Being Completely Age-Inappropriate

I’m not completely sure why – but I started skateboarding. I’m a mostly fully grown 32 year old man and I pulled the skateboard I barely used as a 12 year old out of the garage. A skateboard I’ve dragged around with me as an adult but never touched.

It’s about the least appropriate sport-like-activity I can think of for a person of my age. A friend of mine decided to try and skateboard, clearly she is a little mad, yet one week later I was doing the same thing.

Tomorrow marks the 2 week point in my “skateboarding experience”.

Being an adult, and an (almost) textbook type A personality, I set some goals.

It turns out skateboarding is a seasonal thing (summer) as I’m told skateboards basically self-destruct in the rain. Given it is late autumn that makes it almost the worst possible time to pick up the hobby.

I decided making sure I got out every day for 7 days, despite the weather. If I only managed 5-10 minutes that day still counted. I wanted to be able to roll around comfortably, and learn how to “ollie” (jump the board) in that time. My lunch breaks became short, well timed excursions between rain clouds.

I jumped on Google Maps and located all of the large chunks of concrete in my neighborhood. I was too embarrassed to learn to skate on the sidewalk outside my house. I located an old, deserted tennis court and breathed a sigh of relief.

2 weeks later I’m still skateboarding. I haven’t destroyed myself as of yet, though almost every component of my childhood skateboard has died a gruesome death and I’m rolling around on a shiny new board.

What have I learned?

  1. It’s amazing what terrifies you when you no longer have solid ground under your feet. Mountain biking has no crossover into skateboarding despite being wheel based.
  2. When you’re old, you always think in terms of consequence rather than fun.
  3. Old people have terrible balance. Karate helps a lot here and I’d hate to think what my balance would be like today without it.
  4. Old people don’t know how to fall over. Karate fortunately comes to the rescue here once again.
  5. I am embarrassed to have strangers see me suck at something. I don’t seem to have such a big problem doing things I’m good at in front of strangers though.
  6. Taking on new, completely unexpected things expands your horizons both mentally and physically.
  7. Reminding yourself you don’t know everything, and you aren’t good at everything is important. The beginners mind is vital.

My daughter is a big fan of the new challenge – rolling around in the kitchen on a skateboard is right up her alley. The dog is also highly agreeable as that just means more walks. My wife just smiles and shakes her head, an understandable position to take.

Next stop – pogo sticking! (is that even how you say that?)

 

Living In One Of The Most Expensive Places On Earth

I live in a crazy place.

The average house price is now over 1 million dollars making it one of the least affordable places to live in the world. It may be the least affordable town of its size in the world (population 28,000).

When you look at it like that – it’s a pretty stupid place to live unless you are highly affluent.

We live here because it is stunningly beautiful. A small, clean, safe town in the mountains with big infrastructure and an international airport.

In reality, though, most of the New Zealand is like that to some degree or another.

I had planned to write a piece about how much people struggle here.

How hard it is to buy a home.

How expensive everything is.

I’m not sure what I expected though, this town is just really expensive and clearly the wrong place for most people to live.

I’m glad I’ve cleared that up for myself. 😉

The Gratitude List

Here is a list of the things I am grateful for:

I am grateful that I was lucky enough to be born, and born healthy. So many kids aren’t that lucky and it can be truly hellish for all involved.

I am grateful that when I was born, my parents lived in an affluent, safe country. A dice roll that I really couldn’t have done too much better on. I’ve always been lucky with the 1d20.

I am grateful to have fantastic parents that love and care for me. I think ‘nurture’ has the lions share vs ‘nature’. I think you ‘build’ good kids – their genetics are secondary.

I am grateful that I have siblings. Though I’m not super close to my siblings, it’s great to have friends along for the ride and I’m lucky they are so relatively close.

I am grateful to have had the luxury of a quality education. My parents put me through the best schools money could buy in my home town. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, and I really dislike the modern educational system for a couple of reasons – but it is hugely superior to no education at all.

I am grateful to have had a home to live in growing up, food to eat and clothes to wear. My basic necessities were always more than met.

I am grateful to have had a few really close school friends. As a 32 year old it is really special to have a half dozen gentlemen I’ve known since either kindergarten or school that I still have contact with. I’ll catch up with them all once a week for long stretches of the year.

