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Monday, January 26, 2009

Taking positive action to bring about change

As many of you may know, I'm an audiobook junkie. Due to my attitude towards the use of time, reading physical paper and ink books is difficult. I feel uncomfortable using my time in that way. If friends give me books, I start to read them, but usually by the time I reach page twenty I've either decided that the book is not worth my time, or that the book is worth getting on Audible. If an audio version is not available, I either pass the book on, or keep it for those rare occasions when I feel comfortable with the idea of reading.

Anyhow, I'm lucky to have a fellow audiobook junkie here in Tokyo - someone with whom I can swap recommended listens. Recently, he recommended 'Manage your tune, Master your life' by Robin Sharma, a very short audiobook that had helped him make some positive changes. I downloaded it this morning (in addition to Obama's speech which is available for free), and listened to it whilst on the train to the city office.

In brief, Robin points out just how precious our time is, and how important it is that we do not postpone the things that matter most to us. He gives practical advice - one suggestion being to join the 5am club. Having started my own 6am club last week, I can vouch for the amazing difference it makes to have an extra hour in the morning. Whereas many people wake up and find that they are chasing their day before it's even started, if you get up that little bit earlier, you will find that not only can you get a ton of stuff done before the daily routine begins, but also that you entire day will be more orderly and productive. From experience, I'd say that's very true.

Listening to Robin's session today, I was finally compelled to do something that I've been wanting to do for about a month now but have been lacking in courage to face - quit one of my part-time teaching jobs. I love the students (and judging by the emotional scenes tonight the feeling was mutual), and found myself learning a lot through working there. But (as I mentioned last night) I've got other projects that represent my passion, and the feeling of frustration in not being able to make time to pursue them has reached epic proportions.

It was funny though. When I gave them notice this afternoon, I felt compelled to re-write my email and explain why I was quitting, and pass on some of the advice from the audiobook. I talked about 2009 being the Year of Change. I wasn't entirely sure why, I'd only ever exchanged very short emails with them about scheduling. But next thing I knew, the member of staff who deals with foreign teachers was asking me to come in a bit early - they needed to talk to me. It turned out they since last week they have been at exactly the same crossroads as me. There were further emotional scenes.

I think we humans are pretty good at knowing when we're not acting in harmony with spirit. If we practice being in touch, we can tell if a job is no longer in congruence with our true paths. But taking that next step - causing inconvenience and possibly upset, stepping into the unknown in the face of (sometimes strong) opposition from those around us, is incredibly hard sometimes. But it has to be taken if we're to move forward.

I'm glad I took that step today. In the grand scheme of things it was insignificant, but carries a lot of meaning for me as I continue on my journey.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thought on New Years resolutions

ri-kun the tortoise_2245

Ri-kun on the tatami

I finished reading Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" this evening. [Wikipedia] [official site]. The New York Times accurately described it as "much more of a political document. Portions of the volume read like outtakes from a stump speech, and the bulk of it is devoted to laying out Mr. Obama’s policy positions on a host of issues, from education to health care to the war in Iraq."

Whilst it might sound like it would be a right yawn for someone like me who has little interest in politics, I liked it a lot (although admittedly, I did fast-forward through some chapters that in which he talked in detail about the US political process). It served to give me a feel for Obama as a person, and I must say, he seems to be a bloomin' nice chap. I also found myself thinking that I'm like his wife, Michelle, in some ways.

I'm now listening to 'Tribes' by Seth Godin, which focuses upon marketing in the age of Twitter and Facebook. It's received mixed reviews, with some people noting that it just reads like a load of blog posts, that there's nothing new in it and that it lacks depth. All true perhaps, but that doesn't bother me. As someone very much interested in the uses of social networking services in marketing / creating communities / building businesses, I find it fascinating - and inspiring too. There's a fair amount of inspirational stuff in it that can be found in many other 'You can do it' books - but I need to hear this.

I am an ideas person, but I fear putting my ideas into action. Ideas for a publishing company. Ideas for a Penguin business. Every day, lots of ideas.

I think much of this fear stems from a fear of what others may think of me, a fear that is utterly ridiculous and serves no useful purpose in my life - it only holds me back. It kind of p*sses me off really.

I know I've come a long way, but I could do so much better. The fact is that those people who really know me know that I'm a good, trustworthy person - with flaws. Thus, they forgive me my errors in judgement and continue to support me, in return for my support and love of them. I don't need to fear losing those who are precious to me (they include all of my friends).

