Homogenous Cultures

For a while I’ve been more focused and interested in extremely sophisticated, cultured and established countries and societies. At the time I didn’t realize until now how unfair I was being to my own home country and I feel we all do as well. I don’t think I’m alone, we’re constantly let down and disappointed with our own country, culture and education here in the US when we compare with other seemingly more productive, efficient or just better overall countries like Nordic and Scandinavian countries - Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and Denmark. Or Asian countries - China, Japan, South Korea. We don’t consider the fact that countries and societies like these seem so much more organized or better is because they don’t have to deal with as much diversity as we do in the US at all.

If everyone has the same background, were raised with the same culture or values, have the same history, it’s much easier for everyone to get along and there won’t be a constant struggle with identity issues. There won’t be nearly any misunderstandings with how people act, talk or behave. With less people feeling left out there won’t be resentment or much anger to do things that are drastically dangerous or violent because everyone gets along and feels like they belong. With everyone getting along so well, everything will be more consistent and unified. If majority of people not only look the same but behave, act, think and work the same, of course everything becomes more efficient and productive.

A lot of journalists, politicians and parents complain and point out how much smarter and more educated other countries are than the US. How far behind we are. How we lack discipline and our kids are just not good enough compared to the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Finnish, Danish, Swiss or German kids. What we fail to consider is that majority of countries that are at the top in terms of proficiency and efficiency are no where near as diverse as the United States. In developed countries like the ones I mentioned have not only a standard of excellence that’s expected in academics and business but a standard of culture and history that everyone is already used to and familiar with. Having the same background, culture, appearance and history, it’s much easier to push people to improve and reach those high expectations based on tradition and a developed culture that’s already customary.

The United States as a country that’s more open to immigration than others, not just accepts the best from other countries but the worst as well. It’s much harder with more obstacles for schools, government and institutions to balance all the different cultural values of so many different people. There are many people who’ve been brought up to believe that school and reading is not important and a waste of time. There are people who were brought up in a culture of luxury and excess. There are so many bad influences and examples that people are already comfortable and used to. With so many conflicting and different backgrounds, culture and values, it’s no wonder the academics, economics and financial progress of a country or society like the Unites States is not always going to be consistent or perfect.

It does not mean that I don’t still admire or appreciate more homogenous countries and societies like in Northern Europe or Asia, I still have a huge amount of respect and admiration, there are so much to learn and be fascinated with. However I don’t want to disregard my own country (United States) and make unfair comparisons, it’s very hard to appreciate just how great the United States is, it’s truly incredible, this is coming from someone who hasn’t always been the proudest citizen. Should we have more of a unified and homogenous culture as a nation? Don’t really know, but I feel as much as it is a minor disadvantage, our diversity, I believe it’s an even more bigger and positive advantage to have.

Impressing Others

When I think and reflect back on all the things I’ve done in the past, be it small or big things, majority of it, probably 90% is to impress others. Impress people like my parents, peers, mentors, girls, inspirational figures and many, many different people. It’s very hard to admit but there’s no shame or regret in it from me at all. To me there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting attention, praise and respect from others, there obviously needs to be a balance but we all need to feel validated, that we do matter and our existence is not meaningless. If we really dig deep enough into our motivations for doing most things in our lives, all our decisions and actions as well, we’ll definitely come to the surprising realization that everything was really to make an impression on others, to get attention, be it positive or negative.

We all can say that we don’t care what others feel as much as we want to believe, but the truth is, we do absolutely care, maybe not every single person in our own individual lives or the general population but we still care about certain and specific people. That’s almost as hard as admitting the majority of things we did and decisions we made was to impress others, which is to just admit that we do in fact care what others think and feel about our work, career, personality, interests, tastes and lives in general. I think if people are truly honest with themselves, we can find it rather obvious that everyone’s main motivation is to impress others.

I understand that to admit even to ourselves that we do in fact care what others think and feel is to show weakness in our individuality, that we don’t know how to be independent. Forcing ourselves to believe that we don’t care of others opinion is also a way for us to shield ourselves from being vulnerable, disappointed, or hurt by negative response and reactions from others. From that point of view, I can see why it’s a necessary belief to hold on to, but it’s an illusion, deep down we do care. 