I am grateful to have come from a home where my parents demonstrated a functional marriage to their children.

I am grateful to have have spent all of 2005 either in hospital, or at home recovering in preparation for my next surgery/hospital stay.

I am grateful that at times I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die in 2005. This sounds overly dramatic, but prior to my illness I had lost what little focus I’d had as a young adult and was floating around aimlessly. I was not achieving, and I was wasting a quality education. I left hospital a few days before I turned 21 and I was a different person. I had developed some level of mental toughness, and significant perspective.

I am grateful to have met and married my strong, wise, intelligent and beautiful wife.

I am grateful to have and know my parents as an adult. Having an adult to adult relationship with your parents it an incredible thing. Sharing your hobbies with your parents is a lot of fun.

I am grateful that I have a healthy, spectacular baby daughter. She simultaneously changed nothing, and everything for our family. Many folks simply cannot have children regardless of their efforts. I often wish I could clone my daughter, a second child like her would be massively indulgent. I fear if I had a second child, that child would be a real pain in the ass to return balance to the force. (sorry non-existent second child)

I am grateful that I have a healthy, functional marriage.

I am grateful that I was introduced to music by my parents. I am unspeakably grateful that they all but forced me to attend 8? (I don’t remember) years of violin classes as a child. I didn’t enjoy them, but they gave me a musical gift. I sometimes feel like I have “an ear” I am not worthy of possessing. This was possibly the best thing I was ever forced to do. My poor parents must have sat through hundreds of hours of absolutely horrendous “music” performed by myself and my siblings. My parents are clearly warriors.

I am grateful that I have so many positive hobbies.

I am grateful that I was introduced to traditional karate by my father, and returned to it as an adult. Karate gives me a physical focus, and reinforces mental discipline.

I am grateful to be able to share my karate journey with my father. I saw him achieve his 1st dan black belt in Okinawa. He is about 200 years old. Pretty sharp for a 200 year old.

I am grateful that I am stronger every year than I was the last. It is slow going, and it isn’t easy.

I am grateful to have found work that I enjoy. I run my own businesses and work predominantly as a software engineer building web applications and websites for SMEs. I really enjoyed the first thing I put my mind to out of the gate. Very rare, very lucky, and yet another gift. I am also able to generate significant (at least from my perspective!) income from the profession I enjoy, and help other human beings in a meaningful way.

I am grateful that me and my wider family are healthy enough.

 

What a monster of a list. I could certainly keep going.

Thank you universe.

Communication And Trust

I am reminded almost every day just how ridiculously important communication is.

I’m sure that’s no surprise to anyone, but it’s one thing to nod and agree, quite another to experience it in a consistent and visceral fashion.

I am a software engineer by trade and I run a couple of small businesses. Communication is more important than the code I write, the products I sell and the services I provide.

Communication brings clients in the door.

Communication retains my clients.

Communication defines whatever problem needs to be solved.

Those elements of communication come together to earn trust.

That trust turns into money.

If I decreased the talent level of myself and my team in the software world, but increased our communication skills – we’d make more money and our clients would be happier. There is obviously a point at which this is no longer true (the point at which we are little more than drunken apes smashing away at a keyboard and hoping code pops out the other end) – but a mediocre product or service with great communication wins verses a great product with mediocre communication 99.9% of the time.

The 0.01% is the home of products or services with no competition what-so-ever.

People (myself included) tend to obsess about the little things. We obsess about honing our craft, about doing amazing work, about being technically magnificent. I look at a lot of code and think “damn, I could have made this code better”. It is very rare for me to look at code I wrote a year or two ago and to be completely satisfied.

0.01% of the world actually cares about your skills moving from 95% to 96% awesome. As long as you’re good enough to get the job done, and do it well, you’ll be considered “good enough”. From there it just comes down to the quality of your communication. No client you’re likely to meet knows the difference between code written by a good programmer and a great programmer, or a great programmer and an amazing programmer.

It’s a little sad, but that’s the way it is, and it’s true across almost all fields. Diminishing returns dictate that unless that one thing is all you care about, you’d be better served focusing somewhere else.

The same is as true personally as it is commercially.

A marriage is 90% communication, 10% trying no to be a twat (your numbers may vary).

The vast majority of humans don’t care how much you can deadlift, how great your code is, or how stunningly beautiful your joinery is.

They care about how you interact with them and how you make them feel.

Teaching Kids Karate And Chinese Whispers

One day my karate sensei (my teacher) came to me and told me I should start a kids karate class. Our own club, founded in 1989 was started in a very similar way. His sensei told him he should start a dojo, and he did what sensei asked.

I was nervous. We were pretty happy not having to deal with kids in the club, and we’d talked about that in the past with glee. Teaching adults was reasonably straight forward, children not so much.

I thought about it for a while, and ultimately did what any good student would do – exactly what sensei says.

So I began teaching children, and fortunately for me it turns out teaching kids is awesome.

It is a great service, and effects peoples lives in a truly meaningful way.

It is little surprise then that teaching is also a lot of work.

It requires that you are actually proficient in the skills you are trying to pass on, preferably highly proficient. It requires that you have a great deal of tenacity. It requires that you enjoy the time you spend teaching.

Without those three things you can absolutely perform the act of teaching, I just don’t think you can teach very well, and there are certainly plenty of poor to mediocre teachers out there!

Teaching karate is different to teaching most other things in that you are also preserving legacy. You are teaching things that, in the case of traditional martial arts, have been passed down from teacher to student for centuries. Chinese whispers might be a fun game, but no one likes the “Chinese whispers” version of traditional martial arts where every person taught goes on to make changes themselves, and the core art form is lost.

The message is ruined.

That is frankly, a little intimidating.

I don’t want to change the message, I like the existing message a lot. Sloppy karate teachers with sloppy technique can’t help but change things with their mistakes and failings, and that accidentally distorts the message of traditional karate.

Holding real proficiency is important. You won’t be perfect, but that doesn’t matter. You just need to try to be. My karate isn’t great by any means, and it will probably never be “great”.

What really matters is that you strive for consistent, genuine and purposeful self-improvement.

There are no great karate teachers that just “coast along” or “cruise”.

Training kids in the 6+ age range is a challenge. You’re not dealing with teenagers, you’re dealing with kids that are barely in school. I often tell parents that my goal is to have fun and “trick them” into learning a little bit of karate along the way.

They won’t learn anywhere near as quickly as you’d like them to.

They won’t go home and practice.

They will come back from school break and have forgotten a lot.

They will randomly regress and start doing things wrong, even after you think you’ve corrected that issue for the “final time”.

Games and competitions seem to work really well. If you can condense a key concept into a game or competition you’re onto a winner.

Nothing seems to grab a young child’s attention like winning, or playing a game.

If you can’t turn a key concept into an idea – teach the key concept and split those drills up with games or challenges in-between.

You can still teach them respect, discipline and focus, but technical/physical proficiency will probably have to wait for the little ones!

Once they hit 8 or 9 you can start really sorting out the physical issues with their karate, but as you’d expect this really seems to come down to a child by child basis. They are all so very different, especially boys to girls.

I’ve found girls are generally a lot easier to teach for whatever reason. There is a noticeable difference in maturity levels between girls and boys from around 7+ years of age and continues indefinitely.

My female juniors are technically far more proficient than the majority of my boys, which isn’t what I had originally expected to see at all (not that I really had many expectations).

I’d just foolishly sort of assumed that boys would be more in control of their limbs.

Not the case.

 

Disciplining children is hard.

We live in an age where children have a lot of power. They can do a great deal of harm with very little repercussion at all. I’m not going to debate the validity of that reality, and ensuring the weak among us have agency is very important – but it does make discipline a challenge.

If a child is causing problems:

  1. I try and resolve the issue right there and then, in less than 5 seconds, and get back to teaching the class. They get very little attention and their punishment is doled out swiftly and reliably.
  2. I have students do press-ups for minor infractions, in multiples of 10 based on their belt grade. (although I let kids away with a lot). I have another student “keep and eye on” the student doing press-ups and they check their form while they continue to train. If the press-ups are lazy or bad in some way the other student will judge and a repeat may be required.
  3. For truly disruptive behavior I just exclude. Depending on severity they will either sit out on the side and be able to watch, or if they’re a real problem I will sit them in a quiet corner facing into the corner on the floor. Excluded kids are generally out for the full session, and I try to make sure we play a game the children value highly whenever we have excluded kids. This tends to sort them reasonably well next class, they value the game higher than they do the acting out. With some children it can be helpful to tell them quickly why they’ve been excluded. The trouble is, with other kinds of children that can simply invite argument.