But what of those who think I'm stupid, misguided or deceitful, and then treat me with contempt? I'm scared of being treated with contempt.

But that's ridiculous. Looking back over the past 15 years or so, I can't think of a single occasion when someone important to me has treated me with genuine contempt. Why do I even entertain these ideas? I'm a good person, I know I am, and I don't need to have these fears.

These past few days I have begun mulling over my New Year's resolutions for 2009. One that I've been considering is 'Action without Fear'.

Crikey. That's a bit scary.

The thing is, there's no point in making such a resolution unless I act on it. That will require a conscious effort on a daily basis. I think if I do adopt it, it will need to be classed as an 'experiment' limited to a period of say, 3 months (long enough to see tangible results?), with regular progress reviews built in. You might think that overkill, but when it comes to things that are uncomfortable and require self-motivated/self-enforced persistence, I need to use all the tools available to me to succeed. (Look at me with my iPhone and Jogging schedule).

I also recognise that I need a tangible goal to aim for. It could be having my photos on public display, generating a certain amount of income from Amway, registering a certain number of artists with Three Seeds - it could include all three, and of course more.

I think 'change' will be the key word for 2009. I, like everyone else on Earth, am afforded the opportunity to change almost any aspect of my life every single day, yet I fail to appreciate that most of the time. I subjugate myself to the status quo - it's easier that way.

But that's not good enough! I have a responsibility to be the best that I can be.

No, I shouldn't need a New Year to make changes, but I don't feel strong enough to act alone at the moment. The calendar will be my ally.

Anyway, it's time for bed. We're having our Christmas Day tomorrow as it's a national holiday (emperor's birthday) - everyone is able to gather at the family home just north of Tokyo. Excited!

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Purpose



My sister Jessie (left) and I, age: quite young

Personally, I'm yet to feel the effects of the global economic slowdown. I've not been made redundant, my salary has not been cut, overtime is still allowed.

But I can feel it's just around the corner. Local redundancies are being announced on a daily basis, and the thinking is that it's just going to get worse. One of my private students was telling me how her company, once reluctant to fire anyone (something that is admittedly pretty difficult to do in Japan - the common method seems to be to bully and pressure people into quitting) has just announced 2000 cuts, with more to come in due course. Whilst the nature of the client base that the English & Chinese education company I work for means that we are not suffering so much from this initial phase of the slowdown, this past week there have been some hints that next year is going to be a tough one.

I'm very much a subscriber to Robert Kiyosaki's idea of there being four main types of people when it comes to income, who together make up the 'Cashflow Quadrant'. They are: E - employees, S - self-employed, B - business owners and I - investors.

(For more on the Cashflow Quadrant get hold of a copy of Kiyosaki's incredibly easy to read bestseller Rich Dad Poor Dad)

I've long had a gut feeling that I don't belong in the 'employee' quadrant, and in such economic conditions as these I find this gut feeling being exceptionally noisy. Seeing people in 'secure' jobs being left high and dry makes me question the sense of placing my future in the hands of an organisation that could let go of its staff at any time, for any number of reasons.

If I was working for the satisfaction that the day-to-day work brings, then it would be no big deal. Whilst I do feel real satisfaction in my day job (and before I go any further, I'd just like to state that as well as enjoying my day job a great deal, I see it as performing a very important and necessary role in my development, and I have no intention of leaving), I have a strong feeling that I'm heading towards a very different role in this world, of which I have only a vague picture at present) (this is aside from any purpose I have to become a better person in a spiritual sense, a journey that continues no matter what I do).

Whilst I am happy that I am able to make a positive impact upon the lives of my students and (to a certain extent) my colleagues, I can't get away from the idea that ultimately, the main purpose of most companies is to provide a good return to the shareholders. These are shareholders of which I know nothing. Who knows what they might choose to invest the profits of my labour in.

Some people might think this is taking things a bit too far, but I don't feel it is. I have a limited time on Earth this time around, and I want to make the most of it. I am happy to invest a few years in doing such things as working for my present company as I'm learning a lot, and teaching is a worthy cause, but I believe that I would feel that I had somehow wasted the precious gift of life were I to remain working for someone else for the rest of my life.

So then there's the S quadrant - self-employed. One thing I've been fortunate to learn second-hand over the past few years is that being self-employed isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be. For one thing, there's the fact that (for most one-man-show enterprises) if you stop working, your income stops. Then there's the hours. I forget what the stats are, but self-employed people usually work a lot more hours than those in the E quadrant. Having said that, the chances are that the self-employed business owner will get a great deal more satisfaction out of their work than an E. Every hour of work they put in is an hour invested in their own enterprise - an idea which appeals to me a great deal. They are also more likely to be doing what they love (or they probably wouldn't have started that business in the first place!). However, ultimately, the lack of time freedom in the S quadrant does not appeal to me.

Then we move across to the B quadrant - the business owners. These are people whose businesses continue to operate even when they are physically absent. This is where I want to be. This is where I feel I should be putting my energy ...but find the ease with which I can invest in the E quadrant too seductive. Striking out is tough. It's easier to just be told what to do.

The final quadrant - our ultimate financial goal, is the Investment quadrant, whereby the wealth we have created will continue to generate an income in perpetuity, for the causes that we choose. Being socially conditioned, I used to think that people in this quadrant had only got where they were by trampling on others. However, the more wealthy people I meet (here in Japan), the more this stereotype is revealed as being a load of crap. They are by far the most generous, caring and 'normal' people you could hope to meet, and don't give a poop about keeping up appearances. They are generous with both their time and money, and in my book are worthy role models.




These past few weeks I've been making my way through The New Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, an updated version of the classic self-development book. It's very good. Informative, and inspirational. Whilst there's not much in it that you haven't heard somewhere else, the scientific angle is refreshing and convincing.

...and it really gets you thinking - "If I could be the person I really wanted to be, would I be the person I am today?" If the answer is no (as it is with me), then there's clearly a need for action.

It's compelling. Real change doesn't take months of years, it takes a split second - the split second it takes to make the decision to be that person. That person who is fit (or on the road to fitness), that person who owns their own successful business (or is in the process of setting it up), that person who has rich, loving and trusting relationships with all those around them (or is making a concerted effort to build such bonds).

I'm in an incredibly fertile environment that is brimming with opportunity. It's called life, and it's time I took the next step (even if it's only a small step). I'll write about it in due course.

night.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Meeting with my past

It was good to see my brother and his partner in Devon. There hadn’t really been time to catch up at the wedding; it was important we do that before I leave. I’m so glad I made the trip down there.

Likewise with my older sister, whom I met up with here in Bristol at lunchtime. I’m so proud of her doing what she’s doing.

Tonight I’m staying in Garfield Villa, the house I lived in for over a year following my return from Japan in 2003.

It’s funny being back here. The house and its lovely occupants take me back to that time.

I find myself becoming the person I was then. If you’d asked me yesterday if I was very different 5 years ago, I would have said no, not really. But ask me tonight, and the answer is a definite yes, I really have changed.

I actually find it quite disturbing to come face-to-face with the Joseph of five years ago. He’s a bit of an egotistical twat, to put it politely. He was a Joseph who cared a lot about the opinion of others, and actively sought to entertain. I feel he lacked confidence in himself, and sought to hide behind a mask of humour - and enjoyed being seen as a boundary pusher.

This was also the Joseph who desperately wanted a girlfriend, and actively sought a partner using dating websites, and getting close to friends’ friends. He had quite a few disastrous ‘encounters’, all of which become anecdotes told at parties, the bearded farmer one being the most famous.

I’m not ashamed of that Joseph: it was a necessary part of my growth, but I do feel uncomfortable taking on that character now. Reflecting on what happened tonight, I can clearly see just how much I have changed since 2003, how my internal reactions to identical stimuli (separated by time) are very different.

So in a way, it’s comforting. It’s comforting to know that there has been change. But I also feel badness inside that I wasn’t able to assert myself.

It’s also made me wonder what would have happened had I not gone to university, had I not started work on my spiritual life, had I not met *Twinkle*. I think for me, the act of physically moving to different places and meeting many different people, being exposed to different ideas, has contributed an awful lot to my growth. So that begs the question - does growth now take a back seat to financial necessity and the comfort of routine?

Of course not. But I feel that the end of this era of regular ‘forced change’ does mean that I will need to now put in a good deal more effort to actively continue learning and growing. Yes, I think the challenges of living in Japan as a foreigner will to some extent provide fuel for further growth as a matter of course, but that won’t be enough. It’s important that I continue to engage with life on a daily basis, and not get complacent.

I find that idea exciting, yet scary too. Thursday really is a big day. It’s not just a flight to Japan, it’s the start of what I think will be one of the most challenging periods of my life to date.

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