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