Advice on advice

Talking to a friend recently about hiring, I did what I have a habit of doing: try and give advice. Heck, this blog started off as a way of documenting my journey to getting accepted into a top-flight MBA program but quickly turned into talking about how tough finance is and giving advice. Lots of it. I seem to have ‘ask me advice / street directions’ written on my forehead.

It’s easy to give advice. To tell people what worked and what didn’t. And a lot of the time advice can be very helpful. And it’s addictive to read advice (‘Top 10 things I wish I’d known before I started writing this blogpost’). But recently, husband came home with what is probably the best piece of advice I’ve heard in a while and that made me rethink giving and taking advice: ‘Never trust advice from people with only 1 child, since they attribute everything they’ve done or not done to how that child is turning out. Not until you have a second one do you understand that sometimes this is how it works and sometimes it totally doesn’t.’

And the more I think about that specific advice, and about advice in general, the more I think it’s true. It’s good to share experiences, and some advice is genuinely helpful. But a lot of it is what you personally went through and what worked and hasn’t worked for you at that particular time. But since no one else will be in exactly the same situation with exactly the same mindset and background, most advice won’t be applicable. Becoming a mama has really brought that home to me: there is almost no situation in life as conducive for people seeking advice and people desperately wanting to give / sell it to you at a time where you are probably at your neediest when it comes to wanting to desperately figure things out. And some of the advice helps. But most of it doesn’t and sometimes makes things worse (‘if this sleep method is so great, then why isn’t it working on my little one?’). It’s so tempting to believe that this doctrine, that guru or this book will be the be-all-and-end-all. And of course it never is. I don’t know what took me so long to get to that point but I’m here now.

So: less advice, more judgement when giving and taking it. Lesson learned. As you were.

Modern Love

One of the lovely little guilty pleasures in my life are reading the Modern Love columns in the New York Times. Anyone can submit an essay, as long as its about the topic of love. Though the many different writers mean that not every column appeals to me (though the standard tends to be consistently high), there are little gems in there a lot of the time. They’ve been around for at least a decade and the editor wrote a nice write-up of his experience recently. I’m soppy and an incurable romantic and love these little gems in my weekly reading.

My favourite quote from this week’s column by Heidi Bysarab:

“In a prescient moment at my kitchen table, right after I hung up the phone, I saw that I would love him, and that loving him would mean saying yes to the self I would become by loving him, and no to the other selves I would never become by not loving him.”

About LA

I recently spent a little time in Orange County and LA and this puts into words very eloquently what the place felt like to me:

“Plenty of other cities in the United States and abroad are, of course, interesting and beautiful, but I moved to LA due to its singular pre-apocalyptic strangeness. It seems equally baffled and baffling, with urban and suburban and wilderness existing in fantastic chaos just inches away from one another. There’s no center to L.A, and in many ways it’s kind of a fantastically confused Petri dish of an anti-city. If you’re in New York, Brussels, London or Milan, you’re surrounded by a world that has been subdued and overseen by humans for centuries, sometimes for millennia. They’re stable cities; and when you’re in an older city you feel a sense of safety, as if you’re in a city that’s been, and being, well looked after. You feel like most well-established and conventional cities know what they’re doing. LA, on the other hand, is constantly changing and always seemingly an inch away from some sort of benign collapse.

(source: Moby on moving from NYC to LA)

The word for 2014: ‘Practice’

Every year for the new year I don’t make resolutions as such, but instead think of a theme, a motto or word that will guide my thinking and activities for the year coming up ahead (in 2009 it was LEARN, in 2010 it was FOCUS, in 2011 it was ENJOY and in 2013 it was BE MINDFUL. I seemed to have skipped 2012).

So how did my theme for 2013 fare? On the whole, I think pretty well. Mindfulness is pretty hot right now, with everyone from Silicon Valley to mainstream medicine getting to grips with it. And I’m becoming more and more interested in neuroplasticity, how we learn, how the mind works and what effect being mindful has on the brain. This past year has been interesting on a personal and professional front, with both highs and lows and mindfulness helped me enjoy the highs more and make the lows less low.

But… and there’s always a but, as I was thinking about what I want 2014’s theme to be, I kept on thinking about practice. Buddhists talk about practice and everyone’s heard about how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at something. I read Carol Dweck’s Mindset over the past year and what really spoke to me was the difference between a fixed mindset (“I’m clever so I can’t fail at things because otherwise I wouldn’t be clever”) vs an open mindset (“I’m going to try this and keep trying until it works, failure will help make me better”).

