Archive for category lifestyle

2021 is Here: What’s the Excuse Now?

A lot of things didn’t get done in 2020 because it was deemed as the main blocker to everything; somehow, the year was perceived to have such power.

I kept myself thinking “Comes January 1st, how is it going to be different?”.

So here we are, it’s January 1st of 2021. What’s the excuse now?

When I opened the notebook to do my journaling this morning, coincidentally, I was presented with this quote at the top of the page (and no, this notebook isn’t calendar-based):

In life you can have an excuse, or you can have an obstacle that is an opportunity to learn and to grow. Observe your thoughts and throw away your excuses! – Dean Graziosi

Since the pandemic started I was decided not to wait for things to get better; instead, I had decided to make things get better, however possible. As I look back, I’ve succeeded at times, I’ve failed at times, but I never stopped. And that’s how I’m continuing on.

No excuses!

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Leveraging Constraints

When we’re constrained, we have a chance to get creative. This is a topic that keeps coming up, and I have been thinking about how this has applies to my life.

I hadn’t heard of Dr. Seuss until I moved to the US. I enjoyed reading the back story to his Green Eggs and Ham book, in which he took on a bet that he could write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words.

Somewhere else (I can’t find the source now, but I believe it was on a blog post by Tim Ferriss), there’s the question of “how would we do that if we only had one third of the resource?”, so 1 month instead of 3, $10k instead of $30k.

In his autobiography, Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to be an actor, but was told he’d never make it, because he had a name nobody can speak or spell, a thich accent, and a huge body that won’t look good on camera. He used those Underdog Advantages in his favor. The Obstacle is the Way also talks about this idea.

More recently, I’ve read the following in this book: “Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a Being lack? The answer: Limitation.

I think back to when I was a kid and video-game magazines started to give away cheat codes that turned us unbeatable. After trying it on one or two games, I realized I quickly lost interest in those games. What was the point of playing it if I can do everything effortlessly?

When I got injured last year and it took me 3 months to be fully-recovered, I made a point to myself of pushing through it regardless of my physical limitations and pain during that time, and ended up being more productive than during the months leading into it.

In 2020, with the limitations imposed by the pandemic, I’ve once again focused on a system that allowed me to push through it, and got a TON of valuable things done, which mightn’t be the case if the year had just been a smooth sail.

I’m now experimenting with creating self-imposed constraints on a number of projects and tasks.

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My Favorite Quotes in 2020

Back in 2017, I’ve put out a blog post about Quotes that Inspire Me. As it turns out, I’m still using the same sources for quotes I was using back then, but I’ve also added a couple more (I may share the new ones if they stick around with me a little longer).

Below is the list of quotes I’ve enjoyed the most in 2020. As I review them, I realize they have inspired many of my blog posts.

Enjoy!

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” – Cyril Connolly

“Most people quit because they look how far they have to go, not how far they have come.” – Anonymous

“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create.” – Jana Kingsford

“Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.” – Haruki Murakami

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” – Fred Rogers

“Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” – James Clear

“He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” – Jean-Luc Godard

“A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals character” – (I don’t know the author)

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” – Anaïs Nin

“Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.” – Ben Okri

“Do not wish for an easy life. Wish for the strength to endure a difficult one.” – Bruce Lee

“There are seven days in the week and someday isn’t one of them.” – Unknown

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle

“‎Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of others, instead, seek what they sought.” – Matsuo Basho

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” – Vince Lombardi

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

“You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” – James Clear

“Don’t write to sound smart. Write to be useful. If you’re useful over a long time period, you will end up looking smart anyway.” – James Clear

“It’s a job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Vision is the bottleneck of talent. Most talent is wasted because people do not clearly know what they want. It’s not a lack of effort, but a lack of direction. There are many capable people in the world, but relatively few that focus on what matters.” – James Clear

“There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela

“Ask yourself, who do you want to be? Figure out for yourself what makes you happy, no matter how crazy it may sound to other people.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” – Bill Nye

“Go beyond yourself rather than beyond others.” – Unknown

“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the business of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” – Stephen Covey

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside” – Marcus Aurelius

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Do You Want Good or Bad News First?

How often are we asked “I have good news and bad news: which one do you want first?”. Whose decision is it to define news as either good or bad? How about we simply say: “I have news. Would you like to hear it?”

What’s good for one person, may be (it often is) bad for another:

“YES! Great news: my team has won the championship!”. I know, you team beat mine. Good for you, bad for me.

