April 26, 2015

Karma Chameleon


"Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering." [1][2]
Wikipedia's two sources sum-up this notion quite nicely. I know many people that don't believe in karma, but personally I like the idea of it. I'm not keen on the idea of a prime mover or god that keeps a tally and ensures the proper cause and effect, but for some reason I can totally get behind a Universe that is constantly attempting to keep itself balanced, with its entropy increasing, but at the same time keeping some order within the disorder.

Maybe I'm a Buddhist.

I know I've experienced moments where I've put something bad out and received something bad in return. I've also put a lot of good out into the world and received a lot of good in return. Now, I don't do good things with the expectation that good things will come back to me, but I do try to make sure I'm putting more good out there than bad. I find that the reward for doing a good thing comes from simply seeing the impact it has on someone else. So I suppose I'm greedy in the sense that I really like seeing other people smile.

Once, I tried to fill the karma tank on purpose and it worked out for me, but generally speaking I try no to abuse the system. It was near Christmas time and I was in Toronto with a car full of people on a really busy street on our way to Ikea. The roads were pandemonium. About two blocks from the store, I stopped short of an intersection to allow a few cars to get into my lane. Someone in the car made a comment about that being a nice thing to do and I responded with, "Have you seen this place before? I need all the parking karma I can get!"

At that exact moment, a truck pulled around the corner with "KARMA" written in big brown block letters on the side.

We all just kind of sat there in traffic with our mouths agape as we inched our way closer to the parking lot. Upon entering the craziness that is an Ikea parking lot at Christmas, I drove to the closest row to the door. You never know, right? Well wouldn't you know it, someone in the closest non-handicapped spot by the door pulled out just as I was approaching. Boom! Wish granted.

We've all had personal experiences just like this, regardless of whether or not you chalk them up to karma or simply coincidence. Either way, there's no denying that there are ebbs and flows in everyone's lives. It's not too often, however, that you get to witness these ebbs and flows for a complete stranger. I'm talking about karma in action. I mean, actually seeing it unfold before your eyes in all its glory. To witness this as an unaffected third party is remarkable.

This train of thought all started one day at the office a little while ago. Someone in one of the back rows of the parking lot had pulled in a little too far and their front tires sunk into the swale (because we have one of those eco-friendly parking lots with grass swales instead of concrete barriers). He asked for help from a couple co-workers, but they weren't getting him out. As the saying goes, he was done stuck good.

On the surface, this looks like a terrible situation, and it would be if not for the fact that after refusing to allow someone to call him a tow he proceeded to grab his things from the car and then leave our parking lot on foot and walk to the building next door. You see, his lot only had spots at the back and he didn't want to walk so he parked in the back of our lot, closer to his building. I should point out at this point that this is not allowed. He was parking illegally in our lot to save him a few steps on his way to the office. Well, that's what you get, buddy. If that's not a perfect example of live-action karma I don't know what is.

In fact, because I was riding a bit of a mean streak that day I went down and took the picture you see above and pasted it all over the Internet. I also left him  a note on his windshield with nothing on it but the word "Karma." On top of all that our building leaseholder is going to bill him for the repairs to the eco-friendly swale. That seems like a lot of negative kick back for a minor parking infraction, but who am I question the Universe?

Call it what you want or call it nothing at all. You don't need to be religious or spiritual to see that you should try to minimize the bad things you do. In other words, don't be an asshat. As a corollary, you shouldn't do good things expecting good things to happen in return. The return will take care of itself in due course.

It's really quite simple: if you do good things then it stands to reason that others are more likely to do good things as well. Everyone benefits and we don't have to keep track of the quid pro quo exchanges. Be content to let karma (or whatever) take care of the math.

It is said that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. I think of karma as the luck portion of that equation. The preparation piece is the practice of doing good things. Opportunity is obviously the situations you put yourself in where you can do good all those good things. The more good you're willing to do and the more chances you give yourself to it, the luckier you'll be.

In summary, be excellent to each other.

~ Andrew

April 12, 2015

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

In March of last year I was exchanging text messages with a friend about how twice in the last five years my birthday was cursed. My brother-in-law died on my birthday back in 2009, and that year, 2014, while away on a cruise with the family our cat died on my birthday as well. After the usual "I'm sorry to hear that" / "That sucks" type comments that two friends such as the two of us would exchange, he sends me this: "We have to get you a new birthday."

He tossed out a few ideas including the Sunday of The Open Championship, which has some sentimental value to me as the weekend of The Open is the time when a group of guys from university all gather at his cottage to just be guys and drink, golf, water ski, and eat steak (and unhealthy amounts of Peanut M&M's). Realizing that July was a tad too removed from my March birthday he found the solution: Masters Sunday. 