To me impressing others is another form of living for others, it can be a noble cause. It’s not entirely selfish to seek other’s approval, acceptance, awe and amazement. It can really push and motivate us to do bigger and greater things than we ever thought was possible. We’re very social by nature and it’s ok to want to impress and show off to others. However, as meaningful and great as it may be to have a positive mentality towards impressing others, it will never fulfill me personally and I’ve come to the sudden awakening that my ultimate purpose in life is not to impress others.

Like I said, I find nothing wrong with having a focus on impressing others, it’s actually a very common purpose and reason to find meaning in our lives. But I will never find that balance due to my sensitive nature as I’m sure there are others who feel the same way as I do. For others there’s a lot of meaning towards impressing others and they’re not wrong, I just have to go my own way and direction. I’ve always been an outsider and outcast, I will never fit in any location or group which is perfectly fine with me. The things that I have to accomplish and decisions I have to make are not particularly popular or interesting. So if I have a heavy mindset of impressing others, I will not succeed in my own personal situation, I will be constantly let down because no one will be interested or impressed.

With my sensitive nature that’s another layer to bring my spirits down because of course I do care what others think of me. I have to start shifting my energy and focus away from trying to impress others. Personally I have to let go and move on from doing things to impress others to doing things to survive and grow my family’s future. The core beliefs that I hold in living a meaningful life does not connect or translate well to impressing others. It’s not an act of being noble personally but a simple act of survival and development in my own life.

Improvise, Structure and Procrastination

I didn’t realize until now that the most interesting factor that drew me into writing is improvisation. The combination of being in the moment, being able to think quickly and adapt is very intriguing. It’s an important skill that’s very hard to practice because our lives are so dependent on routines, structure and process. That’s why I write so much, to practice improvising. We tend to do our best in staying away from times where there’s lots of changes and randomness. It’s true without structure in our lives we lose control and our direction, but we mistake improvisation for thinking and action without structure. I disagree completely because it’s those people who know how to improvise are the ones with the most stable structures and control in their lives.

Change and randomness always finds a way to crash into our lives, many times, over and over and over again, it comes in a very surprising disguise, the disguise is procrastination. I feel procrastination is just a warning message in two different forms. One, is that we need to improvise more, we need more changes and flexibility in our lives. The second form is that we need more structure, we’re changing too much and we need to have more of a balance. Majority of the time it’s going to be the first case because when we procrastinate in school or work it’s mainly because we secretly and subconsciously want to challenge ourselves and force improvisation into our lives manually.

When we have big projects or decisions to complete, we always wait until the last minute not because we have to but because we want to. A lot of valid reasons could be the cause of the delay in projects and decisions not being completed in time, but I really feel the biggest reason is because of the lack of improvisation in our lives force us to crave it so much that we use big projects and decisions as out outlet. This may sound cynical and selfish but I think it’s true because we all yearn and crave the addiction and satisfaction of producing or creating things in the moment, on the fly. I feel in our schools, work and institutions, there’s so much resistance towards improvising and change that it’s hard for us to engage in improvisation, it’s totally understandable. However I do feel improvisation is a necessary addiction, it’s an undeveloped skill that we all subconsciously feel is very important and severely lacking.

I’ve learned and seen how much we struggle with work that is overproduced, over-polished and over-processed. There comes a stage we all get to when we produce and make things or make decisions that we all despise, the stage where we over think something to death that causes massive indecision and paralysis, where we get so lost and go down rabbit holes of optimizing the tiniest details possible. It’s really easy to get so lost in the process that we lose the genuine joy of producing or making things. That’s why we crave improvisation so much and by finding different outlets in our lives to improvise will satisfy our impulses to procrastinate (yes, I feel it’s a choice) in more bigger projects and decisions. 

There’s also a beauty in adding structure to our improvisation that people miss, finding that balance and mix is very, very difficult. Like I said procrastination also comes in the form of forcing structure in our lives, it’s not as common as procrastination forcing improvisation and change into our lives but some situations there’s too much change and randomness. In that case we procrastinate because things are too unstable and chaotic, there’s too many changes for us to keep up and keep our sanity. Is that a good problem to have? Maybe, but I’m not sure, it’s about the same as having too much structure in our lives. I would rather have improvisation forced into my life than structure, but I’m biased and I’m on the outside looking in. In my situation there are too many moving parts and I have to constantly adjust and adapt, it’s very unstable emotionally and psychologically.

