#1 Start somewhere

Everything starts from somewhere.

Books start from the momentum of the first word, then a sentence, then one paragraph, then a page. It builds from there.

Movies begin from a writer sitting in a dark room dreaming up the first line of a dialogue, or one scene sketched out on paper.

Paintings arise from one uncertain stroke that leads to the next.

Start somewhere. It doesn’t matter where. Begin small and gently.

The bar — one word, one line, one stroke — is so low you cannot help but succeed.

There is no reward


Human beings are at our core deeply creative; it seems, even if we don’t fully understand why, that we are here to make things, conjure stuff from out of nowhere. The energy that arises from the act of doing creative work is life-giving, joyful, pure.

Some of us of course desire to be recognised for our creative work. We attach our identity, even our happiness, to the reception of our creative work by the outside world.

Nick Drake was a very talented singer-songwriter who was active in the 60s and 70s, but during his lifetime, neither of his records sold more than 5,000 copies. This lack of success drove him to a dark, unrelenting depression. He died of an overdose of antidepressant medication in 1976, at the young age of 26, his talent buried, his name barely known.

In 2000, “Pink Moon” — the title track of one of his albums — was used in a Volkswagen advertisement and his songs began to explode in popularity. Posthumous sales of his records far exceeded those in his lifetime. He had made it. His talent was finally being recognised. But he was now dead for 24 years.

If Nick had become popular during his lifetime, would he have continued to be depressed? Does being popular, being accepted by the mainstream, have any bearing on whether he made good or bad music? Should he have stopped making music while he was still alive, since the reception was so bad (or rather, nonexistent)?

These questions are mostly unanswerable today but they are good food for thought. They help us to ask ourselves similarly difficult and confronting questions about art-making, success, money, public opinion, and the meaning of life.

We are made to create — I believe this is a self-evident truth. (And remember, “create” is a word that spans categories; one can create songs and paintings and novels as much as one can create connections, create spreadsheets, create businesses.) But must we connect our creativity to success? To financial rewards? To our self-esteem?

Is it possible to create in the purest sense of the word, which is to create for the sake of creating, without hoping for any reward to come our way?

This is what I propose, that we — creators of all stripes — learn to move forward on our creative paths with a sort of harmonic duality.

We create because we want to, because we are made to do it, because it is our calling.

If it is our desire to be conventionally recognised for our work, we must then be willing to treat our creative work as a profession, as a business even, and learn to market ourselves, do consistent work, connect with our audience, build visibility and relationships, etc.

However, if it becomes apparent after some years that our desire to create doesn’t seem to square with public recognition or any kind of viable financial reward, we must learn to be at peace with it and realise that not every singer becomes a Lady Gaga, not every painter becomes a Picasso, not every writer becomes a Neil Gaiman.

Maybe we are more of a Nick Drake — talented but without an audience in our lifetime. And it’s fine. (It’s interesting to note though that Nick Drake was famously resistant towards self-promotion and would shy away from performing his songs on TV, hence losing many opportunities to grow his fan base while he was still alive.) Our work might find an appreciative audience 24 years after we’re six feet under. But that doesn’t mean we’re not doing good work NOW. The joy, the life-giving force, the meaning of creative work — that is all already present every day in our lives, as we work to make things from out of nothing.

There might be no reward from the outside world, but there is already a reward, in and of itself, in the act of doing the work we are called to do. And that must not be taken lightly. This internal reward is a great gift, since it is self-sustaining and independent of external forces. It is real, rooted, and most importantly, ours.

I want to add a quick footnote: Creative work doesn’t need to be our profession in order for it to be valid. We can be a banker by day and painter by night. We can be a tuition teacher who writes in the mornings. We can be working a boring admin job but lead a wild life online as an indie app developer. But that doesn’t stop us from thinking and seeing ourselves as a painter, a writer, an indie web developer. If very few people are willing to pay us to create, we can still pay ourselves to do it by working a day job.

