Category Archives: Opinion

Ask More Questions & Listen More

Questions

Often times I need to take a step back from everything and ask myself, “is there an overarching theme or pattern happening in my life?” It’s fascinating to see how various facets of my life are intertwined usually to teach me – and maybe the world – something.  That current “something” is that we don’t know everything. We think we do so often, assume a bit too much, and because of that often miss something critical. We must ask more questions. It is a significant step to understanding of all manners of things, especially ourselves.

At work, I try to teach and encourage those on my team and around the company to not take anything at face value. Too often someone takes a task or project request and runs with it. At surface level, everything seems straightforward. But peel back even one layer and finding out the “why” that is driving that request and you learn that on-the-surface craziness has some context and reasoning you can support – or at least acknowledge. Or you ask your client to expand on an idea and all of a sudden a great idea is sparked to take the project to a new level or a future potential issue is avoided.

In relationships, questions are the basis for learning more about other people. You know what everyone’s favorite topic is?  What they know best of course: themselves. In my life, I have had many conversations with people without uttering much beyond my name, where I’m from or live, and a gloss over of what I do. How? By continually asking questions about just about anything they want to talk about. I’m amazed by how much others like hearing their own voice. I tap into this by keeping the focus on the other person with questions crafted and carefully selected for them.  When I’m not in the mood to talk about myself, it’s a powerful deflection tactic that works on at least 80% of people I talk to (a couple close friends are on to me.)  The only problem? When I do want to share something about my life, people still like to talk about themselves even when I’m not asking them anything. This cumulatively results in only one person feeling like they are known better; often times that person is not me. It can lead to a sense of isolation or not feeling cared about.

When it comes to ourselves, how often are we asking the really tough questions in a way that results in action or real insight? The right questions can be uncomfortable to respond to. Why? Do we not ask them because we don’t care about other people or about ourselves? Or is it because we’re afraid someone will ask us about stuff we don’t want to talk about? Maybe it’s why I direct a lot of conversation focus back to other people.

One of the worst things we do is assume we know everything we need to know from work to friendships. Without questions, we are left to assume what we don’t know, and Assuming takes you to dangerous places. So don’t be too taken aback if I ask lots of questions. It means I care and I don’t want to miss something along the way.

 

Discovering Depth in Discipline: Marathon Insights

Above: Photo gallery of Missoula and the state of Montana
It took four months of training and Saturdays where I didn’t sleep in until noon and many other nights during the week skipping out on TV, laying on the couch, or hanging out with friends over a beer or other tasty beverage. It all led up to one Sunday morning in Montana and a 26.2 mile route ahead of me. The Missoula Marathon had finally arrived. But there was so much more than just those 5+ hours to share.

I could write about the time in Montana before, during, and after the race. I could share about Troy, the guy at “The Hub” who told us about so many great things to do around  the area; about Doug, the guy who took us via boat and led our expedition across Flathead Lake over to Wild Horse Island and dropped knowledge and factoids like sick beats; and then there were the various events and friendly faces around Missoula that made our time there magical.

It’s already been three weeks since the race and there’s still elements of the total experience that I’m unpacking in my mind. I can share what I’ve learned about running and myself so far:

Training stretches you beyond your limits (almost) without you noticing. It’s hard to believe that before March of this year, the longest I had ever run was 5 miles and that by July I considered that a “short” mid-week run. The small incremental jumps in distance in each week trained my body to take on a little more, mostly in chunks it could handle.

Training is MUCH better with others. I don’t know if I could have done this without others, especially for the weekly long runs. Even without many words, the encouragement of having a friend or two by your side does wonders for your ability to continue going.

Big goals require a lot more change in your life than you plan for.  By far the biggest noticeable adjustment for me was not sleeping in on Saturdays. For anyone who knows me, Saturday morning is not a time you assume I’m awake or available for anything. Waking up as early as 5AM once to get my training run in took me way outside my comfort zone.

The body and mind is capable of far more than we normally give it credit for.  Growing up and living with asthma, running long distances never seemed to be something attainable to me. In the last few years I seem to have mostly grown out of it, however, and it allowed me to complete a marathon.

With this achievement under my belt, I look ahead to what else I can do. Perhaps it will be another marathon to push for a faster time, or to improve and increase my writing abilities, or to actually learn how to fix more stuff around the house. At the expense of sounding cheesy, “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” (Marty McFly, Back to the Future).

me at Missoula Marathon

You Won’t Believe How You Feel After Reading This

I don’t know about you, the reader, but I grow more concerned and fearful every day that our culture is falling deeper into this trap of wanting more “wow factor” out of just about everything we experience. And of course, these experiences cannot come from a longer drawn out process. No, they must be instant, emotionally touching (but only positive), and promise to change how you view the world. This has become a noteworthy characteristic of places like Upworthy and similar viral content focused sites. Social media sharing has primarily become about the feel good moment.

