Ancient Wisdom Still Relevant Today

I enjoy reading for pleasure, but also range widely in the search for insight. I was reading the Book of Ecclesiastes (which was written in the 3rd century BC) this morning and was struck by a few quotes.

For sheer, brutal honesty and down to earth wisdom I couldn’t go past the following:
    Better to be criticised by a wise person
     than to be praised by a fool. (Ecc 7:5)

There were a few elements of good financial advice. The first is particularly pertinant for us Aussies in a time of a high Australian dollar:
    Send your grain across the seas,
     and in time, profits will flow back to you.
    But divide your investments among many places,
     for you do not know what risks might lie ahead. (Ecc 11:1-2)

The second provides an insight into how to find contentment and reminds us not to get too caught up in the chase for a dollar:
    Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have.  Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless – like chasing the wind. (Ecc 6:9)

And finally, I was struck by the realisation that as people we really haven’t changed.
    Don’t long for “the good old days.”
     This is not wise. (Ecc 7:10)

I can imagine the author penning (or should that be quilling?) that line after someone complained to him that the square wheels of his youth were so much better!

My Favourite Suit

I delivered an important presentation at work today so I wore my favourite suit. I don’t wear it often. It’s the suit I was married in. It’s also the suit I wore to my grandfather’s funeral.

Although it’s a few years old now, it’s still a nice suit, and still fashionable enough to wear. The thing I like best about the suit is the two pieces of paper in the inner breast pocket. One contains the speech I delivered at my wedding reception. The other is the eulogy I delivered at my grandfather’s funeral.

I leave the speeches permanently in the pocket – apart from when the suit gets dry cleaned. When I put the jacket on, and feel the cards in my pocket, they’re a nice reminder of what’s important and special in my life. And when I do wear the suit at a high pressure event - such as a job interview or a major presentation – they help to remind me that I don’t need to treat the situation too seriously, because in the scheme of things, there are many more important aspects of life.

Small acts of kindness

William Wordsworth once said, “The best portion of a good man’s life are his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” I was privvy to a small episode last week which reinforced this for me.
I was chatting with a colleague – let’s call him Bart – when we were joined by Marie from HR. I prepared to introduce Bart to Marie, but she interrupted.

“We’ve already met,” she said.

“That’s right,” Bart agreed. “In fact, Marie helped me the first time I conducted a recruitment process. It was about fifteen years ago.”

“Do you remember that?” I asked Marie.

“I certainly do,” she replied. “Bart sent an email to my boss after the recruitment was over telling him that I was very helpful. I was on contract at the time and it helped me obtain permanent employment. I’ve never forgotten.”

Bart was surprised. “I don’t remember writing that note,” he confessed.

“It’s not often that someone goes out of their way to express thanks,” said Marie. “Small acts of kindness are never forgotten.”

This little incident has played on my mind ever since. It has helped me realise there are numerous opportunities every day when I can make a positive difference in someone’s life. I’m now challenging myself to recognise the opportunities and act on them.

Who knows, my actions may also be remembered with gratitude and fondness many years later.

Vale, Ernie Thompson

My grandfather, Ernie Thompson, passed away last week just shy of his 92nd birthday. In addition to being a beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather, he was also the inspiration behind the character of Walt in my novel, Wings. I was privileged to deliver the eulogy at his funeral today. I only hope I did him justice. This is what I said:

When I considered writing Grandad’s eulogy, the first things that came to mind were the events of Grandad’s long and interesting life. I thought about his adventures on the moors of Lancashire when he hunted with his father to provide food for the family during the Great Depression; his time as a fighter pilot during World War II; his marriage to the girl next door and the five children they raised; his emigration to Australia and the development of his skills as a master woodworker.

But I realised that although these things would tell you what Grandad did, they might not say much about who he was. So instead, I’ve decided to talk about three characteristics of Grandad which I believe sum him up as a person.

The first characteristic was his personal courage.  This was most obviously displayed during World War II when he gave up the safety of his job and hounded the Royal Air Force into accepting him as a fighter pilot. Due to his reserve occupation, he could have passed the war by the side of his sweet-heart in a risk-free manner. Not content with leaving the hazardous work to others, he spent the war flying in deadly combat with the Nazis.

