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Small thoughts in my mind.
Doctrine of the mean. Relax for the same. Presence and parenting.
.Welcome to Ideothetic Flow, my newsletter sharing my reflections on finding balance, sufficiency, and security.
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We managed to steal ourselves a holiday to Hoi An with the kids 2 weeks ago. This was more tiring than our previous holidays as a fair bit of our attention was used to the kids through Hoi An’s more chaotic infrastructure.
It was still a good holiday nonetheless. We enjoyed the atmosphere of the old town, ate some good vietnamese food, spent time relaxing in the pool, and even braved a bike ride through rice fields to visit a silkworm farm (my kids like bugs). The only thing missing was some good cafe hopping and coffee sampling, I will have to save for holidays when the kids are older.
One challenge I have when on holiday is that its hard to put a pause on the kind of work i do. Projects need to move, and even if no one chases me, it bugs me when momentum is lost. It's a dilemma between taking some time out to handle work each day, or shutting off and coming back to a overwhelming backlog. Being put out of my usual rythmn is good for helping me realise gaps in my productivity approach.
Well this is all trying to excuse myself for choosing to keep my mind clear over my break rather than find inspiration to write. Instead of a full essay, I’m sharing some smaller thoughts that have held my attention over the last few weeks.
Aristotle's doctrine of the mean.
There is an idea by Aristotle that virtue is a state of existence between two vices. This diagram illustrates it far better than I can in words.
This resonates greatly with me, reinforcing my own belief that a good life is about balance, rather than singular pursuits of any metric of success. Few things are absolutely good in themselves. They are good because they are in the right balabce. Too much or too little of anything turns bad.
Yet this is also a harder way to make decisions. Its easier to have a singular focus. We all wish we can be told a magic bullet or north star we can use in exclusion of all else to guide ourselves to a happier life. Earn as much money. Be as popular as possible. Live as many years as possible. Yet any of these alone are more likely to consume us.
Relax for the same result
I loved this little story by Derek Sivers comparing the experience and result of two separate bike rides, one at maximum effort, and the other taking it easy and enjoying the experience. The end result, pushing to his limit only made him 4% faster, but left him far less satisfied.
So apparently all of that exhausting, red-faced, full-on push-push-push I had been doing had given me only a 4 percent boost. I could just take it easy and get 96 percent of the results.
Derek Sivers - Relax for the same result
There’s a certain insecurity that if we aren't operating at our limit, if we arent working with gritted teeth and overcoming adversity, we aren’t doing enough. I experienced this alot in the early years of working. Everyone else was pulling their all nighters while I had a decent work life balance (on hindsight now that was not even close to work life balance). I constantly wondered if I was lazy, if others felt I wasn’t pulling my weight, that I was skiving off.
But it's really fine to take things a little easier. More effort may not always mean more output. Even in something physical like martial arts, trying too hard often backfiresp, I perform better when my mind is relaxed.
There will come times when that 4% difference means everything, that I have to push to the limit, but it cannot be all the time. It's best to save willpower and emotions to push when it really does matter.
Parenting and presence
The constant struggle of being a parent is trying to figure out when is enough. I heard recently I might have a work trip that clashes with Joy’s school concert at the end of the year. Its been a big worry on my mind. Is it worth trying to get out of the work trip so I can be there for the concert? How important is it to Joy? Can I make up for it with quality time elsewhere?
There’s no answer to these questions. My children won’t tell me if I didn't do well enough. Joy wouldn’t be able to assess if I need to be there, or if its ok if I’m not. At the same time, everything else around is very able to say one has not done enough. Friends and spouses will be disappointed if you neglect them, colleagues can express that your work isint up to scratch, even a stranger on the street would show displeasure if you did something inconsiderate to them.
Kids don’t have clear expectations, serious conversations, or performance reviews. Instead, even when I put so many other things ahead of them, they are happy to see me come back and play with them.
Of course, it goes both ways. It also feels like I’m never doing enough for them. There’s always something lacking and more that they want of me, or more that I could be doing. As I walked through the streets in Hoi An, and saw local kids, I thought about how sheltered my own children were. It made it feel unreasonable that they might throw a tantrum during a holiday - without realising the gravity of being able to go on holiday in the first place.
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