One year ago, Carmen and I drove down from Vancouver to Bellevue to start our new jobs. Crossing the border was surprisingly smooth because we often hear horror stories. Throughout the year I would experience American media at its finest, though I've learned that it's often best not to engage. We'll come back to that later.
The purpose of moving to Bellevue was to coach at Bellevue Badminton Club, which started that week. The week after, the club canceled all group lessons because of COVID-19, and then a six-week lockdown followed. Despite the club reopening with modifications, I'm grateful for the chance to coach again. I was fortunate to understand early on that this was something out of my control; COVID-19 did that to everyone.
With all the free time last year, I've had the chance to try different things. Most things didn't get far because I'm good at deceiving myself, and bad at estimating the time to learn something. At first, I was hoping to complete courses in Calculus I, II, and III in a week each, followed by another week to review in statistics. But after finishing Calculus I in five weeks, I realized I'd rather play video games.
I haven't used my PS4 much prior to COVID-19, but usually when I game, I game hard in duration AND intensity. I don't even play online (which I recently discovered costs extra money), and as a frugal gamer, I wait for games to go on sale digitally. This lets me see reviews and I can also get full edition releases which include DLC (downloadable content). The games I spent the most time playing last year include: Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Edition, Darksiders III (+DLC), NieR Automata: Game of the YorHa Edition, Bloodborne (+DLC), and Lego Harry Potter (Years 1-4, and 5-7). Yes, I played Lego Harry Potter, and yes, it's excellent, but never as good as the books.
Speaking of books, I figured I'd have a lot of time to read, but the truth is I probably spent more time looking to buy books that I won't read because I'm constantly looking to buy more books! Upon deeper reflection, I realize that I'm one of those people who likes to "have read", instead of someone who likes to read. This extends to many things I do in which I desire the outcome more than the process. Perhaps this plagues many of us, such as those who want to lose weight without changing their dietary habits, or those who want to get strong without lifting weights regularly. I guess I keep buying books because I like the idea that I would be better off with the information from the book, but when it comes time to reading the book, I procrastinate. I shop for more books. I play video games.
This realization is the key takeaway of my one-year reflection. Although we know we shouldn't live in the past, sometimes we get stuck in the future. A book on meditation ("10% Happier" - Dan Harris) explained it like anticipating the next thing you want to eat on your plate, while currently eating something else. By looking forward to the next thing, you fail to enjoy or make use of what you currently have. The idea of "having read" a book is worth more than a previously purchased but unread book. A new course is worth more than one already subscribed to. As I was completing a graduate certificate in business (and not doing anything business related), I actually considered pursuing ANOTHER master's degree. Fortunately that was short-lived, but I did notice a difference between school and my other pursuits. For school, there was a deadline that was out of my control.
Having someone else set a deadline helped to finish the task at hand, but often it felt like doing things for the sake of completion. I experienced this with my MasterClass subscription. The original intention was to watch it instead of other shows, and though it started off well (doesn't it always?), I eventually forgot about it after completing a couple classes. I did watch a few more, but I had only finished about four classes before the final month of the subscription. Knowing that it would end soon (and suddenly seeing a bunch of new classes offered that month), I binge watched another 15-20 classes. I watched many of them for the sake of watching, and looking back now, there is little I can recall from skimming all those classes. I was watching, but I wasn't learning much. The irony was that I pushed myself through the content, only to have missed the actual learning. I made it to the end, but for what?
Oddly, these lessons I've experienced were always part of my badminton coaching. I tell my students to focus on the rally. The rally is all you have. You can make a plan, but the outcome is out of your control. Winning or losing is out of your control. Don't be stuck on the last rally. Don't worry about the rally that hasn't come yet. The best person to take advice from is yourself; however, you are also the easiest person to fool. That's why it's nice to journal and write out your thoughts. Take some time, come back to them, and edit them. Simplify and be concise. Be clear. That's one of the new things I'm trying to do now: write more. But deep down inside, I know I 'd prefer "to have written" rather than "to write".
Two major lessons about writing are that writers do a lot of reading (check!) and to engage the reader so they are asking, "What happens next?" A third minor lesson is to be concise, but I feel that I've already failed in that department already. Whoops, there I go again. And again. I digress. By learning how to write better, I've had the chance to explore fiction, as I used to read non-fiction exclusively. I started with a couple of books from Stephen King ("The Shining" and "Doctor Sleep"), and after a few recommendations, I tried Harry Potter. I used to think only horror and mystery would appeal to me because I was always curious about "what happens next", but that critical question is always found in good storytelling.
Wait. Isn't that the problem with learning? Are we always looking to what happens next that we forget what is happening now? I see it everywhere: kids in badminton want to move up to the next group level, despite a lack of competition results; myself wanting to buy another book or sign up for another course because it would be nice to have learned about it; wanting to be a great coach by spewing out a lot of information, but spending more time producing content instead of developing students. There's a difference between becoming a great coach versus a great influencer. By writing long post, I can guarantee I'm not the latter, but I am working on the former... if I can focus on the process, just like I hope my athletes can too. But that's my thing. You do you, because that's the way it should be.
After a year of reflection, the most important things for my career include coaching, reading, writing, and philosophy (Stoicism for me, thank you) to keep me on track, and remembering that it's an ongoing process. I prefer the slow and steady pace of the turtle, over the erratic sprints of the hare. Shutting myself off to news has been wonderful, especially the nonstop news last year about the former president and anything related to COVID-19. News is often evocative, and taming negative emotions is part of my Stoic practice.
Ironically, the lesson about spending time wisely comes from the thing that wastes my time the most: video games. With video games, it's best to be selective as time is a good indicator of whether a game is worth playing. Also, it's all about the process: there is always a task to complete, or a trophy to collect. Often, rushing to the end of the game is less satisfying than completing all parts, so do the side missions to get the full experience. If you fail, you can always try again. It might take more time, but treading carefully and learning from your mistakes is often a part of being better at the game. Savor the process and the end will come when it's time.
Same as badminton.
Same as life.