However, leave it to news outlets to pick up the slack on the other end of the spectrum. We all know by now how the news (perhaps a misused term these days) use outlandish titles and exaggerated terminology to describe just about everything to keep us hooked in. This is nothing new and has been a tactic used for decades.

Social media, and us as creators of most of that media, have fallen right into the same patterns that has made us hate the news and write that way in status updates. We even do it in our day to day conversation. Our stories must be dramatic, “epic”, “amazeballs”, or whatever other terms are in now. (I’m clearly showing some age now.) It hasn’t helped that we’ve been telling our kids and each other we’re all “different and unique” in our own special ways. So now we all think we have some great story to tell – and really some of us do. I have wondered before how the Internet and social media channels have increased our narcissism or simply given us an outlet for what was always there. And thanks to Facebook, we all have a mini montage of our lives with a emotion-inducing soundtrack to watch and share in case you weren’t there the first when you posted all of it.

I’m waiting to see the day when this one-upping of everything bubble will burst like the early 2000’s tech bubble or the mid 2000’s housing bubble. This can’t go on for much longer without it imploding.  In ways, I look forward to seeing where we can do next. Perhaps it’ll be a world where solid content speaks for itself and we can analyze and identify it for what it truly is instead of being told it’s the best thing we’ve ever read. No seriously – THE BEST.

When the Clouds Break

yay cloud Oh the almighty “Cloud”. How we love you and your convenient ways! You are there for us everywhere we go ready to serve us whatever we want, from social media updates to funny YouTube clips, filtered Instagram photos, and even useful stuff like email. You know what the best part about you is, Cloud? You offer so much of it for free. That makes us happy!

Yet you anger us so when you decide to take away things we loved so dearly, like Google Reader, perhaps the most well known and best RSS reader. What made it worse is you didn’t ask us first if we were done using it. How dare you. I deserve free stuff for as long as I deem it something worthwhile to me.

We’ve come to expect that whatever we currently use in the cloud will be there forever whenever we need it. The responsibility shift in computing and data storage is gradually moving from self to others. We don’t want to maintain or manage anything. Let someone else do the dirty work and figure out how to not lose my music, photos, documents, and email. Why should I have to keep track of all that? I’m clearly too important and busy to figure it out.

This trending mentality sheds light on a couple things. 1) We don’t like to take responsibility for much as people and prefer someone else be in charge of keeping those servers that hold bytes that define much of who we think we are. 2) We demand a lot on stuff that we don’t pay for.

In light of recent severe weather in the Chicago area, I was reminded that I need to create & maintain a better backup solution for my personal files. Thankfully I didn’t lose any data (or other valuable items) in my minor basement flooding. However, this has reignited my search for a solution including looking into external drives I store in the house along with cloud based options. And at the same time, I need to have a backup solution in place for all that important that’s only stored online.

As I figure out my plans for saving everything in triplicate, I’ll share those details here.

Is Talking on the Phone Really That Bad?

As I broke from some blog cleanup and preparation for an article or two, I came across a Google+ post and discussion thread about phone calls. If you read these two threads, you’ll discover a sentiment that they may in fact be the worst thing mankind has ever had to deal with. Read the threads for yourselves:

 

John's Phone - white

 

(I want this phone. Image “borrowed” of johnsphones.com)

It got me wondering: is talking on the phone really that bad? And if so, why?

Continue reading

Sabbatical flashback: Space to ponder

One of my favorite things about sabbatical life was the unmatched amount of free time I had. Schedules didn’t exist except when I needed to travel between cities. I spent a lot of time hanging out in the parks of Prague and wandering around streets like those above. It gave me such an incredible amount of time to just… be. A few of you read results of that time to think on the blog a year ago. The rest of my thoughts made their way into a written journal I kept throughout the trip, the contents which I still read over to this day.

I also found myself noticing everything around me from old architecture to how people interacted with each other in parks or restaurants to chalk sidewalk artwork (seen below). My lack of understanding the Czech language basically allowed me to watch everything around me without distraction of unavoidable eavesdropping. It was fun to watch life happen around me, at least for a while.

I also thought I went over there waiting for the epic grand adventure one may assume you have when you travel overseas. I think the fact that I’m still processing ideas from a year ago and thinking about what I saw and how a month of travel alone opened up my eyes to who I am is part of that adventure. There’s still more to go… but that’s for another post.

Look at the Pretty Pictures!

GOTCHA!

