Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The New Role

Initially one thought the work was not done well, plans forming in the mind to make improvements, dropping the manual job of entering stuff in a separate spreadsheet, instead thinking that extracting a report from the tool will dictate work like a breeze. What a moron! Deluded that innate intelligence, insouciance and luck will make the job easier, another overconfident idiot walking naively to the lion’s den, a naïve lamb to the slaughter.  Soon one is confused, dazed and bewildered, scrambling to respond to emails, lost in the tumult of work traveling at the speed of light, aware that more organized managers stay calm, one thinks the work volume is larger than anyone else. What a mess, looking around for help (panic just below the surface), finding assistance from a French lady and a middle aged manager, showing their ordered demeanor while one flops from one near disaster to another. One was filled with overconfidence, a walk in the park; one’s clever plans would make it, trying all sorts of new things when one just needed a notebook and a daily check list. The trick was to focus and complete one task at a time, keep your wits despite the onslaught of emails, problem tickets and stressful meetings.

But the mind reels from blow to blow: a sudden request to enter time sheets, to reconcile figures, to schedule meetings, an emergency rush job, change in personnel, missing team mates, people without commonsense, looking for someone to blame. It is a milieu of confusion or rather the hectic bustle of ethereal work invisible to the eye: emails, online chats, meeting invites, all occurring in cyber space, eyes glued to the computer screen (and wrestling with abstraction). One attempts to use white boards to visually manage work, to write check list or reminders, to unearth all the tasks in mind and bring out in the open, plus the need to communicate by phone or emails, all under deadlines, hampered by poor leadership and clueless supervisors. To survive is to follow a work flow process, to intelligently use tools at hand,  master the spread sheet one scoffed at, preferring to keep everything in mind and wing it like some hero until one finds he is unprepared, a sure recipe for disaster. One gets to the basics: write a TO DO list daily, keep a notebook, read your emails and plan meetings.

In the early months, one was buried in customer demands, with never ending wants, the mind jumping from one task to another, planning work at home or at weekends but lost in distraction of television, after all one needs time to rest and keep sane. The program has sophisticated dashboards and filters, extracting reports to check status and organize work, but one did not master the craft, instead relying on experience to survive the daily grind. In the end, the work is not difficult, one’s ignorance, naiveté and overconfidence had blinded one to the challenge, as the onslaught pummeled him without mercy, one must control his emotions (or cultivate detachment) and do the task one by one, rising above work that came like the flood that drowned New Orleans after the levees broke.

NEW ROLE + NEW AUDIT PROCEDURES + NEW TOOLS + PREASSURE and STRESS + VOLUME OF WORK was a tsunami the washed over the overconfident moron.

So what is the plan?


Hence, one goes to work, look at the dashboard, extract report by status and do the job required: follow-up, plan meetings, write emails. It’s that simple.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring Break

Last Saturday I attended a District meeting in Columbia, feeling unprepared because I did not visit any clubs except my own which is not doing much since I attend the meetings anyway. Nevertheless, half the battle is showing up, in that respect I have done well considering the performance of the other area governors who are often absent. I did manage to write an email last Friday where 1 club president out of 3 responded, but only because our division governor was a member of his club. But I think I achieved a passing grade (barely), more for some effort than achievement since the other 3 clubs under my jurisdiction are strong clubs who do well despite the meager efforts of its governor. All in all, my record would show that I attended district meetings, did my reports, and completed at least 1 club visit, participated and organized speech contests, attended conferences and club officer training sessions. In the remaining months of my term, I hope to do more club visits and reports before I step down. At least I will try to orient my replacement by showing him or her the ropes. I actually enjoyed my time as governor despite my shortcomings, where I learned my limitations and priorities.