“Woohoo, I got a new job!”. I know, that means all of the other candidates didn’t. But hey, maybe one of those candidates ended up landing an even better job. Better for whom?

“Sir, you arrived too late. The gate is already closed and you can’t board flight 123.
“What? << insert an endless list of bad words and insults here >>”. Bad news?
Thirty minutes later: “Breaking News: flight 123 has crashed, claiming the lives of all people on board

Bad News (“can’t get on the plane“) turned to Good News (“I didn’t die!”) for Mr. Dirtymouth?
Good News (“we boarded”) turned to Bad News (“we died”) for all passengers who got on the plane?

Relaying news to others without loading it with our personal bias is a very hard thing to do. Our choice of words, the intonation, the emphasis, the body language, the facial expression… all of those things can influence howa person receives and perceives the news. As if our constant struggle with the story we tell ourselveswasn’t hard enough.

Learning to take a step back and separate facts from interpretation and judgment requires a constant deliberate practice.

Your first reaction is usually outdated. – Derek Sivers

Is that good or bad news? We’ll see (yet another great post by Sivers).

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Time Will Pass Anyway

“Slow progress? So what, time will pass one way or another.” I don’t remember where I’ve read that quote, but I always think of it. Much like this one, which I’ve read on The Artist’s Way:

Student: “But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?”
Teacher: “Yes… the same age you will be if you don’t.”

Not far from what I’ve shared about the Search for Perfection.

When I release my latest song, an old friend told me this: “I see your videos and think they’re really cool, and I feel envious because I can’t get my stuff together like you do.

That comment inspired this post, which contains some of the things I’ve shared with him…

The main riffs for that song were written 10 years ago. I wrote the main ideas for the lyrics 5 years ago, and I finished the main structure of the song around the same time. I started recording the song in April this year. I’ve only finished lyrics, vocals, guitar solos around September/October, and the song was finally released in November.

Ten years.

I have many other songs that have been in-progress for years now: 5 years for two of them, 13 years for another, and there’s one sitting in the backburner that goes back to 1995.

Do all of my songs take that long from initial conception to release? No. Sometimes it takes me as little as 2 to 3 months. No specific reason; I may just feel like I have all of the parts and so it happens I have the time to get it all done quickly.

However little time I have, I record song ideas on my phone and store it away in a backlog. I write ideas for lyrics and put it away. Every once in a while, I listen back to those ideas, and if I feel an urge to work on any one of them, I make the time and make some progress. Sometimes I may be able to wrap it all up within a month, other times it may take me years. No biggie.

For me, it’s important to get it started, get the ball rolling. When it’s done, it’s done. Time has passed. Progress has been made. Results have been achieved.

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The Search for Perfection

“Perfection” has an expiration date. Yesterday’s perfect may be today’s “meh”.
Not to long ago, I was watching Tony Robbins’ interview with Shaun White. When they mentioned Shaun’s Perfect 100 Score at the 2012 Winter X Games, I looked for it YouTube. To me, it looked stunning. It’s just unbeliable that people can do that. As I scroll down the comments, I see this one: “Probably a 93 today”.

A perfect score yesterday won’t guarantee a perfect score today. Not without work towards progress. Yesterday’s competitors will learn from that perfect score. I like this sentence I’ve read in The Obstacle is the Way: think progress, not perfection.

Year’s ago, I’ve read Derek Sivers’ summary of the Art and Fear book. This passage has stuck with me:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be greaded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weight the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

“Better good today than perfect tomorrow”, comes to mind.

I keep those things in mind whenever I see myself with tons of ideas, but not starting them because I may not have what I consider ideal to get it done (“not enough time”, “not enough money”, “not enough skills”, etc.).

I have been putting out many songs over the last several years. Everytime I’m working on a new one, I may think “if I learn how to play the drums better”, “if I learn more music theory”, “if I learn how to sing better”. But I’m getting better at realizing I’m falling into that trap and quickly shifting into getting it started, working on it, getting it done, and moving on. Next time, it gets a little better, and so it does the time after that. Instead of waiting 10 years to have the perfect song (which I know won’t happen), I get done however I can, with whatever I have.

 

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Use Your Voice

Quite often, we give up on writing a blog post, an article, a new talk, because we think “it’s already been done, why should I bother?”. For example, we might have finally grasped one of the SOLID principles. Hooray! Success. We have to tell others of our epiphany. But then, why not tell others to simply go listen to uncle Bob?

