Sleeping, coughing, and reading

This week has been brutal. I have been so sick with influenza and bronchitis that I haven’t had the strength to leave my apartment for a week.

It has been really tough not being able to sleep, not being able to do much of anything, and being in pain. What it has allowed me to do, however, is slow down. Being too ill to really do anything meaningful, I started out by spending my newfound down time like I would spend free time during the week. Reading TechCrunch, catching up on Facebook, letting Scrubs reruns play on Netflix. Scaling these usual activities for larger stretches of time, however, it became clear just how mundane and dry these activities are. There is no depth. Every TC article, Scrubs episode, and FB post is basically the same. They only work when there is enough time between the last time that we did them to fit neatly into the daily and weekly cycles we put ourselves into. Then it becomes clear how repetitive, dull, and lacking of forward progress each day is.

Then suddenly I had this realization: Not only do I have time to read books, I’m actually motivated to do something with more depth. I decided to read the new Becoming Steve Jobs book. I’ve been deeply interested in the remarkable story of Jobs’s incredible comeback since I first heard him describe it at his Stanford address. His story awakened this deep desire within myself to defy the odds, become a major success, and actually change the world. It was that same desire I followed when I left my job at Deloitte to start a technology company to make apps for the iPhone and particularly the iPad. It was devastating to me when Jobs suddenly passed away. I had finally found the person who seemed to have the answers I was looking for, hanging on his every word, and then that person disappeared. There was also a slower awakening happening at the same time. The company I worked so hard to build was not going to succeed. Ever since then there have been far more questions than answers. What does it take to really succeed? How do you know when to keep trying or when to give up? These are all questions I feel like Jobs could have answered for me if I ever could have met him, but I would never get a chance to ask him.

I’ve read a lot about Jobs since then. Aside from the occasional anecdote, it really seemed like most of the things being written about Jobs were written by people who really didn’t know him or understand him. It seemed like most people would either give him too much credit and make him into someone who would turn businesses into gold with a single touch, or they would pull from stories about what a terrible boss he was. There didn’t seem to be anyone trying to reconcile how contradictory these two thought camps were, or answer the more important question–who was Steve Jobs really? There must have been a comprehensible human being connecting these contradictions.

Becoming Steve Jobs is a fantastic read because it answers question of who was the man behind the contradictions. It gives a detailed story of his strengths that allowed him to garner the spotlight at such a young age, his weaknesses that caused him to fail, and how he learned and changed over time. Finally I can understand what I needed to know of when to keep trying, when to admit failure, and when to try something else entirely. It’s more nuanced than I know how to express here, but to put it bluntly, nobody really knows when to keep trying or when to give up, but the thing to pay attention to, is how you are growing as a person.

It’s also finally clear to me the reason I found Steve Job’s message so seductive. Jobs had a lot of the same narccistic qualities I have in myself. He had more confidence in his own abilities than any person could justify. It is true that this same overconfidence that allowed him to become the visionary he was, but it wasn’t until later in his life that he matured enough to temper his overconfidence into becoming a leader. No matter how idealistic our ambitions are, and no matter how resolutely we pursue them, reality cannot be escaped. I am only one person. there are only so many hours in the day, and some of those days, I am going to be too sick to do anything at all.

Sometimes reality hits you hard. This morning I told all my co-workers I would be in the office and agreed to participate in interview rounds for an engineering job candidate. I thought if I set a commitment and willed myself strongly enough to be better, I would just magically be better… or at least better enough. Yet as I stepped foot outside my door it became abundantly clear that my body was not going to allow me to go into the office. It wasn’t a matter of having a goal, or willpower, or even mental strength. It wasn’t even close. Today while reading about Jobs’s overconfidence I thought back on my own overconfidence this morning, and it finally dawned on me. I am not just occasionally overconfident to a slight degree. I am consistently and vastly overconfident. I regularly set for myself unachievable goals and work toward a reality that cannot possibly be achieved.

So what? Isn’t a healthy dose of overconfidence a prerequisite for big time success? Aren’t we as human beings a species that has already defied the odds? Isn’t it perfectly natural to want to defy the odds, to work towards it, and achieve it? Until today I would have argued that it makes sense to be deliberately overconfident and to compensate your shortcomings with sheer drive and effort. But today marks a turning point. Now I would argue that it’s essential that we temper our ambitions with an understanding of what we can do as individuals. It is essential that we know and obey our limits. This is what allows us to reach out to others for help, work on our shortcomings, and grow as human beings.

I realize that at 32 years old I am probably super late to the party to make this realization, but hey better late than never.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment





Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The American Dream

Yesterday on my flight to D.C. there were some kids from highschools from all around going to compete in a national computing competition. I never saw kids so excited, optimistic, and full of confidence. It took me back to when I was in high school, (of the robotic car I made, or the 3-d calculator I programmed), and the big dreams I had then!

Our nation has always had a unique message. It doesn’t matter who you are or what circumstances you came from, you are free, everyone is equal, and if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. This is a bold message that as far as I know is not taught elsewhere. All growing up my teachers in school, my Sunday school teachers–everyone–instilled in us this great confidence that we were meant to succeed, we would succeed, and each one of us would be great. I remember watching the movie Gattaca when I was in middle school and watching Vincent overcome the odds to pursue his career in space, and hoping someday maybe I would be able to travel in space. I also remember the strong message that succeeding in life is about working smarter not harder, and that America has built its wealth on great ideas and innovation. Accordingly I had the idea that working hard alone cannot make you successful because the extra money gained from the extra work takes away from you time and your ability to enjoy life. I have always believed that happiness comes from doing what you love, and doing it in a way that no one has ever done before, so you can succeed without sacrificing your happiness to do it.

As far as I can tell, Japan does not have a similar message. They seem to be focused on another message, which is to be fair to others because you are not more important than anyone else. It is a rationing mentality that goes along with a fundamental belief here that wealth can only be obtained by hard work. Then it follows that the total potential wealth of the society is limited by how hard the society is willing to work. Then no one should be paid more money than anyone else except in the proportion that they work harder. Another way of saying it is that once effort is held constant, all else should be equally rationed. And if someone does somehow succeed, it is because society supported them in their success. Hence with any amount of success comes an equal burden of responsibility to give back to society. And what is the only proper way to give back to society after succeeding? Work harder. I think this approach to life has effectively helped Japan build a strong powerful economy with many gorgeous skyscrapers, clean streets, fancy electronics, and an amazing rail system. They also look out for each other incredibly well. It is no wonder they have been incredible at pulling together to help each other out in the aftermath of the devastating quake and tsunami. It is an impressive country. Yet there is no escape from hard work. Being a success is to contribute to society in a large way, and contribution can only come from hard work. It seems like everyone around me gets more satisfaction in their lives from working more. They tell their friends with a smile about how much work requires from them, how little they have been home, and how they are so busy with their work lives and their social lives. Hard work was also the chief metric at the big four firm I worked at in the U.S., which naturally leads people to working longer and longer days.

It’s easy to see the personal conflict I feel with the way others are always pushing me to work harder, as I fundamentally believe that hard work can just as easily take away happiness as it can add to it. I am genuinely impressed with the mindset of working hard, and given I have always been a little on the lazy side (or so my teachers all tell me), and can be very introverted (or so my friends tell me), it is probably good for me to be around people who love working hard. But I do not want to live my life that way, and I think if I really accepted this mindset, I would lose my hope for happiness. For me, happiness requires time to think and time to write. Pushing yourself too hard in one thing can also blind you from seeing better opportunities. (Sometimes I wonder whether that is actually management’s goal in overloading us.)

Unfortunately, as the world economy trudges along through this long difficult recession, more and more people are falling into this mindset that our nation’s wealth is permanently diminished, its legacy is fading, and its centuries of growth and success that lead the world into a new age of prosperity has ended. Over the past few years, it is plain in the media and in normal conversation that America is anything but optimistic. I have heard is already becoming commonly regarded among Americans that China is the world’s greatest power, or that Singapore with it’s powerful centralized government is a better model to follow. Japan’s image of America as a world leader has deteriorated as well, as they have joined the huge group who criticize U.S. actions from both within and without the U.S. The poor actions and associated criticism of the American government has seriously reduced America’s “soft” political capital. Some think it is deserved, and maybe it is, but I think it is extremely unfortunate that the U.S.’s image has been so badly tarnished. Why? Because for all of its mistakes, the U.S. still stands for freedom and democracy in a way that no other country can. The world will take a drastic turn for the worse if the idea takes hold that because economic output in China is high, maybe China has an OK system of government, or because standard of living in Singapore is measured highly, maybe we need to give up more freedom for the sake of a more orderly and efficient country (Singapore ranks 140th out of 167 countries in Reporters without Borders freedom index). I do not say this to criticize China or Singapore, but the world cannot and must not, move in the direction of relinquishing freedom and allowing governments to become anything less than a system for the people and by the people. Most people making these comments have never even been to China or Singapore and in many cases are just trying to make an exaggerated political statement, but not everyone who hears these comments understands that. The U.S. is the most powerful example of democracy that history has ever known and we must not forget it.