Grandad displayed courage again when debilitated by polio in his forties. He refused the iron lung recommended by his doctors. He reasoned that if he let an artificial device do the breathing for him, he would never breathe on his own again. Despite risking his own early death, he backed himself to overcome the odds rather than be tied to a machine.

Grandad was also a positive supporter who advocated the belief that anything is possible. I know that my brother’s successful career as a pilot owes much to the support and inspiration provided by Grandad. Two of my great loves – cricket and reading – were fostered by Grandad. He was always interested in what I was doing, and would congratulate me on my achievements whilst encouraging me to stretch myself further.

The final endearing feature I’d like to touch upon was his sense of gratitude. Over the last twenty years of his life, Grandad had to deal with the loneliness that comes with being a widower, the loss of his sight due to macular degeneration, the loss of much of his hearing, and ultimately, the loss of many of the faculties of his mind due to Alzheimer’s.

Throughout this ordeal, his focus remained not on what he had lost, but rather, on what he still had. With many ingenious inventions, he continued wood turning despite his blindness. I never once heard him complain about the difficulties he endured. He was always top of the world, and he counted himself amongst the most fortunate of men. Even right at the very end, when all was seemingly lost, Grandad still had his faith and counted himself supremely blessed for this privilege.

Courage, being a provider of positive support to others, a sense of gratitude. They are three virtues which Grandad – in his own very quiet and humble way – used to construct a life of meaning and significance.

Navigating my blog

Thanks for stopping by my blog. After an intensive six months of blogging, I’m taking a break to spend more time with my family and work on my next book. But wait! Don’t go. There’s plenty of interesting material on this site to keep you entertained and informed so make yourself a coffee, settle back in your chair, and keep browsing.

To make things easy, I’ve compiled a roadmap to help you find the posts most relevant for you.

My two favourite posts (and they’re very different) were An Innocent’s Introduction to Horror and The Circle of Life (which was also my very first post).

I have excerpts from Wings introducing the two main characters, Walt and Scott.

If you’re interested in how I go about writing a novel, checkout 700 words a day, Structured or Unstructured, Evolution of a Cover, or Editors: Who needs them?

Want to know more about setting and achieving goals? See Which Goals to Chase, Fear of Failure, The Daily Habit, The Importance of Being Precise, The Benefits of Lists or Post-goal Letdown.

There are also posts about the use of social media, some great interviews with other authors and even a few jokes!

Thanks again for visiting. I hope the extensive links above will help to give you an insight into writing, assist you to be more productive or simply give you a chuckle. If you’d like to give me feedback about this blog or Wings, or there’s any other questions you’d like to ask, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. My details are on the contact page.

Is there such a thing as Post-Goal Letdown?

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I place some importance on goal setting. (For example, see The Daily Habit, 700 Words a Day and Which Goals to Chase). However, it would be a mistake to think that I believe achieving goals is the only important thing in life.

In my experience, whenever I have put too much emphasis on any individual goal, I’ll inevitably feel a sense of post-goal let-down once I have achieved it. I don’t know if this is because chasing it has consumed so much of my time and energy that its absence leaves a gaping hole in my life when it is no longer there to pursue, or if it is simply because I can tend to build things up in my mind to be bigger than they are, or maybe because there is always something else to be done even after the loftiest of goals have been achieved. The sense of letdown may come hours, days or weeks after achieving the sought after goal, but it will surely occur.

In my mind, I think that expecting the achievement of some major goal to bring about deep satisfaction is similar to thinking that money will buy happiness. However, I’ve always found that a pay-rise, new car or new furniture has a lack of impact on my overall sense of happiness or well-being.

The bottom line? My view is that the journey is more important than the destination. If goals are the be-all and the end-all, you can miss much of the fun and interest along the way, and when you do complete a task, you’ll find it was never quite as satisfying as you envisaged it might be. But if you focus on enjoying the journey, and make sure you have a range of interests and activities in train at all times, then a life of satisfaction and achievement beckons.

The Daily Habit

One of the problems with doing things that are good for us is that it can often be hard to summon the energy or willpower to start.

Take exercise for example. When the alarm goes off at six o’clock in the morning, the last thing you may feel like is getting up and lacing on the joggers. Smacking the alarm clock, rolling over and attempting to grab another hour of sleep may be your natural reaction.

Similarly for those who write, sitting in front of the keyboard and a blank screen can be quite a daunting prospect. At times like this, checking email, Facebook, twitter or the news may seem like a much more attractive proposition.

However, giving in to immediate temptation (whether it be sleep or email) will not help you get to where you want to go.

Someone once told me that you never feel worse after exercising. I have always found this to be true*. Similarly, there are few first drafts so bad they cannot be revised and edited into something presentable at a later date. However you can do nothing with a blank sheet of paper.

If you are shooting for a long-term goal, do keep making the right decisions to support that goal on a day by day basis, because these decisions will be habit forming. I have read that it can take a month of daily repetition for something to become a habit. The first month may be hard (particularly the second and third weeks), but if you push through it gets easier after that point. When you are struggling through these hard weeks, think about how far ahead you’ll be after three months of regular exercise or daily writing** compared to daily procrastination. After a few months, the difference between nothing and a daily something could be five or ten kilos off your weight or twenty thousand words down on paper, to say nothing of your improved sense of well-being.

The final thing I should say is that I often fall short in my attempts to maintain my daily habits so if you’ve got any tips which help you maintain your enthusiasm, I’d be interested in hearing them.

* If you were to get run over by a car whilst completing your morning jog, you probably would feel worse, so do make sure you look both ways before crossing the street.

** Insert your own benefits here, depending on what your goal and desired regular routine is.

Which goals to chase?

Life is busy and our time is limited. How do you work out which goals to go after and which to ignore?

I try to make these major decisions in a holistic way by looking at my entire life and lifestyle so that I can prioritise between my many competing demands.

Unless you’re a professional tennis player, it’s not as simple as just choosing one goal and following it blindly. Most of us need to make our goals work in the context of a balanced life. For that reason, we need to think about goals as they relate to:

- Our family, relationships and personal life;

- Our career and study;

- Our friends;

- Our community interests; and

- Our personal pursuits such as hobbies or exercise or sport;

Every extra bit of effort we put into one of those dimensions can take focus away from another. Of course, we can often satisfy two dimensions at once. If we enjoy playing sport with our friends, that will satisfy the friendship dimension and our personal pursuit dimension.

One technique I have used is to list down each of those five dimensions in a spreadsheet, one on each row. In the first column I write down my current level of satisfaction with each dimension; in the second, I write down where I’d like it to be in the future (eg what I’d like to achieve or contribute in 1 year or 3 years time).

By considering all of the dimensions on the same sheet of paper, it means I am less likely to set unrealistic goals in any single dimension. If I want to chase one goal particularly hard, I will at least do so knowingly and can consciously choose to sacrifice one of the other dimensions.

I have found that using this technique to get the big picture right helps me plan my day to day and week to week activities, the achievement of which gradually contributes to the achievement of long term goals.

Reference: I have adapted this technique using some of the principles of “Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind,” which is explained in Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Follow the link for more information on the 7 Habits.

The Circle of Life

My youngest son, a four month old baby, was christened a few weeks ago.

The church bulletin reported his baptism on Sunday. Also printed in the same bulletin was a section calling for prayers for the deceased. There was one name in that section – the name of Ethan’s Great Grandmother. Her name was there because this is the anniversary of her death and Ethan’s faithful Great Grandfather (also known as GGPop, short for “Great Grand Pop”) requested the inclusion of her name so she could be remembered and prayed for.

I found a certain poignancy in the fact that the bulletin announcing Ethan’s christening also commemorated GGNan’s death.

Ethan has never met GGNan. She died two decades before he was born. But Ethan is a part of her legacy.

Life goes on, and we plant and sow our seeds every day during the relatively short time we spend on this amazing planet. What legacy will we leave?