I was told when I started teaching by various people that the kids wouldn’t be the real issue. Having to deal with all the parents issues would be the bigger challenge. Perhaps I am an anomaly in that regard, or perhaps I just need more miles on the clock, but I haven’t found that to be the case at all.

Gradings can be a challenge when kids of similar ages or in similar social circles grade to different levels. I’ve tried to sugar coat things in the past and it didn’t go well. If a child isn’t good enough for a certain grade I just tell them they weren’t good enough.

I know that’s a little “rough”, but the alternative in my mind cheapens the process and makes gradings meaningless. While junior gradings don’t have the gravitas of a full adult grading, I think it is really important to make sure they still mean something, and aren’t just handed out to all that might apply. We talk about the reality of failure before we test students. A child with a solid understanding of what failure means and how to deal with it makes for an adult with the same skills.

People who see failure as a positive are much more likely to lead happy, successful lives.

Another interesting thing I’ve noticed is that some children will improve a great deal, and you might not really see it in class. I’ve had a couple of kids who really didn’t look like they were making much progress after 12 – 18 months of training, only to have the parents come to me and tell me how much they’ve changed at home and at school as a result of karate.

While I’ve taught adults for a while – this is only my third year teaching children, so I am still a daisy-fresh rookie with a lot to learn.

As often as teaching is an ordeal, it is also a true privilege. You are shaping the minds of young folk who will go out into the world and spread the things they have learned. They will interact with other human beings based on the humility, compassion and respect they have learned in the dojo.

Traditional martial arts aren’t really about punching and kicking, they’re about self-improvement. The physical training is simply a tool we use to get there.

I hope to refine my personal karate, and karate teaching skills for many years to come!

Wasting Cash A Dollar At A Time

I’ve been looking at wasted money recently. Inspired greatly by a fine blog called Mr. Money Mustache.

The general idea is that we as spoiled humans squander a lot, and that if we were only aware of how much we were throwing away we could make absolutely drastic change.

How much can one cut from their spending with little to no net loss of personal happiness?

It turns out the answer is, simply put, a shitload.

We (I) looked at our outgoings, and without really knowing it, we were spending about twice what all of our peers were spending on various categories. Groceries was the biggest offender, but there were many things.

I decided to do something we’d never really done before as a family, not so much out of necessity as out of shock. We (I) put together a monthly budget.

Long story short, almost one month in and we’re saving about a grand per month. The only thing I’ve noticed is that I’m having shorter showers now, everything else is pretty much as it was.

I spent half a day measuring the usage of various household appliances and making sure we knew what drained the most power. Simply knowing that and being aware of it has halved our daily power usage. That saves 3-4 dollars per day.

That’s only a couple of bucks eh!

Turns out that’s $1460 per year, after tax of course. At a modest kiwi income you’re going to pay tax on that sucker at about 30%.

That’s $1895 before tax, and then there is the $100 you’d earn if you invested that money in an index fund, or some other fancy or non-fancy investment platform.

That’s $2000 a year for basically no loss in personal happiness.

In fact, I’m super happy I’ll be pocketing that $2000 per year.

Power is just one part of the household expenses equation, there are many avenues you can investigate to reduce costs for little to no (mostly no) cost to your personal happiness.

Even knocking something like your internet bill down by 10 bucks a month nets you $120 every year, and that sort of “small” saving adds up very quickly.

It’s easy to mistake this approach as one that is simply about “saving money”, but it is absolutely not about saving money.

The goal is to maximize your personal happiness by not wasting money.

That extra power usage brought me no joy what-so-ever. The $2000 holiday I can spend that money on instead will bring me great joy.

If that spend will truly make you happier then you should spend the money.

If you’re buying those daily coffees simply due to habit, or addiction, then that’s a different story!

We just seem to spend our lives wasting what we earn a couple of bucks at a time for no net gain in happiness.