I believe that, like most people, you follow some sort of news…

  • How do you decide what type of news to follow (technology, politics, entertainment, sports…)? I’d guess you pick the ones you’re particularly interested in, as it applies to your life, your work, your current situation…
  • How do you decide which news channel to follow? I’d guess you choose those better aligned with your own views. Maybe you look for those with your favorite sense of humor, or thoughtfulness, or… there’s a reason (or many) why you choose one news channels over another

Every day, the same news are delivered through several channels and types of media. But why? Couldn’t there be just one?

Different people will find different information through different paths. I find information I’m looking for or authors through my research on software development, on music, or motorcycle riding, on productivity, on lifestyle.

There are news sources I’ll never consume at a given moment in my life because of a number of reasons:

  • maybe I can’t relate to the way they deliver their message
  • maybe I don’t agree with them in that moment (opinions can always change)
  • maybe I’m not educated to the level the news are being delivered…

I don’t mind sharing things I have just learned, regardless of how basic it might be. If I don’t share it, there’s always a chance some people would have never known about it. I can’t count how many times I’ve shared something and heard “oh, I didn’t know that”, even though it was something taken from granted by many.

An example that always come to mind for me takes us back to the first paragraph in this post: SOLID principles. After a couple of years of having heard of the Liskov Substitution Principle (LSP), I’ve run into a situation where it finally made sense to me, and I felt like I could articulate that as an example to explain it to others. I sat down, wrote about my experience, took some screenshots showing the code, published the post, and moved on.

Ten years later, that post is my top most-viewed one (31k versus 8k of the post in 2nd place), and it’s been the most viewed every month. I keep getting visits to that post coming from sources I can’t even read the language, which makes me believe those people learned the topic through my words, through my voice. Maybe they’ve all heard of LSP through Uncle Bob, but couldn’t quite grasp it (which was my case). Maybe after reading my post, they went back to Uncle Bob’s writings and were able to understand it better from the newly-gained perspective.

Use your voice. Get your word out. There is always someone listening.

It may be the tone of your voice, you’re accent, your background, your style, your mannerisms, the things that either frustrate or motivate you… those are all things that can possibly draw people to you.

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Communities and Networking

Just a couple of weeks ago, I’ve blogged about The Importance of Technical Communities (the ideas really apply to any community in general, much like what I do with my motorcycle track riding community). In this post, I’ll focus on the networking side of getting involved with communities.

Every week, I share things on the Virtual Brown Bag; I may share an article or book I’ve read, a challenge I’m facing at work, a successful way I’ve found to implement something. Whatever the case might be, once I’ve shared it with the community, I’ve planted a seed in their minds: should they either run into the same challenges or solutions to it, they’ll think of me. They’ll know who to either ask questions or offer help to, or make connections (“Hey, Claudio, last week you mentioned you were having issues with Cypress. I mentioned it to a co-worker and he has the solution. He’ll be reaching out to you!”).

I’ve talked about similar things when I shared my thoughts on “fake until you make/become it”. We don’t need to figure it all out by ourselves. We don’t need to fake it. Others will help, but we need to either ask for their help or let them know that they could possibly help us.

Every month, I update my “Now page”; that’s an easy way for people to know what I’m up to. A few months ago, I mentioned I was starting to work with Angular. Less than half an hour after I’ve posted it, an old co-worker who I hadn’t talked to for a few years reached out to say he’s done a lot of work with Angular and I should keep him in mind if I had any questions. We also took the chance to catch up with life in general.

Last week, I’ve read Derek Sivers’ writing on how you can take a situation that may not be ideal and flip it in your favor. He touches on “it’s all who you know”, and got me thinking about how my professional career started; I walked to my whiteboard and sketched out my career map up to today, calling out every single person somehow responsible to pivotal moments. How did I meet them? How have they helped? Have I been keeping in touch with them? Have I expressed my gratitude to them?

A good book I’ve read on the subjet of networking is The Power of Who.

Our communities and networks can (and should) be connected. People in my technical communities are aware of my involvement with motorcycle track riders; those riders are aware of my involvement with software development. They are all aware of my activities as a musician. These are all opportunities to connect with people, expand my network, offer help, get help, improve, grow.

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Reading vs Gaming: Where did my time go?

I used to spend a lot of time playing video games as a kid. Loved my Atari 2600!! Shortly after I started working full-time at age 14, I bought my first computer. After spending what I thought to be too much time playing Wolfenstein 3D and Doom on my computer, I decided I should never have games installed on my computers. And that’s how it has been ever since: I do not play computer games.

