’s just when you’re about to start your career. Then there’s other further subspecialties if you’re still alive. I mean, I live what I do, but sometimes it’s just all too much. And lately I’ve been feeling tired and unhappy and wondering if this is the only thing I’m good at and it feels surprising that “helping/curing people” can drain me so emotionally and physically.

    I’ve began to see my friends live their lives with their new families, life changing events like weddings and birthdays are actually happening to them, while the most exciting thing that happened to me was to pronounce dead a man, explain 15x why a person needs this meds, and then end the day with your bosses telling you how incompetent you are.

    It’s like, I have a spot in the world, but I’m just dying to see beyond this.

    Maybe it’s just burn out, and I’m freakin’ tired. But I do feel that white rabbit worry of being “too late” in all this.

    Sometimes I feel envious of my brother who’s living his dream of being in Japan as a Game Developer. But then, I think about how he hasn’t really travelled a lot beyond Tokyo and Osaka. He hasn’t been home in two years. He’s not exactly living in the upper crusts of Japan either. Sometimes he feels lonely and keeps asking me to go there instead. (Which is weird because I earn sooo much less than he does)

    I look at all the comments and there’s really a lot of wanting to “see more”, “travel”, “do something”… Do everything… Which obviously not all of us will be able to do.

    But I think there isn’t really a spot/niche for everyone. Necks will be craning to see what it’s like on the other side. I just hope I can be steady, and despite being unfocused, and unhappy these days, all I wish is someday things will be enough, at least for me. :)

    On a happier tone, I’ve always enjoyed your blog, and they’ve always been great stress relievers for me. (Along with Tofugu site and Danny Choo’s photos).

    Happy thoughts!

  4. Brin says:

    “Business in Japan”, “First Step Up”? Links please… thks. ^^

  5. Since the age of 8, I knew I wanted to do biology and since the age of 11, research. That’s what I do now, and after 3-5 years experience I’m starting to question it all, because the everyday reality of it clashes with my expectations.

    5 years ago, I was 23 and was diagnosed with a stage 3 cancer. I’m fine now, but it changed dramatically the way I experience life.

    I used to be very tough on myself, setting myself unreachable goals and spent most of the time feeling guilty or unhappy about my performances. The past 3 years I decided to make a conscious effort to rid my life of expectations and stop making plans. Leave more room for the unexpected and go with the flow.

    I’m about to reach the 5 year remission mark, and that seems to have freed my mind to start making plans again. But it proves much harder than I remembered and is the source of a lot of anxiety.
    I feel like I HAVE to do something meaningful with this second chance, but my ambitions are not the same as they used to be. My priority now is to be healthy (thus avoid stress) and happy. But I feel a little guilty and even disappointed in myself that that’s all I’m aiming for.
    Every once in a while though, I remember I’m lucky I’m still here and “being happy” is not such a modest and easy goal to achieve anyway.

    I also tend to empathise a lot with people and am always interested in what their life/job is like. So, eventhough I feel like I’ll never have enough time to do it all, I focus on the fact that from 2008 on, it’s all bonus years. And it’s a pretty cool feeling :)

    Remember, you can’t take all the roads. For every single thing you decide to do, there are a lot you put aside. You make choices every day, without even noticing. So set priorities and just keep going! Gambatte ne!

    • Thanks for sharing your story! It must have definitely given you a whole different outlook on life being diagnosed with cancer. I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well though!

      I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment that being content with health and happiness are two massively important and valuable goals in themselves. Although I didn’t explicitly mention in my post, most of my ‘problems’ are a luxury when compared to people less fortunate and well off who have little hope of being able to change their circumstances by themselves.

      Thanks for reminding me to be grateful for the core things in life!

  6. Michelle says:

    I’ve been a silent reader for a good while and this is my first time posting a comment here (and of course saying Hello) :)

    Reading that was like reading myself. A long time ago I labelled myself as a Sojourner/Explorer (of all the things I’m interested about). So I comprehend what you’re feeling.

    Well… in this world we’re sort of split between Productivity vs Creativity (the things you love). There are myriads of products out there that can help you to achieve the first “easily”, but even those, if there are not “organized”, may eventually overwhelm you as well as all of those things you desire to explore.