After the meeting, we ate at a Japanese Mexican restaurant, enjoying the hipness, especially the seemingly contradictory cuisine of sushi, sashimi, tortillas, bento box, quesadillas, burritos and miso soup amidst an interesting interior with art objects that seem to depict American Indian culture, exhibited in a bright red wall along one side of the restaurant. I used to enjoy going to interesting places like this, where one’s imagination is piqued because of the creative mix of different or even contradictory styles. But I found myself bored and unimpressed, thinking that this place would appeal to a younger crowd. An interesting television show did piqued my interest: “Top of The Lake” a detective show in New Zealand with Holly Hunter in a cameo role, created by Jane Campion, with the breathtaking landscape, a plot about women victims including the female detective heroine. The atmosphere was distinctive, including the culture and subject; I especially liked the sub plot that featured Hunter as a sort of guru for abused women. I completed the series on Saturday and the effect was having a new life view which is the impact of great art. I also liked ‘Nebraska’ and ‘American Hustle’ which I also watched in the weekend.

On Sunday, I brought my other son back to college, traveling to Clemson and looking for a place to eat in Seneca and the surrounding suburbs of the university town, finally circling back amidst Oconee lake and finding a smoke house near the soccer stadium, walking distance from the campus green. But the smoked meats were not good and the ribs were a disappointment although the fried oysters and okra was not entirely bad. It was an interesting place compared with the other alternatives, which featured uninspired fare for college students, way below my bon vivant expectations. Hence, my weekend was spent traveling, eating and attending meetings, watching movies and series like ‘The Pacific’ by HBO, produced by Tom Hanks, about the war in the Pacific although I was disappointed because it did not feature the liberation of the Philippines. But it was another lost weekend as I had no time to further my goals of writing, starting an Internet business or further studies in investments via options and bonds. But the past five years were good as I achieved incremental progress, slowly increasing my knowledge and skills one small step at a time.

For instance, I achieved progress in the investment area with rental property, ROTH IRA and US stocks, taking advantage of the market recovery. The next step is to invest in options and bonds and create an LLC. In the writing area, I took short courses in creative writing and continued my exercises via blogging, starting short stories and reading more. The next step is to complete a book, not just creative fiction but non-fiction like a food blog. With regards to the Internet, I have about 7 years of experience maintaining blogs, learning Twitter, YouTube and Google+. The next step is to use this knowledge, to start monetizing my sites with an Internet business. I am reading ‘Get Rich Click’ and watched some videos on internet marketing and I need to learn about Google Ad sense and affiliate marketing. A strategy is forming in my mind, where I can use my experience to make the next jump. Sometimes one feels time is running out, with work place changes and paranoia plus the coming graduation of my sons; one need to start something soon. The Internet is the new gold rush where dreams can come true as some people say; the key is knowledge and the old virtue of perseverance.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Stands for ‘Fear Of Missing Out’, a subject of a recent TED lecture, delivered by a young man, accurately describing what most yuppies feel in being left out in a world of social media and instant events. In fact this is an affliction experienced by people like me too, someone who is afraid of missing out on the next big thing, constantly driven by being in the know. The speaker said that one must not shun this feeling but instead go further and explore why, why does one have this feeling instead of just saying no and enjoying a quiet time at home. Good question. One was not always like this and recalls of times when just prefers to stay home, away from the hustle and bustle of active socializing, then one realizes he is old and approaching middle age, that he wonders what was lost, what could have been and the results is a mad scramble, succumbing to the fear of missing out. I think I should watch that video again and see if the speaker offered any clues on how to proceed, to learn one’s inner motivation and find out what to do next if one realizes that he just wants to give his life some meaning, perhaps a last grasp of his youth.

There is also an economic component in this fear, to lose out on relevance in the office, to be wholly ignorant and unaware of what is happening around him. But it is a sad cycle, to constantly watch movies and borrow books to be relevant that one realizes the others around him are trivial and ordinary, not the sophisticated and smart people that one sees in movies or television shows. The realization that one has more sensitivity than the others around him is difficult, requiring one to hide his own and live under the cloak of being ordinary. Another TED lecture was significant, about embracing oneself, told by a self-proclaimed creative gay Latino, with cerebral palsy, being the ultimate outsider.  Another lecture was about building ice castles and another about comparing burn outs and post-traumatic stress disorder, in turn requiring the same sort of medical benefits and consideration. I guess I was close to burn out several times, driven not only by the expectations of work, FOMA and attribution errors due to cognitive bias, something that I had hoped to cure by cognitive therapy, journal writing, exercise and meditation.

Burn out also comes when one experiences change, meeting new conditions and trying to live up to new expectations. Recently one realizes that one has bitten off more than he can chew, especially being area governor when one is moving into a new and demanding role plus continuing the stress of FOMA. But instead of more exercise and museum going, to engage in more constructive distraction, one indulges in narcissism and alcohol which further exacerbates stress. Again one has the paranoia felt when one seems to feel that he is persecuted behind his back, perhaps thinking that his pay is too much, surrounded by mediocre loud mouths when that is the culture of the people around here, trying to avoid the disdain that one feels when one has a mistaken sense of superiority, driven by the sense of not missing anything and being in the know. What a laugh. Now one hopes to be part of a new project, not as a manager but as a tester, striving to fill up the time needed for his time sheet as the chargeable hours are less in the new role. But one also loses time at home where there is much to do to be a writer or internet entrepreneur or a stock trader because one is watching or reading because of FOMA.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Heartbreaking Genius

Dave Eggers has written a new form of novel, an anything goes type of narrative, a manic obsessive point of view that shows the frenzied mindset of an aspiring yuppy nerd; something like Jack Kerouac meets JD.Salinger. The novel’s locale is Silicon Valley, Chicago and New York; the perfect places to give a snapshot of the country especially start-ups like a new magazine business; plus the brilliant way the orphans try to make up for the loss of both parents, an extraordinary account of survival. This is the second work by Eggers I have read, the first is ‘Zeitoun’, another ground breaking book that has themes in multiple levels: the disaster in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina, the story of Middle Eastern immigrants, especially hard working entrepreneurs achieving the American dream, the racism and prejudice against Muslims after 9/11 plus  Iraq and Afghanistan wars; the chaos of government responding to a natural disaster. Eggers is a genius, a brilliant writer who is unafraid to address delicate issues, attacking head on the core subject, perhaps due to the sudden loss of his parents that he had to overcompensate in everything, bringing to mind the theme of Malcolm Gladwells’ ‘David and Goliath, where famous dyslexic achievers like David Boies, Brian Glazer, Richard Branson, overcome their constraints and become world class in their endeavors.

Similarly, several examples in the Gladwell’s book show high achievers like American presidents who lost their father but have risen to greatness such as Washington, Clinton and Obama. ‘David and Goliath’ is perhaps Gladwell’s best book to date, concise and to the point, explaining well that the underdog is actually someone with a strategy in mind, unwilling to accept the common thinking and striking out on his own and winning against superior forces. For instance, orphans achieving great things even without parents, turning a disadvantage into a strong motivation to succeed. I finished both books this week, running through them through the weekend or listening to the audio book to and from work, hungry to grasp their ideas. Good to have finished both, avoiding late return fines from the library, though missing out on the work that I planned to do in the weekend. On Saturday we picked up my son from college, driving for about 4 hours to and from Columbia, going to the excellent State museum and eating at a Japanese Hibachi restaurant, though it was not really authentic but more like an Americanized version with emphasis on quantity and less on the quality, losing the delicateness of Asian cuisine; a fast food version whose incarnation had only a slight resemblance to the original.

During the weekend after coming back from Columbia, I watched Baz Lurhmanns excellent movie ‘The Great Gatzby’; his over the top rendition of the classic that I think clearly captures the excess of the 1920’s including the depiction of New York; his staging of the scenes and the acting I think encapsulated Fitzgerald’s book more than the earlier movie starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; allowing one to finally understand Fitzgerald’s genius. The DVD’s special features focused on Ric Burns’ documentary ‘New York’ especially the section on Fitzgerald, capturing the magic of Manhattan, its golden years and promise. This was a brilliant move of Lurhmann to study Burns documentary about the city and use its insight to depict its essence. It is the first time one understood F. Scott Fitzgerald and what he meant to the American psyche. The movie is a  work of genius, the coming together of talents to bring to light a literary classic into the visual age; brilliant capturing the interior landscape of the book that it becomes better than the written original; that one can return to the literary tome with better insight and understanding that one would not normally see. I think Fitzgerald (like Salinger) portrayed the essence of New York and one should read him to understand the city. Fitzgerald's life is tragic, dying relatively young, an alcoholic, his wife becoming mad in a sanitarium, but his writing has an exquisite delicateness, completing several classic books and short stories. Whereas Eggers is like a writer in steroids, pushing the envelope several times, expressing a youthful enthusiasm with a tinge of darkness, emerging from a terrible tragic loss into a hopeful  future. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Epidemic of Absence

I just read a book about autoimmune therapies, ‘The Epidemic of Absence’ that describes an unorthodox cure by introducing hook worms (and other such maggots) into the bodies of people with autoimmune illness. The premise is that the immune system of the body will focus on the intruders (like viruses) as seen in less developed countries where such larvae exists; whereas in developed countries, progress has eradicated unhygienic conditions, resulting in autoimmune defenses attacking the body due to the lack of enemies like hook worms. Therefore, the cure is to re-introduce such maggots so the body’s defenses can focus on them rather than on itself. This type of cure is relegated to the fringes of the medical establishment because of the seeming lunacy of the cure but surprisingly done by a few brave souls who have lost faith in orthodox treatments that produce no results. Man does not know everything, with the inability of modern medical science to cure illnesses like autoimmune whereas logical thinking would conclude that the body’s defenses are dangerously idle if all traces of unhygienic conditions are eradicated from modern society. Therefore, it sometimes pays to be a little dirty.

The point of view is intriguing although the author himself is afflicted with autoimmune disease, the motivation of which is seeking alternative therapies, considering the failure of orthodox treatment. One is attracted to this type of counter-intuitive thinking, where authors like Malcolm Gladwell thrive in this reasoning; reading his latest book, ‘David and Goliath’; shedding new light on the underdog, the hero who is victorious against incredible odds. It is the premise of his book that the underdog is in fact the inevitable victor when viewed in a different light, where incredible odds are but the unperceived disadvantage experienced by an ‘ignorant’ superior force. It is this type of thinking that is unique, like the point of view of an avant garde artist, attacking preconceived notions; perhaps similar in feeling in the 1920’s when looking at the abstract work of Picasso, an entirely different art at that time, needing the change of old patterns of thought. Having a contrarian mind is counter to so called common sense, away from the ‘group think’ of society, seen also in investors like Warren Buffet, whose buy and hold strategy is contrary to the ‘get rich quick’ zeitgeist of modern times.

Having this type of philosophy often gives one neuroses or having a worrisome mind because of ones inability to welcome uniqueness of thought, for example an investor like Warren Buffet can stick to his guns despite the world around him constantly churning with their buy and sell schemes. Group think is the enemy of the contrarian, having a sort of direct insight to human reality, perhaps a glimpse into the truth of the matter, whose internal logic makes sense only to himself and to the divine wisdom, oblivious of the ‘group think’ prevailing around him. The madness of this ‘group think’ is brought to frantic hilariousness by Dave Eggers in his ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’; like a Jack Kerouac of the frenzied nerd mind, driven to extreme thought by the untimely death of both parents, pushing the hero towards seeking acceptance and validity in an unfair world; desperately trying to be relevant, to rise above the crowd of the young and senseless in Silicon Valley, to be an uber elite of the uber elite, driven by their family tragedy. But the book is more like a work of healing, to write in such manic deliriousness the children’s attempt to maintain normality despite their loss, achieving a sort of heroism; similar to Kerouac protagonists, going on the road to seek salvation in their manic travels.