Fortunately, I’m in a unique position where I have to constantly balance structure and improvisation. I go through phases where I have lots of structure and process in my life, work and decisions where I need to improvise more but just as quickly, things will crumble and fall apart then I procrastinate because things are changing too much and too fast for me to keep up. Either way this is the framework I use to balance improvisation and structure to attack procrastination:

Experiment with your craft: I’ve already stated how important it is to always be working on your craft, nonstop, everyday. Majority of my writing (95%), is sitting down one day of the weekend, every week to write something on paper, go through one or two edits, look for errors, type it up then release it and I’m done. There’s no over-thinking or overproducing, just write down my thoughts, structuring it and releasing. In the whole process I am taking my time for sure but also moving as quickly as I can so the thoughts don’t get stuck in my head or get buried too deep in my mind. That’s the balance we all need to practice, how to move quickly as possible with our ideas without compromising quality or rushing it. That’s why it’s so important to have a craft we feel comfortable and that we can afford to experiment with. One suggestion I would make is to find something that you can experiment with solo. It’s not only about producing, it’s more about practicing and experimenting, the more people you add to the mix, it can take away that dynamic of improvising because in the process of working in our craft with others it can possibly take away a huge part of that conflict and struggle away.

Interact with people in person: This is where I am severely lacking and I’m sure most people are too because of social media online. Interacting socially online can be helpful too but it’s much more tougher in person that’s why we flock online. I usually have a script, speeches and stories mapped out in my head before I speak with someone, but when I do in fact speak to them in person, I stutter or mumble and what I wanted to say never comes out the way I had it in my head at all. The art of having a conversation is really important and that I’m sure we all need to improve. Being able to balance between speaking, listening, saying what we need to say and holding someone’s attention is a great way to practice improvisation skills.

Experiment with your schedule and time: It’s important to have plans and strategies, only when we can’t adapt to changes or be flexible is when they hurt us. I like to have plans because it forces me to be decisive and have a general idea of what I tend to get accomplished or the direction of where I’m headed in life. That’s a big way for me to learn how to be flexible and adapt to change when it does inevitably come. By changing up our time and schedule here and there it allows us to work on timing and go with the flow more, that’s pretty much what improvising consists of. It also allows us to be more in tuned with our limits, so we know when we can go faster and when we can’t.

It’s up to ourselves to asses our own situations what we need more of improvisation or structure. It’s very hard to strike that balance, but in general I think we all need more improvising in our lives because the more we improvise the more likely structure will just fall in place, while if we have too much structure, that leaves us more easily vulnerable to change and procrastination will naturally fall into place.

Follow Teams not Superstars

We’re always reminded how important it is to believe in teamwork and working together. It’s been preached to us over and over again from our schools, churches, workplaces and homes that it’s becoming cliché. In fact I feel many people find it corny and annoying, but it’s repeated countless times for reason, the reason being is that we don’t truly buy into it. It’s easy to say that we value our teammates and working in a great team but I feel most of it is not sincere or genuine. As much as we all would like to believe that were are unselfish and we think of the team first, I don’t think that’s true or the case at all because not only are we all extremely self-centered but we clearly value the superstar way more than the team in every medium, be it in entertainment, sports, business or academia.

Sure majority of this point of view of prioritizing the superstar over the team is a byproduct of society and what it advertises and sells, but it’s only because we, as the consumers decide to buy into it. We do focus more on the superstar more than the team because it’s a reflection and mirror into our own basic human nature and self-centeredness. We want to feel special and standout among everyone else that’s why we gravitate towards romantic and over-glorified stories about the lone genius, the superstar CEO’s and the athletes that carried their companies and franchises seemingly, all by themselves to success. 

It’s a fantasy to believe one person can achieve everything by themselves and it’s very hard to break out of for anybody. We all want to receive widespread recognition, fame and respect for our talent, work and effort. That’s why we choose to pay closer attention to the superstars because if we follow in their footsteps and shoes there would be no need for others or to share the credit and praise with anybody else or even be overshadowed by anyone else.

If you ask someone what their favorite team in any professional sport and why, they will pick the one with their favorite individual athlete and then point to one or two other players on that team but it’s mainly because of their favorite athlete. Same thing with companies, we can name the founder and CEO of our favorite company and maybe two or three in executive positions and that’s it, but who else (and what else, i.e products, business strategies or technology)? Or how about in films, beside the two or three main characters in our favorite film, do we know the supporting cast, the directors or production crew?