Another footnote: Chances are, if you really enjoy the creative work you do and you do it in a consistent manner and you are willing to put your work out there for people to see, an audience will build over time. It is almost a law. You might not end up becoming world-famous, but it’s not hard to eventually have 1,000 true fans. And that, most of the time, is more than enough.

And enough is plenty.

Salvation

Sometimes I feel like words are barely enough. And yet sometimes words are everything. In fact, words can turn out to be one’s salvation, if you allow them to to save you.

And not only words but music too and movies, photography, and any other kind of art. I don’t have the words to explain why this is so, but I know it in my gut. I know it intuitively. That sometimes we are saved by beautiful things and it doesn’t even matter why or how.

Words.

First there are the words written by other people. Novels, poetry, articles on the internet, a fucking blog post. Any of these can save or change a life. Any of this can be a match struck in a dark night, just when you most need it.

Then there are the words you write. If you allow yourself to write honestly, to write from your soul (if you believe in such a thing), then writing can be salvation too, no matter how inept you are at it. It doesn’t matter if the words you write are ever only seen by yourself. It doesn’t matter if you only ever write in your private diaries. The point is to write, to allow the darkness in you to transform itself into understanding. Because to write is to come to a little more understanding of yourself. And like I have said before, a little understanding goes a long way.

There are many times when I sit before a blank page and believe one hundred percent in the thought in my head that goes, “You have nothing to write about”. On days when I have no resolve I simply give up, so another day goes by without me writing. But on some days I sit before the blank page long enough to force the words out of me, and then I realise that I have endless things to write about, and that my thoughts are often lying to me about what I can and cannot do.

Reading and writing can transform your suffering. I believe that with my entire heart. So I continue to read… and I continue to write.

Listening to: Nick Drake.

Painting what you see outside your window

When I visited the Édouard Manet exhibition in Chicago recently, I began to understand something — even though Manet would eventually come to be known as the father of impressionism, a lot of his work towards the end of his life was simply painting what he saw outside his window, as he was sick and unable to leave the house. Those works later came to be part of his canon, part of what he left behind for the world.

This reminded me that art is simply the story every day people try to tell of their every day lives.

History can decide later on whether that is officially “art”, but that’s not relevant to us at all.

Therefore everyone can begin to make art, art that belongs first of all to ourselves, by simply painting what we see outside our windows.

Caring deeply

In 1962 Fred Rogers created “Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood”.

For 31 seasons, 912 episodes, over a span of almost 40 years, Fred Rogers showed up – rain or shine – at his “television house” and talked directly to children about subjects as disparate as kindness, death, assassination, divorce and so on, and at a pace so slow and gentle as to seem radical today.

He taught millions of children about self worth and made them feel – even through a television screen – that they are loved, cherished, important. He taught them to be open to all kinds of feelings, no matter good or bad, and showed them that it’s okay to feel blue sometimes. He taught kids to wonder and to make believe, but he also taught them how to deal with the darkness of this world:

“The world is not always a kind place. That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.”

Fred Rogers made wonderful, meaningful television that created a real impact in countless children’s lives, and he did it consistently for 40 years. And he did it because he cared.

He cared deeply about the well-being of children. He saw that television was instrumental in shaping the inner lives and consumption habits of children who would grow up to be adults, so he created a children’s TV series that had nothing to do with coveting, but “about appreciating what you already have, about caring for others and seeing the best in them”.

Fred Rogers once said that caring is discipline. He didn’t explain further, but he must mean that to be able to create top-notch work day in, day out, one must be disciplined, and this discipline must surely be fuelled by a deep caring.

What is it that you and I care deeply about? What do we care about so deeply that we can find the will in us to be so disciplined that we can work at something in a consistent manner over many years?

I think this is a decent question to ask ourselves every day. Because when you really think about it, consuming meaninglessly, upgrading our homes, chasing after the next promotion, mindlessly pursuing financial goals – these just don’t cut it. When it comes down to it, we must recognise that life is finite. We are only here for awhile. And yet there seems to be some deep, mysterious, inexplicable joy to be had when we get to do something we truly care about, no matter how hard or painful the process might be.