Shortly after getting my first iPhone (v2), I ended up getting some games on it. I’ve played the heck out of Angry Birds! At one point, I noticed I was spending too much time playing Doodle Jump. Yeah, this game…

The game has a stats feature. When I saw the total time I had spent on that game, I was not happy. I don’t remember what the number was, but it added up to a few days.

I couldn’t believe I had spent that much of my life on such a thing. I thought about many other activities I could have done in that amount of time and realized I’d be much happier if had spent such time in those activities instead (working on my music, sharpening skills I use to make a living, reading great books…).

So I decided to never have games on my phone again. And it has been like that since 2010.

When I first moved to the US in 2002, my first guilty pleasure was a 1st generation X-Box (videogame consoles are ridiculously expensive in Brazil!). I used to play on it for several hours some weekends. I’ve had the X-Box 360 and currently have the X-Box One X. So, how do I handle it these days?

For the last year or so, I’ve been tracking my time spent on certain activities using the ATracker app on my phone. The activities I track may vary, based on what I’m trying to improve in my life:

  • If I feel like I’m spending too much time on a given type of activity, I track it;
  • If I feel like I’m not spending enough time on a given activity, I track it;
  • In a given month, I may want to make sure I spend more time working on my music;
  • On another, I may want to spend more time catching up with friends.

I use time tracking as a tool to keep myself accountable.

Since March, I’ve been track the time I spent reading books vs the time I spend on the video game. When I pull up the app, I want to see no more than 20% of my tracked time going into video games over the last 30-day period. Playing games is fun, but I also get a lot of fun out of reading, and can get even better things out of it.

As I pulled up my phone right now to check the time tracker, I see 76% reading and 24% gaming, which tells me I need to focus on getting more reading done over the next couple days, before I think of video games.

When I do play video game, I deliberately set how long I’ll play (usually 30 minutes, sometimes 1 or 2 hours), and I have the ATracker timer in a visible spot at all times.

Temperance.

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Gave my first talk in Spanish ever!

One of my goals for this year was to improve my Spanish. One of the milestones was to give my first talk in Spanish. It happened yesterday.

“Big deal, you are from Brazil, you speak Spanish!”. Not really. “But it’s very similar, isn’t it?”. Sometimes. “It should make it easier for you to learn Spanish, right?”. Well, I can now officially say it: No, it doesn’t. Quite the opposite.

But let me reminisce about things…

After I got involved with technical communities and gave my first talk in Portuguese, people said they enjoyed it, that they were entertained and learned things. So I kept giving talks. When I moved the US, one of my goals was to continue giving talks, so I had to work hard on my English.

I gave my first technical talk in English to a few of co-workers back in 2003, and specifically asked them to write down any tips they could give me in regards to my English. I know I have a video of that somewhere. At the time I’d get every one of my talks on video so I could later watch and look for areas of improvement. I’m always interested in the nuances of the languages: the subtle pronunciation of certain letters and how it varies when words are strung together, the choice of words based on context and message we want to get across, etc.

The talk I gave in Spanish yesterday is a relatively new one. I’ve only given it once, earlier this year. I was thinking in English during its creation, since the main target would be English-speaking attendees. In the past, I have taken a talk created in English and then delivered it in Portuguese, and I remember getting stuck at times, even though Portuguese is my primary language. I was sure I’d get stuck in Spanish today. And I felt I did.

My attendees today were my very kind Spanish-speaking co-workers, who signed up to my talk and gave me feedback at the end.

Spanish and Portuguese do have words that sound similar. Some of the grammar is also similar. But not all of it. And that’s where things break down. Sometimes, I used the correct Spanish words in a sentence, but the structure of the sentence was wrong: unintentionally, I used the Portuguese struture, which then produced improper Spanish. Sometimes, I said words that sounded half-Spanish and half-Portuguese, because they’re very similar, but yet, spelled and pronounced differently.

My co-workes assured me my talk went fine and the mistakes didn’t seem to cause them to misunderstand what I was saying. That is great and it encourages me to keep pushing it and offer talks for more Spanish-speaking venues.

I’ve always been very hard on myself in regards to languages and I will work hard on the feedback I’ve received, as it gives me very specific points I can focus on.

To finish this post, I’d like to call back to my Know, Say, Do post: just knowing Spanish isn’t enough, just saying a few words here and there isn’t enough… I had to do it, and giving a talk is a way I knew for sure would raise my stakes and give me something to aim at.

Note: I started my talk yesterday showing my acoustic guitar and saying “if my Spanish doesn’t work, I’ll just pick up the guitar and start playing something”. 🙂

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