I’m sure we can do better.

Procrastination

Procrastination, one of life’s finest delicacies.

There is good “procrast”, as the connoisseurs call it – and then there is bad.

The good kind of procrastination is heading home early, or going in late because you’re on track. It’s leaving that job for Monday rather than doing it over the weekend because it really isn’t mission critical and you’ve already “wowed” that pants off of that client this week anyway.

No one needs their pants blown off twice in one week.

That’s procrastination you’ve earned.

Then there is the bad form of procrastination. The virus that spreads throughout your life in a very “Agent Smith” sort of way. You’ve already let that thing slip this far, what’s another day or another week going to matter?

You’ve already let that client down, it’s too scary to deal with now and so we’ll let that fester a little longer.

Today I paid the price for the shitty form of procrastination. Every now and again I get the kick in the ass I need that reminds me “Oh yeah, I’m an adult and a professional. Make sure you act like one.”

I’ve had a bucket of bolts old car on my driveway for a year. I could have sold this car a year ago no hassles what-so-ever and yet it just sat there. We’d just had our first child and honestly I just couldn’t be bothered dealing with it.

Now I’m dealing with it and it’s a pain in the ass. Registrations have lapsed, batteries are dead, and hours will be spent getting it sorted.

I could make a lot more money working those hours than I’ll ever get from messing around with it and getting it sold.

It is the penance I have to pay for my slothfulness.

Nothing ever gets better when left to rot, it only gets worse, and dealing with it today is always better than tomorrow.

An utterly minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but certainly my 2017 reminder not to let the sloth-beast get involved in my affairs.

Being Nice Is Selfish

In 1959 David J. Schwartz wrote a book titled “The Magic of Thinking Big”, and you can still buy this book today.

A person can be exposed to the same idea repeatedly and know that the idea is good, but not really, truly engage with it. It takes a certain kind of delivery, and a certain kind of receptive mind to adopt the new information. Some people will read a book one year, think nothing of it, and then return to it 10 years later and the book will substantially change their life on the second reading.

The opposite is also true. Life changing books can be re-read years later and not carry anywhere near the gravitas they once did for that person.

The Magic of Thinking Big, for me, was all about hearing the same sort of things your parents told you when you were growing up.

Be positive, be happy, engage with people, smile, belief creates reality, eat your vegetables and so on.

How you engage with other people is a huge part of human experience. As a massive introvert, I’ve been working on this element of my psyche for a long time. For years I’ve waved at people randomly, smiled at people randomly, and tried to be nicer than I needed to be. I’m the first to do the casual “finger lift” greeting on a back country road as you pass another vehicle. I’ve done that for a very long time, my wife doesn’t appreciate it.

I read the book and decided to really put it to the test and up my game. I run my own businesses and customer relationships are by far the most important part of my (or probably any) business, so trying to be nice is a good fit.

I started being much nicer than I needed to be (I felt like I was already pretty nice!) across all of my business interests and life. It certainly made a difference, but there was one business where the results were staggering.

I run a small business that sells things online, small items to the public. I had processes in place already which distinguished me from the crowd. I went the extra mile in a number of ways. The product was checked meticulously, it was wrapped and protected well, I engaged with the client after the sale as quickly as possible and used friendly, happy language. That was working well, so I took all of that and I tried to double it.

There were personalized notes with all purchases. I’d email or feedback to customers using their name and with a humorous paragraph about how they were the greatest human-being on earth, rather than generic dribble. My language was as happy as I could possibly make it. I tried to make silly questions from customers seem like important questions. Mistakes weren’t the clients mistakes, they were my mistakes.  If I could add happy emotion to the situation I would do it.

The level of unsolicited, gushingly positive feedback has skyrocketed. I just read a piece of feedback from an older gentleman who could have been a real problem customer. However, nothing was a problem. Issues were resolved. He was over the moon and he decided to let me know.

That feedback (and the dozens of other pieces of feedback) were the reason I wrote this article today.

I’m not one for being praised. It makes me feel awkward. I can always do better.

Getting feedback like that, though, is awesome. It resonates with me at a deeper level.

All of the work I put into make other people happy and the net result is that we both end up happy.

If I want to make myself happy, making other people happy is an easy way to knock my personal happiness levels out of the park.

I smile at people as often as I can, especially people with boring or less desirable jobs. I do it out of respect for them, but again there are some clear personal gains I get from those friendly gestures. Those folks are 100x more likely to help me in the future if I need their help. I’m the guy that genuinely treated them like a human being. Those fine folk can (and have!) helped me a great deal in the past.

The same lessons apply to my other business interests, and the results are similar.

Being as nice as I can possibly be, and being as understanding as I can possibly be brings clients in the door.

Solving problems for the people I’ve brought in the door, as best I can possibly solve them, makes me a lot* of money.

Temper that with good business sense, clear deliverables, clear timelines, and a good nose for people you can’t please and you’re onto a winner.

Being nice is selfish.

*a lot from my perspective – I won’t be buying a space station or rocket pad any time soon. I’d like a Lincoln welder at some stage, though.

Getting Extra Value From The Boring Stuff

One of my greatest weaknesses is that I do very little reading.

I read all day for a living. I read computer screens. I read code. I read emails.

Reading books is probably the most undervalued thing a person can do for their own professional or personal improvement.

And yet despite that being my (strongly argued, weakly held) opinion, apparently I still don’t do it. Further proof that I am not particularly intelligent.

I don’t know what it is about it, I just don’t make the time to sit down and read.

What I find easy, though, is listening to podcasts. Almost every routinely performed activity I do away from the computer is now accompanied by a podcast of some kind. Interviews with hyper successful people, discussions among other business owners, history lessons in audio form, audio books, an endless treasure-trove of material.

Doing the dishes? It’s great fun right?

How about you spend that 10 minutes learning from the best business minds in the world via a podcast you like?

The value of that 10 minutes just skyrocketed.

Stuck in traffic? That sucks for you my friend. Please move closer to work or find a new place to live, being stuck in traffic is no way to live. While you’re stuck, though; podcasts.

Here are a couple I’ve been listening to recently, they genuinely improve my quality of life:

  • The Tim Ferriss Show
  • Invisible Office Hours
  • Being Boss (I realised everything I was listening to was created by men, I went looking for content made by women in the business space)
  • Dan Carlins Hardcore History (a-maz-ing)
  • Making It With Jimmy Diresta

That’s 5 – but there are gazillions of the things out there.

There will be one out there that is perfect for you.

 

Absolutes

Scientific minds try to think in absolutes whenever possible. If I do X, the result will very likely be Y. I experimented with A and the results were very most definitely B, C and D.

Cause and effect is a core, and utterly important principle.

Where humans are involved, though, I find I tend to overstep with absolutes.

Take attempted weight loss. Weight loss is simple, to loose weight the body must be at a caloric deficit. Without that deficit, you are lost. You can create a deficit in one of two ways (generally speaking):

  1. Reduce your caloric intake
  2. Increase your physical output

The required level of physical output required to tip the body into caloric deficit is generally very high (much higher than almost anyone realises) and is required on a consistent long term basis (something humans aren’t good at).

Reducing your intake is a smarter play. A little of number 2 is fine, but you’ll win or loose based on number 1 most of the time.

Relevance?

Someone was trying to loose weight, and doing a good job apparently, but they had hit a plateau.

They had a personal trainer, a gym membership, and were using both regularly.

Naturally I said to myself: “They just need to eat less. Less food, caloric deficit. Result.”

In a world of absolutes, that is true, but our world isn’t really like that when humans are part of the equation.

“No one needs to go to the gym to loose weight” I thought. “No one needs a personal trainer – what an absolute waste of money” I thought. True in absolute world, not true in this world.

A few hours later I realised I was being a twat. I’m quite familiar with this feeling.

Some people need gyms. No gym, then for them no result.

Some people need that personal trainer. No personal trainer, no result for them.

Not every human being is a calorie counting, obsessive compulsive, data driven fruit loop like myself.

My absolutes aren’t worth shit to other people. Folks figure out something that clearly works for them, and then they have minimalist douche bags telling them they don’t actually “need” whatever it is they’ve found to work for them, and that they are clearly “doing it wrong”.

A human being in a lab may be one thing, but a real person in the real world is quite another.

Speaking and thinking in absolutes just makes you (me) look like an asshole.