This post will not be filled with pictures, pretty, cute, or otherwise. Instead, I will be throwing words at your eyes.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a growing trend that pictures are the way to go when you want to share just about anything online. From weekend party updates to jokes to that inspirational quote by the Dali Lama in a picture next to a picture of the Dali Lama (did that quote really become more powerful because it’s in JPEG format?), it’s quickly becoming the de facto method of information sharing on social networks. However, the trend cannot be overlooked by the fact that entire social networks like Instagram and Pinterest have been built around photo sharing. Sites and mobile applications are putting increasing focus and efforts into viewing beautiful photos. Everything we do must be photographed and shared with all the world. Right?

Words are a distant second place to our eyes and minds. But why?

Perhaps it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet for every image we share, I highly doubt it’s replacing 1000 words we would’ve written out instead. So why the enhanced focus on photo sharing in culture? Are words losing their power? Do photos better convey our message?  I’ve wondered if we’ve become too “busy” to mentally process sentences and ideas. A better way to say it is we’re becoming lazy. I fear we’re becoming dumber combined with laziness when it comes to how we process information. Are we unwilling to put in the time to understand the written word, especially when it’s longer than a few paragraphs? Will we (continue to) lose our ability to think critically if all we ever present ourselves with are images and short phrases overlayed on said images? Not all ideas can be expressed in short sentences and photos.

I will confess part of my questioning and challenge of the Pretty Picture/Shiny Things Syndrome comes out of a time when the Internet was about sharing information in a textual format and when bandwidth was scarce and something to be used cautiously lest you sit and wait minutes or hours for your content to download (and you liked it!) I was raised to take in information in word format. Pictures and graphs were exciting things you found in your copy of Microsoft Encarta when you wrote high school papers.

It is no secret the proliferation of higher speed Internet everywhere we go makes photo sharing more enticing that quick text status updates. It has also given us the ability to share images of whatever we’re eating whenever we want (guilty!) But do they tell a better story, particularly in the long term? Moreover, will the original message still be there years later? Maybe this is a small part of why I got back into more book reading in the past year and a half.

Admittedly, I struggled with this whole topic and whether or not there’s any reason to argue against it. My enjoyment of humorous pics will not lessen anytime soon, nor will I likely slow down my own photo sharing. Sometimes words truly can’t capture the essence of nachos all over your car at 3AM on a Saturday night. However, trying to share your opinion through some political or inspirational image with a quote on it will not be telling me much about your own thoughts unless you provide it in your own words.

 

I Complain, but Only Socially

There may be some irony in writing about my issues with people who complain online, much like those people who are online for the days leading up to Lent broadcasting their giving up of Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/something online. My hope is to share my reflections on all the complaining I read online.

What is your purpose in sharing with everyone that you can’t stand your boss or how tired you are because you stayed out too late last night? Attention? Advice? (Hint: Probably the former in almost all situations.)The ability to share has become so easy and readily available that we often fail to filter our thoughts properly – or at all. It’s one thing to vent to a couple friends over a drink at a bar. It’s more private. It’s conversational. Your friends can corroborate with you in real time. You can banter back and forth. But most of all, your friends can speak (or smack) sense into you if you sound like an idiot.

When you examine someone’s stream of consciousness on Facebook or Twitter, for example, take note of overall themes of content. Is the content focused on a certain topic? Or is it completely random? But perhaps most interestingly, what vibe does it give off? I have a few friends on Facebook and some I follow on Twitter who seem to find it difficult to find positive things to say. I often wonder why they choose to share the things they do on such a consistent basis. After a while, it gets really old and nobody wants to hear it anymore.

I also wonder if those who do complain about themselves or everything else in the world really think it’s so terrible that all that’s left to try and feel better is vent about everything online. By the way, this also works well in the “I can’t sleep so I’m here on Facebook” or “should be doing something else more important than Facebook, but am on Facebook” situations. Pro-tip: Facebook friends will not help you sleep or get back on task. Ever.

Though perhaps I take the biggest issue with those who complain merely to complain. Don’t mistake me for someone who think you should bottle up everything that bothers you. The problem comes in when venting or complaining is happening strictly for the sake of itself. Have a problem with your workout schedule or lack thereof? Start going to the gym, running outside, or otherwise get off your butt. Spending too much time on social networks? Spend less time on them! Got a beef with something the government is doing? Sure we can talk about it, but if you want to try and be part of the solution, contact your representative and make your voice heard. Besides, I’m pretty sure those pictures you share on Facebook that have some slam or inspirational quote about how government should be something it currently isn’t has little to no effect on the actual government.

My main point is this: if you’re going to point out flaws in something, at least put the energy into finding or being part of the solution. Otherwise, I’m not really sure what your point is in making a big fuss over it. It’s a waste of energy and time that could be better spent doing something else.