Masters Sunday was perfect. I LOVE The Masters. Love it. The Masters means spring is here. It's usually warm enough to get up on the roof and take down the Christmas lights. The NHL playoffs and the quest for the Stanley Cup are but days away. The Masters is home to some of my favourite golf memories (watching, not playing, obviously). Going to see a round at The Masters is on my bucket list.

I'm claiming fair use of this logo but if that doesn't fly,
Augusta National, please don't sue me.
I would still celebrate my birthday in March, of course, but since 2009 it lost a bit of its lustre. My friend's thought was that if I received a text message wishing me a happy birthday on Masters Sunday that some of the lustre could be restored. He was right. The afternoon of Sunday, April 13, 2014, while I was watching Bubba Watson on his way to his first Masters victory I received my first Masters birthday text. I should have taken a screen capture or saved the text or something, but for some reason I didn't. The memory will have to suffice and I'm documenting it here, now, before my memories one day fail me. 

Jim Nantz once famously said of The Masters, "It's a tradition unlike any other." He was right, too. 

This whole thing got me thinking about some of the other traditions this particular tournament embraces and how this wasn't always a good thing. Keeping things positive for a moment we have the tradition of the amateurs invited to the tournament and how they get to stay on the grounds in the famous Crow's Nest. I can only imagine the feeling of being a teenager or newly minted twenty-something amateur golfer and getting to play that course and stay on-site. 

Another famous tradition is the Par 3 Contest. Held the Wednesday immediately before the first day of competition golfers play the Par 3 course at Augusta National with their kids as caddies. Players without children often use a parent or sibling or sometimes a celebrity they happen to be friends with. There's a prize awarded to the winner of a crystal bowl but many of the players forego their chance at winning by letting their kids putt out on some of the holes. Aside from the awesome father / child experience this creates, taking themselves out of of the Par 3 competition has other advantages as no winner of the Par 3 Contest has ever gone on to win The Masters in the same week. 

Of course, traditions are all fine and dandy so long as we're not doing them because "that's the way we've always done it" or out of bigotry, racism, or fear. When this happens, at best, we end up as a bunch of monkeys that won't go up a ladder and don't know why

Augusta National's membership is by invitation only (it's a private club and there is no application process) and for a long time invitations were only extended to powerful or influential men. White men (their caddie policy was spectacularly racist until 1983 as well). That changed in 1990 when invitations started to go out to black men and other non-whites as well. 

In 2002 there was a famous disagreement between then Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson and Martha Burke regarding the exclusion of women from the club. The dust up between the two resulted in The Masters airing commercial free for two years to avoid putting the sponsors in the position of having to pull their support for a tournament that was not gender inclusive. In spite of this, sponsors were on board again in 2005 and the club still didn't have a single female member (citing other such clubs as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, college sororities, and the Junior League as examples of other gender specific organizations). However, in 2012 Augusta National invited two women into its club: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore

So, Augusta National changed (albeit at a glacial pace, but they changed) and is still filled with many traditions that can be appreciated by golfers and golf fans all over the world. 

Happy Birthday to me!

~ Andrew

April 05, 2015

One Day Closer

Google / Wikipedia

Time. It moves in one direction: forward; and for every living thing on Earth there's only a finite amount of it. Time passes whether we like it or not and if you're not careful it's an easy thing to waste.

People nowadays are always so busy. At least they appear to be. When folks hear about all the creative endeavours I undertake, and all the things I do outside of work, the most common question I get is, "Where do you find the time?" Along the same lines, when I listen to people talk about all the things they have to do in their day one of the statements I hear most frequently is, "I don't have enough time!"

Well, I have an answer to the question and I'm calling bullshit on the statement right now.

Let's look at the breakdown of a typical year for someone like myself. First, here are some high level things about my post-secondary education life that will help give you an idea of how I got to where I am today:

Two years after I graduated in 1997 I married the girl I met in the first week of University. We now have a son, a daughter, a house in the suburbs, and two cats. I'm on my fourth office job/career since 1997 and my fourth house since 2001. It doesn't take a genius to see that in the last nineteen years, I've spent a lot of time husbanding, working, parenting, and apparently moving (I guess I was making up for spending the first nineteen living in the same house, sleeping in the same bedroom, and mooching off my parents).

Wow, has it really been that long since I graduated? I suppose that's a nice segue into another common question, "Where does the time go?"

