Archive for May, 2012

Stepping outside the fog

May.29. 2012

What’s the fog?

It’s the current reality we operate under. All our assumptions, our expectations, our beliefs, our goals or lack of goals.

How do we get out of our fog?

It can happen in a few ways.

The most dramatic is the sudden turnaround, or what I call the St Paul conversion.

This requires a catalyst, a traumatic event that turns your current reality upside down.

That’s what happened to me. For years I lived in a fog of music and guitar, blissfully unaware of other areas of life until a small accident knocked me off my feet, literally.

I ended up in the ER and my life was changed forever, not instantly, but after the trauma had subsided, the moment of reflection began and the change came by itself.

It can be a chance encounter that sparks off your imagination and enables you to see reality in an entirely new way.

This was what happened to a former student, a retired vet.

Raised by a single mother in a poor part of town, one day, he happened to be in a better part of town. At that moment, he resolved that one day, he would live in one of these fine houses. He spent the next thirty years working on that dream and ended up buying a home in an even better part of town.

Sometimes the fog can lift because of a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo.

That’s what happened to a friend of mine.

Dissatisfied with the music career, he started looking for other career alternatives, and he chanced upon a book on how to build real estate riches. That was thirty years ago and now he’s a wealthy man, beyond his wildest dreams.

Some fogs have an expiry date and whether we like it or not, it will lift of its own accord in what I call a day of reckoning.

For example, I see many young people living in a fog of carefree existence. It’s sleep till noon and party all night and if you need some cash, work at the local hamburger joint for a few hours a week.

No thought of the future, no thought of building a worthwhile life.

But like every party, this carefree existence has to come to an end one day. At that point, however, it’s usually too late to change direction, and unlike their video games, there’s no restart button either.

And it’s a minimum wage existence from then on.

Either that or holding up a cardboard sign by the roadside.

Finally, some fogs persist indefinitely and stay with you until you die.

I suspect this is what happens to most people.

They grow comfortable with their lot in life. And they stay in that cocoon until they die in its warm embrace.

Which is not a bad thing either.

Unless, of course, if you happen to check out with all your dreams and human potential unfulfilled.

The fog

May.23. 2012

The biggest impediment to advancement, I’ve found, are the self-imposed realities we put ourselves in.

Yes, we’ve all heard it before. We’ve been told about these boxes of life we put ourselves it, but you don’t really understand what it means until you understand it. (Echoing that nugget of worldly wisdom: the game is not over until it’s over.)

Trust me on this. You have no idea what it means until you experience that realization.

I call it living in a fog.

And it takes a lot to snap out of this fog.

For years I lived in a fog, limited by what I could see, accepting it as the only reality, and unable to see anything else.

In a way, it’s part arrogance, part ignorance, and part refusal to see the wider reality.

But mostly it was ignorance. Like the proverbial frog in a well, I thought I knew everything I had to know about life and about the world.

And how can you tell someone there’s another reality out there when he’s known only one reality? How can you tell a frog the world’s a lot bigger than that well if the only reality he’s ever known is that well?

Yes, it’s not easy, it took me years and for all I know, I may still be living in another well, perhaps a little bigger than the one I was in before.

But at least I’m one step ahead of those who even refuse to acknowledge that they’re living in a well, in the prison of their limited self-imposed reality.

The first step to snapping out of the fog is to acknowledge it, that you’re living in a small reality of your own making and choosing.

And the second step is to step out of it.

The first step requires a gigantic leap of faith and vision, the second, a gigantic show of strength.

And what lies outside the fog?

Sunshine and clarity.

Everything suddenly begins to make sense.

Instead of fumbling and muddling through life, you know exactly where you want to go and you’re able to get there directly.

The Art of Non-Conformity

May.5. 2012

When I was growing up in Sibu, I was fascinated by America and all it represents.

I remember going to the US embassy once to listen to author Maxine Hong Kingston and just the sight of the stars and stripes fluttering in the wind was enough to make my pulse quicken just a little bit.

Why was I so fascinated with America?

Freedom and the seemingly unlimited potential for growth it represents.

And individualism.

While in high school, I listened to Bob Dylan, I read Henry Thoreau and Walt Whitman and Thomas Paine and I was inspired by the promise of freedom and individualism in their accounts of America.

But now having lived here for over twenty years, I have seen another America, the one where everyone is imitating everyone else.

It seems that contrary to popular belief, conformity is the rule in America.

From pop culture to pop psychology, to how cities are designed, to how movies are made, to how books are written, and yes to classical guitar playing too.

It seems that everyone is following everyone else, and everyone else is following the latest trends and rules and formulas.

For example, I gave up on Hollywood years ago – the same formulaic endings, the same plots and the same syrupy music.

Pop music? Why do you think the best rock and pop music always seem to come from outside America? If you recall the British invasion, well, America had its answer with the Monkees, four Beatles look-alikes, picked through auditions and packaged to sell.

(Okay, I know I’m oversimplifying here. We mustn’t forget CCR, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, true American originals.)

When I first started to write my AOV, I was told that I had to follow the standard formula, which is to load it up with many ‘inspiring’ ‘heart-wrenching’ stories and make sure it’s at least 200 pages or a legit publisher will never pick it up. (As it turned out, the AOV is 35 pages long and has no anecdotes and yes, I’m perfectly fine with selling it on my website.)

Which brings me to the Art of Non-Conformity.

I saw the book recently in a bookstore and was immediately drawn to it, for obvious reasons.

But the book turned out to be a dud. First – 244 pages. That says it all – the author followed the over-200-page formula perfectly.

Then you turn the pages and it’s filled with the usual requisite anecdotes. If there’s one thing that turns me off these days, it’s anecdotal stories – true or made up, they only get in the way of the ideas. These days, I refuse to waste my time wading through all that junk just to uncover one gem of wisdom, if there’s one there.

And the ideas in the book don’t sound all that non-conformistic to me.

‘Convergence,’ ‘abundance,’ ‘legacy’ – these are all standard code words that apparently you have to use if you want to be accepted as a legit author . It’s obvious the author has done his homework well.

The book reminds me of another book that, also on the strength of the title alone, seemed to portend great stuff .

The Art of Effortless Living’ — what a title!

But its length, 256 pages long, is a dead giveaway. (Have I mentioned the over 200-page formula?)

And far from being effortless, the book was not easy to read, 256 pages of tortuous self examination and recriminations. It’s mostly about the author’s personal struggles and her personal demons and how she eventually overcame them.

You see, I have this crazy idea, that books should reflect what they’re trying to say.

For example, a book about how to be beautiful should not have an ugly cover.

A book about effortless living should be effortless to read as well.

A book about non-conformity should strike a non-conformistic tone. (Now, here’s an example of what a true non-conformistic book should be.)

I’ve gone a little off topic here. Back to conformity.

I realize I have been a little harsh here. In fact, what I have described is really middle America, the America where mediocrity and the money men rule.

Because behind this sea of conformity, there is another America.

It’s an America where innovation and imagination thrive.

An America where people invent computers and juice up their own cars in their garages, an America where people build rockets in their backyards just for the heck of it. An America where kids make up their own dance moves in the streets, and in clubs, where they evolve their own brand of music and called it jazz. I can go on but you get my point.

This is the America I fell in love with years ago, and this is why I still think this is the greatest country in the history of the planet.