So I’ve decided that that’s my focus for this year: practice. I will fail. In life, in work, in blogging, in parenthood, in being a wife, a friend, a family member. I have failed a lot. And I’ve succeeded a lot. But rather than think that’s that, I’ve failed, so I suck, moving on to something which is safer and more likely for me to succeed at, I’m going to try changing my mindset about it. Practice means just that: practicing with a view to become better at it. Whatever the ‘it’ is.

And the other side to practice too: you are what you do. Talking’s all well and good, but your actions speak louder than words. So I’ll practice what I preach this year.

So I guess that means I’m blogging again

So I guess that means I’m blogging again, seeing that I just wrote a blogpost and am writing this one. After yesterday’s post, and @teavu and Neil’s reaction to it on Twitter, I realised that I used to blog for two reasons:

1) I loved (and love) writing. Writing means making sense of the world around me. Writing means making sense of what’s happening within me. Writing means sharing excitement, joy and delight that I see in people, experiences and objects around me. Writing means sitting down, taking a step back from ‘real’ life and reflecting. Writing creates a record of my thoughts, feelings and reflections for the future.

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And I agree with Neil, it does feel selfish. But then I remind myself that I don’t force anyone to read any of this. Which brings me to the second reason:

2) I loved / love being part of a community. When I first started blogging I wanted to both keep a record of my journey to get admitted into a top-flight MBA school as well as hoping I’d also meet some fellow MBA admits on the way so I’d feel less lonely. No one else around me in real life was doing anything like it, so it was great to build a community of people around me. People that in a number of cases have become close friends. And I loved that. And though circumstances are now different, I feel I want to belong to the wider blogging community again, writing, commenting, joining in. I’ve been pruning my RSS list after the demise of Google Reader, and have found a surprising number of new blogs to read that I find interesting, exciting and consoling.

So there you go. I’m blogging again.

Maps and new startup Jauntful

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 10.56.23 Like most teenagers, I used to have posters on my walls. If I remember correctly, they fell into 3 categories: Tom Cruise (don’t judge me, there was a time when he was cool), cars (don’t ask, I don’t know why) and maps.

I had a big map of the US on my wall, with pins in it of the places where I wanted to go. And I had one of the centre of London so that by the time I got here for the first time when I was a teenager I recognised the main streets and could navigate around the city.

When I read about Anne Ditmeyer‘s Map-making class on Skillshare, I jumped at the chance and signed up (and have loved doing it). And now I stumbled across Jauntful, a new startup that lets you create a map with annotations of places and then lets you print a nicely designed pdf. Totally falls into the category ‘wish I had this idea and did this myself, so envious-in-a-good-way’. Here’s my first two: of King’s Cross in London and Japan-in-London. Can’t wait to see where the Jauntful team takes their product next. I’d love to see the ability to add more information and make little guides.

Housekeeping and a look to the future

Happy 2014! I have done a bit of housekeeping here and have put all my old blogposts from way back when onto this one site. Turns out I’ve been blogging for 9.5 years. Well, more at the start, a little bit less blogging of late.

Which made me think, why do I blog less now than I did before? It’d be easy to blame writer’s block, but that ain’t it. Well, not completely. No, it’s a little bit more embarrassing. The older I get, the more I feel like I should know it all. Like I should have all the answers. After all this time, I figured I’d have this life thing down pat. I’d have a stable career, a happy marriage, a gorgeous family and would know what makes me tick. Turns out, I do have a very happy marriage and gorgeous family. And I’m getting better at figuring out what makes me tick. But I’m not there. And there’s no stable career in sight. Partially due to inclination, partially circumstances, with a sprinkle of not-great choices. But I’m not sure it’s wise to admit this. I follow my nose and interests, and try and build new skills, rather than follow a grand master plan. And whilst that’s (mostly) a lot of fun, it doesn’t make for the most stable option. Or the most easy to explain and understand when talking to potential future employers.

Another reason I blog less is that it feels like I have so much more to lose now. When I started, I did so anonymously because I didn’t want to screw up my chances being accepted at b-schools. When I got in, I had a period of free-flowing writing, that seemed to strike a chord with at least some people. I talked about what my experience was like during my MBA, what I loved and hated and hoped that that would give others like me a good idea of what an MBA was like. And then real life hit. And jobs, and a serious grown-up reputation and needing money to live in this great but wickedly expensive city and pay off loans. And before I know it I was self-censoring like mad because I felt the need to be more professional and grown-up and together than I probably was in real life. And that kinda took the fun out of blogging. Having to be cautious. Mind my words. Make sure that the whole thing was coherent. Being careful to project the right image. So I stopped apart from the occasional post here and there.

And now I’m not sure what to do. Start blogging again?  Turn this into a more professional blog and leave the personal stuff to somewhere else? Gosh, that sounds so boring. And so self-important too. Does anyone really care what I write? Apart from my mum?

All of this partially sparked by Frank Chimero, Elliot Jay Stocks and Phil Gyford writing about (not) blogging and homesteading and why write online.

Kenya Hara on Japanese design

Kenya Hara (amongst others of Muji) is one of my heroes, and Japan is one of my favourite countries. This interview with him in the Japan Times is well worth a read, where he talks about the future of Japanese design.

A couple of quotes that struck a chord with me.

“What are Japan’s resources?” he asks, “I’m particularly thinking about traditional aesthetics. I’ve identified four keywords related to this: sensai(delicateness), chimitsu (meticulousness), teinei (thoroughness or attention to detail) and kanketsu (simplicity).”


and these closing comments:

“However, his [Hara’s] thoughts on the ultimate role of Japanese designers in the future is clear: Designers should not only make beautiful or functional products, but tap a sense of culture as well.

This can be achieved, Hara believes, through a deepening understanding of the value of “koto” over “mono” — experience rather than the beauty of a “fantastic object or brand” — and by allowing themselves and their work to embrace the unknown.

As far as Hara is concerned, the future of Japanese design is not about creating better solutions, it’s about searching for better questions”

Happy 2014

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

by Neil Gaiman

Here are some products I wish existed

* a way to anonymously donate to charities without being on their mailing lists forever and ever. Let me choose a charity, an amount and when the site (not the charity) next contacts me (e.g. contact me every year on my birthday since that’s a time that i’m in the mood for giving)

* a way to recommend restaurants (and dishes in restaurants) to friends and friends of friends. I forever get asked where to go eat in London and end up sending emails which I’m sure isn’t the best way. 

* a Little Printer that’s easier to use on the software side (mind you, I’m saying this without having worked with a Little Printer, so I’m kinda guessing here what the experience will be like). I want something that I can use to install at grandparents so that we can send a quick photo of kiddo that will print out on their side. or a quick note to say what earth-shattering and remarkable things kiddo did today.

* an easy way to print photos that are on Flickr / Picasa. Now I seem to forever be uploading photos onto third party sites to print. 

Things I’ve loved in 2013 (pt 1)

So many good things in 2013, thought I’d share a few of my favourites. 

Book: Hitler by Ian Kershaw (though I would recommend buying the 2 individual volumes, this edition I link to is the one I’m reading but doesn’t have any notes/references). Haunting, well-written, insightful. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: not a page goes by that I don’t wish someone had taken him out right then and there. 

App/website: Citymapper. Not an original idea, but this shows that execution makes all the diference. Fab app to help you get around London. And best of all: it’s whimsical too. Yay! Not enough whimsy around, we need more of this (case in point: the release notes for each new app update).  

Place: Timberyard. I’ve hesitated about this for a long time. Timberyard is such a great place to sit down, have coffee, a wonderful cake, work a little, read a little, meet people. The staff are lovely and the place just so inviting. I’m worried if I tell loads of people, I won’t get a seat anymore though. It’s that good. 

Food: The Delaunay. Excellent place for food & atmosphere with a superb location. It’s roomy, stylish in a old-world-European-but-not-stuffy way, with lovely staff, scrumptious dishes. 

Meditative and mesmering TV

I don’t watch that much TV. I’m not a TV snob necessarily, it’s just that I tend to veer more towards reading and talking (that said, in our household we do watch quite a bit of ice hockey, courtesy of husband’s passion for it) and cooking in the evenings. And unfortunately to cleaning, doing laundry and paying bills too!

When I do watch TV, it tends to be documentaries* that I taped earlier, rather than series. I think this kind of reflects what I’m currently interested in: I seem to also be reading much more non-fiction than fiction. 

My favourite TV channel is BBC 4, which is all documentaries and some of them are truly excellent. I watched a documentary about Edmund de Waal the other night (if you’re in the UK, you can catch it on the iPlayer) and I was mesmerised. It was like meditating by watching TV. Ethereal, moving, humbling. Absolutely adored it, go watch it if you’re into this kind of thing. 

*in all honesty, documentaries I like secretly also include the decidedly more low-brow things like Extreme Couponing and house hunting programs!

Desperately uncool

It’s probably desperately uncool. So uncool that uncool is not even the right word. In fact, uncool is probably not even cool anymore. Anyway. This is for those times in the day where you need a little pick me up. In an open plan office I need to use head phones, but it’s best blasting from some speakers.

I defy you to listen to this and not bob your head along with it.

Back to being uncool now.