    I don’t think my comment will be that helpful lol ’cause I’m more of the tao-zen-spontaneous type of person, aka I’m uncontrollable like nature, totally hate schedules, compartmentalized/fragment me in function of time or others’ conveniences (thanks that people invented internet and online courses! lol); but somehow this weird creature is still living in this world and perhaps I can add a tiny bit.

    But what I can say is that try not to close yourself to other things by prioritizing some things, and also do the things that sort of invade your heart and mind, the things that are immediate to you, the things you can do now… follow your intuition. Navigate your own impulses… otherwise you’ll find yourself unfulfilled after a while, if you don’t do the things you love the most and keep them in the background because of productivity.

    Who knows, perhaps the things you love may produce for you eventually so “time” wouldn’t be in your mind.

    I know that perhaps that above is contradictory. After all our lives are like myriads of quantum paradoxes occurring at the same time.

    “When I have a free evening, which area do I give priority to?”

    The one that you feel you need to do at that moment. In my case I’m “different” each day so schedules don’t particularly work for me; perhaps the task I assigned myself for a particular day, suddenly it’s not the one I feel like doing that day.

    “What if there is something more interesting I’d like to learn or do?”

    Well… that sound like something an explorer would say :D If you feel like that, explore; you don’t need to do all the things you are exploring. Just explore if you don’t feel like doing anything else. By exploring, you’re actually doing something you love (just in case someone asks you or say to you that you waste your time lol).

    “What if I just don’t feel like working on something that I’m “supposed” to work on?”

    Do what you feel. Don’t do it. It happens to me that when I do things obliged sort of… or forced, or unmotivated… they usually result awful.

    “What if I just want to watch DVDs and munch on Pringles?”

    Lol just do that. Usually when we’re more relaxed the best ideas appear.

    Anyways… as I said before, perhaps my suggestions aren’t the best ones, or are the weirdest ones lol Just wanted to add a perspective.

    Follow your own course. Play. :)

    “The flower invites the butterfly with no-mind;
    The butterfly visits the flower with no-mind.
    The flower opens, the butterfly comes;
    The butterfly comes, the flower opens.
    I don’t know others,
    Others don’t know me.
    By not-knowing* we follow nature’s course.”
    —Taigu Ryokan
    http://www.utne.com/2002-01-01/TheWayoftheHolyFool.aspx

    *not-knowing time :)

    • Hi Michelle! I appreciate the comment, especially from a usually silent reader :).

      I enjoyed reading your thoughts on using impulse and passion as a compass to navigate day-to-day life. I think at the most fundamental level you’re correct. I’m mostly dwelling on superficial things that are confusing me as to what I really want to do. Programming for example is something that I feel I should do, rather than a burning, passionate desire to learn languages. Of course, I do have a passionate desire to create things however! Perhaps the answer lies not in becoming a programmer myself, but in learning enough of the specifics to direct people whose passion it is to program into creating a product.

      I shall try to remember to follow my explorer’s instinct everyday :).

      • Michelle says:

        Hello again :)

        I came back to say that reading all the comments has been enlightening in many ways, and made me recall the person I was when I finished High School (a little more than a decade ago lol). I recall that back then I wanted to be an actress, but the family insisted that I should take a more realistic career. I thought that well, I was still young and that I’d please them and later I’d do what I want.

        The thing is that years passed, I didn’t finish the career they wanted me to (my spirit wasn’t into it and I couldn’t force myself to go on) and the wish to pursue the acting career dissolved over the time, and some others new things appeared.

        I don’t know what would have happened if I had done things differently (right now I don’t have any interest at all on the acting career, and not even on the career they suggested), the only thing that I know and I’m sure about is that we change over the years, and that when we have a particular surge of energy to do or to explore something specifically at some point…, that we should make use of that energy right at that point… even if it last just one hour.

        This is not lack of focus, on the contrary… our focus is the more intense ’cause you’re doing something that you fully enjoy and you’d hardly feel frustrated later.

        Well… you’re fan of TED’s vids… here I’ll share some of my favourites, perhaps you’ve already watched them but just in case :)

        http://youtu.be/eQH2U-kmBdY

        http://youtu.be/zRvDWVfib2c

        “Perhaps the answer lies not in becoming a programmer myself, but in learning enough of the specifics to direct people whose passion it is to program into creating a product.”

        This reminded me of also that sometimes we are givers/creators and in some other times we are connectors.

        Thank you :)

  7. Charlotte says:

    Oh boy, do I hear where you’re coming from. I’m of the same age, and at the same crossroad in my life, it would seem. I’m having quite a bit of difficulty focusing my attention, because I want to learn and do everything. Yes, my current focus has been writing and publishing, and probably always will be, but at the same time, I want to learn and do the sciences of oceanography, marine biology, feline conservation, restoration ecology… there’s just so much to choose from, I hate the thought of only choosing one or two of them.

    So if anyone else has an answer, I’d be interested in hearing it, too!

  8. Gideon says:

    Thanks for the great read, as always. In this case, I can strongly relate to your feelings here. Let me just quickly sum up my life for you, relative to this article. I have a degree in Multimedia, which is computer science mixed with web dev and other interesting things and am currently doing my hons degree in computer science. So yes, I myself am a programmer. For many years, I have had the same questions as you. How do I keep track of my goals and how do I get time to actually do or complete them.

    About 5 years ago, I started making lists of things I wanted to do. I had them stored in a small database with a frontend and called them life goals. There where different categories of coarse for short term, long term, personal and so on. As the years went by, I have forgotten about more or less half of these goals and I’m not using the database anymore.

    In todays modern society, we have very little time. And so the question always comes up, how will we ever have enough time to do all these thing. A certain quote from the matrix has stuck with me all these years, “Merovingian: Yes, of course. Who has time? Who has time? But then if we never *take* time, how can we have time? “. So for years, this phrase has inspired me to find ways of doing all these things, rather than looking into the innevitable truth that we never have time.

    Therefore, I have been using all sorts of tools and productivity methods to accomplish this, aka taking time or in other words creating spaces for me to do things and managing my time effectively. To take one example, I have realized that externalizing content from your brain is one way that helps a lot. E.g. everything I need to remember in terms of appointments and dates, and I mean everything, is stored in my Google calendar and I no longer have to think of it again. I get reminders days , hours and mionutes before these events to remind me of them. Further, things like my tv watching schedule, friends birthdays, class times, work hours and more are all stored in this one place with sufficient reminders. So now I no longer think of these things when I don’t have to and I open my mind to be used for other things, like more important goals. Further, I use a day planner on my phone that reminds me of my daily tasks. Once they are done, I know that the rest of my day is open to use as I want. Also another problem for me was that a lot of my daily tasks was a very tedious thing to do. For example, one of my resolutions for this year was to start jogging again to stay fit. It took me about 2 months to start, however, I started because I used tools that made it more fun for me to do. So with the tools I’m using, I’m not just joggin, but I’m tracking the routes I have jogged on a map and I can view them all. Also, I am keeping track of my own health stats, heart rate, total distance etc and this has motivated me to actually go out and do it, because it is now more fun. So what Ive done is, I created these spots where I have seen I usually have time open to do certain short term goals, such as read those books I want to read or study these languages. Of coarse theres also the factor where you aren’t always in the mood for such things. So I have created very abstract time slots for these type of things. What I’ve realised is that once my life/time was sorted out in this way, I had a lot more time to focus on the things that are really important and not just that, I started to see these things much more clearly than before.

    There is also another thing I have realized which is very important to reach goals, and that is to spontaniously just do them. Sometimes, I was in situations where I was so busy with other things and work and really had no time and then all of a sudden I would just decide that I will persue this important goal first, no matter how much work I have. This is a difficult mindset to accquire, however, almost everytime, it has worked for me.

    One more thing. Usually, I would also start with a goal or project but I don’t always finish them. I realised that this doesn’t mean I have failed them, rather, I am still busy completing them and I have to remember that they are waiting for me to complete them. In a sense, completing them half way is better than not starting at all.

    I still find it difficult to do all these things, however I have find that doing all of the above things has made it somewhat easier for me to reach my goals. It is also important for me to understand which of these goals are long term and which are short term. Understanding that, I can only focus on the short term goals, the ones that are currently within reach.

    • Hi Gideon. Wow! What a list of great suggestions. There are quite a few things you mentioned that I certainly feel like giving a try. In particular I thought your suggestion abut using productivity tools to externalise my mind and free it up for relaxing and thinking about other things an important point. I tend to try to remember important things (partly through wanting to exercise my memory), but I do think having too much in my mind at once is leading to this sort of overload I’m experiencing.

      I emphasised with your note about jogging. I have recently started cycling to work to improve my health. Since moving to Tokyo, for the first 6 months or so I did little to no exercise and i found it was really starting to take a toll on my energy levels and mood. However, I am not very good at keeping up a routine of exercise for the sake of exercise, so I incorporated cycling into my commute to fix this problem. I even went as far as choosing a new apartment in a recent move so that I could get a moderate amount of exercise each day cycling to work. It seems to be working so far!

      Finally, spontaneously doing things when the moment takes you – check – I do this myself. Often though, I find it hard to cultivate the right mood or frame of mind to entice me to do things. Oftentimes I must force myself to leave the house for events, but once I’m there and afterwards, almost without fail every time I feel as though it was the right decision to go out.

      Your last point on not viewing stalled projects as failures was also very refreshing. I’m guilty of thinking like this myself, but viewing multiple goals as ‘in process’ might help to reduce the burden and stress I feel.

      Thanks again and best of luck to you with your own personal goals :).

  9. Jordy Meow says:

    Very interesting post! I will try to write a short comment.

    That’s something we are all going through when we have high expectation of ourselves and a strong desire for achievement. And I feel really close to you for those same reasons. That and the fact we are living the same city + running the same kind of website ;) But I might have a slighlty different view of the problem.

    I always wanted to achieve a lot of things (I tried apps such as Asana, made schedules, imposed myself military rules, etc), but ended-up achieving only a little subset of them. Time is too precious, especially after entering and living in the salary-men world. Then, before you know it, the need of having a family come on top and everything else is swept away, haikyoized. And there are also a lot of things we cannot predict, including coming from ourselves. And here we are, I made a very long story… very short! ;)

    Here is my reply: carpe diem. Do what you love. Make yourself happy including your surrounding. There is no need to hurry or to optimize time as long if you appreciate it already at its full extent. And naturally, you will achieve more than you think, because it will be your own little path at your own pace. Lastly, don’t compare yourself with others. People often seems so successful but it’s often just a poker-face. Happiness and success are easier to reach that we think, it is just difficult not to be tempted to put obstacles on our own way.

    I will finish with something a bit more pragmatic, so that my comment is not totally useless ;) Everyday, achieve one thing: something visual, that you – or the others – can see. It can be a little change on your own website, a new guitar riff, an interesting reply on a forum, etc. Those are the most basic steps towards something greater everyday.

    • Hi Jordy. Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate the abstract and pragmatic touch :).

      I will certainly try to do something creative or visual everyday that interacts with others. I agree little things like that help boost confidence and a sense of fulfilment, even if the day was mostly spent doing something we didn’t really want to do, but was necessary. There are always days like that!

      Comparing ourselves with others is something I guess most of us are guilty of doing. It’s unavoidable to an extent, but always good to be reminded that focussing on personal goals and self-happiness is key to leading a more fulfilling life. Thanks again!

  10. I know the feeling so well. I’m quite a bit older than you and I’m still trying to decide what my priorities should be!
    I like Jeff’s answer very much. I guess I have a Renaissance Soul too. I started a blog a couple of months ago and tried to be very strict about the topics I was going to cover. I chose art, meditation and learning Japanese with the underlying theme being about learning new skills. They seemed broad enough topics to me but already I am straying from them. I’m currently on an origami binge – it’s kind of art and kind of related to learning Japanese… I find it so hard to stick to a path. I love to explore the undergrowth.

    • Hi Sarah. Thanks for stopping by and writing a comment. I started this blog exactly the same way as you. I couldn’t decide on one topic, so I created several categories. The blog took on its own direction though, and now I’m writing mostly about travel and haikyo explorations! I couldn’t have guessed that when I started. So try to embrace the flow and see where your interests take you. Eventually you’ll find a niche that feels right :).

  11. Leslie says:

    With so many potential avenues open to you, what methods have you used to eliminate and organise them so that you can focus on the things that matter the most to you?

    I have the same problem, and we’re about the same age. I have a bachelor’s degree, but not the one I wanted. I have 3 and a half years of experience in a field I’m not interested in and not very good at. I’ve been unemployed for 6 months and have had time to do a lot of research in that time because I want a career change.

    I have a million options, and I’m very indecisive, so what I did was found out my MBTI type. You can Google Myers Briggs test or MBTI test and find tons of free ones. My result was INFP, and surprisingly it matched up almost exactly with my personality, and with more research I was able to find out what kind of careers I’m suited for, like teaching, art, and psychology. I’m always the one people look to in the office for help with software problems, so since I lack any artistic bones in my body and don’t want to spend 6 more years in school, I think I’m pretty set on getting certificates for teaching Microsoft products in offices. It’s much more relaxing to be on a clear path now, and I know I can do photography, volunteer work, and all the other important things in my spare time.

    From reading your blog for several years, you don’t strike me as a person who would enjoy programming. It seems cool to me too to be able to string a bunch of numbers together to make something work, but would you just be satisfying a one time want, or would you be happy doing that? They say your career should be something you would do for free.

    • Hey Leslie. I remember doing those MBTI tests a long time ago. I seem to remember getting INTP or INFP, depending on the time I did the test, so I guess we’re quite alike on that scale! Incidentally, my mum is a teacher of Microsoft Office applications and specialist herself :).

      I think you’re quite right about me and programming. I deliberately avoided becoming a programmer because I enjoy the creative side of things. But in recent years with the boom in internet applications and software I feel pressured into gained skills that enable me to snatch a slice of the developer’s pie. When I take a step back, although I do admire programmers, I think ultimately I want to have more creative direction than getting stuck into strings of characters, although that can be fulfilling in itself!

      A career should be something you’d do for free. Nice words!

  12. roboticat says:

    I hope you don’t mind, but I have a few questions:

    How do you measure success? By external comparison? By personal accomplishments?

    Do you have an addiction to the emotional highs from inspiration?

    Are you afraid to make mistakes?

    What does “control” mean to you? And do you think you have self control?

    Is it important for you to live within society’s context and expectations?

    Do you consider “the lack of time” as more of an excuse for your inadequacies than a goal deterrent?

    Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

    What do you consider to be more important: Quality or Quantity?

    Which do you depend on more: Intrinsic or Extrinsic motivation?

    Are you passionate about your job?

    Last question: If aliens gave you an opportunity to travel with them, but you were only allowed to take one person or one personal item, who or what would that be?

    • Hi. No problem at all! I’ll see if I can answer them all, from a personal perspective:

      How do you measure success? By external comparison? By personal accomplishments?

      >> Both. I think success is found in achieving inner satisfaction (life philosophy, way of living – etc). But for me, making a real difference in the world and being recognised for it is also one of my goals, so a degree of external comparison to measure success is inevitable.

      Do you have an addiction to the emotional highs from inspiration?

      >> I wouldn’t say it’s an addiction. I don’t go seeking it out, for example. It just seems as though I am easily affected by and comparer myself to others and their successes.

      Are you afraid to make mistakes?

      >> In a way, yes. Not so much trying and failing at a project, but big mistakes that mean I lose a valuable part of my life or time to achieve something. E.g. Not travelling enough before falling ill or getting old would be a mistake I’m afraid of making.

      What does “control” mean to you? And do you think you have self control?

      >> Not any more self-control than the average person. I procrastinate a little too much! Having control such that I could maximise the use of my time would be great though, and the freedom to travel and use my time in a way that isn’t defined by rigidly set schedules which I don’t have an input into (the 9-5 working day for most jobs, for example).

      Is it important for you to live within society’s context and expectations?

      >> No, but I’m acutely aware that I can’t go about this without regard to those people around me that I care for. Some degree of conformity is necessary to keep everyone happy, as not everyone around me will agree with my way of living.

      Do you consider “the lack of time” as more of an excuse for your inadequacies than a goal deterrent?

      >> It’s definitely an excuse sometimes, but increasingly working in Japan it’s a very real physical and psychological problem. Overtime is expected in most companies here, leaving me physically drained most weekday nights and psychologically tired of battling these expectations.

      Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

      >> An introvert by nature, but increasingly pushing myself onto the stage in more extroverted ways to achieve my goals.

      What do you consider to be more important: Quality or Quantity?

      >> Quality, for the most part.

      Which do you depend on more: Intrinsic or Extrinsic motivation?

      >> I can’t really choose! But intrinsic is slightly more important to me than extrinsic. The degree of this has changed and will continue to change over the course of my life, I expect. Right now producing results in the world is a bigger issue for me, so extrinsic is perhaps prioritise sometimes.

      Are you passionate about your job?

      >> I’m learning lots of new things and developing new skills in areas I’m interested in, but ‘passionate’ feels a little strong, at least compared to the feeling I get when out exploring ruins or nature. The thrill of photographing a little froggy, or of finding a long lost tome in a dilapidated building – that’s what fires up my passion-meter.

      Last question: If aliens gave you an opportunity to travel with them, but you were only allowed to take one person or one personal item, who or what would that be?

      >> Tough question. I doubt any physical object would be that useful. I’m tempted to say I’d take a camera, but I know sharing the experience with a loved one would be more valuable to me, having made some of my greatest memories exploring with friends. I’d take my girlfriend, providing she was okay with aliens!

  13. Jeff says:

    This blog post really seemed to resonate with me. It was very honest. It’s something I, too, have been thinking about quite a lot in recent years.

    It’s no surprise that people have trouble trying to set priorities and find a niche in this world, amidst such a rich array of possibilities. The Web makes it even easier than ever before to get in touch with people of different professions and walks of life, to hear their stories and even take a look at their handiwork. Through the Web, we see what we could do, what we could have done, and we question ourselves over and over again. Did I make the right decision? Was this walk of life the very best one for me? Am I wasting time now by not following a different walk of life than the one that I happen to be on now? Look at Mr. A or Ms. B – how happy they seem!

    Having more options can be a blessing or a curse. Should I be a writer? a programmer? a doctor? a little of everything? What about the time it will take to get up to speed in a profession I don’t know anything about? What if I just like to dabble? What if I get bored and tired of something months or years down the road, and I realize I’ve wasted all this time in pursuing something that was ultimately a dead end? – The self-doubts can be harrowing, beleaguering, and ultimately rob us of our joy in life.

    When I was working full-time as a translator and project developer, I often asked myself what I should really be doing. I ended up spending about four years studying graphic design at an online college while working full-time, in an attempt to gain a broader skill set than what my employer had in mind for me. So, am I a graphic designer now? No. Do I regret having invested the money in those studies? Again, no. All of the things my heart pulls me towards are eventually going to add something to my life. All I can say is that whenever I invest myself fully in an activity (and there are certainly no shortage of activities to invest myself in!), I feel good. Never mind the fact that there are dozens and dozens of options. What seems to matter most is what we concentrate on the here and now. Was I present in what I did? Did I focus and put my all into each and every moment? – If the answers to these questions are both “yes”, then the time spent was a success. There is no use in evaluating it later. Each and every moment of life, even this one spent interacting on a blog with the written word, brings the opportunity to become fully invested in what we do, to become present, to learn more and more about who we are, what we like, what we wish to avoid.

    I don’t think that there is ever a right or wrong answer to the way we choose to invest the time available in our lives. Some moments, we may devote to pursuing our dreams, interacting online by updating our websites, exercising, going out with friends, eating a hearty meal, exploring the countryside, spending time with family. Other moments, we may simply dawdle, read a few pages of this and that, sink an hour or two into games, or stare out the window. For someone to theoretically come up to me later and say “the way you spent last night was simply invalid” is meaningless. The time we had is gone. The time we have is now. If we feel like doing something, we do it. That’s free choice, and that’s how simple life can be. The fact that we have free choice is probably one of the greatest things about this time, this era of our existence. Many people in the world have far fewer choices than we do. Some people actually have more. People who are financially well-off may have an astonishing variety of possibilities to explore. But everyone can choose how to live their lives in the way that is most true to what they believe. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It seldom is.

    There are a lot of tools out there to help organize and prioritize life. I personally have tried several software tools and methods. I’ve always been intrigued by the GTD methodology, but what GTD does not teach us is how to decide what is most important to us, right now. There are other methodologies, such as Stephen Covey’s priority quadrant grid or Richard Bolles’ ten-level priority cross-sectional pyramid that may help us to see what is important to us, in general. I’ve tried those methods, but ultimately I find that they don’t give me the full answers – the systems that those authors prescribe are just too complex to follow and maintain every day, unless you invest many hours a week to following them. They provide nice insights and guides, and perhaps some people will really benefit from them, but they invite their own trouble. I personally still use OmniFocus (the Mac app by OmniGroup) to keep lists, but that tool does not automatically prioritize anything for you. I used to use MyLife Organized for Windows, which does prioritize automatically, but you have to spend a considerable amount of time in tweaking the app and your lists to make sure that what you want to see is actually coming up, when you want to see it. A manager I used to work with had a simple A-B-C-D priority system; but when we sat down to review projects, we always found that some things feel in the cracks, like B+ or C-. Sigh.

    Whatever tools you use, it seems that ultimately, each of us has to decide on a day-to-day basis what is important, what we like, and whether we want to do anything that we “should” be doing at all. That act of prioritizing, that method of focusing efforts itself shouldn’t be the focus. Likewise, when we get caught up in doubting ourselves and our choices, we become paralyzed and unable to make any choices at all. For instance, I have four main areas of focus in life right now – developing my career and maintaining my business, graphic design, music production and composition, and being there for my family. When I have a free evening, which area do I give priority to? What if there is something more interesting I’d like to learn or do? What if I just don’t feel like working on something that I’m “supposed” to work on? What if I just want to watch DVDs and munch on Pringles? – It can happen to the best of us. It does help to know what is important to us. There are some interesting books out there that provide some exercises and methods to explore our own areas of focus, such as “The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One” by Margaret Lobenstine.

    I still don’t know whether the areas of focus I have selected are going to be the ones I will always be interested in. For instance, when I was a teenager, playing and recording original music was basically the most important thing to me, and I spent hours and hours in my basement practicing and writing to this end. But even though I went to music school and tried to further develop the interest into a career, the interest did not follow me to Japan for very long. Family issues began to take priority, and did for many years thereafter. Now that many of the family issues I have dealt with for years are nearing their resolution, again I am faced with the question: “what is important to me?” I often feel like a kid in a candy store. There are so many things to learn and do in this life! How to pick, how to choose? I think the answer comes day by day. Some people eventually find what they want to do through traveling, seeing the world. Other people find their answers through a heart-to-heart talk with family or trusted friends. The important thing is: let it be YOUR answer, YOUR decision, not someone else’s. People will tell you what “good” careers and “bad” careers are; they will tell you that such-and-such a technology or such-and-such a language is falling out of fashion. The question is: is it worth something to YOU? Do you feel a sense of inner satisfaction in trying it out, even for a little while? The great thing about life is that we can try things out and sample them for a while. Will I regret not focusing on just one thing? Possibly. I certainly am not as rich as I could have been, had I chosen to focus exclusively on my day job and climb up the corporate rungs to “success”. But I think of what I have gained in return, by trying things out as I saw fit. I haven’t always been focused. In fact, I feel more unfocused than not. But even this, I suppose, is a “method to my madness”, so to speak.

    Hopefully, you can find some method to your madness… or simply revel in your madness for a time, and see how it goes. :)

    • Hi Jeff. Cheers for sharing your thoughts and experiences! I know we’ve chatted a little about this sort of thing before, so I appreciate your advice on the topic as a veteran of sorts!

      Your point about being in the here and now stood out to me are being particularly important and a crime I have been very guilty of committing. Very often when engaged in one pursuit, my mind will be elsewhere – usually worrying – about some other thing I should be doing. Of course, it depends on what is currently occupying my attention, but i suppose therein lies the clue. If my attention is drifting regularly when doing a particular task, I should probably re-evaluate whether or not I ought to keep doing it. The same goes for spending time with family and friends. I need to schedule time with them away from other tasks and really enjoy the moment.

      Thank you for the book suggestion and pointers to decide priorities on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps you are right that my solution is not with programs that organise my life, but in my following my deepest, driving passions and enjoying them. Training myself not to feel guilty when I spend an evening surfing the net or watching a film might take a little while, but perhaps if I look at it at necessary down time and focus on enjoying the moment instead of worrying about the multitude of other tasks I have waiting, it will take me some way down the road to overcome the overload I’m experiencing.

      Thanks again!

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