But yesterday’s news that our decade-long struggle to overtake Osama Bin Ladin is finally over felt like a powerful ray of sunshine shining through this mucky fog we have been in for the last decade. Whether you think the struggle was right or wrong, it is over, and the military will have no excuse but to bring our young men home. It is a new day.

Yesterday as I flew over nearly the entire country, from Osaka to Seattle, to Minneapolis, and finally to Washington D.C., I looked down and saw a beautiful, free country that I can feel so proud to call my home. It is clear innovation is continuing, as I watched a large portion of people take advantage of in-flight wireless Internet on iPhones, Android devices, iPads, and Nooks. Just 10 years ago and it would have cost a fortune just to place a phone call from their sky phones, and now you can accomplish almost anything from 10,000 feet up. I was myself really impressed with how fast it was. I was even able to show the high school student next to me (who was with the group on their way to the national computing competition) the beta version of our new business venture. I thought back to when I was in high school and how I loved to hear about people’s big ideas, and told him all about the development process. He was really excited about the idea as he explained how he always wanted to learn Japanese. I remembered how much I loved learning Spanish in high school and how I would have loved to have had a system like the one we are making to help me study. I can hardly wait to add support for other languages and to launch our product. In our own way, we are going to contribute to the wave of innovation which cannot be stopped by this recession.

And when I think of how innovations which forever enhance our way of living continue to be made even in this recession, how we are still accomplishing many good things with an influence that extends throughout the world, and how we have tended to focus on the negative for the past several years as we’ve painfully carried the burden of war, I cannot help but believe that we will overcome all our struggles and emerge as a nation stronger still. Yes, we need to work hard, and yes, we need to look out for each other, but more than anything I fervently believe we need to believe in ourselves as we go on innovating and building a brighter future. Then our generation too will be able to include ourselves in America’s legacy as an example of freedom.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I like this quote.

“The beginning is the most important part of the work”
– Plato

This makes me feel confident my little project is going to be a success. Scott helped me get things off to a terrific start–now I just have to keep up the momentum!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

three strange happenings. (strange parts are emphasized)

  • found out favorite store (and all the stores near it) is going out of business 😦 had to hurry and do all my shopping in advance for this year’s adventures: backpack, hiking shoes, “trekking” socks, and waterproof bag. fortunately everything was half off.
  • cashier tried to give me 1,000 yen of extra change. he seemed to think i gave him three 1,000 yen notes for a 1,430 yen purchase.
  • caught up on a taped episode of house tonight in which they played peter gabriel covering arcade fire. wondering what is going on in american music for this to have happened. friends in america, please advise.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

organization -> better thinking

thinking is enjoyable, expands your ability to think

yet learning how to operate in a way that doesn’t require constant thinking is essential. if nothing else, it frees up your mind to think about more important things. in fact, however, through good organization, you can bury important information further down the brain stem. for example, use of a keyboard with the same letters allows you to think at a much higher level while carrying out what would for the untrained user be an extraordinarily thought-intensive task. hence the smartest people are not just those with raw thinking ability, but people with sufficient organization that allows them to rise above the details of the problem. i believe most of our education is akin to learning to identify keys on a keyboard. by finding the right patterns and placing them in the right place in our mind,  we advance up to higher levels useful conclusions in a context shared with others.

hence getting into a refined, organized, daily routine may be exactly what you need to free up your mind to allow you to concentrate on truly creative ideas.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments




風がやんだら 沖まで船を出そう
手紙を入れた ガラスびんをもって

今 海に流そう

今 海に流そう

霧が晴れたら 小高い丘に立とう
名もない島が 見えるかもしれない

今 瞳を閉じて
今 瞳を閉じて

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment