Tag Archives: goals

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Start with the End in Mind

“I have an idea. Let’s play a game. A puzzle game. Or maybe a numbers game? How about a word game? Or a scavenger hunt?”

On my twenty-ninth birthday, I published the first post of the “A Number of Things” series on my blog, and I continued to post one every eleven days for twenty-nine more times. The original idea of the series was to conduct a “social experiment” (an item on my “Before 30” list) where I post my thoughts on certain topics, embed hidden puzzles in the posts, and have the audience participate and work together to solve puzzles while using my posts as a springboard to learn about one another’s approach to life.

In short, my goal was to connect with the world. I wanted to develop both a relationship between the audience and me as the content creator and a relationship among the audience members to discuss the content and to collaborate on solving the puzzles.

Like most of my goals, I started with the end in mind, and worked backwards to figure out the details, timeline, and the amount of work and planning I would need to do. Typically, it’s the most logical and efficient way to accomplish goals.

For this goal and this project, I knew that I wanted to 1) share thirty posts regarding my approach and philosophy to life as I see it at the moment, 2) plant clues to puzzles for the audience to find and try to solve, and 3) enhance both my posts and the clues by accompanying them with something visual and creative.

I started creating posts with the sincerest of intentions, but by the third post, I quickly realized that I may have bitten off more than I could chew. Creating each post took a lot of time from my day-to-day life. To raise the level of complexity and planning that it needed to be a world-connecting-fuzzy-feeling-creating project would take even more work than I could afford. Still, I had many reasons to continue with the project, and even though I just started at the time and had a long way to go, it was subconsciously important enough for me to see it through.

Fortunately, the three things I knew I wanted to do (thirty posts, hidden puzzles, and visual pieces) addressed other smaller goals I had. So I pivoted a little bit and readjusted my plan based on those new smaller goals so the project could be more manageable. So in that sense, starting with the end in mind proved effective in that it allowed me to use what I originally planned, and then repurpose them for similar goals if necessary, all without needing to start over or give up.

Looking back, the series captured a good collection of my ideas about life, and it proved out numerous design experiments I wanted to try. Even though I knew from the first post that the topic of this post would be “Start with the end in mind.”, I was for a large part (as I mentioned in the second post) making it up as I went. As a result, the journey was both trying and delightful at times.

Yet for many reasons, I’m glad I did it, and I must be grateful for the way that I did. I had a grand and ambitious idea, and I ran with it. Fortunately, it was the type of project where I could start from the end and work backwards to build out a plan. But if I encounter projects where planning backwards feel impractical, I can always take another of my own advice: start somewhere.

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Everyone Functions Differently

  • I am the son of Chinese families. The first half of my childhood I lived in China, and the other half in the United States.
  • I am an introvert. I enjoy staying in more often than going out.
  • I am probably somewhere between an ectomorph and a mesomorph. It takes more effort to gain any muscle mass.
  • I care a lot about my health. I listen to my body, I eat as cleanly as I can, I make time for exercise, and I make sure I get enough sleep.
  • I am a visual person, definitely more so than verbal or auditory. I enjoy watching a movie more than reading a book or attending a concert.
  • I consider myself a mix of left- and right-brained. I love when things are organized, logical, and methodical, but I also enjoy being different, innovative, and expressive.
  • I probably have color-graphemic synesthesia, where I associate each number and letter to a color. For example, the letter E is solid brown, and the number 2 is a warm yellow.
  • I am fascinated by languages, their history and grammar. I’d love to learn and be fluent in as many as I can.
  • I am a man of science. It comforts me to have something I can absolutely depend on in life: the objective laws of physics and math.
  • I am fascinated by new technologies and I embrace it for how it can improve the world. I am still waiting for a mind-powered virtual assistant.
  • I save as much as I can for retirement. But I also make sure I can live happily now.
  • I am an optimist. I believe that living with a positive attitude has a higher chance of success and happiness.

The specific combination of these things (and more) make up who I am. One change would mean a slightly different approach to life, would lead to different decisions and consequences, and would therefore create a different person. There are a lot of combinations possible, and more than seven billions of them (unique ones) exist in the world.

Everyone has their story, their motivations, and their philosophies. They often do what they think is right for them, but it may be perceived by others as wrong. While the concept of right and wrong is a much larger philosophical discussion, the fact remains that everyone functions differently. The more of us who can understand and become conscious of this, the more peaceful, I believe, and less conflicts our world would get.

But then again, that’s only what I think; that’s how I function.

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Movies are Awesome

I love movies. They do a much better job at conveying emotions and experiences to me than other media like music or prose. And it’s almost magical how they can tell so many different types of stories (action, drama, comedy, romance, documentary, etc.) just by arranging images and sound in a certain way.

For me, I particularly love movies that are inspirational, are philosophical, and/or use time as a major element in the story. Two of my favorite movies (franchises) are The Matrix and Back to the Future. Most people would say they like “the original Matrix” or “the western one” (Back to the Future, Part 3) and dismiss the other two. I, on the other hand, must consider all three movies together as one unit and appreciate how each movie help make the entire franchise great.

This past year, I watched two Richard Linklater projects: the “Before” movies (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight), and Boyhood. They tell two different stories, but they both explore the intricate complexities of how people change over a long period of time. It fascinates me because it’s the core of how I view my life.

Special Me

When I was young, I thought I was special. I thought that because my thoughts and ideas were the only ones I know about and I also happen to agree with most of them, I was a genius and a very important person, worthy to have my life written about and a movie made about me. I conducted my life with this belief in mind, being particular about everything I do, sometimes narrating in my head, imagining scenes using my eyes as camera lenses. I collected and documented my things along the way so researchers and historians can dissect them like archaeologists, making educated guesses about what I was thinking at the time, and constructing timelines based on these findings.