Maybe the answer to that question will not be immediately obvious or take the form you were expecting. But listen to your inner voice. Reject convention. Take that first step. Fuck, jump off the cliff if you need to. But whatever it is, know that as long as you are seeking the answer, the answer is already revealing itself to you.

May we all find what we are looking for.

A good day’s work

I’m kind of a productivity geek. Life is short, and there is a lot I want to squeeze into this short life, so I am constantly thinking of how to optimize my days.

(That also means I am always trying different productivity systems on for size, which is very fun and extremely unproductive, I must say).

But what, really, is productivity, and why does it matter?

According to Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, at the end of the day we’re all just looking for progress in our lives – each of us wants to move further along the path towards realizing our potential or achieving our most important goals. That’s why we want to be “productive”.

Note that it’s about having important goals, and not just any goal. Because being productive is not just about ticking off our to-do lists mindlessly. It’s not about doing busy work. It’s not about waking up and attacking our email inbox thoughtlessly, mechanically.

Good productivity is about doing a good day’s work, and I think Jason Fried is right – it’s about progress, it’s about becoming better, it’s about evolving, and these things must be done towards the right goals.

As Shawn Blanc – a writer and creative whom I admire very much – also said, “Meaningful productivity means consistently giving our time and attention to the things that matter most.”

So even before thinking about how to optimize my days, I must first be honest with myself about what I want to fill my days with and be extremely mindful of whether these things are even important in the first place.

So I’ve been thinking, what matters most to me?

Personal peace and a sense of emotional well-being. This is the foundation of everything for me. Hence the tools to create personal peace – like meditation, like prayer – are things I must prioritize doing every day. There should be no question about whether I should meditate/pray or not, since my peace and my well-being are dependent on them. Starting my days with meditation, ending my nights with prayer – surely that is a good container for a good day’s work.

My health and my fitness. I love feeling fit and healthy. But we are the stories we tell ourselves. All my life I have told myself – and have been told by others – that I am not a sporty person. So I spent many years of my life thinking exercising or sports isn’t for me, that I’m never going to be any good at it. But I slowly changed the narrative for myself, and have in the last few years enjoyed playing squash, running, rock-climbing and swimming.

I love the after-glow of exercising and I love how the lessons I learn while running or swimming cross-over into the other parts of my life. For instance, when learning TI Swimming, I realize very quickly that it’s not about becoming a perfect swimmer overnight. During every practice session, the focus is often on a mini-skill, a small part of one skill. With mindfulness and careful attention and pleasure, you work on that mini-skill. The next day, you focus on another mini-skill. At no time do you fixate on your end goal. Instead, you enjoy every moment of your practice. By slowly progressing through all these mini-skills one at a time, you are promised that everything will converge eventually and you will suddenly find yourself becoming a good swimmer. Like a caterpillar slowly transforming into a butterfly. Isn’t that a beautiful analogy for life too?

My relationships with people I love. This is extremely important to me. I am a recovering workaholic. Even though recovering, some of my workaholic tendencies have become firmly embedded in me. Sometimes I get really obsessed with doing work (because to me, work is actually fun) that I’d rather work than spend time hanging out with my friends or family. But because this is so important to me, my days would not be complete or meaningful if I didn’t also carve time out to be with my family and friends.

My work as a photographer. I consider my work as a photographer a life-time vocation. Maybe, in 20 or 30 years, I will not be shooting for money anymore, but I don’t think that will ever stop me from thinking of myself as a photographer. But now, while I am a professional photographer, there are important goals associated to it that I must pursue. For instance, my goal as an advertising photographer is to create personal work good enough that I am hired not just for my style, but for my creative vision. As an editorial photographer, I want to move towards doing fewer lifestyle stories and more substantial documentary work, with an eye towards social issues. I want to do photography work that is increasingly meaningful and interesting. This means it’s important that I dedicate a portion of my days to working on advancing these goals (doing personal projects, studying photography and the work of photographers I admire, contacting photo editors who can help me further my goals), instead of simply firefighting and riding on any work that comes my way. It is important that I actively sculpt my path as a photographer instead of simply allowing the current to push me forward.

