The Changing Face of Success

An outline of this post has been sitting in my drafts for months now.  I’ve gone to complete it at many intervals but something has held me back.  I can’t blame time or busyness because the truth is, it has been pain that has stopped me.  A burning pain that lies deep inside in those who are not living a life akin to their ‘ikigai’.  It is funny because my passion and understanding of emotional intelligence allows me to acknowledge what is going on at each and every layer but it does not make it any less circumstantial or easier to correct at the time.

I currently wrestle with many conflicting desires.  There is a desire to hold on to everything that I have built up to be my current lifestyle, which is a comfortable one, for the first time in a very long time.  It is not indulgent nor excessive but it is financially stable and that makes it a lot more enjoyable.  On paper, it would seem to an outsider that I have some definition of success.  Two houses; one of the east coast and one on the west, a car that gets me from A to B, a paying job in a global giant, enrolment at a good university, and a trip of a lifetime to a far away place – a not so distant memory.

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Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii – May 2016

As time goes on, I’m becoming more and more aware of my changing definition of success.  I’m not sure the precise time of these shifts but I assume they happened in subtle increments whilst I was busy living my ‘successful’ life.  Success is such a funny word.  To each of us it has a unique meaning which varies greatly and holds a different priority in each of our stories.  It is remiss of me not to acknowledge those for whom the word, as we know it, means absolutely nothing.  To those faced with adversity and real threats of survival; success means triumphing through another day without major harm.  Surely if we were to look up the the word, they would ironically take the definitive prize?

But it is not those who we reward a podium finish, at least not in the world I grew up in.  The literal gold medal is being fought over by those for whom material success is paramount.  It is an attainable pinnacle that dominates excessive norms,  luxe as a given and occasionally questionable behaviour can often be, well, paid to look otherwise.  I would think that the silver medal goes to the ‘resume’ crowd.  A majority of reasonable citizens  who rightfully enter a lifelong ‘pissing contest’ of graduate schools, multi-national firms and fancy titles.   Which just leaves the bronze medallion for those who are bettering the world through thankless actions, improving the lives of themselves and those around them.  Insert radiant sound clip.  I have never been one to covet designer bags, red-soled shoes or expensive wine.  I have never owned a new car nor played tennis on a court that had not been paid for.  To me, a lot of hefty price tags rarely do match the value exchange.

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Yes, this is me collecting shells. A simple pleasure.

Though, I am not without charge.

As a child my desire for fame and popularity was often the driving force behind my ambitions and desires.  I cursed anyone who was gifted with unearned popularity and despite my lean upbringing, I stretched and strategised with the little I had so that most were none the wiser.  As I grew older, the thought of flashy cars and big houses suddenly began to draw appeal.  How successful were these owners of such?  Why was I so far removed from all of this and what exactly did I need to do to get a slice of the sweet cherry pie?

Fantasies began about scouts finding me on the street, they would know how talented I was and fame and fortune would follow closely behind, right?  Or there was the one where the rich royal swoops me off my feet and into his four storey beachfront, delicately placing the string of locally sourced pearls around my neck as we stare off into the ocean. Do they call that one Escapism or Disneyism nowadays?  There were thoughts of lotto, becoming a poker champion, finding a hidden suitcase full of cash buried in the garden and even the wildest one of my parents confessing we actually were rich, they just wanted to make sure I didn’t grow up a spoilt brat – good one guys!  But like all good fantasies, that’s exactly where they stayed.  Locked up in the tower of never-ending thoughts next to the angsty teenage rebellion and behind the lyrics of Coolio’s ‘Gangsters Paradise’.  Great song that, pity I wasn’t graded on it.

So I did what any kid from that comes from nothing and wants it all does – I got a fucking job.

I loved getting my first job.  Working was a pleasure, I took pride in it.  I worked hard, tried not to let the boss down and relished any opportunities for further training and experience.  I was 14 years old when I got my first job and I stayed with that company for 4 years, working part-time after school and on weekends at first and then took on some extra shifts once I graduated from high school.  When University didn’t work out (another story for another day), I took pleasure in the fact that I could now increase my work hours and continue to pay rent.  Working meant I could stay somewhere nice, drive my car places and put food on the table.  In essence, it met a very functional need in surviving my late teenage years.  It also funded a lot of fun nights out and blurred memories, semi-stored.