I have a hard time with this as well and it’s hard because society does expose and award the individual more than the team as a whole. It also doesn’t help with the explosion of all these social medias and platforms making us even more self-centered and conceited. The only way to really take on this problem is to put more effort into following and researching more in the collective teams in your industry or medium.

If you’re an athlete, follow the team that you love, not only for the superstar players but the role players, the bench, coaching staff and management. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur (like I am) follow the members of the founding team of your favorite entrepreneur’s company, the managers, designers, engineers, board of directors, chairmans and investors. If you’re a musician, follow your favorite artist’s producers, engineers, A & R’s, and record labels. Not only is this refreshing in the sense that you discover how many people actually contributes to an individuals success but it can also lead you to discover and find new talent or ideas to inspire you.

When I Think or Feel Something Sucks…

People don’t realize how unfair and bias their criticisms are of new or different projects, products and ideas. It’s more easier than ever to hate and bash on people’s work today with everyone having unlimited access to voice their emotions and opinions online without any consequences. We all gravitate towards the consensus and majority with our emotions, people don’t even realize it but our attitudes are being shaped mostly by immature teenagers online. I began to have similar responses and dialogue in my head whenever I come across new or different ideas and projects that I’m not used to. It’s dangerous because there are too many platforms if I do choose to voice those impulsive feelings and hate. Luckily I learned to snap myself out of it by taking a couple of steps back to asses whether or not my feelings and opinions are bias and unfair or not.
I try to be as mature and honest as I can when I really dislike or feel something is not up to my standard of quality. There are 3 big questions that I always ask myself: Can I do it better? Am I envious? And, Can I voice my opinion in person to his/her/their face? It’s very hard to answer these questions because we aren’t honest with the assessment of ourselves. It’s much, much easier to troll someone else’s work online anonymously and to believe that majority of people have the same opinion as you when really everyone’s opinion is controlled by what’s popular and celebrated. I feel when we all take a step back from our initial negative emotions or opinions of things and ask ourselves these questions, it will put our opinions and hate in the right perspective.
Can I do better? Well if we have no experience or track record singing, performing, drawing, illustrating, filming, writing, speaking or starting a business we can’t really say something sucks because we don’t have skin in the game. Even if we do have experience(s), do we have it at that respective level? Just because we played high school football, basketball or we performed at our middle school plays, it doesn’t really give us the right to say, we’ve been through it all, we can hate on it all we want, that we know everything that goes on in the process. Projects, products, performances and ideas in any medium at the professional level deals with endless amounts of political, bureaucratic, legal and financial constraints and factors, it’s very hard to understand all the things that go on behind the scenes. This shouldn’t spare creatives, artists and companies from blame but it’s a huge factor that normal fans and consumers don’t realize or consider.
Am I envious? Most hate stems from jealousy and envy. Envy from the fact that we didn’t get to do or act on that idea, be a part of that project or get the attention in our attempt. It’s hard for us to go through seeing something or someone else find success where we failed. It’s really hard to factor out our own subconscious bitterness and see a project or idea for what it really is. Envy and jealousy is probably the hardest emotion to control in my opinion. The last question and maybe the easiest to answer is: Can I voice my opinion in person to the respective person’s face? To be honest 95% of the time the answer is no. Even if we are not intimidated or fear the person physically, it’s not a good idea to voice our negative opinions and hate. It’s not just about physical altercation or fighting, it’s just not right and it’s petty to attack someone personally because of their work or ideas, which if you really read majority of comments online or in your own mind are personal, racist, derogatory and nasty attacks.
It’s very hard to fall in the trap of hating something when we don’t ask ourselves important questions like these. For me, even when my opinions and criticisms do pass these questions I don’t even want to label or feel like something “sucks” or is bad, even if I have valid criticisms, it’s such bad negativity when you use these words, I make it a habit now to use different words to frame my attitude. Instead of saying something sucks or is terrible, I’ll just say “it’s not for me” or “I don’t agree”.

Don’t Act Your Age

One of the biggest factor in all the pressures we face in our lives comes down to our age. Our age determines not only what we need to already have accomplished but also the way we should act and think. It’s a pretty big cloud hanging over us the older we get and the more we have to change. Age is not only ammunition for society, parents, family and our peers to force changes into our lives but it’s also used against ourselves to give up things we love or feel ashamed for not acting a certain way. It’s not the expectations of accomplishments that most people fear about growing older, it’s the expectations of mentalities and mindsets that we have to adopt.