I still live my life this way as an adult but in a more “grown-up” and realistic approach. Since biographies of great people in the world are still written, I continue to document and date my stuff “just in case.” Conveniently, this also proved practical when I try to remember why I make certain decisions at different times in my life. It’s like I’m my own historian.

Generally, movies are contained in neat little packages, starting with a goal or purpose and ending with some form of resolution for that goal or purpose. It certainly feels good to bring closure at the end of the movie, regardless of whether I agree with the ending. With life, however (and also in the movie Boyhood a little bit), the goals and purpose are more open-ended, and it’s harder to move forward when something still needs to be completed. That’s why I wish my life is more like a movie, and I set it up to behave like one as much as I can.

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3:22

It’s about time that I talk about Time
And its kaleidoscopic quality.
For one, I know I should, while in my prime,
Live life with purpose (less frivolity).
A pain can worsen by the second’s tick,
Yet wounds are healed as years and days go by.
I love when I have time to choose and pick
To plan, to think, to practice and to try.
I like to strike with excellence and speed,
But hate to rush and skip and compromise.
It happens often still, which means I need
To be a friend of Time’s and optimize
My schedule to my wants and needs somehow.
To live my life, at best, the time is now!

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I ask for what I want.

Asking for something is different from getting it. Most of the time, and for most things, you need to ask before you get.

I asked myself to see the Eiffel Tower, to see Machu Picchu, to see the northern lights, etc. in order to learn, to grow, and to experience life. I asked myself for some time to replenish, to reflect, and to determine my next steps.

To make all of that happen, I need to ask my work for time off. But how will they react? Will they punish me just for asking? Wouldn’t it be easier if I just leave my job? Is this worth doing at all?

Ultimately, these are boring questions, generated through uncertainty and fear. Besides, the answers already exist anyway. Practically speaking, the answers already exist through other people’s past experiences. Spiritually speaking, they already exist within myself; only I know what I want to do and what I think is right for me.

Fortunately, my managers were very supportive and I was able to take my time off. Had their response been different, I would have gone a separate route to accomplish what I wanted: Perhaps I could have taken less time off, or I could have left the job. But whatever would have happened, I would still find a way to achieve what my goal.

Throughout this year planning the trip, and on this trip itself, I had to perform hundreds of interactions asking someone for things. Had I not have asked, I would not have been able to get my replacement credit and debit cards sent to my next destination after I lost my wallet on the second day of the trip; I would not have found a less disruptive way to get back into the Airbnb host’s house after losing the keys in the middle of nowhere after dark on a northern lights tour; I would not have gotten my wallet back after receiving a call from the transportation manager at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta that my descriptive email and plea to check the shuttle busses sooner rather than later helped her find the bus I was looking for; and I would not have been recommended by a coworker and gone to a restaurant in London for lunch, where I found some random WiFi and received a message from my former manager (one of the very managers who approved my time-off) that she was in town, and we ended up in a personal guided tour of the South Bank.

But despite these trip-saving examples, I think the most important benefit to asking is having peace of mind. If asking allows me to remove the nagging thoughts that occupy my consciousness and helps me sleep at night, even if it was probably “safe to assume” I was right and didn’t really have to ask, it’s still very much worth doing.

Finally, if you ask and are successful, you get what you want. If you ask and are less than successful, you’ll learn something from the experience. If you don’t ask, your fate will depend mainly, if not solely, on others and the universe.

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“If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. If you don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes.” —African Proverb

To plan or not to plan?

In recent years, I’ve become drawn to two seemingly conflicting approaches to life: 1) Be responsible for your life; take control of your destiny, etc., and 2) Go with the flow; whatever happens happens and happens for a reason. They both have very attractive qualities that when discussed separately, they seem to me to be the definitively right way to live.

However, every day, I struggle to decide between the two to adopt. Like this trip I’m currently taking: How much do I want to leave it up to chance that I’ll see Machu Picchu or go on an African safari just by booking flights to the right cities and then asking the locals the day before? And how much do I want to plan out in detail that the free afternoon I had in Albuquerque was actually spent riding a cruiser bike to a FedEx Office to fax a debit card replacement form, or that the panorama tour of Africa canyons that I wanted to do as my optional activity was probably too unpredictable in its majesticness that the chance of touching a cheetah at a rehabilitation center was probably higher?

The honestly simple but still complex answer is it depends, and it’s a balance. For this trip, I ask myself what is important that I need to make sure happens, and what can I consider as nice-to-have? That’s the easy part; the difficulty comes when I have to decide how much time I should spend figuring out each thing based on its importance and sticking to that schedule. I can spend forever deciding on the right round-the-world itinerary, but I have a thousand other things after that I need to take care of (tours, accommodations, transport, currencies, languages, clothes to pack for weather, visas, immunizations, documentations, etc.). I also have to remind myself that I can only do so much to plan a trip (or a life for that matter), and there will always be unexpected events. And finally, the ROI also diminishes as I get closer to absolute planned-ness.

That said, it’s still a constant daily struggle, and I am still finding that balance. I would say that at the very least, I have become better with that balance than a few years ago. I still err on the side of planning too much just in case, but I make sure to leave room for spontaneity (“planning to not plan”). And I find that a periodic check-in with myself helps, asking questions about whether things that were important to me two weeks ago are still important now. The beauty of all this is that tomorrow will always come, and I have another opportunity to do things differently, and hopefully do them better.

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