Winging It

I am seating in a meeting, listening to the folk around the table drone on about some subject now lost to memory when it hits me – in the way I imagine an out of body experience might – just how much of what is often dressed as expert opinion is little more than strongly expressed opinion. Far from thumbing my nose down at others, it is a farce I very much consider myself as a contributor to. That sense of winging it, making things up as I go along, is one which has come to define the first half of the year for me; from the vagaries of the aforementioned work situation to the minutiae of doing life, spread as it has been between the grey, dull granite of the ‘Deen and the leafy, colour-suffused greenery of the Wey country.

In the best of years, I face the second half of the year with a sense of tentativeness, primarily due to the fact that the six weeks between the 8th of July and the 15th of August are deeply emotive ones. This year, that sense of being dragged unwillingly into the second half of the year is heightened by my middling attempts at meeting the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Boiled down to its essentials, 2018 was the year I would read (and write) more, lose weight (to the tune of ~ 10kg), go a long way towards replenishing the savings my Chelmsford exertions drained and complete a timed 10k race. Some progress has been made towards running that 10k (I am currently training for the Simply Health Great Aberdeen Run) and have managed to complete 7 of the 25 books I hope to read in 2018, but what is abundantly clear is that a humongous effort is required to recover and meet these targets.

Elsewhere work (and multiple trips to the middle of nowhere), travel and machine learning have been my continuum. In addition to Pula, pit stops over the course of the year have included Inverness, Glasgow and various dodgy London backwaters. I am only six weeks into a twelve week machine learning course on Coursera but what it has done to reignite niggling doubts in my mind about the future cannot be completely quantified. Poring over matrices, gradients and numerical computations has brought back to mind things learned in Further Mathematics many years ago, with the near instant feedback a few lines scripted in Octave can bring raising the question in my mind of what I want to do long term. A year ago, I could have sworn the corrosion and materials discipline was it for me (hence the Rust in RustGeek) but a combination of needing to move down south and studying has made me question what shape or form the move should take. I am far from being at a level of proficiency required to completely dump my past life and switch industries but I suspect if this horse had its wish, I would be dumping my rust geek card and picking up a Deep Mind one, never mind they are riddled with contractors.

It is not only on the subject of the future that niggling doubts assail me. Faith, developing a coherent world view and how that interfaces with science and what we know about the physical world is something that has floated on the periphery of my consciousness for a long time. The pitfall in all of this thinking is entertaining doubt for its own sake only, or worse as a proxy for a cool, worldly wise spirituality rather than as a means to an end, figuring out objective truth. That, this engagement of the mind and reason in the sphere of faith, is one that the church has a rich tradition of; Augustine, Origen, Eusebius, Anselm – to whom the motto fides quaerens intellectum – and more recently the likes of CS Lewis and John Stott all come to mind. Three books, one on the go and two on the to-read list, are likely to feature prominently here; Diarmaid MacCulloch’s (the partly read one) A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years which attempts to chronicle the coalescence of various ideas into what we know and practise as Christianity from a historian’s viewpoint, NT Wright’s Paul: A Biography which looks to reinterpret Paul’s legacy from the perspective of a theologian’s who is not afraid to colour outside the lines a bit, and Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood which given her antecedents is likely to be a more modern, doubter turned believer again view. Paul looms large in all of this, predictably, given his outsize influence on the New Testament and its shaping, and also how a lot of the ‘problematic’ bits of the new testament, especially it’s treatment of women relate to his teaching.

Identity is also another topic which has lingered on my mind these past few months, triggered in the main by the World Cup and the make up (and performance) of the French, Belgian, English and German teams. Trevor Noah’s take, the response from the French ambassador and his response all demonstrate how deeply nuanced the subject is. Whilst there is certainly some delight in seeing people like me do well for these countries (sans the English team of course which being the dour, Calvinist almost Scotsman I am I must hate), the fact that none of the ‘proper’ African countries made it out of the group begs the question of if these sons of African émigrés have achieved what they have in spite of, rather than because they have African roots. The Mezut Ozil saga does suggest it is a little bit of both, with there being a sense in which the acceptance of one’s visible otherness is bestowed almost as a reward for being of the good other. Acceptance or not, the one question I have’t being able to wrap my head around is what I would do if I had a kid who was great at sport. Would I encourage them to represent Nigeria or their adopted country?

There are a lot of weighty things to mull over, and a few trips to the middle of nowhere to navigate but I would like to think I can make writing more a focus for this second half of the year. The benefits are obvious, I think, from providing an outlet for clearing my head and organising the prodigal thoughts swirling about in my head to providing opportunities for deliberate practice. I make no promises though, may what will be be.

#59 – Mosbytis

Spent the bulk of the weekend re-watching Season 9 of How I Met Your Mother, complete with its unsatisfactory ending in which Ted shoots off to Robin’s after all she put him through. Tsk!!! Tsk!!! Before that though, Ted’s summation of his 9 year journey to finding Tracy did resonate with my inner suppressed romantic:

It was at times a long, difficult road. But I’m glad it was long and difficult, because if I hadn’t gone through hell to get there, the lesson might not have been as clear. You see, kids, right from the moment I met your mom, I knew… I have to love this woman as much as I can for as long as I can, and I can never stop loving her, not even for a second. I carried that lesson with me through every stupid fight we ever had, every 5:00 a.m. Christmas morning, every sleepy Sunday afternoon, through every speed bump. Every pang of jealousy or boredom or uncertainty that came our way, I carried that lesson with me. And I carried it with me when she got sick. Even then, in what can only be called the worst of times, all I could do was look at her and thank God, thank every god there is, or ever was, or will be, and the whole universe, and anyone else I can possibly thank that I saw that beautiful girl on that train platform, and that I had the guts to stand up, walk over to her, tap her on the shoulder, open my mouth, and speak.

Oh to love and be loved that intentionally and intensely.

#LifeGoals

100 Days Of Being

luna-what-could-you-do-with-100-days-lighter

This year, instead of  a bucket list of things I am hoping to achieve, I chose to identify 12 things, key changes which in my opinion if implemented in my life would deliver the biggest value. The intent is to focus on one for each month, the idea (referenced in this Matt Cutts TEDx talk)  being that focusing on one change for a thirty day period gives one a fighting chance of making lasting change.

For January, the objective is to focus on developing a regular practice of contemplative prayer and bible study, two things which my harried existence in 2015 made nigh impossible to do with any regularity.

Towards the back end of last year, I stumbled on this post on the Hillsong Collected blog that led me on to the original 100 Days of Making Project page. There is a long and storied history going back to a graduate project at the Yale School of Art, but the premise is simple: doing something creative for 100 consecutive days.

Given one of my objectives for the year is to write a lot more consistently, I’d like my thing to be 100 consecutive days of writing. I suspect the subject matter will vary widely from day to day but I’d like the over arching theme to be one of being; specifically reflecting on where I am today, where I have come from and how these have shaped how I see myself evolving over the next few years.

The NYTimes Learning sub-site has a listing of 500 prompts for narrative and personal writing which will be the core of what I reflect on, augmented by any day to day happenings which catch my attention.

Fingers crossed then. Here’s to #100DaysOfBeing.

2012 in Twelve Things

In what is going to be a first for me, I will cross over into the new year aboard an airplane, albeit one headed homeward. It certainly is a far cry from how 2011 started, but perhaps this unconventional start will afford  me the chance to pause and ponder a few days early, and agree on 12 things for 2012 all aligned with my seven priorities for life. Here goes:

  1. Develop a daily practice of meditation, prayer and journaling:  Taking time out to examine life, capture things as they happen and improve daily has to be a key component of my daily routine going forward. The seven priorities are great on paper, but unless progress on the continuum towards achieving them is measured and recorded, I suspect the end of the year will come, and I will still be where I am as of today, stuck in a rut. Target: 4 of 5 days a week of reading the identified text in the Our Daily Bread app.
  2. Lose 20kg: I am overweight – no amount of faffing around can gloss over that simple fact. I tried for a month, before slipping back into my my routine of Nandos, large potions and baguettes at work. Losing weight has to be a focus in 2012, the target is to lose 20kg for a return to c. 80kg weight and a healthy BMI. Target: Walk to and from work daily, take 2 days in the week to eat only fruits (seedless grapes, bananas and apples only), stay off coffee, eat half of what I would normally eat.
  3. Read (and review) 25 books in 2012.
  4. Call parents and siblings once a week: Quick phone call to Dad/Mum every two weeks; hopefully I can catch the siblings weekly for a quick chat.
  5. Save £1,000 a month: The YE spend data for 2011 was abysmal. For a net (ex. taxes) increase in pay of c. 600 pounds, I ended up doubling my expenditure versus 2010. Some of it was unavoidable  – the house move in late 2010, increased bills and rents hit for the full year 2011 versus the one quarter in 2010, but large swathes of cash remained unaccounted for. The plan is to move 1,000 each month from my net pay prior to any expenses coming through, as well as refuse to get involved in providing soft loans to the lads.
  6. Get chartered engineer status:  I didn’t make a lot of progress professionally in 2011. There were no conferences attended or certifications gained. This is a focus area for 2012 – I am looking to get at least one of either the C.Eng designation or complete my NACE certifications before YE 2012.
  7. Get a driver’s license: I have had a provisional drivers license for over a year already. The focus in 2012 will be to use the 1st quarter to write and pass the theory test, and the summer months to practice for and pass the practical test for a full drivers’ license. Given my traumatic car crash from 2008, and the fact that I haven ‘t driven since then, I suspect this will not be a trivial pursuit.
  8. Resolve long term settlement options: 2012 will be crucial for me as I decide where I will lay down my long term routes. TheBZ would be a good place, but the increasingly louder anti-immigrant rhetoric is a niggling issue at the bottom of my mind. Canada seems to be a longer term option – one that I will explore to a greater extent in 2012.
  9. Resolve my dating and meeting issues: I am at a stage where I can truly say that I have let got of my EJ issues. Having said that there remain pockets of memories I need to ditch finally. The target through 2012 is to bring myself to the place where I can truly say I have forgotten and moved on, a position where I am free in my head to meet and date again. 2012 in this regards has to be the year of de-cluttering.
  10. Complete FAN integration: Given my constant moaning about how mind numbingly boring the little city I live in is, that I am not taking advantage of what opportunities there are to meet people is a shame. Through 2012, the intention is to reconnect with the Youth and Singles group at church once a month.
  11. Re-engage with FOL service: My service in the group I work with in church was shocking in 2011. Granted, part of it was a busier, less controlled work load, but my worldview issues also contributed in no small measure. The plan in 2012 is to reconnect and reengage with the group, and be useful once again.
  12. Find a mentor: I’m looking to get more intentionality in life, a mentor would definitely help for the accountability bits here.

On stuff……..This side of Heaven

Yours truly spent the weekend; the part not spent on Facebook, Twitter or playing Football Manager that is, thinking about all the things I need to sort out in the next phase of life for my aging self! Here are the Seven things I have to get done, in no particular order, before Heaven beckons….

  • Marry the akara making Halle berry/ Gordon Ramsay/ Martha Stewart superwoman of my dreams!
  • Write the best-selling collection of poems and or the book that gets me on the cover of TIME magazine and rave reviews as the new Shakespeare (speaking at TED would be a great alternative!)
  • Swivel in my chair and dictate global Pipeline Integrity Policy from my corner office at Corporate HQ on 800 Bell street for at least 20 years..
  • Walk a tight-rope stretched taut over the Niagara falls (or if my keg prevents me, pretend to!)
  • Get to retire to my yacht in the Caribbean and watch the sun set for at least another 20 years!
  • Make a one time donation of at least ten million dollars to World Vision, Compassion, or preferably Stepping Stones Nigeria.
  • Last and not the least, get some legit toe-curling, head twisting, mind boggling you-know-what..

Daaaayuuum…. Its a Sunday.. Enough of the day dreams – I’m off to Church!

The Action Item List

I identified a few key things that I need to work on in my life to improve on myself majorly. The prioritized list I will be working off is below:

  1. Develop a reading schedule: financial, self motivation, self esteem, writing and career related books.
  2. Schedule times for laptop gaming, internet and other non essential activites.
  3. Build a plan for improving my life in the categories of Al Mohler’s excellent piece – The Marks of Real Manhood.
  4. Develop a plan for regular bible study and prayer, determine a time and stick to it
  5. Document my peculiar sin vulnerabilities: identify the triggers and fight for the life of me!
  6. Identify two mentors – one in the workplace and one for my personal life. Set up weekly teleconferences or meetings as appropriate.
  7. De-clutter my life. Reassess all my people connections and downsize to a manageable number.
  8. Complete my MSc, identify critical modules I will require in the work place and read up on them before I get to resume work.
  9. Get a complete physical exam done. Identify any potential health vulnerabilities and ensure they are in line for focused attention.
  10. Maintain my weight – can’t afford to increase health risk levels by bulking up.
  11. Develop mechanisms for tracking and assessing need before expenditure. Consider adding a need assessment module to my excel tracking sheet.
  12. Read up on investment opportunities in Nigeria. Develop mechanisms for assessing investments and prioritizing them for action.
  13. Identify worthy causes and get plugged into a couple.

Hopefully, I will be able to state categorically at the end of the year that I have worked through the list.. I then shall measure effectiveness and decide which new directions I need to chase!