I got bounced through a shitty system for the next couple of years trying my best not to let the worst stuff stick.  My work ethic was high so I was rewarded with roles that were often more senior than my years but the downside was that I was young and naive.  I let my passion and emotions get the better of the situation at times.  Worst of all I came across and reported to some of the biggest assholes I have ever met in my life.  Real schmucks I tell ya.

Luckily it didn’t deter me.  After 10 years in the workplace, I took on a job that actually paid well and I made the life choice to build my first house.  Now I call it a life choice because that is exactly what it is at any age, let alone when you are 24.  What it took away from me was freedom, lack of responsibility, and the prospect of living or travelling overseas long term.  These are big things when you are in your early twenties.  But what it took away, it made up for in things I needed at the time – stability, homeliness, security, and a small step towards a big dream.  It was never even a question of if I should do this or not.  It was more so; when, how long, do you take cash?  Amusing because realistically, I still didn’t have much.

Anyway, so it went that I brought and built my first house.  Disclosure:  Have you seen Australian house prices?  I obvs wasn’t alone in this purchase.  I wasn’t earning THAT much money.  Credit where credit’s due – this dive into the property market came because I was able to go 50/50 with my partner at the time….hi Aaron!  I’m not so sure his motives were the same as mine but he signed the papers nonetheless and our journey off the cliff was done so hand in hand.  It was a proud moment for both of us.  We were ‘home owners’.  At the ripe young age of 24 – holy shit.  It was a great first house – 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, split living spaces, remote control garage door (I really loved that thing, we didn’t have one growing up), and all in a nice neighbourhood a little out of the city.  It was a pleasant change and lifestyle at the time, and best of all – it was a reason for us to smile and acknowledge the hard work we had put into to making this happen.  Where am I going with this?  I am rambling, yes, but I must confess; tomorrow is a big day.

I am selling my house.

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My first house. Built 2009.

My first house, my baby, my blood-sweat-and-tears.  My safe spot.  My far away place that, for a time in my life, made me feel successful for a fleeting moment.  Now, it is time to let go.  Time to let go of the physical property, of the hypothetical meaning that other people have placed on multi-home ownership.  It no longer has ties to my ego, to my importance of being.  In fact, it now has the opposite effect.  This double-mortgage lifestyle is keeping me tied to things that no longer align with my life’s purpose.  My definition of success has changed and now I must take the steps to align my assets and liabilities to change with it.  It is uncomfortable, occasionally sad, and mostly necessary.  I am ready to let go and I hope that years of sacrifice will pay back even part of the cost that has been taken.

So here is to the next chapter.  To less material wealth.  To more fulfilment and less ties to unnecessary commitments.  To happiness and freedom and travel.  To letting go of the need to be tied to titles and group think.  Here’s to breaking through one layer in a pile of many.

ZB x

Human Flourishing

Written September 1, 2016

Today I had the best case of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon that I can remember*.  The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is the cognitive bias also known as the ‘Frequency Illusion’.  It occurs when a person, after having learned some (usually obscure) fact, word, or phrase for the first time, encounters that item again, perhaps several times, shortly after having learned it.  Arnold Zwicky, a Stanford linguist, writes that, “people who are reflective about language – professional linguists, people who set themselves up as authorities on language, and ordinary people who are simply interested in language – are especially prone to the Frequency Illusion.”  I think we all know where I sit on the spectrum…but alas, I defer.

I sit at breakfast this morning in a faraway hotel on the other side of the country.  I am surrounded by ageing businessmen and a few early survivors from a sports awards dinner that took place in the complex the night before.  To my left is a young woman whose vocal phone conversation gives away more than I need to know about her daily objectives.  A voice in my head recognises an opportunity to get ‘presidential’ and offer an introduction.  I can feel her pull for face to face conversation as she sits next to me in a big and relatively empty room but my emotional incapability gets in the way and I keep my head down as I busily underline and scribble on the 70-page report in front of me.

My choice of literature this morning is not ‘news’ nor is it ‘work’.  It doesn’t even tick one of the twelve ‘homework’ projects I should be completing.  Instead I bury my mind in genuine interest and uneducated passion.  The fields of positive psychology, policy making and world socioeconomics are taking up my thoughts again, this time in the World Happiness Report 2016.  Leading experts across the fields of economics, psychology, survey analysis, national statistics, health, and public policy – describe how measurements of well-being can be used effectively to assess the progress of nations. The report reviews the state of happiness in the world and reflects a recent global demand for happiness to be used as a criteria for government policy.  I will divulge my thoughts on the report at a later date but for now I must come back to the Baader-Meinhof thing.

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I’m busy salivating over my apple and cinnamon pancakes as I devour the content on page 10 of the report.   A word I have never seen before sticks out amongst the mundane – ‘eudaemonic’.  I am completely unfamiliar with this term but its context piques my interest as I learn that its roots are in philosophy and its origins tied to the one and only, Aristotle.  Here is the passage paraphrased, “…eudaimonic; having such a purpose that would be central to any reflective individual’s assessment of the quality of his or her own life.”  What a fascinating thought.  I circle the word, write LU (look up) next to it and move on to the pleasures of page 11.  My ‘day job’ consumes the rest of the day and soon enough, it is time for me to collect my stray thoughts and head to the airport for my flight home.

The three and half hour flight passes by with ease, soothed by the flavours of wild black fruit in my travel-sized shiraz.  We land and the plane rolls around the airport grounds searching for its destination gate.  It is enough time to turn on our electronic devices and see what earthly delights await our returning self’s.  My emails continue to become a burden as the influx of reading material becomes almost unmanageable, or at least unenticing to become manageable.  Delete-delete-save-read-delete.  Remind me to hire an assistant when I ‘make it’, won’t you please?  Delete-read-save-save-delete-read.  I silently choke on the next email as I consider my whereabouts and the distaste for alarmed states.  The large green image above beams back at me from the screen and it is hard to pretend that I didn’t notice the ten letters calling out, “eudaimonia” from within.  This is a sure relative of ‘eudaimonic’ if I ever did see.

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The scholarly culprit is an institute after my own heart; The School of Life.  The email announces the release of ‘Untranslatable Words’.  This card set is a gathering of 20 of the best words from around the world that our own language has not quite yet pinned down.  I envision the deck making its way in to my own household very soon and get back to the feast in front.  Here is the passage as it reads, ‘Eudaemonia: Ancient Greek.  Often translated as ‘happiness’, it really means the deepest kind of fulfilment, often comprising a flourishing work and love life. It’s accepted that eudaimonia can go hand in hand with lots of day-to-day frustration and pain. You can possess eudaimonia even if you are, periodically, really rather grumpy’.  Such a beautiful definition.  The word, the concept, the frequency; it is all beginning to dawn on me.  But I have bags to collect.  Class dismissed.

My luggage is unusually slow to arrive but it does so eventually and I make my way to the taxi line.  The car pulls up and I’m immediately remorseful for the weight of my bag when I see the drivers age.  The inside of the car is as musty as its owner and I struggle to hold my breath as I keep the window politely wound up in the cold weather.  I make sure we are both of understanding regarding the end point and I slip back into the systematic elimination of my emails.  Delete-delete-save-read-delete-read.  The Ethics Centre, another institution I have a great fondness for (are you noticing a theme here), survives a read in the brutal cull.  The content sparks my interest as it is the weekend of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas and as per my previous post, you’ll know that if I could trade my undergraduate learning for something that looked like this, I’d do it tomorrow.  I scroll down the email scanning for anything further that keeps this communication from departing my inbox and BOOM, there’s that little fucker again.

‘Ethics Explainer – Eadaimonia or Living Your Best Life’.  Three times in one day?!  Illusion or not, it was getting a bit strange.  Here is an excerpt, ‘The closest English word for the Ancient Greek term eudaimonia (yu-day-moh-nee-ah) is probably “flourishing”. The philosopher Aristotle used it as a broad concept to describe the highest good humans could strive toward – or a life well lived’.  

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For many years scholars translated eudaimonia as ‘happiness’ but there are clear differences. For Aristotle, eudaimonia was achieved through living virtuously – which you might describe as being good. But this is not guaranteed to make us ‘happy’ in the modern sense of the word. In fact, it might sometimes mean doing something that makes us unhappy, like telling an upsetting truth to a friend.

The eudaimon life is one where a person develops the excellences of being human. For Aristotle, this meant developing virtues like courage, practical reason, good humour, moderation, kindness and more’

So there you have it.  The universe/Aristotle has spoken.  Eudaemonia is demanding some of my attention and perhaps now yours too.  But where do I fit this in?  Do I have to take up a 6 year degree in psychology, philosophy, or politics?  I have not time nor desire for the outdated formal education system though it would be remiss of me not to devote more time to further deciphering this interesting way of life.  Make that thirteen projects…

ZB x

*Pun not intended.

The Art of Being Wrong

Being wrong is an art-form that most of us are yet to master.

I don’t think I am exceptionally great at it though admission is the first step, right?  It’s not that I necessarily hate being wrong.  It’s just that I truly believe I’m right a lot of the time.  Even when there is a high chance, I’m not.  Let’s me introduce you to our ol’ friend, Motivated Reasoning.

Motivated reasoning is an emotion-biased decision making phenomenon where people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence stating the contrary.  In other words, rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.

Julia Galef gives a great TED talk on this topic.  She explains how motivated reasoning finds it’s way into most of our lives through the decisions we make about our health, our relationships, what we think is fair and ethical, the sports teams we follow and the political parties we support.  The most troublesome part of this biased way of thinking is that we do it unconsciously, even when we think we are being objective.

This reminds me of the documentary, ‘Making A Murder’, which took the world by storm last year.  I wonder how much motivated reasoning played into the trials of the suspects in question.  What about the huge religious, political and race issues we are seeing around the world?  Is this believing your own bullshit on a mass scale?  It’s definitely got to be a factor.

Still, there is hope for change.  Julia describes an alternate way of decision making known as “Scout Mindset” as the key to this evolution.  This way of thinking is not about winning or losing but about getting the most accurate picture of what’s really happening, even when it’s unpleasant or inconvenient.  Watch her talk for the full picture.

So, do you have a Soldier or a Scout Mindset?  As Julia described, Soldiers tend to prefer defensiveness and tribalism, and can be devaluing of people who change their opinions.  Scouts are curious and open, they are intrigued with things that test their own beliefs and I think most importantly, are grounded; their self worth is not tied to being right or wrong.

I think it’s nice to imagine that we are all Scouts just going about our lives but realistically, if we crucially examine our interactions and belief systems, we may find ourselves more aligned to the Soldier mindset than we realise.  To shift this way of thinking, we must practice being proud to be wrong and continue to open our minds to information that may contradict our current belief and value systems.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivated_reasoning
Begley, Sharon. “Lies of Mass Destruction,” Newsweek (US). August 25, 2009.
Redlawsk, D. P.; Civettini, A. J. W.; Emmerson, K. M. (2010). “The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners Ever “Get It”?”. Political Psychology 31 (4): 563. 

Festival of Dangerous Ideas

In 2015 I came across an email that was sprucing tickets to an intriguing event called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.  Being the eternal rebel that I am, it was obvious that I was drawn to the mere concept of this yet unknown event.  With a bit of online research, I uncovered what was soon to be a monumental moment in my thus far, frustratingly constructed life.  The bill for this festival was a melting pot of overarching, ethically debated, boundary pushing global topics that brought me instant spouts of joy as I plugged in my preferences for a festival multi-pack (very well priced, if you were wondering).

I chose sessions that were either close to my jaded heart or high up in my fiery pit of societal passions.  It landed here:

  1. Incarceration – a VICE panel on the broken and shameful business that is, our national prison system.
  2. Big Sugar – a look into the ‘new tobacco’; the industry, the lax government regulation and the frightening health and addictive effects of this tasty, tasty treat.
  3. Ceasefire on Drugs – Johann Hari champions the factual campaign of legalisation and re-engagement programs for illicit drugs in lieu of the 100 year failed drug war.
  4. The New Satirists – a real shits ‘n’ giggles session with some of Australia’s best satirists, easy laughs at serious issues to lighten the often heavy festival tone.
  5. Bad Education – a philosophical view of the perhaps not-fit-for-purpose, modern education system.  Basically all I heard was, “exams are unnecessary”.
  6. Dying Europe – a sneak peak into the global dilemmas and impacts of the European Union.  No, at this point, there wasn’t any forethought that the UK would be exiting!

I booked some cheap flights up to Sydney, stayed in a surprisingly lovely hostel on/at/in (?!) The Rocks and had one of the best educational moments OF.MY.LIFE.

What I listened to and pondered over the next few days, quite simply, blew my world apart. I was fascinated, interested, passionate, and obsessed in a way that I had never been before.  Why didn’t I learn about these things in school?  Why was I finally learning about things that seemed more important than the crap I had been force fed in the media?  My mind had been yearning for a different, more truthful learning experience and at 30 years of age, I had finally found it.  It was these sessions that would grow me as a human being, as a global citizen, and as a person that was not constructed from an outdated manual.  I remembered to think and critique objectively.

Look, anyway, what I’m getting at is that FODI is an amazing experience.  It is back on this year at the amazing Sydney Opera House, a location which really adds to the enormity of the ideas exploding within it.  If you are in the area or can get to Sydney during the weekend of the 3rd and 4th of September, then I implore you to choose some subjects close to you heart or otherwise, put your ego back on the bottom shelf and call yourself to action during and post these sessions.

Some interesting sessions this year include; A.C. Grayling’s ‘Closing the Modern Mind’, India’s Age of Extremism, Open the Borders, Apple vs The FBI, Legalise Drugs in Sport (with Stephen Dank yikes!), The Asian Arms Race, Not Worth Living, Gender Doesn’t Matter, The Bamboo Ceiling, US Politics: Even Worse Than It Looks, Stop Fishing the High Seas, Why Don’t We Want To Talk About The Arts, Break a Rule a Day, I Was A Human Guinea Pig, Why Black Lives Matter, Freaks Like Me…and many, many more!!!

Head to Festival of Dangerous Ideas for information and ticketing.

Your future self thanks you.

 

 

The Concept of Ikigai

The ‘ikigai’ concept has a lot to love.  It combines individual hopes with world needs and glaring realities.  Let’s explore it, at a very top level, in no particular order.

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Region 1: WHAT YOU LOVE

What an important start. It’s hard to imagine a happy life without imagining a scenario where you are doing something or being somewhere that you love. Some people instinctively know what they love because it brings them joy, happiness and flow. It is the things that you are grateful for today or wish were in your life tomorrow. It could relate to tasks, people, activities or places. Doing this thing, being with these people, completing this activity puts a smile on your face. What were you last doing when you forgot time itself?

Region 2: WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS

Let’s be honest, out of the four regions, this takes last priority for a lot of us. It is for this reason that we see the modern world in disarray. We see a complete mess of global politics, lives still lost in starvation despite food wastage, and increasing layers of depression despite relatively good living conditions in much of the western world. It was JFK who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Imagine if we modernised that sentiment and as global citizens asked what we could do for our world? Have you ever asked yourself this question? If no, then why not?

Region 3: WHAT CAN YOU BE PAID FOR

Sadly this region dominates most of our lives. We have bills to pay, roofs to put over our heads and food to put on the table. Despite these basic needs being met, we have not stopped there. It is never enough. We are always looking for any opportunity to make more money, often at the expense of our health, or time with our friends and families. Whilst making money is not a shameful thing, not recognising greed in our own lifestyle is. The affects of hedonistic pursuits will only lead to a life of meaningless and unfulfillment as the precious scale of ikigai will be thrown you off balance.

Region 4: WHAT YOU ARE GOOD AT

This is obvious for some. You may be particularly intelligent, gifted or trained in a particular area. You have lived your whole life with these talents or you have worked hard to achieve them. It makes sense that these traits or skills will either bring you immense joy or pay you well. If you are well on your pathway of self searching, it may already bring you both – lucky you!

How else could these regions be interpreted? Feel free to leave your positive comments below.