My creative energy. There are a lot of other things I want to do besides photography. I am interested in books and writing and the mechanics of building a small business and technology and publishing and education. All of these things come with potential project ideas. It’s important that I spend time working on some of these things. That’s one of the reasons why I write this newsletter/blog – it’s an extremely important creative outlet for me.

My desire to do meaningful things in this world. Life is not just about earning money and buying things and living the good life. All of that is great, but I want to do meaningful things with my time as well. What is “meaningful” differs from person to person. For me, meaning is an intangible feeling, a sense that I have lived a worthwhile life, one in which I have used my skills and talent to help bring something useful and beautiful to other people. I am currently in the midst of doing something (using photography) with a local foundation to help kids who have been touched by cancer. This is personally meaningful to me because my life has been touched by cancer as well – my aunt passed away from cancer when she was 40, a schoolmate of mine died from bone cancer when he was 14, and my good friend from Taiwan died last year at the age of 36 from metastatic breast cancer.

Reading and learning. I don’t know what I would do without books. Every time I feel stuck, sad, or lost, it is books that I turn to first. There is always someone somewhere out there who has experienced exactly what I have, and who has written a book about it. Being able to read and learn makes me feel invincible, like nothing in this world is too difficult to be solved. So it’s very important that there is time in my schedule to read and go to the library, which is my personal happy place.

That’s largely about it. At the moment, these are the things I want to consciously fill my days with. Knowing what truly matters also helps me to have some form of clarity about the shape my life should take, and what to be “productive” about. In the midst of life’s chaos, I guess this is my own way of finding some semblance of order.

The question of what tools I use to effectively organize my life and fit all these into my days is an article for another day.

But first, what is important to you? Have you ever given it any thought?

– – –



Why write?

Writing sucks (or at least the act of writing does), but I keep doing it anyway.

Didn’t the writer Dorothy Parker once say, “I hate writing, I love having written”?

She’s a total kindred spirit.

Writing is painful and torturous, but if you are like me, and Parker, you understand the bizarre satisfaction and joy of having written, of having produced words that somehow bring shape to your thoughts and help you build a more solid identity in this sometimes fluid world, in which we are so often lost.

Somehow, writing makes me feel more like a person. Or maybe I am already a person, but now I feel like I have told my story, and therefore I am better connected to the larger world outside of me.

In other words, I feel less alone.

Ever since I started writing regularly on my blog, I have also had a few friends come up to me telling me about how they too would love to start writing or to write more.

I do think there is something visceral about writing that draws a certain group of people irresistibly to it. And there’s no denying that in many people, there is this deep need to at least make some kind of noise, so that the world knows of their existence, and then they can feel like they have lived as a main character in this bizarre story of life instead of having just floated past, like a ghost.

I am of course talking about myself.

Crucially, I also have come to see how necessary writing has become in my growth as both a creative and a human being.

And despite the self-doubt (do my thoughts matter?) and the insecurity (who is even reading this?) and the lack of confidence (maybe I should leave the writing to people who are smarter than me!), I feel more and more certain that writing is something I need to do.

And certainly, starting to write regularly has been one of the best things I have done for myself in 2017.

Not only that, I have a strong feeling that writing consistently will pay off in more ways than I can imagine. How, I have no idea yet.

For now, I soldier on.

During my short blogging hiatus recently, I have had a lot of time to rethink my reasons for writing. Here are some of them.


Writing to learn

I’m a learning geek/nerd, and the best way to learn is to teach others. Some people like to learn the French language or American history or astronomy; I like to learn about how to live life to my fullest potential, and how to find true peace and happiness and meaning in my life. When I write about what I have learned – either through the experiences I have had in my own life or through books I have read – my learning solidifies, deepens, becomes a more permanent part of me. (Plus I have such a bad memory, so writing helps me to remember more of my life than my memory is capable of doing…)


Writing to understand myself

Self-knowledge is key. It is true that sometimes even I don’t know who I am or the reasons behind why I do the things I do. When I write, I open a door into a deeper part of myself. And if I give myself the opportunity to write honestly, without garnishing or covering up, then I also give myself the chance to see myself for who I am. And truly, I think, genuine self-understanding is the path to greater meaning and happiness, because if we don’t know who we are, how can we begin to contemplate how we want to live in this world, or what kind of a life is worth living? These are questions no one can answer except ourselves. And we must start to answer these questions by looking at ourselves honestly, even if it hurts.


Writing to organize my thoughts better

I’m not a good talker. It’s always hard for me to adequately express what’s in my head when I talk, because unlike writing, I cannot sit down and edit and re-edit and organize and re-organize, which is what I do with my writing. Writing allows me to sort through my thoughts and imbue them with some kind of coherence and clarity. I also sound slightly smarter when I write =]


Writing to help and inspire

I can’t tell you how many times an article or a book or even a single sentence has helped pull me out of a rut or shine a light through the cracks exactly when I needed it. My personal experience tells me that it is important for people to share their knowledge openly and generously, and writing is a great medium for that. Who knows when you can save a life with just one sentence in one entry on your tiny obscure blog that is read only by 20 people on most days? For me, if I can just make one person’s day brighter, I already have a good enough reason to write.


Writing to build a community

Ever since I started writing, I have been getting emails and comments and messages from total strangers. They write me to tell me that they are on a similar path to living life on their own terms, or that they have a similar view towards life, or that they appreciate that I have written about my struggles, since they share the same struggles, and I realize: Wow, we are all part of an invisible tribe. As virtual as this tribe is, it is nevertheless real.


Writing because it is hard

A part of me is stubborn and enjoys challenges a little too much. Writing is challenging. Writing one article a week is even more challenging. But I want to do it anyway because sometimes it’s fun to do things that are hard. And it’s also rewarding, because the harder it is to write, the better I am going to be as a writer as time goes by. It’s like going to the gym, only I am growing writing/thinking muscles rather than actual muscles.


Writing because I enjoy writing

I know I already said that I find writing to be a rather painful affair, yet it’s also true that I enjoy writing. On good days, the words flow. They come tumbling out of me. Writing becomes easy. But even on days when writing is tough, I do still enjoy doing it. I can’t really explain why, except that maybe it’s… true love?

Create

Everything matters.

One night, when I was 18, I hopped on a cab and fell in love with a song that was playing on the radio. I don’t remember the song title anymore but it changed my life. I became obsessed with music overnight. Suddenly my references were not writers anymore but musicians and singers and bands like Joni Mitchell and Chet Baker and Radiohead and Janis Ian.

I say it changed my life because it was just one song, but it planted in me a new desire to do something more with my life. Suddenly I saw that there was more to life than the well-planned path that lay ahead of me – doing well at my A Levels, going to a good university, successfully graduating, getting a good job, etc.

Now I thought to myself, maybe there are other options in life… Perhaps I could be a music producer? A band manager? Or something I have never even thought of before!

I began to dream.

And my life split and changed accordingly. (That night when I heard the song was the seed that led to me dropping out of university, starting a cafe, etc. And then here I am today. Now you know what I meant when I said it changed my life?)

Then there was that one time around the same period when I was on a travel forum and I saw post after post about people who had given up everything they possessed to travel all over the world, or people who had been on the road for years. I didn’t know it was possible to do both of these things.

My worldview widened again.

So many books and songs and articles have changed or affected the way I look at life. Or sometimes it’s just one sentence in a goddamn online forum. But they all have made me see new possibilities, feel less alone, or more able to live in this world.

These people who create things – some famous, some anonymous – come from all over the world. They are you and me and everyone in between, really. They all write books or sing songs or make art or direct films and put them out there without knowing that their work would one day alter the life of some random stranger halfway across the globe.

Everything we create matters.

Sometimes we don’t know why we do what we do. Sometimes we don’t know how to go on creating. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like anything is worth working on. 

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing or taking a photograph because I can no longer remember what’s the point of doing anything at all.

I mean, who cares?

But then I remember that it’s happened multiple times in my life before, where something someone created – no matter how seemingly insignificant or obscure – has nudged me towards a better direction in life.

We must then always remind ourselves that maybe someday, halfway across the globe, some random person out there will stumble across our song or our poem or our illustration or our product or our short film and that thing will change – or even better, save – his or her life.

And that will be kind of enough.

We are all inter-connected, in more ways than we can understand.

And so I keep creating.

A list of life-altering books


Reading in Budapest… Good days! (Photo by my friend Camilia.)

I am a nerd. A big one. (As big as they come.)

What that means is that I read a lot.

When I am anxious, I read. When I am sad, I read. When I am confused, I read. When I feel like there is no hope left in this world, I read.

It is one of the core beliefs in my life that a book can save lives.

And it probably has saved my life, in more ways than I can imagine.

Here are some of the books I have read over the last few years that have shaped my thinking, altered my path, brightened my days, and made my life better.

I’m sharing them with you in the hopes that they might play the same role in your life.


Working well

4 Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferriss

I have always had different ideas about “work” and what it really means.

This book confirms my thesis.

I read this book on the plane and got whipped into such a frenzy I wanted to get off the plane immediately so I could start changing my life already, simply because Ferriss is such a motivating writer.

Not only that, he also really lives what he writes.

If you are hoping to get out of the rat race and build a life doing your own thing, this is one of the books you must read.

Think of it as essential reading for the “How to Get Out of the Rat Race and Live a Great Life 101” course that never existed back when we were in school (how we needed such a course!).


The One Thing – Gary Keller

One of the best books I have ever read on productivity. More than that, it goes right to the heart of how to live a good life. As an aspiring minimalist, I’m enamored with Keller’s almost zen-like, minimalist philosophy of the ONE Thing.

“What is the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Stop doing what’s unnecessary and focus on doing what’s necessary, and you will be able to achieve 80% of your desired results with just 20% of your effort – that’s the central premise of this book.

In other words, FOCUS on the things that matter.

This is something I’m trying to out into practice in my life right now.


Anything You Want – Derek Sivers

I read this short book in one sitting in the library (yes I couldn’t even make it out the doors of the library without devouring it).

This book houses Sivers’ thoughts on what it takes to build a successful business in a human, uncorporate way.

One of his key ideas is that you should build a business that people are begging you to start.

Just this idea itself is enough food for thought for a long time.

It made me ask myself: What can I offer this world that people are already asking me to do for them? (It turns out that photography is one of them. So it seems like I am on the right path.)


Money

The Simple Path to Wealth – J L Collins

Money has become one of my pet topics.

From being disdainful of money to realizing its utter importance, I have come a long way. Books have been a huge part of my financial re-education (apart from the Internet).

There are a lot of books about money – and I have read quite a few – but very few are as heartfelt and easy to read (and understand) as this.

Collins’ advice is as old as time.

Read it, digest it, live it, and instead of being money’s slave – which most of us have become – you will learn to make money work for you.


Emotional well-being

At Last A Life – Paul David

If you suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, and you have tried everything and nothing has worked, please give this book a read.

I suffered from serious anxiety and frequent panic attacks some years ago. I made no real progress in recovering from it no matter what I did.

Until I read Paul David’s writing.

He also suffered from anxiety for 10 years until he stumbled into his own recovery.

I don’t want to paraphrase him – I’m worried that I won’t be able to express his ideas well – so go and read this book. You can also visit his website, which has plenty of information as well.

This is one of those moments when I can actually say, “this book saved my life”.


Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

Matt Haig was so deeply depressed he almost killed himself.

But he didn’t.

He went on to live and write this book, that has in turn helped so many other people who almost, but didn’t, kill themselves.

This book always reminds me of the power and beauty of words to help change people’s lives.

And this book also is an ode to hope.

I loved it so much I gifted it to a friend who I thought needed it.

I hope you love it too.



Life lessons

Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne

I really, really, really love this book and have a huge soft spot for it.

I first read it when I was maybe 12. It was nuts – I spent the whole night feverishly flipping the pages, lost in the story. Then I reread it many years later when I was maybe 25. I thought the story would lose its magic. But it didn’t.

This book imparts a sense of adventure and an appetite for life that is so vivid, it makes you want to hop on a train or a ship as well and see the world for yourself.

I also think this book is about passion and doing and dreaming.

I won’t go on and on – go and read and experience this book yourself.


Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor E. Frankl

A book that cannot be written about lightly.

A book that must be treated with respect, since it was a book that was written with great respect.

An honorable book.

About life. About suffering. About joy. About joy in the midst of life’s suffering.

I will come back to this book again and again throughout my life, hoping to learn and relearn its lessons.


Enjoy Every Sandwich – Lee Lipsenthal

Lee Lipsenthal loved life, even when he was dying.

Somehow, with a cancer diagnosis, and while facing down the throat of mortality, he was able to find light and joy and happiness and peace and humor.

He is my role model, and I hope to be like him when it comes to my turn to face death.

Also, this book has such a beautiful cover – one of my favorites.

I gave away my copy but I will buy one again for my library. It deserves a place on my shelf (and a re-read every few years).



Mindfulness & meditation

The Long Road Turns to Joy – Thich Naht Hanh

Thich Naht Hanh is a Vietnamese monk whose writing has deeply influenced me.

His voice is a balm and a calming presence in a noisy, sometimes scary world.

Any book of his is worth reading, but I particularly enjoyed this book because I also enjoy walking.

It is a most wonderful experience walking with his words in mind.

Try it.


10% Happier – Dan Harris

Meditation is hard.

Knowing how to even start meditating is even harder.

This book by Dan Harris (who suffered a meltdown on national TV and who later found great peace through meditation) demystifies meditation and successfully explains – or at least this book finally made me successfully understand – what meditation is and how I can start to meditate effectively.

Even if you hate airy fairy things like meditation, but want to have a quieter, more peaceful mind, give this book a read. You might be pleasantly surprised.


Writing

On Writing Well – William Zinsser

If you want to become a better writer, read this book.

It has never been particularly fun to read about writing, but Zinsser is such a good writer he makes a book about writing interesting, even unputdownable (how I love this word).

I have made it my personal mission to read all of Zinsser’s books. That’s how much I love him.


In closing…

I don’t know what I would do if books didn’t exist in this world.

In my darkest moments, books have been there, pouring light through the cracks.

Books have been a kind of true north for me.

They have been a friend, a teacher, a guide.

I sincerely hope that you too can discover the joy of being a life-long reader.

And the prime joy being… the discovery of an answer written in a book, to a question that is hidden in your heart.

Happy reading, my friends!

Be really good at one thing


Ivan Orkin in culinary school. I love this photo.

I love watching Chef’s Table on Netflix.

I love seeing how just one thing – cooking – can become the source of so much joy, frustration, achievement, failure. In other words, an entire universe.

For many (if not all) of these chefs, cooking is something upon which they build their entire lives.

In the recent episode I watched, ramen chef Ivan Orkin had a difficult childhood. As a kid, no one expected much of him. He drifted until, one day, he became obsessed with… ramen. This obsession was pivotal because it led to him unlocking the discipline and focus that were previously missing in his life. He later opened his own ramen shop in Japan and gained success as being “one of the best ramen makers on the planet”.

Just this one thing – cooking ramen well – has transformed Orkin’s life.

So, this week’s food for thought: Instead of wanting to do or be many things, why not work at becoming really good – single-mindedly good – at one thing?

Why not be an expert at writing about food (and only food)? Why not be so good at teaching cycling that you are at the top of people’s mind whenever anyone wants to learn to ride a bike?

Once you can be known for being good at one thing, this one thing can then become a platform, a stepping board, to other things.

What’s your one thing?