We should all definitely keep our child like wonder and never give that up. While society and our peers play a huge role into suppressing and destroying our imaginations, I feel we play a bigger role in the demise of our own child like wonder because we are in fear of being ridiculed, laughed at or not accepted. Our passions and interests are fueled by our fantasies and imaginations, we shouldn’t let that go because of others expectations of us. That’s what makes us unique and different. I rationalize with myself into giving up reading comic books or watching superhero movies because I have to be more of a grown up, but the more I think about it, the more I realize being mature and a grown up is not about what our interests and passions are, being a grown up is just made up concept that we all just buy into.

Being a grown up is just a minimal version of being mature. While I don’t think we should all strive to be “grown up”, I think we all must be mature, some people are mature at a really young age, the earlier the better. To me being mature is only about two things, taking responsibility and thinking of others instead of ourselves. That’s what it all boils down to, are we going to accept our responsibilities to take care, protect and provide for our family, company and community or are we just going to get lost in our own heads and petty dramas? Are we only going to worry about our own happiness rather than thinking of others needs? Our interests, guilty pleasures, hobbies, how we dress and what we accomplished are not important to being mature, yes, some of these things help us become mature and wiser while others can potentially slow us down, but in the big picture, they’re very superficial.

I’m not going to force myself to give up things because it seems childish like comic books, animations or cartoons and anything of that nature. Things like these help enhance our imaginations, wonder and creativity. I’m also not going to do things that others expect me to do at my age that I don’t want to like partying, drinking, watching tv, be single or be in school. That goes with future expectations as well. I will never act my age but I’ll always strive to be mature, to protect and provide for others. I won’t succumb to or let a number determine and define how I live and act. Our age, it’s just a number.

Experience over Result

In today’s hyper-instant gratification world, we are losing more and more of our grip with the experiences, the questions and the journeys that shape who we really are and make our lives more fulfilling and meaningful. With the pressure from society and our peers to be as efficient and practical as possible we have processed and systemized every aspect of our lives to simple routines and procedures. I understand that’s extremely important in our work and careers, the only way to consistently produce as much value as we can to our companies and families we must focus our energy and our most valuable and finite resource we have, our time. However having this mindset all the time will actually shorten our lives, if we’re so used to taking shortcuts in our work and career to get to the “point”, which is necessary, we won’t know how to turn that switch off when it comes to our leisure activities, entertainment or travels.

Of course people will say that they don’t have time for anything but work. No matter how much we love or value our work and career, life is not all about that, we do what we have to do to pay our bills, provide for our families and survive but we also have the obligation as human beings to explore and share our experiences with as much people as we can. We wonder why older age people are so grumpy with bad attitudes and narrow minds, I feel it stems from bad habits, habits that involve being too stingy with their time and experiences that’s why they don’t have an open mind to new things or ideas because they’re so used to getting to the point, the results, the answers and the destination in everything to save time that they miss a lot of the insights or wisdom to make to make their lives more enjoyable, that’s where most regrets come from.

I’m definitely guilty of this as well, I read Spark Notes of famous, historical literature like “Moby Dick”, “Les Miserables”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Animal Farm” and “Atlas Shrugged” not for tests but for leisure and fun and because I want to know all the themes and answers given to me without reading the whole story and figuring it out myself. It’s watching highlight reels instead of full NBA games, Watching summaries and reading synopsis of shows, skipping to the action sequences and and action scenes. Another example is traveling, in our hyper efficient minds we’ll instinctively choose popular landmarks or tourist attractions and plan out our schedules as detailed as possible so we don’t waste time or get lost, when getting lost and being uncertain of where we are is the perfect catalyst for exploration. It’s also things like skipping to the end of the movie, story or book to get the answers, expose the mystery and get to the happily ever after.

Our time is valuable, when we work we have to focus on the end results and the destination. But just as we have to have a work/life balance, there has to be a experience/result, question/answer and journey/destination one as well. It’s all the little things in between the big moments that make something special that we miss the most. We should cherish those experiences even though in hindsight or in the grand scale of things it may seem worthless, inefficient, unproductive or useless, it’s important.