What I’ve Been Reading (As of November 20th)

I haven’t updated this series since August, so I thought it would be a good time to check-in on what I’ve been reading as of late.

Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett

This book came as a recommendation from Jujimufu (aka. Jon Call) on YouTube.  In addition to putting a greater focus on fitness and health, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of the physical state of my body.  I know that carrying around a lot of extra weight is hard on the joints, but I do a lot of stuff that is also bad for my body, such as poor lifting mechanics, sitting and slouching in my chair at work all day, poor mobility and stretching habits, and not addressing niggling pains in my knees.  I picked this book up to help me be more mindful of good body mechanics, improve both my flexibility and mobility, and to address common pain I feel in my joints.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

I first stumbled across Esther Perel through a TedTalk she gave a few years back, and again through the Audible Original mini-series released about her couples therapy experience.  I heard she recently released a book on infidelity, which got me looking at her other books.  I decided to pick up Mating in Captivity since I am getting married next year and it seemed relevant to future-me (the idea of sustaining passion in a relationship over the long term).  Are there problems with my love life?  No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from an expert to ensure I’m mindful of my relationship moving forward.  If I want to be the best partner that I can be, then it means I should pick up good practices and insights wherever I go.  Long-term relationships are subjected to a lot of life changes (career, family, children, age, economy, etc.), and I’d rather be aware and exposed to things that threaten to cool the passion over time to better handle them down the road.

The Bookshop on the Corner (A Novel) by Jenny Colgan

This was a splurge purchase through the Bookbub mailing list I joined (they send daily lists of discounted Kindle ebooks on Amazon’s website).  The story is about an ex-librarian who decides to take a chance and buy a large cargo-truck to turn into a mobile bookshop.  I’m about a third of the way through the book and am enjoying the story so far.  It partially takes place in Scotland, which was a happy coincidence for me (I traveled to Scotland in July of 2016).  Truthfully, one fantasy I have is to retire and own a bookstore.  While this might not be an accurate picture of my future, I can still dream, can’t I?

Find Your Why by Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker

A burning question for me concerns itself with purpose.  In a broad sense, I’ve been reflecting on purposeful living and articulating my values, but in a narrow sense, I’ve been exploring what gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment at work.  Because I lack that definitive feeling of purpose at work (that I’m working on what I’m meant to do, whatever that means), I’ve been doing some soul searching, working with a career adviser, and reading this book.  I’m not very far into the book, so I can’t provide a lot of comments from it, but I liked Simon Sinek’s previous books, and so I’m looking forward to working may way through this one.

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

This list wouldn’t be complete with an update on which Pratchett Discworld book I’m on.  I just finished Moving Pictures last week, so I’ve just now moved on to Reaper Man.  Death has been a favourite character of mine, so it was nice to return to a Death-centred story.

These aren’t all the books I’ve got on the go (shamefully, there are books on my previous lists that I’m still plugging away at), but it does give a good snapshot of what you’d likely see in my hands.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

 

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Ellipticals and Zombies!

In my search to find exercise routines that I can make stick around long enough to build habits from, I am experimenting with a running app and a new piece of home equipment.  My fiancee and I have recently purchased an elliptical machine for our home.  While I was initially hesitant about the cost when I was already paying for my gym membership, I have since come around to the convenience of using the machine at home.

One issue I’ve had with fully embracing exercising at home is my limitations.  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I drop our dog off for daytime boarding, since both my fiancee and I work during the day (it gives our dog some socializing time and exercise).  This means that I have to be out the door a bit earlier than I otherwise would need to be, which cuts into time I could be at the gym.

I have been going to the gym Tuesday mornings for the last month and a half, but Thursdays are a write-off because I work at the bar Wednesday nights and don’t get to bed until 1am at the earliest.  Outside of weekend, this means that my morning exercises are limited to body-weight work, or the rowing machine that currently serves as a clothes rack.

Enter: the Elliptical

The elliptical, on the other hand, allows me to jump on for 30-45 minutes in the morning, then I can immediately shower and get ready for work and still get out the door in time.

(Note: I realize that these are not good excuses for why a more disciplined approach to my morning wouldn’t fix my problems.  While this is true, I’m trying to address these shortcomings with solutions, rather than relying on a fantasy alternative reality where I am a morning person.)

The elliptical is also good because it’s low impact on my knees.  I’ve recently discovered that 330lbs is the magical number where my knees are starting to hurt by the end of the day.  Ideally, I want to get  back into running, like I had done in undergrad, but I know that my knees and shins wouldn’t hold up to the abuse of trodding at my current weight.  The elliptical provides a good middle-ground to improve my cardio in the interim.

ACK! Zombies! RUN!

The last hurdle is that cardio is pretty boring.  This is where the zombies come in.  I’ve downloaded the Zombies, Run! 5k Training app (this is not a paid sponsorship; I just like the app).  It’s a fun spin on the Couch to 5k (C25K) training systems that gradually build a person’s endurance over a multi-week period to get them from complete novice to a 5km run through weekly drills and timed runs.

I’ve used it for a couple of weeks as of writing, and I’ve been enjoying the experience and sharing my “runs.”

My experience with the app have been good so far.  I like that it allows for external audio to play while the app is running.  I run Spotify in the background for music, then the running app interjects periodically to give me instructions, such as when to run and when to walk.  The app makes these instructions fun by forming them in terms of a story about a town fighting for survival during a zombie outbreak, so when you are running, it is from zombies that you can “hear” behind you.  The training is framed as you learning to be a better runner for the town (runner scavenge for supplies out of town, hence why they need to learn to run faster from zombies).  It adds a sense of purpose to the training, and provides a fun context to help you progress the story along.  At its core, it’s an audiobook laid over a GPS/step tracker.

Because I can complete a mission in under an hour without leaving the house, it fits well with my time restrictions in the morning.  I’m enjoying the experience and I hope to keep this going beyond the 8-week training module.  Combining this with lifting weights at the gym a few days a week (or the occasional YouTube lead yoga session), it provides a sense of novelty to keep me engaged in the process.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

October 2017 Sleep Check-in

After missing my target by one night in September, and doing a quarterly check-in, I was hoping to get things back on track for October in terms of sleeping.  Let’s see how I fared.

Screenshot_2017-10-31-14-55-55
8/31 – Ouch…

Yep, I failed another month.  This was entirely because I was not intentional with my sleep habits.  I didn’t think about going to bed on time, and I didn’t make any effort to structure my evenings around winding down at a reasonable time.  It’s starting to show, too.  I’m finding that as of writing, I generally feel a bit more tired and groggy during the day.

This doesn’t mean it was all bad or completely negligent on my part.  From the above chart, you see many stretches (Oct 4-7, 16-21, etc), where I was consistently not going to bed at a decent time, but you also see instances where I just barely missed the 7-hour bar.

The restless sleeping seems to be an issue for me, and I’m not entirely sure what is causing it.  There are a few issues that could be contributing to it, such as the dog jumping on the bed during the night, or perhaps my weight is giving me some form of undiagnosed sleep apnea.  Whatever the cause, it does have an impact on my sleep targets: I am down for 7-hours or more, but I am logging less than 7-hours of sleep.

However, this is shifting the blame a bit to soften the blow.  The truth is, for every instance where I just barely miss my target, there are at least two nights where I didn’t have a proper shutdown before bed.  Fixing those errors should be my priority, not making excuses.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Skills Worth Developing – Storytelling

A common skill I often hear referenced as either lacking in new grads or in online career development literature is communication.  In the various industry meetings I sit in on, employers observe that soft skills, and communication in particular, is something that needs to be fostered in students.  One problem I have with the idea that we should develop better communication skills is that, on its own, the idea is hard to action.  What does it mean to communicate better?

At its core, communication is the process of taking an idea from one mind and trying to reproduce it in the mind of another person.  When I was exposed to communication theory in undergrad, I was taught the basic mechanics of the transmission model.  The transmitter encodes and sends a message through some medium, and the receiver decodes the message and attempts to understand it.  If you take out considerations of how messages can be disrupted en route (think: playing the telephone game), a frequent problem I encounter with communication is poorly encoding/decoding a message.  When you are trying to send a message, explain an idea, persuade, evoke empathy, etc. in others, how you choose to structure you message becomes critical.  A tool you can use is storytelling.

I was first exposed to storytelling as a serious mode of communication in 2012 through my local Community Foundation.  They had a pilot project called the Centre for Community Knowledge, which helped train local nonprofits and charities to tell their stories better.  The thinking was that if you could effectively tell your story, you could more easily connect with volunteers, donors, and others to champion your cause.  There, the instructors provided workshops for organizations to draft compelling stories, film them, and present them on the Centre’s platform.

Storytelling is hard.  Selecting the right details and presenting them in the right sequence in order to maximize impact is challenging.  I still consider myself an amateur when it comes to the skill of storytelling.  But in the five years since I first learned about telling stories in the nonprofit world, I’ve learn 4 core truths about storytelling on why it’s a skillset worth developing.

 

1.) Effective storytelling is mindful of the audience.

You can’t tell an effective story if you don’t consider who your audience is.  Everything hinges on knowing who you are speaking to – their experiences, their knowledge, their interests and wants, their attitudes, etc.  How you craft a message will differ if you are speaking to children versus conservatives versus students.  Is your audience open to your message, or are they hostile?  Are you trying to convey information, persuade them to change their minds, or entertain them?  You can’t tell a good story if you don’t think through these considerations.

2.) It’s not about wowing or captivating; it’s about connection.

Sometimes, we get bogged down in thinking about storytelling or speeches from the entertainment point of view – how do I captivate my audience?  How do I grab their attention and hold it?  But effective storytelling is not about captivating your audience, but rather it’s about building a connection with them.  It’s about making an idea relatable, in terms your audience understands.  If you can make your audience connect with you as a person, or at least your story, then you are effectively communicating with them.

3.) Theory and data is hard to understand; that’s why stories and metaphors are so important.

If you take a cursory look at the most common scientific theories, you will find an interesting phenomenon: you’ll often see that the theory is communicated through some sort of analogy or metaphor.  That is largely because the concepts being described behind the observations are not immediately accessible to everyone.  People don’t understand what gravity is, or what light is, or what evolution is.  So, science communicates complex models through stories.  Selecting stories to fit data and theory is challenging because you don’t want to leave out important details, but if you can choose the right story to tell, you can open up whole new worlds of understanding for your audience.

 

4.) Stories are often told with a purpose in mind.

Does every story need a point?  No, not really.  We can tell stories simple to entertain one another.  But effective stories are often effective because they are communicating an important message to the audience; a lesson, a purpose, a greater understanding.  In earlier civilizations, we created myths to explain the world and transmit values through the generations.  To borrow a phrase from Simon Sinek, the nonprofits I mentioned above were seeking to communicate their Why to their audience – why they do what they do.  Good stories often tell more than an amusing account of events.  They impart lessons that edify the audience.

 

Storytelling is only one way to effectively communicate.  I don’t mean to say it’s the only form you should use (I doubt the engineers I work with want my reports to them to be parables about data), but it’s worth developing as a skill if you want to be able to connect with others to share your ideas and vision.  Whether you are seeking to entertain your friends, break down a complex idea, or persuade someone to follow you, being able to tell a good story will go a long way in bridging the gap between you and others.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

Skills Worth Developing – A Primer

I have recently made visits to my alma mater’s Career Centre for some career counselling.  Now that I have established myself solidly at work, I want to start planning the next steps for mid-career moves in a few years.  While I can certainly do a lot of work on my own, I find value in speaking with a professional who can help me work through the process from an objective outsider view.

Part of the process involves reflecting on skills and values.  Not only should I look at the skills I currently have, but I should also start looking towards jobs I’m interested in and analyzing the skills I will need.  This process asks a number of important questions:

  • What skills are required to be successful/effective in my desired position?
  • What skills will I need to develop, and what kind of training/experience will that require?  Is there any lateral movement I can make with existing skills or domains?
  • On what timeline do I need to plan for skill development?
  • (And, critically) Of the skills required of a position I’m looking at, do I really care about the skill or acquiring it?

I’m still in the early stages of this work, but it has gotten me thinking about skills more broadly.  If you spend time around the career or personal development blogospheres, there is a lot of lip-service paid to skills that lead to high paying jobs, especially those concerning STEM.  Oftentimes, I find that these skills are specific bits of knowledge, such as programming and design, but you still see some of the generic skills like communication or critical thinking.

While reflecting on this, I was thinking about skills that I don’t see mentioned often that would still be worth developing as they are cross-domain and useful in many contexts.  And so, from time to time, I will reflect on some of these skills here.  Next week, I will share some reflections on the skill of storytelling.

One thing to note here is that I think these skills are important irrespective of whether they are tied to high-paying work.  Yes, it can be important to seek high compensation for work.  However, my introspection on the topic of career moves is motivated less by wanting more money, and more tied to personal fulfillment.

Yes, I want more money – I am hampered by student loans and I look forward to the day when my comfort margins widen sans debt.  The reason, though, that I went to the career adviser in the first place is because I generally don’t feel satisfied by my work.  I want to feel a sense of purpose and intrinsic achievement in my life, both professionally and personally.  There are many aspects of my life that I am happy with, especially at home.  Where I feel an absence of satisfaction is in the intersections of work, production, and craft.  It’s not about being busy or productive.  It’s about making, producing, and working on interesting problems.  That’s what I feel is missing.

It’s what I intend to explore through thinking about skills worth developing.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Quarterly Sleep Review: July-Sept

Back in May, I thought I’d give a sleep update for that quarter to see what kinds of trends would shake out when taking a longer view of my sleeping habits.  I missed the opportunity to give an update for the April through June span, so instead I’ll skip it and give the update for July, August, and September.

In the first quarterly sleep review, I was showing some pretty terrible numbers, with an overall success rate of 25/120 days, or 20.8%.  Let’s see where we are now.

Jul-Sep sleep

Here, we see a much better hit-ratio.  Between the months of July and September, I hit my target two out of three months, for 31 out of 92 days, or 33.7%, a more than 10% jump in sleep.

Some of my success in this quarter is because I’ve tried being more conscious of my sleeping habits, though I will admit that I still don’t do a good job of maintaining a night-time routine to get myself into bed at a decent time.

The sleep results for each of the days of the week are somewhat consistent from the last quarterly update, with the most sleep occurring Sundays, where I’m usually not up late and I can sleep in the next day.  Thursday continues to be a bad day for sleep since I’m still working at the bar Wednesday night’s.

The biggest improvement that was unexpected was my Saturday sleeping.  As I noted in the last quarterly update, Saturday’s typically suffer because I work at the bar, and so being up late usually means I won’t get a full 7-hours in.  In this quarter, I have fixed that issue somewhat, though admittedly not intentionally.  My best reason to account for this change is that I often take early cuts at the bar when we have lower patron turnout, so I’m able to go to sleep earlier than I otherwise would have.

A final caveat on my sleep results is that my July and August results are good because of the vacation I took from work.  The two weeks off between July and August meant I was able to keep a regular sleeping schedule, go to the gym twice per week, and have time with my partner, all while still being able to get work done from my to-do list.  That two-ish week period is a little bit of a deviation from the norm, which resulted in a higher sleep ratio for the month.

All in all, I’m happy with the results, and am looking forward to the next quarterly sleep review to close out 2017’s sleep tracking.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan