Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2 Cents Worth

What's it all for?
An interesting post with some ideas about how we envision and prepare for the future and whether it comes at the expense of appreciating and engaging in the present:
"I believe that he is absolutely right, that a race to the future defeats what is precious, the present, and that we may be robbing our children of their precious present for the sake of the future, and perhaps for the sake of political satisfactions much more selfish and insidious."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Passion and Perseverance Predict Success

Two authors I admire bounced off The Winning Edge in a recent issue of Psychology Today:They've both captured the main points better than I could have, but I also wanted to keep a quote to remind myself to come back and re-read this one later. We often think about our passion as something we're waiting to discover, or worse yet, hoping that it will discover us...but I think there's more truth in this:
"Although extremely persistent people are usually passionate about their work, that doesn't mean that the passion always comes first. Perseverance, notes Duckworth, can itself foster passion. Often the most fascinating aspects of a topic (particularly a highly complex one) become apparent only after deep immersion, to a level 'where you understand it and are enlivened by it.'"
Doug often talks about the importance of doing...doing something, anything that interests you. Having goals is great, but their primary value is in inciting directional action...getting you doing stuff that will lead to other interesting stuff. This is certainly part of what I got out of Paul Graham's undelivered commencement speech -- find interesting problems and projects and actually work on them, regardless of how "real life" may intrude. He also recommends finding difficult problems and questions to pursue, which reminds me of one of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's conditions for flow (total engagement in an activity) -- a level of challenge sufficient to stretch (but not way exceed) your skills. If I remember correctly, he studied high school students who achieved the flow state in subjects like math that they didn't enjoy, but the challenge helped them engage.

Preparing Kids for the Future

Creating Passionate Users is one of the few blogs I read that crosses over into most of my areas of interest -- software development, learning theory, publishing, and occasionally Lifestylism-related gems like Preparing Kids for the Future.
"But really, I'd encourage anything the kid is interested in. And this is where the controversy is... whether "good parenting" is about taking a heavy hand in steering your kids toward a responsible means of making a living, vs. being supportive of their passions that might ultimately lead to a life of being, well, a starving musician. (Or whatever the equivalent is for any other pursuit that my parents would have considered a 'nice hobby, bad career choice.')"
The comments are piling up on the post, and many of them are worth reading as well. One of the problems with this discussion (wherever it comes up) is that it tends to assume a polarization in the choices available, between university leading to boring (but decent-paying) work on one path or happy (but starving) artists following their passions on the other. Most conscientious middle-class parents want nothing more than to offer the best of both paths (financial security from the former, happiness and passion from the latter), but are generally clueless about how to foster that ideal set of characteristics for their kids' future.

Since the last thing we want is to push our kids into lives that will make them miserable, we take a hands-off approach to guidance in these areas, telling kids that they can do whatever they want, and advising them to pursue their interests. Meanwhile, we try to expose them to as many activities and areas of interest as we can jam into our busy schedules, hoping that one or more might become a passion for them. So by the time Little Jimmy hits Kindergarten, he's already been in swimming lessons, music classes, gymnastics, dance, soccer and general preschool classes of all kinds.

Some of these hobbies and sports might become passions, but most won't...and very few of them have direct or viable counterparts in the current or future labour market, and unfortunately most of their experiences in high school are neither personally engaging or connected to their future lifestyles. So you get graduates with a few interests that are likely sports or hobbies (maybe even some that survived from those pre-Kindergarten exposures), some important skills, a network of friends, bits of knowledge about lots of topics, and a vague sense of their own aspirations in life. It's not a bad place to be overall, but then we ask them to specialize in one field/major/career, preferably in something with good pay and job prospects, with the implication that they'll probably be stuck in it for at least a decade or two. Stress!

I agree with Kathy's recommended preparation skills/orientations -- creativity, flexibility, resourcefulness, synthesis, metacognition -- they're all wonderfully cross-displinary, focused on creating new things, working together and finding interesting and challenging questions/problems/projects to work on. In many ways, schools do the opposite, segmenting topics and disciplines, covering old and existing material, isolating students from communities and each other, and regimenting what and how and when everything should be learned.

It's no surprise that school makes it difficult to develop these self-actualization skills. So how do you help someone figure out what they really like working on? For most people, it's not a simple matter of "discovering" their passion and then sending them off in that direction with a pat on the back. Passions don't tend to live in us fully formed and ready to be mapped over the real world. We learn what kinds of work really engages us by...drum roll please...actually working on interesting projects, usually with others, almost always with a creative process and result, learning new cross-displinary skills in the course of solving problems we need solved (and answering questions we need answered), and finding out what new opportunities arise out of all of these actions. Easy, right? More on this later...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More Happiness, or Else

Pat Kane weaves together some compelling ideas about happiness and the state's role in ensuring happiness for its citizens, using this article as a starting point: Consumer capitalism is making us ill - we need a therapy state. A quote:
"The church has lost sway, and the state has retreated behind the single rationale of promoting economic competitiveness with its overtones of Darwinian selection (a major source of unhappiness in itself with its vision of life as a competitive struggle). That leaves the market a free rein to describe happiness - the new car, new sofa, new holiday - and to manipulate our insecurities around status.

Leave things as they are and the state will increasingly have to pick up the bill for how consumer capitalism effectively produces emotional ill-health - depression, stress, anxiety. Leave things as they are and the state is part of the problem, promoting a set of market values that produce emotional pollution."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Life and Death Clocks

Thinking about the future can often trigger morbid thoughts, but there's something powerful about seeing how much life you might have left. The death clock helps with this process of reflection, projecting your possible demise based on some basic lifestyle factors.

It can be inspirational if you take it the right way. I guess this may be along the same lines as the aging machine I linked to below -- some people will find it fascinating and cool while others won't want anything to do with the unpleasantries of envisioning their old age. Two other life clocks (this one and this one) take a more positive approach, use more lifestyle factors, and both gave me an extra three or four years to live, so I should really recommend them as well.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

More Parenting Lifestyle

One of the most intense arenas for lifestyle decisions and integration comes for working couples (who wouldn't be working?) who are having kids. I've touched on it occasionally, but only in a flippant way, which is kind of bizarre considering it's what I'm living right now. Anyway, Gwen sent me into a maelstrom of discussion this morning, mostly from the perspective of moms who are either working outside the home or mostly staying at home raising kids. I started by reading the initial link she sent: My Radical Married Feminist Manifesto, which has an incredible 242 comments, the best of which were penned by an incisive Vancouver mom who had also written her own excellent post bouncing off the original one. A quote from one of her comments really rang true for me:
"If you don't value what society values - success in the monetary - and you're not feeling like your career is fulfilling, then stay-at-home work feels great. Museums on weekdays! Afternoons in the park! Playing with cooking! It is true that in the domestic life, work is never done. I set boundries and routines for myself to cope with that.

HOWEVER. I know this is me, this is now, this is my preferences and lifetime. I also know that it would *Piss Me Off* if anyone tried to tell me I couldn't be a Software Engineer due to my gender. I'm good at my job -although obviously it's not working for me long term.

Here's the reality, though: I won't ever put in a 60 hour week. Even if I got my bliss job and was making $80,000/year as a pundit, I wouldn't put in a 60 hour week. I wouldn't travel away from my family for weeks and weeks every year. So I feel like there's not a lot of room for me anywhere of importance in society because I'm not out there enough to be important."

Work Unhappiness and Health

Research reveals that dissatisfaction at work causes illness:
"Those with low job satisfaction are most likely to experience emotional burn-out, have reduced self-esteem and raised anxiety and depression. Environmental factors can contribute to the incidence of many human diseases. However, the new findings show that there is a clear link between job satisfaction and mental health."