Saturday, April 26, 2014

Regrets 4: I regret not using a planner more consistently/effectively

While serving a mission for the LDS church, I was introduced to the idea of a planner. They had little weekly planner sheets, which were used to schedule out the weeks activities. Nothing very sophisticated, but it helped make sure our time was filled, and that we didn't miss appointments we had made.

After using these for a few months, I was introduced to the Franklin Day planner. It was a much more sophisticated planning system, which used a combination of daily and monthly planning sheets, couple with a goal setting system which was designed around identifying your personal values and then using those to establish long term, intermediate and short range goals. The idea being:

  • values generate long term goals
  • long term goals get subdivided into intermediate goals
  • intermediate goals are further subdivided into short-term goals
  • short term goals generate monthly objectives
  • monthly objectives create daily tasks

It is a pretty good system, really, and has been further refined by merging the Franklin System, with Stephen R. Coveys "7 habits..." principles.

I tried to use that planner effectively, but I ran into a couple problems:

1. It didn't quite fit me - my paradigm. Something about it always felt a bit... business oriented. I'm not saying that's bad, just not... me.

2. When I would pack that planner around with me, I felt self conscious. People would frequently joke about, and those that didn't use it for a chuckle, always seemed to be... condescending? Like they were chuckling inside but trying to humor me.

So, I never did really get a system worked out for me, I never really used it effectively, and it mostly sat on a shelf, only occasionally getting an entry or two. Much later, I even started fiddling around with building my own system - something that fit my geek/engineer/computer scientist/hacker brain (I don't mean hacker as in computer criminal. I mean hacker in one of the earlier, more positive sense, as in someone who constantly fiddles with a thing, trying  better understand it, or to find a creative, new or improved use for it). I even considered compiling my ideas into a book.

But again, I didn't do a very good job with it - I got the skeletal framework built, but then I sort of gave up again, due to feeling self-conscious, and due to just plain struggling to get in the habit (They say it takes 10,000 hours of focused, effective effort to master a skill. I would argue that just like Basketball, Gymnastics, etc... Planning is a skill, and a habit which is acquired only through diligent, persistent training).

Now as I stop occasionally and take inventory, I find a good many things that I want to do- wanted to have done, that I am nowhere close to accomplishing. Things that were entirely within my reach, had I not let myself get distracted by less important things.

It is very easy for me to get distracted. My mom used to refer to me as the absent minded professor. My short term memory holds information like a sieve holds water. Without a written plan to refer to, I lose focus.

Of course most people poo-poo the idea of investing so much time into planning. "live in the moment" they say. "Be spontaneous". "Seize the opportunities that present themselves.". "Carpe Diem" and all that.

But I have looked around a bit, and I have noticed something. Most of those who live spontaneously.... aren't really going anywhere. They spend most of their time reacting. Bouncing around from one emergency or romantic notion to the next. It doesn't look so much spontaneous as it does frantic. That is certainly how it frequently feels to me.

I wish that I could go back to my middle-school self, and introduce him to the concept of life-planning; of building a set of balanced goals, and "bucket-list" items, based on the wellness wheel concept (activities balanced across the different life aspects, such as physical, spiritual, social, emotional, intellectual...).

I wish I would have understood the concept of roles, and how they play into the time/money resource equation. I wish I would have begun then on my 10,000 hours of effort, so that ling before, I would be as skilled a planning, as Michael Jordan was at basketball.

I wish that I would have been armed with that system, on the frequent occasions that some distracting event crossed my path so that I could have pulled it out and asked myself, " is this particular event worth more to me than the things I have planned for?". I would still have been able to make a choice to hold my course, or alter my end goal, but the choice would have been a rational, informed decision, not a reaction to a passing event.

I wish I would have ignored all the people smirking and chuckling about my planner, and my plans.

Of course I am not saying it is too late for me. I could still check many of those thing off my list: Publish a book, achieve remedial skill at ballroom dance, play the piano/guitar, publish a computer game( I have several I want to build- an RPG with a survival focus, one where you are a gnome building contraptions to wipe out zombies after the apocalypse, and one where you play the worlds first AI, trying to survive....) It just would have been so much easier, so much better, had I developed the habit, and set the course earlier in my life.

"Happy are they who dream dreams, and pay the price to see them come true"

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Regrets 3: I regret not learning to play the Piano(/guitar/violin)

I love music. I listen to music a lot. I'd listen more often, if It wouldn't have a high probability of annoying those around me.

My tastes in music are quite eclectic: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, DollsHead, Linkin Park, The Corrs, Kansas, Billy Joel, The Piano Guys, Lindsey Stirling, The Nylons, Erasue, Manheim SteamRoller, david Arkenstone, Louis Armstrong, Nightwish, Apocalyptica, The Stabilizers, Yaz, Diana Krall, Kristine W, Milk Inc., Yanni, Enya, DJ Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, A-ha, Aquabats, Ellie Goulding, Skrillex, Angelzoom, Avicii....

I could go on for hours.

I listen to music to help me concentrate, to help me relax, to distract me when I am in physical or emotional pain....

I have observed that when I listen to music, I have an innate desire to participate in the music, there is something very cathartic, and euphoric about adding a kinetic element to it: dancing, drumming, "conducting"... Playing air-guitar air-whatever -instrument....

But most of that is reactive, rather than creative. It is nice, it "heightens the buzz" so to speak, but... It generally leaves me craving something just a bit more.

To be able to actually produce the sound myself. To be able to play that beautiful guitar bit in Nightwish's, "The Islander", or the more aggressive riff that opens Lacuna Coil's "Trip the Darkness", Or the haunting piano Bits in Offshore Wind and Roman Messer's "Suanda", or the peppy keyboard bits in Ellie Goulding's "Burn" (okay, those are probably samples, but I still imagine myself banging them out on a keyboard)...

That would be truly amazing. I suspect there would have been some great brain benefits, and possibly social benefits as well. But mostly I wish I had that skill purely for my own personal pleasure.

Unfortunately, my Mother didn't stick it out through my whining about piano lessons. And Guitar, violin I was doubly disadvantaged by not having access to an affordable instructor, and by being a lefty.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have sucked it up, and stuck out the piano lessons, until I achieved at least a remedial level of playing. Then maybe moved on to something with strings.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

regrets 2 : I regret ever accepting a student loan or grant.

I regret ever accepting a student loan or grant.

The loans I already explained in the previous post. The grants may not be so obvious. They were after all free money. I didn't have to pay them back. It was sort of like the government was paying me to go to school. Why would I regret that?

I had scholarships for the first two years, which covered part of my expenses. I have no regrets there. I earned those by doing well in high school.

The grants I regret accepting for two reasons. The grants were given to me because I was sufficiently poor. (And my parents as well). The government gave me that money because my income, and wealth were so low. Again, that seems like a good thing. The world is better off with educated people. There is certainly something to be said for making sure every citizen has the opportunity to obtain as much education as possible.

But.There are two problems with this. First, If I were to take a job, even a low paying job, I ran the risk of losing that money. That makes for a strong incentive to not work. And while a scholarly education has value, I still believe a "hands-on" education has equal or greater value. And given the frequent requirement for experience in job applications, I would wager most employers are of the same opinion.

Second, free money tends to impact the way you think. It did me. I didn't fight for my education. I accepted my role as one among many.

Roughly a year from completing a degree in Either Computer Science or Electrical Engineering, illness forced me out of college. then I found myself in a low paying job with Student loans to repay, no degree, no job experience to speak of... Fortunately, I has plenty of year experience fiddling with computers, an excellent work ethic, and a reputation for integrity, which helped land a job as a computer technician. This brought connections that led to other job opportunities, sufficient to meet my financial obligations over time. Finally, a decade later, I had the good fortune to be able to return and complete a degree in Computer Engineering. This time I worked my full time, career job, and took classes part time. I also paid for my classes. If my grades were sufficiently high, and if I could demonstrate that the class had some value-add for my employer, they would reimburse me for much of my expense, but it fell to me to pay initially, and then meet the requirements.

That seems a subtle difference, but it made all the difference in my mindset. I, ME, I was paying the several thousand dollars for those classes, and I darn well expected to get my moneys worth. I was paying the professor to instruct me. I was HIS paying customer. and I expected to be treated accordingly. That made an enormous difference in the quality of education I derived from those classes.

I don't mean to discount the role age may have played, I was more mature, and I don't discount that changed the way professors interacted with me to some extent. But age alone did not cause that significant a shift. It was the perception shift I had as a result of having paid for the course with MY hard earned money.

If I had it to do over again. I would have taken advantage of the scholarships I had earned, then I would have found a job, worked hard, and paid for classes as I was able to afford them with MY money. I would have accumulated more experience, I would not have had to pay interest on school loans, I would have graduated debt free (and probably sooner that I did).

Sunday, April 20, 2014


It is my firm opinion that anyone who says they have lived their lives with no regrets is either incredibly selfish, or incredibly ignorant. I will accept that one might not choose to change anything, if given the chance to go back, but having no regrets is another matter entirely.

I have a few regrets. Mostly the kind where I would do things differently if I could go back, knowing what I know now. A few others, where, though I regret the outcomes, I probably wouldn't change it if I had the option of a do-over.

So I thought I would take a few minutes to list some of them. Perhaps my children, or their children will be able to use these post to help them chart a better course....

I'l probably start with one or two money related one's, then move the the harder stuff...

I regret ever buying a car with credit.

I have purchased Six cars in my lifetime.  The first was less than $2000. The rest have been around the $7k to $10k range. There have been a few trade-in's to soften the blow of the later cars. All told, the total asking price for those cars was probably(rough guess) $35,000 - $40,000. With the interest for the loans over those years, I actually paid roughly, $45,000 - $55,000.

I threw away to to fifteen thousand dollars, paying interest. enough to buy a seventh car in that time. Or new flooring for our home. Or a really nice family vacation, or, a decent start on a mission/college/wedding fund. Or...

If I could go back in time and talk to my pre-teen self, I would have told myself to sit down and work out the cost of a mission, a car, and college. Then I would have divided that amount up by the number of years I had until those events, then I would have started making payments at those rates, or as close to those rates as I was able. (I did have a savings account back then - my mother set it up - but I wasn't really actively involved in managing it. I put an arbitrary, small percentage in for my mission, but I really didn't consider any other expenses, like college, car, a down payment on a house, appliances... If I could do it over, I would set up savings goals for each of those, and start populating them). And when I finally did purchase my first car, I would have paid cash for it. Then I would have continued to "make payments on it" to myself, into that savings account, so that when It became necessary to replace that car, I would have paid cash for the next car. If I hadn't managed to save up enough by the time I got to that first car, I would have sucked it up for an extra year, and rode my bicycle to work in the rain and snow. I would have made car payments to myself, and paid for it in cash. If I could do it over, I would NOT take out an auto loan.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Choosing to die?

I started this post long ago, but then replaced it with this one, for fear I would end up locked away on suicide watch. But the thoughts that originally prompted me to pursue this dialog are still rattling around, and I continue to feel a certain compulsion to get them on 'paper'.

I suppose I have been more aware of my mortality since becoming ill, and with recent changes in health care cost... well, let me just get started and see if I can untangle it. Be warned this will likely be extra rambly.

I don't recall ever being afraid of death. It just doesn't scare me. It is a transition. Not much different than graduating high school. Just another step. At funerals, I don't cry because I feel any personal loss, I cry because I feel sad for those who do feel loss. Am I weird?

I am not particularly afraid of dying (not anxious to get there, just not especially afraid). I am allergic to pain. I am no fan of discomfort. When I was in high school I had planned it all out; I was going to become an air force pilot, because I figured I would probably end up going out in an abrupt fireball during an intense dogfight somewhere around the age of 40.

I am afraid of old age, of losing my vision, my ability to walk, or use my hands, or to control my mind (or my bowels. eeew! I so dread the thought of doing that to some poor little nurse!).

But even more, I fear becoming helpless. I dread the thought of becoming a burden to my children. It terrifies me to think of them losing out on their dreams because they are caring for my sorry carcass. I dread using up any potential inheritance, college assistance, etc... on expensive medical bills for myself, and preventing them from opportunities to excel.

At some level, I sort of understand that is kind of how it all works, Kids start out helpless, and are cared for, reared, nurtured by their parents, then as the years take their toll, the children, now grown, and self sustaining, care for their venerable progenitors in their waning years. Circle of life and all that.

And I suppose I am a bit of a hypocrite. I would happily care for my parents in any way I am able. I wish I could do more than I do now... But I don't accede to my self the same standard of care. I'm not quite sure why that is. Perhaps I don't see myself as deserving that level of veneration - I haven't earned that. Maybe everyone feels like this...

I think perhaps the current state of things contributes the my thought process. We are much better today at keeping people alive. People are living longer than ever before. In my specific instance there is no statistical reduction in life expectancy for those diagnosed with Crohn's. Typically for the worst case they just pull your guts out, and you keep on going.

Couple that with a declining population growth rate, and you have a state of more people in need of care then ever, with fewer people to shoulder that burden.

I don't want my children to be forced to poverty just because my generation invested their vital years in self-interest, and their later years trying to prolong their worthless lives (Do I have an overly negative opinion of my generation? Dunno, The prior generation worked hard, rationed almost everything, built infrastructure... They sacrificed so much to build wealth, my generation - at least through my potentially jaded goggles - wasted all that on "free love", "short term gains", "greed is good", and "sticking it to 'the man'".).

Now don't misunderstand. I am not looking to exit my life early. I want to live to see my kids grow up, I want to hold their babies. I want to leave some sort of legacy. I read this tribute to a girl named Summer a while back. Yeah, I'd like to manage to live long enough, that I can sufficiently improve myself to the point that someone would want to write something even half that nice about me (That could take a while, I'm not nearly as pleasant or socially not-stupid as she sounds).

But I am rambling all over the place, and not really getting to the thought I intended to address. Let me try again.

The point is, given current advances in medical technology, there is a fair chance that at some point in the future at which you will have to choose to die. we already have machinery which can breath for you, recycle your blood, replace your heart, kidneys...

There are already occasional cases involving people battling to keep someone on, or take them off life support. Cases where the person can't speak their mind on the subject due to being in a coma. Where is the line between death and Murder/Suicide in such a case? Can any rational line be drawn? Are their any kind of markers that can establish at least a reference point for making such a decision?

And then moving down a bit what if you have to take a medication to stay alive, and you decide to stop taking it? Or what if there is a particular something that you enjoy, and you know that it is going to kill you (examples, cigarettes, excessive alcohol consumption, foods that have been removed from your diet is you are a diabetic,...)?

Perhaps there are not good answers. Perhaps there never will be. Guess for now I will just do what I can to build up as much credit as possible, and hope I don't burn through all of it pooping my pants and drooling all over myself..