Where does the time go, indeed. With a little bit of hindsight, and a spreadsheet, we can find out the answer to the questions asked / statement made thus far, and for the record, I used to say all three. So let's take the time and have a closer look. With finances if you delve deeper into where you're spending your money it becomes quite easy to figure out where you can save. Time, as it turns out, works the same way.

There are 8760 hours in a year. 
  • I spend 8 hours a day sleeping (or trying to). 
  • I spend about 1 hour a day cleaning, grooming, going to the bathroom, and performing other solo activities (I suppose you could shower with somebody but I can guarantee you that you run the risk of it taking even longer than it would on your own, for various reasons I'll leave up to your imagination). 
  • I spend another 1 hour per day preparing and eating meals. 
  • I spend about 260 hours in the year on family commitments like taking the kids to sports or driving them places or helping them with their homework. 
  • I spend about 182 hours in a year on health and exercise (yoga, walking, shooting hoops out on the driveway, etc...). 
So out of my original 8760 hours I only have 4668 remaining (or roughly 53%).

That means 47% of my time - right out of the gate - is spoken for. That's okay though, all those things I have spent it on are important. I'd probably be better off if the health number was higher and my kids would be better off if their homework/activities number was higher too but in terms of committed time - non negotiable time - I'm doing okay. Plus, I still have more than half a day to work with, right?

"Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day. You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way." Roger Waters

As you can see from my background I have an office job. That job is a 30 minute drive in each direction from where I live as well. So what's that worth in terms of time?

Well, if you count from when I get in the car in the morning to when I pull into the driveway in the evening my job takes 10 hours per workday out of the total. If you take out weekends, statutory holidays, and vacation/days off I end up working roughly 226 days out of the year. That's another 2260 hours.

Now where does that leave me?

My total remaining time for the entire year is 2408 hours.
That's a titch more than 46 hours a week.
That's an average of about 6.5 hours per day.

I have TONS of time. I have all the freaking time in the world!

But wait a second, those averages assume a 365 day year. As mentioned, I don't work on some of those days, and as you'll see in a second they are bringing up the average considerably.

If we split my life into days in which I work and days in which I don't work here's how it unfolds:
  • On work days I am left with about 1 hour and 48 minutes per day "free time". 
  • On non-work days that number spikes to 10 hours and 30 minutes.
So that's how much time I have. As you can see, when I am working I have WAY less time than when I'm not working. This makes sense as someone else is paying for me to do things for them. Since I happily take their money twice a month it only seems fair I don't spend most of my time doing other things. 

If I want more than 1 hour and 48 minutes on a work day then it has to come out of one of those other (supposedly non-negotiable) allotments. Lately, it's been the exercise portion of the program. But how have I filled that time? Well 60% of the time about half an hour of it has gone to writing or editing or some other creative endeavour. This is a decent substitution. The other 40% of the time has gone to watching Mad Men or Facebook (or both). This is a terrible substitution, especially when you consider that a good portion of my 1 hour and 48 minutes at my disposal already goes to mind numbing stuff like that. 

Non-work days tend to fill up with various obligations so the 10.5 available hours are a bit misleading. Long weekends are family weekends up at the cottage. It's a two hour drive each way (typically getting there on a workday and obliterating my hour and forty-eight, and then some). Soccer tournaments, family outings, birthday parties, yard work... you see how this goes. Perfectly reasonable things start taking up the time, and meanwhile time keeps on slippin'... slippin'... slippin'... into the future.

But here's the best part, there should always a little bit left. Try it. Get out your spreadsheet and write it all down. You'll see.

A good number of you will look at your list of Things I Do and you'll notice that you work too much, or don't sleep enough, or sleep too much (lucky jerks). Another thing you will notice is that the list will easily divide into two categories: have-to-do and want-to-do. Once you've captured all the things you absolutely have to do, you can shift the blocks around and allocate a little more here and a little less there with all the things you want to do.

Here's in interesting exercise:
List your job hours in the have-to-do column at the minimum you are contractually obligated to work (a more difficult task for self-employed folks and entrepreneurs but do your best to quantify the minimum). If career advancement is something you desire then you put that in the want column, attach time to it, and then prioritize it.

You see, the time is there, accessing it is just a matter of prioritization. If you allocate time to one block make it a conscious decision and be aware of what other block pays the price. Want everything you want exactly when you want it? I hope you can adjust to getting a lot less sleep (Pro Tip: not recommended. Sleep is really good for you). Another approach would be to ensure time is always taken from lower priority items - the want-to-do stuff. If you can do that you'll be surprised at how much time you actually have. 

Remember, there are only 8760 hours in a year. Use them wisely. You never know when you're going to run out.

~ Andrew